Skyway Life

VitaMn article: Take the skyway: A downtown dweller spends 14 days in the skyway system – and survives. This is how I optimistically imagined the future when I was young. The city is a superstructure, and just as rail connects larger areas, skyways do so for local areas. The more internally connected everything is, (i.e. can I avoid going outside) the closer it seems.
AIA has a Skyway Videos Contest 24 short videos about the Minneapolis Skyway System. Just don’t call them honky tubes.

For more on Skyways, see
Corbett, Michael, Feng Xie, and David Levinson (2009) Evolution of the Second-Story City: The Minneapolis Skyway System. Environment and Planning b 36(4) 711-724

Parking in Motion

CNET has an article of interest about a new mobile app: Tiny start-up tackles big driving hassle: Parking

“[Parking in Motion], in its early stages now, is mostly a directory of parking lots and garages. Like GasBag, a database of gas stations and the prices they charge, Parking In Motion shows you how much you’re going to pay for parking at various lots. Users can update the data if it’s inaccurate. Great feature: the app has arrows to show where garage entrances are.
Ultimately, the app will do much more, according to co-founder Sam Friedman. First of all, it will show which lots or garages are full. This information can’t come from users–it’d be too late to be useful. Parking In Motion is instead working with garage operators to collect this data on a broader scale. But first it might have to help operators actually get that data themselves.
Tighter integration with parking structure operators will eventually allow drivers to reserve spots and to pre-pay for them–possibly with a discount. This is where Parking In Motion will make its money, taking a percentage of those transactions.
The app will also, eventually, offer advice on street parking. It won’t be able to direct you to a specific spot, unfortunately. Even though many cities are installing smart parking meters, the data collection is too slow to direct drivers to open spaces. Rather, Parking In Motion will collect data from users and meters and tell them which streets or areas are most likely to have open spots, and how long it will likely take to find them.
Down the line even further, Friedman has this vision: “Five years from now, you’ll be able to get in your car, find parking on the street, and pay for it from within your car. And then if you’re in a meeting and it’s running over, you’ll be able to re-up your meter from the conference table.”
The company’s flagship cities are Philadelphia and Santa Monica, Calif., where it has reservations and street parking data coming online. But it has garage data in about 300 cities, and the iPhone app is free and available in the App Store today.”

Mischief in Minnesota: Northstar and Strategic Misrepresentation

Northstar_fact_sheet03-05-03p2Northstar_fact_sheet03-05-03p1When Northstar Commuter Rail line was just a glint in the eyes of exurban Republicans, they distributed this promotional material (on the right (dated March 5, 2003 in my files)).

Ridership has not come close to promised. From Finance and Commerce a few months ago:

“Ridership on the Northstar commuter rail line will be about 20 percent less than forecast in its first year of operation, prompting one member of the Metropolitan Council to question whether the $317 million project was worth it.

Officials had projected 897,000 riders total for the Northstar in 2010; after nine months – including the Twins’ season – it now looks like the annual ridership figure will be 715,000.

As a result of the lower numbers, Met Council board members voted unanimously Wednesday to reject fare increases that for more than a year had been set to go into effect Nov. 15.

“Do we ever unravel a transit project that is not successful enough to sustain itself?” asked District 2 Met Councilmember Tony Pistilli.

“I’m not saying we should unravel Northstar yet, but do we have a definition of ‘failure’?” Pistilli, in life outside the Met Council, is chief appraiser and vice president of consumer banking risk management for U.S. Bank.

District 3 Met Councilmember Robert McFarlin, head of the transportation committee – and former interim head of MnDOT – said that “unraveling would be extremely difficult. I believe it’s incumbent upon us that we give what’s in place the best possible shot to succeed.”

But McFarlin added that Pistilli’s question “is an excellent one, and [the lower Northstar ridership numbers] should give us pause looking at other projects that are on the drawing board.”

The Northstar line debuted Nov. 16, 2009, connecting downtown Minneapolis with Big Lake, about 40 miles to the northwest. It was supposed to go the full 80 miles to St. Cloud, a train trip many are hoping becomes a reality soon.

Met Council Chair Peter Bell conceded the figures are “disappointing” and added that while he’s not been involved in discussions about how to “decommission” transit lines, the Met Council does look carefully at bus routes and how they’re performing “and occasionally we eliminate one.””

Anton, Lubov, & Associates (dated April 17, 2003) conducted an economic analysis “Northstar-economics (PDF)” of the line, and in contrast with the optimistic 1998 Parsons-Brickerhoff B/C ratio of 0.26, or the very optimistic 2002 MnDOT B/C ratio of 0.84, they came up with an incredibly optimistic B/C ratio of 1.15 for the line.

A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King
A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King

Cudos to Parsons-Brinckerhoff.

Proponents will argue that the full line (to Metropolitan St. Cloud) was not built, which is of course true. However that unbuilt segment was expected to be a worse performer than what was actually built.

If current ridership holds (979 persons using the line (round trip) per day (on a 365 day year)), this amounts to a $275,664 capital cost per person. On a per day basis: $61 round trip capital cost and $28 round trip operating cost per day. Or $89 per person.

Fares are up to $7 one-way, or $14 round-trip. Assuming most trips pay the full fare (which they don’t), the daily subsidy is about $75 per day per rider.

I have complained about this before.

Decommissioning should be an option. Not every scheme works. Unlike the Pope, the Metropolitan Council and State Government is not infallible, and need not defend every decision of every predecessor. Every continued dollar supporting the long-distance commutes of a few exurbanites is a dollar that cannot be spent on something more important.

If this kind of mischief were unique to Minnesota, we could pass it off as a mistake. However it is quite common in the transit promoters’ world. ‘Strategic misrepresentation’ as it is politely called has been well-documented by Kain, Pickrell, Richmond, and Flyvbjerg among others.

Minnesota Standards Should Change from 12 Foot Lane Widths to 11 Foot Lane Widths – Mike on Traffic

Mike on Traffic argues:

Minnesota Standards Should Change from 12 Foot Lane Widths to 11 Foot Lane Widths : “”

“Narrowing roads results in shorter crossing distances and reduced traffic speeds. This improves the environment for pedestrians and bicyclists.
The research also points to 11 foot lanes being as safe as 12 foot lanes (according to NCHRP Project 17-26). A big reason is that motorists drive more cautiously in narrower lanes. Narrower lanes would have reduced the numerous speeding complaints I received from residents during my tenure in Maple Grove.
A quick check of MnDOT’s website shows there are 290,588 lane miles in Minnesota. Assuming we trimmed one foot off each lane, that would equate to 35,222 acres (55 square miles) of less pavement (assuming all of the roads are paved). To put that in perspective, the city of Minneapolis is 58.4 square miles including the lakes and rivers.
Imagine the economic and environmental benefits of shifting the standard by one foot. Why would this decision take 2+ years of study? The rules should be re-written to make 10 foot lanes allowable in urban settings, 11 foot lanes the standard across the state, and 12 foot lanes allowed if justified through a variance process.”

Buses: The Quickening

Mulad has some useful suggestions for the impending cutbacks to Metro Transit

‘Cuz you’re the one I just don’t need:

“Crises do bring an opportunity to examine issues in greater detail. I’m pretty sure that Metro Transit will be forced to make some cuts of some sort. I hope they can avoid trimming urban routes and weekend service (which is already pretty minimal).

  • The first thing Metro Transit should cut is the number of bus stops to optimize spacing. It seems that the average distance between stops is about 600 feet in Minneapolis—only one block for north-south routes, and two blocks for east-west routes (generally the opposite is true in Saint Paul). That’s basically too close together for buses to even get up to the speed limit before stopping. Metro Transit should cut between 1/3 and 1/2 of its stops, increasing the average spacing to every 2 long blocks or every 4 short blocks.
    This will frustrate a lot of people, and even I get a bit concerned about the idea, but this would speed things up and make schedules more consistent, hopefully reducing the need for timed stops, thereby increasing speed further. The exercise would also probably free up some transit shelters and benches, which could be relocated to the many fairly busy stops that are currently just slabs of concrete and which would attract more riders if there was better cover.
  • Secondly, the Go-To Card and other transit passes need to be promoted even more heavily, and it needs to be easier to buy and fill up those passes. I see people using the Go-To Card and the U-Pass a lot on my regular route, the 3, but that’s partly due to a heavy student population. When I travel out of the tech-savvy student zone, the cards become a lot less common.
  • The cards are a great way to get around because they get rid of the need to keep getting dollars and coins (which are harder to get these days now that people use credit cards more often). They also speed up boarding and reduce the need for passengers to fumble for change.
  • Consider reducing the amount of time that transfers are valid down from the current 2.5 hours. That must cover almost all one-way trips on the system, plus many two-way trips. Dropping it to 1.5 hours could continue to cover most one-way trips yet stealthily increase the revenue generated by two-way errand traffic. However, I worry it would hurt the most transit-dependent riders the worst.
  • Area transit agencies should engage local neighborhoods and businesses to offload the costs of constructing and maintaining bus shelters—and hopefully work on maintaining local sidewalks as well as constructing them where they currently don’t exist. Neighborhoods throughout the core cities and inner suburbs need to get competitive about promoting themselves through their local infrastructure in order to combat flight to the exurbs.
  • Transit agencies should also work with the cities and counties they serve to see if roads can be cheaply reconfigured to run buses faster—hopefully also finding room for bicyclists in the process.”