Friday News Digest, Shame Edition

Shame is a powerful and underutilized device. As I went through the articles I had collected for this week’s news digest, I began to realize that it was all kind of palm-to-forehead stuff. I’m not one to pull a punch, but I try to mix things up on Fridays and have some stuff worthy of our admiration. Not this week, at least not until the very end. For those of you that enjoy your meat served red, welcome to Friday.

Enjoy a parade of ridiculousness.

  • Perhaps the most ridiculous statement I’ve read in many years comes from Todd Streeter, the executive director of the Stillwater Area chamber of Commerce, when talking about the new $680 million St. Croix Bridge. As our Transportation Commissioner tours the state begging for more money, we are reminded that we are in the midst of spending more on a single bridge carrying only 16,000 cars per day (that is not a typo) than is needed to fix all of our 1,149 structurally deficient bridges (which, incidentally, collectively carry over 2.4 million cars per day). And while Stillwater area officials salivate at the thought of more of the same type of growth that is bankrupting exurban cities everywhere, we get this from Mr. Streeter. Hopefully he is not talking about being a magnet for suicides.

“That bridge is going to become a landmark as much as the Golden Gate Bridge is.”

  • Kansas City, I just don’t know what to say. You always get so indignant when I mention you, but you keep doing such silly things. And when your city staff, Downtown Council, Park Board and Planning Commission all endorse a drive through restaurant in the heart of your downtown, well…good luck with that streetcar thing. That ought to fix things right up.

The commission, which approved the site plan unanimously, said the developer had jumped through all the necessary hoops.

"I sympathize with an owner who followed all the rules," commission chair Babette Macy said.

It’s clear that growth — and traffic — will continue east of Mankato toward Eagle Lake. That growth will likely explode as the new Wal-Mart distribution center construction kicks off this year. More industrial, commercial and housing construction will fill in and current arteries, such as Highway 22 will be strained.

The kind of steady growth the greater Mankato area has seen is good for all taxpayers in the county, good for the economy and will add amenities that make the area attractive.

The county, city and MnDOT should be commended for planning to ensure that growth is orderly and that infrastructure such as highways are in place ahead of the growth, rather than trying to play a much more costly game of catch-up later.

  • I thought this article on the need to subsidize more parking on the University of Minnesota campus was a joke until I got halfway through and realized that someone named Ronald Dixon actually believed it. I was wondering who this guy who believes that the U of M, which is a gorgeous place served by light rail, a vigorous bus system and a completely walkable campus (along with lots of parking for those willing to pay), needs more parking. A quick Google search identified him as sophomore who is a debate/speech coach in the third ring suburb of Maple Grove. Yes, Mr. Dixon, I’m sure you would enjoy even more subsidy in your lifestyle but, sadly, we’re broke (and the University, not known for its fiscal management, is actually doing the financially smart thing here by asking commuters to pay their way). There is a lot of parking at the U, but like other things in life that you want, you just have to pay for it. This is a hard, financial reality that college allows you to allude for a few years, but one you will quickly discover when you get that first student loan repayment booklet.

I decided to drive to campus because it has allowed me to save money, participate in multiple off-campus internships and spend time with my girlfriend. Public transportation doesn’t fit into my lifestyle because it would be too impractical and inconvenient.

  • Maybe Ronald Dixon would appreciate life in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where they remain dedicated to their downtown, at least the concept of being able to drive into town to do fun things. Williamsport is such a great city, why reject the notion that people may actually live in or within walkable distance of these places and that this “lifestyle” choice – which will cost the city little yet yield so much in tax revenue – is currently illegal to build, despite it being the way Williamsport grew for over a century. My last priority would be parking. My first priority would be to build a financially viable place. Note, Bonnie Katz, that I’m very frustrated with Williamsport.

"My first priority would be to make sure there is enough parking for the Community Arts Center and the movie theatre," Councilwoman Bonnie Katz said.

She added people aren't accustomed to walking long distances and would get frustrated looking for a space to park when they are going to shows or dinner.

  • In addition to Williamsport, another place I’ve spoken in recent times was Ocean Springs, Mississippi. There I met the mayor, Connie Moran, who seemed like a very thoughtful and intelligent leader. Apparently the Strong Towns message sunk in…for a while. Now she is leading the charge for more horizontal expansion, and this in a place that has a struggling few blocks of real place surrounded by acres and acres of auto-dominated experiment. We may need some type of refresher course for people that have experienced a Curbside Chat but continue to be subjected to these pressures.

Moran said that before, the city dropped the idea of annexation partly because the cost of maintaining the area and providing services was too costly. She said, however, that since then, the city has acquired machinery and equipment with BP oil-spill money that would help ease some of those concerns.

  • Miami Beach. As the ice builds up here in Minnesota, there are few places I’d rather be, yet I’m burdened with the stereotype that, only in Miami Beach would people need to be told what pedestrian signs are for. The yellow sign in the crosswalk says “STOP” then “for” then a picture of a person walking (in the business we label them as pedestrians). Does this really mean we stop when a person is crossing the street? Do we have to stop when there is no person? Is stopping optional if the person makes eye contact with the driver. What if the driver is in the hurry? I’m so confused…hanging chad.

But take just a few minutes to observe the cars, trucks, and motorcycles making their way down West Avenue, and it becomes apparent: Many Miami Beach drivers are confused about what the signs mean.

You’ll see pedestrians waiting tentatively on either side of the crosswalk, looking for a break in traffic before they start walking. Other times, they play a human version of the video arcade game Frogger, starting to cross the street only to get caught in the middle while cars zoom by in either direction.

Other times, cars stop at every sign — regardless of whether there’s a person in the crosswalk — and road rage ensues as the drivers behind the stopped car honk their horns and wave their fingers (You know which finger we mean).

  • This story out of Montana is more sad than ridiculous, although the sadness is a byproduct of our ridiculousness. So many small towns – places that I culturally adore – and going out of businesses because the “gifts” they received a generation or two ago from state/federal governments are now theirs to maintain. And, of course, those “gifts” didn’t create growth but the opposite. There are no easy answers.

Old age is the No. 1 reason for the backlog of infrastructure problems statewide, Livers said.

“It’s amazing how many of these systems were built in the middle part of the last century,” he said.

Belt’s water tank was constructed in 1937. The sewer lagoon system was originally constructed in 1962, and upgraded in 1996.

  • The boring machine constructing the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle – a machine affectionately known as “Big Bertha” (apologies to any of our heavy set readers with the name Bertha) – has broken and will take months to fix. While we wait, we can take note of the massive reduction in traffic that has occurred along this corridor over the past half a decade. I know an at-grade boulevard was rejected because of traffic concerns – those silly projections again – but at least we’re not throwing big money down a hole here. Doh!!!

The project is budgeted at $1.4 billion. The total viaduct replacement is estimated to be a $3.1 billion project. The tunnel project is supposed to be finished in late 2015.

  • Leave it to the British to think in practical terms when the rest of us still want to cling to our illusions of empire and wealth. What do they do when they lack the funds to maintain everything they have built? They shut some of it down. Now that’s minding the gap.
  • As someone who is routinely asked to do things for city councils and other public officials, I found this video – shared with me by the witty Bill Campbell of Verdunity – hit close to home.

And finally, what are the odds. If you haven’t seen this one yet, give it a glance. Then order some bacon.

Stay safe this weekend, especially those of you experiencing the cold and icy conditions we have here. I’m headed to Montana next week and will be sharing thoughts from the road as I go. Catch you all back here on Monday.

If you haven’t already become a member of Strong Towns, please consider doing so. We had a great member event last week, have another small group event today and have lots more planned for the coming months. Help us to help you build a strong town.