Oh great, it's going to snow again. I'm not against snow, per se. In fact, I like the stuff. I also would take the freezing-cold weather before the 100-degree, high-humidity, not-a-breath-of-a-breeze August day. What I detest -- almost violently, I've noticed -- is the sudden inability of Minnesota drivers to know what to do in it. This latest blizzard -- up to an inch is predicted before it all ends -- looks timed to mess up tomorrow morning's commute.
I can't explain what's happened to us but something has happened to us. On three-lane highways (yes, I'm talking about you, I-94), people drive slow in the "high-speed" lane, the middle lane, and the right-hand lane even though, as was the case earlier this week, the tire lanes were clear. Why didn't they move over and eliminate the rolling blockade? Because they would've had to go through an inch of slush separating the lanes. The situation recalls a favorite expression of a former colleague that might fit the winter-time in Minnesota meteorological discussions at the water cooler: "it's not the heat, it's the stupidity."
Meanwhile, in Boston, it's going to snow again and a Web site there has developed a wonderful new "alert system" : The French Toast Alert System. Surely there's a way we can steal that idea. Perhaps we can use walleye?
THANK YOU for voicing what I've been feeling for the past week and a half. I know that safety is a concern, but even in the worst of this weather, traffic doesn't need to crawl along at under 10 miles an hour. I found out that if I leave the interstate and opt for city streets, the conditions are orders of magnitude worse than those on the highway, but traffic is moving at appropriate speeds (i.e., about 20-30 mph - typical of city traffic most of the time anyway), and accidents are virtually non-existent - no 8-car pile-ups, no prolonged lane closures, no need to shut off your car for 10 minutes at a time (yes, I did this a few times yesterday morning on 494).
The thing that kills me is that virtually every single car (mine included, unfortunately) has only a single person in it. How long will it take for the Twin Cities to have a decent mass-transit system that serves not only the central cities, but also the suburbs? What will it take to get people to give up their ridiculous obsession with using private automobiles for every trip? When can I dump my car????
I just watched a traffic report on WCCO TV. Angela Davis noticed that people are driving "very slowly" today. Take a look outside. There's no reason for them to drive any different than in October.
BTW, the Twin Cities will not have a decent mass transit system in our lifetimes.
It's NOT an obsession with cars. Look at the Park N Ride lots in the suburbs. They're overflowing. The "obsession" thing is the reason the powers-that-be use for not bothering to invest.
As I've pointed out numerous times, in Woodbury, I would have to leave for work 3 hours before I usually do in order to get a bus.
Eww! Walleye? Couldn't something more suitable be found? Pancakes? Toasted cheese and tomato soup? Oatmeal?
I know we won't have a decent transit system for at least 100 years. Even if the public and the policy makers had the will to do so, construction projects take time, money, and planning. Working around existing infrastructure only makes things more complicated.
Yes, the Park & Ride lots are full. But the vast majority of those people are going into downtown, where car storage is a major factor in their decision. And even so, the downtown parking ramps are always busy. What I'd like to see is better service between suburbs. Most people don't work in the CBD - they live in one suburb and work in another. In my less lucid moments, I envision commuter rail alongside automobile traffic around the whole 694-494 loop. Pure fantasy, I know, but I can't help imagining what *could* be.
As for the "obsession" with cars: I stand by the term - well, okay, maybe not in the clinical sense. I agree with you that the powers-that-be use it as an excuse not to invest, but those powers are influenced by public opinion and social behavior patterns. If enough people actually cared about the issue and spoke up, policy makers would have to pay attention.
Urban sprawl was driven in large part by the availability of relatively cheap cars and gas, and the spread of paved highways, but also by our ingrained desire to achieve the "American Dream" of a half-acre lot with a 2,000-square foot house plopped into the middle of it, and a whole lot of turfgrass. This desire for autonomy included an urge for absolute self-control over our comings & goings - why should I have to walk to the corner and wait 10 minutes for a bus, when I can hop in my car and get going RIGHT NOW? Increasingly, those comings and goings *had* to be made by vehicle, since land use was so starkly segretated.
In addition, for a lot of people, cars are strongly tied to identity. For teenagers, driving and (hopefully) owning a car are rites of passage. For adults, we choose to buy cars based on a number of criteria, and image is one of them. I'll pick up a Prius if I want people to know how progressive I am. I'll buy a Hummer or an Escalade if I want people to know how prosperous I am. No, these aren't the sole factors in the decision, but to deny their influence would be absurd.
As for 3-hour bus commutes: I am in the same boat, and that's why I am stuck driving my car, by myself, from my apartment in Minnetonka to my temp job in Eagan.
"When can I dump my car????"
When you live near the light rail and work near the light rail.
To play devil's advocate for a moment, why should planners add mass transit to suburban communities full of people who clearly did not think transit was a priority when they bought homes there?
Part of urban sprawl was also driven by poor schools. But that's a whole 'nother subject.
But, yes, I think over time more people will be living AND working in the suburbs, just not the same one, as you wisely pointed out.
I drive a 2004 Cavalier. Before that I drove a 2001 Cavalier, before that a 92 Corsica, before that an Olds Sierra. Before that a Fiat 128 and before that a Volkswagon bug. All but that latter were white. I don't know what that says about me but I prefer to think it means I don't give a rip what other people think about me if it's going to cost me money to do so. (g)
You don't know that, Brian. When you buy a house, you don't forfeit all future improvements to infrastructure.
Otherwise, why are we spending so much money soundproofing homes around the airport?
"Otherwise, why are we spending so much money soundproofing homes around the airport?"
Because the airport wanted to expand & throwing a bone to neighbors through sound-abatement was a way to make that happen.
I'm not necessarily arguing against offering better mass transit in the suburbs; I'm mostly trying to point out that people choose to live in new, inexpensive neighborhoods, then turn around and demand services that already exist in neighborhoods they didn't choose. You use the school example; the new, fast growing suburbs get, no surprise, the newest schools. The old neighborhoods have aging populations, with flat or dropping property values. The kids are grown up, and new families aren't around yet to drive up enrollment - they'll probably never show up, because they're all moving to the suburbs, where land is cheap & the schools are new. So what happens? The schools in the old neighborhoods are expensive to operate, due to age, and are closing, due to low enrollment. The question is whether we just watch this process continue to ripple outward as each suburb & its population ages, or do we try to do smarter planning that will encourage young families to move into older neighborhoods, and try to maintain the infrastructure we've already built, rather than throwing out the old & building new?
So, back to transit; now the suburbs want mass transit? Well, get in line. It took about 30 years for the Hiawatha line to get built. I hope the suburbanites are a patient lot.
We demand services in a regional government becaue we PAY for that regional government. The suburbs PAY for the Met Council, which operates the bus services. We PAY fiscal disparities tax. We pay for light-rail in Minneapolis.
The suburbs aren't asking something for nothing. It's an entirely reasonable expectation that as an area is developed, that they TOO share in the infrastructure improvements.
and, by the way, a lot of city folks haven't been paying taxes on full market valuation the way the people in the suburbs have been.
mass transit and light rail are not the same thing. And I don't hear anybody in the suburbs asking for it. If anything, the people in the suburbs recognize the value of the busses that the city people have apparently decided aren't a proper use of money (how else to explain a light rail line replacing a bus line?).
I'm sure the people, say, in Washington County, which gets virtually nothing for its transportation tax dollar, would be happy to have their tax money rebated.
I think a more fair question -- as long as we're going to pain people as selfish -- is why should people who don't use light rail pay for light rail?
Now, obviously, I know the answer-- it's the same answer as why people who don't have kids in school should pay for schools -- but be careful about chastising people in the suburbs while taking their money to spend somewhere else.
There's going to be a LOT of empty LRT trains making regular trips to downtown St. Paul at night. THAT we'll pay for. A bus after 7:50 in the morning from one of the largest cities in the East Metro? That, nobody will pay for.
And that's why the Twin Cities are a transportation backwater. We define a "regional solution" to transportation as "the suburbs give us the money, and we spend it in the city."
I dunno Bob. That's a lot of wining and I more than a few crumbs of cheese.
It amazes me that folks in the suburbs are all about "regionalism" when the argument is about transportation money, but not so much when the argument is about education or public safety dollars. You say you live in Woodbury for good schools and presumably less crime. But you work in St Paul so whether you like to admit it or not you avail yourself of the public safety infrastructure in St. Paul. All this stuff (transportation, education, public safety) cost money. When you take your dollars and move out to a mcmansion in the burbs, you remove vital revenues from the city coffers and there is less for city education and public safety. We who live in the city have to live with that and continue to provide those services. You have to pay more to inch your way into the city (in the left lane, no less) on a snowy day in December. It cuts both ways.
OK, 1st, 'nother is not a word, Bob, there are no separable prefixes on the English language;-). But seriously, my arguement for the taxation spending issue is: how many times do we inner city folk come and get our entertainment in the suburbs vs how many times do suburbanites come party in downtown? And like Michele said, how many (like Bob) come to the inner city to work and expect that they probably won't get mugged or shot. OK, I'll get off of my high urban horse now.
As for the traffic, I do live in the Hiawatha corridor, but do not take LRT as much as I should. I just wish there was a law prohibiting commuting more than 5 miles, or making it much more difficult to get a driver's license in the 1st place. (Am I back on my horse?) Maybe we should have a Death Race 2000 thing, everyone for themselves... I got stuck on Lyndale Avenue, for crying out loud (not the curse I was using at the time.) Is it really so hard to drive on the snow? Of course, I lived in CO near where there was a 52 car pile-up when a molasses truck overturned in a blizzard on I-25, so **it can happen. It's not the snow, it's the stupidity. And lastly, I like the Walleye alert idea.
You know, I'm guessing if people meet someone from the 'burbs, they'll find out they're not ALL about reginalism. They're not bad people, actually. What I'm responding to is the assertion that you give up the right to an argument by where you choose to live.
I live in Woodbury because that's where I chose to live 16 years ago. To suggest that because I decided to live in Woodbury, I have no moral grounds to expect to be included in a regional transportation solution (that's a phrase by the way that was invoked not by me, but by the county offficials who were trying to justify the regional sales tax for transportation), is pretty ludicrous.
By the same argument, St. Paul has no right to expect light rail, because it didn't exist 15 years ago.
I do work in St. Paul and I do take from the city for the public safety. I also spend money in St. Paul.
Look, if we're going to do the us vs. them approach to a serious issue, we should just admit it. You can't on the one hand claim that there's a valid reason for Washington County residents to send the bulk of their transportation sales tax money to Hennepin County for the benefit of Hennepin County residents and then -- when it's convenient -- say to those same residents, "hey, you don't have a right to anything because you made the choice of the way to live."
I don't particularly have a preference for one position over the other.
I'm just pointing out that the bipolar response to a regional problem is the primary reason they exist in the first place.
And, just for the record, Woodbury is among the top 20 contributors to the fiscal disparities pool. That's taxpayer money that is transferred from the community in which it's earned and given to cities such as St. Paul.
So let's be real careful about painting the people of Woodbury as mere takers here. They're helping to pay your property taxes.
If you don't want that money, just say so.
I love the French Toast Alert System!
Thank you Bob, for pointing out the counterproductiveness of the us-vs-them argument. It's frustrating to see that poeple can't seem to get out of the "what's in it for me?" mentality and look at a bigger picture. I'm a bit surprised that no one has yet pointed to the work that the Met Council is going in terms of longish-range transportation planning. They have a pretty extensive report available at http://www.metrocouncil.org/planning/transportation/TPP/2008/index.htm.
Light rail: Yes, commuter rail is neat. I loved taking the train while I was living in South Minneapolis & going to the U. But Bus Rapid Transit is another important component of a comprehensive transit system, and guess what? It uses existing infrastructure. That said, there are also existing rights-of-way currently used for freight rail that could be rehabbed for commuter rail as manufacturing declines. The example I'm thinking of is the Ford Plant and the freight rail corridor that runs between the downtown St Paul and Ford's assembly facility. If Ford pulls out, one of many possible options for redevelopment could include the creation of a transit-oriented urban village around the Cleveland Avenue & Ford Parkway intersection. The existing rail corridor could connect downtown St. Paul to the 46th St Hiawatha station. It's not likely to happen, but it's one of many options that ought to be looked at. My point is that we can't let one group (urbanites, suburbanites, outstaters) tell everyone else they don't matter, and we can't make good decisions without getting input from everyone and considering every possible alternative. We also can't let ridiculous arguments like "You moved to Woodbury 16 years ago, so screw you" derail us from working for the benefit of EVERYONE, with contributions from EVERYONE.
PS: The use of the word 'nother is nothing to worry about, if you know anything about linguistics and the origin & evolution of languages. Just sayin'.
We do need input from all regarding all issues that impact us as a community...transportation, public safety, and education. No issues nor municipalities exist in a vacuum.
Regarding your earlier point about the need for a commuter rail along the 494/694 corridor--that's a cool idea, but what happens to commuters once they disembark from the commuter rail system? Will they walk to their destination? Do you envision greatly expanded bus service in all the suburbs, similar to the cities? In your model you will probably drive from your home in suburb A to the commuter rail depot; board the rail system; get off in the suburb where you work; and then what? If your workplace is next to the rail station, problem solved; if not, how to you make the final leg of your journey to work (and back at the end of the day)?
It seems to me that we are back to the same ol' (since apostrophes seem to be the fashion of the day) problem that the suburbs are not really designed for anything but cars. How many suburbanites do you know that walk or bike to do errands? Probably not too many.
First of all, words like 'nother are colloquialisms. This is a blog, not a masters thesis.
On regionalism or Us v them-ism, the point is not "you moved to Woodbury 16 years ago, therefore you have no say" it is "Mass transit is most efficient where there are higher population densities." Now, I happen to agree with Bob that its ridiculous that buss schedules cater firstly to people going in & out of one or the other downtown core & secondly to people travelling during the rush hours. On the other hand, I can understand why MTCA doesn't want to run empty busses throughout the day and/or night. For the light rail comparison, I've ridden at all hours; I think the only time I was the only person on a train was when an out of service driver took pity on me & my wet bike on a rainy evening. I was riding home & heard him coming, so raced to the next station to buy a ticket, not knowing he was dead-heading to the MOA to start his route there. When I yelled, he stopped to hear my story & gave me the ride. Point being: at 5 AM and 11 PM and throughout the workday there are people using the light rail; the trains are not running empty, at all hours. The other known exception is during snow storms, when they run trains through the night to keep the tracks clear.
So, to circle back, the original devil's advocate argument was to question whether suburbs built around the car are well suited to mass transit. The urban centers here, when they were built, were built to include mass-transit. Before busses there were street cars. The hiawatha LRT line partially parallels an old train line people used to take from the city out to the park in the country, to enjoy the Longfellow Zoo near Minnehaha Falls.
Michele: The commuter loop is a fantastical notion. Such a thing might exist in mythical lands like Europe - I honestly haven't looked into that. And the loop would be 70+ miles long. I once looked up the average cost per mile of commuter rail, and I don't remember what it was, but the total project would run into the billions of dollars. Good luck making that happen. In all honesty, BRT is a better solution.
As for the details: Yes, there would need to be improved bus service for each of the 15-20 rail stations. Even BRT would require that. As bsimon points out density is a problem - both residential and employment densities. The only way rail-based transit would be feasible is if at least a handful of the burbs developed actual urban centers of their own.
bsimon: Yes, the suburbs are built for private automobiles, and yes the issue is in no small way a chicken-and-egg problem. No, the suburbs won't anytime soon have the density to support round-the-clock service, but that's not really what I'm suggesting. Is it too much to ask for a couple of trips in each direction during rush hour? The impact on congestion would be small, given the traffic volumes, but for those of us who hate driving, it would be a welcome relief.