A Twin Citian Lives in Los Angeles

Minnesotans are extremely proud of our native sons and daughters and our achievements, as well we should be. Beyond the big names like Prince, Bob Dylan, Warren Zevon, Judy Garland, Diablo Cody, Norman Borlaug, and our two VPs, we can still point out lesser luminaries like Seann William Scott. Beyond the Green Revolution, Scotch Tape, and the indoor mall, we hold our heads high when speaking of the the world’s largest ball of twine. So, with that background, one can see why it was cool to see a headline like “An Angeleno visits the Twin Cities” on Streetsblog LA recently.

“Yay, people notice us!”

However nice it was to be mentioned in an Angeleno’s meanderings, I feel that some context on some of the differences, and some of the key differences not even mentioned should be brought to bear as well as a companion piece. As someone who grew up in St. Paul, lived in Minneapolis from 18–25, and has lived in L.A. ever since, it may as well be me who writes it.

The author notes that the rail system (there is no true BRT yet in the Twin Cities — although the A Line is the area’s first rapid enhanced system *Note, I forgot about the Red Line, my apologies*) is centered on downtown Minneapolis, and that future lines (Blue and Green Line extensions, and the Red and Orange Line BRT) focuses, and will continue to focus on downtown Minneapolis. He says that this marginalizes downtown St. Paul. He need not worry too much, as the region hasn’t completely forgotten about Pig’s Eye. The three CTIB (Counties Transit Improvement Board, a Joint Powers Board which administers transit funding in the Met Council region) Phase 1 Program of projects under study at the moment are all centered on downtown St. Paul and its revitalized Union Depot: Riverview, Robert Street, and Red Rock. (As for the effects that the the current fight between Dakota County at the CTIB will have on said projects, we’ll have to wait and see). The East Metro (Ramsey, Dakota, and Washington counties) is also organizing for more dedicated transitways under the auspices of East Metro Strong.

Regardless, if the system is to have a hub, or have more transit infrastructure, it makes sense for both to be in Minneapolis. As East Metro Strong’s own map unintentionally points out rather well, Minneapolis and Hennepin County are just denser and more populous than the rest of the seven-county metro, with more jobs to boot.

I get it, you’re trying to show an equality between regions here. Buuuuut…..

The question as to whether the Twin Cities would be better served by an alternate model, with a stronger networked system is an important one. However given that major residential growth has been occurring in the Warehouse District and along Washington Blvd and Downtown East, downtown Minneapolis is densifying and adding residential near the Blue Line, filling a gap that did indeed exist.

The author makes a good point about the issues the Blue and Green lines have in the dense areas of the Twin Cities. Turns on dense streets, station proximity, as well as a lack of signal prioritization in some locations lead to slower than possible times. In general, this is part of the reason why yours truly was, among other folks, opposed to the Green Line down University Avenue as it was planned. The demand in the Twin Cities, especially along the University Ave corridor, doesn’t necessitate rail lines. A high-frequency bus with a dedicated lane would have been more than enough to start. And if the goal was a 20 minute trip between the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul, that goal could’ve been accomplished by a dedicated transit lane on I-94, or even just clearing the bottlenecks preventing buses from travelling all the way between downtowns on the shoulder (as Route 94 does where possible). The money saved could have been used for transit upgrades elsewhere in the system — a situation that is not unlike seemingly every U.S. metropolitan area.

As to why there are so many stops in Bloomington on the Blue Line, the author is correct, it is politics, and the density is aspirational. The City of Bloomington’s South Loop District Plan is exactly the kind of plan however, that Ethan Elkind would advise transit agencies to make sure individual cities have before transit stations are placed within their borders, so that’s kind of cool.

The big differences:

The first thing to compare is this:

When I first moved here, this is one of the first maps I made

The Twin Cities are just a lot smaller, less dense, and have fewer people than L.A. There are almost double the amount of people in L.A. County than there are in the entire state of Minnesota. The entire seven-county metro region of the Twin Cities just topped three million people — L.A. is pushing four. Do I think that the money for Eastside Phase 2 could be better spent on current riders elsewhere? Sure, but look at the difference between the land use in Pico Rivera as compared to Woodbury, MN along the Twin Cities’ future Gold Line BRT. Even the low-ridership routes here blow stuff elsewhere out of the water. One of the things that’s struck me making maps of Southern California is that it really doesn’t matter where you put a 1-mile radius — you’re gonna grab a bunch of people. So there can be comparisons within L.A. County, and maybe even between L.A. and some of our largest regions, like Chicago, Houston, and New York City, but between L.A. and the Twin Cities, it’s like comparing kumquats to big giant watermelons.

Understanding that parks are integral to urban life, not an amenity. The author shows his stripes as an Angeleno in referring to the Grand Rounds Scenic Bikeway thus:

“ While the Grand Rounds bike path system is great for joyriding, it fails to provide mobility since it runs mostly through residential areas on the edge of the city, with few urban amenities nearby (Portions of the Chain of Lakes and Mississippi River segments get pretty close to Uptown and Downtown, but lie in parkland areas separated by a few blocks from the main commercial strips). In terms of bicycle planning, Minneapolis is no model for Los Angeles.”

Ummmm, excuse me, but first off I didn’t know a separation of “a few blocks” was such a disaster.

In any event, what in the holy heck is this guy talking about? Let’s say you were an underprivileged kid living in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis (just south over the I-94/I-35W canyon). You could ride entirely on separated trails to the University of Minnesota, downtown Minneapolis (near the Vikings stadium), Midtown, Uptown, Linden Hills, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Plymouth, North Minneapolis, and although in a very roundabout fashion, downtown St. Paul. If you lived in one of the most economically distressed parts of Minneapolis, the Jordan neighborhood of North Minneapolis, and you were okay with riding in a bike lane, you could hit all the same destinations — and could zip downtown on either Emerson or 2nd. Can we say the same about a kid growing up near Vernon and Vermont in South LA? In Highland Park? Heck, even in Westwood?

Do such transportation realities strike you as “joyriding”?

But even forgetting the connections from residential areas to housing that Minneapolis’ bikeways offer (and yes, I’m omitting St. Paul on purpose — I would never defend my hometown’s cutting edge nature), open space, especially natural open space are an integral part of urban life. As National Geographic recently pointed out, nature is one of our best tools to reducing stress. It is integral in maintaining human connections, not only with the earth, but with each other. People that live in cities have a right to have an opportunity to commune with nature on a daily basis — or at least, I would say that they do. Especially for underprivileged and minority youth, the ability to access the types of idylls that maybe a Southern Californian would associate with the suburbs (as no one could ever mistake the City of L.A. as a park-rich environment) is crucial.

Obviously, Minneapolis’ bikeway network doesn’t solve for the racialization of parks and public spaces and the discrimination in their use that people of color experience. Nor does the Minneapolis bikeway system end discrimination in hiring and deficits in the local education system that would lead to difficulty getting a job or getting opportunities for such individuals as I mentioned earlier, but it does strike the closest at solving the problem transportation is supposed to solve: allowing equal opportunities of access to all individuals to all places possible. Which leads to my next difference:

Minneapolis has shown a willingness to fight for the hard stuff that L.A. has not. In the past five years since I moved to L.A., Minneapolis has put in buffered bike lanes on Portland and Park Avenues, major thoroughfares that run the length of the city south of downtown. They also installed protected bike lanes on SE Oak St and W 36th St. They also improved the Bryant Ave bike boulevard, which — unlike say a comparable “Class III” bike route in L.A. — has bike signal request buttons at a rider’s level and large paint-backed sharrows. Minneapolis has instituted a road diet with a bike lane on 26th St (which used to be a three lane one-way), as well as a road diet without a bike lane on Lyndale, a major arterial for South Minneapolis.

These changes would be comparable to the Venice Bl bike lanes being completed all the way to DTLA, buffered bike lanes down 3rd St and Beverly Bl from La Cienega to Vermont, and a road diet on Vine St.

While Minneapolis is building a network (which is pretty much complete in its backbone form) which it can augment and improve, we can’t even present a vision of a city-wide network of safe and efficient bicycle transportation without the wheels falling off. While Minneapolis builds out and fills in the network, Westwood Bl and Central Ave are deleted from Mobility 2035.

My old bike commute from Normandie and 8th St in KTown to Santa Monica and La Brea didn’t, and still doesn’t, offer up a single bike lane the entire way. This is a route that crosses: Wilshire, Beverly, Wilton, Rossmore, Highland, and La Brea — all “Backbone” network bikelanes in the 2010 L.A. Bike Plan.

So how again is Minneapolis not a model for us?

In general then, I’d say that I appreciate any outsider reflections on my two hometowns. However, I’d say that especially in regards to bike infrastructure, our intrepid traveler is missing the forest through the trees.

Yeah, there aren’t crosswalks at the same standard on all major intersections, but that could be for a variety of reasons, not least of which would be winter, which is coming, and which tears everything up. It could also be because St. Paul and Minneapolis can have some small-town mindsets some times, because hey, they kind of are. But small issues like these can be addressed through policy and have the potential to change quickly in a place that has two seasons: winter, and road repair (seriously, turn on traffic on Google Maps and look at the Twin Cities and count the road closures).

When it come to biking, the construction of a city-wide network, to say nothing of any impressive new additions, is exactly the kind of thing Los Angeles should model itself on.

Also — I don’t care if it’s good urbanism to hate on skyways. Until someone has had the option of walking half of their 20 minute walk home from work indoors when its below 0° degrees, they’re not gonna get it.