By now, you have read about the meeting in Saint Paul where an unruly crowd of citizens booed and shouted at public officials and experts about parking meters. Yes, parking meters. I have also been reading comments on social media that express amazement that people can get so worked up about minor changes to transportation infrastructure.
However, I’m not surprised. I have been to other meetings in Saint Paul about transportation and have encountered similar bizarre reactions to proposed changes in transportation infrastructure. I’ve concluded that these extreme emotional reactions are not really about bike lanes or sidewalk bump-outs or parking meters, but are really about something far more sensitive, something as uncomfortable to talk about as personal finance or sex — status.
Human beings are social animals and like other social animals, we need to know our place in the pecking order. Having broken with the Old World and its inherited class system, Americans tend to rank status according to wealth. And one easily discerned measure of wealth and status is the brand of automobile a person drives. At the top of the social ladder are the people who drive (or are driven in) expensive, usually foreign-made cars, and at the bottom are people who drive old, used, and often domestic cars. Beneath the bottom rung of the social ladder are people who do not own cars, but instead ride mass transit, walk and ride bicycles… until recently.
Recently, particularly in Europe, the car-free status has been climbing up the social ladder. One example is Maxima Zorreguieta, Queen of The Netherlands who showed up a couple years ago on a bike to dedicate a park looking very confident in her status, even chic (looking chic on a bike seems to be a thing in Holland and Denmark).
The recent decisions by officials in Paris and Oslo to remove private automobiles from their city centers is another indication that the days of the automobile as a badge of rank in society is on the way out.
In American cities and towns, the decoupling of status and private automobile ownership is proceeding more slowly. Even in cities with adequate bicycle and transit infrastructure, I often feel like a second-class citizen riding a bicycle.
However, I usually feel there is progress. The exception is my hometown, Saint Paul, where we seem to be sliding backwards into the dark ages of automobile dominance. Minneapolis shames its twin with its growing network of protected bike lanes. Saint Paul is being lapped by Indianapolis with its Cultural Trail.
Collective vs. Individual Status
The key difference, I think, between Saint Paul and Minneapolis is Minneapolitians are more secure in their collective status. Saint Paulites don’t have as much pride in their city as their neighbors across the river. Without a confident and secure collective status, Saint Paulites fall back on the traditional barometer of individual status, the private automobile. Any attempt to alter the car-dominated urban landscape personally threatens them as if it were an attempt to restructure the social order. This affront to their status, a perception of transportation equity as “social engineering”, often provokes them to angry outbursts at meetings. Their outrage is often expressed by shouting things like “You won’t make me ride a bike!” (other variations on that theme include riding a bus, riding a train, and walking).
I don’t think this is an impossible or even difficult problem to resolve. After all, I’m sure Saint Paulites would experience a boost in their collective pride if their sports teams won a championship. Few Saint Paulites actually play professional hockey or baseball, but most Saint Paulites feel pretty good when the home team wins. That collective pride in the hometown team is the usual justification civic leaders give to spending millions of public dollars building sports facilities.
City leaders in Saint Paul could use the same appeal to civic pride to spend a fraction of those public funds on bicycle, transit, and pedestrian infrastructure. Saint Paulites could feel as much pride as Minneapolitians for being ranked among the top bicycling cities, even if they drive all the time and never ride a bike.
Thank you, Ken. I think you’re onto something. But sadly, I believe we have a long way to go for a top ranking as a bicycling city to register on the local pride radar.
People right now are bashing Grand like it is a burden that they endure as neighbors instead of a badge of honor. “I’ll just drive to the suburbs to go shopping instead of plugging a meter!!” is an actual quote from Monday. So this person, who I know only lives a block of Grand, is willing to pass by her local store, drive 15 min one way, and spend $3-5 in gas just to avoid paying <$1 at a meter that is steps from her front door. Why? Because she doesn't really care about her neighborhood or her city, she cares about herself (and not even that as she'd waste more time and money 'sticking it to the man').
I love St Paul and know that it will be a better city with bike lanes and parking meters. We've invested our life savings and the next 30 years in St Paul. But it really breaks my heart to see and hear so many long time residents proclaim that their city is crap and they're ready to jump ship over a block walk or a $1 in a parking meter. We need strong leaders right now to push past the hysteria, point to past successes (there are plenty: Jefferson, the median on Snelling, etc), and put sound policy and infrastructure in place.
The tide is changing. I get discouraged often lately, but right now is the time to make the changes against the NIMBY push back because it is the right thing to do for St Paul's future.
Totally feel you, Mr. Sonn. As a resident of Como for the past 12 years, I’ve seen great improvements in my ability to bike or walk in the neighborhood, as well as throughout Saint Paul.
However, progress is slow and being met with irrational anger. Ken makes a great point on the status of the individual being threatened, and I’d add that the NIMBY crowd has ALWAYS been this way. It takes strong leadership to stick to the principles that they have as public official and not let the fear and anger of constituents move them to inaction.
Also, coming from a family that has been in the public eye in Minneapolis, I can tell you my dad was assaulted (really!) after a school board meeting, and although it seems great in Minneapolis, it hasn’t always been great and they continue to struggle in some areas.
Saint Paul does have a long way to go, and we need to make sure we rally to support those in office like Russ Stark and Amy Brendmoen that have been great supporters.
People like that are why some of us refer to St Paul as a suburb. They’ve certainly got the suburban mentality down already. We’re here waiting if they ever decide to grow up and act like a real city.
WE will be those leaders, the community of people who love St Paul so much that they actually want to improve it! We will lead and the elected officials & business owners will wise up and follow.
Some really interesting ideas here, but let me offer an alternate hypothesis: Saint Paulites, particularly those in higher income neighborhoods, do not suffer from lack of pride. Rather, they have deep pride in their neighborhoods, as opposed to their city, and this neighborhood pride translates into a strong desire to maintain “their” neighborhoods exactly as they are. After all, these neighborhoods are some of the greatest places to live in the world. For better or for worse, residents there feel strongly that “you shouldn’t fix what ain’t broke.”
Moderator’s note: Please try and keep comments respectful. There are valid reasons to oppose parking meters that should be treated as legitimate, even if you don’t agree.
“There are valid reasons to oppose parking meters that should be treated as legitimate, even if you don’t agree.”
I don’t know of any. I can see opposing parking meters on one street but not the neighboring street (because all the circle-around-the-block goofballs will migrate from the street with meters to the street without). But there are *no* valid reasons to oppose parking meters in general, as a whole-area-has-meters thing. None.
You can also argue about the correct price at the meters. But arguing about whether they should exist? What sense does that make? Of course they should exist.
(And yes, maybe the correct price to start with is zero. Or a nickel an hour. Have people do something to meter their parking, and you’ll start getting some hard data as to how low the turnover is.)
From Wikipedia: “Saint Paul is noted for its neighborhoods; the city has been called “fifteen small towns with one mayor”, owing to the neighborhood-based life of much of the city.”
St Paul isn’t a city of individuals its a city of neighborhoods which the residents take extreme pride in. When you say ” Saint Paulites don’t have as much pride in their city as their neighbors across the river” it makes me question the whole article. There are 2nd and 3rd generations of people living in the same neighborhoods. In this sense, you get it exactly wrong.
Now maybe people who live in Uptown or Northeast really do take pride in a protected bike plan in downtown Minneapolis and maybe its true that people in Highland or the North End could care less about a bike loop in downtown St Paul (that’s probably true) but what’s definitely not true is that people care about their cars more than they care about their neighborhood.
The opposition to the bike lanes or the parking meters thinks neither is good for the neighborhood. Its that simple
Ken, sadly I think you’re spot on with this. The wealth-as-status thing has always rung hollow. Many of the people I most admire are not wealthy or even middle-class. And many of the people I’ve had the greatest disdain for are wealthy (or powerful political types). Wealth is no indicator of good character or integrity. People of good character are spread throughout the income range as are people of poor character. The same goes for integrity, intelligence, and many other admirable attributes. I’ve always thought of teaching as one of the greatest careers that someone can choose, yet we pay teachers quite poorly. There’s a disconnect somewhere.
St Paul has some company though. There’s a very similar element in the ‘burbs. Twice in the past couple of years I’ve heard people at a nearby table discussing why I’d ridden a bicycle to lunch or dinner. I’ve been fascinated to find out that I’d declared bankruptcy last year and was struggling to hold on to my house but had lost my car. I also lost my license because of too many DUI’s. My tattered old tweed jacket probably didn’t help though.
I look forward to the day when we can look past what kind of car someone drives or how big of a [poorly architected] McMansion they live in to their character.
This thing you pointed out is fascinating as well because I think St Paul is one of the greatest cities in the U.S. Or at least has the greatest potential. And this makes me doubly sad when I see the angst raised against things like bikeways along Cleveland Ave.
I love that Minnesotan habit of talking about people loudly enough that they can hear you, but pretending that you think they can’t.
Good points Walker. I wonder how much of Ken’s argument can be tied to the larger tend of the decline of the American middle class? As people feel more economically threatened suddenly any change they don’t fully buy into feels like an imposition and invasion. Thus a small parking policy change gets treated like one of the great social conflicts of the ’60s or ’70s.
This is very much why St Paul reminds me of Cincinnati: their shared allegiance to the local neighborhood. The city as a whole? Not so much. That and the architecture of certain neighborhoods like Cathedral Hill, steep hills right next to the downtowns, and a general provincial resistance to change. Even when it comes to bikes they’re both not crazy about them (St Paul has 32 miles of bike lanes to Cincinnati’s 23), but trains are OK; Cincinnati completed laying tracks for its 1st streetcar line to debut next year and St Paul has, as we all know, the Green Line. What I do find confusing about the neighborhood-centric, pro-status quo attitude is that in Cincinnati it makes more sense because so many neighborhoods are actually islands unto themselves due to the geography: see Mt Adams for example, which is a gorgeous little neighborhood that will make your legs sore with its steep streets. In St Paul, however, many neighborhoods are flat and share several streets without isolating features between them to form borders like steep hills or railroads or highways, so I’m not sure how with a much better flow between neighborhoods that St Paul ended up with people finding a way to create their own boundaries.
I wholly disagree with the weight you give a city’s “potential”. There’s talk and there’s action. Without the latter potential means nothing. I thought Columbus (OH) had great potential; it has about 4 miles of uninterrupted walkable urbanism from German Village and the Brewery District all the way up to the northernmost neighborhood of Clintonville: all of the city’s best neighborhoods right next to one another, how can you mess up this setup? Well, around a decade ago there was a master bikeways plan to cover the city with bike boulevards and bike lanes, a starter streetcar line and/or LRT line. One by one, the streetcar got shelved indefinitely, the light rail-streetcar hybrid that was proposed afterward fizzled away, the only bike boulevard in the city is the same one they built several years ago which only connects a trail together, sound bike lanes have been or are downgraded to door zone bike lanes because they don’t want to take away a parking lane where one parking lane would more than suffice or bumped all the way down to sharrows: even on a miles long stretch of a narrow two lane street with parked cars and no room for heavy 35 MPH traffic to pass cyclists safely.
Hence, why I give little credence to potential no matter how great. Unless you can see that the gears are in motion, there is no potential: only talk. And with St Paul, I’m seeing more of the latter. Either that or the gears are moving so slowly that they seem still.
Thanks. Something I wanted to mention is an odd reaction Roberta and I get when we are riding our Brompton folding bikes – people often ask us how much the bikes cost. I am always uncomfortable with that question since it is about determining our status. I much prefer when people ask how the Bromptons fold and whether we can take the bikes on airplanes, trains, buses etc. The investment in expensive bikes has paid off by lowering travel expenses and reducing the hassle of getting rental cars and taxis at our destinations. This practical consideration is lost on people who care only about the status of our ride.
Great point! I learned too late that I was throwing so much money away on my cars over the years, and could have been riding a quality and reliable bike for the same trips (even from Saint Paul to Plymouth) in the same amount of time.
Are you sure that’s about status? I get that question about my cargo bike all the time, usually by people who just would like to have one and wonder if they could afford it (unfortunately, the answer is usually “no” for a prebuilt bike, “maybe” for a conversion kit.)
Of course I mostly get the question in places like the Hi Lake Aldi bike rack, not the airport, so it’s a different set of assumptions.
“people often ask us how much the bikes cost.”
The correct response is “You want to buy one? Here are three places they’re sold, look for the best price.”
Thank you for this post. From my experience, this angst fits the age old reptilian brain problem. If you take something away from me, I feel cheated and gypped. If you add an amenity without taking anything from me, I might be okay with it. But adding bike lanes while you take away parking? That makes my reptile brain go into over drive and the fight mechanism comes out in full force.
It is why the logical responses make no difference. Because this is not a logical debate and the truth will not set us free.
As a person who worked in community process for decades, I now believe we cannot create change this way in St. Paul. I now support the idea that if the plan was vetted and accepted (like the city’s bike plan was) that it should be executed. I would not even waste the time with another process.
Our process on Marshall Ave. medians lasted 10 years. But we still hear complaints that no one ever knew about it.
That’s a good parallel. What percentage of people are still upset by the Marshall medians? I think most people like them, for the most part.
I completely disagree. Even in a representative democracy it’s still a democracy and this sort of totalitarian mindset is dangerous. I think the people of St. Paul have legitimate concerns that should be heard. Perhaps all or most of us in this forum disagree with their concerns, but that does not mean they are not valid and should be heard.
I think too often we demonize those on the other side of an issue as a way to skirt debate. Maybe because we don’t have the ability (or desire) to defend our point of view. Nevertheless it’s a cheap trick, and almost as damaging as “let’s just ram-it-through” to democracy, and the public good.
@Alice Tibbetts: I completely disagree. Even in a representative democracy it’s still a democracy and this sort of totalitarian mindset is dangerous. I think the people of St. Paul have legitimate concerns that should be heard. Perhaps all or most of us in this forum disagree with their concerns, but that does not mean they are not valid and should be heard.
I think too often we demonize those on the other side of an issue as a way to skirt debate. Maybe because we don’t have the ability (or desire) to defend our point of view. Nevertheless it’s a cheap trick, and almost as damaging as “let’s just ram-it-through” to democracy, and the public good.
I don’t think this is an issue with how the process moves as much as how in Saint Paul, certain groups try to delay the implementation of an approved plan, try to delay the plan being made, or do any number of things to otherwise interrupt the process. Getting input and making a decision is one thing, filibustering the implementation of a decision when it has had this input is another.
Then we get to the Grand Avenue situation. YES, there should have been more input beforehand. NO, booing, heckling, and intimidating people who disagree with you should not be something that happens. NO, we cannot allow the businesses and residents of one persuasion overrule everyone else through intimidation. These actions are those of the fear of losing status that Mr. Avidor speaks to, the actions of asking not to be negatively affected, asking to be exempted, asking for profits to go back into the community is normal and reasonable and should be considered, but not even considering that the other side might have a valid opinion is something that has been demonstrated by several in opposition to meters, and only a few in support.
Some concerns are valid.
Some are, frankly, BS. There is such a thing as an *invalid* concern — one which is just complete nonsense.
Are the businesses on Grand Avenue worried that the parking meter price will be so high that it will drive customers away? That’s a valid concern.
Are they worried that parking meters will “change the character of their neighborhood”? That’s an invalid concern.
This is fascinating as both a non native and Minneapolis resident. Interesting take regarding civic pride.
It’s interesting, because for all the talk of St Paul being “suburban” it has far more urban bones than parts of Minneapolis. Lowertown is prettier than the North Loop will ever be, an LRT line that functions as more than an airport line and isn’t planted next to a highway, and what feels like very walkable neighborhoods. I know there’s more to St Paul than that, but it’s ironic.
I have been surprised at the extent to which the parking meter discussion has focused on identity issues. For example, people saying the meters will destroy the “small town feel” or the “character” of Grand Ave. People clearly see free parking as an key feature of Grand Ave. I think people in St Paul take a great deal of pride in their neighborhoods. Otherwise they wouldn’t be making such a big issue about what to me is just a parking management issue.
The people making noise about it feel free parking is a key feature of Grand Ave.
I wonder what proportion of the people who use Grand Ave feel that way.
As a regular visitor to Grand, it is not a factor to me. I don’t see free vs paid parking as impacting the character or feel of the street at all. But I mostly walk or bike there. And when I drive, I usually park in a private lot.
“For example, people saying the meters will destroy the “small town feel” or the “character” of Grand Ave. ”
I grew up in a small town and I still live in a small town. There are parking meters on EVERY SINGLE COMMERCIAL STREET, and there have been for nearly 100 years.
So I consider this sort of complaint to be purest BS. It is not a valid complaint.
+10 points for that excellent Google Maps/Albert Bettanier painting mashup.
As a student coming to Saint Paul and living in the college bubble for a couple years, it took me a while to really understand some of the forces at play in Saint Paul.
I’m not sure I can speak to some of the larger things, but I think that many people in Saint Paul set themselves up in opposition to Minneapolis. In the same way that politicians of one party will oppose whatever their rivals support, even if it was something they previously supported, I think many people in Saint Paul view themselves as guardians of a city that’s quite distinct from Minneapolis. Minneapolis is loud, so Saint Paul is quiet. Minneapolis is modern, so Saint Paul is traditional. Minneapolis is bike friendly, so Saint Paul is bike resistant.
When I came to MSP, I immediately felt that I was living in one city, not two, and I still feel that way about the cities. But I think that view is much less commonly held the older you are. Many people who have lived in Minneapolis or Saint Paul for a long time chose that city explicitly because it wasn’t the other, whereas I would chose a location based on easy access to both. So these folks are very protective when it comes to the idea of Minneapolitizing Saint Paul. That’s the last thing they want.
Good piece. I’ve lived just over the St. Paul border in Minneapolis for 20-some years. When looking for houses back then, we had to rule out the immediate St. Paul neighborhoods because they weren’t in our price range. Over the years, I’ve experienced first hand how the two cities have diverged regarding biking.
But most telling was a comment I received on our multi-neighborhood group on Nextdoor. I casually commented that I looked forwarded to when the Midway Greenway might be extended over the old railroad bridge to St. Paul’s Desnoyer Park (a pretty modest neighborhood sandwiched between 94 and the river). A long-time resident there shot back that he hoped they would NEVER extend the Greenway, as they didn’t want “those elements” in their neighborhood. Pretty sad.
the foreclosure crisis displaced a lot of the people I’d heard say that, but it was not uncommon until just a few years ago to hear people in Powderhorn, Phillips, and Whittier call the Greenway a “crime highway”. After it was completed, some of the same people would simultaneously complain about snobby bike people AND gangster thugs coming into the neighborhood because of the Greenway.
I’m just vicious enough to be glad that a lot of the people with that sort of evil attitude lost their houses to foreclosure.
Ken, as I’ve already told you on the twitters; I am supremely envious of you for composing this argument. You’ve succinctly tied together numerous threads that have been running through my brain during all of this controversy. It has definitely been demoralizing at times to see our neighbors howling like Tea Baggers opposing free water for poor children.
However, one silver lining in all of this hurly-burly coming so soon off of the outcry this summer over Cleveland bike lanes has been an awakening on our side.
Quite often in the Pedestrian-Transit-Bike conversations and initiatives, our pro-side has a tendency to fall into the “Republic of Letters” mindset as though we were in some Enlightenment era coffeehouse, where the best most logical argument delivered with eloquence shall win the hour and everyone will come round to that view. If we just show everyone the basic logic of meters/bike lanes/more buses, surely they’ll understand how they too will ultimately benefit. It’s a lovely image.
In reality however, change is painful and politics (even parking meter politics) can never be separated from the hundreds of overlapping interests and loyalties that exist in everyone and every community. People perceive a loss of status/privilege/power and they will sweep aside every moderate view in their soul and dig in their heels. And if some of this group of people hold institutional power (public or private) they will bring it to the fight.
The P-T-B controversies of the recent past (not just this year) are showing the fault lines between those who have a vision of What St Paul Could Be vs St Paul Already Works For Me, Why Would I Want Change?* Ignoring these fault lines is a recipe for defeat.
The way forward for our side cannot be limited to simply ‘having our facts straight.’ If decades of conclusive studies on the value of meters combined with years of studies on Grand Ave’s need for a policy change doesn’t convince someone, then it’s useless to continue arguing.** Instead our side needs to learn how to co-opt points of power in our community. Public & private, formal & informal. Politicians need to fear losing several percentage points in close elections if they do not sufficiently push Ped-Transit-Bike interests. Businesses should be gravely concerned that their image of being less than welcoming to P-T-B will hurt their bottom line. And those who are interested in our arguments need more forums (like streets.mn!!) both digital and physical to learn basic facts, exchange questions and views, and learn that there are a lot more pro-P-T-B folks in their community than they realized…and hey, maybe I too should get involved!
The struggle for a better St Paul will be tough and sometimes exhausting, but we can win. After all, the other side can’t even be bothered to walk one block to boost their own neighborhood, so I’m pretty sure we have more energy in this fight.
*There’s also the third group many of us have encountered: The Accomodationist. “I’m all in favor of Peds-Transit-Bikes, but since it angers some motorists we shouldn’t inconvenience them.”
**This is not to say that we shouldn’t know the facts & basic science behind our views. But charts and data tables do no good when our opponents decide to make it a shouting match.
I’ve stayed out of this conversation since it doesn’t matter to me if St. Paul wants meters on Grand or not. I don’t live there, shop there, drive there, or ride a bicycle there. But want to comment on the vicious, uncalled for political jab. Where does the allegation that “Tea Baggers oppose free water for poor children” come from? Was a political slam really necessary to make your point? Is it even accurate- I can’t find a single reference to this in several pages of Googling. (But I found several pages about how the community opposes parking meters). Minneapolis isn’t the hotbed of conservatism and they charge for water, should they stop doing that?
Well if you’re asking me if I support fully subsidized municipal water for low income people in all cities; the answer is “Yes I do”. The commodification of the shared resource of water is a growing issue that should be addressed.
While I do not have any examples in front of me of self identified Tea Partiers opposing fully subsidized municipal water for low income children, there *are* examples of them opposing free school lunches (which IMHO ain’t far off).
And to your larger question: Yes, I think my allusion to larger national political trends is germane. For several weeks the conversation on the pro-Meter side has been filled with disbelief at the (in our eyes) illogical gut level resistance complete with rude behavior at public forums & hyperbolic arguments. I think that it very much resembles the early rise of the Tea Party movement and that we would be wise to learn from history and not wait for it to blow over & people return to their senses.
And if you think It Can’t Happen In Minneapolis… I sincerely hope youre right.
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I like the cut of your jib.
@Monte Castleman 1000% agree.
Why can’t the argument be made without trying to demonize the other side as hateful, mean-spirited, uncaring monsters? They’re a bad person if they disagree with you?
Please show me in my original comment where I called them monsters and I will apologize. Please show me where I said that anyone who disagrees with my views is a bad person and I will apologize for that as well.
I have simply observed the well documented protest style utilized by various (seemingly overlapping) groups who have opposed bike lanes and meters and other non-auto infrastructure changes. And I have noted a strong similarity between these local intransigents and the allied groups nationwide who also loudly oppose progressive advances.
If someone feels that booing & hissing bike lane and meter advocates at public forums are justified, please advocate their cause and tactics and convince me and others. If someone feels that distributing flyers with long disproved falsehoods claiming bike & bus infrastructure will be more dangerous than our current car infrastructure is simply noble community activism, then help sway the rest of us to that view.
Until then, in my view such tactics far outweigh the justifications and I will continue to advocate that those in favor of improving our communities adapt to counter these concerned members of the community.
So not giving people free utilities is an extremest viewpoint (Do they do it in Berkeley? In any of the European countries that liberals swoon over?) Isn’t that the point of giving people welfare, so they can just buy the necesseties rather than the government provide everything directly? And not wanting parking meters in your neighborhood or in front of you business is an extremist viewpoint (you characterize the people that don’t agree with your personal viewpoints as “Intransigents”).
Without knowing the political viewpoints of those at the meeting, based on how the neighborhood voted in the last election it seems to me safe to assume that most of the parking meter opponents aren’t conservatives.
I think that the larger conversation of the modern welfare state in western democracies is starting to push beyond what is germane to this post and the streets.mn blog in general. If you wish to continue that particular debate here is my twitter handle: @derzquist
As far as my views on anti-meter folk: You have now twice accused me of having a horrible opinion of anyone who is anti-meter or even has mild concerns about meters. You continue to fail to provide precise evidence of when I said such things. I have been clear in my denunciations of the tactics of *some* of the anti-meter folk and make no apology for that. Since you’ve continued to accuse me of things I have not said or done, I am compelled to conclude that you are engaged in a form of trolling on this topic. Therefore I will no longer respond to any statement you make on this specific topic.
To your third commentary on the political views of the most ardent anti-meter people: Statistically speaking we can assume that a great number of the anti-meter folk voted twice for Pres Obama, favor gay marriage and would like to see the US move to a single payer healthcare system (this is St Paul, after all!). However, this would not be the first time in American history where a community known for it’s ardent liberalism suddenly showed a conservative side when asked to solve a longstanding problem in their community.
I dunno. As a native St. Paulite who has many family members with deep roots in the city who rail against any sort of change to their beloved city while still voting for a wide array of progressive causes, I think this misses the mark a bit. I think people in St. Paul take tremendous pride in their city, especially long timers, and they often tend to be immensely skeptical of people who argue for changing it without (in their minds) being fully immersed in it. That’s sort of the root of the clubby, insider-ish politics that characterize the town, I think. So from their perspective it’s not that they’re NIMBYs who hate change, it’s that they’ve got deep roots where they are and they’re not inclined to go throwing up parking meters and bike lanes for the benefit of “urbanists” or city planning types who they see as trend-following starry-eyed kids who will just move to Mendota Heights once their kids start school. Rail at the backwardness of the town all you want–or view it as a status-conscious place where everyone loves their car, even though that’s completely absurd–but I don’t think urbanists make a particularly good case for their cause doing that.
I live in Lowertown, a community that only a handful of people can say they grew up in or have roots because until very recently, Lowertown was an industrial, not residential community. Yet, most of my friends and neighbors own cars and many of them have the same concerns about parking their cars as people in other Saint Paul neighborhoods.
I don’t consider Minneapolis very progressive when it comes to improving the pedestrian environment- urban design, complete streets, etc. Both cities are most focused on moving cars despite a lot of rhetoric to the contrary. I perceive Minneapolis’ bicycle community has done a great job of organizing forcing policy-makers and City staff to invest in bicycle infrastructure, while very little of significance happens to make the City a safe and comfortable place to walk.
Minneapolis’ bike success didn’t result from all city leaders suddenly having the scales fall from their eyes on the topic of bike lanes. It came from people demonstrating that they are an organized community. Those who successfully scuttle advances (See: recent events in St Paul) also achieve their success by demonstrating that they are an organized community. Future success in both cities will depend on which general side of the debate is better organized.
And I love your point on how advances in one area of infrastructure do not automatically lead to advances in others. Increased coalition building needs to happen between all proponents of moving away from our car culture.
It’s so funny how up in arms businesses are about plentiful parking on Cleveland and Grand. But when it’s parking for customers on bikes? Oh, who cares, if they really want to come here they’ll just have to find a way to make it work, cuz I’m certainly not going to shell out my money out of my own pocket just to get a bike rack to clutter up the sidewalk and if the only spot nearby is already taken, well, them’s the breaks and we certainly don’t need your money.
On Cleveland you better hope you’re in Highland Park (which has some nice neighborhood-themed bike racks), because you’ll have to luck out otherwise with a well-placed bus stop sign or a small enough tree further north. On Grand, I’ve had to lock up to trees or walk half a block to an intersection and then another half block off Grand to find anything to lock up to. I’d almost like to do a guerrilla cyclist takeover of these businesses, a la the guerrilla gay bar, which is where a large group of gay men “takeover” a (largely) straight bar for a night. But then it’s like, eww, I don’t want to give these businesses any more of my money when they’ve made it loud and clear that they don’t want it.
There are so many gripes here that I recognize. I was born and raised in Saint Paul and lived there nearly all of my life, yet I always felt totally out of step with the old vanguard in the city (and state).
I never hated Minneapolis for one. I agree that Saint Paul always had a slower, quieter character than Minneapolis but never took it as an absolute. I always was irritated by Saint Paulites talking about Saint Paul’s “small-town character,” even though Saint Paul is NOT a small town and hasn’t been for over a century when its population first hit 100,000 mark. One hundred thousand people does not a small town make, and it’s even less so now belonging to a metropolitan region of over three million people!
Minneapolis seemed to me to be more comfortable being a big city, whereas Saint Paul was obsessed pretending to be something it wasn’t. I also never understood the absolute marriage to driving everywhere, having taken the bus all my adult life and part of my teen life. I also started biking, not because it was the thing to do, but because I thought it would be a good way to fill in the many gaps Saint Paul’s bus system. It did, and the length and difficulty of my trips were greatly reduced. Saint Paul had a hundred thousand people fewer than Minneapolis, so it wasn’t going to have the comparatively comprehensive bus network of Minneapolis.
I also never understood why people could be so down on walking, as Saint Paul can be a beautiful city to walk in. God forbid people should have to actually walk a bit or take the bus. For many, they made it clear that it just would not be an option for no other reason that they just did not want it, almost as if it was beneath them. The amount of surprise I encountered for using the bus (and the occasional condescension) always surprised me. The frequent disregard for pedestrian rights and safety by motorists always pissed me off. I learned to start hating drivers in grade school because whenever the school bus stopped at an intersection, deployed it’s thirty-plus flashing red lights and crossing arm, drivers would still disregard all of that and our presence in a small intersection crossing the street and nearly run us all down, even though it would be a four-way stop intersection! If they had that much regard for grade school children, how much more respect would they have for adults? I found out that they had little for them as well. Up to the point I moved away a few years ago because my spouse had a job transfer that we could not turn down, I still frequently encountered drivers who would pull across a crosswalk, only look towards oncoming traffic, and only look my way at the last second and look astonished that someone was actually there. You’d think they’d never seen a pedestrian before, that your presence was a totally baffling entity that somehow didn’t belong.
I also was somewhat bemused by such intense neighborhood rivalry, whereas I enjoyed visiting all the neighborhoods and seeing all the layers of history in them and the reinvention. I lived in different neighborhoods over time, and while I always had a certain pride, it never had to come at the expense of other neighborhoods. This rivalry even extended to other states. We all know that Wisconsin and Iowa always gets some ribbing, but it goes further. My father was from Missouri, from St. Louis, and he got really tired of people always asking him if was happy to “be home” when he would go on a trip somewhere and come back to Minnesota, even if it was from St. Louis and they knew it was his hometown. They also loved talking trash about it around him, but when he returned the favor and ribbed anything Minnesotan, they would react badly and talk about how bellow the belt an uncalled for it was. When I got married, my spouse, who came from California (cue panic music), a state that Minnesotans seem to have a particular disdain for, eventually stumbled upon something that ended up explaining many things about Minnesotan culture and mindset that helped put many things in perspective for all of us: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_Jante I won’t go so far as to say it’s the only element in operation, but I think it would apply in many ways. If you find a copy of “A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks” by Aksel Sandemose at the local library (it’s not available to buy on Amazon if you can believe it), do it! My mother’s home state of New Jersey never seemed to rouse any comment.
Overall, I felt that it had to be a generational divide. Perhaps they’re inevitable, but for some reason my generation has some particularly peculiar things that just grate the hell out of the old vanguard. Over time, I came to feel that they weren’t interested in our ideas, aspirations or preferences and were in fact hostile to them. They would do all they could to block it, and consequently, most of us ended up migrating to either Minneapolis or other cities who were more realistic about what it meant to be a city and had a willingness to try something different. I don’t know what will happen, but things will change one way or another. Nothing stays the same forever.
It was strange, having been born and raised in Minnesota only to not really feel like one. Of course, my parents weren’t from there, and I was raised in the city where white kids comprised about 10% of the student body of the schools I went to. That may have had something to do with it. I knew the old timers had little connection to the life I lived and could be very hostile to it when there was contact. We represented a hard break from generations of Minnesotan culture and expectations. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized I had been a token white kid and that the vast majority of white Minnesotans could in no way relate to the way I grew up or to my experiences. It also helped to explain to me why the suburbs always felt so off, and why Greater Minnesota was so alien to me on so many levels. I don’t expect many people will take this seriously or believe all of it, but then it’s hard to believe someone else’s experience when it diverges so much from your own. That doesn’t make it untrue, though.
Maybe this is just intense neighborhood rivalry, but I have noticed in this thread and in most other commentaries and discourse that people say Saint Paul and they are largely referring to the areas south of 94, bounded by the river on the west and south, and Lexington/35E on the east (Highland, Max-Groveland, Summit-University, etc.). This is also the area with the most entrenched NIMBY, traditionalism, you-haven’t-lived-30-years type politics (or at least perceived as such).
There are a whole lot of other neighborhoods in Saint Paul – really interesting, fun, quirky, nice neighborhoods that welcome bike infrastructure (mostly) or are at least apathetic towards it. Some of these neighborhoods already have parking meters! I wonder why we waste so much advocacy time on a neighborhood that fights so hard against it.