I came across this news story last week about a public works proposal in Brooklyn Park, a northern suburb of Minneapolis (and future host to the end of a planned light rail line). As far as things go, this proposal is a pretty mundane function of local government: reconstructing a few 30+ year old streets, replacing some public utilities, and maybe adding a sidewalk. But of course, things like sidewalks and parking meters are never dull when it means changing the status quo.
Note: I’ve never been to this corner of Brooklyn Park, nor did I attend the council meeting. I’m mostly writing this as a break from core city politics. I don’t mean to offend any residents, city officials, or city employees, and honestly hope it inspires meaningful discussion.
Detailed information on the project, including cost breakdowns, proposed assessment amounts, and more can be found at the end of the Oct 12, 2015 council meeting notes. Here’s a map of the project area:
The project is estimated to cost $7.5 million, with just shy of $5 million of it in street re-paving (the remainder in public utilities). Residents are assessed 50% of street costs over a 15 year period, with the city paying for the rest.
In this case, the city wants to narrow the roadway to 30 feet curb-back to curb-back from its current width of 32 feet. Justifications for the change include saving money on the project itself, about $170,000 (3.4% of the street reconstruction), as well as future costs in ongoing maintenance (like plowing, sealcoating, and overlays), plus a side benefit of slightly safer streets from a more narrow design. The city also wants to install a sidewalk on one side of a roughly quarter-mile stretch of one street, Edgerton Blvd N, for $82,000. This sidewalk is in the city’s 2030 Comprehensive Plan. The table below outlines the different assessment scenarios per household:
Residents have come out in opposition to both the street narrowing and the small stretch of sidewalk by a margin of roughly 2:1. City councilmembers cited concerns of safety, emergency vehicle response times, and vehicles needing to stop or significantly slow down when passing cars parked on both sides of the street. Concerns that sound fairly familiar to projects in the core cities. Anyway, it sounds like residents object to the idea of paying $12.66 a year for a sidewalk but are comfortable footing an extra $25.33 a year for the wider street.
My Thoughts, Take or Leave ‘Em
I love that the proposal actually gives a hard value for how much 30′ vs 32′ saves on a full reconstruct. 3.4% of the street reconstruction is certainly non-zero, but it also goes to show you that slightly narrower streets alone aren’t going to save city budgets. The much bigger savings come from the length of the roads, pipes, and sewers per person, something that only comes by adding more residents and businesses per foot of roadway. This is a good time to point out that a six foot wide sidewalk costs about $60 per foot of length while a roadway designed for cars costs about $460/foot.
At the same time, this is a neighborhood full of solidly middle-class families…
…pushing to spend more to ensure the first- or last- eighth mile of their trips never have to slow down to negotiate two parked cars with another passing by. I was led to believe families couldn’t afford another dime for transportation. My guess is the street probably looks like this 99 days out of 100:
Absent any real infill it’s not likely to change. Still, to the elected officials wondering if 30′ street widths “work” or not, here is a two-way street in my neighborhood. While parking is rarely at capacity (despite population density being 3-4x higher than this particular area in Brooklyn Park), it’s full enough to force vehicles to slow down to pass. I never really have a problem getting out of my neighborhood, but then again going 15-20 mph until I hit Hennepin or Lyndale doesn’t bother me. Nor does stopping to let a car pass every now and again. The same goes for my back alley.
Emergency response times? The Minneapolis Fire Department response times average 4:06 across the city. The denser neighborhoods with tighter streets and parking concerns typically have higher shares of calls responded in under 5 minutes. Brooklyn Park’s fire department averages 4:35. CNU has covered this already. The city studied this area and found 85th percentile speeds to be 32.7mph. On 30+ year old roads in poor condition. One in seven drivers manage to get going over 33 mph on a short stretch of a residential street without sidewalks. That’s unsafe, period.
The SunPost article notes the whole southwest quadrant of the city will have its streets rebuilt over the next four years or so. This is a neighborhood inside the 494/694 loop, with a few local and express routes running through it or nearby. The Blue Line extension will stop at Bass Lake Rd and 63rd Ave, and there’s actually potential for local walkability in the apartments, elementary school, and mini retail node. People may not walk 1 mile to a LRT station. Biking? Definitely. But not if streets are designed explicitly to allow cars to never slow down, even on neighborhood streets. In other words, this is the type of prime opportunity for long-term infill, but only if some sort of larger planning body were to help ensure walking and biking are a part of the bigger plan.
Maybe that doesn’t mesh with current residents’ sensibilities or plans. That’s fine. Safety and cost savings should be enough to outweigh a 10 second delay twice a week. But given the fact that residents (who may not even stick around for the entirety of the 15 year assessment payback) are only on the hook for one third of the project costs, the city, county, and Met Council should have a strong say in the outcome of this project.