Minneapolis Circle Line

I have recently been thinking about the backbone transit network of the Twin Cities.

The existing and soon-to-be-built LRT lines (Hiawatha, Central Corridor, Southwest Corridor) all radiate from downtown Minneapolis. The same is true of the one Commuter Rail line.
Examining the proposed Minneapolis Streetcar System one again sees the downtown orientation (aside from the Midtown Greenway Streetcar line).
Most Minneapolitans, do not work downtown. Most do not take shop, entertain themselves, or do other things downtown very often.

Many other cities have adopted Railway loop lines , which circle around downtown at some radius. These cities include Berlin, London, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Glasgow, Madrid, Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo, Osaka, Oslo, Seoul, Chicago, and Moscow. The advantage is that travelers do not need to go all the way into the center to go to a destination on another spoke.
Thinking about network topology in the Minneapolis case, I hypothesize a Minneapolis Circle Line service. There are several objectives in mind
(1) Maximize destinations served outside of downtown.
(2) Minimize construction costs, use existing (or to be built) alignments where possible
(3) Minimize interference from traffic, avoid on-street rights-of-way where possible.
(4) As a service, it can utilize existing tracks but go to different destinations. It separates the requirement that the line and services on the line be identical.
To that end, there are several major sections of the service:
(A) The south-side runs on the proposed Midtown Greenway Streetcar
(B) The west-side runs along the proposed SW LRT right-of-way from the intersection of the Midtown Greenway to Penn Avenue.
(C) The Penn Avenue section runs from the SW LRT Penn Station to Plymouth Avenue
(D) The north-side runs on Plymouth Avenue across the Mississippi River
(E) The northeast section runs through Boom Island park to Main Street/St. Anthony Main. If done as a “Heritage” Transit line, it could add to the qualitative attractions of this largely pedestrian zone.
(F) The southeast section follows from Main Street along the Granary Road right-of-way across the north side of the Gopher Stadium. Part of this is the Northern Alignment from the Central Corridor studies. However it would take advantage of its location and have stops at the new developments in the University Bio-technology corridor.
(G) The east section follows 25th Ave SE south to the railroad right-of-way paralleling and crossing I-94 to 27th Ave.
(H) The section passes through the five-way intersection at Franklin Avenue and East River Road to cross the Mississippi River on the Franklin Avenue Bridge.
(I) The route follows Franklin Avenue to 26th Avenue S, turns south, to meet the Midtown Greenway extended just past the Lake Street Station on the Hiawatha Line.
(*) Some alternative routings have been drawn as well.
The route thus connects Seward, Midtown, Phillips, Uptown, Lake Calhoun, Kenwood, Bassetts Creek, Harrison,Sumner-Glenwood, Near North, North Loop, East Hennepin, St. Anthony Main and Nicollet Island, Marcy-Holmes, Dinkytown,the University of Minnesota, Stadium Village, and Prospect Park, and Cedar- Riverside.

I have not tested this hypothesis in terms of potential travel demand. I do not have a perfect routing that inherently beats all others, it is a question of trade-offs and values. However the notion of non-radial services needs to be raised as the Twin Cities go forth on the biggest rail construction boom since the 19th century.

Nick Clegg @ University of Minnesota

Not much to do with transportation, but according to wikipedia Nick Clegg, who is the leader of Britain’s Liberal Democrats, and doing surprisingly well in the lead up to their Parliamentary Elections, spent a year at the University of Minnesota.
If Tim Pawlenty were to get the Republican nomination and be elected, it would be possible that both the PM of the UK and the President of the US were both U of M alums. How often have leaders of both countries attended the same schools (e.g. Clinton and Blair both went to Oxford)?
Like the Vikings and the Superbowl, Minnesota is doomed to bridesmaidery in national elections. Consider Presidents Harold Stassen, Hubert Humphrey, and Walter Mondale.
Anyway, for the record, I’m with Nick.

Some thoughts on high-speed rail – part 7: Summary and conclusions

This set of blog posts reviewed the state of HSR planning in the United States c. 2010. The plans generally call for a set of barely inter-connected hub-and-spoke networks.

  • There is sometimes a danger of a planner falling in love with his map. There is no danger here, even the same agencies have random maps. It seems as no one cares where the lines actually go, so long as they are high-speed rail.
  • The marketers have also made a mistake, 220 miles per hour sounds a lot slower (and less futuristic) than 350 kilometers per hour.
  • The US carries a greater share of freight by rail than Europe. Converting rights-of-way into passenger only (which is required for HSR) may cost some of that freight share.
  • Any money spent on HSR cannot be spent on something else. The issue of opportunity costs is seldom metnioned.

The evidence from US transit systems shows that lines have two major land use impacts. There are positive accessibility benefits near stations, but there are negative nuisance effects along the lines themselves. High speed lines are unlikely to have local accessibility benefits separate from connecting local transit lines because there is little advantage for most people or businesses to locate near a line used infrequently (unlike public transit). However they may have more widespread metropolitan level effects. They will retain, and perhaps worse, have much higher, nuisance effects. A previous study of the full costs of high-speed rail in California (Levinson et al. 1997) showed that the noise and vibration costs along the line would be quite significant. Some examples are reported here, typical lines may have noise damage costs on the order of $1 billion.

If high-speed real lines can create larger effective regions, that might affect the distribution of who wins and loses from such infrastructure. The magnitude of agglomeration economies is uncertain (and certainly location-specific), but I think presents the best case that can be made in favor of HSR in the US.

That said, remember that real HSR (not the short term improvements to get to 90 or 110 MPH, which may or may not be a good thing, but are certainly not HSR) is a long term deployment, so it needs to be compared with cars 10 or 20 or 30 years hence, and the air transportation system over the same period. Cars are getting better from both an environmental perspective and from the perspective of automation technologies. The DARPA Urban Challenge vehicles need to be bested to justify HSR. Cars driven by computers, which while sounding far off is technologically quite near, should be able to attain relatively high speeds (though certainly not HSR speeds in mixed traffic). Further they may move less material per passenger than HSR (trains are heavy), and so may net less environmental impact if electrically powered. Aviation is improving as well, both in terms of its environmental impacts and its efficiency. Socially-constructed problems like aviation security or congestion can be solved for far less money than is required for any one high-speed rail line.

The local land use effects of HSR are likely to be small to non-existent. The agglomeration benefits may exist, but there is little grounds for concluding their size.


All opinions and errors are those of the author.


1RP Braun-CTS Chair of Transportation Engineering; Director of Network, Economics, and Urban Systems Research Group; University of Minnesota, Department of Civil Engineering, 500 Pillsbury Drive SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455 USA, Email: dlevinson@umn.edu, web: http://nexus.umn.edu Tel: 01-612-625-6354

2Source: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:High_Speed_Railroad_Map_Europe_2009.gif Accessed April 20, 2010

3Source: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Shinkansenmap.png Accessed April 20, 2010

4Source: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:China_Railway_High-Speed_.png Accessed April 20, 2010

5The next largest city not on the network is Honolulu, Hawaii, at 55)

6New York (1), Los Angeles (2), Chicago (3), Dallas (4), Atlanta (9), Phoenix (12), Denver (21), and Orlando (27) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Table_of_United_States_Metropolitan_Statistical_Areas .

7Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota are excluded from the Intercity Passenger Rail Program. However North Dakota and South Dakota have been included in the Minnesota State plan (connecting to Sioux Falls and Fargo).

8Source:US Federal Railway Administration http://www.fra.dot.gov/downloads/Research/hsr_corridors_2009_LV.pdf Accessed April 20, 2010

9Source: AASHTO High-speed rail http://www.highspeed-rail.org/PublishingImages/Recipient_map012810.jpg Accessed April 20, 2010

10Source: US Federal Railway Administration http://www.fra.dot.gov/downloads/Research/hsrmap-lv.pdf Accessed April 20, 2010

11Source: US High-speed rail Association http://www.ushsr.com/images/810_US_HSR_Phasing_Map.gif Accessed April 20, 2010

12Source:http://www.uspirg.org/home/reports/report-archives/transportation/transportation2/the-right-track-building-a-21st-century-high-speed-rail-system-for-america?id4=HPAccessed April 20, 2010

13Source: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Map_of_current_Interstates.svg Accessed April 20, 2010

14Source: Florida Department of Transportation http://www.floridahighspeedrail.org/images/route-map_all_4.gif Accessed April 20, 2010

15Source: California High-speed rail Authority http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/images/chsr/20091026134234_Preferred_state_102209pm.pdf Accessed April 20, 2010

16Source: Midwest High-speed rail Association http://www.midwesthsr.org/images/network/midwest_hub_map_30Jun09_large.gif Accessed April 20, 2010

17Source: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:NEC_map.svg Accessed April 20, 2010

18California High-speed rail Authority, “Nearly 160,000 Construction-Related Jobs, 450,000 Permanent Jobs,” http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/news/JOBS_lr.pdf.

19CRS Report R40104, Economic Stimulus: Issues and Policies, by Jane G. Gravelle, Thomas L. Hungerford, and Marc Labonte.

20U.S. Government Accountability Office, High Speed Passenger Rail, GAO-09-317, March 2009, Washington, DC, p. 29, http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09317.pdf.

21Eddington Transport Study, 2006, p. 208.

22Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics: Economy at a Glance: California http://www.bls.gov/eag/eag.ca.htm accessed April 20, 2010

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Some thoughts on high-speed rail – part 6: Nuisance effects

High-speed rail while providing potential benefits at the nodes, guarantees costs along the lines. Evidence from hedonic price studies (the same kind of studies that were used to assess the accessibility benefits of public transit in a previous section) show that each additional decibel of noise reduces home value by 0.62 percent (Levinson et al. 1997). Using the methodology in (Levinson et al. 1997) , the noise per train, and the number of trains per hour determine a noise exposure forecast. Applying the noise exposure forecast to the number of houses effected by each level of noise, and summing over all of the houses, and multiplying by the value of each house, gives the economic noise damages associated with the trains. So for instance, for a project running 20 trains per hour at 241 km/h through an area with 1000 housing units per square kilometer, each with a value of $250,000 would produce a total noise damage cost per kilometer of track of $1.975 million, a not insignificant cost. For a line of 500 km, this would be a system noise cost of nearly $1 billion. These relationships are non-linear, even one train per hour would produce a total cost of $269 million. Running 20 trains at an average speed of 350 km/h would produce a cost of $1.5 billion.

The noise damages can be avoided if preventive measures are adopted. These include acquiring a much wider right-of-way so there is no housing near the tracks, or noise walls. Whether those costs are less expensive than accepting damages depends on the circumstances.

New Way To Guide A Car: With Your Eyes, Not Hands

Via Kurzweil, NPR writes: New Way To Guide A Car: With Your Eyes, Not Hands

German researchers have developed a new technology that lets drivers steer cars using only their eyes.

“The car can do everything. It can drive autonomously or it can be guided by a driver’s eyes,” Rojas said. The compromise is a mode that has the car driving on its own, basing its decisions on input from scanners and cameras, and only requires the driver to give guidance at crossroads.
“The car stops at intersections and asks the driver for guidance on which road to take,” the researchers say. A few seconds of attention with the driver looking in his desired direction get the car flowing again.
To demonstrate the car’s autonomy, Rojas at one point jumped in front of the car — which was at that moment driving at perhaps 10 miles per hour — and the Dodge was immediately stopped by the cameras that had detected the obstacle.

One can see the issues with this without looking very far, but interesting technology nonetheless.

Some thoughts on high-speed rail – part 5: Economic Development

There is no grounded empirical work to date on the economic development impacts of high-speed rail in the United States, since such services do not exist. Little has been written from objective (as opposed to vested) sources. The Congressional Research Service has tried to balance the arguments:

Promoting Economic Development
“HSR, according to supporters, promotes economic development, as well as potentially beneficial changes in land use and employment. In the short term, it is argued, jobs will be created in planning, designing, and building HSR. By improving accessibility, HSR, it is thought, will spur economic development and the creation of long-term jobs, particularly around high-speed rail stations. For example, the California High-speed rail Authority argues that its proposal for a HSR connecting northern and southern Californian cities will create 160,000 short-term construction-related jobs, and 450,000 long-term jobs.18

Although skeptics point out that increasing spending on anything will create short-term jobs, some research shows that infrastructure spending tends to create more jobs than other types of spending.19 In terms of longer-term benefits, however, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) notes that quantifying these benefits can be difficult, and “while benefits such as improvements in economic development and employment may represent real benefits for the jurisdiction in which a new high-speed rail service is located, from another jurisdiction’s perspective or from a national view they may represent a transfer or relocation of benefits.”20 On the question of whether HSR can provide economic benefits for the national economy as a whole by increasing depth of labor markets and improving business travel, the UK transportation policy study discussed earlier notes that “such effects are quite limited in mature economies with well developed infrastructure.”21 This study notes that building a HSR line between London and Scotland would probably provide modest economic benefits at best because air carriers already provide fast and frequent service at a reasonable cost for business and other travelers.”[]

The job estimates from California cited in the preceding paragraph would be enormous if they could be validated. A single infrastructure project creating 450,000 jobs, (out of a total civilian employment of under 16 million 22) gives a total of almost 3 percent of the state’s workforce. The construction related jobs alone are 1 percent of the state’s workforce. Presently, construction alone is 577,000 jobs, so this project would absorb on the order of one-third to one-fourth of all construction jobs in the state.

While the propaganda of project promoters may not be plausible, logically there are some regional effects. An argument could be made about strengthening intercity linkages to refashion the current metropolitan system into a megalopolitan system, where people more regularly interact between cities. One could envision this as Switzerland writ large. If, as Adam Smith suggests, the division of labor is limited by the extent of the market, and transportation can be used to expand the market, the division of labor can therefore increase (i.e. be more specialized), which should have some positive effects for the economy (akin to agglomeration economies). Melo, Graham, and Noland conduct a meta-analysis of estimates of urban agglomeration economies from 34 studies. The ranges of effects are quite large, and no clear conclusions about the magnitudes can be drawn. The authors write “The findings support the intuition that agglomeration estimates for any particular empirical context may have little relevance elsewhere.”.

Whether HSR will expand markets then depends on whether it is faster (point-to-point) than alternative transportation modes, or allows users to be more productive, which depends again on context.

There is little else to say on this subject without entering the same realm of speculation that project advocates have.

Some thoughts on high-speed rail – part 4: Land value creation

`The estimated functions show that HSR accessibility has at most a minor effect on house prices” in Taiwan. [Andersson et al., 2010]

Examination of local land uses around international high-speed rail stations suggests that were it not for commuter traffic, the effects on land use will not necessarily be localized near the station, the way they would with a public transit station. Downtown stations, if they were to see land use benefits, should see higher local densities, higher local rents, and the construction of air rights over the station and local yards.

Eurostar is a heavily used high-speed rail line connecting London and Paris, serving 9.2 million passengers per year. Gare du Nord in Paris, which serves Eurostar, has local land uses largely indistinguishable from other areas of Paris. St. Pancras in London similarly. Ebbsfleet International Rail Station and Ashford International Rail Station are surrounded by surface parking lots.

Tokaido Shinkansen, connecting Tokyo and Osaka and serving 151 million passengers annually, is an order of magnitude more successful. The densities around stations on this line are visibly higher, but still air rights are partially, but not fully developed, indicating limits to how valuable the land is, even in Tokyo. Shin-Osaka station is adjacent to surface parking lots.

The development effects are not local (unlike public transit stations), which is not surprising since if they are serving long distance travel they are also serving less frequent travel, and as a consequence the advantages of being local to the station are weaker. Where they share space with local transit system hubs, the effects would be difficult to disentangle.

Some thoughts on high-speed rail – part 3: Accessibility

Figure 4: Accessibility by Network Topology

AccessibilityHub-thumb-400x270-38958 AccessibilityGrid-thumb-400x271-38955

Accessibility measures the ease of reaching destinations. The higher the travel cost the lower the accessibility. It also measures the value of destinations, the more activities at the destination, the more valuable it is.

Accessibility does two things, first it increases total wealth. Agglomeration economies caused by new infrastructure make aggregate output larger. But second, it redistributes wealth, as the locations where the accessibility gains are larger gain more of that aggregate wealth. Places which do not increase accessibility at least as much as average may find themselves losing economic opportunities which will relocate to take advantage of the accessibility benefits.

The reason for describing the hub networks in the previous section in a paper on economic development is that the hubs, because of their respective positions, will capture accessibility benefits disproportionate to their already relatively large share of the population. First order beneficiaries are New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Orlando, as they will be hubs of the new HSR networks. Places where the network branches will also see some benefits, but not as great. Second order beneficiaries are Atlanta and Dallas, which are hubs of the next generation networks. Third order beneficiaries are cities like New Orleans, Kansas City, Louisville and Raleigh which tie together multiple hub networks. Other cities on the networks will also see absolute accessibility gains, people in those cities will be able to reach more people in less time (or with higher quality, or at less out-of-pocket cost). However, while they may achieve absolute gains in accessibility, they may lose in relative position, as a greater share of the now larger total accessibility is accumulated by the hub cities.

A simple accessibility model is constructed between five cities, a hub and four spokes. In the first case, it is a strict hub and spoke network, so that to go between any two spokes, one must travel through the hub. It is assumed that otherwise all cities are of equal size (and thus value), and the four spokes are symmetrically placed. In the second case, direct routes between the spokes are constructed, so to go from, e.g., the east spoke to the south spoke there is a direct route (at a distance of ÷2 times the distance between the spoke and the hub), but to go from the east to west spoke cities still requires passage through the hub. Schedules are assumed indifferent.

The accessibility model follows the classic Hansen model [] in which impedance is a negative exponential function of time. The results are shown in .

As can be seen, as willingness to travel decreases, and as time increases, the advantage over the hub and spoke increases from 1 (no difference) to 4 (the hub has four times the accessibility as a spoke). This is because if the time is great enough (or willingness to travel low enough), people can travel from a spoke to the hub, but the cost of reaching a second spoke through the hub is too great to be valued, while the hub, due to it centrality, can reach all four spokes. In the second case, with direct routes, the same pattern emerges, but the spokes are relatively stronger (though still not as strong as the hub).