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From Hilary Reeves, Communications Manager
My employer, Transit for Livable Communities (TLC), awarded funds to a project along Jefferson Avenue in Saint Paul. The project was proposed by the City of Saint Paul and the funds are from the federal nonmotorized transportation pilot program that TLC administers. The project has been the subject of recent news articles: here and here. Here is some context.
TLC is an organization focused on increasing transportation options for Minnesotans with the goals of improving health and economic opportunity, strengthening community, fostering a sound economy, and preserving our natural resources. Based on its transportation-related expertise, TLC was appointed by Congress to administer the Minneapolis-area pilot location of the nonmotorized transportation pilot program funded in the 2005 federal transportation bill, SAFETEA-LU. TLC created Bike Walk Twin Cities (BWTC) to run the program. BWTC and TLC are accountable to the Federal Highway Administration and Mn/DOT for the use of these funds. Funding for projects has been awarded on a competitive basis.
A big picture approach to transportation options.
The Jefferson Avenue project is one of 37 infrastructure projects in the Twin Cities funded by TLC through Bike Walk Twin Cities. Several of these projects have opened in the last year and many more are opening in the next few weeks, with more to come in 2012. These include bike boulevard projects like the one proposed along Jefferson. Check out this video about the RiverLake Greenway. Here is a schedule of Fall 2011 openings of new projects, including two more bicycle boulevards. In Saint Paul, two projects have already opened: The Marshall Avenue connection, from Cretin Ave. to the River, and new bike and pedestrian facilities along Como Avenue, creating a connection from the U of M campus to the Capitol. These new routes are filling in a network of routes to make it easier for people to choose getting around on bicycle or on foot, including in combination with transit.
New bike lane uphill from Mississippi River on Marshall Avenue, Saint Paul
Goals of the nonmotorized pilot program
Congress recognized the value of bicycling and walking to improve health, reduce traffic congestion, and improve air quality. The goals of the pilot program are ambitious – to increase bicycling and walking as a means of transportation and to document health and other benefits – all in about five years. Only four communities have been given this extraordinary opportunity. In this pilot location, when all projects are complete, the funds will have brought more than 75 miles of new bikeways and sidewalks, provided the majority of startup funding for Nice Ride Minnesota bike-sharing (in a public-private partnership) and the Sibley Bike Depot Community Partners Bike Library. The funds have brought a new Bike Center to the University of Minnesota, including the biggest installation in the nation thus far of an RFID system to track bicycle commuters to provide wellness and other benefits. The pilot program is also funding one of the nation’s most robust efforts to actually count the number of people bicycling or walking—as one means of finding out how these investments pay off. Data from 2007-2010 show a 33% increase in bicycling and a 17% increase in walking.
Jefferson and Griggs.
TLC did not propose these projects. The City of Saint Paul proposed both the Jefferson and Griggs projects. The original deadline for completing them was 2010. By the summer of 2011, with the City’s inability to move their Jefferson project forward and with no work completed on Griggs, TLC indicated that if the City could not follow through on the projects they would need to be cancelled so the funds could be reprogrammed elsewhere in the pilot area. Community leaders interested in the Griggs project argued that its fate should not be linked to progress on the Jefferson project. In August, in response to assurances from the City that the Griggs project would be accelerated, the TLC board reaffirmed that Griggs and Jefferson would proceed independently.
The Jefferson and Cleveland diverter.
The proposal from the City of Saint Paul, funded in 2009, called for making Jefferson Avenue a bikeway from River to River. Several improvements in the section of Jefferson east of Lexington have already been added –there are now bike lanes and the speed limit has been reduced to 30 mph. A sidewalk will be added with pilot funding. The City proposed to make the segment west of Snelling a bicycle boulevard. A bicycle boulevard is a residential street to which certain features are added to make bicycling and walking safer, while also discouraging non-local automobile traffic. The City’s proposal for this section of Jefferson included a combination of traffic circles, stop-sign removal, curb bumpouts, and medians. The City conducted public meetings about their proposed plans for Jefferson Avenue. During this process, most of the bicycle boulevard elements were rejected, leaving just the median, or diverter, at Cleveland. However, as indicated at the public meeting on September 27, 2011, the City of Saint Paul has now reopened the process and will re-consider all the options they originally proposed for this segment of Jefferson Avenue.
New features on the streets.
Both Saint Paul and Minneapolis have worked to become cities where bicycling and walking are real options for getting around. The nonmotorized pilot program has helped make that ambition more of a reality. Minneapolis and surrounding communities are seeing new features on the streets, such as bicycle lanes, bike boxes to improve safety for cyclists at complex intersections, bicycle-detection stop lights, curb bump outs, and medians. Some of these features have been around for a while, some are totally new to our region. These are features that have been shown to work well in other communities to make bicycling and walking safer and more convenient. In addition to infrastructure, Bike Walk Twin Cities has funded efforts to help people learn about and use these new features, incorporate the expanded network of bicycle routes into their travel choices, and have access to bicycles.
What about you?
Have you seen any of the new projects funded through this pilot program? If you’re interested in checking them out, please join us—there are several openings in the next week.
Bicyclist along the RiverLake Greenway, Minneapolis
Construction workers add Bike Boulevard markings to Bryant Avenue South. Credit: Leslie Foreman
Bike Boxes at intersection of Franklin Avenue & East River Parkway
Curb improvements on RiverLake Greenway
Traffic circle under construction on 5th St NE bicycle boulevard
Nice Ride Minnesota expands to Saint Paul, summer 2011
From Dave Van Hattum, Policy & Advocacy Program Manager
New housing and commercial developments are increasing inside the I-494/694 beltway. According to John Kari, a planning analyst for the Metropolitan Council, this is “the change in planned land use expectations that we’ve seen since we’ve been doing local comprehensive plans since the 70’s.”
Every five years, the Metropolitan Council provides a snapshot of housing and commercial development. Not surprisingly, the number of housing starts was down substantially, due to a stalled economy and lower population growth. Two trends of particular interest are 1) an increase in the share of multi-family housing units vs. single family detached homes, and 2) an increase in the share of new housing units being built in the developed portion of the region (i.e. an area slightly larger than the interior of the 494/694 beltway). Between 2005 and 2010, 60% of development occurred in the developed area, far more than a projected goal of only 30%. The good news is that many of these new units are on corridors with robust bus service.
This fall, the Council will begin the process of creating a new Regional Development Framework. As part of this Framework, the Council will set goals for development. Given that the housing preferences of Gen Y-ers (the largest demographic of home buyers) are tilting toward more urban settings and given the likelihood of increasing gas prices, the goal for future housing in the developed area should be substantially increased.
Peer regions have seen far greater concentration of housing and employment, and are far more aggressive in planning for growth in areas already served by road, transit and other infrastructure. Between 1990 and 2,000, 88% of Portland’s population growth occurred in high-density urban areas (Pew Center on the States, October 22, 2010). Seattle plans for 93% of the region’s future population growth and 97% of its future employment growth in existing urban growth areas (Seattle, Vision 2040).
Transportation and land use planning have synergistic effects. Greater housing and employment density extends the market for cost-effective transit service. And increased transit service and enhanced walkability makes it possible to increase housing densities without creating traffic gridlock. This New data from the Council should inform local and regional transportation planning in the following ways:
- Focus on bringing existing roadways and bridges into a state of good repair and ensuring that our streets provide safety and access for all users (i.e. complete streets).
- Prioritize regional federal transportation funds to support the increased development in developed areas, town centers, and station areas. Transit and complete streets projects should receive a greater share of these flexible funds.
- Parking requirements should be reduced to reduce building costs and reflect the growing preference for less car travel. TIF for TOD. Tax-increment-financing (TIF) can be a powerful tool in speeding up transit-oriented development (TOD) that capitalizes on the increased access that follows new transit service. The Minnesota legislature should make it easier for cities and counties to use TIF to build the new housing --well served by transit-- that metro residents are seeking.
From Owen Duckworth, Organizer
As anyone following or working on transit issues in 2011 knows it was a hectic first six months of the year. During the legislative session, funding for public transit was under assault. TLC worked diligently with our members and allies to try to protect transit funding. But,little was decided at the Capitol by the end of session in May. Negotiations stalled in June and led to the government shutdown in July before a budget deal was reached. The resolution was far from good for transit, but at least preserved existing service and fares. Needless to say, at the end of this long fight, everyone (including me) was very happy to be able to take some time off.
I was fortunate enough to get out of the country for a few weeks, making two stops in the two nations where my parents were born and raised. The first leg of my trip, to the United Kingdom, where my father was born, offered me a chance to explore the London transit system. While I’ve made previous trips to London, this was my first as a transit advocate/nerd and I was eager to see what the city had to offer. After getting picked up from the airport and given an Oyster card (the London equivalent of a Go-To Card) I was ready to go.
The London Underground, or “the Tube” as it’s known to locals, is the backbone of their system. Itextends to all corners of the city and seems to be used by pretty much everyone, regardless of race, class, income level, or occupation. My first trip on the tube was from the West London suburb of Ealing, where two sets of aunts and uncles live, to the East London community of Greenwich, home of the Prime Meridian (hence Greenwich mean time) which, as one Londoner suggested, was proof that England really is the center of the world. The trip took over an hour by train and bus, but felt very easy to do, and I would repeat the trip a couple more times during my stay without issue.
While I was excited to ride the tube and take a double-decker bus or two, I was unexpectedly impressed by another form of transit in London. My second day in town, I took the River Bus from Greenwich into Central London. The River Bus is a ferry that runs along the Thames River through the city and functions in the same way as a bus or train, making stops at docks along the way. Riding along the river allowed me to see a lot more of the city than taking the Underground, as it went past sites including the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, and London Bridge. The boats themselves were very comfortable as well, with spacious seating, both indoors and outdoors, and even a bar with food and drinks.
London’s also famous for its double-decker buses, the older style of which seems to have disappeared, but smaller versions are still all over the place in the city. I was most impressed by the frequency of buses. Most of the local routes I took to the nearest train station came every 7-10 minutes.
My most interesting experience on the bus came after a night out in Central London with a couple of friends. We were able to catch the “night bus” [Owen—is the night bus like a taxi that takes everyone who gets on where they want to go? Or did you happen to need to go where it went?] a bus with a route running all the way from the center of town out to my cousin’s place in Greenwich. I should mention that we picked up the bus at nearly 4 in the morning, after an entertaining evening on the town.
As much as I enjoyed checking out the transit infrastructure in London, the best part of the trip was actually walking around the city. While London isn’t nearly as built up vertically as larger American cities, the neighborhoods are very dense, with housing, shops, restaurants, parks, etc., very close to each other, making it an extremely easy place to walk around. To me there’s still no better way to experience a city than walking around it and taking in the surroundings.
As transit advocates in America we tend to glorify European cities’ transit systems, sometimes to a fault. London certainly didn’t disappoint. While I was happy to get back to a slightly less busy metro area here in the Twin Cities, I can’t help but think about what it might be like to live in a place with such good transit and with neighborhoods as walking friendly as London has to offer. Next stop on my trip (and my next blog entry), was my mom’s home country, the Seychelles islands. I’ll share getting around on La Digue, an island where bicycling and walking are the main modes of transportation.
From Dave Van Hattum, Policy and Advocacy Program Manager
As with most federal programs, future funding of transportation faces great uncertainty. The latest indications are that the House and Senate have agreed on a six-month, stop gap extension of the federal transportation bill that includes the necessary extension of the federal gas tax. Unlike previous years, however, funding levels will be determined by the federal appropriations process and could lead to significant cuts in funding ($3.1 billion per year or nearly an 8% cut). Also, the federal Budget Super Committee is charged with cutting $1.5 trillion in spending with a report due by the end of November, and transportation is by no means immune to further cuts.
Many analysts (ASCE, Reuters, Hamilton Project, Brookings) confirm that the U.S. is falling behind in transportation infrastructure investment. This is not surprising, given that the federal gas tax (18.3 cents per gallon) has not been increased since 1993, making its current inflation-adjusted buying power only 11 cents gallon (a 39% decrease). Simply maintaining the current gas tax is not enough, however, given the backlog of repair needs and decreasing revenues from the tax due to declining rates of driving (typical in a down economy) and more fuel efficient vehicles (a good thing, but …).
A new federal transportation bill, which now appears to be a year off at the earliest, presents the opportunity to invest in our nation’s roads, bridges, transit systems, and non-motorized options. But strong advocacy for transportation projects is paramount. Transportation investment creates jobs, contributes to long-term economic growth, and, with better performance metrics*, will spur local economic vitality and improved quality of life. We need a federal transportation bill that identifies additional funding independent of general revenues and that clearly demonstrates quantifiable benefits.
Transportation for America, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the GAO, and the Brookings Institution all have put forward thoughtful proposals to increase the return on investment from federally-supported transportation projects.
Transportation for America: Measuring Performance in the Federal Transportation Program
EPA: Guide to Sustainable Transportation Performance Measures
GAO: Statewide Transportation Planning
Brookings: Fix it First, Expand it Second, Reward it Third: A New Strategy for America's Highways
The Twin Cities has begun a critical transition to a 21-st century transportation system, one that is in sync with changing demographic patterns and the need to hold down fuel costs as a hedge against rising gas prices. New and planned transitways, better bicycle and walking accommodations, complete streets, and transit-oriented-development all contribute to this new transportation system. Twin Cities’ residents broadly support this approach, as seen both in polling and in daily travel choices – both transit ridership and bicycling are up substantially. Continued federal support for these local investments, however, is critical. Fifty percent of the capital costs of future LRT lines is expected to come from the federal New Starts program, but this program would be seriously constrained if federal transportation spending is reduced. Similarly, bicycle and pedestrian projects typically rely on the federal Transportation Enhancements program, which could be a casualty of budget cuts.
China plans to invest $1.27 trillion by 2015 on LRT and subways, plus, another $300 billion on intercity high speed rail this decade. The U.S. has a more mature transportation system than China, so commensurate investment is not needed. Increased investments through a new federal transportation bill, however, are critical to our nation’s economic future and to getting people safely and efficiently where they need to go.
*follow this link to new EPA report, “Guide to Sustainable Transportation Measures.”
During September and October, new bicycle routes funded through Bike Walk Twin Cities will open in Minneapolis. These projects, and others that opened last year as well as some due for 2012, are expanding the network for cycling, especially on-street cycling. The new projects include three bicycle boulevards, advisory bike lanes, and the state's first bicycle stop light. Some of the project openings will be celebrated as part of October Bike Walk Week October 3-9.
Please mark your calendars for these openings. More details will be shared as plans become complete.
Bryant Avenue Bicycle Boulevard- Grand Opening Thursday, September 22
This is the longest of the new bike routes in Minneapolis, providing a north-south route from West 58th Street to downtown Minneapolis, via the bicycle/pedestrian bridge over Lyndale Avenue and the bike path to Loring Park. The route includes new medians at Franklin Avenue to make crossing easier for bicycles and people walking. There also will be easier access for bicycles to the Minnehaha Parkway bicycle trail. The route runs roughly parallel to Lyndale Avenue.
University of Minnesota Bike Center-Grand Opening week of September 27
The new bike center in the Oak Street ramp will include retail sales and repair from the Hub Bicycle Coop, and (with membership) 24-7 key-card access to showers, changing rooms, and secure bike parking. The Center also offers classes and meeting space. With 70,000 students and faculty at the Twin Cities campus, there is great opportunity to get around more smoothly by riding bicycles (including Nice Ride bicycle-sharing), walking, and using transit.The University Bike Center will also offer the option to sign up for RFID (radio frequency identification) tags to track bicycle usage and be eligible for prizes.
New routes in Downtown Minneapolis-Grand Opening Wednesday, October 5 (tentative)
Getting into downtown Minneapolis on bicycle is now easier due to two new projects. Cyclists have long waited for a better connection into from the Hiawatha LRT trail (which ends at 11th Avenue South). A new bike path now exists adjacent to the Valspar parking lot, connecting to westbound bicycle lanes on 3rd Street South and eastbound lanes on 4th Street South. Another new project, on East 14th, 15th, and 16th Streets, brings "Advisory Bike Lanes" to the United States for the first time (though Portland, Ore., also has plans for them: http://bikeportland.org/2009/10/21/bikeway-design-focus-advisory-bike-lanes-24880) Advisory bike lane streets are low-traffic narrow streets with bike lanes in each direction and one center lane for autos. If no bikes are present, cars can drive on top of the bike lanes (this is not legal for other bike lanes). If cyclists are present, cars use the center lane (wide enough for cars) to pass.
New routes in Northeast Minneapolis-Grand Opening Thursday, October 6 (tentative)
Northeast Minneapolis has had few routes for a growing population, but that is about to change with three new routes (and a fourth in 2012). The new 5th Street Bicycle Boulevard, featuring the state's first bicycle stop light and bicycle signal detection, runs from Dinkytown through the Nordeast shopping area and up to 26th Avenue North. (Much of the route runs parallel to University Avenue.) Two new east-west bike ways intersect it-the 22nd Avenue bike way and a new off-road bike path on 18th Avenue (not funded by BWTC). In 2012, the Presidents Bicycle Boulevard will provide another north-south route on Fillmore and 6th Avenues.
New Bike Lanes in North Minneapolis-Grand Opening, Saturday, October 8-A Bike Walk Week October Event
The new bike lanes on Emerson & Fremont Avenues provide a great north-south route, connecting many great destinations, from North Regional Library (at the intersection of Lowry and Fremont) to the businesses along West Broadway (The Cookie Cart and Avenue Eatery are just down the block from Emerson) to Plymouth Avenue not far from UROC and the Urban League. The Emerson/Fremont lanes connect to bike lanes along 7th Street North and 10th Avenue North , making it easier to connect to downtown and Northeast Minneapolis.
1st and Blaisdell Bike Lanes-Grand Opening, Sunday October 9-A Bike Walk Week October Event
These new bike lanes connect downtown Minneapolis (via LaSalle heading southbound and Marquette heading north) to the RiverLake Greenway at 40th Street in South Minneapolis. The route features buffered bike lanes along 1st Avenue (between 40th and 33rd) and bike lanes on Blaisdell, with green paint at the high-traffic intersection at Lake Street to make bicyclists and motorists aware of each other.
The National Center for Safe Routes to School is now accepting applications for 25 mini-grants of $1,000 each. These mini-grants support the goal of Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs, which is to enable and encourage children to safely walk and bicycle to school. Mini-grants may fund activities ranging from the nuts and bolts that help start or sustain a safe walking and bicycling program to new ideas that explore the range of benefits of safe walking and bicycling.
For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.saferoutesinfo.org/funding-portal/mini-grants/call-for-applications.
Applications are due Wednesday, October 19, 2011.