Monday, May 17, 2010

Transit mode share to ballparks

In a cute lede in a recent op-ed in the Boston Globe, New York and Boston sports fans were held up as examples of transit users.
Red Sox and Yankees fans can agree on one thing — how to get to the game. In New York, about 45 percent of ticketholders take public transportation. In Boston, more than 50 percent of ticketholders take the T — a percentage higher than any other professional sports franchise in any city in the country. Yet, even as hundreds of thousands pour into rail cars each season, most are unaware that the trains are running on empty.
That makes sense: parking in Boston is atrocious ($40 for a spot, and horrible traffic pre- and post-game) and in New York many fans come from The City, and those who don't face interminable waits to get off of and back on to the Major Deegan. (Google Maps imagery of Yankee Stadium, taken just before a ballgame, shows hordes of people getting off the subway, and traffic backed up from the stadium 3 miles north up 87, and across the Harlem River in to Manhattan towards the GW Bridge, although the CBE is pretty clear.)

This got me to thinking. I profiled Minneapolis's new stadium, Target Field, a few weeks ago, focusing in on how it was built in to a transit system which, when fully developed*, could see a 600-passenger crush load, three car light rail train leaving every three minutes in each direction. (I was biking through Minneapolis last week and saw them using three car trains after a Twins game.) I also went to Kansas City, where there is no transit service to the game, and everyone is forced to park in the huge lots surrounding Kauffman Stadium, setting up a nice little racket for the stadium owners.

I want the data. I want to plot ballpark transit mode share versus overall transit mode share. I'd love to see data on biking to the stadium. This mode is nonexistent in Boston or New York (where your bike is liable to be stolen if you aren't hit by a driver on the way to the game) but in Minneapolis there are hundreds of bike racks and they're full on game day (and the city is planning to complete a bike trail quite literally underneath the stadium which will enable off-street links from most directions). If anyone knows where I can get it (and, yes, I emailed the authors of that article) I'd love to know.

* The Central Corridor to the south and then east, the Southwest Corridor to the north and then southwest and the Bottineau Transitway to the north and then northwest, plus any additional commuter rail.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Will a Midtown pedestrian mall kill Midtown?

In a word, no.

The Next American City had a post regarding pedestrian malls which, in some cases, are having cars reintroduced. They were originally a reaction to suburban shopping malls, and an attempt to retain retail in former downtowns. Their success has been decidedly mixed. The pedestrian movement is moving towards complete streets, which makes more sense. Streets were once rather democratic places, but were completely turned over to automobiles (with things like jaywalking statutes). A few were further segregated, with pedestrian malls.

There seem to be two types of pedestrian mall—those where nearly everyone arrives by car, and those where the pedestrian mall is at the center of an already-pedestrian-friendly area. The former are generally small and medium cities, the latter larger cities with decent transit or college towns. Then there's Manhattan.

Manhattan is not trying to boost a lagging retail sector. Times Square, Herald Square and 34th Street is probably the most bustling area in the whole country. And while downtown retail has suffered in nearly every city in the country, New York has a large enough transit-centric population that Midtown has no trouble even with tight, very expensive parking. New York's attempts at pedestrianization are reactions to having given too much space away to cars—five lanes of traffic with narrow, crowded sidewalks. In addition, the diagonal crossing of Broadway caused traffic havoc, and with the box often blocked, gridlock ensued. (Well, it still ensues.) With traffic stalled and thousands of pedestrians, Times and Herald Squares resemble pedestrian malls more often than not—with a bunch of cars blocking the way.

The New York Times asked a bunch of folks (it's a good read) if they thought that the pedestrianization of Midtown was a good idea, and everyone said yes. Well, everyone except the token nay-sayer. (Actually they had a guy from Reason who was able to say that "pedestrian malls could be viable in Manhattan.") They had to find someone to say that the pedestrian improvements were bad for the city, and they found one Randall O'Toole.

Usually Randall expounds on a laughable, oil- and car-lobby-funded blog where he argues time and again that if we all drove everywhere it'd be great. I choose not to spend my time debunking every one of his articles (for instance: New York would do better with buses than subways) and the straw men and red herrings and use of irrelevant data (in the New York case, he argues that buses cost less per passenger mile to operate, which is true in many cities, but not in New York). But this is not a blog, it's the paper of record (or a blog on the PoR's website). In any case, he makes some very interesting assertions regarding the street closings in Midtown. Here are some choice quotes:

Closing Broadway to auto traffic may reduce congestion on cross streets and avenues, but limiting auto access could also turn Broadway itself into a deserted wasteland.

In 1959, Kalamazoo, Mich., tried to help its downtown compete with suburban shopping malls by closing a street to auto traffic and turning it into a pedestrian mall. Over the next 30 years, more than 200 American and Canadian cities created similar malls.

Far from helping retail districts, most of these pedestrian malls killed them. Vacancy rates soared, and any pedestrians using the malls found themselves walking among boarded up shops or former department stores that had been downgraded to thrift shops or other low-rent operations.

That's his opening. He's comparing Midtown Manhattan to Kalamazoo. Uh, Randall, I think there are some minor density differences going on there. And some minor land use and land value differences. Tell me, did Kalamazoo in 1959 have one of the worlds largest subway systems and two of the worlds largest train stations? Was Kalamazoo's pedestrian mall anchored by the largest store in the world (and the flagship of the largest nationwide department store chain) at one end and the largest theater district in the country at the other?

Then, in a study of fallacies, he goes on:

In most situations, automobiles drive retail. Pedestrian malls don’t create pedestrians; they only work on streets that are already dominated by pedestrian traffic.

Where to start. "In most situations" does not, quite specifically, apply to all situations. "Pedestrian malls don't create pedestrians." That's a bit of a straw man, since there's no need to create more pedestrians in Midtown Manhattan, is there? And as for working on streets dominated by pedestrian traffic—anyone who's ever walked in Manhattan would probably agree that that would be a fair description of the streets there.

And if you naïvely think that's all, you'd be wrong:

Broadway might have sufficient pedestrians to maintain retail businesses — but it might not. It may be that many of the pedestrians originally arrived by taxi or in other automobiles. And given the current economy, any change for the worse could put already teetering shops out of business.

Broadway might not have sufficient pedestrians to maintain retail businesses? Seriously? If you took a poll of New Yorkers to see if they thought Broadway didn't have enough pedestrians to support retail business I believe those answering in the affirmative would be pretty darned close to 100 percent. It might be no—from every hundredth person. And are most people arriving by taxi or car? Well, not by car. The few people who do arrive by car are paying enough in parking fees and the time cost of driving in to Midtown that an extra few minutes of gridlock won't make any difference. Those in taxis aren't about to drive to Passaic if the ride was a few minutes longer.

And the teetering shops? Well, I'm pretty sure Macy's isn't going anywhere real soon.

In any case, it's pretty obvious Randall O'Toole hasn't been to Manhattan, or if he did he didn't open his eyes. If he wants to keep a blog where he proffers fabrications, fine. But if he is going to write swill like this, the Times shouldn't give him the time of day.

But perhaps a Times commenter said it best: "Comparing Buffalo to Manhattan is like comparing Randall O'Toole to an actual scholar."

Thursday, May 6, 2010

What's at the corner of Plymouth and Queen?

When traffic is bad and I want to ski at Theodore Wirth Park, I take a back route from Saint Paul which culminates with a stretch of Plymouth Avenue in Minneapolis. Plymouth is not the most attractive of streets—it goes from an industrial strip east of Interstate 94 and then is all urban renewal from Emerson to Penn. It's another half mile from Penn to Wirth Park, and the closer to the park the houses are better kept and a bit statelier, with fewer chain-link fences (a good sign of low income in the Twin Cities).

But one thing caught my eye. On the southwest corner of Plymouth and Queen Avenue is a rather peculiar-looking building. At first, it looks like many apartment blocks in the Twin Cities. It's three stories high and tucked in to a normal city block. The neighborhood is mostly African American today, so it seems like no place to have a building with two six-pointed stars, right? Wrong:

View Larger Map

On a length of street where nearly every non-residential building (and several residential buildings as well) has been torn down and rebuilt (or not rebuilt), for some reason, this small synaguge stands practically untouched. It doesn't seem to be in use. It's just—there. A relic of a half century ago.

It turns out that the neighborhood went through quite an upheaval during the 1960s. North Minneapolis was where you went in the first half of the century if you weren't allowed anywhere else. Plymouth Avenue was a commercial strip with a streetcar line (it still has the #7 bus) and was the center of the north side Jewish community—Litvaks and Russians and other eastern Europeans.

It was also home to one of Minneapolis's African American communities, and the two groups apparently lived in harmony before and after the second World War, possibly because much of the rest of the city and its suburbs were closed to both groups. As with many other cities (such as Boston), the exclusionary titles were lifted piecemeal, and in the 1950s and '60s, as the Jews began to move out (they could get loan guarantees in Saint Louis Park, blacks could not), riots accelerated the process. By the 1970s, the Jewish community had moved to the suburbs, even as it had been building new structures two decades earlier.

Perhaps it still stands because it is not that old. The building was erected in 1948—20 years before the riots that would finish off reshaping the neighborhood. It's not particularly stately or obtrusive—at least not now in its shabby state—but it's amazing that it still stands. Nearly everything else on the street has been demolished (here are several pictures of the street from the 1950s and 1960s) yet this shul looks exactly the same.

Why can't we internalize the cost of commuting?

Yesterday I was biking from Saint Paul to Minneapolis at rush hour. In to a stiff headwind, which shaved four or five miles per hour off my speed—more on downhills. However, when I crossed over Interstate 94 (*) just east of the Mississippi, I smiled. Both sides of the highway were parking lots. I probably wouldn't have gone any faster in a car.

I hate traffic. Actually, I should rephrase that. I hate being stuck in traffic. I love the concept of traffic, as long as it is not "solved" by building more roads. Livable cities have traffic. (They have transit as well. The ones with traffic and no transit, well …) I continued on a few blocks to my destination and, while I was not particularly happy fighting against the gale, I was glad I wasn't giving myself ulcers in a traffic jam.

There have been several recent articles about the fact that people are unable to properly calculate the cost—both economically, the time cost and the emotional distress—of a long commute. It's been called the commuter's paradox. The long and short of it comes down to the fact that people, when making an important decision (where to live) will worry about rare, very inconvenient occasions more than frequent and not-quite-so-inconvenient-but-still-bothersome occasions. In other words (mostly those of Ap Dijksterhuis of Radboud University in the Netherlands):
Consider two housing options: a three bedroom apartment that is located in the middle of a city, with a ten minute commute time, or a five bedroom McMansion on the urban outskirts, with a forty-five minute commute. "People will think about this trade-off for a long time," Dijksterhuis says. "And most them will eventually choose the large house. After all, a third bathroom or extra bedroom is very important for when grandma and grandpa come over for Christmas, whereas driving two hours each day is really not that bad." What's interesting, Dijksterhuis says, is that the more time people spend deliberating, the more important that extra space becomes. They'll imagine all sorts of scenarios (a big birthday party, Thanksgiving dinner, another child) that will turn the suburban house into an absolute necessity. The pain of a lengthy commute, meanwhile, will seem less and less significant, at least when compared to the allure of an extra bathroom. But, as Dijksterhuis points out, that reasoning process is exactly backwards: "The additional bathroom is a completely superfluous asset for at least 362 or 363 days each year, whereas a long commute does become a burden after a while."
In addition to the environmental catastrophe of building and heating (or air conditioning) superfluous, unused rooms, people have convinced themselves that they need this extra space, and pay dearly for it: first when they buy something larger than necessary, and then when they spend hours a day in the car because they can't get anywhere without turning the ignition key. (Has no one heard of a fold-out bed or a hotel room? It's a lot cheaper than a bigger house.)

The article also goes in to the issue that the worst thing about traffic isn't that it's bad, but that it's unpredictable. With all sorts of technological advancements, the best we can do now are sporadic signs above the Interstate telling us how long we have left in this particular hell. With a little money, we could make the trains and buses run on time (the worst thing about a poorly functioning transit system is, generally, its unpredictability). Making traffic predictable, on the other hand, is all but impossible.

There's another piece up recently regarding a book about car dependence. It goes in to more of the economics, that we don't internalize the costs of driving because they are so ingrained in the American psyche. It's really a problem, and one that will take decades to fix. Whether the current economic status (and, yes, economics, not environmentalism, will be the driver of less automobile use) or higher gas prices will make a change is yet to be seen. However, it may be a generational change, and amongst a generation of always-plugged-in folks who see time in a car for what it is—almost completely wasted—we may see more people who are less interested in driving the latest, greatest shiny new automobile.

[ * Why is I-94 bad going west? Because in the course of about three miles there is a lane drop on the right (Riverside), a lane drop on the left (35W), two horrible merges on the right (from 35W and 11th), and then a sharp curve in to the Lowry Tunnel. There are no lanes which don't disappear or have just brutal merges. You can add all the suburban lane miles you want, but it won't address these bottlenecks.]

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Can we leverage the oil slick in to a gas tax?

We've written about the gas tax before (or the lack thereof). But with a new focus on the perils of offshore drilling (and oil spills in general), it seems that it might be a good opportunity to impose, and properly frame, the gas tax.

As Jonathan Chait (and surely others) adroitly points out, we are not paying for all of the externalities. We're definitely not paying for the rather obtuse problem of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. There are ideas on how to put a price on it (a carbon tax), but none are particularly sellable. Despite the rather dramatic evidence, global warming is a hard sell. Yes, it's one degree warmer than it was, but there are still cold snaps and snowstorms. Try to convince the public that it's a problem, and you're bound to run in to contrary "evidence", even if the evidence is weather while the problem is climate.

In any case, to impose a tax, you often need a good reason. And the oil spill—as bad as it is in the affected area—might be a good enough reason. Yes, we all want BP to pay for the damage. But, likely, the government will kick in, or at last have to pay first and go after BP later. Here's where the framing comes in. Instead of a carbon tax (which we don't understand) we need a "save the birds and marshes fee." Show a bunch of oil-slicked birds, and put a 5¢ fee on each gallon of gas. Because when it happens again (and, oh yeah, it'll happen again), we'll either have more money, or fewer oil tankers and rigs. Neither of which is a bad thing.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Bicycling directions: Google Maps vs. Cyclopath

When Google Maps launched bicycling directions, it was seen as a boon to the bicycling community nationwide. Finally, cyclists could see directions based on roads and trails, instead of being routed by the Googles on to highways and freeways. Speculation about the directions—that it would encourage more people to bike and even might influence city planning—abounds. People from Seattle to Portland to San Francisco to New York to Boston started throwing around reviews (mixed, actually; the service still feels very beta-y) about the new feature. It's great that Google has released this product, but it feels like it might not be ready for prime time.

Around the same time as the feature launched, the first proofs of Bicycling Magazine's annual ranking of cities for cycling came out, and there was a new #1. The newly crowned Minneapolitans (and their Saint Paulite brethren) were not as excited about the Google Maps cycling directions. Why? Because for quite some time, they've had their own version: Cyclopath.

Cyclopath was developed by, what's best to call them, a bunch of bicyclist-geeks. Long before Google entered the marketplace, Cyclopath had developed, first as a project at the University of Minnesota and then as a "Geo-wiki" (part of it is to study of Recommender Systems, and even the behavioral science behind route finding). It was developed in 2008 and released to the public in the summer of that year, more than a year and a half before Google developed their nationwide network. It's gone through several releases  and now incorporates users opinions of various roads. While Google depends on a very analytic approach, Cyclopath provides more subjective data for users, which it seems, is more useful in the long run.

Plus which, Cyclopath's data—since it was first uploaded—is consistently updated by its users. Find a road which has been closed? You can close it. Has a road been repaved or has it become incredibly potholed by a winter of freezing? Change its bikeability. Need to add a road? Add it in. Want to write about a long traffic light or a weird lane merge? That can be added in, easily. Google's still in beta; Cyclopath is humming along.

In comes Google. Cyclopath likes it well enough, and doesn't really see it as a threat, since they think they are better. In reality, they are two different approaches to the same problem: how do you get from Point A to Point B (as long as, in the case of Cyclopath, you're in the Twin Cities). So, which is better? Let's go through a few differences.

Quality of Route

This is the big one, let's get to it right off. Cyclopath, with years of experience and input, rarely routes you inefficiently (you can change its algorithm, too, see below). Google Maps, on the other hand, has enough mistakes (it's missing, for example, the Sabo Bridge and will route you on an Interstate ramp) that it's a bit of a pain to use. But it's not so much these glaring omissions—it's the turns that are missing, often turns you can make in a car (try, for example, to make a left turn from Cleveland Avenue in Saint Paul to Mississippi River Boulevard)—which result in convoluted directions. And if you put in a ZIP code and Google happens to located it on an interstate, forget about non-car directions (even the car directions are bollixed up). Until these issues are fixed—and I know of half a dozen in Minneapolis and Saint Paul alone, so there have got to be hundreds nationwide—Cyclopath wins, hands down. I'm sure in cities which went from zero biking directions to Google, it's great, but they have a way to go to catch up with Cyclopath.

Flexibility of Route Search

When you search for a route in Google maps, you get several options: by car, by transit, walking or bicycling. Within bike directions, however, you have no options. There's no way to avoid hills, or weight bike paths higher. They have gone on about their great algorithm, but there's no way to know exactly how it works. The algorithm is what the algorithm is. In Cyclopath, you have choices. (see right) If you want to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible, you can choose to minimize distance. For a nicer, but potentially longer ride, choose, bikeability. And you can then assign penalties or bonuses to your routes for customization.

The one aspect of route flexibility where Google wins is in the post-search environment. With Cyclopath, you usually get a good route, but if you want to change it to, say, add a waypoint (often to get it to follow a certain road or trail) it won't let you. You have to create a new route. Of course, Cyclopath can display multiple routes at once; Google can not.

Non-cycling Data

Cyclopath sounds great, but isn't it just a glorified bike map with directions? Nope. While Google has added a lot of secondary data, Cyclopath more than keeps up. Google has more background layers, and draws on its wide search database to show photos and webcams and georeferenced Wikipedia articles and other such sundries which clutter the map. Cyclopath has a toggle for satellite imagery (the "P" key) which loads faster. In addition, Cyclopath has a plethora of local businesses and buildings tagged, some of which have very pertinent information added (such as "bike racks on north side" or "bathrooms on lower level"). In addition, Cyclopath has future trail alignments shown as being "closed" which Google omits.

Fixing data

If you want to fix data in Cyclopath—if you find a street which is closed (even temporarily, for construction) or a new bike lane or anything else which is missing, sign up, sign up, and edit away. There's been little vandalism (a Star Tribune article from 2008 didn't foresee any) and editing is encouraged to keep the map's data up-to-date. The map is relatively easy to edit (although the onus is on users to assure that the network is configured correctly). In Google? Well, there is a link to email suggestions to Google. I have—more than once—and gotten an email that they are working on it. But it still gives wonky directions for those routes. And the ability to add data and comment on the quality of roads is, well, amazing functionality.


Google Maps' UI is a thing of beauty. Going from the clunky pre-Gmaps interfaces (yes, Mapquest, we're looking at you, at least until pretty recently) to Google Maps, back in the day, was eye-opening. Zooming, scrolling and navigating were made far simple in Google Maps, and while it may be resting on its laurels, everyone else is just catching up. Cyclopath is a different animal, and while its main interface seems a slight bit clunkier than Google Maps (no, you can't double click to zoom and recenter) it's very well designed for a local, bicycling website, especially one which has editing capabilities and a community feel mixed in.

The Name

No one knows what to call Google Maps bicycling directions beta. "Google Maps Bike Directions"? "Google Bike?" Everything seems, well, clunky. Cyclopath has a great ring to it.

Geographic Range and expandability

Okay, here Google wins. Google Maps bicycling (or, um, whatever) is nationwide. Cyclopath is in the Twin Cities (one of which is the top cycling city in the country). Could Cyclopath be exported? Maybe. Its creators claim that it would take a month of tech work from a rather qualified person, and that there'd still be logistical issues (or, as they put it, "unknown unknowns").

Implications for bicycling as a whole

Google Maps may actually stymie the development of Cyclopath-like websites in other cities—who may be content with their Mountain View bicycle overlords. While Google has created a respectable product, it does little to incorporate the huge knowledge base of cyclists around the country. Road users don't so much care whether a street surface is concrete or asphalt, and how wide the lanes are. Cyclists do—and ceding the authority to Google by default may not be in the best interest for bicycling. Hopefully both services will thrive, and Google will become more suited towards biking. In the short term, Google Maps bike directions are good for cycling. In the long term, it has the potential to be a back-burner project for Google, but one which is just useful enough that enterprising individuals don't continue to innovate with products and services like Cyclopath.

The Verdict?

Right now, if you're in the Twin Cities, skip Google Maps. Cyclopath will give you better directions, and may even entice you to become part of the community. And any changes you make won't come with a ticket number.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Site, situation and planning: Target Field

Game three at Target Field, looking east.

I managed to catch one of the games in the first series at Target Field in Minneapolis this week (my Red Sox were in town) and although the Sox lost, it was great to see a new stadium. It was actually the second in a week—I was at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City last weekend for a Sox game (nice ballpark, in the 'burbs surrounded by a sea of parking, and I didn't have time to explore KC)—and it was very interesting to see how the park is sited, and how people are adapting to the new experience, both inside and out.

From a baseball perspective, it's fun to see how people like the inside. I was born and raised on Fenway, and the Metrodome was, um, atrocious. After a Sox loss there, I was depressed. Watching my team get shellacked on Thursday, having skipped out of work, with the sun beating down and the cool breeze blowing, well, it was nice. There are some cute features (the two baseball players—Minnie and Paul—shaking hands across the river when a home run is hit or the game is won), the usual odd angles of a new ballpark, and no baggie in right field. And the view of the skyline is a great touch. Otherwise, it's a perfectly good replacement for what was a perfectly poor excuse for a baseball stadium.

But this isn't a baseball blog.

The geographic term "site and situation" is usually applied to whole cities or settlements, but it can really be used to describe the location of nearly any geographic feature. And with 40,000 people, Target Field (or any baseball stadium) can be described as a small city for three (or, in a Red Sox-Yankees game, four and a half) hours at a time. Basically, the site is physical characteristics of, in this case, the stadium. Situation is how it interfaces with what is around it; how it connects to other buildings, roads and transit.

Of all the arenas cities build to glorify their teams (or their selves), baseball parks generally see the most traffic. A football stadium may seat 70,000, but it only sees 10 games a year. Even with other events, such a stadium is hard-pressed to break a million fans. (There's a good reason football stadiums are often, and maybe should be, built away from downtowns: their demand for parking does not mesh well with surrounding land uses, and moving that many people in and out can strain all but the best-equipped transit systems.) Indoor arenas, even when the combine basketball and hockey, sell out shy of 20,000, and there are only about 80 games a season. That's 1.6 million. Add in some other shows, and you can break two million. (The Staples Center in LA, with two basketball tenants, may see more fans, although I can't imagine Clippers games sell out.)

But baseball parks? They usually seat at least 40,000 (most new parks are around this figure). And they have 81 home dates a year. Throw in a few concerts, and you can bring more than three million fans in each year. From an economic development standpoint, baseball stadia are probably the best generator of people in sheer numbers. Even if they don't have anything beyond baseball, they still bring in more visitors than any other arena.

Of course, the Metrodome didn't do much for its surroundings. Much as it was 28 years ago, it is surrounded by, well, mostly by parking lots—a suburban stadium in the middle of a city (or, at least, a tangle of highway ramps). Target Field, for many reasons, may not suffer quite the same fate.

Target Field's Site

Target field sits on a not-quite square plot of land on the northern fringe of Downtown Minneapolis. The street grid in Downtown is oriented to the Mississippi river, which flows five blocks to the site's east. South of Hennepin, the grid is shifted slightly, but where the ballpark is located, the streets run almost perfectly 45˚ off of the cardinal directions (i.e. NE-SW and NW-SE). Before the ball park was constructed, there was a ditch between 2nd Avenue N and where 4th Avenue N would run. The southeastern half was taken up with the exit ramps of Interstate 394; the rest was a parking lot until it reaches the railroad tracks. The stadium is built above the former parking lot, with a pavilion extending above the railroad tracks.

The park is oriented due east—that is, the batter is looking straight at the rising sun and the pitcher throws the ball to the west. To fit the field in the confined location, the stadium needed to be oriented in a cardinal direction, and baseball stadiums are best located to the northeast. Baseball games are rarely played at sunrise, and this allows for the smallest chance that the sun will be in a player's eyes. (Although there are two baseball stadia which are oriented due west—and they sometimes have to suspend play at sundown.) With baseball games starting in the afternoon (with one exception, the 11:05 a.m. start for the Patriots Day game in Boston), some parks face south of east, and some due north, but most face northeast. Here's a great diagram of all the ballparks. And, in case you were wondering, this orientation is set forth as "desirable" in Major League Baseballs rules (1.04).

There's another major reason for the orientation of the ballpark, but we'll explore that in the situation discussion. Other than the fact that the stadium is built on stilts over a highway and a railroad (and, in the future, a bike path), there's not much else exciting about the ballpark's site, since it is basically reclaimed land (discussions of sites for cities often go on for much longer, incorporating terrain, water sources, deep harbors, rail corridors and the like). Basically, it's a rather cramped city block in Minneapolis.

Target Field's easterly orientation gives is a grand view of the Minneapolis skyline; it should be even better at night.

Target Field's Situation

The situation of the ballpark—how it interfaces with the rest of the city—is much more interesting. The orientation, which is a site feature, is, perhaps, more importantly, part of the park's situation. The reason that the park was sited facing east instead of north is the proximity of Minneapolis's skyline—the highest buildings between Chicago and Seattle—sits to the southeast of the field. A northerly facing diamond would have nothing in view beyond the stadium's walls. With the east-facing ballpark, several 800-foot-tall buildings loom less than half a mile above the field (and, yes, you can see in from the higher floors of some of them).

In fact, Target Field is significantly closer to the center of Downtown Minneapolis (we'll define it as the IDS Center) than the Metrodome. As the crow flies, the nearest gate to Target Field is about a quarter mile from Nicollet. The Metrodome is more than twice that distance. There is quite a bit less surface parking around Target Field, too. Minneapolis has a lot of parking downtown, and, for the most part, these spaces are empty nights and weekends—which is precisely when they are needed for baseball. The Metrodome was almost completely surrounded by surface parking, while Target Field has only a few nearby surface lots.

This lack of surface parking is going to have several interesting effects on the parking market. First, the land near the Metrodome will lose much of its value for parking as the parking for the Twins and Vikings will be disaggregated. The Twins drew 2.4 million fans in 2009, many of whom parked in these surface lots. While Vikings fans will need somewhere to park, there are only about 600,000 Vikings fans, one fifth of the pre-2010 total. If the real estate market picks up in Downtown Minneapolis (one of the few under-construction buildings in the city is on a former parking lot near the Dome), these lots—especially the ones a bit further from the Dome—will net less cash from parking revenue, and thus be more likely to be sold for development.

Around Target Field, the parking situation is a bit more developed. Minneapolis has a many car commuters, and, thus, a lot of parking structures (and some surface parking). The Central Business District is strong enough that it is not infiltrated by surface parking, although there is a good deal on the flanks. The city operates three "ramps" (as parking garages are called here), called the ABC Ramps, which surround the field, have direct freeway access, and about 7,000 parking spaces (assuming 2.5 passengers per car, that's half the stadium). There are, of course, dozens of other garages downtown, and even some surface parking. With the Target Center (home of the basketball Timberwolves—the hockey Wild play in Saint Paul) and several theaters nearby, the events parking market is rather well established, and there may not be a need to claim more land for parking. However, the few surface parking lots nearby will become more valuable as parking, which may hamper redevelopment efforts in the neighborhood, unless the ballpark increases their value as developed land.

The Twins, who originally played at suburban Metropolitan Stadium (now the Mall of America) have decreased nearby surface parking with each move. Their original ballpark was similar to Kauffman or Miller Park in Milwaukee—everyone drives, and many tailgate. Thirty years later, they are now playing in a very urban-feeling environment.

Target Field is also accessible by transit, and these connections are well publicized by the team and city, which hope to limit the volume of traffic around the stadium on game days. Amongst stadia with transit connections, there are actually few which are located as centrally on a transit system as Target Stadium, or at least as it has the potential to be. Stadia require quite a bit of land and, recently, quite a bit of parking, which are not generally compatible with the centers of transit systems. If you look at older ballparks (or former locations)—Fenway, Wrigley, Yankee Stadium, Shibe and Baker Park (in Philadelphia), Comiskey, Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds—they are generally on transit lines, and far from the nexus of the transit system. Even in cities with new stadiums, like AT&T Park in San Francisco or the ballpark in Washington, D.C., the parks are generally not near main transit stations. In cities with major transit systems, land near major centers are just too damn valuable for a block of grass and stands which are only used 250 hours each year.

In other words, most baseball stadia require a transfer. They're not near commuter rail terminal stations. They were built where there was cheap, vacant land, which, for older stadia, was usually a few miles out from the middle of the city. In Boston, this means that thousands jam the trolleys to Kenmore (when this coincides with the end of rush hour, for a 7:00 game, the trains are jammed). In New York, the two lines which serve the Stadium—the IRT Jerome Avenue Line (4) and the IND Concourse Line (B, D)—easily reach crush capacity, especially the over-capacity Lexington IRT which is already way beyond capacity (which is why they're building the Second Avenue Subway), and the L to Addison in Chicago gets pretty full up to Wrigley.

Minneapolis has one rather-well used transit line, which was extended a stop to serve the stadium. The light rail vehicles on the line are rather large, with a crush capacity of more than 200, meaning a two-car train can carry nearly 500 passengers. Right now, the stadium is at the end of the line, meaning that fans can pour in to empty trains, and as long as the end of the game doesn't conflict with rush hour (any weekday day games begin at noon, likely in the hopes the game will end before the height of the evening rush) and the trains should be able to clear passengers out before the rush. For 7:00 games, baseball fans will be traveling against rush hour, which is desirable. On evenings and weekends, the trains are relatively empty—the line is rather commuter-oriented—so they an be mostly devoted to game traffic. And the line was designed to stop adjacent to the stadium to allow for ease of boarding and alighting. There are no stairs, escalators or treks to the station. Many bus routes also pass nearby or terminate near the stadium.

In addition to the light rail, a new commuter rail service serves Minneapolis and stops below the stadium.  The 500 fans it can carry is small potatoes compared with the light rail (which can carry that many every few minutes) and it won't even serve every game (it buys trackage rights from a very well-traveled section of one of the BNSF's main transcontinental routes). However, it has large parking lots in the suburbs and special fares for ballgames, and appeared to be well-used this past week.

The line for the light rail was long, but orderly. Still, the boarding process needs to be streamlined.

There are definitely some kinks to work out. At the Metrodome, 4000 of the average of 30,000 fans came by train. Target Field seats 40,000 and should be sold out most of the season, and parking is harder and more costly; it's presumable that upwards of 6000 fans will ride the light rail to the stadium. On Thursday, the line after the game was several hundred people long (but very orderly, as opposed to what happens in Boston or New York; it probably also meant that it was slower and that the maximum nuber of people were not filling the cars). MetroTransit had staff on hand, but did not have the vehicular capacity. In Boston, where the main sticking point is line capacity, the MBTA runs full rush-hour service before and after Red Sox games on the Green Line, and usually stores several cars in the Kenmore Loop, allowing them to run several trains outbound, one after the next, to deal with the post-game rush. Here, the line could support three car trains at three minute headways—700 people 20 times an hour—but was not utilized to that level.

MetroTransit needs to take heed. They have stub tracks beyond the station, and should have as many trains stored there as they can. With 300m of double-track, they should be able to have 10 cars—for 2500 people—stored there, although with two-car trains, only 8 cars for 2000 people may be feasible. They should then run these at three-to-five minute headways for the first half hour after the game. Additional cars stored just south of Downtown at the maintenance facility should be sent as quickly as possible, with boarding on both tracks. With the ability to run three-car trains, this would be a capacity of 8400 to 14000 per hour, more than enough to clear out the stadium traffic in 30 minutes after a game.

In the future, Target Field could become one of the most transit-centered ballparks in the country. Plans are moving forward to build the Central Corridor (to Saint Paul, 2014), and long range plans have these two lines, which will terminate at Target Field (thus doubling capacity through downtown), interlining through downtown with the Southwest Corridor (2015) and the Bottineau Transitway (to the northwest). With 7.5 minute headways (the current rush hour headways on the Hiawatha Line), 32 trains, each carrying up to 500 to 700 passengers, could pass Target Field each hour, carrying 16,000 to 22,000 passengers—more than enough capacity for the ballpark, and a capacity rivaling the transit capabilities of Fenway and Wrigley.

With ample parking in place and the possibility of increased transit service, Target Field may do a better job of drawing nearby development than the Metrodome. The Dome is in a no-mans land. It is surrounded by parking on all sides, and by freeways in two directions. Once transit showed up in 2004, its days as a baseball stadium were all but numbered. Target Field helps connect Downtown Minneapolis to the North Loop, a hodgepodge of new lofts, hip restaurants, and still-operational warehouses. It has a bit of parking, but most of this is a good distance from the ballpark, much further than the huge ramps nearby (thus, its value as parking won't increase dramatically with the new ballpark). There is a rather obtrusive highway offramp between the stadium and the North Loop; however, if it were dismantled, would yield a plethora of developable land with half a mile of the Mississippi River, Downtown, transit and bicycle facilities. It is also slated to have a line of Minneapolis's proposed streetcar network pass through it. The North Loop could benefit greatly from being linked to downtown by the park, which bridges the former two-block-wide trench between the neighborhood and the downtown with rather wide pedestrian concourses, and be further developed as a transit-oriented, mixed-use neighborhood, where there are currently underutilized light industrial plots or warehouses within a mile of downtown.

Finally, with Minneapolis currently the top bicycling city in the country, I'd be remiss to not mention the stadium's situation regarding cycling. And walking. As far as walkability, the ballpark is a few blocks from Hennepin and, while not connected to the Skyway system (which are used more in the winter than summer) it is better connected by sidewalks and by the new pavilion built between the ballpark and the Target Center.

Ten minutes before game time (and ten minutes before the sun came out), the bike racks at the field were full, even though it had rained lightly in the morning. Several other similar racks line the stadium walls.

As for cycling, Minneapolis probably has more people who bicycle to baseball games than any other city. The bike racks at the Metrodome, which was actually located near more bike trails than Target Field, were always well used, but they were tucked away on one side of the building, away from most of the trails. The field is surrounded by bike racks (map [pdf]), including racks which line the northwest promenade of the field—built over the railroad tracks—and when I visited this week, they were all packed. Perhaps the Twins need to install some more.

In addition, the Cedar Lake Bike trail, which extends in to downtown from the southwest, is being extended under the ballpark. It will connect the bike trail along the Mississippi River to the stadium, and allow grade-separated bike access to the stadium, avoiding foot and car traffic. With these improvements, the bike facilities near Target Field will be unparalleled in the major leagues. (And, no, when I was living a similar distance from the ballpark in Boston, I never even thought of biking to Fenway.)

With easy transit options (a bus straight from my house; a nice bike ride along the river) and a lovely field I do want to see at night, I'll be back.

Friday, April 16, 2010


There have been enough spammy comments that I am turning on word verification. And new posts are coming!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The rise of jaywalking

As an East Coaster in the Midwest, one thing I can't stand are people who refuse to jaywalk. In college, I'd look both ways, see no traffic and cross against the light, and my friends would stand stationary on the sidewalk. I had more than one conversation imploring them to cross—as I stood in the middle of the street. And the drivers? Well, they're oblivious—there's trouble crossing streets even in crosswalks.

So I'm all for jaywalking. I know the statute, and choose to ignore it at will. I was here first (i.e. pedestrians were here before cars. If there is no good reason I shouldn't cross a street (generally an oncoming vehicle), I'll cross the street.

And it turns out, jaywalking is good for cities. A Slate article and two blog posts discuss something interesting: streets before cars were relatively safe. Here's Market Street in San Francisco in 1906—utterly chaotic, but nothing moving fast enough to be dangerous (it's a cool video). Cars made them dangerous, and something had to be done.

In the early days, there were some who argued that cars should be limited or governed to low speeds. Sadly, these folks lost out to an all-out assault from auto and road interests. And the term "jaywalking"? It was foisted on to the unwitting American public. Instead of cars being a danger to pedestrians, pedestrians were now a danger to cars. And in may cases, pedestrians have gone danger, to nuisance, to, well, gone, or so marginalized on the side of eight lane arterials that they've all but disappeared.

Webster says jaywalking originated in 1915. Google news seems to agree. But what's interest is how it blossomed in usage in the early 1920s and has been used to stigmatize pedestrians ever since. Google News' archives can be very useful here, showing its use in news articles from the dawn of time. Or in this case, 1910:

Apparently, it all started in 1919. You can search each decade and various themes appear:
1920s: Debate over whether to have laws and whether laws work. Jaywalking is generally an evil. And, yes, boy scouts were deputized to warn of the dangers of evil jay walking.

1930s: Okay, we've decided that jaywalking is bad. Very bad. Jaywalkers will kill Main Street. And a study showed that jaywalkers actually lose time. (It was commissioned by the Elks.) New York plans to put up walk/wait signs (yeah that worked out real well, patient New Yorkers never jaywalk).
1940s: Laws get crazy. Judges get crazier. Pedestrians begin to fight back. And fines will work? Ha. (These articles are all gems.)
1950s: New York begins enforcing jaywalking rules (oh, and the paper of record says the term dates to 1917). New Yorkers don't care. Cops in Chicago don't care. And a few people fight back.
1960s: Laws continue. Public continues to ignore them. Or protest.
1970s: Jaywalking continues. Ordinances continue. As to people standing up to silly rules. Regionality begins. People in New York jaywalk, while those in Seattle and LA don't.
1980s: Tickets keep coming, and believe it or not, people keep jaywalking. New York seems to give up, issuing 25 jaywalking tickets in 1989. LA issued 132,000.
1990s: New Yorkers don't care. Bostonians really don't care (and the fine? $1). Rudy Giuliani tries to raise fines and enforcement. New Yorkers are not happy. Cops think it is silly. And the first ticket written is dismissed. Rudy is laughed off. By 1999, the whole charade is just that. New Yorkers call jaywalking "logical."
2000s: New Yorkers ridicule Seattle. New Yorkers use statistics, and Rudy has given up. (Jaywalking while flipping off and cussing out a cop may get you disorderly conduct, though.) Bostonians don't care. Saint Paul doesn't really care. Atlanta, apparently, does. Gadgets become the new menace to pedestrians. And the crusade moves to ticketing bicyclists who don't wait for lights to change.

The tide has turned. Jaywalk, my friends. Jaywalk proudly. If, you know, it gets you where you are going a little faster.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A bit more on bricks

Bricks are by no means a panacea, but they're a different idea. First, they're showing up in more places, such as on Grand Avenue just west of Snelling. (I don't know what happened to the bricks on the right side, but they've been ground up a bit.)

What's interesting here is that Macalester College funded the building of a median in the street a few years ago (you can see it at the top of the picture above) for the benefit of pedestrians: dorms are to the north (right) of the street and the dining hall and academic buildings are to the south. The street used to be three paved lanes with a striped median (it disappeared in the winter), and the new median entailed rebuilding the street—there are plans for one on Snelling as well (which we covered last year)—and tearing out the brick and rails. One wonders why they couldn't have kept the brick—there is little heavy traffic on the street except for buses. This is relatively new pavement that's already coming up.

Second, some crosswalks further down Grand (a mile east, at Lexington) were built with brick pavers, most likely for aesthetic purposes. What's illustrated here is that when bricks are uprooted—in this case, most likely by passing snow plows—they can be replaced piece meal. And, unlike asphalt, replaced bricks don't result in ugly patches that just rip back out, anyway (except where the patches in the brickwork are patched with asphalt, which is especially ugly and does rip right out).

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

When streets were streets

About a week ago, Infrastructurist posted about the various materials used for sidewalks. The consensus is that concrete is cheap and functional if not very environmentally friendly (both in its construction and its low permeability). Of course, in Paris, the streets are cobbled, which is beautiful, if a bit jarring to drivers and cyclists (although perhaps better than potholed asphalt).

Now, in America, except in a few instances (historic districts, or places where rich people gather, or both), streets are pavement. In some cases, concrete. Pavement is good when it's good, but when it's bad, it's real bad. In other words, asphalt seems to have a wide range of conditions: new asphalt is silky smooth, but it doesn't last in good shape. For a while it's tolerable, until there's a year with a lot of freeze-thaw cycles and gaps, gashes, frost heaves and, yes, potholes take over.

And that's where we are in the Twin Cities. We've had an about-normal winter, but it's been marked by a decent amount of warmer and colder temperatures. And snow. And plows. Minneapolis had enough snow accumulated that they had to ban parking on one side of narrow streets to allow traffic to flow, and all over there are huge gaping holes in the streets. And that's meant we get to see what lies beneath.

Here's the middle of the intersection of University Avenue and Vandalia Street in Saint Paul. University was once the main thoroughfare between Saint Paul and Minneapolis, and while most traffic now takes the paralleling I-94, it is home to buses and will, in a few years, be home to the Central Corridor Light Rail. Of course, University had a streetcar line, which was very well patronized (the buses still run at 10-plus minute headways, with limited service at rush hours) until it was closed in favor of buses in the early 1950s. 

But 55 years later, the streetcar tracks, at least, are making a (re)appearance. The Google Street View from a couple years ago shows solid pavement at the corner of Vandalia and University. However, Vandalia is the route to the interstate for many trucks serving the nearby industrial area, as well as going to a large BNSF multi-modal facility, and the corner sees a lot of heavy traffic. So with the current winter, the pavement has been torn up pretty well.

It's actually not bad to drive on—the holes are wide enough that they aren't all that deep (the sides generally slope) but so much pavement is gone that you can see the streetcar tracks as well as the pavement. And it's really quite interesting. First of all, for such a wide road, the streetcar tracks really take up a small amount of room. The image above shows that the tracks are contained in a lane-and-a-half of a turn lane and median (no comment on how ugly the University streetscape is), and there are two lanes of traffic and a wide parking lane on either side.

But second, it gives us a really good idea of what streets used to look like. Here's a closer-up look at the exposed section. The rail on the left is the southern rail of the eastbound track, the rail visible to the right is the southern rail of the westbound track. So, between the tracks were (are) gray cobblestones, and on the outside red brick. There isn't much color film from the time, but it seems that University, with red and gray stone and silver, steel rails would be almost elegant (some trees would be nice as well). Now, with gray, gray and more gray, it's quite drab.

Apparently bricks and cobbles don't hold up well to heavy truck traffic, although this section seems to be doing just fine. Apparently bricks and cobbles were used along streetcar routes because they could be more easily picked up and laid down when track work was necessary. Of course, there's a possibly apocryphal tale that Melbourne, Australia's trams were saved when, in the '50s, the tracks were set in concrete, so that ripping them up would be prohibitive (in the US they were mostly just paved over). The union's intransigence there—they required two-man operation on buses, and streetcars had conductors until the 1990s, when their removal caused a crippling strike (long story short: government says "one person tram operation", union says "no" and runs trams without collecting fares, government plans to cut power to the system, union drives trams on to streets in city center, where they sit for a month)—was probably more to blame.

When Lake Street was rebuilt in Minneapolis in 2005, the street below was in similar shape—shoddy asphalt over a firm streetcar base. Since it was not just repaved, it was dug up completely, and Twin Citians flocked to scavenge bricks from below. University, which is wider and longer than Lake Street, should be a field day for anyone who wants a new, free patio or walk—it will be fully rebuilt for the light rail line (yes, they've studied it, and they can't just reuse the tracks already there).

But, why not build streets out of these materials again? The upside to pavement is that, for a while, you have a really nice road. But in the long run? You have ruts, dips and potholes. Another layer of pavement is a panacea; cracks almost always form where there were cracks before (it's easy to find old streetcar tracks—they're wherever there are parallel cracks running down the road). Bricks and cobbles are attractive and permeable. Water filters through, which is better for the environment. As long as there's no heavy truck or bus traffic, they're fine. If something goes wrong, it's easy to make small repairs which actually last (as opposed to patches which tear out during the next thaw). And for cyclists, constant cobbles are almost better than old pavement with huge potholes and ruts, even if you have a good bunny hop.

I'm not saying it's the way to go for every street, but in certain cases—especially if there are streetcars involved, red bricks and granite pavers may be the way to go. And in many cases, they may be lurking just below the surface already.

Friday, February 12, 2010

How much parking has Minneapolis nixed …

… and how much will it cost?

When Minneapolis put in to place "winter parking restrictions" this week (as we discussed earlier), how many parking spaces disappeared in to thin air (or in to a snow bank as the case may be)? It's not hard to get a rough estimate. But first, which neighborhoods will be most affected? Downtown won't be, since it has almost no street parking and every road is a snow emergency route (only non-emergency routes are subject to the parking ban). Many areas of the city have ample off-street parking and/or ample on-street parking, generally due to low population densities but, in some cases, due to low rates of car ownership, so parking will not be a major issue there. This leaves high-density areas with relatively high levels of car ownership as the main locations where parking is going to be come nightmarish:
  1. The quadrangle between Loring Park and 36th Street S and I-35W and the Lakes
  2. The West Bank of the U of M (north of Franklin, east of Hiawatha)
  3. The area along University Avenue on the East Bank
Obviously, the first area is far and away larger than the others, and it has many more non-snow emergency residential streets which are impacted by the parking rules. Home to many pre-war apartment complexes with little or no off-street parking, it is already the hardest residential area of the city to find parking. And it's about to get harder. But by how much?

Looking at satellite photos on Google maps, it's relatively easy to get a rough estimate of the number of parking spaces. For every north-south block (the long block in Minneapolis, with eight blocks to a mile) there are approximately 25 on-street parking spaces on each side of the street. Each east-west block, which are half as long, have about 10 spaces (most have an alley in the middle, and because of the alleys, there are few driveways in this section of the city). So for every non-emergency block, there are 70 parking spaces. 35 are gone for the next two months.

But every block is not a non-snow emergency route. Many main streets in Minneapolis are designated as snow emergency routes: pretty much any street which is a one-way, any street which carries a bus line, and many others (see a map, a large .pdf). This means that between Franklin and 36th, half of the east-west streets are snow emergency routes. And about a third of north-south streets are. But once we take a look at the map, we can pretty easily count the blocks, multiply, and have a good idea at the number of lost street parking spaces.

East-west streets: 120 blocks * 10 spots per block = 1200 parking spaces
North-south streets: 170 blocks * 25 spots per block = 4250 parking spaces
For a total of 5450 parking spaces.

Without a GIS at my fingertips, I can't quickly calculate the population of these neighborhoods, but the location we are talking about fits in rather well to several Minneapolis neighborhoods: Lowry Hill (3,999), Lowry Hill East (5,912), East Isles (3,340), ECCO (2,545), CARAG (5,907), Lyndale (7,690), Whittier (15,455), Stevens Square/Loring Heights (3,948) and Loring Park (7,501). In these approximately four square miles reside nearly 60,000 people, with a population density of more than 14000—a density similar to Chicago and Boston, which are not easy places to park. It also means that for every ten residents a parking space is disappearing.

How does this number stack up to the total number of spaces in the area? A very rough estimate would be that there are approximately 20,000 on-street parking spaces (which are not time-restricted or metered) in the entire aforementioned area, or one for every three residents. And approximately 5000 will be removed.

This is actually something we can use elementary economics to try to figure out. Once parking reaches a certain level of utilization—once you can't expect to easily find a convenient space—it becomes a market. Basically, if you need parking, you'll either pay for an off-street space, or there is a opportunity-cost to finding an on-street space. If you need to find parking every day, it might mean spending five minutes circling the block and then walking five minutes each way to the space—at a time valuation of $12 per hour, that's a cost of $3 per day, or $75 to $100 per month, which is generally what a parking space will cost in a neighborhood without ample street parking. (But also without exorbitant property values; a parking space costs, per square foot, about as much as living space. In this section of Minneapolis, housing costs around one dollar per square foot per month, so a 100 square foot parking space would cost about $100 per month. In other cities, where housing is more expensive, so is parking.)

Let's consider that the average utilization of the on-street parking is above 90%—about one free spot, on average, per block. That means that at any given time, there is a "market" for at least 18,000 free parking spaces in this area of Minneapolis. If we assume that this market is in equilibrium (There's no reason we shouldn't. People who have cars pay the ~$100 per month it costs to park, whether it is included in their rent, in a spot they pay for separately or in the opportunity of finding street parking. Those without have decided to take the money they save on parking, and other facets of car ownership, and put it towards transit, walking, bicycling and others uses.), there is currently a surplus of 2000 parking spaces.

Now, parking supply is not perfectly inelastic, but it's close. The only way to increase the supply of parking is for people with existing spaces to rent their spots on Craigslist (a common practice in Boston and San Francisco, but less so in Minneapolis); there are few major parking lots in the area. But if we consider that the market for spaces is rather maxed out, that's a relatively small market, and there are significant barriers to entry and difficulties in marketing; plus, it's barely worth the time to rent out a space for a couple of months and a couple hundred bucks. The other way to increase the supply of parking would be to increase the utilization of existing spaces, but even if you were to raise the utilization to 100%, it would only add 2000 spots to the mix. And utilization will never reach 100% as the market is not perfectly dispersed—the opportunity cost of walking a mile each way to a parking space is far higher than the cost of circling the block a few more times.

So parking has a vertical supply curve, or something close to it, as it has, for most intensive purposes, inelastic supply. (The example given for inelastic supply is the supply of land, and that's basically what parking is.) So, when the supply is shifted downwards, the quantity can not change; only the price can. And as far as demand—in the long run, demand is elastic. If you added 5000 parking spaces, more people would have cars, and if you made the parking changes permanent, people aggravated with parking would sell their cars. But in the space of two months, few people will have the opportunity to make these changes. So demand is elastic in the short run, and inelastic in the long run.

Now, back to our assumptions of 20,000 parking spaces decreasing to 15,000. How much is this going to cost Minneapolis parkers? Well, we first need a couple assumptions. Let's assume the current cost of a parking space, at 20,000 spaces, is $90 per month. And let's assume that as parking becomes scarcer, the overall amount paid for parking goes up, by $100,000 for every 1000 spaces lost. To make sense of this second variable, we can convert these numbers in to time costs. $90 a month equals 15 minutes a day, with 10,000 spaces it will be exponentially harder to find a space; instead of spending twice as long block-circling and twice as long walking, the distances may be triple as long (15 minutes block circling, 15 minutes of walking each way). In any case, the numbers give us a chart as follows:

Using this model, the price of parking would be zero at 38,000 spaces, which seems to make sense (double the number of spaces and everyone would likely get one out in front of their front door). At the current supply of 20,000, the average cost of a parking space is $90 per month, which correlates to 15 minutes of "parking time" per day. However, if you move the supply to 15,000 spaces, as has now happened, the cost increases to $153 per month, or 26 minutes per day. This seems to make sense: the average parker will have to spend an extra ten minutes, or so, per day, looking for parking, and walking further from the parking they find.

In other words, the parking ban is, over the next two months, going to cost the average resident of these neighborhoods $120. Or, if they don't own a car, $0.

We can introduce a similar graph which assumes that there are 10,000 off-street residential parking spaces in the area (with a similar utilization rate, probably a bad assumption but one which keeps the calculations simple):

This curve is not as steep, but in it the cost of parking would increase from $93 to $132, or six minutes of "parking time." This model would have "free parking" at 58,000 spaces, which is greater than the population, and in this neighborhood, at least, probably a tad high.

So, it seems that parking in Uptown is about to get significantly harder, but not impossible. There are a ton of variables to consider—does the marginal value of time increase as you circle the block looking for parking (I'd say it does)? Can we quantify the extra costs of looking for parking (gas, potential for damage from driving on narrow city streets)? There are also long-term policy implications—at what point does a lack of parking drive people to give up their cars? Would it be prudent to slowly increase the cost of parking to create more livable, walkable neighborhoods? Would this model hold up based on the number of cars and people in other cities?

And the big question, of course: will the parking woes in Uptown fit this model? We'll see.

(I really should quite and study parking policy and economics. It's very, very interesting.)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What happens when you halve parking?

Not when you have it. When you cut it in half. Minneapolis is not a city where finding a place to park is really a big deal. There are a few residential neighborhoods where you might not get a spot in front of your house—Uptown, Wedge, Whittier, and over by the University of Minnesota—but usually, even there, it's not a huge deal to find a spot. In winter, there are snow emergencies, and everyone does a little dosey-do moving cars from one side of the street to another; then it's back to normal.

Except, well, every once in a while. Starting on Thursday, there will be no more parking on the even side of the street. Until April, or whenever the snow melts. Apparently, Minneapolis has the authority to ban parking on one side of the street. Once fire trucks can't get down the street because it's too narrow (and they claim if they plowed all the way to the curb the sidewalks would be impassible), the regulations go up. The last time this happened was in 2001—nine years ago—and, well, it's about to happen again.

So, what happens now? In much of Minneapolis, parking will go on as normal, just on one side of the street. But in the aforementioned perpetually parked-up neighborhoods, parking is going to be drastically decreased. It won't be halved, exactly—snow emergency routes are exempt, so it's only residential streets which are affected, and it doesn't take in to account off-street parking—but in many areas there is going to be a significant decline in the availability of parking.

So, basically, Minneapolis is going to turn in to the parking equivalent of Boston, San Francisco or Chicago, pretty much overnight. It will be interesting to note several things. Will transit ridership go up—will it be worth a trip by bus if you don't know if you'll get a parking space when you get back? Will people start posting spaces on Craigslist for rent? Will some folks ditch their cars and make do with car sharing services? You better believe we'll be watching.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Is bike sharing the "last mile" for car sharing?

A lot of hay is made about the "last mile" in public transport. Unless you live right at a bus stop or train station, your walk to the bus is going to be further than your walk to your car. (The term last mile derives from many other applications, such as communications and logistics, where the connections from end users to the main network are the least efficient, and thus most costly, to build and keep up. In transportation it relates to moving users from their origins and destinations to the nearest transit infrastructure.)

It's an issue for car sharing, too. Even in the densest car sharing cities, many users live a few blocks away from the nearest shared car. (In these cities, of course, owning a car is generally very expensive and inconvenient, so the marginal gains from having a car right out your door are offset by the cost of a reserved spot or the time cost of circling the block looking for an unreserved one.) A car sharing network can be seen as similar to a transport network, with various access points spread across a region. With transport, the last mile is actually on both ends—getting from your origin to the network, and from the network to your destination—while with car sharing there is only an issue getting from your origin to the network as you then drive to your destination, so perhaps it's more of a first mile issue. Still, it's very similar—while there's no hard research that I know of, anecdotal evidence is such that most car sharing users are willing to walk a quarter mile to a shared car, tolerant of maybe up to a half mile, but not very interested in going much further than that (similar to transit users).

Bike sharing may help to change that, by lengthening the distance people can travel to other modes. It fits in to a rather specific niche of the transportation network, for trips of between about 0.5 and 1.5 miles—trips that would be too short to bother with transit but too far to walk quickly. If bike share access is seamless and dependable—as is its goal—it can rather well fill this piece of the transport network. So before we look at how bike sharing and car sharing may interact, we should try to imagine where, exactly, bike sharing fits in.

In Europe, bike sharing has started up in the densest of cities—Paris (which is nearly as dense as Manhattan), Barcelona, Copenhagen—as well as many others. In North America, the first cities planning bike sharing systems are not necessarily the densest. Montreal, which is home to the successful Bixi system, is about as dense (11,000 persons per square mile) as Philly, although less-so than San Francisco (17,000) or Boston-Cambridge-Somerville (14,000). Boston is planning a system this year, as are considerably less-dense Minneapolis (7000) and Denver (4000), although, of course, the networks there will focus only on the densest portions of these cities. In a Paris, or even a Montreal or Boston, bike sharing will probably replace some trips made by transit or walking (or even short bike trips), but may not be as much of a driver of providing links to different modes, as transit is generally readily available. In the other cities, however, this may not hold true.

So there are basically two levels of cities implementing bike sharing. One is the dense city (>10,000 with a major fixed-guideway transit system and a large existing car sharing network: Boston, Montreal, Washington D.C., Paris, San Francisco …). The other is a less-dense city with a small fixed-guideway system and a fledgling car sharing system (Denver and Minneapolis, so far). Portland, which will likely join the bike sharing fray in the next couple of years, would fall in between, with its maturing transit system and a rather large car sharing market.

What bike sharing is best for are trips of a relatively finite distance, and it seems to vary based on the type of city (and which other transit modes are available). For trips significantly less than half a mile, you'd walk. The extra time it takes to get a bike and return it, even if there is a station right each end of a trip, is made up by the fact that by the time you got the bike, you'd be well on your way by foot. For trips longer than two miles, you'd likely want to ride your own bike (faster and more comfortable, but with a bit more overhead of storing a bike, carrying a lock and locking the bike) or ride transit (ditto, depending on the route), or use a shared vehicle. So bike sharing's market is between about a third of a mile and a mile and a quarter (if you don't mind locking your own bike) or a mile and a half (if you do)—perhaps a tad longer in cities without dense transit networks. Beyond that, biking, transit, a taxi or a car make sense.

So, how does it break down. Well, I made the following assumptions:
Denser city Less dense city
Mode MPH Overhead Mode MPH Overhead
Walk 3 0 Walk 3 0
Bike share 8 4 Bike share 8 4
Bike 12 7 Bike 12 7
Transit-slow 15 10 Transit-slow 15 12
Transit-fast 25 15 Car share+BS 20 
Car (Share) 20 10 Car (Share) 20 12
Taxi 20 6 Taxi 20 6
Trans-fast+BS 25  12  Transit+BS 15 10

MPH is, of course, miles per hour once using that mode. Overhead is the amount of time it takes at the beginning and end of the trip to get to the mode from the origin and from the mode to the destination. Walking has zero overhead. Bike share was estimated to have four minutes (a minute to the kiosk and a minute getting the bike on either end; this is probably a lowball estimate). Biking seven minutes: three minutes to get your bike out of storage, two minutes to lock it at the end, and two for incidentals (shoes, helmet). Transit-slow is for local routes, which are probably a shorter walk, transit-fast for faster routes (such as a subway) which are generally further away. Car share overhead is to walk to the car and unlock it, and adding Bike share (BS) to a mode can cut down on the walking time.

Bike share only makes sense in multi-modal situations in a few scenarios:
  1. In denser cities, to access faster transit. For longer trips, riding a shared bike a mile to a faster transit mode (say, a subway instead of a bus line) can allow most of the trip to be at a faster speed, and make the overall trip faster. Since most, if not all, transit stations served by bike sharing will have kiosks, this makes sense. In addition, it may allow users to travel to another transit line of the same level of service and eliminate a transfer, but, to keep things simple, these models don't really look at transfers.
  2. In less dense cities, car sharing, which is quite dense in large cities, is a bit more diffuse. Thus, many potential car sharers might live more than half a mile from the nearest shared car. In Minneapolis, every HOURCAR in the initial service area will be within about 100 feet of a bike sharing kiosk, so dropping off the car is easy, and it may allow people a bit further away to access the vehicles. And bike sharing is much easier, here, than riding your own bike because you don't have to bring a lock and lock it up (and worry about it)
  3. In less dense cities with less dense transit networks, it may make sense for some people to use bike share to access slower transit routes, especially if they live far from a route with frequent service, although in areas served by bike sharing, route networks are rather well established.
This perhaps, is best visualized by charts showing the time various trips take, based on the speed and overhead in the tables above.

The first chart is for denser cities, the second for less dense ones. For a given distance, the line nearest the bottom is the fastest mode. Cost is not taken in to account, but any orange or yellow line is a pay-per-use mode (taxi, car sharing) while any other line is a mode which is unlimited use, assuming most frequent transit and bike share users will have a monthly or yearly pass, so the marginal cost of each trip is zero. Dashed lines are variants of a mode with bike share added to the start or end of the trip to reduce overhead.

So in a dense city, where does bike sharing fit in to the picture? Well, assuming, for a minute, that we discount taxis (fast but expensive) and car sharing (expensive, fast, and not for short trips unless there is parking at the other end), bike sharing makes the most sense between about 1/3 miles and 1 mile if you have a bike of your own (or don't mind locking said bike) and 1.5 miles if you would otherwise rely on transit. Considering that nearly half of trips are less than two miles from home, that's a pretty big range—more tan a tad under half a mile and you'd walk, beyond two you'd take transit. However, bike sharing is generally only marginally faster than other options. Walking takes over for transit for trips much longer than 3/4 of a mile, so bike sharing will generally only ever save three to five minutes. So it better work well.

The other factor here is bike sharing and the faster transit network. What I mean by faster transit are generally grade-separated fixed-guideway modes (subway, proper light rail) but could also be express buses on highways. These lines are generally further apart than slower bus lines, so fewer people live within easy walking distance. In the chart above, for trips under three miles, it makes sense to take the bus (assuming it's five minutes closer than the train), but if bike sharing can shave just a few minutes off the walk to the station, the train—which is more energy efficient and can more easily accommodate higher passenger loads—becomes a better option at distances of just over a mile—right about where bike sharing leaves off.

(Yes, it appears that bike sharing will actually make transit faster than driving at one point, but for very long distances, at least outside of rush hour, car sharing's speed would be higher as drivers would access faster roads. This line should probably be curved (as should others) but that's not really necessary for these simple simulations.)

In other words, imagine the following scenario: You live a block from a bus line, and the corner with the bus stop has a bike sharing kiosk. The bus line runs three miles to your office, or a store, or some such destination. You also live near a train station which has a line running to the same destination, but it's a half mile walk from your house. Let's assume that the bus and train have the same headways, that the bus runs at an average of 12 mph and the train at 25. Right now, your options are to walk to the corner, catch the bus, and ride 15 minutes to your destination; or walk ten minutes to the train, catch it and ride 7.2 minutes to your destination (17.2 total). With bike sharing, you can now ride at 8 mph 0.5 miles to the train (3.75 minutes), spend a minute at each end retrieving and returning the bike, and ride the 7.2 minutes, for a total of 12.95 minutes. So you save 2:03 versus the previous fastest mode time. It's not a lot, but it's a small advantage.

Of course, no transportation network is this cut and dry—but this is at least a way to imagine where bike sharing fits in. This summer, for instance, I wandered through Paris for a day with my family. We had two choices: the Metro or walking. Bike sharing was out because we didn't have the proper credit card and my mother was scared of cycling through traffic without a helmet, and we didn't know enough about the bus system to use it. (Taxis would have been an option, but they are expensive, slow—buses often have reserved lanes—and my family is cheap.) Had we had access to bike sharing, trips between half a mile and a mile and a half would have been easier and faster by Velib.

Now on to less dense cities. Here, the niche for bike sharing is similar, and maybe even larger, as we can assume that bus and transit service is a bit harder to come by. Bike sharing makes sense from about a third of a mile,  but this time is only exceeded by transit for trips greater than two miles. (This is due to the assumption that frequent bus routes are a bit less prevalent in these cities; living right near a good bus route would obviously change this equation.)

But it also shows the other advantages of bike sharing in these cities. First, bike sharing increases the utility of transit. It's not a big difference, but with a more dispersed route network, we can assume that bike sharing allows a few more residents to live within "easy travel distance" of said routes. (Although this may be confounded by most bike sharing locations being near bus lines.) If this is the case, it makes transit faster than bike sharing around 1.5 miles—if a shared bike is used to access the bus.

Then there's car sharing. While cities like Boston and Montreal have robust car sharing networks, Minneapolis and Denver don't. In Boston, for example, there are entire neighborhoods where every resident is within a half mile—or often less—of not one but many shared cars. This just isn't the case with Minneapolis and Denver. If bike sharing can be utilized heavily in these cities—and without as much competing transit there is a bit more of a market to seize—it could be the missing link to shared cars. These data assume that the time needed to access a shared car would drop from twelve minutes (±1/2 mile walking at 3 mph plus a minute to access the car) to seven (±1/2 mile biking at 8 mph, plus two minutes to get and return the bike, a minute to walk to the bike and a minute to access the car).

If there are bike share locations in locations other than car sharing locations (as is the plan, at least, in Minneapolis), they will allow people who may live a mile from a shared car to get to the car in eight or ten minutes (biking) instead of 20 or 25. This is the proverbial "last mile." In less dense cities with higher car ownership, it is not always possible to support a shared car on every block. We'll see if this becomes the case, but it is possible that a symbiosis will develop between the two shared transportation modes where bike sharing will allow a substantial increase in the reach of the car sharing networks in Denver and Minneapolis.