Category Archives: Policy and Planning

Are energy-efficient streetlights cost-effective?

In 2010, the City of Minneapolis installed 55 energy-efficient streetlights from nine different manufacturers along 46th Street between 34th and 46th avenues. The project, part of Hennepin County’s Minnehaha-Hiawatha Community Works program, was designed to field test various models of light-emitting diode (LED) and induction lights. Over the course of two years, researchers observed, evaluated and compared the performance of various lighting products, detailing the results in a recently published report available on the MnDOT Research Services website.

In a broad sense, the results of the study would appear to confirm what has become common knowledge regarding energy-efficient technologies: while they cost  more up front, in the long run they have the potential to save money in the form of reduced energy and maintenance costs. The study also demonstrates that  energy-efficient streetlights are capable of producing adequate light output and are well-received by residents.

However, if the big question is whether energy-efficient streetlights can save local governments money, the answer  is somewhat complicated. The study found that both the levels of light ouput and the amount of time it takes to recoup costs varies significantly by product. Page 16 of the report (page 25 of the PDF) features a table comparing various products’ light output and estimated payback time. With one notable exception, the results show that products with the highest light output (i.e. the highest performers and therefore the most desirable) tend to also have the longest payback time. The amount of time it takes to generate a cost savings from energy-efficient streetlights can be as short as 2.6 years or as long as 24 years, depending on the product.

Some other interesting tidbits from the study:

  • Researchers observed operational cost savings of 50-75 percent, depending on the product.
  • Eighty percent of the savings came from reduced maintenance costs, while only 20 percent came from reduced energy costs.
  • In a survey of area residents, 76 percent responded positively to the new, energy-efficient lights.

The study demonstrated that energy-efficient streetlighting is a feasible option for local governments, with the caveat that agencies need to research lighting products thoroughly before making a choice as to which one to use. Ultimately, considering the ever-decreasing cost of LEDs, the use of energy-efficient streetlighting technologies is likely to grow.

Read more:

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).

Quality-of-life study helps MnDOT evaluate performance measures

As part of a study on transportation and quality of life, MnDOT has partnered with researchers from the University of Minnesota’s Tourism Center to compare current MnDOT performance measures with quality-of-life factors that matter most to Minnesotans.

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The evaluation was designed to help MnDOT ensure alignment between the factors that best predict transportation satisfaction among Minnesota citizens and the indicators MnDOT uses to track and measure its performance. The study team was led by Ingrid Schneider, Tourism Center director, and Karla Rains, director of customer relations at MnDOT.

To conduct the evaluation, the research team first analyzed data collected using surveys and focus groups in a previous phase of the quality-of-life study. The data included information on the categories that contribute to quality of life in Minnesota, the role of transportation, and the specific factors or services within transportation that affect citizens’ quality of life.

From these data, the team identified a list of key transportation elements that drive customer satisfaction. Results indicate that the most significant predictors can be grouped into three categories: maintenance/safety, mobility, and transparency. Within those categories, 11 specific items—such as snow and ice removal, road smoothness, commute time, and satisfaction with long-term planning—account for 56 percent of the differences in citizens’ transportation satisfaction.

The team then compared the factors most important to Minnesota citizens with MnDOT’s current performance measures. Overall findings indicate that these existing measures, which track performance in nine major areas, broadly capture much of what is important for Minnesotans’ transportation-related quality of life.

“This was an important key finding for us—we’re already measuring and reporting on many of the things that matter most to our customers,” Rains says. “It was encouraging and comforting to see that.”

In addition to affirming MnDOT’s existing measures, the evaluation identified a few gaps, specifically in the areas of safety, the environment, and transparency.quality

For example, MnDOT typically reports transportation safety in terms of total traffic fatalities and serious injuries from vehicle crashes. However, the quality-of-life study revealed citizen interest in a broader view of traveler safety. As a result, MnDOT plans to include bicycle, pedestrian, and railroad-grade crossing fatality data in future performance measures. “This is already data that we track, but now we plan to add more reporting of fatalities by mode than we have included before,” Rains says.

Based on other study-identified topics of importance, MnDOT plans to add new performance measures focused on air pollution and conduct more reporting of information related to public trust.

“We continue to use this data as guidance in our planning, and it continues to be useful,” Rains says. “We want to make sure we’re listening and measuring ourselves against the things that are most important to our customers.”

Reprinted from CTS Catalyst, June 2013.

About those roundabouts

One of my unofficial duties as a MnDOT employee is to respond to a near-constant barrage of opinions from my family and friends regarding the condition of our state’s roadways. (My wife, for example, half-jokingly tries to ascribe personal responsibility to me for the congestion she faces on her morning commute.) Interestingly, one of the issues that gets brought up to me most often in private conversations is roundabouts — the circular intersections that are widely praised by engineers but often vilified by a skeptical public.

From a public interest perspective, the verdict on roundabouts is overwhelmingly positive. With very few exceptions, roundabouts have been shown to dramatically reduce both the frequency and seriousness of traffic accidents when compared to other types of intersections. One oft-cited source, the National Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, reports that U.S. intersections converted to roundabouts have experienced a 35-47 percent decrease in crashes and an 72-80 percent decrease in injury crashes (source here). Moreover, because the don’t have stop signs or traffic lights, roundabouts have been found to reduce traffic delays and pollution.

Perhaps not surprisingly, research on these potential benefits has precipitated a rash of roundabout construction. In Minnesota alone, 115 have already been built, with another 39 either planned or under construction, according to the Pioneer Press. Love them or hate them, roundabouts are becoming a fact of life here.

Of course, not everyone loves them. In spite of their stellar  record, roundabouts remain something of a political lightning rod. This article in the Mankato Free Press and this news segment from KSTP provide typical examples of the kind of skepticism officials face when proposing to put in a roundabout. The problem is persistent enough that many officials see a need to develop a public relations game plan. On June 19, the Transportation Research Board is offering a free webinar entitled “Community Outreach: Successful Outcomes for Roundabout Implementation,” designed to help transportation professionals understand and respond to political opposition to roundabouts. It’s free for employees of TRB sponsor organizations (including MnDOT); a $99 registration fee is required for employees of non-sponsors.

For those who are unfamiliar with roundabouts, there are some good resources designed to help people understand their purpose and benefits. Several years ago, the Local Road Research Board produced the video above (along with an accompanying brochure). MnDOT also has a resource page devoted to explaining the use of roundabouts.

Those with more than a passing interest in the subject might also want to check out these recent MnDOT/LRRB-sponsored studies:

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.

Free Complete Streets webcast next week

On Tuesday, June 4, the University of Minnesota is hosting a free Complete Streets seminar. The event will serve as a preview of a forthcoming guide, “Complete Streets Planning and Implementation at Multiple Scales Guidebook and Case Studies,” funded by MnDOT and the Minnesota Local Road Research Board.

Unfortunately, the event itself is sold out, but you can still watch it online for free via webcast. You can find all the relevant information on this web page, including direct links to the webcast sessions:

http://www.eventbrite.com/event/6109392357

According to the announcement, the event will cover “examples of Complete Streets policies, design guidance, engagement strategies, and financing mechanisms that help communities move from policies and plans to on-the-ground projects.”

New video showcases Minnesota city and county stormwater management techniques

Earlier this week, the Minnesota Local Road Research Board released this new video showcasing best practices for local stormwater management. Although it’s primarily a training video for engineers and other public works professionals, non-transportation geeks might also enjoy learning about some of the interesting, innovative techniques being employed in cities and counties across the state.

Those who’d prefer not to watch the whole 14-minute video can skip ahead by clicking on these highlights:

  1. Woodbury’s stormwater ponds (1:52)
  2. Washington County’s bioretention gardens (2:56)
  3. “Green roof” bioretention method (4:02)
  4. Maplewood’s underground detention system (4:39)
  5. Greenway stormwater project in Minneapolis (6:03)
  6. Minnetonka’s hydrodynamic separator treatment system (7:47)
  7. Arden Hills’ infiltration (swales) system (8:26)
  8. Shoreview’s permeable pavements (9:52)
  9. Ramsey-Washington permeable pavement project (11:11)
  10. Tree boxes/trenches in Ramsey-Washington (12:06)

Overall, the video gives you an appreciation for the incredible amount of planning and work that goes into managing stormwater runoff — a task that’s critical to protecting the state’s waterways from pollution (but which many people no doubt take for granted). For those who want to learn more, the best management practices showcased here are examined in greater detail in a recent LRRB report, “Decision Tree for Stormwater BMPs,” which is available for free on the LRRB and MnDOT Research Sevices websites:

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.

Bicycle and pedestrian counting initiative monitors nonmotorized traffic in Minnesota

In a continuing effort to better understand nonmotorized traffic patterns in Minnesota, researchers from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs have partnered with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to develop guidelines and analyze information collected in bicycle and pedestrian traffic counts throughout the state.Image

The research team, led by Professor Greg Lindsey, aims to develop consistent methods for monitoring and assessing bicycle and pedestrian traffic that can be used in both permanent, automated traffic counts and short-term manual counts. The goal is to provide evidence for decision making that Minnesota cities have historically lacked, Lindsey says. “We’ll have practical, useful information about bike and pedestrian traffic that can help local jurisdictions as they plan and invest in infrastructure,” he says.

As part of the 18-month project, the research team created a set of tools and methods for short-duration manual counts of nonmotorized traffic, held training workshops, and organized a statewide counting effort involving 43 Minnesota municipalities last fall. The overall response was positive, Lindsey says, and some communities are already using their collected data to submit grant proposals for projects related to nonmotorized traffic.

In addition, Lindsey and his team have examined traffic information from six permanent counters on Minneapolis trails. The continuous counts collected at these locations help the researchers understand traffic patterns and the factors that affect them, Lindsey says. For example, the team found that bike and pedestrian traffic vary by trail type, time of day, day of week, and season.

“Once we know the patterns at permanent sites, we can develop factors that help us expand short-term counts from other locations with similar conditions,” Lindsey says. The factors could be used to estimate anything from total daily traffic to annual traffic, as long as the short-term count location is similar to an existing model.

Based on the overall results of the study, the research team developed recommendations for MnDOT. These include continuing to coordinate statewide short-term field counts, demonstrating the feasibility of automated counting technologies, and beginning to integrate nonmotorized and vehicular traffic databases.

Based on these recommendations, MnDOT is moving forward with a new project that will collect more short- and long-duration counts throughout Minnesota, says Lisa Austin, ABC Ramps coordinator at MnDOT. The next phase of work aims to collect counts for pedestrians on sidewalks, bicyclists on shoulders and in bike lanes, and pedestrians and bicyclists on multiuse trails. MnDOT plans to install more permanent, automated counters in suburban and midsize cities and to conduct additional manual counts in smaller cities around the state, Austin says.

“We’re really excited that this bike and pedestrian counting project is moving into wider implementation,” Austin says. “This next phase will help us see which automated counting technologies work well and make recommendations for moving forward on a broader scale.”

Reprinted from the CTS Catalyst, May 2013.

U of M transportation research highlights video

U of M transportation research highlights during 2012-2013 include a smartphone app for visually impaired pedestrians, pedestrian and bicyclist safety in roundabouts, methods for counting bike and pedestrian traffic on trails, and a filter that takes phosphorous out of storm water.