Every street is special

If you want to ride a bike in Downtown, there’s a map for that.  If you want to catch a bus in Downtown, there’s a map for that too.  But what if you’re not sure yet if you want to bus or bike?  Wouldn’t it be useful to compare the streets where specialized facilities are dedicated to these modes (or pretendicated, in the case of Hennepin’s Green Lanes)?

Actually, if that was your goal, you might as well use Hedberg‘s amazingly comprehensive yet readable official Minneapolis Bike Map, which shows transit (although it doesn’t differentiate between Hiawatha, which is mostly separated from traffic, and a bus that runs in mixed traffic).  My goal was more theoretical – I just wanted to see at a glance which streets had been specialized for which modes.  I used Visio to alter a base map created by Public Works that was the most detailed map I could find in black & white.  Color was used to differentiate between the different modes in which the streets specialized, and line thickness was used to show degree of separation from other modes, which in Downtown conveniently corresponds to directionality (i.e. all of the separated facilities are also two-way; the old two-way bike lane on Hennepin would have been more complicated to symbolize).  I also included pedestrian specialization, which I considered to include bikes unless specifically banned (as on the typically deserted Fed plaza) or physically prevented from using the space (mostly because of stairs, like on Chicago’s connection to West River Pkwy).  Because Public Works’ attention is defaulted to car traffic, the base map included freeways in light green – luckily they are another form of specialization, but they don’t conform to my symbology.

Now that I’ve made this map of street specialization in Downtown Minneapolis, here’s some thoughts on the transportation network:

  • Downtown’s defining feature is a grid of around 20 blocks long by 10-15 blocks deep wedged into a triangular area.  Ok, that’s obvious, but you gotta start somewhere.  Also noteworthy is that the grid bends in the center-west and on the south, creating irregularities there, and is frequently interrupted along its periphery.
  • The heaviest activity is in the center of the grid, but there is intense activity throughout, with the only exceptions in an eastern area bounded by 5th & 11th Avenues and 3rd and 6th or 7th Sts, and a western area bounded by I-94, the 4th St viaduct, and I-394.
  • On average, there are ten blocks to a mile, but entry to Downtown is limited to about 12 gateways, mostly evenly distributed (about 3 to a cardinal direction) but not evenly spaced.  These gateways are created by the barrier function of the freeway ring  directly limiting access but also dividing the surrounding city into separate communities defined by freeway boundaries.  The river does something similar.
  • There is more real specialization for bikes than any other mode.  This makes sense, since people seem to like to get their bikes as close to their destination as possible rather than leave them at a central terminal and walk to their destination (people also don’t like to do that with cars, and maybe not with transit either).
  • Transit actually has more specialization than bikes if you count nominal specialization, in the form of bus stops and shelters.  There are a dizzying array of downtown streets with bus lines on them, but they aren’t really specialized because there is no advantage for transit to run there as opposed to anywhere else (a dedicated lane would be an example of an advantage).  The spread of nominally specialized transit streets is a weakness for the network, since transit benefits from clustering onto spines in order to compound frequency and increase system legibility.
  • Another caveat – looking at the map and assuming 6 lanes per freeway, there appears to be more specialized facilities for cars than for bikes.  The majority of the streets on this map also have specialized facilities for pedestrians lining them.
  • There is a huge network gap on the south end of downtown, basically from Hawthorne to Portland between 12th and 15th.  (Technically you could bike on the Loring Greenway but I rarely see that happen, maybe because you have to ride on the sidewalk to get to it.)  Do the conditions that require specialization further north not exist here, or have they just not gotten around to specializing?  The south end of Nicollet is not congested, but the high levels of transit service and use here would likely benefit from a modified transit mall, for example one that would prohibit cars from going through but allow access for parking and drop-off.  The south end of Hennepin, on the other hand, is similar to the Green Lanes segment, and the only rationale for not extending them is to allow unfettered gratification of suburbanites’ desire to drive Downtown.  In other words, Hennepin Ave south of 12th St is duplicated by 394 so there’s no good reason to continue its present prioritization of cars.  Extend the Green Lanes and enforce them.
  • Another gap basically cuts off the North Loop.  Local transit operates well there, with wide stop spacing and few stoplights, but the heavily-used transit service to the northern suburbs would benefit from exclusive lanes – I’ve mentioned before converting one of the viaducts to a two-way transitway and making the other a reversible two-lane highway.  As for bikes, the gap in the 2nd St bike lane can only be attributed to disinterest on the part of Public Works – the two blocks lacking lanes shares the same width as its neighbors with lanes.  The North Loop has actually lost bike lanes lately, as the lanes on one side of 5th Ave were converted to parking.  This neighborhood has obvious problems with street connectivity in this direction, so this lane should be restored and connected to 7th St N, maybe as part of the Interchange project.
  • The third gap is in Elliot Park, where the city is reluctant as usual to remove parking to add bike lanes.  It seems reasonable, though, to add a lane each to 7th and 8th on the stretch east of Portland where demand for turning is low.  I have also called for a transit mall on 8th St – 9th or 10th might work too.

I’d like to pin a tangential coda onto this already long-winded post.  From the above it can be gathered that there is already a great deal of specialization on Downtown streets but I’d like to add even more.  To understand why, I offer the chart below, showing that the population of Downtown as measured by the 2010 census is greater than all but 25 of the Metro’s 90-some municipalities:

Ok, so # 26 wouldn’t seem to be a big deal, except for the fact that at 2.6 sq mi Downtown is a third the size of the next smallest city on the list, Richfield.  In addition, only 5 cities on the list had a similar or higher growth rate to Downtown, which is poised to overtake Brooklyn Center, Andover, Roseville, and Richfield assuming the same growth rate in this decade.  Of course, that won’t happen, but if the first two years of this decade are any indication, it’s certain that Downtown’s growth rate will outpace all but a few of the Metro’s large municipalities.

High population in a small area means density, something that isn’t very common in the Twin Cities.  That means we should expect the transportation system to look different Downtown as well, and a reasonable response is to specialize street space so the different modes can perform their best.  Unsurprisingly I have an idea of what the ideal specialization would look like, and I’ll get around to posting that map sooner or later.

How to be good, if you’re the mayor

A little while ago I accused RT Rybak of being a not-good mayor.  This was done mainly as a way to show how the hundreds of millions Rybak wants to give to the Vikings Corp as locational subsidies could be better spent, but it also stems from noticing that there has basically been no improvement in urban quality-of-life in Minneapolis that did not have a national origin (i.e. crime, biking).

But having recently realized that my blog is exclusively negative, I decided to throw out a few ideas about what Rybak could do if he wanted to be a good mayor.  For the most part, they are not easy.  Rybak would have to show the dogged persistence and willingness to sail against public opinion that has been so evident in his fight to subsidize the Vikings Corp.  Here’s how the Mayor can earn the label of “good,” in order of likelihood that he’ll actually do it:

1.  Support cycling.  Minneapolis brags a lot (at least once a month, it seems) about what a great biking town it is.  But faced with a choice between parking and biking it almost always goes for parking.  Out of the 23 most recent bike projects, only five of them involved significant parking removal, and one of those five was cancelled because of that fact.  This may be due to the fact that it’s relatively easy to add cycle facilities without removing parking, and that explanation is supported by the fact that 10 of the 23 projects involved removing a through lane; for example in a road diet.  But it also suggests that only the low-hanging fruit is being picked at this point, and where the fruit turns out to be higher than expected, like on the stalled* Glenwood project, the City backs off.  A mayor as charismatic and persuasive as Rybak has the potential to change that.

Bill is a talented dioramist

He wouldn’t have to threaten to fire the Director of Public Works or pull veto shenanigans.  If he were to just show up to neighborhood meetings such as those held recently for the Penn Ave S reconstruction in the Mayor’s neighborhood, he could use his political talents to convince neighbors of the advantages of providing basic bike accommodations.  Since as Mayor he has repeatedly stressed that he wants Minneapolis to be a “world-class bicycle city”, I don’t see any conflict of interest in going to neighborhood meetings to work towards that goal.  The fact that he so far has never done so is the only thing that makes me think this item is unlikely; with all the talking Rybak has done about bicycling, you’d think that some day he’ll eventually work towards it.

2.  Green Downtown.  Sure, another small park or two would be nice in what is from 9 to 5 on weekdays by far the densest neighborhood in the city.  But an easier way to green Downtown that would have an even bigger effect would be to simply remove a through lane from all the overbuilt streets.  One lane provides enough room for a row of trees on each side of the street, and you’d be surprised at how many unnecessary lanes are scattered throughout Downtown.  I made a map based on the city’s 2005 Downtown Traffic Flow map, coding in green all 3-lane one-ways with a traffic count of 12,000 or less.  I cut out blocks that according to my experience have high turning volumes, but I may have missed a few due to not knowing by heart the average conditions on every street.  In addition I depicted on the map in yellow the handful of 2-lane two-ways that could be narrowed.  To some degree that’s my subjective judgement, but the narrowing of Chicago Ave in its recent reconstruction indicates it could be done in other places.  Finally, red indicates 4-lane two-ways that could be reduced to three lanes (all are less than 15k AADT and some are far less).

Let me explain what I meant when I said it would be easy to replace lanes with trees.  I know all too well that any reduction in car capacity is controversial, but I also believe that a tree has a bigger constituency than a traffic lane, especially if you can get a traffic engineer to say that the lane isn’t needed.  I feel like even the literally auto-driven Downtown Council would be in favor of a lane-tree swap outside of the Core, because they’re going to have to find some place to fit those 35,000 residents they want to add.  But replacing a lane with trees requires the curbs to be moved, which costs a lot of money.  So step one would just be identifying where the roads are overbuilt enough to lose a lane without disrupting sacred traffic.  I would think that Rybak would be eager to champion a Downtown Green Streets plan, since that would make it look like he’s doing something without actually changing anything and risking angering someone.  Once complete, it would be both backup and a time saver whenever a downtown street came due for reconstruction.

3.  Legalize space utilization.  I was surprised and pleased to read that Rybak in his state of the city speech fessed up to the population stagnancy uncovered by the decennial census.  Hopefully that means he’ll be receptive to the easiest and least disruptive way to add residents to the city: accessory dwelling units (ADUs).  The average household in Minneapolis is just over 2 persons, yet around 22,000 housing units have four or more bedrooms.  There has to be a substantial number of single-family homes that have an extra couple rooms that could be converted into a small separate unit, or garages that could fit a half-story apartment on top.

Minneapolis already allows accessory dwelling units, but confines them to Ventura Village.  I don’t know the history on this, but presumably it was an idea that came out of the neighborhood rather than this area being chosen as a test case, because I would think 10 years would be a long enough test.  I haven’t heard of any ADUs actually being built, and if that means there hasn’t been any, it may be because of the restrictions, such as that the principal structure must be homesteaded and that the ADU be built outside the principal structure.  While the former no doubt makes ADUs more politically palatable for neighbors, the latter actually may be counterproductive.  After all, if you allow the ADU to be built within the principal structure, it’s likely the neighbor won’t even notice a difference, whereas most people notice a half-story being added to a garage.  Unfortunately, regardless of whether or not neighbors notice them, they are likely to be opposed, or at least that seems to have been the case in Vancouver.  Because of the political force of knee-jerk NIMBYism, my guess is Rybak is unlikely to push this one, even though it’s a no-brainer if you look at it dispassionately.  In addition, Rybak doesn’t really have any way to implement it besides cheerleading at the council, so I’d say ADUs are a long shot.

Listen to the people, R.T.

4.  Respect pedestrians.  In 2006, a miracle happened in South Minneapolis.  I don’t know if it was an accident or an experiment, but Hennepin County added zebra crosswalks to the streets crossed by the easternmost phase of the Midtown Greenway.  Then, something even more miraculous happened: many motorists observed Minnesota crosswalk laws at these crossings (tragically, many didn’t at the 28th St crossing).

So respect for pedestrians may be one of the easiest things to accomplish thanks to Minnesotans’ already sheep-like driving.  A study in Miami Beach found that all it takes is enforcement to get drivers to obey crosswalk laws.  Traditionally in Minneapolis the Mayor has had the most control over the police department, so why shouldn’t Rybak lean on Dolan to do some crosswalk enforcement, including ticketing for stopping past the stop line and blocking intersections?  Well, because no one really cares about pedestrians.  The mayor seems to feel that promoting (but not really supporting, see above) biking satisfies his transportation alternatives cred.  Meanwhile, we already get ped-friendly awards by just not being as terrible as the rest of the cities in the sprawling country.  So this easy step is not likely to be taken and Minneapolis will continue to be relatively walkable in terms of density but rather unwalkable in terms of conditions on the street.

You might be able to tell that this list is just a bunch of stuff that’s been floating around in my head, hammered into a frame about what R.T. Rybak could do to meet my standards of goodness.  Franky, I have no idea how likely he is to do any of these things; after 10 years of semi-activism and obsessive attention to local government, I can’t really tell how much of his rhetoric is just politics in a pervasively but vaguely left wing city and how much he really cares about causes like cycling, sustainability and Trampled by Turtles.

I do know that if he actually showed up to meetings to advocate bike lanes, more lanes would get striped.  If he pushed a study of which streets could trade a lane for trees, Public Works would find the dough for it and the first step would be taken towards a greener downtown.  If he browbeat some councilor into introducing an accessory dwelling unit ordinance, currently wasted space could be used to grow the city.  And if he got the cops to enforce crosswalk laws, people mind find it less stressful and more convenient to walk, and do more of it.  So hopefully this post comes across less as a wish list, and more as a to-do list for a progressive city.



*It may not be stalled – the project page claims it will be built in 2012 – but if not, it is eviscerated, downgraded to sharrows for about a quarter of its length.

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

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.

Biggest suburb or baby brother?


I often joke about how St Paul is a suburb of Minneapolis, but it’s always been in jest, a gentle sibling ribbing.

That was until I took a bike ride on Wheelock Pkwy last weekend.  This road, marked as an on-street bikeway on St Paul’s official Bike Map, doesn’t have a single bike facility.  Not a lane, not a sharrow, no little bike symbols painted on the pavement, just a few faded signs every mile or so proclaiming it a “Bike Route.”

Wheelock Parkway seems to have been built around 1920 (it appeared on a Hudson map from 1922, but not on a Blue Book map from 1920) as one of the inter-war period’s recreational driving parkways.  If there were park facilities along the road at one point, they’re gone now, although a long segment of the road follows a wooded bluff, making it feel sorta park-y.  Wheelock is built for driving, and although maybe drivers were able to keep their speed down in the 20s, when they were still afraid of driving so fast their faces would peel off, no such fear lightens the feet of today’s motorists, who speed down Wheelock with only rare stop signs to slow them.  If you’d prefer to traverse this parkway at a leisurely pedestrian pace, then tough crackers, Mrs. Grundy, because the so-called parkway is even missing sidewalks for most of its length.

Wheelock proves the old joke about parking on a driveway and driving on a parkway – there is no parking allowed anywhere on it, and although the roadway is narrow – 30-35′ at various points – my guess is there would be room for 5′ lanes along the entire route.  But why settle for on-street facilities?  Apparently to justify calling a parkway, Wheelock has exceptionally wide setbacks for most of its route – the ROW varies between 120′ and 130′, which means there’s a 40′-50′ strip of public land on both sides of the street that could be used for a two-way path or a pair of one-way cycle tracks on either side.

Drag your bike up here

But a few bad eggs don’t make the St Paul omelet, and there’s some really nice biking in our neighbor to the east.  In fact, two trails cross Wheelock Parkway, and by “cross” I mean it’s difficult or impossible to get to them from Wheelock.  At the Gateway Trail, which may be the premier non-river East Metro trail, someone was kind enough to build a wooden staircase from Wheelock to the above-grade trail.  A nice gesture, maybe, although a strange choice considering this segment of Wheelock doesn’t have a sidewalk.  Kitty corner to the staircase for no one is a strange stub extending down from the trail towards Wheelock but terminating mysteriously before reaching the Parkway pavement in a kind of overlook, as though anyone would want to sit there and enjoy the view of nothing.  But at least there is an indication that the North End‘s only east-west “bike route” is intersecting with the Gateway Trail.  The Trout Brook Trail passes under Wheelock with nary a whiff of spray paint pointing to it.  Granted, it’s at the bottom of an impressive gorge that Wheelock overpasses, and the Trout Brook Trail is just a short segment so far.  But as St Paul grows up into an adult biking city, it’ll have to figure out how to make the connections between bike facilities intuitive.

Can't you think of a better place to nap?

Luckily, St Paul is growing up, and it’s working on a Bike Master Plan that vaguely promises some kind of real improvements, and we’ll find out what exactly sometime around New Year’s.  Presumably there will be recommended connections of their existing randomly-strewn network, maybe an instruction to city employees to avoid parking in bike lanes, and – dare we hope – proposals for actual bike facilities on existing designated bike routes like Wheelock.

The cool thing about St Paul is it’s actually not bad biking most places in the town already.  The car traffic is light compared to Minneapolis, and most roads are 3 lanes, tops.  I was cruising around downtown on Sunday with no problems.  One downside – they have these things called hills that are kind of annoying, but they can be fun, too.

So I guess I have to hesitate to apply the epithet of suburb to St Paul.  And maybe St Paul is less of a baby brother, and more of a weird, reclusive older brother that you have drag into the latest fashions.

“Nice Ride Bro!”

Nice Ride and anthropomorphic fruit

…the guy on the Nice Ride bike yelled at me as he rode past me walking down the sidewalk near my apartment.  I only had a split second to wonder if the guy was bragging or just proud that his city had the organizing power and progressive spirit to pull together a system that’s simultaneously environmentally friendly, egalitarian and fun before the guy emitted a follow-up yell, “Your shirt!”  Oh yeah – there was a nice girl who works for Nice Ride on the sidewalk with a prize wheel a few weeks before, and I’d spun a shirt – which, being comfortable and stylish, quickly became a favorite of mine.

Funny thing is, this was the second time that day someone had yelled “Nice Ride!” at me – the first was from the lips of a shirtless young cyclist behind me as I prepared to curse the old fat man who was driving through in Hennepin’s green lane, until he came across a bus at a stop and decided to hold up the cyclists who were legally riding in the lane so he could pass the bus.  In fact – and I’ve heard this from other regular Nice Riders – it’s not uncommon for people to yell “Nice Ride” as you cruise by on those green flashing cushiony bikes.  People really seem psyched about the Nice Ride.

I gotta admit, though, that I’m getting a little less psyched.  Yesterday was also the second time I’ve arrived at a station to discover an empty corral, which in this sprawling city means a 5-10 minute walk to the next station, and further on the Northside or in St Paul.  Last summer I also rode Nice Ride regularly, and never had a problem.  Maybe it was just bad luck, or maybe the Nice Ride is surging in popularity or maybe – and I think this is most likely – they’re just expanding a bit beyond their capacity lately.

It looks like more bikes are on the way, but it would have been wise to wait until they were here before adding all these new stations.  Based on the numbers from Nice Ride, the original 65 stations were stocked with 700 bikes.  With the stations added this week, there are 95 stations stocked by 800 bikes (apparently only one bike was lost last year, so I’m assuming few were lost this year), 30% fewer bikes per station.  When the 500 new bikes come in and the 2011 expansion is finished, the ratio will be much closer to the opening, with 116 stations stocked by 1200 bikes.  At that point I’ll be more likely to shout “Nice Ride” back to the bros.

Coming soon to a sidewalk near you



Bridge to Pedestrian Paradise

I was sucked in by the first sentence of a recent Travel & Leisure article:

Stroll the 1.3-mile Hudson River Walkway in Poughkeepsie, NY—taking in the exhilarating view of water, treetops, and sky—and you could almost forget that we live in a world designed for the automobile. Here, the environment belongs not to those who roar by at 70 mph, but to pedestrians like you.

Making a spectacle of himself again

The article is called The World’s Most Spectacular Pedestrian Bridges, and features a lot of bridges in remote mountaintop locations most likely to be crossed by Indiana Jones.  But there are a lot of urban bridges as well, including many of the new breed of postmodern pedestrian bridge like those designed by Calatrava (whose Puente de la Mujer in Buenos Aires made the list).

Minneapolis has some great pedestrian bridges, but I’m not sure any deserve to be called the Most Spectacular in the World.  The Stone Arch Bridge has a spectacular location and a unique one, overlooking the only waterfall on the Mississippi – it coulda been a contender.  The Sabo Bridge is nice, but its design is unexceptional and location more smogtacular than spectacular.  The latter also applies to the Ashbery Bridge, which has an interesting if not exactly beautiful design, but is hampered by its location atop a freeway.  (I’ll take this opportunity to opine that if Minneapolis ever wants to be considered a world-class city, it’s going to have to build a deck over the roadway there and connect Loring Park to the sculpture garden.)  Any spectacular Minneapolis pedestrian bridges I’m forgetting?

Don’t mention those ped bridges over Washington Avenue Mall SE between Coffman and the (other) Mall.  The article mentions the BP bridge, which is similar in appearance to those bridges and also similarly un-spectacular.  I love Millennium Park in Chicago, and the Pritzker Pavilion is great, so if anything the BP bridge has a location advantage.  But what’s so brilliant about curving a bridge and covering it with shiny material?  The only purpose served is to reference nearby Frank Gehry works.   The curving form actually inhibits mobility – very slightly in the case of the U bridges, but pretty significantly on the BP bridge.  And again, the BP bridge’s spectacularity is smoked out by the freeway it passes over.  Maybe this is just Midwestern rivalry talking, but I think including the BP bridge made an otherwise spectacular article less spectacular.

Bridges of a feather

How do I map thee?

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the outstanding new online Minneapolis Bike Map, which I adore but, due to an emotional defect, could only find unpleasant things to write about.  The father of this map, Nat Case, map scientist of Castle Hedberg, wrote in to encourage me to check out the paper version.  Considering the fact that they designed the map for paper, it is only fair to check it out, but I’ll put my habit of being unfair aside and actually follow his suggestion.

Right off the bat, I need to clear the air.  In the last post, I failed to credit good Sir Case for the innovation of mapping bike lanes on the actual side of the street they are striped on – which a) is an indication of the unsafe practice of left-side striping, b) allows the portrayal of contraflow lanes and c) gives a quick indication of whether a street is a one-way, which tends to be unpleasant to ride on.  So kudos to you, Nat Case, for creating a technique that will soon be as ubiquitous as velcro, but for bike maps.

The paper map is really big – and really great.  The white streets are much less overwhelming at this size (maybe I just need a bigger computer monitor).  The differentiation between “local streets” (darker) and “busier streets” (lighter) is a lot more apparent on paper than online, and it sure is a useful distinction.  I like that the streets where “bicycles [are] prohibited or strongly discouraged” are so dark that they blend into the background – they are, after all, contrary to the spirit of multimodalism that infuses this map.

My main criticism of the online map – that symbolizing on-street lanes with dotted lines made them seem impermanent, especially since many of them are in fact not yet in existence – is still present in this map.  Actually, the large format of the paper map seems to make off-street paths more obvious, reinforcing my belief that they both could have been symbolized with solid lines, leaving dotted lines to symbolize planned bike lanes and paths.  If it still would have been too hard to tell the difference, how about making them different shades of red?

But overall, the new map is really good.  A beautiful, suitably Minnesotan subdued color palette, chock full of bikey info, and maybe best of all: loaded with lanes, paths and other bike facilities.  We really are lucky to live in what is (or will be) one of the nation’s best biking cities.

Is it a sidewalk or a bike path?  It’s Twins Way!

One more piece of unfinished business from that post a few weeks ago – Twins Way, the sidewalk that Hedberg was compelled to mark as an off-street path.  If only someone was similarly compelled to mark the actual Twins Way.  Instead the cyclist who hangs a left upon exiting the Cedar Lake Trail will find no indication that they are on a bicycle facility.

But what a sidewalk!  I’d guess it is 15-20 feet wide, since it appears about as wide as the asphalt next to it.  But a bike path?  Who knows?  It seems more logical to conclude that the sidewalk is wider than usual because there isn’t a sidewalk on the other side.  The path isn’t particularly suited for bikes – there are beg buttons at the intersections, and at least one is very difficult for cyclists to reach.

I don’t get hung up on strict mode separation, but this design seems ill-suited to a city where the only police interaction with cyclists is to ticket them.  It’s unclear whether this stretch is in a business district, but riding on the sidewalk isn’t a good idea anywhere.  It seems like a waste to tear up brand new concrete, but some kind of marking should be added.  I’d suggest the following sign:

Twins Way would have been a good candidate for a woonerf.  It has low auto traffic, except for around gametime, when the traffic-calming qualities of a woonerf would have been ideal.  The intersection around the could have been asphalt, and the rest of the road a wide expanse of brick pavers.  I’ll be sure to suggest that next time they build a stadium.

2 items about bikes

Like most people, I love to ride bikes.  But there are lots of great local cycle blogs, and frankly it’s a mode that I’m less interested in intellectually, so I don’t do a lot of posts on bikes.  A couple things came to my attention recently, though, that I’m going to spend some finger energy on (that sounds kinda gross).

Zombie cyclists from hell spreading love

I used to go to the Whittier Alliance’s Community Issues Committee every month, and just about every month I was entertained by the nonsensical, self-serving, antifactual opinions of some yokel.  To be sure, there were a lot of clever and astute opinions shared as well, but they were less entertaining than the crazy ones.  I remember one occasion when the Midtown Greenway Coalition presented on their search for potential park sites along the greenway, where access points to the path would be combined with community gathering spaces – the idea was to improve greenway safety by getting more eyes down there while getting neighborhood buy-in through the green space.  The Whittierites hated it.  The general opinion was that a neighborhood approached from below was repugnant to decent sensibilities, and sure to result in situations similar to zombies rising from graves in search of brains.

Now there’s evidence that their argument was not only inane, it was thoroughly backwards.  Human Transit today expands on research finding that people traveling upwards tend to be more giving, and speculates that people prefer going up to going down.  I’ll see his speculation and raise him one conjecture:  I’ve noticed that many of the cycletrons zooming around town also seem to be fairly patriotic about Minneapolis (or maybe just a part of town called Mpls).  Is this because the first thing they see after emerging from their subterranean speedway is through benevolent eyes, thanks to the “up escalator” effect?

How to get a Hedberg in cycling

One of my favorite things about Minneapolis is Hedberg Maps – surely the Consumer Mapping Champion of the World, if there were some island where the world’s consumer mapping companies were stranded and forced to fight using randomly-strewn rusty auto parts.  Hedberg is the master of cramming tons of info into a map using a clever palette that leaves it clean and appealing but informative.  They are also noteworthy for producing thematic maps on topics so obscure they could only be of interest to a handful of fanatics, for example interstate highway numbering, Santa Claus and the Wisconsin Dells.  Hedberg is located in the labyrinthine, art-riddled Northrup King building, and are very friendly – I recommend stopping by after you finish your dog at Uncle Franky’s.

Anyway, fresh off the completion of their Twin Cities Dog Lovers map, Hedberg banged out Minneapolis’ new bike map, which has a helpful zoom-able online iteration.  Despite not having seen a paper copy, I have a few comments on the map.

  • This one seems less up to Hedberg’s aesthetic snuff – giving width to every street in the city (as opposed to depicting them as lines) makes for a pretty overwhelming map.  They maybe should have minimized the many streets that don’t have features.
  • The advantage to giving streets width on a bike map is that you can show which side of the street the lane(s) are on.  So why do they bother to symbolize on-street lanes differently from off-street shoulders?  Wouldn’t most readers figure out that the off-street facilities are the ones without streets attached to them?
  • Compounding this last problem, many facilities depicted on the map do not yet exist.  They are distinguished by adding the year 2011 in red on some part of the segment-to-be.  There are two problems with this approach:
    • The reader is not sure which part of the segment has not been striped, especially because dotted lines are often used to show planned features.
    • Minneapolis is not known for its punctuality in striping bike lanes (I have an email from Shaun Murphy claiming the 1st-Blaisdell lanes would be striped in 2010).

      Twins Way or just a highway?

  • There is really an awesome amount of detail here.  I especially like the inclusion of Hi-Frequency Bus Routes. Not sure about the inclusion of the Nice Ride stations though – these tend to move around a bit, and supposedly there will be a bunch added this year, making the map obsolete.
  • I found one error:  They striped an off-street trail on the west side of Twins Way.  If there is meant to be such a facility there, I’m pretty sure it’s not indicated with signs or pavement changes.  There is an extra wide sidewalk of stamped concrete but nothing separating modes or even indicating that you can bike there (is a parking ramp a business district?).

Considering Minneapolis Bike Program’s Government 2.0 attitude, I’d guess they gave us a chance to comment on the map and I missed it.  And even though I just found 5 things wrong with it, I actually like the map, particularly the detail and the zoomability.  I’ll keep dreaming of the perfect map, but in the mean time I’ll actually be using this one.




A Bridge Too Many

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

Cedar Ave S Bridge

Blobs to be?

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

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

Van White Boulevard

A new place to slither

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

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

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