The Modern Car is a Marvellous Waste

[A new car!]
A new 4-cylinder Honda Accord sedan has a top speed of 125 miles per hour.

When you think about it, this simple fact becomes ridiculous considering that  the average speed cars travel in US cities, without traffic, is around 30 miles per hour. Yes, I just wrote “without traffic.”

With traffic, of course, it’s worse.

This is to say that the 21st century automobile is extremely over-designed for the job that it is tasked with.

[Average traffic-free speeds, according to Google Maps data.]

[The bottleneck in 1937, when cars probably went at least as fast as today.]
The other day I was bicycling down Saint Paul’s Summit Avenue and got stuck at a stoplight for a minute or so. A car idled by my left elbow, waiting for the light to change, and for some reason the sound of the engine caught my ear. It sounded fancy, a complex chord of belts and metal, the air conditioner compressor whirring at a higher pitch, and the entire ensemble impressed me.

“What an amazing piece of technology,” I thought to myself, before the light changed and the machine accelerated from my gaze.

Compared to cars twenty, forty, or a hundred years ago, there are some things that haven’t changed, like the internal combustion engine, the rubber tire, or the tailpipe. But beyond that, even the most basic modern car is a marvel far surpassing anything dreamt in previous generations. Air conditioning, surround sound stereo systems, soundproofing, anti-lock brakes, almost magical airbags, rear-view cameras, automatic locks, windows, and doors, GPS displays, and things I probably don’t even know about that auto company engineers are coming up with constantly.

[A 2CV spotted during the '14 streets.mn picnic.]
That said, the modern car has offered diminishing returns for quite some time. The basic function of a car is to get you from point A to point B at reasonable costs of energy, money, and time,  and maybe carry some of your stuff. That equation hasn’t changed much in a century. 1960s VW Beetles got 25-30 miles per gallon, and the 1940s Citroen 2CV (the French “farmer’s car”) got over 60, and all of them could drive at 30 miles per hour, the average speed of traffic in Minneapolis today. No matter how nice they might be inside, especially considering the reality of urban traffic, the difference between today’s cars and those from 50 years ago is marginal. They might be shiny and comfortable, but they don’t really “get you there” much differently. 

It gets worse though, because on average, cars aren’t even used the vast majority of the time. There are all kinds of stats on this, but on average, cars are parked 95% of the time. The car just sits there not being used, like Donald Trump's teleprompter, the Vikings' trophy case, or almost everyone's home exercise equipment.

It seems to me that investing so much money into a machine that realizes only a fraction of its potential is a gigantic waste of our personal and collective resources. Driving a car around the city is a bit like having a deluxe chef-level kitchen — granite counter tops, stainless steel hoods, deluxe gas range, the nicest pots and knives — and cooking Kraft Mac and Cheese. It’s like going on vacation to Hawaii and spending the whole time watching TV. It’s like erecting a billion dollar stadium and using it for monster truck shows, like having a brand new souped-up gaming computer and only using it for email, like buying a ticket to the State Fair, schlepping yourself all the way there, eating a corn dog, and leaving after twenty minutes.

(I could go on like this all day. Maybe it's like having a super-expensive almost two-decade-long post-secondary education and spending your time blogging?)

The point is that nobody — not even me — can dispute that today’s cars are amazing machines. The problem isn’t with cars. It’s their sheer quantity and the way they’re used. The vast majority of the potential of the automobile is completely wasted in today’s cities. Some simple math: if the average American car sits 90% of the time, and even when it’s being used, urban cars are only used at 25% of their potential for movement, then 97.5% of the potential for movement is being wasted every day.

I’m all for respecting the glamorous amazing world-breaking technological marvel of the automobile. But looking down at I-94 at and seeing hundreds of amazing cars crawling at single-digit speeds, sitting on expensive space-hungry asphalt-and-steel freeways, baking in the sun, burning gas with isolated people strapped inside, should be a heartbreaking sight. What else could we be doing with our time, money, energy, and our collective powers of invention?

[A waste.]


People Sitting on Things that Aren't Chairs #3

[Saint Paul, obvs.]

[Downtown, Saint Paul.]

[Downtown, Minneapolis.]

[Lowertown, Saint Paul.]

 [Downtown, Minneapolis.]

[Lowertown, Saint Paul.]

[Downtown, Saint Paul.]

[Rice Street, Saint Paul.]

Twin City Sidewalk Closed Signs #10

[Lyndale Avenue, Minneapolis.]

[Highland, Saint Paul.]

[South Minneapolis.]

[South Minneapolis.]

 [Location forgotten.]
 [North loop, Minneapolis.]

 [Downtown, Saint Paul.]

[Downtown, Saint Paul.]


Dakota County Shoots Future in Foot in War of the CWADS

Unless you’re a transit nerd, this summer’s news about Dakota County leaving CTIB probably seemed like “inside baseball.” (Most people’s response: “Ummm, see-what now?”) The story relies on knowledge about the intricate and compromised way that transit funding works in the Twin Cities. Even though I’ve spent years talking with people about it, I still don’t quite understand all the details (e.g. the exact differences between the CTIB and the TAB).

A quick explainer. Even though we have a seven-county metro area, shaped by the Met Council, lots of our newly-constructed transit is funded through the allocation of a five-county small sales tax governed by a separate board called the Counties Transit Improvement Board (or CTIB). That’s a big part of where “local match” money for projects like the Green and Blue LRT lines and their extensions, the Northstar rail, and other projects comes from.

The CTIB arrangement is voluntary. Counties sign up to tax themselves in exchange for some control over how the money gets spent. This delicate money pooling arrangement (on the board, each county gets two members, and the Met Council gets one) leads to challenges because both the majority of actually-existing tax revenues and transit usage exists in only two counties (Hennepin and Ramsey). Meanwhile, the remaining three counties (Anoka, Washington, and Dakota) have huge challenges implementing transit because of their existing land use patterns. (See also, the CWADS: Carver, Washington, Anoka, Dakota, and Scott...) This geographic imbalance of transit potential, transit need, and transit expectations helps explain how and why some of our decisions are so messy.

The existing balance changed this summer when (#brexit-style) Dakota County staged a mini-revolt against the CTIB system by officially withdrawing from the 5-county agreement. ("DaCexit?")

Here’s a bit from the June Star Tribune story on the decision:
Dakota County is planning to leave the regional body that funds transit projects across the Twin Cities.

The County Board voted in committee Tuesday to take steps to withdraw from the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB), which pools tax money for projects such as light rail and bus rapid transit (BRT).

County leaders have raised concerns about whether membership is worth it. Though CTIB dollars have funded local projects including the Red Line BRT, a lot of the tax money that Dakota County contributes goes toward projects in other counties.

“I think we could do so much more if we kept it ourselves,” Commissioner Liz Workman said.

There you have it. Get ready for even more heavily subsidized opt-out buses bigger park and rides or something.

[Dakota County affordable housing is only in a few spots.]
Dakota County Geography 101

The decision to leave is a long time coming for Dakota County, which has teetered for decades on a knife’s edge between urban and exurban views of what the Twin Cities should look like. I should know, I grew up in Dakota County and still hang out there all the time. (Hi mom!)

For one thing, Dakota County is huge. It’s the same size as Hennepin County, i.e. massive, stretching from the edge of Saint Paul deep through farm country and all the way to the Northfield border. At the same time, it’s not very dense. The entire county population is about 350,000 people; compare that to Hennepin County’s 1.5 million. Its most urban (read: affordable, somewhat walkable) parts are first-ring suburbs like West Saint Paul, South Saint Paul, and small cities like Hastings. And then there’s a huge swath of second-ring cul-de-sac burbs like Apple Valley, Eagan, Burnsville, Inver Grove Heights, and more. Finally you get some third-ring and exurban places like Lakeville, Rosemount, and Farmington, where it’s not uncommon to have brand new homes literally planted in cornfields. This sprawling geography makes coherent policy a challenging political proposition.

Despite claims to victimhood from Dakota County Commissioners, Dakota County leaders are responsible for their own transit failure. The County, especially the Northern border areas, has a lot of opportunity for transit oriented development. But without leadership, they’re abandoning a walkable future and, years from now, Dakota County will be much worse off because of it.

[Annapolis Street may not look like much, but this is the border between two counties.]

The Classic Case of West Saint Paul and Robert Street

[The strip.]
The first-ring suburb of West Saint Paul offers the best example of how Dakota County transit politics plays out. West Saint Paul is a small square suburban city of about 20,000 people running from Annapolis Street, along Highway 52, South almost to Highway 110 and East over to Mendota Heights. The city is most famous for Robert Street, a massive post-war STROAD if there ever was one, a wide 50s strip lined today with automobile retail of every possible variety. Growing up, Robert Street is where our family went to shop. a wide 5-lane undivided road lined with parking lots and drive-thrus: Payless Shoes, Signal Hills Mall (B. Daltons, Herberger’s), Chuck E. Cheese, Ponderosa Steakhouse, the WSP library, Carbone’s, Cina 5 Theater, Granny Donuts, the non-super Target, the McDonald’s Playland on the hill, etc.

These days, I rarely visit, because I don’t like big box stores and the street is almost unbikeable. But if anything, in the intervening years the street has only become more of an automobile strip, adding things like B-dubs, Starbuxes, a massive WalMart, a SuperTarget, little places with great Latin American food, and every other suburban chain store you can think of (including a 5-8 Club franchise owned by a woman who was in my graduating high school class).

The other thing you’ll notice if you go to Robert Street these days is the construction. The street is being completely re-done, after much planning, to add medians and nicer ADA sidewalks. It was an expensive, multi-year project. When there was an election during the construction period, an anti-tax candidate  emerged to run against the road construction project, Scott Walker-style, under the “they’re wasting our money with sidewalks” platform. He channeled people’s frustration over road construction and taxes, and got himself elected mayor.

Since then, Meisinger has taken opportunities to lambast street amenities like sidewalks. And one of the consequences of Meisinger’s election is that ongoing planning for transit on Robert Street has been killed (as I was told) “pending land use planning changes in West Saint Paul.” It’s kind of like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, where transit or rail projects are waiting a magical political sea-change.

[Changes to school district composition over 30 years.]
Ignoring Suburban Poverty

West Saint Paul’s political situation is revealing because the city is in the midst of rapid change. When I went to high school here in the 1990s, the graduating class was just about all white; today, according to my old English teacher, it’s now 1/3 students of color and growing more so every year. Similarly, the city demographics are rapidly changing and becoming more diverse, even as much of the housing stock and infrastructure (like Robert Street) ages to the point of obsolescence.

West Saint Paul is also an exemplar of another more troubling dynamic, where race, poverty and housing form a distinct suburban pattern. This pattern becomes very noticeable for me when, from time to time, usually after the #62 bus service ends, I ride the #68 bus running down Robert Street South from Downtown. Even late at night, the bus is full of people of color riding to and from work and to homes in West Saint Paul or points further South.

In most post-war suburbs, especially first-ring cities like West Saint Paul, the bulk of the affordable housing is concentrated along narrow corridors of land near freeways. (See also, these two examples.) For many families, these slender swaths of apartment buildings represent the only places where they can find decent housing and good schools, especially in the crunched low-to-middle range of rental property. But moving into these suburban areas comes with a cost, as the sidewalks and transit in places like West Saint Paul are almost always lacking. And forget about riding a bicycle! It’s all but impossible (though people somehow do it anyway).

As they age and the homes get older and less fashionable, and as infrastructure like Robert Street comes due for expensive re-construction, cities like West Saint Paul (or many first-ring suburbs) get caught in an economic and political vice: struggling and/or aging middle-class homeowners decrying taxes and economic marginalization on one hand, rising costs and decreasing tax-base on the other. Cities can get caught within a vicious cycle where disinvestment threatens to spiral out of control. The end point is a place like Ferguson, Missouri, though (thankfully) nowhere in the Twin Cities is yet near that level of economic marginalization.

Quality transit investments are one of the few things that might help cities like West Saint Paul, catalyzing density that gives cities like these a chance to balance the tax books, creating mixed-use transit-oriented development that is in hot demand. Without it, the bottom line looks bleak.

Instead, the end result is that West Saint Paul, Dakota County, and the region will become more fragmented and polarized. For wealthier enclaves like Lakeville, the politics of urban separatism is appealing. Meanwhile, the transit riders close to the border will continue to struggle.

[South Robert Street wasteland.]

The Saint Paul Sacrifice

Living on Saint Paul’s West Side, a half-mile from the County line, it’s maddening to think that there will be no regional transit cooperation coming from the Dakota County side of the border. In Saint Paul proper, it’s no exaggeration to say that South Robert Street is one of the worst streets I’ve ever had the displeasure of experiencing. The sidewalk is abominable, narrow, and abuts the curb. There are no bike lanes, and the five lanes (!) of traffic move at very high speeds for a supposedly urban area. The absolute dignity vacuum here is one reason why the street is lined with half-century-old vacant lots, dilapidated surface parking, and abandoned commercial buildings the likes of which are rarely seen outside of ghost towns. And yet, these properties are within walking distance of booming downtown Saint Paul! The whole thing is an urban tragedy.

Robert Street doesn’t get much better as you travel towards the county border, with lots of historic buildings that need maintenance. Climbing the bluff towards Annapolis, the street becomes a bit calmer, and there are a few nice developments near the county line. But in general, this is a corridor full of unrealized potential. A transit connection from downtown into Dakota County would be a big boon for improving some of this underused property, and would dramatically improve the lives of thousands of people who’d like more options about getting around.

Given the way that the very idea of transit seems to infuriate the right-wing, I suppose it’s not surprising that Dakota County decided to scuttle cooperation. But for the thousands of people living on the seam between Dakota and Ramsey Counties, it’s a massive abandonment of those who would benefit from quality transit connecting Dakota County with Saint Paul.

I wish our political leaders could do better, but with the way that Dakota County politics is playing out, there’s little hope for Robert Street or Dakota County anytime soon. When Meisinger was elected, Robert Street transit planning was put on hold. To make matters worse, the “Dakota County pull out” comes on top of the de-funding of Southwest Light Rail (aka SWRLT aka Green Line Extension) at the legislature. Without the state share of the project, the money will come out of CTIB funding at the expense of East Metro projects like Riverview, Orange Line, or Gateway. The combination of political shenanigans leaves any notion of Dakota County transit investment about as plausible as Donald Trump winning over black voters.

This is to say that the county border seems more and more like an invisible border wall every day.


Reading the Highland Villager #162

[A Villager loiters.]
[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: Council is poised to approve soccer stadium plan
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Article begins thus... "Despite concerns about traffic and parking congestion..." [It seems to me, does it not, that 75% of Highland Villager articles start with this premise? It should be in the Villager Style Manual that this phrase is implied and thus does not need to be printed every time. Perhaps the acronym: D-CATAP could be useful here and save on newsprint costs?] The City Council is likely to approve plans for the new soccer stadium. [And they did.] The plans had been idealistic about predicting the number of people who would drive and park near the corner. Article reports on a meeting where the strip mall owners spoke about the length of time required and need for flexibility [read: less density] when it comes to redeveloping the area around the stadium that is currently a strip mall, fast food, and parking. Redevelopment might take a decade. Article also quotes Bill McGuire [dubiously ethical wealthy team owner] about different traffic studies. McGuire replied with the quote that: "people can throw all kinds of figures around." [Indeed. If anyone would know...] Key sentence: "Local highways, streets, and transit lines will be able to handle gameday traffic." [Prediction: there will be a lot of cars and people walking and taking the train.] Neighbors are concerned about "parking, traffic and noise." [Dogged crank] Tom Goldstein is quoted demanding more evidence about redevelopment. Article also quotes CMs Prince, Thao, and Stark.

Headline: City loan help save old West End fire station
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: And old and abandoned fire station dating to the 1870s that was slated to be torn down for a new hotel project is going to be saved and restored instead thanks to a $500K forgivable loan from the city. [That's a hefty price!] Article includes some history of the building. It might get sold after it is renovated.

Headline: Mayor unveils city budget with 4% increase in tax levy
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Property taxes will go up. New money will go to funding street trees, a pedestrian coordinator position, and recycling. Saint Paul will be America's most "workable" city instead of its most "livable" city. [I'd like it to be America's most walkable city.] There was a speech.

Headline: Unspent STAR funds sought to transform Central' Handful of other local projects approved for city grants, loans
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Central High School's campus will get some money to make its public spaces more attractive. [School looks like a prison.] Things like "a paved walkway" and "water filtration" and "bike racks." Also funded: a theater marquee, old buildings, a soundproof room, affordable housing, and a balustrade.

Headline: BZA OKs variances for new Habitat home on West End
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A new affordable house will get to be closer to the property line.

Headline: St. Paul provides more funds for improving Dickerman Park
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A historic [very strange, linear, and almost useless IMO] park along University Avenue will get $50K for design improvements.

Headline: Union Park favors proposal to extend liquor store hours
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A neighborhood group thinks its OK if people can buy beer until 10pm. CM Tolbert is pushing for the change.

Headline: BZA supports allowing second home on Saratoga Street lot
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A guy who owns a house can build a second house on his large irregular lot. [This makes sense.]

Headline: St. Paul grants liquor license for restaurant at City House
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: An old grain elevator by the river will now be allowed to serve booze. [See my story on this and how it is wonderful.]

Headline: Neighbors appeal approval of house on narrow West End lot
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) said it's OK if a couple builds a house on a narrow vacant lot, but neighbors are concerned about wet basements and "monolithic walls" and want the City Council to appeal the appeal. "The house would not have a basement." [Where will the snakes go?]

Headline: Brake Bread rolls out home delivery fresh from new West 7th St. bakery
Author: Frank Jossi

Short short version: You can have a guy on a bike bring bread right to your house! [Even though there are no bike lanes on West 7th or really anywhere in this area except for Jefferson. I wish I was in the delivery area but asking someone to schlep bread up the High Bridge is a bit much.] All the bread types have bike-themed names. [It's almost like things are changing in the West End, what with these "kids today" even though they're in their 40s.] There is a "toast bar." [I need to get there!]

Headline: WSNAC objects to short notice of UST plan to raze Grand buildings
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: St. Thomas wants to tear down older buildings that it owns along Grand Avenue and the neighborhood committee is upset about it. [I wish the school would just rehab these buildings and use them for offices. That would be pretty classy.] Article includes a lot of info about town/gown relationships and history. Quote from UST guy: "We thought people would be thrilled with the announcement." [Did you? Why? Because people in Saint Paul love tearing things down?] They are being torn down any day now.There might or might not be more parking added to the campus, and/or housing here instead. [I should hope so.]

Note: This Highland Villager recap composed while listening to Verdi's opera, La forza del destino, which is apparently cursed.


The Slow Joy of Bicycle Touring

Speed was of the essence, the joy of sitting in the car and hurtling himself forward through space. That became a good beyond all others, a hunger to be fed at any price. Nothing around him lasted for more than a moment, and as one moment followed another, it was as through he alone continued to exist. He was a fixed point in a whirl of changes, a body poised in utter stillness as the world rushed through him and disappeared. The car became a sanctum of invulnerability, a refuge in which nothing could hurt him anymore. As long as he was driving, he carried no burdens, was unencumbered by even the slightest particle of his former life.

[Paul Auster, The Music of Chance.]

[A spring respite.]
There is a particular feeling after bicycle touring that sinks down into your legs. It grounds you, connecting  your feet to the earth, the floors of your rooms, the dirt in your yard, the concrete and asphalt streets all offer purchase of a different kind. The topography is alive with the possibility of a distant place, not just the knowledge the remnants of a lived encounter between your body and the world around you.

"I traveled this far on my own, carried myself into and across a landscape," it says mutely.

You don't think this thought so much as feel it, the distance fills your limbs, the lingering horizons tracing an unbroken curve between here and there, an aura of peace equal parts physical and mental that changes the feeling of chairs or paper. Everything tastes bigger somehow.

The richness of traveling by bicycle is rooted in vulnerability, the sheer act of carrying weight, the intensity of each hill, or the infinite randomness of the weather. This recent trip, to and from a small farm outside Stillwater, Minnesota, began in a deluge, hours of rain that seemed to swirl on the radar and stop overhead, dropping rain all morning long and making sure my socks would we wet for hours. Back and forth the rain drops toyed with gravity. Bicycling demands and rewards the patience and thick skin, but then just as much the sky settles down and by nightfall first a single star appears and then a dozen and then a hundred. And the next day is completely new, blue sky and white clouds and sunshine falling through the trees. That's the beauty of bicycling, that you never know.  Exposure making each hour or mile more keenly felt, the intensification of the everyday, the adventure of the mundane.

[Bridge relativity.]

A friend once send me a letter describing a journey not on bicycle but on foot, walking a pilgrimage through Spain. He wrote:
We're averaging just nine miles a day but this is plenty so far. It takes your feet and body a week to get used to getting up every morning at seven AM, eating a little breakfast and coffee, walking eight or nine miles with a break here or there and repeating this day after day. After seven days, I'm finally used to it. We get to our next destination by noon or one PM. We wash stuff, shower, or chill for a bit, then I go draw for a few hours. Then often communal dinners, sleep, repeat.

The main thing that strikes me is how you could drive this 180-mile distance in three hours on a freeway but, in 'shortening' distance, the car makes human transit (moving through space) into a drab affair that destroys the space through which it moves. We both know this but a long walk puts the modes in stark contrast -- drive for three hours in a boring mundane way in diminished space at great expense (personal and planetary) or take twenty days to walk it in what can become this highly detailed, fantastic adventure.
So much is written about the glories of speed, but speed is a relative concept. It has no inherent meaning. I still keenly remember my first trip in my first car, driving alone from Saint Paul to Massachusetts and, afterward, contemplating the space I had crossed. The rubber tires touched every mile between my homes, tracing a line across the landscape. I felt I had learned something important about the scope of the terrain between.

Yet compared to the car, bicycling grants rich dimensions of topography, climate, and the experience of air itself, and unfathomable intimacy with the land. Yes, driving offers the transcendence of space by seemingly limitless energy. But bicycling -- or walking! --  is to immerse your limited body in the great variety of Earth. Soon afterward, a rich feeling sinks into your limbs, the knowledge of distance, weight, movement, the wealth of space itself.

[Stillwater in the distance.]


Noteworthy Dive Bars of Downtown Minneapolis Bicycling Tour this Thursday

[Link to Google.]
Mousey’s. Moby Dick’s. The Anchor Inn. Brady’s Bar. The Saddle Bar. The Pink Poodle. The Carousel. Casa Coranado, The Copper Squirrel. The Blitz. The 5 Bar. The Key Club. The Cascade 9. The Longhorn...

All gone dives. To be honest, there's hardly anything left.

Jane Jacobs’ classic 1958 Fortune Magazine essay, Downtown is for People, extended an early feeler for what would become the urbanist masterpiece, Death and Life of Great American Cities. In it, she lays out some of the principles and methods of her madness. She writes,
“Downtown … there is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans. This does not mean accepting the present; downtown does need an overhaul, it is dirty, it is congested. But there are things that are right about it too, and by simple old-fashioned observation we can see what they are. We can see what people like.”

Yes because downtown is different. Downtown the prize, the gleam in the eye of the dreamer, the tramp, the politician, the moneyed scoundrel. Downtown is  battleground of territory claimed, abandoned, re-claimed, fortified, released, scoured, and rebuilt for over a century.

[The old sign of Moby Dick's.]
Dives of downtown are different too. For one thing, they hardly exist. Rents are high here and dives thrive on marginality. Downtown dives are the most precarious things, short lifespans like insects. But also hard to eradicate, also like insects.

This tour will trace a line around the edge of downtown. approximately 4 miles by bicycle. We will meet at an odd place, Mortimer’s Bar on Lyndale and Franklin, a wonderful classic dive by the “bottleneck”, a suitable name, the place that once marked the beginning and the end of downtown, the edge of the seam between downtown and the pastoral landscapes stretching south. From here we will bicycle to a few past dive locations, places where a dive bar or two might have thrived, in their way, for a few years or a few decades. A pilgrimage to Moby Dick’s, the (in)famous downtown dive bar where you got a free drink if you turned in your AA badge. A stop at the old Hubert’s to peer in at the remodeling. A few pauses in the Gateway, and a trip down an alley. Then we will retire to a new and old dive bar in the North Loop, each with a story to tell.

Almost without exception, the dives of downtown Minneapolis have been erased from the landscape. But traces remain. See you then!

[Looking out onto Washington Avenue.]

What: Guided bicycle tour of three (3) current and two (2) former, and countless (•) lost dives of Downtown Minneapolis
When: This Thursday, August 25th, departing at 6:30pm
Where: Leaving from Mortimer's Bar on the corner of Lyndale and Franklin
Why: Because it's there... or because it's not there
Who: Anyone. Free. Please consider tips or supporting me on my Patreon page!

[Part of a wall at Cuzzy's.]


Sale on 2' X 3' Saint Paul Flags -- New Low Price!

I have upgraded my store and placed the small size Saint Paul flags on sale! You can now purchase them for the low price of $23.

The Saint Paul flag is a unique historical flag that dates back to 1932, and solidly above-average as city flags go.

Read all about it on my previous posts. For example, the background:
The Mayor’s office does actually have flier on display with some information about the flag. Here’s what they say:
Saint Paul had a flag contest back in 1932 and Gladys Mittle was chosen as the winner of the best design of the Saint Paul flag on November 22, 1932. Her prize for the best design was $150.00. Gladys was an art student at the College of St. Kate’s.

$150.00 back in 1932 would be about $2,400 today, so that’s an OK haul. 

I like this story. Apart from a page in Polish, there is absolutely no information about Gladys Mittle on the internet. I wonder what she was like. I wonder if she lived long enough to see her flag completely forgotten by the city around her. She is Saint Paul’s Betsy Ross!
Or the history of my flag distribution patterns:
Over the past two years, inspired by a friend in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood, I've been organizing flag purchases. They're cheaper if you team up in groups. Since the first order, I've helped about sixty people get their hands on a fine Saint Paul flag. Since then, the yellow, red, and blue flag have been spreading through the city slowly but surely like toe fungus.

Since the "Saint Paul flag campaign" began in 2013, city flags have only grown more popular. Check out Roman Mars' talk about city flags, or the campaign of this guy from Milwaukee to fix the Milwaukee city flag which, along with Minneapolis' juvenile effort, ranks as one of the worst in the Midwest.

I have been distributing Saint Paul flags around the city for a few years now, and they are starting to catch on, especially certain areas of the city. It's exciting to see city pride catch on.

Order yours today at the online store. If you live in Saint Paul, I will deliver your flag by bicycle to your doorstep. (For the rest of you, we'll make arrangements for shipping or pickup.)

Happy flapping!


Twin City Bike Parking #23

[Midtown, Minneapolis.]

 [Location forgotten. Downtown, Minneapolis.]

 [Summit Avenue, Saint Paul.]

 [Downtown, Saint Paul.]

 [Saint Anthony Main, Minneapolis.]

[Rice Street, Saint Paul.]

 [Como Park, Saint Paul.]

[Rice Street, Saint Paul.]


Introducing the Twin Cities Original Chains Map

[In memoriam.]
I still remember the time I saw the original Hooters. It was down in Tampa, Florida visiting a friend. We were driving to the beach on day.

Suddenly she said, “Hey that’s the original Hooters” and pointed to a mundane building by the side of the road.

“Huh,” I replied.

I’ll never forget that day. The original Hooters. (Since torn down, because progress.)

But you don’t have to go to Florida to be wowed. There are so many urchains right here in the Twin Cities.

Like did you know that Target stores are “local”? Yes, they are based here. The first Target is in Roseville. It’s gone now, but the site is still a Target store and I suppose that is has some sort of holy shrine-like quality for big-box aficionados.

[The original bean counter.]
So too with the original Dunn Brothers on Grand and Snelling in Saint Paul. Unlike the original Target, the original Dunn's is pretty much unchanged. They still serve dozens of kinds of coffee beans from their bean counter, offer day-old pastries at steep discounts, and even their “for here” prices seem are lower than you’ll find at other Dunn Brothers. It’s like the original store is trapped in a late-90s time warp. Very cool!

So here’s a map of original chain locations from around the Twin Cities. (A store needed to have 4 or more locations to be considered a local chain, and I skipped grocery stores or gyms, because they’re quite boring.)

The general trend seems to be that pizza places migrate from the core city outward into the suburbs, while chain retail places travel in the opposite direction. Together they form a "cycle of chains" like the water cycle, whereby authenticity travels outward in exchange for cheap globalized commodities. It's like the food chain, except it's the chain chain.


Dunn Brothers - Grand Avenue, Saint Paul

Still the best.

Punch Pizza - Highland, Saint Paul

The unassuming location that started all the Napoli margherita craze.

Best Buy - Roseville

Then and now, a crappy strip mall. (See also: this story on the Best Buy origins.)

Target - Roseville

Since torn down and replaced with a SuperTarget

Caribou - Edina

Looks quaint, but probably isn't.

Pizza Luce - Downtown, Minneapolis

Warehouse District, baby! Still the best Lucé. (See also: an incomplete Lucé rankings.)

Leann Chin - Minnetonka

Where Minnesota's most greatest contribution to cuisine, the cream cheese wonton, was born. Probably didn't look like this back in the 80s.

Famous Dave's - Somewhere in Wisconsin

Somewhere in the woods there, burned down a while back.

Key's Café - South Saint Anthony, Saint Paul

Very wholesome! Full of schlock. (See also: Sidewalk of the Week.)

Red's Savoy Pizza - East 7th Street, Saint Paul

Nothing compares. (See also: Red's Savoy as the rock of Gibraltar.)

Carbone's - Dayton's Bluff, Saint Paul

Very unassuming, and only a few blocks from Red's Savoy!

Zorbaz Mexican Pizza - Detroit Lakes

Not sure this sounds like a good idea.  

Radisson - Downtown, Minneapolis

Since become a "Radisson Blu", which is the color blue with the 'e' removed.

Bibelot - Saint Anthony Park, Saint Paul

The alpha of Christmas kitsch. (See also: Sidewalk of the Week.)

Buca di Beppo - Downtown, Minneapolis

Hard to believe anything so overwhelmingly cloying ever even had a shred of authenticity.

Super America - Lowertown, Saint Paul

Everything has to start somewhere, I suppose.

Creative Kidstuff - Linden Hills, Minneapolis

Because of course over-the-top bourgeois parenting comes from Linden Hills.

Granite City - St. Cloud

Just how you'd imagine it.

Herberger's - Onakis

Because of course "Herberger's" comes from a tiny town.

Crave - Edina

I don't know what this is but apparently it's a thing. They're even coming to the Union Depot for some reason.