Twin Cities

*** Sidewalk Weekend! ***

Twin Cities Sidewalks - 2 hours 39 min ago
Sidewalk Rating: CatalyticJust a few hours after listening to experts and callers weigh in on the topic, I happened upon a picture book that provided another perspective.  InThe Bus Ride by Marianne Dubuc, a little girl rides a bus by herself for the first time.  Her bus ride looks a little bit different from my usual bus rides.  Her world is populated by what appear to be scary animals.  Wolves and bears board the bus with her.  They seem intimidating, but in the end, they are friendly, or at least benign.  The girl’s solo trip is not without adventure, but it is a quiet sort of adventure.  It seems like a just-right adventure in this book.[from here.] [Bike parking at the Surly Brewery in Minneapolis.]*** ****** CLICK ON IMAGES FOR LINKS! ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** *** *** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ***“The cop even said, ‘I’m so sorry, normally I wouldn’t enforce this sort of thing, but the mayor is making us.”[this.] *** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ***
Categories: Twin Cities

Chart of the Day: Downtown Saint Paul Parking Supply

Streets.MN - 3 hours 13 min ago

Here’s a chart from the initial results of the downtown Saint Paul parking study, which was released to the public this week. It’s the total amount of parking in downtown Saint Paul, on- and off-street spaces.

Short version: there is a lot of parking in downtown Saint Paul. Most of it is in ramps and lots. Our perception of how much parking exists and the reality of how much parking exists are often quite different. There are lots of interesting psychology and economic reasons behind that…

[See the whole .pdf here; page through to the second part of the document: http://streets.mn/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/TC-Packet-3-2-15-reduced-size.pdf]

I’ll be putting a lot more charts from the study up on the site next week, so stay tuned for more!

Note: this is just the first phase of the study, which is attempting to gather data. The consultants hired for the project (experts in parking planning) are coming back to make recommendations later this month.  

 

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Categories: Twin Cities

Putting the Target Layoffs Into Perpsective

Streets.MN - 6 hours 32 min ago

On Wednesday, Target CEO Brian Cornell announced that “several thousand” employees, mainly at their Downtown Minneapolis headquarters, would be laid off in the next couple of years as they “adapt to changing shopper habits.” We quickly learned that everyone in Minnesota has a good friend at the c-suite level at Target, and the sizzling hot takes singed eyelashes in comment sections across the local Internet. Target, the largest single employer downtown, owns or leases much of three separate office complexes along Nicollet Mall, housing about 10,000 workers out of about 160,000 total in the central business district.

Some perspective! “Several” is generally defined as more than but not a lot more than “two,” so if we go with “three” thousand, out of 160,000 total, that would be 1.875% of total downtown employment. Granted, it’s a higher percentage of total white collar jobs. There are also several thousand “headquarters” employees working at their Brooklyn Park campus, about a seven minute drive from the Champlin Pizza Ranch.

It is possible that early reports were a bit dramatic–there are multiple definitions of “dominant,” but Minneapolis is pretty widely known for having a diversified economy–Wells Fargo, for instance, is currently building two office towers in Downtown East and employs just a few thousand fewer employees than Target. There are considerably more government jobs downtown than Target jobs. Anyway, the point is that this is not the end of the world, and if you were building a $50 million dollar apartment project and its financial viability is that vulnerable to changes in market conditions, that’s on you.

Though no one is happy to see several thousand jobs lost in downtown Minneapolis, it is generally doing very well. In fact, our region and state are doing very well. These three thousand employees are not being tossed out with two weeks’ notice into the Las Vegas or Phoenix job markets of 2009.

Actually, doing a quick thought experiment–what if, out of those three thousand corporate employees, a hundred or so decide to start new businesses? Many of which will fill vacant storefronts and hire a few locals and keep all their profits here, rather than siphoning them off to investors across the country? Maybe a net gain for our local economy in the long-term?

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Categories: Twin Cities

Stone and Diamonds

Streets.MN - 9 hours 32 min ago

August 2, 2014

Lexington-Hamline, Summit-University, Midway, Como

14.5 miles

Athletes and sports have played a big part in Saint Paul history. In recent years much of the recognition has gone to those from Cretin-Derham Hall High School. Decades ago, however, several neighborhoods, especially the East Side and the Midway were well-known for their athletes and teams. One of the best baseball players to come out of any Saint Paul neighborhood is not who you think. It happened to be an African-American woman named Toni Stone. I knew a little about Toni Stone and her baseball legacy and I learned more with a stop at the stadium that bears her name.

The plaque posted near the entrance to Toni Stone Field with details about her.

A modest sign welcomes visitors and presents the very basics about Toni Stone.

Most sources credit Toni (given name Marcenia Lyle Stone) as the first woman to play in the Negro American League, with the Indianapolis Clowns, in 1953. I found conflicting information while researching Toni Stone. Some of the confusion was intentional–to enhance Stone’s appeal to fans. For example, promoters claimed she was 10 years younger than her actual age and was paid much more than she truly made. However, Toni’s given first name is spelled differently on two signs at the field bearing her name. Compare the previous two pictures to see what I mean.

Toni Stone in her Indianapolis Clowns uni. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

The entrance and bleachers at Toni Stone Field, part of the Dunning Sports Complex.

Toni was born in Saint Paul in 1921, seemingly on a baseball diamond. By the time she was 16, she was pitching for the men’s semipro Twin Cities Colored Giants. Other stops during her career were with the semipro San Francisco Sea Lions and New Orleans Creoles and the Negro American League’s Indianapolis Clowns and Kansas City Monarchs. After one season each with the Clowns and Monarchs, Toni Stone retired from the Negro Leagues after the 1954 season with a .243 batting average but continued to play amateur ball for many years.

Toni posed in her New Orleans Creoles uniform. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

The main entrance …

…and a peek through the gate onto the infield.

Never having been inside Toni Stone Field and finding the gate locked, I felt it my duty to climb the fence next to the bleachers to gain access, not for me, but for you, the followers of my blog.

A look-see along the bleachers toward the middle of the stadium. The wood table on the right background is the press area.

Peering at the field through the foul ball screen.

As you can imagine, Toni faced the same race-based adversity as male players in the Negro Leagues. But she also endured the hardships of being the only woman on the team, including being shunned by many teammates.

The scoreboard towers above the left-center field outfield fence.

It is 372 feet from home plate to the centerfield fence.

Toni Stone died in California on November 2, 1996 at the age of 75 but thanks to her groundbreaking success in baseball and this field, she’ll be remembered for years.

The Wilder Center, headquarters of the Wilder Foundation. This side faces University Avenue.

The Wilder Foundation headquarters is at the southwest corner Lexington Avenue and University. Wilder is a philanthropic organization started in 1906 by Saint Paul businessman Amherst H. Wilder to “relieve, aid and assist the poor, sick and needy people of the city of St. Paul.”

The main entrance of the Wilder Foundation’s headquarters, which opened in 2007.

In more than 100 years since its inception, the Foundation has provided many health and human services to Saint Paul residents, including some that weren’t available anywhere else in the City. Examples of the Wilder services from the first several decades of the 1900s are public health nurses and the Wilder Baths and Pool, which gave those with inadequate or nonexistent bathing facilities a place to clean up.

Wilder mantras line the exterior of the building.

Signatures of Amherst, Fanny and Cornelia Wilder were etched into the building facade. This is Amherst (A.H.) Wilder’s signature.

Cornelia Day Wilder, daughter of Amherst and Fanny Spencer Wilder.

The Wilder Center is linked to Saint Paul’s baseball history in that it sits on the spot of Lexington Park, home of the original Saint Paul Saints from 1897 through the 1956 season. A brass marker commemorating Lexington Park sits on the spot of the stadium’s home plate (although I couldn’t find it.)

This areal view of Lexington Park is toward the east. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

The Minneapolis Millers and Saint Paul Saints get ready to square off in the battle of the Twin Cities at Lexington Park in 1926. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

The original Saints moved to Midway Stadium for 1957 and the ‘new’ Saints played the last game ever at Midway last August.

Now north of University Avenue, I found Griggs Playground in the midst of renovation at North Dunlap and West Hubbard. (Griggs Avenue borders the western side of the playground, hence the name.)

With softball season done for most teams, the diamonds were wide open this beautiful Saturday.

McMurray Athletic Fields are 32 acres of softball, soccer and football fields between Como Avenue on the north, Jessamine to the south and Lexington on the east. Como Avenue separates McMurray from the southern edge of Como Regional Park.

These solar-powered electric car charging stations are something I’ve not seen at any other public facility in Saint Paul but McMurray.

A close look at the pump-like charger.

McMurray’s soccer fields, which double as the lacrosse fields, are covered with artificial turf.

These athletic fields opened in 1927 and named two years later for William McMurray, an Irish-born tea merchant. McMurray was a financial benefactor of many good causes as well as the donor to the City of 25 acres of land along Battle Creek that became part of the park with the same name (from The Street Where You Live: A Guide to the Place Names of St. Paul, Donald Empson).

Saint Paul’s Animal Control Center is just across Beulah Lane from McMurray. The old school name for it is the dog pound. According to its website, Animal Control officers respond to violations of animal ordinances, impound stray or dangerous dogs and investigate reports of animal bites.

I don’t know whether it’s a coincidence or not, but the Saint Paul office of the Animal Humane Society at 1115 Beulah Lane is next door to Animal Control.

The Animal Humane Society’s humble home.

As I rolled by, I met Faith Donovan, a Humane Society volunteer officially known as a “dog adoption support person,” who was walking a puppy named Lexi.

Faith Donovan and four-month old Lexi walk along Beulah Lane and one of the McMurray Park baseball diamonds.

Faith explained reason for volunteering with the Humane Society this way, “In Duluth I have four dogs and I miss them a lot and I can’t have dogs where I’m living currently, so I come and volunteer at the Humane Society. That way I can get my dog fix and then go home.”

Back from her walk, Lexi beckons to me with her puppy dog eyes.

Faith added, “I just find that animals are really healing and very therapeutic and when you know you’re having a bad day, to just get to walk dogs and play with them, it’s just really relaxing.”

Faith mentioned that the Humane Society started a program for dogs who aren’t ready for adoption. “Walk Stars” go through rehabilitation for behaviors like guarding their food or a history of biting, so ultimately they can be adopted. She added, “…they started up this program so that they could reduce the amount of euthanizing that they have to do.”

KotKu waits patiently for someone to adopt her.

Every animal up for adoption at the Humane Society is accompanied by fact sheet like KotKu the cat’s.

The Humane Society takes in and tries to place many animals besides cats and dogs.

Beulah Lane is less than a block long. It runs into Como Avenue and Como Park. That’s where I came upon the obviously new sign for the park’s outdoor classroom.

This seemed like a good place to hop off my bike and on to the outdoor classroom’s trail. A couple dozen steps later I came to a clearing in which stood a sizable stone fireplace.

The stone fireplace, I later learned, is a memorial to Joyce Kilmer, writer, poet and World War I hero.

I didn’t see any historical marker or other explanation about the fireplace or its significance. Not until I researched the Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom did I discover the fascinating account of this monument.

In the 1930s, Saint Paul Parks Department officials proposed setting aside a small slice of woods in the southwest part of Como Park as an arboretum. Parks Superintendent William LaMont Kaufman designed the arboretum, with the stone fireplace and some gentle waterfalls as focal points.

Parks Superintendent (William) LaMont Kaufman and Parks Commissioner Fred Truax stand in front of the fireplace at the dedication ceremony in 1936. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

In 1935 the United States was still mired in the Great Depression–unemployment sat at just over 20%–so Kaufman sought and got funding from the Kilmer Post of the American Legion for the project. Men in the Works Progress Administration (WPA), part of Roosevelt’s New Deal, began construction of the arboretum, including the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Fireplace, that same year. Less than a year later the arboretum and Joyce Kilmer Memorials were dedicated. Kilmer is best known for his poem “Trees”, which begins “I think that I shall never see / A poem lovely as a tree.”

The chimney of the fireplace has the date construction began and the initials of LaMont Kaufman, Superintendent of Parks, and Park Commissioner Fred Truax.

The fireplace and waterfalls, called the Joyce Kilmer Cascade, were very popular and well-used for decades. By the 1960s, however, the fireplace and surrounding arboretum became a nighttime hangout for ne’er-do-wells. Move ahead to the 1980s and the Kilmer Cascades had been, for all practical purposes, destroyed by vandals and the arboretum overgrown. The fireplace also showed its age but not to the same extent (from Kilmer Fireplace Re-dedication booklet, Sharon Shinomiya, Deb Robinson and Katie Plese; Como Woodland Advisory Committee ©2011).

In 2003 local volunteers pitched in to clean up the garbage and invasive species in the arboretum. Three years later planning began in earnest to formally restore the area, but it took until 2010 for the project to land funding. The fireplace re-dedication ceremony took place on May 19, 2011.

Also on Como Avenue, less than a block east, is the revitalized Como Pool. More a water park than traditional municipal pool, the lively and colorful Como Pool reopened in June 2012. (I would have enjoyed a swim today.)

It’s no surprise there’s a line to get into the Como Pool on a sunny Saturday with the temperature in the 80s.

The “aquatic climbing wall” and zip line (right) and oodles of lounge chairs are a couple of the reasons for the pool’s popularity.

The pergola is one of several that offer some welcome shade.

The always energetic children’s activity pool.

A crowded section of the 400 foot long Lazy River.

From the Como Park Pool, I basically went around the McMurray Athletic Fields, continuing east on Como, south on Lexington, then back to Jessamine and west again.

The Como Central Service Facility houses the Parks and Recreation Department’s Operations Division. The address is 1100 Hamline although the building faces Jessamine.

Continuing west, Jessamine ends at Pascal Street where a large parking lot is filled with semi-trailers. Just down the street and around the corner on Brewster Street, there are two unique public charter schools. The first is the Metro Deaf School.

The Metro Deaf School offers a bilingual education using American Sign Language (ASL) and English for primarily deaf, and hard-of-hearing students, according to its website.

The Hmong College Prep School is next door at 1515 Brewster.

The Hmong College Prep School is the first Hmong-focused high school in the US and has more than 900 students, according to the school’s website.

Hmong College Prep Academy is at least the third occupant of 1515 Brewster. Built as an athletic and health club, it was purchased and converted to a film studio in 1995. Energy Park Studios had four soundstages, two of which were 12,500 square feet each and two others which were 5,000 square feet each. “Little Big League,” “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” “Grumpier Old Men,” “Jingle All The Way,” “A Simple Plan,” and “Drop Dead Gorgeous” are among the flicks that used Energy Park Studios for production (Saint Paul Pioneer Press; January 15, 1995). Energy Park Studios left the building in the early to mid-2000s.

Trailers line one side of the parking lot at 1102 Snelling Avenue. In the background you can see the Metro Deaf School and Hmong College Prep.

Around the corner, on the East Snelling Avenue frontage road, is the lot of semi-trailers and garages filled with school buses.

Shiny new buses sit in the garage awaiting the start of school in about a month.

A third charter school, the Dugsi Academy is on the Snelling Avenue West Frontage road. About 300 students attend Dugsi.

Just north of Dugsi Academy is this plain building. The sign gives a clue as to what the McDowell Agency does. On either side of the sign, you’ll notice, are fingerprints, and the company is a private investigation firm that specializes in background investigations, according to the website. It goes on to say products and services include “criminal background screening” and the nebulous “additional verification services” and “industry specific services.”

The ride-by of the West Snelling Frontage Road concluded the discoveries for the ride. The map of the entire journey is here:

http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/642205132

 

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Categories: Twin Cities

Chart of the Day: Construction vs. Non-Construction Employment

Streets.MN - Thu, 03/05/2015 - 3:30pm

Here’s a chart from the Big Picture, an economics blog, about how slow the construction sector has been to rebound from the 2008 housing crisis.

Here’s the take on the data:

The relatively weak recovery in construction employment is interesting for at least two reasons: First, construction work is a source of relatively high-wage jobs that do not require a college education, which have been in increasingly short supply as the job market becomes more polarized (Autor and Dorn 2013, e.g.).3 The housing bust appears to have exacerbated this polarization: As I discuss below, average real income has fallen by nearly 13 percent among workers who are relatively likely to be construction workers.

Second, many builders and contractors have reported difficulty finding new workers.4 The macroeconomic evidence for this story is mixed. Average wages in the construction sector have not been rising appreciably faster than for other workers. However, at the end of 2014, the average employed construction worker was working the most hours per week on record. This fact, combined with the anecdotes and survey evidence, suggests that low construction employment could be, at least in part, a symptom of a relatively tight supply of construction workers, rather than fully a consequence of low demand for new homes.

Read the rest here.

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Categories: Twin Cities

The Right Scale for Thinking Inequality

Streets.MN - Thu, 03/05/2015 - 1:04pm

Two weeks ago, the Atlantic published a short (and facile) post called “the Miracle of Minneapolis” that (as is the way of media circles in insecure places) launched itself right onto the forefront of the Twin Cities social media scene. And, with good reason, the article re-kindled conversations about racial disparities that have been going on for years. 

Before I dive into my argument, I want to outline two crucial caveats. First, I love that we’re discussing racial disparities with increasing frequency these days. We have ignored the way that our cities have created wealth only for some (white) people, and made it almost impossible for others. The Fair Housing Act was only passed in the 60s, which isn’t very long ago, and we need to always remember how our cities treat people differently depending on race, class, and culture. So it’s great that every politician has to (at least pretend to) care about this crucial topic, and I’m optimistic that real changes that actually affect people’s lives might occur if we keep bringing this up.

The second caveat is that these geographies—scale, statistics, race, intra- and inter-regional comparison—are incredibly complicated, and I’m not going do them justice here. I’ll do my best, but really this is the start of a larger conversation. I’d welcome any expertise…

Synechdoche, Minnesota

I was raised as a Saint Paul-ite, which is kind of a mixed bag. One of the outcomes was that my family would take great pains to protest anytime someone referred to the place we were from as “Minneapolis.”

“SAINT PAUL!”…would be the immediate reply.

(This happened often on airplane trips, where the captain would welcome everyone to Minneapolis much to my father’s chagrin.)

A similar thing happens with the discussion of disparities in the Twin Cities, where people will slip back and forth between meaning Minneapolis-the-city and Minneapolis-the-metro-area when discussing inequality.

Here’s an example from a recent article here on streets.mn about inequality in pre-natal care:

People like to rave about the virtues of Minneapolis in our cherished national media sources. Minneapolis is great for millennials, Minneapolis has low unemployment, we are healthy, we have great parks, or we are basically a “miracle”. On the other hand, Minneapolis is the city with the largest racial unemployment disparity, and one of the worst racial poverty disparities, and we also have a huge racial disparity in low-level arrests.

Actually clicking on the links above, you find studies that slip between geographic scales when measuring inequality: the racial unemployment disparity refers to the Twin Cities MSA, the racial poverty disparities refer to the 7-county metro area, and only the disparity in arrests refers to actual city-scale data.

This isn’t to pick on Ryan’s excellent article, just to point out how easy it is to make these scalar slips. The Atlantic’s “Miracle of Minneapolis” piece doesn’t really discuss the city of Minneapolis at all, but is rather about how the region as a whole offers home ownership and economic opportunity. (Sample sentence: “The Minneapolis–St. Paul metro area is richer by median household income than Pittsburgh or Salt Lake City (or New York, or Chicago, or Los Angeles).”) “Minneapolis” ends up a synecdoche (a part that stands in for the whole) for the 3.5 million people that live in the Twin Cities area, a convenient shorthand that glosses over some crucial differences…not least of which is the existence of Saint Paul.

Property tax capacity per household in the Twin Cities, 2004. From Orfield’s book Region.

Existing Regional Inequality

The “Minneapolis” that the Atlantic was really talking about was the Twin Cities suburbs. Our metro area sprawls out for miles, culs-de-sac filling the horizon with nice new homes and good schools. And as a region, we generally rank as one of the least unequal metros in the country, at least according to GINI coefficient (which measures wealth concentration).

But within the region, the inequality between suburbs is striking. To offer just one example, the average per capita income of Mendota Heights, Minnesota’s #11th most wealthy city (and the place I grew up) is $49,589; just three miles away, in Saint Paul (where I live now), the average is $20,216. These gaps have all sorts of huge impacts on things like tax base, policing, and most especially school funding.

Looking at inequality within a city is always going to be important, and we shouldn’t take our eyes off the way that Southwest Minneapolis and North Minneapolis (or southwest Saint Paul and the East Side of Saint Paul) are treated differently by city government. But those inequalities pale in comparison to the difference between the core cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul and our wealthy suburbs (Plymouth, Eden Prairie, Woodbury, etc. etc. etc.).

Race dot maps for 3 midwestern cities (TC, CHI, DET).

Some Unique things about Minneapolis

Race dot maps for TC, MKE, and Denver. See full map here.

Making intra-urban comparisons between Minneapolis is also challenging because of the ways that regions differ from each other. As Nick recently pointed out, defining what is and isn’t an MSA is never an exact science, particularly when you’re looking at the massive urban agglomerations on the coasts. Like Denver or Salt Lake City (and I suppose Dallas, Kansas City, St. Louis), the Twin Cities are regionally isolated, and tail off in every direction without much inter-urban competition.

Another obvious difference is that the Twin Cities region is less diverse than coastal or southern metros, though that is changing. Connected to this fact is that we are less segregated than many other Midwestern cities…even our racially concentrated areas of poverty (a federally defined designation) lack the stark segregation that nearby metro areas like Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago, or Milwaukee have.

(Note that neither Minneapolis nor Saint Paul is not in the top 10 individual cities; the top 5 most segregated cities are Philadelphia, Chicago, New York City, Milwaukee, and Detroit. At the metro scale, the list changes slightly, but the TC is still not in the top 10.)

For example, my old neighborhood in Saint Paul, the North End neighborhood, was very poor (average household income of $32,297, and contains a lot of the RCAPS) but racially mixed. Even the places with the most extreme poverty in the Twin Cities don’t have the degree of racial segregation that you find in other cities (though that may be changing). Relative to many other cities, Minneapolis and Saint Paul proper have maintained working-class neighborhoods that have either been ‘priced out’ or hollowed out in many other cities.

Demographics for Saint Paul’s North End neighborhood, where I lived for seven years.

Don’t Forget About the Region

These differences aren’t meant to justify our racial gaps, but just to complicate the idea that comparisons are easy. A good example might be the recent MPR series of stories on inequality in snow plowing within the city of Minneapolis, they focused on geographic inequality between southwest and north Minneapolis around fines and plowing. (In Saint Paul, the conversation is often about the western half vs. the eastern half of the city…)

The unequal treatment between Kenwood (population 1,400; average household income $112,000) and Camden (population 5,074; average household income $40,000) is certainly important. But at the time, I wondered whether what the picture about city services, tax burden, and winter street quality might look like if we expanded our analysis to include Edina (population 49,300; average household income $84,000) just across the city borders? The list of top 100 US cities by household income includes Chanhassen, Eden Prairie, Andover, Lino Lakes, Maple Grove, Woodbury, Prior Lake, and Savage; is the conversation about racial inequality taking place there?

Median household income map from Minnpost.

Challenge Ourselves to Think Bigger

Looking simply at Minneapolis to study racial disparities is too easy, even if it is poetic. The real challenge is thinking about the regional inequalities which dwarf those within our cities.

This isn’t to let Minneapolis or Saint Paul off the hook. Having a serious conversation about what the city can do to address fair policing and equity within city services is crucially important, and I’ve been riveted by the recent back-and-forth between the Mayor’s office and Northside City Council Members over what kinds of solutions the city should put forth.

But I worry that fixing on urban inequalities within the city of Minneapolis will distract us from larger conversations, such as the attempt by the suburban counties (Scott County is the 34th most wealthy county in the country) to retreat from efforts to include equity in transit and transportation funding policy. I worry that we’ll lose sight of the struggle to place affordable housing in the suburbs, where so many of the excellent schools are located. I worry that focusing only on the core cities will mean ignoring the campaign to delegitimize the Metropolitan Council, which does a lot of work toward redressing regional disparities.

Equity and race should be a key issue with any discussion about urban policies. We should bring it up again and again in Minneapolis and Saint Paul discussions about how to empower people living in concentrated poverty. But we also must make sure to connect these struggling neighborhoods with the comfortably carpeted large homes in the Twin Cities suburbs, where much of the regional wealth sits.

That’s one of the reasons I loved it when the #blacklivesmatter campaign occupied 35W and held a protest at the Mall of America. Those gestures made it clear that problems of race, policing, and inequality don’t end at the Minneapolis and Saint Paul borders, but run right around the ring road into the hearts of our suburbs. Even though there’s no small amount of pushback, connecting race, inequality, and the suburbs is exactly what we need to do in the Twin Cities today if we want to raise the mantle of social justice in Minnesota.

The Mall of America rotunda is exactly where the conversation on racial disparities should be taking place.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Thoughts on Xcel’s 2030 Resource Plan

Net Density - Wed, 03/04/2015 - 9:54pm

Xcel Energy, the state’s largest electric utility, has filed their 2016-2030 Resource Plan with the Public Utilities Commission. This begins a long process of commenting and modification until their plan is approved by that body (which can take years). The Resource Plan details what trends in usage Xcel expects, and what resources (like new power plants, etc) are needed to meet that demand. The plan is important because it identifies the infrastructure investments the utility will need to make, and also the resulting environmental performance, among many other details.

I’m slowly making my way through it, both for professional and personal interest, and hope to highlight some thoughts for you, my dozens of readers.

There are a lot of things to like in the plan, the first being that Xcel is planning to meet State greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals within their own system. This is unlike the previous plan, which showed emissions increasing between 2015 and 2030. The chart below, from Appendix D, compares the two plans. (State goals include a reduction of 15 percent by 2015, 30 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050)

Most of the planned reductions in carbon pollution come from the addition of renewable energy resources to their system, as the chart below shows. By 2030, Xcel plans for 35 percent of their energy portfolio to be renewables.

However, I think the plan’s assumptions about the future cost of the solar portion of those renewables is probably too high.

Xcel plans to add over 1,800 MW of utility-scale solar to their system by 2030 (up from basically zero in 2015). This is a significant increase from the “reference case”, a ten-fold increase in fact. However, this slide was presented at a public meeting at the Public Utilities Commission:

Xcel says this in Appendix J about their assumption:

As solar technology is still not fully mature, and costs are expected to decline and conversion efficiency to improve, it was assumed that the $95/MWh price holds throughout the study period. In effect, the assumption is that fundamental cost driver improvements will offset inflation.

So the rate of decrease in solar prices will match the inflation rate? Many sources have documented the dramatic decline in solar PV prices over recent years. Lazard seems to be an oft-cited source, and their 2014 Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis shows the price of energy from solar has dropped 78% since 2009. According to usinflationcalculator.com, the cumulative rate of inflation between 2009 and 2014 was about 10%. So, at least looking historically, this seems way off.

Of course, current precipitous declines probably won’t continue forever (most of the cost is now not modules). NREL says costs have been dropping on average 6 to 8 percent per year since 1998. If we assume just half of that decline per year (4 percent), solar energy would be around $51 per MWh in 2030. Using some very back-of-envelope calculations, a price difference of $46 per MWh in 2030 means costs for new solar energy shown in the Plan’s “Preferred Plan” scenario could be over-estimated by $97 million.

This is significant not just because the price estimates of the Preferred Plan may be too high. In preparing the plan, Xcel also ran seemingly dozens of other scenarios, some including CO2 reductions of over 50% in 2030 (compared with 2005). The price difference, according to Xcel, between the Preferred Plan scenario and the scenario with the largest CO2 benefit is $172 million (from Appendix J). These other scenarios which seem too costly may actually be more in line with what Xcel is currently asking to spend once dropping technology costs are factored in.

Categories: Twin Cities

Chart of the Day: Total Monthly US Vehicle Miles Traveled

Streets.MN - Wed, 03/04/2015 - 3:30pm

Here’s a chart showing an uptick in driving due to low prices, from this blog about sustainability

It just shows that price signals do make a big difference, even if total VMT has been below its peak for a decade.

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Categories: Twin Cities

streets.m(ad)n(ess) – Call for Nominations

Streets.MN - Wed, 03/04/2015 - 12:00pm

What a time to be alive!

There’s a lot going on around here: cranes and trains all over, new bike lanes, new parklets, and new possibilities! In the spirit of getting in on the March bracket-making action, we are happy to announce the first annual streets.m(ad)n(ess) Tournament! Using the suggestions of you, our readers, we’re going to set up a bracket and have public voting to find out what you, the community, are most excited about.

What time range? It’s broad! Probably in the past year or so? That way we can do it again next year if it goes well.

What geographic area? The whole state, though keep in mind that most voters will be in the metro. What types of things? Many things! Some quick examples:

  • Green Line opening
  • Hennepin/Lyndale bottleneck reconstruction public process
  • Holidazzle Winter Market

Be specific!

We, the behind-the-scenes masters of streets.mn, will seed them accordingly on the bracket and then open it up to public voting later this month. We reserve the right to ultimately fill out the bracket in a logical way. Will there be prizes? Maybe! Who knows? Each submission will get a brief write up as voting opens–you may end up being recruited to help with that, but we’ll see how it plays out.

Potential categories:

But it depends what we get! I’m hoping for at least 32 submissions, but optimally we’d get 33 or more and do zany play-in games.

So leave some comments with suggestions! Or Tweet them at us, or share them on our Facebook page, or dispatch a carrier pigeon to our downtown offices.

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

Tech High: A Tradition of Excellence, A Future in Flux

Streets.MN - Wed, 03/04/2015 - 11:30am

The other day I was wondering to myself, what makes the St. Cloud “metro” area different from the Twin Cities, aside from the obvious size difference? I think one of St. Cloud’s great qualities is how it changes from edge to edge – it has its historic downtown paying homage to the city’s beginnings, a commercial district with the more familiar car-oriented layout surrounded by suburban-esque residential development and, at its peripheries, rural expanses of farm land and natural amenities. A person can experience a little bit of everything in the greater St. Cloud area. My parents’ house is located on 10 acres of land against the backdrop of a pond, home to loons and wood-ducks, and yet every day I went to high school at the center of town.

Saint Cloud Tech High School

I always loved that, even though I lived where trees and corn fields outnumber people, I attended school across the street from Lake George and within walking distance to downtown or St. Cloud State University. I imagine the experience of attending St. Cloud Technical High School (commonly referred to as Tech) would be even more energizing today, with the revitalization of downtown and the restoration of Lake George. All the more reason I was disheartened to hear that the St. Cloud School District has elected to build a new school, thereby vacating the 1917 building where I attended classes.

Before I get too far into this it is important that I make some disclaimers so that you are aware of my bias on this topic:

  • I consider myself a preservationist and an urbanist. I believe that old buildings serve a purpose in the greater fabric of a city and that they are important contributors to a community’s “sense of place”. Furthermore, I believe that the best way for a city to grow is through appropriate, compact, mix-use development that makes the best use of land (versus sprawling, uncontrolled development).
  • I am a member of Tech’s Class of 2005 and I have not visited the interior of the building since graduation. That being said, I’ve made an effort to have conversations with individuals with a more recent knowledge of its condition so I can better speak to it.
  • I do not consider myself an expert on educational facilities planning; these observations are based on my independent research.
“But Claire, Tech is old.”

I’m really going to need those of you who support a new school to stop telling me the age of the existing building. Seriously, stop it. In no scenario will that convince me that the building is worthless as a high school. Now, you want to talk to me about its condition, the lack of amenities or challenges to meeting the needs of present-day educational instruction, let’s have that conversation. But the building’s age alone is not, and let me repeat, IS NOT a reason that it cannot continue to function as a high school. With that said – there are some major issues regarding the current state of Tech that need to be discussed.

  • Renovation of any kind would require major updates to mechanical and electrical systems. The way that Tech has grown and been added to over the years has created a mish-mash of mechanics that heat and cool the complex. It will take creative design to ensure that a renovation properly addresses this issue in the most appropriate and cost-effective way.
  • Moving interior walls within the oldest parts of Tech would require a structural analysis of the wall because some interior walls support the overall structure. Developing concepts for the effective use of space within Tech will not be as simple as moving walls around to expand classrooms.
  • The current location limits any additional growth. Large athletic fields are not an option if it were to remain a high school. Some feel this is a huge disadvantage; I disagree. The lack of space for sprawling athletic fields which separate the school from the community is a benefit of Tech’s location. Currently, the school utilizes partnerships with the nearby college, middle school and public parks to meet needs for physical education courses and sporting events. When I was in high school we ran laps around Lake George since the campus lacked a track. Sometimes it became a challenge to dodge geese and their… ehmm, byproducts, and every now and then, when the wind was just right, you’d get slapped in the face by water from lake’s fountain. But, overall I enjoyed spending that time outside (aside from the running part, which I truly hated). There are disadvantages to this arrangement, of course. If the off-site locations are not within walking distance, the students must be bussed (extra expense). Also, the negotiation and maintenance of use-agreements across multiple entities can require a lot of finesse. Ultimately, though, fostering these relationships has the potential to integrate the school into the neighborhood and strengthen the community as a whole.
  • Clark Field, Tech’s adjacent football stadium is in rough shape. Deferred maintenance has resulted in sagging bleachers, deteriorating concessions and bathrooms in addition to mold issues, to the point that the facility is no longer used. Most agree, however, that Clark Field is an asset and efforts, led by the Alumni Association, are underway to bring “Tiger Country” back to operational order.

I don’t want to understate the importance of the repairs that Tech needs to continue to serve as a high school. But, more importantly I don’t want the conversation to get lost in these repairs. There are other factors at stake and it is important that they are equally considered.

School Location Matters

Tech is important to me. It is an old building we all know I love and it is my high school, a place that holds meaning to me. I associate a lot of sentiment and personal relevance with Tech. But just for a moment, let’s set that aside. Let’s pretend that I don’t have any connection to Tech, or even St. Cloud. I would still believe that the best use for that building is as a high school. Not for the warm fuzzy reasons that you may think cloud my judgment. But because schools, their location, design and condition, is so important to a community’s strength that neighborhoods can thrive or deteriorate simply because of a school (or lack of one).

For instance, picture the difference in surroundings between the two school locations (above photos show the zoning surrounding the two sites, below shows the aerial views of both sites -top is current, bottom is proposed). Homes, businesses, parks and other schools surround the current location of Tech. It is a well-developed, diverse neighborhood. While the new location is overwhelmingly rural,  the residential zoning that does exist is underdeveloped and lacks good “walkable” improvements, like ample sidewalks for example, there are multiple places where the sidewalks die into the earth abruptly. Sidewalks don’t exist at all along 33rd Street (which is likely to be the front-facing street to the new school). I was given an estimate of 10% for the number of students that walk to Tech’s current location. This may seem low, but 10% is better than 0%, which is how many people could safely walk to the new school location as it is right now.

Walk Score, a website devoted to determining the “walkability” of neighborhoods, gives Tech’s current neighborhood a score of 78, meaning it is considered “very walkable”. What’s the score of the proposed location you ask? One. Moving the school basically rips away any opportunity a student or faculty member has to walk to school. I would hope that construction of a school would incentivize the city to make improvements to the area’s walkability. However, no matter the amount of sidewalks, students will never walk to the school if they have to hike across 100 acres to just to get to the front door (if the proposed land-swap between the district and city were to take place the school would be constructed on a lot of 102 acres).

Examining the Options

St. Cloud is a growing city. The population increased by over 10% from 2000 to 2012 and it is projected to continue to grow. According to the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation the population growth is projected to outpace the state’s through 2035. This is good news. More people means private investment and increased tax revenue, which means economic growth and more city services. It’s important that St. Cloud take control of this growth and make thoughtful decisions about how and where it should expand. Clearly, city leaders don’t need me to tell them this since their currently working on updating the city’s plan for growth, revising and building upon the last updates made in 2003.

In looking at the plan from 2003, it is evident that the city has an intention to develop the land currently targeted for Tech’s new location. It certainly seems to have potential. There are opportunities to create beautiful park space around Neenah Creek and continue to add to residential development. I have no doubt that as St. Cloud continues to grow, this neighborhood at the edge of the city would benefit from a high school. But, I think there is a unique opportunity to decide what kind of community St. Cloud will be – will it be generic, sprawling and overbuilt, or will it be dynamic, interesting and a model for other cities? Part of differentiating itself will require St. Cloud to break away from the “business as usual” approach to growth and investment in the city’s future – so perhaps instead of building a new, oversized, school the city should encourage the district to consider the possibility of adding an additional high school to service St. Cloud area students.

I know people’s first reaction to this is always, “three schools would be more expensive than two schools”. My response is: show me the data that supports this statement. To my knowledge, the school district has not thoroughly examined the feasibility of moving to a three-school model. Regardless, schools shouldn’t be measured on a simple cost-per-pupil metric. Research demonstrates that smaller schools tend to pump out higher graduation rates, average higher academic achievement with fewer incidents of crime and increased participation in extracurricular activities. Not to mention that students report feeling of greater sense of belonging and teachers a higher job satisfaction in smaller schools. The “economies of scale” argument for large schools is often overstated. Viewed at a metric of cost per graduate, small schools tend to be on par, sometimes even trending less expensive, than their mega-school counterparts.

If you are a St. Cloud tax payer, you will be footing the bill for whatever school is created; don’t you want to make sure that it is the best choice for the future of the city? Personally, I want St. Cloud to be awesome, to be a destination and a place that I can be proud to call my hometown. I’m not here to argue about whether or not Tech needs repairs. It does. I’m not here to dispute that the school district is growing. It is. I’m asserting that building a new, big, high school on 100 acres of land at the edge of the city is not the solution. We owe it to the future of St. Cloud to make sure all options have been explored and that investing in growth at the city’s edge does not come at the cost of its core.

If you agree, contact Mayor Dave Kleis and encourage the city to take a more active role in the planning of Tech’s future. Contact the school district board to affirm that you believe there are better, more creative, solutions to addressing the needs of the school district. And if you are a St. Cloud area resident, vote against any referendum that would fund a new oversized high school. Get involved. Stay informed. Take a seat at the table.

Want to continue to research this topic? Here are some great places to start:

This post was originally posted on Claire’s blog www.fortheloveofmnblog.com.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Historic Context for The Wedge’s Historic District

Streets.MN - Wed, 03/04/2015 - 8:30am

The northern Wedge’s R6 zoning (dark green) is the key to understanding historic dissatisfaction (kitty cats added for teardown effect).

Last September, Ward 10 Council Member Lisa Bender’s office held an informational meeting regarding a proposed Lowry Hill East historic district. It was a homeowners-only affair, intended for those whose properties would be included, though there were plenty of party crashers: eager homeowners from outside the proposed boundaries, a guy from Kingfield, and at least two renters.

I showed up late, right about the time it devolved into a sort of call-and-response routine; people were slapping each other on the back over their very, very historic properties (Hey Joe, I don’t see your house on this map, it’s pretty historic… Yeah and what about Bill, his beautiful home isn’t on here either). Our former Council Member Meg Tuthill was there to suggest that City staff take a historic drive-by on the 2400 block of Aldrich. It was an amazing scene (in 2017 I’ll be endorsing whichever Council candidate promises to hold the greatest number of wildly entertaining historic district info sessions).

In February, Bender officially nominated the Lowry Hill East Residential Historic District. This was followed by an article in which former Council Member Tuthill says it would have been preferable to put the historic district in areas with many fewer historic homes: “I’m much, much more concerned about the protection of the housing stock north of 24th Street and south of 26th.”

In the same article, The Lowery Hill East Neighborhood Association’s (LHENA) President–a former Tuthill aide–described the desire of some neighborhood residents to expand the historic district as far south as 28th Street. I’m able to confirm the accuracy of this assessment because the guy behind me at the September meeting was muttering “the whole damn Wedge” in response to a question about the preferred composition of the district.

Some of the dissatisfaction with this proposal has to do with the fact that the included properties, while certainly the most deserving of historic status, are already zoned R2 (low density, two-family district). New development isn’t a threat in this area. For the anti-development folks, this historic designation won’t solve their problem; it just means a bunch of regulatory headaches for homeowners, without any of the desired downzoning side-effects.

The blocks contained within the planned historic district were rezoned to low-density in 1975; this is true of most of the neighborhood south of 24th Street. LHENA, which was formed in 1970 to advance the cause of downzoning, declared victory at the time. The northern part of the neighborhood, however, remains an area of high density zoning, which explains the current fascination with the idea of a North Wedge Historic District (Save the apex from R6!). Rezoning the north Wedge is the final piece of unfinished business in a 45-year battle against apartment and multi-unit housing (along with their resident dealers, pimps, prostitutes, and motorcycle gangs).

November 1975. LHENA declares victory.

 

Things were refreshingly explicit in the old days.

Aside from considerations of zoning-related geography, there’s a strategic reason for the anti-development crowd to be skeptical of this historic district: putting all your nicest old homes in one basket could mean losing the leverage to cram a bunch of undeserving properties into some future Super-Sized Wedge Historic District. That dynamic helps explain why a nearly identical historic district plan died in 2008 amid neighborhood concerns, reported in the Wedge newspaper, “that acceptance of this proposal could limit future possibilities for expansion.”

This is not to say the proposed district doesn’t have its share of fans. Council Member Bender reports a largely positive response from affected homeowners. And despite the desire of some residents for a far larger historic district, the LHENA Board put their symbolic weight behind the nomination two weeks ago. The organization has also formed a “historic” committee, which will no doubt have expansion on its agenda long into the future.

Related:

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Categories: Twin Cities

Chart of the Day: Annual Global Temperature Anomaly relative to a Base Average

Streets.MN - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 3:48pm

From a blogger that devotes their life to debunking climate denial comes this chart

If you’re younger than 30, you’ve never experienced a month in which the average surface temperature of the Earth was below average.

[…]

The variability we observe in surface temperature comes primarily from understood patterns of weather. Many have heard of El Niño, when the eastern Pacific Ocean is warmer than average. The eastern Pacific is so large that when it is warmer than average, the entire planet is likely to be warmer than average. As we look at averages, 30 years, 10 years, or even one year, these patterns, some years warmer, some cooler, become less prominent. The trend of warming is large enough to mask the variability. The fact that there have been 30 years with no month below the 20th century average is a definitive statement that climate has changed.

 

Something to keep in mind after a cold February!

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Categories: Twin Cities

Historic Sparkle Panels of Mankato

Thoughts on the Urban Environment - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 3:20pm

If $32 million can’t buy good architecture then I don’t what does? Here’s the happenings from Mankato’s new “economic development” project: a hockey rink!

Read about it here:  http://www.mankatofreepress.com/news/local_news/civic-center-expansion-plans-finalized/article_988534d2-c129-11e4-8edd-372712afb0fb.html

The sparkle panels should be a hit, as they were in the past. So, I decided to show some historic sparkle panel architecture …

Note: Comic sans use intentional. Sparkle panels are the comic sans of the architecture world.

Categories: Twin Cities

Who Pays for the Transport Costs of School Choice?

Streets.MN - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 11:30am

My University of Minnesota colleague Elizabeth Wilson lives on the quintessential neighborhood street in St. Anthony Park (St. Paul). While riding her bike to work she was sucking diesel exhaust from four different school buses running down her street; these four buses were taking kids to four different elementary schools. She thought about the transport and environmental implications of such; she corralled Julian Marshall and me (and others) to do a study. Not surprisingly, we found (and quantified) that school choice had some environmental (and other) implications. Now, what can we do with this information?

In a didactic post that ends by telling people not to be sanctimonious, my co-author and fellow streets.mn contributor, David Levinson, recently shared insights and cutting perspectives about school choice. His arguments prized educational diversity, sometimes at the expense of transport costs or other aspects, and they are hard to disagree with.

Should all schools be interchangeable? How about teachers? All else being equal, most will agree it’s better to serve a child’s individual educations needs with more tailored learning. But when these needs (or desires) increase transport miles, who is responsible for paying for these side effects? When public dollars are at stake, should the school district be picking up this tab?

There’s a lot to this story. (As the Dude in the Big Lebowski put it) school choice is a complicated case (You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you’s). As the issue is about the education of our offspring, it evokes strong emotions. Pareto optimum solutions to the school choice issue probably don’t exist. But, as there’s more complexity to this issue than most people realize, here’s to starting a multi-post series to drill deeper into dimension of school choice and travel.

Transport logistics dictate a lot about how school districts operate. And, many school districts devote a surprising amount of their budget to supporting the transport dimensions of school choice. Maybe they should; maybe they shouldn’t. But now right many do and Minneapolis Public Schools spend more than your average bear. Nationally, transport costs average about 5% of a school district’s budget[1]; when school choice is catered to, the proportion of costs escalate from there. These obviously are public dollars and they accrue more than most people realize.

Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts are roughly the same size with roughly the same number of students. But, owing to policy differences, school buses used to travel more than twice as many miles per day in Minneapolis than in St. Paul in 2008 (10.6 versus 4.8 million miles per year)[2]. What was the difference? The school districts had different policies regarding pickup distance. Minneapolis provided bus service to children living 0.5 mile or more from school, while St. Paul used to provide service for students living over one mile from school; they’ve since changed that. Minneapolis had more generous commitments to transporting children to non-neighborhood schools. While both were required to offer transportation options for charter schools in the district, back then, Minneapolis did so for a greater number of schools.

Putting aside specifics of the figures, who is responsible for paying for the differences in the transport miles? The school district’s transport budget (therefore the taxpayers)? Or should these costs be  privatized? Minneapolis Public Schools seems to think that school choice is  important and are willing to pay for it. Relatively speaking, a lot of it. By doing so, the district is providing a service that makes budgeting more difficult. Fuel prices are relatively volatile and can disproportionately affect a school district’s budget.

Furthermore, assuming that appropriated school budgets are closed systems, then dollars devoted to  transport are dollars not spent in the classroom. This raises the possibility of diverting ‘supposed’ transport dollars to enhanced (and tailored?) educational delivery to neighborhood schools.

If kids (and parents) are going to bypass their closest school (or two or three closest schools) in favor of a heightened educational experience elsewhere, is there a sound justification for using public tax dollars to pay for the costs these decisions bear to the environment (and society)? The next post will discuss the policy levers in play in school choice and school transport discussions.

[1] Nationally, the average annual transport cost per student is approaching $500, see: http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cmb.asp

[2] While needing update, 2008 was when we collected data.

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Categories: Twin Cities

A Gallery of Traffic Signal Lenses and LEDs

Streets.MN - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 11:00am

This is part four of an ongoing series on traffic signals. Part one and part two of the Spotters Guide were about how to identify the manufacturer, model, and approximate age of traffic signal equipment as seen in the Twin Cities. This then continued with the series originally titled “Traffic Signal Trivia” that went into a more in-depth, nationwide, and historical look of traffic signals. Part one looked at vehicle signals in general, Part two and part three looked at left turns.

Early Lenses

Traffic signal companies have always been more in the business and sales rather than production, and thus most of the manufacturing was contracted out. This is especially true with lenses. Originally there were four major glass companies making lenses: Kopp, Corning, Macbeth-Evans, and Holophane.  Macbeth-Evans, notable for it’s Depression Glass, was merged into Corning in 1936. Holophane eventually chose to concentrate on it’s much larger line of industrial light fixtures. Today  Kopp Glass, founded in 1926 from the reorganization of the Pittsburgh Lamp, Brass and Glass Company is the primary manufacturer. Although there’s not much of a market for glass traffic signal lenses nowadays, Kopp still has the capability and will accept orders if someone wants a thousand of them.

Crouse Hinds “Command” lenses.

Early lenses sometimes had “Commands” printed on them. In the early days traffic signals were new and the position of the lights not uniform, so instructions as to what to do were seen as beneficial. These are rare nowadays and a set usually sells for over $300 on the collectors market.

CH Command Lens

 

Adler “Bar” Lenses

These were an attempt to accommodate the colorblind (in the days before the placement of colors was universal). There was a bar running across the lens- vertical for “go”, diagonal for “caution” and horizontal for “stop”.  Although these didn’t catch on, the design can still be seen in today’s light rail signals. These were never common and are extremely rare today, a set of these usually fetches $1000 on the collectors market.

Adler Bar Lens

 

Kopp “Diamond Pattern” lenses (#27 and #44)

A common early pattern used by a number of manufacturers.

Kopp 27 Lens

 

Holophane “Spiderweb” Lenses

In my personal opinion the most beautiful of lenses, collectors and enthusiasts refer to these as “Spiderwebs” due to the obvious resemblance. These were used exclusively on 1940s era GE signals. Siemens adapted these for Europe where they are very common, but in the US these, not lasting long and used by only one manufacturer, are somewhat rare. A set of these usually fetches over $300 on the collectors market.

GE Siderweb lens, from a now defunct display at Heritage Square at the Minnesota State Fair.

 

Corning “Smiley Face” lenses (Type T and Type T-1)

Known as “Smiley Face” due to the distinctive pattern designed to throw light downward for the benefit of vehicles and pedestrians near the intersections when the signal was mounted on overhead wires.  There was an earlier version with larger beads, but it was revised once ITE standards came out which regulated the light output of lenses. Although distinctive the later version isn’t especially rare, the CH “art deco” signals were extremely popular back in the day and as are desirable to collectors and thus many have been preserved when they’ve come down.

Corning “Smiley” lens

 

Macbeth “Butterfly” Lens

A very rare early lens, used some in Chicago.

Later Lenses (1940s to present)

Over time lenses evolved to be less unique. Most of these are still rather common and a set goes for less than $50 a set.

Corning T-3

The T-3 was used mainly in later Crouse-Hinds signals, some of the later ones are (apparently) mis-labled as 1-3. There was also the T2, the “Faint Smiley” that maintained the ribbed outline of the original “Smileys” but not the beads.

Corning T-3

 

Kopp “Brick” lenses (TL-4655 and TL-4955)

Following the “Spiderwebs”, GE again commissioned their own design with their own logo, commonly called the “Brick” pattern. This was later adopted by Econolite when they bought out GE’s signal business. All but the oldest GEs and all but the oldest and newest Econolites will have this pattern, including all in the time frame that they were used in the Twin Cities.

“Brick” lens on long defunct flasher on Vermillion Street in Hastings.

 

Kopp “Sawtooth” lenses. (TL-4677 and TL-4777)

Smaller manufactures would typically use “Sawtooth” lenses so they are extremely common in other areas of the country, but Minnesota has always shown a preference for Eagle and to a lesser extent Econolite, both of which used their own patterns.

Kopp TL-6677 Sawtooth

 

Eagle Lenses (Kopp 88, 88.1, and 88A)

Very early Eagles would be equipped with #27 lenses, but Eagles own design, the Kopp 88 series, came in the 1940s and the same basic design was used by them until the end of the glass lens era. Although the pattern was not that distinctive, they featured Eagle’s logo and are by far the most common 8″ glass lens still in the area (often in the yellow sections of older Minneapolis signals).

Eagle 88.A

 

Polycarbonate Lenses

With the coming of polycabonate signals came polycarbonate lenses (although aluminum signals could also be ordered with them, and polycarbonate signals could also be ordered with glass. These tended not to last, they’d oxidize in the weather, and get scorched when used with higher wattage bulbs that were on a lot, like main street greens or side street reds.

Eagle branded poly lens, still found on many 8″ incandescent yellows in the Twin Cities.

12″ Lenses

Glass and Polycarbonate Lenses

Like most collectors and enthusiasts I have little interest in 12″ lenses. There isn’t anywhere close to the same variety of the earlier, more interesting 8″ lenses, and 12″ signals are awkwardly large for indoor display. But here are a few of them that I have laying around, a new 12″ Lexalite red, a Eagle branded polycarbonate yellow, and a generic glass green from Poland.

3M Lenses

Lenses for the 3M Model 131 signals were square plastic with a Fresnel pattern. Balls or arrows were stenciled out.

3M 131 Lens

Earlier LED Modules

The first LED modules were actually designed to utilize existing sockets, reflectors, and lenses, and were initially available in red only. the primary companies making them were Electro-Techs, Ecolux (later bought by GE), Cooper (which was popular in New York but exited the business, Dialight, Leotek, EOI, and Swarco.

Early screw-in LED. These are still the only way to use LEDs with an 8″ 3M adapter

The earlier modules all had the individual LEDs exposed, this is from Leotek. Dialight and Cooper were arranged in circles rather than rows.

Early Leotek LED module

 

GE RX-11s.

These were an attempt to compete with the later emerging “Incandescent Look” or “Uniform Look” designs while using the older technology of arrays of many low-power LEDs by putting a diffuser lens on top to spread the light. There’s a lot of these in the Twin Cities, but they have not held up well, are now reaching the end of their life with many partial failures, and  tend not to be liked by collectors.

GE RX-11 LED

 

GE RX-11 LEDs in Minneapolis

GE RX-11 with the outer lenses removed

 

Ecolux / GE “Honeycomb”

These were a variation of the exposed LED modules with a small magnifying lens over each LED. There are a number of these still in Minneapolis and St. Paul and they tend to outlast even the newer RX-11s.

Green “Honeycomb” lens

Eagle “Trapezoid Flatback”, with a Ecolux / GE “Honeycomb” green on W 7th street in St. Paul. The red is an RX-11

 

Later LED Modules

“Diamond Pattern”

The first of the “Incandescent Look” LED modules, Dialight and Leotek both produced models that were a throwback to the early diamond pattern lenses. These are impossible to distinguish from each other in the field.

Dialight “Diamond Pattern” LED

 

Later Incandescent Look

The later GE, Dialight, Leotek, and EOI modules are very similar and are difficult for even collectors and enthusiasts to differentiate in the field. Swarco LEDs, used some by Minneapolis and to a lesser extend by other agencies, are different with a noticable brighter spot in the center.

12″ Incandescent Look LED at Valley View Road and Flying Cloud Drive in Eden Prairie

Swarco LED on the left. These have a noticable “hot spot” in the center and are especially common in Minneapolis.

New GE Incandescent look module with the lenses removed- a fresnal lens, a beaded lens, and a clear outer lens (that’s tinted if so ordered)

Also interesting is that the US has switched to incandescent look modules almost exclusively, while LED look remain common in other countries. Incandescent look modules are much deeper than LED look, almost as much as the old incandescent reflectors. Other countries have adapted traffic signals that are much shallower, and can only accommodate LED look modules.

Relative depth of LED look module on the left, incandescent look on the right.

 

PV LEDS

Several companies make LEDs to retrofit 3M and McCain Programmable Visibility signals. Like all traffic signal LEDs these are not dimmable, so a retrofitted signal can be rather bright at night, and if a tech forgets to remove or disable the dimmer the LED module will flicker horrible and eventually burn out.

LED retrofit for PV signals.

 

Future articles will deal with pedestrian signals and controllers.

 

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Categories: Twin Cities

Cyclist Compliance at Red Lights in Minneapolis

Streets.MN - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 9:00am

Watching a cyclist fly through a red light while we wait idling in our car, on our feet or on our own bikes is frustrating. Such a brash move in the face of society causes us to lambast the enforcement of the legal system, we criticize their parents’ child rearing skills, and start attributing recklessness to the entire race of cyclists. But do all cyclists disobey stoplights? No, of course not! On my daily rides I often observe cyclists stopping and waiting for the green, and I know several cyclists that habitually obey all traffic laws. So, how many scofflaws are there and what attributes and behaviors do they share? Nearly two years ago, I set out to find these answers and in the hope of adding facts to the often heated & opinionated discussion of cyclists and their propensity to stop at red lights (this post has been a long time coming). Below is a distilled version of my much lengthier study.

My initial search for similar published studies unearthed two which looked at the compliance of cyclists at red lights. However, neither study took place in the U.S. (Australia and China instead) and both involved reviewing video footage of intersections in order to identify specific behaviors and attributes of cyclists. Because I didn’t have the resources to invest in video cameras, nor the time to review footage, Jacob Thebault-Spieker (a UMN PhD student in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering) helped me customize a mobile app he developed called CitizenSence to meet my data collection needs. With the app I was able to quickly and easily record real-time observations of individual cyclists in the field and beam the data to a central server which automatically formatted it into a downloadable Excel file for analysis. Easy peasy!

Deciding to record cyclist observations with a phone app rather than video sped up the collection and data analysis process and it enabled identical parameters for observations to be replicated across different intersections (and users if desired). But the app’s interface and my own limitations (sadly I only have one set of eyes and I do not have x-ray vision to see cyclists through big trucks) did narrow the amount of data I could collect. So, of the 18 variables the other two other studies collectively addressed, I determined eight could feasibly be recorded with the existing CitizenSence interface. Then those eight variables were dissected and combined to create the final attributes below:

  • GENDER – Both studies found women to have higher compliance rates than men
  • STOP TYPE – Each cyclist observed was categorized as having stopped then proceeded through the red, waited for red to turn to green before proceeding or failed to stop
  • DIRECTION OF TRAVEL – Direction of travel was entered as proceeding left, straight or right through an intersection
  • GROUP SIZE – This measure attempts to account for behaviors related to group size by comparing the number of members of the stopped group and the stop types for each person within that group
  • MISCELLANEOUS: GPS coordinates and the time at which each observation was made were recorded automatically with each submission (each submission being an individual cyclist) using the mobile app. Also other intersection characteristics such as types of bike facilities and number of traffic lanes at each observed intersection were recorded
  • I chose 15 signalized intersections across Minneapolis with high cyclist volumes recorded by the City of Minneapolis during recent signal retiming projects. Six of the 15 chosen intersections happened to also be listed within the top 33 intersections with the most bike / vehicle crashes from 2000 to 2010 as stated in the Minneapolis Crash Report. Over the course of my study, I counted each intersection twice resulting in 30 separate counts.

    I visited the intersections and made observations whenever I was available on a weekday between 3pm and 7pm (evening rush hour was chosen in an attempt to capture the highest daily volume of cyclists). In all, 9.5 hours of observations over eight fair weather days (no rain and above 60F) were recorded between May 6th and June 28th, 2013.

    Of the 411 cyclists I observed, 239 (58%) complied, meaning they came to a complete stop and waited for the light to turn green before proceeding. Interestingly, the proportion of non-compliant cyclists ranged from 8.7% to 68.9% across the 15 different intersections.

    My overall findings showed that:

    • Nearly half (47.7%) of the observed cyclists actually encountered red lights
    • The majority of both genders (70.3% of females and 52% of males = 58.2% overall) complied
    • When turning right, the majority of both males and females failed to comply with red lights (88% and 81.3% respectively)
    • Of the 349 cyclists traveling straight 63.3% complied while 57.1% of the 21 cyclists traveling left complied
    • Those riding alone were compliant 46.2% of the time compared to groups of two (76.8%), and three (80.9%)
    • Cyclists at intersections with sharrows or bike boulevards had the worst and second worst compliance rates (31.1% and 37.2% respectively)
    • Gender varied most at intersections with sharrows (males: 89%, females: 11%) and was most similar at intersections with separated bike paths (males: 55%, females: 45%)

    I also found that compliance levels varied dramatically by intersection:

    • Minnehaha Parkway & Portland Ave had the highest compliance rate (91.3%) of any intersection observed
    • Lasalle Ave & W 15th St, and Lake St & Bryant Ave had the worst compliance (31.1% and 37.2% respectively) and had the greatest number of cyclists that stopped but proceeded through the intersection (24 and 20 respectively)
    • W 24th St & Nicollet Ave, and Franklin Ave & Portland Ave had the greatest number of cyclists that didn’t stop at all (18 and 17 respectively)
    • Lasalle Ave & W 15th St had the greatest rate of red light cyclists per minute (1.56) compared to an overall average of 0.64 per minute

    Overall, Minneapolis cyclists comply with red lights 58% of the time, which is right in the middle of the Australian study (7%) and the Chinese study (79%) compliance rates, but well below the Portland study (which didn’t include right turning cyclists in their 94% compliance percentage). While it’s comforting to know that most cyclists here do obey red lights, the importance of this study and future ones is to open a dialogue about what influences the compliance of all road users. Is it a function of intersection complexity (number of lanes, speed of traffic, types of bicycle facilities) and how confident people are to take risk yet be safe? Or is compliance a function of the presence or absence of a clear and attractive option to comply (designated spaces, nice way-finding all the way through the intersection)? Or is it something else entirely?

    Ultimately, compliance is good, but safety is better. Don’t get me wrong, law enforcement is important, but ticketing red light runners doesn’t provide better cycling conditions (unless the generated fees went directly towards building better cycling facilities). Instead, engineering and educational pursuits like Minneapolis’ Safety Starts With All Of Us, have the potential to yield better results. By informing and empowering the public, narrowing travel lanes, reducing speeds, and building designated facilities for each mode that minimize the number of conflict points (where paths cross), people will know where their vehicle belongs and trust who has the right of way. They will know that the coil buried beneath the road will detect them and trigger the light to turn green. They will know how to act predictably. After all, we should strive to be a society where someone riding a $30 used bicycle is provided the same level of safety and security as someone driving a $30,000 car. And using data from monitoring cyclists behaviors and attributes to identify problems, promote solutions and safeguard present and future citizens is a fantastic step in that direction.

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    New Logo / Blog Design

    Thoughts on the Urban Environment - Mon, 03/02/2015 - 12:25pm

    The “A Fine Collection” isn’t supposed to be conceited, but more-so ironic. I don’t think my writing is bad, but it’s far from good, and very far from fine. I’m not sure where I’m going with it, but here you go …

    Categories: Twin Cities

    Getting to the Green Line: Seen through the Lens of a Wheelchair User

    Streets.MN - Mon, 03/02/2015 - 10:57am

    No, I’m not in a wheelchair, but I’ve spent time walking alongside people who are, as we tested out walking and rolling routes to a couple of the Green Line stations. For me, and others who walk every day, the wheelchair user’s view offers a new lens that focuses on the challenges facing people who must navigate the walking terrain on wheels to get to the light rail station, or to any other destination.

    Top: Margot Imdieke Cross navigates a sloping ramp on the way to the Rice Street station. Photo by Harry Kent                                                                                                              Bottom: Two cars block the ramp as Rick Cardenas makes his way to the sidewalk. Photo by Carol Swenson  

    Now the District Councils Collaborative of Saint Paul and Minneapolis (DCC) is preparing to release a new report on a 2014 Accessibility Survey that shines a light on a number of access issues that were not addressed in planning for the Green Line. Equally important, the report identifies improvements that can still be made, after the fact, for the Green Line. And it highlights issues that need to be considered as additional light rail lines are being planned.

    A woman confronts the challenge of getting across the light rail tracks with her walker. Photo by Harry Kent

    The DCC report and documentary video – Making Strides: Last Mile to the Green Line 2014 Accessibility Survey – will be presented on *Wednesday*, March 11th, 6:00-7:30 pm, at the Rondo Library in Saint Paul. One of the conclusions drawn by the report is that “mobility barriers are widespread and pernicious.”

    The presentation will be followed by a discussion of ways to take action and move the findings of the report forward. Some of the questions to be addressed include:

    • How does looking at the pedestrian realm through the lens of a wheelchair user change how we see streetscapes?
    • Why is it particularly important to focus on improving access to transit?
    • What can community members, organizations, and government do to address issues of accessibility?

    How would you manage this sidewalk in a wheelchair or with a walker? Photo by Carol Swenson

    For me, the experience of walking and rolling together has been profound. Now, whenever I walk, I notice things I had never seen before. For example, on Saturday, as I walked up Fairview Avenue from south of the I-94 freeway to Episcopal Homes and the light rail station on University Avenue, I found:

    Top: A drainpipe turns the sidewalk into a sheet of ice.                                                       Bottom: The Green Line station is directly across from Episcopal Homes, but there’s no crossing here.

    Residents of Episcopal Homes have to walk a long block east or west to get to the station. Photos by Anne White

    So I invite you to come join the discussion at the Rondo Library on *Wednesday*, March 11th.

    In the meantime, here are a few simple things you can do:

    Take a look at the 2 ½ minute video — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cmt-IylByFs

    Thabiso Rowan and Rick Cardenas make their way to the Green Line. Photo by Carol Swenson

    Share this post with your friends and networks.

    Take a walk with a friend in a wheelchair and ask them to point out the challenges; then, whenever you walk, make notes and take photos of situations that would be challenging for less mobile walkers and wheelchair users.

    Finally, I invite you to add your notes and photos to comments on this post. This will help the DCC  identify locations that should be prioritized for future improvements.*

     

    *Disclaimer: I am the Vice-Chair of the DCC and one of the leaders of the Last Mile to the Green Line projects which began in 2012 with a walkability survey of walking routes to 16 of the Green Line stations — see summary report, Steps to Better Transportation Choices, here:

    http://dcc-stpaul-mpls.org/sites/dcc-stpaul-mpls.org/files/images/u5/DCC%20Walkability%20Summary.pdf

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Infrastructure on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight

    Thoughts on the Urban Environment - Mon, 03/02/2015 - 9:23am

    “To be fair, that D+ grade came from the American Society of Civil Engineers, who would clearly benefit from more infrastructure spending. So, it’s a bit like having the state of our nation’s tennis ball assessed by the American Society of Golden Retrievers” – John Oliver

    You can watch the clip here: http://youtu.be/Wpzvaqypav8?t=3m50s

     

    Categories: Twin Cities

    Roll With Us Transit Challenge: March 1-7, 2015

    Streets.MN - Mon, 03/02/2015 - 7:32am

    This might be of interest in the streets.mn community, particularly given the controversies associated with whether elected and appointed officials should and do use of the modes they are supposed to manage. Organized by a coalition of local advocacy groups, the “Roll With Us Transit Challenge” will be an excellent illustration of where transit works well, and where it doesn’t, pointing out issues where improvement is warranted. I hope more legislators and other officials can be persuaded to participate in this or something like it.

    The following “Media Advisory” came across:

    What:  Legislators Take “Roll With Us Transit Challenge”

     

    Next week, March 1-7, Minnesota legislators have been challenged to ride transit, just as many of their constituents do. As the legislature considers transportation funding proposals this session, advocates are urging representatives and senators to “ride a mile in our shoes.”

     

    Legislators signing up for the #HowWeRollMN transportation challenge will take public transportation to work, to day care, to the store, and other everyday tasks to witness the realities of today’s transit system. Over the past decade, funding for bus service has been flat, while ridership has been growing. As a result, people in our communities face significant challenges.

     

    When:  March 1-7, 2015

     

    Why:

    “The goal of this week is to highlight the need for better transit by using it for all of our daily living needs. Although this week cannot replicate someone’s actual experience, we hope that we can at least open a window into the critical situation faced by Minnesota’s transit riders,” said Senator Scott Dibble, Chair of Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee.

     

    Who:

    The bipartisan roster of legislators signed on includes (note: legislators continue to sign on, so this list is not complete):

    Senator Scott Dibble (61, Minneapolis),

    Senator Eric Pratt (55, Prior Lake),

    Senator David Senjem (25, Rochester),

    Senator Patricia Torres Ray (63, Minneapolis),

    Representative Mike Freiberg (45B, Golden Valley),

    Representative Sandra Masin (51A, Eagan),

    Representative Rena Moran (65A, St. Paul),

    Representative JoAnn Ward (53A, Woodbury),

    Representative Laurie Halverson (51B, Eagan),

    Representative Connie Bernardy (41A, Fridley),

    Representative Erik Simonson (7B, Duluth),

    Representative Jennifer Schultz (7A, Duluth),

    Representative Mike Sundin (11A, Esko),

    Representative Alice Hausman (66A, St. Paul),

    Representative Frank Hornstein (61A, Minneapolis).

    Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith and Metropolitan Council Chair Adam Duininck also will take the challenge.

     

    The Roll With Us Transit Challenge is sponsored by: Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, Catholic Charities of St. Paul & Mpls., Fresh Energy, MPIRG, Sierra Club North Star Chapter, Transit for Livable Communities, TakeAction MN, ATU Local 1005, MN Center for Environmental Advocacy, Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, Summit Academy OIC, Minnesota Environmental Partnership, ISAIAH

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    Categories: Twin Cities