Beneficiaries, Not Taxpayers, Should Fund Modern Streetcars

I wrote a piece for ULI: Beneficiaries, Not Taxpayers, Should Fund Modern Streetcars. An excerpt below:


This article is one of a three-part cities on the role of street cars. The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and not the Urban Land Institute or it’s membership as a whole.

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

Once upon a time (1888 to be precise), the United States and the world launched a huge building boom for urban streetcars. Companies like Twin City Rapid Transit laid miles of track in fast-growing cities, extending well past the built areas to serve greenfield sites for emerging suburbs waiting to be platted and built. They did this because the streetcar promoters benefited directly from the land sales. The availability of a new, fast transit system connecting to downtown made houses much more valuable. The fares from the new passengers covered the operating costs of the system.

Networks continued to grow until the 1920s and 1930s, when the bloom came off the boom. The new motor car served the prospective suburbanite just a bit better than the sluggish streetcar. By 1950, the streetcars were upward of 60 years old and needed a major infusion of capital to be maintained. Instead, they were abandoned en masse across the United States for buses in a process that in the transportation field has been termed “bustitution.”

Continued at ULI

More on StreetCars and America: Freemark: Transportation First, then Economic Development | Klein: Streetcars and the American Commitment to Rail

MnPASS Modeling and Pricing Algorithm Enhancement

Recent report:

Hourdos, John, Michael Janson, David Levinson, Gordon Parikh (2015) MnPASS Modeling and Pricing Algorithm Enhancement. Minnesota Department of Transportation MN/RC 2015-22.

While High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes have been used for decades as a strategy for mitigating congestion, research has shown that they are not always effective. A 2001 study of the I-394 and I-35W HOV lanes in Minnesota found that the HOV lanes were on average underutilized, moving fewer people than the General-Purpose Lanes (GPL) even with the increased number of passengers per vehicle. To address the issue of underuse, in 2003 the Minnesota Legislature authorized the conversion of the I-394 HOV lanes into High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes, named the MnPASS Express Lanes. The MnPASS lanes operate using a fully dynamic pricing schedule, where pricing is dictated by the level of congestion in the HOT lane. To better understand the nature of HOT lanes and the decisions of their users, this study explored the possibilities for a microscopic traffic simulation-based model of HOT lanes. Based on a series of field studies where the price of the toll was changed while observing changes in demand in the HOT lane, models describing the lane choice behavior of MnPASS users were developed and calibrated. These models interfaced with the traffic simulation software Aimsun through a number of extension modules and tested on the two MnPASS corridors of I-394 and I35W corridors in the west and south suburbs of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The integrated HOT simulation tool was also used to develop and test a number of alternative pricing strategies including a more efficient version of the current strategy.