Public Character #5: Julian, pedicab wrangler and sidewalk concierge, who couldn't Save the Met

The social structure of sidewalk life hangs partly on what can be called self-appointed public characters. A public character is anyone who is in frequent contact with a wide circle of people and who is sufficiently interested to make himself a public character. A public character need have no special talents or wisdom to full his function --although he often does. He just needs to be present, and there need to be enough of his counterparts. His main qualification is that he is public, that he talks to lots of different people.

-Jane Jacobs, "The Uses of Sidewalks: Contact."

[In front of the Saints stadium entrance at dusk. Small groups of people filter out of the stadium, a few innings before the end of the game. Julian stands next to his pedicab, chatting with strangers] 

Two kids passing by: What happened to the bug spray thing?

Julian: The buy spray things are gone. All the bugs are gone… except you two. Except you two.

[Points at the kids, rings bell] 

Hey, parking lot express! Express service to the parking lot.
Passerby: Can you give me a ride to Roseville?
Julian: Sure.
Twin City Sidewalks (TCS}: [To a passerby] You need a ride? Best cab driver in town. 

Man with kids: Yeah, down to the tailgate lot
[Man and kids get into the yellow pedicab, and Julian starts to take the family down the street.] 

Julian: [To family.] You having a good time tonight? 

[10 minutes later, Julian returns in his pedicab, rests alongside it.]

TCS: Hey Julian, we got to finish our interview. Give me a little background on your story
Julian: Me? Translated east coast, a guy from Philly 35 years ago, Saint Paul guy ever since. Saint Paul parishes made me feel right at home. Of course they did.

TCS: Why’s that? the cozy nature of it?

Julian: Yeah, the cozy nature, but in Philly we had parishes. Yeah yeah of course we did. I went to Saint Margaret Marys. Once I figured it out, Saint Luke's, Saint Marks, all that stuff, I got Saint Paul. Very easy to do that. 

So that’s it. I've done politics, I've done a lot of non profits, I've done Ballpark Tours, I've done the 'Save the Met' routine.
[File photo.]
TCS: I want one of those shirts.

Julian: Sure sure. What size you need? XL? 

TCS: Yeah, I’ll trade you a Saint Paul flag for it or something. 

Julian: [pause] Flag? There’s a flag?
TCS: Sure. I got to get you one of these. 

Julian: Oh really? Yeah that’s a swap. Well what else can I tell you, I brain farted...

TCS: What about pedicabs? 

Julian: Well pedicabs are two, three things. First off, they’re green.
TCS: They‘re technically yellow. 

Julian: Yeah, do something green, ride something yellow. They’re transpo-tainment. We do events. Saint Paul is a little bit different. We don’t have enough folks to really make it go on an ongoing basis so we work events. And we got hills.
But you learn, cab drivers, pedicab drivers are like mobile concierges. You can be standing on a corner in a group of people and a guy is going to walk up to a driver and say, Where do I go? What do I do? How do I have fun? You know? Because that’s what we do, we know where everything is.
[Looks at sidewalk musician setting up his plastic drums.] 
Hold on, I gotta talk to my friend for a moment.

[Julian chats with the young  tub drummer, talks him into moving a bit farther away from  the entrance.]
Julian: [To crowd going past.] Hey express service to the parking lot! Rest those feet!
TCS: Tell me about he Saints ballpark. How that’s going?

Julian: This is just perfect for the Saints and the fans. They thoroughly enjoy the service, especially with parking being a little farther away than they thought, especially for folks from out of town. People forget that it is a decent walk to the ballpark. And you know population is aging, everybody ‘s got more mobility problems...
Two larger women: [Seeing pedicab.] Oh we’re so doing it.
Julian: ... the number of folks who hop into our cab that just had a surgery or something, is pretty amazing. Then the other side is family and friends.
Woman: Hold on, he said six bucks. 

Julian: Where to?
Woman: To the parking ramp, right across from …
Julian: The Lowertown ramp?

Woman: Yes. Three bucks.

Julian: Three bucks? Gonna make me work. [Pauses for effect.] Five, ten bucks, we’ll be OK.
Woman: [To her friend.] C’mon Barb. Go with her.
Man: [To woman] I gave her money.
[Two larger women gradually get up into the cab.] 

Julian: [Pulling away.] I’ll earn this one, Billy.
[Julian heads slowly up a long hill looking exerted.]


Reading the Highland Villager #136

[Villagers await their fate on Summit Avenue.]
[Basically the problem is that the best source of Saint Paul streets & sidewalks news is the Highland Villager, a very fine and historical newspaper. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. You basically have to live in or frequent Saint Paul to read it. That's why I'm reading the Highland Villager. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free.] 

Headline: Neighbors urge city not to sacrifice the potential of Midway parcel for glamour of professional soccer [See glamour of professional soccer here.]

Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There will be [was] a neighborhood groups meeting to discuss the [rough] talks around plans for a [possible] soccer stadium that may [or may not] be built at a site at Snelling and University [that has long been the subject of development talks to little avail]. The mayor was not planning on attending. Article includes the [vague] details on the [possible] plans, and some details on the [really rich] people who own the [potential] MLS franchise. "Local residents are concerned about traffic and parking," in addition to what other potential uses might happen on the site. Debate centers on "an entertainment district" [i.e. soccer?] vs. "a mix of housing and commercial uses. The neighborhood group has previously "passed a resolution supporting further exploration of the bus barn site as the possible site." [Which, you know, doesn't mean much at this point other than that the idea isn't dead in the water.] The group would like to see the "superblock develped as a whole." [The key part of that is recreating a street grid within the interior of the currently existing block, which has a long and interesting history as being a massive streetcar garage.] One quote from developer: "the superblock needs a catalyst and the stadium may be it." [I don't necessarily disagree, based on the earlier Met Council report which stated that the site required $30M in parking ramps. Which sucks, especially on a place with a LRT and an aBRT, and makes me wonder what kind of people do market analyses in the first place. But then again, I've never made any money in my whole life.]

Headline: Committee favors Kowalski's bid to rezone Grand property
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Vacated right of way between a grocery store and a [half-assed] city-owned quasi-freeway will be rezoned for commercial use. It used to be an alley. [Let's rezone all of Ayd Mill Road for commercial use.]

Headline: BZA grants variance for new Jimmy John's on Ford Pkwy.
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: "Jimmy Johns Gourmet Sandwiches" is moving a block down the street because they got a parking variance that allows parking spaces to be 3' closer to the building. Local residents are concerned about traffic and parking,

Headline: UPDC to review parking for new Marshall Ave. restaurant
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A guy wants to open a restaurant on Marshall and the neighborhood is debating how many parking spaces will be required. Neighbors are worried about traffic and parking.

Headline: Commission favors rezoning, not variances for Grand condo
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A developer wants to turn an existing single family house into an eight-unit condo building. [In a very close vote] the Planning Commission denied the needed variances. Neighbors are worried about traffic and parking.

Headline: St. Paul seeks new owner for Lofts at Farmers Market
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city built an apartment building for $12M on a parking lot in Lowertown and is now selling it. It has pizza and apartments full of people. [Good pizza too, with great happy hour prices from 4:00 - 5:30.]

Headline: Radisson Red hotel to be part of Seven Corners Gateway site
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A building is being built at the site that was partly an old [really quality] hardware store. surface parking lot [but before that actual buildings if you go back far enough]. It will have an 150-room hotel that features "a bar and deli and spaces for socializing and working." [Sounds daring.] "The site is currently used as a surface parking lot."

Headline: Retaining wall to be built prior to razing jail, West buildings
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Two buildings that are on the bluff downtown are being torn down to prepare them for construction but first the county needs to build a retaining wal alogn two blocks in order to seal existing tunnels and stabilize the bluff.

Headline: New limits on height, size of homes may not end teardown controversy
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The new city-wide ordinance intended to stop people who own homes from tearing their homes down and building larger homes that [may or may not be] "out of character" with existing homes [whatever that means] has been adopted and will take effect. It tweaks many things like height, lot coverage, and setbacks. Developers may still develop homes, however, which is why some people are discussing other options like a "conversation district ordinance." Some people would like a moratorium on teardowns. Article quotes CM Tolbert: "We've learned that [the teardown issue] is a really difficult issue." Enforcement is also difficult. [Local residents are concerned about traffic and parking.]

Headline: Green space for a growing city; St Paul debates how best to expand its parks as it promotes commercial, residential & industrial development
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The City Council is looking at how to fund parks through development fees. The existing ordinance was tied to parking spots [but that's a problem as the city moves away from parking minimum requirements]. The city is proposing rules based on as a percentage of square feet. Parks advocates think the required fees or dedications are too low, but the Chamber and City Staff think it's not too low. There are a lot of details. [AFAIK, the City Council has not voted yet.]

Headline: St Paul focuses on new housing, jobs at Ford site.
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: [Article includes picture of pickup trucks.] There was a meeting to talk about what kind of housing and jobs might be on the Ford site. There is growing demand for housing aimed at "single people" and "aging baby boomers." "More people favored low- or medium-density housing rather than high-density housing," but "Only a few people said they would like to see single-family homes built on the site." [I don't get it.]

Headline: Water utility plans slight hike in 2016
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: [Drip. Pipes are all around you.]

Headline: SuperTarget's request for new Midway liquor store is tabled
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Target is trying to sell booze but not for a few weeks. There are "technical questions" about how the distance requirement is measured. [Zeno's big box paradox: If your massive store is big enough, where do you measure its liquor ordinance distance from?] There is a liquor store nearby in a different strip mall already. [This article gets really philosophical, in that legal way. What is the sound of one liquor store door closing?] A decision might come in the future. [Local residents are concerned about traffic and parking?]

Headline: City decides lights can stay on Tavern on Grand
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Lights in a window surrounding a neon fish that were too bright for city code but also historic have been allowed to remain in their fish-peripheral places after somebody complained. They are called "chaser lights." "Electrical permits from the 1930s and 1940s were found." [I wonder where they found those. This gets my vote for dumbest story of 2015 so far.]


Crap Public Process Irresponsibly Inciting Bikelash

[A David Glass for City Council volunteer handing out fliers.]
Yesterday while working on a totally unrelated column, I stopped inside the Half Time Rec, one of my favorite Saint Paul dive bars to grab a beer. (I was trying to get a picture for a story I was writing.)

It turned out to be a highly unpleasant experience because I'd biked there. As it happened, I walked in just as anti-bicycling City Council Candidate (and failed restauranteur) David Glass's organizer had just gone through the place handing out  misleading fliers about the proposed bike lane for Front.

[You can see the full text at the bottom.]

I ended up having to sit there drinking my Summit while five or six old guys ranted at me about bikes. Other than muttering, "I'm just trying to get around," I didn't really argue with them.

Here are some verbatim quotes:

No more bikes! No more bikes! [Chanted]

The problem is they don't pay taxes on the road, they think they own the road...

Not on a busy street, they get enough trails.

You know how we got around in the 60s 70s? We didn't even wear the fucking faggot ass bike helmets.

I hear you, I love that, it's great and it's so green, but there's so many trails now. They mess up traffic. We pay enough city taxes. Are you guys paying taxes? Get a license and pay taxes on it, but they don't. Get a bike license, if you're on my trail and have a license, get tagged.

Saint Paul's trying to go biking-cars-no street parking. That's bullshit. you can't mess up people's parking.

That's crazy. I'm not totally against it, if they do do it that way, then you got to get a bike license on it

The problem is this road, people use this damn near like a highway.

We used to be able to play baseball down here in the middle of the street, but now there are so many people it's just overpopulated.

This is a throughway now. Maybe tear the sidewalks out and make it wider.

A lot of trucks, this is a throughway.

[Front of the Glass flier.]
I have thick skin, and I don't necessarily disagree everything these guys were muttering. Cars and trucks drive too fast, which is a good reason for bike lanes. I don't wear a helmet most of time, because I think bicycling should be safe for anyone. I'd love to see equity in taxing and spending, though they've got it totally backwards.

And I've been through a lot of public testimony during public meetings at The Planning Commission about all kinds of things, from St Thomas student malfeasance to traffic to taxes. I once listened to five-minute rant by a twelve-year-old about traffic and the war on cars, and I did it with a straight face.

Not only that, but I love dive bars and often get into conversations with grumpy old men about bicycles. They usually think I'm crazy. I've even joked with the guy who owns The Gopher Bar about parking my bike, and if he's not a raging asshole, than I don't know who is.

Ramsey County's last minute half-assed public process (which I wrote about today on streets.mn) seems designed to inflame disputes. It amounts to a kangaroo court, and that's irresponsiblity on an almost Lake Elmo scale.

Misinformation that turns bike lanes or other safety improvements into divisive politics has poor consequences. And there are a lot of facts and examples that can provide actual data to help with shape conversations. For example, the city actually counted the parked cars on Front Avenue before recommending putting in the bike lane.

[Dead people not parking on Front Avenue.]

Inciting Violence against Bicyclists

[Strib story.]
In just the last week or so, there have been at least two attacks against bicyclists that have crossed over my desk. In the first, a guy driving a White Ford Bronco threw concrete at a few random bicyclists in South Minneapolis, seriously injuring at least one of them:
About 5:30 p.m. Friday, he said, two people were struck with cement-type material “within seconds of each other” near W. 41st Street and Bryant Avenue S. One person had minor injuries, but the second, identified on a GoFundMe page as Mackenzie Jensen, was struck in the face and suffered multiple facial fractures that will require two surgeries.
His jaw has been wired shut and he is expected to lose multiple weeks of work, the web page states.

Via Facebook, here's another story from a woman who was biking on Saint Paul's East Side:
August 10 at 9:04pm

Another heads up. Last week on my commute home some punks tried to knock me off my bike on Edgerton at 6:30 pm. I couldn't get their plates. they were going too fast. Be safe ladies. Focus and have your eyes and ears on guard. ����... some boys came up behind me on Edgerton, going really fast and close. The boy on the passenger side was out of the window to his waste and he swung@ me but missed. I tried to catch them and came within a block 6 blocks later. Never got plates. Punks.

Those are just two stories from this week. It's dangerous enough riding bikes around the Twin Cities, having to worry about cars accidentally running you over. Having to worry that drivers might intentionally try to hurt you is something I thought we'd left behind us.

The way that Ramsey County is handling this situation does nothing but inflames animosity to people riding bicycles, and makes what should be a simple safety improvement into a culture war. I'd expect this kind of thing from someone like Joe Soucheray. But for elected officials like Janice Rettman, I have higher standards.

[Commissioner Rettman pacing around in front of the Western Avenue bike lane meeting for some reason.]

[David Glass flier below.]

Re-Think Bike Lane Striping on Front Avenue
[A dumbfounded bicyclist reading the flier.]
Dear Friends and Neighbors,

We are in need of safe roads to travel given that the rate of vehicle travel is returning to pre-recession levels. In the city of Saint Paul we have the worst roads that we have had in the past 50 years. [sic] Our roads and highways have become increasingly challenging as drivers encounter potholes and pavement deterioration throughout the city.

Better citizen involved and discussion is needed in the conversation regarding striping lanes in the City of Saint Paul, MN. More people are driving our streets today than were driving ten years ago. Resulting in less parking in most areas of the city. Striping for bike lanes on well-trafficked roads with a mix of businesses and residences displaces parking for patrons and residents alike pushing parking into neighborhoods causing additional burdens and frustration with their neighbors.

We realize the need for bikers to ride safe and on dedicated routes however neighborhoods should work for the people who live in the neighborhood, not for people passing thru. Imposing a suburban solution for a core city neighborhood that has had a presence of residents and businesses for the past two centuries is not well thought out. Front Avenue is not wide enough for bike lanes. Removing parking would hurt the businesses on Front Avenue, pushing parking int o the local neighborhoods making all parking much more difficult.

Front Avenue borders on many industrial areas, which attracts heavy truck traffic. The quality of the street degrades quickly. Bicyclists do not prefer riding on rutted, pitted streets like Front Avenue. The few riders that would still use Front Avenue would be more in danger due to conditions of width of road, the rapid degrading, and high industrial traffic.

Lets make a decision that is better for everyone and not stripe bike lanes on Front Avenue.

Miigwetch (Thanks),
David Glass


Bicycling Debate is Rooted in a Generation Gap

[My dad and stepmom testifying against the Griggs traffic circle in 2012.]
My dad owns five cars.* Four of them actually run, and three of them are parked every day on the streets around his house in Saint Paul.

(So even though I haven’t owned a car in a decade, from a familial standpoint, I’m hardly doing my part to minimize our impact on the environment.)

You see, my dad has always loved driving. So when three years ago the city planned a fancy new bike route next to his house, he came before the City Council to testify against the project.

From his perspective, it’s understandable. Making parking more difficult, slowing down cars, spending tax dollars...  For my dad, all of these things are nuisances. I can see why he wouldn’t understand the need for a bike route next to his house. From his perspective, I get it.

Here’s how my dad ended his testimony against the bike route [about 1:10:00]:
[Lots of testimony... dramatic pause.]
And my son’s a biker. He rides a bicycle everywhere all the time, even in the winter. He would be totally in favor of that bike route. But there’s no point in the roundabout at Portland and Griggs, and not much point in the rest of it.

My Generational Perspective

[This is me. Look at that stupid rear blinky light.]
It's true. I've been living and bicycling around Saint Paul for ten years, and have devoted a great deal of my time to working on projects like the Griggs Bicycle Boulevard, so much so that I even wrote a dissertation about it.

But for me, after a decade of trying to ride in Saint Paul without getting killed, good bike routes are a big deal. After I heard that my parents testified against the bike boulevard that I’d been working on for years, I was a bit shocked. Since then, my father and I have had many (often fruitless) conversations about the project.

The bike route went ahead anyway, thanks to unique Federal funding and support by a few visionary city council members. And now, today, the traffic circle sits there at the end of my dad’s street. His driving and parking experiences aren’t impacted that much. In fact, he sometimes admits to enjoying tooling around the traffic circle.

I love my father, despite his many cars.  And as the years have gone by, I think he’s started to soften his stance against the bike route.

And every time I go to visit him, I bike there, often at night. As he watches me ride off, waving from the stoop, I know he wants me to be safe.

Bridging the Generation Gap

Even though he still doesn’t understand why the traffic circle was a good idea, I hope that I’ve talked him into trusting me when I tell him that it  makes life safer for me as I make my way around Saint Paul. In fact, with a bike route on Griggs, I'm more likely to bike past his house and stop for an afternoon visit, and I know he loves when I pass by and say hello.

If you spend any time working on bike advocacy in Saint Paul or Minneapolis, you quickly realize that much of the debate is generational. For older people who have driven their whole lives, it's almost impossible to understand the bike movement. Time after time, attending public hearings you see a row of older people get up and testify about the importance of parking, and how bicycle infrastructure will ruin their quality of life. And it makes total sense given where these folks are coming from. The Baby Boomer generation has grown up driving cars.

The automobile generation gap is particularly apparent for me and my father. He has always loved driving. When he got to take the family on road trips across the country, it was probably the happiest I’ve ever seen him. Nothing compared to the freedom of the open road, with thousands of miles of interstate driving on the calendar. He still loves large American cars, the bigger the better, and will drive across town to save a few cents on a gallon of gas.

(I.e. he once simultaneously owned two Cadillac Fleetwoods, length 225 inches, or about 2.5 Smart Cars. Hint: that equals 5 Smart Cars, i.e. a "car2go Yahtzee.")

The Next Generation

[My nephew Edgar learning how to ride a bike on Portland Avenue.]
I don’t expect car dependent boomers like my dad to understand bicycling. And I don't expect them to get out from behind the wheel and start riding bikes around town. But I do expect them to listen and respect the next generation.

For the last few years, I’ve been trying to change his mind about the bike boulevard next to his house. Even though he still doesn’t like it, I think he’s started to listen. I feel like he’s beginning to understand that having bike routes is important to me, even if he doesn’t get it.

And really, that’s all that younger people are asking. The next generation has different priorities than their parents. We don’t want to have to drive everywhere. We don’t necessarily want to own houses or two cars, and biking is a crucial factor to how we value our cities. All we’re asking from our parent’s generation, the people that are on social security and own lots of our national wealth, is that they give us a little bit of breathing room. That might involve small sacrifices on their part, maybe having to cross the street or pay a dollar to park, or to devote a little bit of tax money toward some bike-friendly concrete. But what we’re asking isn’t too much...

The other day I was over at my dad’s house. I biked there, of course, and my little nephew Edgar was visiting. He’s 6 years old and had just learned how to ride a bicycle of his own.

Edgar isn't that good yet. Basically, you still have to run alongside him while he pedals, holding his bike up so that he doesn’t wobble over. He’s all adorned in helmets, elbow and knee pads.

But it was pretty awesome to see him going down the street. I flopped along side in my sandals, trying to keep up. As he neared the bike boulevard and traffic circle at the end of the street, the very one that my dad had testified against three years prior, an SUV came speeding up. Thankfully, it slowed down and went around the circle as little Edgar pedaled away.

The streets we’re building now are going to last for decades. They’re not about my dad’s generation. They’re about my six-year-old nephew, and what kind of city he’s going to want to live in as he gets older.

I can only hope that the older generation, the people who overwhelmingly vote, pay taxes, and show up for public meetings, can give the rest of us the benefit of the doubt. You don’t have to understand everything about the new wave of city dwellers. All you have to do is listen. We need safe streets. It’s time to make it happen.

[Edgar in front of the Griggs Avenue traffic circle.]

* OK he actually owns something like 20 cars, but the vast majority of them do not run and are stored out in a farm field in Wisconsin. The (rather generous, I think) "5 car" tally is only listing the cars that actually live in Saint Paul, in and around his house in the Lex-Ham neighborhood.


Sign of the Times #103

 I am more than a 
I'm a person

[Not a person. Seward, Minneapolis.]

White, small w/ black spots
on her side. DO NOT CHASE
if sighted.

[Pole. Location forgotten.]


[Location forgotten.]


[Pole. West Bank, Minneapolis.]


[University Avenue, Saint Paul.]

Now Buying

[Location forgotten.]

We Ride

[Wheelchair contraption. Green Line, Saint Paul.]

 Longfellow residents and to all who use our park. A developer has proposed to build a three story apartment and retail building on the corner of 34th Street and 38h Avenue. This project is not in the best interest of our park or neighborhood. Crime and traffic will increase and our property value wild drop. With all the extra traffic and people it will only be a matter of time before one of our children or your neighbors is involved in an accident, God forbid. If you believe that the city council won't allow this you are wrong. Their only concern is the tax revenue created by this project. We urge everyone against this and all future projects to attend the meeting at Longfellow parking building on Tuesday ####. Come and voice your concerns, we must try to stop this developer from destroying our park and neighborhood. HE is only after as much money as he can make on this corner lot. Our park and neighborhood is of no consequence of him YOU MUST ATTEND THIS MEETING TO STOP THE INSANITY. Thank you, neighbors!

[Pole. Longfellow, Minneapolis.]