Nathaniel Hood

Nathaniel Hood is a transportation planner and blogger living in St. Paul. He writes for Strong Towns and Streets.MN.

Posts about Vikings

How To Justify Spending $8m On Something Few Want

Posted by: Nathaniel Hood Updated: September 10, 2014 - 8:26 AM

The Met Council is gambling $8.7 million on a project to alleviate pedestrian congestion that might exist in 5 to 10 years if we’re somehow able to build two additional light rail lines and they are operating at full capacity for 10 days a year.

That's like buying flood insurance on the house you have yet to buy.

The below $8.7 million piece of public infrastructure is intended to create a more safe passageway for travelers at the Downtown East station during Vikings home games. It’ll serve west and northbound train passengers and other pedestrians looking to enter a new football stadium. It is deemed this will be an important pedestrian overpass once all four major light rail lines completed.

The Viking Stadiums Bridge to NowhereDownload the Downtown East Plan Met Council PowerPoint here [PDF].

Those reading this should have at least two questions:

  1. How did this come to be a thing?
  2. Why is it all of a sudden getting $8.7 million?

I pay particularly close attention to local projects. I read blogs, forums and newspapers daily. I know and follow local decision-makers on social media, track development proposals, and pay attention to those boring committees few care about. I also work in the industry and talk to other people who work and follow the industry across related professions. It’s fair to say that I have a very good idea of what’s going on in the Twin Cities and the transportation and development needs of the community.

Never once have I heard of this project until a few days ago. And now, out of the blue, we’re dropping $8.7 million on a bridge that’ll be needed 10 days a year starting in 2019.

I wrote a blog post last year titled The Politics of Dumb Infrastructure. It was well received, and is even being used as required reading in an undergrad planning course in California. In the article I theorize as to why we make bad decisions when it comes to receiving other people’s money on transit projects;

It’s the orderly, but dumb system that makes planners and politicians play to a bureaucratic equation that is supposed to guide officials towards the best alternative. Only it never actually works out that way and it usually forces smart people into making highly compromised and less-than-ideal decisions.

The pedestrian bridge is different. It may deal with Federal grants, but is also come from local and regional coffers. Regardless, this project is being pushed forward. According to the Star Tribune,

“The transit agency will likely devote $6 millon from its coffers for the project (this figure could be offset by federal grants), with the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (which oversees stadium construction) ponying up $2 million, and the rest coming from bonds issues by the Met Council.”

Before we go any further, I think we need to ask a complex question.

How did we get here?

The new $1 billion Green Line is done and the $1.1 billion Vikings Stadium is underway. They combine to represent over $2 billion of investment. Our local leaders are concerned, as they should be, that these pieces of infrastructure be as perfect as possible.

To quote a former Governor (one who wasn’t a professional wrestler),

“All too often, the human tendency is to compound one big mistake with a series of additional mistakes in the hope that somehow the results will improve. This appears to be the case with the Vikings stadium.”

Politicians are attracted to big, transformitive projects, so it seems only natural that our leaders, who have expelled a great amount of political capital, want to see every inch of it succeed. Even if that means throwing good money after bad.

How We Justify It All

An engineer at the Met Council, likely under much political pressure, noticed something: based on 2019 projections, during peak hours on Minnesota Vikings game days, there will be only a 120 second headway between trains. This will likely not be enough time to manage safe pedestrian crossings. The proposed solution is the bridge.

TopView

Please note the skyway attached to the State-mandated parking structure.

The pedestrian bridge makes some sense. Based on the projections, there will be long lines and delays during this period; and building a bridge for pedestrians certainly isn’t an unreasonable response. The Met Council’s Transportation Committee appears to be interested in the idea.

Let’s look at these assumptions: they assume that there will be two additional light rail lines in full operation, both of which have not yet even been either fully allocated money or constructed. Basically, the Met Council is gambling $8.7 million that there might be a problem in 5 years if we’re somehow able to build two additional light rail lines and they are operating at full capacity for 10 days a year.

To reiterate: Four (4) LRT lines being in operation (Blue, Green, SW & Bottentieu) and that Vikings game attendees hitting a 40% transit mode share. All of things don't currently exist. It also assumes, more importantly, that if there is congestion people will not find an alternative route or change their travel behavior. This isn't to say we can't plan ahead. We should. But, we should be more realistic in our projections and our priorities.

Where Are Our Priorities?

Why did this project get fast-tracked while other smaller, more “everyday” projects never see the light of day? And, when smaller projects get the public’s attention, why do they struggle to find funding? These are merely a question of priorities.

As Nick Magrino (at streets.mn) has asked so often, “why are we embarrassed by the bus?” He writes,

“… I can’t shake the feeling that many of the expensive transit improvements we get in the Twin Cities are thought up by people who don’t actually use transit. Which is why we end up with Northstar, the Red Line, and so on.”

A bridge like this seems like such a low priority, especially when we have legitimate transportation needs. For example, THIS is a bus stop on a heavily used transit line near the center of Minneapolis.

It’s not that a pedestrian bridge is a terrible idea. Under the projections, at some point in the future, it seems maybe reasonable. But, why is the Met Council prioritizing and fast-tracking this, whereas things like bike lanes, bus shelters, and potholes get ignored? I say this because you could build 40 miles of protected bike lanes for the same price tag.

Projects can take on a life of their own. There is no traditional process to getting things done. In this pedestrian overpass, you have the right person with the right slideshow presenting it to the right people at the right time. From here, you have the Met Council employees and political-appointed representatives who have monies at their disposal. The proposal, while not perfect, seems reasonable enough. And, we’ve just spent $2 billion on infrastructure, so we need to make it right. The presentation looks good, so why not go for it?

What would your City do with $8.7 million?

Imagine if the City of Minneapolis was given $8.7 million that could only be used on downtown pedestrian and/or transit projects. What would they do? The answer is: not a pedestrian bridge to be used during 10 sports games a year.

So, why are we doing it?

The answer is that we can get money from elsewhere to do the things we don’t need to do. But, when it comes to doing the simple things that we need to do, well, that money isn’t available from elsewhere. The pedestrian bridge is a bad idea (right now) that’s made worse when you think of the countless thousands of more useful public investments we could be making.

The truth is that the people and the City of Minneapolis don't even care about it. It's not on their radar. It's the people who control infrastructure and transportaiton dollars who care about this. If given the opportunity to allocate these dollars elsewhere, it's fair to say thatliterally everyone locally would divert them elsewhere.

Our priorities get skewed and we misallocate resources most when our funding comes from elsewhere. In fact, it is precisely why Minneapolis has the below. All of which the City of Minneapolis will be tearing down in 30 years …

vikingsblahugh

Note: This is also next to a proposed park called "The Yard" that neither the City of Minneapolis nor it's Park Board want to maintain. Yet, somehow it's still a thing.

Minnesota Vikings Stadium FAIL

Posted by: Nathaniel Hood Updated: May 13, 2013 - 11:25 PM

fly-thru5

The architecture of the Minnesota Vikings Stadium: take it or leave it?

Personally, I think it looks like a cross between a laser jet printer, a drunk Frank Gehry and something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. This is not a compliment. However, be this as it may, preference on architectural styling, no one should be surprised as this is the usual forgettable stuff that post-modernist firms like HKS Architects have been creating for quite some time.

I’ve been a critic of professional sports financing for a long time and will continue to be; but now that it’s a reality that the Vikings will get a new home, I’d like to see it be as good as possible. That means we need a combination of respectful architecture and urban design. This proposal fails on both fronts.

For all it’s faults, the City of Indianapolis built Lucas Oil Stadium. It’s a large, expensive taxpayer subsidizes stadium, but it does pay homage to classical architecture. It doesn’t always have the best street frontage, but it still pretends the pedestrian exists. Going into tonight, I had my fingers crossed that we’d get something similar to Indianapolis.

The architecture and urban design of the new Vikings stadium are bad, at best. I’ll ignore architecture here. The urban design isn’t shaping out to be an improvement over the current footprint of the Metrodome. Urban design is very important, and for this reason, I ask the City of Minneapolis Council to consider that upon their approval of the site plan.

fly-thru1

Along the plaza, facing the current Metrodome light rail station, a large plaza opens up to large glass walls. This will likely be an impressive sight from inside the new stadium, but it won’t do much for pedestrian activity or promoting a lively streetscape during non-game days. The plaza needs more activity.

fly-thru2

It’s a large building that adds a small park to the Metrodome’s existing footprint. We need more. But, what’s a green space with an active surrounding? The park like space will likely be empty without adjacent buildings nearby to add activity.

fly-thru3

There are no new improved transportation connections between the Downtown East neighborhood and the rest of downtown or the River. It’s basically a new, modern rendition of the Metrodome: an over-sized, unquestionably ugly spaceship that adds nothing to the built environment.

fly-thru4

The large plaza will be lively during the football season, but will likely be a wind-swept space during regular 9 to 5 Monday-Saturday. It’s a large, nondescript plaza that pays homage to the stadiums large set of windows, and not to the surrounding environment.

fly-thru5

This will arguably be the worst part of the stadium. It’s a large, multistory blank wall. No activity here except a parking lot and some emergency exit doors. It’s blank, dark and ignores the urban environment. This is unacceptable – a 5 to 6 story blank wall? No windows. A few doors. Lots of emptiness.

fly-thru6

There really isn’t much here that will act as an improvement in the urban design department, and it is hard to see how a building like this will promote additional development. Who would want to live by a monolithic, mega church of a building that only occasionally pays homage to the cultural Gods of Football. It’ll be empty 95% of the time and chaotic the other 5%.

Now, with e-pulltabs being as they are, all we need to do now is find a way to pay for itself (and, if you don’t care for it, well – if history repeats itself, it’ll likely be torn down in about 20 years).

Vikings Stadium: Bad Neighbor

Posted by: Nathaniel Hood Updated: November 25, 2012 - 2:42 PM

Who would want to live by a football stadium? It’s virtually empty or seriously under-utilized 355 days a year and chaotic for the other 10 days a year. That sounds miserable.

A recent Star Tribune commentary asked the question, “Vikings stadium: Good neighbor or not?”.

Historically, the answer has been not; and based on all the renderings I’ve seen, the answer will continue to be not. Actually, I take that back – the stadium won’t be either a good neighbor or a bad neighbor. Why? Because it won’t really have any neighbors.

While not the final design, the most recent building renderings resemble nothing more than Metrodome version 2.0 – (it looks like someone sliced the dome’s roof to let in some air and then added a glass facade). North of the stadium, there are three city block sized open surface parking lots. To the west of the site, there are what appear to be two blocks of undefined plaza space. There is some green space and a few small building on the east side of the site, but since this space is currently an interstate highway, it’s not really clear what will happen there.

The only neighbors it would inconvenience are those who are already currently inconvenienced by the stadium. It’s likely the new stadium won’t spark new neighbors either. Do Stadiums Bring Development? Usually not.

I’ve written about this and shared these images a lot over the past year, and I continue to do so because I believe they are powerful in visually showing how little stadiums actually help.

If we build it, they will come? This argument doesn’t hold up under even the most modest of scrutinies. The Twin Cities own experiences should serve lesson that large sport and convention center venues do not create a catalyst for development.

[Minneapolis, Minnesota - 1991, 2002, 2009]

Notice the development around the Metrodome? Neither did anyone else. North of the Metrodome, near the Guthrie Theater, residential development has occurred, but little of which can be attributed to proximity to the Metrodome. The Mississippi River, cultural amenities and other forces play a larger role in redevelopment.

St. Paul has had similar results with the Xcel Energy Center.

[St. Paul, Minnesota - 1991, 2002, 2009]

The taxpayer-subsidized arena was supposed to act as a catalyst for development in St. Paul. Ten years later, there isn’t much to show for it besides renovated pubs along West 7th Street. All of which are fantastic (McGoverns, The Liffey, Eagle Street, Tom Reid’s), but the success of these local watering holes is hardly worthy of hundreds of millions dollars in taxpayer subsidizes.

Stadiums prompting development in the immediate surrounding area of new stadium construction certainly sounds like a plausible argument as large infrastructure projects do typically yield private development. However, sport stadiums appear to be the exception to the rule.

[Indianapolis, Indiana - 1992, 2007, 2010]

The new Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis is pictured above. Notice the RCA Dome in the 1992 and 2007 images. It’s a now a convention center – a non-private sector development.

[Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - 1992, 2002, 2011]

Philadelphia’s sports district has seen little improvement in two decades. Sports stadiums seemed to beget only more sports stadiums … and open surface parking lots. A similar story exists in Phoenix, Arizona, where not even the seemingly omnipresent speculative housing subdivisions of Phoenix desired proximity.

[Phoenix, Arizona - 1992, 2003, 2011]

Even urban success stories of the 2000s (such as Denver and Pittsburgh) with large influxes of people clamoring for downtown and inner-city real estate struggled to fill in the empty surfaces surrounding their sport stadiums.

[Pepsi Arena, Denver, Colorado - 1992, 2002, 2011]

[Coors Field, Denver, Colorado - 1993, 2003, 2011]

[Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania - 1993, 2004, 2010]

Is Minneapolis the exception to the rule? Will we somehow beat this stadium vacuum? It’s unlikely. When a large building fails at creating a lively mix of retail, residential, commercial and civic space – it creates an isolating space not worthy of the public affection. Developers, unless enticed with subsidizes, will likely avoid these places.

It doesn’t help that these stadiums aren’t cheap – taxpayers usually end up taking on the initial bill, and all the risk. Stadiums and their surrounding districts are the new “Bilbao anomaly”, are the new urban mall, are the new downtown casino, are the new urban renewal.

Who doesn’t love a good tailgate?

Posted by: Nathaniel Hood Updated: August 21, 2012 - 12:30 PM

*Note: This entry is cross-posted from Streets.MN. If you haven't already, you should follow @StreetsMN on Twitter!

“All of the concept drawings of the now-approved Vikings stadium proposal include large swaths of dedicated tailgating lots near the stadium. If Minneapolis builds these lots, the new facility will simply repeat the development mistakes of the area surrounding the Metrodome.” - Sam Rockwell at MinnPost

Who doesn’t love a good tailgate?

Back in the mid-2000s, I’d head to baseball games at the Metrodome with a handful of friends,  grab a grill, some cheap beer and countless brats and burgers. We’d post up in the parking lot that’s now Gold Medal Park and we’d eat, drink and occasionally make it to a Twins game. It was a blast.

Tailgating is not only fun, but it’s synonymous with red, white and blue. It has become a new American tradition that is seamlessly being integrated into new stadium plans. Unfortunately, these tailgating plans don’t fit well into urban spaces.

This is what the tailgating mecca of now-Gold Medal Park looked like circa 2006.

It was a beautiful, drunken mess of a place. This is a Google Streetview of the location a few years later. It’s clean, green and has a bike lane that connects to the Mississippi River.

The tailgating is gone. It’s been replaced by a park that abuts a number of mid-rise condo developments. 2nd Street in downtown has to be one of the most transformed streets in all of Minneapolis. What was once a sea of parking is now a successful urban place. This is the problem with tailgating in downtown and other locations where land is at a premium.

Tailgating downtown (or by the University of Minnesota, for example) isn’t very productive. Having open-surface parking lots in downtown designed for the sole purpose of grilling 10 days a year is unwise. Even if you consider that people will use the space for parking during the other 350 non-event days a year, it still falls short.

The Vikings Stadium site plan hasn’t been finalized, but this is what the public has to work with. Most of the northwest side of the proposed stadium is dedicated as some type of open space or tailgating space. The curious site drawing even includes two grey half-circle parcels what is now a over a parking lot and a Hennepin County building. If I had to take a guess, I’d say its a clever way to disguise what they hope will be open surface parking.

Why does land use matter? Well, that’s basically what we’re dealing with here in the development of the “People’s Stadium”.  How the new stadium and its surrounding relate to the rest of the downtown environment will ultimately determine the success of the stadium itself. The Metrodome failed as a catalyst for a number of reasons, some of which were outside of its control, but one of the primary failures of the Metrodome was that it helped turn everything around it into a parking lot.

There is this dubious claim advocated by stadium proponents that stadiums bring development. Minus a bar here and there, this is not true. Think of this, has Target Field really created development? Or, would the development in the North Loop occurred anyway? From all I can tell, all Target Field did was successfully motive Hubert’s and Kieran’s to relocate while leveraging the on-going successes of the North Loop.

Why would anyone want to live by a stadium or a tailgating lot? It’s a complete desert 95 percent of the time and complete chaos the other five percent of the time. Wanting to intentionally create that environment, that boom and bust cycle, in the center of a town seems like a good way to hurt it.

While I liked Sam Rockwell’s MinnPost article (and how he described the problem), I have to disagree with his assertion that a compromise can be reached and that Minneapolis can reinvent tailgating. We can’t, and we shouldn’t try. Minneapolis shouldn’t discourage people from tailgating, but at the same time, they certainly shouldn’t sacrifice our urban area to accommodate it. And, if it does, Minneapolis merely be repeating the mistakes of the past.

Follow me on Twitter at @Nathaniel1983.

Who doesn’t love a good tailgate?

Posted by: Nathaniel Hood Updated: August 21, 2012 - 12:30 PM

*Note: This entry is cross-posted from Streets.MN. If you haven't already, you should follow @StreetsMN on Twitter!

“All of the concept drawings of the now-approved Vikings stadium proposal include large swaths of dedicated tailgating lots near the stadium. If Minneapolis builds these lots, the new facility will simply repeat the development mistakes of the area surrounding the Metrodome.” - Sam Rockwell at MinnPost

Who doesn’t love a good tailgate?

Back in the mid-2000s, I’d head to baseball games at the Metrodome with a handful of friends,  grab a grill, some cheap beer and countless brats and burgers. We’d post up in the parking lot that’s now Gold Medal Park and we’d eat, drink and occasionally make it to a Twins game. It was a blast.

Tailgating is not only fun, but it’s synonymous with red, white and blue. It has become a new American tradition that is seamlessly being integrated into new stadium plans. Unfortunately, these tailgating plans don’t fit well into urban spaces.

This is what the tailgating mecca of now-Gold Medal Park looked like circa 2006.

It was a beautiful, drunken mess of a place. This is a Google Streetview of the location a few years later. It’s clean, green and has a bike lane that connects to the Mississippi River.

The tailgating is gone. It’s been replaced by a park that abuts a number of mid-rise condo developments. 2nd Street in downtown has to be one of the most transformed streets in all of Minneapolis. What was once a sea of parking is now a successful urban place. This is the problem with tailgating in downtown and other locations where land is at a premium.

Tailgating downtown (or by the University of Minnesota, for example) isn’t very productive. Having open-surface parking lots in downtown designed for the sole purpose of grilling 10 days a year is unwise. Even if you consider that people will use the space for parking during the other 350 non-event days a year, it still falls short.

The Vikings Stadium site plan hasn’t been finalized, but this is what the public has to work with. Most of the northwest side of the proposed stadium is dedicated as some type of open space or tailgating space. The curious site drawing even includes two grey half-circle parcels what is now a over a parking lot and a Hennepin County building. If I had to take a guess, I’d say its a clever way to disguise what they hope will be open surface parking.

Why does land use matter? Well, that’s basically what we’re dealing with here in the development of the “People’s Stadium”.  How the new stadium and its surrounding relate to the rest of the downtown environment will ultimately determine the success of the stadium itself. The Metrodome failed as a catalyst for a number of reasons, some of which were outside of its control, but one of the primary failures of the Metrodome was that it helped turn everything around it into a parking lot.

There is this dubious claim advocated by stadium proponents that stadiums bring development. Minus a bar here and there, this is not true. Think of this, has Target Field really created development? Or, would the development in the North Loop occurred anyway? From all I can tell, all Target Field did was successfully motive Hubert’s and Kieran’s to relocate while leveraging the on-going successes of the North Loop.

Why would anyone want to live by a stadium or a tailgating lot? It’s a complete desert 95 percent of the time and complete chaos the other five percent of the time. Wanting to intentionally create that environment, that boom and bust cycle, in the center of a town seems like a good way to hurt it.

While I liked Sam Rockwell’s MinnPost article (and how he described the problem), I have to disagree with his assertion that a compromise can be reached and that Minneapolis can reinvent tailgating. We can’t, and we shouldn’t try. Minneapolis shouldn’t discourage people from tailgating, but at the same time, they certainly shouldn’t sacrifice our urban area to accommodate it. And, if it does, Minneapolis merely be repeating the mistakes of the past.

Follow me on Twitter at @Nathaniel1983.

      

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