Thursday, August 28, 2008

Congestion Pricing a Bi-Partisan Issue

With the Republicans coming to Minnesota next week, one of the truly bi-partisan initiatives in Minnesota they should note is the collaboration between Republicans and Democrats in tackling urban congestion. While there has been a fierce partisan battle in Minnesota over raising gas and sales taxes to fund roads and transit, Republican and Democratic leaders have worked together to move forward a project to reduce congestion on I-35W. The project involves the use of congestion pricing, also known as high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, along with transit improvements, telecommuting promotion, and new technologies to significantly reduce congestion on I-35W from downtown Minneapolis through southern suburbs. This partnership, which involves a broad coalition of state and local governments along with the University of Minnesota, the Citizens League and private sector leaders, successfully competed for a $133 million US Department of Transportation grant to implement the congestion reduction project. Congestion pricing bridges the gap between liberals and conservatives. For conservatives, congestion pricing is attractive because it uses the free market to efficiently allocate a scarce resource. For liberals, congestion pricing represents a way to get maximum use of a public asset, while still preserving premium service for transit and carpooling.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Streets of Blood

The German website STERN.DE has an article about Safe Road Maps entitled "Unfallkarte: Straßen des Blutes." The title in English means "Accident map: Streets of Blood."

"The digital equivalent of the many tragic memorials on German roads and highways is available online at to find a virtual road map of fatal traffic accidents and the idea of Thomas Horan and Lee Munnich of the University of Minnesota," according to the Web piece. It includes nine photos of crosses on German roads where fatal crashes have occurred.

You can get a reasonable translation of the German text using Google Translate.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

ITS Technologies Part of New York City Surveillance Plan

Watch out London, you may not be the surveillance capital of the world for long. While it was being reported last week that the average citizen in London is recorded an average of 3,000 times per week, New York’s Police Commissioner released a 36 page plan detailing how lower Manhattan is set to become a 24/7 mecca of surveillance themselves. In an attempt to prevent another catastrophic attack from happening, New York City Police plan to capture and track every vehicle that moves into the area through utilizing ITS technologies such as license plate readers and traffic cameras

The intelligence gathered from these ITS technologies will be used to detect and prevent vehicle born threats including radioactive dirty bombs and other explosives. The vehicle information will be stored for an undetermined period in order to follow up on “suspicious� vehicles or vehicles that are part of an on going law enforcement investigation.

Privacy advocates from the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) have cried foul, claiming the plan “to track and monitor the movements of millions of law-abiding people is an assault on this country’s historical respect for the right to privacy and the freedom to be left alone.� Alternatively, those in favor of the system, like Steve Emerson of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, argue that “This is a passive collection of data that is not as personally invasive as what they do at airports.�

In our review of this, NYC plan appears to be completely legal. Under current U.S. Supreme Court rulings, drivers have no reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to law enforcement observing their behavior on roadways, however the constant creep towards law enforcements ability to observe an individual’s every move while traveling may bring what is considered “reasonable� back into question.

The proposed system is set to come online in 2010.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Showers - a necessary bicycle "Facility?"

Twin Cities bicycle commuters find ways to stay fresh -

I remember people used to tell me, "if my workplace had shower, I'd bike to work," as they walked to their car that had been baking in the sun all afternoon (talk about an opportunity to sweat!). And I also know of a few buildings where the shower stall had become a new storage closet.

But now, as gas prices rise and many workplace dress codes become more casual, biking continues to become more popular as a commuting option, and the shower question again arises. This article seems to indicate that showers may be nice to have, but not having them is not the major obstacle some claimed!

See? Telecommuting CAN solve congestion

Or at least, that's what some employers in downtown St. Paul are thinking with the Republican National Convention looming as a major traffic barrier

For some workers, anything but 9 to 5 during convention -

It continues to surprise me that telework is often listed as an option for solving short-term transportation options, such as major conventions, or even bridge collapses, but it does not seem to be popular as a long term option for addressing chronic congestion.

There are numerous examples of how telework CAN work in the long term, but even more evidence as to why it has not been the revolution once predicted. Watch this space for discussion of support for both sides in the coming months!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Political conventions are no place for bikes

All delegates will literally be "pounding the pavement" at the upcoming national political conventions.

A recent post on the Livable Streets blog points out the irony that the Democratic National Convention, hailed as the "greenest national political convention" will not have any places to lock up a bike. Apparently, bicyclists are radicals and pose a security threat.

But the irony noted in this blog about the 1000 bikes that Bikes Belong made available for the convention cuts both ways. In all fairness, the Republican National Convention will be rather bike-unfriendly, too.

Once again, it appears that "all politics is local," as in walking distance!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

GPS Criminals. . . ?

Apparently in MN and CA, you can't put a GPS unit on your windshield.

A recent article in the LA Times, Decriminalizing the GPS, discusses a proposed bill allowing for GPS devices in an otherwise “draconian� law banning the mounting of all but a few specific items, including the rear view mirror, on the windshield.

This is surprising news since I was offered a GPS for a car I rented in CA just a couple weeks ago! When I sent this out to a few colleagues, there was an immediate rush of questions and counterexamples.

There seems to be some confusion about when a navigation system is legal and when it isn't.
So, we asked one of our experts about the law. Jordan Deckenbach reports that Minnesota Statute 169.71 is the legal authority on this question. It restricts the "suspension" of items off the windshield and makes exceptions only for the following: sun visors, rearview mirrors, state park stickers (as well as other authorized stickers) and electronic toll collection devices (an ITS technology exception!).

Many GPS systems attach to windshields in a manner that would be considered "suspended" under the current MN law: bolting, gluing or suctioning, for example. While attaching a GPS to the windshield does not equate to permanent installment, it would be considered "suspension" of a disallowed item. That being said, GPS units can be mounted on your dashboard providing as much of an obstruction as a windshield mounted GPS unit, yet this method would pass legal muster. Companies have also provided numerous other ways of mounting GPS units in your vehicle to avoid the windshield restriction.

Deckenbach says, “the interesting part about this law is that it was originally a back door approach to making radar detectors illegal. However, there is also a general safety goal of making sure the windshield is free from obstruction.�

While some people may think that any permanently attached navigation system is legal, it is certain that any navigation system, attached or not, can be a safety issue, depending on how it is used. For example, looking at a map on an iPhone and following its directions can be highly dangerous, and if the police think you are text messaging or checking emails, it is now cause to be pulled over.

We wonder if making people look down from their windshield in order to look at the GPS unit is actually making anyone safer?

Easy ways to get smart about your commuting

Many of us at the Humphrey Institute continue to believe the best way to make travel demand equal the limited capacity of the road system is to make the variable cost high enough that people decide to only take trips that are important enough to them that they are willing to pay for the total cost they impose upon the system. But enough economics wonk-speak.

What we are really talking about is our interest in new policy directions like Congestion Pricing and Carsharing. However, Implementing these on a large scale continues to take time and effort.

In the meantime, regular folks are putting some great tools on the web that help just about anyone who wants to understand their current costs, such as, or reduce them at Gas Free Commute

Happy calculating!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Congestion Pricing Re-emerges in NYC

Congestion pricing may be back on the table in New York City, according to a New York times article, M.T.A. Shortfall Renews Talk of Congestion Pricing. A transportation funding crisis and the need to fund mass transit are leading New York policymakers to reconsider an earlier plan to implement congestion pricing in Manhattan.

According to the article, Mayor Bloomberg has said that he sees no alternative. “Congestion pricing will come, in New York and lots of other cities, because it is the only way where you were going to do the two things that you need to do: reduce people driving and find money for mass transit,� the mayor told reporters at the National Conference of State Legislatures in New Orleans last week.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Immigrants and Urbanization

A key thing for planners to keep in mind as they think about planning future cities and regions is the increasing diversification of our population. In the past few days, this issue as it relates to the settlement patterns of minorities and immigrants has gotten some attention in both national and local media. In the former case, the New Republic discusses how this is making US Cities resemble their international counterparts: Trading Places

And, the Twin Cities are moving right along with this trend. Our colleague Kathy Fennelly is quoted in this article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune about growth among minority groups in three big Twin Cities suburbs: In the suburbs, population growth sees a diverse shift

Friday, August 8, 2008

Working from home - going mainstream?

Or, at least it's hitting the mainstream media a bit more - a local consumer reporter has some practical information about how to find work at home, and what it takes to succeed! Terri's Consumer Blog

Along with Jane Anderson from the The Midwest Institute for Telecommuting Education (MITE) , I recently completed a report on what employers are looking for, especially when it comes to thinking about telework as an option for those with disabilities, or looking to start a new job: Project Stride (PDF).

We're currently working on a synthesis of 3 major studies on this topic - stay tuned for when we complete it!

Wired Blog on

Wired has a great blog by Keith Barry on the Safe Road Maps web site developed by the University of Minnesota's Center for Excellence in Rural Safety, "Avoid the Highway to Hell With".

"There is something stunning about seeing road fatalities mapped out on familiar routes, proving that cold hard statistics can drive a point home more effectively than any pre-prom MADD assembly," says Barry.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Human Factor

In a recent article on The Design Observer writer Tom Vanderbilt comments on Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do. Here he demonstrates that while modern road design makes roads safer, and make cars safer, but that the human factor plays a major role. Drivers are human and the sense of security and control that the modern highway creates, makes for a different kind of danger, over confident driving. To make a difference in road safety, one must make the drivers safer as well. Saferoadmaps helps in this factor by providing information to drivers about what roads they may choose to maximize their own safety, in addition to things they should do every day, such as buckle up, drive sober, and obey the speed limit.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Twin Cities Streets for People

Local blogger Taylor Carik linked to a great bicycle-centric site on his "Best of 2008" mediation blog called "Twin Cities Streets for People" that chronicles distributed efforts in the metro area to make a people-driven transportation network a sustainable possibility in the world of $4/gallon gasoline. It looks to be a great resource for anyone interested in new techniques being developed to make the roads and byways of the cities more accessible, safe, and effective for bicycle travel.

As a side note, Carik also co-hosts the locally produced FLAK radio podcast with City Pages columnist Jim Norton. I was a guest on their show this week talking about the launch of the Regionalities blog and other topics related to the Humphrey blogging initiative.

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