Prove you’re not a hypocrite, Betsy Hodges

Betsy Hodges’ remarks on SWLRT, delivered at the vote today on the staff recommendation for the Kenilworth corridor and freight reroute, strike me as hypocritical at best, childish at worst. She castigates the staff recommendation as entirely favoring St Louis Park (although acknowledging that SLP opposes freight rail proximity to station locations), but the “other, better alternatives” Hodges has publicly acknowledged are freight rail relocation alternatives, which, of course, only favor Minneapolis. So it’s duplicitous of her to imply she wants a compromise.

Now I can understand that as mayor of Minneapolis she wouldn’t want a compromise, but one thing she should want and claims to want is LRT. Her position opposing the staff recommendation carries the very real risk of stopping the SWLRT project, which is the only remaining opportunity in this region for massively improving transit in one fell swoop. Bottineau, Gateway, Rush Line and of course the streetcars are all peanuts without SWLRT, and probably depend on its completion for their success.

If Hodges had any record whatsoever of supporting transit in any way, I might believe her that she supports transit but is opposed to this particular project. But in every transportation decision that she’s had any part in, no mode but driving has been advanced in any significant way, so it seems more likely to me that Hodges is just another suburban politician blowing smoke to get the urban vote, all too common in Minneapolis (cough RT cough). The real test will be municipal consent, of course, but I don’t see any reason to celebrate a statement that opposes a badly needed step towards improving transit in the Twin Cities, and appears to do so for entirely parochial reasons.

In her short mayoralty, Hodges’ primary accomplishment seems to have been finding $1m to make driving in Minneapolis even easier. If she’s serious about transit, she has one of two options:

  • actually come up with an alternative that would somehow both please Saint Louis Park and Minneapolis, despite the fact that their disagreement is essentially binary; or
  • recognize that the immense benefits of SWLRT overshadow the minor problems with the Kenilworth route, that the legitimate process issues she identified in her remarks are can now only be useful to bring up as teachable moments, that a real leader would be gracious rather than petty in defeat, and lead her people towards the next step of mitigating their losses but also accepting the benefits of the situation, which in this case are substantial.

How Hodges speaks leading up to the municipal consent vote could make a difference, but to make these hypocritical remarks in the face of certain defeat, and then to publicize them, doesn’t give me hope that she’ll grow up, let alone act like the leader of a major American city.

4/3 update: Laura Yuen’s piece for MPR diminishes what little hope I had that Hodges will suck it up and do the right thing:

Andy Hestness, vice president of the Native American Community Development Institute in the Phillips neighborhood, suggested dropping the northern tunnel to preserve the 21st Street station, which he said is the best way Franklin Avenue buses in south Minneapolis could access the proposed light-rail line.

“It’s all about connectivity,” Hestness said.

Some committee members, eager to shave up to $60 million by eliminating one of the tunnels, seized on the idea. They asked Hodges her thoughts on the plan, but she said defending the shallow tunnels in any form put her in a difficult position.

The difficult position to which Hodges refers is, of course, deviating in any way from the position of the wealthy DFL donors that live along Kenilworth.

The best laid plans

Last week the Transportationist noted and reposted the Comprehensive LRT System Plan for Hennepin County, a 1988 vintage addition to the Twin Cities’ sky-high stack of written-and-forgotten plans.  This particular collection of fantastical fireplace fuel was posted on the official site for the Southwest Transitway, presumably to display their staff’s inability to use a scanner (a deficit I share as you’ll shortly see).  The Transportationist concluded his post with a call for a map of the routes planned in the “1970s ‘Regional Fixed Guideway Study'”.

At last an opportunity to share the fruit of my many hours of sequestration in the Minneapolis Stewart L. Central Library!  I’m not sure if I have exactly the map he’s looking for, but I do have a few items that likely will be of interest.  The first comes from Rail Rapid Transit, a report produced by Vorhees & Associates for the MTC in 1969.

The other is the Fast Link System, which I got from a doc called Fast Link Rail-Rapid Transit for Minneapolis, produced in 1972 by Don Fraser’s City Coordinator IIRC in a desperate effort to influence the Met Council and the Legislature (aka the decision-makers) to choose a transit policy that would actually benefit the city.

I believe, based on the references I’ve stumbled on occasionally, that the Fast Link plan was the one that had the most support, as opposed to the Vorhees plan.  It’s kind of hard to tell based on the scan that I made a few minutes before the library closed, but most of the Fast Link plan was proposed to be subway, with a few aerial segments.  As the 70s slithered on, this plan seems to have evolved into an option that had PRT-like segments through the downtowns and at the University, and curiously split into two one-way segments in St Paul, one of which was proposed for University and the other for I-94.  This iteration appeared in the Met Council’s 1975 Automated Small Vehicle Fixed Guideway Report along with a more traditional subway plan.

I have to admit that I didn’t have a chance to read through this one in detail, so I’m not sure if these were plans that were being seriously advocated for or if they were merely sacrificial lambs.  This is the report that set high-quality transit back for decades in Minnesota, as it was forwarded by the Met Council to the Legislature, which promptly banned the study of fixed guideway rail transit (as will be seen later).  These rail plans were compared with the Met Council’s adopted transit policy, which favored a network express buses with possible people mover systems in the downtowns.  According to the report, the rail plans would somehow not have serviced non-downtown locations as well as express buses, and the non-PRT plan wouldn’t even have served the downtowns well.  35 years later we know what hooey that was, as anyone who’s attempted to take one of the routes in today’s highly developed express bus network anywhere besides Downtown Minneapolis or Downtown St Paul.  But I concede it’s possible that at the time they really didn’t know that people would be willing to walk a bit further in exchange for reliable, fast, frequent transit, just as they didn’t know that gently suggesting that cities not allow non-sewered large-lot development wouldn’t contain sprawl.  On the other hand, the apparent lack of effort to develop a true bidirectional express bus network for the next three decades is also compelling evidence that this “Report” was utter bullshit, designed to funnel state money into highways.

Anyway, my sense is that by this point transit advocates were feeling a sense of panic and despair comparable to that I imagine is currently being felt by the GOP, at least at the MN level.  This can be gleaned from the timeline provided in the 1988 Hennepin County LRT plan, which I would really love to have been able to just copy and paste:

Planning for a variety of fixed guideway transit systems has proceeded almost continuously in the Twin Cities since the late 1960s.  [Here I would have added "to little or no effect."  -Alex] Some of the major events of that history include:

  • MTC sponsored analyses of various technologies, early 1970s
  • MTC – Small Vehicle Study, 1974
  • Minnesota Legislature prohibition of fixed rail planning, 1975 [! -Alex]
  • University of Minnesota Transitway, 1976
  • St. Paul Downtown People Mover, 1976-1980
  • Minnesota Legislature lifts prohibition of fixed rail planning, 1980
  • Light Rail Transit Feasibility Study, 1981
  • Hiawatha Avenue Location and Design Study – EIS, 1979-1984
  • I-394 High Occupancy Vehicle Roadway, 1982
  • University/Southwest Alternatives Analysis, 1985 (draft)
  • Metropolitan Council/RTB identify LRT as preferred mode in University, Southwest and Hiawatha Corridors; University is the priority corridor
  • LRT Implementation Planning Program, April 1985
  • Minnesota Legislature prohibition of fixed guideway planning, 1985 [This is not an accidental duplication - it apparently happened again.  How did this get past Perpich? - Alex]
  • Transit Service Needs Assessment, Regional Transit Board, 1986
  • A Study of Potential Transit Capital Investments in Twin Cities Corridors – Long-Range Transit Analysis, Metropolitan Council, December 1986
  • Minnesota Legislature lifts prohibition of fixed guideway planning, 1987
  • Comprehensive LRT System Planning for Hennepin County, 1988

So next time you’re feeling proud of Minnesota’s history of relatively sane governance, remember that the Legislature managed to interfere in what should be a technical decision not once but twice.  And lest you think that these poxes on transit are just a product of overreach by Republicans on the rare occasion that they gain complete power, the 1975 Legislature was overwhelmingly DFL, and Wendy Anderson of St Paul was in the Governor’s Mansion.  Of course, in 1975 it wasn’t necessarily an anti-transit attitude that was prevalent; more likely it was a misunderstanding of the nature of urban systems masqueraded as futurism in the form of People Movers and PRT.  This same Legislature, after all, further empowered the Met Council, which itself is a culmination of the suburban experiment – the failed idea of the Broadacre City, made more palatable in its rationalization of the overdelivery of infrastructure that’s inherent in such an individualistic urban form.

Anyway, in the above timeline is included the 1981 LRT Feasibility Study, which was produced by an apparently repentant (or possibly begrudging) Met Council.  This is available in a form that patrons of the Stewart J. Central Library can check out, which I did last summer, resulting in these atrocious scans:

West LRT

Southwest LRT

University LRT

Northeast LRT

And a summary sheet indicating that the fully built LRT system (including a Northwest line, which I didn’t scan for some reason but was probably pretty similar to the Bottineau LPA) would serve 32,900 more weekday passengers than an existing or minimally improved system, and would actually turn an operating profit of $4.8m a year.

With that, I’ll close the vault for now.  If you liked these and want more, don’t worry – I spend a lot of time at the library, and unlike our transit system, the archive of old transit studies is almost limitless.

To a mouse.

Bottineau-no for North, part II

In my last post, I went through some of the reasons why existing land use is unlikely to support even the medium-capacity transit system provided by LRT or BRT Bottineau alignments.  In the absence of inflated commuter ridership figures, the only compelling reason to build the line is economic development.  But if Bottineau is being built primarily for economic development, why is it avoiding the most economically disadvantaged part of the state?  If Bottineau is supposed to encourage the development of housing and jobs along the line, why not route it to areas in need of redevelopment rather than to the fringe?  Why should we spend a billion dollars to just encourage more development on the edge of town?

If a goal of the line is economic development, there is a better northern terminus:  Brooklyn Center.  According to DEED data compiled by the Met Council, Brooklyn Center lost more than 5,000 jobs between 2000 and 2010, which is no more than a crumb of the Metro area’s total jobs (around 1.5m), but represents almost a third of the jobs once held in this community within easy commuting distance of some of the state’s poorest neighborhoods.  Developing a major job center on the old Brookdale site would have been ideal from a regional planning standpoint:  more so than the sprawling Arbor Lakes area (this is where a pedestrian was recently hit and killed by a car while on the sidewalk), and especially the fringe site of Target Suburban Headquarters, Brooklyn Center is adequately served by existing transportation infrastructure, including an easy (if theoretical) bus ride from the Fridley Northstar station.

Target Suburban HQ on Brookdale's footprint

Right-of-way is readily available in the median of Hwy 100 – at about 25′, it’s not quite wide enough for LRT guideway, so it would likely require some reconstruction of the roadway, probably shrinking the outside shoulders a bit – and alongside Shingle Creek Pkwy further north.  The most expensive elements would be flyovers from the BNSF track north of Robbinsdale onto Hwy 100 and from the freeway onto Shingle Creek, and widening or replacing the bridge over Twin Lakes.  I depicted a station at France, but since that would require a good 45′ of median, the full roadway would need to be reconstructed and the overpass replaced, so the low-density area probably wouldn’t immediately be worth the expense.  Anyway by the time this is built, Surly will probably have moved to their “destination” brewery, so no big loss.

This route may seem indirect, but I think it makes more sense in terms of regional connectivity and suburb-to-suburb travel.  Assuming a network of freeway BRT-ish routes, a more complete grid would be formed by extending a Hwy 100 route along Bottineau Blvd north of Robbinsdale rather than jutting east to Brookdale.

Would a Brookdale route be time-competitive with cars?  Google says that the fastest route from Brooklyn Center Transit Center to 4th & Hennepin is 13 minutes without congestion.  Based on the average speeds of Hiawatha, a light rail version of my proposed route running in a tunnel from the BNSF line to Plymouth and I-94 would take 17 minutes from Bass Lake Road (near Brooklyn Center Transit Center) to the Warehouse District station, about 30% longer than google  (and much less time than the existing express buses, which go through Camden and take about a half hour).  That compares well to Central LRT, which takes about 29% longer than the 94 route (if you believe the dubious claims) and a whopping 89% of google’s drive time.

Approx. route for Bottineau on bedrock map of North Mpls - red is segment in tunnel

Of course, tunneling is expensive, and as I mentioned above, it’s hard to believe the Penn or Wirth-Olson alternatives will deliver the ridership to justify even surface-running light rail.  But we’re not talking about New York or Seattle here – North Minneapolis lies on an excellent surface for deep-bore tunneling, easy-digging sandstone capped with a solid, stable roof of limestone.  Best of all for a Northside route, the portals would both lie in a sandstone layer.  Based on Hiawatha’s tunneling costs, the 5 km required for a Northside LRT subway would cost $300m, about a third of the projected costs for the other LRT alternatives.  Best of all, it would reach the heart of North Minneapolis without destroying existing communities or severing the street grid.  I think it’s worth considering, but the project managers do not.  Here is an email I sent them two years ago and their response:

12/04/2009 01:10 PM

To: bottineau@co.hennepin.mn.us

cc: gail.dorfman@co.hennepin.mn.us

Subject: complete Alternatives Analysis for Bottineau

Hi,

In order to completely evaluate the alternatives for the Bottineau corridor, another alternative should be considered that would be light-rail or bus in a tunnel through North Minneapolis.

Minneapolis and Hennepin County are finally ready for world-class transit and, considering the major overhaul in Federal transportation funding due next year, the Federal government may finally be ready to give Americans the quality in public transit that they deserve (and that has been exclusively bestowed on the motoring public up to now).

North Minneapolis has some of the highest rates of transit ridership in the Twin Cities, and, after a history of public disinvestment in the area, they deserve a high-quality transit line. I am confident that, if projections take into consideration a built-out transit system, the ridership would justify the higher cost. It would also benefit the suburban commuters as a grade-separated direct route would likely offer the quickest travel time into and out of downtown Minneapolis.

I have more ideas about an North Minneapolis subway alternative for the Bottineau Corridor, and, if you’re interested, I’d be happy to expound on them. If not, I thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Alex

From: “bottineau@co.hennepin.mn.us” <bottineau@co.hennepin.mn.us>

To: Alex Bauman

Sent: Friday, December 11, 2009 4:25 PM

Subject: Re: complete Alternatives Analysis for Bottineau

Mr. Bauman,

Thank you for your email regarding the Bottineau Transitway Alternatives Analysis Study and your thoughts regarding a tunnel alignment concept through North Minneapolis.

We share your interests in providing high quality transit services for Twin Cities residents including those who live in North Minneapolis.

As you likely know, our study process is being conducted in collaboration with FTA guidelines as they exist today. Hennepin County is also actively engaged in policy development and FTA proposed rule making regarding transitway investment programs in collaboration with our Minnesota legislative delegation in Washington DC.

Like you, we are also looking forward to potential changes in the Federal Transportation Re-authorization Bill and how this bill may lead to enhance the quality of transit provided in the United States, the Twin Cities Region, and Hennepin County. Should the transportation bill direct transformational changes in the way transit investments are made, Hennepin County and other units of government will be obligated to study the implications of these changes on the Bottineau Corridor.

However, we also think you deserve a sober historical perspective and look to the future regarding the potential to pursue a transitway tunnel design through North Minneapolis. As you’ve indicated, tunnels are costly (often in the range of 10 times the amount of a surface facility) and need substantial user benefits in order to justify their costs. It is instructive to consider that transitway tunnel construction in this country has been implemented through densely populated areas and/or high activity centers. Examples that come to mind include New York City, the Seattle Central Business District, and the San Francisco Central Business District. Relatively short segment tunnels have also been implemented for high activity centers such as San Diego State University Campus, the University of Washington Campus (entering construction at a expected cost of $1.95 Billion), and the Hiawatha LRT tunnel beneath our Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport. It should also be noted that tunnels tend to be implemented with high capacity transit modes such as subway metro lines. These systems provide higher capacity/utility than intermediate capacity BRT or LRT mode systems and can more easily justify tunneling costs.

The most recent local example of transit tunneling investigation/feasibility is for the Central Corridor LRT segment along Washington Avenue through the U of M campus. The cost estimate for a 2,050 foot tunnel was $128 Million above the cost of a surface running facility. This translates to a per mile cost of $329 Million. This estimate assumes no stations in the tunnel segment (stations add substantially to the cost of underground construction). It was determined that this tunnel segment was not feasible and the current Central Corridor LRT project includes a surface transit operations along Washington Avenue.

The approximate distance between 36th Avenue in Robbinsdale and the Minneapolis Transportation Interchange facility near Target Field is approximately 4.7 miles [He appears to be measuring here using the Wirth-Olson alignment, as though I'd suggest putting that already largely grade-separated alignment in a tunnel.  As the crow flies, the distance between 36th & the Interchange is 3.7 miles, and as I mentioned above, I think a tunnel could be limited to about 5 km. - Alex]. Using the $329 Million per mile cost from above to illustrate a rough order of magnitude, the cost of a transit tunnel through North Minneapolis could be in excess of $1.5 Billion without accounting for station facilities. This would more than double the current Bottineau Transitway alternative cost estimates.

North Minneapolis is a mix of single family with some higher density multi-family dwellings. This area does have relatively strong transit ridership now and potential into the future. Considering the growing needs around the country for transit investments one can appreciate how transformational the transportation re-authorization bill and funding program would need to be in order to justify long tunnel segments through lower density neighborhoods like North Minneapolis for intermediate capacity transit service like LRT.

In summary, your input is appreciated and we look forward to assessing how the federal transportation re-authorization bill will affect transitway concepts for the Bottineau Corridor.

Please let me know if you have additional questions or would like more information.

Regards,

Brent Rusco

An LRT subway station in a suburb of Stuttgart mostly characterized by single-family homes

He does a good, and probably justified, job of making me sound crazy.  He also builds his argument around tunneling projects that are entirely unlike those that would be reasonably considered for Bottineau.  I already mentioned that Minneapolis has a much more stable geology for tunneling than Seattle’s Ring of Fire location or New York’s famously hard and unstable schist.  Sandstone is called sand stone for a reason.  The Washington Ave example is more subtly inapplicable – a cut-and-cover tunnel was proposed for an extremely dense environment; even the cut-and-cover tunnel on Nicollet in Whittier studied for Southwest LRT was expected to cost less, and a deep-bored tunnel would certainly be less expensive per mile.  Finally, it’s ludicrous to suggest that LRT systems are rarely in tunnels; there are dozens of counter-examples, including Bergen’s system, which has around half the per km cost of Hiawatha despite running in tunnels for a quarter of its route.

It may seem inconsistent to say that land use doesn’t support the Wirth-Olson LRT proposal, but at the same time to champion an LRT subway.  The difference is a matter of objectives – the existing Bottineau process has the objective of “improving regional mobility” in the context of a transportation-engineering institution that has been slowly evolving over the past few decades until it at last includes factors such as effect on low-income communities.  But Bottineau as proposed runs through low-density areas, serves few job centers and generally avoids low-income communities, so it doesn’t really meet that objective.

A Bottineau process that considered a light-rail tunnel would probably be too expensive to meet traditional quasi-economic standards (though those traditional standards are giving a green light to a $700m roadway to carry 25,000 cars across the St Croix River), so it would need to come out of a more holistic institution, one that considered urban development  (and underdevelopment) and social justice (and injustice) along with transportation.   We do not live in a nation that considers urban development or social justice; instead we are a nation that is beholden to its land speculation industry and ignores centuries of racial discrimination while asserting a veneer of pluralism.   That is the nation we live in, but those of us who spend more time living in an ideal nation in the sky or in our heads will continue dreaming of an ideal transportation system, one that includes an LRT subway for North Minneapolis.

The next and final segment in this series will take us back to reality somewhat.  If reality is more your sort of thing, look for it here next week.

Bottineau-no for North, part I

I’ve always wondered how Central Corridor – running on existing right-of-way and enhancing what has long been an overburdened bus line serving thousands of low-income Minnesotans – can be compared to I-94 – which tore down entire blocks for a dozen miles to serve higher-income motorists.  Still the NAACP has been tenacious in their lawsuit against the project, which may be less of an indication of the staying power of racial issues than the depth of NIMBYism in American culture.

The Penn Alternative

That’s why it’s even more difficult to understand why the Bottineau Transitway project is still considering an alignment that would affect dozens of properties along Penn Ave.  I went to one of the recent open houses and heard the nervous queries of residents whose houses would be taken.  On top of the question of sensitivity towards racial issues in light of the history of racial iniquities perpetrated by the transportation engineering profession, the project mangers should remember that each resident is a prospective plaintiff.

All my streets, Lord, soon be widened

Not that it’s a terrible plan, if you forget that its subject area is a city in the USA with a typically long history of racial injustice.  Certainly the Northside was platted with too narrow streets – the quarter’s central artery, the inaptly name Broadway, is 80′ for only a mile east of Knox, but I believe it’s North’s widest street not counting the frontage road that is Washington Ave.  The Penn Alternative would widen the street to around 90-100′, assuming 20′ for two sidewalk/boulevards, 26′ for guideway, and 44′ for through and parking lanes.  The plan as pdfed includes some superfluous right turn lanes but otherwise is pretty close to what a quality design for an enhanced streetcar line would look like.

The biggest problem is that even the City of Minneapolis acknowledges, in its comments to the Scoping phase, that “it is not known whether [the parcels that would need partial takings for the Penn Alternative] could be redeveloped.”  Of course they could be redeveloped, especially in conjunction with the remainder of their blocks (i.e. the parcels facing Queen), but the question is whether there would be money and will.  The former is self-explanatory, the latter is a cultural issue – after a chunk of the parcels were taken for redevelopment, they wouldn’t meet the city’s “buildable” standard for single family lots.  I would say that only a dysfunctional culture would even want to build single family homes along a light-rail line, but we are still deep in the cult of Nimby, so that is what any community-based plan would likely call for.  Even if by some miracle apartments were proposed, developers would likely find the narrow parcels awkward for building.  Redeveloping the whole block would be expensive, politically difficult, and given the track record of large-scale public redevelopment in this country, potentially ghettoizing.

I guess it’s the Wirth-Olson alignment then

Double beg button on the wrong side of the pole from the walking path

Olson Highway is easily one of the worst roads in the state – an extremely wide ROW littered with beg buttons and broken sidewalks and a median that’s often less a refuge than a corral – so I hope that the city, county and state take this as an opportunity to improve it.  Unfortunately, preliminary concepts for the alignment along Olson put the track in the median.  This despite Olson’s 25k AADT, which easily fits on two lanes in each direction (and does fit on two lanes further west on Olson), especially with Olson’s ample room for turn lanes.

As much as LRT would improve Olson, I’m not sure I can support it on the Wirth-Olson alignment.  It’s a classic Dallas scenario – the line would strategically avoid all of the dense areas that would supply it with riders.  More than a year ago, Yonah Freemark pointed out that Dallas has the longest light rail system in the country, but still manages to skirt its densest neighborhoods.  Unfortunately we are seeing a similar path of least resistance followed in the Twin Cities of the North, where the Olson-Wirth alignment’s densest neighborhood would be Robbinsdale, where the 5.2 households per acre is closer to the standard for intermediate frequency bus service, and a bit more than half of what’s required to support light rail.  Densities are actually lower along Olson in North Minneapolis, where the local Hope VI renewal project replaced the rowhouses of Sumner Field with fewer units than were destroyed.

TLC's awesome employment density map, from their 2008 Transportation Performance Report

Commuter ridership is a dicey proposition as well.  While Downtown Minneapolis has slightly more jobs than Downtown Dallas, the prospects for reverse commuting are much lower on Bottineau than on any LRT line developed or proposed here so far.  Using the job cluster map produced by Reconnecting America, you can see that Hiawatha serves around 45,000 non-CBD jobs, most of which are clustered around the airport and MOA stations (that’s not counting Minneapolis South, which contains 26,000 jobs but stretches far west of Hiawatha).  Central LRT will serve a remarkable 125,000 non-(Minneapolis) CBD jobs, again mostly clustered along the line.  Southwest LRT will hit around 55,000 non-CBD jobs, although they’re less clustered so perhaps less likely to take the train.

Bottineau, in contrast, serves just two non-CBD job clusters:  Osseo, with a respectable 24,235 jobs, but over a sprawling area that stretches up to three miles from the nearest proposed station; and Maple Grove, with a barely noticeable 3,892 jobs but that still manages to be one of the lowest-density clusters on the map.  While both job clusters are likely growing, the growth would have to be spectacular and compact to begin to approach the job density of other transitways.  Target’s Suburban Headquarters, which is sometimes said to “anchor” the B alternative of the northern end of Bottineau, is projected to grow to a mammoth 5,200 jobs by 2014.

So Bottineau will add maybe 30,000 sprawling jobs to the 371,000 already connected by the three other transitways when it comes online.  It will pass through very low density areas.  It will cost almost a billion dollars.  Are we sure we want to do this?  What are some other alternatives?  I’ll explore them in my next couple posts.

How does your light rail go?

For reasons that will become clear before long, I’ve calculated the average speed on each segment of the Hiawatha line (which apparently for the purpose of marginalizing those with color blindness has been renamed after some color, not sure which).

More precisely, I’ve calculated the average scheduled speeds – I used the posted schedule for the line and Google Earth to measure the track length to get the average speed.  Segments are measured from the apparent midpoint of each platform, and where the two tracks deviate or the tracks disappear under an airport or a megamall I guessed a bit or used the rail layer from GE.

In an interesting twist, the scheduled speeds diverge a bit from the official map.  The map shows 2 minutes between Target Field and Warehouse District stations, but 3 minutes are scheduled, perhaps for padding at this terminal, where I believe trains often reverse.  More mystifying is the reversal where the official map shows 2 minutes between Franklin and Lake and 3 between Lake and 38th, but the schedule switches those.  It makes more sense for the segment between Franklin and Lake to take a bit longer, considering the curve on the viaduct over Hiawatha, so maybe it’s a typo?  Regardless it perhaps shows the folly of relying on the scheduled time to determine average speed instead of observing in the field, but who has time to ride back and forth with a stopwatch?

Oops, forgot to mention that distance is in miles

Hiawatha runs through a fairly diverse set of environments, which I’ve broken down into three categories.  While these are probably imprecisely named, they are fairly consistent.  At-grade and Separated at-grade both have grade crossings, but Separated at-grade has far fewer.  Below grade (which I suppose I should have called grade-separated) has no grade crossings.  The At-grade segments have an overall average speed of 12 mph, while Separated at-grade doubles that to 24 mph.  Below grade is the fastest, with an overall average of 29 mph, but you may have noticed that some of the separated at-grade segments exceed this.

Clearly the segments have characteristics that differentiate them from each other more than my simplified categories suggest.  The fastest segment, between 38th and 46th, is straight and has only one grade crossing [Froggie reminded me that this segment actually has two grade crossings - see comments].  Meanwhile the segments that are largely in tunnels have quite a bit of curvature to them, and since both segments have portals grade may be an issue as well.  And of course some segments have subsegments of more than one category – between the VA and Fort Snelling are sections that are at-grade but largely free of crossings and a long above-grade section.

Central may introduce another category, since the body of it will run at-grade, but with far fewer crossings than Downtown Minneapolis or even Bloomington, yet more than Hiawatha between Franklin and the park.  So who knows if anything valuable will come from this exercise – only the fates can tell…

Tracks of the Past

Links to historic Twin Cities transit maps, listed chronologically with publisher in parentheses.

1885 – Minneapolis only.  Street railway lines shown on plates, except Motor Line.  (???)

1888 – Minneapolis only.  (Mpls City Directory Publishing Co.)

1889 – Minneapolis only.  David Rumsey also has a version of this map that he dates to 1901, but it’s identical as far as I can tell.  The next two maps have features that don’t appear on the supposed 1901 map, so I’m assuming the earlier date is correct.  (George F. Cram)

1891 (MN Transfer Board of Trade)

1892 – Minneapolis only.  (C.M. Foote & Co.)

1897 (Rand, McNally & Co)

1898 (Northwestern Map Publishing Co.)

1900 – Minneapolis only.  (Hudson)

1901 – The U of M’s Borchert map library also has a 1903 map from R.L. Polk & Co but it appears to be identical.  I don’t necessarily trust directory maps, but included this because it dates from the brief period that Lake Calhoun was renamed Lake Mendoza.  (Edit – The Hennepin County Library claims that the Dakota name for Lake Calhoun is Mde Medoza, so it seems likely that Polk & Co just got that name wrong.)  (R.L. Polk & Co.)

1903 – Minneapolis only. (Mpls Real Estate Board)

1906 (TCRT)

1906 (Francis J. Reynolds)

1910 – This is Downtown Minneapolis only, but is cool because it shows the actual tracks.  (Nutter, Frank H.)

1911 (TCRT)

1913 (McGraw Electric Railway Manual)

1914 (McGraw Electric Railway Manual)

1915 (TCRT)

1917 (TCRT)

1920 – Minneapolis only (McGill-Warner Co.)

1946 – Minneapolis only (TCRT)

1948 (TCRT)

1948-1950 – kmz version of the 1946 map above, if you want to view it in Google Earth (TCRT)

Notice anything strange about this list?  What’s up with the 26 year gap after 1920?  Is this a symptom of the beginning of the decline of streetcars?  Did Americans begin to be more obsessed with the newfangled automobiles, and save scarce colored ink for highways?  Am I just a feeble googler?

Please link in the comments to any streetcar maps of the past that I missed.

Light savers

Construction costs for Twin Cities rail lines.  It seems like I look this stuff up every couple months so I thought I’d write it down to save my future self the trouble.  For distances I used km to make myself look more professional; to get the miles still used in jolly old USA just divide by 1.6, um, or multiply by 1.6, I forget which.

All dollars are current unless noted parenthetically.

Hiawatha -$44.5m/km

Capital cost: $715.3m (2004)

Length: 19.3 km

Stations: 17

Target Field Hiawatha Extension –  $100m/km

Capital cost: $52m (2009 – This project was part of the Northstar’s $317m budget – Transport Politic lists the cost of just the commuter rail line as $265m, which I’ve verified but I can’t remember where.)

Length: .55 km (This is my measurement.  In addition, this project built a .45 km tail track that may be used for the Southwest line, depending on how it’s built.  I don’t think it’s fair to include the tail track in the cost per km because tailings were not included in the other lines.)

Stations: 1

Hiawatha LRT Tunnel – $62m/km

Capital cost: $120m (2004)

Length: 2.2 km

Stations: 1

Central – $53.2m/km (edit: don’t trust this number) 

Mulad pointed out in the comments that the entire corridor is 18 km – not sure how long just the new track is.  Let me know if you know, please!

Capital cost: $957m

Length: 18 km

Stations: 18 new

Southwest – $46m/km

(current dollars calculated using a 3.5% annual inflation rate following LPA Tech Memo #7A)

Capital cost: $1.25b (2015) ($1111040615 in 2011 dollars)

Length: 24.1 km

Stations: 17

Fun with numbers

Central subway – $60m/km

An all-subway Central LRT, assuming the tunneling costs from Hiawatha.  Of course, the 2.2 km Hiawatha tunnel has only one station, so if Central could have only 9 stations, where would you put them?

Capital cost: $1.1b

Stations: 9

Southwest with Uptown subway -$57.6m/km

To calculate the cost of a Southwest LRT line that proceeds from the West Lake station east on the Greenway at grade, then up Hennepin below grade, emerging again at the Cedar Lake Trail near Glenwood and going up Royalston, basically I just add the cost of the tunnel under Hennepin, assuming the same tunneling costs as Hiawatha, to the total cost of Southwest.  Pretty rough, I know.

Capital cost: $1.32b

Length: 22.9 km

Stations: 16 (This would assume an at-grade station at Uptown, then a below-grade station at Franklin.  There should probably be at least one more station in a subway below Hennepin, which would of course add to the per km cost.)

For comparison’s sake

I-394 – $45m/km

Capital cost: $450m (1993)

Length: 15.7 km

Crosstown Commons – $36.5m/km

Capital cost: $288m (2010)

Length: 7.9 km

For more incomparable comparisons, check Alon Levy’s list.