A bench in powderhorn park that someone decorated with pride colors and hearts.

Benchmarking: a 3:2:1 Recipe for Success

I’ve been recovering from some medical care, which makes me a temporarily disabled person, as opposed to my usual status as a temporarily-abled person. Much like the able-bodied man who takes the baby stroller out through the neighborhood and for the first time truly observes the poor quality of the sidewalks, I have a fresh zeal for public benches.

I was walking back from the park, finishing up my approved activity level of “light walking,” and sat on a retaining wall for a few moments to lower my heart rate back to a safer level. It was hard — I was nervous that the property owner would object to me and my companion sitting on their property. Retaining walls are also not exactly designed for rest. I rested, not as long and not as well as I should have, and I’m paying the price in a longer recovery from that walk. There were no public benches on that block or any adjoining block, but there was an entire lane for car storage.

It is now my considered, moderate opinion that a residential street with a high ratio of bedrooms to on-site parking spaces — 31st Street near Powderhorn Park, for example — should have a 3:2:1 ratio of trees, benches and car storage spaces. You could also mark some of these car storage spots as 15-minute parking to make deliveries easier, and you could mark some of them as disability parking only. This would improve the quality of the neighborhood by adding tree canopy and improving accessibility.

A rendering of a 3 trees, 2 benches, 1 car spot section of a block.
This artistic rendering is based on a satellite photo of 31st Street, which had only one car parked on the north side of this block.

Thinking about the benches in particular, I’m thinking that they should face the sidewalk, and that since we’ll have the full depth of a car storage space to work with (around 8 feet), we should put a small hedge behind each bench as a visual screen from the car lanes. You could also turn around one bench of the pair to face the car lanes, for those who might be waiting for a car or a delivery, but you’d still want to have the hedge at your back so you can relax.

  • 3 trees, planned for maturity in about 30 years, at 10 feet in diameter
  • 2 benches, 6 feet across each
  • 1 car storage spot, 20 feet across

Some neat facts about this structure:

  • Two of these 3:2:1 sets come out to be about as long as a bus stop (120 feet), so if you need a bus stop on that block you can swap it out without sweating details.
  • On a typical 660-foot-long block, you could repeat this pattern about 10 times, giving you 30 trees, 20 benches and 10 car spots. Enough room would be left over for the occasional streetlight, post office drop box or bike staple.
Pine Salica

About Pine Salica

Pine lives in Minneapolis and works in Saint Paul. Pine hasn't owned a car for over a dozen years, and can count on one hand the number of times they've operated one in the last 12 months. Housing is a human right, car storage is not. Member of the Climate Committee.