25.7.17

Reading the Highland Villager #186

[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: St. Paul reviews plan to organize trash collection; Fifteen private haulers agree to divvy up city
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: After a long time negotiating, like 11 months, there is finally a basic agreement / deal between the city and a group of garbage companies. [This is important because of the road wear and other nuisance factors that come from having tons and tons … literally … of different trucks picking up trash instead of one. See also my story on it from a while ago.] City Council gets to vote on it soon. Article quotes garbage businessmen saying that they don’t like the government. Article quotes mayors’ office people saying that organizing is a good idea and lists lots of reasons. The “trash carts” will be city owned and come in three sizes. Fees are still being negotiated. You can throw out one Christmas tree per year. [Or burn them with CM Brendmoen in the park!] Some people want to share a cart, but that’s not possible right now. There was an “ad hoc” campaign [with a fancy website!] to stop the organization process. [It failed because the basic organization idea is a no-brainer for a city like Saint Paul.] City staff person wants the system to be “self-sustaining” and not subsidized by the city. There were also issues about whether workers could be unionized or not, and wage standards are being put in the deal. [Sounds messy! Glad they got it done, sort of almost.]


Headline: Public hearing on Ford site elicits 400 comments
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city Planning Commission had a [2.5 hour] public hearing to accept testimony about city’s plans for zoning the old Ford factory in Highland. Lots of people talked and also wrote notes. Article briefly describes the plan, and the “two groups who were out in force” at the hearing, the neighbors groups for and against the proposal. [I think there were also lots of people representing other organizations, like the National Parks Service, Transit for Livable Communities, Friends of the Mississippi River, Fresh Energy, the Friends of St Paul Parks (or something) group, etc., as well as lots of people speaking simply as themselves and not as part of one of these groups who had a wide range of opinions. Point is that it’s easy to reduce this to a “two sides” situation but in reality there are many people with many opinions with some nuance. In articles defense, it does list these groups.] Article quotes director of Fresh Anergy saying nice things, as well as some others. Also mentions  the kids who want to save the ballfields. [The ballfield is on railroad land (see above), so good luck to them with that! See also railroad mentioned in the last article here.] Article quotes plan opponent: “with radical density comes radical gridlock.” [Funny coincidence, but “Radical Gridlock” is the name of my prog rock band.] 

Headline: Planning committee recommends high-density redevelopment at Ford
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A committee of the Planning Commission met recently to vote on the plan mentioned above. It supported the city’s proposal unanimously. Article mentions controversy over density, and describes various zoning proposals for the different “districts” in the plan. There was a debate over whether to keep the railroad land included in the plan as “private recreation” or to identify ownership of the property. The group wanted to support the realignment of the River Boulevard but not have it in the plan quite yet. One Commissioner wanted to add more density in the “river residential” luxury townhouse part of the plan, and got support for that.


Headline: Policy Committee approves six transit options for Riverview Corridor
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Policy Advisory Committee [which makes all the decisions] voted to move forward six options for routes for the Riverview transit line. They are bur rapid transit or streetcars either to or not to the Ford Site and either on or not on the CP Spur. Article quotes CM Noecker voting against the proposal because she wanted to eliminate the CP Spur from the assembled choices. [Shrug. I reached out to CM Noecker on this and she told me it hurts ridership because it’s farther away from big parts of the West End neighborhood, which is true. Also that the County still has not purchased the land, which is also true. I think that the County should and will purchase the land either way, but they are likely waiting to see if the cost can be embedded as part of the budget for this project. I have heard that the money for purchasing the land is not a problem, and that the railroad is a willing seller, but it’s more about logistics at this point.] Neighbors are concerned about traffic and parking. Quote from guy on the committee who runs an Italian restaurant: “I can’t vote for modern streetcars until all of the questions are answered.” [I wonder what the questions are.]


Headline: St. Paul warns of big property tax hike in ’18; With reduced assessments for street maintenance, city portion of tax bill may jump 24%
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city is no longer assessing property owners, including non-profits, for street maintenance and so taxes will have to go up. [Street maintenance is really expensive, folks!] There was a meeting and the mayor was there. Quote from a woman in Highland: “we’re sick of subsidizing the rest of the city.” Article includes lots of numbers about housing values and tax bills. Article includes references to Randy Kelly, who started the fee in the first place. Best part of the article is the end: “Coleman asked the audience if anyone had any other ideas… When one person suggested installing more parking meters, Coleman recalled his unsuccessful attempt to place parking meters on Grand Avenue two years ago. ‘I leaned into the pitch, and it hit me in the head,’ he said.” [It’s depressing to me that the Mayor / whoever else at City Hall has seemingly given up on this obvious solution to generating revenue while simultaneously adopting incentives that support important policy goals. Parking policy is one of the easiest, simplest, most effective tools in the city’s toolbox, and apparently because of one flubbed proposal and subsequent bad meeting, it’s off the table for … how long? The next mayor will probably balk too, thanks to this narrative. That’s a big mistake for Saint Paul, which needs all of its effective tools if it’s going to thrive in the 21st century.]


Headline: City may ask nonprofits to pitch in with payments
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A task force is going to figure out ways that the city can beg non-profits for money. Article quotes the guy in charge of brainstorming this: “Cities that use PILOT programs don’t get a lot of money.” [Sounds like a great plan, then!] Another quote from a guy on the task force: “there’s voluntary and there’s voluntary.” There is some debate about whether the city has 1/3 of its land in non-profit parcels or only 5% of its land in non—profit parcels. Quote is this: According to Todd Hurley, director of the city’s Office of Financial Services… STP has 80,244 taxable parcels and 96.2% pay property taxes... Taxable properties have a valuation of $21.6 billion and tax-exempt properties have a valuation of $6.9 billion, or 24.1%.” [Well that sorts it out, yes? No. One issue might be the parking lot problem that I mention. Also, sometimes a large institution probably counts as only one “parcel”, I am guessing. Still, it’s good to see numbers on this.] Another quote: “of the 50 highest-valued properties in St. Paul, 38 pay no property taxes.” [I am skeptical about this program and wish there was a way to actually assess for street costs.]


Headline: Work on Highway 110 slightly behind schedule
Author: Kevin Driscoll

Short short version: A freeway is taking longer to repair. There will be a $2.75m tunnel under the freeway. [This is near where I grew up. The tunnel is kind of wasteful, but also probably the most pedestrian-friendly part of the city, which is hard to believe, but yes that’s how low that bar is.] Quote from a MNDOT guy: “we found some unsuitable materials that needed to be addressed in the field.” There’s also some debate about a bike path and where precisely it will be located.


Headline: Local projects make short list for 2018-2019 CIB funding 
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There’s some money to do a few thing, including fixing a sculpture park, fixing up homes, fixing a bridge. Article includes confusing list.


Headline: Report shows major shift in calls received by St. Paul Fire Dept.
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: 90% of the time, fire trucks aren’t going to fires, but to medical emergencies. [The trucks are huge.] There is a debate about how to deal with this, involving staffing stations with medics and ambulances instead.


Headline: City begins work on Dickerman Park
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A park that looks like people’s yards is getting fixed up. In 1909 someone donated the land to the city. [This park is dumb to me, even though it has an interesting history. I very much doubt anyone will use it, no matter what they do here. Who knows, maybe I’m wrong?]


Headline: Discussion continues over use of south reservoir in Highland
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A water reservoir is going to be demolished and nobody knows what to do with the site. Options include soccer and basketball space, ice rinks and/or parking lots. [Parking lots! Who could have seen that coming! It reminds me of the time that folks at the Highland library approved replacing a youth ballfield with more parking spaces.] 


Headline: St. Paul to opt out of allowing backyard health care homes
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: People cannot any longer put “temporary dwellings” in their yards for sick family members to live in. Article does not really explain why.


Headline: New Spyhouse Coffee moves full steam ahead on Snelling
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: An old antique shop will become a hip coffee shop. Best quote: “the business has no off-street parking, but is not required to provide any.”


Headline: Permit delay pushes back opening of Bull’s Horn in S. Mpls; Burger bar now set to be finished in october at site of former Sunrise Inn
Author: Bull Wagner

Short short version: An old dive bar is being remodeled but it’s taking longer than the people wanted because of permit problems. The delay “means that the parking lot will remain unpaved when the restaurant opens this fall.” Quote from contractor: “The city has introduced a new electronic system.” Dogs will be allowed on the patio if they are well-behaved. [Farewell Sunrise.]


Headline: Former Riverside School site to be used for senior housing
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: An abandoned school will have housing in it now for seniors. Neighbors are concerned about traffic, pedestrian safety, and access. The city didn’t want the building.


Headline: Police chief cites progress despite increase in gun violence
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Gun shots are up. Crime is up. 911 calls are up. A lot of it is gang related. There are also more cops now than ever before.


Headline: Attempt is underway to extend Midtown Greenway to St. Paul
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There was a meeting recently about the possibility of extending the greenway from Minneapolis over to Saint Paul. There is a bridge but it is owned by the railroad. This has been tried before but the railroad fought the city. Everyone seems to like the idea. [I was on the panel there. I have heard a committee is being formed to work on this. It would be awesome to have theGreenway connect over the river, of course. A real gamechanger for bicycling in Saint Paul and between the two cities. See also my story on this meeting.]

24.7.17

The Everday Surrealism of Automobile Violence

Over the eleven years since I've been writing about street design and every day life in the Twin Cities I have heard lots of crazy things. Some are simply bizarre acts of structural malice, like the ways that cars slam into buildings  almost like clockwork, people driving cars into old buildings, new buildings, stop lights, other cars, light rail trains, and people. Every day this is happening all around us.

Others stories are tragic, particular, and unforgettable. Take for example the old Asian-American couple who immigrated to Saint Paul, and walked together each morning down the same street by their house. One morning, just days after they had visited with the Dalai Lama, a driver slammed into one of them while they were in their crosswalk.

"My wife, my wife," cried her husband, looking backwards, but she was already dead.

There was the young French girl who arrived at college for her year-long exchange program. One her first day in Saint Paul, she was killed by a driver turning through the crosswalk. She had seen the walk sign, and didn’t yet know how little it meant in this country.

There was the story once told to me by a favorite bartender at my old neighborhood bar, a place that has since burned down. A couple had reserved a table for their wedding night, and were getting something out of their trunk when a police chase flew down the street. The fleeing driver slammed into the row of cars parked on Front Avenue and the crash instantly severed the groom's leg from the rest of his body.

[Kenneth J. Foster.]
There are a dozen stories like this that I have heard since I started paying attention. Each of them makes me sick, but the latest one is the worst.

Last week on Dale Street, a driver fleeing from a crash reached 70 miles per hour on a bike boulevard, drove through an intersection onto a median, and launched his car straight through the #65 bus. At the time, it had had six passengers on it, including Kenneth J. Foster and Markus Anthony Dashawn Jackson, two men just trying to get around Frogtown.

The car went in the left side of the bus, killing Foster and critically injuring Jackson, and flew out the other side, leaving a cartoonish hole. The car then demolished a lamppost on Dale Street.

Check out the accounts of the crash:
Bjelland was driving a white sedan about 7:30 p.m. in St. Paul's Frogtown neighborhood, fleeing the scene of a minor crash, according to police. The car ran a stop sign, hit a median and went airborne, slamming into a northbound bus at up to 70 miles per hour, witnesses said.

The force of the crash sliced open the bus, which was carrying six to eight people, according to police. Foster was thrown from the bus and later died at the scene.

Or this:
Mercedes Berry, 17, of St. Paul, was walking to the nearby Speedy Dale convenience store to buy cheese popcorn when she saw and heard the car racing eastbound on Charles.

“It came zooming past,” she said. “It hit the median, flew into the air and hit the bus. It went through the bus — right through the bus — and flipped.”

Berry said she felt bad for the bus passenger who died.

“He was going home and was going to see his family and stuff, and now he won’t see his family no more,” she said.
Or this:

"I heard it all the way inside the house, it was unbelievable," neighborhood resident Brannon Drees said. "I was trying to piece it all together.”

Drees lives right near the intersection where the crash happened, and he says many of his neighbors came outside near the scene to try and help.

"The entire (car) frame was all like an accordion, crushed back and the flames were shooting out of it," Drees said as he described what he saw.


The weird thing about this story is how surreal it is, how horrible the actual details are to look at. The pictures alone are vaguely nauseating to me, kind of like the 9/11 images the first time I saw them. Only this is no act of international terrorism, this is everyday life in a car-dominated American city. This is simply the most extreme case of a basic reality: we have planned our lives around a dangerous machine.

Unlike many deadly crashes, this one wasn't an engineering problem. It's safe to say that designing a walkable city to prevent 70 mph suicidal driving is pretty much impossible. In this case, the tragedy is particularly ironic! The driver launched his car off a pedestrian safety median, one of the very few pedestrian and bicycling safety improvements that have ever been installed in Saint Paul.

(Q: If the median were more substantial, had higher curbs with harder angles, would the car still have flown through the air, and gone through the bus? Probably.)
 
The only real conclusion here is that the embedded violence of the automobile is something we take for granted. Cars are deadly, and we’ve surrounded ourselves with them. At the flick of a foot, any drugged-up maniac can kill just anyone at any time, even someone minding his own business riding the city bus down Dale Street at seven miles per hour. Designing a society around the automobile is not only wasteful of our energy and collective resources, not only alienates us from each other and feeds our most misanthropic feelings, but it must result in senseless death. This is the only outcome when our cities practically require everyone to wield a weapon every day.

So often, the things that are closest to us are the least visible. We rarely notice the scratches on our glasses or the smudges on our windows. The everyday violence of cars, crashing around us, occasionally startles, but we will ourselves to forget.

We ignore reminders — the hubcab sitting on a sidewalk, the police siren in the distance, the small shards of fender plastic scattered in an intersection — all just another part of our everyday lives, something to forget while we speed along on our lives.

Even the deadly crashes glance off our attention spans, another headline in the paper or story on the evening news. All of us have seen a thousand of these by now, and it seems like nothing can change.

It’ll take me a while to forget this one.

[A day on Dale Street.]

20.7.17

Six Hot Tips for Biking in the Unending Damnable Summertime Heat

[Makes you want to bike right into the river.]
Biking in the heat kind of sucks. No matter where you go, there you are sweating on the asphalt, the sun beating down on your puny body, your poor skin pinking and your hair stuck to your eyebrows. Then you arrive at your destination looking like a homeless muskrat and it takes a full fifteen minutes before you can recompose into something resembling a normal drives-in-the-air-conditioned-car human being like everyone else seems to be. Biking in the summer:it’s not the heat, its the humility.

That said, there are a few things you can do to make it better. When it gets really hot out and stays that way, I find myself riding in a slightly different manner. So here are my hot-take pro tips for biking through the summertime heat.


1. Take it easy and chill out

The first thing is that I tend to slow down a bit in the summer. (Unless you’re on a workout ride, in which case go ahead and sweat as much as you want.) Actually biking to get somewhere, I find myself coasting more and being a bit lazier.

Basically, you want to be going fast enough to keep a breeze going — about 10 miles per hour. The reason people sweat is because condensation is a cooling process. Maintaining a consistent steady pace in the summer heat, and avoiding stopping at stoplights, is a great way to keep just a bit cooler.

2. Find the shade

[Stark shade lines.]
If you do have to stop at a stoplight, though, see if you can find a patch of shade. I find myself doing that on some streets, stopping a bit short to stay behind a building or under a leafy canopy. Or sometimes I might take a more shady side street instead of the more exposed main drag. Shade makes a huge difference when the sun is beating down on you, and if you look for it, you can find some.

See also this post about street trees and finding the shade.



3. Panniers are your friend

Nothing’s worse than riding in the heat with a bag on your back, then peeling it off like an unshelled turtle to reveal the soggy swamp that is your shirt underneath.

So ride a bike with a rack, if you have one, and put all your stuff in a pannier.

4. A/C stops are easy!

If you’re going a longer distance, take a break in the middle at a library or cafĂ©. Nothing makes you appreciate air conditioning as much as a hot summer bike ride!

5. Water is good

Keep drinking it. Put it in a bottle and drink it form the bottle. Drink it when you arrive, before you leave, just whenever. Bonus points if you find one of those old-fashioned Minneapolis water pump fountains and just put your head in there.

6. Bring extra clothes

Always have another shirt on hand in case you need it. You’ll probably need it. Soon it will be sweaty too, but at least you'll feel better about yourself.

That’s it! Good luck to you. When winter comes, you’ll look back on these hot days with envy and regret that you didn’t ride your bike more. There should be a long German word for that… maybe Fahrradsommerbedauern?

[It's only going to get worse.]

14.7.17

Notable Quotes #9: Yi-Fu Tuan on a Martian Invasion of Minneapolis

[The Prospect Park watertower.]
From Space and Place, a 1977 human geography book by geographer Yi-Fu Tuan, who taught at the time at the University of Minnesota. The book is an overview of how human beings cultivate a "sense of place" with their everyday lives and narratives:
In the Mycenaean period Greek cities owed their sacred status to their divine residents. Athena and Helen were Mycenaean goddesses who presided over Athens and Sparta respectively. In these prehistoric times of kingly rule, shrines had an importance they would later lose during the republican period. A Helladic city, however straitened by its enemies, remained viable so long as the shrines housing the divine images were intact. This belief, says John Dunne, "is reflected to some extent in the tradition of the Trojan War according to which is was necessary to steal the Palladium, the image of the city-goddess, from Troy before the city could be taken." Removal of the image, or destruction of the shrine that housed it, would have deprived a city of its legitimacy since the rules, rites, and institutions under which a people lived all required divine sanction. We cannot know prehistoric sentiments: they are at best matters for conjecture. From the historic period of the ancient Mediterranean world we can find many expressions of love for place. One of the most eloquent was attributed to a citizen of Carthage. When the Romans were about to destroy Carthage at the end of the third Punic War, a citizen pleaded with them thus:

"We beseech you, in behalf of our ancient city founded by the command of the gods, in behalf of a glory that has become great and a name that has pervaded the whole world, in behalf of the man temples it contains and of its gods who have done you no wrong. Do not deprive them of their nightly festivals, their processions, and their solemnities. Deprive not the tombs of the dead, who harm you no more, of their offerings. If you have pity for us ... spare the city's hearth, spare our forum, spare the goddess who presides over our council, and all else that is dear and precious to the living.... We propose an alternative more desirable for us and more glorious for you. Spare the city which has done you no harm, but, if you please, kill us, whom you have ordered to move away. In this way you will seem to vent your wrath upon men, not upon temples, gods,  tombs, and an innocent city."

It is true that this plea was written in the second century A.D. several hundred years after the event. How the besieged Carthaginians really felt we have no way of knowing. But the plea at least made good sense to Roman readers, for whom it was written, whereas to us it verges on the incredible. Suppose that Martians have invaded America and are at the gates of Minneapolis. It is hard to believe that our city councilors will plead with the Martians to kill us but save Nicollet Mall, which has done them no harm.

[From Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place, Chapter 11, "Attachment to Homeland."]

13.7.17

Signs of the Times #126

 STEPS CLOSED

[Board. Minnehaha Park, Minneapolis.]

DO NOT
PARK
HERE
IT WILL
BE
TOWED

[Tire. Rondo, Saint Paul.]

And they can
Them the holy people,
the redeemed from teh curse of the
ABBA FATHER
"sought out"
A City not Forsaken

[Pole. Location forgotten. One of the downtowns?]


SLOW

[Metal thing. University Avenue, Saint Paul.]



STILL
COUNTING
SHEEP

[Board. Minnehaha Park, Minneapolis.]
 
PICNIC GROUND
NO. 4
PLEASE HELP KEEP
GROUNDS CLEAN

[Pole. Minnehaha Park, Minneapolis.]

NO
PARKING
BUREAU
OF
POLICE

[Pole. Summit-University, Saint Paul.]

 PLEASE
MOVE
THIS CAR
OR IT
WILL NEED
TO BE TOWED THX.

[Paper on a windshield. Seward, Minneapolis.]