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9 worst urban planning moves in Twin Cities history

Since I began writing this column last spring, I envisioned two year-end pieces. One would itemize the worst things that planners, bureaucrats, politicians, developers and We the People have done to our Twin Cityscape; the second would list the best. My thought was that both might provide some lessons about what improves the urban environment and what doesn't -- though, such is life that sometimes even the best ideas turn into misbegotten messes -- and vice-versa.

Over the last year, I've been asking practically every person I interview for his or her suggestions. And, I have added a few I've collected since moving back here two years ago. Herewith, the baddies, in no particular order:

No. 1: The destruction of the Gateway District.

Located near the Mississippi, this area stretches south to the library and from Hennepin to Third Avenue S. Once upon a time, it was a park with an elaborate pavilion that welcomed those arriving at the nearby train station. During the Depression, however, it became Minneapolis' version of the Bowery, complete with flophouses, taprooms and sleazy hotels.

By the 1950s, the city decided it had to do something. The buildings were dilapidated and supposedly impossible to renovate. So Minneapolis won a grant from the Feds and over the next six or seven years razed 200 buildings and leveled 22 blocks, leaving a third of downtown vacant. Among the casualties: the Metropolitan Building, a then 80-year-old landmark whose central atrium was adorned with incredible iron grillwork. Buildings have gone up in the area, but it has never become vital. Much of the acreage is still devoted to surface parking lots.

"It's now a dead area between two neighborhoods," says Sam Newberg, founder of Joe Urban, Inc., a market research company.

The takeaway: I see two lessons here. First, you don't knock down buildings until you have something compelling to put in their place. Second, large-scale projects are blunt instruments that destroy the good along with the bad. Among the flophouses and taprooms probably existed salvageable small buildings and rooming houses that these days, with an infusion of dough, could be turned into a walkable neighborhood of interesting stores that would give us some relief from chains. When it comes to urban renewal, it's probably always better to go small and see what happens.

View of the State Capitol in St. Paul, 1974Minnesota Historical Society/Eugene Debs Becker

A view of the State Capitol from I-94, circa 1974.

No. 2: The slicing of downtown St. Paul in two.

The U.S. interstate highway system is considered one of the marvels of the modern age. On its broad lanes drivers can speed without interruption from city to city, almost as though they were in a tunnel. But those same concrete byways can and have blighted cities. Take St. Paul, which has a beautifully compact and navigable downtown. How much better would it be if I94 did not cut off the Capitol and its campus from the rest of the city?

"Separating downtown from the Capitol was obviously a terrible decision," said Mayor Chris Coleman at a meeting of the Urban Land Institute a couple of months ago. Those lousy decisions, he added, can be with us for 100 years.

The takeaway: Freeways should transport people to cities, not churn through their guts. Highway engineers: Figure out a way to go around downtown, not through.

No. 3: Removal of trees from Penn Avenue N.

When did this occur? About a century ago, when I was in fourth or fifth grade and attended John Hay school at the intersection of Penn and Oak Park. At the time, modest houses and apartment buildings lined Penn, and on the grass strips separating the sidewalk from the street grew huge oak trees that provided a leafy canopy for most of the year.

One day, arriving at school, I discovered huge trucks on Penn cutting down the trees and plucking their roots from the ground. Over the following two weeks or so, bulldozers came and widened the street, eliminating the grass verges and placing the sidewalks right next to the roadway. In perhaps less than a month, the city transformed Penn from a pleasant street to a bleak car corridor. Property values dropped, and I don't think the street has ever recovered. 

The takeaway: Uprooting healthy trees from a city street is a sin. Trees are organic furniture; they cover up and soften even the ugliest spots. Seriously, if you can show me one street that looks better without trees, I'll eat my winter hat.

Mpla streetcar, 1923
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical SocietyMinneapolis streetcar, 1923

No. 4: The disappearance of the streetcar system.

According to the Minnesota Streetcar Museum, at its peak in the 1920s, Twin Cities Rapid Transit operated 524 miles of electric trolley lines, which laced through the two cities and reached deep into the suburbs as far as Anoka and Lake Minnetonka. Even after World War II, with the suburbs growing and car sales booming, some 36 percent of area residents got around by mostly in streetcars. That compares to only about 5 percent now.

In 1949, a group of disgruntled investors staged a hostile takeover of the company, cut back on service and maintenance and switched over to buses. Ridership declined, and eventually the entire system was scrapped.

In recent years, transportation planners have given streetcars another look. They're cheaper to run than buses and pollute less. And they're easier for drivers to share the road with, since they stay a track instead of wandering all over the road.

The takeaway: As Joni Mitchell said, or rather, sang: "Don't it always seem to go/That you don't know what you've got till it's gone." Some attribute the downfall of streetcars to General Motors, which supposedly did everything it could to replace trolleys with buses (selling them at huge discounts and taking over city systems and putting them out of business). Given the trends in the ‘50s, perhaps there was no way to save the streetcars, but the Twin Cities are now spending billions on light rail to replace what was lost. Also in the works: streetcar lines in Minneapolis for Hennepin, Nicollet and Chicago Avenues.

concrete skyway, Minneapolis
MinnPost photo by Steve Date

No. 5: Skyways with no access to the street.

When the first skyway opened in 1962 connecting the Northstar Building with Northwestern National Bank, it became instantly popular. Before long, practically every new building in the Twin Cities had to have a skyway connecting it to a parking ramp and to every other building. The downtown network in Minneapolis, at eight miles, is now the longest in the world.

The passageways made sense. Instead of freezing your tail out in the street, you could stride above the traffic bathed in central heating. Problem is that now, there are many fewer people out on the streets. Drive down Hennepin or Marquette during the day or on 7th and 8th Streets. They look empty. And according to one academic study, businesses rightly hesitate to locate on ground floors. After all, fewer walkers mean fewer customers.

The takeaway: Too much of a good thing becomes a non-good thing, I guess. But the more important point perhaps is that anything that diminishes street life leaches a city's of its vitality. People want to experience cities at street level, and if streets aren't interesting, people won't visit them. The retrofit -- somehow creating access from skyway to sidewalk either with stairs or elevators -- won't be cheap and maybe not even possible.

Block E
MinnPost photo by John Noltner

No. 6: Block E.

Back in the day, this site between 6th and 7th Streets on Hennepin was a sketchy place with bars, a rifle shooting gallery and Shinders magazine stands on each end (porn available). Under the theory that seediness was a disease, the City Council voted in 1987 to demolish the entire Hennepin side of the block as though the buildings were tainted with the Ebola virus.

In their place appeared -- you guessed it -- a surface parking lot, a gap in Hennepin's streetscape that lasted for 14 long years. Finally, an entertainment and shopping complex arose on the site in 2001 -- designed to replicate similar offerings in the suburbs. But, as we all know, it's been a bust. Four businesses still bravely operate there, Kieran's Bar, The Shout! House dueling piano bar, Starbucks and Jimmy John's, but otherwise it's empty of tenants.

The takeaway: Again, don't tear down stuff until you have something else to put there. Some things are worse than seediness -- nothingness, for example. Second: Don't try to compete with the suburbs. Instead build something people want that they can't get out there. 

Hiawatha Line
MinnPost photo by Raoul Benavides

No. 7: Running the Hiawatha LRT on the side of the road.

I don't know why the engineers who planned the LRT decided to place it on the west side of Hiawatha and not down the middle. Maybe a track ran there already. Maybe MNDOT wouldn't allow transit on a state highway. (Some day, I promise, I'll get to the bottom of it.)

But here's the problem: If the trains decant people in the middle of the road, then they are more likely to patronize stores and other businesses alongside. Leaving them on one side of Hiawatha, which is hard for even Olympic sprinters to cross, means that they are likely to stay stranded on that side and never venture further. If they're not on Hiawatha, businesses will not come. That partly explains why, eight years after the LRT launched, we see so little development.

The takeaway: Somebody must have learned the lesson here -- if you want pedestrian development, you have to think like a pedestrian. Because the Central Corridor LRT is running down the middle of University Avenue, already development seems to be perking up. As for Hiawatha, well, it may never be a grand boulevard lined with apartment buildings and stores. But it could be a place for the city to encourage light manufacturing and offices -- in other words, centers of employment.

No. 8: Big box stores on University.

And while we're talking about University, what's the deal with all those suburban style stores -- Target, Walmart and so on?  I don't object to their presence. City-dwellers should have access to their goods and low-prices just like suburbanites. But why do they have to look like suburban shopping centers? Their vast parking lots fronting on University uglify the street and make it bleak and uninteresting to walk on.

I'm wondering if passengers disembarking from the LRT will want to shlep the one- or two-block distance from the street to the doors of the big boxes but wouldn't rather pick up a bottle of milk at a mom-and-pop grocery right off the sidewalk (assuming, of course, that mom-and-pop groceries still exist). Target, Walmart and their big-box neighbors and cousins could have been designed to open to the sidewalk with unsightly parking lots at the rear.The buildings might even have had windows displaying their goods, always a draw to walkers who are enticed to enter and try on that outfit they spotted on a mannequin.

The takeaway: Just because a business hails from the suburbs doesn't mean that it should take a suburban form. Think Target in downtown Minneapolis; the building fits its environment -- though I would add windows.

No. 9: Neighborhood naysaying.

I'm as much a fan of Jane Jacobs (author of “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”) as the next guy. Had she not galvanized Greenwich Village back in the late ‘50s to oppose Robert Moses' plan to build a freeway across lower Manhattan, Washington Square Park would now be concrete. But neighborhood sentiment is not always smart. In the 1990s and 2000s, Greenwich Village activists opposed expansion of St. Vincent's Hospital. Its failure to modernize led to its closing in 2010, infuriating said same activists.

In Minneapolis in particular, neighborhood groups have near total veto power over new development. A small group can easily convince its City Council representative that a new project is a no-no because it might cast a shadow their backyards, disturb the view from their dormer or add a few cars to the street. If the council member states opposition to the development, his or her colleagues on the council follow along and vote it down. In recent years, nabe activists have managed to block a number of worthy projects: a Trader Joe’s store on Lyndale, mixed-use apartment buildings in Linden Hills, a change in zoning from single- to multi-family construction along Hiawatha (another reason for its non-development) and high-rise condos on Lake Street across from Lake Calhoun.

The takeaway: Democracy is fine, but let's not get carried away. There is such a thing as "the greater good," and council members should take it into consideration along with neighborhood opposition when casting their votes.

There's more, of course: the closing of Nicollet Avenue to Lake Street, to construct a Kmart; parking minimums required for buildings (since abandoned) that turned downtown Minneapolis into a parking ramp; the concentration of low-income housing in low-income neighborhoods producing a reghettoization of poor people.

But the holidays are upon us, and we've had enough bad tidings in recent days to last for years. So stay tuned for what we've done right.

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Comments (101)

Block E

It wasn't not a mistake, but I really disagree with the constant mischaracterization of Block E by everyone in the media as a failure. Block E is terrible, yes. But for what it was, it was relatively successful and had many tenants before Alatus forced them out for their failed casino plan. Borders went under nationally, Alatus took AMC to court to force them out. This wasn't the market telling individual stores that they can't be successful at that location, it was explicitly planned.

This kind of lazy thinking lends itself to shoddy reporting on local news stations about "taxpayer-funded boondoggles" that's just really misleading.

I take your point

But there were plenty of struggles that both pre-dated Alatus and happened on their own. The place just never had the right mix of tenants to succeed with downtown workers and residents, and was left needing to attract customers from the suburbs to survive. That's a dicey proposition.

Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm

Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the place was a good idea. And in response to many comments further down on here that maybe should have attached to the bottom of my initial comment: Really, I know Block E is bad.

I just don't like that it gets reported on without that extra bit of context that the remaining half of the building was emptied out. If it hadn't been, I don't think that it would be Mall of America-North. It may have even been in a position to do well, given the surging downtown residential population (hey I live in Loring Park but usually need to go to the suburbs for movies--what's up with that?).

But when Low Information Voter A watches a news report on KMSP about "the empty taxpayer-funded mall" in downtown, they immediately add that to their list of why Minneapolis is terribly run. Along with the free Obama phones, Agenda 21, etc. Context! It's important for these stories that require more than one sentence to explain.

I agree with Mr. Magrino

about Block E, post parking lot era. When complex was hopping with venues and business, I very much appreciated the place. But, as pointed out in comment, it did have critical, unexpected, deflating tenants. With a more appealing handle than the unfortunate "Block E" and with a re-think of how the interior, public spaces can be more appealing I think it can have a great future. Regarding the Hiawatha LRT, I do not recall its route as ever having been thought of as a pedestrian corridor by its planners. We can look forward to more commercial and residential development near its stations.

Terrible...but not a mistake?

I disagree...Block E was a poor decision by a City Council which was ill qualified to make any kind of business decision. Regardless of recent actions by Alatus, this development was never a commercial success. Containing retail stores located "just a little too far" (1-1 1/2 blocks) from the primary downtown retail area (bordered by Nicollet and Marquette), Block E was mostly used as a thoroughfare for workers to go from their office buildings to the parking ramps adjacent to Target Center. The entertainment/restaurant tenants were national chains which enjoyed some success due to the proximity to Target Center, but those businesses were never destination points for the younger crowd. Kiernan's was successful in its old location, and likely would do well anywhere.

This article is far from 'lazy thinking', 'shoddy reporting', or misleading in any way. Rather it is the type of scrutiny that keeps our public policy decision makers somewhat accountable for their actions -- even though those who made this decision are now out of the public eye.

I really hope that ten to fifteen years from now a similar article does not have to be written about the recently approved Viking stadium!

Hiawatha Corridor

The Hiawatha Corridor was originally planned, in the 1960s, to be another freeway route to and from downtown and was cleared of buildings at that time, a sore point with the neighborhood. The "corridor" sat empty until light rail was built. So the path of least resistance was to use the empty land for that purpose. Given the difficulty, politically, of getting even one line built it was the obvious choice at the time. Maybe in today's climate, running it down the middle might have been an option.

Leaving people in the middle

Leaving people in the middle of Hiawatha would make a not too great situation worse. Are the grain elevators not getting enough foot traffic to justify expanding their retail operations? Hiawatha is a large and fast and pedestrian-unfriendly road, but it was that way before the LRT went in too, and the development on it was more or less appropriate given the light industrial development around it. The Hiawatha line isn't more of a success because LRT needs big right of ways, and big right of ways don't exists in places people are using. So it ends up along an industrial corridor, or going through parks and alongside interstate highways as with the proposed Southwest and Bottineau lines. Or it ends up being very expensive and difficult to put in, as with the Central Corridor – which maybe should be the model for more lines, but a line like that wouldn't go along Hiawatha.

Putting it on the side of the road at least means that the Hiawatha stations are out of traffic and fairly connected to something – even if it's just one side of the road. Chicago has El stations in the middle of highways (admittedly bigger than Hiawatha) and they are unpleasant and there is zero development around those. Put it in the middle and people on both sides of the road get equally unpleasant walking and waiting at the station – which is the opposite of what you want if you want to encourage development, as having have the area well connected is better than the full area being poorly connected.

Look Outside the Twin Cities

..and see that successful LRT development is typically in the center of roads, despite the ROW requirements. Successful transit does not simply move people from one location at one end of a line to the other end (as you suggest, this corridor is all about duplicating MSP/MOA to Downtown human traffic) - it is also about connecting the places between (efficiently). Let's stop succumbing to the mindset that transit like LRT is only for corridors of freeways, industrial buildings, and parks because of this silly ROW you claim they need. The number of people an LRT can carry vastly reduces the number of cars required to be on the road (parking, driving, turning, etc). Equal access to both sides absolutely makes sense, whether you're building to help spur smart, mixed-use development or meeting a high population/retail/business density that already exists.

I'm trying to find a good

I'm trying to find a good example of effective, efficient public transit that happens in the middle of a road. In Melbourne, Australia, for example, the light rail down the middle of the road at grade level was so slow that I finally got off and took a taxi. But, in San Francisco, Moscow, Chicago, Sydney, Toronto, New York, Paris, Montreal...the rail lines were all on the side of the major roads (like BART in some areas) or grade separated. Dublin also had a small rail on the side of a street, though not nearly as busy as Hiawatha or University. In all of these cities, the rails were effective means of transportation during my visits to several places of interest. I guess I've named cities much bigger than ours. Please enlighten me about places that have successful and effective/efficient rail systems in the middle of major roads at grade level.

Not counting

Grade separation since the costs of doing so would never be justified in today's MSP population and density. We are, unfortunately (by design thanks to cars and freeways), in the middle ground between dense enough to support subways or elevated trains and small enough where buses will do the trick. We need high-capacity and reasonably fast transit in many of our major corridors (ie rail, BRT where smaller ridership is expected).

But to point out successful at-grade rail transit that is occupied in the center of a road (whether that is a larger, 40-50 MPH road or a more local road)...

Milan, Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Munich, Zurich, Portland OR, the trains in Chicago outside the city operating in the center of the freeway, Toronto, New Orleans, Boston T out near Boston University, the SF cable car system, the list can go on.

The problem is people want the best of both worlds when building these systems - you seem to think the near freeway-style design of Hiawatha is a good thing we needed to keep when implementing the LRT line. Reality is that widening the Hiawatha road, keeping cross-street accesses, and putting the LRT on the side only served to enhance the auto-centric nature of that corridor. Even with the LRT on the west side of Hiawatha, people on the east side of it have no incentive to cross 115 feet of barren, dangerous road to access the LRT on the other side (and at many of the cross streets near the stations, there is not a cross-walk because Hiawatha is, well, a freeway. examples include 45th St and 37th St). Making the LRT in the center of the road, encouraging mixed-use development closer Hiawatha on the W side in the land the state already owned, encouraging brownfield development on the E side between industry (whether that's mixed-use residential/retail or office/retail or light industrial I don't care), and narrowing the overall roadscape of Hiawatha (even if it is kept at 4 lanes) makes this a much more hospitable area and lucrative to developers.

I guess I would have never

I guess I would have never called the SF cable cars a successful example. I'd rather ride the Muni buses than the slow F Trains and the cable cars.

I don't think being in the middle of the road means increased accessibilty. The side of the road for the Hiawatha train would be just fine with a pedestrian under pass. To me, at grade middle of the road equals less efficient transit since it is mixing with traffic. The El train of Chicago I would not consider middle of the road as it is grade separated (elevated above the freeway).

It is, to me, auto- centric to think everything needs to travel like an automobile. As a pedestrian, I don't want to mix with traffic. I like sidewalks, overpasses and underpasses. Nor do I want to share the road as a bicyclist. I like examples where bike lanes are separated by a small curb. I want my public transit trains to be faster than cars and not have traffic lights. I believe all forms of transportation have their place ans benefits and wish we truly wanted to make travel safe for everybody, rather than a result that makes it safe for nobody.

But, the Green Line will be in the middle of the road. I hope it proves me wrong in all accounts and can one day be added to a list of successes.

Cable cars were a joke of an

Cable cars were a joke of an example as they are used now as a tourist attraction. Their speed is largely a limit of the technology of the time they were built in handling the hills, but back in the day they were wildly successful in getting folks around town.

I cited the Chicago trains outside the city along the freeway, definitely at "grade" of a 70 mph "road" (highway), not the ones inside the city.

I think the problem is you assume that roads like Hiawatha SHOULD be auto-centric and everything else around them should be a convoluted mess to be accessible to bikes, transit, and pedestrians. The fact of the matter is that the LRT is inaccessible to 50% of the population surrounding it. This is in part due to its location on the side and also because of the nature we treated Hiawatha. I encourage you to read up on what makes a good, productive street (not a road) and that Hiawatha being a 45 mph road is neither good for auto throughput (with all the unsafe accesses/turns on cross streets) compared to a freeway but also not good for the businesses and residents along it.

Strongtowns does a good job explaining this:
http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2011/11/21/a-45-mph-world.html

You did a good job avoiding all the other successful examples I cited and acted like the Green Line is the only hope to prove you wrong.

I read the link and I agree

I read the link and I agree with the article...our country produces a mediocre transportation system based on the lobby power of special interest groups.

The real take away from this article, though, is the idea that it is not the funding, but the focus. Both pro-auto and pro-public transit/pedestrian/biking have their agendas which narrow the focus, thus leaving us with expensive, but ineffective, modes of transportation. Just look at the discussion that has ensued regarding the Hiawatha Line. While I think we both agree that increased transit use, pedestrian access, and biking are preferable, our focus (and probably our reasons) is very different. And we all know that the city planners' focus on several of these projects mentioned in this article was very different from that of real users within the city.

I avoid commentary on the other examples because I can only speak to what I've actually experienced. I've not been to Germany, Boston, or Portland. I have heard Portland used as a model for the Green Line. I have also read "The Geography of Nowhere," which cites Portland as a well designed city and the book makes a good case for Portland's urban planning. However, I've heard from people who have lived in and visited Portland that they do not like the rail design there. So, having heard both good and bad things, I stay out of that argument until I see it for myself.

As to my hope about the Green Line, well, I moved to the Midway because of the excellent bus lines here, the ability to walk to any restaurant and store that I would need, and the central location to the entire MSP, making busing easy. Since construction has started, many of my frequented places have moved. The buses have become less efficient (due to construction and bus stops being moved). They have announced that the 94 bus stop will be eliminated from the Midway as will the 144 bus line to Dinkytown when the Green Line starts. The Met Council's focus is to save money. I am finding myself driving more, which I believe that I should not have to drive in a real urban area. I am also finding it more difficult to cross University (as a pedestrian) even at places where construction has ended. I would love a Paris or Moscow style underpass that will get me from the southeast corner of Snelling/University to the northwest corner without having to worry about turning cars, trains moving past, or fast moving cars. As a driver, I'd also love to see pedestrian over/underpasses at intersections like this. Again, maybe the Green Line will show me that access to the other side of the street is more convenient because the train is in the middle of the street?

In addition to the cable cars...

San Francisco has a street car line running downt to the Embarcadero. It uses salvaged street cars from around the country and is a tourist attraction AND a well used transport.

Calgary C-Train

Monica, check out the Crowchild LRT line in Calgary, AB. Hiawatha Ave is quite analogous to Crowfoot Trail (4-lane expressway with some at-grade crossings leading out of a downtown district to outerlying neighborhoods). They basically do pedestrian skyways above the road from neighborhoods and park 'n rides on either side, with 46th Street BRT Station-style access to the trains running in the median. It works fantastically well. Here's an example: http://bit.ly/VOm9f9

Ian, thank you for this. I'm

Ian, thank you for this. I'm hesitant to ever call anything good or bad design unless I've actually experienced it. Melbourne's and SF F-trains were the only middle of a city street train that I've ever seen and they were bad seemingly for me as a passenger and in the area as a pedestrian. In Paris and Moscow, many streets are like our roads....multi lanes of traffic and dangerous to pedestrians and bicyclists, but they make good use of space through pedestrian under and over passes, and transit that doesn't have to mix with traffic. They also have high density urban centers.

I like Ian's link as another example of good use of space. People in rural states like this are so used to sprawling land that they can only see development happening at one level. Your link is a middle of the road train, which is accessible via pedestrian bridge. Would a pedestrian bridge help Hiawatha too? Probably. Again, the fact that no pedestrian solution was developed is worse than the placement of the train.

middle of the road

How much time have you spent in Boston. Their "T" runs all over the place, middle of the road, side, under, you name it and they take it. Redevelopment or the use of existing structures simply happens over and over again. All of the streets with access to the T have bustling pedestrian accessed businesses. The development along University Avenue will be huge. If you don't already know their are hundreds of near ready projects happening. BILLIONS of private dollars are going to be invested along the Central Corridor. Isn't that just terrible?

High-rise condos on Lake Street across from Lake Calhoun

I'm glad the Minneapolis City Council blocked that.

Would have been a visually ugly contamination of the lake shore.

Hmmm

I'm not a huge fan of big condos/high rises because the utility of them neither decreases market pricing through increased supply (they are always high-priced living spaces) and don't do much to increase walkability of their surrounding neighborhood (usually surrounded by a large plaza or parking garage/lot).

But I think you'd be hard pressed to say that buildings along a waterfront are a "visually ugly contamination of the lakeshore." Some examples of high-rises against waterfronts, usually regarded as a visually stunning combination of nature and man-made design:

Chicago:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/12243177@N05/3226398523/

Miami:
http://www.examiner.com/article/what-to-do-with-out-of-towners-miami

Even if you disagree with this, that is purely an opinion of yours and unless the city/state at large sees a problem with condos for housing stock or a better use for the land itself, I don't know why private property owners/investors should care what you think is beautiful vs ugly..

Block E

Nick,

Borders was having a bad go of it nationally, but that is equally a black eye on Block E for not getting financially healthy tenants and/or brands, as Borders wasn't in great shape when it opened there.

Sure, AMC was forced out, but I don't remember much indication that they were doing gangbusters there. And what about GameWorks? They had been wanting to get out of their lease for years. Oh, and Hard Rock Cafe, the perpetually empty, and crappy restaurant. Which reminds me of the Hooters, another major tenant that was not forced out but failed, along with Applebee's, a viable national chain that was a clunker.

I think we can see a pattern.

There is some good stuff here

And some not so good.

A few thoughts:

On the Gateway District: This is a well-documented tragedy, but a point that I see less often is that this type of "blighted" district is where successful preservation comes from. The value lost to the city from what would have been high-dollar renovations of those historical buildings is just mind-boggling. So I'd not only say don't tear things down before you have something to replace it, but when you're talking about the historical heart of your city, neglect can be a preservation policy.

On 2-4, these are just a few of the tragedies wrought by the cult of the car. You could add every surface parking lot and stand-alone parking structure that places a crater of death in the cityscape of both downtowns.

Speaking of mistakes, though, the pendulum seems to be swinging too far in the other direction with number 5, where there seems to be growing hostility to the concept of skyways. This is misguided. We need those skyways. Living, working and visiting downtown in the winter would be unmanageable without them. We just need them to be open later (10 pm is ridiculously early to kick visitors out of the city) and better designed, as you say, to allow better access too and from the street.

No. 9 is spot on though, except that I wouldn't describe that type of short-sighted NIMBYism as "democracy." Neighborhoods need a say, but the city as a whole needs to keep moving forward, lest the hecklers veto create more Gateway District-like problems.

How do people

.. survive without skyways in many other cities in America or the world? Honestly, we all sit here and perpetuate the belief widely held by America that MSP is some barren Siberian wasteland that no one would dare brave unless forced by gunpoint. How much colder is Chicago, NYC, or Boston than MSP? I'll answer.. the average daily high in mid January for MSP is 24F, Chi - 31, NYC - 38, Boston - 34. I cannot say that it's worth the millions of dollars spent for a 7-14 degree difference. Our streets are not unmanageable without them, and I'll cite some examples. The U of M has the incredible "Gopher Way" - a network of tunnels and skyways connecting buildings on the main part of campus. It is rarely used because it is such a pain in the butt to navigate from one building to another, and campus is much more interesting than a tunnel, even in cold/snow/rain. Uptown has some of the most successful retail, restaurant, and bar scenes in the city, particularly with the crowd of people living in the surrounding 5-8 block radius. No skyways or tunnels and yet people still fill them up in the cold/snow.

Downtown is unLIVABLE (not unmanagable) because of the skyways. Businesses (restaurants/shops) in the skyway system are only open during business hours on weekdays and close down at night, making it a place with only a few options for food/shopping for any potential residents. It's also a pain in the butt to get from point A to B. Yes, you avoid stopping at intersections (don't get me started on the illegality of jaywalking in urban environments), but you snake in many directions on your path. Great for the workers on a power walk, bad for people getting from one place to another or wanting to experience the city.

38 below daily average in NYC?

It's a wonder ANYONE lives there!

(Yes - I know that was an editing error - but it was just TOO good to pass up!)

Not editing errors

it is the hyphen between the city and the temperature. Otherwise I would have put no space between the dash and number.

Working downtown

I would hate being downtown without the skyways. Quite frankly, unless they shut off traffic from the heart of downtown so that walking wasn't such a gamble on your life, the skyways ARE essential. When I was at the U of M, I and many others used the skyways and tunnels regularly and for the same reason. The Minneapolis East Bank campus is, with Washington running down the middle, pedestrian-unfriendly and ugly. Slogging around campus or downtown along poorly maintained streets and sidewalks (really, why do I need to climb over a 3-foot pile of snow getting off the bus???) is awful. If we must save money on snow removal and/or we must have heavy traffic through these locations that we want to have foot traffic, then we must have skyways.

For what it's worth, it's pretty telling that the food trucks have been a hit--requiring not only leaving the comfort of the skyway, but leaving a building entirely--while street-level businesses suffer. In a place like the downtown of any major city, you must run a good business in order to attract people. If you're a restaurant and your food is so-so, then you'd better be really convenient and/or cheap. If you're a store in an inconvenient spot, then you'd better have something no one else has. No one has time to patronize a crummy business simply because. Life's not fair. Life in a capitalist economy is particularly unfair. Get better or get used to it.

Uhh..

Mpls has gotten away with poor snow removal for pedestrians BECAUSE of the skyway system, not the other way around.

I'm confused why I never saw anyone emerging from the tunnels at the U of M in my 4 years there, while the front and back doors of all the buildings were bustling with activity. The only one I ever considered using was walking through Weaver-Densford Hall on the way back to the Superblock because it was long, straight, and aside from going down a flight of stairs then back up, did not extend the journey. And even then outside on Washington was just as busy with pedestrians. The U of M is a pedestrian nightmare??? How many classes did you have south of Washington or North of University? As far as anything goes, the U of M is a pedestrian HAVEN by all definitions. Great sidewalks, great architecture (quantity and variety), nice short 'blocks' (sidewalks between nearly every building linking every location up), great access for bikes, nearly NO cars in the triangle bounded by the river/University/Washington, tons of landscaping and trees making it feel far more natural than urban, and well-maintained sidewalks when it comes to snow. Crossing Washington was never difficult given the 2 bridges and 3 intersections with frequent stops - and it will only be better when the LRT is finished. The direct path from one building to another spending a whopping 2 minutes outside compared to the 5 minutes trek down stairs and winding through tunnels made people take the outdoors far more often.

Finally, you're right - food trucks that offer a service where one is forced to walk, stand, order, and eat their food outside (ok they can take it back in) - being so successful proves that the weather is NOT a major deterrent when good services are available at street grade. Every other location in the cities with good walking neighborhoods has no problem getting business without skyways.

I don't think they're all horrible, but they have completely gutted our street-level experience in Mpls and to a certain extent St Paul.

At the U

I was at the U for 5 and a half years getting my PhD. 90% of that was in the medical school part of the campus--right next to Washington. Once you get to the older part of campus, where I never had class but sometimes had to visit to turn in paperwork, it's nice--but that part of campus was never as busy as it seemed the area immediately adjacent to Washington was. Crossing any of the streets surrounding the cluster including Moos Tower was a gamble on your life, especially Washington. Now that there are a couple of pedestrian bridges (your note of them indicates that your time on campus was fairly recent), it's better, but still not good. Combining high traffic with college students and a crowded campus makes the pedestrian experience awful. On a nice day, it was worth leaving the building, but in the winter, no. The spaces between the buildings act like wind tunnels in a way that even downtown can't match. If you spent any significant amount of time in the medical school cluster of buildings, you discovered that you didn't want to get out of the tunnels in the winter time. Besides being miserable outside, the tunnels and skyways gave you more convenient access to the places you needed to be. There is nothing worth leaving the buildings for on a -20 degree day--students slogging through drifted snow and leaning into the wind makes a great newspaper photo, but not a great experience.

Unless you count "recent" as

Unless you count "recent" as being since like 1940, no, foot bridges have crossed Washington in front of Coffman for quite some time. Ryan Companies built new shiny ones to open when Coffman re-opened in late spring of 2003 (footbridges opened in 2002), but black/dark metal ones that were straight existed for quite some time. http://www1.umn.edu/news/news-releases/2002/UR_RELEASE_MIG_125.html I would guess that if you were there for 5 years they would have been hard to miss given construction only took 6 months...

You're right, the part of campus connecting the superblock to East Bank was always busy (also partly because this is where many buses drop off and the Wash Ave ramp spews pedestrians to the sidewalk, in addition to the dining/retail area of Stadium Village just east). But the point is that the sidewalks of the U, whether over by the med school, on the Mall, or in the old part of campus were by far more traveled than the tunnels (I would say 10 to 1), even in the winter months. For me, the main reason was that it took more effort and time to enter a building from being outside (entering campus by car bus or foot is always outdoors), head downstairs at some random location, then snake through the tunnels, all to avoid 2-3 minutes of outdoor walking. I think the same can be said for many locations downtown, with the lone difference being some parking garages are tied to skyways.

I also disagree that crossing Washington is a scramble for your life. Yes, during rush hours it was busy. But keep in mind there were 3 lights to cross at (Harvard, Union, Church) plus the 2 foot bridges if those failed. If you were coming from further east (Melrose/Dinnaken/etc) you could cross at Oak as well. I guess I just find it odd that I never once feared for my life and actually rarely found myself using those shiny bridges walking over from the dorms. I also never had a problem walking to campus from 15th and 7th in Dinkytown, crossing 4th and University in the process.

Yet

According to this 2007 study (after the shiny new bridges were built), one of the most features on the Twin Cities campus for pedestrian safety is skyways and tunnels, and significant planned improvements for pedestrian safety is more skyways and tunnels.
http://ict.illinois.edu/groups/tol/reports/TOLseries21.pdf

For what it's worth, I am fully aware that there has been a bridge in front of Coffman for quite a while, however, I am also aware that foot traffic crossing Washington doesn't only happen at Coffman. And, in any case, the street is fenced to prevent pedestrian crossing there except by bridge. Until the two new ones were put up, as a pedestrian safety feature, by the way, you crossed at street level except at Coffman. You might not have felt endangered, but amongst my friends, we kidded that we were worth so many points to drivers based on our level of difficulty to hit.

My overall point is, though, that your preferred vision of crowded sidewalks and your preference to go outside rather than get lost in the tunnels is contrary to the preference of many others, hence the empty sidewalks. As a worker downtown, and as a former student on the East Bank campus, the quaint idea of being a part of your vision of a lively and bustling sidewalk culture is overcome by the need to be efficient, warm, and safe. The skyways and tunnels don't confuse me. Don't worry, I'll step outside once in a while after the thaw.

All I have to say

Crossing at street level except Coffman has always been the case, even with the 2 new bridges.. that's my point. Harvard, Union, and Church Streets all had lights with pedestrian crosswalks and were timed in such a way that I was able to legally cross the street before the Coffman bridges 9 times out of 10 coming from the Superblock. Yes, my friends and I also made jokes about being worth XX number of points, or that if we were hit my college would essentially be free. But I honestly never actually felt endangered.

Is that it's not some antiquated vision or dream of mine to have bustling sidewalks. The sidewalks on campus and Church Street (blocked to cars) were always bustling with pedestrians, whether it was hot as hades at the start of term in September or cold in late January - that is not an opinion or dream but a fact. I cannot stress enough that I never got LOST in the tunnels. They simply took FAR longer to get in to, then navigate through and back up, than they were worth. The skyway from the Mech Eng building to Lind Hall or the skyway to the Architecture building were a great way to facilitate the traffic already INSIDE the building, on the second story or above. But more people leaving class on the 1st or ground levels would just head outside and spend the 10-15 seconds outside instead.

In any case, pedestrian safety should never be fixed by making streets more car accessible and removing pedestrians from the equation by creating tunnels or skyways. Streets are shared spaces and what little danger there was on Washington (or still on University) should be mitigated by reducing lane width, speed limits, adding bike lanes, and even making the environment more "busy" or distracting to force drivers to slow down and pay attention. All things going on right now on campus (except for Wash becoming a pedestrian/transit mall).

I'm also confused how skyways and tunnels on a campus that is virtually devoid of car traffic could have any impact on pedestrian safety. In fact, the only areas of campus with car traffic (15th/Pleasant up near University as well as Church near Northrop/Armory) don't have any tunnels/skyways keeping pedestrians separate.

I work here

Hello design world -- the skyways are an Adaptation. Ask trilobites what they think about opposable thumbs. I make multiple skyway trips every working day (three so far today and counting) and I am happy to leave my coat in the office. If a further adaptation is needed, find it and implement it (my suggestion - a free skyway point-to-point navigation app for smartphones a la Google Maps -- I wish I were smart enough to write it myself).

PS -- I read this article with some apprehension that the Mall of America would make the list. I am glad the author left it off. It may not be the favorite destination for us highly hip MinnPost readers but it has made our metro area a leading travel destination.

2nd PS -- the only businesses cut off from the long skyway in the picture are a strip joint and a sex toy store. I think their patrons prefer cars over any form of foot transportation. They are not looking for skyway access and I am not looking for any access (indoor or out) to them.

Really!?!?! do some relevant research.

That 7 degree difference happens to put Minneapolis below a very critical point when it comes to weather. It's called the freezing point. So the snow and ice we do get isn't going to be gone tomorrow, because that avg temperature isn't above 32 degrees. The streets/sidewalks stay snowy and icy for MUCH longer in Mpls than they do in those cities. Also the frequency of snow is notable. Minneapolis averages about 54 inches of snow on over 38 days. Chicago, 36" on 28 days, NYC 25" on 11 days, and Boston 43" but only on 22 days per year. It gets below freezing only 78 days in Boston, and 78 in NYC, half as much at the 156 days in Minneapolis. So not only does it snow here about twice as often as it does in those cities but that snow stays on the ground considerably longer. Plus our winter weather season is longer, and amount of daylight is less.

I agree that skyways detract from street life, but to suggest that we aren't a special case is completely nonfactual.

I'll take

constantly frozen snow over snow that melts slightly then re-freezes overnight when the temperature dips. Go to Chicago or NYC in the winter and see what I mean when it does indeed snow. Keep in mind I cited the COLDEST day of the year to prove a point of relative difference.

Your snow figures prove that we don't get more snow per time it snows, but that the total number of days in question that we DO get snowfall is barely over a month. I don't know what math you look at but 28 days is not half of 38, nor is 22 (yet Boston gets more snow per day of snowfall than we do, and we are better at clearing it off our streets than any of those locations). I would also contend that weather slightly below freezing with snow is MUCH more enjoyable to be outside than weather slightly above freezing with rain/slush. Do you prefer mid December snowfall or late March snowfall? The latter is what NYC and Chicago get. Furthermore, the number of days with snow you're complaining about is 1 month. Did we really build an expensive skyway system and gut the revenue generating businesses in downtown for one month of cold convenience??

Also, stating the number of days a city falls below freezing is irrelevant when that is the "low temperature" of the day (you know, at a time of night when rarely anyone is out and about, after 8-9 PM, BTW when most of the skyways are closed anyway). You incorrectly stated a few numbers, according to weather.com MSP is 150 days with the low below freezing, Boston is 104, NYC is 78, and Chicago (you omitted) is 117.

A more relevant number if you want to compare days where the temp gets above freezing and melts snow is number of days a year where the daily high is above freezing. For Boston and NYC, that number is 365. For Chicago, 349, for MSP, 284 (we have 2.5 months where the temp does not get above freezing). Again, I submit to you or anyone else out there 2 questions: 1) do you dress any differently for a day where the high temperature is 38 vs 31? and 2) would you rather be outside in snow or sleet?

Hours of daylight? Come on. we're talking 8:59 in MSP of daylight, BOS: 9:05, NYC: 9:15, and Chi: 9:08 at the shortest day of the year, a max difference of 16 minutes more daylight to enjoy. And for every minute more they have in the winter, we have more in the summer for enjoyment.

I submit that the skyways are not 100% bad, but honestly, at worst we're talking about 2.5 months of below-freezing weather compared to other cold-climate major cities and at best we're talking about 2-16 more days of snowfall in a given year. Did we really invest that much money in a skyway system for roughly 1-2 months out of the year???

Getting a few things straight

But first, your final question: yes. You're talking about 1/12 to 1/6 of the year. Do you just want us to shut downtown down for those months?

On other topics of correction, typically the coldest part of the day is just before sunrise. For much of the year, that's exactly when people around here are making their morning commute. So, yeah, one of the busiest times of the day in the skyways is close to the coldest point in the day.

You're also wrong about the hours of operation for Minneapolis skyways, which are open until 10 on weekdays. It would help a lot of they were open at least an hour longer on weekdays, so that visitors to downtown could get back to their homes/cars after a dinner normal at a normal hour, and open longer on weekends.

Do the skyways impede street life? Yes and no. What they really do is move it up into to the skyway level. That's where your newstands and your corner stores and your businesses that cater to the workday crowd are. What's wrong with that? The main difference is that the street look less lively if you're passing through in a car. Why are we supposed to care about that?

As for comparisons, if you'd ever spent any time in New York in the winter, you would know that there is a big climate difference. It's just enough warmer there to make being outside bearable. But even without the temperature difference, New York (and to a lesser extent the other cities you mention) has less need for skyways because you can take the subway to within a few blocks of your destination. If we had that type of transit coverage, we'd have a lot less need for skyways too.

Some seem to have this Utopian vision where if we just did away with the skyways, everyone would just happily walk on the streets. But they should think more carefully about what would really happen. Instead of parking a few blocks from the office where they find the best deal, workday commuters would park as close as possible to their offices, rarely leave their office buildings and, when they do, considering driving even a few blocks rather than walking outside in the bitter cold. That is not a recipe for a lively downtown.

Finally, it seems that you are largely reasoning from the behavior of 18-21 years olds. Visit campus on any December afternoon and you will see at least one of those kids walking around in shorts. The young people you are observing are not a good analog for the typical downtown office worker. Kids behave strangely. And even when they aren't, outdoor life is significantly different when you can wear hiking boots, jeans and down jackets compared to leather soled shoes and wool dress pants.

I work downtown. I also live downtown, principally because I highly value being able to walk to work. Without skyways, that wouldn't be possible and I would have significantly less incentive to live where I do. If the most practical way in inclement weather to cover the 2/3 of a mile from my home to my office was to drive, I might as well live farther away still.

I don't know what financial

I don't know what financial world we live in where 8-16% of the time a 7-10 degree difference is enough of a change to make sense to spend so much on obliterating street life and increasing walk time to places.

As we continue to increase the % of people who arrive to downtown by transit for work, live downtown, or come downtown for pleasure, we should consider the street life more and more. A small percent of the time where a slight amount colder than other areas with lively street and sidewalk activity is not an excuse. As I've stated, how do so many other areas of the Twin Cities at large function without skyways? Kids playing hockey, people walking dogs, people walking 1-2 blocks worth from their car to a Target store, etc etc. If you think the 1-2 months a year that people will "park closer to work" than they do already (as if the extra commute time isn't incentive enough to park close to work) will ruin the street scene MORE than elevating all street activity to the skyway, I don't know what to say. Hundreds of thousands of people living in Minneapolis and St Paul (not downtowns) deal with leaving their homes, walking to the bus stop, and catching a ride. I still cannot believe someone would dress any differently for 25 vs 31 F, 32 vs 38 F weather, but that might just be me.

The U is a perfect example of catering to people who live and enjoy their time. Yeah, I've seen a few nuts wearing shorts. We're talking 1-2 out of 30,000 kids on the East Bank. Insignificant. You want to cater only to people wearing leather soled shoes and light wool suit pants. Well, if we want Minneapolis and St Paul to be livable and walkable again, the skyway is absolutely a detriment to that. That's what's wrong with catering to the workday crowd. Our downtown is hollow and empty and not able to cater to any residents or visitors due to skyway hours. Put businesses back on the street and they can decide hours for themselves and start serving a larger customer base.

I don't know how much you think we spent

Most/many of them were put in during construction of the building and were likely a trivial part of the cost.

As for increasing walk times, sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. But if your theory was right - that people would rather walk outside and it's faster - you should have nothing to worry about. No one would be using the skyways.

And yet they are.

As for the success of parts of the twin cities without skyways, the answer is pretty obvious. People drive everywhere.

Supply side demand at its

Supply side demand at its finest. Buildings with street-level retail were demolished to make ones with skyway systems and upper level options for food and shopping. People had no choice. I guess I wasn't alive at the time and can't find anything to say people were clamoring for skyways or if they vehemently opposed it (I would say an example of this would be alum backlash at demolishing the old Brickhouse, which in hindsight was a major mistake for the U).

People using it is a reflection on how little other options they truly have. But if you name some of the best locations to grab a drink/bite to eat in downtown, I would bet most of them have street-entrances as the primary (if not only) way to get in. Brit's Pub, the Local, Ike's, anywhere on 1st Ave north of the Target Center, the Warehouse District, on the other side of the river in St Anthony (I know, not downtown). Just my take.

As for the other parts of MINNEAPOLIS and ST PAUL without skyways, a lot of people don't drive. Uptown has a huge contingency of locals that walk nearly everywhere they go (or ride transit). Same with Summit/Grand area. The fact that some other people get there by car means that they are willing (forced by the lack of good development patterns) to drive distances to get there, find parking on-street or in a lot somewhere, get out and walk 1 to several blocks (in the cold) to reach their destination. They must be miserable.

History....

Alex, the skyways were retro-fitted existing buildings in the core area. The IDS tower was the first building to actually be built with skyways and was envisioned as something of a skyway hub.

Restricted corridors

The problem is that as extensive as the skyway system is, it's not as extensive as the streets system. When you end up restricting retail commerce to the skyway system you're restricting commerce to a fraction of what it could be.

That's my point

How much did we spend adding skyways to existing building? How much extra was spent on new buildings to include skyways? Even if trivial compared to the cost of many-million dollar office/etc buildings, this was a cost that duplicated the built environment of the street.

Paul, I agree with you that the major problem is that the skyway network is not as extensive as the streets. There will always be people on the streets - so by dividing foot traffic to two grades, you force neither grade to maximize their potential. Furthermore, not all of them stay open til 10, many start closing at 7 PM. They are not public space the way a sidewalk is and therefore not as economically productive as the sidewalk by itself.

I feel like defending the skyway system is like defending taking up valuable downtown space for surface parking lots because they allow people to get there in climate controlled cars. Yes, personal comfort is increased (I never argued it wasn't, only to the degree it matters relative to other successful cities with similar climates and no skyways), but at the cost of what? Would anyone make the case that downtown Minneapolis is as compelling as NYC, Boston, or Detroit? As compelling as it was pre-1960s? As compelling as Grand/Summit or Hennepin/Lake?

Compelling downtowns

The advantages of the skyways are obvious, and undeniable. The point we're discussing is that there are also undeniable disadvantages. One that hasn't been discussed is the way they screw up sight lines, when you look down a street these bridges between buildings screw up the whole look of the corridor.

I think the other point being made is the existence of the skyways determined environment on street level. The reason down town streets are less compelling and interesting than those of Boston or New York is that designers assumed everyone would be up in the skyways. Once you ad that feature to the environment it has consequences and we obviously didn't think that through.

What's done is done and we're stuck with it. We could retrofit them street access, or replace some of them with more interesting designs and street access. On the street level we could maybe retrofit some avenues with facades that that would make the streets more interesting, and integrate our transportation system more effectively.

Yup, that's what I mean

Totally absurd. 7-14 degrees on average is a huge difference. And many of those other cities have some skyways too.

Also, the fact that you can't find your way around suggests that you neither live nor work downtown. Your confusion suggest a need for improvement, but doesn't imply that we should get rid of them.

There are many businesses that are only open during the day because the end of working hours means the number of people downtown drops by a massive amount (70%? 80?). That as nothing to do with skyways.

Also, as to the Gopher Way, you will find the better designed tunnels on the West Bank heavily trafficked, and even the more obscure east bank tunnels in use in bad weather.

We can't wish and hope our way into winter streets tat are appealing.

I never said I couldn't find

I never said I couldn't find my way around them or was confused (although you would have a hard time convincing me that the skyways aren't more confusing than the street grid to a pedestrian). I said the rat maze of snaking through buildings, going up and down floors, sometimes being forced to go outside forced much longer walk times. I do not work downtown, but have used the system many times, both during peak (daytime) hours and in the early evening. A street-level walking experience is a quicker route for walkers that offers the same shopping/eating experiences (assuming street-level retail and businesses were to exist, they only don't because the skyway system moved foot traffic away).

The fact that businesses close is because the combination of skyways and gutting downtown population forced the populous that resides downtown to be 80% workers. Those that do live downtown no longer live among the buildings in many of the areas the skyway serves because convenient access from their residences to skyway businesses doesn't exist.

Yes, other cities have a few skyways, but the street landscape is by far the primary mode of transit for pedestrians. The ones that do exist serve to connect buildings for a specific reason (like 2 buildings owned/occupied by the same company, facilitating meetings). Funny, though, that NYC, Boston, and Chicago don't have notable "systems" of skyways for pedestrians.

I will disagree with you that a 7-10 degree difference at the coldest time of the year makes a huge difference in how one reacts to cold, dresses in expectation, or goes outside to enjoy activities. But, if your suggestion is true that the temperature at NYC/Boston/Chicago levels is NOT a concern for pedestrians but our severe level is, then we truly only designed an entire skyway system to provide comfort for a single month per year. Pathetic and so much better uses of our money than that.

I'll also disagree again on the UMN campus, based on my extensive experience. I never sai the tunnels weren't used, but rarely. And counting the bus stop dropoff on West Bank at Blegen and Willey Halls don't count.

#5 and #9

Ms. Harris,

Your #5 point concerning skyways starts with a reasonable headline -- yes, there should be more of them accessible to the streets! However, the bulk of the text hints more that the entire skyway system itself is a problem, not just lack of access. Can you clarify your stance? (Either way, you're going to get a very vocal group of dissenters, alas.)

Regarding #9: you've visited the idea of a Trader Joe's on Lyndale before in not-well-received piece: http://www.minnpost.com/cityscape/2012/06/conflicted-over-trader-joes-mi... The Trader Joe's didn't pass muster not just due to local opposition, but also because of zoning issues, the lack of a need for one in the area (I live a block away and can walk to four other grocery stores), lack of ample parking, etc. I'm not sure why you bring it up again as a "failure."

I enjoy reading your columns -- looking forward to your "best of" column.

Urban planning

Knowing just enough about planning to be dangerous – 6 years as a planning commissioner in two different Colorado cities – I’ll defer to locals regarding Block E. Though I live in the city, I go downtown so seldom that I wouldn’t recognize it unless someone pointed it out to me.

Beyond Block E, however, this is a good piece, Marlys, even if I wasn’t here for much/most of what went on.

I wholeheartedly concur with the takeaway from #1, both in regard to “blunt instrument” and having something compelling to put in place of whatever it is you’re knocking down.

Ditto the takeaway from #2. I’ve put many thousands of miles on several automobiles driving between cities on interstates, and I’ve yet to see a city that was improved by the presence of an interstate traversing the downtown area. St. Louis, Kansas City, Denver, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Des Moines, etc., etc., ad nauseum. They all tell the same sad story of commercial districts and neighborhoods destroyed by the interstate. The key is too easily passed over – the whole point of an interstate is high-speed travel between cities, not within cities. Like a good many similar metro areas, the Twin Cities already have an alternative in place – the “beltway” of I-494/I-694, and you could even include I-394 in the mix if you like. Most interstates ought to end at city or downtown boundaries the way 394 ends near Target Field.

#3 should be a no-brainer.

As for #4, there’s no “supposedly” about it. The successful efforts of GM, with widespread but under-the-radar political support from highway lobbyists, other auto manufacturers, etc., to dismantle a hugely successful urban transit network qualifies as a sin as well, and have been well documented, half a century after the fact. Having reached and passed “peak oil,” it will take decades to retreat from the false nirvana of auto dependency to a sensible urban transit system that’s cheap, ubiquitous, and convenient for virtually everyone in the Twin Cities.

Skyways make sense intellectually, especially in a cold climate, but I’m not a native, don’t go downtown with any frequency, and would have no idea, when I went into a building, if there was a skyway connecting it to another building. In practice, they probably still make sense for people who live and work in a fairly restricted downtown area. Much less so, I think, for everyone else.

I agree with #7, as well. Hiawatha is a pedestrian nightmare, and putting the light rail on one side pretty much guarantees that access for pedestrians will be miserable. The potential to turn that corridor into one of the more desirable areas of the Twin Cities was certainly there, and the planners/designers blew the opportunity.

I used to amuse my fellow planning commissioners from time to time by reminding them that big-box businesses like Walmart and Target are not charitable enterprises. They locate in a particular area because their market research tells them they can make money there. With that in mind, there’s really NO reason why a community should automatically accept whatever architecture and site design is presented to them by the prospective tenant. There are lots of ways to both locate and disguise a big box so that the surrounding neighborhood is not embarrassed by its appearance. Local planners should do a LOT more to insist that new development be both pedestrian-friendly (not just pedestrian-tolerant) and attractive to the neighbors, who are rarely asked about such things.

Finally, bravo for #9. Few things are more certain than death, taxes, and neighborhood opposition to virtually any project that brings change. Especially as it seems to operate in Minneapolis, the whole notion of neighborhood opposition has taken on a peculiarly perverse means of operation.

Now, I look forward to a glimpse of some things done right.

Great Quote

"Few things are more certain than death, taxes, and neighborhood opposition to virtually any project that brings change."

Can we make T-shirts with this slogan and wear them to planning commission meetings? Well put.

Hiawatha Line

The Hiawatha Line is on the west side of the street because the land was already owned. It had been condemned years before, when Hiawatha was going to be turned into a full-fledged freeway (something scotched largely by--dare I say it?--neighborhood opposition). Building on the already empty land minimized the disruption to traffic and the surrounding area that would have been caused by going down the middle of the road.

It may not have been the best idea urban planning idea in town, but it certainly doesn't rise to the level of Block E or closing Nicollet for K Mart.

Freeways and urban planning

Probably the worst urban planners in the area are the MNDOT freeway designers. Maybe it looks OK on their computers, but when they start laying concrete, we are all in for snarled traffic, isolated neighborhoods, and lots of ugly. Just look at the twice a day gridlock that is Highways 394 and 100. Both the old and the new versions of the 35W and 62 intersection. The new 3/4 of a cloverleaf that is the new 169 and 494 area. Does anybody who actually drives a car through these messes actually think that any of these weird designs are improvements? Who are the people who designed these monstrosities? Why does the public have so little to say about it?
And another thing, while I am ranting, who the hell thought of the "zipper merge"? Couldn't have been a human driver. If I am in the right lane for miles and the left lane is going away, I am not going to like it very much when the guys in the left lane zip all the way up to the bottleneck and then squeeze in, clotting it up for everyone. Human nature. The only way a zipper merge would work is if both lanes have to merge into a center lane. But that is not the way they design them, whoever "they" are.

I agree with you on the

I agree with you on the freeways and would add that these interchanges are also *incredibly* expensive yet never seem to grab the attention of the "lower my taxes" crowd the way a light rail line does.

However, I actually think the "zipper merge" makes perfect sense and it works perfectly well everywhere else. It's something with our midwestern politeness that seems to make it impossible for us to execute. With the zipper you have cars all merging at one well-defined point as opposed to people darting in at random points along a mile of road, or discovering if they wait too long all of the sudden people won't let them in.

Re: Borders

Actually, Borders went out long before Alatus and their casino plan, and prior to Borders going under.

But agree on Alatus and their moves so far to date.

However, if Block E isn't a failure - based on the metrics to date and how it became a giant, ill-designed monolith that always was difficult to actually enter - then I'm not sure how to describe it. There was the opportunity to really create something great and possibly different, instead of an city version of another suburban mall, essentially.

Magrino's assessment of Block E

At what point was Block E anywhere near what it was projected to be? I don't think that Harris is misleading us.

Good Example of #9

A good example of #9 is the corner of 40th and Lyndale in SWmpls. Super America had a nice little plan to develop the east side SA for housing and put a new urbany SA on the west side of Lyndale. The building would have been anchored on the corner, brick to match the Larue's corner. etc. Adjacent neighbors complained (all of but one who have since moved). Instead we have a crappy old SA still on the east side of Lyndale and a boarded up for nearly 10 years rat trap of a building on the west side. Thanks!

Block E

Block E was simply a bad idea from the word go. Just the basic concept of dropping a suburban mall down in the middle of the city is flawed. Most suburbanites don't want to drive all the way to the city and then pay for parking, especially when they can get the same experience a few blocks from their home. The whole idea is to give people a unique experience, one that can't be replicated in every suburb across North America.

#2 - not far enough; #7 - wrong prescription

I don't think you takeaway in #2 goes far enough. I94 an I35 created blight along their entire corridors throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul. I'd suggest, "Figure out a way to go around MINNEAPOLIS AND ST PAUL, not through."

As for #7, part of the issue with Hiawatha is essentially the same problem as with #2. The problem with Hiawatha isn't where the train is placed. It's that Hiawatha isn't designed to be a street in any way, shape or form. It's designed to be a freeway, just with a few at-grade access points. MNDOT's regulations prohibited adequate trees, required massive lane widths, mandated exit routes that invite pedestrian-flattening speeding, MNDOT never would have tolerated a street to be used by people. Want to read more? Here are a couple of smart people, one of whom lives near and uses the Hiawatha's crosswalks with his small sons.

http://www.streets.mn/2012/04/11/the-urban-future-of-hiawatha-avenue/

http://www.streets.mn/2012/04/18/problem-of-hiawatha-avenue/

http://www.streets.mn/2012/12/05/be-careful-crossing-the-street/

Twin Cities Urban Planning Fiascos

So is "Twin Cities" limited to Minneapolis and St. Paul, or is that merely where the fiascos occurr?

If you'd like a suburban example

I'd nominate the West End. To build a "main street" shopping and entertainment complex of that style with no housing simply defies logic. "We've got all the driving and parking inconvenience of a city, but now in a suburban setting!"

It makes me wonder whether Minnesotans have grasped the added value of mixed use development (see also, #9).

And yet...

it's packed practically every night of the week.

There is housing currently being built and lots of room for more. There is also a large townhouse/condo complex a few blocks away. I have friends who live there and go to a West End restaurant or movie probably at least once a week. BTW, the Showplace ICON is the best Theater in town.

Two Additional Urgan Planning Moves for the List

1) Building a K-Mart store (or any store) in the middle of Nicollet Avenue, on the North side of Lake Street. This one could be undone, unlike the 2nd.
2) Running two highways (5 & 55) and an interchange between them in the midst of historic Fort Snelling.

Fort Snelling

Don't even get me started on the Fort Snelling fiasco. Lopping off the head of the fort (the historic portion) from the body (the upper post) and leaving the airport to gobble up the rest was a mistake of the first order. We're trying to preserve what's left (I'm on the Friends of Fort Snelling board), but with 90% of the post gone it doesn't leave us with a whole lot to work with as far as a cohesive street scape goes.

Number 4, Street Cars

I assume you're aware that not only was the Street Car debacle a "sin" as described by Mr Schoch, it involved prosecution and jail sentences. That would be what Ray describes as "well documented." There are court records and there were incarcerations. The hijacking of the streetcar system was blatantly illegal in the way it was accomplished.

Neighborhood opposition

It seems possible and likely that neighborhood opposition can stand in the way of development at times, but, for one, I think the Trader Joe's example contradicts your other takeaways, and two, I think that neighborhood organizations can also serve to effect development with which a majority of neighborhood residents disagree.

So first, Trader Joe's. Most glaringly, it runs contrary to your takeaway from Block E. Why should Lyndale be competing with the suburbs for that coveted Trader Joe's traffic? Shouldn't there be the kind of things there that you can't get "out there"? Trader Joe's hardly qualifies. There's even one in St. Paul already. And though not explicitly, the Big Box complaint runs contrary to the Trader Joe's endorsement in it's general anti-big-box tone. Additionally, isn't Lyndale exactly the kind of "walkable neighborhood of interesting stores that would give us some relief from chains?" that you pine for in your takeaway about the Gateway District? Putting a big box chain there wouldn't improve it, in fact, the arguments for it kind of resemble another blunder of "neighborhood opposition" you cite: the K-Mart at Lake and Nicollet.

Which brings me around to my other point. The neighborhood organization model, I agree, is not the best way to make decisions about development. But contrary to your diagnosis, I'd say there should be MORE democracy in it. The neighborhood organization thing is a problem because folks who have more or less deemed themselves the representatives of the neighborhood are given the stamp of legitimacy by the city council as the organic and democratic representatives of the neighborhood residents. Does the neighborhood vote on whether it's blocking Trader Joe's or pushing for Kmart though? Certainly not. Projects get blocked by these organizations not because the developers necessarily don't try hard enough to woo them, but because they aren't very good at wooing them and the general populace never really takes (esp. local) developers to task on their proposals.

The benefit to the people as a whole is obvious. Developers would benefit from a more democratically engaged decision-making process because development decisions, from grand project design down to the kind of flowers in the flower pots, are political decisions about the landscape of the city and neighborhood, and being inept at making a case to the public means they can sometimes pour millions of dollars into projects that never come to fruition.

Apples and Oranges

Trader Joe's is a grocery store with notoriously small footprints, even with parking (often their inner city locations have less than 10 spots), so not really a big box at all. As well, the purpose of Joe's is completely different from that of Block E. Block was a misguided attempt to get Suburbanites to visit downtown, whereas Joe's is meant to serve those living around the store. It's not meant to compete with anything but the grocers in that neighborhood, unlike Block E.

This particular Trader Joe's was not...

...the small-footprint, 10 spots or less store you're describing. It took old, historic, interesting small two-story shops, knocked them down, put in a parking-lot-facing, single-story big box on 1/4 of the block, and then used 1/2 of the rest of the block for parking. Having reviewed schematics for the plan, it WAS a big box store with a MASSIVE parking lot.

Now, if they'd been building a multi-story building with housing above, 2-3-4 stories, 10 surface spaces or underground or hidden in back parking, that would've been a real loss.

Urban Planning

No 7- I don't understand why the negative of the Hiawatha Line is that is was built on a side of a road. That by itself is a positive...it allows the Hiawatha Line to flow freely and more quickly in those areas than when it is running with traffic (like the ultra-slow travel through downtown Minneapolis...that to me was a worse urban plan!). Anyway, the fact that Hiawatha Line is on the side of the road does not make it unsafe for pedestrians. The fact that the urban planners used poor design for pedestrian safety makes it unsafe for pedestrians. Many cities worldwide have pedestrian passes that are under busy streets. This allows their public transportation to flow fast, traffic to flow quickly and safely, and pedestrians to cross busy streets without the threat of cars. Bike lanes are also separated from traffic.

No 8- I agree that we don't want lots of big box type stores in the city...however, it is good to have some, as you say, to give people a choice and to keep prices competitively low for shoppers. Currently, the Central Corridor/Green Line development is a lot more corporate chain type development, both for profit and non-profit (Culver's, Episcopal Church Home, Inc expansion, and Habitat for Humanities' giant three story building being built at Prior and Univ). Hopefully, as things settle, more diverse businesses will move back. However, not all of the big boxes are horrible for pedestrians. Take a walk to the Target on University and then take a walk to the WalMart. WalMart has done a great job for pedestrian safety...a side walk leads to the store from a near-by bus stop and there is also a side walk in the middle of the parking lot, allowing for increased pedestrian safety from store to store in that area. Target, on the other hand, is a long, long walk with very little sidewalks to it from University Ave as well as very little safe pedestrian access to the stores in front of it (Verizon, Noodles & Co, etc).

Streetcars are not a silver bullet

"In recent years, transportation planners have given streetcars another look. They're cheaper to run than buses and pollute less. And they're easier for drivers to share the road with, since they stay a track instead of wandering all over the road."

Streetcars can indeed be cheaper to operate than traditional buses, and the pollution impacts are at the source of generation, rather than use -- both good things. But the last point, that they don't "[wander] all over the road," is as much a drawback as a perk. Streetcars sharing congested roadways with cars are typically slower than buses, which can navigate around obstructions and slowpokes.

There may be a role for streetcars in our transit network, but on some of the most heavily traveled corridors (e.g., Hennepin Ave), on-time performance and speed are already poor enough. Putting those services on rails may be doing a disservice to those of us who actually ride transit. Relatively cheap investments like all-door boarding/proof of payment, level boarding platforms, signal priority, and dedicated bus lanes at bottlenecks could provide much more bang for your buck than streetcars in these congested corridors.

Rondo

The article does a nice job of pointing out the damage freeways can and often do do to cities and neighborhoods. I was sorry and more than a little surprised, however, that the Saint Paul example involved the separation of downtown from the Capitol but that there is no mention of the destruction of the Rondo business district and the division of the Rondo neighborhood. It seems to me that there is pretty good connectivity between downtown St. Paul and the Capitol area, but the Rondo business district, the center of a community, is gone.

I should probably stay out of a city people group whine but...

On the subject of freeways exactly where did you expect there to be a freeway that wouldn't disrupt something?

We have a ring freeway it's called 694 and 494 but sooner or later high traffic transit routes need to get to the heart of the city. This can't be done even on improved surface streets? Do the math sometime. Except for the destruction of Rondo neighborhood I think the freeways did well. We certainly wouldn't have wanted the freeway to follow Shepard Road in St. Paul. Swinging north of the Capital would have put it where University is perhaps that would have been a better route but the when it would have been constructed the costs would have been obscene not to mention the public housing it would have demolished. It separates government from business not a bad thing. It has created rather functional zones although government facilities seem to expand even when government employment shrinks.

As for light rail well - for anyone who has ever waxed poetic about buses and how great they are - you have now gotten what you deserve a loud smelly transportation system. Yes hind sight is 20/20 the street cars were a good idea except of course for that 4 hour ride from Mahtomedi to Hopkins that now takes less than an hour.

I actually thought the pre block E was pretty interesting (I mean Moby Dicks come on now that was interesting at least for the under 30 crowd, and where else could you walk into an x rated shop and be shocked like I was as a university student); the new block E, why bother. That is the joy of City living you get sleaze along with everything else.

The complaint about the University development is the same thing but for people with short memories. From Hamline to Snelling has always been sort of a large building street on the south side. Ward's was built pretty much the same was as Target and although the building had more charm (at least for me that's where my parents met in 1948) it was pretty much a giant box with better only slightly better architecture with but not by much. Private corporations build what works for them, perhaps the old Wards store would have worked for Target but timing is everything and it was long gone before Target moved to University.

You can't really wax poetic about neighborhoods and then condemn them for acting like little communities because those are two sides of the same coin. That seems a bit hypocritical
to me.

Where would I expect the freeways to go?...

I dunno, around the city (like the 494/694 ring you cite) and then NOWHERE inside it. Yes, I WILL do the math.. How do incredibly populous and prosperous cities across Europe manage to have good road transit to other cities yet not slice up the inner city and surrounding neighborhoods with freeways? Examples I city: London, Paris, Frankfurt, Munich, Berlin, Amsterdam, Milan, Rome, etc etc. Jeez, it's real tough for them to get people, good, tourists, etc in and out isn't it? They manage to have a great number of arterial roads (smaller than Hiawatha, often) that integrate with the city even as they've been slightly widened over time. They also have a much better, connected network of local and regional transit than we do.

The result? MUCH better regional land-use (go ahead and look at how fast those places drop off to open fields and forest compared to a MSP, Atlanta, Houston, NYC region). MUCH better transit options that don't require cars - your example of a 4-hour streetcar ride from Mahtomedi to Hopkins is dumb since streetcars haven't been around for 60 years, but in London area you can travel from Kingston to Cheshunt (2 "suburbs" of London roughly 30 mile drive from each other) in 1 hour and 20 minutes by rail (if you so desired) or 69 minutes by car compared to 43 minutes for Mahtomedi to Hopkins by car.

Find me someone who "waxes poetic" about buses that is now wanting rail? Most people know rail is a more desired form of transit for riders - it "seems" safer, is generally quieter, faster (ROW on streets), higher capacities, more permanent (spurring more development than buses that can change routes and stops), and many other benefits. Obviously the capital costs and impact on local neighborhoods are there, but I doubt there's a transit enthusiast who isn't honest about the pros/cons of rail vs bus and also honest about which situation is right for either option (ex a subway in MSP would not make sense due to density limitations on ridership compared to cost to build).

The author was not waxing poetic (apparently a favorite term of yours) about neighborhoods, she was pointing out that there needs to be a middle ground between the NIMBY "build nothing" attitude and completely bending over backward to big box or freeway builds if they are not in the city/state/neighborhood's character or best interest. Middle ground.

European cities

European cities are much denser than American cities. You can walk to much of what you need in those cities because they were built before most people had horses as a regular means of transportation, let alone cars. It is not feasible to turn Minneapolis into Berlin. American cities grew out of small towns amongst individual farms, so they started much more spread out and will remain so, unless you suggest razing whole cities and actually planning them. I would, however, agree that there is much we can do to make improvements by improving public transit and discouraging individual transportation as much as possible.

European cities weren't much

European cities weren't much denser than American cities prior to WWII. Laid out differently (we have many more grid cities) but that is the whole point here.

Most Europeans never had horses, even more recently. Minneapolis/St Paul were relatively dense, walkable cities with great transit (for their time) and the land use exploded when the 40s hit. Here is an example of the Wedge area from the 30s: http://geo.lib.umn.edu/minneapolis/y1938/MP-3-260.jpg Very dense, indeed - and this was still well after automobiles had been introduced, just not accepted as a means of transportation for everyone.

We can't turn American cities in to Berlin (our grids and architecture make them feel far different). But several cities have been removing freeways that go right through downtown (San Francisco removed the Embarcadero partly due to the earthquake, and mostly because of public outcry). We could easily do the same if we were able to divert what little through traffic (human) and freight exists through those corridors and make a much more livable city. We'll need better transit/density, first, though.

Freeways

There is a massive and underused rail corridor just to the north. Check it out on a map.

Thanks Adam I missed the rail corridor it would have been a

great solution. It was identified on the University Avenue program that was on TPT last night. It also discussed University Ave. as a diverse corridor but with a lot of big box.

I am sorry Alex but you missed must have missed the Twin Cities for the last 40 years where whenever the issue of mass transit was anything other than buses couldn't get funded. Back in the 70's they even talked about underground rail. I agree with you completely that rail of any type is a much better solution than either vehicles or buses. I don't dislike mass transit I just hate buses. I love the DC metro and never even had a car when I lived there. You also didn't get the street car reference.

The US is about 40 time larger than the United Kingdom and France is slightly smaller than Texas. We have a lot of room in the Us and we use it. Should we all live like you? I live on 20 acres and in which of those countries would that be affordable 30 miles from the major metro area?

You're right

I did miss the last 40 years - I am only 27. Mass transit not "getting funded" or even voted down was simply due to voter and public misconception of how much we actually subsidize roads and automobile use. To the point that the gas tax and local property taxes don't even cover funding the maintenance of our roads/sewers anymore, let alone the cost of building the new stuff.

So, Texas and France have roughly the same land area, yet France has chosen (and still chooses to) have a smarter development pattern that yields >3x higher population densities. Am I mistaken or does France not have cars, freeways, and a functioning society? Their choice is *better* than ours for 2 reasons: financial responsibility (look at Texas' lack of ability to afford their concrete despite toll roads and voted taxes), and environmental responsibility. France has touched less of their natural environment than Texas has simply because they have chosen to live smaller. They also, by association, spend far less energy per person/household. Oh and they also produce a GDP per capita of nearly identical to Texas' (and Texas has access to the greater US system of economics and the value/power of the dollar). I'm not saying France >Texas. I'm saying Texas made a choice in land-use (along with the rest of the US) that is un-environmental and not fiscally responsible, and it didn't even get TX a better economic output. I would also wager that many (most?) standard of living rankings would put France above TX, though that is hard to find US state vs country info.

*I say better in the definition of environmental/fiscal perspectives. Not lifestyle choices as that is up to the individual

Finally - you have no idea how I live. I actually live 35 miles from Mpls on 3 acres in what I thought would be my dream home. I was wrong, and am trying my best to get back in to a more dense area where I spend less time in my car, less time mowing a yard I barely use, and more time enjoying food, sights, sounds, and a much smaller commute. But I would argue that you and I both are not paying enough in taxes (gas and property) to cover the infrastructure in place to get us from our homes to the things we do on a daily basis.

I-94 access

My list of poor urban planning would not be complete without mentioning access to I-94. There is no access to WB 94 from NB 35E and no access to EB 94 from SB 35W. The former is especially irritating for us living in the SE part of town.

You forgot

the closure and re-routing of downtown St. Paul's 7th Street, to permit the connection of the World Trade Center to Dayton's. Why bring traffic through the core of the ctiy when you bypass it completely? Sheer idiocy.

On #9: The examples here do

On #9: The examples here do not relate to urban planning, because there was no planning involved in the proposed developments--except for the private concern behind it. The city had planning in place; the developer opposed it; the neighborhoods said they disapproved of those developments that went against planning.

Minneapolis is booming with development, in case you guys hadn't noticed. High-end stuff for the most part, in appropriate places (some of which are even historically valid residential areas where huge apartment complexes have been permitted recently). There do remain lots of projects that simply don't belong where they've been proposed. It's very American to stand up and say that, and be listened to. And we're talking much more serious things than shading a yard, Marlys.

In essence, #9 here does not amount to the same level of wrong decision-making that freeways, Gateway destruction, etc.do. More appropriate: the entire 1950s emphasis on "the new," which destroyed viable 50-to-75-year-old homes that were "old" in the eyes of the tear-it-down planners then prevailing in Minneapolis.

Neighborhoods and MNDOT

Marlys Harris is a breath of fresh air for this community, an urban planner who thinks like the home town kid she is. And neighborhood groups, of which I'm a sometimes-ardent, sometimes-cantakerous board member, are like everything and everybody else, not all right and not all smart. And MNDoT should understand that in cities people walk; we don't all drive everywhere we go and St. Paul is not the only place that got divided by MNDoT. Look at I35W and I94. We are becoming walled neighborhoods, those ugly high walls along the freeways in the city are obnoxious. Worse yet they pick and choose what they call "benefited receptors," meaning MNDoT now decides which buildings get the most noise and then lets some of the people in those buildings "vote" on whether they want a wall or not. What's worse if you don't vote, they say it's a "yes" vote. You--or your landlord--wants the wall they want to build. MNDoT should follow the rule we have for constitutional amendments. If you don't vote, it's a no vote.

Block E was a colossal waste of tax dollars!

This is a great list, Marlys. It matches very well with a list that a few of us urban planning bloggers came up with a few years back. I agree with everything on here (except your idea that the parking-lot centric one-story Trader Joe's plan was a good one).

More specifically, our list also included:

Placement of I-94 particularly by Rondo Avenue & near Loring Park
Washington Avenue freeway / West Bank development
Minneapolis's one-way paired street widenings
St Paul's 7th place / 7th street design
I-394 causeway splitting up the Warehouse District for very little reason
the Lake Street K-Mart (http://gettingaroundmpls.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/planning-blunder-7-red...)
The Cedar/Franklin/Minnehaha intersection (http://tcsidewalks.blogspot.com/2011/03/planning-blunder-8-franklin-hiaw...)
Cedar Avenue going through Lake Nokomis (http://gettingaroundmpls.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/planning-blunder-9-ove...)
suburban-style developments by the St Paul Port Authority (especially the ones along University Avenue) (http://tcsidewalks.blogspot.com/2011/02/planning-blunder-10-saint-pauls-...)

As for Block E...

I'm sorry, but there's no conceivable way that you can think of it as a "success." It is the worst in a long list of failed urban malls (e.g. St Paul's Town Square, St Anthony Main), and made more egregious because it was built in an era when city policymakers should have known better. This summer, I was on a tour with some of the planners and architects involved in Block E proposals. They were describing the public subsidies ($40M+) v. the amount it was recently sold for ($14M), v. the actual tax revenues that would have come in had the city done absolutely nothing and left the existing buildings there. You consider it a success because there was a barely profitable Borders there for two years? A bigger white elephant is hard to come by. (OTOH, the good news for pale-pachydermophiles is that they're building one next year on the other end of downtown.)

Some golden oldies missed:1.

Some golden oldies missed:
1. cedar square - riverside west new town, removed existing neighborhood, Swede hollow.
2. 94, not just in Downtown St. Paul, but rondo area as well.
3. poor scale and design of U of MN Medical Complex, overshadows campus and neighborhoods.
4. poor scale and design of Hennepin Co. Government Center.
5. destruction of Romanesque Mpls Public Library.
6. destruction of orig. U of MN football stadium, led to out of scale new construction.
7. reiterate issue/problem of closing Nicollet with KMart

Not correct to say "led to" in point 6

The destruction of Memorial Stadium in the late 1980s (first by building the aquatic center within it, then tearing it down outright) was done in tandem with the deal for Gophers football to relocate to the Metrodome, which was fairly new at the time. No one imagined then that a new on-campus stadium would be built, or that the Metrodome would be spurned by its pro teams within 30 years of its opening.

Not correct to say: "no one".

The demise of the dome was predictable and it was predicted. Moving college sports off campus was opposed, and the stadium deal, as small as it was by today's standards, was controversial at the time. It was known that the dome would be abandoned just as it is now know that the billion dollar stadiums we're building will be abandoned by the pro teams in the future.

Really?

Of course moving Gophers football off campus was opposed, as was tearing down Memorial Stadium - this was well reported at the time, in the Minnesota Daily and elsewhere - but did someone really predict that the Metrodome was foredoomed when it was only 7 or 8 years old? If so, who? (The first few roof collapses from snowfall may have been amusing, but that's a long way from "It was known that the dome would be abandoned.")

7-8 years...

Mr. Cook, yeah, that's about the time the Twins started angling for a new stadium, and it was predicted they would do that because it was already a trend when the dome was built. No was talking about the dome falling apart, but you should not the dome has collapsed more than once.

Cedar Ave bridge over Lake Nokomis

That should be on the list, too.

Skyways my way

I'm only an occasional user of either skyway system, but I'm usually grateful that they're available in both downtowns, on days of insufferable heat as well as days of bitter cold, ice, etc. But I do have to say that the St. Paul system strikes me as superior--more clearly marked with visible direction signs and easy-to-read maps at decent and logical intervals. And Mpls suffers from the lack of continuity from one building to another--more dead ends, more having to go up and down one level or more to get from Point A to Point H. (And I would like to see more street access too, especially in Mpls.) Am I being unfair?

Hiawatha and the light rail

They light rail and the road were separate projects next to each other. The road portion of the project never envisioned a rail in the middle of the road. MNDOT always saw Hiawatha as HWY 55, and you can't dump pedestrians off in the middle of a highway. Until the reroute was complete MNDOT was still saying the speed limit on Hiawatha was going to be 55MPH. You can't dump pedestrians into a median next to traffic going that fast. MNDOT spent years ramming 55 through, there, they weren't about redesign it to accommodate rail. If you look at the environmental impact statement for 55 you can see the design options that MNDOT was pushing. That whole corridor is a perfect example of old style classic roads only highway department mentality, planning, and execution.

Urban planning

1) Is it accurate to say, regarding to the Gateway urban renewal project, that "Much of the acreage is still devoted to surface parking lots"? There are a few small surface lots scattered here and there through the original area, but only two block-size lots, and neither of them count. One was the site of the Nicollet Hotel, which was not torn down as part of the Gateway project. The other did house a substantial new building, the Sheraton Ritz, which has since been torn down, but not as part of the razing for Gateway.
2) Is it important to know how things that are being criticized came about? The location of the Hiawatha Line next to Hiawatha Ave.—and, indeed, the existence of the line itself—is the result of an abandoned plan to build a freeway. Had that strip of vacant land not been available, we might still be waiting for light rail in the Twin Cities.
3) Is it thoughtful to compare the yet-to-be-tested light rail line down the middle of University Av. in St. Paul with the side-of the road location of the Hiawatha Line? Are there no significant differences between a street lined with a number of small businesses, and a street lined by walled-off houses on one side and industrial buildings on the other?
4) Is it really a sound approach to urban planning to say "you don't knock down buildings until you have something compelling to put in their place"? Isn't it possible that what's the surrounding area can prevent investors from even considering a "compelling" replacement? And does this standard endorse tearing down homes in Lowry Hill and eastern Edina so they can be replaced by "compelling" McMansions?
Finally, how can such a list of planning failures in the Twin Cities be complete without some mention of the failure to extend the street grid into new suburban developments, along with zoning that makes driving a car a virtual necessity?

Couple more observations

FirstI have to agree with Mr. Adams observation about comparing University and Hiawatha, but for different reasons. The planning for both the road portion of Hiawatha and the rail was organized around getting from Downtown to the Airport faster. Neither of these projects were about revitalizing the corridor although proponents sometimes claimed that would happen when faced with local opposition. The university line is actually being designed with the corridor itself in mind.

Secondt, I just watched a documentary on TPT about University Ave and it's history and it's incorrect to say that we haven't tested a line down the middle of University Ave because we had one and it was a tremendous success for decades. Everyone acknowledges that when the line was tore up the Ave. collapsed as a vibrant corridor. AND someone here asked where the interstate could have gone if not where it is and there was actually a St. Paul council member who warned of the effect the freeway would have, and accurately predicted it's effect on the downtown's of MPLS and St. Paul. His alternative was to run the freeway further north, along the existing railway corridor. In hindsight he was absolutely correct. There was better alternative but it was ignored.

Third, regarding the skyways and Block E. St. Anthony Main ran into the same problem as Block E years before. The problem with dropping a shopping mall in a downtown area is parking, unless it's free people just aren't going to shop there. If you don't have some other way to get downtown besides driving ( i.e. quick and inexpensive transit... it take 45 minutes to get downtown by buy bus from St. Louis Park vs. ten minutes by car) people outside the city will go elsewhere. There wasn't a big enough local population to support that retail. You can have unique shops, but that's not going to be a big enough draw to overcome the hassle. The solution? Free parking during the holidays, and much cheaper parking the rest of the time. And build a decent and affordable transit system so people don't have to spend two hours in transit if they want to go downtown without a car.

As for the skayways, I agree, they've nearly killed the streets of MPLS and what some people don't realize is that a vibrant city exists on weekends and week nights as well as lunch time during the week. You may like skyways if you work downtown, but you go home at night and on the weekends, and those skyways start closing down when you leave. The problem is that the skyways are connected by private property and no one put any over-all thought into their installation. Marlys didn't complain about their existence per se, she complained about the lack of street access, and she's right about that. Whether or not and how you can get down to the street from any given skyway is completely dependent on the buildings it's connected to, and some of those buildings, being private property, don't provide 24 hour access, this is the difference between a skyway and a street. Everyone whines about MN winters but you're tourism dollars flow in during the summer and if your city forces those tourists into a labyrinth of skyways it will strangle cities retail and vitality. Human beings need to be able to use the most efficient routes to get from one place to another, and those routes need to be inviting and interesting. In many cases the skyways offer a far more circuitous route from point A to point B than do the streets. You have to decide whether or not your downtown is just a work environment or if it's also a vibrant cultural center and location. What we're saying here is self evident, look at the popularity of the Nicolette Mall, the Warehouse district, and St. Anthony Main on summer evenings and weekends, and you don't see a lot of people up in the skyways. I don't know how to fix this but we could certainly build some interesting street access into a lot of these skyways.

The list lacks enough examples from St. Paul

The list would be better if it was more balanced with examples from both cities. Instead, most of the examples are from the west metro even on subjects that affect both cities (see skyways). Harris should redo her list and include the following St. Paul blunders:
1. Downtown St. Paul City Center project from the 1960's. This project included all the blocks from roughly Wabasha Street to Jackson Street and 5th Street to 6th Street. Many beautiful buildings (New York Life, Ryan Hotel, Germania Life Insurance) were demolished to make way for several uninspiring high rise buildings. The project was meant to add vitality and investment to downtown, but accomplished the opposite. This project is a chief reason the central downtown area is considered lifeless.
2. Closure of the original 7th Street and the construction of superblocks to accommodate the Town Square and World Trade Center projects. Downtown's retail street was destroyed and replaced by two failed enclosed retail projects. The downtown's street grid was harmed as well as an opportunity to revive a pedestrian retail district.
When Harris writes articles on the Twin Cities, she is well advised to balance her reporting by including enough material about both cities; not just token references to the east metro.

Hindsight always knows; maybe there are a few more mistakes.

Please try these five out:
•The route of 35W was badly designed: creating the HWY 62 commons, and too sharp a curve near downtown Minneapolis.
•The Mall of America was built in Bloomington instead of Minneapolis.
•The airport should have been moved far from where people can hear it, such as other cities have successfully done.
•Subway system was never put in. Hey, we still can, and the auxiliary air tunnels can be equipped with skylights for year round walking, biking and coffee drinking–yipee!
•What about the failure of the city council to pass the ordinance that all new houses include a greenhouse in the plans so we can all grow food for the hungry, including ourselves.
•(Sorry, I have not learned to count yet.) Last, but not least why have we not populated public land with edible food: raspberry bushes, apple trees, etc?
Thanks.