Why I Do Not Support Move MN

Do we really "fix transportation" by just spending a lot more money doing what we've shown isn't working?

Do we really “fix transportation” by just spending a lot more money doing what we’ve shown isn’t working?

Back in 2011, I coined the term “infrastructure cult,” not to be bombastic but to highlight a destructive mindset that has crept deep into the cultural narrative of America. The notion, fully captured by fellow Minnesotan Tom Friedman in his book, That Used to Be Us, is simple: investments in infrastructure create growth, jobs and prosperity. Period. End of conversation.

At a forum for the Washington Post that I spoke at last October, Vice President Biden called this the “oldest story in history.” Pounding his fist on the podium, he remarked, “Build, build, build, build, build….that’s the story.” The policy wonks in attendance largely nodded in concurrence. If we want a successful America, invest in infrastructure. It’s obvious.

This kind of simplistic analysis is comforting to those like Move MN – a coalition largely consisting of contractors, engineering firms, unions, local governments and professional lobbying organizations – who benefit from the one-dimensional conversation. Do you want more jobs or less? More mobility or less? More growth or less?

Do you want a dystopian race to the bottom or a political compromise that gets us all a little bit more of what each of us wants?

I reject all of these false choices. They are a construct of the current political debate, shaped by the propaganda from organizations like Move MN. They are not a serious examination of our complex and intertwined transportation, land use, economic and social challenges, struggles that go way beyond how much money we are going to spend on transportation. The Move MN proposal may be good politics, but it is bad policy. Enacting it will lead to a weaker Minnesota.

There are many reasons to oppose the Move MN proposal. I will highlight the three most important.

1. Our automobile-based development pattern weakens our cities

Is this our idea of success?

Is this our idea of success?

Many Minnesotans are waking up to the notion that our experiment with building cities around the automobile has been a financial failure. The early illusion of wealth associated with this style of development is now being overwhelmed by the long term costs, a huge percentage of which fall to local governments unprepared for them. While we’ve found creative ways to finance new growth, spreading a population out across a vast landscape is a prohibitively expensive undertaking to sustain.

The Move MN proposal completely ignores these critical problems and, in fact, associates success with the short term illusion of wealth. Earlier this year, Margaret Donahue, Executive Director of the Transportation Alliance, the group spearheading the Move MN coalition, identified the Brainerd bypass that runs through Baxter as a major success story.

You look at [Highway] 371 through Baxter as a classic case. It used to be a sleepy little town and now there’s just business after business after business.

Those businesses are, of course, the typical collection of corporate chains that our transportation investments subsidize. Priced out of this market is the entire local ecosystem of businesses that strong cities are built upon. It’s a system designed to make the wealthy wealthier and, as a byproduct, traps places in perpetual decline. Persistent disparities in wealth and income are a direct byproduct of the development pattern our transportation investments have created.

This system encourages cities to chase the quick dollar that comes from state and federal transportation spending. Our local bureaucracies are set up to do this, to look up the government food chain and react to the programs and incentives that trickle down. In this, local governments completely ignore the pennies, nickels and dimes that they could pick up by making small, incremental investments in their own neighborhoods. So much of our latent potential is being sidelined. The Move MN proposal would ensure it stays that way.

Note that the market is trying to correct this. Despite all the subsidies pushing the other way, there is a net migration out of the suburbs and into cities. Why would we commit to spend billions of dollars over the next decade propping up a 1950’s model of development at a time the state is shifting so dramatically in a different direction?

2. Without good feedback, our transportation funding problems will only grow

How we roll today is without any real feedback. The Move MN proposal would put that disconnect on steroids.

How we roll today is without any real feedback. The Move MN proposal would put that disconnect on steroids.

In the 1950’s, we instituted a gas tax as a way to build the interstate system. That effort was completed decades ago, yet the system continues to grow far beyond what such a blunt tax could imaginably support. Again, this is not a problem of funding but an inherent flaw with the gas tax itself.

The major problem with the gas tax is that it is opaque (hidden from the user) and largely disconnected from demand. There is no feedback mechanism between the user of the system and the provider of the service, a condition that has (frustratingly) allowed Minnesotans to demand lots of transportation spending while resisting the corresponding increases in taxes to make that possible. The Move MN proposal would magnify this dysfunctional side effect by instituting a tax that is even more opaque and disconnected from demand than the gas tax.

Case in point, in my hometown of Brainerd – where there is no congestion – people believe there is horrible congestion. Without any feedback mechanism that discerns the true need, we will continue to fight that non-existent congestion in the same way we have been: with millions of dollars of state and federal transportation money. We’ll pursue our share of the pot and we’ll demand our chance to experience jobs, growth and prosperity. So will everyone else.

Our primary transportation objective can no longer be expansion of the system. Instead, we need to focus on making better use of the investments we have already made. That means a more nuanced funding approach that correlates supply and demand while acknowledging the subtle land use implications of transportation investments.

The Move MN proposal makes our feedback problem worse and only guarantees a more painful funding gap in the future. Again, their proposal is good politics, but it is really bad policy.

3. We need aggressive investments in transit, biking, and walking

downloadI have consistently argued that the highest returning investment a community can make is to improve the ability of people to walk and bike. I’m not talking about return on investment in the abstract way it has been portrayed on streets.mn – “fewer cars on the road, big health cost savings, and air and carbon pollution reductions” – I’m talking about hard cash. Cities that make incremental investments to improve the ability of their residents to bike and walk will get higher returns than any other type of transportation investment.

Create opportunities for a family to go down to one car, you’ve completely changed their economic situation. Bring a customer to a business without that enterprise needing to subsidize a parking space or invest in a massive digital sign to lure drivers off the road and you’ve opened up opportunities for business startups and expansion. These are the slow and steady ways cities build wealth throughout their communities.

The Move MN proposal would throw a paltry sum at biking and walking infrastructure. This is being touted as a necessary compromise by those advocates who mistake Minnesota’s lack of support for biking and walking investments as a simple shortage of resources. The truth is that cities have all the resources they need to make fantastic biking and walking investments, but in a system awash with money, one that prioritizes automobile investments, they have little urgent reason to question the subsidies of the auto-oriented economic model.

This is a cultural problem, not a funding problem. Just this week we have another story from St. Paul of small business owners opposing bike lanes because it will impact automobile parking. This is lunacy, but adopt the Move MN approach to shovel an additional $10+ billion at auto-based infrastructure and we’ll postpone the necessary, complex and difficult conversations every community needs to have about their own financial health.

mvmnI don’t want $50 million in bike investments over the next decade. I want $1 billion in bike investments. The future of our cities, as well as our economy, depends on it. That kind of transformation won’t come about by trying to overwhelm opposition to bike infrastructure with the top/down funding equivalent of a pea shooter. It will only happen with a bottom/up, cultural shift towards a new understanding within our cities on how we create jobs, growth and prosperity. That shift is well underway; the Move MN proposal, if enacted, will greatly empower the forces resisting that change.


When it comes to transit in the Twin Cities metropolitan region, the MoveMN proposal would have us commit to the Metrodome of transit systems at just the time when other cities around the country are waking up to the transportation equivalent of Camden Yards, a switch from pandering to commuters with low-returning park and rides to investments that integrate within existing urban neighborhoods and serve emerging economic ecosystems. Building out the Twin Cities transit system as currently envisioned is not a feature of the MoveMN proposal; it is a fatal flaw.

In Greater Minnesota, we need to acknowledge that there will never be enough money to dial-a-ride our way to prosperity. The Move MN proposal of $32 million for rural transit to ensure “everyone has reliable transit access” has a very generous definition of “reliable.” A clumsy, expensive and intermittent taxi service to transport people to and from the regional big box stores does not alleviate rural poverty; it reinforces it.

We need a comprehensive statewide transit approach that focuses on building community wealth and prosperity by connecting productive places, not simply being a clumsy appendage to the automobile networks we’ve created.

What do I support?

Let me be clear: I support additional spending on transportation. In fact, more spending is essential if we are to maintain the critical parts of the systems we’ve already built. Last fall I released a Kindle short detailing my approach. I named it after Governor Dayton’s stated objective: A World Class Transportation System. For a state that prides itself on being better than average, it is really sad how far from that aspiration the current proposals at the capitol are. Are we really prepared to lock ourselves into this approach for the next decade?

The world class transportation system I envision focuses on maturing our cities. I would work almost entirely on making better use of the investments we’ve already made, most of which are vastly underutilized. That’s not a simple transportation funding issue; it is thousands of messy and difficult local land use issues. How much statewide transportation funding are we going to throw at fixing bad local land use and economic development policies?

I would rely more on local transportation funding and funding mechanisms that provide nuanced feedback so we can truly determine supply and demand. I would free transit investments from the auto-funding paradigm and allow them to be the high-returning, value-creating projects they naturally are.

None of this will happen in the last few days of the legislative session, so the immediate question is: are we better off with no bill than with one of the current proposals? I believe we are.

The DFL proposal is the Move MN proposal. It would commit us to a decade of destructive investments in perpetuation of a 1950’s economic model. It is inertia personified with a spoon full of bling to help bind the coalition. Minnesota is more thoughtful than this.

The Republican proposal is the perfect caricature of the American development pattern: the government building new stuff for people wealthy enough to participate using rainy day funds, debt and by cutting most everything else. This is not a serious way to govern.

We will be better off with no bill or with a short term compromise that commits us to as little expansion of the current approach as possible. Don’t let your desperation for change make you lose site of the long term trends, almost all of which are pushing for something far more transformative than the Move MN proposal.

Charles Marohn

About Charles Marohn

Charles L. Marohn, Jr. PE AICP is the President of Strong Towns, a Minnesota-based 501(c)3 non-profit organization. He is a Professional Engineer (PE) licensed in the State of Minnesota and a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP). He has a Bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Minnesota's Institute of Technology and a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute. Strong Towns supports a model of growth that allows America's cities, towns and neighborhoods to become financially strong and resilient.

92 thoughts on “Why I Do Not Support Move MN

  1. HazelStone

    This is what happens when you have libertarian policy people talk about politics. This is hilariously naive.

    1. James WardenJames Warden

      If the first thing to do when digging a hole is to stop digging, than I’d say Marohn is a lot closer to achieving his goal than Move MN is to achieving its goal. After all, we’re looking at the likelihood that a transportation bill won’t pass this session. From that perspective, Move MN looks a lot more naive than Strong Towns.

    2. Charles MarohnCharles Marohn Post author

      So says a modern day Henry Clay. As I was reminded recently, there are decades when nothing happens and then weeks when decades happen. In the latter, the naive sometimes become prescient. Until then, go ahead and label them naive. If that’s me, I’ll proudly wear that.

      I’ll acknowledge that Strong Towns does not have four bullet points for legislative success. You should likewise acknowledge that this gives us an intellectual freedom that ranges far beyond the lazy label of “libertarian”. I’ve been called far left and I’ve been called far right and I’ve been called everything in between. I generally find people use such labels as a code word to others in their tribe, a way to signify whether someone is friend or foe. It’s disappointing to see that here.

      I’ve spent a great deal of time in the past year speaking with legislators, not just in this state on this bit of legislation but around the country, and if there is one thing that is universal in these conversations it is this: there is tremendous bipartisan reluctance to pour a lot more money into our current transportation system because the outcomes are so destructive.

      Comprehensive transportation legislation must be about more than raising additional money and most people understand that, particularly those being asked to vote on 10-year commitments. I’ve never seen a lobbying effort this intense at the state and national levels with so little to show for it. That’s not because of partisanship — although claiming so makes good fodder for the troops — but reluctance.

      It is looking right now that we’ll have another year without a comprehensive transportation bill, which notably is the same outcome we had when the DFL controlled the entire legislature. Each session this repeats, local governments make more and more positive changes to the way they approach a broad range of development issues. I quite frankly hope this legislative stalemate continues until nobody is looking to the state to solve what is largely a series of local land use and economic development problems. (Note: This is already happening with the state/federal relationship due to the inaction there.)

      1. Alex

        “…there is tremendous bipartisan reluctance to pour a lot more money into our current transportation system because the outcomes are so destructive.”

        Really? State legislators say this? What will it take to get them to say it in public? Do they acknowledge that some areas of our transportation system, like transit, biking, walking and road/bridge maintenance, need a lot more money?

  2. Monte Castleman

    Everyone has a different idea of success, I guess. I did an image search for the picture, and it seems every anti-car article around uses it. But as a driver I’m happy I can just pull into the Taco Bell drive through and be on my way instead of having to stop, find parking, and wait forever at a local cafe, where I have no idea what the food is like.

    The only problem with the Brainerd bypass is it wasn’t built as a full freeway. But point taken about how ridiculous rebuilding 6th. Now that the bypass has done it’s job and gotten through traffic out of town there’s no reason to expand it, rather than contracting it to three lanes.

    1. jeffk

      The entire point is it’s not about your idea of success or your preferences. It’s that those preferences are fiscally and environmentally unsustainable. This isn’t a conversation about favorite fruits.

    2. Anton

      Your idea of success does not at all measure the long-term sustainability of the road in the picture.

      Everyone has a different idea of success, but not all of them are right.

  3. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    This is great. Progressives need to stop supporting MoveMN which compromises their progressive values and potential progressive outcomes to be “part of the game.” We need to change the game.

  4. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    There are bits and pieces I agree with here, but I think this simply prizes the theoretical over the practical in too many ways. The blunt statement, “I reject all of these false choices” seems to exemplify this the most. Reject away, but I don’t think they’re “false” choices if they’re the choices the vast majority of our leaders feel they’re making.

    I acknowledge that the current system — especially as it relates to the federal government distributing transportation money — is absurd and unproductive. But it’s the system we have. In my opinion, the only way we could get consensus around as radical a change as you suggest is to have complete failure of the current system: extreme congestion, pothole-riddled freeways, more collapsed bridges. Such a failure would cost us time and (individual) money, but also lives — both through direct failure of neglected infrastructure and risk-taking behavior by individual motorists stuck in constant congestion.

    On the other hand, despite continuing to fund some auto-oriented projects, MoveMN’s proposal would help encourage transportation choice, and create incremental progress toward more societally responsible (and affordable) transportation. The governor’s proposed gas tax increase would provide more feedback that you desire.

    The one area where I think we could go further than what’s on the table today is dynamic congestion pricing. We should be tolling all our freeways. Even this would likely be very difficult politically, but I think it’s necessary to level out metro freeway traffic and provide adequate funding to maintain and expand our system — without bankrupting other state programs.

    1. Evan RobertsEvan

      ^ What he said.

      Look, I agree with the critique of U.S. transportation funding here, but realistically how do we change that?

      Congestion pricing of limited access highways would go a long way towards making the best use of what we have now, and changing the dynamic of conversations around transportation “needs”.

      Here’s an analogy. From where we were in 2009 it was really unrealistic to think of implementing single payer health care. But there’s no doubt that the logic of the Affordable Care Act leads one closer to single payer in the future, perhaps in a single state, then to other states.

      Same thing here with transportation finance (where actually the reforms need to go in the opposite direction, towards a more market based system). Congestion pricing is an incremental change that leads towards what I think Charles Marohn wants, rather than shooting for the audacious goal of totally re-writing the federal/state/local compact on transportation finance.

      1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

        The health care reform analogy is a good one that I hadn’t thought about before. ACA is making a difference in people’s lives (including my own), but the system is still really broken.

        That’s the difficult political choice we are facing. I respect people’s opinions on both sides, but if I were a legislator and had a chance to vote for the MoveMN package, I’d do it! I wish better options were on the table, but wishing don’t make it so.

        1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

          To be fair to Chuck and his organization, I’d like to see conservative / environmental coalition around more local autonomy for transportation policy get some real traction in Minnesota. Strong Towns is the only group trying to make that happen…

          The challenge is daunting, though, because top-down road funding is so deeply ingrained in our politics, economy, and society, especially in rural and suburban areas.

          1. Matty LangMatty Lang

            I would so love to see this happen as a native Faribausian (did I spell that right?) who fled to the U for college at the first chance. Go Chuck/Strong Towns! Make what Bill says so! Perhaps I can help (see below).

            (I’m available for hire for pro digital filmmaking services to support, if that wasn’t already clear.)

            1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

              Our current political dynamic fails to explain what’s really happening. We are faced with corporatism vs populism. Move MN is the corporatist answer. More money for the firms that benefit from unproductive infrastructure that begets unproductive land use. And the public gets regressive outcomes, poverty, and soaked with massive public liabilities. Move MN is basically corporate welfare, with a few nuggets of value added in to make it appetizing for those who are a part of the game.

  5. Monte Castleman

    The problem with just tolling limited access highways is that if we set rates at a point that would actually repress demand, then they’ll be substantial diversion from the freeways to neighborhood streets. Traffic calm that street and they’ll move to another one. And how many articles have there been recently about how drivers should use the freeways instead of neighborhoods. Ultimately we’ll have to move to something besides gasoline taxes when and if alternative cars become feasible, but a better system would be odometer mileage based fees, possibly with higher peak rates to reflect the actual cost of proving peak capacity, rather than arbitrary slapping tolls on certain types of facilities in certain places. At the same time to be fair we can have transit users pay more of their costs too.

    Having said that, with the article about how Mn/DOT is ditching the current MnPass technology and switching to a system compatible with EZPass (and by extension SunPass), more Minnesotan’s might warm to the idea of owning transponders if they don’t have to pay $67 in tolls to drive a rental car from Miami to Key West, or stop every 20 miles once they hit the Illinois border while driving to Chicago.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      Odometer readings are a step better, but they only hit half the issue, at least in the metro. One chunk of your cost is the physical damage you do to roadways — so the weight/size of your vehicle, combined with how much you drive it, can be pretty closely attributed to your damage. But in the metro, another big part of your cost is when and where you drive. If I drive 30,000 miles a year, but it’s all in the middle of the night, I’m creating less demand for extremely expensive reconstruction and expansion compared to somebody driving 15,000 miles during rush hour.

      The diversion to local streets is a concern I share, although it depends on the particular highway. On 494 or 94, I could see more diversion to local streets. But, say, along Hwy 100 or even Hwy 12, there isn’t really continuity in the frontage roads. I sometimes bike the 100 corridor, and since biking on the freeway obviously isn’t an option, the most efficient option involves about 20 turns and lots of stop signs. I can’t speak for all motorists, but I’d certainly pay a buck or two to go straight through at 55 mph than wind around tedious residential streets at 30.

      Open-road tolling is a necessity, however, if this is to ever have any hope. Traditional, Illinois-style tollbooths create congestion and foster resentment from motorists.

      1. Monte Castleman

        That’s why I suggested adding the time the mileage was accumulated in the total user fee. There’s be no incentive to divert to local streets, and a disincentive it it’s longer.

        Different rates for different weights of vehicles- well, my Jeep Grand Cherokee is 5000 pound. A Chevy Volt is 3800. I don’t know if the difference is significant to make it worthwhile, but a semi is 80,000. Although ultimately we’ve decided not to make trucks pay the full share of their costs because it would make everything from bicycles to organic vegetables.

        Ultimately if drivers would pay 100% of their costs (and likewise transit uses would pay 100% of their costs) it would be worth it to me if people would finally shut up about how evil it is to live in the suburbs. Just don’t go further like New York does and have tolls actually subsidize transit, or try to punish drivers for having the nerve to drive to their office hours job.

        1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

          Keep in mind, certain transportation modes do have indirect effects on others. A freeway through Minneapolis creates barrier effects by cutting off links between neighborhoods. A set of train tracks certainly does the same thing, but is much cheaper to bridge over (or sometimes provide pedestrian tunnels) to keep connectivity. Living proof: the Midtown Greenway as former rail trench (built at private cost!), yet almost no street connectivity is lost. How many people could the Greenway theoretically move at maximum capacity with bike+walk+transit in the trench compared to 35W? How much land was taken off the city’s tax rolls in each case? How much city land do users require to move about & park once they exit the limited-access trench in each case?

          I’ve beat the drum before, but there are real public health (emissions and collisions) and climate change impacts as well. There’s a very strong case for making drivers pay for their hard costs (infrastructure) but also indirect costs, even if we’re never 100% certain what those are. As for trucking, I agree if we charged them their fair share, cost of goods moved by truck would increase. That’s fine! Why wouldn’t we want an open market where goods moved by rail or boat or truck include their full cost?

          There’s obviously tension in the larger streets.mn crowd as to handle transit vs driving in terms of user fees. I’m mostly in agreement that transit users should cover costs the same as drivers should, while many urbanists push for transit as a “public good” that should be subsidized (not unlike how many drivers view parking). But I will challenge you that most urbanists paint living in the suburbs as “evil.” Refusing to acknowledge all the harms that have come from our current land use pattern is frustrating, and self-serving, but not evil.

          1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

            Is it cheaper to bridge over train tracks, or are those bridges just from an era where labor was cheaper, requirements were laxer, and demands for connectivity were much higher? I’d assume the newer bridges (like Park and Chicago) would be comparable in cost to a freeway bridge. Some freeway trenches are huge — say, 94/35W commons — but others are not dramatically larger than the Greenway corridor.

            Railroads definitely can cause a lot of disconnect as well. Not sure whose idea the Midtown corridor bridges were, but they deserve serious credit. In other areas, railroads create huge divides. St. Louis Park is the best example — there’s really no good place to cross that main BNSF track between France Avenue and Louisiana Avenue on bike or foot. There’s a crossing shortly to the west of Louisiana on Virginia Ave, and then a several mile gap till Hopkins Crossroad. The Canadian Pacific track also creates at least half-mile gaps. That’s pretty significant, and worse than many freeway barriers.

            1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

              Well, the trench is 100′ wide and 35W is 300′ wide at its narrowest. Freeway crossings need to be wider than a Greenway trench bridge dies because they’re more if a chokepoint. I’m not sure what rebuild costs would be compared to a freeway one, but 2-3x isn’t an outrageous guess.

              And, no argument on freight. It’s easy to look at maps pre/post freeways and see what was lost but ignore the huge rail yards, etc. But they still take up relatively less space and can be elevated with fewer impacts. SLP really did not address growth around existing freight rail very well as it expanded.

              1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

                OK, but that’s also one of the widest freeways in the state. The Crosstown (from Portland to Cedar) is about 80′ wide, including 2 lanes in either direction plus bus-only shoulders. 169 is similarly sized from TH 12 to 494-5.

                I realize our current standards and expectations are for much wider freeways, but I guess I don’t think expensive bridges are more inherent to freeways than to railway trenches.

            2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

              Greenway bridge replacements estimated at $1.5-1.8m in 2004:


              That’s about $1.8-2.2m in 2014 dollars.

              Browsing some freeway bridge redneck projects here (not full replacement) I’m seeing $2.2-$5m for urban freeway crossings.


  6. UrbanDoofus

    Illinois does have open road tolling. Not vital to this conversation I recognize.

  7. Alex

    I live in Iowa, where the only real American alternative to MoveMN passed this year. It was a 10-cent gas tax increase with zero money for transit, bikes, or peds. Iowa was lucky to see that, because in most states there are no proposals except those like the MN GOP’s, which Marohn charitably calls unserious, but would more appropriately be called fraudulent.

    The reality is that Americans do not have a realistic conception of what their transportation is and how it is funded; instead they cling to entitled fantasies like those of Monte Castleman above. They think that the highway strip is a great place to strive for because they picture themselves cruising in and out of the drive-thru without having to encounter the other Americans they fear, when in reality it is a dangerous, congested place they curse when they find themselves trapped in.

    MoveMN is a bitter pill for people who bike, walk, and use transit, but it comes closer to a cure than any other transportation proposal in this deliriously ill country. Minnesotans should feel fortunate to support it.

    1. Nathaniel

      Alex brings up an excellent point; Minnesota brings bike/ped/transit advocacy into the mix. This sounds small, but in reality, it’s actually a pretty big political movement.

  8. James WardenJames Warden

    The controversy over the Move MN proposal has shined a spotlight on differences between two closely aligned factions that happen to have competing goals in this particular debate. It’s not a matter of naiveté, lack of pragmatism or stubbornness. The two groups have distinct goals that lead to divergent, but rational, responses to the Move MN proposal.

    On the Move MN side, you have a group that’s focused on improving infrastructure necessary for people to get around without vehicles. They may think our transportation funding system is unsustainable, but that’s a secondary concern compared to helping more people go where they need via walking, biking and transit.

    On the Strong Towns side, you have a group that’s focused on reforming the transportation funding system (and government finance more generally). They may want to make it easier for people to bike, walk and takes buses or trains, but that’s a secondary concern to ensuring residents are able to sustain the infrastructure they build.

    For negotiations, theorists have something called a “Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement” – or what will happen if the sides can’t reach a deal. It’s unwise for one side to accept a compromise that’s worse for them than the BATNA because they could do better by simply letting the deal collapse. Looked at through this lens, the differing opinions on the Move MN bill make a whole lot of sense.

    Those who support the Move MN bill quite rightly think they’ll get money for infrastructure if it passes that they’re not getting now. They may want more for their preferred mode or a different funding infrastructure, but the compromise still achieves more of their goals than they’d see under the BATNA. So it makes sense that they support the bill.

    From a Strong Towns perspective, though, the bill is worse than the BATNA. They want to see reduced infrastructure funding at the state level and a change in how we pay for infrastructure. But this bill increases infrastructure funding, fails to make structural changes and will make it harder to even debate the measures they want. When a group is pushing the #nonewroads hashtag, failure to reach a deal goes a long way toward achieving its goals.

    That’s why it’s so insulting to brush off people who oppose Move MN as naïve or fanatical. Sure, some may be. But most simply understand that the “deal” is not a compromise that advances their specific goals – to the contrary, it actually sets their cause back. That calculus makes opposing the bill an eminently rational move from their perspective.

    1. Spencer Gardner

      +1,000 upvotes for accurately identifying the tension in these camps, who seem to be talking past each other.

      1) If I’m faced with the choice to either support MoveMN or the Republican alternative, I’d vote for MoveMN without hesitation.

      2) If I’m faced with the choice to support either MoveMN, the Republican alternative, or no bill at all, I choose no bill.

      My primary gripe with MoveMN is that it does virtually nothing to address the structural problems with the way we finance and build transportation. It’s basically, “do what we’ve been doing for nearly a century, but with a rounding error’s worth of money for bike/ped.”

      I seem to hear a lot of pro-Move voices arguing that the system is too complex to undertake any major reform (and if that’s a mischaracterization I’d love to be corrected). I’d be curious to hear when the right time for reform is! Passage of a major transportation bill seems like exactly the opportunity to move things in a different direction.

    2. Daniel Herriges

      Excellent analysis. The comment thread on Ethan Fawley’s pro-MoveMN piece the other day was disappointing to me because most commenters, as well as the post itself, seemed to mischaracterize the opposition to MoveMN as a politically naive refusal to accept any sort of compromise—cutting off your nose to spite your face. The two sides really break down more like this:

      Pro-MoveMN: “I’d rather have this than nothing.”

      Anti-MoveMN: “I’d rather have nothing than this”—not out of spite, but because nothing would actually, literally be better than this. It’s not that exurban highway expansion projects are irrelevant to the desires of transit and urbanism advocates, or that they carry *less* value. They actually carry *negative* value. They are a subsidy for horribly unsustainable development patterns, and a net destroyer of long-term wealth.

      MoveMN and the kind of “Throw money at it” thinking it embodies also threaten to bolster an utterly unsustainable approach to transit itself, one which is disconnected from a serious reckoning with land use.

      1. Monte Castleman

        And this is why there’s so much animosity from the suburbs to the city. It’s not enough that city get’s there bike trails and trains. They’d rather refuse them it if means people like me have to spend 10 minutes driving through town because bypasses are evil (which has had an anti-car makeover to slow cars because cars are evil), 10 minutes looking for parking because parking is evil, an hour at an expensive slow food pace because a taco bell drive through its evil. If the city would just be happy with their new Move.MN ameniteis without imposing their unwanted utopian fantasies on people like me

        1. Spencer Gardner

          It’s probably fair to say that people in the city have different ideas about transportation than you. That it’s evil is certainly personal opinion.

          What I would hope is distasteful to most people is imposing your “utopian” fantasy on city dwellers over their own ideas, utopian fantasy or not. There are plenty of places for you to get your drive thru coffee. How do you justify imposing your view on a community you don’t even live in?

          1. Monte Castleman

            That’s my point. If city dwellers get their way there will be no bypasses and suburban style strips, whether in Brainerd or my home community of Bloomington, to get drive through coffee. I’m not telling city dwellers to accept new six lane streets and taco bell drive-through, so in turn I expect the same respect. I even suggested that 6th street be narrowed now that through traffic to the cabins no longer has to put up with it and gets a more appropriate facility, with appropriate restaurants and services.

            1. Spencer Gardner

              Perhaps I misunderstood your initial statement then. It sounds like we’re agreed that the current funding regime doesn’t do a good job of allowing for infrastructure tailored to the local context.

              I wouldn’t begrudge your community a suburban strip mall if you’re willing to shoulder the associated costs. Some “city dwellers” might oppose you on other grounds, but at least some of the pushback you sense from the cities is probably a feeling that suburban infrastructure isn’t paying its own way.

              1. Monte Castleman

                I do get the sense the city dwellers think they’re subsidizing the suburbs. I don’t know if that’s true or not beyond car owners not directly paying for 100% of roads. But city dwellers don’t pay 100% of their bicycle trails or transit either. There’s also a lot of subsidies that flow from the suburbs to the cities via fiscal disparities.

                Give me a figure in dollars and cents as opposed to all these vague and abstract allegations, most of which don’t have any kind of numbers attached to them at all, and tell me where to send the check. It’ll be worth it to me not to live in the cities. In turn I want a check sent to the inner suburbs from someone in Elko for whom it’s worth it not to have to live in Bloomington.

                1. David Greene

                  The suburbs do not subsidize the cities through Fiscal Disparities.

                  Minneapolis gets back far less than it puts in and I’ll bet the same is true of St. Paul.

            2. helsinki

              You’re essentially making a request for reciprocity.

              The obvious reply to this is that the highway bypasses and 6 lane arterial roadways require disproportionate public expenditure out of relation to the value generated by adjacent land use, whereas infrastructure in more intensely developed areas (like the city) offers a greater return on investment.

              In short, it’s not a cultural argument against suburban development, but a financial one.

              1. Monte Castleman

                Ultimately virtually everyone “subsidizes” someone else. Joe, who lives in downtown condo and walks to his job doesn’t, but how many people are like that. How many urbanists are even like that?. If Jill lives in a duplex in Uptown and take a bus she’s subsidized by Joe. If Jim lives in Armitage and drives to work, he’s being subsidized by Joe and Jill. Jane, who lives in Bloomington is being subsidized by Jill, Joe, and Jim. Jack who lives in Lakeville is being subsidized by Jill, Joe, Jim, and Jane…

                We’ve decided to put a cultural wall between the “city” and “suburbs”, while the reality is a lot more graduated than that.

                Maybe you can have road and transit users pay 100% of their costs, which is something I’ve advocated, but beyond that what do you do while still respecting individual freedom, such as not banning single family houses or Taco Bell drive-thrus.

                1. helsinki

                  As to the ‘subsidy’: much of the Strong Towns message is directed at exposing the lack of feedback mechanism between cost and expenditure, principally as it concerns roadway expansion because the financing for roads is so opaque. Here in Minneapolis, of course, there is an interesting yardstick of inter-municipal’subsidy’ in the Fiscal Disparities Act, to which the city of Minneapolis is actually a net contributor. The “rich suburbs, poor city” narrative is not only unhelpfully antagonistic, it is also just not true.

                  Your comment about individual freedom is illuminating, because to my mind it is actually the suburban system of land tenure that is most restrictive of freedom. Single use zoning, restrictive covenants, FAR requirements limiting density, parking minimums – these form the elaborate legal architecture preventing suburban areas from developing outside of an enforced monoculture. If you truly value freedom of property, supporting the suburban land tenure system is an untenable proposition.

                2. Spencer Gardner

                  To bring this discussion back around to the original topic, this is my primary beef with MoveMN – it does nothing to align community/regional/state decisions about transportation investments with their true costs. It perpetuates the same systemic problems that have gotten us where we are.

            3. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

              I guess, maybe *you’re* not telling city dwellers to accept new six lane streets and drive throughs. But certainly, that is exactly what happened over the last 60 years, right? Minneapolis and St Paul did have contiguous neighborhoods with well-connected street grids, and now they do not. When Minneapolis proposed removing on-street parking or a thru-lane on any street, let alone one connecting to an on/off-ramp, there is major pushback from regional leaders or people worried about what suburban commuters/visitors will do. In most cases, freeways don’t make getting around within the city much faster than just using local streets.

              1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

                I think you, Spencer, and Monte are making far more of a cultural divide than really exists.

                The majority of people in Minneapolis get around by way of personal car. That is also true (if more dramatically true) in Bloomington. You could build a moat around the city limits, and there would still be muss and fuss about access to freeways and (especially) sufficient on-street parking. In fact to take a total shot in the dark, I would guess that Minneapolis’s on-street parking system is overwhelming used by Minneapolis residents.

                And Monte — while I also appreciate your commentary as well, I do not believe that Bloomington residents are uniform in their opinions on this matter. To read this thread, one would think that nobody who lives in Minneapolis ever drives or parks a car, while every man, woman, and child in Bloomington has their own car and demands their own drive-thru lane at each possible place they go. I know many residents of Bloomington who crave better access for bike/ped/transit. East Bloomington also has a significant low-income population who require better access for bike/ped/transit.

                While some (perhaps many) in Bloomington might be happy to see a new six-lane stroad with drive-thrus, the attitude is certainly not universal.

                1. Monte Castleman

                  I’ve also seen an awful lot of drivers getting on and off the freeway at 31st, 46th, Diamond Lake, etc. I don’t think most of these are suburban residents.

                  There’s always a certain tension between hard-core suburbanists like me and some hard-core urbanists. But I do realize that despite a rhetorical Maginot line, in most cases the difference is more graduated. There’ probably as big as difference between someone in Armitage who drives to work and goes to Taco Bell vs someone how lives in a downtown condo and walks, or a resident of Elko and Bloomington, as between a resident of Bloomington and Minneapolis. I tried to get at this somewhat in my other post about subsidies.

                  But when you have people, presumably mostly from the city, ganging up on what they call “sprawl” and “stroads” (which to me are “suburban growth” and “roads that can actually handle the car traffic”, then it gets hard not to fall into “the few are the same as the whole” fallacy. Maybe we can get some more of the people in the city that drive to work on the freeway and go to Taco Bell on this blog.

                  1. Peter Bajurny

                    Minneapolis has a light rail accessible Taco Bell, and I in fact walked there from my apartment thousands of times when I lived nearby.

                    1. Monte Castleman

                      Maybe, maybe not. I can’t afford a house in a new housing development. I don’t know if I’d want one. Yet I can see why people might want to, just like I see why people might want to live in the city. I support stroads and sprawl and freeways, but still go bicycling for recreation (I haven’t walked or bicycles for transportation in years). So maybe just hardcore compared to the average person here.

                2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

                  I’m aware, and wasn’t trying to make the case that most Minneapolitans are hardcore urbanists or anti-freeway. There is considerable pushback to any bike lane or removal of street parking from city residents *as well as* suburban residents who fear things will be difficult for them.

                  The fact that many people choose to live in an urban, walkable environment but drive to the suburbs for work (and sometimes shopping) highlights there is indeed a preference for that lifestyle, and those people would likely prefer their job to be in the city (all things like pay, industry, hours, etc considered equal).

            4. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

              In general terms, I’d be a lot more sympathetic to the plight of the suburban-minded motorist if there existed any city streets as dangerous and intimidating to drive a car through as American Boulevard is to bike through. Even the “worst” streets for cars are often about the same as the “best” streets for bikes.

        2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

          I appreciate your commentary both as an author and poster here, Monte. But I’ll again point out the vast majority of urbanists don’t see any of those things as evil. Most of them/us own cars.

          Parking isn’t evil. Demanding free on-street parking is self-serving. Cars aren’t evil. But human make human errors when driving on streets designed to accommodate those errors, and people die. 30,000+ of them every year, many of them non-occupants (externalized risk). More per mile driven or 100,000 residents than many other countries. Cars aren’t evil, but internal combustion engines spew CO2 and fine particulates. The latter of which is shown to kill 55,000 Americans prematurely each year, cause pregnancy and respiratory issues, and on and on. The changeover to electric cars will happen, but 1) it will take 30-50 years to become the large majority, and 2) our electric grid will still rely heavily on coal and natural gas, which remove local pollution where cars drive but still emit it.

          There is an important distinction that you continue to ignore. Most people are good people. They make rational decisions based on what’s presented to them. Our policies make driving the easy, rational choice in many situations. In some specific ones (ex. parking minimums at bars) they produce unwanted effects (drunk driving). Taken in aggregate, they pose big problems to society. Not evil. No more evil than watching a TV in your home powered by coal fired plants.

    3. Charles MarohnCharles Marohn Post author

      Thank you, James. I appreciate this take and think you are right on. There are many times to me when it feels like people are passionately debating the color to paint the siding while the house is on fire. This is one of those.

    4. Ethan FawleyEthan Fawley

      Well summed up.


      When I think about this as an individual (not a policy wonk), I’m interested in having the best place to live in for my family now and in the future. I live in a city (Minneapolis), where the cultural and political shift toward more transit/bike/walk and rational land use is farther along than any other place in the state. I’m fundamentally NOT worried about my city building mostly things that will make my quality of life worse because I’m actively working to change paradigms at the city/county level and many have already changed. There will probably be a little bit of new auto-capacity put in on the highways of Minneapolis because of Move MN, but mostly it will go to repaving streets, fixing bridges, building new LRT, expanding Rapid Bus, expanding local bus, adding protected bikeways, and improving pedestrian crossings and accessibility.

      Relative to that benefit I will see in my day-to-day life from those things, I really don’t much care personally if some other city wants to choose an unsustainable (financially, health, environment) path. Sure, I know that means I’ll probably continue to subsidize financially unsustainable sprawl and healthcare for obesity, and face the impacts of global warming, local pollution, and impacted water resources that come with that path. But even with that, my quality of life will be more positively impacted by Rapid Bus on Chicago and LRT in the Greenway by new protected bikeways I can ride on with my wife, son, and mom, etc.

      I respect that others live in different locations and have different priorities than I do (or than my organization does).

      1. Charles MarohnCharles Marohn Post author

        I respect that a lot. The problem here in a small city like Brainerd is that our local conversation is overwhelmed by federal/state transportation dollars. Our entire city budget is $9 million per year (42% local government aid), yet we just built (2014) a $9 million stroad and are planning another $7+ million stroad for 2016. All this while our streets crumble and you can’t safely walk three blocks to the downtown.

        Why are these our priorities? Because that is what we get money to do. And when we d get bike/walk money, it is an appendage to some massive stroad project OR it is a recreational trail (with a huge parking lot).

        Ethan, once the session is over you need to come on my podcast to talk about all of this. I think we’d have a good conversation.

        1. David Greene

          Agreed that Brainerd has a different set of problems than, say, Minneapolis. But the other side of that coin is that you’ve got to expect pushback when Brainerd’s problems are used to justify disinvestment everywhere else.

          I would very much support a Hennepin/Ramsey sales tax for transit but I also know there’s no way in hell that will happen in the current political climate. Given that, I’ll choose transit money however I can get it.

          On the one hand, part of me really wants to let local units of government raise their taxes however they see fit to pay for what they want. On the other hand that means killing Fiscal Disparities which, while probably a net benefit for Minneapolis in the short term, is almost certainly a liability for the state long term.

  9. Nathaniel

    Move MN makes me very uncomfortable. Sure, some bike/ped/transit would be great. But, I’m confident that I would oppose 85% or more of what’s likely to come out of this. I struggle to make that compromise.

  10. Rachel Callanan

    Mr. Marohn, I suggest you read the Move MN proposal and Sen. Dibble’s omnibus transportation bill before criticizing. In Sen. Dibble’s bill the funding for bike/ped programs is over $50M/year that would be invested into an active transportation account and dispersed through the Met Council for the metro area and MnDOT for Greater MN. I’d be happy to share the facts with you. I hope you will retract your misstatement about the level of investment in active transportation. Your math is significantly off and the actual proposal would in fact amount to over $500M/decade in investment in bike/ped.

    1. Nathaniel

      Rachel – My understanding is that Chuck’s argument is that $50m in active transportation funding isn’t worth it under the current system (especially when the vast majority of the funds will be going towards big road project). In other words, he (I’m assuming here) views this as a compromise not worth taking.

    2. Charles MarohnCharles Marohn Post author

      Please post a link to the MoveMN proposal as it is put forth on their site. I’ve seen and heard a lot of different representations but their site is — I think tellingly — seemingly absent any specifics.

      Let me spot you that the number is actually 10X what I’ve read….I get why that is appealing to many, but it still does not change my three points. (1) This is still a massive roads proposal that will bankrupt the cities of this state and, in the process, hurts people. (2) There is no feedback that keeps us from getting right back to where we are now. (3) The local commitment to bike/ped/transit that is necessary to make any money spent transformative will still not be there.

      I appreciate the passion of the bike/ped advocates and often find myself in alignment. I just can’t ignore the larger structural problems that threaten us all far more as well as the shifts in the market (shifts bike/ped advocates should support) that the Move MN proposal will counteract with more top/down money.

  11. David Greene

    It’s pretty tough to look a transit-dependent person in the eye and say, “I’m opposing transit funding because I don’t want road funding.”

    It’s a pretty privileged position to be in to be able to deny people access to opportunity for some theoretical perfection.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      Nope, not at all. Because more road funding will put more people in the position of being poor due to their car they “need” or being pushed out of the market because our road spending subsidized transit-hostile land use. Read the comments above. A token of transit (especially crap like Gold Line) doesn’t make up for the complete failure that comes with doubling down on our existing anti-human land use.

        1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

          Easy. While it sucks that our past spending on automobile infrastructure have created a land use that screws you over, spending more on the subsidizing even more job sprawl will make your life worse. Even if there’s some token transit to the outer parking lots of the unwalkable jobs of suburbia.

            1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

              Read the comments that describe exactly why Move MN is worse than nothing at all. NOC has a mission largely thanks to how automobile-oriented planning destroyed urban communities and entrenched de-facto segregation. More sprawl subsidies for corporate campuses and McMansions is not in line with NOC’s objectives.

    2. Charles MarohnCharles Marohn Post author

      That comment is lazy, simplistic and downright offensive.

      It is like saying you want someone on food stamps to starve because you don’t support corn subsidies. Give me a break.

      1. David Greene

        Well Charles, you don’t actually address the issue, do you?

        What are YOU .going to say to someone dependent on transit today, looking into their eyes?

        I don’t see how considering people’s needs TODAY is at all simplistc. It’s getting down in the mud to wrestle with real life rather than sitting in the simplistic ivory tower of speculation.

        1. Charles MarohnCharles Marohn Post author

          I’m not going to get bullied into engaging your ridiculous premise beyond pointing out that the Move MN proposal does nothing TODAY for the transit user, even if it were adopted.

          If you’d like to have an intellectual discussion about how we meet the immediate needs of today’s transit users, do your own post on the issue and then we’ll discuss. I’m discussing a 10-year, $11 billion transportation proposal. I’m happy to engage you on that.

          1. David Greene

            Charles, this is the real deal. If legislators take your advice and oppose MoveMN, they will have to go back to their transit-dependent constituents and explain why they didn’t support transit funding.

            What would you say to those folks? I’m honestly curious. You can dodge the question all you want but transit-dependent people cannot. It’s another privilege you and I share.

            I’m not sure how MoveMN does nothing for transit given it provides a whole new funding source for buses in addition to transitways.

            Please explain how my premise is “ridiculous.” It’s the real situation people are in.

            1. Jim Kumon

              David – I live in an area where transit dependent people live in because there are actually a few half decent options. MoveMN doesn’t make their lives better. There’s no serious discussion going on at the legislature, despite some lobbying for:
              – More stable funding for bus operations so service could be better planned and delivered over time (despite Chair Duininick’s best efforts this session)
              – Funding that increases frequency of transit service 20 hours a day
              – Provides money to help tame streets where cars drive too fast so you don’t get run over walking to or boarding transit,
              (not because drivers are bad, but because it is human nature to drive the design speed of the street that’s overly wide due directly because of the State Standards that accompany funding sources)
              – That creates a network of robust transit options that improves service in the area where there currently exists the highest intensity of residents and jobs (walkable urbanism built before 1950) in the region, instead of pie-in-the-sky build it and they will come TOD in parking lots next to empty fields.
              – Allowing cities (not counties!)) where the citizens and the land use can reasonably support transit, tax themselves to provide it and absolutely not force cities that lack both to pay in.

              The list goes on. These things would actually matter and help the day to day lives of people using transit, need or not, and they get basically no serious consideration. Some of it is in the platform almost to just say we tried.

              Even if the legislature funded the next several planned transit corridors, tell me how much that helps folks who are transit dependent compared to how much we are paying? The 2040 MetCouncil corridor map doesn’t actually serve the people most likely and most needy to take transit. It builds rail and BRT that all end in empty fields and huge parking lots. Look at the most expensive parts of SWLRT: bridges over swamps and freeways and tunnels through sensitive parks/habitats. We could put dependent folks with jobs in the burbs in Uber cars for cheaper than some of that stuff. And that would at least prevent them from having to walk along 7 lane stroads next to cars moving 50 mph, across 100′ intersections to get to their final destination after they leave the train station. It’s an inhuman proposition where some of these stations are sited with millions of dollars of new infrastructure that no one knows how to pay for either. But, if the state/feds are going to pay for all that infrastructure, why would the business move anywhere else?

              I’m a transit rider and supporter who doesn’t want to see the current transit plan funded because of how badly we’ve setup the investments to underperform. Let’s stop trying to coerce people out of their cars, asking them to also pay for a system they reasonably wouldn’t use. Let’s help the people already in a non-car situation, by choice or not.

              Give cities the power to band together and pay for their transit and road investments themselves. Just don’t ask them to also pay for the whole overbuilt road network across the entire state, too – yesterday’s mistakes. Have a baseline fund for only the main trunk state routes that serve everyone and let county and cities keep their own money to prioritize as they wish for the rest.

              We have a systemic problem because the State Legislature wants all the control, but none of the responsibility of what happens when their policies create a negative long term financial feedback loop for municipalities’ bottom lines. Chuck’s examples of road projects that are larger than the city’s annual budget should show how out of whack our funding system has enabled places to have infrastructure they couldn’t afford the first time and can’t afford now. Continuing to enable the addiction to these funds can’t be good for any Minnesota taxpayer, city, suburb or small town.

              1. David Greene

                I’m pretty sure the sales tax provision in MoveMN allows money to go to bus operations. Capital for sure but I’m fairly certain operations too. It would fund the planned aBRT lines which are very urban and serve the most used bus routes.

                There are lots of jobs in the SW corridor, especially in those tricky Eden Prairie places. They are within walking distance too if I’m remembering the station graphics correctly.

                Your Uben idea smacks of the Republican “but everyone a Lexus!” distraction. Putting MORE cars on the roads makes things worse.

                MoveMN is not perfect, far from it. But it’s much better than doing nothing. Nothing doesn’t get the status quo changed either. At least more transit/bike/ped fundings gives more people the chance to choose something other than cars. It makes that many more people invested in our transit system.

                1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

                  One of these days, I’ll have time to write my Eden Prairie stop post, but in quick summary: sort of.

                  Eden Prairie Town Center has jobs, housing, entertainment and shopping. It makes obvious sense as a stop.

                  Golden Triangle has low-density industrial that has jobs, but nothing else. Given ample parking and lack of sidewalks, what’s there now does not look like it’s viable for a stop (obviously, there are future plans).

                  Mitchell is in the middle of an open field. There are sidewalks and bike paths to connect to the large Optum/UHC campus that’s up the road and whatever the large business is across from it, so there’s the chance of it making sense, but depends a lot on future development too.

                  Also, you can’t build more roads without putting more cars on them. Not saying that wins the day, but still.

                  1. David Greene

                    One thing I did not realize about Mitchell until I was on the CAC is that there is a large Somali population within walking distance of the station. I think we’re going to have to cut Mitchell but it’s a real shame. I hope EP puts in some bike infrastructure to get people from there to wherever SWLRT terminates.

  12. Jim Erkel

    I agree with most of your diagnosis and the treatments that are needed. The problem is that you are unwilling to act until all of the conditions are right for treatment. Medicine doesn’t work that way and neither does public policy.. You are also right that more auto-based sprawl is not in NOC’s interests. However, neither you nor I should presume to know what NOC might be willing to accept as a trade-off to get what is in their interest.

    If you accepted David’s challenge, you would be telling NOC ‘your life is bad and it will continue to be bad until the contradictions of auto-dominated land use and transportation planning and regulation result in fundamental change. I will continue to point that out but I’m not going to really do anything about it.’ It might just be me but I don’t see that as a winning strategy in community organizing or political action.

    1. Charles MarohnCharles Marohn Post author

      I’m more than willing to work incrementally in the right direction. I’m not an absolutist. I just believe more positive will happen incrementally without a comprehensive transportation bill than with one.

      1. Jim Erkel

        Charles — I apologize. I was responding to Matt’s comment. I must have hit the wrong button.

      2. David Greene

        I am honestly interested in this. How do you propose we make incremental progress in metro-area transit? How do we get the needed funding? I’d love to be told I’ve missed an obvious idea.

        1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

          Well, there are ways Metro Transit could improve service without increasing funding. Moving to quarter mile stop spacing could save the agency 5-8% of operating budget, a portion (or all) could be plowed back into running buses more frequently. David Levinson’s post on transit signage highlighted research showing a 6-17% increase in ridership due to better system legibility. Even if you assume 5% more riders paying fares, that’s a pretty big return on investment (and yes, I’m aware they’re rolling some of this out).

          Buses could go to all-door boarding with card readers at the rear (again, reducing dwell times improves running times which can be put back into service hours on that line or elsewhere). This has worked pretty darn well in San Francisco. Off-board payment on all routes. Etc. Those are incremental changes that Metro transit could be rolling out today at very low cost that would allow improvements to the bus system where people already use it. We’re not even talking a system-redesign like Houston did (not sure what the outcome of something like that could/would be).

          Those are just some ideas. They don’t solve all of metro-area #transitproblems, for sure. We could argue about the priority or cost/benefit for many bigger projects in the pipeline, but I won’t say that big projects don’t play a big part in improving regional transit. It’s just, it’s hard to look a transit user in the face and say all this additional money is going to be so great when our regional track record with mega-projects is fairly spotty.

          1. David Greene

            Those are all good things to do but how does it get the transit-dependent rider access to a job? Longer running hours and better frequency will help but we need some bigger capital investment to expand the system. Imrproving service for those already regaularly using transit to get to jobs, while important, doesn’t at all help those who are currently cut off.

            Things like of-board fare payment cost real money. Just look at the cost of TVMs. Even if you go to quarter-mile stops (which I’m generally in favor of), you’ll spend boatloads converting the entire system. Even if you limit it to routes in the core you’re going to spend a ton.

            Somehow I have a hard time believing we’ll get 5% new transit riders just by changing signs.

            Stuff costs money and Metro Transit doesn’t have enough of it.

    2. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      Speaking of medicine, there’s that primum non nocere (first, do no harm) principle in medical ethics. We need that in land use and transportation just as we do in medicine. First, do no harm. No new roads. We don’t give medicine that feeds cancer cells. First, do no harm.

      1. Jim Erkel

        That’s great but life is messy and sometimes you have to decide between harms. In fact, sometimes you can’t avoid harm in ultimately helping a patient. In health care, we want the doctor to fully disclose conditions, discuss options, and obtain the patient’s consent for treatment. It is also why a patient should always think about getting a second opinion. You can tell NOC what they should think but they have the right to tell you to stick it in your ear.

        1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

          Yeah, they should get a second opinion. From people outside the roadbuilding lobby. That’s what this article is for. It’s the equivalent of “don’t trust what this multinational drug company is telling you is good for your health.”

  13. Jim Erkel

    And if the multinational is the only one that invested the time and effort in manufacturing a drug that would cure your problem now but the treatment runs the risk of some long-term side effects, the patient should have the right, after full disclosure of the risks, to proceed with the drug treatment.

    1. Jim Kumon

      I would agree, if the risks were indeed unknown – if you couldn’t be sure that this would end badly or not. Except the problem is, we have 50 years of watching how transportation led, auto scaled land use configuration works out financially for cities built or modified in such a way. The ending doesn’t look to be happy, here are real numbers of real places:

      http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2015/5/10/lafayette – the graph midway down shows green happens to be in the human scaled old city and the red is almost all auto scaled land use – costing more than it produces across an entire county.

      The drug unfortunately doesn’t cure either, it at best extends your life a little longer and probably not at a very good level of quality, either. It certainly may be a painkiller, but it shouldn’t be confused with having life saving capacity.

      1. Monte Castleman

        So we can’t build streets that actually move cars and drive thrus on a bypass to the town, and we can’t build streets that actually move cars and drive-thrus in the middle of town? Is everyone supposed to drive on slow, 20 mph streets and waste an hour at slow-food restaurant? Where do they go then? And if you say “nowhere” that’s the kind of “impose our urban will on the suburbs whether they like it or not” thinking. Brainerd may not want a Taco Johns in downtown (though apparently they do) but they shouldn’t be saying “don’t build it in Baxter either) for the people that just want to get some quick food on their way to the cabin.

        1. David Greene

          Actually I would love it if everyone drobe 20 mph on the streets near my house.

          20 mph is not that slow . It’s only slow in your mind because we’ve sprawled so much.

          I totally agree with Charles’ and others contention that people wanting more and more roads ought to pay for the full cost.

          And before you say it, no, I don’t think transit users should pay the whole cost yet because they’ve been left so far behind over 80 years. Think of it as Affirmative Action for people choosing a more sustainable living arrangement.

      2. Jim Erkel

        The risks that must be disclosed are the known ones. It make any sense to disclose unknown risks. Still, it is the patient’s choice to make. For them, an extension of life, even if at reduced quality of life, may be just what they want. If you don’t respect their wishes, you’ve become the equivalent of a death panel.

        I think we’ve run the health care analogy into the ground. I promise to stop!


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