Twin Cities

Al’s Dinkytown Diner Downsizing

Streets.MN - 1 hour 56 min ago

Due to an increase in demand, Al’s Breakfast is downsizing to a smaller nearby location. It will move from just north of the Espresso Royale, to the gap just south of that same cafe, adjacent to the China Express. Council Member Frey praised the new slender building. Critics suggested he was “fat-shaming” the existing Diner.

Al’s Breakfast – Current Location

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Categories: Twin Cities

Motivational Poster #1

Twin Cities Sidewalks - Tue, 03/31/2015 - 1:42pm
This one is certainly true.
Categories: Twin Cities

Muckraking on West River Parkway

Streets.MN - Tue, 03/31/2015 - 10:30am

A lot of magic can happen in nine months: A woman can create life. A child can pass through puberty (well, sort of). A Vikings team can win a Super Bowl. But to make West River Parkway safe again for traffic? Unfortunately it will take well over a year.

It wasn’t originally supposed to be so. News reports following the June 2014 rain-induced mudslide suggested that the road between Franklin Avenue and Fourth Street would likely remain closed, “for a few days until the debris can be cleared.” But the road, which carried 10,000 bicycle and car commuters a day from South Minneapolis to downtown, has remained closed, making original reports a bit humorous in retrospect.

The mudslide sent a 100-yard swatch of the hill below the University of Minnesota Medical Center onto the road, leaving it covered in six to eight feet of mud. In the weeks following, the buildings above were tested and found structurally sound. Authorities then said the road would be closed until the Fall of 2014. Then, it became Spring of 2015 and the parkway is still closed.

So, overcome with spring fever a few weeks ago, I sent my city council member, Cam Gordon, an email inquiry. No response. What did they find in them-thar mud-covered hills? Remnants of Cold War era biological experiments?

Then last week, the city put out a survey asking for citizen input into the design. Great! Except now, we learn that the work hasn’t even been bid out yet — and won’t begin until June. And, it’ll take about “three to four months,” or “until repairs are complete.”

I know. Rome wasn’t built in a day. And the ash on Pompeii wasn’t cleared in… ever? I’m just hoping the city/park board could find a way to create a narrow passage through this 100-yard stretch so that at least bikes and pedestrians could travel through this summer while work is being done on the hill above. 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

Reduce Affordable Housing Need in Three Steps

Streets.MN - Tue, 03/31/2015 - 8:30am

This is part 3 of a series on the interaction between the rental housing market and rents. Read part 1, “How I Set Apartment Rents,” and part 2, “Housing Markets? Humbug!

I’ve dedicated the last 15 years of my life working on affordable housing policy. Mostly, I’ve worked where some sort of subsidy helps make it (more) affordable.

In this post, informed by what I’ve learned about the scope of our problem and the inadequacy of existing subsidy programs, I’ll share actions and policies that I think could ameliorate our affordable housing problems.

It’s common knowledge we have an affordable housing problem. It might be surprising to learn just how bad the problem is. I had a lengthy conversation with Leigh Rosenberg of Minnesota Housing Partnership trying to find a sourced number of people needing affordable housing, and learned why it’s hard. She offered a short-cut. In the Twin Cities,

“Over 91,000 renter households and 72,000 owner households now pay more than half of their income for housing in the Metro area. The burden falls especially heavily on lower-income area residents.”

Using HUD’s 30% of income definition of affordable, 71% of renter households with incomes below $50,000 a year are “rent burdened.”

Source: Minnesota Housing Partnership


And, here you can see where those people paying so much of their income in rent live.

Rental Burden (paying more than 30% of income in rent)Map credit: Elliot Altbaum


Affordable Housing 101

I want to figure out how we actually solve this huge gap, and I’ve learned that we can’t do it with subsidy. (Maybe I should say, “won’t” as there isn’t the budget or political will to spend the ballpark $7 billion it would take subsidize construction of homes to assist those 91,000 renter households paying more than half their income for housing in the Twin Cities Metro).

How much subsidy is available? 

When it comes to subsidizing apartment construction, last year had unusually high funding levels, and we funded 3,500 units. To reinforce how inadequate that is, that number includes new construction and rehabilitation of existing housing — across the entire state! In part 2 of this series, I argued we need 2,210 units in Minneapolis alone (at any price point) to get to a more tenant-friendly market.

We also offer subsidy through rental assistance. Funding here is equally inadequate. In February, the Met Council opened up their waiting list for Section 8 vouchers for the first time in EIGHT years. 36,000 people applied, and only 2,000 of them will get on the WAITING list. They’re likely to be waiting for up to three years. The Minneapolis list still has 9,000 people on it, and it was last opened in 2008.

Yikes. I hope you don’t need that assistance.

Who gets the subsidy?

A variety of programs serve people with a broad range of incomes. On one end, there is supportive housing for people who tend to benefit from more services – formerly homeless individuals and families, people in recovery, people leaving institutions. Rental assistance programs tend to serve people earning up to 60% of “Area Median Income,” or AMI*. That’s $64,000 for a family of four. Many home-ownership programs help families making 80% of AMI and some even stretch to 120% of AMI.

Twin Cities Metro Area Median Income Chart, Showing Annual Income Levels by AMISource:

We are not going to subsidize our way out of this problem, and it seems to me there might be better ways to serve moderate-income people who currently struggle to afford adequate, safe housing. Personally, I’d like to reserve the subsidy for people need it most.

With some changes, I think it’s possible for the market to serve individuals and couples making $30,000 – $35,000 (50% AMI) or more, and hopefully most households at 60% of AMI. I recommend three steps to get there.

Three Recommendations

Implementing any one of these will help, and if we do all three, we’ve got a response that might even match the scale of our current housing cost burden problems. (Remember, this is in addition to the subsidized housing we are already building.)

  • Change policies to remove barriers to development and to lower the cost of building new homes. (I recommend focusing on apartments, whether owned or rented, as fixed costs like land and predevelopment can be lowered more when shared between multiple units.)
  • Build a ton of housing. A lot. Tens of thousands of units every year regionally. MHP’s December 2014 2×4 report reports over 14,000 building permits (single family and multifamily) issued through September 2014. I’m talking about twice that. Or more.
  • Raise the minimum wage. Adjusted for inflation, minimum wage is worth $2.69 less than it was in 1968. It simply doesn’t cover the cost of building and maintaining even modest, safe housing.
  • Add enough supply, and the calculus for landlords changes. Lower the cost of supplying apartments, and the calculus for developers changes. Add income, and fewer people need a subsidy-boost.

    How Does it Work?

    Lowering development costs and building much more housing addresses two things.

  • Allowing more and lower-cost new housing opens new markets to developers that are currently not financially viable. To take one simple cost-reducing measure related to parking. It costs around $25,000 to construct a single structured parking space. If a developer can reduce construction costs by $25,000/unit because parking is not required, a developer can make equal profits on lower-cost housing. There are a host of possible cost-reducing policies.
  • Building a ton of housing brings down the cost of housing by increasing competition for renters.
  • Raising minimum wage helps reduce the number of very-low-income people — putting more people in the ranks of those who can afford housing. Note that if we raise minimum wage but don’t build more housing, the most likely outcome is that people bid up rents on existing housing. The only winners in that scenario are the owners who get larger profits.

    All three together frees up the subsidy we’re currently spending to help professional families buy first homes and moderate income people to rent $1200/month apartments. Then, we can offer it to people who the market really cannot serve.

    The Policy Prescription

    The minimum wage change is fairly straightforward, given political will.

    Building the housing will have to be done by the private sector. Removing barriers (for example, lack of developable parcels) and allowing lower-cost units (for example, smaller unit sizes, faster approvals process) encourages the private sector to create more housing. Both approaches simplify project financing by lowering risk of a project being derailed, the market changing before the project is complete and occupied, and simply by shrinking loans.

    So what policies could remove barriers and allow for lower-cost housing to be built? It’s a list of policies that have gotten more and less play on

    I’m sure this isn’t a complete list. Help me out in the comments. What an you add?

    *Minnesota Housing coordinates an annual Consolidated Request for Proposals, where most Minnesota agencies and organizations that award subsidy jointly review proposals and application processes. They jointly funded 3,650 units in 2014, 1630 units in 2013, and 3100 units 2012. 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

    streets.m(ad)n(ess) Round 3 – The Streets Sixteen

    Streets.MN - Mon, 03/30/2015 - 12:00pm

    Click to enlarge, click again in top right to enlarge again

    If you’re just tuning in, welcome to Round 3 of streets.m(ad)n(ess), where you, the reader, get to vote on your favorite goings on in the world of Twin Cities urbanism. I’m here with my co-host, Jim, and we were just discussing the results of Round 2. What a round.

    Lots of upsets, Nick. Lots of upsets with long names, in fact. How does that impact the bracket?

    Well the main issue here is that our bracket is handmade in Microsoft Paint, a great program and a great sponsor of streets.m(ad)n(ess)–that’s Microsoft Paint: You’ve Probably Got It. Unfortunately, each long name is requiring me to rejigger the whole bracket, and that’s an expense we just haven’t budgeted for. So if you’re enjoying streets.m(ad)n(ess), consider becoming a member today.

    Good advice as always, Nick.

    Well, every month or so. In any case, our membership program is being bolstered by our recent acquisition of some sick decals–which you get when you sign up. Anyway, before we get into Round 3, let’s take a look back at the scores from the last part of Round 2.


    • (1) ADUs (75%) over (8) Clean Energy Partnership (25%)
    • (4) St. Paul 8-80 Fund (54%) over (5) Parklets (46%)
    • (6) St. Paul Bike Plan (66%) over (3) Open Data Portal (34%)
    • (2) Thrive MSP 2040 (65%) over (7) Curbside Organics (35%)


    • (8) Social Media Parodies (56%) over (1) Holidazzle Market (44%)
    • (4) Open Streets Expansion (61%) over (5) State Money for Nicollet Mall (39%)
    • (6) Food Trucks Going Brick-and-Mortar (66%) over (3) The Consortium (34%)
    • (7) Metro Urbanists’ Discovery of New Ulm (52%) over (2) 2014 MLB All-Star Game (48%)

    Lots going on there. I see that notable inside joke and 3 seed The Consortium lost to 6 seed Food Trucks Going Brick-and-Mortar–what does this mean for our work khakis?

    Could go either way, Jim. On one hand, further empowering and encouraging food trucks is dangerous for your work khakis, but food trucks moving into brick-and-mortar establishments with napkins and seating may be a net gain for work khakis everywhere.

    Could be. And it was kind of a shame about 1 seed Holidazzle Market, right?

    You know I thought they worked pretty hard to get this far, Jim, and it was heartbreaking to see them go down in flames, but the readers have spoken. There’s a real possibility for Social Media Parodies to keep powering through all the way to the final, now that I look at how the seeding worked out there. What a science.

    Development (1) U of M Density vs. (5) Surly Brewery

    Perhaps ill-conceived, gang

    Our first two entries in Round 3 are very different but have a bit in common! You’ve got the large-scale transformation of Dinkytown and Stadium Village around the University of Minnesota’s East Bank campus, and the new destination brewery built by Surly a bit east of there, near the border with St. Paul.

    All those new apartment buildings over by the U are changing the experience there–it’s less of a commuter school these days and more of a, well, I guess, more of a Madison-like school. And boo Badgers, etc., of course, but have you actually been to Madison? Really went for the first time for a wedding back in 2012, and hot damn we all kind of looked around and were like “shoot, we should have gone to school here.” A dense city of mid-rise buildings and full of people and stuff and things! It was great. Very…European. Maybe some of the new buildings in Dinkytown are a little tacky-looking and have ruined the word “luxury” for a generation, but it’s hard to see all of this as a negative, long-term.

    (Source: StarTribune)

    Over at Surly, we’ve got a brewery built by one of the Twin Cities’ older craft brewers, in an industrial park-ish area near the Green Line. This was a neat get for Minneapolis as it’s one of those few things (like, say, a university) that will actually get new people into the city. The area is a bit out of the way now, but Prospect Park has a pretty ambitious plan for growth over the next couple decades. Also, did you know that craft beer is still somehow only like 8% of the beer market? How? Who? What?

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    (3) Midtown Greenway Transformation vs. (2) Downtown East Redevelopment

    Both of these cats have a lot in common! Big, big projects along the Midtown Greenway in Uptown and Minneapolis’ Downtown East neighborhood. The development along the Greenway is largely infill in the traditional sense–taking gaps in an area and filling them in with productive uses. The Downtown East projects are a little different in that there’s almost nothing there right now, save for some jails and windswept surface parking lots. Both involve big numbers–“seven blocks,” “thousands of units,” “hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space.” Kind of weird that you can sometimes build these huge projects with little to no opposition but in other cases building a four story building will catch you hell. There’s something…something there, maybe.

    In any case, what would really make the Downtown East Redevelopment pop would be, obviously, the inclusion of fire pits in Downtown East Commons–Vote Fire Pits ’15.

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    Transportation (1) Green Line vs. (5) Car2Go Expansion to St. Paul

    And the cities were united (Source: Car2go)

    “What great synergy you have!” said Little Red Riding Hood about the opening of the METRO Green Line and the expansion of Car2Go to St. Paul within a month of each other. These two things (along with the enhancement of local bus service to coincide with the opening of the Green Line) working together greatly increased mobility in St. Paul, a city due east of Minneapolis. A thought experiment as I try to fill space on these two relatively straight-forward entries: how many Car2Go Smart cars could you fit in a three car light rail vehicle? Like…a bunch, right? Those Smart cars are so small. Probably like 18? With the seats taken out of the LRVs obviously. That’s a good image.

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    (3) Hennepin/Lyndale Bottleneck Rebuild vs. (2) Nextrip at LRT Stations

    Now here we’ve got the reconstruction of the Hennepin/Lyndale bottleneck in Minneapolis and the long-awaited switching-on of Nextrip at METRO LRT stations brought us kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Rumor has it there was some sort of patent troll situation going on there, or maybe someone kept hitting “remind me later” when prompted to update Windows over the course of eleven years. Nextrip not working was sort of a good metaphor (?) for other issues…I mean, it wasn’t really actually that big of a deal–the trains come every ten minutes or whatever. But it was this very visible thing that just didn’t work and stayed that way for years. I mean, the day they installed the first display flashing “PLEASE CHECK SCHEDULES” a kid was born somewhere in this city, and the day they got them working, the kid was in seventh grade.

    The Hennepin/Lyndale bottleneck situation has a special place in my heart, as I walk through it about thrice weekly to points south. And it’s not great! But it will get better soon, and it was rather encouraging to see lots of reasonable, informed public input used for good.

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    Policy (1) ADUs vs. (4) St. Paul 8-80 Fund

    (Source: City of Minneapolis)

    Here we’ve got a Minneapolis policy going to war with a St. Paul policy, one of the better jurisdictional match ups. Last year, Minneapolis approved a city-wide policy allowing accessory dwelling units, while St. Paul set up a fund for 8-80 streets, or streets that people age eight to eighty would feel safe using. We could not reach any seven or eighty-one year old readers for comment, but I would note that ADUs don’t have any age restrictions *eyeroll*. We’re asking the hard questions here: Why doesn’t St. Paul want users younger than eight and older than eighty on their streets? Talk about biting the hand you feed and that used to feed you.

    Do you have concerns about our children and our seniors that aren’t addressed by this irresponsible policy? Call Mayor Chris Coleman’s office at 651.266.8510.

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    (6) St. Paul Bike Plan vs. (2) Thrive MSP 2040

    Pretty excited these two are facing off against each other in Round 3–they’re some of the best red meat around. You know when local news websites intentionally leave up a story about bikes or planning or the Metropolitan Council on their front pages for waaay longer than the newsworthiness of the story justifies, because they know that an extra 10,000 people will click the headline and immediately go right to the comments to see 200 unhinged morans going at it with each other? Right there–that’s cynicism. That’s the good stuff. Millennial snark’s got nothing on you, click-hungry web editors.


    We’ve got an extensive plan for bike infrastructure in St. Paul (a city named by a representative of the Papacy…hmmmm…) going head-to-head with a comprehensive plan for comprehensive plans in the seven county metropolitan area. In the immortal and mis-attributed words of Sinclair Lewis:

    When fascism comes to America, it will be offering public comment while riding a bike.

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    Potpourri (8) Social Media Parodies vs. (4) Open Streets Expansion

    Potential 2015 streets.m(ad)n(ess) Cinderella story Social Media Parodies is going up against Open Streets Expansion mere days after Open Streets announced their plans to expand to a record eight streets in 2015. Will the enthusiasm of Wedge LIVE!, MRRSVLD, MRRDC, Bloomingtonize, and others be enough to best that kind of momentum? Social Media Parodies distract us from the fundamentally maddening experience of being alive in 2015 with playful satire poking fun at our most lovably archaic entrenched institutions, while Open Streets tricks tens of thousands of Minneapolitans into imagining a world not ruled violently by cars. On some level, they’re both a little similar, in that they make you think differently about the status quo.

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    (6) Food Trucks Going Brick-and-Mortar vs. (7) Metro Urbanists’ Discovery of New Ulm

    (Source: Bob’s Burgers Wikia)

    Your Only Comfortable Pair of Work Khakis everywhere lamented Food Trucks Going Brick-and-Mortar’s upset of The Consortium in Round 2, but here we are. Two dissimilar topics, one culinary and another rurally academic. Trying new things, like acknowledging the existence of the millions of Minnesotans outside the metro area, is good, but be vigilant about going too far, lest you find yourself at the Beer Dabbler blowing a .25 in line at the Asian fusion-inspired lutefisk taco food truck.

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    This poll will remain open until 8 PM CST on Tuesday, March 31.

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    No Outlet: A Review of Twin Cities Premium Outlets

    Streets.MN - Mon, 03/30/2015 - 7:00am

    Last year, to much fanfare, Twin Cities Premium Outlets were opened. While the center has recently encountered some controversy about the atrocious treatment of black shoppers, this post is about the design (recognizing its isolating design and nature as private property may have some relationship about how shop managers and police think about the presence of others).

    Aerial of Twin Cities Premiums Outlets from Google Maps.


    Located in Eagan, on the Red Line (Cedar Grove Station), it is just a short transit hop from the Mall of America, and a shorter drive, at the intersection of Cedar Avenue (Highway 77) and Sibley Memorial Highway (Highway 13). With a “race track” design, the expectation is users will flow through the center in a circular pattern and return where they started, shopping both sides of the “street” simultaneously. As the first new mall in 13 years, it represents the last gasp of traditional bricks and mortar retail before the full onslaught of online shopping decimates what is left.

    Twin Cities Premium Outlets: Source:

    Some photos are attached. I suppose the traffic is suppressed since this was a Sunday in February, though the stores were all open, and the temperature was above average. The Google maps shows a fairly full surface parking lot (though the top deck of the “garage” (you know, they meant “ramp”, even though the sign says “Garage” and the map says “Deck”) was largely empty. The site apparently has 3000 parking spaces (doesn’t look like it).

    Slippery when wet. Imagine.

    Twin Cities Premium Outlets, a plaza in the snow.

    A color coded guide. It would be more effective if they named the streets.

    A street through the center enters a covered but not climate controlled section. Feel the wind.

    An open plaza faces the parking ramp.

    Cedar Grove Parking Garage is a few short steps (the Transit Center is farther away)


    The food court has a wide variety of specialty vendors


    I do not understand the appeal of outdoor shopping in February in Minnesota. While there is a covered section, it is not enclosed, and thus remains cold. This design has many of the worst features of a shopping mall:

    • Parking (and transit)) far from the shops, the transit center is about 1000 feet (almost 1/4 mile) from the first store.
    • A finite space without any opportunity for discovery or serendipity, I really cannot accidentally leave the site. There are anchors at the end of the internal streets, foreclosing opportunities to extend the internal grid onto the surface parking. Is it really too much to consider the possibility you might want to expand this center without tearing down functional buildings and thus would have built an extensible grid.
    • Mostly ubiquitous chain stores (or the outlet versions thereof) with almost nothing local or unique.
    • Parking acting as a barrier to integration of the mall shops with the rest of the community. It could not have been difficult to have the parking garage back onto the highway so the stores could integrate with the neighborhood. Instead it is a fortress. I realize this might have cost some visibility from the highway from the shops themselves, but really, that’s what signs are for. Existing surface streets should have established the alignment of the pedestrian streets in the mall

    without the best:

    • Climate control. This is not California, people. Has no one learned anything from the AMC Rosedale debacle.

    It does of course prohibit cars on shopping streets, which is something we can only dream of in actual cities, and is an improvement over the fake Main Streets of places like the Shoppes Arbor Lakes in Maple Grove (which isn’t even Main Street).


    There are plans to reconfigure the Cedar Grove Transit Station on the Red Line so that it will an on-line station, saving time for users (though potentially making it even farther from the Mall) [Forum Discussion]. It apparently serves 200 employees and shoppers at the center per day. Notably there has not been much crime at the center, with 630 calls for service since its opening (reported Jan 20), or about 3 calls per day . 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

    Bicyclopolis: Episode Five, The Knights of Metroria

    Streets.MN - Sun, 03/29/2015 - 11:45am presents Bicyclopolis, a graphic novel by Ken Avidor in serial form. In last week’s episode, The Great Collapse, Dan Petosky learned from his travel companions Sara Raleigh and Archer Sturmley the catastrophic collapse of the industrial era in the United States.  In this week’s episode, Sara explains how the suburban survivors of the Twin Cities Metro Area evolved into medieval-style Metrorians.

    If you missed an episode, you can find links at the archive. For easier reading, click on the pages a couple times to make them bigger.

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Sunday Summary – March 29, 2015

    Streets.MN - Sun, 03/29/2015 - 7:30am

    Marching out of March and into April, here’s the week on beginning with March Madness, of course. So, while you should be working and March Madness is not yet a national holiday, use the commercial breaks from March Madness (the basketball variety) to keep up with streets.m(ad)n(ess) and this week’s round 2 results:  Policy & Potpourri and Development & Transportation.

    Bikes and pedestrians

    We Can Make 28th Avenue Better for People takes us to south Minneapolis on 28th Avenue from 38th Street to Minnehaha Parkway to consider testing simple, inexpensive traffic calming measures such as four-way stop signs, curb extensions, and removing the center line.  Bicycle Facilities Best Practices Report from Transport for London summarizes key pieces of the study commissioned by Transport for London to guide the writing of design standards for London (a city which is certainly not Amsterdam in cycling infrastructure); Minneapolis was one of the places studied.

    Would You Stop in the Middle of This Street? Time for Bumpouts Instead


    Transpo Convo: “What’s stopping others from using transit more regularly?” asks people who can drive or take transit why they choose driving, but moves on from the simple answer “convenience” to ask who are Metro Transit’s target customers – the people who don’t have other transportation options, those who could drive or ride, or another characterization and“what criteria should be used to determine how Metro Transit resources are used?” (here are the other Transpo Convos in the series).

    The Disability Community is “Making Strides” Toward Better Transit Access continues discussion of the recently released Making Strides 2014 Accessibility Survey which studied challenges to Green Line transit access by the disability community and makes recommendations.  Among the recommendations is working with the state’s Olmstead Plan.  Olmstead Plans were new to me, but I learned they are named for the 1999 United States Supreme Court decision Olmstead v. L.C., the State of Georgia was sued for unnecessarily institutionalizing people with intellectual disabilities; the court ruled the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires states to provide services to people with disabilities in the “most integrated settings” appropriate to their needs and the Olmstead Plan and the Department of Human Services works to do this.

    Where Should the Orange Line Terminate? (in Burnsville) argues against using the existing MVTA Transit Hub and in favor of developing a MnDOT owned parking lot for the purpose; commenters disagree and find other ways to link the end of the line to the Heart of the City. Ban the Ban, Not the Plan reviews the recent news about a bill introduced in the Minnesota legislature; the initial legislation proposed banning funding and planning of the Zip Rail high-speed rail line between the Twin Cities and Rochester (reviving memories of the Dan Patch gag rule), while a revised bill has deleted the language banning route planning but retaining the material prohibiting the state, Metropolitan Council and regional rail authorities from allocating any funding for construction.

    Waiting to board the light rail

     Big policy picture

    Brother, Can You Spare a Dime (Per Mile)? breaks down the proposed $21 billion transportation funding package to tell you your share: $.10 per vehicle mile traveled. The numbers are crunched from two state documents: the 2010 Transportation Finance Advisory Committee Minnesota Moving Ahead report and MnDOT’s Daily (Average) and Annual (Total) Vehicle Miles 2013. In addition to breaking down the huge total funding amount into a human-scale burden, there’s discussion of the gas tax and other policy issues.

    Audiovisual department

    Minneapolis vacant properties (Data: Star Tribune)


    Forget March Madness, Gophers Women’s Hockey Team won their 6th National Championship with last weekend’s match against Harvard. Looking ahead, this week will see the end of March (going out like a lamb?), April Fools’ Day, Easter and the beginning of Passover – save some time to read, maybe write for us, and have a great week! 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

    Magic Parks

    Streets.MN - Sat, 03/28/2015 - 8:30am

    Feeling like you’re ready for some green to return to the Minnesota outdoors? Me too. Let this very brief promo video I made for the Minneapolis Saint Paul regional parks system whet your appetite and imagination. Summer is coming. 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

    Reading the Highland Villager #127

    Twin Cities Sidewalks - Thu, 03/26/2015 - 4:13pm
    [Springtime is Villagers unearthed.][Basically the problem is that the best source of Saint Paul streets & sidewalks news is the Highland Villager, a very fine and historical newspaper. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. You basically have to live in or frequent Saint Paul to read it. That's why I'm reading the Highland Villager. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free.]  Headline: Ideas tossed around for open space at Ford siteAuthor: Jane McClure Short short version: An old truck factory is going to become something else, some of which will be "open space." There was a meeting. People would like access to the nearby Hidden Falls park [Note: I've never successfully found the falls], wildlife habitat, gardens, playgrounds, and a "market space." People may or may not want a dog park. [Probably depends on whether one has a dog.] Bike and pedestrian trails seem to be popular, including a "greenway." Article includes discussion of historic ballfields on the site and the city's "parkland dedication fund." Open space may or may not be near Ford Parkway, which may or may not be too busy.Headline: Blueprint for design of new single-family homes airedAuthor: Jane McClure Short short version: City staff have come up with new "parameters" for designs of homes, like size, height, and materials, for the areas which have seen a lot of teardowns. "They aim to prevent monotony." [Lots of things have that aim, including this blog.] Article goes over background of the teardown issue, and has details about recommendations for sizes of home additions etc., e.g. "additions greater than 120 square feet [must have] windows and doors that account for at least 1- percent of the area of any exterior wall." [Sounds specific!] City staff would like to have any regulation extend city-wide. [That would be very difficult, I believe. Other parts of the city are not in similar boats, economy-wise.]Headline: Bike plan rounds corner to final approvalAuthor: Jane McClure Short short version: The bike plan will go before the city council. [It did, and it passed.]Headline: Study hopes to improve on 40 years of free-market trash collection in city; New system sought to reduce cots and wear and tear on the streetsAuthor: Jane McClure Short short version: Saint Paul has never had organized trash collection, but the Mac-Grove neighborhood got a grant to think about it. Some of the ideas are to "assign" haulers to different parts of the city. There are legal procedures for how to organize trash collection in state law. Minneapolis has organized trash collection. Many other cities have organized trash collection. [For a long time I was thinking about doing a rough anlysis of how much money the city loses in extra street maintenance costs by having 3-5X the number of heavy garbage trucks driving down its streets. The answer is that it's a hell of a lot!] There was a study in 2013 that said that nobody likes having lots of trucks driving up and down their street all week.Headline: BZA supports plans for Woodlawn teardownAuthor: Jane McClure Short short version: A couple can tear down a home they bought and replace it. Neighbors are upset.Headline: Ward 1 DFL falls short of endorsing City Council candidateAuthor: Jane McClure Short short version: Dai Thao did not get the endorsement. [Not sure why. He seems pretty good to me.]Headline: 'Making Strides' Report outlines steps for a more accessible Green LineAuthor: Jane McClure Short short version: People are beginning to notice how crappy the sidewalks around University Avenue really are, especially for disabled people or old people [or anyone on foot, really].Headline: Lex-Randolph property purchase opposedAuthor: Jane McClure Short short version: City and county plans [but mostly county plans] to widen a street by tearing down existing homes [and taking away some of their yards] in order to add turn lanes are not very popular. The local neighborhood group voted to oppose. They'd also like to move the Metro Transit stop farther from the corner. Article includes LOS grades ("between C and F") [for some reason]. "Adding a northbound lane is expected to bring the grade up to a D [from an E]." [$1.5M and the loss of valuable property for an extremely marginal change?] Randolph Avenue is being reconstructed anyway.Headline: Debate continues over Merriam Park cell tower agreementAuthor: Jane McClure Short short version: People are still arguing about whether the city owes the neighborhood money about a cell phone tower that was built years ago.Headline: Residents appeal BZA decision to allow student rental on GrandAuthor: Jane McClure Short short version: People who own a house on Grand Avenue would like to register it as a student rental but are having trouble with it because they forgot to register it when it was required after the student housing ordinance was passed two years ago. The neighborhood group is supporting the owners. Some people are upset.Headline: Goodwill moves into new flagship store on UniversityAuthor: Jane McClure Short short version: There's another Goodwill on University now. [It's got a big surface parking lot right along the sidewalk, too.]
    Categories: Twin Cities

    Chart of the Day: Street Lighting and Safety Perception

    Streets.MN - Thu, 03/26/2015 - 3:29pm

    This chart’s methodology might not be that great, but it’s studying the oft-overlooked topic of street lighting. Check it out:

    The chart is from the Minnesota Daily, where issues around public safety have been on the radar following a few crime incidents. Here’s what Elizabeth Smith, the Daily writer, has to say:

    An estimate in July 2014 from the city’s public works department   showed that adding lighting in Southeast Como alone, would cost about $2 million, said SECIA’s director Ricardo McCurley.

    The proposal would charge homeowners an average property tax increase of  $4,000 over 20 years, which is slightly more than $16 a month per area property.

    Nearly 70 percent of students who took the MSA survey said they would be willing to pay at least five dollars more a month for increased lighting.


    Start seeing lighting. 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

    We Can Make 28th Avenue Better for People

    Streets.MN - Thu, 03/26/2015 - 7:00am

    Driving 28th Avenue from 38th Street to Minnehaha Parkway in south Minneapolis is a pleasure, a little too much so. Traffic is relatively light compared to so many busy streets in the city, the speed limit is 30 MPH, the road surface was repaved last year and is nice and smooth. The only likely place you have to stop is the signal at 42nd Street, but even there you have close to 50/50 odds of a green light. There is the occasional cyclist trying to cross at the Minnehaha Creek crosswalk. Otherwise 28th Avenue is clear sailing. Taken in isolation, smooth traffic flow seems like a good thing, until you consider all the people trying to cross or even access 28th Avenue. Testing some traffic calming measures such as four-way stop signs, curb bumpouts and alternative striping would be inexpensive and dovetail nicely with existing and planned land uses located along 28th Avenue.

    Remove the Centerline

    The entire stretch of 28th Avenue between 38th Street and Highway 62 (the crosstown) should have its painted centerline removed in lieu of painted parking lanes and suggested bike lanes. There is precedent for this on 54th Street between Lake Nokomis and Portland Avenue (54th Street which has traffic counts of 4,300 vehicles per day, which is within the same range as 28th Avenue). Not only will this help improve safety for cyclists, a study released last year shows removal of the centerline slows traffic by an average of 7MPH. Seven miles per hour! That would move the average speed on the street from 35 to 28 or 32 to 25, which, in the event of an accident, could very well mean the difference between life and death.

    54th Street With Bike Lane and Without Centerline – a Slower, Safer Street!

    I personally suggested this to Ward 12 Councilmember Andrew Johnson, and he checked in to it and replied that because the city has designated Nokomis Avenue (running parallel three blocks east) as an official bicycle route, it is not possible to paint bicycle lanes on 28th Avenue. I’m asking the city to reconsider. Nokomis Avenue is a relatively lightly traveled street with many existing four-way stop signs and is lined only with homes, whereas 28th Avenue has several major destinations, including Roosevelt High School, Roosevelt Library, Lake Hiawatha Park and two business nodes with many popular businesses. In other words, improvements to 28th Avenue would be meaningful and significant.

    Test Curb Bumpouts at the Minnehaha Creek Crosswalk

    It has long been a source of concern about the danger that vehicles on 28th Avenue pose to pedestrians and cyclists in the crosswalk. In fact, it is drivers who seem the most concerned about hitting someone. A couple years ago the crosswalk signals had actuator buttons installed, which triggere a flashing light. Some will say this has helped, although I maintain the buttons are far enough from the path it isn’t worth the effort to use them. Occasionally when a car stops for a pedestrian or bicycle, a car following behind will pass on the right, creating an even more dangerous situation. The primary problem is the geometry and width of the roadway that leads to excessive speeds.

    Vehicle Ignoring “Refuge” at Minnehaha Creek Crosswalk

    Last year the city painted what I understand is a mid-street pedestrian refuge, whereby traffic heading south is supposed to divert to the right. There are three problems I observe with this. The first is few drivers bother to swerve right, driving right over the paint instead (as the photo shows). The second problem is vehicles that do swerve around the “refuge” actually wind up closer to any pedestrians or cyclists waiting to cross. This is particularly troublesome when you consider state law states vehicles only have to stop for a pedestrian once they enter the crosswalk, which makes a lawful crossing all the more dangerous. Third, who the hell in their right mind is going to stop in the middle of this street in the first place? Would you?

    Would You Stop in the Middle of This Street? Time for Bumpouts Instead

    My suggestion for the crosswalk is to erase the existing “refuge” and instead install temporary plastic bollards in the parking lane of each direction. These bollards would essentially be curb bumpouts, providing a more visible place for pedestrians to establish intent to cross, while significantly narrowing through traffic lanes. Hopefully this will create a visual cue to drivers and slow cars, particularly when people are present.

    As with the centerline removal, I suggested this to Councilmember Johnson he indicated that because the 28th Avenue bridge over Minnehaha Creek is scheduled for reconstruction in the next couple years, now is not the time to study alternatives without bridge plans to also review. Again, I think the City of Minneapolis should reconsider. Now is absolutely the time to test alternatives that could make the crosswalk safer.

    I am aware that the Nokomis-Hiawatha Regional Plan advocates for a pedestrian/bicycle underpass but also retains an undetermined access or crosswalk at street level. This is wise. For one, an underpass, if possible to build, will allow through traffic to avoid a crossing. However, eliminating the crosswalk has the potential unintended consequence of encouraging even higher vehicle speeds on 28th Avenue, which is certainly not an outcome we want. As well, we shouldn’t assume that all pedestrian and bicycle traffic is through traffic, and in fact I’ve observed on many occasions that cyclists and pedestrians follow the creek and then take 28th Avenue, or vice versa. The Angry Catfish bicycle/coffee shop’s location four blocks north only adds to this interchange of traffic between the creek and 28th. Human nature dictates that an access/crosswalk in some from will need to remain into the future, so let’s make this crosswalk as safe as possible, now and in the future. And with the Nokomis-Hiawatha plan hot off the presses, now is an excellent opportunity to test temporary curb bumpouts and traffic calming as we decide whether a bike trail under the new bridge is even feasible.

    Stop Signs Create Equity and Slow Traffic

    Establishing three- and four-way stop signs at 40th Street, 44th Street and 46th Street would enable people to more easily access our parks, library and schools rather than simply encouraging cars to drive fast.

    At a recent neighborhood meeting, a resident recalled that there used to be a seasonal three-way stop sign at 46th Street and 28th Avenue. I don’t remember, but it’s a great idea year-round! A stop sign would make it much easier to cross 28th to and from Lake Hiawatha, and may well slow traffic at the creek crosswalk a block to the south.

    I had a lot of fun with the 44th Street intersection, and yes I’m being sarcastic. The traffic signal at 44th Street was replaced last year as part of repaving 28th Avenue. Regardless, it should be tested as a stop sign, which would improve the safety and access for people to get to Lake Hiawatha Park, one of the most loved places in my neighborhood. The signal is one of those that stays green for north/south traffic on 28th unless a car or person triggers a signal change, and that is where the problems start. I observed, tested and timed the signal at midday. I observed a westbound vehicle on 44th Street stop at the signal (rolling over the in-pavement actuator) and await a left turn. It took approximately 35 seconds for the signal countdown to begin. Adding the 12 second countdown, that is a total of a 50 second wait, and in that time not a single vehicle passed by on 28th Avenue. Incidentally, when a vehicle triggers the signal a Walk signal does not appear! I then “applied” to cross on foot, and just as before, it took 50 seconds before I could do so, and when the Walk signal appeared it took me five seconds to cross. Incidentally, as I did so, a cyclist on the 28th Avenue sidewalk (maybe if there was a suggested bike lane in the street, he’d choose to ride there instead) saw no traffic and just crossed against the red, safely.

    Vehicle Waiting for 44th Street Signal to Change. Pedestrians Must Apply to Cross.

    My general observation is a great number of pedestrians don’t bother to press the button. Worse, they press it and then grow impatient and just cross anyway, meaning drivers have to pointlessly stop for a red light 30 seconds later. More perverse is that for drivers, when a car or pedestrian triggers a red light for 28th Avenue, drivers have to wait through the entire signal. That’s a small quibble, but the larger point is a four way stop sign instantly prioritizes pedestrians. So we can argue that more cars travel 28th Avenue compared to cross to get to the park (FYI – we haven’t counted), but that misses the point. If we want to meaningfully prioritize all modes of transportation in our city, then installing a four-way stop sign is the best alternative.

    Stop Signs Along 28th Avenue Would Improve Access to Much Loved Neighborhood Park

    I’ve beaten this intersection to death, but think about this for a moment. With the current signal at 44th, the only ways to cross 28th Avenue are to “apply” and then wait 50 seconds to do so, or break the law. Considering a wonderful park and playground that has no parking lot (and isn’t considering one) is right there, we should be doing a better job encouraging people to arrive on foot and by bicycle.

    My eight year old son isn’t comfortable walking one block to the library because he has to cross 28th Avenue and traffic is too busy and fast. Therefore, I believe a four-way stop sign at 40th Street would not only encourage him to cross but also make it safer to do so for all library visitors. Moreover, it would help the hundreds of kids and visitors at Roosevelt High School.

    Crosswalks at 40th Street and 28th Avenue Are Heavily Used

    Considering traffic counts (ADTs of 3,700 between 38th and 42nd, 5,900 between 42nd and Minnehaha Parkway and 6,000 between the parkway and 50th Street, then 4,650 and 6,100 farther south where four-way stops exist every two blocks), it could be argued that four-way stop signs can be consistently placed every two blocks along the entirety of 28th Avenue would better manage traffic speeds. The existing precedent south of the Parkway is evidence that it can work.

    Better for All

    There will of course be some who view these ideas as impediments to their fast commute, and I understand the impulse. I for one am willing to sacrifice a little speed and privilege to allow for the right of all citizens to have safer and better access to our city.

    The City of Minneapolis has made significant strides very recently with bicycle and pedestrian improvements to make the city safer for all people, so let’s continue that momentum. Slowing traffic speed can occur in many forms, which will improve access for all people to the parks, schools, libraries and businesses our neighbors love. Let’s also enhance the exciting plans laid out in the Nokomis-Hiawatha Master Plan by making it easier for people to access Lake Hiawatha and Lake Nokomis. Changes to 28th Avenue can genuinely make our neighborhood safer, more accessible and more pleasant for all people, not just drivers. We can test all of these measures quite inexpensively, and I’m willing to work with the Standish-Ericsson Neighborhood Association, Councilmember Johnson and the new Bike/Ped Coordinator Matthew Dyrdahl to make it happen.. Now is the time to try it, so let’s do it!

    This was crossposted at Joe Urban. 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

    Transpo Convo: “What’s stopping others from using transit more regularly?”

    Streets.MN - Wed, 03/25/2015 - 3:00pm

    [This is part of’s “transpo convo” series, which aims to be an oral history of getting around the Twin Cities, one person at a time.] 

    Compiled below are statements recorded from people who have the means to drive and choose to usually drive over taking mass transit:

    At Snelling and University, your choices include walking, taking the bus, taking the train, or driving.

    “When I first got married, I used to take the bus, but now we have two cars and I’m so happy to not have to do that anymore.”

    “I don’t want to wait around after work for the bus.  I just want to go home.”

    “I would take the bus, but what if one of my kids gets sick at school?  It would take too long to get back to them and then back to work.  I can’t miss that much time from work.”

    “I would take the bus more, but it only goes by my house every 30 minutes, every hour on weekends.  If I miss it, I can’t wait for the next one.”

    “The people on the bus make me feel uncomfortable.  They use foul language.  They are loud.  I don’t know if I’m safe.”

    “I would take the bus, but I’m a photographer.  I have a lot of photography equipment that I carry around with me and I just can’t take all of that on the bus.”

    “I normally take the bus, but today I had to pick up my child after school.  It just didn’t work out.”

    “It’s not possible for us to take the bus to work.  We have to go to meetings downtown, carrying poster board and other things.  We need to drive to those meetings.  It wouldn’t work on the bus.”

    “I’m afraid I’ll get lost or won’t know where I’m supposed to get on or off of the bus.”

    “I would never take a bus.  But, I do like to drive (from Saint Paul) to the park and ride (in Bloomington) to take the train to Vikings games.  That works out well.”

    “I don’t always have correct change for a bus and the bus won’t give me change.  It is just easier to drive.”

    “If the bus shelters didn’t smell like a men’s bathroom, I’d take the bus.”

    “I have to walk a mile to get to the bus stop.”

    “There are too many germs on the bus.  Think of how many people have sat in those seats and used those hand holds.”

    All About Attitude

    At first glance, the question “What’s stopping others from using transit more regularly” seems to be an easy answer.  Convenience.  After all, a popular saying in the US used to be, “this is the best thing since sliced bread.”  But is the answer more complicated than that?

    Listening more deeply, and if one had the ability to converse with people who have made these statements, would we find that another theme is actually freedom to choose?  After all, many people who cannot afford a car or are in a situation where they cannot obtain a driver’s license also face many of these obstacles, but due to their circumstances must face them on transit. Making mass transit more convenient would certainly improve the quality of life for users who need to take transit, but would the others take transit or still choose to drive?  And would those who are currently without a car still choose to buy a car once they could afford one or obtain a license?

    Every organization, whether governmental, non-profit, or for profit, needs to clearly define its customer base in order to operate effectively.  So, rather than asking “what’s stopping others from using transit more regularly,” the better question might be, “what criteria should be used to determine how Metro Transit resources are used?”  Who should be defined as a Metro Transit customer and how do we use public dollars to best serve them?

    The attitudes of the majority of people who own cars seems to be that transit use is for those who are less fortunate.  Does that mean transit use should be treated like welfare, where it is a means to improve one’s life and then not used once one can afford other options?  Or should transit customers include the business class, where transit is used to ensure employees get to work on time and investments can be made to expand offices on campus rather than to expand parking lots?  Would more investment mean more convenience and better service for all?  Or would those with the political clout still get the best service? Would the well off be better served through a more private transit system, like Google and other tech companies provide in San Francisco?

    Once questions start getting raised, it becomes a complicated issue, even among transit supporters.  Debates are made about what is the higher priority– speed or access, increase frequency of all routes or provide more service to underserved areas, etc.  One can see why there is controversy and why it is a long, slow process to get any changes made to the transit system, especially in a country that values power and where the freedom to make choices is itself an example of exercising one’s own power. 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

    streets.m(ad)n(ess) Round 2 – Policy & Potpourri

    Streets.MN - Wed, 03/25/2015 - 12:00pm

    Click to enlarge, click in the top right to enlarge again

    Welcome back to Round 2 of streets.m(ad)n(ess), brought to you by Microsoft Paint–that’s Microsoft Paint: You’ve Probably Got It.

    Thanks, Jim. And thanks everyone for tuning back into our coverage of streets.m(ad)n(ess), where you, the reader, get to vote on your favorite recent news in the world of Twin Cities urbanism. Jim, can you tell us a little bit about our last set of games, the first half of Round 2?

    Yeah Nick–this was big. Two of our eight games featured upsets, with 5 seeds Surly Brewery and Car2Go Expansion to St. Paul both besting 4 seeds Downtown St. Paul Lund’s and Apparent Salvage of SWLRT. And talk about a nail biter in the Transportation category–3 seed Hennepin/Lyndale Bottleneck Reconstruction barely squeaked by 6 seed Nice Ride Expansion, we had to break out the decimals!


    • (1) U of M Density (79%) over (8) Block E (21%)
    • (5) Surly Brewery (52%) over (4) Downtown St. Paul Lund’s (48%)
    • (3) Midtown Greenway Transformation (73%) over (6) Nicollet Hotel Block (27%)
    • (2) Downtown East Redevelopment (62%) over (7) Pillsbury A-Mill Reuse (38%)


    • (1) Green Line (88%) over (9) Union Depot Rehabilitation (12%)
    • (5) Car2Go Expansion to St. Paul (56%) over (4) Apparent Salvage of SWLRT (44%)
    • (3) Hennepin/Lyndale Bottleneck Rebuild (50.3%) over (6) Nice Ride Expansion (49.7%)
    • (2) Nextrip at LRT Stations (69%) over (7) TCUP Bus Stop Stickers (31%)

    And those decimals aren’t cheap Jim.

    That’s true, so I’d like to casually remind our readers to consider becoming a member of Our servers aren’t free! If you enjoy our high-quality, hard-hitting coverage of topics ranging from transportation funding to street frontage, sign up today. Though we won’t let you vote extra!

    And our stickers for members are on the way.

    That they are, Nick. So is there anything you want to cover before getting into the second half of Round 2 of streets.m(ad)n(ess) – Policy & Potpourri?

    There are a couple good things to point out, Jim. First of all: Potpourri–what’s going on there, right? Well, potpourri is that stuff your grandma has in a glass bowl in her foyer, but it’s also “a collection of various things,” so we’ve placed things like the Holidazzle Market into that category. Second, in the Policy category, any entry that isn’t labeled is a City of Minneapolis policy.

    Boy howdy, how do you suppose the St. Paul people feel about that?

    Couldn’t tell you Jim–I’ve been effectively banned from entering Ramsey County since Bush 41. But you know another thing is, looking at the overall bracket we started out with, you can’t help but notice how many of these policy entries were coming from one politician in particular.

    I did see that–what does it mean?

    Hard to tell, but I think we’ll find out in a couple years.

    Policy (1) ADUs

    (Source: City of Minneapolis)

    ADUs, or accessory dwelling units, were a hot topic in 2014, and for good reason–Bloomington beat us to the punch. Accessory dwelling units come in a few shapes and sizes and layouts, but in a nutshell, they’re a way to add an additional, separate residential unit to a homesteaded, single-family dwelling. Often referred to as granny flats, one benefit is that they may allow seniors–presumably with potpourri–to age in place by either allowing them to rent out a portion of their property more easily, supplementing their income, or by downsizing and moving into the unit themselves. They’re not just for seniors though, and an ADU above a garage or in a basement is a great way to increase the supply of cheaper, smaller housing stock that you often hear isn’t getting built otherwise.

    This reworking of regulations will stealthily increase density without substantially altering the built form of existing neighborhoods. Much of the enormous population loss of Minneapolis in the second half of the 20th century wasn’t from the loss of residential units or households but from the shrinking of those household sizes, and, in their own way, ADUs can help make up that difference as we march back towards 500,000 Minneapolitans.

    (8) Clean Energy Partnership

    (Source: Wikipedia- Uberprutser)

    Following a hypothetical push to municipalize Minneapolis’ electric grid that ultimately and thankfully died in committee back in 2013–sidebar: if we’re going to take something over Venezuela-style, it should be Comcast–the City of Minneapolis set up the Clean Energy Partnership betwixt them, Xcel Energy, and CenterPoint Energy. The City’s 2015 Budget includes new funding to work with these partners on its climate goals, which include reducing greenhouse gas emissions from their 2006 levels 15% by 2015, 30% by 2025, and 80% by 2050, and if you’ll remember, this winter was freezing, so something must be going right there.

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    (4) St. Paul 8-80 Fund

    Oh God what are you doing why didn’t you bring him to the lake or something you’re making us look horrible stop (Source: Star Tribune – Eric Roper)

    Last year, the metro area was wowwed–not by a European, luckily, but by a Colombian! Gil Peñalosa, former Commissioner of Parks, Sport, and Recreation for the City of Bogota, Columbia and current international consultant, went on a tour of the Twin Cities, offering advice to Minnesotans in a way that only an international consultant can. One of his main deals is the idea of “8-80″ streets, or streets and spaces that are safe for eight year old users and eighty year old users–a good idea that somehow is not immediate common sense in the world that we have built here in the U.S. of A.

    The City of St. Paul went so far as to set up a whole fund espousing these principles, and it dedicates tens of millions of dollars towards pedestrian and cycling improvements around the city, many of which are noted here.

    (5) Parklets

    (Source: Twitter – Phil Schwartz)

    Parklets, which were piloted into three Minneapolis parking spaces last year, are now policy. These neat installations add a public space to the streetscape. They chilled outside of Spyhouse on Nicollet, Martin Patrick 3 in the North Loop, and Juxtaposition Arts on the Northside last summer, and you can expect to see more around the city as soon as it starts warming up around here. Sort of the opposite of what you hear from business owners a lot–that there’s not enough parking and that there must always be more parking and never less parking–and that’s really refreshing.

    (P.S. what if we used parklets offensively rather than defensively? think about it)

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    (3) Open Data Portal

    (Source: Matrix Wikia)

    A cool idea! Some things have been written about it here on The Open Data Portal was set up by the City of Minneapolis last year and has lots of data, and is open. Citizen data miners can dig around this site for all sorts of public datasets, like, say, all the trees in the city, or the location of all the fires in a year, or a zoning map that’s not a nightmare to use. It is still a work in progress, like many things in the world, but it has real potential for use as resource and maybe some potential for abuse by mathletic vigilantes but we’ll have to see how it plays out.

    (6) St. Paul Bike Plan

    Luckily, the St. Paul City Council voted to approve this plan last week after it had already been selected for inclusion in streets.m(ad)n(ess)–we live fast and dangerously around here. We’re talking another 197 miles of bicycle facilities, which is a lot of miles, including a downtown loop and a “Grand Round” system around the whole city which sounds vaguely familiar. Saw a lot of people in bike helmets on Twitter smiling. Things are going well around here.

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    (2) Thrive MSP 2040


    Last year, the Metropolitan Council adopted what they called “Thrive MSP 2040,” a comprehensive plan for comprehensive plans laying the groundwork for transportation, land use, housing, and parks policy in the seven county metropolitan area over the next 25 years. Quick, a quiz: If there was only one thing the Metropolitan Council could do, what would you pick?

    …your toilet is now overflowing. Dang! Water resources are also in there.

    The “collar counties” of Carver, Washington, Anoka, Dakota, and Scott and some number of municipalities in those counties and probably some municipalities in Hennepin and Ramsey Counties have expressed reservations about specific aspects of the plan, but I haven’t heard much about that in a few months, so it probably blew over. And hey, the Met Council has a new chair who takes the bus more than never, so big plus there.

    (7) Curbside Organics

    (Source: Wikipedia – Compost)

    Composting in the city of Minneapolis will start getting easier this year as a curbside organics pick up program rolls out in select areas. You will get another bin if you request it! I unfortunately cannot participate due to my all-liquid diet (see next entry) and current living circumstances in a large apartment building. But this a great first step to make composting easier for city residents who don’t have easy heap access.

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    Potpourri (1) Holidazzle Market

    The Holidazzle Market, which reputable sources claim I “attended” “twice,” was the best. All the haters–to the left please. There were raindeer! There was gluhwein! I bet Santa was there at some point! Souvenir mugs?! Can you even spell souvenir on your first try? Exactly, so cut them some slack–it was the first year. While the stickers on the mugs were an absurd online-MBA-ish decision, the market was fun and potentially a great new tradition. For me it sort of reminded me that I live somewhere that people visit. Who visits Eagan for fun?

    Think of it! There were tens of thousands of non-Minneapolitan Minnesotans walking around Nicollet Mall, checking stuff out and buying tchotchkes in the downtown taxing distict and eyeballing the new residential towers rising in the distance. Next year it will be back with some of the kinks worked out, and I will be there.

    (8) Social Media Performance Art

    This is a Twitter

    Crazy world we live in, with the social media and everything. Speaking truth to power or talking to yourself like a madman in plain view of thousands has never been so easy. Great sandwiches, all, thanks. Keeping in mind that the world is chaotic and dehumanizing, some local intrepid citizens have taken up the cause of causes “on-line.” You’ve got your second ring built environments, your parking enthusiasts, your crotchety old drivers. Some are unintentional, and some do better journalism than the newspapers of a lot of large towns. This interview is probably the funniest thing I read all last year, and there are a lot of funny things to read in a year.

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    (4) Open Streets Expansion

    Open Streets, the popular event where automobile traffic is closed on city streets for part of one day each year, expanded in 2014 to six events, up from four in 2013 (remember this? lol) and two in 2012 and one in 2011. Open Streets is great because it really lets people engage in a thought exercise for the whole day, whether or not they realize it. Hey, what would it be like if Lyndale wasn’t oppressively bad to walk along? Maybe it could be a little better on the other 364 days of the year, too? Now that the space shuttles are decommissioned and NASA no longer needs Lyndale as a backup emergency landing site…who knows what’s possible when you get people thinking.

    And because good things can’t stop happening around here, it was actually announced just this morning that 2015 will see eight Open Streets events.

    (5) State Bonding Money for Nicollet Mall

    As they say in Monopoly: “Take money from your parents while they’re in the bathroom to buy Boardwalk.” We got $21.5 million dollars from the state rerebuild Nicollet Mall! That’s a lot! It’s actually a $50 million dollar project. For 13 blocks! That’s a lot. About half will come from assessments to property owners near the project area, so, hey, buy-in. The real question is: what teal was in 1993…what is that now? What are we doing that’s going to shout “2015!” in 2035 and trick us into redoing the mall again? (Will it be the streetcar?)

    The state of downtown retail along Nicollet Mall is kind of shaky right now, which is weird considering the thousands of new and well-heeled downtown residents, but things are looking up and lots of big leases are being signed to fill in empty spaces in the near future.

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    (3) The Consortium

    (Source: Wikipedia – Dunce cap)

    Man, this: let me tell you. Kind of an inside joke, to be honest. There was this whole thing on the forum that sort of defies clear explanation, but, in short, there was this guy, let’s call him Rick from Wells, Minnesota, who invented this giant fantasy world where he was in charge of this far-flung and powerful development consortium, and it was sort of immediately clear that this was not in fact the case, and after having this pointed out, he took his imaginary cranes and slunked over to another forum where he invented a whole bunch of ancillary characters including literally hundreds of fake LinkedIn profiles and other such things and ginned up all kinds of angst towards UrbanMSP among the people who still believed him and then it all sort of fell apart out of the blue in January when someone pointed out how clearly fake all the LinkedIn profiles were and then there was about two weeks of intense cyber-sleuthing and hand-wringing that was insanely good television and LinkedIn and the other forum deleted all the profiles when they found out.

    It actually makes less and less sense the more you explain it, so let’s leave it there. If you want to dive into the rabbit hole, start here.

    (6) Food Trucks Going Brick-and-Mortar

    (Source: Bob’s Burgers Wikia)

    Food trucks: They’re still hot! You’ve got to think that, with the past ten thousand or so years of human civilization, the highest possible level of food consumption is eating eleven dollars of chili off of a paper plate with a plastic fork while sitting outside on a windy day on a curb and wearing your (to be honest) only pair of khakis. Can’t get any better than that–or can it? Many local food trucks have made the jump to–you guessed it! Not trucks. You’ve got Shacks Smack and Chef in the North Loop and Seward, respectively, World Street Kitchen on Lyndale (and on SouthWest Transit buses?), Turkey-to-Go and Vallee Deli in the skyway, and others elsewhere. It’s awesome to see local entrepreneurs filling commercial space without the huge risk of starting a restaurant up out of the blue–the food trucks are a great way to test out the market and your concept before taking out a bunch of loans.

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    (2) 2014 MLB All-Star Game

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    Hey, I like baseball as much as the next guy, meaning that getting $5 Twins tickets on Stubhub and sitting in the Skyline View seats at Target Field with some friends on a July evening with a light, warm breeze drinking $8 cocktails not actually watching the game is probably one of my favorite things that is possible. The World Series…a little much. Four to seven games? Who has time for that? What you do probably have time for is the MLB All-Star Game, which is just one game and was in Minneapolis last year. It was cool! Got to see jets fly over and everything. It brought thousands of out ‘o towners to the Twin Cities and got us some good air time.

    You’ve got to think that (if it were not already a foregone conclusion) it helped a bit in our bid to secure the 2018 Superbowl for our bird-killing spaceship stadium, which, as someone who had a turkey sandwich yesterday, I am also excited for.

    (7) Metro Urbanists’ Discovery of New Ulm

    New Ulm, a town in southern Minnesota, has been the focus of some number of recent posts and discussions:

    There is something great about a Greater Minnesota town that embodies so many of the concepts that many of the metro-based writers on this site talk about all the time.

    Also, former board member Alex Bauman hails from New Ulm, and he’s a good egg.

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Bicycle Facilities Best Practices Report from Transport for London

    Streets.MN - Wed, 03/25/2015 - 11:30am

    Transport For London (TfL) serves a role similar to our Metropolitan Council except only for transportation. TfL coordinates transportation and road design across the boroughs and cities of greater London and operates or coordinates services such as their subway, red buses, and ferries. TfL also operate the city-wide Oyster card system.

    TfL has been increasingly criticized for short-sightedness and poor provision for people walking or riding bicycles. (Some of their designs are real head-scratchers making people wonder if the design engineer has ever walked down a street or knows what a bicycle is.)

    Just as in cities across the world, bicycling for transportation has become increasingly popular in London and many people including Mayor of London Boris Johnson would like to see it increase much more for its host of individual and community benefits. Across the London metro bicycling mode share today is about 4% though some communities like Hackney are closer to 25%.

    Wanting to catch up to other major cities TfL commissioned a report on best practices which was released in December 2014 and is one of the better reports I’ve read on bicycling infrastructure best practices. While infrastructure is a significant focus, the authors also looked at other elements such as policy, funding,and legal/regulatory issues.

    A few highlights are below though I’d encourage you to download and read the full report. Quotes from the report are in italics.


    At a high level they had three objectives: (1)what was critical and common among cities that have seen significant success in bicycle modal share, (2) what cities found should be avoided, and (3) how these relate to London. This last element is critical and provides very important context.

    The writers visited 13 cities for this report including Minneapolis. They have also previously spent considerable time studying Amsterdam and Copenhagen which were interwoven in this report. Cities included:

    • Amsterdam
    • Berlin
    • Brighton & Hove
    • Cambridge
    • Christchurch
    • Copenhagen
    • Dublin
    • Malmo + Lund
    • Minneapolis
    • Munich
    • Nantes
    • New York
    • Seville
    • Stockholm
    • Utrecht
    • Washington DC

    Infrastructure discussion is divided into five areas:

    • Links
    • Junctions + Crossings
    • Network + Traffic Management
    • Interactions with Other Users
    • Miscellaneous
    Common Conditions Among Successful Cities

    Drilling down from these high-level factors, we found a range of conditions to be common in most cities with mature cycling cultures, recent significant growth in cycling, or a commitment to growing cycling. Together, these conditions comprise what could be considered an ideal basis for growing cycling.

  • There is strong, clear political and technical pro-cycling leadership which is supported through all parts of the lead organisation.
  • Cycling is considered an entirely legitimate, desirable, everyday, ‘grown up’ mode of transport, worthy of investment, even if current cycling levels are comparatively low.
  • Increasing cycle mode share is part of an integrated approach to decreasing car mode share. There is no intended overall abstraction from walking and public transport; and improving cycle safety and convenience is not intended to diminish pedestrian safety and convenience.
  • Loss of traffic capacity or parking to create better cycling facilities, while often a considerable challenge, is not a veto on such action.
  • There is dedicated, fit-for-purpose space for cycling, generally free of intrusion by heavy and fast motor vehicle traffic. In cities where the aim is to grow cycling rapidly, simple, cheap and effective means of securing this space have been used as first steps, with more permanent solutions following in due course.
  • There is clarity about the overall cycling network (including planned future development), with connectedness, continuity, directness and legibility all being key attributes.
  • There is no differential cycle route branding, simply three principal types of cycle facility that make up well-planned and designed cycle networks:
    • Paths/tracks/lanes on busier streets which provide a degree of separation from motor vehicles that is appropriate to motor traffic flows/speeds and the demand for cycling.
    • Quiet streets/’bicycle streets’ with 30kph / 20mph or lower speed limits and often restrictions on motor vehicle access, particularly for through movements.
    • Cycleways/‘greenways’ away from the main highway (e.g. bicycle-only streets, paths in parks and along old railway lines and canals), but still well connected to the rest of the network at frequent intervals.
  • There is clear, widely-accepted and routinely-used guidance on the design of cycling infrastructure.
  • The frequency of occasions when cyclists need to give way or stop is minimised. This means that people cycling are able to make steady progress at a comfortable speed.
  • At least subjectively, where the cycle mode share is greater, the driving culture (and indeed city culture generally) is more respectful of the needs of cyclists. Local traffic laws often play a part in this.
  • Making better provision for cycling, even in the most well-cycled cities, is an ongoing challenge; with growth in cycling, and of city populations as a whole, requiring clear forward planning.
  • Some Key Findings

    Protection + Separation — The cities with the highest cycling levels, and those that have successfully grown cycling levels over relatively short periods, generally afford cycling good physical protection or effective spatial separation from motor traffic, unless traffic speeds and volumes are low.

    Cyclists at Hyde Park Corner, London. (Photo: Jeremy Selwyn)

    They also note that when bicycle paths cross side streets, driveways or similar entrances to a roadway that clearly communicated priority for bicycle riders and pedestrians is critical such as continuing path color, material, and grade unabated.

    On dealing with challenges such as ‘we don’t have enough room‘: The report does not categorise techniques in terms of their possible traffic capacity and/or cost implications. This is because the approach of the most successful cycling cities is to meet these challenges squarely, not use them as a justification for inaction.

    Long term commitment — Cities with the largest cycling levels and most cycling-friendly street use cultures have achieved that status as a result of policy and associated action over the long term, with an incremental approach to improving provision. Continuity of commitment to cycling as a desirable and benign mode, one worthy of major investment, is essential.

    Incremental Change — Some successful cities employed temporary solutions as interim steps to permanent infrastructure. A key example is creating a cycle track with paint and plastic bollards and then following up with cement curbs.

    They make a distinction between cities that prioritize safety and comfort for people walking or riding bicycles and those who are more accepting of compromises and lip service solutions.

    Cities that are serious about growing cycling do not employ measures that are obvious compromises; such as cycle lanes that are too narrow to be fit for purpose, operate only part-time, and/or terminate abruptly or with a hazardous merge.

    Other Interesting Excerpts

    Street Scene Impact — Cycling infrastructure can successfully be designed as an integrated part of the streetscape – although there are also unsuccessful examples of this. Though a mode of transport that it is highly desirable to encourage, cycling in cities is primarily a means to an end. Provision for cycling should do as much as it can to contribute positively to, and not to detract from, the wider experience of being in a city. While it is important that aesthetic concerns do not compromise the practical utility of cycle infrastructure, it is also important that purely functional considerations should not compromise the attractiveness of streets for all users.

    I have often wondered what role aesthetics plays in society. There is certainly an element of simple appreciation for good aesthetics and most of us enjoy spending time in places with good aesthetics. I do believe that aesthetics also play a role in behavior and that people are likely less aggressive, as people and drivers, in an inviting environment.

    Driving Cultures — In study cities with more mature cycling cultures, drivers were found to be notably more respectful of cycling and observant of the rules of the road than in London. To suggest this is simply because the Dutch, for example, are naturally more respectful people is barely credible. Much more credible is that better driver behaviour is a general product of more liveable cities, and specifically the result of a virtuous relationship involving good cycling infrastructure, a supportive legal framework, and growth in the number of people cycling.

    Culture — This brings us to the matter of cycling and broader street use cultures, how they differ, and how they change. In conducting this study, only in New York and Minneapolis did we find a cycling culture comparable to that frequently derided in London as dominated by speeding MAMILs (Middle-Aged Men In Lycra); a culture that is quite different from the much more relaxed, all-age, helmetless and low-viz cycling culture found in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe.

    A high-speed, assertive cycling culture seems to be a corollary of the prevailing driving culture which, in London and these US cities, is often characterised by impatience and limited concern for other road users. Signs of positive change in this regard have been observable in recent years – at least in certain parts of the cities in question; and these may relate to the introduction of public bike hire schemes, to infrastructure improvements, and to less quantifiable social trends. Nevertheless, London faces a considerable challenge in moving from its current street-use culture – with often divisive modal identities – to one that compares favourably with what we found in mature cycling cities.

    Bearing in mind the importance of subjective safety in determining whether people choose to cycle or not, we can report that we always felt that drivers in cities with mature cycling cultures were much more mindful of cyclists than in London, and indeed the UK generally. However, we cannot assert that the reason for this is that these drivers are necessarily more respectful of cycling, or that they think “that cyclist could easily be me or my child”, or that they drive around ever-conscious of their ‘presumed liability’ if a collision with a cyclist were to occur.

    In places like Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen, Malmo, Munich and Utrecht, drivers seemed to take the lion’s share of responsibility for looking out for cyclists while turning. Similarly, drivers in these cities readily fell in behind cyclists in quiet, residential 20mph streets, rather than impatiently (sometimes aggressively) tail-gating them.

    There is no evidence that these benign street use cultures are the result of specific ‘culture change’ programmes. Rather, they are a characteristic of liveable cities in which there is a virtuous relationship involving various factors, including good cycling infrastructure, a supportive legal framework, and growth in the number of people cycling.

    The Midtown Greenway was quite popular when the team visited Minneapolis.

    One explanation for this might be that cities with well-designed segregated infrastructure have much less conflict between motor vehicles and bicycle riders. Drivers are not often impeded by bicycle riders as they are on U.S. roads. Interactions between motorists and bicycle riders (e.g., where bikeways cross roads) are intentional with very clearly marked right-of-way. The driver-cyclist relationship in the U.S. involves greater conflict and antagonism.

    Policy + Funding — The best and most mature cycling cities such as Utrecht, Copenhagen and Malmo have enjoyed continuous cross-party support for cycling over many years.

    Uncommon Conditions

    This section on page 104 very briefly outlines features that are found in London but not in cities that have been successful with bicycling. Sadly, many of these are also not uncommon around the Twin Cities such as cyclists required to give way (yield) to motor traffic at side street crossings, abrupt ends to bicycle facilities, or part-time or shared bike lanes.

    For more insight see: – the UK entity modeled after the Cycling Embassy of Denmark and Dutch Cycling Embassy. – Rachel Aldred is a Senior Lecturer in Transport at Westminster University, London studying cycling, including the Near Miss project. – Mark Treasure’s critical and acerbic blog about UK cycling infrastructure. – London cycling blog edited by Mark Ames. – Kevin Krizek’s series for evaluating cycling infrastructure in European cities.

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Where Should the Orange Line Terminate?

    Streets.MN - Wed, 03/25/2015 - 8:30am

    Source: Metro Transit

    The METRO Orange Line will be the Twin Cities Metro’s second highway bus rapid transit line, running from downtown Minneapolis to Burnsville. As seen in the project plan update, many of the line’s basic decisions have already been made. However, there are some left, including improvements to the Marq2 corridor, and the alignment of the transitway between 76th St and American Boulevard Stations. A very prominent decision, however, is where the line will end: the existing Burnsville Transit Station or the Travelers Trail parking lot. At first glance, the answer seems obvious: co-locate it with the already-successful transit hub. However, as I looked into the issue more, I eventually decided, against all common sense, that the opposite is the right answer.

    Source: Orange Line Project Update


    Burnsville Transit Station (BTS) is a park-and-ride owned by the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority (MVTA), transit provider for much of the southern metro. BTS is the largest park-and-ride in the region and is a hub for express and local service provided by the MVTA. It’s located northeast of Highway 13 and Nicollet Avenue. It’s pretty nice with an indoor waiting area, many bus bays, and, of course, a massive parking structure.

    The indoor waiting area and bus bays at BTS. Quite nice!

    In addition to the 1,300 space concrete parking structure, it’s got space for about  20 bikes!

    A spacious indoor and heated waiting area.

    The Travelers Trail site, located at the southwest corner of the same intersection, is a vacant parking lot on MnDOT property that is legally only able to be developed for transit purposes. Before debating the sites, what makes this area of Burnsville suited to be the southern terminus of the Orange Line at all?

    The  Travelers Trail site right now.

    Land Use

    Directly south of both sites is one of the more dense and walkable areas in Burnsville: Heart of the City, a “smart-growth based, mixed-use, pedestrian friendly downtown area for Burnsville.” As Burnsville said, it’s got multistory apartment buildings, ground floor retail, and is even a marked pedestrian zone (with sidewalks on both sides of Nicollet Avenue)! Residents could walk up to the Orange Line from their homes and ride into Minneapolis, Richfield, or Bloomington. People from farther north could ride into Burnsville to attend a performance at the Ames Center.

    The northern edge of Heart of the City, less than a block from Travelers Trail.

    Nicollet becomes less of a stroad at Heart of the City.Source: Google Street View

    The Ames CenterSource: Google Street View

    Some mixed use residential development in Heart of the CitySource: Google Street View

    Although marked “Pedestrian Area” with sidewalk on both sides, this segment of Nicollet Avenue is not inviting for pedestrians

    North of the sites, on the other hand, is a collection of one-story office buildings on a stretch of Nicollet Ave that has a sidewalk on only one side. Aside from one apartment complex next to BTS, there’s nothing of interest to an Orange Line rider.  But this doesn’t answer the question of why Metro Transit shouldn’t use BTS, does it? Well, the answer is…

    North of and behind BTS, there is no transit-oriented land use or pedestrian connections

    Highway 13

    I recently rode the bus out to Burnsville Transit Station to take some pictures for this article. In order to get to the dense, walkable area south of BTS, I had to cross over Minnesota State Highway 13.

    Nicollet Avenue & Highway 13 intersection

    This involved traversing an unrestricted right turn lane onto a small pedestrian island and then crossing six lanes of traffic. In fact, I made the mistake of crossing west first, only to discover there’s no pedestrian crossing on that side of the intersection. Of course, I had to press a button in order to activate a pedestrian cycle. If you miss your cycle, you’ll be waiting quite awhile to get another opportunity to cross. If I had to do this every time I wanted to ride into Minneapolis or walk back home, I’d probably jump in my car instead. Travelers Trail, being on the south side of Highway 13, doesn’t have this barrier between it and Heart of the City. It’s a place that is very safe to walk to. So what could be some potential problems with using the Traveler’s Trail site?

    Aerial view of the intersection showing only two crosswalks


    Obviously, building a completely new stop is going to be more expensive than simply using an existing station. While the plan states that there are going to be capacity problems at Burnsville Transit Station needing to be mitigated through expansion, enhancing BTS would likely still be cheaper. Without more information, I can’t delve much more deeply into this problem.

    Connecting Routes

    Burnsville Transit Station is the hub for almost all of the MVTA’s Burnsville-Downtown express routes and Burnsville local routes. I’d hazard a guess that they would be unwilling to reroute those routes to serve a new Metro Transit-operated station instead of their transit station. However, the good thing is that, aside from route 421, all local routes operating out of Burnsville Transit Station run down Nicollet next to the Travelers Trail site. It would be relatively easy to build an enhanced bus stop on Nicollet so that those buses don’t have to pull all the way into the lot to pick up or drop off Orange Line passengers.

    MVTA local route maps, with the Travelers Trail site highlighted in orange on both maps.


    Using Google Mapping, I figured out that buses running inbound to either site would take about the same amount of time to enter the station during the morning rush hour. However, when trying to exit to 35W, a bus traveling from the Travelers Trail site would take between one and four minutes longer to get onto the interstate. While an increase in travel time for either stop is expected during rush hour, adding four minutes just to use Travelers Trail is far from ideal. But, if BTS’s location negatively affects ridership, the time savings would benefit few people.

    Google Maps estimate for BTS to 35W during the morning rush.

    Google Maps estimate for Travelers Trail to 35W during the morning rush.


    Having the Orange Line split from Burnsville Transit Station would be confusing. It would make it harder for new riders, especially those who drive to the station, to find. If someone took the express bus into work and decided to take the Orange Line back to add more flexibility to their schedule, they probably wouldn’t appreciate being surprised with the fact that their car is across a major highway from where they were dropped off. This could probably be rectified with good signage and a strong public awareness campaign before the Orange Line opening.

    We Should Still Start Anew

    Even with all these potential problems, Metro Transit should still go with the Travelers Trail site. It is the ideal site to promote walk-up ridership and potentially help spur more smart-growth in the Heart of the City area. In the future, I could see the vacant lots filling up and low-density development being replaced by smart-growth, expanding all the way up to Highway 13 and maybe even spreading across the street. That would be the time to co-locate Orange Line and MVTA services in one building. For now, however, the Orange Line would be best served by having its own building in an ideal location. That location is Travelers Trail. 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

    We Bicycle St. Paul: Better Biking, More Customers

    Streets.MN - Tue, 03/24/2015 - 12:00pm

    Last Wednesday night, the Saint Paul City Council approved the city’s first ever bicycle plan in a 6-0 vote. This short video produced by St. Paul Women on Bikes explores bikes and bike infrastructure as an economic development tool in Saint Paul. I think it’s a great video (not at all just because I made it) including some of the growing amount of evidence showing that higher quality bicycle facilities can, more often than not, lead to better business results in communities that make such investments.

    The video is also timely given the questionable valuation of on street car parking by some people criticizing the bike plan during the public hearing because of a number of spaces that could be replaced with a protected bikeway that will eventually complete a loop around downtown Saint Paul. 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

    Chart of the Day: Commute Mode vs. Happiness

    Streets.MN - Tue, 03/24/2015 - 11:55am

    Here’s a compelling chart, from a Canadian study, that attempts to measure the vague notion of “happiness” and/or “satisfaction.” Check out the different commute modes:

    This shouldn’t be rocket science to anyone who spends much time stuck in traffic on the freeway. Here’s what Citylab had to say:

    The first thing that’s clear is that, in keeping with previous surveys, active commuters tend to enjoy the journey more than those who passively endure either traffic congestion or transit crowds. But commuter-rail passengers in this survey enjoyed the trip, too—in this sample, even more than bike riders. That result likely speaks to the ability to be productive on the train.

    For my mind, I’m curious about the huge gap between “bus” and “train.” In theory, these two modes shouldn’t be that different; in practice, they’re very far apart. 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

    Brother, Can You Spare a Dime (Per Mile)?

    Streets.MN - Tue, 03/24/2015 - 10:44am

    $21 billion is a meaningless number. That’s how much more the 2012 Transportation Finance Advisory Committee estimated Minnesota needs just to maintain all modes in the current system. The total is certainly big, but all government figures are. There are so many billions tossed around in the realm of public finance that voters’ eyes glaze over.

    It’s worth dragging down these big picture figures into on-the-ground dollars and cents from time-to-time. One easy measurement for roads is how much these proposals would cost drivers per mile – or cost per vehicle mile traveled.

    This is an admittedly imperfect measurement. As per mile costs increase, people drive less. In the short term, fewer miles traveled on the same amount of road would drive up maintenance cost per VMT. In the long term, people may choose shorter commutes or developers could abandon big-box retails in favor of more, smaller stores serving more-local areas. Road systems could shrink as that happens.

    But this is exactly the point. It gets people thinking about how they would change their habits if they had to pay the full cost of maintaining roads. Would I have accepted a better job in Faribault while living in Uptown if it meant losing an hour’s pay each day just to gas taxes, never mind other fuel costs? Would companies find that cheaper land in Greater Minnesota no longer outweighed fuel costs and the difficulty of finding workers?

    $21 billion is a number designed to raise more money because the answer of whether we need more money to support our current system is clear: We do. But instead of asking how much money we need to support our system, we need to ask what kind of system we’re willing to support.

    Unfortunately, numbers illuminating that conversation aren’t as readily available. When I asked the Minnesota Department of Transportation, a spokesman gave me the estimated 20-year trunk highway funding need, the 2015 appropriation and the total vehicle miles for Interstate, U.S. and state trunk highways. He added:

    “Hopefully this will give you the information you were looking for to calculate cost per vehicle mile travel.”

    It didn’t because those totals mixed different road systems and funding figures.

    The good news is that road information could be easily calculated through two existing state documents: The Transportation Finance Advisory Committee’s “Minnesota Moving Ahead” report from December 2012 and MnDOT’s“Daily (Average) and Annual (Total) Vehicle Miles 2013.”

    The TFAC report details the forecasted receipts and estimated funding gap for each road system except interstates and U.S. highways. Combine this with MnDOT’s latest vehicle miles traveled from 2013, and you get a cost per VMT.

    I ran these calculations for the two transportation funding alternatives that TFAC considered. The first is the estimated amount needed just to maintain our current system. The second is the amount needed for Minnesota to have what TFAC considers an “economically competitive” system.

    “Maintain” option


    2013 VMT

    Est. 20 year




    20 year need



    Cost per


    MN Trunk

    11.14 billion

    $18 billion

    $5 billion

    $23 billion

    $1.15 billion


    County State Aid

    12.84 billion

    $5 billion

    $3 billion

    $8 billion

    $400 million


    Municipal State Aid

    4.67 billion

    $1.6 billion

    $1 billion

    $2.6 billion

    $130 million



    28.63 billion

    $24.6 billion

    $9 billion

    $33.6 billion

    $1.68 billion



    1.03 billion


    $4 billion

    $4 billion

    $200 million



    1.17 billion


    $300 million

    $300 million

    $15 million


    Municipal Streets

    4.40 billion


    $5 billion

    $5 billion

    $250 million


    * This is a simple division over 20 years, although the total in year 20 would actually be higher than in year 0 because the TFAC report factored in 5 percent annual inflation. When I inquired whether MnDOT had a cost per VMT estimate, a spokeswoman cited the same annual figure for the trunk highway system. I’m calculating the same way because those are the figures available and because they’re suitable for the purpose at hand.

    † Receipt estimates aren’t available. The state auditor estimated that in 2012 cities budgeted about $630 billion for construction and maintenance, according to TFAC. Similar figures for county and township roads weren’t available.

    “Competitive” option


    2013 VMT

    Est. 20 year




    20 year need



    Cost per


    MN Trunk

    11.14 billion

    $18 billion

    $11 billion

    $29 billion

    $1.45 billion


    County State Aid

    12.84 billion

    $5 billion

    $9 billion

    $14 billion

    $700 million


    Municipal State Aid

    4.67 billion

    $1.6 billion

    $2 billion

    $3.6 billion

    $180 million



    28.63 billion

    $24.6 billion

    $22 billion

    $46.6 billion

    $2.33 billion



    1.03 billion


    $9 billion

    $9 billion

    $450 million



    1.17 billion


    $500 million

    $500 million

    $25 million


    Municipal Streets

    4.40 billion


    $8 billion

    $8 billion

    $400 million


    To be honest, I expected the numbers to be higher. Costs could still creep up further with the miles of rural interstates and U.S. highways that weren’t included here. That’s probably especially true on a national scale when accounting for the long stretches of roads in low-population western states. In Minnesota, the county roads are the big outlier. This lends credence to the statements from Charles Marohn at Strong Towns that some rural routes are probably best left as dirt roads.

    But even 10 cents per mile causes the cost of the approximately 20-minute average Twin Cities commute time to quickly add up. North Country commutes, which average in excess of 45 minutes in some areas, would be a deal breaker for me. I can’t imagine commuting from Rochester, as some people do now, with such a price tag.

    And even the lower-cost county state aid highways and municipal state aid routes are high compared to revenue from the existing gas tax. The Minnesota gas tax is 28.5 cents per gallon, and the average sales-weighted fuel economy since 2013 has been in the 25 mpg range.

    That works out to 1.14 cents per mile — not even enough to cover the lowest-cost roads, never mind subsidize the most costly. You’d need a $2.025 per gallon gas tax to hit the 8.1 cent per gallon cost per VMT. That’s a European-level of gas tax Americans aren’t willing to pay even though we say that’s the road system we want.

    Policy changes

    Of course, the gas tax only provides a portion of the money that the state distributes to trunk highways, county state aid highways and municipal state aid routes. In 2012, the Highway User Tax Distribution Fund got 48 percent of its money from the gas tax, 33 percent from the registration tax and 19 percent from the motor vehicle sales tax. County and municipal state aid routes also required a local match. These fall well short of the TFAC’s goals, but they still serve to divorce vehicle taxes from vehicle use. For purely local roads, property taxes, street assessments and bonds do the same thing.

    It’s like a buffet. When you pay for a buffet, you’re apt to go back for seconds or grab dessert even it’s bad for your waistline. You’ve already paid; you might as well get your money’s worth. That’s not the case when you visit a traditional restaurant where you’d have to buy another whole entrée or fork over eight bucks for dessert.

    The same thing happens with vehicle registrations and the vehicle sales tax. People pay their money up front and no longer have any financial incentive to curb their driving. Like the proprietor at a buffet, the state is forced to ensure there’s enough supply for everyone to get their fill and then charge enough to cover that cost. Except with roads, our appetite is bottomless. Hence, induced demand.

    Overcoming a regressive tax

    The common objection to the gas tax is that it’s a regressive tax. But as David Levinson has argued about transit here on, you could simply subsidize low-income residents through non-transportation sources if that’s your goal. This could be done through rebates for fuel purchases or vouchers that entitle them to a specific amount of fuel. The U.S. military actually allows overseas service members to put money on fuel ration cards – essentially vouchers – that they use to buy discounted fuel at off-base service stations. Such a program in Minnesota would help low-income residents while still providing financial feedback to all users about the real cost of maintaining our roads.

    Whatever route we choose, we need to start talking about and using real numbers that communicate the price of people’s driving decisions. $21 billion isn’t the way to do that. 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

    Ban the Ban, Not the Plan

    Streets.MN - Tue, 03/24/2015 - 9:00am

    Promotional rendering of a Zip Rail train

    Last week, Minnesota House representative Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) issued a news release touting a compromise between him and supporters of the Zip Rail line being planned between the Twin Cities and Rochester. Oh good! Compromise! Our representatives must have done their job and avoided petty politics! That’s what we always want our representatives to do, isn’t it?

    Unfortunately, this is no compromise—merely a softening of the harsh and arbitrary position Garofalo set out in a bill he authored in January. The initial bill would ban funding and planning of the Zip Rail line entirely. Now he says he’ll drop the language that bans route planning by the state, Metropolitan Council, and regional rail authorities, but would still prevent those entities from funding any construction.

    Right now, our transportation system is like a house where all of the money has been spent on windows and walls, but nothing has been put into adding a roof.  We don’t sit in our houses asking for money to magically print out from the ceiling to pay back its installation cost, but the benefits of having it in place add up: Better health for the people who live there, lower maintenance costs, and the ability to heat and cool the space without spending a fortune, among many other things.

    When highways are built, we don’t necessarily expect them to pay back their costs in full. Many of them do, but others don’t. For instance, Minnesota 212 in the southwest suburbs isn’t covering its costs with revenue from the gas tax, motor vehicle sales tax, or license fees. There are some improvements planned for U.S. Highway 14 in southern Minnesota that almost certainly won’t be directly paid off by the automobiles traveling over it.

    Benefits from things like improved safety and higher travel speed often covers the financial gap. These are less tangible since they don’t translate to a direct revenue stream, but it still means that projects like these can be worthwhile anyway. This is one of the most important roles of government—running projects that help society at large but are too expensive or complex for individuals or small groups to do themselves. The right projects will reduce overall social costs or boost the economy enough to cover the difference.

    The frustrating thing is that rail projects are always put under the microscope and scrutinized to a far higher degree than highway expansion, even when the rail lines are expected to show good benefits. State-sponsored studies have looked at passenger rail to and through Rochester for nearly 25 years and have consistently shown it providing a net benefit to the state and region. For good reasons, it has bubbled up to the top tier of routes to be built under MnDOT’s state rail plan.

    Zip Rail planners have often mentioned that the line is attracting interest from companies willing to help pay its construction costs. I’ve always assumed that this would be in the form of a public-private partnership (PPP), where a company or consortium would pay for some of the startup cost and would operate the line in exchange for taking back a chunk of the route’s annual revenue, but the “compromise” from last week suggests that someone is be willing to pay the entire cost to build the route.

    An organization called North American High Speed Rail Group has come forward as a potential backer of the route. That’s great, if true, but shouldn’t be a reason to restrict the availability of public funds at this point. We don’t really know if they have the resources to pull it off at this time, especially since construction and operational costs haven’t been determined yet.

    Garofalo’s bill should just die in committee with no further action taken. Leaving the issue alone will let the Environmental Impact Study phase play out, and the line’s backers will have to come back to request funding anyway, if they need it. The bill does nothing to “protect taxpayers“, and would be likely to do more harm than good. 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