Twin Cities

Romford Cycle Crash

Streets.MN - 59 min 56 sec ago

Here’s an interesting look at a bike lane on a busy street in Great Britain.

Published on Jun 23, 2014

The second time I rode into London in an effort to gain some fitness, rather than take the train, ended like this.

I was travelling around 22mph through Romford. Drizzly conditions so I was being cautious around bends and roundabouts. I didn’t expect this!

I just about got my hands to the brakes (it can just be seen on the frame before impact) but I had no chance of stopping.

I’m not quite sure how I wasn’t seen. I’m over 6ft and was wearing a bright blue jacket. If I was seen then it’s a very bad judgement in my speed.

After a very uncomfortable trip to the hospital in a neck brace and spinal board and various x-rays I escaped with just bruising. So I consider myself lucky.

At the time the driver was apologetic and was informed by the police that I was recording my ride and seemed to admit fault. But when it came to my insurance claim against her she disputed it. Safe to say the video has saved me a lot of hassle and 3 weeks later the cheque has already arrived from the insurance company.

My 4 week old Giant bike was written off but thanks to the guys at Cycle Store they put me one of the two they had left aside and I’m looking forward to getting back out there.

The below campaign didn’t come soon enough!

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/su…

I will say the condition of the cycle lanes are a disgrace along that road, along with many I come across. With the usual obstacles of parked cars, drivers edging out of junctions, pot holes, glass, drains – why would you cycle in a cycle lane?

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Categories: Twin Cities

The Pedway: Elevating London

Streets.MN - 5 hours 11 min ago

via BikeHub

The Pedway: Elevating London is a documentary on the post-war redevelopment in the City of London – focusing on the attempt to build an ambitious network of elevated walkways through the city. Featuring interviews with professor of town planning Michael Hebbert (UCL), architecture critic Jonathan Glancey, city planning officer Peter Wynne Rees and writer Nicholas Rudd-Jones (Pathways), the film explores why the ‘Pedway’ scheme was unsuccessful and captures the abandoned remains that, unknown to the public, still haunt the square mile.

Planned & Constructed by Chris Bevan Lee

elevatinglondon.co.uk - twitter.com/elevatinglondon

Note it cites the Twin Cities skyway system as one that works, in comparison with London.

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Categories: Twin Cities

Eight Steps To Improve Urbanism

Streets.MN - 11 hours 7 min ago

We need to stop building bad places. We don’t need to build Rome or Paris. We just need to stop building Houston.

The following eight rules apply to every major and mid-sized city with no exceptions. If your leaders don’t do these, somebody else will. And, you’ll have people asking in 10 years time why you haven’t already done them.

1. Make accessory dwelling units legal

This is the easiest way to add density without adding “density”. This won’t change your city overnight, but it’ll help lay the groundwork for improved urbanism. We need to see a rise in these types of dwellings because they add to affordable housing stock, expand housing options, add tax revenue, and are Jane Jacobs’ “eyes on the street”. Except in this case, it’s eyes on the alleyway. Read more about accessory dwelling units here.

2. Eliminate parking minimums as soon as possible

There is no bigger detriment to urban centers than parking. It adds costs to private development and drives up rents. Car storage is a terribly inefficient way to allocate land, especially in existing walkable neighborhoods. If you want to make your downtown more livable, the first policy move should be to eliminate (or, reduce if elimination is not politically feasible) all parking requirements.

If you worry about parking (and “congestion”), you might lose great local institutions to the suburbs. I’m looking at you, St. Paul.

3. Four-three conversions of stroads

Most four lane collector roads are ugly, unsafe and do a poor job of moving traffic. They are the worst of all worlds.

These stroads take up a lot of space and don’t allow for either bike lanes or on-street parking. Conversions have been well studied and the results are conclusive. They improve pedestrian and bicycle safety, calm traffic, improve emergency response and have reduced vehicle crash rates (between a low of 17 to a high of 62 percent (source)). When it comes to re-striping roads, four-three conversations are nearly always a solid bet. These are easy sells because they usually don’t effect Level of Service (by the way, which is something cities need to stop caring so much about).

4. Sell public surface parking lots for $1

Cities and towns are sitting on a gold mine of under-utilized land, specifically public open-surface parking lots. What is open surface parking getting you? The answer is very little.

This is easy: sell them to the highest bidder. Have an auction, start at $1 and sell to the highest bidder. Code the specific site to hit all the urban guidelines fitting of a form based code and require development start within 3 to 5 years. Imagine the benefit to a City like Minneapolis or St. Paul if someone put (just) mediocre mixed-use buildings on each city own surface lot.

5. Better transit, not (necessarily) more transit

Light Rail is awesome. But, it’s also expensive. Let’s start small and improve the transit that we have, precisely bus service. Adding a bus shelter is relatively cheap ($5,000 to $6,000). BRT is also great and relatively affordable. Make these moves first. They are political feasible and improve the lives of people who are currently using transit. This means, making what we have run on time and run faster.

Don’t let great be the enemy of good. Support small incremental improvements to our transit service and don’t wait for the “big and shiny” project. Because, if you’re lucky enough to get Federal funding for a new streetcar or light rail, it’ll be 25 years away  before any improvements happen (take note St. Paul). Read more about improving transit in a cost-effective way here.

6. Allow more beer/wine licenses

Retail is dying a slow death. Every sale on Amazon, Etsy, or Zappos represents one less sale at a brick-and-mortar book store, gift shop or clothing store. These, and a shift of the nature of work, will make filling retail storefronts more difficult. We need to fill frontages. It’s essentially to walkability.

Food is the rational response as it’s not easily outsourced. And, to make margins for these places, they’ll likely need to sell beer and wine. There is a changing cultural dichotomy going on. More expensive local craft beer sales and high-end cocktails are shifting the nature of traditional 60/40 (or 70/30, etc.) beer to food sale requirements. These need to change, too.

If you want to fill your empty storefronts, you’ll need to look beyond retail.

7. Eliminate one way streets

The case against one way streets is already solved. The verdict is in.

Converting streets to two-ways has many benefits. These types of streets, as opposed to one-ways, improve pedestrian and bike safety, improve vehicle navigation and overall safety, lower speeds, and improve the financial health of local businesses (source). Many cities have already converted their one way streets to two ways. Your city should too.

8. Allow the “sharing” economy to be legal

Whether the establishment likes it or not, it’s going to happen. The question is, how will you let it happen? Be smart. Be fair. But for God’s sake, don’t make it illegal (I’m looking at you Miami).

Uber and Lyft aren’t competing against taxis. They’re competing against the cost of owning a car. If these services can remove just a handful of cars (or reduce drunk driving) that should be viewed as an urban benefit. And, AirBNB isn’t competing against hotels (which can be expensive), but it more so about providing options for people to safely rent our there apartments and make extra money to off-set the costs of living in an more high-demand urban settings.

The sharing economy might be hard for many to swallow, but it needs to be legal.

Now, these eight suggestions won’t make your city a success overnight, but they are politically-feasible, small, incremental changes that you can make to help inch your city in the right direction.

Streets.mn is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

Categories: Twin Cities

Urbanist Manifesto: 8 Simple Things To Improve Your City

Thoughts on the Urban Environment - 11 hours 27 min ago

We need to stop building bad places.

We don’t need to build Rome or Paris. We just need to stop building Houston.

The following eight rules apply to every major and mid-sized American and Canadian city with no exceptions. If your leaders don’t do these, somebody else’s will. And, you’ll have people asking in 10 years time why you haven’t already done them.

1. Make Accessory Dwelling Units Legal

This is the easiest way to add density without adding “density”. This won’t change your city overnight, but it’ll help lay the groundwork for improved urbanism. We need to see a rise in these types of dwellings because they add to affordable housing stock, expand housing options, add tax revenue, and are Jane Jacob’s “eyes on the street”. Except in this case, it’s eyes on the alleyway. Read more about accessory dwelling units here.

2. Eliminate Parking Minimums As Soon As Possible

There is no bigger detriment to urban centers than parking. It adds costs to private development and drives up rents. Car storage is a terribly inefficient way to allocate land, especially in existing walkable neighborhoods. If you want to make your downtown more livable, the first policy move should be to eliminate (or, reduce if elimination is not politically feasible) all parking requirements.

If you worry about parking (and “congestion”), you might lose great local institutions to the suburbs. I’m looking at you, St. Paul. 

3. Four-Three Conversions of Stroads

Most four lane collector roads are ugly, unsafe and do a poor job of moving traffic. They are the worst of all worlds.

These stroads take up a lot of space and don’t allow for either bike lanes or on-street parking. Conversions have been well studied and the results are conclusive. They improve pedestrian and bicycle safety, calm traffic, improve emergency response and have reduced vehicle crash rates (between a low of 17 to a high of 62 percent (source)). When it comes to re-striping roads, four-three conversations are nearly always a solid bet. These are easy sells because they usually don’t effect Level of Service (by the way, which is something cities need to stop caring so much about).

4. Sell Public Surface Parking Lots for $1

Cities and towns are sitting on a gold mine of under-utilized land, specifically public open-surface parking lots. What is open surface parking getting you? The answer is very little.

This is easy: sell them to the highest bidder. Have an auction, start at $1 and sell to the highest bidder. Code the specific site to hit all the urban guidelines fitting of a form based code and require development start within 3 to 5 years. Imagine the benefit to a City like Minneapolis or St. Paul if someone put (just) mediocre mixed-use buildings on each city own surface lot.

5. Better transit, Not (Necessarily) More Transit

Light Rail is awesome. But, it’s also expensive. Let’s start small and improve the transit that we have, precisely bus service. Adding a bus shelter is relatively cheap ($5,000 to $6,000). BRT is also great and relatively affordable. Make these moves first. They are political feasible and improve the lives of people who are currently using transit. This means, making what we have run on time and run faster.

Don’t let good be the enemy of great. Support small incremental improvements to our transit service and don’t wait for the “big and shiny” project. Because, if you’re lucky enough to get Federal funding for a new streetcar or light rail, it’ll be 25 years away  before any improvements happen (take note St. Paul). Read more about improving transit in a cost-effective way here.

6. Allow more beer/wine licenses

Retail is dying a slow death. Every sale on Amazon, Etsy, or Zappos represents one less sale at a brick-and-mortar book store, gift shop or clothing store. These, and a shift of the nature of work, will make filling retail storefronts more difficult. We need to fill frontages. It’s essentially to walkability.

Food is the rational response as it’s not easily outsourced. And, to make margins for these places, they’ll likely need to sell beer and wine. There is a changing cultural dichotomy going on. More expensive local craft beer sales and high-end cocktails are shifting the nature of traditional 60/40 (or 70/30) beer to food sale requirements. These need to change, too.

If you want to fill your empty storefronts, you’ll need to look beyond retail.

7. Eliminate One Way Streets

The case against one way streets is already solved. The verdict is in.

Converting streets to two-ways has many benefits. These types of streets, as opposed to one-ways, improve pedestrian and bike safety, improve vehicle navigation and overall safety, lower speeds, and improve the financial health of local businesses (source). Many cities have already converted their one way streets to two ways. Your city should too.

8. Allow the “Sharing” Economy to be Legal

Whether the establishment likes it or not, it’s going to happen. The question is, how will you let it happen? Be smart. Be fair. But for God’s sake, don’t make it illegal (I’m looking at you Miami).

Uber and Lyft aren’t competing against taxis. They’re competing against the cost of owning a car. If these services can remove just a handful of cars (or reduce drunk driving) that should be viewed as an urban benefit. And, AirBNB isn’t competing against hotels (which can be expensive), but it more so about providing options for people to safely rent our there apartments and make extra money to off-set the costs of living in an more high-demand urban settings.

The sharing economy might be hard for many to swallow, but it needs to be legal. 

Now, these eight suggestions won’t make your city a success overnight, but they are politically-feasible, small, incremental changes that you can make to help inch your city in the right direction.

Categories: Twin Cities

Friday News Digest

StrongTowns - Fri, 07/25/2014 - 1:25pm
This FND has gotten away from me.....so sorry. I wrote a ton this week (need to take more vacations -- they always bring out the inspiration and motivation) so, if you haven't yet, take some time and read this quality stuff. You won't get this kind of stuff anyplace else.
Categories: Twin Cities

Podcast #68 – The Art and Science of Crosswalks with Toole Design Group

Streets.MN - Fri, 07/25/2014 - 12:14pm

I’ve always wanted to do this.

The podcast this week is a conversation all about crosswalks, with three folks who work at Toole Design Group, a leading planning and engineering firm. I reached out to a few friends at Toole after a fascinating conversation with one of their engineers all about signal timing.

Three of Toole’s engineers and architects, Hannah Pritchard, Eric Mongelli, and Cindy Zerger, were kind enough to devote some time and a conference room at their office in Minneapolis’ North Loop neighborhood. We had about an hour-long conversation where I asked them everything I could think of about the art and science of crosswalks. Trust me, crosswalks might seem like a simple topic, but once you get into the weeds, there’s a whole world of interesting design details waiting for you.

Link to the audio is here!

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Categories: Twin Cities

*** Sidewalk Weekend! ***

Twin Cities Sidewalks - Fri, 07/25/2014 - 11:19am
Sidewalk Rating: PleasantBut physical technique, Robbins pointed out, is merely a tool. "It's all about the choreography of people's attention," he said. "Attention is like water. It flows. It's liquid. You create channels to divert it, and you hope that it flows the right way."[here] [Carriage houses along Maiden Lane, taken for this piece.]*** CLICK IMAGES FOR LINKS ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ***  *** ***09/20/0811:30aSt. PaulMN353515MN . LSFGray Buick, no HCAP id. Mail driver should no sign of need for HCAP stall use, and gave me a hard time when I questioned his need for the stall.[this]*** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ***
Categories: Twin Cities

Chart of the Day: Beauty, Quiet, Happiness on Walks

Streets.MN - Fri, 07/25/2014 - 10:40am

A recent study came out which attempts to measure affective qualities of walking through cities. You can read about on CityFix, or look at the study yourself here.

 

 

I don’t understand all the methodology (mostly because I’m lazy), but the concept is intriguing to me! What might the most beautiful, most quiet, or most pleasurable path through downtown Minneapolis or Saint Paul look like?

Streets.mn is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

Categories: Twin Cities

Dutch Cycling around Delft and The Hague

Streets.MN - Fri, 07/25/2014 - 10:12am

The 10th post of the EU BICI series benefits from the insights of co-author, Peter Furth, Professor of Civil Engineering at Northeastern University and frequent instructor of a sustainable transportation course via TU-Delft.

With tulips and clogs, bikes are a signature element of the Netherlands—lots of them. Everywhere. It’s the only country in the world with more bikes than people. More than anywhere in the world, bicycling here appears to be a form of “mechanically assisted walking.” Where residents in other countries might walk for short distances, the Dutch pedal. But because they pedal, their “velo-walking” extends far greater distances than normal walking ever would. Cycling is used as the default mode for short trips like running errands. Except in busy shopping areas, bikes far outnumber pedestrians; cycling is pervasive.

But even in this exceptional national context, people are surprised to learn there is still wide variation in cycling use. Exorbitantly high mode shares for bicycling (more than 50% of trips under 5 miles) are easily seen in a wide variety of Dutch contexts: Amsterdam and another of the four large towns, Utrecht; medium sized towns like Groningen; small towns like Veenendaal; and even suburban towns like Houten and Pijnacker, which flaunt idyllic cycling use. But Rotterdam (which got totally leveled in WWII) and Eindhoven, which followed more car-oriented development patterns, have half that amount (which is, of course, still high). In this post, we use two cities—Delft (home to a university and a well known bicycling city) and The Hague (a close-by government city, hardly considered a “bicycling haven” by Dutch planners) as a lens through which to better explain some peculiarities about Dutch cycle planning.

http://streets.mn/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Delft.m4v

What clearly what stands out for non-motorized planning in Holland is the civility by which space is shared by pedestrians, bicycles, trams, and occasional cars in large car-free and “car-lite” zones in city centers. Unlike some Dutch cities, Delft and The Hague allow bikes in their pedestrianized areas. “Harmonious co-mingling” is perhaps the best way to describe it. There is a dance that exists as cyclists weave past each other and other road users. When pedestrian density makes it too difficult to ride, cyclists just dismount and walk until they can mount again.

Relative to all other European countries, Holland is the densest and the flattest. These two factors help explain a lot of why the Dutch bike so much. But at least two characteristics stand out about their cycling use: (1) Dutch bikes are more upright than in any other country (even relative to adjoining countries); (2) bike speeds are low, largely owing to both the riding style and the fact that distances are close. In fact, it is not uncommon for towns, villages or neighborhoods to be designed around a 7 minute bike shed from grocery stores or elementary schools. Planners from the nearby town Pijnacker state that as a central criterion for siting schools and zoning shopping areas. Mapping the schools and shopping areas for the newer areas of The Hague reveals the same pattern.

Better than any other place on earth, the Dutch excel in bike-transit integration. But it’s not because they allow bikes on trains (the $8 fee makes doing that regularly impractical). The success appears to be more so attributed to four factors:

  • The spatial coverage and frequency of train service is outstanding. Most lines to most destinations run on 15 or 30 minute headways all day.
  • High quality bike routes lead to the station from all parts of town. Near stations, there are natural impediments to cycling owing to the many buses & cars arriving there. To overcome them, you can often see bike-only underpasses that make these highly cycled routes to the station as good as those everywhere else.
  • There is a concerted policy to concentrate offices, shopping, and (more recently) dense housing near stations. In The Hague region, for example, municipalities that would normally compete for office space have agreed that large office building should be built only near train or metro stations. And in Zwolle, the Chamber of Commerce refused to go along with a new office area being considered unless a new train station was part of the plan.
  • A massive amount of bike parking is provided, increasingly at high quality levels. Delft’s new station, under construction, will have 7,000 indoor spaces (still pale in comparison to Utrecht’s 30,000 spaces). And the Dutch are not shy about keeping a second bike locked at a train station near their work, using it for the “last mile” of their commute. A full 12% of train passengers use bike as their egress mode, along with 40% using bike for access.

Leveraging the bike for short trips, along with bike+train for long trips, provide the Dutch a powerful one-two punch to counter auto dependency. Recently, a national congestion mitigation program has opened a third front by funding the construction of “bicycle highways” to encourage bicycle use for medium distance commutes. For example, a new bike superhighway from Zoetermeer to Delft University (7.5 mi) offers commuters a car-free, non-stop route thanks to underpasses at major road crossings and priority at minor street crossings. A new, $2 million bike bridge opened this month as part of an improved route from Delft to The Hague. Two routes have been completed from The Hague to Leiden, and one is still being improved between Delft and Rotterdam.

While Dutch bike planning traditionally meant simply providing cycle tracks along all main roads, the main emphasis today—especially visible in The Hague’s newer suburbs—is providing bike routes that avoid main roads altogether. These routes use linear parks and local streets that have been prioritized for bikes using traffic diverters and speed humps. This paradigm, referred to as “unbundling,” is popular with nearly all riders because it offers cycling routes that are safer and more pleasant and involve fewer annoying red lights.

One challenge for Dutch cities is passing on the bike habit to immigrants who come from countries with low bike usage, especially among women, and where autos are a status symbol. Another is maintaining a high level of bike use in the face of rising expectations regarding comfort and safety. The Hague is currently spending a whopping $15 million (about $30 per resident) per year to improve its bike network. While some is for repaving existing bike paths, most is for building new bike infrastructure, including urban “bicycle highways” and cycle tracks on streets that formerly had only bike lanes. Delft has also joined the emerging movement to replace bike lanes on several streets with cycle tracks. A wave of two-way cycle track installations is underway following the widespread application of raised crossings (legally called “exit construction”), which give two-way cycle tracks the same level of safety as traditional one-way cycle tracks.

There are at least two elements that other cities struggle with when simply aiming to import Dutch cycle planning: (1) Dutch infrastructure solutions tend to be expensive (e.g., they use curb-separated cycle tracks rather than the common strategy of American cities to protect bike lanes by simply shifting parking lanes away from the curb or installing flexposts); (2) political support is strong—cycling is hard-wired into the culture. To be sure, there is an active, vocal, and powerful auto-lobbying effort throughout the Netherlands. However, because everybody’s children, regardless of political party, ride bikes to school, and because bicycling is far less expensive than public transportation, cycling related initiatives have support across the political spectrum.

 

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Categories: Twin Cities

Photo Friday: Richfield Bus Co

Streets.MN - Fri, 07/25/2014 - 9:07am

Photo credit Urban Camper

Streets.mn is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

Categories: Twin Cities

streets.mn Members Summer Picnic July 27, 2014 4:00 PM – 10:00 PM Minnehaha Park

Streets.MN - Fri, 07/25/2014 - 7:16am

Calling all streets.mn writers and members (and prospective members)! We’ve got a picnic set up at Minnehaha Park on what will certainly be a beautiful Sunday evening in Minnesota. streets.mn has been putting up tons of great content for months (years!) and we thought it’d be a great to have an in person event to celebrate, grill, and socialize.

Spouses and significant others and kids are welcome (it’s a picnic!) and we hope there’s at least one dog. Picnic essentials will be provided (meats, faux meats, buns, plates, utensils) but it is potluck style–try to bring a dish to share, but don’t be scared away if you can’t contribute.

Facebook signup

https://www.facebook.com/events/1445323649071472/?notif_t=plan_user_joined

July 27, 2014 4:00 PM – 10:00 PM

Minnehaha Park Wabun Picnic Area – Shelter G 4655 46th Avenue South Minneapolis, MN 55406

The potluck signup is here:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1m9mBLupzx2sUkOxqrzbvOIyLoeHElpAcGgKVSLudp44/edit?usp=sharing

Also, no liquor or beer (in glass bottles) is allowed in the park, so please keep that in mind.

Directions

Here’s a map: http://www.minneapolisparks.org/documents/permits/park_maps/Minnehaha_Park.pdf ! Biking/taking transit/walking highly encouraged, but there is still lots of parking.

Thanks, streets.mn Board

Streets.mn is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

Categories: Twin Cities

Podcast Show 183: Santiago Garces

StrongTowns - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 1:33pm

Santiago Garces, who heads the Data, Performance and Innovation program at the city of South Bend, talks with Chuck about how technology can help local governments do more with less.

Categories: Twin Cities

Lean and Agile Procurement: Making the Most of Taxpayer Investment

StrongTowns - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 11:00am
Innovators in the Smart Growth and New Urbanist world are successfully chipping away entrenched standards that, for far too long, have dictated inefficient, unsightly community design. But standards are only part of the battle. At some point, community design is installed as a purchased commodity that needs an equally innovative procurement path.
Categories: Twin Cities

Follow Up: How to Blow $20,000,000 on 1,100 People

Streets.MN - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 9:54am

After basking in  my 15 minutes of internet fame when my post hit the front page of Streetsblog (which was here on streets.mn first), I was quickly shaken from my pedestal by pro-roaders, one of whom accused me of doing “no research” and “spewing bullshit.”

I’ve come to address such concerns of “the haters” that I’ve encountered on the interwebs and to solidify the argument that this project is over-engineered.

It seems to me that many people believe that $20 million for a rural road that dead ends in a small town is an OK investment. Many people on both sites were citing agriculture as a main reason for having this road be improved to what the DOT has in mind.

I can only imagine the vast number of farm implements that utilize this route, whether long or short hauling. Large tractors and harvesting equipment require adequate access to be able to properly farm the surrounding land. This is the livelihood of many more people that just the listed population of the town proper.

Again, I am not a farmer on or near highway 66, but I cannot imagine taking a small, windy, hilly road would be good for your farm equipment or be more efficient than driving a few extra miles to get to a main arterial with 4 lanes and a straighter path. This was just one of the arguments that I heard that was pro-road. I will take the time to say, I’m not anti-road,

I’m anti-spending20milliononaroadthatcarries1100people.

Below you can see some of the problems with taking this road for agriculture, the least of which being that the road ends in a residential neighborhood.

I also have to call out that people are implying that the argument “how do you get goods to market” is valid in this case. What is this, 1910 where we eat what’s grown near us? 90% of the ag in this area is corn or soybeans and while, yes, while we have a large processing plant and grain silos in the valley, it’s pretty inefficient to use Highway 66 to get there IF that’s the destination for your crop. However, I reached out to the county engineer and this is what he had to say:

It serves as a farm to market route for a very productive, large agricultural area.  Also has high crash rate and large maintenance cost due to slides and sediment.  The project would provide a, safe and efficient farm to market route and provide access to commercial, educational, cultural and recreation opportunities for our citizens.  It would remain a scenic route.  ADT is not the only indicator of a road’s utility. i.e., is a thousand cars a day to a fast food restaurant as important as providing safe and efficient farm to market and citizen access? 

 

I don’t have sufficient information to comment on the safety issue.

I should be clear that I have no beef with our county engineer. I like him a lot and he’s been super helpful in me trying to get my pet project off the ground. In this instance, however, I find it really hard to believe that this route carries (over its life) $20m or above in ag products. The “because agriculture” is a biased argument. I know it’s a major part of Minnesota’s economy (especially down here), but that doesn’t mean we’re supposed to give a select few farms a massive investment in their road, especially when we have other major roads near by.

County Road 10, which runs in/out of Good Thunder is carrying about the same amount of traffic daily that Highway 66 does. The benefit to CR10 is that it runs west to Highway 22 which then dumps you right in the sprawly commercial district of Mankato–the Mall, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, etc… A far more convenient route for any residents traveling out of or through Good Thunder as you’re probably coming to Mankato to go shopping. This is probably better in the long run anyway because Highway 22 is under capacity right now and we should look to get the most out of our roads.

Highway 22 also connects you directly with Highway 14, a major player in the local economy and a very heavily traveled road. Which now begs a better question, why not invest the money into Highway 14?

I was also confronted about the fact that the road had been damaged by floods over the past several years, including this last rain event. Seeing as how this year’s rain was a once in a 100 year rain, I think we can throw it out as an anomaly. The flood damage to the road almost exclusively happened in the 4 mile section of ravine-flanked road when you first get out of Mankato, not the long straight 8(ish) miles in corn fields that would carry the majority of agriculture traffic–ergo the argument that it’s flood damaged doesn’t really hold up because people are using it in its current state just fine. This all goes without saying that the entire cost of flood damage to Mankato’s infrastructure was about 5 million (in the major rain event.) Where are the priorities here?

The point more than anything is this, we don’t need this road to be upgraded to the tune of $20 million. Residents down here can’t really understand why this road is getting so much money. I drove the road and made a video about it which I’ll be posting later. After driving it there is no doubt in my mind that it needs upgrading, it is in really, really rough shape, definitely needs a repaving and structural upgrades at some points.

More than anything this project is promoting more of the same. Minnesota (America in general?) seems to have this idea that it’s our right to be able to take whatever route we want to wherever we need to be. This project is indicative of that. There’s no reason that repaving and small structural upgrades would not suffice for this road. Most everyone in the area effected by the road would be able to get to Mankato (assuming that’s where they’re going) without having a giant inconvenience in their lives.

The time will come when we can’t keep up with all our roads (really that time is now) so why not hone in and focus our efforts and our money on our most productive infrastructure?

I’m afraid this will be a liability that won’t be able to be kept up in the future.

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Categories: Twin Cities

The North Minneapolis-Southwest LRT Connection

Streets.MN - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 9:26am

The Southwest Corridor will dramatically improve the transit connection between North Minneapolis and the southwest suburbs. Today, if a Northside resident wants to travel to Hopkins, a one transfer bus ride is available during rush hour every 20 minutes, and it takes 46 minutes to get there from the corner of North 7th Street & Olson Memorial Highway. During off-peak hours, that same trip takes three buses and about an hour. Travel to Minnetonka and Eden Prairie is even less convenient. Light rail transit (LRT) will shorten the trip to Hopkins to 23 minutes, with 10 minute frequencies and much more availability during many more hours of the day. That opens up all sorts of employment opportunities for Northside residents.

The recent calls for a good transit connection between North Minneapolis and the Southwest Corridor LRT have revealed a misunderstanding of what transit service exists today and how best to make that connection.

Advocates have demanded bus service to the proposed Penn Avenue and Van White Boulevard Stations, while ignoring the real connecting point, Royalston Station. The purpose of this post is to:

  • Explain why the Royalston connection offers the best service at the lowest cost.
  • Explain why creating new bus service to the Penn and Van White Stations won’t save travel time and won’t be economically viable.
  • Suggest how the Royalston connection location could be improved.
  • Bus Service to Royalston Station

    Most of North Minneapolis is served by three major bus routes:

    • Route 5 on Emerson and Fremont Avenues
    • Route 19 on Penn Avenue
    • Route 22 on Lyndale Avenue

    Routes 5, 19, and 22 funnel through the intersection of North 7th Street & Olson Memorial Highway, just north of downtown. They pass near the Southwest Corridor’s planned Royalston Station, located on Royalston Avenue a block south of Olson Memorial Highway.

    All three North Minneapolis bus routes run seven days a week. Routes 5 and 19 run 24 hours a day, and Route 22 runs from 4:30 AM to 1:30 AM. Here are the service frequencies, in minutes:

     M-F PeakM-F MiddayM-F NightSaturdaySunday Route 55-107.510-151010-15 Route 198-151015-201520-30 Route 2211-152020-302030

    This service package, one of the best in the metro area, has an annual value of about $20 million dollars. Using it to connect to the Southwest Corridor at Royalston will cost nothing because it’s already in place.

    What buses would serve Penn Avenue or Van White?

    The vague concept of running buses to the Penn and Van White stations requires some specifics to be judged as either a good or bad idea. Which neighborhoods would they serve?

    Let’s start with the only bus that runs anywhere near the two stations, half a mile away. It’s Route 9 Glenwood Avenue-Bryn Mawr. Metro Transit policy is not to divert a bus route unless the diversion will serve a substantial percentage of the passengers. There’s really no chance that transfers to Southwest will amount to even 10 percent of Route 9’s passengers, so that diversion won’t happen. However, Route 9 also runs within two blocks of the Royalston Station. That’s a diversion that could be justified.

    Any buses running through North Minneapolis would use Penn Avenue and/or Fremont Avenue, since they are the major north-south arterial streets. It would seem logical that a Penn Avenue route would serve the Penn station and a Fremont Avenue route would serve the Van White station. Both routes would probably extend at least as far north as 44th Avenue.

    Penn Avenue

    The current Route 19 runs on Penn from 44th Avenue N. to Olson Highway, then east for 1 mile to the Royalston station. There’s no question that it is somewhat indirect, compared to continuing straight ahead on Penn to the Penn station. Assuming a 5-minute transfer between bus and LRT, a new bus route to the Penn station will save about 3 minutes of travel time compared to transferring at the Royalston station. Travel time via Penn Avenue will be 9 minutes, including the transfer. Via Royalston it will be 12 minutes.

    In order to save those three minutes, an entire new bus route would have to be created. At a minimum, that would require at least a 30-minute frequency around the clock, with some additional rush hour service. It would cost about $2 million per year. However, most of the connecting riders would still use Route 19, because it runs every 10 minutes and will connect with every train. A 3-minute travel time advantage is meaningless if it requires waiting an extra 20 minutes for a direct bus to Penn station.

    To compete for riders, the new Penn route would have to run as often as Route 19. That would cost $5 million a year and the result would be a lot of buses carrying a handful of passengers per trip at most. Such a route would run high subsidies that would greatly exceed Metro Transit’s subsidy per passenger ceiling. Any transit planner will tell you that’s a foregone conclusion because there aren’t enough LRT transfers to support a separate high frequency route. Using the existing Route 19 will cost nothing extra and will connect with every LRT trip.

    Fremont or Lyndale Avenue

    A new Fremont Avenue or Lyndale Avenue bus route to the Van White station will save no travel time at all. Route 5 via Royalston station doesn’t subject riders to any indirect routing. Transfers from Route 5 at Royalston or creating a new route to Van White station will take exactly the same number of minutes. But a new route will add yet another $5 million to the cost.

    Royalston’s location needs some rethinking The Royalston station’s proposed location a long block south of Olson Highway makes the bus transfer less convenient than it should be. It’s about a 2-block walk from the existing bus stops at 7th and Olson.

    Ideally the station would be located on a bridge over N. 7th Street, similar to the Hiawatha Line’s Lake Street station. That would also permit the station to serve the future Bottineau Boulevard line, before it splits from Southwest.

    Other alternatives are to divert the buses via Royalston, which will slow them somewhat, or to add stops on 7th Street at 5th Avenue N., next to Caring & Sharing Hands. The latter would require pedestrian crossing signals to be safe and it would still be a one block walk to the station.

    It’s important to note that the Royalston connection is also a better connection to the airport, Mall of America, U of M and the other LRT destinations within Minneapolis and St. Paul. Because the North Minneapolis buses run through downtown on 7th and 8th Streets, the current transfer to LRT on 5th Street requires a 2-3 block walk. Why not have a more convenient transfer at Royalston instead?

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Transpo Convo with Bill

    Streets.MN - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 8:00am

    Transpo Convo is an ongoing series in which I interview people about their transportation use.  This second installment features highlights from my conversation with Bill D., in which we chat about icy winter riding, revamping roads for greater cycling infrastructure, and how to build effective cycling advocacy.

    Bill and I talked bikes, bikes, and more bikes while watching hoards of rollerbladers zip by on the Midtown Greenway.

    Bill lives in the Kenny neighborhood in Southwest Minneapolis.  He works for Cycles for Change in St. Paul and is active in Major Taylor Minnesota, Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, Bicycle Advisory Committee of Minneapolis, and the North Minneapolis Greenway steering committee.

    [Bike commuting] allows me to clear my head in both directions.  It allows me to unwind on the way home. On the way in it allows me to think of what I need to get done that day, to arrive at work with a clear head.

    Me (CWW): How do you get around, Bill?

    Bill D (BD): Mostly by bicycle, I’d say 90-95% by bicycle.  Or I should say, to be more accurate, bicycle/bus.  Since my job is in St. Paul I’ll usually bike to downtown Minneapolis or to the West Bank of the U and take the bus over to St. Paul [or] the Green Line train.

    CWW: What do you like about bike commuting in the Twin Cities?  What’s your favorite thing about it?

    BD: It allows me to clear my head in both directions.  It allows me to unwind on the way home. On the way in it allows me to think of what I need to get done that day, to arrive at work with a clear head.

    CWW: What’s your least favorite thing about bike commuting in the cities?

    BD: It would be in the winter when the roads are all rutted in.  That happened 3 or 4 times this past winter, where you get a snowstorm and then have bikes out or cars out and it gets to 30 or 40 below zero, so all those ruts freeze and it makes it very difficult to bike.  There were a couple times this winter where I was just on the bus 4 or 5 days in a row until those ruts could melt and the roads could become more passable.

    CWW: So what do you think would make biking in the super snowy rutty conditions better?  What could the city do to make that experience better and easier for bicyclists?

    BD: They could plow the bike lanes.  Right now the bike lanes are just the default for where the snow goes instead of pushing it up on the curb, and I guess to a certain extent it’s a catch 22.  The city is not going to do it until you get more bicyclists out in the winter and the bicyclists aren’t going to come out if they have to ride in traffic.  I find myself riding in traffic a lot in the winter because that’s the decent part of the road, and I do find drivers a lot more accommodating toward bicyclists in the winter than they are in the summer.  But it is a catch 22.

    I think the bicycling community could do a better job of encouraging people to bicycle in the winter.  Just don’t assume everybody’s going to put their bike up come November or December, just really get out there to drum up cycling and publicize it.  A lot of people shy away from bicycling because they get cold from dressing improperly, so you’ve lost the battle right there, regardless of what condition the streets are in.  So if you can get them to dress properly and layer properly then you can chip away on the street maintenance.

    This is a Hennepin County road, we can’t [put in a bike lane] because you’re going to take away parking.  What parking?  People don’t park there.  But because it’s laid on their grid plans as parking they’re assuming that it is parking.

    CWW: Is there anything else you’d like to say about your transportation use in the cities?  What you like or what you don’t like about it?

    BD: I think the Twin Cities does a good job.  Obviously this [Midtown Greenway] is excellent. […] What could be done in the future to make it even better is to extend this Greenway all the way into downtown St. Paul.  And that’s going take a lot of doing because you’re dealing with railroad right of way and they are difficult to deal with, but if you could take this all the way into downtown St. Paul, then branch off to the train to the left or Highland Park to the right that would be a significant improvement.

    But the other bicycle infrastructure, what our big fights are with the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition and their bicycle advocacy, you have suburban engineers come in and the street needs to be milled and overlaid or the street needs to be completely redone.  And they basically want to put the street back down the way it was taken up, period.  Here’s a prime example of this, they’re going to redo 46th Street from 35W over to Hiawatha.  It’s 4 lanes, 2 in each direction.  In theory the right lane is supposed to be parking, but nobody parks there because their cars would get trashed or destroyed, so for all intents and purposes it’s two travel lanes in each direction.  They want to put it back that way and we are trying to get them to go from a 4 to a 3 with a turning lane in the middle and put a bicycle lane on the right side on each side of the road in opposite directions.  But no, this is a Hennepin County road, and they’re actually the worst to work with, we can’t do that because you’re going to take away parking.  What parking?  People don’t park there.  But because it’s laid on their grid plans as parking they’re assuming that it is parking.  And there will be a handful of people that will complain, because people want free parking right in front of their house. […] Engineers definitely listen to these folks.  And sometimes politicians will, sometimes they won’t, depending upon how vulnerable they think they are to not being reelected.

    So this 46th street thing we are trying to get them to go from a 4 to a 3 and the people at St. Joan of Arc’s Church, they’re complaining they can’t get across 46th Street to go to worship services, and other churches further East have the same complaints. If you’re a suburban engineer just looking at plans and maps and how it’s laid out for usage and you never drive up and down that street during all times of the day and see that it’s actually a travel lane and not a parking lane, you think you’re losing parking.  Those are the battles that we have to fight all the time.

    [Eventually] we will prevail because the bicycle advocates aren’t going away and the demographics are in favor of the bicycles.  It’s just a matter of how fast you get it done.  Do it faster and you actually get more bicyclists in the street.

    CWW: So what do you think would make inroads to those people who have the authority to say let’s bring it from a 4 to a 3?  How can we best make inroads with that?

    BD: Well, you have to inundate them with people, you have to get them involved in the campaigning, you have to convince the elected officials, like council member Glidden who is already convinced.  The way you get to them is to get their constituents up in arms.

    You have to get the businesses on board and convince them that losing parking spaces right in front of their store and putting in a bicycle lane is actually going to gain you business, which is counter-intuitive to a lot of business owners, especially older owners who have grown up with their customers driving right up to their stores.  But if you see who is moving into the neighborhoods and who is out on the street, some of them see it, and some of them don’t.  And that’s what the bicycle coalition does is try to work with those interest groups so they all come together and when this road is done it comes in with bicycle facilities and bike improvements.  But a lot of times they’ll go ahead and put it back the same way but we’ll keep the pressure on.  Eventually we will prevail, because the demographics are in our favor, it’s just going to cost them money in terms of painting over all the paint and re-striping.  But eventually we will prevail because the bicycle advocates aren’t going away and the demographics are in favor of the bicycles.  It’s just a matter of how fast you get it done.  Do it faster and you actually get more bicyclists in the street.

    We’re just always watching for those opportunity projects.  You just can’t go on a street that has no scheduled maintenance and say let’s put bike lanes here, you can’t do that because it’s too costly, we just won’t do it.  But we have the list of streets that are due to undergo repair, or mill and overlay or complete reconstruction, and we look at how those are being used and we look at how they’re planning on putting back.  And in most cases we have to get in there and say, hey, we really ought to reconsider.  Sometimes we prevail and sometimes we don’t, but where we don’t prevail we are going to stick with it because, again, the demographics are on our side.

    Thanks for the Transpo Convo, Bill!

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    Categories: Twin Cities

    Best (Urban) Articles from The New Yorker

    Twin Cities Sidewalks - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 8:00am
    [New Yorker covers love bikes.]About two years back, my father got me a gift subscription to The New Yorker. I've been relatively diligent about keeping up on it, believe it or not.Now that the magazine has opened all its articles to the public to read for free (for a short period), I thought I'd share some of my favorite bits that are vaguely interesting if you're interested in cities.These are all the ones that jump out at me, and what I remember about them without going back and looking at them again.[In chronological order.]David Owen, Why Purell is Everywhere 3/4/2013I guess it answers a question. David Owen, Watch Where You Step in Florida 3/18/2013All about Florida sinkholes, which are common there because of the unique geology. This story has some amazing details of all kinds of things coming up out of the ground! Worth a read if you're interested in Floridian eschatology, as I am. William Finnegan, The Miner's Daughter 3/28/13Long profile of an incredibly wealthy and secretive Australian mining heiress and magnate. You wonder where copper comes from?Sean Wilsey, Open Water 4/22/13Amazing true memoir of a guy who worked as a Venetian gonodlier. It has islands and gondolier codes and stuff. So cool.Jennie Erin Smith, A State of Nature  4/22/13OK, so there's this one tiny bit between Panama and Colombia where the roads in either direction don't go. It's kind of amazing that there's this gap. Read all about it. It sounds wild.Douglas Preston, The El Dorado Machine 5/6/2013History of people searching for "lost cities" in Central America. Very Indiana Jones. Great read.Tad Friend, Crowded House 5/27/2013This is a funny story about people trying a mythical great apartment in New York City that a scammer keeps promising people but never delivers on. It reads kinda like a Seinfeld episode, involving the apartment being rented out to multiple people at the same time.Larissa MacFarquar,  Last Call 6/24/13Story of a Japanese Buddhist monk who specializes in talking to people who are about to kill themselves, which is a big thing in Japan. Poignant and illustrates something about our / Japan's individualized culture. John McPhee, The Orange Trapper 7/1/2013Great short memoir about a life long hobby collecting golf balls outside golf courses. Very well written and interesting to think about fences and edges and golf.Calvin Tompkins, Ed Ruscha's L.A. 7/1/2013A short bio piece about a famous L.A. artist, talks a lot about L.A. in the 70s and 80s and the state of the art scene. Ruscha is the one responsible for this hilarious painting...John Seabrook, The Beach Builders 7/22/2013About how much work it takes to rebuild the beaches destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, and whether we should even be rebuilding those towns any more. Kind of wistful look at Jersey shore towns.Julian Rubinstein, Operation Easter 7/22/2013This one was literally unbelievable. There are people who spend their lives stealing the eggs of endangered birds in the U.K. So wrong! So strange.Sarah Stilman, Taken 8/12/2013Civil forfeiture is when police take your stuff when they pull you over. It's straight up extortion and happens all the time in the South. Heartbreaking piece.Ian Frazier, Walking Normally: The Facts 9/9/2013The funniest thing on this list. Trust me, you're gonna laugh your ass off. Rachel Aviv, The Imperial Presidency 9/9/2013Article about the controversial president of NYU, who has been buying up swaths of Manhattan and opening up a branch in Dubai.Andrew Marantz, The Unreality Star 9/16/2013OK I didn't actually read this one, but it looks good about surveillance culture and paranoia. Calvin Tompkins, A Sense of Place 9/23/2013If you're into architecture, this is about the guy who did the African American museum in D.C.Josh Eells, Night Club Royale 9/30/2013Apparently there's a huge electronic dance music (EDM) scene in Las Vegas now, which is the only think keeping that city from blowing away in the wind.  Akash Kapur, Rush 10/14/2013Fascinating story about a big highway being built through a tiny village in India. A lot changes! Learn about roads in India.Ian Frazier, Bus Ride 4/14/2014The most dangerous bus in New York is the B46, which Frazier rides from end to end. The quotes from the bus driver are amazing.Burkhard Bilger, Auto Correct 11/25/2013Short bit about the Google robo-car.Calvin Trillin, Mozarella Story 12/2/2013Lovely ode to an old store in Little Italy that sold handmade mozzarella for like forever. Really well written, of course.Ian Johnson, In The Air 12/2/2013Air pollution in China is amazing. Seriously crazy what their cities are like. Emily Eakin, The Civilization Kit 12/23/2013Guy in Missouri that is trying to build his own tractor (and all other machines) from scratch.Elizabeth Kolbert, The Red Light 1/27/2014All about traffic jam politics and Chris Christie. Pretty hard to believe that New Jersey politics revolves around traffic jams, but it does.John Colapinto, The Real-Estate Artist 1/20/2014Artist who is attempting to revive a neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, one of the country's largest and poorest black ghettos. Really interesting if you're into Chicago.Dana Goodyear, Death Dust 1/20/2014About a plague of crazy disease-inducing dust in California's central valley, another incredibly poor part of the country. Really depressing and mysterious.Paige Williams, Drop Dead, Detroit! 1/27/2014Bio piece on this one right-wing asshole who has been in charge of the burbs north of Detroit for years, and made his living cordoning off the white suburbs from the black city. I didn't know this history, but it explains a lot.Jon Lee Anderson, The Comandante's Canal 3/10/2014The president of Nicaragua is trying to build a second canal and the Chinese are helping. Incredible, really. Evan Osnos, Chemical Valley 4/7/2014Another really poor place, West Virginia, and how deeply rooted the chemical industry is there. it's so hard to imagine people drinking the water and taking showers during the chemical spill, and the government doing nothing about it.Ian Frazier, Blue Bloods 4/14/2014Unbelievable stuff about horseshoe crabs. I didn't know anything about horseshoe crabs, which live in on Long Island. I guess I really like Ian Frazier.Sarah Payne Stuart, Pilgrim Mothers 5/5/2014A nice memoir about living in Concord, MA, and how strange the old puritan culture is there. Dale Russakoff, Schooled 5/19/2014Long and interesting history of school reform in Newark involving Cory Booker, Chris Christie, and Mark Zuckerberg. Really. Reforming schools seems almost impossible.Sarah Stillman, Get Out of Jail Inc. 6/23/2014For profit work programs is when courts take your money for life when you don't pay parking tickets. It's straight up extortion and happens all the time in the South. Heartbreaking piece.
    Categories: Twin Cities

    Transportation Benefits: Agreement, but Weak Action

    Minnesota 2020 - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 6:00am

    By Conrad deFiebre, Transportation Fellow

    In my first major project as a Minnesota 2020 fellow, I highlighted the economic benefits for Minnesota of investing in transportation. This was a direct rebuttal to the contention of then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty that hiking state fuel taxes for the first time in two decades to support highway construction and maintenance and raising new revenue for transit improvements would "hurt our economy."

    That canard was nothing more than cover for Pawlenty's lockstep adherence to the right-wing dogma of no new taxes no matter what, which had already prompted him to veto two previous transportation finance bills. When he vetoed a third, shortly after my report was issued in January 2008, however, bipartisan legislators overrode him.

    I'd like to claim credit for this triumph of sound public policy, but two other things wielded greater influence. The first was the deadly collapse of the Interstate Hwy. 35W Mississippi River bridge in Minneapolis on Aug. 1, 2007, which focused public attention on deteriorating infrastructure as never before. The second was an about-face by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which had lobbied against other transportation bills and, along with Pawlenty, was a target of my report's criticism.

    Nowadays, as Congress and the White House alike repeatedly haggle over how to extend national transportation funding for shorter and shorter periods without irritating anyone at the gas pump, it's the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, unions and trade groups of truckers and manufacturers that are calling for the obvious long-term solution of increasing federal fuel taxes that haven't been adjusted for inflation in 21 years. But in dysfunctional Washington, that isn't even on the table, although no one I know of is saying it would hurt the economy.

    What would hurt, all the players seem to agree, is impending default on federal Highway Trust Fund obligations, delaying up to 112,000 road projects and 5,600 transit projects and idling 700,000 construction workers. So we have a dizzying array of funding gimmicks being bandied about the hallowed halls, everything from moving fuel taxes up the pipeline and away from gas pumps to tax holidays on overseas corporate profits. The winner this week apparently is a proposal from the conservative-led U.S. House to change corporate pension accounting rules, impose higher customs fees and tap an environmental cleanup fund.

    This plan was hilariously skewered by Comedy Central's Jon Stewart in a monologue for which you'll find a video link on Hindsight's Friday Morning Reads tomorrow. He didn't even mention that the House's brief eight-month funding patch will take 10 years of the aforementioned gimmicks to be paid for. Fiscal responsibility, indeed!

    Nevertheless, with the highway fund needle ticking toward empty, the bill passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan approval, and President Obama and progressives in the U.S. Senate have voiced support. A Senate vote and signing ceremony are expected any day. Then the strange dance starts all over again after the November election.

    Who's against the latest make-do? Far righties Heritage Action and the Club for Growth are giving members of Congress black marks for yea votes, and the libertarian Cato Institute published a screed headlined "The Federal Highway Trust Fund Is Going Broke. Here's Why That Could Be a Good Thing." In general, it pooh-poohs the fiscal and economic impacts of default and explains how to handle creaky bridges with "weight restrictions" or "smaller repairs."

    Meanwhile, the National Association of Manufacturers also "scored" the House vote with a thumbs-up for support. The 367-55 roll call at least shows that most policymakers put more stock in the opinions of folks who make and ship stuff people actually buy than the radical dystopian dreams of "conservative" wacko birds. 

    That said, there's still plenty not to like on rational grounds in this measure. Normally circumspect with its mass audience largely of business travelers, USA TODAY called it "a telling display of absurdity, [funding] highway construction by letting employers endanger their workers' retirement" and like "raiding your 401(k) to put a temporary patch on the hole in your driveway." It added: "The obvious near-term solution is to raise the gasoline tax back to where it was in 1993 dollars and index it for inflation."

    The deeply conservative Wall Street Journal also thundered against the bill, but leveled most of its criticism at Obama and progressives for wanting "to claim a 'jobs' victory before Election Day." How dastardly of them!

    More measured dissent came from no fewer than a dozen U.S. secretaries of transportation, a bipartisan group who served as far back as the Lyndon Johnson administration and included appointees of Ronald Reagan and both Bushes. In an open letter to Congress, they said: "Never in our nation's history has America's transportation system been on a more unsustainable course ...This bill will not 'fix' [it]. For that, we need a much larger and longer-term investment."

    Being transportation wonks, the 12 secretaries glossed over mention of why a sustainable transportation is vital: because it underpins economic prosperity. Fortunately, a well-timed White House white paper makes that compelling argument:

    "A well-performing transportation network keeps jobs in America, allows businesses to expand and lowers prices on household goods. It allows businesses to manage their inventories and transport goods more cheaply and efficiently as well as access a variety of suppliers and markets for their products, making it more cost-effective for manufacturers to keep production in or more production to the United States. American families benefit too: as consumers, from lower-priced goods and as workers, by gaining better access to jobs.

    "The economic benefits of smart infrastructure investment are long-term competitiveness, productivity, innovation, lower prices and higher incomes, while infrastructure investment also creates many thousands of American jobs in the near-term."

    No one seems to argue with this anymore. We can hope that someday our national leaders will find a way to translate that realization into robust, honestly financed policies that extend over the long terms required for sound planning of the travel routes to a vibrant 21st century economy.

    Categories: Twin Cities

    Some perspective on the gas tax

    StrongTowns - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 5:00am

    The federal highway trust fund is going broke, one of those long-known realities that is finally starting to sink in among the official nattering nabobs. Whether it is the New York Times, the USA Today or Slate (the hysterics of which I found particularly laughable), the analysis comes right from the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) talking points. Even the Daily Show has weighed in. Here’s what we are to believe:

    The gas tax needs to go up because (1) it has not been increased since 1993 so inflation has eroded a lot of its purchasing power (wait – I thought inflation was good). Then there is (2), our cars have gotten more fuel efficient and so the gas tax doesn’t go nearly as far as it once did. Finally, (3) we have horrible congestion, safety problems and we need the economic growth that comes with transportation investments.

    I started wondering….how big would the funding gap be if we had indexed the gas tax to inflation back in 1993? What if we had indexed it to economic growth? We if we had adjusted it for average daily traffic, probably the best measure of demand given the fuel efficiency issue? Here’s what those answers look like when compared to the revenue the ASCE indicates is needed to continue on the current path ($94 billion additional per year).

    I’ve passed this around and people want to know the math, which I’m going to provide below, but here’s the takeaway: we may have a funding problem, but that’s not what is going to take us down. Our real problem is that we have not had to think about what we are doing for a long, long time. We’ve been so wealthy and affluent that funding the most bizarre transportation arrangement on earth became akin to the American way of life. Congestion-free roadways and ample parking are to the United States what bread and circuses were to Rome. Get out your fiddle, that smoke is real.

    The question facing us now isn’t whether or not to increase funding for transportation but whether or not to reform – or even question – the very nature of our approach to transportation. An increase in the gas tax, additional sales taxes/fees or more deficit spending only allow us to continue to distort – for a few more years – a transportation system that is not financially viable. Without any price signals providing supply/demand feedback, we are destined to build ourselves into insolvency (again).

    And a final word to you transit and bike/ped advocates who have been promised riches if you’ll get behind calls for more money for this system: you are fighting for scraps today with disingenuous partners when, if you simply walked over the next ridge, you would find more financial support than you ever dreamed. That ridge: localization.

    We had the greatest transit and the greatest pedestrian facilities before we had centralized transportation policy. Bike/ped and (when not done by highway engineers) transit improvements are the highest returning transportation investments a city can make. Phase the federal and state governments out of this game and you open up enormous possibilities for bringing about the world you desire. Stick with this tired approach and you will continue to be an afterthought in a system that is going bankrupt.

    Now the math…

    ---

    There is one overriding assumption to my calculations that I know to be false, but here it is: I assume a static response to price increases. In other words, as the price goes up, I assume that people absorb the increase and continue to drive just as much. They will not.

    There is a complex and dynamic feedback loop that occurs when energy prices increase that cannot be accurately modeled. The end result for my calculations is that I overestimate the amount of revenue to be gained from an indexing to inflation, gdp and traffic and I underestimate the amount of gas tax increase needed to meet our needs. Since the startling thing about this analysis is the gap between what a reasonable increase would produce and what is needed, guessing at a dynamic feedback loop would simply be running up the score. The gap is already too big to overcome; we need to start thinking differently.

    Just know that, when you are looking at the chart, the inflation, GDP and traffic lines should be lower, and the need line much higher, than what is represented. I've attached my spreadsheet so you can mess with it yourself.

    I began my analysis with our actual fuel tax receipts since 1994. These I obtained from the Federal Highway Administration.

    I then took the consumer price index as an inflation adjustor from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (Table 24) and adjusted the gas tax by inflation for each year. At the end of last year, the inflation adjusted federal gas tax would be 29.7 cents per gallon. This is a 57.3% increase that would produce (again, with a static analysis) an additional $16.7 billion, enough to close the present hole in the trust fund.

    The GDP numbers worked out in much the same way. I obtained them from About.com (top of the Google search). A federal gas tax that grew as fast as the economy would currently be at 30.1 cents per gallon and produce an additional $17.3 billion dollars annually (assuming a static response).

    I’m not one who believes there is a direct relationship between transportation investments and economic growth so I thought it important to model a non-economic statistic. Average Daily Traffic (ADT) is about as close as we can get to measuring actual demand in a system where the relationship between supply and demand is shrouded in a web of perverse incentives. I obtained ADT numbers from the Federal Highway Administration. Growth in traffic was substantially less than economic growth over the years in question. Adjusted for ADT, the 1993 gas tax would today be 23.8 cents per gallon. This would add $7.6 billion to the trust fund.

    The adjustment for funding need is certainly going to be the most debated number I’m putting forward – as it should be. I used the headline number from the American Society of Civil Engineers, which states on their website:

    ASCE’s economic report on surface transportation, released in July 2011, found that our deteriorating infrastructure will cost the American economy more than 876,000 jobs and suppress the growth of our GDP by $897 billion by the year 2020.  We are facing a funding gap of about $94 billion a year with our current spending levels.

    To get 77.7 cents per gallon, I use a simple ratio of current spending with total needed spending.

    I'll repeat that this is a static analysis and thus 77.7 cents is a low number. If gas prices were to rise that much there would be many people who would drive less or choose a different mode of travel. This means the gas tax would need to go up even higher to collect the same amount of revenue. At some point the situation becomes a dog chasing its tail; every price increase prompts a reduction in driving and the need for more price increases. Ultimately the gas tax funding mechanism would collapse and/or driving would become an activity for only an elite few. That's difficult to see happening politically.

    A final word about the ASCE need number. Those of you that have read Strong Towns for any appreciable time period know that I am not a fan of ASCE. They are not a group that works to support the noble engineering profession but a special interest group that advocates for more public funding for its members. It uses shameless tactics, including distorted math, to make the case. Any numbers put forth by ASCE should be highly suspect.

    So why would I use their number for need? I use it because the ASCE approach is actually how engineers and city officials put together their list of needs. I’ve been in the meetings, been part of assembling the capital improvement plans. We used to call them “guaranteed employment plans” because the engineers would program into them their next five years’ worth of work and then go out and chase the funding. There is always a lot of padding in these plans masquerading as “need”, the money that then flows to the city creating – via the mechanisms by which it flows – a prioritization of the large, new project over the routine maintenance.

    I use the ASCE number because there is no limit to the “need” we can come up with if there is enough money. There is no feedback – no direct price that any consumer of the system pays – for its use and so there is no signal discerning actual demand. No way to determine a want from a need. The goal is a congestion free commute with ample, cheap parking for all along with all the ribbon cuttings and well-paying construction jobs.

    I use the ASCE number because it represents an America where we don’t have to think very hard, one with an embarrassment of riches available to cover up our immediate folly and allow us to put off anything truly difficult. One where the only real feedback is total failure. That’s a fragile place. It is yesterday's America. This generation's challenge is to change it.

    We’re running out of money. It’s time to start thinking.

    Categories: Twin Cities

    Make a B-Line to the Metropolitan Council

    Streets.MN - Wed, 07/23/2014 - 3:22pm

    An anonymous reader writes in:

     

     If anyone is available to attend a Met Council meeting at 4 pm (Wednesday July 23), this could get interesting.

    Met Council/Metro Transit had most of the $28 million for the B line (West 7th) in place, but at the last minute Ramsey County (with St. Paul as second) did something procedurally to  prevent Metro transit from using its own money to get MSP region’s FTA formula funds and complete design work in time before other funds to build the project expire. They are doing this because they think Riverview LRT will be open soon.  The B Line would be open before the LPA process for Riverview can even be adopted in 2016.  Nothing about ABRT on the B Line would prevent future light rail service. So, for the next decade (if we’re lucky), we’ll continue to have substandard bus service while we argue about an LRT line that once built, won’t go fast enough. More info: http://www.metrocouncil.org/Council-Meetings/Committees/Metropolitan-Council/2014/7-23-14/0723_2014_177-combined.aspx

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    Categories: Twin Cities