I left Thursday’s Southwest Transitway open house in Minneapolis with a better understanding of the benefits of route 3A, and also the methodology by which the consultants have identified that as the “best” route. However, I remain unconvinced that 3A is the best alternative, for a few reasons, including reasons that are not considered during the LPA decision-making process (but maybe should be). After the break, I’ll start with reasons that the FTA cares about.
- There was no detailed explanation of ridership calculation. Thursday’s open house really just included boards summarizing each of the alignment alternatives, there was no explanation of how ridership was calculated. While staff was very helpful, there wasn’t anyone in attendance who had actually worked on the modeling. So questions remain, such as: how many riders are assumed to be from park and rides located in Minneapolis? It is doubtful that any park and ride lots would be approved by the city within it’s boundaries and therefore any ridership assumptions that come from these lots is questionable. This is admittedly probably a small number, however, I think the public deserves an explanation of the methodology, not just a technical memo and not just to be told the numbers.
- Planning compatibility must give equal weight (or at least mention) land use plans, not just transportation plans.The open house presentation boards only mention 3C’s incompatibility with transportation plans, and make a very general statement about 3A being compatible with all plans. There is no mention of land use planning. To be fair, staff did say they had considered all land use plans, but you can’t tell that from the boards.The entire length of 3A south of 394 is designated “Urban Neighborhood” and “Parks and Open Space” by the Minneapolis Plan for Sustainable Growth, the adopted land use plan of the City of Minneapolis. The plan says that Urban Neighborhoods are “Not generally intended to accommodate significant new growth, other than replacement of existing buildings with those of similar density.” (Ch 1, p. 8 ) Residential density is also limited to single and two-family residential. This doesn’t sound like an area that is appropriate for a fixed-route transit line. Compare this to the type of land uses that are being encouraged along Hiawatha, and this area appears to be destined for underuse (from a ridership perspective).The 3C alignment on the other hand, is designated a commercial corridor, planned to have a mixing of uses and high residential density (up to 120 units/acre). No mention on the open house boards of which one of these two types of planned land uses would be more appropriate along an LRT line.
- The ridership model may underestimate the number of riders switching from bus to rail along 3C.My head scratching about how the ridership numbers for 3A and 3C could be exactly the same was brought to an end at the open house by a friendly staff member who was familiar with the modeling process. He told me that given the high level of transit service in the 3C corridor (Hennepin, Lyndale, Nicollet), the model may assume that few people would switch to LRT from their existing bus service, especially if it required them to walk further. I use the word may because as I note above, we haven’t been given a detailed explanation of this model, or its assumptions so we have no way of knowing.From the staff I spoke with, it also seemed clear that a review of case studies had not been performed, to see if cities that had put LRT in transit-saturated areas really did se low switchovers from bus to rail. This would be a test of the model. But again, we simply don’t know what assumptions went into these numbers until more details are provided.
These preceding are issues that can be addressed within the current planning framework, meaning within the guidelines of the FTA process. The following are issues I think should be considered, but are not things the FTA cares about (yet).
- The model used to evaluate alternative routes uses mobility as a primary measure, not accessibility. Moving around faster (with less delay) should not necessarily be the ultimate goal. Having access to destinations (jobs, housing, goods) should be. The maps I’ve made for previous posts were an crude attempt to illustrate this point.
- This is the only opportunity we are going to get for improved transit service on a dedicated right-of-way (for a long time). There is an argument out there that goes like this: trust the engineers, they know that Kennilworth is a better/more cost efficient alignment. Minneapolis has a plan for improved transit, and it is streetcars on the greenway and down Nicollet. Stop making a fuss, you’ll get yours later.I don’t buy this argument for two reasons. First, streetcars, on their own seem to solve none of the limitations existing bus routes face (namely, on-street congestion). The next step in transit service is dedicated right of way. Whether its buses or street cars or LRT doesn’t matter to me. Second, and related, the City of Minneapolis is not in the transit-building business. Without the planning staff, political clout, and most importantly, ability to spend that Hennepin County has, Minneapolis will not be building any dedicated right of ways for transit on their own in the forseeable future.So this is the opportunity we need to seize. This line can either serve the second downtown of Minneapolis, or it can bypass it in favor of faster travel times for suburban residents. This sounds selfish, but in a world where all transit projects compete against each other (and systems are never analyzed as a whole), you have to be.