« January 2009 |
| March 2009 »
A cash boost for rail in Minnesota. Thanks to a major spending bill left over from last year’s Congress, Minnesota rail projects stand to receive significant additional funding. The bill includes $71.2 million to complete the Northstar Corridor commuter rail project from Big Lake to Minneapolis and $20 million for the Central Corridor line connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul. Congresswoman Betty McCollum, who helped secure the funding on the Appropriations Committee, said the rail projects will “ensure that Minnesota remains economically viable in the future.”
Fast trains heading to Minnesota. The $787 billion stimulus package reserves $8 billion for intercity high-speed rail in order to provide Americans with alternative forms of transportation. The investment will substantially benefit Minnesota’s ailing economy. Routes from Duluth to Minneapolis and St. Paul to Winona (on the way to Chicago) are projected to bring more than 15,000 new jobs, $648 million in added personal income, nearly $2 billion in higher property values and up to $2.3 billion in savings from reducing travel times, congestion and pollution.
Bicycling and Walking
Cyclists, walkers discuss Central Corridor. On February 19, cyclists and walkers gathered at the Bike Walk Central Corridor Action Plan open house to voice their opinions and give recommendations about proposed bike and pedestrian trail routes. The goal of the Bike Walk Central Corridor Action Plan is to enhance biking and walking to and within the Central Corridor and foster bicycling and walking as a major portion of the transportation solution. Consultant Greg Ingraham explained that the open house was designed to target people that live in the neighborhood or have biked or walked in the Central Corridor in order to generate ideas from people that know the area best. The planning study was funded through the Bike Walk Twin Cities initiative, administered by Transit for Livable Communities.
Better pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure help combat cancer. This week, the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research released a major public health report offering policy recommendations that aim to reduce preventable cancer. According to the report, a third of the 12 most common cancers in developed countries could be avoided through diet, exercise, and weight control. Accordingly, policy recommendations include creating more dedicated, safe space available for pedestrians and cyclists and discouraging motorized transport.
Housing for homeless aided by Central Corridor. The Metropolitan Council recently agreed to contribute $448,800 for supportive housing for the long-term homeless near the Central Corridor light rail line. The funding will be used to renovate a vacant nursing home on Lexington Parkway that will be converted into 48 apartments for people who have been homeless for a long time.
Transit and Roads
Fast trains heading to MN (Twin Cities Daily Planet)
Slice of stimulus package will go to faster trains (New York Times)
High-speed rail and biotech in Rochester (mnpACT)
Stimulus puts high-speed rail on the fast track (NPR)
Spending bill has $91 million for Northstar Line (Finance and Commerce)
A cash boost for rail in MN (Star Tribune)
Congresswoman McCollum: LRT project can by 'shovel-ready by next year' (Pioneer Press)
Central Corridor gets $20 million infusion (KSTP)
Met Council proposes road projects for stimulus funding (MPR)
Public invited to weigh in on Northstar Line (KSTP)
Shared tracks shouldn't derail Northstar commuter schedules (Star Tribune)
Rolling out new super-fast trains (Tree Hugger)
Minneapolis traffic congestion 10th worst in nation (Minn Post)
Pawlenty touts highway projects in stimulus bill he doesn't like (Minn Post)
Bicycling and Walking
Cyclists, walkers discuss Central Corridor (Twin Cities Daily Planet)
Pedestrian-friendly improvements coming to NYC's Herald and Times Squares (Tree Hugger)
Why better pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure will help combat cancer (Examiner)
Housing for long-term homeless aided by Central Corridor (Minn Post)
Here is what Transit for Livable Communities will work on during the 2009 legislative session:
- Support new funding to eliminate projected funding shortfall for metro area transit and greater MN bus systems. Metro Transit and regional transit providers face the largest deficit in history: a whopping $91 million for 2010 and 2011. Approximately one-third of the funding for the metro bus system comes from the Motor Vehicle Sales Tax (MVST); with fewer people buying new and used cars, MVST revenue has dropped sharply. The new ¼ cent sales tax (in five metro counties) cannot be used to pay for regular route bus service. If additional money is not provided, fares may be increased by another 50 cents and/or service could be cut.
- Support bonding for Central Corridor. Transit for Livable Communities supports bonding for the remainder of
the state-level funding needed for the Central Corridor light rail
transit line. The second year of the Minnesota legislative biennium (in even-numbered
years- 2008, 2010, 2012) is when lawmakers decide which state priorities
to fund. The state’s bonding can be considered like a credit card- it
is how the state finances new improvements on projects that the state
owns- trails, bridges, roads, higher education buildings, etc.
Lawmakers spend the majority of this session viewing state projects up
for funding and then deciding where state bonds will be awarded.
- Support funding or policy related to high speed intercity passenger rail. Legislators may put more resources toward creating high-speed passenger rail that would run from the Twin Cities to Duluth and Chicago. Transit for Livable Communities would support such a bill.
- Support legislation that allows cities to use photo enforcement technology to ticket vehicles or drivers running a red light. Significant research from across the United States documents that red light cameras save lives and money.The coalition that supported a bill that nearly passed last session will try again this year. TLC endorsed photo enforcement in our report Sharing the Road: Encouraging Bicycling and Walking in Minnesota, and we testified in favor of red light enforcement legislation in the past.
- "Complete Streets" language. The
streets of our cities and towns should be designed for everyone to use, but too many of our streets are unsafe for
people on foot or bike. Communities across the country are working to build road networks that are safe for all travelers. During this session, legislators may offer language that would require bridge reconstruction
projects authorized in the 2008 transportation bill to include
accommodations for bicyclists and pedestrians. This language could be a first step to in working toward a complete streets policy in 2010.
- Support "Building Sensible Communities." Now that new rail and busway projects have a predictable source of funding, it is important that land use practices that support these investments are put in place. This legislative package, sponsored by the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, would encourage improved land use planning by (1) requiring an analysis of greenhouse gas emissions for local comprehensive plans reviewed by the Metropolitan Council, (2) new financial incentives for transit-oriented-development, (3) new Mn/DOT goals to require a reduction in driving per capita, and (4) requiring additional analysis of greenhouse gas emissions during project planning stages.
From Jaméz Smith, Bike Walk Twin Cities Administrative Assistant.
Walking down 42nd Ave on my way home after work last night, I was impressed with the amount of sidewalk clearing that had occurred in response to yesterday’s snow storm. The snow was still falling at 8pm, and yet many home-owners had not only managed to clear the snow from the walks in front of their homes, but those on corner lots had even cleared access to the crosswalks.
Walking up 42nd Ave on my to work this morning, I was highly disappointed to see that in clearing the roads for automobile traffic, the snow plows had dumped snow back onto the sidewalks, and completely blocked crosswalk access, negating the diligent efforts from the previous evening.
What’s the point of requiring homeowners to clear the sidewalk in front of their homes only to have that work undone to clear the roads?
I walked up to a woman bundled from head to toe as she was re-shoveling her walk. I thanked her for her work and shared my frustration.
“Yeah, it happens every time.” She said, stopping to catch her breath in the 2o weather. “But what can you do?”
President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act last week, providing a total of $48 billion for transportation projects. Minnesota’s guaranteed share of this money is pegged at nearly $600 million, which our state and local officials are now responsible for allocating.
“These funds offer state and local officials an unprecedented opportunity to create jobs that will build even stronger communities in Minnesota,” stated Lea Schuster, Executive Director of Transit for Livable Communities. “We’re calling on Governor Pawlenty, state DOT Commissioner Tom Sorel, and Metropolitan Council Chair Peter Bell to heed President Obama’s vision for change and urging them to spend these investments wisely.”
Congress provided no criteria to ensure that Surface Transportation Program (STP) funds are prioritized toward fixing Minnesota’s crumbling infrastructure and expanding public transit and bicycle and pedestrian routes. As a result, decisions about the kinds of jobs to create and projects to fund with federal stimulus funds are in the hands of state and local officials. This is where you come in.
Your mayor will have a great deal of discretion about how to spend some of the transportation-specific stimulus money locally. You can contact your mayor’s office and let them know what projects you think should be funded—or what shouldn’t be funded. It is also a good idea to contact city councilmembers and let them know your priorities.
On our end, TLC is working to ensure that our state leadership spends the stimulus money on transportation projects that reduce our state’s backlog of maintenance needs, improve safety for all transportation users, and provide transportation options that reduce household costs, energy use, and environmental impacts and also improve public health.
Here’s the nitty-gritty on the legislation:
- $27.5 billion is allocated to the STP that, as its name states, can be spent on the state’s most pressing surface transportation needs. Minnesota’s $500 million in STP funds will help restore our transportation networks to a state of good repair if state and local officials give priority to fix-it-first rather than expanded highways.
- Just under 30 percent of STP funds will be directed to metropolitan decision makers, who will have the flexibility to use the money to meet the diverse transportation needs of their constituents while helping to foster the clean energy economy envisioned by the President.
- A substantial percentage of funding is explicitly dedicated to public transportation, to help meet growing demand. Minnesota’s share of the $8.4 billion nationally dedicated to transit will be nearly $95 million.
Nationally, $8 billion will be made available for high speed rail. This money will be awarded competitively to states to improve passenger rail service, primarily on those corridors where 110 mph service is proposed. Funds can also be used on conventional rail projects that relieve congestion. According to the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago, one of the nation’s leading advocates for High Speed Rail, “The Midwest is very well positioned, with federally designated high-speed rail corridors radiating out in a hub-and-spoke network from Chicago to St. Louis, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Madison and the Twin Cities.”
In September 2008, volunteer counters took to the streets with tally sheets, clipboards, and sharpened pencils to better understand how many people are walking and bicycling in Minneapolis and its neighboring communities.
These counts are part of a continued data collection process to learn more about bicycle and pedestrian behavior in the Minneapolis area. Undertaken collaboratively by Transit for Livable Communities (TLC) and the Department of Public Works at the City of Minneapolis as part of the Bike Walk Twin Cities (BWTC) initiative, the counts also provide a baseline for measuring the impacts of bicycle and pedestrian investments made throughout the BWTC initiative.
In this report, we can see that bicycling and walking increased during 2008. At locations where counts were performed in both 2007 and 2008, walking increased by six percent and bicycling increased by 29 percent. These numbers support the trends illustrated in the American Commuter Survey (ACS) from 2005 to 2007, which also shows increases in walking and bicycling.
By itself, this information is little more than an interesting statistic. Over time, counts and other data collection—combined with strong collaboration with local governments, businesses, organizations, and residents—can help local leaders make better informed decisions about bicycling and walking investments.
Through Bike Walk Twin Cities, Transit for Livable Communities will continue to collect data to measure increases and decreases in walking, bicycling, and driving. To enhance the reliability of the data, TLC is beginning a monthly count at selected locations, and is also considering adding automated counters.
The mission of the Bike Walk Twin Cities initiative is simple: increase walking and bicycling, and reduce driving in Minneapolis and its neighboring communities. It is also about ensuring that more people have a voice in the transportation decisions that impact their lives, which is why we work closely with local governments, businesses, organizations and residents, in our decisionmaking processes. Ultimately, the Bike Walk Twin Cities initiative will provide new insights into travel choices and how people interact with the built environment, and we thank all of the people who have helped make this work possible.
We welcome your thoughts and questions. Your input helps us make the Twin Cities an even better place to walk and bike.
To find a copy of the report and maps showing count locations, click here.
In partnership with 1000 Friends of Minnesota, Transit for Livable Communities and allies have developed a new initiative, aimed not at simply reshaping our transportation system, but at reshaping how we think about all the land we use—and all the ways we use it. The initiative, called Building Sensible Communities, will result in, among many other benefits, a greater number of real transportation choices for everyone.
The Building Sensible Communities plan addresses the threat to Minnesota’s quality of life from a lack of convenient transportation choices and spread out development patterns that force Minnesotans to drive much more today than they would like. Unless Minnesotans have more opportunities to live closer to their destinations, the need to drive will continue to increase along with personal costs, congestion, and pollution. The Building Sensible Communities initiative provides a solution, presented in “cost-effective and realistic steps that we can take now”:
- Create incentives for metro and greater Minnesota communities to implement land use planning practices that would achieve global warming reduction goals identified by Governor Pawlenty and the legislature’s MN Climate Change Advisory Group.
- Ensure the Metropolitan Council includes Minnesota’s adopted global warming pollution reduction targets in its comprehensive planning process.
- Require MnDOT to plan for a multi-modal transportation system that can reduce overall driving, by increasing transit, bike, and pedestrian trips.
The foreseen benefits are numerous and diverse, including more choices for where to live and how to get around, lowered costs—especially around transportation and utilities—for families and governments, better stewardship of our land—both urban and rural—and a reduction in greenhouse gas pollution.
This initiative was developed by 1000 Friends of Minnesota, Transit for Livable Communities, Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, Fresh Energy, and Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.
You can see the Building Sensible Communities document here. (PDF 1.2KB)
Metro Transit and regional transit providers face one of the largest deficits in state history--$45-61 million over the next two years. Why the budget hole? Approximately one-third of the funding for the metro bus system comes from the Motor Vehicle Sales Tax (MVST). With fewer people buying cars, the funding available for transit is shrinking rapidly.
This is a problem--especially because, year after year, ridership numbers have been exploding. In other words: when (and because) buses and light rail are needed most, the money is dwindling. And even though fares have already been increased once in the past year, Metro Transit is preparing for more fare increases and service cuts unless new money is made available.
TLC is exploring ways to fill that budget gap with new revenue. We are heading into a new era, where more and more people want to ride transit, bike, or walk. We have to start making decisions now that make this possible for years to come. Legislators want to hear from their constituents about what’s most important as they put the budget together for the next two years. They especially need to hear from transit supporters. This is where you come in.
One thing you can do is come to a field hearing. Senator Scott Dibble, chair of the Senate transit subcommittee, and guests from the House of Representatives, will hold field hearings in Minneapolis on March 4 and Maplewood on March 5 to hear testimony from community members. The best thing you can do is to just come, tell your story, and ask for increased revenue to fill the budget hole for transit.
The hearings will be taking place at the following locations:
Minneapolis: March 4, 2009. 5:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Hennepin County Government Center
300 S Sixth Street
A-level auditorium (ENTER ON THE SIDE OF THE LRT STATION)
Minneapolis, MN 554887
Maplewood: 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM
Maplewood City Hall
1830 County Rd B East
City Council Chambers
Maplewood, MN 5510
Obama plans huge rail expansion. On Tuesday, February 17, President Obama signed an economic recovery bill that dedicates $8 billion to high-speed rail. Administration officials told Politico that the President is expected to ask for $1 billion more in each of the next five years when he outlines his 2010 budget next week. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood declared that the landmark investment will transform intercity transportation, reduce our carbon footprint and relieve congestion. A recent survey revealed strong support for the initiative. 81 percent of respondents think the expansion of high-speed rail and light rail transit systems can transform U.S. travel and commerce like the interstate highway system did in the 20th century. Curious about what a high-speed rail system would look like? Check out this map of high-speed rail corridor designations, which includes a line running from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Chicago!
Twin Cities homeless lobby legislature for discounted bus passes. Homeless advocacy group and Minneapolis non-profit St. Stephen’s Human Services is working to help homeless/impoverished residents retain access to crucial public transit services. Last year’s 25 cent fare hike disproportionately affected the poor, many of whom rely on public transit in their search for employment. Another fare increase is expected in 2009, but St. Stephen’s hopes to reduce the financial burden with a plan that would allow charities that serve homeless to purchase passes in bulk for half price. A bill in both the House and Senate addressing the matter has been introduced and a vote is expected in 6-8 weeks.
Bicycling and Walking
Improving safety by increasing street connectivity. A recent study of traffic fatalities in 24 cities reveals that safety grows as street networks become denser. Researchers cite an American Society of Civil Engineers study which found that more-connected street networks tend to reduce travel speeds. Speed reduction is crucial to preventing fatalities. A recent report from Europe found that when average vehicle speeds drop by 5 percent, the number of injuries drops by 10 percent and the number of fatalities falls 20 percent. The study also revealed that a higher number of intersections per square mile lead to a decline in fatalities and the frequency of severe injuries. The study strengthens the Building Sensible Communities initiative, an effort spurred by 1000 Friends of Minnesota, Transit for Livable Communities, Fresh Energy, the Minneosta Center for Environmental Advocacy, and the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability aiming to provide Minnesotans with more opportunities to live closer to their jobs, schools, and grocery stores. By building denser street networks, pedestrian safety will improve and ultimately lead to more-livable streets and communities.
Stimulus bill is a step forward for pedestrians, cyclists and cities. A portion of the funds allocated for highways in the stimulus bill will be authorized for the Transportation Enhancements program, most of which goes toward bicycle and pedestrian projects. Compared to the 2005 transportation bill known as SAFETEA-LU, the stimulus appropriates nearly twice as much funding for bike and pedestrian enhancements, from 1.7 percent of total highway funding to 3 percent. The stimulus bill reflects the hard efforts of bicycle advocates and gives them something to build on as Congress gears up for the big transportation re-authorization coming later this year.
Legislature seeks fix-up funds for St. Paul's Union Depot. In the mid-1900’s the Union Depot was a bustling train station, but since 1971 the building has been used for restaurants and condos. Bills pending in the legislature would help finish remodeling the Union Depot into a hub for buses, trains, and other transit options. When completed, the depot’s list of possible uses includes: intercity and Metro Transit buses, bicycle and pedestrian traffic, the Central Corridor light rail line, Greyhound and Jefferson Lines bus service, Amtrak and a potential high-speed train between the building and Chicago.
Transit and Roads
Twin Cities homeless lobby legislature for discounted bus passes (City Pages)
Dave Van Hattum: Build bigger roads, or build a future? (Star Tribune)
Listening to the President on transportation (Streets Blog)
Hopes for bullet train from Twin Cities to Chicago back on track (Pioneer Press)
Use the stimulus bill to complete our nation's streets (Streets Blog)
Transportation chief eyes taxing miles driven (MSNBC)
LRT in other cities (Twin Cities Streets for People)
Hope springs eternal for American transportation policy (Streets Blog)
Obama signals long-term reforms in transportation spending (T4America)
Full summary of The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (T4America)
Better infrastructure: A road to recovery (Minnesota 2020)
Central Corridor light rail on track (Finance and Commerce)
Map of potential high-speed rail built by the stimulus (Huffington Post)
Obama plots huge rail expansion (Politico)
High-speed rail: Let us choose wisely (mnpACT)
Obama plans massive new high-speed railroad (Tree Hugger)
Survey: Americans would pay for infrastructure (Triangle Business Journal)
MnDOT seeks input on tough, 20-year transportation plan (MPR)
Scott County is tied up in traffic frustration (Star Tribune)
PRT: Personal Rapid Transit (Twin Cities Streets for People)
David Brooks: Still rooting for auto dependence and sprawl (Streets Blog)
Replacement bridge on schedule in St. Cloud (Pioneer Press)
Bicycling and Walking
Greenwheel wants to make going electric easy for bikes (Tree Hugger)
Stimulus bill is a step forward for pedestrians, cyclists and cities (Streets Blog)
Improve safety by increasing street connectivity (Twin Cities Streets for People)
Hennepin County adopts MN's first complete streets resolution (Twin Cities Streets for People)
Minneapolis bike-sharing program just needs federal funds (City Pages)
Legislature looks for fix-up funds for St. Paul's Union Depot (Minn Post)
The interplay of housing and transportation (Planetizen)
Dave is TLC's Policy & Advocacy Program Manager, and a darn smart guy. Check out his editorial in today's Star Tribune!
Dave Van Hattum: Build bigger roads, or build a future?
There's no question that the nation's economy needs a kick in the
pants. With an unemployment rate at nearly 8 percent and rising,
Americans need to get back to work.
Still, Americans want to understand how stimulus money will be
spent. How will the country measure the success of its investments in
schools, transportation, health care and other programs designed to
create jobs and build a sustainable economy?
In Minnesota, the debate over spending transportation dollars from
the stimulus package provides a microcosm of the national debate. The
governor, the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the
Metropolitan Council are determining how to spend the money: How much
should go toward providing Minnesotans with more opportunities to take
transit, walk or bike; how much should go toward repairing roads, and
how much should be used for expanding the highway system?
During this process, transparent planning and accountability
for results should be a top priority. State residents deserve to know
how their federal tax dollars are spent, and they have asked for more
options in getting around.
With that in mind, the draft plan being prepared by MnDOT and the
Met Council for metropolitan projects -- directing most of the money to
two large highway-expansion projects -- is a bit puzzling.
By MnDOT's own reports, there will continue to be unmet needs for
maintenance on Minnesota's roads and bridges. That's not surprising,
given that the Twin Cities region has more highway lanes per capita
than Los Angeles or Detroit. If there is one thing the national
economic downturn is teaching our nation, it's that we simply can't
afford to buy beyond our means -- and that means not building new
highways if we can't maintain the ones we already have.
At the same time, Minnesotans are begging for more buses, trains and
livable neighborhoods. They are driving less and less; transit
ridership is at its highest level in more than half a century, and
local calls for new rail lines and bike facilities grow louder by the
That dip in driving actually precedes the current economic downturn
by several years and was exacerbated, not created, by rising fuel
costs. Our state is changing; our population is growing older;
economizing on car travel is popular, and more people are choosing
neighborhoods that allow them to take transit, walk or bike to get
around. These trends have radically changed what residents demand from
their transportation system. Spending priorities must reflect that new
reality, especially with a metro-area transit system facing one of the
largest deficits in state history.
If the emphasis is on creating new jobs, our state agencies should
place a high priority on making that happen. Developing the
infrastructure needed for a 21st-century transportation system -- which
includes buses and trains, intercity rail, well-maintained roads and
bridges, and bike and pedestrian amenities -- will create tens of
thousands of good jobs. Nearly 10 percent more jobs, in fact, than
merely expanding roads and bridges that will grow congested again after
a year or two at best.
No doubt there is a necessary urgency to identify "shovel-ready"
projects and get people back to work. If MnDOT and the Met Council fail
to prioritize transit and road maintenance, but rather move forward
with plans to advance a couple of major highway-expansion projects,
they are not simply straying from our state's most-pressing needs --
they are moving away from their own goals and priorities of safety,
moving people and innovation.
Minnesota has a choice: Use the economic stimulus investments to
dramatically revitalize our transportation infrastructure, or spend it
on "business as usual." There will always be local pressure to address
just one more critical bottleneck, but nearly one-third of Minnesotans
can't drive due to age, health or inability to afford a car. Our state
agencies must act in a transformative and transparent manner to advance
the common good and provide Minnesotans with the transportation options
for which residents have long asked.
Dave Van Hattum is the policy and advocacy program manager at
Transit for Livable Communities. He is also the coauthor of the report
"Transportation Performance in the Twin Cities Region."
Transit for Livable Communities and allies sent a letter to Minnesota Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel outlining opportunities to use stimulus money to fund projects that would bring our roads and bridges into a state of good repair, and that will reduce our state's dependence on oil--both goals prioritized by the Governor and by Mn/DOT’s own state plan. Suggestions include:
1. Prioritizing maintenance, repair, and safety of existing roads and infrastructure.
2. Giving local roads greater priority.
3. Prioritizing projects that increase safety, especially for pedestrians and bicyclists
If the purpose of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (better known as "the stimulus") is to bring both economic recovery in the short term and investment in a clean energy economy for the long term, it must create transportation jobs today that will strengthen Minnesota’s communities for decades to come. That means funding the kinds of jobs in Minnesota that fix crumbling roads, bridges, trails, and sidewalks, build complete streets, and expand rail and bus transit.
The other signatory organizations are LISC Twin Cites, LISC Duluth, Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, Fresh Energy, 1000 Friends of Minnesota, Growth and Justice, ISAIAH, Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, and Sierra Club, Northstar Chapter.
If you're interested in reading the full letter, go ahead. (PDF, 211KB)