The Metropolitan Council held a public hearing tonight on their draft Transportation Policy Plan. If you care about transit or transportation issues in the region, you should comment (you can do so through October 1). Here are four comments I have on the plan:
Our urban areas are significantly underserved by this plan. Even under the “increased revenue scenario”, we will spend $5 on transit to serve suburban commuters for every $1 we spend on transit improvements to places where transit makes economic sense (see here for my attempt at a geographic breakdown of projects). The Met Council, in the Thrive 2040 plan, has said they want to match transit service to the number of riders and intensity of land use. This plan does not do that.
The plan currently prioritizes projects like Gateway BRT (9,000 riders at $50,000 per rider) over projects like Hennepin Ave BRT (23,000 riders at $896 per rider). This is an example of how our urban areas (that are expected to grow significantly) are underrepresented in this plan.
It’s definitely not all bad. The Met Council for the first time has identified regional priorities for a bicycle network, which will give communities the ability to apply for funds to upgrade their local network if it matches the regional plan. Many of the transit projects identified are much needed improvements (Hennepin, Chicago, West Broadway), but are simply not adequately prioritized.
Over at streets.mn, I ask some questions about the Met Council’s new northeast metro water supply plan. Here is a big one:
Where is the conservation alternative? The cost and feasibility of reducing water use are not analyzed as part of the report. Building nothing and simply asking/incentivizing/requiring people to use less may be the cheapest option. According to the report, water use in 2010 was 92 gallons per person, per day in these communities. The ratio of peak day demand to average day demand ranges from 1.7:1 in Forest Lake to 5.9:1 in Lexington. The report hints that this is “mainly attributed to irrigation and outdoor water use needs”. Sprinkling lawns in other words. Many options exist for conserving (potable) water – from retrofitting toilets, sinks and showers, to using captured rainwater to irrigate, to simply paying people to remove lawns and replacing them with low-water alternatives. For the cost of the alternatives to serve all northeast communities with new water supply (~$600 million), you could pay every household over $1,400 to remove lawn, and keep paying them $40 every year after that. Without an analysis of conservation alternatives, this report seems inadequate.
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.
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.
Today at streets.mn,, I review models from other regional governments that have addressed climate change in their efforts. The Met Council could use these as models for the forthcoming ThriveMSP 2040 plan.
Over at streets.mn, I wrote a piece about the mostly unknown requirement that cities in the metro address solar access in their comprehensive plans, and how we could improve to address the purpose of the requirement.
By law, every community in the seven-county metro is supposed to adopt a comprehensive plan that includes “an element for protection and development of access to direct sunlight for solar energy systems”. This requirement dates back to 1978, when there was anoil crisis and gasoline was $1.30 per gallon (or, close to what it was in 2011inflation-adjusted). In 1979, Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House. Reagan took down the solar panels in ’86 and oil got a lot cheaperthrough the late 90′s.
The requirement remains however, even if few communities have ever done anything related to solar after they developed some language for their comprehensive plan. As we enter this season of plan updates, perhaps it’s time for another look at how solar access, land use, energy and other issues are interrelated, and what are vision is for our energy systems. Solar power is cheaper than ever, and the message is pretty clear on the need to start decarbonizing our energy system.
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.
The Legislative Auditor has released a report, Governance of Transit in the Twin Cities Region, that recommends the Metropolitan Council be restructured to include both appointed members and local elected officials serving staggered terms. According to the report, local electeds would provide accountability, while staggered terms would provide institutional knowledge and “stability in strategic vision”.
Having a combination of local elected and appointed officials would provide the Council with an effective mix of regional and local perspectives. Additionally, having local elected officials on the Council would increase its credibility and accountability with transit stakeholders in the region. Option 2 would also enable the Council to implement regional priorities and provide continuity among its membership for ongoing initiatives.
I find the report to be a little too negative about directly electing Met Council representatives, claiming that it would not “promote consideration of regional perspectives”. Of course, this only applies if all members are elected from small districts, rather than at-large. I also fail to see how local elected officials can be seen to be less parochial than at-large elected members. The report notes that the Portland Metro is composed entirely of directly elected members, and we all know how poorly they do transit governance out there.
The good news from the report:
When compared with 11 peer regions around the country, transit in the Twin Cities region performed favorably. For example, in 2008, the Twin Cities region’s transit system performed better than most of its peers on efficiency measures, including subsidy per passenger and operating costs per passenger. The Twin Cities region also compared favorably when evaluating service-use measures, such as passengers per hour and passenger miles per mile of service.
The new chair of the Metropolitan Council was sworn in last week, and her first week on the job was accompanied by a flurryofsuggestions about how to improve the Met Council and it’s policies. Commentary by Dave Van Hattum and Jim Erkel is particularly persuasive to me, calling for focusing more growth along transit corridors and maintaining a focus on building and enhancing transitways.
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.