London is your Oyster

Two visualizations of the London Oyster data:

London in Motion (Jay Gordon)

London’s Oyster Card Tidal Flow (Oliver O’Brien)


A colleague asks, what cool things would you do with those underlying data (e.g. GoTo Card data for the Twin Cities)?

Lots of Parking in Minneapolis

Why pay more to park on the road
Why pay more to park on the road

A reporter asked: How much parking is there in Minneapolis? This is not a question for which there is a well-sourced answer.

Downtown Parking: There are nearly 25,000 parking spaces in 38 parking lots and ramps throughout downtown,

In the City there are 7000 metered spaces:

Minneapolis Municipal Parking System has 17 parking ramps and 7 lots
These Ramps and Lots encompass over 20,000 parking spaces. (Subtracting this from the first estimate suggests only 5,000 parking spaces are private).

Outside of downtown requires estimating.

On street-unmetered parking? The City has 1100 miles of street . (I think this excludes state and county roads, I am not sure about park roads, but this is most of them). My guess is 200 spaces per mile (@ ~26 feet per car). If there were no “no parking restrictions” this gives 220,000 on-street spaces (The vast majority of which are unmetered).

Off-street private parking. There are 155,155 households. If each one has 1 off-street space (some have 2 or 3, some have 0), that would be 155,155 off-street spaces in residential areas. I would guess based on national data about twice as many in commercial areas. Roughly every car has to have a space at home, work, and shop.

In short there are lots of parking.

Does anyone have a better estimate?

Posters and Promotion

130109 LU posters 1st

Como Zoo Poster at bus stop

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a city in possession of a good transit system must be in want of some posters. The art of the poster seems to have diminished with the emergence of so many alternative media, ranging from TV to Internet, and markets for commercial art from advertising to the Infographic. Yet we still want to communicate with transit users and encourage them to behave in certain ways (shop during the off-peak, don’t eat on the bus) or consider certain destinations.

While it would be great to have more new posters like the London ones in the upper left, we do not avail ourselves to the opportunities that are already present. I see ads for destinations at bus stops in the Twin Cities which don’t even tell you how to get there via transit. A recent one I saw was this otherwise excellent poster for the Como Zoo . How hard would it be for the Zoo ads (or all ads) to have a tag line at the bottom identifying which bus routes (the number 3) serve the Zoo? Maybe the transit agency could encourage posters for destinations to have brief transit information on the poster (by discounting the ad rate a little bit).

Sure, most customers won’t use it, half of advertising is wasted. Nevertheless, this piece of information lodges in the passerby’s mind that:

  1. It is in fact possible to get to the Como Park Zoo by transit,
  2. The number 3 bus goes near Como, if I need to go near there, I might be able to use a bus, and
  3. It might be possible to get other places by transit.

A Great Migration: The is Moving to WordPress


The blog is moving (for some of the reasons described in No Comment).

Does this matter to you?

If you use Twitter to read it: No

If you use Facebook to read it: No

If you use LinkedIn to read it: No

If you use to read it: No

If you use : YES … Go to

If you use an RSS feed of from Google Reader or any other RSS Reader: YES … Subscribe to Also note that Google Reader will be disappearing.

(I use FeedBin and Reeder now).

The old site will be there for a long time to preserve existing links in, but it will not be updated.

Thanks for your patience. Let me know if you spot problems.

Crossroads | A Minnesota transportation research blog

MnDOTCTSThe University of Minnesota’s Center for Transportation Studies and MnDOT have a Blog! Crossroads | A Minnesota transportation research blog

“Crossroads is a collaborative effort between MnDOT Research Services and the University of Minnesota’s Center for Transportation Studies. This jointly produced blog is devoted to highlighting the latest news and events in transportation research and innovation in Minnesota.”

Mostly Empty Syndrome

If you have been following this blog, you may have detected a theme, I don’t like the public wasting money on un-needed infrastructure. Of course no-one endorses “wasting” money, we just disagree what is wasteful and what is an investment.
I think the answer is obvious in retrospect. A successful investment had a positive “return on investment” at or above market interest rates. An unsuccessful investment (or waste) had a negative return on investment. Projects with positive but below market rates of return sit in an analytical purgatory.

In prospect, I think I can assess forecasts accurately, and project advocates are not to be trusted for a variety of well-understood reasons ranging from optimism bias to strategic misrepresentation. Unfortunately, other people also think they can assess forecasts accurately, even if we know they can’t. If we had better mechanisms for requiring forecasters to be more accurate, we could mitigate these problems.

When these projects are small, it is not terribly important. The analysis of benefits and costs should not be costlier than than the benefits from the analysis (i.e. the difference in total welfare from a build/no build or a build this vs. build that decision). But when the project proponents ask for hundreds of millions of dollars (or more), we should be paying more attention.

A large number of projects seems to fall in the category of what I will dub “Mostly Empty Syndrome”. MES projects are infrastructure that are underutilized. Mostly they are not underutilized by design, but by mis-forecast. There are facilities however, like NFL stadiums, that are in fact underutilized by design, with lots of marginal events schedule to mitigate the grossness of the structure.

These are projects that serve purported needs, but those needs don’t materialize. Or they just are insufficient to justify the cost. Or they can be met in a different way. A few examples are listed below:

  • Vikings Stadium – As I suggested before, they really only need to play in a TV studio. More importantly, the facility is unused or underutilized 355 days a year. The worst aspect is that they could not somehow figure out a way to share the stadium with the college team at a university that is adjacent to the stadium site.
  • Stillwater Bridge – The old bridge required a replacement. The new bridge is overkill for the actual demands on the road.
  • SPUD – It is basically slated to serve 350 train passengers a day, and a few buses until lots of speculative rail lines are opened.
  • Northstar – Some forecasts greatly over-estimated benefits.
  • Maryland’s Inter-County Connector is failing to realize forecasts of demand.

There are some counter-examples perhaps, projects that were long considered white elephants, though eventually demand caught up with supply. Dulles Airport meets this criterion. That still does not mean it was a good idea to build it when it was built, even if it is heavily used today. The 20 years of underutilization are fixed capital that could have been better spent in some other way.

There are other counter-examples, projects that were expected to fail (by someone, though not by proponents) that exceeded expectations. The Pennsylvania Turnpike comes to mind.
What connects MES projects?

  1. I believe history will show that they are designed and pushed through by politicians serving narrow interests rather than by market demands or public sentiment. That is, they are generated by top-down rather than bottom-up processes.
  2. They are large and require special treatment.
  3. They are backward looking, built near, at, or past the maturity of the technology they represent. Air travel was still growing when Dulles was built, and the market grew into its capacity there. Auto travel was still early in its cycle when the Pennsylvania Turnpike was built. In contrast we now have peak travel, long ago passed peak railway, and are hopefully at peak football.

Minneapolis to use Value Capture to help pay for proposed Nicollet Central Streetcar line

The Strib reports: State gives city new tool to fund streetcars :

“One provision in the state tax bill could have a significant impact on Mayor R.T. Rybak’s dreams of building a streetcar in Minneapolis.
The bill allows the city to dedicate tax revenues from several specific parcels around Minneapolis to help pay for a new streetcar line. The city pushed for the new funding method because, unlike regional transit like light rail, streetcars would be a localized project requiring more municipal investment.
Federal funding is still key to the deal. The city won federal funding to perform an alternatives analysis for a line along Nicollet and Central Aves. — which is almost complete — and city staff are preparing to apply for a TIGER grant to help fund the line itself.
The ‘value capture district’ designated by the state for funding streetcars is similar to tax increment financing. It uses revenues from parcels near the transit line to pay off bonds issued to build it. “

More on value capture.

Signifying Nothing

My way was blocked by a sign signifying nothing. Same site as last fall, at The Commons hotel on Harvard.

– dml

NLX Promotional Material

Just for the historical record, please find attached a scan of the 1 page / 2 sided brochure that the promoters of the Northern Lights Express distributed at the May 11, 2013 National Train Day event at the Saint Paul Union Depot (in case anyone is unclear on the matter, I do not endorse these claims).