1/31/12 TPW Committee: Which way for Bottineau?

If the first two TPW summaries I posted here at streets.mn seemed a bit arcane (outfall structures?  asphalt contracts?), this one should have at least one meaty topic.  In fact, one topic is so meaty that I’m going to upend two millennia of mathematics to begin with #9, then briefly summarize the rest afterwards.  Stay tuned.

9. Bottineau Transitway Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) Scoping Comments and Memorandum of Understanding  In between the time when unscrupulous investors drove the Twin City Rapid Transit Co into the ground and the construction of the Hiawatha Light Rail line, there was virtually no government spending on capital improvements for all-day transit.  Perhaps then we can be excused for feeling a bit overwhelmed by the recent flowering of construction.  After 50 years of lean, two light rail lines per decade feels like 10 years of fat.

Though 3rd on deck, Bottineau Transitway is charging forward, and the City of Minneapolis is currently considering deciding on a Locally Preferred Alternative for the southernmost segment of the line.  For this TPW meeting, Staff forwarded a recommendation that the City endorse the D1 alignment – the one that would run through Wirth Park to Olson Hwy.  While that endorsement has been postponed, the County is looking to have this more or less decided by this May.

While the City hasn’t formally asked for an opinion from citizens, that timeline means that those of us with strong opinions need to get our email fingers ready.  For those of you who haven’t yet formulated an opinion about Bottineau (maybe because you feel like you just finished formulating an opinion about Southwest), here is a quick history and overview of the issues.

Like most local transitways, Bottineau has had a long and tortured history, but is generally agreed to consist of some kind of at least medium-capacity transit line extending northwest from Downtown Minneapolis, probably along County Road 81 (aka Bottineau Blvd) for much of its length.  Most recently, a three-year alternatives analysis process whittled an overwhelming array of alternatives down to three Most Promising Alternatives (i.e. those that scored best):

    •  A light-rail line that would run between Maple Grove and Downtown Minneapolis via an existing rail right-of-way on the eastern edge of Wirth Park & Olson Hwy (known as LRT A-D1)
    • A light-rail line that would run between Maple Grove and Downtown Minneapolis via West Broadway, Penn, and Olson (known as LRT A-D2)
    • And a light-rail line that would run between Brooklyn Park and Downtown Minneapolis via Wirth-Olson (known as LRT B-D1)

In response to stakeholder input, BRT versions of the Wirth-Olson routes were also forwarded as finalists (known as BRT A-D1 or BRT B-D1), and possibly in deference to symmetry a fourth route alternative was also forwarded, that would travel via Penn-Olson but with a northern terminus in Brooklyn Park (known as BRT or LRT B-D2).   So at this point under consideration are the alternatives depicted below:

Last alternatives standing, Bottineau

I’m going to be candid:  The AA study found Segment A to be unambiguously best for the northern third of the line.  The only reason segment B was included is that scoring favored any D1 alternative, since all other alternatives were penalized for the sin of running through a city (and thereby impacting traffic, parking, and property).  The tough choice is on the Minneapolis side, where each alternative offers a devil’s bargain:

  • The Wirth-Olson alternative is the type that models really well because it skips over the type of neighborhood that is dense enough to actually contain transit users, which allows it to offer a fast ride for commuters that board in the suburbs.  However, this type of line often performs much more poorly than the models predict, because theoretical commuters don’t always actually board; see Dallas.
  • The Penn-Olson alternative serves around 10,000 more people, but because it would run more slowly through urban neighborhoods, it was projected to attract around a thousand fewer weekday riders in 2030.  However, since Penn-Olson would run through areas that contain around 17,000 more current riders of transit (engineers call them transit dependent), my guess is that the 1,000 fewer theoretical riders would be made up for by actual riders (these numbers all come from the AA study).  So what’s the problem?  The Penn-Olson alternative would require the taking of dozens of properties along Penn between West Broadway and Olson, which would widen that section of Penn to 90-100 feet, at least halve the number of pedestrian crossings, and, as Mpls Public Works staff notes in their comments, leave parcels along Penn “substantially smaller, and it is not known whether they could be redeveloped.”  Even with LRT, could the neighborhood recover?

No one knows.  Hennepin County engineer Joe Gladke told the TPW committee that he has been unable to identify a light rail line in the USA that runs in an alignment analogous to Penn-Olson.  City staff does not seem eager to blaze this particular trail, hence their recommendation to endorse D1.

As such, the conversation has largely turned to D1, and much of Gladke’s presentation was about whether to place a station at Golden Valley Road or Plymouth Avenue on the Wirth-Olson alignment.  Basically, the trade-off there is that Plymouth has more people living nearby, but Golden Valley connects to more feeder buses.  In the process, the map shown at right was produced, showing the population that lives within a half-mile of the station as measured by the routes that are actually possible, rather than as the crow flies.  This would please Jarrett Walker, but doesn’t seem to have made a huge difference in this particular location.  Perhaps that is because both locations are at extremely low densities, a fact that seems to have been lost on City staff, who recommend looking into stopping at both.

Making decisions on this scale is never easy, but Bottineau seems to be even harder than most.  That’s why it’s doubly important to look into this stuff and make your voice heard.  The Councilmembers who have the last call are smart people, but it’s not like they’re transportation experts – unlike you, dear readers of streets.mn.

And now, on to the rest:

These and a few more streets are getting smoother

1-3.  Near North Area (South Portion) and Grant Area Street Resurfacing Project  A whole bunch of streets in the Near North area – specifically between Olson and Plymouth, Penn and Emerson – are getting resurfaced this year.

4.  RFP for Mattress Collection and Recycling  Hennepin County will no longer be handling Minneapolis’ old mattresses, so the City is looking for someone to take them.  CM Colvin-Roy notes that “Minneapolis is the last city in Henn Cty to be told it needs to organize its own mattress collection.”

5.  Water Treatment and Distribution Services Lime Slaker Replacement Project  It turns out that lime slakers are not involved in any way in mixing margaritas.  Instead they are used in softening water for public consumption, specifically, “to convert the dry pebble lime into a milk of lime slurry that is fed into incoming river water to begin the treatment process.”  And you thought this stuff was boring.

6.  Special Assessment Deferment Application  State law allows municipalities to “defer the payment of special assessments for… a person 65 years of age or older or retired by virtue of a permanent and total disability for whom it would be a hardship to make the payments.”  Which is nice, but maybe also an argument against our whole home ownership-based housing policy.

7.  Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee  Marin Byrne is joining the BAC, and I’m sure is an excellent candidate due to sharing a last name with bike advocate and Talking Head David Byrne.

8. & 10. Traffic Management Center Upgrade and Traffic Signal Controller & Cabinet Replacement Project & Hiawatha Corridor Signal System Improvement Project  Yes, Virginia, stoplights really do have computers, they’re called controllers and they can be used to make annoying delays at stoplights go away.  But, just like the duopoly of operating systems in personal computing leads to nothing but consumer suffering, the 8-10 contractors that control the national controller market lead to exorbitant pricing – these two projects have a combined budget of  $10.8m for a grand total of 29 controllers (to be fair, both projects contain a lot of other stuff, including 141 traffic signal cabinets, a number of detectors, and miscellaneous engineering).  But don’t worry, the Feds are paying for 80% of item #8, the fruit of a CMAQ grant applied for in ’05 and ’07.  At least we got it before Boehner took it away


Alex Bauman

About Alex Bauman

Alex enjoys blogging on his iPhoneDroid while stuck in traffic on his 90 minute daily commute to Roseville from bucolic Staggerford.

10 thoughts on “1/31/12 TPW Committee: Which way for Bottineau?

  1. Ian Bicking

    Seeing the same choices, and bad choices, for Bottineau as the Southwest line is frustrating. Though in this case it also becomes ironic, since there was a social justice argument for the Kenilworth alignment in the Southwest, that it would help connect people on the Northside to jobs in the suburbs. Now the same sort of thing is being proposed that would cut off the Northside residents from LRT so that again suburbanites can better access downtown.

    As a resident of Minneapolis these projects are entirely useless: I'm not a downtown property or business owner, and I'm not a suburban commuter, and the residents of Minneapolis are simply being traversed for the benefit of these two constituencies (and worse I don't think the suburbanites even particularly care!)

    Yes, there's metrics that encourage this kind of commuter-oriented transit, but the metrics are not so strong that local leadership could not override those bad choices; unfortunately the people most involved seem to lack that bravery and instead are pushing for the easier and more conservative choices, which they will probably mitigate by setting expectations low.

    1. Xan

      We've got over 100,000 parking spaces downtown for those suburbanites. I wouldn't mind getting some of my city back.

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  3. Jessica SchonerJessica Schoner

    Thanks for the coverage of these meetings!

    An engineer from Hennepin County presented on the alternatives still under consideration at the U on Friday. What I want to know is, why did they opt for a Penn Ave alignment that requires removing houses? The Hennepin County presentation included several options that were eliminated early on but would have left the houses on Penn intact: shifting one direction of travel to a parallel street, shifting the LRT to a parallel street and removing cars from that street, etc. It seems like the Penn Ave alignment they're suggesting was constructed to make the Theo Wirth option even "better". They can talk about a Bottineau Transitway that serves transit users in North Minneapolis now, and when it comes down to choosing the LPA and building, they're going to "save" the houses by bypassing North Minneapolis, and build a system for suburban commuters.

    1. Froggie

      Jessica, as I recall, both an Emerson/Fremont and a Lyndale alignment were also considered earlier on. I believe the Emerson/Fremont alignment was dropped because of the concerns of a split route plus residential impacts along those streets. Both alignments were also unpopular with the businesses along West Broadway because they took out on-street parking (such as it exists).

  4. Ian Bicking

    FWIW, here's what I wrote to the councilepeople on the committee:

    I was very disappointed to read about the planning progress on the Bottineau line (http://www.minnpost.com/two-cities/2012/02/minneapolis-council-committee-doesn%E2%80%99t-either-proposed-transit-route and https://streets.mn/2012/02/08/13112-tpw-commit

    We need to advocate for transit for Minneapolis residents, and the preferred line (and from what I understand even the line that is not among the choices but is preferred by the committee) does not serve Minneapolis residents, but instead simply jumps over residential areas. This is not simply preference for the city over suburban access, but preference for people who are ready to use transit and want to use transit. Like the Southwest LRT line, the planned path through urban parkland is an absurd plan, turning this into a commuter line. Not only doesn't a commuter line serve the residents of Minneapolis, it's not a recipe for a successful system (compare Northstar to Hiawatha!) If we can't build LRT through neighborhoods that want transit, transit that residents of Minneapolis can use, then we shouldn't be building LRT lines; LRT is not the only way to qualitatively improve our transit, and perhaps it is simply inappropriate in some areas.

    We need to insist that any northwest LRT line serves a substantial number of Northside residents. It's easy to see the downsides and disruption that a train line can cause; I believe that the neighborhoods would be better served by better transit despite the disruption that may cause, but I may very well be wrong. The converse however I feel more confident about: if a transit solution can't improve the lot for those neighborhoods then it is not a good transit solution. Transit is there to serve people; it's politically easier to put transit through parkland because there are no residents to complain, but if there aren't residents then there's no purpose for the transit. The result feels like a poorly-considered attempt to be "pro-transit" and environmental and all that feel-good truthiness, but it doesn't actually do good.

    It is also ironic that there were people "representing the northside" that advocated for the Kenilworth alignment because it would connect North Minneapolis residents to jobs in the Southwest suburbs, and now using the exact same justifications those same populations will be skipped over. But two wrongs don't make a right, we should avoid the irony.

    If streetcars would serve North Minneapolis better then we should advocate for streetcars instead of LRT. Still I find it unlikely that streetcars would serve a population that needs utilitarian transit solutions. Streetcars have the advantage over buses of being quaint and encouraging upscale development, neither of which seems relevant to the area. High quality bus service would be both cheaper and more flexible, but requires an advocate that insists that bus service not be compromised for car access, and that real capital investments are made. Streetcars don't need the same strong political advocacy because their technological constraints demand certain levels of service. A great bus line needs good pavement, priority in traffic, it can't be shoved into the gutter to pick people up and drop people off; this is the kind of bus service our city has never seen. But such a bus line costs less than a streetcar and would provide the same quality of service, while being far more flexible in many situations (e.g., the buses can be serviced anywhere, there's a good market in bus manufacturing, they can make tight turns when appropriate(!), they can be rerouted during expected or unexpected service, and so forth). Anyway, I don't see how streetcars in the north make a bad LRT line any better.

    1. Alex BaumanAlex Bauman Post author

      Thanks for sharing. I like a lot of your points but especially "if a transit solution can’t improve the lot for those neighborhoods then it is not a good transit solution." Very well said.

  5. Alex BaumanAlex Bauman Post author

    Glad you enjoy 'em. Now I know at least one other person thinks these meetings are interesting.

    I haven't seen a satisfactory explanation for why they opted for the D2 "take the most houses" option. I suspect fear of closing a street to cars was part of it. I encourage you ask the Bottineau project office – they're very responsive.

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