Washington Avenue Traffic Projections

Hennepin County is preparing to reconstruct a portion of Washington Avenue between Hennepin Avenue and 5th Avenue South.  There has been much discussion of this project, in part because the reconstructed road may or may not include some sort of bike facilities.

Today I got an email about an upcoming public meeting for the project, and I noticed the project webpage includes a Traffic Operation Analysis with some traffic projections through 2035.  Hennepin County is projecting a 0.5% annual growth in traffic volumes between 2011 and 2035.

Hennepin County provided traffic volume forecasting information for the Washington
Avenue study area. Several considerations included in the traffic forecasts are:
Minneapolis overall expects to add 36,000 residents and 30,000 employees over
the next 20 years.

  • Closure of Washington Avenue through the U of M, east of the Mississippi River.
  • Construction of the new 4th Street S on-ramp connection to northbound 35W.
  • Reconfiguration of the interchange at Washington Avenue SE/Cedar Avenue.
  • Construction of the Central Corridor LRT line.
  • The impact of continued development in the downtown area including
  • townhomes/condos, office space and retail businesses.

Given the above considerations and through a review of past studies completed within the project area, Hennepin County recommends that the traffic forecasts be based on applying a 0.5 percent per year growth rate (13 percent increase by 2035) to the existing traffic volumes, then adjusting Washington Avenue, 3rd Street S and 4th Street S traffic volumes to account for circulation changes with the future 4th Street S on-ramp connection to northbound 35W.

I don’t feel qualified to speak about hyper-local traffic patterns based on certain street closures and circulation patterns.  That’s traffic engineer stuff.  But here are a few things (and charts) to consider:

  • According to Mark Filipi, who works on regional traffic modeling for the Metropolitan Council, the regional traffic model (based on old comp plan data) projects 0.3% annual growth in total Minneapolis VMT through 2025.  This is lower than 0.5%.
  • Total Minneapolis VMT has basically been falling since 2002, with non-interstate VMT fluctuating around flat growth (all VMT figures from MNDOT).Minneapolis VMT
  • Minnesota total VMT per capita has been falling steadily since 2004 at over half a percent each year, and total VMT has been falling since 2007.  Minnesota VMT and VMT per capita
  • According to the Minneapolis Traffic Count Management System, two of the three traffic count locations on Washington Avenue in the study area show a drop in traffic from their peaks in the late 90′s/early 00′s.  The third shows flat volumes.Washington Traffic Counts Between 3rd Ave & 4th Ave

Does all this mean that 0.5% annual growth rate on Washington Avenue is incorrect?  I’m not sure.  Minneapolis does plan to grow a lot of downtown jobs and housing.  On the other hand, per capita VMT trends have been falling not just in Minnesota, but across the country and world.  In addition, Minneapolis policy makers have stated their goals to shift modes.  It’s troublesome to me that in the “considerations” that Hennepin County used in their traffic forecasts, they didn’t include plans for that mode shift the same way they include plans for development.

Given the severe lack of detail on how the 0.5% growth figure was developed, I don’t think the community should accept any design predicated on that figure without some additional explanation, especially if the capacity needed to accomodate that growth is given as a reason to reject elements that will make this street a livable, vibrant and valuable place, namely, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.

Cross-posted at streets.mn


Everybody knows that the LRT alignment that would go through the second most dense area of the Twin Cities metro would have fewer trips than one that goes through a railroad trench and parkland, but few have dared to ask why.  Come with me on a exploration of the wild world of transportation modeling.

If you dig deep in the Southwest Transitway DEIS, like a stubborn prospector, you can sometimes find real gold.  And by gold, I mean stinky logic.  Deep in Appendix H, “Supporting Technical Reports and Memoranda Part 1″ is Table 1 in the Transit Effects Appendix (on page 274, to be exact).  Table 1 summarizes the daily LRT boardings by segment.  These segment summaries are based on station-by-station ridership numbers found later in the Appendix.  Here is the table:

Notice anything strange?  That’s right, route 3C-1 is assumed to have zero riders continuing their trip from the Central Corridor LRT.  Chapter 6 of the main DEIS document has a section on “Interlining Assumptions” which goes into more detail, but the key sentence seems to be on page 6-6 and the table following:

The LRT 3C-1 (Nicollet Mall) Alternative is not integrated with either the Hiawatha or Central Corridor LRT guideway for daily operations.

In the table that follows, under “Passenger movement/convenience” while other alternatives are labeled “One-seat ride possible”, the Nicollet alignment is branded as a “Stand alone LRT line”.  That’s right.  When you exit the train at 4th Street and Nicollet Avenue, you step off into an abyss.  You’ve just ridden a stand-alone LRT line to THE END OF THE LINE.  Don’t even try to transfer.

Of course, there are legitimate operational concerns about tracks not aligning and trains not being able to continue on for use on another line.  But to assume that ALL travelers coming from the Central Corridor, when confronted with the idea of a *gasp* transfer literally hundreds of feet away would abandon all hope and just drive a car the whole way (or take a slower bus), seems terribly ridiculous to me.  The ridership projections also assume that the 3C-2 line, which does interline, actually has fewer Central Corridor riders than 3A, because you know, those few extra minutes.  It’s not like there are any attractive destinations along Nicollet and in Uptown.  I’m pretty sure no one from the U of M goes to Uptown for anything.  They’re all, “out of my way mister, I’m headed for Eden Prairie!”

If you add back in those 5,300 Central Corridor travelers to 3C-1, you get 29,850 daily boardings, or the highest of the all the alignments.

LRT will reduce development potential on Nicollet, says SW Transitway DEIS

From the Southwest Transitway Draft EIS (page 5-18) in regard to the Nicollet/11th & 12th street alignments and their consistency with land use plans:

The area along Segment C-1 is already developed as TOD due to high frequency transit service. Implementation of LRT and the accompanying reduction in bus service may reduce TOD development potential which is inconsistent with regional and local plans.

So reduced bus service, even with the addition of LRT, means less development potential. Nobody tell the Met Council.  Here is what the Central Corridor EIS has to say about TOD near LRT stations:

Experience across the country has shown, that implementation of fixed guideway transit can catalyze economic development activities at station locations.


According to a report cited by the Native American Community Development Institute, Quick Facts Supporting the Development of an American Indian Cultural and Economic Corridor, property values along the Hiawatha LRT Corridor are increasing 22 percent more than property values overall across the City of Minneapolis. The report went on to say that by 2020 more than 19 million square feet of new commercial space and up to 68,000 new jobs would be attracted to the Hiawatha LRT Corridor.

It seems to me future political leaders could regret this document stating that new rail transit infrastructure reduces development potential.  Just saying.  So is LRT on Nicollet inconsistent with the Access Minneapolis plan, like the DEIS says?  Not according to, you know, the actual plan document.


A sharp-eyed reader points me to the Transitway Impacts Research Program, sponsored by Hennepin County, which features all kinds of interesting academic research on the effects light rail has on property values, access to jobs, and perception of transit.

$70 million needed for freight rail interchange not accounted for in Southwest LRT alternatives evaluation

MNDOT says that in order to accommodate the proposed alignment of the Southwest LRT line in the Kenilworth corridor, which currently includes a freight rail line, a $70 million rail interchange would need to be constructed in Saint Louis Park to reroute freight trains.  From the Strib:

The new [freight] connection is under study because the Kenilworth corridor is part of the route selected for the proposed southwest light-rail line between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie.

Hennepin County, which owns the Kenilworth corridor, says pinch points along the route — between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles — do not leave space for both freight and light rail. The county has planned the light-rail line assuming the freight tracks would be moved.

The County may have planned the line this way, but it didn’t include these costs in the capital cost estimates for the 3A route.  This is from the Locally Preferred Alternative Evaluation Documents, Technical Memo #7A – Capital Costs:

Freight Rail Modifications – Modifications to freight rail operations were not separately quantified in the LRT alternative cost estimates. The relocation of TC&W near Louisiana Avenue is not considered a cost of any LRT alternative in this project. Minor shoofly alignments associated with bridge construction are included in the cost of the bridge in this estimate.

I assume this means that none of these costs made it into the Draft EIS which is under review by the Federal Transit Administration.

Train in the Woods

The Minneapolis Station Area Strategic Planning Document for the Southwest Transitway is a pretty good piece of analysis.  It lays out the existing conditions at each of the five station locations, including barriers to pedestrian access and other details of urban form important to transit-oriented development.  It provides what seem to be realistic recommendations for opening-day improvements, as well as hypothetical build-out scenarios for transit-oriented development around the stations.

While I disagree with some of the specific design elements (low-density, over-parked development at Royalston, bike trail intersecting with pedestrian realm at Van White), I realize those details are all likely far from finalized, and overall I think the document is a great jumping-off point to decide where public investment is needed, how regulation might need to change, and what questions still need answering.  It provides details where there used to be few, and that moves the line one step closer to successful implementation.

What the plan illustrates that frustrates me so much, is how inappropriate the routing decision for the Southwest LRT line through Minneapolis really is.

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Could new FTA “livability” funding rules change Southwest LRT route?

The two alignment choices in Minneapolis

The big news this week is that the planned Central Corridor LRT line will get three new stations between Minneapolis and Saint Paul, and the reason seems to be the new FTA rules which relax the sole focus on cost-effectiveness from travel time savings to include broader goals of “livability“.  With the three new stations, the project would not have met a “medium” rating for cost-effectiveness, and therefore would not likely not have been funded by the FTA under the old rules.

What implication might this have for the planned Southwest LRT line and its contested route?  It’s hard to say, but it certainly seems like the alternative routes should be re-assessed under the new formula before telling the feds that 3A is the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA).  More below the break.

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Southwest Transitway Open House – Why I’m Still For 3C

Basically a bus.

Basically a bus.

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.

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The Transport Politic sums it all up

Yonah Freemark at the Transport Politic has written an indispensable summary of the Southwest LRT routing alternatives. This is the post I wish I had written, plus his maps are prettier than mine!  His take on the FTA ridership accounting rules is especially interesting.

If you haven’t read it, go there now and arm yourself with talking points before you hit one of the open houses.

Where are the transit riders in Southwest?

Where are the transit riders in southwest Minneapolis?

Where are the transit riders in southwest Minneapolis?

The very first Southwest Transitway open house happened tonight, but hopefully some of you intrigued transit nuts will come home and want even MORE data to think about.  Based on comments from one of my previous posts, I realized I hadn’t done any analysis of where people are riding transit.

Thanks to the amazing Data Finder, you can see where transit trips are happening by bus stop.  To make this map, I summed all the weekday trips from bus stops within 1/4 mile of each planned LRT station.  Station areas are labeled with their totals.  As you would expect, downtown stations show the most trips, with Uptown and 28th Street next.  The 3A alignment shows very few trips.  The Met Council data for Van White shows a stop, but no routes and no trips are assigned to it.

I’ll be attending Thursday’s open house in Minneapolis and I’m excited.  It’s great to be on receiving end of a public meeting once in a while.  The gossip I’ve heard is that 3A and 3C ridership would be the same, which is something I would like explained in detail.  Anybody out there go to Hopkins tonight and have any post-meeting thoughts?

Land Use Patterns and the Southwest Transitway Alignments (mapping Part II)


In my first post on the two potential Southwest Transitway alignments, I discussed the density of population, employment and transit dependent populations along each route.  In this post, we’ll explore land use patterns and the mixing of uses along each route and near the stations.  Click through for more.

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