Wednesday, December 19, 2007


The atmosphere has fallen down on us, thunk, and we have an inversion settled over the Twin Cities. That means thick fog and no sun, and that also means a sharp reduction in air quality because of all the stuff spewed out of various pipes around town. The weather service warns you not to exert yourself as much during these inversion times, but last night on the weather report I saw something different. They did warn people to exert themselves less, but the first of the bullet points they had about how to deal with the inversion said "Drive Less." That would have always been my first bullet point, because if you have a problem, the first thing you should do is stop what's causing that problem. But this is the first time I have seen this advice at the top of the list. Maybe things are changing here a little.

This makes me think about water, and how in some parts of the world, and not that long ago here, people used to dump their raw sewage into the same bodies of water from which they gathered their untreated water supply. People were and still are drinking their only slightly watered down sewage. This seems very repulsive to us today, and how could people stand it, how can people still stand it today?

But yet we have cars with their tail pipes low to the ground spewing out poisonous exhaust into the same air that we are breathing. This is as repulsive to me as the thought of drinking my own untreated slightly watered down sewage.

Houses and factories at least send out their poison above our heads. The winds dilute it up there, so we end up breathing less of it. But cars are spewing out their gases right into our lungs. There isn't much time for that yucky stuff to dilute before we take a breath.

My guess is that in a few years people will think about all those cars blowing their exhaust right into lungs the way we think about people drinking their own untreated sewage. They might even throw up just thinking about it.

They'll only be thinking about it, because by then we'll have decided that cities are really for people, and not so much for cars.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


I had a wonderful walk into work this morning. The temperature was in the single digits Fahrenheit, and there had been a snow/fog combination earlier in the morning that sprayed all the black branches and fences with a layer of crystal. When the sun came over a house and lit up the branches, it made the whole world look like a solarized photograph.

Every branch had its white shadow of frost. When I looked up close I could see the intricacy of the crystal pattern. I saw some crabapples still on their branches. Each little ball in its cluster had a white hat. I saw the long white trail on each needle of a fur tree.

A church rang its bells and a few people walked out of the church. But these people only walked a few steps and got into their cars at the curbs. These were the only other people I saw on most of this beautiful walk.

I find that you can walk for blocks and blocks thru amazing beauty in Minneapolis, and never run into another pedestrian. At least I was walking down a quiet street that had few cars. For a few blocks I could have believed that I was the only person in the world.

And then I turned over to busy University Avenue to walk my last few blocks. Now I stopped noticing the frost on the fences, now I only saw the metal machines, each with one caged animal inside. They were sitting still because of the thickness of the morning traffic. I watched the tall plumes of ghostly exhaust rising up behind each of them.

Those plumes of exhaust made me think about the article I read in the paper this morning about how the arctic might already be over the brink as far as global warming is concerned. This made me feel almost as grumpy as all those people looked inside their traps.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Midtown Greenway Bridge Dedication on TV

My video (posted below) of the Dedication of the Midtown Greenway bridge over Hiawatha Avenue will be on community television in Minneapolis at the following times. It will be on MTN 16 (cable in the city of Minneapolis) on Thursday December 13 at 6 pm, Wednesday December 19 at 12 pm and Friday, December 21 at 10 am.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

first snow

The snow started falling this morning and it has been falling all day. It has completely changed the way that everything looks, and it has also changed the transportation system in the Twin Cities.

Minnesota has ice and snow in its winters. Everybody knows that. But despite the certainty of ice and snow, it has a transportation system that is based on the expectation that rubber will always have traction on asphalt. When there is ice and snow, which are a predictable part of the Minnesota climate, there is no or little traction, and the transportation flails around in near death throes.

Steel on steel works pretty good in ice and snow. Trains don't slide around in the snow like cars and buses do. But in the transportation system of this metropolis of 3 million people there is only one eleven mile rail line.

The rest of the transportation system is based on rubber tires needing traction on asphalt streets. That wasn't happening today. For it to work tomorrow, thousands of dollars must be spent on plows and salt. And that salt keeps on changing things long after the winter is over.

Some people are opposed to a rail transit line between downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. They say that buses serve that corridor just fine. Today I rode the bus line along University Avenue. The bus I was on filled up in St. Paul's midway, and at all the stops in Minneapolis around the University of Minnesota, the driver had to tell all the people who wanted on his bus to wait for the next. Who knows when that next bus would come or how full it would be.

A two car train would have had room for all those people who had to wait, and room for more. And it probably wouldn't have been as behind schedule as that bus was.

On another bus I rode, the driver announced that he was running more than an hour late. That's what happens when a transportation system based on the traction of rubber tires on asphalt meets the reality of a beautiful December day.