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Weekly Transportation News

01/20/2012

Transit:

  1. Star Tribune: Next Stop on Northstar Line: Development
  2. Finance & Commerce: Ramsey has High Hopes for Northstar Station (subscription required)
  3. Finance & Commerce: Transit Ridership Tops 80 Million (subscription required)
  4. MinnPost: Transit Ridershiop Topped 80 Million in 2011
  5. The Journal: Southwest LRT Supported by Three Largest Local Chambers of Commerce
  6. NY Times: Wider Americans Pose Challenges for Transit Agencies in New York Area

Bike/Walk:

  1. TC Daily Planet: Bike Lane Basics: Explaining Minneapolis Markings
  2. Atlantic Cities: Walkable by Accident

 Other:

  1. Politico: Transportation Bills Abound as Congress Returns
  2. Planetizen: Mapping Transportation and Health in the United States
  3. Atlantic Cities: How Our Brains Navigate the City

Weekly Transportation News

01/13/2012

Transit:

  1. PolicyLink: Healthy Corridor for All: A Community Health Impact Asessment of Transit-Oriented Development Policy in Saint Paul, Minnesota
  2. Finance & Commerce: Met Council Close to Deal on LRT Office Space (subscription required)
  3. Pioneer Press: Minnesota: High-Speed Rail to Chicago to Likely Go Through Milwuakee
  4. Atlantic Cities: Transit Stations May Actually Cut Down on Crime

Bike/Walk:

  1. Atlantic Cities: A Plan to Make Drivers Hate Downtown Dublin 
  2. SF Streets Blog: New Bill Could Free CA Planners to Use More Innovative Bikeway Designs 
  3. Streets.MN: Is it Time to Remove Those Pesky Skyways?
  4. Autopia: New System Uses Radar to Detect Bicylclists at Intersections 
  5. TC Daily Planet/MN 2020: Bank Cards and Bike-sharing 
  6. Chicks on Bikes Radio: Bikeable Cities
  7. Atlantic Cities: What Neighborhoods Need to Succeed at Walkability

Roads/Bridges:

  1. New York Times: In Madrid's Heart, Park Blooms Where a Freeway Once Blighted
  2. MPR: Stillwater Bridge Still High on Bachmann's Agenda
  3. Winona Daily News: Winona Bridge Still Headed Toward Rehabilitation 
  4. Mankato Free Press: Many Still Not Convinced About Roundabout Benefits 
  5. Streetsblog Los Angeles: The Freeways Are Not So Nice
  6. Atlantic Cities: The Tricky Second Wave of Urban Highway Removals

Other:

  1. New York Times: Taking Parking Lots Seriously, as Public Spaces
  2. Salon: The $88 Million View
  3. Finance & Commerce: Haigh Hits on 2011 Highs (subscription required)
  4. Atlantic Cities: The Best Smart Growth Projects in America
  5. Transportation Experts: The Health Impacts of Transportation

A Transit Improvement: Marq2 Bus Lanes

01/09/2012

By Aaron Isaacs 

Aaron is the retired Manager of Facilities Planning for Metro Transit. AaronMona@aol.com

Marq-2-bus-markings
Marq2 Bus Lane Markings (photo: Incommons.org)

This December marks the second anniversary of one of the Twin Cities’ more significant transit improvements, the Marq2 bus lanes in downtown Minneapolis. December 2009 saw the complete reconstruction of Marquette Avenue and 2nd Avenue S. between Washington Avenue and 12th Street that has dramatically improved express bus service through downtown.

The original contraflow bus lanes on Marquette and 2nd Avenue opened in the 1970s. Contraflow lanes were a new concept back then. By running in the opposite direction as the street’s auto traffic, contraflow lanes can handle more buses per hour than with-flow lanes, and it’s much easier to police traffic that doesn’t belong in them.

Over the next 30 years, however, the number of buses using the lanes increased dramatically and overwhelmed the capacity of the lanes. Marquette and 2nd Avenues are used by express bus routes serving the entire region.  They are a significant part of the overall transit network that supports 40% of downtown commuters using transit.  Increasing the mode share for transit in downtown requires increased capacity for transit service.

This situation was made worse because buses stopped in every block. Furthermore, with a few exceptions the entire block was a bus stop, with waiting passengers spread out along the entire block. This led to most buses making separate stops at the front and rear of each block. It often took two light cycles for a bus to progress through the next intersection, and no bus could travel faster than the slowest one. Travel time through downtown was scheduled at slightly over three miles per hour, no faster than a person walking. Between 4:30 and 5:30 PM, buses often weren’t able meet that slow schedule and it routinely took 20 minutes or more to traverse downtown. This negated the travel time savings from other transit advantages such as ramp meter bypasses, shoulder lanes and HOV lanes.

Over the years there were attempts to reduce the congestion by shifting some buses to other streets. Expresses were relocated to Nicollet Mall, which was even slower, and to Hennepin Avenue and 3rd Avenue S., which were faster but inconveniently located relative to employment. In later years, some additional expresses were removed from Marquette and placed in mixed traffic on 2nd Avenue S.

Slow speed wasn’t the only problem with the old lanes. Most stops offered no shelter from the weather, and bus departure information was almost completely nonexistent. In contrast, most downtown auto commuters never had to step outdoors to reach their cars. Between the snail-like pace of travel, the exposed stops and no information, it was difficult for the bus to compete with the auto.

In 2006 the City of Minneapolis and Metro Transit had decided it was time to reevaluate the state of transit by conducting a transportation study called Access Minneapolis.  A major part of that study was the Downtown Action Plan which included suggested strategies to improve Marquette and 2nd Avenue. The action plan had the broader goal of making all downtown buses faster, simpler and more customer-friendly. The Action Plan also recommended speeding up Mall buses by stopping every second block instead of every block. The recommendation to create bus lanes on 7th and 8th Streets has been controversial and has yet to be implemented.

Early on, Metro Transit staff identified a likely solution. For some years, Portland, Oregon had operated double-width contraflow lanes on a pair of downtown one-way streets. Each block was divided into two stops and buses stopped only every second block in their designated bus stop. In between stops they passed up buses that were loading at the curb. The effect of this was to double or even triple the bus capacity of the streets. A design consultant was hired who was familiar with the Portland lanes, and the design was adapted to Minneapolis. Buses stay in the left lane unless they are stopped to load or unload. Buses in the through lane yield to buses leaving the curb lane. As part of the project the City of Minneapolis has experimented with traffic signal timings to minimize bus delays.

Besides moving buses more efficiently, improving the customer waiting experience was also a high priority. Federal funding through the USDOT Urban Partnership Agreement (UPA) program (local funding match was provided through state bonds, local Met Council, and City of Minneapolis funds) was secured to completely rebuild the streets and sidewalks. Sidewalks were widened and landscaped. New heated shelters were erected on almost every block. In a couple of locations including the Wells Fargo tower and the IDS Center, building owners elected to let passengers wait in their lobbies rather than have a free-standing shelter on the sidewalk.

The final piece of the puzzle was customer information. In addition to the usual displays of scheduled departures, display screens show real-time departure information using bus GPS. Real-time info takes the uncertainty out of waiting and wondering when the bus is coming.   Audio annunciators at each stop also provide this same information for visually impaired riders.

The new double lanes have done the job they were designed to do, eliminating bus congestion and speeding travel through downtown. The capacity of the new double lanes made it possible to consolidate all the express buses from Hennepin, Nicollet, 2nd Avenue southbound and 3rd Avenue onto the southbound Marquette and northbound 2nd Avenue lanes. This simplified the downtown route structure and reduced walking distance for many commuters.

According to Metro Transit, average speed through downtown on Marq2 has increased from 3.5 mph to 5.5 mph and ridership has increased from 23,700 to 28,000. A typical bus can now traverse downtown six minutes faster than before (for a daily weekday bus rider, this is a savings of over 20 hours per year!).

 

Weekly Transportation News

01/06/2012

Transit:

  1. Finance & Commerce: University Ave. Project Planned to be Clean and Green (subscription required)
  2. The Transport Politic: Opening and Construction Starts Planned for 2012
  3. Pioneer Press: Metro Transit Riding on Overtime. Lots of Overtime.
  4. MinnPost: LRT Helping to Spur Redevelopment Efforts
  5. Pioneer Press: A Downtown St. Paul Corner Gets a New Look, Thanks to Light-Rail Construction
  6. Finance & Commerce: Hennpein County Seeks Transit Hub Development Proposals (subscription required)

Bike/Walk:

  1. Cap'n Transit Rides Again: In Praise of Really Narrow Streets
  2. Star Tribune: New Brighton Bicyclist Killed in Collision with Truck ID'd
  3. Planetizen: Density Without Walkability 
  4. Ride Boldly!: Minneapolis Community Education Wins Safe Routes to Schools Mini-Grant
  5. SFGate: San Fransisco Parklets: A Little Tour of a Major Trend
  6. Finance & Commerce: Does a Bike Route make Sense for Busy Snelling Avenue? (subscription required)
  7. Haaretz Daily Newspaper: Coming to Tel Aviv? Better Bring Your Bicycle

Other:

  1. Finance & Commerce: Haigh to Address Met Council's 2012 Issues

2011 Transit Milestones from Other US Regions

01/04/2012

From Barb Thoman, Executive Director

While Congress again failed to pass a long range federal transportation funding bill in 2011, annual appropriations to transportation and transit did not decline (except for High Speed Rail, which saw a big drop in funding). On the local level, there was plenty of good news on transit from around the U.S. A roundup of Twin Cities’ Transit Milestones will appear in the next TLC e-newsletter.

Transit Referenda - Voters approved 21 of 27 transit initiatives on the ballot in 2011 – continuing the success rate of over 70% in recent years. In just one example,, voters in Durham County, North Carolina, approved a ½ cent sales tax for expanded bus and rail service in the Raleigh Durham area.

Cleveland Bus Rapid Transit - Ridership continues to grow on Cleveland’s arterial Bus Rapid Transit line. Known as the HealthLine, the BRT line runs seven miles along Euclid Avenue, connecting downtown, the Cleveland Clinic, and University Hospital. The line is believed to be one of the nation’s best examples of arterial BRT.  The nearly $200 million project opened in late 2008 and included roadway and streetscape improvements, including the planting of 1,500 trees. Private sector naming rights contributed $6 million. Over $4 billion in transit-oriented development is planned for the corridor.  See this Streetsblog update from 2011 for more details.

Cleveland's Healthline BRT (Photo credit: Center for Neighborhood Technology)

Denver – Fast Track Progress- In 2011, Denver’s Regional Transit Agency (RTA) received a $1 billion federal New Starts grant for two commuter rail projects: a line slated to run from downtown east to DIA airport; and the Gold Line, from downtown northwest to Arvada. Construction of a 12 mile LRT line from downtown to Golden is nearly complete.  In August RTA celebrated the opening of a major new downtown bus transit station. Rrenovation of Denver’s historic Union Station continues.  An increase in the dedicated sales tax for transit passed in 2004 providing the funding for transit improvements across the region. See details here.

Los Angeles Metro – Passage of Measure R in November 2008 provided a new half cent sales tax to fund transportation projects in the LA region.  Sixty-five percent of Measure R revenue is dedicated to transit capital and operations. In 2011, LA Metro began testing Phase I of the 16 mile Expo Line from downtown to Culver City and broke ground on Phase II, the segment from Culver City to Santa Monica. A four mile extension of the Orange Line dedicated busway is also underway, as is an 11 mile extension of the Gold Line LRT. Over a dozen transit projects are on the drawing board. More details are available here.

Salt Lake City Light Rail – The Utah Transit Authority opened two new light rail lines in 2011, bringing the region’s LRT system to 35 miles.  These project openings are part of an initiative called Frontlines 2015 – where the agency plans to add 70 miles of rail in seven years at an estimated cost of $3 billion.

 

 

Mileage Based User Fees

From Barb Thoman, Executive Director

Revenues from Minnesota’s gas tax (now at 28 cents per gallon) are not increasing as they once were, raising concerns about the state’s future ability to pay for roads and bridges. As the fleet of vehicles on the road becomes more fuel-efficient and as more electric vehicles are sold, annual gas tax revenues are expected to level off and possibly fall. The most talked-about alternative to the gas tax is a Mileage Based User Fee (MBUF), a fee on the number of miles a vehicle is driven.

In 2011, MnDOT created a task force to evaluate a mileage fee concept and the legislature funded a pilot study test the in-vehicle technology that would collect mileage data. I was a member of the 25 member task force, which released a report in December.

The report finds that a mileage based fee would be feasible, would ensure that all vehicles are charged, and could be adjusted for time of day and estimated vehicle fuel economy. The report also raises concerns: a mileage tax is much more expensive to collect than the gas tax, and there are issues of privacy and complexity, among other concerns. The report acknowledges that implementation of such a system could be a decade or more away and might need to be national rather than state by state.  

Three members of the task force (Senator Dibble, Representative Hornstein, and I) disagreed with one recommendation of the Task Force - that any revenue from a future mileage fee be dedicated to “roadway purposes.”  We proposed instead that any future MBUF revenues be available for any surface transportation purpose, to allow for greater flexibility in investment.  

Transit for Livable Communities believes that language in Minnesota’s Constitution directing $1.5 billion in annual state transportation spending to “highway purposes” has resulted in an overbuilt highway system, too many local roads in poor condition, and under developed transit, bicycle, and pedestrian networks.  

While some interests have concerns about hybrid and electric vehicles not paying their “fair share,” others, including Ethan Fawley from Fresh Energy, believe that many hybrid and electric vehicles will actually pay MORE in taxes than some comparable gas-powered cars.  The higher purchase price of hybrid and especially electric vehicles results in higher sales taxes at the time of purchase and higher annual vehicle license tab fees than the taxes paid by the owners of fully gasoline-powered vehicles. These higher taxes and fees may offset lost state gas tax revenue, although federal taxes will be lower for hybrid, electric, and other more fuel-efficient vehicles.

A future MBUF could vary by time of day and could be an effective application of congestion pricing (i.e. charging higher fees at peak periods) something that Minnesota can now do only on two highway segments in the region. A wider application of congestion pricing would encourage more off-peak trips, higher transit use, and greater bicycling – reducing the need for costly highway expansion projects.

The report on Mileage-Based User Fees was written under a contract between MnDOT and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and reflects the views of the Mileage-Based User Fee Task Force. The full report can be found here

In 2011, MnDOT also conducted a $5 million demonstration project with 500 people from Hennepin and Wright counties to test MBUF technology. Those results will be released in 2012.

Notes:   In FY2010, the state gas tax contributed half the revenue, or $823 million, into Minnesota’s Highway User Fund. The remainder of the revenue came from a sales tax on new and used cars and vehicle license tab fees. Federal funding also provides a fourth major revenue source for roads. 

 

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