Part 1: Political parties, three-axes, and public transport

By David Levinson and David King.

As a gross over-simplification, the current rap is that Democrats like trains and Republicans like roads, Greens like bikes and Libertarians like tolls. No party stands up for buses, which are by far the most used transit mode.1

Transportation policy has become politically divisive, especially for local politics which have been less constrained by national parties in the past. Why should something as fundamental as infrastructure policy lead to such vitriol and moral superiority?

Roads (Republican) Rail (Democrat)  Don't Know (Independence),  Bikes (Green)
Roads (Republican)
Rail (Democrat)
Don’t Know (Independence),
Bikes (Green)

We need a good framework to start working through why advocates of a particular transport technology are so assured of their rightness. In the current environment, there is no room for reasoned critique of transit, roads, etc., or reasonable agreement that these things are important.

Maturity (peak travel) is one explanation. Transport policy has become ideological because there are not clear priorities for new investment for any mode, and spending on maintenance doesn’t make anyone happy, it just prevents future unhappiness.

Another plausible explanation is that as federal dollars have become more competitive (for all things) strict party loyalty is more important at the local level. This means that federal representation sets priorities for non-formula spending and if you want any money you best conform to that vision. As Republicans dominate rural areas and Democrats dominate cities, party loyalty helps determine what transport policies you favor.

 Three-axes Model

If you take a charitable view of the world of ideas, and politics,  you can adopt  the three-axes model of political beliefs popularized by Arnold Kling. People have internal value systems that array on three axes. For convenience we have mapped these to the three-point French Revolutionary slogan of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.

This idea is in the ether, [So we won’t take credit for originality]

Keith Wilson
04-08-2013, 05:51 PM
Perhaps it would be better, or at least less fractious, to get back to something like the subject of the original post?I propose another way of looking at it. Three civic values, all good things, but sometimes in conflict: liberty, equality, and community (probably a better translation than ‘fraternity’, which seems an unreliable cognate). One’s political ideology is a reflection of the relative weight one gives these three. Libertarians value liberty, and don’t care much if at all about the others. A traditional conservative might value community most highly; modern libertarian-influenced conservatives community and liberty, both value equality a distant third. A utopian socialist, or even a genuinely idealistic communist (rare breeds these days) would value equality much more highly than the others. An orthodox Catholic distributist would value community above all, with equality perhaps second.Personally, I think the trick is to try and maximize all three, or at least maintain a pretty good balance.


In brief:

  • Liberty is associated with Libertarianism, and privileges individual freedom.
  • Equality  is associated with modern American ‘liberalism’ and social justice, and thus the Democrats, and prioritizes fairness (with all that means).
  • Fraternity (or community), considers most important group loyalty, respect for order and hierarchy, and obedience to the social order, preservation of civilization, abhorrence of barbarism, and is associated with modern American ‘conservatism’ and thus Republicans.

There are important core-values associated with all of the axes, and society requires a tension between them to be successful.

Without social justice, (which is bad of itself), the out-group will not be loyal to the system.  If out-groups provide value (e.g. by increasing international trade), this is a major loss. Even without a clear racial out-group, people naturally form divisions over even trivial distinctions, as shown in the Robbers Cave Experiment.

Without any individual freedoms, (which is bad of itself), and rewards and responsibilities associated with personal action) there will be no innovation or progress.

Without any respect for order, there will be no stability or government or framework under which the others can operate.  There also needs to be defense against the outsider.

It is entirely reasonable to believe that society has moved too far on one axis and away from another.  It is entirely unreasonable to believe only one axis has value. Absolutism on any of these axes (as a core belief) is politically unsustainable. Pretended absolutism as a way of opening the  Overton window  may be, however, a logical strategic move, depending the degree to which people believe you are true to your beliefs.


Nevertheless, regardless of your political persuasion, everyone should like buses. Over the coming week, the rationale for the various political persuasions will be presented.

1. [The Independence Party (in Minnesota) shown in the photo was an offshoot of Ross Perot's Reform movement that was aligned with independent governor Jesse Ventura, and has been captured by some others in recent years. In practice, Ventura funded the first LRT line in the Twin Cities (thanks in large part to Representative Oberstar), but underfunded  maintenance of roads and bridges.]

“Minneapolis Needs a Subway” – Comments on the Metropolitan Council’s Transportation Policy Plan |

“Minneapolis is the largest CBD in the United States without a subway.” I don’t know if that claim is true, or relevant, but it very well might be, since by some measures it has the fifth densest CBD in the US. More to the point, there is no CBD in the US that has more transit commuters that doesn’t have a subway (except Seattle, which has a bus tunnel with LRT, which sort of counts). (Table 7 here, and list of US subway systems here). This of course does not mean that more transit growth cannot come without a subway. It does mean that I should expect to hear the usual gong-bangers about transit investment pushing for a true Metro for the Minneapolis-St. Paul region, at least in the long term plan. A vision from a transit agency should note the need for more north-south and east-west transit capacity in the center, and the time savings from a grade-separated rapid transit system that did not get trapped at traffic lights. These time savings would both benefit current riders and induce more transit riders, and with the positive feedback mechanism between accessibility and development, lead to more intense land development at stations.  Yet this discussion is so far beyond the pale in the MSP region that it is barely even mentioned on the UrbanMSP forums.

(For the record, I don’t actually support or oppose a subway at this time, but I do think it should be seriously considered given changing population totals, demographic mix, technologies, and so on.)

Where this discussion should show up is in regional visions.

The 2040 Transportation Policy Plan: Connecting communities, fostering regional prosperity is the draft version of the official regional vision.  It claims to be “advancing a bold regional vision.” There is of course a vision here. It is not my vision. It is not an urbanist vision. It is, unfortunately,  not a bold vision.

It is a fiscally constrained vision. It is a vision of an organization whose leadership is entirely appointed by a governor representing seven mostly suburban counties. It is a vision of an organization that thinks the metro area has “nearly 3 million people” rather than the Census recognized 3.8 million people in the Minneapolis–St. Paul–St. Cloud, MN-WI region. These are just spatial definitions, and in some respects a smaller area is better than a larger one, but it illustrates parochialism of the official outlook.

The Policy Plan is critique-able on a variety of grounds. I have not compiled a complete list, but will throw some things out for discussion.

  1. So many resources are aimed at areas that are not transit serviceable except by park and ride. Look especially at the amount of purple lines in the exurban east metro. This is not surprising given the spatial make-up of the organization, just disappointing.
  2. Little is even proposed for the urban core cities and some first ring suburbs. Arterial BRT is an improvement of course, but there is so little of it.
  3. “Access to destinations” is one of the key transportation goals. I like the words of course, since I authored some of the 14 reports in the CTS series “Access to Destinations.” Sadly, accessibility (such as number of jobs or stores that can be reached in a given time (e.g. 30 minutes)) is not actually one of the performance measures. (page 30)
  4. The maps focus on lines rather than stations. Yet nodes of activity are at least as important, it is where all the positive benefits of service accrue. The lines themselves generally are the nuisance of train noise or pollution.
  5. The maps give equal weight to all areas, rather than focusing on areas with more people. Zoom in and the service provided per person is not as great in the center as at the edges.
  6. I don’t see any discussion of road pricing, even vehicle mileage taxes, which will likely be in place by 2040, as electrification or other power-train technology obsoletes the gas tax.
  7. I don’t see any serious discussion of changing transportation (and other) technologies. 26 years ago was 1988. There wasn’t even a World Wide Web yet.
  8. This should be scenario based, considering alternative futures, and responses to them. We know forecasts are bad. We should use alternative tools.
  9. Everything I said here: Framing Regional Development.

Add more to the comments section below. Of course to be officially heard: Testify. Submit your comments. Attend and discuss at the public hearing. Schedule below:


Public hearing is September 17 at 5 p.m.

The public hearing on the draft TPP is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 17, in the Metropolitan Council Chambers, 390 Robert St. N., Saint Paul.

Comment by October 1

The Council is accepting comments on the plan August 14 through October 1.  Once comments are received, the plan is revised to address comments and a final plan is presented to the Council for adoption.  The Council is expected to adopt the plan in December 2014.

  • Comment forms can be filled out at a workshop or the public hearing or mailed in.

  • Phone Public Information at 651-602-1500.
  • E-mail

  • Testify at the public hearing at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 17, in the Metropolitan Council Chambers, 390 Robert St. N., Saint Paul.

Workshop dates and locations

At each workshop, a very brief presentation will give an overview of the plan.  Afterwards, participants can engage with planners on a variety of topics. Note: Staff will be available to discuss the Council’s draft Housing Policy Plan as well.


Tuesday, August 26, 5 – 7 pm
Roseville Library
Community Program Room
2180 North Hamline Ave
Roseville, MN 55113


Wednesday, August 27, 5 – 7 pm
Chanhassen Library
Wilder Room
7711 Kerber Blvd.
Chanhassen, MN 55317


Wednesday, September 3, 4:30 – 6:30 pm
Marschall Road Transit Station
1615 Weston Court
Shakopee, MN 55379


Thursday, September 4, 12 – 2 pm
Minneapolis Central Library
300 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, 55401


Tuesday, September 9 , 5 – 7 pm
Anoka County Sheriff’s Office
Community Room
13301 Hanson Blvd NW
Andover, MN 55304


Wednesday, September 10, 5 – 7 pm
Brookdale Library
6125 Shingle Creek Pkwy
Brooklyn Center, 55430


Thursday, September 11, 12 – 2 pm
Amherst H. Wilder Foundation
Auditorium A
451 Lexington Parkway North
Saint Paul, Minnesota 55104


Tuesday, September 16, 5 – 7 pm
Eagan Community Center
1501 Central Pkwy
Eagan, MN 55121


Thursday, September 18, 5 – 7 pm
Washington County Government Center
Room LL13-14
14949 62nd Street North
Stillwater, MN 55082


Thursday, September 25, 5-7
Sherburne County Board Room
Government Center
13880 Business Center Dr.
Elk River, MN 55330

Minneapolis cyclists battle for a place in traffic | City Pages

I am briefly quoted by Jesse Marx of City Pages in his long piece: “Minneapolis cyclists battle for a place in traffic”

Motorists tend to complain at public planning meetings that fewer car lanes means more traffic. But David Levinson, a transportation expert at the U of M, says this has not proven to be the case. Giving more space to bikes only entices more bicyclists to come onto the road — what he calls the “virtuous circle.”

As usual, don’t read the comments.

“I Am Not Your Brother” – St. Paul Cops Allegedly Taser and Arrest Black Male for Sitting in Public Space (Video) |

Cross-posted at

Twin Cities Daily Planet brings our attention to this story: St. Paul cops allegedly taser and arrest black male for sitting in public space. City Pages provides some details: St. Paul police roughly arrest black man sitting in skyway

Note, this is hard to watch.

There are a number of transportation and land use and other aspects to this case which are worthy of discussion:

1. Do you have to identify yourself to the police? It depends. When driving yes – driving is a privilege. When walking (in Minnesota) no – “police can never compel you to identify yourself without reasonable suspicion to believe you’re involved in illegal activity.” Minnesota is not a stop and identify state, unless the police have “reasonable suspicion”. [1] [2] [3]

2. Is the skyway a public space? It is being patrolled by public workers (police), so apparently it is – though I am sure the law is vaguer than it should be – so the rights should be the same as on the street.

3. What are the details? The comment thread at TCDP suggests it starts near Caribou or Arby’s on the St. Paul Skyway System. He is going to New Horizons Day Care to pick up his child.


4. What happened after the incident – Charges were dropped according to City Pages. Did the police apologize to the man in front of his child? Was this incident expunged from his record? Did the officers have reasonable suspicion justifying their actions?

5. In case it isn’t obvious, posting photos of police officers is legal. [1],[2]

MnPASS Accounts per Household

Incremental Accessibility Benefits and Choice of Subscriptions for High-Occupancy Toll Lanes

Recently published:

MnPASS Accounts per Household
MnPASS Accounts per Household

This paper presents the results of an investigation into the factors contributing to toll lane subscription choice by using data from the MnPASS high-occupancy toll lane system operated by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The paper estimates a binomial logit model that predicts, on the basis of aggregate characteristics of the surrounding area, the likelihood of a household having a subscription to MnPASS systems. Variables in this model include demographic factors as well as an estimate of the incremental accessibility benefit provided by the MnPASS system. This benefit is estimated with the use of detailed accessibility calculations and represents the degree to which a location’s accessibility to jobs is improved if HOT lanes are available. The model achieves a rho<sup>2</sup> value of .634, and analysis of the results suggests that incremental accessibility benefits play a statistically and practically significant role in determining how likely households are to hold a toll lane subscription.

Indifference Bands for Route Switching

Recent working paper:

Di, X, Liu, H, Zhu, S, and Levinson, D. (2014) Indifference Bands for Route Switching

Frequency of Switchers and Stayers vs. Travel Time Saving Percentage
Frequency of Switchers and Stayers vs. Travel Time Saving Percentage
  • Abstract: The replacement I-35W bridge in Minneapolis saw less traffic than the original bridge though it provided substantial travel time saving for many travelers. This observation cannot be explained by the classical route choice assumption that travelers always take the shortest path. Accordingly, a boundedly rational route switching model is proposed assuming that travelers will not switch to the new bridge unless travel time saving goes beyond a threshold or “indifference band”. To validate the boundedly rational route switching assumption, route choices of 78 subjects from a GPS travel behavior study were analyzed before and after the addition of the new I-35W bridge. Indifference bands are estimated for both commuters who were previously bridge users and those who never had the experience of using the old bridge. This study offers the first empirical estimation of bounded rationality parameters from GPS data and provides guidelines for traffic assignment.
    Keywords: Route Choice, Travel Demand Modeling, Bounded Rationality, Indifference Band, GPS Study, Travel Behavior, Networks

Dogfooding: Why Transit Employees and Managers Should Use Transit

The term “dogfooding”, derived from “eating your own dog food”, is popular in the tech sector, and implies that a company should use its own products wherever it can. Thus, in general, Apple employees should have Macs on their desks rather than Windows machines, and Google employees should use Gmail. The advantages of this are several. Most importantly, bugs can be quickly identified by employees using the system on a daily basis, and feedback can be channeled quickly through the organization. Secondarily, missing features can be quickly identified similarly. Employees will get better empathy for the experience of paying customers.

There are of course limits to this process. You would not expect Boeing Defense employees to take a helicopter home with them, or even operate one on a regular basis. However, for most consumer products companies, this is a highly useful practice.

Applying this to the transportation sector implies employees (including senior management) of highway agencies should use roads to get to work (I am sure this is true for the vast majority of even “multi-modal” DOT or highway agency employees).

Similarly employees, and management, and directors or council-members of transit agencies should ride transit to work.

Update 8/31/14: St. Paul Traffic Engineers should ride the every day until the signal timings are fixed.

Now of course, no-one can systematically use the entire system, everyone is spatially constrained in where they travel. Further, the bus drivers on the first ride of the morning (or the last in the evening) cannot practically ride transit to work in a system that does not operate 24/7, since there is no bus to get the bus driver there, or take her home.

Still, there are many opportunities for many employees, and more importantly, directors and Board members, of transit agencies to use transit, and I think increasing this number would improve service.

I have not seen a local survey in the Twin Cities, but this has been done in other cities.

In fact the travel passes (and especially travel passes for family members) are controversial.

  • New York City: From 2008 but with this gem “Why should I ride and inconvenience myself when I can ride in a car?”: MTA Revokes Travel Perks for Board Members
  • Washington DC: Washington Post survey of the WMATA Board found “Few ride the bus regularly.” (Though they do get a free pass).
  • San Francisco region:

    “In 1993, a grass-roots citizens group founded by Brown collected thousands of petition signatures and put a measure on the San Francisco ballot requiring the mayor, supervisors, and top city officials to ride Muni or other public transit to work at least twice every week.

    In the voter information pamphlet, Brown wrote: “Government is getting out of touch because too many officeholders and city workers act like potentates, not public servants. Send them a message! VOTE YES on AA to get them back to reality by riding the Muni twice a week.”

    San Francisco voters overwhelmingly agreed, with 65 percent voting to make this official city policy.

    So when was the last time you saw Mayor Ed Lee on your Muni bus?”

  • updated 2014-08-27: Houston, Texas, Metro execs to drive less, ride transit more

    About a dozen of the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s senior managers will be required to ride public transit 40 times per month, and some will be giving up their staff cars or car allowances.

    “I know of no business where you can be successful without using your own product and believing in it,” George Greanias, Metro’s president and chief executive officer, said after announcing the changes during a public hearing today on the agency’s 2011 budget.

    Frequent use of buses or light rail will give Metro executives a better understanding of what the agency’s customers experience, Greanias said, while sending a message that Metro is committed to public transportation.

    David King notes that perhaps not coincidentally Houston is redesigning its network now.

  • New Zealand, Auckland Transport’s Staff Shuttle connects between offices, rather than having staff use public transport, which is a bit slower. The post from quotes Radio NZ (source article no longer online):

    “Staff at the agency which runs public transport in Auckland are being offered a shuttle service for business trips between offices, because buses and trains are too slow.

    Auckland Transport (AT) is spending more than $122,000 over six months, trialling the shuttle between its downtown offices and its headquarters in Henderson.

    Public transport advocates say staff travelling between the Henderson and downtown locations should be using the bus and rail services at the door of both offices.

    AT wants to reduce its car fleet by 20 vehicles, and is encouraging staff to cut car use.

    “We’re providing options for staff, to have a tele-conference, to catch public transport using business AT HOP cards, and we’re also providing a shuttle between Henderson and Britomart,” AT community transport manager Matthew Rednall said.”

Thanks to the Twitter community for coming up with these examples of transit agency staff dogfooding (or being raked over the coals for free transit passes to encourage dogfooding). If you have other examples, leave them in the comments.

a blog about Networks and Places


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