Monday, December 10, 2012

How to throw a party

I stayed up too late on Friday night. We went out with friends and I found myself explaining, over the last round of drinks, the history of the depot, and why I was getting up early on Saturday.

It happens to me before an early flight, or when I am nervous about a big meeting. My alarm goes off, and I spring out of bed, unable to settle back into the blankets. (My dog loves this, because her whole existence is based on getting fed as early as possible.)

With a couple layers and my snow boots, I ran to the bus stop at full speed. I settled into the 16, feeling guilty that everyone else was on their way to work and looking miserable, and that I was going to the depot. I jumped off at 5th Street and waited for the 21. I ran into a friend, who was walking towards the depot and wondering why I was just standing there. I told him that the 21 would bring us into the depot - onto the mezzanine! He smiled and we waited together.

My very first arrival at the depot was a quiet one. Somebody had to open a door for us. It gave me a chance to walk through the concourse and waiting room before the crowds.

A big plastic curtain separated the head house, where the media event was being staged. I slipped through the curtain to find a packed room. At 9:15?! Die hard train people.

Spotted: world's cutest future ridership. Why didn't I wear overalls?

One hour and fifteen minutes later (!), the electeds pulled down the curtain to the cheers of a restless crowd. Music blared as streams of people, smiles on their faces, cameras and phones and kids held high, poured into the depot and flooded the waiting room.

Turns out, the depot isn't very big when it's crammed with happy, train-loving people. Kids chatted about Thomas while parents wrote out postcards to mail. Old friends hugged and talked about their childhood. Elderly couples sat on new benches holding hands. Artists beamed. Train conductors posed for photos with the carnival princesses. This is how you throw a party, my friends - with heart. You let people be the main attraction, and let the depot slip right back into its supporting role.

And, of course, I got absolutely nothing done - I didn't even collect my commemorative poster! Everywhere I looked, there were people from different parts of my life in Saint Paul. It was a 4-hour onslaught of hugging people out of context, and it was magnificent.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
Location:Union Depot

Thursday, December 6, 2012

No biggie

Let's see, not much going this week.

The construction update has the regular stuff: Tom is selling Christmas trees at the Y, overhead wires are being installed (weather permitting), and some clean up work is happening. Slow news day.

It's not like this past weekend marked the end of heavy construction on University Avenue, and the beginning of the rest of our lives. It's no major milestone in our city's history.

This is what I would call understated:

Bus Details
Bus routes on University Avenue will resume to normal configuration. Visit or call the Transit Information Center at 612-373-3333 for the most current information.

Quietly, and without much notice, University Avenue has been buttoned up for good. Sure - there are more lane closures and more guideway work to come, but I'm taking a full minute and a half to savor this landmark moment.

And, hmm, what else is happening this week? Perhaps we could have a little party. For the opening of a $243 million historic depot 40+ years in the making. Whaaat? I can hardly contain myself.

Not one, but TWO random people at the bus stop last weekend were talking to me about this. I haven't heard that much bus buzz about a single event...ever. I was down there on Saturday to meet up with some friends - I can say I knew you when, Depot.

And because I can't manage to show any kind of restraint, I've copied the full list of events and activities happening between 10 am and 4 pm. I will be there early (media event and speeches start at 9:30!)

  • Commemorative Poster - Complete a Transit Pass to receive a free commemorative Union Depot poster designed by Twin Cities artist Adam Turman.

  • Union Depot History Display – Artifacts and photos that tell the history of Union Depot. 

  • Metro Transit Booth – Information on service and bus routes. Download a free bus pass at 

  • Jefferson Lines – Bringing intercity bus service to Union Depot in January 2013.Tour one of their featured buses and check out their new ticket office in the Kellogg Entry.

  • Amtrak – Coming to Union Depot in 2013, Amtrak will be onsite to share the glory of the Empire Builder train that will operate out of Union Depot. 

  • Minnesota Transportation Museum/Jackson Street Roundhouse – Learn about Twin Cities train history and view a historic map that depicts the location of the original Union Depot. 

  • Operation Lifesaver - Learn how to make safe decisions around tracks and trains.

  • Treasure Island Resort & Casino – Meet their mascot Toucan and spin the wheel for a chance to win prizes. 

  • Mississippi National River and Recreation Area National Park Service – Explore a giant floor map of the river. 

  • U of M Raptor Center – Check out three live raptors perched out on display including a bald eagle!  Onsite 12 P.M. to 4 P.M.

  • Mystic Lake Casino – Play Card Sharks for prizes.  Also, tour one of their shuttle buses.

  • St. Paul Saints – Play some baseball on the St. Paul Saints inflatable batting tee and get information on the new regional ballpark opening in Lowertown in 2015. 

  • One on One Bicycle Studio – Coming to Union Depot early 2013, see their new space and learn about products and services.

  • Saint Paul Winter Carnival – Meet the Royal Family and purchase your official Saint Paul Winter Carnival button.

  • Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) – Learn how five metro counties are working together to fund new transit lines, and see the vision for our growing regional transit system.

  • Metropolitan Council Central Corridor LRT (Green Line) – Learn about the latest light rail project and take your picture with a large tapestry of a light rail car.

  • U of M Press – View a collection of their railroad books and meet some of the authors.

  • Harding High School – Enjoy musical performances  by the Harding High School Marching Band, Drum Line, and Ensemble. Performances at 10 A.M., 11 A.M. and  11:30 A.M.

  • Colleen & Bradley from MyTalk107.1 – Meet Colleen and Bradley from MyTalk107.1’s morning show.  Onsite 11 A.M. to 1 P.M. 

  • Snoopy Unveiling & Meet and Greet – Meet Snoopy and see our newly redesigned “Doghouse Days of Summer,” Snoopy Statue. Event at 11 A.M. 

  • Urban Sketchers – Meet local sketchers, including some of Union Depot’s own residents, to learn about sketching the world around you.

  • Taste of Lowertown - Experience the unique foods of Lowertown, with a new restaurant providing samples at the top of every hour.

  • Studio Sendero – Demonstrations and free classes in flamenco, belly dance, yoga and Zumba.

  • Recess Press – Pick up a pre-made tote, or learn from an artist how to screen print your very own. Totes are free while supplies last.

  • Bedlam Theatre Performances - Bedlam Theatre will perform a series of small and large-scale historically referential performances throughout the day. 

  • Light Rail Shuffle – Learn to dance the Light Rail Shuffle and other fun dances.

  • Train-Themed Photo Stand-Ins – Be the driver of a light rail car or the conductor of the William Crooks steam engine, and have your picture taken.

  • Postcards from Union Depot – Choose from several postcard designs created by local artists and send a postcard to yourself or a loved one from Union Depot. 

  • Movie night! Elf is being shown at 5:30. Woooo.

I plan to transfer from the 16 to the 21 downtown for the ceremonial joy of riding all the way to the depot on Saturday. You didn't get the notice? It's right here - in the bus route changes.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

While you were sleeping

Somewhere between last week's food coma and the onslaught of holiday music, the downtown Central station really starting shaping up. At first, I thought it was just some sort of Caddyshack-inspired public art. Go Gophers?

Man, those construction guys are always fighting an uphill battle.

But then I walked past tonight, and - holy bananas - that station is done! I only stood there to pout for a minute or two. No offense, 50. It's just that I'm ready for the upgrade.

Right next door, the small leftover space is starting to look like...a plaza? I think Leftover Plaza is a great name, but again, that might be the Thanksgiving buzz talking. Pie. We need to add pie here.

That's right. Saint Paul's got railgating, too. Somebody get this guy a plaza before he gets hit by a train.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
Location:4th & Cedar

Monday, November 12, 2012

What's old is new again

As I walked back from lunch today, I thought about how much this area has changed since we moved here six years ago. The falafel is awesome, but I still miss Jay's Cafe sometimes (that was two restaurants ago).

Still, everywhere I look, it's hard not to get excited that what is old is new again.

I passed two vintage stores, a (new?) mid-century modern furniture place, and an old-timey neighborhood hardware shop. I stopped in to wander through four floors of a second-hand office furniture retailer (like Ikea without the ice cream cones).

Across the street, the restoration of the new/old Chittenden & Eastman building is in full swing, with snow scattered on the new/old granite pavers.

Just east of here, they've been busy putting up catenary wires for a few weeks now.

There's something right about bringing the old overhead wire back to the Avenue - and tracks and trains - so nice to be back to the future, isn't it? And speaking of which, it's time to mark your calendars.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Ellis Ave,St Paul,United States

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Welcome, 201

As I rushed out the door today, I grabbed my LRT lapel pin and stuck it onto my coat.

It's a special occasion that requires train bling. Today, the first Central Corridor light rail vehicle glided into Target Field station. It is vehicle number 201, and it's the first of a lighter, smarter - and dare I say - cuter fleet.

Here is 201 next to a newly painted Hiawatha "Blue Line" train, both sporting the new Metro logo. Would we call that 2012 Metro livery? I guess we might.

After a few short speeches from the big kahunas (did I mention it was freezing out there?) we all got to board the train and check out  the new digs. Good news, the heat works. The seats work, too.

Giddy with excitement.

I realize now that I could have taken better photos of the interior, but when you're excited, it's hard to remember what you're supposed to do. I think I actually gave someone a high five at one point.

A route map! How many times have I sat on Hiawatha and imagined looking up at this image? Many.

A future system map, for show I suppose. There was also one placed on the LRT platform - nice touch, Metro Transit!

Poster on board showing a shrink wrapped train being delivered to the Hiawatha OMF. Wait, you're telling me that this thing passed right over University Avenue in broad daylight and no one told me? My day job is clearly getting in the way of trainspotting.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Best and Worst of the Week

Best: Catenary poles and catenary wire-holder-thingamabobs. Can we pause for a moment and look at how good those tapered, tubular, Saint-Paul-Brown catenary poles look? Details matter. (I apologize to those of you that ride Hiawatha everyday and will never look be able to look at your galvanized i-beams the same way.) Special thanks to the traffic engineer who strategically placed that arrow for this photo.

Worst/best: A bus shelter on a cold, rainy day. So awkward. So clammy. And yet, such a sight for sore eyes. There's kind of a strange camaraderie among a bunch of half-soaked grumpy people who need to share a tiny space. And if there's not, some group venting about the bus being late usually does the trick. Everyone loves to hate on a late bus!

Best: Lumbermobile. Something that is so bizarrely American is this idea that cars are irreplaceable. A world without a roof rack? Gasp! I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard something like, "transit is great, but nobody is going to take the bus/train to Menards to buy lumber." You know what? They actually do. Take a seat, haters.

(I should say - Menards is a true superstore and sells virtually everything. We have a game trying to guess things they don't sell - it's impossible. Pudding? Coloring books? Deodorant? Flameless candles? The magic bullet? Hot pink zebra duct tape? It turns out all these things fit on transit! And here we had just written off customers in the Central Corridor shopping for things smaller than a breadbox.)

Worst: Parking fail. Failure. Failed. Fail.

Best: Granite Pavers (aka Paver Watch 2012). From deep below the streets of Saint Paul - reclaimed granite and sandstone pavers are now being reinstalled in the medians of the Raymond historic district. There's more to this design coming east of Raymond...wait for it...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Nightlights and new tricks

Let's face it - construction has gone from exciting, to frustrating, to endlessly long. For a few weeks, the only thing I could get behind was the seemingly magical drop-off-only buses running on University. I don't really get it, but I like it...a lot.

But then, I go for a walk and notice that things are happening - still- new things all the time. Here are a few of my favorite University Avenue additions.

1. The medians are actually planted. Yes, it's ok to look twice. The pile of industrious weeds that had sprung up are starting to be replaced with real plants, and even some (gasp!) flowers. Did you ever think you'd see the day when flowers were planted down the middle of University Avenue? Only in my wildest dreams.

2. Bike racks. While I don't own a bike, and am not quite sure if the median is the most functional spot, I am now beginning to understand that getting bike parking installed is only slightly less difficult than, say, buying a unicorn or finding the Northwest Passage. It's hard. We'll take it. Did you ever think you'd see the day when bike racks were installed down the middle of University Avenue? Only in my wildest dreams.

2. Advance stop bars. Say what? Oh, yes, that fatty stripe on the street isn't just for looks. And if you don't think it makes a difference, I should note that TWO vehicles stopped and waited for me to cross when I paused to take this photo. Looks like it isn't that hard to teach an old dog new tricks.

3. Neighborhood-scale nightlights. You always hear people talk about light pollution and streetlights shining in their windows and commercial lighting generally ruining humanity. Well, I moved to the city so I can have the luxury of walking my dog without a flashlight, and I can't get enough of this LED bonanza. More is more. Beautiful.

Location:Westgate station

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A train by any other name

For many years we've called it the Central Corridor. But it's going to be the Green Line, and since the signs are already going up, well, it's time to make the switch.

I am kind of attached to Central, but the color system is less about what we're getting rid of, and more about what we're getting: maps. Real, beautiful, abstract, big city metro maps. I don't have the Transit Maps of the World book on my coffee table for nothing, people.

The good news is, I possess some cartography skillz myself. The bad news is, the hardest thing to map is something stylized and beautiful and unrelated to coordinates on the earth. Cheating in GIS is so difficult! For this job, we need to throw out the projections (sorry, Mercator!) and bring on the graphic designers. And when I started looking around, it seemed like these folks may already have a head start...I like where this is going!

[See this and other prototypes at Carticulate!]

And speaking of things I want to design, I am thinking about creating some transity nerd green line tshirts - something to express my localized enthusiasm, like you see in places like Toronto and New York. I'd like a shirt or a bag with every Twin Cities local* bus number printed on it. It would come with a sharpie keychain so that you could proudly cross off routes you've used, or put a heart around your favorite line. I mean, instant street cred of course, but also people might say "oh, you've been on the 64 - can you tell me where I need to transfer to catch that downtown?" Now how useful is that? We transiteers should self-identify and make ourselves useful.

Also, these shirts could double as matching uniforms for our opening day flash mob. I mean, there is going to be dancing in the streets, right?

*Sorry, suburban express riders, but this is kind of a city thing. Maybe you could make blingy seat covers or coffee cozies with your route on them?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Home improvements

Either they're putting in a huge whirlpool tub at Cedar and 5th, or that's just more guideway work.

Perhaps I have been watching too much HGTV this summer...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mind-bending, face-melting

This is going to sound terribly nerdy - there are few things that make me as happy as this map. We seem to have won the transity jackpot, my friends. 

This week I have been spending a lot of time telling people about the SAINT PAUL OF THE FUTURE [outer space voice]. SPOTF is a place where I can get to Bead Monkey or Seward co-op or Highland on one bus. One bus! These bus improvements have been a bit of a Central Corridor dark horse for me - who knew that we'd save so much from the 16 & 94 that we'd be able to plow it into obscene* amounts of service? I have ridden transit despite the crummy transfers and the 30 minute headways at rush hour. Soon, I'll be able to ride transit because it's easy. Easy? Whoa.

Equally mind-bending is this travel time chart from the same open house last week, where I confirmed that the train will cut fifteen minutes off my 50 bus commute. Fifteen minutes. Each way. Holy bananas.

What am I going to do with an extra half hour every day? Loosely translated, I could hit about five more snooze buttons, or actually make dinner before I get too hungry and just eat popcorn.

Or, I could for-reals learn to knit and (yarn) bomb things.

Or, I could play with circuits. On way home last week, I stopped by this interactive pop-up studio next The Edge. 

The friendly duo, Beatrix*Jar, had created a workshop of rewired toys. Think Axman meets Toy Story meets electronic music. Brilliant.

Beatrix*Jar from mn original on Vimeo.

Yes, I think playing with some face-melting robot keyboards could be the perfect way to spend my newfound time!

*Obscene by East Metro Standards.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone
Location: 50 bus