Thursday, June 25, 2015

Bike Lane Traffic Jam

I was driving a child to a hockey game last winter in the oh so urban twin of the Twin Cities and I ran into a Bike Lane Traffic Jam.

I was traveling along N. Dowling Avenue in Minneapolis about 5:30 pm on a weeknight when I ran into a line of cars. It was winter. The hockey game was for my five year old, who with his bag, was in the back. Cars were stacked in a line in one lane at each light on Dowling waiting four changes of each traffic light before they could proceed through the intersection. The street used to be two lanes going both ways, now it is one lane and a bike path. Funny I didn't see any bikes. We are told that bikes are part of the multi-modal transportation as the Government Class pats us on the head whilst taking money out of our pocket. Transportation bikes may have been in Mao's China but on a cold winter night with a five year old, a hockey bag and twenty miles of driving, bike lanes are the invisible reason a twenty minute trip takes forty and people going to and from work and their families and one hockey game are stuck in traffic. 

Thomas More said, "Never was there a heretic that spoke all false." While it is not all false bikes are transportation, so are rollerblading, river punting and cross country skiing. However you wouldn't want to build a transportation plan around them. It is not all false that at some times and some places bikes have been transportation, like the aforementioned Maoist China or post-war Belgium (I'm seeing a fully habited-out nun on a bike with a basket with a loaf of French, well I guess Belgian, bread). Bikes were transportation in those places and times because of failed Communist enconomics or destroyed war economies respectively. But even they got over it. Now, in newly capitalized China and modern oh so cool Europe, the citizens have leaned their bike up against a stone fence and jumped in to cars with willful abandon. It is also not all false that before 1908, bikes were transportation in the civilized world. Then the first Model T rolled off the line. Cool. Goodbye bikes hello freedom and pink Cadallacs on Wisconsin nights.

Proponets of the Cleveland bike lane say we (that's a little generous) need a North-South bike route across the City. Well so do we (I mean everyone) need a North-South car route. As my wife pointed out, with the building of a brand new neighborhood at the Ford Plant site, that need will be greater than ever. There are only two reasonable routes from the site to the North part of the City, to University Aveneue and I-94: Cretin and Cleveland. Why would the City want to clog up those arteries with less car lanes and more bikes lane (and occasional bikes)? There's irony somewhere that the City develops a neighboorhood on the very spot where cars and trucks were manufactured for a century and then hinders the new neighbors from traveling in cars and trucks because of bikes lanes.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

. . . and when they came for the four-star restaurant.

A few years back my wife and two other moms came together to oppose the closing of Jefferson Ave at Cleveland as part of the Jefferson Bikeway. Their attempts to stop the street closure led to the exposure of a million wasted dollars by the City, the fact the City was employing a “Bike Coordinator,” the realization that the City had ceded its authority to determine the best configuration of its street to a private bike advocacy group, and on and on. What did they accomplish? Well, Jefferson is still open at Cleveland. The City did blow the money on crooked lines, painted over bike stencils, concrete loopty-loops and a Close Encounters of the Pedestrian Kind light show at the Jefferson/Cleveland and Jefferson/Cretin crosswalks. Back when we were fighting this, allies were few and far between. Some came to meetings, but most said things like, “well, I like to bike,” or “I never drive on Jefferson anyway.”

But now? Well, well, well. Everyone is up in arms because they have come for the parking at the four-star restaurant I have not eaten at since it was a 3.2 joint with Taco-Thursdays. Now I am the one who’s not excited. Not because I don’t care, but because the game is over. The good folks who own businesses along Cleveland and their patrons are arguing the wrong issue. It’s not about parking on Cleveland, or bicyclists who disobey laws, or increased traffic on Cleveland or outside bike advocates agitating in our neighborhood or taxpayer money wasted on bikes and not spent on roads. It’s not about any of those things. It’s bigger than even the fact the City has a Comprehensive Bicycle Plan.

This is about how the City sees its role vis-a-vis its citizens. The City keeps telling us that bikes are part of its multi-modal transportation plan. Well, how does that work? If we split transportation into motor vehicles, public transport (bus, light rail, cab, Uber) and bike, how would the numbers look? Just for an argument let’s say:

90% motor vehicle,
9.99% public transport and
less than .01% bike.

My numbers look to be pretty close. These numbers are at least as legitimate as any numbers being thrown around by bike-lane advocates. Now I know you’re saying, “but I know people who bike to work and the store.” Okay. So do I. I knew a Federal Judge who biked in from the Western suburbs to downtown Minneapolis during the summer months. That’s one. But if you look at folks who do this, they do it some days of the week, they do it some months of the year. And of course they own a car, which explains bike racks. Now you may be able to find one guy who bikes everywhere, every day, all year. Well, you found your less than .01%. I'm guessing you could find one person who jogs to work and one who rollerskates, but that makes neither a statistically significant mode of transportation.

How does the City see its role? Well, I’m guessing based on spending about:

50% motor vehicle,
25% public transport and
25% bike.

I’m guessing some at the City would like to see:

10% motor vehicle,
60% public transport and
30% bike.

And bike-lane advocates? Well . . .:

100% bike, bike, bike, bike . . . whooh, sorry I got on a roll there.

So why is this a question of the role of the City vs. the Citizen? Chesterton says, “Those who hold the modern superstition that the State can do no wrong will be bound to accept such a thing as right.” G.K. Chesterton, The Well and the Shallows. The City’s elected officials and employees hold this superstition in spades.

Now for the important part . . . ahem . . . listen up!

The Citizen makes a private decision on how to travel; by car, by bus, by Uber or by bike. The sphere of this choice is a private choice made by a private citizen who buys, maintains and insures the car, who pays for a monthly bus pass or who equips himself out for winter biking. A private decision.

The important question is why does the City think its role is to interfere in people’s transportation decision? Why do they see it as their choice and not yours? Their sphere and not yours? The Citizens have decided and bikes come in at less than .01%. It’s time for them to recognize that and scrap the Comprehensive Bike Plan, move all bike issues over to Parks & Recreation, remove all bike lanes from arterial streets, pave and plow the streets, draft a Comprehensive Motor Vehicle Plan and return parking to the freeborn Citizens. Then, finally, the City would be following its Citizens and not trying to control them. That is what is important. Superstitions are hard to overcome and the superstition that the City can do no wrong is so ingrained I see no hope.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Las Vegas on the Jefferson

Have you been down Jefferson Avenue lately? 

Ever since the much-celebrated "Jefferson Bikeway" project, which was going to bring joy, happiness, peace in our time and higher rankings on those all important hipster e-mag livability rankings no one reads, I have been on the lookout for where exactly our $1,000,000.00 was being spent. Surely they did not blow it all on new signs with bike logos? Or on the "sharrow" op-art pieces painted, covered, re-painted and scraped away in one good street cleaning and performance art piece? Surely it was not spent on the bike "lines" from Lexington to Fort Road which look like Mr. Magoo, the City line painter, fell asleep or stopped off for a quick ten at the Spot; Dorthy had a straighter road to Oz.

Well what have they spent the money on? Want a Vegas vacation, then you too can travel West from Snelling Avenue and experience the "Let it Ride High Roller" at the "Trafficcircleosphere" as you wind in and out of useless traffic circles in a game of "will she or won't she yield" and "break for the confused pedestrian who does not know where to cross." Then make your way down to the Cleveland/Cretin Strip where pedestrian lights, or should I say LIGHTS!!!, have been installed to alert vehicles that there are pedestrians wanting to cross. These lights are flashing yellow, startlingly blinding LEDs and go off at unexpected moments, like when you're driving your car. 

Seriously . . . why did the City install these lights? They are a "Don't be a Menace to Mac Grove" and will cause some serious accidents. One wonders (well, actually I wonder) if these carnival lights are payback to some of the neighbors on the corners of Jefferson/Cleveland and Jefferson/Cretin who objected to the Bikeway. 

So the City wanted to control these intersections for pedestrians/bike crossings? I have an idea, how about a traffic light? Radical I know as they have only been around 147 years. Of course a simple traffic light hardly gives one cred at urban planner conferences when all the other Cities' pony-tailed planners are going on about sharrows, traffic circles and bike bridges. How gauche it would be to have to admit you used a, dare I say, pedestrian traffic light when you could have closed off the street or installed the Laser Pink Floyd monstrosities they in fact put into place.

We now all wait with poorer pockets and baited breath to see how the Public Class in Saint Paul will be spending the rest of the Productive class' $1,000,000.00. 

Is anyone out there?

The calm before the Fireworks

The Light Show in repose

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Response to article " Cleveland Avenue Shows St. Paul’s Need for Parking Creativity"

Response to article " Cleveland Avenue Shows St. Paul’s Need for Parking Creativity" @

Bikes are not transportation but recreation. The worst part of the bike craze over the last 40 years is not the loss of parking but the loss of 70+ miles of roads in Saint Paul so a minuscule number of folks can have a bike lane. Go to Marshall Ave from Cretin to Fairview any weekday around 5 pm and you can see what bike lanes have wrought with cars piled up in a single lane waiting for lights to change four times before moving through an intersection. Far from being “new” new urbanism is a tired old idea which has failed in places like Portland where roads are in complete disrepair, property is unaffordable and families have been pushed out. A few years ago, Saint Paul wasted $1,000,000.00 of taxpayer money and ceded control to a private advocacy group to build the “Jefferson Bikeway.” We got misprinted signs, wavy lines and more traffic congestion. At the end of the day, if they had not spent $1, bikers could have still used Jefferson Ave in the exact same way. Fight bike lane, fight the loss of parking and streets and advocate for a livable Saint Paul.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Art vs. Artifice

Look its dancing!
Maybe its just blowing in the wind

Sprouting up this Summer all over Mac-Grove have been the oddest things. At first I thought someone had dinged a car into a stop sign pole . . . and then using a Leatherman peeled parts of the metal away from it . . .and then rusted it? No, that can't be. As I sat staring at what was a perfectly good pole, now turned into a rusty scrap heap, I thought two thing, 1) why would someone do that to a Stop sign pole? and 2) when are they going to fix it? I am still asking.

Lo and behold, I find out that these pieces of recyclable matter are actually art. Well, how about that. Of course, what you want people who are approaching a controlled traffic intersection, driving a couple of tons of vehicular heft to do is to see (be distracted by?) art. I am hoping for the Mona Lisa Yield sign. A stop light that changes froCoolidge's Dogs Playing Poker (green go) to Monet's Haystacks (yellow slow) to Edvard Munch's The Scream (red Stop!). 

And art I guess it is. Art in the same way my child brings some twisted piece of metal rope and birch bark home from Scout camp that sits on the mantle for a couple of years. Art in the school of Detroit-abandoned-industrial-failed city-Robocop chic. My wife suggests they may have found the metal near some of the canyon-sized potholes we saw this Spring in our fair city. Maybe.

Alas, it is the usual story. While the City Parks department is losing $800,000.00 to a coffee shop because they couldn't find anyone to read a contract and while the City is whining about a 10 million dollar deficit (that's $10,000,000.00 for those who are visual), the City is paying an artist to molest its stop sign poles. Or maybe it's the State, or the Federal government or the UN. The only thing that is certain is it's you. Why does this happen? Well, in a one-party City there is no opposition. No one to complain about the potholes, the plowing, the deficit, the nutshell attorneys or the vandalism in the name of art to stop signs. There is only one thing left to say.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Things that matter

I went to a local high school graduation a couple of months ago. Its a high school I am familiar with. My father and father-in-law went to the high school, as did many of my cousins and friends. When I was in high school it was the rival to my high school, both of which were Catholic, all male, military schools. I had not been to the local high school's graduation ceremony since 1984. Since then, the rival has become optional military and merged with its sister school. My alma mater is still a Catholic, all male, military school. I have been to many graduation ceremonies of my alma mater over the last 30 year of brother-in-laws, cousins and last year, my eldest son.

There was something about this local high school's graduation that bugged me which I could not put my finger on. It has taken me over a month to figure it out and I think I have.

The entire graduation ceremony at this local high school was about things that don't matter. Things such as race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and economic status. The entire thrust of ceremony, the entire message of what it means to go to this local high school told at its graduation, is that these things that don't matter do matter. And the job of the school is to help each student identify in themselves and others these things that don't matter, teach that these things are a "burden" to be carried by each individual for the rest of their lives and that the great accomplishment of the high school is sending its students off to the lifelong struggle to overcome these "burdens" of things that don't matter.

Now I know you say wait a minute; race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and economic status do matter, don't they? Well yes I guess they do on a society level or a family level or maybe even a personal level but they sure do not tell me about the individual. I am of mixed Irish, German and French decent, Catholic, male, straight and in economic straights right now. These things matter to me and my family but what do they tell you about me? Am I honest? Am I good to my children? Am I brave? What do these things that don't matter tell you about anyone? It is just a census bureau of facts. Arbitrary things which don't tell you anything about the person, their morals, their qualities. And in an individual setting, one-on-one, they do not matter. And more importantly, they have no place in an educational setting when you consider what does matter.

At my alma mater, the graduation narrative has a different theme. Its about things that do matter such as leadership, faith, courage, acceptance, knowledge, self-sacrifice, tolerance, persistence, collaboration, treating others with respect, etc. You get the point. The thrust of my alma mater's graduation and the message of what it means to go to my alma mater is that these are the things that do matter. The job of my alma mater is to identify the things that matter, teach that they are a good and desired goal for life, and the great accomplishment of my alma mater is sending its students off to the lifelong struggle to achieved the good and desired goals of things that matter.

I know this local high school is teaching its students the required academics for college admission, the necessaries for the ACT/SAT. I know kids from this high school go on to good schools and good lives. But I wonder what damage is done by any institution which focuses on things that don't matter and ignores things that do.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Urban in the Suburban

I have been working the past few weeks in a Southwest suburb of the Twin Cities. I have had a chance to observe the driving behavior of the suburbanite in its natural habitat and I have to say, I have found it wanting.

What's with all the anger?

I hate love to stereotype, so, I will state the angriest species of driver is the 31-42 year old male, facial-haired, baseball-capped, driving a white pick-up truck. This particular animal likes to blow through a stop light, and not by a little, and then give you the finger. He zigs and zags from lane to lane on 494 or the Crosstown with an aggressiveness that is pathological. He acts like everyone in his way is an enemy and laws do not apply to him. Did I mention his truck is white.

Now I have long held that males between the age of 16 and 30 are mentally ill when it comes to driving. I suffered from the malady myself. But one does reach an age when driving becomes a sanctuary. It's not work, its not home. One looks forward to it. While driving you can listen to what you want, I prefer books on tape (more about that in a later post), you can listen to the radio or be alone with your own thoughts. I even know a guy who does the rosary every day on the way to work. God bless him, and I mean that, but that's too much bead work for me. The point is he is doing what he wants and I can do what I want before getting to the craziness of co-workers at work or being attacked by kids and wife at home. 

These suburban pips driving in there white symbols of generative power must have a better place to be then the truck, 494 or the Crosstown. Is it a man-cave (i.e. lower level of a split level hell). What do they do there? My guess: put on a baseball cap and play Call of World of Warcraft IX; the Legend of Duty (L.A. Pimp Edition). Or maybe its off to softball with the boys and a blooming onion at Chili's afterward. Or is it off to the Cineplex to see Marvel's Agents of DC Comics III, the Dark Pawn. Hard to say.

Either way, what is clear is they have not shed the mental illness of youth, or much else of youth come to think of it. They have no need to be alone with their thoughts, work does not stress them and family is not yet a responsibility. I wonder if these "men" will every take up the mantel of adulthood. I look around and wonder. 

They seem to be part of a generation of boy/men who watch comic book movies, dress in sports jerseys, storm off-world planets in video games and speed through life in their truck, deadened to the concern of others. Three generations ago, real boys, 18 year-olds, stormed the beaches on D-Day, fought through the Battle of the Bulge, island hopped across the Pacific and raised the flag at Iwo Jima. Hard to imagine those who came back, those whose buddy's died next to them, those who fought for others, being anything less than men. Hard to imagine the white pickup driver could understand. 

To one, the rosary was comfort in the dark. To the other its, at best, a rear-view mirror decoration.