Category Archives: Planning

Metro strategic plan 2013-2025

PZ sends me to The Washington Post which discusses the WMATA/Metro strategic plan
Source document here: Momentum: Metro strategic plan 2013-2025

Several comments from a preliminary reading:

  1. Metro benefits are presented in terms of reduced car use (p.10). This is the wrong way of looking at the benefits. The main benefits of Metro are the service to riders (more trips, faster trips, higher quality trips), not the reduction in congestion for non-riders. Who knows how many auto trips there would be instead? If Metro were closed for a day, everyone would work from home. If it were a month, people would carpool. If it were a few years, jobs would relocate. The ridiculous assumption that everyone would drive instead, and need to park in garages filling all of the central area are self-negating.
  2. The region expect to keep growing, to 8.6 million people in 2040 (including an outer ring that includes many of Baltimore’s suburbs). If it continues to grow, it will need more service. Will it continue to grow? I would much prefer a scenarios approach (e.g. high growth/low growth/decline) and consideration of alternative strategies for alternative futures. I bet if we looked at Detroit’s plans from 1950 or 1960 or 1970 or 1980, they anticipated growth too (amusingly Google classifies that link as “fiction”, unfortunately it is not downloadable, so I can only speculate). Maybe DC will become the east coast’s primate city, displacing New York, analogous to London or Paris or Tokyo.
  3. It looks like Fleet expansion solves most problems (Table 4), begging the question of why there needs to be new tunnels. (Not that there need not be tunnels, but high crowding is the price to be paid for dense cities, and Washingtonians should become better acquainted with their neighbors, just like Londoners and Tokyo residents). Further, why can’t more streets just be converted to bus-only transitways to satisfy the demand? This should require some paint and little else at the margin. (And of course can be as expensive as you want to make it).
  4. p. 11 “The Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) added 275,000 households and 295,000 jobs between 2004 and 2010. Of that growth, 6.4 percent of new households and 13.8 percent of new jobs located within one-half mile of suburban and one quarter-mile of urban Metro stations. The land area around these Metro stations comprised only 0.5 percent of the MSA land area, which suggests that Metro-adjacent locations are capturing far more than a simple share of growth” (6.4% of HH is only 17,600 HH, or 2514 per year over 7 years. Metro should do better than that. And a half mile is a pretty long area, most people within 1/2 mile in suburban Washington will not be using transit)
  5. p. 12 “The land around Metrorail stations generates $3.1 billion annually in property tax revenues to the jurisdictions. Of these revenues, $224 million of incremental property value is from land near Metrorail stations – extra value that would not exist without Metro. ” $224 million in incremental property value revenues (I assume this means taxes) is great. This should be captured to pay for the system improvements. Over 30 years this is $6.6 billion in additional revenue (assuming no additional development and 0% interest rates). Ballpark, this is oneway of capitalizing the value of the system. A value capture district around all the stations would be a good idea.
  6. Figure 6 shows that Washington has more vehicle-miles per capita of transit service, and it is claimed this means more competitiveness. I am unconvinced of the causality here:Do Agglomerating benefitting industries create density and demand public transit,
    Or does transit create population density attracting agglomeration-benefitting industries?

    I am all for mutual co-location as a theory and explanation, but there are reasons some industries (government and its courtiers, e.g.) likes to agglomerate, which are independent of transportation. Transportation serves and reinforces (and maybe attracts) that industry of course. A city without government (or finance, or one of the few other strongly agglomerating sectors) would see far less demand for central city development and commensurate transit. Since Washington has this industry, it should have more transit than a fast-growing metropolis without such industries (e.g. Phoenix)

    More Vehicle-miles per capita without accompanying mode share indicates an inefficient land use pattern. I would think if people were closer together, fewer vehicle-miles of transit needed to be provided to serve the same trips. (The data I think comes from this 2004 study, which perhaps surprisingly has Minneapolis in third place for Economic Competitiveness, Figure 7, despite its relatively poor public transit showing).

Linklist: July 4, 2012

David King: Credible Commitment and Congestion Pricing

Sommer Mathis @ Atlantic Cities: Repetitive Debate of the Day: Why Hasn’t Washington, D.C. Buried its Power Lines? [See also Transportationist on Underground Utilities]

Brendon Slotterback: A challenge to the market-oriented urbanists . Josh Barro presponds: Homeowners: The Cartel Next Door . [The Transportationist on Zoning and Externalities]

Transit Maps on Squaring Manhattan The Shape of Manhattan in Transit Maps

Horace Dediu @ asymco Building and dismantling the Windows advantage

Do or do not, there is no plan |

Cross-posted from  Do or do not, there is no plan


Do or do not, there is no plan


The local news sourceFinance and Commerce reports that

The Metropolitan Council will consider spending more than $740,000 to study building a transitway linking the Hiawatha light rail line and the proposed Southwest line. Possible routes include Lake Street and the Midtown Greenway.

This is the Midtown Greenway Streetcar.

We know how this story ends. We know this will be built. We know there will be a self-congratulatory ribbon cutting. We know politicians will declare it a success. We know it will lose money. We know it will be in the Greenway, not on Lake Street. We know it will be a streetcar or a bus that looks, smells, and operates like a streetcar. We know there will be rails or track over grass. The City will somehow find the money, it always does for supposed economic development projects like stadiums and convention centers.

It is already part of the Minneapolis Streetcar Plan completed five years ago. It will cost from $87 million to $115 million according to the more recent Funding Study, a number that sounds plausible for a mostly single tracked facility where there is no real land acquisition required.

There are no important environmental impacts, it is in a former railroad right-of-way.

The only thing we do not know is when, but I will guess June 22, 2024, 8:00 am for an opening date. I choose so far into the future, since for indiscernible reasons, construction cannot begin on one project until after the opening of the previous project. This comes after the opening of the SWLRT, and probably the Bottineau line as well, and probably the Streetcars in Phase 1 of the Minneapolis plan radiating from Downtown, so this is like number 5 or 6 in line for a set of 2-3 year construction projects.

This is kabuki.

Now far be it from me to suggest we shouldn’t do more transportation plans. Some of my favorite students are transportation planners. The market is tight, I know competent people searching for jobs (or better jobs). But how many times do we need to study the same thing?

Wouldn’t it be better to spend some resources and solve real problems. How much improvements to bus stops could you get for say $740,000?

Yes, yes, we need to do this to get federal funds, and so on. But if you really believe in the project, you can go through the morass of applying for federal dollars, drive up the cost of the project, and delay the benefits, or you can start construction now and get it done. That is what Tom Lowry did.

The answer is of course, in the lack of belief. We much prefer spinning wheels and waiting for Santa Claus than building things that are sufficiently locally valuable that they are worth locally paying for.


Linklist: April 9, 2012

David King: By This Logic, Perhaps the Whole Thing is Flawed:

“Second, Rail Authority Chairman Dan Richard explained omitting Anaheim based on the cost of travel time savings:

Electrifying and improving the Los Angeles to Orange County route would cost $6 billion and save only 10 minutes of travel time, said rail authority Chairman Dan Richard.
“Why would we do that, pay $600 million per minute?” he said in an interview Friday.

Let’s do the math here. The project is justified on travel time savings, and the Chairman has now said that $600 million per minute is too high a cost. At about $70 million, the current project needs to save more than two hours (116 minutes) to justify the expense if each minute is worth $600 million. Yet Richard says $600 is too high, but by how much? The current (new) business plan offers about 2 hour and 40 minute service from San Francisco to Los Angeles on some routes. (How travel times didn’t increase with the blended plan is still a bit of a mystery.) So, can you get from Union Station to San Francisco in less than or equal to 4:40 under current technologies? Yes you can. Flying is faster, even with airport hassles (Try Burbank to Oakland!). Driving is a bit longer, but is much more likely to get you exactly to your destination resulting in similar door to door times.”

AEI: A plea for beauty: a manifesto for a new urbanism :

“In her celebrated book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which first appeared in 1961, Jane Jacobs argued that zoning, the concept on which the entire American planning system is based, is misconceived. Zoning leads to a disaggregation of the many functions of the city so that people live in one part, work in another, spend leisure time in a third, and shop in a fourth.[2] Whole swaths of the city are thereby deserted for large parts of the day, and the fruitful interaction of work and leisure never occurs.
Zoning contributes to the dereliction of the city when its local industries die and ensures that the central areas are not places of renewal, but at best museums and at worst vandalized spaces no one can use. In successful cities like Paris, New York, and Rome, workshops, apartments, offices, schools, churches, and theaters all stand side by side, with houses borrowing walls from whatever building has a boundary to spare.
The complaint against zoning is surely right. But it is not a complaint against planning. The great planning disasters, some of which have been studied by Peter Hall, owe their negative impact at least in part to their scale.[3] When the layout of a town is conceived from a master plan, the possibilities for disaster are legion.”

Annie Mole: More 3D London Underground Cutaway Diagrams

Network Structure and City Size

Recently published: Levinson, David (2011) Network Structure and City Size. PLoS One PLoS ONE 7(1): e29721, January 12, 2012 [doi]

Network structure varies across cities. This variation may yield important knowledge about how the internal structure of the city affects its performance. This paper systematically compares a set of surface transportation network structure variables (connectivity, hierarchy, circuity, treeness, entropy, accessibility) across the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the United States. A set of scaling parameters are discovered to show how network size and structure vary with city size. These results suggest that larger cities are physically more inter-connected. Hypotheses are presented as to why this might obtain. This paper then consistently measures and ranks access to jobs across 50 US metropolitan areas. It uses that accessibility measure, along with network structure variables and city size to help explain journey-to-work time and auto mode share in those cities. A 1 percent increase in accessibility reduces average metropolitan commute times by about 90 seconds each way. A 1 percent increase in network connectivity reduces commute time by 0.1 percent. A 1 percent increase in accessibility results in a 0.0575 percent drop in auto mode share, while a 1 percent increase in treeness reduces auto mode share by 0.061 percent. Use of accessibility and network structure measures is important for planning and evaluating the performance of network investments and land use changes. Keywords: Connectivity, Network Structure, Transportation Geography, Network Science, City Size, Scaling Rules, Accessibility, Travel Behavior, Mode Share, Journey-to-Work

This paper has several features:

  1. The paper includes a ranking of 50 US cities by estimated accessibility (Table 3). This estimate is macroscopic, though I think quite plausible, and shows the variation in the 10 minute vs. 20 minute … vs. 60 minute and composite accessibilities. The composite numbers are more or less what you expect, but some small cities are quite fast, so have high 10 or 20 minute accessibilities by car. Lots of work remains to be done on this (both multiple modes and multiple points in time) but this should be a valuable metric.
  2. Larger cities are better connected. They are also more productive. This research suggests a hypothesis (which further research will need to test) that variations in network structure may explain variations of economic output. More connected cities are more efficient. It is not simply how many people are in the city (the classic economy of agglomeration argument) but how they are connected that affects their productivity.

I will also comment about the publication itself. It was published in PLoS One, a first for me. PLoS ONE is a newish, open content journal across part of the Public Library of Science family that aims to represent all fields of study. I did this as an experiment as much as anything. The paper is out less than 4 months after submission, and 2 months after revision. This is *fast*, much faster than for-profit publishers offer. The journal is interdisciplinary, and does not winnow for importance (letting the field do that), instead winnowing for quality of the work and its description. Everyone in the field knows how arbitrary publication is when paper is a constraint. This seems an improvement.

The New Minneapolis Plan

Stone Arch Bridge
Stone Arch Bridge

Crossposted at and
The Minneapolis Downtown Council recently released “Intersections” a plan for Downtown Minneapolis. I had nothing to do with this plan, and so am free to comment. The plan is organized according to 10 major initiatives for 2025, I will list and comment on them, occasionally with snark, in order [my comments in brackets]:

  1. “Double Downtown’s residential population. Expand the residential population to 70,000 as a catalyst for driving Downtown’s next wave of business vitality, social improvement and cultural renewal.”
    [This seems like a good idea, the demand has been burgeoning for a couple of decades now, and with the Metrodome site coming available for productive uses again, there is an entire eastern side of downtown which could stand new housing. Demographics seem to be favorable for at least a modest return to downtown, and capturing another 1 percent of the region’s total population (or about 7% of its growth over the next 15 years) should be feasible.]
  2. “Transform Nicollet into a “Must-see” Destination. Extend and invigorate the original mall segment; establish “must-see” destinations along its route. Redesignate the Nicollet corridor as running from the Walker Art Center, through Loring Park to the Mississippi River, and ending at the foot of the Father Hennepin Bridge.”
    [Calling this the “Nicollet” corridor is just confusing, since the real Nicollet Ave does something different than passing the Walker. Perhaps the plan wants to change Nicollet to “Eat Street” officially. The residents may have a different view. In short, there must be a better name. As a physical entity, re-establishing the mall, and keeping private cars off of it, are both good things. I am not sure how many “Must-see” destinations need to be along it, since so many of the region’s best things are not. And really, “Must-see“? Is this Thursday Night 1990s NBC? The rest of the concept seems good, if a bit over-wrought, “iconic identity”, I would have gone with “main street”, though that I am sure is not sufficiently high-tech and resembles Sinclair Lewis a bit too much.]
  3. “Build Gateway park. A new linear park, stretching from the light rail station on 5th Street to the river, will constitute the new Nicollet’s north end.”
    [Good, and converting these parcels into parks drives up the value of the remaining developed blocks (a) by adding amenity and (b) by eliminating competition, good for existing building owners]
  4. “Create a consistently compelling Downtown experience.
    Deliver a consistently excellent pedestrian experience that inspires people to explore Downtown block after block, no matter the season or time of day—24/7/365.”
    [24/7, really? 4 am, you have 35,000 more residents, and you want street life? I don’t want people exploring my neighborhood at 4 am. Stuff closes. Stuff should close. Even transit doesn’t run 24/7 in some of the world’s biggest cities, or if it does, it is very scaled back. This may be aimed to contrast with St. Paul “The city that sleeps”.]
  5. ”Establish a downtown sports district that includes a new Vikings stadium.
    The district, centered around Target Field, will also include a renovated Target Center and the region’s busiest transit hub (the Transportation Interchange), all designed to maximize Downtown’s long-term entertainment value.”
    [This is the first really terrible idea in the plan. First why should a Vikings stadium exist. Second, why should it exist in Minnesota, since most people watch football on TV anyway, really they ought to play in a TV studio. Third, why don’t they use an existing brand new stadium, and enhance it if need be? It has to be cheaper to just give Zygi Wilf the money in foregone profits than subsidize a new stadium (The Cardinals play at University of Phoenix stadium [this is a joke]). Fourth, why should it exist downtown, when it is only used 8 games a year, and downtown real estate is apparently valuable (so the plan tells us), and everyone drives in and out without actually experiencing much of the city (The term “helicopter fans” might be appropriate). I realize there can be some cost savings with a few more hours of use for existing parking ramps and bars, but that is trivial compared to the wasted real estate (and subsidies, and opportunity costs). (I suspect this is about voicing support for the Vikings downtown rather than a real effort, but downtown Boosters cannot admit indifference.) Do stadiums really interact synergistically?]
  6. “Lead the nation in transportation options. Maintain and improve high capacity for commuters on our streets. Increase transit’s mode share for daytime commuters from 40 percent to 60 percent. Increase circulation within Downtown by installing a Downtown Circulator (whether streetcars or zero- emission buses) while intensifying regular transit service in close-in neighborhoods. Emphasize accessible, forward-leaning transportation technology. Improve pedestrian and bicycle mobility. Build the Transportation Interchange as the metro area’s primary transit hub. Secure stable, reliable transit funding for expanding and maintaining the system.”
    [The heart of downtown peak hour mode share for transit is about 40% for commute trips. This is the easiest to expand, and given the billions of dollars the region is spending on downtown-oriented rail transit, one would hope the share goes up, especially given there is no employment growth downtown. One can see why the downtown businesses interests advocate this spending, what is harder to see is why the rest of the region does. However, if transit is going to work anywhere in the region, it will be the downtowns and the University of Minnesota. This does fall short of the “doubling” of regional mode share the Metropolitan Council advocates though. Given the reduction in drivers to downtown due to increased transit, and due to the large number of nearby residents who can now walk or bike, what will we do with all the empty parking ramps. Maybe the Vikings can play Indoor Football on them.]
  7. “Create and sustain a green infrastructure—and showcase the riverfront.
    Establish and intensify the tree canopy throughout Downtown. Create green corridors that connect downtown districts and close-in neighborhoods. Enhance and emphasize the Riverfront as a world-class destination and Downtown’s green focal point. Beautify Downtown’s entry points, including freeway embankments, ramps and medians. Launch a Greening and Public Realm Conservancy to perpetuate the greening program.”
    [I like trees.]
  8. “Forge connections to the University of Minnesota. Leverage the Central Corridor’s light rail service to create a stronger link between campus and Downtown. Extend green corridors over the freeway trench that separates the CBD from the West Bank campus and establish a major new residential district on and around the Metrodome site. Generate business synergies that benefit both the U’s mission and Downtown’s prosperity.”
    [I like Air Rights too.]
  9. End street homelessness. Extend housing and outreach efforts so that the 300–500 people who sleep outside or in inhumane places have shelter, treatment and job training that keep them off the streets.
    [“We don’t want homeless people in Minneapolis” “We don’t want people to be homeless in Minneapolis”. Ok, call me unfeeling, but somehow I don’t think it is the lack of public services that leads the remaining 300-500 homeless to be homeless. From the point of view of Minneapolis as a whole, housing 300-500 people is approximately trivial if the issue is giving shelter. I am fairly confident there are that many vacant hotel units city wide on a random night. More to the point, We could build a shelter for that many people for something in the $10 million range (about $25 per person). Yet if we did that, we would still find 300-500 homeless people. Clearly that is not the real issue. Of course there should be some form of assistance for those who are simply down on their luck, I just think that this ignores the “choice” aspect of homelessness if we are not going to round them up and drug them like we once did (which I do not advocate). And perhaps they are just exploring the city 24/7.]
  10. Launch a Festival of Ideas and Civic Engagement. An annual festival will bring visitors, innovative thinking and civic energy to a city already noted for its citizen involvement. The festival will focus on creating a better future for all—locally, nationally and globally.
    [What a great original idea]

[Comment: The 345 MB version I have have 10377_PlanBook_forWeb.pdf has some production problems, duplicated pages, and pages out of place, but I did read all 111 pages of it (most were pictures). Otherwise, it is very attractive and fairly well written as planning documents go].