Encouraging Diversity (and Hot Dog Eating) on streets.mn

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Ideas for encouraging diversity on streets.mn

On the afternoon of Memorial Day a small group of streets.mn writers met in a sunny Minneapolis backyard to explore our ideas and concerns surrounding diversity and representation on streets.mn.  This holiday barbecue featured a great turnout of 10 writers, some loosely structured activities, and, of course, a veggie hot dog or two.  Hot dog eaters were from a variety of locations (Minneapolis and St. Paul, some further suburbs, and Northfield), and we had a good balance of men and women.

I was originally prompted to organize the barbecue by a thread on the writers’ Google group.  Writers shared some fantastic comments about their perceptions of the kinds of posts welcome on streets.mn, barriers to writing for women and minorities, and the general culture and feel of the site.  Clearly we had a lot to talk about.  A barbecue gave us a more personal, flexible forum than an online thread to share our ideas around these complex and often sensitive topics, and let us explore ideas originally aired in the thread in a more in depth and nuanced way.

We spent several hours getting to know one another and chatting in pairs and groups in an unstructured way, which resulted in some thought provoking discussions.  I’ve tried to represent some of the ideas that were shared here, which are mixed up with my own ideas, biases, and commentary.  I hope the content of this post sparks more discussion and can serve as a jumping off point for working toward solutions, and for figuring out what those solutions might be in the first place.

What’s the big deal?

Take a look at our list of contributors.  At first it seems we have a decent gender balance of men and women, but number of posts associated with men and women show a very different picture.

Post Quantities by Gender (source: Andrea Steudel)

Post Quantities by Gender (source: Andrea Steudel)

Clearly the voice of streets.mn is predominately male.  It’s also been noted (and has been a point of criticism) that those males tend to be white, young, urban, and middle class more often than not.  This blog asserts that a “diverse group of contributors writes for streets.mn,” but I’m not convinced that’s based in any real assessment.  Our About page refers to diversity in vague ways, but it doesn’t appear it’s explicitly been named as a value of the organization.

Our mission says that streets.mn strives to “expand and enhance the conversation about transportation and land use through research and informed commentary.”  I would argue that it does so admirably through many well researched posts about the finer points of planning and transportation, debates about the pros and cons of existing and planned infrastructure, and reports on the process behind public land use projects.  Those posts are one thing that makes streets.mn great, and should remain a cornerstone of “the conversation” we are trying to expand and enhance.  That conversation shouldn’t only be about the planning process and technical specs, however.  We should strive to include more posts about how these impact people’s lives on the ground, how women and minorities and immigrants and children use transportation and public spaces, how our transportation system does/doesn’t/could better empower people and foster better communities.  Some of our content touches on these topics, but we could go a lot further.  I think we’ve lost the opportunity to bring many people with diverse perspectives on as writers based on the perception that streets.mn is meant to be a wonky blog, or that a potential writer has to be somewhat authoritative on a technical topic to meaningfully contribute.  Of course we want well researched and intelligent posts, but we also want posts that explore a diversity of opinions and backgrounds and discuss transportation and land use at many different levels.

Several writers have pointed out that, according to our About page, anyone can contribute to streets.mn.  Technically true, yes.  So why isn’t everybody and their mother flocking to share their ideas here?  If the organization wants to reach a broader audience and continue to contribute meaningfully to our whole community, we have to call out statements like this.  Writers need to explore what it really means to invite participation on streets.mn, how to make the call for contributors more inviting, how to meaningfully seek out individuals to contribute, how we can openly address our concerns, and what our roles as writers and board members should be in fostering diversity on this site.

Crowdsourcing Solutions

After a lot of munching and free form discussion, we wrapped up the afternoon with an activity that utilized our trusty markers and index cards to crowdsource some steps for moving forward.  We each wrote down an answer to the prompt, “If you were ten times bolder, what big idea would you recommend to foster diverse perspectives?  What first step would you take to get started?”  Cards were passed, discussed, and scored twice on a scale of one to five.  We wound up with two rounds’ worth of cards and some great and not so great ideas (yes, one of mine was the lowest scored in the bunch).  The scoring revealed some standouts:

“Turn commenters who point out missing perspectives into authors.”  This was the only idea to score a perfect 10.  Commenters are people who are already invested to some degree in streets.mn in that they’re already taking part in our conversations.  streets.mn has Betsey Buckheit, who reviews comment threads when she compiles her Sunday Summary posts and could potentially give recommendations for recruiting new writers.

“Make the streets.mn hidden visible.  Post on the hidden and ideas.”  This idea is represented by this very post: taking the conversations that are currently happening in comment threads and behind the scenes and making them widely visible to the streets.mn audience.  Opening up our hidden concerns has the potential to bring our whole community into the discussion and to improve the site.

“Demand diversity on the board.  10 2 people.”  If we want to say that a diverse group of people writes for streets.mn, we should put our money where our mouth is.  If we can explicitly commit to active recruitment of diversity on our governing board, we can better fulfill our mission of expanding and enhancing the conversation about transportation and land use.  I don’t remember exactly what “10 2 people” referred to, so please chime in below if you know!

“Achieve gender balance in quantity of key writers.  Get contacts and research female writers.”  Andrea Steudel is especially passionate about working toward greater gender equity among regular contributors.  Part of this push could be linked to our first goal of turning commenters into writers, and another part could be to identify women in the engineering, transportation, and planning worlds who would be interested in lending their voices to streets.mn.

“Get a non-white person to write about car-free living in Minnesota.”  This conversation was initially sparked by discussion of gender representation, but clearly that is not the only aspect of diversity that needs improvement.We also raised issues of how to encourage minority representation without falling prey to tokenism or a quota mentality.  Points about race and ethnicity sparked a lot of discussion among us, but resulting ideas seemed to be more nebulous and need a lot more thought.

Along with these top ideas, we touched on inclusion of writers of different economic and class backgrounds, recruiting more rural and outstate writers, recruitment of writers of diverse ages, and how to reach different immigrant communities in the Twin Cities.

So, when’s the next barbecue?

It’s clear that we still have a lot more to talk about.  There are so many facets of diversity to explore, so there will be at least one more get-together like this one.  Building a more diverse cohort of streets.mn writers will be most successful when it is a process we all take part in.  I’m hoping that, by taking some of the small, more manageable steps generated in that Minneapolis backyard, we can begin to make meaningful progress toward addressing our concerns.

Streets.mn is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

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97 Responses to Encouraging Diversity (and Hot Dog Eating) on streets.mn

  1. Anne June 5, 2014 at 9:33 am #

    I haven’t been on streets.mn in months, because I got the sense from comments that individual experience is less valid than academic mansplaining. I prefer not to have people jump down my throat, authoritatively regurgitating facts that may or may not be appropriate. So I stopped caring.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke June 5, 2014 at 9:55 am #

      Sorry about that Anne! We’re trying… or at least trying to try… or at least, thinking about trying.

      Also, sorry I missed the meeting. It sounds great, and seems very important to me. I’ll be at the next one. I believe the work Cassie, Janne, Andrea and others are doing will help make this site better and less alienating.

    • Scott Shaffer
      Scott Shaffer June 5, 2014 at 9:57 am #

      We miss you, Anne. Jargon is oppressive. We’re all adults. We can disagree in a friendly way.

    • Tony Hunt
      Tony Hunt June 5, 2014 at 10:12 am #

      That sucks that you weren’t welcome in the threads. I’m sorry. For what it’s worth, as an infrequent writer here, I too am a layman when it comes to academic training in urban planning and engineering. All I do is share my stories and do my best to analyze the experience. I see no reason you shouldn’t be doing the same.

      • Bill Lindeke
        Bill Lindeke June 5, 2014 at 10:29 am #

        WARNING: meta!

        Comment threads are notorious challenges. This kind of interaction fosters particular kinds of language. There’s a reason why I never read comment threads on the vast majority of internet websites (especially mainstream news). They bring out the worst in people, especially a particular kind of argumentative “troll” (99% men?).

        OTOH, you don’t want to overly moderate comments either. Minnpost requires a login and has a delay for approval by a moderator. I don’t think we want to do that here, even if we did have a moderator.

        Anyway, any thoughts about improving the comment threads to make them less about shouting people down? Do you think that’s a problem? Maybe I’ll make this a separate post sometime.

        • Anne June 5, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

          I completely agree that comment threads are notorious for argumentative trolling, and while I don’t think the comments I found discouraging were personal attacks, the overall tone tended not to be very welcoming to experiential vs. academic approaches.

          Granted, I don’t know how the site has changed recently, since I haven’t been here in a few months. I think in general, calling people out on being overly argumentative is a better course than just rolling your eyes and continuing on if you want to have a real dialogue, but then that does get personal.

        • L. K.
          L. K. June 5, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

          I’m new around here, so I do not have personal experience ON THIS SITE, but mansplaining and trolling is something I am very familiar with, as a contributor, commentor, and moderator.

          One thing that has been helpful in my experience is to have some moderators that are not dudes. I am not commenting on the current moderator makeup of streets.mn, because I’m new and I don’t know how it works here, but this is a concrete action that helps. And by “moderator,” I don’t mean someone that looks at comments behind the scenes to make sure they aren’t selling sneakers before they are approved, I mean someone with the power, confidence, and authority to check in with someone that is getting trolled/ shouted down, and someone willing to say, “No. You’re derailing. There’s no need for a ‘devil’s advocate’ here, you’re just being a jerk.” Because people come here to comment because they care. Not because they are necessarily experts, and you turn away new participation if the expectation is that you have to constantly dig in and stand your ground every time you have a contrary opinion.

          Hi, I’m Low, I’m new here, and I’m already giving my $0.10.

          • Anne June 5, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

            “No. You’re derailing. There’s no need for a ‘devil’s advocate’ here, you’re just being a jerk.”

            EXCELLENT.

          • Bill Lindeke
            Bill Lindeke June 5, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

            YEah we don’t have a moderator. People on the board have occasionally removed comments from people who were obviously making personal attacks and/or trolling intentionally. I believe there are a few bans to IP addresses.

            But other than that, it’s a free for all.

            • L. K.
              L. K. June 5, 2014 at 1:04 pm #

              And I can totally understand why an organization would choose not to have a moderator. It’s a job. And it is very subjective.

              But sometimes microaggressions and casual trolling need to be called out, which is different from a blatantly offensive comment being deleted. Because, as a non-dude, that’s my experience with how daily sexism rolls- hiding in plain sight. Empowered non-cis male moderators that offenders a chance to learn something about their behavior are more powerful than the ban hammer, in my opinion.

              So, Anne and others that are being super brave and communicative about voicing their experiences about feeling unwelcome here… I want to be one of those not-mod people that feels confident about calling out derailment, devil’s advocates, microaggressions, and the many other ways that make us feel unwelcome, including telling us our experiences are invalid. I want you to do the same if you see it happen. If we can’t fix what’s broken, maybe we can help make the wheel a little squeakier. Message me, talk to me, let’s be friends.

              If you have no idea what I’m talking about, educate yourself: http://birdofparadox.wordpress.com/derailing-for-dummies-google-cache-reconstruction/

              xoxo,
              L

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller June 5, 2014 at 11:39 am #

        Me too, and I’d highly encourage sharing personal experiences.

    • Casey June 5, 2014 at 10:37 am #

      I agree with Anne. I too have felt antagonized and insulted for having a different opinion.

    • Julie Kosbab June 5, 2014 at 12:14 pm #

      I’m of the opinion that a lot of transit and planning conversations diverge into mansplanation far too easily.

      I keep trying to create a post about it in regards to bicycling. I keep getting distracted by planning crap in my own backyard. : )

  2. Janne Flisrand
    Janne June 5, 2014 at 9:38 am #

    Thanks so much for writing this, Cassie. I appreciate that streets.mn is having conversations about this (behind the scenes) and comfortable enough with itself that we can have posts like this one for everyone to share their thoughts.

    I thought another of today’s posts was a great example of expanding the conversation through informed commentary: https://streets.mn/2014/06/05/adventures-in-transit/

    One specific thought I’d add that was discussed after eating those hot dogs was increasing the diversity of voices through interviews and providing a platform to more broadly share voices of those who are already writing (i.e. cross posting). A couple of people were already talking about doing that, too.

    • L. K.
      L. K. June 5, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

      I’m honored to be the example of “non-academic, experiential contributions.”

      • Janne Flisrand
        Janne June 5, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

        I like it, especially because I can send it to my mom or dad, or my brother-in-law, and they’ll be able to 1) understand, and 2) learn something. Bus bulbs and lateral jarring just don’t work for that.

        (And, I guess my long-term goal is to get my whole family contacting their elected officials about this streets stuff, or talking to their friends over dinner about why it matters how we treat public space, or going for bike rides with their grandkid, and it’s gonna take many different kinds of posts to get there.)

  3. Tony Hunt
    Tony Hunt June 5, 2014 at 10:06 am #

    Yes to this.

  4. Heidi Schallberg
    Heidi June 5, 2014 at 11:01 am #

    Thanks for this recap since I missed this gathering, and thanks to those who organized it and attended.

    • Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus
      Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus June 5, 2014 at 1:49 pm #

      Thanks, Heidi! I think we are planning the second Hot Dog/Diversity day for the 15th, maybe an evening one (6ish? Don’t quote me on that). I tried to hit a lot of the things we talked about, but I’ve certainly left things out. I hope others that see something I’ve missed will chime in! So, ultimately, less a comprehensive recap and more a “here’s what I took away from it, mixed in with all my own thoughts about it.”

  5. Eric Anondson
    Eric Anondson June 5, 2014 at 11:19 am #

    The tweeter from North who called Scott out could be invited to contribute, writing something about what kind of help they want from non-North residents. Hopefully in a less inflammatory way, 😉

  6. Justin Foell
    Justin Foell June 5, 2014 at 1:45 pm #

    I think part of streets.mn’s (unofficial) mission should be education. A couple of years ago, I’d look outside and just see roads. Not city roads, county roads, state roads, federal roads (maintained by the state). Not everyone understands the ins-and-outs of our built environment and all of the political baggage that comes along with it.

    Some of the wonks here are guilty of quickly dismissing suggestions made from experience rather than expertise. Much of this can be arrested in the demeanor with which we all comment.

    “That’ll never work, anyone else got a better idea?” is not a good comment.

    While it does leave the door open for other ideas, dead-ending one idea with zero explanation is simply stated, being a jerk. This happens a lot in the software industry and I hate it just as much over there.

  7. John Bailey June 5, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

    As to a possible writer and/or a possible interviewee, I heard Anthony Taylor from the Major Taylor Bicycling Club interviewed on the KFAI show Conversations with Al McFarlane. There was lots of interesting talk of both bicycling/physical activity in the African American community and the challenges of, from what he said, working on these issues with white-led organizations. I posted the link to the below. (FWIW, in the interview there is one of the most tragic and absurd anecdotes involving Lena Horn and public pool in Chicago. It takes a lot to shock me, but this one kind of did.)

    http://kfai.org/node/43662

    • Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus
      Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus June 5, 2014 at 3:47 pm #

      Great idea! Thanks for sharing the link–I’ll have to listen when I get home. When I searched the archives recently I was kind of baffled at the lack of Major Taylor Bicycle Club content on streets.mn. I’ve got an interview scheduled with a member of MT to talk about the club, its goals, and cycling in the African American community in general tomorrow. So keep your eyes posted for a post on that. I’m also hoping to see if there are club members who are interested in becoming writers, so hopefully will have some good leads very soon.

    • Justin Foell
      Justin Foell June 5, 2014 at 9:08 pm #

      Great interview. Someone from streets.mn should reach out to either/both of them. Totally in-line with the discussions happening here.

  8. Nicole June 5, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

    I really appreciated this article! Like the first comment from Anne, I had mostly stopped reading this blog about a year ago. It’s not that I didn’t find the information useful, it was more than I was burnt out on the topic (work, school, and volunteering) and some of the topics felt repetitive. So I stopped reading. I was actually directed to this post by a friend sharing this on facebook. If I looked back, I think I have only read Streets.Mn posts that have been shared by that friend in the past year on facebook or cross-posted on another blog. I’m really excited to hear that you’re looking to bring in new writers and readers. There are great stories being collected by community organizers talking about transportation throughout the region (Hope Community, TLC?, Blake Road Corridor Collaborative, schools) and it would be great to see more articles that highlight challenges and needs people have with transportation. The posts I do enjoy bring up something new, share stories, and aren’t about planning, infrastructure solutions, or policies (even though I like to think about those things frequently). So thank you for having this conversation and posts like today’s adventures in transit article. It sounds like you’re headed in the right direction and I look forward to new content!

  9. Cedar June 5, 2014 at 9:54 pm #

    Thanks, Cassie, for writing this. I think this is already a good website, but with a more diverse writer base it can be a truly great site. Diversity of opinions and experiences relating to the streets.mn mission would be fascinating, and would help us all to better understand the complexities and wide range of experiences and needs in this state. The current roster of writers and stories are excellent; adding new voices and expanded visions or backgrounds will make it that much stronger. And just bringing it up as a topic for discussion is worthwhile. I look forward to reading the upcoming interviews, and to reading what future new writers have to say!

  10. Julia June 5, 2014 at 10:58 pm #

    Glad to see that streets.mn is having this conversation and struggling with these issues- it can feel like hard work, but it’s important and opening up the conversation about it here is valuable to make space for commenters (who can turn into writers and make progress towards better representation among contributors) to join. I look forward to hearing more about how this is evolving, since I think it’s critical to frame these issues in a way that’s accessible. Thanks for the summary Cassie!

  11. Dave June 6, 2014 at 10:05 am #

    Thanks for the excellent post on a difficult topic, Cassie!

    I think it is important to keep in mind the end goal of transportation and land use issues, namely improving our city and its inhabitants quality of life.

    As demonstrated since the inception of the Streets.mn in the numerous (mostly excellent) technical posts, engineering-based and other technical solutions to our transit and land use issues abound. The topic to me reminds me of the current state of economics. There are technical solutions if only there was the political will to do the right thing!

    The reason we don’t have all the nice things we want isn’t because we don’t know what to do. Its because we haven’t built a broad enough base of support, made the ideas accessible enough through diversity and inclusion with a focus on day-to-day impacts of transport and land use equity/services on individuals, in my opinion.

    Sharing these stories and including more voices which are not just technical experts is the key to spreading the good ideas here and ensuring that the methods of eventual execution of them in the real world meets the goals and needs of everyone in our city.

    -Dave

  12. Obvious Oscar June 6, 2014 at 4:27 pm #

    “Several writers have pointed out that, according to our About page, anyone can contribute to streets.mn. Technically true, yes. So why isn’t everybody and their mother flocking to share their ideas here?”

    Because the White people here tend to employ a condescending, trendy-technocratic jargon (e.g. “crowdsourcing”), and tend to treat urban issues as if they were somehow a science, with One Correct Solution determined by rigorous, objective (and very man-ish) professor-y types. And, of course, their conclusion just HAPPENS to be unanimous in its opposition to those endorsed by many advocacy groups from communities of color, as in the case of the SW and Bottineau LRT alignments.

    • Eric Anondson
      Eric Anondson June 6, 2014 at 4:46 pm #

      If there were unanimity, there would be no arguments.

      • Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus
        Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus June 6, 2014 at 9:26 pm #

        Care to expand on this?

        • Eric Anondson
          Eric Anondson June 6, 2014 at 10:28 pm #

          Maybe I’m spending far too much time in the forums but including that it seems it is far from unanimity in opinion on the routing of the the LRT extension lines in the threads for those topics.

          I’ll take this moment to say that I’m in complete understanding with regard to the jargon. Communities, when given enough time and insularity, develop their own lingo. Lawyers, doctors, academia, fitness, political activism, nutrition, computer technology and on and on each are examples that have a very specific jargon only members of their community really understand. The jargon is at once is useful to communicate their ideas and also a barrier that keeps outsiders from feeling included in dialogue. Adept use of the jargon is also a way to signal “I’m part of the in-crowd”.

          At any given day I find myself resentful I’m an outsider (I try to follow certain legal issues) participating as an insider (geographer by training) and crossing the barrier (I’m employed as a computer trainer, teaching computer novices). Encouraging diversity we really need to fight unnecessarily using jargony dialogue, in-members often have no idea how off putting it is to the interested casual observer.

    • Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus
      Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus June 6, 2014 at 9:33 pm #

      Let’s change that! The culture on the site can be changed, and we can start it here. It may be a long process to change the culture of jargony condescension but we can start to chip away at it. I hope you will continue to comment and lend your voice to the issues here.

      • Matt Steele
        Matt Steele June 9, 2014 at 10:42 am #

        Is jargon really inaccessible in the age of Google? I’ve written plenty of articles — with just enough technical detail to make my claims — and they’ve been picked up by plenty of other outlets and wildly read/discussed around the country. I’m not the only writer with that experience.

        Add other types of articles and viewpoints on streets.mn? Absolutely. It’s the Internet – the marginal cost per post is effectively zero. Remove the reason why this started in the first place? That’s a much more dangerous proposition that threatens the very existence of this site.

        • Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus
          Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus June 9, 2014 at 11:18 am #

          I am by no means advocating that we remove the reason the site started in the first place. I am advocating for the addition of more broadly accessible posts to continue to attract a broader audience to the site. I want us to add more diverse voices in terms of writers in order that people of diverse backgrounds can see themselves and their ideas in streets.mn.

          Jargon can be decoded, yes, but it requires time and effort to do so. Some posts on streets.mn I will read, but sometimes if I give it a look and it’s too jargony, I may not put in my time to do all the background legwork in order to decode the post. That means I lose out on the content. If we can write about issues at many different levels in order to present a technical jargony side for those who enjoy those posts, but also add posts that rehash these issues from a more basic introductory perspective, or through the lense of gender or race or personal experience, that means a different group of people may become engaged in that topic that may not otherwise have been.

          • Matt Steele
            Matt Steele June 9, 2014 at 11:34 am #

            Indeed, I’m all for more voices on here, and bringing more people into the fold. We need that if we’re going to build the political cover to make better places happen. But we also need the technical stuff to fight back against the planners and engineers who push through awful stuff with technical justifications. If we can’t combat those justifications, we’re not going to be able to have better outcomes. We need both, and more of both. Maybe we’re on the same page on this, even if we like different types of posts!

            • Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus
              Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus June 9, 2014 at 12:48 pm #

              We are totally on the same page–I love a lot of the technical stuff and the more personal experiential stuff too. We need both, and a good mix of both will mean a better site for everyone who wants to learn about and engage on these topics. Thank you for sharing!

              • Janne Flisrand
                Janne June 11, 2014 at 10:39 am #

                I wonder if there’s something streets.mn can do to make USEFUL jargon more accessible. Could we have a glossary and link every use of jargon to the relevant definition? Could we ALWAYS post definitions at the bottom of posts? I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know it’s not either/or.

            • Stacy June 10, 2014 at 1:52 pm #

              Sometimes those technical justifications are just that – justified. Shouldn’t this website be a place where people can discuss and work towards constructive ideas?

              I think it would be unproductive if this blog became an echo chamber with ideas based solely on personal experience and absent of technical data.

              I know I am guilty of pointing out technical reasons why an idea is not the best. But aren’t logic and technical reasons the best type of argument?

    • Nick Magrino
      Nick Magrino June 7, 2014 at 10:42 am #

      The main problem with jargon, most of the time, is how desperately and transparently the writer is trying to seem smart with words and phrases, when they should be doing it with their argument.

  13. Monte Castleman
    Monte June 6, 2014 at 7:25 pm #

    Maybe the mission should be restated to read “To expand and enhance the conversation about transportation and land use through research and informed commentary, as long as it doesn’t involve making things easier for cars.” You have pro-bike, pro-pedestrian points of view, but not pro-car, if the board is against cars, maybe they should make it clearer in the mission statement. since they count as “transportation”. I’ve been reading articles on and off, and the only viewpoints are those that are neutral for cars, like light rail, or make things moderately more difficult for cars, like eliminating pedestrian pushbuttons or closing the Stillwater Bridge or building another slow one rather than building a fast new one, to making things extremely difficult for cars, like removing freeways.

    Last time I tried this I got a backlash from people saying the board wasn’t really anti-car despite the lack of a single article advocating something that would make it easier for them, so let the backlash begin again… But then again when someone with the boards viewpoint shows up on AARoads they get the same kind of reception.

    • Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus
      Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus June 6, 2014 at 9:29 pm #

      I think streets needs to encompass drivers’ issues as well. What kinds of posts would you like to read? Would you be interested in writing a post about a car-related topic of your choice? Would love to hear some ideas!

      • Monte Castleman
        Monte June 6, 2014 at 10:53 pm #

        I tend to hang out here and UrbanMSP because these are really the only forums dedicated to infrastructure in the Twin Cities. There’s only one roads related forum, and that has one section for the entire Midwest, and doesn’t cover things like local buildings or rail, which I’m also interested in, also some people have encouraged me to stay.

        Another thing is I live in the suburbs, the land of wide roads (called with the pejorative ‘stroads’ around here), acres of free parking, and Applebees and Wal-Marts. I love it here, but the reaction I get ranges from “why would anyone want to live there” to “that’s the wrong way to live, we need to change your neighborhood”, whereas my reaction to the city is “I’d never want to live there, but I understand why some people do and feel that’s a valid choice”. And until someone gives me a per capita tax state and federal taxes paid vs state and federal benefits received for the cities and suburbs I’m not going to believe vague allegations that the suburbs are being subsidized.

        As far as writing posts- Based on the one-sidedness of the other posts I didn’t think anything I wrote would be wanted here, and I’m not really a good writer. I’m more a “roadgeek” and frequent road user that wants wide roads and freeways (although I don’t commute I drive rather than walk everywhere), medium distance road tripper, road photographer, and traffic signal collector- I own several dozen traffic signals and have a working controller in my basement, and map collector- I have hundreds of maps dating back to the 1920s, and keep up with the developments as far upcoming projects. So I’m not sure if there’s any interest in stories based on any of these things.

        So if people really aren’t submitting articles with different viewpoints, I guess I can’t expect to find them. Maybe those people are driving their kids to soccer practice rather than writing articles for web sites- they’re satisfied with the status quo now that they have a house and car so they’re not trying to write about their views.

        • Bill Lindeke
          Bill Lindeke June 7, 2014 at 8:51 am #

          If you have your maps digitized, we’d love to post those here. Old maps fascinate me too.

          Also, I think Scott’s metaphor [below] works really nicely. Urban design is a public health issue. See this post from a while back: http://tcsidewalks.blogspot.com/2013/02/if-cars-are-new-tobacco.html

          • Monte Castleman
            Monte June 7, 2014 at 12:49 pm #

            Problem with old maps is they may still be subject to copyright- this is an issue where “roadgeeks” would post them on their own web sites. As a practical matter it’s normally a “don’t ask, don’t tell” type situations. Map companies renew old copyrights and would categorically refuse permission to use, but would not go after violators if the content had no commercial value. Basically Oil company / Commercial maps are all still subject to copyright. Official Minnesota maps from the mid 1950s to 1989 are public domain. Maps before this possibly are. There’s been conflicting court rulings of the status of MN government works afterwords.

            My areas of expertise do overlap those of Adam Froehlig a lot. We both have extensive map collections and know a lot about upcoming highway projects. Where we diverge it he’s done more historical research on highways, while I take an interest in street lighting and traffic signals- Minneapolis still has some signals from the late 1940s- early 1950s in service. The oldest ones have the larger of two sizes of art-deco-ish fins on top and bottom and no logo on the back. Also I take more pictures of road construction and go to more public meetings because I still live in the area.

            I do agree with people on road diets, (if the AADT supports reducing them to 4 lanes rather than adding a 5th of course). Bloomington has a lot of 4 lane roads with totals around 10,000 a day and no interest in converting them, unlike Richfield which does have an interest.

            • Bill Lindeke
              Bill Lindeke June 7, 2014 at 1:48 pm #

              Oddly, I am fascinated by old traffic signals (and other infrastructure)! The first time I got my hands on a digital camera, I wandered around Saint Paul taking pictures of different colored lampposts. Here are some of them (scroll down): http://tcsidewalks.blogspot.com/search/label/lampposts

              If we ever meet, Monte, I’m gonna make you tell me all about the history of traffic signals.

              • Adam Miller
                Adam Miller June 7, 2014 at 2:19 pm #

                Sounds like a post idea to me.

        • Scott Shaffer
          Scott Shaffer June 7, 2014 at 9:55 am #

          I am not attacking your way of life. I am saying post-WWII land-use and transportation programs and financing structures are bad policy.

          Re: light drivers subsidizing heavy drivers: since 2008, Congress has transferred $41 billion from the General Fund to the Federal Highway Trust Fund. Congress is likely to authorize another transfer of billions this summer.

          This means that money is taken from light road-users through sales and income taxes and used to pave the way for heavy road-users, who don’t pay the full cost of their transportation.

          There are other, more complicated/indirect subsidies, like the home mortgage interest deduction and federal mortgage regulations, too.

          http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/44434-HighwayTrustFund_Testimony.pdf

          http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/congress-detours-from-common-sense-on-the-looming-highway-trust-fund-shortfall/2014/06/04/a5f4aa6c-eb64-11e3-9f5c-9075d5508f0a_story.html

          http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304886904579473631543152814

          • Monte Castleman
            Monte June 8, 2014 at 9:22 pm #

            41 Billion sounds like a lot, but when you work it out that’s about $20.00 per capita per year. Maybe it would be fair to raise gasoline taxes, but some of it would be offset by increases in consumer prices, because it’s not just me and my SUV that are being subsidized, it’s truckers also (and states that have a lot of interstates to maintain for long-distance commerce like Montana and North Dakota are the big winners). Of course maybe since I’m a “light” Twins Stadium user (I’ve never been there and have no interest in going), I shouldn’t have to subsidize the heavy users with the same .15% tax.

            As for mortgages- you can get a mortgage on a condo in downtown Minneapolis, no?

            • Adam Miller
              Adam Miller June 8, 2014 at 9:46 pm #

              Cry me a river. People who live and work downtown are paying way more than any suburbanite for all the stadiums.

    • Scott Shaffer
      Scott Shaffer June 6, 2014 at 10:31 pm #

      Absolutely. Let’s have a pro-car voice on streets. As long as it acknowledges that:

      America has a world-class health epidemic caused by sedentary lifestyles,
      the world’s in crisis because of fossil fuels we’ve burned,
      currently, non-driving residents subsidize motorists who use streets,
      car parking is protected from market forces by federal and local regulations.

      I do think there are smart ways to make life better for people who use cars. Driverless cars. Car-sharing, Lyft, and Uber. Efficiently-priced parking. Congestion pricing. Heck, even complete streets have been shown to make streets safer for people in cars.

      But it’s kinda like poking your head into a public health meeting and saying, “Wow, you guys are really biased against cigarettes, huh?” Sometimes a diverse group of people who study all sides of an issue reach a consensus. We’ve spent (and are spending) too many resources accommodating single-occupancy motor vehicles.

      • Monte Castleman
        Monte June 7, 2014 at 8:13 am #

        Most people would know what to expect from a public health meeting. But my point is with a generic name like “streets.mn” and generic mission statement you’d expect different viewpoints, if the consensus of the board really is anti-car, anti-suburbs, (or at least to remake the suburbs so getting around by car there is as hard as in the city) then the mission statement should be more specific about advocating non-motorized travel and transit, rather than just “conversations about land use and transportation”.

        I do look forward to driver-less cars, but not because of the utopian fantasy of them following the taxi model. We have all kinds of alternatives to single car ownership now in addition to taxis, and while they’re rapidly growing they’re not the norm, so I don’t think driver-less cars will dislodge the paradigm either. Maybe another step in that direction, but not replace it. I do see them as making more efficient use of parking in the cities- they could be located a few miles from the central business district and parked a lot closer together than humans could. I don’t really go downtown or anywhere parking is a problem, so the main use I see for myself is pointing it to Chicago and kicking back and taking a nap instead of the nerve-wracking drive when you get past Madison.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller June 7, 2014 at 11:05 am #

      I suspect you and I have different notions of what’s better for cars, and I’d argue making things safe for all users of roads is am improvement for cars too, as I don’t think many drivers want to hit pedestrians and bikers.

      But I’m reading you as implying that faster is the only thing that’s pro-car. I don’t agree with that at all.

      • Monte Castleman
        Monte June 8, 2014 at 8:52 pm #

        We’ll have to disagree then. If you ask drivers what is “pro car”, “forcing use to drive slower to decrease the chance of us hitting a pedestrian” probably isn’t the most common response, as opposed to “more freeways” and “wider roads”. Since pedestrians don’t want to be hit, by the same logic I could say I was “pro-pedestrian” if I advocated making skyway use mandatory and requiring the waving of red flags when crossing the street, since although a massive inconvenience it would reduce pedestrian vs car incidents.

        • Adam Miller
          Adam Miller June 8, 2014 at 9:44 pm #

          You’re absolutely right about what people would say in response to that question. But I’m right about what people would say in response to, “do you want to make roads safer” and “do you support changes that make collisions with pedestrians less likely.”

          Framing makes all the difference.

          And, yeah, asking you to drive 30 instead of 35 just isn’t a massive inconvenience in my book. Your mileage may vary.

          • Monte Castleman
            Monte June 9, 2014 at 9:52 am #

            It is in my book. One trip not so much. A lifetime of trip a lot. That’s why I get so angry when urbanists talk about potential changes in my area do to the upcoming Orange Line stop. If I wanted to live in a pedestrian friendly, car unfriendly area I would have bought a house in one.

            How about framing the question “do you want to make roads safe and support changes that make pedestrians less likely if it means you have to drive slower every time you use the road?”

            • Adam Miller
              Adam Miller June 9, 2014 at 10:14 am #

              It’s hard to think of many policies that are worse than discouraging walking. Terrible for public health. Horribly classist. Bad for property values. Bad for the environment. Simply unacceptable for those who can’t drive (e.g., the visually impaired).

              It’s one thing to advocate for car access. It’s another to argue that other forms of transportation should be impaired to advantage cars. Especially as we’ve been doing that for 50 years with pretty tragic results.

            • Matt Steele
              Matt Steele June 9, 2014 at 10:37 am #

              And this is exactly why I’m convinced the suburbs don’t deserve anything other than the most modest of transit investments. Because it comes at the expense of transit in the city where it serves an actual function. We’d probably agree on that, right?

        • Rosa June 9, 2014 at 12:10 am #

          And yet I don’t know any drivers who *want* to kill someone they hit. That little bit of slowdown makes a huge difference in an accident.

        • Al Davison
          Al Davison June 10, 2014 at 2:34 am #

          Monte, you should write an article sometime. You get a lot of flak on the site for your opinions, but in reality your opinion is quite common – so you might as well share your thoughts in an article in defense of cars for the suburbs. It would be nice to see more different perspectives especially when it comes to the suburbs (as most people in the cities live in them, so we need more focus on suburban transportation and land use planning).

          • Janne Flisrand
            Janne June 10, 2014 at 7:52 am #

            I second this comment — having been at this conversation, the definition of “diversity” was broad, and included transportation mode, geography (rural/urban/suburban, neighborhood, city), age, physical ability, wonk-degree, and the more obvious race/gender/class. There haven’t been car-interested writers stepping up, and that’d would be a useful additional voice here.

            • Adam Miller
              Adam Miller June 10, 2014 at 8:44 am #

              Wholly agree, although I reserve the right it disagree with whatever Monte writes 😉

    • David Levinson
      David Levinson June 9, 2014 at 4:00 pm #

      Monte, (or anyone else)

      If you are interested in writing a post (or posts) about anything related to transportation and land use in Minnesota, email me (dmlevinson at gmail dot com) and we can discuss.

      As for the Board, as hopefully is apparent on the site, there is a diversity of opinion on various things. There is no one streets.mn public policy position.

  14. Dave June 6, 2014 at 9:34 pm #

    Hello again,

    4 posts (including this one) are tagged with “Race” on streets.mn, if you click on it below the title of this post. One is about a marathon.

    Equity is a stated priority of our city’s leadership, and government services like transportation is one of the biggest forms of wealth transfer on a local level, even though there is a lot of room for improvement.

    Diversity and inclusion should be a priority of this site, in my opinion.

    -Dave

  15. jim June 8, 2014 at 1:05 pm #

    I might be in the minority here — heh heh, see what i did there — but I prefer a wonky blog, one with authoritative voices on technical issues, to a “diverse” group of “voices” telling me for the hundredth time how SWLRT should go down Hennepin.

    • Matt Steele
      Matt Steele June 9, 2014 at 10:31 am #

      There are plenty of technical reasons why SWLRT/Kenilworth is a fail, and the LPA has been sold via non-wonky terms: that it will help equity in North. Despite the wonky fact that there’s close to zero people within half mile walksheds of Penn or Van White stations.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller June 9, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

        And not many near Royalston either, although the residents of Mary’s Place may be a particularly transit-dependent population that will get great access out of it.

    • Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus
      Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus June 9, 2014 at 11:54 am #

      I think Dave made a great point along these lines earlier: https://streets.mn/2014/06/05/encouraging-diversity-and-hot-dog-eating-on-streets-mn/#comment-93529

      Is it more valuable to you to have a blog that is only wonks than to have a blog that is wonks and norms together?

      • jim June 10, 2014 at 8:55 am #

        yes, i just want wonks. if i want “norms” I’ll go read a facebook feed, or read the comments on a buzzfeed post. i understand ”diversity” but watering down the place for the sake of a problem that will be a problem under any circumstance seems silly. I wouldn’t read paul krugman more if hus blog featured arm-chair economists, I’d read him less. eventually the winks will come into contact with the idea of the norms and will report on them here. i want a wonk filter or the whole enterprise becomes noisy and loses value.

        • Reuben Collins
          Reuben Collins June 10, 2014 at 3:42 pm #

          I enjoy the wonky stuff as well, though I think there is probably room for both so long as the content is organized appropriately (which it currently is not). This divide may not necessarily be a wonks/norms division, but some sort of method to wayfind wonks to the wonky would be welcome.

          • Bill Lindeke
            Bill Lindeke June 10, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

            I like both. But yes, if we could do this simply and non-hierarchically? It seems kinda tough, to be frank. There’s lots of grey areas, like pretty much everything that I personally write.

        • Janne Flisrand
          Janne June 11, 2014 at 10:45 am #

          Personally, I think the wonks need to hear the experiences of the users. My observations is that wonks have been in charge of designing what they know is right for the last 75 years, and what they’ve done does not work — for me or for a lot of other people. When I go to public meetings, most of the hosting-wonks don’t even know that basic fact!

          I have to say that there are starting to be a few experts who are beginning to get a little bit of a clue on that fact, thankfully, but not enough of my friends and family are speaking up to let the rest know that they need to understand more broad audiences than the one they think they are serving.

          I’m not sure how to convey that message to my friends and family, or to the wonks, without providing more experiential posts. Here’s my attempt to explain that. https://streets.mn/2014/06/10/why-i-think-streets-mn-matters/

          • Matt Steele
            Matt Steele June 11, 2014 at 10:58 am #

            Good point, and one that I heard criticized plenty at CNU last weekend. Hubris. A common attribute among many who are in positions of authority and expertise on transportation and land use issues. And they’ve produced awful outcomes.

            This video from StrongTowns sums it up:
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9BUyWVg1xI

            I see a slightly different path forward from here. I don’t think we need to necessarily reform the minds of folks like transportation engineers and planners. Instead, I think we need to just make their roles irrelevant. Heck, we didn’t have those roles a century ago and we built immensely popular, healthy, wealthy, wonderful places back then. I think the strategy going forward should be to embrace chaos and incrementalism, and realize that the problem lies with planning (rather than just a bad variety of planning that we nearly always get).

            As someone who isn’t in a position of authority with regard to land use and transportation (I’m an outsider just like the rest) I’d rather empower ourselves to effect change in our communities rather than trying to convince “authorities” like traffic engineers to do something different. Just some thoughts.

          • Rosa June 23, 2014 at 9:04 pm #

            I would like it if the wonks would HAVE the experience of users, myself. Wasn’t there a post here about a planners meeting where not one of the people making decisions had actually arrived by any method but private car?

  16. lifelong MTC rider June 9, 2014 at 8:54 am #

    I’ve just discovered this site (via Twin Cities Daily Planet), but surely you folks realize that this post and thread only serve to confirm how thoroughly SWPL this place is…

    • Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus
      Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus June 9, 2014 at 11:51 am #

      Can you expand on this comment in a more productive way, MTC rider?

      • Al Davison
        Al Davison June 10, 2014 at 2:22 am #

        Basically the site is geared toward white, middle/upper-middle income progressives who reside in urban areas, which brings us into the idea that the site needs more non-white contributors in addition to more female writers. As of right now, we have a rather limited range of perspectives in our articles.

        Once the site gets more popular and gets a more diverse set of writers (whether it’s by political ideology, race, gender, etc), streets.mn will step out of serving solely a niche readerbase.

  17. Bill Dooley June 9, 2014 at 10:01 am #

    I agree with the comments that a moderator is needed if you want to expand and diversify your contributor and readership base. As I see it, one of the moderator duties would be to flag technical comments to non-technical contributions and to encourage non-technical comments to the specific non-technical article at hand. It is OK for technical commentators to go back and forth with each other on a specific non-technical piece, but it is counterproductive for non-technical contributors to go back and forth with technical commentators. I would discourage non-technical contributors from doing so and for readers without a technical background from commenting on technical comments.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller June 9, 2014 at 10:15 am #

      That sounds exactly backwards to me.

      • Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus
        Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus June 9, 2014 at 11:36 am #

        Can you expand on this in a more productive way, Adam?

        Seems Bill’s comment is pointing out the fact that personal experience type posts are driving towards certain ends, and wonks in comments who give “Well, actually…” jargony comments don’t necessarily further the discussion in productive ways. I would also agree with Bill that wonks being wonky with one another in the comments on a non-technical post (for example, this whole thread https://streets.mn/2014/06/05/encouraging-diversity-and-hot-dog-eating-on-streets-mn/#comment-93587) can be fine and productive, but when it becomes an issue of non-wonks sharing broader ideas and others derailing conversations with their “Well, actually” + jargon, that’s not productive, but just intimidates non-wonks out of the conversation.

        See also Low’s comment here: https://streets.mn/2014/06/05/encouraging-diversity-and-hot-dog-eating-on-streets-mn/#comment-93411

        • Adam Miller
          Adam Miller June 9, 2014 at 12:34 pm #

          Perhaps I misread it, but I don’t think we want to set up silos of technical people only talking to technical people and personal experiences only being shared with those interested in personal experiences. I’d think we want both types of comments to inform each other, and, importantly, people from both perspective educating each other.

          But I take your point that those offering technical expertise (definitely not me) should be mindful of shutting down discussion instead of fostering it.

          Also, great job with the moderating here.

          • Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus
            Cassie Warholm-Wohlenhaus June 9, 2014 at 1:01 pm #

            Lol….I’m trying! Asking for clarification and whatnot has seemed to result in some great comments coming out of a little more terse comment responses, so that makes me happy.

            I agree we don’t want two silos of folks, and never the twain shall meet. The goal is definitely to meet people where they are at in comments, and have the flexibility to talk in different ways to make connections and make our ideas clear, I think. If this idea and some form of moderation could keep discussions a little more clear/open/flexible/nonantagonistic/whatever, I think that would go a long way toward helping people meet each other’s ideas productively in the comments (enhancing the conversation!) so we all come to a greater understanding, wherever we’re coming from.

          • Bill Lindeke
            Bill Lindeke June 10, 2014 at 4:03 pm #

            I second Adam’s commendation.

            I thought librarians just told everyone to “be quiet” all the time?

        • Erik June 23, 2014 at 5:21 pm #

          I like technical responses to non-technical posts, and vice versa. To me, the key is respect. Wonks: don’t tell people why their feelings are wrong; tell them how the current research consensus views things differently, and make the effort to explore why it might not match their lived experience. (For example: research tends to average things out, but nobody’s life is average. Also: sometimes research is wrong!)

          Non-wonks: share how your experience contradicts (or supports, or is explained by!) the hard numbers. Just do it in a way that’s constructive. A wonk’s wonky understanding of the world might be enhanced if you show them something they haven’t thought of, but it probably won’t be if you treat their post like it was the first punch in a fight.

          I’d support Bill’s point about “going back and forth.” It’s one thing to offer a different perspective on a shared subject, but watch out for those moments where two sides are just talking past each other – where they seem to be arguing, but aren’t really even talking about the same thing. Sometimes you can steer one of those back into a conversation, but sometimes it’s better to just let it go.

          Two late cents from someone who rarely gets involved here….

          • Janne Flisrand
            Janne Flisrand June 23, 2014 at 6:31 pm #

            Erik, I’d love to offer experiential responses to technical posts… as long as they are written in a way that I can understand and make it to the end.

            • Erik June 23, 2014 at 7:40 pm #

              Yeah. I liked your idea of a glossary, and especially of linking jargon to it. (A glossary won’t help me understand an unfamiliar term if I don’t think to check the glossary.)

              Not just super-technical planning jargon, either. What’s LRT? What’s the Blue Line? What’s Car2Go? What’s Ayd Mill Road and why are people talking about it? These are second nature to many of us who are already here, but not to everyone to whom transportation matters.

              Not that every post has to explain everything from first principles, but a quick link to a glossary or to previous discussion (like Andy Singer’s latest Ayd Mill Road post) would help. Or, in the case of the Green Line extension, a link to the Choo Choo Bob video.

              • Rosa June 23, 2014 at 9:01 pm #

                I was thinking about the sharrow thing riding home today – a glossary with photos would be excellent.

                Also linking to a satellite image of the place being talked about would be great in a lot of these articles.

  18. Monica Millsap Rasmussen
    Monica Rasmussen June 11, 2014 at 10:29 am #

    I am enjoying the comment section here and think that people involved with streets.mn are doing a fine job of self exploration. I think some people may be hesitant to write for streets.mn or comment because they are afraid of having a differing point of view. Remember that 1950s study of the effect of social pressure conformity?

    I also think that some people might be hesitant due to the air of condescension that often present. I read the goal: “Get a non-white person to write about car-free living in Minnesota” and I think about the people at the bus stop who will strike up a conversation with me and say, “Don’t you wish you could afford a car so you wouldn’t have to be here waiting for the bus?” Would any of you tell that person what a healthy lifestyle they are making by *not* having a car? Maybe some of you would, but that again makes you assume that you know everything else about that person’s life- maybe that person has a labor intensive job, maybe that person has a healthy diet and exercise routine, or maybe that person has a lot more going on in their lives and waiting for the bus and the time it takes to get from point a to point b is just an added stress that *isn’t* healthy for their life. Why dictate that the viewpoint has to be about car free living? Just get diverse view points, period. Don’t dictate what the view point has to be.

    I think we spend a lot of time telling people what is good for them. People can become resentful to that after time. But, by allowing and encouraging diverse opinions, we might learn about user experience and be able to work towards more efficient, safer design that is actually usable and welcomed.

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