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.”
University of Minnesota researchers recently completed a traffic data and performance analysis of the I-405 tolled corridor in Washington State.
Lawmakers in Washington authorized the creation of express toll lanes (ETLs), including the conversion of some existing high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, in 2011. The lanes opened to traffic in September 2015.
Last year, U of M researchers analyzed traffic data from 2014–2017 to determine where the I-405 ETL facility is working and where it is underperforming. In addition, the team was asked to compare its findings against relevant performance measures contained in state statute.
Driving south of the Twin Cities on a fall late afternoon, you’ll see the sun shining pale and coarse through the dust kicked up by autumn harvesters. On either side of the road, grain stalks roll on in a smooth, seemingly endless tan sheet. But when the harvest ends and the crops are sorted, where does all that grain go?
With grain and feed comprising 28 percent of all freight volume along local highways—the largest share of any commodity in the state—answering this question is not only a matter of safe and efficient transportation planning. It also means securing the livelihood of 340,000 state residents who work in Minnesota’s growing agriculture sector.
At the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, researchers with the Transportation Policy and Economic Competitiveness (TPEC) Program have mapped this movement on Minnesota roads. Our novel GIS-based approach unveils how technological, political, and market shifts in the grain supply chain impact the way local producers and wholesalers navigate their local freight networks—a network that spans road, rail, and barge infrastructure.
Now, TPEC is shifting its attention to the medical supply chain, which is another central driver of the Minnesota economy. But how do we design transportation policy that invigorates and accommodates growth in this burgeoning sector? What lessons are there to learn from grain that can inform this new study?
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.
This fall, 15 professionals from the Shenzhen Urban Transportation Planning Center came to Minnesota for a new training opportunity. The four-week course was offered by the U of M’s Global Transit Innovations (GTI) Program, CTS, and the China Center’s Mingda Institute for Leadership Training.
“The overall goal is to help to advance the participants’ professional skills and knowledge of state-of-the-art transportation research and practices in the United States, and to identify international collaboration opportunities,” says Yingling Fan, associate professor in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and GTI director.
People experience different emotions during daily travel. Their happiness varies depending on the mode they use, trip duration, and other factors. U of M researchers are exploring how happiness could become a useful metric to assess transportation systems and guide policymaking, supplementing more common measures such as mobility and accessibility.
“Happiness is increasingly seen as a gauge of an individual’s well-being, and this has many social implications,” says Yingling Fan, associate professor in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. “Happier people often are more productive and creative, have better family and social relationships, live longer, and, in general, are more successful.”
Americans spend, on average, about 75 minutes on daily trips. “Given the known benefits of emotional well-being, it’s important for planners and policymakers to understand the connection between transportation and happiness,” Fan says.