The Transportationist tells me that MnDOT is embarking on a 20-year State Highway Investment planning process (oddly called MNSHIP) and they have one of the better online engagement/feedback collection websites I’ve seen.

The tool lets you choose priorities and then view scenarios or approaches and tells you how each impacts your priorities.  Want better Twin Cities mobility? Pavement and bridge condition decline.  Want better pavement?  Traveler safety might have to lag.  It’s dynamic and displays trade-offs clearly.

Of course, all the approaches and impacts are based on the assumption that we don’t really invest more than we are now on transportation in the future, an assumption we should probably discuss if we’re looking 20 years out.

Updating peak travel

Chart - MN VMT 2011

Chuck Marohn has a new post at lamenting the long-term inaccuracy of modeling and projections – in this case, traffic projections.  Without commenting on his critique (ok, maybe a little: I think projections can be useful in many circumstances, especially when paired with scenarios), I wanted to update my old peak travel post from 2011.

The peak of auto travel in Minnesota is still 2006, with per capita travel peaking one year later.  For 2011 total auto travel continues to decline, although the decline is slowing (-0.15% versus -0.37% for 2009 to 2010).  2011 population estimates for Minnesota aren’t out yet, but I imagine the flatline trend is the same for per capita miles.  I’m told the Metropolitan Council (and MnDOT?) project growth in VMT in the 7-county metro to increase 1.5% annually through 2020.

Have we reached peak travel?  I’m not sure, but it sure is interesting to think about the reversal of an assumption (ever-growing auto travel) that’s been held for a generation or more.

Minnesota warming faster than other states

Global warming isn’t uniform (duh), and a new look at data for the continental U.S. states shows Minnesota near the front of the pack in terms of warming rate.

The states that have warmed the most – whether you look at the past 100 years or just the past 40 – include northern-tier states from Minnesota to Maine and the Southwest, particularly Arizona and New Mexico. Places that have warmed the least include southeast states, like Florida, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, along with parts of the central Midwest, like Iowa and Nebraska.

Minnesota is #9 out of 48 for 100-year warming rates, and #3 for warming rates since 1970, the time when, according to the study, “the efect of greenhouse gases began to overwhelm the other natural and human influences on climate at the global and continental scales.”

Strong Towns on climate change

Duluth Minnesota

Strong Towns, which has up until now, primarily focused on efficient use of infrastructure and fiscal sustainability of our cities, is laying out their platform on climate change.

As we all know, however, local innovation continues (accelerates?) even when national leadership is incomplete. Here are three issues that Strong Towns will address as they pursue their own strategies to deal with climate change:

Pressure on credit will continue to increase in communities viewed as particularly vulnerable to natural disaster associated with climate change. Federal and state resources in the future look to be flat, diminishing or encumbered. The costs to insure housing or commercial property deemed vulnerable to disaster are higher, and claims resulting from natural disasters can increase the premiums of all policy holders. The key finding here is that investable public and private capital – able to educate and train Americans and finance new businesses, for example – will be under greatest stress in areas hit hardest by climate events. Strong Towns need to orient toward more density and less infrastructure costs per capita, as one way of managing this stress.

Even presuming that some of the increase is due to improved measurement, the rising incidence of natural disasters means that Strong Towns must anticipate continued volatility in our weather. Public infrastructure planning needs to anticipate the likelihood of damage by natural disasters. Clustering residential and commercial development will reduce risk; it may also allow us to reduce the costs of mitigating ongoing threats. Beyond the fiscal merits of a more compact development pattern, denser places are more protectable places.

The relationship of climate change and public health is an emerging field. While much health policy is formulated at the federal and state levels, counties and cities are the main implementers of place-specific plans and care. While we don’t yet understand the prospective health effects of climate change, it’s apparent that local communities have an opportunity to play a key role. Work on that micro scale may distinguish those cities and towns that invest in addressing climate change.

This first point has been resonating strongly with me lately.  The world’s largest investors (many of the people who hold your retirement funds) and insurance companies are already seeing their businesses to be impacted by climate change.  Physically and economically resilient cities require a different approach in a changing climate, and I’m glad Strong Towns is lending their voice to this message.

On the proposed Stillwater bridge

David Levinson (The Transportationist) on the proposed Stillwater bridge to Wisconsin:

I think building a four lane bridge to replace a two lane bridge does not fully count as “preservation”, but rather as “expansion”. Given the state of the network, and the need to give priority to preservation, a four lane bridge violates that principal. As to whether a four lane bridge passes a B/C test, or better yet, a market test of whether a private firm would build it, the answer is clearly no. This four-lane bridge would not have enough demand to pay the tolls required to fund it. That should tell you something about its true necessity. The Franken article cited above suggested Wisconsin wasn’t interested in funding it. Since the majority of benefits for the bridge accrue to Wisconsin land owners, it makes no sense for Minnesota to lead on this.


Is cutting Metro LGA fair?

I rarely delve into politics here, but when the time rolls around to decide how we fund government services, it’s hard to avoid.  Right now is that time at the Minnesota Legislature, and proposals are starting to surface about how to plug the $5 billion deficit hole.  One such proposal, from the Republicans in the House, targets metro cities and counties for big cuts in Local Government Aid (LGA) while preserving it for communities in greater Minnesota.

Continue reading

Peak Travel – Minnesota Edition

The industrialized world may have reached peak (auto) travel in the early 2000’s:

A study of eight industrialized countries, including the United States, shows that seemingly inexorable trends — ever more people, more cars and more driving — came to a halt in the early years of the 21st century, well before the recent escalation in fuel prices. It could be a sign, researchers said, that the demand for travel and the demand for car ownership in those countries has reached a saturation point.

According to the study, the US peak was about 8,100 miles per car per capita. How does Minnesota compare?  According to MNDOT statistics, VMT per capita in Minnesota stopped growing in 2004, just one year after what the study defines as the national peak.  Not only has VMT per capita stopped growing, but total VMT in Minnesota has been on the decline since 2007.

Although other countries have hit “peak travel” as well, the peak is not the same.  The peak for Japan, for instance, was 2,500 miles per car per capita.  So as the authors suggest, there must be other factors (gridlock, parking, gas prices) affecting demand.  Or perhaps, as one commenter noted, there is nowhere new to go:

What’s the use of travelling anywhere when everywhere is the same? Same strip malls, big box stores, culture, etc. You get in a car, endure onerous expense, congestion, parking problems to arrive at — surprise! — the place that you left.

Bill to allow value-capture to pay for transit (with a streetcar bias)

From the Transportationist, TC Daily Planet reports that a bill before the legislature introduced by Rep. Frank Hornstein would allow cities to capture property tax value (like TIF) from locations within one half mile of a transit line to pay for improvements (stations, streetscaping, etc).  However, the bill only allows captured revenue to be used for operating costs if the transit is a streetcar.

Why the authors would limit expenditures on operating costs to streetcars is beyond me.  Why not include all fixed-route transit?  Even if there is a rail bias, why not include LRT?  Are there fears about losing tax base along Central Corridor?

Watch “Liquid Assets”, help raise awareness of Minnesota’s critical infrastructure needs

Along with BluePrint Minnesota, Minnesota APA is working to increase awareness about our State’s infrastructure needs.  They are raising funds to produce a local version of “Liquid Assets”, the trailer for which can be seen above.

The full documentary explores the history and challenges of our water infrastructure, and is a great reminder of the importance of systems we usually take for granted.  So watch the trailer, head over to BluePrint Minnesota and help out if you can.