From regionalism

Strengthening our region’s response to climate change

My latest at streets.mn is a review of how the draft version of Thrive MSP 2040, the new regional plan for the Twin Cities, addresses climate change.

Our region certainly can’t address this issue alone, but we have a responsibility to do our part.  The science also says we can’t wait another ten years to start addressing the problem.  However, as this plan is currently written, the specifics on climate response are too ambiguous, and risk being watered down during implementation.The regional plan is one of the state’s most significant pieces of land use and transportation policy. By fully embracing state goals and calling for strong response, this could be a document that makes Minnesota a national leader in climate change response.

Read the rest.

Water for our future

Over at streets.mn I have a new post on the importance of water supply planning for the next regional plan.

What does all this have to do with Minnesota?  We have tons of water, right?  Well, on the surface yes, but we’re using our groundwater much faster than it’s being replaced, and that’s a problem.  That was one of the main topics at a Thrive MSP 2040 Roundtable discussion I attended a number of weeks ago, and have been meaning to post about since.  The 7-county region now gets70 percent of our water from groundwater sources, up from 15 percent in the 50′s.  In some places this means we’re reducing groundwater levels by over a foot a year.

Thrive MSP banner

Thrive MSP 2040 is live

The Metropolitan Council has officially kicked off their public engagement campaign for the 2040 regional plan – called Thrive MSP 2040.  I know you don’t like the name, but pay attention because this plan will eventually shape all the regional policy plans (growth, transportation, housing, natural resources) and set the requirements for individual community comprehensive plans.

No modern planning process is complete without some an interactive “ideas” website, and Met Council has theirs. I submitted some ideas, which I think you should vote for.

Imagining a city without its public transportation

The Atlantic Cities reviews the work of WMATA (DC’s transit agency) on the business case for transit.  They turned off public transportation in the regional transportation model.

“It was literally just imagining Washington, and all of a sudden, you wake up tomorrow, and the transit system isn’t there, Antos says. “What would you do?”

People, it turns out, do something very interesting. They stop making long car trips because the traffic is so bad. In one hypothetical scenario, Antos took away the transit but kept the rest of the area’s road infrastructure the same. People were allowed to change their trip patterns – to chose different jobs or shopping centers – and most of them stopped crossing the region to get to those things.

“The congestion was forcing people to regress into a more local economy,” Antos says. “We looked at that and realized we were watching the economy splinter. All of a sudden, we weren’t watching a regional economy function where workers could find jobs in the whole region.”

People weren’t crossing county lines – or even rivers – to get anywhere.

LEED ND regional suitability analysis going national

Regular readers know I’m interested in how to use LEED ND as a tool for assessing regional development suitability.  I’ve been tardy in relaying news about good work being done in other regions.  Back in January, Jason Woycke contacted me about replicating the analysis for King County, in the Seattle region.  Jason is the President of Cascadia Planning and at the time was a Masters student in the planning program at the University of Washington.

The Cascade Land Conservancy was Jason’s client for the project, and according to Jason’s website, the maps will “help the Cascade Land Conservancy visually communicate the need for careful planning of where growth should be accommodated in the region and where growth should be avoided”.

Jason finished the analysis (I think near the end of spring semester 2011), and it looks great.  He generously agreed to provide me with a copy of the full report, which you can see here (large pdf).  Jason was awarded the UW Department of Urban Design and Planning 2011 Professionals Council Outstanding Professional Project Award for his work.

The analysis Jason used for King County appears to be very similar to my approach for the Twin Cities – focusing on the Smart Location and Linkage prerequisites.  I don’t believe any of the Neighborhood Pattern and Design prerequisites were included, which is a minor difference between the two approaches.

Is Chicagoland next?

More recently, I’ve heard from another aspiring urban planning masters student who is exploring the possibility of replicating this analysis for the Chicago region.  If this analysis happens, it will be complete in spring of 2012.

It’s very expensive

Strong Towns on the Stillwater Bridge.

Let’s stipulate for the sake of this conversation that the new St. Croix bridge is a worthy project (it’s not, but let’s pretend that it is). At a time when Americans are being forced to make some really difficult financial decisions, particularly about infrastructure spending, the reason why this project is likely to proceed while 1,100+ of our deficient bridges receive little funding is important to understand. Understanding that reason will illuminate why we are in such a dire financial situation, why our infrastructure is failing and why nothing we are likely to do will make the problem better.

The St. Croix bridge is a very expensive project. It is projected to cost more than the estimate for fixing ALL of the 1,149 structurally deficient bridges in Minnesota.

Without knowing the numbers, it would be fair to assume that the St. Croix bridge is really critical in terms of traffic volume. Not so. The bridge is projected to carry 16,000 vehicles per day. For comparision, Minnesota’s 1,149 structurally deficient bridges carry a combined 2.4 million vehicles per day.

This seems insane, and it is. Why would a state full of rational people spend $670 million on one bridge to carry 16,000 cars when we already have 1,149 bridges carrying over 2.4 million cars that are in a state of critical disrepair? Why would we not spend the money first on maintaining the bridges that we have? What business do we have adding more bridges to the inventory when we do not have the resources to maintain our existing ones?

Stillwater Bridge forum on 9/9

The Sensible Bridge Coalition State and Local Policy Program and the Citizens League are sponsoring a forum hosted by Jim Oberstar to discuss the various plans.

The Stillwater Bridge: What are the Issues?

A forum hosted by Jim Oberstar

Friday, September 9
1:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Cowles Auditorium
Humphrey Center
301 19th Avenue S.
Minneapolis, MN 55455

For over 20 years, the replacement of the Stillwater Lift Bridge connecting Wisconsin and Minnesota over the St. Croix River has been a contentious issue. Federal, state, and local agencies and policy leaders have weighed in on whether and how the historic lift bridge should be replaced to accommodate current and future traffic demand.

Jim Oberstar, former congressman and chair of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, will host a forum to discuss issues surrounding the proposed Stillwater Bridge crossing the St. Croix River.  A panel of representatives from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, National Park Service, local interests, and environmental perspectives will discuss current plans for replacing the bridge and the public policy and funding issues surrounding these plans. The forum will include a participant discussion led by Oberstar.

There is no cost to attend this event, but online registration is requested. For more information or to register, please visit the event web page.

This event is sponsored by the State and Local Policy Program at the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, with the Citizens League.

On the proposed Stillwater bridge (part 5)

Minnpost interviewed Representative Betty McCollum (whose district does not include the Stillwater bridge).  She has strong feelings about the proposed bridge.

MinnPost: You’ve long been against the plans for a big freeway-style bridge plans south of Stillwater. Is cost your major concern?

Rep. Betty McCollum: Cost should be every Minnesota taxpayer’s concern. Did you know the proposed St. Croix mega-bridge would be the most expensive bridge ever built in Minnesota? This project will cost $700 million and serve 18,000 vehicles the day it opens. Compare that to the $390 million price tag for building BOTH the new Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis and the Lafayette Bridge under construction in downtown St. Paul. The I-35W and Lafayette bridges are used by nearly 300,000 Minnesotans every day.

Based on the facts, the mega-bridge fails every common-sense test of taxpayer value. The mega-bridge wastes taxpayer money, especially when smaller, less-expensive options are available. Stillwater needs and deserves a new bridge, but a $700 million mega-bridge only six miles from the I-94 crossing is both excessive and irresponsible.

MinnPost: How about the environmental concerns?

McCollum: The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is the law of the land. It should be respected, not tampered with, as is being proposed in both the House and Senate legislation. I believe the Stillwater Lift Bridge can be replaced in a way that’s compatible with the letter and spirit of the law. The St. Croix is the only river in Minnesota protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The current design has been litigated and delayed for years and years because it violates the law.

Beyond Minnesota, the mega-bridge sets a new, dangerously low standard that would threaten every mile of every protected river in the national Wild and Scenic River system.

MinnPost: You’ve said that a new bridge would benefit Wisconsin more than Minnesota. How does that work?

McCollum: The estimates I’ve seen show 75 percent of the bridge traffic would be from Wisconsin, while Minnesota taxpayers pay the majority of the costs.

MinnPost: Would a new bridge feed urban sprawl, too?

McCollum: The proposed four-lane, freeway-style mega-bridge is designed to accelerate urban sprawl. But growth at the edges of the metro has come to a screeching halt because of the housing slump and high gas prices. So the bridge is not only poor urban planning, but it’s also out of sync with today’s economic realities. A smaller, appropriately scaled bridge can meet the transportation needs of both Minnesota and Wisconsin residents, regardless of population growth in St. Croix County.

LEED ND for regional planning at Twin Cities Research Group

Net Density has been on a little bit of a hiatus lately, mostly because of the deluge of summer-time activities.  In Minnesota, we have to take advantage of the weather while we can.  No one is indoors reading planning blogs, right?

Well, if you aren’t out riding your bike or drinking beer on a dock somewhere and you need some planning wonk, you can see me presenting on LEED ND for Regional Planning at the Twin Cities Research Group next Wednesday, June 8th.

TCRG Brown Bag Speaker Series:

Wednesday, June 8, Noon to 1:00 p.m.

Topic: Location Efficiency in the Twin Cities: Using LEED-ND for Regional Planning

How can our region accommodate the expected addition of a million people between now and 2030 while protecting critical natural systems, minimizing greenhouse gas emissions, using infrastructure efficiently and building vibrant and economically competitive communities? This presentation demonstrates that the principles of LEED-ND (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design for Neighborhood Development rating system) can be applied to develop more effective regional planning and growth management policies. GIS analysis was used to show what areas of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul region are eligible for LEED-ND based on location requirements and existing built form.

Featured Speaker: Brendon Slotterback, AICP, LEED AP, is a Sustainability Program Coordinator at City of Minneapolis

Where: Wilder Foundation, Room 2610, 451 Lexington Parkway (at University Ave), Saint Paul, MN 55114

Map with the meeting’s location is at www.TwinCitiesResearch.org

Event is FREE.  Wilder’s parking ramp is FREE.  Bring your own brown-bag lunch.

As always, we will have an open discussion with the presenter at the end of the hour. Join us to participate with your ideas, questions, and suggestions.