Sidewalk Poem #9

A Step Away From Them

It's my lunch hour, so I go
for a walk among the hum-colored
cabs. First, down the sidewalk
where laborers feed their dirty
glistening torsos sandwiches
and Coca-Cola, with yellow helmets
on. They protect them from falling
bricks, I guess. Then onto the
avenue where skirts are flipping
above heels and blow up over
grates. The sun is hot, but the
cabs stir up the air. I look
at bargains in wristwatches. There
are cats playing in sawdust.

to Times Square, where the sign
blows smoke over my head, and higher
the waterfall pours lightly. A
Negro stands in a doorway with a
toothpick, languorously agitating
A blonde chorus girl clicks: he
smiles and rubs his chin. Everything
suddenly honks: it is 12:40 of
a Thursday.

Neon in daylight is a
great pleasure, as Edwin Denby would
write, as are light bulbs in daylight.
I stop for a cheeseburger at JULIET'S
CORNER. Giulietta Maina, wife of
Federico Fellini, é bell' attrice.
And chocolate malted. A lady in
foxes on such a day puts her poodle
in a cab.

There are several Puerto
Ricans on the avenue today, which
makes it beautiful and warm. First
Bunny died, then John Latouche,
then Jackson Pollock. But is the
earth as full of life was full, of them?
And one has eaten and one walks,
past the magazines with nudes
and the posters for BULLFIGHT and
the Manhattan Storage Warehouse,
which they'll soon tear down. I
used to think they had the Armory
Show there.

A glass of papaya juice
and back to work. My heart is in my
pocket, it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy.

-Frank O'Hara (1956).


LiveBlog from the January 24th Mac-Groveland Community Council Transportation Committee Meeting

[The "test median" that was installed at the Jefferson and Cleveland intersection from August 24th to September 24th, 2010.]

6:58pm: I walk up the street toward the Edgecumbe Recreation Center, thinking I'm going to attend a vital meeting about bicycling in Saint Paul, my home town, thinking I'm going to be attending a meeting that will make or break the future of bicycling in this city, that will help determine whether or not I live in a town that encourages or discourages alternative non-fossil-fueled transportation, that cultivates humane lifestyles, that catalyzes healthy people and healthy lifestyles and healthy cities and communities, that says: "Yes, you can bicycle safely down the street even though you're not a 20-something daredevil, even though you're a mother and maybe overweight and maybe don't feel 100% comfortable on a bike," a city that says everyone is welcome on this street, we're going to take the huge leap of faith and let .1% of our public space be for people NOT in cars, and that's O.K., that's not a revolution (99.9% of car-culture is enough!) and that bike boulevards are not Molotov cocktails thrown haphazardly at SUV dealerships...

I think about this as I walk through the lovely January evening air past the outdoor hockey rink, past the dad teaching his daughter to skate by having her push a metal folding chair, past the sound of hockey sticks slapping down onto the ice, along the snowbank'd sidewalks, down Saint Paul's quiet dark snowy streetlit Griggs Avenue towards the community meeting about bicycling, perhaps the farthest thing from most people's minds in this cold climate...

The room is packed. Somehow the meeting has already started. People are standing near the entrance, collecting there looking lost.

I push my way into a seat near the front, right next to a very concerned looking woman who is currently testifying about parking problems near her home.

As it turns out, the discussion is about adding a restricted permit parking area near a school in Highland Park.

7:05pm: A blonde woman begins complaining about parking enforcement giving tickets during holidays.

7:06pm: The meeting's moderator, who sits along a pair of white plastic tables with about nine other not entirely happy looking people at at the front of the room points out that there shouldn't be any enforcement of parking permit zones on holidays. He does this to no avail.

7:08pm: The committee members at the tables look bedraggled, soft spoken. More than two arms are crossed. As people file into the room, they don't seem to be getting any happier. The atmosphere in the room already seems testy.

7:12pm: Discussion of school parking permit zones comes to an end. It's agreed that someone in the audience (the blond woman?) will start a neighborhood petition to instate a permitted parking zone near the school, at which point the Mac-Groveland Community Council Transportation Committee (MGCCTC) will take up and study the motion, perhaps to recommend it to the city, at which point it will have to go through a number of city council committees. The process seems impossibly lengthy, and its difficult to see anyone receiving short-term satisfaction.

At this point, the moderator “Jay” suggests ending discussion of the parking situation, and further suggests that those concerned might want to leave the meeting to make room for all the bicycle advocates standing in the aisle. This happens. A dozen people leave, a dozen people sit down. Chairs are found, arranged, and sat upon. Now the only people left standing are a group of a half-dozen Macalester students with bike helmets who arrive a bit late to the party. They look lost.

7:16pm: Now comes the moment of truth. We get to the bike boulevard median situation.

Jay makes a great deal about how the meeting today is just to report the findings from a study that was done on the the “test median” at Cleveland and Jefferson. (This is a long story, and I won't go into it here.) He then introduces two men from the city of Saint Paul public works department, Paul Saint Martin, traffic engineer, and Dave Something (?), traffic engineer. Both are 40-something bearded white men wearing button up shirts with pens in the pockets.

7:17pm: Paul Saint Martin, who seems to be in charge, briefly introduces himself, and then introduces Dave, who does most of the talking.

7:18pm: Dave, wearing brown, ends up pointing to a pair of pages of information that represent the findings of the study, and then goes about explaining them in some engineering-type detail.

He explains that the “test refuge” had two goals. First, it was intended to promote bike and pedestrian activity along the Jefferson bike boulevard, by allowing for an easier crossing of the street at the busy Jefferson and Cleveland intersection.

The second goal, he explains, is to divert through traffic on Jefferson, to reduce the number of cars that are using Jefferson as a through street, to restrict the traffic on that street only to local traffic, i.e. people who actually live there.

[One of the primary functions of the "test refuge" was to piss off drivers and make them log on to the internet.]

7:24pm: Dave then goes to great pains to emphasize that he is just sharing information, and not taking comments. I begin to understand that this meeting is not, in fact, an epic showdown of anti- and pro-bicycling forces meeting in a public arena and struggling to the rhetorical death etc. Rather, it is an objective reporting of facts ascertained by a careful neutral engineering-type study of facts neutral innocent bystander (or something like that).

7:26pm: The details of the study come next, and are delivered in the a dry fashion typical of numbers. You can read them for yourself here. There are two main components to the study. First, they looked at how the median affected traffic and speeds along Cleveland, Jefferson, and neighboring streets. As it turns out, the refuge didn't affect either very much.

Much to my surprise, average speeds on Cleveland didn't change more than 1 or 2 mph, and the 85% speed changed even less. (Of course, the median wasn't in fact a true median, and was instead a series of orange plastic things placed in the road. The median refuge had neither very effective calming qualities, nor aesthetic merits, both of which would surely exist with a real bona fide median. Which goes to show you, IMHO, that this kind of half-assed experimental approach is like "pissing into the wind," so to speak.)

The other part of the study involved gathering comments about the (inelegant and ugly) test median refuge boulevard, and, as you might imagine, many of these comments were negative. The split was about 60 / 40 weighted against the change, which actually to my mind seems pretty good considering its “test” status. Also, for some reason, the comments were then filtered through some sort of address matching process, whereby only those within a ½ mile of the intersection were counted. Also surprisingly, these results were practically identical to the larger sample.

7:36pm: "Jay" the moderator gives the two Transit for Livable Communities engineers, both 30-40 something men with beards but without glasses, a chance to talk about the test, and Tony Hull, TLC transportation specialist, briefly takes the floor to explain a few things about the concept of bike boulevards in general and this test median in particular. He keeps it very brief.

7:37pm: Now, the denouement! At this point Dave takes questions about the process.

Questions include:

7:38pm: Q: [older man with white hair] What about snow? The snow makes the street even narrower, and it will be impossible to turn the corner! Have they talked to bus drivers and snow plow drivers? Ambulance drivers? I'm not convinced it will “calm” anything!

A: [Dave.] Hm. We're talking to the fire department and the snow plow drivers. We might have to tweak the turning radius on the corners.

7:39pm: Q: [middle-age woman with black hair.] Was there any “due diligence” in counting the number of pedestrians using the median? Is this a good use of taxpayer money?

A: [Also Dave.] It's a “chicken and egg” kind of thing. Pedestrians and cyclists won't use it until we build it, so we can't wait for more pedestrians to come to justify building a median.

Man from the crowd: [Helpfully.] I live very close to the median and saw a lot of people using the refuge.

7:41pm: Q: [Middle-age woman with black hair, a different one.] There was no testing done on the alleys. Many cars are now driving down my alley, and my children play in the alleys. It's dangerous! Also, cars slow down at the median, but then just speed right up near Wellsely Avenue so its even more dangerous because they're speeding!

A: [Dave: no answer that I can remember.]

7:42pm: Q: [Another black coated woman with black hair.] What about snow removal when it snows a lot like in December when there is 3 feet of snow?

A: [Sparrows playing violins.]

7:43pm: Q: [Older woman in blue sweatshirt with white hair.] Instead of spending money on the median why not put up a stop sign? That way bikes can blow through it, cars can blow through it, and pedestrians can dance in the street.

A: [Chuckles pervade the room.]

7:45pm: Q: [Earnest bike-type fellow.] Will there eventually be a similar refuge on Cretin? That street is just as busy.

A: [Dave again.] Probably, if all goes well, and if the city decides to go through with the project. Cretin is scheduled for re-paving in 2014, and that's when we'd probably do it.

7:47pm: Q: [Someone.] Are there other plans or ideas that would allow for left turns off Cleveland?

Q: If a neighborhood streeet is one that has less than 500 cars / day (as was mentioned during the earlier wonky part of the presentation), and Jefferson already has less than 500 cars / day, why even bother with all this? Were the speed limit differences statistically significant?

7:50pm: At which point Tony Hull, TLC transportation and traffic calming guru tries to explain about bike boulevards, about how they involve a series of improvements and changes (e.g. roundabouts) designed to allow for efficient and safe cycling that, if done without also diverting car traffic, may have the opposite effect of increasing rather than decreasing auto traffic on the street, which is why the left-turn diverting medians may in fact be the crucial component of the entire bike boulevard concept..

This answer, however, resembles the waving of a red flag as seen by a bull, or a bucket of chum as smelled by a shark, and people just start to get more upset until Dave, the Saint Paul traffic engineer, diffuses the fracas by saying: “Don't worry. We killed all of those improvements anyway,” which strikes me as the single most absurd moment of the evening, where there is seeming pride taken in the fact that this boulevard would be, all in all, a half-assed attempt. (The half-an-ass approach being typical of Twin Cities state-sponsored cycling infrastructure, the “Minnesotan Way,” so to speak.)

7:52pm: Q: What about the county? Isn't Cleveland Avenue a county state aid highway?

A: [Dave, proudly.] The county pretty much ignores us, and we can do whatever we want, so that's not a problem.

7:57pm: The meeting comes to a close as one of the Mac-Groveland people tells everyone where they can get more information (macgrove.org).

8:01pm: As folks start to chat amongst themselves, and as the Macalester students begin to leave, not having any idea what had just happened, we start to chat, and the poor MGCCTC asks us nicely to leave the room as they have other business to attend to and would very much like to go home at Nine. We exit into the hallway where there are many youth and fathers in various states of wearing and not wearing hockey gear, and where it does indeed have that musky dank hockey smell that is a not-totally-displeasing combination of sweat and ice.

Whereupon I chat with folks from the Saint Paul Bike Coalition about various matters of the day, and someone decides that the city is “kicking the can down the road” and we all agree that the test median was a stupid idea to begin with, that they should, as the Nike ads say, “just do it” rather than dicking around all this time with test signs and websites and orange plastic crap and unnecessarily pissing off car-centric neighbors.

[Saint Paul's patron saint, Joe Soucheray, purses his wrinkly lips alone in a dim office contemplating ways to run over bicyclists with his SUV while on his way to inspect the tools in his garage.]


More links courtesy of CTC:

Less interesting recap of same meeting by Jeff Zayer.
Explanation of project by Ride Boldly.


Big Saint Paul Bike Boulevard Meeting Tonight

This is important. We need to show up there! (I'm going...)

Jefferson Bike Blvd. Test Median - Important Meeting

7:00 pm

Greetings Saint Paul Bicyclists,

If you are going to attend one meeting all year, please make it this one. On Monday, January 24 at 7 p.m. at the Edgcumbe Recreation Center, 320 S. Griggs, the Saint Paul Public Works Department and the Macalester-Groveland Community Council will share the results of the test median on the Jefferson Bike Boulevard. It is incredibly important that bicyclists show up to support this project, not only for the sake of the test median, but to show support for the bike boulevard concept. As many of you are aware, this has been a hotly debated project and we need your support.

For more information on the project, visit our website atwww.saintpaulbicyclecoalition.org or contact me or Andy.

Warm regards,

Dana DeMaster

Co-chair, Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition

TC Sidewalks Live! at Salon Saloon Tomorrow!

[The sun rises over the Willamette River in Downtown Portland, Oregon.]

Hey everybody. I'll be on stage tomorrow at 7:00 at the Bryant Lake Bowl to talk about the sidewalks of Portland, Oregon. I will be discussing important questions of the day, such as

Q: Is Portland a Bizarro Minneapolis?
Q: What crazy stuff did I see there?
Q: What is it that makes their sidewalks so special?

Stop by if you can. It should be a good time. [Details below.]

(Special thanks to Tom, Shelly, Chelsea, Sarah, Don, Laura, Makenna, and Zack for all your help learning about and visiting Portland.)

[When they say that "hipsters in Portland are ironic," it means that they use ironing boards to sign people up for environmental causes on the city sidewalks.]

Tuesday, January 25 · 7:00pm - 10:00pm

LocationBryant Lake Bowl
810 West Lake Street
Minneapolis, MN

Oh, Portland, Oregon. Does no other place inspire such helpless feelings of envy and self-projection from the medium-sized cities of America? Bicycles, coffee, literacy, food trucks, streetcars, indie rock, strip clubs, punk-rock doughnut shops. Did you know Andy's friend moved there after college and got a job as Sleater-Kinney's nanny? It's true.

Your friends moved there after college, too. You are secretly jealous of them. You've thought of moving there, too. Oh, Portland.

In January, Salon Saloon is going to finally get to the bottom of the Portland mystique. What can the so-called City of Roses teach us about our own medium-sized city? About ourselves?

Salon Saloon: The Portland Show
Tuesday, January 25, 2011 | Doors at 6PM, Show at 7PM
$6 - 12 pay what you can

This month's guests!

+ Singer-songwriter (and Portland native) CHRIS KOZA
+ Writer and performer MAGGIE RYAN SANDFORD
+ Twin Cities Sidewalks blogger BILL LINDEKE
+ Artist SAM GOULD of Red 76 collective

And as always: the Salon Saloon house band FOR RICHER OR PORTLAND (Jake Mohan and Claire Tiller), and your host Andy Sturdevant.


Combining the best and worst elements of chat show, variety program and artist talk, Salon Saloon is a live-action arts magazine that invites local artists, designers, musicians and creative workers to the stage of the Bryant-Lake Bowl for informal, far-ranging explorations of a specific topic. Each themed program features guests from across the spectrum of the Twin Cities creative community sharing stories, photos, essays, ideas and performances.


Salon Saloon is produced by Andy Sturdevant & Works Progress at Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater.


SALON SALOON: http://www.salonsaloon.info/

BRYANT-LAKE BOWL: http://www.bryantlakebowl.com/calendar/shows/salon-saloon-twin-cities-art-culture-review-7

ADVANCE TICKETS: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/141054


*** Sidewalk Weekend! *** #50

Sidewalk Rating: Layer Up!

Conventions of pedestrian etiquette, for example, prescribe that strangers do not touch one another on the street. In New York, one of the more “impersonal” cities of America, people who bump into each other on the crowded sidewalks rarely fail to apologize. Yet a person from a sparsely populated region of southern Illinois might be started at being bumped on a Manhattan street corner and complain about the very abrupt apology. What seems abrupt to the urban neophyte is, in the context of living in a densely populated environment, sufficient for the occasion. It also avoids a prolonged encounter, something more familiar to the small-town inhabitant where sidewalks are less crowded and collisions much less frequent. Just as the person from southern Illinois walks according to a shared pattern of pedestrian movement in his region, so do pedestrians living in Chicago, New York, London, Munich, and Moscow customarily walk in such a way that their movements are predictable and intrusions infrequent.

Collisions do occur, however, and the reaction to the intrusions varies quite markedly from city to city. Londonites, for instance, go to considerable effort to avoid touching or bumping into each other, and if a collision does occur, they apologize. The pattern is similar in New York, but less striking. In Paris, however, people bump into each other rather frequently, as if they made no effort to avoid the contact, and do not usually apologize. During the winter when the streets are slippery, Muscovites often fall, crash into each other, and sometimes bring down a whole group of people like a stack of dominoes. They rarely apologize and pay little attention to those who fall. In New York and Munich, in contrast, slipping is a much rarer event as de-icing salt is regularly strewn about. When it does occur, it is the cause of much concern.

-Norman Ashcraft and Albert E. Scheflen, “People Space: The Making and Breaking of Human Boundaries.”

[The coldest morning.]

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[Click images for links.]

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[Via CityPages.]

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[The audio on this is playing backwards for some reason, but otherwise its awesome.]

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[Via BusTales.]

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Reading the Highland Villager Op-Ed Extra! #1

[By popular demand, here is the latest Op-Ed from the Highland Villager. Image of the sun-blotting Olin Crossing High-Rise Housing Project, taken from Fred's website.]

Sounding the alarm for light rail in St. Paul

By Barnaby Wiesner

To the residents of the neighborhoods along the route of the planned Central Corridor light-rail line, from a resident of a neighborhood along the Hiawatha light-rail line: Yes, your neighborhoods will be destroyed.

If the Central Corridor line is built, you will not be able to park in front of your house, or behind your house if you share an alley with one of the high-rises that will be built along University Avenue. On my block, I have witnessed as many as 23 parked cars at at time that did not belong to any resident of the block. This winder due to the snow, Minneapolis declared a permanent ban on even-sided parking. This reduces the number of available parking spaces on my block to less than 23, which means I have to park on another block.

When developers -- like those from Metro Plains, which built Vantage Flats -- tell you that parking from their new high-rises will not be a problem for you, they will be lying. The residents of the new high-rises and their guests will park along your street. Fans of the Twins and Vikings will use your street as free parking lots and as garbage cans and ashtrays. Your streets will become the long-term parking lots of those traveling by train to either downtown.

High-rises are not a spectre here in Minneapolis; they are a reality. Come and see Vantage Flats, Minnehaha Place and Olin Crossing along Minnehaha Avenue between 52nd and 54th streets. Because of the shadows they cast, the snow takes longer to melt, so in the winter you have longer to deal with the problem of trying to turn into your garage from the frozen ruts in the alley. In the summer, your backyard gardens will suffer from a lack of direct sunlight.

In the summer, you will never be able to have your windows open. Crossing alarms for the train will sound at every street crossing, and even though the Metropolitan Council will tell you these alarms will be "aimed" only along the road, the aimable alarms will only be installed downtown, so that in the neighborhoods you will be able to hear the alarms from four blocks away.

These alarms will sound 24 hours a day. The Met Council will tell you that the trains will not run between 2:00 and 4:00 a.m., but the trains start at both ends of the line, so they will need to travel the route from the garage to downtown every morning. These alarms will sound more than 20 times an hour during rush hour. Because these alarms are specifically designed to be warnings, you will never get used to them.

At the light-rail stations, there will be several other alarms. The alarm for when the train is approaching also sounds the entire time the train is stopped at a station. The trains themselves have two alarms and, in true Minnesota-nice fashion, they like to sound the louder one as they pass a half block from your home.

You worry about alley traffic. Yes, there will be alley traffic. The high-rise construction crews will park their trucks in the alley during morning rush hour even though it is illegal to do so. They will also block University Avenue while they clean their trucks out even though it is illegal to do so. But more important, and more distressing to you, will be the fact that every street that parallels University Avenue will become a secondary circulation route, because University itself will become a nightmare to drive along. Traffic will become so difficult to manage on University that drivers will seek other routes.

The disruption of traffic will extend south of I-94. As there are a limited number of streets that cross the freeway, traffic on these streets will back up for blocks because of the trains, especially when a second train causes a stoplight override to begin even though a previous stoplight override has just ended.

Remember what driving along Marshall Avenue was like when it had four lanes of traffic? Now it has two lanes of traffic with a left-turn lane that has no left-turn signals, which effectively prevents drivers from turning left. That is what University will be like if the light-rail line is built there. After the trains have been running a while and traffic problems have become horrendous, the city will spend a quarter million of your tax dollars to fund a study to determine why these problems exist.

Finally, you will have to live with the fear that your homes will be taken by eminent domain so that your city can give the land to a developer even though this is illegal under Minnesota law. (This is what is happening on my block. The state took homes from my block to build a highway. When the highway was built somewhere else, the state gave the land to the city of Minneapolis, and the city now plans to give it to a developer to build a high-rise.) Before the city does this, it will make you pay for another study that will show you what your neighborhood will look like after it has been "revitalized."

You may think that I paint a dim picture. I have personally witnessed every problem I have told you about. And I am only one resident. Multiply my stories by the number of residents along the Hiawatha light-rail line and you will have an accurate assessment of what life will be like for you if the Central Corridor is built.

[Barnaby Wiesner is a resident of the Nokomis East neighborhood of South Minneapolis.]
[Contact info for the Highland Villager: Publisher, Michael Mischke: mmischke@myvillager.com; Editorial, press releases, calendar items and editorial questions: news@myvillager.com.]


Reading the Highland Villager #30 (January 12 - 25 Edition)

[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. That's why I'm reading the Highland Villager so that you don't have to. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free.]

Total # of articles about sidewalks: 12
Total # of articles about sidewalks written by Jane McClure: 11

Headline: University Avenue businesses plead for public assistance to weather disruptions of light-rail project
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: [I wish I could have seen it when] A coalition of business owners "crowded into the Ax-Man Surplus Store" to desperately ask for help from the city and/or state to make up for revenue that will be lost during construction of the LRT line along University Avenue. [Only problem being that nobody has any money these days. -Ed.] Metaphors employed by business owners include "blood on the streets" and "swimming in an ocean with little life jackets." Business owners are looking for about $45M, but only $1.5M is on hand so far for construction mitigation.

Headline: Protecting LGA from further cuts tops city's legislative agenda
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: St Paul wants to stop the incessant cuts to Local Government Aid (from the state to the city). [Fat chance! -Ed.]

Headline: Snelling median performing well in first months of use
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: Report on the ["controversial"] median on Snelling Avenue. [Much to the surprise of reactionary Ward 3 Council Member Pat Harris, ] "Businesses are not seeing any decrease in customer traffic." Includes quotes from a Macalester official who observed slowing of traffic on the busy street. Also includes info about who maintains [i.e. waters & weeds] the plants on landscaped medians. Apparently in some places, this is done by volunteers! [Sounds like an opportunity for TC Sidewalks. -Ed.]

Headline: Renovation preserves pieces of Ramsey Hill's horse-drawn past
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: A 1894 livery stable on Ramsey Hill is going to be renovated and historically preserved by being converted into a house. Article includes some interesting info about the history of livery stables. Somehow, carriages were stored in the ceiling.

Headline: Proposed changes to sidewalk cafe regulations get another going over
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: Another update on the ongoing negotiation over sidewalk cafes in the Capitol City. Breaking news: "No one testified at the third public hearing on the ordinance on January 5." The debate is over whether to have minimum widths at 36 or 48 inches.

Headline: City ballot may allow up to 6 choices
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: Story about IRV / RCV voting for the upcoming city council election.

Headline: Future of Jefferson-Cleveland median discussed January 24
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: Report on the upcoming big meeting on the "controversial" test median for the bike boulevard on Jefferson Avenue. Includes typical McLure-ian language such as "so-called Jefferson Avenue Bike boulevard." [Please show up! Monday the 24th at 7:00 PM at the Edgecumbe Rec Center.]

Headline: Highland developer Mannillo is seeking seat on City Council
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: Report on a candidate to replace [car-loving] Ward 3 Council Member Pat Harris, who is retiring. This candidate is a real estate developer and building owner who has lived in Highland Park for 33 years. Mannillo is also the former chair of the St Paul Heritage Preservation Commission. [$10 says he doesn't touch the bike boulevard issue with a 10-foot pole. -Ed.]

Headline: City Council settlement closes book on another billboard ban
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: Clear Channel Outdoor [booo!] won a $25K lawsuit settlement from the city over billboard regulations.

Headline: I-94 resurfacing will continue this year west of Cretin Avenue
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: MNDOT is repaving ramps along the freeway and installing a noise wall between Pelham and Cretin.

Headline: Op-Ed: Sounding the alarm for light rail in St. Paul
Reporter: Barnaby Weisner

Short short version: über-alarmist op-ed about how "neighborhoods will be destroyed" by the upcoming light rail train. Barnaby's concerns: street parking becoming difficult, the "spectre" of high-rises plaguing South Minneapolis, the sound of the train "alarms," and "alley traffic." The author cites the terrible image of Marshall Avenue after its conversion to a two-lane street as a warning to the disbelievers. [Truly, Marshall today is a nightmare!] The icing on the cake? The gov't will use eminent domain to steal your house to give land to a developer. [Wow! Even for the Highland Villager, this one is a mega-doozy. I'm tempted to re-print the thing in its entirety. -Ed.]

Headline: Culver's looks to bring butter burgers to University Avenue; Project would be one of the first under interim zoning rules created for Central Corridor
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: Great. [Sarcastic tone.] They're opening a Culver's near University and Pascal, where the Spin Cycle laundromat is currently. It looks like they want a drive-thru window, but need a conditional use permit for that.


Signs of the Times #27

No alerts are in effect
at this time.

[Light Rail Kiosk. Warehouse District, Minneapolis.]


[Yard. Lowry Hill, Minneapolis.]


[Snowbank. Lowry Hill, Minneapolis.]


[Fence. Mac-Groveland, Saint Paul.]

$9.95 lb

[Store. Mac-Groveland, Saint Paul.]

The Nook
Is Closed
For Renovation

[Restaurant wall. Ran-Ham, Saint Paul.]

From Rice Is

[Store. North End, Saint Paul.]



[Door. Warehouse District, Minneapolis.]

Students Against Hunger!
Meal Making!


[Window. Stadium Village, Minneapolis.]

OPEN at 10:00 am

[Door. Cedar-Riverside, Minneapolis.]

JOHN'S moved
Across the Street
616 Como

[Window. North End, Saint Paul.]


Notes from the Empire Builder

[The train station in Malta, Montana, with detail of sign on nearby hotel.]

I’m listening to the acoustic salad spinner that is the Amtrak waiting room in Saint Paul. I know right away that I’m in a different America. If you or I ever get the feeling that the USA has become a homogeneous wasteland, a capital of conformity, a place inhabited by televised mall-zombies line dancing their way to their Capital One credit limit, we need only get an Amtrak ticket. This place has all the eclectic David Lynch charm of a 70s documentary, something like Errol Morris’ Gates of Heaven. Yes, Virginia, curious documentary people are still alive and well and they’re here in this beige building waiting for the Empire Builder. The 20-year-old dude in full cowboy get-up strolling past a pair of obese Indian women in hoodies catches my eye immediately. It’s not just the hat, the boots, and the jeans hitched up to a big belt buckle, but he moves with that particular cowboy gait, like a pendulum on a grandfather clock. It’s not something you see in Saint Paul, and never for someone so young.

A family of four sits down near me and their entire family drama writes itself so plainly on their faces that I can’t resist, and I daydream the inner monologues of the mother in the North Dakota sweatshirt wearing too much makeup... The older blonder prettier daughter is wearing, for some reason, a navy blue bathrobe, gray sweatpants, and what seem to be slippers and is attached like a barnacle to her mother’s fondling arm. Meanwhile, the younger jet-black hair daughter is dressed to the nines with high heels and a skirt far too revealing for her age and she’s bored and desperate to prove her independence and compete with her doted on sister. The tall skinny brother hates the entire scene and plays with his cell phone the whole time, wandering off to be bored elsewhere in the station with high-heel sister tagging along while mom and blondie hug each other. They all have these pursed lips which must run in the family, the kind of lips where it seems like you’re frowning even when you’re not.

The train is late, and I move to another point in the station to be closer to the door when the inevitable beeline forms. It doesn’t get any less odd. Almost immediately there’s this young dude with Justin Bieber hair who is wearing, I kid you not, an entire two-piece suit made out of red and white plaid, and leaning against a trash bin and reading a pink copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The part the boggles my mind is that he doesn’t look like a hipster. I cannot tell whether or not he’s being ironic, which, given the literal clowniness of his outfit, is an almost impossible trick to pull off.

I end up sitting near two African guys, one of whom talks straight nonstop for a half hour, a long monologue about making money in the US that seems to revolve around the difference between Ethiopian and Somali Africans and others.

Later, on the train. “To tell you the truth, I’m ready to go to our savior,” says a 50 yr old man who intentionally sat down at the table of this 40 year old woman, a Montana schoolteacher, and very quickly began telling her his life story in the lounge car. “It’s not a coincidence that we found each other,” he says sometime later. Also he believes that cell phones and video games are a conspiracy to undermine interpersonal relations, “kids today” and whatnot. He wears matching wrist braces, the kind for people with carpal tunnel syndrome. “First you take away person to person communication… then [implied apocalypse].” “You know what, everybody’s got nukes now.” He recently owned a Rottweiler that was assigned to him as a psychiatric services dog, but she died.

This guy proves to be a recurring character on the trip, and I end up sitting next to him again when he has this conversation with a retired military farm type guy from Minnesota about eschatology and pre-Socratic (!) philosophy, and it turns out the guy believes in re-incarnation and the eternal return and describes how quantum theory proves that there was no beginning and no end to time. It is then that I am thankful to have remembered my iPod.

The train through Montana has lots of hunters, and they are always looking out the window, looking only for things they can shoot. The list includes elk, deer, cayotes, rabbits, and there emerges over time a story about a hunting priest who illegally shot a “mulie” but got away with it because of his connections upstairs. Of course, at least they know how to spot a coyote along the fence row at 300 yards or whatever. Very small and hard to see!

There is a strong smelling Amish family who apparently let one daughter escape to the first story of the train in tears, much to the displeasure of the Amtrak conductor.

I just saw a big feedlot in Eastern Montana. I’ve read about that in books.

I’m headed to Portland, Oregon, and there are people talking about Portland on the train. Among them is a super hipster “filmmaker” from New York / Portland / other places, a college kid from UW Stout who was moving to Portland for a few months, and two kids from upstate NY each wearing red plaid who love living in Seattle. Overheard: “A friend of mine told me that Portland is kind of racist. He was asked to leave a party, people said ‘you don’t belong here.’” Of the two plaid wearing dudes from upstate NY who moved to Seattle, one of whom is studying to become teacher, and the other one is unemployed and seems like a very intriguing guy to me. Now the filmophile hipster is talking about how Portland is the most racist place in America. He tells a story about a cop who shot a black kid and didn’t receive any consequential punishment (as if that never happens anywhere else). He says: “It’s a silly place. I hope it gets nuked.”

One of the funny things about Amish / Mennonite people on the Amtrak is that, in this context, they actually don’t dress all that funnily. Right now I see the fairly modern-seeming Amish / Mennonite father look back and do a double take when he sees another man with a bowl cut and a beard and a blue button up shirt with the top button fastened and a pair of suspenders walk down the aisle. Only its not another member of the tribe, but rather, this is what people from North Dakota look like.

I meet a 58-year-old man with stumpy fingers named Bob who is a portrait artist from the lake district of Northeast Indiana. He learned to play the cello seven years ago when he bartered a portrait with a friend of his who’d bought a cello and three years of cello lessons in a package deal, and now he plays in some sort of orchestra in Indiana, where they recently played with “the most famous pianist in the world, A Chinese named Wang.” He sang to me a few measures of the Spanish Dances, which he was cello-less-ly working on with his hands, ghost like. He “used to rodeo.”

Later the next morning he and I are sitting around the lounge with another crusty NRA dude missing a tooth who lives on a mountainside in Washington State who ends up saying, “You’re not a’rabbit huntin’ ‘til you caught ‘em by hand, boy I’ll tell ya.’”

Old people on the train seem to believe in Revelation, Mayan eschatology, the possibility of alien life, but are skeptical about global warming.

Topics from another Empire Builder conversation, this time between three twenty-something dudes and one chick, one 0f whom is reading Dostoevsky, include: astrology, faith, intoleration, the amount of time light from the stars takes to reach Earth, the indie rock scene in Buffalo. Later I end up chatting with these folks and two of the guys, including Dostoevsky, borrow my computer to listen raptly really death-like metal music. We do this for a hour. My dreams on the train are f’d regardless.

I have my laptop in the lounge car and a gigantic man in his late 40s with a shaved head and things attached to his leather belt stops and rather sheepishly says “computers… say, do you know about those things? Can I get my email on any computer?” and we talk for a while about the internet and its many possibilities and I learn that he has a boat somewhere. I easily imagine him successfully escaping the attachments of the world. I’m a bit jealous.

The world speeds slowly past my window and I rock back and forth without thinking.

[Inside the train station in Portland, Oregon.]


Notable Quotes #1: William H. Whyte describes Saint Paul's walls circa 1980

[A giant blank wall by Mickey's Diner.]

Blank walls are tough to fight because no one is for them. There are no civic debates whether to have them or not. There is often no recognition that they have become a problem at all. Their growth is too incremental. They are the by-product of other causes, many seemingly good – separation of vehicular and pedestrian traffic, off-street circulation, and such. Given current momentums, the blank walls will continue to spread, even in the most exemplary of cities.

Such as Saint Paul, Minnesota. It is the blank-wall capital of the United States. You would not expect it to be. It is a most habitable, attractive, and friendly city; it has one of the most resourceful and effective mayors in the country; its Lowertown redevelopment is of an eminently human scale and has a fine street presence. St. Paul also has one of the most complete skyway systems in the country, and it is probably the best designed of all of them.

It is paying a steep price. In a striking example of the Gresham effect, skyway level has led to the blanking-out of the street level. The result is as drastic as if shop fronts and windows had been decreed illegal. There are few to see. The experience is so dull that to walk at street level is to do penance for not using upper level. Block after block is a blank wall. Occasionally, there is a break to indicate what might have been—like the trompe l'oeil windows on the wall of a parking lot.

It is not entirely farfetched to prophesy that one day St. Paul might embark on a rediscovery project to uncover its buried street level. Atlanta made a tourist attraction of its old underground streets; so did Seattle of its Skid Row. But prime shopping streets are a much greater treasure, and the fact that they have been concealed should make their reappearance all the more dramatic. Disneyland merchandises a simulation of a street. But cities have something even better: actual streets. Right under their noses.