Of Lakes and Politics

Forget the state seal. For as long as white people have been discovering this place, like rabbits from hats, Minnesota's predominant metaphor has been pulling things from lakes. Never mind that many (most?) fish are stocked by the DNR. Never mind the collapsed fisheries or the invasive carp. It's how we like to think of ourselves, earning our natural bounty.

And dating back well into the dawn of the 20th century, you have the politician and the fish. This is the magic of Minnesota, repeated time and again, an annual magic ritual, a tale told at bedtime and election season and in the too-chilly spring.

[More here]

The image evolves into a presentation, a self-portrait on display. This becomes not only our story, but the story of others, and the relationship evolves through ages, growing older and refreshing itself uneasily, copied again and again until it fades away.

And that's how it stayed, the world of lakes and politics. Many years went by, and people were content.

And then Gravel came along...

You can never fish in the same lake twice. Water flows. Rivers and lakes are all part of an infinite cycling web, connecting every drop of rain to even the deepest ocean.

Gravels' pebbled gauntlet rested uneasily in Minnesota's watery heart. The rock, the splash a question rippling out to lap and nag. A forgotten memory haunting dreams like small waves on the shore. The rock sank exactly like a helium balloon does not, and doomed the fishing politician to sleepless ennui.

And there was an uneasy silence for many years. Until the 2013 Minneapolis Mayoral election, when one man realized there was one way to find out. Jeffrey Wagner pulled himself out of the lake.

Now there is a new idiom. In Minnesota, we pull ourselves from the lake. We are the fish we've been waiting for.


Signs of the Times #93

This Building
Has Alarm System on
For Info Needed Contact

[Door. Willernie.]


[Stop sign. Location forgotten.]


[Parking lot. Willernie.]


[Wall. Location forgotten.]


[Sent in by a reader.]

Several keys black caribiner
S.A. card, can describe the rest
PLEASE call/txt if found.
Reward for safe return!

[Fence. Lyndale/Hennepin Bottleneck, Minneapolis.]


[Window. University Avenue, Saint Paul.]


[Tent. North End, Saint Paul.]

Twin City Message Boards #9


 [Milwaukee, WI.]

 [Milwaukee, MN.]

 [Scandia, MN.]

 [Might be Finlayson, MN.]
 [Somewhere in Wisconsin.]


[Stockholm, Sweden.]


Reading the Highland Villager #113

[A Villager escapes its confines in Lowertown; h/t to Andy for the pic!]
[Basically the problem is that the best source of Saint Paul streets & sidewalks news is the Highland Villager, a very fine and historical newspaper. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. You basically have to live in or frequent Saint Paul to read it. That's why I'm reading the Highland Villager. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free.]

Headline: St. Paul delays its rollout of wheeled recycling containers; Alley and organic pickups also put off as city rethinks Eureka contract
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: You still have to put your recycling in blue bins and paper bags. There's some sort of fight simmering between the recycling non-profit and the mayor's office. [Sounds stinky.] The city has "zero waste" goals, but the issue is money.

Headline: HDC seeks Sibley Plaza review before Shepard-Davern vote
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city is doing a plan for the [horribly car-dependent and unsafe] West area of West 7th street, but the plan might be delayed because the guy who owns the strip mall doesn't want to be re-zoned to "traditional neighborhood" zoning [which would frown on big parking lot moats and drive thrus].

Headline: Promise of transit in Riverview Corridor discussed by county at meeting on Sept. 9 [The ephemeral nature of this headline is unparalleled.]
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There will be a meting to talk about a meeting for possible options for transit [that may or may not get built] along West 7th Street. "There's a whole lot of things going on, and we need to understand how various studies impact each other," is the quote from one person.

Headline: Committee supports storage biz at old Schmidt warehouse
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A Planning Commission committee approved plans to turn a building by the Schmidt brewery [now apartments] into a self-storage warehouse. The local neighborhood group does not like the idea, and would rather see retail. [The plans passed the full commission on a 9-8 vote.]

Headline: Plan to convert former CVA building into hotel gains ground
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A large fancy building on Summit Avenue that used to be offices for an arts college may become a "boutique hotel," with kitchenettes.

Headline: St. Paul takes steps to keep cheap cigars out of youths' hands
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Stores cannot sell cheap cigars individually any more. [Note: pretty much only people of color smoke these.] Best quote is "You can buy three cigarillos for less than the cost of a bottle of Mountain Dew."

Headline: Council adopts two ordinances that address the downside of teardowns; Planning Commission zoning study of issue is set to begin this fall
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: People are buying smaller houses in nice neighborhoods and then replacing them with new larger houses. Neighbors don't like it at all, particularly the "noise, debris, and other disruptions." The city is looking at doing something about it eventually.

Headline: Commission OKs permit for new homeless shelter downtown
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Dorothy Day homeless shelter will expand in downtown Saint Paul, replacing an old labor union office. [Amazingly] "No one appeared at an August public hearing to oppose the permit." [That's pretty amazing.]

Headline: Committee favors plan to rebuild on site of St. Mary's Home
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: An old Catholic nunnery is going to be a new home for old people with memory problems. "Parking was the biggest concern for neighbors who attended the HDC [neighborhood group] meeting."

Headline: City promises more restrictions on use of streets for runs, walks; Fees for such events are likely to rise in St. Paul
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: [The scourge of] using streets for anything other than driving may become more expensive. Interesting detail: "they are required to provide access lanes on any closed streets in areas where there are no alleys." [That seems difficult.] Note: Minneapolis charges far more than Saint Paul for these kinds of events. [Or at least, is used to.] Best quote: "we get cowbells and bull horns in front of our homes at 7 a.m. on a Saturday." [Note: many of these events sound pretty lame, such as the Team Ortho run, and the Women Rock event.]


Half-Ass Bike Prize #1: Bryant Avenue Bike Boulevard

[Picture if you will...]
Of all the prizes given out on this blog, the Half-Ass Bike Prize for Design Mediocrity (HABPDM) is the most coveted.* All across the Twin Cities metro, bike planners and Public Works departments strive to win this award. Competition is fierce.

Especially this time of year, with the (very silly) Bicycling Magazine rankings threaten to give American cities overly-large levels of confidence, we must be extra vigilant in calling out the mediocrity in our midst. And even in an ostensibly decent bicycling city like Minneapolis, there is plenty to go around.

What is the HABPDM?

The Half-Ass Bike Prize for Design Mediocrity is a bi-annual award given to bike infrastructure that phones it in. As I described in the inaugural post:
A plan is made. It's probably a decent plan, something about bike lanes or bicycle boulevards or a new extension to a bike path or even (god forbid) an unprecedented protected bike lane.

[Next] there are meetings. At these meetings, it seems like everyone complains. We can't do this! It's impossible, too much traffic. But parking! Everyone begins their sentence with "Don't get me wrong..." or "I love riding my bicycle, but..." or "Some of my best friends ride bikes..."

Next the plan gets watered down. Many important design elements become victims of compromise. This happens quietly, in small rooms or on phone calls. Sometimes political leaders inform city staff what is possible; sometimes it's the other way around.

Finally, the plan is passed and (much later) the "something for bikes" is built. Often it is half-ass, which is a metaphorical term that refers to when you don't pull your pants all the way up. You've still got the "pants on," so you can't be accused of not making an effort. But your ass is showing...

Basically, this coveted award is given out when an infrastructure is a good idea in theory, but fails in practice. This award for the gap between planning and implementation, concept and execution. This is an award for the compromisers, the slightly-below-average, the defeated shrugs that say "well we did our best" and "at least we're not as bad as Texas."

The Bryant Bike Boulevard

[Extra large sharrow!]
A few months ago, I was talking to an architect friend who lives right at Bryant and the Midtown Greenway (the ostensible hotspot of Uptown bike traffic).

Here's what he said about the Bryant Bike Boulevard:
At certain times it reaches a critical mass where there are so many bikes on the road that cars just have to yield. They either have to yield or turn onto a different street…
They were trying to add some roundabouts during the fight to make it happen. What that would do too is that, one reason bikers don’t like to use Bryant is that you have to stop every block or every two blocks. If we could get some roundabouts in there, everybody would be yielding and moving through and you wouldn’t have to stop.

In other words, sometimes when the sun is shining brightly and the stars are aligned,*** the Bryant Bike Boulevard actually functions as it is supposed to.

That's a sad commentary on the fact that, all of the other times of the day and calendar year, the Bryant Bike Boulevard fails to do what a bike boulevard is supposed to do: calm traffic to the point where bicyclists have priority on the street.

One of the reasons why bike boulevards are a tricky concept is that there isn't one standard design approach. The success of a bike boulevard depends on its context. That means that they can either be done well or poorly.

When they're done well, traffic calming and other mechanisms slow down or divert car traffic to the point where it becomes almost inconsequential. Done well, bicyclists can ride two- or three- abreast in comfort, without fear of being passed from behind by an aggressive driver. (Picture a parent and young children; isn't that nice?)

Well, unlike some of the well-executed bike boulevards in Minneapolis**, the Bryant Avenue boulevard remains a through street for cars. It's a real tragedy, because (as my architect friend says above) there is such a density of bike traffic in the area. It wouldn't take very much at all for this street to be "fixed." In a few weeks, the city could add a diverter median at Lake Street, or roundabouts at 29th or 27th Streets. That would be transformative.

Until then, however, this is easily the most half-assed bike bouelvard in Minneapolis. And that's why the Bryant Avenue Bike Boulevard should be proud to be the first official (non-emeritus) winner of the HABPDM.

Congratulations! May you someday pull your pants up.****
[Green infrastructure is not the same as green paint.]

[A typical Bryant Avenue experience is just like any other street in the city.]

* There are no other prizes given out on this blog.
** Don't even get me started on the theoretical bike boulevards in Saint Paul...
*** Note the impossibility.
**** The traditional HABPDM salutation.