Some Optimism for 2015

northside greenway

The North Minneapolis Greenway, an exciting possibility in our future (Image courtesy of Bike Walk Twin Cities / Transit for Livable Communities and Twin Cities Greenways).

I’m optimistic and excited about 2015. We have a whole new year of opportunity laid out before us and it looks to be a good year for bicycling in MN.

We’ll likely see some new and better bicycling facilities around the Twin Cities and elsewhere in Minnesota. That will mean a few more people walking and riding bicycles for transportation, and a bit fewer cars on our roads.

We’ll likely see some better mixed-use development birthed from the ground and from paper. For example, the TCAAP and the Ford Plant site plans will progress, and hopefully both with a solid human urbanist bent rather than what I call “suburbanist drivealot.”

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For a few decades our civil engineering, planning, and architectural professions and  institutions have been dominated by thinking that bicycles are toys, walking is for recreation, and buildings are edifices to the glory of architects[1].

This coming year universities like the University of Minnesota will graduate civil engineers, planners, and architects who have better ideas. This year a few of the engineers, planners, and architects who continue to give us sterile car dominated cities and suburban sprawl will be replaced by those who know the value of walkable, bicyleable human scale communities.

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In 2014 we saw some major and in my opinion very negative consolidation of retail with perhaps the biggest impact locally coming from the closing of numerous medium to large groceries that left consumers having to drive considerably farther to get to the local super-big-box-distribution-center format grocery five miles farther away. On the plus side we saw the opening of Lunds in downtown St Paul.

LM601-1000-5

This Rainbow Foods was less than a 2 mile bike ride. We now have to drive (unless we have a fair bit of extra time to ride) over 3 times as far.

Europe was slower to the big-box concept and European consumers have been quicker to reject them. They never embraced supercenters except for durable goods (though durable might not be what we think of when we think of IKEA). European retailers like Tesco, Morrisons and Carrefour are turning from big box (60,000 sq ft) to smaller local neighborhood stores (10,000 sq ft). This isn’t expansion — they are closing big box stores and replacing them with smaller neighborhood locations.

We’ll see a bit of the same this year with Target following in Tesco’s footsteps in creating 20,000 sq ft Target Express stores (similar to Tesco Metro 11,000 sq ft stores and Wal-Mart Express 15,000 sq ft) with one of the first to open in Highland Park this July. I have a strong preference for locally owned stores and personally prefer something around 10,000 sq ft but I think for general commodities the big chains are here to stay. Hopefully this will be the beginning of a retrenchment from big box back towards smaller local neighborhood stores.

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Hopefully we’ll see fewer people killed by people driving cars and trucks. I think that our roads are getting safer each year. We seem to be doing a better job of reducing death roads and even small things like eliminating a pork chop here or there will help.

One of the more encouraging posts for me on streets.mn in 2014 (aside from Anne White’s and Wolfie Bowbender’s regular stream of happiness) was Sean Hayford O’Leary’s on 66th street in Richfield and the Richfield city council’s support for this project. Richfield’s solution is far from perfect and from Dutch standard infrastructure but moving in the right direction and I think we’ll move even more in the right direction this next year[2].

We’ll get a full year of Anne White’s encouraging posts.

We’ll likely see approval and beginning implementation of the new St Paul Bicycle Plan.

2015 should be a good year for bike share. Problems with Bixi and Alta slowed things down a bit the past couple of years but towards the end of 2014 things got back on track (and perhaps on better tracks). Jay Walder took over the helm at the company formerly known as Alta Bicycle Share, now Motivate and Nice Ride’s Bill Dossett led the charge on forming the North American Bikeshare Association. This should lead to improvements in the design and availability of bikes, stations, software, and apps.

summit-ave

A bikeway design that serves almost nobody well. It’s too dangerous for children and most adults and too close to opening car doors for faster and more confident riders. (Photo: Bill Lindeke)

For some decades there has been a bit of an ongoing battle between those who support vehicular cycling and those who want segregated paths and cycletracks. Each year, and 2015 will be no different, an increasing number of vehicular cyclists realize the benefits of segregated paths and that they’re coming. Rather than fight them they are getting on board with supporting them and encouraging good Dutch standards design that provides for speed and comfort rather than fighting them and then ending up with poor designs.

A Look Back

Most recently I was quite critical of the Downtown Council’s Christmas Market. Well, it apparently wasn’t all bad. My sister and brother-in-law gave us a couple of ornaments that they purchased at the market and they are quite nice ornaments.

I have a number of follow-up posts that I’d intended to do in 2014 that I’m working on now such as one that looks at how MN (not just the U.S.) compares to countries like Germany and The Netherlands for traffic safety. This is a follow-up to a comment John made on this.

A Good Start

Tony Desnick, Director of Greater Minnesota Strategies for Nice Ride told me that we are 40 years behind Europe, but he thinks that 40 years from now we’ll be ahead of where Europe is today. And he provided some good rationale for his thinking. That’s encouraging.

This morning on my way to meet a friend for coffee at Angry Catfish I counted over 30 people riding bicycles, presumably to work. Not bad for the middle of January. And I didn’t go near any Universities.

2015 should be a good year.

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[1] Interestingly I’m moving closer each year to my bicycle being my main mode of transportation and cars edging towards primarily recreational.

[2] Personally I’d really like to see much narrower lanes, like 10’ and little to no curb reaction distance. This to slow traffic down a bit and cause drivers to pay better attention. With more efficient roundabouts I’d think three lanes rather than five would also work.

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12 Responses to Some Optimism for 2015

  1. Monte Castleman
    Monte Castleman January 28, 2015 at 1:00 pm #

    Here’s some of my own optimism:

    1) Richfield did the right thing with 66th. Green line extension planners take note, sometimes there’s more important things than saving houses. Although I do a double take at some of the different outcomes (why a MUP west of Penn and on Portland and cycletracks on 66th east of Penn?) this is finally recognizing that there’s better ways to do bicycle infrastructure than paint, and that cars aren’t going to disappear so it’s important to continue to accommodate them).

    2) Although not a lot of new highway expansion is being built, it’s starting to look like completing the US 14 freeway / expressway is becoming a priority with Dayton’s funding plan, as well with a significant amount proposed for the Corridors of Commerce program. And it now looks like the right thing is being done and an interchange will be built at the Pequot Lakes bypass. The original proposal was a signalized intersection, but the county wants to build a MUP between Pequot Lakes and Breezy Point, and besides inconveniencing motorists it would result in the trail crossing a 65 mph expressway.

  2. Mike Sonn
    Mike Sonn January 28, 2015 at 1:03 pm #

    Great picture of the snow-filled bike lane because we can’t ask drivers not to park there when we plow. Summit: useless in winter.

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell January 28, 2015 at 8:36 pm #

      Dr. Lindeke gets credit for that photo. And yep, it’s a great one.

  3. Adam Miller
    Adam Miller January 28, 2015 at 1:33 pm #

    “the closing of numerous medium to large groceries that left consumers having to drive considerably farther to get to the local super-big-box-distribution-center format grocery five miles farther away.”

    I’m not sure that’s exactly what’s happening, as I think the trend is actually away from big (and the assumption of cheap attached to it) and toward local and organic (and the perceived freshness/healthiness).

    It feels to me (i.e., I have no actual data) like Lunds, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods (and in other geographies Harris Teeter) are expanding with smaller, nicer stores while the Cubs of the world are struggling.

    • Matt Steele January 28, 2015 at 2:00 pm #

      That may be true in the city, but I’m doubtful that’s the case in 2nd/3rd ring burbs, small towns, and regional centers. And as the Cubs of the world struggle and close outlets, despite no other alternatives in many areas, people *have* to drive further to get to a remaining open Walmart/Target/Cub.

    • Monte Castleman
      Monte Castleman January 28, 2015 at 2:19 pm #

      It happens time and time again that the middle retailer gets squeezed out. Macy’s and Walmart are doing fine, but what about Sears? JC Penney? Mervyn’s? That’s what’s happening in the grocery word too. I used to go to Cub but once Wal-Mart started carrying groceries that was good enough for me, and there’s always people with plenty of money that want shopping to be “fun”.

      I disagree with the article in that we’re not seeing a shift away from big box grocery stores to neighborhood shops. The middle guys are being squeezed out, and the other players are realizing they can never plop a full size SuperTarget in Dinkytown so they’re building additional stores to adapt, not retreating from their traditional model.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller January 28, 2015 at 3:15 pm #

        Retail has always been pretty cyclical (look at Abercrombie & Fitch) and the reaper will come for Macy’s eventually too.

        Locally, Rainbow and Cub came for the Supervalus and IGAs (heck I remember a Piggly Wiggly in Arden Hills). Then Lunds, Byerly’s, and Trader Joe’s came for Rainbow and Cub from the high end and Walmart and Target from the low end. My completely uninformed guess is that the big-format, low-amenity stand alone grocery is probably in serious trouble.

        Something will eventually come for its current competition too, but I think you’re right that we’re likely to see very different things in the city and inner suburbs compared to those farther out.

        • Monte Castleman
          Monte Castleman January 28, 2015 at 7:01 pm #

          The thing about Wal-Mart and Target is the convenience factor also. If I need groceries, a pair of socks, and a hammer, I can get it done at a single store once a week. Driving to Cub, Home Depot, and Kohls is much less convenient. That is a factor as much as prices why I gave up going to Cub years ago.

          • Walker Angell
            Walker Angell January 28, 2015 at 8:39 pm #

            Don’t dare ask what you’ll make with groceries, a pair of socks, and a hammer. 🙂

          • Adam Miller
            Adam Miller January 28, 2015 at 8:56 pm #

            This is car thinking. If you didn’t have to fight traffic, navigate crazy, congested parking lots and deal with peak-time crowds, stopping at three different stores, likely spread over multiple days, wouldn’t be so daunting.

            But living in carland, the “convenience” of not having to deal with that thrice is certainly a factor.

  4. Wayne January 29, 2015 at 3:15 pm #

    Let me be a wet blanket Debbie downer and throw some pessimism on 2015 (it’s what I do best!)

    -The chosen proposal and design for the Nicollet Hotel block will be underwhelming garbage and while we’ll be excited about something better than a parking lot, deep down we’ll know it was a missed opportunity

    -The Nicollet Mall redesign will turn out to be mostly a repaving project with some weak public art that looks better in renderings thrown in and basically not much will change down there other than making it even harder to walk past all the sidewalk café seating

    -K-Mart will continue to troll the city and never let them reopen Nicollet Ave until their absurdly long lease runs out

    -The Met Council or maybe GOP in the statehouse will somehow kill any chance of the streetcar being built anyway, so who cares about reopening nicollet

    -The north side will continue to receive little-to-no interest from developers

    -More six-floor wood-frame construction that looks the same

    -More stubby buildings like Nic on Fifth that look like they should have been twice as tall and got an awkward haircut (esp. on the other empty block across from the library)

    -Something something stadium cost and general fund

    -SWLRT will continue to be a mess, continue to pursue the same route, and probably get ‘postponed’ indefinitely because the GOP will kill funding at the state level

    -Some other group will appear to try to derail all the exciting towers planned for the near-northeast NIEBNA area, or maybe they’ll want to do condos and won’t be able to pre-lease enough to move ahead for another 2-3 years. Or maybe they’ll just get shrunk down to something too short to be interesting or exciting.

    -Dinkytown will be frozen in place as a historic testament to everyone’s bygone wonder years spent drunkenly stumbling around it (heavy nostalgia filter necessary)

    -I’ll keep commenting on things here and bumming everyone out (or pissing them off)

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller January 29, 2015 at 3:45 pm #

      I see your pessimism and shall respond with optimism

      – Marginal improvement is still improvement, and very nearly anything is better than a parking lot. If it bring more downtown residents, I’m very happy.

      – What you describe does not sound like it would cost $50 million. That might make it better than the shiny proposals we’ve seen, which involves spending a whole lot for… well… I’m no longer sure what.

      – Meh, K-Mart must be denying anyway.

      After that… well, maybe you’re right.

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