Twin Cities

Saint Paul Healthy Transportation for All: A Growing Reality

Streets.MN - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 12:20pm

This coming Saturday, October 25th, elected leaders, transportation officials, business leaders, non-profit groups, community leaders, and transportation enthusiasts from around St Paul and the metro area will come together for a first-of-its-kind event: a day-long convening “designed to educate, engage and empower Saint Paul residents from diverse backgrounds to play an active role in shaping their city’s transportation systems.” This is a fantastic opportunity for knowledge sharing and relationship building with community members and stakeholders across the board.

Mayor Chris Coleman will be speaking, as well as Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle and Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger. Sessions will cover a wide variety of topics, from racial equity to demystifying the city’s funding process for capital improvements (CIB).

The event organizers recognize the need for greater community involvement if transportation changes and improvements are to benefit everyone, especially those who need them the most. “Improved transportation can help address disparities in health, economic vitality and access to opportunity if the community processes that inform decisions about funding are inclusive and represent the interests of every community in Saint Paul,” says Lauren Fulner, transportation and sustainability coordinator for the Hamline Midway Coalition and SPHTFA project coordinator. “To truly create equitable transportation development, a diversity of voices must be present at the decision-making table early in the process,” says Tong Thao, community organizer with East Side Transit Equity.

The convening is intended to be the first in a series of events, partnerships and collaborations that improve equity in transportation into the future.

This event should build on the momentum provided by Gil Penalosa’s residency in the Twin Cities this past spring. His encouragement to build “8 to 80 cities”  has inspired a new fund at the city level, written about by streets’ Anne White, as well as excitement and projects around the area.

I’ll be at the meeting this Saturday, along with a number of other writers. I’ve heard there are still registration openings. You should come join us.


See you Saturday! is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

Categories: Twin Cities

End of the Road for the TIGER Trail in Northfield

Streets.MN - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 11:00am

On October 7, 2014, the Northfield City Council voted to reject all bids received for the construction for what’s been called the TIGER Trail, killing the project. It’s been almost 3 years since Northfield received word it had been awarded a $1.1 million TIGER grant and almost 3 years of decisions and discussion to reach this dead-end. Although this project is dead, the issues are certainly not.

Looking north on Highway 3

Minnesota Trunk Highway 3 is a perfect stroad. Designed (only) to move traffic through Northfield, its single-purpose objective created a large physical and psychological barrier through Northfield. The TIGER trail was intended to make the stroad more permeable and help reconnect the two sides of town. With the demise of the project, the challenge of making Highway 3 safe, easy and pleasant to cross remains.

Southbound Highway 3 into Northfield

The two sides in this debate have been the obvious opponents who focus on cost (too much) or need (not enough) and the strong supporters (including a bare majority of the City Council) who cite transportation equity, reducing automobile demand (for public health and environmental reasons), and the many benefits of active transportation. I’ve supported this project, but now’s the opportunity to look back and learn from the process.  This post is less about the design specifics and more about looking back at the politics of getting from A to B both on the street and in the Council chambers.

Planning it

The project began with the 2009 Modal Integration Study which identified possible grade-separation projects on Highway 3 and Highway 19 to improve multi-modal integration; the multi-modal trail under the highway was one of them.

In hindsight, that grade-separation limitation seems especially significant. Looking only for grade-separated solutions narrowed Northfield’s vision and perhaps incentivized grant-seeking behavior. Identifying bigger projects coupled with the availability of big grants drives the planning decisions toward projects we would not otherwise attempt and/or are not likely to be included in the ongoing capital improvement planning process. Grants start driving what we plan so that rather like teaching to the test, we plan for the grant.

The policy big picture also got in the way. Grants, of course, are tools to carry out policy by incentivizing types of projects. TIGER grant projects, according to the federal grant guidelines, were to be

“multi-modal, multi-jurisdictional or otherwise challenging to fund through existing programs. The TIGER program enables DOT to use a rigorous process to select projects with exceptional benefits, explore ways to deliver projects faster and save on construction costs, and make investments in our Nation’s infrastructure that make communities more livable and sustainable.”

The grant policy seems like a near perfect fit for just the issues which make Highway 3 challenging. Northfield’s trail is multi-modal (bike/pedestrian – and “multi-modal” really just means “not cars), multi-jurisdictional (city, state and two railroads) and it is challenging to fund given MNDoT’s previous planning and construction of TH3. Northfield’s TIGER project was also well grounded in city policy and earlier projects (read the history in the grant application) and not just plucked out of the air.  MNDoT’s decision to help with funding helped reinforce this goodness of fit between policy and project and bridging jurisdictions.

Questions I’m left with (and I was a member of the City Council while this project was planned and initially approved, so I’m implicated here) include (1) why didn’t we question the grade-separated limitation in the modal integration study and planning the TIGER project, (2) did identifying a big project distract from continuing to look for additional improvements along the highway, and (3) would Northfield have attempted to plan a project like the TIGER trail if grant funding were not available?


The TIGER trail project (here’s the Project Memorandum) faltered when the idealism of the grant application met the realities on the ground. The grant awarded $1.1 million with $500,000 in local matching funds creating expectations this would be the total project cost. Unfortunately, the project almost immediately proved to be more difficult than the grant application anticipated including roadblocks with railroads, changes in design requirements for a retaining wall, bids higher than anticipated, and other needed design variances. Each change brought additional costs causing a struggle to either “find” more money or reduce the project scope.

TIGER project original trail plan

TIGER trail redesign

A big grant brings a large chunk of money, but also imposes costs (Northfield’s annual budget is about $10 million; a $1 million dollar project is very big). Some are obvious (but still not budgeted), like local matching dollars. Then there is the significant cost in staff time (and remember, Northfield has 20,000 people with the small engineering staff to match), unanticipated costs when the project scope is changed as it is designed and the immense political capital cost of trying to defend the project in the face of each dollar cost adjustment. Add to that the inflexibility of the grant funding – Northfield was limited to a grade-separated crossing and could not redeploy grant dollars to a different project serving the same general policy goals.

What’s next?

First, a deep breath. The community support for the idea of the TIGER trail was strong from the outset with multiple letters from community groups accompanying the grant application to stalwart supporters at Council meetings throughout the process. Retirees, residents of Northfield’s manufactured home park, young families spoke to the Council about how they would like to be able to cross the highway safely and easily but don’t see the current design as adequate. The TIGER project focused both the supporters, but also made it an easier target for opponents and made it easier to dismiss improving bike/ped transportation as big ticket/small impact.  Aiming for the 8-80 standard which is easily understood – would you let your elementary school child or grandmother cross Highway 3 (alone) on foot, bicycle, motorized scooter, skateboard, etc.?

Next, a step back.  In the bigger picture, the case for active transportation continues to grow and push bike and pedestrian improvements from nice extras to necessities for public health, environmental issues, livability, and economic development. Building grassroots support for change is still needed for systemic change rather than special projects, but the likely supporters keep growing as the benefits are recognized. The most important development during the TIGER Trail was the emphasis on equity and making not driving a real option in Northfield. Let’s not lose this.

Smaller and/or different projects: If Northfield can build on the TIGER trail’s support, broaden it with continued education, then what projects can happen?  I’ve indicated a preference for trying to keep the planning and funding as local as possible, so what pieces of the TIGER project still be built with more local dollars extended in time? Which portions might bring the biggest impact?  Beyond grade-separated crossings, how do we make sustained improvement using the capital improvement process? Can other Northfield plans like the Corridor Improvement Plan be marshalled for planning purposes? readers can probably imagine different solutions along the corridor from road diets, intersection improvements, and other stroad-reduction design changes (suggestions welcome).

Finally, vote: If Northfield is to be an 8-80 City, Northfield (and other communities) needs elected officials who understand the bigger picture of linking transportation improvements and land use, multi-modal transportation as an equity issue, and the longer term benefits which can result. is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

Categories: Twin Cities

Chart of the Day: Perceived Comfort for Varying Bike Faciltiies

Streets.MN - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 10:11am

This is a chart from a recent study out of Portland State University about measuring perceived comfort for different types of bicycle facilities.

You can read the report and the methodology here, but this basically says that more people think they feel more comfortable in more protected bike infrastructure.

(One other interesting result were that age didn’t have much effect on perceived comfort.) is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

Categories: Twin Cities

Making Transit-Oriented Development Great at Lake and Hiawatha

Streets.MN - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 10:00am

There is room for improvement at the transit-oriented development proposed at Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue. It has been a long time coming, but the latest version of the project (shown below) has Hennepin County acting as master developer, working with a private design and development team led by BKV Group. A Hennepin County service center will be the primary tenant of a mixed-use office/retail building on the 6-acre site, which will also include an approximate one acre public plaza that will be home to the Midtown Farmers Market, as well as around 500 housing units. The county has indicated a short timeline to get the county services building up and running, and I fear in their haste urban design and public realm issues won’t be properly vetted.

I was part of the BKV Group design team that started working with the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization (CNO) in 2009 (five years ago!) to push forward on design ideas for the site. I’m no longer on the BKV team, but have been asked by CNO to weigh in on matters of design, particularly the public realm and plaza. So here goes.

First, the public plaza is in the wrong location. Second, pedestrian connections around and through the site may be less than adequate. Third, it is critically important to pay close attention to how the ground floor of these buildings (commercial and residential) relate to the sidewalk and street. Hennepin County needs to put the brakes on this project to get the public realm and urban design right.

Regarding the plaza, placing the county services building with ground floor retail frontage right on Lake Street is all well and good and follows basic urbanism principles. However, in this scenario I continue to question why the public plaza remains squished up against the rail viaduct. True, it will have good access to and from the station entrance, but it will be largely hidden from view from Lake Street and not visible at all from the adjacent YWCA. I think this is a huge mistake. Besides, it is always worth quoting Joe Riley, who says “great cities give their best edges over to the public realm.” So why is the supposed lynchpin of this site – a public plaza – not facing Lake Street? Doing so would allow all – train riders, bus riders, drivers and pedestrians on Lake Street, guests coming and going from the YWCA, and students of nearby South High School – to see and experience a high-quality public space in any season, whether the farmer’s market is operating or not (Eastern Market, below, is but one of many examples).

Furthermore, the current plan places two retail spaces facing Lake Street, but also a community room. While the preliminary designs show lots of glass and transparency (a good thing), I’m not sure that only two retail spaces will be enough to activate the Lake Street side of this project. It also feels like the community room is just filler. A third retail space faces the plaza only, which I believe is a pretty major flaw and will be a very hard space to fill. My gut says if you can’t get it right, don’t do it at all. Placing the plaza right on Lake Street, with the county building and retail space set back and essentially facing both the plaza and street at the same time, could very well assuage this problem, as it gives both public space and retail full visibility and exposure. It would allow all retail space to face both street and plaza, making them more viable. The community room should be on the second floor, not taking up potentially valuable and active retail space.

If we accept that the Hennepin County services building must be on Lake Street, then we must address the grade-level midblock passage proposed to cut through the block. In concept, this is a good idea. After all, adding streets to the grid is Jane Jacobs 101.

Adding one street increases pedestrian choices by a significant factor, and breaks up megablocks. The problem is, the current plan calls for a midblock passage that not only passes under an unnecessary second story appendage of the Hennepin County building, but next to an at-grade parking lot covered by the private rooftop amenity deck for the proposed market rate apartments. The path crosses what appears to be the retail truck loading area as well. So yes, a pedestrian can choose to take this path, but why would anyone do so?

The good urbanist in me would ask why not just take the sidewalk along Lake Street to reach a popular destination such as the YWCA? Well, one answer is they provide free parking so I just drive. I only mention the YWCA because close to 1,000 people per day pass through its doors, and the most active pedestrian door at the YWCA faces the parking lot (not Lake Street), as do a large bank of second story windows in the fitness area (eyes on the street/lot). And it is important when planning this site to acknowledge surrounding land uses that aren’t likely to change. Hoping everyone chooses to walk and use the Lake Street entrance is farfetched at best, is a case of hopeful planner thinking, and we’d all be better off if existing conditions and human nature were taken into account. Today one can see in a direct line from the light rail station entrance to the most used entrance of the Y, and vice-versa. Furthermore, a natural location for a stage, fountain or meeting place on the plaza is also in this line of sight. So why block that view with a parking lot, building appendage and private amenity space? The design team has proposed to shield the view of this parking/drive area with a bicycle storage facility, which seems like a good gesture but masks a fundamental design flaw. Regardless of where the plaza is, it is important that it be visible from both the transit station and the YWCA and that any midblock passage be dignified and humane.

Here’s why I’m concerned. BKV is the architect of The Marshall in Dinkytown, where they recently designed a midblock passage, and this is what they came up with.

While they did provide a means for pedestrians to pass through, the design is certainly lacking. This makes me bristle – an uninviting, potentially unsafe passageway with no vista nor visual attraction.

The midblock passage can work, but let’s do it some justice and make it more dignified, more urban, more like a street, and less like an underpass next to a parking ramp. Let’s make it more like Warren Place in Brooklyn…

…Tongli in Suzhou, China…

…Zakkendragerssteeg in Utrecht, Netherlands…

…or even Carrer dels Cecs de Sant Cugat in Barcelona (but straight so as not to block the views up and down the street).

Lastly, I very much applaud that residential units will have ground floor walk-out entrances. However, even the details of this must be paid close attention. Front doors must be inviting and facing the street but not overly gated off or with steps that appear to be hanging off the building. Doing it right like Vancouver…

…St. Mark’s Avenue in Brooklyn…

…or our very own Lake Street in Minneapolis, is critical.

A simple instinct is that we’ve been planning this project for so long, let’s just get it done! That would be a shame, as it risks winding up with a very average result. We’ve taken so long but still not gotten the plan right; it is even more important that we take the extra time needed now to do so. The plaza can be moved, and regardless, the public realm can be improved. (Of course the cruel irony in planning for a transit-oriented development is parking dictates so much of the design.)

I encourage councilmember Alondra Cano to risk that this project may not host its ribbon cutting on her watch, and that she work with CPED staff and Hennepin County to get the public realm right. I encourage commissioner Peter McLaughlin to step back and put urban design ahead of a tight timeline of providing county services. I encourage city and county staff and CNO to focus first and foremost on the public realm. I encourage all readers to contact elected officials and demand better urban design that benefits all.

Hennepin County wants this project done fast. We need to demand it be done right. is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

Categories: Twin Cities

Signs of the Times #95

Twin Cities Sidewalks - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 9:55am
 grow[Powderhorn, Minneapolis.]E-CIGSSOLD HEREALL FLAVORS[Tree. Cedar Avenue, Minneapolis.]  LIFEISFUN[Trash can. West Bank, Minneapolis.] For Osip Nikiforovplease drop thepackage inside here.Thank you[Cedar-Riverside, Minneapolis?]  Clean UP AfterYour DOGIt's TheLAW[Location Forgotten.] I [heart]Pedal Pub[Northeast Minneapolis.]WELCOMEto theNIGHT MARKET[University Avenue, Saint Paul.]PLEASEdo nottakeVegetables[Garden. West Side, Saint Paul.]
Categories: Twin Cities

Twin City Doorways #14

Twin Cities Sidewalks - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 9:49am
[E Lake Street, Minneapolis.] [NE Central Avenue, Minneapolis.] [Lake Street, Minneapolis.] [Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis.] [Selby Avenue, Saint Paul.] [University Avenue, Saint Paul.] [University Avenue, Saint Paul.] [Grand Marais.]
Categories: Twin Cities

Transpo Convo: Francine With Her Daughter

Streets.MN - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 8:37am

[This is part of's "transpo convo" series, which aims to be an oral history of getting around the Twin Cities, one person at a time.] 

“I’m just out grocery shopping,” says Francine as she is walking down University Avenue, pushing her daughter in a stroller.

Francine identifies signal crossing time as an issue when out walking

It is a warm 56 degree fall afternoon and rush hour traffic is just barely creeping along down the avenue.

“When it’s nice like this, it is so easy to walk with her,” Francine points to her daughter.

Francine has lived in the Union Park neighborhood connected to University Avenue for about seven months.  She identifies the convenient location as a reason she chose to move here.

“I don’t need to take the bus, the train or ride a bike.  Everything is right here,” she says.  “It’s just so easy to walk to get anything.”

It’s not always easy, however.

“I won’t take her out in the winter.  I’ll just drive,” Francine says, identifying a problem that can’t be changed when living in the Midwest.

“It sometimes gets hard to walk.  You have to watch out for cars.  People are always in a hurry.”

“But, it’s mostly easy to walk on a day like this.  They could make the walk signals longer for people like me who are with a stroller,” she adds.

Francine smiles and reiterates that she enjoys the opportunity to be out walking for errands on such a nice day as she wanders away with her daughter and groceries in tow. is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

Categories: Twin Cities

Why Hierarchical Road Systems Are Good

Streets.MN - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 7:57am

A topic that has arisen a few times is the New Urbanism concept of a using a grid street system to disperse traffic rather than concentrate most traffic on a few major arterials with a hierarchical road system. This is one element of New Urbanism that I disagree with.

I’m not at all opposed to street grids, I am opposed to using them to disperse traffic since I believe that this promotes driving and will keep bicycling from being a viable option for the vast majority of our population.

Safety and comfort are requirements

Most average people feel unsafe and uncomfortable riding a bicycle in close and unprotected proximity to a lot of fast cars. Trucks add an even greater level of discomfort. The faster cars are going (and the more cars there are) the more we desire and need protection from them.

The Dutch have determined, after decades of pushing the limits, that people’s comfort level sharing a road with cars quickly decreases when cars are traveling faster than about 18 mph. So, above 18 mph their code now requires a minimum of a painted bike lane (though a segregated path or cycletrack is recommended). Above 30 mph requires a physically segregated path or cycletrack and the distance of separation increases with increases in speed. Note that these are actual speeds not just posted.

While most people are likely comfortable sharing the road with cars traveling 16 mph and nearly as many at 18 mph, very few, perhaps only a quarter, are likely comfortable doing so with 30 mph traffic and many fewer at 35 mph. Keep in mind that this does not mean that this many people will ride, only that this many people would be comfortable doing so.

So, if you are planning a street with 30 mph traffic and install no bicycle facilities you’ve likely eliminated about half to three-quarters of the population from riding a bicycle right from the start. Even a painted bike lane will only provide a feeling of safety and comfort to a very few more. A cycletrack however might be comfortable for nearly all.

New Urban-ing Summit Hill

Consider east-west traffic in Summit Hill that we previously discussed in St Paul Bicycle Plan: Completing The Local Mile, everything from St Clair north to 94. Assuming that traffic on each residential street is about 800 cars per day then we have 57,000 vehicles per day wanting to travel east or west in this area[1].

If we take 1/3 of the traffic on the six arterials and disperse it among the residential streets they’ll now average about 2,000 cars per day on each. At the same time we’ve reduced the traffic on the arterials so Selby is now about 4,000 instead of 6,000. Good for Selby, not so good for Goodrich and other residential streets.

If we achieve New Urbanist Utopia then traffic will be evenly dispersed and we’ll no longer have arterials. Each of these streets will now have 3,000 vehicles rolling along them each day. To be fair, New Urbanists would like to see a lot more people walking so let’s assume that a third of all of these folks stop driving so now we’re at about 2,000 cars per day on each street.

Problem for bicyclists

The simple increase in traffic volume on these residential streets is a bit of a problem though likely not huge. It makes them a bit less comfortable to ride a bicycle and increases noise and air pollution. The biggest concern for most bicycle riders with increased volume will likely be at intersections. Even so, many Dutch engineers will still put a cycletrack on a street with 18 mph speeds but higher volumes.

Dutch cities want most of their streets to be pleasant and safe for bicycling without the need of special facilities.

The type of traffic, the type of people driving the extra 1200 cars, is a much bigger concern. How fast are they driving and how well are they paying attention?

Someone just leaving or arriving at their destination, especially if on a street they live on, is likely to drive a bit slower, pay better attention, and be more considerate of others.

Someone using a street as a thoroughfare has a very different mindset. This especially if they’ve already been delayed a bit and are using this residential street as a rat-run to bypass the arterial traffic.

How comfortable are you riding your bicycle on a street with only local drivers vs about three times as many drivers and with two-thirds of them people from elsewhere in a hurry to get somewhere else? How comfortable sending your 8-year-old out on this street?

Problem for drivers

If we want to be able to ride bicycles more and have others do so then we need to make it feel safe and comfortable on every street. We can either reduce traffic volume and speed enough that most people are comfortable sharing the road with cars and having their children do so (alone), or we can install facilities like cycletracks.

Now, what to do with the 40,000 people who don’t live in this area and aren’t driving to someplace in this area? The 40,000 people who are in a hurry to get from somewhere else to somewhere else? These people need a place where they can safely drive 30 or 35 mph and where people walking and riding bicycles are safe from them. If it’s not provided they’ll simply turn our residential streets in to arterials.

Do we slow all streets to 18 mph? Do we put a cycletrack on every street so that people can use them all as a through-way?

But, but, we’re creating car sewers!

Yes. Instead of the sewage being scattered all over doing all kinds of random harm we’re keeping it in one place where we can deal with it appropriately[2].

Good safe segregated bicycle, disabled and pedestrian facilities and other measures to mitigate the impact of a lot of fast motor traffic aren’t inexpensive and the cost doesn’t really change based on the volume of traffic.

A residential street with a few hundred local cars per day can be made quite safe and comfortable fairly inexpensively with 15-20 mph speed limits, shortening of the distances that can be travelled by car, maybe some no-passing rules, some chicanes and other elements.

A street carrying more and faster through traffic is a different animal. Here we need to segregate bicycle riders, pedestrians, and disabled from cars for them to feel and be safe and comfortable so we’ll need cycletracks and good sidewalks. Buildings along here might want some additional sound proofing. It makes little difference if there are 4,000 cars per day (Selby reduced by one third) or 14,300 (Grand currently). The impact of motor traffic is about the same and the needs and costs for mitigation will be about the same.

As much as we might want it, there really is no good in-between that I’m aware of.


I think we’re much better off in our example with 13 residential streets that are comfortable for all and only need cycletracks on six stroads rather than have 19 streets/stroads that are all uncomfortable and all in need of cycletracks.

Some might consider this all very unfair. We’ve chosen some streets to be quite pleasant and others to be car sewers. I don’t know that we have much choice. More, I don’t know that our car sewers can’t be made fairly pleasant as well with cycletracks, trees, and other elements that soften the impact of the cars and make them feel instead rather vibrant. Best of all, if we make bicycling comfortable then we may well succeed in significantly reducing the number of cars going down our sewers.


[1] I was not able to obtain accurate counts for these streets. Best guess is probably about 800 on average.

[2] This is kind of like building a big window well. The builder will often run drain tile (perf pipe) through the window well and then run the drain tile in to a sump pump inside the basement. Seems illogical because the goal is to keep water OUT of the basement. By doing this though the builder gains control of the water and can now safely direct it to where it should go.


Thanks to David, David, Reuben, Bill, and Marven for your valuable input. is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

Categories: Twin Cities

A Field Guide to Bus Shelters

Twin Cities Sidewalks - Tue, 10/21/2014 - 4:14pm
[Replacing an ad on a flat-roof CBS shelter on Saint Paul's Minnesota St.]Last week, I wrote a Cityscape column all about bus stops and bus shelters. In doing so, I learned a lot about actual types of bus shelters and began noticing them as I went around the city.Here's a bit of background from the piece:The Twin Cities’ transit system has about 12,000 bus stops spread throughout the metro area, and somewhere around 800 of them have shelters operated by the agency. Of the stops with shelters, about 14 percent of them of have lights and 10 percent have heat for the winter. In theory, the agency has guidelines about which well-used stops should receive shelters, but in practice there are many stops in the center cities that lack shelters despite high ridership. As it turns out, once you start spotting different types of bus shelters, it's hard to stop. Here's what I've learned so far.There are three main types of bus shelters in the Twin Cities:
  • 1) Metro Transit shelters (without ads)
  • 2) CBS shelters (with ads) 
  • 3) Public/Private (aka "custom") shelters
Within those broad categories, there are even more distinctions depending on age, roof type, and size. Here's a rough sampling of a dozen or so.CBS Shelters - These shelters are actually owned by CBS Outdoor, a large media/advertising company that also runs billboards, and advertising laden benches. Oddly, considering the trend toward privatizzation in other cities aroun the country, Minneapolis recently cancelled their contract with CBS Outdoor, so CBS shelters in Minneapolis are gradually being phased out. However, they are still being built and operated in Saint Paul and some other suburbs (I heard Roseville...).Note that these shelters typically have ads only one side, usually the side that is the "far side" of whichever direction the police typically come from. (E.g. downstream from the direction of traffic.) Safety and transparency (meant quite literally) is a key consideration in bus shelter design.[A flat roof CBS shelter, probably the oldest of the type. Wabasha and 6th, DT Saint Paul.][Metal variation of CBS shelter, probably much newer. Hennepin and Washington, DT Minneapolis.][Curved roof CBS shelter. Nicollet and 16th, Minneapolis.]Metro Transit Shelters [basic] - These are the most common type of shelter, particularly once you get out of Minneapolis and Saint Paul proper. They are distinctive because of the lack of advertising. You can tell the ages of the shelters by looking at the type of metal and glass used (striped = more recent) and whether the roof is curved perpendicularly (older) or whether the curve is aligned with the shelter (more recent).Also, increasingly these come in different sizes and configurations, such as fully enclosed and half enclosed.[Curved roof MT Shelter without striped glass. Wabasha and 5th, DT Saint Paul.][MT Shelter with a higher peaked roof. Nicollet and 18th, Minneapolis.][Larger version of the above. Note different size roof and glass panes. Nicollet and Franklin, Minneapolis.][High peak half-shelter. Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis.][Silver MT "logo" shelter, the newest model out there. Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis.]Metro Transit Shelters [deluxe] - In addition to the basic shelter, there are certain special Metro Transit-owned shelters that are becoming more common throughout the Twin Cities. Right now, the best example are the Marq-2 shelters along Marquette and 2nd, however as the proposed aBRT system rolls out, more deluxe Metro Transit shelters will become more common.[A Marq-2 Shelter with NexTrip sign, quasi-benches. Marquette Avenue, Minneapolis.][One of the proposed aBRT "A Line" shelters.]Public/Private Shelters - These are the really idiosyncratic ones. There are a whole range of privately-built and sometimes publicly maintained "custom shelters" throughout the Twin Cities. Sometimes, if they are designed to be compatible with Metro Transit's components (e.g. glass), they are maintained by Metro Transit. Otherwise they are wholly private.[The "flower shelter", a custom design in North Minneapolis.][The "Taj Mahal" shelter on 6th and Jackson, DT Saint Paul.][A large non-bus stop shelter by the bus waiting area. Parking lot next to the library, Minneapolis.][Custom shelter. Hennepin Avenue, downtown Minneapolis.][Custom shelter. Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis.][Custom shelter. Note absence of glass panes. MT probably doesn't do much to this one. Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis.]Update:This amusing photo was sent in by a friend, showing a new Metro Transit shelter side-by-side with a custom shelter in Richfield.
Categories: Twin Cities

Chart of the Day: Growth in Post-College Residency

Streets.MN - Tue, 10/21/2014 - 10:09am

Yesterday, I found an interesting article in the New York Times about which cities are rapidly growing their young 20-something (post-college) populations.



This is growth rates, not overall numbers, so the results may be a bit misleading. For example, Boston has huge numbers of post-college grads because of the massive amount of colleges in the area, and I’m sure the other typical young person destinations (San Francisco, New York, Chicago, DC, etc.) are still the most important. Instead what we learn here is that young people are moving to cities, and even theoretically non-appealing ones like Houston.

Still, Minneapolis doesn’t do too bad according to this metric, coming in right around average. But we’re getting our butt kicked by Denver. Apart from mountains, light rail, and legalized pot, what do they have that we don’t have? is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

Categories: Twin Cities

Ideas for Twin Cities Bike Builders

Streets.MN - Tue, 10/21/2014 - 9:00am

When I draw cartoons about imaginary bicycles, I try to make the designs believable and think about how they might actually be constructed.

In this first example, the projector bike would be pretty complicated to build, perhaps impossible, but the other three designs wouldn’t be that hard and they might produce bikes that would be fun to ride .

The same thing is true of this Rowing Recumbent bike or this Orchestrocycle. Both of them wouldn’t be that hard to build and they’d be super fun to ride, row and play.



Outlandish bicycle designs bring attention to bicycling. Drivers, cyclists and everyone else can’t help but notice a tall-bike, towering above traffic. Some locally made, pedal-powered contraptions have been highlights of the May Day parade and images of them get passed around the internet. I’m thinking of the “summersault bike” or various pedal-powered elevators. A lot of cities have “Art Car” parades. It would be fun if the Twin Cities had an annual “Art Bike” or pedal-powered parade. The Saint Paul Classic and other local bicycle events have a little of this. People create fish-bikes, buffalo-bikes, flamingo-bikes and other stuff but, once a year, it would be nice to get them all in one place.


In addition to the outlandish, I’d love to see the Twin Cities devote some energy to more practical bicycle or tricycle designs. Cargo trikes or “Box Trikes” are perfect for Minnesota winters. Their three wheels make them stable on ice and snow. When my wife and I got a house, the first thing I did was get a Christiania Trike from Denmark. In Denmark, at the low-end, they cost between $1400 and $1600 dollars for the basic box trike and a few extras. You can choose a steel or (lighter) aluminum step-through frame, and anywhere from a 3-speed to an 8-speed Shimano internally geared rear hub. They have disk brakes up front and a drum brake in back for quick stopping. You can get a frame lock, different types of removable seats in the box (with seatbelts), and different styles of optional rain covers. There are lots of other optional design features as well, including removable front doors, custom colors, different saddles, etc..

The boxes are made from panels of enameled, marine plywood riveted to an aluminum frame. I’ve had mine for 5 years of fairly heavy use and it’s still going strong. I use it all winter (and summer) to get groceries and run errands, or I ride it for everyday transportation when winter streets are so slick that I don’t trust the studded tires on my regular bike. It can haul 220 pounds in the cargo box. That’s a decent sized adult, multiple kids, groceries, garden supplies, or just about anything else.

The one problem with the Christiania Trike (or a Dutch one made by Bakfiets) is they cost a fortune to import. I only spent $1600 to buy my trike but I spent over $1200 to ship it to the US and pay all the tariffs, taxes and customs fees. This is why, in the USA, they retail for over $2800. This seems like a great opportunity for a local manufacturer in Minnesota. There are lots of great custom frame-builders in the Twin Cities as well as big companies like Quality Bicycle Products. We could build a box-trike of similar quality here and save people the $1200 in shipping and customs fees. At a $1500 price point, it would attract a lot more buyers like me who want something that works in the winter and it might convince more people to give up their cars. There are a few domestically made box trikes (Haley and Worksman) but they just don’t compare in terms of design, handling and quality to the Danish and Dutch ones.

So get out there and make some outlandish and practical new bike designs. …Or lend me your arc welder and pipe cutters and I’ll give it a try. is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

Categories: Twin Cities

Thoughts on Minneapolis’ Proposed ADU Ordinance

Streets.MN - Tue, 10/21/2014 - 6:30am

Detached ADUs in Boulder, CO

Minneapolis folks, the draft ordinance for Accessory Dwelling Units is available! It’s like Christmas-come-early for urbanists. Ok, maybe not that extreme, maybe it’s more like President’s Day? I dunno. Either way, the pace that the city council and planning staff have moved this particular topic through to this point is very encouraging, as is the level of support (92%!) so far from Minneapolitans. That’s insane – I can’t imagine 92% of us agreeing on what color pavement our streets should be, so, good job!

Besides, we’ve already got ADUs (by form) capping many block-ends in the city. This just let’s us build more.

We’ve covered ADUs here only briefly here before, but there are tons of great resources to get yourself familiarized with the concept if you havent already. I took some time over the weekend to read through the draft, and wanted to get a few thoughts out there to make this foray into a new housing option as successful as possible.

A Realist’s Preface

I love ADUs. I want to build one in my backyard. But for all their positives, the realist in me can’t imagine them making a serious impact on the housing market. Look at Portland ADU permits by year (keeping in mind Portland has almost 3x the land area and an already 200k+ larger population than Minneapolis)


Yes, there’s been a jump recently after some policy changes, but we’re talking maybe a couple hundred a year, and less than 1,000 in existence in total. It could be a very long time before Minneapolis sees over 100 permit applications in a year. There’s nothing wrong with that. They can be tricky, expensive, and they need the right lot, location, occupant, personal finances in place to align, but they’re still a valuable tool in the “making Minneapolis affordable, walkable, etc” toolbox.

The Positives

First, let’s call the positives out. I think it’s safe to say that anything we end up with is better than not having ADUs at all, and Lisa Bender  + project staff have done an excellent job getting us to this point. The communication has been clear, and the process wide open with tons of meetings across city neighborhoods. Great job.

I also love that we’re not shying away from multiple forms of ADUs here. Allowing these new units to come from basement or attic space, an addition to a primary structure, or via a detached structure all give options and flexibility. Kudos.


The ordinance also encourages eyes on the alley via requiring 10% of the alley-facing façade to be windows. My gut reaction was “overly burdensome,” but the weekend made me re-think that. This likely won’t be hard to achieve, would have been done in most cases anyway, and really does have some positive benefits to keeping alleys safer (and beautifying them!).

Finally, parking! The behemoth that sinks any productive conversation for new development. I was pleasantly surprised to see that an ADU unit does not come with a requirement to provide off-street parking. The ordinance does require property owners to maintain the minimum parking spaces for the primary structure, which is fair. But exempting the ADU gives flexibility in design, lot placement, and cost for builders.

Room For Improvement

Despite all the positives, I believe there’s still room for improvement to the ordinance in a way that will still get this thing passed. I’m keeping the list fairly short to be pragmatic. In order:

  • Floor Area – The ordinance keeps the lot coverage of a detached ADU to 676 square feet, or 10% of the lot area (whichever is greater). This is a seemingly arbitrary number that doesn’t really serve much purpose considering permeable surface area requirements by zoning district will remain in place. This seems especially ridiculous when you realize we’re limiting the amount of space available to house humans to the same number as storing cars. If we want to allow for flexible designs and retain owner parking, I suggest removing the maximum or at least making it a number that conforms to some design idea. An example could be: “total floor area can be 750 square feet if a single-story structure OR 800 total square feet with no more than 550 square feet on the ground level.” Just spitballin’.
  • Height – As drafted, ADUs will be allowed to reach 16′ in height with 11′ high walls. However, 16′ is defined as the midpoint between the eaves and the ridge of the roofline (assuming this definition carries over from detached garage guidelines) For a hip, gable, or gambrel roof, this makes for a maximum ridge height of 21′. I’m sure this provides for some great designs, but it can still be quite limiting. My guess is most homeowners interested in building an ADU have a vehicle, if not two, and want to retain them. Units above garages will be a natural design fit, and a 21′ roofline with 11′ wall maximum could limit any number of designs that work well in other cities. Plus, it feels kinda bait-and-switchy after being shown designs in the (well-rendered) examples used at project meetings:

    Taller than 21′ on the right?

    Flat roofs should be allowed a full second story (20′), and pitched roofs should get more wiggle room (25′ max?) to allow for large enough habitable spaces on the outer edges where the roof slopes.

  • Matching Materials – For detachedADUs, this could really hold back projects. Many existing homes don’t have all that great of materials, or conversely, have very expensive materials. We shouldn’t require a structure that will barely be visible (if at all) from the street to match the primary one. In fact, doing so could limit the architectural options and creativity that could really make our alleys more whimsical than today. As a point of reference, both Seattle, WA and Vancouver, BC do not require matching exteriors. As of October 20, 2014, they haven’t been reduced to pits of burning slag (right?).

    Different, but not necessarily out-of-place. (via SightlineDaily)

  • Ownership Requirement – I’m not sure why this one made it in. We don’t require single family homes, duplexes, triplexes, or any other units that can legally be rented out to have owner-occupancy for one of the two units (the ordinance does allow the owner to live in the ADU). Why should we require this for ADUs? If we want to limit potential noise or disturbance to neighbors, we should regulate and enforce this the same way we do in other districts, not use some end-around method hoping an on-site landlord will be better.
  • Exterior Stairs – I snuck this one in. It’s an odd requirement as, again, we don’t limit exterior staircases on multi-family units (duplexes, triplexes, etc). If the city is unwilling to budge on the height and floor area issues stated above (and the exclusion of new street-facing entrances for attached units), the least they can do is allow exterior stairs to maximize finished square footage inside the ADU.
  • Ok! I’m sure not everyone will agree with me. That’s fine. Use this post as a talking point to reach out to your councilmember. I can’t imagine 92% of city respondents supporting something the way ADUs have been. So before this thing gets passed and we feel like we can’t touch it again for more than a decade, let’s maximize that support to make some minor improvements. Thanks! is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

    Categories: Twin Cities

    Map Monday: Places and Non-Places in Phoenix

    Streets.MN - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 12:33pm

    This is from a recent post on the Strong Towns blog, a kind of figure-ground map of “places” and “non-places” in downtown Pheonix.

    Not only does this map remind me of the famous Nolli map of Rome, it seems to rhyme with Nate Hood’s map of parking in downtown Saint Paul. To me the concept of “place” is useful, if flawed. To some people a “non-place” might be very important (e.g. a skateboarder might see a marginal concrete space under a freeway as very valuable).  But as one person’s view of where value can be found, a map like this is revealing. is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

    Categories: Twin Cities

    The Silent Sanity of Freeway Free Pockets

    Twin Cities Sidewalks - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 11:06am
    [Childhood home, raised by whirrs.]Somehow, I didn’t notice it very often. I grew up in an old farmhouse in the suburbs, a one-acre lot surrounded by trees and lilac bushes in the golf course suburbs of Saint Paul. It was easy to pretend that you were “in nature,” getting lost in the patches of forest or climbing trees to be with my off-brand walkman. But every once in a while I’d go out into the front yard, and I’d hear the sound of the freeway. It was easy on to notice, but my house back then was exactly 3/4 of a mile East of Interstate 35E, the last leg of the Twin Cities’ inner-ring freeway system to be built (completed in the mid-1980s). I remember once climbing the tree in the front yard to watch the sun set in the West. I remember hearing the sound of the freeway off in the distance, a never-ending high whirr of tires, sounding insistent, almost angry. Today the 80,000 cars each day works out to almost a car per second.The freeway is surprisingly close to the house, and it made me realize that freeways are surprisingly close to most houses. It’s increasingly difficult to find anywhere within the 494-694 ring of the Twin Cities where you can’t hear the high pitched whirr of tires all hours of the day and night. Sonically speaking. The sound of car tires is a soft blanket covering the metro with an unceasing high frequency bed behind everything we hear. Cars are a backdrop to every outdoor conversation, every rustle of leaves, and every birdsong day in and day out forever.[The freeway free pocket map. Pink = one-mile buffer from a freeway.][There's a little sound crotch by Lake Hiawatha.]The other day at, Adam Froehlig made a map that answered one of the questions that’s been nagging at my earlobe for years: Where are the respites from the whirr? Is there anywhere in Minneapolis or Saint Paul where you can escape the sound of tires, if even for a brief moment in the middle of the night?While it’s not perfect, Alex’s map does point to a few small places where freeways might be at least a mile off, enough I think to prevent the high bed from ringing in your ears.Freeway sounds happen in the background. If you hear something every day, all the time, if fades into the recesses of your attention and you stop hearing the thing. Freeway sound becomes invisible (sonically speaking).There are precious few of these freeway free pockets in Minneapolis: a pie slice of Northeast Minneapolis, a halo surrounding Lakes Harriet and (Haystacks) Calhoun, a few tiny pieces of South, and a peripheral edge of North Minneapolis.  Is there a silent way that these neighborhoods help with delicate sanity? Last night I had the bedroom window open, and I woke up in the middle of the night after a particularly vivid dream about Baroque city planning. (Yes.)I lay in my bed looking at the shadows of streetlights, and I could hear the sounds of the city reaching their thin fingers into my apartment: a train horn repeating, insistent and cheerful; the wind rustling the too-dry leaves; the tinkling wind chime; and yes the constant whirr of Highway 52, ADT 58,000 which runs a mile away to the East. (Or was it Shepard Road, ADT 17,000, slightly closer in the river valley?)I’m almost out of the freeway pocket, but I can still hear it. Or is it all in my head?[My current distance from a freeway is about a mile, pretty good for the core cities.]
    Categories: Twin Cities

    Sunday Summary – October 19, 2014

    Streets.MN - Sun, 10/19/2014 - 7:30am

    Here’s the week on raked into tidy piles for easy reading:

    Look and listen

    Videos this week include the fun tour of some of Saint Paul’s new bike boulevards with Bikerlapse: Dayton to Griggs to Charles and two somber and shocking safety-related videos with Saturday Music Video: White Bike (Me For Queen) and Hit me at 30.

    Charts of the Day include Charles Jencks’ Architectural Evolutionary Tree shows how the architecture theorist and critic’s represented development of architectural styles and Minnesota County State Aid Highway Funding shows the funding formula and dollar amounts for that piece of the transportation funding pie Millennials, however, top the charts this week with Millennial Mode Share and More Millennial Trends for four charts from the new USPIRG millennial transportation report.

    Maps & photos: Map Monday: Neighborhood Funding in Minneapolis is a clickable map of special neighborhood districts created more than 35 years ago showing the money which has accumulated in the various districts. And, two photos: Friday Photo: Down the middle and Photo of the Day: The Intercity Monorail that Never Was.

    Listen to Podcast #73: The Great Railvolution Debate which is the actual debate by writers at the recent Railvolution conference (which was previewed earlier).

    Green Line & beyond

    Discussion continues about various aspects of the relatively new Green Line LRT.  Green Line Getting Up to Speed in Fits and Starts updates the discussion about signal timing on the Green Line with details of recent improvements. LRT Beats Bus in the Central Corridor in number of riders and this post also provides details about how many riders board at which stations. Green Art for the Green Line — Part III suggests something like David Zinn’s temporary street art as a way to beautify the Green Line and keep it captivating (See Parts I & II of Green Art for the Green Line, too)



    Extending the Green Line in time, The Evolution of the Green Line: A Retrospective takes a look back from 2074 when the Green Line will have been abandoned (and many other changes will have taken place in the Twin Cities). If life expectancy keeps increasing, perhaps I’ll be able to check how accurate this is when I’m 113 or some younger readers should keep track and write a review for at the appropriate time. Extending light rail in space, Midtown Corridor: A Grade Separated Central Corridor advocates for the proposed rail options in the Midtown Corridor with possible connections to the Green Line.


    Other places

    Twin Cities posts take us first to Edina with France Avenue: Pedestrian-Friendly at 40 MPH reviews bike/ped improvements (and “improvements”) in the Southdale area of France Avenue in Edina; this was also the comment winner of the week with extensive conversation/debate on this project and the larger policy and design problems it raises. A Look Inside Saint Paul’s 8-80 Vitality Fund follows last week’s review of the fund by recapping the Saint Paul City Council budget review session on projects which could be funded.


    In Greater Minnesota, Woodley Street, Northfield: Narrowing the focus suggests narrowing travel lanes as a way to make sidewalks fit the space available. On the East Coast, New York, #1 Bike City describes a trip to NYC which the author reports “required a great amount of mental effort, but I didn’t die, and it was great fun.” And, out on the West Coast, Seattle-Area Transit Vs. Twin Cities Transit compares the two systems without declaring a clear winner; commenters offer additional perspective on both.


    Other ideas

    Defying categorization is an Interview with Tom Fisher about Congestion Pricing in the Twin Cities which transcribes a conversation with University of Minnesota Design School Dean Fisher about location-sensitive pricing in several contexts.

    The beautiful autumn weather continues here in Minnesota as political candidates door-knock their way toward Election Day.  Use what you learn here on to quiz your local candidates about their transportation and land use priorities!  Have a great week!

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Bikerlapse: Dayton to Griggs to Charles

    Streets.MN - Sat, 10/18/2014 - 7:30am

    A hand held hyperlapse shot with the iPhone 5 while biking along parts of Saint Paul’s newest neighborhood street bikeways. is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

    Categories: Twin Cities

    Saturday Music Video: White Bike (Me For Queen)

    Streets.MN - Sat, 10/18/2014 - 7:00am



    Thanks to Mark @ IBikeLondon for the tip on this one. is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

    Categories: Twin Cities

    Hit Me at 30

    Streets.MN - Sat, 10/18/2014 - 6:40am

    Worth noting as New York City goes to a 25 mph speed limit ( which is still 40 km/h for you speed demons) is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

    Categories: Twin Cities

    *** Sidewalk Weekend! ***

    Twin Cities Sidewalks - Fri, 10/17/2014 - 3:24pm
    Sidewalk Rating: GraveHe spent all that day roaming over the house. He nearly drowned himself in the bath-tubs, put his nose into the ink on a writing table, and burnt it on the end of the big man's cigar, for he climbed up in the big man's lap to see how writing was done. At nightfall he ran into Teddy's nursery to watch how kerosene-lamps were lighted, and when Teddy went to bed Rikki-tikki climbed up too; but he was a restless companion, because he had to get up and attend to every noise all through the night, and find out what made it. [Rudyard Kipling.][An alley getting bricked up in Saint Paul.]*** CLICK ON IMAGES FOR LINKS ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** *** It doesn’t bother me in the least, for a moment I enjoy the genderless-ness, until they see my soft, pink face, and the unnecessary apologies start. I don’t feel particularly feministic about it all, I just marvel about how comfortable and beautiful I feel in an un-pretty occupation.[this]*** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** *** JPods: Let's Fix Traffic from Bill James on Vimeo.*** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** *** *** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ***
    Categories: Twin Cities

    Podcast #73: The Great Railvolution Debate

    Streets.MN - Fri, 10/17/2014 - 12:02pm

    The innocent victims.

    The podcast this week is the audio from the special panel at the recent Railvolution conference that took place in downtown Minneapolis this September. Earlier this year, some of the conference organizers approached the board about setting up a panel session that would feature a bunch of our writers debating key issues from the archives. Well, we did it. We had a room packed planners, engineers, and officials from all over the country to hear six writers debate the pros and cons of three often controversial topics: urban streetcars, light rail and equity, and the downtown skyway system. I was one of the speakers, arguging the pro-streetcar position, and I was joined by Nick Magrino, Cameraon Conway, Alex Cechinni, Janne Flisrand, and Sam Newberg. We got great feedback, and the conversation went really well, and I think you’ll enjoy the conversation.

    The audio link is here. Thanks for listening!

    [PS More pics of the debate below.]

    Yay! Everybody wins!

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    Categories: Twin Cities