Minnehaha and the sad state of Twin Cities streets

Today on streets.mn I write about Hennepin County’s half-assed new design for Minnhaha Ave, and their pathological use therein of one of the dopiest beasts in my menagerie of pet peeves: bus pull-outs. On probably one out of every four bus trips I take, I witness some schlub motoring recklessly around a bus and into some crosswalk, careless about the pedestrians that might be there that he or she has no way of seeing. That’s every other day I witness this personally, and spend most of my time on the bus staring at a piece of paper covered in ink markings.

There are other horrors of the roadways that I experience on a daily basis in Minneapolis. Related to the Crosswalk Plunge described above is the Half-cocked Hook, where a motorist completes most of a turn but slams on the brakes right before entering the crosswalk that’s occupied by a pedestrian that the motorist didn’t care to look for. This happens to me daily. Literally every day. Of course I already described in probably my greatest ever piece of writing that slimy piece of human garbage known as the Crosswalk Creep. I encounter this scum I would say once or twice per mile of walking.

All of this adds up to some truly terrifying (in the literal sense) and constantly frustrating walking conditions in Minneapolis. So why not just ride a bike? Well, because I encounter at least one bike lane blockage per ride. At least one driver buzzes me per ride. And on top of that, bikes also have to deal with Half-cocked Hookers who have no idea how to judge the speed of a cyclist so they delay their turn until just when the cyclist is entering the intersection. On a bike I probably get that every second or third ride.

This is not an inherent quality of city life. I’ve walked in countless cities that are more congested but don’t make me fear for my life with every step. This is an inherent quality of living in one of the most sprawling cities on earth, where there are entire municipalities of people who think it’s their god-given right for the government to provide them with an unclogged road to anywhere they want to go with a free, easy to find parking space at the end of it, and without having to pay a dime in taxes for it. That’s why a bike lane here and a bump-out there isn’t good enough. No, when the walking is deadly and the biking is deadly and the buses are only good for homeless shelters, but the streets are kinda bumpy, you don’t take new revenue and put it into filling potholes. At least you don’t if you’re a leader with integrity. You put it into the modes that have been marginalized and underfunded for decades. At least you do if you’re a leader with integrity.

That’s why it’s frustrating when there’s an opportunity to entirely rebuild a street, because that’s exactly when they should be optimizing streets for these historically marginalized modes. But instead we see stuff like the design for Minnehaha, which is much better for pedestrians, about the same for bikes, and much worse for buses. There has been some progress in the last 10 years, but we’re coming from way behind, so we can’t afford to let any opportunity pass us by.

If Washington Ave doesn’t deserve bus lanes, what does?

According to Hennepin County, around 7,500 bus riders will travel on Washington Ave at peak hour (4:30-5:30 PM) between Hennepin and 35W on an average weekday in the year 2035. For some perspective, that’s about the same amount of cyclists estimated to ride the Washington Ave Bridge on a typical day, which is the busiest location for cyclists in Minneapolis. To be honest, I’m not really sure where Hennepin County got that number, but they mention something about Metro Transit estimating 30 passengers on an average peak hour bus, and if that’s true, that means around 5,000 riders are commuting by bus on this segment of Washington at peak hour today, which would seem to rival the number of cars.

These numbers are fuzzy, obviously, but it seems clear that a large number of people are riding transit on Washington Ave. So why isn’t Hennepin County proposing a layout that would benefit that mode? In fact the four proposed layouts actually make things worse for transit by moving most bus stops to right-turn lanes, where they face the delay of having to pull in and out of general traffic, and where riders face the safety threat of vehicles turning right around the bus.  Besides the sheer number of existing transit trips, there are other reasons that a responsible analysis of options for Washington Ave would include dedicated bus lanes, which I’ll detail below.

Preparing for battle

Preparing for battle

The Gateway Ramp is a major bus layover facility. Part of the fuzziness of the bus rider numbers above, I think, is that they assume average occupancy for the buses running on Washington, about half of which actually pick up and drop off most of their passengers on Marquette or 2nd, so run mostly empty on Washington as they access the Gateway Ramp to lay over. Even if they’re not carrying passengers on Washington, though, it is important to the passengers they pick up later that they not encounter congestion, so their eventual passengers will benefit from dedicated facilities that allow them to be picked up reliably. In addition, the Gateway Ramp has been apparently been designated as a layover facility for an unspecifiedly enormous number more buses so that the City can do what it wants with the Nicollet Hotel block. That likely means that 30-60 additional buses will be soon be traveling on Washington between the Gateway Ramp and Hennepin Ave, relying on a congestion-free route to deliver timely service. (The Gateway Ramp is also a convenient place for the up to 6,000 employees in Ryan’s recently proposed development to catch an express bus.)

Clustering transit and providing dedicated lanes on Washington will maximize the impact of transit investment, create a more legible system, and improve route spacing. Hennepin County’s analysis provides a depiction of the bird’s nest of transit routes on Washington:

Page 13 from DRAFT Traffic Operation Analysis - Apr2013This diagram should set off alarms at Metro Transit. If transportation engineers need to create a diagram like this to understand the network structure, what chance does a lifelong suburbanite retiree who just bought a condo on Washington have? Bus lanes would offer reassurance to confused riders that yes, they can catch a bus on this street. If Metro Transit were to use the bus lanes for its various archaically routed local services that use Washington for a portion of their trip already, it would be able to focus shelter improvement money on this one street instead of spreading it between several (not that there is any apparent shelter improvement on the downtown segments of these routes currently). This would also have the effect of maximizing frequency (a rider traveling between 7 Corners and Hennepin could catch any of 3 routes), adding legibility (riders would not have to memorize where the 7 & 22 turn off of Washington), and spacing (the thousands of new housing units being added to the Mill District face a long walk to convenient transit service).

These advantages are recognized and supported by the City of Minneapolis, which recommends reorganizing downtown transit to cluster along three corridors they call spines (a biological metaphor that becomes less apt the more spines you have). The buses running closest to the riverine edge of downtown are left as they lay, probably out of inertia. Yet these services would benefit from “spining” too, and perhaps more, since lower-frequency services will gain more from higher effective frequencies due to clustering. I have made a table of the number of buses at the peak hour on Washington Ave by segment and direction, based on data from Hennepin County, but adding a spine scenario, which assumes the 3 and the 7 proceed along the length of the corridor and the 22 travels on Washington east of Hennepin (it also adds the 14 west of Hennepin as it travels today but was not included in the Hennepin County data for some reason; I’d add that it may make sense to add the 14 to this spine west of Chicago or 11th Ave S).

pm peak bus load avg headway washingtonIn the segment where reconstruction is imminent (outlined on the table), average headways are expected to be three minutes or less at peak hour in 2035, and are currently under one minute for all but one block in the westbound direction. The spine scenario brings average headways in each direction to under 3 minutes, and by 2035 both directions of Washington will carry a bus  less than every 2 minutes. These are really substantial bus volumes, unlikely to be exceeded by any Nicollet Mall, Hennepin, or the main E-W bus spine. So why are those streets candidates for bus facilities (even if they’re half-assed ones), but not Washington?

Of course, most of this service could cluster on 3rd or 4th Sts instead of Washington, but those seem to have fewer advantages and more disadvantages. Briefly, Washington connects better to the remainder of the routes on the east and west ends, which means less delay caused by turning. 4th St is an awkward distance from the LRT stations on 5th St, too far for first-time users to see the transfer stop from the station, and also too far to really work as combined effective frequency, yet not spread enough for the larger portion of downtown to benefit. Washington is convenient to the two fastest-growing neighborhoods in the state, and with this effective frequency could provide easy access for the residents of these new dense buildings to regional transit (LRT or Highway BRT). Finally, in order to fit (ideally two) bus lanes on 3rd or 4th, you need a curb-t0-curb width that leaves too little space for sidewalks. Currently the sidewalks are reduced to 10-12′ on these streets, whereas the wider right-of-way on Washington would allow for ample sidewalks in addition to the bus facilities.

But assuming we continue our practice of ignoring the huge current use and future potential of bus transit, why should we prioritize transit rather than bikes or cars? Well, Washington is actually not as connective for cars & bikes. OK, there are a pair of big freeways on the each side of Downtown that make it a convenient route for cars, but even those are duplicated by other exits a few blocks away (or will be soon). In terms of surface connections, it’s also not very useful for cars. As I’ve argued before, and as residents tend to agree, Cedar is inappropriate as an auto commuting route. North Washington has some destinations, but is superseded by 2nd St by the time it gets to Plymouth Ave (certainly North Loop destinations don’t generate enough car trips to justify 3 lanes).

For bikes, too, Washington is not ideal as a through route. Of course the U of M is a big destination, but to reach it from Washington you need to turn at least twice and/or carry your bike up the stairs behind Willey Hall. A better U of M connection to Downtown is CPED’s (possibly abandoned) proposal for a path in the trench that would connect to the LRT trail at Curry Park, which would maximize connectivity and have the greatest separation. Even if you could somehow create a surface route between Washington and the U of M, it would likely be slower than a trench route and the LRT trail because of the left turn and all the stoplights. Anyway, the LRT trail is likely to be at least as important a source of bike trips into downtown as the U of M (or at least that’s the goal), and Washington both connects poorly to it and is out of the way for people trying to access the core (requiring two left turns).

3rd St would work best for a regional bike facility that goes through downtown (unlike West River Parkway, which bypasses it), especially because 3rd St offers connections to the Northside that Washington doesn’t. As noted above, Washington itself kind of peters out as a frontage road to I-94 north of Plymouth Ave, but even the parts that are there will be difficult to retrofit for bike facilities – certainly it wouldn’t be able to do any better than duplicate the lanes that exist on 2nd St N. 3rd St, on the other hand, connects directly to the LRT trail on the east, and with some additional cantilevering of the sidewalk along the 4th St Viaduct could connect directly to the Cedar Lake Trail and be extended across the Cut and through the Interchange to the bike lanes on 7th St N, basically the main bike route between Downtown and the Northside (it could also connect to the off-street trail that could logically be placed along Olson Hwy, but doesn’t seem to be in anyone’s plan for some reason).

washington or 3rd bike routes

Of course people will still want to use bikes and cars to access destinations on Washington Ave. Bus lanes actually work really well for this since they are used heavily primarily at the peak hours, and at other times they can be flexed for other uses, including parking. A bus lane works much better for bikes than a general traffic lane because there are typically far more gaps between buses than cars. At rush hour on Washington you wouldn’t want to bike the length of the street, but the minute gap between buses will allow you to bike on one of the ample adjacent facilities on 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th, then up one of the north-south bike routes (for example 1st, Hennepin, Nicollet, 4th, 5th, Portland, Park, or 11th), and then the one or two blocks remaining to your destination. I would suggest 16′ shared bus-bike lanes, separated by a solid white line except for the 150′ or so before right turn intersections, and symbolized by a diamond. 5-6” advisory bike lanes could be striped to guide cyclists toward the left side of the lane to minimize the amount of leap frog, and a 1-2′ mountable curb could be placed between the Shared Bus-Bike Lanes (SBBLs) and general traffic lanes to provide a buffer for cyclists and to discourage the spread of congestion by stupid or greedy motorists.

Would all this fit? For the most part, yes:

Washington_Ave_existing

Existing

SBBL configuration

SBBL configuration

You can add SBBLs and fit within the right-of-way and have sidewalk space at least as wide or wider than most of Hennepin County’s proposed layouts and what is there now. SBBLs are an ideal compromise solution that provide for the existing and future demand of cars and transit, but also provide a more comfortable space for bikes and opportunities for parking. It is a shame that Hennepin County only does planning for transportation by car instead of transportation for all, or there may have been a possibility for a holistic solution that would be appealing to a larger group rather than their special-interest focused layouts.

If a street that carries 15,000 transit passengers in a typical day – as many as some light rail lines in the US – doesn’t deserve dedicated bus lanes, what street does? Is it realistic to expect that the maybe 50 miles of light rail being developed in the Twin Cities will be able to shift the millions of daily trips here to a lower-emission mode? Buses are crucial to our current transit system and will continue to be crucial to our future transit system, which represents our best hope for achieving environmental and equity goals through transportation policy. If one of the cycle track options is built, I will certainly enjoy riding it to Grumpy’s every once in a while. But if the Washington Ave process means that the Twin Cities is just shifting from focusing all transportation planning on making it nice to drive to focusing all transportation planning on making it nice to bike, I’m taking the first bus out of here to someplace that plans transportation comprehensively, without mode bias, and with an eye towards societal goals.

 

 

Every street is special

If you want to ride a bike in Downtown, there’s a map for that.  If you want to catch a bus in Downtown, there’s a map for that too.  But what if you’re not sure yet if you want to bus or bike?  Wouldn’t it be useful to compare the streets where specialized facilities are dedicated to these modes (or pretendicated, in the case of Hennepin’s Green Lanes)?

Actually, if that was your goal, you might as well use Hedberg‘s amazingly comprehensive yet readable official Minneapolis Bike Map, which shows transit (although it doesn’t differentiate between Hiawatha, which is mostly separated from traffic, and a bus that runs in mixed traffic).  My goal was more theoretical – I just wanted to see at a glance which streets had been specialized for which modes.  I used Visio to alter a base map created by Public Works that was the most detailed map I could find in black & white.  Color was used to differentiate between the different modes in which the streets specialized, and line thickness was used to show degree of separation from other modes, which in Downtown conveniently corresponds to directionality (i.e. all of the separated facilities are also two-way; the old two-way bike lane on Hennepin would have been more complicated to symbolize).  I also included pedestrian specialization, which I considered to include bikes unless specifically banned (as on the typically deserted Fed plaza) or physically prevented from using the space (mostly because of stairs, like on Chicago’s connection to West River Pkwy).  Because Public Works’ attention is defaulted to car traffic, the base map included freeways in light green – luckily they are another form of specialization, but they don’t conform to my symbology.

Now that I’ve made this map of street specialization in Downtown Minneapolis, here’s some thoughts on the transportation network:

  • Downtown’s defining feature is a grid of around 20 blocks long by 10-15 blocks deep wedged into a triangular area.  Ok, that’s obvious, but you gotta start somewhere.  Also noteworthy is that the grid bends in the center-west and on the south, creating irregularities there, and is frequently interrupted along its periphery.
  • The heaviest activity is in the center of the grid, but there is intense activity throughout, with the only exceptions in an eastern area bounded by 5th & 11th Avenues and 3rd and 6th or 7th Sts, and a western area bounded by I-94, the 4th St viaduct, and I-394.
  • On average, there are ten blocks to a mile, but entry to Downtown is limited to about 12 gateways, mostly evenly distributed (about 3 to a cardinal direction) but not evenly spaced.  These gateways are created by the barrier function of the freeway ring  directly limiting access but also dividing the surrounding city into separate communities defined by freeway boundaries.  The river does something similar.
  • There is more real specialization for bikes than any other mode.  This makes sense, since people seem to like to get their bikes as close to their destination as possible rather than leave them at a central terminal and walk to their destination (people also don’t like to do that with cars, and maybe not with transit either).
  • Transit actually has more specialization than bikes if you count nominal specialization, in the form of bus stops and shelters.  There are a dizzying array of downtown streets with bus lines on them, but they aren’t really specialized because there is no advantage for transit to run there as opposed to anywhere else (a dedicated lane would be an example of an advantage).  The spread of nominally specialized transit streets is a weakness for the network, since transit benefits from clustering onto spines in order to compound frequency and increase system legibility.
  • Another caveat – looking at the map and assuming 6 lanes per freeway, there appears to be more specialized facilities for cars than for bikes.  The majority of the streets on this map also have specialized facilities for pedestrians lining them.
  • There is a huge network gap on the south end of downtown, basically from Hawthorne to Portland between 12th and 15th.  (Technically you could bike on the Loring Greenway but I rarely see that happen, maybe because you have to ride on the sidewalk to get to it.)  Do the conditions that require specialization further north not exist here, or have they just not gotten around to specializing?  The south end of Nicollet is not congested, but the high levels of transit service and use here would likely benefit from a modified transit mall, for example one that would prohibit cars from going through but allow access for parking and drop-off.  The south end of Hennepin, on the other hand, is similar to the Green Lanes segment, and the only rationale for not extending them is to allow unfettered gratification of suburbanites’ desire to drive Downtown.  In other words, Hennepin Ave south of 12th St is duplicated by 394 so there’s no good reason to continue its present prioritization of cars.  Extend the Green Lanes and enforce them.
  • Another gap basically cuts off the North Loop.  Local transit operates well there, with wide stop spacing and few stoplights, but the heavily-used transit service to the northern suburbs would benefit from exclusive lanes – I’ve mentioned before converting one of the viaducts to a two-way transitway and making the other a reversible two-lane highway.  As for bikes, the gap in the 2nd St bike lane can only be attributed to disinterest on the part of Public Works – the two blocks lacking lanes shares the same width as its neighbors with lanes.  The North Loop has actually lost bike lanes lately, as the lanes on one side of 5th Ave were converted to parking.  This neighborhood has obvious problems with street connectivity in this direction, so this lane should be restored and connected to 7th St N, maybe as part of the Interchange project.
  • The third gap is in Elliot Park, where the city is reluctant as usual to remove parking to add bike lanes.  It seems reasonable, though, to add a lane each to 7th and 8th on the stretch east of Portland where demand for turning is low.  I have also called for a transit mall on 8th St – 9th or 10th might work too.

I’d like to pin a tangential coda onto this already long-winded post.  From the above it can be gathered that there is already a great deal of specialization on Downtown streets but I’d like to add even more.  To understand why, I offer the chart below, showing that the population of Downtown as measured by the 2010 census is greater than all but 25 of the Metro’s 90-some municipalities:

Ok, so # 26 wouldn’t seem to be a big deal, except for the fact that at 2.6 sq mi Downtown is a third the size of the next smallest city on the list, Richfield.  In addition, only 5 cities on the list had a similar or higher growth rate to Downtown, which is poised to overtake Brooklyn Center, Andover, Roseville, and Richfield assuming the same growth rate in this decade.  Of course, that won’t happen, but if the first two years of this decade are any indication, it’s certain that Downtown’s growth rate will outpace all but a few of the Metro’s large municipalities.

High population in a small area means density, something that isn’t very common in the Twin Cities.  That means we should expect the transportation system to look different Downtown as well, and a reasonable response is to specialize street space so the different modes can perform their best.  Unsurprisingly I have an idea of what the ideal specialization would look like, and I’ll get around to posting that map sooner or later.

St Paul transferring

Click for high-res pdf

The official plan for restructuring St Paul’s bus routes was presented to the Met Council’s Transportation committee the other day, and while there were one or two surprises, mostly fulfilled my expectations (although it didn’t follow my recommendations).  Accompanying the presentation was an excellent map – showing the new route structure and symbolizing frequency through line width.  Here’s a brief summary of the changes:

As Expected

  • The east-west orientation of the network is still intact.  It would have been highly advantageous to riders to change this to north-south to take advantage of the high-quality transfers that would have been newly available on the Central LRT and Fort Rd Rapid Bus.  But the presentation notes that many comments exhibited “Loyalty to existing routes” – change is hard.
  • They couldn’t bring themselves to straighten out the kink in the 21 up to the Midway.  I guess the frequency bump to every 10 minutes for the 84 adds up to a hill of beans.
  • The 8 has been absorbed.  Everyone saw this coming for this runt of a line.  A bit more surprising is what route absorbed it – more below.
  • The 94 will be peak-only and no Midway stops or Capitol service.  Maybe it’s surprising that a government agency wouldn’t want to compete with itself, but it should be expected anyway.
  • A new route called the 83 has been added to Lexington to meet the route spacing requirement of a line at least every mile in one direction and at least every half-mile in the other.
  • The 63 has been extended to Raymond & University.  They didn’t do it my way, though (that would have been a much bigger change) – they have it dart up Cleveland and over on Summit for two blocks before proceeding up Cretin.  That’s not ideal – it splits the service around St Thomas and thereby dilutes it (which my plan also would have done, but at least I kept one line up the length of Cleveland for legibility, whereas they have the Cleveland bus jut over to Cretin at Marshall anyway) and it leaves Desnoyer Park unserved.
  • The 65 has been rerouted to Grand, which makes sense because Selby already has the 21 service.  But it does lead us to our first surprise…

Surprise!

  • The 65 will terminate at Grand instead of continuing downtown.  This one perplexes me, as it would have only been another mile to the Smith Ave ramp, which certainly would take riders to more jobs and seemingly would be better for operations anyway.  Maybe they’re afraid that once they’re downtown, they’d have to go all the way to SPUD.
  • The 67 will be absorbing the 8.  It makes sense when you consider that these two routes run on about the same latitude.  I’d think that this overserves the stretch of University between Fairview and Raymond, though – using their rough guide for frequency, it looks like the average headway for buses between Cretin and Raymond will be 6 minutes – that’s not counting the train.  Another strange quirk is that they’re routing the new 67 up Riverside for a couple blocks and then back down 25th/26th, presumably to better serve Fairview.

    A facelift for the 8

  • The West Side branch of the 67 will be shifted to the 62 – a logical choice, although I will they had experimented with a crossing at Smith, which then could have gone up Kellogg and John Ireland to Rice for a quicker crosstown.  Trips to St Paul CBD would have an easy transfer at Seven Corners.
  • The aforementioned 83 – the Lexington bus – appears to terminate at Como and Snelling after a short jaunt down Energy Park Dr.  An extension to Roseville via an extensive detour back to Lexington – seemingly designed to deter anyone who wants to get anywhere fast – is penciled in for someday.  Here’s an idea – if you’re going to Snelling anyway, why not go the extra mile and a half to the U of M?  There are actually destinations there besides Nelson Cheese Shop.
  • No circle line!  The Central Corridor EIS assumed two changes that didn’t make the cut – one was an extension of the 67 to Fairview, which would have resulted in half-mile grid of service that apparently was considered overkill, and the other was a weird circle line that would have run down Hamline, St Clair, Victoria and University.  Maybe this one shouldn’t be in the surprise category, because that route didn’t make much sense in the first place.

They also provided a table showing the proposed frequency of the 23 affected routes:

It seems like most of the St Paul routes in the study are getting a modest frequency boost – the 65, 67, and 87 are all going from every half hour at peak and midday to 20 minute headways, with more evening runs as well.  I’m a little surprised they didn’t give the 63 a rush hour increase, but maybe since the area is mostly students and shopping there isn’t as much peak demand (they do seem to be boosting it in the afternoon peak a bit).  It’s disappointing that the 62 didn’t merit more service, though not too surprising since it doesn’t have much in the way of a northern terminus.

I’m tempted to say that some of this frequency would be better put to use in Minneapolis, but I’m excited for the opportunity this service improvement provides to St Paul.  It wasn’t the news I was looking for, but the results of the Central Restructuring study are good news indeed.

PS the presentation claims that the study final report is online but as of writing it isn’t up yet.

PPS  The same Met Council Transportation committee meeting has an update on the Midtown Corridor Alternatives Analysis – including this interesting graphic of a proposed Hi-Lake station and how Wellington wants to build apartments on top of the easement for it:

St Paul transfer

Transferring to the bus

I know we’re not supposed to judge past actions based on the standards of the present, but I’m confident that even by the standards of the early 50s it was a bad idea to replace the University Ave streetcar with a bus.  Anyone who has taken the 16 knows what I’m talking about:  bus bunching and standing room only from morning till night, seven days a week.  Imagine what it would have been like in 1960, when 30,000 more people lived in St Paul and the motorization rate was less than a third of what it is today.

That’s why I’m so excited about Central LRT – while Hiawatha was politically a good first line, Central is the first one that actually provides a long needed capacity upgrade for an existing transit route.  Riders of overburdened bus lines like the 5, 6, 10, 16 and 18 have watched for years as area freeways get lane after lane added – sometimes at the expense of transit advantages – and while there is plenty of room to debate whether what’s actually being built is the ideal upgrade, it’s meaningful that with Central transit riders are finally getting a degree of equal treatment.

Not exactly a blank slate

But fixing the broken bus line is only the first step.  Like an overburdened gusset plate can bring down an entire bridge, the decrepit 16 line may have had the effect of depressing bus ridership across the city of St Paul.  Once the city’s transit spine is reinforced, a little work on the connecting transit, um, rib cage can have a wider effect on the utility of the system.  That, in one kinda gross anatomical metaphor, is what is going on with the Central Restructuring study that Metro Transit is currently conducting.

Having been frustrated for years by attempts to take the bus to St Paul, I’ve been thinking about restructuring the bus routes there for a while.  My thoughts, summarized at streets.mn, are basically that in the short term service should be shifted from a east-west orientation to a north-south one, in order to benefit from transfer opportunities to higher quality Central LRT and W 7th service.  But due to Metro Transit’s relatively tight fist with its data, I’ve always been missing a crucial ingredient: the service hour budget.  Basically, I can create a fantasy bus network to my heart’s content, but until I know how much service is currently provided in the area, I can’t measure exactly how far from the realm of reality my ideas are.

That all changed when Metro Transit let slip a boatload of data in its Existing Conditions report as part of the Central restructuring process.  Here’s a snapshot of the weekday info:

The motherlode

So there are 1567.7 daily service hours to play with, or 1513 not counting the routes numbered over 300.  Technically, those are up for grabs, too, and I think that a case could be made that those resources would result in more rides if allocated to a denser environment.  However, while eventually I’d like the region to move to a network of locals feeding freeway BRT and LRT lines in place of specialized-destination express buses, in the short term I think there is political value in maintaining suburban coverage with expresses, and moreover these particular expresses mostly have pretty good performance in terms of passengers per service hour (though they also tend to have higher ratios of platform time to in-service time, suggesting that they require a higher subsidy per passenger, something generally true of express routes).

Anyway, as a starting point the Central Corridor EIS listed some bus route changes that I believe are still planned as part of the restructure.  Route 50 will be eliminated, saving 88.1 service hours, and route 16 will be reduced to every 20 minutes at peak and every 30 off peak, saving 135.6 service hours.  My formula for Service hours (H) is Run time (R) * Daily Trips (T), where R= Route length (L) * Average speed (S) and T = Peak trips (P) * Off-peak trips (O), which can further be broken down into P=Peak buses per hour * 7.5 hours (this doesn’t correspond exactly to the hours in which peak fares are charged; I noticed that most routes had some peak frequency spilling outside of those hours, or else had extra high frequency in one peak period, and with some trial-and-error found that this best approximated the service hours listed) and O = Off-peak buses per hour * 10.5 hours (equaling an 18-hour service day, which again can be stretched or compressed by tweaking the number of buses in any given hour; at this level it wasn’t worth it to me to be any more precise).  Here is a more confusing way to write it:

H=((P*7.5)+(O*10.5))LS

And here is what my restructuring ideas look like in numerical format:

Pretty close, huh?  And that’s with pretty generous frequency increases – the 62, 65, and 87 all go from basically every half hour all day to every 15 minutes at rush hour, which I think is really the minimum for a useful service.  Remember that a lot of these routes will actually be picking up people transferring from Central LRT to jobs on Pierce Butler or in Energy Park.  For those who prefer graphical descriptions, here’s a hopefully-legible map of the restructure:

If you want to check out the details, I imported the altered routes to google maps (WordPress doesn’t seem to allow kmz uploads).  Basically I took the added service assumed in the EIS – the Lexington route, the Hamline – Victoria circle line, and extending the 67 down Fairview – and I pulled a switcheroo with the 63 and the 87, extending the former from Grand up to Rosedale and the latter from Cleveland following Transfer Rd around to the Front branch of the 3.  The other big change is removing service from St Clair, which is covered by the new circle line and otherwise every half-mile by north-south routes, and then extending the 80 downtown to cover the missing East Side 70 service.  Here are route by route descriptions:

2:  My thought was that the 2 should take on the 8 as a branch, both to make the 8 more useful and also as a way to add a bit more service to the heavily-used 2.  When Tcmetro pointed out on Minnescraper that the RSIP seems to suggest extending the 2 down to Raymond, I incorporated that sensible idea.  However, the 2 will still need a branch between 8th St SE and the U of M, which is evident if you look at the boarding map for this route, on which the off-campus stops with the highest boardings are on 8th.  It may be that eventually another route could take over this branch, and based on my experience going to Brasa from Seward, very few people go all the way to 8th from Franklin.  Taking it back to the near future, the 2 illustrates a point to keep in mind about my data: I use the longest route length to estimate the service hours in an attempt to get the most conservative estimate.  So while a trip or two per hour may branch to Raymond, this estimate uses the length of the 8th St SE branch.

3:  I’ve spun off the Front branch of the 3 into its own line, to be described below.  The remaining 3A should remain the same with the exception – and yes I know this isn’t what’s being studied here – of some stop consolidation in Minneapolis Como.

6:  I get why the 6 is included in the restructuring study despite just barely grazing the Central Corridor (the 68, in contrast, actually duplicates some LRT service yet is not included): the possibility of replacing the 6’s Eastside service with the neutered 16.  I’m not necessarily opposed to it, but I just don’t see what good it will do.  Don’t get me wrong, I know too well how hard it is to get a bus between Downtown and Old St Anthony, but the post-LRT 16 would not cross the river any more than the 6 does today.  Moreover, the 6 is more likely to get a frequency boost if ever there are more resources put into transit than the permanently redundant 16.

16:  Speaking of, I assumed the 16 would continue to follow the same route for purposes of calculating service hours, but I can see truncating it somewhere around Raymond or Oak.  It also seems like the 16 could do something more useful around downtown St Paul, but I’ll be darned if I can think of what that could be.

21:  My only change is to axe the detour to the Midway and let the 21 sail through on Marshall, tacking over to Selby at Lexington, which saves about a mile.  Using my formula, cutting a mile at 10mph saves 6 service minutes, which at the St Paul frequency of the 21 (I believe every 15 minutes at peak and every 20 minutes off peak) adds up to 12 service hours in the course of a weekday, not bad.   My formula is again conservative here, as it assumes that St Paul gets the same frequency as Lake St, which it certainly doesn’t deserve.  I could see hi-frequency all the way to SPUD though.

46:  I didn’t calculate the service hours and it’s not a part of the study, but on the map I showed the 46 going east on Montreal to W 7th as a replacement for its current E branch down Cleveland.  They’re both about the same length, but I’d say a Montreal branch would be needed less for its own sake than for the transfer possibilities from the 54 or the 84.  In addition, I actually drew these routes going over 35E because that would be a great spot for a freeway BRT station, although it seems like there are only three express buses running down there right now.

53:  No changes for this route, although its frequency could be upped a bit.

60:  Jarrett Walker has a saying about circle lines:  “Few people want to travel in circles.”  I believe this characteristic is going to be a problem for the Hamline-St Clair-Victoria-University circle line proposed in the Central EIS, but included it here as its function is merely to be a feeder.  I could see the advantage of extending it down to West 7th, but I’m not sure that should be a priority.  Long term, I see no reason to run a circle line here, and my ideas for longer distance routes for Hamline and Victoria are in the map below, but hard to justify until ridership picks up.

61:  This route wasn’t included in the restructuring study, but I really would like to straighten out that detour down to Arlington.

62:  I don’t propose any changes to the routing of the 62, but I think this is one of the routes that most deserves an increase in frequency.  In fact, Metro Transit may want to bump up the frequency before Central LRT starts rolling to placate Bev Scalze, who introduced a bill this session to gut Metro Transit funding in order to further the balkanization of regional transit.

63:  dreww on Minnescraper mentioned that a planner at a restructuring meeting told him Metro Transit is thinking of extending the 63 up to Raymond station.  I’d go further, assigning it the entire northern segment of the 87.  On the map I showed it going up through Desnoyer Park, which is currently not served by any routes, but if the Desnoyerians aren’t receptive it may also make sense to go up Cretin.

65:  Not a huge deal, but I think it would provide a bit more connectivity to run this down to Grand instead of Selby.  My guess is that would not even produce a noticeable change in service hours, since the Selby route twists around to get to Kellogg anyway.  Cathedral Hill wouldn’t really feel a decrease in service if the 21 was bumped up to Hi Frequency for its entirety.

67:  The Central EIS proposes extending the 67 down Fairview, which I think makes a lot of sense.  I’m not sure if that means splitting off West Side service into its own route, but if not, I would run the 67 down Western and cross the river at Smith rather than downtown.  That will save a little more than 2 miles, or around 16 service hours on a weekday assuming 15 minute peak frequency and 30 minute off-peak, but perhaps more important will create a quick way to cross the river.  Undoubtedly most riders will actually want to go downtown, but they would have five opportunities to transfer to do so.  Transfers to a North End or East Side route will be more difficult, but most 67 riders will be within a half-mile of an LRT station.  I think this would be an interesting experiment in grid-based network structure, but if Metro Transit wants to stick to their old radial ways, it will not be a huge deal other than missing out on having a Western feeder for Central LRT.

68:  Mysteriously the restructuring study ignores the 68 despite its potentially important connection with Central LRT at Regions hospital and parallel route downtown.  This is another route that cries out for a simplification, which I think could be accomplished by giving it the 61’s Arlington detour.   As you’ll see on the long-term map below, it could then proceed along Roselawn and terminate either at Rosedale or the Quarry.  The problem is that the 68 already crosses the river onto a ridiculously serpentine Dakota County segment, so extending to the Quarry would create a 29 mile route.  If that is as untenable as it seems (at an average of 15mph the route would have an almost two hour run time), the route would have to be split, and ideally that would happen under another restructuring study so some of the kinks in that route could simultaneously be straightened out.  That is necessarily a long term project and also too complicated for me to figure out now, so I’ll leave it for another day.

70:  Ok, so it’s not good to mess with much outside of the Central restructuring study area, but part of my plan involves unfortunately sacrificing the St Clair bus on the alter of adding more north-south routes.  Its East Side segment would be taken over by the 80, which currently terminates at Sun Ray.  Long term, if ridership ever builds enough to justify routes every half-mile in both directions, I would restore the St Clair bus, but send it northward up Victoria.

71:  No changes in the short term for the 71, but I did forget to include it in my short term map above, so just clarifying that I don’t want to chop it.

74:  Also no changes for the 74, which has surprisingly high frequency for a St Paul route.  Just mentioning it because it’s not clear from the map that it would continue to cross the river.

80:  As mentioned above, the 80 would assume the East Side segment of the 70.  Riders who are hoping to end up at Sun Ray would have at least a couple opportunities to transfer there.

84:  I assumed a pretty big bump in the 84’s frequency.  I’m not sure whether some extra resources will be found for Rapid Bus of if it’ll come out of Central restructuring, but I assumed something close to the 7.5 minute effective Rapid Bus plus local frequency.

86:  I added something close to what the EIS described, a bus heading up Lexington from West 7th, cutting over at Cty Rd C to Rosedale.  In the long term, or as an alternative, it may be a good idea to continue up Lexington to the employment cluster along 694, which has a good 15,ooo jobs, although they’re heinously unwalkable.

87:  My plan to assign the northern segment of the 87 to the 63 leaves Cleveland unserved, but the Front branch of the 3 can come to the rescue.  A well-timed connection to LRT would provide comparable or better travel times to the U of M, and provide better access to the jobs in Energy Park and along Front.  It may be tricky, though, to also time an easy transfer to the 63 for people who want to go from Cleveland up to the St Paul campus, but riders going to Rosedale would have have no problem catching the 84.

94:  Personally I think that the improvement to transit on University Ave doesn’t go far enough, so it pains me a bit to cut the 94 so much.  However, I can’t see how it would be to the advantage of Metro Transit to provide a service that would be a direct competitor to its flagship, so I would say cut it from all periods in which Central LRT is unlikely to be constantly overwhelmed.  Likely all that’s left is the peak.  Ideally they would combine it with one of the express services going to downtown St Paul to minimize the number of vehicles and drivers needed, but I’m not familiar enough with the express network to know what that would be.  Anyway, in terms of service hours it would basically be a wash.

134:  With decent local service on Cleveland this service is superfluous in my opinion.

144:  Ditto.  9 service hours for the pot.

Whew.  Well, hopefully the length of this post gives an indication of the complexity of this issue, which is constantly reminding me that I don’t have the perfect solution.  This post is intended to throw out ideas, many of which likely should be thrown right back.  The service hours formula is also intended to be an indicator of the feasibility of the ideas, but certainly isn’t a realistic plan for implementation.  For one thing, I ignore platform hours.  These had a surprisingly predictable percentage of total operating time (service hours + platform hours) for the routes in the restructuring study data, which for the locals was between 56% and 60%.  As a result I felt safe ignoring them, since these are seemingly fixed based on the total service hours.  But I really don’t have enough experience or knowledge to say that for sure.  In fact, I don’t have enough knowledge or experience to be certain about any of this, and I’m a bit disconcerted at the amount of service I was able to add.  So please let me know if I missed something – don’t hesitate to knock over this house of cards, because it will help me build the next one a bit stronger.

Speaking of the next one, here’s a sneak preview of my long term ideas.  This is for a future with much higher transit ridership, and the only place it is anywhere near complete is in this Central restructuring area.  I have no plans for a detailed post about this, but I thought it might illustrate how my short term ideas could be a stepping stone, but the question is whether Minnesota will ever want to take that step.

Time’s the legislator

A fine batch of sausage

It turns out I may have misjudged Mike Beard when I accused him of being a fundamentalist ideologue; instead it seems he’s a energetic, charismatic and persuasive fundamentalist ideologue.  That of course makes him a much more dangerous opponent for transit riders; while he has not yet exactly confirmed my accusation that he is trying to destroy transit in the Twin Cities, it seems that even he would admit that he is trying to radically transform it, or at least its financing and governance.

My newfound respect or fear of Mike Beard comes from watching House Transportation Policy and Finance committee meetings.  I’ve never taken the drastic step of viewing legislative proceedings before, but the unusually high number of anti-transit bills in this session led me to tape my eyelids and hope for the best.  The fruit of my boredom is the following short summary of most of the transit related bills that got a hearing this year.  I didn’t view any hearings on their Senate companions (if they have them) because the Senate only offers audio, and apparently I need the eye candy of watching the sausage being made (metaphors have rarely been so disgustingly mixed).  As such, my summaries will be skewed from a House perspective.  At this point in the session some of these bills appear stalled, but I think they will benefit from wider public awareness, i.e. people googling “sausage” and getting this post in the results.

HF2685 Metro Transit service fare increases required  This bill as described in my last Beard-bashing post was killed, but in a twist of the knife has been appropriated as a vehicle for an omnibus transportation bill (but not the omnibus transportation policy bill, which you’ll see is below).  The bill contains some other heinous provisions that I’ll describe below, but does not as of writing contain the transit-slashing vindictive fare increase.

HF2852 Distance-based transit fare surcharge pilot program established for replacement service transit providers  It’s not necessarily a bad idea to use a distanced-based or “zone” fare system, but the language in this bill only allows an increase in fare for distance, which could be a problem for short-distance express service.  This bill has been incorporated into the omnibus transportation bill, so it has a pretty good chance of passing.

HF2473 Transportation public-private partnership pilot program and related regulations established  The Legislature is graciously allowing MnDot to propose a public-private partnership with a selected private company, but not to accept a public-private partnership that a private company proposes out of the blue.  The bill actually suggests a project for the pilot program, the Mississippi River crossing that would connect I-94 to US-10 near Clearwater, but I mention it here because the bill ignores a potential application to transit, although it doesn’t expressly forbid it.

HF2387 Greater Minnesota transit funding provided, bonds issued, and money appropriated  There’s usually some fairly general bond money for Greater Minnesota transit in the bonding bill; this bill would have provided $10m, but that got shrunk to $2.5m in the final House version.  The Senate seems to have upped it to $4m, and I’d guess it will end up around there.

HF2321 Metropolitan transit service opt-outs authorized  DFLer Bev Scalze makes this session’s transit-wacking bipartisan with her bill to reopen opt-outs for suburban municipalities.  She got sympathy from the committee for her dissatisfaction with her community’s transit service, and this bill has been incorporated into the omnibus transportation bill listed above as HF2685.  I would like to take this opportunity to conjecture that Rep. Scalze has never taken the bus, or else she perhaps would have not introduced this bill that is guaranteed to make Twin Cities transit more confusing.

HF2271 Minneapolis to Duluth high speed passenger rail funding provided, bonds issued, and money appropriated  Alas, ’twas not to be funded, but just about every DFLer with a district along the proposed route signed as an author.

HF2155 Central corridor light rail line property valuation increases limited  Here’s a fun one – legislatively limiting the increase in property values caused by Central LRT.  Of course, they’re only limiting the increase in taxable value, not sale value.  No one wants any pain with their pleasure, I guess.  The Senate version actually got referred to the committee on Taxes, but the House version is just sitting there.

HF1284 Omnibus Transportation Policy  Bus use of shoulders is expanded by this bill, both in terms of where and how fast.  On the where side, authority will be given to counties and cities to allow buses to use shoulder on roads that they own.  On the how fast side, MnDot will be able to raise the speed limit for buses on shoulders in specific locations after conducting a study, which would have prevented the bullshit reasoning for restriping a bus shoulder as a general traffic lane and arguing that it will improve bus speed.

HF1943 Metropolitan Council transit funding provisions modified and HF2696 Metropolitan Council; formula changed for assistance to cities and towns with replacement transit service  Mike Beard worked tenaciously this year to redistribute funds from Metro Transit to suburban opt-outs; one of his efforts took the form of HF1943, which attempts to restore cuts that the Met Council made to opt-out funding as a method of dealing with their own budget cuts.  In the March 7th meeting, Met Council Gov’t Affairs Director Judd Schetnan responded by pointing out that most of the opt-outs had reserves equaling 150% of their annual budgets, implying that they could whether these cuts relatively easily.  HF1943 doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, perhaps because Beard found a better way to redistribute money to the suburbs in HF2696.  This bill nearly doubles the amount of MVST money that goes to opt-outs, and has been included in HF2685, which looks likely to pass.

This being a bonding year, there were also many transit projects that got their own capital funding bills, including NLX, Bottineau, Southwest, a park-and-ride in Maple Grove, a transit center in Duluth (rehab of the gorgeous Depot maybe?), the Lake Street transit station, and many more.  None were included in the bonding bills, which only nodded to transit in the House’s version, which included $1m for upgrades to track between St Paul and Hopkins, potentially for use on Red Rock commuter rail or “HSR” to Chicago.  The final bonding bills may change in the conference committee, though, so now’s the time to contact your legislator and ask they listen to the extraordinary popular support for the Southwest Transitway.

Finally, the instrument of Mike Beard’s divine vengeance on Metro Transit is a bill that seems to not yet be introduced, but to which Beard devoted an entire meeting of his committee, and which has gotten some attention at MinnPost and the Strib.  His proposal is to create a transportation planning agency separate of the Met Council and to fund it through property taxes (again) instead of the general fund.  Since it hasn’t yet been introduced, I doubt it will pass this session, which gives me more time to formulate my thoughts on it.  Look for another Beard-bashing post here in the next couple weeks.

The future of transit in Minnesota?

The Beard that won’t quit

Mike Beard's vision for Minnesota

Bible-thumping Mike Beard won’t rest until he’s chased every last Minnesotan off of transit.  You’ll remember the somber mood last summer when his transportation bill basically eliminated transit, proving once again that the Republican leadership doesn’t pay attention to what their committee chairs are doing.  At some point, the suburban contingent of the legislative majority must have explained to their redneck colleagues that middle-class white people take the bus, too, and draconian cuts were avoided.

One piece of last year’s transportation bill (vetoed by Gov Dayton) would have required the Met Council to raise fares by a quarter.  Mike Beard won’t let the extra quarter drop, and has brought it up this year as an independent bill.  I’m not certain if the state has directly specified the amount of transit fares before; I couldn’t find any by searching the historical statutes but certainly the TCRT co’s fares were regulated, although possibly by municipalities rather than the state.  But regardless of whether there’s precedent, a politically-driven fare increase contradicts existing policy, which states that:

Fares and fare collection systems shall be established and administered to accomplish the following purposes: (1) to encourage and increase transit and paratransit ridership with an emphasis on regular ridership

MN statute 473.408 subd. 2A

Although Mike Beard – whose occupation is “Business” – and Senate companion bill author and “Home builder/land developer” Joe Gimse are both clearly transit experts, they may need a refresher course on economics.  Raising the price of a service typically does not encourage people to buy it, and since operating costs for transit do not increase or decrease by the passenger but rather by the vehicle, fare changes don’t have a direct relationship to operating efficiency.  In fact, if a fare increase lowers ridership but not enough to cut frequency, it will worsen Metro Transit’s relatively good farebox recovery rate.  In other words, a 25 cent fare increase will probably make transit less efficient.

So although the bill duplicitously titles the fare hike subdivision a “Farebox recovery adjustment”, the real purpose of the bill is to make transit less competitive.  Unfortunately, if passed, the real effect of the bill would be to increase transportation costs for people in poverty, who are already disadvantaged by the region’s extreme job sprawl.

The bill hasn’t yet received a hearing – it was just introduced this week in both houses.  Hopefully the rational minds that compose our professional legislature will recognize this bill for the destructive politicization of a public utility that it is.  Seems unlikely.  In fact a legislated fare hike is painless stab at transit for suburban Republicans who are ideologically opposed to transit but who have to deal with the inconvenience of constituents who actually use and support it – the fare hike will damage transit overall but will be less hurtful to relatively affluent riders (although the text currently requires a “proportional” increase for express buses, so the hike will likely be more than a quarter for most suburban riders).  We’ll find out on March 12th, when the first hearing in the House is scheduled (the Senate hearing hadn’t been scheduled as of the ranting of this post).

Mike Beard’s persistence in legislating his perverse interpretation of Christian teachings in the form of unrestrained resource extraction and emission of climate-changing gasses has earned him the nickname “Bible-thumping” Mike Beard (by me, anyway).  But his tenacious antipathy for public transit suggests a more fitting alliterative epithet: “Bus-bashing” Mike Beard.  Eh?  Eh?