Twin Cities

Signs of the Times #94

Twin Cities Sidewalks - 1 hour 45 min ago
 IMPEACH[heart]'sYOU[Utility box. Powderhorn, Minneapolis.] PEDESTRIAN WALKWAY[arrow][Sidewalk. Seven Corners, Saint Paul.]  MAIL IS TO BE DELIVERED TO THEMAIL SLOT, ON THE SIDE ENTRANCEON CARROL AVENUE. THIS IS THESAME MAIL SLOT THAT THE SEARS.... SHARED WITH[name][Window. Snelling Avenue, Saint Paul.]STEP UP[Door. Location forgotten.]  SPECTATORPARKING [arrow][Yard. Midway, Saint Paul.]  PAT SAYS"I'd like to meet you in a dark alley"JUST NOT THIS ONEKEEP OUTKEEP QUIETKEEP ON KEEPING ON[Doorway. South Minneapolis.]Please do not climbon the sculpture.[Rock. Lowry Hill, Minneapolis.] ELYSE![Pole. Seward, Minneapolis.]
Categories: Twin Cities

Twin City Dog Poo Signs #2

Twin Cities Sidewalks - 1 hour 59 min ago
[[New York City.] [New York City.] [New York City.] [Grand Marais.] [Location forgotten.] [Newburyport, MA.] [South Minneapolis.] [Location forgotten.]
Categories: Twin Cities

1 million views != 1 million dollars

Streets.MN - 2 hours 10 min ago

You may have seen our tweet that on September 7, surpassed a total of one million page views. just surpassed 1 million hits since we launched in January of 2012. Thanks everyone!

— (@StreetsMN) September 8, 2014

Surely the value of each page view, which is on the order of a couple of minutes, has got to be a dollar per view to the reader. The official vision of is to create “a public better informed and engaged on transportation and land use issues.”

One million views…

Certainly that creates a public as well as private benefit. We hope that’s been happening, but we do not charge per view (unlike some publications we could name). In fact, we’re completely free!

In the big picture, is also almost free to produce, the writers write for free too.

But we still have some costs.

  • We have to pay for servers. Our annual expense depends on traffic levels, and is thus rising
  • We want to upgrade the webpage design. 
  • We want to upgrade Bill’s podcasting equipment. This costs: $350.

If everyone gave us $1 per view, we would be set. If everyone gave us $0.10 per view, we would be set. If everyone gave us $0.01 per view – we would be set (for what we do now). In fact we get about $0.001 per view in donations per year from readers. Thus, we are not set. Help us increase this rate, and keep on the internet.

Go to our membership page and join. Do it now. Thanks so much for your support! 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 – Nicollet Ave Review

Streets.MN - 2 hours 21 min ago

Open Streets Minneapolis – Nicollet Ave

Another Open Streets Minneapolis event was a success. This one was Sunday on Nicollet Ave from Lake to 46th Street. There are a few different things I love about these events:

  • They close off a major urban street to motorized vehicles
  • They partner with places like Metro Transit by encouraging you to use sustainable transportation to get to and from
  • It allows many sustainable neighborhood businesses and organizations to showcase themselves on the streets for thousands of people who may not have heard of them before
  • The partnership they have with Metro Transit is really slick. A big premise of these events is to promote sustainable transportation and it makes sense that they would partner to offer free bus and LRT rides to these events.

    I showed this both to and from the event to the bus drivers from the phone. Initially, they didn’t really know what it was, looked at it for a few seconds then said “Great, you’re good to go”.

    Free Metro Pass for the Event

    The bus I took was the 18 which dropped me off at Lake and Blaisdell. The route normally continues further down Nicollet Ave.

    18 Bus Route

    I did inquire about detours for events like this and got a well-informed answer. As well, I found a link to the detour page for the event at about the same time. From their site:

    For the following route(s): 18.

    Due to the Nicollet Ave Open Streets event, Nicollet Ave will be closed from 46th St to Lake St from 11 am – 6 pm on Sunday, Sept 14. Buses will detour as follows:

    Southbound buses will travel regular route on Nicollet Ave to Lake St, left on Lake St, right on 4th Ave S, right on 46th St, left on Nicollet Ave and resume regular routing. Please board buses on Nicollet Ave & 46th St or on Lake St & 1st Ave S.

    Northbound buses will travel regular route on Nicollet Ave to 46th St, right on 46th St, left on 4th Ave S, left on Lake St, right on 1st Ave S and resume regular routing. Please board buses on Nicollet Ave & 46th St or on 1st Ave S, just past Lake St.

    Thank you for riding with us.

    I learned some more about some other organizations and businesses that promote sustainable transportation. The folks at Nice Ride were there to inform people about their bike-sharing program. They had laptops for people to sign up in as little as 2 minutes. Plus, anyone who signed up that day received their choice of a free helmet or a sport-friendly backpack, both donning their logo. I have both, but can never have enough packs. I chose this.

    Nice Ride Tent at Open Streets

    Many of us have used Nice Ride bikes before. It’s perfect for your shorter trips. Some like Ed Kohler have even taken the opportunity to hit all of them in one day for 2 years in row. Here’s a 3rd party blog post for a 2013 trek organized by Ed and a Strib article for his 2012 trip.

    Ed did a great job on his The Deets blog and other social outlets to promote his 2012 trek including a (then) station map and even made a spreadsheet made from Google Sheets. As an added touch, he used the hashtags #nr145 and #nr170 on social media signifying how many respective Nice Ride stations there were at both times. The treks are a bit much for me, but was happy to offer Team Deets Gatorade and bananas at the Gateway Station along their way.

    Go Team Deets!

    Their station for the day was on Nicollet just south of 31st St.

    Nice Ride Location

    Another impressive things about Nice Ride are the partnerships they have with other affiliations. Car2Go MSP happens to be a corporate sponsor and partnered with them on a social media contest to win a Minneapolis bike tour using their bikes.

    Promotion for Nice Ride and Car2Go

    I use Car2Go often. I do have a car, but bought it new in 2002. It still purrs like a kitten, yet now has over 135k on it. I’ll use it for going out of town, but car sharing is perfect for me when I want to take shorter trips on the grid. Their tent was on the corner of Nicollet and 44th.

    Car2Go Location

    Open Streets had a promotional tent for HourCar as well. I haven’t used it yet, but it does look intriguing as they had a booth around the corner of Nicollet and 38th.

    HourCar Location

    HourCar Display

    It’s a similar program to Car2Go, but is unique in its own way. For one, they do have specific drop-off points instead of just dropping it off a meter or city street. Selfishly, it does appear that a pick-up and drop-off point happens to be just a block away outside my condo door.

    Nearby HourCar Pick-Up and Drop-Off

    From a map view, it appears to be in the underground parking lot at Whole Foods Hennepin.

    I did send them an inquiry as the map showed their stop which appeared at the underground lot, but their site mentions that their site is located on the street right by there on 2nd Ave North. Turns out they are in an open visitor parking garage right on the north end street level of the 222 Apartments, adjacent to Whole Foods.

    Designated HourCar Location

    Also, their vehicles are a step up from their counterparts using different Honda and Toyota models, as well as a select few others.

    For their individual rate plans, it seems to be a bit cheaper than Car2Go, although there is a nominal monthly fee depending on how much you plan to use them. From talking to their booth rep, I was surprised to learn that they simply cover (for the most part) insurance.

    It was intriguing to meet and talk to Dorian and the other folks at the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota as they had a tent and display just south of Nicollet and 38th.

    Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota Location

    Their motive is to educate bicyclists of all ages to safely navigate streets and trails along with vehicle traffic and pedestrians. They happen to have a bicycle safety curriculum for school age children to educate them to bike safely through their respective communities while learning general traffic rules and regulations. Here’s Dorian and Co. at Open Streets displaying their wheel o’ fun.

    Dorian and Co.

    How about Free Bikes 4 Kidz? I heard of them for the first time while interacting with them at their location of Nicollet and right between 32nd and 33rd St.

    Free Bikes for Kidz Location

    They offered free bike repair just as a few other businesses and organizations did, and had a tent and display to promote their non-profit program including bike donations, volunteer opportunities.. They also promote Move MN, an initiative to improve our current transportation system.

    They have some DIY fans, too. A retired man donated this tandem bike he tinkered with, as his wife can no longer ride. The Free Rides for Kidz folks gave it some additional décor.

    Customized Tandem Bike

    I mentioned these folks from Bikeways for Everyone at the Open Streets Franklin event but they’re worth another mention as they had an impressive display.

    Bikeways for Everyone

    A big initiative of theirs is to make more bike friendly lanes to bike safely along with vehicle traffic. One of their pushes is to implement protected, curbed bike lanes along major thoroughfares. I would absolutely love this. Minneapolis has made some great improvements with the green-striped painted bike lanes, although I have heard from a few people that as well as they work, the paint on the bike lanes can get slippery during rainy weather. Here’s a picture from a recent U of M walk on Church Street just south of University Ave SE. It happened to be sunny that day.

    Green Painted Lane at the U

    A few cracks, but it’s fine. I’m still certainly up for protected curbed bike lanes.

    There were plenty of other places to visit as well including sustainable restaurants, bakeries, street art, ponies, camels, farmers market and live musicians. In addition to the free transit rides, the north end of the event is just a couple blocks south of the Greenway where you can access from many Minneapolis neighborhoods, and even as far away as Hopkins. Did you attend the event? Just let us know of your favorite places to visit and your ways to get there. 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

    Map of the Day: Freeway Proximity in Minneapolis

    Streets.MN - 2 hours 34 min ago

    Proximity to freeways in Minneapolis. Map created by the author.

    This map shows areas of Minneapolis that are located within 1/4 mile (bright reddish-purple shading) and 1 mile (lighter purple shading) of a freeway mainline. Due to its divisive nature and regional significance, I have included Hiawtha Ave in the analysis.

    As you can see, most of the city is within a mile of a freeway mainline, with the main exceptions being sections of North Minneapolis (west of Penn Ave N), Northeast Minneapolis (mostly north of 27th and east of University), a good chunk of Southwest Minneapolis (Lake Calhoun, Lake Harriet, and Linden Hills), and small bits of south Minneapolis.

    Most of the negative aspects (noise, pollution, etc) of freeway proximity happen within 1/4 mile of a given freeway. Thankfully, much less of the city is within this proximity, though it does include the entire Warehouse District and chunks of Seward and West Phillips.

    Of the roughly 57.4 acres in the city, almost 46 acres (about 80%) are within 1 mile of a freeway, and just under 16 acres (about 28%) is within 1/4 mile of a freeway. 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

    Cars Feel Like the Future

    Streets.MN - 4 hours 31 min ago

    For you, what’s the most obvious sign that time is passing and has passed? Like when you look around at the average scene in your everyday environment, and you’re able to determine that it’s not the same as five years ago, or a decade ago, or twenty years ago? With one notable exception, I’d have to say that for me, it’s gotta be cars. Cars!

    I do not have a car. I also, unfortunately, do not have an extensive personal memory of my own everyday landscape–I was a military kid and moved every few years before getting to the University of Minnesota. I’ve been in Loring Park for a little over three years, which is the longest I’ve ever been in one ZIP code. Many people have somewhat similar experiences, at least starting after high school. Anywho, never leaving Minneapolis.

    Looking around while moseying down city streets, you see changes, but a lot of continuity and history. Most of the brick apartment buildings in my neighborhood are a bit under 100 years old, though some are older and some are younger. Some are gone now, turned into parking lots (see below). Friends in South Minneapolis live on tree-lined streets that, other than the trees being taller, haven’t changed in 50 years. There have been great changes in some specific areas like along the Midtown Greenway and in the Mill District, but in general, if you were to pick a Minneapolis or St. Paul streetscape at random, the scene probably hasn’t changed much in a few generations. Due to various market forces, the skyline hasn’t even changed much in a decade, and the Capella Tower, the most recent of the big three skyscrapers in Downtown Minneapolis, broke ground before I was born. Out in the burbs, where most people live, many tract houses and strip malls are intentionally built to look ye olde, with varied success.

    Notably, we do not yet have jetpacks and robot butlers and most notably, I’m not writing this from a colony on Mars. My grandma, who is fantastic and lives on Long Island, has complained about how disappointing the future has turned out to be: “Where are the video phones? We were supposed to have video phones.”

    Cars though, there are new cars on the road every year, and there don’t seem to be too many that stay on the road for longer than a decade. And lately, they’re starting to look like spaceships!

    A 2011 Honda Odyssey (Source:

    Look at that! I somehow remember the first time I saw that model Honda Odyssey–I was walking along Como Avenue near 15th Avenue Southeast north of Dinkytown. Looks like a spaceship.

    2014 Jeep Cherokee (Source:

    Saw one of these on Monday in Downtown Minneapolis, and it also looks like a spaceship. That hue of blue is, I assume, spaceship blue.

    Cars now have all kinds of crazy B.S., including, somehow, legally, literally, wi-fi. You’ve got your navigation systems, the ability to sync with phones, rear view cameras, TVs to keep your kids from seeing where they live, and, I guess, a whole set up in the new Infiniti Q50 for people who actually don’t want to drive. The commercial for that is insane. The distinct lack of people pointing out the insanity of that commercial is alarming. Fully self-driving cars are a hot topic on and elsewhere, and are probably just over the horizon, jumping rope with fusion power.

    There are new buses with newly padded seats, though they don’t have as much crazy crap as your average 2014 Ford Explorer. Some Northstar trains have wi-fi, but more than ten years after the opening of the Blue Line, we still do not have NexTrip at light rail stations. The message “Please Check Schedules” runs on a loop. The word on the street last year is that we’d get station NexTrip information this year. Anecdotally, there have been issues with station announcements and such things along the Green Line. One thing I’ve seen is the announcement for, say, Nicollet Mall Station, followed by the train hitting a red light at Marquette, and people trying to open the doors of the light rail vehicle when we’re not actually at a station. The other day, I saw a picture of the display on an eastbound Green Line train reading “Target Field”. But it’s not all bad. Metro Transit has released lots of data to developers who have in turn made lots of useful things. Also, the Siemens S70s we ordered for the Green Line look a little snazzier than the ten year old Bombardier Flexity Swifts we ordered for the Blue Line.

    It is weird, though, that the rims on the Subaru Crosstrek seem like the clearest visible sign that it is, in fact, 2014. We’ve got lots of brand new, shiny, spaceship-looking cars, driven on potholed roads to cartoon-ey looking strip malls, past desolate-looking parking facilities and, of course, crush loaded buses. Other than maybe Frank Lloyd Wright, I can’t think of too many people who envisioned a happy, healthy future society that arranges itself in its environment the way we do now. Are we forever stuck with sad cul-de-sacs? 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

    One Penny

    Streets.MN - 4 hours 31 min ago

    Houston Light Rail by Travis Estell on Flickr

    I recently visited Houston.  While on a tour of the Red Line, their first LRT line, I was told the story of its funding. Tom DeLay twice blocked federal funding for the line, meaning the entire initial 7.5 mile was built with local dollars – $324 million of them. Houston seemed to be living the Strong Towns dream (they have since accepted federal money for other rail segments). I was told repeatedly on the tour that they did not build the Red Line to serve park-and-rides (later I learned the line does have at least one, at the southern terminus of the line near the maintenance facility), and that this has contributed to the line’s success (2012 weekday ridership exceeded our 12-mile Blue Line by 14%). The representative of the transit agency told me they were able to build this line on their own because the agency has its own one penny sales tax dedicated to transit.

    Planned transitways under current revenue scenario

    After I got back, I started reading the Metropolitan Council’s draft 2040 Transportation Policy Plan. Under the “current revenue scenario”, meaning sans MoveMN-type legislation, our urban cores are basically getting a few bus upgrades and the completion of planned commuter rail suburban-serving LRT. Even under the increased revenue scenario, we’re apparently done building LRT projects through 2040.  Over the next 25 years, Minneapolis and Saint Paul alone are expected to add over 130,000 people, and for the most part we’re just planning to upgrade some buses (under the optimistic funding scenario). Don’t get me wrong, I love the bus, but it seems like we could be more visionary.

    In a daze induced by Houston heat and possibly mosquito-born illness, I asked myself: could our urban cores strike out on our own, transit-wise? MoveMN has its opponents and proponents, but the road (sorry) to its passage will be long, winding and almost certainly full of political compromise. Writers on this site will not agree whether its benefits will be worth its costs. So what if Minneapolis and Saint Paul just wanted to build transit on our own?  What if we had a one penny sales tax dedication?

    According to the Minnesota Department of Revenue, Minneapolis and Saint Paul combined generated over $9.6 billion in taxable sales in 2012, which would equate to $96 million annually from a one-penny sales tax. At that level, we could build an (urban) LRT line every 10 years, a streetcar-type project every two years, the entire 11-line Arterial BRT network in four years, 0r 6,000 heated bus shelters per year.

    Is this a thought exercise? Yes. Minneapolis and Saint Paul would have to get legislative approval to levy a local transit sales tax. Many people would have strong opinions about this. And of course there are those pesky operations costs which I neglected to mention in the paragraph above (I assume Metro Transit would give us a good deal on that, right?). But a locally-funded transit system that served transit-supportive areas really well might not be completely out of realm of possibility. 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 Bike Counting Quixotic?

    Twin Cities Sidewalks - Tue, 09/16/2014 - 12:19pm
    It turns out that sitting in a grassy median in a light industrial district by a bridge for two hours isn’t quite as bad as sitting in a vacant lot on a hill by a state highway for two hours. Last week I was again recruited by tricksy Saint Paul engineers into participating in the annual city-wide bike/walk count.As I explained in last year's post,  Getting hold of statistics for non-cars is quite difficult because people, bicycles, and buses aren't very predictable. There are a few options. You can use cameras, but that's expensive and time consuming. (Someone has to watch them!) Another option is rigorous surveys, but that’s also expensive and usually only happens through intrusive long-form-style census data. (E.g. the ACS commute data numbers.) That’s why Minneapolis and Saint Paul’s annual bike and walk counts are so important. They provide valuable data that advocates, politicians, and city staff can use to justify and demand better bike lanes and sidewalks. They provide much-needed feedback in the process of changing our streets, something we can point to on a chart or graph. We've been doing these counts in the Twin Cities since 2007 and (at least in my cursory survey) it's pretty rare for a US city to have such a good set of longitudinal numbers.Two Hours in an Industrial ParkPerhaps the all-powerful bike lobby took pity on me. After the torturous hell of the Robert and Cesar Chavez, this year I was lucky to be placed at the corner of Wabasha and Fillmore. Because it’s on the downhill side of a bridge crossing, I hoped for a modicum of people rolling from downtown into the vacant lots and half-empty concrete buildings of the West Side Flats.And after the the Niagara torrent of cars last year, I was not completely disappointed. Nested on my  “natural” industrial park grass, I faced the West Side Flats apartments, the only new residential building to be built in the flats for half a century. It is hopefully a sign of things to come. Its shiny facade, empty balconies, and even emptier first-floor retail space lent hope to the surrounding unwalkable wasteland. Over the next few hours, a few thoughts popped in my mind. The Wabasha Street Bridge slants steeply from high up the downtown bluff to the east edge of Harriet Island. It’s also the newest (major) bridge in Saint Paul, at just over a decade. As people gravitated down the wide sidewalks, growing from ants into real people, my first thought was to wonder where these white collar workers with their backpacks were going. Why were they walking down largely deserted Wabasha?My guess is that most of the people were walking to their cars. In good Costanza tradition, free parking can be found on the West Side Flats if you walk far enough past the vacant lots. The second thought was that the wind was blowing in the wrong direction, so that the smell of blood from the nearby Red Cross blood bank HQ drifted over the area. It’s easily one of the most disconcerting smells I encounter on my wending way through the city. It makes me uneasy, but I suppose compared to a slaughterhouse or a tannery, it’s not that bad.[The bike lane gap is only 1/3 of a mile, but makes the whole trip suck.]Thirdly, I happened to be placed at the exact spot where the bike lane disappears and needlessly throws bicyclists into traffic with the fast moving cars (speeding down the bridge). This is one my most glaring "bike gaps" in the city of Saint Paul (which is saying something), and perfectly illustrates the importance of paying attention to gaps and continuity when designing bike lanes. Time and again over the hours, I watched cyclists come down the bridge bike lane and veer up onto the sidewalk, or deal with aggressive driving. Finally, sitting there and watching the bridge bow down from downtown, I kept thinking about my recent visit to Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Helsinki. I imagined what this place might feel like in one of those transit-friendly, walkable, bikeable cities full of six-story buildings, wide sidewalks, and street life. What if there were actual places to walk to and from? How different these streets would be! Me and Don Quixote[Norton Critical Edition, yo.]I should add that, over the last few weeks, I’ve been reading Don Quixote. The book has long sat in the “to read” pile on my shelf. And though I’d never actually read the book, the term “quixotic” has long been one of my favorite words to use. Before reading the book, I’d always thought “quixotic” meant “someone who fights a lost cause.” I’d cheerfully referred to US bicyclists, documentary filmmakers, or anyone attempting to end capitalism as being particularly quixotic in nature, people who spend days “tilting at windmills” and losing over and again. Counting bikes on an American arterial had seemed to me a quintessentially quixotic enterprise, devoting ones life to the mundane and microscopic, and imagining these things to be deeply important.Maybe it was the desolate landscape or the smell of half-baked blood, but actually reading the book while sitting on the street corner, I changed my mind about what is and is not quixotic. I began to believe it had nothing to do with lost causes, but instead someone lost inside a beautiful delusion.For example, sitting on the corner, I paged through the second section of the book, where a group of Don Quixote’s friends attempt to lure him back to his village by humoring him. Like Sancho, they join in to his fantasy of being a gallant knight on a noble quest, in order to they try to persuade Don Quixote to return home.One night, as they’re sitting around eating dinner an an inn, Don Quixote gives the following speech:And so they supped in high enjoyment, which was increased when they observed Don Quixote leave off eating, and, moved by an impulse like that which made him deliver himself at such length when he supped with the goatherds, begin to address them:"Verily, gentlemen, if we reflect upon it, great and marvellous are the things they see, who make profession of the order of knight-errantry. Say, what being is there in this world, who entering the gate of this castle at this moment, and seeing us as we are here, would suppose or imagine us to be what we are? Who would say that this lady who is beside me was the great queen that we all know her to be, or that I am that Knight of the Rueful Countenance, trumpeted far and wide by the mouth of Fame? Now, there can be no doubt that this art and calling surpasses all those that mankind has invented, and is the more deserving of being held in honour in proportion as it is the more exposed to peril."[The pedestrian of the mournful countenance.]The irony is, of course, that Quixote and his friends are actually a bunch of drunken bums in rags gnawing on old bread. Sitting there counting occasional bikes, I realized that, if anyone is living in a land of delusion, it might be those that convince themselves that our cities are sustainable.In other words, most of our plans are full of quixotic, flowery language about recycling, environmentalism, sustainability, or glorious bike-filled futures. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the country drives everywhere and walks only as far as the next free parking spot. Meanwhile we continue building roads and parking lots that lock us into the fossil fueled, earth-roasting future, while the non-motorized mode share dwindles asymptotically near zero.Translated into the present moment, Don Quixote might say this:Verily gentlemen, if we reflect on it, great and marvelous are the things seen by those who make profession of the order of bike counting. Who in the world, if he entered the gates of St. Paul at this moment, would suppose or imagine this to be a top bike city in the country?We can’t be a sustainable city and keep expanding our freeways.  I’m as guilty as anyone, but to say otherwise seems like self-delusion.
    Categories: Twin Cities

    Chart of the Day: Gateway Corridor Job Projections

    Streets.MN - Tue, 09/16/2014 - 10:43am

    A propos of the Lake Elmo article, here’s a chart of projected job growth along a few of the different Gateway Corridor alignment options from the Met Council’s recent study on the project.


    As you can see, most of the job growth is projected to take place in Saint Paul, Oakdale, and by the 3M campus  (i.e the blue part of the chart). Much like the ridership projects, the different route alternatives don’t have a huge impact on the projections.

    (I’m always curious about how much development-oriented growth planners include in projections like these. I have heard that those estimates are fairly minimal…) 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

    Lake Elmo, Masters of the Long Game

    Streets.MN - Tue, 09/16/2014 - 10:17am

    Farms + mansions + acre lots = Lake Elmo

    Back in 2003 I was working as a volunteer radio news reporter for KFAI, a great long-time community radio station on Minneapolis’ West Bank. Much like blogging, it was a fun (if unpaid) job involving many unexpected conversations and encounters with people from all corners of the city. I remember going to Minneapolis’ north side to cover one of Don Samuels’ day-long vigils following a shooting. I remember interviewing Cam Gordon when he was running for office against Cara Letofsky. (And lots of other stories too.)

    One of the longest drives I ever made during those days* was to go out and interview the Lake Elmo city manager (and his assistant). Back then, Lake Elmo and the Met Council were famously locked in a legal struggle over the city’s comprehensive plan, and the regional planning authority’s right to require development in suburban cities. Lake Elmo was and is a sparsely populated city along the I-94 corridor about ten miles east of Saint Paul, and it’s one of the few places near the beltway where you can still find farms.

    At the time I knew very little about urban planning, zoning, or development, and I remember sitting in the Lake Elmo office with the two city staff and listening to them talk about quality of life and the city’s rural character. (Of course, that’s usually a dog whistle for “rich white McMansions”.) One of the things I distinctly recall was the city manager saying, almost gleefully, “we don’t want to be another Woodbury. We’re going to build out [on one-acre lots], and then there’ll be nothing anyone can do.”**

    The Gateway Corridor

    Flash forward ten years, and Lake Elmo hasn’t changed much. They finally got on board with the Met Council’s comp plan requirements, but did so in an interesting way that attempted to focus on cluster development in a few key places. (They also defunded their library so that it now operates entirely on hopes, dreams, and unicorn sweat.)

    But a funny thing happened on the way to Stillwater. The Met Council recently released recommendations for the Gateway route, a bus rapid transit (BRT) project that would run east from Saint Paul along the I-94 corridor out to Woodbury. Compared to the Southwest Light Rail (SWLRT) Hindenburg, the Gateway has flown under the radar. For one thing, it’s a bus rapid transit project (a fraction of the cost of the semi-tunneled Southwest light rail). For another thing, it goes through Saint Paul’s sleepy East Side and far-less-populated eastern suburbs, which have been clamoring for more geographic equity in transit investments for years.

    After choosing between BRT and light rail (LRT), and opting not to go along East 7th Street, the toughest decision the Gateway Corridor Committee made centered on the eastern part of the route. Once you get out to the 3M corporate campus, there are a lot of options for where to put the dedicated busway. As it turns out, the Committee and the Met Council settled on the D2-E2 alternative, which would run on the north side of I-94 through Lake Elmo (skipping already-developed Woodbury) and only cross to the South side of the freeway at the (skin curdlingly named) Settlers Ridge Parkway, on the far edge of Woodbury.

    “We Don’t Want to be Another Woodbury”

    Woodbury’s best development still looks like a parking lot.

    Suburban transit is always something of an oxymoron, and I have mixed feelings about investing much public money in attempts to shoehorn transit service into cities that are uniformly designed to be auto-dependent. Typically, those kinds of investments are far too expensive, and do little to change the [time + cost + comfort] equation of different modes. (In other words, you can’t make second-ring suburbs walkable.)

    The more I think about it, Lake Elmo’s histrionic attempts to resist planning might have been quite a savvy move. The Gateway alignment is proposed to go through Lake Elmo precisely because all the land along that side of the freeway is still undeveloped. It doesn’t have cul-de-sacs, strip malls, big box stores, and one-story beige three-garage homes as far as the eye can see, which means that the land can be developed in walkable ways that support transit-oriented development.

    According to the people I’ve talked to about the project, this was precisely the thinking of the committee. When asked on which side of the freeway to build a BRT right-of-way, planners essentially looked at Woodbury and said, “this is a lost cause.” Instead, Lake Elmo’s farm fields, combined with a few willing land owners, mean that the Gateway BRT station areas could be mixed use, (relatively) dense, and walkable.

    The Mediocrity of Suburban Transit Investments

    In general, I believe that the cost-benefit ratio for transit investments makes suburban transit projects almost always a bad deal. We will need a massive amount of development in order to make a $1.5 billion dollar project*** like the SWRLT pay off for the public, and I doubt the ability of already built-out cities like Eden Prairie to make the kinds of changes they’d need to really shift their urban development patterns. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong, but I’m pretty skeptical. Meanwhile, transit investments make far more sense in cities that already have sidewalks, street grids, few parking moats, and some degree of mixed-use fabric. We should focus our investments along these already-existing transit corridors.

    But if we’re really going to try to build transit in the suburbs, despite the underwhelming ridership projections, the Gateway project seems like the best case scenario. Thanks to Lake Elmo, there are a whole bunch of greenfield acres just waiting for an innovative transit-oriented developer to build something great. Compared to the car-only “CityPlace” development across the freeway in Woodbury, maybe Lake Elmo was pretty smart after all.

    Rough development plans for the D2-E2 alignment. (Note: “Cityplace” at bottom, in blue.)

    * I had a car back then, a 1986 BMW 325e. Pretty sweet. It died. It was expensive.

    ** I have the tape somewhere.

    *** So far… 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

    Investing in Transit “Because Millennials” is a Bad Idea

    Streets.MN - Tue, 09/16/2014 - 7:00am

    I’m guilty of using this point when I want to win an argument. Millennials want options, especially in transportation.

    If cities want to attract new talent, younger residents and diverse citizens, you need to invest in transit. Right? Well…

    It’s not that cut and dry. The idea of investing in transit “because Millennials” is just plain stupid. It actually negates the whole idea of a good transportation system, ya know, one that works for everyone.

    Case in point, the controversial, overpriced Milwaukee streetcar.

    I am not a huge fan of the Milwaukee streetcar. I think it’s a big gamble funded with federal money and has no real need. This is not to mention that the streetcar has seen more than a few setbacks since starting construction, making it that much more pricey to Milwaukee residents. My parents who live in Milwaukee, are even less fond of it because it doesn’t help them at all. My dad especially. He’s the principal of an inner-city school and can’t really figure out why they’re not spending the money on something like education.

    In a recent article on the streetcar system, Mayor Tom Barrett was quoted saying “The streetcar brings a lot of value,” Barrett said. “The Millennials want to move around the city with ease.”

    First off, if political correctness has taught me anything it’s that adding “the” in front of any group of people is a sure way to get them to hate you.

    Second, if you’re investing in a expensive streetcar system “because Millennials,” stop.

    If you’re going to bank your transit system on a highly unemployed group of people who are loaded with debt and notorious for moving around, you’re probably not doing transit right.

    The problem stems from the idea that cities need to progress and grow, ergo, they need a constant stream of people to fuel their development. If you as a mayor want to add some shiny new transit that is really slow just because you think it’s good for the “youngens,” then you ought to stop, re-evaluate and figure out your return on investment instead of pandering to a demographic.

    Again, I’ll hop back to the Milwaukee streetcar. It’s a pretty small, pretty expensive piece of transit. And in a city like Milwaukee, where crime and poverty are abundant, it does little for mobility of the poor. But hey, Millennials!

    Likewise, Detroit, a city essentially in ruin, is shelling out a ton of money for a streetcar. Why? I don’t know, it doesn’t really make me want to move to Detroit and I’m a 25 year old designer with no kids and I’m even wearing a plaid flannel shirt RIGHT NOW. How much more Millennial can I get?

    I know it sounds like I’m hating on streetcars, I’m not. I’m hating on the idea that someone put an idea out there that streetcars=millennials=cool people=jobs=a better city. I don’t want my generation being a driving force in bad transit investments just because we’ll like them for a few years before we may end up in the suburbs anyway resulting in less people moving into the city to replace those that left.

    Again, with the Green Line in The Twin Cities, am I the only one that thinks that eight breweries along a single transit line is a bit of a millennial-inspired bubble? This isn’t to say that the green line was built because of those breweries or that other things won’t build there in the future, but I think the notion of Green Line as recreation over transit is percolating.

    Now, this isn’t to say that we should build roads “because cars” or we should do anything “because anything else.” Rather, this is aimed at the fad sweeping the nation that Millennials will save your city (which might be true) if you build them transit first. Honestly, I would value a strong sense of place over transit any day, but that might just be personal opinion.

    Biking has seen a massive explosion not only with the young, but with older generations as well.  Bike lanes, painted or protected, are way, WAY, cheaper than a full transit system. Cities need to start small and add when it makes financial sense.

    This absolutely ridiculous “quiz” showed up on my news feed asking how “Millennial” my transportation habits are. I scored (what I assume is good) a “forever young” telling me that:

    You’re so Millennial, you must have been born in 1990! Millennials are increasingly choosing all sorts of options when deciding how they’ll get around town, and public transportation options are an important part of that mix. Whether you’re 18 or 99, your transportation habits are just like these tech focused, social media savvy Millennials. Put your earbuds in and ride!

    Gee thanks! I’m glad that I could be boiled down into some Saved by the Bell watching caricature. AND I WAS BORN IN 1989 THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

    I think the problem is that, like a lot of things in America, we’re polarizing millennials as pro-any-kind-of-transit. This means we’re being used to fuel unnecessary projects that cost a lot of money and may end up hurting the cities we live in.

    To fix this, be an advocate of financial responsibility, productivity, and common sense. If a city wants to build a transit, great, but ask why, where, cost, and efficiency instead of letting it get masked behind “because Millennials.”

    Cover photo from Brad Hammonds on Albumarium 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

    Place versus Not-Place in Mankato

    Thoughts on the Urban Environment - Mon, 09/15/2014 - 1:57pm

    I took a play from the Andrew Price Playbook and applied it quickly to the downtown of Mankato (using Microsoft Paint). Here’s the aerial from Google Earth:

    I’m going to define “place” as: a location where people can comfortable stand without fear of being hit by an automobile. This is white with a blue outline. A “non-place” are streets and parking lots/garages. These are red.

    This isn’t scientific, but it does a good job of illustrating what places need work. The street grid doesn’t need to be moved, as it serves a good purpose. However, the large swatches of parking lots (particularly open surface) need to be turned from “non-places” to “places”.

    Categories: Twin Cities

    September Postcard Post

    Twin Cities Sidewalks - Mon, 09/15/2014 - 1:24pm
    I made some new hand-made justapositional postcards last night, and want to send them to you.Here are five of them.For any donation of $5 or more, you will receive:
    • One hand-made vintage-y juxtapositional postcard (featuring news clippings from either the late-80s to early 90-s and/or old textbooks and/or Twin Cities' news media from the early 2000s).
    • One amusing message describing some bit of the Twin Cities' urban landscape.
    That's not bad. Plus you'll help me feed my cat!It's just a fun way to fundraise a bit for this blog, which is otherwise sadly unrenumerative. Thanks a lot for your support!Here are some (only five) of the most recent batch:
    Categories: Twin Cities

    Map Monday: Metro Transit’s (Draft) “Increased Revenue Scenario”

    Streets.MN - Mon, 09/15/2014 - 12:19pm

    This map comes from the Met Council’s Transportation Policy Plan draft which is out for public comment right now.

    It depicts what the plans for what would happen if somehow the region received more money (most likely through a local sales tax).

    Here’s the description from the draft document, transit chapter:

    In order to complete the region’s vision of a transitway system and do it on an accelerated timeline, the region will need additional funding for transitways. Increased funding will allow the region to:

    • Accelerate the build-out of the transitways included in the Current Revenue Scenario
    • Afford the transitways in CTIB’s Transit Investment Framework beyond the Phase I

      Program of Projects

    • Afford additional transitways not in CTIB’s Transit Investment Framework that are under

      study or needing to be studied for mode and alignment by other partners

    • Implement the complete system of 12 arterial BRT projects

    Read through the whole plan here, and feel free to comment. 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

    Uptown to Dinkytown: The Three Mode Analysis

    Streets.MN - Mon, 09/15/2014 - 11:32am

    After quasi-graduating this past spring and backpacking around Europe for two months, I have slowly adjusted back into reality. And, like a plethora of quintessential University of Minnesota millennial-aged graduates, I have moved from my humble, seven-people-in-a-four-bedroom college shack in the Dinkytown area to much greater (and less smelly) ventures in Uptown.

    What isn’t typical about my current situation is that I have, in reality, several classes left to take at the U in order to finish up my second major. In addition to this, my place of employment is rather close to campus, so needless to say, I make my way over to “Minneapolis SE” every day of the work week. Although I occasionally weep quietly to myself when I think about how conveniently proximate my life would be if I still lived in the college neighborhoods, I am thankful to live in arguably the most transportation mode-diverse area of Minneapolis.

    Since Septembers in Minnesota are simply the nicest, I thought it would be a great experiment to test all modes to get from Uptown to the U of MN campus, and see which is truly optimal in several categories. My very un-scientific analysis consisted of grading three main travel modes to get from Uptown to campus and back: biking, driving, and using transit (bus and LRT). I timed how long each one took, and how expensive each one was. My (still very un-scientific) testing standard used similar starting and ending points for consistency, going from Uptown Transit Station to the intersection of Church Street and Scholars Walk in the geographic center of the east bank of campus. However, my routes out and back varied and added another nice un-scientific twist to the adventure.


    My first test certainly burned the most calories out of any other mode, and was also the most consistent in both directions. Uptown is a focal point in the local urban biking system, and enjoys close proximity to the Midtown Greenway, the Chain of Lakes trails, and, if willing to partake in a quick jaunt westward, the SWLRT trail network too. Recently, the Dinkytown Greenway finished the important Bluff Street connection under Interstate 35W and now connects straight to the Mill District in Downtown East. It is now possible to bike the 6.2 miles from Uptown to campus entirely on paved, segregated bike trails (except for a few short blocks in DTE, where a bike lane exists), which in itself is an amazing feat unseen in most other American cities.

    My route both ways consisted of taking the Midtown Greenway from Uptown Transit Station to the Sabo Bridge over Hiawatha Avenue and up the Hiawatha LRT Trail alongside the Blue Line. My route varied a tad when approaching Cedar Avenue, as seen below. In the morning, I proceeded into Downtown East, biked north on 11th Street S, east on 2nd Avenue S, and hooked up with the Dinkytown Greenway connection. After the Dinkytown Greenway Bridge (AKA #9 Bridge), I took a hard right and pumped up the hill to East River Road and proceeded my way to Church & Scholars Walk. In the afternoon, I opted to bike to the West Bank and down Cedar Avenue (through heavy construction, I might add) to connect with the Hiawatha Trail near the Franklin Avenue Blue Line Station. I marked the areas where vehicular traffic was heavy.

    Morning route, via DTE & Dinkytown Greenway (source for all maps – Google Maps)

    Afternoon Route, via Cedar Avenue

    Overall, the trip took me 27 minutes in the morning at a moderate pace, and 25 minutes in the afternoon at a similar pace. With the assumption that I owned my bike, and the fact that it is free to lock up to any bike rack within campus, my travel costs were essentially zero. However, if I chose to use a Nice Ride bike, I would accrue costs associated with the bike share program. (Side note: one could probably ride nonstop on a Nice Ride bike to and from campus, but might need the natural and legal ability of a Lance Armstrong to pump through. I would recommend switching bikes once on this journey.) The ride was pleasant, easy, and stress-free. Not having to deal with vehicles helped this notion. Downsides of this mode included general sweatiness, as well as dealing with any potential inclement weather that might be present.


    Similar to biking, Uptown is a major hub for transit routes that embark into all areas of the city. The Uptown Transit Station is host to six regular routes and two express routes to the U of MN campus. However, most express buses do not run during the summertime or during school holidays. Therefore, I rode a 12 bus into downtown to connect to the shiny new Green Line in the morning, and opted for the 114 express bus in the afternoon.

    Morning transit route – the 12 bus transfer to the Green Line LRT.

    Afternoon transit route – the 114 to Uptown Transit Station, no transfers.

    My 12 bus into downtown was speedy! From Uptown, it only took 10 1/2 minutes to get to the corner of 5th and Hennepin. I glanced down toward Nicollet Mall and noticed the eastbound Green Line just taking off, so I unfortunately had to wait a little longer for the next train. This morning, I got on 6 1/2 minutes after unloading from the 12 bus – obviously not the 3ish minute headways you see in NYC or Europe, but not a long time nonetheless. I’m not sure if it was a forgetful driver or what, but my train never switched directions on the display boards and constantly showed “TARGET FIELD” all the way to campus. I assumed it was a new conductor, because the train ride was hesitantly slow, even after downtown. I arrived at East Bank Station 30 minutes after leaving Uptown, and walked to Church and Scholars Walk. Overall, the morning trip took 33 minutes.

    Wait… does this go to, like, Target Arena in St Paul where the Wild plays?

    The afternoon trip was much faster, as expected. I took 4 minutes to walk to Coffman and just barely caught the 114A bus. Normally stressful driving corridors, the 94/35W maze and Hennepin deathtrap seemed peaceful inside a bus. The trip only took 24 minutes from Church/Scholars to Uptown, walking included.

    Although not totally free, the two rush hour tickets would have normally cost me $4.50. However, I have a handy dandy little U Pass, which gives me unlimited transfers all semester long for $100. Both unloading points (Coffman and East Bank LRT Station) were located on Washington and gave me easy walking access to the heart of campus.


    Due to many overly stated reasons, the driving route from Uptown to campus was the most straight-forward. Both morning and afternoon, I drove on Hennepin Avenue, Interstates 94 and 35W, and utilized the University/4th Street SE ramps to get to campus.

    The morning drive was very easy and quick, but it was likely due to my early departure time of 7:00 am. It took me 9 1/2 minutes to get from Uptown to the University Ave offramp. From there, things got a little trickier. I attempted to park in the Church Street Ramp underneath Northrop Auditorium, but it was closed on this particular morning. I flipped a You-ee and headed for the 4th Street Ramp near Dinkytown. In this path, it took 10 minutes from the University offramp to my final parking destination, and a couple more to walk to Church/Scholars. Overall, it took me 19 minutes in the drive.

    The afternoon drive was a completely different and much more painful experience. Since I had been parked all day, I needed to pay a hefty $12.00 to exit the ramp. As I pulled onto 4th Street, I was greeted by hundreds of other happy SOVs crawling through Dinkytown. It took me 9:30 to get to I-35W, and I continued to hit traffic all the way through the maze and onto Hennepin Avenue, where I took a picture while in completely stopped traffic. (Is it safe if everyone isn’t moving? Probably not, but oh well.)

    Sheeps are my favorite animal

    Grudgingly, I inched forward block by block until I reached Uptown Transit Station. Overall, the trip took 32 minutes back to Uptown, almost double what it took to get to campus that morning. Financially, I assumed the trips cost about $1.00 in gas to go each way (city driving in a mid-2000s SUV isn’t the best way to get environmental street cred), in addition to the $12.00 in parking for the day.


    I graded each as seen above, and gave points in according to overall performance (3 points for green, 2 for yellow, 1 for red, 18 points possible). Although each mode was only tested once, the results were quite eye-opening for an Uptown-to-Dinkytown virgin commuter like me. I originally predicted that driving was going to be by far the fastest overall way to get to and from campus, and although it was technically the fastest, it only beat biking by one measly minute, and transit by a mere 5 minutes. Driving also cost much more than any other mode. I will likely only drive if I am in a serious rush one day or need to load heavy things for class/work.

    Also surprisingly, transit had the lowest grade of any mode, but only lost to driving by 1 point. Honestly, this metric could have been easily switched if a few small things would have happened. If the Green Line driver wasn’t slow, it could have saved that extra minutes or two. If I could have caught that Green Line train at Nicollet 30 seconds before, transit would have been the fastest mode in both directions. Finally, if I took the 114 bus in the morning, it would have beaten both as well. Transit is a good way to go if you know the routes, have a good feel for the system, and aren’t afraid to wait a couple extra minutes if its bogged down at moments. This will probably be the mode I take frequently once the weather gets too cold.

    In general, biking was by and far judged to be the cheapest and most consistently timed way to get to and from Uptown, which makes sense – dedicated bike routes like the Midtown and Dinkytown Greenways don’t suffer from massive amounts of congestion seen on roadways. Even though I had to pat my back with a towel at the end of each ride, it was also refreshing to get a bit of exercise while commuting. As long as the weather stays somewhat decent, I think this is the mode I’ll stick with for a while to get to Gopherland. 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

    Frank-Lyn – Thinking About Streets and Places in Three Dimensions

    Streets.MN - Mon, 09/15/2014 - 7:00am

    The development at the intersection of Franklin and Lyndale Avenues in Minneapolis has gotten a lot of attention, but primarily because of buildings proposed at the corners, to replace under-developed buildings at this highly accessible, emerging locale.

    The intersection itself has gotten little consideration. It is an at-grade 4-way traffic signal. However, Franklin Avenue finds itself in a valley at Lyndale, such that a 3-dimensional option presents itself.

    Urbanists are often aghast at the notion of highway overpasses in cities, and certainly most have been done poorly with no respect for urban form. But that is no reason to throw out the concept altogether.

    Using my extensive computer drafting skills, I present two diagrams. The Plan view (from above) and Side view (facing west) illustrate a concept in cartoon fashion. These are, as they say, not-to-scale and obviously not engineering diagrams.

    Frank-Lyn conceptual reconfiguration – Plan View

    The top diagram shows how the middle two lanes on Franklin Avenue (the left lanes Eastbound and Westbound) bridge over Lyndale Avenue (the blue bar represents the bridge). Since there are already two lanes, additional land required is only for bridge barriers, and hopefully that is minimal. Lanes can be narrowed as necessary.

    This does several things. It gets cross-traffic on Franklin (going to or from Hennepin mostly) off of Lyndale. This reduces pressure on Lyndale itself, reduces traffic delay, reduces pedestrian delay, reduces bicyclist delay, reduces pollution at the intersection, reduces street crossing times for pedestrians on Lyndale going North or South (there are two fewer lanes to cross). A median boulevard could be added to Lyndale (the green bars).

    The intersection of Franklin and Lyndale thus becomes an urban diamond.

    There would be an option to eliminate some or all left turn movements as well, and make Lyndale more Boulevard like with no at-grade cross traffic from Franklin. The intersection could be just right-in/right-out for motor vehicles. Pedestrians could be given a Hawk signal if they wanted to cross Lyndale, with a median refuge island. The purple bar shows this region.

    The downside is making it more difficult to access businesses on Lyndale (e.g. The Wedge Co-op) which are already difficult to access by car.

    But even if there were left-turns allowed, traffic would be much lighter at the intersection.

    Franklin Avenue at Lyndale Avenue looking Westbound (side view)

    The second diagram shows a Side view / cross-section. The idea here is not the particular architecture or building heights, but to illustrate that just because there is a 2 lane overpass, the underside of the bridge can have a pedestrian serving business (that is no more than 26 feet wide). (This need not be a cafe, but in every urban rendering I have ever seen, there are cafes, so there must be a reason).

    Previous posts have discussed the underside of bridges before (1) (2). We don’t do this well here, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be done well.

    Most intersections are not situated such that 3-dimensions is such a natural solution, but there are some, and we should consider the possibilities.

    Full disclosure: I don’t live very near there, and only use the intersection occasionally as a motorist. 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

    Sunday Sketch – Honoring Saint Paul Legend Leroy Neiman

    Streets.MN - Sun, 09/14/2014 - 9:42pm

    When I was a kid, I watched the Olympics on television and they had this artist with a big mustache painting a big canvas. That painter was Saint Paul native Leroy Neiman. Whenever there was a dull moment or a break in the action, the announcer would ask, “What’s Leroy Neiman up to?” and the cameraman would pan to the painter daubing the canvas with bright pigments. Somehow, Neiman was able to finish the painting just as the games ended. It was real performance art. Here’s a YouTube video showing Neiman painting. Here’s another one.

    Leroy Neiman grew up poor during the Great Depression in Saint Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood. After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, Nieman studied art at the Saint Paul School of Art. Neiman studied painting with Minnesota landscape artist Clement Haupers. Neiman left Minnesota to study art in Chicago and met Hugh Hefner, who was just beginning to publish Playboy. Hugh Hefner wanted an artist who would visualize the jet-set–bachelor-playboy lifestyle and Neiman fit the bill. Neiman sketched in crowded bars, nightclubs, casinos, boxing arenas and racetracks and turned those sketches into vibrant, action-packed paintings.

    Neiman lived the good life, hobnobbed with politicians, celebrities and sports legends. Neiman’s paintings and prints sold well and he raked in the dough. He had a posh apartment in Manhattan and travelled the world in style. But, there was one thing that Neiman could not obtain in his lifetime – respect in his hometown.

    Leroy Neiman planned to donate millions of dollars worth of art to a proposed museum in the Jemne Building on Kellogg Avenue when Pioneer Press columnist Katherine Lampher penned a nasty condemnation of Neiman’s artwork. Lampher declared Neiman’s art “stinks” and compared it to Precious Moments figurines and ceramic villages of Little Dickensian houses.” The museum never happened and Neiman remained bitter all his life. He wrote about the column in his autobiography, calling it a “savage, insulting attack on my character and work. I feel like I was mugged … in my old home town.” What a terrible way to treat a local legend! I would hate to see Lampher have the last word on Neiman’s legacy in Saint Paul.

    I can think of a few ways to honor Leroy Neiman. My first idea is a sketch-out in honor of Leroy Neiman. A sketch-out is a social event where artists of all abilities gather to sketch. The ideal place for the annual Leroy Neiman Sketch-out is the new ball park under construction in Lowertown. Neiman sketched and painted baseball and Lowertown is an artist community. It would be way awesome to invite artists and baseball fans to sketch the Saint Paul Saints. It would be even more fun if the sketchers wore paper versions of the trademark Leroy Neiman mustache. It would also be awesome if the event raised money to fund a program to benefit the kids in Neiman’s old neighborhood in Frogtown. Maybe a portion of the proceeds could support art programs in the schools.

    Roberta and I had a lot of fun sketching the Saint Paul Saints at Midway Stadium this summer. Here are our sketches (click to make the sketches bigger):

    The new ballpark and its fun spirit is taking shape in Lowertown – a sketch I did last week:

    Another way to honor Leroy Neiman is to create a museum for commercial art in the still-vacant Jemne Building. The Twin Cities has a bunch of art museums, but they all look down their noses at commercial art. Minnesota has been home to many great commercial artists and many more have toiled for companies like Brown and Bigelow. A museum would go a long way to remove the outdated stigma that commercial art is somehow inferior to “fine art”.

    Here are some quick sketches I did this week of the two Frogtown homes the young Leroy Neiman lived in and the Jemne Building – click on the sketches to make them bigger:

    NOTE: I will be taking a break from posting Sunday Sketch to finish some projects. I have also been distracted recently by a defamation lawsuit in which I’ve been named a defendant. I’ll be back when it is all sorted out. 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

    Sunday Summary – September 14, 2014

    Streets.MN - Sun, 09/14/2014 - 6:41am

    The first frosty Fall morning has dawned (at least in Northfield, MN) and we are walking more briskly, putting on our gloves at the bus stop, scraping our windshield and feeling renewed energy with the new (school) year. writers got to work, too and here’s what we posted this week:

    Quick Looks and Listens: Two charts this week on VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) Chart of the Day: Future VMT Scenarios and Chart of the Day: Per capita VMT (commercial trucks vs. personal vehicles). Plus Saturday Photo – Fair and Balanced.  Transpo Convo: George at the Bus Stop (read earlier Convo’s with Bill and Mohamed, too) continues the conversations with transit riders many of us might not have a chance to hear otherwise.  Charles, Churches, and Culture – Part 2 (Part 1 is here) takes us for a ride in St Paul and shows us lively places like the Hmong Market.

    Bikes, pedestrians and skateboards: We haven’t had much skateboard coverage here on, but the shortish (8 minute) video Rollin’ With Davis Torgerson – Minneapolis, Minnesota Skateboarding helps fix this lack. Build It Properly For Isabella showcases a new People for Bikes Green Lane project campaign advocating for building bike infrastructure which works for 12-year old Isabella (see also 8-80 Cities for more thinking like this).  Bicycle Infrastructure: Minneapolis vs. Saint Paul compares the two and the political and community factors at work.

    Transportation efficiency:  Commenters flocked to these posts this week.  The Case For Quarter Mile Bus Stop Spacing considers bus stop spacing and efficiency with many comments considering specific routes in the Twin Cities as well as the larger policy. 17 Minutes, One Red Light Second At A Time thinks about how to reduce the amount of time waiting for the light to change from roundabouts to signal cycle timing; commenters weigh in on some of the strategies, especially roundabouts. How About a People Mover at the Mall of America? to link the expanded mall, IKEA and a better transit station; commenters are generally skeptical about the people mover, but there’s some good discussion about transit to/from the mall.

    Policy discussions: Why did the New Markets Tax Credit Disappear? explains the now-expired tax credit program which incentivized investing in low-income communities and considers what could happen in the future. The Political Implications of Minneapolis Population Growth is a good primer on electoral math at the local level (plus maps!) which reminds us how representation depends on where we draw the lines, but also where we draw the lines shifts with population.

    Minneapolis: Dreaming of Hennepin/Lyndale is less about dreams than reality; Hennepin County voted on improvements to the Hennepin/Lyndale bottleneck which get a favorable (if not dreamy) review. The Hennepin/Lyndale bottleneck (or commons) has had much attention on; some earlier posts are here.  The Political Implications of Minneapolis Population Growth is a good primer on electoral math at the local level (plus maps!) with implications far beyond Minneapolis.

    St. Paul: 2014 St. Paul Street Repairs — An Opportunity For Complete Streets takes the opportunity created by St. Paul’s decision to add $2.5 million to the streets budget for repaving the “Terrible Twenty” to advocate for a larger vision: fixing streets is the chance to implement the Complete Streets policy and improve streets for more than cars ( ran a series earlier this year on implementing and institutionalizing Complete Streets policies; here’s part 1). Charles, Churches, and Culture – Part 2 (Part 1 is here) bicycles a bit of St. Paul.

    Comparing Minneapolis and St. Paul: Minneapolis is ahead now, but this could change.  Bicycle Infrastructure: Minneapolis vs. Saint Paul reviews Minneapolis’ cycling successes and the political and cultural factors involved while advocating for change in St. Paul by building the team needed to improve cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, education and enforcement (meetings are required).

    There’s one more Sunday Summary before the autumnal equinox and then Rosh Hashanah, but we think it’s Fall and the new year.  Time to get back to work building and enjoying great streets!




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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Saturday Photo – Fair and Balanced

    Streets.MN - Sat, 09/13/2014 - 11:00am

    Last month I posted a selection of photos from a road trip I’d been on throughout much of the U.S.A.  Under the post, one commenter wrote that there was “plenty of good to go with the bad.” Later in the Sunday Summary, the post was described as a “highly selective and equally negative view of land use in the US.”

    Of course both statements are true. They also both imply that selectivity undermines my implicit argument in the post – that recent human intervention has reduced the aesthetic value of places. After all, I was only showing one bajillionth of the country, and plus I took all the photos myself using a process of conscious selection (like almost all photographers before me). My agenda was all too clear, and the evidence I brought to bear flawed and inadequate.

    This made me ask myself, “what would it look like if I weren’t selective?” I decided to try and find out.  I used this random geographic point generator to generate 10 random points within the City of Minneapolis. It helped that the city is basically a rectangle, so inputing its farthest East, West, North and South boundaries didn’t result in any points outside city limits, although it potentially could. Then I dropped down into streetview and took a screenshot of each one.


    How does Minneapolis fare under the less withering eye of random selection? Eh, still pretty bad. But better than if I were biking around it in the dead of winter in a bad mood with a camera. 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

    Saturday Event: “Human Scale” at Piazza on the Mall

    Streets.MN - Fri, 09/12/2014 - 4:20pm readers are encouraged to join the Strong Towns National Gathering’s outdoor movie screening of “Human Scale” at the Piazza on the Mall. Here’s the trailer:

    It’s tomorrow, Saturday, Sept. 13 at 8:30 PM. Make sure to bring a coat! Get more information here.

  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