Time’s the legislator

A fine batch of sausage

It turns out I may have misjudged Mike Beard when I accused him of being a fundamentalist ideologue; instead it seems he’s a energetic, charismatic and persuasive fundamentalist ideologue.  That of course makes him a much more dangerous opponent for transit riders; while he has not yet exactly confirmed my accusation that he is trying to destroy transit in the Twin Cities, it seems that even he would admit that he is trying to radically transform it, or at least its financing and governance.

My newfound respect or fear of Mike Beard comes from watching House Transportation Policy and Finance committee meetings.  I’ve never taken the drastic step of viewing legislative proceedings before, but the unusually high number of anti-transit bills in this session led me to tape my eyelids and hope for the best.  The fruit of my boredom is the following short summary of most of the transit related bills that got a hearing this year.  I didn’t view any hearings on their Senate companions (if they have them) because the Senate only offers audio, and apparently I need the eye candy of watching the sausage being made (metaphors have rarely been so disgustingly mixed).  As such, my summaries will be skewed from a House perspective.  At this point in the session some of these bills appear stalled, but I think they will benefit from wider public awareness, i.e. people googling “sausage” and getting this post in the results.

HF2685 Metro Transit service fare increases required  This bill as described in my last Beard-bashing post was killed, but in a twist of the knife has been appropriated as a vehicle for an omnibus transportation bill (but not the omnibus transportation policy bill, which you’ll see is below).  The bill contains some other heinous provisions that I’ll describe below, but does not as of writing contain the transit-slashing vindictive fare increase.

HF2852 Distance-based transit fare surcharge pilot program established for replacement service transit providers  It’s not necessarily a bad idea to use a distanced-based or “zone” fare system, but the language in this bill only allows an increase in fare for distance, which could be a problem for short-distance express service.  This bill has been incorporated into the omnibus transportation bill, so it has a pretty good chance of passing.

HF2473 Transportation public-private partnership pilot program and related regulations established  The Legislature is graciously allowing MnDot to propose a public-private partnership with a selected private company, but not to accept a public-private partnership that a private company proposes out of the blue.  The bill actually suggests a project for the pilot program, the Mississippi River crossing that would connect I-94 to US-10 near Clearwater, but I mention it here because the bill ignores a potential application to transit, although it doesn’t expressly forbid it.

HF2387 Greater Minnesota transit funding provided, bonds issued, and money appropriated  There’s usually some fairly general bond money for Greater Minnesota transit in the bonding bill; this bill would have provided $10m, but that got shrunk to $2.5m in the final House version.  The Senate seems to have upped it to $4m, and I’d guess it will end up around there.

HF2321 Metropolitan transit service opt-outs authorized  DFLer Bev Scalze makes this session’s transit-wacking bipartisan with her bill to reopen opt-outs for suburban municipalities.  She got sympathy from the committee for her dissatisfaction with her community’s transit service, and this bill has been incorporated into the omnibus transportation bill listed above as HF2685.  I would like to take this opportunity to conjecture that Rep. Scalze has never taken the bus, or else she perhaps would have not introduced this bill that is guaranteed to make Twin Cities transit more confusing.

HF2271 Minneapolis to Duluth high speed passenger rail funding provided, bonds issued, and money appropriated  Alas, ’twas not to be funded, but just about every DFLer with a district along the proposed route signed as an author.

HF2155 Central corridor light rail line property valuation increases limited  Here’s a fun one – legislatively limiting the increase in property values caused by Central LRT.  Of course, they’re only limiting the increase in taxable value, not sale value.  No one wants any pain with their pleasure, I guess.  The Senate version actually got referred to the committee on Taxes, but the House version is just sitting there.

HF1284 Omnibus Transportation Policy  Bus use of shoulders is expanded by this bill, both in terms of where and how fast.  On the where side, authority will be given to counties and cities to allow buses to use shoulder on roads that they own.  On the how fast side, MnDot will be able to raise the speed limit for buses on shoulders in specific locations after conducting a study, which would have prevented the bullshit reasoning for restriping a bus shoulder as a general traffic lane and arguing that it will improve bus speed.

HF1943 Metropolitan Council transit funding provisions modified and HF2696 Metropolitan Council; formula changed for assistance to cities and towns with replacement transit service  Mike Beard worked tenaciously this year to redistribute funds from Metro Transit to suburban opt-outs; one of his efforts took the form of HF1943, which attempts to restore cuts that the Met Council made to opt-out funding as a method of dealing with their own budget cuts.  In the March 7th meeting, Met Council Gov’t Affairs Director Judd Schetnan responded by pointing out that most of the opt-outs had reserves equaling 150% of their annual budgets, implying that they could whether these cuts relatively easily.  HF1943 doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, perhaps because Beard found a better way to redistribute money to the suburbs in HF2696.  This bill nearly doubles the amount of MVST money that goes to opt-outs, and has been included in HF2685, which looks likely to pass.

This being a bonding year, there were also many transit projects that got their own capital funding bills, including NLX, Bottineau, Southwest, a park-and-ride in Maple Grove, a transit center in Duluth (rehab of the gorgeous Depot maybe?), the Lake Street transit station, and many more.  None were included in the bonding bills, which only nodded to transit in the House’s version, which included $1m for upgrades to track between St Paul and Hopkins, potentially for use on Red Rock commuter rail or “HSR” to Chicago.  The final bonding bills may change in the conference committee, though, so now’s the time to contact your legislator and ask they listen to the extraordinary popular support for the Southwest Transitway.

Finally, the instrument of Mike Beard’s divine vengeance on Metro Transit is a bill that seems to not yet be introduced, but to which Beard devoted an entire meeting of his committee, and which has gotten some attention at MinnPost and the Strib.  His proposal is to create a transportation planning agency separate of the Met Council and to fund it through property taxes (again) instead of the general fund.  Since it hasn’t yet been introduced, I doubt it will pass this session, which gives me more time to formulate my thoughts on it.  Look for another Beard-bashing post here in the next couple weeks.

The future of transit in Minnesota?

Why I don’t ride on East River Parkway

Yesterday I decided to take advantage of the apocalyptic weather by mounting an attack on the old beer gut.  I carefully shined and polished my old 80s steel frame racer that I got for free and that’s at least one size too small for me, threw on a backpack stuffed with water, snacks, beer for restocking the gut, and a book to read in the sunlight of some Beautiful Spot.  The only problem for a man without a destination was where to ride.  Glancing at the map I noticed a line that roughly followed West River Pkwy, but on the east side of the Mississippi – oh yeah, I thought, why don’t I ever ride on East River Pkwy?

Shortly after I crossed into St Paul and the road gained five superfluous syllables, I remembered why I don’t ride on East River Pkwy:  It is shitty.  Literally.  I’d just been forced off the shared-use path by a roving gang of pimple-faced skaters – which is fine, there’s a bike lane there – when I encountered a pile of shit.

Pile #3

There was a total of three piles of shit spaced about a mile apart, and each was only in the bike lane, not in the through lane.  To me this means either that whoever left the shit there aimed for the bike lane or that the shit was later cleaned off the through lane by pushing it into the bike lane.

So now St Paul has two strikes.  A shitty bike lane isn’t nearly as bad as pretending a road with a couple signs on it is a bikeway, but counts as a strike when you add in that awful spot right after the West 7th overpass where the trail turns into a six foot sidewalk with no warning.  Let’s hope St Paul doesn’t get strike three on Wednesday, when it votes on the Jefferson bike boulevard.

Listening to: My Descent into Madness by Eels

Let’s get drunk and eat chicken fingers

Maybe Minneapolis doesn't have the market cornered on being confusing

This may surprise some readers of this blog, but the emotion I most often feel about Minneapolis is not anger, it’s confusion.  How come we were broke for the last ten years but now we have hundreds of millions of dollars for a stadium?  How can residents protest their property taxes one day and then protest against a proposed building that would shoulder some of their tax burden the next day?

One of the perpetually mystifying aspects of Minneapolis is its liquor laws, which I suppose is fitting for the state that gave birth to the Prohibition.  Those laws are so confusing that even a talented blogger like Anders at Our Uptown took five posts last year to explain them; they’re worth re-reading as the legislature considers a bill exempting from those confusing laws a Northside liquor store that would like to move across the street after its building was demolished in last year’s tornado.

The story reports that “officials” say the relocation runs afoul of the arbitrary requirement that liquor stores be located within 5 contiguous acres of commercial zoning.  The current location, being contiguously zoned for commercial with its successor, would also fail that test, but apparently operated as a liquor store before the city charter was amended with this confusing provision in 1974.

Use this easy map to find a place for your very own liquor store!

The Strib article concludes with a quote from Gary Schiff, who pooh-poohs the need to ask the state to save us from ourselves.  “Why don’t we just do away with the [zoning requirement]?” he asks.  Maybe Gary Schiff has a charter wand that he can wave to make any charter provision disappear, but the rest of us have to contend with burdensome state laws on charter amendments, which get even more burdensome when you want to amend the law to make it easier to sell liquor.  In 1969 the state decided that in order for any city to remove from its charter any prohibition on liquor sales – not any liquor law, but specifically ones that “prohibit the sale of intoxicating liquor or wine in certain areas” – a referendum needs 55% of voters to approve.  Since a majority of voters rarely approve anything these days – and also because there’s no organized coalition interested in changing liquor laws – I don’t give it much of a chance.

Bermuda Triangle of booze

Instead it makes more sense to me to just expand the amount of parcels zoned for commercial.  I first became aware of the city’s byzantine liquor laws when I moved to Kingfield, which is in the midst of the Southside’s bizarre boozeless belt, where nary a liquor store can be found between Lake St and 46th.  My solution would be to increase the commercial zoning in the belt, which is traversed by fairly commercial Nicollet and Chicago Aves.  The 2008 Comp plan update actually considered making Nicollet a commercial corridor, which would have made it easy to rezone for commercial, but apparently backed down due to unsurprising neighborhood resistance.  Still, there are several nodes that would only have to be expanded slightly to make 5 acres, for example at 38th St at both aforementioned streets.  (Actually a stretch of Nicollet between 35th and 36th does meet the 5 acre requirement.)

The zoning in question

I took a look at the Penn & West Broadway node, the site of the exemption-seeking liquor store, to see how much more commercial zoning would need to be added to achieve 5 acres.  The result was – you guessed it – confusing:  the proposed site (like the original site) lies within 5.89 acres of contiguous commercial zoning!  Huh?  You can see it if you squint at the City’s undated and apparently out-of-date liquor store zoning map, this site meets the contiguous zoning provision.  In fact, they could even open an on/off sale store like you can find in your favorite trashy outstate town, since the proposed site meets the stricter requirement of 7 acres of contiguous commercial zoning of on-sale.

Line to line, the booze here is fine

So what liquor law does this site violate?  The Strib article also reports CM Don Samuels as saying “a liquor store at that location would go against city charter requirements that liquor stores keep a certain distance from churches and schools.”  Actually, it’s an ordinance prohibiting a liquor store from opening within 300′ of any school or “religious institution place of assembly” measured property line to property line (on-sale liquor, wine or beer has the same rule but measured door to door).  Using sophisticated GIS tools that Hennepin County provides free on its  new Property Info map, the liquor store development is a good 350′ from the nearest church that I’m aware of, and there doesn’t seem to be an actual school nearby (google lists a Lowell School at 23rd & Penn but that should be more than 300′ away, and has no other web presence besides the google listing – lack of website should be grounds for a school to lose its charter).

So the new location meets the contiguous commercial zoning requirement and the school/temple distance requirement, two of what I call the fucked-up trifecta of liquor laws.  That leaves the third confusing, seemingly arbitrary law, the 2000′ buffer required between stores.  But this ordinance actually makes allowances for liquor stores that also happen to be longstanding neighborhood businesses that, say, are hit by a tornado, allowing relocation despite a buffer as long as it’s not too far away.

Anyone know the real reason for this legislative exemption to a law that it appears to meet?  Is there a school hiding around there somewhere?  Anyone heard Legends of a Hidden Temple in the area?  All the confusion about the City’s liquor laws makes you want to say “Fuck it, let’s get drunk and eat chicken fingers.”  Go ahead, but good luck finding a liquor store.

The good old days

4/9/12 Update:  A new Strib article about Dean Rose’s quest for a new liquor store specifies that the new location lies within only 3.9 acres of contiguous commercial zoning.  Not sure how they’re defining contiguous, then.  Here is a list of commercially-zoned parcels that are contiguous in the sense of sharing borders on the map above labeled “The zoning in question”:

Address Acres
2220 West Broadway 0.82
2508 Queen Ave N 0.12
2229 W Broadway 0.28
2301 24th Ave N 0.1
2221 W Broadway 0.2
2209 W Broadway 0.08
2201 W Broadway 0.2
2341 Penn Ave N 0.1
2125 W Broadway 0.06
2119 W Broadway 0.17
2117 W Broadway 0.08
2101 W Broadway 1.02
2033 W Broadway 0.08
2029 W Broadway 0.13
2027 W Broadway 0.18
2028 W Broadway 0.12
2034 W Broadway 0.11
2038 W Broadway 0.12
2044 W Broadway 0.12
2046 W Broadway 0.13
2050 W Broadway 0.12
2054 W Broadway 0.13
2058 W Broadway 0.12
2064 W Broadway 0.12
2100 W Broadway 0.12
2104 W Broadway 0.38
2118 W Broadway 0.32
2126 W Broadway 0.07
2128 W Broadway 0.13
2400 Penn Ave N 0.09
2406 Penn Ave N 0.07

These parcels total 5.89 acres.

Departing Barmi, next stop San Rafael

Barmi in the 6th century, from Jordi Ballonga's website

For better or for worse, children are the future, and that’s why it’s important to get them started thinking about cities now.  Just like many children are unaware that meat comes from animals, many children are unaware that suburbs come from cities, or that many cities were once suburbs, or of numerous other urban paradoxes that seem to perplex even many adults.

My interest in cities was kindled in my youth by a series of books primarily written by a professor at the University of Barcelona, Xavier Hernandez, and primarily illustrated by Jordi Ballonga, “a specialist in the illustration of urban subjects”.  Barmi and Lebek tell the story of two cities in southern and northern Europe respectively from their founding to the present (well, the late 20th century anyway).  Measuring a good 9″x12″, the books depict every phase in the development of these cities in an amazingly detailed birds-eye perspective splashed over two pages.  You will never see Barmi and Lebek on an e-reader.

A detail of a cathedral in Barmi from Jordi Ballonga's website (alas the book is black and white)

As a child, I spent hours following the two cities on their journeys through time, with each era illustrated in such incredible detail that I seemed to never run out of new unnoticed details.  (Reopening the books many years later, I see that I apparently added my own details in the form of pencil-marked walls or buildings in places.)  Perhaps less linger-worthy but no less fascinating were the pages between the birds-eyes, which gave a narrative history of the era depicted and had detailed cut-away drawings of specific buildings or infrastructure, such as cathedrals, skyscrapers, or subways.

Barmi was the first book I got, and today it is the most yellow, worn and pencil-marked.  Sometime later I got Lebek, but I never was able to find the third book in the series, San Rafael, which tells the story of a fictional city somewhere “in the region that lies south of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and north of Guatemala’s Sierra de las Minas, an area that includes the Mexican state of Chiapas, Guatemala’s central region, southern Belize, and western Honduras.”  Finally I got around to digging in the children’s nonfiction stacks at the Minneapolis Central Library, where San Rafael lay waiting for me after all these years.

Uaxacmal thrives in the 4th century

While the Central American city obviously represents a history far removed from those of the earlier two books, it has the same familiar format, including the gorgeous two-page birds-eyes alternating with narrative history and details of certain buildings.  San Rafael’s story begins in 1000 BC, when a small village of corn farmers cut into the jungle on the banks of a large river, and continues through the late 20th century, by which time the small village has been replaced by a sprawling metropolis centered on a Spanish colonial center and a cultural park of preserved Mayan ruins and ringed by factories, housing projects and slums.

The writing in San Rafael is concise and unadorned enough to avoid overwhelming younger readers, but not too dumbed-down or simplistic for adults (at least this adult) to enjoy.  Hernandez doesn’t shy away from more complex topics such as class conflict or religious persecution, but perhaps could have spent a bit more time on them.  But it’s not surprising that the focus is on the physical characteristics of the city that are so brilliantly depicted by Ballonga (with the assistance of Josep Escofet for this venture).

"The game of pelota has fascinated Central America's diverse peoples for centuries."

The depictions of Mayan life are probably the most interesting parts of the book to me as a result of my unfamiliarity with the topic, and so the lack of a bibliography is probably the most obnoxious intrusion of the characteristics of children’s literature.  Scenes of villagers in the act of constructing the famous pyramidal temples – “Stonemasons squared blocks with hammers fashioned from stone.” – will excite any adult with even a remnant of imagination.  The stimulating scenes continue through the Spanish military colonization and the American corporate colonization – I just can’t emphasize enough what a jewel this book – as well as the previous two – is to anyone with an interest in cities or history or human culture or life itself.

In the course of writing this blog post, I’ve found a fourth book in the series – Umm El Madayan, which apparently depicts a North African city and is not primarily written by Xavier Hernandez or illustrated by Jordi Ballonga.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get to the library to check that book out.  I promise to read it quickly – I don’t want to interfere with any younger readers who may stumble upon it, kindling their imagination and stoking a lifelong love of cities.

Cross-posted to streets.mn

Do Bloomington, don’t mind the Pedestrian Barriers

Bloomington is feeding Boehner ped-bashing fodder

John Boehner’s recent transportation reauthorization bill was quickly shrouded in a toxic vapor of controversy around elements such as eliminating dedicated transit funding, killing experiments in merit-based funding, and (not) paying for all of it with expanded oil drilling.  One of the first explosions of hate against this bill, though, came from its proposed elimination of Transportation Enhancements funding, which united bike/ped advocates with archaeologists and preservationists in a sort of hurricane of people with cool majors.

Transportation Enhancements (TE) has all sorts of cool effects, from bike lanes and crosswalks to billboard removal and railroad museums.  But like any good drug, it can be abused.  So it is with sadness that I must report on the use and abuse of TE funding in Bloomington, where the the funds meant for “Provision of facilities for bicycles and pedestrians” are being used for features labeled as Pedestrian Barriers.

Forced march

The Barriers are part of a project to build an enclosed pedestrian bridge across Killebrew Dr on the southern perimeter of the Mall of America.  $1m of the $3.6m project cost is being funded by federal Transportation Enhancements funds.  The renderings show a classy-looking skyway-like bridge that connects on one side to the new Radisson being constructed on a former mall parking ramp.  Regardless of how you feel about skyways downtown, this mall-oriented neighborhood cut through by massive six-lane divided roads seems like a pretty good spot to spend a big chunk of dough to allow pedestrians to cross over all the at-grade traffic.  Ok, but what if I don’t wanna?

The secret evil hidden in the skyway project is around 1000 feet of concrete walls referred to as Pedestrian Barriers that will close the two existing at-grade crossings of Killebrew and force pedestrians to go out of their way to use the skyway.  This means that the net effect of the project is to decrease mobility – instead of two options for crossing, pedestrians will only have one.  Applying the simple mathematical principle that one is less than two, we find that this project will require most pedestrians to walk further.

It'll never work - where are the pedestrian barriers?

Aw who cares?  No one walks in the suburbs anyway right?  I won’t disagree with you, but I would think that Bloomington would care, considering it’s trying to develop an area around the mall as a neighborhood they call South Loop.  Plans call for the neighborhood to “transform… from suburban to urban” with “mixed land use that supports additional streets to enhance circulation; higher densities of jobs and homes close to four light rail stations; and sustainable development practices that save money and support growth.”  Mostly missing from the copious planning documents for the area are walkability goals or attention to pedestrian travel, although the South Loop’s primary residential development, Bloomington Central Station, places some emphasis on walking.  Still, considering the plan’s frequent use of the word sustainability and desire to become urban or even a “third downtown,” the implication is that people will walk there.

Even Bloomington’s official definition of sustainability avoids mentioning sustainable transportation, but the city is engaged in encouraging “active living choices” for its residents through a Blue Cross Blue Shield-sponsored program called do.town, featured prominently on the municipal website.  Ironically, the do.town page features a quote from Edina Mayor Jim Hovland, who notes that “barriers to healthy living are everywhere.”  I fumbled my way through an attempt to ask do.town staff whether the Public Works dept consults them before erecting Pedestrian Barriers or making other plans that would have an impact on the ability of Bloomingtonians to live actively, but I did get a nice thorough description of the benefits to pedestrians of the skyway project from engineer Julie Long:

Benefits of pedestrian bridge include a reduction in pedestrian exposure to vehicles while providing for uninterrupted flow of pedestrians across the roadway.  Currently about 110 pedestrians cross the six to eight lanes of Killebrew Drive during the Saturday p.m. peak hour.  On numerous weekends, during the holiday shopping season and during special events the Bloomington Police Department staffs the intersection of 20th and 22nd Avenues with Killebrew Drive to ensure that vehicles and pedestrians can move through the area safely.  The Bloomington Comprehensive Plan shows growth in the South Loop District which will correspond to an increase in both motorist and pedestrian traffic.  It is expected that as the traffic grows in the area this would need to be a more frequent occurrence to facilitate safe passage in the area.

Concern also exists with illegal mid block crossings observed because they violate what the motorist is expecting and increase the risk to the pedestrian.  This is especially a concern given many drivers in the area are not as familiar with the road system since they may be from out of town and can be focused on trying to see where to go instead of watching for pedestrians.  Also, motorists using the exit ramps have just left the freeway environment where they were traveling faster and may not have fully adjusted to driving slower and looking for pedestrians.  The pedestrian bridge provides for separation of these conflicting movements.

The project also includes the installation of a pedestrian barricade to help reduce the number of illegal mid block crossings and encourage use of legal crossings at 24th Avenue and the pedestrian bridge.  The pedestrian bridge will be a covered walk way that protects people from the elements.  The bridge will also moderate the temperature outside by approximately 10-20 degrees so that it will be a little warmer in the winter to cross and a little cooler in the summer to cross, but it will not be a fully heated/cooled space like a skyway would be.  The City has also heard from a handicapped user that he believes this facility will help him more safely cross Killebrew since it is fully ADA compliant.  In his wheelchair he is lower than a pedestrian that is standing so sometimes motorists do not see him as he is crossing.  Another component of the project includes additional signage to not only direct pedestrians to the new pedestrian bridge, but also to facilities like the Mall of America Transit Center which is located in the east parking ramp of the mall.

Sure, all of those things are benefits, but the only one contingent on closing the grade crossings is the savings of staff time for traffic control.  I don’t disagree that there are benefits to a skyway for pedestrians in wheelchairs, but most pedestrians will see little or no benefit to crossing above the street, and if instead of building a skyway they had used the $3.6m to make Killebrew more pleasant to cross, many more users would have seen a benefit.  Killebrew Dr is an enormous road with three lanes in each direction and several turn lanes at each intersection, so this project is basically turning a quasi-freeway into a de facto freeway.  But there are also intersections around every 500 feet – comparable to a long block in Minneapolis – so it’s never going to be a “easy” drive.  Despite the extreme congestion described in Julie’s comments, Killebrew only handles around 20k cars a day, but less than half of that continues past the mall.  It seems like $3.6m would have bought a lot of medians to distinguish turn lanes and to refuge pedestrians, as well as contextualizing features (i.e. colored pavement at crosswalks or possibly street parking with bump outs) that would help drivers adjust to the fact that they’re no longer on a freeway.

The pedestrian-removal Transportation Enhancement skyway project is actually Bloomington’s second strike in the area.  Last year the state gave them $15m for Phase 1 of the Lindau Lane Complete Street project.  Sounds nice except Phase 1 is actually the construction of a quasi-freeway of Lindau Lane on the north side of the Mall of America, which means that Phase 2, the version of Lindau Lane to the northeast of the mall, will never work.  Think about it – if a car is going 50 mph west of 24th Ave, how included will bicyclists and pedestrians feel sharing the portion of Lindau east of 24th with that car?  If the eastern portion of Lindau is ever funded it will be a perversion of the concept of complete streets and evidence A for the case that complete streets are greenwashing.

If these megaprojects come through, Bloomington is going to have to build a lot more pedestrian barriers

But Bloomington will have to figure it out sooner or later.  Right now the Mall of America is the only land use intensive enough to generate enough pedestrian traffic to justify spending big bucks to remove them from the roadway.  But Bloomington has big plans to become the third downtown mentioned above, so their pedestrian problem is only going to get worse.  The Senate just passed a transportation bill with Transportation Enhancements intact, giving the program a good chance of survival, but there is only so much money in the pot for pedestrian barriers.  The South Loop is a great candidate for a third downtown – it’s relatively central and has a spectacular location on the bluffs of the Minnesota – but so far Bloomington is headed more for Downtown Disney than any real downtown.

Penn-ed in

How many bikes will Penn collect?

About 65% of Minneapolis residents have lived in their current dwelling for less than 10 years, according to the Census Bureau.  After 30 years, 89% of the city’s dwellings will have exchanged occupants.  Why then, is the design for a facility that will last for at some 60 years determined by the whims of the immediate neighbors?

This is exemplified by the Penn Ave S reconstruction planning process, which may be about to jettison meaningful bike facilities to placate neighbors’ insatiable demand for parking.  Penn is a test for the freshly-pressed Bike Master Plan, which identifies Penn as a collector bikeway south of 54th St (the reconstruction project extends north to 50th).  The plan does not specify the type of facility needed for collectors, but the implication is that it should be something more than a sharrow or signed route, which many cyclists decry as ineffective.

Bike lanes were squeezed onto even the narrow northern segment of Penn in the initial proposals

The first proposals for Penn included options for bike lanes for the entire length of the project.  Apparently due to concerns about parking at business nodes, bike lane options were nixed, and have now been replaced with an option that would build a two-way cycle track along the westerly sidewalk for the entire project length.  When I saw the cross-section, my mind went to the closest thing we have to this cycle track concept – the hated Hennepin-Lyndale Bottleneck side path.  Reuben has compared it to a side path of the type commonly found in suburban areas and suggested that a better alternative might be a combined bike/ped fully separated facility similar to what exists on St Anthony Pkwy east of Ulysses St NE.  In a comment Shaun Murphy seemed to stick to his guns about the appropriateness of the proposed cycle track, but conceded that “proper treatment at intersections” – i.e. “bike stoplights, colored conflict zones, and raised trail crossings” – “are key”.  In the same breath, however, he says that those details won’t be sketched out unless the cycle track option is chosen, and indeed the published layout of the cycle track option does not include any intersection treatments.

The two-way cycle track option

The City is basically telling cycling advocates to trust them on a potentially substandard design or get nothing.  The alternate option includes bike lanes for two blocks between 60th and 62nd, but otherwise would include no more substantial bike facilities than sharrows.  Notably, both exceed Public Works’ typical design disdain for transit – exemplified by their refusal to include bump-outs at bus stops – by actually including one or two bus bays!  (the anti-bike layout includes one that conflicts with the two-block bike lane; the cycle track layout includes two bays)  This from a city that is supposedly trying to encourage transit use.

Detail of Hennepin County's Bike Plan showing facility on Xerxes/York

There is ample reason to include a high-quality bike facility on Penn.  Little ole Penn may seem like a sleepy little street, but it carries a lot of cars – around 8k/day on the north end and up to 15k/day near Hwy 62.  If they ever hope to collect cyclists on this street, they’re going to need to provide some separation.  As you can see from the excerpted Bike Master Plan map above, Penn is also the only real bikeway going north-south in the area until Bryant almost a mile to the east.  To the west lies Edina, which has designated France as a primary cycling route, which means that lanes are recommended.  But France is a county road, and Hennepin County doesn’t include France as a bikeway on its bike plan, instead designating Xerxes.  Unfortunately, even when jurisdictions agree on something it can be hard to get them to do anything about it, so when they disagree there is even less hope.  Minneapolis has no one to argue with on Penn so it should take advantage of that rare situation to get something done.  Moreover, while Richfield has not yet finished its bike plan, it includes Penn as a candidate route and identified Penn as a “Future Bike Trail” on its comprehensive plan (on the other hand, Penn is also a county road in Richfield, and also not on the county’s bike plan).  Depending on the direction their plan takes, Penn seems likely to be recommended for bike lanes, since its four lane configuration is overkill for the level of traffic it actually sees, north of 77th anyway.  Regardless of what type of facility Richfield chooses for Penn, its usefulness will be diminished if Minneapolis doesn’t include anything on its side of the border.

Last Bridge over the Minnehaha - how's that going to work?

Personally I like cycle tracks, although I prefer one-way cycle tracks along the roadway in each direction.  This segment of Penn is a good candidate for a two-way track, though, because of a number of long blocks on the west side.  However, it makes most sense to coordinate with Richfield, and it seems like it would be difficult or at least expensive for them to continue the facility past the intersection with 66th St, at the northwest corner of which is a parking lot that is a decent height over the roadway, held back by a retaining wall (or was, anyway; I haven’t seen it since they built a CVS in that strip mall).  In addition, the bridges over Hwy 62 and Minnehaha Creek could be considered fatal flaws for a cycle track option; since they won’t be reconstructed bike traffic would have to share the sidewalk with pedestrians at that point.

For these reasons, I think that bike lanes are the best option for Penn Ave S.  It stretches credulity to suggest that there is a parking problem along Penn Ave S; even at the business nodes there is tons of space for parking along the intersecting streets.  None of the nodes stretch more than a few buildings in from the intersection, so there is no room for complaining that customers would have to walk any further than they do in a Wal Mart parking lot.  Perhaps somewhere north of the Minnehaha Creek bridge it could transition to a two-way cycle track, although I can’t imagine how that would work.  Regardless, bike lanes are ideal for the majority of the segment because it’s unlikely a comparable facility will be built in this area for quite some time and because it’s unlikely that a two-way cycle track could be extended very far into Richfield.

But it doesn’t matter what I think – Betsy Hodges’ opinion is what really matters here.  Understandably, she will likely base her opinion largely on the attitude of her constituents (see Linden Corner), but bringing it back to paragraph 1, Penn Ave S will still be here after 89% of those constituents have moved away.  That’s why cities create policy documents – it’s an attempt to steer the conversation a little further out than being uncomfortable parking across the street from your house.  Councilmembers are also policymakers, but in Minneapolis they are allowed to cavalierly ignore the policy they just made, which in this case could easily refer to ignoring the Bike Master Plan by rebuilding Penn without bike facilities.

Don’t let Penn become another Nicollet.  Reach out to your councilmember, copy CM Hodges, remind them of the city that exists outside of a narrow parochial strip of Southwest, the city that wrote the Bike Master Plan, the city that bikes, walks, and doesn’t mind parking across the street from their destination, and the city – not to be too grandiose here – remind them of the city of the future.

BURP #4: A People’s BURPium

According to Mayor Rybak, city taxpayers will only be on the hook for upkeep of frothy head, with the Vikings paying for the body of the malt beverage

Tuesday March 13th!

The Republic of Seven Corners

Seven Corners, Minneapolis

BURP has moved to The Republic due to a competing nerdfest at Aster.  If you’ve read The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, by all means go to Aster.  If you’d rather have a heated discussion on the capability of major league stadiums to foster urban development, the topography of parking lots, or the propriety of legislating transit fare increases, please join us at the Republic of Seven Corners.  They also have cheap booze and food.




The old BURP digs are getting a bit threadbare, our lease is running out and we sure could use a few more skyBURPs to throw parties for our playboy buddies.  We’re not saying BURP is going to move to LA, but if you don’t come down to Aster Cafe The Republic of Seven Corners Tuesday evening sometime between 5 and 7, we’re not promising we’ll stay in Minnesota.  Ok, to be honest, where else would we go?  But we’d love to see you there on Tuesday anyway, especially if you are able to use existing sales taxes to pay for our drinks.  We will also accept an expansion of legalized gambling to pay for our drinks, but we’ll kinda sorta feel bad about it.  Skol BURP!

The author of this blog would like to issue an apology for his use of beer mug clip art.

The Beard that won’t quit

Mike Beard's vision for Minnesota

Bible-thumping Mike Beard won’t rest until he’s chased every last Minnesotan off of transit.  You’ll remember the somber mood last summer when his transportation bill basically eliminated transit, proving once again that the Republican leadership doesn’t pay attention to what their committee chairs are doing.  At some point, the suburban contingent of the legislative majority must have explained to their redneck colleagues that middle-class white people take the bus, too, and draconian cuts were avoided.

One piece of last year’s transportation bill (vetoed by Gov Dayton) would have required the Met Council to raise fares by a quarter.  Mike Beard won’t let the extra quarter drop, and has brought it up this year as an independent bill.  I’m not certain if the state has directly specified the amount of transit fares before; I couldn’t find any by searching the historical statutes but certainly the TCRT co’s fares were regulated, although possibly by municipalities rather than the state.  But regardless of whether there’s precedent, a politically-driven fare increase contradicts existing policy, which states that:

Fares and fare collection systems shall be established and administered to accomplish the following purposes: (1) to encourage and increase transit and paratransit ridership with an emphasis on regular ridership

MN statute 473.408 subd. 2A

Although Mike Beard – whose occupation is “Business” – and Senate companion bill author and “Home builder/land developer” Joe Gimse are both clearly transit experts, they may need a refresher course on economics.  Raising the price of a service typically does not encourage people to buy it, and since operating costs for transit do not increase or decrease by the passenger but rather by the vehicle, fare changes don’t have a direct relationship to operating efficiency.  In fact, if a fare increase lowers ridership but not enough to cut frequency, it will worsen Metro Transit’s relatively good farebox recovery rate.  In other words, a 25 cent fare increase will probably make transit less efficient.

So although the bill duplicitously titles the fare hike subdivision a “Farebox recovery adjustment”, the real purpose of the bill is to make transit less competitive.  Unfortunately, if passed, the real effect of the bill would be to increase transportation costs for people in poverty, who are already disadvantaged by the region’s extreme job sprawl.

The bill hasn’t yet received a hearing – it was just introduced this week in both houses.  Hopefully the rational minds that compose our professional legislature will recognize this bill for the destructive politicization of a public utility that it is.  Seems unlikely.  In fact a legislated fare hike is painless stab at transit for suburban Republicans who are ideologically opposed to transit but who have to deal with the inconvenience of constituents who actually use and support it – the fare hike will damage transit overall but will be less hurtful to relatively affluent riders (although the text currently requires a “proportional” increase for express buses, so the hike will likely be more than a quarter for most suburban riders).  We’ll find out on March 12th, when the first hearing in the House is scheduled (the Senate hearing hadn’t been scheduled as of the ranting of this post).

Mike Beard’s persistence in legislating his perverse interpretation of Christian teachings in the form of unrestrained resource extraction and emission of climate-changing gasses has earned him the nickname “Bible-thumping” Mike Beard (by me, anyway).  But his tenacious antipathy for public transit suggests a more fitting alliterative epithet: “Bus-bashing” Mike Beard.  Eh?  Eh?

The Suburban Mind of 1946

While looking for dirt on internment camp builder and tract home kingpin Del Webb, I stumbled on an essay called “The Suburban Mind” from the April 1946 issue of Harper’s.  It was written by a guy named Carl Von Rhode, who besides apparently being an exiled aristocrat from mitteleuropa, has somehow also “lived in the suburban and satellite cities of two of our leading metropolitan American centers.”  Which means he knows what he’s talking about.

Anyway, it amused me to read about the ways surburbia has changed or not in the past 66 years.  Von Rhode describes the Exurban Escapism Paradox:

…every suburb passes in time through three more or less standard cycles – rural, urban, and metropolitan. By the time the urban stage is reached, the best homes have been built-and the churches have gone deeply into debt for imposing community houses. Then comes a decline in property values; while the apartment dwellers are creeping in at the front door the “suburbanites” steal out at the back door. A few home owners remain to fight a losing battle against “encroachment;” but the young people, and those who can sell, retreat to the new “Waverly Hills” farther out.

The jargon is strange, but what he’s basically describing is the frustration of the early adopter, who moved to the edge of town to get away from the city, only to have a new subdivision pop up nearby after a few years.  Many continue to move outward, feeding and being fed by the real estate speculation machinery that has long fueled the American economy.  Those who stay try to control, and that was true then as now:

Building restrictions insure the uniform excellence of the dwellings, generally prohibiting apartments and two-family dwellings, and “undesirables” are often excluded by a common agreement not to sell or lease property to them even if they can afford it.  Though the suburbanite is unalterably opposed to governmental control, there is one kind of legislation he approves of thoroughly – zoning. He invokes every kind of building and housing restriction to maintain the social excellence of his section, and to keep it inviolate.

Suburbia having run quite a bit further down its course in our own time, it seems the barbarians have finally stormed the gates.  As such, images such as this likely strike the modern viewer as quaint:

Not only have the suburbs picked up a bit more diversity in the past 66 years, the train has long ago left the station.  If people use park-and-rides, they’re taking a bus.  But this image also reveals the fact that Von Rhode was talking about a breed of suburb that was about to be killed by highways and mass-produced housing:

The new houses of Suburbia, especially the “additions” built in the nineteen-twenties, exhibit a contemporary version of escapism in architecture, what with the English half-timbered cottage types, the Spanish villas, the Cape Cod salt boxes, and other habitations as remote as possible from our everyday American contemporary life.

You call that a suburb?

Interesting to consider that the suburbia he’s talking about is the same neighborhood that we in Minneapolis now call the city: that vast swath of the southern portion of Minneapolis and the western portion of St Paul that lies between lakes and vales and is dotted with the revivalist mini-castles that were the McMansions of the era.  Being from “our leading metropolitan American centers” the author was more describing railroad suburbs, whereas our provincial equivalent was spread by streetcar.  But both are a bit different from the suburbia of the contemporary mind, which is more the product of mass-production than the escapism that bothers Von Rhode, to the degree that he predicts widespread abandonment of “sense of civic duty”.  Nonetheless, he concludes with 40s optimism:

Americans are sprung from a pioneering stock which has always met the challenge of new frontiers. Our hope for the suburb lies here. When the suburbanite becomes fully aware that he is not “out of things,” as he fondly supposed, but at the center of things, he may rouse himself from his lethargy to play his full role in the development of the stimulating, labyrinthian culture of cities.

66 years on, I’m not sure how many suburbanites have been roused to meet the challenge of the new, old, urban frontier.

No More Stadium Stuff

You shouldn’t be willing to make your opinion public without also being willing to admit you’re wrong every once in a while.  Well, I’m willing to admit I was wrong when I said that I wouldn’t write about the stadium again.  In addition, certain… facts…. came to light this morning that made much of what I wrote yesterday pointless at best and inaccurate at worst.  For starters, a site plan is out:

Very good news for 11th Ave – it seems that the stadium will merely cantilever over the roadway, expelling doomsday scenarios about closure or tunnels.  It may actually be an improvement over today’s 11th Ave, gusty with parking-lot reinforced winds.  We’ll have to wait for something more detailed to be sure, however.

Potential plaza problems remain, although apparently stealing the morgue from Hennepin County is no longer being considered.  The plaza depicted is about the same size as the Morgue Plaza I considered yesterday, but is potentially better enclosed by theoretical buildings.  A new worry, however, is this “Open Space Gameday Tailgating” loaded with so many contradictory purposes that the cartoonist just gave up and colored it green.  There is no way that a space used for tailgating will be in any way green.  Even if they use grow-through pavers, this will still be a parking lot.  Anyone who’s been to the Renaissance Festival knows what I’m talking about – what was a pleasant country meadow becomes a muddy pig sty once it’s filled with cars.  And speaking of, what the hell are those mysterious gray blobs north of the Armory?

They sure aren’t the Star and Tribune Building, which I guess isn’t historic but sure is classy.  If its destruction is inevitable it will be missed by one person at least.

Despite releasing a new summary of financing, no more details have been released, and in fact some have been obscured: parking is not mentioned in this new summary.  The ever-wary newsole has pointed out that the summary from 35W Financial uses both the words “meters” and “stalls”, implying a distinction that can be explained by assuming the latter refers to spaces in parking ramps.  I haven’t seen anything to confirm this, but if it’s true it would render much of what I said yesterday inaccurate.  In the interest of containing further inaccuracy, I’m going to button my lips about this.  Um… thanks for reading?!?!  This is absolutely definitely the last thing I’m going to say about a stadium forever I promise cross my heart.  Probably.