Countdown to the E-Bike Rebate

Set your alarm for 11am, Wednesday, June 5, when the MN Department of Revenue will open the application portal. They will close it once 10,000 applications have been received. That won’t take long, so don’t snooze. Go to this URL ( and have the following information ready:

  • Name and contact information
  • Date of birth
  • Social Security Number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
  • Tax filing status for 2023
  • Adjusted gross income for 2023 (line 1 of Minnesota Form M1 or line 11 of Federal Form 1040)

One last important note from the Department: ‘The online application for individuals applying for the rebates will go live at 11 a.m. (Central Time) on Wednesday, June 5, 2024. You may need to refresh the webpage at 11 a.m. to access the application.’

Good luck.

E-Bikes For Sale!

Perhaps you have noticed that we want you to know about the e-bike voucher program. The main reason for that is we want to sell you an e-bike. Our family has an e-cargo bike and an e-bike we use to haul the kiddos around with. We are big believers in them, and, no, switching to an e-bike won’t make you fat and lazy. Cars do that. And having two 3.5 year olds. Guess how we know.

Our shop is an approved dealer for Surly and Yuba. Both brands sell e-bikes which are eligible for the voucher program. We won’t be stocking those bikes, but we can special order them if you already know what you want. We will be stocking e-bikes from the Australian brand Reid. These are great bikes and they are competitively priced. We ordered a few different models and sizes for you to try out. They should be arriving Friday and you can watch our webpage and Instagram for updates on when they are built up and ready to ride.

Profile view of Reid Blacktop 2.0
This is the Blacktop 2.0. It has a 250w mid drive motor and built in battery. MSRP is $2,099. Size Small.
Front quarter view of Reid Blacktop 1.0
This is the Blacktop 1.0. It has a 250w rear wheel motor and built in battery. MSRP is $1699. Size Medium.
Rear 3/4 view of Reid Let's Go e-bike
The is the newest entry from Reid which is the Let’s Go. It is meant to hit the $1k price point which is popular with consumers. The bike has a 1×7 drivetrain, hydraulic disc brakes, a 250w motor and a 350w/hr battery pack. MSRP $1049. Size Small.
Rear 3/4 view of Reid Ladies Classic e-bike
Finally, we have the Ladies Classic at $1199. It features a 1×8 speed drivetrain, hydraulic disc brakes, and internal battery and a 250w rear drive motor. Size Large.

You may have noticed a trend: these are all step-through frames. We used to call these girls bikes until septuagenarians came to respect the agility, balance, and flexibility required to throw a leg over a boys bike. We’re all getting older; ride what feels right for you.

All of these bikes are well-equipped and zippy. If you have been shopping already, the 250 watt rating of these motors may look underpowered. They are not; torque is what matters, and the motors here range from 40 Nm (wheel based motors) to 80 Nm (mid drive). Don’t believe me? Come by for a test ride. You will be impressed.


Jamis Hudson E2 electric bike. 250 watt motor, 300 watt/hour battery, $1700.

The following information represents the latest understand of how the e-bike voucher program.

Today the MN Department of Revenue revealed for bike retailers how the eagerly expected e-bike voucher will work. This program has been a long time coming, so let’s get right to it: 

  • May 1, 2024, 8 am – Minnesota and border state retailers may apply to become eligible recipients of the e-bike vouchers.
  • June 5, 2024, 11 am – Minnesota residents can log into the E-Bike portal, submit their personal information, and wait for an approval email.
  • July 1, 2024 – E-bike vouchers will be emailed to eligible recipients, who may use them the same as cash at an eligible retailer.
  • September 1, 2024 – The unspent vouchers will be reassigned to the next persons in line.
  • 2025 – We do it again for the second year of the pilot project.


What does this look like for retailers?

Bike shops go to, use the search term ‘e-bike’ and click the appropriate search result. (The portal is sandboxed so there’s no point giving out a URL now.) On said page the user can click the tile for ‘Retailer’ and fill out the short application. Among key questions asked is whether the shop has been selling e-bikes for at least 6 months prior. (We have!) A prompt answer is promised so you should know quickly what shops will be accepting vouchers. (This is your hint to window shop ahead of time to ensure the shop has what you want.) You will receive three emails upon applying: confirmation that you applied; status of application; and (if selected) your login credentials.

New Class 1,2,3 e-bikes are eligible with two caveats: 1) the assist system is 750 watts or less; and 2) the assist system has been certified by an independent laboratory. Accessories may also be rolled into the purchase.

Once we get to July 1, the consumer picks out a bike, and presents you with an email that contains a First and Last name, a 12 digit code, and an approved voucher amount. YOU MUST CHECK THEIR ID. And to avoid the problem of rubber vouchers it is suggested that you do real time verification and registration of their voucher. If this does not happen, then that voucher may show up in another shop later that day. No bueno.

At point of sale you are: checking ID, verifying the chosen bike’s eligibility, and entering the Department of Revenue’s Retailer portal to check the voucher status, enter the bike price, enter the bike + accessories price, and determine the amount owed. The Portal will calculate these numbers for you. The customer will be responsible for sales tax on the full amount (undiscounted).

Whenever it is convenient for you, there are a few more steps to complete before reimbursement by the State. Again using the portal, find the tile for submitting for voucher reimbursement, and provide the requested information. One request per bike and the PAPER check will include a reference to the transaction in question. Expect a check in 30 days if not sooner.

There are procedures for returns but I’m not going into those. The important thing to know is this: swaps of equal value are ok, but refunds–while honored–will tag the customer with the scarlet letter and never again will they be voucher eligible.

Then we do it again next year whenever 1300 vouchers have been gobbled up and spent.


What does this look like for consumers?

On June 5, 11 am, you can go to, use the search term ‘e-bike’ and click the appropriate search result. Look for something with wording like ‘Apply for e-bike voucher.’ Provide the requested information and if you are one of the first 10 thousand who does this, you will receive an email shortly thereafter notifying you if you have been selected for a voucher. (We were told the answer wouldn’t take long.) And on July 1, 2024, a lucky 1300 or so Minnesota residents over the age of 15 will receive their rebate email. Bring that email with you to a participating bike retailer. No need to print out the email, but a government ID will be necessary.

The rebate has 60 days before expiration. Should the shop not have the model and color you are looking for, then place an order and work out the question of when payment is remitted. The Department of Revenue didn’t get into details on whether the voucher can be used as a deposit. I don’t think they care, so the answer comes down to your comfort with the shop. But once logged, that voucher can’t be refunded and reused. If cancelled it goes to the next person in line.

Pick out any accessories (lock, helmet, lights, etc.) if you want to use all of what you were awarded. Then the transaction is simple: ID check, the shop does some computer work, and pretty soon you will know the discounted amount. Sales tax on the FULL amount is due. All forms of payment that a shop accepts can be used.

Ride off and enjoy! Tell your state legislators you used the program and urge its expansion.


How to Choose an E-Bike

Ride it first. Take a good test ride. You might be surprised by the zippiness of lower-powered bikes, and their ease of handling for transporting them to trails or vacation destinations. More range, power, and features often comes with the trade offs of greater weight, higher price, firmer ride, and longer charging times. Consult your shop about whether the bike you’ve chosen can be carried on a conventional bike rack. The reason I suggest a long test ride is the same reason the Cane Creek Thudbuster is now one of the most popular e-bike add-ons: the ride can be, um, firm. You might end up with a 75 mile battery but 10 miles into the ride your body may be saying ‘turn around!’



The program, and the legislation upon which is based, is not perfect. It is a 2 year, $4 million pilot program. It is meant to accomplish two goals: 1) get more Minnesotans on e-bikes; and 2) work out any bugs to make a program more widely available. E-bikes are amazing tools for equalizing the user rights disparity with motorists. Bicycles are vehicles that are entitled to the full use of a traffic lane unless otherwise prohibited or when there is an adjacent bike facility that can be used. We have the rights and responsibilities of drivers. That means we must stop, signal, yield, and be visible and predictable in our movements. No one’s bad behavior excuses your own. Yes, there are people who don’t want us out there. But there are likely more people who are either indifferent or accepting and they just don’t know how to share the road. The massive speed differential is one of the key reasons for tense relations – drivers are impatient and they go too fast. Closing that speed difference between bikes and motor vehicles will help as will normalizing cycling by putting more people out there on bicycles.

There were 80 retailers on today’s call and I wager that most of them spent most of the time thinking about how the voucher system will be abused. The system we were shown isn’t watertight, but it is pretty good. Flipping bikes and straw buyers will be the most prevalent kind of fraud. But again, the numbers here are pretty small, and most bikes will go to a good home.

A small number of vouchers will inevitably land amongst people working in the biking industry. On the one hand: it’s not like we are overpaid, so this program may help some people afford the bikes they work on. On the other hand: the better paying industry jobs already offer steep discounts to employees, so I can’t think of a less worthy recipient than a 30 something dude-bro who can afford nice bike vacations and has an enviable IG persona. Is this an edge case? We’ll see. To use the program, one must know about it and have the tech savvy and thirst to take part.

What effect will the program have on new ebike prices? They won’t go up $1,500 on July 1, because the industry still has an inventory problem. More likely, prices may slightly depreciate and the used market might pick up at new e-bikes displace well-used e-bikes. That’s positive! The effect on realtor’s will be more difficult to measure. A few extra e-bike sales at our shop is critical; The Bike Man, between his 30 locations already sells more than that in a weekend. He doesn’t need your money, but plenty of other shops do. Why? Rumors of the voucher have done nothing to move e-bikes over the past 12 months.

So here’s to your local independent bike shop–the salty bunch that we are. Happy clicking and go ahead and share without attribution.

Spring 2024 Newsletter

Back in the SaddleZwift screenshot of climb

This was supposed to be a monthly newsletter. I got one out in January and now it is April. Quarterly newsletter? Here’s my excuse: I have been riding. My new year began with a personal challenge to log at least 200 miles per month. I have met that goal, but at the expense of a few other things – newsletter writing being one of them. But enough about me.

The Goldilocks Biketoddlers on strider bikes

We are big believers in balance bikes. The only problem with them is that kids may outgrow them before they are ready to pedal. We tried 12” pedal bikes with the twins but the bikes were too tall. We don’t want to lose momentum, so what is a parent to do? Enter the 14” Strider balance bike which can be retrofitted with a pedal kit. It is big enough to be a balance bike, and low enough to have a good bike fit while a child learns to pedal. We have a couple incoming, and if they’re a hit, we will stock more. $220 (not including pedal kit)

MN E-Bike Rebate Update

‘What’s going on with the bike trail between St. Peter and Mankato?’ is the #1 question asked in our shop. A distant second is: ‘What’s this I hear about an e-bike rebate?’ I will answer the second question first: it is happening; watch our social media and newsletter for important links and deadlines; $1500 is the maximum rebate; and purchasers must pay sales tax on the full amount. Here’s a sample problem which includes eligible accessories:

$1799.95 Jamis Hudson Step Thru E-Bike
    $64.99 Lazer MIPS Helmet
    $89.99 Abus 85cm Folding Lock
    $54.95 Cygolight Head and Tailight

$2009.88 total
  $158.28 sales tax

$1500.00 state rebate

  $668.16 amount owed

For the latest updates go to

St. Peter’s Active Transportation Plan (HELP!)bike lane stencil to scale

Last year MnDOT asked communities to apply for help planning their active transportation networks. Saint Peter applied, we competed against communities across the state, and WE WON! So this spring, in earnest, we will begin to collect your feedback on what crossings, streets, and connections are important to you when walking, biking, rolling, and taking transit. Who is we? Well, I’m looking at you because we will be in need of help with lots of stuff so reply to this post if you are interested. The Smallest Cog is a part of this effort and I will make two promises: 1) we care about walking too so slowing traffic and making safer crossings will be part of this effort; and 2) because doing a demonstration project is part of our agreement with MnDOT, stuff will happen because of our work. Reply back to us if you are interested.

Bikes and Artflier for art show on april 28, 2024.

The one year anniversary of The Smallest Cog gallery is coming up, and to celebrate we are holding a juried exhibition. (I needed that explained to me.) On April 28, from 3-5 pm, we will display art that has been submitted to us in 8” x 8” format. Interested? Here are the rules: you already know the dimensions; all mediums are welcomed; a maximum of two submissions per artist; works must be ready to hang; and the deadline for submission is April 19, 2024. Reply to this post with questions, and please mention the Juried Art Show in the subject line.

Other Random Stuffcharing an ev

I gave the shop windows a spring cleaning. Lots of salt and lots of soot. It was cause to reflect on the many ways transportation impacts health; namely, the three thousand heavy commercial vehicles which traverse 169 daily, and the particulate matter they spew. That PM 2.5 matters and here’s why:

We traded our Subaru for an EV. We recommend that all policymakers do this because it is the fastest way to understand the inadequacy of our charging infrastructure. Still, not going back. Look for a future blog on this topic.

That’s enough for now. Time to wash the dishes and walk the shop dog.


The Smallest Cog 11/13/2023 City Council Remarks

The waiting game.

One minute to the intersection and nearly five minutes into waiting for the green. About ten seconds away from what would have been certain serious/fatal injury by the driver who didn’t see the RED light.

I am here tonight to speak about MnDOT’s recent changes to our traffic signals on Trunk Highway 169. I learned of them in probably the same way you did – through social media and then later by television or the Mankato Free Press. To me, and hopefully you agree, this indicates a problem with our MnDOT relationship.

The signalization changes which went into effect today, promise to move vehicles through our city even more efficiently. Though the details of the actual changes are scant, one can surmise that this is a continuation of the changes MnDOT made in 2019 when it synchronized the three traffic signals in our downtown for a ‘green wave.’ That now means that all five of our traffic signals will be optimized for throughput of vehicles. An additional feature of this type of signalization is the use of queue sensors for our side streets which will hold a red traffic signal until enough vehicles have built up to trigger a green.

Since 2009, when Trunk Highway 169 was reconstructed in our downtown, every operational change that MnDOT has made to this road has been with the sole purpose of moving vehicles faster through our city. To review: in 2017 the speed limit on the north side was increased to 40 mph; in 2019 MnDOT implemented the green wave; in 2023 the Highway 22 South intersection was reconstructed and the green wave extended to all intersections; and we still have the north side median project to look forward to. Let there be no doubt in this room that when MnDOT does something to our road, its sole purpose is to take care of the people who spend 4 minutes passing through our city, while ignoring the needs of the people that live and the businesses owners that try to make a living on their road.

Why is this a problem? While none of you operate retail businesses, I think it should be evident that the goal of moving vehicles past my front door as quickly as possible is no strategy for my economic success. But whatever, I can take care of myself, and if I can’t make a living here then I will go somewhere where I can. The real problem is the expectation amongst drivers that is created by these operational changes: that they don’t have to stop, slow down, or yield when moving through our city.

This is already the reality. Let me share a quick story: Saturday, after the Art Stroll, at about 6 pm I got on my bike, turned on my headlight and taillight, and began my bike ride home pulling the kiddo trailer. I took the alley over to Nassau where I waited for the traffic signal to cross 169. The timer on my bike computer was running so I know exactly how long I waited for a green: almost 5 minutes during which the signals at Mulberry and Broadway cycled through twice. When I finally did get the green I proceeded cautiously as one cannot take for granted that the car speeding towards the red light will see it, and stop. As I approached the median and the southbound lanes, I noticed a compact SUV rapidly approaching the intersection. I slowed and then stopped. The driver blew through the red light despite my verbal warning. Her light had been red for at least 10 seconds. She pulled over in front of the Chinatown restaurant. With my bike pulling my kiddo trailer, I slowly biked over to have a chat. No words or hand signals were exchanged, but when we did make eye contact, we both acknowledged the gravity of what could have happened. Here’s the punchline: there were two green Gustavus parking permit stickers on the back of her vehicle. She was one of ours.

So it would seem that it’s not just the thru traffic which views St. Peter’s downtown as a place to pass through as quickly as possible.

Since moving here two years ago, and engaging on local transportation matters, I have heard repeatedly about our great relationship with MnDOT. Please pass me the barf bag. Does it feel to you like we are being heard? We seem to have accepted that MnDOT owns the road and we can do nothing about it. You can. Your consent is still required to plan and initiate projects within our city limits. Why would you say ‘yes’ ever again, given the disregard MnDOT has shown for our city already?

But I think the real problem regarding Trunk Highway 169 is that we, the people of Saint Peter, have never collectively asked MnDOT to slow it down. Permit me to suggest a course of action: 1) pass a resolution supporting the adoption of a complete streets policy; 2) officially notify MnDOT that its policies, plans, operations and maintenance is in violation of this body’s wishes; and 3) if and when MnDOT resists operational changes (e.g. retiming traffic signals to facilitate local trips) appeal to the MnDOT Office of Ombudsman. And while the Ombudsman’s decision isn’t binding, that still isn’t the end of the road for us, because the social, economic, environmental and health damage caused by high speed, high volume roads is increasingly being construed as a taking. Finally, let us remember that we are represented in the Minnesota House by a member who sits on the Transportation Policy and Finance Committee which has oversight of MnDOT. 

I personally pledge to do my part by pressing the WALK button every time I pass through an intersection whether (or not) I intend to cross the street. Doing that interrupts the green wave, and slows down traffic. (You’re welcome.) The bottom line is that we have many routes to achieve our objective of a better 169 – provided we agree that is a goal worth pursuing.

The consequences of standing up to MnDOT are not insignificant. They plow 169, they fill potholes, and they approve our local aid project applications. Look at Belle Plaine. But, honestly, screw them because I want a better Main Street. I want to be able to have a conversation in front of my shop. I want to be able to cross on the green without worrying that drivers will stop. I want to see people of all ages and abilities able to cross the street safely, even at the uncontrolled crosswalks. I want my customers to feel safe enough to park in front of my business without fear of having their door torn off by an 18 wheeler.

I have already gone the rounds with MnDOT engineers regarding the speed limit. I was told that ‘it is a balancing act’ and that ‘people vote with their accelerator.’ I have even heard from some of you that the numbers on the speed limit sign don’t mean anything to drivers. Let me ask you this: was that how you were raised? I’m not trying to be nostalgic here, I am trying to bring us back to the reason speed limits are set: higher speeds cause more injuries and deadlier crashes. Since implementation of the green wave in 2019, crashes have gone up. The 169 corridor is responsible for half of all crashes in our city, and nearly one third of all crashes in Nicollet County. In the corridor between Broadway and Mulberry, 161 crashes have been logged since 2016. We have 29 crashes so far this year, and we’re not quite done. That is a record, and the previous record was 2022 with 24 crashes. We are heading in the wrong direction. Please do something.

Good Downtowns Are Intentional (A Tale of Two Minnesotas)

Most recently the placid waters of Saint Peter were so rudely roiled by the audacious suggestion that people passing through our city should Shop New Ulm. I loved the suggestion  for the chutzpah, and because people should shop there – it really is charming. I had some business to conduct there anyway, so our family took the suggestion and made the 30 minute trip.

Shop New Ulm billboard

And there it is. Maybe 30k vehicles/day going past it. Right on our doorstep at Broadway and 169.

The first thing to note about downtown New Ulm is that it isn’t hard to find thanks to directional signage. The second thing to note is how slowly cars move through downtown: each intersection is a 3-way stop, which is the only way it should be for the benefit of your shoppers – aka people walking. The third thing to note is that nearly every on-street parking space on a Thursday afternoon was filled. The fourth thing to note is that the retail establishments were mostly attractive and inviting. The final thing to note is that there were plenty of places to rest, learn about the city’s history, and have a conversation with someone. In other words, their street – Minnesota Street – and adjacent sidewalks were a social space. It is almost like they want people to park, walk around, and stay awhile. Turns out, that is exactly what New Ulm intends. (Below is the Google Street View as one enters their Central Business District.)

This is a tale of two streets, and the second one is an avenue named ‘Minnesota.’ I think of it as our Main Street in Saint Peter; most everyone else thinks of it as Trunk Highway 169. Our Minnesota conveys about 20k vehicles a day; New Ulm’s Minnesota may convey a quarter of that on its busiest day. So we should be blowing their doors off when it comes to economic activity, right? Wrong. New Ulm’s Minnesota Street outsells us by a factor of 3x to 5x for small retail depending on the year. Why is that? Because the purpose of our Main Street is to move vehicles through as quickly as possible, while the purpose of New Ulm’s street is to slow cars and attract visitors. Nearly everyone on our street is going somewhere else; everyone on their Main Street came there for a reason. Where would you rather shop or own a business?

Bench at City Hall

I’m getting the feeling they want us to sit and stay awhile.

The prevailing speed on New Ulm’s Minnesota Street feels like 15-20 mph because of the continuous turnover of on street parking, the norms of the street (our behavior is influenced by others; driving is no different), the presence of visual friction, 3-way stops every block, and the fact that you actually see people walking around, doing stuff. Here’s the definitive proof that the street works: our three year olds didn’t yell ‘Slow Down!’ once while we walked around downtown. Outside our bike shop, in Saint Peter, they have plenty to scream at. Not helping is that in 2019, MnDOT synchronized the three traffic signals in our downtown to make it even less likely that drivers will encounter a red light. The result is higher speeds and more crashes. No one window shops at 40 mph.

The smallest Museum in MN

A destination street has lots of little things to notice. The Smallest Museum is located outside The Grand Center for Culture and Arts.

Coffee shop facade.

Coffee shop? Check. Book store? Check. Ice cream shop? Check.


Oh geez, they have murals too.

Historical marker

And they have history. Do we?

What happens in the street does not stay in the street. A throwaway street lowers the value of homes that line it, and makes sustaining a small retail business along it very difficult. The dynamic is readily observable in downtown Saint Peter: our retail sector is anchored by Swedish Kontur which existed long before 169 became an awful street to walk along, live on, and walk across. That business is flanked by Cooks and Contents which are complementary adjacent businesses and were established when the street was kind of bad, but still walkable. Finally, the block is home to Nutter’s Clothing, which predates automobiles. Those are all complementary adjacent uses; lose one or two of them and the block is no longer a destination. Should that happen, you end up with what’s on the other side of the street: a coffee shop, hardware store, women’s clothing store, and a four block long eclectic collection of insurers, accountants, realtors, medical professionals, financial advisors, and vacant properties. Collectively, those are the indicators of a retail death spiral as they are all single purpose destinations. The last time you were at the orthodontist you were 5 minutes late, you left immediately after settling up, and you certainly didn’t walk down the street to the antique shop. Those businesses shut their blinds, don’t invest in curb appeal, and without good wayfinding and signage in your downtown, they break up the momentum for window shoppers.

Vacant storefront

Note all storefronts are occupied. New Ulm’s downtown action team has made this property feel less vacant with an inexpensive window treatment.

The visitor to New Ulm’s Minnesota Street has a different experience: storefronts are attractive, renovations are underway, and most businesses are devoted to either dining or retail. The result is that a person parks near their destination and they may walk past a coffee shop, bookstore, music shop, pop up retail space, specialty retailer, wine cafe, ice cream shop, and so on. Sure, there are law offices, banks, insurers, and other single purpose destinations, but those are the exception, not the dominant species.


A vital piece of a shopping district: pedestrian parking. This bench and table also present historical content which means that a separate kiosk is unnecessary.

The last piece of getting the street and shopping environment right is parking. By that I mean bike parking, pedestrian parking (benches, ledges, shade, and water fountains), and car parking. People HATE parking in front of my shop because they worry about getting their door torn off by an 18 wheeler blasting by at 40 mph. Enough said. The successful retail block I already mentioned either relies on side street parking, or their improved rear entrances. 

Division Street in Northfield MN

My gold standard for a destination street is Division Street in Northfield, MN. This photo shows how a parklet has reclaimed a couple parking spaces to provide an outdoor dining space.


Another well executed detail in Northfield is their wayfinding. Note that public restrooms are designated. Nice!

New Ulm doesn’t dictate the types of businesses that own or lease storefronts on Minnesota Street, but they do make an effort to support retail by good design of the street and sidewalk space, and by providing economic incentives for opening a new business ($10k!). How do I know these things? Not saying (but you can probably guess.) Perhaps the most poignant moment of my Shop New Ulm field trip came when my entrepreneurial host asked me: Who’s on your downtown committee? ‘Er, we don’t have one,’ was my sheepish reply. And there is the main difference between our downtown retail district and theirs: they have a plan, they have people entrusted with carrying out that plan. A couple times a year our elected officials talk about how important our downtown is, but that esteem has yet to translate into an action plan. Meanwhile the private sector does its best with banners, sidewalk sales and advertising. How will this story end?

Bottom line: Saint Peter’s downtown needs a plan.


Pedestrian hostility

How quaint! This anti-personnel architecture is a holdover from the days when people came to your downtown, hung out, and never left. Can you guess the business? A bank. I included this just so you know that New Ulm isn’t perfect.


Can a roundabout be a crossroads?

Fixing the Broadway and Washington Intersection

The City of St. Peter will soon embark on an Intersection Control Evaluation (ICE) of the four-way stop at Broadway and Washington. This is one of the busiest intersections in St. Peter at more than 8k-9k vehicles entries per day. It is the busiest four-way stop in St. Peter for certain. It is a crossroads of our city used to connect to key destinations such as the community center and library; schools; churches; parks; downtown; and Highway 169. Most people experience the intersection as drivers, but there are others who walk it and bike it, and their safety and comfort need to be considered as well.

The ICE is intended to assess whether the intersection is safe and functioning as designed. If the finding is that it is not, then changes will be proposed. Previously, an ICE was conducted at Broadway and Sunrise, and a roundabout was proposed as a remedy for the identified safety and projected congestion issues there. A roundabout seems to be the direction we are heading with this ICE, but that doesn’t need to be a foregone conclusion. There are other remedies that are arguably as effective, and are unambiguously less expensive and quicker to implement.

Before continuing, I feel it necessary to state that I am not opposed to roundabouts. I think the one at the high school works brilliantly. But roundabouts are not one-size-fits-all solutions and due to their large footprint, disruptive construction schedule, and high cost; they should only be implemented judiciously and where they are the best/only effective traffic control option. A roundabout can be several million dollars; everything I mention below can be quickly implemented for several thousand dollars.

Let’s talk about the intersection in its current form. It can be busy and, like most major streets in St. Peter, it is wider than it needs to be. Its other safety issue is the presence of slip lanes. These exist on the NE and NW corners to facilitate large vehicles and reduce driver delay for turning on/off N Washington. (For the record: there’s nothing wrong with having a little driver delay.) Bus drivers moving between North and the Middle School like slip lanes. Walkers and bikers hate slip lanes because drivers don’t slow down, and they are usually looking away from the person trying to cross the street. Plus, they create an additional leg of the intersection for people to cross. More exposure = more danger for walkers.

Slip lanesSo the question is: Can we eliminate the slip lanes and still accommodate the turning movements of larger vehicles? Yes, and here is how:

  • The NE slip lane can be closed if the STOP bar for southbound Washington is moved back a few feet. Doing that will allow large vehicles to encroach into the oncoming lane to complete their turns. This strategy is often used in large cities on bus and trucking routes.
  • The NW slip lane can be closed and school buses can be directed onto Chestnut Street. Chestnut would remain one-way eastbound, but signage would be posted to allow special dispensation to school buses at certain times of day, during the school year. For good measure, the STOP bar for eastbound drivers on Broadway could also be moved back.

The next safety problem is the large footprint of the intersection. Because this creates different challenges for drivers and walkers, their challenges and solutions will be discussed separately. Let’s talk about drivers first. N Washington joins the street grid of older St. Peter at this intersection, and as a result southbound vehicles must adjust their vector. But the real problem is the massive amount of pavement for an intersection of two 2-lane streets. Who goes where and does what is a bit ambiguous at this intersection. Oddly enough, the crash count here isn’t bad: there were 13 crashes in 8.5 years, 2 of which were injury crashes. Norms, eye contact, and a measure of caution due to uncertainty govern vehicle movements at this intersection, and those ingredients seem to be a recipe for relative safety. But I would still urge the City to install a red flashing beacon atop the STOP sign for southbound Washington drivers. (Something like this can be found on Jefferson and 7th Street for eastbound drivers.) The lack of any other traffic control devices on Washington between Dodd and Broadway can certainly set the wrong expectation for a driver unfamiliar with the area. But that’s a problem for a different discussion.

The user group most challenged by the large footprint of the current intersection are walkers and bicyclists. Remember that this is a crossroad of the community for many destinations that serve youth. Kids don’t drive. Also, there is an affordable housing development on the SW corner of the intersection. The bottom line is that we need to expect and design for walkers and bicyclists at this location.

The longer a person spends crossing the street, the more likely it is that they will be hit by a vehicle. For this reason, crossing distances matter, and just narrowing an intersection by a few feet can make a big difference. The crossing distance varies between 65 and 75 feet at this intersection. For reference, Highway 169 at Swift Street is 65 feet curb-to-curb. For additional reference, walkers can move at 2-4 feet/second. Think about how long it will take for someone of impaired mobility to cross such a distance. This intersection is way too wide.

Large crossing distances also mean more time spent on the corner waiting for all four drivers to stop so a walker can cross. What I said before about the uncertainty, eye contact, and negotiation amongst drivers making for a safer intersection – yeah, that doesn’t work for soft and small humans. Claiming your right of way by placing your 3 ton SUV in the path of another vehicle is not an option. The only way to fix this problem is by narrowing the intersection.

RenderingWhatever the ICE concludes about the safety and functioning of the current intersection, the choice shouldn’t have to come down to roundabout or no roundabout. The practice of transportation planning and engineering is evolving to the point where we no longer simply study an intersection and implement major changes. We have now introduced an intermediate step, where we do experimentation and observation to see if less invasive, and less costly solutions can succeed. Demonstration projects as these are called are recognized and frequently deployed by MnDOT to improve safety, calm traffic, and improve connectivity for walking and biking. Demonstration projects may be applied to intersections and corridors. Perhaps best of all, the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership has funding to support such demonstration projects.


This is Me

Bike parking, what?

I always thought I was a better bike mechanic than transportation planner. Maybe I can do both. Well. Below is a cover letter from a recent job application. Above is a self-portrait of sorts; you’re not looking at me, but looking through my eyes at what titillates me. Exhibit A: the bike rack outside a MnDOT district office in February. At least make the token effort to clear the snow? The bus stop wasn’t much better. But, hey, the parking lot was spotless!

xxxx W——— Street
Saint Peter, MN 56082

May 23, 2023

Minnesota Department of Transportation
Active Transportation Division
395 John Ireland Boulevard
Saint Paul, MN 55155

To Whom It May Concern:

Thank you for the opportunity to apply for the position of Active Transportation Planner with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. I am applying for this position because I believe that I have the lived experience, professional knowledge, and vision to be successful in the position, while advancing Minnesota’s progress towards transportation that is safe, affordable, sustainable and equitable.

At present moment I am a bike shop owner and mechanic based in Saint Peter, Minnesota. Our family chose this city and our neighborhood because they allow us to reach most destinations without resorting to driving. Our children will grow up knowing their neighbors and be able to travel independently, because mom and dad won’t have to worry about missing infrastructure, dangerous roads, and ambient noise and air pollution. Ours is a life of privilege and that is unfortunate because all Minnesotans deserve the choice we had. I would go so far as to say such a choice is a human right.

My career in the active transportation field began in 2003, at the National Center for Bicycling & Walking, in the District of Columbia. Even with a Masters Degree in Public Administration, I started (figuratively speaking) on the ground floor, opening the mail. Within two years I was a lead facilitator for their Walkable Community Workshop program, which provided technical assistance to local governments and metropolitan planning organizations. In that position I saw nearly every corner of the country and I studied under the pioneers of the active transportation field. Two years later I was doing it again, this time under the newly funded federal Safe Routes to School program.

That early Safe Routes to School work was a formative experience because I had a boss who understood that federal money would flow to the communities ready to accept it. This often meant that places with the greatest need were passed over because they couldn’t raise the local match, or didn’t have a planner, or didn’t have a grant writer, or didn’t have… fill-in-the-blank. So with the help of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we designed a program to provide technical assistance to urban schools where walking wasn’t a choice and nearly 100 percent of students were on free/reduced lunch. In Brooklyn, Atlanta, Hartford, Camden, and other places, our walking audits and community workshops/listening sessions undoubtedly helped federal funding flow to places of great need, but more importantly our presence was the bridge between the community and the people who could help them. Elected officials, city staff, DOT staff, business owners, churches and other stakeholders fixed broken street lights, painted crosswalks, changed delivery schedules, and so on, all to help children get to school safely. Those problems were solved quickly and often cheaply; they couldn’t wait for whatever schedule the STIP dictated.

Throughout my career as a planner it has been my good fortune to always work for wise and fair people. They were good bosses who by example showed me when to be tough, when to meet people where they are at, and how to know the difference. That guidance and the work ethic I developed in the preceding years, allowed me to be successful when my office transitioned to remote work in 2009. From then until 2019, when I left the planning profession, I was the sole District of Columbia employee for the National Center for Bicycling & Walking. Working without someone in the next cubicle or office was an adjustment, but because I had built a network of trusted friends and subject matter experts, I was able to maintain a reality check to guide me in my next and biggest project: conference director of Walk/Bike/Place.

Walk/Bike/Place was a biennial active transportation conference of 600 people that fell into my lap when my organization merged with Project for Public Spaces. I ran it, I grew it, I earned a surplus for my organization, I helped set the agenda for the active transportation field, and I showed that an event could be profitable and not extractive of the host city. Our event got projects built and we sought out small, disadvantaged businesses for our contracts. Doing the right thing was rarely the easy thing, so many of those victories have stories and lessons learned. Along the way I formalized my planning credentials by sitting for the AICP exam. I maintained my certification from 2012-2019.

All of that is preamble to what I am now: dad to 2.5 year old twins, small business owner, and transportation planning whisperer to local staff and elected officials. It is in that last role that I have gained the experience which will be most crucial to my success at MnDOT. Answering my question of why our Main Street, which is a trunk highway, isn’t being designed, operated and maintained as a Complete Street, led me to appreciate the myriad ways that Department policies on Complete Streets, Towards Zero Deaths, and emissions targets are being interpreted and achieved/subverted/ignored at the district level. So after discussing my findings with my local elected officials, and my friends in public health and active transportation advocacy, we opted for the strategy of soft advocacy in the form of a regional active transportation summit. This fall we will convene a 1.5 day event that will highlight the reasons for investing in active transportation, bring the latest best practices in Safe Routes to School, Tactical Urbanism, Advocacy, Complete Streets, and other topics to local stakeholders, and tour some great streets and neighborhoods in Mankato. The summit will be held September 29-30, 2023.

Whether or not I am offered this position, I appreciate the opportunity to introduce myself and I look forward to working with your division and agency to improve mobility for all Minnesotans. Thank you for your consideration!


Mark Plotz (he/him)
p.s. It is likely now appropriate to attest that these words were composed by a human, and not a form of artificial intelligence.

Old Town Finally Gets the Street it Deserves

In 1993, a guy could put his motorcycle into a wheelie, ride a block of sidewalk in Old Town, Mankato, and the only one who might get hurt is his mother reading about it 30 years later. Today it is a much different place and its transformation holds lessons for Saint Peter’s downtown.

silo art

These massive grain silos probably date back to when the river could be seen from Riverfront. Today they are a different sort of landmark in Mankato. These interpretive kiosks explain the art. In the foreground is the wine bar, which was one of the pioneers in Old Town’s renaissance.

Old Town was never a great place when I was growing up in Mankato. It smelled bad because of the mill and the attendant semis and trains. But it’s the street I remembered as being really weird: the four lanes weren’t straight – they jogged 10 feet every few blocks. Today I recognize it as a primitive chicane using on street parking to jog the street and slow traffic. And why was traffic calming needed? Because the street was four lanes from back when it was a state highway. The highway had long since gotten a new alignment so all those extra lanes did was encourage speeding. (No need to ask how I know.)

Old Town’s challenges were the same as many cities where the highway moves: too much street makes for speeding, it makes it miserable to walk along, and dangerous to cross. A few brave businesses did move into Old Town, likely attracted by the beautiful and historic building stock and low real estate prices. But pretty much everyone still shopped at the malls unless they were in need of a niche retail purchase.

Then when I moved out to the east coast the fortunes of Old Town began to change. I got time lapse glimpses of it when I returned home (Mankato) for Christmas: facades were freshened, new businesses (a bike shop!) moved in, and eventually new structures went up and existing structures were repurposed. The district was resurrecting itself through art and niche retail. But, still, that F#*&@! street.

a narrow sidewalk

Without knowing the complete history of Old Town — dating back to when it was just called Town — I think it is safe to say that the sidewalk space was once more generous. As often happens when roads are widened, the sidewalk gets sacrificed. The posts, planters, and paint indicate the new sidewalk boundary. The Hub is visible across the street.

Today Riverfront Drive in Old Town should be on any planning nerd’s itinerary of destination streets. The casual and hardcore nerd can both appreciate how a street can make or break a neighborhood. A few days ago it was my destination street for Penelope’s evening walk. Here’s what we saw…

Riverfront Drive Really Needed the Help

Fixing that street was long overdue. Business owners were the first to recognize that no one wanted to park on Riverfront, so they turned their backs to it and made the rear entrance as good as the front door. Wow! What an unexpected joy to walk through the alley and see cleanliness, color and textures, and whimsical details.

back door as front door

Two of the businesses that treat the back door like it is the front door. The building on the left has great detailing. It is also noteable that they saved their windows instead of bricking them up.

People still need places to congregate so when the sidewalks are too narrow, setting aside public space becomes more crucial. And that’s why The Hub was created. It hosts food trucks, music, and chill places to relax. And of course The Hub is accessible with the best possible crosswalk.

Connectivity and Wayfinding Matters

No one window shops at 40 mph, so the details and the beauty won’t matter as long as the roar of the street and danger of crossing it persists. The road diet slowed cars, it shortened crossing distances with curb extensions, it confused – and slowed – drivers with (chortle) blue dots, and then drew people by providing programming. Throughout the district there are tasteful signs for businesses, and where a building contains multiple tenants, they are described in a way that is unobtrusive and comprehensible for pedestrian and driver alike. That means the size of the sign and its location works for everyone.

Building mounted signage in Old Town

Wayfinding in the district could be better. I didn’t spy any maps or kiosks on my walk. But there were good examples of buildings displaying their tenants in a legible way for all users.

such a good crosswalk

Press button. Cars stop. Cross street. All crossing should be this good. Running over pedestrians is bad for business.

Texture is Important

The best streets give you something new each time you walk down them. That sounds like an impossibility, but add up the murals, the blank spaces that became canvases, the hidden gardens, the interpretive signs, the historic detailing of buildings, and programming (music, events, etc.) and that goal becomes obtainable. And of course the best thing to draw people is… people! Added bonus: people on the streets and sidewalks IS the original traffic calming.

a small plaque at the base of a street tree

When moving at human speed it is easy to notice and appreciate the small touches. This is a street tree along Riverfront which has been adopted by local stakeholders.

alley mural

One of the many hidden murals I noticed while walking through the alley. The art often depicts the function of the business. Why waste the effort beautifying an alley? WHO CARES just be glad they did it. And it could be the case that local ordinances prohibit murals in the historic district (Saint Peter has such a problem.)

grage door canvas

You see a garage door; an artist sees a canvas.

Retail has a Critical Mass

I noted two vacant storefronts, and nearly every business was retail or dining. That second point is especially important as those types of businesses are more invested in the success of a district. Think about it this way: if I need my back adjusted I am probably not going to walk down the street afterwards to get an ice cream cone. No, I am going to park behind the business, get there 5 minutes before my appointment, cross my fingers that they will take my insurance, and leave as soon as my wallet is adjusted. Retail has the shades open and the lights on; service businesses may keep the shades down even when they’re open. Which would you rather walk past?

A storefront vacancy

This is one of the few storefront vacancies I noticed. It is new construction with tasteful materials and good design. It should be filled soon so long as the price is right. (Some other time we’ll talk about why it is impossible to buy into commercial real estate.)

Success is Always Intentional

The murals, facade improvements, road diet, public art, and programming at The Hub are intentional – it is someone’s job to ensure the economic success of the Old Town district. It was intentional to construct an event space – a social space – in the district. It was intentional to provide the best, and safest pedestrian crossing in the city to get people from one side of the street (shopping) to the other (entertainment). The Invisible Hand efficiently allocates goods and services, but it doesn’t restripe the street or paint the crosswalks.

a bench in old town

A great bench I noticed when I stepped off the main drag to look at something else.


The road diet is on its way to becoming permanent. This despite the pushback from drivers confused by the lane reductions, blue dots on the street, and the disorientation that comes from loss of status on one of Mankato’s streets (don’t worry, dear driver, you still rule almost every other street in the city). 

The district has become a place and an economically successful one at that. It is an alternative model for economic development which doesn’t depend on 20k cars passing through the neighborhood hoping that if we provide enough parking that just maybe a fraction of them will stop and leave some money.

a very narrow sidewalk

It is easy to see why businesses turned their backs to Riverfront. There’s no space for pedestrians! Hopefully this will be addressed when the road diet is made permanent. But hey, they found space for public art!

public art

I loved this one so I had to include it.

To sum up the formula used in Old Town: slowing traffic + street narrowing + programming in public spaces + public art + texture = a destination. They are now well on their way to people saying ‘you should’ve seen this place before they changed the street.’

This story was 50 years in the making. At least. I don’t have that kind of time or patience.  Do you? So just change your F#*&@! street already (and stop listening to people who tell you it is hard or impossible.) 

bike sale

A Business Case for Supporting the Arts

On a blustery Saturday morning, just as the first flakes of the season filled the air, it was standing room only in our bike shop. I talked to more people that day than I did in the month(s) prior. Even better was meeting people who never would have come into a bike shop on such a day (if at all). How? Art! On Saturday, November 12, Saint Peter held its inaugural Art Stroll, with 24 local artists and 16 venues, including our bike shop.

art by Judith

A representative sampling of Judith’s art. Fun, right?

What happened at our shop was the scene up and down Main Street (aka Highway 169) as locals mixed with out-of-towners to bring more foot traffic to our historic central business district than any event in recent memory. Hanging those nine paintings by our featured artist – the self-described Painter/Sculptor/Woman of Leisure – brought more people through the door than anything else we have tried.

It is almost a no-brainer for a business to become a venue for such an event. I say almost because there is an opportunity cost for involvement: there is time in set-up/teardown; I got one wheel laced in 8 hours and that was about it for wrenching; and those delicious vegan cupcakes we put out were free, but not to us. But so what! I choose to see the upside.

What do I mean by upside? Art collectors and connoisseurs drink coffee, buy household goods, shop for clothing, and ride bicycles – among other things. Their more salient quality for this discussion is possessing discretionary income and the desire to support local artists and local businesses. (Perhaps we are reaching the point where if you’re not shunning Amazon you are at least feeling a little bad about ordering from them!)

For readers now under the impression that I am a marketing genius, I counter with Exhibit A: our businesses’ (intentional?) lack of a marketing plan. Other than a few fliers we put up announcing our open, and our facade improvements, we are nearly 100% reliant on word-of-mouth, the loyalty of our St. Paul customers, and southern Minnesota’s latent demand for bike shop services. So when offering up our shop as a backdrop for a local artist, I had no idea I would be having casual compare/contrast/discuss conversations about early De Rosas and Pinarellos, or that a sizeable fraction of our patrons that day would be e-bike curious. Then there’s this important disclosure: Amanda, my wife, is one of the trio of Art Stroll organizers. So of course we would participate!

The Art Stroll was our opportunity to give back to a community that has been welcoming and generous to us. When our neighboring businesses are strong, so are we; when we struggle to fill vacant storefronts, we lose viability as a shopping destination. As such, we have a responsibility to help others when we can, and that’s why alongside Judith Foster’s art we featured some of the furniture art of Jovi Thomas, who is just getting her start and in need of exposure. (Perhaps the myopia of altruism will be supplanted by enlightened self-interest next time and Amanda will feature her papercuts and I will try to sell some bike shop t-shirts!)

wood burned clothing dresser

An example of the artistry of Jovi Thomas.

It is gratifying being part of something that challenges people’s expectations while winning universal acclaim. The closest I’ve come in recent memory was PARK(ing) Day 2015 when I was part of a team that transformed two parking spaces in downtown Washington DC into an oasis for reflection, socializing, people watching and eating delicious berry smoothies. And if I am being honest, I have to say my expectations were challenged as well: I knew we had a lot of talented people here, but I never thought of Saint Peter as an arts destination.

PARK(ing) Day 2015

The most valuable parkings spaces in all of DC on that day in September.

Lessons Learned

I offer these observations with a bit of remove from the planning and execution of the event. These conclusions are also flavored with a hint of confirmation bias from conclusions I have already drawn about what works and what doesn’t (169!) in downtown Saint Peter. Now without further delay, caveat, preamble, or apology:

People like art. The end result of the creative process is fascinating whether it yields poetry or painting, stained glass or object. Artists should have the opportunity to display and make a living. The public should have an opportunity to view, appreciate and consort with other aficionados. And while not every day can be an Art Stroll day, public art – murals, sculpture, music and other forms of creative expression – can provide such an outlet and connection beyond the confines of an annual event. In short,  more public art, please, Saint Peter!

Wayfinding is crucial. A well-designed brochure and a critical mass of destinations within walking distance ensures a well-attended event with prolonged engagement. But giving people things to see is only part of the equation; they need to know how to get there. Central business districts that don’t heed this lesson become one-stop-shops. Fairmont shows Saint Peter how to do it right.

way finding signage

Creative wayfinding in downtown Fairmont.

Give people reasons to visit and stay (and they will!). Bars host comedians and bands; coffee shops have poetry readings; bike shops sponsor races – all these things are done to draw people in, in hopes of keeping them there. Without question Third Street Tavern, the Saint Peter Food Co-op and River Rock all rang up a few extra sales thanks to hungry, thirsty art lovers. Now how about we consider designing the public realm with an eye on providing people comfortable places to rest, socialize, drink, eat and otherwise. Act like you want people to hang out downtown by providing shade in summer, warmth in fall and winter, places to rest, and beautiful, interesting things to look at.

artistic nook Henderson

A local example from Henderson of how a downtown can become a welcoming place for pedestrians.

What draws people is other people. This is an observation by Holly Whyte upon which the non-profit Project for Public Spaces was founded. As it turns out, and as deprivation during the Pandemic bore out, we want to be around other people. Throngs of people walking down Main Street gets other people interested in doing the same. It indicates a place is interesting and worth exploring. As a side benefit: drivers also notice this and they tend to slow down. And with that begins the virtuous cycle of slower streets making for better sidewalks and better places to do business, have a cup of coffee, or dinner.

A rising tide lifts all businesses. As stated already, but worth reiterating is that when the new brewery is packed, we’re going to be doing great as well. Yup, that’s right, there is a brewery coming to downtown Saint Peter. I am so happy to be the first one to tell you!

Cheers to the 2023 Saint Peter Art Stroll!!!