Why isn’t anyone talking about an Olson Memorial Bikeway?

Some people think that Minneapolis has more than enough off-street bikeways. I’m not one of those people. Though I’ve been cycling the mean, car-choked streets of this city for over ten years, I’m never more comfortable on two wheels than when I’m on one of our off-street trails. Streets are intrinsically pervasive, so there are only so many opportunities for off-street infrastructure, and I’m not holding out for the day when the entirety of all my trips are in the comfort of an off-street bikeway.

But where there is potential for development of an off-street bikeway, it should be snatched up. That’s why I’m puzzled that no one has mentioned the idea of building a bikeway along Olson Memorial Hwy. It should be a no-brainer – long segments of this road have wide open space buffers along them that are currently used for absolutely nothing (with the exception of one pigeon perch). Where the open space buffer (obviously intended as future interchange space) is missing, there’s a 30′ wide frontage road, which can easily give up 10′ for a two-way lane separated with candlestick bollards (the aerial google had up as of this writing shows exactly 8 parked cars on the 4500′ of frontage road on the south side of the highway west of I-94). So substantial segments of this bikeway (around half) would be separated enough to have the feel of an off-street bikeway.

morgan-knox olson bikeway

The I-94 overpass is a trouble spot, as MnDot built it with 105′ of roadway and only 15′ for sidewalks (7.5′ on each side). There is a significant amount of right-turning traffic onto the frontage roads on either side, though, so it seems like one of the through lanes could be converted into a second right turn lane, allowing the through lane on the overpass itself to become a two-way lane. The eastbound outside lane appears to be 14′ wide, which would allow a nice buffer.

i-94 overpass olson bikeway

East of I-94 it gets a bit tighter. The open space buffers are ample for the first block, but after that it’s hampered by a bank drive thru on the north and another road on the south. Still, there are options here. In the short term, one of the lanes from the horrible frontage road stump of Royalston can be used for a two-way cycle track. If some engineer demands two lanes at the intersection, the center line can be moved and one eastbound lane reallocated to westbound (or whatever direction you want to call it). Royalston, after all, gets by with one lane in each direction for the rest of its short length, so it should be fine here. In the long term, however, this area should be reconfigured so that the frontage road stump of Royalston no longer exists. Here’s my idea for how to do that, or here’s what the Southwest Transitway Station Area Planning process came up with.

olson royalston bikeway

A curb cut will need to be built to connect to and across 7th St, probably using the huge porkchop island to cross into the HERC block. At that point it’s within the boundaries of the Interchange project, another long stretch of government-owned land that seems to have been planned with no consideration of locating bike facilities there. It’s been hard to find a detailed or consistent site plan for this project, but this one is the latest I know of. There appears to be a good chunk of open space, probably underneath a future Bottineau viaduct, on which to site a 12′ trail approaching from the west. Depending on how the grades end up working, the trail could then share space with one of the redundant motor vehicle access points, leaving only a short gap of what is presumably open space to connect to another motor vehicle access point. There may be a few tight squeezes here, but brain power is cheaper and usually even easier than buying power, so overall this is an excellent opportunity.

Moving across 5th St, it would have been nice to reserve some space on the Shapco block for bikeway, but it seems that they needed to maximize the amount of grey and beige they could fit on that site. There should be enough space on 5th Ave N, though, as the existing roadway is about 50′ wide. That leaves room for 18-19′ thru + parking lanes (the existing parking lanes are 8-9′ wide) with 12′ for a two-way bikeway with a bollarded buffer. The tricky part here is the rough paving surface – it looks like it’s just asphalt that’s been laid on top of brick haphazardly throughout the years. Hopefully they could do another layer on top for a temporary fix, but if not, it’ll be a long wait before the street is reconstructed since it’s not on the CLIC report at all.

5th-ave-n

The next segment is most iffy part of the whole proposal. The bikeway would need to cross the huge chasm created by the I-394 stump and the Cut. There is, of course, an existing pedestrian bridge, but it’s only 6 or 7′ wide, so would either need to be a dismount zone (yeah right) or extensively modified. It may be possible to cantilever the existing ped bridge – I don’t have a solid grip on this process, but I believe it has been done on this type of bridge (concrete girder) before. If 5′ could be added, it would still be a bit narrow, but doable. Unfortunately no amount of cantilevering will fix the squeeze point at 2nd Ave N, where the ped space is shoehorned into 6′ between a building and a concrete wall. I’m hopeful that eventually the road space allocated to the viaduct here can be reduced, especially since much of it seems to be going to a merging lane that ends before long anyway, but that is certainly a long-term prospect.

After that we’re in the home stretch. 3rd & 4th Sts already comprise a bikeway known as the Hiawatha Trail extension. I can’t leave well enough alone, or rather, I think we deserve better, so I would advocate for protected facilities here to replace the existing paint stripe. Any type of protection will do, but I have a thing for the type of curb-separated two-way bikeway popularized in Montreal (and since spread to Seattle). These are generally better than protected one-way lanes because of their size (i.e. 14′ or so rather than 8′ or so). This makes them more visible, which makes them more legible to users, easier to understand and avoid for other roadway users, and it also makes it possible to plow with standard equipment.  When the alternative would be a one-way protected lane on each roadway of a one-way couplet, it also is more legible in that you can just assume the facility is on one street rather than have to keep track of which direction is on which street.

I’m not aware of any near-term plans to rebuild 3rd St, so it would have to be retrofitted to handle this facility. This can be done by reducing it to two traffic lanes, which should be done throughout Downtown to maximize the comparative advantage of transit, biking and walking (Minneapolis has an extremely high private car mode share for its job density). Then lanes can be slimmed to provide about 15′ for a two-way bikeway with a candlestick bollard buffer.

3rd-st-retrofit

When the street is reconstructed, the sidewalks should be widened to at least 15′ to accommodate the streetlife that hopefully will someday exist here. Then a parking lane should be dropped, since terminal facility availability and cost are a big part of that crazy huge private car mode share. We still have room for an ample bikeway, with two through lanes and a parking lane to ensure the smooth flow of traffic. 3rd-st-rebuiltIf all the elements I’ve discussed here are carried out, Minneapolis could have a high-quality, low-stress, legible bikeway bisecting the city. Cyclists would have a comfortable, no-turn ride from Wirth Park to Minnehaha Park. Even if the connection over I-394 and the Cut are found to be unfeasible, a bikeway along Olson would still connect to the wide bike lanes on 7th St, providing an excellent route through Near North. But none of that will happen until the conversation starts, and maybe I’ve done that with this post.

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.

 

 

Viva Zoning and Planning!

The May 17th Zoning & Planning committee meeting is packed with some big ticket items.  If you’re like me, you’ll want to get your email pen ready to pester your council member about this stuff (assuming your council member is on this committee, that is – if you live in one of the seven wards whose council member isn’t on Z & P, you don’t get a voice).  Dock Street is once again on the agenda, along with the A Mill, Peavey Plaza, and a certain revolutionary.

Conceptual track/platform configuration from The Interchange Final Study from 2010

Dock Street is the most directly transportation-related of the four items, since the basis for the appeal by Hennepin County and MnDot of Hines’ proposed apartment complex is that the layout will constrain options in the rail corridor currently used by Northstar and proposed for use by several other future lines.  Action has been postponed for more than a month, but the recent Strib story makes it seem like they’ll actually act on it this time, possibly because Hines made a stink about the delay at the last Z & P meeting.  They have a point, as Hennepin County has known since 2006 that the Interchange was their preferred location for the hub of Minnesota’s rail facilities, and MnDot was given the opportunity to comment on the project in August of 2011 and at that time said only “No formal comment.”

Peter McLaughlin called this a “Kmart moment” with some hyperbole; it’s not clear that the apartments and the rail facilities are mutually exclusive, and based on the 2010 Interchange study it looks like the trail would have to cross Washington at grade anyway.  In that case I would tend to favor allowing the apartments to move forward; for me and others who use the trail to access Downtown an at grade crossing at Washington would actually improve the trail, which currently has awkward access to the area.  It seems like only recreational users would suffer from a grade crossing, although that would also make the trail more expensive to reconstruct.  It also seems like the Interchange is barely feasible due to the tightness of the site anyway, so it may be more worthwhile to spend the money that Hines would have extracted for further easements on a new study of passenger rail station possibilities in Minneapolis.

I hope they know what they’re doing – this would have been a great place to drink a beer.

The A Mill project in this initial phase is merely a reuse of a historic structure; this sort of development typically requires a lot of variances because historic structures were usually built before the zoning code was adopted, but since the structures already exist, these variances tend to be less controversial than they would be for a new structure that’s built to look like a historic structure.  From what I can tell from the complicated site plan, only a couple small additions would be made to the existing A Mill complex to accommodate a parking structure that would somehow be wedged into the center courtyard and mostly buried below the existing ground profile.  So here we run up against the City’s annoying practice of not publishing the actual appeal being heard in the Z & P meeting, and our only clue to the reason for the appeal is that the appellant is Kathleen Flynn Peterson.  They tossed us a bone in the form of the Planning Commission minutes, where Ms Peterson complained at length about the City’s process and made no comment on the form or use of the structure, which is the only thing the Planning Commission (or its appellate body the Z & P committee) has any say on.  As I mentioned last week, I have wistful feelings for the potential of past proposals for this site, but the only thing I don’t like about the current proposals are that they seem to waste the commercial potential of the location on the only beautiful street in Minneapolis.  My guess is this appeal will be denied, and the only significant hurdle the A Mill redevelopment will face will be at the Community Development committee meeting where the project’s financing will be debated.

Groovy plaza man

Peavey Plaza‘s last stand will be taken at the May 17th Z & P, where an appeal from Steve Kotke, the director of Public Works, will seek to overturn the Historic Preservation Commission’s decision to delay the demolition of the architectural gem for six months.  It’s sort of ironic that the City is now trying to destroy a historic resource that it claims is too expensive to rehab because it neglected to properly maintain it for decades, basically the exact situation for which the City created the Historic Preservation Commission, obviously thinking only of when slumlords do it, not major corporations/campaign donors.  My guess is that staff is too busy pretending that the bland proposed replacement has anything to do with the serene original to notice the irony.  It may not surprise you that I’m opposed to the demolition, but I expect the appeal to be upheld and our last chance to enjoy Peavey Plaza to arrive shortly.

A substandard, tax-forfeited lot fit for a founding father

Emiliano Zapata probably isn’t used to being the least controversial one around, but at this Z & P committee he may be.  But don’t worry, Emy, that doesn’t mean you’re the least interesting.  Apparently a statue of the founding father of the modern Mexican republic was donated to Minneapolis by the state of Morelos, home to our sister city of Cuernavaca, but no place was ever found for it and it seems to have languished in a supermercado up till now.  Soon it will join such luminaries as my first love Mary Tyler Moore and popular 19th century violinist Ole Bull and be displayed in a public space, a narrow tax-forfeited lot at 12th and East Lake.  But is .08 acres really enough space for this huge figure in the history of our neighbor to the south?  It seems like this might be the ideal place to create Minneapolis’ first reclaimed street plaza.  12th Ave S has T-alleys on both sides, so car access can still be preserved.  Just use planters to block off the space between the alleys and Lake St and you’ll have something closer to the grand plaza Zapata deserves (but small enough to program the smaller, temporary uses suited to reclaimed space without feeling too empty).

More space to roam for Zapata

Reclaiming street space for recreation and biking and walking?  Sounds like I tied it back in to transportation.  Viva Zoning and Planning!

How to be good, if you’re the mayor

A little while ago I accused RT Rybak of being a not-good mayor.  This was done mainly as a way to show how the hundreds of millions Rybak wants to give to the Vikings Corp as locational subsidies could be better spent, but it also stems from noticing that there has basically been no improvement in urban quality-of-life in Minneapolis that did not have a national origin (i.e. crime, biking).

But having recently realized that my blog is exclusively negative, I decided to throw out a few ideas about what Rybak could do if he wanted to be a good mayor.  For the most part, they are not easy.  Rybak would have to show the dogged persistence and willingness to sail against public opinion that has been so evident in his fight to subsidize the Vikings Corp.  Here’s how the Mayor can earn the label of “good,” in order of likelihood that he’ll actually do it:

1.  Support cycling.  Minneapolis brags a lot (at least once a month, it seems) about what a great biking town it is.  But faced with a choice between parking and biking it almost always goes for parking.  Out of the 23 most recent bike projects, only five of them involved significant parking removal, and one of those five was cancelled because of that fact.  This may be due to the fact that it’s relatively easy to add cycle facilities without removing parking, and that explanation is supported by the fact that 10 of the 23 projects involved removing a through lane; for example in a road diet.  But it also suggests that only the low-hanging fruit is being picked at this point, and where the fruit turns out to be higher than expected, like on the stalled* Glenwood project, the City backs off.  A mayor as charismatic and persuasive as Rybak has the potential to change that.

Bill is a talented dioramist

He wouldn’t have to threaten to fire the Director of Public Works or pull veto shenanigans.  If he were to just show up to neighborhood meetings such as those held recently for the Penn Ave S reconstruction in the Mayor’s neighborhood, he could use his political talents to convince neighbors of the advantages of providing basic bike accommodations.  Since as Mayor he has repeatedly stressed that he wants Minneapolis to be a “world-class bicycle city”, I don’t see any conflict of interest in going to neighborhood meetings to work towards that goal.  The fact that he so far has never done so is the only thing that makes me think this item is unlikely; with all the talking Rybak has done about bicycling, you’d think that some day he’ll eventually work towards it.

2.  Green Downtown.  Sure, another small park or two would be nice in what is from 9 to 5 on weekdays by far the densest neighborhood in the city.  But an easier way to green Downtown that would have an even bigger effect would be to simply remove a through lane from all the overbuilt streets.  One lane provides enough room for a row of trees on each side of the street, and you’d be surprised at how many unnecessary lanes are scattered throughout Downtown.  I made a map based on the city’s 2005 Downtown Traffic Flow map, coding in green all 3-lane one-ways with a traffic count of 12,000 or less.  I cut out blocks that according to my experience have high turning volumes, but I may have missed a few due to not knowing by heart the average conditions on every street.  In addition I depicted on the map in yellow the handful of 2-lane two-ways that could be narrowed.  To some degree that’s my subjective judgement, but the narrowing of Chicago Ave in its recent reconstruction indicates it could be done in other places.  Finally, red indicates 4-lane two-ways that could be reduced to three lanes (all are less than 15k AADT and some are far less).

Let me explain what I meant when I said it would be easy to replace lanes with trees.  I know all too well that any reduction in car capacity is controversial, but I also believe that a tree has a bigger constituency than a traffic lane, especially if you can get a traffic engineer to say that the lane isn’t needed.  I feel like even the literally auto-driven Downtown Council would be in favor of a lane-tree swap outside of the Core, because they’re going to have to find some place to fit those 35,000 residents they want to add.  But replacing a lane with trees requires the curbs to be moved, which costs a lot of money.  So step one would just be identifying where the roads are overbuilt enough to lose a lane without disrupting sacred traffic.  I would think that Rybak would be eager to champion a Downtown Green Streets plan, since that would make it look like he’s doing something without actually changing anything and risking angering someone.  Once complete, it would be both backup and a time saver whenever a downtown street came due for reconstruction.

3.  Legalize space utilization.  I was surprised and pleased to read that Rybak in his state of the city speech fessed up to the population stagnancy uncovered by the decennial census.  Hopefully that means he’ll be receptive to the easiest and least disruptive way to add residents to the city: accessory dwelling units (ADUs).  The average household in Minneapolis is just over 2 persons, yet around 22,000 housing units have four or more bedrooms.  There has to be a substantial number of single-family homes that have an extra couple rooms that could be converted into a small separate unit, or garages that could fit a half-story apartment on top.

Minneapolis already allows accessory dwelling units, but confines them to Ventura Village.  I don’t know the history on this, but presumably it was an idea that came out of the neighborhood rather than this area being chosen as a test case, because I would think 10 years would be a long enough test.  I haven’t heard of any ADUs actually being built, and if that means there hasn’t been any, it may be because of the restrictions, such as that the principal structure must be homesteaded and that the ADU be built outside the principal structure.  While the former no doubt makes ADUs more politically palatable for neighbors, the latter actually may be counterproductive.  After all, if you allow the ADU to be built within the principal structure, it’s likely the neighbor won’t even notice a difference, whereas most people notice a half-story being added to a garage.  Unfortunately, regardless of whether or not neighbors notice them, they are likely to be opposed, or at least that seems to have been the case in Vancouver.  Because of the political force of knee-jerk NIMBYism, my guess is Rybak is unlikely to push this one, even though it’s a no-brainer if you look at it dispassionately.  In addition, Rybak doesn’t really have any way to implement it besides cheerleading at the council, so I’d say ADUs are a long shot.

Listen to the people, R.T.

4.  Respect pedestrians.  In 2006, a miracle happened in South Minneapolis.  I don’t know if it was an accident or an experiment, but Hennepin County added zebra crosswalks to the streets crossed by the easternmost phase of the Midtown Greenway.  Then, something even more miraculous happened: many motorists observed Minnesota crosswalk laws at these crossings (tragically, many didn’t at the 28th St crossing).

So respect for pedestrians may be one of the easiest things to accomplish thanks to Minnesotans’ already sheep-like driving.  A study in Miami Beach found that all it takes is enforcement to get drivers to obey crosswalk laws.  Traditionally in Minneapolis the Mayor has had the most control over the police department, so why shouldn’t Rybak lean on Dolan to do some crosswalk enforcement, including ticketing for stopping past the stop line and blocking intersections?  Well, because no one really cares about pedestrians.  The mayor seems to feel that promoting (but not really supporting, see above) biking satisfies his transportation alternatives cred.  Meanwhile, we already get ped-friendly awards by just not being as terrible as the rest of the cities in the sprawling country.  So this easy step is not likely to be taken and Minneapolis will continue to be relatively walkable in terms of density but rather unwalkable in terms of conditions on the street.

You might be able to tell that this list is just a bunch of stuff that’s been floating around in my head, hammered into a frame about what R.T. Rybak could do to meet my standards of goodness.  Franky, I have no idea how likely he is to do any of these things; after 10 years of semi-activism and obsessive attention to local government, I can’t really tell how much of his rhetoric is just politics in a pervasively but vaguely left wing city and how much he really cares about causes like cycling, sustainability and Trampled by Turtles.

I do know that if he actually showed up to meetings to advocate bike lanes, more lanes would get striped.  If he pushed a study of which streets could trade a lane for trees, Public Works would find the dough for it and the first step would be taken towards a greener downtown.  If he browbeat some councilor into introducing an accessory dwelling unit ordinance, currently wasted space could be used to grow the city.  And if he got the cops to enforce crosswalk laws, people mind find it less stressful and more convenient to walk, and do more of it.  So hopefully this post comes across less as a wish list, and more as a to-do list for a progressive city.

 

 

*It may not be stalled – the project page claims it will be built in 2012 – but if not, it is eviscerated, downgraded to sharrows for about a quarter of its length.

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.

Bottineau-no for North, part III

Here is the last of my three-part Bottineau rant, which at this point may be considered a full-fledged tirade.  Somewhat coincidentally, it arrives on the same day the Minneapolis City Council makes its recommendation for a Locally Preferred Alternative, which is more or less required by the FTA for the project to advance.  It looks like the Council has acquiesced to the LRT D1 alternative – Wirth-Olson – but with the clever stipulation that Hennepin County and Metro Transit agree to develop at least one arterial transitway through North Minneapolis along Penn, Emerson/Fremont, or West Broadway.  I’m not aware of any attempt by the city to gather their citizens’ opinions, outside of  the county-led process, but of course you can always provide input to the Bottineau project office.

My last post proposed the consideration of an LRT subway through North Minneapolis, which would do a zillion times better job of serving the heart of the Northside without the impact of a surface route, and based on our history with Hiawatha is unlikely to be as expensive as other recent American below-grade transit projects.  An LRT subway will not be considered in Minnesota – it’s just too “coastal.”  In that case, I think the best alternative for Bottineau would be BRT on West Broadway.  This was actually considered in the AA study, and scored well enough that it just barely missed the arbitrary cutoff to make it to the scoping phase.  Actually it would have probably made the cutoff (unless the cutoff was again raised to exclude it) if the AA study hadn’t penalized all BRT alternatives.  See for yourself- here is the Traveler Time Savings (in regional minutes per day) measure from page 76 of AA study:

Not enough minutes in the day

The study claims that “LRT alternatives outscore BRT alternatives on this measure because they have shorter end-to-end travel times” which is interesting because a) the BRT and LRT alternatives would follow identical alignments, and b) technically buses and trains are capable of the same operating speeds.  Because the chart above is pretty much the most detailed information in the AA study about travel times, I’m not sure how they determined that BRT alternatives would take longer than LRT in the exact same alignment.  The study also projected fewer riders for BRT alternatives, but not nearly enough fewer to explain the missing minutes.  Here is a comparison table I made using data from the AA study:

This chart teases us with a clue:  It may have had something to do with the Interchange, Hennepin County’s platitudinously named train station, which is the only point where some LRT and BRT alternatives diverged.  Specifically, D3 and D4, the former of which does significantly worse on traveler time savings, are assumed to run “on a busway parallel to the I-94 viaduct” then to turn south a block to stop at the Interchange, then proceed eventually a block back north to 4th St.  This is a terrible idea.  If they were actually thinking about how to maximize the benefits of the transportation system, D3 and D4 would have an advantage over the other alternatives because they could use the viaduct itself.

The 4th St Viaduct (should be plural, since there are actually two viaducts) is massively overbuilt.  It is two lanes in each direction, but caters primarily to peak traffic, leaving at least half the roadway underutilized at all times.  If one viaduct were made reversible, the other could be used for a two-way busway, providing a transit advantage into Downtown Minneapolis.  In addition, if the south viaduct were used, it could provide an even better, if more expensive, connection to the Northstar station than LRT would:

Which would you prefer?

The viaduct could connect directly to West Broadway with a little modification of the existing interchanges.  Basically a ramp could just be added from West Broadway to the existing ramp from I-94 to the viaduct, and then another ramp from that ramp over to the other viaduct.  It’s a bit trickier to connect the westbound viaduct to westbound West Broadway.  The Alexandrian way, depicted below, would just build a flyover from the viaduct to the 94 ramp to Washington, at which BRT could have signal priority.  Ideally the BRT viaduct would connect to I-94 so express buses could use it too, which could be done by adding a ramp going straight where the westbound ramp bends to meet Washington.  In addition to a station at the Interchange, there could be one serving the densifying North Loop at 8th or 10th Ave N.

Green is BRT, Yellow is I-94 access, Red is the relocated ramp from I-94 to Lyndale Ave

Another reason the West Broadway BRT (D4 on the chart) scored well in general is that it wasn’t really BRT, at least not east of Penn, where the alternative studied would operate in mixed traffic.  This was done to “eliminat[e] the need to disrupt traffic or remove businesses.”  Of course, disrupting traffic is to some degree the goal of developing transitways; you want to shift traffic from cars to transit vehicles.  But is disrupting traffic or removing businesses necessary to accommodate BRT on West Broadway?

As I mentioned above, West Broadway is 80′ east of Penn, and they cram in four through lanes and parking in many places.  Traffic counts hover around 20,000/day, but drops off steeply west of Emerson/Fremont, so that the counts west of Morgan are around 10k/day.  Assuming west of Girard only two traffic lanes are needed, guideway will fit there without widening even on the 75′ sections – assuming a 28′ guideway and two 11′ through lanes, 25′ are left over for sidewalks or maybe parking in some places.  East of Girard, 28′ will be needed for guideway and at least 40′ for four through lanes (suck it up, Hennepin County and MnDot, 10′ lanes works for much busier streets, even with trucks).  That means the road will need to be widened slightly (mostly 90′, but possibly 100′ at stations.)

Widening this area of West Broadway would not be like widening Penn.  Frankly, there aren’t many buildings left to destroy here.  If the widening was taken from the north side of the street east of Fremont (there should be just enough room on the block west of Fremont for 90′ with tearing down buildings – the bright side of setbacks), then switch to the south side east of Bryant, there should be room for 90-100′ without tearing down anything except the small cluster west of Emerson.

Joe Gladke, Hennepin County’s Manager of Engineering and Transit Planning, mentioned in a presentation to the Minneapolis TPW Committee that LRT and full BRT was dropped from West Broadway because of business owners’ concern over loss of parking.  That’s like being concerned over loss of sand in the Sahara.  I did a quick measurement of parking lots in the West Broadway business district and found that 16 of the 64 acres between Girard and 94, 18th and 21st are parking lots – that’s 25% of the gross area!  (And that’s not counting the 550 space lot that will be built with MPS’ new headquarters.)

Lots of lots (sorry I couldn’t resist)

So it’s possible to build reserved-guideway BRT on West Broadway that won’t disrupt traffic and will remove only a handful of businesses.  This alignment would go through the heart of North Minneapolis, serving thousands more residents, and present ample opportunities for TOD (see vast parking lot fields above).  Based on the cost estimates from the AA – where BRT generally came in at around half the cost of LRT – it would still cost substantially less than the proposed LRT alternatives.  That would allow perks like the conversion of the 4th St Viaduct to a combined reversible roadway and two-way busway, which would serve an additional high-density neighborhood and provide a benefit to the express bus network.

The lower cost of BRT would also allow both Brooklyn Park and Maple Grove to serve as termini for the same price, although the AA study didn’t find benefits commensurate to the costs of serving both branches.  I stubbornly maintain that if we’re going to spend regional money on a development-inducing transitway, it would benefit the region more to serve existing struggling activity centers like Brooklyn Center rather than provide a further incentive to fringe development.  But the other advantage of BRT, apparently unexplored in the Bottineau process, is that multiple routes with vastly different termini can branch out after using the busway, known as Open BRT.  So Maple Grove and Brooklyn Park could both be served, even if the guideway continues to Brooklyn Center, as could Plymouth, New Hope, Crystal or even Rogers.

I hope I’m not focusing on BRT because of the recent flak Hiawatha has taken from anti-transit ideologues, who nonetheless have a valid point about how expensive the line is both to build and to operate.  Central and likely Southwest serve enough high-density areas that they’re likely to better justify their costs, and since Hiawatha serves major regional destinations like the airport and the MOA it will likely benefit significantly from the network effect of three light rail lines.

Bottineau, on the other hand, doesn’t serve a major regional destination outside of Downtown Minneapolis, so it is unlikely to benefit from a network effect outside of the meager one accounted for in the AA study.  The Wirth-Olson alignment serves only one relatively high-density and high-poverty neighborhood – around Van White – and has few potential candidates for redevelopment inside the beltway.  It runs through almost three miles of parkland for chrissakes!  It just doesn’t make sense to spend a billion dollars on a transitway with that little potential.  It’s unlikely my proposal for full BRT on West Broadway will be considered in the DEIS, much less an LRT subway in North Minneapolis, but I hope that BRT stays in the running.  I want to believe in LRT for Bottineau, but it looks like BRT is a better option.

People are already walking to the future Golden Valley Road station

Bottineau-no for North, part II

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

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

Target Suburban HQ on Brookdale's footprint

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

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

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

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

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

12/04/2009 01:10 PM

To: bottineau@co.hennepin.mn.us

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

Subject: complete Alternatives Analysis for Bottineau

Hi,

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Alex

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

To: Alex Bauman

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

Subject: Re: complete Alternatives Analysis for Bottineau

Mr. Bauman,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regards,

Brent Rusco

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

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

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

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

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

Untangling Spaghetti Junction

Lady looks intimidated

I capped my last post with an image of the insanely overbuilt Spaghetti Junction in Louisville, but we have our own Spaghetti Junction here, and while it may not be as monstrous, it is still quite the tangled bowl of noodles.  A while back, I color-coded it for ease of understanding where all those wacky ramps are going:

Thatza spicey meat-a ball!

This effort grew out of my plan for a pedestrian-friendly West Bank, one of the centerpieces of which was the conversion of Cedar Ave to a transit mall.  Unfortunately the Minnesota Highway Department – oh, excuse me, MnDOT – thinks of this pedestrian-scaled neighborhood as nothing more than an over-metered access ramp between 35W and 94.  So I tried to think of a way to connect the highways and make the poor, marginalized motorists happy.  It didn’t really work:

L'étoile du Défaite

I called my effort Hermann Circle, after Hermann Olson, longtime mad City Planning Engineer for Minneapolis whose initial sketches for Hwy 62 included roundabouts at intersections (or at least one did).  Although there is a lot of space in Spaghetti Junction (enough for at least a 400′ diameter roundabout) the alignment of the highways make for some very tight entrances.  Also there’s the probably that the amount of traffic going through all these ramps would gridlock the circle as soon as the clock turned 7:01 am, although I’d think that could be solved with signals metering entrances – if almighty convenience can be sacrificed for mobility.

You’ll notice that I didn’t try to make the connection from southbound 35W to eastbound 94.  That’s because a route exists that actually provides a better alternative than Cedar Ave (the closure of which is my purpose for this whole exercise) – the existing route through congested and, by all rights, pedestrian-owned Cedar is about .7 miles.  A route that follows Washington Ave to 11th Ave S to 6th St S and its long, winding ramp to eastbound 94 is only .6 miles on local streets and has 6 fewer stoplights to interfere with your God-given automotive freedom.

The circle didn’t work, but luckily there’s an easier way.  My proposal for the West Bank trench would allow a much simpler connection for westbound 94 to northbound 35W.  A ramp could simply branch off the existing ramp from westbound 94 to 5th St S, slope downward and join the existing ramp from northbound 35W to the Washington Trench and environs:

The new ramp is in red

It looks tight, and it is, but the space between these ramps is 55 feet at the narrowest, and the 1-lane ramp would be 25 feet, tops.  The trickiest part is the angle at which the new ramp would meet the existing ramp, which might require a new bridge for the ramp from westbound 94 to 5th St S.  Here is a view of the new ramp in my Spaghetti Junction diagram, which may or may not make things clearer:

Somewhere you'll find a connection is made

I’m not aware of anyone else having proposed this ramp, and for a good reason – it couldn’t exist as the Washington Trench is currently configured since the ramp from 35W northbound (to which I would join the new ramp from 94) currently splits into 3 lanes and, more important, does not reconnect to 35W.  My proposal is predicated on my idea to build a two-way ramp between the Trench and the normal Washington, from which traffic could then proceed to northbound 35W.  In addition my Trench idea would remove the flyover ramps and instead funnel all traffic to an intersection at the Trench, clearing up space for a ramp from 94 to join in.  I haven’t crammed enough crappy Visio diagrams into this post, so here’s one of my Trench proposal:

Greater connectivity, but at-grade.

In 2007, MnDOT released their Downtown Minneapolis Freeway Study, which can possibly be considered a textbook case of cluelessness (page 1 of the Executive Summary: “the [35w Mississippi River] bridge is in good condition and could remain in place with regular maintenance until 2020 or later.”).  The mission was to look at the feasibility of expanding the downtown freeway capacity to the degree that it could achieve a level of service D/E in 2030.  Assuming the costs of Milwaukee’s tunnel-less Marquette Interchange ($25m/lane-mile), the study estimated that it would cost from $1.1 billion to more than $2 billion to complete an upgrade that would include nearly doubling the width of the Lowry Tunnel:

Really? Less than $2 billion?

MnDOT’s “vision” for Downtown freeways also included direct connections between 35W and 94 somehow.  I haven’t been able to find the details, and the closest thing to an image I’ve seen is a modification by Froggie.  I hope he doesn’t mind me copping it:

Froggie's mods

Keep working, Lady

So there are lots of ways to untangle Spaghetti Junction, but most are very expensive and some are just not feasible.  Seems like Minnesotans are just going to have to keep driving through it and Lady will just have to keep slurping.

Better red than yellow

Zweifeldig Ampel

I’ve written a lot of stupid, crazy things on this blog (I flatter myself by thinking they’re crazy, too, instead of just stupid).  But I think this entry may contain the craziest, if not the stupidest thing I’ve thought of.

It all began with a recent post on Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic about the an FHWA study that found that marked crosswalks are less safe than unmarked crosswalks on higher speed, multi lane roads.  I don’t doubt their findings, but it’s always seemed fishy to me that in the instance of a pedestrian feature being ignored by drivers, the response is to not install them (to be fair, the report actually recommends traffic calming such as bump-outs to increase pedestrian safety). The comments to Tom’s post even mention that in countries where there is enforcement of crosswalk law, drivers yield at marked crossings, which in some cases seems to have led to routine compliance, that is, drivers actually yield to pedestrians in crosswalks without the “incentive” of getting a ticket and a big fine.

It seems like if this were a driver safety feature that was routinely ignored, it would either be regularly enforced (speed limits) or improved through engineering (left turn lanes).  Maybe I have a chip on my shoulder, but it seems like if there’s a question about a pedestrian or bicycle road feature, the response is to get rid of it (a transit road feature would not even be there in the first place), but if it’s an automobile feature, the response it to improve or mitigate it.

As I brainstormed examples, the all-red traffic signal phase – an engineering response to a safety problem caused by a road design element – floated to the top of my brain.  In this case, the road design element is the yellow light, which causes some drivers to speed up in order to not have to wait at the light.  When they judge incorrectly, and someone waiting for a green jumps the gun, the result could be described as a safety problem.

The design element that ultimately provoked this safety problem is the yellow phase of the traffic signal.  Which brings us to my crazy idea - the yellow phase may be at best unnecessary and at worst dangerous.

Presumably the yellow phase is supposed to improve safety by warning drivers that a light is about to turn red and thereby give them more time to stop before the intersection, rather than proceeding through it and risking conflict with the intersecting traffic.  This problem has been mitigated in many places by extending the length of the all-red phase, giving traffic time to clear the intersection before the intersecting traffic is allowed to proceed.  Which means that essentially the all-red phase has replaced the function of the yellow phase.

In the real world, though, the yellow phase may have another function.  We are taught that yellow means caution, so maybe the presence of a yellow light encourages drivers to stop more gradually and thereby decrease the likelihood of a rear-end crash.  On the other hand, if drivers get used to seeing an abrupt change from green to red, my guess is that they would learn to stop just as gradually as if the yellow light were still there.

It’s hard to say for sure, since they yellow phase seems to be a standard part of traffic lights worldwide.  Germany has two-phase traffic signals, but apparently they cut the green – indicating that the signal isn’t needed at all at certain times (from what I can tell, these are found at low-traffic railroad crossings).  I couldn’t find any studies of the safety benefits of yellow lights, but maybe researchers were shamed away from the topic.

Honestly, if I’m proven wrong here, I’d be relieved.  Personally I enjoy caution, and am happy that motorists get a reminder of the concept fairly regularly.  But in the interest of thinking outside the box, zero-based reasoning, and violent revolution, I thought I’d throw the idea out there.  Obviously a lunatic is not the best judge of his or her own mental state, which is why I depend on others to tell me if this idea is crazy.

Driver, take me to my stadium

All images are conceptual

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

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

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

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

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

I'll take all three

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

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

TAZ stats for 3 corridors

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

St Paul shows the gaps in the Hi-Frequency Network

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

Fly in for a game

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

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

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

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

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