A great night in Fitchburg, Wisconsin last night where we did a Curbside Chat with a packed house. Today I’m giving a guest lecture at UW-Madison— quite an honor – before heading back home to balmy Brainerd, MN. Thanks to everyone who turned out in Wisconsin and heads up to all you in Rochester, MN, where we’ll be next week. Can you believe I’ve lived in the Land of 10,000 Lakes all my life and never been to Rochester? Glad we’re correcting that deficiency.

Enjoy the week’s news.

  • Operation More George had a temporary setback as George Matthew Linkert IV – our favorite George – was dumped from the Mound planning commission by his city council. It’s rather amazing (and despicable) that elected officials would shun someone so eager, enthusiastic and passionate to serve their community. I join many of the commenters in hoping that this opens up many more opportunities for a guy who I’ve grown to greatly admire. Keep going George – we all support you.

I am, of course, personally saddened about this development. But frankly, I am more sad that our City Council, most of whom have sat with me on the Planning Commission at one time or another, haven't appreciated me. Apparently my contributions to the discussion of Mound have been so offensive or wasteful, that the City Council wants to move in a different direction.

  • I’ve got no less than three books on my hard drive in one advanced state of assembly or another. (Focus, Marohn.) Still, it was very nice to have this review of Thoughts on Building Strong Towns (Volume 1) posted by Elias Crim. I’ve only met Elias through social media but am looking forward to a long one-on-one chat someday, hopefully soon.

Using a mixture of simple financial analysis and common sense, Marohn is asking cities and towns to reconsider their assumptions about things like endless horizontal growth, how infrastructure (i.e., highways, streets, roads) spending actually creates value, and why we have the fixed idea that mobility equals prosperity, among other usually upsetting but sane propositions.

Granola Shotgun is about the places we live and how our lives are changing due to external reality. This blog is meant to offer practical examples of how people and places can thrive in the face of turbulence and change. I’ve explored many great neighborhoods (and more than a few duds) and interviewed some pretty amazing folks from Istanbul to Hong Kong to rural Nebraska. If you’re a lefty liberal (that’s the Granola) or an arch conservative (that’s the Shotgun) I think you’ll find stuff of value here.

  • I was interviewed by a reporter from British Columbia last week and then came across this thoughtful piece she put together this week. I try not to be a narcissistic troll and comment on everything that has my name, but I did feel somewhat compelled to correct the city’s director of engineering and transportation who clearly did not grasp the concept of a stroad. Nope, the key is not balance. And anytime an engineer starts talking about what is “viable,” you really need to get a clarification. “Not viable” in the engineering paradigm is often what the average person thinks of as optimum.

Raymond Fung, West Van’s director of engineering and transportation, says Marine Drive doesn’t exactly match Marohn’s description of a stroad.

“I would argue that Marine Drive in Ambleside and Dundarave is not [a stroad]. There are no real strip malls, there are limited driveway crossings,” he explains.

“Our planning department strives to have buildings that face the street and to minimize the amount of parking lots that front onto the road.”

As one of the only viable alternatives, Marine Drive is essential to moving traffic across the district, Fung says, but at the same time the district makes efforts to support local businesses.

“The key is balance,” he emphasizes.

  • America’s fittest city? Minneapolis/St. Paul. (Excuse me, NBC, but I believe that is two cities.)
  • And Minneapolis wants to retain that title, with an emphasis on biking, walking and non-auto transportation options. The goal of adding 100,000 people without adding any new cars is the perfect ambition for a modern American city. Minneapolis is a high upside place – I’d keep an eye on it (although I’d like a condo near Target Field and that ain’t going to happen if they keep increasing their quality of life so dramatically).

“The first reaction of most neighborhoods would be that there’s not enough parking,” said Ted Tucker, president of the city planning commission. “But the trouble with that is, of course, the city may devote too many resources to parking automobiles and not enough to making life pleasant for pedestrians and bicyclists.”

  • Of course, Minnesota is not the Garrison Keiler land where everyone is above average. Weighing down the curve big time is the urban planning embarrassment known as Ramsey, the only place I’ve ever seen build a multi-level parking ramp in a field. If you want a case study in bad engineering advice, bad planning advice, bad financial advice and bad administration, it is Ramsey, a city that The Final Edit used to say that “even God hates.” And try as we might with build-it-and-they-will-come transportation investments, they are not coming. That Ramsey has a commuter rail stop but there is no line to St. Cloud only proves that the politics of transportation funding is not about transportation but simply funding. (Keep that in mind when it comes to the SW corridor, people.)

When Ramsey’s commuter rail station opened 14 months ago, Metro Transit agreed to extend Bus Route 852, once a day, four miles west to the train station, to give Ramsey residents a midday alternative to Northstar trains designed for early morning and late-afternoon commuters. But the added bus stop has turned out to be a little-used one that Metro Transit says has wasted fuel and manpower.

Come June, which will be 15 months into what was supposed to be an 18-month trial run, it’s likely to be the end of the line for the extension.

“Rarely does anybody get off here,” bus driver Glen Wiemelt said as he prepared to leave the Ramsey station Wednesday without passengers. “I’ve had as many as three riders get on here, but never more than that. This is typical.”

  • More dogmatic traffic projections to either laugh at or cry about, but the highlight of this article was the reference to a projection in a 1961 textbook showing the Soviet economy overtaking the US – even with “margin for error” – sometime between the mid 1980’s to the mid 1990’s. I just love how predictably stupid we are. Not only did the Soviet Union not even make it that long, the starting condition on the Soviet economy was wrong and the actual slope of the curve (up) was wrong as well. Projections like these are the purview of people too smart to realize they are idiots. That we spend billions of dollars annually in service of this drivel makes us the bigger fools.

  • An interesting list from MSN Money ranking the states with the best/worst roads. In my trips around the country, I would definitely rank California (47), Florida (37) and Pennsylvania (39) as some of the worst. Note, my fellow Minnesotans, that we are listed at #42 (that’s out of 50 – not very good). I know….we don’t need to do anything differently than we are doing now, we just need more money.
  • Speaking of a terribly run state DOT, it looks like PennDOT is out to sooth its conscience as it victimizes the people of Chester once again. We reported on this area a while back, but now the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission is planning a public meeting on January 29 to shove access management down these people’s throats. The goals of the study are to improve safety for vehicles (and pedestrians – ha, ha), maintain the current Level of Service (for the good of the pedestrians, I’m sure), improve mobility (again, screw you pedestrians), incorporate access management measures (but I’m sure no decisions have been made yet as to what is needed….not) and, finally, the most incoherent, engineer bureaucracy speak you can imagine: support future land uses congruent with the corridor’s transportation framework. What? Go back and watch the video I did in Chester last year and then read what PennDOT did to this city. You think institutional racism isn’t a problem in modern America? Once again, I’m sickened by all of this. You should be too.

  • Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti wrote a column indicating that an urban transit revolution depends on federal funding. Well then….sorry friends, but it sounds like there will be no urban transit revolution. And, of course, there is no other option. Prior to World War II, American cities built thousands of miles of urban transit around this country primarily using federal dollars. Oh wait, this just in….those were built by private developers looking to benefit from the appreciation of property values that came along with transit investment. Yeah, I guess the mayor is right….there’s no way we can do this today without big brother’s help, especially in a place like L.A. where the only thing more unproductive than the land use pattern is the tax system. Good luck, L.A. At least you now know who to blame.

On my first trip to Washington D.C. as Mayor, I met with President Barack Obama and with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx to advocate for nearly $2 billion of transit funds from a federal program called New Starts.  These funds would help pay for the construction of the Regional downtown Connector and the first phase of the Purple Line projects.  They will transform Metro’s growing transit system, making it easier for riders to reach jobs and popular destinations along Wilshire Boulevard, to and from downtown and across Los Angeles — the underground Connector will tie together the Blue, Expo, and Gold lines for a one-seat ride connection.

 Still, nationwide, New Starts was scheduled to invest about $2.1 billion this fiscal year to 27 transit projects.  It’s not enough.  The money is spread too thin.  Congress must do more.

  • Andrew Price is a regular contributor here on this blog as well as a contributing member of the Strong Towns Network. He’s also an Australian, which is one of the many reasons this hilarious exchange reminded me of him.
  • And finally, while I’m not a regular reader of the Onion (probably should be), I could not help but being drawn into this one. I once had a marketing friend tell me that, if I didn’t get a TV commercial, I was not the target market. Clearly, I’m not the target market for Coors beer (or any beer, for that matter).


BREAKING: Hundreds Feared Dead In Coors Light Party Train Crash

Thanks everyone. I really appreciate all the feedback and thoughts on Monday’s Dunkin Donuts post. I didn’t get a chance to post the follow up thoughts floating around in my head, but your stuff has been even better. Stay warm this weekend and plan to meet back here early Monday. See you then.