Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Ninety-Nine

The Ninety-Nine

MINUTES by Stephen Kelly
November 14, 2011

The Ninety-Nine
Several ideas have come out of the handful of protesters around the country calling themselves Occupy Wall Street.  For instance the value of scouting in teaching people how to properly set up a tent, cook outside and maintain personal hygiene.  Another is the concept of the one percent and the ninety-nine percent.  This bumper sticker slogan is meant to highlight that one percent of the people control the other ninety-nine percent’s money.

Never one to let a good catch phrase go to waste . . .

I have been fixating lately on just how many miles of car lanes the City of Saint Paul has lost over the years.  One thinks back nostalgically to the founding years of our fair town, when developers couldn’t build houses, buildings and roads fast enough for the masses streaming in.  This led to conflict, sometimes violent, between landowners, speculators, developers, builders and city politicians who were often on the take.  It also gave the City a wonderfully erratic street system.  There are not alphabetical streets.  One cannot pinpoint an address by using numbered cross streets like Minneapolis.  Developer arguments led to jumping streets, like Selby Avenue at Fairview, which jumps half a block before continuing on its merry way.  Five, six, and most famously, seven corner intersections are common in the older areas of town.  Things got so bad that a City commission standardized street names and addresses in the 1920’s.  However, the glorious randomness to Saint Paul’s streets remains to this day(1).  As I have often told citizens of the left side of the Twin Cities, Saint Paul is easy to get around, just memorize all the streets.

One thing which all of the scoundrels and dreamers, speculators and visionaries alike could not have imagined in all their imaginings of future Saint Paul, is that a small group, let’s say one percent, would remove the very thing they built: the streets.

Fairview Avenue north of Ford Parkway used to be a four lane road.  If you wanted to take a left hand turn, you went into the left lane and put your blinker on.  Cars behind you could go into the right lane and proceed on.  As we are reminded by bikers, State law allowed bikers the same “rights” to use Fairview as any car.

Then the one-percent came in.  They removed a lane of automobile traffic on Fairview.  Think about that.  After 150 years of building, progressing and developing, these experts decided to take a u-turn.  Now the City decided it was going to encourage anti-building, regress and un-development. Miles of traffic lane were removed.  What happened to the cars?  They didn’t go away.  In fact there numbers increased as always.

Now we have a Fairview with one lane going each way, a center turn lane and a strip on either side for bikes.  Left turning cars go into the center turn lane and the remaining lane becomes a speedway during non-rush hours and a parking lot during rush hour.

Think of a car as you waiting at the DMV.  There are 20 people ahead of you in line and two windows open.  Now they close a window.  What happens to your time?  Relatively, it will now take you twice as long for you to pay the license fee which no biker every pays.

Other examples of the removal of traffic lanes are Marshall Avenue and Summit Avenue where they replaced the vehicle lanes with bike lanes.

And who are we doing this anti-building and un-development action for?  Well bike riders by and large, the one percent, who already have the “right” to use the streets of Saint Paul.  The City proudly touts that it has put in 71 miles of bike lanes, bike routes and striped shoulders.  That’s 71 miles of road destroyed for biking.  How many more have been removed for medians, light rail, traffic circles and traffic “diverters?”

The one percent has gained control of the Federal government, government funded non-profits, the City Council, the City Transportation Committee, Public Works and the Community Councils.  They have orchestrated the spending of millions of dollars for their recreation.  And why should the one-percent pay for it themselves when they can make the ninety-nine percent pony up?

Just as insidious as their directing our money to their recreation, the one percent is tearing down our City founders’ endowment to us.  Like the slow boiling pot, miles and miles of vehicle lanes have been un-built, un-developed and erased from the City.  And imperceptible, every year, the quality of life becomes worse and worse for the ninety-nine percent.
(1) Randomness of street names and addresses and the occasional jumping of streets should not be confused with an overall plan of a grid system which allows choice at every intersection.