Dark Age Ahead

Existing Bus Service

2300 Hour Service Reduction Scenario

Take a moment to peruse the Met Council’s plans to deal with the $109m cut the legislature passed.  It includes:

  • 25-50 cent fare increase
  • resulting in 2.5-6.8m riders lost
  • 25% reduction in bus service
  • resulting in another 8-10m riders lost
  • at least 200 fewer buses at peak hour
  • 71 routes would be eliminated on one or more days of the week
  • “the Hi-Frequency Network… would probably be reduced to the point at which it almost becomes irrelevant as a network” (about 15:30 on this video)

These cuts are nothing less than an attack on our way of life.  It is important to let the legislators who voted for them know that if they go through, they will be answered in kind.

Red routes will be eliminated

Bridge to Pedestrian Paradise

I was sucked in by the first sentence of a recent Travel & Leisure article:

Stroll the 1.3-mile Hudson River Walkway in Poughkeepsie, NY—taking in the exhilarating view of water, treetops, and sky—and you could almost forget that we live in a world designed for the automobile. Here, the environment belongs not to those who roar by at 70 mph, but to pedestrians like you.

Making a spectacle of himself again

The article is called The World’s Most Spectacular Pedestrian Bridges, and features a lot of bridges in remote mountaintop locations most likely to be crossed by Indiana Jones.  But there are a lot of urban bridges as well, including many of the new breed of postmodern pedestrian bridge like those designed by Calatrava (whose Puente de la Mujer in Buenos Aires made the list).

Minneapolis has some great pedestrian bridges, but I’m not sure any deserve to be called the Most Spectacular in the World.  The Stone Arch Bridge has a spectacular location and a unique one, overlooking the only waterfall on the Mississippi – it coulda been a contender.  The Sabo Bridge is nice, but its design is unexceptional and location more smogtacular than spectacular.  The latter also applies to the Ashbery Bridge, which has an interesting if not exactly beautiful design, but is hampered by its location atop a freeway.  (I’ll take this opportunity to opine that if Minneapolis ever wants to be considered a world-class city, it’s going to have to build a deck over the roadway there and connect Loring Park to the sculpture garden.)  Any spectacular Minneapolis pedestrian bridges I’m forgetting?

Don’t mention those ped bridges over Washington Avenue Mall SE between Coffman and the (other) Mall.  The article mentions the BP bridge, which is similar in appearance to those bridges and also similarly un-spectacular.  I love Millennium Park in Chicago, and the Pritzker Pavilion is great, so if anything the BP bridge has a location advantage.  But what’s so brilliant about curving a bridge and covering it with shiny material?  The only purpose served is to reference nearby Frank Gehry works.   The curving form actually inhibits mobility – very slightly in the case of the U bridges, but pretty significantly on the BP bridge.  And again, the BP bridge’s spectacularity is smoked out by the freeway it passes over.  Maybe this is just Midwestern rivalry talking, but I think including the BP bridge made an otherwise spectacular article less spectacular.

Bridges of a feather

Not that easy

A funny way to turn right

Hennepin Avenue’s Green Lane got a fresh coat of pea soup a week or two ago, and my unscientific count shows a slight decrease in SOVs illegally driving through on it – from “everyone and their mother” to “everyone and their dog.”

I’m a fan of the controversial Hennepin and 1st conversion – the 1st Ave bike lane is nice (as long as you don’t have to turn left)  and I’m comfortable with the idea of a bus-bike-right turn lane.  I’m less comfortable with the reality of a bus-bike-right turn-through lane, which is less a bike facility and more a Kermit-looking regular lane.  Actually more the width of Miss Piggy, there is plenty of room to go around cars that are waiting to turn right, but the problem is that half the cars are illegally going through, and of the cars that really are turning right, half of those aren’t signaling.

The wheel

Why did Minneapolis have to reinvent the wheel on this one?  St Paul has bus lanes downtown that are marked with a solid white dividing line, diamonds striped intermittently, and skip-dashing to indicate right turns are allowed.  I’m not sure how well that works, but I can’t imagine anything working worse than Hennepin Ave’s lanes.  I appreciate the splash of color on the pavement, but it seems like people respond better to the more widely-known diamond symbol – the very thing Minneapolis uses on the explanatory signs!  (although according to the MN MUTCD the diamond is supposed to refer to HOV in general).

I’m a bit late commenting on this issue, but I wanted to give the lanes a chance.  The striping clearly doesn’t work – SOVs treat the Green Lane like it’s just another lane.  The green striping was actually as a Phase 2, and maybe there hasn’t been further evaluation.


Visual aid

My dear, departed friend Tony Graves, piano genius and one of the nicest men ever to grace this mean little world, used to say that America was the greatest country because it gave him a High School diploma even though he never could read.  I don’t  agree – it seems to me a rather difficult feat for those who don’t meet a narrow, mainstream definition of what an American should know and think (or not think).  Unlike Tony, I believe that anyone who manages to graduate from those teenage penal facilities has just managed a spectacular achievement.

My sister just graduated from one of Davidson County, North Carolina’s holding tanks for adolescents, and I recently went to view the ceremony (and thereby missed Open Streets).  This was such an important occasion that I chose to fly despite my antipathy toward commercial air travel.  I’ve taken the train and the bus out there before, the former enjoyably and the latter miserably, but my job is a major restriction on my freedom at the moment.  So through the air in an aluminum tube I went!

When I’m planning a trip I often find myself comparing my options to similar distances on other continents.  This is usually the result of a thought process that goes

  1. I wonder if I can take a train to _____?
  2. The train to _____ takes three days!  I wonder if I have that much time off?
  3. I used up all my vacation days writing in my blog!  %#$@$(@$*!!!!
  4. I bet if I lived it Europe the train wouldn’t take so long.

Charlotte is about 950 miles from Minneapolis as the crow flies, a distance comparable to that between Berlin and Barcelona, or Beijing and Chengdu.  So I searched for travel times and fares for flying, training and busing on the same dates between the three sets of cities.  (Already the futility of this exercise is obvious – the differences in size, function and wealth of these cities is naturally going to lead to differences in transportation between them – but hey it makes me feel better to think about it).

Here is a crudely reproduced table showing the shortest one-way travel time and lowest two-way fare between each of the cities (usually the shortest travel time was not the lowest fare anyway, so I decoupled them):

A few notes:

  • For some reason I couldn’t get the train fare for Berlin to Barcelona – I tried a few different sites but none of them could estimate it.
  • My guess is you could find a quicker and cheaper bus trip from Berlin to Barcelona, but I don’t know of any site that creates itineraries.  Eurolines seems to specialize in shorter-distance red-eyes, and although the website led me to believe this trip is direct from Berlin to Barcelona (34 hours on a bus sounds miserable), I’d guess it is a composite of some shorter routes since google says the car trip between the two cities is only 18 hours (a couple hours shorter than Minneapolis to Charlotte by car).  The site said the trip from Berlin to Barcelona was only possible three times a week, but there are daily trips between Berlin and Paris, and Paris and Barcelona.  Qui sait?
  • I’m not sure the Beijing – Chengdu train trip is anywhere near accurate – there are some websites that will give you estimates for train travel in China, but if you decide to buy the site actually books the tickets in China.  I’m not sure if they adjust the fare up if it ends up higher or if they just pad it extensively.  Apparently bus travel similarly has to be booked in China, although I couldn’t even find a website with sample itineraries.

Looking over the times, my frustration really is justified.  It seems that Amtrak is uniquely slow and expensive.  The sad thing is that it can’t even be explained by long transfer times – if you don’t count the 8 hours between trains, the travel time is still 33 hours, much longer than train travel in Europe or China.  The bus times are more favorable, but multi-day trips on buses can really be physically draining.

Even in Europe air travel is still much shorter than taking the train at this distance, and probably cheaper as well (from memory I’d guess that this Berlin-Barcelona trip is $250-300).  The aggressive plan for completing more high-speed rail lines will certainly make travel times more competitive, though it may make fares less competitive.

Who knows if plans for medium-speed rail in the USA will ever get off the ground, much less evolve into a national network?  Buses are getting better at shorter-distance trips, but until you can get up and walk around on a bus, it just won’t work very well outside of regional travel (although bus lanes without speed limits on the interstates might cut travel times enough to make it tolerable).  We’ll see if the USA will ever graduate to a multi-modal transportation system.


BURP #2: Congress for New BURPanism

Riveting discussion at BURP #1

Tuesday June 21st!

Aster Cafe

125 SE Main Street, Minneapolis

$3 taps till 6

We served our probation – so we’re finally free to hold a new, summery BURP (Buffs of Urban and Regional Planning) meeting at the scenic Aster Cafe in Old St Anthony, Minneapolis.  Please join us to discuss

  • pavement buckling
  • William F. Buckley, Jr.
  • fish heads
  • headways
  • wayback machines
  • and MUCH MUCH MORE!!!!!!

I’ll be there about 5, flying my BURP flag high.  See you and your Transit Capacity and Quality of Service Manual there!

Feat of feet of street

The brilliant blog Mapping the Strait posted an infographic yesterday comparing the feet of street per resident of 8 American cities.

The metric is supposed to give an indication of the amount of infrastructure per resident, to augment standard persons per area measures of population density.

According to the Design Guidelines for Streets and Sidewalks, Minneapolis has 1,423 miles of roads and vehicle bridges, not counting freeways.  My rough Google Earth measurement of freeways within city limits is 30.3 miles (that includes the part of 62 on the border but does not include highways 55 & 121 because I think they are in the city’s measurement, although that’s just a guess).  That makes for 7,673,424 feet of streets and highways, or 20.1 feet for each of the 382,578 residents counted in the 2010 census.  We’re closer to Detroit, Phoenix or San Antonio than Philadelphia, Los Angeles, or Chicago on this count.

That doesn’t seem to be an unreasonable result to me, although by measuring residents only you ignore the significant market for infrastructure represented by workers.  In that case cities such as San Antonio or Houston that contain most of their employment catchment area in their city limits are going to be more accurately portrayed by this metric.  One of the commenters at Mapping the Straight asked for this metric by area of paved surface – I think using lane feet would be better than centerline feet, but probably less widely available.  Fun to think about anyway.

Eat this street too

And it's only gotten bigger.

Monday night I walked the road to Zion (Pillsbury Ave), where the City was holding a meeting on the impending reconstruction of Nicollet Ave between Lake and 40th.  The hosts happened to be my old friends Kimley Horn & Ass. and the facilitating was no less than head honcho Horn, who handled pretty well the sharp twists of opinions from residents of a relatively progressive and pedestrian-oriented neighborhood in an otherwise conservative city.  Unfurled at this meeting was the new layout for Nicollet, so fresh it isn’t even online yet.  [Edit – Thanks to Reuben for the news that this layout is now online – see the project page for the big ol’ pdf.]

Legend has it that this stretch of Nicollet can fold a steel bike rim over like a taco shell.  Probably the only place in the Twin Cities where I am unable to read on the bus is on Nicollet between Lake and 38th – the constant tremor makes me more queasy than the tilt-a-whirl after too many funnel cakes.  More quantitatively, this segment of a fairly important arterial has a Pavement Condition Index lower than 99% of Minneapolis’ street miles (as of 2009 and not counting CSA streets).  The mess of a street running through the Lyndale neighborhood could be used to indict the politics-driven CLIC process.

But I’ll instead use it to indict the wide-road policies of the Automobile Age, which in 1954 built a Nicollet Ave with a 50′ wide roadbed, creating 50 years of confusion about how many lanes there are and encouraging drivers to speed around the spacious corners.  As a result, Nicollet Ave between Lake and 38th has a much higher accident rate than nearby comparable streets.

Anyone want to check my math?

The layout presented last night remedies the safety problem in the most direct way possible – by narrowing the street.  As presented, Nicollet will go from 50′ width to 44′ in typical mid-block segments and 46-48′ at intersections depending on left turn lanes, major cross streets, etc.  The layout shown last night also included solid stripes between the parking and the through lanes, which should help to reduce confusion.

The design as presented also included bump-outs, although they made pains to emphasize that they would only be built if the community wanted them.  Not sure why such a crucial safety feature would be contingent on the support of such an unrepresentative group as people who show up to community meetings, but I also got the sense that it would take a pretty determined resistance to drastically change the design at this point.  The timeline for the project is shooting for the city council to approve the layout by August, allowing the public a generous 55 days to collect its thoughts and make well-reasoned suggestions.  We’ll see when the layout gets published online for those members of the public who didn’t have a chance to memorize it.

The new layout will lead to more neighbors in conversation about who gets to go first.

The condensed timeline also makes it clear that Public Works won’t consider a variance to MSA guidelines, which take at least three months to go through.  That means that the community’s input is really limited to widening the street at this point, since the design already allows for the narrowest street possible under MSA (the traffic count they’re designing for assumes Nicollet is connected north of Lake St, for which they forecast more than 10,000 cars along the whole stretch).  If they had asked their intern to come up with this formulaic design shortly after the last public meeting for this project (almost a full year ago), there would have been time to apply for an MSA variance.

That is a problem because the proposed layout actually reduces sidewalk width in a lot of areas.  Mr. Horn said that can be mitigated by reducing boulevard width – an idea that will certainly have widespread appeal, since everyone hates boulevards.  If there was time for a variance, the parking lanes could be reduced to 8′ and 2′ reallocated to each sidewalk, making the everyday occurrence of two strollers passing on a Nicollet sidewalk a little bit easier.

I have simmering in the boozy cauldron of my brain a hot batch of ideas to proactively address the unsafe conditions on Nicollet and I hope to flesh out and submit soon (there is a tight deadline, after all).  I’ll list them quickly so readers can call out the craziest:

  • Parking bays south of 38th
  • Textured driving surface in the business node at 38th
  • Roundabouts at 35th and 36th (they’d probably need signals for the traffic on 35th & 36th heading for 35W
  • HAWK signal at 34th
  • One-way, right-turn only entrances and exits for the eastern segments of 33rd and 32nd

There will be another public meeting in July to discuss aesthetic details (sidewalks were specifically mentioned as an example of these).  We’ll see how much the proposed layout has changed in response to community input.