• 11Aug

    A victory for common sense, public safety, the Baihly Neighborhood and the City of Rochester. Now if we could just build roads right the first time (and eliminate state aid standards)…

    ****

    MnDOT required the city to remove the speed tables installed on Fox Valley Drive SW over 15 years ago.   You may recall a MnDOT representative came to a COW meeting and explained their position.  They contented the speed tables violated State Aid rules.   The City Public Works staff filed an appeal and requested a Variance from the MnDOT State Aid variance Committee.   The Committee denied the city’s Variance request based entirely on MnDOT staff testimony.  I appealed that denial of the Variance and sought a Contested Case Hearing, as provided for by Statute, on the denial.

    I recently received the attached letter from MnDOT.  The letter states that they have rescinded their denial and rendered the request for a Contested Case as moot.

    The city does not need to remove the speed tables or remove this street from the State Aid system!

    Richard W. Freese, P.E.
    Director Public Works / City Engineer

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  • 28Feb

    Here is some context to the bus shutdown on Friday. I know it is frustrating, but we call it a snow emergency for a reason.

    Gary,

    Below I am repeating some the information I shared on Friday with Council Members  Hickey, Campion and Bilderback.

    The decision to run, delay, or partial or  full shutdown involves various inputs;  weather forecasts (including the projected timing of the storm), street conditions, the plowing/ sanding schedule and consultation with Mayo. A final decision is made jointly by the City Transit and Parking Manager and First Transit General Manager. The bus routes for the most part are on arterials or neighborhood collector streets. A number of years back a policy was set in place that bus routes would have priority in regards to order of plowing for City streets. (RPT routes also operates on roads under the  jurisdiction of the Olmsted County and MnDOT.)  The discussion starts with a staff meeting the day before the forecasted event where all information is reviewed. The plan for public dissemination is also laid out.  A review of actual conditions depends on the timing. The last major storms were overnight events. Therefore,  a review of conditions including a visual observation of street conditions started at 2:00 a.m.. A decision to shut down for the last storm was made at 4:00 a.m..

    RPT also parks 1500 commuters in its park and ride lots. The leases require all lots to be cleared by 6:00 a.m. Some lots are cleared by RPT’s snow contractor. In the last storm two lots representing about 50% of our capacity did not get cleared by 6:00 a.m. These were owner operated. We will be following up with the owners.

    Following is a summary of events for the February 24 storm.

    Planning started (2/23) with  an operations meeting to discuss the street plowing schedule, forecasts and the various community cancellations. Communications were also initiated with Mayo. On February 23 (the day before the storm) RPT posted that passengers should consult the website and media as to RPT’s status. Mayo was also asked to post alerts on their internal website.

    A reconnaissance by RPT/FT (First Transit) of street conditions started at 2 a.m. with review of the forecast and the plowing schedule. The decision to shutdown  was made at 4:00 a.m.  The alerts were sent out to media and posted on the website and RPT’s  AVL phone app after the decision was made. Dispatchers were still called in to answer calls. Most major roads appeared to be clear by 7:00 a.m. but there was  a lot of glazing with a continuing fine mist that was freezing on the road surface.  A mid- morning reconnaissance of routes and park and ride lots was made followed by a RPT staff meeting at 10:00 a.m. to discuss whether drivers should be called in for the remainder of day. Staff consulted with street maintenance and the weather forecasts that were predicting a second storm starting at 11 :00 a.m.  We were informed there would be no sanding because of the next storm coming in.

    These are hard calls to make.  They are white knuckle events (stressful) for drivers. Last winter (2016) there was a similar storm where we decided to run as the plows started at 4:00 a.m. RPT started out from the garage at  5:00 a.m. The weather shifted and we had a significant snow fall after the decision was made requiring RPT to pull buses and shut down for 2 hours.

    Our practice after each of these events is to have a debriefing and assess our performance. We will be discussing with Infrastructure the timing of snow removal at the downtown bus stop area to accommodate bus turning movements.  There are always things we can do better. We have excellent service and coordination from the Infrastructure Division (street maintenance).  The final decision is driven by road conditions and safety.

    Respectfully,

    Tony

    Anthony J Knauer

    Transit and Parking Manager

    4300 East River Road

    Rochester, MN 55906

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  • 06Feb

    Some folks are pretty fired up about this (actually on both sides):

    Rochester City Council Member Michael Wojcik, an avid cyclist, said he sees plenty of problems with Quam’s bill. For starters, he said Quam’s proposal would create additional barriers for bicyclists.

    “Certainly, bicycling for some of us is recreational, but for other people it is critical transportation, affordable transportation, and this gets in the way of making that transportation accessible,” Wojcik said.

    In addition, Wojcik said he suspects the cost of administering the permit program would far exceed the $5 fee. He also worries the permit requirement could give law enforcement another excuse to stop and question people of color. He added he would like to invite Quam to go for a bicycle ride with him to learn about the issues facing cyclists in Rochester. He added, “I don’t know where Rep. Quam’s anger toward cyclists comes from.”

    In particular some people have expressed both anger and support over this paraphrasing of my discussion.

    He also worries the permit requirement could give law enforcement another excuse to stop and question people of color.

    The whole outrage is a little silly that I would be called out for raising a concern that was documented in a report release just 3 months earlier.

    Do I have reason for concern in Minnesota? Yes.

    How do I know? Because of this analysis by Dr. Melody Hoffmann & Anneka Kmiecik: Citation Report

    Were my comments targeting the Rochester Police? No

    Have we had recent inappropriate actions by a couple members of the Rochester Police Department? Yes

    Were they reflective of the department as a whole? No

    Were they addressed? Yes

    Do I respect law enforcement? Yes

    Do black lives matter? Yes

    Are these two statements inconsistent? No

    It is 2017 and racism is still a thing. If I am going to get attacked for having an open discussion about racism and public policy we are not going to ever address the issue.

    Reactions like this comment from Randy Staver are not going to allow us to have a serious discussion:

    “comments made by council member Wojcik are disappointing and even disturbing”

    Mr. Staver my points are not disturbing, its leadership, its fact & issue based. Seriously discussion these issues requires courage.

    And just in case you were wondering if Mr. Staver actually spoke to me before writing that. Nope…

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  • 05Dec

    Here is a letter that the council received from Sandy Melville. She came to speak at the Uber hearing but could not stay until 4 AM.

    Aaron,

    It was mentioned that I reach out to you regarding the NEED for a Rochester ordinance change to allow UBER access to Rochester. I would absolutely like to have a chance to address the council regarding an ordinance change for UBER. I sat through the marathon session 2 weeks ago waiting ENDLESSLY while people talked multiple times and for 20-30 minutes each about the Miracle Mile project. By 2a.m. my head was POUNDING and I needed to leave during the lengthy address by Roger of Roger’s Tree service.

    My push and interest in UBER is NOT for my use but in having talked to hundreds and hundreds of DUI offenders within  se. MN. counties.  I have addressed most likely over 20 groups of DUI offenders at MADD facilitated victim impact panels. Some of these groups I’ve address have been in excess of 100 people upwards to 200 at a time. These groups are comprised mainly of 20-30 yr old millennials.

    When given a questionnaire to complete after these panels SOOOOOO many have answered the question of “why they drove drunk” with, there was NO TAXI service available for over an hour.  They shared they didn’t want to wait that long!

    I also host NUMEROUS MAYO dept meetings at DAMON House, which is William MAYO’S retirement home adjacent to the MAYO Foundation House.  These meetings are comprised of MAYO employees from Rochester, Jacksonville and Tucson along with many other MAYO satellite locations.

    The ages of these groups vary, but when I host a group of resident DR.’s for interviews they are of course millennial’s looking to relocate to Rochester.  They are very surprised and MOST dismayed that Rochester does NOT have the UBER service !!!!!

    Uber allows users to make reservations via a phone app and ALL payment information is contained in that app so ZERO CASH CHANGES HANDS.  I’ve also hosted visiting Physicians that use the UBER app to track their families/ childrens use while they are away from home visiting Rochester as a guest Physicians/speaker.

    I can specifically share these example by married Physicians from Quebec tracking their 18 yr old son’s travel and UBER use while at home in Canada when they were in Rochester.

    My daughter lived in the Milwaukee suburban area for 3.5 years and used UBER religiously and continues to do so now living in the western suburb’s of MSP.

    Rochester wants to compete on a level with large metropolitan areas with our DMC initiative than UBER needs to be a part of this picture. When the owners and /or Managers of the TAXI companies in Rochester cry FOUL stating this will hurt their business and make them lay off employees just shows nothing short of a monopoly.

    Rochester is host to more than 1-2 grocery stores, restaurants and god KNOWS too many drinking establishments that OVER-SERVE many people in the “vibrant” alcohol fueled downtown and they ALL seem to exist and do business.

    Why does a TAXI business owner get to scream foul and control what Rochester needs to compete in this DMC growth to serve a LARGE group of the population ?

    NOT everyone coming to Rochester or living in this fair city has the income of many MAYO Physicians and scientists.  There is a push for affordable housing in this upcoming DMC city, this need can ALSO be applied to affordable transportation.

    My push for UBER and affordable 24 hour transportation is personal;

    I lost my 23 yr old son 6 yrs ago on 11-27-10.  A drunk driver hit and killed him on impact as he crossed the crosswalk with 7 other individuals on Broadway and 4th. Austin was hit one step from the curb adn thrown 51 feet to his death by an alcohol impaired driver that was OVER-SERVED in Rochester establishments!

    Thank you for your time and consideration

    Sincerely, Sandy Melville

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  • 22Nov

    At the risk of sounding uncivil, let me rant on just how poor the Uber / TNC decision was.

    Uber photo Screen Shot 2016-11-22 at 4.30.17 AM_zpsyx2iu1nk.png

    • City staff worked on behalf of Andy Chafoulias (Yellow Cab owner) to delay the Uber vote until after the election. Based on the anger over the outrageous positions of Hruska, Hickey, and Staver, that may have influenced results. Privately staff will acknowledge that the delay was wrong, but will say nothing publicly.
    • For years I have been asking the council to move high profile hearings to another date and time to separate it from other business. For years city administration and the majority of the council have ignored this common sense request. As such we voted on Uber at 4 AM.
    • For all of those who want to preach on civility take a look at how Brittney Wilson was treated at 3:30 AM. She was cut off despite being far more knowledgable on Uber than the majority of the council. For that matter See Hickey’s handling of Kutzky Park information…
    • We delayed to have Uber available to answer questions (this was the 3rd meeting) now we want a 4th. They went to our committee meeting answered every question, stayed till 4 AM only to have Mark Hickey profess that he hasn’t had a chance to get issues addressed.
    • Through no fault of her own Sandra couldn’t make it to 4 AM. Shame on us for making that necessary. Regardless of how she would have voted. Annalissa has stated public support for Uber and will be joining the council soon, so this isn’t a loss but rather a delay.
    • Loaded language of “lowering the bar” was used repeatedly by three people that basically know little or nothing about Uber. For the rest of us the language was laughable at best.
    • It irritates me that an RCVB employee was concerned about issues related to the RCVB CTA program, and participated in the discussion and vote advocating for the RCVB / Brad Jones / Andy Chafoulias anti-Uber position.
    • Representatives from Uber came down to Rochester, stayed with us for 13 hours only to have this happen. I appreciate their voluntary contributions, I apologize to them, and by January 4, 2017 I am committed to doing a 1st reading of a TNC ordinance that is not encumbered by unnecessary obstacles aimed at causing TNCs to fail or be less competitive.
    • As best I can tell everyone that spoke against Uber is directly or indirectly tied to a cab company.
    • If none of this gets you angry try this one: Sandy M. who lost her son to a drunk driver in downtown Rochester drove to Rochester to testify at the council hearing. She hung out until 2 AM before she drove back to Austin. This morning she sent me the note note below apologizing. She is a strong proponent of Uber. Sandy let me say as a council member who is ashamed of both this process and decision, it is I that apologize to you.

    My apologies. Michael I’m sorry I left last night before that Uber discussion. At 2 AM I hit a wall and my head was pounding. By 3:30 AM I would have been up for 24 hours. I heard it went until 4 AM and there was a tie on the Uber vote.

     

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  • 25Oct

    So I requested data on how the new alcohol policy has affected public safety in Kutzky Park. For this year we only allow alcohol in Kutzky Park with an event permit. Lets just say it was a good decision… Thanks to Officer Jeardeau for putting this together for me.

    Call where alcohol caused a problem were down 89% in 2016. Did we just push the problem elsewhere, probably mostly not. Bear Creek has seen some issues but most other likely areas are not seeing issues.

    Without giving you the extended version I will give you the meat and potatoes here.

    I compared calls from 01-01-15 to 10-31-15 because that is when I ran them last year and compared them to 01-01-16 to 10-12-16 (the date I pulled the calls this year).  Its not exactly the same time frame but pretty close.  By the looks of the numbers I would say it was very successful.

    20152016

    Total Calls ————————————————————–    155         76

    Calls regarding alcohol   ———————————————-    76           21

    Calls where alcohol caused a problem —————————–   57           6

    If you have further questions feel free to give me a call.

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  • 03Sep

    Too many pedestrians & cyclists are dying. People are more willing to use protected infrastructure and it is safe.

    Here are some pictures and examples of how they work.

    2 recent deaths:

    Tuesday:

    Previous week:

    The data is very clear that protected bike lanes work:

    Data on protected bike lanes

    Contrary to common belief on street infrastructure is safer than off street. Especially when done right.

    Lots of good reasons to do this.

    Why invest in bike infrastructure?

    Here are 8 game changers that would help Rochester for an infrastructure perspective:

    1: West Rochester Bikeway

    West Rochester Bikeway

    2: Broadway Ave:

    Broadway: The next critical Public Works Project

    3: City Loop

    4: Close trail gaps:

    1. Cascade Creek between Highway 52 Frontage Road & Kutzky Park
    2. Silver Lake / Broadway Ave / 14th Street NE
    3. Soldiers Field along River on Both Sides
    4. Zumbro River to the North
    5. 7th street NE to Quarry Hill
    6. SE to Gamehaven along former rail bed

    5: Kutzky Greenway connecting the park to St. Marys & City Loop.

    6: Regional trails to Byron (Stagecoach), Stewartville (Planned State Trail), Eyota (Planned trail through Chester Woods), Oronoco (No current plans). Despite my objections, Olmsted County did not allow for a bike trail to go under the new bridge being built at 55th street.

    7: Don’t forget about trees or else the routes can be unpleasant in the summer.

     

     

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  • 22Aug

    As we discuss our massive $1.4 Billion unfunded street maintenance liability here is an example of how we can do better with what we have. The city invested heavily in making this former state highway into a great place. We just approved our first redevelopment and more are on there way. These higher land uses will further increase our return on investment. We put about $1.5 million “extra” into this area to make it safer and more attractive.

    We are still dealing with issues like making sight lines better. The city took over maintenance of the landscaping July 1, and since then made some changes by Kwik Trip, as the public submits concerns, city staff will continue to check things out.

    I have also asked for before and after collision rates. We have had at least 1 serious collision in the district since the completion of the project. It appears sight lines were not an issue on that one, but rather inattentive driving.

     photo Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 2.18.06 PM_zpssj2bsts7.png

    Here the red represents added costs to make the district shine and the blue is growth in taxes beyond what would normally be expected.

     photo Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 2.18.20 PM_zps7ny2a99z.png

    This shows the net Return on Investment over time. It is highly positive and seem to be accelerating. Property values are much higher and redevelopment is happening.

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  • 12Jun

    Thursday join me at the government center (room 104) from 5 – 7 PM to discuss this concept. I encourage you to bicycle to the meeting if you are so able; and then join me on a ride through the Kutzky Park Neighborhood to Cascade Lake Park at 7 PM.

    June 16, 2006 was a sad day for Rochester. At an intersection that was designed unsafe for pedestrians, a young girl lost her life when she was hit by a careless driver. In the 10 years since this happened Rochester & Olmsted County have done almost nothing to improve pedestrian & bicyclist safety in this area.

    Thank you to Andy Masterpole & Mark Miller of SEH for their volunteer efforts in putting these conceptual materials together. Also thanks to many members of BPAC & We Bike Rochester for providing suggestions and encouragement that factored into these recommendations.

    The best part of this is that most of these improvements are low cost, address other issues like neighborhood speeding and unsafe crossings, and can be implemented on a trial basis. Our goal is to deliver improved bicycle and pedestrian safety to the thousands of people that live in the Country Club Manor & Meadow Lakes areas.

    West Rochester Bikeway Map photo Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 4.03.14 PM_zps7dr6mr4n.png

    We are proposing a pedestrian bridge and a number of on street improvements to safely connect neighborhoods on the West side of West Circle Drive. The proposed improvements will provide connections between Harriet Bishop Elementary School, Rochester Montessori School, Judd Park, Manor Park, Meadow Lakes (future trail), and Cascade Lake Regional Park. The number of people served by these improvements is greater the number living in Stewartville, Kasson, or Byron. In short, these improvements are intended to serve an enormous number of currently unserved people.

    West Rochester Bridge Options photo Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 4.03.26 PM_zps5thzziyu.png

    Because the main roads targeted (36th Avenue, 7th Street NW, and 3rd Street NW) are built overly wide; we have the opportunity to add bike lanes protected by significant buffers and physical separators. The current curb to curb width is so large that we can achieve this while still maintaining all current driving lanes and parking along every roadway except a single section of 7th street that has no homes fronting on it.

    Protected Bike Lane Design photo Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 4.03.39 PM_zpsrvohoaj5.png

    Our hope is to also begin planning for and seeking funding for a pedestrian connection over West Circle Drive. I hope that Rochester, Olmsted County, and the School District would all participate in this effort. Potential sources of funds may include state bonding, safe routes to school, federal TAP funds, or sales tax dollars.

    A future four way intersection at County Road 34 and the entrance to People of Hope will serve as an opportunity to safely cross that roadway and continue this network along Cascade Creek to the South and West.

    Here is the original data file.

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  • 02May

    A Transit Networked Company (TNC) is a program that links those looking for rides with those willing to provide them. I support TNCs in Rochester without picking and choosing which ones can come here. Uber & Lyft are among the most well known TNCs. My preference is that we be open to any innovative company that wishes to do business here and meet are willing to meet our safety standards. I suspect that the entry of TNCs present a challenge to tradition cab companies, however protecting existing jobs is a terrible reason to stifle innovation.

    1) Will TNCs will destroy local jobs?

    I personally believe that in Rochester there will always be rolls for some cab drivers. TNCs may challenge existing jobs in the Taxi Industry however the deployment of driverless cars will do the same. We have seen many industries change with the advent of new technology. We didn’t ban Travelocity to protect travel agent jobs.

    2) Will TNCs help reduce congestion, car dependence, and weaknesses in the transit system?

    Probably.

    Here is an article from the Urban Land Institute on how TNCs has reduced the need for cars in some areas.

    ULI: Multimodal Transit Dials Down the Need for Cars in Cities

    3) Will TNCs endanger public safety?

    No. Not if implemented correctly. While I do support TNCs, I also think we should require the same driver licensing that we do for cabs, this would ensure our standards are met. Further many cities have learned that TNCs like Uber can actually improve public safety.

    Uber and DUIs

    4) Should Rochester regulate TNC pricing?

    No.

    5) Why are TNCs currently banned?

    Because the ordinance the city council passed addressing taxi-cabs deliberately put in place requirements that do not apply and can not be met by TNCs. When the ordinance was passed I stated that the ordinance would effectively prevent TNCs from operating in Rochester. At the time the majority of the council was just fine with that. This might be changing.

    6) Should TNCs be able to access the airport?

    Yes, I believe so, so long as they pay the same access fee as cabs.

     

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