Twin Cities Alignment Madness and the Perfect Network

I just looked at the number of posts I have in the hopper and its depressing.  I’ve started a lot of them but haven’t finished any of them because I’m trying to address too many issues.  So I thought maybe I should try to keep it a bit shorter (didn’t quite work), but not quite twitter short. So a few issues that have been bothering me…

Transit that Tries too Hard

The first issue that’s been poking its head out lately is that of the Southwest Corridor alignment in Minneapolis.  It’s been driving me nuts for a few years because I’m getting even more tired than I was before of freight rail alignments that are built just because of the cheaper cost.  This should not be just an issue of cost but about the purpose of transit in a system.  Right now it feels like the Twin Cities are just building light rail lines because they decided they want to and it has to serve everyone’s politics, which makes for messy and mutli-serving transit that helps less than it should.

Streets.MN has a great number of posts about the background of this on the SW Corridor, but I wanted to focus on two issues in particular.  The purpose of each piece of a transit network, especially the high capacity parts, and the actual alignment of the line.

Transit Building Blocks

Rail lines that are built should have a purpose.  During the regional planning process, corridors should be sussed out based on their need in the overall system, not necessarily because of their technology.  The first reason is that the technology becomes a major issue and argument when people don’t quite understand how each works.  And then second, it devolves into a money issue.  It’s too expensive!! They cry.

In the Twin Cities, you have a very low performing commuter rail line with limited service, and a somewhat high performing light rail line that actually acts more like a commuter rail line with greater service frequencies.  The “light rail” line runs down an arterial, operating not like an urban line but more like a suburban line.  It’s basically the worst idea of all, putting a rail line in the center of a freeway.

Which, by the way Matthew Yglesias, is a great way to build a transit system that is predestined to not live up to its goals.  This quote “with dedicated busways running in highway medians just as decent light rail lines do” killed me.  Highway medians are a good way to deter transit ridership.  Just ask the Harbor Freeway in LA.  Well that made me mad, along with the rest of the post.  Because the issue isn’t bus versus rail.  And don’t get me started on the “just like light rail only cheaper” bullshit.  The reason why its cheaper is that you’re not doing as much!  But this is a political will issue.

Yes a political will issue.  We should have light rail (and subways) for heavily traveled segments that NEED transit capacity.  This means the places where buses that come often are still sardine tins during rush hour.  Even a place like Geary in San Francisco is an issue for BRT because by the time it opens, it will already be at capacity. Should be a subway.  But we’re too focused on cost.

But we do need BRT too!  We should also give priority to buses in places where that means the street will move more people with dedicated lanes.  Take a lane from the car.  But this is the problem, we won’t do it, because we won’t take that step politically.  Too sacred. Political issue.

But this leads me towards the point I’m trying to make.  David Levinson did a cool thing and overlaid the London Underground onto the Twin Cities geography.  What it also reminds me of, is the fact that European Cities like Budapest and Vienna have subway systems that feed the core circulation, while commuter lines perform a different function of bringing people in from the periphery, skipping a lot of stops in the core, while tramways and buses perform another function on the surface of local stop transit.  This is all to say that each of the transit modes has a specific purpose in the network that we try to cram into a single transit project here in the United States.

In the Southwest Corridor light rail line, just like Mike Hicks mentions, you have an alignment that tries to be a commuter line with light rail technology.  All fine but if you’re trying to connect two major employment centers in the American freeway loop, it seems like not just the employment should be connected, but all the major service hungry places on the way that you should be building rail for in the first place.  No more sardine tins at rush hour right?

If I had it up to me, I would build a subway network a la Vienna/Budapest.  Short lines that stay in the historic streetcar suburb core whose endpoints can serve commuter networks and operate inexpensively (because they’ll carry so many people) with 2-4 minute headways meaning no one has to wait very long, boosing transit ridership.  In this same area on the surface, create bus lanes for those corridors that need it and build a central station where commuter rail lines and express buses can connect with the places further afield that don’t need to be connecting every block with the surrounding neighborhoods.  That’s what the surface buses and internal subway network are for.

But that’s a dream right?  We live in the right now, and that right now is light rail on freight rights of way. Unfortunately.  Again, we shouldn’t be trying to cram three purposes onto one train.

The Twin Cities Alignment

Well if we’re stuck in that paradigm we should at least do things right. What drives ridership? Because that’s why we’re building the line with better capacity, to serve a lot of people who are currently in sardine tins.

According to Gary Barnes (writing specifically about the Twin Cities) and Zupan, it’s employment density being served by clustered residential densities.  While the employment provides the ultimate destination which is MOST necessary, riders need to come from somewhere.  So pockets of population density connecting to major employment centers are going to drive ridership, which in turn drives transit success, which in turn drives political will to do more GOOD transit projects.

So where are we at now?  We’re at a place on the Southwest Corridor where a bad decision was made because of the long gone FTA Cost Effectiveness Measure, which has been pushing stupid decisions ever since it was enacted.  The running joke about the model was that the best transit line is one without any stops because it makes the train go faster. But what happens is a lot of freight rail transit lines.  Some aren’t too bad like Charlotte where the opportunities are high, but others are kind of lame.

So what was the bad decision in Minneapolis?  Not connecting people with places they want to go.  Or not connecting popular destinations with the people that want to go there.

The biggest trip on transit is the work trip.  59% of transit trips are work trips, meaning that’s important to people.  But work destinations are generally those of leisure and convenience as well.  So let’s look at the alignment, along with where people who WORK in downtown actually live.

The data below comes from the Census “On the Map” tool, which is an employment dataset with cool mapping features.  Try it out for yourself sometime.

Residential Density of Downtown Workers

People that work downtown live in the area in darker blue along the red line (the line that should be) as opposed to the yellow line (the line that currently is in planning).  1,700-2,700 workers who work downtown per square mile in the areas that are darkest while only 100-400 in the light blue the yellow line occupies.  See how its REALLY light blue.

I’m sorry if the map is a bit ugly, it’s late and I wanted to get this out, but hopefully the point comes across.  I don’t understand why building something that is useful but a bit more expensive is harder than building something that is of less use.  Perhaps the yellow line would be faster, but that only benefits the suburbs rather than everyone.  Additionally, the people along the red line also have a higher propensity to work in the Golden Triangle further down the line.  See below!

Residential Density of Golden Triangle Workers

 

The densities are much less as 200-300 people per square mile living in the darkest blue, but its still something more than the current yellow alignment.

And sure, you could say that it matches the residential densities of the place, but that’s where high capacity transit should go!  In any event, this is just to show that it seems silly that the corridor of most benefit would be bypassed, when it really should be considered more, if only for its long term value to the region.  Yeah, it will cost more if you want to tunnel, but it will also serve an area that has a greater need, and can create greater value in the long run.

If you learn one thing from this post.  Connecting people to dense employment drives transit ridership, so run the transit from where the people live to where they work in the highest densities.  No brainer.

This post was cross posted from The Overhead Wire

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46 Responses to Twin Cities Alignment Madness and the Perfect Network

  1. Jeff Wood
    Jeff Wood August 13, 2013 at 3:28 am #

    I posted in the original format though in the comments of my blog Froggie suggested I was being a bit harsh on the Hiawatha Line which I would agree with. It does connect more destinations with the Mall of America, Airport, and Downtown among others.

  2. Ian Bicking August 13, 2013 at 10:56 am #

    “We should have light rail (and subways) for heavily traveled segments that NEED transit capacity. This means the places where buses that come often are still sardine tins during rush hour.”

    That seems like the same argument as: the highway is terribly congested, we better add more lanes. It’s not a system-focused assessment of people’s mobility needs. Or, more particularly, inefficient systems will themselves cause crowding. Like bus clumping – when things get to capacity the system slows down, decreasing the capacity further, ultimately achieving balance by keeping people off the system during those times because it is unpleasant. Trains try to satisfy this by overbuilding capacity.

    At times when the network becomes more crowded I’d like us to make the network bigger, cover more routes, maybe setup routes that some people can use to avoid transfers, or routes that skip areas. There’s a point at which frequency and capacity don’t make sense, they are just throwing the exact same resource (a particular route) at people.

    A bus route with limited stops at midnight is absurd – I feel caught in some bureaucratic absurdity when there’s a handful of people on the bus and each one can’t be dropped off exactly where they want. A standing-room-only bus in rush hour that stops every block, with a nearly empty bus right behind, is another kind of absurdity. Building a train over one of these routes calcifies that route. Which routes are really so intrinsically awesome that they are worth making so permanent and singular?

    But ok… to argue against myself, I believe the 21 bus is the most used bus route in the city(?) – and if there was better service along that route in particular that’d be kind of great (though maybe I’m biased because I use that bus route more than others). But if it was turned into a train that would be terrible, and maybe that’s some of the point of a good route. There’s no one destination along the 21, there’s a constant stream of destinations. And in part that’s why there’s a chance that the 21 will take you from somewhere you want to be to somewhere you want to go. Replacing it with higher capacity limited stop service would undo the very point of that route.

    It’s unclear to me that there is a “right” scale to these things. It’s fine that Hiawatha has limited stops because there’s not much to stop for along much of its length. Which is damning with faint praise – it implies that it’s not a very interesting route. But it is saved by having multiple distinct destinations: like 21 it is not just a feeder, but it actually connects things. But what if you choose a route for its corridor instead of creating a route based on existing right of way and popular endpoints? A continuous set of development would be best served by continuous transit, not by big stations with no service between.

    “Multi-modal” I suppose is the standard answer when development doesn’t match a transit mode. But as an answer it is just: we will provide fast service that doesn’t go where you want and service that goes where you want but is slow. In the end neither service is actually good. But must we give up? Are we really so sure we can’t provide transit service that is actually good?

  3. David August 13, 2013 at 11:28 am #

    No, it’s *not* a no-brainer. There is more at stake here than some arbitrary definition of transit “goodness” by academics divorced from the real world.

    SW LRT and the Kenilworth alignment is a major equity enhancer for the Twin Cities. You’ve all heard this a million times from me before but continue to ignore a valid perspective held by many people. It is not be any means a “no brainer” to us to reroute this thing. At least show some respect for viewpoints other than your own, even if you disagree with them.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke August 13, 2013 at 1:23 pm #

      I’d love to hear you expand on the equity argument… (I mean this non-sarcastically.)

      • David August 13, 2013 at 2:38 pm #

        Ok, one more time.

        This line creates an entirely new transit connection from North Minneapolis to jobs in the southwest suburbs. It also makes schools in the southwest suburbs more accessible to students of color.

        I am absolutely amazed by those students today, who take 2-3 buses for an hour and a half each way to go to school. All we hear about is how young black men are lazy and unconcerned with family, future, society or whatever. Basically we’ve dehumanized them. But here they are making EXTRAORDINARY efforts to get a good education and improve their communities.

        Isn’t it time that we provide decent transportation for the Northside?

        And it’ll spur development at Van White and Penn to boot!

        No, Bottineau is not the same. Bottineau is necessary but not sufficient. Bottineau does not go to the jobs in the southwest corridor.

        And there are environmental justice communities all along the line: St. Louis Park, Hopkins and yes, even Eden Prairie. This project provides great mobility for those who need it the most.

        And it’ll spur development at Blake and Town Center, to boot!

        Yes, Ben, it does serve suburban commuters well. What’s wrong with that? In any case that is not my primary concern. It’s not just about those commuters. Reverse commuters make up a large portion of the projected ridership.

        • Brendon Slotterback
          Brendon Slotterback August 13, 2013 at 7:21 pm #

          I read this argument many times and still don’t understand it. If I’m a resident of the north side, I have to transfer an equal number of times to access either 3A or 3C (once). Both alignments serve the jobs in the southwest suburbs, but one alignment serves thousands MORE jobs in the Whittier and Uptown neighborhoods. Here is a map comparing the number of jobs along each alignment: http://netdensity.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/SW_LRT_Employment.pdf

          • David August 14, 2013 at 10:45 am #

            Number of transfers isn’t a good measure of effectiveness. Northsiders would have to take a bus over to Nicollet and then transfer to the LRT. Thoses buses take FOREVER to get there.

            Believe me, the people in Near North understand just how good SW LRT will be for them.

          • David August 14, 2013 at 10:46 am #

            Number of transfers isn’t a good measure of effectiveness. Northsiders would have to take a bus over to Nicollet and then transfer to the LRT. Thoses buses take FOREVER to get there.

            Believe me, the people in Near North understand just how good SW LRT will be for them.

            A 3A alignment won’t serve any jobs because it’s not cost-effective to build it. The studies make that abundantly clear.

          • David August 14, 2013 at 10:46 am #

            Number of transfers isn’t a good measure of effectiveness. Northsiders would have to take a bus over to Nicollet and then transfer to the LRT. Those buses take FOREVER to get there.

            Believe me, the people in Near North understand just how good SW LRT will be for them.

            A 3A alignment won’t serve any jobs because it’s not cost-effective to build it. The studies make that abundantly clear.

            • Brendon Slotterback
              Brendon Slotterback August 14, 2013 at 7:28 pm #

              All LRT, BRT and Streetcar plans talk about service changes to connect with new high-frequency corridors and discuss transfers, so I don’t think you can say they aren’t an important part of measuring effectiveness.

              To your point, time is also a significant factor for people traveling, and there would be additional time to reach Nicollet Mall. According to existing bus schedules, it would be in the range of 3-5 minutes. Perhaps this is not worth trading for access to thousands more jobs, perhaps it is.

              Costs of 3C have changed significantly (gone up) since the DEIS was completed, and ridership may go down, as 21st Street station will likely be eliminated. I’m assuming no new CEI calculation will be done however, so true cost-effectiveness is hard to discern.

          • Matt Brillhart August 14, 2013 at 11:33 am #

            A mixture of cut & cover tunnel and surface running on Blaisdell is the way to go. Far less impact to businesses on Nicollet (which seemed to be one of the greatest fears / factors in killing support for 3C). I wish that “sub-alt” had been part of the discussion earlier in the game.

            3C-2 running on Blaisdell to 12th is the best way out of this mess and would still serve Royalston Station, providing that critical transfer point to Northside bus routes.

            We’ve seen the Star Tribune editorialize in favor of reevaluating. Mayoral candidates (and bloggers galore) are saying “maybe we need to slow down”. How do we actually make that happen? Where are the current elected “leaders” on this issue? Do we not deserve a public response to the idea of revisiting the LRT alignment? “We’ll lose our place in the federal queue” is not a good enough answer. That translates to “building it right now is more important than building it right”.

            • David August 14, 2013 at 5:21 pm #

              Building it right is building it along 3A.

              Some people just don’t want to acknowledge that other people have a viewpoint different from theirs.

              3C-2 was a joke from the start. It was an ego trip for a city councilman. Way too expensive and way too slow.

              • Cameron Conway
                Cameron August 14, 2013 at 5:36 pm #

                I definitely understand the priorities of speed and cheapness, but the fact remains that putting rail through neighborhoods like Uptown and Whittier will give bigger returns in terms of private real estate investment than any other neighborhoods in the city. There are examples of this all over the world.

                If you’re trying to make suburban commuter rail, 3A is fine. If cost is the absolute bottom line, maybe 3C doesn’t make sense. But if you’re legitimately trying to link the densest and quickest growing neighborhoods with great transit, you’re going to have to put out a chunk of change.

                No high quality transit investment is cheap, but to say it’s “not worth it” is to settle for the abysmal funding situation for transit that is very, very unique to this period of time.

                Transit needs more funding, we need a line through Uptown-Whittier. Bottom line.

                • David August 14, 2013 at 6:32 pm #

                  What about North Minneapolis? Don’t residents there deserve access to high-quality transit? Calling 3A “suburban commuter rail” is incredibly insulting to residents of Near North.

                  Uptown and Whittier are getting transit improvements. aBRT and most likely a streetcar. They will get more service that way than with 3C.

                  3C is not financially viable. It cannot be built. That is the financial reality, stated very clearly in planning documents.

        • Cameron Conway
          Cameron August 13, 2013 at 7:59 pm #

          Indeed. Also, both Penn and Van White really don’t have much redevelopment potential. Any redevelopment would involve razing parts of the residential neighborhood that surround them, and no one likes that. Running the Bottineau line through Broadway or north on Washington or 2nd would have infinitely more redevelopment potential. Parking lots and warehouses baby! Fertile ground for the cities of tomorrow.

    • Ben August 13, 2013 at 1:38 pm #

      In response to David, I do believe the SW LRT would be greatly beneficial to the Twin Cities – but not to Minneapolis. I believe the author is focused on helping Minneapolis and the urban core, while David you seem to come from the (quite valid!) viewpoint of residents of communities out beyond the suburbs.

      If I lived in a SW suburb, this proposal would be a great way to get to a downtown office or a twins game while zooming through the Minneapolis stations that are built in areas with no residents. However, I live in the Whittier neighborhood and work in uptown and I would never have an opportunity to use the SW LRT though it would certainly affect my community. The proposed city stops are all walkable from where I live/work/play and yet still too inconvenient to use as a way to get downtown.

      I think the SW LRT is a huge WIN for the people who don’t want to live or contribute to the Minneapolis urban core while still wanting to use the amenities as conveniently as possible and placing the burdens of financing and building it on others.

      • David August 13, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

        Ben, why are you assuming that “Minneapolis” is only the southwest part of the city? The line certainly serves downtown and its booming population. As I said above, it also serves North Minneapolis.

        Minneapolis is not just Uptown and Whittier.

        As for financing and building it, don’t we all pay sales taxes and federal gas taxes?

        • Ian Bicking August 13, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

          How does it serve downtown residents? Do we expect a lot of people living downtown to want to commute to the suburbs? I can understand people in other areas of the city to want to commute to the suburbs, but it seems a bit far-fetched to imagine that being popular among the people who live downtown specifically.

          • David August 13, 2013 at 3:00 pm #

            Why? There are a lot of tech jobs out the way of Minnetonka and Eden Prairie. I can imagine any number of young go-getters wanting to live downtown when their jobs are a fast reverse commute away.

            Don’t downtown residents want to go to the lakes?

            Won’t they ever want to go antiquing in Hopkins (much better than Stillwater, BTW)?

            Who knows what new developments in the suburbs might attract downtown residents.

            Minneapolis is not the center of the universe.

          • David August 13, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

            Beyond residents, doesn’t bringing tens of thousands of workers downtown to work, eat lunch, perhaps stay after work for a beer, etc. count as helping Minneapolis? I’d much rather have them commute downtown than to Eagan.

            • Cameron Conway
              Cameron August 13, 2013 at 8:08 pm #

              I definitely agree. I’m looking for IT jobs and soooo many are in the burbs. It’s hard to serve all of them with rail because they’re so decentralized, but you can’t ignore the fact that job creation outside of downtown is booming.

        • Cameron Conway
          Cameron August 13, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

          The currently alignment of SW LRT doesn’t serve any of North Minneapolis, unless you want to count the Warehouse District. I’m not positive, but isn’t that now one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city?

          • Bill Lindeke
            Bill Lindeke August 13, 2013 at 9:57 pm #

            This is a key point.

            • David August 14, 2013 at 10:53 am #

              Guess you weren’t all that serious about listening to the equity argument.

              You can disagree with the conclusion but you CANNOT seriously say the line won’t serve Near North.

          • David August 14, 2013 at 10:49 am #

            Ok, you go talk to residents of Near North and tell them that SW LRT won’t serve them. See what they say.

            Van White, Penn and Royalston will all be used by North Minneapolis residents. Royalston today is a major bus transfer point. Van White will have a major new development surrounding it and a shiny new bridge to get Northsiders there. Penn will serve those on the western end of the Northside.

            • Cameron Conway
              Cameron August 14, 2013 at 5:43 pm #

              Ok, but that area isn’t dense at all and one side of the station is a freeway. 3C would be right in the middle of a huge transit dependent population. You can maybe make the case that 3A would serve -some- Northsiders, but 3C definitely addresses a much higher density of transit dependent folks. Bottineau is going to take care of near north so, so much more thoroughly than any current alignment of SW and with the headways that it should be getting, it won’t matter that folks will have to transfer between lines.

              • David August 14, 2013 at 6:38 pm #

                Botineau does not go to jobs in the southwest corridor. It is necessary but not sufficient. A downtown transfer at Nicollet *does* matter. Bottineau does not bring redevelopment to the Bassett Creek Valley.

                Transit-dependent riders in Uptown and Whittier already have good transit service. They will get better service with aBRT and a streetcar. Those lines will be great connectors to the Green Line at the West Lake station. Why is a transfer good enough for residents of Near North but not good enough for Uptowners?

                It is not worth it to spend $300+ million dollars to put LRT where there is already concentrated bus service and even more upgraded service to come.

                • Cameron Conway
                  Cameron August 14, 2013 at 8:15 pm #

                  http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/Minneapolis-SW-Poverty.jpg

                  You can see that while yes, the 3A alignment does serve the periphery of impoverished areas, it simply doesn’t compare the scope of what 3C would serve. If you want to advocate for equity, it’s pretty clear that 3C is the winner.

                  Whittier/Uptown may currently have decent transit to other parts of South Minneapolis, but they have to make the same downtown transfers that Near North folks have to in order to get to buses to the suburbs. Transit times from Harrison to the SW Suburbs are just about the same and those from Whittier.

                  In regards to South Minneapolis transit upgrades, they’re hardly that. Streetcars don’t actually give faster service if they’re mixed with street traffic. I’ve been on streetcars in Seattle and Portland and both are marginally faster than walking. BRT has the same problem. Grade separation is the only meaningful transit upgrade in an area as dense us Uptown/Whittier and I think it deserves that. Maybe at this point it’s in the form of grade separated streetcars on Blaisdell and 1st, but to say that 3C is a joke is to completely ignore all the good it could have done for those impoverished areas.

                  Give Near north Bottineau (which is SMACK DAB in the middle of poverty, not on the periphery of it), as well as better bus service. But don’t criminalize Whittier for having the exact same bus times to downtown that the 9 gets from Near North.

                  • David August 16, 2013 at 11:17 am #

                    Uptown/Whittier will have a bus connection to SWLRT at the West Lake station. No need to go downtown. They’ll probably have a streetcar in the not-to-distant future.

                    The Greenway streetcar will be grade separated. And I believe aBRT will be a significant upgrade to the existing bus.

  4. Cameron Conway
    Cameron August 13, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

    Great post Jeff. I could have written it myself.

    @Ian
    Something that I think puts Minneapolitans to an incredible disadvantage while creating new rail transit is a total lack of express and local service operating in tandem, especially when it comes to express rail (light rail, in this case). High capacity, limited stop rail lines are characteristics of the transit systems with the MOST mobility and ridership in the world. Both kinds of service have their place, regardless of how many destinations lie along the corridor. A good combination of both is how you get from point A to point B the quickest possible, making the whole transit experience a delight and upping ridership tremendously.

    I ride a bicycle instead of the 21 because it has far too many stops and I can get where I’m going much faster on two wheels. But, if there was an express route with limited stops that got me from Hennepin and Lake to East Lake station in 10 minutes (as would the proposed midtown streetcar, with stops every 1/4 mile), would I be willing to walk a 1/4 mile or transfer to a local bus if the whole ordeal took me only 15 minutes? Absolutely, because the only current option is a half hour bus ride.

    “At times when the network becomes more crowded I’d like us to make the network bigger, cover more routes, maybe setup routes that some people can use to avoid transfers, or routes that skip areas. There’s a point at which frequency and capacity don’t make sense, they are just throwing the exact same resource (a particular route) at people.”

    Crowding isn’t a result of a huge number of people from nonexistant routes all being clumped on the same route, those folks end up driving rather than taking transit. Crowding means that a huge quantity of people are all interested in transit service along the same route. You’ll notice that the most crowding often happens at park and rides with express, quick service or in incredibly dense neighborhoods, two circumstances that make transit really worth it. Tons of bus lines that bring everyone to every destination possible are great… but unless they can maintain a certain degree of frequency and capacity, they’re inconvenient and or crowded. It’s important to serve the most transit riders, not every transit rider.

    “A standing-room-only bus in rush hour that stops every block, with a nearly empty bus right behind, is another kind of absurdity. Building a train over one of these routes calcifies that route. Which routes are really so intrinsically awesome that they are worth making so permanent and singular?”

    Train routes don’t calcify routes, the built environment does this for us. As long as Uptown, Midtown and Downtown all lie where they currently do, there will always be folks wanting to get between them quickly. Also, the hugely full bus in front of the empty bus isn’t too much bus service, that’s one hugely late bus (because of car congestion, not transit congestion) and an on time bus. This is one reason why grade separated rail transit is fantastic, it doesn’t compete with automobiles.

    “A bus route with limited stops at midnight is absurd – I feel caught in some bureaucratic absurdity when there’s a handful of people on the bus and each one can’t be dropped off exactly where they want.”

    I’m not sure what the rules are here, but you should check out New York’s MTA, which allows late night buses to stop wherever passengers request. It improves safety and is a pretty fantastic idea.

    “Are we really so sure we can’t provide transit service that is actually good?”

    Express and local bus service, both of decent capacities and frequencies 😀 Now lets just get the funding for it.

    @David
    So, where exactly is the equity in the Kenilworth Alignment? The fact that it goes through one of the wealthiest zip codes in state, or the fact that the extra money spent on an alignment that would actually go through impoverished, transit dependent communities wouldn’t end up getting spent on more inequitable suburban highway expansion?

    • David August 13, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

      > As long as Uptown, Midtown and Downtown all lie where they currently do, there will
      > always be folks wanting to get between them quickly.

      I completely agree. Thart is why a Greenway streetcar or Lake St. aBRT combined with a Hennepin Ave. aBRT is a good idea. It will accomplish those goals. A 3C SW LRT alignment maybe accomplished two of them and even that’s debatable given the ridership analysis.

      LRT just isn’t an appropriate technology for the Uptown/Whittier area. Even beyond the equity angle I outlined, it just doesn’t make financial and engineering sense to me to tear up the Greenway and Nicollet to capture not many more riders than 3A. Most of the people living in Uptown and the surrounding area will continue to take the bus, even more so with aBRT upgrades.

      We can route LRT where there is already decent (not great, but decent) existing transit service that is scheduled for upgrades or we can send it somewhere that has absolutely abysmal transit service and open up new opportunities for Minneapolis residents.

      To me, the “no brainer” is routing the line where it’s most needed.

    • Ian Bicking August 13, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

      “Crowding isn’t a result of a huge number of people from nonexistant routes all being clumped on the same route, those folks end up driving rather than taking transit. Crowding means that a huge quantity of people are all interested in transit service along the same route. You’ll notice that the most crowding often happens at park and rides with express, quick service or in incredibly dense neighborhoods, two circumstances that make transit really worth it.”

      With an express bus there’s always the option to run more buses – those buses aren’t run at route capacity and they don’t suffer from clumping. If we can’t provide appropriate buses to keep crowding down on express buses then that’s entirely a matter of lack of attention and poor bureaucratic functioning.

      In dense neighborhoods it’s unclear to me. You’d still need the bus service of course, because there’s a lot of people who need the nearby stops – people who also typically couldn’t bike or drive. For those people trains aren’t an improvement in service. In large cities trains are for the young, childless, and healthy while buses are left to the sick and old. But I digress.

      I’m thinking mostly about peak-hour crowding, and I don’t think that happens because the routes are so compellingly good that everyone loves them so much they feel compelled to pack themselves in. Do people tend to live on the major streets where, somewhere down the line, they will find work?

      “I’m not sure what the rules are here, but you should check out New York’s MTA, which allows late night buses to stop wherever passengers request. It improves safety and is a pretty fantastic idea.”

      Hm, I don’t know… I know I’ve gotten grumpy and obstinate drivers when I’ve asked to stop in these kinds of situation, but then I just stopped asking. If it’s a rule I don’t think it’s posted anywhere? A quick google shows nothing for Metro Transit, but does point me to the MTA’s rule: http://web.mta.info/nyct/bus/howto_bus.htm – seems like something we could easily improve.

      “Tons of bus lines that bring everyone to every destination possible are great… but unless they can maintain a certain degree of frequency and capacity, they’re inconvenient and or crowded. It’s important to serve the most transit riders, not every transit rider.”

      Unlike trains, bus lines can be adapted any time. We could have limited stops during peak hours (with handicap exceptions). We could have different routes and add express routes at peak times. You don’t have to maintain a fixed frequency or capacity with buses. Over the course of 50 years (the planning length for rail) we can switch buses up a dozen ways. It requires some effort to explain things, but explanations are cheap and can evolve.

      • Cameron Conway
        Cameron August 13, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

        Even express buses can’t maintain their schedules if auto congestion is forcing them into gridlock. This is why grade separation (I don’t care if its real our bus) is the real key to great express transit. You can change frequency and capacity with rail too, DC’s system regularly alternates between 6 and 8 car trains.

        “Unlike trains, bus lines can be adapted any time… over the course of 50 years (the planning length for rail) we can switch buses up a dozen ways.” This is why there’s no thing as “Bus Oriented Development,” no one wants to invest in a dense building with limited parking in an area that might lose its bus route. Dense housing is what makes the #6 bus insanely in demand during rush hour, and its what creates the political will for both high quality local and express service.

    • Eric Saathoff
      Eric August 14, 2013 at 10:40 pm #

      This idea of a combination of fast transit with slower, more frequent transit makes some sense to me. What if the Central Corridor only had three stops – Downtown St. Paul, Downtown Minneapolis, and somewhere right in between? Bus/streetcars could manage the shorter trips needed in between.

      This idea of having quicker, longer-distance travel to major areas (not suburban commuter rails, but city lines) would also make more sense to put along highways. People take short trips on bus to get to these major lines – they don’t need stops that are as easy to access. I’m thinking about the Red Line in Chicago right in the middle of the Dan Ryan. This line was heavily used on the South Side, but nearly everyone took a bus to/from the line.

      If there were light/heavy rail lines that ran along 35W, 94, and 35W, with a few appropriate transfer points, they could directly replace the way people use their cars.

      Maybe this is a ridiculous idea, but why not use our existing major arteries in this way? Perhaps that is what the BRT lines are going to do, but will these have exclusive rights of way?

      • Cameron Conway
        Cameron August 14, 2013 at 11:56 pm #

        I definitely like the idea of an express train from Minneapolis to St Paul (along 94 would probably be a fantastic place to put it), and I do also like the idea of local transit in between.

        I think one problem with buses and streetcars is the general lack of grade separation. Subway systems are great because they aren’t governed by the rules of the road (speed, traffic, etc) which allows them to generally give a much quicker, more reliable experience no matter how frequent the stops are. This is one reason that I’m super excited about the Central Corridor, it’ll be a 39 minute trip (compared to the current express bus’ 34 minutes) between the two downtowns, all with 18 stops in between! That kind of speed and frequency of stops simply can’t happen while competing with cars.

        I like the idea of putting transit through highways on places that are already pretty dense. In a low-density metro area like the Twin Cities I think that urban rail plays a responsibility in shaping the built environment surrounding it. If you look at Arlington County near DC, the underground stops all have tons of new urban development while the stations in medians are all park and rides. Which makes sense, who wants to hang out in a highway median? http://goo.gl/maps/qywjr

  5. Cameron Conway
    Cameron August 13, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

    Great post Jeff. I agree so whole-heartedly to so many of your points.

    @Ian
    Something that I think puts Minneapolitans to an incredible disadvantage while creating new rail transit is a total lack of express and local service operating in tandem, especially when it comes to express rail (light rail, in this case). High capacity, limited stop rail lines are characteristics of the transit systems with the MOST mobility and ridership in the world. Both kinds of service have their place, regardless of how many destinations lie along the corridor. A good combination of both is how you get from point A to point B the quickest possible, making the whole transit experience a delight and upping ridership tremendously.

    I ride a bicycle instead of the 21 because it has far too many stops and I can get where I’m going much faster on two wheels. But, if there was an express route with limited stops that got me from Hennepin and Lake to East Lake station in 10 minutes (as would the proposed midtown streetcar, with stops every 1/4 mile), would I be willing to walk a 1/4 mile or transfer to a local bus if the whole ordeal took me only 15 minutes? Absolutely, because the only current option is a half hour bus ride.

    “At times when the network becomes more crowded I’d like us to make the network bigger, cover more routes, maybe setup routes that some people can use to avoid transfers, or routes that skip areas. There’s a point at which frequency and capacity don’t make sense, they are just throwing the exact same resource (a particular route) at people.”

    Crowding isn’t a result of a huge number of people from nonexistant routes all being clumped on the same route, those folks end up driving rather than taking transit. Crowding means that a huge quantity of people are all interested in transit service along the same route. You’ll notice that the most crowding often happens at park and rides with express, quick service or in incredibly dense neighborhoods, two circumstances that make transit really worth it. Tons of bus lines that bring everyone to every destination possible are great… but unless they can maintain a certain degree of frequency and capacity, they’re inconvenient and or crowded. It’s important to serve the most transit riders, not every transit rider.

    “A standing-room-only bus in rush hour that stops every block, with a nearly empty bus right behind, is another kind of absurdity. Building a train over one of these routes calcifies that route. Which routes are really so intrinsically awesome that they are worth making so permanent and singular?”

    Train routes don’t calcify routes, the built environment does this for us. As long as Uptown, Midtown and Downtown all lie where they currently do, there will always be folks wanting to get between them quickly. Also, the hugely full bus in front of the empty bus isn’t too much bus service, that’s one hugely late bus (because of car congestion, not transit congestion) and an on time bus. This is one reason why grade separated rail transit is fantastic, it doesn’t compete with automobiles.

    “A bus route with limited stops at midnight is absurd – I feel caught in some bureaucratic absurdity when there’s a handful of people on the bus and each one can’t be dropped off exactly where they want.”

    I’m not sure what the rules are here, but you should check out New York’s MTA, which allows late night buses to stop wherever passengers request. It improves safety and is a pretty fantastic idea.

    “Are we really so sure we can’t provide transit service that is actually good?”

    Express and local bus service, both of decent capacities and frequencies 😀 Now lets just get the funding for it.

    @David
    So, where exactly is the equity in the Kenilworth Alignment? The fact that it goes through one of the wealthiest zip codes in state, or the fact that the extra money spent on an alignment that would actually go through impoverished, transit dependent communities wouldn’t end up getting spent on more inequitable suburban highway expansion?

  6. Cameron Conway
    Cameron August 13, 2013 at 1:51 pm #

    My apologies for the duplicate. First time posting and didn’t realize there wasn’t a delete option!

  7. Erik Hare August 13, 2013 at 5:13 pm #

    If you’re calling for them to do actual origin and destination studies and to use that data to show where transit needs to go, well, it’ll fall completely on deaf ears. The Met Council does not seem to understand the principle at all. I do appreciate your map that shows the basic info pretty well, so maybe you can make progress with that. I do hope so.

    Also, the need for multi-modal systems is absolutely critical – and the cross-over between each mode is the most important part of that network. No one is close to thinking that way, however. Such a system will put train lines (possibly LRT even) down freight corridors, yes, because it may be the best way to link two or more important hubs together. But without a strong understanding of the nodes, which we utterly lack, we’ll never get anywhere reasonable.

    So yes, the problem is that we have transit planning done by people who clearly have no idea what they are doing. URS did not help the situation in the 20-some years they dominated, either, but thankfully they are gone. We are hiring much better help but we have to start over. It’s not just a flaw in the SW Corridor, it’s a flaw very, very deep in the entire system.

    Other cities are not this incompetent. We have to insist on far better than we are getting.

    • Cameron Conway
      Cameron August 13, 2013 at 8:05 pm #

      Bravo! I’d love to advocate for this in a serious way, holler if you know any good routes.

    • David August 14, 2013 at 10:52 am #

      Actually we do understand the nodes. Harrison did a study showing the jobs skills in their neighborhood match up very well with the jobs available in the southwest corridor.

  8. Joan August 14, 2013 at 9:36 am #

    SWLRT project office is not going to go back to alternatives analysis and go thru south MPLS
    #1 it will lose its place in line for other projects throughout the US.
    #2 S. MPLS already has great bus service and a new transit investment cannot displace that by federal criteria.
    #3 Cramming an LRT line down Nicollet has too many expensive impacts that would have to be mitigated $$.
    #4 the Nicollet Central Streetcar was prioritized by the city of MPLS to be next because of the uproar about LRT not going thru south MPLS http://www.minneapolismn.gov/nicollet-central/index.htm
    #5 city of Minneapolis has secured a local funding source for streetcars at the last legislative session – TIF. The city claims they can have it built before the SWLRT.
    #6 I would bet a beer that the solution to the re-location/co-location is a shallow shorter tunnel co-location past Cedar Lake with no stop at 21st (makes the neighbors happy). eliminating the stop saves about $10 mil and makes the trip faster increasing SWLRT rating.
    #7 the re-location/co-location is not the only expensive item on the SWLRT budget – there are bridges to be built, wetlands to be crossed, and a new re-route in Eden Prairie bringing the line closer to the mall Eden Prairie Town Center and a large Somali population.

    Also check out the new FTA for New Starts/Small Starts project evaluation and rating http://www.fta.dot.gov/documents/NS-SS_Final_PolicyGuidance_August_2013.pdf

    Just came out today and I haven’t had a chance to look through it yet but the first thing that jumps out is now Local Financing is 50% of the score and transit dependent ridership counts X2 see page 8.

    • David August 16, 2013 at 11:20 am #

      I had a quick look at this. The definition of “transit dependent” is really wrong. We shouldn’t be looking at households without cars. Plenty of well-off people don’t have cars. We should be looking at poverty, disability and other such factors.

  9. helsinki August 21, 2013 at 12:36 am #

    The Met Council needs to get a bit more Washington savvy.

    This whole SWLRT alignment brouhaha hinges on the ‘losing our place in the federal queue’ argument. But this is a political, not a technocratic question. The SWLRT was top of the list last year in a MN-pandering election gambit (http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/10/01/we-can-t-wait-obama-administration-announces-transit-projects-minnesota-). If the case for an alternative alignment were made persuasively, the FTA would likely be receptive.

    Whether the political will exists at the metro and state level to re-open the issue is another matter. It is understandable that decision-makers are tired of debating the issue and want to move on. But this political impatience, the boneheaded cost-effectiveness metrics of yesteryear, and the bullying of a minor railway company and some NIMBY residents pre-empting reconsideration of the alignment will all be forgotten in a few years time. What remains will be the result, of which most people will likely ask: “Why did they do it this way?”

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