Greasy 

The Strib reports on the weekends “tar sands resistance” protests.

Thousands of progressives swarmed the streets, and DFL scientific and economic illiteracy was on full display…

… But I repeat myself:

Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, said many frame pipelines as a safer alternative to oil-carrying trains but that it shouldn’t be a choice between the two.

“Pipelines leak and explode and so do trains. The choice is: Are we going to continue our dependence on oil or get serious about conserving?” said Hornstein, who called the debate a symptom of “America’s gluttonous appetite for oil. The science is in, the data is screaming at us. And what goes on inside here,” he said pointing to the Capitol, “is unfortunately not helping.”

Let’s ignore the whole “data is screaming at us” bit – I’m sure something is screaming at them, but it sure isn’t data.

I have a question for representative Hornstein, on the chance that he actually answers questions from plebeians: the road to a petroleum free future is paved with prosperity. Without prosperity, there can be no innovation.

So, representative Hornstein – can you name any societies that have ever conserved their way to productive prosperity?

And Jack Tomczak caught this one on Facebook:

Demonstrators at Saturday’s march varied in age and demographics and included protesters from out of state. Megabuses brought in several hundred from Wisconsin to participate, while the Madison chapter of 350.org drove five hours to stand in solidarity with locals.

Help me out here – are Megabusas powered by sails? Or are they hydroelectric?

Like A Train, Without Tracks

I’ve been saying it for 25 years; The free market will develop a hydrogen powered car, at a network of fuel stations to support them, decades and generations before government can build rail networks capable of adequately serving the needs of people in large, dynamic cities. Assuming they could afford to do it, which they can’t.

The self driving car isn’t exactly the advance I was hoping for the market to provide – working in IT as I do, I know I’m a better driver than most programmers are coders – but my basic point still stands; people will vote with their feet, and their earnings, for the solution that allows them choice, hands down, over the one that takes it away from them.

Ergo – look for government to begin the major campaign against self driving cars, sooner than later.

“World Ends: Blacks And Women Most Affected”

Back in 2008, I went without a car for ten months, opting to save gas money and walk, bike, or (as a last resort) use transit to get around.

After ten months, I was in the best shape I’d been since college (thanks, biking!) – and agog at the amount of time I’d wasted waiting for late/absent buses, and sitting on buses clanking their stately, sluggish way down backstreets.

Transit – unless one is lucky enough to live, work, socialize, go to a doctor and churches that are all within a quarter-mile of train stops – is slooooooooow,  Wanting to get places fast on transit is like trying to shoot the weather along.

And it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white; the bus is slow, unreliable and annoying for everyone.

But don’t tell the Strib.  They’re on a roll.

What’s In A Headline?  The headline in of this Strib story, unlike the hed of this posting, is not intended to be satire:

Report says transit times extra long for commuters of color

I saw the headline, and thought “What?  Does Metro Transit sandbag black and Latino commuters?  Do lines from North Minneapolis and the West Side and Frogtown run slower than white people buses?  Doesn’t #BlackTimeMatter?

So I read further (and added emphasis):

Twin Cities transit users of color spend almost 160 additional hours a year commuting when compared to whites who drive to work solo. That’s according to a report out Tuesday from four advocacy groups opposing cuts to public transportation funding. 

The report “It’s About Time: The Transit Time Penalty and Its Racial Implications” cited infrequent service, indirect routes, delays, overcrowded vehicles, and insufficient shelter at bus stops as factors that contribute to a transit time penalty that adds time and stress to each commute. For Blacks and Asians who used public transit, that totaled an extra 3.5 weeks a year and for Latinos it was 4 hours a year of additional time required to travel between two points by public transportation, compared with going by car.

That’s the lede.

You have to get to the final graf of the story to also see that “5 percent of whites and Minnesotans of Asian descent commute by public transit, 8 percent of Latinos, 10 percent of Blacks, and 29 percent of American Indians” use transit as their primary means of getting to work.

So why doesn’t the Strib report lead with “A Transit-Centered Life Wastes A Lot Of Time?” or “Cars Are More Time-Efficient?”  Do they think a white person who commutes doesn’t waste the same exact amount of time?  Because I’m here to testify.

It’s too much to expect the Strib to note that the report was gurgitated by Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, TakeAction Minnesota, ISAIAH and the Center for Popular Democracy – four groups that have been working for decades to make sure that poor people are warehoused in the inner city and forced to be even more dependent on the arrogant vagaries of transit than the rest of us – and the report seeks funding to provide cars to black families.

Just kidding.  They want more funding to spread more slow, unreliable transit to everyone else.

Two Billion Ways To Die

In three years, the price estimate for the Southwest LRT, from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie, has jumped from 1.5-ish billion to, as of yesterday, two billion dollars.   And in a move that smacks of “giving the DFL political cover” (or, if you feel really cynical, responding to the NIMBY responses of his Kenwood neighbors), Governor Dayton has started what looks like walking the project back:

Dayton said in a statement released Monday that the rising costs to design and build the Southwest light rail “raises serious questions about the viability and affordability,” of the project.

Dayton called on the Metropolitan Council, which he appointed, to review other options for providing public transit to the region.

In the news conference Monday, Dayton said the project will not get additional money until costs are under control.

Prediction:  Governor Dayton and the DFL are going to use any potential cancellation as proof of their “fiscal responsibility”, as well as to inoculate the Met Council from further criticism.

Converts

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

Winter is ending, Minnesota’s other season is beginning. The Wabasha Street bridge will be closed starting April 1st. That’s the route I usually take to work but in the spirit of enlightened progressiveness, I’m considering public transportation as an alternative.

The Metro Transit Trip Planner website says my ordinary route is Dale Street bus to Thomas, switch to Minnehaha bus to 5th and Cedar, then take the Signal Hills bus across the Wabasha Street Bridge to Plato and walk from there.

Cost $4.50 round trip, which is cheap: it’s 10 miles round trip at 57.5 cents IRS rate making the bus fare a buck and a quarter cheaper than what the IRS would allow for mileage in a private vehicle.

Trip time: 45 minutes each way or 90 minutes total, which is three times longer than my normal 30-minute drive time.

Is the extra hour of my time spent sitting on the bus worth more than I’d save by taking public transit instead of driving? Is my time worth more than $1.25 an hour? Barely; but yeah, I’d say so.

But wait . . . that’s before road construction shuts down the Wabasha Street bridge where the Signal Hills bus goes. They’ll have to detour it somewhere, probably Robert Street, and then who knows where it goes. Commute time gets longer. Bus-to-car value ratio goes even lower.

Maybe I should look into getting a bicycle?

Joe Doakes

it’s not the worst idea guy could have.

Although didn’t they just finish the Wabasha Street bridge, like, 25 years ago? It already needs repairs?

Expectations

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

Police reassured citizens that downtown St. Paul is Safe, despite a string of violent attacks on innocents by groups of yutes wearing gang colors.

You keep using that word . . . .

Joe Doakes

According to the SPPD and it’s statistics, in 2014 the Downtown district had 14 rapes. 71 robberies, 60 aggravated assaults, and other violent crimes averaging out to about 14/month.

Among the responses from some city and light rail apologists: “It’s a city. What do you expect?”

To Heirloom Cars

Bob Collins at MPR notes that with falling gas prices, the mathematics of hybrid cars works out a lot more slowly:

According to the Associated Press, if energy prices don’t move much — and, yes, we know they will — then the payback period now is longer than the life expectancy of the car.

AP took the two popular hybrids — the Toyota Prius and the Nissan Leaf — and compared the payback period from July to now.

Toyota Prius

Approximate price premium: $4,300

Annual fuel savings based on July gas price: $534

Payback years: 8.1

Annual fuel savings based on current gas price: $313

Payback years: 13.7

Nissan Leaf

Approximate price premium, including electric vehicle tax credit: $7,330

Annual gasoline savings based on July gas price: $796

Payback years: 9.2

Annual gasoline savings based on current gas price: $281

Payback years: 25.8

Hm – maybe that’s why the MPR crowd has been throwing spitballs at the Bakken oilfields all these years…

Golf Clap

The House GOP caucus is making some encouraging noises these days; speaker of the house Kurt Daudt is putting the kibosh, for the session, on funding for the Southwest light rail pork train:

Daudt said the 16 mile light rail line is not a priority for House Republicans .

“We are not interested in moving forward on the Southwest light rail project. I think we need to get real with our priorities in Minnesota on how we spend our transportation dollars. Our plan is to spend them on roads and bridges.”

Gov. Mark Dayton said he isn’t willing to fund the Southwest Light Rail project until the Minneapolis Park Board’s objections are resolved. The park board is funding a study to determine whether a deeper, more expensive tunnel is a better option to protect city parkland than the Metropolitan Council’s plan that features a shallow tunnel.

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said Senate Democrats are committed to funding the project.

Dibble, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, released his transportation funding package today. It would rely on $800 million in new revenue through a wholesale gas tax hike, and higher license tab fees. The plan also borrows $576 million for new roads and bridges and includes a half cent sales tax in the metro area to pay for transportation projects.

It’s good to see the House GOP come out of the gate taking a serious stance on something.  It’d have been nice to have seen more of this during, say, the Vikings Stadium jamdown, but better late than never.

More importantly?   The GOP controls half of a third of Minnesota’s government.  We get it – negotiation and compromise is going to be involved.  But it’s so good to hear House GOP leadership smell the coffee, and stop leading negotiations with the “compromise”.

Every Other Problem Is Clearly Solved

Those worried about the plague of having too many transportation options independent of Government controlled monopolies can rest just a tiny bit easier today; the city of St. Paul, responding to the demands of the taxicab industry that donates so much money to their campaigns, is about to fix all that. Emphasis added by me:

The new rules, passed on a 5-2 vote, will govern everything from vehicle inspections to insurance. They closely mirror a raft of regulations approved by the city of Minneapolis this summer.

Nevertheless, city council members Dave Thune and Dan Bostrom expressed concern that the rules do not go far enough to protect the city and the public and do not create a level playing field for taxi drivers.

of course, the “level playing field” is the problem that companies like Uber and Lyft were created to solve.

When the government “levels” “playing fields”, you may be sure that those fields are being leveled in favor of someone who’s already on the field, to protect them from newcomers.

Priorities

Our schools are failing, and every snowfall turns our streets into Bolivian goat paths.

But they’re talking about putting a “cap” on 35W from Washington down to 5th Street.

It’s a noise-abatement thing:

Across the country, cities are covering loud highway trenches with lids, or caps, that block out noise, restore old neighborhood connections and yield development opportunities.

In Minneapolis, planners have their eye on covering a portion of Interstate 35W that separates Downtown East and Cedar-Riverside neighborhoods, running from Washington Avenue S. to about 5th Street.

A lid over that gap would create 17 acres of green space above the highway and the chance to put up new buildings on both sides.

Still in the early concept stages, the project team has yet to nail down a cost estimate or get a funding proposal in place, but they say the payout will be greater than the risk.

They always do, don’t they? 

At least they’re not talking about making it a retractable roof.

For The Peasants

During the Soviet era, while Soviet “citizens” crowded onto dilapidated streetcars and rattletrap buses, and waited in endless lines for food, shoes, or pretty much all of life’s essentials, and dreamed about getting their own apartment, maybe, and daydreamed about owning one of the Soviet-era cars that were both biodegradable and cost several years’ salary to buy, the Communist Party nomenklatura were whisked about in private cars, shopped in fully-stocked shops that catered to party members only, and had houses in the city and on the lake.

And as the Met Council works overtime to shove Twin Citians into high-density developments and high-density public transit run by high-density public employees, it stands to reason that some things never change.

That’s One Way To Speed Up The “Green Line”

The “Green Line” – nee the “Central Corridor”, aka “The current Met Council’s $1.4 Billion monument to its own wisdom” – has, exactly as predicted in conservative circles, turned out to be a very, very slow variety of “rapid transit”.  In its first four months in service, it’s clocked the trip between the downtowns at well over an hour; that’s about the same as the 50 Line limited stop bus it replaced, not that much faster than the 16 Local that it trudges down University with, and slower – much slower – than the 94 Express that it shouldered out of existence, except during rush hour. 

Part of the problem – exactly as I discussed on my radio show in 2007-2008 – is that the train operates at street grade level, and has to obey the same traffic signals as all the cars, trucks and buses on the street.

But at least one MTC driver seems to have figured out a way to jumpstart his route times – by ignoring traffic lights; the video in the attached story shows a “Green Line” train crossing a street in Prospect Park (southeast Minneapolis) against a green light on the cross street.  Note that that green light is on throughout the entire motion of the train across the street.

The MTC has an explanation, of course:

Metro Transit spokesperson Drew Kerr declined to answer specific questions about the video because “you can’t see what signals were indicating to the train. A train doesn’t follow green or red lights like a car does.”

If the train driver’s special signals conflict with the lights that the cars around it are seeing – as they clearly do?    I’m no Met Council traffic engineer, but I’m seeing a problem, here…

University Avenue: The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

Businesses along University Avenue – the ones lucky enough to survive the light rail construction process – are getting tax notices for “streetscape improvements“.

[Insurance salesman and Uni avenue businessman Doug] Nguyen was surprised to discover Thursday that he’s being assessed $3,200 by the city of St. Paul for light-rail related street work — “above-standard lighting” and “streetscape improvements” — in front of 1539 W. University Ave…Nguyen said he already pays roughly $15,000 a year in property taxes for his business, and there are still two road work signs on his block, including one directly outside his window.

 And after four months, how are all those new-urbaneriffic benefits shaking out?

 “I don’t see any benefit from the light rail as far as my business at all,” he said. “There will be exposure (to customers), but I don’t think it’s a $3,000 benefit.”

 

He’s been selling insurance out of his State Farm office for more than a decade, and he and his son Alex Nguyen plan to appeal the assessment…”Light rail has been good in some ways,” said [Alex], who works out of his father’s State Farm office. “The road looks nicer — I’ll say that — but they took away all the parking. We lost the front spaces.”

 Less parking, no real tangible business benefit…

…and a big bill.  And it’s a big bill for everyone:

Many businesses with 40 feet of street frontage will be charged $1,710, while properties with more linear frontage such as car dealerships and professional buildings can expect assessments of $10,000 or more.

 

The owners of Spruce Tree Centre at Snelling and University avenues will foot a bill for $15,600 as a result of having 364 feet of frontage. The block-length Marsden Building at 1717 W. University Ave. is being assessed $29,600 for 691 feet of street frontage.

 

Jack McCann discovered that his Midtown Commons office property on the 2300 block of West University Avenue will be assessed $17,900.

And how many of these businesses, like the Nguyen’s, will benefit not an iota from the light rail? 

Indeed, how many are more than a block or two from the train’s stations, and are tradiing less parking for…absolutely no foot traffic?  And that’s assuming “foot traffic” is part of their business, which for Marsden – a company that provides janitors and building security – it’s not?

Everyone having fun yet?

Comparing Butchers Bills

In five months of testing an operation, the “green line” has racked up five train versus auto accidents, two injured pedestrians…

… And now, a fatality – a woman wearing headphones apparently walked in front of a train near the U of M.

For comparison sake, light rail has been operating in the Twin Cities (counting the “blue line”) for about 10 years, now – almost as long as we’ve had uninterrupted handgun carry permitting.

The butchers bill for trains? It’s now up to six dead – and the “Green Line” is just getting started. In that time we’ve had one carry permittee involved in an unjustifiable homicide – and the killing itself had nothing to do with her permit.

If we can save just one life…

Pick Your Poison

The Star/Tribune last week ran a piece noting and lamenting the fact that as many as 50 trains carrying oil from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields cross Minnesota – every week.

And I remembered – when I was a kid growing up in rural North Dakota, we used to get over 20 trains a day passing through…

…mostly loaded with coal to power the Twin Cities powerplants.

An Unexpected Disappointing Tragedy

A guided missile shoots down a Malaysian jetliner carrying over 200 people including almost 2 dozen Americans, is apparently shot down over a proxy war zone.

The President observes the “tragedy” briefly, and then goes back on script to demand Republicans build more airports. 

It’s tiresome to keep repeating “if it’d been any Republican, can you imagine how different the media response would be”.  But it’s still true.

Days Of Future Pissed

The Saint Paul City Council voted 6-0 to start studying a 200+-million-dollar streetcar line connecting some Godforsaken part of East Seventh to some misbegotten part of West Seventh, via downtown.  Councilman Bostrom abstained, noting that for the price of the line – basically a bus that runs on tracks – the city could resurface every single street in Saint Paul’s pothole-pocked grid. 

While there will be much gnashing and moaning about this line (almost none of which will become part of the official record, due to the Met Council and City of Saint Paul’s habit of only “seeking public feedback” after all decisions have been made), I figure it’s time to pass on some stories about a similar line, from a “high-density” eastern city much better-suited to such mass-transit fripperies, Toronto. 

Because streetcars aren’t much use there, either.

How To Do Transit

If you read my blog or listen to my show, you know I’m a huge fan of Kevin Williamson, writer at National Review and author of The End Is Near (And It’s Going To Be Awesome).

One of his book’s (and body of work’s) central theses is that politics is the worst possible way to allocate resources.

Yesterday’s story about the Green Line light rail – which was built as a relatively heavy, relatively high-speed “Light Rail” line down a crowded commercial street entirely due to the desire to play the political subsidy game, and was conceived in the first place less to move people than to re-engineer the layout of the area between the Twin Downtowns – is evidence toward the thesis.

“But if the government doesn’t build things – not just trains, but roads and streets – then who will?”

If people need to go from one place to another, somebody will find a way to get them from point A to point B.

Today’s News, Seven Years Ago

The Central Corridor Light Rail – named the “Green Line” because it would have been cheaper to build it out of stacks of dollar bills – is a failure, according David Markle, of transit-blog “Streets.mn”. 

I’ll urge you to read the entire piece, which is excellent and fairly exhaustive. 

The reasons boil down to these:

It’s The Wrong Line…:  Light Rail is designed to serve routes with stops roughly every mile or two – allowing it to get going to 55 miles per hour between stops.   The “Green Line” has to stop at dozens of stoplights, so it never really moves.  It takes about an hour to get between the downtowns, so it’s no faster than the 16 bus, making it useless for people who commute between downtowns.  And it’s much, much slower than cars, which even on the worst traffic days can get between the downtowns in half an hour.   

…In The Wrong Place…:  But it makes less than half as many stops as the 16, making it nearly useless for getting around the neighborhood, which is what people do on the 16.  The line should have either been:

  • a streetcar (and let’s all set our innate conservative opposition to rail transit aside for sake of argument) that stops every block or two and goes about the same speed as the 16, or maybe a little faster, and serves Saint Paul local traffic, for less than half the price we paid for the Green Line
  • or a light rail train built straight down I94, or across the 35W bridge and through the Newell and Empire Builder rail yards to downtown Saint Paul, for a similar (possibly lower) cost, but well over double the speed.
  • Or, since we’re just thinking here, a subway down University, with probably double the speed, but 4-10x (think 10x) the cost. 

What we got was too big a train on too slow a route – or as Markle puts it, “we’ve got a train that can’t run as a train should (to get commuters off the freeway and provide rapid point to point transportation) and yet can’t provide the good local service of a streetcar”. 

…For The Wrong Reasons…:  But the Met Council’s priority wasn’t moving people; it was promoting high-density urban development.  And while either kind of train will hypothetically serve the purpose (says the urban planning clique).  But the Federal Government was subsidizing light rail, not streetcars.  And the Met Council needed the subsidy. 

So instead of a line that (hypothetically) made sense either for commuters or local residents, we got a line designed to whisk people long distances, stopping every 1-3 miles, on a route that demands stops every block or three. 

Here’s The Takeaway:  The official transit fanboy community in the Twin Cities is just now waking up from their opening-day train-riding hangovers and figuring it out.  Bob Collins (one of my favorite MPR personalities, if that’s not a contradiction in terms) quotes heavily from the piece I link above, and adds his own observations:

During construction, I’d intended to take the line to Target Field for the July 4th game vs. the Yankees. But when push came to shove, and with four people in the car, it made more sense to just drive into town.

Part of that decision is owed to the 55 minutes it took to get from 10th Street in Saint Paul to the Nicollet stop in Minneapolis when we tried the new line out on the weekend of Rock the Garden.

More often, we hear “it takes too long” among potential riders. There’s a good reason for that. It takes too long.

So better late than never – right?

Of course, we – Erik “The Transit Geek” Hare (author of the peripatetic but excellent “Barataria” blog) and I talked about these exact issues, for precisely the same reasons, on the NARN seven years ago

Make of that what you will – especially if “what you will” means “the NARN has a better grasp on sane policy than the Met Council and the entire DFL”.