Planned Light Rail Extensions Dodge Car-Free Workers

southwest light rail rendering

A Southwest Light Rail rendering.

We’re planning extensions to our light rail transit system in the Twin Cities! The Southwest Extension will bring the Green Line down to Eden Prairie, and the Bottineau Extension will send Blue Line service up to a Target corporate headquarters and a greenfield in Brooklyn Park. The price of the two projects was projected to be $2.5 billion last year, but now they’re expected to cost $3.5 billion. Maybe this is a problem that arises from demanding cost estimates when engineering is 1 percent complete. Maybe this doesn’t matter because we have the federal government paying half the cost. Maybe, as Nick Magrino has suggested from time to time, it’s a good opportunity to evaluate the way we plan transit projects in the Twin Cities.

One thing I think transit projects should do is serve workers who don’t have cars. It’s good business, because Metro Transit can collect a lot of fares. It’s fair, because carlessness is correlated with low socioeconomic status. If we knew where the car-free workers lived, we could see efficient and equitable locations for stations.

So, where are the highest concentrations of car-free workers?

Method

I took American Community Survey data (2013 5-year estimates) that showed the number of vehicles available by number of workers in the household. I used this data to find households with more workers than vehicles. I used simple calculations to determine the number of car-free workers in each household. For example, a household with three workers and one car has two car-free workers, and a household with one worker and no car has one car-free worker. These calculations gave me estimates of the number of car-free workers by census tract. I plotted this information on a map, and divided the number of car-free workers by the land area of the census tract. I expressed this concentration with a choropleth map. Then I placed the proposed routes of the Blue Line and Green Line extensions on top.

Results

Here’s the map (and here’s the PDF):

light rail car-free workers map

Plan ’em where they ain’t: planned light rail extensions skirt concentrations of car-free workers.

The highest concentration of car-free workers is in Minneapolis immediately south of downtown, between Hennepin Avenue and I-35 W. This includes the Loring Park, Stevens Square, Lowry Hill East, and Whittier neighborhoods. Besides a tract near the Crystal airport and two tracts in Robbinsdale, which have a moderate concentration of carless workers, there are no significant concentrations of car-free workers outside the borders of Minneapolis. Within Minneapolis, the light rail extension routes follow the lowest concentration of car-free workers.

Conclusion

Is it worth it? I don’t know. There are reasons that building light rail in areas where car-free workers live is difficult and expensive. Highly populated areas have lots of traffic and construction disrupts the lives of the many people who live and work there. Land values are higher in densely populated areas. Do these obstacles justify routes that fail to serve people who don’t drive?


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128 Responses to Planned Light Rail Extensions Dodge Car-Free Workers

  1. Adam Froehlig
    Adam Froehlig November 6, 2015 at 9:14 am #

    IMO, looking at where car-free workers lives is a consideration, but isn’t showing the bigger picture. There are plenty of other factors to consider, including overall population density and job density, redevelopment potential, cost-effectiveness (you allude to this one in your article, but not much).

    Now in this particular case, the concentration of car-free workers south of downtown happens to coincide with an area of higher density overall, so there is more of an argument to be made there. But as has been noted in the past on this site, it would be very expensive and disruptive to put some sort of rail in the core of that.

    • Julia November 6, 2015 at 10:24 am #

      I live on a potential spine for LRT if it weren’t avoiding centers of (carfree) population. I assume it would be disruptive, but it worked out okay for the Green Line along University. It’s also really disruptive to live along these spines (Hennepin, Lyndale, Nicollet) right now, primarily because of unnecessarily heavy motorized traffic. Busses and trucks are loud, cars are incessant, traffic lights are poorly timed or totally absent for anyone not in a vehicle. That’s just immediately perceptible problems–there are also the other longer-term disruptions, like higher rates of death and premature birth/fetal impacts for those exposed to vehicle. It’s especially important for these reasons to help reduce car dependence and car traffic in heavily populated areas.

      I get some of the arguments being made for the other routes, sort of, maybe, but I don’t get building them FIRST, before we build lines we know would be heavily used. It seems like we’re setting ourselves up to fail rather than succeed. Giving anti-transit lobbyists potential fodder in the form of poorly performing and under-utilized expensive rail lines.

  2. Greg November 6, 2015 at 9:15 am #

    Actually in your map the densest area continues on down through the Lyndale neighborhood. Why not mention that n’hood in your text? The carless down here are stuck on the crappy crowded bumpy 18 bus for most of our trips downtown to work. Even the ‘proposed’ streetcar will stop at Lake. And niceride ignores us as well…neither poor nor rich enough to have stations. In any case there is a lot of ignoring the need in this city of ours….

  3. Rebecca Airmet
    Rebecca Airmet November 6, 2015 at 9:19 am #

    From the picture, I was hoping we could all just kayak to work. 🙂

    More practically, while I agree that transit needs to actually SERVE those who need it most, construction through dense, low-car-ownership areas can really disrupt already economically fragile ecosystems (think Green Line), even if there’s a longer term benefit.

    I also can’t help but be reminded of Rondo and I-94.

    Is BRT a better transit option for such already-developed areas?

    • Scott Shaffer
      Scott Shaffer November 6, 2015 at 9:50 am #

      I mean, the big differences between I-94 and the Green Line is that the former literally bulldozed the neighborhood for a project that never benefitted the (remaining) neighbors, and there’s strong evidence to suggest that this was a feature, not a bug, of the project.

      But you make a good point! BRT might be an efficient, less-invasive solution to serve the Loring Park, Greater Uptown, and Lyndale areas. Brendon’s great ideas on incremental transit planning would apply: http://streets.mn/2015/07/09/seven-things-that-could-make-transit-planning-better/

      • jeffk November 6, 2015 at 12:15 pm #

        I-94 is basically a half mile wide with reductions in property values that continue a quarter mile beyond that. A light rail line is 100 feet wide with increased property values a quarter mile beyond that.

        What a horrible tragic irony that we “learned our lesson” doing something stupid so that now we can’t do something smart.

  4. Steven Prince November 6, 2015 at 9:49 am #

    A good analysis but not the only way to think about future transit spending. Car-free as defined has a significant income component, but does not capture many workers who can afford a car, but could be car-free with transportation systems and built environments that remove the constraints that “require” owning a car.

    That means putting transit stops at neighborhood nodes that include service amenities like clinics, dry-cleaners, day-care, schools and grocers that allow people to get off the train, do their shopping, and walk home. If the node doesn’t exist, land-use needs to be regulated to encourage car-free development.

    We have these historic nodes throughout the cities wherever a transfer point existed on the old streetcar system. But present transportation planning is not focused on removing constraints to transit use. Many people get in the car each day not because they can’t take transit to work, but because they have to drop the kids off at daycare, pick up the dry cleaning, or stop for groceries. As the large park-and-ride facilities planned for SW Light Rail attest, transit planning in our metro area is not reducing car counts.

    One thing is for sure, whether you are looking at areas with high numbers of car-free individuals or areas that could increase their numbers of car-free individuals, both areas are bypassed by the light rail extensions planned.

  5. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary November 6, 2015 at 10:54 am #

    Why are workers the deciding factor? What about the retired who depend on transit (or who probably should be using transit much more and driving much less)? I’m not familiar with the details of the ACS data, but I think a better measure might just be “fewer than 1:1 cars to adults.”

    From looking at your map, my main thought is that concentrating on the areas with higher levels of no-car workers would be pretty antithetical to the idea of building a regional system.

    I’m not clear if you’re suggesting that we should only build to those areas, or if we just make an effort to make sure that long-haul lines like SW LRT include those areas.

    • Scott Shaffer
      Scott Shaffer November 6, 2015 at 11:15 am #

      I never said it should be the deciding factor. “Expanding job access” is the largest individual reason we’re building these lines, even if it doesn’t outweigh all other factors combined. I could make a map showing where older people live, but I doubt there’s a higher concentration per square mile outside of Minneapolis than inside the city.

      “From looking at your map, my main thought is that concentrating on the areas with higher levels of no-car workers would be pretty antithetical to the idea of building a regional system.”

      Why should transit avoid workers who don’t have cars? That seems unfair and inefficient to me.

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary November 6, 2015 at 11:40 am #

        I’m not saying transit should avoid workers who don’t have cars. In fact, transit doesn’t. Our bus system is pretty fairly laid out in this sense, especially in terms of frequencies. (As a point of reference, the 18 runs twice as often through Whittier than the “Red Line” runs through Apple Valley, even though the former is a local bus and the latter a much more significant investment.)

        But I think it’s wrong to lose the focus of a regional METRO system for these rail lines. Serving only areas that are already transit users, that already have a lot of transit service, and that aren’t well-distributed throughout the region is a poor way to serve the region. Serving them by way of creating a longer-haul line seems more debatable to me. But there are other improvements planned — like possible aBRT or streetcars for Hennepin and Nicollet.

        Does it really make sense to slow down (or skip) a major investment in our regional trunk system, simply to get a transit improvement in Uptown a few years sooner?

        • Scott Shaffer
          Scott Shaffer November 6, 2015 at 1:51 pm #

          “Our bus system is pretty fairly laid out in this sense, especially in terms of frequencies.”

          Is double the frequency fair if Whittier is about six times as dense as Apple Valley? Fairness, to me, would start out with equal subsidy per capita on transportation, and then adjust to tip the scales in the favor of low-wealth communities.

          • Wayne November 6, 2015 at 2:22 pm #

            Seriously, how often do suburban buses get to standing room only? Because that’s a super common occurance on local routes, and I bet we could run 3-4 more buses an hour on them if we’d cut some lightly-used suburban service with big cushy seats that are half empty.

        • Wayne November 6, 2015 at 2:24 pm #

          The trunk system needs to serve the areas that need it most before it expands into farm fields and thousand-car surface parking lots. We’re building a trunk system to nowhere while actual places languish with inadequate service.

          Start where it makes sense and expand when needed. Don’t shoot for the moon and miss all the low-hanging fruit in front of you.

    • M November 9, 2015 at 10:22 am #

      I would also use car-free adults rather than workers. The focus on workers might undercount residents of North Minneapolis where there are higher unemployment rates, but still high car-free population rates.

      • Paul Udstrand November 9, 2015 at 1:08 pm #

        If I could just make a relevant comment for a change…

        The problem with this analysis is that it’s missing actual route and ridership data. You can map out where people without cars are in relation to the proposed LR routes but that doesn’t tell you whether or not you need to re-route the LR in order to capture the car-less riders, or that the carl-less riders are more important than other riders.

        In order to establish car-less riders as a priority you need to demonstrate that they actually boost ridership, not simply show us where they live and assume they boost ridership. We know for instance the Blue Line and Green Lines are currently the most heavily used routes, are riders without cars the ones who are pushing those numbers over the top? In other words we need to see what percentage of actual riders are car-less and whether or not that’s determining route use and popularity.

        Maps are fun but you need to show us that car-less riders are so much more valuable to the system that it’s worth the additional costs and disruptions to give them rail instead of bus service.

  6. David Markle
    David Markle November 6, 2015 at 11:34 am #

    Since planners here seem unwilling to consider tunneling or elevating tracks, it would appear that modes other than LRT should serve those areas with concentrations of workers without cars. Streetcar lines are one possibility; they offer most of the attraction of LRT but at a much lower project cost, particularly with the advent of capacitor-powered streetcars that eliminate the need for overhead power lines.

  7. Wayne November 6, 2015 at 2:20 pm #

    Everyone talking about how serving the already car-free is nice, but we also need to chase the drivers has their priorities backwards. We need to adequately serve those who already live in areas conducive to transit use *before* we go chasing the expensive and elusive suburban commuter. As it is now, even just our bus system is heavily weighted in favor of suburban commuters and local riders continue to get subpar service. Now we’re going all-in on that approach with *huge* investments in fixed infrastructure and doing pretty much nothing for those already dependent on transit.

    It’s like someone at metro transit thinks that since the poor are a captive audience they can treat them as badly as they want and still keep them because they have no choice. They might be right, but it’s 100% the wrong attitude to bring to transit planning. Why have there been no lawsuits brought about disparate impact of transit planning policies here? The next 10+ years of investments are very clearly beneficial almost exclusively to affluent suburbanites who tend to be pretty monochromatic.

  8. eric November 6, 2015 at 4:19 pm #

    The shame of building very expensive light rail lines in areas where usage won’t be as high is that they make for really easy $ per passenger figures for transit opponents to quote in future transit discussions. Why green line was so important, and why a Nicollet/Uptown route and/or a greenway route would be so good.

  9. Thomas November 6, 2015 at 6:26 pm #

    Car-free or not, the first new lines need to go where transit use is highest. High rates of ridership must be the priority for the sake of LTR’s political future.

  10. Rosa November 6, 2015 at 9:54 pm #

    as a car-lite worker, I’m more interested in what employers are on the light rail. It’s not that hard to take the bus or a bike or get a ride to a train station, compared to doing one of those things all the way out to where the suburban-ring employers are.

  11. Paul Udstrand November 7, 2015 at 10:53 am #

    When we were building transit within city limits it was all about providing transit options. Now that we’re building out beyond city limits its suddenly about serving only those without cars? In other words, we should only build transit within city limits. This is simply urban chauvinism pretending to be transit analysis.

    The cities are already densely populated and “walkable”, and the people there are served by dozens of bus routes, soon to be joined by planned street car lines.

    Meanwhile, more than two thirds of the metro population lives OUTSIDE city limits and pays for the lion’s share of all transit costs. Yet the transit priority isn’t to provide transit options to the majority of metro residents who live outside city limits, it’s to provide train service to city dwellers who are already served by abundant bus lines, bicycle routes, and walkable neighborhoods? Dude, the reason these people don’t own cars is because they don’t NEED them, THEY ALREADY HAVE TRANSIT. You basically arguing that the primary function of transit systems is to provide transit to people who already have it.

    • Scott Shaffer
      Scott Shaffer November 7, 2015 at 1:04 pm #

      “This is simply urban chauvinism pretending to be transit analysis.”

      Ouch.

      I tend to look at our transit in terms of efficiency and equity. Where is the subsidy-per-rider the lowest? Where are the people who need this service the most (that is, the people who can’t afford to move to places with feasible transit)? Those are the places we should be serving with transit. Expanding transit here would be cost-effective and fair.

      You do know that it still takes more than 30 minutes for the 6 bus to get three miles from uptown to downtown, right? Which is about as long as it takes the 675 express bus to come in from 169 and 394, more than twice the distance.

      • Paul Udstrand November 7, 2015 at 3:58 pm #

        Not trying to be harsh, but cry me a river dude; do you have any idea how long it takes me to get from my house in St. Louis Park Downtown? It can take over an hour. Do you really think it makes sense to spend a billion dollars to shave ten minutes off of your Uptown-Downtown “commute?”

        Let’s talk about subsidies: City bus riders are already subsidized by suburban tax payers who pay for 50% or more of inner city transit costs. Likewise neither the city of St. Paul or MPLS have put a dime into the existing Blue or Green lines, unlike the suburbs who caughed up millions of city dollars to pay for the additional costs. So who’s subsidizing who here?

        Where’s the equity in suburban taxpayers building transit systems they can’t use? You want to build rail to move your car-less denizens of the city… go ahead build it… but who’s gonna pay for it? You already have more than twice the tax burden that I do.

        Seriously, I’m not trying to be harsh but your analysis of equity and efficiency appears to be based on a notion that city dwellers without cars are entitled to state of the art transit systems they don’t have to pay for, and only they can use. In reality it makes no more sense to move 30k people a day to and from the the down towns than it does to move the same number of people between the suburbs and the downtowns. 30k people is 30k people.

        If we need better transit in the cities I’m all for building better transit in the cities. But we also need regional transit, it’s not just about who has cars and who doesn’t.

        Meanwhile, I’m actually not complaining, I don’t mind subsidizing your transit, and if you want a faster bus or street car between Uptown and Downtown go for it. If it costs more money I’ll help pay for it, I already am, MPLS isn’t gonna build that first street car line on it’s own dime, and I have no problem with that. Just don’t tell me that my primary responsibility is to build transit for everyone else because I live in a suburb, that is just urban chauvinism.

        • Scott Shaffer
          Scott Shaffer November 7, 2015 at 4:23 pm #

          It’s not about me. I don’t live in Uptown. I don’t even live in one those black census tracts. It’s not even about suburbs vs. cities. It’s about doing things that help the most people with limited resources. I worry that you’re reading things I haven’t written.

          Regarding the sources of operating subsidies, only 11% of Metro Transit’s operating budget comes from local partners and CTIB. Almost 90% comes from the state, the feds, and fares.

          • Paul Udstrand November 7, 2015 at 6:04 pm #

            I don’t mean to make it personal. My point is only 30% of MTC budget comes from fares, and cities put no actual dollars into it. 80% of the riders are city riders, so they are the most heavily subsidized riders.

            • Julia November 7, 2015 at 7:44 pm #

              You seem to assume that the cost of providing each ride is equivalent, regardless of where service is from.

              City routes tend to be much more crowded than suburban routes, many being standing-room only. I believe that MetroTransit plans highway routes so that every rider can sit down (on fancy seats! with wifi!).

              Given the shorter distance of many city rides and the much higher number of riders on one bus line for most city routes, even if the duration is roughly the same, the cost-per-rider-minute or cost-per-rider-mile (which seem more accurate) would be lower in the city.

              • Paul Udstrand November 7, 2015 at 10:53 pm #

                The cost is where the buses are, it’s not just a function of distance. The majority of buses and riders are running in and between MPLS and St. Paul. Commuter buses run much less frequently than inner city routes so it’s not safe to assume that that bus running four times a day to and from Minnetonka (7 miles each way, 21 miles a day) “costs” more than a bus that runs up and down Franklin Ave. all day.

                Look at it this way: Getting back to your car-less driver. Let’s say we have a suburban and an urban rider who both buy a $75 bus pass. Now let’s say the suburban commuter with a car rides a bus in and out of downtown every day, that would be 10 rides a week. Does it make sense that the suburban rider with a car is using the bus just as much as the urban rider without a car? Of course not, so who’s getting the biggest subsidy? Them’s that rides the most gets the most subsidy, and probably rack up more or as much costs. In other words it’s not safe to assume to that its cheaper to move an urban rider without a car around the city all week than it is to move a suburban rider ten time a week.

                • Paul Udstrand November 8, 2015 at 7:33 am #

                  Ooops, I’ve got a cold and think the decongestants scrambled my math… obviously 2×7 is 14, not 21. Sorry about that.

                  • Julia November 8, 2015 at 10:35 am #

                    You may have a point about straight costs of bus vs. car, if you ignore subsidies to drivers, but you still keep defaulting to some assumptions that make it difficult to tell. For example, you talk about a bus that “runs up and down Franklin all day” vs. four times a day to/from Minnetonka. In that specific case, the 2 is a bus route I’m familiar with. I also regularly took a Minnetonka express bus for a while, though not during rush hour.

                    Here are costs I think you’re still missing.
                    1. Emptier busses have higher costs per user than full busses (and AFAIK, highway-busses are planned with an assumption that every rider has a seat while street-busses are planned to allow standing.
                    2. Suburban busses, more than city busses, face a single-directionality/flow of people with the two rush hours. There is a cost to getting an empty bus to the next place.

                    I do NOT have an unlimited ride bus pass–I walk most places I go and it doesn’t make financial sense for me. Most/all of the bus riders I know who do are either students or have passes subsidized by employers. I don’t know how those are structured financially.

                    I’m all for providing more transit to the suburbs, but given the current low density and low demand, it strikes me as a hugely subsidized endeavor and, with a limited transit budget, it comes at the expense of providing adequate service to areas with high density and/or high demand. While suburban residents absolutely deserve transit, the physical/societal underpinnings of many suburbs makes it much more difficult and costly to serve the same number of people/rides.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke November 7, 2015 at 5:08 pm #

      ” You basically arguing that the primary function of transit systems is to provide transit to people who already have it.”

      Actually that makes a lot of sense. The automobile mode share in the “city proper” is still very low. I envision a metro area where we’d double down on transit investment in areas like Uptown where it makes sense, and forget this foolishness of trying to put transit in the ‘burbs, where it’s all but impossible.

      Most basic transit planning approach: take the highest ridership bus lines and upgrade them to rail. That’s what happened with the Green Line, and it’s been working great.

      That is a fiscally and socially responsible approach. But not politically feasible, I’m afraid.

      PS. I’m curious when you say that STP and MPLS didn’t pay anything for the LRT? You mean they don’t contribute to CTIB. state, or Met Council taxes?

      • Paul Udstrand November 7, 2015 at 6:28 pm #

        Budget wise I’m talking about actual city dollars. People who live in MPLS obviously pay sales, and county taxes, but since they comprise less than a third of the County population they’re putting fewer dollars into the pie. And, unlike MPLS the burbs like St. Louis park recently put up a couple million dollars or so (per city) of actual dollars out of our city budget for the Green line.

        Yes, I know you think it only makes sense to double down on transit in the city and only in the city… that’s what I mean when I refer to urban chauvinism. There’s nothing intrinsically “impossible” or irresponsible about putting transit in the burbs, you lay the track and run the trains just like anywhere else. It’ll move just as many or more people, and it will decrease sprawl by encouraging more density along the transit corridor, this is already happening in SLP and the line doesn’t exist yet.

        Again, I’m all for improving inner city transit, that why I always appose transit cuts, and fare hikes, and why I was all onboard the idea of building the first sections of the LR in the cities. show me what you want to do and we’ll figure out how to pay for it. But you have to look outside the city as well. Not only is most of the population outside of the cities, but those burban commuters double the population of Downtown MPLS almost every day. There is absolutely nothing irresponsible or uneconomical about providing transit options in and out of the city for hundreds of thousands of people. On the contrary. And there are jobs and housing in the burbs that your folks without cars are almost completely cut off from and would remain cut off forever according your preference.

        • Julia November 7, 2015 at 7:54 pm #

          I agree with your premise of looking outside the city to continue to build ridership, but I think it’s a folly for our transit system to sink billions into serving communities that show no interest in working to become the kind of spaces where transit is successful.

          If these suburbs (and Minneapolis/St Paul too) want to be serious about transit, they need to make sure that they deal with the kind of restrictive and anachronistic zoning that artificially preserves low density and restricts the presence of commercial areas that work in a symbiotic way with transit corridors.

          If you can commit the same density of car-free riders per mile from a route through the suburbs (or you can if gas hits $X/gallon), I’ll support your proposal for sure. But building an expensive transit line that ignores all the low-hanging fruit of a successful line (i.e. all of us who are car-free and close by (so the per-ride cost is lower both to build and maintain) really doesn’t make sense to me..

        • Bill Lindeke
          Bill Lindeke November 8, 2015 at 10:16 am #

          A contrary example: I think a high-quality transit investment on Robert Street running South of downtown Saint Paul would be wise, through Saint Paul and West Saint Paul. There are suburban corridors where transit might pay off, mostly in the first-ring suburbs that still have a street grid and sidewalks in place. There are others too: Hopkins and Robbinsdale, for example. It’s interesting that this post doesn’t suggest NOT running transit into the suburbs, only that planners should take great pains to do so through as many areas with low-car populations as possible.

    • Julia November 7, 2015 at 7:37 pm #

      “Dude, the reason these people don’t own cars is because they don’t NEED them, THEY ALREADY HAVE TRANSIT.”

      You are totally backwards on this. The reason I live in the city, rather than in the suburbs, is to avoid car dependency or “need.” There are plenty of people who have few choices in their housing/transit situation, but for most people, there IS a choice about whether to live in a sprawling, unwalkable area or to live in a walkable area served by transit. The sprawl of many/most suburbs are evidence that for plenty of people, the sacrifice of transit/walkability is worth it for other things they value more (a large or newer house? distance from people unlike them? a large yard?).

      Transit is a feature of living in a dense area (i.e. a city/an urban area) where there’s a concentrated demand for it. There’s a reason there isn’t high frequency bus service in rural areas–those areas can’t support it because there not enough people live there. It’s not pandering to “urban chauvinists” by putting lines where they’d actually get used.

      If the majority of metro residents want/would use transit options, they can make choices like I’ve made, to live where transit is actually efficient and feasible, or to push their communities to become denser, more walkable places that can support a transit network.

      • Paul Udstrand November 7, 2015 at 9:57 pm #

        Julia,

        You can only “choose” to live without a car in a place where you don’t need a car to live, regardless of your motives the fact remains you already have the transit, if you didn’t, you’d need a car.

        And I hate to say it, but this is just another example of urban chauvinism. Look, I’m glad your happy with where you live, but this idea that you’re decision to live in a city, without a car etc. represents some kind of superior sense of community or sustainability, or whatever, is not a product of objective analysis. It’s simply your personal choice.

        By the way, you guys need to remember that you just made up your “car free rider” priority, it’s not a universal law of transit theory. There are obviously several factors that have to be considered and can just as sensibly be prioritized. We don’t need to commit to priorities you just made up in order to justify our transit systems, nor should we.

        Just a couple more points, If the suburbs weren’t serious about building transit these lines would not be planned. No one is just dropping billions of dollars worth of Light Rail on the suburbs as some kind of unsolicited favor. I think the millions of dollars we’ve dedicated to planning and construction demonstrate our dedication to transit. And clearly, you don’t get out of the city much because we HAVE been zoning and building higher density housing etc. Your characterization of suburban transit development is based on stereotypes, not the reality. Again… chauvinism.

        Finally, you guys seem to think it makes more sense to saturate dense populations with transit rather than provide transit to larger populations. Again, that’s chauvinism, not logic. There’s no objective reason to make getting from Uptown to Downtown in ten minutes a bigger priority than getting from SLP to downtown in 20 minutes. And the fact that Uptowns “density” might be higher doesn’t actually change that. Density is an environmental characteristic, not a rationale.

        Again, I’ve been saying that MPLS contains less than a third of the metro population (regardless of it’s density) but actually more like a quarter of the population. There’s no logical or objective principle that dictates that moving 400k people around within a confined area is more sustainable than moving moving two million people the metro area. Now that would be different IF we could move 400k people around within MPLS without drawing 70% of the budget from outside the city, but that’s not the case is it? MPLS transit can never be self sustaining so arguments that it’s more sustainable simply fail.

        Look, I got no problem with the city of MPLS, I love the city. Clearly the cities are our biggest state asset and amenity, they’re our primary economic engine for a lot of reasons so I don’t mind putting my dollars into the city, it’s parks, bike routes, dog parks, transit, street cars, light rails, etc. But this chauvinism really does get tedious.

        • Bill Lindeke
          Bill Lindeke November 8, 2015 at 10:26 am #

          “Just a couple more points, If the suburbs weren’t serious about building transit these lines would not be planned. No one is just dropping billions of dollars worth of Light Rail on the suburbs as some kind of unsolicited favor.”

          I think this is exactly what some people might suggest. Certainly the Gateway BRT East of Saint Paul is an example where few people the cities or the property owners in question have shown little to no interest in making walkable, transit-oriented land use decisions. (e.g. Sun Ray mall, Lake Elmo, Woodbury developers)

          I don’t think your use of the term “chauvinism” is well chosen. Certainly there’s an geographic justice aspect to how we build our cities, but “exaggurated bias about a cause or group” seems a stretch. The argument is a practical one: “it’s impossible to make transit work in many / most parts of the Twin Cities.” Or, “the only places where high-quality transit is practical are here”, etc.

        • Julia November 8, 2015 at 11:50 am #

          Paul, I don’t personally “need” transit. In fact, I currently use the bus perhaps 1-2/week, mostly for walkable distances when I’m running a bit late or want to avoid some stretches of road that are really unpleasant to walk on because they’re built like highways.

          But unless you want to get into a discussion of structure and agency, privilege and oppression, you need to acknowledge that I DID make a choice to be carfree starting when I was a teen. I continue to make a choice to be carfree. When I look at the costs/benefits of car dependency vs the costs/benefits of being car-free, both from a personal level as well as from an ethical level, it is an easy and obvious choice.

          I am not saying this is a superior way to live at an individual level–individual choices are really complicated and I will actively acknowledge how lucky I am to be in a situation where I even considered that choice as a teen/young adult and where I *can* do it. We have more and more empirical evidence that walkable communities ARE better at a societal level, for reasons from individual health/happiness, to community connectivity, to intellectual health, to reduced birth defects/deaths from car crashes and car pollution, to sustainability/helping preserve our planet. These are objective metrics. I’m not an urban chauvinist (though I do harbor a lot of distaste and anger over for the blatant racism that historically has driven suburbanization, residential development/access, and restrictive zoning). I wish for the same quality of life for those in the suburbs, which is why I am supportive of increasing density and providing transit to nodes where there is a high need/demand. I am sad for those who are dependent on cars. That doesn’t mean I think I’m superior; it means I think I’m lucky that I knew about and could make the choice to live car-free. There’s a difference. Being privileged doesn’t mean I didn’t have a choice.

          Point is, I CHOOSE where to live so that I DO NOT need a car. This isn’t random. When I move, I look for places that are not only well-served by transit, but are close to grocery stores, restaurants, cafes, cultural institutions, parks, employment, etc. When finances are tight, I choose roommates and small apartments in these areas over being car-dependent. Avoiding car-dependence is a basic priority in my life.

          I’m not sure how it is bad to prioritize car-free riders as a concept. While there are growing numbers of people like me who choose to be car-free, there are still plenty of people whose carlessness is not by choice. But for all of us, we might be able to choose walking/biking over transit sometimes, but by and large, when push comes to shove, we are transit-dependent, particularly in a sprawling metro area like ours. We’re a great base market because we’re stable. Riders who choose to ride while their car sits in their driveway are much less reliable.

          You know what isn’t self-sustaining? Our car-centric transportation system, where we spend billions on roads and government-provided parking for mostly single-occupancy vehicles. Personally, I see transportation as one of those basic infrastructure needs for any modern city. We can choose to continue building and maintaining for cars and paying for the huge costs of those, or we can build out our transit system even when it, like our roads, requires a subsidy.

          You seem to be pretty pro-transit, but also accuse me of urban chauvinism. Here’s an example to clarify. Take Kenwood/Lowry Hill in Minneapolis. Only one busline goes into that neighborhood. You know how often the 25 runs there? Only on weekdays, only during rush hour (three times each, I believe). It’s basically the same frequency of service that many suburbs have. In a city. As the former route 1, it used to run a few times an hour. What changed? City policies, supported by real estate speculators/developers, functionally down-zoned much of the neighborhood, turning duplexes into (wealthy) single family homes. Suburban residents used to treat the neighborhood as a park-and-ride, with streets filling up with the cars of people who’d bus downtown. Neighborhood residents petitioned to restrict access. Between hugely decreasing density and removal of extra riders, that iconic part of Minneapolis couldn’t support the bus lines it once had. It lost them.

          Would I love to see more frequent bus service to that area? Absolutely. But the way to get that bus service isn’t to insist that MetroTransit start driving empty busses through low-density urban areas more frequently. It’s to work to undo the messed up and destructive city codes that privilege single family homes over multi-unit housing. It’s to fight for affordable housing (and the more-often-transit-dependent residents who come with it). It’s about changing the narrative from the kind of hyper-car-centrism that so many media outlets default to, to acknowledging the legitimacy and existence of other forms of transit (and the people who use them). It’s to encourage development and density so that real transit access is a feasible service to provide. That is what I’d suggest to you for any area of the Twin Cities that you think needs more transit. Make sure it can support transit service.

          You talk about Uptown already being saturated. I think you’re confused about what that means. High frequency of service (like the 6) doesn’t necessarily indicate saturation, particularly when those busses are full. If you look at the Northside, I’ve frequently been on the 19 (in both directions) when it’s standing room only very early on in the route. Just because it comes 4/hour doesn’t mean it’s saturated. You can define saturation, but it’s got to include some thinking about ridership/usage. The 6 is certainly more saturated than the 19, but less saturated than, say, the bus I used to take to Wayzata.

          When you compare Uptown to St. Louis Park (I assume that’s the SLP you’re referring to, not Spring Lake Park?), you’re missing out on the importance of geography. Uptown is a few blocks square (not sure of exact area). St. Louis Park is 10.86 miles square. The furthest an Uptown resident resides from the 6 is .4 miles. That’s totally walkable for most people of all ages. When the 6 travels down Hennepin for the .9 mi that Wikipedia considers Uptown, it goes within .5 miles of over 21,000 residents/potential riders. I don’t know much about SLP, but Wikipedia says it’s got 41,000 residents total. What kind of clustering of those residents and the amenities/services/jobs they want to frequent do you have along a potential transit spine there?

          It’s not chauvinism. It’s just logic and cost/benefit analysis.

          (P.S. meant to say in my earlier comment, I hope you’re on the mend from your cold!)

        • Justin November 11, 2015 at 11:35 pm #

          Bottom line, people in the suburbs don’t use transit like people in the city do.

          • Paul Udstrand November 12, 2015 at 8:04 am #

            Bottom bottom line… people in the suburbs don’t have the transit options that people in the city have. The observation that suburbanites do use as much transit is a circular observation pretending to be transit analysis. The whole point of the extensions is to provide transit options to suburbanites who are demanding transit options. Urban chauvinism is the belief that only city dwellers are entitled to transit options because their density makes them more valuable citizens.

            • Bill Lindeke
              Bill Lindeke November 12, 2015 at 9:09 am #

              Again, Paul, I wouldn’t say that. What I’d call “transit triage” would be focusing transit spending in areas that can support it, and focusing freeway/road spending in the rest of the areas. If you put aside *where* the money is coming from (geographically, e.g. CTIB), this would be my recipe for the future. It’s not about value judgements or who is more deserving, but about practical limits of what we can afford and what will work. That’s not chauvinism, it’s common sense.

              (There’s an argument to be made for transit investments in the burbs “leading the way” to mode share, but I don’t see you making it here.)

              • Paul Udstrand November 12, 2015 at 10:56 am #

                Sorry Bill but prejudice isn’t common sense.

                You can’t use circular reasoning to make predictions… well you can.. but it chauvinism 🙂

                The extensions aren’t being planned simply because the burbs want to or have the money to pay for it. I’m sure I don’t have tell you that if we didn’t have sufficient ridership projections to support them we wouldn’t qualify the federal funding. Those projections come from the same people who made the projections for the Blue and Green lines “within” the cities and they have a pretty good track record.

                When these folks were prediction ridership within your city boarders they were super duper math whizzes. But for some reason when they predicted ridership in the burbs they became idiots. Your skepticism is based the circular reasoning that since suburbanites aren’t using transit they don’t have… they’ll not use transit if we build it in the future. Show me YOUR projections and explain why their better then the guys who have good track record.

                The idea that we should limit transit spending to urbanites is NOT based on objective projections, or common sense, it’s based on the assumption that city dwellers possess a variety of virtues that emerge from their living closer together, and those virtues make them more deserving of transit dollars than suburbanites. Since those assumptions are not based on a lot of impressive data, they’re the product of bias, stereotypes, and prejudice, i.e. chauvinism.

                • Bill Lindeke
                  Bill Lindeke November 12, 2015 at 11:20 am #

                  The only virtue here is “cost per rider.” I’d argue that Bottineau, SWLRT extension, and Gateway are very inefficient. That’s a concrete number that’s hard to ignore.

                  There’s also a reverse prejudice angle to your argument, as the suburbs are (much) wealthier than the city proper.

                  I’m in favor of “transit to the suburbs,” in general, for many of the reasons you mention. I would prefer stronger land use reforms and a more calculated investment strategy. I only take umbrage at your use of the term “chauvinsm” to describe what is a very data-based perspective. You might argue that opposing a “freeway to nowhere” like Wasilla, Alaska’s is “island chauvinsm”?

                  See also, the difference between geographic and economic equity: http://tcsidewalks.blogspot.com/2014/10/three-things-you-must-know-about.html

                  Anyway, I’m checking out of this comment thread. I don’t think we’ve made any progress.

                  • Paul Udstrand November 12, 2015 at 1:41 pm #

                    There’s no reverse prejudice, I’m not complaining about the cost of the city, I’m simply noting it and debunking the density theory urbanist use to assign more value to city dwellers. Unfortunately the “data” you claim to be basing your perspective on doesn’t withstand analysis. I’m not saying that city dwellers are less valuable, but I would argue that suburbanites are AS valuable.

  12. Paul Udstrand November 7, 2015 at 10:19 pm #

    Not be obnoxious but getting back to my criticism that this chauvinism rather than analysis, let’s take a quick look at the numbers and try to sustain this new priority of the car-less rider. Looking at Scott’s estimate the highest concentration of square miles with 1800+ car-less people is in the city. OK, well the city of MPLS contains just a little over 58 square miles. Let’s say every square mile of MPLS contains 2000 car-less citizens, (clearly a generous estimate).

    That would mean that Scott is arguing that 3.7 million people in dozens of surrounding cities and counties (not to mention state and federal funding) should be dedicating all of their transit dollars (billions of dollars) towards moving 116,000 people around the city of MPLS.

    THIS is your idea of equity and efficiency?

    • Julia November 8, 2015 at 12:34 pm #

      Okay, so Mpls is 58 mi² and 400,000 people. St. Paul is 56 mi² and 300,000 people. The Twin Cities metro is 6,364 mi² and 3,500,000 people (I know you said 3.7 million, but for consistency, I’m going with the first number that pops up in google for these). So 20% of the Twin Cities population live in 1.8% of the land area. Since transit is inherently geographic (it’s about moving people around) and uses economies of scale to be successful, centering transit around/thru Mpls/St. Paul makes a ton of sense given that for any mile a bus goes, it’s reach TEN TIMES more people in Mpls/St. Paul than in a random location in the suburbs.

      Of course, this ignores that people cluster, both inside the core cities and outside. Sending the 6 every fifteen minutes through Uptown makes much more sense than sending the 25 every fifteen minutes through Kenwood (or the 9 every fifteen minutes to SLP). Right? You want a bus line to get used. That means it needs to have both originations and destinations along a line. More efficient routes are taking people from A to B AND from B to A. Think of transit as pulling from a specific “watershed” of people. Successful transit is constantly moving people around from A to B to C to D to A to C. It requires that steady and reliable flow of people coming onto it AND it requires places for them to want or need to be. SLP is starting to get there. Heck, I think I’ll be bussing it out there for an event sometime this week.

      For transit efficiency, it’s best to have the places people live to overlap with the places people want to be. See: Uptown. For transit equity, it’s best to make sure that people who don’t have other options are able to get to the places they want/need to be. See: Northside. Both of those areas have really high transit use. Both are getting functionally bypassed with planned LRT systems.

      I realize it can feel frustrating to see areas that have routes running 4/hour advocate for more, while so many places have only rush hour busses. On this end, it’s infuriating to see our planners throwing billions of dollars at LRT lines that skirt the highest density and highest transit use parts of our metropolitan area, knowing that the lower usage rates and higher need for bigger subsidies will keep our transit funding (and political will) tied up for longer before we can build the system out further.

      • Paul Udstrand November 8, 2015 at 12:46 pm #

        “So 20% of the Twin Cities population live in 1.8% of the land area. Since transit is inherently geographic (it’s about moving people around) and uses economies of scale to be successful, centering transit around/thru Mpls/St. Paul makes a ton of sense given that for any mile a bus goes,”

        Yes and no. Yes it makes sense to center the transit around the cities, that’s exactly what we’ve done, and the Blue and Green extensions don’t change that. The extensions don’t move the focal point out of the cities, they connect to the focal point in the cities.

        No, if a transit system is about moving people it does not make sense to build a transit system that ignores 80% of the population (outside the city).

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary November 8, 2015 at 1:11 pm #

        “So 20% of the Twin Cities population live in 1.8% of the land area. Since transit is inherently geographic (it’s about moving people around) and uses economies of scale to be successful, centering transit around/thru Mpls/St. Paul makes a ton of sense given that for any mile a bus goes, it’s reach TEN TIMES more people in Mpls/St. Paul than in a random location in the suburbs.”

        That’s completely specious, Julia. I don’t think anybody was suggested that transit needs to serve farmfields west of Medina as well as they do Minneapolis. Mpls/St. Paul may be 10x as dense as the total of all land in the metro area — but so are nearly all suburbs.

        • Julia November 8, 2015 at 2:13 pm #

          I think that’s unfair, Sean. I was replying to Paul’s argument that it is somehow not equitable (and “urban chauvinism”) to provide lower rates of transit service to SLP than to Uptown. He was specifically comparing Mpls/metro area populations. To talk about transit service and population totals without talking about the area encompassed by each misses the points I am making. That is why I looked up the relevant missing info.

          And I do think the understanding of transit separated from density/destination makes no sense. Given what I understand Paul to be saying, we SHOULD be talking about transit service to western Medina because in his framework, population density/likely usage shouldn’t determine route locations. I find this an interesting perspective in its idealism, though I heartily disagree with it as a useful practical framework.

  13. Paul Udstrand November 8, 2015 at 7:11 pm #

    You know what, I just went back and looked at my exchange and I realize that I need to apologize. No one is saying here that we shouldn’t build the extensions, it’s just a discussion of the route. I completely went off the reservation and hijacked the discussion, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do that, I just missed the point. Please accept my apologies and pretend I never opened my big yap.

    • Scott Shaffer
      Scott Shaffer November 9, 2015 at 9:36 am #

      I knew we had a misunderstanding somewhere. Don’t worry about it!

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke November 9, 2015 at 2:38 pm #

      I’ve never seen an apology in a comments section before!

      Sorry for picking on you, too, Paul. I think you have a point that there’s a self-fulfilling prophecy dynamic to measuring car-free populations and then planning transit around them, just as if you measured “coffee shop consumption per capita” and then argued for the placement of coffee shops in those (already Starbucks-laden) areas.

      Also, your linking of the geographies of funding with the geography of transit spending is certainly an issue that persists here, and I don’t see obvious solutions to the imbalance between geographic funding and good transit investments other than more wasteful park and ride lots, or else a big change in suburban areas around land use priorities.

      • Paul Udstrand November 9, 2015 at 8:10 pm #

        I don’t what a “big” change necessarily, but land use priorities are definitely changing in burbs. I can’t speak for all burbs but Eden Prairie, Hopkins, St. Louis Park, and even Wayzata and Excelsior are pushing more dense development and concentrated transit amenities, even when a LR line isn’t nearby.

        Wayzata just built a huge dense complex with mixed housing, retail, and condos where a strip mall used to be. I’m not plugged into their discussion our there but they’re building a pretty good sized cluster of density there and I wouldn’t doubt they have plans to get a dedicated non-stop route to and from MPLS running there.

        Hopkins has rebuilt it’s downtown just a couple blocks away from the proposed Green Line route. St. Louis park has built a dozen or so big condo/row house/apartment complexes right next to the tracks. We also have the West End which is getting hundreds of apartments and “Flats”, Although the West End can’t take advantage of the LR line, a fast bus line could easily run out of there to downtown.

        And Eagan is zoning for high density housing with nearby commercial development and building it all around the end of the LR line.

        Of course MPLS is infilling like crazy but dude, we’re never going to get 3.7 million people into MPLS and St. Paul, there’s a population limit there no matter how dense it gets. What we can do, and what does seem to be happening, is moving people closer in, and clustering development around transit rather than sprawling out next to old county roads further and further out. The first and second ring burbs are picking up population and it’s starting to cluster around the proposed LR lines.

        Frankly, I think the key is keeping housing prices down. More square foot for the buck is what drove sprawl in the first place, so keeping it affordable close in push back against that. Of course, I don’t know how suppress housing prices and a lot of people would shoot me just for suggesting it, but…

  14. Paul Udstrand November 9, 2015 at 1:19 pm #

    Density shemnsity,

    I won’t make a big response because my whole line about urban chauvinsim turned out be a derailment of the actual conversation… so I don’t want to promote that anymore.

    Maybe I’ll write about it on my blog and you guys can come and harangue me?

    Basically I’m just saying that the urban density logic assumes that people who live closer together are more important and valuable than people who live further apart for a variety reasons. Not now, but maybe some other time I can explain why I think those assumptions don’t actually pan out.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller November 9, 2015 at 2:02 pm #

      People who live closer together cost less per person to provide infrastructure for and generate more revenue per land area to pay for it.

      It’s not a moral judgment. It’s dollars and cents.

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary November 9, 2015 at 2:07 pm #

        I don’t buy that level of detachment. Veterans and seniors get discount fares — so should we focus on transit services that serve middle-aged adults and younger?

        I certainly wouldn’t say so, and I’m doubting anybody here would. Because there’s a level of value and priority that goes beyond simply what is cheapest.

        In any case, as has been said previously here, the higher societal cost of providing suburban transit service should be weighted against the higher societal cost of suburban residents driving long distances on crowded freeways and streets in order to access destinations when transit is unavailable.

      • Paul Udstrand November 9, 2015 at 4:24 pm #

        “People who live closer together cost less per person to provide infrastructure for and generate more revenue per land area to pay for it.”

        That’s actually not true, it’s an article of faith among urbanists. The fact is that MPLS despite its density has to spend 4 to 5 times more per capita to provide its services and has to rely on billions of outside dollar to do it.

        A quick way to compare MPLS to St. Louis park for instance is to simply look the expense budget and divide by the population. The MPLS city budget for 3013 was around $1.3 billion, with a population of 400k that works out to around $3.3k per capita. SLP had a budget of around $30 million in 2013 with a population of 47K, for a per capita cost of $638.

        Now obviously the two cities are very different but MPLS also gets $70 million in ALG while SLP gets $0. MPLS also get’s millions for it’s parks, trails, grand rounds, and I think they get the more per pupil for the schools. Not mention billions for stadiums and arena’s that ostensibly boost your local economies, property values, etc. MPLS also got the first and most successful LR line and all transit development along the Blue Line that went with that, without putting a dime of city dollars into it. Then there’s the Green Line as well. So the question if density is so much efficient why is cost so much more?

        So you say yeah well it’s cheaper to live in the city. Really? My mortgage in SLP is $645 a month (for 1,700 sq feet, and a garage). That includes our property taxes and home insurance which are escrow’d in. What’s your rent? You can laugh but Costco is a mile an half away and I get everything from water softener salt to milk at crazy low prices. My property taxes and utilities are lower than those in MPLS, and I get the best gas prices for my evil car (at Costco of course).

        We can get into more budget details and spending but no matter how dice and slice it, the fact is if density was the big efficiency urbanists claim it to be a city like MPLS wouldn’t cost so much more to service and maintain and would be a lot more self sufficient as far as it’s revenue is concerned. The reason for discrepancy basically boils down to the difference between theoretical ubranist cities and real cities that people actually live in.

        By the way, it’s not all about aging infrastructure, SLP is the process of replacing all of it’s water mains, sewer lines, and streets ( I got my new street a couple years ago), and it’s all paid within the budget I’ve given you.

        • mplsjaromir November 12, 2015 at 9:44 am #

          First of all SLP got more than half a million dollars in LGA in 2015. So about 1.5% of SLP’s budget is from LGA, Minneapolis’ is 6%.

          The driver of this is due to the fact that more than 40% of Minneapolis’ housing stock is from before 1940 while only 8% in SLP.

          I also looked at the Hennepin County Assessor’s website and compared my Minneapolis home to similar homes (pricewise) in SLP. Guess what? I pay about $200 more per year in net property taxes than those in SLP. I think that is a fair deal considering the amenities I receive.

          Minneapolis has a poverty rate of 16.9% wheres SLP’s is 5.2%. The factors that lead to this are many but basically can be attributed to societal and institutional racism. The city shoulders the burden of attempting to ameliorate the conditions for those that the affluent suburbs have shunned.

          If you look at a map of SLP you will see it is encapsulated by Federal and state highways, and has many county roads, alleviating the city’s public works budget. Another invisible subsidy that few suburbanites see as a subsidy.

          SLP being a relatively dense suburb only has six census tracts that have more 5,000 per sq/mi. At level at which most world standards see as the minimum to consider rail transit. I support the extension, insofar I am a big believer that it will make the system integral to the region and especially to the most affluent. In turn may allow for future expansions that will hopefully be more meaningful.

          Looking at how countries that are not totally ridiculous when it comes to subsidizing auto dependent lifestyles at the federal level, no one would ever contend that automobile centered areas are more affordable than walkable areas.

          Bottom line is that cities are far more affordable than suburbs when it isn’t skewed by miserable federal automobile subsidies.

          • Adam Miller
            Adam Miller November 12, 2015 at 10:35 am #

            The fact that anyone who lives in SLP reads “suburbs” and thinks “my town” is a bit confusing. SLP has a lot more in common with Minneapolis and is barely distinguishable from the city outside the CBD.

            • Bill Lindeke
              Bill Lindeke November 12, 2015 at 10:38 am #

              tell that to the Olive Garden parking lot

            • Sean Hayford Oleary
              Sean Hayford Oleary November 12, 2015 at 10:43 am #

              I agree, but there are often lines of though that seem to go, “anything outside the incorporated City of Minneapolis (and maybe City of St. Paul, if feeling generous) is suburban, and everything inside is urban and worthy of bike/transit/intensification”.

              Not quoting any particular person or point — but that is the impression I’m left with sometimes, and why I can understand Paul arguing these points, even if it makes less sense to lump SLP together Minnetonka than with Minneapolis.

              • Adam Miller
                Adam Miller November 12, 2015 at 10:53 am #

                Modelling the rest of the metro on SLP and Richfield would be a huge win.

          • Paul Udstrand November 12, 2015 at 10:38 am #

            Thanks for the update on the ALG for St. Louis Park, but it doesn’t change the fact that it costs 4-5 times more per capita to service MPLS than does SLP. You can itemize and explain your expenses and we can talk about poverty rates and what not but all those expenses flow out of your larger and denser population so you still have explain why your density isn’t more efficient. Sure you housing is older, that’s the difference between mathematical models of density and real cities that people live in. It doesn’t change the fact that is cost what it cost, and it cost more.

            As for highways and what not the fact is that MPLS has more freeway miles running through it than does SLP. You have 50+ miles of State, County, and Federal roads compared to maybe 30 in SLP. Dont forget that Interstates 94 and 35w run through MPLS as well as portions of 55, 394, 77, 65, 47. In terms of square feet of pavement you have way more than SLP. And you have more than a few expensive bridges and tunnels accommodating them. Furthermore some of your parkways and BLVDs are Grand Rounds and memorial drives. Not to mention all the bikeways you’ve got, for instance consider the Sabo Bridge.

            At any rate since MPLS isn’t maintaining it’s county, state, or fed roads any more than SLP the mileage is irrelevant and doesn’t change the per capita city expenditures.

            • mplsjaromir November 12, 2015 at 11:14 am #

              What you do not realize is that the you compared the SLP’s general fund to Minneapolis total budget. If you compared the two general funds there is much greater parity. Per capita general fund costs for Minneapolis are $1,157.50. So your assertion that it costs 4-5 times as much to service the city is based off of an elementary misunderstanding. Do not waste my time lecturing me on financial efficiency if you cannot interpret basic budget documents.

              If you think LGA is bogus then you fit the profile of a typical reactionary suburbanite. SLP has far more Federal, State, and County roads per capita and per square mile. Yuuuge subsidy.

              Again suburbs experience great efficiencies when they systematically exclude the least wealthy people of society. Not a triumph of policy, but rather a triumph of bigotry.

              • Paul Udstrand November 12, 2015 at 1:15 pm #

                I’m afraid you mistaken mplsjaronmir, the figure I gave was the entire SLP budget, not just the general fund. The General fund for SLP in 2014 was: $21,157,724 but he total budget was: $25,577,908. I’m working with total budget figures for both cities, I’m doing an apples to apples comparison. Sure you can produce a better ratio by limiting you analysis to the general fund, but there’s no logical reason to that when you have annual budgets that represent your actual spending. You own me an apology, the figures I’m using are absolutely correct.

                I never said LGA was bogus, I simply pointed out the fact that MPLS gets a lot more of it than SLP, which is again simply a fact.

                I’m glad to see you finally acknowledging the fact that the city does not produce more efficiency’s, that however contradicts the assumption that everyone here has been making all along. So now that your efficiency argument has collapsed you’re making excuses for your inefficiency i.e. suburban bigorty etc. Which simply illustrates my point that these density/efficiency assumptions are based on prejudice, not reliable analysis.

                • mplsjaromir November 12, 2015 at 2:47 pm #

                  The scope at which the City of Minneapolis operates is far different than SLP. A large portion of Minneapolis’ budget is paid for with sales of services (38% v. 8% for SLP). So the city may have more expenditures, but it also has more streams of revenue.

                  For example, Minneapolis maintains an advanced system of surface water treatment and drinking water delivery that it sells to other cities. An extremely sustainable practice that has earned the city accolades. SLP pumps water out of ground. Minneapolis sells parking in its regionally vital central business district. The city runs its own trash and recycling collection, SLP contracts that out. It makes the city overall budget look larger, but actually are revenue neutral.

                  Secondly the city has many business. educational, cultural, recreational and entertainment organizations that SLP does not have. Many of these do not pay the city property taxes. SLP derives value from these, Minneapolis would survive essentially unfazed without SLP and did so for a long time, the opposite cannot be said.

                  Going by overall budget numbers to compare the two cities is lazy and does not answer the question to whether or not dense cities are more efficient. Going by direct tax incidences in the two cities the number are closer than what you suggest. The delta I attribute is that Minneapolis has much more to offer its residents, and offers places that actually affordable to many more people. It is a fools errand to try and directly compare the two, but common sense would indicate that more people sharing common infrastructure is more efficient than not.

                  • Paul Udstrand November 12, 2015 at 3:00 pm #

                    “Going by overall budget numbers to compare the two cities is lazy and does not answer the question to whether or not dense cities are more efficient. ”

                    The problem is you’re not actually trying to answer the question at all, you just keep saying that your position is common sense. Yet the numbers show that for a variety of reasons, your density is not yielding more efficiency in the real world.

                    You can tell us what MPLS spends its money on (and you haven’t even scratched the surface), but prove it’s more efficient. You can complain about where we get our water etc. but it doesn’t change cost of running the city. All you can do is describe the costs of running a big city with a lot of people, but then you want to deny that it costs a lot of money to run a big city with a lot of people.

                  • Paul Udstrand November 12, 2015 at 3:02 pm #

                    “Going by overall budget numbers to compare the two cities is lazy ”

                    It may be lazy, but it works.

                    • mplsjaromir November 12, 2015 at 3:15 pm #

                      Now your just trolling dude by refusing to engage in the extremely pertinent point that the city sells water, parking and waste collection among other things that make the budget look larger but also bring in revenue.

                      When looking at a true apples to apples comparison of annual property tax due to a homeowner, the cities are very close.

            • Alex Cecchini
              Alex Cecchini November 12, 2015 at 1:13 pm #

              I think maybe you both are hitting on the fact that a city’s budget isn’t solely determined by things that scale up and down with people per acre or per square foot of pavement. It would be pretty hard for Paul to argue that 1,000 people sharing 1,000 linear feet of road costs more than 100 people sharing the same amount of pavement (and the pipes/utilities underneath it).

              At the same time, there are many city services funded through the General Fund that don’t necessarily scale with population. Police service in Minneapolis is higher because we have more traffic per day (especially in certain locations like the CBD, entertainment districts, etc – places people from outside city borders visit at higher rates than the reverse flow from Minneapolis to any individual suburb) and yes, our higher crime rates. The link between population density and crime is pretty weak – at a regional or even city-wide level it’d be hard to show. We also need to acknowledge that transit, which is a key piece of mobility for many city residents, doesn’t come out of our budget (whereas most suburban municipalities fund their citizens’ mobility almost entirely via roads – whether or not this is equitable or a net total cost savings for society is certainly debatable, but at the hyper-local level it’s still a thing to consider). Schools, largely funded by the state and not showing up in our city’s budget, are another missing piece of this discussion. Etc.

              I’m planning a lengthy post on this very topic with actual charts and data to digest and argue over. It’s very complicated! At a high level, I suspect things that Minneapolis pays for in its city-budget (often outside the General Fund) like trash service, the Convention Center, Target Center renovations, public housing, parks that serve much more regional uses than many suburban park budgets, etc all play a pretty big factor in our larger budget per capita. One could also argue that freeways/highways that chewed up formerly tax-paying parcels (while slightly de-valuing neighboring properties) raises the cost per capita. And finally, the fact that this city was built out to fit 530k people and just crossed 400k for the first time in decades (whereas SLP has roughly the same population it did once it was fully built out) has to play a part as well.

              • Paul Udstrand November 12, 2015 at 1:30 pm #

                We can explain why it costs so much more to run MPLS than it does suburbs but at the end of the day one way or another it flows out of your larger population and greater density. You can do the accounting if you want but it’s not going to change the fact that your claims about density/efficiency fail in any honest analysis. You have a larger police department because you have more people and a larger city. You do have more crime per capita etc. but whatever, again all that means is you have a REAL city.

                Sure your parks serve more people, but you get state money for your parks, Dayton just threatened to take it away.

                Look, MPLS simply does not have the population or the tax base to be self sufficient.

                I look forward to reading you post.

                • Adam Miller
                  Adam Miller November 12, 2015 at 1:46 pm #

                  “at the end of the day one way or another it flows out of your larger population and greater density.”

                  How do things like additional services, amenities and accommodating suburban visitors and workers (all things Alex mentioned) flow out of greater density?

                  “You can do the accounting if you want but it’s not going to change the fact that your claims about density/efficiency fail in any honest analysis.”

                  Because “honesty” is ignoring difference in income, services, amenities and accommodation of visitors? Or using one of the densest and most urban suburbs as a proxy for all suburbs?

                  “Look, MPLS simply does not have the population or the tax base to be self sufficient.”

                  This is only “true” because it lacks the ability to tax income and economic activity within its borders.

                  • Paul Udstrand November 12, 2015 at 2:47 pm #

                    “How do things like additional services, amenities and accommodating suburban visitors and workers (all things Alex mentioned) flow out of greater density?”

                    The more people you have to provide services and amenities to the more it costs, it’s a question of scale. As for visitors and workers they bring money into the city, they aren’t just an expense, and as I’ve already pointed out, MPLS ges a lost of state, county, and federal aid to help with those expenses.

                    “Because “honesty” is ignoring difference in income, services, amenities and accommodation of visitors? Or using one of the densest and most urban suburbs as a proxy for all suburbs?”

                    I’m not ignoring any of these, they are ALL reflected in the city budget. I just chose SLP because I live here, but any comparative analysis with any of the suburbs will yield the same fiscal pattern.

                    “This is only “true” because it lacks the ability to tax income and economic activity within its borders.”

                    I don’t any city in US has that ability so this no more of a liability for MPLS than any other city or suburb.

                    • Adam Miller
                      Adam Miller November 12, 2015 at 3:11 pm #

                      “The more people you have to provide services and amenities to the more it costs, it’s a question of scale.”

                      This is non-responsive because we’re talking about per capita costs. Why does it costs more per person to provide the same services to the same people because they live closer together?

                      The answer is that it does not. It costs more in the city because there are more services and amenities and there is greater poverty. The first is a policy choice and the second the result of historical policy choices. Neither is inherently about density.

                      “As for visitors and workers they bring money into the city, they aren’t just an expense, and as I’ve already pointed out, MPLS ges a lost of state, county, and federal aid to help with those expenses.”

                      Visitors certainly wind up on both sides, that’s true.

                      Someday I’m going to have to dig further into the numbers (or maybe Alex’s post will cover it) but my understanding is that the city gets nowhere close to what is collected in sales and income tax within the city back from the state.

                      “I’m not ignoring any of these, they are ALL reflected in the city budget.”

                      When you divide the a city budget by the number of residents and draw conclusions about the costs or benefits of density, you’re doing exactly that. Most obviously, you’re not controlling for differences in income and level of services/amenities. You’re comparing apples to oranges and declaring the oranges inherently inferior.

                      “I don’t any city in US has that ability so this no more of a liability for MPLS than any other city or suburb.”

                      All cities are in the same boat, but that doesn’t mean you can look at one and say “see, it can’t pay for itself.”

                    • Alex Cecchini
                      Alex Cecchini November 12, 2015 at 3:34 pm #

                      The argument you’re making is that total budget is higher per capita because we’re a central/core city. Not because we are a city with high population or because our density is higher. As has been pointed out, SLP is nearly identical to most of Minneapolis in built-form and density (mostly single family homes, mostly on a walkable grid, with some apartments and commercial strips thrown in). Yet your total budget is lower. Because you don’t have regional amenities that serve a much higher share of non-residents the way Minneapolis does, and they cost money to provide/maintain.

                      City services like police and fire departments don’t scale up in cost per capita as population goes up. They slightly decline.

                      Stadiums and universities and convention centers and Theodore Wirth Parks all cost money (direct: to operate/maintain like parks/CC, indirect: stadiums that don’t pay property taxes but have roads/sewers in front of them). This has nothing to do with density, simply the fact that we have those things in our city. Put them in SLP and watch our budget drop and yours increase while nothing else really changes. So yes, no one is arguing our total budget per capita is higher. We are saying that direct city services like roads and sewers and police cost less to provide per capita than less dense places like Bloomington or Eden Prairie (especially if you fast forward to when every street is in a cycle of reconstruction as our 80-100 year old streets and pipes are). I would expect places like Edina, St Louis Park, Golden Valley, etc to have nearly identical costs when looking at those core division costs per capita.

                      Example: do you think the cost per capita on this Brooklyn Park street reconstruction/utility project is higher or lower than one on your block? Higher or lower than one in the Wedge?

                    • Paul Udstrand November 12, 2015 at 4:36 pm #

                      “The argument you’re making is that total budget is higher per capita because we’re a central/core city. Not because we are a city with high population or because our density is higher. ”

                      Actually no, I’m not trying to explain why your per capita costs are higher, I’m simply pointing out the fact that they are, and they wouldn’t be if your density delivered more efficiency than my reduced density in SLP.

                      Yes, you have regional amenities, but you also get tens of millions of dollars to pay or help pay for them (did’t I point that out already). For instance you get money from the Three Rivers Park District, (in fact the north and south Cedar lake bike trails go through both cities and it’s paid for the TRPD). I mean look, we can itemize this stuff if you want but it’s not going to do you any good, your amenities for other people are never going to add up to 80% of your budget, which is what they’d have to do to bring you into just parity with SLP, and your claiming you density is putting below per capta spending in SLP. Look, Adam keeps going on about water, well every city sells water, you think I get my water for free? Sure MPLS sells more water than SLP… I’ll give you three guesses why (hint: 400+k customers vs. 47k customers). Whatever, it doesn’t change your per capita budget calculation. The water budget for MPLS doesn’t just “look” bigger, it IS bigger because it’s serving more people.

                      ” Are you trying to make the case that, holding things like household income constant between all MSP municipalities, Minneapolis would still spend more per capita on roads and sewers and police/fire departments simply because there are more people?”

                      Again, I’m not telling you why your per capita spending is higher, I’m simply pointing out the fact that it is. Your density efficiency theory predicts the opposite, therefore the theory fails. Your higher costs aren’t simply because there’s more people, but that number of people costs more to service, and the environment they live in costs more to service and maintain. Again, I’m not making a value judgement about the city, I’m just looks the costs.

                      I’m sorry I don’t have time to look at the streets your pointing to but I can tell you a little about rebuilding a street in different locations. My street is much less disruptive (and less expensive) to rebuild for instance than a street among the uptown apartment complexes. Why? Just come look at my street and the water, sewer, and storm lines. My lines are smaller because they don’t have to deliver service to as many people. there’s no water main anywhere in burbs as large at that one that blew out downtown last years. Building the road in theory can take less times because we don’t have to worry about moving so many cars off the street, we all have off street parking. This means we can do 6-8 blocks at a time. The street itself is probably less problematic in that we don’t have any old street car rails, or cobblestone, or other surprises hidden underneath. It’s just blacktop and all they do is chop it up and haul it away to make more blacktop somewhere else. Also, the street width doesn’t have to change so they just build it inside the footprint of the old street, curbs and all.

                    • Adam Miller
                      Adam Miller November 12, 2015 at 4:46 pm #

                      This is my last attempt.

                      This is incorrect:

                      “they wouldn’t be if your density delivered more efficiency than my reduced density in SLP”

                      It simply does not follow. The only way you can make that assertion based on the data you’re using is if you assume that SLP and Minneapolis are otherwise comparable. They aren’t, for all the reasons that have been mentioned.

                      Thus the data your using do not support the assertion your making.

                      As for water, Jaromir pointed out to you already that Minneapolis sells water to other municipalities. That’s not because it has more residents.

                    • Paul Udstrand November 12, 2015 at 5:00 pm #

                      This is my last attempt… really

                      “It simply does not follow. The only way you can make that assertion based on the data you’re using is if you assume that SLP and Minneapolis are otherwise comparable. They aren’t, for all the reasons that have been mentioned.”

                      Well if comparisons are impossible then your constant claims that density delivers superior efficiency can never have any legitimate basis.

                      As for water sales, they’re irrelevant because the cost of selling the water is offset by the revenue. You don’t seem to get that. Even if MPLS didn’t sell water to anyone else it’s water department would still be larger and more expensive than SLP. That doesn’t make MPLS water bad, it’s simply a reflection of the scale.

                    • Adam Miller
                      Adam Miller November 12, 2015 at 11:03 pm #

                      I didn’t say comparison was impossible. I said the one you are making does not support your claim, because the municipalities you’re comparing buy different things and in different amounts.

                      But I’m done giving you the benefit of the doubt. You’re just trolling.

                • Alex Cecchini
                  Alex Cecchini November 12, 2015 at 2:06 pm #

                  But, isn’t the reason *why* the important part? You can’t just say the whole density = efficiency thing is false if you also ignore all the things included in the budget that 1) aren’t included in other municipalities’ budgets, 2) serve people from other municipalities when the same isn’t true in the reverse, and 3) rise or fall based on demographics.

                  It’s not Minneapolis’ fault that for decades a much higher rate of poverty was left behind compared to its suburbs. You can’t just divide total costs by total population and conclude that big cities are inherently less efficient. What their spending includes matters. Who uses our infrastructure and parks and police matters. What we choose to pay public servants matters. None of these things have anything to do with our density, they’re decisions we make outside that or are forced by regional demands on the core.

                  Are you trying to make the case that, holding things like household income constant between all MSP municipalities, Minneapolis would still spend more per capita on roads and sewers and police/fire departments simply because there are more people? There’s a case to be made that re-paving streets in more urban areas costs a bit more. I doubt that outweighs the spatial sharing benefits of having more people per foot of roadway, etc. There’s a case that we have more pavement than necessary (especially when you include alleys) for our population. That’s not what it sounds like you’re saying, though. It sounds like you’re refuting the idea that more people per acre saves money on infrastructure per capita.

                  • Paul Udstrand November 12, 2015 at 2:34 pm #

                    “It sounds like you’re refuting the idea that more people per acre saves money on infrastructure per capita.”

                    Yes that’s exactly what I’m refuting, and I think it’s surprisingly easy to refute. You can explain why it cost more, but that doesn’t change the fact that it costs more, and it doesn’t change the fact your efficiency claims fail because it does in fact cost so much more.

                    You guys produce mathematical models of density but people don’t live in models. In theory if you were building a city a from scratch in the space of 20 years your density models might hold, but in reality that’s no city anywhere in the world (except may the old Soviet Union).

                    As for “why’s”, as far as I know the “why’s” are already well understood, economists have been studying this stuff for decades. Sure MPLS has expenses SLP doesn’t have, but it’s going to be wash because a lot of those expenses aren’t born by the city anyways.

                    ” You can’t just divide total costs by total population and conclude that big cities are inherently less efficient.”

                    Actually, yes I can. You will find it surprisingly difficult to refute that analysis. At any rate you can’t just point to a cities population density and claim it’s inherently more efficient, which by and large is your whole argument.

                    Look, I’m not blaming anybody for anything, I’M not the one trying assign any special virtue to living in more or less density. My point is none of this makes a light rail extension out into the suburbs an inherently bad idea. I mean what are you saying? We shouldn’t punish the suburbs by denying them Light Rail because there aren’t enough low income housing units? Don’t you realize that one reason people like me want that transit is so that we can build more affordable housing and low income people won’t be trapped in the burbs without a car?

                    • mplsjaromir November 12, 2015 at 4:56 pm #

                      My goodness Paul is dense. Minneapolis does not have a 4-5 times higher cost to serve each resident. You made that ridiculous claim. The budget is larger because the city does more stuff than St. Louis Park. Your calculation of total city budgets divided by total population is terrible. The city of Minneapolis has many more people buying its services than it does residents.

                      Minneapolis sells water to other municipalities, sells parking, sells waste pickup runs a convention center etc. These are in its budget, SLP does none of those things, hence not in their budget skewing per captita comparisons. Minneapolis only receives 9% or its budget from outside sources, SLP at 6%. Figure out simple arithmetic.

                    • Paul Udstrand November 12, 2015 at 5:07 pm #

                      “The city of Minneapolis has many more people buying its services than it does residents. ”

                      Dense? Dude, this LOWERS your per capita costs, it doesn’t raise them. It puts additional dollars into your coffers beyond those paid by your residents. And still… your costs are higher.

                    • Paul Udstrand November 12, 2015 at 5:07 pm #

                      Dense? Dude, this LOWERS your per capita costs, it doesn’t raise them. It puts additional dollars into your coffers beyond those paid by your residents. And still… your costs are higher.

                    • Paul Udstrand November 12, 2015 at 5:08 pm #

                      The city of Minneapolis has many more people buying its services than it does residents. ”

                      Dense? Dude, this LOWERS your per capita costs, it doesn’t raise them. It puts additional dollars into your coffers beyond those paid by your residents.

                    • Paul Udstrand November 12, 2015 at 5:08 pm #

                      The city of Minneapolis has many more people buying its services than it does residents. ”

                      Dense? Dude, this LOWERS your per capita costs, it doesn’t raise them.

                • mplsjaromir November 12, 2015 at 2:53 pm #

                  Minneapolis sells far more services than SLP. It makes the budget look much larger, but it also makes the revenue much larger. Outside transfers for SLP equal 6% of its budget, 9% for Minneapolis. Learn to read and properly interpret financial documents please.

                  • Paul Udstrand November 12, 2015 at 3:04 pm #

                    The per capital calculation accounts for the difference in scale.

                    • mplsjaromir November 12, 2015 at 3:10 pm #

                      It does not. The City of Minneapolis sells water, parking and waste collection that SLP does not. It increases the budget while also increasing revenue. Selling many services to non residents.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke November 9, 2015 at 3:37 pm #

      What’s your blog again, Paul?

  15. Paul Udstrand November 9, 2015 at 4:44 pm #

    If I could make a comment actually related to the real discussion…

    The problem I see with the notion of assigning more value to car-less rider is that you really don’t have the data to make that case. You can’t just map it out, you have to look at actual ridership and demonstrate that car-less riders boost volume. So for instance, you need to show us on a route like the Blue Line, which is the most heavily used route in the city, that car-less riders make or break the popularity of that line.

    Statistically your car-less maps could be junk data, just another set of characteristics about city riders that don’t really have anything to with ridership numbers. Why? Because most of the people using transit also own cars. That means that if a line goes through a higher car ownership area, it might attract just as many riders, they just won’t riders who don’t own cars. If we’re going to go through the additional expense and disruption of changing the route you need to show us that car-less rider are more valuable than other riders and hence worth the changes.

  16. Rhiannon November 10, 2015 at 11:20 am #

    Completely see your point. However just to look on the bright side – the availability of good public transport in car-reliant neighbourhoods, if provision is good enough, should at least help to make people reassess their travel choices and maybe use their cars less, with better outcomes for public health, road safety, the environment, neighbourhood development etc.? I don’t know enough about the statistics to know how strong that effect might be.

  17. Paul Udstrand November 12, 2015 at 2:09 pm #

    OK, look, let me just say that it’s not my intention to just be disruptive. I actually have what I think is a constructive impulse.

    Now I know some people take umbrage at my use of the term: “Urban Chauvinism” but I really do think that’s what I’m seeing, and I’ve been watching it develop for years now. What I’ve seen is perfectly good critical analysis of sprawl morph into ant-suburbanism in general.

    The reason I’m bringing this up isn’t to be disruptive, my point is that this chauvinism is unnecessarily divisive and toxic. We all used to be on the same side, transit supporters, city planning, walkability, bicycle infrastructure, etc. People like me in the suburbs offered nothing but support for the Green and Blue lines, Greenway cycle route, Sabo bridge, etc. Then when we started planning extensions of LR out into the suburbs frankly its like a lot of urban “planners” just turned into pissants. Suddenly they’re complaining about density and routes through the woods and they want cancel the whole program because it doesn’t serve Uptown yada yada. They keep trying to claim that this is all common sense but common sense is you don’t poke the bear that’s paying for your stuff.

    This is not suburban bias. I was there for you when wanted to build the Blue and Green lines, and the convention center, Greenways etc. I have no problem with making MPLS a better place to live even though I don’t live there. I’m just telling you that your hostility towards the suburbs is quite palpable at times, and it not smart. WHATEVER you want for your city, you need my support to get, and your provoking hostility rather than support. My State Senator went so far as to actually vote against the last state budget because MPLS leaders were being such pissants about the Kenilworth Corridor; and the Governor threatened to pull funding from your parks.

    There’s no good reason for any of this, we all want the same thing. We want better transit and better planning.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller November 12, 2015 at 2:26 pm #

      You say you’re not trying to be disruptive, and yet you ignore substantive responses and questions and return to grind your preferred ax.

      Which is not exactly surprising, because that’s exactly what you’ve done elsewhere.

      Do you really think you’re doing to convince others here that what they think is really just urban chauvanism if you just repeat it enough? You can’t possibly.

      • Paul Udstrand November 12, 2015 at 2:49 pm #

        Well, I’ll sign off but I don’t see where I’ve ignored any substantive comments. In fact I think I’ve spent a lot of time responding to a lot comments in as much detail as I can.

        • Adam Miller
          Adam Miller November 12, 2015 at 3:13 pm #

          In fairness, you went back and responded to the comments I felt you were ignoring after my comment above.

          • Paul Udstrand November 12, 2015 at 3:17 pm #

            Dude, you’re bombing with comments, and you just started today. I’ve been in this conversation for days.

  18. Paul Udstrand November 12, 2015 at 3:26 pm #

    OK, I know I said I was signing off but:

    “The more people you have to provide services and amenities to the more it costs, it’s a question of scale.”

    “This is non-responsive because we’re talking about per capita costs. Why does it costs more per person to provide the same services to the same people because they live closer together?”

    That was a direct response to your question. Why? Well the fact is they do, that may defy your common sense, but alas it’s the case. Maybe Alex will be able to explain it.

  19. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary November 12, 2015 at 4:04 pm #

    I can’t totally get in the trenches of the culture war here — there were like 30 new comments in my inbox just now — but I do appreciate this irony:

    mplsjaromir:
    “If you look at a map of SLP you will see it is encapsulated by Federal and state highways, and has many county roads, alleviating the city’s public works budget. Another invisible subsidy that few suburbanites see as a subsidy.”

    Alex:
    “One could also argue that freeways/highways [in Minneapolis] that chewed up formerly tax-paying parcels (while slightly de-valuing neighboring properties) raises the cost per capita”

    I realize different folks making somewhat different arguments, but I have to appreciate that in Minneapolis, freeways are a blight and a sacrifice for the region — while for St. Louis Park, they’re a free subsidy that gives back to the city.

    • mplsjaromir November 12, 2015 at 4:06 pm #

      Suburbs were built around those roads, the city was not. Big difference.

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary November 12, 2015 at 4:14 pm #

        St. Louis Park was not, for the most part. Nor was most of the first ring. Hence, as in the City of Minneapolis, you do have parcels that were taken for construction and widening, and much closer proximity between freeway and homes.

        These inner-ring cities pay very similar trade-off as Minneapolis neighborhoods — more mobility, but loss of residents, taxbase, neighborhood grid, and air pollution/noise impacts.

        But, arguably even outer-ring suburbs pay a sacrifice in terms of land space versus property potential. (Especially as modern suburban freeways gobble up way more land.) It’s just more clearly outweighed by the mobility benefit.

        • mplsjaromir November 12, 2015 at 4:22 pm #

          Disagree, 169 and 100 predate more than half of SLP’s housing stock. 394 has always been a wide commercial thoroughfare. 35W and 94 commons created a huge scar and took acres of urban development. 35W through S Minneapolis is another example of moving ‘undesirable’ to facilitate suburban commuting.

          I do agree that the expansions of 394, 169 and 100 have hurt SLP, but no where near the scale that 35W or 94 did to Minneapolis.

          • Sean Hayford Oleary
            Sean Hayford Oleary November 12, 2015 at 4:32 pm #

            I think a fairer way to look at it is when the areas were platted — not when the current structure was built.

            Highway 7 (although not technically a freeway, a major principal arterial) was more what came to mind. The plat map of the area near Lake St and Hwy 7 is pretty dramatic to see the highway right-of-way overlaid on the parcels.

            Highway 100 is older, but you can also see parcels cut short and combined along Mackey Ave/Utica Ave.

            I have no idea if those parcels were built out at the time the highway ROW was purchased — but the fact that the neighborhoods were built around an intact grid, and the highway is a retrofit, makes it pretty similar to the situation in Minneapolis.

      • Alex Cecchini
        Alex Cecchini November 12, 2015 at 4:17 pm #

        Yeah I’m not sure what’s ironic here. Isn’t it a subsidy to both (state paying for infrastructure that serves residents, but a much higher amount per capita in a place like SLP where more trips per capita are taken on county roads, state highways, etc and a higher % of total lane-miles are on those road systems) but also something that drives up the cost per capita in a place like Minneapolis (where development was replaced by highways)?

        SLP is on a grid, good. Its population density is basically the same as most Minneapolis neighborhoods. Good. But SLP’s grid was more focused on moving automobiles around, particularly feeding those highways.

        • Sean Hayford Oleary
          Sean Hayford Oleary November 12, 2015 at 4:23 pm #

          Its grid is “more focused” on the highways, because the highways disrupted the grid more severely, and because the density of the highway is higher.

          Which might be considered a subsidy (so might Minneapolis’s thicker grid of MSA streets). But if you’re (legitimately) saying that freeways take up land and devalue properties around them, I think that thinking ought to be applied even more vigorously to places where the freeway grid is denser.

          • Alex Cecchini
            Alex Cecchini November 12, 2015 at 7:05 pm #

            Minneapolis receiver $14.15m in MSAS allocation funding in 2014, good for $35 per capita. SLP received $1.57m, or $33 per capita. I’d like to do a 10-year analysis (with more cities) since one-off snapshots may hide things, but at least on the surface it would seem Minneapolis isn’t really in more need of MSAS money than SLP.

            Per your point above, it’s true that some properties (or portions of) were taken off the tax rolls for highway/freeway construction in SLP. My gut says not as much (share of all land used for highway ROW) as Minneapolis or St Paul, and certainly not any when talking about 2nd ring & beyond cities that really cannot intensify (but for a few spots) due to a car-only mobility approach. Although I will concede that highways take up more land as a percent of total (.0073 acres per capita) than Mpls (.0036).

    • Paul Udstrand November 12, 2015 at 4:50 pm #

      “I realize different folks making somewhat different arguments, but I have to appreciate that in Minneapolis, freeways are a blight and a sacrifice for the region — while for St. Louis Park, they’re a free subsidy that gives back to the city”

      Well, the act of building those freeway tracts through the cities around the country was criminally destructive, true. But since the funding source is the same and since those freeways and highways that traverse SLP are delivering a lot more goods and services and shoppers and sports fans and tourists and workers INTO the MPLS I have a hard time seeing how those roads work more as a free subsidy for SLP than they do MPLS? I don’t see how the West End is getting a better deal than Down Town for instance.

      • Alex Cecchini
        Alex Cecchini November 12, 2015 at 7:24 pm #

        Simple:
        – A higher share of Minneapolis residents commute and shop within Minneapolis than commute to SLP (or any other individual suburb)
        – A higher share of SLP residents commute or shop in Minneapolis than the other way around.
        – Of those moving within the city, a good chunk get by without using freeways for most trips. Many don’t even drive (~25% walk, bike, or bus to work, 31% of all trips according to UMN research). People in SLP drive on much more expensive infrastructure to places like West End for a higher percent of their trips than Minneapolis.
        – Freeways through the central cities enabled people (and businesses) who would otherwise have lived in those cities to move out. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25098858 Point being, the economic activity freeways allow in the city by people coming in would likely occur without them anyway, most likely higher than our current reality (the study notes that without the freeways our population would be 8% higher, with presumably more businesses as well).

        There are no moral judgments in any of those statements, just pointing out that freeways benefit the average suburban resident more than the average Minneapolis resident, and thus the highway subsidies that flow to building/maintaining those roads (along with county/etc roads) benefits them more per capita as well.

        None of these points really matter to the central part of the debate: whether a denser city is (fixing for residents’ income) more or less expensive to serve per capita.

        • Paul Udstrand November 12, 2015 at 8:16 pm #

          Just a few comments:

          “– A higher share of Minneapolis residents commute and shop within Minneapolis than commute to SLP (or any other individual suburb)
          – A higher share of SLP residents commute or shop in Minneapolis than the other way around.”

          Absolutely, but since that’s bringing more commerce into MPLS than the other way round I don’t see how it translates into bigger subsidy for SLP than MPLS? It’s mutually beneficial, we get a route in, you get our labor and entertainment/shopping dollars. I think commuters double the population of downtown MPLS every weekeday, that brings a lot of lunch money, hotel occupancy, etc. in.

          “– Of those moving within the city, a good chunk get by without using freeways for most trips. Many don’t even drive (~25% walk, bike, or bus to work, 31% of all trips according to UMN research). People in SLP drive on much more expensive infrastructure to places like West End for a higher percent of their trips than Minneapolis.”

          While we’re certainly more car dependent, freeways are not the primary routes of getting from one side of SLP to the other. ( or one side of Edina to the other) Very few residents of SLP are using 100 or 394 to get to the West End. Our primary routes are Louisiana, Cedar Lake Rd, Minnetonka Blvd, and Hwy 7.

          “– Freeways through the central cities enabled people (and businesses) who would otherwise have lived in those cities to move out. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25098858 Point being, the economic activity freeways allow in the city by people coming in would likely occur without them anyway, most likely higher than our current reality (the study notes that without the freeways our population would be 8% higher, with presumably more businesses as well).”

          Yes, in the history of central city depopulation the freeway system played a central role in promoting suburban sprawl. But freeways didn’t drive people who wanted to live in the cities out into the suburbs, they provided an infrastructure for people who wanted to live in the suburbs and work, shop, and seek entertainment in the city. Sure if you trapped people in the city you’d have more population. As for economic activity, I’m not sure highways are necessary, but they’re currently an asset in the absence of alternatives. Do you have any idea how much food, fuel, manufacturing and business supplies are trucked into the cities every day? It’s not just about people driving in to do stuff. Almost all commercial activity would be impossible were it not for everything that gets trucked in every day. Yes, we could have commerce without freeways but that’s no more true for the city than it is the suburbs, we all had streets and railways before Eisenhower.

          • Eric Anondson
            Eric Anondson November 13, 2015 at 3:09 pm #

            “Very few residents of SLP are using 100 or 394 to get to the West End. Our primary routes are Louisiana, Cedar Lake Rd, Minnetonka Blvd, and Hwy 7.”

            (Jumping in to be nit picky …) As someone born in SLP in 1972, went to school there, lived there 30-ish years and have driven around it all the years I lived in Hopkins because my kids have stayed in the SLP schools, I can say it sounds like you aren’t including a huge chunk of the city. I can imagine the entire city south of the BNSF and east of Dakota Ave favoring TH 100 to drive to West End. That’s not very few. Certainly the entire third of the city east of TH 100 have almost no choice but TH 100.

  20. mplsjaromir November 13, 2015 at 8:11 am #

    I think Ham Lake should be getting a new light rail line. Their city government is much smaller than St. Louis Park’s. The city only spends $316.58 per captia. Clearly the free spending and inefficient city of St. Louis Park needs to get their costs down. First ring chauvinism is why this LRT is even being routed through St. Louis Park. Can any of the 1st ring defenders tell me why I am wrong?

    • Paul Udstrand November 13, 2015 at 8:30 am #

      Actually, I’ve been meaning to point this out- some people seem to have accepted the density of SLP but the fact is the per capita calculation doesn’t tip in favor of MPLS no matter what suburb you compare it to. In fact the further out you get the more favorable the cost distribution becomes for the most part.

      As for Ham Lake, planners aren’t using these calculations to choose routes or destinations, nor should they. I on the other hand am using this calculation to demonstrate that existing density claims in favor of MPLS are not supported by evidence or data.

      • mplsjaromir November 13, 2015 at 8:53 am #

        Good thing you don’t do analysis for a living.

      • mplsjaromir November 13, 2015 at 8:57 am #

        The difference is that Ham Lake does much less for each resident. SLP does less for each resident in comparison to Minneapolis. As density increases it makes more sense for things to be done collectively. SLP is too spread out and too small to do the things Minneapolis does. If SLP tried to do all the things Minneapolis does it would not be as efficient. If Ham Lake did all the things Minneapolis does it would be very inefficient.

        You may not be able to notice the differences in the level of services between the cities, but they are numerous and being unwilling to acknowledge them does not make you correct.

  21. Paul Udstrand November 13, 2015 at 8:55 am #

    Look, maybe this isn’t a good format for this discussion. If anyone wants to get together for coffee I can be available.

    Maybe there problem is the fact that there are actually two density-efficiency theories and we’re failing to separate them.

    On one hand, density theory makes sense when planning NEW development for a variety of reasons. Sprawl is not good. So density theory makes sense as planning priority for new development.

    On the other hand, density theory fails when used to describe EXISTING urban environments for a variety of reasons.

    I’ve been talking about the existing urban environment i.e. the city of MPLS. Now I make my case by comparing city budgets per capita. Here’s the thing: Maybe my analysis is lazy, but that doesn’t make wrong. If my analysis is wrong it’s not because YOU say it’s its wrong, or because it defies YOUR common sense, or because SLP has highways and MPLS doesn’t, or because MPLS sells more water, or because MPLS has regional amenities, etc. It’s really very simple, if somone wants to prove that existing density in MPLS delivers resources and services more efficiently you have to actually demonstrate that, not just declare it. I hate to tell you this but you guys are actually having a surprisingly difficult time demonstrating it. I’m not expressing suburban chauvinism when I ask for evidence, I’m simply being rational. All I’m really saying is when it comes to these claims about density advantage in existing urban environments… show me. I see your hypothesis but frankly your hypothesis doesn’t appear to survive even a lazy and elementary challenge. The only one who seems to be taking that challenge seriously is Alex,and I’ll be interested to see what he comes up with.

    As for water… you can insult me all you want but that doesn’t prove anything. If anyone really wanted to prove that MPLS delivers more water to more people for less cost than SLP you simply have to show us the numbers. All the mumbo jumbo about the “apparent” size water budget doesn’t tell us anything, show us the actual numbers. It’s fine if you don’t want to take the time to do that but then don’t accuse ME of begin lazy. Frankly even you can prove that MPLS has a more efficient water dept. (and good on them if they do), it can’t erase the over-all disparity.

    Now I really am going to sign off. If anyone wants to continue this conversation you can e-mail me I’m easy to find, or like I said, I’m available for coffee.

    • mplsjaromir November 13, 2015 at 9:16 am #

      You suppose that the cities do the exact same things. The water delivery is germane to the argument because while Minneapolis provides water to its residents and more numerous industrial customers it also provides water to other cities. It does not do that a zero cost, but the other cities have decided that Minneapolis providing the water is a better deal than providing their own. No one is buying SLP’s water, it would not be any more efficient than a city doing it for themselves. Minneapolis runs a convention center, you can argue whether or not that is a good idea, but the fact is that they have a staff and other costs associated, but it also generates revenue. It makes the budget look bigger per capita. That does not mean infrastructure costs are more per resident.

      You have not shown anything other than SLP is a small city government that does not do much. They basically run a Police and Fire Department, build streets and water mains. Run a few wildlife refuges. Outside of that SLP city government does do much. Minneapolis does all of things while also administering thousands of parking spots a day, convention center, 16,000 seat arena, selling water to other municipalities, maintaining the most visited parks in the state etc. It is a much bigger operation. The fact is you cannot find anyone who actually studies this type of thing critically who will agree with you. A few libertarians at Koch Brother think tanks might, but in the world of serious academia you will not.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller November 13, 2015 at 9:36 am #

      I go to the grocery store to buy groceries for my wife and I for the week. I spend $225. You go to the grocery store and buy groceries for yourself and spend $100. Can we conclude that there are diseconomies of scale to purchasing groceries?

      Of course not. Because we obviously bought different things in different quantities, so the comparison tells us nothing about whether shopping for two is more efficient than shopping for one.

      Your argument is wrong because it is not an argument for the assertion you’re making. The comparison you’re making has little to no evidentiary value for your assertion.

      As for revenue generated from selling water, no, it doesn’t help in your comparison because you’re only comparing spending, not revenue.

    • Mike November 13, 2015 at 1:18 pm #

      You: X/P in SLP is < X/P in MPLS. SLP is more efficient at delivering services per capita!

      Everyone Else: You're actually trying to compare X/P in SLP to (X+Y+Z)/P in MPLS. That doesn't make sense…

      You: It’s really very simple! X/P in SLP is < X/P in MPLS…

      • Paul Udstrand November 13, 2015 at 4:06 pm #

        Yeah Mike, people keep saying it doesn’t make sense… but no one has yet actually demonstrated that it doesn’t make sense. If you want to prove me wrong do it, an algebraic representation of the discussion doesn’t prove anything, show me your numbers, show me how density is producing more efficiency, you either have the numbers or you don’t. If you guys have the numbers why is it NO ONE has produced them?

    • Alex Cecchini
      Alex Cecchini November 13, 2015 at 2:18 pm #

      I kicked my research into high gear and would just like to point out that the numbers you keep referencing for SLP (4-5x cheaper per capita) come from the budget overview here: http://www.stlouispark.org/webfiles/file/finance/2014_budget_report.pdf but the ~$30.5m total expenditures you cite misses a whole lot of other city expenses.

      Look at page 30 of this document http://www.stlouispark.org/webfiles/file/finance/slp_-_final_issued_cafr_5-29-15.pdf

      add the “Governmental Activities” and “Business-type Activities” for 2014 and you get $82m for 2014 expenses, or $1,710 per capita, making Minneapolis (which includes both government and business/enterprise expenses in the number you cite) only 1.75x SLP per capita.

      • Paul Udstrand November 13, 2015 at 3:56 pm #

        Alex,

        I think you’re misinterpreting the document. It looks like you’re adding $16 million and $34 million to the $30 million annual budget in order to get your $80 million. However most of that is actually described as debt, (in fact the heading of this section of the document on page 30 is: “debt administration”), so that’s not additional annual spending. It looks like the debt service in 2014 was: $2,985,000. At least according to the sentence: “Principal payments during 2014 totaled $2,985,000.” I don’t know where that is in the annual budget of $30 million, but I suspect it’s already included. At any rate on an annual level the most it would add is $3 million.

        Of course if you HAVE found addition exenses in SLP that would mean we’d have to go looking for likewise additional in the MPLS budget as well.

        • Alex Cecchini
          Alex Cecchini November 13, 2015 at 4:06 pm #

          pdf page 30, or pg 24 as marked at the bottom of the page in the pdf. It is very clear the total government spend and business spend (enterprise funds in Minneapolis). Debt (interest) payments for the year 2014 is only $1.18m.

          As mplsjaromir pointed out earlier, the document you referenced with ~$30m annual spending is entirely general fund expenditures and doesn’t account for utility, capital, etc. If you go through each department in the first document I linked and add up total budgeted (not actual) expenditures from each group, you get a grand total (including capital spend within each department) very close to the $82 the end-of-year document details out. It’s all right there. These expenses mirror the expense categories in every other city’s budget, including Minneapolis.

          $30m for SLP ($625/capita) would put it well below any other peer suburbs like Edina ($1,873), Eden Prairie ($1,518), and Bloomington ($2,758). Do you honestly believe St Louis Park is spending well below half what Edina spends per person?

          • Paul Udstrand November 13, 2015 at 4:24 pm #

            Thanks Alex, I’ll take another look.

      • Paul Udstrand November 13, 2015 at 4:44 pm #

        Alex, I see what your pointing to now. Thank you I stand corrected on the over-all budget figure for SLP. You’ve reduced but not eliminated the difference.

  22. Paul Udstrand November 14, 2015 at 10:29 am #

    Just a note, I see that one of my posts got duplicated 4-5 times… I didn’t do that as far as I know, I wasn’t bombing the thread or trying be obnoxious.

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