Minneapolis cyclists battle for a place in traffic | City Pages

I am briefly quoted by Jesse Marx of City Pages in his long piece: “Minneapolis cyclists battle for a place in traffic”

Motorists tend to complain at public planning meetings that fewer car lanes means more traffic. But David Levinson, a transportation expert at the U of M, says this has not proven to be the case. Giving more space to bikes only entices more bicyclists to come onto the road — what he calls the “virtuous circle.”

As usual, don’t read the comments.

“I Am Not Your Brother” – St. Paul Cops Allegedly Taser and Arrest Black Male for Sitting in Public Space (Video) | streets.mn

Cross-posted at streets.mn

Twin Cities Daily Planet brings our attention to this story: St. Paul cops allegedly taser and arrest black male for sitting in public space. City Pages provides some details: St. Paul police roughly arrest black man sitting in skyway

Note, this is hard to watch.

There are a number of transportation and land use and other aspects to this case which are worthy of discussion:

1. Do you have to identify yourself to the police? It depends. When driving yes – driving is a privilege. When walking (in Minnesota) no – “police can never compel you to identify yourself without reasonable suspicion to believe you’re involved in illegal activity.” Minnesota is not a stop and identify state, unless the police have “reasonable suspicion”. [1] [2] [3]

2. Is the skyway a public space? It is being patrolled by public workers (police), so apparently it is – though I am sure the law is vaguer than it should be – so the rights should be the same as on the street.

3. What are the details? The comment thread at TCDP suggests it starts near Caribou or Arby’s on the St. Paul Skyway System. He is going to New Horizons Day Care to pick up his child.


4. What happened after the incident – Charges were dropped according to City Pages. Did the police apologize to the man in front of his child? Was this incident expunged from his record? Did the officers have reasonable suspicion justifying their actions?

5. In case it isn’t obvious, posting photos of police officers is legal. [1],[2]

Incremental Accessibility Benefits and Choice of Subscriptions for High-Occupancy Toll Lanes

MnPASS Accounts per Household

Recently published:

MnPASS Accounts per Household
MnPASS Accounts per Household

This paper presents the results of an investigation into the factors contributing to toll lane subscription choice by using data from the MnPASS high-occupancy toll lane system operated by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The paper estimates a binomial logit model that predicts, on the basis of aggregate characteristics of the surrounding area, the likelihood of a household having a subscription to MnPASS systems. Variables in this model include demographic factors as well as an estimate of the incremental accessibility benefit provided by the MnPASS system. This benefit is estimated with the use of detailed accessibility calculations and represents the degree to which a location’s accessibility to jobs is improved if HOT lanes are available. The model achieves a rho<sup>2</sup> value of .634, and analysis of the results suggests that incremental accessibility benefits play a statistically and practically significant role in determining how likely households are to hold a toll lane subscription.

Indifference Bands for Route Switching

Recent working paper:

Di, X, Liu, H, Zhu, S, and Levinson, D. (2014) Indifference Bands for Route Switching

Frequency of Switchers and Stayers vs. Travel Time Saving Percentage
Frequency of Switchers and Stayers vs. Travel Time Saving Percentage
  • Abstract: The replacement I-35W bridge in Minneapolis saw less traffic than the original bridge though it provided substantial travel time saving for many travelers. This observation cannot be explained by the classical route choice assumption that travelers always take the shortest path. Accordingly, a boundedly rational route switching model is proposed assuming that travelers will not switch to the new bridge unless travel time saving goes beyond a threshold or “indifference band”. To validate the boundedly rational route switching assumption, route choices of 78 subjects from a GPS travel behavior study were analyzed before and after the addition of the new I-35W bridge. Indifference bands are estimated for both commuters who were previously bridge users and those who never had the experience of using the old bridge. This study offers the first empirical estimation of bounded rationality parameters from GPS data and provides guidelines for traffic assignment.
    Keywords: Route Choice, Travel Demand Modeling, Bounded Rationality, Indifference Band, GPS Study, Travel Behavior, Networks

Dogfooding: Why Transit Employees and Managers Should Use Transit

The term “dogfooding”, derived from “eating your own dog food”, is popular in the tech sector, and implies that a company should use its own products wherever it can. Thus, in general, Apple employees should have Macs on their desks rather than Windows machines, and Google employees should use Gmail. The advantages of this are several. Most importantly, bugs can be quickly identified by employees using the system on a daily basis, and feedback can be channeled quickly through the organization. Secondarily, missing features can be quickly identified similarly. Employees will get better empathy for the experience of paying customers.

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

There are of course limits to this process. You would not expect Boeing Defense employees to take a helicopter home with them, or even operate one on a regular basis. However, for most consumer products companies, this is a highly useful practice.

Applying this to the transportation sector implies employees (including senior management) of highway agencies should use roads to get to work (I am sure this is true for the vast majority of even “multi-modal” DOT or highway agency employees).

Similarly employees, and management, and directors or council-members of transit agencies should ride transit to work.

(Update 2014-08-31: St. Paul Traffic Engineers should ride the every day until the signal timings are fixed.)

Now of course, no-one can systematically use the entire system, everyone is spatially constrained in where they travel. Further, the bus drivers on the first ride of the morning (or the last in the evening) cannot practically ride transit to work in a system that does not operate 24/7, since there is no bus to get the bus driver there, or take her home.

Still, there are many opportunities for many employees, and more importantly, directors and Board members, of transit agencies to use transit, and I think increasing this number would improve service.

I have not seen a local survey in the Twin Cities, but this has been done in other cities. (Updated 2014-10-21, See Eric Roper’s Met Council board not big transit riders, survey finds, along with two Opinions (10-24-2014) by Nick Magrino: Transit Usage of the Metropolitan Council Probably Relevant and Travis Norvell: Talk the Transit Talk: Then Walk the Walk.

In fact the travel passes (and especially travel passes for family members) are controversial.

  • New York City: From 2008 but with this gem “Why should I ride and inconvenience myself when I can ride in a car?”: MTA Revokes Travel Perks for Board Members
  • Washington DC: Washington Post survey of the WMATA Board found “Few ride the bus regularly.” (Though they do get a free pass).
  • San Francisco region:

    “In 1993, a grass-roots citizens group founded by Brown collected thousands of petition signatures and put a measure on the San Francisco ballot requiring the mayor, supervisors, and top city officials to ride Muni or other public transit to work at least twice every week.

    In the voter information pamphlet, Brown wrote: “Government is getting out of touch because too many officeholders and city workers act like potentates, not public servants. Send them a message! VOTE YES on AA to get them back to reality by riding the Muni twice a week.”

    San Francisco voters overwhelmingly agreed, with 65 percent voting to make this official city policy.

    So when was the last time you saw Mayor Ed Lee on your Muni bus?”

  • updated 2014-08-27: Houston, Texas, Metro execs to drive less, ride transit more

    About a dozen of the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s senior managers will be required to ride public transit 40 times per month, and some will be giving up their staff cars or car allowances.

    “I know of no business where you can be successful without using your own product and believing in it,” George Greanias, Metro’s president and chief executive officer, said after announcing the changes during a public hearing today on the agency’s 2011 budget.

    Frequent use of buses or light rail will give Metro executives a better understanding of what the agency’s customers experience, Greanias said, while sending a message that Metro is committed to public transportation.

    David King notes that perhaps not coincidentally Houston is redesigning its network now.

  • updated 2014-09-10 Salt Lake City  Most UTA trustees ignore challenge to use own systemTransit » Just three of 16 accept a challenge to use bus and rail exclusively for seven days.
    (One of those who accepted, Keith Bartholomew, is a faculty member at Utah)
  • New Zealand, Auckland Transport’s Staff Shuttle connects between offices, rather than having staff use public transport, which is a bit slower. The post from TransportBlog.co.nz quotes Radio NZ (source article no longer online):

    “Staff at the agency which runs public transport in Auckland are being offered a shuttle service for business trips between offices, because buses and trains are too slow.

    Auckland Transport (AT) is spending more than $122,000 over six months, trialling the shuttle between its downtown offices and its headquarters in Henderson.

    Public transport advocates say staff travelling between the Henderson and downtown locations should be using the bus and rail services at the door of both offices.

    AT wants to reduce its car fleet by 20 vehicles, and is encouraging staff to cut car use.

    “We’re providing options for staff, to have a tele-conference, to catch public transport using business AT HOP cards, and we’re also providing a shuttle between Henderson and Britomart,” AT community transport manager Matthew Rednall said.”

Thanks to the Twitter community for coming up with these examples of transit agency staff dogfooding (or being raked over the coals for free transit passes to encourage dogfooding). If you have other examples, leave them in the comments.

Introduction to Transportation Engineering: Videos now available

As long-time readers of this blog know, I teach CE3201: Introduction to Transportation Engineering. I have recorded short videos of key topics for the course (which I beta-tested earlier this year).


They are available on my YouTube channel. You can watch the whole thing (if you have a lot of time) or selected videos at this Playlist.

These lectures complement the open access wikibook Fundamentals of Transportation.

Email me if you are interested in the syllabus.

Infrastructure Spending: Are Buses The Answer? | Daily Caller

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

At The Daily Caller, a seemingly mutt-like mix of Maxim and The Weekly Standard aimed, as far as I can tell, at nattily-dressed, horny, male College Republicans, Matt Smith summarizes some of the recent discussion (including my previous post) about whether conservatives should support buses or trains in Infrastructure Spending: Are Buses The Answer?.

Praise for buses is a popular, if counterintuitive, sentiment among some leading conservative economists and commentators these days, including AEI’s Jim Pethokoukis. Interestingly, though, it is the very thing Levinson cites — the flexibility of buses — that some believe makes buses inferior to other alternatives.

He cites [Lind and Weyrich] basically saying rail is permanent, as if (a) rail hasn’t disappeared before, and (b) a corridor good enough to support rail would not be good enough to maintain bus service.

[Buses picking up low-income workers] may or may not be a valid idea to address a specific need. Still, any notion that buses are some sort of infrastructure panacea for the rest of us is probably misguided.

I’ll have more on this topic next week.

Study examines link between road networks and economic development |CTS Catalyst

From CTS Catalyst: Study examines link between road networks and economic development

Researchers studying the relationship between the growth of road networks and regional development at the county level in Minnesota found a weakening connection between the two.

“The influence of road networks on employment isn’t as large as it used to be,” according to Michael Iacono, a research fellow with the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo- Engineering (CEGE). Iacono and David Levinson, the RP Braun/CTS Chair in Transportation, authored a paper with their findings earlier this year titled “Mutual Causation in Highway Construction and Economic Development.” Iacono also shared their findings during a presentation at the CTS annual research conference in May.

The researchers measured regional development by examining changes in data about population and employment. They used 20 years of road data from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (1988–2007) and employment data from Minnesota counties for the same period.

Part of the reason for the lack of connection between roads and development simply may be the maturity of the road network. In other words, existing roads facilitate most economic activity. “We’ve made most of the biggest, most productive investments already,” Iacono explained.

The researchers interpreted the findings as evidence of a weakening influence statewide of road networks (and transportation more generally) on the location of economic development. However, it’s possible that other location factors such as human capital levels, tax rates, and natural amenities have become just as, if not more, important than transportation network considerations.

“One of the implications of the findings,” Iacono said, “is that highway projects ought to be evaluated according to the benefits they provide to users, rather than hoped-for impacts on local employment or land development.”

Iacono added that since, from a statewide perspective, most of the major investments in road networks have been made, further changes to road networks likely won’t lead to significant changes in where people live and work. But he cautioned that these findings are too broad to be applied to specific development projects.

The study did find, however, mutual causality between population changes and the growth of local networks. Specifically, it found that the growth of the highway network tends to follow changes in population, and this result was statistically significant. Population growth also followed highway growth (they were positively correlated), but the result was not statistically significant.

“Recent state highway and multimodal long-range plans align well with the research results, recognizing the importance of preserving existing high-value critical connections in a state of good repair,” says John L. Wilson, economic policy analyst with MnDOT’s Office of Transportation System Management. “Current funding constraints should limit system capacity expansion to cases with evident benefits to the traveling public in the form of travel time savings, reduced operating costs, and improved safety.”

The study stems from a previous research effort for MnDOT.

Reality intrudes upon Obama’s bullet train fantasy | AEI

Image Credit: Grist

Image Credit: Grist

In his 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama dreamily depicted a future, just 25 years hence, where almost all Americans would have easy access to high-speed rail. “This could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying –- without the pat-down.”

I think we’ll see a space elevator before America gets a nation-spanning bullet train system. The New York Times finds that “despite the administration spending nearly $11 billion since 2009 to develop faster passenger trains, the projects have gone mostly nowhere and the United States still lags far behind Europe and China.” Reporter Ron Nixon cites experts who fault the Obama administration for spreading that dough around rather than focusing on key projects like improving Acela Express service in the Northeast Corridor, “the most likely place for high-speed rail.”

Acela averages just 80 mph between Washington and New York, although the trains are capable of going twice as fast. Old infrastructure and rail-sharing slows it down. According to the piece, “a plan to bring it up to the speed of Japanese bullet-trains, which can top 220 m.p.h., will take $150 billion and 26 years, if it ever happens.”

Of course, the US is a lot different than many nations with high-speed rail, nations which have “higher population densities, higher gas prices, higher rates of public-transportation use and lower rates of car ownership.” Not that bulleteers doubt a high-speed future will happen:

But Andy Kunz, executive director of the U.S. High-Speed Rail Association, thinks the United States will eventually have a high-speed rail system that connects the country. “It’s going to take some years after gas prices rise and highways fill up with traffic,” he said. “It’s going to happen because we won’t have a choice.”

Wait, we have no choice but to build high-speed rail because the highways are going to “fill up with traffic”? Let me bring your attention to this chart from Paul Kedrosky:

Paul Kedrosky

And here is transportation expert David Levinson on “peak traffic”:

It depends on where you are as to whether traffic’s declining, but national statistics have shown that per capita travel in vehicles is roughly where it was in the late 1990s. And vehicle miles traveled, the number of miles that cars are moving is roughly where it was in the early 2000s.  And this is after a 90-year increase in the amount of automobile traffic, from, you know, the 1910s to the early 21st century.

So people have sort of this expectation that traffic will continue to increase because it has increased in the past for such a long period of time.  And this is built into traffic forecasts.  It’s built into the way people view the world.  But beginning in the early 2000s, in particular after 9/11, with a number of societal changes, including things like increased gas prices, changing demographics, changing employment, the amount of travel that people were engaging in individually has leveled off and has declined on a per capita level.

Now, a lot of technologies have a lifecycle.  They have an S curve associated with them.  So they start off, they grow slowly even, there’s a period of very rapid growth.  Then it levels off.  And then something new happens and the S curve begins to decline.  And so we sort of see that in a number of things that we no longer use as much we used to.  U.S. mail volume increased for decades upon decades until the 1990s.  And it started to level off in the 1990s with the rise of email and the Internet, and then, in the early 2000s has fallen off a cliff.

So is that going to happen with travel?  And so this is the scenario that I’m painting.  And so it’s a future scenario. I don’t want to say that I predicted that this would happen, but this is one thing that might happen that nobody is taking any account of right now.

And here is a good piece by Tim Worstall on the impact of potential impact of driverless cars on high-speed rail. Technology will change how America’s gets around. But more likely it will be 21st century technology, not that of the 1970s.