Sidewalk of the Week: Lyndale and 27th Street

[The laundromat boasts an awesome Jack mural.]
You’re starving and the fridge is empty. It’s a good thing you live on Lyndale Avenue.

“Hey honey?” you shout. “I’m going to get something at the café. Do you need anything?”

“Oh? Sunnyside?” she asks.

“Yeah, I was thinking hashbrowns” you say.

“Well, in that case I could use some tea” she says.

You smile. “No problem. I’ll pick you up some Earl Gray.” You head for the door, but just before you open it you look back and catch her eye.

“Oh,” she says remembering something. “Can you grab a new soccer ball? Our last one’s wearing thin.”

“OK. Sure. Why not?” you reply. Your hand is hovering just over the doorknob.

“... and you might as well throw these towels into the laundry while you’re out.” She tosses you a pile of dirty dishtowels, and you catch them with one hand.

“Got it.”

And life just seems so easy, until you remember one more thing. Like Columbo, you turn and pause and clutch at your forehead.

"Just one more thing, before I forget” you add, with a long pause. “Do you want me to pick up the vacuum cleaner while I'm out? The repairman called the other day, and it’s ready down at the shop”

“Great idea!” she chimes. “See you in twenty minutes!”

And with that you almost jump through the doorway into the warm summer air, heading for the corner of Lyndale and 27th.

[The old Sunnyside Café window, and the neighboring two-story buildings.]

This fantastic tale may seem like something out of science fiction. Surely that's not possible in today's modern Minneapolis, you mutter.

But friend, not so long ago, this was the reality of daily life on Lyndale Avenue. The corner of Lyndale and 27th was home to perhaps the most eclectic string of shops in the entire city. Within one string of old buildings lurked: a laundromat, a breakfast joint, a tea shop, a vacuum cleaner store, and a soccer equipment place. On top, there sits a set of old apartments. Such an odd assemblage is rare in our Twin Cities, and while these buildings may not be long for this world, it’s worth pausing for a moment and reflecting on their service to our community.

In her magnum opus, Jane Jacobs takes pains to emphasize the importance of old buildings in changing cities:

Time makes the high building costs of one generation the bargains of a following generation. Time pays off original capital costs, and this depreciation can be reflected in the yields required from a building. Time makes certain structures obsolete for some enterprises, and they become available to others. Time can make the space efficiencies of one generation the space luxuries of another generation. One century's building commonplace is another century's useful aberration.

[from Death and Life Chapter 10, The need for aged buildings.]
As Jacobs argues, old buildings serve an important function by providing "low rent" space for new business (or in this case, really quirky businesses) that might not be able to afford the kind of ground floor retail you might find in a new condominium. And Jacobs' maxim couldn't be more true than for the block at Lyndale and 27th, which was (until recently) composed almost entirely of oddball quirky establishments.

[The awesome mural on the side of the old Vacuum and soccer ball store.]
But, today this block is a little bit sad. As you might be aware, the three buildings on this corner may not be long for this world. The new condos across the street attest to how this stretch of Lyndale Avenue has become a prime location for new development. And you might be aware that a while back stories appeared in all the local papers that these three or four buildings were going to be torn down and replaced with Minneapolis’ first Trader Joe’s grocery and liquor store. According to the rough sketches, it would have been a one-story building with a large parking lot and curb cuts all around.

As it turns out, the vagaries of local Minneapolis politics and blue laws may prevent Trader Joe’s from going forward with their nefarious plan. (The store would require a zoning exception to open its liquor store, and they likely won’t get the exception, and likely won’t open a food store without the revenue from four-buck chuck.) But TJ’s temporary demise likely won’t prevent the slow, gradual diminishment of this corner. The old breakfast joint, Sunnyside Café has been shuttered since last year. The block has certainly seen better days.

A friend of mine was doing laundry on this corner the other day and happened to chat with the man running the place. He asked him about Trader Joe’s, and it came out that the old man was the property owner for all three buildings, the very Joe who had made the deal to sell out.

My friend peppered him with questions. As it turns out, owning old buildings and running a laundromat is not all fun and games. The man described long days of maintenance, shoveling snow off the roof at all hours, and the fact that his children didn't seem interested in 'taking over' the family business. I guess they'd rather just have a bunch of money, which a big developer like Trader Joe's would throw at them.

And can you blame them? Maintaining old buildings and running a laundromat is a thankless task, and older undervalued buildings like this are always under pressure by developers looking to flip old property and "realize the potential" of a spot like this.

Still, though, this kind of thing always makes me sad. This is a classic case of undervalued non-auto oriented building stock. Maybe Minneapolis needs a campaign like the "Keep Austin Weird" mantra, whereby old quirky buildings and establishments are explicitly supported by the city. Meanwhile, if you want to increase density along Lyndale Avenue, there are plenty of spots with single-family homes where you could increase density (if you could somehow get zoning or permitting changes). It seems a shame to take out some of the already-existing mixed-use stock, like these class two-story retail & apartment buildings.

Seeing the gradual erosion of the city's most eccentric block of buildings makes me casts a shadow on future of Minneapolis. Are interesting places condemned to a fate of obsolescence? Are they playing out the rest of their commercial lives like a man on death row? Is post-modernist boredom the inevitable fate of Lyndale Avenue?

Time will tell. Meanwhile, if you want to buy some Earl Grey tea, you can visit the old batty couple in the tea shop. They're on a month-to-month lease.

[The tea shop's quirky window.]


Sidewalk Game #7: Stalking

Action: Identify a person to be followed. Follow them; but do not in any way menace them. rather, give up your initiative to them. Never make yourself known or allow yourself to be noticed by them. If you sense that they have become aware of you, cease the stalking immediately.

If your first target disappears, then find a second and follow them.

Spend at least half a day on this, preferably longer. Commit yourself to take buses, trains, etc. whatever is necessary in order to follow your ‘target.’

Real, oppressive stalking is fueled by an intense obsession; here there is no obsession, there is only submission to the other. This should dissipate any intensity. This liberation is what you should aim to express.

Sidewalk Game #6: 300 Things

Step out onto the Planet
Draw a Circle 100 feet round

Inside the circle are 300 things
nobody understands and,
maybe, nobody’s ever seen.

How many can you find?

[fm. Lew Welch – in The Windhorse Review]


Reading the Highland Villager #59

[The Villager lingers on a stoop.]
[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: 10

Headline: St Paul releases ‘unworkable’ plan for limiting spread of student rentals [Surprisingly critical headline for the Villager. Are they becoming more of a journalistic gadfly? Is Jane McClure the next big muckraker?]
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: Story on the latest development in the plan to reign in the unending creep of St Thomas students through the neighborhood near St Thomas. The proposed ordinance, which will be up for debate at the planning commission on the May 4th meeting, would restrict the number of homes that would allow “students” to live in them that can be in the area from St Clair to I-94, and from the river to Snelling Avenue. [NOTE: I am on the commission, btw.] Article points out that the ordinance is almost single handedly the impulse of CM Stark [who is otherwise really good on transportation / sidewalk /bike and walk issues. note that for some reason it’s OK to discriminate against Tommies. Imagine if they passed an ordinance that restricted the number of African-Americans or Mormons that could live in an area. Are Tommies the last remaining discriminable group in America? –Ed]. Story highlights the heated debate that occurred when the planning commission passed the proposed ordinance. Article quotes Commissioner Oliver: “It’s not a student problem, it’s a housing supply problem.” Article includes the phrase “tenuous legal territory.”  Anyway, I will have more on this soon. It's the next big St Paul debate. Who woulda thunk it? -Ed.]

Headline: City approves revised plan for Jefferson Bikeway; but not before removing three new traffic circles
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: Report on the recent city council meeting where the Jefferson bikeway was approved. [See also: my liveblog of the meeting.] Article details CM Tolbert’s removal of the traffic calming traffic circles. Includes quote from transit for liveable communities (TLC) head Barb Thoman” We’re disappointed.” Includes description of the testimony by “a dozen bicyclists and Macalester-Groveland residents” who were upset with the changes, particularly stuff about public process. Article ends with an anti-bike boulevard quote [seemingly put there for balance] and a short history of the project.

Headline: Developer unveils plans for 20-unit apartment at Grand-Finn; some neighbors raise concerns over size of five-story building
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: Description of proposed new development at Grand and Finn that would house “as many as 80 students of the University of St Thomas.” [There goes the neighborhood! –Ed.] Article includes the phrase “neighbors expressed concerns about … disruptive student behavior.” Two homes on Grand would have to be torn down. Article includes at least two quotes from neighbors saying things like “family neighborhood” and “stick out like a sore thumb.” The developer’s last name is “Merry.”

Headline: Hopefuls wish upon STAR funding [Worst headline pun this fortnight?]

Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: Article on the projects that are competing for a $5.5M pot of city development tax money. Projects include the Saints stadium, the Schmidt brewery, Selby avenue streetscaping, an affordable housing project on University Avenue, and assorted other renovations and building projects.

Headline: Lucky’s to reopen Ran-Ham gas station
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: The gas station and corner store at Randolph and Hamline across from Cretin Durham Hall is going to re-open under the name “Lucky’s.”

Headline:  BZA takes a shine to variance for Summit Ave. solar panels [Is this a pun? I guess it is.]

Reporter: Jane McClure
Short short version: The Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) approved the variance for the person that put solar panels at the back of their yard. Somehow these solar panels aren’t controversial. [I can easily imagine the public meeting, where lots of people being their testimony with the words “I’m all for solar energy, but…” –Ed.]

Headline: Flood of comments delays vote on great River Passage [Best pun this fortnight?]
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: Lots of people have opinions and questions about the plan for the big park along the Mississippi river. The parks commission is going to push back their vote to May 9th.

Headline: St Paul grants noise variances for late-night light-rail work
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: Contractors building the train can work at night sometimes.

Headline: Coleman veto puts the icing on cupcake [A more obvious pun, yes. Probably 2nd best of the issue?]
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: Article on the [excellent] highly politically odd [and bureaucratically science-fictiony] resolution to the Grand Avenue cupcake situation, which involved the icty council and mayor collaborating to allow the business to open despite th concerns of the neighborhood about parking. Article includes quote from Mayor Coleman: “St. Paul is open for business.” [Note: this is the same exact phrase that Scott Walker used when he was elected governor of Wisconsin. –Ed.]

Headline: Thirteen homes eyed for Crocus’ New Hill
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: A development proposal was shown to the public. There will be thirteen single family homes in the spot where Visitation school used to be. Neighbors are concerned about what the homes will look like, and want an “architectural control committee.”

Headline: Editorial: Last-minute changes to Jefferson Bikeway ride roughshod over citizen participation process
Reporter: Colleen Williams-Freier

Short short version: Guest editorial [in place of Editor Mischke's usual screed] on the Jefferson bike boulevard [fiasco?] resolution. Writer "expresses ... frustration" with the final CM Tolbert-sponsored last-minute plan [which stripped out the three traffic circles], mostly on the grounds of un-democratic process, the extensive public engagement / public process work that went into the penultimate compromise plan. Includes the question: "How dare he ignore people's work since 2008?" Includes phrase: "This is not an acceptable way to govern a city." [Interesting that the Villager would publish an editorial that is now 180-degrees opposite from where they were previously on the bike boulevard. The rather incendiary reporting from Villager was one of the reasons that the bike boulevard became such a ridiculous political hot button in the first place, was it not? Anyway, now they're angry about Tolbert's 'ward-boss' type backroom deal thing. -Ed.]

Headline: Editorial: Meeting the neighbors: UST student finds reason for hope
Reporter: Michael Orth

Short short version: Guest editorial by a St Thomas student, reprinted from the Tommie newspaper. It's about his attendance at a neighborhood group meeting, and how awkward but somewhat satisfying it was. Editorial attempts to find a way to achieve peace and reconciliation between Tommies and NIMBY-Tommie neighbors. Says things like: "the vast majority on both sides are seeking a positive relationships -- one that fosters a healthy and vibrant community and supports productive dialogue." [Haha. Well, young peeople are supposed to be idealistic, aren't they? If they can solve the great Tommie/anti-Tommie battle, maybe there is hope for Israel/Palestine? -Ed.]


*** Sidewalk Weekend! ***

Sidewalk Rating: Lilac


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Now that’s not to say I’m not cursing the driver out under my breath. I’ve just learned to outwardly give the appearance of a calm and care-free spirit, though I may be seething underneath at a driver’s unabashedly unsafe driving skill-set.

[fm this.] 

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Liveblog of April 4th St Paul City Council Meeting on the Jefferson Bike Boulevard

[The dreaded Jefferson Avenue sharrow.]
[For background on this issue, see here or here.]

i arrive at a bit before 6:00. the city council meeting is in the basement because the council chambers are being remodeled. they schlepped the big comfy chairs down here just for the council members, who don't like sitting on regular chairs. i understand the impulse, but feel compelled to make fun of it regardless.
packed room, discussion going on some noise stuff happening on the central corridor, which gets resolved somehow and quickly.

next issue is a conditional use permit for a wind turbine at metro state university, etc.

testimony is given by a testifier, and an appellant.

CM Lantry makes sure to spend a lot of time discussing the role of timers during public hearings. states that “we have about 134 public hearings tonight.” seems pre-exasperated.

there is currently testimony by someone who doesn’t like the metro state wind turbine. he’s doing a good job, i guess. he’s particularly annoyed about the community engagement and public notice parts of the project. process! seems to be particularly annoyed about the decisions made by the planning commission. says “would you want to live next to a wind turbine that creates a low frequency noise at all hours of the day?” now he discusses the historic nature of the area, doesn’t like the “industrial look of the area”… etc. invokes reading and getting quoted in the “east side review newspaper.” says “bird strikes and bat deaths are certain to result." says “i’m not against alternative energy.”

i note that jane mcclure is calmly reading the some local newspaper through this whole situation.

another testimony, this time by someone who seems to be his wife? she holds petition up in her hand that she says has 60 names. says “wind turbines do not belong in residential neighborhoods because of safety, health concerns, etc.” this leads to a monologue about “wind turbine syndrome”. she invokes school nearby. “health and safety of children needs to come before alternative energy.”… says he likes being in a preservation area.

CM Tolbert clutches his chin and seems calm.

CM Carter III and CM Brendmoen chatting a bit during the testimony. CM Thune passes some sort of large document thing to CM Bostrom.

testifier demands investigation of Audubon society’s approval of the wind turbine.
says “potential safety problems for the general public.” asks the Council to please override the planning commission’s decision…

third testifier appears in support of the appeal, states that the planning commission erred in their decision. swede hollow is a “particularly remote and wild area.” complains about cellular towers.

a fourth testifier against the wind turbine, representing the dayton’s bluff community council.

fifth testifier, the block captain of the precinct, in favor of metro state and renewable resources, but against the wind turbine. concerned about the “overwhelming community opposition." says “metro state’s voice is heard the loudest b/c of their deep pockets.”

now the opposing point of view. metro state’s suit guy, some vice president (VP) testifies. he uses a lot of numbers, like “12-11 #1” and “20 kilowatt.” invokes many details. says “B2 community business district." says“monopole.” says wind turbine will add to the vibrancy of the east side, will be symbol of science, innovation, inspiration, etc. invokes macalester college’s similar turbine, lists long series of facts, etc. quite convincing etc. says “five quarts of oil.” says impact in the neighborhood is actually from “private automobiles in the neighborhood” not from the wind turbine.

jane mcclure has large yellow notepad, plays with her hair.

VP talks a lot about the city zoning of the area. talks about how they moved the university into “what was then an abandoned hospital.”

introduces science museum guy. two folks walk out of the room. science museum guy talks about “educational benefits”. talks about energy footprint of America.

i have to go to the bathroom.

i return.

talk is still going on. VP calls it a “pocket turbine.” talks about little Johnny, the 5th grader, who will be inspired etc.

looking at the meeting agenda, i realize that the Jefferson blvd was first approved on my birthday in 2010, almost 2 years ago.

testimony is over. CM Lantry starts talking. she talks about cell towers and the zoning code. moves to grant the appeal. says that a stationary object is not the same as one with moving parts. says that “this is a gateway”. says that planning commission missed the mark.

st paul police officer #1 next to me on one side is playing with his smart phone. on the other side, transit for liveable communities (TLC) head barb thoman writes smartly on her legal pad.

CM Lantry is pretty convincing. she’s really laying it on.

CM Thune asks about the height. gestures a lot,  bigly points to the wall. says that it’s a large blade. some discussion of what 16’ is. looks like the tower is going to get shot down.

some talk from CM Thune about whether it can be seen from summit avenue.

CM Brendmoen asks for clarification about the vote. asks about what process they should be taking, if the city doesn’t have a process for handling this.

CM Lantry talks about the Macalester one… says its not visible, you can’t see it, which is its beauty, etc. suggests that the Metro State proposal is “not in any way camouflaged”

CM Brendmoen says we should have more wind turbines in st paul. suggests need to have a process, etc. says she is hopeful the planning commission will think about this.

CM Stark says it’s a “real tough one”. says he is weighing promoting energy independence v. “legitimate concerns” & “the spirit of the zoning code”.

appeal passes unanimously. lots of people leave.

[Sausage being made.]
Jefferson is next.

CM Tolbert moves to amend the boulevard with his amendment. said amendment, which nobody has ever seen before, involves changing “linear pavement markings to zebra striping,” changing the LED sign to a pedestrian activated flasher, and remove the proposed by public works (PW) traffic circles. then he lists all the things that stay. says it’s a “reasonable solution to 5+ years of discussion”

CM Thune offers an amendment to the amendment. wants to add a one of the circles that have been taken away to his area, plus wants to add some lights under the 35E bridge. seems to be an attempt to take some of the money that CM Tolbert is giving up. says “purely a safety issue”

CM Stark talks. he is not a big fan of the removal of the two traffic circles, because “as a project they help kind of complete it because of the overall experience of the street,” otherwise says he supports the amendments.

PW guy starts talking, engineer guy, “quick comment on the amendment”, OK w/ the additional one, lighting, says they’d have to find another source of $$ for the extra CM Thune lighting. seems like he is not a fan of that.

PW guy explains that there are two 35E bridges over Victoria. CM Thune talks about interpretation of the amendment to the amendment. changes his mind about the lighting.

everyone laughs at something that PW guy says.

CM Lantry says that we have a “huge pile of people” that want to be heard.
i note that its kinda funny that they are trading traffic circles, from west to east.

CM Lantry says, to a staffer, that twenty people have signed up, thus it will be 45 seconds per person.

CM Stark asks for a staff report. PW sustainable transportation Emily Erickson (PW EE) gives a quasi-epic history of project. talks fast: Jefferson went from a collector street to residential street back in the 80s. she mentions citywide goals for transportation”. mentions “policy 3.8”, the “project known as Jefferson avenue.” talks about 2008, the origin of the project when they applied for the money in the first place. she goes over the project even more. says “unmatched east-west corridor in this section of the city.” she goes over public hearing history, talks about the “test refuge” being “inconclusive.” says a “notification error occurred”. talks about the “restarted process”, all the meetings. she talks about the outcome: sharrows, wayfinding, “advanced dynamic speed display signs”, “advance crosswalk sign” “rapid flash beacon”, “”treatments“, ”unwarranted 4 way stop.” gives another explanation of the term “warranted”. talks about circles proposed, including one at finn, etc. gives explanation of neighborhood traffic circles. says they “have been implementing them for 25 years.

PW guys whisper to each other.

PW EE talks about the presentations of the plan. talks about transportation committee & planning commission plan, which approved everything. talks about media from across the city, says majority are in favor. suggests that there were more than one side. 18 ppl and 10 ppl. commented on each side, about the two main problems with the proposal.

i notice the smallness of the numbers of people involved, suggesting possible flaw in the process here.
[A really long line at the Seattle airport.]

PW EE says “given the extensive outreach.” mentions 7000 pieces of mail in the last nine months, 4 yr process. says “intensive commitment” of “staff time & cost to the city”. says “values engagement... will make choosing to walk or bike more convenient along entire project length.” mentions the problem with the funding, etc.,  says she will answer questions.

CM Thune says she is concise.

CM Lantry announces that the 6 people against the blvd should approach the mic. they will get 2.5 minutes each.

1st testimonier, a big guy in a green shirt. says “everybody in our neighborhood”. mentions tax statements, property values down, taxes up. talks about lack of money. is giving a classic tax rant. gets angry about “city planners.” asks “who the hell you think the federal gov’t is?" says “not free money”, “future generation’s money”. classic anti tax rant. just about as good as they get.

CM Lantry a bit concerned about making sure that he signs in.

2nd testimonier, lady in pink shawl, says how much project has changed. says is “all for bicycles”, just don’t think they need to alter street. says “cost of maintaining the roundabouts.” says some more about having to watch one’s money. says they need to be maintained far after the “magic money is gone”.

3rd testimonier, lady in white shirt. says has “no problem with bikes.” says she resents her “neighborhood being used as a social experiment” and the “physical alteration of the roadways.” says it is a “wholesale giving away the grid system without a plan…”  she is getting mad. says that complete streets resolution is unwritten, says there’s no plan. invokes the “basket weave”. offers apocalyptic vision of when “there are no streets left”. invokes unknown “liability of traffic calming devices.” says “untested territory.” implies a lack of a plan for the transportation committee. says “irresponsible and not fiduciarily sane” to allow traffic circles. not sure that is a word, but understand the meaning anyway.

4th testifier, older guy in white polo shirt, objects to “expenditure of additional funds.” says they are not needed. says stop signs west of Snelling are adequate. says more is “just going to add to maintenance expenses.” invokes snow removal, says nobody bikes in winter. talks about pedestrian crosswalk lights. says “exercise bikers” don’t stop anyway. objects to additional use of public funds to make changes for “a few bikers in the city.” says they don’t have to change the road at all.

5th testifier, old guy in fleece. places picture of a traffic circle on the overhead document camera thing. says is in favor of the project except for “traffic calming devices”… photo is in CM Stark’s neighborhood. says it doesn’t look good [looks good to me!] says “architecture integrity of neighborhood violated by concrete crop circles.” says it’s not safe to bike through them. talks about biking with his grandchildren in back of a burley trailer. calls them “crop circles” again. says that four way stop signs are simple. invokes information from “center for cycling education.” says we need “enforcement of basket weave stop signs.” says “biking is here to stay not just recreational biking… its not going to go away if gas prices drop.”

[A hampster in a hampster wheel.]
Jessica Treat, head of St Paul Smart Trips. says she is in favor of the Planning Commission design. says “well commented and vibrant urban communities… with community assets” like the bikeway design. talks a lot about young people and young families. says “in my business we’re concerned about going beyond good enough… make biking and walking the safe and easy choice, especially for women and women with children”. says “interested but concerned…” says we need need a connected network to help feel “safe and comfortable” to bike and walk. invokes the four year public process. commends public works staff. says all parties have common desire for calm and safe streets. says traffic circles are proven to work, which is why the transportation professionals recommended them. talks about additional traffic circle. says CM Tolbert’s resolution “subverts public process by public and professional staff.” says we need to move forward with a project that “ is more than just good enough.” asks council to hold over any vote until…

gets cut off by CM Lantry, for going a minute over. CM Lantry seems confused. there is discussion about whether or not the ‘for’ or the ‘against’ sides make any sense at all given the last minute amendment. some talking about how the council is going to give everyone who wants to talk, one either “side”, two minutes …

everyone gets in a line. place is crazy now. nobody knows what is going on.

there is some shouting or loud talking back and forth between the council and the audience. it’s not out of control, but its not in control either. 

aforementioned green shirt anti-tax guy says “neighborhood doesn’t know about this except for the twenty people that are here.” walks out.

CM Lantry says “let’s go!”

younger lady w/ baby in a baby Bjorn. says she wants original design. says people in the community need to feel safe. says we need need “calming traffic, better safe movement, encourage people to choose to walk and bike.” baby keeps grabbing the microphone. talks about her and her husband and their choice to live in a bikeable/walkable area. says is a one car family that leaves car in garage most of the time. talks about son liking the microphone. talks about her daycare choice. says that perception of safety is a different story. invokes using trailer on the bike. wants them to lay over. gets cut off.

older lady in sweatshirt, against resolution. member of CIB committee of st paul. says “classic example of squeaky wheel gets the grease.” invokes people who “support cars and parking.” says council has “bowed to pressure of opponents”, vs. professional arguments in favor of calming and biking. talks about the 20 children. talks about 800 cars / day. not being residential. invokes biking on sidewalk, because “cars rule.” refers to earlier discussion and spins her hand in a twirly manner because she can’t think of the word for “wind turbine”…. asks for tabling the resolution, for “sustainable safe Jefferson.”

middle aged tall guy. has been highly engaged. big believer in the bikeway. disappointed in the process. has gone to over 14 meetings. says during this process, minneapolis has doubled bikeways in their city during this one process. invokes Minneapolis vs. st. paul rivalry. invokes the 11th hour amendment vs. “long engaged process that strips further facilities along bikeway.” says only “bike striping” is not what city has recommended. says “not going to the purpose of engaging and encouraging people to cycle.”

lady in paisley shirt. thanks all involve for diligence. says public works staffer Emily Erickson has been an asset. wants to see all kinds of bikers on street. excited to see proposal. “extremely disappointed to see nothing done to section between Fairview and Cleveland.” invokes PW’s testimony. asks why is traffic calming good for all parts of the street except for Highland Park?

Bob, from the planning commission & the chair of the transportation committee. says did a lot of work. talks about transportation committee being founded in 2010. talks about transportation committee and its role. invokes comprehensive plan, transportation chapter. says original project gets to the “very core of the plan… complete bikeway system.” says we need details for “balance appropriate to context of Jefferson ave.” CM Tolbert is sitting back and chewing on his finger. talks about all the transportation committee’s work. says they went over six core issues. invokes planning commission meeting’s half hour deliberation, with the added traffic circle on mount curve “for consistency of application of standards.”

[An 8-track player.]
older guy with red jacket. says “I know what Charlie brown feels like.” says that 23 meetings have been done away with by 1 amendment. invokes 13 years of work on the mac-groveland transportation committee. says it is whittled down to one traffic circle because of the amendment, not appropriate because of all the work and trust put into this project. says “this is not trust… would rather have been talking about merits of project.” says “this isn’t trust… ruptured trust between citizens because of people who aren’t here… nobody knows about this, not going to have ability to talk because, forget it Lucy jerked the football away from us. invokes the 23 meetings to arrive at consensus. says “well tough rocks, I came through with an amendment at the last minute.” guy is pissed, esp about the “last minute” thing. invokes an amendment that appeared in the “afternoon of the day this is supposed to be held.” just noticed man has arm in a sling. dude is pissed.

middle age guy in beige shirt. echoes sentiments. supports the bikeway strongly. disappointed to see the circles removed. needs to have one at wheeler because Jefferson looks like a racetrack. says the trees have been removed because of disease and repaving. says it looks like a race track on which to drive real fast between Fairview and Snelling. says that if you put a circle there, there will be an obstacle in the road, and it won’t be a thruway. tells a story about coming home with his kids from school and hearing motorcycles racing on Jefferson. says his daughter saw it and said, “dad that bike is only on one wheel!” this guy is really good! thanks engineers and planners. walks away.

Jeff, co-chair of the st paul bicycle coalition comes up. forgets to introduce self. is reminded. says amendment “undermines community process… undermines recommendation of planning and transportation commission.” short and sweet. leaves.

older guy in white jacket. very supportive of Jefferson Avenue bike/walk project. not supportive of the amendment. says that basic treatments in design of blvd is good. invokes first public meetings, people who didn’t’ understand why they were doing this. says that nobody understands why they are doing this. tries to explain why we need the boulevard, to “restore public function of public right of way.” says that all the roads that have been built, like 35 and 94, and all those that connect to the freeway do not accommodate the bike. says we are only asking for a a few streets, to “recover something that benefits all of us, not just for bicyclists... part and parcel of what in Oregon they call it a neighborhood greenway”. gets cut off.  looks nervous.

CM Tolbert looks a bit chipper.

short woman in purple jacket. says she is a professional engieer, has invested life in “leading inclusive decision making processes in transportation projects.” is also “resident of Jefferson” says “its an outstanding process led by staff.”

now both st paul police officers to my left are playing with their smart phones.

short woman in purple jacket says “wants to encourage city to focus on innovation in transportation.” says that transportation is one of largest consumers of energy in society. wants to see us leading in terms of transportation. wants to see projected implemented with traffic circles. wants to see city lead as the “capital city.”
older lady in beige jacket. supports original proposal. says “tremendous time and effort.” ends short and sweet.

guy in blue shirt and tie. says he hoped to support bikeway, but sad to speak against it. was a process “well considered… broad consensus.” emphasizes the traffic calming measure, as a biker, commuter, etc. says he chose to live there because of biking to work. invokes the physics of biking. says you can tell the difference between a circle and stop sign. says its very important that calming measure be put in there. says will probably use it twice every day. says boulevard is in best interest of the city and community.

CM Tolbert looks a bit comatose. maybe smug? not sure. stares at pen, yellow pad.

CM Lantry tries to figure out who is left, whether there are any supporters of the plan.

PW head honcho, large and imposing, is grinning widely.

Andy Singer, co-chair of the st paul bicycle coalition. says he agrees about “long public process… likes traffic circles.”  invokes “data” vs. “hyperbole”, “aesthetically enhance a neighborhood.” says “if choice is this or nothing,” core of project is crossing aides at Cretin and Cleveland. lists the things that are good about it. says that people who spoke against the project because of cost aren’t thinking about all the money being spent on cars. talks about the % of bike commuters. says we are not spending anything like 5% of budgets bikeways. says city spends more on golf for one year than on bikes. says is in favor of project, would love to see it. if this is all there is would love to see it pass.

old man, hunched with glasses. talks about traffic calming. invokes a conversation about traffic calming he had on porch once with CM Tolbert. says they talked for 20 minutes without any cars going past his house. says there is very little traffic on that part of the road. says amendment does good things for mobility limited people. talks about having walked to cretin and waited there forever because of the impossibility of crossing the street. heartbreaking story actually. says is in favor of the ped activated lights.

younger pregnant lady in striped shirt. has participated in public comments. happy that concerns heard about flashing LED signs. says they would have been intrusive. in favor of Jefferson bikeway. chokes up b/c she is nervous.

CM Tolbert almost finishes his diet coke.

younger guy in short sleeve button up shirt. says is a Minneapolis resident who commutes to st paul, goes to the east side by bike to visit his mom. describes his bike route. would like a south route with a more “neighborhood feel” to it. in favor of proposal without the amendment, would love to see a bikeway.

end of testimony. discussion begins.

[A ball made out of rubber bands.]
CM Tolbert thanks everyone for coming down. invokes “long long public process, long process.” goes over all the phases. says “whatnot”. talks about great community involvement. says “active and involved… shows how much people care about mac-groveland neighborhood.” talks about people emailing and calling him.” invokes a judge who had testified earlier. wants to let people know that “he has heard the people.” says there are 5 viewpoints. lists them: 1) people want a total bikeway, 2) people who want less traffic & calming measures, and a bikeway is one way to get there 3) people who want no change because “of collateral effects on their streets”, collector v. residential 4) people who don’t like roundabouts, and want it to stay a “traditional neighborhood” that it has always been in a hot real estate market 5) the “large portion” of people who aren’t opposed, but question the use of public funds… or or are concerned about the hiccups in terms of public notice. says that neighborhood has had opportunity to be heard. says that PW has done a nice job about bringing people together, especially on Tuesday and Monday nights. says “some people have gotten frustrated.”

CM Stark looks annoyed, leaning back.

CM Tolbert continues. says when the city comes into neighborhood, it needs the support of the council member of that neighborhood, or else it leads to an “eruption.” says this is true particularly for things that “change neighborhoods.” says that person who is representing that neighborrhood needs to be consulted from the start. talks about money. says amendment “will comply” with the federal grant. hopes that the budget people will let them know right away if the money might fall through. says its not just federal money, that st paul also spent money on this project, more than originally proposed. he is basically talking right to the TLC staff right now. invokes tax statements, and property taxes going up. says “as a city we need to be very conscious of that because we are stewards of people’s money.” says overall there are unhappy people. says he is proposing a “reasonable solution, to allow us to move on.” invokes the monday and tuesday nights. says “tee ball and soccer games.” says best to have council vote, and move on.

CM Stark talks. says he is not a fan of loss of traffic circles. other parts are positive. likes that CM Thune wants to steal the circle.

CM Thune makes scavenger joke. council laughs. CM Tolbert makes a joke too, but nobody laughs for some reason.

CM Stark continues. says project is by no means perfect. says it’s a big improvement for almost everyone, despite everything. says is going to support it. says “can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” says is “going to change perception of these kinds of projects around the city.” invokes Griggs bikeway, the projects on Prior. says that st paul is making progress vs. Minneapolis.
no other discussion.

passes unanimously.

the three PW guys shake hands and smile. pats on back.

all people leave. i look for jane mcclure but cannot find her.

[The St Paul City Council chamber, where the meeting did NOT take place.]


Last Minute Amendment Strips Traffic Calming from Jefferson Bike Boulevard

[The Jefferson "test median", circa 2010.]
The story of the St Paul Jefferson Avenue bicycle boulevard is long and ugly, and is finally (maybe) coming to an end tonight. There's a meeting down at city hall this evening, where the City Council is going to most likely pass a compromise plan that strips out a lot of the traffic calming circles from the project.

The Story So Far

The problem is that the idea of bicycle boulevards are relatively new to a town like St Paul. They're streets designed to give pedestrians and bicyclists priority, to calm traffic speeds down to the point where only 'local' traffic is using it. They're intended to create spaces where auto speeds are far closer to bicycle speeds. In theory, boulevards are designed so that cars drive around 20 miles per hour, a speed at which any collision is very unlikely to result in the death or injury of small children, grandmothers, cyclists, or people out walking their dog. In theory, these kinds of streets would be seen as an amenity in the neighborhoods where they're constructed, as they create calm, quiet, walkable neighborhoods, accessible by car, that raise property values and quality of life for nearby homes and people.

Anyway, that's the theory. In the actual real world of Highland Park, St Paul, traffic calming that creates safe quiet streets is perceived as a quasi-fascist assault on the inherent freedoms of the automobile individual. (Or, at least that's true if you get your news from Soucheray.)

That might be exaggerating just a hair, because actually the project has received a lot of support and/or ambivalent shrugs. But for various reasons the proposed bicycle boulevard down Jefferson Avenue has for few years now been seen as controversial. The project has gone through a few different iterations, and finally now, after a huge number of community meetings involving hundreds of people, and after the city's Public Works department has spent countless hours doing research and analysis, a compromise plan has emerged that seemingly everyone can mostly agree about.

This plan isn't perfect. For example, it doesn't include any diverters that are common in bicycle boulevards elsewhere. These kinds of diverters do a lot to move 'through' traffic onto adjacent streets, while making sure that pedestrians and bicyclists can safely cross the busier streets that have higher traffic speeds (such as Cleveland and Cretin Avenues). You can see for yourself how these kinds of diverters work in South Minneapolis, where they seem to have not caused any kind of automotive apocalypse.

[An innocuous bike boulevard traffic diverter in Minneapolis.]

[Another Minneapolis boulevard diverter. Incidentally, neither of these diverters have caused the collapse of freedom and democracy.]

Anyway, the final St Paul proposal got rid of these kinds of traffic calming treatments in favor of traffic circles, which you will find elsewhere in the city. Traffic circles are a good compromise, I guess, because they do a nice job of 'calming' through the use of actual concrete that slows down speeds and makes streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists. Not only that, but traffic circles have little gardens on them! These circles have the potential to turn Jefferson Avenue into the kind of space where your kid might play football (as I did growing up with my brothers and sister on St Paul's Portland Avenue).

The Last Minute Deal

Or at least, that's the hope. I've heard that the proposal, passed unanimously through the Transportation Committee and the Planning Commission, is going to be semi-gutted by a last minute amendment during the City Council meeting this evening (5:30 - 6:30, roughly). From what I've heard, the new last minute deal will strip out all but two of the traffic circles from the project, while getting rid of the pedestrian crosswalk signage at the two busy streets, Cretin and Cleveland Avenues. This last minute deal will leave only two real traffic calming treatments on the Western portion of the bicycle boulevard: the traffic circle at Davern street and the one at Finn Street (which isn't scheduled to be built until 2017).

[The Public Works plan showing two of the traffic circles that won't be built under the new deal.]

To my mind, the last minute deal raises two key questions:

  • Should the council ignore all the public process that's happened so far, in favor of a backroom deal that has never seen the light of day? 
  • Is a bicycle boulevard without much traffic calming still a bicycle boulevard? 

I don't really know the answers to these questions. On the first, I want badly to say "No!" I want to say that the council shouldn't throw over a whole bunch of public meetings in favor of a few opinions of a few decisions makers.

But, on the other hand, most public processes are fraught with problems. If you hold a community meeting on some issue, the people that are most likely to show up are people with a lot of time and/or money on their hands. Those are the people with a voice, that provide "community input."

Meanwhile, not attending the meeting are many other people who almost never participate - people who rent, people with more than one job, young people, people with language barriers. Elected officials need to make decisions with the entire community in mind, not just those people with expensive homes and lots of hard-to-get phone numbers in their phones.

The second question is just as difficult to answer. To my mind, bicycle boulevards are a no brainer. They are streets that don't really mess with the status quo, as people can still drive around their neighborhoods, park on their streets, use their driveways, etc. But they're also streets that really emphasize and welcome the modes of transportation (bicycling, walking) that are the future of our cities. If St Paul wants to attract young people, or be safe for families, or be a place where old people can get around with dignity, they need to build streets that place people first. They have an opportunity to do this right now, basically for free, and it's too bad that it seems like they're going to do a half-assed job of it.

I guess something is better than nothing, here. But I really don't understand why the city cannot pass a common-sense measure that will improve the lives of almost all of the people who live here. Really the only people who 'lose out' when you build a bicycle boulevard are people who enjoy driving too fast through residential neighborhoods. Should we really make public decisions with them in mind?

In five years, nobody living nearby will think bicycle boulevards are a big deal. Neighbors will actually like the traffic circles once they are built. They'll blend into the background of the city and grow flowers. Ideally, Jefferson will subtly shift into a more quiet beautiful safe street for all types of people. Ideally, it'll be a place where even my mom would feel comfortable riding a bicycle and getting exercise on her way to the Highland Grill without feeling like she's 'in the way' of a pickup truck speeding down the hill.

That's the hope. I fear that today's vote will be somewhat different. It'd be nice if the City Council would pass a plan that really calmed traffic along this route. It'd be nice is St Paul embraced a healthy future.

The council meeting is tonight at 5:30 in the basement of City Hall. Show up and testify if you agree!

 [A traffic circle amenity welcomed by its neighbors in Portland, OR.]

[A traffic circle amenity welcomed by its neighbors in Portland, OR.]