This big red pickup is poking TJ in the eye

As you may remember from my Oct. 18 blog post, Northfield Street and Park supervisor TJ Heinricy had a Compact Cars Only sign installed at the corner of 3rd & Division in downtown Northfield.  I wrote to TJ about how big the stall was and he replied:

TJ HeinricyGriff: I saw your recent post about the newly installed compact parking stall signage near the intersection of Division Street and 3rd Street.

The new signage was installed after a large amount of citizen requests to resolve a sight issue when going West on 3rd Street onto Division Street. The issue is being able to see oncoming traffic when trying to enter Division Street from 3rd Street.

The stall is planned to be shortened when the City of Northfield contracted paint striper is back in town.

Ever since, this big red pickup truck has been regularly seen parking there. I took photos of it a week ago in this spot. It was there again yesterday morning.

Yes, the parking stall has not yet been downsized so it’s somewhat inviting to those with big vehicles.

But the owner of this big red pickup truck (MN license plate 422 BXL) doesn’t even bother to stay within the boundaries of the stall, making visibility even more of a problem for vehicles descending the 3rd St. hill and turning onto Division.

Red pickup truck in Northfield, MN license plate 422 BXL DSC05303

Anyone know who owns it?

There’s a new parking space for compact cars on Division, but it’s big enough for Wayne Eddy’s convertible

compact car parking spot on Division at 3rd compact car parking spot on Division at 3rd Wayne Eddy's 1975 Delta 88 Olds Convertible
The City has created a new parking space on the east side of Division St. at 3rd, marked now with a sign that says "COMPACT CARS ONLY." Nice.

However, the length of the parking space appears to be the same as all the other parking spots on that side of Division. 

As a result, I’m guessing that owners of larger vehicles (SUV’s, pickup trucks, etc.) will park there.  I have my camera ready to capture the moment when Wayne Eddy parks his 1975 Delta 88 Olds Convertible there.

Pavement collapses on a brand new street

pavement collapse at 4th and Division pavement collapse at 4th and Division pavement collapse at 4th and Division
The heavy rain on Saturday morning has collapsed part of the pavement at 4th & Division.  Unlike the hole in the street that opened up on 6th & Division a couple weeks ago, this problem has occurred on a portion of 4th St. that was completely replaced last year.

Will the contractor be held accountable for the repair?

Update, 8 am, 07/26:

It’s worse than I thought.  The pavement has develop a large bulge along the white stripe parallel to the crosswalk, as well as along the concrete edge near the curb, right in front of First National Bank of Northfield.

pavement bulge at 4th and Division pavement bulge at 4th and Division pavement bulge at 4th and Division

Update, 11 am, 07/28:

The street was repaired yesterday, with costs born by the City. See the discussion thread. Photo below courtesy of Hayes Scriven.

Pavement repairs at 4th and Division

Some N. Plum St. residents are unhappy about plans to remove trees for street reconstruction

 North Plum St., east side  North Plum St., east side  North Plum St., east side

  North Plum St., west side  North Plum St., west side  North Plum St., west side
I was alerted by some North Plum St. residents that they’re unhappy with the City of Northfield’s plan to cut down some of the big trees on their street, part of the Linden St N/Plum St N/2nd St W street reconstruction project that’s about to begin.  I took the above photos this morning.

There are a number of variables to consider, of course, when trying to decide about saving trees during street reconstruction, e.g., street width, boulevard width, sidewalks on both sides or not, condition of/types of/size of trees, which side of the street the gas/sewer lines will go, and probably several more.

Elm St. between 4th and 5th  Elm St. between 4th and 5th
In the past, the City has sometimes accommodated residents’ concerns about big trees.  For example, the sidewalk was routed around two big trees on Elm St. between 4th and 5th a few years ago, as the above photos show.

Looking at the Project Process page, the City had 3 neighborhood meetings last fall. "Neighborhood Tour & Individual Property Owner Meetings" are scheduled for April/May.

It’s not clear to me to what extent residents have participated in these meetings and voiced their objections, nor what the city engineering staff’s response has been.

Maybe discussion here can help.

Update 5/14 9:30 am:

tree at 309 N. Linden st.  tree at 309 N. Linden st.  trees at 315 N. Linden st.  trees at 315 N. Linden st.
Here are photos of two homes on the west side of N. Linden St., (309 and 315) before and after the big (maple?) trees were cut down this week.

Update 5/20 7:30 am:

Here’s a one-minute video of the trees of N. Plum St. (pre-reconstruction) heading north between St. Olaf Ave. and Greenvale Ave. My apologies for the shakiness. I was holding the camera with one hand while driving.

Solutions for Northfield’s “parking problem”

Maybe some of these could work here….?

Older streets are safer

1874-platSomeone asked me recently to explain why the Planning Commission “doesn’t like culs-de-sacs”. I have a fondness for culs-de-sac and used to live on one, but they do have some serious shortcomings which, to me, outweigh their pleasant aspect. I was interested to read some new research that clearly quantifies ways in which our American suburban street model, which so dominated the second half of the 20th century, is in fact more dangerous than the traditional grid. (continued) Continue reading Older streets are safer

In the Obama-Era, Plans Revive for a Northfield-Twin Cities Rail Line

Logan Nash Dan_Patch_commuter-rail-line-Map Logan Nash, a student in Doug McGill’s journalism class at Carleton College, has written a piece titled In the Obama-Era, Plans Revive for a Northfield-Twin Cities Rail Line (PDF – full text below).

See the Dan Patch commuter rail line/corridor web page on MNDOT’s site for more info, as well as the Northstar Commuter Rail Line website.

Northstar Commuter Rail Line sketch Northstar Commuter Rail Line sketch

In the Obama-Era, Plans Revive for a Northfield-Twin Cities Rail Line

By Logan Nash

With the national economy still a giant question mark, Northfield community leaders are pushing ahead to revive a long-delayed project to build a commuter rail line that would link the town to the Twin Cities metropolitan region.

The national economic downturn is precisely why a serious reconsideration of the commuter line, called the Dan Patch Corridor, is especially warranted right now, the line’s advocates say.

Continue reading In the Obama-Era, Plans Revive for a Northfield-Twin Cities Rail Line

Why the knuckle-busting barriers on Mill Towns Trail bridge?

Barrier on Mill Towns Trail bridge

Josh Rowan sent me this photo of barriers on one of the Mill Towns Trail bridges.

He notes that the barriers are very narrow, forcing bicyclists to put their feet down lest they risk scrunching their knuckles if one of their handlebar-mounted brake levers makes contact with the barrier as they pass through.

Anyone have details?

Smart Car in Northfield

SmartCarNorthfield.jpgI noticed this Smart car parked outside the Grand Event Center a few weeks ago and didn’t have my camera ready. Today, I caught it on film…or in pixels.

I saw my first Smart Car a little over five years ago. My family and I were traveling in Italy and we saw one pull up in front of the sidewalk cafe where we were dining in Siena. At first I thought it was some kind of experimental vehicle.

Later, when we were in Rome, I saw at least a dozen of them. I was really impressed that they were about the same length as a motorcycle and so could park perpendicular to the curbs, basically taking up half the space of a typical car.

If you haven’t seen one up close yet, keep your eyes open for this one. Apparently, it’s in Northfield, at least now and then.

Do me a favor, if you see the driver, ask about the mileage.

Much Ado About Autos

Freeway CF

Freeway CF

An recent op-ed the Sacramento Bee had an interesting angle on some of the traffic and transportation issues facing many parts of the U.S., including Northfield.

We’re stuck with the landscape we’ve built over the past 60 years, much of which is literally uninhabitable without a car. Trying to make our communities less car-dependent simply by adding more buses, streetcars and light rail is like trying to make a bowl of chicken soup vegan simply by picking the chicken out.

The author goes on to explain how our built environment has stacked the deck in favor of the individual automobile, at the expense of community, human health, and the environment. He points out, “Cities and suburbs throughout Western Europe have proven for decades that people will choose walking, bicycling and public transit over personal cars if the price is right and the trip is pleasant.”

But unlike more militant voices, he doesn’t take a hard line against cars per se, instead focusing what we can regain by re-thinking the design of our cities and towns.

… how we use cars, how we plan our economies and communities around cars, and even how we build cars, all have to change. . . Millions upon millions of Europeans are living rich, modern lives without requiring a private car to meet their most basic needs. They’re in communities that function perfectly well with gasoline three times the price as at our pumps, and with the resilience to continue thriving if prices doubled tomorrow. How many places in America can say the same?

He concludes with the point that the way things were built prior to the mid-20th century may also make good sense in how we handle the increasing cost of oil and the fact that it’s a finite resource which is running out.

One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Northfield is the fact that most of it was built to what has come to be called “human scale”, without the speed and enclosure of automobiles to skew our sense of distance. This community is geographically compact, which gives us several advantages IF we make wise decisions about transportation and land use going forward.

What do you think of this whole idea? How is Northfield better or less prepared than other parts of the country to embrace changes like this?

Read the full article here, and come back to comment.

Round About Farmington

RoundAboutFarmington.jpgOver the past few years, a number of prominent Northfielders have raised the possibility of creating a roundabout in town. I seem to recall Jim Pokorney and Victor Summa suggesting that we could consider one for Third Street and Dahomey Avenue and Vern Ripley and Bruce Anderson advocating for one at Prairie Street and Woodley Street.

Roundabouts are a contemporary variation of the traffic circle or rotary, a design form going back hundreds of years. Cited as statistically safer for vehicular traffic (although not for cyclists), the devices maintain slower speeds of travel without requiring a full stop.

They are common in Europe and New England, however, now there is one close to home. A roundabout was recently completed on Highway 3, just north of Farmington.

So, if you have any interest in the concept, head north and check it out.

Rediscovering the Human Scale

I have no confidence whatsoever that this won’t be polarized into a partisan issue, but it certainly shouldn’t be.

Bicycle safety, laws: What’s needed? What’s reasonable?

bike safety poster

The Northfield News ran a story last week titled Road rules, bicycle style. Eric Johnson, Bruce Anderson (blogger), and Bill Ostrem (blogger)– members of the City of Northfield’s Nonmotorized Transportation Task Force (NMTTF) — are quoted in the piece.

… as more and more bicyclists and pedestrians take to the streets as a result of higher fuel prices, officials worry that they’ll see a corresponding rise in bicycle-related traffic accidents. It’s a dark side of bicycling of which Johnson, a member of the NMTTF, is well aware. He has been clipped by a car, shouted at and honked at.

“You can’t peacefully co-exist on the roads unless everybody is playing by the rules,” said Bruce Anderson, an avid bicyclist and member of the NMTTF. “It all gets back to education; there’s just so many things that people do that are unsafe.”

Bill Ostrem, the chair of the NMTTF, believes that a series of education programs would help mitigate crash statistics. To teach cyclists the rules of the road, Ostrem and the NMTTF hope to implement a series of bicycling safety courses in the future with the assistance of Officer Monroe and the Northfield Police Department.

Two related letters-to-the-editor subsequently appeared in the paper.

Betsy Gasior had a letter in the Sept. 6 issue:

There is, however, one glaring problem with the article, or rather, the photograph. Mr. Eric Johnson is improperly signaling his right turn. If a bicyclist chooses to signal, I’ve observed, this is the sort of signal they use. The right hand pointing haphazardly to the right or left. What am I to notice? A wad of gum? Perhaps a $5 bill the bicyclist feels I am deserving of. Maybe it’s the flock of flamingos coming down the street to their left. This is a huge safety issue.

NNMTF member (and LG tech/design guy) Sean Hayford O Leary had a letter in the Sept. 10 issue:

I was saddened and angered when I read the Sept. 2 article about the death of Terry Miller on County Road 8 (130th St), south of Dundas. Saddened, of course, because of this gruesome and untimely death. Angered because it probably could have been prevented… Rice County must stop ignoring bicycles and pedestrians when it comes to their county roads. The county should not be laying 23-foot surfaces. Ever. If they have enough traffic on them to warrant pavement, they have enough traffic that they need some kind of paved shoulder.

Back in May, the Strib ran an article titled A green light for bikers, when traffic allows.

Are Minnesotans willing to grant bicyclists limited immunity from stop signs and red lights? That question is posed by a legislative proposal introduced during Bike/Walk to Work Week earlier this month by Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, and Sen. Jim Carlson, DFL-Eagan, both bikers. Their proposal is based on an Idaho statute that allows bikers to proceed though stops in certain circumstances. It would require bikers approaching a stop signal or sign to slow to a speed that allows them to stop.

They’d be required to stop if a vehicle is in the vicinity. But they could proceed through a stop sign without stopping if there’s no traffic close enough to pose a hazard while they’d be moving through the intersection. At a red light, they could also make a right turn, or a left turn onto a one-way street, without stopping. And if there’s no vehicle nearby, they could proceed through the intersection after a full stop without waiting for a green light.

I like the idea of granting bicyclists the same judgment call that we currently give motorists for right-turn-on-red turns.

Gravel on streets, city parking lots

I got this from a local resident a week or so ago:

The city has dumped tons of gravel on nearly new streets, including Jefferson Parkway and Maple and others branching off Jefferson. I’ve never in my life seen dry gravel poured on new blacktop streets. I just don’t get it. It kicks up dust and nicks the paint on cars and gets bounced up in to yards, but serves no purpose at all. Seems a good rain tonight will wash much of it off the roadway.

I thought this was the usual gravel-on-oil-on-blacktop which then gets swept up after a couple of weeks…  a way to extend the life of the blacktop.

Gravel on streets Gravel on streets Gravel on streets

But then today I noticed that the city has painted parking lines over the gravel in the NCRC parking lot.  So it’s evidently permanent. Anybody know what’s going on?

Major Transportation Meeting Tonight

Tonight’s the night (Thursday, July 31st) of the Open House on Transportation. The meeting will be held at the Northfield High School (1400 Division Street South) in the Upper Cafeteria, from 4 to 7 pm.

The purpose of this meeting will be to preview the recommendations for the City’s 2030 Transportation Plan. Information on both the Draft Updated Transportation Plan and the Northwest Corridor Study will be available.

See the Northfield Transportation Issues Map (PDF) and the project website for more info.

Listening to Rather than Talking at MNDoT Might be a More Productive Approach

Highway19Region.pngOkeh, I will begin by “revealing” that I am the brother-in-law of Ray Cox. However, Ray isn’t running for elected office now, so find something else to get you excited.

Ray had a letter to the editor published in the June 24, 2008. It was unfortunately titled,”Widening not best Hwy. 19 plan”. A more accurate, if not better, title would have been “Widening not only Hwy. 19 plan”.

In it, Ray stated, “I believe it is more important for our city leaders to deal with traffic flow issues within the City of Northfield and in the adjacent planning boundaries than to call on MnDOT to rebuild Highway 19 as it exists.” This is crucial, and often repeated, advice that, I believe, must be heeded if we are to make progress on the east-west connection(s) between Interstate 35 and Northfield.

I think that Ray’s comments came in response to the front page article, “Lawmakers plead for state to widen Hwy. 19“, in the June 21-22, 2008 Northfield News. The article was illustrated with a picture of out-going City Administrator Al Roder with his quote, “It’s not good enough to be on their list. We need this to move forward.”

My first involvement with Highway 19 came about four years ago. The NDDC, at the request of then Chamber of Commerce President Robert Bierman, had agreed to support local efforts on achieving long-discussed improvements to the road. When I admitted that I had no background on the subject, Robert suggested that I get my hands on a copy of the Northfield Industrial Corporation’s July 2000 study, “A Recommendation for Improvements in Safety, Access and Quality of Life Issues for Northfield Transportation”. After striking out with a couple of prominent organizations in town, I finally got a copy…from Ray.

It is, in my opinion, an extremely valuable collection of information. I have brought it up, and distributed summaries, at two or three Comp Plan work sessions and at least one of the Transportation Advisory Committee meetings. Of particular interest to me is the fold-out map that is appended to the report. It illustrates the top twelve priority transportation projects for Northfield. But more on those later.

After educating myself thanks to Ray’s copy of the NIC Transportation study, I ended up having meetings with a number of people, including then State Representative Ray Cox, then Council Member Dixon Bond, and a small conference room full of MNDoT folks. All of them said, repeatedly, that any progress on Highway 19 would have to be part of a plan that encompassed all of Northfield’s transportation network, including connections to and from Highway 19 as well as northern and southern alternatives to Highway 19.

The twelve priority transportation projects in the NIC study are all about those connections and alternatives. When we discussed them as part of a Comp Plan work session, at best you could suggest that we’ve addressed one and half of the twelve. At that rate, it will take far more than ten years to complete all twelve projects.

At the close of the article, Roder states, according to the Northfield News, that “being the squeaky wheel is a good start..but that if the city could help with funding, he believes MnDOT would give the project an even more favored status”. Based on what I’ve heard from elected officials and MNDoT staff, I think that instead of squeaks and funds for Highway 19, we might be more successful if we came forward with schedules and budgets for elements of the broader transportation network.

Steadily and systematically addressing long-identified local transportation needs would just be an added benefit.

Do the pros of a narrow Jefferson Parkway outweigh the cons?

I bike the sidewalks along Jefferson Parkway between Bridgewater Elementary and the Northfield High School a lot more since we’ve moved.

Jefferson Parkway Jefferson Parkway

I don’t remember what year it was revamped and made narrow. (Anyone?) And I don’t remember which city staffers were instrumental in the change. But I do remember hearing lots of complaints about it after it was done, eg, from farmers about its inaccessibility for large farm equipment.

I don’t use the Parkway during school rush hours so I don’t know if it works well during those times.  But it otherwise seems to work and the traffic-calming aspects of a narrow roadway seems to work, too.

How is the price of gas changing your life?

As the price of gas keeps escalating, I’m starting to see a lot more bikes downtown, including more weird ones like the Xtracycle that I blogged about last week.

bike rack Giant Revive E-Go electric cycle
Left: the crowded bike rack in front of the Goodbye Blue Monday on Tues. morn around 7 am.
Center: my wife’s Giant Revive, a super comfy bike (lumbar support!) for around-town/bike trail riding
Right: an E-Go electric cycle

As for how the price of gas has been changing my life:

  • I’ve been taking the Revive to get to my morning coffeehouse offices in the past week, once I figured out how to easily haul my laptop on it.
  • We’ve gone to two movies in the past 3 weeks, both at Northfield’s Southgate theater instead of driving to the Lakeville 21.

How about you?

Let’s Stage a “Sit-Out”

Sit-inI’ve had it.

As I mentioned at the tail end of our podcast a couple of weeks ago, I’m thinking that a little civil disobedience might be in order in re the outdoor dining situation in Northfield.

Let’s pick a date and stage a “sit-out”! The restaurants in town could put out tables and chairs, citizens would be encouraged to bring their lawn chairs downtown and we’d fill up the sidewalks. If we got enough of the businesses to participate, I doubt that the City Council would hold their liquor license renewals hostage, or whatever consequences are being dreamed up for violating our current prohibitions.

Friends, Romans, Countrymen….. lend me your chairs. Any takers? Suggested dates?

A new way to bike your groceries, kid, spouse, computer, laundry, kitchen sink around town

Xtracycle Xtracycle
Someone has a new Xtracycle (sport utility bicycle) here in Northfield:

Imagine your favorite bike, with the rear wheel stretched out behind the seat, a big, stable platform for a load or a passenger, and elegant saddlebags on either side that are expandable when you need them and are cleanly out of the way when you don’t. Best of all, your bike is still lightweight and fast, and because the load is centered between your two wheels, the whole package handles with ease. Suddenly you have much less need or desire to drive around town for your errands. Picture this: a breezy unloaded ride to your favorite grocery store, coasting reliably around corners; arriving ahead of traffic; parking at the rack directly in front of the entrance; shopping and easily loading your four bags of groceries; then pedaling home, care-free on a bike that handles just as swiftly now that it’s loaded.

Traffic Fatality Near NHS

Some very sad news – a pedestrian was killed, and another injured, this morning at the intersection of Hwy 246 (Division Street) and Jefferson Parkway. Names have not yet been released. Both the Northfield News and the StarTribune have reported on the incident.

According to the Northfield News,

The intersection is under review as part of a $30,000 Safe Routes to Schools grant awarded last month to the city and its Non-motorized Transportation Task Force. The task force, in its grant application, said that the intersection, which is adjacent to three schools, is unsafe.

I’m sure Bill Ostrem and others on the Task Force will keep us apprised of the developments. It is truly sad that it often seems to take a tragedy of some magnitude to get people’s attention about pedestrian and bicycle safety, and make them realize that streets aren’t just for cars and trucks.

Downtown streets in the winter: good, bad, or ugly?

Downtown building owner and resident Bart ‘put your money where your mouth is’ de Malignon has a letter to the editor in this week’s Northfield News titled, Downtown streets aren’t that clean.

Bart de MalignonWith all due respect to our city workers and their late-night shifts, our downtown streets are a mess. Intersections, crosswalks and curbs are full of snow and slush. According to Joel Walinski, “The city’s standard is to plow streets – curb to curb – within twelve hours after the snow ends.” Saying it doesn’t make it so.

I walked through Bridge Square at noon on Thursday, the 24th, and the streets are still a mess. Friends and family visiting from other communities ask me, “What gives with the snow removal?” If downtown building owners, tenants and residents are required to park off-street at night from December to March, why can’t the city meet their standard and really plow “curb-to-curb?”

Here’s a link to the article in last week’s Northfield News that  Bart was responding to: How they plow: City, county, MnDOT march to own beats.


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