Rapid Stats

New transit landscape

I guess I’m not delivering them very rapidly, but I thought it would be useful to enter the data from Metro Transit’s Rapid Bus Corridor concepts into one spreadsheet.  The individual corridor sheets are beautiful and packed with facts, but the advantage to a spreadsheet is easy comparison of one corridor to another.

The reason we must compare corridors is that Metro Transit isn’t necessarily planning to build all of the corridors they developed concepts for, and some will be built before others.  Part of the purpose of the study is to develop “a prioritization plan for the arterial corridors”.  That language comes from SRF’s summary, but apparently we will have to wait until the study is published in February to know exactly what the prioritization will be based on.

In the meantime, we have the stats from the corridor concepts, which we can assume will be used to prioritize (as opposed to political prioritization, i.e. regional balance – we already know that Scott County is not in the running).


One place to start is to just look at the number of people who live or work along each corridor.  Metro Transit gives us these numbers both in a 1/4 mile circle and a 1/2 mile circle around the proposed stations for each rapid route.  The raw numbers are of course weighted toward lines with more stations (the number of stations runs from 15 on Hennepin to 28 each on Nicollet and Chicago), so I created a “density” measure, which just divides the total by the number of stations for a more fair comparison.

On the above chart, like the next three, the scale is distorted by the high number of jobs in Downtown Minneapolis.  To offset this, Metro Transit included a metric for jobs outside the downtowns, although in reality the downtowns are the largest trip generators and should be considered.  As you can see, Chicago really places well in this chart, coming in first in jobs (thanks to an added boost from the Mall of America) and also in population.  Nicollet and Lake are close seconds in population, and Central, Nicollet, Broadway and Hennepin also get job boosts from Downtown, although each follows its predecessor by 10k jobs or so until Hennepin finishes with 60k jobs fewer than Chicago.  Presumably this distance mostly stems from proximity to the core, as the different routes vary much more slightly in jobs outside Downtown.

The Mickey's station on West 7th has the highest grease density of any corridor

The above chart shows a slightly different picture, with the same five Downtown Minneapolis-serving lines appearing at the top of the heap again, but in a different order.  In this measure American and West 7th rank close to the Downtown Minneapolis lines.  These lines still have fairly high job numbers (though less than half of Chicago’s), but are helped by their much lower number of stations per mile – American has the least of any corridor, with 1.33 stations/mile, and West 7th is just behind it, with 1.42 stations/mile (see table below).  That means they don’t waste time serving low-density stations, like most of the other corridors do generally as they get further from the downtowns.

Making the circle a bit wider makes some sense – though the typical walking distance to transit is 1/4 mile, people are usually willing to walk further to faster service, and 37% of Hiawatha riders walk more than 1/4 mile.  But the chart above doesn’t show a drastically different picture.  The y axis is larger, but the corridors mostly seem to rank in the same order, as is more evident when you apply a color scale to the data in a table:

The table above is a good way to finish the series on demographics, because it clearly shows which routes have the advantages in the various demographic categories.  Nicollet and Chicago have the advantage both in jobs and population, and although they have some competitors in individual categories, no other routes are competitive across the board.

But for consistency I’ll present this last chart above, which shows that the most bang for the buck will probably come from the Hennepin line.  That’s the one where every station built is likely to reach a high amount of riders.

Station Spacing

An interlude about station spacing – the corridors all deviate from the half-mile station spacing ideal.  In many cases this is due to traversing either of the downtowns on a N-S axis, where the stations are often placed two blocks apart (where they currently stop in Downtown Minneapolis).  However there are a number of factors, for example Central has 3 stops in the half-mile from 18th to Lowry to serve the higher-density neighborhood; similarly, the routes that run between Franklin and Lake have 4 or 5 stops in that mile.  The opposite is the case with East 7th, which generally keeps to half-mile spacing, but leaves more than a mile without a station between Arcade and Clarence.

The stations depicted on the concept corridors are not final, of course.  But it seems as though Metro Transit prefers to keep the much closer spacing downtown, which makes sense because most of the lines terminate there anyway, so it’s fair to trade travel time for coverage (plus they’re apparently sinking some money into bus stations on 5th and 6th in St Paul anyway, a factor that may help the 7th St corridors).

Speed, Frequency and Reliability

Demographics are not the only factor to consider when prioritizing implementation.  Instead it’s important to consider the degree to which the routes will be improved by the enhancements.  Pretty stations are nice and all, but what I care about is how fast I can get to Mickey’s.  To that degree, Metro Transit included measures of speed, frequency and reliability in its rapid bus concepts.

A number of the proposed rapid bus enhancements should improve on-time performance, but maybe Metro Transit found it hard to quantify or predict, because they only included the on-time performance for current locals in the concepts (shown in the above chart).  From this, we can glean the lines that are most in need of improvements; Central rises to the top by virtue of its placement at the bottom.

The only clue Metro Transit gave us as to the increase in on-time performance was a series of pie charts showing the factors of travel time for each route.  I’ll admit that I’m not sure how to process this information, although generally it seems right to look for an increase in “In Motion” time and a decrease in “Dwell Time”.  (Since these are percentages, an increase in “In Motion” doesn’t mean the trip will actually take longer.)  Part of my confusion stems from the two factors that aren’t listed for all routes – especially that those factors disappear from the projections for after improvements are made.  It makes sense that “Hold/Other” would disappear, since holds are mostly scheduled to make up for delays.  But how can they expect that traffic delays will disappear?  Maybe if they were including dedicated bus lanes in the scope of this project, but my understanding is that’s off the table.

Assuming Rapid Bus routes are pretty reliable, they should be quite a bit faster – between 5 and 30% faster.  That 5% is for the already limited-stop West 7th line and is a much smaller improvement than most lines, implying that much of the speed increase comes from wider stop spacing.  Chicago, Central and East 7th are also outliers in this measure, all improving by around 10% (the rest of the routes improve by between 20 and 30%).   Presumably Central’s improvement is small because the 10 already uses signal preemption; East 7th and Chicago are a mystery to me.

Disclaimer about the above chart:  the % change in travel should actually be negative, but I changed it to positive to get it show on the chart.  Technically I shouldn’t use a line graph to show a nonlinear measure, but this is the best way I’ve found to get different y axis measures to show up in Excel – if you have a better idea, please let me know.

That last disclaimer should probably also apply to the above chart, too, but I’ve always wanted to use a radar chart and it seemed to fit pretty well for comparing frequency.  I was able to calculate effective frequency for the proposed corridor by simply adding the proposed rapid and local frequencies.  Assuming they will not be scheduled to bunch (i.e. to make the local bus show up as close to the rapid bus as possible), these routes will have really impressive frequency – 6 corridors will have 6 minute headways or less.  Hennepin will end up with an effective headway of 4.3 minutes, with a rapid bus every 7.5 minutes on top of locals still running a respectable every 10 minutes.  The radar chart shows the biggest improvements in the American and Broadway lines, where current 30 minute headways are halved to every 15 minutes.  In the case of Broadway it’s a bit misleading, though, since the densest part of West Broadway – the mile between Knox and Washington – will retain local bus service, although at what frequency they don’t say.

Busing for Dollars

Another factor presumably will be the cost of construction.  This will be relatively low, but how low seems to be unknown – the presentation on Metro Transit’s site suggests $1-3m per mile, but a subsequent Star Tribune story says it could be as much as $6m per mile, and today’s MinnPost article quotes a Met Council rep as estimating $2-5m per mile.  Probably inertia is causing them to estimate the cost per mile – since there are no guideway improvements under consideration, a per station estimate would be more useful.  Apparently Metro Transit is considering large and small station concepts, and presumably there would be a hierarchy of stations, with high-boardings stations getting large stations.  If that’s the case, you couldn’t just assume that routes with more stations will be more expensive, since for example the Lake St route, with a high number of transfers, will have a higher per station cost.  On the other hand, because the highest boardings tend to be downtown, maybe routes that serve the downtowns will have the highest per station cost.


With uncertainty still surrounding nearly every detail about the Rapid Bus concept and corridors, maybe the only thing I’ve proven with this exercise is my obsession with transit.  However, the evidence strongly suggests that each corridor has unique factors that necessarily be boiled down to a set of numbers.  After all, with one exception these lines all currently serve tremendous numbers of riders, so where ever improvements are made it will improve a large number of rides.

Personally, I tend to favor improving network connectivity, which could boost routes like American or Snelling that (will someday) connect light rail lines.  Other considerations, such as improving underserved areas, would boost the Broadway or East 7th lines.  As long as we’re speculating, we may as well hope, and I for one hope they just build them all at once.

Numerical Afterword

As I mentioned, all the charts in this post were made with Excel, which was the ideal tool for me only because its crudeness so well matched my own ineptitude.  I’ve always enjoyed visual presentations of information, but never really had the training or talent for it.  So if anyone reading this has any constructive criticism, please don’t let your Minnesotanism hold you back from commenting.  Also, if anyone has any suggestions for better chart-creating software than Excel, please share.  Finally, I want to spread the fruit of my data entry – apologies for the mess.


The Case of the Disappearing Diamond

He rode a rusty cruiser in a fixed-gear kinda town

The cold case heated up fast, like spare ribs in a dirty microwave.  Sgt Lindeke pressed Full Power on this one, his twitter feed tossing out pithy clues at a mile a minute, just daring you to keep up.

I’d met the dame in the mushy month of March.  She had a date with the wrecking ball, due to be replaced by a flashy new overpass, all turn lanes and extra bridges.  The dame called herself Diamond, and she wasn’t long for this world.

It didn’t make sense – Diamond didn’t carry much traffic, and less every day.  She was relatively pedestrian friendly, and best of all for these troubled times, she was a real workhorse.  The papers ignored the story at the time, it was just another shady murder, stinking of corruption and hopeless junkies.  But who was behind it?

I’d always suspected St. Jude.  He put on a holy show, but I could always smell the greed just under his scrubbed-clean skin.  Now Lindeke pulled back the antiseptic curtain, linking to an article in the local rag about the new park-and-ride the bus company’s building next to Diamond’s old haunt:

Metro Transit wanted to put a lot at the busy interchange five years ago, but Little Canada, Maplewood, Roseville and Ramsey County Public Works denied the request, citing concern from St. Jude’s, Little Canada’s largest employer, that such a lot would compound traffic problems. Now, with a reconfigured interchange and better traffic flow, they’re on board.

These cities hold a thousand stories.  And even worse, they hold a thousand governmental bodies, all overlapping each other and rubbing shoulders and sharing drinks and sometimes exchanging words, and you know it’s only a matter of time before they’re exchanging blows.  It’s all too easy for a medical device company to worm their way in and play city against county against state, feeding their auto-addiction and pushing bikes, peds and transit to the floor.  Poor Diamond never had a chance.

St. Jude's prevented the construction of this $2m park-and-ride until the state first built a $35m interchange. Meanwhile, the sidewalk still ends 200 feet away from nearby Harambee Elementary School.

A Tradition of Destroying Traditions

plenty tradition here

After nearly a week in my Ancestral Homeland, the disposition of its yeomen, wizened by the winds perpetually shifting excretory odors across indifferentiable stretches of its quiltscape, has reinforced my already prematurely-elderly mentality.  On top of that, the internet offers me a world outside of the New Ulm Journal (edited by Paul Weyrich and published by Jerry Falwell) to excite my curmudgeonly nature.

The current object of my curmudgeoning is the proposed debasement of Peavey Plaza.  After long efforts by the City of Minneapolis to ignore it in hopes that it will go away, the Minnesota Orchestra has prodded the City into requesting state money to tear down the fountains that have rusted over with neglect.  Due to a copyediting error, the money was granted, and after a long public input process from which all members of the public who weren’t selected for a Review Committee were excluded, renderings of the selected design were released.  The renderings show a city maintaining its proud tradition of obliterating any evidence of its past identity and instead substituting a cheap imitation of whatever happens to be trendy.

Let's eat lunch on this nice ramp

Peavey Plaza as it stands has some faults.  Its cardinal sin is poor accommodation of individuals with mobility limitations.  While it has a ramp for people whose physical conditions requires wheels for ambulation (but not for those who prefer to ambulate with wheels but are not required to), that ramp was built before the current standards for such facilities were adopted and must be reconstructed to meet the new standards (side note: standards like these are revised every decade or so in order to guarantee jobs for construction firms).  Less dubiously, the ramp requires visitors to enter from 12th St, while the most common entrance is at 11th & Nicollet.  The new design will “provide dignified access to the disabled” by adding a ramp to allow them to enter from the most common entrance like everyone else, a concept that appeals to the egalitarian in me.  (Apparently this new ramp will also double as “integrated terraced seating”, which seems to me to detract from the added dignity.)  But why does the entire plaza need to be redesigned for one new ramp?  Couldn’t a similar awkwardly-placed ramp be wedged into the original design somehow?

the water's for drinking, not watching

Let’s move on to excuse number two:  the darn fountains don’t work.  Public Works has been responsible for the fountains since construction, but now claims that they are “in a state of extreme disrepair” and that “[f]ixing the fountain would require dismantling the original and rebuilding a new fountain to look like the old.”  If they’re telling the truth, then it’s time to start buying bottled water.  Public Works is also responsible for a thousand miles of fountains more than a hundred years older than Peavey Plaza extending throughout Minneapolis and even into the surrounding suburbs and delivering fresh water into fountains in the kitchens and bathrooms of private residences.  You might say that they have some experience with water systems.  If the fountains of Peavey Plaza have deteriorated beyond repair, it is because Public Works did not want to maintain them, not because they could not be maintained.

already gone, mostly

But regardless of whether the City ran the fountains into the ground, or whether Minneapolis somehow has a more fountain-hostile climate than, say, Moscow or Edmonton, the fountains are wrecked now and need to be replaced.  They claim that rebuilding replicas of the existing cylinder fountains – they cost a whopping 1 million dollars in the high-flying 1970s (okay, maybe 4 million adjusted for inflation) – would be cost-prohibitive, so they are instead scrapping the defining street-lining fountains and installing vertical jet fountains in the new, less-sunken main plaza (see the rendering to figure out what I am feebly describing there).  I consider this design to be the IKEA of fountains – it’s so typical in Europe that in Oslo they run a tram through it.  Just like the fountains in the existing design both define and enclose the plaza – they are the most prominent feature from the street and from the sunken plaza, but also shelter the plaza from the street and give it an idiosyncratically (and very 70s) isolated feel – the new location of the IKEA fountains will allow the new design to interact a lot more with the surrounding streets, which besides being a trendy design aspect is useful for controlling homeless people.

I’m not really opposed to the debasement of Peavey Plaza.  On the contrary, it confirms my weltanschauung, in which human culture perpetually but sporadically sinks, like someone who can’t swim thrashing wildly as they drown.  Maybe 400 years ago the fetishization of the water well reached its zenith, but in ancient times that well tended to be less beautiful but more venerated for being a source of life.  In Minneapolis we’re used to the destruction of our defining physical structures and their replacement with something banal or ephemeral.  Peavey Plaza isn’t even really a Glass Block or a Metropolitan, but more comparable to the previous incarnation of the Walker Art Center, which began its life as an exuberant example of Moorish Revivalism, but quickly devolved into a dull modernist rectangle.  Of course, that rectangle was short-lived, and we have every reason to expect the newer, duller Peavey Plaza to be destroyed and rebuilt whenever the aesthetic engineers that infest the coasts of this continent devise a new technique of mass-producing scenery.

a rendering of the next revitalization of Peavey Plaza - it retains the most beloved aspect of the plaza: the feeling of light-cycling down from the street, a central gathering and performance space, lasers

Promising Promises

A sight for sore eyes

I was greeted at the top of the stairs by a smiling face.  “Here for the Metro Transit meeting?” the first Greeter asked before directing me down to the basement of the Midtown Exchange building on a journey to a conference room in the deepest bowels of the hulking structure, guided only by my wits, a second Greeter, a week’s supply of pemmican, and a distant signboard, on which through the haze could be made out a map of the Twin Cities Metro marked with bold yellow lines: the candidate corridors for Arterial Transitways.

Upon entry to the conference room, it quickly became evident how Metro Transit could afford two Greeters for their meeting.  There were probably 10 staff members there, and in the hour or so I was at the meeting the ratio of public to staff briefly was as high as 1:1.  The effect was that the meeting was a walking, talking version of the overview pdf on Metro Transit’s website.  It took me an hour to peruse the 20 or so signboards because every 5-10 minutes a staff member would approach me to ask what I thought.

Senior Transit Planner

Which was great.  Transit planners are second only to bicycle planners as the coolest clique of the Transportation Planning & Engineering world, and I gotta say transit planners are more interesting in the hippie-neighbor-who-sleeps-on-his-porch sort of way.  Also there were some staff from SRF, the consultants on the project, who, like most transportation consultants, feature a massive highway project on their home page.  They were nice.

Back to the signboards – in addition to about 10 mostly drawn from the overview pdf, there were 11 that summarized each of the proposed rapid bus services, including proposed frequencies and station locations.  It wasn’t really the right atmosphere for whipping out a camera or even a notebook, so I’m not going to try to dig specifics out of my funhouse mirror of a memory.  However, I’m not afraid to list a few general observations:

  • All corridors are proposed to be overlaid on local bus service (except for American Blvd), but these will not be 50s series routes – they will be frequent and all-day.
  • Stations were a bit more closely spaced than I expected – they averaged 2 stations per mile, but in many neighborhoods they were closer to every 1/4 mile, and Downtown they retained the existing stop pattern I think.
  • On most routes, the stops chosen for inclusion in the rapid bus route represented the vast majority of boardings on the route anyway.  The one example I remember specifically (as long as you don’t quote me) is the Lake St-Marshall route, which mostly had stations closer than every 1/2 mile between Uptown and Minnehaha, but the stops chosen to be upgraded represented all but 3% of boardings.

It seems as though they’re still trying to work out the details of what the stations would consist of.  Based on what the staff said, even off-board ticket machines (wonkily referred to as TVMs) could be chucked and replaced with a 2nd GoTo reader at the rear door.  They had us do a little exercise where we voted for up to five station feature to prioritize – confusingly, even shelters and benches were on the ballot.  Would they really consider not including those at a stop that met their boarding requirement?

Besides maybe the station details, it seems as though the study is basically done.  The summary on SRF’s website is in past tense, and even states that

The outcome of the study was a prioritization plan for the arterial corridors based on the outcomes of concept development, constructability assessment, and stakeholder involvement.

The overview pdf, meanwhile, says that the “Next Steps” are to prioritize routes, bringing up the question of just which stakeholders were or will be involved.  But I don’t really care as long as  the report is published in February 2012 as planned.

Check out what these other cities have done

What happens after that is anyone’s guess.  I’m hoping there will be an implementation section in the study report, but there were no details at the meeting.  My questions about funding were met with hems and haws.  We’re not talking about a stadium or anything here; I thought I heard an estimate of $10-15m per corridor (for reference, the one-mile Riverside Ave reconstruction will cost $12m) and the overview pdf implies $1-3m per mile.  My guess is that only the uniquely American talent for spending way too much on infrastructure projects could inflate that cost, considering it’s for something as simple as enhanced bus service, or, as it’s called in the rest of the world, bus service.  A wag on minnescraper has dubbed this proposal Baby BRT, but if it’s actually implemented, it will be a real coming-of-age for Metro Transit.

This chart is actually from Public Works' Results Mpls report, but it shows why Minneapolis is likely to get one of the first Rapid Bus lines

BURP #3: Another Forking BURP

Courtesy of Bill, a poke

Tuesday October 11th!

Aster Cafe

125 SE Main Street, Minneapolis

$3 taps till 6 (flatbread pizzas $5)

At the beginning of October, the shortening days lead happy hours to get a little less happy and a little more spooky.  We’re going to hijack this trend and instead send happy hours in the direction of nerdy.

The Aster Cafe will provide the venue for our discussions, and, for a nominal fee, the social lubricant.  The moon will nearly be full, the air will be crisp, and I hope you’ll be there.



Untangling Spaghetti Junction

Lady looks intimidated

I capped my last post with an image of the insanely overbuilt Spaghetti Junction in Louisville, but we have our own Spaghetti Junction here, and while it may not be as monstrous, it is still quite the tangled bowl of noodles.  A while back, I color-coded it for ease of understanding where all those wacky ramps are going:

Thatza spicey meat-a ball!

This effort grew out of my plan for a pedestrian-friendly West Bank, one of the centerpieces of which was the conversion of Cedar Ave to a transit mall.  Unfortunately the Minnesota Highway Department – oh, excuse me, MnDOT – thinks of this pedestrian-scaled neighborhood as nothing more than an over-metered access ramp between 35W and 94.  So I tried to think of a way to connect the highways and make the poor, marginalized motorists happy.  It didn’t really work:

L'étoile du Défaite

I called my effort Hermann Circle, after Hermann Olson, longtime mad City Planning Engineer for Minneapolis whose initial sketches for Hwy 62 included roundabouts at intersections (or at least one did).  Although there is a lot of space in Spaghetti Junction (enough for at least a 400′ diameter roundabout) the alignment of the highways make for some very tight entrances.  Also there’s the probably that the amount of traffic going through all these ramps would gridlock the circle as soon as the clock turned 7:01 am, although I’d think that could be solved with signals metering entrances – if almighty convenience can be sacrificed for mobility.

You’ll notice that I didn’t try to make the connection from southbound 35W to eastbound 94.  That’s because a route exists that actually provides a better alternative than Cedar Ave (the closure of which is my purpose for this whole exercise) – the existing route through congested and, by all rights, pedestrian-owned Cedar is about .7 miles.  A route that follows Washington Ave to 11th Ave S to 6th St S and its long, winding ramp to eastbound 94 is only .6 miles on local streets and has 6 fewer stoplights to interfere with your God-given automotive freedom.

The circle didn’t work, but luckily there’s an easier way.  My proposal for the West Bank trench would allow a much simpler connection for westbound 94 to northbound 35W.  A ramp could simply branch off the existing ramp from westbound 94 to 5th St S, slope downward and join the existing ramp from northbound 35W to the Washington Trench and environs:

The new ramp is in red

It looks tight, and it is, but the space between these ramps is 55 feet at the narrowest, and the 1-lane ramp would be 25 feet, tops.  The trickiest part is the angle at which the new ramp would meet the existing ramp, which might require a new bridge for the ramp from westbound 94 to 5th St S.  Here is a view of the new ramp in my Spaghetti Junction diagram, which may or may not make things clearer:

Somewhere you'll find a connection is made

I’m not aware of anyone else having proposed this ramp, and for a good reason – it couldn’t exist as the Washington Trench is currently configured since the ramp from 35W northbound (to which I would join the new ramp from 94) currently splits into 3 lanes and, more important, does not reconnect to 35W.  My proposal is predicated on my idea to build a two-way ramp between the Trench and the normal Washington, from which traffic could then proceed to northbound 35W.  In addition my Trench idea would remove the flyover ramps and instead funnel all traffic to an intersection at the Trench, clearing up space for a ramp from 94 to join in.  I haven’t crammed enough crappy Visio diagrams into this post, so here’s one of my Trench proposal:

Greater connectivity, but at-grade.

In 2007, MnDOT released their Downtown Minneapolis Freeway Study, which can possibly be considered a textbook case of cluelessness (page 1 of the Executive Summary: “the [35w Mississippi River] bridge is in good condition and could remain in place with regular maintenance until 2020 or later.”).  The mission was to look at the feasibility of expanding the downtown freeway capacity to the degree that it could achieve a level of service D/E in 2030.  Assuming the costs of Milwaukee’s tunnel-less Marquette Interchange ($25m/lane-mile), the study estimated that it would cost from $1.1 billion to more than $2 billion to complete an upgrade that would include nearly doubling the width of the Lowry Tunnel:

Really? Less than $2 billion?

MnDOT’s “vision” for Downtown freeways also included direct connections between 35W and 94 somehow.  I haven’t been able to find the details, and the closest thing to an image I’ve seen is a modification by Froggie.  I hope he doesn’t mind me copping it:

Froggie's mods

Keep working, Lady

So there are lots of ways to untangle Spaghetti Junction, but most are very expensive and some are just not feasible.  Seems like Minnesotans are just going to have to keep driving through it and Lady will just have to keep slurping.

One gate open, another closed

The Hennepin-Lyndale Bottleneck was invented by Thomas Lowry to prevent people from walking between the densest and the second-densest neighborhoods in the city, forcing them to ride his streetcars between Downtown and Uptown.

This charming billboard was located approximately where the gaping maw of I-94 is today.

Ok that’s not true.  The Hennepin-Lyndale Bottleneck sorta just happened, either as a planning mistake, or a product of topography or geography, or maybe due to ideas of transportation efficiencies that were revised as newer, deadlier means of transport were popularized.

Our ancestors seemed to view the Bottleneck as something as a town square, lining it with elegant apartments, important churches, art museums and monuments.  But nothing is so important to Americans as automobility, so the freeway builders didn’t spare the area (although the Lowry Hill Tunnel may be the only gesture they made to the cities they were cutting through, or maybe it was just cheaper than an aerial alignment), more than doubling the paved area and making it nearly nontraversable without a vehicle.

So today the Hennepin-Lyndale Bottleneck is a giant unwieldy mess, which of course means that I have a giant unwieldy plan to fix it.  Unfortunately the giant- and unwieldiness of the plan means it is literally half-baked at this point, so I’m just going to comment on the City’s recent efforts to clean up the mess a bit.

Loring Park Gateway open

'proposed' is now existing, sorry for the confusion

This corner wasn’t bad before, by Bottleneck standards anyway.  But it was awkward, routing cyclists on a sharp turn around a bus bench,  and apparently didn’t accommodate some movements, as indicated by the desire path from this corner over to where the sidewalk continues north up Hennepin.

The addition of bike lanes to 15th St (or whatever it’s called there) was an excuse to spruce up the corner and rationalize the placement of the various elements (it seems that the pesky bus bench has been rationalized out of existence, although there is still a shelter at the stop).  That’s because the city wanted to use this intersection to test out what they call the European Left Turn, which sounds a bit like Wisconsin Yoga but is more like a New Jersey Jughandle for bikes.  It’s good to see more separated bike facilities, but this seems to be another case of the City encouraging sidewalk riding.  I like the connection to the Poem bridge, but that also reminds me of the Loring Bikeway bridge, where the City spends a bunch of money creating a circuitous bypass that everyone ignores in favor of the old, direct route.  Why couldn’t they just have striped a bike lane in place of the left turn/through lane?  Is it really important to retain that queuing space for four or five cars?

The other problem with the European Left Turn is that it presumably will add bikes to an already-crowded corner.  The queue at the corner is often five-deep, and while the realignment of the various paths has better separated bikes from peds, the new curb cut placement has led to a new issue:

A few more creeps*

Luckily the city is well aware that the average American motorist is a creep; that is, she has a tendency to creep past the stop line and into the crosswalk.  So the plan is to not only widen the crosswalk to incorporate the new curb cut position, but to install green colored pavement to delineate it.  The project page implies that the colored pavement has been demoted to paint.  Considering the snow will start to fly in a month or two, that means the demotion may have been extended to the crosswalk itself (like most crosswalks in town).  As the photo above shows, something needs to happen here or the new curb cut will be unusable.

All this realigning, paving and striping did not manage to fix the biggest problem with this intersection: signal programming.  Bikes and peds get the hand when the southbound traffic is stopped for the left turn phase for northbound traffic.  So they have to waste time waiting for the man to let them cross again, even though they don’t conflict with left turning northbound traffic.  This situation is all too common in Minneapolis (see almost every stoplight on Hennepin Ave) but because some lights do keep the man lit up when not conflicting with left turns (see the lights at 5th and 7th on Hennepin), I can only blame it on ineptitude or apathy (some would suggest disdain) for pedestrians on the part of traffic engineers.  In the spirit of Organization before Electronics before Concrete, this change in signal programming should probably have been made before planting the pretty flowers, and should be made before installing the new green pavement or plastic or whatever.

The Wedge Gateway closed

Another change a bit further south down the Bottleneck has somehow made the area even less usable for cyclists.  The sidepath abruptly ends at the ramp to I-94 from Lyndale Ave, and apparently the City was concerned that cyclists would continue on to where ever they are going despite the fact that the City had not made provisions for them to do so.  The solution was to make it more obvious what cyclists are not supposed to do:

Poof! And it's gone

See for yourself how well it’s working:

2 cyclists ignore the new stripes

So here’s an idea.  If people want to bike here, maybe a facility should be built that allows them to do so.  The sidepath could be continued down to Lyndale at the expense of no more than 10 often-unused parking spaces. As part of the same project, raised crossings could be built at all of the intersections, magically transforming the sidepath into a two-way cycle track.

Alternately, the City could continue building overpasses and restriping to prevent people from taking the paths they want.  Bloomington took this route on Lindau Lane, where pedestrians ignored their pointless, capricious, impeding crossing bans.  Bloomington responded by spending $50m to grade-separate the roadway (they blew Orwell right out of his syphilitic grave by calling the project the Lindau Lane Complete Streets and Safety Enhancement project), because everyone knows the best pedestrian environments are created by driving a wide, roaring freeway through the heart of a neighborhood.  Here’s an idea of what the Hennepin-Lyndale Bottleneck may look like, if a Lindau Lane-style complete street strategy is pursued:

The Hennepin-Lyndale Bottleneck will feature easy auto access to the Riverfront

*I actually fudged this photo- the supposed creeps have the green light.  But I’ve encountered the crosswalk blocked by creeps several times so far, I just haven’t gotten a picture.

Judith Martin: Where We Live

Judith Martin taught me more about Minneapolis than anyone else did.

I graduated from the U of M with a degree in Urban Studies, which was the department Judith founded and directed, but I have to admit it mostly wasn’t there that she taught me about Minneapolis.

Instead it was in her books – Recycling the Central City, Where We Live, and especially Past Choices/Present Landscapes – that she served as an entertaining but thorough guide to the process that our young city took and is still taking in eternally becoming.  The books are hard to find (Judith shared a name with Miss Manners, apparently) but well worth it for anyone interested in the history of the Twin Cities or more generally the American city in the second half of the 20th century.

The Strib has an excellent obituary that says more than I can:

While Martin taught a generation of urban studies students at the University of Minnesota, she also jumped into the nitty-gritty of planning, serving 15 years on the Minneapolis Planning Commission, eight of them at its helm. She played a major role in rewriting the city’s zoning code and the comprehensive plan that undergirds it.

“She was a tireless advocate for the city,” said City Council Member Gary Schiff, who worked closely on city planning matters with her. “She inspired legions of students at the University of Minnesota to fight for a better urban environment.”

Thank you, Judith Martin, for the work you did to dust off Minneapolis’ scattered gems, buried under the rubble of wrecking balls or a century of industry.  We won’t see anyone else like you, and we sure could use a whole lot more of you.