March 31, 2005

Train a-Comin': Northstar Line gets Funded

The bonding bill that finally emerged from the state capitol includes $37.5 for the Northstar commuter rail line. See the Strib article.

That's $27.5 million more that the anti-transit House had grudgingly put forward in their version of the bill.

We're starting to get a real regional transit system, here. That's good for workers, for jobs, for traffic congestion, and for air quality. But if MetroTransit really has to cut $10 million, it's one step forward and two steps back.

Posted by tgus at 5:11 PM

March 29, 2005

A trus? A brain? April Fool's.

The Skyway News has a funny front page story in their April Fool's issue about the next big thing in transit: LRTT, Light Rail Tranist on Tires. "LRTT cars are not confined to fixed routes, and indeed can run on paved streets already prevalent in the Twin Cities." It includes a fun photo of an LRT car with bus wheels.

There's also the story of a bike courier who discovers the automobile.

Unfortunately, the issue is not up online, so you'll need to grab a hard copy. It's not The Onion, but it has its moments.

It makes me wonder: What sort of April Fool's pranks will UThink bloggers devise?

Posted by tgus at 12:54 PM

March 27, 2005

Quiet Time

It's been fairly uneventful in the Tales department lately. Bus and train riders have been stereotypical Minnesotans: quiet. But also, it feels in part, like people are worn out by the winter, even though it's not been a very snowy one here.

On Tuesday last week, one day after the Red Lake shooting news, the silence seemed stunned and funereal. That certainly affected the mood all week.

There'll be a state-wide moment of silence Monday afternoon.

Will even Uthink blogs quiet down around 2 pm?

Posted by tgus at 10:56 PM

March 25, 2005

Sun Angles = Seasonal Transit Use

Mild sunny days, the higher post-equinox sun angle, and the absence of snow and ice on sidewalks, bikepaths and roads, have me looking forward to the time (soon to come) when I cancel my Metropass and commute to work either on foot (50 minutes) or by bike (about 18).

I guess that makes me a foul-weather friend of transit.

Posted by tgus at 4:04 PM

March 24, 2005

Camouflage Man

Slouchlng in the train seat
like you're hiding in a duck bllnd,
camo'd hood pulled low over
your face, camo'd pants
over the shoe tops.

The not-so-invisible man.

Posted by tgus at 1:42 PM

Where The Skies Are Not Hazy All Day

Courtesy of the Midwest hazecam here's a view of downtown St. Paul on a crystal clear blue afternoon yesterday:


Also courtesy of the Midwest hazecam celow is a view at the same time from Grand Portage on Superior's North Shore, out toward that jewel in the big lake, Isle Royale:


This camera is at the "Grand Portage Indian Reservation/Isle Royale National Park":

"The Anishinaabe Grand Portage Reservation is located in Cook County in the extreme northeast corner of Minnesota, approximately 150 miles from Duluth. The camera looks to the east out towards Isle Royale National Park, which is located in Lake Superior. Isle Royale National Park, which was established in 1940, is a federal Class I area and, as such, receives special protection from air pollution. The park encompasses a total area of more than 850 square miles and extends 4.5 miles outward from the island (which is 45 miles long and 9 miles wide at its widest point) into Lake Superior. Roadless Isle Royale is accessible only by boat or float plane. This area generally has lower levels of air pollution than urban areas in the Midwest."

Posted by tgus at 7:50 AM

March 23, 2005

For Red Lake


Posted by tgus at 4:12 PM

The Between Space

From train to platform, or
from platform to train
is a quick step
over that thin gap between.

But just there in that space
lives the shift from place
to place.

Posted by tgus at 3:45 PM

Proposed Bus Cuts of 10%

According to the Skyway News Metro Transit needs to cut 10% to plug a budget shortfall.

This follows shortly after a big re-organization of (i.e, cuts to) bus lines with the advent of the Hiawatha line, fare increases, and numerous service cuts in the eight years that I've been riding Metro Transit (stops eliminated, longer waits between buses, etc.).

This state needs to make transit a priority, and fund it properly.

[Update: 3:32 pm I left out a crucial piece of markup, which resulted in the follwoing not showing up in my initial attempt at posting this at 10:57 am:]

Tell your elected officals.

Transit riders can comment on the proposed cuts at meetings or as follows (from the article):

E-mail to
Fax to 651-602-1464
Mail to: Regional Data Center, Metropolitan Council, 230 E. 5th St., St. Paul, MN 55101

If your route is being cut, let'em know that it will hurt. They probably won't make all of these cuts, so the squeaky wheel will get any grease they happen to have left.

Posted by tgus at 3:34 PM

Find Local Polluters--and then what?

Check out MPCA's Environmental Data Access Tool, created by the state Legislature in 2001.

Currently, you can use it, among other things, to locate facilities that emit air pollution on a large scale (with the ability to locate smaller offenders and vehicle emissions soon to be added). You can also search for measured outdoor concentrations and emissions data by location.

This means that, if you really want to know who's putting nasty things into the air in your neighborhood, you can find out.

A quick search turned up eight firms in Minneapolis in the category of Industrial Machinery and Equipment

One firm for example emitted 6.3 tons of volatile organic compunds in 2003. And it's ranked only 457th in that category in MN. Scary. Another, which makes pumps and pumping equipment. put out more than 14.5 tons of particulate and particulate matter of <10 microns into the air, though only .01 tons of sulfur dioxide that same year.

Meanwhile, a less obvious suspect for air pollution, Abbot Northwestern Hospital, released 67.3 tons of sulfur dioxide in 2003, giving it a ranking of 56th.

Scary. But potentially empowering. We're paying for this all of this data, so we should make use of it. Besides publicizing it, what are some good ways?

Posted by tgus at 3:25 PM

Air Pollution Reports

See an MPCA News releasefor information on two reports about Minnesota's air quality.

There are some good things happening: Metro Transit is trying to buy low-sulfur diesel; also something called the Metropolitan Emissions Reduction Project will (over several years, of course) reduce sulfur and nitorgen dioxides from three metro power plants.

But also according to the news release:

"The reports are timely. Minnesota's recent air alert beginning on January 29th, lasted six days and was the most severe alert since the MPCA began monitoring fine particle pollution in 1999. AQI levels were above 150 (unhealthy for all groups) for fine particles on three days.

Fine particles from the combustion of fossil fuels have emerged as a major health concern. They are associated with increased hospitalizations and deaths due to respiratory and heart disease and can worsen the symptoms of asthma. Ozone (smog) is the other pollutant that activates air alerts. It is linked to respiratory problems including asthma attacks."

Posted by tgus at 12:35 PM

March 22, 2005

The Midnight Special


"Let the Midnight Special
Shine her light on me.
Let the Midnight Special
Shine her ever-lovin' light on me."

Leadbelly's Midnight Special, one of the great American train songs, is given some biographical context here.

Posted by tgus at 9:45 AM

March 21, 2005

Suggest a Caption


Apparently not likely! In an "Ownership Society!"

Suggest your own caption!

Posted by tgus at 1:32 PM

With Friends Like That

This morning, as I boarded a 24 to catch the LRT, I walked through the following piece of a cross-aisle conversation:

"Geez, Bob, if my mother-in-law was sick, I'd fly out to visit her. No wonder your wife doesn't like you."

Nothing like a bus-buddy to tell it to you straight.

Posted by tgus at 7:45 AM

Wabash, Pt. 2: Life Imitates Art

Venerable folkie Utah Phillips has an informative post about how the song created the train.

Posted by tgus at 7:30 AM

March 20, 2005

The Wabash Cannonball

Train songs are ubiquitous in American folk music (though, judging from the number of car songs on MPR's Car Talk, car songs are uber-ubiquitous).

One of the most important is The Wabash Cannonball, that hymn to the hobo's life ridin' the rails "from New York to St. Louie, and Chicago by the way."

The verse that always gets my attention though, is the last one, a tribute to "Daddy Claxton," king of the rails, who'll get a funeral train, hobo style:

"When his earthly race is over, and the curtain 'round him falls,
We'll carry him home to victory on the Wabash Cannonball."

In American ideo-mythology, trains span the continent, their tracks joined by with a golden stake; they're an associated emblem of technological progress, driving the heroic John Henry to his death; they're vehicles fo the Robin Hoodish robberies of the James Gang--and for the dispossessed hobos, who own nothing and therfore everything, they're the ticket to Glory. That's a lot to sing about.

Posted by tgus at 9:44 PM

March 18, 2005

Planes, Trains, and Misery

So last week, four of us went to Disney World. To get there, we flew.


It was a reminder that speed trumps all kinds of other factors, since air travel is expensive, crowded and uncomfortable, full of waits and invasive searches, and all kinds of other unpleasantries.

There were the check-in lines, the security lines, the boarding lines, the disembarking lines. People removed their shoes and had their underwear unceremoniously scattered on a counter while their carry-on bag was searched. Once on the plane, anybody over 5'10" had insufficient leg room (not an issue for me, but the poor guy next to me had his knees near his chin--and he wasn't even tall enough to be a point guard in the NBA). My son had intense ear pain, thanks to a cold and the pressure changes of take-off and landing. And once in Orland, we waited nearly an hour in the rental car line. At least the tiny bag of "gourmet" pretzels was good for a laugh. As was the SkyMall catalogue, stuffed with useless products--like a $60 dollar paper towel holder--for the bored business traveller with wads of disposable cash.


So is there much doubt that people would flock to high speed trains (such as between the Twin Ciies and Rochester even if trains were as unpleasant to ride as planes?

Posted by tgus at 2:19 PM

Haiku #2

Winter Storm Warning.
Be careful what you wish for:
Stuck here, can't go south.

Posted by tgus at 10:11 AM

Hummer Bummer

So, as I, my wife and kids were walking out of a car-themed thrill ride at a certain global conglomerate theme park (think big rodent ears) earlier this week, we were routed past a bunch of GM vehicles, since GM was the sponsor of the ride.

Prominently displayed, of course, was a Hummer. I thought I'd check the gas milage rating. It was blank, even though the other 7 or 8 vehicles all had their MPG rating listed (most were in the abyssmally low 18/City, 24/ highway range). They were happy to list the Hummer's price of $52,000 (only 1K per week, annualized!), but apparently figured the MPG numbers were too shocking to list. How low could they be?

Posted by tgus at 10:02 AM

March 11, 2005

Oil to $60 a Barrel Sooner Rather than Later?

It could be.

Will Hummers and Hummer-wanna-be's be parked more than driven then? I suppose not. If you've got the 40K or whatever those things sell for, you've surely got the liquidity to keep the pricey liquid in the fuel tank. Or not.

If you're in over your head on a vanity vehicle purchase, don't count on using personal bankruptcy to bail yourself out--or even if you're in over your head because of catastrophic medical bills.

Posted by tgus at 9:18 PM

Shouldn't Have Gloated

Yesterday I had to wait 5-10 minutes or more at all three of my stops.

It took 40 minutes to get home.


Posted by tgus at 12:28 PM

March 9, 2005

A Personal Best

Yesterday, it all worked perfectly:

A thirty-second wait at Northrop Mall for a 50;
A train pulling up just as I step onto the Metrodome platform;
A 53 at Hiawatha and Lake, seemingly waiting for me to turn the corner and board.

Virtually no waiting at stops. No running to stops.

I was home in less than 25 minutes.

Other days, it can take 40.

Either one of those splits the difference of my other options: 15 minutes on a bike, 55 minutes on foot.

Posted by tgus at 9:17 PM

Transit Funding, or, Personal Financial Planning


Scene: A small coffeehouse near campus
Time: Lunch hour

Cell Phone Guy: I don't have enough money for the bus. Could you pick me up? I've only got a dollar in my wallet, and I should have checked before putting the change in the tip jar.

Cell Phone Interlocutor: [mmnbmnbmbnm.]

Cell Phone Guy: I've got two more appointments at one.

Cell Phone Interlocutor: [mmnbmnbmbnm.]

Cell Phone Guy: As soon as I get my tax refund, I'm gonna buy a car from my cousin.

Cell Phone Interlocutor: [mmnbmnbmbnm.]

Cell Phone Guy: I'm getting 1500 dollars.

Cell Phone Interlocutor: [mmnbmnbmbnm.]

Cell Phone Guy: She's selling it for 800 dollars. A Ford Escort.

Me (silently): Don't do it! That's a money pit on wheels! Save your change and ride the bus. With a little planning (like not having so much of your income withheld) you'll be able to tip your barrista AND ride the bus--and still come out ahead. mmnbmnbmbnmmmnbmnbmbnmmmnbmnbmbnm.

Posted by tgus at 9:51 AM

March 8, 2005

Today I Rode the Paddy Wagon to Work

At least, that's what it felt like when, at the Cedar-Riverside stop, two transit police boarded, escorting two young men with hands cuffed behind their backs.

This was a bit jarring--usually the transit cops escort people (non-fare-paying people) OFF of the train accompanied by either a warning or a $180 citation.

I'm guessing the captives had been doing something more serious than sneaking an unpaid ride on the southbound. Repeat freeloaders? Vandalism? Drug trafficking? (yes, pun intended).

Some riders were clearly uncomfortable at having a bust intrude into their morning commute--does Metro Transit want riders to be uncomfortable?

The obvious question was, "Why use the LRT to transport them downtown, if not for a bit of public humiliation, a bit of PR ("Look, upstanding and fare-paying riders--we do our job"), and a bit of example-making ("Pay your fares, any non-paying riders, or risk sliding into degeneracy such as this")? This little spectacle sent all of those messages, and probably others.

But I soon realized the answer to "why?" might be less calculated (not to say those other reasons weren't also at work). The train would take the foursome right where they would need to go: they got off where I did, at the Metrodome station, but started a perp walk over toward the conveniently-located Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center. Why call for a Transit Police squad car when the train stops right at the Little Big House?

Posted by tgus at 1:58 PM

To Snow or Not To Snow

The skiier in me wishes for more snow in what has beome a depressingly familiar snow-deprived Minnesota winter.

But I must confess, there's a part of me that takes some comfort in the fact that certain loud, polluting monstrosities


are doubtless seeing less action. Of course, the ATV's and SUV's can always provide a subsititute winter speed/power/macho/polluting/littering fix.

So here's to a wish that if is going to be cold here, it might as well snow at least once more this winter.

Posted by tgus at 12:59 PM

Three-Inch Nail

At the Franklin and Minnehaha Bus Stop

Tattoo man, your body pierced and modified
to the tune, I'd guess, of many months' rent,
skin stretched like sandwich wrap,
branded, dyed, punctured, reconfigured.

Dressed in leather and studs:

I've seen it all before, though not on you--
recognize you from across
Franklin, though I haven't encountered
precisely you before.

The type is so common, I muse, that
It fails to shock--
Such a pastiche of cliches that it fails
to express individualism just as much
as I do.

But then, as you walk up, smiling, bobbing,
saying "Quite the spring day,"
I see, in addition to the standard-issue
nose rings, a nail.

A good-sized nail, maybe 10-penny.
It had been a moustache when you
were across the street.

That got me.
That got me writing.

Posted by tgus at 8:36 AM

March 7, 2005

There's a Railroad Club at the U

Look it over here

These guys are into trains in a big way.


They have models.

See their section on the Hiawatha Line

And who knew that there was such a thing as "railfanning"--or so many places to practice it locally?

Posted by tgus at 9:50 AM

March 6, 2005

These Boots Were Made for Talking


The other day, at the Metrodome stop, a garrulous fellow struck up a conversation with me. I learned that he was from Colorado, that he was working on a construction project at the U of M, and that his cowboy boots carried some sort of designer label (the concept of "Designer Cowboy Boots" hadn't occurred to me, even though many of us apparently can't live without designer water or designer underwear). The kicker (bad pun) was that these boots cost him "something like" 500 dollars. (for that price, I hope those silver toes were actually platinum).

I bit my tongue, and then almost choked on it. My shoes were thrift store specials--10 bucks. So his shoes cost about 50 times what mine did. It's an intriguing complication to easy definitions of social class-- or at least the sometimes meaningless distinction between "working class" and "professional."

He works construction, so he's working class. I do intellectual and bureaucratic work in an academic department, so I'm professional.

By all the stereotypes, I--the "professional"--should be wearing the pricey shoes, but not be so gauche as to divulge how much I paid for them. Of course, I just did divulge, to the whole world, how much--or how little-- I paid. And of course, academics are a different kind of professional, less well-paid than doctors, lawyers, and many other professionals, and often openly scornful (intentionally as well as unintentionally) of fashion.

Shoes and class--the dissertations are waiting to be written.

Posted by tgus at 8:16 PM

March 4, 2005

Still Life at Bus Stop

Three young toughs,
maybe 13 or 14,
stand and kick at the cold.

Big shoes unlaced,
big pants unhiked,
big coats unzipped.

Two dangle cigarettes from their mouths;
the other works a Tootsie-Pop
from side to side.

Posted by tgus at 9:20 PM

Got Gas?


Oil prices have been in the mid-$50's per barrel recently. Soon enough, drivers will really feel the pinch.

A key 'graph from the AP article:

"But for many drivers, it soon will be difficult to find any gas stations across America selling regular unleaded for less than $2 a gallon, analysts said. That's because gasoline prices on futures markets have soared 20 percent in the past week alone," says Brad Foss, The AP Business writer.

And the effect could reverberate throughout the global economy: "I believe oil prices and the economy are on a collision course and that it's only a matter of time" according to one petroleum market analyst quoted in the story.

But who needs transit options?

More and more people, at $2+ per gallon.

Posted by tgus at 3:35 PM

March 3, 2005

Generation Bob Rides (the Bus) Again

Funny, but also scary.

Hey Bob,

Most every bus has an "advertisement" listing a phone number that riders can call either to "report great service" (uh huh) or a problem. Look for it tomorrow and give 'em a call.

Posted by tgus at 5:34 PM

There Must Be a Word For This


The Japanese must have a term for the guy who shoves the last few pasengers onto the train. Anybody know what it is?

We needed that guy yesterday. I headed for home at about 4:45 pm, and it was Sardine City--so much so that a bunch of people chose to wait for the next train rather than enter the madness to become a salted fish.

It was one of those single car trains running in the middle of rush hour. I understand that the Met Council has three more cars on order from Bombardier. Three cheers from this sardine!

Posted by tgus at 1:56 PM

There's Been A Study


Little did I know when I posted on Feb.11th, wistfully advocating for high-speed rail lines to Rochester and Duluth, that there had already been a MNDOT-commisioned feasibility study from Jan. 2003 on the possiblity. The study concluded that there is "clearly a prima facie case for the development of a multi-modal corridor that would connect the Twin Cities and the city of Rochester by high-speed rail."

Such a line between Duluth and the Twin Cities has not, apparently, been studied.

Posted by tgus at 1:47 PM

March 2, 2005


Hiawatha blues:
The train passing swiftly by
The red light remains

--Ali Gharavi

(Thanks to Ali, a master of the form; and to his colleague and poem-broker Scott, who has a future in literary promotion).

Posted by tgus at 4:10 PM

Add Your Own Caption--It's Fun! It's Free!


Use the Comments feature to suggest your own caption....

Posted by tgus at 3:35 PM

March 1, 2005

Twin Cities Trolleys--History and Conspiracy Theory


Several years ago, my family and I went for an outing on the Como-Harriet Streetcar, a museum piece at Lake Harriet in Minneapolis which constititutes all that remains of the Twin Cities' streetcar system that flourished (500+ miles of track, 1000 cars) in the first half of the 20th Century.

View image

In addition to riding the streetcar, we walked through the replica of the Linden Hills station,

View image

where as I recall, the man staffing the place referenced the General Motors Streetcar Conspiracy theory (though not in those words) as part of his narrative about the disappearance of streetcars in the Twin Towns and elsewhere in the immediate post-WWII era.

The Wikipedia has a fair and balanced (NOT in the Faux News sense of that term) entry on the conspiracy theory.

Posted by tgus at 10:45 AM

Found Haiku--Bike and Train

Bike Rack Place front wheel
in bottom bracket Hook rear
wheel in top bracket

Who knew that the Hiawatha Line's sign-writers were poets?

Posted by tgus at 8:21 AM