Monday, March 16, 2009

High Speed Rail - could it really happen?

Planetizen has a thought-provoking piece on one of the most intriguing parts of the Stimulus package: High Speed Rail-In-America

While that author sounds ready to buy his ticket, and I agree the vision sounds attractive, he also points out some major hurdles that remain. Namely:

(1) $8 billion is barely a down payment on a system that truly will rival what exists in Europe. Could anything that expensive really ever become reality? Could anything less (e.g. 110 mph trains running on existing corridors - or even existing tracks?) attract enough riders to ease our overdependence on the current highway and airport system?

(2) This country has not only not invested in rail as a passenger mode, but has fundamentally re-shaped its urban development patterns to such an extent that there is little or no existing rail infrastructure, except possibly for the Northeast US, that could support a national High Speed Rail system.

To make this $8 billion pay off, it seems a tough decision has to be made. Does the country invest in one or two specific state-of-the-art lines that may lead to a "build-it-and-they-will-come" sensation that seemed to occur with recent LRT openings, or does it spread the money to simply speed up the current Amtrak system? If it is the former, what is the justification for using National Stimulus money to benefit one or two regions? If it is the latter, would anyone notice?

President Obama promised an administration that would not be afraid to make "the tough decisions." Transportation planners should all find the way this plays out to be quite fascinating!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Some advice for job-seekers

A number of folks have been talking with me lately about job searching. Thought I would add this post from Planetizen to the discussion . . .

Finding a First Job in Planning | Planetizen

Friday, March 6, 2009

Biking and Pedestrian Events coming up week of March 9

I thought readers of this blog might be interested in a couple events that will occur in the coming week (March 9 - 13)

First, right away on Monday morning, BikeWalk Twin Cities will host

Designing Streets from the Outside In:
Complete Streets and Beyond

Monday, March 9th: The “Dream Team” to Visit the Twin Cities

You have expressed enthusiasm for additional consultation with bikeway and pedestrian safety design experts regarding implementation NTP projects. Well, after learning of your preferences and the challenges that confront us, we’ve selected a team that is mighty indeed! "The Dream Team" includes:

Dan Burden
Michael Moule, P.E., P.T.O.E.
Antonio Rosell, P.E.
Michael Ronkin, P.E.
Michael Wallwork, P.E.

Currie Conference Center (CCC)
1200 Currie Ave N
1st Floor-Room 135 & 136
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55403

Contact Jaméz Smith: 651.767.0298 x112

The agenda is "below the fold"

Then, on Wednesday, March 11, 2009, 12:45 - 2:00 pm, Anna Flintoft, a Transportation Planner with the City of Minneapolis, Department of Public Works, will give a talk, "Developing the Minneapolis Pedestrian Master Plan," as part of this year's Regional Planning & Policy Brownbag Discussion Series.

The lecture will be in Room 184 Humphrey Center and refreshments will be served. All are welcome to attend. Questions about this event may be directed to me, Frank Douma (612-626-9946 / ), or Laura Noble (Exec admin specialist -- 612-626-0564 / ).

Hope these events will be interesting to you!

March 9 Workshop

8:30 Welcome/Introductions: Joan Pasiuk
8:40 Bike and Pedestrian Design 101 -- Michael Moule, PE
9:10 How to Make a Healthy Street? Try a Road Diet – Dan Burden
9:40 Low-Cost Improvements, Minnesota Style -- Antonio Rosell, PE
10:10 Break
10:20 The Art of Traffic Engineering: The transportation pie a la mode-- Michael Wallwork, PE
10:50 Designing Streets from the Outside In – Michael Ronkin
11:20 Small Group Exercise: Doing More with Less – Rosell, Hull and Clark
(teams of 4-5 will develop ‘complete streets’ design solutions for specific types of challenges – consultants will play advisory role)
12:30 Lunch

Site Tour

1:30 Bus tour of NTP project sites

4:30 Return

Note: The bus tour is limited to project managers, consultants and policy makers involved in the Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Program. If bus is not full by Friday, March 6th, other stakeholders will be welcome to participate. Up to four challenging sites will be visited, with design guidance by our national experts in a collaborative, interactive consensus building exercise.

Cheating in HOV, MnPASS Lanes

I'm interviewed in this WCCO-TV report "How Easy Is It To Cheat In HOV, MnPASS Lanes?" The report by Frank Vascellaro does a nice job of explaining the enforcement technology used on the I-394 MnPASS lanes. It makes the case for why enforcement and giving people the choice of paying to travel alone on I-394 is better than little enforcement and no MnPASS option on the I-35W HOV lane.

The violation rate on the I-394 high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane dropped from 20% to 9% when MnPASS was introduced in May 2005. During the same period, the violation rate on the I-35W HOV lane increased from 23% to 33%. The I-35W HOV lane will be converted to a MnPASS lane this fall and will be extended to downtown Minneapolis when major reconstruction of the Crosstown Commons portion of I-35W is completed next year.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The cure for congestion is not good news

The good news: congestion is down in the Twin Cities.

The bad news: it's due to the economy. Read more about it here:
Lost jobs add up to speedier commute

More good news: One day, the economy will rebound

More Bad news: without any other adjustment, the congestion problem will return. This is simply supply and demand going on here. If the supply of transportation facilities remains constant, when jobs return, the demand for space on the freeways, buses and trains will return too.

Further analysis below the fold:

It's been common knowledge among the transportation folks I run with that one of the best ways to solve traffic congestion in an urban area is to kill the economy, and the current recession is proving it.

Now, while I am not an expert in job creation and/or economic development, I know enough history to know that sooner or later, the economy will turn around, and, consequently, so will travel demand. Further, without any change in the current system, and the incentives it provides, the demand will return largely in the form of single occupant vehicle trips.

However, a number of changes are going on to that system, which could lead to a much different travel picture when the economy comes back. Here are some of my favorites:

(1) The Urban Partnership Agreement Anyone who last drove I-35W in 2005 will barely recognize it in 2011, with new dedicated bus lanes, the Cedar Avenue BRT line, and priced dynamic shoulder lanes. Further, some folks who find jobs that require a commute in the corridor, won't commute! They'll be home or another favorite alternative workplace, telecommuting, further reducing peak period traffic demand.

(2) New Transit alternatives: Northstar Commuter Rail and Central Corridor LRT. The former will be running by the end of 2009, and the latter scheduled to start operations roughly 5 years later (assuming funding and construction stay on schedule).


(3) Stimulus for State Transport Projects. Remember the old joke about your state being the land of two seasons, "winter and road construction?" That of course resulted from the traffic delays brought about by closing lanes to do highway improvements. Well, what better time to make those improvements than when congestion is down?

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