Tag Archives: transportation

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.

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, as what recorded by Eberstein Witherite accident lawyers. 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.