Category Archives: blogs

The Transportationist’s most popular posts of 2013

Below is a ranked list of the 39 most popular posts on the Transportationist blog in 2013 (from the new WordPress site since late May, no stats from the old site). People like forecasts and lists.

What happened to traffic?
14 Trends Shaping Transportation
7 Ways to Reduce Transportation Waste
Pricing with and without Reservations
People and their Paths 1: Do People Take the Shortest Path?
Path dependence
Walking Distances
Structural errors in forecasting
“Big” Data as a Foundation for Measuring and Improving Public Transport Operations
Are there too many roads?
Car2Go – A Review (updated)
5 or So Transit Books You Should Read
Time and Space: Happiness, Mobility, and Location
Does BRT have Economic Development Effects?
Cost per daily rider
HOT or Not: Driver Elasticity to Price on the MnPASS HOT Lanes
Faculty opening at the University of Minnesota
Why HOV lanes often don’t work
Bikes still outsell Cars in US
AsymCAR 7
The Hyperloop Boarding and Alighting problem
Altoona Pennsylvania adopts Land Value Tax
5 Or So Books on Streets and Traffic You Should Read
Thinking outside the Right-of-Way
5 or So Books about Transportation History You Should Read
Number Crunchers: Addressing the Pitfalls and Practices of Dynamic Pricing Schemes
Call for Papers: World Symposium on Transport and Land Use Research 2014: June 24-27, 2014 in Delft, the Netherlands
People and their Paths 3: Not all time is created equal
The Traffic is Falling
The End of Driving — Money and Politics Podcast
5 or So Books on Transportation Economics and Policy You Should Read
Bus stops by Metropolitan Area
5 or So Pieces of Transportation Fiction You Should Read
Why we should raise gas taxes now, but implement road pricing soon.
Enterprising Roads: Improving the Governance of America’s Highways
Seattle Metro’s New Bus Stop Signs
Why transportation doesn’t get the money it “needs”
Modeling the Commute Mode Share of Transit Using Continuous Accessibility to Jobs
A personal history and forecast for Modems, or “Is @Comcast the worst company in America?”

Crossroads | A Minnesota transportation research blog

MnDOTCTSThe University of Minnesota’s Center for Transportation Studies and MnDOT have a Blog! Crossroads | A Minnesota transportation research blog

“Crossroads is a collaborative effort between MnDOT Research Services and the University of Minnesota’s Center for Transportation Studies. This jointly produced blog is devoted to highlighting the latest news and events in transportation research and innovation in Minnesota.”

No comment

In short, I have turned comments off on this website.
Since the middle of our brief sojourn in the 21st century, social media has exploded. Facebook has peaked (by which I mean, of course, my use of it has peaked), Twitter is still on the rise (by which I mean, my use is continuing to increase). Overall we may have passed Peak Blog (although we just may be in the Trough of Disillusionment).
Many people read this blog from an RSS feed (usually Google reader or some frontend for Google reader: I use Reeder on the iPhone and PerfectRSS on the iPad and Google Reader on my computers).
Others see posts on Twitter. Some actually come to the blog website itself. A very small fraction post comments. A slightly larger fraction see them (those who click to comment themselves, or come to the blog via Twitter, but not those who read it on RSS or even the website, since unless you are sharing the post, or explicitly want to read comments, there is no reason to click through to the page). I wish everyone would just use RSS to read links and we could be done with it. But that is not the world we live in.
Most of the few comments were useful. A small fraction of prospective commenters also complain to me the commenting system is painful or broken. This blog is a MoveableType blog administered by the University of Minnesota UThink service, so I have very little control over the system. Authentication is aimed to reduce spammers, which it does at the cost of annoying non-spammers (Security is the enemy of efficiency).
The Transportationist was never really intended to be a community, though of course it has its partisans. I am not making a living off my blog (or from book sales) so I have not done much in the way of SEO or attempting to drive traffic. My blogging earns no academic credit, it does not appear on my CV, and is probably viewed by colleagues as a distraction or waste of time. At best it earns me fame, at worst, infamy. Given the number of readers (which can be measured in Micro-Grubers), I doubt either is the case. I doubt I got any research projects funded due to blogging. My views are eclectic on the conventional political axes, and so no one is really sure if I am on their team.
Where else I write:

  • Books (and Wikibooks) [In engineering, Books earn almost no academic credit. You should read (and write) them anyway.]
  • Articles and Reports – Typically in peer reviewed journals, at conferences, or working papers, linked to on my website.
  • Streets.MN – Approximately biweekly, approximately 1000 words, approximately on something transportation-land use related in Minnesota.
  • Twitter – Public, but short, usually for links … this is where the energy on Linklists has gone. Some have noted that there are a lot less linklists than before. This was about a 1 year experiment. I know it was relatively popular, but the effort was high, higher than it should be due to the wrong tools. In particular, if I read on an iPad, it is a pain to share a link via the blog (my workflow entailed emailing it to myself, loading the link on my desktop, sending that to the blog), but quite easy via Twitter. Since much of my blog reading has migrated to 5:00 am in bed on an iPad, this is how it has worked out. Twitter also gets a twitterfeed from my blog, since by definition, everything I write here I think is link list worthy.
    There are also a slew of other blogs (TransportationNation, The Other Side of the Tracks, Autoblog, Politico: Morning Transportation, etc.) that do similar link lists (I know a few follow me), so my value-added here is fairly low, maybe catching an interesting article or promoting a story earlier than it otherwise would be. They are paid for this, I am not.
    Anyway, if you like my curation of links, follow me on Twitter. The reason I do this is mainly for my future reference rather than what I think others are interested in, but if you are interested in some of what I am interested in, it will work for you.
  • Emails (one to one or one to few conversations). I try to keep these as brief as possible. In some cases, down to a single letter (Y, N). If you don’t ask an explicit question requiring a response, you may not get a response.

And then there are the Other Social Networks:

    1. Facebook. I used to automatically feed my blog here, but it stopped. I just it started again with Twitterfeed. I assume most people will ignore or block me. I occasionally comment on someone’s post, or like something. I don’t know why. I occasionally post pictures of the kids, but I am torn between that and Flickr, and lately Flickr gets more love. If I know you in real life, feel free to FB me.
  • LinkedIn. I still don’t know what it is for, but I have lots of contacts. I don’t write here and stopped feeding the blog here when they had some technical issues (posting a picture of Jenny McCarthy with my post). I just started again with Twitterfeed, since there are a few readers there. Feel free to Contact me there.
  • GooglePlus. I send my posts to Google+. I don’t know why, though there are a few readers there. Feel free to Encircle me there.

The Transportationist dates from April 2006 (notably post-tenure). So what is the purpose of The Transportationist: It is temporally random, featuring posts of random length but almost always less than 5000 words and often less than 500, generally something transportation-land use related or an announcement of something I or my students have written or edited elsewhere, or a conference, or a talk, etc. In short it is my and my research group’s blog (but I am solely responsible for its content). It is not a community website, or intended for comments generally (in contrast with e.g. Streets.MN), though some posts in the past have drawn quite a few. If you think what the blog says is interesting, follow it. If not, keep calm and carry on.
If you have comments, you should get a blog (or if you have one, post there). As someone on the web remarked, that will get a lot more attention for both of us due to Google’s PageRank formula than posting on comments with a nofollow tag. If you think I should post something, feel free to email me, I sometimes posts “A reader writes” type of posts, or “A reader responds”. Let me know if you prefer anonymity from the rest of the world, but I still need to know who you are.
Another complaint about comments. I don’t much like anonymous speech (though I understand the need in the case of totalitarian dictatorships, that is not the situation here). Most comments are anonymous. If I ever migrate to a new platform, I will reconsider. As someone said, never read the bottom half of the internet. Also don’t feed the trolls.
If you want to get in touch with me, there are lots of channels, frankly too many. Email is probably best. You are smart, you can find it.
So if you are still with me, thanks for reading to the end of the post.

What sort of town is Richard Scarry’s Busytown?

The Transportationist made Kottke’s blog: What sort of town is Richard Scarry’s Busytown?:

” From a planning and transportation professional, a deconstruction of Busytown, the fictional town that features in many of Richard Scarry’s children’s books, including What Do People Do All Day?, Busy, Busy Town, and my personal favorite, Cars and Trucks and Things That Go.

“Scarry moved to Switzerland in 1968, and if nothing else, Swiss architecture permeates the old town center of What Do People Do All Day. The Town Hall of Busytown on the cover is nothing if not Tudor. There is a small gate through which a small car is driving. Something to note about the vehicles in Busytown is that they are all just the right size for the number of passengers they carry. The Bus on the cover is full, with a hanger-on. The taxi holds one driver in the front and one passenger in the rear. The police officer (Seargant Murphy) is riding a motorcycle. When he has a passenger, the motorcycle always has a sidecar. Similarly, each window in town has someone in it, sometimes more than one person. Of course, this is a busy town, so the activity makes sense. The cover of this includes the grocery store, butcher, and baker (no supermarkets in 1968 Busytown), one block in front of Town Hall. One thing to note about the Butcher is that he is a pig, and clearly butchering sausages.

County Seats |

Cross-posted from County Seats at

Like Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, this post was conceived last spring in an ExcedrinPM and caffeine influenced dream after experiencing a migraine headache while driving west from the Twin Cities to visit Willmar and Olivia, Minnesota (as a test-run for a possible cross-country automobile trip with 3 children. The test was extremely valuable in that it proved the infeasibility of such a venture). It seemed it was going to be a brilliant post at the time, but I could not record all my racing thoughts quickly enough, so this is what remains.

There are 3143 counties and county-equivalents in the United States. Presumably there are a similar number of County Seats (or equivalents: parish seats in Louisiana, borough seats in Alaska, or shire towns in Vermont). County seats are geographically dispersed, older, mostly small towns, an intermediate station on the Central Place Hierarchy, providing local government services to the mostly rural areas they serve, and often central commercial services (banks, food processing, transportation, insurance, vehicle sales, etc.) for the smaller towns in their jurisdiction. They are often, though not always, the largest town in the their county.

Because governments are slow to move, and tend to establish county seats as the first thing they do, these places embody many of the physical ideals of small-town life so praised in American culture. Their heart is often a dense street grid anchored by a Courthouse, a government building, a police station, a jail, a hospital, and all of the other public and private services that are associated with County governments. Due to their early founding, they are disproportionately on rivers and railroads compared to newer, 20th (and 21st) century places. The rivers may now be scenic (as opposed to their former role as transport mode and water intake and sewage outlet). The tracks present the opportunity for freight and passenger rail services to larger hubs.

The first county seat I became aware of was Ellicott City, Maryland, which is important in the history of transportation as the end of the first segment of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, just across the Patapsco River from Baltimore County and downriver from Baltimore City. [It is also apparently the largest unincorporated county seat in the US, since Maryland favors county-level government, beating Towson, MD]. It was founded as Ellicott Mills, and the founding family member Andrew Ellicott was a surveyor (and thus planner) of a number of US cities, notably Washington DC. Ellicott Mills is however much more organic, having started as a landing on the Patapsco. One needs to cross the Appalachian Mountains to see the street grid in all its regularity and ubiquity. Ellicott City was devastated by floods and fire, a location convenient for milling in the 18th century and for rail construction in the 1820s was relatively low ground, so few people live in the Main Street area, most are in suburbs at least a mile from the center of town.

In contrast with the east coast, the county seat in Minnesota, and much of the midwest is a bit formulaic. I will discuss a few from the aforementioned road trip west on US 12 from the Twin Cities. Highway 12 is an old US highway, I-94 and I-394 cover much of its purpose through the metro, but where I-394 ends, US 12 resumes. It has been upgraded in many places (especially Orono and Long Lake), with overpasses, and reconstructed in others. It is not a freeway, but in many places it is no longer just a two-lane either.

Litchfield, the seat of Meeker County, Minnesota, is a regular grid transacted by a diagonal railroad tracks and Highway 12 (named Depot Street, so it seems the RR came first). In places, there is a frontage road on Hwy 12, serving local businesses. The town is about 15 blocks wide and 20 blocks high. The numbering scheme for the city with numbered EW streets north of the Railroad tracks, named south of the tracks, and named NS streets, after places or famous Minnesotans (which I guess are the same here). The town is near Lake Ripley, and has a municipal airport to the south. It is not terribly remarkable, certainly not at 45 MPH. I did not intend to stop there, and aside from refueling and separating cranky children, did not spend much time. Sorry Litchfield.

Willmar, the seat of Kandiyohi County in South Central Minnesota, 2 counties west of the Twin Cities region out US Highway 12, has changed radically in its outward appearance. driving through we saw evidence (storefronts and like) of a large Somali and Hispanic population, yet it retains the historic architecture of 150 years of style changes. Willmar is important as a railway switch, as well as the many lakes on its northern end. It like many such county seats, is a cross-roads of 2 US Highways (12 and 71), which mostly, but not entirely adheres to the local grid. The local grid here is in fact not strictly orthogonal to the larger grid, instead being oriented by the railroad tracks and waterways, so it has to bend where it meets the traditional NS grid both north and south of the center of town (shown).

The town possesses a needlessly complicated street numbering system for such a small town, with 1st street being unique, but 2nd street (and subsequent numbers) appearing twice to the east and west of 1st street. The EW streets seem to be named after places, though eventually become numbered avenues, including other county seats and counties, but there is no obvious system. The town is roughly 20 blocks wide by 30 blocks high, though it is very irregular, and includes a set of big-box blocks, as well as parks

The downtown commercial areas are a mixture of buildings and surface parking lots, and probably differs very much from its appearance 100 years ago. I suspect the surface parking lots have been added over time, as older building become obsolete and the value of access to the center of town diminishes. The residential neighborhoods typically have original structures, and while the buildings may have learned, they appear largely to be the first structures on those parcels. The town has an airport.

[One would think Kandiyohi would be the seat of Kandiyohi County, and it was until 1871, when the county merged with the now defunct Monongalia County, since neither county could afford a Courthouse on their own.]

Olivia the Corn Capital  3

Taking Highway 71 south brings you to Olivia, Minnesota (the crossroads of 71 and 212. Highway 212 will return us to the Twin Cities). Olivia, Corn Capital of the World, is the Seat of Renville County, and is also on the railroad. Its streets also follow the grid (though here, the NS streets are again numbered, but this time in one direction only, increasing from the east, while the EW streets are named after trees. The town is much smaller than Willmar, roughly 13 blocks wide and 13 blocks high. It too has an airport.


Chaska, the seat of Carver County is just across the River from Shakopee, the seat of Scott County. They are now indirectly connected by a bridge over the Minnesota River, on which both were once ports. Both Chaska and Shakopee are thus now part of the 7-county metro area. Chaska has its own suburbs in addition to the old town, which has lost the fine-grained grid (though seems to have maintained the 1 mile grid of arterials). I should also praise Tommy’s Old Fashioned Malt Shop which provided sufficient caffeine to kill a headache, though I did not eat the food, it looked really good.

The Broadway area of nearby Carver, another historic river landing, which we found due to a wrong turn, is blessed with many places to satisfy a need for alcohol. Carver is disconnected from the main part of Chaska, though they are fairly close on the map. Carver also possess a grid askew to the larger patterns, but somewhat aligned to where the River must have once flowed.

Shakopee, to complete our circuit has a more significant relationship with the Minnesota River, which still seems to matter from an economic perspective. With Canterbury Park and Valley Fair, the town has grown beyond its historic scope, and again as it expanded it lost its regularity. The old town is in part along old First Avenue with lots of smaller store fronts. Railroad tracks run down Second Avenue, and indicate how the economy used to work. Parking is now a prominent feature through the town though, with parking supply well in excess demand at most times.

Can any of these places be restored to their relative significance and functionality they had at the turn of the twentieth century, when they were still regionally important with rail and water transport both good and frequent (and road transport poor)? That is, can local county seats resume the relative position they held before they became subsumed in the larger metropolitan system?

We are asking for genie-bottle insertion. Streets not on a grid will be difficult to retrofit. Subdivided parcels with single-family homes will be difficult to densify. The rest of the metro cannot be simply unmade. But while relative significance may be impossible, absolute significance, serving more people than ever, is certainly still possible.

But as we move from the 20th century paradigm of one person-one car-three parking spaces with new technologies and new prices, we can probably refill the parking-marked “old towns” and “main streets” and make them practical, and charming. Places people not only work, shop, govern, and play, but are happy about it. A seven-county Twin Cites metro area should be able to support an even more vibrant Stillwater, Anoka, Hastings, Shakopee, and Chaska, in addition to Minneapolis and St. Paul, for starters. Places not just for day-trippers, but also for the daily needs of locals. The same is true of the exurban and non-urban counties.

Within what seems a continuous and uniform suburbia or rural landscape lies an old hierarchy of places created in the 19th century, as ports, county seats, and railroad stations and termini that can provide the nucleus for a more diversified, more pedestrian-scaled built environment. These are natural nodes of development, geographically advantageous with the historic transport network, and still somewhat privileged.

Before we started this voyage, my wife joked about traveling to all 87 county seats in Minnesota. My OCD is limited. That I think is impractical in the short run unless inexpensive child care comes to pass. However Buffalo, Elk River, Cambridge, and Center City remain on the agenda.


Streets.MN has launched

Brendon notes:

Streets.MN is the culmination of a lot of work by some great land use and transport thinkers in Minnesota.  I’m please to be part of this project.  Today the new website was launched so please head on over and check it out.

Of course make sure to do the Twitter and Facebook thing too.

It has the makings of the best urban blog in the US. I’m glad to be a part of it as well.