Comments galore

I’d be proud – and humbled – if I was able to make a 138-page document out of the comments on one of my blog posts.  But that’s what Don Pflaum did with the comments on his Bicycle Master Plan – the document, which collects email comments and summarizes comments made at public meetings, was posted on the agenda of the 11/30/10 Public Works & Transportation Committee meeting (I don’t think the document is on the Bike Master Plan webpage yet).

You could not pay me to read the whole document.  But I have to admit that I skimmed it and read some of it – mostly because I saw my name, “Alex B,” on the first page, which lists then names of all commenters.  It was a bit surprising to see myself there, because I didn’t remember commenting.  When I’d skimmed to my comment, I was even more surprised:

Hopefully the Cedar Lake Trail reconstruction will find a way to widen the approx. 700 feet east of
the Wirth Pkwy bridge. At about 11 feet for bidirectional bike travel and pedestrians, it’s waaay too
narrow.

Pretty sure I left that as a comment on a blog entry (In Transit maybe?  I can’t find it now).  Maybe I was drunk and submitted it as a comment to the public record, too.  Certainly I’ve said stupider things when I was drunk.

According to my memory, I chose not to comment on the Bike Master Plan because it reminded me of the multitude of plans that Minneapolis has adopted and quickly forgotten.  The only part of the plan that is at all important is the map of designated routes, and that is only important because Public Works policy is to not put bike facilities on any street that isn’t designated in the plan – which is a really stupid policy, not to mention unfair (why isn’t there a map of private auto facilities, and if a street isn’t on that map, then it doesn’t get free parking).  So my comment would have been to designate every street as deserving of some cycle facilities, and also that cycle capital funds should come from property taxes, and I just thought that would be too radical – especially for a farmboy like Pflaum.

Also of note – Hennepin County’s comments to the plan.  I’d quote them here, but for some reason they are saved as a picture rather than text, and that would be too much work.  Anyway, it is always interesting when one level of government comments on another level of government because it makes obvious the ridiculous layering that exists in fragmented regions like ours.  This is actually a great example, because Hennepin County already has a Bicycle Master Plan, and most of the comments deal with the differences between the two plans.  Some highlights:

  • “The County has 156 of its 900 mile bikeway system designated in Minneapolis.”  My understanding is that these are designated miles, rather than existing miles.  Whether they will ever be built is an open question, of course.
  • Washington Ave S from 11th Ave S to 3rd St S – the County has a good point here about how cycle facilities largely duplicate parallel facilities.  Also the County goads the City about “completing the connections necessary to the trail tunnel that was built under the new I-35W bridge south approach to finish this facility.”  Finally, there is a brief mention of the 4th St ramp plan that recently failed to win a TIGER grant.
  • 26th Ave S from Minnehaha to Franklin – It was gratifying to see County support for full lanes here (instead of the sharrows on the plan), as I have advocated for them in this chain of emails:

— On Fri, 8/13/10, Alex Bauman  wrote:

From: Alex Bauman
Subject: Re: 26th Ave S Resurfacing
To: James.Grube@co.hennepin.mn.us
Cc: Cam.Gordon@ci.minneapolis.mn.us, commissioner.mclaughlin@co.hennepin.mn.us, donald.pflaum@ci.minneapolis.mn.us, katya@redesigninc.org
Date: Friday, August 13, 2010, 10:45 AM

Thanks, Mr. Grube, for again taking the time to explain and clarify.

Seward Redesign is working on a plan for bike lanes on Franklin Ave E, which I believe would satisfy your requirement for logical termini.  Katya Pilling has agreed to speak with you about that, if you like.  Her contact info is as follows:

Katya Pilling

Associate Director

Redesign, Inc.

2619 E. Franklin Avenue

Minneapolis, MN   55406

612.338.8729

katya@redesigninc.org

Thanks again.

-Alex

— On Thu, 8/5/10, James.Grube@co.hennepin.mn.us <James.Grube@co.hennepin.mn.us> wrote:

From: James.Grube@co.hennepin.mn.us <James.Grube@co.hennepin.mn.us>
Subject: Re: 26th Ave S Resurfacing
To: “Alex Bauman”
Cc: Cam.Gordon@ci.minneapolis.mn.us, commissioner.mclaughlin@co.hennepin.mn.us, donald.pflaum@ci.minneapolis.mn.us
Date: Thursday, August 5, 2010, 2:11 PM

Mr. Bauman,
In answer to your questions:
1.  It is possible to re-stripe 26th Avenue S without resurfacing.  We’ve done it before on other streets.
2.  Logical termini are connections to other trails, parks, or something of that order.  For instance when the city is completed with its trail on
Minnehaha, 26th will have logical termini at the Greenway and the Minnehaha trail.  In the past we’ve striped on road shoulders for bike use then
transitioned to bike lanes when we had the termini.  I dislike taking bikers along a formal bike lane only to have it evaporate on them.
Jim Grube

From:    Alex Bauman
To:    James.Grube@co.hennepin.mn.us
Cc:    Cam.Gordon@ci.minneapolis.mn.us, commissioner.mclaughlin@co.hennepin.mn.us, donald.pflaum@ci.minneapolis.mn.us
Date:    08/05/2010 12:18 PM
Subject:    Re: 26th Ave S Resurfacing

Thanks, Mr. Grube, for your fast and thorough response.  I wonder if you (or
the others copied) can help me by clarifying two things:

1.  Is it possible to re-stripe 26th Ave S without resurfacing?
2.  What is an example of what a logical terminus would look like?

Thanks again for your time and thoughts.

Alex

— On Wed, 8/4/10, James.Grube@co.hennepin.mn.us
<James.Grube@co.hennepin.mn.us> wrote:

From: James.Grube@co.hennepin.mn.us <James.Grube@co.hennepin.mn.us>
Subject: Re: 26th Ave S Resurfacing
To: “Alex Bauman”

Cc: Cam.Gordon@ci.minneapolis.mn.us,
commissioner.mclaughlin@co.hennepin.mn.us, donald.pflaum@ci.minneapolis.mn.us
Date: Wednesday, August 4, 2010, 3:25 PM

Mr. Bauman,
As the County Engineer, I am responsible for the overlay and striping that
occurred along 26th.  You are correct about 26th being on the city’s bike
plan, and the county’s Complete Streets policy seeking greater modal options
for the citizens.  In this case we did provide the makings of a
connection along 26th between the Greenway and the city’s bike lanes along
Minnehaha and we thought that was okay for now.  To be honest we didn’t
really have much conversation about 26th to the north.  When I looked at it I
noticed parking in the business areas and thought it would be a bit too
hard to get lanes introduced with logical termini this year, and felt the
overlay was needed now.  So in essence we elected to make sure the paving
got done because of need.  In fact, we’ve had similar conversations for other
road segments in the city.  Much as we’d like to be able to get the bike
lanes at the same time as the overlay, we recognize we stripe the roads each
year.  That means we can address the lanes with the city in a coordinated
manner when it makes sense across the city.  I’ll certainly bring the issue up
with city staff and we can discuss how this fits with an overall city
action plan.
Jim Grube

From:    Alex Bauman
To:    Cam.Gordon@ci.minneapolis.mn.us,
commissioner.mclaughlin@co.hennepin.mn.us, donald.pflaum@ci.minneapolis.mn.us,
james.grube@co.hennepin.mn.us
Date:    08/04/2010 10:13 AM
Subject:    26th Ave S Resurfacing

Hi,

Can someone explain why 26th Ave S was striped without bike lanes north of the
Midtown Greenway after the recent
resurfacing?

The Minneapolis Bikeways Master Plan of 2001 identifies the whole length of
26th Ave S as a candidate for an on-street
bike lane.  There is certainly room on 26th Ave S, as streets with comparable
widths and traffic volumes currently
include bike lanes (along with, of course, 2 lanes for through automobile
traffic and 2 lanes for automobile parking),
for example 4th Ave N and 2nd St N and S.

In addition, Hennepin County Complete Streets Policy requires facilities for
all road users to be included on all
projects.  I understand that doesn’t necessarily mean bike lanes, but they are
the preferred on-street facility for
cyclists, and could have been accommodated in the case of 26th Ave S.  Can you
explain why they were not striped north
of the Midtown Greenway?

Thanks,

Alex Bauman

  • Sharrows – the County apparently understands that sharrows are bogus, the “only support the use of these types of markings in very limited circumstances.”  But an alternative that is acceptable to the County is “postponing any action until an opportunity occurs” – commonly known as doing nothing.
  • Monolithic gutter pans – this one is worth quoting in full:  “Some additional background may be desirable in relation to the monolithic gutter pan mentioned on page 5-29.  This approach was first proposed in 1994 for University Avenue and 4th Street SE in the vicinity of the University of Minnesota as an outgrowth of a task force involving the city, county, neighborhoods, U of M, and local businesses.”  Everyone loves monolithic gutter pans, right?

You know, the County says some other interesting stuff, but the fact that their comments appear as images in the pdf makes it slow to read, so I’m going to stop now.  Have you had enough anyway?

Longfellow Station, or How the Tea Party Movement Could Save Us All If They Would Just Pick Up a Civics Textbook For Once

In the aftermath of the Tea Party Revolution, the world is the same:  we have to adapt or die.  Even though I find myself relieved that most Tea Party activists spent more time making signs than reading civics textbooks, there are moments when they seem to have a point.  One of those moments came when I was reading an RCA for the Longfellow Station project that was written for the November 30th Community Development Committee meeting.

The RCA (Request for Council Action) report is prepared by staff to give an overview of the action the City Council is deliberating, and the great thing about them is the history they provide.  Longfellow Station, for example, has history in the RCA going back to 2005, when it was included in a batch of applications for Met Council funding related to the Hiawatha LRT line.  The project itself may date back earlier, but certainly not long before the 2004 opening of Hiawatha.

Longfellow Station wouldn’t be up for discussion if not for the LRT line – a classic TOD (transit-oriented development) project, it features relatively high-density residential in walking distance to a transit station. The city has planned for this sort of development in the past and is apparently willing to pay for it. The Met Council and Hennepin County have granting programs to promote TOD as well – and it’s no wonder.  The density component of TOD is a boost to their bottom line – they get more tax dollars than a single-family home would provide and they have to spend less money laying sewer pipes and building streets.

There is a lot to dislike about Longfellow Station.  I won’t comment on the aesthetics, and I can’t imagine anyone would find much to say about it.  What I find alarming is that the building will be about 900 feet long – that is my estimate based on the site plan, which shows the project stretching from about 200 feet south of 38th St all the way to 40th St.  It is irresponsible to allow buildings more than 150 feet long, as longer buildings present insurmountable obstructions to pedestrians.  900 feet, frankly, is a Stalinist scale that will wall off the neighborhood behind, in effect more of a sound wall than a building.  Poor 39th Street, currently orphaned by railroad tracks, will have no hope of ever connecting with Hiawatha Ave or the transit station that lies tantalizingly on the other side of the highway.

But that criticism is not enough to withhold my support for some badly-needed density in Longfellow.  No, we need to dig into the history some more before Michele Bachmann starts getting some sympathy from me.  This project languished on the drawing boards for four or five years without the money needed to get dirt moving.  The initial developer, Capital Growth, finally relied on HUD for a mortgage for the project (through Section 221 (d)(4) of the National Housing Act).  HUD mortgages come with strings, though, and one thing that tied up Longfellow Station is that “HUD has indicated that it is unwilling to underwrite the commercial component as part of the 221 (d)(4) mortgage.”  So the new developer, Sherman, has separated the project into two single-use buildings instead of one mixed-use building.  In addition, HUD “increased costs for additional parking spaces in order to achieve a 1:1 parking ratio” – up from the .7:1 parking ratio in the original plan.

So HUD has made this TOD project more expensive, less dense, less mixed-use; in essence, less transit-oriented, according to most definitions (including the Met Council’s).  This from an agency that has made Livable Communities a focus, at least since the Obama administration has been in office.  It’s enough to make one paint one’s cat and march on Washington.

But thinking again about the Tea Party’s great unused Weapon X – the civics book:  Is it more useful to shake my fist at HUD or to sit down and think about the problem?

The Federal Government has three branches – but only two of them are (overtly) political:  the Executive and the Legislative.  HUD is a part of the former, but subject to the laws of the latter.  So the Livable Communities initiative is a product of a recently-elected administration, but HUD is still bound by the product of a Congress elected in the 1950s.  That mid-century Congress, operating under the delusion of American exceptionalism and giddy with zoning, ignored the historical reality that uses often mix with abandon in the same building.

Today, we know that mixed-use development has important public health benefits.  It is important that our laws reflect current scientific knowledge and technical practice.  Notwithstanding the recent obstructionism of the Republic caucus, the lesson we can take from the Tea Party Revolution is that government can and should be continually reformed.   Applying that lesson to  Section 221 of the National Housing Act would result in a better Longfellow Station.

More map madness!

As long as we’re nerding out on amazing map websites, I need to bring up a great resource brought to us by the European Environment Agency (i.e. the government).

EEA’s web page has tons of thematic maps about all kinds of social science themes.  I have only dipped a toe into this cartographic sea, but I already found a gem:

This map showing patterns of sprawl since 1990, indicates that most of the sprawl is happening in the Netherlands and Germany, with some big pockets in Spain and Ireland.

There are also some great charts on this site.  For example, this one showing transportation infrastructure as a percent of land use in the 13 accession countries:

I predict hours will be wasted exploring the EEA site!

Mapnificent – finally

TC Streets for People links to an amazing mapping web app – Mapnificent – that draws a bubble on a map that shows you how far you can get from any given address in any given time – using transit!  The developer of this site – like Beldar – comes from France, of course.

Work be damned, I’m toodling around on the site this morning, checking out my house, my brother’s house in St Louis Park, my old place in Whittier, my old place in Kingfield, and the place I wanted to buy in St Louis Park.  The default time setting is 15 minutes, but I changed it to 20 minutes – it seems like if something is 15 minutes by bus, it’s in walking distance.

The first thing I’ve noticed is that the size of the bubbles does not vary greatly between the different locations I chose.  What does vary is the shape of the bubbles.  Uptown and Kingfield have an elongated shape – reflecting the emphasis on North-South routes in South Minneapolis as well as the failure that is the 21 line.

St Louis Park has an East-West orientation, since basically the only usable line there is the 17, which runs on Minnetonka Blvd.  However, this address is near an express bus stop, so there is an enclave in Downtown Minneapolis as well.

Seward and Northeast have a more triangular appearance, due to the viability of E-W and N-S service.  Seward has the bonus of an archipelago of enclaves strung down the Hiawatha line – more on that after the pics.

(btw, I’ve tried to present all of these maps at the same scale so the area could be perceived easily – it would be nice if the author of Mapnificent could include an area sum to accommodate nerds like me who like to collect this data in tables)

What’s extra cool about this site is that the bubbles don’t just represent the area that contains bus stops that can be reached in 20 minutes- it is the absolute area that you can get to in 20 minutes by (1) walking to the nearest stop(s) from the address you entered (2) riding the bus (3) getting off the bus and walking to your destination.  So the circles get smaller the further you are from your destination because if you get off at a distant stop, you will have less time to walk and still make it within your set time frame.  Really well done.  Unfortunately it isn’t smart enough to map where you can actually walk – more on that later.

The fun doesn’t stop there – Mapnificent also calculates your mobility if you are bringing a bike along.  It really swells the bubbles, but it doesn’t appear to take into account separated paths, which are generally faster than city streets.  Like I mentioned earlier, the bubbles are the areas around the stops that are walked or biked at the average speed in the given amount of time.  It might be nice if you could then choose the distance you are willing to walk or bike to and from stops in space rather than time.

The other setting (mysteriously marked as ‘expirimental’) that can be manipulated is the time of day/week – this is necessary because many routes only run at peak hours, or on weekdays, or don’t run on Sundays, etc.  All of the maps on this post use the weekday 6am setting, which is default.  Changing it to noon on a weekday will change your bubble, as on this example in St Louis Park, which loses its appendage up France/Cedar Lake Rd and its enclave Downtown:

The site is called Mapnificent Minneapolis – they need to make an individual page for every transit provider because there is a separate database for each provider.  Keep in mind that this was developed by a French guy – it is sort of amazing that he knew Minneapolis (known to most Americans as Mindianapolis); though he is likely familiar with St Paul, it would be a miracle if he knew that the metro area is called the Twin Cities.  So there is no pandering to St Paulies and suburbanites here.

But I got curious, and looked up the bubble for my girlfriend’s parents’ house (at weekday peak, no bike, and 10 min walk to/from), which happens to illustrate one of the huge barriers to greater transit modeshare in the Twin Cities:

This is one of the biggest bubbles of any of the maps, which reflects that St Paul has decent transit coverage but, more importantly, fewer stoplights.  But this bubble avoids job centers – it grazes St Paul CBD and Highland Park, but doesn’t cover the Capitol area or the Midway.  St Paul has the density to support transit, but N-S access needs to be improved to get people to the Midway at least, and ultimately Downtown Minneapolis.

Finally, here’s the neighborhood we all want to live in, Lowertown St Paul:

Also shown is the reason no one moves to Lowertown – it is far away from the places you want to go.  The bubble is huge, but centered over the East Side, which has very little congestion (due to minimal economic activity) and therefore quick bus service.  But due to the routing of buses in Downtown St Paul, you can’t even get to the Midway in 20 minutes.  The solution to the Lowertown problem is in the map, however, on the Fort Road, whose route 54 is limited stop and therefore included in the bubble, which hopefully will look very different after Central Corridor.

 

The Interchange

I need to link to Hennepin County’s page on what is currently called The Interchange – The Stupid Name – a transit station on 5th St N that would accommodate heavy and light rail and buses, in addition to some other potential uses.

No one asked me, but it seems that the proposed facility will only accommodate the current demand for transit – with artificially low costs for driving – and not the demand for transit that will be seen after peak oil, the reversal of incentives for suburban living, the remote possibility that Americans will ever care about their impact on the environment.  Therefore as little as possible should be spent on The Interchange, which will be an interim facility.

In addition, any rapid transit to the North Side should take advantage of the right-of-way currently underutilized by the overbuilt 4th St Viaduct – which the most recent proposals for The Interchange ignore.

I’m posting the link because it is a pain to find anything on Hennepin County’s website – including notices for public meetings about The Interchange.

Warehouse District/Theater District

After veering dangerously and boringly close to the realm of the rant in the last two posts in this series, I’m going to attempt a format to make this more readable and on topic.

Overview

The Warehouse and Theater Districts are some of the more recognizable areas of Minneapolis,and also benefit from a very central location and uniquely abundant historic resources.  In my opinion, these three things will propel these neighborhoods to be some of the most successful in the city at attracting development.  Oh, yeah, and there’s a stadium or two on the edge of the neighborhood to get the bankers excited.

But that popularity could be a downside as well – this area is packed with sloshed sleazeballs every Friday and Saturday night, and do you really want to live next to that perpetual disco beat?  Here the city could make an effort to disperse the clubs a little bit – maybe by being more lenient about allowing clubs in other neighborhoods?

The biggest obstacle to development in these neighborhoods, though, is that they are already pretty much developed.  In this regard it is similar to the North Loop, which surprised me as I actually thought there would be much less space to develop here.  But again we get to the design aspect – the Warehouse district’s parking lots are more dispersed, smaller parcels, and more interior to the blocks, and therefore less noticable.

And it is that patchwork quality to the development opportunities that excites me – I love the surprising, heterogeneous quality of cities made of lots of tiny lots crammed together.  I look forward to to the neighborhood this will become.

The Map

Details

  • Federal Reserve Lots – There are several large parking lots around the Federal Reserve building that are great for residential developmentsdue to their proximity to the river and their centrality.  I’m not sure how realistic it is to expect them to be developed, though, as the Fed is a major employer and presumably wants to keep the parking for the benefit of its employees.  Hopefully a compromise with structured parking lined or topped with apartments will work.  Another wild card is the huge lot to the northwest of the Fed – it is actually owned by the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Commission, which is rarely subject to the profit motive of us mere mortals.  But with the exception of no more than 50 feet adjoining the railroad line on the west, it’s difficult to imagine much transit use for this parcel.  An unlikely exception is the possibility of a rail station here – but that is contingent on a great deal more commuter and regional rail lines than currently exist and could likely coexist with high-density residential (see Vienna’s huge new Hauptbahnhof project).  I predict high potential for development here.
  • Twinsville North – Considering the plans that have already been marketed for this area, it is guaranteed that some kind of development will happen in the Cut north of Target Field.  The only question is what happens in that awkward space between the two viaducts?  My own opinion, to be explored in a later post, is that the viaduct is massively overbuilt (since it’s only need for peak traffic, instead of four lanes it could be two lanes that change direction twice a day).  So my hope is that the northern viaduct could be torn down, leaving one large contiguous parcel.  Regardless, there is huge potential here.
  • Parks –  I have two ideas for parks in this area:  the more likely is the parcel adjoining the Hiawatha station between Hennepin and 1st.  The rest of the block could be finished in a way that would frame the 120 feet or so from 5th Street for a classic plaza.  The other idea is for a traffic circle park at the corner of 1st Ave and 8th St.  It could be built in a way that calmed traffic and improved flow through those bizarre intersections, and still have room for a park of close to an acre (about a 220 foot diameter).  Both of these ideas aren’t even close to the realm of reality until we have a Park Board that has some interest in developing urban parks.
  • And the rest?  – This neighborhood, more than most, has lots of small buildings that are already dense, relative to the rest of Minneapolis, but could be denser.  I’m sure I have left most of these buildings off of this assessment, as I mostly just included existing buildings that are a particularly poor use of their site (Ribnick Fur, for example).  So if interest in urban living does take off in Minnesota, this assessment will certainly be too low.

The Numbers

Warehouse 80 un/ac 110 un/ac 140 un/ac
High 2297 3158 4020
Medium 248 342 435
Low 22 31 39
Total 2568 3531 4493

Prognosis

Due to the lack of space to build in the Warehouse and Theater Districts, this area will not be a huge source of new population for Minneapolis.  But what development does occur will be very dense.  While the new zoning under development for the riverfront may limit some blocks there to 6 stories, I think there is high potential for high rises throughout the neighborhood.  Even without a lot of additional residents, these neighborhoods will be full of people for years to come.