Reading the Highland Villager #156

[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. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free. See also: Three Reasons Why I Re-Blog the Highland Villager.]  

Headline: Plans for soccer stadium, Midway center redesign coming to a head
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There will be a public hearing on the soccer stadium at the Planning Commission on June 10th. [I can’t wait. I will listen attentively.] Draft plans have changed many times so far [and will change again]. Some people worry that there is not time to review the changing plans. Neighborhood groups are deciding what to do. Different agencies are involved including MnDOT. The stadium will be done by 2018, but the timing of the other parts of the redevelopment are much more uncertain. Article quotes city staffer: “We can’t make somebody build something.”  Neighbor quoted saying "What happens if all we get is a stadium?” [This is precisely my concern too. The recent early renderings with short term parking lots everywhere are not encouraging on that front. Surprisingly though, this article does not mention parking EVEN ONCE. The word does not appear. That is pretty much unprecedented unprecedented for a Highland Villager story.]

Headline: Commission supports liquor license for West 7th theater
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: An old theater being remodeled may be allowed to sell booze. Neighbors are concerned about parking and “patron problems.” [Patron problems… as if West 7th Street does not have bars?]  “There are no available liquor licenses in Ward 2 outside of downtown,” which means that the area will require a special district designation. The theater received a 12-space variance from minimum parking requirements. [Minimum parking requirements are based on extremely inexact science.]  Former CM Thune is concerned about parking. Article includes reference to an historic “blade-style” sign. [Blade style! West 7th parking knife fight.]

Headline: If transit fits: Riverview options emerge [Is this headline an O.J. Simpson/Johnny Cochrane reference?] 
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Planning for a possible rail transit project along West 7th and/or the old abandoned railroad right-of-way are still happening. There were walking tours. The rights-of-way are “narrower than University Avenue.” [Of course, the CP ROW is empty, containing zero lanes of traffic or parking.] There might or might not be dedicated lanes. [The more I imagine streetcars in traffic the more I imagine them being stuck during rush hour. Though, buses are also stuck in traffic during rush hour, so maybe it’s a wash, at least if you’re taking dedicated ROW off the table, as the neighborhood leaders seem to want to do. Still the CP spur could have higher speeds than any route that went on West 7th itself, which would greatly improve overall transit dynamics.] Neighbors are concerned about parking and “proximity.” Article quotes guy from neighborhood group saying that 10’ lanes are narrow. [Even though that is what currently exists.] Article mentions streetcars, but these do not qualify for regional transit funds for some reason. [Even though they are functionally the same as LRT. There is a great deal of “grey area” between an LRT and a streetcar, in fact.]

Headline: Council allows use of Summit Hill triplex
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A building that might or might not have been a triplex in the past can be a triplex in the future thanks to a City Council vote that over-rode the Planning Commission.

Headline: New task force works out final plan for Linwood-Monroe A+
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: An arts school will expand. Neighbors were concerned about losing “open space” [private land owned by the school that people next door had been using as a park even though it wasn’t one]. There will still be more meetings about the issue. The school needs to expand because it is crowded [and kids learn in schools, that whole “education” thing]. One issue is how large the playground will be.

Headline: Expansions are also in store for Adams, Mann, Highland Park
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: More schools are going to be renovated and/or expanded in the future. [Let’s hope that anti-school renovation NIMBY neighbors aren’t next to these schools too!] Two of them will have “expanded parking areas.” [Because if there’s one thing that helps kids learn, it’s parking lots.] Neighbors are concerned about the loss of open space, traffic, parking, and pedestrian safety.

Headline: New facility for city’s homeless reaches fundraising milestone
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The homeless shelter downtown is raising money to pay for its expansion. It’s currently overcrowded. [So nobody is worried about the loss of open space here? PS the legislature not passing a bonding bill affects this because there was state money for this shelter in the Governor’s proposal.] 

Headline: City Council to hear appeal on proposed Grand condos
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Council will vote on whether or not to approve an 8-unit building on a [now-vacant] site on Grand Avenue [between two very similarly-sized more units but with less parking historic buildings on Grand Avenue]. The building requires setback variances. Neighbors are concerned about traffic, parking, “intruding on privacy” and size.

Headline: Otto Avenue’s speed limit reduced from 35 to 30 mph
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The speed limit on a street will go down. [Why the heck was it ever 35 mph in the first place?] Neighbors are concerned about speeding. [As they should be!] Apparently MnDOT is to blame. The street now has a bike path.

Headline: TJL Development purchases newly vacant Grand Ave. lot
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The space where old an dilapidated building had formerly been has been purchased by a developer. Likely something resembling mixed-use apartments will be built there. [Imma guess that neighbors will be concerned about traffic and parking, though you never know.]

Headline: Save Our Neighborhoods gets Heritage Preservation Award
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A grassroots group that tried to stop home teardowns and homes “that are viewed as out of character” received an award from a preservation group.

Headline: Cossetta event center, 175 housing units planned for Chestnut Street
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A pizza place and Italian market [with a famous crazy parking lot and an owner that received an exemption from the city’s living wage law because he didn’t want to pay his employees what everyone else has to pay their employees] is expanding by making an events center. Meanwhile a parking lot will be replaced by six-story apartments and a parking ramp. There are no height limits, and the design might be “contemporary.” Article quotes guy from neighborhood group concerned about the building being too tall. [Really? Isn’t it directly next to a much larger building under construction?]


You might remember the misleading anti-bike-lane advertisement placed in the Highland Villager some weeks ago? I blogged about it. At any rate, the ad's author is still at it, this time with some highly remarkable artwork. Here you go:

And a close-up of the cartoon:


Signs of the Times #115

Ox Cart Ale House Seating Only
Please see hostess for ass stance.

[Table. Lowertown, Saint Paul.]

 Do Not Smoke in Frotn of Elevator
Smoke seeps Through to other side.

[picture of cigarette]

[Elevator door. Lowertown, Saint Paul.]

 Lost TorToise
Soft Ball sized

Does Not


[Pole. West Side, Saint Paul. See also this story on this sign and the tortoise, named Rock n. Roll.]

[Wharf. Harriet Island, Saint Paul.]

 Apr 16, 1965
Flood Crest

Flood Crest Apr. 30, 2001

Flood Crest June 29, 2014

 [Gate. Harriet Island, Saint Paul.]


[Boulevard. West Side, Saint Paul.]



[Chalk board. Downtown, Saint Paul.]


[Porch Pole. West Side, Saint Paul.]


Another Predictable Tragedy in a Maryland Avenue Crosswalk

[The scene of the crime completely predictable incident.]
Another predictable tragedy happened today in Saint Paul, as a woman was hit by a driver trying to cross the street. She's in critical condition at Regions Hospital.

Here’s the Star Tribune story on the crash, which occurred at 8:10 AM:

A motorist in a vehicle "larger than an SUV" stopped in the right-hand lane of westbound Maryland and waved for the woman to the driver's right to enter the crosswalk and on Greenbrier and continue walking south.

Once the woman was in the street, a compact car came along in the left lane of westbound Maryland — where there is no stop sign or signal light to obey — and hit the woman.

"She goes flying through the air and hits the pavement," Linders said.

Everyday in Saint Paul there are a dozen moments like this. Most of the time, they end in a near-miss, a small bruise, someone jumping out of the way, or a squeal of the brakes as a car screeches to a halt.

But then every once in a while, someone swerves and doesn’t slow down. And then it’s deadly.

I can probably recite each one of these Saint Paul stories, where people crossing the street are killed by drivers. It’s endemic to the way we design our streets, as predictable and straightforward as one billiard ball hitting another.

[Crashes cluster around the County and State roads.]

Maryland and Greenbrier

This one, though, is a particular tragedy. After years worth of work by Saint Paul’s under appreciated street safety advocates, along with help from a grant and a local non-profit, Saint Paul is in the midst of the largest pedestrian safety campaign in city history. All through the year, police and community members are teaming up raise awareness of the city’s crosswalk laws by conducting stings

A few weeks ago, I did a story on the campaign for Minnpost, going out to the East Side to hang out, watch the pedestrian safety sting, talk to the police, talk to neighborhood advocates, and see what the campaign was all about.

[Crash occurred in the background of this photo.]
The scene was pretty impressive:
This year, things are different because Stop For Me, an offshoot of the nonprofit Saint Paul Smart Trips, is launching a yearlong campaign, spread all throughout the city, to take another stab at changing the culture around the city's crosswalk law.

Partnering with neighborhood groups, the campaign is holding 32 two-hour crosswalk enforcement sessions in different neighborhoods, where police and safety-conscious neighbors set up stings at particularly difficult corners. According to Kyle Mianulli, the program’s organizer, in one week there have been five events, 529 traffic stops and 129 tickets handed out to St. Paul drivers. Each ticket runs $168. Here is a report [PDF] on the kickoff events on March 17.

Sgt. Jeremy Ellison is the lead liaison for the program from the St. Paul Police Department. According to Ellison, during any event about five police officers, together with a dozen crosswalk advocates, set up operation. Every five or 10 minutes during rush hour an unmarked cop car waits on a side street by a difficult crosswalk ready to pounce. A group of two or three people, some wearing high-visibility vests, approach the street, wave their hands, and step out into the crosswalk. To help with precise legal matters, the police place orange traffic cones exactly 193’ feet from the crosswalk.

And then last week the campaign came to the very corner where I live on the West Side, and so I volunteered at one of the sting events myself. It was pretty cool to see the operation in my own front yard, and I was mostly pleased at the enthusiasm for the stings displayed by the neighborhood residents (many of whom were young people watching from the next-door apartment). There were only a few egregious crosswalk offenders, and they all got tickets.

(Especially cathartic was the dude driving the big white Cadillac that sped up to go around the people trying to cross the street. It was some real schadenfredue when he got the $170 ticket.)

[West Side activists last week at a Stop 4 Me event in front of my apartment.]

Concrete Solutions

There’s only one problem. As good as they are, the stings don’t solve the problem. Not by a long shot.

In a moment of tragic irony, today’s crash happened at the exact spot that I featured in my story, the crosswalk at the corner of Greenbrier and Maryland, right next to the school playground in a diverse working-class neighborhood on a busy road on the East Side.

Here’s how I ended my piece on the crosswalk safety campaign:
“The main goal of today’s event is safety. I don’t want anybody to get hit or anybody to get hurt,” Sgt. Ellison told me. "People are slamming on their brakes at the last minute. They’re not looking for pedestrians. They need to increase awareness, pay attention, slow down, put down the distractions, and drive carefully."

As I was leaving the scene of the crosswalk, a group of three people in orange vests had just walked out between the white lines. One car stopped to let them cross the street, but then there was a sudden screech of tires. A taxi — a white minivan — hadn't seen them, and hit the brakes just in time.

As the sun set off in the distance, Sgt. Ellison’s eyes riveted on the cars lining up on Maryland Avenue, fixed in a thousand-yard stare. The last thing anyone wanted was for someone to get hurt.

Apparently, the squeal of tires was a sign of things to come, foreshadowing horror.

The biggest problem that I have with police education and enforcement campaigns is that they have little meaningful impact compared to more concrete solutions, like 4-3 road diets, pedestrian medians, or even (gasp!) speed cameras. These “sleeping policemen work  24/7/365 because they’re concrete and permanent. When compared to the abstract realms of education, “driving culture”, or the ephemeral role of the police in their squad cars, it's like night and day.

It’s not that the crosswalk stings and safety campaign isn’t a good idea, but that without concrete follow-through, they accomplish almost nothing.

[A neighbor tallying offending drivers at the very corner where a woman was hospitalized crossing the street this morning.]

4-Lane Death Roads are Still With Us

I’ve written about this before, and apparently I’ll write about it again. Maryland Avenue, where the crash took place this morning, is a classic example of what I call a 4-lane Death Road™.

In short, these are roads that prioritize speed to the point where they're very dangerous. The design features of the road combine into a recipe for car carnage and deadly crashes. While they’re dangerous for car drivers, as crash rates clearly show, they’re especially dangerous for anyone on a bike or on foot. And what's worse, most of the time, these roads run through working class neighborhoods full of children, places with low rents and older building stock that provide haven to many of our city’s most vulnerable and least-enfranchised citizens.

Here’s what I wrote about back in 2014, back when a kid was killed by a driver while trying to get to school across the four-lanes of Rice Street (emphasis added):
When a decision maker says “we can’t do that because of traffic,” to me they are really saying that they value traffic volumes over safety. To me this is morally indefensible, and is not a choice we should be making as a society.
One rarely stated fact about these four-lane Death Roads™ is that they’re often found in our city’s poorest neighborhoods. For example, the poorest part of Franklin Avenue is the part with the Death Road™ design. The Maryland and White Bear Avenue Death Roads™ go through one of the poorest parts of Saint Paul. The Cedar Avenue Death Road™ goes through the heart of the Little Earth and Somali communities. And on Rice Street, where this crash happened,  the death road section disappears once you get close to the Roseville border (wealthier suburb). 
These patterns are troubling, but they probably point to the political disenfranchisement of particular areas of the city more than any grand conspiracy toward structural racism. These streets shouldn’t be allowed in any parts of our cities where people walk or bike or have homes and businesses. It shouldn’t matter where you are or how much money you have. These streets are dangerous for everyone, and there should be no excuse for them.

That’s as true today as it was then. Today, if you went to a public meeting and suggested doing a 4-3 conversion on any of these streets, someone would inevitably tell you “we can’t do that because of traffic.”

[Almost all County roads in dense urban neighborhoods.]
Currently, almost all of these streets are county arterials (for Hennepin County in Minneapolis, and Ramsey County in Saint Paul).

County public works departments have consistently, continually prioritized “fighting congestion” for people in cars speeding through these neighborhoods over safety and access for people on foot living in these neighborhoods. It’s an upside down system, where the most privileged are placed above the least, where the least vulnerable are given free reign while the most vulnerable are relegated to the margins.

Lately there’s been a push back against the use of the word “accident” in situations like these. Many advocates prefer the term “crash,” because the “a-word” (as it’s known) implies that there’s these kinds of deadly incidents are inevitable and unavoidable.

There’s no better illustration than this morning’s completely predictable tragedy. Every day we let these road designs remain in our city, eroding the safety and quality of life for our most vulnerable citizens, it’s just rolling the dice again. The odds are absolutely stacked in favor of more drivers running over more people crossing the street, and it’s just a matter of time until it happens again.

Education and enforcement campaigns are nice, but the only solution is changing the street. And until our County engineers and officials get on board, this will keep happening, again and again, no matter how many well-meaning signs we hold out along the side of the road.

[The crosswalk from this morning's crash is the one in the background of the photo.]


Noteworthy Dive Bars of Inner Northeast Walking Tour

A follow up to this winter's exploratory merriment, it's time to wander the other half of Northeast, Minneapolis' dive bar promised land. Here we will explore the inner boundaries of the old "liquor patrol limits" that attempted to contain the neighborhood's boozing to its riverine margins.

Here's a bit of history from the last Northeast tour:
And, like the South Minneapolis' division, the Northeast Minneapolis alcoholic landscape has a stark geography. According to the city's "liquor patrol limits," full liquor establishments weren't allowed East of 4th Street or North of 29th Avenue. 

Thus Northeast's dive bars were contained to a small area alongside the riverfront crotch. This was ostensibly because this is the distance that the city's 19th century "liquor patrol" could efficiently walk from their downtown stations. (But everyone knew the restrictions stemmed from moralistic paternalism by city's economic and religious leaders.) That is why the wealth of the city's shrines to old school libation are as concentrated as an Otter Bar rum and coke.

This time we'll be strolling and stumbling straight south along NE 4th Street, where all the dive bars line up light tipsy dominoes along the West side of the street. We will venture South, hugging the interior of the dive district until we reach the train tracks. There we will make an abrupt left, and wend ourselves towards the season streets, an odd pocket of roadway nomenclature: spring, summer, but no winter or fall. Finally, we arrive at the mecca of karaoke, the fabled Vegas Lounge, where the bar for singing is simultaneously both high and low, a Northeast paradox.

What more is there to say? This is a fascinating stretch of living history. No Northern dive bar connoisseur should go without stepping foot on this fascinating stretch of sidewalk. Walk with me and plumb the inner depths of Northeast Minneapolis.

A note on walking

This will be a walking tour. (Bicycles are welcome, of course, and faster, and may proceed at their own leisure.) I will be walking at a relatively brisk pace between the dive destinations, and the total distance covered will be about two (2) miles

[The Knight Cap decorated for Christmastime.]

[The flying flag of Northeast.]
What: Walking tour of five dive bars in Northeast Minneapolis

Who: Anyone. Tips accepted eagerly, either in beer or cash.

When: Thursday, May 26th, departing at 6:30

Where: Northeast Palace, Lowry and 4th

Why: Because it's there

How: Brief historical notes and discussions of each bar will be delivered upon arrival and/or departure. A pause for refreshment, then on to the next.  

[Read about other dive bar tours here: Payne and Arcade, Outer Northeast, The Midway, South Minneapolis, and Old Fort Road.]

Twin City Shop Windows #13

 [Payne Avenue, Saint Paul.]

 [West Side, Saint Paul.]

 [Downtown, Saint Paul.]

 [Warehouse District, Minneapolis.]

[Warehouse District, Minneapolis.]

[Warehouse District, Minneapolis.]

[Plum City, Wisconsin.]