Author: suburbanoutcast

Little Canada’s “Other” Transportation Infrastructure: Walking

This is part of a series of posts about a study on Little Canada’s transportation infrastructure for people who take transit, walk, and/or bike.

In Transit: Parts One and Two, I discussed my motives behind my study along with some information and statistics about transit ridership in Little Canada. This part has an analysis of Little Canada’s pedestrian infrastructure.

Walking In An Inner-Ring Suburb

Depending on where you live in Little Canada, some amenities are within a close (<15 minutes) walking distance. The western side of the city along Rice Street and Little Canada Road is where most of our retail is. Little Canada has no major retail centers, but it has a few strip malls. Other business sectors around the city tend to be along an arterial or collector roadway. While it is easy to drive to these businesses, it can difficult and/or dangerous to walk to them. The good news is that it is getting easier and safer to walk here, though we still have a long way to go.

North of Larpenteur, Sidewalks Are Sparse

Ramsey County’s Pedestrian Network Map shows an obvious contrast in the density of sidewalks north of Larpenteur Avenue and east of McKnight Road.  Both Larpenteur and McKnight are generally the defined border between Saint Paul and suburban cities in Ramsey County. There has been some recent changes to the network, as more sidewalks were built since this map was posted a year ago. Within the past couple years, Little Canada has gotten sidewalks along Little Canada Road and Centerville Road. I have also noticed more marked crosswalks as well. These improvements are welcome and help connect our community, though we have much room for improvement. The busiest corridors for drivers is also likely the busiest corridors for walkers. Despite this, our busiest corridor (Rice Street) lacks sidewalks on either side of the street north of County Rd C, except for a few parts.

Most walk on the grass or the shoulder of Rice Street north of County Road C due to the lack of sidewalks. Desire paths show the demand for sidewalks along this corridor. Sidewalks from developments built within the past decade end right at the property lines, leaving gaps. Source: Self-taken (May 2016)

Another issue with sidewalks is that it is difficult to reach them if they are on the other side of the street/road. An example of this is during my walk to my bus stop in the morning, where I have to cross County Road C to get to a mixed-use trail.

My Neighborhood’s Arterial Road

County Road C (CSAH 23) near my house in Little Canada. I use this trail to get to/from one of the bus stops I use to commute to MnDOT’s Central Office. During wet conditions, I have to keep to the right side of the trail to avoid getting splashed by drivers hitting puddles in the right lane. Source: Self-taken (June 2017)

County Road C is a four lane undivided road between Victoria Avenue (Roseville) and Little Canada Road; this is dangerous for all users of the roadway. I believe that converting the road to a 3-lane layout similar to Rice between County B2 and Interstate 694 would better serve the local neighborhoods. The road only sees about 8,000 vehicles a day near my home, while Rice sees twice as much traffic. Even in Roseville, County Rd C’s traffic volumes are under 12,000 east of Snelling Avenue.

Traffic volumes have stagnated over the past decade or so on County Road C between Snelling Ave and Little Canada Rd. Both cities are already developed and aren’t planned to see much more growth except in employment (according to the Metro Council). Road diet feasibility is based off FHWA studies. Traffic volumes are from MnDOTSource: Self-created

Its current layout encourages speeding for through traffic, which discourages people to attempt to walk across the road during rush hour. If you get hit by a car here, you likely would face serious injury or death based off various crash statistics. Since drivers often go 40-50 mph, it is hard to decide when you can cross the road safely. It is a shame since people do like using the trail along the road, and it would likely be used even more if it was easier and safer to reach.

More positive benefits of a 3-lane layout include the ability to have a shoulder. Despite Rice’s lack of sidewalks, the fact it has a shoulder is still better than walking in tall grass. Residents who live along County Rd C have to stand in the right lane to access their mailboxes, which is very dangerous for them. Given the modest traffic volumes, various safety hazards, and other issues it would seem best to re-stripe this as a 3-lane road. Negative impacts of a 4-3 lane conversion would likely be slight delays occurring at the Rice and County Rd C stoplights as a result. Re-calibrating traffic lights can help issues reduce the impacts of queuing. 4-3 conversions can also reduce speeding, while still benefiting local and through drivers. Local drivers benefit from the center left turn lane, while through drivers can keep going steadily without being delayed by drivers taking left turns. I understand that this road is a minor arterial, and acts as an “augmentor” for Highway 36, but that does not mean its layout needs to favor mobility of through drivers over the safety of all users.

Why This Negatively Impacts Our Community

Sidewalks are an essential part to vital communities. The connectivity of a sidewalk network is vital to both serve people who have no choice but to walk, in addition to convince people to walk instead of driving. Most trips are not commuting-based, yet transportation planning often focuses on work commutes. People’s willingness to walk in pleasant vs. inclement weather does vary, but making it easier to drive to places that are close by is expensive for both the public and private sector. The city has few issues with parking capacity, and most of our lots are underutilized for most of the day. Parking only tends to become an issue in some areas near apartments, or during festivals such as Canadian Days. I walked to Canadian Days last year (~25 minutes), and preferred doing so than spending a large amount of time trying to park. Walking can be easier than driving for trips within a mile or two, and is much cheaper. I have driven to the park-and-ride at Rice and Highway 36 before, but it’s quicker for me to walk to the bus stop instead. There will always be people who are unable to walk, but that does not negate our need for a better multimodal transportation network. In order to do so, safety issues need to be addressed. I see children and teenagers cross County Road C to reach the trail to get to Acorn Park, visit the convenience store, and pharmacies. I see people get off the bus on Rice Street and walk on the shoulder to get back home (such as myself on Demont Avenue). I would like to prevent another tragic fatality in Little Canada from happening again by making it safer to walk here.

The County and City’s Plans

Both the city and county have set plans in place to improve their sidewalks and trails. The city is currently in the process of updating their Comprehensive Plan, so it is likely that a sidewalk/trail plan would be implemented by the end of 2018. The county has an extensive long-term plan, with various proposed trails. Since a county-wide sales tax increase for funding multimodal projects was approved recently, this should help fund the county’s planned trail network. As previously stated in Transit: Part Two, Rice Street was planned to be rebuilt in 2019; the county now has pushed that back to 2021. An old plan from 2012 does show sidewalks would be built on both sides. This project has been delayed for years due to property acquisition issues between the city and county, as the ROW of Rice requires the county to acquire private property if they want to widen it.

A planned layout of the Rice Street and County Rd C intersection in Roseville and Little Canada. County Rd C retains four lanes, turn lanes, and a median; Rice gains a median and 5′ bike lanes. Sidewalks are planned, though the addition and expanded turning radii still puts drivers mobility over the safety of people crossing the street. Source: Ramsey County Public Works (2012)

Regarding 4-3 road conversions, the county seems open to the idea (with caution). The county has done some 4-3 conversions already, and has proposed more. A recent conversion just occurred on Fairview Avenue in Roseville. They are also doing a test on Maryland Avenue in the East Side of Saint Paul. I hope the test goes well, and can be used as an example to make our roads safer for all users. The results of this test will influence the decisions made on Rice Street’s redesign in the North End of Saint Paul. Previous 4-3 proposals have been tabled due to community opposition, and the proposal on Rice has its opponents. A proposed 4-3 conversion to Dale Street was blocked in 2014, when the District 10/Como Community Council and some residents were against it. I recently drove on this part of Dale during rush hour, and many drivers often behaved impatiently and dangerously. Aggressive weaving occurs often; this rarely benefits the driver as the stoplights aren’t calibrated for people going 40-45 in a 30 mph zone (for good reason). For example, a woman who flicked me off and sped past me near Maryland only ended up two cars ahead of me when she turned left on County Rd B. I had caught up to her at every stoplight. I don’t consider Dale as a safe road for the Como and North End community, and the county’s proposal could have helped make it better. If the county ever did come with a 4-3 proposal on County Rd C, community opposition would likely be the largest barrier to it. People who may have initially opposed 4-3 conversions have changed their mind after the conversion goes through, such as in Sioux Center, Iowa.

Public Opinion of 4-3 Conversion on US 75 on Sioux Center, IA. Many were initially skeptical, but ended up supporting it after it was done. 40% still opposed it afterwards. Source: Iowa DOT

Recommendation For Sidewalks:

Minor Arterials (Rice Street, Edgerton Street, County Road B, County Road C, Little Canada Road, Keller Parkway):

Should have sidewalks on both sides of roadway, unless right-of-way issues make it unfeasible. There should be a sidewalk at least on one side of the roadway. If the sidewalk is just on one side of the road, ensure there is a marked pedestrian crossing every quarter-mile to half-mile of the roadway. Implement technologies such as flashing beacons (ex: RRFBs) if deemed necessary for ensuring the safety of people crossing. Exceptions to marking crossings may occur if it is in an area with sparse residential or retail activity. At intersections that have stop signs or are signalized, all crosswalks should be marked with stop lines for drivers to avoid encroaching in a crosswalk.

Collectors (Little Canada Road, Centerville Road, Labore Road, County Road B2, County Road D):

Should have a sidewalk at least on one side of the roadway. Marked crossings are recommended, especially when intersecting with arterial and other collector roadways.

Local Streets:

Sidewalks can be optional, though are recommended to ensure the safety of people walking. Likely contingent on if its financially feasible.  Community support would help increase likelihood.

 

This was cross-posted to streets.mn.

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Scrutinizing Roads To The Same Degree As Transit

Note: This article contains my personal opinions and are not official nor endorsed statements from my employer.

The Tunnel Vision That Shapes Transportation Funding Proposals

The current omnibus bill proposal regarding the state’s allocations for transportation funding has been a popular subject for Minnesotans. The Republican legislators successfully passed their proposed omnibus bills in both sides of the Legislature (H.F. 861 / S.F. 1060). The House’s proposal is what is getting carried over to the Senate and then to the Governor. H.F 861 prioritizes funding for Minnesota’s roads and bridges, which are in dire need of repair. It also provides additional funding to suburban transit providers (ex: Maple Grove Transit), while Metro Transit’s funding needs are not met. As a result, Metro Transit is expecting to see a reduction in bus service (a 40% reduction was originally proposed) even if a proposed fare increase is approved.

Some positive news is that Metro Transit’s projected deficit at Metro Transit was reduced before the House sent the bill to the Senate, though Metro Transit will have a funding shortfall that could affect bus service. In addition to ensuring that existing bus services are not cut, we should be looking at ways to expand transit rather than weakening it.

Access to transit impacts the ability for people to get to their jobs, to attend school, and to complete other tasks such as getting groceries. Minnesotans with low incomes get impacted the hardest, as transit is often a necessity for them to get around rather than by choice. A service reduction would also lead to more people using cars for transportation if they have the ability to do so. Reducing transit service does not seem like an effective way to help all Minnesotans get from point A to point B, since it excludes the needs of Minnesotans who are unable to drive. Despite this scrutiny towards transit’s fiscal viability, road projects aren’t being held to a similar standard. It is not fair when austere measures are only applied to certain modes of transportation.

Most riders come from households making under $50,000/year. Source: Metropolitan Council’s Role in Regional Transportation – Metro Council, 2017

When sidewalks, bike infrastructure, and/or transit projects are proposed, the question of using taxpayer money usually comes into play. We should hold our road infrastructure to the same standards.

Scrutiny should happen among all projects regardless of mode if we insist on caring about the rate of investment per dollar. MnDOT follows a process for a benefit-cost analysis for projects, though it may exclude some factors. Senator Osmek recently criticized the return on investment (ROI) in rail transportation. He stated that road projects have better rates of return on investment than rail. His point is defended by MnDOT’s claim stating that road projects see around 2-4 dollars returned per dollar spent versus rail’s rate being less than a dollar. His calculations regarding light rail subsidies are sound; they should be compared to other expensive road projects such as the St. Croix Crossing near Stillwater or the Elk Run interchange near Oronoco. Were the subsidies per driver worth the capital costs in those projects?

The Legislature expects MnDOT to be more transparent in project selection, though it is questionable how effective it will be. When it comes to project selection, usually the biggest critics of MnDOT are legislators along the U.S. Highway 12 and 14 corridors. These corridors are perceived as unsafe, and are constantly promoted to be expanded in the name of safety and congestion. Would a four-lane divided roadway make these corridors safer? MnDOT’s crash data does show differences in average crash rates between two-lane and four-lane rural highways. Is congestion on these corridors so severe that it warrants expansion? Upgrading a two-lane highway to a “Super-2” with occasional passing lanes could be more cost-effective than building a four-lane divided highway while still addressing congestion and safety issues. The existing Super-2 configuration of Highway 12 was upgraded with a concrete barrier for $2.3 million to lower crash rates, as a 4-lane expansion would have required much more money. Waiting for funding an expansion could have further delayed any safety improvements on the highway. We should question our ability to expand roads, since we should be fiscally conservative with roads if we are going to be for other modes.

 

Small Towns and the Missed Opportunity for Multimodal Investments

Very wide roads in small towns are commonplace, yet most face little congestion to warrant multi-lane roads. Many two-lane roads in these towns are effectively four-lane undivided roads with lane widths in excess of 16 feet. The wide main streets of these towns tend to be prime candidates for pedestrian and cycling infrastructure improvements given the right-of-way is already there to make them. Quiet residential streets tend to be quite wide in these towns.

Wider than necessary roads are not an effective way of using space, and increases maintenance costs due to there being more pavement to maintain. We should be allocating lane widths more stringently, as wide lanes can encourage drivers to speed and other risky behavior. We are constantly notified on how dire our maintenance needs are. As a result, we need to audit our roads and decide what could be narrowed when the road or street is due for a reconstruction. These measures could improve safety and help stabilize overall maintenance costs rather see them increase every year. Land and property values may increase if the road/street becomes more attractive for not just driving and parking.

Small towns that grew before the mid-20th century usually have a grid layout with a dense commercial corridor surrounded by blocks of homes that are within a short walking distance. Industrial facilities such as factories tended to be built within town or right on the outskirts, but were still easily accessible by walking or biking due to the compact sizes of the community. After World War II, most towns followed the appeal of suburbanization which helped decentralize business districts, and led to sprawling developments. Small towns are seen to be close-knit communities, though it seems that they have unraveled in the past few decades.

My mother lives in Hibbing, which has spread out development despite its losing residents. Its retail has slowly been moving to the outskirts, and small businesses and larger retailers seem unable to compete with Walmart since it opened in 2001. More businesses are moving to the city’s periphery, away from the walkable core. Around 11% of households in Hibbing have no car, and nearly 29% are cost burdened. These households are put at a disadvantage and are likely to experience higher transportation costs as a result of this decentralization which led to a reduction of the town’s job and retail density. Every year Hibbing gets millions in state-funded Local Government Aid, and its continuation of expanding outwards would likely make Hibbing more dependent on this type of aid. This will come at a high cost to both its residents and taxpayers around the state.

The Economic Barriers of Urban Arterials and Collectors

Larger towns, suburbs, and cities tend to have large arterial and collector roadways. Wide roadways might be warranted due to higher traffic volumes, but they can be unfriendly to pedestrians and cyclists. Road expansion commonly occurs on these roads, which may lead to expensive right-of-way acquisition. Land acquisition is newsworthy when its proposed for a LRT project, yet this level of scrutiny is less common when land is acquired for roads (though it does happen). Expansion that requires the removal of existing structures can actually hurt the community more than benefit it. The land that remains often remains vacant for years, which can reduce property values for neighboring properties. An added turn lane that removes homes may hurt the housing market as the supply of affordable housing is constricted. We may lose a local business that has been there for years. In a thriving community, congestion should be expected to some degree. A reliance on cars to access these areas is what makes mitigating congestion costly.

When the Rice Street-Highway 36 interchange was rebuilt a few years ago in suburban Ramsey County, multiple properties were acquired due to Rice being expanded to 4 lanes. What used to be a restaurant and an apartment complex in Roseville has since became a field of overgrown grassland. The apartment complex wasn’t in the best condition, but nothing was built to replace the lost affordable housing. Little Canada faced more luck in redeveloping their vacant land, as they gained a park-and-ride lot which is now the busiest bus stop in the city, and a Planned Parenthood clinic. Redeveloping properties can be difficult and take a long time, which can weaken a city’s tax base.

Expansion also usually leads to a roadway design that is hostile towards anyone not in a car. Usually newer interchanges have wider turning radius for cars and trucks, which can make crossing the road when walking or biking difficult and dangerous. Drivers who make right turns on red constantly block crosswalks even when the walk signal is on. Road expansion may bring new pedestrian ramps, though the distance of an added lane or two may discourage walking. It also may bring “bike improvements” that end up being a safety risk. These types of designs induce people to drive and increase congestion in the long run.

The Rice Street-Highway 36 interchange also faces these issues. The reconstruction project added sidewalks and “bike area” lanes, but the project primarily improved access for cars at the expense of people using other modes. Crossing here by walking or biking is not pleasant. There were new sidewalks built, but crossing the ramps to/from Highway 36 requires one to cross at an unmarked location where cars speed through the right turn slip lanes. People have to walk across 4-6 lanes compared to just 3-4 before it was rebuilt. The most dangerous mode to use here is biking. The 3-foot wide “bike area” lanes do not meet State Aid Standards for bike facilities along arterial roads, which requires at least a 6 foot wide bike lane or other options. This is likely why there are no pavement markings or signs indicating that it is a bike lane. There are signs warning drivers to yield to cyclists in this “bike area” at the start of a right turn lane, which does indicate it is meant for biking. This type of design is what leads people to believe that sidewalk and bike improvements are a waste of money. Most people will not walk or bike along a street that feels unsafe to them, unless they have no choice (i.e. no car). Luckily the planned reconstruction for Rice and Interstate 694 interchange has roundabouts and a mixed-use path proposed, which seems to be more of an improvement for Rice for all users than what is currently seen at Highway 36.

Add More Lanes or Add More Options?

When a roadway is congested, our usual approach is to expand it. This is often not an effective approach, given limited funding makes expansion difficult unless you divest from funding maintenance or borrow money. The current version of H.F. 861 has the state borrowing $600 million for road construction and Corridors of Commerce. Lane expansion can induce demand, therefore negating the relief in congestion seen in the short-term. Much of our infrastructure is outdated and has various safety risks for drivers, which warrants reconstructing it to improve safety when we’re able to, such as adding the concrete barrier on Highway 12. This doesn’t mean we should reward risky driver behavior as a result. The primary reason in crashes tends to be due to driver error, while road design is usually a secondary factor. Aggressive and/or distracted driving, along with alcohol usage are some of the main causes in crashes. Regarding congestion levels for a major metro, Minneapolis-Saint Paul does well compared to our peers, as seen in data from Minnesota Compass. Similar sized metros such as Denver and Seattle have realized their road expansion projects don’t necessarily ease congestion, and most of their citizens voted to support an initiative (FasTracks, ST3) to expand transit in the region through an increase in local taxes. With the CTIB disbanding, Hennepin and Ramsey County will likely follow Denver and Seattle’s footsteps.

Our demand for crude oil relies heavily on Canada to provide us the necessary resources to power our cars and trucks. Relying on a foreign source on a commodity with a finite supply makes it hard to adequately prepare for price fluctuations. Multimodal systems allow us to at least provide alternatives for people to get around when these scenarios occur. We have been finding ways to satisfy our energy demands through more local sources (e.g. Bakken Oil Fields in North Dakota), though they have turned out to have catastrophic environmental impacts that will cost the government, taxpayers, and the planet more in the long-run.

Commuters, customers, and any other person that walks, bikes, or takes transit tend to be cheaper to support versus one who is driving. Transit can help relieve transportation costs for people facing cost burdens. Relying on a single mode such as automobiles is expensive and carries multiple indirect costs (parking, pollution, etc.). Investing predominantly on a single mode is not a good long-term investment. Does that mean promoting a train that costs twice as much as an existing line that is proposed to carry less people? That seems to be a hard sell on the legislators who didn’t think the existing light rail lines were a good idea. In contrast, so was a proposal to have Metro Transit to achieve a farebox recovery ratio of 80% or higher by 2022. The mandate on the farebox recovery ratio got added to H.F. 861 (and was reduced down to 40%), but it ultimately was removed as House moved the bill on to the Senate. If increasing that ratio is a priority, then we should look to our Canadian counterparts. Rail does work for them, though they have invested in buses as well with great results for both suburban and urban transit agencies.

Farebox Recovery Ratio (FRR) – Fare Revenue divided by Operating Costs*:

Metro Agency Mode FRR Year Source
Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro Transit Bus 24% 2015 Source
Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro Transit Light Rail 34% 2015 Source
Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro Mobility Dial-A-Ride 13% 2014 Source
Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro Transit Commuter Rail 15% 2014 Source
Calgary Calgary Transit Bus + Rail 49% 2012 Source
Denver RTD Bus 25% 2015 Source
Denver RTD Light Rail 34% 2015 Source
Montreal STM Bus + Rail 56% 2015 Source
Seattle Sound Transit Light Rail 28% 2014 Source
Seattle King County Metro Bus 30% 2015 Source
Toronto GO Transit Bus + Rail 78% 2012 Source
Toronto TTC Bus + Rail 70% 2012 Source
Vancouver TransLink Bus + Rail 57% 2012 Source

*This does not include capital costs, and might include other sources of revenue (advertising, parking fees)

Their investment in transit allows them to have higher farebox recovery ratios than Metro Transit. If we truly want Metro Transit to increase its farebox recovery ratios, then cutting their funding is counterproductive. If many legislators do not want to see more light rail (as its capital costs are very high, as Southwest LRT now has a cost of $1.858 billion), then they need to actually promote buses through their omnibus bills so they can be properly funded. Relying on creating new expensive transit corridors to increase ridership may not work out well, though we must improve the transit corridors we already have. Arterial or freeway BRT might be part of the solution, as the A Line was a successful transit investment with a modest capital cost of $27 million. Arterial BRT tends to be more cost-effective given our metro’s population density does make it difficult to support the capital costs of building light rail even within the central cities.

The people who ride with the bus or train are trying to get to where they need to be just like every other driver. They also have jobs (many have multiple to make ends meet), and pay taxes. The “Minnesotan” way to fund transportation is not to exclude Minnesotans from having options on how they get around. Maybe that option isn’t more light rail, but it shouldn’t mean we should siphon our general funds for expanding roads. The general fund is better suited for investing in education and health services. Consistently promoting a transportation choice that we constantly run into issues funding (as funding shortfalls for road expansion were estimated at over $7 billion back in 2001) further necessitates our need for more transportation options.

A special thanks to Anna Gedstad for being an editor on this article.

This was cross-posted to streets.mn

Little Canada’s “Other” Transportation Infrastructure: Transit, Part Two

This was crossposted to streets.mn on March 27, 2017

This is part of a series of posts pertaining to a study on Little Canada’s transportation infrastructure for people who take transit, walk, and/or bike.

In Transit: Part One, I discussed my motives behind my study along with some information and statistics about transit ridership in Little Canada. This part contains an analysis of a study done regarding transit accessibility by the University of Minnesota’s Accessibility Observatory, my personal experiences taking the 62 and 262, parking and sidewalk impacts, along with my proposed solutions to improve transit in Little Canada.

Transit: Part Two

Reviewing the Transit Accessibility Study

I reviewed the University of Minnesota’s Accessibility Observatory’s Access Across America – Transit (2014) study done by David Levinson and Andrew Owen to see how accessible Little Canada by taking transit to work. The study’s data is assorted down to the census block level, showing how accessibility can vary between neighborhoods. According to this study, the number of jobs accessible within 30 minutes of transit averages in the mere thousands.  The most accessible block group in Little Canada had about 9,500 jobs accessible within 30 minutes by transit in 2014. In comparison, downtown Saint Paul alone has tens of thousands of jobs and is just about 5 miles away. The study shows the need for faster transit for users living in the inner-ring suburbs, as hundreds of thousands of jobs are accessible within that same timeframe by automobile according to their Auto 2015 study.

Since the data from the study is publicly available through the Accessibility Observatory’s website, I used this to create an interactive map on CARTO to visualize transit options and accessibility within Little Canada. I also used spatial data from the Metro Council’s page on the state’s open data portal (Minnesota Geospatial Commons) to obtain bus routes and stop locations. An updated report with 2015 data was recently released, although the study’s datasets have not been released yet to the public at the time I wrote this post. Transit accessibility throughout the suburb may have changed in 2015 due to the Green Line opening in mid-2014, along with impacts from changes with route scheduling and alignments.

When comparing the study to my work commute, I realized that it might not be considered accessible within 30 minutes. My commute (including walking 0.4 miles to the bus stop and usually arriving 4-5 minutes early) averages about 30-35 minutes when I take the 262; I have gotten to work or home in under a half-hour when I have really good timing with the bus and am walking fast. If I worked in downtown Saint Paul or only took the 62 to the Capitol, my trip would average about 40-45 minutes when including walking and wait times. My fellow bus riders tend to have longer commute times than myself, since most seem to either ride the bus to downtown or transfer to the Green Line at the Capitol/Rice Street Station.

Comparing an Urban Local with a Limited Stop Bus Route

Trying to get under that 30 minute mark will be tricky, though it does seem possible along some routes and destinations. During normal commutes (without unusual delays), I have timed my bus rides (62D and 262, both in the morning heading south towards Saint Paul) to see the differences between the two routes. My analysis isn’t precise and is subject to human error, though you can see the impact of bus stop density between a local and a limited-stop route (collected via Strava):

62dvs262

You can see the 262 is faster on average, partly because it takes a more direct route as the 62D bus I took is the branch with the Demont & County Rd B spur (5-7 trips/day per direction except on Sundays). The spur exists to mainly serve Little Canada’s densest census block that has multiple apartments and condo complexes that are about 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile east of Rice, which had served an average of 23 riders per day during weekdays in 2015. The branches of the 62 that don’t take the Demont & B route and head straight down Rice are still often about 5 to 10 minutes longer and more crowded than the 262 during rush hour. The branches of the 62 leaving around 7-8 am tend to be standing room only by the time we get to Maryland often, with long boarding times due to many users paying by cash. What also slows down the 62 is the density of stops, while the 262 stops at just certain major intersections between Little Canada Road and University Avenue. If the 62 consolidated some of its bus stops, it could be more enticing to use and possibly save most users time on their overall trip. An issue with this would be that many riders in the North End neighborhood of Saint Paul probably prefer the convenience of not having to walk far to their stop, and might not be too fond of this. Another possible solution would be to add more trips for the 262, if they added a stop on Milford or Atwater Street so it could both serve the suburbs yet still be accessible to North End residents. I do think that these types of improvements could help increase the number of jobs accessible within 30 minutes via transit for riders in both Little Canada and Saint Paul.

Regarding the fiscal subsidies required for these routes, the 62 is less subsidized than the 262 on a per passenger basis. In 2010, the 62 had an average subsidy of $3.02 per passenger, versus the 262’s $5.52. So the limited stop version of the 62 does come at a higher subsidy, showing that providing convenience to suburban transit users along this corridor does come at a cost. In comparison to other bus routes within the Twin Cities region, the average subsidy per passenger for an urban local (and limited stops) bus route in 2013 was about $2.72; express buses were averaging at $3.30 per passenger, with suburban locals at $4.81 per passenger. Current subsidy per passenger rates are bound to be different especially for the 62 since it has increased frequencies in the North End and along with its extension to Signal Hills in West St. Paul since then (replacing the 67 which now serves a different corridor). The 262 was just recently affected by service cuts as a result of Metro Transit’s budget shortfall, which reduced the number of trips from three to two per direction during weekdays. As a result, I now have to take the 62 home since they removed the 262’s last PM trip. Despite my disappointment knowing my commute going home now is an extra 5-10 minutes, I understand their reasoning for cutting the trip due to its high subsidy.

The Costs of Parking and its Impact on Suburban Transit Users

Given the budget shortfalls transit agencies such as Metro Transit are facing, parking standards and policies tied to transit funding should be reevaluated. The Rice Street and Highway 36 park-and-ride’s parking spaces were built at a rate of around $9,640 per space (a total cost of $2.7 million divided by the 280 parking spaces). A rate of about $10K per parking space (includes the cost for a heated shelter and other costs such as bike lockers) is still cheaper than the estimated $25-40K per space cost to build parking within my workplace at the Capitol area (source: MN Department of Administration); a single parking space at either place is still more expensive than a basic bus shelter (est. $6,000 in 2014 via an article about bus shelters in the Star Tribune), which can serve multiple users at once. The shelter at the stop that I use during my morning commute has about 4 to 6 people on average (including myself) waiting for the 62 or 262 when I am waiting there, and served 29 users on an average weekday in Fall 2015. Barring any miscalculations on my part, it seems that the bus shelter was cheaper to build and serves more people than a single parking space at that park-and-ride. If I started parking there instead of walking to my current stop, the rate of total subsidies tied to my commute to work would likely increase. One counterpoint to my analysis is that some people do drive to get to this bus stop, so their parking costs aren’t factored into this since they are likely parking on a nearby street or at a private lot serving nearby businesses. At least the Rice and Highway 36 park-and-ride lot appears to be well used at least when I go by it, though it still has ample parking space to serve even more riders. That park-and-ride (as well as the Little Canada Municipal Lot) does encourage transit use in my city, though I don’t want us to rely on only a couple assets to support our city’s transit usage.

Some solutions to add more assets supporting transit could be to promote mixed-use development along/near major bus stops (such as near the Little Canada Transit Center), or to look into the possibility of smaller-scale park and rides using shared parking with businesses that may not have a large amount of customers during the daytime. Multiple large commercial properties along Rice Street have an abundance of parking spaces during the day, which could make them possible locations for a shared park-and-ride lot. Managing smaller-scale lots may be more trouble than its worth though for both Metro Transit and the business owners. For the time being, I will consider our park-and-rides to be a necessary evil until we come up with a better long-term plan to serve inner-ring suburbs. Outer-ring suburbs are going to be even more difficult to reduce dependence on park-and-rides given their lower population density than their inner-ring counterparts aside from older, former standalone towns (Anoka). Despite considering them a necessary evil, I do want to spread awareness of the costs of these park-and-rides and their positive and negative impacts on communities and budgets. Suburban transit users tend to be more expensive to serve than urban transit users on a per passenger basis. These subsidies per passenger serving suburban users increase at an even greater level when we invest in this type of “free” parking to encourage them to take the bus.

RiceAndCtyRdCBusStop_2017

 

The Impact of Sidewalks and Transit Usage

Regardless if transit or parking improvements are made or not, sidewalk infrastructure improvements must be made as a bare minimum. Better transit accessibility relies on access to sidewalks. Park and rides can help complement and encourage suburbanites to take the bus, but sidewalks are more versatile in their uses since they can be used for other purposes and not just serving a single group (such as rush-hour commuters). Sidewalks connect homes with businesses, schools, and other places of interest which makes them a vital investment for suburbs to make. Ramsey County recently widened the shoulders on Edgerton (between Little Canada Road and Highway 36) and added bike lane signage (previously discussed on streets.mn by Walker Angell), although people still have to use this narrow space to reach the beach at Lake Gervais on foot without any sort of protection from drivers. This discourages people (especially with kids) to walk to the beach or to take the 71, which has a few stops along this stretch of Edgerton. The street is marked at 40 mph, so many potential cyclists may be discouraged from riding despite the wide bike lane. Many people seem to drive at 45 mph or higher when I am driving along there, which would likely kill any pedestrian or cyclist if a driver swerves onto the shoulder. I would not want to wait for the 71 there.

The sidewalks along Rice in Saint Paul are in poor condition in many places, and in the suburbs (Little Canada and Roseville) there is a relative lack of sidewalks along some parts of the street. People have to walk or bike on the shoulder or in the grass to get to the bus stops. I see it daily and seldom walk on Rice where there aren’t sidewalks as it’s unpleasant and unsafe. Rice Street has bunch of projects planned for the next few years, which plans to add sidewalks and make the street more accessible for biking. To avoid the making the same mistakes seen on Edgerton, I would prefer to see segregated 10-12 foot wide mixed-use trails over the proposed bike lanes on Rice in my area as biking directly next to drivers speeding at 45-50 mph is very unpleasant and dangerous based off my personal experiences commuting to work by bike. Ramsey County and the city have made great recent improvements towards improving accessibility, though most improvements still greatly favor drivers over everyone else. I understand that we do have limitations (funding, right-of-way, resident opposition, etc.), though I think we must put a greater emphasis on safer transportation for all users. More sidewalks and trails are going to benefit the community and its residents, whether its walking for leisure, to pick up groceries, or to the bus stop.

Closing Thoughts on Transit and the Partisan Conflicts Surrounding It

According to the US Census Bureau’s OnTheMap tool, commuter flows showed hundreds of workers going to/from Little Canada and major employment centers across the metro area which could support more buses along existing routes (and the possibility of adding new routes). Metro Transit’s Service Improvement Plan took advantage of this potential, and created a list of possible transit improvements in Little Canada. This plan could help improve transit for existing riders, in addition to encouraging more people to ride. Extending the 270P’s service hours to 8PM would have meant I wouldn’t have had to leave an event early at the University of Minnesota a few weeks ago, unless I wanted to take the train back to Saint Paul and then transfer to the 62.  These improvement plans are contingent on funding, which is constantly under threat by anti-transit legislators (who are usually Republican). Anti-transit legislators tend to focus on attacking light rail (yet seem to be fine with expensive road and bridge projects such as the St. Croix River Crossing), but they need to realize that transit is much more than light rail and is vital for both metro and outstate cities. I do think Democrats get too focused on expensive light rail and BRT projects, as my support towards the planned projects such as Southwest and Gateway has weakened over time. Despite my agreements toward some of the anti-transit legislators points, we should not divest transit funding and re-allocate it for roads and bridgesnor can the feds do so when it comes to federal funding for light rail. It’s absolutely fine to be critical of some transit projects, though you can’t wipe out transit entirely and expect everyone to drive.

When comparing recent or planned improvements with other modes, drivers tend to see the most benefit. Examples include the MnPASS expansion on Interstate 35E from Hugo/White Bear Lake to Saint Paul, a third lane being added on I-694 (west of 35E) that will be finished at the end of the year, and the Rice & I-694 interchange planned for reconstruction in 2020. I believe that our current access to jobs by automobiles is sufficient, which may anger some residents. There will always be room for roadway improvements, although I find our other modes such as transit are in greater need of improved accessibility and more funding. I have a feeling a large amount of Little Canada’s residents would disagree with my views on road improvements though. I believe I have a long road ahead through multiple difficult debates with residents in addition to city, county, and state officials to try to promote transit and other options. I do hope that I will be able to make a difference though, and I have to keep practicing for what I preach. That is why I recently attended a public hearing and voiced my support for Ramsey County’s proposal to increase the countywide sales tax rate for funding multimodal projects if the Counties Transportation Improvement Board (CTIB) dissolves. I’m not a good public speaker (I’m shy and absent-minded), though I know that if I stay quiet that things might not change for the better. We must become more vocal towards supporting transit.

Regardless, I don’t get why diversifying our transportation network to head towards financial solvency has to be a partisan issue. People taking transit do the same exact things as people driving their cars (going to work, school, getting groceries, shopping, and so forth). We need to design and build our communities in a way that serves people regardless of their transportation choice.

Little Canada’s “Other” Transportation Infrastructure: Transit, Part One

Welcome to Little Canada Picture by Amanda Kline courtesy of city-data.com

This post was cross-posted to streets.mn

Getting around Little Canada is relatively easy, if you have access to a vehicle. The advantages of being an inner-ring suburb of Saint Paul means that it’s well connected to the metro’s freeway network (Interstates 35E and 694, and State Highway 36). But it lacks sidewalk, bicycling, and transit infrastructure. This encourages residents to use automobiles to get around despite many amenities being within a reasonable walking distance. For example, a convenience store (Gas-N-Go), CVS, and Walgreens are within a short 7-10 minute walk from my home. Roseville’s Acorn Park is only a 15 minute walk, or just 5 minutes by bike. I can get to City Hall within a 25 minute walk to attend Planning Commission meetings. Despite these short distances, it can be difficult to access these places because the current design of arterial roadways acts as a distinct physical barrier to anything that isn’t motorized. It can be difficult to use transit here if you don’t take a vehicle to a park-and-ride, as you may be walking on desire paths along Rice Street to catch the 62, or walking to the 71 via Little Canada Road on ramps and sidewalks that get covered in ice during winter. Biking is also tricky, especially along Rice when crossing Highway 36.

Despite this conundrum, I decided to try other modes of transportation to reduce my reliance on my car last August. I’ve driven since I was 17 (I am now 25), and most of my work commutes consisted of me driving alone. I felt that in order to personally review my city’s infrastructure, I would need to use other modes to make my critique more valid. I’m lucky to have these sorts of options, as this is a personal choice and not due to financial reasons. I know many people in this suburb don’t have the same privilege: in 2014, nearly 7% of households had no vehicles, while about 50% had just one vehicle. That said, I want to help improve my city’s infrastructure so we are better equipped for our residents who don’t use or have limited access to an automobile for transport.

Another reason I would like to improve transportation options, is my belief that transportation costs for automobile-based travel are going to increase past the rates of wage increases, so communities need to better prepare to combat this. Lower to middle-income households are likely to see greater financial struggles with transportation costs as a result, and we already cannot afford to rely on solely expanding our roads. Minnesotans have generally shown an aversion to increasing taxes such as mileage-based user fees or increasing the state’s gas tax, yet we strive to invest more capital into roads than what we actually receive from user fees (which leads to financial insolvency, a.k.a. more debt). I cannot align myself with the ideology of going further into debt for road expansion projects when it’s very difficult to maintain what we have already. We need to expand transportation choices in a way that doesn’t push both governments and people into bankruptcy.

I have split my infrastructure review into three main parts (Transit, Walking, and Biking); the first part will be focused on the suburb’s transit infrastructure, which is what I now mainly rely on to get to work. I will conclude my review with a post summarizing my overall findings along with more of my personal experiences and thoughts.

Transit: Part One

Transit Options Within The Suburb

Despite its proximity to the central cities as an inner-ring suburb, Little Canada is classified as a “suburban” community by the Metro Council which are usually middle (Vadnais Heights) and outer-ring (Savage) suburbs. This contrasts with the “urban” classification given to our inner-ring suburban neighbors Roseville and Maplewood, which are of a similar population density but greater employment and retail density. Little Canada is generally seen as a low-density bedroom community, similar to other “suburban” cities in Metro Council’s Transit Market Area III. Communities within Transit Market Area III usually are served by local and express buses running every 30 to 60 minutes on weekdays (with limited or no service during the late evening/nighttime), along with limited services on weekends.

Metro Transit has multiple routes that serve Little Canada, mainly express buses during rush hour periods or urban and suburban locals with 30-90 minute headways during weekdays. Major employment centers such as downtown Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota are accessible during rush hour via express bus routes 263, 270P, and 272. Getting to Saint Paul is possible throughout most of the day; two Urban Local routes, 62 and 71, are the main connections into Saint Paul and southern suburbs (West St. Paul, South St. Paul, and Inver Grove Heights). The 262 is a limited stop version of the 62 that runs to/from the 95th Ave Park & Ride in Blaine to the Union Depot and runs during the weekday rush hour period, mainly serving workers based in downtown Saint Paul. The 223 is a suburban local route that runs during weekdays and connects the suburb with Roseville and Maplewood and their major shopping centers (Rosedale Center and Maplewood Mall). Later in the evening and on Sundays, the only bus stop serving Little Canada is the Rice Street & Highway 36 Park & Ride which serves a branch of the 62 until around 1-1:45 am.

Transit Ridership Statistics

LCRidershipTableau

In Fall 2015, about 555 boardings occurred on a typical weekday at bus stops inside or along the border of Little Canada (The Star Tribune has an interactive map of bus stop boardings in 2014). The busiest routes were the urban locals, though the busiest bus stop in Little Canada is at the Rice Street & Highway 36 Park & Ride due to its express routes and close access to the 62 and 262 via Rice Street and County Rd B’s bus stop. Both stops had an overall average of 235 boardings during a weekday in 2015. The second busiest stop is at Little Canada Transit Center which also is a transfer point for the 62, 71, and 223, which had nearly 92 boardings on an average weekday. A large portion of riders who board in/near Little Canada do not actually live in Little Canada, as seen in the latest (2016) park-and-ride report.

BusStopAnalysisLC

Comparing Little Canada to its neighbors on transit usage (when commuting to work) show that the suburb lags to the central cities unsurprisingly, yet is similar to other inner-ring suburbs in Ramsey County (Maplewood, Roseville):

City % of Transit Users* % Drove Alone* Average Commute Time (All modes)
Little Canada 5% 76% 23.4 min
Maplewood 4% 79% 25 min
Minneapolis 13% 61% 22.7 min
Roseville 4% 78% 21.5 min
Saint Paul 8% 69% 23.2 min
Shoreview 2% 84% 25.3 min
Vadnais Heights 4% 82% 24.9 min

*is rounded to nearest percent. Source: American Community Survey, 2011-2015 (5-Year) via Metro Council – Community Profiles

Conclusion of Transit: Part One

It was interesting to see that the park-and-ride at Rice Street and Highway 36 accounts for over 40% of average weekday ridership in Little Canada (including the stop at Rice Street and County Rd B). The bus routes I take for work (I alternate between the 62 and 262) account for just over half of the average weekday ridership in Little Canada, which makes sense given the 62 runs the most frequently out of all routes serving the city. I was not surprised that many bus stops see little to no ridership, which brings up the possibility of stop consolidation. In Transit: Part Two, I will discuss a study done regarding transit accessibility by the University of Minnesota’s Accessibility Observatory, my personal experiences taking the 62 and 262, and my proposed solutions to improve transit in Little Canada.

Analyzing Potential Road Diet Candidates in St Paul

stp-road-diet-map-davison

The final product of my analysis based off Average Annual Daily Traffic (AADT) volumes and the number of through lanes per direction of traffic. Based off data from MnDOT. Source: Self-Created

Larger version of map (24×36 PDF)

Preface

Since Bill did a phone interview with me about this map and wrote about it last Monday, I figured I should explain this map in greater detail, such as my reasoning behind creating it. This article contains my motives, the process of creating the map, the limitations of the data, along with my data sources. This article contains my personal opinions and are not official nor endorsed statements from my employer (MnDOT).

My Motive Behind the Analysis

With the recent news on pedestrian fatalities in Saint Paul, I became curious and started brainstorming possible solutions the city could use to improve safety for pedestrians (in addition to cyclists). I work in Saint Paul at MnDOT’s Central Office building (also known as the Transportation Building) near the State Capitol. I currently am commuting by car by myself from Little Canada (about 5-6 miles one-way), but I usually walk during my lunch break around the Capitol Complex. I also sometimes walk over to downtown or near the Cathedral along Summit and Selby. During my walks, I tend to notice how many motorists are quite inconsiderate of pedestrians and bicyclists. Many don’t use their turn signals, and many do not follow the state statutes that grant pedestrians and bicyclists the right of way among all crosswalks and intersections. I even saw a person stopped on the light rail tracks at the Cedar and 12th intersection earlier this month. I also did see a bicyclist run through a red light, and distracted pedestrians due to cell phones; ultimately drivers breaking roadway laws was the most common in my experience. There will always be impatient or inattentive people no matter what mode of transportation they are using. I’d rather have them be walking than behind the wheel though if they are glued to their phone.

I try to make it my best effort to keep an eye out for all people, but I have admittedly failed at times. There is no excuse for not seeing pedestrians or cyclists, yet many of us drivers do it on a daily basis multiple times throughout the day. I’ve documented myself doing it twice recently, which is disappointing. It is both a rude, inconsiderate gesture, in addition to it being very dangerous. It is also a very expensive mistake to make if a police officer notices your inaction to yield, as you risk getting a citation. What is even worse is if you injure or kill a pedestrian or cyclist, the financial cost is severe (estimated to be around $10.6 million per fatality) and the emotional toll is priceless. We must do better, and I must do better. Being patient and attentive is better than having your impatience or inattentiveness harm or kill an innocent person.

Creating the Map

stp-road-diet-map-davison-KEY

Map Key

Since I work in MnDOT’s Transportation Data and Analysis Office, I know that our traffic count data is publicly available through our webpage for the Traffic Forecasting & Analysis section. In addition, we are in the process of transferring our roadway data into a new system called LRS (Linear Referencing System). The new LRS data has a layer with the number of through lanes (per direction of traffic) for all routes. Through lanes are also known as general purpose lanes, which are traffic lanes that are not designated turn or auxiliary lanes. Our office “froze” our data back in January 2014 since we are still in the process of migrating and updating all of our data into LRS. This means that the data available is outdated by over two years. Given that this was a personal project, I ended up updating the through lane data for the routes within Saint Paul myself on my own time to do this analysis. I ended up comparing aerial photos on Google Earth with the existing data I had. The aerials for the city are quite recent (March 11th of this year), so I was able to make sure that my edits were done using recent aerials. I also took a look at thecity’s website of road projects to see if there any upcoming changes to the roadway network. With this data, I was able to see which routes could be involved in a “road diet“. Mainly road diets are regarding 4-to-3 lane conversions, which have been proved to improve overall safety for everyone in multiple cases. I also factored in possible lane narrowing (such as downsizing to 10-11 ft lanes instead of the 12 ft standard lane width) and lane reductions (such as a 3 to 2 lane reduction (per direction), such as southbound Rice St near Sears and my workplace). I then took the AADT (Average Annual Daily Traffic; referenced as vehicles per day (vpd) in this article at times), and classified them into four options (Great, Good, Fair, and Poor Candidate; see ‘Map Key’ graphic), which was put over another layer that classifies the number of through lanes within that section of the route. I only looked at sections of routes that had two to four through lanes per direction of traffic.

The numbers I used to decide the suitability was based on the FHWA’s Road Diet Informational Guide and various case studies done by various transportation agencies. I was rather liberal and broad with my definition of suitability, so my version of a “good candidate” may be a poor one based from another perspective. Page 17 of the Information Guide discusses the metrics agencies have used as a cutoff for road diet feasibility. I used the higher cutoff rate of Seattle’s road diet feasibility limit of 25,000 vpd as my cutoff on road diets. The FHWA states multiple studies on road diets that provide a wide assortment of values on what the daily traffic volume limit is when a 4-to-3 road diet would become unfeasible. A Kentucky study from 2011 showed road diets can work up to 23,000 vpd, while a more conservative limit of 15-17,000 vehicles per day was suggested in a 2006 study by UW-Madison (sponsored by MnDOT and the LRRB). The FHWA suggests routes of under 20,000 vpd for being a candidate for a road diet. Given this variation, my metrics for determining potential candidacy need to be taken with a grain of salt. The number of vehicles per day cannot be the only metric used in the final decision on determining whether a road diet can be done. Routes with under 15,000 vpd seem most likely to still be candidates when including other factors, and routes with 15-20,000 vpd have a good chance based off the studies showing that. Routes that have between 20-25,000 vpd might be more controversial to convert. Personally, I don’t think impact of level-of-service for vehicular traffic shouldn’t be the sole major reason for rejecting a road diet, but I am not the master builder of the city and have limited knowledge in traffic engineering. I’m sure at least one traffic engineer in Ramsey County or even MnDOT would shake their head at my map if they saw it.

Regarding the design of the map, cartography isn’t my strong suit, but I tried to make the map look more aesthetically pleasing and easier for end users to interpret. Transportation planning has a lot of esoteric information tied with acronyms (ex: AADT vs ADT, VMT, ESAL, etc.) and algorithms that I can’t keep track of even after being at MnDOT for over a year, making it difficult to properly display spatial data to the public in a concise and clear way. I also transferred the layers of the map to Google Map Maker and added data from the Saint Paul Police Department regarding crashes involving pedestrians and/or cyclists, listedhere (this online map is still being worked on and is subject to change). An interactive map allows users to see aerial (satellite) photos of the possible candidate routes and features like Google Street View allow citizens to identify trouble spots along routes (such as unsafe pedestrian crosswalks, overly wide traffic lanes, etc.).

Thoughts on the Outcome

RiceSt_at_MilfordSt

Rice Street at the corner of Milford Street in the North End neighborhood of Saint Paul. It already acts as a two-lane road along some portions due to parked cars in the right lane. Source: Google Streetview, August 2014

One street in particular that is bad for all modes of transport is Rice Street. Rice Street is a reliever/alternate route for Interstate 35E, that sees between 10,600 to 15,700 vpd within the city. Most of the route is under a layout of 4 narrow lanes (2 per direction) between Wheelock Parkway and its terminus near Interstate 94. There are no proper bike facilities within or nearby, and the sidewalk infrastructure varies in quality depending on which part you are on (I did my senior thesis on that). Rice Street could be considered the main commercial thoroughfare for the North End, given it does have various clusters of small businesses along it. Parking is allowed in the right lane at some parts, usually depending on what time it is (such as no parking from 4 to 6 pm on weekdays if you driving northbound, though this is not too strictly enforced based off my experience). There is also a lack of designated left turn lanes. This compels drivers to constantly lane change lanes especially near major intersections such as Maryland. Given the narrow lanes, parking, and lack of left turn lanes, it makes for a very unsafe route for everyone. I believe Rice typically has a ROW of about 45′ (ballpark estimate), which would allow a rather easy 4-to-3 road diet, or it could even be cut down to two lanes with left turn lanes at intersections with a high enough volume of left turning traffic. I would be fine with a center-turn lane through the entire stretch though, given Rice is that way near my home in Little Canada and it carries a similar amount of traffic (14,500 vpd). Rice Street is currently under a three-lane layout between Wheelock Parkway and County Road B, where near Highway 36 it is very wide at four lanes, and then it goes back down to three. Vehicle queuing does occur during rush hour periods, although traffic still moves relatively quickly. During periods of construction of nearby highways does cause worse traffic along the route, but there are enough alternative routes to spread out traffic. During the recent reconstruction of Interstate 35E last year, I usually just used Dale Street instead of Rice during rush hour.

Bike lanes could be installed (hopefully wider than the existing bike lanes on Rice near Highway 36); a layout similar to Riverside Ave in Minneapolis should be considered. If bike lanes aren’t able to be built, the good news is that the city has a future bike boulevard planned in their Bicycle Plan nearby on Park Street, which is only one block to the east of Rice. The bad news about Park is while it already has bike lanes along a short part near the Capitol, for it to be a true route for cyclists would require connecting existing gaps of Park between the Capitol and Arlington or Wheelock Parkway. Currently there is no access to Park St from multiple spots due to railroad tracks and Pennsylvania Ave. If the city wants to compromise for Park as the designated bike route, then they will have to find a way to provide a direct route for cyclists, otherwise it won’t be of much use to them. Jackson Street is only a couple more blocks over to the east with bike lanes along much of the route, although it is impractical for those who want to access businesses on Rice. Crosstown bike routes near Maryland and Arlington Avenues would also have to be implemented to provide a safe city-wide cycling network rather than one fixated on Downtown or Capitol area destinations. Cyclists aren’t going anywhere, and I would rather see expansion towards cycling facilities versus expanding existing routes. Expanding transportation infrastructure usually induces demand; increasing bicycling demand versus adding more drivers in the city seems more beneficial for the city in the long run.

Limitations of the Data

Given the data freeze limiting myself to using AADT counts from 2008-2014, the traffic counts may be different in the present day. Extended routes such as Cayuga St and it’s soon to be completely open interchange with Interstate 35E doesn’t have traffic counts yet, and the completion of the Cayuga and MnPass construction project on 35E probably will change traffic volumes along streets and roads near the freeway. Also, since it was self-edited, human error is likely as I may have missed or incorrectly classified some routes. This was a basic analysis and not a professional one, and is not an official analysis done by MnDOT. MnDOT is not responsible for the integrity of this data given it was edited from their official record.

AADT counts have their flaws as well no matter how recent the counts were made, since they are calculated through a total yearly sum of traffic volume divided by the number of days in a year (365). There are some adjustment factors that improve the precision of the values, but most counts are done through 48-hour short counts and that results in a possible margin of error. An AADT of 10,000 vpd could mean the roadway is at or over capacity during rush hour peri0ds, but has low traffic volumes outside of that timeframe. Other roadways might be more consistently busy throughout the day. The true daily traffic volume of the roadway could be anywhere from 8,000 vpd on a weekend to 14,000 vpd on a weekday. An example could be when a large event occurs such as a Wild game at the Xcel Energy Center. Nearby roadways are usually packed before and after events. It could contested that routes shouldn’t be built for its peak traffic if the capacity for the majority of the day makes the route underutilized. If a route is severely congested mainly due to major events, then other options such as improved transit should be considered to quell the demand for vehicular traffic.

KelloggBlvd_at_MulberrySt.PNG

Even if a route has too high of an AADT (over 25K vpd), that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. Kellogg Blvd for example, could use pedestrian refuge islands at this crosswalk where a mother and daughter were hit by a driver who illegally passed another driver that adhered to the right of way law (violation of MN Statute 169.21 Subd. 2 (b)). The mother sadly did not survive the crash. Source: Google Maps, October 2015

And lastly, I am not an official transportation planner nor an engineer. I majored in Urban Studies as an undergraduate, but my knowledge on traffic engineering is rather limited and is mostly self-taught. Therefore this data could easily be contested by a professional analysis that factors in the spacing of signalized interchanges (leading to higher risk of queuing, leaving the possibility of interchanges being blocked), the number of vehicles per hour), along with other criteria. In order for these routes to actually go though a road diet, they will need to be studied further by the city and will need public support.

Despite my admittance of myself being very naive when it comes to traffic engineering, I think a basic map such as this one can help to spark more conversation on potential roadway improvements. It seemed like the time to do so given the city keeps seeing pedestrians killed trying to cross the street, which is saddening. The metropolitan area recently just became one of four winners of the USDOT’s Every Place Design Challenge. This leaves a perfect opportunity for finding solutions for retrofitting our transportation network to make it into a safer environment for everyone. So lets fix our past mistakes, and work towards making Saint Paul the most livable city in America (otherwise they better change their slogan).

This was crossposted to streets.mn

GEOG 5361 REAL ESTATE BLOG ASSIGNMENT – 2ND POST: NYE’S REDEVELOPMENT GOES VERTICAL

While in the past blog post discussed new condos in the North Loop, that isn’t the only new neighborhood that is experiencing a wave of development. Right across the Mississippi lies Northeast, where the famous Nye’s Polonaise Room is located on Hennepin. The owners are planning to close the well-known bar this year and is working with Schafer Richardson on a 29-story mixed-use tower on the current lot in addition to preserving a couple buildings. This is a great example of another place outside of downtown that is dividing up its space vertically rather than horizontally. You can also see how the area’s land use is cycling towards more of a mixed-use nature rather than more segregated uses that show a clear distinction between commercial and residential properties.

GEOG 5361 Real Estate Blog Assignment – 1st Post: New Condos in Central Minneapolis

This is the first post regarding real estate topics such as residential and commercial developments within the Twin Cities region. I will mainly focus on articles that are about the infill developments within the central cities.

One recent article in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal discusses the first new condo project in the North Loop neighborhood of Minneapolis. A proposal by Curt Gunsbury and Robb Miller envisions “602 Residences” on North 1st Street, which would have a glassy exterior, be 8 stories tall, and would house 30 condo units. They will be marketed as upscale residences, and would be the first new condominiums to be built in almost 10 years. This may show that trendy neighborhoods that are attractive to affluent young urban professionals may be trying to diverse their housing stock by giving people the option to actually own their residential property, rather than renting which seems to be the norm regarding these types of neighborhoods. This may encourage more residents to stay on a long-term basis, especially if they are looking to treat it as a lifelong investment.

A Star Tribune article discusses the 602 Residences proposal further, and states that real estate agents believe that the local housing market is currently in demand of owner-occupied housing such as the Gunsbury and Miller proposal. Developers within the central neighborhoods of Minneapolis have been focused on upscale rental apartments since a housing crash in 2007, though many believe that the rental market is becoming over-saturated due to a high number of new developments being built at the same time. The market could become more diluted if new condo units arise, although that doesn’t mean that building condos don’t carry a risk despite a high demand for them. Condos come with a litigation risk after structural problems arose in condos built during the last condo boom. This lead to many lawsuits from various homeowner associations, which may explain why have focused on rentals since they may be a faster bet from a legal perspective.

The good news about condos though is recently built condos in other neighborhoods such as Stonebridge Lofts (a 164-unit, 12-story highrise developed by Jim Stanton) in the Mill District of Minneapolis almost had all of its units sold out before the building was even completed. This has lead Stanton to propose other condo developments (such as the 20-stories tall Eclipse along Hennepin Avenue), along with other developers to propose ambitious developments. One example is Bob Lux proposing a 40-story residential tower across the Mississippi River in Northeast Minneapolis, which may either condos or apartments.

By analyzing the recent successes of new condo units in addition to a still existing high demand for owner-occupied housing, developments such as. Some questions to ask may be if there could be condo units that have a more affordable price tag, as the final prices. Middle and low income households may feel left out, despite the fact they may also be part of the demand for owner-occupied housing despite having more modest budgets for housing. Could older apartments with rents for 1 to 2 bedroom units under or around $1000-1200/month be converted to condos to help balance out the rate of owner-occupied housing on a socioeconomic scale throughout the city?

Transforming the Suburbs Into More Like Small Towns

This was crossposted to streets.mn on June 2nd

Something I always encounter when reading about development in the suburbs are phrases like “we have a small-town feel”. The problem is most suburbs are far from being like small towns. Even suburbs that used to be small towns are usually sprawled out (i.e. Forest Lake) to the point they really lose the charm of being a small town and become more of a commuter town. I think it’s great that suburbs want to be like small towns, but they need to actually follow more of a characteristics of a small town other than “a big yard”. Here are some ways where suburbs can be more like small towns (as well as to be more autonomous):

1. Hide the parking lots

Even in a car-centric neighborhood, there can be more done with hiding parking lots while still being car-friendly. Have the businesses face the street, especially on street corners. Small towns typically have a “Main Street”, where there is a bunch of businesses close to one another along one or two main roadways. While there is still parking, it usually is behind the business and/or relies on on-street parking.

Here is a basic example of what I mean:

Building

The building on the left is representative of a typical car-centric suburban commercial building with the lot facing the road, while on the right promoting having better use of the sidewalk while remaining accessible enough to cars. Handicapped parking could stay in front of the building via marked on-street parking spaces. Sean Hayford Oleary’s article from April about street frontage is a great read in promoting better street frontage, especially highlighting the fact that suburban commercial buildings need better sidewalk frontage.

2. Encourage more local commuting

People who live in small towns typically work in the same town. Suburbs could encourage more people to try to at least work within their suburb of residence or at least a neighboring one. Obviously, various circumstances mean not every single person can work within a 5 mile radius of their house (tied to mortgages, laid off, company moved to a different place, they don’t like where there work is located, etc.), but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t encourage it. Why live in Forest Lake and commute to Burnsville? Why not work in at least Blaine or Lino Lakes if possible.

3. Make streets narrower and slower

Small towns typically don’t have massive roads that are scary to cross as a pedestrian. Honestly there really is no point to having residential streets at 30 mph. I’d keep residential streets at 20 mph, while busier roads (2-3 lane roads) at 30 mph, highways (or stroads if you prefer that term) at 40 mph, and freeways at 55-70 mph. Some intersections are unnecessarily wide, so I’d recommend shrinking some intersections down, as having a wide turning radius on local road intersections really aren’t needed. I will admit I hate driving in Saint Paul and Minneapolis, but at the same thing I do feel like I am paying more attention to the road when I am on a narrow local road going 30 in comparison to a wide road going 40-50 mph. When you get too comfortable I think you are more likely to zone out. I’m not saying make every road to the narrowest allowed and cut the speed limit down on every road, but we should keep the high speeds and wide roads to the freeways.

Also not every road needs to be a 4-lane throughfare, Bill Lindeke points out some great ideas and benefits from downgrading 4-lane roads down to 3-lane roads.

4. Condense commercial districts

Now not every business park needs to be looking like a stereotypical Main Street, but what is typical of small towns is a condensed central commercial core. The problem with the Bloomington Strip along Interstate 494 isn’t that many of these companies are in the suburbs (it’s completely fine if companies don’t want to be based in the central cities), it’s the fact they are so spread out from each other. Suburban office towers have always been awkward to me as Bloomington could have a better skyline by not spreading it out over a few mile stretch of a freeway. I understand the logistics of why the towers are spread out (traffic being more spread out along the freeway versus in more condensed areas), but having centralized office parks would be easier to have walkable retail, and restaurants.

Saint Paul actually reminds me more of a small town given it has various small business districts lined up along a corridor, such as Grand Avenue. Something like Arbor Lakes in Maple Grove feels massive and sprawling, small-towns have small-scale buildings in small central business cores and/or down one or two thoroughfares.

5. Don’t discourage commuter cycling

Now I won’t deny that many suburbs have great recreational cycling networks. But commuting via cycling especially during rush hour in a suburban area is probably pretty scary depending on the location. I wouldn’t know personally, but even though some major streets have bike lanes, I don’t know if I would trust cycling right next to a ton of cars with impatient drivers not paying close attention to the speed limit trying to access an even faster road to get to work. On major roads with speeds of 40 mph or greater, I would recommend off-street bike paths as Walker Angell pointed out last month that segregated bike paths should be more promoted especially along major roads.

6. Don’t make the architecture look so generic and earthy

What really kills me in suburbs (and urban areas trying to look like suburbs) is the sterile architecture seen in nearly every strip mall or office park. I honestly can’t tell the difference between Woodbury and Maple Grove at times because everything looks the same. While even older architectural styles are just as cookie-cutter, they at least looked more attractive. I don’t know if it was the texture or detail of some buildings, but they typically looked less cheaply built and didn’t follow earth tones as much. Even where I live in Little Canada, there seems to be an obsession with earth tones and weird window placements in developments within the past decade, which really looks architecturally dull:

This seems more characteristic to a small town (Selby Ave. west of the Cathedral in Saint Paul), though obviously something like Blair Arcade is unrealistic to pop up but something designed similar to the YMCA building could be built easily (although with a corner entrance).

Obviously even with brick-walled structures, an argument could be made that the buildings are too reddish, but even modern developments in Stillwater show that classical architecture styles can still be built in modern times while allowing some color variety:

Conclusion

Suburbs may be outdated and architecturally sterile, but that doesn’t mean we can’t improve them. If we are going to say the suburbs are like small towns, then why don’t we make them actually look like small towns and not commuter towns. With more and more people deciding to move back into urban neighborhoods and rising gas prices, suburbs will have to step up their game in order to maintain their population. With the majority of the people living in suburbs (and exurbs) within the Twin Cities metropolitan area, a question to ask is: “Why do many of us love places like Stillwater and Grand Avenue,  yet don’t actually live in places that look like that?”

 

 

Can we kill two birds with one stone when it comes to light rail planning?

Edited on March 22nd:

With all the controversy pertaining to the Southwest Corridor alignment (especially it’s rising construction costs), a question could be is why don’t we merge the Southwest Line project with the planned Bottineau Line project?

Matt Steele’s post from last month has some great ideas on improving our light rail system, but I have another idea similar to this. We could merge both the Blue Line (Bottineau) and Green Line (Southwest) light rail expansion projects into one megaproject, focusing on building “starter” portions, similar in a way to how the planned Nicollet/Central streetcar project is being built. We could focus on getting connecting the southwestern and northwestern portions of the metro area via a couple stepping stones, and worry about expanding towards the suburban corporate campuses of UnitedHealthGroup, and Target later. Getting funding for this might be complicated, but I feel that we could make a valid argument for this in order to obtain state and federal funding for a combined project that serves both lines.

Outer suburban areas would not probably like this option since initially it’s only benefiting first-ring suburbs and dense Minneapolis neighborhoods, but we could argue that this still allows better suburban-city transit, and could be an initial step towards easier city-to-suburban or suburb-to-suburb commuting in these regions. They can always park and commute downtown via stations in Robbinsdale or Saint Louis Park for the first few years. While I understand this means larger park-and-ride stations in these suburbs, I feel that we could plan them in a way where they can be redeveloped in TOD once more suburban stations can be built in the future. Realistically, there will have to be trade-offs in order to try to gain support from suburban commuters.

I created a map to show how the starter rail project could be set up:

Minneapolis Transit Plan

Southwest/Green Line Expansion option:

While we complain about the expensive tunnel plans in Kenilworth, and the streetcar planned for Nicollet, why not scrap the streetcar entirely (and replace it with enhanced bus), and build LRT underground from Midtown to Downtown (the 3C alignment) under Nicollet or a neighboring street. An enhanced bus on the surface would cause less conflicts on the street compared to a streetcar, while still transit-oriented development is still at a high demand near light rail stations on Nicollet.

The 3C alignment would create a large portion of the planned Midtown Greenway’s streetcar line, meaning less construction costs for that line’s expansion toward the Blue Line at the Lake Street-Midtown station. Once the Green Line gets on the Greenway, the light rail would continue heading head towards Uptown, and then ending up either at Uptown, West Lake, or Louisiana stations (depending on how far they can go with the initial funding). I’d say at least build to Louisiana so there is at least one station in Saint Louis Park.

Whenever the Midtown streetcar line is fully built, streetcars could still go down the greenway on the same track (just have them both run on standard gauge with electrified overhead lines at 750 V DC), meaning that travel from Uptown to Midtown (and all the way towards Lake St/Midtown Blue Line station) could still happen via a rail option even if the corridor has LRVs operating on it as well. I would recommend just focusing all of our rail vehicle purchases towards purely LRV’s so they can be used on other transit corridors if necessary (unless we want to use streetcars for backups or late-night transit on the Blue and Green Lines).

Bottineau/Blue Line Expansion option:

The Bottineau portion could take the more urban route, and then try for an underground line under Penn (Option D2 on Bottineau Draft EIS), and then have initial segment end at Robbinsdale instead of the planned initial endpoint at Target’s suburban business campus in Brooklyn Park. I feel that the Golden Valley portion does not make sense in ways similar to the Kenilworth/Uptown routing fiasco with Southwest. While an underground portion under Penn may be expensive, there isn’t enough ROW on the surface unlike the wider boulevard portions of Highway 55 and Bottineau. Future expansion can still go towards both Maple Grove and Brooklyn Park, but I would recommend single-track spurs to Maple Grove – Arbor Lakes/Hemlock Lane (Option A on Bottineau’s EIS draft), and Brooklyn Park’s Target Campus (Option B on the EIS), with 20-30 minute headways, which could coincide with the main line’s 10-15 minute headways (71st Ave Station in Brooklyn Park to Downtown Minneapolis).

Here is a map showing the Option A and B alignments:

 

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Source: Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority

Downtown/Nicollet Mall Tunnel option:

Sam Rockwell’s post, along with Sam Newberg’s post from earlier this week bring some valid criticism when it comes to the future of Nicollet Mall. Like quite a few others on streets.mn, I feel that Nicollet Mall could be more open to pedestrians and cyclists if we built the Southwest/Green Line expansion mostly or fully underground in the downtown core under the mall. While the initial cost of the tunneling would be quite expensive, planning for long-term transit benefits should be factored in especially when it comes to the population expansion of Central Minneapolis.  I’d rather see a better pedestrian, but bike-friendly mall instead of an at-grade streetcar line dividing the largest and densest commercial district in the entire state. I would say that the only vehicles allowed on the mall other than emergency vehicles could be street vendors (food trucks, farmer’s market, etc.) to line up along the corridor during warmer months (skyway vendors could always have food trucks if they are worried about a decrease in business during warmer months).

A main issue with having rail go underground downtown would be connecting it to the Blue Line somehow, such as connecting an underground single (or double) track turn to connect it at-grade near the current Nicollet Mall Station. A single-track turn could do in my opinion, but I have no experience when it comes to civil engineering, so I will admit that I don’t know how difficult and expensive this option may be to build. Also, being aware of the possibility of that this underground part of the line expanding towards Northeast Minneapolis at a later time can be used as a trade-off since the streetcar project would probably be cancelled if LRT ends up on Nicollet.

Closing statement:

Overall, I feel like since we have limited transit funds, I think we should be focusing on starting a rail network that allows small starter lines (allowing more parts of the metro to have at least some rail transit options much earlier than planned) that connect our densest residential neighborhoods and commercial districts initially, with the option for short expansions of 1-2 more suburban stations every couple or few years, instead trying to build entire lines that focus solely on one portion of the metro area every 10-15 years. My ideas aren’t flawless, but I feel that this could bring additional solutions into solving our transit planning crisis.

Can we have commuter rail service like Chicago here in Minneapolis?

Chicago’s suburbs and other major cities in the United States seem to be able to at least give some of their suburbs some sort of rail transit into the city, giving them an alternative to an express bus or sitting on a gridlocked freeway. Could that actually work in a city like Minneapolis (and Saint Paul)?

You can see in posts on streets.mn about possible commuter rail options, such as an article by Mike Hicks states the multiple options for suburban/exurban rail corridors. It reminds me of various ideas other posters and I thought up of last year in a discussion on the UrbanMSP forums (I believe Mike also was part of that discussion in fact). I created this map with Adobe Illustrator showing what the Dan Patch Corridor (Shakopee to DT St. Paul) could look like, along with a regional rail link to Mankato.

Image

But can that corridor be actually useful for suburban commuters in the Southwest Metro? I believe so, but in order to implement this, it would take a ton of planning and would probably cost hundreds of millions of dollars. People who are pro-freeway and even urbanists would probably not like seeing that amount of money go towards a single commuter line (especially after the dismal ridership Northstar has). But I try to be optimistic on this, as improving this rail corridor can be beneficial for freight transport as well (faster, plus double-track means increased capacity or the ability to bypass slow trains), which could cut semi traffic down on the area’s freeways. Plus this corridor goes through a few inner suburbs such as Saint Louis Park and Edina, which have a sizable amount of their residents commuting to Minneapolis, with some reverse commutes as well into those cities, and this corridor could help to create a faster link between the inner-ring suburbs with the central city, while densifying the areas around the commuter rail stations. Plus if this is connected to Northeast Minneapolis (not on the map but I would add a station there now) and the University of Minnesota, this can mean students in the southwestern suburbs and even the North Loop or NE Mpls can have an express route bypassing downtown to get to the U.

The regional rail link would be great, but I’ll make a post about an regional rail system later on this year.