24.5.16

Signs of the Times #115

Ox Cart Ale House Seating Only
Please see hostess for ass stance.

[Table. Lowertown, Saint Paul.]


 Do Not Smoke in Frotn of Elevator
Smoke seeps Through to other side.

[picture of cigarette]
X

[Elevator door. Lowertown, Saint Paul.]


 Lost TorToise
Soft Ball sized

Does Not
Bite

REWARD

[Pole. West Side, Saint Paul. See also this story on this sign and the tortoise, named Rock n. Roll.]
 
NO DOCKING
EXCURSION
BOATS ONLY

[Wharf. Harriet Island, Saint Paul.]


 Apr 16, 1965
Flood Crest
_____________

Flood Crest Apr. 30, 2001
 _____________


Flood Crest June 29, 2014
_____________


 [Gate. Harriet Island, Saint Paul.]

Evie's
Menudo
Today

[Boulevard. West Side, Saint Paul.]


 SEE THE TWINS
STINK UP THE FIELD
ON OUR 189 IN. SCREEN
_________________

SPEAKING OF STINKY
ASK JESSICA FOR HER
BAD JOKE OF THE DAY

[Chalk board. Downtown, Saint Paul.]


BAG END
BE a HOBBIT!

[Porch Pole. West Side, Saint Paul.]

23.5.16

Another Predictable Tragedy in a Maryland Avenue Crosswalk

[The scene of the crime completely predictable incident.]
Another predictable tragedy happened today in Saint Paul, as a woman was hit by a driver trying to cross the street. She's in critical condition at Regions Hospital.

Here’s the Star Tribune story on the crash, which occurred at 8:10 AM:

A motorist in a vehicle "larger than an SUV" stopped in the right-hand lane of westbound Maryland and waved for the woman to the driver's right to enter the crosswalk and on Greenbrier and continue walking south.

Once the woman was in the street, a compact car came along in the left lane of westbound Maryland — where there is no stop sign or signal light to obey — and hit the woman.

"She goes flying through the air and hits the pavement," Linders said.


Everyday in Saint Paul there are a dozen moments like this. Most of the time, they end in a near-miss, a small bruise, someone jumping out of the way, or a squeal of the brakes as a car screeches to a halt.

But then every once in a while, someone swerves and doesn’t slow down. And then it’s deadly.

I can probably recite each one of these Saint Paul stories, where people crossing the street are killed by drivers. It’s endemic to the way we design our streets, as predictable and straightforward as one billiard ball hitting another.

[Crashes cluster around the County and State roads.]


Maryland and Greenbrier

This one, though, is a particular tragedy. After years worth of work by Saint Paul’s under appreciated street safety advocates, along with help from a grant and a local non-profit, Saint Paul is in the midst of the largest pedestrian safety campaign in city history. All through the year, police and community members are teaming up raise awareness of the city’s crosswalk laws by conducting stings

A few weeks ago, I did a story on the campaign for Minnpost, going out to the East Side to hang out, watch the pedestrian safety sting, talk to the police, talk to neighborhood advocates, and see what the campaign was all about.

[Crash occurred in the background of this photo.]
The scene was pretty impressive:
This year, things are different because Stop For Me, an offshoot of the nonprofit Saint Paul Smart Trips, is launching a yearlong campaign, spread all throughout the city, to take another stab at changing the culture around the city's crosswalk law.

Partnering with neighborhood groups, the campaign is holding 32 two-hour crosswalk enforcement sessions in different neighborhoods, where police and safety-conscious neighbors set up stings at particularly difficult corners. According to Kyle Mianulli, the program’s organizer, in one week there have been five events, 529 traffic stops and 129 tickets handed out to St. Paul drivers. Each ticket runs $168. Here is a report [PDF] on the kickoff events on March 17.

Sgt. Jeremy Ellison is the lead liaison for the program from the St. Paul Police Department. According to Ellison, during any event about five police officers, together with a dozen crosswalk advocates, set up operation. Every five or 10 minutes during rush hour an unmarked cop car waits on a side street by a difficult crosswalk ready to pounce. A group of two or three people, some wearing high-visibility vests, approach the street, wave their hands, and step out into the crosswalk. To help with precise legal matters, the police place orange traffic cones exactly 193’ feet from the crosswalk.

And then last week the campaign came to the very corner where I live on the West Side, and so I volunteered at one of the sting events myself. It was pretty cool to see the operation in my own front yard, and I was mostly pleased at the enthusiasm for the stings displayed by the neighborhood residents (many of whom were young people watching from the next-door apartment). There were only a few egregious crosswalk offenders, and they all got tickets.

(Especially cathartic was the dude driving the big white Cadillac that sped up to go around the people trying to cross the street. It was some real schadenfredue when he got the $170 ticket.)

[West Side activists last week at a Stop 4 Me event in front of my apartment.]

Concrete Solutions

There’s only one problem. As good as they are, the stings don’t solve the problem. Not by a long shot.

In a moment of tragic irony, today’s crash happened at the exact spot that I featured in my story, the crosswalk at the corner of Greenbrier and Maryland, right next to the school playground in a diverse working-class neighborhood on a busy road on the East Side.

Here’s how I ended my piece on the crosswalk safety campaign:
“The main goal of today’s event is safety. I don’t want anybody to get hit or anybody to get hurt,” Sgt. Ellison told me. "People are slamming on their brakes at the last minute. They’re not looking for pedestrians. They need to increase awareness, pay attention, slow down, put down the distractions, and drive carefully."

As I was leaving the scene of the crosswalk, a group of three people in orange vests had just walked out between the white lines. One car stopped to let them cross the street, but then there was a sudden screech of tires. A taxi — a white minivan — hadn't seen them, and hit the brakes just in time.

As the sun set off in the distance, Sgt. Ellison’s eyes riveted on the cars lining up on Maryland Avenue, fixed in a thousand-yard stare. The last thing anyone wanted was for someone to get hurt.

Apparently, the squeal of tires was a sign of things to come, foreshadowing horror.

The biggest problem that I have with police education and enforcement campaigns is that they have little meaningful impact compared to more concrete solutions, like 4-3 road diets, pedestrian medians, or even (gasp!) speed cameras. These “sleeping policemen work  24/7/365 because they’re concrete and permanent. When compared to the abstract realms of education, “driving culture”, or the ephemeral role of the police in their squad cars, it's like night and day.

It’s not that the crosswalk stings and safety campaign isn’t a good idea, but that without concrete follow-through, they accomplish almost nothing.

[A neighbor tallying offending drivers at the very corner where a woman was hospitalized crossing the street this morning.]

4-Lane Death Roads are Still With Us

I’ve written about this before, and apparently I’ll write about it again. Maryland Avenue, where the crash took place this morning, is a classic example of what I call a 4-lane Death Road™.

In short, these are roads that prioritize speed to the point where they're very dangerous. The design features of the road combine into a recipe for car carnage and deadly crashes. While they’re dangerous for car drivers, as crash rates clearly show, they’re especially dangerous for anyone on a bike or on foot. And what's worse, most of the time, these roads run through working class neighborhoods full of children, places with low rents and older building stock that provide haven to many of our city’s most vulnerable and least-enfranchised citizens.



Here’s what I wrote about back in 2014, back when a kid was killed by a driver while trying to get to school across the four-lanes of Rice Street (emphasis added):
When a decision maker says “we can’t do that because of traffic,” to me they are really saying that they value traffic volumes over safety. To me this is morally indefensible, and is not a choice we should be making as a society.
One rarely stated fact about these four-lane Death Roads™ is that they’re often found in our city’s poorest neighborhoods. For example, the poorest part of Franklin Avenue is the part with the Death Road™ design. The Maryland and White Bear Avenue Death Roads™ go through one of the poorest parts of Saint Paul. The Cedar Avenue Death Road™ goes through the heart of the Little Earth and Somali communities. And on Rice Street, where this crash happened,  the death road section disappears once you get close to the Roseville border (wealthier suburb). 
These patterns are troubling, but they probably point to the political disenfranchisement of particular areas of the city more than any grand conspiracy toward structural racism. These streets shouldn’t be allowed in any parts of our cities where people walk or bike or have homes and businesses. It shouldn’t matter where you are or how much money you have. These streets are dangerous for everyone, and there should be no excuse for them.

That’s as true today as it was then. Today, if you went to a public meeting and suggested doing a 4-3 conversion on any of these streets, someone would inevitably tell you “we can’t do that because of traffic.”

[Almost all County roads in dense urban neighborhoods.]
Currently, almost all of these streets are county arterials (for Hennepin County in Minneapolis, and Ramsey County in Saint Paul).

County public works departments have consistently, continually prioritized “fighting congestion” for people in cars speeding through these neighborhoods over safety and access for people on foot living in these neighborhoods. It’s an upside down system, where the most privileged are placed above the least, where the least vulnerable are given free reign while the most vulnerable are relegated to the margins.

Lately there’s been a push back against the use of the word “accident” in situations like these. Many advocates prefer the term “crash,” because the “a-word” (as it’s known) implies that there’s these kinds of deadly incidents are inevitable and unavoidable.

There’s no better illustration than this morning’s completely predictable tragedy. Every day we let these road designs remain in our city, eroding the safety and quality of life for our most vulnerable citizens, it’s just rolling the dice again. The odds are absolutely stacked in favor of more drivers running over more people crossing the street, and it’s just a matter of time until it happens again.

Education and enforcement campaigns are nice, but the only solution is changing the street. And until our County engineers and officials get on board, this will keep happening, again and again, no matter how many well-meaning signs we hold out along the side of the road.

[The crosswalk from this morning's crash is the one in the background of the photo.]

19.5.16

Noteworthy Dive Bars of Inner Northeast Walking Tour

A follow up to this winter's exploratory merriment, it's time to wander the other half of Northeast, Minneapolis' dive bar promised land. Here we will explore the inner boundaries of the old "liquor patrol limits" that attempted to contain the neighborhood's boozing to its riverine margins.

Here's a bit of history from the last Northeast tour:
And, like the South Minneapolis' division, the Northeast Minneapolis alcoholic landscape has a stark geography. According to the city's "liquor patrol limits," full liquor establishments weren't allowed East of 4th Street or North of 29th Avenue. 

Thus Northeast's dive bars were contained to a small area alongside the riverfront crotch. This was ostensibly because this is the distance that the city's 19th century "liquor patrol" could efficiently walk from their downtown stations. (But everyone knew the restrictions stemmed from moralistic paternalism by city's economic and religious leaders.) That is why the wealth of the city's shrines to old school libation are as concentrated as an Otter Bar rum and coke.

This time we'll be strolling and stumbling straight south along NE 4th Street, where all the dive bars line up light tipsy dominoes along the West side of the street. We will venture South, hugging the interior of the dive district until we reach the train tracks. There we will make an abrupt left, and wend ourselves towards the season streets, an odd pocket of roadway nomenclature: spring, summer, but no winter or fall. Finally, we arrive at the mecca of karaoke, the fabled Vegas Lounge, where the bar for singing is simultaneously both high and low, a Northeast paradox.

What more is there to say? This is a fascinating stretch of living history. No Northern dive bar connoisseur should go without stepping foot on this fascinating stretch of sidewalk. Walk with me and plumb the inner depths of Northeast Minneapolis.


A note on walking

This will be a walking tour. (Bicycles are welcome, of course, and faster, and may proceed at their own leisure.) I will be walking at a relatively brisk pace between the dive destinations, and the total distance covered will be about two (2) miles


[The Knight Cap decorated for Christmastime.]


[The flying flag of Northeast.]
What: Walking tour of five dive bars in Northeast Minneapolis

Who: Anyone. Tips accepted eagerly, either in beer or cash.

When: Thursday, May 26th, departing at 6:30

Where: Northeast Palace, Lowry and 4th

Why: Because it's there

How: Brief historical notes and discussions of each bar will be delivered upon arrival and/or departure. A pause for refreshment, then on to the next.  



[Read about other dive bar tours here: Payne and Arcade, Outer Northeast, The Midway, South Minneapolis, and Old Fort Road.]

Twin City Shop Windows #13

 [Payne Avenue, Saint Paul.]

 [West Side, Saint Paul.]

 [Downtown, Saint Paul.]

 [Warehouse District, Minneapolis.]

[Warehouse District, Minneapolis.]

[Warehouse District, Minneapolis.]

[Plum City, Wisconsin.]

17.5.16

Reading the Highland Villager #155

[Villagers in bags on Selby Avenue.]
[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. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free. See also: Three Reasons Why I Re-Blog the Highland Villager.]  




Headline: Cleveland bike lane putting a squeeze on permit parking in Merriam Park; Council opens one permit district to two-hour parking
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A main north-south street is being striped with bike lanes instead of parking. The area around it is lined with “permit parking” districts which only allow residents to park in them. Because businesses want to have parking, CM Stark is suggesting giving business-oriented 2-hour parking access to the parking districts. The parking districts have arcane rules, like only being in effect from 8am to 8pm M-F or having one-hour parking. Quote from an area resident with a disability: “It’s already difficult to find parking on the street.” Permit parking is very difficult to enforce.  Some Tommies have fake permits. CM Prince would have liked more process. [Well, in this case the process is broken. I heard a report from the St Paul administrator in charge of permit parking this week and it was mind-boggling. Prices for permits haven’t gone up since they were started in 1980, and are still $10. Depending on the district, each house can have up to six car permits, but this varies quite a bit in a mind-boggling manner. A fair market value for one of them might be ten times that amount, and even keeping up with inflation they’d be about $30 per year. Some permit parking areas have very obscure rules, like the ones around Cretin Derham Hall, which are in force during only certain months and hours depending on what side of the street you are on. Because of these crazy rules and the fact that there are only 14 parking enforcement officers, they have a basically impossible job. There’s no way the city can enforce this, especially with 2-hour parking areas involved, without it being extremely expensive. The only cost-effective way to enforce parking rules is to have a blanket permit zone OR parking meters. Everything else is simply parking theatrics, and amounts to a joke. Meanwhile, actual businesses in the area are going to struggle to provide expensive off-street lots and to find places for their employees to park, etc. The whole thing is a mess and the “hidden costs” include huge amounts of  administrative time, especially around all the public meetings, enforcement costs, and the opportunity costs of the fact that some of these districts don’t support nearby commercial neighborhoods and that I’d wager the parking in many of the districts is underused. And once again, it’s all the fault of wayward Tommies...? Or people who are too attached to having easy parking in front of their house 24/7/365. OK, that’s my rant. The city is doing a study of this and it’ll come up quite a bit over the next year. I think at the very least, the cost of the permit parking permits should pay for their own administration and enforcement. That’s the only fiscally responsible approach. The ideal solution for businesses is to let business owners purchase a few of them for employees, and to install parking meters in areas with a lot of demand. Like Grand Avenue maybe.]


Headline: County gives its blessing to bike lanes
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The county is striping bike lanes on a street in an uncontroversial vote. [Only CC Rettman, who was also against the Front Avenue bike lanes and the Dale Street 4-3 conversion, voted against it.] The county did not approve reducing the speed limit to 25 mph. The county PW director claims it might “divert traffic.”Article quotes CC Carter saying the lanes are an “important first step” and “create a critical north-south corridor.” The county would have paid for the costs if they had been done last year. [Instead, the city is picking up the tab.]


Headline: Condemned Grand Ave. buildings are leveled
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Two old buidlings that were falling apart were torn down. They dated to the 1880s. [They have been bought by a developer, as in this recent news story.]


Headline: Little Free Libraries turn a page with first fest
Author: James McKenzie

Short short version: People put books in little boxes along the sidewalk and anyone can take them. [See also this fun quiz!]


Headline: Neighbors push for tighter restrictions on new home designs
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: People keep buying smaller houses, tearing them down, and building larger houses where the smaller houses used to be. A while ago the city tried to reign in the practice with new “design standards” but it keeps happening. The Board of Zoning Appeals keeps granting variances. Article quotes BZA chair as saying the new regulations are “guidelines.” [As opposed to hard and fast rules I suppose.] CM Tolbert responds saying “They’re not guidelines, they’re an ordinance and it needs to be followed.” Article quotes BZA chair: “to make people do a sidewall articulation on the second floor, for example, doesn’t always seem to make sense.” [Well I can’t make sense of it, that’s for sure.] More houses have been torn down. Quote from a neighbor: “I wouldn’t spend $700,000 to look down from my towering windows at smaller quainter homes where generations of families have lived.” [The main thing the city can do, IMO, is to reign in the noise and nuisance violations by contractors. As for the design rules, no matter what rules they come up with, developers will work around them. I foresee a lot of unintended consequences.]



Headline: City allows four-story apartment building next to Nova Academy
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The City Council voted unanimously to allow a four-story apartment building to be constructed in a new mixed-use neighborhood. The building is next to a school. CM Noecker is concerned about pedestrian safety. Neighbors and school parents are concerned about traffic, safety, but not necessarily parking. [Apparently there’s a lot of speeding here, which is quite irresponsible of people and should be stopped using infrastructure.] Quote from school administrator: “our neighborhood doesn’t have to be an example of how not to do things.” He commends having more of a grid pattern in the street. [That would be nice. Development planners are way too enamored of curving parallel streets. Can’t beat the grid.] Building designs have been tweaked to try and accommodate concerns from the school. Article includes brief history of the site, which was an industrial “tank farm.” [I like to think about tank farms, like planting a tiny Matchbox tank and watering it until you get a full-grown Sherman.]


Headline: BZA approves new variances for redesigned Grand Avenue condo
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A 8-unit condo building that was planned but then rejected has been re-planned and now approved for a now-vacant lot site on Grand Avenue. [This apartment is less dense, and with more off-street parking, than its two historic neighbors. Also worth noting that CM Thune was the CM during the rejection, and CM Noecker is the CM of this area for this approval.] Neighbors are concerned about traffic and parking. Article includes a lot of design details. [This is classic “missing middle” type infill. Read more about that in my recent article.] Article quotes upset neighbor: “This building is out of scale with the rest of the neighborhood. It’s going to stick out like a sore thumb.” [It’s almost exactly the scale of its two neighbors. I’ll stick out like a middle finger with two fingers on either side. Hold out your hand and you’ll see what I mean.]  Quote from BZA member: “If there’s any place for a building of this size, it’s here.”

Headline: County OKs restoration for evening parking along University Avenue
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: People can park on certain parts of University Avenue now during the evenings. But there won’t be a bicycle lane striped along the choke point by the railroad bridge by the Menards. Article quotes CM Stark: “That is an accommodation that our Public Works engineers thought would be feasible.” Reply from the County Public Works director: “Share the road arrows aren’t something we would implement with that volume of traffic.” [I can see both sides of the debate, though having the two public works’ departments in opposition with each other is a bit troubling. Sharrows are nobody’s idea of a good time. The vast majority of bicyclists will take the cantilevered sidewalk.]

Headline: Apartments, townhomes proposed for city-owned lot on Chestnut St.
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A parking lot behind West 7th by the Xcel Center might become 175 unites of housing. There will be parking.


Headline: Sale is expected soon for Summit’s historic St. Paul’s Church on the Hill
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A 100-year-old church is for sale. It costs $1.7M. Article includes architectural and historic details. There are interested buyers. It might be “re-purposed” as an arts or performance space.


Headline: Neighbors suggest where to locate facilities as part of UST master plan
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: St. Thomas is planning its campus and neighbors are giving advice. Neighbors are concerned about parking, and Tommies living off campus. Article quotes neighbor: “part of it is developing a culture where more students want to live on campus.” Some people suggested that the school should offer discount transit passes. [The new bike lanes will surely help this problem, also.]

Bonus:

The Highland Villager operatic accompaniment for this fortnight was Verdi's Il Trovatore (the troubador), which features "the anvil chorus."