29.3.08

Twin City Photo Contest: Name the Sidewalk?

Can anyone name where in the Twin Cities this photo was taken?



Leave guesses in the comments, or email me at blindeke at gmail.com. The first winner will receive a special Twin City Sidewalks prize in the mail!

28.3.08

Classic Sidewalks of the Silver Screen #2

And finally, here's your Classic Sidewalks of the Silver Screen scene of the week:





Shirley Temple and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson dancin' by the stable in The Little Colonel. (1935)

<<< News Flash! >>>

You know what? The sidewalks are really interesting right now. All those snowdrifts, snowbanks, the mounds of white black grey dirt melty freezy crustslush that have been lining the sidewalks since November are melting, and depositing their secret treasures all over the sidewalks. Coke cans and gum wrappers that were dropped or carelessly tossed aside on October have been cryogenically frozen in snowbanks all winter long, and now they're finally seeing the light of the sun again for the first time in months.

As the snowbanks vanish like Antarctic ice sheets, these little clusters of trash and dirt and butts emerge, and as you walk along the sidewalk, see what you can find. Maybe a vintage Winter Carnival Button, a lost mitten, a winning lottery ticket. Things long forgotten are re-emerging. It's the return of the repressed. The streets are paved with decomposing trash! Let's see what turns up! What will we uncover?



[White castle box, cookies, drink cups, paper, bottles, crime scene tape.]


<<<>>>



Here's a video outlining the Rules of Sidewalk Etiquette, again from the UK... In particular, it's about "the droitwhich", a term coined by the late Douglas Adams to refer to "that thing you do where you go like this":







<<<>>>



I volunteer at Truth To Tell, KFAI's weekly local public affairs talk show. We had a show last Wednesday dealing with mass transit and the central corridor, with Conrad DeFiebre from Minnesota 2020 and Frank Schweigert who teaches at Metro State University and works with the Saint Paul District Councils.

They talk about the difficulty of getting state and federal funding for transit, and reworking transportation. Transit projects are always such a juggling act, with so many competing interests. Frankly, I think that planners, politicans, and engineers almost always call the shots on these things. The community meeting aspects of transportation planning are almost always window dressing.

But, at least in this case, getting "roughed-in" transit stops at Western and Victoria Avenues in Saint Paul is a victory for community activists. (Including me, who lives on Western Avenue.)

Another highlight is DeFiebre talking about dealing with the "concrete paving association" lobby. How powerful are they? Apparently they're calling the shots at the capitol.

(Scroll to about 33:00 to get to the transportation discussion.)


<<<>>>


Three articles from other places:




<<<>>>


Like all right-thinking people, I loathe and detest the cul-de-sac. This article, though, is a ridiculous attempt from the new and unimproved online Rake Magazine to describe the death of certain aspects of suburban culture.

Here's a bit about culs-de-sac that I wrote from a while back.

While I appreciate the particularly Minnesotan cul de sac criticism, being hard to plow is just the tip of the snowdrift when it comes to culs-de-sac and their problems.

Here’s three big reasons:

  • They’re a pedestrian wasteland. Culs-de-sac, and the sprawling, disordered, difficult to navigate neighborhoods that follow them, are too non-linear to easily have sidewalks. Even if they had them, it would be too difficult to walk anywhere, and the lack of any commercial streets mean there’s nowhere to walk anyway. For a country facing an oil-induced energy crisis, this is a problem.
  • They can increase traffic congestion. Because culs-de-sac aren’t through streets, they force all the cars onto one or two main drags. Increased traffic levels often mean congestion, and without any alternative routes, there’s nothing PO’d drivers can do about it.
  • Culs-de-sac aren’t safer. At least one study has shown that the “quiet and child-friendly” cul-de-sac is statistically more dangerous. Parents, constantly forced to back out of their driveways, are very likely to back over one of their own (or their neighbor’s) children. In addition, the lack of regular traffic (or neighbor’s windows) on the street makes it more likely for a burglary to occur.


<<<>>>


Your other sidewalk blog of the week is:

Newton Streets and Sidewalks

Mostly these two sidewalk bloggers write about crosswalks, bike lanes, creating a movement for more useable street spaces in greater Boston. Good sidewalk blog!


<<<>>>


A MinnPost story on nefarious lobbying interests at the state capital -- the Ethanol crowd and the auto industry attempting to stop Minnesota's movement for higher fuel efficiency standards:

That's why his group and the Minnesota Auto Dealers' Association have courted ethanol producers and agriculture powerhouses like the Minnesota Corn Growers and the Farm Bureau to join the fight being waged in Minnesota and eight other states over whether the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, D.C., or the California Air Resources Board (ARB) in Sacramento should be the guiding authority on regulating auto emissions.

<<<>>>


I read a column on the back page of the Downtown Journal the other day by this guy, Sam Newburg, who's a local urbanist, explaining how good street spaces help the economy in Minneapolis, or something.

Anyway, I couldn't find the column online, so here's his blog: Joe-urban.com.

Most of it's focused on national urban & social issues.


<<<>>>


The much vaunted sidewalk and pedestrian showpiece article in the Strib came out, and was better than expected, though there were a surprising number of potshots at bikers.

In an effort to make Minneapolis more "walkable," city officials are working up a pedestrian master plan, which they hope will ultimately improve the safety, accessibility and beauty of problem areas.

The process goes like this: The city holds public open houses, the first of which is today, where people can point out pedestrian challenges. Those challenges should lead to recommendations. Those recommendations will be drafted into a plan and presented to the City Council in the fall.

Already, drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians are putting in their two cents about potential improvements.

I like how "walkable" is in quotes. Someday, I have faith that it'll be a real word!


<<<>>>


Potholes are the new black!

In a very surprising development, not one, but two local pothole blogs have started up recently:

Dave at Doodledee has a great new "Pothole of the Week" feature, but was trumped by the City Pages' Paul Demko, who has launched the "Pothole of the Day" segment of The Blotter blog.

Perhaps this is par for the course in the land of Pothole Pawlenty.


<<<>>>


A great sidewalk photo from Uptown Mpls Blog:



<<<>>>

27.3.08

Do Minneapolis Sidewalks Suck?: Twin Cities and Walkability Rankings

You might remember that a few weeks ago, Prevention Magazine inexplicably ranked Minneapolis the #70 "Best Place to Walk in the U.S."

Obviously, I've got a few problems with this ranking.

First of all, it must be said that the Prevention Magazine walkability rankings website is terrible. According to my scientific criteria, it is the #659 Best Usability for a U.S. City Rankings Website in the U.S., coming just after the "Top 10 Shuffleboard Cities Website 1996" rankings and the "Best Airport Bathrooms for Cruising 2000 Rankings Website".

It's so terrible! Completely impossible to read. An ADD-prone kindergarden class with 4800-baud modems could easily do better. It wouldn't even require infinite monkeys with infinite typewriters . . .


[This is literally the worst "professional" website I have seen in the current millennium.]


This is what Prevention Magazine and the American Podiatric Medical Association used to make their rankings:

The #1 criteria was what they called "expert ratings", where cites were ranked on a #1 - #4 scale for walkability by a group of experts.

Then there were these criteria:

Heavily-weighted Criteria:
  • Walking Commuters (Percentage of residents who walk to work.)
  • Green Space (parks per square mile)
  • Safe Streets ( incidence of violent crimes)

Medium-weighted Criteria:
  • Pedestrian fatalities (Number of pedestrian fatalities)
  • Fitness Walking (Percentage of the population who walk for exercise)
  • Schools (Number of schools per square mile)
  • Mass Transit (Percentage of the population who use mass transit)
  • Cars (Total number of cars per household)

Low-Weighted Criteria:

  • WalkScore (The number of destinations such as restaurants, stores, parks, libraries, theaters, and fitness centers within a walkable distance from the center of town as calculated by Walkscore.com)
  • Air Quality (Based on measures from the Environmental Protection Agency)
  • Rails to Trails Program (Cities that have railroad tracks that have been converted to walking or cycling trails)
  • Cleanliness (Cities that participate in the Keep America Beautiful program)


Some of these ratings are very dodgy. For example, the "fitness walkers" score, or the "pedestrian fatalities" score.

Cities with high income, a lot of tourists, or good weather are far more likely to have people who walk for "fitness", rather than people who walk because they need to. And cities with higher total numbers of pedestrians are far more likely to have more pedestrian fatalities overall. For example, a very unwalkable city would probably have very few pedestrian fatalities, simply because nobody would ever walk in it.

The kinds of things they should have studied are: amount of sidewalk space, and actual social pedestrian behavior. There must be someone, somewhere that is counting the number of people out walking on the streets, no? The American Time Use Survey would be a very good place to start. That's a longitudinal survey where large numbers of people fill out exactly what they do during a given day, using very specific codes. (Though the Bush Administration is threatening to cut its funding.)

Also, some controls should have been added for spaces that are very highly walkable, e.g. the resort areas v. places that are totally unwalkable, like most of suburbia. The overall distribution of walkability should matter. There should be a difference between people going on many many short walks, v. fewer amounts of long walks. New York City, for example, is a fabulously walkable place, but it probably has many pedestrian fatalities, more cold weather, and higher crime than the sun belt cities that dominated this list.

All in all, there was no spatial component of any kind in this study. In other words, where people walked made no difference at all.

Little weight was given to places that might have average-to-good overall walkable streets, but no places of really high pedestrian traffic. Minneapolis and Saint Paul are clearly cities that are in that category. We don't really have the kind of streetlife that you might find in Boston or San Francisco. Except for a very few locations, you're never going to get those amounts of density on Twin City sidewalks.

Rather, the sidewalks here are really pleasant, and underused. That actually makes for fairly decent walking, in a great many places. Certainly Minneapolis is better then their #4 ranked city, Charlotte, North Carolina (I've walked there and its nothing special.), or their #15 ranked city, Las Vegas, Nevada (pretty mediocre walking, apart from the strip).

Sidenote: (But, OH MY GOD, their website is so terrible! It's intolerable! Their rankings aren't searchable, or split up by number or name. You have to page through 10+ pages of small tables to find out anything!)

(Frankly, Prevention Magazine seems very dependent on athletic shoe advertisers for revenue, and for that reason alone their study gives added weight to, for example, the # of athletic shoe purchases in a given city.)

[Little known fact: The Prevention Magazine Walkability Rankings were created on a Commodore 64.]

That said, and even though Prevention Magazine's ratings totally suck, the idea of boosting walkability, and walking as a form of exercise, is a very good one.

Sidewalks are highly correlated with public health. And neighborhood design is a crucial component of things like the obesity crisis, social capital, and creating a participation culture in the U.S. We need people walking, biking, running, walking their dog, and experiencing the world first hand!

Lately, I've been coming across study after study that has emphasized the connections between sidewalks, walking, and health.

For example, here's a study on how urban design can encourage walking and urban health, from the Journal of Planning Education and Research. The abstract:
The authors examine the magnitude of health benefits from urban design characteristics that are associated with increased walking. Using geocoded travel diary data from Portland, Oregon, regression analyses give information on the magnitude and statistical significance of the link between urban design variables and two-day walking distances. From the coefficient point estimates, the authors link to the health literature to give information on how many persons would realize health benefits, in the form of reductions in mortality risk, from walking increases associated with urban design changes. Using a cost-benefit analysis framework, they give monetized estimates of the health benefits of various urban design changes. The article closes with suggestions about how the techniques developed can be applied to other cost-benefit analyses of the health benefits of planning projects that are intended to increase walking.


And here's a great book I picked up recently called Health and Community Design that connects the dots between suburbia, auto-dependence, and some of the public health problems we've created in America during the past 50 years. It should be fairly obvious that there's a feedback loop between giant houses, three car garages, a lack of sidewalks and local stores, and people with fat asses.

The authors write:
Most the of the communities where Americans live are important contributors to current public health problems. Simultaneously, they can also be the source of important solutions to these problems. Communities can be designed to make physical activity in them possible and even desirable. Environments that encourage moderate physical activity may also have features that make them more liveable in other ways, by improving one's quality of life -- they may generate more social interaction, foster less dependence on the automobile, be safer for their inhabitants, and give people more choices with respect to how they get around and spend their time. In these pages we do not seek to condemn any particular form of community design. Rather, a central goal is to develop a better understanding of the ways in which the features o the built environment serve to encourage or discourage health -- promoting behaviors, two of which are walking and bicycling.

But we never really think about how our landscapes condition our behavior. Instead we just blame ourselves, drive to the Barnes & Noble, and buy diet books with reckless abandon.

We should be walking to and from the store, walking our dogs, walking to school, walking to the shoe store, biking to work, biking to the drug store, walking to the bar, stumbling home from the bar. All of these things are fun to do, and all of them add up to make a healthier, more interesting lifestyle.

Plus, isn't it nice to think that we can save the planet and lose weight, all at the same time? Isn't that the bourgeois dream come true?

Also:

Here's another walkability study (from Brookings) that is much better done. The Twin Cities ranks #17.

Also Also:

One of my all-time favorite must-read articles from the Rake Magazine's Jennifer Vogel a few years ago on a year of walking in Minneapolis:

On the first day of my walking regimen, I slipped into hiking boots and filled a backpack with various work papers and skin lubricants. It was March, so nobody was outside. Nobody who wasn’t in a car, that is. A recent survey asked Minneapolis residents to list their primary mode of transportation; seventy-four percent travel by car, sixteen percent by bus. Only two percent listed each bicycling and walking. That’s not so surprising when you consider other city statistics, which show that the total number of “vehicle miles traveled” increased 129 percent between 1970 and 1990, and that since the 1950s, more than five hundred miles of highway have been constructed in the metropolitan area.

25.3.08

Signs of the Times



Your sign
HERE!
As low as $1.75 ea.
Impact Printing

[Under a stop sign on Western Avenue, Saint Paul]






Please Read
Whole Sign!!

Thanks!

[A Salvation Army cash register, Savannah, GA ]





OIL
men
Profit
from
WAR

[On a telephone pole on 38th Street, Minneapolis]





We are now accepting
applications for the position

Fortune cookie
machine operator

Start part time

Apply within


[Bakery on Cedar Avenue, Minneapolis]





THIS AREA UNDER
RECORDED
SURVEILLANCE

[Under a backwards fenced-in stop sign on East 7th Street, Saint Paul]

23.3.08

Sidewalk of the Week: Hamline and Randolph Avenues

It might not look like it, but there's a small world hiding on this one little corner of Randolph and Hamline Avenues in the middle of Saint Paul.

I'm sure I've driven past it a hundred times, and never given a second glance to this little jumble of brick buildings, lurking on an innocuous corner between Highland Park and West 7th. Even after a friend took me to The Nook a few years ago, I would drive past this spot and fail to see the beauty within. Even after another buddy, a total latte-art-pouring coffee snob, told me that I had to go to Kopplin's Coffee on the corner of Randolph and Hamline . . . I drove past this block three different times looking for a coffee shop, before giving up. I never for a moment thought that this one little huddle of buildings contained lifetimes of experience.

I was wrong. This one corner, known as "Ran-Ham", houses a supermarket, a consignment store, an antique furniture store, a Catholic icon store, a really good coffee shop, a basement bowling alley, a whole bunch of second-story apartments, AND one of the most sought-after places for a beer and burger in the entire Twin Cities. In fact, all of these things are available in this rather plain-seeming corner in the middle of Saint Paul, within the walls of this rather normal clump of buildings. And all of these things can be found on a footprint that would fit comfortably inside a SuperTarget parking lot.

Don't believe me? Look for yourself!



How does Ran-Ham pull off this David Blaine-esque feat?

It's a goddamn miracle! (Which may explain the pictures of the pope that adorn the inside of The Nook.)


[The sun shines over a goddamn sidewalk miracle. Friend, you've got to believe!]

No, this little cluster of buildings manages to pack an entire microcosm of culture into a streetcorner the size of a travel thimble, here in Saint Paul across from Cretin-Durham Hall, the large local Catholic School. In fact, Ran-Ham is probably the poster child for those little "neighborhood-y" shop corners that give Saint Paul its local, small town feel.

So the Catholic school across the street explains the Catholic Books & Gift shop. But then you've also got Kopplin's Coffee Shop, home of not one, but two Clover coffee machines, and these two little stores occupying a pair of symmetrical butterfly-wing doors that open onto this little stretch of sidewalk.

The sidewalk outside is impeccable, as the coffee shop keeps a few chairs outside its big picture window, so that coffee lovers can sit and maybe watch the baseball game across the street. Or getting that wonderful schadenfreude feeling of 'non-queue-ing', that comes from gazing at the omnipresent mass of people waiting for a table at The Nook, the nextdoor burger joint. And somehow, the door between these two staples of imbibery houses the Ran-Ham Bowling Alley, itself an exercise in spatial thrift. The alley keeps a hand-written sandwich board sign out on the street that fits nicely between the sidewalk chairs, endtables, picnic bench, and cigarette butt hopper.

(And I haven't even mentioned the cluster of buildings across Randolph Avenue from this little clump, the corner that houses an old-school barber shop, The Copper Dome breakfast restaurant, and a dine-in/delivery pizza joint called Classic Pizza.)



[The Nook-side alley is a very important part of the pedestrian puzzle, providing space and access and light and vantages for all involved.]


Sidenote: Perhaps this is a good time to question the Saint Paul convention of identifying neighborhoods by juxtaposing the first syllables of the nearest intersecting avenues. E.g. The "Ran-Ham" neighborhood, a name that rolls off the tongue like previously chewed fudge?

There is also the Snell-Ham (Snelling & Hamline) and the Lex-Ham (Lexington and Hamline).

It's enough to make me very concerned.

Should the corner of Snelling & Selby be known as Snell-Selb?
Should there be a Sum-Cleve at Summit & Cleveland?
A Thompson & Victoria "Thom-Vic"?
A Jefferson and Cretin "Jeff-Crete"?
The SuperTarget at Uni-Ham?
What price dignity?

What saves the Ran-Ham, in my book, is Korte's, the awesome neighborhood supermarket that has managed to somehow survive in an era of ever-larger food consumption. This is a store that people can actually walk to without crossing an ocean-sized parking lot, and they can actually leave while carrying fresh groceries home in a bag to make for dinner on their own two feet without feeling like Lawrence of Arabia parting the Red Sea.

Plus, it has wide windows through which passers-by can look in and gaze at the backside of a meat counter, watch the dude who scans the groceries. We can only hope that Korte's survives the impending Trader Joe's.


[The don't make 'em like this any more. The color scheme is remarkable!]

Time and again, I've found that neighborhoods surrounding Catholic churches and schools are the best around. Maybe it has to do with respect for tradition, or hearing the sounds of bells, or a desire to live close to an institution . . .

But the little corner at Ran-Ham is a pint-sized package of fun. Picture yourself going bowling ten frames while sipping a single-sourced espresso, enjoying a delicious burger and rosary combo, or finding the perfect spot for your sack of just-bought vegetables in an on-sale antique buffet.

Do we really need more retail space than this?

There's a steep price to be paid for having a big-box building full of everything nearby. You have to put up with gallons of gas guzzled, tundras of asphalt, long walks through frustrated parkers competing for fractions.

Granted, Ran-Ham's Bella Galleria Consignments isn't going to have a Nintendo Wii, but there's more character in this one fraction of a block on Randolph and Hamline then in the entire Mall of America. And that's why you, the small corner at Ran-Ham, are today's Sidewalk of the Week.


[This is the sidewalk equivalent of comfort food.]

22.3.08

<<< News Flash! >>>

Careful out there Twin Cities! Just when you think the sidewalks are finally free of snow, and you can move along to mudpuddles and earthworms, along comes more drifting slush.

But it will soon vanish, and flowers will spring from the cracks in the pavement. The equinox don't lie! Prepare for daffodils!


<<<>>>


This is an amusing sidewalk video from the UK. Apparently they have sidewalks there, too.

Q: Do they walk on the same side of the street?




<<<>>>


The local group, Transit for Liveable Communities has a new newsletter out praising recent funding victories, claiming that the annual revenue stream from the quarter-point sales tax will be "over $117 million to be exact".

(That's not exact enough for me! I want decimals.)
Finally, they outline three challenges for transit in the coming year...

Still, there are several challenges ahead. First, we need to get the counties to join the JPA. Second, we need to move the Central Corridor light rail transit line forward with $70 million in General Obligation bonds this year and another $30 million in the 2009 legislative session. Third, we need to protect the current general fund allocations to transit.

#3 is the sticky point. Does a new income stream for transit funding mean that the Metro Transit budget is ripe for the cutting?

One bus driver seems to think so.


<<<>>>


I missed this fun PiPress story (only the Cached version is active now, unfortunately)...

It finds PiPress reporter Richard Chin wandering around with my favorite Anti-car cartoonist Andy Singer (and another anti-car cartoonist, Ken Avidor) as they wear bike helmets and talk about how cars are terrible ideas.

"Mainly, I hate being in a car," Avidor said. "It's a canned experience."

"All this space, and there's no bike stand," he muttered as he and Singer wheeled away from the front doors of the convention center to look for a pole to lock their bikes.

"The formaldehyde new car smell," said Singer as we walked into the convention center's biggest event, a half-million square feet of exhibit space covered with gleaming sheet metal.


I have fond auto show memories, too, mostly of swiping the leatherbound owner's manual for a 1998 Porsche 911 from its glovebox when nobody was looking.


[Car-toon by Andy Singer]


<<<>>>


The Strib had a piece on the slowing pace of growth in Twin Cities' suburban and exurban counties.

People in city halls who have been processing thousands of building permits are losing their jobs. Cities such as Woodbury and Cottage Grove are reassigning staffers from approving developments and inspecting new homes to keeping an eye on those abandoned in mid-construction -- watching for graffiti or burst pipes.


Don't get your hopes up, folks. It doesn't mean people don't want to move to the exurbs. It only means that the TC economy is terrible! Must be all the potholes.


<<<>>>


The Strib's Roadguy blog column is pretty entertaining, and is starting to make me worried that sidewalk blogging is becoming a trend. For example, Jim Foti posted this story recently:

On Sunday, Roadguy was walking along this stretch of bombed-out asphalt, and near the intersection with Aldrich, he spied something green amid all the broken gray: a 10-dollar bill.

I looked around, picked it up and contemplated my next move. Leave the money in the road in the hope that the owner might return for it? Put it back so another random person could have it, or so it could blow into a puddle and/or get run over?

As I ruminated, the friend I was with spied a one-dollar bill nearby. It was folded similarly, and it came with a clue: A receipt from Target.

See? Sidewalks are exciting!

But now that a curling reality show is coming to Prime Time TV, and sidewalk stories make the paper, I'm very concerned about becoming too popular.

Perhaps I can change this blog's focus to lint art? Shuffleboard tactics? Mailbox repair?


<<<>>>


Sometimes, you meet someone just a moment too late to become friends. Sometimes, you're just a moment too late to become enemies.

For example, I happened across another sidewalk blog the other day . . .

DC Sidewalks: IMPETUOUS PEDESTRIANS...CROSSWALK THESPIANS...MOTORCAR EQUESTRIANS

I mean, listen to this crap!

Watch your footing out there - the sidewalks are nothing but ice. At least in the neighborhoods. But instead of condemning people for not shoveling the public sidewalks in front of their houses, I urge everyone to enjoy this early December icing. Because if we are all lucky enough to reproduce and then have offspring able and willing to do the same, we can tell our grandkids these great stories like:

"I remember back in aught-seven when we got four inches of snow December - early December! And you know there was ice all over the place - frozen water, I tells ya!"[...]

(Compare with really fine sidewalk prose...)

Apparently, some schmuck wants to write about sidewalks, complete with a "haiku of the week" and pictures of sidewalks with the shadow of the photographer in them. Well, friend, there ain't room enough in this fine nation for two sidewalk blogs, especially when separated by a single letter.

That's why I was all set to forthwith declare DC Sidewalks the Official Sidewalk Blog Nemesis (OSBN) of TC Sidewalks, only it turns out the blog's author is taking his sidewalk blog on hiatus for the time being.

Oh well. Maybe we can be sidewalk blog nemeses some other time?


<<<>>>


The strib is apparently gearing up for a big sidewalk feature story about the city of Minneapolis' pedestrian and sidewalk open house this week!

Wednesday, March 26
5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Minneapolis Central Library
300 Nicollet Mall.
Sidewalk Presentation at 6 p.m.

Apparently the focus is on "pedestrian challenges".

My list:
  • Cars

So there you have it.
Be there, or be in a car.
Sidewalk users of Minneapolis, represent!


<<<>>>


Speaking of which, there was much ado about little during the recent bout of snowstorms that swept through the cities this last week.

Weathermen are willing to stoop to anything to fetch a headline, including warning of "heart attack snow".

You want snow? Madison, Wisconsin has been getting snow.

If a little snow shoveling is going to give you a coronary, chances are you're not off your couch
for more than an hour each day.

Snow shoveling is the best kind of exercise! We should all cherish the opportunity to combine physical endeavor with civic betterment!


<<<>>>


I was sad to discover an awesome website, only too late. While up on Central Avenue recently, I saw the new NorthEast location of Porky's Diner, the famous University Avenue car 'n' pork joint, which is apparently hedging its bets before the impending Light Rail train for better, more auto-oriented climes to the West.

Well, the move hasn't come without much sidewalk concern (and a dash of NIMBY-ism) on the part of the aptly-named Neighbors Against Porky's (NAP) blog.

These are the main concerns of NAP:

1. St. Paul Porky's had high levels of police calls, crime, and nuisance issues compared to comparable businesses. St. Paul police: "(Porky's) proved to be undependable."

2. Land use: the new Porky's neighbors single family homes and the drive thru exits 40 feet from the front door of the adjacent home.
Consider where new fast food restaurants are being built; typically, new fast food restaurants are situated away from homes to minimize the effects of high traffic level and loudspeakers.

3. Land use: the lot of the new Porky's is too small: 1/3 acre. The St. Paul Porky's has about an acre and most other fast food restaurants lots that are .75-1.25 acres.

4. Land use: The Porky's lot and neighboring public land needed to be rezoned to allow Porky's to develop. The zoning code is a contract between residents and the city, so both sides know what kind of development can occur. If a parcel of land is rezoned, it is normally agreed to by the residents and city. In this instance, the adjacent neighbors views were ignored. Who will be ignored next?

5. Inconsistent development principles: other businesses proposed uses for the site that required rezoning, but the city and council member quietly rebuffed the proposals. For the Porky's proposal, the city rezoned the adjacent public property to allow Porky's to build.

6. Near another problem fast food restaurant: neighbors regularly complain to the city regarding the Burger King 1 block south. Yet, the city has not adequately monitored that site. Can the city manager to monitor another fast food restaurant?
Why is there a big difference in my mind between Burger King and Porky's? Hell, I like Porky's! And, if these folks think they have it bad, imagine being a resident of the nursing home that is next to the Saint Paul Porky's? (I've always thought that was strange, even though the pig joint came first.)

My big problem with Porky's is that it encourages people to eat in their cars. How barbaric!

Oh well, probably all water under the bridge now, eh? Eat up.


<<<>>>


Here are three national transportation headlines:

Federal Gov't Committed to let the Market Drive Transportation (Mpls cited as example)

City-based Wireless Internet proving to be almost impossible

Maryland approves photocop-style speed cameras



<<<>>>


Here's a new blog about "exploring sustainable solutions to the problem of urban mobility".

That sounds to me like it should be a blog about sidewalks, but it turns out to be more about buses and stuff, from a global perspective.


<<<>>>


Photos of paths made by people who don't walk on the sidewalk.


Are these sidewalks? What if nobody walks on the sidewalk proper, and everyone walks on the "desire path"?

And here is an old, defunct blog featuring sidewalks that don't lead anywhere, appropriately titled Sidewalks to Nowhere.



Has the world gone topsy-turvy? What are we coming to???


<<<>>>


Speaking of which, here's a wonderful old City Pages story on a guy who had to build his own sidewalk to nowhere.
Keith Koch just went ahead and paid out-of-pocket for the new public patch of sidewalk in front of 926. No threatening to leave town. No referendum. But then Keith didn't have much choice. A while back the city ordered him to pull a permit within 15 days and hire a licensed and bonded contractor or it would bid the job out, add a 10-percent fee on top of estimated costs of $500, and put the tab on Keith's property taxes to be paid over five years at 6 percent.

This isn't just any sidewalk. It's the last section of public walkway on the eastern shore. Five feet further on is an 8-foot chain link fence. Beyond the fence, southbound 35W splits into three lanes heading for 94 East, 94 West, and the 11th Avenue exit; four lanes of 94 head east with one lane peeling away to 55 South; four more lanes of 94 head west with two unopened lanes coming in from northbound 55; three lanes of 35W head north with one lane splitting off for the Third Street exit; the Fifth Street exit comes in from 94 West; and the Sixth Street ramp heads out for 94 East. Altogether you need to leap the fence, sprint across 16 lanes of freeway, climb a hill, leap another chain-link fence, and cross a street before you land on the next section of sidewalk on 13th Avenue.


Perhaps he could have used the Sidewalks to Nowhere blog as a reference? A support group?


<<<>>>


Sidewalk counseling is not what I thought It'd be.


<<<>>>


Classic Sidewalks of the Silver Screen #1

And finally, here's your Classic Sidewalks of the Silver Screen scene of the week:





Keanu Reeves and Lawrence Fishburne discuss the computer generated sidewalk in The Matrix (1999)

21.3.08

Pothole Pawlenty's Persistent Placebo

[image from MPR]

The story so far:
  • As a state legislator, Pothole Pawlenty engineers a big income tax cut during the surplus years of the Ventura administration.
  • Pothole Pawlenty is elected governor by a plurality, and appoints his libertarian, anti-transit, anti-'spending on anything' Lieutenant Governor to head the Department of Transportation.
  • There's a huge budget deficit. State services are cut. Property taxes go up across the state.
  • No money is spent on roads. Transit services are cut by over 10%.
  • The legislature passes a gas tax. Pothole Pawlenty vetoes it.
  • Pothole Pawlenty is re-elected, along with a slew of new DFL'ers.
  • The legislature passes a gas tax. Pothole Pawlenty vetoes it.
  • Despite the lack of investment, transit ridership reaches a 30-year high.
  • A bridge falls in the river. People die.
  • The legislature passes a gas tax. Pothole Pawlenty vetoes it. The veto is overridden.
  • Pothole Pawlenty's Lieutenant Governor is removed from her Transportation post by the State Senate.
  • Another bridge is shut down.
So, what happens now?

Maybe we cut transit funding and raise fares?
Metro Transit bus, train fares likely to increase

By Dave Orrick
dorrick@pioneerpress.com
Article Last Updated: 03/19/2008 08:57:59 AM CDT

A possible $47.5 million hole in the budget of the Metropolitan Council will likely lead to fare hikes on buses and trains at a time when ridership is booming, the agency's top official said Tuesday.

G.R. Anderson Jr. over at MinnPost had an interesting story on recent testimony by Met Council head Peter Bell, one of Pothole Pawlenty's less terrible appointments. It rather surprised me, because Bell appeared to be castigating the Governor's budget proposal, charging that it would dig MetroTransit (run by the Met Council) into another huge budget hole.

Peter Bell, Pawlenty's chairman of the Metropolitan Council, offered up a bleak picture of what could happen if Pawlenty's proposed budget cuts to Metro Transit were to come to fruition.

Bell offered a PowerPoint presentation that showed Metro Transit will be running a $1 million deficit in fiscal year 2008, and a whopping $28 million to $40 million in 2009, if all revenues and expenses stay as-is. "How did we get to this point?" one slide in the show asked. Some answers, among many, were a decline in the motor vehicle sales tax forecasts, commitments to funding the Northstar commuter rail line and, at the end, "Governor's Budget Cuts."

In an era when transit ridership is a crucial part of fighting greenhouse gas emissions, gas prices are increasing very rapidly, and ridership demand is growing, Pothole Pawlenty is trying to force the agency to increase fares and cut service, yet again. And this time, his very own appointed Met Council commissioner is calling him out on it.

Even more worrying, the move might jeopardize the Central Corridor light rail project by changing the transit calculus for the always-important Cost Effectiveness Index (CEI), the formula by which the federal govt' decides which transit projects deserve investment.
... the Feds, Bell admitted, won't take too kindly to increasing fares and cutting services.

"The FTA will not fund any transit expansion if we degrade our bus system," Bell told committee members. "If we are raising fares and cutting routes ... they will not fund 50 percent" of the costs for these and other projects. Which means delays, if the projects ever happen at all.

So for now Bell and lawmakers are looking for other solutions, partnering with counties for funding and the like. But perhaps just as startling as the money issue was Bell's seeming willingness to go against the grain with the governor; he's long been viewed as a Pawlenty acolyte.

[emphasis mine]
This is on top of the fact that current versions of the state budget don't adequately fund the state's portion of the Central Corridor. According to a source, both Pothole Pawlenty's budget proposal, and the DFL version of the same fund $70 million for the Central Corridor project, half of the required amount to guarantee federal dollars.

At some point, someone is going to have to find another pot of money for the Central Corridor.

One would have thought that transit would stop being such a political football in times like these, when alternative energy projects are on the front burner, and reducing climate change has become a widely-supported political project.

Transit is one of the best ways to reduce global warming gas emissions. According to this recent study, not only does it reduce the overall miles traveled, but transit encourages dense communities, creating land use effects that reduce greenhouse gases even if you never take public transit a day in your life. In other words , more people taking transit means more shops, homes, and office are located closer together. That means that everyone's climate footprint is smaller in a transit-oriented world.

Making further cuts to the Twin Cities transit system now is a crazy idea, particularly since Pothole Pawlenty's Transportation Department is shutting down bridges left and right. Let's hope that Metro Transit doesn't get the short end of the stick yet again this year.

19.3.08

Other City Sidewalks: Cincinnati, Ohio


[The view of the vast Ohio River from the Taylor Southgate bridge, with Cincinnati's stadium-encrusted waterfront on the right, and Covington, Kentucky off in the distance.]



Of all places I have walked, Cincinnati has the saddest sidewalks in the world. I’ve never felt such pangs of regret, of tragedy, of missed opportunities than walking the streets of Cincinnati last summer. It’s one of the reasons why it’s taken me so long to digest my experience there, part of my last summer’s Amtrak trip through Chicago, DC, Savannah, Durham, and New London.

I was in Cincinnati for a friend’s wedding, staying in a nice hotel downtown, and my first reaction to the new place, after stepping out of the wonderful train station, was how similar the city seemed to my Twin City hometowns. Cincinnati, like the Twin Cities, is an old Midwestern river city that was extensively modernized during the 50s and 60s, and serves as a regional hub, boasting of local pride. The population of Cincinnati is just above Saint Paul’s, and just below Minneapolis’s. And, just like locals love mentioning Garisson Keillor, anyone from Cincinnati will tell you to try the skyline chili, a local mix of spaghetti, chili, oyster crackers, and tons and tons of shredded cheese. Similarly, the city’s slogan – “The Queen city” – is everywhere, as are barges and paddleboats and bridges and fans of the local baseball team. (Not only that, but the Twins and the Reds have long been joined in a kind of vampiric symbiosis, as their two General Managers had worked together and arranged a great many trades for some of the most mediocre players in the majors, like Kyle Loshe and Luis Rivas. [shudder])

There is, too, a similar sort of backwardness. Mark Twain allegedly quipped, ’When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because it’s always 20 years behind the times.” (And that was 120 years ago!) The same could certainly be said of Saint Paul, and in either place you get a provincial feeling of a place on the edge – for Cincinnati, the Ohio River marks the edge of the North and the great South, and the TC sits on the edge of the East and the West, with nothing between here and the Pacific Ocean save Butte, Montana.



[Just like in Minneapolis, Cincinnati has one of these sidewalk-eating parking ramps that sticks its little tongue out into the middle of the walkway and laps up cars, forcing people to walk underneath a concrete tunnel.]

If they are similar, though, Cincinnati seems to me a Twilight Zone version of the Twin Cities where everything urban has gone wrong. When I did some research on the city before going there, everything said that I needed to get to Fountain Square, which was the heart of the downtown. It was most disappointing. The fountain had been moved and de-centered a few years back, and today it lays surrounded by a desert of poured concrete, hemmed in by the tall dull facades of bland office buildings. There was an occasional group of people hanging around it the fountain, but it largely had the feel the many lifeless institutional modernist plazas that dot the landscape of American cities like measles (e.g. Hennepin County Gov’t center, which is actually far more lively than Fountain Square).

[Three views of fountain square, one of them flattering. The fountain is very nice, though. It spouts water in all sorts of ways from a great variety of cast iron figurines. One of my great problems with Fountain Square is that its not demarcated; its almost as if the street extends right into the middle of the square, and you can easily imagine some dude in an SUV just driving all over this piece of pedestrian pavement. It compares quite unfavorably to Saint Paul's Rice Park, for example.]


The city was apparently trying to liven up its square. They were hosting events, and had installed a giant rectangular TV screen above the facing Macy’s. The screen was largely illegible during the daytime, and screened a constant ‘big brother’ feed of the square, as if to say “you’re being watched.” But during the evenings, they were using the screen to show movies to the public, and I guess it’d be fun to watch a film there if you enjoy the visual experience of a drive through. It's certainly an attempt to move in the right direction, to recreate some life on the city's sidewalks, even if a few neck-craning details had been overlooked. But Fountain Square was far too institutional and alienating for me, even though the fountain itself is very nice.

[A scene that will be familiar to any Twin Citian: a map and skyway, only here it lurks in a city that doesn't even have winter to speak of.]

Cincinnati is also one of the few cities in America, save for our very fine Twin Cities, that can boast of a skyway system. I’ve often complained (and I will again) that our skyways are a soul-sucking blight on our downtowns, feature the worst kind of public space, and represent not just a stratified class system but reinforce a veritable fear of the out-of-doors, but at the very least we have a dozen or so cold winter days to justify these lifeless bridges between buildings. In Cincinnati, they don’t even have snow! It might be a bit hot, climate-wise, but if you ever want to see a place whose streets have been destroyed by skyways, go to Cincinnati, Ohio. It’s like an entire downtown of nothing but Town Squares and City Centre’s, Galtier Plazas and Pillsbury HQ’s. Most of the office buildings host interior atria, like this one in the gargantuan Westin Hotel,* where everything closes at 5 pm and boasts all the ambience of a high school swimming pool.

[Aaah, the pleasant experience of walking to the riverfront.]


Cincinnati also has a legacy of terrible freeway placement, and auto-oriented streets. The interstate, I -71, runs directly between the downtown and the Ohio River, which, quite frankly, kicks the Mississippi’s butt when it comes to being a large, impressive river. (Our river might have a nice name, but it carries less water than the Minnesota, Missouri, Saint Croix, or Ohio…) And the large freeway makes it difficult, unpleasant, and boring to actually try and walk down to the riverbanks, to attempt to enjoy the wide muddy vistas between Ohio and Kentucky. The freeway in the way means that anyone trying to find the water has to explore the undersides of massive overpasses, spelunking along sidewalks that run under cars, along mesh fences. The riverfront itself is concrete, and there’s not much down there except the two massive stadiums that the city has no doubt subsidized to the gills, and a museum devoted to the African-American experience.

[Four scenes of the riverfront area, and how it makes life difficult for those on sidewalks. Everything's out of scale. Everything's concrete. Imagine walking around here at night!]

The stadia sit along the river’s banks like a hippo in a kiddie pool, and whatever hope the city may have once had to get people living alongside and enjoying the riverfront once again was surely nixed by these humongous concrete structures. Apparently, the giant blank space in the photo below will one day be a mixed-use development, but the funding hasn’t come through, and at present, the only thing that’s down by the river is the backside of football bleachers. (Now, I did go to a Reds game, an interleaguer where I saw Sammy Sosa delightfully strike out, and the experience was probably exactly the kind of isolated, completely determined environment that major league sports executives like – the kind of thing where the stadium is an island, and every dollar spend on the evening goes right to the team, from food to parking to souvenirs… (I dream of ballparks that are embedded in their communities, and allow for economic agglomeration effects and spillover with mixed-use environments near the stadium, e.g. Wrigley, Fenway, old Yankee, …) At least we’re cramming our new waste-of-money stadium on a small site between a garbage burner, freeway, and a giant wall of parking lots. (What Cincinnati did would be kind of like having two Metrodomes right where the new Guthrie theater is, virtually guaranteeing that nobody would enjoy walking along the riverfront ever again.)


[The side of Cincinnati's new "Great American Ballpark", where the Redstockings play. To its left sits a giant vacant parcel, where someday a mixed use development will be placed. Personally, I think its the perfect site for Trooien's Bridges of Saint Paul.]


It’s a shame that Cincinnati's riverfront is so dominated by pro sports, too, because the city’s bridges are wonderful to walk across. There are a number to choose from, leading from Ohio to Kentucky, but the one that everyone should walk on is the purple people bridge, a pedestrian-only walkway bridge that carries folk from Downtown Cincinnati to Newport, Kentucky. Now, Newport is a place that’s has one of those new suburban potemkin downtowns, like Maple Grove or Woodbury, with little shops lining a very walkable sidewalks along the riverbank. Every local that I talked to in Cincinnati told me to go down here, because it was nice, and because its practically the only place I ever went where I saw people from the suburbs enjoying themselves. If anything, Newport serves as an example of what the rest of the city could look like if they ever pulled their sidewalks out of their modernist asses.


[Two views of Newport, Kentucky: on the left shoppers prepare to enter a Barnes & Noble; on the right, people gaze at Cincinnati from a safe distance.]


Finally, a few folks told me that Cincinnati has a lot of corporate headquarters (a boast exactly the same as a common Twin Cities meme). But the one that I found, Procter and Gamble, sat on the edge of downtown like a fortress, surrounded by gates and concrete and giant parking lot moats. All in all, there were precious few sidewalk-friendly features in downtown Cincinnati, and from my street-level view, it seemed that most of what the government was attempting to do was having negative effects, making the walkability problems even worse. (The same holds true for the massive Kroger HQ.)

(The one exception was this nice rapid transit stop, along the street that runs just past Fountain Square. It was kind of like a Bus Rapid Transit stop, and definitely broke up the concrete uniformity of the downtown core.)


[One of the main streets of Cincinnati, Ohio, where people wait for the bus and admire the 60s architecture.]

So, that’s all the bad stuff. I suppose we should say that Cincinnati has a right to do what it wants with its space. As far as that goes, Cincinnati would be just another typical American city, like Dallas or Charlotte, albeit a particularly bleak and lifeless example. But that wouldn’t be enough to make Cincinnati's sidewalks the saddest sidewalks in the world . . .

No, the big difference between Cincinnati and the Twin Cities is that Cincinnati is far far older than Saint Paul or Minneapolis. In fact, Cincinnati was the first non-coastal boomtown in America,** and peaked sometime in the early- to mid-1800s with a flood of German immigrants crossing the Appalachians to get to the very-navigable Ohio River. Cincinnati boasted large populations of people who, at one time slaughtered more pork than anywhere in the world (Cincinnati named itself “porkopolis”). And today, Cincinnati has the largest contiguous historic district in the country in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. I’d read about Over-the-Rhine on historic preservation websites: it was a huge area of old buildings next to downtown Cincinnati, and had recently been given, en masse, historic preservation status. It was named after the old Miami and Erie Canal that had run from the Ohio River and around downtown, which the German immigrants had taken to calling the Rhine River as they crossed it to go to work every day.*** So one Sunday morning, I set out to find it.

I didn’t have a map, so I wandered off in what I’d thought was its general direction, off to the East in the direction of the train station. As it turned out, I was going completely the wrong way, but it became a blessing as I wandered into Over-the-Rhine from the back side.


[The street on which I found myself. Not a soul to be seen, really. Lots of vacant lots, in between the beautiful old buildings. This could be Minneapolis, in a bizarro world.]

I found myself entering the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood somewhere near York Street north of Liberty, and of all the cities I’ve wandred in, I can say that I’ve never been more blown away by the beauty of the old buildings. This part of the country has huge amounts of in-tact turn of the century hosuing stock… row houses with Victorian elegance, woodwork, porticoes and cornices, brickwork and bay windows, porches and stoops. I’ve also never been more blown away by the decrepit conditions of the houses I saw, as I wandered for miles through the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. I was solicited by a nice lady on a Sunday morning, nobody was out and about, and I didn’t feel like it would have been very ethical to take many photos of this part of town.

But there’s no doubt that this part of the city has never seen a bulldozer. Considering the amount of time I spend in Minnesota mourning the loss of old places – Nicollet Park, the Metropolitan Building, old Dale Street – its absolutely amazing to me that this amount of old building stock survived intact in the United States.

[Findlay Market, a quite nice place to buy a canteloupe, or sit on the stoop. Unfortunately, its the only nice place to do such things in the entire Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, as far as I could tell.]

I wandered for quite a while until I happened across Findlay Market, one of the last remaining old covered markets in the US. Findlay Market forms the heart of Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine community, and is hands down the most interesting place I saw when I was in the city. (In fact, its exactly the kind of old covered market that was bulldozed to make a parking lot in Savannah, GA ... a move which is now being undone at great cost.) It's clearly, too, the focal point of the city's attempts to renovate this huge, sprawling preserved gem, and when I was there I found a health food store, and a few dozen people gearing up for what promised to be fruit and vegetable sales, food sales, and a host of other things...


[The beautiful old buildings extend to the old canal -- the Rhine -- where they quickly transform into 60s modernist office buildings.]


The buildings in the neighborhood, just any of the buildings in Over-the-Rhine, were gorgeous three story brownstones that wouldn't be out of place in San Francisco, and the entire experience would have been like going back in time and stepping into a postcard, if all the houses along the streets surrounding the market hadn't been boarded up. I've had similar experiences in places like Memphis or Baltimore, where small parts of the city are somewhat renovated and surrounded by bombed out houses... but I felt like the social and economic activity in Findlay Market was primarily oriented toward the community that lived there, if only because I didn't think anyone else in Cincinnati would have been willing to come down to the Over-the-Rhine and frequent the marketplace.

But walking from Findlay Market back to the downtown center, you pass through block after block after block of gorgeous Victorian building, with opulent detailing and boarded up windows. There are a few places that are making use of the first-floor commercial space, including a fabulous old bar and used bookstore on Main Street that had been restored and served me a morning coffee. But none of the buildings had any shops. Wikipedia's entry on Over-the-Rhine lists is declining population thus:

  • 1900: 44,475
  • 1960: 30,000
  • 1970: 15,025
  • 1980: 11,914
  • 1990: 9,572
  • 2000: 7,500
It's not hard to believe that the neighborhood had twice as many people living in it thirty years ago when you walk down its deserted sidewalks, but it does make you really really sad to think that this perfectly walkable, liveable, historic neighborhood in a vibrant American city, in a era when historic property is at an absolute premium, is going unused, its buildings just falling down. (There's a movement underfoot to build a streetcar through Over-the-Rhine, connecting downtown to the nearby University of Cincinnati. It's a great idea, and nowhere more needed than here, but like most grassroots streetcar movements, is going nowhere.)

Correction: The streetcar will be built, and will hopefully be running by 2011. Note that that is far sooner than the Twin Cities' University Avenue light rail, which has been on the books since the early 80s.


[Maybe its a coincidence, but Cincinnati has a Race Street, a "Jail Al", and a plaque dedicating the site of the first US Correctional Congress.]


(Don't get me wrong, there are people living in Over-the-Rhine, but I've gotten this far in this entry without mentioning Cincinnati's rather tragic history of race relations, and I 'd kind of like to keep the focus on the buildings. Here's a link to a video which I think reflects well the social conditions of the Over-the-Rhine, and its problems with relating to greater Cincinnati.)

If the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood were in Minneapolis, or Saint Paul, or San Francisco, it'd be one of the nicest, most interesting, most desirable addresses around. In Cincinnati, the very same neighborhood is languishing in a city that has spent all its investment capital on skyways and stadiums, leaving Over-the-Rhine to serve as an emblem of the tortured racial inequality that has marked America since its inception. It's why walking Cincinnati's streets you find the saddest sidewalks in America.

[Buildings like this are very hard to find in the United States of America.]



* The Westin Hotel Chain is also responsible for partially destroying one's experience of walkable, beautiful Savannah, GA. No doubt they promise pots of money to city councilmen...

** Saint Louis doesn't count.

*** The canal has a unbelievable, fascinatingly tragic story too.