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Posts about Urban living

When the pedal beat the metal

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: June 18, 2014 - 3:05 PM

NOTE: You read earlier this week about the car beating the biker, the bus and the Green Line train from downtown St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis in a playful test of speed involving several Star Tribune staffers. The car was aided by the time trail being run at the tail end of rush hour, when traffic was smoother.

There's precedent for such a race from the opening of the first phase of the Midtown Greenway. That morning rush hour contest went to the bike.  Here's a reprinted time capsule of that contest written by Stribbers Steve Brandt and Mark Brunswick after their epic duel in late summer of 2000.:

It was no contest. Put a bike on the new Midtown Greenway against
a car on nearby Lake Street and two wheels beat four.

That's what we found when the Star Tribune pitted pedal against
metal in a race to test the efficiency of the newest commuter
bikeway in Minneapolis.

The car took 21 percent more time than the bike over the same
distance. The driver was limited to Lake's speed limit. The biker
kept his speed between 20 and 25 miles per hour for which the
greenway was designed, averaging 20.9.

The contest originated with a claim made two years ago by Tim
Springer, the Midtown Greenway Coalition's executive director.
Looking ahead to the greenway's completion, Springer boasted that
bikers would be able to travel faster on the 2.8-mile greenway than
on Lake for the same distance.

He pointed to the numerous traffic obstructions on Lake. They
include stoplights, traffic volume, holdups in the left lane from
turning cars and holdups in the right lane from buses. Bikers must
stop only for the greenway's three intersections with city streets,
just west of Hennepin Avenue S.

Although Lake Street traffic flowed relatively easily on the
morning of the test, it wasn't fast enough. The greenway's fresh
asphalt is a fast riding surface. But it wasn't as fast as it could
have been because dirt had washed onto the paving from the
shoulders of the still-unfinished project. The fit was tight in
spots, especially at bridges over Dean and Lake Calhoun Parkways,
where the bike and pedestrian trails are combined, squeezing down
to 10 feet. In fact, one attempt at a time trial had to be
postponed because the path was completely blocked by a contractor's
truck. It's going to be downright crowded in these sections,
although striping to separate bikes and bladers from walkers and
joggers will help.

Besides speed, there were other advantages to biking. As the
Isuzu Trooper in our test motored down Lake, it passed the garage
where its owner had just paid $692 for an exhaust-brake repair job.
That's almost as much as the the bike cost.

Lake gets its greatest use at rush hour. The greenway is far
busier in the evening and on weekends than during the day. Use is
noticeably higher in the half of the route that is west of Hennepin
than in the trench east of Hennepin. Some of that reflects spinoff
from the adjacent Chain of Lakes, but it also reflects ease of
access. The bikeway has eight access points west of its Hennepin
Avenue midpoint, but only four to the east, where the trench makes
ramps more expensive.

There's more graffiti on the east end, where bridge abutments
offer handy surfaces, and a trash dumpster recently was pushed
through a retaining fence, falling to the paths below. But the
eastern end is better protected from wind, and offers handy
commuter access to such employment centers as Norwest Mortgage and
Abbott Northwestern Hospital. In fact, hospital workers can be
spotted riding down the greenway in their scrubs.

When this part of the greenway is done later this year, sod will
diminish dirt runoff, security features such as call boxes, lights
and cameras will be operational, and striping will separate users.
Trimming a few branches that project onto the path would help.

But this is only the first phase of this ambitious project. The
west end, which now ends abruptly at Chowen Avenue S., is only a
short distance from the end of the suburban trail system being
developed by Hennepin Parks. Officials of that park system hope to
pave that gap this fall.

On the east end, the path ends at 5th Avenue. The Sears tower is
just a short distance down the tracks, and beyond that the Hi-Lake
shopping area. Plans call for an extension from 5th to the
Mississippi River in 2003. Don't hold your breath; any trail
projects in Minneapolis that involve negotiating with railroads
have taken far longer than anticipated.

But when that extension is finished, give us a call and we'll see
if a car fares any better in a 5 1/2-mile contest.


The men:

Steve Brandt/ Mark Brunswick
48 Age 44
5 feet 8 inches Height 6 feet 2 inches
158 lbs. Weight 230 lbs.

The machines:

1996 Bianchi Eros/ 1988 Isuzu Trooper
25 lbs. Weight 3,549 lbs.
24-speed manual Transmission 5-speed manual
9,222.7 Mileage 119,458
Aero bar Modifications/ New brake and exhaust systems
Water (rider) Coolant Water
The results:
7:50 Time 9:31

A piece of river history is washing away

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: June 12, 2014 - 5:49 PM

A little piece of early Minneapolis history is closer to vanishing now that one of two remaining piers of the long-gone Tenth Avenue Bridge has collapsed.

The pier that’s long stuck out of the Mississippi River just downstream from the east end of the Stone Arch Bridge is now down to a nub of stone, presumably undercut by riverine erosion that’s been eating at the pier base for several years, with this year's high flows contributing. One pier remains on the river’s east bank.

The relatively light-duty bridge carried pedestrians, horse-drawn wagons and later cars and a streetcar line across the river between 6th Avenue SE and 10th Av. S. on the downtown side. It was built in 1874, closed to traffic in 1934 and sold for scrap for the war effort in 1943, according to the excellent bridge reference guide maintained by John A. Weeks III.

The bridge also played a prominent role in Minneapolis history at a time when bridges were few and workers walked from jobs on one bank to housing on the other.

The crossing was near the site of one of the three original bridges built in Minneapolis, two of which washed away in 1859, according to Weeks.  That left only a single l crossing that spanned Nicollet Island, where today’s Father Louis Hennepin Bridge stands.

According to Weeks, when the older St. Anthony merged with youthful  Minneapolis in 1872, part of the deal was that the combined city would erect new bridges at both Plymouth Avenue and 10th Avenue, at a cost that amounted to $230,000.

The bridge had stone piers that held an iron truss with a deck roughly 60 feet above the river. Weeks estimated the length at 1,100 feet. The bridge was closed eventually because it wasn’t designed to stand up to motor vehicles. By then, the sturdier Third Avenue Bridge and Tenth Avenue Bridge bridges had been added upstream and downstream.  Confusingly, the new Tenth Avenue Bridge served 10th Avenue SE on the East Bank, while the older Tenth Avenue Bridge served the street of the same name on the downtown side.

The pier that collapsed has also provided spectator interest in recent years.  Several years ago, a Canada goose nested atop the perhaps 30-foot-high pier, leading bridge walkers to speculate how well the goslings would make their maiden flight to the river below.  One day they were gone, presumably having navigated safely.

A 2011 column by river-area resident Lisa Peters noted the pier was listing, and invited guesses on when it would collapse.

Now one vestige on Minneapolis history is close to washing away.

Photos: Before photo from 2011 by Lisa Peters, after photo from 2014 by Eric Roper. Above, 1905 photo of Tenth Avenue Bridge looking toward downtown from Minnesota Historical Society.

Sunday sales coming to a taproom near you

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: June 2, 2014 - 5:25 PM

Taprooms in Minneapolis should be serving beer on Sundays inside of a month after a mid-May change in state law allowing that as a municipal option.

Grant Wilson, the city’s manager of licensing and consumer services, said he is hopeful that the City Council will act on initial applications by taprooms by the end of June.

"This is something that we desperately want," said Robert Kasak, a co-founder of 612 Brew, one of a bevy of taprooms that have sprung up in the city in the past two years. The 612 taproom plans to apply for Sunday sales. "I know the wheels are in motion."

Taprooms were initially allowed to sell at retail the beer they brew only as large-bottle growlers, but the so-called "Surly law" liberalized Minnesota liquor laws. A taproom is a microbrewery that is not allowed to  sell food on its premises, but food trucks may serve at their sites.

Minneapolis school district approves deal to sell Hi-Lake site

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: May 27, 2014 - 9:20 PM

School board members in Minneapolis Tuesday night authorized selling a key district-owned building at Hiawatha Avenue and East Lake Street to clear the way for redevelopment in exchange for assurance that key programs can remain there for up to eight more years.

The sale of 2225 E. Lake St. for about $8 million to Hennepin County would open the way to redevelop with housing, offices, a farmer market and a county social services hub at what is regarded as one of the most significant redevelopment opportunities along the Hiawatha Line. The building there is the former  home of Brown Institute.

The school board also approved a resolution that sets a late August deadline for determining a future location for the building’s immigrant-focused adult basic education program serving South Side students, and for Transition Plus students who were slated to move to the building under the district’s enrollment plan. Transition Plus is a program that prepares older special education students for work and independent living. The approval also commits the district to securing a building for those programs by mid-2017.

The district said it is looking elsewhere in the Hiawatha-Lake area near South High School for space.  Council Member Alondra Cano said that search will focus on purchasing and redeveloping the half-block between South’s athletic field and Lake Street.  That’s the north half of the block directly west of the Midtown YWCA.

Although the county is named in the district resolution as the buyer of the district’s 2225 building, it likely would serve as a pass-through buyer.  L&H Station Development has proposed 500 units of housing, 100,000 square feet of office space and 10,000 square feet of retail on the 6.4-acre site. Is proposal also includes space for the Midtown Farmers Market.

The school resolution authorized Chief Operating Officer Robert Doty to work out final details with the county on the sale. Doty said he’s hoping for a closing with the county in 90 to 120 days.

The school district previously tried to find affordable space for the 2225 programs in the area or even by leasing space in the redeveloped site, but decided that the costs were beyond its budget.  Since then, more players, including Hennepin County, have gotten involved.

Mark Bollinger, Doty’s deputy, said in an interview that the districts wants Transition Plus and adult basic education to stay in the Hi-Lake area because of metro bus and rail connections.  That also makes the Brown site attractive to developers.   

Adult basic education students in south Minneapolis used to be schooled in the Lehman Center 2.6 miles west on Lake Street. When the district sold that building to a housing developer to help pay for the new district headquarters, they moved to 2225.  North Side students were in the Broadway school building before it was torn down for the new district headquarters, then moved to North High School temporarily before moving into the new headquarters. Transition Plus is in the Wilder building at 3320 Elliot Av. S., but was scheduled to move to 2225 in 2015.

(Top photo: Existing former Brown building at 2225 E. Lake St.; right: proposal for redevelopment of the site. This article includes material from staff writer Eric Roper.)


An explosion of bike routes aiming for even more

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: May 12, 2014 - 3:34 PM

The explosion in Minneapolis biking mileage was dramatically reinforced at last week’s city-county open house on bikeway planning -- and more is on the way.

According to city maps, the mileage in Minneapolis devoted to bike travel has shot up, from 82 miles in 1997 to 139 in 2010 to 207 this year. The city is now working on boosting that to 402 miles long-term.

Those numbers are slightly deceptive.  For example, the 1997 numbers include 62 miles of what are labeled protected bikeways.  But most of those are on off-road recreational paths installed by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board long ago in the 1970s along its parkways.

They’re included in the category of protected bikeways, but the planning these days for protected bikeways in the city is focused mostly on on-street bikeways.  The city’s main bike advocacy group has set a goal of 30 miles of protected bikeways on city streets by 2020.

Protected bikeways have some degree of separation from nearby traffic that’s more than paint, such as a curb, bollards or a different elevation.  Some people make a distinction between protected bike lanes and cycle tracks – reserving the latter term for places like Washington Avenue where a new two-way set of two-way lanes will be up on the curb level.

Much of the recent growth in Minneapolis has been in the cheapest form of bike facility, which are simple painted bike lanes.  Mileage there has grown from 19 miles in 1997 to 78 miles now, with more than 50 miles more on the drawing boards.

It seems like bike planning is exploding these days.  Minneapolis is updating its 2011 bike master plan to show where bikers want protected bikeways.  Hennepin County and Three Rivers Park District are close to putting the finishing on an update of a bike plan.  MnDOT is developing a statewide plan for a bicycle system, and is planning a workshop and open house on Thursday in north Minneapolis.

In case you’re wondering how long it may take the city to hit the goal of 402 miles, think long-term.  Simon Blenski, a city bike planner said the goal is to have the on-street lanes now listed in the city’s master plan done in 20 years, but that off-street routes could take 30 years.

Whenever that happens, most Minneapolis rides should find a bike route handy.  The city master plan calls for every resident to live within one-quarter mile of a signed bike route, one-half mile of a bike lane and one mile of a trail by 2020.

But getting those additional lanes installed could be tougher in the future. The bike route explosion of the past dozen years was given a considerable boost both by fitness advocate and Mayor R.T. Rybak, now out of City Hall, and by a key appropriation.  The money came from the $28 million in federal aid that flowed to the Twin Cities under a pilot program to encourage biking and walking engineered by the late U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar. But offsetting the end of that funding is the emergence of a Minneapolis bike lobby determined to redistribute how streets are split between motorists, bikers and walkers.    


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