Ten Years Later: 35W Bridge Collapse and the Sudden Visibility of Infrastructure

[Hurdling the guardrail.]
Ten years ago, this blog was in purgatory. I'd unplugged from writing very much about anything about Twin Cities' urban design, and had just begun graduate school in Geography to study seriously some of the fundamental dynamics of cities and street life.  I wasn't really that interested in continuing to blab on the internet, and for good reason, because blogging is probably not the best use of anyone's time.

But then some gusset plates snapped, and the bridge fell into the river down the street.

The fantastic failure of a basic piece of Minneapolis' built environment re-captured my attention, focusing it particularly on how we take our infrastructure for granted. That something so massive and seemingly permanent could disappear in an instant -- and also that life and traffic would go on -- illustrated how temporary and fragile our cities really are.

Here's my blogpost from ten years ago, reprinted. Oddly, moments like this are both unforgettable and they aren't. In a way, we must forget incidents like this, where the regular order of the city fails spectacular. We go on as if nothing like this had ever happened, resuming our frenetic lives.

But it's worth pausing and remembering that all the infrastructure around us is material, fallible, and human. At least for a day or two, don't take your bridges for granted.

Interstate Bridge of the Week: 35W Mississippi River Bridge

[The view from the River Road, biking toward the collapse on 8/1/07]
This week's Interstate Bridge of the Week is the 35W Mississippi River Bridge near the West Bank/U of M/Metrodome area of downtown Minneapolis. It collapsed today into the river, and obviously it's a terrible tragedy in which many people lost lives or were horribly injured. My friend called me from the area five minutes after it happened, and I biked down to the U of MN campus to see what was happening.

I was living in Brooklyn during 9/11, and what happened in the Twin Cities today was a lot like New York six years ago: so many people stopped what they were doing, people called their friends and family on the phone, and crowds gathered around television sets to watch, comment on, and share the experience.

But at the same time it strikes me that there are a host of differences between the two events. The most important is that, unlike 9/11 or the San Francisco earthquake, there was nothing in particular that caused this collapse. It just happened, like entropy, or spontaneous combustion. The bridge reached a tipping point where it could no longer support the collective weight of steel, concrete, and cars, and its commuters suffered the consequences.

We should all be truly shocked that this was just a case of bad engineering. From what I've heard on MPR tonight (in a great bit of internet research by someone named Aarsanden Totten (?)), this bridge was a unique bit of engineering lacking the structural 'redundancy' that serves as a crucial backup in case the primary support fails. It might have been rust, or even one too many potholes on the bridge's surface, but in all likelihood this is a case of cutting one too many corners, either in the bridge's construction or its later maintenance. (Let me point out that the WTC collapse was in no small part due to the unique structural supports of the building. The outside of the building held it up, allowing more office space to occupy the interior, just as this bridge was uniquely built to allow an uninterrupted span to cross the Mississippi. Is this technological progress? Ingenuity?)

It makes you think about all the common infrastructure that we share, all the freeways, power lines, satellites, buildings, and sewers... all the the police, firefighters, and hospitals that we all count on whether we know it or not. This is not to mention the flows from farms and factories that provide everything we eat and use. We even rely on the media -- those bastardized televisions, radios, and cell phones that we use every day -- to let us know what's happening in our cities and countries, and throughout the world. So much relies on so much steel, sand, and stone.

But of course we forget. People think when they slam shut their car door, flip on the A/C, and crank up KS95 that they're invulnerable. We think that our walls are solid, and that homes are ours and ours alone. We believe that bootstraps are the only things holding us up, but we forget that cars are just as reliant on public infrastructure as everything else, as trains or buses or electric sockets. In fact, this country has pumped trillions of dollars during the last 50 years into building a vast, vast network of highways, bridges, and concrete overpasses. We've spent more money on highways in this country than on any other public works project (unless you call the military budget a public work), but it's the kind of thing that's easy to forget about until something reminds us that somewhere, at some point, some guy under a fluorescent light designed everything we take for granted.

No, the real story today is that we've been reminded that we're all in this together. The reporter on MPR right now is explaining that she's most surprised by all the people, and their collective response to the crisis. "The people the just keep coming and coming and coming", she says, "trying to see if for themselves" and "standing in groups, talking to each other." Yes, its a shock in the U.S.A. to share a collective experience, to join a group of your neighbors and witness the world around you. We demand a spectacle, like fireworks, football, or a good war parade.

When I went past the old bicycle bridge at the University of Minnesota (just South of the scene) I found it covered with people, and most of them were there because they knew they were part of a community. It could have been them in those cars, and if there had been any way to help out, somehow, they would have. For a moment, we were all in this together, and it reminded me of Manhattan in 2001 where, just like today, I was able to stop and talk to complete strangers about the world around me. (Hell, Channel 4 just interviewed a Hispanic family who was involved in the accident. It's probably the first time they've interviewed a Hispanic family all year. "They drive cars too?")

It's a cliche to say so, but it is times like this we pull together as Minnesotans, as Americans, and as people. Only it's sad that it takes a fucking tragedy to realize that we're not all atomized individuals, and that we all depend on each other all of the time. For some reason when something like this happens, I only wish that we could muster one tenth of this kind of engagement during our everyday lives. I wish that the radios, televisions, and newspapers would carry more stories about cuts to the transportation budget or layoffs at the Hennepin County Medical Center, and more importantly, I wish people would read and care about these stories. I wish that people all over the state, no matter where they live, would realize that the schools in Minneapolis or Baghdad matter just as much as the price of gas or property taxes, and that democracy might be more important than Kevin Garnett. Today we've seen the news doing what it does best, and really making a difference. But maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but someday, soon, and for the rest of our lives we'll go back to reading about Paris Hilton above the fold and caring about our checkbook more than our neighbor. And that, as much as the obvious destruction, is why I find times like today so sad... so sad, and at the same time, strangely hopeful.

[Traffic next to the 35W bridge collapse.]


Saint Paul Flags #1

[MN United Game, Minneapolis.]

[Saints game. Lowertown.]


[West 7th Street.]

[West End.]

 [West End.]
 [West End.]
 [West Side.]
 [Location unknown.]
[West Side.]


I, For One, Would Like to Welcome our Garbage Overlords

[Two trucks, one corner.]
I'm tickled that Saint Paul is finally moving forward with organized trash collection, especially in the face of an organized (how ironic!) opposition movement that is trying to derail the city's efforts.

(Props to the Council, the Mayor's Office, and the Mac-Grove neighborhood group for working so hard on this.)

There are a lot of great reasons why organizing the city's garbage pickup is long overdue, and I go into them quite a bit in my original Minnpost article on this topic.

Here are the punchlines from that December, 2015 article:
The main benefits of organizing involve cost, energy and efficiency of geography. The Mac-Grove proposal would replace the current unorganized system with a geographically balanced “consortium.” Each of the city’s current 19 garbage haulers would be allocated a geographic “share” of the city, and instead of serving houses scattered through the city, each existing hauler would get a geographically limited area. Each hauler would be assigned a specific neighborhood, and instead of three or five trucks traveling down neighborhood’s streets and alleys each week, you would only have one.
Beyond the energy and cost benefits, the current system masks some more hidden consequences of the free market. For example, because alleys are all privately constructed, they don’t meet uniform standards, and are rarely designed to withstand the pressure of large trucks. Yet the existing system drastically increases the number of trucks that run down alleys, and garbage trucks are particularly hard on asphalt.
The average truck weighs 32 tons and gets 3 miles to the gallon. While there’s a complicated relationship between weight, vehicle design and road wear, studies suggest that each truck is the “wear and tear” equivalent of 1,125 automobile trips. 
The case is pretty solid, and if you're still not convinced, let Ed Kohler explain it to you.

But now that we're on the precipice of organized garbage, there are two other big reasons why I love the city's plan to move forward with garbage organization. And they're less straightforward.

1. Addressing Inequality

[No Dumping sign off West 7th Street.]
Saint Paul is a deeply unequal city. Ride a bicycle from the East Side to St. Anthony Park, from Frogtown to Highland, or anywhere around the downtown poverty periphery, and Saint Paul's big contrasts become visible. In some parts of town, quiet well-kept fancy houses; in other parts, still-pretty-quiet-but-not-always-quiet more-unkempt homes and apartments. The city's gaps break down pretty cleanly along age, class, race, and ethnic lines, and it's always crucial to think about the city as a whole.

The biggest problem with the old garbage system is that it "worked well" for the wealthy parts of town, and left the poor parts of the city behind. For example, "dumping" is a big issue in many parts of the city, like Frogtown, the North End, or the West Side. In these places, people with few resources simply left all kinds of crap out in alleys, boulevards, bluffs, or ubiquitous vacant lots.

Having an organized system will do a lot to make sure our struggling parts of the city don't look like trash half the time. It's a problem that's really not visible from the landscaped yards of the wealthy parts of town, but for a big chunk of Saint Paul, cleaning up the dumping problem is a big deal.

2. Demonstrate Collective Freedom

[City of Minneapolis trash bins in North Minneapolis.]
The second big thing about the coming trash revolution is that it proves that Saint Paul can actually do stuff. Now more than ever, we need our cities to step up and fill the governance void left behind the wake of the dysfunctional Federal level and fragile State.

In many ways, I think doing things at the city level is a good shift because I like governance that is smaller scale, and "closer" to the citizenry. (See also my post-Trump post...)

In other ways, increasing reliance on city level government is a bad thing because of the fractured and fragmented municipal landscape, which allows wealth to flee to exclusionary low-tax enclaves and leaves concentrated poverty behind in core cities and (increasingly) first-ring suburbs. There's also the problem of low engagement and turnout in our city governments...

So it's important to find things that cities can actually do without stretching their budgets to the breaking point. We need concrete steps that allow cities to move toward ambitious sustainability and equity goals.

To put it another way, we don't just need "freedom from government", we also need the "freedom to act collectively." Organizing garbage is a great example of this larger kind of freedom. I am confident that, once it starts to work, once we have an effective organized garbage system in place, it'll be a shining example of what Saint Paul can accomplish if it gets its act together.

Swelling Blue Bin Pride

[Recycling is up about 30% since the city replaced the old system.]
In fact, I only began thinking about this as the city finally "rolled out" its new recycling bin program back in January.

If you live in Saint Paul, you probably recall the initial hiccups, but after a long time lobbying the city, the city's contracted recycling non-profit, Eureka, got the funding from the city to start using modern recycling bins back in the winter. Prior to that, there had been a more haphazard "tub" recycling system in place where individual citizens would have to pick up their own recycling tubs from local neighborhood groups and them put them out once per week. The trucks would then (using two people) go around and pick up all the recycling which was placed along the curb once per week.

There were a bunch of problems with the old system including the lack of tubs, or the way that they would fall apart, but the biggest one was the problem with storage. Because you only put out the tub once per week, you couldn't "store" your recycling all through the week. With the new big bin system, you can toss your recycling out whenever you like. For me, that makes a big difference. I can carry down my recycling whenever I am heading out the door, instead of only being able to put it out there on Monday evenings.

More than that, I just love seeing all the blue bins lined up in alleys and along the streets. It's a great sign of things to come, and a symbol of Saint Paul's actually-existing civic competence.  When I spend time in Minneapolis, you glance into the alleys or driveways of people and see three bins lined up behind every home: a trash bin, a recycling bin, and a compost bin. It's amazing, and the city has a great public engagement program aimed at minimizing all of these waste streams. This is what city's should be doing in the 21st century.

And when I see Saint Paul's new blue recycling bins all along the alleys, I get a glimpse of Saint Paul's bright future.

[Soon these blue bins in a Frogtown alley will have a trash-filled friend to hang out with.]


Signs of the Times #127



[Wall. Lyndale Avenue, Minneapolis.]

Get Some
Deep Fried Pickles

[Wall. Memphis, TN.]


[Tree. New Orleans, LA.]

Please put mail
mailbox. not in
the chair on porch

[Fence. New Orleans, LA.]

The parking of bikes
is not allowed here
will be forcibly removed

[Pole. New Orleans, LA.]

Hot Food, Cold Drinks
Live Music

[Pole. New Orleans, LA.]


[Kid. New Orleans, LA.]


[Sidewalk. New Orleans, LA.]


Reading the Highland Villager #186

[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: St. Paul reviews plan to organize trash collection; Fifteen private haulers agree to divvy up city
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: After a long time negotiating, like 11 months, there is finally a basic agreement / deal between the city and a group of garbage companies. [This is important because of the road wear and other nuisance factors that come from having tons and tons … literally … of different trucks picking up trash instead of one. See also my story on it from a while ago.] City Council gets to vote on it soon. Article quotes garbage businessmen saying that they don’t like the government. Article quotes mayors’ office people saying that organizing is a good idea and lists lots of reasons. The “trash carts” will be city owned and come in three sizes. Fees are still being negotiated. You can throw out one Christmas tree per year. [Or burn them with CM Brendmoen in the park!] Some people want to share a cart, but that’s not possible right now. There was an “ad hoc” campaign [with a fancy website!] to stop the organization process. [It failed because the basic organization idea is a no-brainer for a city like Saint Paul.] City staff person wants the system to be “self-sustaining” and not subsidized by the city. There were also issues about whether workers could be unionized or not, and wage standards are being put in the deal. [Sounds messy! Glad they got it done, sort of almost.]

Headline: Public hearing on Ford site elicits 400 comments
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city Planning Commission had a [2.5 hour] public hearing to accept testimony about city’s plans for zoning the old Ford factory in Highland. Lots of people talked and also wrote notes. Article briefly describes the plan, and the “two groups who were out in force” at the hearing, the neighbors groups for and against the proposal. [I think there were also lots of people representing other organizations, like the National Parks Service, Transit for Livable Communities, Friends of the Mississippi River, Fresh Energy, the Friends of St Paul Parks (or something) group, etc., as well as lots of people speaking simply as themselves and not as part of one of these groups who had a wide range of opinions. Point is that it’s easy to reduce this to a “two sides” situation but in reality there are many people with many opinions with some nuance. In articles defense, it does list these groups.] Article quotes director of Fresh Anergy saying nice things, as well as some others. Also mentions  the kids who want to save the ballfields. [The ballfield is on railroad land (see above), so good luck to them with that! See also railroad mentioned in the last article here.] Article quotes plan opponent: “with radical density comes radical gridlock.” [Funny coincidence, but “Radical Gridlock” is the name of my prog rock band.] 

Headline: Planning committee recommends high-density redevelopment at Ford
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A committee of the Planning Commission met recently to vote on the plan mentioned above. It supported the city’s proposal unanimously. Article mentions controversy over density, and describes various zoning proposals for the different “districts” in the plan. There was a debate over whether to keep the railroad land included in the plan as “private recreation” or to identify ownership of the property. The group wanted to support the realignment of the River Boulevard but not have it in the plan quite yet. One Commissioner wanted to add more density in the “river residential” luxury townhouse part of the plan, and got support for that.

Headline: Policy Committee approves six transit options for Riverview Corridor
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Policy Advisory Committee [which makes all the decisions] voted to move forward six options for routes for the Riverview transit line. They are bur rapid transit or streetcars either to or not to the Ford Site and either on or not on the CP Spur. Article quotes CM Noecker voting against the proposal because she wanted to eliminate the CP Spur from the assembled choices. [Shrug. I reached out to CM Noecker on this and she told me it hurts ridership because it’s farther away from big parts of the West End neighborhood, which is true. Also that the County still has not purchased the land, which is also true. I think that the County should and will purchase the land either way, but they are likely waiting to see if the cost can be embedded as part of the budget for this project. I have heard that the money for purchasing the land is not a problem, and that the railroad is a willing seller, but it’s more about logistics at this point.] Neighbors are concerned about traffic and parking. Quote from guy on the committee who runs an Italian restaurant: “I can’t vote for modern streetcars until all of the questions are answered.” [I wonder what the questions are.]

Headline: St. Paul warns of big property tax hike in ’18; With reduced assessments for street maintenance, city portion of tax bill may jump 24%
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city is no longer assessing property owners, including non-profits, for street maintenance and so taxes will have to go up. [Street maintenance is really expensive, folks!] There was a meeting and the mayor was there. Quote from a woman in Highland: “we’re sick of subsidizing the rest of the city.” Article includes lots of numbers about housing values and tax bills. Article includes references to Randy Kelly, who started the fee in the first place. Best part of the article is the end: “Coleman asked the audience if anyone had any other ideas… When one person suggested installing more parking meters, Coleman recalled his unsuccessful attempt to place parking meters on Grand Avenue two years ago. ‘I leaned into the pitch, and it hit me in the head,’ he said.” [It’s depressing to me that the Mayor / whoever else at City Hall has seemingly given up on this obvious solution to generating revenue while simultaneously adopting incentives that support important policy goals. Parking policy is one of the easiest, simplest, most effective tools in the city’s toolbox, and apparently because of one flubbed proposal and subsequent bad meeting, it’s off the table for … how long? The next mayor will probably balk too, thanks to this narrative. That’s a big mistake for Saint Paul, which needs all of its effective tools if it’s going to thrive in the 21st century.]

Headline: City may ask nonprofits to pitch in with payments
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A task force is going to figure out ways that the city can beg non-profits for money. Article quotes the guy in charge of brainstorming this: “Cities that use PILOT programs don’t get a lot of money.” [Sounds like a great plan, then!] Another quote from a guy on the task force: “there’s voluntary and there’s voluntary.” There is some debate about whether the city has 1/3 of its land in non-profit parcels or only 5% of its land in non—profit parcels. Quote is this: According to Todd Hurley, director of the city’s Office of Financial Services… STP has 80,244 taxable parcels and 96.2% pay property taxes... Taxable properties have a valuation of $21.6 billion and tax-exempt properties have a valuation of $6.9 billion, or 24.1%.” [Well that sorts it out, yes? No. One issue might be the parking lot problem that I mention. Also, sometimes a large institution probably counts as only one “parcel”, I am guessing. Still, it’s good to see numbers on this.] Another quote: “of the 50 highest-valued properties in St. Paul, 38 pay no property taxes.” [I am skeptical about this program and wish there was a way to actually assess for street costs.]

Headline: Work on Highway 110 slightly behind schedule
Author: Kevin Driscoll

Short short version: A freeway is taking longer to repair. There will be a $2.75m tunnel under the freeway. [This is near where I grew up. The tunnel is kind of wasteful, but also probably the most pedestrian-friendly part of the city, which is hard to believe, but yes that’s how low that bar is.] Quote from a MNDOT guy: “we found some unsuitable materials that needed to be addressed in the field.” There’s also some debate about a bike path and where precisely it will be located.

Headline: Local projects make short list for 2018-2019 CIB funding 
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There’s some money to do a few thing, including fixing a sculpture park, fixing up homes, fixing a bridge. Article includes confusing list.

Headline: Report shows major shift in calls received by St. Paul Fire Dept.
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: 90% of the time, fire trucks aren’t going to fires, but to medical emergencies. [The trucks are huge.] There is a debate about how to deal with this, involving staffing stations with medics and ambulances instead.

Headline: City begins work on Dickerman Park
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A park that looks like people’s yards is getting fixed up. In 1909 someone donated the land to the city. [This park is dumb to me, even though it has an interesting history. I very much doubt anyone will use it, no matter what they do here. Who knows, maybe I’m wrong?]

Headline: Discussion continues over use of south reservoir in Highland
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A water reservoir is going to be demolished and nobody knows what to do with the site. Options include soccer and basketball space, ice rinks and/or parking lots. [Parking lots! Who could have seen that coming! It reminds me of the time that folks at the Highland library approved replacing a youth ballfield with more parking spaces.] 

Headline: St. Paul to opt out of allowing backyard health care homes
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: People cannot any longer put “temporary dwellings” in their yards for sick family members to live in. Article does not really explain why.

Headline: New Spyhouse Coffee moves full steam ahead on Snelling
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: An old antique shop will become a hip coffee shop. Best quote: “the business has no off-street parking, but is not required to provide any.”

Headline: Permit delay pushes back opening of Bull’s Horn in S. Mpls; Burger bar now set to be finished in october at site of former Sunrise Inn
Author: Bull Wagner

Short short version: An old dive bar is being remodeled but it’s taking longer than the people wanted because of permit problems. The delay “means that the parking lot will remain unpaved when the restaurant opens this fall.” Quote from contractor: “The city has introduced a new electronic system.” Dogs will be allowed on the patio if they are well-behaved. [Farewell Sunrise.]

Headline: Former Riverside School site to be used for senior housing
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: An abandoned school will have housing in it now for seniors. Neighbors are concerned about traffic, pedestrian safety, and access. The city didn’t want the building.

Headline: Police chief cites progress despite increase in gun violence
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Gun shots are up. Crime is up. 911 calls are up. A lot of it is gang related. There are also more cops now than ever before.

Headline: Attempt is underway to extend Midtown Greenway to St. Paul
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There was a meeting recently about the possibility of extending the greenway from Minneapolis over to Saint Paul. There is a bridge but it is owned by the railroad. This has been tried before but the railroad fought the city. Everyone seems to like the idea. [I was on the panel there. I have heard a committee is being formed to work on this. It would be awesome to have theGreenway connect over the river, of course. A real gamechanger for bicycling in Saint Paul and between the two cities. See also my story on this meeting.]


The Everday Surrealism of Automobile Violence

Over the eleven years since I've been writing about street design and every day life in the Twin Cities I have heard lots of crazy things. Some are simply bizarre acts of structural malice, like the ways that cars slam into buildings  almost like clockwork, people driving cars into old buildings, new buildings, stop lights, other cars, light rail trains, and people. Every day this is happening all around us.

Others stories are tragic, particular, and unforgettable. Take for example the old Asian-American couple who immigrated to Saint Paul, and walked together each morning down the same street by their house. One morning, just days after they had visited with the Dalai Lama, a driver slammed into one of them while they were in their crosswalk.

"My wife, my wife," cried her husband, looking backwards, but she was already dead.

There was the young French girl who arrived at college for her year-long exchange program. One her first day in Saint Paul, she was killed by a driver turning through the crosswalk. She had seen the walk sign, and didn’t yet know how little it meant in this country.

There was the story once told to me by a favorite bartender at my old neighborhood bar, a place that has since burned down. A couple had reserved a table for their wedding night, and were getting something out of their trunk when a police chase flew down the street. The fleeing driver slammed into the row of cars parked on Front Avenue and the crash instantly severed the groom's leg from the rest of his body.

[Kenneth J. Foster.]
There are a dozen stories like this that I have heard since I started paying attention. Each of them makes me sick, but the latest one is the worst.

Last week on Dale Street, a driver fleeing from a crash reached 70 miles per hour on a bike boulevard, drove through an intersection onto a median, and launched his car straight through the #65 bus. At the time, it had had six passengers on it, including Kenneth J. Foster and Markus Anthony Dashawn Jackson, two men just trying to get around Frogtown.

The car went in the left side of the bus, killing Foster and critically injuring Jackson, and flew out the other side, leaving a cartoonish hole. The car then demolished a lamppost on Dale Street.

Check out the accounts of the crash:
Bjelland was driving a white sedan about 7:30 p.m. in St. Paul's Frogtown neighborhood, fleeing the scene of a minor crash, according to police. The car ran a stop sign, hit a median and went airborne, slamming into a northbound bus at up to 70 miles per hour, witnesses said.

The force of the crash sliced open the bus, which was carrying six to eight people, according to police. Foster was thrown from the bus and later died at the scene.

Or this:
Mercedes Berry, 17, of St. Paul, was walking to the nearby Speedy Dale convenience store to buy cheese popcorn when she saw and heard the car racing eastbound on Charles.

“It came zooming past,” she said. “It hit the median, flew into the air and hit the bus. It went through the bus — right through the bus — and flipped.”

Berry said she felt bad for the bus passenger who died.

“He was going home and was going to see his family and stuff, and now he won’t see his family no more,” she said.
Or this:

"I heard it all the way inside the house, it was unbelievable," neighborhood resident Brannon Drees said. "I was trying to piece it all together.”

Drees lives right near the intersection where the crash happened, and he says many of his neighbors came outside near the scene to try and help.

"The entire (car) frame was all like an accordion, crushed back and the flames were shooting out of it," Drees said as he described what he saw.

The weird thing about this story is how surreal it is, how horrible the actual details are to look at. The pictures alone are vaguely nauseating to me, kind of like the 9/11 images the first time I saw them. Only this is no act of international terrorism, this is everyday life in a car-dominated American city. This is simply the most extreme case of a basic reality: we have planned our lives around a dangerous machine.

Unlike many deadly crashes, this one wasn't an engineering problem. It's safe to say that designing a walkable city to prevent 70 mph suicidal driving is pretty much impossible. In this case, the tragedy is particularly ironic! The driver launched his car off a pedestrian safety median, one of the very few pedestrian and bicycling safety improvements that have ever been installed in Saint Paul.

(Q: If the median were more substantial, had higher curbs with harder angles, would the car still have flown through the air, and gone through the bus? Probably.)
The only real conclusion here is that the embedded violence of the automobile is something we take for granted. Cars are deadly, and we’ve surrounded ourselves with them. At the flick of a foot, any drugged-up maniac can kill just anyone at any time, even someone minding his own business riding the city bus down Dale Street at seven miles per hour. Designing a society around the automobile is not only wasteful of our energy and collective resources, not only alienates us from each other and feeds our most misanthropic feelings, but it must result in senseless death. This is the only outcome when our cities practically require everyone to wield a weapon every day.

So often, the things that are closest to us are the least visible. We rarely notice the scratches on our glasses or the smudges on our windows. The everyday violence of cars, crashing around us, occasionally startles, but we will ourselves to forget.

We ignore reminders — the hubcab sitting on a sidewalk, the police siren in the distance, the small shards of fender plastic scattered in an intersection — all just another part of our everyday lives, something to forget while we speed along on our lives.

Even the deadly crashes glance off our attention spans, another headline in the paper or story on the evening news. All of us have seen a thousand of these by now, and it seems like nothing can change.

It’ll take me a while to forget this one.

[A day on Dale Street.]


Six Hot Tips for Biking in the Unending Damnable Summertime Heat

[Makes you want to bike right into the river.]
Biking in the heat kind of sucks. No matter where you go, there you are sweating on the asphalt, the sun beating down on your puny body, your poor skin pinking and your hair stuck to your eyebrows. Then you arrive at your destination looking like a homeless muskrat and it takes a full fifteen minutes before you can recompose into something resembling a normal drives-in-the-air-conditioned-car human being like everyone else seems to be. Biking in the summer:it’s not the heat, its the humility.

That said, there are a few things you can do to make it better. When it gets really hot out and stays that way, I find myself riding in a slightly different manner. So here are my hot-take pro tips for biking through the summertime heat.

1. Take it easy and chill out

The first thing is that I tend to slow down a bit in the summer. (Unless you’re on a workout ride, in which case go ahead and sweat as much as you want.) Actually biking to get somewhere, I find myself coasting more and being a bit lazier.

Basically, you want to be going fast enough to keep a breeze going — about 10 miles per hour. The reason people sweat is because condensation is a cooling process. Maintaining a consistent steady pace in the summer heat, and avoiding stopping at stoplights, is a great way to keep just a bit cooler.

2. Find the shade

[Stark shade lines.]
If you do have to stop at a stoplight, though, see if you can find a patch of shade. I find myself doing that on some streets, stopping a bit short to stay behind a building or under a leafy canopy. Or sometimes I might take a more shady side street instead of the more exposed main drag. Shade makes a huge difference when the sun is beating down on you, and if you look for it, you can find some.

See also this post about street trees and finding the shade.

3. Panniers are your friend

Nothing’s worse than riding in the heat with a bag on your back, then peeling it off like an unshelled turtle to reveal the soggy swamp that is your shirt underneath.

So ride a bike with a rack, if you have one, and put all your stuff in a pannier.

4. A/C stops are easy!

If you’re going a longer distance, take a break in the middle at a library or cafĂ©. Nothing makes you appreciate air conditioning as much as a hot summer bike ride!

5. Water is good

Keep drinking it. Put it in a bottle and drink it form the bottle. Drink it when you arrive, before you leave, just whenever. Bonus points if you find one of those old-fashioned Minneapolis water pump fountains and just put your head in there.

6. Bring extra clothes

Always have another shirt on hand in case you need it. You’ll probably need it. Soon it will be sweaty too, but at least you'll feel better about yourself.

That’s it! Good luck to you. When winter comes, you’ll look back on these hot days with envy and regret that you didn’t ride your bike more. There should be a long German word for that… maybe Fahrradsommerbedauern?

[It's only going to get worse.]


Notable Quotes #9: Yi-Fu Tuan on a Martian Invasion of Minneapolis

[The Prospect Park watertower.]
From Space and Place, a 1977 human geography book by geographer Yi-Fu Tuan, who taught at the time at the University of Minnesota. The book is an overview of how human beings cultivate a "sense of place" with their everyday lives and narratives:
In the Mycenaean period Greek cities owed their sacred status to their divine residents. Athena and Helen were Mycenaean goddesses who presided over Athens and Sparta respectively. In these prehistoric times of kingly rule, shrines had an importance they would later lose during the republican period. A Helladic city, however straitened by its enemies, remained viable so long as the shrines housing the divine images were intact. This belief, says John Dunne, "is reflected to some extent in the tradition of the Trojan War according to which is was necessary to steal the Palladium, the image of the city-goddess, from Troy before the city could be taken." Removal of the image, or destruction of the shrine that housed it, would have deprived a city of its legitimacy since the rules, rites, and institutions under which a people lived all required divine sanction. We cannot know prehistoric sentiments: they are at best matters for conjecture. From the historic period of the ancient Mediterranean world we can find many expressions of love for place. One of the most eloquent was attributed to a citizen of Carthage. When the Romans were about to destroy Carthage at the end of the third Punic War, a citizen pleaded with them thus:

"We beseech you, in behalf of our ancient city founded by the command of the gods, in behalf of a glory that has become great and a name that has pervaded the whole world, in behalf of the man temples it contains and of its gods who have done you no wrong. Do not deprive them of their nightly festivals, their processions, and their solemnities. Deprive not the tombs of the dead, who harm you no more, of their offerings. If you have pity for us ... spare the city's hearth, spare our forum, spare the goddess who presides over our council, and all else that is dear and precious to the living.... We propose an alternative more desirable for us and more glorious for you. Spare the city which has done you no harm, but, if you please, kill us, whom you have ordered to move away. In this way you will seem to vent your wrath upon men, not upon temples, gods,  tombs, and an innocent city."

It is true that this plea was written in the second century A.D. several hundred years after the event. How the besieged Carthaginians really felt we have no way of knowing. But the plea at least made good sense to Roman readers, for whom it was written, whereas to us it verges on the incredible. Suppose that Martians have invaded America and are at the gates of Minneapolis. It is hard to believe that our city councilors will plead with the Martians to kill us but save Nicollet Mall, which has done them no harm.

[From Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place, Chapter 11, "Attachment to Homeland."]


Signs of the Times #126


[Board. Minnehaha Park, Minneapolis.]


[Tire. Rondo, Saint Paul.]

And they can
Them the holy people,
the redeemed from teh curse of the
"sought out"
A City not Forsaken

[Pole. Location forgotten. One of the downtowns?]


[Metal thing. University Avenue, Saint Paul.]


[Board. Minnehaha Park, Minneapolis.]
NO. 4

[Pole. Minnehaha Park, Minneapolis.]


[Pole. Summit-University, Saint Paul.]


[Paper on a windshield. Seward, Minneapolis.]


Twin City Bike Parking #28

[Como, Saint Paul.]

[Cathedral Hill, Saint Paul.]

 [Snelby, Saint Paul.]

[Mac-Grove, Saint Paul.]

[Powderhorn, Minneapolis.]

[Highland, Saint Paul.]

[Seward, Minneapolis.]