Monday, September 10, 2007

Transit and Density

Yesterday, I posted an initial foray into my Amazing Plans for Rapid Transit in the Twin Cities. To be fair, it wasn't given any such title, though. At any rate, I'm thinking through what it would take to get a real rapid transit system in place here in Minneapolis (and St. Paul). By rapid transit, I mean a system that travels at least 30 mph on average, and whose stops average less than 20 seconds.

An astute reader pointed out to me that the Twin Cities may very well not have sufficient population density to support such a system. Chicago, my favorite go-to city for practical and not crazy-expensive rapid transit, has a population density of around 11,000 people-per-square-mile. Minneapolis has less: around 6900 people-per-square-mile.

This is indeed a significant difference. Minneapolis has roughly 62% of Chicago's population density. Is this enough to support a rapid transit system? How many people do you need in one place to make it economically viable?

Clearly I'm not an expert on the field. But it seems possible. The Twin Cities have several distinct and high-population employment centers: downtown Minneapolis, downtown St. Paul, and UMinn campus to name a few. Its suburbs are nearby, have low to moderate population density, and ring the metropolitan region completely. Surely, even a commuter-based system should be viable.

Think about it this way: do you drive in from the suburbs to work in the city? If you do, ask yourself whether you can imagine more buses (or, gasp, trains!) running along the major highway routes (694, 394, 94, 35E, 35W, etc.). Given how much passenger car traffic is present on those highways, surely there is sufficient demand for park-and-ride rapid transit into the cities.

What do you think?


Blogger Arthur Willoughby said...

Again, just have to chime in...

Being a relatively long-time user of public transportation, I think the Cities would do well to overhaul its bus system. An extra lane on major roads...more frequent (i.e. wiser) bus schedules...problem solved, or greatly alleviated.

I used to live in Woodbury and was going to move back. However, I discovered that buses cease traveling from downtown St. Paul to Woodbury after the rush hour. As a night student, I'd have been SOL for a ride home after school. So, I moved to St. Paul.

Even now, right at 9 p.m., buses go to a once-per-half-hour rather than a 15-minute schedule from the U of M campus. Students scramble to make it, the last bus is over-crowded, people are surly.

Don't get me wrong, I'm with you: a train-style system would be lovely, but it boils down to cost. Revamping the bus system would be a damned sight cheaper than trains.

But then we run into the whole fossil fuels debate...

I'm no expert either!

9:08 AM  
Blogger Philip Freyre said...

This is interesting, as I am a Minnesotan currently living in Chicago. Minneapolis and St. Paul definitely do not have the density to support heavy rail transit, not to mention that the US hasn't built a heavy rail system since the 1970s (think BART and Metro)--light rail is the new 'thing' now, besides digging subway tunnels is extremely expensive.

Light rail to St. Paul via the Central Corridor is long overdue, but perhaps also routes extending from downtown Minneapolis via W Broadway, NE University, or NE Central might also be feasible. Noted though, light (white) rail is generally built in more gentrified (higher income neighborhoods).

The only problem with the current model is that it serves highly-centralized business areas only. The existing residential areas are benefited only if they happen to be between these business centers by pure coincidence. This still promotes driving to the train in order to take the train, rather than walking to it from your house/apartment/condo.

In the mean time, it would help if more middle-class folk were not so ashamed to take Metro Transit buses.

11:02 AM  
Blogger Arthur Willoughby said...

Philip, I have to interject that as a middle-class person who uses the bus, perhaps "ashamed" isn't the best word.

There's no shame in the bus, but it is indeed a hassle, often filthy, often cramped, often hot or cold depending on the season, and one frequently deals with ne'er do wells spouting profanity or simply endeavoring to be a nuisance to all onboard.

It's not a pleasant experience. Not that I expect Business Class. If I weren't so prone to road rage, I'd gladly commute, but I just can't do it.

1:36 PM  
Blogger Philip Freyre said...

Well, I guess what I mean by that is while most middle-class people may take rush hour commuter buses to get to and from their jobs downtown to their dwellings further out, I feel like few of them would take buses for more trivial errands, let alone take a bus late at night.

I think it would be great if ridership along streets like Rice, or Snelling (I'm talking north of University) were higher--these are major thoroughfares. But, then again, its so much more efficient to drive. These are streets that are made for cars, not streets that are made for public transit and transit-oriented development.

If at least a couple people from say, North Oaks, or Edina rode the bus, I would be happy. But, why do they need to? Driving is so much more convenient & faster.

9:56 PM  

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