All posts by Arlene Mathison

Director of Digital Information and Library Services Center for Transportation Studies University of Minnesota

Bike to Work Day: progress in Minnesota, but miles to go

By Greg Lindsey

This blog post by University of Minnesota Professor Greg Lindsey was originally posted on the CTS Conversations blog.

April 9 is national Bike to Work Day, a day to celebrate those who choose bicycling as their principal mode of transportation for commuting, and a time to encourage more people to consider this healthy, efficient transportation option. Minnesota has much to celebrate in terms of bicycle commuting. Bike-Walk Twin Cities and Transit for Livable Communities are wrapping up the National Non-Motorized Pilot Program, a federally funded program to demonstrate the potential to increase biking and walking through focused investment in infrastructure and other interventions. Bicycle commuting rates in Minneapolis have climbed to 4.5%, and Minneapolis now ranks 20th in the nation in bicycle commute share. This is a noteworthy achievement, especially considering our notorious winter weather. These achievements, along with others such as the success of Nice Ride, our pioneering bike share program, have contributed to Minneapolis being named America’s most bike-friendly city by Bicycling Magazine. Celebration of these achievements – which represent hard work by hundreds of individuals and thousands of commuters – certainly is warranted.

But we only need look across municipal boundaries to know we had better put more energy into encouraging bicycling than into celebration. Bicycle commute rates in St. Paul remain below 2% less than half the Minneapolis rate, and rates in most suburban, exurban, and rural communities remain even lower. And the story remains essentially the same for all types of bicycle trips. Jessi Schoner, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Civil Engineering, is analyzing non-motorized mode shares for all trips recorded the Metropolitan Council’s recent Travel Behavior Inventory. Her analyses show that bicycling remains an urban phenomenon, with the share of all trips taken by bicycling highest in Minneapolis, followed by St. Paul, and then suburban and outlying communities. Why is this so? Better infrastructure no doubt is part of the reason, but there likely are other reasons, including housing patterns, access to employment, socio-demographic factors, and culture. Additional research is needed.

But this leads to additional reasons to be optimistic this Bike to Work Day: the commitments made by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to foster multi-modal transportation systems and the agency’s investments in research to increase understanding of bicycle traffic patterns. In 2013, as part of the Minnesota Bicycle and Pedestrian Counting Initiative, MnDOT funded the installation of the state’s first two automated, continuous in-street bicycle counters. These counters, which monitor bicycle traffic around the clock, 365 days per year, will provide new insights into the bicycle traffic volumes and their daily and seasonal patterns. While bicycle traffic monitoring in Minnesota is only in its infancy, it represents progress towards establishing the evidence base we need to determine how to make bicycling safer and to invest in bicycle infrastructure.

And so celebrate this Bike to Work Day and thank your fellow Minnesotans for all they have accomplished. But also take time to reflect on the work that needs to be done to improve opportunities for cycling throughout the state, for we have miles to go.

Greg Lindsey is a professor at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs. His areas of specialty include environmental planning, policy, and management. His current research involves studies of the relationship between the built environment and physical activity, specifically factors that affect the use of pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. Lindsey presented some of his bicycle and pedestrian data collection research at the 2014 Minnesota Transportation Conference held March 4-6.

Minnesota hosts annual meetings of transportation librarians

Last month, the Center for Transportation Studies and the MnDOT Library hosted the joint annual meetings of the Transportation Library Connectivity & Development Pooled Fund Study TPF-5(237), the Midwest Transportation Knowledge Network (MTKN), and the Western Transportation Knowledge Network (WTKN). Librarians from fourteen state DOTs, several universities, the Portland Cement Association, and the National Transportation Library met on the University of Minnesota campus and at MnDOT’s Central Office building, with some members attending portions of the meetings remotely.

Photo of a group of librarians in the MnDOT Library
MnDOT Librarian Qin Tang leading a tour of the library. Photo by Nick Busse

The packed agendas included:

  • Business and committee meetings
  • A presentation on bridge inspection by David Hedeen, P.E., from MnDOT’s Bridge Office
  • A copyright workshop led by Nancy Sims of the University of Minnesota Libraries
  • Tours of the MnDOT Library and the Minitex Document Delivery area and MLAC (Minnesota Library Access Center) Cavern at the University of Minnesota

“Each individual library cannot collect everything. Filling these gaps from our partner libraries is one of the benefits of transportation libraries networking. Our customers and ultimately our agencies benefit from this relationship-building.” – Sheila Hatchell, MnDOT Library Director

About Transportation Knowledge Networks

Transportation knowledge networks (TKNs) are organized groups of transportation libraries and others that collaborate to share their information resources and improve information access. There are currently three regional TKNs in the United States. The ultimate goal of sharing resources and working together cooperatively is to help transportation practitioners find information they need, when they need it—saving time and money, and getting better results for their organizations. The MTKN’s DOT State Stats is one example of a collaborative tool developed by TKN members.

Emerging topics

A few topics emerged as common themes for members:

  1. How to value library services: Sheila Hatchell from the MnDOT Library shared her recent experiences with developing a valuation methodology. The Library Connectivity Pooled Fund study is considering a proposal for multiple libraries to conduct valuation studies. Last year, the Library Connectivity and Development Pooled Fund Study developed Proving Your Library’s Value: A Toolkit for Transportation Librarians (PDF), led by members A.J. Million (formerly of Missouri DOT), Sheila Hatchell, and Roberto Sarmiento (head of the Northwestern University Transportation Library). This is a terrific resource for all libraries to use in developing their own valuation studies.
  2. Data curation: The ubiquity of data, large size of data sets, and stronger requirements for data management plans for federal research grants mean that skills in data management and curation are more important than ever. Librarians can help researchers understand and comply with open data requirements as well as help our organizations manage data. Leighton Christiansen of Iowa DOT will take the lead to assist TKN members in this area.
  3. TKN planning: The National Transportation Library and the AASHTO RAC TKN Task Force are working with the regional TKNs and the Library Connectivity and Development Pooled Fund Study to develop a national transportation knowledge network. (See the business plan for TKNs: NCHRP Report 643: Implementing Transportation Knowledge Networks)

New report: NEMT Coordinators in Minnesota

Under Minnesota’s fee-for-service Medical Assistance (MA) program, Minnesota counties are responsible for providing transportation assistance to MA recipients so they can obtain health-care services. This assistance is commonly referred to as non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT).

NEMT_cover_screenshot.jpgA new report, NEMT Coordinators in Minnesota: A Survey of How Minnesota Counties Use Coordinators to Deliver Non-Emergency Medical Transportation, published by the Minnesota Council on Transportation Access based on research conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs documents how select Minnesota counties use transportation coordinators in providing and administering NEMT under the state’s fee-for-service MA program.

In the surveyed counties, the use of a coordinator generally made the delivery of NEMT more efficient and streamlined than it had been with previous approaches. Coordinators have increased efficiency principally by centralizing both transportation expertise and the ride arrangement processes, either internally within the county government or externally with an outside coordinator.

About the Council

The Minnesota Council on Transportation Access (MCOTA) serves as a clearinghouse to address transportation coordination topics from a statewide perspective. The Minnesota State Legislature established the group in 2010 (MN Statute 2010 174.285). The group includes member representatives from thirteen agencies.

MCOTA’s work focuses on increasing capacity to serve unmet transportation needs, improving quality of transit service, improving understanding and access to these services by the public, and achieving more cost-effective service delivery. In addition, fostering communication and cooperation between transportation agencies and social service organizations leads to the creation of new ideas and innovative strategies for transportation coordination and funding.

Learn more at www.CoordinateMNTransit.org.

Testing the waters for mileage-based user fees

MBUF 2013 Workshop logoFor the fourth year in a row, the State and Local Policy Program of the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School has partnered with the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) in sponsoring a Symposium on Mileage-based User Fees (MBUF). This year’s symposium, held in conjunction with the ITS America Conference in Nashville, TN, focused on the technologies involved in charging drivers a fee to use roads based on mileage as well as public concerns such as privacy and implementation challenges. As an indicator of the interest in this issue, the International Bridge, Tolling and Turnpike Association (IBTTA) also held a Transportation Finance and Mileage-Based User Fee Symposium just a week before in Philadelphia, PA, in partnership with the Mileage-Based User Fee Alliance (MBUFA), the Transportation Research Board, and the Humphrey School.

So is the public clamoring for MBUF? Not really. In fact, the public still needs to be convinced that the gas tax will not support our transportation system in the long-run, and that a new user-based system will be required to replace the gas tax in the future if we are to maintain our U.S. transportation infrastructure. The Minnesota Legislature funded an MBUF technology test with 500 Minnesota drivers as well as a policy study and task force to identify issues that must be addressed before an MBUF system could be implemented. The Mileage-Based User Fee Alliance has set up a web page to address five misconceptions about MBUF.

While Minnesota is one of several states that are studying and testing MBUF options, the State of Oregon took the first step toward implementation of a Road Usage Charging system by passing legislation in July 2013. The first step in Oregon will be to recruit 5,000 volunteers for the new Road Usage Charging System. The volunteers will have several option for how to pay the new charge, ranging from simple odometer readings to more advanced technology options that may be combined with other services for drivers. Stay tuned…

Related Links

This post was written by Lee Munnich, director of the State and Local Policy Program at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and originally published on the CTS Conversations blog.

Introducing new CTS blog: Conversations

CTS Conversations blog iconCTS is pleased to announce a new blog—CTS Conversations—that will highlight the full spectrum of transportation research, education, and outreach at the University. Supplementing the Catalyst newsletter and the Crossroads blog, the Conversations blog will share timely updates on research publications, events, and training from CTS and its programs.

Also, the blog will feature topical questions to spark conversation and interaction with our readers. Check out the current question and join the conversation!

Ridership and Pedestrian Impacts of Transitways: A Case Study of Hiawatha Light-Rail Transit in Minneapolis

Following up on Nick’s post last week about transportation practitioners’ preferences for short research summaries, the Center for Transportation Studies recently published a two-page research brief highlighting results from a University of Minnesota study that explores the ridership and pedestrian impacts of the Hiawatha Line in the Minneapolis–St. Paul metropolitan region. The study compares the travel behavior of residents in the LRT corridor to those in similar corridors without LRT but with comparable bus service. It investigates the reasons why residents choose to live in the LRT corridor, the associations between transit use and residency in the LRT corridor, and the effects of LRT and the built environment on pedestrian travel.

Findings

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The findings include:
  • Residents who lived in the Hiawatha Corridor when the light-rail transit (LRT) line opened increased their transit use substantially—a clear ridership bonus from LRT.
  • Residents who moved into the corridor after the LRT line opened use transit as often as new residents in similar urban neighborhoods without LRT.
  • When looking for a place to live, good transit service and job accessibility are important factors for both urban and suburban residents—ranked behind only housing affordability and neighborhood safety.
  • Residents choose to live near Hiawatha LRT stations because of their strong preference for transit access and quality.

Recommendations

To encourage transit use among station-area residents, the researchers recommend the following:

  1. Consider development potential when planning LRT routes and design a vibrant place rather than a traffic node to ensure a mix of activities and users.
  2. Create pedestrian-friendly connections between residential neighborhoods and rail stations.

Related links

About the Research
The research was conducted by Assistant Professor Xinyu (Jason) Cao and research assistant Jessica Schoner of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota and funded by the Transitway Impacts Research Program (TIRP).

Advanced hybrid buses have better fuel economy, fewer emissions

One of Metro Transit’s new advanced “super hybrid” buses—built in Minnesota and billed as the cleanest, most efficient diesel-electric hybrid buses in the United States—garnered national attention at the American Public Transportation Association’s Bus and Paratransit Conference May 5–8 in Indianapolis.

Photo of superbus
Photo: Metro Transit

Unique because of its all-electric accessory systems, the bus was featured at the event so that transit professionals from across the country could experience this new hybrid technology firsthand, says Chuck Wurzinger, assistant director of bus maintenance at Metro Transit. The bus is one of two advanced hybrids built for Metro Transit in 2012. They currently operate on local routes with frequent stops in downtown Minneapolis and its surrounding communities.

The decision to purchase the new hybrids was greatly influenced by the results of a University of Minnesota study aimed at improving fuel economy in diesel-electric hybrid buses, Wurzinger says. The “Superbus” study, led by mechanical engineering (ME) professor David Kittelson, included an energy audit of major accessory systems on a standard hybrid bus. The study was funded by Metro Transit, CTS, and the U of M’s Institute for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE).

Study findings indicated that up to half of the fuel consumed by hybrid buses is used to power accessory systems. According to the research team, powering these systems electrically could significantly improve fuel efficiency.

The new advanced hybrids do just that, using all-electric systems to power the heating, air conditioning, engine fans, power steering, and air compressor. These components improve fuel economy, reduce emissions, and allow the buses to be operated in electric-only mode for short periods.

Photo of Metro Transit diesel-electric bus
Photo: Metro Transit

One of the buses also has start/stop capabilities, which allow the engine to shut down at bus stops and traffic lights. “This reduces engine idle time while maintaining all other bus functions, including passenger comfort and safety features,” Wurzinger says.

Although the buses have been in service for only a short time, they are already showing promising increases in fuel economy, Wurzinger says. “We have also operated them consistently on electric power inside the bus garage, which helps keep the air clean in the building. This reduces the amount of ventilation required in cold weather, which means less energy is used to heat the building.”
Metro Transit has more than 130 hybrid buses in services--about 15% of its total fleet

Along with a standard hybrid bus and a conventional diesel transit bus, one of the advanced hybrids will be monitored and evaluated in a new study conducted by U of M researchers in collaboration with Metro Transit. The multidisciplinary research team includes Kittelson, ME associate professor Will Northrop, ME research associate Winthrop Watts, and applied economics associate professor Steven Taff.

As part of the study, funded by IREE, the team will collect real-world, on-the-road data from the three buses in all seasons on a variety of route types. The researchers then plan to compare the efficiency and emissions of the buses and make recommendations to Metro Transit about which configuration is the best for a given application. Data collected from the study will also allow Metro Transit to work with bus manufacturers to optimize bus performance.

“We believe the results will be useful in writing bus technical specifications and also in determining if a certain type of bus is best suited to a certain type of bus route,” Wurzinger says.

Ultimately, this information could be used to determine which buses to assign to which routes as well as which type of bus to purchase given fleet replacement or expansion requirements.

The project is scheduled for completion in 2015.

Reprinted from the CTS Catalyst, June 2013.

New flatwork specs ensure higher quality for local concrete projects

Placing concrete streets, sidewalks, curbs, and gutters just got a lot easier for cities and counties—and the inspectors, engineers, and contractors who work on them in Minnesota. Locals no longer have to adapt to the rigorous Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) specifications for trunk highways.

The Minnesota Concrete Flatwork Specifications for Local Government Agencies tech memo was issued by the MnDOT Office of State Aid in 2012. These specifications guide all State-Aid-funded local concrete projects and should reduce the confusion and misunderstanding that arose when engineers and contractors used different interpretations of the highway specifications.

The new specs require two people to hold a current ACI Concrete Flatwork Technician certification, with at least one on-site for all concrete pours.

Read more in the May 2013 issue of the TERRA E-News

CTS Research Conference videos and presentations now available

If you weren’t able to attend the CTS Research Conference, or, if you simply want to check out presentations from other sessions, the videos of the keynote and luncheon speeches, as well as PPTs from most of the concurrent sessions, are now available on the CTS website. You won’t want to miss Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Ehlinger’s tuneful take on the links between health and transportation and Elizabeth Deakin’s view of new ways to get around.

Searching for common ground in the ITS privacy debate

Should your vehicle be able to gather, store, or transmit information about where it’s been—or where it’s going? On the surface, it seems like a simple question. However, it inevitably gives rise to many others: Who will see the data? How will it be used? Can it be given or sold to a third party? Under what circumstances? Clearly, there are no straightforward solutions or answers in the debate surrounding privacy issues in intelligent transportation systems (ITS).

“The difficulty and complexity of these issues has resulted in an increasingly disconnected public discussion about privacy and ITS,” says Frank Douma, a researcher in the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs. “In one camp are privacy advocates, and in the other camp are technologists and the ITS industry, who generally view privacy issues as secondary when compared with the tremendous benefits of these technologies. The disconnect often results in the two sides talking past each other, with too little energy spent finding potential common ground.”

According to Douma, one cause of this disconnect is a lack of clarity on both sides about the needs, goals, and interests of those involved. To address this divide, a multidisciplinary team of U of M researchers has published a report that sheds new light on the ITS privacy debate by mapping and assessing the interests of all participants. The team was led by Douma and research assistant Tom Garry, and the project was sponsored by the ITS Institute, a program of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Transportation Studies.

The ITS privacy debate involves an interlaced web of participants with multiple interests.

Researchers began their analysis by pinpointing exactly who should be concerned about privacy as ITS technologies are developed and implemented and what their goals are with respect to privacy data. A number of diverse participant groups were identified, including ITS developers, transportation users, the government, data collectors, data users, and secondary users such as marketers and litigants.

“We found few black-and-white divides among participants in the privacy debate,” says Douma. “For example, transportation users are not simply pro-privacy, and data collectors are not inherently anti-privacy. Individuals are willing to share their locational data in exchange for real benefits in a variety of circumstances, such as GPS guidance or electronic tolling. However, there are also limits to this willingness.”

Because of this nuanced landscape, researchers concluded that while there is no all-encompassing solution to the ITS privacy debate, there are a number of potential avenues and tools for finding common ground. Their recommendations include setting limits on the time data can be retained, prohibiting unrelated secondary use of data, designing ITS systems with privacy in mind, avoiding the collection of personally identifiable locational information when possible, and implementing privacy policies such as the use of clear privacy notices.

“It’s also important to remember that the positions of participants in this debate are not entrenched,” says Douma. “As technology changes, privacy expectations will also likely evolve as well, such that what may seem important today is less so, and something we are not considering today could be critically important in the future. Consequently, it’s very important that this conversation continue in the years to come.”

Reprinted from the CTS Catalyst, May 2013.