30.5.08

U of MN Central Corridor Update

Well, the tables have finally turned against the U of MN, and it looks like the pedestrian/transit mall is likely. See the MPR story:

Hausman says the university is arrogantly elevating itself as the most important player along the corridor, and that is endangering the economic health of the entire region by putting the project on the line.

"To assume that one player has more power along the corridor, or deserves more along the corridor, doesn't serve the people of this region well," Hausman said.

The funny part about this piece is that MPR self-referentially includes their own objections in the laundry list of kibbitzing (they were the only news organization to mention this part of the story):

On the other end of the line in St. Paul, Minnesota Public Radio sent the Met Council a letter this week expressing its uneasiness about the route.

MPR is concerned that the vibrations caused by the trains running down Cedar St. in downtown St. Paul could affect the network's ability to broadcast from its main building which is located on that street.

Like the university, MPR says it supports the light rail project, but not the alignment.

It's funny when you have to grab the gun away from someone as they're about to shoot themselves in the foot, and they get mad at you for doing so.

For more of my thoughts on the matter, see this post of one of the original memos, this one, or this one on the lobbying effort.

Other reactions out there:

This picture of the auto shop on Washington Avenue that Foti includes in his piece, along with the tagline "everything old is new again" got me thinking about the inter-relationship between transportation and architecture. (It's a very good car repair place, by the way! highly recommended!)

City spaces were simply not meant to be served by the automobile. Our cities developed along streetcar lines and the way the buildings are built -- close to the curb, wide sidewalks, tall buildings, smaller yards -- work really well with transit infrastructure. It's a lot more difficult to use these kinds of spaces entirely with cars... you have to build a heckuva lot of parking lots, and somehow make these lots in ways that don't disrupt the density and continuity of the neighborhood.

In a way, it just makes sense to have LRT or transit serving a dense space like the U of MN, or University Avenue. It's the kind of transportation the buildings were designed and built for.

At the same time, suburban landscapes -- strip malls, big parking lots, vast areas of large-lot low-density residential -- were designed entirely for the automobile. It'll be almost impossible to re-adapt these spaces for anything else, which is why transit engineers are so screwed when it comes to growing the Twin Cities transit system beyond the core cities (and some of the first ring suburbs).

It's not like the streetcar LRT line is either old or new, but it's a transportation option that fits well with the kinds of spaces and buildings that exist in the older, historical parts of Minneapolis and Saint Paul.

27.5.08

Sidewalk of the Week: Riverside & 20th Avenues


[The freshly poured sidewalk around the brand new building.]



This week's Sidewalk of the Week is Riverside Avenue & 20th Avenues SE, located on the edge of the University of Minnesota Campus and just a few blocks from bustle of Cedar Avenue.

I've always loved the West Bank, ever since Bohemians first settled there its been an interesting display of the great variety of people that live in the city of Minneapolis. Plus it has an excellent arts and night life scene, and despite the fairly poor sidewalks, has remained one of the best places to walk around in the TC.

Anyway, a while back I saw a talk on the future of the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood given by one of the city's planners. During the powerpoint presentation, the planner talked about how they were trying to cultivate business and pedestrian activity along Riverside Avenue, and described how difficult and important that would be. Then she mentioned that the University's new Herbert M. Hanson Jr. Hall was the kind of architecture they didn't want to see along the street. According to the City of Minneapolis, Riverside Avenue is destined to be a "commercial corridor", linking together the three large West Bank institutions (the U of MN, Riverside Hospital, and Augsburg) and helping to entice the neighborhood's thousands of employees to get out of their cars and walk around the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

[Minneapolis' "future land use" map for the West Bank. Note the diagonal pink stripe indicating Commercial Corridor status for Riverside Avenue.]


Currently, Riverside is far from that goal. There are a lot of empty storefronts (including the recently closed North Country Coop and the long-shuttered Viking Bar) and the sidewalks are pretty empty all the way until Franklin Avenue, save for the occasional fast food chain.

But part of the problem is that the institutions along Riverside don't seem to want to build buildings that front the street, or connect well with the sidewalk. And the University's new Manson Hall is a perfect example of this:

[A building like this, without any ground floor windows, can only be enjoyed from a far distance. The sidewalk is much too close.]


Large office buildings, especially ones that serve as "gateways" for institutions, ought to have some sort of entrance facing the street and the neighborhood. Instead, Hanson Hall offers a large, blank, and reflective facade that juts toward the street, overhanging like some sort of business school guillotine.



[The only entrance to the building from Riverside is unmarked, and entirely penned in by poured concrete.]


They've placed a park along the corner of 20th and Riverside, but I've only once seen anyone sitting here. To my mind, it seems rather too exposed to be really pleasant or comfortable.

[Here's where the architects envision you sitting around in the grass and having a picnic. To me, it seems rather like a golf course.]


In short, the sidewalk on Riverside Avenue is pisspoor. Not because of any problems with the concrete, or indeed because of the lack of width or bike parking... but it sucks to walk along here because there's nothing to see or look at. It's a veritable window Sahara.


[The U architects saved the most interesting and walkable part of the building for the "inside" wall, off of the public face of Riverside Avenue.]


The U's new building only makes that problem worse, and seems to fit a pattern of the University "turning its back" to the West Bank. The way that the buildings are arranged to form a kind of wall around the campus seem to suggest that people from Cedar Riverside neighborhood are not wanted around the U of MN. Apparently, when someone donates money to the U for a new building, there are almost no restrictions on the kind of architecture that new building can have. In other words, every department or wealthy philanthropist can help design any kind of sidewalk space they want, regardless of its overall impact on the neighborhood.

Certainly the Carlson School of Business is not interested in cultivating streetlife outside its classrooms, but that doesn't mean that the University should be allowed to ignore the goals and interests of the City of Minneapolis or the West Bank neighborhood.


[The U Campus crouches low behind its protective berms, offering a well-guarded wall from which business students can pour burning pitch onto the West Bank's Viking mobs.]

18.5.08

Palwenty Sees Light. Central Corridor Funded.

This just in from the PiPress [emphasis mine]:

Budget deal reached at Capitol
By Dennis Lien
dlien@pioneerpress.com
Article Last Updated: 05/18/2008 03:45:57 PM CDT

Gov. Tim Pawlenty and legislative leaders reached agreement today on a deal to erase a projected $935 million budget deficit.

The deal and a bonding package that provides funding for the Central Corridor light-rail project, a proposed state park along Lake Vermilion, and new facilities at the Minneapolis Veterans Home were announced at a 2:15 p.m. press conference at the State Capitol.

"Minnesotans deserve tax relief and a state government that lives within its means," Pawlenty said in a statement. "This agreement delivers both.''

With the deal, legislators were prepared to approve the bills in floor sessions and end the session on time later today.

The deal, the product of weeks of closed-door discussions, also includes a property tax cap sought by Pawlenty and tax benefits for veterans and military members.

It looks like Pawlenty finally saw the light that was shining off all those millions of Federal dollars of investment the Twin Cities will definitely receive as the Central Corridor is built by 2014.

I'm a little disappointed I can't write a blog post scathing the Governor to the eternal damnation of transit hell, condemned to have his veto-pen clutching hands run over very lightly by light-rail trains every eight minutes for a thousand years while being spit upon by a pack of homeless people in wheelchairs.

Oh well.

13.5.08

Minneapolis Bike Parking


[Near 29th and Bloomington, Minneapolis.]




[University and 15th Avenues SE, Minneapolis.]





[Near 48th and Bloomington, Minneapolis.]





[Near 27th and Bloomington, Minneapolis.]





[38th and Grand Avenues, Minneapolis.]





[Powderhorn Park, Minneapolis.]






[Loring Park, Minneapolis.]

LRT Lobbying Effort Underway


[If we get'r rollin', maybe we can jump it!]

This just in from Minnesota 2020:

With less than a week remaining in this year's legislative session, time is running out for the Central Corridor light rail line. At stake is nearly half a billion dollars in federal funding for the project. Governor Pawlenty put that money in peril after flip-flopping and vetoing the required $70 million in borrowing.

Today, we're asking you whether legislators should try and get Pawlenty to change his mind again. Click here to vote in this week's quick poll and let us know.

Every weekday, Minnesota 2020 explores progressive ideas, analysis, and news. Visit us at www.mn2020.org daily for fresh ideas and commentary on education, health care, transportation, and economic development perspectives, for the issues that really matter.


Clearly, its crunch time for the Central Corridor. Everyone get out and push!

Also:

To contact Governor Tim Pawlenty and Lt. Governor Carol Molnau, please write, phone, fax or e-mail.

Mailing Address:

Office of the Governor
130 State Capitol
75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55155

Other ways to reach our office:

Telephone: (651) 296-3391
Toll Free: (800) 657-3717
Facsimile: (651) 296-2089
E-mail: tim.pawlenty@state.mn.us

12.5.08

U of MN Won't Compromise on the Central Corridor?

Here are the latest meeting notes from the U of MN on the Central Corridor:

Faculty Consultative Committee
Thursday, May 1, 2008

12:00 – 2:15
7 Mondale Hall

Present:

Gary Balas (chair), Nancy Carpenter, Carol Chomsky, Shawn Curley, Dan Dahlberg, William Durfee, Marti Hope Gonzales, Michael Hancher, Carolyn Hayes, Lois Heller, Emily Hoover, Jeff Kahn, Mary Jo Kane, Judith Martin, Martin Sampson, Jennifer Windsor

Absent:

Barbara Elliott, Nelson Rhodus, Geoffrey Sirc, Becky Yust

Guests:

Associate Vice President Donna Peterson, Todd Iverson (University Relations); President Robert Bruininks

1. LRT Update

Professor Balas convened the meeting at 12:05 and welcomed Associate

Vice President Peterson and Mr. Iverson to provide an update on the
Central Corridor light-rail projects. The Committee discussed with them
at length the politics of the process as well as the projected
mitigation costs if the trains run at grade on Washington Avenue and
other vehicular traffic is diverted to other routes.

Subsequent to the meeting, Professor Balas wrote a letter to
Metropolitan Council Chair Peter Bell transmitting the following
resolution from the Committee.

Because light rail transportation is important to the future of the
University of Minnesota, the Faculty Consultative Committee, which is
the elected executive committee of the University's Faculty Senate,
strongly supports the Central Corridor Light Rail project. Knowing that
about 30% of the riders on the Central Corridor line will be University
students, faculty, staff, and visitors, we welcome this efficient and
environmentally progressive way of traveling to and from the campus.

We also strongly endorse the Regents’ preference for the northern
alignment. The Committee joins the Regents in that preference because
several major disadvantages would impair an alternative route along
Washington Avenue:

-- The physical safety of our students and staff could be jeopardized by
a Washington Avenue route for light rail. Currently many thousands of
students and staff cross Washington Avenue each day, at six major
intersections on and near campus. The frequent passing of on-grade
trains at those busy intersections, even at the slow speeds that would
be required given the population density in the campus area, would
present an unacceptable risk.

-- The significant permanent disruption of traffic on Washington Avenue
that would result from running surface trains on that road would damage
the University community. The diversion of approximately 25,000 cars and
1,500 buses to surrounding streets and neighborhoods would be
unacceptable. Most threatening is the negative impact on both
emergency-vehicle and patient access to the hospital and University
clinics (some 500,000 visits per year). The northern alignment would
avoid those harmful consequences.

-- A Washington Avenue at-grade route for light rail would impose upon
the University extraordinary costs for inevitable traffic-mitigation
projects. The University has no budgeted resources for such highway
projects and can not be expected to divert tuition resources from
education to highway infrastructure.

For these and other reasons we strongly endorse the recommendation of
the Board of Regents that the Central Corridor line be routed along the
northern alignment.

As I stated earlier, the notion that 1) the train will endanger pedestrians is ludicrous. Currently thousands of cars are traveling 40 mph down the Washington Avenue corridor as they flow into campus. Not only would the LRT be far, far safer, it would probably make the streets in the neighborhood more pedestrian friendly, and less likely to be the kind of place where people get assaulted.

And 2), the possible bus/transit option along Washington Avenue is on the table, and would allow emergency vehicles far easier access to the hospital then they currently enjoy. Meanwhile, customers going to and from the hospital have good access to it from the I-94 on-ramp along Fulton and Delaware Streets, as do all the Washington Avenue businesses.

Finally, during their recent email to the MetCouncil, the U's lawyers could only point to one loading dock that would have to be moved with this new alignment. Judging by the evidence so far provided, the "mitigation costs" will probably not be that substantial, given the magnitude of the project and the $200M price tag of a LRT tunnel.

The real story: The U of MN is apparently standing in the way, alongside our Governor, of a long-term sustainable transit investment that would benefit the local economy while improving the streetlife and walkability of the campus.

Things that are like the Internets

Sometimes I think about the Internets, and how they're awesome. And I'm not the only one! This seems to be a common theme on internet blogs and websites! Many people enjoy discussing the awesomeness of the Internets, especially while they are writing on it.

But I'm convinced that these serieses of tubes are not a completely new phenomenon. Internets-y things have existed before... things that link people and juxtapose unlike and like things in streams and networks of evolving webs and shapes... all horizontal and distributed &c.

So, here's a list of things that are like the Internets:

Walter Benjamin is a famous philosopher who enjoyed writing about technology, history, and Marxism. He lived in Germany and France during the 20s and 30s, and died while fleeing from the Nazis.

His final project is a large work of small bits called the Arcades Project, which is a strange and alphabetically catalogued book of small excerpts of facts and quotes about the experience of consumerism in early 19th c. Parisian shopping malls and department stores. He quotes frequently from Baudelaire, and talks about "the flaneur", who represents the way in which colonial consumption and urban experience intersected during the Industrial era.

It's like the Internets because: There's no way to read this book from beginning to end. Each little segment is "linked" with a reference, and there's no intervening narrator or narrative voice to guide you through the text. Instead, you are forced to jump around, turning pages as each little "link" sends you to some other part of the book.


  • A public library.
Most every city has a building in it containing books owned by the government, and any resident can go inside and "borrow" these books, take them home, look around, learn things, and hang out.

These buildings are gradually falling into disrepair, as their civic budgets are continually cut. Some of them are struggling to cope with the internets, which (as you know) allow anyone to access limitless information from their homes. Some of them are capitalizing on these Internets, by providing open access to them from inside their walls.

It's like the Internets because: When you're browsing for a book on a library shelf, you're guided into a "section" containing books of very similar subject matter. For example, if you're looking for a book on urban planning, you will find, not one, but fifty books on urban planning in a library. So, too, the Internets allow you to find "similar" items... as one sidewalk blog leads to another.

  • Message boards in cities.
Back in the day, there used to be parts of town that were known for having messages on the walls of the buildings on the street. For example, Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg Brooklyn was well known for having a message board, and people would post message for others in the neighborhood to see and look at. If you needed a job, or were looking for a good time, you would put a message up and people would walk along the sidewalk and read the messages. This happened on the street, and nobody organized it.

It's like the Internets because: It's exactly like the Internets! The only difference is that you had to physically be there in order to read the messages. The Internets allow you to be anywhere, and communicate with anyone ... (though the vast majority of readership of this Twin City Sidewalks blog still lives in the Twin Cities, for some reason.)

  • Okeh's Laughing Record.
As stated on a strange message board:
The OKeh Laughing Record, by the way, was a German recording imported to the US around 1920, and was one of the top-selling records of the decade. Bootleg copies were sold under many different labels over the years, and it was still turning up in one version or another well into the fifties.

It's a song, which you can listen to here, (or here) of a man playing a tune on the solo trumpet while a lady laughs her ass off (over and over, peals of laughter, ROTFL, &c.) while the man plays on and on this song on the trumpet ... and eventually as this goes on, the man starts laughing too and soon they're both laughing for a while, before he continues his trumpet song while the lady keeps laughing.



That's the record!


It's like the Internets because: It is all about mediated experience. Far more important than the tune being played, is the experience of listening to someone else listening to the tune. You start laughing because you hear this lady laughing, and soon you're laughing and the trumpet player is laughing, and you're all laughing and space and time have been transcended. It's about experiencing a "phenomenon", rather than music per se, and like the comment threads of blogs the laughing lady is helping you experience the phonograph (a revolutionary product of its era!). Much like "two girls one cup", the fun is in experiencing someone's experience, rather than the experience itself (if that makes any sense).

  • Times Square.
The corner of Broadway, 7th Avenue, and 42nd Street is a large square in New York City that has long been known for its neon signage. You go there and are immediately overwhelmed by image, a spectacle of light and message, a semantic flood of information. At New Years a ball drops and millions of people hang out "to say they were there." It glows like the sun at all hours of the day and night, and movies have been watched there for almost a century.

It's like the Internets because: when you go, you are forced to "filter" the information around you. You simply cannot take it all in. Instead, you grab onto a small detail in the square and experience only it, filtering out all the other "noise" surrounding you in so much seizure-inducing light. Just like the way in which you "filter" the Internets with your RSS feed or your search engine, Times Square presents a sensory overload within which you must make your way, ever incomplete.

  • Tumeric.
Tumeric is a fine spice that, as wikpedia says:
is sometimes used as a coloring agent. It has found application in canned beverages, baked products, dairy products, ice cream, yogurt, yellow cakes orange juice, biscuits, popcorn-color, sweets, cake icings, cereals, sauces, gelatins, etc. It is a significant ingredient in most commercial curry powders.


It's like the Internets because: It's a rhizome. Rhizomes grows in networks, sending off shoots underground in various directions, and lacking a distinct or clear center. Rhizomes can be very very large, and its impossible to tell sometimes where they "begin" or "end," as they continually flow in to any given direction, making it difficult to distinguish whether or not you're discussing "one" or "many" separate organisms. The Internets is exactly the same... where does one site begin and another end? Where is the "Center" of the internets? The Google HQ? (Plus, tumeric apparently helps you remember things for a long time... and the internets never forgets either.)

  • The Penny Magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge.
As wikipedia again explains:
The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, founded in 1826, was a Whiggish London organization that published inexpensive texts intended to adapt scientific and similarly high-minded material for the rapidly expanding reading public. It was established mainly at the instigation of Lord Brougham with the objects of publishing information to people who were unable to obtain formal teaching, or who preferred self-education. The Society was sometimes mentioned in contemporary sources as SDUK.

It's like the Internets because: The Penny Magazine was intended for the "everyday person", and because of the recent fall in the price of paper, the 1830s saw a flowering of small print journals that contained "information" for people moving to and concentrating in the rapidly-growing cities. The Penny Magazine was an almost encyclopedic tome of information, juxtaposing things like architecture next to diatribes about the working classes next to long descriptions of foodstuffs (e.g. butter, sugar, tumeric) next to woodcuts of savage beasts in the jungle.


In sum: I hope you enjoyed this list of things that are like the Internets.

What do you think? What else is like the Internets?

Here's one!

Classic Sidewalks of the Silver Screen #7



... It's the sidewalk chasing scene from A Hard Day's Night (1964), which is also vaguely like the Internets. (The Beatles were very self-referential... multi-media!)

11.5.08

<<< News Flash! >>>

Sidewalk Rating: Exquisite

We are the sidewalks we've been waiting for, as they say. From the songs of birds each morning on the corner to way the maple leaves double in size every day, these sidewalks are a joy to walk upon.

Enjoy the spring.

And may it put a spring in your step!



[What color green are these tiny leaves? Yellowgreensunlight?]



<<<>>>




[A young man demonstrates one use of sidewalks.]


<<<>>>


There's a lot of speculation about whether or not this Central Corridor LRT is going to be built. I think Rich Goldsmith over at the RakeMag has it almost right, in that Pawlenty is using the CCLRT as a big-ass bargaining chip to slowly torture the DFL (and esp. St Paul Rep Alice Haussmann). As Rich writes:
In any case, the legislative session continues on unabated despite the governor's hand wrapped firmly around the collective genitalia of the DFL caucus, squeezing more tightly every day. The only question remaining is just how much will the legislature sacrifice to preserve its precious precious light rail. And whether Rep. Kelliher and Gov. Pawlenty agreed on a safe word. The variable that still remains to be determined, of course, is what DFL legislature has to give up in exchange for freedom. Delicious. Tantalizing. Freedom.


Despite the ubiquitous links to antiquated pop music, it's clear that the Governor realized he only had one tool in his toolbox, and the question really is how much leverage he can get with it. Property tax limits have been a GOP wet dream for years, particularly given Pawlenty's "no new tax" pledge, and measuring its chances of passage in past years would have required a Kelvin thermometer.

As Rich points out, a Statewide cap in property taxes would be a disaster for local governments, expecially Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and the first-ring suburbs. Not only would schools, emergency services, parks and libraries get cut, but cities would become so desperate for money that they'd do just about anything that businesses or developers asked of them. It would add to the already stratified metro area map, exacerbating the differences between wealthy areas and poor areas.

But I don't think the DFL would ever agree to a meaningful property tax cap. They're too close to a huge political victory that would make the governor irrelevant: a veto-proof majority in both houses. It's definitely doable! All they need is five or so more seats in the State House.

In other words, there's no way that they would make any real long-term compromises while in this weak position. I think that most every decision that Speaker Kelliher and Senate Majority Leader Pogemiller make will revolve around make will revolve around that goal, and any current budget compromise be the mere exchange of minor, short-term political chits. The question is, how much good can come out of this session, while keeping the focus on this fall's pivotal election.

And, as Rich correctly points out, the biggest casualty of this year's negotiation is likely to be the Central Corridor. And call me naive, but I'm not convinced that Pawlenty will block the money. Not only does it represent a huge pot of federal money for the state's economy ($450M), but it's a key part of the regional economic growth plan. In order to compete with other regions like Denver, San Diego, or Dallas, the Twin Cities needs to invest in transit oriented devleopment, and the local business and development community knows it. Particularly in an era of high concern for climate change, and record gas prices, it would be a big F.U. to Pawlenty's business pals to stand in the way of this train. At the very least, it would even further alienate the state's Chamber of Commerce at at time when Pawlenty could really use their state-wide support.

So, count me in the optimistic camp (along with Alice Hausman). I predict some sort of minor budget cutting compromise that does NOT involve a property tax cap, but doesn't significantly cut Palwenty's pet projects (performance pay for teachers, JOBZ).

(On the other hand, I don't see the Gov. signing a Central Corridor bill before the budget is decided. That would seriously compromise his bargaining position, and he's no dummy.)

Update:

Apparently there will be a (hopefully) meaningless property tax cap, I'd bet in exchange for the passage of the CCLRT gets built. As Polinaut says:

DFL Sen. Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller said they would also send him a bill that included funding for the Central Corridor Light Rail Line.

Gov. Pawlenty and legislative leaders met around 5 pm to discuss the budget. They met for less than an hour. They say the main sticking point is over the size of a property tax cap. It's uncertain whether they will meet again tonight but both sides said they hoped to meet again.

Update Again:

Things look headed toward a cliff. This train might need a jetpack! Via the Political Animal:

At 10:15 p.m. Sunday, Gov. Pawlenty sent a letter back to DFL essentially reiterating his position that if they don't make a deal on the budget, he'd put the kibosh on their plans for Central Corridor and health care reform.

MN Campaign Report reports.



<<<>>>


In the meantime, the U of MN is not helping things. Here's the latest round of baseless threats from the U's Kathleen O'Sullivan, this time directed at the Feds. This kind of behavior can only hurt the Twin Cities' attempts to get federal transit investment:

In the memo, the U raised concerns about the line's Washington Avenue routing and argued that the law requires consideration of the northern alignment. The university is funding a study of that alignment, but Bell says changing the route would delay the project by at least a year and increase the cost, and he called on the U to retract the memo.

Part of the problem is that the U of MN has devoted a great deal of past resources to auto infrastrcture. A large proportion of students drive to campus, and live all over the Twin Cities. A large proportion of the staff, administration, and faculty drive to campus and live all over the Twin Cities. Just like the rest of the United State, the U has a long legacy of auto-dependence, and shifting to more transit-oriented infrastructure is going to be a big change that will take a long time.

The problem is that the Washington Avenue alignment may represent a quantum leap that would push the U into the 21st century of high gas prices and sustainability whether they like it or not. Plus, it would do a great deal to alleviate some of the administration's long-held misanthropic tendencies.

For example, I saw this sign on campus the other day:

DANGER
This person is...
Choose from the following:

a. uneducated
b. violent
c. angry
d. a thief
e. a human being

[Sign on the University of Minnesota campus pavement in Minneapolis.]


<<<>>>


Five links to elsewhere:



<<<>>>



[If we did have a Pothole Photo Contest, the Roadguy's new entry would be tough to top.]

Just when you thought that the pothole trend had played itself out, along comes more gripping pothole coverage. Like a small pebble rolling down a hill, and creating an avalanche of pothole attention, we've entered a bold new era of pothole blogging.

Meanwhile, the city of Saint Paul has cut its transportation budget, including severe cuts to the Public Works pothole-filling budget.

Thanks to Pothole Pawlenty, we are entering a new Golden Age of pavement pits!

An epoch of asphalt abyss!

A legacy of gaping gaps!

Attention all suspension mechanics... Your dreams have come true!


<<<>>>


Here's another sidewalk website fo you: the Minnesota Astronomical Society (of) Sidewalk Astronomers.

They do astronomy on the sidewalk, in the hopes that people will come by and want to look through their telescopes.

Obviously there's a tradeoff b/w good astroonomy conditions and sidewalks, but I think this makes a lot of sense!


<<<>>>


Three photos:

1) Las Vegas -- via Where



2) North America -- via Strange Maps





3) I forget where I got this photo

8.5.08

Unconjoined Twin Cities: A Catalogue of Difference III (Juvinalia)

[I'm recycling another entry in the Unconjoined Twin Cities cycle, in honor of finals week. Enjoy!]


Gender stereotypes come easily to Minnesota's Twin Cities. Perhaps it's the landscape. I don't want to paint an overly explicit picture, but it's interesting to note that Saint Paul features rolling riverbluff curvature overlooked by a pair of massive domes, while Minneapolis stands erect and towering over a turbulent waterfall.

But for whatever reason the two cities fit each other like interlocking puzzle pieces. Or alternately like a Rodin statue, or a pair of mating raccoons, or two other things totally unlike square pegs and round holes, and as the years have passed, the two towns have developed separate realms of expertise. They now form a "marriage" of duties, each with neatly separated civic and personal responsibilities. Is the relationship a bit oppressive? Patriarchal? Balanced? Subversive? Who knows… All I know is that we lucky TC'ers live in a vaguely absurd nuclear family amongst a whole slew of suburban children.



Fire Hydrants

[Fun game: find the hydrant.]

It's safe to say that weather problems are the rope that binds Minnesotans together. In particular, Minnesotans share a wealth of Wintertime snowfall, the consequences of which are various, ranging from cabin fever to Snow Emergency Panic Syndrome (SEPS). One particular problem is "snow heapage," a.k.a. the inevitable burial of crucial civic infrastructure by large piles ("heaps" if you will) of snow, crusted and black after months of traffic passage, and probably the worst facet of snow heapage is the burial of city fire hydrants. In response, each city, Minneapolis and Saint Paul, takes decidedly a different path to cope with their dilemma.

In Minneapolis the city maintenance staff opts for the "phallic growth technique" of hydrant revelation, and the red metal infrastructure takes on fantastic proportions. They spring up from street corners sometimes a full three feet in height, and resemble nothing more than a Shivan lingam as seen through the eyes of a thirst-quenched dog. Make of it what you will, but people in Minneapolis seize each and every opportunity to create columns, monuments, or spires.


[Minneapolis's humble beginnings.]

Saint Paul, over on the other side of the river, takes a decidedly more decorative path to infrastructure demarcation. They simply attach two foot wire orange safety flags to their hydrants, which wave pleasantly in the wind throughout the year. They're pretty, albeit in a road construction kind of way, and while Saint Paulites stop short of placing lace doiles on their hydrants, for my money the effect is the same. Both cities get the job done, but perhaps the disparate hydrant technicalities offer some slight Freudian insight on each city's inner workings.



Architectural Preservation


[They demolished the old Metropolitan Building over in Minneapolis.]

A while back I put down my copy of Chicken Soup for a Pet Lover's Soul just long enough to page through something called Down and Out: The Life and Death of Minneapolis's Skid Row, a photographic tome that details how during the 1960's the Minneapolis city council tore up one of their historic main streets, Nicollet Avenue, to replace it with a pedestrian mall. Sure Nicollet Mall was and is a crucial part of the downtown revitalization, and did a great deal to cushion the urban dereliction of the 1970's, but only a cold-hearted cynic could fail to be swayed by the book's elgaic tone.

Go ahead pick any era you like, Minneapolis civic planners have a long utopian history with decades of tearing down old buildings as fast as they to replace them with architectural flavors of the month. Sure the downtown core looks highly modern, but it also looks much like a shopping mall, and finding anything remotely historic is decidedly difficult.

While there are many negative consequences to Mineapolitan anti-historical hubris, Saint Paul just might err in the direction of too much historical fixity. While, thankfully, a few of their downtown buildings have made it through the 20th century pretty much unchanged, Saint Paul can offer a false sense of nostalgia. For example, during the boom-boom days of Mayor Coleman, Saint Paul somehow found the money to use install inlaid red brick into many of their pedestrian crosswalks, giving some corners a tint of bygone cobblestone. And at first Saint Paul passers-by were pleased. It looked good for a while, but then the bricks started popping up a few years after they were installed, only to be replaced with MnDOT tar roadfill. It's a woeful display of early obsolescence and bad masonry, and you can't but help feel that Capital City's Colonial Williamsburg experiment is going a bit awry.


[Questionable brickwork.]

As the relationship sits, Saint Paul sees itself as the keeper of historical fact, it's sights reading a bit like a family photo album. "Look. Here, this is your great uncle Landmark," it seems to say. "And see this picture? That's your ancestral train station…" Minneapolis remains unsentimental in comparison, ripping out the home d├ęcor to install 70's shag carpeting, and a patriotically-endowed series of Block E mallways. "Out with the old, in with the new," it blurts rather callously as it rips up hardwood to install state-of-the-art linoleum.



Skyline Perspectives

One of the first things you notice when you start commuting from Minneapolis proper is how big the downtown looks from this side of the river. Whether you're driving towards the central business district (CBD) from the South, North, or West the city looms large, and spreads out before you like a row of glinting mirrored teeth.


[Saint Paul just can't bring itself to take it down.]

Driving Westward from Saint Paul, by contrast, for some reason downtown Minneapolis seems much smaller. In fact, the three largest buildings in Minneapolis perform a kind of magical illusion when you take East I-94: The Wells Fargo Center and the 5th Street Tower eclipse each other like a corporate sun and moon (creating a rather lovely corona effect) while the IDS Center offers you its narrowest profile, slim and shimmering. The sense of economic grandeur is beautifully diminshed.

The two skyline perspectives are an apt illustration of the larger phenomenon at work within the two city's relationship: something called Second Fiddle Syndrome (SFS). Just like Ireland, Korea, New Jersey, the Boston Red Sox, or Canadians, Saint Paul knows deep down, no matter how much they deny it, that there can only be only one big man on campus, and in Minnesota, Minneapolis gets to captain the football team. They know that Saint Paul will always and everywhere be secondary, no matter how many blinking red #1 signs they place on top of their skyscrapers.

Equal pay for equal work? Not in this city's lifetime, folks. Saint Paulites find themselves going to Minneapolis despite themselves, for sporting events or concerts or just to see the new belated light rail. Minneapolitans on the other hand barely even realize that Saint Paul exists, and would certainly never admit to intentionally crossing the river. Yes, on the East Coast SFS rears its ugly head. Saint Paulites remember, no matter how many times they hear about inversions within the master/slave dichotomy, it's tough living in obscurity, where pride is inseparable from humility.

6.5.08

Signs of the Times #7


Please Do Not Put Ticket in Mouth
Push Button Once and Pay Fare as You Exit
Lost Ticket Fee $18
Push

[Part of a parking lot in Minneapolis.]





This Is The Site Of
The Birth of the
American Wireless. A
Pioneer Station Here
In 1901 First Talked
With Ships At Sea.

Guglielmo Marconi

[On the sidewalk in Babylon, NY.]





VFW
Restaurant

Good Food

[On a building in Saint Paul.]






Will Be Closing Saturday
6/25/05 At 10:30
All Have Weddings
Sorry For Inconvenience

[I forget where this door is. If anyone can tell from the reflection in the window, let me know.]





Lost Cat!!

Mario is a 1 year old orange (no white
markings) tabby male cat. He was last seen
wearing a blue collar but we think it may
have gotten off somehow. He is not an
outdoor at and may be very skittish.
Please check your garages, under your
porches, and anywhere you think a cat may
hide. We live in the
Hague/Selby/Snelling/Fry/Pierce area. My
children miss him terribly and we are very
worried about him. Please contact us if you
have seen him, found him, or rescued him.
We miss our MarMar Superstar!

THANKS
523-0738
(Reward if found)

[Sign on a telephone pole in Saint Paul.]





Also:

A sidewalk lagniappe...




... which illustrates the power of signs.

I Love a Parade!

I wasn't sure that I was going to head over to Minneapolis for the Mayday Parade on Sunday. With finals week coming up, I'm not getting any real sleep for a while, and the responsible thing to do would have been to lock myself into a library somewhere.

But then the funniest thing happened...

I opened up the front door on Sunday and stepped outside, and ... Well... (I don't know quite how to put it)... the rays of the sun warmed me.

It was so weird! I was standing there, and as per usual the sun was shining and everything it had been kinda wet and clammy and I had my sweatshirt and wool hat on and everything, but something was different. I felt this warming sensation on my skin, kind of like in an oven, and it was coming from somewhere high overhead.

To be frank, at first I didn't know what to do. I took off my winter wear and shielded my eyes from the harsh rays as I stood there for I don't know how long, blinking and warm, trying to figure out what to do with myself and all my wool sweaters.

Somehow (I don't know how!) the sun's rays were warming me, and it could only be a sign! I had to go to the Mayday Parade.


[This is how sidewalks were meant to be... Completely crammed with people and everyone outside.]


Parades are an awesome use of sidewalks, and the Mayday Parade particularly so. People crowd the streets and line up in giant groups, leaving a little narrow people-alley for you to walk down should you so desire. People and more people and families and people of all ages cluster together and form ranks along streets filled, not with cars, but with people walking and running and dancing and playing music as they walk through the street a-smilin'. Songs and puppets and all sorts of things happen, and for a brief hour or two the streets of the city transform into a giant party. It's absolutely fabulous.

And the Mayday parade takes all the normal things that are good about parades -- their diveristy, chaos, and glee -- and amplifies them to absurd proportions. There are totally wild puppets and butterflies on stilts and hordes of little children with tiny drums and everyone's outside at the same time while all sorts of political and ethnic groups -- Hare Krishnas(!) -- come walking by all leisurely and strolling. The music is wonderful, and it's a completely unoppressive, equal-opportunity parade where you can enjoy as much or as little of its message and mythology as you like. It really is a parade for everyone, and an amazing example of inclusive social formation.

So, it's always nice to go down to see it.

[There's a totally complicated mythology to each Mayday parade, with bridges and animals and metamorphoseses and politics and materiality... each year it's kinda the same but each year its quite different. This one had windmills and a giant mushroom-puppet-face-head and butterflies and "bridges".]


But what I really love about parades is something alltogether different. I used to live on Saint Paul's Grand Avenue, and I remember waking up one Saturday morning in the early summer kind of hung over. I stumbled downstairs in my pajamas, because this strange noise had trickled through my bedroom window. I came downtstairs rubbing my eyes, and looked out the front porch to find a parade going past my house. It was the Grand Old Day parade, and there was a clown at my front stoop!

So, I grabbed a coffee and watched as the world walked past my doorstep, completely unexpectedly, and I had the rare pleasure of booing Norm Coleman in my pajamas from the comfort of my front lawn.

My favorite thing about parades is when you come across one unexpectedly. I love the people who don't know what is going on, and are going about their everyday life when all of a sudden thousands of people descend on a street and all of a sudden -BAM!- there are clowns and a marching band. I love to watch the look on people's faces as it slowly dawns on them: there's a parade, and they're not going anywhere for a while, and maybe they should relax and enjoy it.

A good parade magically transforms a street from simply way to get from Point A to Point B into a place for public performance and hanging out... Parades are transformative, and maybe its a coincidence, but I am giving full credit to this year's Mayday parade for this whole sunshine / warmth thing that just fell down upon the Twin Cities like a bucket of pillowfeathers. Yay!

[After eight long months of winter, I didn't even know this many people lived in Minneapolis.]

2.5.08

<<< News Flash! >>>

Sidewalk Rating: Sandpaper

The sidewalks right now are in a funny way. On the one hand, it feels like spring much of the time. On the other hand, skies are grey and the wind really blows! (Just try biking into it...)

Plus, a close examination of the sidewalks will reveal a fine particulate matter... Sand that has emerged from melting snow, and coats most sidewalks with a thing layer of frictive matter, sand and bits of sand everywhere, blowing around and scraping under your shoes.

I am worried about some sort of perfect storm of wind and sand and sidewalks, dervishes emerging, sidewalk cyclones, absolute abrasions. The sidewalks are like sandpaper, and if you, like the UPS man I saw the other day, are going to "break out the shorts," please be wary of the potentiality of the scraped knee. This wind could knock the breath from a rhinoceros!


[The lil' blue flowers that are popped up in my yard. I know they have a Russian name, but I forget what it is.]


<<<>>>


This film of a sidewalk libertarian is charming and creepy in equal measure ...




... "no leaves pass my shoulder, only thorns of statism."


<<<>>>



The Roadguy apparently attended Tuesday's meeting on the U of MN and the LRT options.

He's gracious enough to provide the MetCouncil powerpoint on the so-called "Northern Route", which apparently would mean delaying the train by a year, the removal of Bridge #17, and possibly jeopardizing our federal funding

As I extensively detailed, the U of MN has been disingenuous throughout this whole fiasco. Here's the relevant part of Foti's piece:

A consultant for the U talked about how the northern alignment might work and how it would cost about $15 million less than the current plan. Then Fuhrmann listed the northern alignment's unresolved issues, such as railroad right-of-way negotiations and removing four units of low-income housing in the line's path.

Rybak wondered whether either party was giving him the full story. The engineers, he said, are "working for two different groups who, I believe, are not in neutral. ... We really need to get real with each other before this next meeting."

Kathleen O'Brien, vice president for university services, defended the consultant's work and the U's intentions. "From the get-go, I have asked for this study to not be sugar-coated, to be legitimate and objective," she said.


The U has a big stake in this, in my opinion, because of 1) their penchant for micro-managing their environment at the expense of streetlife and surrounding communities, 2) a climate of modernist auto-dependence, and 3) their stake in the new football stadium. At least, that's what I've convinced myself.

There's no other way to explain the ridiculousness of their recent letter to the MetCouncil. The only argument that holds any water is the notion that some "sensitive research equipment" may have to be relocated or adjusted because of the electromagnetic fields ... and, you know, big whoop? People move their labs all the time.

The Central Corridor should go down Washington Avenue, and an at-grade option would immeasurably improve the walkability and usability of the entire campus, excepting increased traffic flow on already congested roads. (But I'm the kind of guy that likes traffic congestion. Most anything that evens out the scales between cars and other alternatives is good in my book.)

At the very least, the U of MN has done a terrible job of integrating architecturally with the community, especially on the West Bank. For example, the new Carson building doesn't front Riverside Avenue, and goes against Minneapolis's long-term plans for creating more economic connectivity in the West Bank. A city planner told me it was an example of what Minneapolis doesn't want to see. Screwing up the LRT would be far more egregious example of institutional arrogance.

(And Adam Platt thinks the LRT is gonna be the victim of the U's driveby.)


<<<>>>


Jeff Fecke breaks the news that Pawlenty's newly appointed MN-DOT director's first move was to develop a new logo for the agency:


Stop! the Pothole madness!


<<<>>>



Five stories from elsewhere:



<<<>>>


The Downtown Journal has a story this week on the showdown between the city of Minneapolis and the Sharing and Caring hands homeless shelter, located in the SouthWest corner of Downtown. According to the piece, the city had threatened to pull the shelter’s restaurant license because of problems with drug use, but opted not to go forward with the reprimand. Shelter director Mary Jo Copeland suggest in the piece that the city is trying to move homeless people out of the neighborhood because of the new Pohlad Company building, which was heavily subsidized by the city and county governments.

Meanwhile, the Strib reports the unsurprising news that Pohlad's Entertainment Business is likely to receive as much as $1.5 Billion in additional business revenue over the lifetime of the new stadium.

Meanwhile, will Saint Paul have an "Uncle Ben’s Rice Park" in its future?



[This is a five-minute park -- image from Art at Metroblogs]


<<<>>>


Here's another sidewalk blog called Sidewalks Are Runways (subtitle: A DAILY FASHION BLOG. BEWARE: THIS IS A HIGH-STYLE, HIGH-MAINTENANCE, HIGH- FASHION ZONE.).

This is some sort of blog genre where people take photos of themselves as they dress up and then list where they got each of the things they're wearing.

Works for me.

My only complaint is that there are very few pictures of actual sidewalks in these photos. Standing outside your bedroom closet is not a sidewalk, even if you are sharing those moments with the internets.


<<<>>>


Yet another reason to dislike Daylight Savings Time.

Perhaps cars aren't the problem after all? Or are they?


<<<>>>


This fabulous neon sign is near my house. I will be sad to see it go.

I suppose another of the many benefits of neon signage is its ability to omit and juxtapose.

I wonder if St Paul is cracking down on this b/c of the impending RNC convention? Will Larry Craig be attending? Sure he knows his way around the Lindbergh Terminal, but you wouldn't want to confuse him on the crazy streets of Saint Paul...

On the other hand, at least something good's coming out of the RNC...


<<<>>>


The New York Times(!) reports on the Mill/Guthrie/Washington Avenue area.



<<<>>>


Three photos:

1) Courtesy of ffffound.


2) A closeup of a Portland, OR telephone pole -- courtesy of Gregory Siff.



3) Beautiful sidewalk photo -- courtesy of Uptown Minneapolis Blog.