Next week I’m headed to Memphis along with Mike Lydon, Joe Minicozzi, Gracen Johnson and Jim Kumon to lead our first ever Strong Towns Boot Camp. I’m not sure what our blog content will be next week as the entire week is going to be pretty intense, but we’ll try to give you some updates. If you are anywhere near the Memphis area, you aren’t going to want to miss this. You can get details for the evening lineup here. And wherever you are at, you can follow along on our Memphis2014.com website. If this event is a success – and I have ever anticipation that it will be a huge success – we’re going to be looking for communities across this country (and beyond, if it works) to bring this intense experience to. Stay tuned.
Enjoy the week’s news.
- I had to lead with this because it was very timely. After (humbly) taking my priest to task last week for his concerns over losing parking for a bike lane, Pope Francis weighed in with his thoughts. I’m not claiming complete vindication, but I hope this lessons my penance somewhat.
Some of the greatest dangers standing in the way of a happy religious life are materialism and a culture that believes nothing is forever, he said. The Pontiff went on to say that religious men and women have to avoid the temptation of thinking “the latest smartphone, the fastest moped and a car that turns heads” will make them happy.
Pope Francis revealed that it pains him when he sees a nun or priest driving an expensive car, and he praised the beauty of the bicycle, noting his 54-year-old personal secretary, Msgr Alfred Xuereb, gets around on a bike.
- It has been a couple of months since we were in Texas but, much like Arkansas that I wrote about earlier today, the conversation there continues. It means a lot to me that a group focused on downtown Arlington would be using our message to make their points. Please keep going.
Marohn analyzes Downtown Arlington’s “stroad” aka Abram Street. This is not a traffic issue, but rather a value-capture problem. If we are going to redesign Abram St., it needs to reflect our most important value: safety. The future of UT Arlington WILL be impacted by Abram St. Marohn even says, “you’ll screw it up for a generation, if you put a stroad back in”
- Bloomberg Business Week is reporting that some cities are now looking to parking lots as a natural place to increase revenues. For many of us, this is simply stating the obvious that has been sitting in plain site for a long, long time. Even more tragic about this sudden insight is when we pause to remember what was actually on those sites to begin with (hint: the tax base we now desperately need). I had one local council member tell me this week that our bombed out downtown actually needs more parking. I told him that 40% of our downtown is parking, roughly the same percentage of our budget that is aid from the state. He didn’t get it, I’m afraid.
“From an economic standpoint, the cities are not getting the taxes that they should be,” said Klein, who has worked on transportation policies in Washington and Chicago.
Parking lots are natural for development because there’s often no demolition involved and chances of running into environmental issues are lower.
At the same time, Americans are driving less than they did eight years ago. From 2001 to 2009, the greatest decline was among people ages 16 to 34, according to a May report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
- Thank you, again, to Kevin Klinkenberg for highlighting our work. The series I wrote on a World Class Transportation System is going to be turned into an e-book short for all of you policy geeks out there, of which I am one, as soon as I get MoneyHall out the door.
The simple reality is: all of us are going to have to come to grips with the fact that we can't continue to fund infrastructure as we have been since the Eisenhower administration. We simply don't have the money. We've been embarking on a historic experiment for a couple of generations now, and the bill is coming due. States with slower growth are the front lines in this regard, as they're dealing with the financial constraints today. But the faster growth states will eventually meet this reality as well. In short: we've built far more infrastructure than we can ever afford to maintain without taxing ourselves into oblivion. A new mindset and approach will be needed.
- Someone linked to our blog in the comments section and so I was alerted to the site Raise the Hammer, which I kind of like. In his own words, Nicholas Kevlahan describes how our local streets are designed as freeways and how the predictable then happens: people drive at freeway speeds. We need more people raising the hammer and challenging the ridiculous places we have built.
Claremont likely has a design speed of around 120-130 km/h and is posted at 70km/h. Wellington is a 50 km/h street but can easily be driven at 100 km/h if there is little traffic.
It is shocking that it is even possible to drive at 125 km/h on a city street like Claremont or Wellington!
But this is what you get when the engineering design is based on that of a freeway with a one-way multilane design and limited access (like a divided freeway).
- A similar conversation is taking place in Dallas where the future of the I-345 is being questioned. Too many of my fellow engineers, of course, see this solely about moving cars in the same one-dimensional way that generals think about fighting wars or teenage girls obsess about hair, clothes and makeup. Rudolph Bush wrote in the Dallas News recently that the project needs to be about more than moving cars and he is absolutely right.
Is it worth freeing one side of the city from that division and opening up the possibility for new development in that area?
Yes, solutions need to be found for people who use I-345. But the entire tone of road defenders has been to cut the idea off from debate, to end discussion before it begins. The hint that anyone for this might be out of touch with the poor, or somehow racially insensitive, slams the door.
This debate shouldn’t just be about moving cars. We know how to do that. It should be about the future city we build together.
- And by the way, check out the best advocacy website I’ve ever seen, which is about this project. Just incredible work.
- It is now pothole season in Minnesota and across other northern locals. Thankfully some, like the Wisconsin Gazette, are asking why we have no money to fix our roads but billions to build more. As Tony Dutzig of the Frontier Group suggested on Twitter recently, the policy seems to be “Fix it Last”.
Last year Gov. Scott Walker allocated $3.3 billion in transportation spending, and the lion’s share of it went toward expanding highways, some of which actually have declining traffic, and building new highways where there’s not nearly enough use to justify them, Hiniker said.
Meanwhile, Milwaukee and other urban areas of Wisconsin got the fuzzy end of the funding lollipop. Milwaukee wound up with only $2.4 million for street repairs last year, and while this year the reimbursements might rise by up to 4 percent, it’s not enough to address the magnitude of the problem, according to analysts.
But Hiniker and others stress that Walker and his fellow Republicans can’t be singled out to shoulder the blame for the situation. Misuse of transportation funds to favor road builders is a bipartisan scam — essentially a legal form of graft that’s equally exploited by both Democrats and Republicans, they say.
- A report from Bridgewater Associates put a number to the obvious math this week when they reported that 85% of public pensions will likely fail in the next 30 years. That gives the 50-something staff member some pretty clear options. They can (a) plan for retirement without their pension, (b) hope they pass away before their pension goes broke, (c) gamble that they are one of the 15% although the study didn’t calculate the drag effect to the economy of 85% of pensions going broke or (d) start shoring up the finances of your community. We all have a stake in build strong towns instead of stroads.
Public pensions have just $3 trillion in assets to invest to cover future retirement payments of $10 trillion over the next many decades, Bridgewater says. An investment return of roughly 9% a year is needed to meet those onerous obligations.
Many pension observers make the claim pensions will achieve 7% to 8% returns. But even if that assumption is correct, which is unlikely, public pensions are looking at a 20% shortfall, Bridgewater says. A 4% return is much more likely, the firm says.
- All of you central government Keynesians who want our economy run by PhD will get mad at this oversimplification of Federal Reserve policy, but I liked it. We wail and gnash our teeth over the gap between the rich and the poor and then adopt policy – in the name of helping the poor and disadvantaged – that accelerates the gap. The greatest thing we can do for the poor today is to stop trying to prop up this Ponzi scheme economy and simply allow it to reset to something humane (and local).
- I’ll be speaking in Ontario in a couple of weeks, a place where they are now spending more on biking and waking infrastructure. Wait a second….this is Canada, right? According to the leaders here in my hometown of Brainerd, Minnesota, people can’t and won’t bike and walk because it is simply too cold here. Well, that’s not how they see it north of us. Bravo, Ontario, especially with the approach you have outlined (which is clearly NOT STUPID).
The money, the first specifically set aside for biking in the provincial budget, will be for “quick wins” and pilot projects.
- Have an idea but no place to take it? Not feeling welcome in your own place? Want to plug in to something really exciting? Here’s one interesting option.
- MindMixer announced they are moving from Omaha to Kansas City, a fairly lateral move in my opinion but one that has some in Omaha lamenting the fact that they don’t have the one thing that would have kept MindMixer there: a streetcar like they have in Kansas City. Remember what I wrote about engineers, generals and teenage girls earlier? It also too-often applies to transit advocates. It’s a complex world out there, but the math here for MindMixer is pretty simple.
The firm also was wooed with $1.6 million in state tax incentives.
- One city in Texas is hoping the state will allow them to drink their own wastewater (after treating it, of course). I guess if you want growth that badly, Texas. I guess I would stop watering my Texas lawn and stop washing my big Texas truck before I’d drink my own pee. That’s just me, I guess.
The two lakes that serve Wichita Falls are 26 percent full.
City leaders are also considering rare restrictions on outdoor watering for swimming pools and car washes.
- One of the most fascinating articles I have read this year was this one about the federal system for processing the pensions of federal employees. Just read it – it is almost surreal – and you will get a sense for how helpless and fragile we become over time when we try to simplify and control complex systems.
Here, inside the caverns of an old Pennsylvania limestone mine, there are 600 employees of the Office of Personnel Management. Their task is nothing top-secret. It is to process the retirement papers of the government’s own workers.
But that system has a spectacular flaw. It still must be done entirely by hand, and almost entirely on paper.
- A brilliant map showing the most photographed places on earth. The landscapes hanging on my wall here at home were taken largely in Italy. They are of gorgeous urban places built by humans. What we don’t have hanging on the wall: the curb cut with the Arby’s and drive through Starbucks in the background. In fact, I don’t know if I live within two hours of an urban place worthy of being photographed. Maybe I do with some weird camera work, but I’m certainly not that talented.
- I love baseball and, since I’ve been there and done that, thought that this video was sheer genius, especially how they slowed it down to really feel the pain. I laughed for about ten minutes straight watching it. I can’t embed it so you will need to click through. Worth it, I promise you.
- This weekend is Easter, the most important day of the year for Christians. I really love Lent and how it helps focus the mind on the things that are most important, particularly the teachings of Jesus and how they apply to our lives today. I continuously fall short of what I’m asked to do and, in light of my failings, found this video particularly challenging.
Enjoy your weekend, everyone. Remember that the programming next week may be a little off with the Memphis Boot Camp taking center stage, but check back often and we’ll get you some good stuff to think about, talk about and share with others.
The latest from Chuck Marohn – MoneyHall – is set to be released in May. Sign up to be notified when it is available on Chuck’s site, MoneyHall.org, and while you are there, check out Thoughts on Building Strong Towns, a great primer on Strong Towns thinking.
Today’s Chart of the Day examines shipments to, from, or between Minnesota locations
Source: MnDOT Annual Transportation Performance Report 2012
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When we do a Curbside Chat, a workshop or some other type of event in a community, the reaction that I get is fairly consistent. People tell me that the information I shared was mind-blowing, completely relevant to their place and that, while they couldn’t put it into words, they have understood the core problems I outline for a long, long time.
The only place I’m not getting that last bit is from my recent visit to Arkansas. I hadn’t been to Arkansas since I was really young and, unfortunately, my first election that I was eligible to vote was 1992. Having not voted for a Democrat then or since (and don’t assume I vote all Republican please), the following eight years filled with hillbilly jokes molded a fleeting impression I had of the state into some very low expectations.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. For a person who has visited lots of this country – and not just the touristy parts but the underbelly I get treated to professionally – I was really impressed with northwestern Arkansas and, in particular, Fayetteville. And not just impressed with what they are physically doing on the ground but even more blown away with the really thoughtful and active community dialog I was dropped into the middle of.
It is a hard thing to describe so I’m fortunate to have one great news article covering the event and another even better editorial that captured the essence of the conversation. Read the entire thing, but I’m going to give you some quotes.
It would have been easy to be offended or excited at his precisely targeted critiques, except that Marohn’s notes were specific to the Fort Smith area only because the Fort Smith area is just one of thousands – if not more – U.S. municipalities doing things the wrong way.
The editorial went on to talk about some local issues and lament the direction the local conversation had gone on two big projects, both on the periphery of the community. I love how they brought the conversation back to what really matters:
Any broad discussion of urban sprawl deflects from the point Marohn was trying to make, which is that taxpayer support of private development and/or public infrastructure, whether across the street or outside a territorial jurisdiction, receive a rational review to determine the relationship between upfront benefits and future ancillary impacts on a municipal budget.
And finally, here’s the kind of logic I ran into in Arkansas, which left me really optimistic that they got it.
It’s math. It’s short-term and long-term budgetary math. It’s math that allows us to avoid emotion resulting in a decision that may be popular and easy on the front end, but costly and potentially cumbersome for future residents and leaders.
As I left town, there was a little bit of buzz around the people I had met that they really wanted to get me back for more conversation and to put some of these ideas into action. I’m really enthused about that possibility because, I’m happy to say, I really like Arkansas.
You don’t need to be in Munich long before you hear of the Champion’s League of Europe and Munich’s football (soccer) prowess—5 time champion (and 5 time runner up) of the most prestigious competition in European football. Apparently, the Champion’s league apparently also to bicycling; Munich eagerly wants to be included in EU’s fictitious Champion’s league of cycling cities, joining the ranks of Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Odense, and the like. A host of factors suggests a solid platform for this aspiration. However, the quality of their overall cycling environment still has ways to go prior to joining this elite group.
Munich is near the mountains, but is by no means mountainous. The city is rich, but not ostentatious. The city has bent over backward with cycling marketing and publicity; they aim to climb in the ranks fast. The relatively lighthearted ways of the Bavarians provides a fruitful environment for cycling. But still, the bicycle’s role in the city’s transport system is marginalized and it appears that Munich is having a difficult time taking the next step: suppressing the car to make cycling better.
Munich is home to 1.5 million residents. The compact old town is full of everything would expect of Bavaria’s signature city: meticulously rebuilt buildings after WWII, beer halls, and original, narrow streets. The cycling scene in the small historic core is wildly different than immediately outside. This is not uncommon in European cities. In the historic core, cyclists are largely competing with pedestrians in traffic restricted (or banned) areas. This works fine. Outside, the “company line” is that more than half all roads in the city have a bicycle facility of some kind. This may be the case but I did not see it on the maps. And, its unclear what counts as a cycling facility. It doesn’t matter: it’s the overall quality of the bicycle paths, and the cycling environment, that keeps Munich out of the first tier of EU cities. Cars dominate roads more than in their peer cities. While facilities may be present—and many of them are better than others—too many of them are narrow. Others abut and traverse streets with high car volumes and incompatible speeds. Some mix in high pedestrian zones pedestrians; a few end prematurely. Munich is good, relatively speaking. It is better than your average U.S. city, but not exceptional. (See below 2:00 minute video cycling the streets of Munich; in particular, notice the action of the police van at 1:17).2:00 video cycling the streets of Munich (notice the movement of the police at 1:17).http://streets.mn/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Munich.m4v
Density is clearly high enough to support high levels of cycling (4,500 inhabitants / km2). And, these density gradients are apparently alive and well across the 25 boroughs of the city; further from the historic center, bicycling falls off rapidly. Closer to the center, not surprisingly, is where it appears it thrives. Some of this has to do with parking availability and fees–1.5 Euro per hour in immediate outlying areas and 2.5 Euro within the center. These are costly rates but they could go higher. Travel data suggests that half of all car trips are less than 5 km. They city claims that in 2011, 17.4% of trips were by bike—a figure they are proud of because of the 3.8% rise relative to 2008 numbers , .
Much of the Munich’s cycling momentum comes from the 2008 elections when the Green Party made huge strides. They launched the “Radlhauptstadt campaign” an aggressive, in your face, marketing campaign to increase the awareness of cycling city-wide. This included videos that were accompanied with all sorts of brick-brack. We are talking beer coasters, t-shirts, maps, canvas bags and the sort. Completely covering the street in front of town hall, the city painted a giant bike—visible for all aerial Google map shots of the city. These efforts came out of the gate fast—a public relations effort that they are keen to assess. For average citizen, bicycling is noticeably on the rise owing to these efforts. But can public relations really propel a city to the next level? Marking is relatively inexpensive; changing city form is not. It is unclear if Munich is ready to make the hard decisions that are required for cycling. The city aspires for a 25% bike mode split is its future, perhaps as early as 2020. If you write off Muenster (because it is too small), Munich clearly aspires to be the bicycling capital of Germany. They may be there. But, to join the Champion’s league, the city clearly needs to do more. Public relations campaigns only go so far. Moving space from cars needs to rise in priority—difficult propositions for an affluent city and who also is home to the world headquarters of BMW. More innovative street design, across the board, is this Bavarian city’s big hurdle. We are talking the types that allow modes to more harmoniously mix. These can be accompanied with more mix zones. More dedicated traffic signals. More protected bike paths. What they have is commendable. However, their status quo performance will likely keep them out of the Champion’s league. ^^^^^ Caveat: My personal involvement with Munich’s cycling scene is a bit deeper here than for other EU BICI towns. In addition to a two-hour bicycle tour, I participated in a roundtable with locals on the topic of sustainable transportation. While my knowledge is admittedly still scant, my perceptions are a bit stronger; and, my expectations in terms of creating a world-class cycling are higher. I heard such aspirations several times during my brief visit. Thanks to: Nina Gartz (U.S. Consulate), Johanna Balthesen (Munich Department of Public Order, Kreisverwaltungsreferat), Martin Glöckner and Julia Fröbel (Green City e.V.), Thomas Schmidt (General German Bicycling Association (ADFC)), Dominic Staat (Pedal Heroes), Paul Bickelbacher, and Benjy Barnhart.  Pedestrians fair well in Munich, almost 30% of all trips are by walking.  Though, it is worth mentioning that the 13.6% value from 2008 was based on a relatively robust sample of 23,505, where as the 17.4% value for 2011 is based only on sample size of 1,996.  More on status of current levels of cycling, see: http://www.sueddeutsche.de/muenchen/radfahren-in-muenchen-stadt-der-speichen-1.1194530  They since repaved this stretch of road, covering the paint, but there are supposedly plans to redo it.  see: http://www.abcmultimodal.eu/evaluation-munich.html
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March 30, 2014 14.7 miles – Highland Park, West End, Downtown
Saint Paul is a beautiful place but like any city fighting its way out of winter’s lassitude, finding its charms is more difficult at this time of year. Winter clings in the form of dirt crusted snow banks, grit lined roads and potholes of assorted size and shape. The obvious signs of spring like greening grass, emerald colored leaves on trees and the rich yellows, scarlets and purples of tulips and irises, remain some weeks out. It is those realities that prompted me to plan today’s ride to the industrial area around Holman Field on the West Side. The early spring dormancy would detract little from light industrial buildings and concrete. The journey began with a cruise down a couple of streets in Highland Park that I’d not ridden. (completing one section of the City will give me a sense of progress.) There wasn’t much to see besides snow, potholes and some stray holiday decorations, but numerous upbeat people emerging from six months of hibernation.
There was the usual Saturday flurry of activity along West 7th Street.
Nice weather brings folks to the car wash. To my surprise, Soapy Joe’s Car Wash had only a short line of cars waiting for a bath.
Joe Lindsay, general manager and co-owner of Soapy Joe’s, told me this weather is usually perfect for business. “This is ideal right here. High temperatures where people are going to get the itch, driving around with their windows down, you want a clean car.”
Soapy Joe’s opened about 2 and a-half years ago with equipment from a Chaska car wash that closed. “There was this other car wash that went out of business and they wanted us to buy the whole building. We offered to buy just the used rack of equipment and they went for it. So we took it apart piece by piece, brought it up here, put it in here, and we added a few other items as well.”
Soapy Joe’s strives to cut water use by recapturing water, processing and reusing it.
Joe encourages everyone at the car wash to be personable. “We’re really pushing our people to smile, show your personality, have fun. I want people to wake up and enjoy coming to work, not, ‘Shoot, I gotta go punch the clock.’” Despite 12 hour days, six days a week, Joe couldn’t be happier. “I really enjoy it. There’s a lot of people that come in who are just genuinely happy. I’ve met a lot of people through here. My employees are great.”
I jumped off West 7th to escape traffic and explore the nearby residential neighborhoods. I rode upon streets with women’s names like Ann, Emma and Grace (which actually isn’t having been named after Bishop Thomas Grace in 1872.) About a block away, on Banfil Street, is a uniquely renovated building that is home to an advertising agency.
A few doors to the east, Julia Reimer was working on her yard at 261 Banfil. She sincerely told me she lives in the best neighborhood in the City. “It’s people who are pretty community-minded. People really watch out for each other.”
Julia also told me about the neighborhood garden on Dousman and West 7th and a puppet theater that performs in the summer in what is known as the driveway tour or garage tour.
“It’s very diverse in terms of income, in terms of ethnicity, but people get along, partly because it’s (the street) blocked off on both sides, it’s pretty quiet.”
“People who really know Saint Paul, it’s like, ‘Yeah, yeah. I do know where that is.’ But really, there’s this block and on the other side of 7th there’s maybe four or five more blocks. But it’s just a really small street. I think that’s one of the things that makes it a hidden treasure.”
Julia discovered Banfil Street about a dozen years ago when visiting friends who live down the block. “It just happened that this house was for sale. I had lived in this general neighborhood before, just on the other side of Smith. The history is part of it. The fact that you are on the street here and you have to get to know your neighbors. So you can sit on your porch and you see people, you’re not just shut away in your house all the time and I really wanted something like that.”
Some of Saint Paul’s oldest homes line Banfil and other nearby streets. Julia believes her house was built in 1858 by a shoe store owner with the last name of Dolan. The age of the homes means some unusual ‘charms.’ “Everybody has limestone basements, everybody has garter snakes in their house ‘cause you kinda can’t help, the snakes get in there. Kinda yucky basements but some really neat details on the inside of houses.”
Another draw is the many small businesses. A favorite of Julia’s is the nearby Claddagh Coffee Shop on West 7th. “One of the things that’s particularly wonderful about it is it used to be an adult book store. Jeffrey, the guy who owns the whole building, he kinda polled the neighborhood and said, ‘What would you guys want to see there because I don’t want the adult bookstore to be here anymore.’ And people said, ‘A place with wine, a coffee bar kind of place.’”
Moving on from Banfil Street, I cruised several other side streets, then on to West 7th. I didn’t know it then but the planned Holman Field trip was about to get canceled. On 7th, just east of Forbes Avenue, a van with two women and five children inside sat in the parking lane with a flat tire. I stopped and offered to change the flat. I don’t change tires like a NASCAR pit crew, but I’ve changed enough tires to be confident in my skills. Stephanie and her family piled out of the car and onto the sidewalk and I began lowering the spare tire stored underneath the back of vehicle. For some reason the cable and bracket holding the spare descended but the spare tire didn’t. ‘I’ll come back to it,’ I thought, ‘I’ll remove the lug nuts from the flat tire first.’ The first four came off as they should but the last one wouldn’t budge. Try as I might, I succeeded only in stripping the lug nut. Time for a call to AAA Roadside Assistance for help.
As I worked on the tire, Stephanie called her husband for help. Rockett arrived soon after with a four-way lug wrench that fit better than the multipurpose wrench/jack handle that came with the van. A few turns and the lug nut came off, so I canceled AAA.
Back to getting the spare to drop from the undercarriage. Despite multiple readings of the car’s manual, Rockett, his son Jeremiah and I still couldn’t get the tire to release. (This may be one reason GM no longer makes minivans.) I made a second call to AAA. Rockett grabbed the spare from his Mercury hoping it would fit the Chevy, but no such luck. As this man-against-machine battle played out, Stephanie left with the younger children and took the flat to a tire store in Rockett’s car to buy a replacement.
There we sat, waiting for AAA, when a gentleman stopped to help. Less than a minute after he crawled under the back of the van, the spare tire released. We all thanked the man and I made my fourth call to AAA, this time to cancel the service request. Rockett talked about the man and a couple of others who offered assistance. “I’ve been in this world a long time, 54 years, and I haven’t seen three people in one day stop to help me do nothin’ really. That just lets me know that I’m at the right place and I live in the right town.”
After two and a half hours and the van finally ready for the new tire, Rockett suggested I take off and thanked me for my help. There wasn’t time to get to the Holman Field area so I visited a few more West End roads, including Douglas Street.
Some interesting notes from Don Empson’s “The Street Where You Live” on a couple of the West End streets I traveled.
- Dousman Street was named for Hercules Dousman of Prairie du Chien, WI who is recognized as the first person to suggest the name ‘Minnesota’ for the territory.
- Douglas Street, named in 1851 for U.S. senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, who ran unsuccessfully for president against Abraham Lincoln in 1860.
It felt great to be back on my bike. It was a nice first ride of 2014, even though it didn’t follow my plan. A March ride is a huge win, especially since the weather last year didn’t allow me to get out until May.
Click the link below to see the map of today’s ride.
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One criticism often glossed over by SWLRT boosters is that the alignment lacks density. David Levinson expertly laid out the trade-offs in his recent piece. Low population density will limit the value added by the line. The line could still be a success, but its ceiling will be that much lower. It appears Met Council will succeed in getting the Kenilworth alignment built. However, it’s crucial we select denser corridors in the future to maximize our investment and connect as many people as possible to high quality mass transit. Once SWLRT is built, we need to continue to make improvements to mitigate the shortcomings of a less than ideal alignment. (Matt Steele had some good ideas in his piece Triage Now And Rehabilitate Later.)Yonah Freemark’s density graphic has been widely sited in the SWLRT debate.
Density can’t tell us everything and there are other factors to be considered in selecting a route, but it’s a damn good starting point–one that has not been taken seriously enough when planning Northstar, Southwest, Bottineau, Rush Line, Red Rock, or Gateway. Why are LRT lines that could serve more density overlooked and delayed while its full steam ahead on suburban commuter rail? We need to start learning the right lessons from our past transit projects.
Do Not Follow The Northstar
Northstar by now is widely recognized as a boondoggle, but who in their right mind was predicting a well-used line given its route? In residents per square mile, Big Lake has a density of 1,455, Elk River: 543, Ramsey: 821, Anoka: 2,558, Coon Rapids: a whooping 2,719, and Fridley: 2,675. Northstar then passes through Columbia Heights, the densest suburb in Minnesota at 5,717, and about five miles worth of Minneapolis (7,019) and inexplicably does not stop until its final destination: Target Field. Wouldn’t want the train to get too crowded!City and Residents/Square Mile Minneapolis: 7,019 Columbia Heights: 5,717 Lauderdale: 5,664 Saint Paul: 5,484 Richfield: 5,127 Robbinsdale: 5,001 Hopkins: 4,311 St Louis Park: 4,252 New Hope: 4,035 North Saint Paul: 4,021 West Saint Paul: 3,979 Crystal: 3,832 Brooklyn Center: 3,781 Saint Anthony: 3,656 South Saint Paul: 3,568 Excelsior: 3,473 New Brighton: 3,321 Osseo: 3,240 Mound: 3,165 Edina: 3,103 Mounds View: 3,016 White Bear Lake: 2,967 Apple Valley: 2,911 Brooklyn Park: 2,906 Champlin: 2,826 Coon Rapids: 2,719 Fridley: 2,675 Stillwater: 2,618 Roseville: 2,589 Anoka: 2,558 Little Canada: 2,512 Oakdale: 2,500 Waconia: 2,464 Burnsville: 2,421 Bloomington: 2,390 Falcon Heights: 2,386 Shoreview: 2,325 Maplewood: 2,239 Mahtomedi: 2,199 Hastings: 2,165 Plymouth: 2,159 Eagan: 2,063 Golden Valley: 1,997 Maple Grove: 1,886 Eden Prairie: 1,873 Minnetonka: 1,846 Woodbury: 1,784 St Paul Park: 1,765 Vadnais Heights: 1,762 Savage: 1,721 Blaine: 1,689 Lakeville: 1,551 Prior Lake: 1,476 Big Lake: 1,455 Chaska: 1,400 Shorewood: 1,368 Shakopee: 1,323 Inver Grove Heights: 1,220 Mendota Heights: 1,209 Wayzata: 1,197 Chanhassen: 1,123 Arden Hills: 1,112 Rogers: 1,068 Cottage Grove: 1,028 Andover: 903 Ramsey: 821 Lino Lakes: 716 Rosemount: 658 Forest Lake: 601 Elk River: 543 Orono: 468 Otsego: 459 Ham Lake: 444 Hugo: 398 Chisago City: 396 Wyoming: 384 Lake Elmo: 362 North Branch: 284 Dayton: 200 Afton: 115
The root of Northstar’s problems isn’t that it doesn’t plow through 30 more miles of cornfield to reach that veritable mecca, Saint Cloud. The Granite City has a population of about 66,000 and a density of 1,644. It’s neither enough people nor density to save the line, and most Saint Cloud residents don’t commute to Minneapolis for work, anyway. Plus, the Northstar doesn’t run at night and only sparsely on the weekend, which vastly reduces its use for recreational purposes.
Southwest: A Dense Idea?
A major drawback of SW is that its Minneapolis stations do not directly serve walkable neighborhoods. Overall, Minneapolis has a density of 7,019 residents/square mile, but the Kenwood neighborhood has just 2,200. It’s the wrong neighborhood in Minneapolis to target. Cedar Isles Dean’s density, 4,440, is better but still below average for Minneapolis, and West Calhoun’s musters a mere 2,600. We can project for and plan for growth, but even with 100% growth in these neighborhoods they would still be below average for Minneapolis. Whittier, on the other hand, already has a density of 17,000, as does Loring Park. And they are growing too.Minneapolis CommunityDensityPopulation Phillips1300020315 Powderhorn1200054743 Central980029725 Near North680031192 University680038785 Southwest590048076 Camden580028778 Longfellow560027775 Calhoun Isles540029913 Northeast480036225 Nokomis480037021
Meanwhile, the vaunted suburban density of the line is mediocre at best. The first two suburbs are decently dense with St. Louis Park at 4,252 and Hopkins at 4,311. However with Minnetonka and Eden Prairie the numbers drop off precipitously to 1,846 and 1,873, respectively.
The proponents of SWLRT argue that job centers along the line are reason enough for Minneapolis to support the alignment. The Met Council promo video claims more than 200,000 people work along the corridor, with at least 20,000 at Golden Triangle alone. Kudos, but job access is just one piece of the puzzle. The other more important piece is access for dense walkable communities that feed the line throughout the day.
Bottineau? I don’t know…
In February, the Counties Transit Improvement Board threatened to pass up SWLRT for Bottineau LRT if Minneapolis and St. Louis Park don’t get onboard. You’d hope that’d mean a much denser, better thought-out line. Alas, it doesn’t.
As planned, Bottineau does serve Robbinsdale (5,001), Crystal (3,832). and Brooklyn Park (2,906), but skips Brooklyn Center (3,781) and even more egregiously routes through Golden Valley (1,997) rather than North Minneapolis (5,800). Albeit, the Minneapolis stations in the Near North Community (6,800) will be an improvement, and Northsiders can connect from a bus line, but it seems if helping North was truly the Met Council’s motivation, they’d build light rail directly through North rather than skirting around it and spinning it as an “equity” line as an afterthought.
We need to rethink the Bottineau alignment. Penn Avenue is not exceptionally wide, but engineering a way to fit LRT down this urban thoroughfare would pay dividends, especially when compared to the eerily familiar plan to run the train through parkland and low density housing. At the least, we should be looking into a streetcar line to tie North into the huge investments planned just outside its borders.
A Better Vision: Upgrade Planned Nicollet/Central Streetcar To LRT
Minneapolis is forging ahead with a streetcar starter line on Nicollet and Central. Last year, the city council endorsed a plan to build a streetcar from 41st Street in Northeast to 46th Street in South Minneapolis. They haven’t secured funds, and, due to their eagerness to obtain federal money, they plan to build a 3.4-line starter line from Lake Street to 5th Street Northeast to qualify for the Small Starts program which caps federal matching dollars at $200 million dollars per project. By all indications, The Met Council is less than enthused about Minneapolis seeking a streetcar line and not consulting them first.
A streetcar is okay, but LRT provides not only swankiness, but also faster service due to its dedicated lane (and hopefully a tunnel under Nicollet Mall.)
Our LRT plan should focus on connections to our densest neighborhoods, which are mostly in Minneapolis. Cedar Riverside (15,000) was linked thanks to Hiawatha, but Whittier, Loring Park, Steven’s Square (20,000), Elliot Park (17,000), Lyndale (15,000), Lowry Hill East (15,000), Central (14,000), Phillips West (13,000), Marcy Holmes (12,000), Windom Park (9,600), Bryant (9,500) and Kingfield (9,000) all remain unlinked to LRT. And guess what? Nicollet/Central LRT would incorporate them all.
If we follow the logic of density, the first suburb we should link to our LRT network would be our densest suburb, Columbia Heights (5,717). Richfield (5,127) would be the next densest choice (excluding tiny little Lauderdale). To the north, Central not only passes through the Columbia Heights, it also goes right by Medtronic’s Fridley Campus. This could be a nice selling point for those obsessed with pandering to big business. To the south, Nicollet goes through the middle of Richfield and within about a mile of Best Buy Headquarters. Maybe Best Buy would sweeten the deal if they got their own LRT stop.
Nicollet/Central would not only serve vastly more jobs than Southwest, but also many times more residents. 130,000 employees use the 11-block-long Nicollet Mall each day alone compared to 200,000 for the whole 16-mile-long SWLRT. Plus is we build LRT from edge of Fridley to Richfield the project seems regional enough for me at least to quality for regional transit dollars, which the Met Council and County Transit Improvement Board seem determined to withhold from streetcar projects.
East Metro Strategy: Scrap Exurban Plans, Build To Denser Inner Ring East Suburbs
Dreams of Red Rock Line to Hastings (2,165) or a Rush Line to Forest Lake (601) have been shelved for now, much to the credit of East Metro officials. We can’t hastily jump into another bad investment like Northstar by commuter rail into communities not dense enough to support it. Hopes are still alive for approving The Gateway Corridor LRT, but this too seems fool hearted given it passes through a whole lot of Woodbury, density: 1,784. The main rationale seems to be that Interstate 94 is busy along the corridor so we need LRT to relieve congestion, but this would almost assuredly require a massive investment in park and rides given the sprawling land use patterns in the area. Streets.mn has previously laid out the poor economics of park and ride facilties.
Saint Paul CommunityDensityPopulationSquare Miles, estimated Summit-University9400170021.8 Frogtown8600150411.75 Payne Phalen7700307004 CapitolRiver/Downtown700070571 Greater East Side6800272064 Summit Hill660065741 Mac-Groveland6500195463 North End/South Como6400254474 Union Park6200184053 Hamline-Midway5700114962 Como4800119132.5 Highland4800240785 Dayton's Bluff4700164343.5 West 7th4400110832.5 West Side3000149595 Saint Anthony Park255076743 Eastview et al24502045310
One promising alternative in the Rush Line study proposed a 11-mile LRT line to White Bear Lake (2,967), which would integrate the Saint Paul neighborhoods of Payne-Phalen (7,700, est.) and Dayton’s Bluff (4,700, est.) and approach the Greater East Side (6,600, est.). This sounds like a solid line to me.
The only east Metro suburbs with some serious density, North Saint Paul (4,021), West Saint Paul (3,979) and South Saint Paul (3,568), are precisely the suburbs overlooked by Rush, Red Rock, and Gateway transitways. A Robert Street transitway (through West Saint Paul) is being studied, but the steering committee has already ruled out LRT (but, in their infinite wisdom, left a Highway BRT line down Highway 52 on the table, since, by bypassing most of the neighborhood, it shaves a few more minutes off transit times).
Finding The Density Between The Commuter Lines
We are stuck with a commuter alignment for SWLRT, but at least our LRT network is growing, and growing upon the solid foundation we have with the Blue Line (Hiawatha) and the soon-to-open Green Line. We should capitalize by building a Midtown LRT and Nicollet/Central LRT to integrate as-of-yet passed over dense urban enclaves in Minneapolis. In Saint Paul, an eastward Green Line expansion via the Rush Line to White Bear Lake seems the most viable and would have the added benefit of bringing Payne-Phalen into the fold. Each LRT line becomes more viable and heavily-trafficked, the more lines we add. So let’s keep adding and adding dense to maximize this multiplying effect.
Minneapolis NeighborhoodDensity/square mile Steven's Square/Loring Heights20000 Elliot Park17000 Whittier17000 Loring Park17000 Lyndale15000 Lowry Hill East15000 Central15000 Cedar Riverside15000 CARAG15000 Phillips13000 Marcy Holmes12000 Powderhorn Park12000 Windom Park9600 Bryant9500 Jordan9500 East Isles9500 Folwell9300 Sheridan9200 Bancroft9100 Kingfield9000 St Anthony East8600 Corcocan8600 Holland8500 Logan Park8300 Willard-Hay8100 Cleveland8100 University8100 Standish8000 Longfellow8000 Regina7700 Downtown West7600 Audubon Park7500 Minnehaha7100 Seward7000 Field6800 Victory6700 Fulton6700 Sumner-Glenwood6700 Armatage6600 Windom Park6600 Hale6400 Tangletown6300 Harrison6200 Northrop6200 Howe6100 Shingle Creek6100 Lowry Hill6000 Prospect Park6000 Bottineau5900 Lynnhurst5900 East Calhoun5800 Longfellow5700 Lind-Bohanon5700 Como5600 Webber-Camden5500 Linden Hills5400 Kenny5400 Near North5300 Nicollet Island/East Bank5300 Hawthorne5200 McKinley5200 Cooper5200 Page5200 North Loop5100 Beltrami4700 Diamond Lake4600 Cedar Isles Dean4400 Hiawatha4100 St Anthony West4000 Morris Park3700 Wenonah3700 Ericcson3500 Keewaydin3500 Downtown East3300 East Harriet2900 West Calhoun2600 Kenwood2200 Mid-City Industrial2200 Bryn Mawr2000 Marshall Terrace1900 Columbia Park1000 Northeast Park950
There are so many principles in the Lean Startup that can and should be embraced by today's local governments. I'm really inspired by Eric Ries. If you are not familiar with Lean Startup, here's a short video introduction that was recently published by McKinsey & Company.
"We are stumbling our way to a whole new form of governance..."
- Eric Ries
Today’s Chart of the Day is a table of freight mode share in Minnesota
Source: MnDOT Annual Transportation Performance Report 2012
By Conrad deFiebre, Transportation Fellow
Before I sobered up more than 30 years ago, I habitually drove drunk. Luckily, I never caused a crash or faced DWI charges -- even though I wasn't a state legislator with supposed immunity from such embarassments. Not that it mattered much anyway. Back then, Minnesota's drunken driving penalties were laughably lax.
Thanks largely to persistent advocacy from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, founded in 1980, much has changed. It's now estimated that drunken driving can cost the nearly 30,000 Minnesotans arrested for it each year as much as $20,000 in fines and court costs, legal fees and higher insurance premiums, not to mention the loss of one's license to drive plus jail time, or even a prison sentence for chronic offenders.
Yes, we've toughened up against a reckless crime that MADD says is "100 percent preventable" but still kills more than 100 annually hereabouts and 10,000 nationwide. Minnesota, however, remains in the bottom quarter of all the states for adopting proven policies to reduce impaired driving's harms, according to MADD's annual rankings.
Don't be surprised. Remember, the Land of 10,000 Roadside Taverns was the final holdout against tightening the threshold for drunken driving to a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent, forfeiting millions in federal road dollars in the last decade for its intransigence.
Our current shortcomings in MADD's accounting put us behind the entire southern and southwestern United States, wide-open Alaska and North Dakota and even "Live Free or Die" New Hampshire. Minnesota gets just two stars out of five from MADD and only Montana and Rhode Island rate worse with one. The eight other two-star states are concentrated in the Upper Midwest and the Northeast, places where the endemic "liberalism" apparently extends to forbearance for drunken drivers.
This is neither smart nor reflective of traditional progressive focus on public health and safety.
What are the beefs? MADD faults Minnesota mainly on two counts, a failure to require ignition interlocks for all DWI offenders when their driving privileges are restored, plus our lack of highway sobriety checkpoints. The organization puts less emphasis on a third practice missing here, streamlined legal procedures to measure the intoxication of drivers who refuse testing at the point of arrest.
Sobriety checkpoints, in use in 38 states and the District of Columbia, were found unconstitutional in Minnesota by the state Supreme Court as an unreasonably broad form of search and seizure. "These checkpoints are proven to reduce drunk driving fatalities by up to 20 percent by providing a general deterrent to drinking and driving," MADD says. In Minnesota, though, the court ruling is the last word absent an unlikely constitutional amendment.
Elected policymakers could, however, do something about interlocks and what MADD calls "no-refusal activities."
Minnesota law now requires first-time DWI offenders at an alcohol concentration of 0.16 percent or above -- double the legal limit -- and all subsequent offenders to use ignition interlocks to regain their driving privileges. In addition, drunken drivers whose licenses are canceled or revoked may need to use interlocks for up to six years before regaining full privileges.
The devices, breathalyzers linked to a vehicle's ignition system, are recommended for all offenders by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Transportation Safety Board. So far, only 20 states have complied, typically requiring first-time offenders to use interlocks for six months and repeat offenders for longer. MADD estimates that 305,000 interlocks were in use in the United States as of last July, triple the number in 2006, when it launched its policy campaign and only New Mexico required them for all offenders.
CDC research "indicates that ignition interlocks, on average, reduce drunk driving recidivism by 67 percent compared to license suspension alone," MADD reports. "License suspension with no interlock requirement is not the best approach, as 50 to 75 percent of those convicted continue to drive.
"First-time offenders are serious offenders and, in fact, are not that different from multiple drunk driving offenders," MADD adds. "Research from CDC indicates that first-time offenders have driven drunk at least 80 times before they are arrested. Additionally ... first offenders' patterns of recidivism are generally similar to a repeat offender."
Refusing an alcohol test at a traffic stop is a crime in Minnesota, which "has lowered the rate of refusals," said Dawn Duffy of the state Office of Traffic Safety. Still, authorities need a court order to force testing of refusers, but often can't get one before most of the alcohol is gone from a suspect's system. MADD says 32 states now provide officers easy and quick access to a warrant in such cases by making judges and prosecutors readily available, a program that also discourages refusals.
Minnesota meets MADD's standards in just two areas: administrative license revocation at the point of arrest and heightened penalties for drunk driving with a child passenger; in Minnesota these include seizure of license plates or even the vehicle.
MADD's report makes no mention of legislative immunity from prosecution as a drunken driving problem. The organization did, however, endorse action on that issue last week in the Minnesota House.
The focus of debate on the state Constitution's grant of a "get-out-of-jail-free" card for legislators in session was on drunken driving, although there's no known case of anyone evading such an arrest that way. Even so, a bipartisan dirty baker's dozen of 13 representatives -- including three from the Iron Range and environs, where a former member once declared that folks "wake up at 0.08" -- voted no.
Lack of unanimity on this largely symbolic measure doesn't bode well for substantive improvement in Minnesota's drunken driving laws anytime soon. Some of the naysayers complained that the bill was too trivial to warrant time on the House floor. That's a reasonable point, but we'll see what kind of support they and their colleagues offer for serious steps the state could take to combat the real plague of impaired driving.
We are really proud to be associated with some amazing people who are working hard to advance the principles of Strong Towns in their chosen profession. This week on the podcast we have a conversation with Kristin Green, the dynamic and visionary leader of the Texas-based engineering firm, Verdunity. Kristin and her colleagues brought the Strong Towns Curbside Chat to the Dallas area earlier this year and, in partnership with them, we are planning a return trip this October. They are pioneers in their field and it is a real pleasure to be able to share this conversation with you.
Verdunity combines the concepts of “green” (verde) with community in an effort to restore the balance between urban and natural systems and create long term prosperity for the communities they work with. They are a sponsor of Strong Towns and we are grateful for their ongoing support and their pioneering approach.
Our mission is to support a model of growth that allows America’s cities, towns and neighborhoods become financially strong and resilient. If you are an organization doing compelling work consistent with the principles of Strong Towns and would be interested in supporting our efforts to build a stronger America, please contact our Executive Director, Jim Kumon, to discuss ways we can potentially work together.
More beautiful work from Strong Towns contributor Gracen Johnson of Another Place for Me.
Streets.mn’s Bill Lindeke appears on MPR’s Midmorning discussing (audio at link): Are streets too inviting to cars?
It’s been only weeks since the streets of the Twin Cities were buried in hard-packed snow, with parking limited to one side and intersections made hazardous by icy surfaces and obstructed sight lines.
Now, with the streets mostly free of snow even in Duluth, we can revert to our spring and summer hazards: potholes deep enough to deploy our airbags and car doors swinging open in the path of our bicycles.
Some urban experts think it’s time to reconsider the way we use our streets. As they exist today in most U.S. cities, the roads are primarily — if not solely — for cars. Is it time to rethink that? Might we, for example, want to limit parking to one side year-round?
One last reminder that tomorrow is our member webinar, Beyond Complete Streets. You can click here to register.
Complete Streets is a rational response to an irrational world, but is it enough? Should we be satisfied building places for automobiles that now also accommodate people as an afterthought? Is there downside to embedding this thinking into our codes and statutes?
This online presentation, with Q&A to follow, will explore the limitations of using complete streets to build a strong town and how we can move beyond complete streets to build productive places built for people that also accommodate automobiles.
You must be a member of Strong Towns to participate in this event.
WHEN: April 17, 2014 at 1pm - 2:30pm Central
WHERE: Online Webinar (login here)
EVENT: “Enjoy the Ride: A Year’s Worth of Cycling Art,” Saturday, April 19, at Chowgirls Parlor, 7 to 11 p.m.
This year, we added a new dimension to 30 Days of Biking, a Minneapolis-born challenge to ride your bike in April. For every 30 pledges to ride, we are donating 1 bike to Free Bikes 4 Kidz, a Minneapolis non-profit that has given thousands of bikes to kids in need (who couldn’t otherwise afford a bike) since their inception in 2008.
So, because 30 Days of Biking is put on by a small team of friends, a lot of people wondered, “HOW are you guys able to afford donating so many bikes?” That question has many answers. One way is our sponsors, another is our merchandise, created this year through a partnership with Banjo Brothers.
A THIRD way is an event that’s coming up this weekend. Our friend Adam Turman, who’s renowned for his paintings, posters and bicycling art, is putting on an event titled “Enjoy the Ride: A Year’s Worth of Cycling Art.” And he’s donating the proceeds from his show to our Free Bikes 4 Kidz fund.
The paintings on display at the show are all inspired by photographs from Adam’s friends, including Robert Williams, Pete Crabtree, Ben McCoy, Willie Humke, Johnny Woodside, and others. It’s Adam’s way of celebrating the Twin Cities bicycling community, as well as the work of his friends, and of giving back to an awesome non-profit that pays the power of bicycling forward.
The event is this Saturday, April 19, 2014, at Chowgirls Parlor, 1222 NE 2nd Street, Minneapolis, from 7 to 11 p.m. There’ll be treats from Chowgirls and beer from 612Brew, and it’s an event you shouldn’t miss.
Last Friday afternoon marked the beginning of Nice Ride Minnesota’s fifth season of bike-share in the Twin Cities. The system’s size and geographic layout for 2014 remains largely the same as last season. But there’s still plenty of change as subscribers are introduced to more generous ride times of 60 minutes, and prospective members are given the option of monthly subscriptions. Anthony Ongaro, Nice Ride’s Director of Marketing, agreed to discuss what’s new and what’s to come for Nice Ride and bike-share in general.
Q: Portland’s bike share system has been delayed this year because the company (PBSC) that produces and services their–as well as Nice Ride’s–system is in financial trouble. How has the PBSC bankruptcy affected your planning for this or future years? How much longer do you anticipate that being an issue?
A: From the perspective of system viability, Nice Ride hasn’t been affected much at all. As an organization, we’re still in a very strong position to continue offering our services to our members and guest users. The bankruptcy did prevent us from expanding with new stations and bikes for 2014, which was unfortunate because we did have the funding for 17 additional stations. We’re not letting that slow us down though, we decided to focus on making the member experience even better by increasing trip time to 60 minutes and adding a new 30-day product. The ripples of the PBSC bankruptcy will be felt for a while as it gets sorted out, but we don’t expect it to inhibit us too much beyond this year.
(Below: Nice Ride station installation at Bryant Square Park)
Q: It seems like Nice Ride’s big new thing for 2014 is the Bemidji/Greater Minnesota expansion. But what’s the short term plan in the Twin Cities for the next year or two? Plans to expand geographically? Fill in the gaps for areas you already serve? Will we see many new stations?
A: In the near term, we’re working on making the member experience as great as we can. Nice Ride is all about convenience and getting around in a fun, healthy way. We’re looking to optimize that experience and bring more members to the system this year. We have funding for an additional 17 stations, so once we’re able to purchase them we’ll build on the existing network, not necessarily expanding outwards, but adding key connecting points to make the system more and more functional as we go.
Q: Winter operation of a bike share system is more expensive and taxing on the bikes than operating during the other three seasons. Despite this, cities like Denver and Toronto are able to operate year-round. Is this something that could be overcome in the future with additional funding (I’m speaking of the full range of possibilities, from 8 or 9 months to a full 12 month season)? Is it simply that Toronto and Denver are better funded systems?
A: It is highly unlikely that we will provide a winter bike sharing service, but if we did it would be on a much smaller scale than our spring/summer network. As a local nonprofit, we depend heavily on casual system usage (24-hour passes) to help fund our operations. When the weather goes south, the casual usage drops to practically none. In short, we’d be adding 3-5 months of operational costs without adding much revenue to help cover those costs. Boston, New York & Chicago all had some form of winter pilot this year, and we’re interested in hearing the results.
Q: While looking at your 2013 report I found it kind of astonishing that your subscription and sponsorship revenue for the year exceeds your operations budget. I had no idea there wasn’t at least a small public subsidy coming your way (for operations). In light of how we subsidize car travel and transit, does Nice Ride deserve a piece of the transportation funding pie?
A: It is true that every year Nice Ride ends up in the black, basically breaking even financially. Approximately 65% of our operational costs are covered by revenue generated from memberships, subscriptions and trip fees. The other 35% approximately is covered by private sponsors like Seward Coop, Peace Coffee, Freewheel Bike, etc. Local businesses that believe in our mission and want to support it. We couldn’t do it without them. That being said, Nice Ride does receive public funds for capital costs. Our title sponsor Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota helps match funds that we receive through public grants that allow us to purchase new stations and bikes. It’s how we’ve been able to grow as a system and continue to expand each year. So as it is, we definitely do get a piece of the transportation funding pie, but it does not help cover our operational costs.
Q: What are some things state and local governments could do better to support Nice Ride in particular, and cycling in general?
A: We’ve been very lucky to have the support of local governments and do feel like this is a mission we’re all in together. People generally know that providing safe bikeways for everyone is the way to end up with a healthier population. There can really never be enough protected bike lanes, greenways and bike paths. That and getting the word out about how we all need to share the roads together. We’re all just people trying to get somewhere whether you’re on four wheels [or] two wheels.
Q: Let’s daydream for a moment. You’ve referred to this as a “chicken-or-the-egg” proposition in the past. If Nice Ride were to be handed a big pile of money to bring in as many new users as possible in the Twin Cities, which of these two areas would you emphasize to get the most bang for your buck:
- Improving bike infrastructure (protected lanes, cycle tracks, trails) to increase the potential pool of cyclists who are bold enough to ride a bike in the city.
- Carpet bomb the city with bikes and stations so that you’re never more than 2 blocks from a bike.
A: That’s a great question and I think both are equally important. I will be a bit biased in saying that I’d love to ‘carpet bomb’ the city with bike share stations. I strongly believe that there would be a point of critical mass, where people just realize that Nice Ride is simply the easiest, most convenient way to get around. If we could reduce the amount of walking someone would have to do to a block or two in any direction to grab a bike and go – you’d have to live under a rock to not figure out that this was going to be really convenient. As it is, it’s still ridiculously convenient and never having to worry about theft or repairs is just awesome. Adding more stations would just multiply the effect.
Q: I see bike-share as a complementary service to things like public transit and car-share. There’s a non-profit car-share service in San Francisco launching a pilot program to give users access to electric bikes. Is Nice Ride exploring partnerships with companies like Car2go, or MetroTransit? It would be very cool to be able to use a Go-To card (transit pass) to transfer from the bus to a bike and vice versa; or to have car-share bundled with bike-share.
A: We’ve always been strong partners with MetroTransit, I think you’re absolutely right about bike sharing being complementary. It’s all about getting around and when you have more options, it makes life easier. We’re partnering with Car2Go in a big way this spring (they are actually one of our sponsors) – what they’re doing with one-way car sharing is a game changer. The transportationalists dream would be to have a Go-To card that works for MetroTransit, Carshare and Bikeshare. Can you imagine? One bill you pay, gets you around to every transportation service you could ever need. So many complications making that happen though, it’ll be a few years before we see anything like that. ie: which organization gets the money, when? Is it a standard amount that each organization gets, or based on percentage of usage? etc.
— NiceRiders (@NiceRiders) April 3, 2014
Q: With all the new housing construction in the Twin Cities, how common is it for a property owner or developer to partner with you on a new station? Do you see increasing interest for this kind of arrangement? Do they sponsor the startup costs, and/or contribute to ongoing expenses for that station? Is the sponsorship area ripe for system expansion?
A: We get calls from just about every new development that begins work asking how much space they should put for a Nice Ride station. There are benefits to including the station on your property, so it’s definitely an incentive for them to do it – but it’s such a great thing that they’re considering us and their residents in the process. If the building is in a high density living space, it’s most likely going to be a desirable location for us anyway and we’ll want to have a station there regardless of sponsorship. As we grow, any additional sponsorship dollars do help – but we’re mostly focused on building a great network and putting stations where it’s going to count.
Q: Nice Ride has an excellent safety record that some find counter-intuitive. Is this because drivers assume a Nice Ride user is incompetent and drive more carefully as a result? Or is it that Nice Ride users are a less confident, more cautious bunch? Any insights on safety in general that you’ve discovered over the years?
A: Nice Ride does have an excellent safety record and there are several factors that play into that. The style of the bike helps a lot, the rider is completely upright so you can see the world around you much better. You’re higher up, more visible to drivers and other cyclists – there are big advantages to not being aerodynamic down on drop bars. Also, you’re on a bright green bike – they’re hard to miss. Every single Nice Ride bike has built in tail lights and headlights – so by default, you’re higher up, on a bright green bike with flashing lights all over it. Your odds of being seen are much better on a Nice Ride bike. As we all know, these bikes aren’t built for speed – the focus is having a durable, reliable bike that will get you where you need to go – so realistically no one is pounding pavement on these things which helps the safety record as well. I’d like to think that Nice Riders know what they’re doing and are more careful in general, though.
Q: Are there recent bike-share innovations that have you excited? Any cities that you admire or who do it particularly well?
A: There are some startups doing some pretty cool things with bike sharing. From station-independent bike sharing (just place the bike back in a ‘zone’ to dock it) to bikes with GPS and full Android tablets built into them for rental purposes, there’s a lot happening. Entrepreneurs are recognizing the growth of bike share and it’s quickly becoming a large industry as a whole. I do think that bike sharing will look quite a bit different 10 years from now, though.
Q: Do you think going station-less is the direction bike-share systems will tend toward in the future?
A: There is a company called SoBi that is doing something where there are no actual dock points for the bike to lock into, rather the bicycles are locked into a traditional rack like any other bike. They initially started out with no stations/hubs at all and the bikes were tracked via GPS and a website/app but since have moved to more of a similar system like Nice Ride. Without having centralized docking points, it makes it incredibly difficult for teams to rebalance the network if the bikes move to unfavorable locations during certain times of the day. So it might not be a totally randomized system like car2go, but costs might be able to be reduced if standardized bike racks are used as opposed to docking stations.
Q: What are some really big, ambitious things you would love to do but funding, policy, or other obstacles make unrealistic or very difficult?
A: I would love to have Elon Musk’s Hyperloop between Minneapolis, Madison, Chicago and Detroit – probably won’t happen for a while though.
Today’s Chart of the Day concerns freight rail (and may explain performance issues with passenger rail)
Source: MnDOT Annual Transportation Performance Report 2012
Rose & Thorn was apparently a (children’s) toy store in Uptown in 1981, complete with a puppet theater. The store was located at 3023 Hennepin Avenue, whose building was purchased for the construction of Calhoun Square.
As a young girl, I remember fearing cemeteries, that place where my paternal grandpa was laid to rest atop a rare prairie hill when I was just nine.
But my view of cemeteries has evolved over the years so that today I see these earthly resting spots as places of faith, art, history and personal stories.
I no longer focus on the bones buried beneath my feet or the newly-departed lying under a heaped mound of dirt. Rather, I find myself reading tombstones, marveling at carved stone, wondering about the lives of those who lie within the often fenced boundaries of graveyards.
In particular, I am drawn to country cemeteries that my husband and I happen upon during leisurely Sunday afternoon drives in rural Minnesota.
Spot a spire spearing the sky and we typically find a cemetery tucked behind or aside the church. Convenient and comforting.
During this Holy Week, when Christians worldwide focus on reflection and repentance and the suffering and crucifixion of Christ, it seems fitting to revisit some of the Minnesota cemeteries I’ve explored.
There is much to learn here about those who went before us—those we loved and those we never knew.
Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
The primary job of a city government is to support the things which build wealth and create prosperity within their community. They enable the creation of prosperity by investing in services and infrastructure, which in turn makes their city more valuable and funds the investment.
For example, when a city builds a nice park, people value living close to the park - children have a place to play with the neighborhood kids - so the area becomes more desirable to families with children.
When we invest in cleaning up a downtown street - when we install some benches and trees to make it a more pleasant place, it attracts more people downtown and sales increase, that causes vacancy rates to go down, and property values to go up.
We build schools and offer fire protection because families value living in an area where their children can get an education and their home is less likely to burn down, than in an area without those services.
Cities build roads between two neighborhoods because the properties on either side of the road are worth more when they are connected to each other, than if they were not.
In order for a city to make a return on their investments, as well as to judge if an investment was productive, cities need a way to capture the increases in the value of their areas they invest in. Typically, cities capture the value of their communities through property taxes or land value taxes.
If investing in a new road or a light rail line is not expected to increase tax revenue enough to pay for that road or light rail line, it is a clear indication that the community will not value that investment, and this would generally be a bad investment.
If installing a new fountain downtown brings in more foot traffic, sales increase, followed by rent and property values, and tax revenue increases enough to pay for the fountain, this would generally be a good investment.
That is city management 101.
However, Arkansas is one of those crazy states where cities are mainly funded through sales tax. This is a dumb system.
The problem with relying on sales tax is that everything other than retail becomes a burden. Shops generate revenue for the city, while houses, businesses, and factories that do not make any direct sales do not generate any direct tax revenue - yet consume infrastructure and services.
In an optimal sales tax based city, where the city government does everything to eliminate all burdens and only contains productive development, we will have a city that is purely retail - where everyone lives out of town and comes in to shop.
Here is what the optimal sales tax based city might look like;
Connected to a huge congested freeway, because remember - nobody lives in our city;
Replace the freeway with a train, and you've got a dense version of the optimal sales tax based city;
You end up with a city nobody calls home. If another city provides a better shopping experience, your faithful shoppers go there instead. We will end up with a region of cities competing with each other for your sales, but not interested in you living there.
This is a little extreme, instead we can imagine a less harsh example - a sales tax based city where the city council wants residents to live there, but is fiscally responsible by only allowing revenue-generating development.
The only development this city would approve are shop houses;
...and other mixed use developments, as long as they incorporate retail somehow, so that the development can generate tax revenue for the city.
Other than form, the problem with sales tax based cities is that building more retail does not automatically mean more tax revenue. There are only so many toothbrushes, televisions, and cars a person will want to buy in a year. A new store opening up will not always mean we will buy more toothbrushes, televisions, or cars.
If a city invests downtown and that attracts more shoppers downtown, tax revenue won't necessarily increase as people are not necessarily spending more - they are just spending their money downtown instead of in the suburbs.
Building a new restaurant does not mean I will eat out more, only that I will have more choices of where to eat when I decide to eat out.
There is also the threat of online retail where people can bypass paying sales tax completely. Wealthier residents that travel frequently may do most of their spending out of state, or even in a foreign country. The city has access to none of this.
However, the largest problem with sales tax based cities is that they have no way of capturing or measuring the performance of their investments. Building a neighborhood park or cleaning up a residential street will not lead to people spending more. We end up with a delusion that cities are like charities - to provide services and infrastructure for the people no matter the cost, because there's no way to capture or measure it.
Basing cities around sales tax is a dumb system that we need to change.
We invite our members to submit their questions on anything that they would like our thoughts on. We’ll give you a Strong Towns answer or find an expert who can. This week’s question is submitted by Jeff G.
I'm working with several communities which are struggling with how to do "visioning" for Strong Towns. Can you provide any useful references?
In general, I think that cities are pretty much “visioned” out. The planning profession has spent decades getting people together with sticker charts and, more recently, fancy gadgets to try and build consensus around policy changes. This is consistent with an approach that is more worried about process than results, which notoriously rarely materialize. When "successful" it tends to produce a watered-down consensus around one or two big initiatives instead of what is drastically needed in most cities today: a commitment to try many small things and build on success. (Note that I worked on these kind of projects for a decade so any stones I’m throwing should hit me to some degree as well.)
If I had to describe “visioning” in a Strong Towns sense, it would look a lot more like doing. It would certainly be small scale and involve more time out on the street than sitting in a meeting.
As an example, on a recent trip to Sheridan, Wyoming, I was able to spend some time walking around town with their redevelopment staff. They were showing me their community, but then I started showing it to them in a different way. We started talking about the pattern of the neighborhood, how the buildings and the public realm interact, how those interactions could be strengthened.
By the time we had walked a few blocks, they had a list of small things to do to improve the neighborhood. These were things like painting crosswalks, planting trees, moving benches and putting out sandwich board pedestrian signs where the street was difficult to cross. We also talked about the steps beyond that, like changing development codes and modifying street reconstruction standards. I was, in a sense, teaching them how to do visioning on-the-fly on a block by block basis.
Is this really visioning? In the American Planning Association sense, not really. We didn’t have a public meeting with doughnuts and coffee, we didn’t treat every opinion as superficially equal and valid and we didn’t have a formal report the community could use to apply for grants with. I’m okay with that – I’m sure Sheridan has all those things and they are not helping. What we did there was probably more triage than visioning – in the modern sense – but really, that is where our communities are at right now.
So what are some resources for this? One that we put together is our Neighborhoods First report. While it isn’t a “how to” manual (we’re working on that), it will give you a good sense of the process we went through to experiment, observe and then repeat within one distressed neighborhood. If you can follow this approach, you will be doing many small scale projects each year. Where you have success, you now have something to build on and scale to other places. Where you have failures, you learn valuable information at a small and relatively inexpensive scale.
The Street Plans Collaborative has a free manual on Tactical Urbanism that goes through the approach and provides a list of projects they have tried out. You can also find some regular inspiration from the blog at The Better Block or just watch Jason Roberts’ TED talk.
Helping people see things differently – to train people to see their community from outside of an automobile – is what SID.tv is all about. We want to try and give you an eye for how to do this stuff. Much of my inspiration for this comes from stuff I picked up hanging out with the brilliant architects, planners and urban designers that annually attend the Congress for the New Urbanism. This year they are in Buffalo (I’ll be there too).
Some books that will help you analyze the city block by block include:
- A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander
- Close Up: How to read the American City by Grady Clay
- Suburban Nation by Duany, Plater-Zyberk and Speck
I also have a copy here of Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns by Victor Dover and John Massengale. I’ve not made my way through it just yet but I have a great amount of respect for their work and am confident the book contains a lot of helpful stuff.
Now while all of this has been rather anti-visioning in terms of how planners tend to approach things, I will finish by saying that there is still room for the great plan in a Strong Towns discussion. Such a plan, however, will be large scale, aspirational and focus primarily on the physical form that the community can work towards. It would not try and plan out the next twenty years of road improvements, infrastructure extensions and zoning and all the other things that our current planning paradigm obsesses over (in order to keep planners and engineers employed).
You can become a member of Strong Towns, and ask your question today, by going to our membership site.