Bridges for Bears

When my family moved to a small acreage surrounded by corn fields I learned about the conflicts between deer and vehicles. While I was never in the clear, I needed to be especially cautious in the fall when driving near dusk. I have had several close calls, one deer leaving a dent in my hood as it glanced the side of the car and continued running. In most areas, this conflict between nature and man is unavoidable, however I recently found out that on some major highways they have found a solution.

When Highway 93 in Montana was due for improvements and expansion, the Department of Transportation, working with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes came to a design solution that benefited  everyone, including the animals. The new expanded highway included 41 wildlife underpasses and one overpass, special highways just for animals. Some of the underpasses include streams with fish and amphibians and others have fencing to guide animals under the busy highway.

A bear using the I-93 underpass (photo courtesy of Peoples Way Wildlife Crossing)

A bear using the I-93 underpass (photo courtesy of Peoples Way Wildlife Crossing)

The animal highway concept also appears on the longest stretch of interstate, I-90 which runs between Seattle and Boston for over 3,000 miles. The portion that received the animal friendly installation lies east of Seattle at the Cascade Range. In an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service to provide safe passage for elk, mountain lions, and wolverines, the Washington State Department of Transportation designed three overpasses and 24 underpasses. The precast concrete bridge will provide a 150 foot-wide path for animals beginning in 2019 at the projected completion of construction.

Rendering for the animal overpass over the I-90 bridge (photo courtesy of seattletimes.com)

Rendering for the animal overpass over the I-90 bridge (photo courtesy of seattletimes.com)

You may imagine a bridge like cars drive over, however it is far from that. Each overpass is designed with soil, trees, and native plants to function as a continuation of the forest the animals walked out of. To further protect the natural environment, walls on each side of the bridge shield animals from headlights. It may also seem odd that animals would choose to use the bridges as if they read a sign. Instead they will be directed by sturdy and tall fencing that funnels the animals into these particular crossing segments instead of traffic.

A moose being encourage to the overpass through installed fencing (photo courtesy ofPeoples Way Wildlife Crossing)

A moose being encourage to the overpass through installed fencing (photo courtesy ofPeoples Way Wildlife Crossing)

While the decision to spend additional money on transportation projects may seem to stem from respect for wildlife, it also projects humans too. Animal-vehicle collisions have killed more than 200 people annually in the United States and injure 26,000 according to an article in Planning Magazine (Keeping Hoofs Off Hoods). That same article notes that these projects have "reduced collisions by more than 80 percent altogether for large mammals, including bears and wolves, and by more than 95 percent for ungulates like elk, moose, and deer, according to the Western Transportation Institute's Clevenger."

The People’s Way Crossing has seen over 53,600 wildlife uses from 2010-2012 by over 30 species
— The People Way Partnership

Cost of these projects is significantly outweighed by the costs associated with animal collisions. In 2008, the Federal Highway Administration estimated the loss of human life to be $8.4 billion annually. Over 1.3 million insurance claims were lodged during the 2016 cycle according to a State Farm Insurance study.

While the idea of wildlife bridges is new to me, it is not a new concept in transportation planning. The first bridges were constructed in the 1970's in New Jersey and Utah. Florida installed 23 underpasses to allow for Alligator Alley. Canada has even joined the group, building six overpasses and 38 underpasses along the Trans-Canada Highway beginning in 1982.

The wildlife bridge over I-75 in Florida (photo courtesy of the Life As Ty See's It blog) 

The wildlife bridge over I-75 in Florida (photo courtesy of the Life As Ty See's It blog) 

Building bridges for bears...and elk, wolves, deer, frogs and any other wildlife is an important consideration. The loss of life, both human and animal, should never be discounted. The negative impacts to wildlife populations created by highways cutting through their habitat causes long term damage. These creative, but simple ways to reduce collisions may come with additional costs, but they resolve themselves over time as fatalities decrease. As Rob Ament, road ecology program manager for the Western Transportation Institute, said, we need to make constructing wildlife permeability (adding bridges and underpasses) a routine part of building roads.

What Makes a Street Friendly

What Makes a Street Friendly

A few weekends ago I held a garage sale to cut down on the amount of stuff I have to move to my new house. After living on my street for the last year and a half, I have spoken to five neighbors total. The only neighbors I got to know live next door to me or across the street. I have seen a few others, picked up on their daily habits, but I could not tell you their names. The day of my garage sale I talked to more neighbors than I had the entire length of my residence. 

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Living Like a Planner

When I moved to the Metro area I bought a house that sits on almost half an acre in a first ring suburb. I also bought a newer car to save on gas for my 30 minute commute to work in another suburban town. The longer I spent in my daily commute, the more I hated where I was living. I realized everything about my way of life was contrary to being an urban planner. Density and multi-modal transportation is what I preach, but I was living the complete opposite. I decided I needed to start living like a planner.

I took a job working in downtown Minneapolis where I now bike most days to work, but take the bus when it's raining too much (although I have chanced it many times and ended up soaked by the time I made it home). I feel better because I am not contributing to traffic congestion, release of greenhouse gases, and I am multitasking by getting my daily exercise in. In about a month I am moving to a house in the Northeast neighborhood of Minneapolis. The lot is only about 5,000 square feet which can be mowed with a manual push mower, the kind that was used before gas became so readily available (another built in work out each week). 

Google street view of my future street in Northeast, Minneapolis

Google street view of my future street in Northeast, Minneapolis

While this is a step in the direction of practicing what I preach, other long time planners have taken it to the next level. A group in Portland, Oregon decided in 2005 that they were going to create a cohousing community to live out their retirement. I may be in an urban, bikeble, walkable neighborhood with higher density, but I have yet to jump into such a progressive planning idea.

Site plan of the newly built Ankeny Row Cohousing community in Portland, Oregon (photo courtesy of https://ankenyrow.wordpress.com/site-plan/

Site plan of the newly built Ankeny Row Cohousing community in Portland, Oregon (photo courtesy of https://ankenyrow.wordpress.com/site-plan/

Cohousing is not a new trend. Fifty Danish families led the way back in 1967 after being inspired by Bodil Graee's "Children Should Have One Hundred Parents." The first American instance of a cohousing community came in 1979 in Portland, Oregon followed in 1991 by the opening of Muir Commons in Davis, California. Today about 164 cohousing communities operate in the U.S. and about 132 are in the planning stage.

Muir Commons, a cohousing community in Davis, California (photo courtesy of http://www.muircommons.org/)

Muir Commons, a cohousing community in Davis, California (photo courtesy of http://www.muircommons.org/)

The concept of cohousing revolves around the idea of intentional communities and a supportive environment. Residents take part in the design and operation of their neighborhood. The homes are arranged around a central gathering space and residents share common facilities. Neighbors build relationships and help one another with day to day tasks. The cohousing community is an "innovative and sustainable answers to today’s environmental and social problems." 

Residents of the Saint Louis Park, Minnesota Monterey Cohousing Community sharing a meal together (photo courtesy of https://montereycohousing.com/)

Residents of the Saint Louis Park, Minnesota Monterey Cohousing Community sharing a meal together (photo courtesy of https://montereycohousing.com/)

Not only do cohousing arrangements create better neighborhoods and community involvement, they also allow for more density. The Ankeny Row cohousing community in Portland has 5 two-story townhouses on a 12,00 square foot lot. That comes to about 18 units per acre. Most suburban neighborhoods achieve about 4 units per acre, a drastically lower density than a cohousing community.

The cohousing lifestyle is not for everyone. Some people may not like the limited privacy and frequent interaction (I could never picture my dad living in a cohousing community). Cohousing has many benefits though, which is why they are increasing in number throughout the U.S. There may even come a day when I decide its time to live like planner and create my own cohousing community in Minneapolis.

Growing into 2040

Growing into 2040

It is hard to keep pace with the ever changing trend of where people want to live. One week we seem to be moving back into cities, the next the suburbs are back on the rise. Larger trends like the suburban flight of the 1950's and 60's are easier to see, but the year to year progress is more disguised. Urban cities were finally gaining momentum as people, and millennials more specifically, moved back inward. The city has so much to offer with the ease of traveling by bike, bus, or on foot. No car needed. Many articles have been written in the past year stating the trend has seen its peak, people are moving again to the suburbs.

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A City of Immigrants

A City of Immigrants

People tend to forget that we are a nation founded by immigrants. Few of us can claim our ancestors were native to this land. Everyone here came from somewhere else, whether that be Britain, Czechoslovakia, Germany, France, Poland, Ireland, Japan, or any number of countries that gave us a booming population of hard working and innovative people.

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Three Eagles and Twenty Three Loons

Three Eagles and Twenty Three Loons

I am fortunate enough to have grown up going to a family cabin on a lake in Minnesota. At an early age I fell in love with the state bird, the loon. I remember purchasing my first loon call in hopes of luring them close for a good photograph. It took much effort and determination in order to get a good shot, but eventually I did. This past weekend, on the same lake where a loon was a rare sight, I saw twenty-three loons, three eagles, a number of sparrows and seagulls, and another unique bird. Clearly nature has made a come back on this lake, as it has on numerous throughout the United States.

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The Urban Farm

The Urban Farm

Living in Minneapolis has many benefits, one being the plethora of farmers markets to choose from year round. One problem with the city though is the climate. Our cold winters mean I rarely find local fruits and vegetables after October and before May. While this might sound like a standard problem for northern cities, some are breaking the mold and growing crops year round. The logical answer is a greenhouse out on the rural fringe, however some cities are taking it to the next level. They are growing acres of crops on small city blocks. The answer they have found is a vertical greenhouse.

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How the Great Depression Preserved the Historic Wesley Center

How the Great Depression Preserved the Historic Wesley Center

I recently had the opportunity to tour the Historic Wesley Center in downtown Minneapolis. The former home of the Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church now houses 8 nonprofit groups and hosts outside events. The Historic Wesley Center nonprofit, was formed about a year ago to preserve and protect the building after its viability as a church had expired.

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The Life of Plazas

The Life of Plazas

After recently starting a new job in downtown Minneapolis I noticed the plethora of public plazas available to residents, visitors, and employees. Almost every major tower has an inviting public realm leading to its primary entrance. I see a cleverly landscaped space daily from my office or when eating lunch out on the rooftop terrace. No two plazas are exactly the same, however each one has a standard set of basic amenities.

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Little Mekong Night Market

Little Mekong Night Market

The fourth annual Little Mekong Night Market was held this past weekend. The market is a mix of food, art, music, and cultural performances located in the heart of the Little Mekong District at Western Avenue and University Avenue in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Last year an estimated 18,000 people attended which appeared to have been surpassed this year. The market collaborated their event with Northern Spark, an all-night art event with the theme “Climate Chaos People Rising.” While Northern Spark runs from 9 pm until 5 am, the Little Mekong Night Market is a two-day event, starting at 5 pm and ending at midnight on Saturday and 10 pm on Sunday.

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Trees and the Dust Bowl

Trees and the Dust Bowl

There is still a generation living that can recall the hard times brought on by the Dust Bowl. I think about how my grandparents, in their late 90's now, would have been just teenagers at that time. I recall reading Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck trying to imagine a different Nebraska than the one I had grown up in. I cannot imagine hanging wet sheets over the windows to keep the dust out or wearing a mask every time I went outside. Even worse would be watching thousands of acres of crops dry up before my eyes.

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Complete Streets in Action

Complete Streets in Action

We have all driven, biked, or walked down a street that appeared wider than the traffic it served. Extra space proliferates within the area for vehicles while the pedestrian and bicyclist are forced onto a small, cracked sidewalk or into the street dodging parked cars. We constantly wonder why the road could not be redesigned to accommodate a better distribution of users. Some cities have begun to make a commitment to changing these conditions through a program called Complete Streets.

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Lake Life

Lake Life

Growing up, my family and I made three nine hour trips each year to Perham, Minnesota. The first trip was always Memorial Weekend, followed by a week in June when Walleye fishing was good, then a two week family trip that included excursions to nearby attractions. I was the only one in my class that would vacation in the same place multiple times each year. Most of my friends when more normal vacation spots like visiting a grandparent in Texas or Mount Rushmore. 

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Destination Jamaica

Destination Jamaica

I recently returned from a five day trip to Jamaica for my little sisters wedding. We had incredible weather with only one day of rain, which we ignored and swam anyways. The locals said this was their normal weather most of the year-warm, sunny, and somewhat humid when the wind is not blowing. The resort we stayed at was secluded from the world, nestled into a beach two hours from Montego Bay. It is probably good I am still training for my marathon in June because the all inclusive buffet and unlimited sugary drinks would probably have added a few more pounds.

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Minneapolis MayDay Parade

Minneapolis MayDay Parade

Every year, more than 50,000 people are drawn to the Powderhorn neighborhood in south Minneapolis to participate in the festivities of the MayDay Parade. This is not your typical parade which is demonstrated in the mission statement of the event "to bring people together for the common good through the power of puppet and mask performance." The event uses theater and performance to draw together a diverse crowd. The different puppets, masks, and costumes tell stories of current issues and past struggles. They seek to start a dialogue on a range of subjects such as politics and the environment. In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre (HOBT) has been managing the events since the first MayDay Parade & Festival in 1975.

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Anoka's Trail System

Anoka's Trail System

Last weekend I went up to the family cabin to help my dad open it up as we do every spring. Knowing Saturday was going to be filled with raking leaves and moving the dock and boatlift, I decided to bump up my long run to Friday after work. Since I was already in Anoka, I took the opportunity to explore some of the trails and parks that I have only seen on maps. My original intent was to make it up to the Anoka Nature Preserve, a large swathe of land held in a natural state. Unfortunately, a few wrong turns in the southwestern neighborhoods kept me just short of reaching it.

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Fixing Water Problems One Yard at a Time

Fixing Water Problems One Yard at a Time

If you asked me a year ago what a rain garden was I would not have been able to explain it correctly. I believed one of the many misconceptions, that rain gardens are filled with water. A properly designed rain garden infiltrates the water into the ground within 24 hours. That is their primary purpose, absorb water. The majority of the time, the rain garden is bone dry. They do not breed mosquitoes, again because water does not pool long enough to hatch their eggs. They are low maintenance if you take the time in the spring and fall to tend to them. All these myths keep homeowners from solving their water problems with an aesthetic and effective system.

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A Journey to the Underrated Neighborhood: North Minneapolis

A Journey to the Underrated Neighborhood: North Minneapolis

An increase in my weekend long run mileage meant I could journey farther into Minneapolis yesterday and take advantage of the gorgeous spring weather. I decided to use my 20 mile journey to venture into North Minneapolis, a neighborhood that has so much to offer, but is commonly disregarded because of high crime rates.

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The Incremental Developer

The Incremental Developer

I recently read an article by Robert Steuteville titled "Great Idea:Incremental Developers". The incremental developer is someone who creates meaningful change in their own communities through small scale building projects. When I thought about this for a moment, I realized I was an incremental developer when I lived in Lubbock, Texas. My husband and I purchased a rundown old bungalow, spent months renovating it through window restoration, refinishing the hardwood floors, installing dry wall on the ceilings, new central heating and air, painting, and exposing the original brick fireplace.

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