City of Northfield seeks input on Sixth St. reconstruction project: cul-de-sac, sidewalks, bike lanes and more

Sixth St. engagement blogIt’s a big week for the City of Northfield’s Sixth St. reconstruction project:

Helen Albers and her Red Maple tree on Bridge Square

Last week in a discussion thread on the Bridge Square project blog about the Civil War monument there, Northfielder Helen Albers wrote:

I want the beautiful Red Maple tree, which I planted years ago, to remain where it is. It is a perfect tree. How fortunate I have been to enjoy our Bridge Square for eighty years!

I told her I wanted to take her photo with the tree and asked her for more details on how it happened.

Hi Griff, Believe I am a regular “Johnny Appleseed.” Being a tree-lover, I plant them about town. When my husband Lowell died, I planted an English Columnar Oak in the UCC garden as a memorial. Then, I planted two Red Maple trees along the Central Park sidewalk, followed by a beautiful Red Maple tree on south side of our Middle School (now Weitz Center) which has inspired our schools to do more plantings. To beautify Bridge Square, I decided to plant the very beautiful Red Maple, which is now shining brightly with Christmas lights for all to enjoy.

Helen Albers & the Red Maple she planted on Bridge SquareHelen Albers & the Red Maple she planted on Bridge SquareHelen Albers & the Red Maple she planted on Bridge Square

I took these photos of Helen Albers last night with her Red Maple tree at the start of Winter Walk.

When I got home, I looked through my gallery of Northfield photos and found two photos that show Helen’s tree in the summer:

The Helen Albers Red Maple on Bridge SquareThe Helen Albers Red Maple on Bridge Square

Left: May 24, 2008; Right: June 18, 2009.

Update Jan 8, 2014:  Helen sent me a photo of the tree, taken last summer:

Helen Albers tree in summer

Register/attend the Bridge Square live web conference, Wed. Dec. 11, 7 pm

Registration: Web conference, Bridge Square Open House, Dec. 11, 7 pm

I’m putting on my citizen engagement consultant hat to alert y’all that tonight at 7 pm, we’re hosting a live web conference that’s intended to replicate some of the Dec. 9 Bridge Square Open House. To participate (comment or ask questions), you’ll need to register.

And if you miss the event, we’ll have a video of the presentation archived on the blog within a day.

Got questions?  Contact me.

Take the Bridge Square straw poll; attend the Dec. 9th Open House or the Dec. 11 web conference

Northfield Bridge Square straw poll

I’m putting on my citizen engagement consultant hat to alert y’all that the Northfield Bridge Square straw poll is ready. It only takes 5 minutes to complete, unless of course, you choose to include comments with it.

For rationale and background, see the Nov. 20 blog post: Help design the Bridge Square straw poll.

Bridge Square Open House, Oct. 23, 2013Bridge Square Open House, Oct. 23, 2013Bridge Square Open House, Oct. 23, 2013

And be sure to either attend the Dec. 9th Open House or the Dec. 11 web conference next week. Consultant John Slack:

At the next open house on December 9th, attendees will have the opportunity to help define a vision for the future of Bridge Square.  Those in attendance will also get to voice, write and even draw, their ideas for improvement of this well-loved public space. Please bring your thoughts, concerns and best ideas to share!

Bridge Square is Northfield’s living room. The public process for planning its future begins Oct. 23

Bridge Square Blog Site Bridge Square press release Oct 18 2013

Last week, the City of Northfield announced on its website and via an emailed press release (PDF) that the public process for creating a master planning update for Bridge Square begins this Wednesday with an open house at the Archer House, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. 

There’s now a Bridge Square Blog Site. Yes, you can see my fingerprints on it, as I’ve been hired as a contractor (with my Wigley and Associates hat) by the City to handle the online engagement for the project, teaming up with the lead consultant, Stantec Consulting’s John Slack.

Locally Grown - aggregated Bridge Square RSS feed

Here on LoGro, the headlines for all the recent Bridge Square project blog posts will appear in the upper right sidebar.  But like I did when I posted updates on the recently completed Downtown Parking Management Plan, comments are turned off here because the discussion happens there.

I will attach a comment to this blog post whenever there’s a significant update to the project, just as a way of drawing additional attention to it.  There are better ways to stay informed, however. See my post titled Tools for keeping updated on the Bridge Square planning process.

Mill Towns Trail update from the DNR: Northfield citizens have a problem to solve

L to R: Dana Graham, Galen Malecha, Peggy Prowe, Courtland Nelson, David Bly, Joel Wagar, Steve HennessyL to R: Peggy Prowe, David Bly, Joel Wagar, Steve Hennessy, Glenn Switzer, Peter Hark, Dana Graham, Galen MalechaMill Towns Trail maps

Top officials from the Minnesota DNR Parks and Trails Division held a meeting for a group of local elected officials on Friday at Dundas City Hall to bring them up to speed on current and future developments with the Mill Towns Trail.

DNR Parks and Trails staff:

  • Courtland Nelson, Director
  • Peter Hark, Field Operations Manager
  • Steve Hennessy, Acquisition and Development Specialist
  • Joel Wagar, Area Supervisor

Local elected officials who were able to attend:

Local bike advocate Peggy Prowe also was there.

Among the many developments with the trail that the DNR staff shared were these, most relevant to Northfield and Dundas:

  1. Acquisition of a 6.5 mile railroad right-of-way is in progress to connect Faribault to Dundas
  2. The current Dundas to Northfield segment needs a complete rebuild, but a new route is bring pursued that would be more scenic and eliminate two railroad crossings
  3. Discussions with Union Pacific Railroad on acquiring right-of-way for the segment from Northfield to Lake Byllesby have not been successful; other possible routes are being explored including a combination of private land acquisition and road right-of-way.

I’m particularly intrigued about #2. If you want to know why, ask.  Likewise, if you have questions about what’s happening with the trail in the Faribault and Cannon Falls areas, as staff provided updates on developments with those cities, too.

What’s the big problem facing Northfield?

The City of Northfield currently has no plan to provide a visually significant route for Mill Towns Trail bicyclists to ride through Northfield.  Those are my words. I use the phrase ‘visually significant’ because DNR staff was unequivocal: a bike trail that appears to end as it enters a city is a giant disincentive for bikers. Yes, trail bikers like to stop in towns along the trail to eat and shop and sightsee. But without strong in-town trail visuals, people tend to not return. The trail itself as it goes through town needs to be memorable, not just the town.

Root River State Trail, downtown LanesboroRoot River State Trail, downtown Lanesboro

A good example is the visual impact of the Root River State Trail as it goes through downtown Lanesboro (screenshots above from the DNR’s cool virtual tour of the trail). Lanesboro is much smaller than Northfield, of course, so it’s not a perfect comparison. But the point is, once you’ve ridden through Lanesboro on the trail, you don’t forget it and you want to go back.

As I blogged back in March, there are other projects and developments here in Northfield that have a bicycle-component: the Northfield Depot; the East Cannon River Trail segment; the TIGER Trail (aka the Northfield Modal integration project); and the Cannon River Corridor recreational concept.

So the time is right for more citizens to get involved as bike advocates.  Stay tuned for an upcoming announcement.  In the meantime, see my three blog posts about the need for Northfield to get its bike act together, including the formation of a regional bike advocacy committee.

Three game tables soon to be installed on Bridge Square

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EQC member George Kinney stopped by my corner office at GBM this morning and asked me if I knew what was going on with the concrete truck on Bridge Square. I went to investigate and learned from Streets & Parks Supervisor TJ Heinricy and Councilor Dave DeLong that the three concrete pads will soon have game tables on them.

After a visit to NYC a year ago, I suggested here on LoGro that the City should put some game tables in downtown Northfield, and that the money should come from the Streetscape Taskforce.  I have no idea if A) anyone paid attention to my suggestion; B) where the money for the tables came from; and C) how much the project costs.

But I’m guessing someone will enlighten us.

Update 9/14:

The three picnic  tables were installed yesterday. Each has an inlaid backgammon and chess/checkerboard.

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The Mill Towns Trail between Northfield and Dundas is navigable, if you’re not a pussy

Armstrong Road between Northfield and Dundas is still closed from the July 13 flooding (Flooding wipes out Mill Towns Trail bridge, slices Armstrong Road, undermines railroad bed) and it could be months before it reopens.  Likewise, the Mill Towns Trail.

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But there’s a way around, as I discovered last night. From Northfield, just ride your bike through the compost facility

20130723_20554320130723_20563720130723_205801
all the way to the back till you arrive at the big rocks by the reconstructed railroad tracks. Then…

20130723_205831 copy20130723_210351 Danny Macaskill - Industrial Revolutions video
you can ride on the tracks a few yards till you get past Spring Creek. The small rocks in between the rails make it pretty level. Alternately, if you’ve got good balance like Danny MacAskill, you can just ride on one of the rails like he does here. Smooooooooth. Then…

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ride down the larger rocks (pick your line carefully) and you’ll see the trail a few yards away. Piece ‘o cake.

[Footnote: Does my blog title offend you?  It shouldn’t. Remember when the word ‘sucks’ was offensive? If not, read this. Then see this Atlantic Wire article: Free Pussy Riot: When ‘Vulgar’ Words Become Acceptable.]

Northfield’s new park could include a mountain bike / pump & jump park and save the city $280,000

Northfield’s acquisition of the Fargaze Meadows subdivision for a future park comes with an eyesore: a huge mound of dirt. In the May 28 Fbo Daily News: Northfield gains 40 acres from Rice County for parks and trails:

But converting the land will neither easy nor cheap. A giant mound of dirt lies on the north part of the land, which not only makes for a poor view, but also causes a lot of problems for the homes in the neighborhood. County engineer Dennis Luebbe estimated it could cost up to $280,000 just to move the dirt.

Eagan Pump and Jump Bike parkDavid DeLongBack in May after a downtown parking management meeting, I was chatting with Ward 2 Councilor David DeLong about my mountain biking adventures and mentioned to him that many municipalities are building bike parks (pump and jump parks) as an amenity for their citizens of all ages. Eagan has one that I regularly use (left photo), Maple Plain has one, and Cottage Grove starting building a big one this week.  Others are in the works for Duluth, Maple Grove, and Cuyuna and probably many more. When Dave learned about the cost of removing the big dirt mound at Fargaze, he emailed me, wondering whether some of that dirt could be used for a bike park. I replied:

The type of dirt used to build the features for these parks matters, as the jumps, berms and rollers deteriorate quickly if it’s not hard-pack dirt.  I’m guessing that mound of dirt at Fargaze is black dirt.

He replied:

Griff, I don’t know what the dirt is but I think there must be more than black dirt. If it was most likely there would have been greater erosion. Amateur opinion. The quietness and growing popularity [of bike parks] along with the age range of participation does intrigue me. Thanks for the links and following up.

Last night while riding my around-town bike in the area, I decided to take a closer look.  I was shocked to not see black dirt. So today I went back, took photos, and dug (heh) a little deeper. It appears that Councilor DeLong’s amateur opinion was correct.

First, some perspective:

Fargaze Meadows, Northfield - looking westFargaze Meadows, Northfield - looking southFargaze Meadows, Northfield - looking northFargaze Meadows, Northfield - looking north
The mound of dirt looking west, south, and north. Far right: looking north from atop the mound.

Fargaze Meadows outlined  - Google EarthFargaze Meadows dirt mound - Google Earth
Left: My markup of the Google Earth view of the Fargaze parcel. Right: satellite view of the neighborhood with the pond and the mound.

Fargaze dirt cutFargaze dirt washoutFargaze dirt mound showing dirt cuts/washouts - Google Earth
Left and center: two of several dirt cuts/washout areas that indicate that the mound is not made of black dirt. Right: the dirt cuts/washout areas viewable from Google Earth’s satellite.

Access point to Fargaze dirt moundFacing east at the bottom of the Fargaze dirt moundFacing west at the top of the Fargaze dirt mound Facing northwest at the top of the Fargaze dirt mound
Primary access to the dirt mound is at the corner of Ford St E and Brogan Dr. (left). Once on top, it appears that the mound is big enough to locate a significant portion of a bike park on top of it.  The dirt could easily be moved to build the bike park adjacent to / south of where the mound is. Or both.

Griff Wigley, no trespassing signtruck: City of Northfield's Public Works DepartmentAn apologetic Griff Wigley
While I was there, a couple of thugs helpful staffers from the City of Northfield’s Public Works Department pulled up in a city truck to inform me that I was trespassing. I politely thanked them and profusely apologized, promising to never do it again. (Consider this paragraph to be one of these.)

As for the type of dirt needed for a bike park, a guy I know who’s working on the bike park in Cottage Grove wrote to me:

You want to be able to make a dirt ball, like a snow ball out of it. If it holds together, maybe bounce it a little to see how it holds up. If it does, that’s good. Also look for that reddish brown color. That is mineral soil.

Soil in the Fargaze dirt moundSoil in the Fargaze dirt mound Moistened soil from the Fargaze dirt mound
I scraped some some dirt from the side of the dirt cut, brought it home, mixed it with some water and made a ball. It split apart when I dropped it from a height of about a foot so it may not be perfect.  I put it in the sun and it was baked into a hard rock by day’s end. So it’s definitely promising and probably worth the money to have a company drill soil samples of the dirt mound.

I’ve begun having conversations about all this with Nathan Knutson, Chair of the Park & Recreation Advisory Board, City Administrator Tim Madigan, and Joe Stapf and Jaspar Kruggel from the Public Works Department.

Eagle ID bike park 1Eagle ID bike park 2Eagle ID bike park 3Eagle ID bike park 4
The photos above are from a profile of a bike park in the city of Eagle, Idaho that was built by a company called Alpine Bike Parks. It has some similarities to the location and height of the Fargaze dirt mound here in Northfield:

Once the community was ready to develop the park, they reached out to Alpine Bike Parks to develop the full-service public bike park facility. Mechanized construction included slopestyle downhill trails, skills development areas, and competitive mountain cross and dual slalom courses. These trails raised the public profile of the project and assisted in developing capital for future project phases, including additional skills areas, and competitive BMX and mountain bike race courses.

  • Duration of Construction: Two months
  • Scope: Master planning, trail design, trail construction, community outreach.
  • Methods: Excavators, tracked loaders and skid steers, hand shaping
  • Budget: $130,000
  • Client: City of Eagle, Idaho

Curious as to what a pump track is all about? Like swinging higher and higher on a swing with no one pushing you, it’s going around and around the track on your bike without pedaling, a foundational skill that makes mountain biking even more fun. Watch this video of instruction for a high school mountain bike team:

Lastly, I realize that neighbors in the area may have concerns about having a bike park adjacent to their property. If you’re a neighbor and reading this, please attach a comment or contact me.

Trout stream feedback session

Rice Creek Trout SurveyOn June 4, Bridgewater Township invites the public to a feedback session on next steps to improve and protect Rice Creek (Spring Brook). The session will take place from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the Town Hall, 500 Railway Street South, Dundas.

Rice Creek is the only trout stream in Rice County, but its health is threatened. The session will give you an opportunity to learn about the stream and provide input on plans to improve it. To spark your ideas, researchers will share findings from a two-year study of local brook trout, their habits and habitat.

How healthy is the trout population? Does their habitat need improvement? Where and when are pollutant levels highest? What is the source of cold water that trout prefer? What actions should we take and in what order? We will discuss these questions and more.

The Rice Creek Assessment Project is sponsored by Bridgewater Township, Cannon River Watershed Partnership, Saint Olaf College, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and Trout Unlimited.  The project received a Clean Water Partnership grant from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.  The Rice Creek Concerned Citizens Group, Rice County, and other groups and volunteers are participating.

A Bikeable Community Workshop in Faribault indicates what Northfield should be doing

KYMN Anderson, President, Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and TourismBikeable Community Workshop BrochureBikeable Community Workshop, Faribault MN
Northfield City Administrator and Faribault resident Tim Madigan alerted me to a Bikeable Community Workshop hosted by the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism last week.  I contacted Kymn Anderson, Chamber President, to see if there was room for any Northfielders and she graciously allowed me to attend. Northfield City Councilor Suzie Nakasian was there, too.

The Bikeable Community Workshop brochure (PDF) states:

A Bikeable Community Workshop trains local, county and regional staff, and advocates on how to plan and support more Bike Friendly Communities to encourage more people on bikes more often in Minnesota. Participants enjoy a short bike ride to assess their community’s bicycle facilities to base an action plan on. Target audiences include engineers, law enforcement, planners, public health practitioners, school administrators, elected officials, and advocates. The course includes a short bicycle ride auditing your community.

Bikeable Community Workshop, Faribault MNBikeable Community Workshop, Faribault MNBikeable Community Workshop, Faribault MNBikeable Community Workshop, Faribault MN
The workshop was presented by staff from the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Health, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation. These folks knew their stuff and presented it well.

Bikeable Community Workshop, Faribault MNBikeable Community Workshop, Faribault MNBikeable Community Workshop, Faribault MNBikeable Community Workshop, Faribault MN; photo by Rebecca Rodenborg, Faribault Daily News
After the morning session, we broke up into three groups for a bike audit ride around Faribault.

See the May 14 Faribault Daily News by reporter Rebecca Rodenborg (@FDNRebecca): Faribault leaders take on bikeability issue. Also see her earlier article on May 4: How bike-friendly is Faribault?

My take-away?  We need to begin working immediately with the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota to form a Northfield area bicycle advisory committee so we can begin tackling a myriad of bike-related issues. The City of Minneapolis’ Bicycle Advisory Committee page spells much of it out:

Advise the Mayor, City Council, and Park Board on bicycling related issues; help advance the state of bicycle infrastructure; encourage more people to bike; educate the public; work towards more compliance with traffic laws; help the City and Park Board make bicycle plans; work to increase equity between bicyclist and other modes of transportation; review and suggest legislative and policy changes; recommend priorities for the use of public funds on bicycle projects; help ensure Minneapolis keeps and improves its status as a bicycle friendly community; serve as a liaison between Mpls communities and the City and Park Board, coordinate between difference agencies that interact with bicyclists.

Props to Kymn Anderson at the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism and the Faribault area bicycle advocates for hosting the session. It was inspiring.

Downtown parking panel discussion via video conference scheduled for today, May 6, 5 pm

Britt Ackerman Mary Closner Ross Currier Leota Goodney

Chris Heineman Christopher Tassava Steve Wilmot

We’re hosting a live video conference today, May 6, at 5 pm to discuss the DRAFT "final" report on the Downtown Parking Conversation. The draft is on the agenda for the City Council work session on Tuesday, May 14th.

Panelists confirmed thus far:

We’ll be using Google+ Hangout Air for the video conference, embedded on the downtown parking conversation blog.  If you’re unable to attend the live conference, I’ll have it archived there shortly after it’s over.

There are three ways for you to participate in this event:

  1. We’ll be using an online text chat feature so that anyone can submit questions for the panel during the video conference.
  2. You can submit questions for the panel ahead of time by either attaching a comment to the blog post, or by using the Contact Us form
  3. After the panel is over, we’ll continue the discussion via blog comment thread till Friday, May 10, possibly later.

Got questions or suggestions? Attach a comment or contact me.

Photos: Lynne Young and Liz Wheeler retirement reception

Lynne Young, Scott Neal, Liz Wheeler20130430_162251DSC09625DSC09626
I went to last week’s retirement reception at Northfield City Hall for Lynne Young, Northfield Public Library Director, and Liz Wheeler, Director of Human Resources, IT and Risk. Former Northfield City Administrator and current Edina City Manager Scott Neal was among the dignitaries who attended.

DSC09628Griff Wigley and Liz WheelerDSC09629
I was pleased that City staff chose one of my photos of downtown Northfield to give to Liz. The photo is used on the City’s new website.

Photo album: Sgt. Mark Murphy’s retirement party

DSC09410Many Northfield area well-wishers and maybe a few of the occasionally arrested turned out for Northfield Police Sergeant Mark Murphy‘s retirement party at Northfield City Hall Council Chambers yesterday afternoon.

See my large slideshow of 22 photos (recommended) or SLOW CLICK this small slideshow:

Mark Murphy, one of Northfield’s finest, retires today. Party on Monday.

Northfield Police Sergeant Mark Murphy stopped by my corner office at GBM on Wednesday and gave me the news: he’s retiring today. I later found the details of his retirement party in this KYMN news blog post, Sgt. Murphy hangs up his badge:

Interim Police Chief Chuck Walerius…  invites the public to an open house for Murphy next Monday, April 22nd at the City Hall Chambers from 3pm to 5pm.  There will be coffee and cake and a chance to say thanks to Mark for all his service to the community.

Mark Murphy blogger Mark Murphy issuing citation 
Mark and I have a history. He hired me to help him with his campaign blog when he ran for Rice County Sheriff. Despite his loss, I was hoping that our professional relationship would be enough to have him look the other way whenever it might happen that I was observed to not be in full compliance with local traffic laws. Not so, it turned out.

Sergeant Mark MurphyMark Murphy and colleagues buying, what else, doughnutsSuzette Taylor, Mark Taylor, Michelle Murphy, Mark Murphy

Mark Murphy personal parking spaceMark Murphy: undercover or just really plain clothes?Mark Murphy and grandsonMark Murphy DWI task force

See all of my blog posts here on LoGro that have involved Mark Murphy. And then get down to City Hall on Monday afternoon to say goodbye.  No need to be careful where you park.

Do you live in/near downtown Northfield? Does the school calendar matter to you? Then your input is needed

Some news on the two Northfield-related citizen engagement projects that I’m working on:

NDDC's Ross Currier, making the roundsSchool Calendar Straw Poll
Left: my photo of the NDDC’s Ross Currier, navigating icy sidewalks last week to distribute invitations to residents who live near downtown, inviting them to a residential stakeholders meeting this Thursday, 8 pm at the Northfield Public Library. Details here.

Right: a screenshot of the Northfield School Calendar Conversation straw poll that’s now live. Details here.

Teresa Jensen will soon be in control of all Northfield’s information. Can we hurry up and find her a decent house?

Lynne Young, Teresa JensenI pretended to be a City of Northfield official this afternoon and attended a reception for Teresa Jensen, Northfield’s new Library/IT Director. Approval of her hiring is on the agenda for Tuesday night’s Council meeting.

I’m not exactly sure when current Library Director Lynne Young retires and when Teresa starts but I hope it’s not on April Fool’s Day. And hopefully, Pastor Will Healey will pay off his library fines before Teresa starts.

For more on Teresa’s hiring, see last week’s Northfield New article: City administrator appoints Northfield’s director of library, IT.

And if you know of a house for sale in Northfield that’s a comfortable walk/bike ride to the library, add a comment here and I’ll make sure Teresa sees it. She needs one.

The pros and cons of forming a regional bicycle council

I was in St. Paul yesterday morning for the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota’s Day on the Hill which their web site described as:

Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota… a great opportunity to network with other park and trail supporters from around the state, learn about the issues, and hear from park leaders and legislators. Whether you come as a member of a Friends group, a concerned citizen or a student looking to learn about the process, you’ll leave informed and your involvement strengthens our efforts to preserve and enhance Minnesota’s special places! The morning will equip you with the necessary tools to meet with your legislators.

MN Parks & Trails Executive Director Brett Feldman Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota's Day on the Hill 2013 Northfield area Mill Towns Trail delegation
I went primarily because of their involvement with mountain biking (see my post about that on my Mountain Bike Geezer blog) but there was so much more that caught my interest, especially the delegation of Mill Towns Trail supporters from Faribault, Northfield, and Cannon Falls. I’m kicking myself for not getting a good photo of them because Peggy Prowe had them all wearing Mill Towns Trail t-shirts (right photo above).

MN Parks & Trails Executive Director Brett Feldman, Northfield Councilor Suzie Nakasian I briefly met Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota Executive Director Brett Feldman who asked me to send him some of my photos.  When he thanked me via email on Friday, he mentioned that he was coming through Northfield later in the day as he had a meeting at Nerstrand Big-Woods State Park. He accepted my offer to meet for lunch at Chapati and since I’d already had a late-morning meeting scheduled with First Ward Councilor Suzie Nakasian, I invited her to join us.

At the end of my blog post last month (Bemidji has earned ‘Bicycle Friendly Community’ status. Why not Northfield?) after attending the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota‘s (BikeMN) third annual Minnesota Bicycle Summit on Capitol Hill, I wrote:

What’s not clear to me is what city board or commission would be best to consider taking this on. The City of Northfield created a Non Motorized Transportation Task Force (NMTTF) back in 2007 that I think sun-setted a couple years later. Might it be time to create something similar but specifically for bicycling?

Since then, it’s become apparent to me that there a number of other bicycle-related issues that need attention, some that are Northfield-specific but others that are regional.

And so the bulk of our conversation with Brett Feldman was related to whether the creation of a regional bicycle council (Northfield, Dundas, Waterford, Rice County, and surrounding townships)  would have significant advantages over a City of Northfield bicycle commission or task force. I was initially leaning towards the latter but came away from the lunch leaning towards the former.

Northfield’s intra-city trails and on-street bike routes are a big focus. But the importance of their connectivity to the Mill Towns Trail and the surrounding streets and county roads is increasingly important for bike-related recreation of area residents, recreational tourism, company wellness on the part of local employers, and the overall economic benefits of the establishment of the greater Northfield area as a  northern recreational hub for southern Minnesota. (We already have a good reputation with Northfield Rotary’s Jesse James Bike Tour, Milltown Cycles’ 4th of July Criterium, and the Saturday Morning Rides book by Bill Metz.)

There are other projects and developments that have a bicycle-component: the Northfield Depot; the East Cannon River Trail segment; the TIGER Trail (aka the Northfield Modal integration project); Safe Routes to School; the Gateway Corridor Improvement Plan; Northfield Roundtable’s Framework Plan; and the Cannon River Corridor recreational concept (May 1, 2012 PRAB meeting packet link).

As Suzie wrote in a subsequent email:

With so many related projects… and with so many people in town who “get” what bikes and trails mean for the community well-being including economic well-being, it does seem that all the spokes are coming together in a perfect way.

So let’s discuss the pros and cons of forming a regional bicycle council.

More of my photos of Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota’s Day on the Hill:

Parks and Trails Council Executive Director Brett Feldman Luke Skinner, Deputy Director of MnDNR Parks and Trails Division Erika Rivers, Assistant Commissioner of MnDNR
Brett Feldman, Parks and Trails Council Executive Director; Luke Skinner, Deputy Director of MnDNR Parks and Trails Division; Erika Rivers, Assistant Commissioner of MnDNR

Greg Mack, Director of Ramsey County Parks and Recreation Tom Ryan, Superintendent of Olmsted County Parks Greg Mack, Erika Rivers, Tom Ryan Rep. Alice Hausman, Chair of House Capital Investment Committee
Greg Mack, Director of Ramsey County Parks and Recreation; Tom Ryan, Superintendent of Olmsted County Parks; Rep. Alice Hausman, Chair of House Capital Investment Committee;

Rep. Leon Lillie, Assistant Majority Leader, Vice-Chair Legacy Committee Rep. Jean Wagenius, Chair of House Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Finance Committee Jean Wagenius, Alice Hausman Sen. David Tomassoni, Chair of Senate Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Division
Rep. Leon Lillie, Assistant Majority Leader, Vice-Chair Legacy Committee; Rep. Jean Wagenius, Chair of House Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Finance Committee; Sen. David Tomassoni, Chair of Senate Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Division.

Sen. Dan Sparks, member, Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Division Rep. Phyllis Kahn, Chair of House Legacy Committee Rep. Denny McNamara, member, Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Finance Committee Joe Bagnoli, Government Relations Consultant for Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota
Sen. Dan Sparks, member, Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Division; Rep. Phyllis Kahn, Chair of House Legacy Committee; Rep. Denny McNamara, member, Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Finance Committee; Joe Bagnoli, Government Relations Consultant for Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota.

Southwest Neighborhood files discrimination lawsuit against the City of Northfield for misspelt street signs

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In what is perceived as a social stigma in a two-college town, members of Northfield Southwest Neighborhood Association (NSWNA) have filed a discrimination law suit against the City of Northfield for it’s refusal to replace the four street signs in the neighborhood which have the words ‘W Nineth St’ on them in stead of ‘W Ninth St.’

img-46701Three of the neighbors in particular are perturbed because they are accomplished spellers, finishing 2nd as a Northfield Rotary team in the Friends of the Northfield Public Library Spelling  Bee in 2007. NSWNA neighbors Jeb Flufkin, Ricky Coldman, and Mitch ‘Penny’ Lane say that its not just the image of the neighborhood that’s at stake.

"Northfield is known for it’s educational values and the value of our homes in the neighborhood are likely to be negatively effected the longer that we have to live under this cloud of misspelling," said Flufkin. "My stomache just churns when I drive down the street every day and see those signs."

The group has retained the services of Northfield attorney Dave Hviscerate. "This is yet another sign of the incompetence at City Hall, and their intransigence is unconscionable. How hard or expensive could it be to change four signs? These people have suffered enough. Residents of 9th St. east of Division don’t have to put up with this embarrassment. Neither should those west of Division."

Ward 4 Councilor Jesse Anderson Black declined to comment on the suit but Public Works Director and City Engineer Jose Staphylo said it was with out merit. "We know their misspelt and we plan to fix them. But its not cheap. We tentatively have it in the department budget for 2014. Its not like people will be unable to navigate the neighborhood in the meantime."

Below are photos of the Ninth St. signs west of Division St.

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Bemidji has earned ‘Bicycle Friendly Community’ status. Why not Northfield?

BikeMN   Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht
I attended the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota‘s (BikeMN) third annual Minnesota Bicycle Summit on Capitol Hill on Monday, as I’m trying to get smarter about the state of bike advocacy in Minnesota and who the players are.  I became a BikeMN member a couple weeks ago and am impressed with all that they’re doing and how well-organized Monday’s Summit was.

Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht (@BemidjiRita) was one of the featured speakers, talking about Bemidji’s new designation as a Bike Friendly Community. From the BikeMN blog in October:

The city of Bemidji was granted the bronze Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC) designation by the League of American Bicyclists(LAB) on Monday October 22, 2012. The award was the culmination of persistent efforts by many community leaders and advocates including Mayor Dave Larson, Parks & Recreation Director Marcia Larson as well as health, tourism, bicycling, law enforcement, transportation and environmental representatives from the community. BikeMN has been involved along the way and helped in preparing the BFC application.

I think the timing for mounting an effort to gain formal Bicycle Friendly Community designation is right:

Those two items are providing some incentive to figure out how Northfield’s downtown streets should be best managed for bicycling, part of the discussion going on this week on the Parking Management Plan blog.

What’s not clear to me is what city board or commission would be best to consider taking this on. The City of Northfield created a Non Motorized Transportation Task Force (NMTTF) back in 2007 that I think sun-setted a couple years later. Might it be time to create something similar but specifically for bicycling?

Parking management for downtown: Focused blog discussions all week

For the next week (and maybe longer), I’m moderating three focused blog discussion threads on the Parking Management for Downtown blog.

Downtown building owners mtg at RuebDowntown bike commuters mtg at GBMDowntown pedestrian commuters mtg at HideAway

Although each one addresses the concerns of the particular stakeholder group (F2F meeting photos above), the discussions are open to all. Here are the links to each blog post:

Among the many issues raised by the three groups:

  • parking meters
  • enforcement
  • diagonal vehicle parking
  • painting center lines and sharrows
  • crosswalk safety
  • walking routes to downtown

Change the Open Meeting Law to allow our public officials to discuss some issues online without fear

I’ve been digging deeper into the Minnesota Open Meeting Law (OML) lately, because A) my citizen engagement work with the City of Northfield (parking) and the Northfield Public Schools (technology); and B) my presentations (example here) to public officials on blogging and social media on behalf of the League of MN Cities (LMC).

It seems generally accepted under the current OML that there’s no problem with an elected official having a blog, a Facebook page, or a Twitter account when used for one-way communications.   When used as publishing platforms, these tools are no different than having an opinion column or letter to the editor published in a newspaper.

Rather, the concerns are when the interactive features of these online platforms are used: a discussion thread attached to a blog post; comments on a Facebook wall post; conversational tweets; a live web conference with audio and/or text exchanges; a live online chat. In these instances, the possibility exists that a quorum of a public body could end up participating, that this could be interpreted as a serial meeting under the OML, and if not handled properly, could be a violation.

Last week I spoke by phone with Susan Naughton, LMC staff attorney.  And yesterday, she was the main presenter for the LMC webinar: Shedding Light on the Minnesota Open Meeting Law that I attended. That page has the entire Powerpoint presentation, plus a video archive of the webinar.

Here’s slide #38 from the Powerpoint.

LMC OML slide 38

I think this is overly cautious. In her remarks to me by phone, Susan indicated that two areas of concern under the OML for the interactive use of these online platforms are A) whether they can be included in the definition of what constitutes a ‘meeting'; and B) whether they can be consider ‘open to the public.’

The good news is that since the OML places considerable emphasis on the ‘intention’ of the parties involved when a meeting is held, a local unit of government can get an opinion ahead of time from its own attorney and from the State of Minnesota’s Information Policy Analysis Department (IPAD) on the type of meeting it wishes to hold.  Doing so would show that its intention was to not circumvent the law.

After getting these supporting opinions, I think the best way to conduct an online discussion with elected/appointed officials would be to A) announce it as a ‘special meeting’ as defined by the law; B) use time constraints on the meeting, for example, 8-9 pm for a live event or two weeks for a blog discussion thread; C) conduct the meeting like a Council Work Session, avoiding decisions, votes, or expressions of intention on how one plans to vote; and D) avoid any discussion of quasi-official business such around land use, property, licenses, etc.

I’ve found Northfield City Council work sessions to generally be more engaging and enlightening because of the open discussion among the councilors.  You’re more likely to hear what they’re thinking, wondering, questioning.  Opening up that type of exchange to a wider audience via online tools would be a genuinely helpful contribution to public involvement and engagement.

More good news: during the webinar, Susan announced that a bill to amend the OML was to be introduced in the legislature this week with the involvement of the MN Association of Townships. As soon as I find out more, I’ll post it here.

Meetings and straw polls and chat, oh my

It’s not been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon Northfield for me.

bicycle commuters - stakeholders group meetingbuilding owners - stakeholders group meetingcommunity meeting - Transformational Technology proposal

live chat replay webinar archive transformationaltech staw poll

The face-to-face meetings and online engagement activities for both the  City of Northfield’s Downtown Parking Management plan and the Northfield School District’s Transformational Technology proposal have kept me busy this week.

Gillian Wigley, January, 2013crashed Toyota Gilly Wigley recovering at home

And to top it off, my daughter Gilly was in a serious car accident in Minneapolis earlier this week so I’ve been making daily treks to the Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) all week. As of this morning, she’s doing much better: no apparent complications from a concussion and a lacerated liver, and she doesn’t have to have surgery for her fractured pelvis. She’s moving over to the adjacent Knapp Rehabilitation Center later today.  If you know her, contact/follow her on Facebook.

Update 2/15: Gilly is now recovering at our house, camped in a bed in our living room (right photo)

City of Northfield’s new website: What’s your reaction?

City of Northfield new website

The City of Northfield launched its new website this week.  I like the photos (heh), but I’ve otherwise not had time to check it out.

Post your comments, pros and cons, here.

Mowing in the winter: Steve Malecha gives Northfield’s storm water ponds a shave

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Steve Malecha, operator for the City of Northfield’s Public Works Department, was mowing the invasive trees around Hidden Valley Pond last Friday, right outside my back door.

The City rented the skid steer loader for a week to mow around all the city’s ponds. I guess it helps when the ground is frozen solid.

Normally this time of year, Steve is plowing snow for the city. See this December 2010 video on Northfield Patch that features his work after a 15-inch snowfall.

Steve Malecha, Northfield Public Works Operator

Northfield Patch also has a photo of Steve with his VFW buddies in story titled Northfield VFW Donates U.S. Flags to City:

VFW donates flags

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