Twin Cities

Reading the Highland Villager #133

Twin Cities Sidewalks - 53 min 58 sec ago
[Villagers wait for customers to park on Cleveland Avenue.][Basically the problem is that the best source of Saint Paul streets & sidewalks news is the Highland Villager, a very fine and historical newspaper. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. You basically have to live in or frequent Saint Paul to read it. That's why I'm reading the Highland Villager. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free.]  Headline: Council postpones vote on Cleveland Avenue bike lane; Tolbert pushes for a plan that preserves business parkingAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: [In yet another new chapter in the Russian novel that is building bike infrastructure in Highland] an article on the recent City Council hearing about bike lanes through the heart of Highland Village [which I blogged about here rather passionately just the other day]. After a packed public hearing, the Council voted to delay action on deciding about the issue, pending less hostile discussions between parties down the road [sic]. Article includes [fairly well balanced] quotes from both the bicycle enthusiasts and the parking enthusiasts [By the way, "parking enthusiasts" is a strange concept; the Villager typically uses the "concerned residents" euphemism.] Quote from local bicyclist: "It upsets me that Chris Tolbert is willing to make this street more dangerous." Quote from local driver [and University of Saint Thomas spokesperson???]: "I don't know how you get trucks and buses and bikes down Cleveland at the same time." [Does St Thomas have a math department? History professors? Experts in logic? I'm sure they can figure that one out. Particularly given how much energy Saint Thomas spends trying to minimize neighborhood impacts from their campus, of which parked cars are second only to drunken sophomoric bros, you'd think they'd be more understanding when it comes to accommodating and encouraging bicycling.]Headline: Views sought on modes of transit, viable routes for River CorridorAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: Someone is going to build something non-car-oriented along the West 7th / Riverview corridor, likely soon-ish, but nobody knows what. Feel free to comment. Probably. Article includes useless map. Commuter rail has been ruled out because there is no railroad there. [Good decision!]Headline: Randolph shop is struggling with disruptions of street work; Loyal customers still make the trek to J&S Bean, but drive-by business is downAuthor: Boraan Abdulkarim [A new Villager writer? Seemingly non-white? Huzzah!]Short short version: The road in front of the coffee shop is torn up for construction and people can't drive their cars there. People still walk there though. Best quote: "We've seen people walk across Randolph and lose their shoes in the mud." [One lesson of all this might be that catering to customers on foot or bike is a good way to increase customer loyalty.]Headline: Downtown bike loop gaining ground; New St. Peter Street alignment is proving to be more popularAuthor: Kevin DriscollShort short version: The city is planning (and has already funded part of) a [so-called] "bike loop" that will run through downtown Saint Paul and connect [disconnected] bike routes that all stop short. Saint Peter is the new Wabasha [which was derailed by trolls]. Quote from consultant: "St. Peter's traffic pattern is much quieter, and therefore safer and more comfortable than Wabasha's." [Well, OK.] Article includes quote from Chamber of Commerce spokesperson about how people should [relax about] study parking and test things out before building permanent routes. [I'm of mixed feeling on this topic: see "limits of pop-up urbanism." Temporary tests are great unless you just build something half-assed that pisses everyone off and pleases nobody.] Article quotes three business owners from St. Peter Street, [that in a minor miracle] none of whom say anything particularly ridiculous. [Maybe Kevin Driscoll asks questions differently than other Villager reporters?] Headline: St. Paul restaurants, residents seek easing of liquor restrictionsAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: Restaurants would like to loosen the "food-to-alcohol" ratios which restrict them. Quote from owner of restaurant: "I would love to able to serve a real Bloody Mary at the Highland Grill." [First they come for our parking spaces, then they come for or liquor restrcitions. Next thing you know, Highland Village is Frank Miller's Hell's Kitchen.] Saint Paul limits the number of full liquor licenses according to Ward [I did not know this!]: "26 in Ward 1, 41 in Ward 2, 7 in Ward 3 [OMG!], 16 in Ward 4, 18 in Ward 5, 26 in Ward 6, and 18 in Ward 7." [The rationale for this formula is quite clear.] Quote from neighborhood group person: "We have at least five restaurant owners in Highland who would jump at the chance for an on-sale liquor license." Exceptions to the liquor licenses limits can exist in special "commercial districts" [which somehow include the area around the former Amtrak station?]. The Restaurant Association would like the "60-40 rule" eliminated. Minneapolis eliminated this rule for their neighborhoods two years ago. [The place seemingly hasn't gone to pot. Fascinating article!]   Headline:  Cooper's to stay open longer than expected in Sibley PlazaAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A grocery store in a strip mall will close next spring instead of this summer.Headline: HRA helps Skyline Tower with $12.7M improvement projectAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The largest subsidized affordable housing building in the state is getting rehabbed thanks to some help by the city and other government sources.Headline: Quest to keep Getten Credit in St. Paul hits another roadblockAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A "consumer lending company" is still struggling to find a place to relocate after it got displaced by a new bank. Zoning limits where they can go.Headline: Kowalski's to purchase land for expansion of Grand marketAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The grocery store on Grand Avenue is getting bigger thanks to the purchase of a "city-owned right of way." [What magic strip of land is this?] The plans call for "an off-sale wine shop and a coffee house." [There goes the neighborhood.]Headline: CIB committee frees up money for additional local projectsAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The citizen committee that prioritizes every project in the city found more money for more things by giving less large sums to fewer things and more small sums to more things. New projects to be funded [tentatively, pending the mayor] include a community center, lighting for Cleveland Avenue, a circus school expansion, and a bike trail [see below].Headline: I-35E trail among those added to listAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A [strange] bike trail by the freeway sound wall will be made nicer, probably: "resurfacing, signage, lighting, and new crosswalks." Article includes quote from neighborhood group guy: "There hasn't been a lot done along there for 30 years." [Yup.]Headline:  Federation hopes more work goes into design of new labor buildingAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A local neighborhood group didn't like the designs for a new labor and trades building. [Could always be worse: compare to the godawful Teamsters building on University? For some reasons, union and labor-oriented buildings always seem to be completely dominated by parking lots.] Quote from neighbor: "It seems like a really utilitarian building." Article claims that "labor officials said significant off-street parking will be needed because of the many events that will be hosted at the building." [Saint Paul, a great place for a parking lot. Home of the National Federation of Street Pavers and Parking Attendants Local #FreeParking. Even the Amalgamated Transit Workers Union HQ has a huge parking lot, from what I have heard.] Headline: Debate continues over proposal for liquor store at Midway SuperTargetAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: [See also this blast from the TCSidewalks past.] Target would like to sell booze, but there's already a liquor store just two strip malls over. A debate is raging over how to quantify the distance between strip malls. [How many strip-mall-liquor-store-frequenting angels can park on the head on the head of a pin? If a tortoise throws an empty vodka bottle towards a strip mall, and it travels 1/2 way to the strip mall in one instant, and 1/2 of the rest of way in the next instant, and so on forever, does it ever strike the concrete surface parking lot?] Headline: Dowling enters phase two of creating extra special playgroundAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A school in [the tiny part of] Minneapolis [that the Villager ostensibly cares about three times each year] will expand its playground by adding zip lines. [Really?] The school has a long history that includes FDR and special needs children.
Categories: Twin Cities

Map Monday: The US Overlaid By Road Straightness

Streets.MN - 2 hours 23 min ago

Via CityLab, Here’s a map that, if I hadn’t told you, you probably wouldn’t be able to figure out. It’s the US mapped according to the percentage of curved roads:

Here’s the description from the creator, who readily admits his data is flawed in that OpenStreetMap is not yet complete:

The Mid-west USA and Canadian prairies have the most straight roads. Nearly all of the roads there are straight. This broadly matches my theory.

Q: Does this explain anything at all about Midwestern sensibilities?

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Categories: Twin Cities

Roadkill Bill – There Goes the Neighborhood

Streets.MN - Sun, 06/28/2015 - 8:34am

The mill & overlay continues on  Bicyclopolis Book 2 . In the meantime, here’s a retread of a Roadkill Bill comic from years gone by with a message that resonates down the ages.  Click on the comic to make it bigger:

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Categories: Twin Cities

Sunday Summary – June 28, 2015

Streets.MN - Sun, 06/28/2015 - 6:30am

While your Sunday Summarizer is traveling streets far from Minnesota, the miracles of technology mean I can keep you up to speed on what’s happening on streets.mn so you can get back to summer and Independence Day celebration planning more quickly and better informed.

In the news

Hennepin Avenue Bridge: On Wednesday, June 24, 2015, a driver rear-ended a pedal pub traveling south on the Hennepin Avenue Bridge sending 12 people to the hospital and streets.mn writers are all over this.  Layout: A Safer Hennepin Avenue Bridge does the design work for a safer bridge which includes sidewalks, protected bike lanes and light rail (and narrower vehicle lanes, obviously) with some added questions and suggestions about improving the pedestrian experience in the comments. Pedal Pubs, Drunk Drivers, and Road Design reviews Twitter comments to the Star Tribune story about role of the street design.  Beyond the Strib, We Read the Pedal Pub Comments, So You Don’t Have To provides a valuable public service by reading the online comments from several news outlets, noting the highlights and providing a helpful rating. The Hennepin Avenue Bridge Isn’t Just For Cars looks at some more comments and again notes that common comments miss the mark. Safe to say, streets.mn writers are looking to different design for better safety for multiple modes rather than keeping pedal pubs (and other human-powered vehicles) off the bridge.

Charleston, South Carolina hate crime: In other news, the shootings in South Carolina at Mother Emanuel AME Church by a white gunman highlighted racism closer to home. Yeah, We Should Rename Lake Calhoun obviously advocates for changing the name of one of Minneapolis’ Chain of Lakes named for John C. Calhoun, noted defender of slavery. Comments consider leaving the name, but changing the reference to another, more positive Calhoun (such as Haystacks Calhoun, though the ties to Minnesota are tenuous at best), leaving the name unchanged on the grounds most don’t know who John C. Calhoun was anyway and/or no one cares, adding some historical context (Calhoun ordered the land survey which put the lake on the map) and support for a change.

Hennepin Avenue Bridge

Other good stuff

Not everything this week comments on current events, but is great to read.  In keeping with the Hennepin Bridge safety and design theme, A Blink of an Eye on Hennepin Avenue East describes a near miss where the bike boulevard crosses Hennepin Avenue East at 5th Avenue SE and draws larger conclusions about how poor connections like this one undermine the safety and usefulness of the whole network. The many comments analyze this crossing further, suggest design changes and compare this intersection to other places around the Twin Cities.

What Is the Capacity of I-94? follows up on the recent What is the Capacity of the Green Line? by looking at the highway which parallels the Green Line. Comments question statements that transit and highway users are completely different markets, as well as challenging some of the numbers.

Connecting Saint Paul’s Waterfront via Union Depot picks up on a thread from MinnPost to suggest a deeper connection between Saint Paul and its waterfront (and River Balcony) by extending the Union Depot concourse over train tracks and roadways to reach the riverfront. In a different Saint Paul neighborhood, A Neighborhood Pizza Joint Needs a Neighborhood critiques Davanni’s Pizza’s 40th anniversary plans to try to update its stores to help young millennials think of Davanni’s as their neighborhood place rather than another franchise business. Davanni’s original location on Cleveland and Grand, however, will stay just the same and Nate Hood unpacks how being in a walkable urban location and not at the edge of a mall parking lot makes a difference and calls on Davanni’s to support bike lanes, too, since that’s one key way to tie neighbors to their business by helping them get there by bike.

The original Davanni’s pizza location

Audiovisual department

Charts of the Day and Map of Monday: After a lull last week, Charts of the Day have returned this week with Land Use Requirements for Solar EnergyInternational Road Fatality Rates vs MNMetro Transit Ridership vs. Seats and US Fertility Rate. Plus, Map Monday: Chicago with Minneapolis’ New Parking Requirements.

Comics continue: As we wait for Bicyclopolis, Book 2, we get more RoadKill Bill with Roadkill Bill – Tailpipe Emissions and Roadkill Bill — There Goes the Neighborhood.

Videos: 1948: Educating Road Users in Amsterdam follows the Amsterdam Police and their “Announcement Jeep” directing pedestrians, cyclists and tram riders about the right way to do things via loudspeaker; this is a different picture of Amsterdam than the celebration of walking and bicycle infrastructure we usually see. I-35 Bridge Lighting in 2011 Foreshadowed SCOTUS Decision is a time-lapse video of the rainbow lighting of the bridge for Pride Weekend 4 years ago, perhaps repeated in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision making same sex marriage legal nationwide. Friday Video – Crosswalk Audit takes a GoPro-enabled walk to test how well drivers obey Minn.Stat. 169.21 “Where traffic-control signals are not in place or in operation, the driver of a vehicle shall stop to yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a marked crosswalk or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk.”

Visual encyclopedia: I’m trying to figure out what to call Monte Castleman’s posts about traffic signals and related subjects and “visual encyclopedia” seems pretty close – many pictures plus explanatory text to tell you All About Traffic Signal Controllers, Part Two which continues the series begun last week with a detailed look at the vintage Eagle EPAC 300 16 phase NEMA (National Electrical Manufacturers Association) TS-1 controller.

Traffic Fatality Rates compared to MN

June is screeching to a close and Independence Day (and the start of the Tour de France on the streets of Utrecht) will be here before the next Sunday Summary. Enjoy the holiday, right your bike (at whatever pace you prefer on whatever kind of bike you like to ride) and have a great week!

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Categories: Twin Cities

I-35 Bridge Lighting in 2011 Foreshadowed SCOTUS Decision

Streets.MN - Sat, 06/27/2015 - 10:33am

Way back in 2011 the Minnesota Department of Transportation programed the LED lights shining on the newly erected I-35W bridge spanning the Mississippi River in Minneapolis to shine in a rainbow pattern in honor of Pride Weekend. I made a short timelapse film of the scene which is embedded above. This week in 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that state laws banning LGBT marriages are unconstitutional. Maybe MnDOT will light the bridge in rainbow colors again?

In celebration of Twin Cities Pride weekend the Minnesota Department of Transportation programed the LED lights on the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi river to bathe the bridge in a beautiful rainbow color. This is a time-lapse film showing the transformation of the Mill Ruins Park, the Stone Arch bridge and the I-35W bridge as dusk fell into night in downtown Minneapolis on June 24, 2011.

All footage comes from one Canon Rebel T2i with a Tokina 11-16mm lense set at the 16mm end. I shot in Apperature priority mode with the lens all the way open at f2.8.

Music: Sample :: Grey Sky Piece (rutgermuller.nl).WAV from rutgermuller on Freesound.org

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Categories: Twin Cities

Friday Video – Crosswalk Audit

Streets.MN - Sat, 06/27/2015 - 8:27am

Yesterday I strapped a GoPro to my forehead and put Minnesota statute 169.21 subd. 2 to the test.

Here’s the video:

 

First of all, this went a lot better than I expected. I really thought I would get honked at and yelled at a lot more than I did. Crossing Lake street at least 15 times (the first few crossings are at 26th st. and Columbus Ave.), I got honked at exactly zero. Basically I felt like an obstacle that drivers saw and understood they needed to avoid. They would slow down or swerve if we were on a collision course, but they weren’t about to waste any time “remain[ing] stopped until the pedestrian has passed the lane in which the vehicle is stopped” per the statute.

In other words, even though drivers didn’t follow the letter of the law, and some did cut me off, most effectively yielded the right-of-way. Crossing Lake on foot felt like being in some “third-world” country, where traffic is more organic, and the avoidance of collisions relies more on the skill and attentiveness of road users than signals and laws –  quite plausibly safer and more efficient than whatever AASHTO has to offer.

With that said, there’s certainly a whole lot of room for improvement. It takes someone able-bodied enough to jump out of the way of a speeding car at the last second to really take on crossing Lake street in this manner. I think the way to achieve that improvement lies in both street design and modification of driver behavior. It felt like the drivers I encountered were simply trying to get where they were going efficiently while responding to the context. No one wants to get in any kind of collision and deal with all that paperwork, but most will drive as fast as they think they can given that constraint. Part of the problem is that Lake street is too wide and has too many lanes. But part of the problem also is pedestrians waiting at corners contributing to the perception of a false hierarchy of right-of-way.  I don’t begrudge anyone their safety, but if you happen to be young and agile and you really believe in this shit, start walking into traffic. It’s actually pretty fun.

Also, free idea: engineers should be required to cross every intersection of streets they design blindfolded.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Connecting Saint Paul’s Riverfront via Union Depot

Streets.MN - Fri, 06/26/2015 - 11:30am

Over at MinnPost, Peter Callaghan writes of the proposed River Balcony in Downtown St. Paul. This is a planning effort to connect Downtown St. Paul to its riverfront alongside large-scale redevelopment from the old West Publishing and County Jail sites to the west to the old Downtown Post Office being redeveloped as the Custom House to the east.

This planning effort should also push to build an extension of the Union Depot concourse to the riverfront to serve future river transportation and build a public connection between the riverfront and Lowertown.

River Balcony concept. City of St. Paul via MinnPost

While the idea of a front porch for Downtown St. Paul overlooking the river should be attainable, the connection to the riverfront itself is daunting – especially because of Shepard Road and the freight railroads that occupy the riverfront below the bluff. Other than a sidewalk sandwiched between Shepard Road and the river’s northern levee, there’s not a compelling reason for people to be along the waterfront between Ontario Street and Sibley Street, just down the bluff from the heart of downtown.

Yet there’s still appeal to connecting people to the water itself. Herbert Tousley IV, chief development manager for Exeter Group, is quoted by Callaghan saying, “There is a disconnect between downtown and the river. From the standpoint of people living and working downtown, it’s a huge amenity to make that connection.”

More action on the riverfront

Custom House (left), Union Depot Concourse (background), Mississippi Queen at Lambert’s Landing (foreground). Flickr / CC / Mike Hicks

There’s even more of a reason to connect Downtown to the Riverfront if St. Paul can regain its historical role as the northern gateway for passenger travel along the Mississippi. In 2017, European cruise giant Viking River Cruises will launch a Mississippi River cruise product with the northern terminus somewhere in the St. Paul area. While officials from Stillwater and Red Wing pitch their cities’ riverfronts to Viking, St. Paul would be the natural home for a terminus with its abundant amenities and multimodal connections to the region.

With all of these changes on the horizon for St. Paul’s downtown riverfront, it’s time we take a look at another opportunity to connect people to the water: Union Depot.

The renovated Concourse. The Mississippi is just beyond those windows at the back. Flickr / CC / Mike Hicks

Extending the role of Union Depot’s concourse

Union Depot’s concourse was originally built to bring passengers across 18 passenger tracks and 9 platforms so they could get to and from waiting trains. The cavernous concourse is over 400 feet long, and extends as far today as it did when it opened in 1923. The concourse serves Amtrak, local and long distance bus service, and will someday serve additional passenger rail services.

Except for these transportation connections, the concourse is a long dead-end walk, but with great views of the riverfront as a reward at the end.

Riverfront: So close, yet so far away. Pre-renovation photo. Flickr / CC / Ramsey County

It’s less than 300 feet from the end of the existing concourse to the shore of the Mississippi River. This is a relatively trivial distance given the overall vastness of the Union Depot complex, but it’s a vital missing link. St. Paul should build an extension of the concourse across the railroad mainlines and Shepard Road to truly connect the riverfront to Lowertown and eastern Downtown St. Paul.

A new connection could serve Viking River Cruises and other river transportation providers. Passengers would have a clear and inviting welcome to Downtown, local hotels and restaurants, and frequent transit service to Downtown Minneapolis or MSP Airport. It would leverage the existing passenger amenities and infrastructure in the newly-renovated St. Paul Union Depot, potentially including waiting areas for cruise passengers as well as ticketing, luggage service, and general office space for cruise companies.

A new connection would also provide a crucial link from Downtown to the riverfront, Lower Landing Park, and the trail network that extends along the river. The link would overcome the railroad and Shepard Road as barriers between Lowertown and the River by crossing overhead, and it would overcome the barrier of the intense grade change between Kellogg Blvd and the river by providing vertical circulation.

Most importantly, it would allow us to leverage our recent $243 million investment in St. Paul Union Depot even further. It would create more of a reason for more people to pass through this beautiful facility, creating more demand for shops, restaurants, and services within the facility and in greater Lowertown.

Here’s how it could work:

Proposed riverfront connection, by author.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Chart of the Day: Land Use Requirements for Solar Energy

Streets.MN - Fri, 06/26/2015 - 11:09am

This chart shows the land area required to provide 100 percent of US electricity requirements in 2050, compared with other land uses in our great nation. Read this for a longer discussion of the land use impacts of low-carbon energy sources like wind, solar and nuclear. Some local land use conflicts have arisen in Minnesota recently as new, large solar farms start to be built in the state.

Also see here for some other discussion of golf courses as a land use on streets.mn.

 

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Categories: Twin Cities

Low-carbon energy, land use and community planning

Net Density - Fri, 06/26/2015 - 10:33am

At Energy Collective, Jesse Jenkins looks at the land use impacts of three low-carbon energy sources: solar, wind and nuclear. On solar:

According to the MIT authors, powering 100 percent of estimated U.S. electricity demand in 2050 with solar energy would require roughly 33,000 square kilometers (sq-km) of land. That’s if we spread solar panels evenly across the entire country. If we concentrate solar production in the sunniest regions, the total land footprint falls to 12,000 sq-km.

Those sound like big numbers. On the one hand they are. Massachusetts (where I reside) spans about 27,000 sq-km, for comparison.

On the other hand, the United States apparently devotes about 10,000 sq-km of land just to golf courses. And as the infographic illustrates, it’s agriculture and forestry that truly drives humanity’s footprint on the natural landscape.

In reality, no one is calling for 100 percent solar energy. Even the most bullish renewable energy advocates typically envision solar providing less than half and usually no more than a quarter of U.S. electricity. (See: “Is There An Upper Limit to Variable Renewables”)

If solar provided one-third of Americans’ electricity, it would require just 4,000-11,000 sq-km.

In other words: with an area no larger than the amount of land currently devoted to golf courses, we could power a third of the country with solar energy.

The above is only assuming greenfield development. And wind:

Powering one-third of the country with wind farms would thus truly impact only on the order of 1,800 sq-km, of which only roughly 600 sq-km would be permanently removed from production.

That’s an almost trivially small amount of land, equal to only 6 percent of the land area wasted, er, devoted to golf in this country.

If well sited and co-located on already disturbed and productive agricultural lands, wind farms could thus fuel a sizeable fraction of America’s energy demand without expanding the human footprint on the land in any meaningful way, except aesthetically.

So, on a national scale, the potential land use impacts of really high proportions of renewable energy doesn’t look like a barrier. But most energy projects will have neighbors, and they may not like the look of solar panels, or the loss of borrowed views.

Additionally, putting solar near the busiest parts of the electrical grid, where it can have the most benefit, may conflict with local communities’ plans for future development. A solar farm will probably pay far less in property taxes than residential, commercial or industrial development.

Both of these local conflicts may mean that a significant portion of future solar needs to be co-located with buildings (on the roof), parking lots and other developed areas to minimize land use conflicts and/or reduce transmission costs.

Categories: Twin Cities

A Neighborhood Pizza Joint Needs a Neighborhood

Streets.MN - Fri, 06/26/2015 - 7:30am

The Twin Cities pizza chain Davanni’s is celebrating its 40th birthday with a facelift. It wants to be young again and recapture its original glory as the neighborhood pizza joint.

In a recent article, the Star Tribune reported that many young millennials do not associate Davanni’s with their local neighborhood businesses, but rather think of it as a chain. And I know why.

The answer is the suburbs and their geography of nowhere.

I live close to the original Davanni’s on Grand and Cleveland in St. Paul. It has a neighborhood feel, which has not changed in my experience. The St. Paul location is a modest two-story brick structure that’s clean enough to not arouse suspicion, but dirty enough to be authentic. One can write off the grease stains as nothing more than charm.

This Davanni’s even goes the extra mile by writing clever messages on its sign (which commonly says things like, “Four out of Four Ninja Turtles Recommend Us”). If you’re looking for a neighborhood pizza joint, this is exactly the personality you want.

I’ve seen the Davanni’s outposts alongside the five-lane arterial collector roads in places like Eden PrairieCoon RapidsRogersArden Hills and Eagan, but I’ve always dismissed them. These buildings are not reminiscent of the original location, which is what a Davanni’s should be. Instead, they more closely resemble a small strip mall refurbished sometime in the mid 1990s, surrounded by asphalt, turning lanes, and fast moving traffic.

Location. Location. Location.

In an interview last week, Davanni’s CEO said, “Every store will get something. Some more than ­others. Our location on Cleveland and Grand is our golden goose. We’re not going to modernize that one.”

The goose that lays the golden eggs is their oldest storefront. This is a success that Davanni’s can replicate, but it cannot be beside the highway next to the Applebee’s. How can you be a neighborhood establishment without a neighborhood?

Davanni’s wants to cash in on millennials who confuse them with national chains. Craft beer is a good start, but it will be hard to overcome the frontage roads. When Davanni’s was locally expanding their footprint, an Arden Hills location would have made sense. They were following the trends. But now these suburban landscapes feel depressing and are places millenials want to escape, not hang out in.

The company will need to go where millennials want to live. And to be fair, they have done this. They have restaurants in downtown Minneapolis, Riverside and Uptown. My guess is that these locations don’t need much in way of modern renovations to stay busy.

They may want the clientele to change, but deep issues in the company culture do not seem to budge. Change can be a bitter pill to swallow. I’m referring to the company’s baffling political opposition towards a modest proposal to put bike lanes on Cleveland Avenue in St. Paul. Davanni’s positioned itself as the leading business opponent to the bike lanes, due to the loss of four parking spaces (despite the business’ ample off-street parking). These bike lanes were overwhelmingly supported by millennials — the precise demographic Davanni’s is trying to attract as customers.

If you want to attract millenials, I recommend giving them a safe option to visit your store by bicycle. Driving and car ownership are declining, and millennials as well as older adults are embracing alternate transportation. I have a work colleague who specifically chose a vacation destination based on access to bike share. Cycling rates will continue to climb and accommodating cyclists could be a business windfall.

Davanni’s situation isn’t dire. They make good pizza and hoagies (and apparently is a fun place to work). They might be a tad more expensive, but you get what you pay for. Yet, if Davanni’s wants to establish a neighborhood feel, then I recommend opening stores in neighborhoods. Only then will they replicate the company’s original soul.

The addition of craft beer is a good start, but Davanni’s won’t be able to drink themselves out of the suburbs.

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Categories: Twin Cities

A Safer Hennepin Avenue Bridge Layout

Streets.MN - Thu, 06/25/2015 - 1:50pm

We are (or should be) saddened to hear of today’s news of a motorist, suspected of being intoxicated, ramming their vehicle into the back of a Pedal Pub — without regard to our opinions of Pedal Pubs themselves. (See other posts)

Bicyclists, slow-moving vehicles, and other street users are allowed on the Hennepin Avenue Bridge, and should feel safe there. Chris Iverson notes over on his post:

“To be honest, I think the sidewalk space is sufficient for pedestrians, and is nicely separated from the roadway by a large, standard-sized bridge curb. This may be a good urban roadway design element in 1990, but not in 2015. The bridge needs an overhaul in order to carry all modes more safely. I would recommend, at the least, reducing lane widths to discourage speeding, adding buffers to the bike lanes, or reconstructing the surface to allow for a curb-separated bike lane in each direction.”

What could this look like? It appears that each half of the Hennepin Ave bridge is 56′ wide, including a 12′ sidewalk “above the curb.” Consider this hypothetical layout, which includes dedicated right-of-way for the proposed Nicollet-Central Streetcar, and/or a dreamed-of north-south LRT spine. It includes narrowed 10′ 6″ traffic lanes to reduce speed, and a 2′ buffer on one side before a curb. Above the moved-in curb, we could have a 3′ buffer (maybe with concrete planters with low-maintenance native plants) to keep bicycles and pedestrians even more safe and comfortable. Then we could have a 7′ paved buffered bicycle lane and a 10′ concrete sidewalk on the same level to round out this hypothetical layout.

Proposed Hennepin Ave Bridge Layout. Streetmix by author. Click for larger.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Chart of the Day: International Road Fatality Rates vs MN

Streets.MN - Thu, 06/25/2015 - 12:43pm

We talk about safety quite a bit on streets.mn. Rightfully so, it’s one of the biggest threats to public health, a leading cause of injury deaths in many age groups.  It’s sometimes helpful to take a step back and look at the big picture, even if we see charts like this all the time.

Below is a comparison of countries and road fatality rates relative to those in Minnesota. Why not compare the whole country to others? Well, for one, we’re a site focused on Minnesota. Also, our state is one of the most statistically safe places to drive (despite our icy and snowy winters).

I’ve written before about how we can measure safety in different ways (so has Bill). In this case, we’re looking at how each country stacks up in fatality rates per capita (the big picture), per mile driven, and the ratio of the former to the latter. Data is taken from this report. At a high level, here’s what each ratio tells us:

Per Mile Driven (Red Bars) Ratio:

A combination of how these factors make driving (or being around cars) safer:

  • Road and street designs (signals, lane widths, rumble strips, roundabouts, medians, separated cycle tracks, and any other widely-used design that reduces risk or severity of crash for a given roadway)
  • Driver skills and habits (are European drivers more skilled on the road? We’re notably absent from the 2015 Formula One driver list)
  • Laws of the road (including drunk driving thresholds), enforcement levels, and penalties
  • Vehicle design & safety measures (mandated design safety, seatbelt use, etc)

Per Mile Driven (Blue Bars) Ratio:

How safe or unsafe we are as a society when thinking about transportation:

  • All factors listed above, plus…
  • Cost to own and operate a vehicle (gas taxes, sales taxes, tolls, carbon taxes, etc)
  • Land use patterns & urban design
  • Quality of non-auto modes (speed, experience, perceived safety)
  • Resulting average auto trip lengths
  • Resulting modal split (pedestrians, cyclists, and inter-city trains kill very few people by moving about)

 

We can see that Minnesota fares pretty well when looking at fatality rate per mile traveled. In fact, on average our rate is lower than these countries. Maybe our roads are fairly well-designed and maintained. Maybe we’re just great drivers on average owing to a fairly educated and prosperous population. Maybe our heavy snow four months a year keeps speeds at a safer level than other states and countries. Probably some combination of everything above.

But thanks to better pedestrian, bike, and transit networks and systems plus more compact land uses that allow those trips to be made, fewer people per capita die in these countries than in Minnesota. The green bars tell us to what extent those factors (there are others) contribute to better safety records above and beyond road design, driver skills, and laws of the road.

This is too high-level to make specific policy and infrastructure investment recommendations. We may do things differently than these (mostly European) places and still improve safety. But we should recognize the choices we’ve made have contributed to a death rate that’s nearly twice as high as this groups average. That would mean about 200 people fewer killed on Minnesota roads in 2012, thousands more if you look back over the previous 50 years. Let’s do something about it.

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Categories: Twin Cities

All About Traffic Signal Controllers, Part Two

Streets.MN - Thu, 06/25/2015 - 11:00am

This is Part Two in a series about Traffic Signal Controllers. Part One showed various types of controllers and cabinets, here we continue with a closer look at a 1980s-2000s vintage controller: the Eagle EPAC 300, a 16 phase NEMA (National Electrical Manufacturers Association) TS-1 controller.

Eagle EPAC Controller

There’s not much to it on the outside: a membrane keypad and LCD screen for the interface and the “ABC” cables at the bottom for the inputs and outputs. The “A” cable feeds AC power to the controller, DC 24 volts from the controller to run the load switches, and all the inputs and outputs for a simple 2 phase intersection. The “B” cable adds phases three and four, and the “C” cable add phase five through eight. Each wire has a single fuction; there is no serial communication with the cabinet.

To the lower right of the controller are serial connectors for communications equipment, generally to a master controller or a traffic control center.  Most newer controllers it’s possible to hook up to a computer with serial connections, and even newer ones may have integrated USB and Ethernet ports, but this is generally only done for initial programming. EPAC stands for Eight Phase Actuated Controller, despite some early units available with only two or four phases, and newer units having 16.

NEMA, conceived in simpler times, only had physical inputs and outputs (I/O) for eight phases. To use more than these, it’s necessary to electronically remap some of the I/O used for other marginal to useless features. NEMA has many features that either were never or are no longer useful; the I/O can be remapped and reused for other things on newer controllers, for instance there is a provision to have a “yellow” light for pedestrian clearance phases. Since instead the “Don’t Walk” is flashed, and these are in the cabinet wired to a the spare center section of the pedestrian load switches, these are normally used to drive things like pre-emption lights and blankout signs. Some controllers also had a proprietary “D” connector for such things.

NEMA controllers can operate by themselves as free-running controllers, or as a master controller that coordinates many of them. The EPAC 300 series is more or less still in production as the M50 and M60, though the Eagle name has been removed and is still owned by Siemens after the Eagle signal head business was sold off to Brown Traffic.

 

 

Some of the Screens

Although there are many screens, these can be broken down into (1) “Status” screens, that show what the controller is doing or logs of what it’s done, and (2) “Programming” screens where you enter what you want it to do. I’m omitting anything having to do with: Density and Time of Day Programming (where cycles change based on traffic volume and time), Coordination, Logging, Communication, Start up Sequence, Preemption, and Flash Mode. These are probably of marginal interest to non-engineers, some of these I don’t understand myself, and skipping them eliminates probably 95% of the complexity. Also omitted is anything having to do with actuation. Although some collectors will add video detection and pedestrian push-buttons to their setup (and there’s an amazing variety of buttons to collect), I have chosen not to. I have four phases with two associated pedestrian phases that run in sequence without waiting for calls.

Here is the main screen:

Let’s see what it’s doing first: go to 1-ACTIVE STATUS and then 7-INTERSECTION. The second line shows the phases and then “V-SIG” says they’re all red except phase 4 is green, below that P-SIG pedestrian outputs are “D” for “Don’t Walk” except Phase 4, which “d” means it’s flashing the “Don’t Walk” for the clearance interval. All the phases with physical outputs (1-8) default to red and “Don’t Walk” all the time unless programmed otherwise. In this case 4-8 are not programmed. If there were any Calls,  these would be indicated under V-CALL and/or  P-CALL. The Overlaps, with letters instead of numbers are additional outputs for driving such things as a protected/permissive display where you have a green ball and green arrow in the same direction. Not all of the vehicle overlaps have designated physical outputs. There are also pedestrian overlaps on a different screen (where you might give a “Walk” signal on one side only if there’s a green arrow the same direction; none of these have physical outputs).

 

Now suppose we want to play with things and see where values can be entered and changed. Go back to the main screen, select 3-PHASE DATA, then 1-VEHICLE TIMES. The MIN GRN  is the green  time in seconds for each vehicle phase. Phases 5-8 (and 9-16 on the second screen if you page down) have default values except for the zeros for MIN GRN, which disable them. PASS/10, MAX # 1, and MAX # 2 would extend the green if needed vehicle detection was used, since they’re not here they have no effect and  the controllers default values are left in place here. YEL/10 and RED/10 are the yellow and red times in tenths of seconds.

 

Going back a screen and then to 3-PEDEST. TIMES. Phases 2 and 4 have pedestrian signals hooked up, with WALK time at 30 seconds and PED CLR. at 20 (5-8 will not activate since there are no associated vehicle phases and the numbers you see are default values). The FL WK will flash the walk light, now a MUTCD no-no, but previously used in DC to indicate a crosswalk where there vehicles might attempt to turn across. EXT PCL will continue flashing the “Don’t Walk” through the red and yellow vehicle phases. ACT RIW will hold the phase at “Walk” until a conflicting call come in.

 

Going back a screen and selecting 5- V&P RECALLS, we see Recall is selected for all four vehicle phases and both associated pedestrian phases (indicated by a “2”) So it will go through the cycle and service all phases without any demand from pedestrian push-buttons or pedestrian sensors. Entering a “1” will generate a call to test the controller in case physical test buttons aren’t provided in the cabinet. DELAY allows you to set a time before Recall is activated.

Why Can’t Signals Do What We Want?

Quite often the question gets asked  “why can’t a traffic signal do this, or why doesn’t it do that”.  Now with a bit of understanding of controllers and  cabinets,  lets go over a couple of  broad reasons why things are or are not done a certain way.

1) It’s required or banned. The Minnesota Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) based on the federal one with some very minor changes, has options , strong suggestions, and absolute requirements. Engineers are not likely to deviate from suggestions, and may not deviate from requirements. Banning creativity might preclude the best response to a specific situation, but on the flip side road users can expect uniformity nationwide. When traveling, they’re not going to encounter a flashing purple arrow in Peoria or  a pink strobe-light in Paducah and then have to try to figure out what those mean. If a city really wants to try something new out, say a red arrow on top of a standard three light signal to emphasize no turns on red (not currently a legal configuration), they can apply for permission to experiment, do a study, and then either remove it if a study shows no benefit, or it may be adopted into the MUTCD if it does.

2) It’s often a zero or negative sum game with intersection capacity a fixed resource,  since  pedestrians and motorists compete for the same resource, and the needs are completely opposite. Right on red or longer overall cycle times: pro-motorist, anti-pedestrian. Exclusive walk phase or leading pedestrian intervals: anti-motorist, pro pedestrian. Other people may not see it this way, and are surprised when I describe “pedestrian improvements” as “anti-motorist”, but ultimately that’s the effect even though there may have been intent to harm vehicle operations (although sometimes there is). Additionally since pedestrians move a lot slower, sometimes a very modest benefit for pedestrians can produce an extremely severe impact for motorists, like ped recall across a wide suburban-style road. More details on some of these scenarios will be in the next part.

3) A lot of equipment on the field is very old. Even computerized controllers tend to use  1980s vintage microprocessors like the Motorola 86040, and the need for standardization  dampens innovation. This is more true in the cities were demand for pedestrian amenities is greater. Until very recently Minneapolis even had electro-mechanical controllers.  Old controllers may not have the capabilities that people want. But it still works and cities are not made of money. In some cases even what seems like a minor change could require a complete cabinet replacement, or even a bigger cabinet requiring a bigger concrete pad and redoing a lot of the wiring, and the cities are not likely to do that just because someone wants a leading pedestrian interval or something.

Old E/M controller

Although we’ve come a long ways from a free-running E/M controller in every light, even the newest controllers are nowhere near as powerful as a PC. (You may have noticed the line “16 MHz CPU” and a 2000 firmware date on the main screen of mine.) Even if they were, in most situations the input and output are still limited, with the only input available being  vehicle sensors and pedestrian buttons and only output being lights. They can’t look at a a bunch of cameras focused on the intersection and down the block and make decisions based on it, or sound a fog horn if they see a motorist inching into the crosswalk.  Things are getting better with multiple vehicle sensors that can thus measure vehicle speed (one controller even has a “feature” that will turn the light red if an approaching motorist is speeding) and the new Linux based controllers that are more flexible in certain ways.

Sometime upgrading the firmware on existing equipment is possible, but besides the expense and need to go out and swap out chips or update the flash memory, engineers like to have known, stable, and consistent firmware. At least once Mn/DOT has had to back out and revert to an earlier firmware version because of bugs. Mine is running 2000 firmware and would require an upgrade to do leading pedestrian intervals.

There is also the “SMART” Signal system, which tries to harvest and aggregate data gathered by standard controllers together using industrial PCs and use it to dynamically optimize timing in a way that’s not possible with traditional manual coordination. The controller is an Econolite ASC series, the Mn/DOT standard and most widely used in Minnesota.

4) Old-Fashioned engineers. To end with the elephant in the room, sometimes it really is engineers that are just set in their ways and not taking the needs of pedestrians seriously or being open to modern ways of doing things. And it’s not just signals; they admitted the trails associated with the St. Croix Crossing are only worked on “as we have time”.  And closed down the sidewalk on the Hastings Bridge for the entire duration of the project even when there was no work being done anywhere close to it. However the point I’m trying to make is there usually more too it than some “dumb engineer sitting in a chair in Medina” not wanting to put down his donut in order to click an icon on the computer in front of him.

Overall, the idea isn’t to pass value judgments or state my opinions on what is or is not a worthwhile change, even though perhaps the fact that 95% of the time I’m  a motorist shows through. Rather, what I’m trying to do is lay out the reason things are the way they are.  Part Three will go into specific scenarios about why things are (or aren’t) done so I would suggest holding off specific questions on “why can’t/don’t signals do this” until then.

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Categories: Twin Cities

We Read the Pedal Pub Comments, So You Don’t Have To

Streets.MN - Thu, 06/25/2015 - 11:00am

Emergency kitten, reading comments.

Last night, a pedal pub loaded with passengers was hit by a vehicle driven by a person on the Hennepin Bridge. There is a lot that can be said of the bridge itself and of pedal pubs. Not surprisingly, commenters on many sites are saying a number of things.

We decided to read the comments and rate the comments of each on a scale of 1-5 stars, where 1 means “reading these made us feel dumber,” and 5 means “we have hope for our civilization and maybe someday Cleveland Avenue in St. Paul will have bike lanes.”

KARE11: Car Hits Pedal Pub in Minneapolis; 12 Injured

Five comments. Tidbits:

  • “Its no different than what the Amish experience driving horse drawn buggies.” Is this commenter suggesting that  all slow-moving vehicles should be banned from roads? Should their users live in terror? Is it okay to drunkenly mow down Amish buggies? We don’t know, either.
  • “Even if the Pedal Pub was not at fault they do not belong on that road. 2 mph speeds and a wide profile are an accident waiting to happen.” This commenter believes that going around a slow-moving vehicle on a 4-lane bridge is too difficult for the average motor vehicle operator, apparently. I wonder if he also opposes cyclists, who have a narrow profile and can hit 15-25mph on that bridge?
  • “like the bicycle taxi, the pedel pub should be taken off city streets.” Sigh.

Of note, one person refuted the blame shifting, and one person suggested it would have been great if the pedal pub were full of off-duty cops or vigilante justice fans.

SCORE: 1.5. We feel dumber, but we’re pretty sure this isn’t even close to as bad as it gets.

WCCO: 3 Seriously Injured In Pedal Pub Crash Near Downtown Mpls.

Nine comments. Tidbits:

  • “How dare those people on a Pedal Pub get in the way of a drunk driver. We better ban all Pedal Pubs!” Early morning snark against the machine.
  • “Pedal pubs do not belong on public streets — especially at night. Let them ride on the Nicollet Mall. The drunks do not care or know where they are.” Well, debatably pedal pubs could use better lighting at night, but this user clearly does not understand the point of the pedal pub is to go to pubs, while pedaling, on a pub.We do appreciate this reply: “You know what else doesn’t belong on public streets? Drunk drivers.”

Score: 2.5. This gets extra credit for the sassy snark-meister who points out that drunk drivers are a threat to public streets.

KSTP: 12 Hurt When Car Rear-Ends Pedal Pub in Minneapolis

Seven comments. Maybe we’ll be lucky? Nah, it’s KSTP. Tidbits:

  • “Put a bunch of drunks on a slow moving vehicle in heavy traffic. What could go wrong? Break the state laws against drinking in public, drinking on a moving vehicle, AND serving alcohol not at a fixed location (licensing law). How do they get away with these?” So many issues in this comment, where to start? One, we doubt there was “heavy traffic” on the Hennepin Bridge at 9:55PM. Second, while the users of the pedal pub may have been drinking, there is a Responsible Designated Driver person at the helm, making it little different from piling your drunk pals in the back of a Plymouth Horizon after spending the night drinking Sprites while they did Fireballs.(Side note: You can fit roughly 8 drunks in a Plymouth Horizon.)
  • “Communists are filthy diabolical evil people.” I… I don’t even know where this comes from.

Score: 1. There was no redeeming snark, and we’re pretty sure communists don’t pedal pub.

Reddit: Various

This is being posted on most of the Minneapolis-area groups. Tidbits:

  • “Pedal pubs bother me too but they shouldn’t be blamed for poor, inattentive drivers. With how much popularity biking has become and what a great healthy lifestyle it is, it is high time drivers take more responsibility for the ridiculous harm they can cause.” This is a sensible comment.
  • “That being said, these Pedal Pubs are not safe vehicles if ANY accident like this can lead to this much fallout. This won’t be the last drunk driver in Minneapolis and unless they come up with some better safety features for the pubs other than “everyone else look the F out!” this will happen again.” How ridiculous would this comment be if instead of “pubs” and “pedal pubs” someone just said bicycles or pedestrians? Yeah, pretty deeply ridiculous.
  • “Bottom-line, people are TERRIBLE drivers of their cars so expect tons of people to be injured if they keep using these abominations.” Remember, the problem isn’t that people are terrible drivers, it’s that everyone else is getting in their way.
  • “Remember roads were originally paved to accommodate bikes. Nowadays people freak out if they can’t exceed the speed limit in their gas guzzling cars for ten goddamn seconds.” I bet this person would support a bike lane on Cleveland Avenue.
  • “The things are just not safe man. Totally different than actual bicycles.” Reply: “Totally agree. Cars driven by drunks are just not safe. Totally different than actual bicycles.” The reply snark made me happy.

Score: 3. While we see some victim-blaming and statements about streets being for cars and everyone needs to live in fear of them, there is also snark and sense. (On Reddit. I know, right? Maybe it’s millennial snake people bias amongst commenters?)

MPR: Mpls. police: 12 injured when car hits pedal pub

Zero comments! Because MPR doesn’t allow commenting on news stories? We think so.

Score: 5. Would read again.

PiPress: 12 injured as car rear-ends PedalPub in Minneapolis

Fifteen comments. We got our favorite blankie and stuffed panda bear to read these with us. Tidbits:

  • “Gee, a human powered party barge going at a fraction of the speed of a gas powered vehicle on the same roadway….what could possibly go wrong?” Those darn cars. Got minds of their own. We can’t stop cars from mowing down things in their paths!
  • “Pedal powered bikes don’t belong on streets.” Ah, Pioneer Press commenters. We knew a blanket statement was imminent. Thanks for not disappointing us, or our fuzzy friends.
  • “Drinking and pedaling is not without some risk.” This may include the driver of the motor vehicle, who is being investigated for DWI. He had his foot on a gas pedal, and thus was pedaling. Right? Right? Oh, wait, it’s the Pioneer Press comments section. Sigh.
  • “If these things run in north Minneapolis it’s a matter of time before we see a pedal pub drive-by shooting.” Racism and broad generalizations! They’re what’s for breakfast. Sigh.
  • “There are lots of inattentive drivers these days, and it’s been noted that many of them are not enamored with pedal pubs.” So, you’re saying they’re inattentively gunning for pedal pubs? That’s assault and attempted murder. That’s not a reason to ban pedal pubs.

Score: 0 . The Pioneer Press lived down to our expectations.

Twitter Here are a few Tweets that crossed our stream at @streetsmn. We won’t star these, because we’re still holding our bear after reading the PiPress. But you can join us at Twitter and tweet along.

Anti-pedal pub people tactless when they blame the victims hit and injured by drunk driver. Maybe they should focus on that huge problem

— Ethan Fawley (@EthanFawley) June 25, 2015

You don’t say “5 injured when gun fires at people”, so why do you say “5 injured when car rear-ends PedalPub”? @PioneerPress — @pyry (@pyry) June 25, 2015

We love it when streets.mn readers comment. We’ll always read yours, and won’t snark them up, because we think you’re nifty.

So, do comment below!

UPDATE:

Drunk driver who crashed car into pedalpub last night has an interesting court record. Property dmg may involve MTC. pic.twitter.com/28Xxe2vbqR

— @pyry (@pyry) June 25, 2015

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Categories: Twin Cities

The Hennepin Avenue Bridge Isn’t Just For Cars

Streets.MN - Thu, 06/25/2015 - 9:45am

In an unavoidable tragedy last night, an autonomous motor vehicle “accidentally” smashed itself into a slow-moving traffic obstruction, causing damage both to itself and to the obstruction.

Or, more accurately, the driver of a car crashed his vehicle into a pedal pub full of patrons and the police suspect alcohol was involved. 12 people went to the hospital. Three suffered “significant” injuries, that were thankfully non-life threatening.

Source: MPD twitter account

Phil Mackey of 1500 ESPN bring us the conventional wisdom, via twitter:

@ajm6792 A Pedal Pub isn’t a car, nor does it move fast enough to be on the same road as a car.

— Phil Mackey (@PhilMackey) June 25, 2015

Yes. I think it’s incredibly ridiculous that bicycles and cars use the same lanes. https://t.co/K3GCob97bM

— Phil Mackey (@PhilMackey) June 25, 2015

@ajm6792 @matthewkrier If you can’t see why blending 4,000-pound cars with bicycles (and Pedal Pubs) is dangerous, you lack intelligence.

— Phil Mackey (@PhilMackey) June 25, 2015

I don’t mean to pick on Phil, because I think he’s stating a common sentiment grounded in a concern for safety. Sort of.

But as a society we have to re-think that conventional wisdom. Segregating cars from other road users makes them more dangerous, not safer. And the location of this “accident” illustrates the point.

The crash happened on the southbound span of the Hennepin Avenue Bridge. At that point, the bridge deck has three wide lanes, a small shoulder and wide sidewalk. Cars are almost entirely segregated from their non-car surroundings.

In other words, there are too many lanes, that are too wide and on which a driver feels no friction whatsoever. Drivers regularly zoom by at near highway speeds. I’ve done it. If you’ve driven here, you’ve probably done it.

Sure is a pretty bridge

City streets are used by multiple modes. The law allows it. Heck, we want to encourage it. Yet our streets designs encourage speed, enhancing already dangerous speed differentials.

One answer is to assume that cars are necessary and ban everything else. Another is to assume that everything else is necessary too and find ways to allow cars to co-exist them them.

Streets.mn is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

Categories: Twin Cities

Pedal Pubs, Drunk Drivers, and Road Design

Streets.MN - Thu, 06/25/2015 - 9:28am

It seems that the Pedal Pub fiascos can’t catch a break in 2015.

Update: 12 riders hurt in pedal pub crash; car's driver arrested, Minneapolis police said http://t.co/42dEBAXYdc pic.twitter.com/cHKXQRWxDa

— Star Tribune (@StarTribune) June 25, 2015

On Wednesday night, several unfortunate souls were caught in one of those “car accidents” on the Hennepin Avenue Bridge while moving into downtown Minneapolis. The pub, minding its own somewhat obnoxious business, was rear ended by a red automobile driven by an individual likely under the influence of alcohol. Twelve people were injured, with a couple of them initially caught underneath the tipped Pub. Overall, its not what you would expect on a random Wednesday in June.

Obviously, I am sure we all hope the Pedal Pub Twelve (The duodecuple, performing in an encore after the Pedal Pub Five, recently dropped to the Pedal Pub Four) will make a quick and healthy recovery, and will be able to reveal their epic tale to their consternated colleagues. However, this event – and the 21st Century style responses to it – gives the observing public some good things to think about.

1) Drunk driving is still, and will forever be, a very bad thing

As long as you are not directing the bikemobile, drinking on Pedal Pubs is legal! Drinking and then driving a massive, fast, automated killing machine is not, and is actually pretty dangerous. The driver of the mysterious red car must have not been paying attention while bending around that corner on the bridge, and ran into the slow moving pub. Like all accidents regarding drunk driving, we should condone it, reject it from being the norm in our society, and reflect on why we don’t have strict drunk driving laws like other parts of the world.

2) Hey everybody… this is not the Pedal Pub’s fault

One of the main things that disappointed me in the Twitter response was the amount of people that threw more than 0% of the blame onto the Pedal Pub.  Although I am not a complete HATER, I can see why Pedal Pubs would annoy people. I also know the Hennepin Avenue Bridge is configured to move vehicles quickly and efficiently and everything – you know, traffic flows. But when a drunk driver rudely grinds on your Wednesday night out, this should probably not come to mind:

@pizzanea @chris_steller Kind of my point. He/she should be punished harshly. But…too big of a road for that type of vehicle.

— Keith Leventhal (@KeithLeventhal) June 25, 2015

I get it – Pedal Pubs do operate slowly in the regular travel lane. It can be annoying for all involved except those inebriated and rotating their legs around aimlessly to careen towards another non-important drinking establishment. However, that is no excuse for anybody to blame the pedal pub, especially on a weekday night. This was not rush hour. Instead of directing blame on slower vehicles operating legally during periods of low volume, lets all cast pure judgement towards the drunk driver, and the act of drunk driving altogether.

Anti-pedal pub people tactless when they blame the victims hit and injured by drunk driver. Maybe they should focus on that huge problem

— Ethan Fawley (@EthanFawley) June 25, 2015

3) The bridge is way too big now, but would a smaller one really stop a drunk driver?

The modern Hennepin Avenue Bridge was built in 1990, was designed by people who probably looked like this, and was finished during what was probably peak vehicle-centricity in this country. The bridge has a speed limit of 30mph, but contains three wide travel lanes and is apparently a massive speed trap.

@chris_steller @Lumnivore last speeding ticket I got was there, in trap. Was guilty but design encourages. Also last place got hit on bike.

— David Brauer (@dbrauer) June 25, 2015

To be honest, I think the sidewalk space is sufficient for pedestrians, and is nicely separated from the roadway by a large, standard-sized bridge curb. This may be a good urban roadway design element in 1990, but not in 2015. The bridge needs an overhaul in order to carry all modes more safely. I would recommend, at the least, reducing lane widths to discourage speeding, adding buffers to the bike lanes, or reconstructing the surface to allow for a curb-separated bike lane in each direction.

Would a safer, less speed-enticing configuration discourage distracted driving? It certainly might help. With a buffered bike lane, perhaps the pedal pub could operate in the bike lane over the bridge, or could at least skirt the edge of the buffer. The advantages of calming the bridge to traffic – and actually calming it to encourage drivers to drive no more than 30mph – far outweigh the congestion potential.

@KeithLeventhal @pizzanea @chris_steller Road is too big yes, but answer isn't to ban Pedal Pubs. The answer is to shrink and calm the road.

— Philip Schwartz (@PhilmrPhil) June 25, 2015

4) Non-affiliated bonus material: Twitter Tidbits about 1st/Hennepin

As a result of the Pedal Pub crash, I discovered some information presented at Wednesday night’s NIEBNA neighborhood meeting. Apparently, some (Hennepin County?) traffic engineers revealed plans to convert 1st Avenue N and Hennepin Avenue into two-way streets, while maintaining the bridge’s two-way status and apparently modifying it to allow AM/PM peak lanes.

@KeithLeventhal @chris_steller busy streets but soon E. Hennepin and First Ave will be two way which should make for more ped friendly

— Pizza Nea (@pizzanea) June 25, 2015

@chrisivy @chris_steller still in the works but bridge will be two way perhaps with alternating center lane for AM/PM traffic (see Pitt PA)

— Pizza Nea (@pizzanea) June 25, 2015

This is a change long overdue, and one that matches well with the rapidly developing NIEBNA area of Minneapolis.

4b) Can we create an actual good nickname for NIEBNA?

Sorry, I had to add this in here. I personally like St Anthony Main, because people know what I’m talking about. But when I say it, I feel like I am succumbing to clever 1980’s branding techniques.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Chart of the Day: Metro Transit Ridership vs. Seats

Streets.MN - Wed, 06/24/2015 - 2:14pm

Via Star Tribune reporter Eric Roper’s twitter feed, here’s a chart showing ridership vs. seats on Metro Transit buses, sorted according to express and local routes:

Roper quipped:

Jun 22

Interesting MT graphic shows express transit services have more seats than riders during peak hrs. Local is opposite

 

You don’t have to have a planning degree to notice some of the inequities in how our bus system operates, with often cushy deluxe amenities and buses for suburban express routes, and (charitably put) “some things left to be desired” for local routes.

But  hey, at least we’re not Atlanta.

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Categories: Twin Cities

A Blink of an Eye on Hennepin Avenue East

Streets.MN - Wed, 06/24/2015 - 8:30am

On Tuesday evening around 6 o’clock, my girlfriend and I decided to take a trip from our home in Stevens Square to the first-ever Northeast Night Market at 13th and Tyler St NE. We chose to bike; the sun was shining, the air was hot (but not too hot yet), and we knew that with as many RSVPs as the Facebook event had, parking would be a nightmare. Besides, we chose to live in a city where biking was not just allowed but encouraged, so the choice seemed natural.

Now, I’m a confident biker. I’m willing, if not happy, to ride on a street without bike lanes or sharrows. I try to spend at least an hour a day biking, and most days, I manage that. But my girlfriend isn’t, so we planned a route that would hopefully be low-stress; Park Avenue through downtown (busy, but it was after rush hour), the lovely Stone Arch Bridge, and finally the new Fillmore/Polk/Pierce/Tyler (“Presidents”) bike boulevard through Marcy-Holmes and the Northeast. It was actually my first time on the boulevard (built only last year!) and I’m happy to report that for the most part, while the signage could be improved, it is a pleasant and low-stress way to travel through the area.

But there’s one place where that isn’t true.

Hennepin Avenue at 5th Ave SE

Where the bike boulevard crosses Hennepin Avenue E, at Fifth Street SE, the city elected to build only half a solution. Hennepin here is a busy four-lane road, on which cars race along at speeds far exceeding the posted limits. Because the grid here is thrown off by the railroad tracks, cyclists are given an awkward, if ostensibly workable solution; they press a button to activate flashing warning lights, wait for a safe moment to cross, then bike along the north side of Hennepin on the sidewalk until reaching Pierce Street NE, where preference for bikes is once again established. In theory, this is a solution which accommodates the needs of everyone. In practice, it almost got me killed.

Approaching the intersection at a low speed, I took note of the circumstances and came to a stop. I did everything right, as far as I could tell; I pressed the button (you can see it in the bottom right of the picture above), noted the flashing lights on the sign overhead, waited until the traffic stopped to yield for me, made eye contact with the driver, and then slowly proceeded into the intersection to cross.

Then I heard sustained honking and screeching brakes. I barely had time to look to my left; a driver had raced around the stopped cars (which is illegal, section 2b), perhaps assuming that they’d stopped to look at clouds, and noticed me just in time to slam to a halt. He stopped six inches away, if that. We made eye contact (kind of, he was wearing dark sunglasses); his face was impassive. As far as I could tell, the only thing on his mind was wondering why I had the temerity to be there.

Think about it. This man, whoever he was, was driving his SUV well above the speed limit, on a road already posted for a speed (30 miles per hour) which is plenty fast enough to kill someone. If any of a thousand things had been different — if he had been on his cell phone, if the stopped driver hadn’t laid on his horn, if I had been just a fraction less visible — there is a 60-85% chance that I would be in a morgue right now. It wouldn’t matter whether I was wearing my helmet (I was) or wearing a suit of armor (I wasn’t); at a certain point, physics takes over. I would be dead, or (at best) grievously wounded, and the driver might not even be under arrest.

And that’s doing everything right! Imagine if I had been careless for a moment, or if I didn’t understand the instructions, or if my vision were impaired. Even though I knew exactly the movements to make, even though I took every precaution, I still came a fraction of a second away from death because someone decided this intersection wasn’t worth a red light.

Minneapolis can brag about its Copenhagenize score or take visitors on trips down the Greenway, but so much of our network is held together by junctions like this, so fragile that a moment’s carelessness — to say nothing of depraved indifference — can end someone’s life in the blink of an eye. If we truly want to get serious about living in a city where everyone can get around comfortably by whatever means they choose, we need to do more than draw lines on a map. Just as a bike lane is meaningless if it’s always filled with parked cars, an intersection like this is worse than worthless if we don’t confront the choices which lead to that driver speeding through this blinking intersection far over the speed limit.

Because I may not survive another near miss.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Chart of the Day: US Fertility Rate

Streets.MN - Tue, 06/23/2015 - 12:27pm

Via Todd Graham on Twitter, this interesting chart of US fertility rates and total live births in the US:

Todd was reacting to an article in Urban Wire about the “baby recession,” or the fact that people are having fewer children and thus spending less money on things like car seats and day care. The point they were making is that small families are “the new normal,” something that has implications for things like new suburban school construction or average home sizes.

Or, as Todd says:

. Or just look at the numbers from . Smaller families is the .

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Categories: Twin Cities

What Is the Capacity of I-94?

Streets.MN - Tue, 06/23/2015 - 8:30am

I recently wrote about the Capacity of the Green Line, demonstrating a huge amount of underutilization under both reasonable and unreasonable assumptions.

I thought I should do the same for I-94 in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Of course a freeway and an LRT are different things, so the kinds of assumptions and the available data differ.

  • 1800 vehicles per hour per lane (today, 2 second headways) vs. (with automation, 1 second headways) 3600 vehicles per hour per lane.
  • 4 (12-ft) lanes today vs. 8 (narrower, 6-ft) lanes with automation
  • 4 passengers per vehicles max vs. 1.5 passengers per vehicle today.
  • 4 lanes in each direction, 2 directions

We also need to figure out the average length of trip, which is a bit less obvious.

Current two-way Average Daily Traffic on I-94 on the peak section (near Riverside) is about 164,000: The number of entering trips (based on sum of Eastbound entering vehicles at on-ramps between and including Hennepin Avenue (Minneapolis) and Dale Street (St. Paul) is 161,000 [A distance of about 9 miles or 14 km]). The average number of Eastbound through trips in the Lowry Tunnel is about 87,000.

Entering flows on I-94 from Lowry Tunnel to Dale Street (and final flows in St. Paul)

Average length is vehicle miles traveled divided by number of trips. If we have an average flow of 80,000 vehicles in each direction for 9 miles, this is 720,000 vehicle miles traveled in each direction for this long section. The number of entering trips from Lowry Tunnel to Dale Street (eastbound) (inclusive) is about 240,000. This implies the average vehicle which uses I-94 between the cities uses the facility for 3 miles (5 km). Obviously this is an approximation, but it is probably not too far off. There are 16 entrances over 9 interchanges over this span. Some have parts a, b, and c, and in the sequence (Exit 231 to Exit 240, inclusive). Note Exit 232 (LaSalle?) is missing. So we will go with 9 exits, or 1 mile between exits, and an average trip of 3 exits). The table shows some capacities. This assumes 4 lanes throughout, which is also not strictly true.

A C D Automated and Unconstrained Today’s Flow  Constrained Hours

24

24

10

Vehicles per Hour per Lane

3600

833

750

Vehicles per Day per Lane

86400

20000

7500

Person Capacity per Vehicle

4

1.5

1.5

Numbered Exits

9

9

9

Lanes

8

4

4

Average Trip Length (in Exits)

1

3

3

Directions

2

2

2

DAILY PERSON CAPACITY

49,766,400

720,000

270,000

 

In a world of automated vehicles, if everyone made short (1 exit) trips, in fully loaded (4 persons) per car, fully utilized over 24 hours per day, I-94 could carry about 50 million people per day over this stretch.  In contrast, today it carries about 720,000 people. [If we evaluate the Green Line as 2 lanes and I-94 traffic per lane, I-94 produces more person trips per lane than the Green Line]. If we were to constrain it further, so it only operated 10 hours per day (recognizing people travel only during certain hours), it would carry fewer people than it does. This is just a thought experiment to get some magnitudes. But clearly we have a lot of potential capacity in the years ahead as automated vehicle technology becomes mainstream, if we manage our roadspace and our vehicles more carefully. This argues against capacity expansion.

We conclude that Car Culture remains dominant. The number of people using I-94 on a given weekday is about 20 times larger than the number of people using the Green Line.

A $1 billion transit investment is rounding error for the change in traffic count on the parallel highway (comparing entering vehicles between Lowry and Dale for October 2014 (244,103) and October 2013 (244,712) – average weekday traffic ). Overall trends are mostly flat, with a slight uptick in vehicle miles traveled in 2014 nationally, but the core cities (Minneapolis, St. Paul) added population faster than they added jobs last year (I believe, I don’t think the data is solid on this), so average trip lengths should otherwise have dropped slightly in the cities, independent of national trends.

Also a caution, University Avenue may be different, but the data on changes in traffic counts before and after the Green Line opening is not publicly available as far as I know.

Transit investments like the Green Line LRT serve transit users, highway investments like I-94 serve highway users, they are completely different markets and, this data suggests that at this point in history,  barely substitutes. Congestion reduction should not be a selling point for transit investments, just as reducing crowding on trains or buses is not a valid selling point of highways.

Acknowledgment:

The data comes from the Minnesota Traffic Observatory and the Minnesota Department of Transportation from their DataExtract program. All analysis is the responsibility of the author.

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Categories: Twin Cities