Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Problem that Wasn’t There.

The Problem that Wasn’t There.

MINUTES by Stephen Kelly
October 19, 2011

The Problem that Wasn’t There.

In her letter to the September 28, 2011 Villager, Barb Thoman, Executive Director of TLC said, “what kind of a street will make parents willing to send their 11-year-old son or daughter to soccer practice on bike or on foot?  What kind of street will encourage novice bicyclists - perhaps a mom and a small child - to make a trip across St. Paul?  What kind of street will be safe for an 80-year-old to walk to church?”[1]

Well Ms. Thoman, all of them.

For 157 years Saint Paulites have figured out how to cross a street without TLC’s help.  In fact, Saint Paulites are vigorous walkers, joggers, bikers and skateboarders.  At all hours of the early morning, day and late night you will see our good citizens taken to their sidewalk, street and alley.  Walking their kids, walking the dog or just out to get some fresh air and talk over the day’s activities with their spouse.  These active Saint Paulites have coexisted with cars for at least the last 90 years (and horses and carriages before that!).

We Saint Paulites also love our cars.  Look at what University Avenue used to be when it was the home of the car dealerships and cars cruised up and down it going to Porky’s and parking at Monkey Wards before the fun police shut them down.  Now we have the choo-choo.  Drive up and down Snelling Avenue when a car show is at the State Fair and you will see families parked on coolers and nylon strap lawn chairs enjoying the tricked-out masterpieces as the old beauties rumble by.

Look at what for 87 years has been the quite stalwart neighbor to all Saint Paulites, the oldest Ford plant still in operation where cars, trucks, and during WWII tanks, have steadily rolled off the line.

Cars and trucks on the road, walkers and bikers on the sidewalk, airplanes overhead and the distant sound of a train clacking down the tracks.  This is what city living is about.  We all co-exist because we are all car drivers, walker and bikers.  What and where is the problem?  Or maybe better said; why does someone think there is a problem to be solved?

Years ago, the great economist Friedrich von Hayek was asked why so many intellectuals were skeptical about and even hostile to capitalism.  Dr. Hayek answered, “Well, I’ve been puzzling about it for a long time . . . I think it’s . . . an intellectual attraction of a system you can deliberately control, which is fascinating to the intellectual.”

Surly the “intellectuals” at TLC are not attracted to a system of “deliberate control?”  They only want to make the driving public (that’s all of us) change our driving route to avoid the Jefferson Roadblock every day, times every driver, forever.  Fascinating.

To do this controlling TLC created a problem that was not there, “Bryce can’t cross Cleveland on his Cervelo bike at Jefferson!”  Then they propose a disconnected solution, “we must throw a roadblock up and stop all motor traffic!”

But why?  If there real goal was about biking, hey, you got your bikeway.  There are lanes and little bikes on the signs and sharrows, etc.  You won.  As D-Day said in Animal House, “War’s over man, Wormer dropped the big one.”  Why is this piece, the stopping of motor traffic, so very important?

In TLC’s own words, what they are after is to "[d]ecrease motor vehicle trips . . . [m]aximize bicycle use and walking for transportation resulting in mode shift out of motor vehicles [and to] . . . contribute to ongoing shift in attitudes and travel behavior."  Translate:  you get out of your car.

And what happens when TLC “mode shifts” us out of our cars?  Remember that when you are sending your 11-year-old son or daughter to practice on bike or on foot when it’s -20°F or an 80-year-old is walking to church in 20” of snow.  As for the novice bicyclists, stick to the sidewalk until the training wheels come off.

The real question is, what kind of street will Saint Paulites have when TLC is successful mode shifting us and we can’t drive our own cars on them?
[1] One can’t help notice the similarity between Ms. Thoman’s list and a list that appeared in the Sept. 15 Minutes,

Onward to 1890!

Onward to 1890!

MINUTES by Stephen Kelly
October 19, 2011

Onward to 1890!

Recently two arguments have been made regarding the need to block car traffic at Jefferson to help bikers . . . yes I don’t get it either.

One argument says we must provide for all types of transportation in our City.  The other argument says we must make way for progress because bikes are our future.  Our future?  Hmm.  What else is in our future?  Maybe horse drawn trolley cars or sedan chairs.  Chariots anyone?  I guess some people’s idea of progress is very different than those of us who watched the Jetsons and thought we would all have our own flying car by now.  For heaven sakes, even Fred Flintstone had a car and he lived in the stone age.

Progress is when something advances, usually technologically.  Something is made cheaper, safer, and more efficient.  Like when the "safety bicycle" was invented in 1876 with its chain-drive transmission.  It allowed for smaller wheels without a loss of speed.  Another piece of progress is when they invented the pneumatic bicycle tire making rides smooth and then paved roads to add to the smooth ride.  This all led to the Bicycle Craze of the 1890’s.  People bought bicycles in droves.

Even during the Craze however one could not say that the bike became the main mode of transportation for most Americans.  Horses, trolleys, walking, trains and boats made up the majority of transportation.

It is interesting to note that the biggest bicycle events of the 1890’s were about amusement, not commuting; like the “Bicycle Railroads” built in New Jersey, at Coney Island and for Chicago’s World Fair.

The bicycle did however promote something other traditional modes of transportation did not:  freedom.  You were no longer tied to the trolley, train or boat schedule.  You could go wherever and whenever you wanted.  In addition you were not limited by how far you could walk.  The bike opened up different parts of the city and ultimately the country to everyone.  Feminists and suffragists called them "freedom machines."  Susan B. Anthony said bicycling, "has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance.”

More progress happened in the 1890’s when someone applied an internal-combustion engine to a bicycle resulting in a motorcycle.  Soon after that an engine was applied to 4-wheel carriages resulting in the motor car.  They Era of the Bike as transportation was over; pretty much all of a decade.  And then it was 1900.

Americans were then given real freedom.  The bike’s limit of maybe 30 miles was extended to anywhere a road and gas could be found.  Weather became increasingly irrelevant as enclosed cars, heat and windshield wipers were invented.  The last piece to fall was price and when the first Ford rolled of the factory line, this freedom became democratic.

What about the bike?  What has happened to our safety bike since 1900.  One authority (okay Wikipedia) says, “[d]uring most of the 20th century in the USA, except for a brief period of popularity during the Great Depression of the 1930s, bicycles were relegated to the status of children's toys.”

Well children’s toys and adult toys for people with money and time, God bless them.

I have already listed in a previous entry as to why a bike is recreation and not transportation, see  I am still amazed when I hear people and politicians say that we have to make room for all transportation options in the City.  All?  Well I want to drive a monster truck.  Oh that’s a problem?  What about an elephant with a howdah?  Cruel you say?  Not appropriate for the weather?  Too much of a mess?  Well what about a mode of entertainment, exercise or transportation whose hayday ended 111 years ago, can’t be used in bad weather and only carries two people max?  One that is used by educated, upper class, public radio listening folk even if it will inconvenience everyone?

On a recent MPR piece on the Jefferson bikeway, a couple of married University of St. Thomas professors were cited as people who own no car and only use bicycles as transportation.  Only?  Well I hope they like St. Paul and Minneapolis because they must not get very far.  Like 1890’s cyclers their world must be about a 10 mile square area.  I doubt it.  How do they get a couch delivered to their house?  What do they do in the middle of a 20” snow storm?  How do they go to Menard’s and bring a 2x4 home?  Do they ever go up North?  The answer is yes and they do these things by taking advantage of a 100 year old piece of progress called the internal combustion engine.  Whether it’s a bus, a friend’s truck, the food delivered to their co-op or, God forbid, an ambulance or fire truck, the gas engine is a part of their life.  Their bikes are recreation and exercise.  Needless to say our eco-friendly dons must have no small children to get to hockey practice.

So while the rest of us are procreating and making sure Social Security survives, let us salute the internal combustion engine.  Let us promote the rights of car drivers.  If Susan B. Anthony thought the bike was a freedom machine, what would she have thought of the car?  TLC wants to make our new “freedom machines” less free.  I can’t wait until the flying car.  

The Potemkin Diverter

The Potemkin Diverter

MINUTES by Stephen Kelly
October 19, 2011

The Potemkin Diverter

TLC/Saint Paul Public Work’s first justification for the Jefferson Roadblock was that it promoted biking.  Well that didn’t pan out when confronted with the technical question:  How?  They had no answer to that.  Then they said it would help pedestrians.  When confronted with the fact traffic on Cleveland Avenue would have no reason to slow down at Jefferson because of the elimination of the left turn, the argument failed.  Then various arguments about Jefferson being a residential street, the traffic calming effects, etc. were put forward.  No one is buying it.

Now, like Maxwell Smart saying to Chief, “Would you believe . . .” they have found the long lost “real” reason for the Roadblock:  it’s a façade that must be put up or there will be no Federal money.  TLC states it needs the Roadblock because it is part of the Jefferson Bikeway “plan” and shows the Feds work was done which conforms to the City’s initial plans.  Public Works says it needs the Roadblock to show actual work was done West of Snelling to get the TLC money.  They both have said this, out load and in writing.  Really.  The reality (or real “real” reason) is they both need a justification to the taxpayers as to how in blazes they spent $1,000,000.00 on signs and paint.

In 1787, legend informs us, Russian minister Grigory Potemkin ordered built fake façades of villages along the Dnieper River to fool Tsarina Catherine II during her visit to Crimea.  These “Potemkin Villages” have become the bywords for any false building used by middling bureaucrats to cover up something.  Well we have a Potemkin diverter right here in River City.  Public Works/TLC is the sly Minister Potemkin, the Roadblock is the fake village and you the taxpayer are a fooled Catherine.

The real crux of Public Works/TLC’s argument is that the Bikeway “plan” shows something being done West of Snelling so we must do something.  What “plan?”  Or which version of which “plan?”

The City came up with the idea of a Jefferson Bikeway.  As TLC always reminds us in that patronizingly patient voice, “it’s the City’s project; we only agreed to partially fund it.”  The Jefferson Bikeway has gone through a lot of changes since originally conceived.  There were to be roadblock all along Jefferson, speed bumps, restrictive parking and so on.  Stuff has been removed in a spasm of good sense and proper traffic engineering; stuff has been added when no one was watching.

As to the Roadblock at Jefferson and Cleveland, the Community Council did not endorse it, the City Councilman opposed it, the Transportation Committee passed on it and, as yet, it has not been approved as part of the Jefferson Bikeway “plan.”  When they tell you its part of the Bikeway “plan” they are wrong.

They now tell us that the Bikeway “plan” contains the Roadblock and simply cannot be built without it.  It’s as if there is an official guide to bikeways (Bikeways for Dummies?) and there is only one way to build a bikeway.  Hogwash.

What they are telling you is TLC really, really wants the Roadblock.  They are willing to threaten other City council members by removing funding of projects in their Wards and they are willing to remove funding from this project unless they get their Roadblock.  One can almost see them standing astride their $2,000.00 bike as the Roadblock is installed rubbing their hands together smiling at the thought of the inconvenience this will cause regular people driving their children to and fro.  “They’re finding out now that Jefferson is closed!  They’ll have to drive on to Saint Clair or Randolph and wait with all the other traffic in a jam caused by this diverter-dozzel.  I know just what they’ll do!  Their mouths will hang open for a minute or two then the MacGroves down in MacGrove-ville will all cry BOO-HOO!”  They’ll have a laugh in their throat.

I was stuck in a traffic back-up last Tuesday on Marshall Avenue just East of Snelling.  The traffic was backed up a good half mile.  It was 7:30 p.m. at night.  As we creeped along waiting for rotations of the traffic light I started to wonder, how many lanes of traffic have been removed from Saint Paul in the last 20 years?

According to the City of Saint Paul website, Saint Paul has “30 miles of bike lanes,” “10.8 miles of bike routes” and “30.3 miles of striped shoulders.”  Let just say, for the sake of argument, for every mile of bike lane, route, shoulder put in, a lane of car traffic has been removed.  That makes about 71 miles of road that have been removed from the City of Saint Paul.  Is it any wonder I was stuck in a 7:30 p.m. traffic jam?  Remember this next time you are stuck in one of these jams in the middle of the City and ask yourself, did it use to be like this?

Bike lanes are not about transportation policy, they are about making it harder to drive a car.  The Jefferson Roadblock is not about bikes, it’s a dog and pony show, a Potemkin Village to make taxpayers and drivers forget how much worse getting around Saint Paul has gotten in the last several years in the name of recreational bikers or how much more “suburban” like it is as we wait four rotations of a traffic light before we can cross an intersection.

The real question is whether Saint Paul Public Works makes decisions about streets based on automobiles and traffic engineering or on the need to build a façade to appease TLC?  Who is in charge of the streets of Saint Paul, Public Works or TLC?  Or maybe the question is:  who is in charge of Saint Paul Public Works, the citizens and their elected representatives or TLC?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Of Fippery

Of Fippery

MINUTES by Stephen Kelly
October 2, 2011

Of Fippery

The great rascally landscape architect of the 19th Century, Frederick Law Olmsted, had an opinion on meddling city bureaucrats and civil servants who sought to install flowerbeds, statuary, ornamental gardens and carriage ways in his great masterpiece Central Park.  “They didn’t carry out my plan.  Confound them!”  Such tinkering with his vision of simplicity was, “unreasonable, unjust and immoral.”  It was “vandalism.”

When designing his other great masterpiece, the 1893 Columbian Exposition, he wanted to avoid what, in his opinion, was the disquieting, gaudy and childish landscaping of the 1889 Paris Exposition.  Instead, “simplicity and reserve will be practiced and petty effects and fippery avoided.”  Just so.

As I drove on Wheeler Avenue the other day and came to the intersection at Wellesley Avenue I came across a piece of fippery.  The City in its wisdom was installing a traffic circle.

These traffic circles (or as they are sometimes known by their relative’s name, roundabouts) have been popping up here and there throughout Saint Paul.  There appears to be no plan for where they’re placed or reason giving as to why the reliable old stop sign can’t be used.  One wonders who’s responsible.

In my imagination I see a City traffic engineer sitting at a convention of traffic engineers when a fellow engineer from Boca Raton, Florida, says, “hey, you know what we installed?  Traffic circles.  They’re all the rage.  Very European.”

An impressed Saint Paul City Engineer thinks, “European, well dang we need some of those!”  And so it goes.

Maybe that’s not how it happened but one has to wonder how it did.  We live in a beautiful city, with a grid system of tree lined streets and boulevards, parkways and parks.  Our City is characteristically American with its mix of 19th century and bungalow houses, detached garages, kids playing baseball across three yards and people biking, jogging and walking kids and dogs up and down sidewalks.  It is why it has been dubbed America’s biggest small town.

It also is easy to get around in a way suburban plight is not.  Instead of coming out of a cul-de-sac onto over crowed arterial street, up to a 10 minute wait at a stoplight and then onward to backed up highways, we in Saint Paul have the choice of movement that only the grid system of street can give you.  Come to a corner and you can go straight, left or right.  Times that by every intersection and you have the most efficient street system ever designed.  Lucky us.

Then every couple of years a city engineer or some street planning cabal gets it into its mind to add bump outs, narrow the streets, add bikeways, use big crossing flags to dart across Fort Road, stripe bike lanes, install center median which cut off access to residential streets, add vertical enhancements, allow boulevard planting, turn two ways streets into one way streets, turn four lane streets in to two lane and now impose traffic circles.  Olmsted would have raged.

I am not against traffic circles.  They look very good in Paris and London.  As for bike lanes, I bet they look great in Holland.  I can’t tell you where the crossing flags look good.  Maybe at halftime during the Marching band performance.

Olmsted believed in unity of design.  He advised one of his subordinates, “Let us be thought over-much plain and simple, even bare, rather than gaudy, flashy, cheap and meretricious.”

Instead in Saint Paul we have a hodgepodge of every latest flavor of the day to come down the pipeline, inflicted upon us by each new set of street designers and urban planners at the City.  One block of a street may have bump outs and the next does not.  A bikeway may have dedicated lanes for bikes, until it doesn’t and the sharrows inform us to share the road with the bikes.  And now traffic circles are randomly popping up.  What do you think the City will look like after another 20 years of this?  Instead of looking like a planned European metropolis the progressives want, we will look more like Beirut or Kabul, with roadblocks, concrete circles and barriers at every turn.  We will look less like Saint Paul, less American.

I call for an end to this street design by fad.  I call for us to reclaim our American city, our small town with principles of American street design: flow, choice, simplicity, freedom and unity of design.  I call for an end to fippery.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Forgotten Mom

The Forgotten Mom

MINUTES by Stephen Kelly
October 6, 2011

The Forgotten Mom

In her improbably gripping economics book, “The Forgotten Man:  A New History of the Great Depression,” Amity Shlaes tells of the transformation of the idea of the Forgotten Man.  In its original form, proposed by Yale Professor William Sumner in the 1870’s, when “‘A’ observes something which seems to him to be wrong, from which ‘X’ is suffering, ‘A’ talks it over with ‘B’, and ‘A’ and ‘B’ then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help ‘’X.  Their law always proposes to determine what ‘C’ shall do for ‘X’ . . ..”  Professor Summer said of ‘C’, the Forgotten Man, he “is the man who never is thought of.  He is the victim of the reformer, social speculator and philanthropist, and . . . deserves your notice both for his character and for the many burdens which are laid upon him . . . [h]e is the simple, honest laborer, ready to earn his living by productive work.  We pass him by because he is independent, self-supporting, and asks no favors.  He does not appeal to the emotions or excite the sentiments.  He only wants to make a contract and fulfill it, with respect on both sides and favor on neither side. . . . Every particle of capital which is wasted on the vicious, the idle, and the shiftless is so much taken from the capital available to reward the independent and productive laborer.  But we stand with our backs to the independent and productive laborer all the time.”

Sixty years later, FDR and his merry band of progressives proposed a new mathematics to the Forgotten Man.  In his math, much less word problem and more campaign rhetoric, A and B proposed a law to help X.  X is the Forgotten Man.  I guess in FDR’s formula C is the Really Forgotten Man.

When thinking of our own little problem of the Jefferson Roadblock, who is the Forgotten Man?  Get your scratch paper out.

Under Professor Sumner’s formula, the City of Saint Paul (A) saw a wrong from which bikers (X) were suffering.  During rush hour the poor little dears had to wait up to 2 minutes to cross Cleveland at Jefferson.  The City (A) then talked it over with TLC (B) and proposed to get a law passed (the Roadblock) to remedy the evil and help the bikers (X).  This law determined that the neighbors, residents and taxpayers, as represented by the three moms who started LTLC (C), must live with the Roadblock.

In this formula LTLC is the Forgotten Man, or maybe the Forgotten Moms.  They are the ones who will have to drive around the block, take several block detours, worry about their children on parallel streets and alleys on to which diverted traffic will be pushed.  They are the ones who will try and cross Cleveland at any point between St. Clair and Randolph and find that Cleveland has been turned into a raceway because there are no left turns at Jefferson.  The Three Moms are the ones who are fighting to make their neighborhood, the one that no decision maker at A or B live in, safer, more attractive and more convenient.

I doubt FDR was thinking of bikers (X) as Forgotten Men under his arithmetic.  It’s hard to see the evils and wrongs perpetrated against bikers (X) when State law allows them to drive on any road as they please, the City has removed car lanes to install bike lanes and that the City is giving away or renting yellow or green bikes.  Far be it for me to call bikers the “vicious, the idle, and the shiftless,” as Professor Sumner might. But it’s hard to think of bikers (X) on $1,200.00 bikes, $250.00 shoes, $150.00 Easter egg shorts biking though our fair town from coffee shop to coffee shop to enjoy a $5 cup of joe as the Forgotten Man.  It’s also really hard to consider people who are getting a $1,000,000.00 bikeway forgotten.

Certainly the City (A) and TLC (B) are not forgotten.  Well maybe they would like you for forget them.  They proceed with the bikeway and its Roadblock making as little noise as possible like a thief in the night.  Feds in Washington give away to TLC (B) our dollars they do not have.  TLC (B) doles out the dough like an eastern potentate sitting atop of this pile of our money at a levy.  The City (A), tongue hanging out, grabs at the moolah like a duped mark whose eyes glaze at the thought of $750,000.00 (psst . . . all you have to spend is $250,000.00).

No, the Forgotten Man here is the hard working Moms and Dads paying for both ends of this fiasco from the Federal dollars collected from their income to the City dollars collected from their property taxes.  Or maybe the Forgotten Man here the yet to be born kid of Mom and Dad who will be looking at a Greek debt crises x 1000 and ask, “you spent the money on what?!?”

But in my figuring (and I showed my work) I go back to the Moms; the three Moms that the Feds, TLC and the City turned their backs on.  They are the ones the Feds/TLC and the City want you to forget.  Well after knocking on doors, meeting with City staff, creating a webpage, making phone calls, sending letters to the editor, getting people to contact their elected officials, meeting in backyards and inspiring 300 neighbors to attend a meeting the other night, they’re not going to let you forget them.