St. Cloud Winter Institute

I am participating in the St. Cloud Winter Institute on February 19. Details of the program are below.

Wednesday, February 18th
5 – 6:30 Economic OutlookLaura Kalambokidis
6:30 – 8 Reception & Entertainment by the Andrew Walesch Band
Thursday, February 19th
8 – 9 Registration and Breakfast
9 – 10:15 First Session (See below)
10:30 – 11:45 Second Session (See below)
12 – 1:30 Lunch and Chamber Panel“Central Minnesota Job Creators– What They Do, How They Do It

Jeff Haviland, President, Seitz Stainless

Jim Hill, Director of Human Resources, Columbia Gear Corporation

Lynn Mosely, Director of Human Resources, Electrolux Major Appliances North America

Bob Sexton, CEO, C4 Welding

2 – 3 Keynote Speaker: David LevinsonThe Transportation Experience: From Steamboats to Streetcars.“The talk explores the historical evolution of transportation modes and technologies. It traces how systems are innovated, planned and adapted, deployed and expanded, and reach maturity, where they may either be maintained in a polished obsolesce often propped up by subsidies, be displaced by competitors, or be reorganized and renewed. An array of examples supports the idea that modern policies are built from past experiences. The planning (and control) of nonlinear, unstable processes is today’s central transportation problem, and that this is universal and true of all modes.
3 – 4 Q & A Session/Closing


Thursday, February 19th Sessions
K-12 Teaching Track Community Engagement Track Public Policy Research Track
9:00 – 10:15 a.m. Railroads, Roads, and Apple Pie – Transportation in Children’s LiteratureScott Wolla, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis “Effects of the Minimum Wage Law on St. Cloud Businesses”Larry Logeman, Executive Express Transportation, Planning and Public Policy in Minnesota“Robert Helland, SCSU AlumnusJohn Uphoff, SCSU Alumnus

Pierre Callies, Graduate Student, Department of Geography

10:30 – 11:45 a.m. Earning CreditMartha Rush, Moundsview High SchoolEmily Anderson, Blaine High School Two-Way Communication: Outreach, Communication and Education Across the Ninth District of the Federal ReserveAngie Eilers, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis “Equity and Urban Transportation: A Panel Discussion”Luis Estevez



The Saint Cloud Times reports: “Levinson, a leading exporter in transportation, will speak from 2-3 p.m. with an hourlong question-and-answer session to follow. Admission to this portion of the Winter Institute is free and open to the public.”

Travel behavior study shows drivers are spending less time traveling and more time at home

CTS Catalyst reports on our research: Travel behavior study shows drivers are spending less time traveling and more time at home

Something unprecedented has happened to Americans’ travel patterns. Even before the recent recession, total distance traveled per person had started to decline, and the rate of total vehicle travel had begun to steadily decrease as well.

In a new five-part series of research reports sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Council, U of M researchers are delving into a set of rich data encompassing more than four decades of travel behavior surveys to enable the region’s transportation planners to better understand how its residents make decisions about whether, when, where, and why to travel.

In the first study, researchers examined how changes in the accessibility of destinations—such as jobs, shopping, and leisure activities—have changed travel behavior in the past 20 years.

“We started with a detailed analysis of travel surveys conducted by the Metropolitan Council in 1990, 2000, and 2010,” says David Levinson, the study’s principal investigator and RP Braun/CTS Chair in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo- Engineering. “We found that people are spending slightly less time in motion and more time at home. We also found that accessibility is a significant factor in determining not only travel behavior but overall time budgeting in general. In short, each person has to decide how they will use the time allotted to them each day, and many of those decisions are directly related to the transportation and land-use systems in place.”

A deeper look into the data sheds additional light on the relationship between accessibility and travel behavior. For example, trip durations for workers have gone up for all activities between 1990 and 2010. More noticeably, distances for trips have increased markedly: workers take jobs farther from their homes and shop farther from their homes. Travel speeds also increased for the average worker, due to more travel on faster suburban roadways that carry a larger share of all travel. In contrast, for non-workers, trip durations and overall travel time have gone down.

“Interestingly, although time, distance, and speed per trip has generally risen for workers, the number of those trips is declining,” Levinson says. “As a result, overall, fewer miles are being traveled and less time is being allocated to travel.”

Total time spent shopping also decreased for workers and for males, likely caused in part by an increase in online commerce. “The Internet has provided electronic accessibility, much as the transportation network has in the material world,” Levinson explains. “It helps to facilitate commerce, communication, education, and leisure. This may lead to a decreased need for people to travel, and account for more time spent at home.”

Jonathan Ehrlich, planning analyst with the Metropolitan Council, says the research “helps us get more value from our travel surveys and will aid in understanding how travel is changing, and what the risks are in the assumptions and models we use for planning and forecasting.”

The findings will prove useful not just for Twin Cities transportation planners but for planners and engineers worldwide. “Our models can be easily adapted to data from other cities or for other activities besides work,” Levinson says. “This creates an approach that can be used to gauge the impact of a transportation project from an accessibility standpoint and determine how that project will translate into time allocation.”

Other parts of the study will look at changes in telecommuting behavior over time, the effect of transit quality of service on people’s activity choices and time allocation, changes in travel behavior by age cohort, and analysis of bicycling and walking in light of land-use and transportation system changes. The Catalyst will feature coverage of these projects as they are completed.

Related Links

Better job accessibility drives MnPASS subscriptions

CTS Catalyst reports on our recent research: Better job accessibility drives MnPASS subscriptions


Photo: MnDOT

In recent years, many metropolitan-area highway systems have created high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes. Typically, the use of these lanes is restricted during peak periods to carpools and those paying a toll for access, which commonly requires enrollment in an electronic tolling program and the use of an electronic transponder.

To better understand why drivers enroll in Minnesota’s MnPASS electronic tolling system, University of Minnesota researchers investigated the factors that drive subscriptions. Their findings indicate that households are more likely to have MnPASS subscriptions in areas where the MnPASS system provides a greater increase in accessibility to jobs.

“While there has been a great deal of research into what causes travelers to select a toll lane during a single trip, there is very little information available regarding the first decision a potential HOT lane user must make—the decision to enroll in an electronic tolling program and become an eligible HOT lane user,” says Andrew Owen, director of the U’s Accessibility Observatory.

The MnPASS system was created in 2005 with the opening of HOT lanes on I-394 west of downtown Minneapolis; in 2009, the system was expanded to include HOT lanes on I-35W south of downtown Minneapolis. During peak periods, the lanes are restricted to vehicles carrying two or more occupants and to travelers paying a toll that varies from $0.25 to $8.00 based on HOT lane utilization at the time. To use the HOT lanes, vehicles must enroll in the program online, by mail, or in person and pay $1.50 a month to carry a MnPASS transponder provided by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).

“Though enrolling in a HOT lane program is usually low-cost or free, it always requires some user expense in the form of time spent processing enrollment forms and managing accounts,” says Owen. “In addition, it involves some risk because there is typically a charge for lost or damaged transponders. Because of these costs and risks, it’s reasonable to expect people who would receive little or no benefit from the ability to use HOT lanes won’t enroll in the program, while a person who would receive a very large benefit would be very likely to enroll.”

To test this theory, researchers calculated the job accessibility benefit of the MnPASS system by determining the areas where using MnPASS HOT lanes would lead to the greatest increase of jobs reachable with a commute of 30 minutes or less. They found that the areas with the highest concentrations of MnPASS-holding households—the western and southern suburbs of the metro area—were also the areas where the MnPASS system provided the greatest accessibility benefit.

“These findings will serve as a useful tool for transportation planners as they work to determine where to implement HOT lanes in the future,” says Owen. “By evaluating the incremental job accessibility benefits created by a planned HOT lane, planners can more effectively model participation in toll lane programs and more accurately weigh the costs and benefits of creating new HOT lanes.”

Related Links

Motor-vehicle-pollutants portion rising?, falling?, what?!

Alan Kandel asks at Science Blog: Motor-vehicle-pollutants portion rising?, falling?, what?!

Consult most news sources these days – this one included – when it comes to poor air quality, and what you’re likely to uncover is that more often than not in the blame-game, traffic – more specifically, tailpipe emissions – is named. Obviously, not the only source of pollutants, nevertheless, the portion of pollutants coming from traffic – and transportation, more universally – is sizable.

Falling gasoline prices: What effect is this having on both motor vehicle and public transit use and, by extension, what, if any, impact has the decline had and having on the quality of our air.

He cites my earlier post

David Levinson in “Mount Transit, Mount Auto, Mount Next,” at the Transportationist Blog, clues us in.

“In the US, we have seen a great struggle play out in the twentieth century between what David Jones calls Mass Motorization and Mass Transit. The conflict between the modes continues to this day, and has become a morality play in the culture wars. While they mostly serve different markets, they compete for users, and roadspace, and funding, and the hearts and minds of travelers. They are competing on old turf though, …, both modes appear to be in decline, transit for decades, the decline of the auto-highway-system is just beginning.”

This is an interesting revelation, because what this tells me is pollution from both sources should be becoming less and less, that is, as long as the mode-split-relationship (and other influencing factors) has not significantly varied.

He doesn’t outright state a final conclusion to the question, though he says:

But, then I noticed something interesting. The overall trend was positive between 1961 and 2007, taxed gallons going from 60.006 billion in 1961 to 177.394 billion in 2007. After the Great Recession hit just subsequent to this, the number of gallons of gasoline taxed dropped to 171.229 billion in 2008, dropping even more to 168.551 billion in 2009, rose again in 2010 to 171.101 billion, falling to 168.722 billion in 2011. Only if there are fewer less-fuel-efficient vehicles on the road coupled with greater use of cleaner-burning fuels and/or less traffic on the roads coupled with greater use of cleaner-burning fuels – along with the dip in the amount of gallons of gasoline taxed, am I able to conclude that emissions emanating from motor vehicles are also fewer. That’s a good sign even if the number of motor vehicles on America’s roadways experiences level or upward growth.


Ten-Week Summer Engineering Research Program for Undergraduate Students

My Department has a Ten-Week Summer Engineering Research Program for Undergraduate Students

Summer Engineering Research Program for Undergraduate Students

The Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo- Engineering invites students attending other colleges and universities to come and experience engineering research at the University of Minnesota. Spend ten weeks this summer helping to engineer solutions for some of our society’s most pressing problems. You will work with recognized experts in the field and apply some of the newest technologies and methods. Five students will be selected. This opportunity is open only to students who are not currently attending the University of Minneosta.

Review of applications will begin on Friday, February 27, 2015. For full consideration, all materials (online application, unofficial transcript, and one-page resume) must be received by that time. Submit transcript and resume via e-mail to Tiffany Ralston at In the subject line of the email please write “application materials for the ten-week summer engineering research program.”


Nine Engineering Projects are Available (the first is obviously mine)

  • Accessibility and the Structure of Transportation Networks
  • Coupling Building Information Modeling and Computer Simulations to Design Better Buildings
  • Debris Flows: Influences on Natural Resources and Hazard Mitigation under a Changing Climate
  • Discrete Element Simulation of Scratch Tests on Rocks
  • Evaluating the Impact of Light Duty Vehicle Stop-Start Systems and NOx Emissions Control Technologies on Emissions and Fuel Economy
  • Membrane Biofouling: Insights from Single-Cell Force Spectroscopy
  • Performance of an Agricultural Drainage Tile Filter
  • Sunlight to Destroy Pollutants: Understanding How Organic Matter Affects Indirect Photolysis
  • Wake Meanders Downwind of a Utility Scale 2.5mw Wind Turbine

For full consideration, submit application, transcript, and one-page resume electronically by Friday, February 27, 2015.

Application and project descriptions at:

Elements of Access: Shared Spaces

Regulated Space
Regulated Space by Ben Hamilton-Baillie and Paul Boston
Shared Space
Shared Space by Ben Hamilton-Baillie and Paul Boston



By Wes Marshall



Engineers and planners typically design transportation systems to isolate different modes of travel as much as possible; vehicles should stay on the roadway, bicycles in the bicycle lanes, and pedestrians on the sidewalk. Over the last couple decades, some visionary transportation engineers and planners – such as Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman and British urban designer Ben Hamilton-Baillie – sought to do the exact opposite and encourage increasing interactions between different modes by removing horizontal and vertical demarcations, removing all signage, and abolishing the basic rules of the road.

By removing what seems to give us ‘order’ in the transportation system, the theory of shared spaces is that we force road users to react to social cues. In other words, when a road user enters what for all intents and purposes is an unregulated situation, he or she must orient themselves to the situation by observing and building upon the order established by fellow road users as opposed to that instituted by externally-created rules. The thinking is that this creates more awareness, and that perhaps we can achieve even greater ‘order’ in the transportation system.

Elements of Access: Transport Planning for Engineers, Transport Engineering for Planners. By David M. Levinson, Wes Marshall, Kay Axhausen.
Elements of Access: Transport Planning for Engineers, Transport Engineering for Planners. By David M. Levinson, Wes Marshall, Kay Axhausen.

To picture this concept, imagine a public ice-skating rink and try explaining to somebody who has never seen one how it works. If you tell them that dozens of people on sharpened metal blades are moving throughout a confined area at varying speeds, and doing so on a surface made of ice, they’d picture total and utter chaos. Such chaos, however, rarely fails to materialize. Rather, the lack of rules and demarcations forces skaters to become aware of their surroundings and fellow users while social cues helps skaters modify their paths and avoid collision with other users of the system. Social scientists term this spontaneous order.

In the context of a street or intersection, it is exceedingly difficult for traffic engineers to give up such control and cede whose turn it is to cross the street to the road users themselves while hoping for order to spontaneously emerge. It seems like we would be setting ourselves up for madness, but similar to the ice skating rink example, it also seems to work in the transportation system. Shared space designs, primarily undertaken in European and Asian cities, have somewhat surprisingly been shown to increase both efficiency and road safety over more conventional designs. Whether this design concept takes off in the rest of the world remains to be seen.


Klein, D. B. (2006). Rinkonomics: A window on spontaneous order. Economic Affairs, 26(4), 64-67.

Suncoast Parkway extension will not bring economic boon

Dan DeWitt writes a column in the Tampa Bay Times arguing the “Suncoast Parkway extension will not bring economic boon“. I don’t have strong opinions about the particular facility in question, but I was interviewed more generally, following up on our 2013 study in Minnesota: Case Studies of Transportation Investment to Identify the Impacts on the Local and State Economy. DeWitt writes:

The study, after accounting for factors such as the ups and downs of the larger economy, found that “none of the industries studied . . . show statistically significant increases in earnings.”

We’ve got roads going pretty much every place we want to go, said one of the researchers, David Levinson, professor of civil engineering. Building new ones or improving existing ones will save less time for fewer people than, say, the first generation of circle freeways.

By comparison, a toll road in Maryland has been labeled “not successful” because it only attracts about 50,000 trips per day, Levinson said. “So 5,000, I guess, would be very not successful.”

(actually 40K) [See  TollRoadNews: Maryland’s Inter County Connector MD200 has solid 40k ADT traffic, $40m/year tolls after two years operation, WaPo: Maryland says ICC traffic growing, Baltimore Sun: Blame the ICC, failed leadership for massive toll increase]

Minnesota Compass

Minnesota Compass collects social indicators to measure changes over time in Minnesota across a variety of topics, including transportation, education, economy and workforce.  Of interest to Transportationist readers are transportation indicators. These include congestion, pavement condition, transportation expenses, and accessibility, from the Accessibility Observatory. Check it out if you are interested in performance and trend tracking.

Assessment of Bicycle Service Areas around Transit Stations

Susan Perry at MinnPost cites my collaborator Hartwig Henry Hochmair’s work in: Want to get more cars off the road? Improve bicycling infrastructure around transit hubs.

So I was intrigued to come across a study this week that examined how far cyclists in three large U.S. metropolitan areas are willing to ride to catch a bus or train that will take them the rest of the way to work.

One of those metro areas was Minneapolis-St. Paul. The other two were Los Angeles and Atlanta.

The study, which used data collected through mass-transit ridership surveys, found that while only a small percentage of people in the three metro areas ride their bike to a bus or train to commute to work, those who do tend to cycle an average of three miles or less — one to two miles in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Atlanta and a slightly longer three miles in Los Angeles (probably because that city’s weather is more conducive to biking).

The full title of the paper is: Assessment of Bicycle Service Areas around Transit Stations. [The paper itself is behind a paywall, though I am sure the author would share.] The paper’s abstract says:

Mobility hubs are major transit access points and an integrated part of multi-modal transportation planning efforts. For the implementation of bicycle infrastructure improvements around mobility hubs a better understanding of bicycle access distances is needed. Using responses from on-board travel surveys in three U.S. metropolitan areas, this study found that median bicycle access distances to transit stations are within the buffer radii suggested for community hubs (1 mile) and gateway hubs (2 miles) in long-range transportation plans. Multiple regression analysis identified several street and transit network characteristics affecting bicycle access distance, which should be considered when planning infrastructure improvements.