Friday, June 18, 2010

I drink it up, the legacy of our usage, and the future of our milkshake

Last night I attended Policy and a Pint at the Uptown Theater on Hennipin ave. The crowd was packed full of other bicycling enthusiasts. There was a air of cool and alot of rah rah rhetoric from the speakers. The most engaging of which was David Bryne, who touched on the essance of a city and the positive experience of being engaged with the streets rather then merely riding ontop of them in a car. He expressed his opinion of city design and showed pictures of thinkers like Buckminster Fuller who I mentioned in my last post. City design isn't a new thing, and it's too bad none of the three local speakers talked about the Grand Rounds and Horace Cleveland. This man and his vision similar to that of Fredrick Law Olmsted helped pave the way to allow Minneapolis to be the great bicycling city that it is today. The trails and paths we have are in existence because of our parks that allow for great non motorized traffic. The Grand Rounds is the best example. The third speaker Jay Walljasper did make good points about spacing, the ability to engage in your neighborhood with the community is decided around how close you are to them. He commented upon the streetcar history which dictated the spacing of our city through WWII. The streetcar made things walkable after the connecting stops, forcing a person to move through the city without motor for some part of the way.

What they didn't comment upon is the financial side of transportation. When gas prices go up people talk about the expense of driving, not when gas is cheap, because we fail to incorporate the future costs to health and environment within the price. Bicycling is cheap and so is public transportation when you incorporate in on a mass scale. Yet public transportation faces funding issues constantly. Always the media covers the issue and mentions costs, proposed budgets.

What I would have liked to know and perhaps should have asked is it possible to secure funding Mass Transit based on future increased tax revenue. This is how much of our park land was aquired, as the Parks Board estimated increased property taxes of surrounding areas of parks into the budget (this got them in trouble in the depression era, but depression is trouble no matter how you slice it). One could look at the increased land value along the Hiawatha corridor as an example.
Mass Transit does so much better when it is done with a profit motive. Our own Thomas Lowery (for whom Lowery Ave and Lowery Hill are named) was highly profitable in his Twin Cities Rapid Transit Company. He was first a Real Estate businessman, and profits came as land was purchased prior to building the lines, and then when people saw the advantage of living near those rail lines the land value increased and was sold at a large profit. Not a new technique and one extremely profitable for national railroad barons who got land cheaply through federal land grants. Increasing the wealth of men like our own James J. Hill. The Rapid Transit Co. was one of the premier urban rail lines in the U.S. and maybe not extremely profitable(especially after the attraction to autos and their ensuing dominance after the depression) but it is if you factor in things like taxes from land value.
In my recent visit to New York people informed me that rent and real estate within the city was somewhat scaled to the proximity to major transfer stations where departure to all parts of the city can be found within a couple square blocks. If urban centers are to grow as some predict, there is hope that we can use examples of transit systems already in place near dense areas to deflect the congestion that comes with vertical residential growth.

There was mention by the moderator at Policy and a Pint of our average winter temperature, Minnesotans love to talk about the weather here, and our bicycling resilience despite the cold. When exiting the theater we were greeted to a beautiful orange/sepia sky bursting with clouds. To which one in our group responded that a storm must have passed and the recited the adage "Red sky and morn, Sailors be warned

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