County wheelage tax might pay for a new bridge in Minneapolis |

Strib writes: County wheelage tax might pay for a new bridge in Minneapolis :

Hennepin County will consider reviving a wheelage tax it hasn’t used since 1975 to pay down debt on the Lowry Avenue Bridge.
Hennepin County could bring back a tax it hasn’t used in 36 years to help pay its share of the Lowry Avenue Bridge, now under construction in northeast Minneapolis.
It’s called a wheelage tax, and it’s collected from vehicle owners in five of the seven metro-area counties able to impose it under state law. Only Ramsey and Hennepin don’t have it.
That could change Tuesday, when the Hennepin County Board will take up a resolution by Commissioner Peter McLaughlin to charge $5 per vehicle (except motorcycles and some trailers) starting next year.
The $4 million that the wheelage tax would generate annually would be used to pay down most of the county’s $51.7 million debt on the bridge, slated to be finished next summer.
McLaughlin said that the new tax revenue would replace the property taxes now used to finance the bridge. If the board approves the wheelage tax, he said, the property tax levy would be reduced by a corresponding amount.
“Historically, we haven’t used debt backed by property taxes to pay for roads. We’ve used gas taxes and user fees like that,” he said. “Property taxes are not how we ought to be subsidizing roads.””

OK, user fees are best of all, wheelage taxes are better than sales or income taxes, and property taxes are not as good as Transportation Utility Fees or Land Value Taxes, but if accessibility increases property value, property taxes are not an unreasonable place to start for paying for roads.
The article does mention that “Minus administrative payments, the tax would generate a little more than $4 million.”, I assume it is collected by the state with annual vehicle registration. I would hate for there to be a new tax collection infrastructure for this.
Also, why aren’t bicycles assessed (at half rate since they have only two wheels)? (Yes that was rhetorical).

Google Killed Map Traffic Estimates Because It Just Didn’t Work

From Gizmodo: Google Killed Map Traffic Estimates Because It Just Didn’t Work

If you’re wondering how road traffic’s gonna slow you today, don’t turn to Google Maps anymore—the site’s killed its estimates. Not because it wasn’t popular. It turns out those road calculations didn’t exactly correlate to, you know, reality.
The Atlantic describes the discovery of perturbed Maps users, who complained to Google when they noticed the change. Its answer?

[W]e have decided that our information systems behind this feature were not as good as they could be. Therefore, we have taken this offline and are currently working to come up with a better, more accurate solution. We are always working to bring you the best Google Maps experience with updates like these!”

Translation: traffic didn’t work. And as the Atlantic’s Nicholas Jackson asks, how could Google be sucking down so much locational data from Android drivers and be botching it to the point that they pulled it down entirely? [The Atlantic]”

A big defeat for the biggest information provider. But using in-vehicle GPS on mobile phones as a probe is coming, and will eventually get it right (approximately, if lagged). The problem of course is that traffic is dynamic, and even a 5 minute lag will be quite off if there is an incident or something non-steady state. However as a signal of whether things are normal, it probably works.

Information provision is probably best for what an individual will not know from routine behavior—random incidents and unfamiliar territory. The qualitative conclusion that incidents and the unexpected are where the greatest gains from traveler information are to be found reinforces the results from our simulations. Those models show that a low level of probes can provide useful information by rapidly detecting incidents, whereas a much greater number is needed to provide any gains from recurring congestion.

Study: Long commutes could fatigue airline pilots

AP tells us: Study: Long commutes could fatigue airline pilots :

One in five airline pilots lives at least 750 miles from work, according to a study by scientific advisers to the government, raising concerns that long commutes to airports could lead to fatigue in the cockpit.

I hope they are not driving to the airport every day, 10 hours each way at 75 MPH, it would only leave them 4 hours for work and none for sleep.

New coalition unveils alternative plan for St. Croix River bridge

2011 Proposed alternative Stillwater Bridge
2011 Proposed alternative for new Stillwater Bridge

Strib reports: New coalition unveils alternative plan for St. Croix River bridge

Competition emerged Tuesday in the debate over a new St. Croix River bridge near Stillwater.
The new Sensible Stillwater Bridge coalition, referring to the longtime $690 million bridge proposal as a “boondoggle,” unveiled plans at an afternoon news conference for a lower and slower bridge at less than half that cost. The narrower three-lane bridge would angle from south of Stillwater, at Oak Park Heights, to where the Stillwater Lift Bridge meets the Wisconsin side of the river.

1. Just for the record, despite the presser this afternoon, this is not a new proposal. The image differs only slightly from this 2003 image :

2003 Proposed alternative for new Stillwater Bridge (Low and Slow)
2003 Proposed alternative for new Stillwater Bridge (Low and Slow)

We can play one of those kids games, spot the differences. The arch is further east. There is a traffic circle/roundabout control, and some forking of the bridge on the west side, but the angle and the two landing points are the same as was proposed a long time ago judging from my scientific analysis of the watercolor engineering diagrams. That does not make it a bad proposal, and perhaps the coalition is new, but the proposal is not.
2. They are proposing a “3 – lane bridge”, which implies 36 feet wide at 12 foot lanes given modern standards for new construction (not including the shoulders that MnDOT will insist on). But at 9 foot lanes, this 36 feet could be almost instantly transformed into four lanes. 9 foot lanes are outrageous you say, but remember, in 10 to 20 years, vehicle lane departure control will be significantly better (we are on the inexorable path towards robot cars), meaning lanes need not be much wider than the vehicles themselves. Even traffic engineers are becoming cool with narrowing lanes today (though not to 9 ft).
At worst, drivers will slow down by 5 miles an hour on their path. So for being slowed down on 2 miles, instead of it taking 2 minutes that bit might take 2 minutes and 10 seconds. Instead of the 20 mile trip taking 20 min, it will take 20 min and 10 sec. Again not a meaningful difference.
We will in the not distant future be able to squeeze more capacity out of all of our roads and bridge (if the pavements and structures will allow us). This means over most of its life (1) it won’t do a whole lot to slow growth in Wisconsin compared to the bigger bridge proposal, and (2) you don’t need the bigger bridge to have growth in Wisconsin.
This presupposes this bridge comes along with a limited access if not grade separated highway between Wisconsin and Minnesota, which it seems to, depending on what happens to Wisconsin State Highway 64, and from my periodic sojourns through beautiful downtown Houlton, this seems an easily solved problem. The Stillwater side is / can be fully limited access with this design.
Of course the larger bridge proposal could then be easily reconfigured to 6 lanes I suspect, but the demand may not be there. So my view is the capacity reduction on this is largely not meaningful over the relevant timeframe 2015-2065. We need to be planning for a world with narrower lanes, and more capacity in the same footprint.
3. Because it is a smaller bridge, it should save money, but we would need to see the DOT cost estimates before we can be sure we compare apples to apples.
4. This brings more traffic closer to the river than the other plans (e.g. Alt B) (assuming identical traffic levels), as traffic runs next to the river before crossing, and then stays near the river on the Wisconsin side. I am no expert on water pollution, but that bit seems not so good.
5. MnDOT should invest in watercolor artists.
6. This proposal should not simply be brushed aside as Not Invented Here. The objective is maximizing Benefits / Costs. Whatever proposal does that should be selected. I mean, who wants an Insensible Bridge.

BAA cuts Heathrow growth forecasts

Induced demand works in the airline sector too … sez: (registration reqd) BAA cuts Heathrow growth forecasts: “Heathrow’s owners have lowered their long-term passenger growth forecasts for Europe’s busiest airport to account for the UK government’s ban on a third runway and the prospect of oil prices staying high for longer.”

FT does not provide a link to the actual growth forecasts, which would have been useful.

Do Freeway Traffic Management Strategies Exacerbate Urban Sprawl?The Case of Ramp Metering

Recently published:

The impact of highway capacity expansion on urban land use has been studied extensively. With the shift of transportation investment priorities from major capacity expansion projects to operational improvements, it has become increasingly important to understand the impact of transportation control measures such as traffic management and pricing on location choices. This paper explores the impact of traffic management strategies on land use patterns using the example of ramp metering. A regression-based transportation model is employed to capture changes in accessibility due to ramp metering on a highway network. A land use change indicator model then estimates how employment and residential density distributions shift in response to changing accessibility in several stylized urban areas with various initial land use patterns (e.g., monocentric and polycentric cities). Ramp metering is shown to improve accessibility in a nonuniform fashion. The resulting land use changes depend on the existing land use conditions. In monocentric cities, ramp metering exacerbates urban sprawl by encouraging residents to live further away from their workplaces, which produces avoidable excess travel. In polycentric cities with both nondominant central business districts and secondary employment centers, ramp metering actually encourages residents to relocate to areas near existing employment centers and therefore serves as an antisprawl measure. The weakest impact of ramp metering on land use is observed when an urban area has a perfect job-housing balance. Other interesting findings suggest that by making downtown areas more accessible, ramp metering may help revitalize declining city centers in congested cities and that business location decisions are not significantly affected by ramp metering.

The first version of this paper was written by Lei as a term paper for one of my classes (I think PA8202: Networks and Places). Unfortunately it is behind a paywall (TRR should be set free, just as other National Academies publications have been), though I am sure the author will happily share a copy.

Circle Pines, Minnesota a planned cooperative

I also did not know until recently about Circle Pines, Minnesota . Not private like North Oaks (which banned Google Street View), but founded as a cooperative. I am sure I can visit here.
Their website says:

Our community has grown a lot since the early founding days of the 1940’s, but the foundation laid by the early visionaries remains vibrant today in neighborhoods all across the community. Their goal of creating a cooperative spirit is still seen today in the only municipal gas utility in the metro area, providing natural gas service to residents while supporting community services rather than investors.
Every community has challenges and while our city is fully built out so facing no new development, we continue working hard to protect and preserve our natural environment, support and sustain our high quality schools, and maintain our streets and other infrastructure. We’re fortunate to have so many talented people involved in our Parks, Planning and Utilities Commissions, and to have citizens with a strong sense of volunteerism and civility.

History of Circle Pines

In 1945, while lying in the shade of the trees at the picnic ground at Golden Lake after swimming V.S. Petersen sat up and announced “I have an idea”.
V.S. Petersen found two men sympathetic to cooperative notions. They were Thomas Ellerbe, head of the engineering and architecture firm that did the Ramsey County Courthouse in St. Paul, and Paul Steenberg. Steenberg was president of Steenberg Construction Company that had built the Coffman Memorial Union at the University of Minnesota.
In May of 1946 the cooperative village of 1,203 acres was announced “to unite the habitation benefits of a functional and contemporary community with the economic advantages of a consumer’s cooperative.” Each home would front a park or a walkway. There would be adult education, nurseries, educational and recreational activities; and the commercial facilities and services would be owned cooperatively, as would the municipal utilities. The minimum housing costs within 3 specified areas were set at $4,000, $6,000, and $8,000. The maximum for a house was set at $20,000. Each buyer had to purchase at least one share in the cooperative, @ $100 per share.
If an owner decided to sell their home, the development association held the first option to buy. The terms were decided by a three-member panel representing the association, the owner and a neutral party. The developers anticipated construction of 500 homes in the first two years, and that it would take five years to complete the total project. The 3 developers planned to turn over control of the development to the homeowners upon completion. For every 500 homes sold, one of the sponsors’ three votes would be transferred to the residents.