September 2011

Pedestrian crossing - Shibuya, Tokyo

"Barnes Dance" pedestrian crossing in Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan. Via Pedestre >

The Essence of Sustainability

What is left after you’ve peeled off the eco-groovy labels and unwrapped the post-consumer recycled-content packaging? Will the product underneath stand the test of time? Will the business you run survive the next recession? In a word, are they resilient? Read more >

Arterial Transitways Public Meetings

A system someday

Metro Transit is holding three public meetings in October to discuss/present/solicit comment on their study of concepts for Arterial Transitways. Read more >

Nicollet-Central streetcar to begin alternatives analysis in January

View Nicollet–Central streetcar in a larger map. Red lines indicate existing and planned light-rail lines, while blue lines represent planned streetcar routes.

The proposed Nicollet–Central streetcar line in Minneapolis is moving forward and is expected to enter an alternatives analysis (AA) phase a few months from now in January 2012. Last Friday, the Minneapolis City Council took action to begin looking for a consulting company to do the analysis, which is the first phase of study needed to receive federal funding. The route will combine parts of Metro Transit's busy 10 and 18 bus routes into a single fixed-rail service. The buses already carry a combined 18,000 passengers daily, and the 18 passes through the city's densest neighborhood (Stevens Square–Loring Heights).

The AA is one of the first phases necessary to receive federal funding, and generally precedes an environmental review -- an environmental assessment (EA) or environmental impact statement (EIS). Hopefully the environmental review will go quickly since the planned route is entirely on existing city streets and mostly follows historic streetcar routes. The AA should begin in January 2012 and run through mid-2013.

The route being studied runs about 9 miles from the I-35W/46th Street Station in South Minneapolis up to the Columbia Heights Transit Center, mostly following Nicollet Avenue and Central Avenue along the way (with a brief segment on Hennepin Ave and 1st Ave NE). It's not yet clear what the cost for the entire route would be, but a previous study indicates that a short starter route, such as running the 2.4 miles from Franklin Avenue north to University Avenue and 4th Street SE, would cost around $110 million. If federal funding falls through, the city may be able to build that part of the route on its own by making use of local funding sources such as increased parking fees downtown and special taxing districts.

This article also appears on my main blog, Hi / Zeph / 400

Sustainability Alive in Deadwood, North Dakota

Deadwood, South Dakota, is the final resting place for Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, and has more buried residents than unburied ones, yet it is unearthing new ways to breathe life into its sustainability efforts. Deadwood was founded in 1870 (illegally) to host the onslaught of gold miners that flocked to work in the thriving Homestake Mine of Lead, SD, located a few miles away. Deadwood was intentionally formed to “mine” the miners through gambling, liquor sales and prostitution; today the town focuses on mining tourists (through much the same tactics). Read more >

Re-realizing 1st Ring Suburbs

I pose the thought that, maybe, just maybe, first-ring suburbs aren’t actually as bad as we urbanists frequently make them out to be.


1st ring suburbs can be hard to define. They’re a little bit city. They’re a little bit suburb. Here’s my teaser line:

I pose the thought that, maybe, just maybe, first-ring suburbs aren’t actually as bad as we urbanists frequently make them out to be.

On one hand, these places are comprised nearly exclusively of single-family detached homes that typically epitomize “sprawl”. Yet, they can be walkable, transit-connected and have interesting smaller homes, spaced closely together and near desirable neighborhoods within City limits. Read more >

Bike Lanes: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly


Minneapolis is certainly moving full speed ahead in its support for cycling. NiceRide is expanding its stations; the city is considering hiring a full-time cycling & pedestrian coordinator; bike lanes are freshly restriped in bright green (at least in Dinkytown, anyway); and last year Minneapolis surpassed Portland as the nation’s #1 biking city. As an urban enthusiast, ardent supporter of Minneapolis’ pro-cycling efforts, and downtown resident, I should be excited to be biking every day in my city. But I’m not! I walk, or drive, for all my trips. But I don’t bike.
Why, you ask?
I am afraid of being hit by cars, that’s why!
Despite all the efforts to increase awareness of bikers, and despite all the prominent restriping of bike lanes, the fact is that cars can still quite easily strike, injure, and kill cyclists. I have no intention of being one of them (the injured cyclists, that is).

I found myself ruminating on this on a recent trip to Paris. In that city--and in Montreal, as well (apparently Francophones really like bikes)--most of the bike lanes are grade-separated. There is a large curb, about 8 inches high and 18 inches wide, marked with regular 3 foot tall posts, that separates the car lanes from the bike lanes (look at a Google StreetView of Rue Cherrier, Montreal for a good example). This configuration is marvelous for promoting biking. Bikers can freely move down the road, confident that cars will not casually destroy their undercarriages by sweeping into the bike lane.

The effect was particularly pronounced when I looked at two portions of the same street in Montreal. On one side, the bike lane was grade-separated. On the other, it was not. On the grade-separated side, a fair number of bikers were happily cruising down their lane. On the non-grade-separated side, not a single biker was present. This was probably because a large number of cars had parked in the bike lane. This included, frustratingly, a cop car. Even the cops park in the bike lanes!

The only way to truly get cars to respect bikes is to make it impossible, or at least sufficiently damage-inducing, to cross into bike lanes. The Netherlands has taken this truly to heart, and even has bike-specific traffic lights for its bike lanes. Ridership in that country is astonishingly high.

Grade-separated bike lanes also prevent cars from using the shoulder to quickly make right turns, another harrowing event for cyclists. Right hooks, as they’re called, have an insidious way of making bikers’ lives unpleasant. If the configuration of the road prevents this, the road becomes safer for everyone.

Minneapolis is on a decent path, but there’s a ways to go. If--and hopefully when--the city finally understands the bikers deserve a protected lane, I’ll be happy to join in the fray.

  Read more >

Minneapolis Joy Ride

On Sunday, October 2nd, the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition is hosting a "Joy Ride" celebrating the #1 Bicycling City in America while looking to the future of bike amenities in Minneapolis. The ride is free, open to all, and moderately paced with activities and fun events at stops along one of two routes. There is a roughly 17 mile route and a second, shorter family route of just under 10 miles, so bring your family, friends, and neighbors and join them as they highlight what makes riding a bike such a great experience in Minneapolis!

Date: Sunday, October 2, 2011 - 1:00pm - 4:00pm

Location: Gold Medal Park 1000 2nd Street South Minneapolis,MN

For more information, please see: Read more >

Draft version of Minnesota GO 50-year vision released

This arrived in my inbox today:

Draft Vision Released and We Want Your Feedback

Today MnDOT officially released the draft 50-year vision as part of Minnesota GO.  The vision was developed with input from the public and diverse representatives of the transportation community who participated in advisory group meetings, public workshops and online (that's you!) during the past several months.

Read the vision and tell us what you think!

MnDOT will also be hosting a public hearing on October 4th to hear comments in person.  Join us! 

It's important to hear from you.  MnDOT and other transportation organizations will use the vision and information from this project in developing short-term and long-term plans. The vision will offer guidance in determining the transportation initiatives that the state chooses for investment.

Plus O' The Day: September 21, 2011

Quality Temporary Sidewalk on Hennepin
There's even a ramp at the end

Sidewalks, as the word suggests, tend to form the side of the street, and are thereby vulnerable to closures forced by adjacent activities, like construction.  Hennepin Ave pedestrians are all too familiar with this vulnerability, having recently endured 17 months of complete and total closure of one of the busiest sidewalks in town, the sidewalk on Hennepin that connects the 6th St bus stop with the Warehouse District LRT station.

But things are looking up on Hennepin Ave.  The construction of a new Lunds at 13th & Hennepin has forced the closure of the sidewalk, but someone looked logically at the 60-some feet devoted to through traffic and thought that maybe some of that space could be reallocated to pedestrians. 

I don't know who is responsible for this progressive attitude, but since the city charges four times as much to close a through traffic lane as they charge to close a sidewalk, my guess is it wasn't the contractor.  Whoever it was, I commend them for this quality pedestrian treatment.

Top 10 (Lightweight) Items to Pack in Your Panniers


Ever since my first dispatch from the road I have been mentioning (complaining?) about the weight of the stuff I’ve been hauling over mountain passes, through canyons, and to places that are in the middle of nowhere. I decided I would throw a bone to the cyclists in the crowd as the question I most frequently asked to anyone I could catch on cycling tour before starting the Ride the Talk campaign was, “What item is the most valuable to you on your trip?”

It is amazing how after a few days of travel you discover what is important and what is just dead weight. As one cyclist put it, “Whatever you discover in the bottom of you panniers at the end of the trip is what you didn’t need.” I decided not to wait until the end of the trip to tell you what’s risen to the top. Read more >

Help us pick a new name!

Twin Cities Streets for People is entering a new era, and we'd like your help in making the transition.  Regular readers may have noticed a few new names popping up on this site in the last few weeks.  A discussion initiated by David Levinson (The Transportationist) early last month has brought several Minnesota bloggers together with aspirations of making a local version of something like Greater Greater Washington or the Streetsblog family of websites.  TCSP already has a mission similar to those outlets, so we decided to make use of existing infrastructure rather than attempting to make something completely new.  This lets us get moving more quickly.

However, a few changes are in the pipeline—first among these is a new name.  "Twin Cities Streets for People" sends a positive message, but there's a sense among many of us that it's a bit cumbersome.  So, what would you like to see as the name of the premier Minnesota/Twin Cities site related to placemaking, sustainability, and other urban planning topics?

Here's a list of nominees we've selected:

  • / .com
  • /

Please give us your vote in the comments!  Voting will run until the end of the day on Wednesday, September 28th. Read more >

Plus O' The Day: September 19, 2011

New Pedestrian Median at Hamline and Pierce Butler in St Paul
The median looking South where it crosses the tracks at Hamline Avenue.

Pierce Butler is a really busy road where cars move north of 50 mph. It's also a bike route with sidewalks and houses alongside it. So its really important to have pedestrian safety infrastructure such as crosswalks and medians.

St Paul just installed one of these at the Hamline Avenue pedestrian bridge, where it crosses the railroad tracks leading into Bandana Square. And it looks nice!

Somewhere in Nowhere

About 150 miles south of Miles City lies a place, “conveniently located in the middle of no place.” It’s called Alazada, Montana, and is home to the Stoneville Saloon and not much else (there is also a convenience store and post office). The Saloon is a place that one must really visit in person to get the real story but I’ll do my best to portray how, despite first appearances, the Saloon is  a safe haven of friendliness and is doing it’s part to be a bit “greener". Read more >

The Devolution of St. Paul's 7 Corners

The last 47 years have not been kind to 7 Corners

The images displayed below are of  7 Corners in St. Paul, but it might as well be Anywhere, USA. The last 47 years haven’t been kind to the district adjacent to downtown. In fact, it transformed from a neighborhood of small businesses, quaint houses and small apartment blocks into an open surface parking lot for a convention center. Read more >

Road Test: Backcountry Boiler

When beginning to build my Ride the Talk campaign for need-based scholarships for the students of MCAD’s Sustainable Design program, I stumbled upon a cool Kickstarter campaign for the Backcountry Boiler. Devin Montgomery, a young designer turned entrepreneur, raised three times his Kickstarter fundraising goal with the help of over 500 backers to turn his sustainable design concept into reality. I was immediately enamored by Devin’s product, "a light and simple way to carry and efficiently heat water in the outdoors using just about any fuel that you can find." Read more >

Creating nice places is kind of simple

Examining a car-less, bike and pedestrian Island urban planning utopia

This is downtown Mackinac Island.

Bicycles rule the roads, shops and colorful awnings line the sidewalks and horse carriages gallivant freely down the congestion-free roadways. It looks kitsch, but it isn’t. It’s actually a working small town – albeit one that relies nearly exclusively on tourism.

Ignoring the volatility of the tourist-driven economyMackinac Island looks stronger and healthier than any small town I’ve seen. It succeeds where most small towns fail – it provides an urban environment worthy of human affection. Read more >

Peeve O' The Day: September 14, 2011

Parking on the Sidewalk
A car parking on the sidewalk outside Grand Avenue Liquors in St Paul.

I guess places like this get somehow "grandfathered in," but it never ceases to amaze me that some parts of the Twin Cities condone (and apparently legalize) turning the sidewalk into extra parking spaces for cars.

This example comes from the Grand Avenue Liquor Store in St Paul, where drivers continue to park on the sidewalk despite the store's own parking lot being located 30 feet away, across the street.

Plus O' The Day: September 13, 2011

New bikes lanes on Fremont
New bike lanes on Fremont Avenue, in North Minneapolis.

Brand new, just a couple of days old, in North Minneapolis along Fremont Avenue (Emerson is the northbound pair) - and not only bikes lanes where no previous ones existed, but buffered bike lanes (do you notice that space between the bike lane and the motor vehicle travel lanes? a little extra separation for the safety and comfort of cyclists).

A hearty thank you to the City of Minneapolis Public Works Department and to TLC / Bike Walk Twin Cities and their implementation of the Federal NTP project.

(s)Miles City

After a chaotic boarding at Missoula’s Greyhound Station, I was finally on my way to Miles City (~480 miles East of Missoula), the place where I would begin to Ride the Talk. My seat buddy, an exhausted mom, had already been on several buses for the past 24 hours when she made her transfer in Missoula with her two young children. I was feeling for her when her child began to kick the back of my seat (incessantly) and she began the battle of the threats – “Stop it, or no treat when we get there.” It could’ve been a world record for the length of time a two-year old needed to behave. I was hardly an hour into my trip and I wanted to kick the back of my own seat. Read more >

Not exactly a Frogger situation

The intersection of Pleasant St. & Arlington St.

The intersection at Pleasant and Arlington Streets on the University of Minnesota's East Bank got some new traffic lights to handle a projected increase in traffic flow. But what's up with those pushbutton-activated "Walk" signs? Read more >

Peeve O' The Day: September 8, 2011

Almost Getting a Crosswalk Correctly
The "stop for pedestrians in crosswalk" sign near the busy Grand and Syndicate intersection.

Here's a busy street corner in St Paul's pedestrian friendly Grand Avenue where the city ALMOST got it right. They took the trouble to put in a "Please Stop for Pedestrians in Crosswalk" neon yellow sign across from the grocery store.

The only trouble is that there are no crosswalks anywhere near here.

Bicycle safety ad - for motor vehicle drivers

From a Dutch government campaign aimed at improving safety for bicycle riders. Via Copenhagenize >

Peeve O' The Day: September 7, 2011

Bike Lanes In Which It Is Legal to Park Your Car
The bike lane on Como Avenue SE allows legal parking except for a few hours each morning.

What is the point of making a designated bike lane on a street if you allow cars to park in it? I think someone somewhere is missing the point.

Peeve O' The Day: September 5, 2011

Education and discouragement
Bicycle parking facilities on Monday. By Thursday, no bikes were present.

Minneapolis children started back to school last week, on Monday August 29. The photo above shows the bicycle parking facilities provided at a school I pass by every day on my ride to work. By Wednesday, I saw a total of two bikes on that same spot. By Thursday (and Friday) I saw no bikes outside the school at all.

Did students stop riding? Did school officials direct them to park their bikes inside? I don't know - but I know that if we don't provide convenient, visible and plentiful parking facilities at schools we'll have a hard time convincing students (and their parents) that they should try riding their bikes as part of everyday transportation.

Perhaps now that we're the #1 bicycle city in the US we'll spend a couple of hundred dollars at each of our city's schools to provide this vital piece of transportation (and health, and social and emotional development) equipment.  And then maybe we'll do the same along Nicollet Mall

Then to Now: How to Destroy a City

Franklin and Lyndale circa 1920

The Nokohaha Blog occasionally runs a feature called “Then and Now". It takes a photograph of a building in the Twin Cities  from sometime in the past 100 years, and compares it to how it looks today. The most noticeable feature of the “Now” is how we’ve so aggressively degraded our urban environment to accommodate the automobile. Read more >

Northern Lights Express route approved by FRA

View Northern Lights Express route alternatives in a larger map

The Twin Cities and the Twin Ports are on track to be connected by passenger rail again within the next few years. The Federal Railroad Administration has told the Minneapolis – Duluth/Superior Passenger Rail Alliance—the joint-powers board backing the Northern Lights Express train—that the preferred route (#9) has been approved. As part of a 7-month review, the FRA had asked for information on two alternate routes (#11 and #11A) which had ranked fairly well in previous studies. In both cases, trains would have traveled east from Minneapolis before heading north along the old "Skally Line" until reaching Hinckley. However, those routes would have been slower for many riders and would require rebuilding a significant chunk of trackbed which has been abandoned and largely converted into bike trails. Read more >

Minneapolis Bike/Ped Coordinator Position is up for a City Council Vote Tomorrow

A future Minneapolis cyclist, if all goes well.

This just in from the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition:

Tomorrow morning–Friday, September 2–the City Council will vote on a proposal to eliminate funding for an important new Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator position. The vote may be close and your calls will make a big difference.

Please contact your City Council Member RIGHT NOW to let them you that know support this position. (And share this with your friends!)

Read more >

Seeing the Forest

Nearly time to blast off: two major deadlines on the same day. September 1st is looming. What was I thinking? Read more >