Chart of the Day: Doing the Math on Transit Incentives

You may have heard the news about a little apartment building proposed for a site at 24th & Colfax in the Wedge. After a long, bitter battle over whether the houses currently on the site should be demolished, the proposed building is finally up for review before the City Planning Commission. One of many reasons why this building is interesting is that fewer parking spaces are being proposed than dwelling units. Is the developer crazy? Maybe, but at the same time the building will be within easy walking distance of six bus routes that will give residents a one seat ride anywhere from Minnetonka to the U of MN or from New Brighton to Bloomington.

If you ride transit, you understand how rare it is in the Twin Cities for a location to have this great of transit accessibility. A few years back, a minor edit was made to the Minneapolis Zoning Code to recognize the commensurate reduction in auto use and non-use (i.e. parking) in transit accessible locations, for which the excellent title of ‘Transit incentives’ was developed and applied. This edit doesn’t apply to the site at 24th & Colfax. You see, the site at 24th & Colfax, which anyone who rides transit can see is a great spot for riding transit, is 350′ from the closest transit stop. The Transit Incentives program only applies to sites that are within 300′ feet of a transit stop. Meanwhile, Metro Transit recommends stops be placed between 660′ & 880′ away from one another.

All these numbers are dreadfully confusing, so I came up with a 3D charent* to illustrate them:


So to sum this up, the city considers transit’s influence on land use to be nil as soon as you step over 300′ away from a stop. Meanwhile Metro Transit (the transit experts, you’d think) feel that if stops are every 660-880′ an area is sufficiently covered for transit purposes. This leaves us a hole in the doughnut (hmm maybe I should have made a doughnut chart) of roughly 30-140′ where there could be a land use satisfactorily sheltering or employing transit riders that doesn’t qualify for the Transit Incentives. Now how do you suppose that came to be? What do you think could be done about it?


*Charent is a word I made up to describe charts that have no real reason for existing in that they don’t really visually articulate numerical concepts. Basically, if a chart is 3D, you can assume it doesn’t need to exist.

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.

12 thoughts on “Chart of the Day: Doing the Math on Transit Incentives

  1. Andrew

    Since these distances are in the context of travel, let’s convert them to pedestrian travel times. Assuming a walking speed of 5 km/h (3.1 mi/h)…

    …the City of Minneapolis transit incentives apply only to properties that are less than 1 minute 5 seconds away from a bus stop
    …2320 Colfax is 1m 17s away from the nearest bus stop
    …Metro Transit recommends that bus stops be between 2m 25s and 3m 13s apart

    This is assuming straight-line travel; actual pedestrian travel times will be slightly longer due to the circuity of the network.

  2. Matt Brillhart

    Thank you Alex. I’ve been meaning to write this article for about two years, ever since 2320 Colfax reared its head. The 300′ measurement is completely absurd. Anything under Metro Transit’s minimum 660′ stop spacing is unacceptable. On the bright side, I do believe this issue is going to come up at the Planning Commission meeting to discuss 2320 Colfax. I’m fairly confident that CM Bender and probably planning staff too are aware of how comically low that proximity requirement is.

    Like Minneapolis, both Richfield and St. Louis Park (both of which have comparable transit service to the outer neighborhoods of Minneapolis) allow reductions in required parking for proximity. Unlike Minneapolis, their requirement for proximity is A QUARTER MILE (also known as 1320 feet). Here are Richfield’s criteria, verbatim:

    Parking may be reduced by ten (10) percent for development on any parcel which is located within one-fourth (¼) mile of a frequently operating transit line provided that separate pedestrian ways are provided which connect the parcel to a transit stop. A frequently operating transit line is defined as having:
    i. Weekday frequency of two (2) runs/hour between 7:00 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.;
    ii. Regularly scheduled service weekdays after 6:30 p.m.; and
    iii. Some Saturday, Sunday, and holiday service.

    So what can we do about it? For one, if you were already planning to comment on or attend the public hearing for 2320 Colfax, you can raise the issue directly, in public, in front of the Planning Commission, Zoning & Planning Chair Bender, and several members of the city’s planning staff. I don’t think it is asking too much to expect that Minneapolis give transit the same benefit as Richfield and St. Louis Park.

  3. Alex B.

    “So to sum this up, the city considers transit’s influence on land use to be nil as soon as you step over 300′ away from a stop.”

    And that’s the problem right there.

    Of course, there’s very little reason to even require parking spaces to be built in the first place – it’s all pseudoscience.

  4. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

    It’s an old transit planning rule of thumb that most people will tolerate a walk of up to 1/4 mile to a bus stop. Metro Transit’s standard for bus stop spacing is 8 stops per mile or 660 feet. Sometimes the placement of stop signs or stop lights can increase that to about 1000 feet, but those tend to be exceptions.

    In the 1990s, Metro Transit finally implemented systemwide bus stop signage. Previously many stops had no signs, so drivers were instructed to stop at every intersection. Because of the oblong blocks in Minneapolis and St. Paul, some routes were stopping every 330 feet, which significantly slowed the buses. Once the signs were installed, about 20% of the bus stops were eliminated and the 8 per mile standard has been in place since then.

    1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

      What’s the likelihood that Metro Transit would ammend this to be a stop every quarter mile (roughly every 2 blocks on Minneapolis N-S streets or St Paul E-W streets, 4 blocks for the inverse in each city)? The rough quarter mile walk shed is barely affected, and the increase in level of service from not stopping every (damn) block would do as much to draw those who would have to walk a bit further, which is at most half of a long block, or 300′ – as Andrew notes just over a minute. Plus the system benefits financially from less wear/tear (not slowing down/stopping as often), fewer benches/signage/etc to maintain, etc etc. Just curious since I’m not sure I’ve seen a Metro Transit representative or document that puts this as a priority whatsoever.

      1. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

        Metro Transit won’t go to quarter mile stops, because that truly inconveniences people who don’t walk well, are disabled, are with children or carrying something. Their strategy instead is to add limited stop service (the Green Line and the upcoming arterial BRT’s) in the heaviest corridors, while retaining a lower level of local service. The Midway Greenway rail line will accomplish the same thing, as will the Nicollet-Central streetcar, if that ever gets built. The remaining local buses stop less often, so they’re not really a problem.

        1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

          I guess I just couldn’t disagree more. The aBRT proposals stop mostly every 0.4 to 0.5 miles. That’s great (and much needed!), but doesn’t preclude better service on local routes. As stated in my comment, the furthest extra distance someone would have to walk to a 1/4 spaced stop vs an 1/8 mile one is 300′ – that’s just over a minute for able bodied folks, 2 minutes max for people carrying things or burdened with kids. For most people (even ones with kids) that is not overly burdensome.

          Even on the aBRT proposals, nearly every corridor stated that 97-99% of existing transit riders lived within 1 stop of a station (with 0.4-0.5 mile stop spacing, mind you). The number of existing riders within the same walk distance of a 1/4 mile spacing must be just as high. For the relatively few people who are diabled, elderly, or need special assistance where the extra walk would be too much, a slightly expanded dial-a-ride service seems appropriate.

          Plus, the aBRT lines are great, but they only represent a fraction of all transit corridors. I ride the 6 daily, but am outside the proposed Hennepin aBRT line area. I would greatly appreciate the savings from stopping 50% less often.

          1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

            Can’t we improve bus service for everyone (and likely build ridership) by moving to .25mi stop spacing, but then let Metro Mobility handle the folks who really can’t walk an extra block?

            1. brad

              I don’t know about other areas, but in much of S Mpls, many people have to walk at least 1/4 mile just to get to the arterials the buses are on, and on some of those routes, buses may only come every 15 to 30 minutes. I think people appreciate not having to walk an extra block (I do, especially when I’m late!). That goes double if they have kids, walkers, multiple bags of groceries, etc, not to mention in winter when the sidewalks can be much more challenging.

              Regarding low-mobility riders, sometimes it definitely slows down a bus to get someone with a walker or wheelchair on, but I see some benefits to offset the decreased efficiency. Greater freedom of movement and social integration for people with low-mobility, obviously. I also think that the interactions when people help out (move seats to make room, help with bags, hook up a wheelchair, etc) build a little community that wasn’t there before, and that’s often lacking on our buses. Does it ever strike anyone else how *quiet* it is on buses sometimes? (plus, almost all buses have a lift or ramp, many with adjustable hydraulics, at this point anyway)

            2. Thomas Mercier

              Doesn’t that assume that Metro Mobility provides a comparable level of service? Talk to some folks who use it. It is great at some things but definitely has limitations in comparison to “normal” bus service.

  5. Evan RobertsEvan

    Given that not everyone lives on the bus route, and so are probably walking a couple of hundred yards anyway, I’ve always been puzzled who these people are who can walk ~300 yards to the bus-stop, but for whom it will be a big burden to walk another ~100 yards to 1/4 mile spaced stops.

    That is to say, that the rationale that current spacing is for elderly etc doesn’t make sense. As Matt says, there is Metro Mobility for the mobility challenged.

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