A Bridge Too Many

Once again this week’s TPW committee was packed with items that fascinate me and bore my girlfriend.  I’m going to comment on a couple:

Cedar Ave S Bridge

Blobs to be?

If you want a sample of the byzantine nature of transportation funding in the state of Minnesota, check out the RCA for this project.  Hennepin County is going to widen sidewalks on the bridge that carries Cedar Ave over CR-122 (referred to as Washington Ave SE in the committee agenda; someday I’ll post my rant on Minneapolis’ street naming “system” if I can cut it down to a length that doesn’t crash WordPress), also they’re replacing some streetlights and adding some nice railings.  If I’m reading it right, the only reason the issue is coming before the council is that Hennepin County awarded the city a TOD grant for this project, even though the county will be doing the work (“The project scope has limited implications to the City” according to the RCA).  The county seems to have awarded itself a grant.  Interesting the contortions that need to be made in order to improve the pedestrian environment.

If the project looks familiar, that’s because it first came up as a sweetener for the highway expansion project that Hennepin County submitted to the TIGER program.  It’s heartening that the County took this sweetener seriously enough to pursue it even without “free” money.  The RCA doesn’t mention widening the bridge, but mentions the same sidewalk widths as the TIGER application, implying the plan hasn’t changed.  Also not mentioned is the bridgehead “flaring” depicted in the sketch above; my guess is it won’t be included – the document I took the sketch from lists the flaring as a $750k expense over and above the $1m for widened sidewalks; the RCA lists the project cost as $1m total.

Van White Boulevard

A new place to slither

Pretty much everyone who’s been on Lyndale north of the Bottleneck has wished for another way between Uptown and the Northside.  Our wish will be granted by the Fall of 2012, when a half-mile segment of Van White Boulevard is scheduled to be completed at the cost of $42m per mile.  (Drivers, of course, will still have to contend with the Bottleneck itself, but the more mobile modes will be able to walk or bike through the park and avoid the mess – hopefully long-term plans include some paths through the mansions and up Lowry Hill, but I won’t count on it).

In order to just get this damn road built, they’re probably going to phase the project:  where the long-term plan calls for two bridges over the railroad tracks, each carrying one direction of travel, instead at first only one bridge will be built carrying both directions of travel.  I can’t help but ask the question why, then, they are planning to build two bridges at all.  The Bassett Creek Valley Plan answers that question – the city is planning for a lot of redevelopment in this area (although Hennepin County may throw a monkey wrench in the works).

The plan includes a bike path on the east side in place of the sidewalk.  North of Glenwood, it is a multi-use trail, with 6′ for pedestrians in addition to 10′ of bidirectional bike path; south of Glenwood the ped space disappears.  While I’m not much of a separatist in terms of non-motorized traffic, it seems like they could have designed it to include walking space along the entire segment.  It even looks like they bought enough right-of-way for it; isn’t it just the same old story that a bridge would be designed for twice the projected amount of cars but half the projected amount of pedestrians?

 

Wieffering whiffs parks proposal polemic

Minneapolis has too many parks

In today’s Strib, normally capable columnist Eric Wieffering opines that Minneapolis’ proposed development impact fee, which would pay for parks, will make the cost of development in the city too high.  He repeats a threat by Arnie Gregory of Greco to drop “four projects he’s involved in” if the fee goes through.

Inconveniently for Wieffering’s argument, the 2010 census showed that Minneapolis had a greater net gain in housing units than any other city – a much greater gain, half again more than even boomburbs like Woodbury and Blaine.  If Weiffering is right that “building housing or office space in Minneapolis is never easy or cheap,” there are lot of people willing to pay.

There are some scary numbers in the article though:

In St. Paul, a developer who wants to build a 56-unit apartment building on the city’s East Side would have to pay about $11,000 in park dedication fees. The fee for a similar project in Minneapolis would be $84,000 — payable before construction begins — if the city’s new fee system is approved.

However, the proposed fee in Minneapolis is much less than other cities mentioned in the column:  Minneapolis (which added 9,681 units in the last decade) would charge $1500 per new unit, while Woodbury (added 6,027 in the same decade) currently “charges about $3600 per unit,” and Blaine (added 5,752 units) charges $2,435.

I actually agree with a lot of right-wingers about regulation being too much of a burden on businesses – it’s a problem in any representative government that a rule is added in response to one crisis and forgotten by the next crisis, repeating over and over until the red tape resembles Darwin’s twine ball.

But fees and taxes, while they may hurt to pay, have a valid purpose.  In the case of development impact fees, it actually has a direct benefit to the payer, whose property values increase in response to better parks.

In the title I say that Wieffering whiffs his polemic, but he is persuasive when he suggests the fee be based on property value instead of number of units.  I don’t think it would make a difference in his example above comparing the dirt-cheap East Side to most of Minneapolis, but it may be relevant to the North Side (although I believe affordable housing and city-assisted development would be exempt).

With the center cities racing ahead of the suburbs in building again after the recession, it seems unlikely that a fee is going to derail the process.  It may be prudent to adopt the less impactful impact fee for now, with the option of upping it later – but this fee will be a good thing for the city.

 

 

A Glorious Abstraction

bye bye baby bear

I recently lost my tiny little 15-year-old dog, and for the past week or so instead of her there has been a dark cloud following me around.  I have a tendency towards the embittered rant anyway, but I’ve found that any attempt to write lately has resulted in writing that would at least earn me a place on a no-fly list, if not suck the entire internet into a black hole of despair.  Transportation issues can be thought of as logic puzzles, but at the same time they often have a very personal impact that tends to draw emotions into the argument.

So I’m grateful to the ever-lovin’ government this week for bestowing on me the gift of a relatively abstract issue: Minnesota’s census results.  My excitement for these results has built over the past month or so as results for central cities in other metro areas have shown population gains in many cases, and in others gains in the central neighborhoods despite overall central city loss.

And the results show that Minneapolis may be more St. Louis than Seattle, unfortunately, although the population only declined by 40 people (an aside: that number is one of those that is eerily precise, like the old maybe Steven Wright joke that 42.7% of statistics are made up on the spot, suggesting that if they hadn’t forgotten some apartment building Minneapolis would have gained population).  Net Density has already shown that Downtown Minneapolis gained population, and from some skimming it appears to me that Uptown has lost population, suggesting that there wasn’t enough new construction to overcome shrinking household sizes:

CT Pop 2010 HU 2010 Pop 2000 HU 2000
77 2618 1632 2048 1050
1055 3733 2390 3967 2388
1066 2332 1319 2368 1328
1067 4913 3169 5224 3194
1069 2724 1561 3121 1452
1070 4063 2088 4490 2085
1080 3294 2034 3517 2018
81 3394 1972 3503 1976
82 4534 2251 4597 2169
1092 3414 2151 3916 2172
1093 3992 1977 4218 1994
78.01 1693 671 1813 679
Total 40704 23215 42782 22505

(This is roughly the greater Uptown area, from the lakes to 35W, and from 38th to Franklin, including Lowry Hill but not Stevens Square.)

I may post more on the finer-grain info later, but the rest of this post is going to focus on the regional data.  I want to start here because this year, like every decade, articles about the census results imply or outright blame the crumbling of central cities as the reason for population loss, implying that the suburbs are what really matter and no one wants to live in central cities anymore.

But many inner suburbs have not grown in decades, and even outer suburbs are declining in population.  In fact, half of the 10 metro cities that lost the most absolute population were outer or fringe suburbs:

Place Pop 2010 Pop 2000 Pop # Change Pop % Change Ring
New Hope 20339 20873 -534 -3% Inner
Crystal 22151 22698 -547 -2% Inner
Mounds View 12155 12738 -583 -5% Outer
New Brighton 21456 22206 -750 -3% Inner
Vadnais Heights 12302 13069 -767 -6% Outer
Shoreview 25043 25924 -881 -3% Inner
Anoka 17142 18076 -934 -5% Fringe
Minnetonka 49734 51301 -1567 -3% Outer
St. Paul 285068 287151 -2083 -1% Central
Bloomington 82893 85172 -2279 -3% Outer

And measured by % population change, the all but one of the top ten losers were outer or fringe suburbs:

Place Pop 2010 Pop 2000 Pop # Change Pop % Change Ring
Newport 3435 3715 -280 -8% Inner
Willernie 507 549 -42 -8% Outer
Lake St. Croix Beach 1051 1140 -89 -8% Fringe
Excelsior 2188 2393 -205 -9% Fringe
Woodland 437 480 -43 -9% Fringe
Birchwood Village 870 968 -98 -10% Fringe
Wayzata 3688 4113 -425 -10% Fringe
Minnetonka Beach 539 614 -75 -12% Fringe
Lakeland Shores 311 355 -44 -12% Fringe
Maple Plain 1768 2088 -320 -15% Fringe

What all these cities have in common, whether St. Paul or Lake St. Croix Beach, is that they’ve reached territorial limits to their expansion.  (For the same reason Minneapolis and St. Paul stopped growing in the 1950s and 1960s respectively, although decline was delayed in those cases due to housing shortages.)

So we need to stop thinking of growth in terms of number of heads.  Take a look at the top ten cities in terms of housing units added in the last 10 years:

Place HU 2010 HU 2000 HU # Change HU % Change Ring
Minneapolis 178287 168606 9681 6% Central
Woodbury 23568 17541 6027 34% Inner
Maple Grove 23626 17745 5881 33% Outer
Blaine 21921 16169 5752 36% Outer
Lakeville 19456 13799 5657 41% Fringe
Shakopee 13339 7805 5534 71% Fringe
St. Paul 120795 115713 5082 4% Central
Plymouth 29982 25258 4724 19% Outer
Forest Lake 7508 2897 4611 159% Fringe
Eden Prairie 25075 21026 4049 19% Outer

Two central cities are included because they’ve finally made a few selected areas available for dense residential development after many years of restrictions.  Minneapolis, for example, has reached a new high in total number of housing units:

Census Housing Units Change from previous decade
1940 147547
1950 155215 7668
1960 173155 17940
1970 167196 -5959
1980 UNAVAILABLE
1990 172666
2000 168606 -4060
2010 178287 9681

I believe the population decline between 1950 and 1960 was due mostly to the replacement of dense residential units downtown with parking lots, and I posted a couple months ago about how the 1960s likely saw the most residential units constructed in the postwar era, but it was more than offset by the destruction caused by interstate construction.

Even “outer” suburbs are barely growing, according to a classification by several authors of a study on voting patterns:

 

Suburb Type Sum of Pop 2010 Sum of Pop # Change Average of Pop % Change
Fringe 746383 148764 33%
Central 667646 -2123 0%
Inner 666547 27538 2%
Outer 698274 40273 4%
Grand Total 2778850 214452 19%

Large “outer” suburbs like Bloomington and Minnetonka lost population (and have been for several decades).  The point is, population growth seems to have little to do with American preferences for suburban lifestyles over urban lifestyles.  Instead it is just difficult to add density to existing urban fabric anywhere.  There is an epidemic of NIMBYism in the USA, and only in certain cities, or “tabula rasa” neighborhoods -usually downtown- that have no residents to object, can enough density be added to overcome shrinking household sizes.

I’m going to post the spreadsheet I made from the census data below because I haven’t seen it elsewhere (the state demography office has some good tables though) and American Fact Finder may be the most annoying website in existence.  Feel free to come to your own conclusions – just don’t tell me that no one wants to live in central cities.

metro cities analysis

(PS sorry about the crappy-looking tables – apparently wordpress doesn’t really support tables unless you throw down big bucks or learn html)

Census Housing Units Change from previous decade
1940 147547
1950 155215 7668
1960 173155 17940
1970 167196 -5959
1980 UNAVAILABLE
1990 172666
2000 168606 -4060
2010 178287 9681

Extra! Extra! Money Wasted on Extravagant Highway Project!

I don’t make it to Roseville often – it takes the patience of the Buddha to take the bus to even the western edge of the first-ring suburb, and Roseville ain’t nirvana, trust me – so I don’t try to keep up on current events in that part of the metro.  Luckily we have the internet, which makes it possible to learn about things you couldn’t possibly otherwise care about thanks to forums like minnescraper.com.

That’s where a couple weeks ago forum user mattaudio posted an item about the design for the new interchange at Rice St and Hwy 36.  “Fascinating interchange design,” he said.  Unfortunately my ADD reared up and I got hooked on this issue for a couple weeks.

Apparently some suburbanites don’t like waiting at stoplights, so they’re building two extra overpasses at this exit – at only $5m a pop.  If that’s not enough, humble 3-lane Rice St gets tripled in width – and they call it “pedestrian friendly!”  Read on, as I explain each outrageous detail:

Traffic Projections

Don’t tell MnDOT, but the USA has likely achieved peak motorization.  Strangely enough, MnDOT seems equally unconcerned with the reality of peak oil.  If either of those factors were considered, they wouldn’t have projected a 30% increase in cars on Rice St, from 20k/day today to 27k/day in 2030.  Nope, they just mindlessly assumed a massive increase, ignoring even past experience, as this chart of area traffic levels shows:

Rice St Cty Rd B
Year B2 to 36 36 to B B to McCarron W of Rice E of Rice
1999 23000 17000 16000 7000 4900
2003 23000 17500 no data no data 4600
2005 20200 17000 16000 5400 4850
2007 20100 17000 no data no data 4750
2009 18800 no data 14800 4950 no data

Go ahead, rub your eyes – traffic has decreased on every segment!  (On one segment it remained the same,)  On Rice St north of 36, it decreased 20%; on Cty Rd B west of Rice, there was nearly half the traffic in 2009 as a decade earlier.  So why use a 30% increase?  My hope is that this area is targeted for high-density development of the sort that is actually illegal in Roseville, but the truth is that the traffic engineering profession was embarrassed in the 60s when their projections for the interstates proved too low, so now 50 years later they just blindly assume a one-third increase in traffic for every project (see a recent piece on this issue from thoughtful local blogger Mike on Traffic).  Curious to know if that assumption also applies to pedestrian, bicycle and transit traffic.

I ran the population/employment numbers to see if this area was defying its first-ring neighbors by growing.  Obviously this data is from a decade earlier than the traffic projections, but it is interesting nonetheless:

TAZ # Pop1990 Pop2000 % change Emp1990 Emp2000 % change
941 417 349 -16% 739 1113 51%
949 3358 3299 -2% 679 555 -18%
950 2351 2600 11% 836 1217 46%
975 2704 2624 -3% 884 1039 18%
Total 8830 8872 0% 3138 3924 25%

These Transportation Analysis Zones correspond with the four quadrants created by the intersection of Rice and 36 – 950 is the NW quadrant, 975 is NE, 949 is SW, 941 is SE.  As you can see, population was generally stagnant, while employment generally increased, though not tremendously and from a pretty small base.  Notably, the two northern TAZs, which showed the greatest increases, are where traffic levels actually decreased in the last decade.  MnDOT’s traffic projections are based on smoke and mirrors.

Roundabouts

The Rice St interchange with Highway 36 is just a couple hundred feet north of County Road B.  The close proximity of two major intersections (get out your grain of salt; note above that not even 5k vehicles a day travel the great County Road B) makes traffic engineers uncomfortable; never mind that similar conditions are common in cities throughout the world, the citizens of which honk their horns, pay $5 for coffee or much more for a colonic and get over it; these conditions in the suburbs are intolerable.

They also remind me of a suburb of Denver that I traveled in this summer, where the situation was dealt with by bringing together the two intersections into a sort of turbo roundabout.  After I posted the link on the forum, another user mentioned that a similar roundabout exists in Minnesota, in Cottage Grove, where they are pretty psyched about it.

Strange then, that a similar configuration was considered on Rice St.  It was rejected entirely because it couldn’t deal with the projected traffic (which, as I noted above, exists only on paper).  Meanwhile, Cottage Grove is very happy with their roundabout, which operates under similar traffic levels to Rice St.

If you look closely you can see a roundabout

The image above is from a MnDOT traffic volume map drawn in 2009; strange then that the division of MnDOT overseeing the design of the Rice St – Hwy 36 roundabout was apparently unaware of this roundabout, or at least they thought other Minnesotans would be.  The project engineers devised another roundabout, much more awkward than the first but able to handle the fictional traffic projections, but the second roundabout was rejected due to “concerns with the driver expectancy/ understanding.”  The engineers are idealistic enough to believe that a shriveling suburb will see a tremendous increase in vehicular activity, but simultaneously so cynical that they can’t believe that Minnesotans will be able to navigate an intersection design that millions of motorists around the world glide through with ease.

Pedestrian Friendliness

Beth Engum, Project Engineer for consultants Kimley-Horn, took a moment from her busy day to send me the following document:

This page decided the fate of Rice St & Highway 36.

This page contains the really confusing part about the planning process for this project:  The roundabout option was rejected for reasons of “pedestrian friendliness.”*  This is particularly strange considering the counterpart roundabout in Cottage Grove specifically touts its “30-40% reduction in pedestrian crashes.”  Of course, friendliness is about more than safety – do the engineers have an opinion about the intelligence of local pedestrians as low as their opinion about the intelligence of local motorists?

But the word friendly is a slippery word indeed.  Certainly the roundabout design doesn’t station clowns making balloon animals at regular intervals.  Could they be saying that the wiggly sidewalks are unfriendly?  If that were the case, don’t you think they could have straightened the sidewalks, separating pedestrians from the cars a bit and routing them through the relatively pleasant scrubland?

The roundabouts that never came about

The Case of the Pedestrian Friendliness just makes no sense to me.  Take a moment compare the image of the proposed roundabout design to the offset single-point design: the one being built actually has fewer crosswalks!  That’s thanks to what is apparently a MnDOT policy to not stripe crosswalks in the direction of off-ramps at freeway interchanges, which was popped up when they built a BRT station at 46th St & 35W.

Finally, if pedestrian friendliness is so important to them, why aren’t they being friendly to pedestrians on County Road B?  I’m not even talking about anything radical, like including sidewalks on both sides of the street.  How about just extending the sidewalk on the south side of Cty Rd B to some logical nearby destination… hmm, how about those two elementary schools?

Dismissing the pedestrian friendly option for being unfriendly to pedestrians, and then failing to provide a tiny fraction of the project budget to extend sidewalks 300 yards to two elementary schools…. it’s enough to make an urbanist curl up in the fetal position, thumb in mouth, eyes closed, retreated into memories of study abroad.

The Money

So pedestrians in Roseville prefer to cross 8 lane bidirectional roads without crosswalks rather than two lane unidirectional roads with wide medians.  So motorists in Roseville are so stupid that they can’t remember if it’s yield to left or yield to right.  And so Roseville will soon be Manhattan on the prairie, with gridlock choking every thoroughfare.  Still, there’s got to be a downside to building an offset single-point interchange here, right?

It turns out there is one downside:  it’s way more expensive.  How much more expensive, we’ll never know.  As the above document shows, they never made more than the most rough estimates of the costs of the various alternatives (considering the stink made at my government job when we change brands of ballpoint pen, I made sure to verify with Beth Engum that they didn’t have to do much more than guess which alternative would cost more).  According to the engineering code of pluses, minuses and zeros, the roundabout option would have cost less than either single-point interchange, and even less than the standard diamond interchange.

It can be difficult to determine exactly how much an engineering project costs, but there was a diamond interchange built recently in a first-ring suburb that cost $12 million.  Considering the cost to rebuild the half-mile or so of Rice St at speedway standards is likely $6-10m, the diamond interchange could have cost $18-25m.  But there’s another reason a roundabout interchange would cost less than any other alternative: it would require almost half the width for the Rice St overpass (4 vehicular traffic lanes vs 7).  So it seems reasonable to me, admittedly half drunk, that a roundabout alternative at Rice St might have cost $15-20 million.

So the interchange being built costs around $10 million more than it needed to…. hmm… where have I seen that number before?  Oh yeah, that was the amount that was going to be cut from Metro Transit in Governor Dayton’s original budget, prompting service cuts and fare increases.  It turns out that this interchange design is fascinating, but not because it makes driving slightly more convenient for suburbanites.  It’s fascinating because it is an exemplary case for how much money we waste on single-occupancy vehicles, while starving all other modes.

In 2006, voters approved spending at least 40% of the Motor Vehicle Sales Tax on transit, and 5 years later only 40% of the revenue derived from that tax goes to transit, even though most Minnesotans have several options for driving between two points while lacking meaningful access to transit.  Until the traffic engineering profession starts showing some restraint on obscure projects like this one, there will be a ready excuse to starve other modes.

 

 

 

*I’m assuming they meant that it was rejected for being unfriendly to pedestrians; there is a truly disturbing possibility that the pedestrian-friendliness of this option was a reason for rejecting it.

The East Bank’s new name: ULess Park

You're looking at a dead man

The U’s demolition spree is really starting to bug me.  I can’t help connecting it to the Republican Regents:  funny that after 12 years of being appointed by Republicans (edit:  the Regents are appointed by the Legislature, which only recently was conquered by Republicans, although it feels like forever.  I was confused by Peter Bell’s stint on the Regents; Governor No appointed him using the power of the Governor to appoint temporary replacement Regents, or RegenTemps.  It turns out that eviscerating our heritage is a bipartisan activity.), the U’s major plans are to tear down buildings in the inner city and build a huge suburb on the fringe.

Now Wesbrook, and and the reasons to demo either confusing or laughable:  too close to Northrup?  It’s an urban campus, and probably half the buildings fall into the shadow of another building.  Mold and water damage from Northrup?  Haven’t you had 80 years to fix that?

And the need for a transit plaza?  Well, the Daily reported that the ghost of Wesbrook “will serve as a waiting space for the light-rail line” – they should read the press release again.  Finance & Commerce was a bit more specific, implying that it will be the location of a new bus stop for buses that will likely be used as a shuttle to a light rail station.

This is probably a better stop location than the existing stops at Pillsbury Circle, being better spaced from the necessary stops at Dinkytown, and more interior to campus.  But the Regents must think we’re from General College if they expect us to believe that all that space will be needed for a bus stop.  The existing plaza to the south of Wesbrook has more square footage than will any Central LRT platform.

The Regents are just looking for an excuse to quit paying for an expensive old building.  They need to recognize that one of their responsibilities is to maintain our historic resources.

Towards a dense, multipolar metro

TC beltway with Paris Metro & RER overlaid approx to scale

 

The Transport Politic recently had a piece on Downtown Washington, D.C., which has a unique problem among cities in parking-obsessed USA:  it is running out of room for new office buildings.  Responding to proposals to lift D.C.’s (similarly unique) 10-story height limit, Yonah Freemark makes a point that “there is a direct relationship between a downtown’s growth and the transportation provided to it.”  Basically, in order for a CBD to continue to grow, more transportation facilities must be provided.  If a city chooses an auto-focuses transportation strategy, a parking lot studded downtown will result.  If a city chooses transit, it will get a denser downtown with fewer gaps between buildings.

This relates directly to my Potential Population Series.  One of the reasons I think it’s worth my time to think about how much residential development could occur in Downtown Minneapolis is because I think it has already overdeveloped office space.  Obviously the extreme concentration of employment has had many positive effects, but it has also created a nearly unmanageable traffic situation.  As MnDOT recently reported, highway congestion in the metro area increased last year despite VMT remaining generally flat.

American cities are notable for their extremely low densities, but also famous for the skylines created by their extremely dense CBDs, a density which globally is only matched by Asian cities.  Unfortunately American cities also match the traffic congestion often found in Asian cities.  While in Asia the congestion is caused by uniformly high density, in the USA it is caused by extremely unequal density.  To see why, watch the 4th St Viaduct at rush hour sometime.  Half the road will be clogged with cars, the other half will be virtually empty.

Unipolar cities are required to build twice the transportation capacity: one road for morning and another for the afternoon.

That’s what is so great about the Central Corridor and the re-zoning that is being written to greet it:  it’ll allow for very-high density office space to be concentrated in two areas.  The West Midway and the East Midway have the potential to become supplementary downtowns.  There are several other areas even in the central cities that, with some zoning finesse, could accommodate high-density office space also – off the top of my head, I’d say Hi-Lake, NE Broadway, Broadway-Washington, and South Windom easily could handle a cluster of office buildings.

But what would be the downside to continuing to focus new office development in Downtown?  Anyone who has caught a bus on Hennepin at 5pm on a weekday has experienced the problem:  buses sit at the stop for minutes, ingesting passengers who are forced to stand nose-in-armpit crammed in together.  Would trains help?  Sure, to some degree, but it would be expensive, for the same reason highways are expensive:  the crushload trains going in the peak direction pass nearly empty trains, wasting the drivers’ time and the transit agency’s dime.

Besides, once your downtown has grown enough, you can’t run enough trains to meet the demand.  We will end up with an expensive system that is a nightmare to ride, like our highway system has become.  The problem would only be exacerbated by the decision to sever most of the rail lines that once led to downtown, limiting the ways to mitigate congestion with commuter rail.  There are only two options for commuter rail that I can see, one being the existing line on the western edge of Downtown, which can only accommodate so many more trains.  The other alternative would be to rebuild a line along Hiawatha, but considering the frequent grade crossing that might be just as expensive as tunneling, and anyway terminates far from the core.

So it’s time to start planning for a multipolar city.  In some ways it’s an advantage that it already exists, in the form of the scattered suburban strips.  The Met Council should officially designate the strips that exist in or on the beltway as office clusters, directing cities to designate them as such in their next comp plans so they can start rezoning these areas for high-density, multi-use districts.  Minneapolis’ comprehensive plan has already laid the foundation for multi-polar development with four Growth Centers, and the Transit Station Area designation.  More of these types should be added, included Transit Station Areas for the “BRT” stations (including Lake St) on 35W.

By working to spread out the downtown love, and by working towards a multimodal transportation system, the Twin Cities might be able to share DC’s problem of running out of places to build Downtown.

Twin Cities with DC Metro overlaid approx to scale

Time to BURP! Tonight at the Nomad

Admit it – 5:30 is about an hour after you start getting thirsty anyway.

Well if you’re reading this page and feel like a drink tonight at 5:30, come to the Nomad on the West Bank for the first-ever meeting of BURP (Buffs of Urban and Regional Planning).  Thanks to the bounteous brain of Bill Lindeke, sidewalk connoisseur, BURP will be meeting semi-periodically to talk about sidewalks, planning, the history of Cedar-Riverside, bikes, or whatever foams up.  Now’s your chance to present your plan for a metro-wide PRT system!

And, erm, next time I promise to post more than 4 hours before the start time.  Unless I’m too drunk.

Back to the 90s

Then

The 90s weren’t bad, as far as decades go; there were colorful sweaters, Steve Urkel, and bracelets that you put on by violently attacking your wrist with them.

And now

The decade was a mixed blessing for Minneapolis, however; our state’s ample supply of refugee-services non-profits fueled an influx of immigrants, who proceeded to revitalize many commercial areas; but in the meantime almost no residential buildings of consequence were built in the city.  Recently I attempted to document all multifamily and row/townhomes built here in the postwar era; in the 90s I found a total of 2,346 units built, less than any other decade.  Instead, tacky single-family homes were built, for example this one:

In today’s Community Development Committee meeting, the city will decide whether to sell a parcel to Habitat for Humanity for development of a single-family home.  Normally I’m okay with Habitat operating in the city.  Even though we have already have more than enough single-family homes in Minneapolis, Habitat is at least addressing the affordable housing crisis.

This parcel, however, is primed for multifamily development.  It lies a wide but walkable distance from Hiawatha LRT (a half-mile), but it is a block or two from three bus routes, meaning it is ideal for transit-oriented development.

But Alex, in Minneapolis we pretend that you need a 40′ wide lot just to build a single-family home.  So if this lot is only 40′ wide, how will you cram a whole multifamily building in there?

Well, to the north of this parcel is not one but two city-owned, vacant parcels.  And to the south is an additional vacant parcel, in private hands.  These parcels would be ideal for the type of development that occurred at the north end of the block – basically a typical English urban model of attached single-family.  Unfortunately even those had to be up-zoned to R4 in order to get built, because Minneapolis is so eager to become Richfield that it categorizes small-scale traditional urban housing with dense low-rise apartment buildings.

One of two things need to happen if Minneapolis is going to achieve its sustainability goals – either the R2B district needs to be amended to allow attached housing on smaller lots or wide swaths of the city need to be up-zoned to R4.  Housing is a 100-year investment; we need to stop wasting the limited space of our central neighborhoods on inefficient types of housing.  Others have argued effectively that “location efficiency is more important than home efficiency,” but there are only so many efficient locations to go around.  Habitat for Humanity is welcome to provide its affordable but wasteful single-family homes in relatively less-efficient locations, but let’s save our prime central neighborhood locations for buildings that will allow more than one family to enjoy them.