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.

Driver, take me to my stadium

All images are conceptual

The largest public works project in Minnesota’s history (as long as you don’t combine the segmented construction of any metro-area freeway) recently kicked into high gear, but it’s possible it won’t hold the crown for long.  The Bullet Factory Vikings stadium proposal has a base cost of $884m, plus around $173m for “on-site infrastructure, parking, [and] environmental needs” – and in addition there are $131-240m in highway improvements needed to handle the traffic that would be drawn to the site.  That’s a grand total of $1.2-1.3b for the Bullet Factory site, although there it’s also possible still that the Metrodome site would be reused instead, which apparently isn’t pricey enough to steal Central LRT’s crown of costliness.

Free marketeers like to pretend that it’s just a coincidence that our era is seeing unprecedented wealth simultaneously with unprecedented suffering (while middle-class Americans pretend that neither exists), but we need to recognize that money is a fuel that feeds a firestorm of inequality that spreads a smoke blanket of starvation.  Government may not be the best tool we have to fight this process, but it certainly is the biggest tool we have.  The USA is a nation where Christians decry the spending of their tax dollars on foreign aid, so it shouldn’t be a surprise if we decide to spend a billion dollars on houses for millionaires in tights while thousands of Minnesotans sleep in their cars or under bridges…

…and so on.  I went on a similar rant when the Twins stadium deal went down, but I have to admit that I’m happy with it now that it’s up and running.  Why?  Besides a fondness for monumental public structures, I like to go to the library on Mondays.  The bonuses involved probably got some politicians on board for that project, support it desperately needed.

So why isn’t Ramsey County sweetening the pot with its Bullet Factory plan?  Certainly the plan is ambitious enough, but it’s also missing support from many Ramsey County politicians.  Maybe they’d get on board if the plan included youth sports, libraries, or…. here it comes…. transit!

Mulad recently had a great post about rail lines to the Bullet Factory that could be upgraded to commuter rail for the stadium.  A dedicated rail line to a suburban sports complex isn’t unprecedented in this country, but is certainly unusual.  Given the “uncertainties” surrounding the Twin Cities’ only commuter rail line, that mode seems unlikely.

I'll take all three

But I was intrigued by Mulad’s idea of “a light-rail-sized diesel multiple-unit (DMU) train could run along the Central Corridor and diverge when it hit the UMN Transitway, then do a flyover to get past the heavy rail operations at Union Yard, and then run on heavy rail tracks.”  I hadn’t really considered that corridor for transit upgrades, but it does after Mulad pointed it out, I noticed that it does run between two major employment clusters (Rosedale and Mid-City), and although there isn’t much residential along it, what’s there is pretty dense.

Here is a chart showing how Mulad’s corridor (which I named Hunting Valley after the old name for 280, shown in green on the map) compares with two other nearby possible corridors (I named the Central Ave NE alignment New Boston after a name for the Central & Lowry area that no one has used for almost a century, because unfortunately the name Central Corridor is already taken – why didn’t they call it the Midway Corridor?).  These are totals from TAZ districts that adjoin the lines depicted on the map, and the numbers are from 2000, and have changed a bit (also I only used those TAZes north of the Central Corridor, or the river in the case of the New Boston line).

TAZ stats for 3 corridors

Obviously the Hunting Valley is hurting for population, but it holds its own in terms of employment (although none of these corridors do very well in that measure – the Central Corridor even excluding Downtown Minneapolis reaches 120,000 jobs).  Plus it has the advantage of being much cheaper than New Boston or Snelling, since it is mostly already built on exclusive right-of-way (there is the small matter of buying out the MNNR, but theoretically the track could be rented back to them for night use).  Even though Hunting Valley wouldn’t need as frequent service as Hiawatha or Central, 5th St probably couldn’t handle the additional trains – my understanding is that it can only handle a slight increase in frequency on Hiawatha and/or Central.

St Paul shows the gaps in the Hi-Frequency Network

Anyway I doubt if anyone could handle the pucker-inducing degree of sweetness that adding a light rail line would bring to this deal – even the relatively cheap Hunting Valley line would probably cost too much for belt-tightening times.  A more affordable sweetener for the stadium pot would be an upgrade of bus service in St Paul, including upgrading the 84 possibly to BRT-ish levels.  The western triangle of St Paul has the density for good bus service, but has only a smattering of routes running across it, and those at low frequencies.  My guess is that comes out of the bus routes’ archaic orientation toward Downtown St Paul, and I’ll deal with that issue in a later post.

Fly in for a game

There are a lot of ways to handle a beefed up Snelling BRT, and I’m not going to weigh in on any particular one, except to advocate that it go south to the airport instead of west to the 46th St Hiawatha station. That adds a few miles to the route, but also thousands more jobs, as well as the obvious connections to air routes.  The northern terminus in this scenario would of course be Zygi’s Sprawl City, and it would also hit the job cluster at Hamline & 694, which is amazingly suburban but still might draw some riders.

Though Minneapolis would look with envy at Snelling’s 100 foot width through most of St Paul, it might be politically difficult to create bus lanes here, especially in the parking-desperate Midway.  I’m not sure it would be necessary though – despite heavy volumes, I haven’t seen a lot of congestion on Snelling in St Paul proper.  It would be interesting to see what effect a higher frequency 84 with prominent stations and off-board payment would do to traffic levels on the street.

Fittingly, since the funding for this BRT sweetener would come from an ongoing tax (presumably added onto the sales tax) most of the money could go to operations in the form of higher frequency on the 84 (and the 21, to fill the hi frequency gap).  I’m not even going to guess how much this would cost, but I would think less than the Cedar BRT where $135m is buying 8 park-and-rides and 9 miles of “dedicated” shoulders.  Here is a list of the capital needs I can think of for a Snelling BRT, in the order they arrive to my head:

  • 2 to 4 park-and-rides Possibilities include at 36 (or Cty Rd B), Cty Rd C, Cty Rd E and 694 (or Cty Rd F); these would all be modest park-and-rides since they wouldn’t draw Downtown crowds.
  • Stop consolidation  With routes spaced at every mile, I can’t in good conscience advocate 1/4 mile spacing, although there would still be opportunity for consolidation in some places.  Eventually, there should be bus routes running north and south every half-mile, at which point stops should be consolidated to every 1/4 mile.
  • Enhanced stations  These would primarily serve branding purposes since there probably wouldn’t be enough of them to ensure quality or comfort at every stop.  But at transfer stops, they could include ticket machines and real-time displays, in addition to higher-quality architecture.  At Como and Energy Park there should be stairs and elevators to the below-grade intersecting streets.
  • Signal Preemption  I haven’t heard the results of the route 10 test with signal preemption, but in theory it make the travel time more competitive with cars.

I in no way advocate building a football stadium with taxpayer money – local TV stations are subsidized enough through their undervalued broadcasting permits.  But if it must be done, throw a little sugar in that bowl by improving Ramsey County’s transit along with its sports facilities.  Don’t forget – there are some citizens of Ramsey County who will pay for that stadium with every purchase they make, but won’t be able to even gaze on it without a car.  Every Minnesotan should be able to enjoy the biggest public works project in Minnesota history.

Not the final fantasy

When I started this blog on an insomniac night many months ago, one of my goals was to use it as a showcase for my planning ideas, which I vainly believe to be valuable.  I noticed when writing the entry on my proposal for an 8th St Transit Mall, though, that I haven’t yet written any posts about my ideas.  Maybe the biggest reasons is that I don’t have any good illustration software, but I just got visio so maybe things will improve in that realm.

Anyway, to start off the new year with one of my ideas, I thought I’d dust off an old one:  a fantasy Twin Cities rail rapid transit system.  I believe I started working on this in 2007 or so.  You can see from the overview how ambitious it is:

It is hard to imagine a justification for rail transit much outside the beltway, where residential and employment density is so low that it doesn’t even justify freeways (not that you need justification to build a freeway in the US; our local example being the Carol Molnau Highway).  But I had light rail going to Anoka, Burnsville, Apple Valley, and White Bear Lake.  In some ways, they’re mostly logical termini:  Anoka is pretty high-density, both in population and employment, Burnsville Center is a big employment center, and White Bear Lake is only a couple miles past Maplewood Mall and relatively dense.  Unfortunately they’re all surrounded by many miles of very low-density suburban areas, which really would only justify light rail where right-of-way is very cheap (which actually might be the case with the purple line through Coon Rapids to Anoka, which I routed along the rail line that carries the Northstar line).  And honestly, the one I’d most like to see is the one that is the least justifiable, the extension of Hiawatha to the Minnesota Zoo:

I just think that a facility like a zoo with such a big public benefit should be accessible via quality public transit – but that could take the form of BRT instead, maybe through a branch of Cedar BRT.  Certainly any light rail should use the herky-jerky route I created here; instead Cedar Ave is an available and more linear right-of-way.  And I routed it over the old Cedar Bridge over the Minnesota!  Well it is a fantasy system – it would be cool if the bridge could be rebuilt for LRT, but probably very expensive.

My fantasy system is even ambitious in Downtown Minneapolis – an area that certainly justifies large rail transit infrastructure investments, but maybe not as large as my system would require:

One of my pet peeves about the Hiawatha train is that the segment that deserves the best ride actually has the worst: the train is often slower than the bus downtown, and how can you really justify building Nicollet and Hennepin stations a block apart, instead of one station between the two streets?  My system would consolidate those stations, although I left it at-grade (probably unintentionally).  I’ve since learned some detriments to circle lines, but I was pretty proud of this one, particularly because it would use mostly existing right-of-ways, but also because it would link some of the highest-density neighborhoods.  The other good thing about this fantasy system is the routing of the Central Corridor extension (which I would send through to the 394 corridor) allowing for a stop at 8th and Nicollet, the core of the CBD.  In hindsight, it might make more sense to route the Hiawatha through this station rather than cut a separate tunnel for it.

St Paul has a pretty cool feature:  a circle line built into the routes that run through it.  The trains would run at the foot of the bluff, making for what I think would be a really cool ride, but might require stations (I only have one at Wabasha here but I’d think you could put one at Robert too) with very expensive elevators  and might be thought of as inconvenient.  One plus to a circle line here is it provides a station to the Capitol East complex, cutting out the zig-zag alignment planned for Central LRT.  Don’t ask me why I didn’t put a station at the capitol – it’s all the way out at Marion, I guess to provide easy access to that space-fortress McDonald’s.  Another oversight: no stations at Victoria or Western, which will probably see a lot of growth once the train goes through, despite St Paul’s failure to increase allowable density there.

The award for Most Questionable Segment probably goes to this route through New Brighton, which runs through a very low density area and follows a serpentine path that includes several fantastically sharp turns.  I think I was trying to increase the connectivity of the system and facilitate suburb-to-suburb movements, but this segment probably couldn’t even be built, much less attract riders.

I’m not sure what exactly I was thinking about here in terms of technology – certainly a fantasy system would use higher-capacity heavy rail, but it’s conceivable that the system could use light rail with some longer trains (if this is possible).  I think that some segments could be operated as BRT, specifically the purple line along 35W and the blue line along 394, but the idea of a fantasy is that lots of people would be using this and the capacity of BRT would be overwhelmed.  Also intrinsic to this particular fantasy is an increase in density throughout the city.

As I point out many of the failures of this fantasy, you may have guessed that I’ve replaced it with a new fantasy.  My ideal rail rapid transit system is constantly under revision, of course, but maybe I’ll post the latest version one of these days.

 

Who shot down J.R.’s condo?

Every policymaker should take a moment to read, or have an aide read to them while they’re talking to their broker and walking on the treadmill) yesterday’s Transport Politic about Dallas’ pathetic transit ridership, despite having the longest light rail system in the country.  His point is basically:

that density matters a whole lot more than overall length of rail lines.

This paragraph contains the crux of his argument:

what Dallas really lacks is residential compactness: The downtown itself has grown from 1,654 residents in 2000 to 10,446 today (that’s pretty impressive!), but neighborhoods immediately adjacent to this area are primarily made up of single-family homes. Moreover, the alignment of the rail corridors, generally following existing highway or rail rights-of-way, often do not reach the densest areas or the biggest destinations. The well-populated (and popular) neighborhoods north of downtown, including Uptown and Oak Lawn, are mostly inaccessible to light rail. An underground station on the Red Line originally planned for Knox Street, which likely would have attracted plenty of riders, was not built because of local opposition.

I love that local opposition felled the station with the highest ridership potential!  God bless America, love it or leave it.

Interestingly, although Minneapolis has a density advantage over Dallas (thanks mostly to history – Mpls grew larger earlier), light rail lines built or proposed here aren’t much better in terms of serving potential riders.  Check out these screen prints from the HTA index site for Dallas and Minneapolis, taken at the same scale for comparison’s sake:

The Hiawatha line runs through the lowest-density portion of South Minneapolis, the Southwest line is proposed to run through the Bassett Creek industrial yards and Kenilworth parklands, Bottineau will either destroy the already low-density area of North around Penn or skip through North to Wirth Park.  Central will serve neighborhoods that are barely more dense than Hiawatha’s, but I think will appear much more dense after this census, at least, since there has already been a lot of infill along University and in Stadium Village.

TOD, of course, is the goal of many of these lines; but the Transport Politic implies that TOD was a goal of Dallas’ system as well.  At best, TOD will be a long-term aid to ridership – maybe we should focus on building trains where riders are now rather than where they may be someday.