Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Tale of Two Bike Paths

*Comments here are in my individual capacity and not representative of the Jordan Area Community Council*

Over the past few weeks, I've had the opportunity to attend a neighborhood events where bike path options have been brought forward--a presentation by the city of Minneapolis about 26th Avenue North, and a Jordan Area Community Council listening session on the Humboldt/Irving Avenue proposal.  While I could go into elaborate detail about each project, that's a topic for another post or two.  Instead, what intrigues me as of late is the community perception of each plan.

Along 26th, for example, there seemed at the Farview Park gathering to be pretty broad consensus that folks want some kind of bike upgrade to the corridor.  That feeling may well be impacted by the sorry state of the avenue as it crumbles away more each day.  Furthermore, there is currently no parking between Lyndale and Theo Wirth on 26th.  Between Lyndale and the River, some accommodations may have to be made, but overall the loss of parking has already taken effect and settled in.

When 26th is redone over 2014 and 2015, the current configuration of 11-foot car lanes and 5-foot bike lanes in each direction will likely expand.  Car lanes are expected to go to thirteen feet, and a 10-foot bike lane will be on one side of the street with a sidewalk for foot traffic on the other side.

The sentiment at the 26th Avenue meeting was that, if anything, this proposal doesn't go far enough.  There is currently no connection from 26th Avenue to the Mississippi River by bike or foot.  And although bike lanes kind of zigzag through the industrial area of Hawthorne to the river, there is not a sidewalk that allows pedestrians the same access.  Some residents also expressed a desire to see 26th redone all in one year, although a project of that scope is unlikely to get done in less time than the proposed two-year cycle.

There is also a group within Hawthorne at least, that has been pushing for a full greenway with no vehicular traffic.  Given the traffic load of the corridor, the overall expense, and that there are a number of properties that would have limited access, a full greenway is unlikely to come out of a 26th Avenue redesign.

In fact, due in large part to pressure from that group of Hawthorne members, several  "opportunity points" have been added to the 26th Avenue proposal.  These include a possible connection to the Ole Olson park from 26th along the Mississippi River, a sprucing up of the highway overpass so it actually feels somewhat green, public art and an expansion of trails along Farview Park, a wider path by Nellie Stone Johnson School, and more bike and pedestrian amenities at 26th and Theo Wirth Parkway.

When I heard the phrase "opportunity points," I thought it just sounded like really bad spin for why we were getting substandard amenities once again, but since this is the northside we should be glad we're getting anything at all.  Instead, I was floored by how amazing these developments appear to be.  Finally, some concrete steps to connecting the River and 26th!

The big question on everyone's mind was cost.  The city has a formula for determining who pays what, and it generally will come out to about $25 per month extra in taxes for the next twenty years.  Well worth it, in my opinion.  If new lighting is part of the bikeway, that could increase assessments significantly.  (Ideally, the new lighting would go everywhere except in front of my house, since I already have streetlights close by and I'd like to not pay for more.)

One concern brought to me after the meeting was a comparison to the Victory Memorial Parkway and how bumpy that is.  I have always thought of that stretch as anything but bumpy, but a neighbor pointed out that I've never ridden with a baby in tow.  The intersections along Victory Memorial, especially the north/south section, have a significant dip to them, and that causes problems for bikers with a baby on board.

Contrast 26th with the public reception for the Humboldt/Irving Greenway proposals.  Much of the sentiment I have witnessed here has been one of fear of losing what people already have.  The Humboldt/Irving proposal is comparatively in its infancy.  So neighbors haven't had a chance to get used to its ideas or really understand how various options might affect them.  I am, however, seeing real estate listings in Jordan come up advertising themselves as on the Humboldt or Irving Greenway.  So clearly some people are seeing the value in the amenity, even if only as a marketing tactic for the time being.

And speaking of sales, one of the psychological cornerstones of sales is that people generally are first afraid to lose what they have and that's their starting point.  So at many neighborhood or online forums, the first question is "What about parking?"  Folks understand what they have, and can't see past that for a broader vision of what could be.

One youth at a Humboldt/Irving meeting brought up an interesting safety concern, that North Commons is an epicenter of young gang activity, and that what amounts to a bike freeway that passes through the area would potentially allow those gangs to spread their territory.  I find this a good reason to focus on safety AND bike infrastructure, but not to ignore one for the sake of the other.

So here is my prediction for Humboldt/Irving.  We are quite a ways away from breaking ground on a project of such a massive scope.  By the time that occurs, much or perhaps all of 26th will have been done.  And when we're ready to go on Humboldt/Irving, some segments will want just a bike boulevard stripe, others will want a full-on greenway, and other parts will want something in between.  I think we'll see at least some in-between bike amenities that mirror 26th get built--maybe even a few blocks of Milwaukee Avenue-stlye greenways here and there.

And when residents can actually see what that looks like, when they can bike or walk along the corridors, and when they see neighbors' front yards extend to what would normally be the middle of a street, more and more people will want that for themselves.  If that's the route the north/south greenway takes, we could be waiting a generation for it to come to full fruition.

Then again, how long did 26th Avenue take to get to where we are today?  I rest my case.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Cell Phone Bust is Deja Vu All Over Again

Fox news first reported on a multi-million-dollar cell phone theft ring being busted in Minneapolis, with the Mustafa family as the ringleaders of the operation, although the Minneapolis Star Tribune had far more details about the nuts and bolts of the scam, the Fox story actually published the addresses of the businesses involved.  For some reason, those addresses brought back memories of a lyric from a famous Bob Dylan song:  And here I sit so patiently/waiting to find out what price/you have to pay to get out of/going through all these things twice.

Seven and a half minutes later ("Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" is a LONG song) I realized why.  I had indeed blogged about many of these businesses before, back when I was writing on the Adventures of Johnny Northside.  Furthermore, in the comment section of that blog post, longtime northside residents spoke about how many of those businesses were selling fenced goods for ten years prior.  That post, for the record, was written in 2009.  So as far back as 1999, maybe longer, some of these businesses or at least businesses out of the same address, have been selling stolen goods in my community.

A little more about these places, especially the ones that doubled up on the stolen goods...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

River Rats Serve Up Star Wars Family Fun on the Northside

A running item in the Sunday Star Tribune is the "Names & Faces" in the variety section.  I normally skip the self-congratulating who's who at various galas, but several weeks ago something caught my eye.  Normal people were profiled at the riverfront by West Broadway, attending a show by the Twin Cities River Rats.  The kicker?  It was a Star Wars-themed performance.

A combination of the riverfront, north Minneapolis, and Star Wars, and I missed it.  I wasn't sure if I would ever live THAT down.  As it turns out however, the Star Wars show is their theme for the whole summer.  I saw a post on the "Positively Northside" Facebook page (we tend to have a lot of northside Facebook pages these days) that a show was happening last week, and I ran out the door to attend.

Back to the Strib for a moment...

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Getting Punched in the Face in Front of a Mini-Peace Rally Only SOUNDS Funny

Two women were yelling, "Stop the violence, honk for peace!"  That's when I was punched in the face and wound up conducting a citizen's arrest.  When I type those words all in a row, it's so surreal that I can't help but giggle.  Giggling, by the way, was a little painful right after that.

So here's what went down...

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

White Castle and Oddfellows Buildings Granted Initial Historic Status Amid Questionable Process

Photos from the Old North Minneapolis Facebook page, post by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

Last week at the Historic Preservation Commission hearing, the White Castle building and the International Order of Oddfellows building were both granted initial designation as historic landmarks.  Minneapolis preservationists are thrilled with this step but more than a bit concerned about the processes that led here.

First off, the designation by no means makes these structures safe from demolition.  Kemps, the owner, still has every intention of tearing down these buildings.  Their end use of the site is not a curb cut, but just additional parking.  With West Broadway's zoning, a parking lot is within commercial standards and would likely need little to no additional approval once those structures are gone.  The removal of these buildings, however, would create one--just one--additional parking spot for Kemps' semis.  In all likelihood they will next apply for a demolition of a historic resource.  In the meantime, expect them to take minimal care of the buildings and worry even less about whether they are secure from trespassers or the elements.  After all, every little bit of neglect and damage to these structures brings them closer to Kemps' end goal.

Thanks to the dogged support of several HPC members, the buildings have an added degree of protection for now.  But as the headline indicates, questions abound regarding the process...

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Fatal Shooting Stems from Out of Control Bus Route

Yesterday evening when my phone rang off the hook, with several people calling repeatedly but not leaving messages, I knew something was wrong.  I called back, to find out that a man had been fatally shot after getting off of the 19 bus in front of my home.  Thank the Lord for small favors, but no one in my house was harmed, my dog was okay, and my home appears to be unscathed--although shell casings or evidence of some kind was left by the trash can on my corner.

As the evening unfolded, I had much to ponder, both from a personal and policy perspective...

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Ascension Church Plans for Demolition of 1707 Bryant Ave N

It came to my attention this week through the Old North Minneapolis Facebook page that Ascension church wants to demolish a property they own at 1707 Bryant Avenue North.  As one can see from the photos, this house is in wonderful shape.  Even if some work is needed, I have little doubt that the place could be successfully rehabbed.  So the unanswered question is why this house should be torn down at all?

There does not seem to be any real need for Ascension to expand to that site.  (and even if there is, has anyone explored moving the home to one of our many vacant lots nearby?)  There isn't anything particularly negative associated with the place, other than its pending destruction.  Instead, it would seem from the Old North Minneapolis speculation that Ascension is moving towards demolition simply because they don't want to deal with the property any longer.

Now, in any case where a perfectly viable house could potentially be wasted, I would rise up in anger.  But I am a pastor's kid (technically a son of a bishop by now) and a long-serving council member at my own church.  So when I see another Christian instiution making this mistake, I speak not only as a preservationist but also as one church leader to another.  And I cannot more forecfully admonish Ascension for this decision.

(Warning:  I'm about to preach here.  And I mean PREACH.)

There are any number of Biblical passages that spring to mind for why a Christian institution should not destroy a gem of a home such as this; the responsibility of man having dominion over God's creation in Genesis, or the communal transformation that happened when Nehemiah rebuilt a beseiged Jerusalem spring to mind as especially relevant.  But the passage I keep coming back to is Matthew 25: 14 - 30, Jesus' parable of the talents.

For readers unfamiliar with the story, a talent was a measure of currency.  Jesus tells a tale of a master who is leaving on a journey and entrusts three servants with his money.  The one who received five talents made five more, and likewise the servant who was given two talents doubled what the master had given him.  A servant who was given only one talent buried it in the sand out of fear that the master would punish him if it were lost.  And although he returned what was given him, he was cast out because he did nothing with the gift that the master had entrusted him with.

And so it is with Ascension and 1707 Bryant Avenue North.  God has given this church a gift, in the form of a beautiful, historic home.  What could be done with such a gift?

When I was in college, I was a founding member of a program called "Project Neighborhood," where ten students lived in a home (that was in terrible shape but restored, and was in the most challenging part of my alma mater town of Grand Rapids, Michigan) in Christian community. Our goal was to grow closer to Christ together while reaching out to serve the surrounding neighborhood--not through proselytising, but just to help where we were needed.  Fifteen years later, there are almost  half-dozen such homes throughout that city.  Closer to home in north Minneapolis, Redeemer Lutheran owns a property that they have used for just such a purpose.

Even closer to Ascension, the Old Highland neighborhood has multiple homes for nuns and there is another spiritual resting place known as Alafia.  Ascension need not look far at all to find examples of how to use similar properties to fulfill God's great commandment to "Go forth and make disciples of all nations."

The master in the parable of the talents would even have been satisfied with the meager gains of putting money in the bank and letting it gain interest.  Likewise, Ascension could take the money they would use towards demolition and partially subsidize the moving of the home to another vacant lot.  Or they could just sit on the place until housing values rebound even more and a sale in the future could bring a nice financial windfall.

The parable of the talents has always resonated a clear message to me:  When God gives you a gift, you damn well better try and do something with it.  Even if you fail, that attempt is far, FAR better than taking what God has given you and burying it in the sand.  Now I can completely understand that finding a solution to what to do with this house won't be easy and will carry some risk.  But there is not a single verse in the Bible where God excuses his servants from taking action because they were lazy or afraid.  On the contrary, children of God are specifically called to action in the face of such obstacles with the promise that our God will see us through.

The servant who invites God's displeasure buries his talent in the sand.  And ironically, burying a gift from God in the sand is quite literally what Ascension would do if they demolished this home.  Instead, there are any number of options available for them to pursue that would result in either a way for them to further their ministry, or at a minimum provide a home to a family and make use of the physical resources that an old home contains.  And so as one church leader to another body of fellow Christians, I call on Ascension to set aside plans for the destruction of this gift and to seek out ways to better serve our community and our God.