You have got to love renderings


I found this rendering of 222 Hennepin earlier today, after reading Bill’s post on architecture. The part that I liked best is the traffic light. First it is sideways, a design that is used in some places in the world, but not Minneapolis, for a lot of good reasons.

I grew up in Columbia, Maryland, which for many years had sideways traffic lights, mainly as an architectural distinction, but which were abandoned because of the confusion created.

A major problem of such uncommon lights is that color-blind person might not know if the green is on the left or on the right. In Wisconsin (as everywhere else in the US where it is done, and standardized in the MUTCD, it is red on the left, green on the right.

In the rendering, it is the opposite.

It makes you wonder what other tricks and graphical shortcuts are going on to make the rendering desirable to approve and move into, but won’t really turn out as implied.




Cross-posted at SPUD (My thoughts on the Saint Paul Union Depot)

“We entered the dimly authentically-lit Saint Paul Union Depot (SPUD), a large but not magnificent space. A train station with no trains. The restoration is nice, and I am sure a better space than the restorers found it in, but the original structure was really nothing special at all. Having only been to the front of the station previously (the acoustically challenged headhouse), I was actually disappointed at the rest of it given how much fuss and money have been expended on the project.”


This post will be unpopular.I went with my family to an event for National Train Day (as suggested by a recent post by Julie). We drove to St. Paul since the Green Line is not yet open. Driving is break-even with paying for 3 fares on the bus round-trip, and my once non-driving, Amtrak-riding wife wouldn’t take the bus anyway. Free parking in St. Paul is a little tricky to find on Saturdays now, but fortunately, the new Saints Stadium construction has not started and the free Farmer’s Market parking at the old Gillette plant is still open, so we parked there and walked a few blocks through the early season market, passing mostly preserves and garden plants, to the station.JohnTrainPI

We entered the dimly authentically-lit Saint Paul Union Depot (SPUD), a large but not magnificent space. A train station with no trains. The restoration is nice, and I am sure a better space than the restorers found it in, but the original structure was really nothing special at all. Having only been to the front of the station previously (the acoustically challenged headhouse), I was actually disappointed at the rest of it given how much fuss and money have been expended on the project.

The money spent on the restoration was $243 million, one-fourth of the cost of an LRT line serving 100 to 200 times as many people per day? Okay, it’s still better than a Vikings Stadium, but is that really the bar for public investment? We should always ask what else ‘we can get for that money’ given that our wants outstrip our wallets.

The building was perhaps constructed at the nadir of American railway architecture, missing both the Belle Epoque ornamentation of the 19th century, and the Art Deco of just a few years later. Instead going for the stern and spartan neoclassical style reflecting, if not appealing to, the sensibilities of pragmatic upper Midwesterners.

It is “considered to be one of the great architectural achievements in the city” sayethWikipedia. That does not speak well of the city, and I believe a false claim. Off the top of my head, I would rate the Cathedral, the Capitol, and the Science Museum significantly higher on the list. Frankly among transportation structures, I would rank Bandana Square higher on the list. And this is all leaving aside what has been destroyed. It is nicer than the Midway Amtrak station it will eventually replace.

As we entered, to our left some early twenty-something lady DJs for the Disney radio channel (apparently Disney has a radio channel) were trying to encourage some youthful dancing to popular music. They were getting no custom. Christo’s restaurant was also mostly empty, though one of the waiters was dancing with the DJs.

There was an Amtrak swag area farther in, with a longish line for stuff. The entire St. Paul rail fan apparatus was in place: from Choo Choo Bob’s, to the Twin Cities Model Railroad Museum, to the Minnesota Transportation Museum, to the NLX booth (with a brochure promising “profits” from their line), to the rail passenger association with a lot of lines drawn on a map of Minnesota. Red Rock’s booth was not manned (just like their trains).


The big attraction was the bouncy house and the bouncy slide. The Slide was manned by a security guard, to make sure the kids didn’t pass each other climbing up the inflatable slide, which could be hazardous.

At the end of the Depot was a sign advocating free train rides. We went downstairs. They were fake trains. Okay, to the extent that one motorized vehicle pulling a trailer is a “train”, they were trains, but they were untracked, not steam, diesel, or electric powered, small, and ran on the platform, not the rail. They couldn’t even get the transportation museum to operate a short-line run of one of their tour trains at the Jackson Street Roundhouse. The small train was nevertheless full, carrying a load of about 10.


Needless to say, the children were displeased. I had to promise a real train ride soon. Blue Line here we come.

I can’t help but think the cavernous space could be better used for almost anything besides a train station serving about 175 boarding passengers a day. (Yes of course more IF they add service.)

If we want to steal ideas from other cities, some thoughts for adaptive reuse for this future pale proboscidea include: An Exploratorium, anaquarium, a planetarium, an indoor market. I am sure there are others.


Don’t Forget to Look Up: The Skybridges of New York City « Untapped New York


Skyways, not just for Minneapolis. David King sends me this link from Untapped New York: Don’t Forget to Look Up: The Skybridges of New York City « Untapped New York: “”

Underground Utilities


After a thunderstorm, I was disempowered for about 5 hours today. Certainly not the end of civilization, but perhaps its foreshadowing. A few moments ago, the power truck rolled down my alley, made some adjustment, and my house roared back to life. I have been re-empowered.
This raises the question, why are power lines still above ground?
Richard Layman sends me to this Electrical Industry discussion of the issue. My sense is they would be happy enough to put utilities underground so long as someone else pays. While underground utilities are less likely to fail due to storm, they may take longer to restore.


If electricity costs me about $0.10 an hour, ($2.40/ day, $876 year), then I would be willing to pay at least $0.10 to avoid an hour of blackout. In all likelihood, I would pay much more than that. In a typical year I am probably blacked out for 24 hours.
If converting to underground distribution cables for utilities costs $723,000 per mile (let’s round to $750K, there is a very wide range of suburban costs of new distribution construction according to the report), and there are about 100 houses per linear mile (a convenient guess, 10 houses per block * 10 blocks per mile (at uniform density, assuming square lots, this implies a density of 10,000 houses per square mile of residentially developed area or 23,000 persons per square mile, which seems high, but we are ignoring areas that don’t have houses as they don’t need residentially-oriented electricity wires), and the line can serve two row of houses (i.e. it runs in the alley) the cost is about $3750 per customer.
I would need to avoid 1562 days of blackout at $0.10 per hour to justify this on blackout avoidance. (In other words, ignoring discounting, if I can avoid 1 blackout day per year, it would take 1562 years to pay back). Obviously I am probably willing to pay more (reducing the payback time), I might even pay $100 per blackout day in extreme cases (maybe the cost of a hotel stay), but that still requires a 37.5 year payback, which is far more than most people would be willing to tolerate. Given the differences in reliability between above and below ground, undergrounding is not economically justified as retrofit for the purposes of continuous electricity unless power outages get much worse.


There are other advantages. Aesthetics for one. And I think this is important, though everyone will weight this themselves. One study in Australia suggests that underground networks increases house prices by 2.9 percent. For an average house price of at least $129,310 this would mean it is worth at least $3750. Now it pays for itself. A stated preference survey by one of the same authors also in Canberra estimates value of $6883 per house.
James Fallows discusses electric infrastructure reliability in the wake of the derecho back east.


Linklist: March 9, 2012

GGW: Air rights could tie together Tysons Corner – Greater Greater Washington:

“One problem with the otherwise impressive Tysons Corner redevelopment plan is that the two main streets, Route 7 and Route 123, will continue to function as suburban arterial high­ways. They’ll be so hard to cross that the neighborhoods on either side will be effectively cut off from each other. Rather than main streets, they are de facto freeways, barriers that divide the community in two. Fairfax County proposes to address this problem by adding 4 pedestrian bridges. But a better solution would be to deck over these roads wherever possible, and then stitch together the neighborhood fragments with air rights development.”

Atlantic Cities: Explaining Transit’s Secret Language :

“It’s difficult to categorize Jarrett Walker’s excellent new book, Human Transit. It’s not quite for a popular audience, though it’s written with engaging ease. It’s not for academics, though it’s as thorough as most published research and far more approachable. It’s not strictly for a policy audience, though it’s fresh grist for any transit wonk’s mill. Its closest literary cousin may be a good language book, for it feels capable of teaching anyone, beginner or beyond, to speak Transit more fluently.”

Washington Mall Extended

Cross-posted from Washington Mall Extended.

Washington Mall Extended

Washington Avenue Mall will open in a couple of years along with the Central Corridor LRT. It will cover the space from Walnut Street to Coffman Union on what is Washington Avenue. The new Mall will prohibit private passenger cars, while allowing Buses and Bikes. Today the remnants of Washington Avenue SE to the Mall’s east are mostly devoid of cars, as motorists have found other routes and modes to avoid the closed section of Washington Avenue.

The question I have is, why should the Mall not extend four blocks east to University Avenue? I have heard two rationales.

The first is to allow access to the Washington Avenue ramp. But this can be accessed from Harvard Avenue (to Beacon Street to Union Street) (from the south), and Harvard can be accessed from Fulton Street, providing access from the South-east. From the North, it accessed via Pillsbury Drive to Beacon to Union. Only if you are coming from due East (on University) does Washington provide better access. Once the University of Minnesota blows up the Field House (which is presumably in the plans), 18th Avenue can be reconnected through Pillsbury to Harvard, providing slightly better (2 blocks shorter) access from University Ave east of campus.

The second is the desire for local retailers to have the ability to drive up to the store. But with the elimination of parking on Washington Avenue, along with the rapid elimination of local businesses as single-story taxpayer buildings get torn down and replaced with 4 story student-oriented apartments, this would seem to be moot.

Conversion of the remainder of Washington Avenue into a Bicycle/Pedestrian/Transit Mall would extend what is sure to become a valuable urban space. It will signal a change as one enters the University region from a typical auto-oriented streetscape to one more conducive to a place where the population is non-motorized and the trips are short. This transformation is one mostly of perspective. We don’t allow cars lots of places: inside buildings, shopping malls, parks, campuses, and so on. By converting to Washington Avenue into car-free mall, we will be declaring that space within rather than outside the campus. It will make distances feel shorter, removing one more barrier between places north and south of Washington Avenue.

Elimination of auto traffic on Washington Avenue will also improve driving conditions for motorists at University Avenue and those moving north-south at Huron, Ontario, Oak, and Walnut Streets, and improve conditions for buses and LRT on Washington Avenue itself.

Will this cure cancer or solve world hunger? No. But it will make life a little better for many people at a very low cost and little transportation consequence.

If only US Transportation Infrastructure were as new and as nice as US DOT Headquarters

US DOT Headquarters
US DOT Headquarters




Dematerializing Architecture – Skinning Buildings

Augmented Reality Goggles
Augmented Reality Goggles

Architecture in one sense deals with the most material of human creations, structures. Buildings are physical entities in the realm of atoms as much as bits. The physical layout of buildings, their mass, structural elements, and so on are the work of architects. But there is another aspect of architecture which is primarily aesthetic. The surface form of structures, the gargoyles appended to buildings. This art lies firmly in the realm of information, even though it has historically been presented in concrete, wood, and masonry, rather than on paper, vinyl, or plastic.
The advent of augmented reality will allow us to dematerialize this aesthetic aspect of architecture. Instead of seeing the building as the architect designed it, we can see it according to our preference, with the skin we wish to attach. In a world of augmented reality, no one will pay for any ephemerally fashionable aesthetic attachments when they can subscribe to a set of aesthetics in software.
The form will still matter, as we still need to be inside buildings to stay dry, and need to know where the entrances and exits are to avoid walking into walls. Buildings as housers of beds and containers of furniture and tools will remain important, as will their spatial location. But ornament will not, as that will be in the eye (or the AR glasses) of the beholder. We can expect a new construction based on the plainest surface which will be the easiest to adapt to computer models.
We will no longer need worry about historic preservation, bridges with egregious sight lines, or other offenses to our sensibilities. We will simply need to don the appropriate goggles (or farther into the future, jack our brains into the appropriate computers), and find ourselves presented with the world as we wish it to be.

Remapping cities

SmartPlanet: Video: How ‘augmented reality’ will make boring cities beautiful

I imagine a new art form, recoding existing cities with more beautiful ones. As I walk down the streets of Minneapolis with my new Augmented Reality glasses, it looks like Paris or Venice, as someone has carefully remapped Parisian buildings to Minneapolitan ones. It will be much cheaper to draw nice buildings digitally than to actually build them. We can now have a new way to avoid the negative externality of ugliness. We can further subscribe to the city of our choice, I want to be in Tokyo today, I just download the Tokyo skin ($0.99 at the Apple AugmentedRealityStore) and I feel like I am in Tokyo. Even the plants are Japanese, all the Maple Trees are now Japanese Maples.
We could just let our cities crumble, since all that matters is their virtuality.

(Via Kurzweil.)