30.3.17

Reading the Highland Villager #177

[A Villager at the Spot.]
[Basically the problem is that the best source of Saint Paul streets & sidewalks news is the Highland Villager, a very fine and historical newspaper. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. You basically have to live in or frequent Saint Paul to read it. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free. See also: Three Reasons Why I Re-Blog the Highland Villager.]  
  

[Note: This one is two weeks old. Apologies. Latest issue should be coming soon.] 

Headline: City Council plans to split charges for street maintenance between property tax and assessments
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Because of legal issues with its “right-of-way” fees, the city is going to fill a $32 million budget hole with a mix of assessments and money from the general fund. They will have to cut about $10M from the budget because of the change in funding. There was a lawsuit by MPR and some downtown churches that started this entire budget mess. Article includes a history of these assessments, which date back to Mayor Randy Kelly. [Of Ayd Mill Road fame.] The city might try to get non-profits to voluntarily help fund city roads. [Saint Paul is not a wealthy city, in other words, and is struggling to pay for basic stuff. It’s one reason why we need to think more strategically about redevelopment and city investment priorities, IMO. In other words, we desperately need projects like the Ford site, West Side Flats, and Snelling/University to pan out. They would really increase the tax base.]


Headline: St. Paul revises draft plan for future of Ford site
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There was a meeting about the former truck factory in the Highland area of Saint Paul. City plans had recently reduced the number of planned units in the area by about 20%. [Bad idea, especially if the retained units will have more parking. The number of people does not equal the number of cars. There’s a lot of different traffic outcomes depending on the details of the housing and transportation designs.] Neighbors are concerned about traffic and density. There will be more meetings, large and small. There is a grassroots group that wants to keep buildings lower than 5 stories and to make sure a quarter of the site is “open space.” Some people like housing for old people.  Some people want single-family homes. The new plan revisions call for widening Ford Parkway to add a bike lane or path. [We do need access to Ford and the bridge, but if there’s no bike lane on the bridge, it’s a bit silly. Why not do a 4-3 conversion on Ford Parkway and 46th Street? It’s certainly a possibility we should consider.] Planners and other advocates like the plan as it was. Quote from an architect professor: “that work [to build bike and walking infrastructure] should start now.” [It’s a shame to see the best plan Saint Paul has ever come up with get watered down because of a few hundred signatures and a website about a mythical village.]


Headline: Riverview PAC pushes for more study of bus rapid transit; Move to delay decision on preferred alternative
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The policy advisory committee voted to delay a decision on a transit option in order to study more bus rapid transit routes that would go near Fort Snelling. Quote from one of the planners from the County: “The slower a project is, the harder it is to get riders on it.” [My sense is that the additional months and options here are a simply delay tactic. I highly doubt the ridership numbers will turn up anything. I personally wish they would more closely study more options involving mixed and hybrid rail combinations along the existing routes. Having a fuller sense of what the different ridership and cost variations might be using various route and mode options along the existing options. These are by far the most likely to actual qualify for federal funding, should that funding actually exist in the future.] CMs Tolbert and Noecker wanted the additional study to take place. A decision will likely come in late fall.


Headline: City approves new medians to calm traffic on Snelling Avenue
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: MnDOT is going to install medians on a busy street to make it easier to cross the street. Most people seem to like it except for a guy who owns a funeral home. Quote from him: “I just don’t think there are that many pedestrians who cross Snelling.” [Where have I heard this before?] CM Tolbert responds: “Snelling is a huge barrier in the neighborhood. Cars get to flying along there very fast. It’s scary to sprint across Snelling, let along walk.” [See also this history of the topic.] the medians will have grass, not mulch, and an extra opening for Funeral processions. [Conveniently located should you get hit by a car trying to cross the street.]


Headline: Developer proposes six-story apartment at Snelling-Carrol
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A developer wants to build an apartment building on a lot that currently holds a vacant lot, a parking lot, and a one-story commercial building with a billboard on top. Neighbors were concerned about parking, and that the project did not have mixed-use retail on the ground floor. [The ground floor will be a the exterior of a parking ramp, like many of these blank walls.]


Headline: Laurel Ave. lot eyed for rowhouse
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Someone wants to build three rowhouses on a vacant lot. Neighbors are concerned about the loss of trees and parking.


Headline: Work to begin soon on Adams expansion
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: An elementary school got approval from the Board of Zoning Appeals to expand. Neighbors were concerned about parking, traffic, and the loss of open space.

23.3.17

Twin City Bike Parking #26

[One of the downtowns, I can't quite tell.]

[Northeast, Minneapolis.]

 [Northeast, Minneapolis.]

[West 7th Street, Saint Paul.]

 [New Orleans.]

[New Orleans.]

[New Orleans.]

[New Orleans.]

8.3.17

Best of Prince-on-a-Bicycle Stories

That Prince loved bikes is just more evidence that Prince, bicycles, and Minneapolis are all rad.

From the GQ complication of Prince stories:
Morris Hayes (keyboard player; Prince's longest-serving band member, 1992–2012): I took him to the bike store and I bought him a bike because he said he wanted a bicycle. I got him all sized up for it, and then I told him, "Okay, Prince, I'm only buying this bike if you get a helmet." And he said, "I don't want a helmet." I said, "Well, I'm not buying this bike, sir, if you don't get a helmet—you have to ride with a helmet or else I can't be responsible for you being on this bike." He says, "Well, I don't want a helmet." I said, "I'll get you a cool one—and I'll get one, too." So we got the helmets, but I found out later that he was riding the bike and he didn't wear it.

Corey Tollefson (Minneapolis-based entrepreneur and fan; attended events at Paisley Park for over 20 years): There's an arboretum, literally down the street from Paisley. And during the day he'd ride his mountain bike around town, and nobody would bother him.

Keith Lowers (longtime fan): Once the lights turned on [after a Paisley Park event in September 2015], I left quick because I'm super claustrophobic and can't take the cattle-exit style of most rock shows. So I'm walking real fast in the parking lot, trying to get to my car quick when—zoooom!—I see this dude on a bike ripping around the parking lot coming at me. I was ignoring him, trying not to engage, when he circled me and slyly said, "Where you goin'? The party's just getting started." WTF. It's Prince...on a white mountain bike, wearing his full rock-star outfit—white, to match the bike, of course, with a multicolor print on it. So I returned to the doorman at the advice of Prince—only to be schooled that Prince plays this joke often and that the party was indeed over.

Christina Terrones (longtime fan and Paisley Park regular): That was his thing: He liked to roller-skate and he liked to bike.

Lowers: I recently heard they found a fully custom-painted BMX bike in his vault with videos of competitive BMX riding. I don't doubt it. He was not only quick on the bike but nimble.

Kandace Springs (singer; befriended by Prince via Twitter after he discovered her cover of a Sam Smith song online in 2014): After the show—it was maybe like 10, 11—everybody was leaving, and Prince grabs me and says, "Hey, let's go bike riding." He had four bikes—two white cruisers and two dark blue or black mountain bikes. So I got on a cruiser, he got on a mountain bike, and we rode past everybody with our Afros, and everybody's like, "Oh my God! Prince!" He lives in a kinda rural area. We rode down Audubon Road, then there's a park right across the street and there's a path, so we rode down there a little bit.

Maya Washington (photographer; befriended by Prince after he discovered her online in 2014): First, when you go on the bike rides, you're like, "Wow! I went on a bike ride with Prince down to Lake Minnetonka!" It's fun. And you think you're special. Then I stayed there long enough that I'm like, "Oh—this is his thing." This is what he does. He has the movie theater where you go to watch a movie—he'll buy out the theater. He has his routine with all these young girls who come in: movies, bike ride, possibly a jam session. That sounds about right.

Thanks to Kai for sending these my way!

[Farewell.]

7.3.17

Parking and Walkability Explainer for Local Businesses

[See the whole thing here.]
There are few things that I find more depressing than when a small, local business in a walkable neighborhood goes to the mat to stop a street safety project. One of the main reasons why I love living in a walkable city is because there are so many small locally-owned businesses. Sharing the joy of walking to local businesses was the main reasons I started this blog in the first place over ten years ago. These great businesses make walking and biking in the Twin Cities worth while.

And yet, it seems like whenever a tough trade-off comes to the fore --  involving bike lanes, bumpouts, bus stops, or parking -- just about every small, local business seems perfectly willing to throw walkers and bikers under the bus and prioritize parking over safe, sustainable streets. It happens time and time again, and it's endlessly frustrating.

The latest example? Mother Earth Gardens, a local garden supply store in Minneapolis' Longfellow neighborhood, is distributing a parking loss alarmism flier trying to stop a bike lane on 38h Street. [Note: This corner was Sidewalk of the Week circa 2010.]  Given the environmentally-friendly name of the store, the irony seems massive to me, sort of like an "Earth First! Gas Station" or a "vegan butcher"... only with actual meat.

What is the reason for this maddening anti-sidewalk tendency?

Part of it is cultural inertia. Part is the conservative nature of small business people who -- especially in a hyper-competitive age of big-box retail -- have to overcome mind-boggling odds to survive. But part of it is that so many customers complain about parking all the time.

Let's face it, the problem is us. We are the parking-addled lizard-brain car-zombies we've been waiting for.

In an era of automobility and easy convenience, nothing brings out our reptilian tendencies like trying to park our cars. Parking can turn even the most ardent environmentalist into a tailpipe-sucking Soucheray. Parking gives birth to our worst selves

That's why I like to imagine a different world. What if businesses tried to teach customers some of the reasons why they should support and embrace more "difficult" parking?

What if each time someone came into a walkable, locally-owned business and said "geepers boy it was so hard to park!" there was an immediate interruption...

*** RECORD SCRATCH ***

... and some sort of "Troy McClure"-type woman popped out of the woodwork and said:

"Oh hello! My name is Anita Walkmore. You might remember me from such films as 'The Life of Pie' and 'Walker: Texans in Nursing Homes'. I'm here to tell you about why walkable, local businesses are different from the suburbs...

[Anita puts her arm around the customer's shoulder]

... permit me to explain," she says, before sweeping her hand in a wide gesture to lead their be-parked customer into a world of sidewalks and small businesses.

I picture small business people having a little flier that they could hand out to parking zombies. The flier would have a "quick and easy parking primer" with a small number of bullet points. It would say "Walkable Businesses Parking 101" on the very top.

It might look something like this:
Walkable Businesses Parking 101
So you parked at a walkalbe, local business...

That's OK! Here are some things you should know.

Did you know? The high cost of free parking
All the big parking lots in the suburbs seem like they're free. But actually they come at a big cost!

Environmentally, big parking lots pollute the earth through runoff pollution and other types of greenhouse gases having to do with construction. Economically, the average parking space in the US costs almost $30,000 per space to produce. That's a lot when you add it up.

By shopping at a walkable store, you're helping to keep prices low, and to stop greenhouse gas and other kinds of pollution.

Did you know? Parking lots destroy walkable neighborhoods


The neighborhood you love dates to the streetcar era, when few people drove cars every day. That's why there are so many old buildings, so close together. That's why this neighborhood is so beautiful.

The walkable urban fabric makes it harder to park. But the more we pave over our urban space to make parking lots, the worse it is to walk around. You can't have it both ways, with easy parking and a walkable neighborhood. The more that we knock down old buildings for parking, the more we erode our city. Let's not even go there!
Did you know? Walkable neighborhoods put vulnerable people first

Many people in our city don't have a car, or are too young or too old to drive everywhere. That's why this local business puts a priority on bike lanes, bus stops, and safe sidewalks... sometimes even more than parking spots.

It's a choice that reflects our values. We believe that everyone should be able to safely, easily get around our city no matter their age, income, or ability.

Did you know? Walking is great exercise

We take good care of our sidewalk. We make sure it's shoveled all winter long and unobstructed throughout the year. We make that choice because we want to thrive in a city full of people walking and connecting with each other, leading healthy lives, enjoying the out-of-doors, and supporting neighborhood businesses.

In short, we really appreciate that you are shopping at our walkable, local business. We might ask you to park farther away -- or even pay a buck or two -- but that's because we believe in a sustainable city that works for everyone.

So thanks! We appreciate your willingness to walk to support a business you believe in.  You are making a difference.

Sincerely,
[your local business]

Would it work?

Not sure, but anything's better than having "Mother Earth Gardens Against Bike Lanes" be a real non-Onion thing that happens in Minneapolis.

[A great walkable corner.]

Update:

From a reader, here is an actual graphically-designed flier version!

 

6.3.17

Motivational Poster #4




Updated:

The original version was less concise.


3.3.17

Reading the Highland Villager #176

[Basically the problem is that the best source of Saint Paul streets & sidewalks news is the Highland Villager, a very fine and historical newspaper. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. You basically have to live in or frequent Saint Paul to read it. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free. See also: Three Reasons Why I Re-Blog the Highland Villager.]  
 

Headline: City to release reworked vision for redeveloping old Ford Plant; Greater details expected on key issues facing site [Hm I wonder what key issues these might be. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess one starts with “t” and one starts with “p.”]
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city came up with a concept plan for how to develop the old truck factory. [Which by the way polluted the land there.] There was a neighborhood meeting. Article goes over some of the details of the plan, if a bit snidely. For example: “Other park spaces would be scattered around the site … with an larger open are on the east end of the site and ballfields labeled for “private recreation.” [The ballfield thing dates back to the 50s, as you can see in the Villager image above.] Neighbors are concerned about “high density” and there is a petition with 250 signatures. [That isn’t very many.] Neighbors are also concerned about traffic. CM Tolbert is quoted saying “the big potential benefit I see with all of this planning is that it puts a microscope on the entire area.” [But that’s the Villager’s job!]

Headline: Minnesota United to begin work in May on new soccer stadium; Project to get underway with demolition of several Midway Center stores
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Some people want to build a soccer stadium where a strip mall and parking lot are currently located. Article includes a lot of speculation on which businesses might be torn down etc. [Note: none of this is clear and none of it has happened.] Quote from spokesperson: “Some things will have to wait because there is a building in the way.” [Saint Paul buildings in the way! See also my Minnpost column or today’s story in the Pioneer Press.] A traffic light may be moved from in front of the Spruce Tree Center.

Headline: Developer has designs on St. Clair-Snelling; LeCesse revises its plan for 5½-story mixed-use building on southeast corner
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: [The first sentence sets the tone.] “LeCesse Corporation has returned with a new design for the luxury apartment building that it would like to develop on the southeast corner of Snelling and St. Clair avenues.” [Another way to write this story would be to talk about how a long-standing goal of the city is to create more housing along walkable transit corridors.] A developer wants to build an apartment building with 128 apartments and 199 parking spaces. Neighbors are concerned about the building being too tall. Quote from one resident: “You’ve captured the essence of St. Paul there, but you’ve lost the size and scale of Mac-Groveland.” ["Essence of Saint Paul" is now available at the perfume counter at the downtown Macy's. It smells like sweaty hockey players. ] Another says “If this goes up, we won’t even be able to see the sunset.” [Kind of like the thing that Mr. Burns built to blot out the sun in Springfield?] Another neighbor seemed to like it, saying “If we can build more density, it can improve the property tax base.” [This building reminds me of the Vintage at Snelling and Selby.]

Headline: Deadline looms for trash haulers; City gives 16 businesses til Mar. 21 to draft plan for organized collection
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Garbage companies are trying to come up with a system to allocate territory in Saint Paul [like they do in just about every sane city in the US]. It sounds complicated. If the garbage companies can’t figure out a system, the city will do it for them.

Headline: Pollution cleanup, containment will precede construction on stadium site
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The land under where the soccer stadium is going to be is polluted and the Port Authority is going to clean it up using city money. They will have to dig up a lot of the dirt. The block used to have stables, a horse track, and a streetcar factory. Article includes long chemical names.

Headline: Mac-Grove favors At Home’s plan for apartment building on Grand
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A developer wants to tear down three buildings on or near Grand Avenue and put up an apartment building with 26 apartments and 48 parking spaces. [That’s a lot of parking spaces. Why so many? I don't know. The Zoning Committee approved this earlier this week. I asked the developers this at the meeting. They were like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Whatever it's their money.] Neighbors are concerned about aesthetics. There might be a bumpout added here to make it easier to cross Grand Avenue. [Sorely needed! If this bumpout doesn’t happen it will be a crying shame.]

Headline: Riverview transit study results released in public meetings
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There was a meeting where consultants passed out some analysis of ridership and costs for transit options along West 7th Street which may or may not go to the Ford site as well. [See my article on this for streets.mn.]

Headline: District requests more proposals for redeveloping Riverside School
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The school district wants to sell an old building. Some people would like mixed-use apartments there. [I am sensing a pattern.] A neighborhood group is concerned about traffic, loss of open space, and traffic safety.

Headline: Expect big rise in small cell towers
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Some cell phone companies are using smaller “towers” now, about 30’ tall.

Headline: City plans $757,000 upgrade of I-35E biek trail to downtown
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: An old [weird] bike path along the freeway is going to be improved  with better lighting and new asphalt and fencing, using Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) money. Bushes will be trimmed, especially ones that “vagrants” sometimes camp in. Some plants will likely be damaged.

Headline: City reimburses downtown nonprofits for right-of-way fees; decision on the future of right-of-way maintenance fee is at least a week away
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city’s long-standing program of paying for streets by having non-profits pay a fee is now in court. Some churches and MPR [MPR, really? Sue the city and the light rail much? How many MPR members live in Saint Paul anyway? Maybe they can just send their money in special envelopes that can be earmarked for city street maintenance instead of radio programming?] sued and they’re getting their money back. [Just in time for pledge drive.] The City Council is going to try and figure out what to do. CM Stark says “he is not holding his breath” on legislation that might help Saint Paul.

Headline: Public invited to check out the tools at St. Paul’s newest library
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There’s a tool library now where you can check out tools. It’s in the Can Can Wonderland building.

2.3.17

Twin City Lamp Posts #7

[West Side, Saint Paul.]

[Merriam Park, Saint Paul.]

[Seward, Minneapolis.]

[Macalester College, Saint Paul.]

[Somewhere in Massachusetts.]

[Location forgotten.]

[Minnehaha Park, Minneapolis.]

[Under I-94, Minneapolis.]

Twin City Doorways #28

 [Rice Street, Saint Paul.]

[Osakis.]

[Buffalo.]

 [Cedar Avenue, Minneapolis.]

[West 7th Street, Saint Paul.]

[Lyndale Avenue, Minneapolis.]

[Cedar Avenue, Minneapolis.]

[Saint Clair Avenue, Saint Paul.]

1.3.17

19 More Cityscape Columns We'll Never Get to Read

[This was the mandate.]
After over two years and over 150 (!) columns, I’m moving on from my weekly Cityscape column at Minnpost. The grant funding for the column finally ran out. (Actually, that happened a while ago, and Minnpost generously funded it for an extra year.) I’ll still be writing longer pieces for Minnpost once in a while, but not on a weekly basis.

So it seems like a good time to pause and look at what my goals were, and what happened as I groped with the challenge of producing a weekly quasi-journalistic column along broad “urban” themes. For one thing, I should mention that I had complete license to write anything I wanted for the Cityscape columns, with only the vague Cityscape description to guide me. To be honest, it was too broad for my taste. So when I began writing the column back in 2014, I jotted down a guide for myself.

[My sketched "value chart."]
Things like this:
    theory <-> materiality

    Culture -- politics – history – infrastructure

    Current events <-> equity/diversity

    Everyday stories <-> deep knowledge
As my notes brainstormed their way across my mental horizon, the results transformed into a sort of compass [pictured] that I used for a time to guide the column through the weekly news cycle. One of my goals with my writing is to use complementary and contrasting kinds of stories to illuminate an place or problem. Sometimes you want to tell positive stories, for example; at other times you want to be more critical. Sometimes personal, sometimes empirical, etc.

In the end, I don’t know how successful I was at striking a balance between things like “built environment” or “equity issues”, but I am proud of how it turned out. There were a whole bunch of very successful stories, ones that I look back on and, to me, they just glow. Others were much less effective. That's the way it goes.

In fact, what worked and what didn't seemed a bit unpredictable. Judging strictly from readership and popularity, the most successful Cityscape columns cut across a broad mix of topics, including skate parks, snakes, bad neighborhood Facebook groups, pink flamingo parties, the water bar (!), historic preservation issues, bike issues (OMG BIKES), and public safety in general. (That’s kind of a lot of different things!)

The ones that stick out in my mind as being my personal favorites were the pigeon one, the predatory lending sign one, the street harassment one, the shortcut one, the “libertarian alley” one, the “view” one, the bars without TVs one, the weird parks one, the fallout shelter one, the "numerological twilight zone" one, and the one about the lost dog signs.

(Also, I really love the wonky pieces, i.e. the LOS one, the concrete mix one, the FAR one, the detour planning one, or the curb radii one. I mean, where else will you read about porkchop islands?)

Anyway, writing the column was really fun and challenging. I'm glad to have had the experience. Having ideas has never been a problem for me, but finding the time and energy to transform those ideas into a 1,400-word story was often arduous, increasingly so. I’m looking forward to moving onto other writing projects in 2017.

In the meantime, here is my list of Cityscape ideas that never became reality. Much like my mythical “Marlys Harris notebook” from back in 2013, here are:

19 Cityscape Columns We’ll Never Get To Read
  • COMPLEAT Mall of America history — a piece on all the detailed ways that the Mall has changed, and not changed, since it opened, done with a friend who has obsessively tracked these things
  • A column I was working on about how new “whiter” LED lights installed in certain Saint Paul neighborhoods with historic vintage lanterns are driving some people crazy
  • The last payphones in the city — I know where some of them are!
  • Part II of the lost bikes story — what happens when bikes are donated to different places?
  • The challenges International Students face when taking drivers tests in the US (I had started work on this a while ago)
  • Saint Paul “permit parking” and the need for its reform (the cost of a permit has not increased since 1980 — the way that the city does this is nuts!)
  • Those letter slots in skyscrapers: do they actually work?
  • Steel utility covers: where do they come from? (The Neenah Foundry, that’s where.)
  • Dive bar floors and ceilings (Obvs I will still write this one.)
  • A whole column on bridge expansion joints
  • A whole column on leading pedestrian intervals
  • Funeral homes: their architecture and urban design explained
  • Largest late-spring snow piles in TC history: where are they and what years were they there? 
  • The gentrification debate deconstructed — Picking apart the CURA report that came out a while back
  • Old car spots — places where the “old car” crowds have migrated now that Porky’s is closed
  • Everything you never wanted to know about church parking lots, or Why are there surface parking lots on Summit Avenue?
  • Saint Paul “downtown ambassadors” debate
  • Q: Does Minnesota have deadly or safe streets anyway? (The answer is “yes”.)
  • Hot-take on the SWLRT / OMU Hopkins parking debate! (If you have to ask…)
And with that, so long, Cityscape! It was a total blast.