BURP #5: Green means BURP

A green light to ponder the existence of this green light, and thence to ponder your own existence, and thence to give up and get a beer with us

5 pm Thursday May 31st!

Approximately 66°

Aster Cafe

125 SE Main Street, Minneapolis

$3 taps & $5 flatbread pizzas till 6

Why do we exist?  Why do green lights exist?  How can Aster Cafe exist as a commercial enterprise and yet sell their delectable products at such a low price?  Would Eden Prairie even exist if the Twin Cities had built a rapid transit system in the 70s?  Ponder all these questions and more with the automatic-shift philosophers of the Minneapolis-St Paul chapter of the Buffs of Urban and Regional Planning (BURP) at our semi-irregular gathering at Aster Cafe on Thursday May 31, starting at 5pm and lasting around two hours, or until we drink too much.  You’ll recognize us by the largish 1971 map of Dayton-Hudson retail facilities in the Twin Cities metro, presuming Aster lets us put it up and it doesn’t blow away.

A Comprehensive List of Transit-Accessible Campgrounds in Minnesota, Part 1

Minnesota is the 12th largest state in a nation of really big states, so it’s not surprising that there are a lot of outdoorsy things to do here.  But this nation of really big states is also well known for its lack of mass transit options, so again I wasn’t surprised when I started looking for camping facilities that were accessible by bus or train, and didn’t find too many.

To begin with I looked at camp sites managed by the DNR, basically because their website is pretty good and is the single biggest source of info on camping that I’m aware of.  Also, I’ve camped in a lot of State Parks and generally been impressed with their facilities.  If you’re aware of any other good campgrounds/sites that aren’t managed by the DNR, please let me know in the comments. Unfortunately I couldn’t find an editable map of their parks (wikipedia has all their Geo coordinates, which would have made this task super easy if I’d found it beforehand) so I made my own map on google earth.

I don’t have Jefferson Lines’ network structure memorized, but luckily the esteemed Mike Hicks has already mapped it.  He also has a map of the Rochester City Bus commuter network, probably the network with the largest coverage area next to Jefferson (Rochester appears to serve a larger area than Metro Transit & the opt-outs, although obviously with many fewer routes and stops).  I then filled in a few spots, for example the Mankato Land-to-Air Express stop and the Amtrak stops.

The resulting map looks promising at the state level – lots of campgrounds look like they’re close to bus stops.  But at the full scale of the 12th largest state, distances are misleading.  I’m willing to walk up to 8 miles to the camp site, but the park office can be pretty far from the camp site, so in most cases the bus stop needs to be within 5 miles of the park.  Basically, the camp symbol needs to be right on top of the bus stop symbol to work. Here is the list of the walkable ones, with remote campsites first and car campgrounds second (because if you have to walk 5 miles to the park, you deserve a better quality camp site).

Remote Camp Sites

  1. Charles A. Lindbergh State Park, Little Falls – bus stop: McDonald’s east of town – distance from stop to park office: 3.3 micamping: 2 cart-in, 38 “wooded and private” drive-in.  The hike to the park involves walking down Little Falls’ Main Street – a bonus in my book – but a good half of it is on the sidewalkless, possibly stroady Lindbergh Drive.  The park itself covers the southwestern flank of the town and, despite appealingly rolling terrain, is a bit small and doesn’t appear to connect to other natural areas.  The bus times are pretty good on this one, the mid-afternoon arrival allowing time to get to the park and set up camp, and the mid-afternoon departure means the hike back doesn’t have to be a scramble.
  2. Moose Lake State Park, eponymous – bus stop: Little Store south of town? – distance from stop to park office: less than a mile, probablycamping: 2 walk-in, 33 “partially shaded” drive-in.  Part of the fun of bus travel is that you never know exactly where you’re going (passionately fought in the Battles of Permanence and Legibility in the Great Rail/Bus War).   Jefferson itself places the stop west of town, Mike put it a bit south of town, but using Streetview and assuming they’d put the bus stop as close to the freeway as possible, I think it’s probably this gas station just off I-35.  That’s a bummer if you’re going to Moose Lake, but it’s great if you’re going to Moose Lake State Park, which has some nice North Woods landscapes and appears to be near some other natural areas, although the camping doesn’t look that great.  Nice mid-afternoon arrival and departure times give plenty of time for hiking to and fro, although the stop looks close enough that the timing isn’t all that important for once.
  3. Blue Mounds State Park, Luverne – bus stop: Expressway gas station south of town – distance from stop to park office: 6-7 micamping: 14 cart-in, 73 drive-in.  This is on the cusp of what I’d consider too far, but since the camp sites are close to the park office, I think it’s doable.  The walk looks pretty nice – much of it is through town with sidewalks or else on a trail through the park, and the third of the trip along a county road has the rare Southern Minnesota trail paralleling it.  Blue Mounds looks like a cool park – a bison herd and prickly pear cactus – although I’m not too excited about prairie camping.  Jefferson helps out as best it can, with a noontime arrival and a choice of two departures, one of which is at a leisurely 3:30 pm.
  4. Jay Cooke State Park, Carlton – bus stop: New Duluth or Fond du Lac – distance from stop to park office: 5-8 micamping: 4 backpack, 3 walk-in, 79 drive-in.  This one’s a stretch.  The park is actually closest to the bus station in Duluth, from which you take a city bus 7 miles southwest to New Duluth, then hike 8 miles down windy MN-210 to the park office.  If you’re a fast hiker or have more faith in the punctuality of Jefferson than I, you can catch one of the two runs per afternoon that go three miles beyond New Duluth to Fond du Lac, but they arrive at 4:38 or 5:58.  But Jay Cooke appears to be worth it – beautiful terrain, dense forest, and real backpacking sites!  Jefferson’s three runs a day give you plenty of options, although the park’s distance means you should probably leave early.
  5. Myre – Big Island State Park, Albert Lea – bus stop: Ole’s East Side Shell – distance from stop to park office: 3 micamping: 4 backpack, 93 drive-in.  Despite the drop-off at the side of an awful highway strip, most of the short hike to the park follows the brilliantly-named Blazing Star State Trail.  This small, freeway-scarred park doesn’t look too promising, but the backpack campsites look nice, especially for fishing.  Albert Lea – the gateway to Iowa – offers an astonishing four or five bus trips a day in each direction.
  6. Upper Sioux Agency State Park, Granite Falls – bus stop: Cenex on the south edge of town – distance from stop to park office: 8 micamping: 3 walk-in, 34 drive-in.  The 8 mile hike down a bleak 2-lane country road is potentially lethal, but there looks to be a treasure trove of hiking here at the confluence of two prairie-draining rivers with the Minnesota.  And if not, there’s a casino.  Granite Falls has a nice little downtown, besides, but it’s probably not worth the 1:30 am bus you have to catch out of Minneapolis.
  7. Sand Dunes State Forest, Big Lake – train stop: Big Lake Northstar – distance from stop to park office: 7 micamping: 6 walk-in, 30 drive-in.  Probably the easiest – and certainly the cheapest – camping to access from Minneapolis, this one probably works for an overnight.  I’m not exactly enamored with the landscape, though, and the hike to the park is through 7 miles of beige exurb.

Car camping only

  1. Minneopa State Park, Mankato – bus stop: Land-to-Air Depot – distance from stop to park office: 4.5 mi.  Mankato is surprisingly rich in multiuse trails, but unfortunately the one to Minneopa is basically in the ditch of 4-lane 169.  This gorgeous park is worth it though, and Land-to-Air Express offers a convenient range of daily runs.
  2. Crow Wing State Park, Brainerd – bus stop: some motel south of town – distance from stop to park office: 8 mi.  Another lengthy highway ditch walk to this one, but the park looks nice.
  3. Carley State Park, Plainview – bus stop: Wedgewood/Southwest Park – distance from stop to park office: 4 mi.  I’m a little dubious about using Rochester City Lines, especially because it requires a lengthy layover in Rochester and only runs on weekends.  I’m not sure tiny little Carley State Park is worth it, but technically it can be done…
  4. Lake Bemidji State Park, Bemidji – bus stop: Paul Bunyan Transit or BSU – distance from stop to park office: ~7 mi.  Jefferson has two stops in Bemidji, the one from Paul Bunyan Transit looks to be around a half-mile longer but follows the Blue Ox trail the whole way.  If you get off at the college, you’re stuck on a sprawlsy 2-lane.  I know which one I’d choose, if I ever feel it’s worth it to take the 1:30 am red-eye out of Minneapolis.
  5. Mississippi Headwaters State Forest, Wilton – bus stop: Wilton – distance from stop to park office: 6 mi.  Mike had this one mapped but Jefferson doesn’t list it anymore – maybe it’s a flag stop?  I hope so because the wilderness area here is enormous.
  6. Red River State Recreation Area, East Grand Forks – bus stop: Grand Forks Transit Center – distance from stop to park office: .7 mi.  The campground is so close to the bus stop that it’s more a stroll than a hike, but the downside is that the campground is right in the middle of town.  Personally I prefer noisy, bright camping to come with a side of music festival or not at all.  I would like to see the Red River SRA – created to manage the regular savage flooding of the titular stream – but maybe I’ll just get a motel room.

13 transit-accessible campgrounds isn’t too bad for our too-big-for-transit state, although that probably drops to 7 or 8 when you subtract the ones that probably don’t work or are clearly unpleasant.  On top of that, intercity bus travel, which is often viewed as an economy option,  is actually really expensive – round trip tickets seem to range between $40 (Albert Lea) and $100 (Luverne).  But I remain dedicated to the pointless cause, and will report back here as I learn which parks are amazing and which aren’t worth the walk.  In the meantime, please let me know in the comments if I missed any campgrounds and feel free to report any bus- or train-to-camping experiences you’ve had (in North America, that is – I already know it’s easy to do in Europe).

St Paul transferring

Click for high-res pdf

The official plan for restructuring St Paul’s bus routes was presented to the Met Council’s Transportation committee the other day, and while there were one or two surprises, mostly fulfilled my expectations (although it didn’t follow my recommendations).  Accompanying the presentation was an excellent map – showing the new route structure and symbolizing frequency through line width.  Here’s a brief summary of the changes:

As Expected

  • The east-west orientation of the network is still intact.  It would have been highly advantageous to riders to change this to north-south to take advantage of the high-quality transfers that would have been newly available on the Central LRT and Fort Rd Rapid Bus.  But the presentation notes that many comments exhibited “Loyalty to existing routes” – change is hard.
  • They couldn’t bring themselves to straighten out the kink in the 21 up to the Midway.  I guess the frequency bump to every 10 minutes for the 84 adds up to a hill of beans.
  • The 8 has been absorbed.  Everyone saw this coming for this runt of a line.  A bit more surprising is what route absorbed it – more below.
  • The 94 will be peak-only and no Midway stops or Capitol service.  Maybe it’s surprising that a government agency wouldn’t want to compete with itself, but it should be expected anyway.
  • A new route called the 83 has been added to Lexington to meet the route spacing requirement of a line at least every mile in one direction and at least every half-mile in the other.
  • The 63 has been extended to Raymond & University.  They didn’t do it my way, though (that would have been a much bigger change) – they have it dart up Cleveland and over on Summit for two blocks before proceeding up Cretin.  That’s not ideal – it splits the service around St Thomas and thereby dilutes it (which my plan also would have done, but at least I kept one line up the length of Cleveland for legibility, whereas they have the Cleveland bus jut over to Cretin at Marshall anyway) and it leaves Desnoyer Park unserved.
  • The 65 has been rerouted to Grand, which makes sense because Selby already has the 21 service.  But it does lead us to our first surprise…

Surprise!

  • The 65 will terminate at Grand instead of continuing downtown.  This one perplexes me, as it would have only been another mile to the Smith Ave ramp, which certainly would take riders to more jobs and seemingly would be better for operations anyway.  Maybe they’re afraid that once they’re downtown, they’d have to go all the way to SPUD.
  • The 67 will be absorbing the 8.  It makes sense when you consider that these two routes run on about the same latitude.  I’d think that this overserves the stretch of University between Fairview and Raymond, though – using their rough guide for frequency, it looks like the average headway for buses between Cretin and Raymond will be 6 minutes – that’s not counting the train.  Another strange quirk is that they’re routing the new 67 up Riverside for a couple blocks and then back down 25th/26th, presumably to better serve Fairview.

    A facelift for the 8

  • The West Side branch of the 67 will be shifted to the 62 – a logical choice, although I will they had experimented with a crossing at Smith, which then could have gone up Kellogg and John Ireland to Rice for a quicker crosstown.  Trips to St Paul CBD would have an easy transfer at Seven Corners.
  • The aforementioned 83 – the Lexington bus – appears to terminate at Como and Snelling after a short jaunt down Energy Park Dr.  An extension to Roseville via an extensive detour back to Lexington – seemingly designed to deter anyone who wants to get anywhere fast – is penciled in for someday.  Here’s an idea – if you’re going to Snelling anyway, why not go the extra mile and a half to the U of M?  There are actually destinations there besides Nelson Cheese Shop.
  • No circle line!  The Central Corridor EIS assumed two changes that didn’t make the cut – one was an extension of the 67 to Fairview, which would have resulted in half-mile grid of service that apparently was considered overkill, and the other was a weird circle line that would have run down Hamline, St Clair, Victoria and University.  Maybe this one shouldn’t be in the surprise category, because that route didn’t make much sense in the first place.

They also provided a table showing the proposed frequency of the 23 affected routes:

It seems like most of the St Paul routes in the study are getting a modest frequency boost – the 65, 67, and 87 are all going from every half hour at peak and midday to 20 minute headways, with more evening runs as well.  I’m a little surprised they didn’t give the 63 a rush hour increase, but maybe since the area is mostly students and shopping there isn’t as much peak demand (they do seem to be boosting it in the afternoon peak a bit).  It’s disappointing that the 62 didn’t merit more service, though not too surprising since it doesn’t have much in the way of a northern terminus.

I’m tempted to say that some of this frequency would be better put to use in Minneapolis, but I’m excited for the opportunity this service improvement provides to St Paul.  It wasn’t the news I was looking for, but the results of the Central Restructuring study are good news indeed.

PS the presentation claims that the study final report is online but as of writing it isn’t up yet.

PPS  The same Met Council Transportation committee meeting has an update on the Midtown Corridor Alternatives Analysis – including this interesting graphic of a proposed Hi-Lake station and how Wellington wants to build apartments on top of the easement for it:

Viva Zoning and Planning!

The May 17th Zoning & Planning committee meeting is packed with some big ticket items.  If you’re like me, you’ll want to get your email pen ready to pester your council member about this stuff (assuming your council member is on this committee, that is – if you live in one of the seven wards whose council member isn’t on Z & P, you don’t get a voice).  Dock Street is once again on the agenda, along with the A Mill, Peavey Plaza, and a certain revolutionary.

Conceptual track/platform configuration from The Interchange Final Study from 2010

Dock Street is the most directly transportation-related of the four items, since the basis for the appeal by Hennepin County and MnDot of Hines’ proposed apartment complex is that the layout will constrain options in the rail corridor currently used by Northstar and proposed for use by several other future lines.  Action has been postponed for more than a month, but the recent Strib story makes it seem like they’ll actually act on it this time, possibly because Hines made a stink about the delay at the last Z & P meeting.  They have a point, as Hennepin County has known since 2006 that the Interchange was their preferred location for the hub of Minnesota’s rail facilities, and MnDot was given the opportunity to comment on the project in August of 2011 and at that time said only “No formal comment.”

Peter McLaughlin called this a “Kmart moment” with some hyperbole; it’s not clear that the apartments and the rail facilities are mutually exclusive, and based on the 2010 Interchange study it looks like the trail would have to cross Washington at grade anyway.  In that case I would tend to favor allowing the apartments to move forward; for me and others who use the trail to access Downtown an at grade crossing at Washington would actually improve the trail, which currently has awkward access to the area.  It seems like only recreational users would suffer from a grade crossing, although that would also make the trail more expensive to reconstruct.  It also seems like the Interchange is barely feasible due to the tightness of the site anyway, so it may be more worthwhile to spend the money that Hines would have extracted for further easements on a new study of passenger rail station possibilities in Minneapolis.

I hope they know what they’re doing – this would have been a great place to drink a beer.

The A Mill project in this initial phase is merely a reuse of a historic structure; this sort of development typically requires a lot of variances because historic structures were usually built before the zoning code was adopted, but since the structures already exist, these variances tend to be less controversial than they would be for a new structure that’s built to look like a historic structure.  From what I can tell from the complicated site plan, only a couple small additions would be made to the existing A Mill complex to accommodate a parking structure that would somehow be wedged into the center courtyard and mostly buried below the existing ground profile.  So here we run up against the City’s annoying practice of not publishing the actual appeal being heard in the Z & P meeting, and our only clue to the reason for the appeal is that the appellant is Kathleen Flynn Peterson.  They tossed us a bone in the form of the Planning Commission minutes, where Ms Peterson complained at length about the City’s process and made no comment on the form or use of the structure, which is the only thing the Planning Commission (or its appellate body the Z & P committee) has any say on.  As I mentioned last week, I have wistful feelings for the potential of past proposals for this site, but the only thing I don’t like about the current proposals are that they seem to waste the commercial potential of the location on the only beautiful street in Minneapolis.  My guess is this appeal will be denied, and the only significant hurdle the A Mill redevelopment will face will be at the Community Development committee meeting where the project’s financing will be debated.

Groovy plaza man

Peavey Plaza‘s last stand will be taken at the May 17th Z & P, where an appeal from Steve Kotke, the director of Public Works, will seek to overturn the Historic Preservation Commission’s decision to delay the demolition of the architectural gem for six months.  It’s sort of ironic that the City is now trying to destroy a historic resource that it claims is too expensive to rehab because it neglected to properly maintain it for decades, basically the exact situation for which the City created the Historic Preservation Commission, obviously thinking only of when slumlords do it, not major corporations/campaign donors.  My guess is that staff is too busy pretending that the bland proposed replacement has anything to do with the serene original to notice the irony.  It may not surprise you that I’m opposed to the demolition, but I expect the appeal to be upheld and our last chance to enjoy Peavey Plaza to arrive shortly.

A substandard, tax-forfeited lot fit for a founding father

Emiliano Zapata probably isn’t used to being the least controversial one around, but at this Z & P committee he may be.  But don’t worry, Emy, that doesn’t mean you’re the least interesting.  Apparently a statue of the founding father of the modern Mexican republic was donated to Minneapolis by the state of Morelos, home to our sister city of Cuernavaca, but no place was ever found for it and it seems to have languished in a supermercado up till now.  Soon it will join such luminaries as my first love Mary Tyler Moore and popular 19th century violinist Ole Bull and be displayed in a public space, a narrow tax-forfeited lot at 12th and East Lake.  But is .08 acres really enough space for this huge figure in the history of our neighbor to the south?  It seems like this might be the ideal place to create Minneapolis’ first reclaimed street plaza.  12th Ave S has T-alleys on both sides, so car access can still be preserved.  Just use planters to block off the space between the alleys and Lake St and you’ll have something closer to the grand plaza Zapata deserves (but small enough to program the smaller, temporary uses suited to reclaimed space without feeling too empty).

More space to roam for Zapata

Reclaiming street space for recreation and biking and walking?  Sounds like I tied it back in to transportation.  Viva Zoning and Planning!

More charts about poverty and cities

Here comes more laz-e-boy social science from Alex.  Following up on my response to Steve Berg’s Strib op-ed from a couple weeks ago, I dug up the poverty rate for the 50 metro areas with 1 million population or more.  From that I was able to calculate the spread between central city poverty and metro poverty, which seems like a better measure for concentration of poverty than central city poverty alone.  I then plotted them differentiating by region, to see if any regions bucked national trends.  Actually, I added the regions mostly for a dose of color, as the four regions defined by the census are so broad that they’re almost meaningless.

First up is a chart that also appeared in my last post, but this time it’s spritzed up by some regional color.  It certainly seems to show a trend of central cities with higher poverty rates having lower rates of population growth, although the West may be exempt from this pattern.  Although the trend lines in all of these charts are for all the cities grouped together, it also looks like the trend may be more pronounced in the South.

Central city poverty also appears to correspond with metro area growth, although seemingly more weakly than central city growth, except maybe in the Midwest.  In fact, there are several Western cities on the left end of the chart that had quite low central city poverty rates but also didn’t grow much at all – San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, and, interestingly for Berg’s thesis, Seattle.  This last town, Berg’s role model for the Twin Cities, had a poverty rate eight points below the national average (which is 21%, Seattle’s rate is 13%) but saw growth exactly at the national average of 13% (beating MSP by only 2.5 points despite our ten point higher central city poverty rate).

If central city poverty correlates with population growth to some degree, is that because of concentration of poverty or just because of poverty in general?  To answer that question I plotted total metro population in poverty against central city population growth.  Lo and behold, the correlation seems to have gotten much weaker.  This is a good time to point out that this is about as lazy a statistical analysis as you can get – technically you’re supposed to do a regression in order to make the variables comparable, but I’m not real clear on how to do that and didn’t want to bother to find out.  Plus I think it’s useful to have the actual numbers on the chart rather than their statistical translations.

The last raspy bark of this fruitless tree of data finds a puffy cloud instead of a relationship between total metro growth and the metro poverty rate.  Or does it?  Does the slight incline of that trendline prove that the capitalist machine thrives on an army of the poor to feed its satanic mills?*

Let’s get back to a more useful line of inquiry.  What does it matter how high the poverty rate is in the central city if it’s also high in the whole metro?  To get at concentration of poverty, we have to look at the difference between central city and metrowide poverty rates.  The above chart seems to show that cities where poverty is concentrated in central cities tend to have a lower growth rate overall, which means that metros should be concerned about their ghettos.  Once again, though, the trend seems to be strongest in the Midwest and South, the latter of which is a bit surprising because so many Southern cities annex their suburbs.  And the West and the Northeast appear to not follow the trend, so I’m not sure I’m convinced.

Comparing concentration of poverty with central city population growth is a bit more convincing.  The trend line is a bit steeper, and the West appears to fall in line, leaving only the stubborn Northeast to buck the trend.  In case you’re wondering, Memphis is where the central city has a lower poverty rate than the metro as a whole – perhaps because Memphis city continues to annex its suburbs and therefore reflects an urbanized population, whereas the metro area includes rural areas as well.  Also, Detroit is the city with a central city poverty rate 20 points higher than the metro rate, which with its -25% population change rate would seem to be Exhibit A for Berg’s thesis.  Hartford may be a prime example for the opposing viewpoint, since it beats Detroit for concentration of poverty, yet managed to grow its central city 3% (amounting to a bit more than 3,000 people).

In Summation

Regardless of whether concentration of poverty has any effect on population growth, I agree with Berg we have a more prerogative to fight poverty, or as he put it, “stabilize poor neighborhoods” for “ethical” reasons.  Unfortunately doing so will require a change in attitudes to the city and citybuilding to basically a polar opposite of what currently exists.  Like Berg I think that expanding transit is a small but important step in that direction – auto-dependence furthers the cycle of poverty because poor people tend to buy less expensive cars which tend to have higher maintenance costs and need to be replaced sooner – and I’d add that it’s more achievable than most of the other options because the only area in which our political system is capable of finding consensus is in the construction of large public works projects.  That’s one of the reasons I started this blog – “working” towards a fairer society by complaining about the auto-orientation of our transportation system – and I was hoping that this series of graphs would have been more help towards this goal, but I don’t seem to have the time or knowledge to really pull it off.  If anyone reading this does, here’s the data I gathered – give it a go.

*No.  No it doesn’t.

Those were the days

Invisible Cities

There was a fun surprise in the May 1st agenda of the Community Development committee of the Minneapolis City Council, which is considering a gazillion dollars’ worth of subsidy (edit: that is, subsidy and bonding, see James’ comment below) for a rehab of the Pillsbury A Mill into affordable apartments for elderly diabetic artists or something.

I don’t know if it was a mistake or what, but the Data Worksheet for the project actually featured a rendering of an earlier incarnation called East Bank Mills, conceived of and consumed by the condo craze, which in addition to the rehab would have constructed at least six mid-to-high rise buildings.  Instead, the site was split between two owners, one of which is rehabbing the mill complex and the other of which is building this:

DorAntfarm

I’m not a skyscraper fetishist, but I do have a fervent belief that Density Will Save Us.  Low rise buildings like the ones proposed for the A Mill site are some of the most efficient, if not always attractive, ways to add density, but only if they can be dispersed throughout the city.  They don’t need to obliterate the traditional housing stock, but if sprinkled liberally along bus routes they can provide riders for those buses and justification for transit upgrades, as well as a base of customers for local businesses.

Unfortunately, NIMBY forces have thus far prevented the diffusion of this building type.  Even those corridors that the city identifies as appropriate for low-rise, high-density infill languish under low density zoning.  So growth needs to be maximized in areas that already have high-rises, like this one.  On the upside, these areas also tend to be close to major job centers and the last dying vestiges of urban retail, maximizing walkability.

So while the 300-400 units to be added in the current A Mill proposals should be welcomed, Minneapolis sure could have used the 1,000 units East Bank Mills would have brought.  That project may have been the product of a greed-fueled credit bubble, but it may have delivered something more in the public interest than the timid footsteps of a wheezy recovery.  (Of course, that same credit bubble produced a massive expansion of low-density fringe development, so it’s all random.)

Again, I’m not saying Tall = Good.  I’m saying Tall = Good IF Density = Good AND Density is not allowed in 95% of the city.

You’ve come a long way, baby

Access to the Region’s Chinese/Hibachi buffet

I went to the open house last night on the most recent iteration of the project to add ramps to and from 35W on the north side of Lake St – officially and awkwardly titled I-35W Transit/Access Project, but which I’ve dubbed ARCH (Access to the Region’s Chinese/Hibachi buffet).  Since Minnescraper has tragically fallen into a coma, instead of my typical obsessively researched and revised essays (not that you could tell) I’m just going to post my unvarnished thoughts here .

History Lesson

Hibachi Buffet/Trip Generator

In the late 90s, as the internet was evolving from its primary function as a venue for competitive Happy Days trivia to a multipurpose mass media  celebrity gossi pdelivery mechanism, some entrepreneurs realized that bricks-and-mortar video rental would soon become obsolete, so they approached the City about their idea of eventually replacing a Blockbuster near the 35W/Lake St interchange with the Twin Cities’ premier Chinese/Hibachi buffet.  The City realized that demand for new restaurant would soon overwhelm existing infrastructure, so they teamed with the County, MnDot and a partnership of nearby benevolent corporations to brainstorm ways to accommodate the coming onslaught of buffetgoers.

The old Access project had some grandiose touches

They came up with a modest project that would widen Lake St to add a landscaped center median with plenty of room for turn lanes, crate a full diamond interchange at Lake and a ramp from northbound 35W to 28th St, close the ramps at 35th/36th and add a replacement with a big ole roundabout thing at 38th St, demolish the Metrodome and replace it with a retractable-roof stadium, and if there was still money left over, build a transit station at Lake.  Needless to say, they couldn’t find funding, and the project died as planning efforts shifted to meet the new capacity challenges caused by an expanding chain of suburban Hibachi grill buffets.

Then the dreaded day finally came when Blockbuster closed and was replaced by the future, to which the masses thronged.  Officials could no longer put off the needed upgrades to local crumbling infrastructure and planning for ARCH was rekindled.  And then they had an open house yesterday.

Huh?

No more median on Lake it seems

So I guess the difference now is that the 35/36 exits have been dropped, and I don’t know if the Braid Bridge (where southbound 35W crosses over the northbound 35W exit to Downtown) was part of the old Access project, but it is now.  Also, the idea of widening Lake St seems to have been dropped, which is interesting because I thought that was why they left so much of Lake St unreconstructed a few years ago.  So pretty much all they’re looking at is how many ramps to add to Lake St, whether a ramp should be added to 28th, and what the transit station is going to look like.  At the open house, in addition to free cookies, they had a cool model of the project area, and most portentously an enormous roll-up layout of the option that would include a full Lake St interchange and an exit from northbound 35W to 28th.  I interpreted that as meaning that they will do a full build if they can.

The Transit Station

Perhaps it’s obvious, but I was most interested in the transit station component.  It seems they’ve settled on a side platform configuration, which I was disappointed about because center platforms are much better from a passenger’s standpoint.  It turns out that I wasn’t the only one who was disappointed – the project has an advisory committee composed of a gaggle of local interests, and they came to the conclusion that a center platform was better, too – only to be overruled by MnDot, who decided at some point that they were too afraid of an errant driver entering the station area and smacking head-on into a bus to allow it (nevermind that MnDot has operated a reversible facility on 394 for two decades without a serious incident).  The advisory committee members were understandably irked that they had spent so much time on something that had already been decided.

But after talking with a consultant at the open house, the side platforms make a lot more sense to me.  A lot of buses are going to be using this station – today there are 70-80 buses an hour at peak but it’s being designed for 90-100 buses per peak hour.  That last figure would be a bus about every half-minute on average, and the guy I talked to mentioned that entry gates don’t really work at that frequency, which I believe.  The other advantage to side platforms is they allow for wider lanes in the station (22.5′ each), making it easier for buses to pass each other.  Anyone who’s ridden Nicollet Mall at rush hour knows how important that is.

Transit so frequent your trees turn translucent

So I’ve been won over to side platforms for this station, although I still am opposed to making that the standard.  Certainly there needs to be a lot more study of Freeway BRT networks before we can choose a station design based on a freak accident that may or may not ever happen.  Considering our griddish freeway network, it seems likely that transfers are going to be crucial in a built-out Freeway BRT network, and crucial to transfers are center platform stations.  It may be that dual-side door vehicles will be needed for this reason – someone at MnDot or the Met Council needs to get off their ass and commission the study of the transit technology that they killed heavy rail transit for in the 70s, but haven’t even gotten around to thinking about yet.

The 28th Street Exit

28th Street must have some friends in high places in order to be considered for an exit.  The only point along its length where it sees more than a handful of cars a day is just east of 2nd Ave S, which is basically an extension of the exit from 35W.  If I were in charge, I’d ask for a promise of expanded employment before I built an exit there, since it seems just as easy to handle those cars on Lake St and then any of the major arterials that are spaced every 1/8th of a mile east of 35W.

26th and 28th run through some of the densest neighborhoods in town, and don’t come anywhere close to needing the capacity they’re built to.  They could each be converted to two-lane two-ways with left turn lanes at intersections and center turn lanes in the busiest segments with no loss of parking and using existing curb geometry.  The City has been ignoring the neighborhoods’ request for two-way conversions for years.  I get that in projects like ARCH the large institutions will get their way, but when they build that 28th St exit for Wells Fargo and Allina, they better build it in a way that can accommodate a two-way conversion.

24th St/Braid Bridge

1st google hit for “minneapolis skyline” is taken from the 24th st bridge

Way up on the northern fringe of the project runs 24th Street, which at 35W becomes a narrow pedestrian bridge that is the source of approximately 97% of pictures of the Minneapolis skyline.  This bridge isn’t necessarily involved with the ARCH project except that any funding for ARCH will also likely include funding for the Braid Bridge, which is pretty thoroughly ancient and also is maybe sort of awkward to merge with (source?).  The big roll-up layout of the proposed full bridge moves the Braid Bridge slightly to the north, which frees up some possibilities with 24th St that according to the consultant I spoke with have barely been explored thus far.

One possibility I heard mentioned more than once at the open house, though, was to replace the Franklin overpass with upgraded pedestrian facilities and then not replace the 24th St pedestrian overpass at all.  That would be a terrible idea.  Fair Oaks and West Phillips are two of the densest neighborhoods in the city, and they’ve been separated by a freeway for decades.  They need every bridge they can get.  I’m not aware of any standards on pedestrian bridge spacing (of course, even though we have extremely detailed official standards for slant parking).  I would say that in this kind of setting, 1/4 mile is the minimum spacing for pedestrian crossing.

Will this thing ever end?

I think the ARCH project – like the 35W Access Project that proceeded it – is one of the most interesting projects around.  Balancing the needs of basically every type of mobility in the heart of a neighborhood that’s been ravaged by past government actions, it requires sensitive proceedings of whatever government agency is unlucky enough to take it on.  And for the most part they seem to be delivering.  They say they’ll be at 30% design for the project by the middle of 2013, which means the construction will be complete in approximately 2999.  We’ll see how the project will have changed by then, after many more open houses to come.