Why I Think streets.mn Matters

Cassie’s post got me thinking about why I signed up as a volunteer writer with streets.mn. I came up with three reasons, all pretty selfish.

  1. I love the content that helps ME be a more informed participant in discussions about transportation and land use.
  2. I saw a need to effectively communicate why these topics are relevant to the daily lives of everyone in Minnesota. I want to build a bridge from the “why would I care” crowd to the “seeking tips on bus bump-outs so I can comment on this project” crowd. It’s key to building the political will needed to implement for some of the ideas proposed here.
  3. I didn’t see my personal experience – my experience as a woman, and as someone who once in a while hauls a kid around by foot or bike or bus – represented on these pages.  I was pleased as punch to see the story in L. K.’s post — one that I can personally relate to.

A metaphor for the potential variety of streets.mn readers. Metaphorically, our current writers share perspectives of the hypotehtical upper left hand corner perspective and the fourth down on the right perspective.

Frequent commenter Monty’s comments also prompted today’s desire to detail the reasons I think it’s important to share a wide set of experiences here. Over the weekend, he shared his request for more driver-perspectives on streets.mn – and then returned to say,

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.

He’s hit on much of the story — satisfaction. Our world is so coherently designed for people in cars, drivers have no reason to notice the status quo (except when they can’t find a parking space, or when someone is slowing down their driving).  He’s absolutely right that we don’t have writers representing the perspectives of drivers at streets.mn, at least not much (Note:  if you want to provide that perspective, it’s invited).

Those of us who get around other ways discover dysfunctionality every day – we end up sitting on benches like these, or getting harassed, or even getting killed. I’ve been thinking about that during every commute since 1996, and have only in the last couple of years found a community of somewhat-like-minded people large enough to get some social traction — here.  Given our concerns, and our experience of being brushed aside as a little crazy, no wonder we’re writing blog posts.

Streets.mn shares lots of perspectives not available elsewhere.  I’ve learned a lot about things in Richfield from Sean, gotten interesting perspectives on doing things in the city with kids from Amy, found Betsey’s take on Northfield issues fascinating, and learned useful train trivia from Mike.

Their stories help me have interesting streets-related conversations with my parents, my brother-in-law, my co-workers, and other people whose experience is wildly different from my own — in a way that is relevant and engaging for THEM.  We saw commenters learning through Laura’s post.  Clearly, I’m not the only one interested in others’ perspectives, and hopefully gaining some empathy with people who travel and experience the world in different ways from themselves.

On the other hand, there are lots of perspectives still missing, and while we’re still exploring how to address that, I know I would learn from them. Could car-free reverse commuters living on the North Side inform my comments on SWLRT or Bottineau?  Could a car-free parent teach me how to live that way, or how Minnesota could make it easier for car-free or car-less parents?  How would my dad feel about walking to downtown, or busing to his church?  How do UMD students navigate Duluth, and how do their neighbors feel about the UMD-related land use issues?  What happened to my tiny childhood home of Spicer, MN when they expanded highway 23? What are the issues I am not even aware of that I ought to know about?


What streets.mn-relevant topics do the St. Peter residents living on this bucolic, small town street care about? I don’t know, but I want to.

Let me connect these dots.  I write because I want others’ to empathize with my daily experience of my neighborhood.  I write because I hope my story will help others understand why transportation and land use matters in their own daily lives.  I write to teach others how they can engage effectively in local decision-making, and in turn make decisions that work better for all Minnesotans.

Streets.mn is effective at many of these things, but it has gaps – one or two of which I think I can fill in.

I also want others to share their stories with me, so I can understand and empathize with their daily experience, and take that into account in forming my opinions, as I hope they’ll do for me.  I look forward to becoming even better informed about why the technical and economic impacts of our transportation and land use choices at all those levels, so I can make more informed decisions and provide more useful comments, whether to MNDOT or the Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association.

About Janne Flisrand

Janne Flisrand spends her time thinking about how people interact with the space around them. Why do they (or don't they) walk or bike or shop somewhere? How do spaces feel? Why do people sit here and not there? Why bus instead of bike, bike instead of drive? What sorts of spaces build community, and what sorts kill it? Can spaces build civic trust and engagement?

19 thoughts on “Why I Think streets.mn Matters

        1. Janne

          I got frustrated while posting this metaphor of diversity, as I seem to have lost the details of the creative commons licensing for the image — which did list the species. Boo, me.

          But, Joe, it’s a metaphor! A metaphor for the potential audience and writer species of streets.mn. Or maybe for the species our streets.mn recommendations impact. Or, for whatever you want it to be!

  1. Jeff Klein

    I’m not entirely convinced an auto advocate would be a good fit at streets.mn. After all, it’s not a newspaper striving for some kind of “balance” (if such a thing even makes sense) but a venue for exploring and advocating for a set of ideas that share a certain ideological basis, even if there are some disagreements in the margins.

    To that end, auto advocacy is the antithesis of streets.mn, unless we consider a very expanded view of it. For example, policies advocated by streets.mn may actual be *good* for people who drive (or motorcycle) out of town on vacation or for pleasure, since there will be fewer cars and fewer unpleasant stroads. Or perhaps it will be a good thing for enthusiasts of classic cars whose job it will be to preserve an interesting, if misguided, part of our history.

    But it seems that “auto advocate” is usually just short for someone who wants more lanes. I don’t know if we need that discussion here.

    1. Janne Flisrand Post author

      Don’t lose site that “auto advocate” is just ONE example of the voices not on this site, and I want to welcome all of those.

      I also think that I really would welcome an informed auto advocate. An ecco chamber of like-minded people doesn’t do much to create a more informed conversation around transportation – including in my personal world.

      It’s fair to say that my personal opinion is that we’ve had excessively auto-centric planning and engineering world for the last ~75 years, and I think it’s time for more balance. But, I have an opinion that I BELIEVE is informed — and I’m sure that opinion is biased. Maybe an (informed) auto-centric perspective would shift how I view things. If it does, I welcome it.

      On the other hand, maybe an auto advocate view would help us all be more effective at having productive (rather than argumentative, heel-digging-in) conversations with auto advocates. It might help me when I talk to my brother-in-law, a police officer who sometimes has the job of enforcing the rules of the road. I want to make sure he and his peers “get” where I’m coming from.

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        I’m with you, and, to build on what you said, I’d like to work to undermine the notion that the interests of people in cars are adverse to those on bikes and on foot. They don’t have to be.

    2. Walker AngellWalker Angell

      Perhaps it depends on how you define advocate. I’m a quite strong advocate for the benefits of auto’s, have written a couple of articles on street.mn about it, and have two or three more coming up this summer.

      I am also hoping that we’ll have some posts soon from Mark Rask, author of American Autobahn.

      Keep in mind that though we are a car centric culture we are a quite poor one compared to Europe and other places. We have the deadliest road system in the OECD except for Greece. There is room for considerable improvement in our car culture.

    3. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      One example of “auto advocacy” that comes to my mind is how I want to IMPROVE the experience of parking your car downtown by making on-street meters more expensive. I think it would have benefits for downtown economies, city revenues, pedestrians (by reducing cruising traffic), drivers (by reducing congestion) and parkers (by making it more convenient and far less maddening.

      See? I’m pro-car, just not pro-free parking.

    4. Froggie

      Doesn’t hurt to have opposing viewpoints every so often. Otherwise there’s a large tendency to fall into groupthink…

  2. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    Good post Janne. These different perspectives are all critical in helping everyone involved, particularly those making decisions and designing our environment, understand what is critical in producing a great place for all of us to live. It’s interesting how often something that is viewed as being primarily of benefit to only a small segment is actually of great benefit to many.

    I’m hopeful that soon we’ll have someone to provide some perspective on disabled life on our streets. For me one of the greatest aspects of Dutch bicycle infrastructure is how much better it serves the needs of disabled and elderly than our ADA infrastructure, something I’d not have known without a number of conversations with disabled both there and here.

  3. Edward

    I’ll keep this short and sweet. Excellent post and comments by all. I’ve been a fan of streets.mn for some time now because of the viewpoints expressed here. Thanks.

  4. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

    I would propose that nearly every Louis Lehe (sp?) video that David Levinson posts is pro-car/autocentric

    1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

      Agreed. Overall, streets.mn can have people writing for cars as part of the solution, they may have to recognize a large part of the problems we now face as people, in cars or otherwise, results from other people in cars and the hiding of the costs of driving, but making the car work with, and not horribly disrupt, the rest of the system is paramount in any urban dream’s success. (Insert any number of T.O.D. projects that died for a lack of automobile access).

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