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MN2020: Transportation http://www.mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/transportation A robust transportation infrastructure moves Minnesota forward. Wed, 22 Nov 2017 08:00:18 -0600 Video: Express Bike Shop http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/transportation/video-express-bike-shop http://mn2020.org/8830 <p> By Briana Johnson, {related_entries id="article_author_blogger"}Briana Johnson, Video Production Specialist </p> <p> Minnesota 2020 went to the Express Bike Shop in St. Paul to learn more about Youth Express and their apprenticeship program for young adults. Youth Express, a program of Keystone Community Services, is a program created to help young adults develop entrepreneurial skills, work ethic and leadership. Keys Stone's investment to Youth Express helps provide a paid employment opportunity for youth who are joining the work force or those who may have already had a little work history.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> &nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> </p> Mon, 29 Sep 2014 18:39:26 +0000 A Public Role in Rail’s Big Battles? http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/transportation/a-public-role-in-rails-big-battles http://mn2020.org/8823 <p> By Conrad deFiebre, Transportation Fellow </p> <p> It's been a while since an oil train exploded anywhere in America, so the red-hot controversy over shipping North Dakota crude by rail has cooled, only to be replaced by another involving the Engine that Divides Us. This one's a heavyweight slugfest between the railroads and the giants of U.S. agriculture and industry.</p> <p> While about 50 unit trains of Bakken petroleum keep chugging through Minnesota every week en route to distant refineries, practically every other commodity has been plagued by rail shipment delays or prohibitively higher carload rates. As bipartisan federal lawmakers <a href="http://thehill.com/policy/transportation/218092-senate-panel-approves-freight-rail-oversight-changes">reviewed decades-old railroad deregulation,</a> 24 trade groups representing chemical, steel, cement, plastics, paper and fertilizer industries wrote Senate leaders to complain about a costly, time-consuming process for challenging rate increases before the Surface Transportation Board, <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-08-21/cargo-rates-trigger-shipper-backlash-as-u-s-rails-soar.html">Bloomberg News reported.</a></p> <p> Then, leaders of the National Farmers Union descended on Washington to protest a railcar shortage that, at a time of bumper crops and depressed grain prices, is further eroding profits, in some cases due to fines for late deliveries. &quot;It should really be imposed on the railroad that did not deliver on time, not the grain deliverer,&quot; Doug Sombke, the South Dakota Farmers Union president, told <a href="http://www.businessweek.com/ap/2014-09-08/midwest-railcar-shortage-debate-shifts-to-dc">Bloomberg Businessweek.</a></p> <p> Industrial companies are fighting the railroads mainly over price and relative profitability. Depending on where you set the baseline, rail shipping rates have almost doubled (since 2001, according to the American Chemistry Council) or fallen by nearly half adjusted for inflation (since the 1980 Staggers Act deregulation, according to the Association of American Railroads). Stock-market appreciation for the railroads, which have consolidated from about 40 Class I lines pre-Staggers to seven today, has far outstripped that of chemical firms as measured by Standard &amp; Poor's indexes, however.</p> <p> &quot;There will always be an ongoing debate between the shippers and the rails,&quot; transport analyst Justin Long told Bloomberg News.</p> <p> That's been true since the 1800s, but the challenges Upper Midwest farmers face to ship their crops today may be unprecedented. With Bakken oil hogging the rails, allegedly in exchange for under-the-table payment premiums, 100 million bushels of grain sat in Minnesota elevators and another 100 million bushels were stored on farms, the <a href="http://www.startribune.com/politics/statelocal/272935011.html">Star Tribune</a> reported in late August.</p> <p> &quot;When you're sitting in a grain elevator waiting for cars to load, and every day you see oil trains pass by, it just adds insult to injury,&quot; Bob Zelenka of the Minnesota Grain and Feed Association told the newspaper. Meanwhile, a state corn harvest estimated at 1.3 billion bushels is about to begin.</p> <p> Not all of that bounty will move by rail. Much of it usually goes downriver by barge, and it's likely that some along rail lines will be switched to big trucks. But that may pile more costs on Minnesota farmers who lost $109 million in revenue during just three spring months this year, mainly because of shipping problems, the state Department of Agriculture reported.</p> <p> <a href="http://bismarcktribune.com/news/state-and-regional/big-harvest-adds-to-railroad-woes/article_7e243cfe-1f7c-11e4-a8f2-001a4bcf887a.html">The Bismarck Tribune</a> reported in August that access to rail cars was fetching up to $4,000 on a secondary market, and that some millers paid an extra $1.50 a bushel for over-the-road trucking when their grain supplies ran short. North Dakota officials signed a deal with the Port of Vancouver, Wash., to send non-farm products from the Pacific Ocean port by 180 dedicated rail cars that will regularly return loaded with Peace Garden State grain.</p> <p> &quot;We cannot store our way to prosperity,&quot; Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring told the <a href="http://bismarcktribune.com/news/state-and-regional/deal-with-wash-port-will-send-rail-cars-to-n/article_4ad2c934-2e49-11e4-aea0-001a4bcf887a.html">Forum News Service.</a>&nbsp;Some critics questioned the food safety of shipping grain in boxcars that also carry cement, fertilizer and other products, but desperate times call for desperate measures.&nbsp;</p> <p> How desperate is it? The Surface Transportation Board can order railroads to prioritize some shipments over others but rarely does so, according to another <a href="http://www.columbian.com/news/2014/sep/04/regulators-urged-to-pressure-railroads-on-grain-bo/">Bloomberg News report.</a>&nbsp;A board spokesman said it intervenes only to avoid &quot;substantial adverse effects.&quot;</p> <p> In recent weeks, bipartisan elected leaders from conservatives in the Dakotas to Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton have suggested the time for action has arrived. As an anticipated record harvest approaches, &quot;There's great apprehension in how things will go this fall,&quot; North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple told the board at a hearing in Fargo. Dayton wrote to the board of &quot;the dire circumstances that Minnesota farmers face and the need for increased accountability and clarity&quot; from the railroads.</p> <p> Balancing the transport needs of the nation's agriculture, energy and industrial sectors -- as well as Amtrak passenger timetables <a href="http://thehill.com/policy/transportation/216728-amtrak-exec-freight-delays-hurt-ridership">severely disrupted</a> by rail bottlenecks -- is a difficult but necessary job. An opaque deregulated market seems to be making a mess of it. Could some old-fashioned government command and control do any worse?</p> Thu, 25 Sep 2014 11:00:37 +0000 To Improve Traffic Safety, Look Outside the Car http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/transportation/to-improve-traffic-safety-look-outside-the-car http://mn2020.org/8798 <p> By Conrad deFiebre, Transportation Fellow </p> <p> From 2003 through 2012, more than 47,000 Americans were fatally injured while walking along streets or roads, about 16 times the toll of the 9/11 terrorist attacks or that from earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes over the same decade. In that span, an estimated 676,000 pedestrians suffered non-fatal harm&mdash;one about every 8 minutes.</p> <p> Of course, all these senseless casualties occur across vast stretches of time and space without yielding the compelling news videos of natural disasters or jetliners flying into buildings. So the response from the public and officialdom has been modest and slow to develop. But two news items last week suggest that the important work of remaking our travel corridors with thought toward the safety of those not in motor vehicles is gaining steam.</p> <p> First, a Minneapolis City Council committee approved a <a href="http://www.startribune.com/local/blogs/274497691.html" target="_blank">$9 million plan</a> to reshape the Hennepin-Lyndale bottleneck, among the most heavily trafficked intersections in Minnesota, with more room for pedestrians and bicyclists. <a href="http://joe-urban.com/archive/dreaming-of-hennepinlyndale-avenue/" target="_blank">Joe Urban blogger</a> Sam Newberg said he was &quot;pretty impressed&quot; at the move &quot;to build a city for people, not cars.&quot;</p> <p> Then, at the national level, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced his department's <a href="http://www.dot.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/safer_people_safer_streets_summary_doc_acc_v1-11-9.pdf" target="_blank">18-month initiative</a> to promote walking and biking and reduce their death tolls. &quot;For years, the message pedestrians and bicyclists have been given is, 'You walk or bike at your own risk; be responsible for your own safety,'&quot; Foxx said on his<a href="http://www.dot.gov/fastlane/bicycling-and-walking-should-be-safe" target="_blank"> Fast Lane blog</a>. &quot;But that's not good enough [because] in many places there is no safe space for them to be. After all, we don't only [warn drivers and ship captains to be safe]. We make sure our highways are well paved and well marked, and that our sea lanes are navigable.&quot;</p> <p> Foxx, who as mayor of Charlotte, N.C., once was struck by a car as he legally jogged across an intersection, said that USDOT's &quot;Safer People, Safer Streets&quot; program &quot;is critical to the future of our country.&quot; It comes as deaths of pedestrians and bicyclists in crashes with motor vehicles have steadily risen since the end of the Great Recession, even as overall roadway fatalities have declined. The death toll of nonmotorized travelers now totals more than 5,000 a year.</p> <p> A <a href="http://www.smartgrowthamerica.org/research/dangerous-by-design/dbd2014/national-overview/" target="_blank">comprehensive report</a> by Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition attributes this to streets that are &quot;Dangerous by Design&quot; for pedestrians. While better vehicle design and enforcement of seat-belt, drunken driving and distracted driving laws have achieved unprecedented safety for motorists, the report states, &quot;we have invested nowhere near the same level of money and energy in providing for the safety and security of people when they are walking.&quot;</p> <p> This isn't an &quot;us vs. them&quot; standoff, either, because walking constitutes &quot;the first and last leg of almost every trip,&quot; Foxx notes. Every able-bodied person walks some of the time.</p> <p> So, how can we go about this game-changing retreat from 20th century autocentricism? There are many approaches:</p> USDOT plans wide-ranging research from safety assessments of selected local corridors to studies of best multimodal street design practices, performance measures and nonmotorized network development. It will also work on technical advances such as vehicle-to-pedestrian (V2P) communications to help drivers see pedestrians, vehicle crash-avoidance systems, backup cameras and audible alerts on quiet hybrid and electric cars.&nbsp; One thrust of the department's design initiative is to promote &quot;road diets,&quot; which it says can reduce overall traffic crashes by 29 percent and nearly by half in small towns. That's the focus of the Hennepin/Lyndale plan, which reverses the common former practice of increasing vehicle lanes as traffic counts mount.&nbsp; <p> &quot;A much safer road&quot; results from changes such as converting a four-lane, two-way arterial street back to two lanes with a shared left-turn lane in the center, according to Eric Jaffe at <a href="http://www.citylab.com/design/2014/09/so-what-exactly-is-a-road-diet/379975/" target="_blank">The Atlantic CITYLAB.</a>&nbsp;And that ain't all. &quot;Bicycle and pedestrian traffic tends to soar at these sites, as the recaptured road space gives way to bike lanes or street parking that provides a sidewalk buffer from moving traffic or crossing islands, and as vehicle speeds decline ... Best of all, these kinds of changes don't cost much. When timed with regular road maintenance and repaving [as at the Minneapolis bottleneck], road diet policies require little more than the paint needed to restripe lanes. They're about as cheap and cost-effective as infrastructure improvements get.&quot;</p> A pricier European form of traffic calming is being considered for the reconstruction of potholed W. 29th Street in the Minneapolis Uptown area, the <a href="http://www.startribune.com/local/minneapolis/274968141.html" target="_blank">Star Tribune</a>&nbsp; reports. It goes by the Dutch name &quot;woonerf,&quot; using extra curbing, planters or other obstacles to slow or discourage vehicle traffic on a non-arterial street. Unlike a basic road diet, this one, at an estimated $2 million, would cost more than twice the city's budget for the work scheduled in 2016. Alternative transportation grants might close the gap. In Ogden, Utah, introduction of a lighted crosswalk, flashing signs and a lower speed limit on an arterial street near a homeless shelter ended a run of five pedestrian fatalities, according to the <a href="http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/57999385-78/crosswalk-avenue-wall-crossing.html.csp" target="_blank">Salt Lake Tribune.</a>&nbsp;The lights especially were credited with saving lives; most pedestrian deaths happen after dark. <p> Focusing on the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists may be the low-hanging fruit in the quest for a less deadly surface transportation system. But there's evidence from other developed countries, most of which have lower fatality rates as well as much steeper declines in those rates since 2000, that everybody wins with that approach.&nbsp;</p> <p> In a <a href="http://usa.streetsblog.org/2014/08/20/americas-progress-on-street-safety-is-pathetic/" target="_blank">StreetsblogUSA post</a> headlined &quot;America's Progress on Street Safety is Pathetic,&quot; Angie Schmitt wrote that &quot;America's dismal performance does not reflect a lack of resources&quot; but rather reliance on an old, &quot;broken&quot; paradigm that emphasizes making driving safer. &quot;The European nations that have been especially successful at reducing traffic deaths have gone a lot farther, prioritizing the safety of pedestrians and cyclists over the speed and convenience of driving, especially in urban areas,&quot; she added.&nbsp;</p> <p> In the world's safest nations for travel, the United Kingdom and Scandinavia, traffic laws are tougher and urban speed limits lower. Their fatality rates run just above a quarter of the United States'. Even Canada kills barely half as many per capita on the roads as we do. &quot;If America had the same traffic fatality rate as the U.K.,&quot; Schmitt noted, &quot;around 25,000 fewer people would be killed every year.&quot;</p> <p> Wow! Also in the U.K., pedestrian deaths are falling faster than those among vehicle occupants, the opposite of the U.S. trend. While no one deserves to die on the roadway, the former seems like a more equitable balance since it's the motorized mode that deals the deadly energy in almost all cases.&nbsp;</p> <p> Still, it's clear that policies centered around foot-powered travelers benefit everyone else, too. We should keep building on our late-developing progress in that direction.</p> Thu, 18 Sep 2014 11:00:50 +0000 Tech Takes on Congestion; So Does Transit http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/transportation/tech-takes-on-congestion-so-does-transit http://mn2020.org/8771 <p> By Conrad deFiebre, Transportation Fellow </p> <p> Driverless cars. The Internet of autos. Drones on traffic patrol. Spatial analytics and behavioral economics.&nbsp;</p> <p> The strange list above offers just a taste of the latest technological efforts to tame soul-sapping road congestion. Highway authorities everywhere are focusing on such fixes because laying more pavement is cost-prohibitive as well as self-defeating as more driving is induced. Whether the same problem crops up with technical management of traffic remains to be seen.</p> <p> But depending on whose methodology you believe, tech advances from ramp meters to priced congestion lanes have already smoothed out traffic in the Twin Cities area.&nbsp;</p> <p> The Minnesota Department of Transportation calculated a <a href="http://www.dot.state.mn.us/rtmc/reports/congestionreport2013.pdf" target="_blank">7 percent drop</a> in the region's freeway tieups last year, based on how much of the 758-mile system experienced persistent slowdowns below 45 miles per hour. That metric dropped from 21.4 percent in 2012 to 19.9 percent in 2013, the agency reported, despite a metro population increase of 40,000. On the other hand, the <a href="http://www.inrix.com/pressrelease.asp?ID=1193" target="_blank">2013 INRIX National Traffic Scorecard Annual Report,&nbsp;</a>measuring different things over wider places and times,&nbsp;found overall metro traffic up 17 percent and congestion delays 14 percent greater.</p> <p> Both of these studies, by the way, depend on technology: MNDOT's roadway detectors on 90 percent of the system, supplemented by field observations; INRIX's global positioning system data. The Holy Grail, though, is scientific wizardry that works so well there's no congestion left to measure. Here's a rundown of developments toward that goal, plus warnings about potential complications:</p> <p> <strong>Autonomous vehicles</strong></p> <p> The idea here is not only that your car wouldn't need your help to navigate traffic, but also that its wireless connection with everything else on the road could maximize safe and efficient use of limited right-of-way. &quot;The rise of the connected car ... is the coming together of communications technologies, information systems and safety devices to provide vehicles with an increasing level of sophistication and automation,&quot; the <a href="http://www.economist.com/news/technology-quarterly/21615060-way-cars-are-made-bought-and-driven-changing-mobile-communications" target="_blank">Economist</a> noted.</p> <p> This futuristic vision may be closer than we've imagined. <a href="http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/274273131.html" target="_blank">GM just announced</a> that in only two years it will introduce a new &quot;Super Cruise&quot; Cadillac that leaves most of the driving to itself. At about the same time, all Cadillac CTS models will get vehicle-to-vehicle transmitters and receivers. &quot;But GM says it's working on a system to make sure drivers still pay attention,&quot; according to the Associated Press report.</p> <p> Good thing that, although assuring watchfulness by the human seated behind the dashboard (if there's no steering wheel anymore)&nbsp;may be a tougher challenge than deploying the fancy cybernetics. It's important, however, because of at least two problems, one fiscal, the other technical.</p> <p> <strong>Internet of cars</strong></p> <p> Unlike in the 1960s, when Congress funded the Pentagon's work that led to the Internet, federal officials have all but ruled out paying for, building or operating a wireless system linking vehicles together. &quot;Due to the current fiscal environment, it does not seem plausible,&quot; the U.S. Department of Transportation wrote last month, according to <a href="http://www.autonews.com/article/20140825/OEM06/308259958/funding-strapped-feds-search-for-someone-to-run-the-internet-of-cars#" target="_blank">Automotive News.</a></p> <p> The trade journal said &quot;that leaves a big cloud of uncertainty over the future of vehicle-to-vehicle, or V2V, communications technology,&quot; although a consortium of at least eight major American, German, Japanese and South Korea automakers has been working on it for the past decade. &quot;DOT officials have endorsed V2V as a huge leap forward in auto safety, but they are looking for someone else to manage the network, which they expect will cost about $60 million annually to maintain.&quot;</p> <p> On a national scale, or even compared with Google's revenues, $60 million is small potatoes, but a greater obstacle is the threat of liability if something goes wrong and crashes occur. Anyone who doubts that possibility should remember the glitches that plagued the Affordable Health Care Act's state and federal web sites and the serial breaches of corporations' customer data.&nbsp;</p> <p> Clearly, there's a threat of hacker mischief to practically any computerized system. <a href="http://www.technologyreview.com/news/530216/researchers-hack-into-michigans-traffic-lights/" target="_blank">University of Michigan researchers</a> recently showed how easy it was to get into wirelessly networked traffic signals via at least three technological weaknesses. In some places, non-scholarly hackers have posted <a href="http://lanctalk.com/Forums/index.php/topic/240047-officials-trying-to-stop-hackers-from-breaking-into-electronic-road-signs/" target="_blank">rogue warnings</a> &mdash;Caution: Zombies ahead!&mdash;on electronic highway message boards. While such vulnerabilities might only draw a laugh or let a geek hit all the green lights on his way home, a terrorist could cause real mayhem by penetrating a V2V network.&nbsp;</p> <p> &quot;Running the network would be fiendishly complicated, requiring the government to constantly remain one step ahead of hackers and potential privacy breaches,&quot; Thilo Koslowski, a connected-car analyst at Gartner Inc. in Santa Clara, Calif., told Auto News. &quot;I don't think the government wants to take on the burden of ensuring the high reliability of this network.&quot;</p> <p> While all this gets settled, a couple other tech solutions for traffic are in the works:</p> <p> <strong>Drones over Atlanta</strong></p> <p> Georgia Tech researchers commissioned by the state's DOT &quot;came up with more than 40 tasks&quot; drones could help with, including vehicle counts, traffic management, congestion analysis, speed enforcement and even bridge inspections, according to the <a href="http://www.govtech.com/transportation/Drones-Eyed-as-Tools-in-Traffic-War.html" target="_blank">McClatchy News Service.&nbsp;</a>The holdup is federal planning and rulemaking to address issues of safety and privacy that may be years from completion.</p> <p> <strong>Weird Science </strong></p> <p> A company called Urban Engines &quot;uses spatial analysis to create a digital replica of a city's transportation system and helps cities implement incentives based on behavioral economics that reward commuters for shifting their travel away from peak times,&quot; according to the journal <a href="http://www.govtech.com/transportation/Can-Spatial-Analytics-Combined-with-Behavioral-Economics-Ease-Congestion.html" target="_blank">Government Technology.</a>&nbsp;For example, giving lottery tickets away in a pilot project in Bangalore, India, reduced peak congestion 17 percent. The firm has also crunched data for cities as far-flung as Sao Paolo, Singapore and Washington, D.C.</p> <p> With all its pitfalls, technology, high or low, may still offer the likeliest solutions to traffic jams. In Minnesota, MNPass lanes, intelligent lane control signs and variable speed limits &quot;are helping fight congestion,&quot; University of Minnesota traffic researcher John Hourdos told <a href="http://www.mprnews.org/story/2014/05/15/report-traffic-jams-ease-up-as-twin-cities-grow" target="_blank">MPR News.</a></p> <p> He added, however, that the best way to bust traffic jams is by increasing public transit use. Conservatives resist this common-sense solution, but building bus and rail infrastructure and service into realistic alternatives to driving can do even more than technology to reduce the costs and frustrations of congestion.</p> Thu, 11 Sep 2014 11:00:22 +0000 VIDEO: Bike Lanes in the Twin Cities http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/transportation/video-bike-lanes-in-the-twin-cities http://mn2020.org/8758 <p> By Katie Lescarbeau, Policy Associate </p> <p> Making bikers feel safe and recognized on the road has become a priority for policy makers in the Twin Cities. By implementing protected and buffered bikeways, bicyclists gain more elbow room and separation from cars. There have been a number of different changes to bikeways in the Twin Cities over the past few years with more in the works,&nbsp; so it's important for drivers and cyclists alike to understand these changes.</p> <p> Minneapolis is updating its <a href="http://www.minneapolismn.gov/bicycles/projects" target="_blank">Bicycle Master Plan</a> that was adopted in 2011 by adding more miles of protected bikeways. First, they identified locations where protected bikeways should be a priority by considering areas with high bike demand, high traffic conflict, and good network integration. The plan includes 30 miles of new bikeways by 2020.</p> <p> Kate Lescarbeau spoke to city officials and biking enthusiasts to learn more about the growing number of bicycle pathways, boulevards and lanes in Minneapolis and St. Paul.</p> <p> &nbsp;</p> <p> </p> Mon, 08 Sep 2014 11:33:52 +0000 Transit Planning ‘Debacles’ and the Subway Option http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/transportation/Transit-Planning-Debacles-and-the-Subway-Option http://mn2020.org/8753 <p> By Conrad deFiebre, Transportation Fellow </p> <p> With a divided vote by the <a href="http://www.startribune.com/local/west/273260041.html?page=all&amp;prepage=1&amp;c=y#continue" target="_blank">Minneapolis City Council</a><a href="http://www.startribune.com/local/west/273260041.html?page=all&amp;prepage=1&amp;c=y#continue">&nbsp;</a>last week, municipal consent by all six jurisdictions along the planned Southwest light rail Green Line extension was wrapped up, qualifying the $1.7 billion project for final engineering approval from federal funders.</p> <p> Susan Haigh, chair of the sponsoring <a href="http://www.metrocouncil.org/News-Events/Transportation/News-Articles/Statement-on-the-Completion-of-the-Southwest-LRT-M.aspx" target="_blank">Metropolitan Council,</a>&nbsp;touted the 15.8-mile link from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie as &quot;a key addition to our regional economy&quot; and &quot;an equitable transit investment&quot; that will connect residents of all incomes to &quot;good jobs, education and community amenities.&quot;</p> <p> All arguably true, but, as Yogi Berra said, it ain't over 'til it's over. Obstacles to getting the trains running in 2019 still abound, particularly potential legal challenges from the Minneapolis Park Board and residents of a quiet, leafy lakeside neighborhood along the route. And, as we saw with controversy over the Central Corridor Green Line, this isn't your typical left-right tussle over whether to develop rail transit. It's more about how and where to build it.</p> <p> The same thing is already happening with the Bottineau Blue Line extension, which last week got<a href="http://finance-commerce.com/transit/2014/08/25/feds-ok-bottineau-project-for-preliminary-engineering/" target="_blank"> preliminary engineering approval</a>&nbsp;from the Federal Transit Administration. Progressive critics say the line should follow the run-down West Broadway commercial strip on its way from Minneapolis to a Brooklyn Park cornfield rather than the planned route along lightly developed Olson Highway and through Theodore Wirth Park.</p> <p> Similarly, the Southwest naysayers are holding out hope for a subway reroute down Nicollet Avenue to the Midtown Greenway, where displacing or pinching the current bicycle trail might stir opposition, too. Planners rejected that one years ago on grounds of higher costs, lower ridership and longer travel times to the suburbs, although the current Kenilworth Corridor tunneling plan has added many millions to the preferred option's price tag.&nbsp;</p> <p> Besides the NIMBY and environmental issues at stake in Kenilworth, these debates and another brewing over bus rapid transit plans for the <a href="http://www.twincities.com/localnews/ci_26131863/gateway-corridor-will-get-buses-not-light-rail" target="_blank">Gateway Corridor</a>&nbsp;from St. Paul to Woodbury involve broader questions about who and what transit should serve. Suburban &quot;choice&quot; riders or &quot;transit-dependent&quot; ones (reframed as &quot;transit-reliable&quot; by some insightful observers) in the inner cities? Busy existing urban nodes or suburban park-and-rides, office parks and greenfields considered ripe for development?</p> <p> This has brought the Met Council's entire transit planning process under credible attack. The council's draft 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Policy Plan &quot;is not an urbanist vision,&quot; protests UofM transportation guru David Levinson in a new<a href="http://streets.mn/2014/09/01/minneapolis-needs-a-subway-comments-on-the-metropolitan-councils-transportation-policy-plan/"> blog.</a>&nbsp;&quot;It is, unfortunately, not a bold vision. It is a fiscally constrained vision. It is a vision of an organization ... representing seven mostly suburban counties.&quot;</p> <p> That last point goes a long way to explaining why the council's drawing boards are now full of rail and bus lines extending far beyond the limits of Minneapolis and St. Paul&mdash;a politically expedient counterbalance to the first two light rail lines that serve only the core cities, the airport and the Mall of America.</p> <p> Still, there's great sense in coordinated, metrowide planning of transport development. The alternative of walling off high-quality transit in the urban centers and leaving the 'burbs to their autocentric ways appeals to some. However unlikely the prospects of achieving that politically and fiscally, it might address some glaring inequities pointed up in the current debate.</p> <p> Levinson says the Met Council's transit planning maps fail to &quot;focus on areas with more people ... service provided per person is not as great in the center as at the edges.&quot; That's a complaint heard in many other places, where transit agencies allegedly ignore reliable riders in dense neighborhoods, who are cheaper to serve, to chase sprawled-out suburbanites at great cost.&nbsp;</p> <p> &quot;Little is proposed for the urban core cities and some first-ring suburbs,&quot; Levinson says of the long-range plan. &quot;Arterial BRT is an improvement, of course, but there is so little of it.&quot; I'll quibble with professor here: <a href="http://www.metrotransit.org/Data/Sites/1/media/about/improvements/snelling-brt/2014-02-05-general-abrt-fact-sheet_snelling.pdf" target="_blank">12 routes </a>in planning seem like more than a little.</p> <p> Besides the question of fairness, fiscal efficiency is at issue here, too. A recent Cal-Berkeley study identified what makes a successful transit investment: Place it where it will connect a lot of people to a lot of jobs and give it as much grade-separated right-of-way as possible, and it will attract a lot of riders, Payton Chung summarizes on<a href="http://usa.streetsblog.org/2014/07/10/new-report-reveals-secrets-of-busy-transit-routes-transit-friendly-cities/"> Streetsblog USA</a>, adding that &quot;the success of a transit project is almost synonymous with whether it serves areas that are dense in both jobs and population and have expensive parking&mdash;in short, lively urban neighborhoods.&quot;</p> <p> Drilling down further, transit works best when it reaches &quot;concentrations of high-wage jobs and leisure jobs (in shops, restaurants, arts and entertainment)&quot; and serves &quot;metro areas that are simultaneously large and congested,&quot; Chung added.&nbsp;</p> <p> Grade-separated transit &mdash;subway trains&mdash;also is being brought up here. By some measures, Minneapolis has the largest central business district and the most downtown transit commuters in the United States without a subway. Levinson raises these points, saying the underground option deserves serious consideration, although he focuses not on Nicollet Avenue but on two lines criss-crossing downtown Minneapolis. The time savings to be gained &quot;would both benefit current riders and induce more transit riders, and with positive feedback mechanism between accessibility and development, lead to more intense land development at stations.&quot;</p> <p> Nothing like this is in the Met Council's plan, however. On the flip side of the coin, Nick Magrino at<a href="http://streets.mn/2014/08/08/a-southwest-light-rail-explainer/" target="_blank"> streets.mn</a>&nbsp;wonders if it is &quot;too late to stop the Blue Line extension from cutting around north Minneapolis&quot; or the Gateway plan &quot;to run through mostly undeveloped areas of Oakdale and Lake Elmo?&quot; How you take that depends on whether you think transit-oriented development should happen only in the core cities.</p> <p> I'm not ready to answer all these questions. But the Met Council's long-range plan is still open for comment, with many workshops and a public hearing coming up. Here's<a href="http://www.metrocouncil.org/News-Events/Transportation/Events/Draft-2040-Transportation-Policy-Plan-workshops-Au.aspx" target="_blank"> the schedule.&nbsp;</a>These difficult issues need as much citizen input as possible. Show up and make your voice heard.</p> <p> As Magrino said: &quot;It's very easy to sit on the sidelines and throw rocks at the process while professionals work under complicated circumstances and, at times, confusing political mandates. But policymakers should realize that if we continue to make objectively bad decisions with transit planning, we're going to have more debacles like [the Southwest]. We can and should do better for the future of our metropolitan area.&quot;</p> Thu, 04 Sep 2014 11:15:29 +0000 High-and-Higher-Speed Rail on Track http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/transportation/high-and-higher-speed-rail-on-track http://mn2020.org/8705 <p> By Conrad deFiebre, Transportation Fellow </p> <p> A heated debate broke out this month over America's high-speed passenger rail dreams &mdash;between two icons of the so-called &quot;lamestream liberal media.&quot;&nbsp;</p> <p> First, the New York Times, in a <a href="www.nytimes.com/2014/08/07/us/delays-persist-for-us-high-speed-rail.html?_r=0" target="_blank">news article</a> written by my former Star Tribune colleague Ron Nixon, reported that despite nearly $11 billion in federal spending since 2009, &quot;the projects have gone mostly nowhere.&quot; Nixon cited critics who say the Obama administration &quot;made the mistake of parceling out the money to upgrade existing Amtrak service.&quot;</p> <p> This drew a quick <a href="http://time.com/3100248/high-speed-rail-barack-obama/" target="_blank">rebuttal</a> from Michael Grunwald in Time. He noted that while Congress has appropriated $10.5 billion for the program, only $2.4 billion has actually been spent, &quot;much of it on planning, design and other pre-construction work. The big construction spending has just started, and will continue through September 2017.&quot;</p> <p> Even the Times' <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/13/opinion/making-the-case-for-high-speed-rail.html" target="_blank">editorial board</a> waded into the fray, arguing that the main reason our passenger trains are put to shame by China's, Japan's and Europe's is that &quot;American lawmakers have not given high-speed rail the priority it deserves.&quot;</p> <p> Indeed, since right-wingers assumed the U.S. House majority in 2011 following the Tea Party landslide of 2010, Congress hasn't put up a dime for anything called high-speed rail. And conservative policymakers at the federal and state levels have remained unswerving in that stance, with even the new House majority leader from California vowing to stop his home state's underway bullet train project.</p> <p> Earlier, right-wing governors in Florida and Wisconsin turned down combined billions of federal dollars for passenger rail improvements, making &quot;the $45 million their states spent beforehand,&quot; Grunwald said, &quot;the only inarguably wasted high-speed rail money.&quot;&nbsp;</p> <p> There are several reasons why this has become a partisan wedge issue. The first is the long-term, overarching conservative campaign to stem the growth of government or shrink it however possible, which has had adverse consequences for public investments in transportation, even though many such initiatives are supported by the right's traditional business constituents. A second is our nation's autocentric culture, fertile ground for anti-rail, &quot;lean backward&quot; appeals to the vast motoring majority.</p> <p> Conservatives, said California Gov. Jerry Brown, &quot;<a href="http://seattletimes.com/html/opinion/2024291770_fromaharropcolumnhighspeedrail12xml.html" target="_blank">have decided that it's better to treat high-speed rail as a political football than as a great civic opportunity.</a>&quot;&nbsp;</p> <p> Not to be overlooked, though, is fundamental semantic confusion over the term &quot;high-speed rail,&quot; which President Obama inartfully promised to bring most Americans by the 2030s. For years, however, I've been using &quot;fast rail&quot; to describe more accurately most of the plans to improve U.S. passenger train service, including some in Minnesota and the rest of the Midwest. Grunwald said the 2009 program, a small part of that year's economic stimulus enacted by progressives, &quot;should have been called 'higher-speed rail.'</p> <p> &quot;It was mostly about improving slower-speed Amtrak routes so they would be incrementally faster and more reliable,&quot; he added. &quot;America's freight rail system is the envy of the world, but our passenger rail system is awful; the goal of the program was to make it less awful &mdash;a more realistic alternative to long drives and short flights.&quot;</p> <p> This was and is a sensible endeavor in a spread-out country without the dense populations, high gasoline prices and lower car ownership rates where real bullet trains have thrived. But making the system &quot;less awful&quot; would also build ridership long term, perhaps paving the way for state-of-the-art rail as the U.S. population heads toward 400 million at mid-century&mdash;putting &quot;an incredible strain on the nation's highways and air-traffic system,&quot; the Times editorial said.&nbsp;</p> <p> Lower-speed projects &quot;don't look like much, but they're providing tangible benefits,&quot; Federal Rail Administrator Joe Szabo told Grunwald, who added: &quot;Bridge and tunnel repairs, projects to upgrade and straighten tracks, sidings and double-tracking to help passenger trains pass freight cars, and other incremental improvements can all make rail travel more attractive.&quot;</p> <p> Grunwald listed faster Amtrak trip times, new and expanded passenger services and renovated train stations in 32 states from coast to coast, including St. Paul's Union Depot, as products of the federal program. &quot;You need a pretty crimped sense of 'somewhere' to argue that the money is going 'mostly nowhere,' &quot; he concluded.</p> <p> It's even going to some real high-speed rail, which technically means faster than 125 miles per hour: California's reviving effort to link San Francisco and Los Angeles in less than 3 hours and a stretch of track in central New Jersey that will get the nation's only current 125 m.p.h.-plus train, the Northeast Corridor Acela, up to 160 for 23 miles. Despite occasional bursts of speed, the Acela now averages only 84, but still has been a booked-to-capacity, money-making success for Amtrak, carrying three times as many passengers as the airlines in the corridor from Boston to Washington, D.C.</p> <p> Meanwhile, prospects for both the California project and one in Texas to connect Dallas and Houston at 205 m.p.h. have brightened with interest from private investors. The Sacramento Business Journal <a href="http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/news/2014/08/05/investors-california-bullet-train-aecom-grupo-acs.html?page=all" target="_blank">reported</a> feelers from nine &quot;mostly large construction, engineering and infrastructure firms&quot; offering financing help for the $68 billion California initiative. &quot;We fully expect this is just the first wave of private interest,&quot; said a High-Speed Rail Authority official.</p> <p> Construction has started in the Central Valley since an appeals court overturned a ruling blocking California from issuing $8.6 billion in bonds for high-speed rail. In addition, legislators appropriated $250 million from the state's cap-and-trade carbon emissions collections for the project, with a future commitment for an estimated $3 billion to $11 billion through 2020. Based on these state and private resources for the bullet train, Gov. Brown has forsworn seeking any more federal money.</p> <p> While California is heading toward public-private financing partnerships that could include concessions to companies to operate the trains beginning in 2022, the Texas Central Railway is spurning all domestic government financing for its multibillion-dollar bullet trains. &quot;We think we can build it cheaper and faster than ... if you were depending on public funds,&quot; TCR advisor Thomas Schieffer <a href="http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/08/02/business/economy-business/private-u-s-railway-wants-bullet-train-line-for-texas-by-2021/#.U_PEd_ldWLI " target="_blank">told the Japan Times</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p> Schieffer, a former U.S. ambassador to Japan, apparently helped connect the firm with the Central Japan Railway Co., whose pioneering shinkansen bullet train has whisked passengers from Tokyo to Osaka at 200 m.p.h. for 50 years without a single fatal accident. The Texas project &quot;may turn out to be a transformative event in the history of the nation's transportation system,&quot; enthused the <a href="http://www.texastribune.org/2014/08/18/bullet-train-could-change-everything/ " target="_blank">Texas Tribune</a>.</p> <p> Maybe so, but the TCR enjoys some advantages hard to find elsewhere in the United States. The Houston and Dallas metros, already home to more than 12 million people, are also two of the nation's three fastest growing, expected to double in size over the next two decades. Air travel between them is among the nation's busiest.</p> <p> Just as important, the Tribune noted, &quot;the land between the two cities is largely flat and unpopulated, making real estate acquisition a cheaper prospect [not to mention more politically feasible] than it would be in other major metropolitan regions. Even the 230 miles between the two cities is considered an ideal length to take advantage of bullet train technology.&quot;</p> <p> &quot;It was the most innately financeable corridor,&quot; TCR President Robert Eckels told the newspaper. Nonetheless, financing hasn't yet been lined up to keep the project on track for a 2021 launch. One angel candidate is the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, a state-owned entity similar to the U.S. Import-Export Bank that promotes exports such as shinkansen technology.&nbsp;</p> <p> The Chinese want a piece of that kind of action, too, as Premier Li Keqiang told Bill Shuster, chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, during a visit to Beijing last week. &quot;We will promote advanced technologies and equipment such as high-speed rail to international markets,&quot; <a href="http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2014-08/16/content_18373673.htm " target="_blank">Li was quoted </a>in the China Daily.</p> <p> Does all of this mean Minnesotans will be zooming down tracks to Chicago or Rochester anytime soon? Not really. Our corridors aren't as ripe for investment in high-speed rail now as those in California and Texas or even the private higher-speed rail project in Florida. But we should cheer them on. If they succeed while more modest passenger rail improvements take hold elsewhere, it could turn our dysfunctional transportation politics and habits upside-down, leading eventually to a brighter, less car-dependent future for all of us.</p> Thu, 21 Aug 2014 11:00:36 +0000 VIDEO: Building Transit for Better Equity http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/transportation/video-building-transit-for-better-equity http://mn2020.org/8709 <p> By Briana Johnson, {related_entries id="article_author_blogger"}Briana Johnson, Video Production Specialist </p> <p> The plan to bring the Southwest Light Rail Project from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie has moved another step forward. The Minneapolis City Council voted 6-1 to approve the Minneapolis portion of the plan at a standing-room only public hearing this week.&nbsp;</p> <p> Many feel the Southwest train line will be a great start to help bring equity to the community by creating new jobs especially for women and people of color in the Twin Cities metro. The total cost of the project is estimated at $1.66 billion. The Minneapolis city council votes on the next step August 29.</p> <p> Minnesota 2020 went to the Minneapolis Public Hearing to learn more about how the proposed Southwest Light Rail project will help the community.</p> <p> &nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> </p> Thu, 21 Aug 2014 11:00:27 +0000 Bike Sharing and Safety http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/transportation/bike-sharing-and-safety http://mn2020.org/8689 <p> By Conrad deFiebre, Transportation Fellow </p> <p> In the transit capital of America, New York City, the mayor's office considers its fledgling Citi Bike bicycle sharing service &quot;<a href="http://www.citylab.com/commute/2014/07/the-most-persuasive-evidence-yet-that-bike-share-serves-as-public-transit/375142/ " target="_blank">part of our public transportation system</a>.&quot; In fact, <a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0966692314001409" target="_blank">new research</a> from the University of California-Berkeley partly focused on the Twin Cities' Nice Ride Minnesota shows that bike share significantly complements and broadens the reach of transit buses and trains.</p> <p> It turns out that bike sharing also rivals traditional transit in another important area: safety. Despite a few deadly, high-profile transit disasters from crashes or terrorist attacks the world over in recent years, the U.S. automobile fatality rate is <a href="http://publictransport.about.com/od/Transit_Safety/a/How-Safe-Is-Transit.htm " target="_blank">10 times higher</a>&nbsp; than that of public transit. And while U.S.<a href="http://newsinmi.com/u-s-bicyclists-death-toll-rising/" target="_blank"> bicycle deaths </a>have been rising a bit amid a 21st century cycling boom, most are caused by collisions with motor vehicles and they still account for just a tiny fraction of the overall traffic toll.</p> <p> But here's amazing news: It was <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/23-million-rides-no-deaths-u-bike-share-130952525.html" target="_blank">reported this week </a>that not one person in United States has died pedaling a bike share bike. That's in 36 cities and an estimated 23 million rides. So while biking instead of driving can make you more physically fit, it also increases your chances of staying healthy and whole, especially on a shared bike.</p> <p> Patrons of Nice Ride, which this year topped a million rides since its inception in 2010, have reported a total of six accidents causing cuts and bruises, said marketing director Anthony Ongaro. &quot;No broken bones, nothing worse,&quot; he added. Two of the minor injuries have occurred this year, when ridership is running 600 more a day than in 2013 and is on pace to approach half a million. Last year's record total was 310,000.</p> <p> How to explain this uncanny record of safe bicycling? Like other cities' shared bikes, Nice Ride's lime-green cruisers aren't for racing. They're heavy, with wide tires, lights for night cycling and drum brakes that work well on wet pavement. &quot;A slow, visible, stable bike means a safer cyclist,&quot; <a href="http://www.vox.com/2014/8/12/5994879/bike-share-citi-bike-deaths-safety " target="_blank">wrote Vox blogger</a> Joseph Stromberg.</p> <p> Other reasons include the happy fact that <a href="http://www.transalt.org/files/news/magazine/043Summer/02provocateur.html " target="_blank">more bicyclists</a> in a city decreases not only their chances of being hit by a car, but also the actual number of such crashes, and the likelihood that a bike-share city will invest in safer bicycling infrastructure.</p> <p> What apparently doesn't figure in, at least intuitively, is the relatively low use of bicycle helmets by sharers. <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22542733" target="_blank">Observational studies</a> in Boston and Washington, D.C., found that fewer than one in five bike share patrons were helmeted, compared with more than half of those pedaling their own wheels. The researchers concluded, inelegantly, that &quot;efforts to increase helmet use among users should increase.&quot;</p> <p> That seemingly sensible notion got a boost in June when the <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2014/06/12/cities-with-bike-share-programs-see-rise-in-cyclist-head-injuries/" target="_blank">Washington Post reported</a> a university study showing &quot;greater risk of head injuries to cyclists associated with cities that have bike share programs.&quot;&nbsp;</p> <p> Not so fast, bike wonks quickly retorted. The <a href="http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2014.302012 " target="_blank">study</a>, which looked at Minneapolis and four other bike-share cities along with five non-bike-share control cities, actually found that while the proportion of head injuries to all bicycle injuries went up in bike-share cities, the actual rates of both kinds of harm declined markedly in those places. In the control cities, injuries slightly increased, particularly the more severe ones.</p> <p> Nonetheless, the researchers concluded that &quot;steps should be taken to make helmets available with [bike-share programs]. Helmet availability should be incorporated into planning and funding, not considered an afterthought following implementation.&quot;</p> <p> Few bike-share programs offer helmets, and Nice Ride executive director <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2014/05/15/why-dont-bike-share-programs-provide-helmets/ " target="_blank">Bill Dossett</a> told the Washington Post that there are no plans to do so. For one thing, no Nice Rider has ever suffered a head injury.</p> <p> Obstacles of hygiene, cost and potential liability would confront bike-share services that provided helmets, although a few in locales that mandate helmets are installing vending machines to dispense them&mdash;cleaned and inspected after each use.</p> <p> No doubt, helmets significantly reduce the risk of injury in a bicycle crash. But when the risk of a crash itself is minuscule, insisting that riders wear helmets has perverse consequences for what Streetsblog USA's<a href="http://usa.streetsblog.org/2014/07/08/safety-in-bike-share-why-do-public-bikes-reduce-risk-for-all-cyclists/" target="_blank"> Peter Jacobsen and Charles Komanoff</a> called &quot;Americans' ingrained misperception ... that helmetless cycling is criminally dangerous; that cycling is inherently risky; and that cyclists, far more than drivers, make it so.&quot;</p> <p> On the contrary, as Dossett said, bike-share riding &quot;is a fundamentally safe thing to do.&quot; The statistics bear it out. When the broad public grasps this perhaps counterintuitive truth, the <a href="https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/american_community_survey_acs/cb14-86.html" target="_blank">U.S. bicycling boom</a> of the past decade will be just a hint of a brighter, safer, more sustainable future for urban mobility.</p> Thu, 14 Aug 2014 11:00:47 +0000 Freight at the Crossroads http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/transportation/freight-at-the-crossroads http://mn2020.org/8662 <p> By Conrad deFiebre, Transportation Fellow </p> <p> When most of us think about transportation, we focus on personal mobility by automobile, transit, airplane, passenger rail, bicycle or walking. We're usually less aware of the indispensable role of freight movement in our prosperous society. Recent developments, however, have shone a new spotlight on the ways we transport commodities and consumer goods.</p> <p> Trucks haul a hands-down majority of U.S. freight as measured by either weight or value, although railroads, waterways and pipelines make significant contributions, especially for the heaviest loads over the longest distances. A 2013 <a href="http://www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/freight/freight_analysis/nat_freight_stats/docs/13factsfigures/pdfs/fff2013_highres.pdf" target="_blank">federal report</a> shows trucking's growth in dominance in recent years and projects it to continue decades out.</p> <p> This may be less than an ideal distribution&mdash;for economic efficiency and pavement resiliency as well as ordinary drivers' nerves and safety&mdash;but it is a legacy of our vast interstate highway system. Meanwhile, problems with non-highway alternatives could put even more pressure on the roads as they face rolling funding crises at the federal level. Some examples:</p> Extreme<a href="http://www.startribune.com/local/east/269919531.html" target="_blank"> rains have clogged shipping channels</a> with silt on the great Mississippi River inland waterway, putting dredging crews under the gun to open the way for Upper Midwest grain heading south and cement and road salt coming north. Under-engineered locks and dams on the upper river approaching 100 years old also pose risks of closure and deep economic damage. Transferring all the stuff to trains is an unlikely solution, as the railroads are already<a href="http://www.startribune.com/business/269913051.htm" target="_blank"> straining to move crude oil </a>to refineries, last year's <a href="http://kstp.com/article/stories/s3448716.shtml">grain harvest to ports</a>, <a href="http://www.startribune.com/business/269916021.html" target="_blank">coal to power plants</a> and consumer goods to reviving retail stores. The bright dream of U.S. energy independence has dulled in the face of public backlash against the risks of transporting new gushers of North American oil. <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/05/21/transcanada-railway-idUSL1N0O71OC20140521" target="_blank">Pipeline proposals</a> and<a href="https://news.vice.com/video/bomb-trains"> oil trains</a> get equal doses of opprobrium. Poor Amtrak, the nation's lowly passenger rail service, has been increasingly sidetracked by the freight boom. Its <a href="http://articles.philly.com/2014-08-01/business/52290607_1_freight-railroads-empire-builder-northeast-corridor" target="_blank">on-time performance has dipped</a> to less than 75 percent overall, and to five percent on runs from Chicago to San Francisco and Washington, D.C. A 2008 law to give Amtrak more control over its schedule has been blocked by a railroad suit that is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court. Meanwhile, more passengers are likely to ditch the train for their cars. Even the trucking industry is struggling to take up the slack from other freight haulers. Hiring enough drivers is a constant challenge. While some companies may raise pay to attract recruits, it can be counterproductive to improve working conditions when the imperative is to keep rigs on the road as much as possible. The industry is resisting new safety regulations limiting truckers' hours behind the wheel.&nbsp; <p> Slowly, public policy addresses the bottlenecks and conflicts.<a href="http://www.twincities.com/localnews/ci_25801735/minnesota-imposes-safety-fee-railroads-oil-pipeline-companies" target="_blank"> Minnesota imposed new fees</a> and regulations on railroads carrying oil through the state and federal officials<a href="http://thehill.com/policy/transportation/213270-foxx-defends-oil-train-regs-from-environmental-industry-critics " target="_blank"> proposed stiffened rules</a> regarding the design and operation of tanker trains.&nbsp;</p> <p> Diverse interests&mdash;from business to environmental to public safety to<a href="http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/209213-senate-dem-greatest-threat-to-energy-security-is-transportation" target="_blank"> energy security</a> and the homeland kind&mdash;remain at odds as the oil-train debate continues. Railroads also are investing heavily in new infrastructure and rolling stock, with promises of eventual safety and efficiency improvements.&nbsp;</p> <p> Long-discussed public-private upgrading of the Mississippi inland waterway got a boost with enactment of <a href="http://waterwayscouncil.org/latest-news/omnibus-bill-increases-funding-for-u-s-army-corps-of-engineers/" target="_blank">federal legislation</a> this year, but much remains to be done for the aging system. Decisions are still pending on pipelines that can move oil with greater efficiency and assurance of public safety than railroads, but may increase environmental risks in the short and long terms.</p> <p> It's crossroads time for freight in this country. And that means this economic pillar should get more attention from the majority of us who seldom give it a thought.</p> Thu, 07 Aug 2014 10:59:07 +0000 Bipartisan Transit Bashing http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/transportation/bipartisan-transit-bashing http://mn2020.org/8630 <p> By Conrad deFiebre, Transportation Fellow </p> <p> Once upon a time, a leading <a href="http://www.ptua.org.au/myths/real.shtml" target="_blank">right-wing criticism of public transit</a> cast it as an unwarranted subsidy to the undeserving poor. To Margaret Thatcher, a bus rider beyond young adulthood was a failure; to George W. Bush, strap-hangers needed only enough work to afford a car.</p> <p> Strangely, this argument lately has been turned on its head. It's fashionable now for conservatives to deride transit as a subsidy to the undeserving affluent. Even some Minnesota progressives have adopted this frame&mdash;speciously, in my view&mdash;in the ongoing debate over the proposed Southwest Green Line light rail extension to suburban Eden Prairie.</p> <p> &quot;Transit spends an inordinate share of its resources on suburban riders, short-changing the core city riders who cost transit agencies far less to serve and are also far more numerous,&quot; <a href="http://blog.heartland.org/2014/07/showing-the-flag-the-transit-policy-failure/" target="_blank">writes Heartland Institute senior fellow Wendell Cox,</a> summarizing and expanding upon work, from a more moderate perspective, of <a href="http://www.citylab.com/commute/2014/06/why-public-transit-is-not-living-up-to-its-social-contract/373368/" target="_blank">Columbia University Prof. David King</a>. &quot;Transit policy has long been skewed in favor of the more affluent.&quot;</p> <p> On the left side of this talking point, Michael Mcdowell, transit organizer at Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, bemoans the &quot;<a href="http://www.mnnoc.org/equity_missing_from_new_swlrt_plans" target="_blank">lack of equity&quot;</a> in the Southwest LRT plan. &quot;It remains unclear how this project will benefit the Northside communities it's running through,&quot; he adds, complaining that the Metropolitan Council's commitment to improve bus service and bus shelters in minority-majority north Minneapolis areas falls short of 100 percent coverage.&nbsp;</p> <p> Then, reversing field, Mcdowell takes an opposite tack on &quot;a multibillion-dollar transit investment in our neighborhoods&quot; that may increase &quot;the likelihood of gentrification and residents being priced out of their neighborhoods as the light rail comes in.&quot; The way I read this, both too little transit investment and too much of it are equal evils, making it pretty hard for policymakers to please Mcdowell and the NOC.</p> <p> A different strain of this criticism comes from south Minneapolis progressives, who want the light rail to run directly south of downtown, skirting both the underprivileged North Side and the overprivileged lakes district. Some of those critics live in the latter area, and blame a nefarious desire for faster travel times to the suburbs for the imminent disruption of their quiet Kenilworth neighborhood. Those suburbs, by the way, are rich in jobs that the light rail would give city-dwellers better access to, as <a href="http://streets.mn/2014/07/24/the-north-minneapolis-southwest-lrt-connection/ " target="_blank">Aaron Isaacs explains in a streets.mn blog</a>.</p> <p> (The Nicollet Avenue route preferred by South Side critics would provide greater connectivity to city activity centers, but it was studied and rejected on grounds of not just longer travel time, but also cost and spacial-logistical challenges. Those who advocate a subway to solve the latter problem, show me the money to pay for it.)</p> <p> Unfortunately, all this bickering among folks disposed to support transit, at least in concept, only emboldens the autocentric transit bashers on the right. The conservative Minnesota-based <a href="http://www.americanexperiment.org/" target="_blank">Center of the American Experiment</a> took a breather from its ongoing jihads against public employee pensions and smart metropolitan planning to rip the Twin Cities transit system for poorly connecting people to jobs and, in the next breath, call for shifting much of its funding&mdash;as well as that of other, unspecified government functions&mdash;to roads.&nbsp;</p> <p> Specifically, in their<a href="http://www.americanexperiment.org/publications/minnesota-policy-blueprint/transportation" target="_blank"> CAE report</a>, lawyers Fritz Knaak and Amy Roberts contend that &quot;congestion is the most visible challenge facing Minnesota drivers&quot; and call for solving it by, among other things, stopping all light rail development because &quot;the money would be better spent on improving the bus system.&quot;</p> <p> Never mind that the federal half of light rail construction funding wouldn't be available for most buses. Knaak and Roberts do show some love for bus rapid transit, which they describe as &quot;more flexible and less costly transit options.&quot; I'm mystified as to how BRT, with its dedicated guideways, is more flexible, and that wouldn't be much of an attraction anyway for developers seeking the permanence of 21st century transit improvements.</p> <p> The CAE duo's &quot;less costly&quot; claim is questionable as well. Yes, BRT costs less to build, and it is appropriate for relatively lower-traffic corridors such as Cedar Avenue in Dakota County and Snelling Avenue in St. Paul. But operational costs and traffic impacts are a different story when it comes to the busiest routes, where trains with greatly more passenger capacity per driver, longer vehicle life spans, less wear on right-of-way infrastructure and less dependence on oil beat buses handily on operational and maintenance costs.&nbsp;</p> <p> According to <a href="http://seattletransitblog.com/2012/06/18/an-interview-with-pro-transit-conservative-william-lind/" target="_blank">William Lind</a>, a rare conservative rail transit advocate, nationwide rail transit returns 50 percent of its operating costs in farebox and other revenue, compared with 28 percent for buses. That puts rail dead even on subsidies with roads and bridges, according to the conservative <a href="http://taxfoundation.org/article/gasoline-taxes-and-user-fees-pay-only-half-state-local-road-spending" target="_blank">Tax Foundation.</a></p> <p> Knaak and Roberts try to finesse this inconvenient truth by apparently cooking the books on projected operating costs of the new Green Line and the proposed Interstate Hwy. 35W BRT Orange Line. Neglecting $8.6 million in expected annual advertising income from the Green Line, they claimed it will be 30 percent more expensive per rider to run than the BRT.&nbsp;</p> <p> Wrong! Counting all the revenues, the light rail comes out cheaper. Besides, people who actually know something about transit planning say BRT on the Green Line's very high ridership route between the two downtowns would have required the unworkable stacking of buses end-to-end.</p> <p> Meanwhile, the CAE is promoting an upcoming visit to Minnesota by<a href="http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?ca=995955e3-73f2-4163-bfc3-d4b1fc508dea&amp;c=d075a1a0-5425-11e3-b589-d4ae527547e4&amp;ch=d1412f00-5425-11e3-b603-d4ae527547e4 " target="_blank"> Randal O'Toole</a>, an inveterate transit basher with the libertarian Cato Institute.</p> <p> In his latest screed, <a href="http://www.cato.org/blog/who-transit" target="_blank">O'Toole rejects the label &quot;anti-transit</a>,&quot; but in the same opening paragraph concludes that &quot;all government transit is wasteful transit.&quot; His focus is on increasing subsidies for transit&mdash;too much going to &quot;unionized transit workers,&quot; he says&mdash;but he doesn't mention our nation's vastly greater subsidies for driving, the popularity of which is a direct function of the heavy hand of government that O'Toole, Cox, Knaak, Roberts et. al. abhor. &nbsp;</p> <p> Little wonder, then, that Lind and three fellow conservatives <a href="http://www.theamericanconservative.com/cpt/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/The-Small-Minded-Anti-Streetcar-Conspiracy-FINAL.pdf " target="_blank">found no fewer than 52 &quot;false or misleading statements&quot;</a> in just 16 pages of another O'Toole rant.&nbsp;</p> <p> This time, he cites King's work about who rides transit these days and concludes: &quot;Between high rates of auto ownership even among low-income people, the growing use of shared rides and the soon-to-arrive self-driving car, there doesn't seem to be much use for transit anymore ... Even to the extent that some low-income households lack cars, it would cost a lot less to give each one car than to continue subsidizing transit at the rate we do.&quot;</p> <p> In other words, transferring that subsidy to driving, increasing congestion and ramping up wear and tear on roads and bridges, not to mention reducing choice, a concept that right-wingers seem to embrace in every area but transportation. The car giveaway idea is a disingenuous canard once <a href="http://www.mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/transportation/free-bikes-can-lead-the-way-forward " target="_blank">promoted by the Taxpayers League of Minnesota.</a> It reminds me of the arguments tobacco lobbyists make against tougher regulation of their deadly products: &quot;Why not just ban it? We know how well Prohibition worked!&quot;</p> <p> OK, OK. I'm getting worked up and off point. Sorry. Amid all this noise from both ends of the policy spectrum, let's remember the wisdom of Enrique Penalosa, the former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, who introduced a hugely successful modern transit system to his city of nearly 8 million:&nbsp;&quot;An advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport.&quot; &nbsp;</p> Thu, 31 Jul 2014 11:00:50 +0000 Transportation Benefits: Agreement, but Weak Action http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/transportation/transportation-benefits-agreement-but-weak-action http://mn2020.org/8610 <p> By Conrad deFiebre, Transportation Fellow </p> <p> In my first major project as a Minnesota 2020 fellow, I highlighted the <a href="www.mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/transportation/moving-forward-the-benefit-of-transportation-investment-to-minnesota-s-econ" target="_blank">economic benefits</a> for Minnesota of investing in transportation. This was a direct rebuttal to the contention of then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty that hiking state fuel taxes for the first time in two decades to support highway construction and maintenance and raising new revenue for transit improvements would &quot;hurt our economy.&quot;</p> <p> That canard was nothing more than cover for Pawlenty's lockstep adherence to the right-wing dogma of no new taxes no matter what, which had already prompted him to veto two previous transportation finance bills. When he vetoed a third, shortly after <a href="http://www.mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/transportation/moving-forward-the-benefit-of-transportation-investment-to-minnesota-s-econ" target="_blank">my report</a> was issued in January 2008, however, bipartisan legislators overrode him.</p> <p> I'd like to claim credit for this triumph of sound public policy, but two other things wielded greater influence. The first was the deadly collapse of the Interstate Hwy. 35W Mississippi River bridge in Minneapolis on Aug. 1, 2007, which focused public attention on deteriorating infrastructure as never before. The second was an about-face by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which had lobbied against other transportation bills and, along with Pawlenty, was a target of my report's criticism.</p> <p> Nowadays, as Congress and the White House alike repeatedly haggle over how to extend national transportation funding for shorter and shorter periods without irritating anyone at the gas pump, it's the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, unions and trade groups of truckers and manufacturers that are calling for the obvious long-term solution of increasing federal fuel taxes that haven't been adjusted for inflation in 21 years. But in dysfunctional Washington, that isn't even on the table, although no one I know of is saying it would hurt the economy.</p> <p> What would hurt, all the players seem to agree, is impending default on federal Highway Trust Fund obligations, delaying up to 112,000 road projects and 5,600 transit projects and idling 700,000 construction workers. So we have a dizzying array of funding gimmicks being bandied about the hallowed halls, everything from moving fuel taxes up the pipeline and away from gas pumps to tax holidays on overseas corporate profits. The winner this week apparently is a proposal from the conservative-led U.S. House to change corporate pension accounting rules, impose higher customs fees and tap an environmental cleanup fund.</p> <p> This plan was hilariously skewered by Comedy Central's Jon Stewart in a monologue for which you'll find a video link on Hindsight's Friday Morning Reads tomorrow. He didn't even mention that the House's brief eight-month funding patch will take 10 years of the aforementioned gimmicks to be paid for. Fiscal responsibility, indeed!</p> <p> Nevertheless, with the highway fund needle ticking toward empty, the bill passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan approval, and President Obama and progressives in the U.S. Senate have voiced support. A Senate vote and signing ceremony are expected any day. Then the strange dance starts all over again after the November election.</p> <p> Who's against the latest make-do? Far righties Heritage Action and the Club for Growth are giving members of Congress black marks for yea votes, and the libertarian Cato Institute <a href="http://reason.com/24-7/2014/07/14/obama-to-ask-congress-for-more-transport" target="_blank">published a screed</a> headlined &quot;The Federal Highway Trust Fund Is Going Broke. Here's Why That Could Be a Good Thing.&quot; In general, it pooh-poohs the fiscal and economic impacts of default and explains how to handle creaky bridges with &quot;weight restrictions&quot; or &quot;smaller repairs.&quot;</p> <p> Meanwhile, the National Association of Manufacturers also &quot;scored&quot; the House vote with a thumbs-up for support. The 367-55 roll call at least shows that most policymakers put more stock in the opinions of folks who make and ship stuff people actually buy than the radical dystopian dreams of &quot;conservative&quot; wacko birds.&nbsp;</p> <p> That said, there's still plenty not to like on rational grounds in this measure. Normally circumspect with its mass audience largely of business travelers, <a href="http://thehill.com/policy/transportation/212459-newspapers-take-dim-view-of-potential-highway-deal" target="_blank">USA TODAY </a>called it &quot;a telling display of absurdity, [funding] highway construction by letting employers endanger their workers' retirement&quot; and like &quot;raiding your 401(k) to put a temporary patch on the hole in your driveway.&quot; It added: &quot;The obvious near-term solution is to raise the gasoline tax back to where it was in 1993 dollars and index it for inflation.&quot;</p> <p> The deeply conservative Wall Street Journal also thundered against the bill, but leveled most of its criticism at Obama and progressives for wanting &quot;to claim a 'jobs' victory before Election Day.&quot; How dastardly of them!</p> <p> More measured dissent came from no fewer than a dozen U.S. secretaries of transportation, a bipartisan group who served as far back as the Lyndon Johnson administration and included appointees of Ronald Reagan and both Bushes. In an open letter to Congress, <a href="http://www.dot.gov/briefing-room/open-letter-secretary-foxx-and-11-former-dot-secretaries-urging-congress-address-long" target="_blank">they said</a>: &quot;Never in our nation's history has America's transportation system been on a more unsustainable course ...This bill will not 'fix' [it]. For that, we need a much larger and longer-term investment.&quot;</p> <p> Being transportation wonks, the 12 secretaries glossed over mention of why a sustainable transportation is vital: because it underpins economic prosperity. Fortunately, a well-timed <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/economic_analysis_of_transportation_investments.pdf" target="_blank">White House white paper</a> makes that compelling argument:</p> <p style="margin-left: 40px;"> &quot;A well-performing transportation network keeps jobs in America, allows businesses to expand and lowers prices on household goods. It allows businesses to manage their inventories and transport goods more cheaply and efficiently as well as access a variety of suppliers and markets for their products, making it more cost-effective for manufacturers to keep production in or more production to the United States. American families benefit too: as consumers, from lower-priced goods and as workers, by gaining better access to jobs.</p> <p style="margin-left: 40px;"> &quot;The economic benefits of smart infrastructure investment are long-term competitiveness, productivity, innovation, lower prices and higher incomes, while infrastructure investment also creates many thousands of American jobs in the near-term.&quot;</p> <p> No one seems to argue with this anymore. We can hope that someday our national leaders will find a way to translate that realization into robust, honestly financed policies that extend over the long terms required for sound planning of the travel routes to a vibrant 21st century economy.</p> Thu, 24 Jul 2014 11:00:15 +0000 Complexity Dogs Mileage Fee Concept http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/transportation/complexity-dogs-mileage-fee-concept http://mn2020.org/8578 <p> By Conrad deFiebre, Transportation Fellow </p> <p> It seemed like such a simple, smart idea at first. With fuel taxes paralyzed over decades of inflation, cars going farther on each gallon of gasoline (or none at all) and roads and bridges still deteriorating under traffic's wear and tear, why not switch user funding for this vital infrastructure from a levy at the pump to one based on miles driven?</p> <p> Proponents argued that it would be fair, adaptable to future automotive technologies and able to support other policy objectives such as reducing congestion, pollution and accidents. Pilot testing began in 2006 in Oregon, not coincidentally the first state to implement a user-pays principle for driving by assessing a gas tax back in 1919. Following more trials, Oregon plans to roll out a live <a href="http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/RUFPP/Pages/ruc_overview.aspx" onclick="window.open(this.href, '', 'resizable=no,status=no,location=no,toolbar=no,menubar=no,fullscreen=no,scrollbars=no,dependent=no'); return false;">mileage fee system </a>for up to 5,000 motorists next July.</p> <p> Minnesota authorized its own $5 million study of mileage fees in 2007 at the recommendation of Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who opposed raising fuel taxes. Difficulties immediately surfaced as a first attempt at scoping the research was rejected and a second finally approved. Testing with 478 volunteer drivers from Wright County began in 2011 but was soon interrupted by a state government shutdown brought on by Minnesota's first Legislature fully controlled by conservatives in 40 years.</p> <p> The Minnesota Road Fee Test quietly wrapped up last year and now is gathering dust. Findings were mixed, some positive, some discouraging, but most of all the study pointed up the danged complexity of the whole concept. Here's the<a href="http://www.dot.state.mn.us/mileagebaseduserfee/pdf/EvaluationFinalReport.pdf" target="_blank"> evaluation report's</a>&nbsp; list of &quot;some of the activities expected to be present in a real world deployment&quot; of mileage fees:</p> Scheduling appointments. Capturing vehicle mileage. Process user agreements. Installing equipment. Training drivers. Preparing equipment kits. Uninstalling equipment. Processing on-site payment. Receiving and documenting a service request. Providing guidance for a known technical issue. Providing guidance for a new technical issue. Escalating issue to a specialist. Generating and mailing paper invoices. Processing payments received. Managing late payments. Developing and testing the application. Developing operational procedures. Establishing fees. Managing data. Managing hardware and software. Developing messages to drivers. Developing training materials. Developing and maintaining a participant portal. Coordinating across organizations. <p> Holy Moly, Rocky! That's a lollapalooza of flies in the ointment. And it doesn't even include actual problems uncovered by the test, including &quot;hardware or software issues [that] hindered the system's ability to reliably capture trips&quot; and the preference of 48 percent of participants polled afterward just to keep paying the fuel tax versus 37 percent who liked the newfangled plan and 15 percent who were too mystified by the entire exercise to offer an opinion.</p> <p> Using smartphone GPS technology, the system tracked 500,000 trips covering 4 million miles with 660 million data points. Interestingly, privacy, a hot issue in the wider mileage fee debate, wasn't a big concern for the self-selected participants. They believe &quot;that they give up their privacy regularly (e.g., to mobile phone service providers). Instead, participants worried that their data would be vulnerable to access by wrongdoers (e.g., 'hackers') who would seek to misuse the information,&quot; the report noted.</p> <p> And that ought to be a worry for any state that tries to rely on automated mileage tracking to assess user fees for roads, although I've not seen it addressed in reports from testing in Minnesota or Oregon. Even without any high-tech looting, more than 4 percent of the mileage bills sent to the Minnesota test participants -- who got stipends for their service and reimbursement of state fuel taxes -- went unpaid.</p> <p> Another cash drain is the basic cost of collecting mileage fees, estimated at four times that for the old-fashioned way at the pump. University of Minnesota Prof. Zhirong Zhao, who made that <a href="http://www.mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/transportation/slow-going-on-controversial-road-funding-policy" target="_blank">estimate three years ago</a>, added that improved technology could bring it down to just three times as much. I wonder. The Minnesota test went through eight software versions and three generations of hardware upgrades, boosting help line calls from participants -- 175 or fewer of them active at any one time -- to 4&frac12; a day.</p> <p> On top of all that, &quot;challenges exist with the ability to collect fees from out-of-state drivers,&quot; the Minnesota report acknowledges.</p> <p> To be sure, you can do some neat things with a GPS-powered mileage fee system. Fees can be tailored to peak congestion times and locations or to vehicle weights and emissions. One add-on in the Minnesota test was speed safety alerts transmitted to drivers both visually and audibly when they got too heavy on the gas pedal. The audible alerts worked best, researchers found, with average speed reductions of up to 9 miles per hour.&nbsp;</p> <p> However, the report notes that &quot;it may be wise to phase these elements in later, so as to not complicate the public acceptance issue.&quot; And complexity may be the biggest hurdle of all. Test participants who still preferred the fuel tax often cited its simplicity. &quot;The current fuel tax requires very little thought and ... no work on the part of the driver,&quot; the report notes, stating the obvious.</p> <p> Even overcoming technical difficulties, drivers' laziness, privacy concerns, system hackers and high costs won't push mileage fees into the end zone, though. Although a 25-member Minnesota <a href="http://www.dot.state.mn.us/mileagebaseduserfee/pdf/mbufpolicytaskforcereport.pdf " target="_blank">policy task force</a> issued several encouraging recommendations along with a call for further study, a minority report from three participants said the majority overstated the benefits of mileage fees, understated their shortcomings and made no compelling case for &quot;wholesale changes&quot; in the transportation funding structure, &quot;which can in fact continue to serve the state well, probably for decades to come.&quot;</p> <p> The dissenters represented important interest groups in any transportation policy discussion: the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the Minnesota Trucking Association and a rural county board. They said the equity problem with hybrid and electric vehicles can be solved with increased annual registration fees and motor vehicle sales taxes.&nbsp;</p> <p> Sounds simple to me. The hard part is, and will be, mustering the political will to keep those fuel taxes on the majority of motor vehicles in line with growing costs. And that's one problem even a technically perfect mileage fee system can't solve.</p> Thu, 17 Jul 2014 11:00:00 +0000 Peace in the Valley and Transit Equity for All http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/transportation/transit-equity-for-all http://mn2020.org/8549 <p> By Conrad deFiebre, Transportation Fellow </p> <p> When compromises are reached at the State Capitol, legislators typically pronounce &quot;Peace in the Valley.&quot; That great old gospel tune popularized by Elvis Presley is actually about death rather than reconciliation, but the political sentiment is clear.</p> <p> This week warring sides in disputes over the proposed Southwest light rail Green Line extension tentatively settled their differences, marking what Metropolitan Council chair Susan Haigh called &quot;a path forward&quot; toward a 21st century transit system for the Twin Cities.</p> <p> The hostilities had been fomented from opposite ends of the economic ladder -- with much more public attention paid to the concerns of the wealthy -- but those of the disadvantaged were no less valid. Addressing the former without the latter would have been unseemly, to say the least.</p> <p> In bulletins sent five minutes apart Tuesday morning, however, the Met Council announced <a href="http://www.metrocouncil.org/News-Events/Transportation/News-Articles/Joint-Announcement-by-the-City-of-Minneapolis-and.aspx" target="_blank">an agreement</a>&nbsp;with the City of Minneapolis on routing the LRT through the city's leafy lakes district and then issued a <a href="http://www.metrocouncil.org/News-Events/Transportation/News-Articles/Council-announces-regional-transit-equity-plan.aspx" target="_blank">regional transit equity plan draft</a>&nbsp;to improve bus service and shelters in low-income minority neighborhoods. The specifics:</p> The Southwest LRT will tunnel under freight railroad tracks south of the Cedar Lake-Lake of the Isles water channel, but remain above ground north of it. With elimination of the planned northern tunnel, an LRT station will be restored at 21st Street, allowing more bus connections to the light rail.&nbsp; At the city's request, the project will include more noise mitigation, landscape restoration and pedestrian access improvements along the lakes-area Kenilworth corridor. The net fiscal effect of all the changes is a $30 million reduction in the project's budget, to $1.65 billion. Meanwhile, in another concession to Kenilworth residents' worries, the parties agreed to work to ensure continued public ownership of the corridor's freight tracks by the Hennepin County Railroad Authority. When the authority bought the railroad land decades ago, it planned eventually to move the tracks to St. Louis Park to make way for urban transit. But SLP blocked that option, leading to controversy and costly tunneling plans. Public ownership, officials believe, will help prevent the freight trains from increasing in frequency or carrying more hazardous cargo through the corridor. On transit equity, the Met Council pledged over the next 15 years to strengthen LRT and arterial bus rapid transit services to &quot;racially concentrated areas of poverty and job centers throughout the region.&quot; In addition, by the end of next year, 150 bus stops &quot;focused on areas of racially concentrated poverty&quot; will get bus shelters for the first time or replacement of old ones. Eric Roper <a href="http://www.startribune.com/local/minneapolis/265979041.html" target="_blank">reported in the Star Tribune</a>&nbsp;on Monday that Metro Transit's system of bus shelters is poorly aligned with passenger volumes.&nbsp; <p> The equity plan came in response to protests raised by the <a href="http://mn2020hindsight.org/view/broaden-the-southwest-lrt-debate" target="_blank">People's Transit Coalition</a>, &nbsp;which was spearheaded in north Minneapolis by Minnesota Neighborhoods Organizing for Change and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison.</p> <p> In a news release, Haigh thanked Ellison and the coalition &quot;for highlighting the need for transit equity around Southwest LRT.&quot; The release also noted that nearly 40 percent of the council's Metro Transit riders board in disadvantaged minority areas, and said a 2011 study showed that buses serving minority communities were slightly newer than the system average. New-generation buses emit 90 percent less pollution and are 85 percent more reliable than older models from the late 1990s, the release added.</p> <p> Both the LRT agreement and the transit equity plan face a gauntlet of public hearings and official approvals before they are finalized over the coming months. But each one followed negotiations with aggrieved parties -- mediated by a retired judge in the former case -- and should enjoy relatively clear sailing. One remaining obstacle for the LRT plan could be a lawsuit from residents nearby and north of the water channel.</p> <p> Let's hope it doesn't come to that. As Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, who had previously withheld support for the LRT route, said: &quot;Given the constraints we face, this is the most responsible way to get the project built. I expect that and understand why residents along the Kenilworth corridor will be disappointed, but the greater good demands that we seek a path for Southwest LRT to move forward.&quot;</p> <p> City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden added: &quot;Southwest Light Rail is a critical part of our regional transit system that connects people to economic opportunity [and serves as] a transit spine from which we can maximize access and connections for residents by bus, car, bicycle, walking and streetcar.&quot;</p> <p> And that's for everybody, rich and poor, living near the light rail or not. So it's good that input was heeded from a similarly wide spectrum of society on the way to this hoped-for Peace in the Valley.&nbsp;</p> Wed, 09 Jul 2014 11:00:21 +0000 Energy via Rail: A Multifaceted Dilemma http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/transportation/energy-via-rail-a-multifaceted-dilemma http://mn2020.org/8522 <p> By Conrad deFiebre, Transportation Fellow </p> <p> In Benson, the western Minnesota city that has ticketed BNSF Railway for its trains blocking street access for emergency services, local merchants wrote a letter to the editor of the Swift County Monitor complaining about the railway &quot;interrupting commerce.&quot; It seems teams of horses weren't able to get through. The letter was dated 1887.</p> <p> Rob Wolfington, Benson's current city manager, keeps a copy of the letter in his desk to lend perspective to the latest controversy, which landed the city and BNSF in court last month. Swift County District Judge Donald M. Spilseth took the matter of multiple traffic citations issued by Benson's constabulary under advisement. He is expected to rule by summer's end on the railway's pleas of immunity from state traffic statutes under interstate commerce doctrines.</p> <p> &quot;It's an ongoing problem,&quot; Wolfington said in a telephone interview. &quot;We have unique geography with the railroad and three state highways intersecting in the center of town. We depend mightily on the railroad, but we also have an obligation to protect public safety.&quot;</p> <p> Under state law, trains aren't supposed to block crossings for more than 10 minutes at a time. But with increased main line train traffic adding to that serving Benson's ethanol plant, coal-fired power plant, grain elevator and propane distributor, congestion on the tracks has stretched delays to as much as 45 minutes. And that cuts off the police department, fire station and hospital on one side the tracks from the sheriff's office, nursing home and ambulance service on the other.&nbsp;</p> <p> BNSF has refused to pay traffic fines of more than $1,000 so far, and the case could drag on through appeals. Meanwhile, the city has launched a <a href="http://www.swiftcountymonitor.com/articles/2014/06/20/city-spend-20000-studying-crossing-options" target="_blank">$20,000 study </a>of options for reducing the backups at three downtown rail crossings.</p> <p> Benson's dilemma is an offbeat microcosm of the challenges arising across Minnesota and the rest of the nation from a new boom in the freight railroad business. Attention has focused on increased rail shipments of volatile crude oil from North Dakota -- with particularly heavy impacts in Minnesota as tank cars fan out for 1,600-mile average journeys to distant refineries -- although oil still accounts for only 1.6 percent of U.S. railroad loadings despite a<a href="http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Energy-Resources/2014/06/06/Oil-by-rail-sets-US-record/6801402063132/" target="_blank"> 40-fold increase since 2008</a>.</p> <p> In April, however, U.S. oil production hit a 26-year high of 8.3 million barrels daily as North Dakota topped 1 million a day for the first time. The U.S. Department of Energy expects nearly another million barrels a day to be added nationwide next year. Given that pipelines are at full capacity and face strong environmental opposition to expansion, it's likely that virtually all of the new production will move by rail for years to come.&nbsp;</p> <p> In 2014's first quarter alone, a record 110,164 carloads of crude oil were delivered by U.S. railroads. That's more than 1,000 unit trains, averaging 12 a day. If the predicted additional crude ships by rail, the number could nearly double within a year.</p> <p> And that's not all. With the oil boom has come a glut of undeliverable natural gas, more than $1 billion worth burned off each year at wellheads for lack of processing plants or pipelines. A third of North Dakota's gas currently is &quot;flared,&quot; an economic and environmental waste. In response, the energy industry is looking into ways to put the gas on trains, too.</p> <p> Railroads &quot;make a lot of money transporting oil, so it would make sense&quot; to haul gas as well, an executive of one of the tech companies considering research into ways to do it<a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/06/16/us-usa-railway-natgas-insight-idUSKBN0ER0D620140616" target="_blank"> told Reuters</a>. &nbsp;The solution would involve new million-dollar tank cars to transport liquefied natural gas (LNG) that must pass stiff regulatory muster. Railroads and the Federal Railroad Administration have formed a task force to establish standards, but no timetable has been set for completing the work.</p> <p> Meanwhile, BNSF is testing tank cars for LNG and locomotives powered by it, an LNG tanker is being developed in Germany by a U.S.-German partnership and LNG has been transported in tanks loaded on rail cars in Japan since 2000. More volatile fuels such as ethylene and propane already travel by U.S. rail, but energy experts expect certification for LNG trains to go very slowly in the wake of recent fiery explosions of crude oil trains.</p> <p> &quot;I can only imagine the amount of pushback we're going to have on transporting gas by rail,&quot; Breitling Energy Corp. CEO Chris Faulkner told Reuters. &quot;The discussion isn't about safety and fact, it's about fear.&quot;</p> <p> That's debatable, of course. It's surely in the industry's interest to downplay safety risks of the nation's energy boom, as illustrated by an <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/apnewsbreak-oil-train-dangers-extend-past-bakken-24323315" target="_blank">assertion from two trade associations</a> that North Dakota's Bakken Shale crude is no more flammable than other grades moving by rail.</p> <p> Maybe so, but that's hardly a persuasive defense of the Bakken traffic, according to Christopher Hart, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. He noted recent derailments of tar sands crude oil from Canada in Minnesota and other places that damaged the environment and had the potential for deadly fires.&nbsp;</p> <p> &quot;Accidents involving crude oil or flammable liquids of any kind, especially when these liquids are transported in large volumes, such as in unit trains or blocks of tank cars, can have disastrous consequences,&quot; Hart wrote in a letter to two U.S. senators last month.&nbsp;</p> <p> Naturally, the railroads seek to minimize such worries as they argue against proposed new rules for oil trains such as a 30 m.p.h. speed limit, better brakes and stricter requirements for crews to stay on board. According to a fascinating <a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2014/06/raildroads-oil-trains-107808.html" target="_blank">report by Politic</a><a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2014/06/raildroads-oil-trains-107808.html" target="_blank">o</a>, &nbsp;the carriers opposed the latter two ideas on economic grounds and the lower speed limit as a recipe for greatly increased congestion on the tracks. Even Amtrak weighed in on that issue, saying it could slow its Chicago-Pacific Northwest Empire Builder passenger service through Minnesota by two hours.</p> <p> And that certainly wouldn't ease the tie-ups in Benson, either. Clearly, there's a complicated balance to be struck among the economic benefits of home-grown energy, its long-term environmental risks and its very real threats to public safety -- even when the trains don't crash. As long as black gold and gas from deep underground keep fueling our lives across the nation, it might make more sense in financial, ecological and hazard reduction terms to transport them below ground, too.&nbsp;</p> Thu, 03 Jul 2014 11:00:58 +0000 Video: Drive Clean with Electric Cars http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/transportation/video-drive-clean-in-electric-cars http://mn2020.org/8509 <p> By Briana Johnson, {related_entries id="article_author_blogger"}Briana Johnson, Video Production Specialist </p> <p> Global warming is real and it's past time we took it seriously. Environment Minnesota's new report, &quot;Driving Cleaner,&quot; shows that electric vehicles can lower our carbon footprint. The report calls on policymakers to adopt the Zero Admission Vehicle program to accelerate the adoption of electric cars in Minnesota. In addition to releasing the report last week, Environment Minnesota arranged tours of zero-emission vehicles to help Minnesotans get more familiar with the electric cars currently on the market. &nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> </p> Mon, 30 Jun 2014 11:00:44 +0000 A Wake-up Call for WalkUPs http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/transportation/a-wake-up-call-for-walkups http://mn2020.org/8494 <p> By Conrad deFiebre, Transportation Fellow </p> <p> There's good news and bad for the Twin Cities in &quot;<a href="http://www.smartgrowthamerica.org/locus/foot-traffic-ahead/" target="_blank">Foot Traffic Ahead</a>,&quot; &nbsp;Smart Growth America's latest comparison and analysis of metropolitan sprawl-induced car dependence and its emerging alternative, walkable urban places, or WalkUPs.</p> <p> The good news: Minneapolis-St. Paul currently ranks No. 12 out of the 30 biggest U.S. metros for walkable urbanism, in the study's &quot;moderate&quot; second tier.</p> <p> The bad news: We're expected to sink to No. 23 in coming years, with a &quot;low potential for future walkable urbanism.&quot; That's far behind projections for sprawl icon Atlanta (No. 5), hollowed-out Motor City Detroit (No. 8), car-crazy Los Angeles (No. 11) and oil-drenched Houston (No. 13). Three of them are predicted to blow past the Twin Cities in the rankings.</p> <p> This shouldn't be a worry just to hipster aesthetes and environmentalists. As noted in <a href="http://www.mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/economic-development/sprawl-is-real-and-its-here" target="_blank">my review of Smart Growth's previous sprawl study</a>, there's a steep fiscal price to be paid for continued reliance on what the new report calls &quot;drivable sub-urbanism.&quot; And that price gets harder to bear without the higher education levels, personal incomes and creative-class magnetism associated with WalkUPs.</p> <p> &quot;Cities with more WalkUPs are positioned for success, now and in the future,&quot; said report coauthor Christopher Leinberger. &quot;As economic engines, as talent attractors and as highly productive real estate, these WalkUPs are a crucial component in building and sustaining a thriving urban economy.&quot;</p> <p> So what's the beef about the Twin Towns? you might be wondering. Isn't the metro economy humming? Doesn't Minneapolis top the nation in bicycle-friendliness? Don't plenty of our city neighborhoods boast high <a href="http://www.walkscore.com/MN/Minneapolis" target="_blank">Walk Scores</a>?&nbsp;</p> <p> All true. The problem, however, can be summarized as a Tale of Two Twin Cities. Beyond the borders of Minneapolis and St. Paul, most of the sprawling suburbs remain stuck in the freeway boom of the last century. Our 99 percent share of walkable office and retail space concentrated in the central cities is among the nation's highest.</p> <p> Only Cincinnati, Las Vegas and San Antonio are worse at 100 percent, but Washington, D.C., and Miami (51 percent each), Los Angeles (65 percent), Boston (67 percent) and Phoenix (69 percent) score much better. Even the Atlanta metro has one-quarter of its walkable commercial real estate outside the city proper, with 27 separate WalkUPs compared with our 10 (measured by Walk Scores of 70 or better) and the No. 8 current ranking for walkable urbanism.</p> <p> This analysis counters most of our current assumptions about cities and suburbs, particularly around here, where the differences in the built environment are so stark. But suburbs can't help being where they are; it's &quot;six decades of bad urban planning,&quot; to quote the U of M's David Levinson, that has made them what&nbsp;they are.</p> <p> Spread-out, function-segregated, drivable-only suburban design, however, clearly hasn't consumed all U.S. metropolitan growth. Some older cities developed compact suburban &quot;villages&quot; clustered around commuter rail. My grandfather, Henry Hamm, walked to the Long Island Rail Road station in Floral Park, N.Y., to get to his accounting office in Manhattan. Freeway congestion in newer places such as Atlanta and Phoenix may have spurred the rise of more recent walkable suburban nodes. The Washington area's smarter growth, No. 1 in the nation, was smoothed by the presence of relatively few feuding local government units, even though spread over two states and the District of Columbia, according to the report authors.</p> <p> With our fragmented local governance and whatever other reasons, the Twin Cities metro bears a heavier burden of suburban sprawl as its legacy. Despite scattered <a href="http://www.mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/economic-development/propping-up-the-bogus-american-dream" target="_blank">efforts to urbanize the fringe</a> in places such as Edina, Excelsior, Osseo and Wayzata, &nbsp;much of the seven-county area will remain car-dependent as far as the eye can see.</p> <p> In Smart Growth's judgment, Minneapolis-St. Paul is among the &quot;low-potential&quot; metros that &quot;still favor driveable sub-urban over walkable urban development trends.&quot; This is based largely on our region's negative trend in walkable office space absorption over the past four years and a relatively weak rent premium for such space of 10 percent. In Denver, it's 44 percent, in L.A. 42 percent.&nbsp;</p> <p> To be sure, the report offers a couple of silver linings for the Twin Cities. One is &quot;substantial housing development in WalkUPs, particularly downtown and downtown adjacent areas.&quot; The other is our &quot;noteworthy&quot; expansion of light rail and &quot;the potential of suburban urbanism.&quot;</p> <p> A big chunk of that potential rides on the Southwest Green Line extension, currently mired in controversy and the target of <a href="http://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2014/04/southwest-light-rail-it-not-equity-train" target="_blank">much urban progressive criticism</a> for daring to reach distant suburbs eager to build their own WalkUPs. When the suburbs were booming and the cities shriveling, the latter argued that we were all in this together.</p> <p> Maybe the tables have turned now, but the wisdom of that argument hasn't changed. For the Twin Cities to succeed in the 21st century, we need to find ways for more of the region to reverse the mistakes of the 20th.</p> Wed, 25 Jun 2014 11:00:40 +0000 Video: The Skilled Workers Behind the Green Line http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/transportation/video-the-skilled-workers-behind-the-green-line http://mn2020.org/8463 <p> By Briana Johnson, {related_entries id="article_author_blogger"}Briana Johnson, Video Production Specialist </p> <p> As Minnesotans finally get to enjoy the Green Line, the construction workers who built it are basking in the satisfaction of a job well done. All told, Green Line construction created thousands of jobs, launching hundreds of new careers in several skilled construction roles.</p> <p> The women and men who laid the track, poured the concrete, and constructed the stations are looking toward their next jobs, and looking to grow their ranks to meet the need of a growing economy and our legislature's strong investment in Minnesota's infrastructure. Minnesota's Laborers have proven they have the skills to build complex transportation projects. The real question is: what should we ask them to build next?</p> <p> &nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: center;"> </p> Thu, 19 Jun 2014 11:00:44 +0000 Falling Short in Service to the Disabled http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/transportation/falling-short-in-service-to-the-disabled http://mn2020.org/8466 <p> By Conrad deFiebre, Transportation Fellow </p> <p> <a href="https://www.mspairport.com/about-MSP.aspx" target="_blank">Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport</a> prides itself on its multibillion-dollar contributions to Minnesota's economy, its self-sustaining revenues, its numerous awards for safety, management and customer service as well as its commitment to giving travelers &quot;the best airport experience in North America.&quot;</p> <p> But about 100 people who <a href="http://www.startribune.com/local/west/263372131.html" target="_blank">mounted a protest Monday at the airport</a>, including 13 arrested for blocking an access road, say it falls far short of that goal when it comes to providing legally required services for the disabled. Even Delta Air Lines, which accounts for three of every four flights there, found in internal audits that MSP consistently ranked in the past at or near the bottom of its 10 largest airports in quality of service to the disabled.</p> <p> Lately, said Patrick Hogan, spokesman for the Metropolitan Airports Commission, the government agency that runs MSP, it has improved to second or third in the audits. &quot;But we're as concerned as anybody about this,&quot; he said. &quot;Our board continues to struggle with the issue.&quot;</p> <p> Delta was forced to perform the audits under federal consent decrees it signed following allegations of repeated mistreatment of disabled passengers. The decrees, signed in 2003 and 2011, cost the airline $3.35 million in fines and remedial spending. Instead of improvement, however, Delta's treatment for the disabled got worse, <a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/229373870/Able-Not-Willing" target="_blank">according to a new report from the Service Employees International Union Local 26</a>.</p> <p> The U.S. Department of Transportation &quot;found a substantial number of 'egregious violations' ... by Delta, such as leaving passengers unattended in a wheelchair for more than 30 minutes,&quot; the report says. Federal authorities also &quot;noted that the number of disability-related complaints filed against Delta had actually increased after the 2003 consent order,&quot; from fewer than 3,000 in 2004 against Delta and Northwest Airlines combined to about 4,400 in 2012 against the merged carrier -- despite a 7 percent decrease in total passenger levels.</p> <p> Among Delta's violations was causing passengers to miss flights due to failure to provide requested wheelchair services, leaving an 81-year-old man to sleep overnight in an airport after his flight was canceled and the nearly unbelievable case of a passenger forced to crawl across tarmac, up and down an airplane's stairs and to and from his seat. Before he filed suit, Delta offered him a $100 voucher for his trouble.</p> <p> Until 1986, none of this was illegal. That year, however, President Ronald Reagan, usually a vocal critic of government regulations, signed the <a href="http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/rules/382short.pdf" target="_blank">Air Carrier Access Act</a> to address the &quot;unique difficulties faced by handicapped air travelers&quot; and grant them wide protections from discrimination by the airlines.&nbsp;</p> <p> &quot;Yet, almost 40 years later, many of the problems still exist that the ACAA was intended to address,&quot; according to the SEIU report.</p> <p> The problems apparently span the industry, with<a href="http://www.startribune.com/local/116409809.html" target="_blank"> at least 11 airlines besides Delta fined for ACAA violations in recent years</a>, the Star Tribune has reported. But Delta's $2 million penalty in 2011 was the largest ever assessed at that point. None of the worst examples of passenger maltreatment occurred at MSP, so it's unclear why it was such a sore spot in the audits.</p> <p> One explanation offered in the SEIU report is the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour paid to MSP wheelchair attendants and electric cart drivers by Air Serv, the company Delta contracts with for the service. Full-time work at that rate grosses barely $15,000, &quot;well below the federal poverty line,&quot; the report notes. Other airports are governed by higher state wage floors than Minnesota's current sub-federal $6.15 an hour.</p> <p> In addition, MSP's disability service workers receive no paid vacations or sick leave. The low pay forces more than a third of those surveyed by the union to hold down a second job, leaving them stressed, tired and inclined to report for work even when sick. That &quot;poses serious health risks&quot; to disabled passengers who are elderly or have weakened immune systems, the report says. Such conditions also lead to high turnover and difficulty complying with federal rules requiring training of disability service workers.</p> <p> The evidence points to at best half-hearted efforts by Delta to treat disabled passengers with the dignity the law requires. MSP janitors working for Air Serv's parent company, American Building Maintenance, are paid nearly double the minimum wage, $14.27 an hour, plus vacation, holidays and sick days. And SEIU archly points out that Delta CEO Richard Anderson's $14 million salary in 2013 calculates out to $2,232 an hour -- even if he worked 16 hours a day every day of the year.</p> <p> Hogan said the public-sector MAC, which contracts for airport janitorial services, requires higher wages for the cleaners. &quot;We want to make sure people are well compensated for the work they do at the airport,&quot; he said. But the airlines' disabled service staff is strictly in the private sector and &quot;it's a competitive business,&quot; he added. &quot;I'm sure cost is one of the things they look at.&quot;</p> <p> Minnesota's<a href="http://www.dli.mn.gov/LS/minwage.asp" target="_blank"> impending increase in the state minimum wage</a>&nbsp;to $8 an hour on August 1 may provide the beginnings of a solution. A year later it will rise to $9 and a year after that to $9.50. Those are not princely rates, but Hogan said the MAC cannot mandate higher pay at all the airport's private businesses, including many small concessionaires.</p> <p> Local 26 hopes to include Air Serv employees in its mission to organize many of America's lowest paid workers. Meanwhile, it recommends that the MAC collaborate with the airlines, their subcontractors and local disability advocates to improve disability awareness training of employees, a step recently taken by San Francisco International Airport. The union also urges the MAC to enact living-wage-and-benefits policies for all airport workers. Delta, the union says, should do more to ensure adequate staffing of services for disabled passengers, along with better pay and benefits for the workers.</p> <p> It might be argued that serving the disabled at our airports is &quot;unskilled&quot; labor deserving no more than a poverty wage. On the other hand, that seems like an insult to the dignity of both the workers and the physically vulnerable people they assist. We should do better than that.</p> Thu, 19 Jun 2014 11:00:35 +0000 What You Need to Know About Uber http://mn2020.org/issues-that-matter/transportation/what-you-need-to-know-about-uber http://mn2020.org/8444 <p> By Nathan Dahlen, Undergraduate Research Fellow </p> <p> The story of Uber&rsquo;s rapid rise to prominence is a compelling one. In just four years it has expanded from San Fransisco to 128 cities and 37 countries worldwide. In fact, it just became the <a href="http://www.inc.com/jeremy-quittner/uber-valuation-biggest-in-history.html" target="_blank">most valuable startup ever</a>. Uber has not avoided controversy, however. Many of the company's expansion efforts have triggered <a href="http://graphics.wsj.com/maps/uber-problems" target="_blank">fierce backlash</a>. In the fall of 2012, Uber brought the fight to our state when it established operations in the Twin Cities. As its popularity grows, the public, policymakers, and stakeholders must come together to discuss what sort of role we want Uber to play in our community.</p> <p> <strong>So, what is Uber?</strong></p> <p> Uber is a booking service that connects you to a private driver via its mobile app. To call a car, you 1) open up the app on your phone 2) drop a pin at your location 3) choose which car service you want. Once the ride is confirmed, you are able to watch the car navigate towards you and track its ETA in real-time. After the ride, you just thank your driver and get out &ndash; the driver is automatically paid through the app and tip is included.</p> <p> <strong>Why are people excited about Uber?</strong></p> <p> Uber is great for several reasons. Riders experience a sense of familiarity with their driver. Upon ordering a car, riders are shown the driver&rsquo;s name, photo, and rating out of five stars. After a ride, the driver and the rider rate each other, which incentivizes civility. Drivers may not pick up riders with low ratings. Riders may pass on drivers with low ratings or Uber may deactivate (fire) them. This system of incentivized civility makes for, in my experience, a pleasant ride every single time.</p> <p> The list does not end there. Uber is more efficient for both parties. Its technology allows drivers to go from fare-to-fare more quickly, and consumers can have a car ready for them in minutes. Drivers and riders don&rsquo;t have to fuss with the fare and tip after the trip since the payment is automatic and electronic. Increased efficiency means Uber drivers <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/27/uberx-new-york-city-drivers-salaries_n_5397387.html" target="_blank">make more money</a> than traditional taxi drivers. If these reasons were not enough, Uber&rsquo;s UberX service is usually <a href="http://blog.uber.com/2013/06/11/uberx-cheaper-than-a-taxi/" target="_blank">cheaper than taxis.</a></p> <p> These advantages and more have fueled Uber&rsquo;s rapid expansion. But all has not gone smoothly for the transportation network company.</p> <p> <strong>Why are people concerned about Uber?</strong></p> <p> Uber is in the midst of several regulatory and legal battles across the country and world. When Uber launches in a new city it invariably triggers outrage and legal challenges. The Twin Cities is no exception, and many are concerned about Uber&rsquo;s proliferation.</p> <p> Taxi companies claim that it is difficult to compete with companies like Uber because they are burdened by heavy regulations and Uber is not. Taxi drivers in Minneapolis have to pay license and inspection fees, replace their car every 5 years, and pay for commercial insurance &ndash; Uber does not.</p> <p> Some are worried about what would happen if companies like Uber were to completely replace taxi companies. Taxi companies provide services for the disabled &ndash; Uber does not. People without smartphones or access to banking services can use taxis &ndash; they cannot use Uber. Others are worried about potential gaps in Uber&rsquo;s insurance coverage and inadequate background checks.</p> <p> As Minneapolis discusses the legalization (Uber currently operates illegally) and regulation of Uber, taxi companies are <a href="http://www.startribune.com/local/blogs/257192331.html" target="_blank">demanding</a> that Uber should be subject to the same stringent regulations that they are.</p> <p> <strong>There is a better solution.</strong></p> <p> Taxis are heavily regulated to protect the public interest, and this principle certainly must guide the debate over how to regulate companies like Uber. But stringent regulation is not necessary. Policymakers can impose smart regulations on companies like Uber that uphold the public interest goals of safety, accountability, and equality without stifling economic development. To create conditions for fair competition, Minneapolis policymakers should review taxi policy as well and strongly consider removing or reforming outdated regulations. One set of regulations should not be significantly more burdensome than the other. For example, it would be unfair to allow Uber to conduct internal vehicle inspections and still require taxi drivers to pay the city for the same task, or allow Uber drivers to have a cheaper and less comprehensive insurance plan.</p> <p> As cities across the world draft public policy to incorporate Uber into their regulatory frameworks, it is important to remember two things: good public policy considers the thoughts and concerns of all stakeholders to properly assess what is best for the community, and smart regulations can strike an appropriate balance between defending the public interest and fostering economic growth.</p> <p> Fair competition can flourish once appropriate regulations are put in place for taxi companies and transportation network companies like Uber. Competition between them may not be a zero-sum game either; Uber may become just another option for consumers in Minnesota&rsquo;s evolving transportation landscape. Regardless, in an era characterized by disruptive technological innovation, it is imperative to craft smart, community-driven public policy that preserves the public interest in a way that fosters economic development and innovation.<br /> &nbsp;</p> Wed, 18 Jun 2014 11:00:17 +0000