Category Archives: Mode

Transitway Investment Leads to Higher Regional GDP, Job Growth, and Accessibility

This article was originally published in Catalyst, July 2020.

A new study from researchers in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs found that transitway investment adds considerable economic value to metropolitan regions, including the Twin Cities area, and it increases access to the places people need to reach to prepare for, get, and keep a good job.

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Study: Public Transit Benefits Exceed Costs in Rural and Small Urban Areas

The benefits of Minnesota’s rural and small urban transit systems exceed the costs of services, according to a study sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). For every dollar spent to provide transit services in Greater Minnesota, benefits worth $2.51 are shared throughout the communities, according to the “Measuring the Economic Benefits of Rural and Small Urban Transit Services in Greater Minnesota” report.

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Impact of Arterial Bus Rapid Transit on Traffic and Users

Video and statistical analyses showed that arterial bus rapid transit (ABRT) along Snelling Avenue in Minneapolis-St. Paul had no significant impact on traffic volume and wait times at intersections. Survey results demonstrated that users prefer the A Line over local bus service and consider it roughly equivalent to express bus, light rail and commuter rail service. Though ABRT has not converted automobile drivers to transit riders, users enjoy its easy payment format, cleanliness, route service and convenience. This study also provided recommendations for future ABRT line design considerations.

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New Tools to Optimize Truck Station Locations

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has 137 truck stations across the state. These stations house and allow maintenance of MnDOT highway equipment as well as provide office and work space for highway maintenance staff. Within 20 years, 80 of these stations will need to be replaced as they reach the end of their effective life spans. Researchers developed a geographic information system based modeling tool to determine the most effective locations for truck stations in the state. Using data from many sources, a new research study has determined that MnDOT could rebuild 123 stations, relocate 24 on land available to MnDOT and combine two. MnDOT would save millions of dollars using the location optimization alternatives over the 50-year life cycle of a typical truck station.

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Bus–Highway Connections Make Transit More Competitive With Driving

Researchers developed a method for associating travel times and travel costs with transit mobility. In an evaluation of bus–highway system interactions, investigators found that park-and-ride lots and managed lanes put suburban and walk-up urban transit options on equal footing. Bus–highway system interactions improve access to job locations and have improved transit access to job sites by about 20 percent compared to automobile access. When wage-related costs are included, the benefit of automobile use over transit use diminishes significantly.

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Roadmap created for rollout of unified OSOW permitting

The second phase is nearing completion for a project aimed at creating a Unified Permitting Process (UPP) for oversize/overweight (OSOW) vehicles in Minnesota. One outcome of this phase is a roadmap that will define steps for future phases, including statewide implementation.

Currently, haulers need to apply for OSOW permits with each individual roadway authority they will travel through. MnDOT, counties, townships, and cities all administer permits for their own roadways—so several different permit applications and processes can be required for a single haul.

“The streamlined permitting process is expected to increase efficiencies for the freight industry, which is good for our economy,” says Clark Moe, systems coordinator with MnDOT’s Operations Division, Office of Maintenance. “It will also enable more effective enforcement and help us preserve the quality of our road network.”

Through the UPP, agencies should have a better idea of what’s happening on their roads, says Rich Sanders, county engineer for Polk County. “Throughout the state, there are a lot of hauls we don’t even know about, let alone if they will use a restricted bridge or road.”

UPP Phases I and II

Phase I of the UPP project examined the feasibility of implementing a permitting platform. Completed in 2017, this phase included listening sessions across the state with the hauling industry, local agency engineers, law enforcement, state agencies, and MnDOT staff. Eighteen public and private entities collaborated to develop policies, processes, and plans for UPP technology. The final report concluded that a reference platform system for processing permit applications would be the best approach to explore.

Technical Schematic of a Reference Platform. The permitting platform will connect various software and data sources
The permitting platform will connect various software and data sources

Phase II was a proof-of-concept pilot project spanning St. Louis County, Polk County, the City of Duluth, and MnDOT Districts 1 and 2. The goal was to see if a permitting platform would work across jurisdictions connecting various permitting software and using multiple system processes. “The platform has to be usable in different ways and be able to channel payment back to MnDOT or a county or city,” Sanders says. “Phase II showed UPP could work.”

Phase II also underscored the complexity of the issues to come. “The vision is for haulers to enter their license data, and the required permit data would automatically populate the permit,” says Mitch Rasmussen, assistant commissioner with MnDOT State Aid. “But all kinds of software systems are now in use by local agencies, and MnDOT’s Office of Freight and Commercial Vehicle Operation is preparing to replace the two online systems it’s been using for decades. All the systems will need to talk to the unified platform. It will take time and money to build. The roadmap from Phase II can help us get there.”

Policy and fee differences are another challenge. To gather context and ideas, MnDOT recently completed a Transportation Research Synthesis to explore the practices of other state transportation agencies in setting, collecting, and distributing permit fees for heavy commercial OSOW vehicles (see related article). Another MnDOT study is under way to gather basic data about the permit fee policies of counties in Minnesota and throughout the country, including authority for the fees, cost range, and fee types.

When Polk County switched from a paper system to an electronic one, industry started applying for permits more consistently, Sanders says. With the paper system, five or six permit applications would be faxed in each year, and approval could take two days. But with its online system, the county received 201 applications between January 1 and October 26, 2018. “Approval might take us 30 seconds,” he notes.

UPP work to date has been funded by MnDOT and the Minnesota Local Road Research Board. Others involved include the Federal Highway Administration, state agencies (Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Driver and Vehicle Services, Minnesota State Patrol, Minnesota IT Services Geospatial Information Office), associations (Minnesota Association of Townships, Minnesota County Engineers Association, Associated General Contractors of America), private businesses (ProWest, SRF Consulting, Midstate Reclamation & Trucking, Tiller Corporation), and educational institutions (Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute, NDSU; Alexandria Technical & Community College). UPP Phases I & II were a unique collaborative public-private partnership to resolve a long-standing problem.

Next phases and final outcome

Moving forward, Phase III will begin development of the unified system using real data from multiple road authorities and databases in MnDOT Districts 1 and 2. Phase IV will take the platform beyond Districts 1 and 2 and roll out the system for testing statewide. Estimated completion is two to three years.

“Under current plans for the unified system, Minnesota road authorities will continue to set their own fees and may be able to connect their existing software, although some interoperable adaptations will be needed,” Moe says. “The new permitting process will focus on education for haulers, permitting agencies, and the public, as well as engineering decisions by agencies. This, in turn, will lead to increased enforcement effectiveness to help preserve road quality while boosting the economy.”

“Many decisions are still on tap,” Rasmussen adds. “There’s no decision yet of who’s going to own it and manage it, for example, or what fees might be recommended. There are a million moving parts, and many agencies and interests are involved. But we’re taking big strides toward our central goal: putting the right load on the right road, the right way, right away.”

This article by Pam Snopl originally appeared in the December issue of the Minnesota LTAP Technology Exchange newsletter.

New Project: Guidance for Separated/Buffered Bike Lanes With Delineators

New research has started that will provide needed guidance for the design of separated bike lanes, which are rapidly growing in popularity. The two-year Minnesota Local Research Board-funded study, which is being performed by the University of Minnesota, will identify the safety, cost and accessibility attributes of different lane designs and produce a technical memorandum with design guidance for transportation planners.

Background

Separated bicycle lanes (SBLs) are a bicycle facility that employs both a paint and vertical element as a buffer between vehicle traffic and bicycle traffic.

In 2016, the City of Minneapolis increased the total mileage of separated bike lanes in the city from 5.4 to 9.4 miles with plans to increase that to 30 miles by 2020. While many other cities around the U.S. are in the process of installing separated bike lanes as part of their non-motorized transportation networks, research about them has not kept pace.

The Federal Highway Administration’s Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide  identified several gaps in existing research, including the effects of SBLs on vehicle traffic, the preferred speed and volume thresholds to recommend SBLs, and the differences in safety between one- and two-way SBLs.

Despite safety being a major concern with SBLs, the guide states that “there are no existing studies that have satisfied best practices for analyzing the safety of SBLs.” The guide goes on to caution that even in cases where research on the safety or operational effects of SBLs does exist, “much of the highest quality research comes from outside the U.S.” The FHWA guide also lists cost as a gap in knowledge about SBLs, saying “few benchmarks exist for separated bike lane costs, which vary extensively due to the wide variety of treatments and materials used.”

This research project will provide a thorough synthesis of current research and guidelines and a comprehensive analysis of the impacts of different midblock bike lane designs to help Minnesota-based agencies make data-driven design and planning decisions. Design variables include delineator type and spacing, land and buffer widths, and one- vs two-way bike lanes. Impacts that would be evaluated include installation, maintenance, and user costs as well as safety and facility usage.

Two lane road with bicycle lanes on both sides of the road with cars on the road and cyclists in the bike lanes.

Objective

When considering installing SBLs, many aspects including impacts on both bicycle traffic and other types of traffic (pedestrians, passenger cars, delivery trucks, etc.) must all be considered. However, much of this information is unavailable. By providing a comprehensive repository for the relevant data on the numerous SBL design options, this project will allow engineers and policy-makers to make more informed decisions regarding bicycle infrastructure installations and improvements. Access to this sort of hard data will aid in the process of performing will aid in the prioritization of options for bike facilities thereby reducing the waste of funds on unneeded or unaffordable projects.

Scope

The tasks of the research project include:

  • Conduct a thorough literature review to identify any gaps in the current research.  Examples of this might include the effects of SBLs on all road users, frequency of bicycle and vehicle violations for various SBL designs, recommended speed and volume thresholds for installation, the costs associated with SBLs, or the differences in safety between one- and two-way SBLs.
  • Conduct research such as observational field studies, crash record analysis, synthesis of the results of other studies, road user surveys, review of previous project budgets, bicycle facility repair record analysis, municipal records of complaints and violations, or some combination thereof.
  • Develop a list of options for the design of multi-modal facilities and the respective impacts of those options based on findings from the field studies. This could include maintenance costs, user costs and safety impacts.

By providing transportation planners, engineers, and other practitioners new information on the impacts likely to be associated with different designs, the practitioners will be in a better position to both choose among designs and mitigate potential adverse effects of those designs. The list of design options and associated impacts will be summarized in a technical memorandum with a more thorough presentation in the project final report.

Watch for new developments on this project.  Other Minnesota transportation research can be found at MnDOT.gov/research.

More Saint Paul drivers stopping for pedestrians, thanks to pilot study

A two-year research project underway in the City of St. Paul is already improving pedestrian safety and driver behavior by applying lessons learned from a national award-winning pedestrian traffic study. The city began using the practices last fall with the “Stop for Me” campaign, and driver yield rates have already gone up by 9 percent.

Background

Each year, dozens of Saint Paul pedestrians legally crossing the street are struck by vehicles driven by motorists who fail to stop. In 2015, 40 pedestrians died in Minnesota after being hit by a motor vehicle; 900 were injured. In 2017, there were 192 vehicle-pedestrian crashes in Saint Paul, three of which proved deadly.

Pedestrian fatalities and injuries represent a growing percentage of traffic fatalities and injuries nationwide. For example, pedestrian fatalities comprised 10.9% of all traffic deaths nationwide in 2004, but 14.5% in 2013.

A recent study supported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration demonstrated that driver behavior can be changed on a city-wide basis. The introduction of highly-visible pedestrian right-of-way enforcement in Gainesville, Florida increased driver yield rates for pedestrians by 22% to 30%.

Objective

University of Minnesota researchers are charged with reviewing the City of St. Paul’s efforts to improve pedestrian safety and investigate whether a program similar to the one in Gainesville can change driver yielding for pedestrians and speed compliance. The activities in St. Paul are being planned together with city traffic engineers and enforcement officers and will include various educational, engineering and enforcement countermeasures and media campaigns.

Last fall, St. Paul began the “Stop for Me” campaign, which enforces pedestrian laws, increases driver and pedestrian education and works towards enhanced signage and other changes to crosswalks around the city.

A group of people holding signs with traffic safety messages
Stop For Me is a campaign to improve safety for people who use St. Paul’s sidewalks and cross its  streets.

On June 25, the St. Paul Police Department began the second phase of the campaign by ticketing drivers who fail to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks.

Additionally, police officers are ticketing drivers for “endangerment” if they pass a vehicle that is stopped for a pedestrian at a crosswalk. This citation leads to a mandatory court appearance for the driver.

Weekly stopping percentages can be viewed at eight intersections across the city from now until the end of fall.

Watch for new developments on this project (expected end date of August 2019) here.  Another MnDOT study is looking at pedestrian traffic safety in rural and tribal communities. Other Minnesota research on pedestrian travel can be found at MnDOT.gov/research.