Mooneapolis, A.D. 2030

How to cross the street in February

The council voted yesterday on the items that came out of this cycle’s committee, so it’s probably a bit late to report on what went on in the Transportation & Public Works meeting.  On top of that, the Star Tribune, in their fitful effort to cover Minneapolis, scooped me on a few items.  One was the new civil fines proposed for failing to shovel snow, which I’m excited about.  The idea that we’ll be able to walk a block without sinking to your ankles in snow is one more reason to get excited about winter.  Maybe with the proceeds of this fine the city will be able to afford to finish their plow jobs, instead of leaving icy piles of plow debris blocking every crosswalk.

Speaking of the city affording stuff, I’m obstinately writing this post about the 10/25/11 TPW committee despite having been shown up by professionals because of one item:  the Infrastructure Study presentation.  Basically, Public Works looked at four major transportation infrastructure components and compared their condition to their funding level with the goal of coming up with an eye-popping number to report as a shortfall.

It all begins with the Pavement Condition Index (PCI), or Evidence A that engineers’ confidence in the omnipotence of math is why they shouldn’t be trusted with absolute control over our public spaces.  Here is how the presentation describes it:

The Pavement Condition Index (PCI) is a numerical index between 0 and 100 that is used to indicate the condition of a roadway. It is a statistical measure and is based on a visual survey of the pavement. A numerical value between 0 and 100 defines the condition with 100 representing an excellent pavement.

A 101 point scale would be fine if they were using lasers to measure the pavement surface to discern the level of distortion.  Sending Chuck in his Trail Blazer to glance at the road on the way to McDonald’s is not going to result in a reliable measure, and even a careful visual survey will not reliably tell the difference between a PCI of 71 and a PCI of 72.

Road to Mooneapolis

But the PCI is what we have, and in Minneapolis it’s the low end of the index that is seen more and more.  In fact, the presentation contains an apocalyptic chart showing the descent of many of the cities streets into a gravelly moonscapes within 20 years.  The presentation doesn’t clearly describe, however, what we’re sacrificing back to the elements.  It mentions four networks – 206 miles of Municipal State Aid (MSA) streets, 632 miles of Residential streets, 70 miles of Local streets, and 378 miles of Alleys.  The MSA streets, mostly the heavily traveled arterials such as Hennepin or Nicollet and including many Downtown streets, are fed by the state and projected to remain in roughly the same condition.  It’s Residential streets and Alleys that are going to crumble.  Local streets tend to be a)industrial streets, b)leftover bits of MSA streets or c) the slightly more traveled Residential streets that aren’t vital enough to be MSA routes – circa 2030, they will also be a lo0se arrangement of tar chunks, duct tape and car parts, but there are only 70 miles of them.

Chart Fail

The presentation is interesting, but with one exception it doesn’t really explain how we got into this mess.  (The exception being the Pavement life cycle chart reproduced at left, which terrifyingly predicts “Total Failure” after 16 years if pavement isn’t attended to.)  The problem is less one of underfunding today and more one of overfunding several decades ago.  Around 70% of Minneapolis’ residential streets were built in a 15-year binge from 1967 to 1982.  I don’t know for sure how this indulgence was financed, but a 1966 Citizens’ League report suggests that it was paid for with bonding, which of course is ultimately paid for with property taxes.  So more or less, the city just increased its budget for the massive push to pave Residential streets, and once they were paved the total budget just shrunk, or, more likely, went to other things.

Paved with intentions to pave

So now the city would like to double Public Works’ capital budget to address this crisis of crumbling Residential streets.    Residential streets mostly don’t provide corridors for transportation, except as the very beginning and end of trips.   Instead, both in terms of use and area, their primary function is to provide parking for the residences along them.  It’s difficult to justify expending community resources on such a local benefit, and according to the Citizens’ League report, Residential streets used to be financed mostly locally – at the same time the council decided to jack up property taxes to pay for smooth parking on side streets, it reduced assessments on abutting property owners from 2/3rds to 1/4.   (The local share seems to have been reduced to about 5%, if you can trust my math and this document.)

Smooth paving on side streets, like some rural roads, is probably not necessary for our society to function.  But like subsidies for corporate relocation or sports stadiums, localities feel like they need to shell out in order to be competitive.  I’d say it’s reasonable for people to pay for their own parking spaces, but any proposal to use local money to fund local streets is sure to be met with fury, and it certainly wasn’t mentioned in the presentation.  But if we ever start having a grown-up conversation about how to adjust our life-style to our declining economic situation, I hope that free parking is on the table.

Push me to blink

A quick word about another TPW committee item:  authorization for Public Works to spend $4,000 to convert a pedestrian crossing light “from constantly blinking to user activated.”  Apparently neighbors “observed that many drivers, having become accustomed to a continuously flashing pedestrian light, no longer stop for bicyclists and pedestrians at this location.”  They noticed that drivers yield more often a nearby user-actuated crossing light (no numbers were offered in the RCA, so apparently they took neighbors at their word).  Just another example of the expense we go to in order to avoid enforcing motorists’ legal obligation to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk.

Bonus Regulatory, Energy and Environment Committee item

Bicycle Regulations

Minneapolis will amend its traffic code to explicitly define bicycles as vehicles, and therefore include them in the definition of Traffic.  Vague statements in favor of clarity were included in the Request for Council Action rather than an explicit rationale for the revision.  My first thought was that this will now guarantee that cyclists can be charged with violations of the traffic code, although Gary Schiff says the goal is to “make it easier to issue a ticket to someone parked in a bike lane.”  I just hope it won’t settle the Great Crosswalk Debate in favor of requiring cyclists to stop and yield in a crosswalk.

Bonus Community Development Committee item

Minnesota Statewide Historical and Cultural Grants Program (a/k/a Legacy Grants Program)

Warehouse District atmosphere

Staff is recommending that the City apply for a grant from the Minnesota Historical Society to help implement the Warehouse District Heritage Street Plan, which recommends rebuilding several crumbling patchwork streets mostly in the North Loop with brick pavers in an effort to restore their appearance as existed at a certain point in history.  The summary from the Request for Council Action is worth quoting in full:

Funded with a 2010 Legacy Grant, The Warehouse District Heritage Street Plan set out a detailed street-by-street plan for preserving historic infrastructure in the Warehouse Historic District. The Plan provides a practical, forward looking, and historically-sensitive approach preserving and rehabilitating historic streets and loading docks while improving pedestrian accessibility, and enhancing stormwater run-off by increasing sustainable practices within the Warehouse Historic District. The completed document was approved by the HPC in August of 2011. The document is a detailed street-by-street plan with specific trouble-shooting for how to preserve the remaining historic materials and industrial infrastructure, while accommodating the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements and addressing the need for street and sewer repairs. The plan will be used to inform the individual site decisions that property owners, design professionals, and the City will need to make when properties in the District are rehabilitated. It is also being used as the guiding document for the design and development of City capital improvement projects for the reconstruction and repair of specific streets and alleys.

Now that the plan is completed, CPED and Public Works are beginning work toward implementation with a focus on reconstruction of 6th Avenue North. One of the challenges identified in the plan is that original brick material will be deficient to reuse throughout the district due to breakage or removal from past utility cuts. In order to reconstruct 6th Avenue North with full brick replacement, Public Works will need to find similar brick from other city streets under reconstruction. This grant will be used to salvage, palletize, transfer, and store subsurface brick from other City projects where the brick is similar to that in the Warehouse District. One possible removal project will occur in 2012 with the first phase of Nicollet Avenue South reconstruction.

The Plan is worth looking through, especially Chapter 5, or the design concepts for specific streets.  In one sense this is good news, because the sooner Minneapolis has more experience with textured pavement surfaces, the more people will realize their traffic calming effect.  The bad news is, if the first removal project won’t happen till 2012, it could be awhile before these plans are realized – and the North Lo0p badly needs new infrastructure.  I’m looking out my window at a big pile of brick pavers torn up as part of the new Lunds construction at 12th and Hennepin – Public Works, would it help if I gave you the number to Zeman Construction?

About these ads

6 comments on “Mooneapolis, A.D. 2030

  1. Bill says:

    this should be at least 2 different posts! information overload!

  2. Brendon says:

    I’m surprised by your opposition to keeping residential streets in good condition. A well-connected grid network is essential to providing a walkable and bikable city. Repaving these streets is not just good for cars, but good for bikes too. These low-volume roads are great networks for cyclists. I’d argue roads in poor condition are an even greater hazard for bikes, who usually don’t have suspension, than for cars, who can absorb some pothole impacts.

    Letting these streets deteriorate means more traffic may use high-volume roads instead, leading to a suburban road network pattern I don’t think you’d like. We can have a separate conversation about how wide these residential streets should be built, but for now they do serve a dual purpose of traffic-movers AND auto storage, which I don’t think is necessarily a bad thing.

  3. Alex says:

    I was working on a post about this topic but then the Infrastructure presentation forced my hand, so I don’t think what I published fleshes out my opinion on this topic.

    Basically, I agree that a well-maintained network of properly functioning side streets contributes to a healthy transportation network. However, Minneapolis’ residential street networks are built to the bloated, auto-centric standards of the Interstate era, and probably are safer left in substandard condition. That’s precisely because I don’t think that residential streets should be serving through car traffic – bikes are less of a problem due to their lower speed, audibility and lethality, but car traffic makes side streets unlivable and unplayable. Forcing car traffic onto collectors or arterials isn’t a problem if those streets are designed to accommodate bicycles, pedestrians and transit.

    What I wanted to get into was that if the original paving had been funded more sustainably -either by spreading out the timeframe of the paving or by dedicating funds to transportation and then spending them on other needs (bikes, transit) until massive paving efforts were needed again – we wouldn’t be having this problem, but I was still collecting data on that so I didn’t include it here. So I settled on the conclusion of considering side street paving as a low-priority budget need.

  4. Froggie says:

    “are built to the bloated, auto-centric standards of the Interstate era,”

    Please explain this one.

    • Alex says:

      30′ is much wider than necessary to serve 30 homes. The width, to some degree, was guided by the ROW platted by 19th century real estate speculators, but I believe that in many or most cases, curb-to-curb widths were increased in the paving spurt of the late 60s and 70s.

      Obviously they’re rebuilding those streets to the same dimensions in our post-Interstate era, but there is growing recognition that narrower residential streets are safer.

  5. [...] came across a paving map of Minneapolis from 1895, and I had to post it here, considering the two posts I’ve done about street [...]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s