TCSidewalks Live: Noteworthy Taxidermy of Minneapolis Bike Tour

[This moose is plastic, and does not count. We won't go see it.]
I have mixed feelings about taxidermy, and probably you do too. After all, it's a dead animal on the wall.

But when it comes to kitschy decor bespeaking "authenticity" real or imagined, there's nothing like some taxidermy. I've always been curious about its origins, and lest ye forget, Minnesota is something of an epicenter of hunting and fishing cultures.

(The lion-killing Eden Prairie dentist is only the beginning.)

So hunting is a thing. I'm not necessarily against it, though I've never personally partaken. And if you're going to do it, at least you can put some thought into displaying the animal you shot in a public place and putting it on the wall, I guess. Or on a pedestal. Or mounted around a weirdly shaped piece of wood.

I'm doing a little research, poking around, talking to taxidermically endowed proprietors, talking to folks at the Bell Museum (the regional epicenter of the taxidermic arts), and am going to share with you some of the range of taxidermy that can be found in the cozy confines of Minneapolis.

[We won't be seeing these wolves either!]

What: A tour of places in Minneapolis with taxidermy on the wall
Where: Start at the alley behind One on One Bike Shop
When: Friday October 16th at 6:30 until done
Why: Why not?
How: By bicycle, at a leisurely pace.

The trip should be about 6 miles by bicycle, beginning in the alley and ending at the third stop. All stops are bars or taprooms, and we will be spending about a half hour at each place admiring the variety of stuffed and mounted fauna in our local alcoholic ecosystem. You're welcome to come for all or part.

See you then!

[See other past tours.]

[See google version of this map.]

Misleading Misdirection from David Glass on Bike Lanes

[The Glass campaign earlier this summer.]
A joke for you.

A biker walks into a bar. He sits down and orders a beer, and then is yelled at because a City Council candidate was trolling neighbors about the "loss" of barely used parking spaces to increase safety for people riding bicycles.

OK, it's not funny, but it's what happens when David Glass is campaigning to stop bike lanes in Saint Paul.

At the time, his campaign manager was going up and down Front Avenue handing out fliers to neighbors trolling anti-bicycling sentiment, and had composed a statement about how "Imposing a suburban solution [sic] for a core city neighborhood that has had a presence of residents and businesses for the past two centuries is not well thought out [and] Front Avenue is not wide enough for bike lanes."

[Read the rest here.]

Well, it turns out that David Glass, proud owner of a giant settlement from the city when it ended the lease on his sub-par restaurant, proud recipient of 10 speeding tickets, has now released literature that proclaims him a Saint Paul bicycling supporter.

Here's a copy and a transcript:
As biking continues to be more popular, we need to plan ways to safely integrate biking into our traffic patterns. I'm a biker. Just to be clear, I support safe bike lanes. My wife, Pam and I were one of the major sponsors for the Saint Paul Bike Classic for 19 years. Another avid biker, former Minnesota State Senator Ellen Anderson knows good decision-making involves community dialogue.

A cookie cutter approach for bike lanes doesn't work. For example, we need to carefully consider safety on busy streets like Dale, Front and Rice streets.

Seattle is one of many cities shifting away from earlier thinking of applying pavement icons and bike lanes on busy streets to providing separated bike lanes as well as a network of calm back street routes. A back street can even be [obscured] with less stops, bikes can ride in the middle of the lane, there is more visibility and better reaction time.

Listening to each other, having better dialogue with our neighbors and [obscured].

The Saint Paul Bike Plan calls for a system of on-street bike lanes in addition to a network of off-street bicycle boulevards. You need to have both kinds of infrastructure to appeal to the wide variety of bicyclists that are out there. Bicyclists who want to move more quickly or patronize commercial areas need to be able to ride on main arterial roads. Bicyclists who want a calm, low-speed, low-stress experience will opt for bicycle bouelvards like the kinds that Glass alludes to. Boulevards, protected lanes, and on-street lanes work together, and support each other.

Glass's misleading flier is like when PRT advocates (a.k.a. "pod people") derail bona fide transit investments by blowing smoke about futuristic pipe dreams. And Glass's message epitomizes an increasingly prevalent pattern in Saint Paul of opposing safety improvements for safety reasons. For example, when people say that narrower travel lanes are more dangerous, it means they completely misunderstand the paradox of risk, and the role that speed plays in safe neighborhoods.

David Glass has become Saint Paul's answer to Rob Ford at this point. If he's elected, you can count more anti-bike mobs, more trolling for parking barking, and the inevitable unstriping of any progress bicyclists have made in the past few years.


Public Character #6: Chester, who rode his bike, wore a tophat, drew cartoons, played the accordion, and lived under a bridge

The social structure of sidewalk life hangs partly on what can be called self-appointed public characters. A public character is anyone who is in frequent contact with a wide circle of people and who is sufficiently interested to make himself a public character. A public character need have no special talents or wisdom to full his function --although he often does. He just needs to be present, and there need to be enough of his counterparts. His main qualification is that he is public, that he talks to lots of different people.

[Jane Jacobs, "The Uses of Sidewalks: Contact]

[Chester playing music on the Washington Avenue bridge.]
Some years ago I was at the old Bedlam Theater on the Minneapolis' West Bank one evening. The Dreamland Places, one of my favorite bands, were playing one of their then-weekly Wednesday night sets, 20s and 30s cabaret vaudeville songs with an ever-changing cast of musicians.  It was one of the nights when the place was really filling up, and some friends and I had arrived early and grabbed a booth, sipping on wine, music, and pierogis.

I miss those days, the more so because of the cast of characters who were always buzzing around the place. The West Bank is Ground Zero for public characters in Minneapolis: the flower guy, Spider John, the folks who shuffle between Hard Times and Palmers, and the list goes on.

At some point Chester, a scruffy ubiquitous man in a top hat, sat down in the free chair at our booth. Nobody minded. In fact, we took it as a compliment. I'd seen him around in his threadbare suit hiding obvious health problems, and knew he was a sometime musician and not much else. Before too long, he took out a piece of paper, traded his unlit crumpled cigarette for a pencil, and began drawing something.

The music filled the room and eventually I turned to him and asked him, "Hey what are you drawing? Can I see?"

He turned over the paper and, it was like the scene in The Big Lebowski where Jeffrey scribbles on the notepad to find the hidden message. It was a picture of my friends sitting next to me above a banner that stated "Fuck You, You Baby Fucking Bastards."

It was wonderful.

When discussing so-called "public characters", I sometimes worry about "the Sesame Street effect", the idea that we sugar coat our expectations of urban life. Some stories can make cities seem almost too nice, as if the crazy diversity of people didn't really prickle up and create friction. Warm stories and friendly chatter is not a real city, despite Oscar the Grouch. We also need people like Chester, and his character Glimpi Dumbinski, who don't give a fuck what you think of them.

Chester died last week, and it's been revealing to read the stories that have come out about what he meant to people in the neighborhood, and even some of how his life history explained his predilection for the sky. He left some big (and surely shoddy) shoes to fill.


It’s Simple: Slow the Cars in Saint Paul

[An entry to the West 7th neighborhood.]
The details of last week’s tragedy on West 7th Street are horrid. An immigrant couple's daily walk, the young driver, the terrible cry from the husband, even a pilgrimage to the Dalai Lama. They add up to a terrible tragedy

Read them yourself, but as someone who passes through this intersection once a day, I can’t get the story out of my head. It’s these kinds of things that mark the urban landscape with trauma.

It makes matters worse that many people seem to think that these kinds of crashes are tragic but unavoidable. The Strib article quotes from Saint Paul Police spokesman Steve Linders — “We’re not sure why it happened, but the message to pedestrians and drivers … is to be aware of your surroundings” — seem to suggest there’s little we can do. And I have little faith that the legal autopsy of the crash will be different than the hundreds just like it which reduce events like these to a cold calculation of fault: “drivers are 62% at fault,” we are told, or some similar ineffectual accounting.

Likewise, conclusions about street design are vacuous, we tell ourselves, because the designers of our intersections and streets conform to national standards. This corner is just like all the others.

The feeling of helplessness leads to hopelessness. After all, this intersection isn’t even one of the worst in the neighborhood. A few years ago, the city put up (too rare, often ignored) “no turn on red” signs, hoping to decrease dangerous turning movements. Around a decade ago, West 7th street was put on a “road diet,” reducing the traffic lanes from 4-to-3. And Saint Clair Avenue isn’t necessarily a dangerous road, certainly not relative to the real problem streets in the city.

Despite all of that, an innocent woman is killed because our city isn’t a safe place to walk.

Slow the cars
[Basic physics: outcomes of impacts at different speeds.]

Surely crashes are inevitable, but that doesn’t mean that people have to die. It all has to do with speed, which is the main factor deciding whether crashes between cars and people prove to be deadly. It’s basic physics.

And boiling urban design down to its essence, as the folks at urban design think tank Strong Towns have done, makes it simple: slow the cars.

Sure there are other factors. Probably the most important is the idea of distraction. Streets and intersections must force drivers to pay close attention to their surroundings (through narrower lanes, tighter turning radii, etc.). Streets should reduce crossing distances with bump outs. Cities should ensure quality lighting and non-crumbling sidewalks free of ice and snow.

But the key is speed. Even if you can’t prevent car-person collisions, you can still greatly reduce their impacts. A driver who messes up shouldn't have to live with killing someone, and a woman who stumbles crossing the street shouldn’t lose their life.

Urban Bifurcation

[The Strong Towns STROAD/safety/value chart.]
When you follow through on this basic idea, you get a bifurcated city with clear distinctions between high-speed and walkable places. For any place where people are walking nearby, drivers should not be going faster than 30 miles per hour.  Meanwhile, on freeways or separated high-speed arterial roads (with minimal access points), you’d drive fast and safely.

In this kind of city, there would be a physical and visual difference when you moved from those high speed areas into walkable places. Traffic speeds would quickly decrease, and drivers would have to “switch gears”, paying much more attention to the areas around them. These places would prioritize the safety of pedestrians and cyclists over speed or volume of cars. Driving a car in these walkable areas would be experienced more as a privileged intrusion rather than the central justification for our streets.

If we followed through, cities like Saint Paul would end up looking much more like the University of Minnesota campus. Bridges and freeway on-ramps that funnel high-speed traffic into city streets would receive meaningful traffic calming treatments at their end points. Meanwhile, four-lane undivided arterials (the “Death Roads™”) that currently run all through our city eroding safety for everyone (including car drivers) would have to be calmed with narrower lanes, turn lanes, and crosswalks designed so that drivers actually stopped for people on foot. The only way to do this would be to reduce design speeds to less than 30 miles per hour.

[Temporary bumpouts like these on Como are cheap and quick safety measures.]
This sounds like a big project, and it is, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. 4-to-3 road diets only require paint, and temporary bump outs can be installed at dangerous corners like many of the angular West 7th intersections.

For example, thanks to years of lobbying from the neighborhood (and a CIB grant), the city recently installed temporary bollard bump outs at the intersection of West 7th and Victoria. We could do the same for all the dangerous corners on West 7th, and in the rest of Saint Paul.

The Stakes of Mistakes

The same corner where Wagmo was killed last week was where an urban planner named Nicole Mardell lost her sister back in 2009. Mardell is in a unique position to talk about this issue, because she is already versed in some of the 'safety vs. speed' tradeoffs around street design. Here’s what she says at the end of her moving column:
The accident that occurred at 6:45 am on October 1st seemed like something out of a safety video. Kunlek was on her daily route, she knew the road, she knew it was dangerous. It was daylight, the weather was clear. There wasn’t traffic or construction. Conditions were seemingly ideal. Except, St. Clair Avenue and West 7th Street carries five blind spots and a driver going the speed limit did not have time to stop when she saw Kunlek fall into the street.


My call to action is clear—if we want to stop preventable pedestrian and cyclist deaths in unsafe intersections in St. Paul, we need to lobby for them. Attend open houses, report issues to traffic safety, and utilize your rights in the public system. There are many advocate groups doing the same, but more help is always needed.

Six years ago, my sister was killed as a ped at St. Clair and West 7th Street in St. Paul. Is it time to act? Or do we need another death?
Don’t say that there’s nothing we can do. Saint Paul can solve this problem by reducing speeds on on our walkable city streets, protecting our most vulnerable people, and preventing deaths like Kunlek Wagmo's from happening again. We need a city where the stakes of a mistake are not deadly.

[We can do better than this.]


Reading the Highland Villager Op-Ed Extra #9

[Not photo of actual Highland Villager.]
A not so Grand idea deserves the dustbin
By Michael Mischke

How shortsighted, counterproductive and just plain stupid is the city of St. Paul's plan to install parking meters on the 10 blocks of Grand Avenue between Dale Street and Ayd Mill Road? Let me count the ways.

1. The additional revenue from parking meters on Grand would ostensibly fill a hole in Mayor Chris Coleman's proposed 2016 city budget. The Public Works Department estimates that in eight months from May through December 2016, revenue from the parking meters would be $634,500, and thereafter $672,500 a year. Public works also estimates the total initial cost of installation at $590,000. The eight-month estimated costs for maintenance, service charges and credit card processing fees total another $130,125. That translates to a $85,625 loss in 2016, not a profit. However, the city has supplied no information about you have to believe would be additional costs for parking meter enforcement as well.

[This is pretty basic stuff, with initial capital costs and annual revenues, like with anything involving money. Re: enforcement, see below.] 

2. City officials insist that parking meters would actually be a boon for businesses on grand because meters would promote parking turnover for the street. However, of the 10 blocks being proposed for meter,s eight are already posted for parking time limits of anywhere from 1 minutes to two hours. If parking turnover were an issue, the obvious solution would be better enforcement of the existing time limits. And anyone who lives or works on Grand can tell you that St. Paul's ticket-happy parking enforcement officers are nothing if not ubiquitous on that stretch of the street. Parking turnover is not the issue it's being made out to be.

[So, is parking a pain in the ass now, with ever-changing time limits and "ticket happy officers" getting paid lots of money to chalk tires or whatever they do? It seems like it is! It would certainly be a lot easier to enforce parking rules if you could just glance at a meter. Enforcement costs would likely go down quite a bit.]

3. There are currently 26-28 parking spots per block face on Grand between Dale Street and Ayd Mill Road. The longer 22-foot standard parking spots proposed by the city would actually reduce on-street parking spaces by as much as 16 percent on those blocks.

[Fair point.]

4. Parking meters would motivate customers to spend less time on Grand or prompt them to spend more money where parking is free and abundant.

[Would it? Only if those customers are extremely petty. Also how many people avoid Grand Avenue because of the aforementioned chaos of the existing situation?]

5. Reduced sales would result in reduced sales tax revenue for the city.

[If sales would be going down, which they likely would not. See also: any thriving street with parking meters.]

6. Reduced sales would also ultimately result in reduced commercial lease rates, which would reduce commercial property values and property tax revenue for the city.


7. The cost for parking on the street would be $1 an hour from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. and $2 an hour from 6-10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and motorists would have to pay for a full hour even if they planned to park for only a few minutes. [This last statement is factually incorrect.] The residents of the 700-plus single-family homes, apartments and condominiums on that length of Grand, many of which had insufficient or no off-street parking, would be forced to park elsewhere or pay six days a week to park near their homes when they get home in the evening.

[So is parking a problem right now or isn't it?]

8. Grand Avenue residents and customers who choose to avoid paying for parking -- and many will -- would look for free places to park on nearby residential streets, increasing traffic and parking congestion on those streets.

[Isn't this already happening?]

[Some existing residential parking areas around Grand.]
9. The additional pressure on those other streets would inevitably result in the expansion of the resident-only parking districts that already exist both north and south of Grand.

[People at the city have some interesting ideas about how to change resident parking districts, as is mentioned in regular Villager article.]

10. In an ideal world, all commercial off-street parking would be shared by businesses for the convenience of all customers. Parking meters would prompt private lot owners to more closely monitor their suddenly more precious free parking and take measures to ensure their lots are used only by their own customers.

[So parking sucks right now and there are no realistic solutions and nobody gets along? That's what I'm reading here.]

When what he referred to as a "pilot project" was first announced in his budget address, Mayor Coleman assured us that affected neighbors and businesses would be "engaged through pop-up meetings, surveys along commercial streets, and meetings with district councils, business associations and advocacy groups." That never happened and city officials responsible for this impending calamity deserve all the scorn that is not almost universally being heaped upon them.

[Fair enough. It's not that this is wrong, it's just that I don't share at all the notion that nobody will go there any more, because it'll be too crowded. That seems like a bleak view of Saint Paul.] 

Michael Mischke is the publisher of the Villager.

[I come for your soul!... Or you know, fifty cents for storing your car.]