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Sunday on the Southern Connector

08/27/2014

By Hilary Reeves, Strategic Advancement & Communications Director

Editor’s Note: This piece by TLC’s Hilary Reeves originally ran in the Southwest Journal on July 1 as part of her regular “Spokes & Soles” column. 

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Thousands of bicyclists know that the Bryant Avenue Bicycle Boulevard is a great north-south route in southwest Minneapolis, near Lakes Calhoun and Harriet. Now, southeast Minneapolis bicyclists have a north-south route of their own. The newly finished 17th Avenue & 12th Avenue Bicycle Boulevard runs 4.75 miles from the Phillips neighborhood to Richfield, near Lake Nokomis.

In its planning stages, this route was called The Southern Connector, almost as if it was a new highway. Perhaps that’s because it provides a route over the Crosstown (aka Hwy 62) or because it provides a flat, bicycle-optimized route from the south metro — Richfield and Bloomington — to downtown Minneapolis.

If bicycles are to be a convenient form of transportation, a network of routes to connect neighborhoods and get across the cities really helps. Building an on-street network of bike lanes and bicycle boulevards was one of the chief goals of the federal Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program, locally known as Bike Walk Twin Cities. The program is winding up, as the last projects such as the Southern Connector are completed. Overall, since 2007, the pilot added more than 100 miles of new bikeways and sidewalks, including 65.5 miles of bike lanes and 27.8 miles of bicycle boulevards.

A recent Sunday ride on the 17th  & 12th Avenue Bicycle Boulevard (as the Southern Connector is now known) proves that a pleasant north-south bike route is attractive for recreational and commuter riding.

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Phillips Neighborhood to Lake Street 

On the north end, the route begins at East 24th Street, across from East Phillips Park. Bike lanes were added to East 24th as part of the Southern Connector project. This east-west route passes through East African and Latino neighborhoods. On a Sunday afternoon, there were many people on the sidewalks and East Phillips Park was busy.

Turning onto 17th Avenue, it’s a few short blocks to the ramp to the Midtown Greenway. Along the route, there also are improvements for people walking, such as new curb bump-outs at East 26th and East 28th streets. When the route hits Lake Street, there is an easily accessible button for cyclists to push to get a green light. On Lake Street, the Heart of the Beast Theater is just a few blocks west, while a few blocks east is the busy Hiawatha-Lake intersection, with a Blue Line LRT stop, Minneapolis Community Education GED and English classes, and the Midtown Farmers Market. Access to Hi-Lake by bicycle is arguably best via the Midtown Greenway and Hiawatha LRT Trail.

 

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Lake Street to Minnehaha Parkway  

Along the bicycle boulevard south of Lake Street, there are several residential traffic circles, which tend to slow down motorized traffic and make it possible for people on bicycles to keep moving without having to come to a full stop. On the Sunday of my ride, a few guys were playing pickup basketball while a bicyclist looked on. Given the lack of a hoop, their game was mostly dribbling and defense, but the ability to play in the street is an indication that 17th Avenue is a low-traffic street, good for cycling.

A few blocks farther south, a family of five was out for a ride, dad with trailer carrying a toddler, mom watching two older kids on bicycles. Together, they rode through the median at 42nd Street. The median keeps cars from using 17th Avenue as a through-street and it provides a place for people walking or on bikes to wait mid-crossing for traffic to clear.

 

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Minnehaha Parkway to Richfield and beyond 

At Minnehaha Parkway, a new curb cut provides easy access to the off-road bike path along Minnehaha Creek that is part of the Grand Rounds. Take the path a few blocks east to Lake Nokomis. Take it a few blocks west to 12th Avenue South, where the bicycle boulevard continues south to Richfield. On my Sunday ride, part of the bike path was flooded but westbound it was easy to ride a few blocks on Minnehaha Parkway to pick up another entrance to the off-road bike path. And plenty of cyclists were out for a Sunday ride.

Heading south, the bikeway passes Hale School and Our Lady of Peace Church and School. These are just two of several schools and churches along the 17th and 12th Avenue Bicycle Boulevard, including Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Jacob’s Well, Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church, and Lake Nokomis Presbyterian. Other schools on or near the route include South High (just south of Lake Street) and El Colegio Charter School, a Spanish-English high school.

At East 60th Street, the route turns east for a few blocks (sharrows mark the route), before turning on Bloomington Avenue South, which crosses over Hwy 62. As I rode by Taft Park, I could hear the announcer for a baseball game. There were a lot more cars than bikes at Taft Park, suggesting that this new north-south route has yet to be discovered by everyone. Yet, I saw cyclists on every segment of the route. In Richfield, bike lanes (also funded through BWTC) continue on Bloomington Avenue South to Diagonal Boulevard to East 73rd Street and south along 12th Avenue to East 76th Street.

 

All photos courtesy of Transit for Livable Communites.

 

Transportation on a Stick: TLC & Move MN Ramp Up Outreach at the State Fair—and Beyond

 

By Dave Van Hattum, Transportation Policy Director

 

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Bethany Winkels, Field Director, talks up transportation at the State Fair. Credit: Move MN

 

It has been an action-packed summer for the Move MN campaign. Transit for Livable Communities and our Move MN allies have been busy spreading the word about urgent transportation needs all across our state. At events ranging from street festivals in Minneapolis and Moorhead to county fairs in Windom and Owatonna, we’ve connected with a broad base of Minnesotans who agree it’s time to invest in expanded bus and rail, safe bicycling and walking options, and road and bridge repair and modernization.

This week, that message is striking a cord at the Great Minnesota Get-Together, where two dozen TLC members are working alongside TLC staff and our allies at AFSCME Council 5 and other Move MN partner organizations to hear what Minnesotan’s are saying about transportation and to build even more support for making transportation a top priority in 2015.

 

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Thanks to all TLC members, staff & allies volunteering together at the State Fair!
Credit: Move MN.


Many thanks to these enthusiastic volunteers for sparking great transportation conversations every day of the State Fair! Special thanks to our friends at AFSCME Council 5 for sharing their booth with us this year. If you’re headed to the fairgrounds between now and Labor Day, be sure to stop in to see us at the Labor Pavilion—and sign a Move MN postcard while you’re there.

Bethany Winkels, our new Move MN Field Director, is leading the charge on these essential outreach efforts at the State Fair and beyond. An experienced organizer, Bethany hit the ground running earlier this summer and is doing a fantastic job to engage Minnesotans in every region of our state. Bethany, who works out of the TLC office, recognizes that transportation affects people every day.  As she puts it, “This isn’t a theoretical issue. Public safety, smart government, opportunity, and good jobs are all tied to transportation.”


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TLC & Move MN at Franklin Avenue Open Streets earlier this month. Credit: TLC.

 

As summer turns to fall, TLC and Move MN are looking ahead to new opportunities to raise awareness about Minnesota’s transportation problem and our call for a balanced and sustainable solution. Look for us at these community events in September:

  • Sept. 5 & 6 - Burnsville Fire Muster
  • Sept. 7 - Saint Paul Classic Tour
  • Sept. 20 - Bloomington Heritage Days
  • Sept. 20 - Aurora Legendary Laurentian
  • Sept. 21 - Saint Paul Open Streets
  • Sept. 27 - Minneapolis Urban League Family Day

If you’re interesting in volunteering with us at any of these events, contact Bethany at BethanyW@tlcminnesota.org.

We also encourage you to sign Move MN’s online petition encouraging Minnesota's next governor to make transportation the top priority in 2015. This petition will send a strong message to the three major party candidates, reminding them that Minnesota’s outdated and crumbling transportation system negatively impacts us all. As the petition says, in the spirit of the Great Minnesota Get-Together, let’s get together and fix transportation! Take action: sign the "Great Transportation Get-Together" petition now.

 

 

Saint Paul Looks to Transit-Oriented Development Opportunities

An Interview with Gary Leavitt, Transit-Oriented Development Manager, City of Saint Paul

 

By Dave Van Hattum, Transportation Policy Director

 

Editor’s note: At the start of this year, the City of Saint Paul put new emphasis on transit-oriented development (TOD), hiring dedicated staff to manage TOD for the first time. Experienced developer Gary Leavitt stepped into the role. We recently sat down with Gary to talk about his approach to the job, and about realizing TOD potential in Saint Paul—along the Green Line and beyond.

 

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Gary Leavitt. Photo credit: TLC

 

TLC: Tell us about your job with the City of Saint Paul.
GL: I was brought on primarily to assist with transit-oriented development along the new Green Line. Acting as a liaison for the City, I meet with owners, stakeholders, developers, brokers, or investors who want to do transit-oriented projects on University Avenue or elsewhere in Saint Paul. I meet as many people as I possibly can to talk about transit and about opportunity, and to explain why this is a good thing. The most difficult part of development is time; the longer it goes, the more it costs, and then it gets difficult to make a project work. My goal in that sense is to get involved early enough to save time by helping with small zoning issues, station-area or comprehensive plans, or potential funding sources. Coming from a private background helps me build rapport in the field.

 

TLC: Does the City have explicit goals for additional housing or commercial development?

GL: There isn’t really a number we put out there. I just like to use the term “a lot”—more than what we have seen in the last five years.

 

TLC: How would you describe the emerging TOD market along the Green Line specifically?

GL: The ridership is up much higher than we expected and that’s great. People are buying into it. In the beginning, some landowners and developers were saying, “We don’t know if it’s going to work or if it’s the right time.” Now, I am having meeting after meeting with people who are saying positively, “There is a lot of activity. A lot of people are riding and they’re getting off the trains and walking around in the neighborhoods.” We are seeing quite a few more opportunities than I expected.

 

TLC: What has happened to-date in terms of development along the corridor?

GL: We have a number of projects in the pipeline, including the Hamline Station development, new Goodwill site, old Whittaker Buick, and 2700 University. As far as development, Raymond Avenue has been tremendous. The most calls, probably 40 percent, have come from this station area so far.

 

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Green Line LRT at Raymond & University, Saint Paul. Photo credit: Allison Osberg, TLC.

 

TLC: Are there big projects that have your or the City’s attention?

GL: The 35-acre “bus barn” lot near Snelling and University is the biggest by far. That is a joint development between a private owner, the City, and the Metropolitan Council. As we phase in development with these big properties, it is so important that we are thoughtful in the process. What may be a perfect deal today may not fit the market ten years from now. That consideration takes a lot of time and funding. And those are big home-run deals. But I also enjoy the smaller ones that really get neighborhoods involved and can happen now versus five years from now.

 

TLC: What might that site look like?
GL: I see four or five stories at most. I see mixed use as well as mixed income: housing, some commercial, hopefully some offices, plenty of open space for parks, walking, placemaking, and a gathering area. With a site this size and with so much opportunity, we want to create a destination not only for the neighborhood, but for out-of-area residents as well. I think the development will be phased, beginning with the Walgreens on the corner. Then, we’ll probably want to put housing at the Big Top Liquor site and keep moving south. With the A Line on Snelling as well, we want to focus on that corner to ensure we are pushing transit-oriented development opportunities south and north of University.

 

TLC: Where are the other TOD opportunities in the city?

GL: We are doing some research on Robert Street. We also are working on Gateway and those station-area plans. I’m a fan of Riverview on West 7th Street; I think that is a huge opportunity.

 

TLC: Can you say more about station-area plans?

GL: We look up to a quarter-mile away from the transit station. Density is critical. We like to see buildings and storefronts up on the street. The whole goal is to get people out of cars­—get them on bikes, walking, and on the trains. When the plan is drafted, the community has a chance to weigh in. That was the process with the Green Line and we’re doing that planning on Gateway right now.

 

TLC: How does the City define or think about equitable TOD?

GL: Our region made this investment in the light rail and we hope everyone has the same opportunity to use it. Everybody should have an opportunity to prosper, whether by better, healthier, safer living, or access to new affordable or market-rate housing. Everyone should have access to those. And the bottom line is access to good, living wage jobs. If someone finds a job in another neighborhood, they have the opportunity to ride transit to get to that job.

 

TLC: Has the issue of gentrification come up in your work on TOD? How do you respond to those concerns?
GL: That’s a fair question and it does come up. It’s a healthy debate we have about how much affordable housing should happen, what gentrification takes place. I want bad landlords and slumlords out of the neighborhoods. But when we talk about new projects maybe raising rents, I think more about overall cost to live. I look at a new development that may be a couple hundred dollars more, but it’s safer, more energy efficient so your electricity bill is lower, cleaner so you’re sick less and missing work less, and closer to transit so you may not need a vehicle any longer. Your overall spending on a monthly basis could be the same or better.

 

TLC: Before moving to the Twin Cities, you worked in Phoenix. How do those transit and TOD markets compare?

GL: The biggest difference is that the Twin Cities community is very much involved. There are some community relations in Phoenix, but I’m shocked and pleased by the amount of community input you have here. Residents are excited and specific about what they want in the neighborhood. I’m happy to see that. You also have a more diverse set of riders here with people taking transit to a number of different destinations.

 

TLC: How do you see bike and pedestrian infrastructure as a part of TOD?

GL: Bike and ped are huge components of TOD. The most important part is getting people out of cars. That’s important to us as a city. With potential developments, I may target an area that I know is going to be on a new bike route. I may reach out to owners and developers so that we can have more green space and placemaking along these routes.  

 

TLC: Car parking is a challenge and an opportunity for every TOD project. How does parking factor into your and the City’s thinking?

GL: On University Avenue, we have no parking requirements, but as a practical matter you need parking in some places. We had a lot of discussions about that prior to the Green Line opening. With light rail planning in Phoenix in 2008, there was lot of concern that parking was going to be an issue, but after the train opened people were pleasantly surprised. I’m seeing that here as well. I’ve not received one call yet about cars parking in the neighborhood. People want to talk about potential problems. Let’s let the challenge come and we’ll address it then; let’s not create one out of thin air.

 

TLC: What would you say to the Saint Paul residents who might be skeptical of greater housing or commercial density?

GL: At the end of the day, what’s being tried here is for the greater good. At the end of the day, people are going to be safer, healthier, and have better opportunities to increase their quality of life. Nothing is perfect. Not everybody is going to be happy. That’s unfortunate, but we do what we can to accommodate everyone.

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 

Meet Gail & Dameun: New TLC Board Members

08/25/2014

By Jennifer Harmening Thiede, Communications & Member Engagement Manager

This summer, Transit for Livable Communities welcomed two new members to our Board of Directors. We are excited about the insights and enthusiasm Gail Dorfman and Dameun Strange bring to our board and look forward to working closely with them both in this capacity.

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Gail Dorfman is the new Executive Director of St. Stephen’s Human Services. She is stepping into this role after serving for 23 years in local elected office as a St. Louis Park City Council Member and Mayor and as a Hennepin County Commissioner, representing both Minneapolis and St. Louis Park. Gail’s focus throughout her years in government was to build healthy communities. For her, that meant focusing on housing, transportation, and public health reform. She led efforts to end homelessness, promote livable communities and affordable and mixed-use housing development, to build bike trails, expand transit, adopt complete streets and active living policies, and to promote public health initiatives, such as the Hennepin County smoking ban and access to school-based mental health care. Gail is particularly proud of her multi-year leadership of the Midtown Greenway Partnership that created the best bike/ped corridor in America. She is very pleased to continue this work as a member of the TLC Board. Gail holds a BA in Political Science from Ohio State and MA in Public Administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School.

 

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Dameun Strange
is a Ron McKinley Philanthropy Fellow working with the Bush Foundation’s Community Innovation Team. He also is an artist, activist, and organizer. Dameun has worked locally for such organizations as ACORN, MN UNITED, and Grassroots Solutions to organize around voting rights, arts advocacy, LGBTQ rights, and dismantling racism. Before joining our board, he briefly worked with Transit for Livable Communities on the Move MN campaign. Dameun is the cofounder and artistic director of the community classical-music education program, Hopewell Music Cooperative North, and currently serves on the boards of the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, Selby Avenue Action Coalition, and Alternative Motion Project. You’ll also find him playing his keytar in a couple of performing groups around town. In 2013, Dameun was named a MinnPost/Pollen “under the radar” community leader to know. In 2014, he was appointed to the City of Saint Paul’s Cultural STAR Board. As an artist, Dameun is driven to create, to innovate, to build something meaningful and that gives people pause. As an organizer, he is driven to bring people together, to find commonalities between communities, to build bridges—to find the soul of the community and illuminate it, building on assets for a strong future. Although a Minnesota transplant, Dameun is a proud Saint Paulite who lives in the vibrant and beautiful Frogtown neighborhood. He received bachelor’s degrees in music and English from Macalester College.

 

Keep an eye on our events calendar for opportunities to connect with TLC board members and staff in person at our upcoming events this fall.

 

 

 

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