30.5.17

Reading the Highland Villager #182

[Tired, huddled Villager at the feet of a statue of liberty.]
[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: Nine-year effort to create new park in St. Paul’s Midway area nears fruition
Author: Kevin Driscoll

Short short version: An old empty parking lot that used be the pit stop for traveling circuses 80 years ago will probably become a city park soon. People in the neighborhood, especially kids from the next-door high school, are brainstorming what to do with the space. [See my article on this topic from last fall.]  The city owns the land and a non-profit was involved in purchasing it for the yet-unnamed park. [Gordon Parks Park would be fun, but probably won’t happen because it’s confusing.] Article includes history of the years-long community organizing process, quotes from students, East African people who live in the nearby housing tower, and non-profit folks. Quote from one of the East African folks: “This park will mean so much to Skyline residents. Right now to get any real exercise, they have to cross (the ped bridge over 94).”


Headline: Citizen groups debate merits of master plan for Ford site
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Some people think the Ford site is fine. Others think it is too dense. Neighbors are concerned about traffic and parking (NACATAP). Quote from “too dense” guy: “Drive on Cretin Avenue during rush hour. The traffic is bad now. You end up in a caravan.” Quote from “pro” guy: "What’s planned takes care of a lot of different needs in the area.” [Obvi traffic on Cretin is not going away. Transit is a really cool concept to explore for folks concerned about traffic. I have written about this already if you’re curious. It all boils down to the idea that “too much traffic” is a terrible reason to limit development in a city. "Too much traffic" is not one of Saint Paul's important problems.]


Headline: St. Paul JCC lays groundwork for $13M expansion project
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Jewish Community Center in Highland is expanding. [I sang in musicals at the JCC when I was a kid, and took piano lessons there every week for a decade. The used to have a free Frogger arcade game in the basement, which might have subconsciously prepared me for crossing the street in Highland, now that I think about it.]


Headline: St. Paul rinds funds to grind stumps, replace lost ash trees
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The stumps from the trees that were cut down because of a invasive boring bug [#KSPB] will be removed now thanks to [the couch in the Mayor’s office] the City Council finding some “contingency funds.” Quote from CM Bostrom: “Next year’s budget is going to be tough.” [Spoiler: Saint Paul is broke. We really need to expand the tax base.]


Headline: Committee favors plan for duplexes on vacant Merriam Park corner
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A neighborhood group voted in favor of building two duplexes on a vacant lot. They will be right next to the freeway but will have solar panels. They will have a curb cut even though some neighbors don’t like the idea.


Headline: Century-old Holly Ave. house will receive new lease on life
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A guy with an old house got an approval from the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) to renovate part of it.


Headline: St. Paul pedestrian plan moves another stop closer with grant [See what they did there?]
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The City got a $50K grant to work on its pedestrian plan. [I’m gonna guess sidewalks will be involved.]


Headline: St. Paul seeks buyer for former fire station on Randolph Ave.
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There’s an abandoned fire station for sale. It’s from 1885.


Headline: Council lays over rezoning request for St. Clair-Snelling lots; High-density zoning will not be reviewed with the rezoning of Snelling south of I-94
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The City Council voted to “lay over” the decision to re-zone some land along Snelling to TN3 (traditional neighborhood 3) zoning. A developer wants to build a building there where some small strip mall-type buildings were located. There is a study going on to do rezoning to TN-zoning all along Snelling here. Quote from one neighbor: "If we can’t do TN3 zoning along Snelling, then where is it appropriate?” [Minneapolis’ South Lyndale Avenue is maybe a good “comp” for Snelling here. See some of the developments there.] Neighbors are concerned about whether the developer lives in Minnesota and neighborhood character.


Headline: City, county unveil plans for reusing reservoir site in Highland
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The City is getting rid of a “water reservoir” and might put something else in its place like ice rinks or a field. The reservoir is from 1926. There’s probably not much money to do anything expensive.


Headline: MnDOT workshops envision future of I-94
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The state DOT is going a “process” to create “visioning” for the future of the interstate. [Here’s a vision: lots of cars. See also my appearance in the documentary on this topic.]


Headline: Kayak rental service paddles its way to Hidden Falls Park
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: You will be able to rent a kayak at one spot on the Mississippi and travel downriver to another spot on the Mississippi and drop it off. [Actually this is cool! Are there Nice Ride stations nearby also? You could kayak one way and bike the other.] It’s called “Paddle Share.”


Headline: For lack of traffic calming, city downgrades bike boulevard
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The bike boulevard in Mac-Grove is so crappy that it got “demoted” from the City bike map. [What an ignominious end to the epic and politically fraught saga of the Jefferson Avenue Bike Boulevard.] Quote from a guy in the neighborhood group: “Bicyclists will choose designated bikeways over alternative routes based on the assumption that bikeways are safer and have less competition with motor vehicles. This is particularly concerning for families with children and inexperienced bicyclists who aren’t prepared for biking in the same lane as fast-moving motor vehicles. By designating the buys Jefferson Avenue corridor as a bikeway without adding traffic calming measures, we may be encouraging bicyclists to take a more dangerous route.” The neighbors would like traffic calming instead but apparently cannot stand the status quote. [The city could fix this with a $100K diverter median at Hamline by the school there, but I am guessing there is no appetite from CM Tolbert to re-open this can of worms, even on behalf of safety. Given how much effort went into this project, this is depressing. Sad!]

Headline: Pilot Knob joins national historic register
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A sacred Dakota site across the river from the airport is now on the National Register of Historic Places. [People should use its Dakota name, which is “oheyawahi”, meaning “a hill much visited.”]

Headline: Early closing sought for disgusting skyway
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A woman who’s father owns a lot of buildings has become really upset about homeless people in the skyways in the evenings. Others are upset about homeless people also. [Seems to me that hiring security guards might be a solution. But honestly, there is no solution to the public/private problem of skyways.] The owner of the building wants to be able to close their skyway at 8pm but the committee that governs the skyway hours does not want to grant that because then everyone will want to do it [and skyways are a network, many of which, in Saint Paul, were built with public dollars]. [It’s complicated.]


Headline: Back to the basics: Grand Old Day returns June 4 with even more squeezed into one day
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Grand Old Day will be only one day this year. [kmx. (comment added by my cat; not sure what it means.)]

26.5.17

Fight the Angry Flyers: Please Send Maryland Avenue Safety Comments


[Maryland today.]
So far I’m thrilled with the Maryland Avenue “field test” ofa 4-lane to 3-lane design, aka a “road diet.” I believe improving these dangerous streets by tweaking their design (swapping out thru lanes for a turn lane) is the #1 thing that Saint Paul can quickly, cheaply do to improve quality of life. Ramsey County -- quite reluctantly -- has striped a three-lane section of the street for a mile between Johnson and Greenbrier. 

And it looks surprisingly good! There's even a pedestrian median refuge at Greenbrier by the park, where Elizabeth Durham was killed. Just yesterday, some East Side folks from did another "stop for me" event there and it was a night-and-day difference from the first time they tried it. These changes will avoid hundreds of crashes and will quite literally save lives.

[Maryland and Greenbrier. Compare to the before picture below.]
And yet, not everyone is going to like the change. This week, an angry East Side man has started a single-handed leaflet-based "public enragement" campaign to save the deadly 4-lane design. He's even using Craigslist to hire folks at $10/hour to hand these fliers out at Maryland Avenue intersections for a few hours a day. (Honestly, I was thinking about applying. I could use the money. I could chant “Save the Death Road!” or “Honk if You Love Fatalities!” as I handed them out.)

Worse yet, the flier lists my phone number along with those of the local neighborhood group and Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. There was the bitter City Council candidate going up and down Front Avenue with misleading fliers about a proposed bike lane, working people up. There was the whole epic saga of Cleveland Avenue, which ended in an embarrassing, expensive, and misleading anti-bike lane advertisement.

And this, the latest backlash against creating a walkable city. Check out the Maryland flier:

[Honestly, if there's one thing in this town that I would like to have my name on (other than the bathroom wall at the Gopher Bar, of course), it’s an arterial road diet on the East Side. Sidewalk philosopher… guilty as charged!]
To be honest, there’s not much I can complain about. The writer – a “very angry man” on crutches, as described by those who have met him – inadvertently hits on some truths here. 

But he gets his point in large print backwards. The goal of the design change is not to remove cars, but to slow them down and reduce dangerous passing behavior. The goal is to stop the often-fatal "whip-around" that has claimed lives

[Maryland and Greenbrier a year ago.]
In response to the flyer campaign, the Saint Paul safe streets community needs to be deliberate and sincere about why this design change is important. It’s all about safety and livability for folks living near these East Side streets. 

We need safe streets that people, young and old alike, can easily and safely cross. We need streets where cars will stop for people, with or without crutches, to let them cross the street. We need streets where there aren’t violent car crashes every day, and where innocent people aren’t sent to the hospital every month.

That’s why the Maryland Avenue sign campaign is a great idea, and why I have one request:

[Send feedback today!]


It’s really quick and will only take you a second. The County will weigh these responses, along with speed and crash data they are gathering.

Please do this and ensure that angry fliers don’t win the day, keeping the next generation of kids in Saint Paul at the mercy of dangerous street designs.


Update:

Here's a great video showing what the street looks like from a car drivers' perspective.

24.5.17

Listen to my Interview with KFAI's Tom O'Connell on Jane Jacobs, Saint Paul Street Safety, and Twin Cities' Housing

I've been a long-time on-and-off volunteer with Twin Cities' priceless gem of a community radio station, KFAI, for well over ten years. We are so lucky to have KFAI as part of the Twin Cities, offering conversations, music, and culture that's simply not available anywhere else.

Their local talk programming is a great example. As MPR has -- for better and worse -- adopted more of a state and national focus over the years, there is a huge radio vacuum around local news and issues. KFAI's often excellent, volunteer-run news programming is a wonderful and under-appreciated resource. (Partly that's because there is so little capacity at KFAI to disseminate and repackage their content over the internet.)

This last Monday I spent an hour discussing Twin Cities' urban geography issues on Truth To Tell-KFAI with Tom O'Connell, Rico Morales, and Josh Lamere (sp?).

(Full disclosure: I used to be the volunteer engineer for the program ten years ago when Andy Driscoll was the host, and then I served on the board of CivicMediaMinnesota, the non-profit that runs the program, for many years.)

Tom and I chatted about a lot of topics I've been writing and thinking about lately, including the 4-3 "test diet" on Maryland, Jane Jacobs' legacy, an update on the Lowry Grove issue, the tension between aging and urbanism, anything else we could think of.

Here's the link to the TruthtoTell page. Listen at your leisure.



[Kids sitting on things outside the KFAI entrance in Minneapolis/Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.]


PS. Apologies for the heavy breathing! Also, the phones weren't working so nobody was really able to call in...

22.5.17

Donate to Help Create Safer Streets in Saint Paul


[tl;dr: Please give to the Maryland Avenue safe streets sign fund to make sure the "field test" works well for everyone in the neighborhood.]

[Elizabeth, Shelby, Channy & Kunlek, killed by unsafe streets.]
Last week, I wrote on streets.mn about how I believe the Maryland Avenue field test is the most important street safety opportunity to come to Saint Paul in a generation. Depending on how the "test" goes, the city and county may finally begin re-thinking and re-prioritizing space on its most dangerous streets, the deadly 4-lane county arterials that run through all parts of Saint Paul regardless of their impacts to safety or quality of life.

This has been a central issue for me for many years, and I even made these streets the focus of my TEDxMinneapolis talk last August, where I told the story of Elizabeth Durham (among others), who was tragically killed by a car driver on Maryland Avenue because of dangerous and misguided street design.

This week, after years of organizing and conversation, Ramsey County is finally going to try out a 4-3 road diet that would slow down speeds on this important street. The new design and allow people to cross from one side to the other without taking their life into their hands. You might as well call it the "Durham Memorial Street Test", because the one-mile stretch of Maryland runs from Greenbrier, where the fatal crash occurred, all the way to Johnson Parkway to the east.

[The test design for Maryland Avenue, on Saint Paul's East Side..]
As of today the test is up. The rest is up to the drivers and community members in Saint Paul's East Side.

It's a big moment!

[Please give today. Let's hit the goal!]
You can help make sure it works out by funding the Maryland Avenue street design sign project that my friend Eric Saathoff has put together. Eric lives over on the East Side and, along with a group of dogged neighbors, has helped organize a "kickstarter" to fund the signs.

If you care about safe streets in Saint Paul, please give a few dollars to this effort.

Let's make sure that Elizabeth's Durham's death was not in vain, and that the deadly "whip-around" never happens again on Maryland Avenue. Let's make sure that this "field test" goes well, and that we can change our deadly Saint Paul streets once and for all, for the next generations of kids.

[See also my Minnpost article on crosswalk safety stings on Maryland Avenue, my pointed rant against these deadly road designs, and my cautiously optimistic explanation of the "field test."]

 
[Saathoff and East Side community members trying raising awareness of pedestrian safety at Maryland and Greenbrier, the month *before* Durham was killed.]

20.5.17

Twin City Doorways #29

[Lyndale Avenue, Minneapolis.]

[West Saint Paul?]

[Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis.]

[Seward, Minneapolis.]

[Shakopee.]

[Seward, Minneapolis.]

[Loring Park, Minneapolis.]

[Memphis, TN.]

17.5.17

Reading the Highland Villager #181

[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: City’s master plan for redeveloping Ford site released; Debate begins on plans for zoning, public spaces
Author: Jane McClure


Short short version: The city has [finally] released the official draft of its planning document that will guide the redevelopment of the old abandoned truck factory. There will be a public hearing in a month or so, the end of June, at the Planning Commission. Ford might put the property on the market in the fall.There are still design standards that might be forthcoming. Once a developer actually buys the property, they will release detailed development plans. The current plan includes different areas with different allowed building heights, some lower, some higher. There will specific parking standards to discourage driving, that might or might not involve a fee. There would be between 4K and 7K parking spaces, and 2400 and 4K new housing units. [The ratio of parking spots to housing units should remain low!] Article includes some quotes from planners and Planning Commissioners about parking demand and elasticity over time. [Keep in mind that were talking about 10-20 years here. Things change, believe it or not.]


Headline: Task force seeks changes to Ford site parks plan
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The ballfields that were on the Ford site for 60 years [see ubiquitous 50s Villager headline at top right] might or might not become private space. The land that is proposed to replace the old ballparks is owned by the railroad.The railroad representative has threatened to sue if the task force planners continue treating the land as open space. The task force also wants to move a few small park spaces around the Ford site. There is some question about whether or not it’s a good idea to move the “S-curve” in the River Road. [Traffic calming on the River Road should be done through design, not in creating unnecessary curves. That said, I don’t care very much whether the road curves or not. Still, seems a bit silly.]


Headline: Neighbors push UST to put a lid on off-campus parties; St. Thomas promises to renew efforts to rein in students prior to the fall
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: [Neighborhood puts UST “on notice”, initiates “double secret probation.”] Tommies got drunk a lot recently, and some were not well behaved. In particular, there was “Case Day” on May 13 and also an event called “Tour de ‘Franzia”. [Sounds classy! I for one, resent the bicycle connotation.] Neighbors are concerned about Tommies, vomit, urine, etc. Neighbors want to hold landlords accountable.  Best quote: “The complaints included students urinating in neighbors’ yards students swearing and being disrespectful to neighbors, loud and booming music played for hours, and yards littered with plastic cups and wine boxes.” Unrelated adult occupancy rules are listed here as one way to deal with issues like this. [My opinion is that the community should work on non-zoning solutions to these issues. Otherwise it discriminates against young people and students, regardless of whether or not they are, themselves, terribly behaved people.] One landlord is cited saying “he has detected evidence of five or more students living in his houses, but by the time he got inside to inspect, the proof was gone.” [Proof being something like fresh vomit stains, an additional Harry’s Razors kit, a spare iPhone charger…?] Quote from a student:” My leases are already 13 pages long; I don’t think students read them.” Quote about solution: “Off-duty police officers will be hired to patrol the neighborhood during the warm months and on event weekends.” [That’s more the direction you have to go IMO. Force the school to deal with these issues, and not make it a housing cost burden for everyone under the age of 30.]


Headline: Committee supports new guidelines for developing Central Station block
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The vacant lot next to the busiest downtown light rail stop is vacant. There is loitering. The city is coming up with design guidelines for whatever development eventually happens on the site.


Headline: Cossetta’s sues city over termination of purchase agreement; West End caterer planned to buy lot for event center
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A guy who owns a large pizza restaurant, bar, and deli is suing the city because they did not let him buy a city-owned parking lot. [Google “Cossetta” and “parking lot” sometime for a fun treat!] Ten years ago someone at the city said they would sell the parking lot but not they do not want to. The pizza place owner wants to build an event center. [This was all so long ago! 2006? How is this still a thing that is happening? OTOH I do not have great faith in the City attorney’s office to win this case given how they have fared re: the Greenway railroad situation or the non-profit road fee situation…]


Headline: Wait is nearly over for new Jimmy Lee, Highland Park playgrounds
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A new rec center and playground is almost done. It took a long time. A lot of kids use the playground. There will be a “small zip line.” [Not boring!] A basketball court was nixed, though, due to some concerns about being too close to homes and older and younger kids mixing together. [Well there’s a can of worms! Basketball… I wonder what that could be a euphemism for?]


Headline: Snelling rezoning gains support; Commission sets May 19 hearing on study calling for denser development along major commercial corners
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city is looking at rezoning a large chunk of Snelling Avenue away from the old single-use zoning and into “traditional neighborhood” zoning, [which allows for mixed-use and has design guidelines intended to minimize automobile-oriented urban design]. [And its about time! Jeez. TN zoning should be on all of the city’s older commercial strips, especially those which have good transit investments.] Some neighborhood groups like it, others kind of like it. There will be a public hearing this Friday. Neighbors are concerned about traffic, parking, density.


Headline: City reviews possible regulations for Airbnb-type [sic] rentals
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Some people use the internet to rent their house, or rooms in their house, for a few days at a time. The city is trying to figure out what to do. The proposed regulations might include parking, limits on frequency, and limits on guests. Also this will be taxed somehow. People who own regular bed and breakfasts are upset about the unfair competition. There will be a hearing at the Planning Commission.


Headline: Union Park council OKs design of St. Anthony Ave. bike lane
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A frontage road next to the freeway will probably get a protected bike lane, if the city can find the money. [C’mon! What’s that mayoral couch good for if you can’t find a few thousand dollars for a project like this?] A neighborhood group like the idea. The lane was not in the bike plan. [See more on the bike plan.] The route would go close to the under-construction [???] soccer stadium. [This is a great use of a marginal space for a community improvement.]


Headline: City releases river balcony plan
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A plan to create a walkable public space along the river bluff downtown has been released for the public to comment on. If anyone actually builds anything at the old West Publishing / Ramsey County site, this will be part of what they will have to create there.


Headline: Evaluation of 16 Riverview Corridor transit alternatives begins May 11
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There are a lot of choice for how to build transit [or not!] along West 7th from downtown to the airport. A consultant team is looking at all of the choices and crunching the ridership and cost numbers [rough as they are at this point]. Neighbors are concerned about traffic and parking. Quote from the owner of a steakhouse: “[The loss of on-street parking is] the big worry, especially for businesses that don’t have off-street parking.” [It should be pointed out that the steak house here, which I like a great deal, has a huge off-street parking lot, some of which involved bulldozing older buildings in ways that might have been done with or without proper permits.] Article is short and does not really lay out all the options. Some options eliminate some parking spaces, others eliminate more or less parking spaces. [A good bit of parking space hand-wringing here, as if they were endangered Redwood trees rather than simply empty asphalt into which sometimes people put their empty car.]



Headline: Sun sets on Sunrise Inn in S. Mpls; New burger bar to open there this summer
Author: Bill Wagner

Short short version: [A south Minneapolis dive bar closed and the Villager reports on it… worlds collide! See my take on this.] Article includes nice quotes from the old owner, including: “Our place had the same dingbats that ‘Cheers’ had. Our bar was just like it was in the 1950s, Not much had ever changed.” [I would swap Cheers for Always Sunny…] Another anonymous customer quoted saying: “The Ford guys were the Sunrise’s best customers; We came in here a lot.” [MOAR Minneapolis dive bar coverage in the Villager please!]

Dive Bars of North Minneapolis Bicycle Tour Tomorrow

Just in time for spring to arrive the rain to depart, I'll be leading a bike tour of some of North Minneapolis' "dive bars" tomorrow evening. I'm the completing the last legs of my grand dive bar tour, and I have felt increasingly beckoned by the last 3.2 bar in Minneapolis... the mythical T-Shoppe bar up by the city's northern border.

We'll head up there, and along the way stop at a few North Minneapolis bar history hot spots, including the site where the Zombie Bar was finally killed for good (?), Cliff and Norms (formerly Halek's), Tootie's, and Lee's.

I'll share what I've learned about the history of booze Over North, and we'll see what's to be seen at some of these interesting spots. Like South Minneapolis, North had rather strict limits on where alcohol could be sold and consumed. For that reason, the dive landscape is very uneven, and tended to cluster around the edges of the city's old "liquor patrol limits." Everything else in North else was watered down...

It'll be a biking tour, at a leisurely pace, around 11 miles in length. See you then!


"Well actually, little known fact, the history of dive bars in North Minneapolis all goes back to a series of Swiss refugees fleeing Canada and their predilection for a particular kind of cheese, that they could only get from certain 19th century wholesale goods traders that just happened to be located on the West side of the river..."

What: guided tour of five (5) past and present historical "dive" bars of North Minneapolis, Minnesota

Who: Free of charge, but tips or beers gladly accepted

When: Tomorrow, Thursday 5/18, leaving 6:30

Where: Meet at Lee's Liquor Lounge

Why: Because it's there

How: On bicycles, in a group


[The T-Shoppe, the last pure 3.2 in the city.]
 

15.5.17

Join me Tuesday for a Talk about Carnegie Libraries in Saint Paul

Last year I wrote an article for Minnpost on the history of Carnegie libraries in the city. Together with the Friends of the Saint Paul Libraries foundation and the East Side Freedom Library, I'll be giving a short talk about the three Carnegie libraries in Saint Paul, sharing what I learned and my perspective about how their different fates were shaped by their neighborhoods. It's fascinating to see how those differences have emerged over the last century.

The event is at the Saint Anthony Park library on Como and Carter, in the northwest corner of Saint Paul.

  • When: Tomorrow, Tuesday the 16th from 7 to 8:30
  • Where: St Anthony Park library
  • What: History of the Carnegie libraries in Saint Paul with me, Billie Young, and Greg Gaut.  
  • Free!

Here's a brief excerpt from my article:
Next year, St. Paul’s three Carnegie libraries will be 100 years old. I used to think they were all identical, which only points to how unobservant I can sometimes be, but in fact, each of the three buildings had subtle architectural differences, contrasting cornices or particular pediments. And for 100 years, each of the three libraries served neighborhoods on the far corners of the city, welcoming generations of curiosity seekers.
But that was then, and today, each building has diverged from its original footprint in surprising ways. As library needs have changed over the years, the three Carnegie buildings now have unique fates that reflect the diversity of the city around them.
 ...
To me, the unusual fate of the east side building reveals how deeply ideas about information, community, and architecture have shifted in the century since Carnegie originally built the buildings. Originally, libraries had a rarified air that reflected a kind of purity, and they were often intended to be used by adults. Today, libraries have become much more democratized, multifaceted, and younger. And the divergent fates of St. Paul’s original three buildings show how complex and rich the idea of a library can become.

See you there!

[East Side, Saint Paul.]

11.5.17

Join me Friday for a Jane Jacobs Evening: A Walk, Talk, and Screening of a New Film "Citizen Jane"

[Jacobs in Toronto in the 1970s.]
It's no exaggeration to say that this blog, and my entire personality, would not exist without Jane Jacobs. My interest in sidewalks came directly out of picking up her masterpiece, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and digesting it thoroughly. I read it more than once, and it's been enlightening every time.

Not only was her book the right book at the right time for American urbanism, it was the right book at the right time for me personally. I'd just moved back to Saint Paul from living (and walking everywhere) in New York City. Jacobs' analysis has aged well in many ways, and it's a real eye opener for someone who has never though critically about urban design before.

Anyway, I've read the rest of Jacobs' curious books, and re-read Death and Life many times since, assigning it in just about every one of my classes. That's why I'm thrilled to participate in Preserve Minneapolis' event tomorrow celebrating Jacobs life and work, and a new film in her honor.

I haven't yet seen the film and, though I'm always skeptical about panegyric biopics, I'm looking forward to seeing it.

Hosted by Preserve Minneapolis, we'll be walking from Buzza lofts along the Greenway in Uptown over to the Lagoon theater, and than having a brief discussion after the film about Jacobs' work and legacy.
[Jacobs at the Whitehorse Tavern in New York City. Fun fact: when James Howard Kunstler interviewed her, she annoyed him because she just wanted to drink beer instead of talk.]


Here's a description of the film:

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City is coming to Minneapolis and Preserve Minneapolis is ready!

Join us on Friday May 12 to celebrate Jane Jacobs and the release of this important film. We will begin the evening with socializing at Buzza Lofts of Uptown, discussing the key tenets of Jane's philosophy. We'll then take part in a Jane's Walk -- a citizen-led exploration with a focus on collective story-sharing and observation to explore the unique culture of the neighborhood. 

The Walk will bring us to Lagoon Cinema just in time to catch the film premiere. Tickets for the film $10 and $7 for those over age 65.

So who was Jane Jacobs?

In 1960 Jane's book "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" sent shockwaves through the architecture and planning worlds, with its exploration of the consequences of modern planners’ and architects’ reconfiguration of cities. 

Jacobs was also an activist, who was involved in many fights in mid-century New York, to stop “master builder” Robert Moses from running roughshod over the city. This film retraces the battles for the city as personified by Jacobs and Moses, as urbanization moves to the very front of the global agenda. 

Many of the clues for formulating solutions to the dizzying array of urban issues can be found in Jacobs’s prescient text, and a close second look at her thinking and writing about cities is very much in order. This film sets out to examine the city of today though the lens of one of its greatest champions.

See you then!

[See also: In Defense of the Pedal Pub (and Jacobs' homage to late-night street bagpipers), Dinkytown and the Need for Old Buildings (on Jacobs, preservation, and organic urban space), RIP Jane Jacobs (after she died in '06), Development v. Destruction, and Principles of Sidewalkery: Density (on the need for density).]

 

10.5.17

Dive Bars of South Minneapolis, Expanded and Revised Edition, Now Available!


[1st Ever 2nd Edition!]
I have expanded and revised my booklet about the Dive Bars of South Minneapolis!

Now at a whopping 40 pages, the booklet features updates on the Country Bar, the Howe (formerly the Rail Station), and the Sunrise Inn (with special "5 Steps of Going to the Sunrise" self-help feature).

It's now available for shipping from the Sidewalk Store! And I'll drop some off at Boneshaker Books on Franklin Avenue later today.

It's sad to say so, but dive bars in South Minneapolis are rapidly disappearing and becoming fanci-fied. Their habitat is being eroded by the ever advancing invasive species of foodie culture and craft beer. Former puritanical "lines in the sand", such as the city's lackluster food-to-booze ratios, are fading away. These are hard times for the dive bar.

So be sure to enjoy them while they last! Order yours today and stay up-to-date on all the latest South Minneapolis dive bar old news.

Stay tuned to this page for upcoming booklet info, as another one is set to drop any week now.

[Two pages of the new-and-improved booklet.]

9.5.17

Pioneer Press Misses the Point: Rice Street Road Diet is a Huge Deal for Saint Paul

This Sunday, the Pioneer Press published a 1A front-page story about Rice Street and the North End, my old neighborhood. The piece described a changing of the guard in the local community group, the District 6 Council, which recently held an election where a new wave of board members ran for office and won, angering an old guard. The neighborhood schism hinges around a changing philosophy about streets and public space, particularly a proposed redesign of Rice Street, the main commercial drag, soon slated for reconstruction.

The reporter, Fred Melo, is one of the best journalists at the Pioneer Press and (mostly) does good work in trying circumstances. (For some context, consider how the newspaper’s hedge fund owners have admitted to “harvesting”the newsroom.)

But, as I pointed out on Twitter, he missed the key point here:



In short, Melo was right to cover the story, and has some good journalistic instincts on display. But by framing the piece around bike lanes, he and his editors needlessly turned an important story into another piece of bait for trolls.

An example of how the article’s framing quickly adopts bike lanes as its central focus:
Holst, a Marion Street resident and proponent of bicycle lanes and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, was appointed chair by the board members, and his friends and personal contacts took over the other leadership posts.

“A lot of people have served tirelessly for District 6 for a very long time,” said Holst, a rental property owner, on Thursday. “My focus is going to be on making the North End the best neighborhood it can be.”

The sudden turnover in leadership within the North End’s neighborhood planning council may underscore the extent to which bike lanes have become a contentious topic in St. Paul’s business districts. The districts have long struggled with how to balance the needs of drivers, pedestrians, business owners and nearby residents.

Scoffing at the prospect of adding bike lanes to a busy county thoroughfare, some business owners see cyclists as newcomers and outsiders inserting themselves into the discussion.
Cyclists and advocates of “new urbanism” say they’re a growing part of the city’s population, and too long overlooked. And they say the infrastructure they’re advocating for could help calm traffic, improve public safety and boost business sales by increasing general access. They believe it could save lives.
The article continues with some quotes from disgruntled neighborhood group members, a cursory mention of on-street parking, and that’s about it.

And that’s the problem, because the issue here isn't bike lanes, it's a street re-design around pedestrian safety.  The difference in focus is significant because street design is central to solving Saint Paul's safety problem, which has 140+ pedestrian crashes annually and 5 deaths in 15 months. Economically struggling Rice Street, more than anywhere else in the city, needs this kind of urban design change if it’s going to survive.

Here are three key pieces of context that the column left out:

[A "road diet", aka a safer street design.]

1. Road diets are a revolutionary safety improvement

[Seattle data.]
At first glance, the term “road diet” seems like flip jargon. Like “traffic calming” or (please God no) “woonerf”, it seems like cutesy self-help, something for the bougie “new urbanist” crowd (as Melo put it) to slap on convention brochures.

But it’s not. A 4-3 road diet is a very serious concept at the core of the contemporary shift in urban design thinking. They represent a huge change in civil engineering practice, a rethinking of the relationship between speed, congestion, safety, and walkability.

A quick definition: A road diet is when you take a four-lane undivided street (i.e. no turn lane) and replace the middle two lanes with a center turn lane. It creates a “three lane” footprint where cars can no longer swerve back and forth between gaps in traffic like they’re racing at Daytona. (Local examples include Marshall, Fairview, Lexington, West 7th, Riverside, and Franklin.)    

Here are a few key points, from my 2010 article on deadly four-lane roads, following a tragic crash at Rice and Hoyt:
#1) 3-lane roads are much safer for car drivers. 
According to a Federal Highway Administration study, changing a 4-lane Death Road™ into a three-lane road reduces automobile traffic accidents from 20% to 50% depending on the context. (Note: this makes intuitive sense if you’ve ever driven on a street like this.) There are dozens of similar studies out there.

#2) 3-lane roads have marginal impact on traffic flow. I’m not going to suggest that a 4-to-3 conversion of a Death Road™ has no impact on traffic flow (though sometimes that turns out to be the case). Rather, fixing a Death Road™ usually sees a reduction in car throughput in the 5% to 10% range. As another Federal Highway Administration report puts it, “under most average daily traffic (ADT) conditions tested, road diets have minimal effects on vehicle capacity.” 

#3) 3-lane roads slow speeds
The main difference between a 4-lane Death Road™ and a 3-lane safe street is that traffic speeds go down and become far more uniform. It’s a proven fact that reducing speeds even a little bit, i.e. from 40 to 30 miles per hour, can make a huge difference on accident severity for pedestrians and bicyclists. 

#4) 3-lane roads increase biking and walking. 
After a 4-lane Death Road™ was fixed in San Francisco, “bicycle usage increased 37% during the PM peak hour, the number of pedestrians increased 49% during the PM peak hour, [and] public response has been overwhelmingly positive about this project.” That’s just one example; also, it’s common sense.

#5) Fixing a Death Road™ is really cheap. 
Unlike expensive street reconstructions or concrete bumpouts, cities and counties can quickly, easily, and cheaply fix these Death Roads™.

Here’s a quote from a city engineer in Portland, Oregon:

Graff said the price of all five road diets considered in the city’s analysis was “in the $100,000 range,” or up to $120,000 or so for projects that added new median islands or other improvements. “The cost/benefit is really high,” he said. “For the cost of one improved crossing — a median improvement or rapid-flashing beacon that provides a point improvement, you can reduce crashes across 10, 20 blocks.”

[A forthcoming example from Hennpein County.]
If anything, the case for 3-lane designs has only gotten stronger in the last seven years.

Hennepin County is going to do a 4-3 (and 4-2!) road diet on Lowry Avenue, and just this week I’ve read about a proposed 4-3conversion in Bloomington and a 4-3 conversion on a 30,000+ ADT street in Denver that barely impacted congestion. (That’s over twice as much traffic as on Rice Street.)

The only thing I’d change:  

#6 Road diets solve the fatal crosswalk problem

[Four people recently killed on Saint Paul streets.]
I would also add that the 4-3 conversion solves the deadly“whip around” problem that Saint Paul has been wrestling with for years now. In response to a rash of crashes where drivers killed five people in just over a year, the Police Department has led “crosswalk stings” at dangerous points around the city.

But the truth is that Saint Paul Police can continue doing “Stop For Me” events until Sergeant Ellison is blue in the face, and it will make only marginal differences. Enforcement is facing huge challenges because of escalating distraction culture.

Two-hour police stings make for nice headlines, but when you install a 4-3 road diet, you can build 24-hour medians at key intersections. These designs will literally save lives on a street like Rice, and it’s not hyperbole or speculation to say so. They are the only thing that will make Rice Street (and others like it) safe for the thousands of people who live and work along it every day.

[A sign I once spotted on Rice Street.]


2. Social ties in the North End are very frayed

[Via MN Compass: North End is getting poorer, more diverse.]
The second big piece of the puzzle is that the North End is struggling and I’m very worried about its future. Think about this: I lived In the North End for seven years and barely met any of my neighbors. Keep in mind that I’m an outgoing, friendly guy, but after spending seven years living on Western Avenue, when I moved away, the only people I knew by name were the butcher down the street (since burned down), the bartender at my local dive bar (since burned down) and the owner of the pizza place (not burned down!).

There are a lot of demographic and social reasons for the weak social ties. The North End has always been a working-class place. A local bar (Tin Cups, featured in the story) sells a shirt that says “It’s a Rice Street thing, you wouldn’t understand,” and there’s a legacy of community there from past generations.

[Asked an old-timer the age of Born's Bar: "I came here in my mothers' womb," he said.]
But over the last few decades, the area has quickly changed and the institutions have not kept up. Looking at Rice Street offers a good example. Super old-school Tschida Bakery closed a few years ago, a building burned down next to Mama’s Pizza, bars that closed included Diva’s Overtime Lounge, Easy Street West, and the bar on Front Avenue (I forgot the name). Many in the neighborhood saw this as addition by subtraction, but I see these closures a as a bad sign.

(Or see also Melo' excellent story on the struggles of a Maryland Avenue beauty salon from 2016. It is very hard to start a business in this neighborhood.)

[Via MN Compass.]
The result is that the old North End institutions have disappeared through death, entropy, changing tastes, and demographic changes that have seen a transformation of the neighborhood away from older white residents toward younger people of color.  

The growing diversity is a good thing for Rice Street, which boasts businesses like Bangkok Thai Deli or Kathy's Live Bait, with more and younger people speaking languages other than English. But in an area that struggles with crime and gang violence, it’s a challenge, especially for the old-timers.

Another story: I felt really weird when I marched in the Rice Street Parade back in 2006, because the parade offered a long string of floats full of white people heading down a street lined with people of color. The parade dynamics really bugged me, especially when I saw the guy running for City Council on a “tough on crime” platform hoisting police logos against a segregated racial background. It was one the things that pissed me off enough to get involved in local politics in the first place.

(I door knocked for his opponent, who won a close election. Then, four years later, I door knocked for his opponent, Amy Brendmoen, who has shown a great ability to have tough conversations across some of the stark neighborhood lines.)

[The view from Tin Cups.]
One more story about Rice Street inequality: When I attended the North End/Como Ward DFL convention back in 2007, where the City Council nomination was being determined, there was a huge disparity between the different ward neighborhoods. My Rice Street precinct had three delegates in the room, while many of the other Rice Street precincts had none at all. (!) Meanwhile, every Como Park precinct was jam packed with dozens of supporters of different candidates.

This to say that political engagement in the neighborhood is hugely imbalanced. For years, it’s felt like almost nobody advocates for Rice Street, except in a reactionary way. Few people vote, politicians generally ignore the area, and the street has been stuck in a downward cycle of disinvestment and apathy.

It’s in the midst of this vacuum of social capital that Rich Holst, the new chair of District 6 (featured prominently in the story) has been doing some amazing work. Here are three quick examples that I've personally witnessed:

Last summer I attended an hour+ long meeting that Holst had set up in the District 6 offices. He’d invited an expert on co-cooperatively owned real estate developments from Northeast Minneapolis to give a “how-to” talk on setting up alternative community investment models on Rice Street, an area that has trouble getting regular business loans.

Second, last year Holst successfully applied for a city grant to install new, branded bike racks on Rice Street. He pulled together a design for for the racks: a “North End” logo featuring a compass rose. They’re kind of like the ones in Highland, only it’s much easier to lock a bike to them. Then, by himself, Holst went up and down the street talking to business owners trying to convince them to agree to have the racks installed.

Finally, he and his neighbor, (newly elected Soil and Water Commissioner) Lena Buggs, have been hosting weekly (!) “pink flamingo” parties in his neighborhood for over a year. Every week, all summer, for over a year…  People gathering on each others lawn to talk about the weather and how to improve the neighborhood.

This kind of work is hugely difficult in a neighborhood like the North End, where poverty, crime, and demographics tend to keep people turtled up in silos.

[One of the "flamingo friday" parties in the North End.]
 
3. Neighborhood politics is always about getting friends to show up

[Meeting in Minneapolis' Central neighborhood.]
Maybe it was the petty quotes from the outgoing District Council members, but Melo’s article seemed awfully naïve about how neighborhood group politics work.

For one thing, there’s a huge range of difference in quality between the different neighborhood groups in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Some neighborhood groups reach out to city leaders and the community all the time; others seem like they don’t exist. (At the Saint Paul Planning Commission, the inequality is very apparent. Union Park, Mac-Grove, Fort Road, Highland, and Highwood, for example, have very active Councils. I have never heard anything from District 6, other than a complaint about a used car dealership.)

Secondly, some neighborhood groups take pains to try and reflect the demographics of their neighborhood. Others explicitly disenfranchise marginalized groups, like students, renters, or people who don’t speak English. A lot depends on where you live, each neighborhood’s unique history, and who steps up to get involved.

A few examples: I wrote an article about the great work being done in the Standish-Ericcson neighborhood; or check out John Edwards’ justified diatribes and hell-stories about LHENA and critique of Whittier's democratic process; or listen to Chris Meyer’s experiences with student disenfranchisement in Marcy-Holmes.

(Meanwhile, in my West Side district council, the annual meeting does a great job reflecting the diversity of the community and the board has many younger and/or non-white board members. In fact, a year ago, a group of board members ousted a long-time executive director in a contentious vote.)

[Meeting in Minneapolis' Standish-Ericcson neighborhood.]
In each case, the power dynamics are pretty simple. District Councils hold an annual election, and you try to get as many friends, neighbors, or others who live in the neighborhood to attend the three-hour meeting. After some period of mingling, they vote and elect the board. It’s straightforward, though group dynamics can quickly become petty in wrong circumstances. 

The point is that talking to friends and neighbors about the neighborhood is precisely the point of a community group. The idea that people who voted and ran for the board of a neighborhood group would know each other is a feature, not a bug.


The Takeaway: Bike Lanes Have Little To Do with It


[Drive down Rice, chances are good you'll see a crash.]
This kind of context is difficult to explain, and there’s no way that a newspaper story could fit it in. But my big critique of Melo’s story is that it focused on bike lanes instead of Saint Paul’s huge street safety problem.

(PROTIP: "new urbanism" is a term most commonly linked to developments like Seaside, Florida.)

It’s worth pointing out, as Osten does in the article, that bike lanes are just one of the options for the forthcoming street re-design. Compared to the safety improvements, they’re not anyone’s top priority.

It’s also worth pointing out that Rice Street can stand in for a half-dozen deadly Saint Paul streets in poor areas of town. These deadly streets are a social justice issue, because the high number of people of color and people living in poverty who depend on walking, biking, and transit. It’s a geographic issue, because of the imbalance of power within both the city and the county.

[A deadly intersection on Maryland Avenue.]
And it’s a political issue, because changing these streets isn’t a given, by any means. Almost all of Saint Paul’s deadly arterial roads are Ramsey County jurisdiction, so having a friendly Council Member does very little to advance the conversation with County-wide constituents, old-school County engineers, and little-known County Commissioners. These are the people shaping street designs on Rice, Dale, Maryland, and White Bear, and they’re only beginning to change the way that they make decisions. As Bob Collins predicts, it’s not a given that any of these streets will become safer in the next ten or twenty years.

(For example, the County Commissioner who represents the North End, Janice Rettman, successfully killed a 4-3 road diet on Dale Street a few years ago because she was worried about parking. She’s also consistently opposed bike lanes, and was *the only vote* against Ramsey County’s new All Abilities Transportation Network Policy, which aims to increase safety and ensure mobility for vulnerable people. There’s little chance that she will support safer designs for Rice Street.)

The work of people like Holst, Buggs, and Osten, and many others in these vulnerable neighborhoods, to build community and get involved, show up to meetings and stay positive, is one of the best things to happen on Rice Street in many years. In other words, this is exactly the kind of community work we need if we’re going to finally build safe streets in all parts of Saint Paul. It won’t be sufficient, but it’s a great first step. To me, it feels like blowing the dust off of the King of Rohan.

This isn’t the first time that media chosen a misleading slant for a street-related story. Bike lanes make both a convenient scapegoat, and an easy shorthand for more complex issues. But focusing on bikes does a disservice to the stakes and concerns of the people involved. It’s not about bikes, it’s about safety, and it’s about time. I wish the article could have figured that out. 

[The corner of Rice and Hoyt, where Bickram Phuyel was put in a coma.]