Today’s map shows an estimate of a household’s carbon footprint based on consumption of various goods and services. You can explore the map here. The maps and data come from the CoolClimate Network at the University of California Berkeley. One thing that becomes clear as you explore the map: the carbon emissions from goods and services doesn’t vary all that much as geography changes (at least in the Twin Cities metro). The big changes across the transect are mostly due to changes in transportation usage and housing-related sources (energy usage).
This consumption-based emissions inventory differs from other approaches explored on streets.mn, like the geographic inventory, because it looks at emissions throughout the supply-chain related to purchases a household makes, regardless of where on earth the emissions originated (think of a computer you buy that is made in China, the emissions are still counted at your household). Here’s a bit from the FAQ on the methodology:
The model uses national household energy, transportation, and consumer expenditures surveys along with local census, weather and other data – 37 variables in total – to approximate greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the energy, transportation, food, goods and services consumed by average households in essentially all populated U.S. zip codes. See the paper and online supporting materials for detailed descriptions of the methods.
The FAQ (and research it is based on), has some interesting discussion of the implications for local and regional planning (the title of the paper is Suburban sprawl cancels carbon-footprint savings of dense urban cores):
Population dense central cities have significantly lower carbon footprints than less dense central cites; however, these cities also have more extensive suburbs. When considering the net effect of all metropolitan residents (suburbs and central city residents together), larger, more populous and population-dense metropolitan areas have slightly higher average carbon footprints than less populous and lower population-dense metropolitan areas.
i. Note: this is the primary finding of the paper that is used in the title. The implication for policy is that suburban sprawl undermines, or cancels, the benefits of urban population density. Urban development planning should focus on impacts at metropolitan as well as more local scales, as is typical in regional transportation planning.
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Some people inside and outside the bicycling community believe that we should require cyclists to get licenses and/or register their bikes with the state. License and registration fees would help pay for bicycle infrastructure and ensure that all cyclists are adequately trained in correct riding techniques. Motorists like this idea because they think cyclists don’t pay for bike infrastructure and don’t obey traffic laws. Some cyclists like this idea because they think it will get them more respect from drivers and state institutions.
This idea has some merit but I’d like to take it one step further. I propose that all pedestrians should have to get walking licenses and register their shoes with the state DMV.
Lets face it, like bicyclists, pedestrians don’t get much respect from motorists and highway departments. The way motorists see it, pedestrians don’t pay for sidewalks and there are vast numbers of sidewalks in most American cities and towns. In motorists’ eyes, pedestrians also do dangerous things like jay walk or try to cross four-lane boulevards at intersections with no crosswalks or traffic lights.
Walking licenses and shoe registration fees could change all this. They would help pay for sidewalks and the license/registration process would ensure pedestrians get adequate training in correct and safe walking techniques from licensed professionals. At the age of one, infants would get “Conditional Learners Permits” that would allow them to walk if accompanied by a licensed adult. If a person is caught repeatedly jay walking, crossing against a red light or outside a designated crosswalk, their walking license could be suspended or revoked. If police discover that someone’s shoes are unregistered, they could be taken away and the person could be thrown in jail. All this would greatly reduce pedestrian crashes. It could also help revive the American economy because, once people lost their walking licenses, they’d be forced to buy cars and drive everywhere. Plus there’d be increased spending on new shoes and criminal defense attorneys.
I know, some of you are saying, “But Andy, most pedestrians are hit by cars because the cars don’t see them, often at night!” I’ve already thought of that. As part of the licensing and shoe registration procedure, I’d require that pedestrians have to wear bright, reflective clothing at all times and have shoes with lights in them, like little kids sometimes wear. I’d also require education programs that train pedestrians to be alert for cars at all moments in all situations, even inside offices, restaurants and homes.
Sure, motorists would still hit a few pedestrians, but they’d do it with more respect. Highway departments might even respect pedestrians enough to keep track of when, where and how they get hit by cars! Yes, we could ban right-turns-on-red, require more signage, pavement markings, signals and better lighting and traffic calming measures …but that would just slow down drivers, and we can’t slow down drivers, even for a minute, or our entire national economy will collapse.
Walking licenses and shoe registration would be good for pedestrians, good for drivers and good for the economy. Think about it!
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Telling good stories
Urban Living is Good for Your Health is a good story about how our built environments shape behavior without technical details, policy language or other formalities. Living in the city makes walking and bicycling obvious and easy; the result is building improved health and well-being back into daily life, rather than something special to be pursued at the gym. Comments include another wonderful life story about learning to bike (and bike more) and other confirmation that when walking and biking are easy, people will walk and bike.
Slap in the face department
Two posts push hard against clichés sometimes used to dismiss tough issues. “Think of the Hardworking Families” unpacks the political rhetoric surrounding raising the gas tax to ask what the real impact on families beyond the fearmongering including providing suggestions for how to drive less. Discussion considers the cost of car ownership, possibility of cycling. I Don’t Want to be Like You, Either replies to critics who fear urbanists just want to force happy suburbanites into high density housing by discussing why some of us don’t want to live on quarter acre lots past the strip mall; real urban development is also distinguished from mixing a few urban features into the suburbs or suburban-style regulations into the downtown.
Hey Transit Investments, Don’t Skimp on the Sidewalks reviews transit funding and finds sidewalks left out of state and federal funding formulas; proposed state legislation includes dedicated funding for bike/ped improvements. This post also reminds us that sidewalks (and other bike/ped connections) are part of the transit system rather than something extra. MetroTransit’s Signage: Still Room for Improvement complains new signage for bus links from Franklin Avenue to the Green Line might be well-intentioned but fails on the details; commenters offer some more positive feedback, ask some questions about Metro Transit programs, and add some feet on the street perspective about using the system. Increased Transit Funding Can Save You Money considers how the DFL-proposed sales tax for transit could help save households money by letting them ditch the car. The comments have a lively discussion about how additional money could be spent wisely, looking at housing (and housing prices) and transit, and more. Read this one along with “Think of the Hardworking Families” and Urban Living is Good for Your Health for more about reducing car-dependence.
Around the neighborhood
Whittier Alliance Among Most Restrictive Minneapolis Neighborhoods is partly about the Whittier Alliance neighborhood association’s recent amendments to their bylaws, but also provides a survey of many (all?) Minneapolis neighborhood association bylaws provisions about membership, voting and representation. Comments help tease out issues of public funding for neighborhood groups and its link to representation as well as revisiting the question of how renters and property owners should be included. Streets.mn has also mapped the money unspent by neighborhood organizations and considered the importance of participation during 2014. Start Seeing CCTVs looks at public CCTV in the UK and its more limited use in the US raising a few questions, but providing no answers, about the cameras.
For a road trip this afternoon, perhaps, or just a virtual tour, we have two destinations this week. New Ulm: The Urbanists Utopia takes us to the compact, urban small city of New Ulm to show that good urbanism can happen at a smaller scale out of the metro area. Main Street – Le Sueur, Minnesota is another photo tour of small town Minnesota (others are here).
Two videos: Brazilian Auto Insurance Ad–Texting While Driving and NOIR: ‘Walking’ (Original Song Version). The next of the podcasts: Podcast #80: Amusingly Approaching Public Policy with Tane Danger (of Theater of Public Policy fame). Two maps: 2013 Vehicle Miles Traveled per Capita by County and Map Monday: The Second Great African-American Migration. And three Charts of the Day: Parking Loss vs. Total Parking Supply, Twin Cities Population (Age and Race) by 2040 and Salt Use by Industry over Time.
By this time next week, it will be February. Enjoy this week’s posts and think encouraging thoughts about snow for next weekend’s City of Lakes Loppet. Have a great week!
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Whoa. This is a streets.mn meta-moment, I think. Back in August of 2014, I posted a video that I had previously digitized from a VHS tape supplied to me by fellow streets.mn contributor, Ken Avidor: Walking, That’s What We Do! I recently happened upon another video (posted here) on Youtube that is apparently the original version of the same song by Noir. It is a bit more risqué, but I had no idea until my recent discovery that the version I previously posted here was a modification of the original tune. To add another layer to the meta-ness, it turns out that a founding member of Noir was a member of the band Sailor, a song by which was linked to last week by fellow streets.mn contributor, David Levinson.
From the video’s description:
Go to http://www.angelair.co.uk/sjpcd248.htm to buy the Noir CD ‘Strange Desire’. All the videos on the Georg Kajanus Channel (bwbarb) were uploaded by the songwriter and performer for promotional purposes under the “fair usage” provision. — In the late nineties, Georg Kajanus left his creation Sailor to form the poetic-techno duo Noir with Tim Dry (previously of Tik and Tok and a featured artist in ‘Star Wars’). Although never given a proper release, Noir’s single ‘Walking’ was used as the backing for an unprecedented eight music videos shot in Munich, London, Barcelona, Hamburg, Amsterdam and Paris. Kajanus also penned the Sailor hits ‘Traffic Jam’, ‘A Glass of Champagne’, ‘Girls Girls Girls’, ‘La Cumbia’ and ‘The Secretary’ and the DATA hits ‘Living Inside Me’ and ‘Ricocheted Love’. Recent Kajanus covers are ‘La Cumbia’ by Cuba Club and Scooter’s ‘Jumping All Over the World’ a reworking of ‘Champagne’.
Here’s a short insurance company advertisement from Brazil. According to the company’s website, 25% of car crashes in Brazil are caused by motorists using their cell phones while driving.
DPVAT – “Motorista”
Published on Dec 11, 2014 Cliente/Client: Seguradora Líder Título/Title: Pedestre Agência/Agency: Master Roma Waiteman Produtora/Production Company: Arte Lux Diretor/ Director: Paulo Koglin Animação 3D/ 3D animation: Bruno Cornelsen Pós-produção/Post-production: André Ricardo Brunetta e Washington Valente Jr Áudio/Sound: Jamute Duração/Length: 15″ (15 sec) 2014
Sidewalk Rating: SuspiciousThat which is energetically advantageous is that which will sooner or later happen. In one sense a structure is a device which exits in order to delay some event which is energetically favored. It is energetically advantageous, for instance, for a weight to fall to the ground, for strain energy to be released -- and so on. Sooner or later the weight will fall to the ground and the strain energy will be released; but is is the business of a structure to delay such events for a season, for a lifetime or for thousands of years. All structures will be broken or destroyed in the end -- just as all people will die in the end. It is the purpose of medicine and engineering to postpone these occurrences for a decent interval. The question is: what is to be regarded as a 'decent interval'?[James Edward Gordon.][High above Saint Paul.]*** CLICK ON IMAGES FOR LINKS! ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** *** *** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ***
A few days ago was Greater Mankato Growth’s “Day at the Capitol.” Unfortunately the Capitol building is undergoing some much needed renovation so we were actually at the Double Tree in St. Paul. Cool place.
Anyway, during a discussion with someone, they told me that “You just want us to all live like you, downtown in an apartment”. While I was somewhat taken aback by the statement, I had to ask: “Is this how I present myself?”
Well gosh I hope not…
Maybe it’s a question that all urbanists should ask themselves.
As much as I fawn over Europe and the way they’ve put their cities together, I have the common sense to know that it’s probably not going to fly in America here–even less in Mankato.
I should point out that I live in a 1890 single-family style house. It has been converted to a duplex, but it’s not like I’m living in a swanky condo (although this laughable video seems to think we have something akin to a New York penthouse in North Mankato.)
The unfortunate part of being a self-proclaimed urbanist is that (as with anything) it’s easy to point out the bad, without celebrating the good.
Single-family housing and subdivisions are never going away. They have been integral to the American city since the founding of the nation. They can provide a path out of poverty, they can build communities and it is still probably where we’ll end up. (I’ll eat a raw chicken before I link to something by Joel Kotkin though.)
And not just American cities, cities everywhere. Remember how I said I fawn over European cities? Well here’s a nice shot from just outside Paris.
But you’re also going to find stuff like this:
That being said, the issue I have with “you want everyone to live like you” statement is the sheer hypocrisy of it.
While, no, I don’t want everyone to live like me, but I sure as shootin’ don’t want to be forced to live like you. Which is the main conflicting point here.
Most American cities are now broken into two distinct entities within city limits: downtown or urban and auto-oriented.
Yet in many parts of the country, those living in the denser, urban areas still have to largely play by suburban rules. Things like minimum parking requirements, road design standards, etc…
If you don’t want to “live like me” then it’s completely reasonable that I can ask to not have to “live like you” I want smaller streets, small setbacks, no parking requirements, mixed-use and so on and so forth. However, for a myriad of reasons, we tend to drop the whole city under similar requirements, which very well may artificially inflate single-family housing development. Why live in the denser parts of town if you still need your car to do everything?
Likewise, we put arbitrary (albeit far less expensive or common) rules on suburban development. There was a planning commission where I literally laughed out loud after the chair expressed her delight in seeing that the new gas station met the minimum bike parking requirements and was connected by sidewalk.
It’s being built somewhere out here:
We know that life isn’t fair, but cities should try. We need to take a nuanced approach to how we regulate our cities.
Freedom of choice is something that we’re supposed to value in the U.S. so why don’t we allow people to live sans-car or car-reduced in cities that it could work? Especially with the trends, I think it’s time we revisit some of our land use policies and codes to make this possible.
So no, I don’t hate single-family development and I don’t want you to live like me if you don’t want to, but don’t say something like that unless you realize that the city you want is probably already built for you and not for me.
As Jane Jacobs said, downtowns are for people, so let’s design them that way.
We can have both, it just takes a little creativity.
[Cover photo from Tim on Flickr.]
Streets.mn occasionally profiles small towns and cities throughout Minnesota, case studies that show that urbanism is not a war between the metro and Greater Minnesota. On the contrary, it is often from the Main Streets of small towns that urbanists gain valuable insight.
For example, streets.mn has previously profiled New Ulm because of a battle over the placement of a new school. Today I am setting aside the school issue and profiling New Ulm to provide an example of an urban small town. Using the Longitudinal Origin-Destination Employment Statistics dataset from the Census Bureau I measured the employment and housing patterns within New Ulm.
With a population of 13,522 it features an intact main street, a college (Martin Luther), a brewery (Schell’s), a river, and downtown parks. Quite a list of an urbanist’s favorite things! Another impressive aspect of New Ulm is the larger number of people who both live and work within New Ulm.
The first map shows the job locations of workers who reside within New Ulm. Some of the workers who reside in New Ulm work in one of the many other small towns surrounding it. However, 63% of the 6977 New Ulm workers work in New Ulm. For a town that is only a couple of square miles it means a large majority of residents could walk or bike to work. The southern area that is red is a more industrial area. The area in the middle of the map is downtown. Educational and medical facilities are represented by the large orange census blocks on the west side of town.
This second map shows the home locations of all employees of jobs located within New Ulm. This map shows a reciprocal of sorts of the first map. Instead of job locations of workers, this map shows home locations of jobs located within the boundary of the town. As expected the areas outside of downtown are the major residential areas. 45% of the 8,184 jobs located within New Ulm are filled by residents of New Ulm. Most of the census blocks are relatively dense. These are the traditional city blocks that make up almost all of the city. The large yellow blocks on the western side of the city are newer developments that are the only traces of “suburbia”. They are also less dense likely because those blocks are also where the hospital and college grounds are located.
What becomes clear in this analysis is that the ideas of urbanism is not metro vs greater MN. Instead it is about a land use that works better for people and communities.
These days, Saint Paul is all abuzz over the potential loss of a few dozen parking spaces downtown for the construction of the proposed bike loop. Some people are upset over the disappearance of the spaces, but others insist that there is plenty of parking downtown. It’s a hot topic.
Well, other cities have been down this road before. For example, when Montreal built a new bike lane, people complained about the loss of parking spaces… at least until the advocates reframed the issue by talking about the spaces as a percentage of the total parking supply in the area. This is the chart they used:
This fine chart came across my desk via this post on People for Bikes. Saint Paul is just completing a parking study that will hopefully place the “loss” into a larger context. Dollars to donuts, it won’t be a very large percentage of the total downtown parking supply.
What if you built a transit line, and nobody came? More and more that’s a distinct possibility because, as projects face tighter fiscal realities at all levels of government, it’s getting harder to fund the actual pedestrian infrastructure that makes transit useful in the first place.
The SWLRT offers a good example. You’re probably so sick of reading about the (underinflated?) political football that you missed this intriguing Star Tribune article a few weeks ago about how the Federal transit funding formula had changed recently. Here’s the important part:
In what several local officials call a “clawback,” the Federal Transit Administration recently ended its long-standing practice of allowing cities to seek grants from unused contingency money for local improvements related to light-rail projects. The locals first learned of the change in October, after giving their required municipal consent to the rail line over the summer.
Such grants in the past have been worth tens of millions of dollars to local governments for items like parking decks, road and safety improvements, pedestrian bridges and trails linking light-rail stations to the surrounding areas. The $1 billion budget for the recently completed Green Line provided about $23.5 million from unused contingency funds to local governments.
That kind of “penny-foolish” approach is nothing new; transportation investments have long prioritized large expensive (and simple) automobile projects over the relatively cheaper (but complex) infrastructures like sidewalks. Think of the cost of an expensive bridge or overpass versus the kinds of street grid or land use approaches that encourage walking, and you’ll get the idea. More and more, it seems to me that local governments will be left holding the bag that contains all the important details. That’s the wrong approach.
The CTIB Bike/Ped Cap
This kind of mis-prioritization happens at the regional level too, as part of the CTIB (Counties Transit Improvement Board) legislation that currently funds many of our transit projects. Written into the 2008 legislation is a small detail that reads:
No more than 1.25 percent of the total awards may be annually allocated to planning, studies, design, construction, maintenance, and operation of pedestrian programs and bicycle programs and pathways.
Now, this isn’t as big a deal as you might think, because according to a friend of mine who works closely on transit legislation at the capitol, currently CTIB hasn’t spent ANY money on bike or pedestrian improvements. They have pretty limited funding, and most of those dollars have gone for big-ticket infrastructure like the Green Line or park and rides.
As I understand it, this means that for regional transit projects, the money to construct the valuable connections between the new station areas has to come from the strapped city budgets, where sidewalks compete against libraries, recreation centers, or police and fire services.
State And Federal Money Doesn’t Pay for Sidewalks
In a way, the new Green Line along University Avenue is the exception that proves the rule. As part of the billion-dollar project, the entire sidewalk and streeetscape on University Avenue was reconstructed, installing nice new trees, sidewalks, and rain gardens that make walking along the Green Line stations a relatively pleasant experience (even if the street lacks the parking buffer, bike racks, or bike lane amenities).
But with the new changes, I fear that future transit projects will not be so lucky. Rather, they’ll come to resemble the status quo for state infrastructure projects, where cities have to fund pedestrian improvements while state money goes for the road infrastructure.
For example, MNDOT is re-decking the Smith Avenue “high bridge” by my house in a few years. Unless Saint Paul ponies up a bunch of money for nice sidewalks, the state agency will install bare bones lighting and railings along the bridge. This seems backwards to me. “Transportation” should be more than about simply moving cars, and MNDOT should offer high quality of service for everyone, drivers, walkers, and bicyclists included.
New Legislation with Dedicated Funding
No matter how you feel about increasing taxes for transportation, one of the really nice things about the Senate’s proposed transportation package is that it includes dedicated funding for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Here’s what the Senate (DFL) proposal would dedicate (again, according to my legislature friend):
The Senate bill (SF 87) introduced last week by Senator Dibble allocates nearly 10% of a ¾ cent metro sales tax increase to bike/ped in the twin cities metro. It’s slightly less than 10% because a small portion of this 10% can be used for streetcar planning (not more than 10% of 10%). And because about 1/16 of the total ¾ cent sales tax increase can be used by all metro counties (except Hennepin) for transportation purposes. Note: Hennepin OK with all sales tax to transit and other counties could use this small allocation for bike/peds/transit or roads.
It’s less complicated than it sounds. To me, this dedicated funding is a key reason to support the expanded CTIP transportation package (provided the language isn’t stripped out in conference committee negotiations). While there are some problems with dedicated funding (which can sometimes lead to nonsensical boondoggles), having money set aside for cost-effective and overlooked sidewalk and bike infrastructure would really be a game changer for walkability and transit in the Twin Cities. For once, it would force cities to focus on the devilish details, instead of just the big picture.
[A Villager shivers.][Basically the problem is that the best source of Saint Paul streets & sidewalks news is the Highland Villager, a very fine and historical newspaper. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. You basically have to live in or frequent Saint Paul to read it. That's why I'm reading the Highland Villager. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free.]Headline: As controversy spreads, demand grows for new city ordinance to limit teardownsAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: [Just like in Linden Hills] Houses in "the western half of Saint Paul [aka the wealthy part] are being bought, torn down, and replaced by larger houses. People who like preserving things are trying to stop it. There is talk of a temporary moratorium until a new policy is developed. For example, "area notification in the case of lot splits or large-scale additions." Article includes many quotes from historic preservation people. Article also brings up the "1721 Princeton" case, which is "still on hold." Article includes picture of nice looking yellow home in Crocus Hill that is "slated for demolition." [I empathize with this, I really do. McMansions suck.]Headline: Cleveland mixed-use plan arises under Village zoningAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The place where the Edina Realty Highland Park office sits [Lordy, that is a helluva geographic combination there] might be redeveloped into a four-story mixed use building [that neighbors will undoubtedly complain about before it happens and then forget about once it's happened]. Height is brought up. [I can see this all playing out. It's like I can foresee the future.] ARticle includes a rendering. [Spoiler: it looks like all the other ones.] The neighborhood was rezoned to TN2 zoning back in 2011, which would require a conditional use permit (CUP) for the proposed 45-foot height. [Prepare to read about this building every month for the next year.]Headline: BZA denies variance for home that's been largely torn downAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A house on Palace Avenue that is mostly gone and being replaced [a "teardown" if you will] is now in limbo because nobody can agree where the porch might have been or will be. It will, in theory, be a "five-bedroom five-bath, three-garage-stall" [bougie-rrific] home. The Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) has denied requests for variances to complete the home. Article includes quote from neighbor: "How far can these houses keep coming out into the front yard?" [It seems kinda like zombies.] The developer who is building the [mega-] home is [fittingly] named "Sharkey."Headline: Plans are moving ahead for a larger Palace Rec Center; BZA approves setback for long-awaited start of $5.46M renovation projectAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A long-neglected recreation center in the West End neighborhood will finally be fixed up. Construction will start this spring.Headline: Council rejects appeal to expand Gerber Jewelers on GrandAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A converted single family home [like many on the street] will not be allowed to build out into its "front yard" area after the City Council voted not to let them. [NIYFY = not in your front yard.] CM Thune says its a "bad precedent." Councilmembers said the owner should rezone into TN zoning to fix his concerns about expanding his building. Article includes quote from lawyer: "The future of Grand is uncertain." [All things are uncertain, my friend. Of that, I am certain. Or at least I used to think I was.]Headline: Developer returns with new plans Author: Jane McClureShort short version: The guy who wanted to build the apartment building that pissed everyone off and "provoked a firestorm" [that led to the inelegant student housing ordinance] is back with new plans for his building. Article includes quote from developer: "I don't like this design as much." There will be 29 parking spaces, 14 units, but only 4 stories. The parking will NOT be underground, which is a change. [A good change? How is surface parking a good thing?] Neighbors are concerned about the existence of balconies. [Students are OK as long as they stay inside at all times. They're kinda like gremlins that way; don't feed them after midnight, keep them out of the sun, or whatever.] Headline: Sign from above-Cathedral receives permission for two centennial banners Author: Jane McClureShort short version: The cathedral will turn 100 years old and get to have banners that declare such.Headline: HRA allows sale of Summit-U apartments to nonprofit corpAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: Rental buildings can be sold by an LLC to a HDC, says the HRA. [Don't even ask. TMI.]Headline: County OKs $1.7M for second phase of Dorothy Day project Author: Jane McClureShort short version: The homeless shelter in downtown Saint Paul is getting money to expand.Headline: Speeds on Marshall Avenue could be lowered to 30 mphAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: [It isn't already?] Between Snelling and Lexington the speed limit is 35 [which is dumb] but will go down to 30 if Ramsey County lets the Council decide [which they should].Headline: Old Fire station 10 to be focus of historic designation studyAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: There's a cool old fire station on Randolph Avenue.Headline: St. Paul zoning changes could affect parking, theaters, rental storageAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The zoning code is being tweaked around TN areas to more easily allow shared parking lots. [And the Villager is making the most out of what amount to minor and uncontroversial changes to the code.] Only one person testified at the public hearing.Note: This edition of the Villager also includes short blurbs about City Council races in Wards 1, 2, 3 [Highland Village, uncontested], and 4. These are too short and specific to reblog.
Here are some pie charts from the Met Council’s 2040 plan, via this long Minnesota Monthly article on the future:
Some of the highlights of the piece include more bikes, more old people, park developments, industrial re-centralization, and driverless cars. Check it out here.
What will they do? You hear the rhetoric every time transportation budgets are planned. It’s happening again now as the DFL and GOP wage intellectual war over the right path to fund roads, bridges, and transit across the state of Minnesota. Political gamesmanship ensues; current DFL Governor supports an opaque wholesale gasoline tax (and other increases) to support funding MnDOT, conservative group calls said governor out for formerly opposing raising taxes on behalf of MN families, GOP fires back with a no light rail promise (plus a plan that says nothing about additional transit funding of any kind, but that’s not here nor there for this post).
The gist of the argument goes like this: “People depend on their cars to get to work, drop the kids off at daycare, etc. A typical family drives 20,000 miles a year. At average vehicle fleet fuel efficiency and the proposed wholesale tax, families would spend an extra $120-250 a year on gasoline. Hardworking Minnesotans cannot take this hit to afford luxuries like bike lanes and trolleys.” Politicians further enable this, letting the general driver continue to be fairly ignorant of road funding mechanisms, local expenditures on many roads, federal contributions, and the gas tax being constitutionally dedicated – leading many to believe they already pay the full cost of every inch of pavement.
At the same time, people like being told their problems are real. Bad roads. Congestion. Metro vs outstate funding equity cries. Politicians like being elected, and doing so means telling constituents they’ll deliver on fixing those issues. It’s how we end up with two parties (one of which operates under a fiscally-conservative mantra) coming up with these road funding plans:
Note that both proposals include an increase in total transportation spending. I’m not going to say what the “right” dollar amount or proposal is, but it’s interesting that the party who wanted to give back the entirety of a state surplus is now proposing to spend that slush fund money on additional road spending. In other aspects of public policy (both state and national), conservatives typically argue for more privatization, less spending on frills, and entitlement reform, making it odd to see a proposal that not only doesn’t address a longer-term infrastructure plan but cross-subsidizes one economic activity (driving a personal or freight vehicle) with money from mostly unrelated sources.
So the question is: what would happen to hardworking Minnesotans if we really did increase the gas tax? But first!..Background Thoughts
The appeal to “hardworking families” is powerful and emotional, but a lazy one since it assumes there are no alternatives to spending extra at the pump (or admits we have a transportation system and land use pattern that requires driving). However, there really are options:
- One member of a household bikes to work to save on gas (and new gas taxes). Even if it’s just from April to October (but year-round isn’t out of the question).
- One member of a household takes the bus to work. (maybe suburban opt-outs like Southwest Regional Transit will run more local circulators)
- Families or friends carpool more often
- One or both members of a household shift what time they leave for work to avoid growing congestion
- Parents opt out of buying (or helping) their 16-year old a car. They bike to school or take the bus (and are likely much safer and healthier as a result)
- Rent out a basement bedroom to a stranger to offset costs
- Pay the increase because driving is still more attractive or practical than options listed above
There are probably more options rational actors could come up with. If any of those things sounds super terrible, we should probably check our first-world privilege. Not to get too political here, but telling (mostly middle class) people they can continue driving, for every trip, for every member of the family, as a right of American existence, without paying more for the infrastructure that very act requires, seems like an entitlement we should prioritize way below other spending cuts that have been on the table.
I really do sympathize with folks who for whatever reason have no way around long commutes, or lower-income families for whom an extra couple hundred dollars a year really may push them over the financial edge. We have ways to soften those blows in the tax code. But promising more roads without charging users anything extra seems like bad policy.
Hand-Dipped IncenseNOWAVAILABLEHERE[Door. Cedar Avenue, Minneapolis.] GARDEN BED[Community garden. West Side, Saint Paul.]LOVE[Wall. Location forgotten.] SignatzMpls moneybagsm,endacious mediaCFL metro machineSocialistsnont-tax-assessed fansindefferencescrewed public[Pole. Downtown East, Minneapolis.] THE LAUDNRY DOCTORwill be closing early onWednesday Nov. 26HAPPY THANKSGIVING! [Door. Selby Avenue, Saint Paul.] ENTRANCE[Doorway. West 7th Street, Saint Paul.]TRASH[Pole. West side, Saint Paul.] WINTERisCOMING[Window. Selby Avenue, Saint Paul.]SNOW EMERGENCE!ASK INSIDE ABOUTWHERE TO PARK[Board. Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis.]
The podcast this week is a conversation with Tane Danger, the co-founder of the Theater of Public Policy, which is a highly unique combination of public policy conversations and improve comedy. The Theater of Public Policy, or T2P2 as it’s known, has been around for a few years in the Twin Cities, bringing notable political, institutional, and policy leaders onto a stage at the Bryant Lake Bowl to talk about their work… and then to make fun of it using a highly skilled troupe of improve comedy actors. (Click that link for the T2P2 Podcast, to hear it for yourself.) For example, Danger’s group had streets.mn’s very own David Levinson on stage last year, and (though I missed it) performed what I’ve heard were hilarious skits about transportation debates. After a particularly funny Minnpost article of Danger’s appeared about the new Met Council chair appointment a while ago, I invited Tane over to Zeke’s Unchained Animal on East Lake Street to talk about his group, and how to thread the needle of making otherwise boring policy discussions approachable, interesting and funny.
Link to the audio is here. Thanks for listening.
Maybe it’s churlish, maybe it’s against some unwritten bylaw of Minnesota Nice, but it does feel a little bad to be criticizing Metro Transit’s signage in the week they finally got real time arrival information working on the light rail. Nevertheless I will …
In the last month little “Green Line” signs have appeared on the eastbound bus-stops on Franklin Ave SE, between East River Parkway and University Avenue.
It’s a little strange that the westbound side isn’t signed for the Blue Line that is barely 1.25 miles in the other direction, but we’ll leave the Blue/Green inequality issue for another day. On the face of it, it’s great that MetroTransit is putting connecting route information at bus stops. As posts by others at streets.mn have laid out, the bus-stop signage in the Twin Cities is, on average, terrible. Many stops lack even basic information on which routes stop there, let alone a timetable or connection information. So, great, connecting route information! One small step forward.
But let’s step back and think a little about who could find this sign useful, and whether it’s really so useful for them. The bus stops on Franklin Ave SE are in a residential area, and my anecdotal observation from riding the one bus route on the street is that most of the people getting on or off are coming from houses on nearby streets. There are just not a lot of casual potential transit riders wandering up or down Franklin Ave who could find this information helpful.
But lets assume there is a casual transit rider on this stretch of Franklin Ave, or maybe a new resident checking out the neighborhood. There is no timetable and no indication of what route stops at these bus stops. So anyone using the information that the Green Line is an unknown length bus ride away is just going to have to hope that a bus comes along soon. Who does Metro Transit imagine is served by this sign that says the Metro Green Line is an unknown distance ahead on an unknown bus route? They clearly think you know where the Green Line goes since the sign doesn’t tell you. Maybe the signs are for some new urban adventure game where people who know the transit network but not the actual streets are driven, blindfolded, to Franklin Ave and then asked to find their way back to some location using only transit and never walking more than a couple of hundred yards?
As it happens Franklin Ave SE is served by the Route 67 which runs every 20 minutes for weekdays and Saturdays, hourly on Sunday morning and every half hour on Sunday afternoons. So a random person showing up at a random time, like in our game above, has an expected wait of 10 minutes and then a 5 minute ride to the Raymond Avenue station. Many of us might decide to walk to the station if we’d just missed the bus, or if we knew how close the station was.
See, here’s the crazy thing. That photo above of the bus stop at Bedford and Franklin is just a few minutes easy walk from the Westgate Station. For any reasonably fit person the new signs are, on average, going to waste your time. Why not have a sign pointing out how people can walk to an even closer station? And if we’re going to have these signs showing connecting routes from the bus, why not make it easier for people to work out whether it’s worth waiting for a bus by putting timetables and route information at the bus stop.
On its own the idea to highlight connections to the Green Line at bus stops is great. Putting them up without thinking through who would be a potential user of the signs, and how they would use that information suggests a lack of care about a vitally important aspect of the transit network: telling riders when it comes and where it goes.
On January 12th, the Whittier Alliance held a tense and somewhat controversial meeting for the purpose of amending their bylaws. Among the more contentious aspects of the new bylaw language was the section giving the Whittier Alliance’s Board of Directors the power to screen Board candidates according to subjective criteria. A clause was also added to require Board candidates to have been a member of the organization for at least six months (membership is typically activated by signing in at a meeting).
It should be noted that the Whittier Alliance was improperly screening candidates prior to this change in their bylaws. Last March, a number of Whittier residents complained to the city’s Neighborhood and Community Relations (NCR) department regarding the neighborhood’s election process. In June, NCR sent the Whittier Alliance a letter, admonishing them for screening candidates and other infractions–like closing registration almost an hour before the election’s scheduled start, denying eligible voters the chance to cast a ballot.
There were quite a few people at last week’s meeting who were eager to suggest amendments. Unfortunately, the first person called on by Board Chair Erica Christ was a Robert’s Rules ninja, and the new bylaws were adopted without a single amendment having the chance to be heard. One older woman explained her support of the new restrictions by alluding to an unspecified neighborhood that had its bank account drained by some unspecified people.
(Obligatory note for those who might say these changes are justified by a certain disruptive individual: Amending bylaws in a way that restricts participation seems, at best, a misguided solution to a legitimate problem, especially in light of Whittier’s election issues last year.)
Whittier Alliance’s Executive Director Marian Biehn says the new language is common among non-profit groups. In the wake of this meeting, I read (okay, methodically skimmed) the bylaws of 70 Minneapolis neighborhood organizations (results here). The comparison shows that Whittier is one of the few neighborhood groups with highly restrictive election procedures.
Comparison of Neighborhood Organization Bylaws
Among the small number of Minneapolis neighborhoods with unusually exclusionary election processes, all have large minority and/or renter populations. This would seem to exacerbate the existing problem of unrepresentative neighborhood organizations.
Of the 70 Minneapolis neighborhood organization bylaws surveyed:
- Only two neighborhoods prohibit same-day voter registration: The Folwell Neighborhood Association (71% non-white) and Ventura Village (79% non-white).
- 62 neighborhoods have no length of membership requirement to be eligible to run for a leadership position.
- Six neighborhoods have length of membership requirements of 30 days or longer before you can run for a leadership position. All six are high renter, high minority, or both.
- Three neighborhoods require candidates to have been a member for 6 months or longer: Whittier (6 months), Prospect Park (1 year), and Marcy Holmes (6 months). Each of those neighborhoods have high renter populations (83%, 74%, and 84%).
- The Whittier Alliance is the only neighborhood whose bylaws contain anything resembling this sort of subjective qualification for Board candidates: “shall not have committed an act of malice or defamation against the Whittier Alliance or any member of the Board of Directors or otherwise disrupt the aims and purposes of the corporation.”
- The Jordan Area Community Council has the most onerous attendance requirement for leadership candidates (must attend 3 meetings over the last election cycle). Interesting fact about Jordan: The neighborhood was 64% white in 1990; today it’s 16% white.
- Whittier and Jordan are among seven neighborhood organizations that prohibit candidate nominations on the day of elections.
Other findings of note:
- Two neighborhood organizations set aside seats specifically for renters and homeowners: Cedar-Riverside and Sumner Glenwood.
- Bottineau and Linden Hills allow for absentee voting, mercifully eliminating the poll tax of a three hour annual meeting.
- Sumner Glenwood sets aside two seats for persons aged 16 to 18.
- The Kenwood-Isles Area Association allows itself the ability to assess an annual fee, which is something the city prohibits.
- The Kenny Neighborhood Association has a “Whistle Blower” policy.
- Lowry Hill East and nine other organizations specify no minimum age for membership. So conceivably, babies on Board!
For example, I will watch Law and Order in a pinch, but thanks to online streaming I have become enamored of British shows and have developed a fondness for Danish, Swedish and French police procedurals. I always come back to the Brits, though. I love these shows for the same reasons others do: for the joy of figuring out whodunit, for the hope that there will be justice at the end, and for the appreciation of the procedure.
Recently I found myself in the following situation. After watching seasons one and two of The Fall and feeling a bit morose at the prospect of only seeing Gillian Anderson in The X-Files reruns or BBC period pieces, I begrudgingly went back to Law and Order and the reliability of Jack McCoy. The episode began with the crime revealed and the detectives at the scene getting the names of witnesses and making bad puns. There was a frustrating lack of evidence and the detectives went to work on the investigation.
This is when I got antsy. “Look at the CCTV!” I found myself saying, out loud, at the screen. “Just look at the CCTV footage!” But wait. This isn’t London. This is New York City. While CCTV (closed circuit television) definitely exists here, in the US CCTV isn’t the institution it is in the United Kingdom. The police just have to work a bit harder to get their guy, or at least find him without the help of thousands of CCTV cameras.
Initially I was shocked at myself, at my dependence upon CCTV to proxy-solve crimes. In leaning on the CCTV footage as a starting point I was not fully considering what CCTV is or how it functions in society at large. I hadn’t thought much about CCTV here in the US, in Minneapolis. But then I noticed cameras downtown, under the skyways, perched on the corners of buildings pointed down at me, at all of us.
The Ubiquity of CCTV in Urban Space
Londoners are used to being on camera approximately 300 times per day. This is not to say they all like it, but most of them have become accustomed to it. It’s an inescapable part of daily life. So imagine my surprise when this week the BBC reported that many local governments throughout the UK are cutting back on CCTV due to budget cutting measures.
(Note: that this pertains to public CCTV, not private CCTV.)
This highlights one of the differences between CCTV in the US and the UK. Twenty years ago in the UK municipalities invested public funds to build a large CCTV network to monitor public spaces. Private CCTV has existed for just as long but has been less prominent up to now. In the US, privacy concerns first led to strong networks of private CCTV, which eventually began cooperating with municipalities. What were once robust networks of businesses and banks monitoring customers eventually morphed into public-private partnerships, of sorts, monitoring public spaces.
For example, in 2003 the City of Minneapolis received a donation from Target Corporation to supplement and upgrade the City’s video surveillance in the downtown SafetyZone. The donation purchased and installed cameras, augmented monitoring infrastructure, included the technology needed to record digital video and created centralized monitoring in order to increase safety in the designated area. The donation, as well as other corporate donations from downtown businesses, was critical in linking the existing private CCTV infrastructure in downtown Minneapolis with the smaller number of public cameras. The SafetyZone Project is now a 501(c)3 and a subsidiary of the Downtown Improvement District (DID). DID operates the Fusion Center, located within the Minneapolis Police Department’s First District, which is the informational hub for CCTV and other coordinated safety operations downtown.
The reason for this and other CCTV projects is cited broadly as public safety, but specifically for the purposes of crime reduction, deterring “anti-social behavior,” and the more efficient use of police funds. These reasons are almost always used to justify the expenses and deflect criticisms from privacy advocates even though the evidence of CCTV’s positive impact is frequently questionable. In fact, in most instances the only notable decrease in crime linked to CCTV is found in fewer car thefts and property crimes. Rates of violent or spontaneous crimes remain largely unchanged.
CCTV is often used in lieu of police officers on the beat and in this way CCTV cuts the community off from those who have sworn to protect and serve. That human interaction is reduced. Meanwhile, CCTV is only questionably effective, it was initially designed to serve private business interests and the cameras are always running, often on public spaces. There are instances where CCTV was integral to solving major crimes, such as the Boston Marathon bombing, and there are other examples of CCTV helping authorities quickly respond to criminal activity. Still, I would rather have boots on the ground participating in and helping to build communities.
Minneapolis is not London; a Big Brother comparison may be apt, but is less obvious here. However, when smaller numbers of public cameras are used to supplement and lend legitimacy to a broader network of existent private cameras there are questions. Who is watching us? Who is watching the watchers? How are the recordings used? What guarantees do we have that the private corporations that are monitoring public spaces will use the cameras with the public interest in mind? What about profiling? Is this surveillance detrimental to the way some residents interact with and in public spaces? Does CCTV lead to some people feeling unwelcome in shared, public space? Is the monitoring equitable? There is the good of the whole and the good of individuals to consider.
I, like other Minneapolitans, am on camera several times each day: I walk by a bank on my way to the bus stop, I ride public transportation, I walk down Nicollet Mall, I work in a large office building, sometimes I walk through the skyways, I cut through parking lots. Proponents of CCTV will say that law-abiding citizens have nothing to worry about. I may rely on CCTV when I’m watching the Metropolitan Police solve a crime, but I’ve also gleaned a healthy dose of some of that British cynicism which has produced some of the best-loved literary paranoiacs. Now I can’t help but see the cameras.
Here’s a chart from this neat article on the history of salt de-icing on US roads. It all started in New Hampshire, but you can see the growth of de-icing salt (the green line on the chart):
As the article explains, all this salt has a bit of an impact on the local nonhuman environment:
Just as alarmingly, when that salt dissolves and splits into sodium and chloride, it washes away into rivers and streams. Chloride, in particular, doesn’t get filtered out naturally by soil and accumulates in waterways. In December 2014, a study by the US Geological Survey found that chloride levels were on the rise in 84 percent of urban streams studied — with 29 percent exceeding federal safety limits of 230 milligrams per liter for at least part of the year.
But it’s an even bigger deal for all the other freshwater organisms in those lakes and streams. As Nina Rastogi reported for Slate in 2010, high chloride levels interfere with the ability of amphibians to regulate how fluids pass through their permeable skins. Extra salinity can also affect oxygen levels and create dead zones in lakes. The extra chemicals added to road salt can cause fish die-offs. And the salty soil near roadways can kill trees and other plants.
Perhaps the most unexpected effect comes with land animals. Moose, elk, and other mammals often visit natural salt licks to fill up on sodium. But during the winter, they often wander up to salted roads instead — raising the chances of crashes and roadkill.
Something to keep in mind as you drive around the Twin Cities in the wintertime.
[I took this from the window of the 94 bus.]There’s an old saying somewhere in America, something about how you don’t just own your stuff, but your stuff owns you. Technically, we all own our houses, cars, smart phones, and televisions; but at the same time, each of these technologies has a tremendous hold on us. Smart phones have an unnerving effect on our sense of time, for example. And each time we drive our cars, our cars drive us to look at the world a bit differently. Road rage, the price of gas, the increasing appeal of a drive thru window... we are what we own, and we become where we live.You notice this a lot when you switch back and forth. For example, if the electricity or internet service goes out, if you go up to a cabin in the woods for a weekend, if you travel to another country, or if your phone dies while you’re out on the town. Or if you get rid of your car, as I did a few years ago… Gradually you find the habits of everyday life — the patterns of shopping, moving, perceiving — start to shift. Recovering from the Holidaze this month, I've been thinking about this. Here are 7 somewhat surprising things that happen when you stop driving all the time:1. You pack all your things at onceWhen you leave your house for the day on a bike or the bus, you almost always plan your entire day out in advance. Because the trip to and from your house takes so long, stopping back in the middle of the day is usually prohibitive without a car. (Note that this makes it harder to have a dog.)You have to think through all the meetings you might have in the morning, afternoon and evening, and make sure to plan in advance about all of that. Often this means packing a backpack or bike bag, and being sure that everything you’re going to need is in there as you leave the house.2. There is down time in the middle of your dayThis is a corollary to the first point. Without a car, you won't end up going back and forth to your house all the time, which means you end up killing time through your day. For me, I often will have meetings spread throughout the day, and will often have to kill an hour or two at a library, coffee shop, or bar between them. In a way, this is a great time to explore the city. For example, spending and hour at a library in the middle of a day is a fine feeling, and feels like you’re connecting to the city around you. In a car, it’s more difficult to do this because of…3. You never worry about parking any moreI’ve mentioned this before on this blog, but drivers worry a lot about parking. (E.g. where can I park? How long can I park? How much does it cost? Will I get a ticket?) All these worries vanish without a car. Instead, you think about things like “When is the next bus coming” or “How long will it take to get across town on my bicycle?” It's surprising how never thinking about parking frees you up to wander around the city in ways that are almost impossible for people tethered to their parking space. This is a revolutionary liberation.4. You can stop on a dime, all the timeConnected to the above point, not having to park or focus on driving all the time allows you to notice many more of the things around you. (E.g. birds, smells, sounds, clouds, other people's faces.) While much of our city has become a boring featureless landscape, there are still plenty of little areas that reward a good stroll. And without a car, you can easily window shop, dwell, meander, or “pop in” to any places that catch your fancy. And this is an excellent way to… 5. You bump into peopleBumping into people while driving is a bad idea; your insurance agent will confirm this. But the random encounter is one of the best things about getting rid of the car. Long is the list of people I run into while biking or walking around town: old friends, new friends, people I might never see again without the light rail train or the impromptu stop at the bike shop. These encounters are a constant surprise, and (unless you have creepy stalkers) provide a great sense of pleasure and openness that is one of the key things that makes cities worthwhile. The word is serendipity.6. You never go to big box storesWith rare exceptions, big box stores are designed solely for car drivers. The entire premise of the store is designed around car parking and car trunks; shopping at one of these places on foot is borderline inhumane (which doesn’t stop people from doing it in places like Saint Paul Midway Wal-Mart). I probably shop at a big box store once a year, not really because of ideology (though that is part of it for me) but mostly because the convenience store on the corner is far more… convenient.It’s basic physics: the carrying capacity of the human body dictates that you replace multiple bags of things every two weeks with small bags of two or three things, multiple times per week. Doing this, I pay more attention to the individual items, and develop a more consistent relationship with shop keepers and local businesses. Almost always, these businesses are far more interesting than the robotic self-checkout line at Target. How could they not be? 7. You get more exerciseFinally, this is sort of obvious. As many others have pointed out, this happens as a seamless part of your life, as opposed to at the gym. Which is way easier, if you can get around all the other things.That's it. To me, habit is the word we give to the relationship between our intentions and our technological environments. Bad habits and good habits can be greatly affected by the kinds of spaces we find ourselves in, the kinds of people we spend time with, or the kinds of technologies we grant ourselves access to. Like it or not, the car is a huge driver of our good and bad habits, and it's intriguing to see how much can change when you get out from behind the wheel.