Tag Archives: transit

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.

Do streetcars support commercial development? New Orleans results say yes

New streetcar lines are in the planning stages in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Proponents cite not only the lines’ ability to strengthen the transit system, but also their potential as catalysts for development. Estimating the impacts of streetcars is challenging, however, as most U.S. lines operate in downtown areas with many interrelated factors at play. A recent U of M research project examined the issue through the prism of one city’s experience: post-Katrina New Orleans.

The team—research fellow Andrew Guthrie and Assistant Professor Yingling Fan of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs—analyzed building permits near streetcar stops in the downtown business district and in several urban neighborhoods.

“Hurricane Katrina allowed—or required—more redevelopment to occur at a faster pace than 
normal, potentially allowing existing streetcar lines’ latent development impacts to appear,” Guthrie says. “This created an unfortunate yet rare opportunity for study.”

streetcars

The researchers estimated how the frequency of commercial and residential permits changed with distance from streetcar stops, controlling for hurricane damage, proximity to existing commercial areas, and pre-Katrina demographics.

They found that throughout the system, building permits strongly reflect the distance to stops—and that commercial and residential permits move
 in opposite directions within the first 750 feet.

Commercial permits declined the further away the location was from a stop. In residential areas, commercial permits show variation depending on neighborhood characteristics. The number of neighborhood residential permits rose about 24 percent with every 100 feet from a stop.

Based on their results, Guthrie and Fan conclude that traditional streetcar lines can help increase commercial development not just in downtown business districts, but in other urban areas as well. The findings also indicate that streetcars
 shape development in urban neighborhoods in
 a fundamentally different fashion than light rail.

Read the full article in the January issue of Catalyst.

Transitways spurring economic growth and development, improving mobility, and supporting equity

Landmark regional investments such as the transit expansion underway in the greater Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan area have the potential to significantly change long-term land-use patterns and travel behavior. They also raise important questions for policymakers and elected officials regarding the potential return on investment.

ImageA new synthesis report from the Transitway Impacts Research Program (TIRP) pulls together seven years of research conducted by University of Minnesota researchers to help answer these questions. The report summarizes the actual and projected impacts of transitways on the Twin Cities region, offering lessons learned to help guide the build-out of the rest of the network most effectively. It concludes with a set of implications for policymakers.

The Twin Cities metro region is in the midst of a transit build-out. The Metro Blue Line (formerly known as Hiawatha), Red Line (Cedar Avenue Bus Rapid Transit), and Northstar Commuter Rail are in operation, and the Green Line (Central Corridor) opens next year. All are part of an expanding regional transit network.

Under the TIRP program, which was launched in 2006, University of Minnesota researchers provide an objective analysis of data, public perceptions, and complex impacts resulting from transitway investments. Their research is unique in its breadth, scope, and ability to provide real-time analysis of the changes experienced when a region introduces high-quality transit service.

“This body of research and objective analysis confirm the many positive ways that expanding our transit network supports economic competitiveness, greater accessibility to jobs, opportunities for populations with low incomes, and enhanced livability for our whole region,” says Kate Wolford, president of The McKnight Foundation, the synthesis sponsor. “This report undergirds why the accelerated build-out of our transit system is so important for the future prosperity of our region and its residents.”

More information about the synthesis and key findings

U of M Research: Spurring private-sector development along transit corridors

developmentA new research study is recommending ways to make it easier for developers and employers to select sites that encourage living-wage jobs and mixed-income housing near transit.

A key finding of the study, which was based on interviews with developers and business leaders, revealed a pent-up demand for transit access in the Twin Cities metropolitan region.

A team led by University of Minnesota researchers Yingling Fan and Andrew Guthrie found that providing a great work location is critical for employers in recruiting highly skilled young professionals who are likely to desire—or demand—urban living and access to transit.

They also found that multifamily residential developers, redevelopment specialists, and large corporate office tenants have a strong interest in transit-accessible sites, but regulatory barriers, cost issues, and uncertainty surrounding future development of transit often discourage both developers and businesses from selecting such sites.

More details about the study and key recommendations

What happens when you incentivize transit use during construction projects

In 2010, MnDOT began a three-year long, $67 million repair and upgrade project on I-35 in Duluth. Dubbed the “Mega Project,” it created a serious disruption for Duluth-area commuters. To help mitigate the impact, the Duluth Transit Authority stepped up its bus services, offering free rides in newly established bus-only express lanes as well as access to new park-and-ride lots and various other enticements. Perhaps not surprisingly, many area residents took advantage of their new transit options to avoid construction-related travel delays. But what’s really interesting is what happened after the construction ended.

As described in a recently published MnDOT/University of Minnesota study, commuters who started taking the bus to avoid traffic caused by the construction ended up continuing to ride the bus even after the construction ended. Researchers surveyed riders during and after the 2010 and 2011 construction seasons and found that, even after bus fares went back to normal levels, only 15 percent of the new bus users switched back to driving. Researchers concluded that once riders developed a habit of using transit, the habit tended to stick.

The report author sums up the phenomenon quite nicely in her executive summary:

Human beings are creatures of habit. Most of us travel the same route every day to the same destination. Sometimes, however, something comes along to push us to examine our habits and possibly change them. A major highway construction project can be such an event. (…) This provides a very good opportunity to examine our travel patterns and possibly change our habitual modes.

Of course, this change didn’t just happen on its own. As the technical summary notes, the DTA marketed its services aggressively during this period. (The above photo is just one example.) The study also noted that the elimination of expanded bus services in the winter had a negative impact on ridership.

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