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Transportation News Roundup

October 31, 2008

Check it out: the latest and hottest transportation news from Minnesota, the nation, and the world!

Transit

  • Lawmakers Push for Investment in Transportation Infrastructure. On Wednesday, business executives and Republicans joined Democrats and labor unions at a House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure hearing to advocate for infrastructure investment. Advocates argued that every billion dollars of spending on highways and transportation projects results in 35,000 new jobs. Business executives and some economists said that such spending would increase economic activity, national income and productivity, thus generating revenue for the government. David Brooks of the New York Times echoes this call, asking for a National Mobility Project. Transportation for America, a national coalition of which Transit for Livable Communities is an active member, is adding to this call: "If we’re going to go into debt to build for the future – and Brooks is right that we should – we must do so to complete our transportation network, with high-speed rail, modern public transit, streets that support safe biking and walking and, yes, well-maintained highways."
  • New Transit Projects Supported by New Investments. When the Northstar Commuter Rail line opens in 2009, Fridley will have a station, thanks to the new quarter-cent sales tax for transit. Check out the new projects, which include a new park and ride in Apple Valley, funding for metro bus operations in 2009, and operating support for the Hiawatha and Northstar lines. This new regional sales tax will not solve the bus funding shortfall which has come about because of a precipitous decline in the sales tax on new and used vehicles – the major funding source for bus service. TLC will be working hard during the 2009 session to work with legislators to fill an expected $45 million hole in the budget for bus service.

Bicycling and Walking

  • MnDOT Pedestrian and Bicycle Coordinator Position Includes Car Parking Facilities Management. Somehow, managing the I-394 third avenue distributor (ABC) parking facilities is part of a Pedestrian and Bicycle Coordinator position at MnDOT. Interesting.
  • Survey Explores Why Americans Bike and Walk - or Don't. A recently released survey from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveals that bicyclists are more likely to feel unsafe on bike lanes than on bike paths. In terms of walking, pedestrians feel threatened by the “potential for crime” but overwhelmingly agree that motorists are the top cause for concern. The survey results demonstrate the need for more dedicated bike paths and pedestrian-friendly urban centers.
  • With Free Bikes, Challenging Car Culture on Campus. When Kylie Galliani started at the University of New England in August, she was given a key to her dorm, a class schedule and something more unusual: a $480 bicycle.“I was like, ‘A free bike, no catch?’ ” Ms. Galliani, 17, a freshman from Fort Bragg, Calif., asked. “It’s really an ideal way to get around the campus.”

Development

  • Are the United States' Urban Planning Priorities Out of Whack? According to the Federal Highway Administration, paved roads in the U.S. cover 61,000 square miles – an area the size of Wisconsin! However, high gas prices and new efforts to curb carbon emissions have prompted individuals and lawmakers to demand a 21st century transportation system that prioritizes alternative, environmentally-friendly modes of travel.
  • Does More Parking Equal More Driving? A new U of PA study, 'Guaranteed Parking, Guaranteed Driving' compares two NYC neighborhoods, showing decisively that providing off-street parking is a sure way to guarantee more driving. The study compares parking and commuting habits in Park Slope Brooklyn, and Jackson Heights, Queens. The study finds that despite having the same car ownership and very similar access to public transit to the Central Business District, Jackson Heights residents are 45 percent more likely to drive to work in the Central Business District and 28 percent more likely to drive to work in general. The study concludes that Jackson Heights car owners are more likely to drive to work because of guaranteed, off-street parking spots to return to at the end of the day.

Full Digest

Transit and Roads

Bicycling and Walking

Development

 

2009 Projects Funded With Transportation Bill Funding

October 30, 2008

Yesterday, the Counties’ Transit Improvement Board (C-TIB) passed resolutions to fund capital and operating projects for transit projects, totaling $86 million for 2009. The C-TIB makes decisions about how to spend the money generated by the new ¼ cent regional sales tax, which was authorized in the transportation bill passed last year.

Funded projects will include:

CAPITAL   

OPERATING   

TOTAL FOR 2009
$85.9 million

Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, Chair of C-TIB, called the project approvals “historic.” Commissioner McLaughlin, Transit for Livable Communities, and other advocates for better transit in Minnesota worked to secure this funding for more than a decade. To learn more about Transit for Livable Communities work to secure this funding source, check out this video honoring the Transit Partners coalition (in which TLC played a key role).

This new regional sales tax will not solve the bus funding shortfall which has come about because of a precipitous decline in the sales tax on new and used vehicles – the major funding source for bus service.  TLC will be working hard during the 2009 session to work with legislators to fill an expected $45 million hole in the budget for bus service. 

Fridley Station to be Added to Northstar Line

The Northstar Commuter Rail Fridley Station is expected to be fully operational when the Northstar Line, Minnesota’s first commuter rail service, begins in late 2009. Yesterday, the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) granted $9.9 million for construction of the previously deferred station as part of its first round of transportation grants.

“I am so pleased to see this local result of the transportation bill we passed at the legislature earlier this year,” said State Representative Carolyn Laine who represents Fridley. “The transportation bill provided the option for the sales tax increase for transit projects.”

Yet another good outcome of funding transit projects! For more information, click here.

Bike Walk Ambassadors Offer Safety Tips for Cyclists and Drivers

October 23, 2008

Ambassadors_3 Bicycle commuting is up by double-digit numbers in Minneapolis, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey. The number of city residents who say they bike to work grew by nearly 50 percent between 2006 and 2007.

Great news, but there have also been nine bike fatalities in Minnesota this year, with four occurring in Minneapolis or Saint Paul. Although increased numbers of cyclists on the road actually reduces car/bike crashes, some cyclists are feeling increased concerns about safety.

"With recent tragedies it would be reasonable for some cyclists to feel more vulnerable than usual," says Joan Pasiuk, Program Director of Bike Walk Twin Cities. "Cycling is a great transportation choice, but we need heightened enforcement of laws for both cyclists and motorists, as well as better education and well-maintained roads."

Through the Bike Walk Twin Cities initiative, the Bike Walk Ambassadors at the City of Minneapolis issued a press release identifying safety tips for both drivers and cyclists.

“There are things that motorists and bicyclists can do to ensure everyone’s safety and share the road,” said Lynnea Atlas-Ingebretson, Program Manager of the Bike Walk Ambassadors. “Safety has to be the priority and is each of our responsibilities. Most motorists and cyclists are not aware of the rules, yet they form opinions and practice behaviors that endanger themselves and others. It takes a few minutes to learn the rules for sharing our roads, and it is an important step in continuing to reduce crashes.”

Other Actions Taken After Bike Fatalities

  • A group of cyclists placed “ghost bike” memorials—bicycles painted white—at the scenes of the accidents. The same cyclists also organized a ride that attracted more than 300 cyclists, all of whom rode to the sites of the recent bike crashes. Many also attended the Unite Bike photo at Gold Medal Park, which turned out to be a beautiful picture of the Twin Cities cycling community.
  • Joan Pasiuk, the Program Director of the Bike Walk Twin Cities initiative, wrote a letter to the editor of the Star Tribune, asking the paper to clarify that drivers have the legal responsibility to observe traffic and yield the right of way to cyclists before accelerating past a stop sign.
  • Through the Bike Walk Twin Cities initiative, Transit for Livable Communities and the Bike Walk Ambassadors program at the City of Minneapolis issued press releases after the crashes. Transit for Livable Communities noted that increased numbers of cyclists on the road actually reduces car/bike crashes, while the City of Minneapolis noted that bike crashes in Minneapolis have trended downward over the past 15 years.

These are only the first steps in a longer-term, collaborative strategy to prevent cycling and pedestrian deaths. Through the Bike Walk Twin Cities initiative, Transit for Livable Communities will work closely with communities and governments on efforts to make our roads safer for all users.

Photo: Bike Walk Ambassadors Lynnea Atlas-Ingebretson, Shanai Matteson, David Peterson, Rebecca Gomez, and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak

I-94 Bus Lanes: A Partial Victory

See Transit for Livable Communities' Letter to MnDOT

See MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel's Response

Congestion35e You were heard by MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel!

As you may remember, the Interstate-94 highway shoulders between downtown Minneapolis and highway 280 were converted to regular lanes of traffic after the I-35W bridge collapsed. The lanes were to be removed once the new bridge opened--but that did not happen! Last month, Transit for Livable Communities wrote a letter to the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and the Metropolitan Council and also urged you to contact those agencies. We asked them to keep their promise and return the lanes to shoulders so they can again be used for bus access during congested periods and as a safe haven for vehicle breakdowns and crashes.

MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel wrote back to Transit for Livable Communities, thanking us for the letter and the phone calls and emails from our members. In the letter, he noted that MnDOT and the Metropolitan Council plan to leave the shoulder lanes open to all traffic through the fall and winter while they study whether to convert the lanes to “managed lanes.” [A “managed lane” is one that can be controlled for safety and emergency vehicle use, and can be used by transit and carpools. In some cases, managed lanes require single-occupancy vehicles to pay a toll.] The agency rejected TLC’s idea to use overhead message signs or new roadside signs to let travelers know about the study. 

On October 8th, MnDOT issued a press release announcing some minor restriping and the proposed managed lane study. The agency hoped its press release would reinforce the temporary status of the lanes. Since then, the temporary fourth lane between the Riverside Avenue exit and the 25th Avenue entrance ramps has been restriped to create an emergency shoulder that can be used by disabled vehicles and buses. This is a welcome outcome, but it still does not fully restore the bus lane that existed before the I-35W bridge collapsed.

While MnDOT’s decision to keep the shoulders open as mixed use lanes is not a full victory for public transit or for traffic safety, it is likely that without TLC’s letters and your actions this decision might have occurred without anyone drawing serious attention to it. Your calls and emails helped keep MnDOT and the Metropolitan Council accountable! Transit for Livable Communities will closely watch the study process, and we will let you know how you can stay involved. If you have a story to tell about your bus ride or vehicle breakdown in that stretch of I-94, please let us know. 

Metropolitan Council's Draft 2030 Transportation Plan: Too Few Specifics

Lightrail_2 The Metropolitan Council recently released its draft 2030 Transportation Policy Plan (TPP). This important document, prepared every four years, guides the region’s planning and investment in surface transportation, including roads, transit, highways, walking, and bicycling.

Since the 2004 Transportation Policy Plan was adopted, gas prices have fluctuated dramatically, the economy has faltered, concerns about climate change have increased, and an interstate bridge collapsed. Twin Cities residents are driving less and riding transit, walking, and bicycling more. The density of new residential growth in the region is still very low, raising the cost of everything from public infrastructure to school bus transportation.

Twin Cities commuters are packing buses and light rail trains everyday, but the Metropolitan Council has drafted a transportation plan that can only handle half of the future demand. The draft plan is encouraging in its de-emphasis on highway expansion, but the strategies proposed in this draft plan are too timid, too general, and fall too far behind similar regions around the country, especially in view of the plan's lack of a strong connection between land use and transportation.  

Transit for Livable Communities partnered with Fresh Energy, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, and the Sierra Club Northstar Chapter, and documented concerns in a joint memo. Those concerns include a lack of measurable outcomes, insufficient funding for transit, insufficient attention to bicycling and walking, a lack of clarity regarding highway prioritization, and a lack of commitment to strategies that will advance more transit-supportive land use. Transit for Livable Communities and its allies also testified at a public hearing on October 22nd.

Check out the full report. For help in writing your own comments, contact Michelle Dibblee at 651-767-0298 or MichelleD [at] tlcminnesota.org. Written comments are due to the Metropolitan Council on November 6th, so please send in your comments here.

TLC Member Meeting: Transit Corridors

Membermeeting_3 Next time we’ll order more sandwiches!

On September 29th, over 40 TLC members gathered for a meeting focused on corridor development around the region. With the Central Corridor light rail transit (LRT) line moving forward and more than $90 million in new money available from the new ¼ cent sales tax for regional corridors, more transportation decisions are impacting our communities. This means more opportunities for TLC members to show up at public meetings, open houses, and have an impact on the outcomes of any given transit corridor.

Many were particularly interested in the Central Corridor light rail transit line, and gathered in groups to share ideas and concerns about how the LRT will affect (1) bicycling/walking, (2) development, and (3) transit access along University Avenue. A fourth group met to learn more about corridor development around the region. Five corridors are now in various stages of development, research and decision-making.

Once again, TLC members proved it is impossible to predict who cares about transit! The room was filled with people ranging widely in age (college students to retirees), experience (development professionals to daily transit users), geography (urban and suburban), and income. 

So what’s next? TLC will be pulling together teams of volunteers to share ideas and work together to impact these corridors as they take shape around the region. Want in? Come aboard! Contact Michelle Dibblee, Organizer, at MichelleD [at] tlcminnesota.org or 651-767-0298.

For more information about the outcomes of the meeting, click here for a PDF copy of the notes.

Member Profile: Sandy Ahlstrom

Walking the walk every day

I love standing up for the opportunity to travel in “carbon-less” modes—especially when I am prepared with facts and reasons to tell others why I am making these choices.

I have found that riding transit, bicycling, and walking are all great ways to build community! As our population increases and diversity abounds, our efforts to make it possible for more people to ride and walk will also help create community networks and a chance for us to interact in Minnesota’s great outdoors. What fun to be able to take real advantage of the Minnesota landscape in both the cities and suburbs, where so many of us thrive. I love standing up for the right to travel in “carbon-less” modes when I am working with other people who care about the same things! Thank you, Transit for Livable Communities, for empowering me!

Sandy’s commitment to bicycling, walking and transit:

  1. Talk with my legislators and other elected officials about my transportation passions.
  2. Educate my community by talking with friends and neighbors and arranging speaking opportunities for experts.
  3. Spread the word by letting others know when elected officials are making key decisions on transit, biking, and walking!

Transportation Project Updates in the Twin Cities Region

Bottineau Boulevard Launches Website for Alternatives Analysis Study
Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority has created a website for the Bottineau Transitway Alternatives Analysis Study, which is determining the best mode of transportation to serve the 22-mile corridor. The site houses information about the study and posts study documents and meeting notice updates. As you may recall, this project was originally envisioned as a busway in the center of a rebuilt Trunk Highway 81. The project is now being studied for light rail transit. http://www.bottransit.org/index.html

Central Corridor Work Continues
On September 5th, the Metropolitan Council submitted its draft application to the Federal Transit Administration to begin final design work for the Central Corridor. The Federal Transit Administration is expected to review the 4,000-plus pages of charts, graphs, technical drawings, information on project plans, ridership projections, operating and maintenance costs and a project budget of $914.9 million over the coming months before making a decision on the project by early next year. The application was the result of 20 months of work, which included nearly a thousand public meetings attended by 25,000 people. Soaring costs for steel, asphalt, concrete and other materials forced modifications in August in project plans to reduce costs and meet federal cost-effectiveness requirements. As proposed, the project includes 15 new stations, a transit-pedestrian mall on Washington Avenue on the University of Minnesota’s East Bank campus and the underground infrastructure for three additional stations that could be added later at Western, Victoria and Hamline on University Avenue in St. Paul. http://www.metrocouncil.org/transportation/ccorridor/centralcorridor.htm

First Northstar Locomotive Arrives
Don't be surprised if you see a Northstar Commuter Rail locomotive rolling down the track! The first of five Northstar locomotives arrived at the Northstar Vehicle Maintenance Facility in Big Lake this month. Along the way, it passed by stations under construction at Downtown Minneapolis, Coon Rapids, Anoka, Elk River and Big Lake. The line is scheduled to open by the end of 2009. The Metropolitan Council is currently reassessing proposed fares for Northstar to ensure that there is consistency among subsidies for light rail, bus, and commuter rail.  Check out photos of the trains passing the Coon Rapids station! http://northstar.typepad.com/northstar_commuter_rail/2008/10/first-northstar.html

Southwest Light Rail Transit Public Meetings Draw Large Crowds
Hennepin County held three public meetings over the last two weeks on a “scoping process” for the proposed Southwest light rail transit project (SWLRT). The meetings were held as the County begins its development of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). That study, which will examine three possible alignments, is expected to take about 18 months.  The SWLRT line will connect  Eden Prairie with downtown Minneapolis; some portion of the line will run alongside the current SWLRT trail.  If project planning remains on schedule, and local funding and FTA approvals happen when expected, the line will open in 2015 – one year after the expected opening of the Central Corridor. Check the web site www.southwesttransitway.org/

Jeremy Messersmith Releases “Light Rail,” a Song about the Hiawatha Line
Jeremy Messersmith’s new “Light Rail” song is highly in demand on local radio. The song is about the Hiawatha Line and features lyrics like “It’ll take you anywhere you want to go/take a ride/you can watch the town fly by/hop inside/you’ll be there in half the time/when you ride the light rail/OOOOOOO.” With the help of eForests, Messersmith has supported tree planting and carbon reduction projects that will absorb and offset all of the carbon dioxide (CO2) created during the production, manufacture and distribution of the CDs as well as from his travel from his Autumn 2008 U.S. tour. You can listen to the song at http://www.myspace.com/jeremymessersmith by clicking on “Light Rail” in the music player. You can purchase the album, The Silver City, at local music stores and www.jeremymessersmith.com.

Transportation News and Views

Bicycle Commuter Act is Signed Into Law
After seven long years, the bicycle commuter tax provision is now law, and the League of American Bicyclists is taking the lead to ensure that the implementation guidelines are established prior to the provision’s effective date: January 1, 2009.

“We are delighted that the bicycle commuter benefits act has passed after a lengthy and persistent campaign spearheaded by Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR),” said League President Andy Clarke. “Bicycle commuters will now be extended similar benefits to people who take transit and drive to work – it’s an equitable and sensible incentive to encourage greater energy independence, improve air quality and health, and even help tackle climate change.” Thanks also to all of you around the country who have contacted your congressional leaders over the years. Check out the League of American Bicyclists for frequently asked questions about the provision.

Amtrak Funding Doubles
President George W. Bush signed legislation that boosts funding for Amtrak and other passenger-rail services, setting up a broader debate next year over federal transportation spending that highlights differences between the two major candidates seeking to succeed President Bush. The legislation provides roughly $13 billion for Amtrak and passenger-rail funding over five years, nearly double current spending levels. The bill also contains a mandate for rail operators to equip trains with collision-avoidance technology that could have prevented the head-on crash in California that killed 25 people.

Congressman Oberstar Announces Grant to Study Duluth/Twin Cities Rail Line
A federal grant will move the Duluth-to-Minneapolis high-speed passenger rail line closer to completion.  On September 30th, Congressman Jim Oberstar announced that the project has been awarded $1.1 million from the Federal Railroad Administration. The funding will be used to complete an environmental impact statement for the project. “Work on the Northern Lights Express is moving along at full throttle,” said Oberstar. “This is the kind of project that will save energy and alleviate congestion on our highways.  With high fuel prices, we need to do all we can to give consumers alternatives to driving.” If implemented, the Northern Lights Express will run 150 miles from Duluth to downtown Minneapolis at speeds of up to 110 mph.  According to Congressman Oberstar, portions of the line could become operational by the end of next year.                                                                               

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Public Officials, and Transportation Experts Call on Next President and Congress to Move America Out of Economic Peril by Investing in Transportation
On the eve of the final Presidential debate at Hofstra University, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, public officials, and national transportation experts called on the next President and Congress to move America out of economic peril by investing in a transportation system that creates jobs, saves Americans money, and reduces our oil dependence. “Our presidential candidates have voted to bail out Wall Street, and it’s now time for both candidates and Congress to start talking about how they will invest in Main Street,” says Lea Schuster, Executive Director of Transit for Livable Communities. “America’s transportation system — the backbone of our economy for decades — is broken. Rather than increase our oil addiction and limit ourselves to building more roads and highways, let’s get our economy — and Americans — moving again by building a 21st-century transportation system.”

How Would You Spend $50 Million: One Mile of an Urban Highway or Hundreds of Miles of Bicycling and Walking Infrastructure?
A report issued today by the Rails to Trails Conservancy (RTC) quantifies, for the first time, the benefits that America can expect from elevating the priority of bicycling and walking in our nation’s transportation system. For the price of a single mile of a four-lane urban highway, approximately $50 million, hundreds of miles of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure can be built, an investment that could complete an entire network of places to walk and bike in a mid-sized city.

 

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