Bill Lindeke grew up locally, then headed east to college, where he discovered the joys of walkable, bikeable cities. He "wandered" into the study of urban design because he was unable to walk around the Twin Cities in the same way he had in Massachusetts and Manhattan.
Back in St. Paul for 20 years, Lindeke has served on the St. Paul Planning Commission and written extensively about everything from dive bars and bowling alleys to bicycling and public transit. He is now a lecturer at the University of Minnesota, focusing on life in our urban landscape, and writes for MinnPost.
Eye On St. Paul grabbed a cup of coffee with Lindeke recently to talk about what prompted his study of Twin Cities streetscapes and why St. Paulites have been slow to embrace the bicycle. This interview was edited for length.
Q: How did you get started in urban studies?
A: I was a philosophy major [at Williams College in Massachusetts] and I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I'd read "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" by Jane Jacobs and, when I moved back here in 2002, it got me thinking about urban sidewalks and streets. I started a blog about sidewalks in 2004.
Q: Talk about bicycling in St. Paul. How would you characterize bicycle access/use in St. Paul?
A: In some ways, it's making progress. I can point to a dozen streets and a half dozen really good projects that I think are amazing and I wouldn't have foreseen when I started working on this 10 to 15 years ago.
A: The Como Avenue project, the Wheelock Parkway project, Ayd Mill Road. There's a lot of promise in downtown right now. There are bike lanes on bridges that weren't there before. On the other hand, I was hoping for more. I was hoping for more people using, riding bicycles.
There's truth to the fact that we are not changing fast enough. There are a lot of reasons why. [But] just walk on Snelling [Avenue]. It's not a pleasant place to walk or sit. I challenge anyone to sit for 10 minutes, eating a sandwich or drinking an espresso. It's not a welcoming or humane place to be because of all the loud trucks going by.
We need to reduce the number of cars in the city. And it hasn't been happening. That's the frustrating thing.
Q: Why isn't it happening?
A: That's the big question. I think there are a lot of policy answers [in] the way that we fund projects. Since the 1950s, the federal government has been paying the lion's share of every highway and road project around the country, including here. We have a dedicated source of funding for vehicular issues. And there just isn't anything like that for other modes of transportation or transit, or for any sidewalks or crosswalks or bike lanes.
Q: Talk to me about the proposed Summit Avenue project.
A: It's pretty simple. The street needs reconstruction. What the city needs to do at some point in the near future is go in and remake the complete roadbed underneath the asphalt. This is a very intensive process that sometimes damages the tree roots. This is a 100-year-old street, and the trees are also very old. That is an issue.
The other question, though, in front of the city right now is when you're reconstructing a street, you have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redesign it any way you want to. All the city is trying to do right now is have a conversation about redoing the street from scratch. How can we make it better for more people?
I'm open-minded. I'd like to see the proposals and then we can talk about it. So far, there hasn't been any deep proposal about it.
Q: And yet there are SOS [Save Our Street] signs and people are worried about a regional trail.
I think there's a lot of misinformation. I don't really blame anyone for putting a sign in their yard. I think they've just been reading the wrong things. The street itself, the right of way, is public space. It belongs to everyone in the city of St. Paul. And everyone should get to decide what happens there.
Q: You're a bit of a historian on other things too, aren't you?
A: It started with some writing — I have a series of self-published booklets — on the history of bowling alleys, dive bars, parking lots and strange 19th century parks in different neighborhoods. Just stuff that I think is interesting about local history that is not out there.
Q: Do you live in St. Paul now?
Q: St. Paul or Minneapolis, which is better?
A: St. Paul is better.
Q: In what way?
A: I just think we have a better sense of our own history. And a more cohesive community in St. Paul. There's a richer legacy of working together across differences.