With as many as three billion more people expected to live in cities by 2050, there’s renewed interest in a topic often taken for granted: infrastructure. Many are wondering if there are options better than vast highways, elaborate power grids, and complex underground water systems. And cities are already trying localized, “distributed” systems such as community solar power, rain gardens, bike sharing, and urban farms. But what should such systems look like? How should they work? And how should we measure their impact—on efficiency and cost? What about their impact on people’s health and happiness?
Researchers from across the globe are asking such questions as part of a massive four-year effort to rethink urban infrastructure. Knit together in the sprawling Sustainable Healthy Cities network, they are attempting to provide the analyses needed to understand the effects of decisions cities have already made as well as envision what cities might do in the future.
The network, supported by a $12 million grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation, is anchored at the University of Minnesota. CTS Scholar Yingling Fan, an associate professor in urban and regional planning at the Humphrey School, is a co-principal investigator.
Many policymakers support transit-oriented development (TOD) for its potential to direct regional growth into a more efficient and sustainable pattern. However, the ability to achieve this public goal is largely dependent on private-sector decisions.
“The governments and agencies with the greatest desire for TOD have little ability to implement it through their own actions,” says Andrew Guthrie, a research fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. “Conversely, the private-sector entities whose actions are needed to implement TOD may not share a city’s or regional planning body’s goals for transit-oriented growth patterns and built forms.”
This fundamental difference in perspectives demands creativity from planners and regional policymakers. In a new study, Guthrie and Associate Professor Yingling Fan explore how the public sector can best overcome these obstacles and encourage TOD at a regional scale. “Previous research has focused primarily on the impacts and benefits of TOD, not on how to accomplish it in the real world,” Guthrie says. “Our project helps fill that need.”
To park or to develop is a key question for transit station area planning. While park-and-ride facilities are one of the primary ways that transit riders reach stations, using the surrounding land for development allows passengers to shop or do other activities and can help reduce auto dependence. Although both have the potential to improve ridership, they often seem mutually exclusive. Twin Cities planners are interested in a hybrid option: locating park-and-ride facilities at the periphery of development around transitway stations.
This hybrid would require transit users to walk farther. In a new study, researchers at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs led by Professor Jason Cao studied how far park-and-ride users are willing to walk, which factors influence that willingness, and which factors are the most important to park-and-ride users’ decision to walk.
Grain and medical technology may not seem to have much in common, but they share at least one trait: both are key industry clusters that help drive Minnesota’s economy. At a roundtable held by the U’s Transportation Policy and Economic Competitiveness (TPEC) Program, speakers discussed trends in grain and medical-sector supply chains and the implications for freight transportation policy and investments.
TPEC director Lee Munnich opened the event. “Transportation is necessary—but not sufficient—for economic growth,” he said. “In our research, we look at how well the transportation system is working for the economy, and in particular, for the industry clusters that are so important to an area.”
For several generations, transportation policymakers and practitioners have favored a “mobility” approach, aimed at moving people and vehicles as fast as possible by reducing congestion. However, the limits of this approach have become more apparent over time, as residents struggle to reach workplaces, schools, hospitals, shopping, and numerous other destinations in an equitable and sustainable manner.
Researchers have been able to define this challenge more precisely and elevate the importance of “accessibility” over the past few decades, but the adoption of new policies, tools, and investments by practitioners remains slow and uneven across most regions. During CTS’s 2017 Spring Luncheon presentation, Brookings Institution fellow Adie Tomer offered highlights from the institution’s Moving to Access Initiative, which visualizes challenges of the current mobility model, impediments to adopting an accessibility-focused approach, and a vision for where metro areas can go from here.
As part of the Global Transit Innovations (GTI) program, Humphrey School Associate Professor Yingling Fan is writing a new book that will share lessons learned from her study of transit development in 20 U.S. metropolitan regions.
GTI was established last year by CTS in partnership with Fan, who also serves as GTI director. In this Q&A, Fan shares thoughts about her upcoming book, the link between transit and urban development, what’s needed for a transit revival, and more.
A new report from the Accessibility Observatory estimates the accessibility to jobs by auto in the 50 largest (by population) metropolitan areas in the United States. The report also estimates the impact of traffic congestion on access to jobs in the same areas.
The report—Access Across America: Auto 2015—presents detailed accessibility and congestion impact values for each metropolitan area as well as block-level maps that illustrate the spatial patterns of accessibility within each area. It also includes a census tract-level map that shows accessibility patterns at a national scale. The report is part of the Access Across America study, which began in 2013.