North Loop

Most days you’ll find me traversing the vast parking lot plains of the North Loop neighborhood.  There are huge gaps in the urban fabric here, especially on the south side of 2nd St, between Washington and 3rd across from Tower Lofts, and again on the south side of 3rd.  Here is the map, where most of the parcels in red are currently parking lots:

So it was surprising to find a low projected population increase:  if all the high, medium and low potential parcels were developed, it would add just 3,563 residents.  That’s at 80 units/acre and 1.2 residents per unit.

This makes me think that 80 units per acre is too low.  Especially because I’ve included on my map one parcel for which a development (rehabbing for apartments an existing warehouse building) was just proposed: the Holden building.  In my calculation, its half-acre site yielded 38 units, for 42 new residents.

But the plans call for 120 units at this site, for a density of 240 units per acre!  This building is unusual for using almost its entire lot – most new buildings have a little patch of landscaping, and often there is a small guest parking lot.  But this is downtown we’re talking about – even new buildings sometimes use their whole lot.  Here’s an oblique of the Holden building, followed by an oblique of the Rock Island lofts, built within the last decade:

(Note that in the Rock Island Lofts image, the River Station condos are also shown.  They are from the same era as Rock Island, but around a quarter of their lot is used for parking.)

While dense buildings like Rock Island get built, they will not be the standard unless the city implements policies to encourage them – minimum FARs, incentives for density increases, minimum units per acre, etc.  There doesn’t need to be Manhattan-like densities here – there certainly will never be Manhattan-like rapid transit coverage here – but density on the level of Chicago or San Francisco would support rapid transit and high-quality local transit (streetcars) without drastically changing the character of the neighborhood or the city.

The problem is that I’ve never seen any political support at any level of government anywhere in Minnesota for the type of lifestyle change that would support a municipal initiative for higher-density living.  Some politicians talk about bringing European-quality transit here, but no politician has talked about bringing European-quality neighborhoods here.

But in the interest of optimism, fantasy and curiosity, I’ll calculate developable areas at higher levels of density:

Potential 80 un/ac 110 un/ac 140 un/ac
High 1927 2649 3371
Low 991 1362 1734
Medium 645 887 1129
Total 3563 4899 6235

Almost doubled the potential population – but still surprisingly few.  It seems that a few sizable parking lot clusters make the neighborhood feel more empty than it is, despite the reality that the North Loop is pretty well developed.  There may be a lesson here about design and making parking lots less noticeable – but that’s not really my specialty.

A couple words about my decisions about what is or isn’t developable:  There were some tough calls in the existing low-density industrial or office buildings.  Any one-story buildings I counted as medium-potential, even if they are new, i.e. the Franklin Bank building.  I think that the intensity of the neighborhood will lead these to be redeveloped sooner or later.  The Salvation Army building and the North Loop Business Park (at 3rd  & 10th Ave) include large sections of one-story, but other sections of four- to six-stories.  I counted the one-story sections as low-potential, since to me an addition seems less likely than a demo and new construction – but I could be wrong about that.  The one-story buildings along Plymouth I also counted as low-potential due to their synergies with the North Washington industrial district, but the argument could be made that the visibility of the site would make them better candidates for redevelopment.  The Star Tribune building, though, I did not count as a redevelopment opportunity at all – unless the paper goes down (god forbid), it is unlikely they will have the cash for a move of that magnitude, though it is possible that as they downsize, some portions of their site along Plymouth may become available.

Next district:  Market District/Twinsville!

Get in my head – downtown population

So one of the things I think about when I’m walking around is how to accommodate increased population density in Minneapolis.  Not because I think that population size is a good measure of a city’s vitality or success – since most American city’s borders no longer extend with growth, it is a meaningless measure.

Instead it is a selfish thought:  I prefer to use transit to get around, and in order to build a good rapid transit system with current levels of car ownership, the population density will need to be roughly doubled.

In my mind, the population allocation would be about 50,000 each to North and Northeast, and 100,000 each to Downtown and South (and I think South could probably take even more).  Can you tell I play SimCity?

Downtown is currently estimated to have about 30,000 people, of whom around 20,000 were counted in the last census (which makes the estimate seem reasonable, considering the explosive growth in residential buildings downtown in the last decade).  So is there even room for 70,000 more people?

That’s what I aim to find out:  I will use bing maps’ polygon generator tool, which automatically calculates the area of the polygon in square feet, to create a map of all the developable parcels downtown.

First I divided Downtown into 8 districts:

There’s North Loop, Market/Twinsville, Warehouse/Theater District, Harmon Place, Loring Park, Core/Gateway, Mill District, East Downtown, and Elliot Park.

All of these neighborhoods have identifiable characteristics that distinguish them from one another, although of course the borders are hazy.  Although East Downtown, and Twinsville don’t exist yet, they are areas that are currently distinct from their neighbors.  And I’ll admit, I made up the Market District because I abhor multiple modifiers (like East Lyndale Ave North), and the North Loop plan gives it the boring moniker “Upper North Loop.”

At this point I’m not sure what average density to calculate these parcels at.  80 units/acre seems to reasonable, as it would represent a balance of low-rise and mid-rise (four and eight stories, respectively, in my definition) with a few high-rises (ten stories or higher) thrown in the mix.

But a transit-supportive urban policy should really focus high-density development downtown.  If only developments of six stories or higher are considered (floor area ratio is really a better measure, but I’m not sure I’m qualified to guess at what is realistic – FAR=8?), then average densities could be brought to 100 or 130 units per acre.  I’m not sure it’s realistic to expect much more than that – Minneapolis will never be Manhattan and I probably wouldn’t want it to be.

So look out in the next few weeks for a district-by-district breakdown of what kind of population increase can be expected.  And cross your fingers that it will total 70,000.

New transit lowers ridership?

There is a report making the rounds from the Dukakis Center at Northeastern University in Boston that seems to have some controversial findings:  they claim that new transit lines may actually lower ridership in the neighborhoods they serve as a result of gentrification.

I’m at work right now, so I can’t dig in too deep, but my suspicion is that this may be statistic abuse.  Transit lines often result in an increase of affluent whites in the surrounding areas, and affluent whites are less likely to use transit than the population as a whole, but does it follow that the affluent whites that live in transit-oriented neighborhoods use transit less?

The report is rich with statistics and charts, but I didn’t find any demographic analysis of transit users in transit-oriented neighborhoods.  Maybe after work I’ll read it a little deeper.

BRT or no BRT?

On Wednesday, Jarrett Walker gave a shout-out to Metro Transit for planning an eventual system brand for its rapid transit system regardless of the technology of the line
(i.e. rail or bus).  He referenced a Star Tribune article detailing a presentation that a Met Council transportation plan gave to the Dakota County board.  I was dismayed.

My problem was not with the branding concept – if I’m getting from station to station fast and on time, I don’t care if it’s a bus or a train taking me there.

But the article focuses on the Cedar Ave BRT line that is currently under construction in Dakota County.  This line will connect to the Hiawatha Light Rail line at the Mall of America – but will the rider’s experience on the two lines be comparable?  I don’t think it will, but the difference will have very little to do with rubber vs steel.

BRT means a lot of things to a lot of people, most of which are mentioned at the Wikipedia page for BRT.  However, almost no BRT includes all of the characteristics mentioned there:

  • “Bus only, grade-separated (or at-grade exclusive) right-of-way
  • “Comprehensive coverage [I think that this is trying to distinguish it from intra-urban transit]
  • “Serves a diverse market with high-frequency all day service
  • “Bus priority
  • “Vehicles with tram-like characteristics
  • “A specific image with a brand name
  • “Off-bus fare collection
  • “Level boarding
  • “[High-Quality] Stations”

I’m not aware of a comprehensive, objective effort to define and categorize the types of BRT (except maybe this one, but sorry I don’t have time to read 800 pages right now), so I’m going to attempt to outline it here in an effort to explain why the Cedar Ave BRT will likely differ from the Hiawatha line.  There is going to be a lot of simplification here, and many lines could be classified as different types by looking at different segments.  But I think it will be useful as a framework for understanding how riders will use a line – and useful for deciding which lines to include in a system branding.

So let’s start with a basic distinction: BRT vs. busways.  Sometimes you’ll see politicians or even academics say BRT when they’re referring to a busway.  They are confusing a transit line with a transitway.  One is a means of conveyance, the other is infrastructure.

Put simply, BRT is the transit; it is what people buy a ticket it for and climb on to.  The busway is the infrastructure that BRT lines often, but not always run on.  A busway is a stretch of road that is designated primarily or exclusively for buses. There are too many types of busways to list them all:  they can be bridges, access ramps, tunnels, viaducts, etc.  As long as it’s paved and used mostly by buses, it’s a busway.  Here are examples in Minneapolis:

  • The U of M transitway is a busway because buses have the exclusive use.
  • The Nicollet Mall is a busway because buses have the primary use.
  • The Hennepin Ave bus-bike-right turn lanes are busways, but don’t functions as such due to failure of enforcement.
  • Freeway shoulders that are designated for bus use are marginally busways because buses can use them, but they exist to serve single-occupancy vehicles.

It is important to make this distinction because busways are easy to build and provide a transit advantage.  They can be as extensive as LA’s silver line, but they can be as short as a driveway:

The driveway curving around the parking lot to the Uptown Transit Center is a busway.

So don’t intimidate people by calling it BRT; it’s just transit-supportive infrastructure, like a bus stop.

BRT, on the other hand, is the line itself.  It’s what you ride, and it typically takes a lot of work to come about, but it also provides significant advantages to its riders, and is typically worth the time (and money).  However, not all BRT is created equal.  When a county commission announces a new BRT station at a freeway overpass, it doesn’t mean that you all of the sudden have a rapid transit system.  That’s because there are three types of BRT:

  • Enhanced Bus Service
  • Commuter BRT
  • Bus Rapid Transit

Sometimes called Arterial BRT, Enhanced Bus Service is just that: a city bus that has been improved to run faster, more reliably or more comfortably.   Albuquerque opened an enhanced bus service called Rapid Ride in 2004 that includes high-quality stations (including better shelters, real-time displays and recognizable architecture), wide station spacing, high frequency and high capacity vehicles.

But Enhanced Bus Service doesn’t have to be a branding technique; it can be as simple as upgrading principal stops in your transit system or spacing your stops more widely.  It is an inexpensive means of improving bus service because it doesn’t have to all be done at once.  In a sense, the recent removal of half the stops on Nicollet Mall was an implementation of Enhanced Bus Service; it certainly improved travel time through the corridor.

Commuter BRT is more typically called Freeway BRT, but because it doesn’t have to be on a freeway and because it shares characteristics with the type of bus service called Commuter Buses, I decided on Commuter BRT.  A Commuter BRT line typically has a long segment without stops where it travels on a grade-separated highway or busway through an area that is close to a CBD but served by local buses.  The classic example is Houston’s Transitways, which run on freeways and connect park-and-ride lots with ramps designated for bus and HOV use.  Interestingly, Houston’s system doesn’t have a strong brand, and is illustrated by maps for its HOV users.

The difference between Commuter BRT and commuter bus service is that BRT typically has multiple station stops before running to a CBD, while commuter bus usually runs from a single park-and-ride facility (sometimes more, but rarely more than three).  However, both share the characteristics of running primarily at peak times, and Commuter BRT should always, while commuter bus only sometimes, has high-quality stations and high-occupancy vehicles.  I would add that Commuter BRT should have ticket machines so you don’t have point-of-payment in the vehicle, but I don’t know that that’s always the case.

The most rapid transit-like type of BRT is Bus Rapid Transit.  This is the type that is associated with Curitiba, Brazil (which the Wikipedia article calls the first BRT system).  It is the least distinguishable from traditional rail rapid transit.  It is also the most rare in North America – Los Angeles opened two lines in the last decade (the Orange and the Silver) and Pittsburgh has three lines, but anything else you hear referred to as BRT in North America is one of the first two types (or a hybrid thereof; Ottowa has the most rapid-transit-like hybrid I know of).

So which type is the Cedar Ave BRT?  I’ll leave that for a later post…



Burning bright?

Today is a very important day for transit nerds.  Today is the day the USDOT announces its TIGER II grant awards.

We nerds get jazzed up about these grants because they are the embodiment of the transportation system we’ve been whining for:  The criteria for the awards is that projects emphasize livability, sustainability, and safety.

So why did Hennepin County apply for a road-widening project?  That’s what I asked Councilmember Gordon in this email exchange:

— On Tue, 8/31/10, Alex Bauman  wrote:

From: Alex Bauman
Subject: 4th St S ramp to 35W
Date: Tuesday, August 31, 2010, 11:05 AM


I saw in your newsletter that you are writing a letter of support for Hennepin County’s 35W widening project.  Please pardon my surprise to learn that a Green Party member is supporting a project that primarily benefits the drivers of single-occupancy vehicles.  Would you mind, when you have a moment, elaborating on your support for this project?  Do you have proof that Hennepin County is pursuing improvements to the pedestrian facilities on the Washington and Cedar Ave bridges?  If so, why was there no TIGER grant application for those projects?  Can you explain how this project will benefit transit users?


Alex Bauman

— On Fri, 9/3/10, Gordon, Cam A. <> wrote:

From: Gordon, Cam A. <>
Subject: FW: County’s Tiger II grant.
Date: Friday, September 3, 2010, 1:28 PM


Thank you for your note.  I want to offer you some more information about this. The staff report that is posted on the City Council website has an out of date and incomplete application and perhaps that is part of the problem.

I think I share your basic belief that we should be realigning our transportation system to make transit, bicycling and walking more attractive choices.  That’s why my office has worked so hard on transit projects like the Central Corridor, and pushed for major projects in the ward to be as bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly as possible.

There are several things to understand about the County’s grant application and the context we’re in with the County right now.  First, the County application included three major components:

– A connection between Washington/3rd Ave eastbound and 35W northbound, including an auxiliary lane which will allow Bus Rapid Transit to be implemented on 35W north of downtown.  The 35W bridge was built to be “BRT ready,” and this project actually helps us take a step in that direction.  This would complement transit improvements made on 35W south of downtown Minneapolis and the Marquette and Second project within downtown.

– A Washington Avenue Bridge Pedestrian and Bicycle Enhancement component, which will widen the existing Washington bridge over 35W by seven feet on each side. This new width would be used to widen the existing sidewalks on each side to 10-feet-wide from the existing 8-feet-wide and introduce a new 5-foot-wide bicycle lane on each side of the bridge.  This would be a major bicycle improvement, because this one bridge is the major obstacle to putting bicycle lanes on all of Washington Ave from Seven Corners to Hennepin.

– A Cedar Avenue Bridge Recondition and Pedestrian Enhancement component, which would widen the existing bridge by two feet on each side, effectively widening the existing sidewalk along the west side of the bridge to 10-feet-wide from the existing 8-feet-wide, and widening the existing sidewalk along the east side of the bridge from 8 feet to 12 feet.  This project component will be crucial to pedestrians using the proposed new access to the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit West Bank Station which will have its main vertical circulation from the east side of the bridge.

I am attaching the first few pages of the lengthy application for you to see as well.

[here it is: Tiger II County Grant up to page 5].

Also, the City of Minneapolis has applied for a similar grant to do a comprehensive study of the streetcar corridor that we’ve decided to move forward with first: Central Ave NE from Columbia Heights into downtown, then following Nicollet Ave to at least 38th Street.  I’m a strong proponent of streetcars, and I very much want to be able to move forward on this corridor.  I think it will be so successful that it will transformational; once we have one complete, the next few will be much easier to build, just like we’ve seen with LRT.

I will also note that even the most auto-oriented aspect of their application – the ramp from 3rd onto 35 – will, in my opinion, help nonmotorized transportation elsewhere.  The Washington Ave bridge over 35W is an unpleasant place to be a pedestrian or cyclist during the afternoon/evening peak hours, in large part because most of the people trying to leave downtown in cars onto 35W northbound take the ramp on the northeast side of that bridge.  If we can make a better option for northbound drivers that puts more traffic into a space that is currently off-limits to pedestrians and cyclists (the Washington trench) and takes traffic out of a space that we want to be more pedestrian and bicyclist friendly (Washington through downtown, to Seven Corners) it seems like a good thing to do.  That and the major improvements for peds, bikes and transit – the widened sidewalks and bike lanes on Washington, the really significant widening of the sidewalk connection to the West Bank station on Cedar – make this worth supporting.

I hope this is helpful and that you have been able to read through any and all typos.

Please let me know if you have any further questions or concerns. It is helpful for me to hear from you, so please keep it up.
In peace and cooperation,

Cam Gordon

— On Thu, 9/9/10, Alex Bauman  wrote:

From: Alex Bauman
Subject: Re: FW: County’s Tiger II grant.
To: “Cam A.Gordon” <>
Date: Thursday, September 9, 2010, 9:20 AM

Hi Cam,

Thanks for the additional information.  I was relieved to hear that the pedestrian elements are a part of the TIGER grant application, as I had feared that they would be put off to a vague future date (as with the 26th Ave S bike lanes, for example).  You are completely correct when you describe the Washington Ave bridge as an unpleasant place for pedestrians, and I would add that it and the Cedar Ave bridge also dangerous for pedestrians (in part because crosswalks tend to be the lowest priority for striping).

Unfortunately I cannot share your belief that this project will help non-motorized transportation, as adding capacity has been a discredited method of reducing congestion for decades.  Anthony Downs expressed it best in his theory of triple convergence, and is especially true in areas where growth is expected (such as East Downtown).  The key is what is called “induced demand” or “induced traffic,” the concept that “open roadway encourages existing users to make more car trips, lures drivers away from other routes, and tempts transit riders to return to their automobiles.”  (David Owen, from Green Metropolis)  Most likely both of the ramps to 35W north (from 4th St S and Washington Ave S) will be congested again before long, causing similar dangers and delays for non-motorized traffic as currently exists (although bike lanes will probably help the cyclists).

It is also hard to believe that this project will help public transit – I’m sorry but I was unable to locate anything in the materials you provided indicating BRT would be a component of this project.  BRT has a lot of meanings, but one thing that is almost always included is bus-only lanes, which don’t seem to be a part of this project.  Page 2 of the Grant Application specifies that the “Recommended Project Layout includes a fourth through-lane plus a relocated auxiliary lane” – there is no mention of a bus-only lane, and the document posted by city staff on the council website does not even portray drivable shoulders in this area (the auxiliary lane mentioned is an existing lane between the 4th St SE and Hennepin Ave ramps).  As explained in the paragraph above, induced demand will fill this lane with congestion by SOVs, netting no advantage for transit.  Can you explain how exactly this project would be a step towards BRT?

There are, of course, ways to improve the transit infrastructure in this area in ways that would improve commuting times.  The third lane on Washington Ave, in which parking is banned at peak hours, is much less often congested at peak hours.  It wouldn’t significantly affect capacity to restrict that lane to buses only during the peak hours.  Then the signals on Washington at 35W could be retrofitted to provide a bus-only phase, allowing buses to make a left-hand turn onto 35W, which would create a significant transit advantage.  The buses could use the existing auxiliary lanes and use the University/4th St SE exit, which could be retrofitted to give buses signal priority.  Those buses could stop at this exit, creating an actual BRT system.  The buses could proceed down the auxiliary lane and transfer to the shoulder at 8th St SE, in effect having a continuous lane for the entire trip.  It would cost significantly less than the TIGER proposal and would have a sustainable effect on congestion and commuting patterns.

Sorry for this lengthy email – this is a complex topic.  I really appreciate you taking the time to read and consider my emails and I want to thank you for also providing in-depth responses – that means a lot.  I understand that politics requires sacrifices and I recognize that cyclists and pedestrians will gain something from this project, even if ultimately it will increase the amount of people who drive to downtown Minneapolis and will not help transit (although if I missed something about the BRT, I’d appreciate if you re-explain it).  Thanks again.


And now the County’s grant application has been denied.  Frankly, I’m not surprised, as it didn’t meet any of the criteria.  And really, it is a good thing, as this project would have just encouraged automobile dependence for the new denizens of the East Downtown that is yet to be developed.

But it is a sad thing that Minneapolis has missed out on another round of TIGER grants.  If they had gotten their act together and started an Alternatives Analysis on a streetcar line as soon as their streetcar funding study was finished (instead of waiting two years to approve it), we could have been riding the streetcars with Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Tuscon, Dallas and New Orleans, all of whom had streetcar projects funded through the TIGER grants.

Listing slightly

I just came across an excellent but ancient chart from The Transport Politic and wanted to link to it so I wouldn’t forget it:

It’s a list of all the transit projects that finished in this decade with columns for

Place Project Tech Cost ’09 (m US$) Length (mi) Cost/ Mile (m US$) Rider/ day (k) Rider/ mile (k) Cost/ rider- mile Date
San Juan Tren Urbano Metro Rail 2630 10.7 246 39 3.6 730 2004
Seattle Central Link Light Rail 2400 15.6 154 16 1.0 2400 2009
New Jersey (Northern) Hudson-Bergen Light Rail 2200 20.6 107 38 1.8 1222 2006
Vancouver Canada Line Metro Rail 2000 11.8 169 93 7.9 253 2009
Los Angeles Red Line Phase 3 Metro Rail 1880 3.0 627 2000
San Francisco BART to SFO Metro Rail 1730 8.7 199 2003
Phoenix Metro Rail Light Rail 1410 20.0 71 34 1.7 829 2008
Seattle Sounder (South/North) Commuter Rail 1390 82.0 17 10 0.1 13900 2000/ 2003
Philadelphia Market-Frankford Metro Rail 1310 12.9 102 179 13.9 94 2009
New Jersey (Central) River Line Diesel Light Rail 1260 34.0 37 9 0.3 4200 2004
Washington Branch Ave Extension Metro Rail 1100 6.5 169 2001
Toronto Sheppard Rapid Transit Metro Rail 1080 3.4 318 46 13.5 80 2002
Los Angeles Gold Line to Pasadena Light Rail 1010 13.7 74 24 1.8 561 2003
Denver T-Rex Light Rail 943 19.1 49 2006
Los Angeles Eastside Gold Line Light Rail 900 6.0 150 13 2.2 409 2009
Vancouver Millennium Line Advanced Rapid Transit 861 12.6 68 80 6.3 137 2002
Minneapolis Hiawatha Line Light Rail 819 12.0 68 32 2.7 303 2004
New York City IND 63rd St Connector Metro Rail 788 0.3 2627 2001
Montréal Laval Metro Extension Metro Rail 731 3.2 228 60 18.8 39 2007
San Francisco T-Third St Light Rail 696 5.6 124 2007
Washington Largo Blue Line Extension Metro Rail 695 3.2 217 2004
Dallas Red Line Parker Rd Extension Light Rail 622 12.5 50 2002
Salt Lake City FrontRunner Commuter Rail 614 44.0 14 5 0.1 6140 2008
Atlanta MARTA North Extension Metro Rail 582 1.9 306 2000
Portland Green Line and Transit Mall Light Rail 575 8.3 69 17 2.0 288 2009
New York City Manhattan Bridge Reconstruction Metro Rail 573 2.1 273 2004
Chicago Blue Line Douglas Reconstruction Metro Rail 531 11.2 47 29 2.6 204 2005
Chicago Brown Line Reconstruction Metro Rail 530 11.4 46 98 8.6 62 2009
San Jose Tasman East/ Capitol Extension Light Rail 496 8.3 60 2004
Charlotte South Corridor Light Rail 483 9.6 50 20 2.1 230 2007
Oceanside/ Escondido Sprinter Diesel Light Rail 479 22.0 22 8 0.4 1198 2008
San Diego Mission Valley East Light Rail 477 5.9 81 2005
Boston Silver Line Bus Rapid Transit 473 1.5 315 11 7.3 65 2002/ 2004
St. Louis Cross-County Extension Light Rail 461 7.5 61 2006
Pittsburgh Overbrook Reconstruction Light Rail 442 10.7 41 2004
St. Louis St. Clair County Extension Light Rail 414 17.4 24 2001
Las Vegas Monorail Monorail 405 3.9 104 23 5.9 69 2004
New Mexico Rail Runner Express Commuter Rail 396 97.0 4 5 0.1 3960 2006/ 2008
San Jose Vasona Extension Light Rail 379 6.8 56 2005
Houston MetroRail Light Rail 371 7.5 49 40 5.3 70 2004
Portland Yellow Line Light Rail 366 5.8 63 2004
Los Angeles Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit 359 14.0 26 21 1.5 239 2005
Minneapolis Northstar Commuter Rail 265 40.0 7 2 0.1 2650 2009
Boston Greenbush Line Commuter Rail 263 18.0 15 2007
Sacramento South Line Light Rail 261 6.3 41 2003
Salt Lake City University Line and Extension Light Rail 234 7.3 32 2001/ 2003
Newark Light Rail Extension Light Rail 223 1.0 223 2006
Denver Southwest Corridor Light Rail 222 8.7 26 2000
Edmonton South Line Extensions Light Rail 222 1.8 123 2006/ 2009
New Jersey (Northern) Meadowlands Rail Line Commuter Rail 213 2.3 93 2009
New Orleans Canal St Line Streetcar 180 5.5 33 2004
Calgary Northeast Line Extension Light Rail 176 1.7 104 2007
Cleveland Euclid Corridor Bus Rapid Transit 169 6.8 25 2008
Portland Westside Express Diesel Light Rail 166 14.7 11 1 0.1 1660 2009
Baltimore Light Rail Double Tracking Light Rail 161 9.4 17 35 3.7 44 2006
Portland Airport Red Line Extension Light Rail 153 5.5 28 2001
Washington New York Ave Station Metro Rail 126 2004
Calgary Northwest Line Extensions Light Rail 109 2003/ 2009
Miami Palmetto Extension Metro Rail 103 1.4 74 2003
Portland Streetcar and Extensions Streetcar 96 3.9 25 12 3.1 31 2001/ 2005/ 2007
Tacoma Link Light Rail 94 1.6 59 4 2.5 38 2003
St. Louis Shiloh-Scott Extension Light Rail 88 3.5 25 2003
Dallas Blue Line Garland Extension Light Rail 67 3.1 22 2001/ 2002
Memphis MATA Extension Streetcar 64 2.0 32 2004
Denver Central Platte Valley Corridor Light Rail 58 1.8 32 2002
Seattle South Lake Union Streetcar Streetcar 53 1.3 41 1 0.8 66 2007
New Orleans St. Charles Line Reconstruction Streetcar 47 6.3 7 2008
Calgary South Line Extension Light Rail 47 2004
Nashville Music City Star Commuter Rail 44 32.0 1 1 0 2006
Tampa TECO Line Streetcar 38 2.3 17 1 0.4 95 2002
Little Rock River Rail and Extensions Streetcar 31 3.4 9 1 0.3 103 2004/ 2007
Eugene Green Line Bus Rapid Transit 26 4.0 7 2007
Ottawa O-Train Diesel Light Rail 24 5.0 5 10 2.0 12 2001
San Pedro Waterfront Red Car Streetcar 11 1.5 7 2003
Kenosha Streetcar Streetcar 5 2.0 3 2000

Berg leaps in!

Steve Berg comes through today with the Quote of the Year:

the Met Council is a little like Pakistan. It says all the right things to America, but ends up helping the enemy because without the enemy’s approval it cannot exist.

Ok maybe you have to be a mega-nerd to think this quote is as great as I do.  And maybe the quote needs some explanation.  He’s talking about how the Met Council talks big about equitable growth in the Twin Cities, but basically stands back and lets all the growth happens in the fringe communities that have the land price and tax advantages.

This all comes back from his article today, which follows on the response from his article Wednesday of the last three Met Council chairmen to the comments of Myron Orfield in his article Monday (which I posted about Tuesday).

Berg starts out trying to stake out a compromise between Orfield and the chairmen, who contend that political reality ties their hands from using the statutory tools they have to curb sprawl and direct growth.  In a memorable phrase, Berg agrees with them, saying

The outer suburbs, with their hefty growth aspirations, have become the tail that wags the dog.

[I’d like to interject here with my belief that the political heft of the suburban fringe is overstated.  Not only are the central cities, with a quarter of the region’s population and close to half of the region’s jobs, tremendously vital to the region as a whole, they have good representation in the legislature:  19 house seats, which is 26% of the metro’s 72 house seats and 14% of the total 134 seats; and 10 senate seats, which is 27% of the metro’s 36 seats and 15% of the total 67 senate seats.  The fringe has pretty much the same representation: 13 house seats (18% of the metro and 10% of the total) and 11 senate seats (30% of the metro and 16% of the total).  So the power is in the inner and outer suburban ring districts, and the central cities should have more in common with them than the fringe does, since the inner suburbs have a similar form and increasingly similar social makeup, and the outer suburbs have to deal with Minneapolis (for work, Twins games, etc) more than they do with the fringe.  Maybe this is a case of familiarity breeding contempt.  But I wonder if Minneapolis is doing enough to network with Richfield, Crystal, Brooklyn Center, Columbia Heights, Roseville, etc.  You certainly never hear about any networking activity.  Anyway, back to Berg.]

In a stumbling bit, Berg dreams about what Maple Grove would do if the Met Council were to stop a planned office development, confusing the Council’s power to approve comprehensive plans and thereby influence zoning, with actual police power.  But he dusts himself off in the next section to smash Bell’s blind devotion to ideology regarding concentration and perpetuation of poverty.

And the rest of the article throws compromise aside and goes with Orfield’s “fact-based” assessment of the metropolitan situation.  I wonder if Berg knows how revolutionary is his suggestion to reverse the ratio in the Met Council’s development location goals of “70 percent of development to occur on fresh ground and only 30 percent in older areas.”  It is questionable whether American cities have ever achieved 70 percent infill development, except for Manhattan, though of course it is common in other parts of the world.

And Berg brings up the Met Council’s benchmarks, which he points out have not been reached, and rightly points out that the failure to direct growth towards the Hiawatha line should “deeply embarrass” them.   I would add that the council’s historical directive to develop rapid transit has also been a thorough failure, and it is likely due to their lack of accountability.

Berg doesn’t wade into the question of whether the Met Council should be elected.  Ted Mondale doesn’t think so, but fails to provide evidence for why.  I would say that is the one reform that could be reached: voters understand that direct elections make officeholders accountable, and continuing prevalence of judicial elections is an example of that.  In addition, that is one thing that everyone I’ve talked to – exurban or street rat – has agreed on.

Berg’s post ends with a raft of goals that he’d like to add to the Met Council’s benchmark, all of which are laudable and none of which will be considered as long as a Republican is governor.  Let’s all thank Steve Berg for the contribution he makes to public discourse in this state, and try not to forget November 2nd.

Sidewalk cafes – friend or foe to pedestrians?

At their Oct 14th, 2010, meeting, the Regulatory, Energy and Environment Committee of the Minneapolis City Council will vote on the application by the Varsity Theater for a sidewalk cafe outside of their Dinkytown property.

Take a moment to peruse the plan offered as an attachment to the committee item:  it appears to swap a slalom course for the footpath, requiring the navigator of Dinkytown to dodge 18″ planters, tree gates and parking meters.  The plan depicts a narrowing of the pedestrian zone to 5′ 6″ in one spot, which is widely considered about the minimum for two people walking side-by-side.  Given the average Blood Alcohol Content of the denizens of Dinkytown, how will the collision rate of this sidewalk be affected?

The actual conditions will likely not be as apocalyptic as the plan looks at first glance.  In general the effect will likely be a reduction from an 18 foot sidewalk to about a 13 foot sidewalk, although if the tree grate is not maintained (unfortunately the most likely future), there will be a significant reduction in space.  And space is not something pedestrian-packed Dinkytown has in spades (15th Ave SE north of University Ave SE, about a block and a half away from the proposed sidewalk cafe, had the third- and fifth-highest pedestrian counts in 2009 and 2008, respectively).

What worries me most about a possible approval of a sidewalk cafe in front of the Varsity Theater is the blow it would strike against an already-battered Pedestrian Master Plan and its Pedestrian Design Guidelines.  The site of the proposed cafe is squarely within the Dinkytown Activity Center, and the Pedestrian Design Guidelines list a 6-foot “Through Walk” zone as “acceptable” for Activity Centers.  Unfortunately we have already seen too many projects that ignore these guidelines since their adoption last year.  Most egregious is the sidewalk cafe on the sleepy side street of Hennepin Ave, at 6th St downtown, the plan for which narrows the pedestrian space to just under 6 feet in several locations, and to 4’4″ in one particularly heinous spot.

(p. 68 of the Pedestrian Master Plan gives a general rule about sidewalk cafes:   “Generally sidewalk cafes
are allowed on sidewalks 12 feet or narrower if a 4 foot clear, unobstructed Through Walk Zone
is maintained and on sidewalks wider than 12 feet if a minimum 6 foot Through Walk Zone is maintained.”  It is unclear if this is a written rule that public works conveys to applicants for sidewalk cafes or if it is an observation made about existing cafes.)

There appears to be an opportunity to provide input about the proposed Varsity Theater sidewalk cafe.  In addition, it is never a bad idea to contact your councilmember.  Whether you think a sidewalk cafe boosts the vitality of a streetscape or shrinks your stepping space, let them know that you are paying attention to what happens beneath your feet.