The Streets.MN Rundown

I’m going to steal a little something out of the Strong Towns Playbook (e.g.: Friday News Digest). Sorry Chuck, I’m stealing your idea! How does the saying go? Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery?

Here we go …

Minneapolis is looking to change an ordinance to allow merchants to display and sell goods on the sidewalk outside stores. Here’s a bit from the Star Tribune article;

“Urged by business owners … from across Minneapolis, city officials are now considering changing the ordinance to allow businesses to display and sell goods outside of their stores …

The proposal is being pushed by City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, who said she’d like Minneapolis to become as enjoyable to walk in as New York City.

“We’re really trying to encourage walkable neighborhoods and walkable business districts,” she said. “I think this fits right into the sensibility of those goals and I’m really excited about the opportunity.”

This is a good idea. Support it!

  • Sidewalk Cafe Seating vs. Metered Parking, on Grid.mn

“It seems remarkable that business owners not only want less parking, but are willing to pay $300,000 to do it.”

Lowertown St. Paul is debating expanding sidewalks along Mears Park, but it would remove on-street parking. This has made some people not-so-happy. My thought has always been this; why not expand the sidewalk, keep on-street parking and just remove thru traffic to one-lane? In my mind, it’s hard to justify two through lanes of traffic in such an urbanized and walkable neighborhood. Also, The Grid is a new blog worth checking out.

  • Detroit City Is The Place To Be, by Mark Binelli [on Amazon]

I just started reading this book over the weekend – and it’s excellent. It tells a great narrative of the urban history of Detroit; it’s rise, it’s fall and it’s … whatever is next. Detroit is a fascinating, historic place and the new Wild West for urbanism and creativity. I’m cheering for Detroit because, in my lifetime, it’s always been the underdog. I love an underdog. This sounds totally stupid; but if a Minnesota team isn’t playing, I’m always cheering for the Tigers, Lions, Red Wings, and umm, not so much the Pistons, but still, you get my point. Go Detroit!

Next on the reading list: The Genesis of Car Culture, by Christopher Wells.

  • What would it cost to cross the new St. Croix River Valley Bridge? from the Star Tribune

Here’s a bit from the article;

“Charging drivers as much as $3 to cross the bridge could raise enough money to pay for roughly half the construction cost.”

That means, if we wanted drivers to pay the full cost of just construction (not debt service or maintenance), everyone crossing the road would need to pay $6 per one way trip. That’s a hefty for a toll, especially since one can drive 5.5 miles south to the I-94 Bridge or 1.5 miles north to the old bridge and pay nothing (or, approximately $0 + mileage + time).

  • Quick & Dirty Urbanism

I took these images last summer in Iowa. It’s old news, but these images are so amazing that I feel like I need to share them again. In more compact urban spaces, it’s essential to use space creatively. This goes for big and small towns alike. I stumbled across a great example of this in downtown Clear Lake, Iowa. The Starboard Market is a deli / coffee shop in downtown that abuts a mid-block alleyway. During nice summer days, the place gets packed and they needed some extra seating. This is what they did …

The Starboard Market took over half the alley with two small wooden patios. One vehicle can still pass by, it aids the urban environment while inconveniencing few and allowing the shop to attract a few extra patrons … and when the shop closes, they remove the seating, fold up the decks and move the umbrellas inside.

It’s quick and dirty added urbanism. It’s a creative solution to the space problem some businesses may have in downtown locations. It’s simple, easy, cheap and successful.

  • The Lost Demographic?

Where are teens and young adults? That’s a good question. Here’s a quote Aascot Holt at Global Site Plans:

“Most of the time the only places that allow minors under twenty-one on their premises after 10pm are movie theaters, gas stations, and the occasional fro-yo hut. If there aren’t any other options, most teens choose public places where nobody is admitted past dark, like sport courts, skateboard parks, and playgrounds. Downtown is where the majority of nightlife lies for those over twenty-one, and it needs to be a place where minors can enjoy themselves too.”

Firms cluster. It’s one of the first things I learned in urban economics. Firms cluster. That means, in the long-run, you can get somewhat homogenous areas that, while not the same type of business, aim at the same clientele. This, of course, is generally true. Our downtown spaces – our few good urban places in American – are turning into places to go drink (this is one of my objections to “entertainment districts” in urban areas). It’s impossible, legally at least, to impose forced diversity. However, it would be a great if we could find some way to actually make this happen. Thoughts? Here’s  more on the topic: The Real Problem with Gentrification.

The Star Tribune reports that “Minnesotans have spent about $6.6 million on the new electronic pulltabs since they were launched in September. By comparison, they forked over nearly $500 million during the same period for little cardboard games”. WOW! Apparently the electronic pulltabs aren’t “fun” – who would have thunk’ it?

That, and $500 million is a lot of money. I’ve spent exactly $0 on old-fashion and electronic pulltabs during the same period.

  • Now …

Here’s an amazing video about space travel. It’s kind of long, but well worth watching. Summary: Space travel is awesome and the Earth is awesome.

Foxes are, like, my favorite animals … Enjoy.

  • Lying down in the snow [pic]
  • Curious fox on a cliff [pic]
  • Fox pushing a goose in a baby carriage [pic]
  • Fox close-up, business casual [pic]
  • Two foxes jumping on a trampoline [YouTube]

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6 Responses to The Streets.MN Rundown

  1. Ross Williams February 19, 2013 at 7:51 am #

    “That means, if we wanted drivers to pay the full cost of just construction (not debt service or maintenance), everyone crossing the road would need to pay $6 per one way trip.”

    That is a doubtful premise. My guess is that $3 is the optimal amount for total toll revenue and increasing the price beyond that will result in less revenue. As you note, people have alternatives for getting across the river, including living on the Minnesota side, closer to work. So a higher toll beyond a certain point will lead to enough fewer vehicles that you get less total revenue.

    This is true for most expensive road projects like bridges and urban highways. Users are unwilling to pay the full cost, so they require a subsidy from other taxpayers even with tolling. That usually comes from the gas tax, but the tax paid on gas used to travel on these roads doesn’t remotely cover their cost either.

    The same is true of t the “MnPass” lanes. The tolls paid don’t cover the cost of the capacity. They really only make sense so long as you have excess capacity on lanes reserved for multi-passenger vehicles. HOV lanes make sense because they move more passengers, more efficiently. But for single occupancy vehicles, they are just a subsidized luxury lanes for people who can/will pay the toll. They may even create congestion by encouraging people to drive themselves, instead of taking other options that don’t add to traffic and congestion.

    • Matt February 19, 2013 at 9:46 am #

      This begs the question, if the optimal bridge toll is less than the actual bridge cost divided by all crossings over the bridge’s lifecycle, should this bridge be built?

      As you note, the MnPASS lanes are different. They should be held to a different revenue standard since the capacity already existed, and expanding to HOT usage was a way to create transportation choices without compromising the transit/carpool advantage in those lanes. Since the lanes already existed, the base assumption should ensure that the marginal revenue of the lanes meets the marginal cost of administering the lanes, since the utility of the lanes for transit/carpool advantage is not under scrutiny.

  2. Nathaniel M Hood
    Nathaniel February 19, 2013 at 9:14 am #

    Ross – You’re right. There is an optimal toll (it’s likely not $6) and I can’t disagree with anything you have written. I used $6 to highlight that user fees (tolls, gas taxes, etc.) will likely pay for very little of this bridge [furthermore, it'll help spur development that will likely become a burden to future generations].

    Please see: http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/tag/stillwater-bridge

    This is the Streets.MN Rundown. It’s meant to present issues, but not really dig deep into them. I’d wish I had more free time to dig into each item, but that isn’t a possibility right now.

    Thanks for commenting. -Nate

  3. Ross Williams February 19, 2013 at 10:43 am #

    Nate –

    I understood your point and the $6 makes it. But, its also misleading in that it assumes there is a set group of people who will use the bridge regardless of costs or whether a new bridge is built at all. Neither is the case.

    I suspect the $3 choice was not arbitrary. The study was designed to figure out how much of the bridge costs tolls could cover. Like almost all parts of the planning process for new road facilities, it was designed to justify building as large and expensive a facility as possible. At least to the extent the expenses go to hire MnDOT engineers and people employed in the road building and construction industries.

    Matt is right. The real issue is whether this bridge should be built at all. Its really designed to increase traffic and congestion on Highway 36 and beyond. Congestion that will require future expensive investments to “fix”.

  4. James Colin Campbell February 19, 2013 at 11:57 pm #

    Excellent article, a soup du jour of urban planning. Write more about detriot- I wonder what the heck is going on down there (has every building been set on fire for the insurance money?) (can you buy a city block for $600?)

    Keep up the good work!

  5. Nathaniel M Hood
    Nathaniel February 20, 2013 at 9:55 am #

    Thanks James. I’ll see what I can do to write more about Detroit. I’m considering a visit there sometime in the near future. -Nate