Community NewsCommunity News

There's no way that we can possibly cover everything happening around bicycling, walking, and transportation in the Twin Cities region. That's why we started a blog network: a one-stop shop to get read all of the bicycling and walking blogs in the area. If you'd like to add your blog to this network, send an email to tlc@tlcminnesota.org. 

June Postcard Post: Support this Blog

Twin City Sidewalks - Tue, 06/24/2014 - 1:12pm
Hello, I'm back to blogging after a few month hiatus, and asking for your support for this lowly sidewalk blog.

I made some new Artisanal Sidewalk Postcards last night and with any blog donation of at least $5, I will send one directly to you via our nation's finest postal service.

Q: Why should you donate and receive a fine Artisanal Sidewalk Postcard?

  • #1) They're nice to have. I mean, from a tactile sense. The paper is often old and soft, and parts of it are covered in Scotch Magic tape, which is smooth. They look nice too.

  • #2) They're funny, sometimes. At the very least, vaguely amusing. 

  • #3) They're handmade from old postcards I have collected, old newspapers I have amassed from about 1985 - 2003, and a large collection of vintage non-fiction or children's books.

  • #4) They have a message written on the back. Who knows what it will say?

  • #5) They help support this rather non-remunerative blog.

  • #6) I need to buy cat food.

Make sure to include your address via the Paypal link. If you add a note, you can pick the one you want. 

(Q: Is this even possible?)


Thanks to those who have donated over the last six months (doubly impressive, since the blog was on mothballs):
Lisa, Michael, William, Jeff, and Andrea
Thanks sincerely.

[New postcards available.]












Reading the Highland Villager #108

Twin City Sidewalks - Tue, 06/24/2014 - 12:45pm
[A Villager endures the harsh summer sun.][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: Grazing atop a hill much visited [Note the oddly poetic headline]; Goats will join horses to curb invasive plants on Pilot Knob
Author: James McKenzie

Short short version: Horses and goats will eat weeds on an sacred Indian site [since turned into an airport overlook and marginal freeway-side space, but still oddly beautiful. Oh, its Dakota name is Oheyawashi, which means "A hill much visited"... That explains the oddly poetic headline...].


Headline: Bonding bill pumps $75M into projects across St. Paul
Author: Kevin Driscoll

Short short version: The state legislature is spending money on things in Saint Paul that include a new building at Metro State University, an expansion of the Children's Museum, remodeling the TPT HQ to better meet the sidewalk [well that's a good idea!], parking lots and street re-design for Como Park [PRO TIP: bikes], rehabbing an old theater downtown, money for the Ordway, and the Snelling aBRT transit line [probably the most important thing on this list]. There are other things too. Article includes glowing quotes from happy lobbying-type people.  


Headline: City reduces off-street parking required in transit corridors
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: [NOTE: article begins with flabbergasted tone: "despite the opposition of the West 7th/Fort Road Federation, the West 7th Business Association, and Dave Thune..."] Saint Paul eased parking minimums along transit corners by 25% for multi-family buildings in the TN1 and TN2 zones. Article includes quote from Thune: "the neighborhood just doesn't have any parking to spare." [ANNOUNCING: Special TC Sidewalks shoutout to anyone sending in photos of empty parking lots along West 7th?] Article implies that the rest of the council thinks less required off-street parking is a good idea.


Headline: Neighbors back Dorothy Day expansion; But want incidence of public drunkenness and panhandling reduced
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There was a meeting about the expansion of the homeless shelter downtown, and neighbors seemed OK with it. Article includes stories about less than ideal encounters with the homeless, such as "camping in the yard", panhandling, and sleeping in the park. The shelter will just about double in size of beds.


Headline: Height variances OK'd for SPA art center
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The fancy private high school can build a tall building. There will also be a larger parking lot!


Headline:  Public comments sought on new Shepard-Davern zoning
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There's a task force looking at the area by West 7th and the river [by the confluence]. Article includes the words "pedestrian friendly", "transit options", "revitalize", "development", and "create a park." The current zoning predates the TN [= "traditional neighborhood", i.e. mixed use] zoning category


Headline: Council approves licenses for Red Cow restaurant on Selby
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The new fancy Edina burger joint replacing the old less fancy burger joint on Selby can serve booze.


Headline: BZA favors variance, driveway for garage studio on Portland
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A couple can replace their garage with a larger garage/art studio.


Headline: Hershey set neighborhood liaison bar high at St. Thomas
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: They guy that used to run flak for the Tommies is retiring. [What will become of the chidlren? Wont' someboyd think of the children?]


Headline: Commission seeks comments on proposed St. Paul sign regs
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city might change rules for signs on buildings. For example, picture a sign on a roof.


Headline:  City cancels tobacco license, permit for Summit-U grocery
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A corner store can't sell smokes any more because it groke rules around "loosies", synthetic pot, and EBT cards.


Headline: Mac seeks crossing light after accidents and Snelling-Lincoln
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Two people got run over by a car at a fancy crosswalk designed to keep that from happening. Macalester college wants to a "pedestrian activated crossing signal" [aka a HAWK signal]. They offered to pay for one last year but MNDOT said no [because Snelling is sacred].


Headline: Union Depot gets picnic area on Kellogg
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There are tables by the tracks now. [Go eat there if you can find it.]


Headline: Getting the Green Light; Grand opening set June 14 for long-awaited light-rail link between St. Paul & Minneapolis
Author: [Unclear]

Short short version: Descriptions of all the stations along the line.


Headline:  Major bus changes coming with opening of Green Line; Improved service for routes connecting to light-rail line
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Some buses will change as the train opens. People are worried about "traffic signal concerns." For example, folks were asking for a new left-turn lane for Northbound Lexington at Grand Avenue but Public Works said there's not enough traffic.


Headline: Foundation sets $1.5M Green Line Challenge
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Think of ideas to improve the bike and walk connections around the new light rail train and, if it's a good idea, you'll get money and it'll actually happen.


Headline: City Council OKs keg house sale
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Part of the remodeled brewery will be developed into a "festival market."


Headline: Snelling-Selby traffic changes OK'd by Union Park Council
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A neighborhood group is OK with an expanded bumpout on Selby and Snelling and better "stop bars. A right-turn lane will be added at Selby and Saratoga as well, to encourage cars to cut through on that back street. [This seems awkward? We'll see.] Other painting-type traffic calming is planned, as well as a median refuge at on Snelling at Dayton.


Headline: Getten Credit's appeal denied
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: An old quasi-bank still won't be able to move into an old grocery store.


Headline: Council to rule on Davern sidewalk
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city DPW [department of Public Works] is appealing an HPC [Heritage Preservation Commission] ruling to the city council about a new sidewalk on Davern Street [which currently lacks sidewalks, and is the only through street for that part of Highland Park, so many people walk on the street, most of them children]. The HPC argued that the sidewalk would "detract from the historic appearance of the Davern house." [Because nothing says "historic" like having school children run over by cars?] Other neighbors, who would have to pay for the sidewalk, are upset about it too.The City Council is going to decide the matter. Article includes quote from HPC member: the sidewalk would be "urban" in character and "would detract from the historic farmhouse." [Know what else is urban in character? The city of Saint Paul.]

Introducing the Half-Ass Bike Prize for Design Mediocrity

Twin City Sidewalks - Mon, 06/23/2014 - 10:26am
[Behold its glory.]The story of bike planning goes like this. Someone decides it's time to do something for bikes. Maybe enough people complained. Maybe someone got hurt or killed in a horrible accident splashed. Maybe there's a pot of money somewhere. But for some reason someone decides it's time to do something for bikes.

Then a plan is made. It's probably a decent plan, something about bike lanes or bicycle boulevards or a new extension to a bike path or even (god forbid) an unprecedented protected bike lane.

Third there are meetings. At these meetings, it seems like everyone complains. We can't do this! It's impossible, too much traffic. But parking! Everyone begins their sentence with "Don't get me wrong..." or "I love riding my bicycle, but..." or "Some of my best friends ride bikes..."

[Dramatic re-enactment.]Next the plan gets watered down. Many important design elements become victims of compromise. This happens quietly, in small rooms or on phone calls. Sometimes political leaders inform city staff what is possible; sometimes it's the other way around.

Finally, the plan is passed and (much later) the "something for bikes" is built. Often it is half-ass, which is a metaphorical term that refers to when you don't pull your pants all the way up. You've still got the "pants on," so you can't be accused of not making an effort. But your ass is showing...

In the bike planning world, to be "half-ass" means to have done something so symbolic as to border on meaningless.


The classic Minneapolis example would be the Hennepin Avenue bike/bus lanes, where a decent idea (bike/bus-only lanes on a major street through downtown) became so compromised in implementation and enforcement as the kind of laughingstock that throws into question the very legitimacy of road design in the first place.

The existence of this half-ass infrastructure is not only almost lost today, but triggered the birth of an advocacy group (the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition) which has grown astoundingly in size and influence.

[Safety!]But know this friend: half-ass infrastructure is still out there. It's still being built. It is a story mumbled and forgotten again and again, even as the half-ass sharrow-laden street fades to obscurity. It's time to start recognizing the half-assed among us. It's time for the inaugural TCSidewalks Half-Ass Bike Prize for Design Mediocrity.

Hennepin Avenue isn't an "official winner." Rather,  it remains the archetype for a half-ass bike lane, now and forever. So stay tuned, the first Official Winner will be announced this week!

[Hennepin Avenue, Half-Ass Emeritus.]

*** Sidewalk Weekend! ***

Twin City Sidewalks - Fri, 06/20/2014 - 1:14pm
Sidewalk Rating: Bluster

Once in the car, there was the challenge of making conversation for many, many miles. "It is intimate; it's their little stage, their little apartment," he explains. "And they set the rules, but you have to listen to know what those rules are. And it's always about talking -- nobody picks up a hitchhiker to sit in silence."

[John Waters.]
[Blown down newsboxes in downtown Saint Paul.]


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My partner and I tried to carry out this intervention three years before. The result was unsatisfying and we promised ourselves to try again. The year after, my friend left us brutally. I hope he will like the result.
[here.]
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Spectacular in appearance, sport megaevents are also fundamentally political and economic in purpose. The megaevent world of superlatives raises major expectations with regard to the legacies they leave to host cities and nations. These range from political and cultural agendas—such as strengthening and reinventing national identities and reasserting political aspirations—to locally bounded infrastructure and gentrification projects and increased employment and tourism revenues. In line with broader neoliberal dynamics of city marketing and ‘brandscaping’, there are extensive studies arguing that sport megaevents enable host cities and nations to project themselves as festival locations, aiming to plug into diverse circuits of global capital.
[here.]

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TCSIdewalks Live!: Bowling Alley Bike Tour Rain Check

Twin City Sidewalks - Thu, 06/19/2014 - 10:35am
Sad but true, the rain will not depart this land.

How about next week?
Bike trip to five (5) bowling alleys in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. We won't be bowling at any of them, just looking at them all and learning about their history.



When: starts at 6:30.
Total distance: less than twenty (20) miles.
Cost: free, donation optional.
Ending: Leave at any time, but the final alley is in Northeast Minneapolis.

PS: If you live in Minneapolis, you can take the GREEN LINE to Snelling and University!

Reading the Highland Villager #102 to #107

Twin City Sidewalks - Thu, 06/19/2014 - 9:46am
[Oh, I bet you think I forgot about the Highland Villager, don't you?]

[Never! They've been stacking up on my desk.]

[Now I will read them all really quickly and summarize them for you, haiku triptych style.]

[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 l
ive 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.]


#102 - February 19th Edition

Sad streetcar planner
Term limit money brokers?
Baroque music lives

Goodwill for Goodwill
Two lane university?
Victoria Park too

Expensive brick stones
More meetings on medians
Compost? No Tommies!


#103 - March 5th Edition

Ford Parkway bike lanes
Bikes versus parked cars again
Light rail comes for you

Empty bus barn site
Homeless shelter, day care, please ?
More streetcar study

Snow falls, parking ban
Backyard archery... You nuts?
Always recycle


#104 - April 16th Edition

Another Schmidt building
Randolph paving protesters
Old Ford plant for sale

Amtrak downtown, late
Yet more Ayd Mill Road to come
Steep Davern sidewalk

Highland golf course booze
No yard parking, Selby man
Potholes everywhere


#105 - April 30th Edition

Another Lex fix
Save the parking space! says Thune
Another Walgreens

Bungalow teardown
Snelby traffic task force, go!
A Rondo museum

An Asian night market 
What does 8 to 80 mean?
Fire station fire sale


#106 - May 14th Edition

Overblown bike critique
Snelling BRT bus stop?
Not in my parking

Bridge project delay
No variance, old small bank
Latimer library

Old rail spur brainstorm
More LRT construction
District councils change


#107 - May 28th Edition

Train opens slowly
Dangerous Ayd Mill traffic
Teardown ordinance

Subdivide development?
Parking parking and parking
Robert Street transit

Preservation sidewalk fight
No more actual news in here
Only Highland fluff

Green Line Should be the Model for Twin Cities Transit

Twin City Sidewalks - Wed, 06/18/2014 - 9:17am
"It almost feels like living in Europe." he told me.

I was standing on the Hamline Avenue platform this weekend, chatting with another man waiting for the Westbound train. It was around sunset, just past the passing of a rainstorm. It was just the two of us.

"Honestly, this is just the beginning," I said.

Later, slumping into the seat on the brand new train, I had a funny feeling. Somehow, I was already used to it. Maybe it's the long three-year construction, but to me the train already felt a part of my background, a comfortable connection, blending into the city like a fire hydrant, a billboard, or an onramp.
 

Green Line vs. I-94

[Images from Mike Hicks.]There has been a lot of great reporting on the Green Line over the last few weeks. Maybe the most interesting for me was Iric Nathanson's historical digging about the grand opening of I-94 in 1968. It seems so difficult to imagine a time when the freeway was new. And to read the quotes from the newspapers, the freeway was met many of the same kinds of kvetching that you'll find today with the LRT.

Here's an example, from a 1968 newspaper:
“Monday afternoon an $80 million concrete trail with a bewildering series of interchanges will open to drivers willing to risk travel between St. Paul and Minneapolis.” Whereatt reported.

“The I 94 loop-to-loop link, constructed on the proposition that people in one city wish to visit people in the other, has no less than 18 interchanges. At some of the intersections you can get on and off. At others you may be able to get off while traveling west, but you cannot get on and go west. At others, you can get off while traveling west, but on only if you chose to go east. The entire thing is baffling to the point where the State Highway Department’s public information in not quite sure of anything except that, with great ceremony, the long awaited roadway will open."
All of these small design details turned out to be massively important. For example, the missing Westbound 94 to Northbound 35W connection meant that Cedar Avenue on the West Bank became a nearly unwalkable traffic funnel. The fact that anything remains of the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood today is a testament to resiliency and diversity. Fifty years later, MNDOT is just now beginning to fix the problems that its design created by implementing a road diet on the street.

There are a thousand like examples: St. Anthony Park, all the razed density between Franklin Avenue and downtown, the acres of "urban renewal" in Saint Paul, and a hundred others. The freeway catalyzed massive changes in the hearts of our cities, scooping out a dingy emptiness that quickly became normal. Who is left to remember what Seven Corners was like?

The Green Line will become normal too, and to ride along it is to feel the impending pressure on the land nearby. Just as the freeway eroded the value of anything it touched, the Green Line is going to change University Avenue. Parking lots will become apartments. Dilapidated buildings will be remodeled. This is all going to happen, and sooner than you think.


The Green Line's Double Edge


Unlike the other LRT projects, the great thing about the Green Line is that it's in the middle of a major street. Some people might see this as a huge disadvantage, causing delays and congestion for cars and transit riders alike. For me, this is the Green Line's secret weapon.

Unlike Hiawatha Avenue, or most of the proposed SWLRT or Gateway corridor routes, here the train transforms the street. University Avenue does not feel remotely like it used to. Cars drive slowly. Eventually they'll begin stopping for pedestrians. There will be crowds and clusters of people at street corners, crossing to and from the platforms. Unlike our city's other transit plans, this is an urban environmental gamechanger.

Riding along the train, I can envision the virtuous cycle taking place. As more and more people ride the train, more and more buildings will be built or improved along it, and more and more people will ride the train... With each turn of the screw, the great choking mass of cars will slowly evaporate until you have a walkable urban place. This is how to plan a transit system. It's not enough to simply add a quick transit option, you must calm traffic at the same time. Doing one without the other is weak sauce.

Transit should be planned not with a whimper, but with a bang. It should run down the middle of the road, not through a park or a freeway margin. Kinks aside, the Green Line will show us how it's done. Eventually, and perhaps not too far from now, it might just feel like living in Europe.*


* Like Bulgaria or something, not the really nice part.

Signs of the Times #87

Twin City Sidewalks - Tue, 06/17/2014 - 1:51pm
When?
[Location forgotten.]
Restrooms[arrow]
Restrooms[arrow]
[Downtown East, Minneapolis.]

 FOUND CAT!!!
did you lose yr cat?Is he big, white adn greyishw/ a crab claw and reallylike ham? If so he's undermy bed chilling eating hams. Cometo ### or call ###-###-####.and you can have him back.Unless he falls in love w/my catthen I dunno yr screwed.
[Location forgotten.]


If you have hadenough cold andsnow, PLEASE...RAISE YOUR HAND
[Location forgotten.]

WARNING!DO NOT STANDNEAR DOORDOOR OPENSFREQUENTLY
[Downtown, Saint Paul.]

 BICYCLESParkingPROHIBITED
[Downtown, Saint Paul.]
Northern States 45Power Company
[West Side, Saint Paul.]
[BACKWARDS WRITING]
[Prior-University, Saint Paul.]

DO NOTCLIMB ONWALL
[Prior-University, Saint Paul.]

Twin City Message Boards #8

Twin City Sidewalks - Tue, 06/17/2014 - 1:33pm
 [Hamline-Midway, Saint Paul.]
[Chicago Avenue, South Minneapolis.]

[Seward/Minnehaha, Minneapolis.]

[Somewhere in a big East Coast city.]

[Location forgotten.]

[West Side, Saint Paul.]

 [Chaska.]
[Duluth.]

No Bike Parking along the Green Line is Absurd

Twin City Sidewalks - Mon, 06/16/2014 - 2:39pm
One of the reasons that Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) is my favorite philosopher is that he has an amusing habit of calling certain things "absurd." For example, the impossibility of having more than one essence (or "nature") was self-evident, obvious to anyone with the semblance of a rational mind.

I rode the Green Line this weekend, and I'm very pleased with it. That said, there are lot of little details that leave much to be desired. For example, how walkable are the sidewalks alongside the light rail? What are the crosswalks and station connections like? How are the bus connections? Will the land use regulations foster walkability? Will there be bike lanes connecting to the stations?

These are all things that have little to do with the light rail train per se, things far outside the purview of train conductors or traffic signal engineers. But in another way, these little details are the key to the whole enterprise.

For example, look at bike parking. The average 10-mile Twin Cities intra-city light rail connection costs $1,000,000,000. Meanwhile, the average bike rack costs $250. For those keeping score at home, that's a four million-to-one ratio.

[Maths.]
Yet for some reason somehow during the three decades of planning and three full years of construction (including complete reconstruction of almost all of the sidewalks alongside the path of the light rail train), one is hard pressed to find a bike rack anywhere near the new Green Line.

Let's look at a few spots where this lack of the obvious is the most absurd. If "penny-wise, pound-foolish" is a thing, what might you call this?


Spot #1: the Washington Avenue bicycle and transit mall

One major change catalyzed by the Green Line was to re-design Washington Avenue through the University of Minnesota campus into a bicycle and transit mall. There is now a large bicycle-only lane (complete with expensive bicycle-only turn signals) running through the East Bank, which is the #1 place in the entire state of Minnesota where people ride bicycles a lot.

Good luck finding a single bike rack along Washington Avenue, which is lined with businesses where people riding bicycles will stop and do things. Instead, bike riding people will lock their bikes to anything they can find...









Spot #2: the Washington Avenue bicycle and transit mall

Person #1: Hey let's design a street for bicycles, only have nowhere for them to park.

Person #2: OK. Let's spend a billion dollars on it too.

Person #3: I can't think of any problems.

[Repeat for three years.]





[A winter one just for fun.]

Spot #3: the Union Depot

This is a $250,000,000 multi-modal facility next to the $1,000,000,000 train. After a great deal of pleading from the downtown Saint Paul bicycle community, the managers of the Union Depot installed convenient bike parking right by the massive station entrance, which is where 99% of bicyclists riding to the Union Depot will look for it.


[Six months ago: a semi-useful bike rack.]
[Technically, these racks were placed a bit too close to the railing.]
Don't worry, they're gone now.

[Today: the place where bike racks used to be.]

Spot #4: Anywhere else along University Avenue

Oh yeah, there really isn't any bike parking along the ten miles of University Avenue either.





[Don't worry, this bicycle is purely symbolic.]


PS: 

Spot #5: Anywhere in Downtown Saint Paul.






*** Sidewalk Weekend ***

Twin City Sidewalks - Fri, 06/13/2014 - 10:47am
Sidewalk Rating: Pastoral

-->
Sitting in traffic destroys the soul. In the Hobbesian logic of a jam, each car becomes every other car’s enemy, and life’s purposefulness turns on itself. Time dilates. The NPR headlines roll by, then roll by again. Inching your way toward the tauntingly designated E-Z Pass lane, you grow to despise the man in the gray Audi, but it’s the woman in the blue Subaru who cuts you off. Progress slows until you reach a standstill. You begin to fantasize that you’re the victim of a malevolent force, that your lane has been singled out for some sort of cruel test or act of vengeance. This is a sign that you’ve lost touch with reality – unless, of course, you live in New Jersey.
[Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker Talk of the Town.]


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Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles (1972) from Repazzo on Vimeo.
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A bicycle puts in mind two important lines: the flow of traffic and your body-machine's trajectory within it. As much as I follow the advice of the infrastructure I ride through, I also find myself responding to the pulsing of other vehicles, which in some places do stay where the street lines and signs tell them they belong. We can see it when we ride together, that each of us approaches the intersection slightly differently. To one, there is plenty of time to cross before the light changes. To another, it's best to cross as a pedestrian using ADA curb cuts. To a third, it's best to follow what one of the others has started to do. I rode through Washington, D.C. yesterday with two friends, both experienced cyclists, and observed how we combined our different minds. It was hard to decide how we fit into the flow of traffic as a group, how our trajectory would intersect with others, because we had different styles of moving forward. There is a city symphony the bicycle allows us to join, even those of us without the stamina to master more conventional noisemaking devices. 
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Small Town Sprawl in Pine City

Twin City Sidewalks - Wed, 06/11/2014 - 2:57pm
My friend Nate wrote a great post today about how small cities and towns often build new schools out in farm fields on the edge of town.

He looked at the new high school being built in his home town of Mankato as an example. Here's the punchline:

It’s widely accepted that many schools built-in the last 20 years were deliberately designed to discourage walking. What’s puzzling is that more people weren’t concerned about this? The freedom to roam was one of the most rewarding experiences of growing up. It teaches us not only navigational skills, but personal responsibility. Children need to experience this.It might be forgivable if student walkers were overlooked, or just an afterthought. That’s not the case. They were specifically considered and the general consensus was to ignore them. It was aconscious decision to save money on initial land costs.
On bicycle trips around Minnesota and Wisconsin, I've noticed these sprawl schools a lot. Probably the worst one I've seen recently is in Pine City, Minnesota (pop, 3000).

The school is only two years old, and located in a farm field on the edge of town. Pine City has a lovely Main Street, but it's a mile and a half away along old US Highway 61.

[High school to the heart of town.]

I always wonder why civic leaders choose not to put the high school in the middle of town, and I wondered it again as I went past the school.

But then on my way North, I saw the brand new County Courthouse complex, an even larger sprawling complex even farther away from downtown out on the other far edge of town. The courthouse complex is literally surrounded by empty lots and a freeway onramp.

Compare this to the days when courthouses used to be the absolute center of a town, and kids walking to schools was a common sight. All I can think is that whoever makes decision in Pine City must really hate where they live, or love parking lots, or have a good friend with some land to sell.


[Courthouse to the heart of town.]


Twin City Bike Parking #13

Twin City Sidewalks - Wed, 06/11/2014 - 12:51pm
 [Sent in by a reader.]
[Manhattan, New York City.]

[Location forgotten.]

[University Avenue, Saint Paul.]

 [Location forgotten.]
[Location forgotten.]
[Washington Avenue, Minneapolis.]

[Washington Avenue, Minneapolis.]

Other City Sidewalks: Milwaukee

Twin City Sidewalks - Tue, 06/10/2014 - 8:39am
It's not supposed to matter. After all, it's the same train. But something seemed different on my trip, to be leaving from the grand old brand new station.

But it might have been all the walking. See my friend and I walked from my house to the station, two miles on foot, carrying our bags on our backs right from my front door, across the river and into downtown. We walked in between the pillars of the old building with our sandwiches and waited a while and got on the train to Milwaukee. And later that day, we were in another city.

It's like how a frame can change a picture. The old station had been a 70s concrete building shaped like an ashtray. And worse, it was in the middle an industrial park stuck between the back end of a Menards and a row of logistics warehouses. To get there you had to take a slow bus that dropped you off next to a vacant lot, and trudge through a few parking lots. The new station downtown, an old building remodeled to match its heyday, was the opposite.  And even if it was the same slow train, perpetually late, to slide your feet along marble floors makes it seem faster. 

Then to get off the train in a new city, even if it was Milwaukee, and to walk from there straight to our hotel, made it seem more connected. To take a trip with trains and feet is to live in a real city, as if my third floor brick apartment atop the valley were tied more closely to the world, as if I could escape if I wanted to, if I left at just the right time to catch the once-a-day train.

We walked everywhere. Only one rainy evening we took a taxi to a brewpub in the Third Ward, the old part of city crowding the branching river like an industrial Venice, but other than that we walked. Two miles, three miles seven miles, four miles, two miles again... it adds up. Your feet get sore. But everything stays connected, and maybe it's not supposed to matter, but it does.
















[Two miles, to the train station.]

[One mile.]
[Two miles.]
[Seven miles.][Three miles.][Two miles.]
[Two miles, back to Saint Paul.][Postal workers statue.]
And Milwaukee a good city to walk around. It's a city built on beer, and maybe that's why it's gentle on the slowly moving. There always seemed to be something beckoning me forward, some sign or street or faded building. The vacancy never built up to that despairing pitch where a dusty emptiness takes over, and each step flattens out the life around you. That never happened. Milwaukee sits well above the vanishing point.

(Well, that's not quite true. There was one particular place, sadder than all the rest. The monument for Our Lady of Pompeii marks the spot of an old church, and sits abandoned  underneath a trio of massive overpasses, freeways twisting  like Medusan snakes to cut a half-mile gulch through downtown. It's the saddest spot in Milwaukee.)

Because Milwaukee has seen better days. It's the last in the  string of industrial cities stretching Westward from Buffalo that have been falling down for fifty years. Each corner of Milwaukee city has its abandoned factories, each leaving behind small canyons of boarded up bricks. But unlike many of those other desperate places, Milwaukee seems OK with its future.

And while it's probably not healthy, maybe it's the bars. There are such wonderful old bars in Milwaukee, a new old door around every corner. Few of them seemed to be closed, and my friend and I stumbled through a lot of them. On our first night, we wound up at the "Y Not II", a laundromat bar expansion, if that makes any sense. The next day, strolling south from River West we followed a fire truck to a burning building. Then we  followed a man with a dog into "Gee Willikers", a bar where they buzz you in and people from the neighborhood sit around drinking $2 Tecate at two in the afternoon, and where five well-behaved dogs ran around the whole time. Call it a dog park / corner bar. I sat for fifteen minutes surrounded by dogs and watched the fire smolder down the street. It was a great place.

The next day on our way out of town, we walked through downtown and poked my head into a bar called "My Office", where presumably unemployed people whiled away the day amidst the cubicles. The bartender kept talking about... it doesn't matter. I remember that he muttered "Oh Jesus," as a crazy regular stepped inside and took his usual seat at the end.

I could go on. Those are just the top three dives I encountered, at least the ones I can remember. There are also brewpubs, old fashioned bratwurst joints, sports bars of every stripe, and neighborhood holes all over the city. Drinking beer in Milwaukee has evolved to such degree that it has a language all its own, even its own mathematics. At one place south of the Third Ward, a friendly local taught us to play "bar dice," a Yahtzee-esque affair where you compete to see who buys the next round.  I don't think I could explain it, but let's just say that the numbers only make sense if you're drinking in Wisconsin.

There are also diners and restaurants, markets, and a bookstore or two, even a video store. It doesn't have skyways, which is one of the reasons why its downtown still has lots of things to see and do on the sidewalk. It's got a great lake, and gulls are all around. You know, for kids.

Milwaukee is a nice city where you won't get bored walking around. That said, it's segregated. The black part of the city marks an invisible line on the street, and if you wander too far over it you'll be quickly out of place. I can't tell you much more than that, but the maps and numbers speak for themselves.





[A video store!]


[Not Cincinnati, but just as good.]


The other big difference between Milwaukee and the Twin Cities is that, as my friend put it, "this place doesn't take itself too seriously." I'd guess it's because Milwaukee close enough to Chicago that it's impossible for anyone's ego to grow too large.

Solipsism is a great failing of the Twin Cities, one consequence of being the only large place for five hundred miles in any direction. I fear the lack of a significant other leads to the narcissim of self-reflection, where the mirrored towers of downtown Minneapolis become the be-all and end-all of our worldview.

But if you travel East from Saint Paul and get to the far side of Madison, as the Cubs hats accumulate this feeling starts to fade. By the time you reach Milwaukee and see the endless lake just past the last street, you're connected again to a larger part of America.  And that's a great feeling for an isolated Midwestern man, good enough reason to walk out your door in the morning, get on the next train and see where it takes you.


Twin City Neon #9

Twin City Sidewalks - Mon, 06/09/2014 - 9:47am
 [Milwaukee, WI.]
[Location forgotten.]

[South Minneapolis.]

 [Milwaukee, WI.]

[Location forgotten.]

[West Bank, Minneapolis.]

[West 7th, Saint Paul.]

[Grand Avenue, Saint Paul.]

Signs of the Times #86

Twin City Sidewalks - Mon, 06/09/2014 - 9:40am
Thank Youfor the  Plastic andPaper BagsWith andwithoutHandles
[West 7th Street, Saint Paul.]

PLEASEDo Not TakeOur PAPERThank You!
[Location forgotten. Minneapolis?]

Sorry We areOut of Change
[Downtown Saint Paul.]

OUTSIDETRAIL
[Two Harbors.]

drink coffeeand beAWESOME
[Downtown Duluth.]

UNITED STATESMARSHALNOTRESPASSING
[Downtown Duluth.]

NO BIKESAGAINSTFENCEThanks!
[Location forgotten. Cardinal Bar, South Minneapolis.]

DOUGis Downstaires, dotB alarmed.Couldn't getHome.
[Sent in by a reader.]

TC Sidewalks Live!: Bowling Alley Bike Tour

Twin City Sidewalks - Fri, 06/06/2014 - 10:35am
[Old bowling, 1600s.]Hey, it's time once again for a psychogeographic bike ride. This time we're going to "strike" five different bowling alleys in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, ranging from East to West across the Twin Cities.


NOTE: We will NOT be bowling.

 
Why Bowling?

Well, for one thing, bowling is old. As soon as people invented "round things", they started rolling them and knocking things over. Egyptians did this. Romans did this. We can only assume that everyone has always been doing this.

(For example, bocce, lawn bowling, or petanc.)

Proper pin-type lane bowling is only about 120 years old, coincidentally invented just as the bicycle was becoming a popular everyday technology.

Coincidence? Perhaps not!

Both involve rolling. Both involve moving down the center of a lane without ending up in the gutter. Coincidence? I ask again.

We will do this together. Bicycling to bowling alleys to determine the state of the lanes in 2014.

NOTE: We will NOT be bowling.



Why Bowling Now?

At some point in the past twenty years, nostalgia for bowling has rolled its way into our hearts. You might blame the Coen Brothers for bringing us The Big Lebowski, where bowling serves as a metaphor for the fraying 90s social fabric.

Or you might blame sociologists. Thanks in part to Robert Putnam's (2000) book Bowling Alone, bowling has become a synecdoche for social health more generally. "As goes the bowling alley, so goes society."

And, at least according to Putnam's problematic metrics, Minnesota (and the Dakotas) score the highest when it comes to "social capitol", meaning a certain form of togetherness marked by things like Shriners, golf outings, card playing, voting, picnics, etc. In other words, Minnesota is the last bastion of bowling! Let's explore it together.

Five bowling alleys, from the old to the new and everything in between. What will we see? Who will be bowling? Is Minnesota truly "bowling alone"? Do people have their own balls anymore?



 
When: starts at 6:30 on Thursday, June 19th, 2014.
Total distance: less than twenty (20) miles.
Cost: free, donations highly appreciated.
Ending: leave at any time, but the final alley is in Northeast Minneapolis.


RSVP: on Facebook.

NOTE: We will NOT be bowling.

PS: If you live in Minneapolis and are feeling lazy, you can put your bike on the GREEN LINE to get to Snelling and University!

[We will NOT be doing this.]

Return of the Repressed Uptown Loft

Twin City Sidewalks - Thu, 06/05/2014 - 9:02am
[POW MIA bride.]I'm sure I'm not alone in being mystified by Viagra commercials. Slate grey color scale images of a couple on a cliff watching a sunset in side-by-side bathtubs. Trucks pulling things in slow motion. A sepia toned guy throwing a football through a tire swing. Amber waves of Amber's hair.

These things work in mysterious ways, through the play of semi-liminal images, association and connotation. I'm sure there's millions of dollars of psychology research behind each of these commercials. You can only assume that the Viagra and Cialis ad agencies know something that we don't know about how to talk about sex without talking about sex.

Lately, a less subtle sexual iconography is emerging around the Uptown apartment boom. During construction, a pair of new apartment buildings boasted a series of bro-tastic posters advertising easy sex. The Lime building featured signs saying: "Don't get hitched until you enjoy your year at Lime" and "Tarts welcome." The almost anagrammatically named Elan apartments draped itself in: "You might not remember her name, but her apartment..." Even the brochure for the staid Penfield apartments in Saint Paul have a curious collection of stock images [see photo below]. And of course, last week we were luckily enough to experience the vague porn video provided by the good folks at Nelson + Partners. Minnpost's Steve Neuman wrote the best synopsis of all. Here's the money shot:

Dollar Store Ryan Gosling (still SOCKLESS) gets the fireplace going while Mystery Blonde powders her nose, then they just keep on drinking before clothes start coming off and they go to his sleek, modern bedroom.  The screen goes dark.  Cut to the following morning, as the sun rises over Lake Calhoun, and DSRG and Mystery Blonde are standing on his balcony in matching white robes. It’s shot from a distance and you can’t see what they’re drinking, but I assume they’ve already put a good a.m. dent in a handle of vodka.  And the credits roll.The unsubtle message for the viewer: live here and you will have perfunctory, joyless sex with attractive women even if you’re a tardy jerk who shows up one cocktail in. 

Misogyny aside, I'm struck by how all of these "sex and the city" ads seem incredibly stupid. Not only are they hipster snark fodder, they seem to fuel the generational culture wars brewing around Minneapolis development.

But yet... stupid sexy urban living ads spread like randy rabbits. What's going on?



[Close up of a brochure for the Penfield in Saint Paul.]
I'm convinced that the real estate marketing people are up to something interesting. Sex sells, and there's must be something going on here about urban lifestyles and suburban alienation.

In other words, our urban environments have long been tied to particular sexual codes. For example, during the 19th century, unchaperoned women in the city were often assumed to be prostitutes. The Victorian era gave birth to a particular image of domesticity, where the residential suburban home served as a moral refuge from a corrupt and sexually perverted city. In other words, the nuclear family had a landscape. The suburbs offered a domicile carefully composed by Godly, straight, and monogamous women. These landscapes became proper homes for children, refuges from postlapsarian morally ambiguous urban chaos.

Of course this was mostly bullshit. It turns out that women didn't want to be protected from the world, and the city was full of sexual liberation and creativity (gayborhoods are but one example). For the most part, the moral landscape of the suburbs did nothing but cover up any number of of deep sexual problems in ways that provided fodder for generations of authors and filmmakers. (And continue to release themselves through lonely violent men.)

But today we have a new wave of architecture as innuendo. That the Uptown apartment has become an intertwining of urban space and sexual fantasy suggests that we remain gripped by spatial alienation. It tells me that, young and old alike, many still yearn for liberation from the lonely burbs. We want to be thrust back into the hurly-burly of the city street, where it seems like anything can happen.

Laugh as we will, the marketing people know something we don't. (They always do.) Viagra commercials meet Uptown lofts. Brotastic ads for Bud Light Lime rise incarnate at the corner of 29th and Lyndale. Maybe the "back to the city" movement has deep Freudian roots, and our new city represents a landscape of desire that is not going away. The Uptown boom is the return of the repressed.

[An erection.]

CLOSED – Job Posting: Inside Sales Representative

Dero Bike Racks - Tue, 06/03/2014 - 12:04pm
THIS POSITION HAS BEEN FILLED. THANK YOU. Title: Inside Sales Representative Responsibilities Respond promptly to sales and product inquiries, support via incoming phone and web traffic Focus on contacts, sales leads, project bidding via the following: Construction databases Web based … Continue reading →

Dero Dream Bike Room Contest Winner: BikeTexas

Dero Bike Racks - Tue, 05/20/2014 - 3:55pm
BikeTexas pulls ahead of Green Building Alliance to win the Dero Dream Bike Room Pinterest contest. BikeTexas wins up to $7,500 in Dero bike parking products, plus $1,000 to decorate its dream bike room. Dero is proud to announce its … Continue reading →