Twin Cities

Bike Friendly Cities: Copenhagen

Streets.MN - Thu, 08/21/2014 - 9:00am

A newish video about bicycling and Copenhagen.

Published on Aug 8, 2014

Where better to start our series on Bike Friendly Cities than in Copenhagen – a city with over 215 miles of bike paths that was declared the world’s best city for cycling a few years ago? We talked with everyone who is anyone in the world of cycling, starting with urban mobility expert Mikael Colville-Andersen, who advises cities across the planet and Morten Kabell, head of Copenhagen’s Technical and Environmental Administration. We even found the beautiful lady who ferries sperm samples to fertility clinics around Copenhagen on a sperm-shaped cargo-bike. And of course we could not leave out the friendly wizards from the bike repair shops. For a number of days we researched whether Copenhagen really is paradise on Earth for cyclists. You can find the answer in our report. ABOUT WLC: is a new online magazine that brings you original stories, fresh videos and special reports from the wide world of cycling. 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

Open Streets Minneapolis – Sustainable Transportation, Seward Businesses and Even Cute Dogs

Streets.MN - Thu, 08/21/2014 - 7:00am

Well, the Open Streets Minneapolis Franklin Avenue event was certainly a success. It was filled with local produce, Seward businesses, bicyclists, pedestrians, Nice Rides, concessionaires, cute dogs, a puppet show and even a player piano. Rain did clear some people out but that didn’t happen until well over 4 hours into it.

One thing I love about Twin Cities events like this is the way they often tie in local community projects and businesses. It allows you to have an enjoyable time while learning more about the area.

I was certainly happy to see this tweet from Metro Transit beforehand.

Metro Transit Tweet

Because of this, we were all able to take the Blue Line LRT for free on Sunday which I took and landed us right in the middle of the event. Here’s the pass that I simply took a screenshot of with my phone.

Free Metro Transit Pass

For transit, there were certainly many others options as well. Nice Ride has 5 stations right within the event’s boundaries.

5 Nice Ride Stations on E. Franklin

I just downloaded the OMG Transit app and it gave be great info if I wanted to use these Nice Rides from basically right outside my condo at Gateway Park.

Nice Ride Station at Gateway Park

Thanks to Matt from OMG Transit, I used their directions feature to enter an address close to Open Streets’ participant Tracy’s Saloon on Franklin where my friend Rob is a co-owner. It gave me what appears to be the quickest route at this particular time.

Directions to Tracy’s

You can always use Car2Go. I use this program often as there are often cars located just a block away or so from my home location.

Nearby Car2Go Pick Up

They had a presence at Open Streets as well. They were very informative, had a couple cars out there to give potential users an easy in-person, visual demonstration of how the process works, and even provided nice SWAG like promotional T-shirts and convenient shades.


Speaking of the Open Streets on Franklin, there were a few compelling projects and businesses to see.

Bikeways for Everyone is a community project which aims to increase and improve bicycle lanes to make them safer and more comfortable for riders. This is one example of them promoting protected bicycle lanes with curbs over just the green painted strips.

Bikeways for Everyone

The Seward Community Co-op has been really popular since the opening of their current location in 2009 (although they have been in business since 1972). They were selling grilled foods at the Zipp’s Liquors music stage along with others setting up shop, including Harriet Brewing.

Zipp’s Parking Lot

They also had an informational booth a couple blocks to the west with some nice SWAG including a round Seward Co-op sticker I proudly wore all day.

Seward Co-op Swag

They’re really easy to get to by almost any mode of transit, and I’m a fan of their willingness to shelf local products. They take on Ella’s Heavenly Hunks natural treats, Jonny Pops frozen pops, and Luv Ice Cream, just to name a few.

I made a new doggie friend at the Fun City Dogs tent. While speaking with Taylor for a while, he gave a great overview of their dog daycare program. It’s a cage-free facility with both large outdoor and indoor areas where the dogs can play and rest. They even specifically use dog beds and rugs on the floor to accommodate dogs who aren’t allowed on regular couches and beds.

Pit Bull at the Fun City Dogs Tent

They’re located right off of the Hiawatha Trail and one block south of the Franklin Ave LRT station. Both the trail and LRT are certainly dog friendly, although you do need to keep dogs in carriers when you use Metro Transit buses or trains unless it’s a service dog.

A few of you know that I’m fond of objectively reading local online reviews while using public transit. Here are a couple reviews of businesses and projects that represented at Open Streets.

Google+ for SPOKES Bike/Walk Connect:

SPOKES Bike/Walk Connect Reviews

Yelp for More Than a Bicycle/Recovery Bike Shop:

Yelp Reviews for More Than a Bicycle/Recovery Bike Shop

Did you attend the Franklin Ave Open Streets Minneapolis event and what form of transportation did you use? What other events do you use transit for? Open Streets certainly made options readily available and convenient. We’d love to hear from you and your experiences. 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

High-and-Higher-Speed Rail on Track

Minnesota 2020 - Thu, 08/21/2014 - 6:00am

By Conrad deFiebre, Transportation Fellow

A heated debate broke out this month over America's high-speed passenger rail dreams —between two icons of the so-called "lamestream liberal media." 

First, the New York Times, in a news article written by my former Star Tribune colleague Ron Nixon, reported that despite nearly $11 billion in federal spending since 2009, "the projects have gone mostly nowhere." Nixon cited critics who say the Obama administration "made the mistake of parceling out the money to upgrade existing Amtrak service."

This drew a quick rebuttal from Michael Grunwald in Time. He noted that while Congress has appropriated $10.5 billion for the program, only $2.4 billion has actually been spent, "much of it on planning, design and other pre-construction work. The big construction spending has just started, and will continue through September 2017."

Even the Times' editorial board waded into the fray, arguing that the main reason our passenger trains are put to shame by China's, Japan's and Europe's is that "American lawmakers have not given high-speed rail the priority it deserves."

Indeed, since right-wingers assumed the U.S. House majority in 2011 following the Tea Party landslide of 2010, Congress hasn't put up a dime for anything called high-speed rail. And conservative policymakers at the federal and state levels have remained unswerving in that stance, with even the new House majority leader from California vowing to stop his home state's underway bullet train project.

Earlier, right-wing governors in Florida and Wisconsin turned down combined billions of federal dollars for passenger rail improvements, making "the $45 million their states spent beforehand," Grunwald said, "the only inarguably wasted high-speed rail money." 

There are several reasons why this has become a partisan wedge issue. The first is the long-term, overarching conservative campaign to stem the growth of government or shrink it however possible, which has had adverse consequences for public investments in transportation, even though many such initiatives are supported by the right's traditional business constituents. A second is our nation's autocentric culture, fertile ground for anti-rail, "lean backward" appeals to the vast motoring majority.

Conservatives, said California Gov. Jerry Brown, "have decided that it's better to treat high-speed rail as a political football than as a great civic opportunity.

Not to be overlooked, though, is fundamental semantic confusion over the term "high-speed rail," which President Obama inartfully promised to bring most Americans by the 2030s. For years, however, I've been using "fast rail" to describe more accurately most of the plans to improve U.S. passenger train service, including some in Minnesota and the rest of the Midwest. Grunwald said the 2009 program, a small part of that year's economic stimulus enacted by progressives, "should have been called 'higher-speed rail.'

"It was mostly about improving slower-speed Amtrak routes so they would be incrementally faster and more reliable," he added. "America's freight rail system is the envy of the world, but our passenger rail system is awful; the goal of the program was to make it less awful —a more realistic alternative to long drives and short flights."

This was and is a sensible endeavor in a spread-out country without the dense populations, high gasoline prices and lower car ownership rates where real bullet trains have thrived. But making the system "less awful" would also build ridership long term, perhaps paving the way for state-of-the-art rail as the U.S. population heads toward 400 million at mid-century—putting "an incredible strain on the nation's highways and air-traffic system," the Times editorial said. 

Lower-speed projects "don't look like much, but they're providing tangible benefits," Federal Rail Administrator Joe Szabo told Grunwald, who added: "Bridge and tunnel repairs, projects to upgrade and straighten tracks, sidings and double-tracking to help passenger trains pass freight cars, and other incremental improvements can all make rail travel more attractive."

Grunwald listed faster Amtrak trip times, new and expanded passenger services and renovated train stations in 32 states from coast to coast, including St. Paul's Union Depot, as products of the federal program. "You need a pretty crimped sense of 'somewhere' to argue that the money is going 'mostly nowhere,' " he concluded.

It's even going to some real high-speed rail, which technically means faster than 125 miles per hour: California's reviving effort to link San Francisco and Los Angeles in less than 3 hours and a stretch of track in central New Jersey that will get the nation's only current 125 m.p.h.-plus train, the Northeast Corridor Acela, up to 160 for 23 miles. Despite occasional bursts of speed, the Acela now averages only 84, but still has been a booked-to-capacity, money-making success for Amtrak, carrying three times as many passengers as the airlines in the corridor from Boston to Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, prospects for both the California project and one in Texas to connect Dallas and Houston at 205 m.p.h. have brightened with interest from private investors. The Sacramento Business Journal reported feelers from nine "mostly large construction, engineering and infrastructure firms" offering financing help for the $68 billion California initiative. "We fully expect this is just the first wave of private interest," said a High-Speed Rail Authority official.

Construction has started in the Central Valley since an appeals court overturned a ruling blocking California from issuing $8.6 billion in bonds for high-speed rail. In addition, legislators appropriated $250 million from the state's cap-and-trade carbon emissions collections for the project, with a future commitment for an estimated $3 billion to $11 billion through 2020. Based on these state and private resources for the bullet train, Gov. Brown has forsworn seeking any more federal money.

While California is heading toward public-private financing partnerships that could include concessions to companies to operate the trains beginning in 2022, the Texas Central Railway is spurning all domestic government financing for its multibillion-dollar bullet trains. "We think we can build it cheaper and faster than ... if you were depending on public funds," TCR advisor Thomas Schieffer told the Japan Times

Schieffer, a former U.S. ambassador to Japan, apparently helped connect the firm with the Central Japan Railway Co., whose pioneering shinkansen bullet train has whisked passengers from Tokyo to Osaka at 200 m.p.h. for 50 years without a single fatal accident. The Texas project "may turn out to be a transformative event in the history of the nation's transportation system," enthused the Texas Tribune.

Maybe so, but the TCR enjoys some advantages hard to find elsewhere in the United States. The Houston and Dallas metros, already home to more than 12 million people, are also two of the nation's three fastest growing, expected to double in size over the next two decades. Air travel between them is among the nation's busiest.

Just as important, the Tribune noted, "the land between the two cities is largely flat and unpopulated, making real estate acquisition a cheaper prospect [not to mention more politically feasible] than it would be in other major metropolitan regions. Even the 230 miles between the two cities is considered an ideal length to take advantage of bullet train technology."

"It was the most innately financeable corridor," TCR President Robert Eckels told the newspaper. Nonetheless, financing hasn't yet been lined up to keep the project on track for a 2021 launch. One angel candidate is the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, a state-owned entity similar to the U.S. Import-Export Bank that promotes exports such as shinkansen technology. 

The Chinese want a piece of that kind of action, too, as Premier Li Keqiang told Bill Shuster, chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, during a visit to Beijing last week. "We will promote advanced technologies and equipment such as high-speed rail to international markets," Li was quoted in the China Daily.

Does all of this mean Minnesotans will be zooming down tracks to Chicago or Rochester anytime soon? Not really. Our corridors aren't as ripe for investment in high-speed rail now as those in California and Texas or even the private higher-speed rail project in Florida. But we should cheer them on. If they succeed while more modest passenger rail improvements take hold elsewhere, it could turn our dysfunctional transportation politics and habits upside-down, leading eventually to a brighter, less car-dependent future for all of us.

Categories: Twin Cities

VIDEO: Building Transit for Better Equity

Minnesota 2020 - Thu, 08/21/2014 - 6:00am

By Briana Johnson, {related_entries id="article_author_blogger"}Briana Johnson, Video Production Specialist

The plan to bring the Southwest Light Rail Project from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie has moved another step forward. The Minneapolis City Council voted 6-1 to approve the Minneapolis portion of the plan at a standing-room only public hearing this week. 

Many feel the Southwest train line will be a great start to help bring equity to the community by creating new jobs especially for women and people of color in the Twin Cities metro. The total cost of the project is estimated at $1.66 billion. The Minneapolis city council votes on the next step August 29.

Minnesota 2020 went to the Minneapolis Public Hearing to learn more about how the proposed Southwest Light Rail project will help the community.


Categories: Twin Cities

Podcast Show 187: Mailbag

StrongTowns - Thu, 08/21/2014 - 5:30am

Chuck digs into the Strong Towns mailbag to answer some of the questions submitted by members. If you are a member, you can submit your questions to Ask Strong Towns and we'll answer them on the podcast or the blog. If you're not a member of Strong Towns yet, what are you waiting for

Strong Towns Podcast - Mailbag

Categories: Twin Cities

New Ulm Referendum Passed; Now What?

Streets.MN - Wed, 08/20/2014 - 2:51pm

Well, it happened. The referendum allocating $47 million dollars for a new high school along with renovations to current schools passed with a narrow margin of 52 votes.

Is it the end of the world? No, absolutely not. If I’ve known people from New Ulm to be anything, it’s responsible with their money and investments–we’re Germans after all.

This article is a follow up of sorts to my streets article “More School Money Madness.” The TL;DR of it was that (in my opinion) New Ulm really doesn’t need a new High School and it’s current high school is in prime location.

I submitted this article as a letter to the editor of the New Ulm Journal.  I was promptly criticized (go figure) and was accused of fearing the growth of New Ulm because they would be less dependent on Mankato. I could care less if they were less dependent on Mankato. The reason I’m so interested is because New Ulm was my hometown, I grew up there and I genuinely love that city. I would hate to see them chase the illusion of growth while detracting from their awesome city.

Below are simply my thoughts on how the money could be spent to make sure that it’s an asset to the school system and the city. I would hate to see it end up like Mankato’s new middle school.


At the meeting, there were several sites that were being looked at for the high school. Two of them were outside city limits, one was inside. I hope it’s painfully obvious that they should opt for the school to be in the city limits. I actually heard the superintendent say something along the lines of not wanting to build extra infrastructure just for the school. That is a very wise decision. Adding a bunch of infrastructure for a city that isn’t really growing is just piling on financial liabilities for the future.


Please, PLEASE, keep the architecture fitting with the city. New Ulm has a ton of beautiful civic buildings including the courthouse, water filtration plant, public utilities, fire station, etc… The high school shouldn’t be some weird boxy modernist thing. It should be a classical looking German-American building that reflect the culture and sense of place that New Ulm has going for it.

If New Ulm forced the Wal-Mart to do it, then they sure can make the school do it.

I emailed the superintendent and told him maybe they should think about using the same people who did the new New Ulm Dioceses. Beautiful.


Do the same thing with the renovated middle schools. Take some of the money to make them aesthetically appealing and buildings that add to the community. The more you can instill civic pride at a young age, the more people you will have investing in your community later. People like places that feel like they’re somewhere unique. These middle schools could add to that.


Keep some of the sports downtown. This is a perfect time to re-invest in New Ulm and give a sense of dedication to the city. The NUHS could keep it’s homecoming game at Johnson Park along with playoffs for the other sports. It’s a really cool feeling to watch a football  or baseball game just a block from the historic downtown and it adds to the sense of community–not to mention it gives a great reason for residents and visitors to patronize local restaurants and shops downtown.


Connect it like crazy. Make sure there are tons and tons of ways for people to get there. Sidewalks, dedicated trails, bike lanes, heli-pads, subway systems, streetcars…okay those last three maybe not. If it’s going to be ambiguously placed on the “west end of town” then they should do everything they can to make sure it’s not 100% car dependent. They’re right that highschoolers like to drive and they probably walk less, but that’s not the same for everyone that needs to get to that buildings. There are teachers, cafeteria workers, parents, grandparents, etc… It’s a perfect opportunity to highlight the importance of alternative means of transportation.


Keep the community involved in every little aspect. The margin on this vote was so narrow that half the town thinks it’s good and half the town thinks it’s bad. If you want to win support for the idea, make sure they know whats going on and when it’s going on. Every citizen loves to complain when they’re kept in the dark. I say, don’t give them the opportunity.

Again, this article is simply because I love New Ulm and I want to see it maintained as the great city that I grew up in. Don’t chase the other cities in the area, do your own thing and you will see the benefits. 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: Doing the Math on Transit Incentives

Streets.MN - Wed, 08/20/2014 - 2:48pm

You may have heard the news about a little apartment building proposed for a site at 24th & Colfax in the Wedge. After a long, bitter battle over whether the houses currently on the site should be demolished, the proposed building is finally up for review before the City Planning Commission. One of many reasons why this building is interesting is that fewer parking spaces are being proposed than dwelling units. Is the developer crazy? Maybe, but at the same time the building will be within easy walking distance of six bus routes that will give residents a one seat ride anywhere from Minnetonka to the U of MN or from New Brighton to Bloomington.

If you ride transit, you understand how rare it is in the Twin Cities for a location to have this great of transit accessibility. A few years back, a minor edit was made to the Minneapolis Zoning Code to recognize the commensurate reduction in auto use and non-use (i.e. parking) in transit accessible locations, for which the excellent title of ‘Transit incentives’ was developed and applied. This edit doesn’t apply to the site at 24th & Colfax. You see, the site at 24th & Colfax, which anyone who rides transit can see is a great spot for riding transit, is 350′ from the closest transit stop. The Transit Incentives program only applies to sites that are within 300′ feet of a transit stop. Meanwhile, Metro Transit recommends stops be placed between 660′ & 880′ away from one another.

All these numbers are dreadfully confusing, so I came up with a 3D charent* to illustrate them:

So to sum this up, the city considers transit’s influence on land use to be nil as soon as you step over 300′ away from a stop. Meanwhile Metro Transit (the transit experts, you’d think) feel that if stops are every 660-880′ an area is sufficiently covered for transit purposes. This leaves us a hole in the doughnut (hmm maybe I should have made a doughnut chart) of roughly 30-140′ where there could be a land use satisfactorily sheltering or employing transit riders that doesn’t qualify for the Transit Incentives. Now how do you suppose that came to be? What do you think could be done about it?


*Charent is a word I made up to describe charts that have no real reason for existing in that they don’t really visually articulate numerical concepts. Basically, if a chart is 3D, you can assume it doesn’t need to exist. is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

Categories: Twin Cities

A Transit Adventure from Big Lake to Apple Valley

Streets.MN - Wed, 08/20/2014 - 7:00am

Our transit maps are getting more colored lines! We now have three different routes in the METRO system, plus a commuter rail line.

In the spirit of adventure, on Monday, August 18th, I took off of work to ride the transit rails and tires across the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area from Big Lake to Apple Valley. Luckily, a moderate fog set the mood throughout the morning.

The route on Google Maps. The walking estimate was 19 hours and 50 minutes.

To Big Lake!

I live just south of Downtown Minneapolis sans automobile, so in order to get to Big Lake to begin the trip, I actually had to take the outbound Northstar trip at 6:13 AM. I woke up bright and early at 5:15 AM and Nice Rode to Target Field Station from Loring Park. I have a Metropass through my employer, which runs me $50/month through a pretax payroll deduction. A Metropass gets you unlimited rides in a given month, though you do have to pay extra for Northstar–a trip from Minneapolis to Big Lake (and vice versa) is $3.00, compared to the normal $6.00 fare for adults. Not counting the sunk cost of the Metropass, I traveled over 100 miles (round trip) over my whole adventure for $6.00.

After docking my Nice Ride at the North 2nd Avenue & North 6th Street bike station, I walked over to Target Field Station, taking the escalator down to the platform. The train departed on time, though twice idled on the tracks to let southbound Northstar trains pass us. We arrived in Big Lake about 15 minutes behind schedule.

Big Lake!

Not really within walking distance

Big Lake is a town with a medium-sized lake about halfway between Minneapolis and St. Cloud. It sits in Sherburne County, outside of the seven county metropolitan area under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Council. There is a little downtown area, but I don’t think anyone would object to the area being described as exurban. I graduated from high school in a pretty similar area of Northern-ish Virginia, in the kind of no man’s land between stroad-to-stroad subdivisions and open country. We even lived in a subdivision next to a commuter rail station!

At the Big Lake train station, there did appear to be a multi-story apartment building under construction off in the distance, though I’d reckon most people probably wouldn’t want to walk that far in the winter and/or if it was raining. There’s also a subdivision across the street from the train station. Like most of the north metro, there is a lot of beige siding. Based on my previous experience living in an exurban subdivision next to a commuter rail station, many of the people living there probably drive the half mile to the park and ride.


Just in case

Departure: 7:38 AM

I do have some experience taking Northstar for non-research purposes. My boyfriend grew up in St. Cloud, and one summer in college he lived back home, so I’d periodically take Northstar up yonder from the University of Minnesota. Generally he’d pick me up at Big Lake, but on occasion I’d take the Northstar Link, a bus that connects Big Lake to St. Cloud. I remember the constant, low-level fear that I’d read the schedules wrong and picked an outbound train that didn’t have a corresponding bus ride into St. Cloud, because they don’t all make a connection. I also have memories of Big Lake Police Department squad cars hanging out in the park and ride lot to greet people getting off the train. There was no squad car this morning.

It was the last inbound trip of the morning, and was delayed about 20 minutes because it used the same train as the outbound trip. There was a little loon statue thing at Big Lake Station. A handful of other people boarded at Big Lake, with more trickling in at different stops. By the time we left Fridley Station, the last stop before Downtown Minneapolis, there were ~23 people on the top half of my train car, which has 140 seats. It was maybe a third full–luckily, I had a my own little four seat area with a little table to myself. And, by the way, that seat arrangement with two seats facing another two seats is the worst. Does anyone like that?

The crowd appeared to generally be white collar workers commuting into Downtown Minneapolis. My Metropass was scanned by Metro Transit police officers on both the outbound and inbound trips–I think I remember that being done by conductors in the past? The train had free wi-fi and a couple laptops were out. One guy slept with a book open. More than zero passengers had blaze orange visible–Northstar travels straight through the middle of Minnesota’s most conservative congressional district, which is ironic considering the massive subsidy (something like $17 or $18 per rider) required to operate the train. Both Congresswoman Bachmann and Governor Pawlenty supported the project at the time it was funded and built.

After we left Big Lake, it was a straight shot into the city, with no delays other than scheduled stops. There were lots of freight trains headed north, but everything appeared to be synced up correctly so as to prevent us from idling. In general, delays due to freight traffic have increasingly been an issue, and at times the Metro Transit Twitter has basically been a continuous stream of Tweets about Northstar delays. We did pay Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad $107.5 million dollars for trackage rights, so there’s that.

Rolling through the fog

All of the Northstar stations have park and rides. They’re not huge, but eyeballing it from the train, I’d say they were mostly a little more than half full. Ramsey and Anoka (and, I guess, Downtown Minneapolis) Stations have structured park and rides. The Ramsey Station has a pretty detailed transit-oriented development plan (page 6) and has started following through on some of it. One of the apartment buildings has already been built, along with a bit of office/retail and a government center for the City of Ramsey.

One of the challenges with any suburban transit oriented development outside the core cities is that you’re really not going to eliminate the need for a car. In this case, there’s a Coburn’s grocery store within walking distance, and the train station to get you to Downtown Minneapolis, but I can’t really imagine anyone living here without a car–yet. Maybe, if/when that whole development plan has been fleshed out, it would seem doable. But for now, you’d be marooned. So in almost all situations with suburban-focused transit, you’re really just chasing after the possibility of eliminating two car trips per day, but more likely, you’re chasing after the possibility of shortening two car trips per day, as most people are going to be arriving at the station by car.

Northstar Line (Source:

Furthermore, ridership on Northstar has lagged behind projections. In 2013, there were 787,239 rides, more than 100,000 below the ridership we’d projected for 2010 before the line opened in 2009. As mentioned earlier, the per ride subsidy runs something like $17 or $18 per ride, which is, ah, a lot. Doing some back of the napkin math, multiplying the 2013 Q3 weekday daily ridership of 3,100 by $17 gets you $52,700 per weekday. Probably good for a lot of bus shelters (obviously it doesn’t work that way, we all know it doesn’t work that way, that’s besides the point). There are a lot of potential and probable reasons for Northstar’s low ridership, including traffic congestion in the Twin Cities being not quite as apocalyptic as many other parts of the country and the prospect of a transfer to the Blue Line at Target Field Station to get into the central business district of Downtown Minneapolis. Also, I suspect that people in the conservative north metro are maybe less amenable to using transit than, say, Minnetonkans.

Very European!

Anywho, we did arrive in Downtown Minneapolis about half an hour late due to our initial late departure. People shuffled out of the train and up the stairs and escalator to 5th Street where the connection to the Blue Line is located. It felt very European! Just like Grand Central Station! I did stop for a moment to take a picture standing in that pedestrian area between the two Target Field Station platforms, and I did turn around and immediately run directly into a person who was walking. In light of all the complaints about the noisy pedestrian signals, I thought that was a hoot.

Arrival: 8:40 AM

The Downtown Minneapolis and Anoka Stations have surprisingly similar land uses!

Blue Line

Departure: 8:44 AM

At this point, the Blue Line is old news! It’s been up and running for over ten years. The Blue Line, known for years as the Hiawatha Line, travels from Target Field in Downtown Minneapolis to the Mall of America in Bloomington. I’m pretty sure that there were two riders (guessing a father and daughter) who got off of the same Northstar train as me and also rode all the way to the Mall of America–I wonder if that’s common? There were lots of different people on the three car train. TSA workers leaving the airport, other people going to the airport, stray teenagers, whole families, etc. You could hear muffled music from headphones. It wasn’t crowded, but most of the seats were taken. I, with my intimidating notebook, did not end up with a seatmate.

Blue Line

Ridership projections for the Blue Line have been blown out of the water, and weekday ridership in 2013 (about 33,500) was about 35% higher than what we had projected it would be in 2020 (24,800 – page 37). That said, transit oriented land use changes around Blue Line stations haven’t been dramatic. The recession certainly didn’t help, but it’s taken ten years for some of the more obvious station-adjacent parking/vacant lots to be redeveloped at the Nicollet Mall, Cedar-Riverside, and Lake Street Stations. Bloomington Central Station certainly fizzled after getting its two condo buildings built. We could reasonably assume, though, that with grocery stores popping up seemingly weekly in Downtown Minneapolis and the apartment boom continuing, the stations will see more infill in the Blue Line’s second decade.

The Blue Line, though, does connect lots of things, and has two major trip generators (Downtown Minneapolis & the Mall of America) on each end, and a third major trip generator (the airport) towards the end of the southern portion. There are intuitive transit connections throughout at Nicollet Mall, Lake Street, and the transfer point to the Green Line in Downtown East. When it opened in 2004, there were already tens of thousands of people who could easily walk to the Blue Line’s stations from their homes and apartments, though some of the pedestrian conditions along Hiawatha Avenue could use some work. All things considered, the Blue Line was and is a success.

After winding around some fields in Bloomington, our train arrived at Mall of America Station on time.

Arrival: 9:29 AM

Red Line

Departure: 9:31 AM

Red Line (Source:

I quickly hopped onto a waiting Red Line bus at Mall of America Station. It was my first time! I was one of four people on the bus, including the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority (MVTA) driver and a man in a Metro Transit uniform. We rolled out of the mall and onto Highway 77 (Cedar Avenue), heading south across the Minnesota River valley to Eagan. And finally, the sun came out. I’d been freezing all morning. Both Northstar trains and the Blue Line train were air conditioned down to probably 40 degrees. And the seats! The seats are covered in material from your grandmother’s living room.

I did like the buses. You can hear the turn signal clicking! The seats on the right side were removed near the back door, which seems like a really functional seat configuration. There was also a rear boarding payment system set up for riders with transit passes, which also seems to make a lot of sense.

The Red Line opened up last year. It’s been billed as bus rapid transit, though the exact definition of bus rapid transit is elusive and unlikely to be worked out in any of our lifetimes. The Red Line…doesn’t really make sense. It travels from the Apple Valley Transit Station to the Mall of America. That’s it. So there’s a required transfer to go anywhere else on transit. The location of Cedar Grove Station, the second station after the mall, is also sort of bizarre. The bus gets off of Highway 77 and backtracks for a mile or so, presumably to make connections and hit the now open outlet stores down in Eagan. Another $14.6 million dollars is sought (on top of the $112 million dollar project cost) to move the station into the median of the highway.


We picked up one person at Cedar Grove Station, and no one at the the 140th Street and 147th Street Stations. I felt sort of bad for the driver, having to do this loop constantly, every day, stopping to pick up phantom passengers at empty bus stations. There was a certain vibe to it. All four passengers got off at the Apple Valley Transit Station. The exit doors at the station open up into the garage of a Midas. Ridership has been lower than projected, with just 839 daily riders on average in June. Dividing that by the 130 trips per day noted on the schedule, that leaves you with 6.45 rides per trip–presumably the .45 accounts for writers with notebooks who aren’t really commuting.

Arrival: 9:54 AM

Writes itself!

I don’t really get the sense that congestion is bad enough in the fairly-wealthy south metro to convince people to drive to Apple Valley Transit Station, park, get on a bus, switch to a train in the basement of the Mall of America, and then take a train into Downtown Minneapolis. Besides, there are already express buses in Apple Valley and Eagan that go directly to downtown, so…again, it doesn’t really make sense. The Mall of America is a destination by itself, but most of its trips aren’t being generated during rush hour, when congestion is the worst–it’s hard to imagine many people in Apple Valley driving ten minutes to a Red Line station, parking, paying for the train, and going to the mall, when they can just continue driving another ten minutes. Hell, I probably would.

I made a joke last year that the Red Line is an expensive bus from the Mall of America to the Apple Valley Batteries Plus, but at the time I missed that there are actually three (3) separate auto repair shops immediately next to the station, which is fantastic. There are some apartments and townhouses along the route, but generally Cedar Avenue is surrounded by big box chain stores and their corresponding enormous parking lots. I certainly did feel like a kid again, jaywalking and wandering around for a bit, taking some photos and just generally taking it all in. It’s a huge road and it’s not really clear what kind of transit oriented development potential any of this has in the near future.

Three auto repair shops!

So those are three of our transit lines, and examples of commuter rail, light rail, and bus rapid transit (probably). Are they functional and successful? If you were in a situation where you had to save two of three, would you bother saving more than the Blue Line? Northstar is probably eventually salvageable as the first half of an inter city rail link to St. Cloud, but that’s certainly at least an entire decade away. And why do our models and projections underestimate ridership on urban routes like the Blue and Green Lines and overestimate ridership on suburban and exurban routes like Northstar and the Red Line? I don’t know! I didn’t go to grad school.

There’s a conflation that goes on around here and in other places, where everyone who challenges the status quo kind of gets lumped together. People who respond to news of a new bus shelter on Franklin Avenue in South Minneapolis with “well, we should be building a doubledecker subway under Franklin to link to my Plymouth and Rosemount heavy rail proposals” are tossed in with people who ask, in a pretty reasonable tone, what exactly the point of the Red Line is.

What is our goal here? Is it to put colored lines on a map and juice our numbers so that we can say x.x% of people in our metro area touched transit in a year? Certainly, the suburbs are here and they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. But we shouldn’t continue spending hundreds of millions (billions?) of dollars to build transit to places where the underlying land use is so broken that the transit can’t be successful.

Note: I did have the idea to take what I think is the longest possible transit trip in the Twin Cities Combined Statistical Area, using the St. Cloud Metro Bus to go from Sartell to St. Cloud, then the Northstar Link from St. Cloud to Big Lake, Northstar from Big Lake to Minneapolis, the Green Line from Minneapolis to St. Paul, and then an express bus out to Stillwater, but working out the times with express buses seemed too risky when a vacation day was hanging in the balance. Also, I would have been stranded in Stillwater. 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

North Mankato. Duplexes. Insanity.

Thoughts on the Urban Environment - Tue, 08/19/2014 - 8:41pm

Lions and Tigers and Duplexes! Oh my!

In the Mankato Free Press: “North Gate zoning change moves forward” … And, more recently: “No duplexes in N. Mankato Neighborhood”If you’re not familiar with the North Mankato subdivision “North Gate 2″, then I recommend taking a quick look around: Google Maps. Or, check it out …

Turns out the North Gate subdivision has actually bankrupted the City. Well, not exactly bankrupted, but the City fronted the infrastructure and this development has been such a failure that it was the primary reason North Mankato had it’s Bond Rating decreased. This is a financially losing subdivision and is subsidized by all other North Mankato taxpayers.

This subdivision costs the City of North Mankato more money than it brings in. North Mankato gambled on suburban growth in a cornfield and lost. Now, the least they can do is understand that they need to maximize their return. Allowing duplexes is part of this process.

Here we go …

NORTH MANKATO — The North Mankato Planning Commission approved a zoning proposal Thursday that would prevent developers from building future duplexes in the North Gate and North Gate No. 2 subdivisions.

So, this hardly built out subdivision will now have an even lower density? Okay, it’s not the end of the world and it hasn’t gone to the City Council yet. This is just the local planning commission. The article continues:

Around 2011, 17 of the lots went into tax forfeiture, and within the past year, Nicollet County sold four lots in the center of the subdivisions to developer Troy Donahue. City Planner Mike Fischer said Donahue purchased the lots with the assumption he could build duplexes on them.

We’ve got a subdivision where 17 empty lots have entered tax forfeiture. No one has wanted to touch them until this past year. At this point, only four of them were sold at bargain prices. The guy who bought the lots has already built one duplex (or, two dwelling units on one city lot).

Now, here is the fun stuff:

“The building of the first duplex prompted concern from residents and the current proposal.”

Neighbors (40 of 41 people who live there) don’t like it. They don’t want duplexes. But, why don’t they them duplexes?

“He said he has a number of issues with the current duplex, including that it’s unfinished, that it has made access to his mailbox more difficult and that its caretakers push snow in front of his mailbox.”

Let me summarize. This particular neighbor doesn’t want future duplexes because:

  • There is currently a duplex being built in the neighborhood and it’s under construction (?)
  • It’s more difficult to get his mail
  • The people working on the duplex have pushed snow in front of his mailbox
  • I can’t decide which one of these complaints is the most absurd.

    “It’s kind of hard to see our neighborhood kind of step back to an apartment-type feeling … If the whole neighborhood gets built up as (multi-family) … it’s going to be hard to live there with kids.”

    Ahhh! That’s it. He doesn’t want that “apartment-type feeling” and it’ll “be hard to live there with kids.” Okay, instead of using sarcasm, let me show him how wrong he is. Here is where he lives. Now, here is a development composed of 4 unit townhomes. These locations are about half a mile away, on the same side of town, same school district, and adjoin the same city park.  Notice how these “hard to live here with kids” townhome developments are actually more expensive per unit than the single family homes in the ‘North Gate 2′ subdivision.

    The bias against duplexes (and multifamily) needs to stop.


    Categories: Twin Cities

    Saint Paul’s New Street Design Manual

    Streets.MN - Tue, 08/19/2014 - 10:19am

    The wave of new “Complete Streets” laws require cities to develop “Complete Streets Plans” and new street design manuals. Street design manuals are like smart phone contracts or software download agreements. They tend to be so mind-numbingly boring and full of technical jargon that, rather than read them, we just click “agree.” Later on, we discover that we agreed to a horribly restrictive contract or an annoying service fee.

    Street and road design manuals can quickly fossilize into laws that dictate what we can and can’t do with our streets. Engineers treat the state highway manual like fundamentalists treat the bible or some sacred religious text. There are many reasons for this. The manuals offer simple, formulaic solutions to transportation problems. This can be appealing to an overworked engineer with too many projects. Even though they can technically apply for variances, if there’s no established process for doing so, it requires a lot of extra work and time that the engineer may not have. Also transportation departments and other agencies are more or less immune from lawsuits if they follow their own standard operating procedures and don’t behave in a manner that a court can construe as “arbitrary and capricious.” As highway design manuals gradually become “standard operating procedure,” there is an unwillingness to deviate from them because it could open up the agency to lawsuits if someone gets hurt on an agency facility.

    So it’s important that we get these manuals right and that we incorporate as many bicycle and pedestrian-friendly design options as we can possibly think of. This will enable us to access these options in the future.

    Saint Paul has just released its new 2014 draft Street Design Manual for review by the city Transportation Committee and other interested parties. You can download a PDF version at– It’s hard to say if it will become as important or influential as the state highway manual but I slogged through all 195 pages of it and made some comments. I plan to meet with one of the authors of the manual next Friday to discuss it. If any of you out there are as insane as me, I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions for the manual– things you like, things you don’t, things you think should be included or omitted. Below are my overall and then obsessive-compulsive, page-by-page comments. Enjoy!


    Major Design Manual Omissions

    The most glaring omission from this street manual is its failure to set up a system of bicycle and pedestrian data collection. Actual data is critical to good evaluation, engineering and the “Performance Measures” on page 177 of the manual. The city needs to create a Publicly available website with bike/ped count and crash data, perhaps one that utilizes crowd sourcing like as well as official data. With occasional, very cursory exceptions, the city of Saint Paul has never systematically collected or used bike/ped count or crash data when making design decisions. Routes for the new Draft Bikeways Plan were selected without any real count or crash data. Reviewing the E.I.S. and questioning the lead engineer (Dan Soler), the entire Central Corridor Light Rail Plan and Central Corridor Bike Walk Action Plan were both developed without any bike/ped count or crash data. This is ludicrous. Without knowing how cyclists currently get into downtown Saint Paul, how can we begin to know what are the most critical routes to improve? How can we know which intersections are most dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists …or whether our engineering measures are improving bad situations or actually making them more dangerous?

    I’ve seen very cursory “before” and “after” crash data (provided by Public Works engineer David Kuebler) on Marshall Avenue, following the initial installation of medians. There was no decline in bike/ped crashes and no before/after count data was available at all, so it’s hard to say if the “Per-capita” crash rate declined. The city collects and maps all this data with motor vehicles and uses it in making design decisions …but ignores bike/ped data. Part of the reason for this is that counting bicycles and pedestrians is difficult to automate and requires volunteers and staff time. On the police/public safety side, we are told there is no metadata point for “bicycle” or “pedestrian” crashes in Saint Paul, so the information must be retrieved manually from all the city’s crash reports. They lack the staff to do this on a regular basis but cannot allow outsiders to comb the data because of HIPAA regulations. Thus, this manual should propose, first and foremost, the systematic collection of bike/ped count and crash data on par with motor vehicles …and the publishing of this data on a publicly accessible website where it can be examined and used by engineers and project collaborators from different city and county agencies, and analyzed by academics and NGOs. There is a cost to set up the initial crash data system but, once set up, its costs to operate are minimal to non-existent. It requires adding meta-data points to the Public Safety crash data intake system for bike/ped crashes, including exact location, time of day, direction of travel of victim. direction of travel of the motor vehicle and severity of the crash. Then a bit of code must be written so that this data can be syphoned off (without names or HIPAA-protected identification) onto a publicly accessible website. Once set up, it will be fully automated. UMN Geography or Computer Science/public health interns could be put to work on this. This site can also contain count data collected by volunteers and entered onto some wiki, password-protected uploader that instantly maps it. Again, it’s not that hard to do and leverages a huge pool of available volunteer labor. Among other benefits, cross-referencing bike and pedestrian counts with crashes at a particular location will tell engineers which areas are the most dangerous per user, and thus which areas most need attention.

    The second most glaring omission from this manual is making clear whether it is just “advisory” …or if it’s going to carry legal weight like the State Highway Manual, from which local agencies almost never deviate. I think it’s hard to make the latter claim about this manual given all the exceptions that have been granted just in the last 2-3 years. For example everything about the Central Corridor project on University Avenue violated “Traditional Neighborhood District Regulations (Code of Ordinances Part II, Title VIII, Chapter 66, Article III).” There is no on-street parking “To buffer pedestrians.” “Building Entrances (were) Oriented towards the Street” (page 17) …but, with no parking or delivery area, most businesses were urged to make ADA, delivery entrances, parking and (hence) their main entrances on the alley. There is no “Frontage” zone (in many places) (page 23). There is no boulevard/furnishing zone in some places and no parked cars or bike lanes as “acceptable buffers” (page 23). Grand Avenue street cafes like Shish and elsewhere violate the sidewalk zone system, which is fine in that case but maybe the city wants to take some parking to make “pop-up platforms” and allocate some car spaces to summertime sidewalk cafes. This would keep the sidewalks ADA accessible or in-line with this manual, which they are currently not. I think the reality is everything in this manual is merely a “suggestion” and variances are widely granted or allowed to continue, so we might want to add a line to this effect …OR say that, going forward, the city is going to work to make its streets conform to the manual. The “Implementation” section is vague on this.

    The third most glaring omission is there’s no discussion and design consideration for seasonal “pop-up” sidewalk cafes, pop-up bike parking or pop-up parks and seating areas in parking spaces (also called “Parklets”). You could even include “Nice Ride” Stations and bike corrals in this discussion as both also involve the temporary taking of on-street parking. This could be discussed near “Convertable Streets” on page 123. Here are some links to New York City’s design considerations for pop-up cafes– …and descriptions from other cities including Minneapolis– Pop-up platforms could be used on Grand Avenue, where summer-time sidewalk seating narrows the pedestrian zone to less than 5 feet, and in many other locations.

    Finally, This manual needs a statement at the beginning of it to the effect that: “Being able to cross and access public streets without a car is a human right. This right is not always honored in our city due to evaluation, engineering, education and enforcement that overwhelmingly favors motor vehicles. The new Complete Streets Law and this manual is an attempt to change that.”


    Specific Comments on the Manual’s Text by Page Number

    Page 21, here and in subsequent places you make the statement that “Saint Paul rights-of-way are typically 60′, 66′ or 80′ wide.” But Marshall Avenue from Snelling to Fairview is 54′ wide, Ford Parkway from Snelling to Howell is 58′ wide and Ford Parkway west of Hillcrest Recreation Center is 73′ wide. The latter is a 4 lane street with center turn lanes, medians and on-street parking, and all these street examples are major collector and arterial streets. So I’m not sure where you’re getting your typical right-of-way widths.

    Page 22, Boulevard/Furnishing Zone should not contain street furniture and objects near corners that could obscure driver’s view of pedestrians. The line “Strategically placed to not obstruct sight lines” (repeated on page 33, almost verbatim) is insufficient because many of these objects (like telephone and electrical utility boxes are huge (Larger than a person). There are rules about plantings having to be a max height of 12″ within 30 feet of intersections (page 27) but nothing about utility boxes and other large street furniture that might obscure a motorist’s view of pedestrians or wheelchairs at mid-block or corner crosswalks. There are a lot of these that may have contributed to pedestrian deaths. I include photos of “street furniture” at Ford Parkway and Cleveland, and at Hamline and Grand, both locations of pedestrian deaths.

    The utility box, poles and street furniture obscure driver’s view of pedestrians about to cross the street.

    This is a high-up Google Car roof-view approaching Grand and Hamline Avenues. At a Driver’s-eye view, the bench and mailbox may obscure a driver’s view of pedestrians on the corner.


    The manual states that the pedestrian zone “should be functional in all weather conditions.” The manual needs to say how that is going to come about. What city snow plowing policies are going to prevent giant snow berms at street corners? Is the city going to plow and break ice on long stretches of University Avenue where Target and other businesses routinely fail to do it and bill those companies? Does the city have staff for this? How will the city keep major bikeways, like the one on Marshall free of ice, snow and parked cars in the winter, something that 3 years of a “Pilot snow plowing” project has utterly failed to accomplish? How might the needs to keep pedestrian and bicycle zones “functional in all weather conditions” impact other parts of this manual? We need research from other cities with similar climates.

    Page 23 ends with “Sidewalks should be present on at least one side of all arterial streets …but earlier, “Subdivision Regulations (Code of Ordinances Part II, Title VIII, Chapter 69) says, “Public sidewalks are required along both sides of collector and arterial streets” (page 17). Which is it? McKnight Road under I-94 and certain other highway overpasses, Prior Avenue north of CP Rail line, Gilbert and many other streets lack sidewalks on one side or lack them altogether.

    Page 36, under “Roadway lighting,” we should light crosswalks, not “intersections.” Also, on signal poles, lighting should illuminate important signs such as “no right on red” or street signs. Ford Parkway and Cleveland intersection lights fail to do all the above and are typical of most overhead street light designs. “Avoid large shadows” is not applied to this (and other) intersection lighting, where the light is perched above and parallel with the signal support arm, which results in a large shadow being cast, often over the crosswalk …or means that signs on the support arm are unlighted and invisible at night. If the overhead light support arms were angled slightly towards the intersections, say 15 degrees off-parallel with the signal support arms, this problem could be solved.

    Page 38 driveway design considerations are good but Kowalski’s driveways on Grand Avenue violate them, which relates to my comment at the beginning: “is this document advisory or something more?” What about all the driveways from parking garages downtown or the new Pizza Luce parking lot on Selby Avenue that the city allowed to go forward, demolishing a home and throwing out its existing zoning codes? This section should reference page 74-81 “Access Management” (more than just a link at the bottom of the page) because they are closely related. Alternatively, the two sections could be put next to each other. It should also reference the on-street parking management discussion on pages 172-173. The West side of Snelling between Minnehaha and Englewood would be an example of where a connected parking district (off alley) could eliminate the need for driveways on Snelling and might enable the extension of planned bike lanes from Hewitt to Minnehaha Avenue. Creating parking districts is a mix of engineering and politics …but so are most of the ideas in this manual.

    Page 40, under “Bicycle Parking,” how do we get racks at “Cycles For Change” on University Avenue in less than two years? What are the regulatory impediments to that happening that need to be addressed in this manual? Getting a bike rack from the city generally takes over a year and, in some obvious locations of need (like the front of a major community bike shop), the request is denied for absurd bureaucratic reasons. When the city wants to build a stadium, an LRT line or a parking lot, all zoning codes and street manual rules get thrown out the window or “massaged” to fit required E.I.S. forms or Administrative Procedures Act requirements. It is absurd that a bike rack in front of a community bike shop should take two years to happen or be denied. There should be a line in the manual that the city can just put in a rack if it’s requested. If someone complains, the rack can be removed.

    Page 41, after the sentence “Bicycle racks should be placed on concrete or other similarly paved surface,” change next sentence to read “Where bike racks are desired on grass boulevards, a concrete pad or similar surface will be created for them.”

    Page 42, under “Wayfinding,” further discuss the use of pavement markings in conjunction with signs and “directional” arrows. Show some examples of wayfinding pavement markings. Change sentence on page 43, column 2 to read “Route identification signs and/or pavement markings may be placed every 1/2 mile or more frequently, at the….” Some areas of the Highland I-35E trail take confusing routes through city streets and need more frequent signage than once every half-mile.

    Page. 45, the city should endeavor to eliminate stairways where no other nearby bike route exists. An example would be the Highway 5 Bridge over the Mississippi, the only bridge for miles in either direction and only accessible via stairs– rendering the bridge unusable by bicycles with trailers, wheelchairs and those with disabilities.

    Page 46-47, under “Site Planning,” no mention is made of bicycle access to developments, particularly where they are large, like the Ford Plant site or the development on the old Metro Transit bus garage site bordered by Pascal, St. Anthony, Snelling Avenue and the back of the Rainbow Foods/OfficeMax mall. How will cyclists access these sites and get through them? How could these developments enhance bicycle access in adjacent areas? For example, putting the current on-street parking spaces on the south side of Ford Parkway into any new development at the Ford Plant site would enable this on-street parking space to be used for an up-hill bicycle climbing lane between the Ford Parkway Bridge and Cretin Avenue. If this portion of Ford Parkway is ever rebuilt, moving this parking would free up sufficient space to put bike lanes on both sides of the street. A pathway through the development would also permit access to Montreal Avenue or areas behind the Lunds mall and Highland Center. Bicycle access through the Metro Transit site development would enable cyclists to reach the new LRT station at Snelling and University Avenues. So the manual needs to consider bike access and impacts with real estate developments and, were useful and possible, secure easements from developers.

    Page 48, With “Off Street Paths,” what are “applicable laws pertaining to pedestrian movement at driveways?” In a cycle track situation, you want bicycles to have priority over cars at driveways (using stop signs or signals for cars).

    In this section, you need a slightly more detailed discussion of the dangers of off-street paths versus on-street facilities. You do this in the cycle-track section (page 98-102) but not here. These dangers include increased risk of right and left hook accidents. Some studies show that off-street pathways are actually more dangerous than on-street, buffered facilities because cyclists are less visible to cars at intersections. This is especially the case with two-way bike facilities on one-way streets as turning motorists are not expecting cyclists in the opposite direction and only look out for on-coming car traffic. An excellent article outlining some of the hazards of off-street paths can be found at–

    Thus, this section should include a discussion of ways to mitigate these hazards, such as banning right-turns-on-red where streets cross cycle paths, tightening up turning radii for cars on the bike street, increased use of warning signs for motorists, etc. Again, you do some of this with cycle-tracks (pgs 98-102) and note it as a “Related Treatment” but you need to do more here because the same issues apply to an even greater magnitude. I suggest biking on Phalen Boulevard’s off-street facility at rush hour and I guarantee you will have at least one near miss with a motorist at an intersection.

    Also, there should be mention of the importance of maintaining off-street paths on the same side of the street for an entire route or corridor so pedestrians and cyclists are not required to cross back and forth across the street, exposing them to increased risk of intersection crashes. This is exactly what Ramsey County and MnDOT are proposing to do on McKnight Road under I-94, rather than connect the bike path on the Maplewood side. They might as well do nothing, since no one is going to wait for the light, cross McKnight Road, bike (on a narrow sidewalk) under I-94, wait for another as-yet uninstalled traffic light, ride back across McKnight to the east side and continue north on the bike path. McKnight is a 4-lane boulevard with over 20,000 cars per day. No one is going to unnecessarily cross it, twice! Only highway engineers and planners who’ve never ridden a bike or walked would come up with such an insane solution just to save a few dollars. It’s important that we don’t make the same mistake with the proposed downtown off-street bike loop and its spurs or other off-street pathways in the city.

    Page 49, bullet point 5, add sentence “Planted boulevard rules for sidewalks from page 27 should apply, including 12″ maximum planting heights, avoiding street furniture near intersections, etc.”

    Page 53, To the sentence, “On roadways with on-street parking, it is advantageous to provide additional width to either the parking lane or the bicycle lane” add “…because winter ice and snow can narrow the roadway to the point of eliminating the bike lane.” (This is the situation we have on Marshall Avenue).

    Page 54, bullet point #1, at the end of the paragraph add “…but variances for these parking lane width requirements allowing parking lanes as narrow as 7 feet are available, even on state aid roadways.”

    Page 67-73, except in the context of shared bus/bike lanes (and one bullet point below “leapfrogging” on page 73), there is no discussion or diagramming of the interaction of bike lanes, cycle tracks or off-street bicycle facilities with transit stops. Yet this is an area where a lot of innovative research and design work has been done in other states. Also, there is no discussion of snow removal– something that rarely happens at most Saint Paul bus stops.

    Page 75, or 77 should include a sentence at the end to the effect that “snow removal and further narrowing of the street during the winter should also be a consideration regarding whether to use medians and what the width of the medians should be.” Here and elsewhere, get rid of the word “perceived friction of the roadway” and replace it with “perceived threat of head-on collisions.” No one but highway engineers know what “perceived friction” means.

    On page 76 and 77, include options for landscaped median designs which are narrower than 8 feet. These are achieved by using higher curbs (to reduce salt entering the median) and different types of plantings. You included a picture of one on page 102 (6 feet wide with high-sides). I have photos of others. Also, there should be a discussion of the use of steel or concrete bollards to protect pedestrians on bulb-outs or where a crosswalk goes through a median, particularly at the median nose in an intersection with high-speed traffic.

    This access-management section should reference the on-street parking management discussion on page 172-3 as this explains “Parking Improvement Districts” and other related issues.

    Page 81-87, the Bicycle Lanes section is excellent. I’m glad you provided the modified gutter pan options, like Franklin Avenue’s 6′ gutter pan that’s the entire width of the bike lane, and elsewhere in Minneapolis (or John Ireland), where there is no visible gutter pan at all.

    Page 94-95, you need to create a “Super Sharrow” designation for shared lanes on streets with ADT counts of over 10,000. Saint Paul already has such shared lanes westbound on Marshall between Cretin and the Lake Street Bridge and University Avenue between Aldine and Raymond, but they have no markings on them whatsoever and only minimal signage. “Super Sharrows” and “Green lanes” should be used in these situations and are used in numerous other cities. We need them in Saint Paul where high traffic volumes and speeds necessitate more high-visibility pavement markings and signage. The marking is a sharrow symbol with dotted lines on either side of it to show bicycle lane positioning. The mark is put down more frequently than just once or twice per block (as is typical with regular sharrows). See photos below.

    Page 99-100, Cycle Track design considerations should include banning right-turns-on-red-lights for streets that cross cycle tracks. As mentioned earlier, some of the ideas in this section should also be mentioned in the earlier “Off-street Pathways” section beyond just including it in “Related Treatments.”

    Page 105-106, with Bicycle Boulevards, include green-lane or crosswalk markings at the 6′ gaps in median diverters. Currently, where the new Charles Avenue Bike Boulevard crosses Lexington and Snelling Avenues, rush hour car traffic will stop in front of these gaps, forcing cyclists to use the crosswalks. This happened on the League of American Cyclists’ ride on July 31, 2014, in the middle of the day, with Steve Clark, Reuben Collins and other current and former city staff. Motorists backed up in traffic, don’t realize they are blocking these gaps, whereas they do recognize that they have to stay clear of crosswalks. These additional gaps should get some kind of crosswalk marking or the entire intersection should have “keep clear” markings.

    Page 111, Traffic Signal Bicycle Detection is depicted but not discussed. It should have it’s own “design consideration” sentence that says, “The city will endeavor to put traffic signal bicycle detection on all designated bike routes that don’t have automatically changing signals.” Currently there is not a single instance of traffic signal bicycle detection in Saint Paul except perhaps along the new Central Corridor line. The Bicycle Coalition submitted a list of some signals that need detection to Emily Erickson and Reuben Collins at the Public Works Department but nothing has happened. The list includes Jefferson Avenue at Fairview, at Snelling, and at Lexington …and includes Marshall at Dale, Prior and Otis, Summit Avenue at Snelling and various other locations. I can find the list again, if you want it.

    Page 115-116, under “Traffic Calming,” speed tables and raised intersections are not mentioned as options and there is a decided bias against vertical deflection. It says that speed humps require “a speed study showing 85th percentile at least 5mph over the speed limit” …but, if such a study was done and produced these results, by law, the speed limit would have to be set to the new, higher speed. This is what our group and others have been told by MnDOT engineers Scott McBride, Jenny Read and (now retired) Wayne Norris when we attempted to get them to make bicycle and pedestrian improvements to Snelling Avenue. So this is a “catch-22″ condition. Also, what qualifies as a “collector” street? Is it a city designation or based on AADT counts? Otis Avenue between Mississippi River Blvd and Pelham has speed humps that are at least 15 years old and show no signs of plow damage, yet they are very effective at slowing traffic on what is a highly-used bicycle route (78 bikes in 2 hours according to one count). In front of the country club on Otis, there is also a speed table or raised crosswalk for golf carts. Otis carries almost 5000 ADT.

    Page 117, snow and ice narrowing the intersection in the winter should be a “Design consideration” when selecting the diameter of the traffic circle. Also, we have data that shows circles are safer for car-to-car crashes but do we have data that they are safer for pedestrians or people in wheelchairs? For pedestrians, it is often unclear if a car will be turning onto the street you are crossing or continuing around the circle. Provided cars use turn signals, traditional 4-way stops are much more predictable in this regard. Also, are you sure about landscaping heights? At one meeting, they said 18″ and your intersection curb planting guidelines say 12″ maximum …but here you say 36″, which would seem high enough to obscure the view of someone in a wheelchair or a child. Don’t forget to include the distance of parking restrictions from intersections. (Right now you just have an “X” there).

    Photo on page 119 is not of an “intersection median barrier.” It is just a photo of a median near an intersection.

    Page 121 (see comments on pages 115-116).

    Page 129, change the sentence “They may provide space for utilities, signs and amenities such as bus shelters or waiting areas, bicycle parking, public seating, public art, street vendors, newspaper stands, trash and recycling receptacles and green infrastructure elements.” This is a direct contradiction of the part of the manual emphasizing the need to improve motorist sight lines at corners/intersections. If a corner bump out is full of all this stuff, as many are, it prevents a right-turning motorist from seeing pedestrians traveling in the same direction through a crosswalk. This has probably contributed to many pedestrian deaths and injuries, most recently at Hamline and Grand and Ford Parkway and Cleveland Avenues. See earlier included photos with our page 22 comments. This is also an argument in favor of locating bus stops after intersections (so shelters and benches are not obscuring a driver’s view of the intersection).

    Page 133, insert the word “car” into the sentence, “Due to a substantial reduction in vehicle speeds roundabouts have been shown to reduce all forms of car crashes and crash severity.” Roundabouts are great for cars and moving traffic. They are not as good for pedestrians. Many of the dangers/drawbacks you state for skewed intersections (on page 131-2) and wide turning radii apply to roundabouts. These include: “travel distance across intersection can be greater; …requires pedestrians to crane their necks to see other approaching users making it less likely that some users will be seen; …Skews generally reduce visibility for all users on all approaches; …obtuse angles encourage high speed vehicle turning movements; …can create problems for visually impaired pedestrians.”

    By increasing the distance pedestrians have to walk to cross an intersection, roundabouts lower pedestrian “level of service” for intersections. Also, the benefits are overstated. You say “no delay for pedestrians” but you are increasing the size of the intersection and the distance people have to walk to get through it. Motorist unpredictability makes them more dangerous for both cyclists and pedestrians. The fact that AASHTO guidelines recommend putting cyclists on sidewalks (defeating the entire point of bike lanes) testifies to roundabouts’ safety problems for non-motorized users. Because of their substantial space requirements, they also have the effect of destroying/wasting scarce urban land (which you mention but not as a liability). Read your own “design considerations” and you’ll realize that roundabouts are like nuclear space bombs in urban areas. I can’t think of a single location in Saint Paul where one of these would be a good idea. Saint Paul needs urban infill to restore its vitality as a city, not more car and roadway-oriented dispersion.

    Page 137, Channelized Right Turn Lanes are a bad idea for pedestrians, period. To say “The new design has also been shown to reduce motor vehicle and pedestrian crashes” is misleading. It reduces pedestrian crashes from the old design but is less safe than a standard, non-channelized right turn lane. These should be avoided anywhere a turn is crossing a two-way cycle-track or off-street pathway, since motorists tend to only look left before turning right …and because “pork-chop” islands are generally too small to accommodate bike trailers or multiple cyclists waiting for a street light. For this reason, making Saint Paul’s “Downtown Loop and spurs” safe and efficient for cyclists will require removing multiple existing channelized right turn lanes on both Kellogg and Jackson streets.

    Pg. 141, The Saint Paul Public Works Department, Ramsey County and MnDOT all use this draft manual’s lines “Crosswalks should not be installed at locations that could present an increased safety risk to pedestrians ” and “Adding crosswalks alone will not make a crossing safer or necessarily result in more vehicles stopping for pedestrians” as excuses to do nothing on Snelling Avenue, Grand Avenue and lots of other places. David Kuebler and various MnDOT engineers have said to me and other community members, “We don’t want to give pedestrians a false sense of security” as they reject our requests for crosswalks on arterial or collector streets. The second line/sentence in particular contradicts other parts of this manual such as “traffic calming with paint and signs” and contradicts the FHWA safety manual on Pedestrian Accommodations at intersections (page 15-3, 15.3, “Important Concepts” 1 and 3 and the beginning of page 15-4)– Plenty of studies (some referenced in the FHWA manual) show that a high-visibility crosswalk is better than nothing. In many places on arterial and collector streets, we have nothing. Therefore, the sentence “Adding crosswalks alone will not make a crossing safer…” should be removed from this manual. According to the little chart on page 142, we can’t put crosswalks at uncontrolled intersections on a single 3-4 lane arterial street in Saint Paul, the precise place where they are most needed, because all our arterials or big collector streets carry over 12,000 cars per day. This is absurd. Plenty of cities do this, often (but not always) enhancing the crosswalks with multiple signs and pavement markings, systematic enforcement stings and crossing islands. People have to cross arterial streets at unsignalized intersections because there are often half-mile gaps between signals. The city can either add more signals or add crosswalks, hopefully with other enhancements. Currently, it does neither.

    Pg 143, while they are good and better than nothing, calling a median island (like the one depicted in the photo) a “protected space” is not really accurate. The small curb is not going to protect pedestrians from errant vehicles. For this reason, there should be some discussion of the use of protective steel and concrete bollards at the ends of the island to physically (and psychologically) protect non-motorized users.

    Pg 149. Mention how signal timings that have more than 30 seconds between walk signs tend to encourage jay walking. See page 15-8 of the FHWA safety manual– I know the city wants to lengthen the signal timings on Ford Parkway and Cleveland to 90 seconds between walk signs, in order to pump more cars through the intersection at rush-hour. This would be bad for pedestrians at an intersection with high pedestrian volumes.

    Again, there is no mention of bicycle signal detection or discussion of “passive” detection (for pedestrians).

    Page 153, under “Applicability and Use,” mention that HAWKs can also be used at intersections, because the way you’ve worded it sounds like they can only be used at mid-block crossings. Also, give some details about the engineering warrants for HAWKs– that the minimum threshold is just 20 bikes or pedestrians per hour as opposed to 90 for a conventional signal. This information is helpful for community members who don’t know these thresholds and are sometimes misinformed by engineers. FHWA provides it’s HAWK guidelines for Low-Speed Roadways (< or = 35 MPH) – …and for High-Speed Roadways (>35 MPH)-

    Discuss requirements for conventional traffic signals as they pertain to cyclists and pedestrians.

    Page 158-9, it might be worth showing what an off-street cycle path in a downtown would look like, since the city is proposing this for downtown.

    Page 160-61, in attempting to “screen cars from the view of pedestrians” with landscaping or decorative fencing,” you are defying many of the sight-line and access-control safety principles in this manual and creating a dangerous situation for pedestrians and cyclists crossing your illustrated driveway. Pedestrians can not be seen by motorists until the nose of a car is already across the driveway. You should mention or correct this. Having to “screen” things (like parking lots) is a tell-tale sign that you shouldn’t have them at all.

    Page 162-3 doesn’t show traffic control. Is it a two-way or 4-way stop? The medians don’t nose into crosswalks so are not able to “facilitate pedestrian crossings.” You suddenly talk about on-street parking management strategies, something that isn’t addressed until page 172-3. It might be good to reference those pages.

    Page 166-7 again, your driveways and screening defy sight-line and access-control principles in this manual. You mention railroad tracks for the first time in the manual, something that can have a big impact on cycling (and wheelchairs) and deserves some attention along with with bridge expansion joint gaps, both of which can snag bicycle wheels and lead to accidents. There are flexible fill products and expansion joint cover plates specifically made to prevent this (and used in other states). This would be nice on the Wabasha Bridge, and many of our other bridge and RR track crossings. At the bottom of this web page is a FHWA description of railroad track “Flangeway Fillers”– …and, if you Google this stuff you’ll find a ton of other DOT-approved products.

    Page 170, basically says, “The city is not responsible for clearing snow from any pedestrian areas except parks …so, good luck!” Yet this is one of the things that makes Saint Paul unfriendly to pedestrians. The Parks Department does a good job on its pathways but the 3-year Pilot Snow Plowing Project on Marshall Avenue has been a total failure. The problem is that even small amounts of snow (an inch or less) freezes in the gutters and quickly forms compacted ice as parked vehicles drive over it. Gradually giant ice-sheets develop that obliterate curb edges and weld themselves to the ground. Simultaneously, snow is piling up on the boulevard zone of the sidewalk. As the compacted ice and snow berm starts to grow, it pushes parked cars into the bike lane and the facility becomes un-usable to cyclists. The only solutions for this are to either (1) prohibit parking after even minor snow-falls, aggressively tow cars and use “brush trucks” to brush off thin layers of snow …or (2) not design facilities with multiple minimum widths that have raised 8-foot medians. The city seems unwilling to do either of these things. I don’t think the “extra salt” suggestion on this page is accurate. My hunch is that brush-trucks are more effective because these are used by UMN, St. Thomas and Macalester College to great effect …but the Public Works Department needs to visit bike-friendly cities with snow, like Helsinki or Copenhagen, to see how they deal with this problem. In New York City, they use high-walled planted medians partly because they’re easier to see and plow and reduce salt intrusion into planting soil, enabling them to be narrower.

    If we really want to be bicycle and pedestrian friendly, it is critical that we clear corners of snow berms and remove ice and snow from sidewalks, particularly on commercial corridors like University Avenue, when stores like Target or other big box stores fail to do it. It’s also critical that we commit to keeping at least some of our on-street bicycle facilities clear of ice and snow in the winter.

    That’s it! If you’ve read this far, I owe you a beer.

    Andy Singer, Co-Chair Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition 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: Average Gas Prices, Adjusted for Inflation

    Streets.MN - Tue, 08/19/2014 - 10:10am

    Following up on yesterday’s chart showing gains in fuel economy since 1975, today’s chart shows annual average gas prices, adjusted for inflation to 2013 Dollars.

    The most striking thing about this chart is that gas prices maintained all-time lows (under $2/gallon in 2013 Dollars) for roughly two decades – from the mid-1980s to 2003. It’s certainly no coincidence that a whole lot of sprawling land use was built during that same time period. Just imagine if real gas prices had never subsided from their 1981 highs.

    If you’re looking for a gas prices chart to compare more directly to yesterday’s chart of fuel economy since 1975, this chart has a similar X-axis: 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

    Is a street an asset?

    StrongTowns - Tue, 08/19/2014 - 5:00am
    Current accounting practices do not bear any relation to the future cash flow or the actual financial health of the city. When cities take on obligations, they should be properly accounted for as liabilities, not assets.
    Categories: Twin Cities

    Main Street – Excelsior

    Streets.MN - Mon, 08/18/2014 - 2:00pm

    Excelsior, Minnesota is home to Minnesota’s second operating streetcar line (part of the Minnesota Streetcar Museum). Being good transportationists, we visited a few weeks ago. Excelsior is legally a city, though really a town, with about 2,400 people. Excelsior is located about 20 miles southwest of Minneapolis (map), connected directly by Highway 7, and more circuitously by Excelsior Boulevard (County Road 3). Though the town’s population is small, it has a main street (Water Street) that serves a larger market area, though the businesses are clearly appealing to those with some accumulated capital (flickr).

    Minnesota Streetcar Museum – Excelsior

    Ludefisk: It’s Good to Eat. The Harpoon in Every Fish guarantees it genuine. Holiday Cheer in Every Bite. Ask your Dealer for Genuine Old Style Ludefisk in New Sanitary Packages prepared only by the Kildall Company Importers, Minneapolis

    The area was developed in part by Twin Cities City Rapid Transit, back in the day, when it extended its line here as a terminus, aiming for both weekday and weekend service, the latter to try to attract reverse direction (outbound) weekend flows for people seeking a summer holiday in this lakeside town. Lake Minnetonka is a huge attraction, and TCRT constructed Big Island Amusement park nearby, connected by TCRT ferry. Unfortunately for Tom Lowry and company, this venture only lasted from 1906-1911. Another entrepreneur, Fred Pearce, was more successful on a mainland site, as the Excelsior Amusement Park lasted from 1925-1973, before the owners migrated southward to Valleyfair.

    Water Street – Excelsior

    Port of Excelsior

    Today Water Street retains the common features of late 19th/early 20th century streetcar nodes and main streets, a good frontage of retail activity for several blocks. There is on-street parking, with far more parking around the back. Water Street naturally enough leads to the Lake, which is pleasant to look at, and I am sure pleasant to boat on. (I don’t really have much to say about maritime transportation). It is well-maintained and fixed up, with the all important streetlights, but more importantly, fully occupied, which is more than can be said for some main streets in Greater Minnesota. The main downside is that the developed area is fairly small, which is a shame, for there is far more retail activity in and around Lake Minnetonka in much less pleasant designs.

    The Streetcar Museum (which is basically a trolley ride plus the shops) is well worth the $2 admission. My favorite part are the ads on the interior of the streetcar (among them, promoting Ludefisk). 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: Average US Fuel Economy since 1975

    Streets.MN - Mon, 08/18/2014 - 11:00am

    Here’s a chart that appears in a (less-than-groundbreaking) discussion about peak vehicle miles traveled, showing average US fuel economy since the 1970s.

    According to the page (Peak Oil News):

    The graph also shows that, with the second oil crisis, mileage restarted to increase, but by far not as fast as in the 1970s. There is a reason: it is difficult to optimize something already optimized. This we call ‘diminishing returns of technological progress.”

    Not sure I agree! Where do you see fuel economy headed in the coming years?

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Talking Cities

    StrongTowns - Mon, 08/18/2014 - 5:01am

    This video was recorded at CNU 22 in Buffalo. Participating are (from left to right) Jason Roberts (twitter) of The Better Block, Mike Lydon (twitter) from Street Plans Collaborative, Chuck Marohn (twitter) of Strong Towns and Joe Mnicozzi (twitter) of Urban-3.

    Many thanks to Gracen Johnson for video recording and editing and to Matt Steele for adding video to the feed.

    Categories: Twin Cities

    Sunday Summary

    Streets.MN - Sun, 08/17/2014 - 7:30am

    Here’s the past week on suitably summarized and tidily triaged for easy reading:

    Current events: The Green Line has generated multiple posts (and numerous comments) on; Green Line, Green Lights adds detail about signals and signal timing to keep the train moving smoothly.

    Citizen engagement: “I’m Not Opposed To Development” reviews neighborhood opposition to a particular development at 2320 Colfax (see earlier posts on this property here), but also raises more interesting issues about transportation, parking and economics (building on questions raised in other publications recently).  A DMV Grows in Saint Paul (Inside the Sears Department Store!) shows, but does not explain, this service location.

    Particular places: Squaring a Triangle: Rethinking Franklin/Cedar/Minnehaha in Seward uses StreetMix to illustrate a reimagined former street grid and realigned LRT.  Thoughts on Target Field Station and environs shows it’s not just a transit station.  3M Local Miles considers bicycling on 3M’s Maplewood corporate campus between the 28 buildings, to lunch and local amenities, and cycling to work.

    Walking the walk: Pick Up an Orange Flag and Cross a Street! analyses pedestrian issues in the context of the Macalester College driven low-tech Snelling Avenue crossing improvement.

    Transit: Google Maps, Reviews and Other Transit Apps illustrates Google Maps’ features with local examples, plus commenters provide some additional suggestions for transit apps. The Quarterly Transit Report updates readers on the most significant transit schedule changes at Metro Transit by a former Metro Transit transit manager and planner.  Buses and Railroad Crossings considers the inefficiency of requiring buses to stop at defunct railroad crossings and suggesting improvement.  Also see this transit-related Chart of the Day and Green Line, Green Lights.

    Audio: Podcast #69 — The Past and Future of Electric Cars with Juliet Burba and Robert Moffit in connection with the Bakken Museum exhibit “Absolutely Horseless.”

    Video and Visual: East 26th Street – The Movie shows 26th Street in 2006 as context for recent posts about the redesign of 26th/28th Streets. USA Land Use Report photo essay gives a highly selective and equally negative view of land use in the US.  And another Chart of the Day: MSP v. US Transit Rates.

    I’m posting this from the streets of Florida while pining away for, lower humidity and fewer palm trees.  Have a great northern week getting ready for the Minnesota State Fair.

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    East 26th Street – The Movie

    Streets.MN - Sat, 08/16/2014 - 10:40am

    Almost eight and half years ago I pulled my low resolution point and shoot camera out of my pocket to document a car crash scene at the intersection of East 26th Street and 1st Avenue South in Minneapolis. No need to worry–there was no blood at the scene (at least none that was picked up by the low res camera). I had easily heard the crash while sitting at my desk at my then office which had a large window overlooking the intersection a block away at 26th Street and Stevens Avenue.

    I ended up including plenty of commentary on the state of the streets in this part of the Whittier neighborhood. I talked to myself (the camera) about what I was seeing. The video ends with a nice conversation with some passers by about the state of things we found ourselves in on that day in March 2006. I happened to visit this same neighborhood to have lunch with an old friend a couple of days before this posting. I arrived early to have the chance to walk the area and I discovered that the streets are not notably different from the day I recorded this video although there are some signs of change and some hope for improvement with the City of Minneapolis currently engaged in a planning process for a redesign of 26th and 28th Streets.

    Grab yourself something to drink and a comfy seat and spend eight and a half minutes viewing this unedited look at what East 26th Street was like in March 2006 and dream with me about how it could become much better. 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: Why Nations Fail

    Thoughts on the Urban Environment - Sat, 08/16/2014 - 10:28am

    I am about about 100 pages into Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power Prosperity and Poverty. It’s a great book. I strongly recommend it. 

    The book talks a lot about (of course) why some nations are doing well and others are failing. I couldn’t help but relate it back to our policies on urban planning and economic development and the power structures that concoct contemporary policy (e.g.: Southwest LRT and how in 2012, a parking garage in Duluth was considered by a State Agency (DEED) as the MOST IMPORTANT economic development project in the State of Minnesota). Read here.

    Anyway – Here’s a sample …

    “Most economics and policymakers have focused on “getting it right, while what is really needed is an explanation for why poor nations “get it wrong”. Getting it wrong is mostly not about ignorance or culture … They get it wrong not by mistake or ignorance, but on purpose. To understand this, you have to go beyond economics and expert advice on the best thing to do and, instead, study how decisions actual get made, who gets to make them, and why those people decide to do what they do.”

    Pick up a copy of Why Nations Fail. I’m only 100 pages in and it’s blown my mind. It’s not about the policies themselves, but more so how bad decisions were made and why they were justified. Also, here’s a good podcast with the author of the book.

    Categories: Twin Cities

    USA Land Use Report

    Streets.MN - Fri, 08/15/2014 - 11:00am

    The United States is widely regarded as a global economic superpower. Citation: I’m sure that sentence has appeared verbatim in Time Magazine before. But on a recent roadtrip throughout the middle and Eastern US, I found myself wondering, ‘If we’re such an economic superpower – If we’ve been plundering this land for centuries – what do we really have to show for it?’

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but…



    Viaducts over parking lots.

    Asphalt Rat-Kings.

    Asthmatic children.

    Surprisingly honest advertising.

    Pot of gold (clogged toilet at Denny’s).

    K-Mart parking lots.

    Vinyl siding that ranges in color from grey to light beige.

    Roads near buildings.

    Roads on top of roads.

    Bus stops where passengers seek refuge from the harsh sun under shrubs like marsupials in the Australian Savannah.

    A whole lot of this stuff.

    A giant statue of a Native American man with his arm out, palm up, as if to ask, ‘WHAT DID YOU GUYS DO TO THIS PLACE?!’

    Here and there a sign that it’ll all be over soon. 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

    Green Line, Green Lights

    Streets.MN - Fri, 08/15/2014 - 9:00am

    Suppose you have a train moving along (parallel to) an East-West (EW) signalized arterial.

    Westgate Station

    Case 1: If the signals are pre-timed, and the timings are known in advance, the train should never have to stop for the signals (aside from emergency signal pre-emptions and other edge cases). Instead, the train should be able to adjust its speed so that it doesn’t have to stop. It might go at an average speed of say 10, 20, 30, or 40 MPH in order to ensure it hits a green light or better a green wave from whenever it departs a station. The train driver can be apprised of the optimal time to leave the previous (upstream) station, and the speed to travel to hit “green” lights.

    Green waves have been around since the 1920s (See Henry Barnes’s autobiography: The Man with the Red and Green Eyes. Dutton. 1965. OCLC 522406). Static signs to tell travelers the speed of the green wave has been in standard use in some places (e.g. Connecticut Avenue in Washington, DC) for almost as long. Dynamic real-time signs which tell travelers what speed to adjust to to make the green wave has been recently patented and tested in simulation for automobiles: Always Green Traffic Control. The time is ripe for some carefully controlled field experimentation.

    Still, pre-timing with information certainly doesn’t guarantee the fastest speed possible for the train, but it does guarantee no stops except at stations, which is good for a variety of reasons, including both travel time (avoid acceleration/deceleration loss), traveler comfort, energy use, and train wear and tear.

    Case 2: If the signals are actuated, that is, their phase and perhaps cycle timings depend on traffic levels, and traffic “actuates” the signal, usually through an in-ground loop detectortransit signal priority from a fixed upstream distance should be sufficient to ensure the train doesn’t stop at a “red” light. The traffic light controller would know that a train was coming, and either keep the lights in the direction of the train green (if they are green), or change them to green and hold them, if it is currently red and the green is coming up. The train, knowing when the green will be on, should be able to adjust its speed (faster or slower) to make the green without stopping.

    The distance that trains can currently notify a downstream signal controller is when they depart the upstream station, which is up to 1/2 mile or so (the spacing between stations). 1/2 mile at 30 mph takes 1 minute. With a cycle time of 2 minutes, and at least half the green time (1 minute) for the signalized arterial, a green can be guaranteed. If the light is currently red, it will be green within a minute. If it is currently green, it can be kept green for up to a minute. The worst case is it was just about to turn red and instead the green is extended for an additional minute. Alternatively, if it is currently green, a shorter than usual red phase can be inserted to clear the crossing traffic, before the light is turned back to green.

    For traffic signals less than 1/2 mile downstream (say 1/4 mile) the warning time is only 30 seconds at 30 MPH. The same logic applies, but it is potentially more problematic as there is less lead time to adjust the timings, so the phase shortenings might be more severe. On the other hand, if more than 50% of the green time goes to the EW movement (say 75%) you aren’t really any worse off.

    At 1/10 of a mile the warning time is less, but train departure from the station should be able to be coordinated with the light directly.

    Case 3: But let’s say your traffic engineers are incapable of making this work. Should the train and its passengers suffer? This is where traffic signal pre-emption comes in. Most widely used for emergency vehicles, this potentially changes the sequence of phases, so maybe a phase is dropped (it doesn’t occur within the cycle, or within the usual place in the cycle).

    This system does ensure that the vehicle requesting the pre-emption gets a green light as quickly as possible (safely turning the conflicting movements to a red phase) and thus can drive at as high a speed as possible. While trains should not need to stop at traffic lights with priority and speed adjustments, with pre-emption, they neither need to stop nor adjust their speed.

    What could go wrong?

    Pedestrians. Thus far we have been talking about a system with cars and trains. Pedestrians too can actuate signals, though “beg buttons“. These may function similar to vehicle actuators, in telling the traffic signal there is someone who wants to cross. The difficulty for priority or pre-emption is that a pedestrian phase may need to be longer since pedestrians take longer to cross the street than a vehicle does, especially if the street is very wide. So a pedestrian actuator may also extend the green time, in addition to calling for green time. This makes it more difficult to quickly change lights from red to green, since for safety reasons you can’t strand a pedestrian. This makes the ability to adjust train speeds in concert with the traffic signals more important.

    Firetruck on University Avenue blocked by LRT train

    Emergency vehicles. Emergency vehicle on emergency vehicle crashes are a known problem, and pre-emption may make it worse as firetrucks approaching a scene from two directions may both demand a green light, but only one gets it. The driver of one vehicle, not realizing he didn’t get the green (especially if he had the green as he was approaching), fails to yield. There are solutions to these problems.

    Any of this will likely lead to additional delays for conflicting vehicle movements (cars making left turns or North-South traffic crossing our East-West arterial). With priority, this may even lead to extra delay for some vehicles on the parallel arterial who have been given a short green so the conflicting traffic can also get a short green before the EW arterial returns to green.

    However the train usually has more people on it than are queued up at the other directions, so total *person* delay will generally be reduced.

    For a variety of reasons, delay is bad (unless your goal is punishing drivers and air-breathers), we want to minimize total person time (or weighted total person time - recognizing long weights are more onerous than short weights) in the system (because time is money), and minimize pollution outcomes as well.

    In short, the Green Line not getting green lights on University Avenue is a solvable problem. It should have been solved already. It eventually will be solved.

    Further reading, with math: See Fundamentals of Transportation/Traffic Signals 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