Transit priorities

I have mixed feelings about streetcars. But if we’re going to pick on them, let’s do it for the right reasons, like the fact that they don’t have dedicated right of way.  Yesterday the Pioneer Press reported that the Met Council was presented with a report about streetcars that “questions whether the costs outweigh the gains”.

Dollars are one way to measure cost, and if we’re spending too much to get gains, that is bad. How much money do we spend on transit elsewhere to get gains?

The proposed Nicollet streetcar in Minneapolis will cost $200 million and serve 9,200 riders in 2030. Bus Rapid Transit proposed for the Gateway Corridor will cost $469 million and serve 9,300 riders in 2030.  That’s double the cost per rider.  The Met Council has already adopted its Transportation Policy Plan, which includes the build-out of Gateway in the “Current Revenue Scenario” (meaning they don’t need any new money from the legislature or others). Bottineau and Southwest LRT also come in with price tags significantly higher per rider than the Minneapolis streetcar (Southwest is more than double).

Yes, we could be choosing arterial bus improvements on Nicollet instead of streetcars. That might be good.  But we could also be prioritizing expenditures across our regional transit system – looking at projects that have the highest cost-effectiveness per rider, or that most effectively address current inequities in job or destination access.

If we were really serious about costs and benefits, we’d be building projects like Hennepin Avenue Bus Rapid Transit tomorrow, which has a cost per rider 55 times lower than Gateway Corridor.  Instead, it’s on the “Increased Revenue Scenario” list, waiting in the breadline with the other high-value bus improvement projects, for the legislature to maybe, someday, hopefully fund.

Legislative Auditor: To Improve Transit Governance, Met Council Should Have Elected And Appointed Members

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.

Creating Real Transity Improvements in Uptown Part 2: The Potential of Arterial BRT

Kansas City MAX Station. That's a nice bus stop.

Kansas City MAX Station. That's a nice bus stop.

In a previous post, I promised some insight into creating substantial transit improvements in the Uptown/LynLake areas of Minneapolis now that LRT is basically off the table.  In what is hopefully the first in a series of guest posts by different transit experts, I’ve asked a Metro Transit planner who is involved in transitway planning throughout the region to give his (or her) insight.  As our guest will reiterate, the opinions seen here are personal (although professionally informed) and do not represent the opinions of Metro Transit.

As a reminder, I’ve asked our guest to limit the response to improvements that could really be implemented, and are not wildly expensive or politically infeasible. And, of course, ideally these improvements should have the potential to significantly increase ridership and make the overall transit experience in the area better.

First I’ll thank Brendon for the opportunity to contribute to this excellent blog. Net Density does a great job offering posts that are understandable and approachable, but also of sound technical merit and well-reasoned professional planning. I will aspire to match these qualities in my post.

Second, I will note that the information contained in this post is meant only to advance the transportation planning professional discourse. It is my own work, and does not necessarily reflect the policies of my employer.


Many residents of Minneapolis neighborhoods, and those in the planning community were frustrated by the HCRRA decision to pursue Southwest LRT on route 3A, via Kenilworth corridor. Given the current greater density and increased transit usage along Lake Street, Hennepin, and Nicollet, many came away with a desire for rapid, high quality transit improvements. This post does not revisit the many, justified reasons for 3A. Instead, it focuses on the many, justified reasons for transit improvements in several additional corridors in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

High quality improvements are warranted in south Minneapolis. In this post, I will respond to Brendon’s request to detail planned improvements. I’ll also point to other regions’ experiences with realistic, implementable investments in transit speed and quality.

Continue reading

Creating Real Transit Improvements in Uptown: Part 1

The future? photo by flickr user: Mulad

The future? photo by flickr user: Mulad

The routing decision for the Southwest LRT is basically done.  I’ve previously bemoaned what seemed like the inevitable choice of Route 3A by the County because I (and others) had unanswered questions about ridership and the long-term logic of bypassing Uptown.  Critics of 3C suggested that a more appropriate transit solution for Uptown would be a Greenway streetcar, and that transit advocates in Uptown should really wait their turn for what was surely a better alternative.  However, this argument doesn’t make sense, because the major destinations LRT would connect are the U of M and Downtown with Uptown, not Hiawatha Avenue with Uptown.

After some disparaging for the future, I decided that I should try to be positive and proactive, rather than gloomy and snide.  So Uptown and south Minneapolis are not going to benefit from the new LRT line.  So what would it take to get substantial improvements to the transit system in the Hennepin/Lyndale/Nicollet corridors?  Is there a cost-effective way to overcome, or at least minimize, the limitations now faced by the bus system (traffic congestion, inclement weather and slow fare collection)?  Can we create a bus corridor that would rival LRT for speed and desirability?

I have some ideas, but I don’t pretend to be an expert.  So, in a Net Density first, I’ll be asking a few very knowledgeable (and gracious) individuals to describe how they would improve the existing system in the Uptown/LynLake area.  I will ask that they restrain themselves to improvements that could really be implemented, and are not wildly expensive (no subways). And, of course these improvements should have the potential to significantly increase ridership and make the overall transit experience in the area better.

The first guest post comes from a Metro Transit planner who has been involved in transitway planning throughout the region.  From the conversations we’ve had so far, his post promises to be intriguing and give clear strategies for greater ridership and better service.  He’ll also have some good real world examples of how improvements he is suggesting have been implemented in other cities.  Stay tuned.

Train Brian iPhone app tells you when the next Hiawatha train is coming


Even though the Twin Cities only has one LRT line, it already has an iPhone app to tell you where the nearest station is and when the next train is coming.  Train Brain was developed by Andy Atkinson and sells for $1.99 on iTunes store.  Minnpost has a write up on the application and the summary of an interview with Andy.  I concur with the author, Metro Transit should buy this application, or maybe better, hire Andy to build a full system app.

To be fair, Metro Transit has it’s own trip planning tool, NexTrip, that is accessible with an iPhone or other mobile device.  But it is not location- or time-aware.  The first thing you have to do is scroll through hundreds of routes to find yours, not easy or quick on a mobile device.