Streetcar tracks through the fountain

For an amazing example of the ability of streetcars to be the most aesthetically-appealing form of transportation, see this fountain in Oslo, through which streetcar tracks are routed:

Here is a link to a brochure by the company that made the jets for the fountain, which wisely turn off when a train is coming through.  This is what they look like when full:

The moral of the story:  when the public works engineers say it can’t be done, don’t believe them!

Edit:  I’m trying to get the google streetview link to work:

Comments good!

I know I’m down on the City of Minneapolis’ Public Works Department a lot, so I wanted to mention something I found that they did that was really cool.  The Met Council has a new draft 2030 Transportation Policy Plan that is out for comments right now.  The plan itself is an improvement, in that it recognizes more explicitly than before that the region won’t fix congestion by building new highways.  But what I really like are the comments, approved by the Transportation & Public Works Committee today, by a gaggle of planners from the city’s public works department.

The bulk of their comments are on the Transit chapter, and they serve to prod the Met Council to beef up their definition of the Arterial BRT Network to an Arterial Transitway Network.  This is certainly due to the City’s sporadic support of a streetcar network (including, of course, their TIGER II application for an Alternatives Analysis for the Central-Nicollet line(s)), but also opens the door to other technologies along these routes.  I also like that they speak up about the Plan’s emphasis on express buses (as opposed to local or arterial transit).  Their comments include the fact that “urban local bus routes comprise over 3/4 of ridership on Metro Transit bus routes, and bus routes serving the High-Frequency Network comprise over 1/3 of ridership on Metro Transit bus routes.” (p. 5) Vaguely-worded (is the High-Frequency stat a subset of the urban local stat, or separate?), it is an important considering the lack of attention shown to improving those routes.

Also worth noting is their advocacy for a regional bicycling plan.  While most trips are short (as the City transportation planners note), in an interconnected region (read: municipally-fractured) like this one, they often cross city limits.  I might add that there is an important branding effect for regional networks, which would be a boon for the growing cycling tourism industry.

I’m going to try to add the pdf in case it disappears off the city site.Draft-2030-Transportation-Policy-COMMENTS

The Times are a-changin?

The New York Times published a profile of the new Broadway yesterday that was simultaneously beautiful and horrible.  For those who missed, the new configuration of Broadway in Midtown Manhattan is the most progressive treatment of an American street since the wave of pedestrianizations that tapered off in the late 70s.  But the New York Times article was strangely reactionary for a paper known for its liberal bent.

The new design is a restriping, not a reconstruction, so the width of the roadway hasn’t changed, but rather the apportionment of the lanes.  Yet the Times reporter describes the new road as “a narrow passageway,” implying that the space for bikes and pedestrians aren’t a real part of the road.  While the article notes that diagonal Broadway disrupts the grid system of Midtown, and gives a few quick quotes to some transportation planners who cop to the Socialist idea that it may not be a bad idea to provide some space for pedestrians, the bulk of the article provides venting space to drivers who fume about their lost lanes and dwells on the sheer strangeness of taking space from cars and giving it to bikes and pedestrians.

But the beautiful part is the graphic.  Using a parcel map, a grid-based schematic of the lanes, and cross-sections of the layout in addition to photos, this graphic is a clear and appealing view of the street after restriping.  The one complaint I have is that there should have been more cross-sections, to really show the amount of the street devoted to each mode.  Judge for yourself:

the world through blue-and-yellow glasses

Google StreetView is probably the best thing that ever happened to any urban-planning nerd.  For example, take my recent discovery of the Ikea in Melbourne, Australia:

Part of a mall called Victoria Gardens, the street frontage is dominated by a parking structure, but is nonetheless pedestrian-friendly (even including a sheltered walkway!) and a bike lane rolls right in front.  Contrast this with the Ikea in Minneapolis:

Located in the crotch of two freeways, this Ikea has a wide moat of parking and then a double-deck of parking.  But pedestrians would be lucky to get that far, because first they have to deal with six lanes of traffic (most of which think they are already on the freeway) and intermittent sidewalks.

It was surprising to me to discover an urban Ikea, as the other Ikeas I’ve known have all been auto-oriented big boxes – and that includes the Ikea in Oslo, Norway, which we frequented for its affordable food (a hot dog for less than $5!).  My knowledge of Ikea history is not extensive enough to know whether Ikea Melbourne was an experiment in urbanism that Ikea hasn’t pursued further or whether Ikea Melbourne represents the future of Ikea – I hope it’s the latter, as I’ve always taken with a grain of salt my girlfriend’s insistence that Ikea is a mega-corporation with a conscience.

Minnehaha in Seward

In the interest of starting this blog off on a positive note, I’d like to take a moment to write about the newly striped bike lanes on Minnehaha Ave in Seward.

Ever the cynic, I’ll start by pointing out how close these new lanes are to the Light Rail Trail:

I’m in favor of any sort of on-street bike facility, but at 700 feet from an off-street bike facility, it’s hard to see what the urgency is for the Minnehaha bike lanes.  I, like most, prefer to ride on a facility that is separated from motorized traffic.  The Light Rail Trail does that very well, since in Seward it’s about a hundred feet from the nearest street.  The problem with the Light Rail Trail, of course, is that it doesn’t exist between the Midtown Greenway and Lake Street.  Still, I’d rather have seen 26th Ave S striped before Minnehaha – more on that later.

The Minnehaha bike lanes were striped as part of the Non-motorized Transportation Program, which is a federal project intended to test the effectiveness of bike/ped projects for inducing bike and foot travel and which is administered in the Twin Cities by Transit for Livable Communities.  As such, it was applied for and approved several years ago, at which time the Light Rail “Trail” was likely thought of more as the transit maintenance vehicle access road it was built to be and it made more sense to prioritize Minnehaha as a bicycle route.  This is all speculation of course.

But back to the lanes.  They seem to start out of nowhere at that tangly intersection of Minnehaha, Franklin, Cedar, 20th Ave S, and what seems to be another street every few feet, all with giant angry SUVs bearing down on you.

The photo above shows the northern terminus of the new lanes, just north of Franklin and, um, just west of… 20th?… and… um… is that Cedar?  I thought the Cabooze was on Cedar.  Where are we again?  You’d think the giant address sign on that building would be more helpful.  But the concrete gutter pan is perfect for a bike lane, or at least it will be when it is reconstructed.  And this lane flows nicely to the north into the lanes on 20th Ave S.

Going south is kind of a different story– just south of Franklin Ave the curb snakes around and the lane snakes with it:

Why all the contortion?  The road appears to bend there, giving the curb that awkward angle, and then the lane has to dodge some on-street parking.  Some strange maneuvering to be sure, but this lane is so wide, you don’t even notice.  There is really room to stretch out on Minnehaha.

The snake curves are right across from an excellent high-rise owned and operated by Minneapolis Public Housing Authority.  This tower house has been looking like a combination battleship/step ladder since 1974.  It was likely built in one of the final stages of the Seward redevelopment, and the Minneapolis Housing and Redevelopment Agency, which could pretty much do whatever it wanted, put in a double-wide bus pullout:

The lane here is really skip-dashed, and I don’t know if that means it isn’t done yet, or if it is intended to guide bikes just to the left of some sort of twenty-foot wide bus behemoth.  Regardless, the curb makes for some creative parking.

Just south of here is another interesting product of Post-war urban planning: a 150′ length of curb lane for which all uses are prohibited.  Presumably parking is banned here because it obstructs the view of Minnehaha Ave from 21st Ave S.  But instead of making an extra-wide boulevard, or, god forbid, an extra-wide sidewalk, they paved the street but prevented everyone from using it.  This is the kind of waste that makes you want to become a Republican:

But back to the lanes.  Moving south towards 24th St E the cyclist encounters a stripe extending a tiny triangle median, a tacit admission by the city the roadway here is just too wide:

looks like someone took a giant piece of chaulk to the pavement

Hopefully when this street is reconstructed, this corner will have a much-expanded triangle median.

And if you think it’s wide here, wait till you get south of 24th St.  This portion is where I saw lots of people riding in the parking lanes rather than the bike lanes.  I have to admit I did too, because that’s the only place there was shade.  But it also speaks to the popular desire to be as separated as possible from vehicular traffic.  I was on Minnehaha on Sunday, when no one was in the parking lanes.  Presumably on weekdays many employees of the various industrial uses are in those lanes, placing cyclists back in the bike lanes and in closer proximity to cars.

South of 26th St, Minnehaha’s bike lanes are relegated to the curbs, with two through lanes and a center turn lane, like in this picture at the midtown greenway:

The lanes are still really wide here (I measured 66″, 90″ including the gutter). Unfortunately, at the Greenway, the zebra striping isn’t in yet.  I still hold out hope that there will be zebra striping someday, as studies show marked crossings are much safer than unmarked.  Nonetheless, many cars stopped here (as is required by law) and let cyclists and pedestrians crossed.  However, the giant beg-button activated crosswalk lights seemed to have little effect – I observed about the same rate of cars yielding as when the lights were not flashing.  That is just as well, considering the beg-button isn’t really accessible for a cyclist traveling west:

Not only is this across the ped lane from the westbound bike lane, I measured it at a little more than 3 feet from the closest spot I could get to it without dismounting.  I’m not sure how long my arm is, but I don’t think it’s three feet long.  I’m sure, though, that this beg button is very useful for the many bike-riding basketball teams that pass through Minneapolis.

One more quirky thing about the Minnehaha bike lanes, although this is technically on 26th Ave S, and was striped by Hennepin County rather than Minneapolis:

This picture is looking north on 26th Ave S.  If that graffito is right, the mini lane in between the turn lane and the through lane is a bike lane.  If that graffito is right, this could be the Twin Cities’ first bike turn-lane!  Honestly, the shock is too much for me to bear, and someone else must have shared that feeling, because this lane is coned off.  We’ll see if this idea of a lane will ever grow up to be a real live lane.  Until then we’ll just keep dreaming.

Conclusion

The Minnehaha bike lanes are quirky, but wide – just what we want out of bike lanes.  Thank you, Jim Oberstar, for this unexpected but wonderful gift.