Tagged regional planning

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My comments on the Draft Transportation Policy Plan

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. The Transportation Policy Plan, as an implementation plan of Thrive 2040, should identify how our transportation system will be planned to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (another goal of Thrive). While the plan mentions “reducing vehicle trips”, there is no analysis in the plan of whether the scenarios presented will increase or decrease emissions from our regional transportation system. We can’t wait another 10 years for the next update of the regional plan to take significant action on climate change.
  4. 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.

Questions about the northeast water supply plan

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.

Read on.

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.

Infographics

A reader shares this infographic from carinsurance.org, which decries “America’s crumbling infrastructure“.

Ryan O’Connor shares this infographic from Strong Towns on the challenges facing Memphis (and the potential solutions).  This may be one of the more straightforward explanations of Strong Towns solutions I’ve seen to date.

Incidentally, the very first comment on the carinsurance.org infographic is from Chuck Marohn, Strong Towns founder.

The lack of context in this bit of propaganda is disappointing. It is formatted to insinuate that there is this huge problem with maintenance (there is) and that the problem is not enough money (it isn’t). If you start to break out these numbers you see that every American family of four has the responsibility to pay to maintain 176 feet of pipe ($26,400), 5 feet of highway ($5,700), 0.6% of a bridge ($20,000). $2.2 trillion is $29,000 for a family of four OVER THE NEXT FIVE YEARS. Maybe….just maybe….we’re not making very productive use out of everything that has been built up to this point and, if so, maybe….just maybe….a more viable economic solution would be to start. Come on CarInsurance.org – you can do much better than simply repeating ASCE’s worn out propaganda.

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.

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.

On the proposed Stillwater bridge (part 3)

Stillwater Bridge "Low-Slow" Alternative Drawing

Writing for Minnpost, Steve Berg points out that most politicians seem to view the Stillwater bridge as a freeway-style-bridge versus no freeway-style-bridge proposition, even though there may be another alternative.

What might this new bridge look like?

As I wrote here on March 4, a new bridge should relieve Stillwater’s summertime traffic problems without inducing an excessive amount of sprawl development on the Wisconsin side of the river. Obviously, its design should not intrude on the historic and natural quality of the valley.

That means a so-called “low, slow” solution (PDF) — a bridge that wouldn’t span the river from bluff top to bluff top but drop down to a level more in scale with the existing Lift Bridge. Speeds (and noise) should be kept to a minimum. Engineers might consider a three-lane design that would allow east-west flexibility depending on traffic flow. The bridge should be dynamically tolled as a way to fairly shift costs to users and to help manage traffic buildup in the area.

The park service, in rejecting the freeway-style bridge, seemed almost to invite such a design while rejecting outright the freeway-style bridge that MnDOT proposed.

Note that Berg calls for “dynamic tolling” to shift the cost to users, manage traffic and assumedly reduce sprawl (not subsidize low-density development in Wisconsin).  Other expert sources say a 4-lane bridge would not have enough demand to pay the tolls required to fund it, so I assume demand from a slower, narrower span would not generate enough in tolls to pay the cost.  Perhaps this is why MNDOT has floated the idea of a $3 toll, which would only cover half of the construction cost (but would cover maintenance) of the bigger bridge.