29.6.15

Reading the Highland Villager #133

[Villagers wait for customers to park on Cleveland Avenue.]
[Basically the problem is that the best source of Saint Paul streets & sidewalks news is the Highland Villager, a very fine and historical newspaper. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. You basically have to live in or frequent Saint Paul to read it. That's why I'm reading the Highland Villager. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free.] 


Headline: Council postpones vote on Cleveland Avenue bike lane; Tolbert pushes for a plan that preserves business parking
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: [In yet another new chapter in the Russian novel that is building bike infrastructure in Highland] an article on the recent City Council hearing about bike lanes through the heart of Highland Village [which I blogged about here rather passionately just the other day]. After a packed public hearing, the Council voted to delay action on deciding about the issue, pending less hostile discussions between parties down the road [sic]. Article includes [fairly well balanced] quotes from both the bicycle enthusiasts and the parking enthusiasts [By the way, "parking enthusiasts" is a strange concept; the Villager typically uses the "concerned residents" euphemism.] Quote from local bicyclist: "It upsets me that Chris Tolbert is willing to make this street more dangerous." Quote from local driver [and University of Saint Thomas spokesperson???]: "I don't know how you get trucks and buses and bikes down Cleveland at the same time." [Does St Thomas have a math department? History professors? Experts in logic? I'm sure they can figure that one out. Particularly given how much energy Saint Thomas spends trying to minimize neighborhood impacts from their campus, of which parked cars are second only to drunken sophomoric bros, you'd think they'd be more understanding when it comes to accommodating and encouraging bicycling.]


Headline: Views sought on modes of transit, viable routes for River Corridor
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Someone is going to build something non-car-oriented along the West 7th / Riverview corridor, likely soon-ish, but nobody knows what. Feel free to comment. Probably. Article includes useless map. Commuter rail has been ruled out because there is no railroad there. [Good decision!]


Headline: Randolph shop is struggling with disruptions of street work; Loyal customers still make the trek to J&S Bean, but drive-by business is down
Author: Boraan Abdulkarim [A new Villager writer? Seemingly non-white? Huzzah!]

Short short version: The road in front of the coffee shop is torn up for construction and people can't drive their cars there. People still walk there though. Best quote: "We've seen people walk across Randolph and lose their shoes in the mud." [One lesson of all this might be that catering to customers on foot or bike is a good way to increase customer loyalty.]


Headline: Downtown bike loop gaining ground; New St. Peter Street alignment is proving to be more popular
Author: Kevin Driscoll

Short short version: The city is planning (and has already funded part of) a [so-called] "bike loop" that will run through downtown Saint Paul and connect [disconnected] bike routes that all stop short. Saint Peter is the new Wabasha [which was derailed by trolls]. Quote from consultant: "St. Peter's traffic pattern is much quieter, and therefore safer and more comfortable than Wabasha's." [Well, OK.] Article includes quote from Chamber of Commerce spokesperson about how people should [relax about] study parking and test things out before building permanent routes. [I'm of mixed feeling on this topic: see "limits of pop-up urbanism." Temporary tests are great unless you just build something half-assed that pisses everyone off and pleases nobody.] Article quotes three business owners from St. Peter Street, [that in a minor miracle] none of whom say anything particularly ridiculous. [Maybe Kevin Driscoll asks questions differently than other Villager reporters?]


Headline: St. Paul restaurants, residents seek easing of liquor restrictions
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Restaurants would like to loosen the "food-to-alcohol" ratios which restrict them. Quote from owner of restaurant: "I would love to able to serve a real Bloody Mary at the Highland Grill." [First they come for our parking spaces, then they come for or liquor restrcitions. Next thing you know, Highland Village is Frank Miller's Hell's Kitchen.] Saint Paul limits the number of full liquor licenses according to Ward [I did not know this!]: "26 in Ward 1, 41 in Ward 2, 7 in Ward 3 [OMG!], 16 in Ward 4, 18 in Ward 5, 26 in Ward 6, and 18 in Ward 7." [The rationale for this formula is quite clear.] Quote from neighborhood group person: "We have at least five restaurant owners in Highland who would jump at the chance for an on-sale liquor license." Exceptions to the liquor licenses limits can exist in special "commercial districts" [which somehow include the area around the former Amtrak station?]. The Restaurant Association would like the "60-40 rule" eliminated. Minneapolis eliminated this rule for their neighborhoods two years ago. [The place seemingly hasn't gone to pot. Fascinating article!]  


Headline:  Cooper's to stay open longer than expected in Sibley Plaza
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A grocery store in a strip mall will close next spring instead of this summer.


Headline: HRA helps Skyline Tower with $12.7M improvement project
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The largest subsidized affordable housing building in the state is getting rehabbed thanks to some help by the city and other government sources.


Headline: Quest to keep Getten Credit in St. Paul hits another roadblock
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A "consumer lending company" is still struggling to find a place to relocate after it got displaced by a new bank. Zoning limits where they can go.


Headline: Kowalski's to purchase land for expansion of Grand market
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The grocery store on Grand Avenue is getting bigger thanks to the purchase of a "city-owned right of way." [What magic strip of land is this?] The plans call for "an off-sale wine shop and a coffee house." [There goes the neighborhood.]


Headline: CIB committee frees up money for additional local projects
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The citizen committee that prioritizes every project in the city found more money for more things by giving less large sums to fewer things and more small sums to more things. New projects to be funded [tentatively, pending the mayor] include a community center, lighting for Cleveland Avenue, a circus school expansion, and a bike trail [see below].


Headline: I-35E trail among those added to list
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A [strange] bike trail by the freeway sound wall will be made nicer, probably: "resurfacing, signage, lighting, and new crosswalks." Article includes quote from neighborhood group guy: "There hasn't been a lot done along there for 30 years." [Yup.]


Headline:  Federation hopes more work goes into design of new labor building
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A local neighborhood group didn't like the designs for a new labor and trades building. [Could always be worse: compare to the godawful Teamsters building on University? For some reasons, union and labor-oriented buildings always seem to be completely dominated by parking lots.] Quote from neighbor: "It seems like a really utilitarian building." Article claims that "labor officials said significant off-street parking will be needed because of the many events that will be hosted at the building." [Saint Paul, a great place for a parking lot. Home of the National Federation of Street Pavers and Parking Attendants Local #FreeParking. Even the Amalgamated Transit Workers Union HQ has a huge parking lot, from what I have heard.]


Headline: Debate continues over proposal for liquor store at Midway SuperTarget
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: [See also this blast from the TCSidewalks past.] Target would like to sell booze, but there's already a liquor store just two strip malls over. A debate is raging over how to quantify the distance between strip malls. [How many strip-mall-liquor-store-frequenting angels can park on the head on the head of a pin? If a tortoise throws an empty vodka bottle towards a strip mall, and it travels 1/2 way to the strip mall in one instant, and 1/2 of the rest of way in the next instant, and so on forever, does it ever strike the concrete surface parking lot?]


Headline: Dowling enters phase two of creating extra special playground
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A school in [the tiny part of] Minneapolis [that the Villager ostensibly cares about three times each year] will expand its playground by adding zip lines. [Really?] The school has a long history that includes FDR and special needs children.

22.6.15

Twin City Street Musicians #15

 [Guitarists. Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis.]

 [Guitarist. Stockholm, Sweden.]

 [Drum circle. University Avenue, Saint Paul.]

 [Guitarist. Mears Park, Saint Paul.]

 [Accordionist. Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis.]

 [Trumpeter. Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis.]

[Guitarist. 7th Place Mall, Saint Paul.]

19.6.15

Reading the Highland Villager #132

[Villager stacking up in West Saint Paul.]

[Basically the problem is that the best source of Saint Paul streets & sidewalks news is the Highland Villager, a very fine and historical newspaper. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. You basically have to live in or frequent Saint Paul to read it. That's why I'm reading the Highland Villager. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free.] 


Headline:  Council denies appeal, calls for shorter building on Shepard Road
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A developer wants to build a six-story mixed-use apartment building on the site of an old, smaller office building but neighbors don't like it because they think it's too tall and/or would ruin views from/of the river valley below. The planning commission approved it, but the City Counci over-rued the decision citing height. the Friends of the Mississippi River (FOMR) are mentioned as a key plaintiff in the appeal. [Why is a supposedly environmental group fighting urban density that would help prevent sprawl?] Quote from FOMR head: "The variance would alter the essential character of the surrounding area." [Note: any time someone starts taking about "essential character" of something, you should get really skeptical. It doesn't even matter what it is, essentialism is troubling. Ask the Dakota people what they think about the essential character of the river.] Another quote from a National Park Service site who says "the projct would have major impacts on the river area, while giving the neighborhood little in return." [I really don't understand this logic at all. Density in Saint Paul, along a key transit corridor, is really good for reducing our impact on the surrounding land, and reducing dependence on fossil fuels. Saint Paul is a city.] The developer is going back to the drawing board. The building is the first of a multi-part development on the site.


Headline: Commission OKs new rules on size, design of homes; Most of the rules would apply only in Highland and Mac-Grove for now
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Planning Commission [of which I am a member] approved new rules for "teardowns" and additions that would shift [slightly] what developers can do, but only in the city's 3rd Ward [i.e. where almost all of the wealthier people in the city live]. The commission approved an amendment that reduced heights even further than city staff recommended. A lot of people are pissed about "teardowns." [I don't think this proposal will stop teardowns, and won't likely solve the probem except around the very extremes. The root of the issue is changing tastes, private property, and the real estate market.] One big debate was over whether or not to apply rules city-wide or just in Ward 3. [Some commissioners don't want to begin creating different ruels for different neighborhoods, and have (IMO very valid) concerns about a slippery slope that would fracture the city's otherwise relatively straightforward zoning code along class and geography lines.]



Headline: Union Park, city come to terms over cell tower funds
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city is going to pay the neighborhood group $50K out of a fund from cell phone tower fees because of previous negotiations.


Headline:  Hundreds of comments collected on Ford site traffic plan; City eyeing infrastructure on Ford site that lessens the dependency on cars
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There was a big public meeting at the site of an old car plant in Highland Park to talk about how to not drive all the time. People are concerned about traffic and parking. [Reminds me of the famous Onion headline: "Report: 99% of US commuters favor transit for others."] The redevelopment is "expected to have a profound effect" on traffic and parking. Some ideas floated: making the river road one-way, with bike lanes; reducing speeds on Cretin and/or Montreal, no big-box stores; roundabouts and/or chicanes [I bet folks had to look that up]; and paying for parking. [Dear lord, a parking meter in Highland? That'll be the day!] Best quote from a city planner: "We could build a ton of parking, and people would be delighted." [Bet you a beer that's what ends up happening.]


Headline: Options narrowed for intersection of Hwy. 5-Shepard Road; Study seeks bets way to direct traffic off West 7th
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city is studying whether or not to try to improve traffic flow where the highway from the airport runs into West 7th Street and Shepard Road [right next to where the aforementioned development is located]. The goal is to divert more traffic onto the under-utilized Shepard Road and off the over-utilized and pedestrian-heavy West 7th Street. [It's impossible and dangerous to cross the street there, and there are also many transit riders, poor people, and/or people of color who live along there.] There is a consultant on board. The solution, if any is chosen, will likely involved "curved streets" diverting eastbound traffic. "Traffic calming benefits vary," according to a city engineer.


Headline: Rising cost of street work may waylay [good word!] some St. Paul projects; Bids are coming in much higher than anticipated
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: It turns out roads are expensive.


Headline: Hopeful continue to push for CIB funds; some say it's unfair to pit playgrounds against public safety
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Article on "the process" [see my recent pieces on it]. The city is funding some rec centers, police, fire, and bridge projects [and now also many bike/walk improvements, at least so far].


Headline: New police, fire stations to city's requests
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: [See also.]


Headline: St. Paul OKs Sunday growler sales; restaurants also may begin selling liquor at 8 a. m. on Sundays
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: [You can stop driving to Wisconsin, going to church.] CM Thune was the one vote against the ordinance, saying "this just opens the door for those who want Sunday off-sale in Minnesota."

16.6.15

In Saint Paul, Bikes Lanes are the New Smoking Ban


[Nice Rides are only as useful as the lanes that connect them.]
There’s a sometimes harshly worded debate going on right now in Saint Paul over the future design of Cleveland Avenue, whether or not it should have bike lanes and/or on-street parking. (The exact design depends on where you’re talking about.)

You can read some of the comments on the discussion, taking place on Open Saint Paul, on streets.mn, on this blog, and in the newspapers, emails, and voicemails of Saint Paul’s elected leaders.

Here are a few representative samples that capture, I think, the heart of the issue, i.e. how moving parking spaces will hurt business versus how creating safer streets will improve access for bicycles.

Try this one, from an article on streets.mn:
The fact that business owners are losing their minds over this is disappointing but not unexpected. Small proprietors operate on shoestring budgets usually, so any change is perceived to be potentially catastrophic. It’s not a rational response, but an understandable one.

[...]  As a dad who carts his kids around sometimes by bike, but sometimes by SUV…I’m just so annoyed by the trite “think of the mom in the van” garbage.

Or this one, from a different article on streets.mn:
The owners of the building/barber shop/other stores clearly CLEARLY perceive the lose of parking as a threat to there business. If the bikes lanes were a boon to their business, they would feel the opposite no?

But the more the argument goes on, and the more histrionic it becomes, the more I’m reminded of the 2006 rhetoric surrounding the city’s smoking ban, which disallowed smoking in bars throughout the city. At the time, many small business owners (primarily bar owners) claimed that the smoking ban would kill their business. Despite the pressure, the City Council (led by CM Thune) insisted that the effects of second-hand smoke outweighed the potential economic impacts on some businesses. It was the right thing to do.

[Richard Jackson, the guy who wrote the book on public health and urban design, speaking in St. Paul a month ago.]



Cars are the New Tobacco

[Not just a metaphor.]

Just like Saint Paul is a healthier city without smoky bars, it will be a healthier city with bike-friendly streets. And what’s more, unlike the Nazi analogy, this comparison isn’t an exaggeration.

Here’s some of what I wrote on the subject back in 2013:
Now that smoking rates have declined, the new #1 public health risk in the US and UK is the automobile. [...]
But let's keep the metaphor going. If cars are the new tobacco, what would be a public health solution for the deadly automobile? What if we treated cars like we did cigarettes? What if we used all our anti-smoking tools and waged a public health campaign against cars? [...]
We would acknowledge the harms of second-hand cars. Just like with smoking, cars don't just harm those who use them. Even people who choose not to use cars, who kick their car-dependency, are forced to deal with 'second-hand cars' as they try to walk or bike around the city. Eventually, our society would recognize these harms, would try to come up with rules for limiting the danger of second-hand cars.

Last month, city leaders gathered to celebrate the idea of using urban design to solve a very real public health crisis that finds America in general, and Saint Paul in particular, suffering from a whole string of health problems. Tobacco use is no longer the #1 public problem we face as a society; lack of physical activity has taken its place as a driver [sic] of long-term health problems.

At the time, the solutions garnered headlines. But as I wrote at the end of in my piece on Minnpost, "talking about a healthy city is certainly nice, but the true test will come when road construction begins this summer."

Well, now’s when the rubber meets the road. And so far, it doesn't look good.

[The circled statement is just plain wrong.]

Seeing the Big Picture

[This guy would really like to light one up.]

I’m sure the smoking ban did hurt some businesses in Saint Paul. The giant cigarette mural on the outside wall of Costello’s Bar (one of the most vocal opponents of the ban) has been replaced by a (socially inferior, in my opinion) quasi-chain burger joint from Edina. And to this day, Mayor Coleman is not allowed inside the Gopher Bar (if he ever was), which clings on for dear life serving the city’s best coney dogs in a changing corner of downtown.

But sometimes moral issues should outweigh unknown economic impacts, and implementing the city-wide bike plan is the clearest way to actually achieve the goals that city leaders set out during their gala dinner last month.

Looking back at the smoking ban issue, it’s hard today to find people who don’t see Saint Paul as a better place now that smoking has been banished to sidewalks, alleys, and occasional patios. If we implement the bike plan, starting with Highland Park’s main street, years from now I’m confident that the vast majority of people in Saint Paul will look back and wonder what the fuss was all about. We’ll be living in a city that made it easier to get active when we’re young, stay active in our old age, and get around without exacerbating our already-stressed roads and parking lots.

I understand the reluctance of business owners to take risks. Our city's small businesses struggle to make a living in a country where the game is rigged in favor of chains and corporations. But it shouldn’t be too much to ask that businesses work to help bring a healthy city to life. And just as our leaders boldly did the right thing back in 2006, they should prioritize the big picture here too.

I'm sure that no Saint Paul City Council Member wants to take the kind of abuse that CM Thune received ten years ago. But I'm also sure that if you asked him today, he'd say that he did the right thing. And he'd make the same decision every time.

The smoking ban didn't kill small business in Saint Paul. On the contrary, bars, restaurants, and nightlife are thriving, and almost everyone is better off. Implementing the bike plan is exactly the same kind of issue, a moral question where putting health and safety first is the right thing to do.

[Three Saint Paul smoking ban protests: from Mike's Bar, Costello's Bar, and the Gopher Bar.]


Update:

Oh, I almost forgot. The public hearing is tomorrow!
As the first proposed projects since the passage of the Bike Plan, it’s important that these projects succeed. For Cleveland and Front specifically, there has been a lot of concern raised about the loss of parking. Even if you don’t live in these neighborhoods, elected officials need to hear from you.

Lexington, Cleveland, Front Public Hearing
Wednesday, June 17 at 5:30 PM 
City Hall: 15 West Kellogg Blvd, 3rd Floor Council Chambers

Learn more!
Lexington: http://stpaul.gov/index.aspx?NID=5691
Cleveland: http://stpaul.gov/index.aspx?NID=5690
Front: http://stpaul.gov/index.aspx?NID=5692




12.6.15

Saint Paul's Final Capital Budget Recommendations Chock Full of Sidewalks and Bike Lanes


[The CIB public hearing. Img. Rebecca Airmet.]
Last week I wrote about the city's CIB process in Minnpost, calling it a "budgetary sausage factory" where:

People who have experienced the process tend to have one of two reactions: either they’re mystified and frustrated, or they optimistically grit their teeth. After all, a lot of good ideas emerge, and some of them even get money.

At the time, the mayoral-appointed CIB committee rankings were dominated by three big-ticket projects: a community rec center in Frogtown, a fire station, and a police shooting range.

To many people with grassroots low-cost, high-value projects, competing with big city departments  seemed unfair.

Here's what one East Side participant said:

“You have all volunteers, nominated by their neighborhood, going in and competing against people who are professionals, who are paid to be there, and have the weight of the city behind them,” [Dan] Chouma told me.
That’s how you end up with a committee choosing among a park, a crosswalk, a fire station, and a city-owned bridge that might be falling down. Both Chouma and [Jim] Ivey would like to see the city department budgets separated from the community projects, so that the process didn’t pit police facilities against rec centers, and bike lanes against street trees.

[The preliminary CIB rankings.]

Since then, all of those projects have been cut back quite a bit, freeing up all kinds of money for bottom-up community projects like sidewalk improvements, bike lanes, and tree guards, and lots of other things I mentioned in my article.

Here is the new list, with streetscape and street design improvements highlighted:

[Final CIB Committee rankings.]


Great to see! Hopefully the mayor's office doesn't throw out all the good choices here. As usual in Saint Paul, the mayor gets the final say.

[You know, for kids!]