Ode to Dean Zimmerman

You can check out Avidor’s commentary about Zimmerman here. Avidor does not like Dean at all, and I think this has to do with the Personal Rapid Transit issue. (Perhaps Ken will come by and explain his position more clearly than I ever could.) I myself lived in Zimmerman’s district only briefly, but I think he did a very good job representing me. Out of fairness to Dean, I want to tell you about this.

One day, back before the blogosphere, I was sitting in the attic working at my computer with one eye, as it often was from that location, on the lovely scenery outside the window. This was in South Minneapolis near the Whittier School, with tree-lined streets and interesting things always happening somewhere not far away. And as usual, I had my cell phone nearby, and I had memorized the number for nine-one-one.

It was a warm day in the middle of the fall semester, at the end of the school day. A group of children had gathered on the corner, and a bus had come by and taken them away, and now things were pretty quiet on the street and down in the Whitter School field. With school closed for the day, a trickle of crack dealers might pass by and, as sun set, a homeless person or two, but on this street the police were diligent and there would be no trouble. The Whittier School field was off limits to the bad guys, and everyone knew it.

So I was looking out the window, and I saw a car going north at a reasonable speed, passing through the intersection where the children had stood waiting for the bus moments before. Suddenly, a van came barrelling through the intersection at a fairly high rate of speed, slammed into the car and pushed it onto the sidewalk in the very place that the children were previously all gathered. It was lucky that they were not there, or several would surely have been hit by the two vehicles as they jumped the curve.

Seconds later, the van backed out of the accident scene and drove off at a high speed, bits and pieces that has been loosened during the accident dropping on the ground as it went. Just as quickly, another vehicle, driven by a witness to the accident, chased after the van. They rounded the corner two blocks down, heading south.

In fewer than 20 seconds, I was on the phone to 911 and running across the street to look in on the person driving the car. It turns out that this was a delivery vehicle of some sort, a private vehicle enlisted into the delivery business, like a pizza car. The man who was driving the car was okay. I told the 911 dispatcher that the person in the vehicle claimed to be okay, that the hit-and-run vehicle had headed down the street and made a right, and that there was a citizen in pursuit.

Moments later there was a fire truck and a police car or two. I loaned the victim my phone, and he called in for delivery backup. Another vehicle came and took him away, and by and by, the damaged car was towed off. Early in this process I popped down the street because I could hear sirens in that direction, and sure enough, the van had been captured. I talked to the citizen-witness who had driven after the van and found out that the vehicle had simply stopped…the accident had broken it enough that it could only go two blocks.

That was a pretty typical Whitter Moment. Some moron does something stupid, something bad happens, and all the neighbors descend on the scene and do what they can to fix things. The good guy gets help, the bad guy gets caught, very few if any shots are fired, and the camaraderie of the best neighborhood in Minneapolis is strengthened.

Less than a half hour after all this drama was over, I was on the phone to a couple of people and talking to neighbors to find out why there was not a proper set of stop signs at this intersection. When we had moved into this house, the previous owners warned us, “Don’t park near the corner. You will get smashed into. There are accidents at this corner about once a month, and usually one of the cars in the accident smashes into whatever is parked there.”

I learned that the people who lived here had tried and tried to get proper stop signs at this intersection over the last several years. I was told that any effort I put into it would be wasted. And this is especially interesting because every single person I talked to was a political activist, member of the neighborhood association, and regular attendee at local political and community organizing events. But they were convinced that nothing could be done.

Whittier Neighbors giving up on a stop sign?!?!? I felt a cold chill coming from beneath my feet as hell started to freeze over.

“I’ll see about that,” I said to myself.

So I wrote Dean Zimmerman an email. I described the near-death experiences of the children on the corner. I described how there were accidents on this corner…a corner I knew he knew well…all the time. I mentioned that the people I had spoken to did not believe anything could be done about this. I told him I thought he could fix the problem.

In less than 24 hours I had a response. It was an email cc’ed to me but sent to the Department of Public Works. The email consisted of my email, with a note on top by Dean: “Can’t we just fix this?”

And by Friday there were new stop signs.

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4 Responses to “Ode to Dean Zimmerman”

  1. June 10th, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Yea for Dean!

  2. June 11th, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    Ken Avidor has responded in a guest post here:


  3. June 13th, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    Pippi says:

    The conclusion is so anticlimactic that it’s ridiculous. A stop sign?

    This homage to Zimmermann would have been made more sense if the conclusion were … for example … ensuring that the Cedar Lake bicycle trail makes a solid connection with downtown, so that thousands of commuters can more easily NOT DRIVE AT ALL.

    How did Zimmermann do on THAT one?


    “Now that they’re starting in on Twins Stadium construction, looks like the downtown exit of the Cedar Lake Trail will be closed indefinitely.”

    Perhaps Dean Zimmermann was too busy meeting with developers for cash payments.

  4. June 13th, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    Greg Laden says:


    There were FOUR stop signs, not just one. Four!

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