Category Archives: Multimodal

MnDOT Explores the Use of a Unified Permitting Process for Oversize/Overweight Loads

Researchers produced a proof-of-concept for developing a one-stop permitting process that would allow commercial haulers to plan a travel route and secure all required permits from a single source. MnDOT is working to develop a first-of-its-kind, unified permitting process to consolidate the requirements of every jurisdiction in the state into a single, quick-response platform that meets the needs of haulers.

“From a hauler’s perspective, the permitting process can be very cumbersome. Each agency’s application is different as are the general provisions that haulers need to follow,” said Renae Kuehl, Senior Associate, SRF Consulting Group, Inc.

“As carriers, we’re trying to do our due diligence in getting permits. But the current process can lead to significant safety and legal risks,” said Richard Johnson, Transportation Manager, Tiller Corporation.

What Was the Need?

Hauling oversize or overweight freight on Minnesota’s roadway system—highways, county roads, township roads and city streets—requires approval by each governing authority along the route. Roadway managers must review hauler travel plans to make sure size and weight limits for vehicles and loads will not endanger roadway facilities, hauler equipment and personnel before issuing the over-size or overweight permit.

Any single hauling route may require permits from multiple roadway authorities, each with different application procedures and response times. Some governing bodies, MnDOT among them, issue these permits online and can turn them around in minutes. Other agencies issue permits by mail, fax or email, which can take several days.

Haulers, however, may not have time to wait for a permit. If equipment breaks down at a loading site, for example, replacement equipment is needed immediately to meet contract deadlines and avoid paying labor costs for idle workers. A construction emergency may also demand large equipment be towed to a site. In situations like these, haulers often make the trip without appropriate permitting, accepting the legal and safety risks.

What Was Our Goal?

To simplify the permitting process, Minnesota local agencies would like to develop an online permitting application process that would allow permit-seekers to determine routes based on their vehicle and load size, and secure all necessary permits at one time. This research, the first phase of a multiphase study, aimed to determine the feasibility of a one-stop, unified permitting process by studying its technological and operational needs and gathering input from various stakeholders.

What Did We Do?

Investigators worked with the Technical Advisory Panel (TAP) and a group of policy experts from county and state agencies, commercial haulers and consultants to identify audiences with a stake in a unified permitting process. During meetings in northern Minnesota and in the Twin Cities area, investigators and TAP members met with key stakeholders: haulers and representatives from industry organizations; seven MnDOT offices (including Freight and Commercial Vehicle Operations, Information Technology, Maintenance and Geospatial Information); Minnesota counties; the City of Duluth; the Duluth-Superior Metropolitan Interstate Council; Minnesota State Patrol; the State Patrol Commercial Vehicle Section; and a county sheriff’s office.

The research team identified the challenges and needs of each stakeholder and organized the concerns according to policy, process and technology. Then they explored solutions that would allow the development of a one-stop permitting process.

What Did We Learn?

Researchers determined that a unified permitting process is feasible. Policy issues include the need to standardize general provisions statewide, such as travel hours, insurance requirements and warning devices such as flagging needs. For example, currently the color of flags and lettering on banners vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction; well-framed general provisions could make these requirements more uniform to serve multiple jurisdictions. The information required by each governing authority in its permit applications could also be normalized.

Process issues were about workflow. More than 80 percent of hauler requests are repeat-able: A commercial haul may be run on the same route with the same-size load three times a month for four months and may not require a full reapplication each time. Some agencies rely on paper, fax or emails to receive permit requests; others purchase permit-ting software; still others build their own software. These systems could be made more uniform so they could interact and share information among agencies.

Technology issues called for an interoperable system that could bring together geographic information system (GIS) capabilities and regulatory data that could be both received and shared. Mapping data could identify each permit required along a route being developed, and a portal could allow agencies to share information as well as allow permit-seekers to enter information and retrieve permits themselves. A portal could also integrate different software packages while offering information like Minnesota’s Gopher State One Call digging hotline.

What’s Next?

In Phase II of this project, which has already begun, researchers will develop a pilot portal that allows users to create route plans, identify permits needed and apply for all permits in one action. Investigators will test the platform with a three-county group. If this effort is successful, researchers will build a unified permitting process for use within all jurisdictions in Minnesota.

MnDOT is also enhancing its software for handling oversize/overweight permits and carrier credentials. Transportation Research Synthesis 1704 surveyed state agencies about current offerings.


This post pertains to the LRRB-produced Report 2017-26, “Oversize/Overweight Vehicle Unified Permitting Process (UPP) Phase I,” published August 2017. 

MnDOT Chooses EasyMile for Autonomous Shuttle Bus Project

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Department of Transportation chose EasyMile, a France-based company specializing in driverless technology, to lead its autonomous shuttle bus pilot project. MnDOT announced in June it will begin testing the use of an autonomous shuttle bus in a cold weather climate.

“We’re excited to partner with EasyMile to help MnDOT test autonomous technology,” said Jay Hietpas, MnDOT state traffic engineer and project manager. “Their expertise will help us learn how these vehicles operate in a winter weather environment so we can advance this technology and position MnDOT and Minnesota as a leader.”

EasyMile, which has a location in Colorado, has conducted driverless technology cold weather tests in Finland and Norway. Minnesota will be their first cold weather test site in the U.S. EasyMile will use its EZ10 electric shuttle bus that has already transported 160,000 people more than 60,000 miles in 14 countries. The shuttle was tested in various environments and traffic conditions. During these tests, the shuttle operated crash-free.

The shuttle operates autonomously at low speeds on pre-mapped routes. It can transport between six and 12 people.

Initially, it will be tested at MnROAD, which is MnDOT’s pavement test facility. Testing will include how the shuttle operates in snow and ice conditions, at low temperatures and on roads where salt is used.

Testing is scheduled to start in November and go through February 2018. The shuttle will also be showcased during the week of the 2018 Super Bowl.

Hietpas said 3M will also be a partner in the project so the company can research various connected vehicle concepts including sensor enhancement and advanced roadway safety materials. When optimized, these materials would aid in safe human and machine road navigation.


Read more about the autonomous shuttle bus pilot project:


Related MnDOT research:

Clearly Marked Bicycle Lanes Enhance Safety and Traffic Flow

Researchers evaluated bicycle and motor vehicle interactions at nine locations in Duluth, Mankato, Minneapolis and St. Paul,in a study sponsored by the Minnesota Local Road Research Board to better understand how bicycle facilities affect traffic. Results show that on shared roadways without clearly marked bicycle facilities, drivers are more inclined to pass bicyclists, encroach on other traffic lanes or line up behind bicyclists than on roadways with clearly striped or buffered facilities.

“This project gave us qualitative information and some quantitative information. The observations made provide something we can build on,” said James Rosenow, Design Flexibility Engineer, MnDOT Office of Project Management & Technical Support.

“The solid line makes the absolute difference in bicycle facilities— something that we haven’t seen in any other study. We found that the presence of a clearly marked or buffered bicycle lane makes a large difference in the way drivers behave around bicyclists,” said John Hourdos, Director, Minnesota Traffic Observatory, University of Minnesota.

What Was the Need?

The availability of multimodal traffic facilities encourages travelers to use a range of transportation methods, from driving to riding on public transit and bicycling. Although bicycle use is low compared to motor vehicle and public transit use, MnDOT’s Complete Streets program encourages cities and counties to dedicate roadway space to bicycle facilities to expand transportation options and “maximize the health of our people, economy and environment.”

Planners and engineers typically consider bicycle facilities from the bicyclist’s perspective. It is less common to design and plan for bicycle use from the driver’s perspective. However, effective multimodal planning requires an understanding of how bicycles affect traffic if congestion-causing interactions are to be avoided, particularly on high-volume roads. Bicycle facilities must invite use, ensure safety for all road users and at the same time not slow traffic.

What Was Our Goal?

This project aimed to investigate interactions between drivers and bicyclists on urban roadways that employ various bicycle facility designs, and to determine how different bicycle facilities affect traffic. Researchers sought to look at bicycle facilities from the driver’s point of view.

What Did We Do?

Pavement markings with directional arrows and a bicycle icon, called sharrows.
Sharrows can be marked with or without stripes. By themselves, sharrows seem to have no more impact on traffic than do no bicycle facilities at all.

The investigation team reviewed 44 bicycle facility design manuals and guidance documents, 31 research papers on implementation or assessment of facility designs, and design manuals used by seven other Complete Streets programs from around the United States to identify facility designs that warranted further study.

With help from the MnDOT Technical Advisory Panel and local planners, the team selected nine sites in Duluth, Mankato, Minneapolis and St. Paul that offered a range of facilities—buffered bicycle lanes, striped bicycle lanes, sharrows (shared-use arrows), signed shared lanes and shoulders of various widths.

At each site, they set up one to three cameras and videotaped during daylight hours for five to 51 days. Researchers then trimmed the video data into relevant car-and-bicycle-interaction time frames. This yielded from 16 to 307 hours of video from each site for detailed analysis.

The research team then reviewed the video and analyzed how drivers behaved when encountering bicyclists on roads with and without bicycling facilities. Researchers grouped driver behavior into five categories: no change in trajectory, deviation within lane, encroachment on adjacent lane, completion of full passing maneuver and queuing behind bicyclists. Researchers confirmed their observations with statistical modeling. After analyzing the results of behavior as it correlated with facility type, researchers presented the traffic flow implications of different bicycle facility designs.

What Did We Learn?

  • Literature Review. Almost all design guidance drew heavily on directives from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials or the National Association of City Transportation Officials. Of the 62 bicycle facility design elements identified in bicycle guidance documents, fewer than half have been studied in any way for efficacy, safety or traffic impact.
  • Video Analysis. On roadways with sharrows, signs for shared lanes or no bicycle facilities, drivers were more likely to encroach on adjacent lanes than were drivers on road-ways with buffered or striped bicycle lanes. Queuing, or lining up behind bicyclists, showed the greatest potential to impact traffic flows. The highest rates of lining up occurred on roads without bicycle facilities and roads with shared facilities but no marked lanes.
  • Implications. Sharrows may alert drivers to the presence of bicyclists, but in the impact they make on traffic, sharrows differ little from no bicycle facilities. Roadways with signs indicating shared lanes also show little difference in driver behavior from roadways with no facilities. Therefore, where space allows, buffered or striped bicycle lanes should be used instead of sharrows or signs to increase the predictability of driver behavior and reduce queuing impacts on traffic.

What’s Next?

This study provides enough data to support the recommendation of dedicated, striped or buffered bicycle facilities where demand or interest exists. However, the detailed video analysis conducted for this project provides only part of a three-dimensional study of the efficacy and value of various bicycle facility designs. Further study will be needed to quantify facility and vehicle-bicycle interaction in terms of other traffic impacts like speed and traffic flow coefficients, and to quantify crash rates and other safety impacts. Research is also needed to investigate bicycle facility demand and bicycle use on road-ways that do not currently have bicycle facilities.


This post pertains to the LRRB-produced Report 2017-23, “Traffic Impacts of Bicycle Facilities,” published June 2017.

Census report looks at U.S. commuting patterns; U of M report analyzes Twin Cities’ patterns

A recent report issued by the U.S. Census Bureau looks at commuting patterns by U.S. workers in 2013 using data from the American Community Survey. It highlights differences in rates of automobile commuting by key population characteristics such as age, race, ethnicity, and the types of communities in which workers live.

One finding of note: young people in big cities were much less likely to drive to work in 2013 than they were several years earlier. For instance, urban workers aged 25 to 29 showed about a 4-percentage-point decline in automobile commuting between 2006 and 2013.

You can also find an extensive analysis of commuting behavior that was produced locally. In a recent multifaceted study sponsored by the Metropolitan Council and MnDOT, U of M researchers analyzed travel behavior over time in the Twin Cities.

The extensive five-part study report is based on the rich set of data produced by the Met Council’s Travel Behavior Inventory household travel survey. David Levinson, RP Braun/CTS Chair in the U’s Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo- Engineering, was the study’s principal investigator.

The five components of the report examine:

  • Changes in travel duration, time use, and accessibility
  • Changes in walking and biking
  • The effect of transit quality of service on people’s activity choices and time allocation
  • Changes in travel behavior by age cohort
  • Telecommuting and its relationship with travel and residential choices

For more information:

Six Ways to do Multimodal in Greater Minnesota

Can rural Minnesota do multimodal?

You betcha, says a new study by University of Minnesota researcher Carol Becker, who compiled 65 examples of innovative multimodal rural and small urban transportation projects from around the United States.

The study, funded by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, looks at alternatives for promoting and strengthening multimodal transportation in rural and small urban areas. Becker developed these six case studies to showcase different modes and strategies:

Retrofitting Sidewalks

The city of Olympia, Washington, was mostly built during the automobile era. As a result, most of the city developed without sidewalks. In 2004, Olympia passed a voter referendum that linked enhanced parks with adding sidewalks throughout the city. The referendum was supported by parents who wanted safe routes to school for their children and by environmentalists who wanted alternatives to driving. But the key to voter approval was linking recreation at parks with recreation walking to and from the parks. The Parks and Pathways program is now retrofitting miles of sidewalks into neighborhoods.

A sidewalk that was built using utility tax funds on San Francisco Avenue in Olympia, Washington.
A sidewalk that was built using utility tax funds on San Francisco Avenue in Olympia, Washington.
Intercity Bus Service

North Dakota has the third-lowest population density in the United States. Despite this, it has a network of buses that connect small towns to larger regional centers. Such alternatives to driving allow residents — particularly elderly and disabled persons — to stay in their communities rather than move to large cities to access needed services.
InterCity

Senior Transportation

A nonprofit in Mesa, Arizona, implemented a program to reimburse eligible seniors for car trips provided by other individuals. The program was moved to the regional transit provider for expansion. It did not scale up well, however, and was recently replaced with the East Valley RideChoice Program, which provides seniors and disabled adults with  discounted cards for taxi service. RideChoice participants can receive up to $100 of taxi service per month for either $25 or $30, depending on their city of residence.

Photo courtesy of  Valley Metro RideChoice
Photo courtesy of RideChoice
Integrating Highways into Small Town Fabric

One challenge to making smaller communities more walkable and pedestrian-friendly is that most small towns are built around MainStreethighways. In fact, unless a bypass has been built, the main street of a small town is also typically a highway. This creates a conflict between groups who want to move vehicles efficiently and groups who want pedestrian-friendly downtowns.

Oregon took two steps to help mediate this:

  • Added a functional classification to the Oregon Highway Manual for the portion of roadway that runs through small towns. This functional classification has very different design standards that can accommodate walking, biking, commercial activity along the roadway, parking along the roadway and many other small-town needs.
  • Main Street: When A Highway Runs Through It” was written to help local governments understand their options for creating a multimodal environment and better advocate for their interests with the Oregon Department of Transportation. The document explains ODOT funding processes and  shows examples of design options. Local governments can then adopt these elements and standards into their local plans, which ODOT must work with when doing highway improvements.
Complete Streets

Clinton, Iowa, is a city with a population of 27,000 on the Mississippi River in eastern Iowa. In 1995, the rail yard closed, which provided an opportunity to redevelop land. The city created a comprehensive long-range plan that included remediating soil contamination, purchasing land for redevelopment, realigning two streets and increasing transportation choices with a “complete streets” design. The reclaimed land will support a multi-use path, sidewalks and connections to cross streets.

Approximately $50 million has been secured for the project.  A $2.7 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant was also received from the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2012 to pay for a multi-use trail with a direct connection to the Mississippi River Trail, decorative lighting and plantings. In the future, land will be sold for higher density, walkable development.

A look at part of Clinton, Iowa’s redeveloped old railroad area, now called Liberty Square.
Impact Fees for Funding Infrastructure

As resistance increases to broad-based taxes, there has been a shift toward funding transportation with fees linked to specific projects. Examples include:

  • Concurrency laws, which require capacity in governmental systems (either planned or existing) before development can occur. If capacity does not exist, development cannot occur. In the state of Washington, a number of cities use concurrency to set transportation fees paid by new development. Bellingham, Washington, uses this kind of system to raise funds for transportation projects.
  • Development impact fees. Contra Costa County, California, has a capital plan for transportation improvements and sets a fee that is paid by new development to fund that infrastructure. Fees vary from under $1,000 to over $15,000 depending on where new development is occurring. The county expects to raise more than $845 million in transportation dollars from 2014 to 2030 using such a mechanism.
  • Allowing local units of government to create special districts to fund transportation projects.
Related Resources

Rural and Small Urban Multi-Modal Alternatives for Minnesota – Final Report

RailVolution showcases Minnesota transit successes

Before a national audience of 1,400 urban planners and transit enthusiasts, Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin and others told the story of how the Twin Cities metropolitan area was transformed into a community that embraces “livability” and mass transit, including light rail.

“The growth was horizontal and there were lots of people who were saying it wouldn’t work in Minnesota,” said McLaughlin, during the opening plenary of the RailVolution conference in Minneapolis.

But the metro region bucked years of infighting and helped pass a transportation bill in 2008 that allows counties to tax for the expansion of transit in the metro area. Anoka, Ramsey, Hennepin, Dakota and Washington Counties decided to pool their resources from the quarter-cent transit sales tax, which is why the Southwest Light Rail Line is able to move forward.

“They had to believe their day would come,” McLaughlin said of the counties.

MnDOT Commissioner Charles Zelle, who ran a regional bus company before being appointed to MnDOT, said it was faster for him to bike to the conference than to take his car.
MnDOT Commissioner Charles Zelle, who ran a regional bus company before being appointed to MnDOT, said it was faster for him to bike to the conference than to take his car.

This was the first time the annual conference has been held in the Twin Cities, allowing Minnesota leaders to share their success stories.

Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle, who biked the Greenway trail to get to the conference, spoke of MnDOT’s commitment to multi-modal transportation and maximizing the health of Minnesota’s people and economy.

“MnDOT is more than a highway department,” he said. “We have a statewide bike plan and we will probably be the second state in the union to have a statewide pedestrian plan.”

Michael Langley of Greater MSP said a mix of transportation types is critical to attracting  talented workers to the Twin Cities, especially millennials.

“Nearly every area of the world is facing a future workplace shortage,” he said. “It’s fueling a competition for talent like we’ve never seen.”

Federal Highway Administration Secretary Anthony Foxx on Tuesday addressed conference attendees about the need for a bipartisan compromise on funding. He proposed moving away from the Highway Trust Fund to a more inclusive transportation account (named the Surface Transportation Trust Fund) that also addresses rail needs, with $19 billion in proposed dedicated funding. He also discussed the recent announcement of $3.6 billion in resiliency funds for transit systems.

During his comments, he wore a red bicycle pin that the MnDOT commissioner frequently wears at multi-modal events.

During the five-day conference, attendees toured the recently completed Green Line and attended dozens of workshops on topics ranging from street walkability to bus-rapid transit to the use of mobile phones to enhance bus service. On Sunday, the Northstar commuter train traveled for the first time to St. Paul’s Union Depot and conference attendees took it back to Minneapolis.

Twin Cities to host livable communities conference

More than a 1,000 transportation and urban planners will descend on America’s most bicycle-friendly city in September for Rail-Volution, the nation’s premiere conference on livable and transit-orientated communities.

This is the first time in Rail-Volution’s 20-year history that the annual event will be held in Minneapolis — and the timing coincides perfectly with the recent opening of the Green Line connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul.

“This is an opportunity to showcase what we’re doing and where we’re going — not just with transit, but also with transit-orientated development,” said Mark Nelson, MnDOT’s program manager for statewide planning and transportation data analysis.

More than a year of planning has gone into bringing Rail-Volution to the Twin Cities.

Participants have a choice of 80 wide-ranging workshops over four days focused transit and livability, such as innovative parking, planning for small and mid-sized cities and emerging issues for CEOs and public officials.Rail~Volution 2014

MnDOT was selected to hold the annual four-day event in a joint application with the Counties Transit Improvement Board and the Metropolitan Council.

Not only is this a rare chance for urban planning enthusiasts  to attend an internationally renowned conference in their own backyard, but it’s also a great “show-and-tell” opportunity.

As a host, MnDOT will help lead  24 mobile workshops around the Twin Cities, highlighting what Minnesota has done (or is planning), such as engineering light rail in a complex urban corridor, bike-orientated development on the Midtown Greenway and redevelopment along the St. Paul riverfront (by way of a paddle-guided tour).

Not only was the Twin Cities region at a great crossroads in time for hosting such a conference, with its ongoing urban redevelopment efforts and metropolitan area transit plans, but the state’s commitment to these efforts also showed.

“We think part of the reason we were successful is that a state DOT was a co-sponsor. That’s fairly unique. It’s usually a regional government,” Nelson said.

RailVolution, whose offices were previously headquartered in Portland, relocated in January 2013 to Minneapolis.

New Roadway Safety Institute focuses on user-centered solutions for multiple modes

The new Roadway Safety Institute, a $10.4 million regional University Transportation Center (UTC) established in late 2013, will conduct a range of research, education, and technology transfer initiatives related to transportation safety. Led by the University of Minnesota, the two-year consortium will develop and implement user-centered safety solutions across multiple modes.

The Institute will be a focal point for safety-related work in the region, which includes Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Other consortium members are the University of Akron, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and Western Michigan University.

Max Donath, professor of mechanical engineering at the U of M, serves as the new Institute’s director. In this month’s issue of the CTS newsletter, Catalyst, Donath shared his vision for the Institute.

According to Donath, the Institute will focus on addressing regional traffic safety priorities, educating the public, and attracting more professionals to the safety workforce by connecting with students.

Research topics will focus on two key areas, Donath said: high-risk road users and traffic safety system approaches. The goal of this work is to prevent the crashes that lead to fatalities and injuries on the region’s roads.

One unique Institute effort will involve working with American Indian communities in the region to explore and address the unusually high number of motor vehicle crash fatalities on tribal lands.  “Our research will work to better understand why this is happening and to develop more effective solutions,” Donath said.

Read the full Q&A in the April issue of Catalyst.

Complete Streets guide showcases best practices, success stories

A new guidebook offers Minnesota cities practical advice for making their streets more accessible to all users.

Complete Streets guidebookComplete Streets from Policy to Project shares insights and examples from 11 communities across the country, including Albert Lea, Fargo-Moorhead, Hennepin County and Rochester, that have successfully implemented the strategies of Complete Streets — a holistic approach to transportation planning that considers all modes of traffic (rail, transit, pedestrian, motor vehicle, bicycle, etc.).

While many sources offer guidance for implementing Complete Streets, they typically only provide general information or come from an advocacy group stressing one transportation mode or another.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation wanted to collect case studies from practitioners and develop recommendations for best practices that are applicable to the unique circumstances, challenges and opportunities of Minnesota communities.

The book highlights six best practices areas: framing and positioning, institutionalizing, analysis and evaluation, project delivery and construction, promotion and education, and funding.

The research makes it clear that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to Complete Streets that will work for all communities, so any approach must be tailored to a community’s unique challenges and opportunities.

MnDOT requires the principles of “Complete Streets” to be considered in all phases of transportation planning, and more and more cities across the state are adopting similar policies.

This practitioner-oriented guidebook was co-funded by MnDOT and the Local Road Research Board.

“This was a very important step in building knowledge for MnDOT and other Minnesota entities,” said Scott Bradley, director of MnDOT Context Sensitive Solutions. “It takes us beyond general  information that doesn’t  necessarily translate to the  challenges and opportunities we face in the state.”

The intersection of 9th Street and Jackson Street is an example of how the city of Dubuque, Iowa accommodated bike, pedestrian and vehicular traffic, while providing room for large trucks to load and unload at docks.

Related resources

Complete Streets from Policy to Project  – New (PDF, 19 MB, 156 pages)

Complete Streets Implementation Resource Guide for Minnesota Local Agencies – Released February 2013 (PDF, 17 MB, 54 pages)

Webinar recording of project overview/research findings

Webinar recording of panel discussion

Helpful websites

Minnesota Complete Streets Coalition

MnDOT’s Complete Streets website