Our mission is to help transform Twin Cities streets into community spaces that invite people of all ages, cultures and abilities to walk, bicycle, socialize and play.

Really Narrow Streets: A Missing Element in Twin Cities Urban Design

Even the narrowest of Twin Cities streets are pretty wide. With few exceptions, streets in Minneapolis and St. Paul tend to range in width from 30 to 60 feet, curb to curb. Including sidewalks and boulevards, the width stretches to a ballpark range of 40 to 70 feet. Streets get even wider when you move into the "stroad" territory of suburban and semi-rural commercial strips. An average neighborhood street in Minneapolis may not seem wide in the context of an average American city, but compared to the "really narrow streets" of traditional cities in Europe and Asia they are gigantic: 

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Wednesday Streets News

  • State committee forces Vikings to talk to Mpls about DT sites (PiPress, Strib)
  • Debate over stadium funding revenue sources (Strib)
  • Pros and Cons of gambling as a DT revitalization tool (MPR)
  • Warehouse Dist owners jealous about casino plans (MSPBJ)
  • Smaller Stillwater Bridge gains political support (Strib)
  • Declining 2011 Stillwater bridge traffic b/c of housing bubble (Strib)
  • Mpls bike plan implementation passes council (MBC)
  • EPA completes arsenic cleanup in S MPls (Strib)
  • Chanhassen denies zoning change for mega-Walmart project (MSPBJ)
  • Update on LRT construction small business impact (TCDP)
  • MNDOT having trouble w/ new freeway paving technique (Strib)
  • Debate intensifies on bicycles on the Lowry Bridge (Strib)
  • Mpls skyways & greenways part of Nat'l urban discussion (Salon.com)
  • Post-Thanksgiving NE Mpls turkey sitings (SaM)
  • 1895 rules for women bike riders (m-bike)

The Dangerous Game of Subsidy

Mankato's new HECO Building courtesy of local taxpayers

Our current system of attracting jobs and growth to our region is fundamentally flawed, unsustainable and damaging our urban environment. Policies at the state, regional and local levels are not creating jobs, but merely juggling them from one municipality to the next; and doing so at great expense to taxpayers [and we’re destroying our urban environments in the process].

While subsidizes can further public policy and promote efforts of downtown revitalization, they can also shift scarce tax dollars away from necessary public services [e.g. local fire stations]. In particular, Mankato has been good at providing one subsidy that has often gone unnoticed: free, convenient and abundant parking.

In the case of Mankato, government subsidies shifted jobs from point A to point B at a great cost to taxpayers while simelentously damaging the urban environment. I wish I could say this was an anomoly. I wish I could say it was the exception. It’s not. It’s the norm. Read more >

Bad Urbanist - Episode I

Why am I feeling so guilty?

It’s cold. It’s blusterly. It’s nasty weather. Not quite Minnesota cold; not yet, anyway. No frostbite setting in before I’ve made it down the driveway. My knees still function. Nevertheless, it’s ugly enough out here that my wife has put on her I’m-just-barely-putting-up-with-my-husband face. She is not happy about this... Read more >

Streets.mn Podcast #2: Bicycling and Transportation Funding with Julie Kolsab

One of the new green bike lanes on the U of MN campus.

In this episode, we're talking with Julie Kolsab, a certified bicycle instructor and blogger at Ride Boldly. We sat down about a week ago at the Swede Hollow Café to discuss the state of transportation funding, bicycling, and how cities are coping with limited budgets.

Enjoy! We're going to have these podcasts up on iTunes soon, but in the meantime you can download them from the archive website.

Thanks. Read more >

A mile away from Bailey Elementary, a possible solution

The roundabout at Bailey Road and Radio Drive in Woodbury.

When I first came across this image of a roundabout with dedicated tunnels for bikes and pedestrians, I thought I had somehow wandered onto David Hembrow's blog about cycling in the Netherlands, but no, it turns out this is an image of an American roundabout.  A Minnesotan roundabout. A Woodburian roundabout.

A roundabout in Woodbury?  With two lanes, bike paths, and tunnels?  Yep.

A few weeks ago, Mike Spack linked to an online presentation by Joe Gustafson of Washington County Public Works that covered the project.  It's the first fully two-lane roundabout in the state, so the county used it to experiment a bit and collected extra data about its performance—hence the reason for the presentation.

However, the main thing that jumped at me was the roundabout's location: It's at the intersection of Radio Drive and Bailey Road.  You might remember Bailey Road from news stories earlier this year about Gordon Bailey Elementary School.  It became a cause célèbre for Minnesota urbanists after it was reported that of the 620 students, none of them walked or rode bicycles to school.

A 55-mph speed limit at an elementary school?

Now, I don't want to sound like a ratchety old fart talking about walking in eight-foot snowdrifts uphill both ways, but I did grow up in the southeastern Minnesota town of Byron, where kids within the city limits were (at the time) required to make their own way to and from school—whether it was by walking, biking, or getting a ride from a family member.  I mostly walked, but did ride my bike or get rides on occasion.  One of the main roads to my elementary school had a speed limit of 15 miles per hour, while others were normally 30 but restricted to 20 mph when students were present.

Because I grew up with a school on a slow street, I'm always amazed to see schools such as Bailey placed next to 55-mph suburban arterials.  Unfortunately, it has been a common practice in the United States for the past few decades.

Roads such as this can be deadly for students.  For me, this reality  came into stark relief when I was in high school—a student in nearby Kasson was killed crossing the 40-mph Mantorville Avenue (Minnesota State Highway 57) near that city's high school. He was hit fast enough to be lifted out of his shoes—the mental image of empty sneakers marking a crash victim's last footsteps is something that always sticks with me.

Gordon Bailey Elementary's main entrance to the west side parking lot.

Due to my own experiences, I'm inclined to think that parents and kids feel unsafe crossing Bailey Road, and that's why every student gets driven or bused to school.  In the original reporting on the subject, parents gave a variety of reasons for driving their children, but the school's location still sticks out like a sore thumb.

So, how do you make this road—out on the edge of the urban boundary—feel safe?  Ideally, I'd like to see schools located in town centers, like the elementary I grew up with.  Built up near the edge of streets that are designed to be slow, even if the slow area only lasts a block or so.

The school's closest intersection, a 4-way stop at Bailey Road and Woodlane Drive.

But here, we're dealing with an established facility that's on roads that are made for high speed.  Reducing the speed limit might help, but a road lined on one side by farmland is unlikely to be driven slowly.  Wide open spaces encourage wide open throttles, so a reduced speed limit would likely be ignored.

In this case, it seems the best option is to completely separate pedestrian traffic from the road, allowing people to get from one side to the other without having to wait for cars to pass or stop.

Tunnels or bridges across the road are the way to accomplish that.  Expensive solutions, but worth the money because they will save lives.  Certainly criticism would follow any such proposals, but critics should also recognize that they are usually remedies to problems that never should have existed in the first place.  Unwalkable locations bring latent costs with them, and building special grade-separated walkways just makes those hidden costs visible.

Schools should be built in walkable places, period.  They are engines of community, and should be treated as such.

Mid-week Streets News

  • Stillwater bridge summit goes nowhere (Strib)
  • Anoka County trying to recoup $2M in costs for stadium speculation (Strib)
  • Univ Ave businesses ask judge to halt LRT construction; demand more aid (Strib)
  • Questioning the development paradigm in an age of austerity (MPR)
  • New bike lanes confusing for some who drive (Strib)
  • Block E casino plans backed by local development interests (Strib)
  • New offices planned for Guthrie area (TCBJ)

Transportation Costs Too Much.

Marq 2

Crossposted at streets.mn and transportationist.org

When I was growing up (in suburban Maryland), there was an ad on local TV from Crown Books. Founder Robert Haft asserted "books cost too much", which led him to create Crown Books, and helped put independent booksellers out of business decades before Amazon became villain #1 among the literati.

Transportation costs too much. Read more >

Streets.mn Podcast #1: Stadiums, Casinos, NIMBYs and LRT with Nate Hood and Spencer Agnew

One of the many renderings of the proposed Vikings Stadium

I finally finished editing (and trying to reduce background noise in) the first TC Streets podcast.

In this episode we’re talking with Nate Hood and Spencer Agnew, both of whom are pillars of the Twin Cities urban blogging community. You can find Nate’s writing on his blog, Thoughts on the Urban Environment, and Spencer’s writing is at cityoflakesurbanism.com. Both of them post semi-regularly on our website at TCStreets for people.org as well.

We sat down a little over a week ago at the Aster Café, a lovely bar and restaurant nestled in a failed downtown mall along Minneapolis’s St Anthony Main area. The building itself is the oldest continually operating commercial building in the city, and was originally built in 1855 as a brick factory. Nate, Spencer, and I discussed a variety of topics, including the proposals for the Vikings Stadium, NIMBYism in the Twin Cities, the plusses and minuses of a downtown casino, Block E, and what’s happening along the Central Corridor during construction.