Twin Cities

Free Idea: Let’s Close Portland Avenue for a Few Weeks and See How It Plays Out

Streets.MN - 12 hours 11 min ago

(Editor’s Note: There’s another streets.mn post today about the Downtown East Commons park that covers many of these same points and describes the process a little more thoroughly, and so you could probably consider this post to be a wacky spin on the first. We’re going to publish both at the same time.)

Earlier this week, there was a public forum at Mill City Museum to discuss plans for the new Downtown East Commons park that’s planned for the ~1.7 blocks of land near the new Vikings stadium, across 4th Street South from the two-block Wells Fargo project currently under construction. There’s a lot going on in that part of town right now, which is awesome, and the park is a great opportunity to really add a whole new regional amenity to a tremendous amount of public and private investment already flowing into the area.

(They are soliciting lots of ideas online at the not-at-all-cumbersomely-named: downtowneastcommonsmpls.com, and you should definitely go and fill out that survey: Vote Fire Pits ’15!!!)

One of the things that came up at many of the tables (8 of 12) was that, hey, what if we closed Portland Avenue?

Back in 2013 when the plans for the two major Downtown East redevelopment projects (the Wells Fargo office towers + park on land formerly owned by the StarTribune, and then the new Vikings stadium) were announced, it was immediately apparent that the renderings were wrong and that Hennepin County wasn’t going to let them close Portland Avenue. This did not stop the StarTribune and many other media outlets, some even without a direct financial stake in the approval of the plan, from repeatedly running the old renderings that showed a larger and more cohesive park. Here is one from the day of the meeting. Do renderings matter? Probably!

Site sketch (Source: City of Minneapolis)

While Hennepin County is not planning to close Portland, the idea of cutting it down to two lanes is being bandied about. It’s a little odd trying to wrap my head around a road cutting through the middle of the site–my first thought was that they shouldn’t even bother with the .7 block chunk between 5th Avenue South and Portland. Right now they’ve slapped a five story apartment building on the western edge of the site, presumably to block views of the county jail from the park and stadium plaza. There are overall aspects of the park that feel like afterthoughts–though, of course, the specifics are yet to be filled out (see above).

Click to Enlarge (Source: Hennepin County)

I don’t mean for that all to sound negative, because I’m very excited about the park–Vote Fire Pits ’15!!!–and its potential to be a real place. But it just seems odd…who’s taking Portland, a southbound one-way, from Washington Avenue to points south and absolutely needs that automobile link? Portland Avenue continues past this park, uninterrupted, for 11.6 miles before ending in this nice neighborhood in East Bloomington by the Minnesota River, but it starts just a few blocks north of the park at the Mississippi River.

Maybe if there was some kind of brain-freeze-related mass medical emergency at the Izzy’s Ice Cream factory in the Mill District, and we absolutely needed to get a bunch of ambulances ten blocks away to Hennepin County Medical Center as soon as possible. In any case, I’m pretty sure cars are still the most dangerous thing in America other than cigarettes and most of the food, so we’d still be coming out ahead, safety-wise.

So here is a crazy idea:

What if we just closed that block of Portland Avenue for, say, three weeks, and we let it play out?

If: There are casualties and the sun goes dark and Target, US Bank, and Hennepin County announce their plans to move their offices to Minnetonka, then, shoot, didn’t work out, and we can reopen the street. But, if everything pretty much is fine, then maybe we can just do that? And save the $???,??? and ?? months that we will spend trying to figure out whether or not we should close the street.

I bet it will be fine.

There are, as some people have pointed out, four streets traversing Central Park in New York City. This is a terrible comparison. Central Park is 843 acres. Downtown East Commons will be 4.3 acres. Not the same thing. But while we’re talking about New York City, keep in mind that they have closed streets in the past decade in a city larger, busier, and more congested than Minneapolis by several orders of magnitude. Traffic always finds a way.

I mean, symbolically, wouldn’t it be nice to close a street named Portland?

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Categories: Twin Cities

Downtown East Commons is a Blank Slate, Except for the Vikings. And the Traffic.

Streets.MN - 12 hours 17 min ago

On Tuesday night, a healthy crowd of local downtown residents and other interested parties gathered in the rustic lobby of the Mill City Museum for the first of several public meetings about the forthcoming Downtown East Commons park. It was a fun atmosphere, with the palpable enthusiasm that comes with the chance to shape big changes in the place where you live. There were also cookies.

There were two purposes to the meeting. The first was to give locals the chance to hear from the landscape architecture firm chosen by the city, Hargreaves Associates. The presentation given by Hargreaves’ President Mary Margaret Jones was well received, and it’s clear that the city has made an able hire. Hargreaves has a huge amount of experience in planning parks all around the world for drastically different functions, and their perspective on the Commons was fairly comprehensive in scope, even if few details were at hand this early in the process.

A video of the presentation is already up on YouTube (start watching four minutes in), and the full presentation is also online. The project now has a website with an appallingly long URL.

The second purpose of the meeting was to gather community ideas. As is always the case at these meetings, some ideas are great and many are awful, but the real use lies in recognizing the community needs under the surface. Most of the values stated were fairly obvious (this just in: Citizens Call For Park To Be Safe), some were revealing (there was broad consensus that the park should have as little hardscape as possible, and also that it be aggressively programmed), and some niche concerns appeared (a group of climbers advocated for a climbing feature). The planners will now take this information, as well as the results of this online survey (which, no joke, they will make into a word cloud) and probably ignore all but the most high concept ideas. On April 8th, the second community meeting will be held, and the planners will present three distinct directions in which the park could be taken, leaving the community to make their preference clear.

Likely the most useful bit of information to come from the meeting was the establishment of the park’s timeline, which to my knowledge has not been well communicated. The idea is to complete the park in two stages. The first will be completed by Ryan Companies and will be largely a bare-bones green space. It will open in late summer of 2016 so that the Vikings can use it during their season. It will close after the Vikings season is complete, and a second phase of construction will begin, in which the Hargreaves design will be implemented in full (it’s unclear how much of a say Hargreaves will have in the “interim park”). This will be completed in time for yet another Vikings season, with the park totally done before the 2018 Super Bowl.

By far the most ugly slide in the presentation

The park’s schedule reflects the fraught nature of “The Commons” as being in large part a private space under the sway of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority and the Vikings. The latest plans for the park reported in the Star Tribune indicate that “The Commons” could be gobbled up by football interests for up to 60 days a year, plus time for event set-up and strike. Whatever was said on Tuesday’s meeting, it will probably have less bearing on the design of the park than whatever is required by the MSFA and the Vikings organization.

A River of Cars Runs Through It

The meeting also highlighted in stark terms the single biggest problem of the park; it will be bisected by Portland Avenue. Early in the process, Ryan Companies retreated from their proposal to close Portland and Park Avenues, due to opposition from Hennepin County, which didn’t want to limit access to the Hennepin County Medical Center, and which also feared more congestion on neighboring streets. Interestingly, during Viking game-days, the streets will be closed, as apparently people do not drive or need medical attention on Sunday afternoons.

There’s no way around it: these roads drastically limit the potential of the Downtown East Commons. Before withdrawing their street-closing proposal, Ryan Companies produced a pair of renderings that have usually been used by the media in talking about the park. These renderings give a highly inaccurate idea of what is possible. In reality, the park is split into two blocks, which will be separated by a street that is currently five lanes wide (three with traffic, two for parking, and one bike lane) and may not be shrunk. At the meeting, nearly every group addressed the road in some way. Some suggested the road become a tunnel. Other suggested there be a bridge built over the road. Maybe an artificial hill could be built on either side of the road, with a fancy glass bridge connecting the two halves. Whatever. Regardless of what steps are taken, it’s obvious that pedestrians will play second fiddle in their own park to cars. Given the fealty of elected officials to preserving traffic flow on Portland, would the county even accept traffic calming measures on the street? You’d hope they’d at least do that, but until we know for sure, it might be better to think of the park as two separate spaces with little connection to each other.

Five lane streets and new skyways! What could possibly go wrong?

Oh, and there’s no plan to expand the sidewalks on 4th Street, which means crossing it to reach whatever coffee and sandwich shops end up in the Wells Fargo towers will be hazardous.

I came away from the meeting feeling conflicted. On one hand, I felt as though the wishes of the community were clearly expressed, and that the architects would do a good job with what they were given. But all the talk of making the Commons a signature space in downtown has plainly been betrayed by the limits that have been placed on the park by the city and county. The use of the park for Vikings game-day was inevitable, and not necessarily a bad thing. The additional dates reserved for the MSFA and the Vikings could be a boon if both organizations take their programing responsibilities seriously. But the combination of these with the municipal resolve to maroon the park on an asphalt island is dispiriting.

Perhaps it’s too much to expect our outlook as a city to change all at once. As I left, I spoke with a woman about the street problem, and she asked me in reply, “They’re calming all the other streets throughout the city, where else are cars supposed to go?”

There’s a lot of work left to be done. I’m eagerly awaiting the design concepts that Hargreaves returns with in early April. Every site has challenges, and I hope they can overcome ours.

(Editor’s Note: There’s another streets.mn post today about the Downtown East Commons park that covers the potential closure of Portland Avenue, and you could probably consider it to be a wacky spin on the above post. We’re going to publish both at the same time.)

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Categories: Twin Cities

Map of the Day: Real Time Bus Information

Streets.MN - 13 hours 28 min ago

A researcher at the University of Minnesota now has a live map to find real-time bus locations from MetroTransit. The Number 67 is shown. Blue is eastbound, Orange westbound.

Static version of Real Time MetroTransit Bus information map from Kevin DeRonne.

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Categories: Twin Cities

The Quarterly Transit Report – February 2015

Streets.MN - 14 hours 47 min ago

The new Green Line platform at Target Field Station

The March 7 schedule change is pretty quiet, mostly small schedule adjustments by Metro Transit. The most noticeable was faster running time on both light rail lines. The Blue and the Green Lines are now 3 minutes faster each way and more reliably on time, thanks primarily to better traffic signal timing. The Green Line’s one-way running time drops from 48 to 45 minutes, the Blue Line’s from 41 to 38. In addition, train departure countdown displays are now operating at all stations.

Metro Transit is implementing automated bus stop announcements systemwide. All the low-floor buses are getting it. The old high floor buses won’t, but they’re scheduled to cycle out of the fleet in 2017. Until now, the policy has been for drivers to announce all intersections with traffic signals or stop signs. In my experience, compliance has been pretty good, but there was always a fairly small minority of drivers who didn’t call stops. The automated system calls every stop. For the hearing impaired, the same info scrolls across the digital display in the front of the bus.

As predicted in one of my earlier posts, the experimental suburb-to-suburb express Route 565 has been eliminated. It was created when Target moved a large number of employees from downtown Minneapolis to Brooklyn Park. It ran non-stop from the Best Buy park and ride lot in Richfield to the Target North campus in Brooklyn Park. Many were established bus riders so it was expected that they would willingly switch to a 25 mile non-stop express with shoulder bus lanes and subsidized fares. It didn’t happen. The three daily round trips attracted only a total of 17 employees. SouthWest Transit has been running a similar service from Eden Prairie that was recently reduced from three daily round trips to two.

The Blue Line park and ride lot at Lake Street and Hiawatha has closed. This was the old Brown Institute site, later owned by Minneapolis Public Schools. It had more parking than the school needed, so Metro Transit leased the 163 extra spaces. This ran counter to the policy of no park and ride lots within the city of Minneapolis. It happened because of the large number of hide and riders who filled the streets around the 50th Street, 46th Street, 38th Street and Lake Street Stations. The residents complained about cars parked in front of their houses all day, so the school lot was created as a safety valve. It simply attracted more cars and the streets around the stations remained full of hide and riders, except on those blocks where the neighbors approved permit parking.

Meanwhile, a new park and ride lot at Highway 169 and Marschall Road in Shakopee is getting its first non-stop express service to downtown Minneapolis, three daily round trips on Route 493. The route features bus-only shoulders the length of Highway 169, then takes the I-394 MnPass lane to downtown, where it uses the Marq2 bus lanes.

The big suburban news is the absorption of the Prior Lake and Shakopee opt-out transit services into the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority effective January 1. Prior Lake once was part of MVTA, but decided to go it alone some time ago. Prior Lake and Shakopee had been cooperating to run the Blue Express to downtown from a shared park and ride lot near Highway 169 and County Road 18. In my opinion, anything that simplifies the highly balkanized Twin Cities transit system is a good thing. There is currently no service connecting Shakopee and Prior Lake with the rest of the MVTA system. A study is being done and that will probably change as a result.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Reading the Highland Villager #125

Twin Cities Sidewalks - Thu, 02/26/2015 - 2:29pm
[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: Union Park at odds with city over use of cell tower funds; whereabouts of unspent lease payments still up in the air Author: Jane McClure Short short version: Money from leasing agreements with a cell tower was supposed to go to improvements to two parks, but the city can’t account for the money, which is some think like $40K. it seems like Parks and Recreation is claiming that the money was spent on the parks in question, but they don’t have good documentation of spending the funds there. [Typical Saint Paul.] Article includes history of the cell tower construction fight. [Involving the Planning Commission, thankfully before my time. I find it difficult to have strong feelings about cell towers, either way, but agree that they are an eyesore.] Headline: Design standards for new home construction stall; creating rules exclusive to Ward 3 is questioned Author: Jane McClure Short short version: Neighbors in Highland and Mac-Grove would really like to see new design and setback standards for “teardowns” but … Article quotes two members of the Planning Commission expressing some skepticism that the process is simple, citing the problems with negotiating setbacks and having arbitrary borders around certain neighborhoods, rather than the entire city. [I don’t have strong opinions about this personally.] The city is working on a study on the new design standards, but it is being delayed due to these kinds of complexities. Article includes background on the 1721 Princeton Avenue teardown situation. [Update: the Macalaster College High Winds foundation has purchased the home.] Headline: Commission OKs plan for Grand apartments Author: Jane McClure Short short version: A four-story apartment building will be built on Grand Avenue. Neighbors worry about “parking congestion.” Article includes the quote: “The car elevator is new for Saint Paul.” [A new day is dawning, friend.] The developer is upset about having restrictions about how many on-street parking permits he is allowed to purchase. [On-street parking permits is a whole topic that neighbors in areas like this should think way more about. For one thing, they should be more expensive! Correct me if I'm wrong, but I heard they’re like $10 a year or something right now. Pricing is the only way to ensure there are more spaces available. It’s pretty simple really. You can have free parking or you can convenient parking. Unless you live in Flint Michigan or the Twin cities suburbs, it's impossible to have both.] Headline: Proposed bike loop divides downtown business community Author: Jane McClure Short short version: Overview of the plans for the downtown bike loop and the dispute between two business groups about whether to support the loop or retaining on-street parking on certain streets downtown. Article cites Mayoral aide Anne Hunt: “The only part of the downtown loop and spur system we’ll be building this year is Jackson Street.” [I like how she calls it a ‘spur’ system as well, as connecting downtown to the neighborhood bike lanes in all directions will be *the key* to its success.] Article also mentions the downtown parking study [which is in the works and is really what everyone should be focusing on]. Headline: University Avenue, 7th Street bikeways added to city bike planAuthor: Jane McClure Short short version: Article on the Planning Commission’s Transportation Committee unanimously passing the proposed bike plan while make a few changes, including adding 7th Street and a short stretch of University Avenue to the map. [This article is about the Committee that I chair, so I’m not going to say much about it. You can read the city’s memo on the matter, which does a good job of summarizing everything, here: link to a .pdf packet, scroll to the end.] Headline: Neighbors divided over widening of Randolph-Lexington; Will it ease congestion or attract more traffic, that is the question [How Shakespearean! But that's actually not the question. The question should be, "what is best for everyone living in Saint Paul? If the answer to the question is 'easing congestion', which is almost always a lost cause in a growing city, than the question is messed up to begin with.] Author: Jane McClure Short short version: Ramsey County and Saint Paul’s public works departments are trying to figure out what to do about reconstructing an intersection by a grocery store and a freeway. There is a proposal to widen the intersection [though the exact details are unclear] to “improve traffic flow and eliminate the long backups that have irritated motorists.” Article cites neighborhood group people that are upset because it would impact safety and would “simply attract more traffic.” Article includes some safety statistics. There are “eight scenarios” for the intersection which would “involve taking some of the boulevard”, removing retaining walls or trees. [I have heard they might condemn some of the existing homes or apartments on the corner, though this is not mentioned in the article. Bulldozing existing tax-paying homes in order to widen roads for often-suburban commuters is a thing that cities used to do a lot back in the old days. I had thought we’d learned our lesson. Also, there are some public process issues with this project, as it did not go through usual public approval.] Article also states that “several people asked that pedestrian bridges be built over the streets.” [What lunacy! Has anyone ever been on a pedestrian bridge before? I have examples I can show you.] Headline: Urban Organics wants to bring plants, fish to Schmidt warehouse; facility would be second in city to use aquaponics Author: Jane McClure Short short version: An [almost science-fiction-like] scenario fish poop in an old building grows vegetables that filter water for fish (that then poop again) in an abandoned brewery. “Others were skeptical about potential odors.” This is already happening over on the East Side.
Categories: Twin Cities

The Midtown Exchange: Almost Ten Years Later

Streets.MN - Thu, 02/26/2015 - 11:00am

Can you believe it? Has it been that long?

Indubitably, it has been nearly 10 years since the Midtown Exchange was redeveloped in the old Sears building. I was there, with a very pregnant wife, for the grand opening in June 2006, and today my wife works there at Allina’s headquarters office, and we take our two kids there frequently to enjoy the offerings of the Midtown Global Market. (I love Manny’s Tortas.) Nine years on, the Midtown Exchange is a success from a number of perspectives, including urban design, and is loved by many.

Tower and upper levels of the Midtown Exchange

 

While architecture review is a very important part of our understanding of cities, most reviews focus on the building and are written when the project is fresh, possibly even before completion. This approach is fine for reviewing materials, structure and even context, but I’m more interested in how buildings are used, viewed, approached, loved, and how they evolve. Thus, 10 years is a pretty good timeframe to break a building in, see how it ages, what sticks and what goes away, and how it settles in to the urban context. (This series unofficially began last year with a review of West River Commons, which led to a spirited conversation on this site.) So look at this as less of an architecture review and more of an urban design, public space and people review of the Midtown Exchange nearly a decade on.

The Building in Context

A little overview. Originally built in the 1920s, the old Sears department store was located along the north side of Lake Street between Elliot and 10th Avenues and south of a freight railroad line (today’s Midtown Greenway), was a focal point for Lake Street shopping in the decades prior to closing in 1994. The redevelopment, completed in 2006, is a public/private partnership between Ryan Companies and the City of Minneapolis, with a number of additional partners, and has certainly remained a focal point in many ways.

Midtown Global Market on opening day 2006 (it looks fundamentally the same today)

 

The anchor, or primary tenant, is the Midtown Global Market, which occupies the southerly end of the ground floor, with frontage and entrances on Lake Street, Elliot and 10th Avenues. Allina Health has its headquarters in the north wing of the building, with more than 1,000 employees on several floors. Sherman Associates developed both the affordable apartments located on the upper floors of the south end of the building and the condominium units in the tower. Hennepin County operates a service center on the lower level. Across 10th Avenue is the parking structure for the project, which is wrapped by affordable condominiums developed by Project for Pride in Living. A Sheraton Hotel is located in the parking lot on the west side of the project, along Chicago Avenue and the greenway.

West entrance of Midtown Exchange (Elliot/Chicago Avenue side)

 

Readers may have already gleaned that I’m a huge fan of the Midtown Global Market, which is basically an indoor public market featuring mostly restaurants, with some gift shops and small grocers. It is essentially one large room with few permanent walls but many aisles of tenants. While most restaurants have little to no exclusive seating, a large common area in the middle features tables and a stage. Although the market is a pretty major attraction for south Minneapolis, the presence of more than 1,000 employees across the ground floor concourse is the primary driver for the Global Market’s performance and occupancy over the years. The lunch rush is very important, and the market is edging towards a subsidy-free existence.

The Layout

Midtown Greenway frontage (2006) – note Sheraton patio and greenway bike parking and access

 

The physical layout of the Midtown Exchange works well. An east/west concourse runs at ground level through the building. Out the east entrance of the concourse and across 10th Avenue is the parking ramp, and out the west entrance is access to Elliot and Chicago Avenues, some metered surface parking and an off street bus station served by the high-frequency 5 and 21 lines. The Global Market has strong frontage on Lake Street (urbanists should use this door), although most visitors and residents enter via the concourse, particularly from the parking ramp. Cyclists arriving from the Midtown Greenway can choose between parking on the greenway and walking up an exterior stairway on the Elliot Avenue side, or a circular ramp near 10th Avenue. Overall, regardless of whether people arrive by car, transit, bicycle or on foot, or what entrance they use, arrival at the Midtown Exchange is dignified.

10th Avenue entrance and public space (Google Street View)

 

The location, access and circulation of the concourse provides is critical to the success of the project overall and the Global Market in particular. When the project was being designed, there was a notion that 10th Avenue to the east would be closed to traffic and the parking ramp would be connected to the building via skyway, providing Allina employees with a secure second floor entrance, and opening up the space between the two for use as an outdoor plaza.

10th Avenue crosswalk – note pedestrian just cleared the crosswalk after vehicle stopped for him; it works! (Google Street View)

 

Luckily, as a result of the brief time Michael Lander was on the project team, a more sensible urban approach was taken, calling for a narrowed 10th Avenue and simple pedestrian crosswalk, still leaving plenty of public space outside the east entrance for gathering, sitting, and parking bicycles. Drivers routinely stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk, and the narrow street succeeds in reminding most drivers to keep it under 20 MPH. The public space by the east door/concourse entrance is informal and understated but successful primarily because it gets foot traffic to and from the parking ramp, populating the space in a way that a skyway would have prevented. With entrances to Allina, the Global Market and the housing all at ground level in the concourse, the vast majority of people entering the Midtown Exchange do so in the same general vicinity, encouraging informal interactions.

Midtown Global Market Elliot Avenue frontage (opening day 2006)

 

Public space and frontage all around the Midtown Exchange is successful with few exceptions. Kudos for wrapping the large parking ramp with housing, although there could have been more walk-out entrances. On the other hand, the Sheraton’s main entrance faces south to the a parking lot. Worse, the side of the Sheraton facing Chicago Avenue, while having windows and a door, it is nonetheless a locked door and the resulting frontage does not engage the street the way other typical retailers do. In many ways, the main front entrance with a porte-cochere and all the activity it brings, despite additional curb cuts, would have made more sense.

Close-up of architectural detail

But give credit to the Sheraton for placing their outdoor dining and patio facing the greenway. Allina also has a patio at the greenway level, across from a bike shop, Freewheel Bike, These three places provide eyes on the street (greenway) as well as essentially front doors on all four sides of the Midtown Exchange.

While the Midtown Exchange is a very good example of preservation, one slightly insane outcome of the project was the opinion that, in addition to the building, the parking lot in front was also historically significant. OK, that is completely insane. As a result, we have surface parking in front of the building. So historic.

Extreme close-up of architectural detail

 

Almost a decade later, the Midtown Exchange is a good neighbor and a broadly successful project. This project was enormously complicated, and the pieces fit well together in their urban context and the building retains or improves its urban integrity on all sides. Allina deserves a ton of credit for agreeing to base its headquarters there. The Midtown Global Market is as strong as ever, and deserves an entire post of its own. Most of all, this the Midtown Exchange is a good neighbor and serves the public realm well.

The “historic” parking lot of Sears, c 1928.

 

 

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Categories: Twin Cities

The Mall of America: A Case Study in Public Space Ideological Differences

Streets.MN - Thu, 02/26/2015 - 9:06am

In the span of just a few months, the Mall of America (MOA) became the center of two debates regarding peoples’ rights in quasi-public spaces. On December 20th, 2014 the Black Lives Matter (BLM) organization staged a protest in the MOA rotunda:

Source: Pioneer Press

If you’re unaware of the whole issue, bone up here. Specious allegations that masses of people in the rotunda disrupt shoppers aside, BLM was warned in advance by the mall. The MOA even graciously offered up a parking lot far from where people can see or hear their message. I guess I wasn’t shocked Black Lives Matter didn’t take them up on the offer. In response to the illegal actions of the protesters, 10 members may face charges from the City of Bloomington. It should be noted that, from a strictly legal point of view, the right to protest at the Mall of America has already been weighed by the MN Supreme Court. Despite tax increment financing and other public bone moneys used to improve the site and build infrastructure to serve it, the public is not granted right to free assembly as the MOA is still a private place of business.

A quick perusal of the (always-enlightening) comment sections of any article or Facebook post showed some considerable vitriol toward the protesters – the odds they may inflict bodily harm on other shoppers, their disturbance to the shopping experience during the busiest time of the year, the mall’s clear legal right to restrict free speech and assembly, to say nothing of some more insidious comments about race and BLM’s overarching mission. I distinctly remember questioning whether these exact folks would stand behind the MOA’s right as a private entity to ban guns on its premises.

Fast forward to February 2015. The Mall of America falls victim to a terrorist threat on Sunday, February 23, which may or may not have been credible. State of Minnesota Representative Tony Cornish (R, Vernon Center), a strong gun rights advocate, came out in strong opposition of the MOA’s policy banning guns.

Rep. Cornish’s logic follows the landlord/tenant/guest clause of MN Statute 624.714, Subdivision 17(e). I’m no lawyer, but this seems to be a clear continuation of the residential discussion in the sub-section (d) right above it, or at the very least the legislative intent seems reasonably clear.

As you might expect, this particular discussion of guns brought out a metric grip-ton of comments and social media shares. I have no direct proof, but again I would wager a strong bet that gun proponents commenting and sharing would tend to be the type of people disparaging the BLM protesters. The same is true the other way around – many folks I know who attended the MOA protest or supported it think the MOA is entirely within its right to ban guns.

Talking Past Each Other In both cases, you have two groups who are mostly talking past each other about the nature of our public spaces. In the BLM protest, most people acknowledge that the law is clearly settled on whether or not it was actually legal to assemble for whatever reason at the MOA. The argument is more one about the erosion of public spaces – where can people march, assemble, etc in our environment where an increasing percentage of places that matter are private (or simply don’t exist).

Would you meet a friend here for a stroll or coffee? Is it an effective place for protest? Artistic performance? If not, does it matter?

Is an unused parking lot 100% exchangeable for a place with thousands of humans who might actually pay attention owing to slight inconvenience? Why was the MOA fine with a protest on their private parking lot but not in the mall itself? Are there real-world implications for building places with private security that now act as the social gathering places once handled by town squares, prominent parks, street-fronting retail districts, and more?

I don’t think anyone is advocating every private structure be forced to allow any assembly by any group, but we have to acknowledge the deterioration of the number, quality, and proximity to people of our public spaces today as a direct result of a few private sector businesses, and that this most likely has a negative effect on a healthy democracy. To top it all off, this definitely applies for malls receiving (continued) public subsidy. That’s the argument, at least (one I subscribe to, for the record).

On the flip side, many in support of conceal-and-carry at the MOA are arguing from a stance of how the law should apply to them regarding bearing arms as a right of personal protection (those with a loose grip on legislative intent notwithstanding), while gun control activists are more than happy to defer to current statute. We could argue whether or not you’re more safe carrying a gun than without one. In my opinion, you’re not, but just like we all believe we’re above average drivers, so too do gun owners think they’re less likely to injure themselves or others.

It’s obvious that political ideologies are at play in forming opinions about what activity is tolerable in public spaces, or even what should be considered “public” in the first place. Both sides could reasonably accuse the other side of hypocrisy. While neither has the law on the side of their current viewpoint, both believe they have the moral right to advocate for change based on personal beliefs shaped by a mix of science and perceived social good. Public space advocates see the harm done by a potential accident (no matter how unlikely) from a “good guy with a gun” as immensely worse than the impacts from free assembly. Gun rights advocates believe the slow trickle of inconvenience and loss of business is worse than the potential errant bullet or inability to defend oneself from a terror attack (no matter how unlikely).

How do we reconcile these differences, especially when no one directly engages with one another?

There are so many topics where this problem rears its head – the right to road space for different modes, the value of subsidized transit (and roads), how many parks should we have, the benefits/drawbacks of new construction in existing neighborhoods, etc. We need to identify more productive ways to have these conversations rather than simply talking past each other.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Who’s Fighting For Us?

Streets.MN - Wed, 02/25/2015 - 8:30am

What kind of bicycle rider are you? Strong and fearless? Enthused but cautious? Something else? Are you happy with a painted bike lane for you and your children or do you prefer more protection?

Who advocates for what you want and what you think would be best for our communities?

Five Systems

There are two basic approaches to bicycling infrastructure: (1) Vehicular cyclists who promote driving bicycles in traffic lanes with traffic, and (2) Segregated proponents who want some level of separation and protection from motor traffic. Segregated can then be further refined resulting in the following:

  • Vehicular—Bicycle riders share the road and ‘drive’ on the road with motor traffic. Facilities may include Bike Route or Share The Road signs, sharrows, and bike boxes. Many vehicular cyclists prefer to have no special facilities at all and want to be treated equally with motor traffic.
  • Segregated infrastructure—provides some separation and protection from motor traffic. The Segregated group can be subdivided further based on the level of protection provided and the usability of infrastructure for transportation (rather than recreation) defined below as Bike Stuff, Protected, Danish, and Dutch:
    • Bike Stuff —a variety of facilities may be used such as bike lanes, buffered bike lanes, and two-way cycletracks, but protection for bicycle riders through junctions is rarely provided. Many of the designs do not meet Danish standards and fall far short of providing the real or subjective safety of Dutch infrastructure.
    • Protected—facilities more closely conform to Danish or Dutch standards, but still fall considerably short. May include two-way cycletracks and facilities designed more for leisure than safe and efficient transportation; facilities may provide some valuable incremental steps towards a better system, but at the cost of speed, efficiency, and safety for users.
    • Danish (Copenhagen)—Danish facilities are designed for adult riders, but are often not appropriate for children or older riders, limiting the population of potential riders. Compared to Dutch, infrastructure in Denmark is often narrower and less likely to be protected. Rather than provide protection through junctions, bicycle riders share junctions with motor vehicles or execute a two-stage ‘Copenhagen Left’ within the junction. This strategy has been relatively successful in Denmark. They have not achieved the bicycling modal share of The Netherlands, particularly among those under 16 or over 60, but compared to the U.S. they have less traffic, slower speeds, and much more considerate and aware drivers. Even so, Denmark appears to be moving towards a more Dutch standard.
    • Dutch—Dutch standards allow for sharing only on low traffic streets with a speed limit of less than 18 mph. Above 18 mph requires bikeways that are nearly always physically separated along roadways and at junctions designed as a complete network for bicycle riders of all ages and at multiple speeds. The Dutch CROW manual for Bicycle Traffic Design standards establishes minimum requirements; CROW no longer encourages painted bike lanes and most Dutch traffic engineers prefer to utilize protected bikeways of some sort. Dutch standards have created the safest environment in the world for bicycle riders.
My Bias

It is no secret I am a proponent of Dutch infrastructure. Dutch standards have resulted in the safest environment for bicycling in the world, the highest modal share, and appealing urban environments. Dutch standards have resulted in an environment that is appealing and safe for all users, not just middle-aged males. Children, women, older folk, and disabled are equally represented on Dutch bikeways and much more so than any other system including Danish.

I also believe that the Dutch system is the one that can most successfully be translated to the U.S. and the one that will result in the greatest safety and participation. While the others, including the Danish, rely heavily on changes in how people drive, the Dutch system with much greater segregation does not rely so much on this for safety or comfort. 

Advocacy

In the United States, who advocates for Dutch-level infrastructure? Given my desire to see us build the best infrastructure that allows the most people to safely and comfortably ride a bicycle for transportation, regardless of age, gender, and ability, I have attempted to ascertain for each organization which of the five approaches above most closely aligns with their goals and advocacy activities.

These are the impressions of each of these organizations based largely on the information on their websites as well as some research on their actions. I hope that in the comments people will correct any misconceptions that I have and that these organizations will update their websites where appropriate.

National Organizations
  • League of American Bicyclists (LAB)Protected? Vehicular? At one time the major promoter of Vehicular Cycling, LAB has increasingly voiced support for segregated facilities. There seems a continuing internecine battle but the direction looks good.
  • Green Lane ProjectDanish. A subsidiary of PeopleForBikes (formerly BikesBelong) funded by the bicycle industry. There is rumored to be a push from some within the organization to advocate for Dutch CROW standards. I would very much welcome that change though what they are doing now is very worthwhile.
  • National Complete StreetsBike Stuff. Great concept but they need to think through what types of facilities will effectively serve the needs of communities and thus which they support. A bikeway that 90% of people are afraid to ride on does not seem very complete.
  • National Physical Activity Plan — Vague. A lot of great sounding talk but their tactics largely lack specifics with regard to active transportation.
  • Transportation For America — Vague. Their support for local control seems promising but otherwise they seem focused largely on increasing funding for transportation projects with little regard for types or benefits.
State-Wide Organizations
  • Bicycle Alliance of MN (BikeMN)Vehicular. There is nothing on their website today advocating for any kind of protected infrastructure nor anything other than vehicular cycling.
  • MN Safe Routes To SchoolVehicular. They promote the five E’s (Education, Encouragement, Evaluation, Engineering, Enforcement) which on the surface seem good but upon investigation are, in my opinion, inappropriate for most adults and wholly inappropriate for our children, Engineering and Education in particular.
  • MN Safe Routes To Schools (and BikeMN) teach our children to take the lane when making a left turn. Many 16-year-olds have a difficult time safely navigating intersections and paying attention to what they’re doing. And this curriculum expects 8 or 10 or 12 year olds to do so? On a bicycle?

The Engineering piece is based on the MN Best Practices for Pedestrian/Bicycle Safety which is predominantly infrastructure for vehicular cyclists such as sharing space with high speed motor traffic, unprotected bicycle lanes in the door zone of parked cars, undesignated road shoulders, and bike boxes that place bicycle riders directly in front of motor traffic at intersections.

The education piece is, in my opinion, irresponsible. It teaches our children (we’re talking 8-year-olds) that they should ‘drive’ their bicycles in motor traffic as a car, take the lane, and should never ride on a sidewalk.

  • MoveMN — Vague. I’ve no idea what kind of infrastructure they’d advocate for. Their primary focus appears to be on increasing spending for transportation projects regardless of purpose or benefits to citizens.
Local Organizations
  • BikewaysForEveryone — Protected. This is a great organization I support. I do have some concerns with their support for two-way cycletracks in urban/suburban areas. Two-way cycletracks or paths can work very well along routes with few junctions. However, in most urban and suburban environments with many junctions they can be unsafe and uncomfortable. They are very rarely used in Dutch or Danish systems except in very limited circumstances and then with great attention give to making all junctions safe. Two-way cycletracks and similar facilities may however serve a good interim purpose so while I’d prefer Danish or Dutch design, two-way may still be beneficial if designed well.
  • Minneapolis Bicycle CoalitionProtected. Very similar to Bikeways For Everyone with my same enthusiasm for support and same concerns.
  • Saint Paul Bicycle CoalitionBike Stuff. Seemingly much more in the anything goes camp than the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition. More likely to advocate for vehicular facilities or unprotected lanes.
  • Bike Walk Twin Cities — Kind of all over the place. They’ve advocated for and funded a variety of projects from Vehicular to Danish though their leaning seems to be somewhere between these with preferences for bike lanes but not necessarily protected infrastructure.
  • Saint Paul Smart Trips — Vague on what they support though some blog posts mention that many people have expressed their dislike of riding with traffic or in painted bike lanes and that more protected infrastructure is needed.
  • Saint Paul Women On BikesDanish. Their talking points about the St Paul Bicycle Plan encourage more protected infrastructure and less enhanced shared lane, both very good in my opinion. No mention that I saw of creating safer protected junctions which I believe is a critical need along with protected links between junctions. I do strongly support this group.
  • Friendly Streets InitiativeBike Stuff. Though they don’t come out and say that they support any one thing, their demonstration projects seem firmly in the Bike Stuff category.
  • Transit For Livable Communities — Vague. I think they want to support good bicycling but aren’t sure what exactly is needed.
Conclusion

If there is a key takeaway from this, it’s that advocacy for segregated or protected infrastructure is largely coming from the local level though improving at the national level. Sadly, Minnesota is sorely lacking a state level organization to advocate for safer bicycling infrastructure. Perhaps Saint Paul Women On Bikes or Bikeways For Everyone can step up to fill this void.

 

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Categories: Twin Cities

The Difference Between the Tax Levy and Taxes Levied, and Why Wellstone Was Right

Streets.MN - Tue, 02/24/2015 - 11:30am

Minneapolis city budget negotiations this year sparked a public conversation about city finances and the details of budgeting. There was one piece missing, however, from the public conversation. It is the difference between the tax levy and the taxes levied. The former is the targeted budget set by the city. The latter is the method to reach that target. The difference between the two does make all the difference.

First, the levy. Each year the city sets a budget. The city decides how many new firefighters the city will hire and the number of bike lanes built. The city adds up all the services and infrastructure improvements to arrive at a grand total, the budget. The city then must raise the funds for that budget. Some of it comes from state and federal dollars and the largest share being from user fees (like garbage and recycling).  Another major source of funding is property taxes. That’s called the tax levy. It is the total amount of money set to be raised by the city through property taxes in a year. It is one big number; in 2014 it was $281.7 million. (See this interactive graphic for information about the 2014 total budget and its funding sources). The tax levy does not tell us about how and from whom the funds will be raised. It is simply the total amount to be raised by taxing the value of all properties in Minneapolis. Ok, that’s the tax levy.

Next, the taxes levied. Once the budget is decided and the tax levy set (the total budget), taxes are levied. The taxes levied on an individual property do not rise at the same rate as the tax levy; this is true for a couple of reasons*. First, new properties can be built in the city which increases the value of the total property in the city. This in turn lowers the taxes levied on each building, new and old. The second reason, the relative value of individual properties can change within the city. The effect of each on taxes levied will be explored in turn.

The construction boom in 2014 can help explain the first case. Throughout the city thousands of buildings were built. New single family homes, office buildings and apartment towers were built, totaling $2 billion dollars in value. This is a 2.4% increase in value of property in the city from the year before. This means there is that much more total property value which can share the cost of the tax levy. It is part of why 56.7% of property owners who have not made improvements to their home will see a decrease in the taxes levied on their property. The same thing can also be explained with a couple bags of M&Ms.

Imagine you have 4 friends; 3 friends each have a one bag of M&Ms and the 4th with no bag. Your friend without a bag of candy could use some cheering up, so you offer him 20 M&Ms, 5 each from you and your 3 friends. Along comes another friend, Felicia, who has a bag of candy too. She offers to also donate some M&Ms. Now with 5 friends, each person only needs to give 4 pieces. Sharing becomes easier with more friends.

Back to cities and not candy. When new buildings are built there is new value added to the city. This reduces the proportional contribution of property taxes by already existing properties. This means that when the whole city does better, we all do better.

Not all properties will see a reduction in taxes levied, however, because the amount of taxes levied also depends on the distribution of property values. Let’s return to the M&Ms. In the above example all the friends had the same sized bag of candy. Suppose instead one friend had a king sized bag as large as the other bags combined. That friend could have donated half the needed M&Ms. Property taxes are similar. The relative contribution of the value of a property to the city’s total also influences the taxes levied. Suppose the tax levy stays flat; from year to year the city needs to collect the same amount of money on properties in the city. A change in the relative value of a property will change the taxes levied on that property. If the value of a property grows slower than the city average, its relative value goes down and its taxes levied would go down. If the value of a property grows faster than the city average, its relative value goes up and its taxes levied would go up. This shows that sharing prosperity means we can share in the support of the city.

It is the interaction between these factors that show the wisdom of Wellstone’s old adage that “We all do better when we all do better”. We all live better when we expand opportunities so more neighbors can share our sidewalks. New neighbors and new homes spread the cost of the city to more people. We all live better when inequality is reduced because we can all contribute to the city we love. Our city does better when we all do better.

*There are many reasons, but these often only cover a small number of properties and are not part of the larger trends.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Comparing Crash Rates of Roadway Configurations

Streets.MN - Tue, 02/24/2015 - 10:00am

Every year, MnDOT publishes a number of safety statistics. A lot of that data is available here. One of the products they publish annually are the “Green Sheets,” which they publish for both various intersection types and roadway section types. The chart below is adapted from the 2013 Section Green Sheet. It shows the statewide crash rates and severity rates associated with various roadway section types.

Source: MnDOT

Crash rate is expressed in units “crashes per million vehicle miles” on a particular roadway segment. Severity rates are unitless. It’s calculated the same way as crash rates, but crashes of greater severity are given a greater weighting in the formula. In other words, high numbers in this chart are bad.

46th Street, Minneapolis

This data has some limitations. The simple reporting measure strips away some important information about traffic volumes, access density, surrounding land uses, parking, roadway width, etc. But I think it’s still pretty illuminating by showing, on average, what type of urban roadways have higher crash rates than other roadway types.

Weaver Lake Road, Maple Grove

For me, the take home message in this data is just how problematic four-lane undivided roadways are. By a large margin, these types of roadways have higher average crash rates than any other configuration. It is also striking that the 3-lane roadways exhibit relatively low crash rates – substantially lower than any type of four or five lane roadway – lower even than two-lane roadways in some cases. In this data set, 4-lane undivided roadways exhibit crash rates and severity rates of 81% and 76% higher than 3-lane roadways, when junction-related crashes are included.

Burns Ave, Saint Paul. (formerly a 4-lane undivided)

I have deep concerns about four-lane undivided roadways. They have had their time in the history of roadway design, but their time is up. It’s time to eliminate them from our cities either by restriping as a 2-lane or 3-lane, or expanding to a 4-lane divided. Obviously, one of these options is cheaper and easier than the other, but there is a place for both.

My home isn’t far from a 4-lane undivided roadway (46th Street in south Minneapolis near I-35W), and it is easily my least favorite part of the neighborhood. It is directly adjacent to a grades 5-8 school, and it is madness. I’m told Hennepin County may be looking at a mill & overlay on 46th Street sometime in the near future, and I’m hoping County staff will be amenable to restriping as a 3-lane. I will gladly endure any congestion that might result (though I think it is unlikely), in return for the improved safety conditions.

What conclusions should we draw from the data provided on the MnDOT Green Sheets? Share your ideas in the comments below.

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Categories: Twin Cities

How the City of Minneapolis Actually Influences Building Design

Streets.MN - Tue, 02/24/2015 - 8:00am

The following City staff counterpoint is a response to Tom Fisher’s recent article, “Enough visual interest, already!” The article was published online February 13, 2015, and appeared in print the following day. This counterpoint is co-authored by Jason Wittenberg, the Manager of Land Use, Design and Preservation for the City of Minneapolis and Kjersti Monson, the Director of Long Range Planning for the City of Minneapolis.

The center of our region is booming again. The City of Minneapolis issued permits for construction valued at more than $2 billion in 2014. A substantial portion of that value results from the approval of more than 2,000 new housing units within the city’s boundaries. Consistent with the City’s vision for growth, Minneapolis has welcomed a net population increase of more than 20,000 people since the 2010 census. People are enthusiastic about the future of this great city.

The City’s vision for the future is distinctly urban, with a plan to add a thriving mix of uses—including thousands of additional residents and jobs—downtown and in areas well-served by a variety of transportation options. Regulation of this growth is the subject of significant debate. For every new residential or mixed use building that rises along our transit corridors, there are a range of opinions about issues such as building design and scale. Unfortunately, Tom Fisher’s recent article did little to inform people about how the City of Minneapolis influences the design of new development. A simple phone conversation between the author and a Minneapolis city planner could have provided important clarity.

A recently-built apartment building in Uptown

Fisher tells of a friend who asked why so many new apartment buildings “look so ugly.” The author confidently then states that the source of the problem is a City document entitled “Guide to Exterior Building Materials and Walls.” There is one major problem with this accusation: not a single building has been both approved and completed since the City started using this document less than a year ago. In fact, these guidelines were actually a response to the kinds of buildings that Fisher seems to be complaining about.

We appreciate the creativity of many of our local architects and developers. However, in some cases this creativity has resulted in buildings with six or more primary materials on a single building wall. We’re asking for no more than three. Furthermore, because we have serious concerns that some of these materials are not going to age well, we now suggest reasonable limits on certain materials. (Interestingly, prior to enacting our guidelines, some developers asked us why we allowed fellow developers to use lesser-quality building materials.) Contrary to the suggestion that a mish-mash of materials has been mandated by the City, our staff worked with our City Planning Commission (which includes award-winning architects) and several design firms and developers to essentially say, “Please simplify! Give us a reasonably simple palette of durable materials that will add lasting value to Minneapolis.” Most in the design community seem to have welcomed this guidance.

Architects should feel free to use one or two high-quality materials when designing buildings in Minneapolis. Indeed, we can think of wonderful new buildings that have done just that. Building walls must at least include windows and entrances facing streets. And on walls facing neighboring properties? If the building doesn’t include windows, then massive blank walls must be broken-up with recesses/projections or other features, which MAY include a change in materials. We argue that these principles are essential to building a great city. We’re aware of very few in the local design community who disagree.

A building under construction in the North Loop

So, what does the City mean when it calls for building walls with “visual interest?” Well, it doesn’t take long to track down countless examples of blank, featureless walls facing public sidewalks and unlucky neighbors. Such designs are the enemy of the walkable urbanism that we strive for. They resulted from a time when the city basically gave the design community and developers the virtually unlimited autonomy that Fisher suggests we embrace today.

It’s worth noting that buildings constructed in any given era tend to include similar materials and features. Developers and designers use materials that are popular and economically feasible at the time.  Further, there are many competing interests when it comes to the regulation of development. Some think the City provides too much leeway, approving everything proposed by architects and their clients. Others believe the City is too heavy-handed regarding development. Minneapolis regulates the things that we believe are essential to creating urban places that will endure, including pedestrian and vehicle access, height, the placement of the building on a property and, yes, the features of building walls. Designated historic districts provide additional design guidance, striving for respect of the past while discouraging new buildings that create a false sense of history.

Minneapolis employs talented city planners who appreciate and respect the local design community. We welcome an ongoing dialogue about the role of land use and design regulations. And we’ll continue to strive to provide clear guidance about the City’s rules and expectations while allowing and encouraging creativity. We’re thrilled that so many people are choosing to invest in Minneapolis and we think that reasonable regulatory standards are critical to ensuring that the city is place that is worthy of that investment for many years into the future.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Sunday Summary – February 22, 2015

Streets.MN - Sun, 02/22/2015 - 7:12am

We had a pretty light week here on streets.mn, but here it all is:

Quick look department

Streets.mn is curiously devoid of Charts of the Day this week, but we do have a couple of highly visual offerings.  The Miracle of Two Minneapolises in Prenatal Care maps the inequality in access to high-quality prenatal care. Minneapolis: An Urban Transformation? answers the question with side by side photos of Washington Avenue, Mill City District and more from 2007 and 2014. Comments supply a few more examples of transformation and veer into a discussion of architectural quality.  In a quicker look back, Retrospective of the Day: Last Winter blunts the nasty windchills of the week with a reminder of the snow we had last year.

Washington Avenue transformation

Transit related

The Transit Line No One Is Talking About would connect Downtown Minneapolis to Southdale via Uptown. The post reviews other proposed transit corridors, the density of jobs in the Edina/Southdale area and other relevant justification.  Although Metro Transit is not talking about this line, as the comment winner of the week, 50+ comments talked much about the route, transit modes, and provided additional details about points along the way. Following the Tracks of the Empire Builder maps the route of Amtrak’s Empire Builder line to show the single-track segments and the segments with sidings or two or more tracks as a way to explain why this route has struggled with delays (and seen a decline in ridership as a result). Prospect North summarizes what happened at the community meeting about the Prospect Park North transit oriented redevelopment.

The Missing Link

 

Policy problems

Measuring the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro Area, and Getting Real with the Map reveals some of the flaws in the current debate over Metro v. Greater MN at the legislature by asking how the metro area is distinguished, looking at land use across the metro (and beyond) and suggesting tax dollars could be better spent by targeting investments more strategically. Streets.mn writers have lauded small, walkable grocery stores as an urbanist ideal, Destruction for Appetite: The Loss of Corner Stores reviews the history of corner grocery stores and economic and other reasons for their demise.  Commenters tease out questions of scale for neighborhood stores and provide some local examples. Improvements Necessary in Order for Minneapolis’ Open Data Portal to Thrive gives a detailed analysis of the city’s new (launched December 2014) open data portal, its shortcomings, and some suggestions for improvement.

Metro area, Met Council jurisdiction limits

Cruising toward March this week – stay warm, keep reading and have a great week!

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Categories: Twin Cities

The Miracle of Two Minneapolises in Prenatal Care

Streets.MN - Fri, 02/20/2015 - 8:30am

While looking around for some data for another project, I ran into Minneapolis Health Department’s Reports. There’s a lot of great data there, but not all of it is necessarily in amazing condition for people to build off of. One data set, entitled Minneapolis Birth Data, caught my attention. Locked away in mostly tabular PDFs are a lot of interesting numbers that tell you how Minneapolis’ neighborhoods fare by way of birth statistics: with a demographic overview of mothers’ race, age, education, marital status; what trimester they began prenatal care (if at all); how adequate that care was; what their baby’s birth weight was; and whether the birth was premature.

After extracting some of the data, I made a map of the report from 2009-2011. In map form, the data is both shocking, and sadly not surprising when you know about the racial and socio-economic demographics of Minneapolis’ neighborhoods. A familiar pattern emerges, where the whitest and richest neighborhoods have a better overall access to prenatal care (West Calhoun, for instance, had 43 kids between the survey period of 2009-2011, and 100% are listed as receiving adequate care. Jordan, on the other hand, had 523 births, and 60.2% are listed as adequate, 30.1% as intermediate.

Explore the map by clicking below. I highly recommend also clicking on the neighborhoods to explore some of the demographic and gestational data.

Explore the map

According to the reports, adequacy of care is defined as follows:

This prenatal care utilization index was created using the recommended Prenatal Care Visit Schedule by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Factors used were gestational age, time prenatal care began, and the number of prenatal care visits obtained from the actual birth certificate. This index provides a standardized method for assessing the quality and amount of prenatal care.

#bragMPLS

People like to rave about the virtues of Minneapolis in our cherished national media sources. Minneapolis is great for millennials, Minneapolis has low unemployment, we are healthy, we have great parks, or we are basically a “miracle”. On the other hand, Minneapolis is the city with the largest racial unemployment disparity, and one of the worst racial poverty disparities, and we also have a huge racial disparity in low-level arrests.

Taken with the map above, it seems our racial disparities begin even in prenatal care. If we hope to be “one Minneapolis”, we better step up the game. On the other hand, these are pre-Affordable Care Act numbers. What will the next report hold in store?

Data

Cleaned data is available in CSV format on Github, and more reports are available on the Minneapolis Health Department website.

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Categories: Twin Cities

The Highway Interchange Confusion Love Affair

Thoughts on the Urban Environment - Thu, 02/19/2015 - 6:30pm

As legislatures reconvened these past two months, there has been an active lobbying effort to boost transportation funding across the country. Countless newspapers, magazine, and television programs have dedicated time and space to covering the plea for more money, including a high-profile 60 Minutes segment that didn’t include a single dissenting opinion.

The general consensus in the mainstream media has been that we need more funds in order to have a “21st Century” transportation system. If we don’t, our bridges will collapse. That, and we won’t be able to compete globally (what does this even mean?).

The opposition’s opinion can’t be summed up as easily. It goes something more like this: “It’s complicated.” The nuanced opinion challenges the underlying assumption as to what makes a good transportation investment. In other words, more money alone won’t fix the system, and it might actually make it worse.

But, what does this look like? Well, it looks like this …

Perham is a quintessential small town in central Minnesota with fewer than 3,000 people. It’s a sleepy community with a traditional Main Street and surrounded by lakes. If it’s not the basis for fictional Lake Wobegon, it might as well be.

It recently received a “Transportation and Economic Development” grant to build a new $6.7 million interchange. The State pitches in $3.5 million and the local government covers the rest ($3.2 million). This project might make sense if the town didn’t already have three interchanges leading to the same highway. As if a fourth interchange is just what this town needs to catapult its economy into the 21st century.

What you’re looking at is not unique. In fact, I selected it because it is average. And, it’s exactly the type of transportation infrastructure that our current system is looking to fund more of. But more importantly, it’s not just this project – it’s the countless hundreds like it.

You’ve heard the broken record that we can’t afford to fix our crumbling roads? Well, projects like these are the reason why. It’s an unneeded piece of infrastructure that diverts funds from maintaining what we have. A recent report by Smart Growth America outlined this systemic problem; States have dedicated 57% of their transportation revenues to new projects.

As Angie Schmidt of Streetsblog brilliantly opined in “More Money Won’t Fix U.S. Infrastructure If We Don’t Change How It’s Spent“;

But throwing more money at the problem overlooks the fatal flaw in American transportation infrastructure policy: The system is set up to funnel the vast majority of spending through state departments of transportation, and those agencies have an absolutely terrible track record when it comes to making smart long-term decisions. As long as state DOTs retain unfettered control of the money, potholed roads and decrepit bridges will remain the norm.

The reason our bridges are crumbling is because we’ve made the conscious decision not to repair them. Instead, we’ve chosen to build new things (more specifically, mostly roads). And now, we’re tasking the same people who created the problem to help get us out of it?

The status quo will claim there isn’t money to bring existing bridges up to today’s standard, yet will simultaneously spend $25 million to save 7,000 vehicles a day 53 seconds on a commute (see here) and drop $680 million on an environmentally-compromising bridge to cornfields in Wisconsin (see here).

The Perham infrastructure expansion highlights another key issue: the expansion of a road that hasn’t had significant increases in traffic volume in nearly 15 years. In 1998, it had approximately 5,000 vehicles a day. In 2012, that number was 5,300 [MnDOT]. For a comparison, the neighborhood street adjacent my house (with sidewalks, on-street parking and a tree-lined median) carries over 9,000 vehicles a day.

Vehicle traffic in Perham mirrors the population growth, which added around 400 residents between 2000 and 2010. This number is significant in the sense that it hasn’t decreased – much like many other rural towns – but it isn’t a booming community that would justify transportation infrastructure projects.

In fact, a report from the Center for American Progress found that 50% of roads likely aren’t carrying enough traffic to cover their maintenance expenses (see also Streetsblog). I have a good feeling that Perham is one of these places. Of course, this isn’t to say we should have disinvestment in communities (we shouldn’t), but we need to acknowledge that if we’re going to support these places, more highway infrastructure is not the way to do it.

More money for transportation won’t fix the system, and it won’t help places like Perham. Places like Perham need something else.

Categories: Twin Cities

Measuring the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro Area, and Getting Real with the Map

Streets.MN - Thu, 02/19/2015 - 10:00am

Some of the many conflicts currently wracking the state of Minnesota

Metro vs. Outstate

Urban vs. Suburban vs. Rural

J. Crew vs. Hollister vs. Carhartt

Peel-and-stick brick vs. Beige vinyl siding

Cars vs. All else

Who in the metro is paying to repave roads in Koochiching County, or, to phrase it incorrectly, where specifically do the hard-earned tax dollars of Koochiching County go after they’ve left the paychecks of those Americans and entered the metro area DFL welfare kleptocracy?

Er, actually, what is the metro, anyway?

Duluth-Superior Metropolitan Statistical Area (Source: northlandconnection.com)

Metropolitan Statistical Areas

Metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) in the United States are defined by the federal government and are, broadly, a measure of the interconnected-ness of an area (see page 6) using commuting patterns to see who in what area works where. The math in the link is complicated (to me) but put simply, enough people in Scott County commute to Hennepin County for the two to be considered buddies.

The use of counties leads to some odd arrangements. St. Louis County, Minnesota, for example, is huge and stretches from south of Duluth to the Canadian border. As a result, Duckfoot Island in Rainy Lake right next to the (underwater) border is part of the Duluth-Superior MSA.

Fun facts: St. Louis, Missouri; Baltimore, Maryland; and most notable municipalities in Virginia are independent cities not part of any county, while some smallish-medium-sized cities like Jacksonville, Florida and Indianapolis, Indiana have more or less merged with their counties to include, respectively, virgin forest and farmland. Connecticut and Rhode Island do not have counties. In Alaska, counties are called boroughs, and in Louisiana they’re called parishes. In non-county-related oddities, some places like Seattle and Salt Lake City are wedged between water on their west and mountains on their east, and they sprawl in a north-south line. Out east, there isn’t just more population density, there are more metropolitan areas spaced more closely–and so the distant exurbs of one metropolitan area bleed into the next, and commuters in my parents’ exurban subdivision head north to Washington, D.C. but also south to Richmond, Virginia.

And so the borders we draw are weird, and measured very differently in different places. Looking at a map of the United States, counties get odder-looking and less intuitive as you head west–looking at you, Arizona.

United States Counties (Source: Census Bureau)

A Peculiar Local Arrangment

Here in the Twin Cities, we have quite a few municipal and other borders, more than the average metropolitan area. Probably as a result of us having had two cities to begin with, we didn’t do as much land annexation as other large cities in the west. We’ve got first ring suburbs like St. Louis Park, Columbia Heights, and South St. Paul that are legally separate from the central cities even though they were largely built out at the same time. This in itself isn’t that unusual, but we have many individual urban suburbs while very conspicuously not including large chunks of sprawl in the legal boundaries of our core cities, and this is uncommon among cities that did the bulk of their growing after World War II.

So Minneapolis proper has 400,070 residents on just 55 square miles, and San Antonio, Texas proper has 1,409,019 residents on a whopping 460 square miles. Forgetting for a second that I just said MSAs are weird, keep in mind that the Minneapolis-St. Paul MSA has a hair under 3.5 million residents, while San Antonio’s has about 2.3 million residents. But, because of the way each city’s municipal borders are drawn, San Antonio, Texas gets to be 7th on the list of America’s largest cities.

Sorry for the long detour, but people are odd and like putting things in lists and ranking them in order of importance, and methinks Minneapolis is not the 46th most important city in the United States. (In fact, Minneapolis is the most economically important city in the Midwest without a Chili’s.) In any case, hopefully it helps explain why in the hell the bottom half of Lake Mille Lacs (an hour and a half drive from Minneapolis City Hall) is included in the Minneapolis-St. Paul MSA, which you’ll see below.

A Better Measurement

What we’ve got here are a series of maps* featuring different official and self-generated definitions of our metropolitan area. Please click to enlarge each if that’s your thing.

A key, keeping in mind that each bullet includes all bullets below it:

  • The green shaded area is the Minneapolis-St. Paul combined statistical area, which includes the Minneapolis-St. Paul and St. Cloud MSAs, as well as the Hutchinson, Faribault-Northfield, and Red Wing micropolitan statistical areas.
  • The yellow shaded area is the Minneapolis-St. Paul MSA.
  • The orange shaded area is the seven county metropolitan area represented by the Metropolitan Council.
  • The red shaded area is based on census tracts and is, generally, the part of the seven county metropolitan area that was suburbanized around the automobile. This more or less lines up with the Census Bureau-designated “urbanized area” of the metro, though not quite exactly.
  • The blue shaded area is based on census tracts and is, generally, the core cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul and the parts of inner ring suburbs that were not suburbanized around the automobile.

The overall overlay includes many, many farms, 21 counties, and something like 3.8 million people. Pretty large! Not particularly useful unless your goal is the make the metro look as large as possible to your aunt in New Mexico when she forgets whether Minneapolis is in Minnesota or Michigan.

The yellow overlay is a little more useful, as that’s the chunk that’s been designated as related to the central cities. Still a pretty huge area–a new tourism slogan:

Minneapolis-St. Paul: Tube on the Apple River, Ice Fish on Lake Mille Lacs, Look at St. Peter from across the Minnesota River with binoculars!

Zooming in quite a bit, we’ve got the seven county metropolitan area represented by the Metropolitan Council, our governor-appointed and oft-maligned regional government. They do important things like plan land use and transportation, operate most of the transit system, and manage the wastewater of the core metro counties. Good things for a regional body to do, unless you want all 182 cities and townships in this area to have their own bus routes and wastewater treatment plants. These core counties include Hennepin, Ramsey, Carver, Washington, Anoka, Dakota, and Scott Counties, with the last five forming the “collar counties” that don’t contain either core city or much development from before the automobile era.

When the Metropolitan Council was set up by the Minnesota Legislature in the 1960s, the seven county metropolitan area would have seemed much larger than it does now, though there’s still plenty of non-urbanized land on most sides.

Here in blue we have the parts of the metropolitan area that, back in the day, were not built to be accessed solely by car. In short, I went through and manually picked census tracts that were mostly laid out in a grid. Not a perfect system–some of the tracts are shaped oddly or include both types of development–but it’s pretty close to a reasonable definition. There are parts of Bloomington and Brooklyn Center and a couple other areas on the map that manage to make the cut but probably were built to be accessed solely by car, but by accident ended up a bit walkable.

Click to Enlarge

You’ve got the core cities, chunks of west metro first ring suburbs, the little tongue of southern Anoka County, the east metro suburbs south of Highway 36, and a little tail sticking out the bottom of St. Paul along the Mississippi River that I wasn’t that familiar with until I started putting the map together. I stumbled across this chunk of walkable grid in St. Paul Park that goes right up farmland in a very European way. Think of it! Kids there can walk to their middle school in one direction and into woods on the other. Not very common anymore.

So this small blue part of the Minneapolis-St. Paul MSA is the area that’s walkable in any kind of useful way, there may be alleys, there will be surviving streetcar-oriented commercial nodes from 100 years ago, it’ll tend to have sidewalks, maybe neighborhood schools, parcels arranged to be easily reassembled for development, streets that almost never dead end, and all that.

Implications

There are many implications when you consider the difference between the land use patterns in the red and blue areas here. Land use underlies just about everything in America that’s both interesting and controversial. How might we use the differences in these two metro area land uses to shape public policy?

Here’s an easy illustration–on the left we have Minnetonka, and on the right we have Hopkins.

Click to Enlarge

Assuming your funding is considerably less than infinite,

  • Where would you want to locate affordable housing?
  • Where would you want to invest in bike infrastructure?
  • Where would you want to route transit investments?
  • Where would you want to incrementally increase density?

Which isn’t to say “Screw Minnetonka” (though they appear to be losing the baseball diamonds per capita ranking pretty badly) but rather to ask why we’re making the investments that we are and whether or not we should arbitrarily throw money at some misguided idea of geographic parity. Reasonable people ought to be able to agree about most of these ideas, regardless of where they live. For example, we know from experience that, for many of the land use reasons listed several paragraphs above, transit lines in auto-oriented suburbs aren’t going to perform as well as those in walkable suburbs and central cities, even when the population and employment density is similar.

Metro vs. Outstate–or really, Metro Suburbs vs. All else

In fact, certainly do not Screw Minnetonka, for Minnetonka is part of a much larger group than Hopkins–about 60 percent more metro Minnesotans live in places like Minnetonka than places like Hopkins.

Source: 2013 American Community Survey

If we assume that Iron Range issues and interests are separate from Red River Valley issues and interests, which are both different from Rochester issues and interests, we can safely say that people who live in parts of the metro area like Minnetonka are the single largest demographic in Minnesota. They’ve got, give or take, two million people. They handily beat the million in the core cities and immediate suburbs, and that’s not even taking into account how many people in the core cities would just as soon tear down half their block for surface parking instead of paying a one cent sales tax to fund transit.

Which isn’t to say that “majority rules” should rule, and that we should pack up our toy trains and bike lanes and go home. There are plenty of people in Minnetonka (maybe fewer in Andover) who would support additional transit funding and such–but it’s going to be hard to reach them without some sort of compromise here. There are a lot of good, non-confrontational arguments you can make with your moderate Republican father-in-law in Plymouth. Point out that the inner cities, for better or worse, host acres and acres and acres of non-taxable state and regional amenities like the University of Minnesota, and many other colleges, museums, theaters, events, stadiums, hospitals, and such. Point out that, in many cases, government spending on transportation is going to be way, way more cost-effective in the blue area on the map above. Maybe even casually mention that it doesn’t seem like a great investment to build new stuff out in the orange area on the map–but no one in the city is going to be successful with “no new roads.”

(Though you are, of course, probably correct about the long-term fiscal issue here, but we’ll figure it out eventually)

Wrapping up a bit, lots of (good!) statistics and maps have flown around in the past couple months, showing how the metro area subsidizes all sorts of things that go on in the rest of the state, but it’s important to keep in mind what sort of political dynamics are at work. Minneapolis itself is a net contributor to Local Government Aid (which I hope you automatically bolded, italicized, and underlined in your head as you were reading) but the core cities and a handful of inner ring suburbs aren’t going to throw together a winning political coalition by themselves anytime soon. There is a long game here, and we just might come out ahead, but as someone who appreciates Minnesota as an idea, I hope it all works out in a way that benefits the whole state.

*Note: Many thanks to Elliot Altbaum for hooking me up with useful data and Glendon Haslerud for reteaching me $2,000 worth of ArcGIS in about half an hour.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Destruction for Appetite: The Loss of Corner Stores

Streets.MN - Thu, 02/19/2015 - 8:30am

Gust J. Evelius home and grocery store, 3556 36th Ave S, Minneapolis, 1934.Source: Minnesota Historical Society

Technology holds the promise of raising living standards for all. Yet, history shows that even with innovations as humble as cellophane, the results are often uneven. Today’s urban “food deserts” can be traced back to technological changes that began in our neighborhoods over a century ago.

Winkler Foods, Lindour Meats, Lieb Bakery, Constance Candy. These are just a few of the nearly 100 food stores you would have found in the South Minneapolis neighborhood of Longfellow in the 1930s. They included 67 grocery stores, eight bakeries, seven butchers and ten candy stores. Today, few remain, having been replaced by big chain supermarkets and convenience stores.

Beginning in the 1920s, technological and business innovations gave rise to the supermarket. Shopping slowly moved to larger lots on the periphery, as walking to small, local stores was replaced with driving to large, distant ones. And if you had limited transportation options (i.e. no car), you found yourself with less access to healthy food under this new distribution system.

The good old days?

Before this, people shopped nearly every day at separate stores for meat, baked goods, etc. within walking distance of their home or streetcar line. Many stores offered free delivery and credit, which was made up for in higher prices.

But as noted in Marc Levinson’s The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America, many of these stores were run inefficiently. One in four failed each year. Owners had to buy their goods through commissioned brokers instead of directly from wholesalers, which added a layer of cost.

Once refrigeration and cellophane became more prevalent by 1930, stores were able to stock more goods. These innovations, along with cars, allowed people to shop less often. Supermarkets like A&P drove out corner stores by copying their best practices (e.g. free delivery) while undercutting their prices. Amenities like ample off-street parking and air conditioning sealed the deal.

Unhealthy economics

The New Urbanist dream of walkable communities usually includes some small stores. But for groceries, the economics work against it, as their average profit margin is 1.3%. The small, independent stores that survive today do so mainly in low income neighborhoods by either filling an ethnic niche, or through the profits from Slim Jims, Marlboros and Pick 6 tickets.

It’s easy to be lured by what University of Kansas history professor, Jeffrey Moran, has coined “Nostesia” — “a longing for a time that never was.” The truth is, many corner stores were (and still are) run by recent immigrants with few options but to work long hours for uncertain pay. And do consumers really want to spend an extra hour every night buying and lugging home food?

When people wax nostalgic about corner stores, they’re likely remembering the social glue they provided — where neighbors could run into each other to share gossip. And this might well explain the popularity of farmers’ markets (among both consumers and policy makers trying to address “food deserts”), which function as part food source, part carnival.

But time marches on. Once electric cars and one-hour drone delivery take hold, will we someday find ourselves fondly telling our grandchildren, “We used to drive in our minivan down to the ol’ Super America, where Sis and I would lay our paper money on the counter to buy a HUGE pop that had real sugar!”

Streets.mn 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

Minneapolis: An Urban Transformation?

Streets.MN - Tue, 02/17/2015 - 8:33pm

Minneapolis has undergone a tremendous amount of urban growth in the past seven years. And, for all the complaints constructive-criticism that we, at streets.mn, have provided, it should be noted that Minneapolis has truly transformed into a better, more dynamic urban place.

Google Streetview has opened up its archives (dating back to 2007 in the Twin Cities) and we can see the transformations at the ground level. While Streetview doesn’t completely capture the change, it’s a good place to start.

Here’s a look at a few of Minneapolis’ success stories.

Washington Avenue through the University of Minnesota campus, has made the most drastic change; from a road choked with cars to a pedestrian-friendly transit mall. What were once small buildings are now six-story apartment buildings.

Next, is the Mill City District on 2nd near the Guthire Theater. If you could rewind time to 2005, this would look even more drastic. I use to tailgate for Minnesota Twins games on what is now Gold Medal Park. At that time, it was an open surface asphalt parking lot littered with broken beer bottles.

Uptown may have had the greatest population increase. It has successfully transformed industry land and under-utilized empty space into apartments along the Greenway.

You don’t have to look far to see other urban transformations, such as Park & Portland, University Avenue, Central Ave in NE, North Loop, and  behind Target Field. It’s good to see Minneapolis is moving in the right direction …

What did I miss? What are some other success stories?

Streets.mn 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

Minneapolis: An Urban Transformation?

Thoughts on the Urban Environment - Tue, 02/17/2015 - 8:26pm

Minneapolis has undergone a tremendous amount of urban growth in the past seven years. And, for all the complaints constructive-criticism that we, at streets.mn, have provided, it should be noted that Minneapolis has truly transformed into a better, more dynamic urban place.

Google Streetview has opened up its archives (dating back to 2007 in the Twin Cities) and we can see the transformations at the ground level. While Streetview doesn’t completely capture the change, it’s a good place to start.

Here’s a look at a few of Minneapolis’ success stories.

Washington Avenue through the University of Minnesota campus, has made the most drastic change; from a road choked with cars to a pedestrian-friendly transit mall. What were once small buildings are now six-story apartment buildings.

Next, is the Mill City District on 2nd near the Guthire Theater. If you could rewind time to 2005, this would look even more drastic. I use to tailgate for Minnesota Twins games on what is now Gold Medal Park. At that time, it was an open surface asphalt parking lot littered with broken beer bottles.

Uptown may have had the greatest population increase. It has successfully transformed industry land and under-utilized empty space into apartments along the Greenway.

You don’t have to look far to see other urban transformations, such as Park & Portland, University Avenue, Central Ave in NE, North Loop, and  behind Target Field. It’s good to see Minneapolis is moving in the right direction …

What did I miss? What are some other success stories?

Categories: Twin Cities

The Transit Line No One Is Talking About

Streets.MN - Tue, 02/17/2015 - 10:00am

This post is months too late. The Metropolitan Council’s 2040 Transportation Policy Plan went through extensive design, writing, public comment period, and ultimately final adoption. Nevertheless, we can still hopefully improve upon corridors already decided on, help change priorities, et cetera. So, I present for your consideration a corridor that needs some major lovin': Downtown Minneapolis-Uptown-Southdale.

Streets.mn has covered the missed opportunity to serve Uptown by quality transit from downtown. No need to bring it up beyond that (and maybe it’s not a huge deal if we build the Midtown Corridor Dual Alternative, like, ASAP). But there’s a glaring missing link in our 25-year regional plan:

Image taken from Census OnTheMap tool

The Southdale/Centennial Lakes area is a huge job center, rivaling basically any other non-downtown/university area in the metro from a jobs/acre standpoint, but clearly much larger in land area than almost anywhere else. The Blue Line is anchored by the Mall of America and MSP Airport. The Green Line is killin’ it by connecting both downtowns, the U, and fairly walkable/urban places in between. We’ve planned SWLRT using jobs in the Golden Triangle and other Eden Prairie locations as end-point anchors. We have the Gateway Corridor running mostly along a freeway in corn fields but at least hitting the 3M campus. There’s Bottineau skirting mostly past residents of North Minneapolis but at least hitting some major job/educational centers along the way to (some more corn fields and) the Brooklyn Park Target campus.

I guess what I’m saying is that we seem to be chasing suburban jobs with transit, no matter how expensive the cost-per-rider. Yet, oddly, the TPP doesn’t even see it worth connecting downtown to Southdale (with all the dense, walkable neighborhoods in between) directly by anything but a local bus and some express buses:

This map shows where the vast majority of capital spending will go. Yes, folks in built-up urban areas are getting some better signage, and the governor’s proposed transportation bill improves transit shelter coverage plus local route frequency and operating hour span (if it passes). But there’s a lot of capital being thrown at areas not dark, or slightly-less-dark, blue in their own transit priority areas:

I digress. The current Route 6 bus line is very important in connecting people to opportunity in our region. It’s one of the highest used routes in the system:

According to 2010 figures the 6 was also one of the most productive from a rider per in-service hour:

There’s no question the routes above the 6 are important, especially when you consider social justice. However, each of the 5, 21, and 18 bus routes will receive full arterial bus treatments (if not more) in the TPP’s plan.

Perhaps more important than the endpoints, it runs through multiple important regional population and job areas, all of which happen to be highly walkable and/or connected to other transit routes: 50th & France, France & Sunnyside, Linden Hills, Uptown, and Loring Park.

This is why it surprises me the proposed Hennepin aBRT line turns west after hitting the Uptown Transit Station. At the very least, we’re building the Lake Street aBRT line to connect to the West Lake station, to say nothing of the 17 and 12 which provide additional paths westward.

To me, it makes more sense to strengthen what is clearly a successful bus route through most of the line rather than cutting it short as a 4-mile stub of a rapid bus line.

Short-term, the Hennepin aBRT line should continue south on Hennepin and follow the 6 C/E/G/K path to Linden Hills, but jog west to France along 44th and meet up with the B/D/F branches to head down to Southdale.

Thinking Bigger

I said in the title of the post that no one was thinking about this line. I lied. Our own writer Adam Froehlig did the leg work in a fantasy transit map a while ago:

Thinking holistically about a transit network, a north-south subway through downtown makes a lot of sense. It can be a more general-use transit tunnel, alleviating the bus congestion on Nicollet Mall, as well as interlining other regional north-south-ish services we might concoct in the future.

The other benefit? We don’t need to end service downtown. Central Avenue happens to be served by the 10 (another notable line in the aforementioned ridership chart), with an arterial bus and (maybe?) a streetcar planned.

There’s a lot to like in one long transit line, with patches of grade separation, connecting the length of Northeast Minneapolis (and beyond, though maybe terminating at the Northtown Mall) to SW Minneapolis and Edina in a single-seat ride (plus connections to the Blue and Green Lines). Honestly, I can think of way worse ways to spend CTIB, state, and federal money.

So, poke holes in the idea, brainstorm ways to overcome political obstacles if you like it, and on. And, thanks for reading!

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Categories: Twin Cities