We The People: What One of Them Wants Northfield to Be

In the comments to my previous post about Northfield/Apple Valley, Anne B. said, “I’ve been asking for two years and I don’t have a clue what you and Ross and others want the city to be.” Well, I’d certainly never try to speak for Ross and others, but I’ll take another, more comprehensive crack at the subject to see on which points we might find agreement and disagreement.

What I “want Northfield to be”, or rather, my vision for the community, is fairly straightforward, and I’ll try to limit my details to those concerned with planning and land use. Things like “quality education”, “good health care”, “controlling heroin use”, and “promoting the arts” are beyond the purview of this discussion. At least for now.

The short answer is, I’d like to see Northfield be a community that demonstrates cradle-to-grave livability based on the collective wisdom of the last five millennia or so of urbanized societies; a cohesive, functioning community of people with a multiplicity of connections to each other (education, recreation, work, civic, church, social) that go beyond the superficial.

That means a mix of ages, a mix of occupations, a mix of land and building uses….. built to a scale designed for the convenience of human beings (not for 2000 pounds of motorized steel and aluminum). This discourages isolationism and encourages interaction between residents through all seasons of life, which fosters a genuine sense of community. It’s also psychologically and socially healthy, and if done well, sustainable. No more bowling alone.

People have known how to do this for a long time, and relevant examples abound. We’ve lost a lot of that knowledge in the 20th century, particularly in the postwar era, but the tools and examples are still there, and the knowledge is being recovered. (If this is too subtle, or too vague, I’d be happy to provide an extensive reading list and point to relevant resources to elucidate the things that are implicit in these first few paragraphs. For now, I’d like to keep moving along toward a longer, more detailed answer.)

The first thing I want is for Northfield to protect what we’ve got – both the natural and the built environment. This means: Stopping harmful practices and developing new, better ones, whether we’re talking about surface water management, land use, or policies and processes for repurposing old buildings.

The second thing I want is to increase public safety, and make it possible for residents to have meaningful and realistic choices about how much they drive, why, and where. This means: Setting up our road/path/sidewalk connections so that non-motorized transportation can be practical and utilitarian, not just recreational.

Since it builds a stronger community if people can work here, as well as live and play here, I’d also like to see policies implemented that support and encourage the growth and development of businesses in town which are financially healthy and pay a living wage with benefits to full-time year-round employees. (This is certainly possible, and isn’t pie-in-the-sky. I’m talking businesses of 10-50 employees. There are several possible approaches to accomplishing this goal. This would be a good topic for future discussion – whether economic hunting or economic gardening is a better model for Northfield.)

If we grew a decent employment base in Northfield:

  • Commuting would decrease, thus saving family $$ and reducing carbon emissions
  • We wouldn’t have 40% of our population leaving town for 10 hours out of every day, doing their working, shopping, eating, and primary social connecting elsewhere
  • Taxes paid on business property would provide a net gain for the City, i.e. city receives more in commerical taxes than it costs to provide the property with infrastructure and services. (Residential is exactly the opposite. For each new household added, the City, county, and school district spend more for services than they receive in taxes.)

I’d like to see Northfield use responsible stewardship in managing the land resources available for inclusion in municipal boundaries, and prioritize its use based on a variety of factors such as need, opportunity, and short- and long-term costs and benefits. This means: Ensuring that we maximize our investment in existing infrastructure FIRST, before spending millions more to extend infrastructure and services to outlying areas. It means giving higher priority of land use to business than to residential development wherever it’s warranted and appropriate. But “business” does not mean large-scale, low-wage retail/service businesses such as big box stores, oil change places, or whatever. I mean real companies with real employees.

The untrammeled residential growth we’ve had for the past decade or more means that available land has been used primarily to build housing units whose overall cost to the community exceeds the tax revenues they bring in. More people increase the demand for services and amenities which are not adequately funded by their tax dollars. Poor design and lack of connectivity in the streets in most of these new subdivisions means more traffic that isn’t handled appropriately. Close to 40% of the people in the houses built in the past decade commute to jobs outside of Northfield; this obviously is a factor in the woeful retail purchasing statistics cited in earlier comments. So we have an increasing number of people who don’t work here, don’t spend much money here, and whose schedules dictate that they not have much time to invest here either. The result? We don’t have citizens, we have consumers. That is what a lot of the “old Northfield vs. new Northfield” arguments are about.

I want lots of other things, but if we can make some headway on this list, Northfield could be a better place for everybody. Really, who objects to a more balanced tax base, more good employment opportunities, neighborhoods rather than subdivisions, more social connectedness between people, and better ways for getting around town for work, education, or recreation? It will require a collective effort from many different organizations, but I believe there’s enough common ground on many of these to make it possible.

63 thoughts on “We The People: What One of Them Wants Northfield to Be”

  1. Bruce,

    The Non-Motorized Transportation Task Force (of which I, too, am a member) is a task force of the Northfield Park Board…thus limited to Northfield.

    Part of my vision from Northfield in addition to many of the features Tracy identified is that Northfield becomes a regional leader by actively initiating and promoting cooperative planning and projects with its neighbors including Dundas, all 4 townships, Rice & Dakota County and the Metro Council.

    Former Dundas mayor Glenn Switzer raised the issue of a regional planning board and perhaps we can resurrect this idea. And perhaps it would be effective to use this tool initially for particular kinds of planning such as the bicycle/pedestrian issues.

  2. David,

    That would be good to talk. Perhaps John Stull, who has ties to the business community, could join us.

    Bruce and Betsey,

    The Nonmotorized Transportation Task Force is open to membership from people outside of Northfield, precisely because of issues such as the school district extending over city boundaries. I had contacted Chad Marks and Bruce to get representation from Dundas and Bridgewater but no one stepped up. Our general publicity also did not yield any fruit. There are two spots open on the task force. Interested parties can send a letter to Joel Walinski at the City of Northfield and should include their address, with town of residence, and a description of why they would be an asset to the group. It will then be reviewed by the Northfield Park Board.

    If a group like this becomes a permanent inter-city or regional board, then a different approval method for non-Northfield membership could be created. Such groups exist in the Rochester area and Ramsey Co., and one is being formed for the St. Cloud area.

    Regarding this statement I made: “For bike facilities in cities, the trend has been toward creating on-street lanes rather than separate side paths.” I should qualify this by saying that an on-street bikeway is better when compared to a sidepath (or multi-use trail) that is alongside the road and crosses many driveways or streets. Completely separate bikeways are still good when there are not a lot of crossings. This is very important with regard to sidewalks, as it shows that biking on sidewalks is not as safe as being on the street (with exceptions made for small kids).

    Here is something the task force produced regarding the Woodley St. project to support the idea that on-street facilities are often preferable:

    Current research indicates that cyclists are safer and more visible to motorists when on the road rather than on a sidewalk or multi-use trail that parallels a road. Since there is no parking currently on this stretch of Woodley, this project represents an opportunity to add bike lanes without a need to remove parking. More advanced cyclists will be more likely to use the road and in doing so will be safer themselves and also pose less hazard to pedestrians who use sidewalks or trails. If bike lanes are used, painting them another color in their entirety to make them more visible is highly recommended.

    Some information to support these suggestions:
    – excerpts from the Mn/DOT Bikeway Facility Design Manual:
    Tables 4-1 and 4-2 (p. 70) and the supporting text contain information on bikeway design selection for different road conditions; we ask that the staff and engineering firm consult these.

    Section 5-4.2, “Path/Roadway Intersection Treatment Selection,” contains good information on the challenges of designing safe shared-use path/roadway intersections. Here is one key excerpt: “Intersections between paths and roadways are among the most critical issues in bikeway design. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than half of all bicycle crashes nationwide occur at these intersections.” Please consult this as well.

    – “Bike Paths or Multi-Use Trails” (p. 27) from the “Glossary and Definitions” appendix to a document produced by Transit for Livable Communities’ Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program: “Two-way trails adjacent to urban streets (side paths) are not recommended due to the high number of intersections and driveway crossings. Rather, one-way on-street bike lanes for bicyclists…and sidewalks for pedestrians are recommended.”

    – a June 5, 2007, column by Jane Brody, Personal Health columnist for the New York Times, “Cars and Bike Can Mix, When the Rules of the road are Clear.” She writes, “Never ride [a bike] on the sidewalk — sidewalk crashes are 25 times more frequent than crashes that occur on major streets. Safest are streets with bike lanes” (emphasis added).

  3. David Ludescher…

    Sir, if biking was not a priority for business, then why was Wendy’s (of all places) required to install a large bike rack as part of its approval to be built by the city?

    Why was Target required to have bike racks?

    Biking and walking are not just for recreation any more…

    I urge you to get out, walk or bike those 6 blocks, and see what your city is really about.

    (It may also free up one more spot for “tourists & shoppers” in the Bridge Square lot, which would show how ‘pro-business’ you and the Chamber are.)

  4. Well, I will certainly try again to get a volunteer from the Dundas Planning commission. I bet Kathleen will have to bow out (darn) as she is pretty busy too. What we might want to try is a three-pronged approached as I describe at my site (I started to put it here but decided it was getting too long and too detailed). The three things I advocate there:
    Clean, concise guidelines. Please, please separate guidance from justification. I don’t have to explain to a developer why I require safe bike lanes in most roads. I just need to tell them what I consider safe bike lanes to be.A permanent body dedicated to reviewing (advisory to the responsible planning commission) submitted plans to verify that good transportation design (including bike lanes and sidewalks) was used.A strong and formalized process for solving issues that are not tied to a specific developer (e.g., when MNDoT wants to fix a problem intersection, how do we ensure that bike lanes are institutionally and uniformly presented as required by the city?). Does not mean we can win (look at CSAH 1 by East Dundas (Bridgewater Heights).

  5. In defense of driving six blocks. (Gasp!). I routinely walk about 0.6 miles every morning by deliberately getting off my park-and-ride commuter bus near St Mary’s hospital in Rochester and walking to the Mayo Clinic where I work. Even at 7:30 in the morning it is a hot and humid jaunt, made at speed, not leisure, and I can not imagine doing that if I were dressed as a lawyer (suit and tie). Ironically, I could see doing two miles and showering at work, but again, that requires that work provide a shower and that I carry a suit and tie with me. Luckily, Mayo only requires that I wear a tie, so I just stash my ties at the office (hey, I’m a mathematician, I don’t have to wear power suits, just that occasional tie). I can easily understand why a legal pro would find that walk kind of a pain. Different strokes for different folks.

  6. No, but people who still wear ties clearly have demonstrated an inability to adapt to global warming as quickly as the slacker in a t-shirt. By the time malaria is a problem in the boundary waters, there won’t be any native lawyers left to manage the lawsuits against the Chinese (who by next year or so will become the primary cause of global warming, as all 1.3B of them try to upgrade to Lifestyle 3.0 (1850’s technologies).

  7. Not meaning to stray from the topic, but what about
    telecommuting? It is the answer that solves every
    problem except obesity.

    We have inquired and probed and gotten very little
    response from companies. They are so Afraid someone
    will steal their info…and find out that they are
    WAY under secured anyway. Firewalls can be set and
    tunnels can be set up to alleviate hackings between
    the telecommuter and the company.

    Let’s get real on this note and then we can have the extra time for
    biking, and whatever. 🙂 😉 and Whoo Hoooo!

    Bright

  8. Telecommuting only sort of solves the problem. I’ve done it off and on for most of the last decade, and right now, I’m doing daily trips to an office because I can get my current work done faster that way. (That may change, and I hope it will if I end up moving someplace further from the office.)

    Of course, since I’m working in Mendota Heights, and talking of moving to Northfield, I am obliged to point out that I have no stake at all in the notion of walking or biking paths as a component of a commuting plan.

  9. Bruce,

    The ideas in your poston your site have a lot of promise, I think. I suggest people check it out and comment there, which I will do when I have more time. Like you I think regional planning has merit, but as to specifics I must admit I have more questions than answers right now.

    Regarding requirements for bikeways (good to use the generic, I think), it would probably be important to do them in a way that would allow for creative and innovative solutions. The Europeans, for example, have bikeways that are raised or separated from the road by parked cars. How do they control crossings? I really don’t know. I did ride on a raised “cycle track” in Bend, OR; picture a colored bike lane, about a foot higher than the road, separated from it by a sloping curb. They seemed quite proud of this new addition to their bikeway system. I liked it too, but they are expensive.

    That’s more possible in Oregon, where the state requires cities to spend at least one percent of their highway funds on bike facilities, believe it or not. And they’ve been doing that since 1971!

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