Tag Archives: transit

Creating a low-carbon transportation system for MSP: Part One, Baselining

My latest at streets.mn does the carbon accounting which should have been part of the Draft 2040 Transportation Policy Plan developed by the Met Council.

Thrive MSP 2040, the new regional plan for the 7-county metro adopted by the Metropolitan Council, includes moderately strong language about addressing climate change.  But the main implementation tool we’ve seen so far from the Council, the Draft 2040 Transportation Policy Plan, doesn’t go nearly far enough.  In fact, it doesn’t even start where it should, with a baseline of emissions.

In this and future posts, I’ll try to do what I think the Draft Transportation Policy Plan should have done – identify where we’re starting from and where we need to go in terms of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s got charts, so you’ll want to read the rest.

My comments on the Draft Transportation Policy Plan

CurrentRevenueThe 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.
RIT Curitiba

Let’s be pro-transit

My latest at streets.mn is all about positivity:

I’ll start by saying I have strong feelings about Southwest LRT. So do some people on this very blog. You probably do too. However, I won’t be contributing further to the gallons of spilled real and virtual ink or weeks of public testimony.  I’d like to talk about how we can set the stage for some other projects that could be really beneficial for transit-dependent and transit-interested communities. Nothing in this post should be interpreted as diminishing the importance of that LRT project, the upcoming decisions that will determine it’s fate/depth of its tunnel, or the correctness of any particular opinion about it.  But I have this urge to start some positive conversations about other projects that need some support.  Weird, right?

“significant risks of derailment at both ends”

Twin Cities Business via Minnpost, has an excruciatingly detailed look at the history of the TC&W railroad and the problems facing potential relocation of said railroad for the SW LRT project.

The goal is that TC&W head west as it does now out of downtown Minneapolis on BNSF rails, but rather than turning southwest into Kenilworth, it would continue past Highway 100 to join the MN&S, heading south through St. Louis Park to rejoin its current route near Louisiana Avenue and Highway 7.

Problem is, the MN&S, which in 1993 looked to TC&W like a long-term solution for a modest amount of additional spending, is now perceived as unworkable by the railroad. The cost of remaking it to fit TC&W’s operations has ballooned from an optimistic $1 million to $70 million or more, and the railroad and others say it presents engineering challenges that may not be solvable within the budgets of the SWLRT project.

In December, the railroad filed its most emphatic objections yet to the SWLRT reroute. Wegner says the MN&S reroute is “a design we intuitively know is bad.” It has “significant risks of derailment” at both endpoints.

In a nutshell, the MN&S, and the proposed connections to it, are engineered for the small CP freight trains that currently use it, not the 100-car trains TC&W runs. The railroad is wary of the undulating MN&S grades, curvature, and proximity to St. Louis Park High School for their potential to insert costly inefficiencies into its operations.

“We have no issue with Southwest Light Rail,” insists Wegner. “But we need to get to St. Paul with the same cost structure as today.”

St. Louis Park officials, concerned about the impacts of the reroute, concur with TC&W. “A lot of the reroute is unfeasible,” says Mayor Jeff Jacobs. He maintains that as currently drawn, the reroute will require expensive noise and vibration mitigation, and the likely removal of 30 to 40 homes. But he says a realistic plan that also functions for 100-car freights will require more expense than the $70 million or so estimated for it, plus removal of additional buildings. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see [the reroute] get to $100 million or above.”

The cost of the freight rail reroute was never included in the evaluation of alternative alignments for the SW LRT project.

Department of Accessibility

At streets.mn, Andrew Owen has a fascinating look at the work he has done with David Levinson on measuring accessibility in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area.  I’ll let Andrew define accessibility:

Accessibility measures the ease of reaching valued destinations.

Think about the last trip you made. You were in place A, you wanted to be in place B, and you got there by paying some sort of cost. There are several components at work here.

First, lets look at your reason for wanted to be in place B. That’s the whole reason the trip took place! You didn’t just want to move around for a bit, and then come back to A. (People do that sometimes, but we don’t consider it travel — we call it things like recreationexercise, or NASCAR.) No, you had a reason for traveling to place B. That reason, from a transportation economics perspective, is the value that place B holds for you.

Now that we’ve established that place B has some value to you, it would be great if you could get there whenever you want, for free. But you can’t. Even if you frugally decide to walk from A to B instead of drive, fly, take the bus, or ride a horse, you cannot escape spending a precious resource: your time. The total amount of resources you spend in getting to B, whether they are time, money, oats (for your horse), or some combination, is thecost you pay to reach place B. To generalize just a little bit more, we can say that when the cost of getting to B is low, then B is easy to reach.

That, in a nutshell, is accessibility. It combines the value that we get from travel with the cost of making the trip. I love accessibility because it neatly encapsulates what I consider to be the fundamental purpose of transportation systems: providing ways for people to get to places they want to reach, at costs they are willing to pay.

Andrew then goes on to discuss the results of a project they completed for MN-DOT on measuring “cumulative opportunities accessibility”, or how many things can be reached within a given cost (time) threshold by car and transit.   You should read the whole post to see Andrew’s many interesting conclusions.

After reading it, a few things jumped out at me:

Owning a car gives you an overwhelming advantage in accessing jobs in this metro.  In a huge swath of the metro, making up all but the most outlying areas, you can access at least 100,000 jobs in 20 minutes by car.  A very large area, incorporating both core cities and most first-ring suburbs, can access over 500,000 jobs and up to 2.2 million.  By contrast, transit accessibility to jobs maxes out at 100k – 250k jobs, and this is if you live very near downtown Minneapolis.  If you live in parts of North and South Minneapolis and use transit, you have the same access to jobs in 20 minutes as someone with a car living in southern Dakota County (like in a corn field).  Or, based on the map shown below, from parts of Minneapolis, you can only reach 10-20% of the number of jobs reachable by car.

Ratio of jobs accessible by transit to jobs accessible by car

Is our transportation/land use system is failing those that can least afford a car?  I’d say that judgment wouldn’t be a stretch looking at these maps.  It will be interesting to see what MNDOT does with this information.

There will be a temptation to interpret this metric as only about transportation.  It’s actually about destination density AND transportation system performance.  I posted this idea in the comments and Andrew had a good response:

That’s a great point, and I didn’t talk much about the land use side of things in this post.

I feel like the popular conception often sees land use as more static than transportation; it is the background canvas upon which the dynamic lines of transportation are drawn. Discussion of expensive, exciting transportation systems tends to magnify this effect.

But in reality land use is far more dynamic! Transportation systems change in big fits and starts, but land use is constantly evolving in countless small ways. Even if we completely halted new investments in transportation, we could still make huge changes in accessibility through the policies we choose to guide land use development.

MNDOT mostly builds roads, so I assume they’ll use this report to think about where and how they should build more roads.  But if your goal is increasing accessibility, is it cheaper to lay blacktop or increase jobs/housing density?  What are the environmental implications of choosing each of those options?  Why do we have one half of the equation that’s totally socialized (road & transit building) and one that is totally privatized (with obvious regulation – land use controls/building construction)?

What if instead of a Department of Transportation we had a Department of Accessibility and it’s mission was to improve accessibility while meeting environmental standards, building resilient systems, and being economically viable?  I bet it would look at lot different than our current DOTs (hint: it would do a lot more with land use).

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s dedicated ROW!

Over at streets.mn, I have a post about everyone’s favorite fictional urban transit revolution, the urban gondola (or aerial tram).

The case history on US urban gondolas doesn’t look good cost-wise, but the travel time savings look great.  The Portland Aerial Tram, which could also be called an urban gondola (if you consider low-slung Portland urban), cost $57 million, or roughly $90 million per mile, if I calculated the hypotenuse correctly.  The Portland Aerial Tram travels at a top speed of 22 mph, which could make an Uptown Transit Station to Hennepin-8th Street trip in 6.5 minutes.  That’s about one-third the posted travel time for the #6 bus, and less than half the travel time of the limited-stop #12.  6 minutes is even less than half the travel time identified by Metro Transit for an upgraded arterial BRT on Hennepin.

20LRTplan

LRT plans, past and present

The Transportationist posts this 1988 LRT plan developed for Hennepin County.  Obviously, the SW LRT route has moved and the “south” alignment has become freeway BRT.  Also note the dotted line, which I assume means tunnel.

In this plan, Minneapolis, especially the most dense parts, is well served by high-quality transit, with the exception of North.  In real life, if Bottineau goes with the LPA, 3/5ths of the regions high-quality, “fixed” guideway transit improvements won’t really serve Minneapolis at all (I’m including freeway BRT in the count of 5 since it’s been “converted” from the planned LRT. I’m also not counting Northstar).