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.

My comments on the Statewide Multimodal Transportation Plan

The Minnesota Department of Transportation wants your comments on their new Statewide Multimodal Transportation Plan.  In general, I found many of the strategies overly ambiguous, at least when compared with the old plan.  But they score points for including context-sensitive design and land use-transportation connection references.

Most of my comments deal with the almost total absence of discussion in the document of climate change, transportation system’s contribution to it, or potential solutions.  Here are my comments:

  1. Page 9 – The plan inaccurately states that the Next Generation Energy Act calls for a 25% reduction in GHG emissions by 2025.  The Act calls for a 30% reduction by 2025.  It also calls for an 80 reduction by 2050.  The plan should note this last goal, since by 2032 (the time horizon of this plan) we’ll be well on our way there.
  2. Given that these goals are adopted state law, I think the plan should spell out transportation’s contribution to the problem (24% in 2005 according to the State’s inventory).
  3. These contributions and the adopted state law should also be referenced in Chapter 3, which identifies the policy framework that impacts transportation planning.
  4. Given these impacts and adopted targets, I find chapter 4 almost totally lacking in any reference to MNDOT’s approach to meeting these targets.  The words “greenhouse gas emissions” do not even appear in this chapter.  Approaches to mitigating emissions from the transportation sector are many, but basically boil down to: 1) reducing VMT, 2) switching to more efficient modes (transit, bicycle) and/or 3) switching fuels (The Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group’s Final Report includes a robust set of transportation-related recommendations).  I understand that this is a high-level policy document, but failing to address this issue at this stage is a very significant oversight in my opinion.  In addition, this document actually appears to be a step backwards from the previously adopted Statewide Transportation Plan, which specifically references the emissions reduction goals adopted by the State, pledges that MNDOT will advance these goals, and identifies strategies it will pursue in accordance.
  5. I appreciate the plan’s focus on “System Security”.  However, all the strategies listed here (page 79) address responses to “emergency events”.  I recommend another strategy be added to begin assessing potential risks MNDOT’s systems may face in the next 20 years.  The Upper Midwest has seen a 31 percent increase in “intense” rainfalls in the last 50 years.  A focus on designing our systems differently, rather than reacting to “emergencies” will likely be much more cost-effective in the long run.
  6. The first strategy on page 72 seems to imply the application of cost-benefit analysis to new projects.  While this is a positive step, I think the plan should describe how MNDOT will begin to identify all those “costs” and “benefits” and apply them in a rigorous way.
  7. The section on “Transportation in Context” starting on page 78 is very welcome, especially reference to the importance of the connection between transportation and land use decisions.
  8. While the plan references MNDOT’s performance measures, no measures are identified for the multimodal plan as a whole, or for specific strategies identified within it.  The previous version of the system plan included performance measures to track progress and I would suggest that MNDOT continue this approach.

Minnesota GO: 50-year trends presentation

MN/DOT is conducting a process, which they’re calling Minnesota GO, to develop a 50-year vision for all types of transportation in the state .  I was asked to present in April at an advisory group meeting, and I talked about 50-year trends from a planner’s perspective.

The advisory group video page has some other great presentations from folks who more accurately fit the title of “expert” like Michael Noble on energy and Michael Huber on health.  The video interview page also has some good ones, including David Levinson and Frank Douma.  While you’re at the site, don’t forget to put in your two cents.

New Year News – Trains, Plans, and Automobiles (miles traveled)

What with the holidays and all, Net Density has been on a bit of a hiatus.  Many pieces of news dropped while I was enjoying some relaxation, and in order to catch up I simply don’t have time to give them all the detail they deserve.  So, instead of skipping them altogether, I’ll try to cover them all, giving a few of my editorial comments for each.

A draft of the Minneapolis North Loop Small Area Plan was completed and put out for public comment, with a twist.  You can edit the document directly using a wiki, which the city and the neighborhood hope will encourage more participation.  Put me in the skeptical camp. Wikis work best when with a small audience who is very knowledgeable about the topic, or a really large audience (see Wikipedia) where the size of the audience enables content to be vetted and inaccurate information to be weeded out.  The North Loop plan wiki may see a small audience, which will mean little peer review, and they will also likely be unaware of the requirements for plan content.

TransForm, a transportation policy advocacy group from the Bay area, has released its GreenTRIP rating system to fill the gaps in LEED ND and rank developments based on their ability to reduce VMT.  I say hoorah for the premise, we need to tackle VMT to address climate change and other issues, but do we need another rating system?  How about some regulation?

Saint Paul adopted a requirement that all new buildings projects which receive $200,000 or more in city funding must meet the standards of one of seven ratings systems such as LEED. Projects must meet Minnesota Sustainble Buildings 2030 energy standards.  Saint Paul is a model.  Any development that receives public dollars should at least meet these basic energy requirements when the payoffs (and paybacks) are so obvious and available.

Last, but certainly not least, MNDOT released its statewide Passenger and Freight Rail Plan.  The plan lays out near and long-term corridor priorities and shockingly (or maybe not shockingly) does not clearly pick the river route as a winner for high-speed rail to Chicago.  The alignment saga will continue, but if MNDOT’s cost-effectiveness figures are correct, building a link to Chicago makes good sense (and not just because of the lack of full-body scanners).

Welcome to 2010!  I hope your best laid plans all reach the implementation stage this year!