Acme Comedy Club threatens to leave Minneapolis over parking

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When people drive to the iconic comedy venue, Acme Comedy Co., in the North Loop they have the option to park in one of two surface parking lots across the street. This may look like one giant block-wide surface lot, but it’s actually two. One 156-stall lot is owned by Acme’s landlord, Schafer Richardson, and the other 120-stall lot is owned by developer Curt Gunsbury and is dedicated to be used for tenants of his Itasca V building across the street and nearby office workers. Gunsbury is planning to develop his portion of the lot, located at 721 N 1st Street, into an apartment complex, and now Acme is threatening to relocate to the suburbs.

Acme has been located in the North Loop for 25 years. When the warehouse district was mostly warehouses, there was no shortage of parking. But now the North Loop is one of the trendiest neighborhoods in the city which means there’s more vitality and interest–but less parking. There are plenty of theaters and venues in downtown Minneapolis that manage to thrive despite the difficulty finding cheap parking nearby. Acme’s hyperbolic response to this minor change in the status quo may reflect more on proprietor Louis Lee’s existing feelings about parking rather the specific impacts of this new development project.

The Lot and Development

Gunsbury’s lot–the lot that’s being developed–includes fewer than half of all the parking spaces that currently exist across the street from Acme. This lot is leased on a contract basis to tenants and nearby office workers, including one overnight legal business that may have up to 200 contract workers at a time. While Acme customers can use this lot for hourly event parking in the evening, there is no guarantee of regular access to these spaces. It is unclear how much actual parking Acme customers would be losing under this plan. The adjacent parking lot, owned by Acme’s landlord, is not being developed.

The new apartments being built at 721 N 1st Street would have dedicated parking. Gunsbury asked for a variance for this new building to exceed the city’s parking maximum. Due to the fact that Bassett Creek runs underneath this area of the North Loop, parking cannot be built underground. The complex at 721 would have 222 parking spaces on the first level. Of these, 152 spaces would be for residents of the 124-unit apartment building and their guests, and 70 spaces would be available for the current office tenant contracts. As the developer’s representative stated at the City Planning Commission, the fact that there may be extra spaces available in the evening would be a “great opportunity” for Acme customers to access the lot. An agreement like this would be similar to Acme’s existing informal arrangement with Gunsbury’s parking lot, though with fewer spaces available.

Some of the argument against this development from Lee states that his landlord, Schafer Richardson, has not “set aside” any parking spaces in the lot that’s not being developed for Acme to use during the duration of construction. This makes sense to me. Why should that lot set aside spots for Acme’s use only, when there are other reasons people in the area would want access to a surface lot? That lot is still going to be there, but Acme patrons will access it on a first-come first-served basis, just like everyone else.

City Planning Commission

Acme created an event to encourage supporters to turn up at the Minneapolis City Planning Commission (CPC) on June 27th. The room was packed with comedians and lovers of comedy. There wasn’t, however, a representative from Acme itself to give background or data or to be held responsible for some of the claims they’re disseminating to loyal supporters through high-profile comedians on social media. It was also clear that the folks in the room did not understand the full scope of the project, the role of the CPC, or what a parking variance is. That’s okay, I didn’t know many of those things when I showed up.

It was strange to hear impassioned pleas from comedy-lovers about the lack of parking, only to have them ask the commission to deny a variance to add more parking. Their strategy was to ask the CPC to deny all variances in the hope that this would prevent the development project from moving forward. The CPC could not legally do what the speakers wanted. As Commissioner Luepke-Pier stated, the variances being asked for were fairly minor and even if the commission opposed them, the development project could still move forward with minor variations. The CPC does not have the power to stop a development project for the reasons brought up at the CPC meeting without risking being sued by the developer.

Parking vs. Density

When I showed up at the CPC meeting, I spoke to a few people milling around outside the room. I asked them why they were there and we started chatting about Acme. They accused me of supporting a ‘rich developer’ over a local comedy club. I said that I was there to support density and building housing in a city with a housing shortage. Both online and in person, people have asked how the building of luxury apartments will address the housing shortage. Today’s luxury apartments are 2040’s middle-class housing. We need to have housing stock for people to live in, and as this housing stock ages it will become less luxurious and therefore more affordable. Additionally, when higher end apartments are available, this prevents rich people from renting, buying, and renovating cheaper housing which keeps those units available for the people who need them.

At the CPC meeting, speakers said that parking needs to be prioritized otherwise businesses will die. Speakers talked about how people from the suburbs will stop coming to the city if there isn’t abundant parking, and without these patrons businesses will close. They said that without parking, eventually the city will be full of apartments for people to live and nowhere for them to eat or be entertained. This is just wrong. As more people live in Minneapolis, there becomes more demand for restaurants, entertainment, and stores. We don’t have the speculate, these things are already happening. The people who live here support the businesses they need. Mixed density areas, like the North Loop, are particularly healthy and good for residents and business owners alike. We should build neighborhoods for the people who live in them, and not just to prioritize easy access for people who don’t live there. If the resulting vitality of the neighborhood attracts people from other neighborhoods and suburbs, that is a benefit and not the primary purpose.

It is true that the North Loop is dense and parking can be hard to find sometimes. I believe that the additional people and activity that come with being located in a dense and lively environment more than make up for the downside. There are more places to eat and better access to public transit at this location than others. It’s easily walkable for folks who live nearby and it’s ideally located for arriving by bike, being central in the city and near the river trail and Cedar Lake Trail. There are other options for arriving at this location besides driving.

It’s clear many people care deeply about Acme. The outpouring of support through the petition, on social media, and at the CPC meeting showed how much this venue means to the neighborhood and the city. The actual impact of the 721 N 1st Street development project is likely to have a minor, if any, impact on parking availability at Acme. If Acme wants easy and abundant parking, they can choose to move to the suburbs or make an arrangement with another parking provider.

No one is forcing Acme to leave Minneapolis. They have a choice to make. They can choose to stay in their historic venue in an urban, evolving, North Loop and risk losing certain customers who are swayed by the parking argument. Or they can uproot themselves at high cost, move to a more parking-friendly area, and risk losing folks who live and work in Minneapolis, and those who enjoy visiting the city for its culture and vitality. Acme has been framing this argument as if the developer and city government are forcing them to leave. This is not true. It’s Acme’s right to make whatever choice they make, but they need to take responsibility for the fact that this is their choice, and their choice alone.

 

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Bikers come in all ages: An interview

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The 8-80 Cities project promotes healthy communities where people ages eight through eighty can feel safe and comfortable navigating by whatever mode they choose. My interviews thus far have explored how adults in their twenties through forties get around by bike, but I’m looking to expand the conversation. Reed Nicholls is nine years old and just finished 3rd grade at Northrop School. I sat down with him and his mom, Amy Brugh, to hear his perspective on riding a bike in Minneapolis.

Biking in Mpls: Tell me a little about how you ride your bike, do you ride with friends or with family?

Reed: Mostly with my family.

Biking in Mpls: When you’re going places or just for fun?

Reed: Sometimes we just go on bike rides because we don’t have anything to do. Sometimes because we are going to a place.

Biking in Mpls: I heard you have two bikes, a tandem and your own bike, which one do you like best?

Reed: I definitely like my own bike because the tandem, whenever we have to go up a hill and down a hill, on the last gear it always gets me off on biking. It moves the pedals. It’s just weird.

Biking in Mpls: Do you ever do any tricks on your bike?

Reed: I remember my brother and I we used to want to know how to do a wheelie. Sometimes when I’m riding I’ll try and pop up into a wheelie.

Biking in Mpls: Has that ever worked?

Reed: No

Biking in Mpls: What are your favorite places to ride?

Reed: I like riding down at [Minnehaha] parkway and other times I ride around on the square that the streets have made with 46th, Bloomington and Cedar, and 42nd.

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Amy: Could you tell Lindsey about what your school does on bike day?

Reed: We have a bike-a-thon. A whole bunch of kids bring their bikes to school. For the smaller kids you only bike two miles, I think. But for third grade and up, that means me, we bike over eight miles.

Biking in Mpls: Where do you go on the bike ride?

Reed: We go way down by the Mississippi by Fort Snelling State Park.

Biking in Mpls: Do they do that throughout the year or just once?

Reed: Once a year.

Amy: What would you think if they did that more often?

Reed: It would be fun.

Amy: Could you tell Lindsey about what you’re doing this summer?

Reed: I have the STEM program, which is a summer school but it’s not a summer school. I’m pretty sure there’s some biking involved in that.

Amy: It’s at Pillsbury which has the bike fleet. I think they ride their bikes every day. It’s a MPS school program. You get to ride a bike with your class and you get to learn about how to maintain your bike and fix bikes.

Reed: That sounds good. That’s happened where the chain comes off. I was trying to fix it and when I finally got it back there was stuff all over my hands.

Biking in Mpls: Do you ride to school?

Reed: Sometimes.

Amy: Why don’t you bike to school more often?

Reed: Because of Cedar. I have to wait there a whole long time because some cars just don’t mind to stop. Sometimes when I’m biking, like at stop signs or red lights, I can see people looking down at their phones.

Biking in Mpls: That drives me crazy. How do you feel about that?

Reed: I feel mad. When the light turns green for me, I still don’t go because they’re texting. Sometimes the car is on the crosswalk, because I go on the crosswalk with my bike to get across instead of in the middle of the street. When I go on the crosswalk, all the time the cars inch forwards until they’re blocking the crosswalk so I have to go around them. That means I still have to go in the middle of the street.

Biking in Mpls: What would make you feel better about biking to school?

Reed: A bike lane!

Biking in Mpls: Do you feel like biking is important?

Reed: It’s definitely better for the environment. For driving, it gives off the exhaust. For biking, there’s no exhaust except your air coming out of you.

Biking in Mpls: Are there any other reasons you think biking is important?

Reed: Well it’s important that you get your exercise.

Biking in Mpls: What’s your favorite thing about riding a bike?

Reed: It’s fun. It’s just fun to ride your bike.

Reed Nicholls is a cyclist and future 4th grader living in Minneapolis.

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ARTCRANK 2016

Artcrank is a poster party for bike people. It started as an in-person event, but they now have posters for sale at all times on their website. Artcrank is one of my favorite volunteering events of the year. This year I worked at the merch booth, selling shirts, including tiny shirts and onesies for tiny humans. Here are some photos I snapped from the event. If you didn’t come this year, I hope to see you next year!

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Getting folks to bike commute doesn’t have to be so hard

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This is the post where I tell you about new consulting services I’m offering to promote bike commuting. If you wanna skip to the goods, check out my new site.

It’s time to ask the hard questions of ourselves, our employers, and our colleagues. Why are bike commuting rates so low? I think it comes down to people being so entrenched in the status quo that they cannot see another way. Just under half of employees live within 10 miles of their office and yet bike commuting rates are dismal. Even in Minneapolis, where we have the second most bike commuters of any major city, only 4.6% of folks commute by bike. There’s a huge opportunity to promote health by changing the way people get to and from work.

Most major employers have a wellness division. Usually housed under human resources, this is the department that will plan walking challenges, send out flyers on healthy behavior, organize health fairs and screenings, and give you resources for health promotion courses. In my experience as an employee, these challenges are merely lip service to the idea of wellness. Some people get into them, yes. Some employees will buy hand weights and new shoes, taking the lunch hour to walk around the parking lot. Some employees will take more walks at home with their friends and families to make sure they’re getting their steps in for the day. Some employees will park farther from the store entrance or decide to walk to a coworker’s desk instead of emailing as a way to walk a bit more. All of these are great outcomes. These challenges can be fun, but it’s very unlikely that most of them are impacting health beyond the duration of the challenge.

I worked at a pharmacy after I finished my undergraduate degree. It was my first big-kid job and I still remember it fondly. At the time, I’d never been regularly physically active. I was 22 and slender; I’d always associated working out with losing weight. While I worked at the pharmacy, the wellness division coordinated walking challenges. I participated, for the cheap plastic rewards, but I still remember taking pride in telling my coworkers who exercised that I “didn’t need to.” Eventually hearing them talk about time at the gym wore me down and I joined one myself. I exercised religiously until I thought to bike commute. That was the beginning of the end of my gym life. And thank god for it, because spending hours upon hours, day after day, staring out the same gym window while swinging my arms on the same elliptical remains my idea of hell.

Bike commuting made sense for me then and makes sense for me now. It’s a way to be physically active without having to try too hard to be physically active. Commuting by bike is associated with better mental health and reduces cardiovascular risk. Bike commuters live an average of two years longer, breathe in less pollution, take fewer sick days, and are just plain happier with their commutes. Folks who commute by car are more likely to gain weight over time than those who commute by bike, even when they are physically active in their free time. Promoting active commuting is cost effective. Getting people to incorporate physical activity into their everyday routines is much cheaper than enrolling folks in targeted physical activity classes.

So then, how do we do it? How do we encourage people to take the leap and figure out the bike commuting thing? Well, it’s clear that bike commuting isn’t an option for everyone. Folks who live long distances away from work may struggle to bike commute, although e-bikes may extend commute range. Parents may find it hard to coordinate daycare drop-off and pick-up on a bicycle, although it’s very doable if you have the right set-up. And employees with disabilities or chronic disease may not be able to bike commute due to physical limitations. All of those things are okay, those are not the people I’m talking about.

I’m talking about people like my old coworker B. He lives nine miles from work and his route is almost a straight-shot to the office along the greenway. He didn’t have a bike and hadn’t biked in ages. He said that seeing my bike parked in the office every day made him realize that he had no reason for driving every day. He bought a bike and started riding it to work. Over the ensuing months he lost around thirty pounds. While B is a great guy, I don’t think he’s particularly special in his relationship to commuting. He drove to work because driving to work is how he’d always conceived of commuting. Eventually, he saw that biking to work was a feasible option, a better option.

There are ways to promote bike commuting that work. Doing this in the work environment makes perfect sense, because everyone has to get to work. Instead of giving out gift cards when employees see the dentist (or hell, in addition to gift cards for employees seeing the dentist), why not use strategies that have been shown to increase bike commuting rates? Achieving lasting health means building healthy habits and bike commuting is a powerful habit. We can improve bike commuting rates through the creation of bike-to-work events, leading bike trains so people don’t have to first-time commute on their own, writing targeted guides and information about how to bike commute, conducting surveys to understand barriers, and changing company policies and amenities to be more friendly to bike commuters. I’m now offering all of these as consulting services. Promoting bike commuting should be a public health priority. It has the potential to be very powerful. If your company is interested, drop me a line.

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Biking in flouncy skirts: An interview

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Karen Canady is a cyclist based in LA. She has a women-specific bike apparel line called Bikie Girl Bloomers. She was in Minneapolis recently, so we met up to talk about biking and her clothing line.

Biking in Mpls: How did you get started cycling?

Karen: I’ve been riding my bike off and on since I was a kid. That’s how we got around the neighborhood with the gang. I fell in love with bicycling right after college. I went to college in Oregon where there were beautiful rolling hills and lakes nearby. My friend invited me to ride bikes out to the lake and I was like, “Wow, this is great.” My first purchase with my first job after college was a bicycle.

Biking in Mpls: How long have you lived in LA?

Karen: Since 1996.

Biking in Mpls: Has biking in LA been a challenge? I know LA is very car-centric.

Karen: When I first moved there, I couldn’t imagine riding a bike on the streets of LA. It felt like such intense car culture. I never saw anyone riding their bikes. If I did it looked like they were really wishing for suicide. As you get to know the city streets you realize it’s more doable than you thought.

Biking in Mpls: Have you seen the culture change since then?

Karen: It has changed. A lot more people are on their bikes. You can tell drivers get used to it. There are parts of LA where you see more bicycles and you can tell that the drivers are used to sharing the road.

Biking in Mpls: Has there been new bike infrastructure?

Karen: They’re adding bike lanes like crazy. Especially since the mayor before the one we have now was a bicyclist. He had an accident on his bike and broke his elbow. He became determined to add more bike infrastructure in LA. That really turned a corner for us.

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Biking in Mpls: Tell me about Bikie Girl Bloomers and where that idea came from.

Karen: About five years ago, I was trying to explore why I wasn’t commuting on my bike more often. My office was really close to my house. It seemed like I shouldn’t have any excuses. One of the factors was thinking about what I would be wearing and realizing how much I like riding in a skirt, but trying to figure out the best thing to wear underneath my skirt. I looked to see if anyone else was carrying what I thought would be the ideal shorts and I wasn’t finding them. I thought, “Well, there have got to be other people who wish they have this too.” If you don’t know how fun it is to ride a bike in a skirt, I encourage people to discover that.

I worked with a friend of mine who knows the apparel industry well. She helped me figure out how to get them made. We have a garment district right there in LA, so it’s pretty lucky for me that all the resources are right there.

Biking in Mpls: Have you seen an enthusiastic response from women?

Karen: My favorite thing was a friend of mine who saw the Bikie Girl Bloomers outfits, the skirts and the shorts, and said, “Oh those are so cute, I want to start riding a bike just so I can wear that.” She actually became a bike commuter and wears the bloomers. That’s my favorite story.

Biking in Mpls: That’s a thing I like to think about too. Part of the reason I don’t wear a helmet is because I just want to look like a normal person riding a bike. Is that your same perspective?

Karen: I want to help people break out of the notion that it’s only an athletic endeavor or something you do for recreation. It can just be how you get around doing your normal things. There’s an idea that, “Oh I can’t bike to work because I’d have to change my clothes.” Well, I’m lazy. I don’t want to have to change my clothes just because I went where I was going on a bike. The idea is to have very normal clothes. These aren’t big on reflective gizmos or special technical features. It’s just about being comfortable both on and off the bike.

Biking in Mpls: You have the spandex bloomers for under skirts. What was the driving factor behind making the skirts and the shirts?

Karen: I love riding a bike in a skirt so I wanted to make a skirt that was my ideal cycling skirt. I chose a fabric that was really light and flouncy with a big sweep to the hemline so it would flutter in the breeze as you ride along and blow up in a carefree way because you’ve got these cute shorts underneath. That’s how the Hitchable Flounce Skirt was born. The hitch refers to the ‘skitch’ which I can use to lift up the hemline to show a peek of the cute shorts underneath while I’m riding and drop it out of sight when I get where I’m going.

I chose a material for that that’s really soft and light and drapes really nicely. Something that’s both really comfortable, like wearing your jammies, but that looks dressy. If you’re going to put a blazer on and be in business-woman-mode, you can. Or you can go out dancing or out to dinner. The fabric is also nice because it’s sustainably produced. It’s a modal blend. Modal is made from processed beech trees. Beech trees don’t take very much water to grow. The chemicals that are used to make the fabric can be recycled so it doesn’t put nasty stuff out into the environment. I like that too.

Biking in Mpls: I noticed that many of your shirts have a scoop neck, is that a personal preference or an intentional decision?

Karen: Because the fabric is so soft and comfy, I wanted to make a top out of it too. I wanted to choose a design that would have both elegance and comfort and be flattering to a broad range of figures. The drape neck is something that lays nicely and looks dressy when you want to, but works for casual when you need it.

Biking in Mpls: Has being more involved in women’s bike fashion changed anything else about the way you dress or your general perspective on fashion?

Karen: I’ve learned so much about how apparel is made. I’ve learned what goes into fast fashion now that there’s mass production of really cheap clothing using really cheap labor and cheaper manufacturing techniques. I used to get excited about finding clothes that were really cheap. Now I appreciate the price that is paid in human costs and environmental costs. I’m more supportive of other apparel manufacturers who are doing things in an independent or small-manufacturing way or are made locally. I want to support that kind of fashion.

Biking in Mpls: Do you see your Bikie Girl line as being for everyone or is there a particular target market?

Karen: It’s designed to fit a wide range of ages and figures. I think most of my customers are in the 35 to 55 age range. Women who are a little more carefree about picking their own style. I’ve had women who buy these things for square dancing or salsa dancing. The kind of woman who’s a carefree or independent spirit. She may be younger than other people her age, if you know what I mean.

Biking in Mpls: What is your overall favorite thing about riding a bike?

Karen: I think the way I feel so connected with the world, like my spirit is soaring with nature while I ride.

Karen Canady is a cyclist and the creator of Bikie Girl Bloomers. She lives in Los Angeles.

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