Death Road Death Watch

I have a thing against the 4-lane undivided roadways that traffic engineers in both core counties seem to be so fond of. I think they're unconscionable. I tried to make the case against these roads in urban areas a while ago on streets.mn, and it was one of the rare times when I actually feel justified in using possible inflammatory language to describe a situation. 

Thus the Four-lane Death Road™.
Here's the punchline:
These patterns are troubling, but they probably point to the political disenfranchisement of particular areas of the city more than any grand conspiracy toward structural racism. These streets shouldn’t be allowed in any parts of our cities where people walk or bike or have homes and businesses. It shouldn’t matter where you are or how much money you have. These streets are dangerous for everyone, and there should be no excuse for them.
I wrote about this two years ago. I’m probably going to write about it again after the next person is put in a coma or coffin. Every day, these dangerous designs erode safety and quality of life, and our urban businesses and neighborhoods continue to languish in the shadow of death. Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and Ramsey and Hennepin Counties can fix this problem and make Death Roads™ illegal in urban areas. Until they do, it’s only a matter of time before another kid gets mowed down.
And here again is an attempt to describe some of the science and research behind the Death Road™(aka road diet) debate:
As opposed to some really low-traffic streets, fixing these streets might involve changing the balance between high-speed traffic flow, safety, and quality of life. As a city, we need to have an intelligent conversation about what these trade-offs are, and how to value them. 

Saint Paul and Hennepin County should increase the threshold where they're favor 4-3 conversions on streets. Even if some traffic conditions become more congested, the trade-off in terms of pedestrian safety, neighborhood quality of life, and improving access to small businesses is well worth it for often struggling urban neighborhoods.

To me the trade-off between car capacity and safety for vulnerable users of our public rights-of-way is a moral question, not a transportation question. These designs erode the safety and security of people living int he city, and they're simply too dangerous. We shoudl get rid of them as soon as possible. Full stop.

So here's the list of roads we should immediately convert to 3-lane designs. All of these need to go. They are not OK. They need to die.

The Death Road Death Watch List (in no particular order)
  • Rice Street (the Saint Paul / North End portion)
  • Lyndale Avenue (in South Minneapolis)
  • East Lake Street (east of Hiawatha)
  • West Broadway Avenue (in Northeast)
  • West Broadway Avenue (in North)
  • White Bear Avenue (North of I-94)
  • University Avenue (in Northeast)
  • Franklin Avenue
  • West 7th Street (between Grand and Downtown)
  • Hamline Avenue (North of Summit)
  • Cretin Avenue (North of Grand)
  • Dale Street (North of Summit)
  • Robert Street (through downtown) 
  • Maryland Avenue (East of Western)
  • Hennepin Avenue (South of Downtown)
  • 46th Street South 
  • Hennepin Avenue (East of Central)

Am I missing any? To me, this is a moral question. We must change these streets. Nothing else will do.

Eventually, we'll fix these streets. Why not now?


Great Small Shops #2: Hampden Park Co-op

[This is where they shot a scene of the film Wilson.]
This summer, while covering the opening of Seward Co-op’s “friendship store” on Minneapolis' 38th Street, I started learning about the Twin Cities’ co-op history, reading through Craig Cox’s neat book on the (so-called) “co-op wars.”

Here’s one of the things Cox told me this summer about the history of how co-ops have changed:
You have to understand that back in the 70s it didn’t cost hardly anything to open a co-op. There was all sorts of retail space open in the city, it was very inexpensive because a lot of mom and pop groceries had been going out of business

You could get all the stuff you needed, like coolers, freezers, shelving, scales. They were very easily available and very cheap, so it didn't take a lot of money to organize a co-op back then. And you really didn’t have to have a huge consensus in the neighborhood. To get one going. You just needed pretty motivated people to do volunteer work and to pull it all together.

There's an interesting observation there about access to space, the re-use of old buildings, and how retail works. But if you want to see this relationship in action, playing out before you, just go down to Hampden Park and check out the co-op grocery that has stayed closest to its communitarian grassroots. Not coincidentally, it’s also the last old-school retail business in the Hampden Park neighborhood, which was once lined with the kind of “mom and pop shops” that Cox describes as disappearing in the 60s and 70s.

[There used to be lots of shops here, c. 1900.]
The area, South Saint Anthony Park, has always been the grubby younger brother to the tonier (regular) Saint Anthony Park neighborhood over the tracks to the North. It’s always been more of a mix of industry and residential, with not-quite as fancy homes, a bit closer to the working class.

And today shopping at the Hampden Park Co-op is an experience you can rarely find any more. Actual people are making actual decisions, right in front of you, about what to display. If you want to suggest a product, you simply begin a conversation about it. This place feels like the old co-ops I used to go to over ten years ago, back when Mississippi Market was still on Randolph and the North Country Co-op still existed.  

(It’s not too intimate though. You’re welcome to ignore everyone if you like.)

[Fiddle, guitar, cheese, kombucxha.]
On Saturdays old-time folk musicians, usually a fiddle and guitar, play tunes over in the corner between the cooler and the soup. More than once I’ve recognized the fiddler Mary DuShane, who has been playing near this park for twenty years, back when the space upstairs in the two-store brick building was called the “Oddfellows Hall” and hosted square dances on weekend evenings. The hall's vast wood floor was perfect for the dancing. If you got overheated in wintertime, you had only to go down the long wide staircase and out onto the street to cool down, watching the moon over the trees in the park.

Today, the upstairs neighbors are an aikido school, and it’s a bit hilarious to be shopping at the co-op when class is in session. The ceiling almost moves with each thudding body, but you get used to the repetitive thumps after the first dozen or two.

[Nuts, bread, fruit.]
Produce is all labeled with origin, and I think local sourcing is a value there. The soup is freshly made each morning. They have a wide selection in a small space, and it’s done about as well as you can expect this side of a New York City corner store (the gold standard for retail density and diversity).

But maybe this is exactly the right analogy. Just like a New York City corner store, the Hampden Park Co-op is the perfect size, and once you figure out the layout, you can always know exactly where you are and where you’re going. It’s the exact opposite of the disorientation that’s become a feature (not a bug) of the big box experience.

And just like a good New York deli, you might be interrupting an interesting conversation between workers while you shop there. You might end up chiming in about road construction, the weather, which is the best bread, or whether you’ve ever been to China. It’s socially accessible without being forced.

Maybe one reason for that everyday informality is that this is the last co-op in the region where you still can work volunteer hours in exchange for your membership discount; the sign-up sheet is hanging on the foyer wall. It means that any given worker might be a employee or simply another member/shopper, and the lack of that distinction breaks down the usual entitlement that comes with modern American consumerism.

Hampden Park Co-op is a great small shop. Go buy stuff there. Get a sandwich and eat at the picnic table outside, or take a walk in the park. It’s only a pleasant five minute stroll from the Green Line. I guarantee you won’t be the only one walking around.

[The volunteer board.]

[Just people.]


Twin City Doorways #19

[Location forgotten.]

[East Side, Saint Paul.]

[North Loop, Minneapolis.]

[Northeast, Minneapolis.]

[Lyndale Avenue, Minneapolis.]

[Robert Street, West Saint Paul.]

[Smith Avenue, Saint Paul.]


Reading the Highland Villager #147

[A Villager in a bag off West 7th Street.]
[Basically the problem is that the best source of Saint Paul streets & sidewalks news is the Highland Villager, a very fine and historical newspaper. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. You basically have to live in or frequent Saint Paul to read it. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free. See also: Three Reasons Why I Re-Blog the Highland Villager.] 

Headline: MN United FC, RK Midway plan a thriving village around new pro soccer stadium
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A new soccer stadium is being built at the site of a vacant lot and strip mall superblock in the Midway, and there are some "conceptual designs slowly coming into focus." [What ever that means.] Terms used include: "vibrant district", "cohesive project", "catalyst", "urban village", and "real neighborhood." Existing businesses [like the bowling alley] will relocate or be remodeled in the new development, hopes a City official. Best quote from team owner: "this is not going to be some sort of behemoth." [Referring of course to the Death Star across the river.]

Headline: UPDC submits its vision for stadium site
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The neighborhood group by the stadium site had a "visioning" and would like to see safety improvements for peds and bikes, less panhandling and crime, less noise and litter, and do not want to see the new development ignore the community. Also "greater transparency." [So, make the stadium out of glass?]

Headline: Neighbors push for positive change on High Bridge
Author: Loren Green

Short short version: Every so often, someone jumps off a high bridge [named the "high bridge"] over the river which is slated for a "resurfacing." Some concerned neighbors had a public forum about mental health and preventing suicide on the bridge. There is discussion about different strategies including higher railings. After a high school student jumped last year people put ribbons on the bridge. Some would like stencils with a hotline phone number, or to make the bridge "more accommodating" which would increase foot traffic and hopefully decrease jumping. [I live right by this bridge and am just curious about whether any of this would work. I'm a bit skeptical, though improving the sidewalks, by widening them I would think, and maybe combining the bike path with the sidewalk somehow, would be an improvement. Just yesterday I saw two (both) cyclists going up the bridge using the sidewalk, as I also do ever since I was hit by a car on this bridge during the wintertime because the bike lane decreases in width by half due to snow and ice accumulation.] One person suggests "personal contact" is important. Little Free Libraries [check it] are another idea, or more artwork.

[A memorial on the High Bridge this summer. Note: this is a picture I took; the Villager does not include any of memorials.]

Headline: Updated Palace to be unveiled Jan. 30; West End center's expansion deemed well worth the wait
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A rec center that was being remodeled for a long time, and whose money kept getting diverted, is finally complete. The building had been from 1974. There will now be windows. CM Thune gets the credit, apparently. It has a "sleek, modern design," an "energizing color palette," and an "eye-catching new roofline."

Headline: SUPC opposes plan to replace Hague church with pre-school
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Someone wants to tear down an empty church and build a pre-school. Neighbors would rather re-use the old building.

Headline: Discussion delayed on licenses for new Lexington Restaurant
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: An old fancy restaurant on Lexington and Grand that's been closed for years would like to remodel and open a patio on the roof but neighbors are worried about music and/or "screening." Signs would have to be installed. It's been delayed because the owners couldn't attend the neighborhood group meeting.

Headline: Planning Commission denies permit for CVS drive-through
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: [Yes we did. Unanimously, I might add. It's going to be appealed to the city council.] CVS wants to re-use an old Whole Foods building but add a drive-thru along the sidewalk. It was denied.

Headline: HDC supports Snelling Avenue median with on-street parking
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A neighborhood group approved the idea for a new median on Snelling by Highland Parkway as long as one-side of the street keeps on-street parking. [Safety for crossing Snelling is a great idea and long overdue. The median by Macalester is a huge improvement, and we should be adding these at other places, like between Summit and Selby.] Neighbors are concerned about parking.

Headline: Variances are undermining residential design standards; Ward 3's new guidelines for home construction are finding few followers
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city passed new "residential design standards for Ward 3 because of tear-downs and remodeling of homes, but the Board of Zoning appeals has granted "more than a half dozen" variances to the standards. Quote: "BZA members have made it clear that they do not like the new residential design standards and do not like that they are different from the design standards in other parts of the city." [Well why did the city approve them then?] Quote from neighborhood group lady on the lack of enforcement: "That's been a cause for frustration." Article includes [way too much] detail about the standards [which are very boring for anyone who doesn't own a home in this part of town].

Headline: Pedestrian crossing eyed for 110-Dodd
Author: Kevin Driscoll

Short short version: In the suburbs [where I'm from, right up the street fromwhere I grew up] the city of Mendota Heights might spend a lot of money building a pedestrian bridge or tunnel under a busy freeway, 1000 feet east of Dodd road. [The existing crosswalks and ped access here is not the worst I've ever seen, but sure why not. If you're going to spend $3M in Mendota Heights, why not spend it on this.] Quote from Mayor: "It could be a landmark connecting the two commercial areas, further creating a downtown." [LOL at "Downtown", but I guess. I remember when this whole intersection was just a 7-Eleven, a McDonalds, and a gas station.]

Headline: With deadline nearing, questions remain about using TIF at Ford site
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city has to decide if its going to use tax-increment financing to help fund development at the Ford site. It's already declared some TIF for the area in '13, but will need to extend it if it wants to go ahead. TIF needs to be approved b the legislature.

Headline: City considers restoring parking on University
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A task force wants to put on-street parking back on University Avenue in certain sections, and completed a study to that effect showing that it would have minimal effect on traffic. It would only be in the evenings. [I was just at the Dubliner for trivia last night and the parking lot was full. On-street parking would have been nice. The other reason to support this is because it would improve the pedestrian realm, adding a buffer.] Quote from local businessman: "we have businesses that have no off-street parking." [Why not? Try it and if it doesn't work, don't do it any more.]

Headline: City may allow accessory dwellings near the Green Line
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on a new city ADU [See this] policy. [One sticking point is whether or not to allow ADUs to have separate staircases that are outside the house, exposed to the elements. The proposal would require internal staircases, which seems really expensive.] Some are concerned about the distinction between an ADU and a duplex.


The Other Thing about the Saint Paul Cop “Run Them Over” Story

[Demonstration on I-35W from December 2014.]
Thank god for whoever who volunteers for the surely horrible task of reading through racist comment threads on Facebook looking for police aliases.

You probably already heard about this story: Twin Cities #blacklivesmatter plan a Martin Luther King Jr. Day demonstration involving the Lake/Marshall bridge joining Minneapolis and Saint Paul. It’s a demonstration on a day devoted to Martin Luther King Jr., who (you know) fought against police violence his whole life and was assassinated.

And it was taking place on a bridge that has been a place of public demonstration for years (the anti-war movement has held an anti-war demonstration on this bridge ever Wednesday evening, without fail, for over ten years; that’s over 500 demonstrations).

Then there's this advice, from a Saint Paul cop:

[The Facebook post.]

There are a couple obvious things about this story. First, that the Police Union is the spearhead of white supremacy and racism in the Twin Cities. (See also, Bob Kroll.) This kind of attitude isn’t just tolerated, but rewarded by police unions; Rothecker was an elected representative of the Fraternal Order of Police. The whole thing is beyond the pale, but completely believable if you've been following the Jamar Clark story unfolding in North Minneapolis.

Second, the struggle for the right to demonstrate on streets, freeways, and other public places is a crucial and effective tactic for #blacklivesmatter (or any other movement). Many people in power would like demonstrations to be held “over there,” away from the circuits of our everyday lives, in places like Government Plaza after hours or the special “free speech zones” penned off in far away parking lots. But the ability of social movements to affect change depends on reaching past these marginal spaces and laying claim to the larger city, the malls, freeways, light rail tracks, and streets that form the real conduits of society.

And, you know, this happened once before. There's an actual video of a driver running over people in a Minneapolis protest following Ferguson from a year ago.

Here's a description from the report:
Rice’s encounter with the demonstrators unfolded within a few steps of the Police Department’s Third Precinct headquarters, and much of it was captured on a Star Tribune video. Additional video from KSTP-TV shows that Rice paused behind a vehicle stopped in front of him, then steered to the right around that vehicle and drove slowly into the crowd blocking the intersection. There were three people on the hood of his car as he knocked down the girl.

No charges filed.

[Police initially listed the driver as the "victim".]

The Vehicle of Violence

[An Andy Singer cartoon.]
But here’s one more thing. Consider the role of the automobile as a machine for violence.

After saying “run them over,” this long-time cop went on to explain, in some detail, how you could get away with it:
Continue to drive... make sure to call 911 to report the accident and meet the cops a block or two away... Since they are trying to block the street and/or cross where there is no crossing you should not be charged with anything. Now, these idiots could try and sue you in civil court, but remember that it will be jury trial and so most likely it will come out in your favor.
This statement, coming from an officer of the law, isn’t just about racism and bigotry. It’s also reveals the often-unstated way that police condone the everyday violence of cars. The cop literally states that, if you follow these simple steps, you can run over people with your car and “you should not be charged.”

This is important because pedestrian, transit, and bicycle activists have for a long time been trying to change the dynamics around blame and enforcement when it comes to crossing the street. But it’s very difficult because a driver has merely to say, “Sorry officer, I didn't see them there” and unless it’s a hit-and-run or drunk driving is involved, nobody will press charges.

In New York City, the writers at StreetsblogNYC have been waging a media campaign for years to try and get the NY Police Department and prosecutors to actually press charges for vehicular violence, but with very little to show for it.

This isn't to minimize the key dynamics of the story. The larger systemic problem around race and police is still the main issue, and still very much an unresolved question in Minneapolis and Saint Paul.

But, in addition to outing himself as a vehement racist, Rothecker, a cop encouraging the injuring or murder of peaceful protesters, also reveals how cars have become vehicles of violence without consequence.


Twin Cities Neon #15

 [Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis.]

[Cathedral Hill, Saint Paul.] 

[University Avenue, Saint Paul.]

[Snelby, Saint Paul.]

[Central Avenue, Minneapolis]

[Payne Avenue, Saint Paul.]

[Payne Avenue, Saint Paul.]


Driving Down the Road to Madness

[Too stupid.]
Last month, the Star Tribune published an odd column in its “10,000 Takes” series, an essay castigating Minnesota drivers for not being aggressive (or something?) enough compared to New Yorkers.

Here’s how it begins:
My first week in Minneapolis, I turned onto Lake Street and found myself heading the wrong direction.

I raised my hand to indicate my guilt and offer apologies to the oncoming traffic. But instead of swerving around me, my new Minneapolis comrades did something I didn't expect.

They stopped.

And we idled there, all six of us, stalemated in the middle of the intersection — me with my hands above my head, mouthing "I’m sorry," and them with white knuckles and tight lips, their faces twisting to hide a festering rage.

“What is it that you want me to do, exactly?” I said to no one. Yes, I screwed up. Do we have to make a thing about it? Please, let it go. I have somewhere to be, and apparently need directions getting there.

It reads like the ravings of a madman at the laundromat, muttering under his breath about the tee-shirts whirling around the clothes dryer.

Here’s another moment of silent screaming from this drivers’ monologue:
I shrugged. Once again, I mouthed the words “I’m sorry!” But that wasn’t enough. Her misplaced anger flailed against the driver’s side window with the tenacity of a cat trying to exit a bathtub.
The nonsensical drama continues, and eventually you realize that this man, Jason Good, is both mad and mundane. His incoherent ramblings aren't exceptional, but par for the course on the freeway.*  I suspect many drivers are equally unmoored, and it makes me uneasy to think that I've somehow underestimated the solipsism of the commuter.

[Is there a ranting madman inside each of these metal machines?]

The Strange Psychology of Driving

[Deflected narcissism.]
Driving is an odd isolating experience, both boring and deadly.  The New Yorker ran a great article last year by staff writer Adam Gopnik, a lifelong transit rider, that describes learning to drive for the first time at age 50-something.

Toward the end of the essay, he describes the paradox of operating an automobile:
Unlike everything else I’ve learned to do in midlife, driving negated the usual path of learning: the incremental steps, the breaking down and building up of parts, the curve we go up as one small mastery follows another. Driving, I realized, isn’t really difficult; it’s just extremely dangerous. You hit the gas and turn the wheel, and there you are—in possession of a two-ton weapon capable of being pointed at anything you like, at any speed you can go at, just by pressing a pedal a little bit harder. The poor people in the crosswalk—the guy in the tank top striding indifferently forward; the mother yanking at her child’s hand—had no idea of the danger they were in with me behind the wheel! I had no idea of the danger I am in doing the same thing, day after day. Cars are terrifying, and cars are normality itself.

That toxic combination of death and banality is part of the reason drivers concoct such elaborate narratives. When faced with the ceaseless organized chaos of a city filled with cars, we tell ourselves stories, and these stories reflect the other things in our lives. Road rage is one such outcome, and the “freedom of the open road” is another, but in between are all kinds of fantastical tales, what sociologist Jack Katz calls “the endless Rorscahch test” of the automobile.

[From this.]
Katz’s research delves straight into the psychology of the solitary driver. Here’s how he describes it (as quoted in geographer Nigel Thrift’s article, “Driving in the City”):
Through detailed study of driving behaviour in Los Angeles, Katz shows that driving is a rich, indeed driven, stew of emotions which is constantly on the boil, even though cars prevent many routine forms of intersubjective expression from taking shape – indeed the relative dumbness of driving and especially its lack of opportunity for symmetrical interaction may be the key aggravating factor. Katz is able to demonstrate four main findings. First, that drivers experience cars as extensions of their bodies. Hence their outrage on becoming the subject of adverse driving manoeuvres by other drivers: their tacit automobilized embodiment is cut away from them and they are left ‘without any persona with which one can relate respectably to others’ (Katz, 2000: 46). Second, that, as a result of this and the fact that drivers attach all manner of meanings to their manoeuvres that other drivers cannot access (what Katz calls ‘life metaphors’), driving can often be a highly emotional experience in which the petty realities of everyday situations are impressed on an unwilling recipient causing anger and distress precisely because they are so petty, or in which a carefully nurtured identity is forcefully undermined causing real fury. Third, that the repertoire of reciprocal communication that a car allows is highly attenuated – the sounding of horns, the flashing of headlights, the aggressive use of brake lights and hand gestures – within a situation that is already one in which there are limited cues available, occasioned by the largely tail-to-tail nature of interaction. Drivers cannot therefore communicate their concerns as fully as they would want and there is therefore a consistently high level of ambiguity in driver-to-driver interaction. As a result, a considerable level of frustration and anger (and frustration and anger about being frustrated and angered) can be generated.
When you're driving you're literally muted (Thrift's "relative dumbness"), your expressions reduced to a horn and a blinking light. Your world is full of similar hybrid people, struggling to communicate in a complex disaggregated motion machine that frustrates progress over and over again. And so drivers assign all kinds of meanings to what, in the end, is a meaningless mess, nothing more significant than a leftover sock or the ripple of a wave on the water.

What is to be done? Simply forget about it.

Driving is a very strange thing to do for hours a day, and I find that it’s best to be fatalistic about it. You get there when you get there, and leave the desperate lane changes and unnecessary passing out of the picture. Telling yourself stories, like Jason Good seems to have done, is like talking to your cat.** Get a book on tape or listen to the radio. Everyone will be better off.

* Being a sidewalk blogger is similarly hard on sanity.
** I do this too.

[This is one story you can tell yourself.]


*** Sidewalk Weekend! ***

Sidewalk Rating: Cold

In Brueghel's time children danced around the hobo, he wore huge and raggy clothes and always looked straight ahead indifferent to the children, and the families didnt mind the children playing with the hobo, it was a natural thing. But today mothers hold tight to their children when the hobo passes through town because of what newspapers made the hobo to be -- the rapist, the strangler, child-eater. -- Stay away from strangers, they'll give you poison candy. Though the Brueghel hobo and the hobo today are the same, the children are different. -- Where is even the Chaplinesque hobo? The old Divine Comedy hobo? The hobo is Virgil, he leadeth. -- The hobo enters the child's world (like in the famous painting by Brueghel of a huge hobo solemnly passing through the washtub village being barked at and laughed at by children, St. Pied Piper) but today it's an adult world, it's not a child's world. -- Today the hobo's made to slink -- everybody's watching the cop heroes on TV.

[Beautiful old house on Saint Paul's West Side.]



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