Twin Cities

Motivational Poster #2

Twin Cities Sidewalks - Mon, 08/03/2015 - 2:43pm
Inspired by this column.
Categories: Twin Cities

Map Monday: All Minnesota Jobs, 2010

Streets.MN - Mon, 08/03/2015 - 1:39pm

Probably one of the most comprehensive maps you’ll ever see is this “dot map” of all the jobs in the USA according to census tract, and colored according to census categories. Here is the map at a couple of different scales, showing Minnesota, the Twin Cities metro, and the 494 corridor…

[State scale.]

[Metro scale.]

[Freeway corridor scale.]

[One Dot = One Job. Manufacturing and Trade = Red; Professional Services = Blue; Healthcare, Education, and Government = Green; Retail, Hospitality, and Other Services = Yellow …]

This is using 2010 data, and is still pretty rough. But glancing at the data at different scales, you can begin to see the geography of our state’s economy start to emerge. For example, if you were a light rail planner staring at this map,  where would you want your theoretical line to go?

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Categories: Twin Cities

Sidewalk Mailbox #6: High-speed One-ways are like Watering Your Garden with a Firehose

Twin Cities Sidewalks - Mon, 08/03/2015 - 9:00am
Here's a very lovely letter I just received:Hi Bill,I'm hoping you wouldn't mind helping me understand some City of Minneapolis street layouts/designs. The questions I have are regarding the bike lanes on 26th and 28th streets in Minneapolis. More info is here:http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/bicycles/projects/WCMS1P-133460First and foremost, I want to say I support bike lanes. However, I think they're a tricky subject because most bikers do as they please on the roads and give a bad rap to all bikers. That being said, unfortunately, it only takes a few bad apples to ruin for everyone and create a stigma that bikers are a huge PITA. I fully support bike lanes but I'm fairly confident they can be implemented a lot better and make things more efficient for both bikers and vehicles.I frequently use 26th and 28th streets because they're one ways and quick to get across town for my work - I work for a charitable gambling organization in Minneapolis whose main revenue source is pulltab sales at different bars so going from bar to bar is a big part of my time.A few days ago, I was on one of the streets mentioned above and noticed that it is now 2 lanes instead of 3 - one full lane of traffic being devoted to a bike lane. This was during rush hour and traffic was backed up and it was backed up for at least a half mile (Hiawatha to ~Chicago). I noticed that once the road went back to 3 lanes (the original configuration), traffic suddenly flowed at a greater pace.I'm having a hard time understanding why the city/planners/public works department takes a lane of automobile traffic away and dedicates it to bikes only. I was under the impression that streets were intended for cars. The amount of cars on a road vastly outnumbers bikes, so why are bikes taking lanes away from cars?Consider this analogy: You have a container of water that holds 100 liters. It drains at a rate of 10 liters/minute but filling with water at a rate of 15 liters/minute. What's going to happen to in 20 minutes? The water will overflow. This is what's happening on those streets. You have streets that were meant to handle so much traffic and now there's even less room for that traffic so it backs up. Why would anyone consider this something viable?We know the planet is warming because of CO2. Does anyone pay attention to that fact? It certainly doesn't seem that way to me. Why do bikes need to travel on 26th and 28th streets when 1 block North or South will accomplish the same thing? Are bike lanes put on busy streets so bikers don't have to stop for stop signs or cross busy streets as frequently? The amount of energy required to move a vehicle is much greater than a bike.Adding bike lanes is complicated, but it seems that planners just put them wherever without considering all factors. Another good example is Portland and Park Avenues running from Minnehaha Creek to Downtown. Portland used to be 3 or 4 lanes and now it's only 2. And the speed limit was reduced from 35 to 30! A double whammy there! I'm hoping you can provide a little insight into why bike lanes are added to somewhat busy streets. I really do not understand why bikes need to be on the same roads as vehicles. When bikes and vehicles collide, there's usually damage to the bike and sometimes the rider. If bike lanes were on less busy streets, would that eliminate a majority of accidents? Granted, you can't force bikers to ride on certain streets but vehicles will almost always follow the quickest route (I.E. using 26th or 28th instead of 27th or 29th).Sincerely,Impressionable PulltabDear Impressionable,Thanks for your thoughtful letter, particularly since it contains an analogy which I like a great deal. And first off, let me say that I'm a big fan of the actual physical pulltab industry, the ones where you pull a tab with your thumb and then stack the expired tabs into strange configurations. (It's these electronic pulltabs which are giving bars a bad name, and don't get me started on the gas station lottery.)[My well-watered garden plot on the West Side.]And fluid dynamics are interesting indeed! I was biking home last night with a friend and she wanted to stop by her community garden, which was on the way. At one point she asked me, "Can you go over to the hose and turn the water on?"It took me a while to find it in the dark, but I did. and (lefty-loosey) uncranked the spigot."Woah, can you turn it down a bit?" She shouted back to me. So I turned the knob a bit to the right. She was holding the other end of the hose, and trying to water her flowers and beans."A bit more," she shouted, and I dialed it back just a bit."Is that OK?" I asked?"Perfect," she said, and for the next five minutes she watered her three raised garden beds. She loves gardening, and later she said, "I feel so much better when I can come water the plants. They've perked up. Now they're all set for some great growing tomorrow."[Stills from Arteries of New York City, 1941.]You are certainly right about your "container of water" metaphor, as far as it goes. If our big goal as a city was to keep the most water flowing, then designing streets to maximize volume would be the obvious solution.And in fact, that's how traffic engineers have traditionally thought of traffic, as cars circulating like blood through corporeal arteries. Just like cholesterol clogging arteries, congestion was seen as inherent vice. A lot of money, public space, and social resources were spent on unclogging our streets to maximizing the "flow" of cars.But the problem is that cities aren't the hoses, they're the gardens. Just like you don't want to water your tomatoes with a firehose, you don't want to maximize traffic flow in a neighborhood. We need to stop focusing on the water, and start focusing on the plants. How much water do they need to grow? At what rate? Are we flooding them?In the analogy, the garden is the city. Neighborhoods, sidewalks, streets, and even dive bars with pulltabs require more than just a stream of cars passing by their doorstep. The require public spaces for socializing. They require people to be able to easily stop, park, and cross the street. They require access to ways of getting around that aren't cars, so that after a you win at pulltabs and blow all your money on rounds of drinks for the house, you don't have to drive home drunk because you can catch the bus. And cities thrive when the flowing traffic is at a safe level, both for people in cars and for those on foot.As I've written before, 26th and 28th have long been some of the most dangerous streets in Minneapolis. Their design dates back to the pre-freeway era, and worked well for the problem they were trying to solve. But the speedy convenience for South Minneapolis drivers comes at a high cost. For example, after a bicyclist named Jessica Hanson was killed on 28th Street, I pointed out how it was the #1 most dangerous street for bike crashes in the city. This isn't to mention the fact that the current high-speed one-way configuration is also dangerous for car drivers. (Here's a 2009 video showing the aftermath of one such accident.)[From the 2013 Minneapolis Bike Crash Report.]A while back, I dated a girl who lived in a first-floor apartment whose windows looked out directly onto 26th Street. Even when we were in her apartment, you could still hear (and feel) the traffic rushing by at 40 miles per hour. 26th and 28th are unpleasant places to spend time, and the feeling of danger permeates the neighborhoods on both sides of these roads. In the big picture, the protected bike lanes are a dramatic positive change for both 26th and 28th, for people in and out of cars. In exchange for a decrease in speeds and a bit longer stacking times (noticeable mostly at rush hour), there is a much safer street with fewer accidents. As a bonus, the new design also creates a good bike route on Minneapolis' most dangerous street for bicyclists. And as one-way streets, they remain the best east-west routes through South Minneapolis, regardless of how many lanes there are.The simple fact is that high-speed roads destroy walkable cities. It's like watering your garden with a firehose. Fixing these streets is long overdue, and I'm confident that South Minneapolis will flower.Sincerely,BillPS. I'm interested in how the pulltab business works. Maybe we can chat about that sometime![Today's 26th Street: a much safer design for cars and people, slightly diminished capacity.]
Categories: Twin Cities

Main Street – Hutchinson, Minnesota

Streets.MN - Mon, 08/03/2015 - 7:00am

Someone on an earlier post said all the action in McLeod county is in Hutchinson, not the County Seat of Glencoe, so I should go there. So I did. Hutchinson (map), 61 miles due west of Minneapolis, is certainly a bit livelier than Glencoe, with nearly three times the population. There is an important public square , with a sculpture of the founders: the musical Hutchinson brothers. The brothers were abolitionists and among the biggest musical acts of the day, touring and provoking both imitators and satirists.

Wikipedia writes:

The Hutchinson brothers’ party of explorers chose a setting on the crest of a hill overlooking the beautiful Hassan River Valley. (The river, originally given the Indian name Hassan (Maple Leaf), is now called the Crow River.)

The group wrote 13 “Articles of Agreement” for the town. These included articles setting aside 5 acres for the Humanities Church, 15 acres for parks – making Hutchinson’s park system the 2nd oldest in the nation, 8 lots for educational purposes and stating that Hutchinson women would have equal rights with the town.

 

The town itself has about 15,000 people, and a strong Main Street compared with similar towns, though it is not at the level of somewhat larger New Ulm, Northfield, Owatonna, or Faribault. The design of Highway 15, the main route through town, connecting US12 and US212, makes Main Street more of highway than some other places (though less than St. Peter).  It still has industry, Hutchinson Technology (important in the Disk Drive sector) and 3M have facilities. There is also a MnSCU Community College branch (Ridgewater), but this seems to have less effect than full-time, larger, four-year schools. The town is on Otter Lake, which Main Street skirts, though being on a lake is no guarantee of success (as per Albert Lea).

 

 

Hutchinson, Minnesota 1855 – 2005. Founders Judson, John, and Asa Hutchinson. This Sesquicentennial Sculpture is a gift to the city from the Hutchinson Telephone Company in honor of the Clay Families. Robert V. Wilde, Sculptor. Dedicated September 11, 2005.

State Theater, Hutchinson

Main Street Hutchinson. Note: there is a public clock.

Library

Quast’s Furniture. Was the Kouwe Tmey Opera House. (1891)

Cafe Eat. Best in Food. Short Orders Breakfasts Fast Food Service

Smokes 4 Less. Farm Bureau Financial Services. Modern addition to Main Street

Dairy Queen

Gold Coin. Venus Salon.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Halloween, Hedges (because trees don’t alliterate) and Hydrants

Streets.MN - Sun, 08/02/2015 - 10:48am

12.5 Miles

Macalester-Groveland, Merriam Park, South Como

The warm October continued for another day, which gave me another chance to ride. Like yesterday, Halloween ornamentation and leaves were plentiful.

The golden leaves of the maple trees are set off magnificently by the deep blue sky.

On my bike rides I often see an object I otherwise wouldn’t lay eyes on. Many times it’s the unusual, but occasionally, it’s objects so commonplace most of us go about our lives never noticing them, though they’re in plain sight. An example, which regular readers of this blog know, is my atypical interest in manhole covers. This ride I spent an unusual amount of time scrutinizing fire hydrants, the result of the stop at and research of the former Waterous Company building on my October 24th journey. Never before did I know fire hydrants came in so many sizes, shapes and colors.

Finn and Lincoln. The silver object on the left side of the hydrant is a spring which holds an orange and white flag pole approximately two feet tall. When a big snow storm hits, the flag lets firefighters and nearby residents know where a snow-buried hydrant is.

This old hydrant at the corner of Cleveland and Dayton Avenues is likely from the mid-1940s.

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I did see more than fire hydrants on the ride.

The Interstate 94 sign on Cleveland and Wabash Avenues. Older signs like this one have the name of the state between the word “Interstate” and the number. Newer signs are generic, no longer bearing the name of the state in which they sit.

That is the smokestack of Rock-Tenn’s cardboard recycling plant in the background.

This unusual and diminutive Pro Stop gas station has sat on the northwest corner of Cleveland and Wabash since 1947. Among its more curious traits is that it is two stories tall.

A sign from days gone by says “Cliff’s Gas & O” which I’m guessing is oil. I have not been able to find any record of Cliff’s.

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A brand new 2014 Waterous hydrant at Lafond Avenue and Fry Avenue. Unlike most of the other hydrants around town it doesn’t have yellow hose caps.

I didn’t know whether the different color schemes on the fire hydrants have a particular meaning so I called the Saint Paul Regional Water Services. Turns out, the color of the hydrant lets firefighters know the size of the water main feeding it. A Water Utility engineer told me the diameter of the mains range from one inch for old pipes to 42 inches for what is called a feeder main. Feeder mains, as the name suggests, move a great volume of water from one end of the city to the other. Those hydrants, painted red and white, are rare; I’ve not seen one.

The red with yellow hydrants are located in residential neighborhoods and are fed by six inch mains.

The all-red hydrants, also found among residences, are the new standard with greater capacity eight inch mains. And the red and green fire hydrants are fed by mains 12 to 36 inches in diameter. Those hydrants have greater pressure and capacity and are often used in areas with larger buildings, warehouses and factories.

This higher capacity hydrant, with the green caps, is located at Oxford Street and Front Avenue, where there are stores and businesses on all four corners.

Other fun facts about Saint Paul’s fire hydrants:

  • The first hydrants were installed on Lafayette Road and Grove Street in downtown
  • Today there are nearly 10,000 hydrants in the City
  • Every one is inspected at least once a year.
  • Any hydrant not properly accessible, that doesn’t provide the proper flow rate or that leaks is repaired or replaced.(1)
  • The Saint Paul Regional Water Utility attempts to keep its hydrants in service for about 100 years! (2)
  • A hydrant is knocked over nearly every day in the Capitol City.

An obviously non-functioning hydrant.

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At 1306 Lafond, ghosts fly about the nearly leafless tree.

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This sign sits on the boulevard of the house at 1076 Churchill Street at Orchard Avenue in Como.

Curb cleaning along Churchill Street.

True to the sign in her yard, Ginny diligently vacuumed up leaves from along the curbs in front of her house. The idea, said Ginny, is to reduce the algae growth in Como Lake by keeping plant matter out of the storm sewers. “I volunteered to do it because I walk around Como and so I see the result of what’s going on. Before I knew the problem I used to try to keep the leaves off the gutter anyway just because they eventually blow down to someone else’s yard or they blow into mine.”

A similar sign to Ginny’s seen around the neighborhood encourages neighbors to adopt a storm drain. Again, the goal is to improve Como Lake’s water quality.

I asked Ginny whether neighbors have commented on her sign. “I just put the sign up two days ago so hopefully it will make a little difference.”

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Churchill Street is interrupted by a pair of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad tracks. Today so-called intermodal cars speed by. However, tank cars filled with Bakken oil are frequently on the southbound BNSF trains that pass by.

Be aware-Churchill Street is also a Zombie Zone.

A block east and to the south on Oxford are these (fraternal) twin garages.

The garage on the right (south) has a cupola with a fun weather vane.

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991 North Oxford Street stands out from neighboring homes because of its uncommon stone construction and second story tablet between the two front windows. Research yielded little information about the home’s history. One early occupant, Joe Graus, is listed as a “washer” in the 1914 Polk City Directory.

This unusual stone home was built in 1910 according to Ramsey County tax records…

…and confirmed by the “cornerstone” of the house. Or visa versa.

The north side of 991 Oxford Street. Note the two story porch in back.

The exterior is uncommonly all stone, from the foundation to the roof, with the exception of the front porch. Curiously, the “J” on the “cornerstone” has been changed for some reason. It appears as if at one time it was a backward “J” that was corrected.

My research did not yield any information about who “TJD” was.

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Frankenstein keeps watch on the unsuspecting from the second floor of 1636 Englewood Avenue, Merriam Park, at least through Halloween.

This link will take you to the map of the October 25, 2014 ride. Garmin Connect.

It came as no surprise that this ride was my last of 2014. For my blogging purposes, any ride after mid-October is a bonus, meaning I sneaked in two bonus rides in ’14! Of course I do not enjoy my winter biking hiatus-riding in place in the basement is decent exercise but exceedingly dull. Looking at it positively, I could be back biking streets of Saint Paul in five months, and the winter allows me to catch up on my blog posts.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Sunday Summary – August 2, 2015

Streets.MN - Sun, 08/02/2015 - 7:00am

Here’s the week on streets.mn to read before you play in the summer sun:

Happening now

Stop for Pedestrians. We Mean It This Time highlights Saint Paul’s Pedestrian Safety Awareness Week which begins today. Saint Paul Police (and District Councils, too) will be spending the week doing intensive education and enforcement about crosswalk laws.

Highland District Council pedestrian safety awareness crosswalk event, August 2014

More on bikes and pedestrians

Before turning to the comment-provoking posts, Create a Personal Walking/Biking/Rolling Wishlist is pretty perfect for thinking about on a summer day. Janelle Nivens who previously took us on some long walks around the Twin Cities, suggests ways to get off our personal beaten paths to take new walks and different rides. You’re invited to chat with Janelle in the comments about your ideas for great walks and rides.

Hit By a Car (again) in Downtown St. Paul, or Why We Need the Bike Plan is a first person narrative of (very experienced rider) Dana DeMaster’s choices to try to ride as safely as possible from work, to camp pick-up, errands and home knowing no route was great – construction, no bike lanes – and the collision which happened. This post is also a call to action to implement the Saint Paul Bike Plan to help anyone “decide it is easier to bike the three miles to the grocery store or the park.” Because the driver was making a right turn on red (RTOR) when he hit Ms. DeMaster and she had chosen to ride on the sidewalk, commenters debate RTOR, riding on sidewalks, construction issues, and enforcement of crosswalk (and other) regulations.  One of the commenters defending RTOR is Monte Castleman who wrote:

The Right Turn on Red and some Free Ideas which continues the series about traffic signals by considering the crash data for RTOR (few crashes), engineering considerations, possible changes (like red light cameras, for instance) plus personal opinion.  Commenters on this post bring up issues of perceived safety and near misses in addition to crash data, as well as difficulties of engineering highway entrance/exit ramps to integrate smoothly with city streets.

Why Are Bicycle Sales Declining (for the 14th year)? suggests the problem is bike shops marketing recreational or racing bikes, lycra shorts and quite a bit of intimidation, rather than helping connect people with basic transportation. The comments are a rich source of information about city bikes, box bikes, great customer service and where to find them in the Twin Cities.

Other ideas this week

Bad Idea of the Day: Minneapolis-Saint Paul Should Bid for the Olympics riffs on Boston’s refusal to sign on the dotted line to guarantee that city taxpayers would foot the bill for cost overruns for hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics by suggesting the Twin Cities, with its impressive roster of athletic facilities, could step up to the starting line, but since “to host the Olympics, you pretty much have to be an autocratic nation, or profoundly unwise with your money” (as the choice of Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics despite not having any snow would seem to support) concludes we’d be better off not.

The Single-Tracked World of American Railroading continues Mike Hicks’ consideration of rail-related topics by mapping the number of main tracks at public grade crossings which shows “the vast majority of our rail infrastructure is single-tracked” with a few exceptions and thus constrained by allowing only one train at a time.

A Stratification of Metro Transit Light Rail Vehicle Seating takes a look at the good and not so good seats on the Flexity Swifts and other light rail train cars, helpfully emoji-d to help you choose wisely.

Audiovisual department

Listen: Podcast #86: Planning Campus Bicycling with Steve Sanders and Tyler Schow has Bill Lindeke talking to University of Minnesota student (and streets.mn writer) Tyler Schow and alternative transportation manager for the University, Steve Sanders about changes around the U and planning for the future.

Look: Charts of the Week: For Saint Paul’s Pedestrian Safety Awareness Week starting today, Chart of the Day: Speed Kills charts vehicle speeds and odds of pedestrian death; the title should be a tip-off. Chart of the Day: Share of Regional Population Growth by Development Type, 2010 – 2014 shows where development has been happening in the Twin Cities Metro in the last few years and Chart of the Day: Transit Labor Efficiency in NY Metro Area shows how transit staffing affects cost.

Comics: Roadkill Bill: Second Class Citizens continues the graphic tale…

It’s August…time for end-of-summer vacations, sweet corn, back-to-school shopping, and enjoying your street(s) in the indolent weather of late summer.  Have a great week!

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Categories: Twin Cities

Create a Personal Walking/Biking/Rolling Wishlist

Streets.MN - Sat, 08/01/2015 - 10:30am

My walking wish list

If you’re like most people, you have a set of established routes for your work commute, dog walks and grocery getting. It can take extra time and energy to change up that routine. And who has extras of time and energy laying around? One way to break free from your regular strolls, rolls, runs, and rides is to create a wish list (okay, if you insist, you can call it a bucket list).

Don’t know where to get started? Here’s some ideas and inspiration for generating such a list.

Themed destinations and routes

What do you love? Beer? Art galleries? Garden stores? Whatever it is that gets you excited, let that passion guide your next walk or ride. Some ideas to get you started:

  • Beer and coffee: My husband and I like to visit breweries. Turns out the promise of a flight or pint is a great motivation to walk many miles all over the Twin Cities. Similarly, I like to walk to local coffee shops.
  • Parks: Choosing a park, and getting there by walking or biking is a great way to learn more about new-to-you neighborhoods. Both Minneapolis and Saint Paul have a lot of parks, so get out there and explore!
  • Cemeteries: Cemeteries like Lakewood, Pioneers and Soldier, Fort Snelling National Cemetery are great additions to your walking list as they are beautiful, serene places with the benefit of a built-in history lesson. Remind yourself of the etiquette when visiting a cemetery. Here’s an example but every cemetery will have a unique set of guidelines and rules.
  • Independent book stores: Support local businesses while walking or riding your bike. Independent Book Store Day would be a great day to do this. Minnesota Public Radio compiled a great list of Minnesota independents. Mark your calendar for next year: Saturday, April 30, 2016. Do the same on Record Store Day.
Self-imposed challenges

Push yourself to go a greater distance, or faster, or without looking at your smart phone!  Whatever would stretch you, consider adding that challenge to your wish list. Here’s some of mine:

  • Walk from sunrise to sunset (this may happen on the Winter Solstice – is that cheating?)
  • Walk the length of major thoroughfares in Twin Cities (Central, Cedar, France, Lake/Marshall, etc.)
  • Complete 85,000 steps in a day to beat my current personal best of 80,000 steps
Events

Walking and biking events are a fun way to experience routes you wouldn’t normally access. They often also benefit a cause. Win win! Missed an event? No problem! Events often post their course on their website so you can retrace the route on your own (if it doesn’t involve private land). For example, I plan on walking the Twin Cities Marathon course on a different day and at my own pace (read: beer stops!).

Other events and event inspired routes both local and national:

Established trails

Don’t forget about the routes that many people have worked hard to get funded, created, and maintained – our city, regional, and state trails. My list is based on where I live and work but please share in the comments the trails in your neck of the woods. See the next tip on why this can help inspire all readers.

Routes that require travel

I have a goal of spending at least 24 hours in all U.S. States and Territories and Canadian Provinces. Exploring a new place on foot or wheels is a great way to walk the line between tourist and local. While exploring streets and neighborhoods without guidance from predetermined routes has its benefits, experiencing a new-to-me city or region by trail is often less stressful and a more efficient use of precious vacation time.

Guided Tours

Instead of going it alone, learn from an expert guide. Here’s a few guided tours I’ve either completed or have added to my wish list:

Meet me in the comments for a chat
  • What’s on your wish list?
  • Have you completed anything mentioned in this post? Share your experience!
  • In what walking/biking events have you participated?
  • What personal challenges have you set for yourself?
  • What trails in Minnesota do you consider to be destination worthy for our out-of-state and international traveler friends?
  • What features are missing from our trail system that are attractive to people who travel to bike/walk/roll on trails?

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

A Stratification of Metro Transit Light Rail Vehicle Seating

Streets.MN - Sat, 08/01/2015 - 10:00am

In the 1944 musical film Meet Me In St. Louis, Judy Garland sung these famous words:

Clang, clang, clang went the trolley Ding, ding, ding went the bell Zing, zing, zing went my heartstrings From the moment I saw him I fell

Fell she did–into our hearts, and into the seat of a turn-of-the-century streetcar. But if you’re like me, you’re left wondering: “What if Ms. Garland, a Minnesota native, had sung the Trolley Song today?”

Why, you’d have to assume she’d still be falling into our hearts but also into the seat of a modern Metro Transit light rail vehicle, or LRV. What would that experience be like?

Rolling Stock

We have two distinct types of LRVs in the METRO system. The older cars, which run exclusively on the Blue Line, are Bombardier Flexity Swifts, which are delightfully named. The newer cars are Siemens S70s, named by the less imaginative but ever practical (there are 70 seats incl. the operators’) Germans, and they run on both the Blue and Green Lines. There are 27 Flexity Swift vehicles and 59 S70s.

Both run in two and three car configurations, and have a pleasant electric “whirr” as they zip along their routes.

But how are the seats?

Let’s review in chunks here. Originally the plan was a sort of deadpan ranking of all seats but there are just too many seats and the I couldn’t find the schematics for the Flexity Swift cars at a high enough resolution to sensibly label them all on a diagram. Here is an S70, though.

They are actually quite large! Three of those in a row can easily carry several hundred people in relative comfort, more after sporting events in less comfortable arrangements. You’ll note that one bus and one three car train both require one operator, and people are Metro Transit’s largest expense.

So, we could divide LRV seating into four categories: Primo Seats, Middlin’ Seats, Awkward Seats, and Why? Seats.

Your Primo Seats

You know them–the good ones. The best seats are:

  • Forward-facing
  • Face-to-back, not face-to-face
  • Already down
  • Not jammed up against a bulk head for some reason

So I think we all know what we’re talking about here, but if you need the image, here it is:

These seats are the best seats. Woe unto those wretch’d knaves who put their purses and backpacks on the seat next to them, forcing you to seek lesser accommodations.

Of course, these seats will face the other direction exactly 50% of the time, knocking them down to Middlin’ Seats, which we will discuss below.

Your Middlin’ Seats

Middlin’ Seats are okay–they’re alright, really. Unlike most buses, train cars move in two different directions, and they don’t really have a “front.” So it makes sense to not make all the seats face one direction. Still, it reminds me of drawing the short straw on road trips as a kid and having to sit backwards in the station wagon, which definitely made sense for me to do as the brother who got motion-sickness; thanks Tom. Your Middlin’ Seats will:

  • Not face forward
  • May require some effort
  • Barring motion-sickness issues, be equally as comfortable as Primo Seats

Here are some Middlin’ Seats:

This technically makes some sense! Having the middle area open in the LRV is probably good when it is very full. But the extra effort associated with folding them down, as well as the sideways orientation, makes them not Primo Seats. Shout out, though, to the love seat in the Flexity Swift accordion:

Your Awkward Seats

Even more so than the accordion love seats, the ones that face each other are just awkward and not great. As mentioned above, there is maybe a benefit in having half the seats face one direction and half face another, seeing as the train can go both directions. But staring at someone and bumping knees with them is the worst. As if we needed another reason to bury our terrible heads in our terrible phones.

I remember when the University of Minnesota switched out all the Campus Connector buses to face-to-face seats. Why even have Welcome Week if you just have to stare at random people all day? It’s redundant. Also, everyone puts their feet on the seat and that’s kind of gross, especially in winter. Here is someone doing it last night!

Your Why? Seats

Why????

These are bad! A special guest appearance by the author’s regular-sized legs confirm that this is a bad situation. The scrunching is to simulate an adjacent passenger; my right thigh is approximately along the middle of the seat.

This seat is no fun to sit in and is in fact the worst seat in the entire system! It is worse than any seat on a slow and crowded bus.

Caveat

It should also go without saying that wrapped advertising over windows is terrible–even a primo seat on any LRV (or bus) is automatically really bad. We have to pay the bills, of course, but it’s just the worst when the windows are covered. An awkward face-to-face seat on a crowded train with a wrapped window? Not great. Where do you look!

I am not a fan of bus wraps. This is what I see from my seat. pic.twitter.com/vEmaaKr5U2

— Paul Mogush (@paulmogush) July 14, 2015

Conclusions

You are now familiar with the relative quality of different LRV seats! Choose your seats wisely, as Ms. Garland would.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Podcast #86: Planning Campus Bicycling with Steve Sanders and Tyler Schow

Streets.MN - Fri, 07/31/2015 - 4:23pm

Bike lane construction by the Washington Avenue Bridge, the #1 spot for bikes in the whole city.

And the podcast is back after a long hiatus. Today I have a special conversation with University of Minnesota student (and streets.mn contributor) Tyler Schow and Steve Sanders, the alternative transportation manager for the University of Minnesota.

Tyler, Steve, and I chatted about how much the University of Minnesota campus has changed for bikes in the last few years, with the advent of the Green Line and a bunch of new bike projects through the heart of the East Bank. Tyler grilled Steve on a few things, like how the U uses video observations to track conflict, the “big platoon” pattern of bikes and pedestrians at busy intersections, and I even got a question in about the overbuilt Washington avenue mall signals. The U has changed a lot in the last few years, and I hope you enjoy the conversation.

Here’s a quote from Steve Sanders taken from the conversation:

Car and bike interactions? Well, when you have a bigger vehicle moving faster you feel more vulnerable as a cyclist. But the same is true for bike and pedestrian interactions. People who ride bikes don’t realize that pedestrians feel scare d of things that are larger and moving faster than them, it can really be intimidating so the same feeling is engendered in cyclists versus a car, as for pedestrians versus a bike. But the ability to do damage is different in those interactions…

But there’s a quantitative difference too. Because there’s a lot more bike versus pedestrian interactions than car versus bike interactions. So there’s a difference of quantity and a difference of kind. Bikes are really maneuverable and can get close to people in a way that cars can’t get close to people, so the possibility exists on a bigger scale for people to be afraid of bikes, than for cars.

Link to the audio is here. As always, thanks for listening, and please become a streets.mn member!

http://streets.mn/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/podcast86stevesanders.mp3

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Categories: Twin Cities

Chart of the Day: Speed Kills

Streets.MN - Fri, 07/31/2015 - 12:30pm

We’ve seen a version of this chart before on streets.mn, but in light of Pedestrian Safety Awareness Week in St. Paul (August 2nd – August 8th), it bears publishing again.

[Source 1: Killing Speed and Saving Lives, UK Dept. of Transportation, London, England. See also Limpert, Rudolph. Motor Vehicle Accident Reconstruction and Cause Analysis. Fourth Edition. Charlottesville, VA. The Michie Company, 1994, p. 663.]

[Source 2: Vehicle Speeds and the Incidence of Fatal Pedestrian Collisions prepared by the Austrailian Federal Office of Road Safety, Report CR 146, October 1994, by McLean AJ,Anderson RW, Farmer MJB, Lee BH, Brooks CG.]

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Categories: Twin Cities

Stop for Pedestrians. We Mean It This Time.

Streets.MN - Fri, 07/31/2015 - 9:45am

Highland District Council pedestrian safety awareness crosswalk event, August 2014

Beginning this Sunday, August 2nd, it’s Pedestrian Safety Week in St. Paul through the following Sunday, August 9th. This year, the St. Paul Police Department has a grant from the Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths program to do focused education and enforcement for pedestrian safety. Starting at the National Night Out on August 4th, city police will be distributing educational information about the state’s crosswalk law. They’ll follow up with enforcement at intersections throughout the city. At a press conference for the campaign, Sgt. Paul Paulos said the average fine for violations is $140, and he said there would be “no tolerance” during this enforcement campaign, so if you get stopped, expect a ticket.

SPPD Sgt. Paulos announces the city’s pedestrian safety enforcement campaign.

In addition to the extra police enforcement, several St. Paul District Councils will be doing crosswalk events at intersections in their neighborhoods. As you’re out in the city this week, you may spot neighbors demonstrating safe pedestrian use of crosswalks and educating drivers on the state crosswalk law. Every intersection is a crosswalk, whether it’s marked or not. And as Summit University Planning Council board member Rebecca Airmet noted at the campaign’s press conference, “Everyone is a pedestrian.” No matter how you travel, you begin and end your trip on foot. If you drive, make a commitment to stop for pedestrians at every intersection, day or night. (Take the St. Paul Walks pledge and make it official!)

I’ve noted on here before how pedestrians are a disproportionate percentage of the Minneapolis-St. Paul region’s traffic fatalities. Although it might feel like a small step, seeing the coordination between the St. Paul Police Department, the city, the metro Toward Zero Deaths program, St. Paul Walks, and the city’s district councils this year is an encouraging sign that pedestrian safety is becoming a higher priority in the city. The need for safety for people on foot doesn’t stop at city borders, and I’ve heard that Minneapolis may have received a grant to do similar pedestrian safety enforcement. Hopefully future pedestrian safety awareness events can cover a bigger part of the region with a more powerful message that no matter where you are in the area, when you’re driving, you really do need to stop to let people on foot safely get to where they’re going.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Chart of the Day: Share of Regional Population Growth by Development Type, 2010 – 2014

Streets.MN - Thu, 07/30/2015 - 12:00pm

In case you’re wondering why there are so many new apartment buildings in downtown Minneapolis, the Met Council released this delicious pie chart showing in what type of environment the regional population growth has been occurring over the last few years. As you can see, the largest slice has gone to “urban center”:

Here is the analysis from the agency:

The growing population in the central cities reflects both an increased preference for walkable, amenity-rich neighborhoods and the new residential construction along the METRO Green Line. 

But while the central cities led in population growth, growth occurred in a balanced fashion across the region.  Urban communities grew at a healthy pace, led by St. Louis Park, Bloomington, and Edina, with a 9% share of the region’s growth. Suburban cities—generally suburbs that saw their peak development years in the 1980s and early 1990s—constituted 17% of the region’s growth. Examples include Eagan and Brooklyn Park.

In my opinion, planning is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. If our planning agencies predict that the majority of growth will be in the core cities or outlying suburbs, then it probably will. That’s why it’s interesting to see actual data on housing.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Bad Idea of the Day: Minneapolis-Saint Paul Should Bid for the Olympics

Streets.MN - Thu, 07/30/2015 - 9:00am

Boston is out.

That was the word on Monday from the US Olympic Committee, with regards to the American bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. After publicly cheerleading the bid from Beantown, the city’s Mayor Marty Walsh made a big show of refusing to sign a guarantee that city taxpayers would foot the bill for cost overruns. The USOC promptly yanked the bid. The result came after support for the games cratered in recent months as the organizing committee stumbled and the opposition scored hit after hit.

Makes sense. The Olympics are a complete and total boondoggle, and when democratic societies find out what they entail, they tend to turn against them. Consider the 2022 Winter Olympics bid from Oslo, which was near certain to win. But already-fragile support collapsed when the Norwegians learned some of the International Olympic Committee’s demands, of which the cheapest and least myopic may have been: “Doves must be released after the parade of athletes but before the head of the Olympic organizing committee speaks at the Opening Ceremony.” The Norwegians (who, again, were all but sure to win, have gobs of oil money, and are nuts for winter sports) withdrew, leaving the IOC to choose (on Friday, in fact) between Beijing and Almaty.

To host the Olympics, you pretty much have to be an autocratic nation, or profoundly unwise with your money. The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics cost over $50 billion dollars. The 2004 Athens Olympics have become an arresting metaphor for a nation that lived beyond its means, and now is paying a bitter price. No Olympic city has broken even since Los Angeles hosted the games in 1984. It’s no surprise that with the demise of the Boston Olympic dream, the USOC is expected to turn to LA to carry the torch once again. It is the only city among the original four US bidders (Washington DC and San Francisco were the others) with the sports facilities to host the games already in place.

Wait a minute, are we talking about cities with a glut of sports facilities? I know just the place!

I’ve written before that once US Bank Stadium is complete, Minnesota United FC have their stadium, and the Target Center has been renovated, MSP will have one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of sports stadia. We are, in essence, an Olympic city without the Olympics. Don’t take my word for it, plan it yourself! If you play the game of trying to assign a venue to each sport, everything falls into place remarkably easily. Here’s the current Olympic program, applied to Minnesota locations:

Aquatics – University of Minnesota Aquatics Center (NEW!)

Archery – Harriet Island

Athletics – US Bank Stadium

Badminton – University of Minnesota Gymnasium

Basketball – Target Center

Boxing – Minneapolis Convention Center

Canoeing/Kayak – Mississippi River, Downtown Saint Paul

Cycling (Track) – National Sports Center (Upgrades needed)

Cycling (Road) – Urban course

Cycling (BMX/Mountain Biking) – Duluth, Duluth Traverse

Equestrian – Somewhere in the suburbs

Fencing – Minneapolis Convention Center

Field Hockey – National Sports Center

Football – Minnesota United FC Stadium (TBD)

Golf – Hazeltine National Golf Club

Gymnastics – Xcel Energy Center

Handball – Target Center

Judo – Minneapolis Convention Center

Modern Pentathalon – All over

Rowing – Mississippi River, Downtown Saint Paul

Ruby Sevens – TCF Bank Stadium

Sailing – Duluth Harbor

Shooting – Harriet Island

Table Tennis – Minneapolis Convention Center

Taekwondo – Minneapolis Convention Center

Tennis – University of Minnesota Tennis Courts (Upgrades needed)

Triathlon – Urban Course

Volleyball (Indoor) – The Armory

Volleyball (Beach) – The Commons (Upgrades needed)

Weightlifting – Minneapolis Convention Center

Wrestling – University of Minnesota Gymnasium

This list has several obvious flaws. TCF Bank Stadium is horribly underused. Neither baseball stadium has been used at all (although baseball and softball could make it). Duluth is involved, which means that Rochester should get something as well. Upgrades for more seating would need to be made for several sports, and both the east and west bank stadiums would need to have their turf covered over with sod.

And yet, these obstacles are easily overcome. Seating capacity for mid-sized events sports like tennis, track cycling, and indoor and beach volleyball could be addressed with temporary bleacher stadiums. Seating capacity for smaller events (like archery) would similarly be temporary. The football offseason is more than long enough for crews to install and strike a track at US Bank and a grass field on both bank stadiums. The only genuinely new facility that might need to be constructed would be a new aquatics center. But that could be built as an upgrade to the University’s current aquatics facility, and it would leave a legacy for the school.

To stating the obvious: the Olympics would be really fun. Everyone loves a party. I can’t be the only one who would love to see the fencing finals take place in the hall of the Union Depot. Or for the sailing finish line to be under the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge. Some running race could end on the Stone Arch Bridge. The water racing events could take advantage of the Mississippi River gorge. Think of the possibilities!

There are a number of corporate opportunities as well. As we all know, the Twin Cities have a remarkably high number of Fortune 500 companies for our population. Imagine what General Mills could do with Wheaties. Or imagine 3M designing swimsuits. That sound you’re hearing, by the way, is the hummingbird heartbeat of a Mayo Clinic executive as he silently mouths the words “the Official Sports Medicine Provider of the 2024 Olympic Games”.

Minnesota is already lined up to host the Super Bowl in 2018, the 2019 NCAA Final Four, and a group wants to bid for the 2023 World’s Fair. Why not the 2024 Olympics?

Well, okay, because it would still probably be a big waste of money. Having the stadiums on hand would reduce the cost considerably, but there are other absurd costs in 2012, London spent £1 billion on security alone, and they used it to do things like put missile launchers on apartment buildings. That’s the social cost. The Olympics turn cities into armed, excessively sponsored camps for two weeks. The Strib’s comment section would be nuclear. If the games actually made money; if Twin Citizens didn’t flee the cities en masse to their lake homes (if they have them) so that the tourist money was a supplement, not a replacement; if the world was appropriately impressed by our collective niceness to decide they wanted to do business or move here (like Steve Van Zandt’s mobster in ‘Lilyhammer’) then it might just end up being worth it to host. And even then, we could get a lot more for our money by spending it on other things.

In other words, we’re better off pretending we’re hosting the Olympics of early childhood education, than the actual Olympics.

About that, though—the Olympics are undoubtedly good for one thing, and that’s the generation of political capital. That’s part of the allure, even for cities in democracies who know they’re throwing money away. Governments use events like the Olympics as an excuse for infrastructure that was needed, but somehow more politically palatable as an expense for a two week party than as a lasting investment in a community. We’re complicit in this game as much as anyone. Infrastructure isn’t sexy, but the Olympics are. Unfinished or shoddy infrastructure is built all over the world for residents, but when it’s built for the Olympics, it’s a scandal. If, say, the all-powerful Streets.mn lobby decided that Riverview Corridor LRT had to be done by 2024, it would be a hell of a lot easier to get it done if we were hosting the Olympic games. Or, again, if hosting the Olympics depended on making a certain investment in early childhood education.

That’s the allure really. It’s possible to both be mesmerized by the Olympics and to never want it in your city. And by a similar token, it’s possible to be offended and just a bit envious by the way money, power, and interest seem to be uncorked when they’re tied to the games.

We’re ready to host the games. We’ve got all the stadia, a budget surplus, and plenty of urban momentum. Which is all precisely why we won’t hold it.

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Categories: Twin Cities

TC Sidewalks Live!: Old Streetcar to Wildwood Tour this Sunday

Twin Cities Sidewalks - Wed, 07/29/2015 - 4:03pm
Seeing a map of Twin Cities' historic streetcar network goes a long way toward explaining the urban geography of the city. Most of the existing commercial corrdors, those places with the historic density, mixed-use nodes, and interesting old buildings are along the old streetcar lines. Even though the streetcars were all ripped up, burned down, and defunded over 50 years ago, there's a way in which they're still alive today.[The streetcar map on the wall of Minneapolis Central Library.]Some of the streetcar routes are pretty straightfoward. Others (like the old route through Minneapolis's) are crooked and confusing. Most have become bus routes, but a few of them have completely disappeared.[The route in question.]The old route to Willernie, White Bear Lake, and Stillwater is one of the latter. Together with Mark Brauer, a long-time East Side Saint Paul bicyclist, retired Mn-DOT planner, and amateur urban geographer*, we'll be tracing the old route of the Wildwood streetcar as best we can.It'll be an adventure. Some parts of the route are completely gone. In other places, you'll be able to find it. And waiting at the end will be Willernie, a crazy East Metro town that used to be an amusement park and still feels like its at the the end of a long drive up to the cabin.
  • What: Bike ride to Willernie, along the old Stillwater streetcar line
  • When: Sunday August 2nd at 11:00AM. Shoudld take 2-3 hours, probably more depending on stops
  • Where: Meet at the corner of Payne and Edgerton, across from Yarusso's
  • How long: 25 miles round trip
  • How much: Free! (Or buy Mark or me a beer.)
[Please RSVP to the Facebook invite if you get a chance.]Willernie is fascinating all by itself. Last summer, Andy Sturdevant, Steven Lang, and myself toured through it. Here's a bit from Andy's column:Like so many Twin Cities neighborhoods — St. Paul’s Union Park, Lake Minnetonka’s Excelsior, the stretch of Longfellow once known as Wonderland — Willernie owes its odd footprint to an amusement park. Wildwood Amusement Park, another of the cities’ many trolley parks built to lure city dwellers out to the end of the lines for recreation, sat on the site from 1889 through the 1930s.[Read the rest...] I've been looking forward to this ride for a while. If you're free Sunday, join in and explore the streetcar of your imagination.PLEASE NOTE: The ride's pacing will be leisurely. I am not a speed demon and neither is Mark, who has an upright handlebar type bicycle. It'll be a relaxing ride befitting the pace of a streetcar and the idea of Wildwood bourgeois leisure. [Wildwood spirits.][Willernie stop sign.][Willernie back roads.][Do you even know what this means?][Willernie main street.]* As if there was any other kind.
Categories: Twin Cities

The Right Turn on Red and some Free Ideas

Streets.MN - Wed, 07/29/2015 - 11:30am

Time to continue my series on traffic signals with the red-hot topic, the right turn on red, and some ideas for improving things.

The Right Turn on Red

We all know right turn on red (RTOR) is extremely dangerous, leading to motorists mowing down workers carrying plate-glass and old ladies pushing baby buggies. Or is it? Well, it seems to lead to a lot of aggressive behavior from both motorists and pedestrians, which has been well documented here on streets.mn and even noted in official studies, but actual crash data shows it’s very safe.

California, with its wide streets and auto-centric culture, has had RTOR since 1939. The first study was in 1956 by James C. Ray in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Richmond which found just 0.3% of intersection crashes involved a RTOR. Also of note: RTOR maneuvers involved 11% of the right turning crashes but 18% of the total right turns (And the same motorists that can’t make a RTOR would make a right turn on green during the next phase, which has the issue of motorists not yielding to pedestrians, along with much higher speeds).

Later studies have similar results. For vehicle vs. vehicle crashes, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)  1989-1992 study of Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, and Missouri (selected because crash reports from those states included data on whether a RTOR maneuver was being performed) found they amounted to 0.05%, of all injury crashes, and 0.06% of all fatal crashes.  A 1994-1996 study limited to San Francisco found they amounted to 0.45% of all intersection crashes.

Nor do things change much for car vs. pedestrian crashes. A 1994-1998 San Francisco study (to determine if RTOR should be banned citywide) by Jack L. Fleck and Bond M. Yee showed just 0.8% of all car vs pedestrian crashes involved a RTOR maneuver. To try to see if there may have been some problems with reporting, they picked 100 random car vs pedestrian crashes to analyze in detail. They found that of the 25 that occurred at signalized intersections, zero involved right turn on red and 12  involved right turn on green. Quebec, long the lone holdout against RTOR, finally allowed them in 2003 after reviewing the studies.

There are some conflicting data: one study of several states (by Paul Zador, Jack Moshman, and Leo Marcus) showed that when RTOR was enacted crashes at intersections increased 20.7% from what they would have been but there was no significant change in severe or incapacitating crashes.  A similar before/after study by Claude Dussault had similar results. One possible explanation for the discrepancy is a learning curve from both motorists and pedestrians, and that when the law was changed there were specific intersections that should have had restrictions that hadn’t been identified and so marked yet.

I acknowledge the possibility that a lot of very minor crashes between cars and pedestrian are not reported. This is not something I’ve personally observed (I’m rarely outside a car unless I’m on recreational trails which tend to have few signalized intersections and I try to avoid driving in pedestrian heavy areas if at all possible).  However there have been no studies on this, just anecdotes, and thus I can’t support or refute them since there’s no data on how common they are in objective terms. No one chimes in and says “I was not knocked over by a car today”. Maybe that’s a good area for a future study?

The MUTCD Speaks

Here are the MUTCD guidelines for NTOR, section 2B.54 03:

A No Turn on Red sign should be considered when an engineering study finds that one or more of the following conditions exists:

  • Inadequate sight distance to vehicles approaching from the left (or right, if applicable);
  • Geometrics or operational characteristics of the intersection that might result in unexpected conflicts;
  • An exclusive pedestrian phase;
  • An unacceptable number of pedestrian conflicts with right-turn-on-red maneuvers, especially involving children, older pedestrians, or persons with disabilities;
  • More than three right-turn-on-red accidents reported in a 12-month period for the particular approach; or
  • The skew angle of the intersecting roadways creates difficulty for drivers to see traffic approaching from their left.
  • For a long time there was a no RTOR at Lyndale Avenue and 66th Street, but this was removed because there wasn’t engineering justification.  Of course this specific example is soon going to be a roundabout…

    Lyndale Avenue at 66th Street

    “Unacceptable number of pedestrian conflicts” is kind of subjective, so if they really wanted to keep the ban it they might have been able to justify it here, and I agree this might be a good place for one.  And this is only a recommended practice (The MUTCD has three levels of guidelines: “May”= Optional, “Should”=Recommended, and “Shall”= Required). San Francisco, in fact, bans RTOR in some places just to prevent motorists from inching into the crosswalk. .

    But take another kind of intersection: If you ban right turns from a shopping mall to a wide suburban style road, traffic on the main road has to screech to a halt every time a motorist wants to turn out of the mall, and there’s probably not a pedestrian there and hasn’t been for the past hour. When you count all the suburban intersections around, there are probably more places they should allow RTOR than shouldn’t.

    MN 252 at 85th Ave N, no reason to ban RTOR here. Pedestrians aren’t even allowed at street level because of the pedestrian bridge.

    My Own Thoughts

    1) As should be obvious by now, due to the improved LOS for motorists and the preponderance of studies indicating it is actually extremely safe, I fully support allowing RTOR where appropriate. 

    2) I don’t like city-specific bans like NYC, or Montreal where you have to be aware of different rules of the road. This diverges from everything we’re trying to accomplish now with standardization, and I think NYC can afford signs at this point.

    3) As for whether the problem of motorists making illegal turns where banned is an engineering problem, enforcement problem, or both, I don’t know. Lighted blankout signs grab your attention, but have typically been used only at specific times of day, or when there’s a train on adjacent tracks. We use lighted indications for everything but a NTOR prohibition, so while not excusing bad driving, it’s understandable why it’s sometimes hard to see.

     

    First Free Idea: Flashing Yellow Arrows for Right Turns

    Directly related to the problems with right turning traffic at intersections, I propose increased use and modification of four section arrow heads on the right to try to make intersections safer.

    The states that allow a right turn on a red arrow would have to change, and the MUTCD would have to allow a flashing red arrow, but this is how I see it operating:

    • Green Arrow: Go, no conflicting vehicle or pedestrian phases
    • Flashing Yellow Arrow: Yield to pedestrians or vehicles
    • Red Arrow: Stop and do not turn / Flashing Red Arrow: Stop and turn if safe

    A four section head with a red ball on top is already legal if the intent is to allow RTOR, but I would prefer that we narrow the meanings of red balls , just as we are for green balls.

    Three section flashing yellow arrow heads are now permissible, but installing a standard 4-section head may be more problematic when physically mounted on the post for right turns. The lack of positional change from a flashing yellow to a steady yellow would be mitigated because the through signals would always change at the same time. It seems motorists have a problem with the “yield to pedestrians” on a green ball, just like they do for “yield to oncoming traffic”on a green ball.

    Second Free Idea: Ditch the Pedestrian Change Interval

    The idea for a pedestrian signal got started when streets got wider, traffic got faster, and things got more dangerous for pedestrians stranded in the intersection when the light changed. So the “Walk” light was added to tell pedestrians when it was safe to leave the curb.

    Early pedestrian accommodations, first with the green lens designed to throw some light downward, then with the separate “Walk” lens

    Since then, we’ve added the “Don’t Walk” and countdowns, but we’re still telling pedestrians that we’re the better judge than they are if they can make it across. And the long clearance interval, designed to accommodate the slowest of pedestrians, encourages jaywalking and disrespect for traffic control devices, and destroys the LOS for law-abiding pedestrians.

    Now that we have countdowns, what about eliminating change interval entirely and let pedestrians use their own judgement as to whether they can make it across the intersection? An 80-year old has a different crossing speed than a bicycle on the sidewalk or a multi-use path, but they are treated all the same. The countdown would start at the beginning of the Walk Interval, then count down to the buffer. We could extend the buffer a bit if we wanted to (but making it too long would again encourage jaywalking and reduce LOS). An eight second buffer, rather than the standard three, would allow 10 seconds of the red hand before the light turns green for cross-traffic.  Even at a narrow intersection, you could probably triple the walk interval. If a visually impaired person pushed a button, it could say “20 seconds left, Penn Avenue is 45 feet wide”. Would this increase crashes? I don’t know.

    Third Free Idea: Bring Back Red Light Cameras.

    To put it bluntly, as much as I like cars and driving, I have no tolerance for motorists that deliberately break the law and in 20 years of driving I’ve never been cited. One of my most satisfying moments was driving home from Biwabik and another motorist was tailgating me when I was driving the speed limit. I pulled over to let him pass, he zoomed by, and 10 miles later I passed him again he was pulled over by a cop. Red light cameras would also address the problem of motorists illegally turning on red where it isn’t and should not be allowed.

    What sunk the initial red light camera program was that the Minnesota cameras only photographed the license plate, and it was a crime (a petty misdemeanor). The courts ruled that you couldn’t charge the owner of a car with a crime unless you had photographic proof it was them driving. The city of Chicago, with its extensive program, treats red light camera tickets as an infraction, along the lines of a parking ticket, and doing so here would likely be OK with the courts as we don’t require proof it was the owner that parked at that expired meter.

     

    In the future I may write about such topics as the evolution of LED pedestrian modules or, but this concludes the “series within a series” of traffic signal controllers and questions.

     

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Why Are Bicycle Sales Declining (for the 14th year)?

    Streets.MN - Wed, 07/29/2015 - 8:30am

    The Bicycle Shop business in the U.S. is tough. Margins are thin, future sales tough to predict, good employees hard to find, and manufacturers refuse to protect bricks & mortar dealers from lower price online competitors. To owners, shops often seem more a labor of love than a source of income[1].

    The National Bicycle Dealers Association (NBDA) recently published a report that really brings this to light. It focused on the continuing decline of bicycling and bicycle sales in the U.S. for the past 12 to 14 years. In 2000, 43.1 million people rode bicycles six or more days which is 148 riders per thousand population; by 2014 this had declined to 35.6 million or 111 riders per thousand[2].

    In 2005, 67 bicycles were sold per thousand people and in 2014 this had fallen to 57 per thousand[3]. Perhaps worse, sales of bicycles with a 20” or larger wheel size have fallen from a high of 67 per thousand population around 1974 to just 39 per thousand in 2014. The number of bicycle shops has fallen by 18% over the past decade while combined sales floor square footage has remained stagnant.

    None of this is new. It’s been the number one topic of conversation for over a decade among bicycle shop owners.

    Myopic Vision?

    I often wonder if the major impediment to sales growth is that U.S. shops are largely and often exclusively focused on recreation rather than transportation. U.S. shops are selling something that isn’t very critical nor even very useful for many people, instead of selling a valuable necessity.

    An average person will only do something recreational for a short bit before they move on to something else. Many are also hesitant to spend money on recreational pursuits. This does not a broad, diverse market make.

    There are certainly people who are devoted cyclists who will ride frequently throughout their lives and buy a lot of cycling stuff. These are very few, though, and unfortunately for local bicycle shops are also more likely than the average consumer to purchase online, especially highly profitable accessories.

    Photo: Henry Cutler, Workcycles (Amsterdam)

    Even the majority of papers and articles about getting more women riding bicycles (and buying bicycles and accessories) focuses on fitness and recreation rather than daily transportation. One woman told me that she’s visited two woman-owned shops in other cities and both were great at telling her about women-specific bicycles and lycra and classes for adjusting a derailleur, but neither had a clue about her need to take her children to school, bring groceries home and not wanting to worry about anything mechanical beyond air in her tires. This, by the way, goes for most guys as well.

    The Death Cycle

    Our current recreational focus has resulted in people having a garage full of bikes that aren’t very durable, go out of adjustment quickly, are uncomfortable to ride, and can’t easily be ridden in ordinary clothes.

    So, we have millions of bikes hanging in garages, collecting dust and rarely ridden. Who wants to change in to shorts, search for wherever they put their helmet last year and struggle to get their bicycle down from the ceiling before trying to find the pump for the now flat tires and all only to then ride a bicycle that’s uncomfortable and has out of adjustment clackity-clacking gears? And this is the simple process for those who don’t load them on their car to drive to some place that they feel is safe enough to ride (I’ve always found it fascinating how many more bikes on cars I see in the U.S. than The Netherlands).

    Worse, because people don’t want to ride their uncomfortable pants-leg eating bicycles, they are missing out on what may be the best source of routine activity available and they become overweight or obese. If you’re overweight, you’re even less likely to want to ride your out-of-adjustment bicycle. BTW, I’m not blaming our poor health and obesity on the bicycle industry; Wendy’s Baconator, among many others, contributes it’s share.

    Plus, we’re also ending up with bikes that either can’t carry anything or get squirrelly when more than a loaf of bread is squished on the rack. So much for useful transportation.

    Time for a new bicycle? Hardly. If you already have a rarely-used bicycle collecting dust in the garage, you’re unlikely to want to spend more money on another for fear that it, too, will do nothing but hang in the garage, collect dust and it remind you of this every day it hangs there. That’s not good for sales.

    The Fraternity

    Many people don’t want to be ‘cyclists’. They don’t want to wear lycra or clackety shoes. They don’t want to wear helmets or get helmet hair or drip sweat all over the floor in their favorite cafe. They don’t want to abide by The Rules or build a bicycle repair station in their garage.

    Perhaps most of all they don’t want to be associated with ‘those cyclists‘ — the ones who run red lights when others have right-of-way or block traffic because they-have-a-right-to-the-road (Note: they do have a right to the road, but that’s another topic). They don’t want to be associated with people who have irritatingly bright blinkie strobe lights that blind them when they’re driving. They don’t want to be confused with people whose common pose is an anti-social fist up in the air gesticulating to the car that just passed them too close.

    They’ve heard enough anti-cyclist rhetoric on radio and at dinner parties to know that this is a group that perhaps they don’t want to be associated with.

    This isn’t a criticism of people who wear lycra and helmets, I have a closetful myself, but simply a note that ‘cyclists’ are not always viewed very positively and this might not be the lifestyle to be selling.

    What’s a bike shop to do?

    Today we have the wrong bikes for the wrong reason and no place to ride. No wonder sales have been flat, and declining per capita, for 15 years.

    What if we turn this around? Give people a good reason and purpose to ride often — transportation. Build safe and comfortable places to ride — protected bikeways. Provide people with proper bicycles that are simple and durable.

    1) Sell the idea of riding for transportation. Give people a reason and a purpose to ride every week or every day. Plant the seed that a bicycle is much more than a recreational toy. Someone who rides frequently, like to dinner once per week, is more likely to want to invest in an upgraded bicycle in a few years and more likely become interested in other bicycling, like racing or off-road.

    2) Do everything you can to make bicycling in your neighborhood and sales area comfortable and safe for normal average people. There’s a reason that The Netherlands has a busy bicycle shop on just about every corner. Get copies of the CROW Design Manual For Bicycle Traffic, learn it, and promote it. Get involved with the NBDA’s Green Lane Project. Read A View From The Cycle Path and Bicycle Dutch.

    3) Sell bicycles that work for average people. KISS is important — don’t make bicycling complicated. Start each sale with a good city bike. Sell them something that will always be easy and ready to ride and they are more likely to ride often rather than just a couple of times per year. A bicycle that can be ridden in any clothes, that won’t eat their jeans, and that doesn’t require a lot of maintenance.

    4A) Hide your inner cyclist (and the associated accessories). Don’t appear to be part of the fraternity. Don’t use buzz words. Don’t try to impress customers with how much they don’t know about The Fraternity.

    Don’t tell them to HTFU and learn to drive their bike with 4000 lb weapons disguised as cars. Acknowledge that riding on most of our U.S. roads is dangerous, uncomfortable, and sometimes terrifying. Let them know what you are doing to change this (and maybe enlist their help).

    Help average people feel comfortable when they walk in. Don’t make them feel like they’re out of their element and in a place they don’t belong. Rather than posters of racers and off-road folk, maybe have posters of average people riding a bicycle wearing nothing but the normal clothes they wear to work or dinner.

    4B) Put bicycle fraternity accessories in a corner or separate room, if you carry them at all. This includes clothing, shoes, helmets, nutrition, and parts.

    Recreational Cars

    Imagine if car dealers only sold recreational cars. Cars for racing and off-roading. Cars not really suited to daily use. If part of every sale included a lecture on the need to buy and wear a helmet and safety vest and take a class on repair and maintenance? If your car came without lights or locks or fenders or anywhere to carry anything home from the store. And if it were suggested that you HTFU and learn to operate your car among 200 mph trains.

    A bike that’s easy and comfortable to ride is more likely to be ridden, less likely to collect dust, more likely to result in a healthy fit customer, more likely to be replaced with an upgraded model, and more likely to result in people seeing others riding and want one themselves.

    * Photos (unless noted): Franz-Michael S. Melbin, Copenhagen Cycle Chic.

    ———–

    [1] And of course, the best way to make a million bucks is to start with two million and open a bike shop.

    [2] This and other data is from Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, July 1, 2015, The 2015 NBDA Specialty Bicycle Retail Study (http://nbda.com/articles/specialty-bicycle-retail-study-pg157.htm) and the NBDA U.S. Bicycle Market 2014 (http://nbda.com/articles/u.s.-bicycle-market-2014-pg196.htm).

    [3] Total bicycle and accessories sales was $7.4 billion in 2014 of which $4.7 billion or 63% was from local bicycle shops.

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    The single-tracked world of American railroading

    Hi / Zeph / 400 - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 3:25pm
    Here's a map I put together using the Federal Railroad Administration's Highway-Rail Crossing Inventory database, focusing on the number of main tracks at public grade crossings across the country. The main thing to see is that the vast majority of our rail infrastructure is single-tracked, only allowing trains to travel in one direction at a time on segments of track that don't have passing sidings. (For this version of the map, I didn't attempt to show sidings.)There are only a dozen or so major double-tracked corridors that show up on this map. Some routes, like the double/quadruple-tracked Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C. and Boston, Massachusetts, are mostly or wholly invisible, since they are grade-separated and don't have any level crossings. Many metropolitan areas and rail hubs have splotches where there are three or more tracks, but they're usually for very limited distances.Some rail routes are double-tracked due to running heavy, slow trains. This includes routes in northern Minnesota that were built to haul iron ore/taconite to seaports on Lake Superior. In Wyoming's Powder River Basin, the triple-tracked Joint Line shows just a few public crossings. It's used to haul coal out from the region's mines to connecting routes, some of which are themselves double-tracked.BNSF's Southern Transcon connecting Southern California to Chicago shows up particularly well—it's a route that carries a lot of intermodal traffic from West Coast ports. Union Pacific's corridor between Northern California and Chicago doesn't show up quite as much—for some reason, there aren't many crossings shown out west, though it also has more single-tracking.Routes that have a significant amount of double-tracking correspond pretty well with maps of Amtrak service. Out west, the Amtrak Cascades corridor is easily visible between Oregon and Washington, and the Capitol Corridor stands out in California. Other long-distance routes in the Eastern U.S. and Midwest also show up pretty well: The route of the City of New Orleans, the Crescent, and the Silver Star (which shares parts of its route with a couple other long-distance Amtrak services).Double-tracking isn't a requirement for passenger routes, but double-tracked lines make scheduling much more flexible and can dramatically increase capacity over lines that only have a single main track. Single-tracked lines are constrained in the number of trains they can carry by the number of sidings, spacing between them, and siding length, not to mention the general condition of the line and other design features that limit train speeds.Most rail maps of the United States don't differentiate between busy and lightly-used rail lines, in contrast to maps of the highway system which are able to classify roads based on design. Each can be misleading, though—just as a busy rail line doesn't look much different than a quiet one, it also isn't obvious from the design that that Interstate 94 is far busier in Wisconsin than it is in North Dakota or Montana.
    Categories: Twin Cities

    Hit By a Car (again) in Downtown St. Paul, or Why We Need the Bike Plan

    Streets.MN - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 12:54pm

    Dana, Quinn, and Daphne.

    My six-year old son and I got hit by a car in downtown Saint Paul last night. We’re fine, except for a good scrape on my leg, a busted fender, and a nervous little boy. It could have been worse. Before leaving work on 10th Street and Cedar Street I carefully studied the routes I could take from Harriet Island, where Quinn was participating in a Saint Paul Parks and Recreation day camp, to an errand we had to run off Summit Avenue on our way home to Hamline-Midway. There were no stellar options. Aside from no bike lanes, Wabasha Avenue and Kellogg Boulevard are under construction (neither of these projects include bike infrastructure). I decided to take Wabasha Bridge into downtown and then decided to take the sidewalk on Kellogg Boulevard up to College Avenue, across from the Minnesota History Center to get to Summit Avenue.

    I have been bike commuting for a decade and am an extremely experienced rider. I teach bike commuting and safety as part of our employee development seminar at my place of employment. I previously served on the board of directors of the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota and was a co-chair of the Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition. In other words, I know my business. I knew that biking on the sidewalk was more dangerous than taking a lane on Kellogg Boulevard. I have counselled countless new riders against biking on the sidewalk. Nevertheless, I felt it would be safer to bike slowly on the sidewalk given the construction, the rush hour traffic, the hill up Kellogg Boulevard, and my son on the back of my bike. I stopped at every intersection because bicycles on the sidewalk should act like pedestrians.

    We came to the intersection of Kellogg Boulevard and the I35 Northbound exit ramp. I stopped and waited for the walk signal. We started across the intersection when the person driving the SUV, waiting to make a right turn, started forward. He had looked left for traffic coming down the hill eastbound, but did not look right for pedestrians on the sidewalk (or a mother on a cargo bike). He hit us. We fell. My first instinct was rage, but also awareness that he still might not know we were there. I ran over to his driver side window and let loose a torrent of obscenities. My son and the bike were still lying in the street and I calmed down (a little) when I saw that my son’s eyes were as big as saucers. I stopped and got my son onto the sidewalk. I realized that he was more scared of my reaction than what happened so I tried my best to calm down.

    The intersection.

    A nurse from Children’s Hospital was in the car behind the man who hit us and she helped comfort my son and made sure he was not injured. The man who hit us got out of his car, which surprised me because last time I was hit a decade ago on Saint Peter and Fourth Street my bike and I went over a car’s windshield and they did not stop. This is sadly typical from many stories I hear from friends who have been hit. The homeless people begging on the corner ran over and helped bring my bike on the sidewalk. One of them stood in front of the man’s SUV, making sure he was not going to drive off. The driver and I exchanged information. He was very concerned.

    Once I knew we were okay and the bike was rideable, all the people left. I sat down on the sidewalk with my son. He was surprisingly calm and never cried. He quietly told me that he remembered to keep his legs in like I had taught him. I asked if he felt okay biking home or whether we should call his father to come and get us in the car. He said he wanted daddy. We walked down to the Liffey, called my husband, and had lemonade at the bar while we waited.

    Riding with Quinn in the winter.

    Maybe I should not have been on the sidewalk. The man who hit us should have looked both ways, even if it was one-way automobile traffic. I know some people would say I should not be biking with my children, should just take our car, that I am taking unnecessary risks by riding a cargo bike in rush hour traffic downtown. Believe me, my children are my life. If Quinn would have been injured or killed, I do not know how I would continue living. He and his sister are the center of my universe. I took every precaution I thought reasonable. If there were a single bike lane in downtown Saint Paul, I would have taken it.

    Others insist streets are for cars. That building bike and pedestrian infrastructure is just catering to a left-wing minority, wasting tax dollars on the fringe. It does not matter what choices I or the man who hit us made – cars are legitimate road users because most people drive cars. I drive, too. We called my husband who came to pick us up in our family’s car. I am thankful we have one.

    But, that’s not the vision I want for our city. Not only is that corner of Kellogg Boulevard dangerous, it is ugly and barren. It’s not a place I want to walk or bike. I want it to be normal for mothers to pick their children up from Parks and Recreation day camps on a bike, especially when that ride is only about five miles and it is a sunny summer day. I want it to be normal for people of who do not identify as A-level, experienced cyclists to decide it is easier to bike the three miles to the grocery store or the park. I want a vibrant, busy downtown that is also welcoming and comfortable for people arriving in cars, on foot, by public transit, or by bike.

    Let’s stop dithering over parking. Saint Paul’s parking study clearly shows that downtown is not at capacity parking. The bike loop and other improvements will not end the economy of downtown Saint Paul. Make it a nicer, more welcoming place where people want to be, not just drive through. Make it safer for all road users. Give a mother on a bike at least one safe choice to get through downtown so the sidewalk seems like the best choice when it is not.

    The man who hit us called me last night. I did not feel like talking so I let my voice mail pick it up. He said he was very sorry about our “incident” and wanted to see if we were okay. That was nice, but I still don’t know if I feel like calling him back.

    Irony.

     

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Chart of the Day: Transit Labor Efficiency in NY Metro Area

    Streets.MN - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 12:45pm

    Via Alon Levy’s great walkability and planning website, Pedestrian Observations, here’s a chart showing transit operating costs using two different payment models:

    [Note: these data are from New York City commuter rail, e.g. the Long Island Railroad or LIRR and Metro-North, a NYC commuter rail line.]

    Levy has a lot of information on how scheduling and staffing levels can affect costs. Here’s Levy’s key idea:

    But whatever happens, the most important reform from the point of view of reducing marginal off-peak service provision costs is letting go of redundant train crew. Halving the variable operating costs is exactly what is required to convert the nearly empty off-peak trains from financial drains to an extra source of revenues, balancing low ridership with even lower expenses. This would of course compound with other operating efficiencies, limiting the losses of branch lines and turning the busier main line trains into profit centers. But nowhere else is there the possibility of cutting costs so much with one single policy change as with removing conductors and changing the fare enforcement system to proof-of-payment.

    There’s been lots of conversation about enforcement on the Green Line. People ask things like “why aren’t there turnstyles?” or “why aren’t there more police checking tickets?”

    Well, the answer lies in economics. In general, I think Twin Cities rail transit is pretty efficient!

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    The Single-Tracked World of American Railroading

    Streets.MN - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 12:33pm

    A map of grade crossings across the United States showing the number of main tracks.

    Here’s a map I put together using the Federal Railroad Administration’s Highway-Rail Crossing Inventory database, focusing on the number of main tracks at public grade crossings across the country. The main thing to see is that the vast majority of our rail infrastructure is single-tracked, only allowing trains to travel in one direction at a time on segments of track that don’t have passing sidings. (For this version of the map, I didn’t attempt to show sidings.)

    There are only a dozen or so major double-tracked corridors that show up on this map. Some routes, like the double/quadruple-tracked Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C. and Boston, Massachusetts, are mostly or wholly invisible, since they are grade-separated and don’t have any level crossings. Many metropolitan areas and rail hubs have splotches where there are three or more tracks, but they’re usually for very limited distances.

    Some rail routes are double-tracked due to running heavy, slow trains. This includes routes in northern Minnesota that were built to haul iron ore/taconite to seaports on Lake Superior. In Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, the triple-tracked Joint Line shows just a few public crossings. It’s used to haul coal out from the region’s mines to connecting routes, some of which are themselves double-tracked.

    BNSF’s Southern Transcon connecting Southern California to Chicago shows up particularly well—it’s a route that carries a lot of intermodal traffic from West Coast ports. Union Pacific’s corridor between Northern California and Chicago doesn’t show up quite as much—for some reason, there aren’t many crossings shown out west, though it also has more single-tracking.

    Routes that have a significant amount of double-tracking correspond pretty well with maps of Amtrak service. Out west, the Amtrak Cascades corridor is easily visible between Oregon and Washington, and the Capitol Corridor stands out in California. Other long-distance routes in the Eastern U.S. and Midwest also show up pretty well: The route of the City of New Orleans, the Crescent, and the Silver Star (which shares parts of its route with a couple other long-distance Amtrak services).

    Double-tracking isn’t a requirement for passenger routes, but double-tracked lines make scheduling much more flexible and can dramatically increase capacity over lines that only have a single main track. Single-tracked lines are constrained in the number of trains they can carry by the number of sidings, spacing between them, and siding length, not to mention the general condition of the line and other design features that limit train speeds.

    Most rail maps of the United States don’t differentiate between busy and lightly-used rail lines, in contrast to maps of the highway system which are able to classify roads based on design. Each can be misleading, though—just as a busy rail line doesn’t look much different than a quiet one, it also isn’t obvious from the design that that Interstate 94 is far busier in Wisconsin than it is in North Dakota or Montana.

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    Categories: Twin Cities