The INTERNal Outsider: Adventures in Excel

An Intern’s-Eye View of the MIC

 

Bikes, peds…

Did you realize that on just fourteen streets in Duluth and Superior during one 12-hour period in September, there are around 1,240 uses of infrastructure by bicyclists, and 5,896 uses of infrastructure by pedestrians? The entire town I live in (around 900 people) would have to walk back and forth more than six times to get that pedestrian count.

I am going to guess that your answer is no, you had no idea the extent of the infrastructure used by alternative transportation in Duluth and Superior.

I’m also guessing that most of you also don’t know the extent of the effort that goes into this 5×19-cell table.BP Count Spreadsheet-314px

This is the fourth year of the biannual bicycle and pedestrian counts. James Gittemeier, senior planner at the MIC, and Shawna Mullen-Eardley of the Healthy Duluth Area Coalition determine count data sites, recruit and coordinate volunteers, and lead volunteer training. After attending training, each volunteer* is asked to sit for two hours at a count site and fill out a form noting direction of travel, users by demographic (male, female, child, using assistive device), and mode of transportation (walking, biking, “other”). (The method for the count was created by the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project).

Are you getting a better idea of what goes into this seemingly simple chart?

After the day is over and all of the forms are gathered, the amazingly talented and intelligent intern (hey that’s me!) gets to decipher the notes of dozens of volunteers. The data gets entered into Excel by 15 minute increments for each demographic and each mode of transportation. Lucky for me, there is already an Excel spreadsheet that is set up to create the totals. I then finagle Excel to make those totals magically appear into this chart.

Don’t think this chart is the final product, either! After the data is entered and the totals are gathered, we begin an analysis of how the trends in the data will have an effect on future decision making for alternative transportation infrastructure. Excel is very useful in the analysis portion. So far I’ve created around 50 charts to get a better idea of visible trends.

Although I will concede that the data is not perfect – human error in counting and entering the data – the numbers tell an interesting story: The people of Duluth and Superior are outside and active.

*A huge thank you to all volunteers whether you did more than asked or did just as much as you could

…and buses (oh my!)

I can’t talk about all the time I’ve spent in Excel the last two weeks without also bringing buses into the mix.

Robert Herling, my supervisor and another senior planner at the MIC, has been researching the infrastructure use in the Lincoln Park for the Multi-modal Study that’s underway for that neighborhood.

One important aspect of this research is looking into the use of public transit.Garfield bus stop bus in sight-175px

Have you ever had to transfer between two city buses to find that either the last one left just minutes prior to your arrival, or you have less than five minutes to get to the bus stop on the other side of an intersection? You should try it some time.

Robert tasked me with finding out how often this occurs for a few of the major transfers in the Lincoln Park area, from the mainline at 21st Ave W and Superior Street to the mall lines, as well as the mainline at Superior Street and Garfield to the Superior, Wisconsin line. A misstep in scheduling is not a rare occurrence for these bus users, but don’t fret! Our loyal transit authorities are not overlooking this issue.

Thanks for taking the time to join me on my journey to find out what the MIC is all about. Now I must get back to my spreadsheets.

The INTERNal Outsider

An Intern’s-Eye View of the MIC

 

Meet Erica Hansen

In my time as a student in the Transportation and Logistics Management program at UW-Superior, I have become increasingly enamored with the dynamics of transportation.Rail mounted gantry crane in the Port Everglades seaport

You might even describe me as a freight transportation enthusiast (rubber tyre gantry cranes get me fired up, okay?). The more I learn about this behind-the-scenes industry, the more apparent its presence becomes.

A few months ago when I began my journey to becoming a MIC intern, I found that there is even a behind-the-scenes transportation planning world to my behind-the-scenes freight transportation world.

I have learned that at the MIC office, “comfort level” speaks not to the ergonomics of my work space (still getting used to the stand-up desk), but to how people feel walking and biking down a road.  They give you a booklet on the first day of the acronyms you’ll hear on a daily basis: “TAC” isn’t something you put into a wall to hold a paper up, it’s a group of intelligent, invested engineers and planners who look at what the Duluth-Superior area needs from a technical perspective. “TIP” isn’t the “pointed or rounded end or extremity of something slender or tapering” (thanks, dictionary.com), but the four-year Transportation Improvement Program, a tool and a process by which federal funds are made available to finance local infrastructure projects.

Here at the MIC, “intern” isn’t the person who makes the coffee and copies. In my first two weeks at the MIC, I spent several hours outside counting parked bikes, taking pictures of infrastructure use, and collecting data on bicyclists and pedestrians. I’ve attended meetings with stakeholders of the Twin Ports, and have come to an understanding of how many different views affect the decisions made here. I’ve been included in many discussions of the efforts towards making Duluth-Superior a community that supports each other, from environmentalists supporting the economy, or motorists supporting bike lanes.

Although I am an outsider to the world of urban planning, in just a short while I have become more invested in the community I’ve been a part of for over 25 years, and more understanding of the efforts to integrate the needs of all transportation users — from the pedestrian on the sidewalk to the overweight/oversized semi-trucks on the roads.

In my remaining months at the MIC, I look forward to enhancing this understanding by assisting the amiable and welcoming staff of the MIC on their various projects, whether it’s field work, office work, or lending my outsider’s view to their planning mindset.

 

Erica H-150pxErica Hansen is finishing up her final semester at the University of Wisconsin – Superior in the Transportation and Logistics Management program. She is intrigued by looking at transportation from a different side than freight movement, and helping to create an efficient and safe transportation network for the Duluth-Superior area. Erica also interns at Lake Superior Warehousing, Co. Inc. and runs student organizations at UWS. When she is not busy with these things, she takes her two-year-old to parks near their home, and rollerblades on the Munger Trail.

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What will our Transportation System Look Like in 2040?

Updating the 25-year Vision for Transportation in the Twin Ports

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You are invited to attend one of the four public meetings on Connections 2040 – the Twin Ports Long Range Transportation Plan.

 

The Duluth-Superior Metropolitan Interstate Council (MIC) is updating its Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) to provide policy guidance, goals and strategies for jurisdictions within the greater metropolitan area of Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin.  It covers a twenty-five year planning horizon and is updated every four years.Connections2040-logo-320px

The over-arching purpose of the LRTP is to provide a planning foundation for jurisdictions to work cooperatively to provide a well-maintained, integrated, accessible and multi-modal transportation system to safely and efficiently move people and freight for the next 25 years, within the constraints of funding the region can reasonably expect to receive.

The heart of the Plan is a listing of proposed federally-funded transportation projects, as well as transportation initiatives underway within the region, to be implemented from 2015-2040. You can view an interactive map of the projects here.

To learn more about demographic trends for this area, projections, transportation priorities and planned projects, you have three opportunities for input:

1. Attend a Public Meeting

Thurs. Sept 11, 2014
5:00-7:00pm
Community Action Duluth, 2424 W 5th Street, Duluth, MN 55806

Thurs. Sept 18, 2014
4:00-6:00pm
Superior Public Library, 1530 Tower Avenue, Superior, WI 54880

Thurs. Sept 25, 2014
4:00-6:00pm
Arrowhead Regional Development Commission (ARDC)
221 W First Street, Duluth, MN 55802

Mon. Sept 29, 2014
4:00-7:00pm (drop-in)
214 West Superior Street
221 W First Street, Duluth, MN 55802

2.  Visit our Connections 2040 web page at www.dsmic.org/lrtp for more information about the plan and to view the interactive map of proposed projects.  You can use the “layers” tab in the upper right corner to toggle on and off views of information about environmentally sensitive areas, low-income and minority populations, etc.

3.  Contact MIC Senior Planner James Gittemeier by phone at (218) 529-7556 or by email at jgittemeier@ardc.org.

 

New Federally Funded Projects for 2018

An average of $86 million in federal transportation dollars is spent on transportation projects throughout the northeast region of Minnesota. RoadConstruction

How that money is allocated

These funds are allocated according to a federal formula and managed by the state.  Most of this money (about $78 million) goes to MnDOT and is used to maintain the freeways, state highways and bridges in the region.  Approximately $5 million goes towards county highways, local streets, and transit in the,the MIC area.  A small allocation is also made for non-roadway projects, such as paved trails, through the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP).

Separate processes are conducted for the Duluth metro and the rest of the Arrowhead region.  The MIC administers the urban-area share of the funds and the Northeast Minnesota Area Transportation Partnership (NE MN ATP) is responsible for administering the rest.

Both the MIC and the NE MN ATP solicit, evaluate and select the specific roadway, transit and trail projects that will utilize the funds in those areas.  These processes have been underway since the start of the year.

Programming those funds in the TIP

As the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for this area, we are now finalizing the roster of all transportation projects slated to receive federal funding in the MIC area for the next four years.

This list is called the “TIP” (Transportation Improvement Program) and it must include all federally-funded transportation projects in the Duluth metro for the coming four years.  As projects in the current year get built, we add new ones to the outer year.  This time around, the outer year is 2018.

MIC Projects

It is our job to work with local communities to determine how our (increasingly scarce share of) federal transportation dollars are spent.

In a selection process that began in January, we solicited applications from local jurisdictions.  These potential projects were then published for public comment, evaluated and prioritized by the MIC’s Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) and recommended by the MIC Policy Board, submitted for consideration to the NE MN ATP, and, in June, approved for inclusion in the draft version of the Duluth Area TIP 2015-2018.

The following Duluth-area projects are being proposed for 2018 funding by the MIC:

 Decker Road Preservation

Resurfacing of Decker Road from Piedmont Avenue to Mall Drive.  Repairs to storm water, curb and gutter and sidewalk systems. ADA improvements and bike lanes/shoulders.

Jurisdiction: City of Duluth

Project Cost:             $1,412,500

Federal funds:          $   900,000

Local funds:              $   512,500

Highway Ramp Reconstruction

Reconstruct US Hwy 2 / I-35 southbound freeway ramps

Jurisdiction: MnDOT

Project Cost:             $495,670

Federal funds:          $383,720

State funds:              $ 95,930

Regular Route Bus Purchase

Purchase of three regular route vehicles to maintain existing fleet to safety, comfort, and efficiency standards.

Jurisdiction: Duluth Transit Authority

Bus Purchase Cost: $ 435,000

Federal funds:          $ 250,000

Local funds               $ 185,000

TAP Projects

In addition, the following Transportation Alternatives Program projects within the MIC have been forwarded for inclusion in the 2017 TIP projects list by the NE MN ATP:

 Construct 2 miles of sidewalk along Rice Lake Road

From Central Entrance to Arrowhead Road

Jurisdiction: St. Louis County

Project Cost:             $400,000

Federal funds:          $320,000

Local funds:              $ 80,000

Construct paved Lakewalk connection

Construct shared use path (Lakewalk) along Water St between 20th Ave East and 23rd Ave East

Jurisdiction: City of Duluth

Project Cost:             $231,809

Federal funds:          $185,447

Local funds:              $ 46,362

 

We want to know what you think!

Transportation projects are public facilities and services funded with taxpayer dollars.  Do you have any opinions about the importance of these proposed projects to our area?

Since they have been chosen for funding in 2018, is there anything you have to say about these specific projects?

 

Read the draft document

You can learn more details about these projects, as well as those lined up for years 2015, 2016 and 2017 from the draft TIP document, which is open for public comment from now until July 31.

 

Talk to us in person

Contact Senior Planner Robert Herling by phone at (218) 529-7573 or by email (INSERT EMAIL LINK), or…

 

Attend an Open House

You are invited to stop by in person to talk with us:

Wed, July 2, 7:00am – 1:00pm

Holiday Center (2nd floor skywalk level), 207 West Superior Street in downtown Duluth

Thurs, July 10, 8:00am – 5:00pm

MIC Office, 2nd floor skywalk level of the ARDC building, 221 W. First Street, Duluth.

 

Leave a comment at the end of this post

As we let you know on OpenMIC every year…there are three ways to have your say.

Public comments are being taken through Thursday, July 31, 2014.

 

Public Involvement in Transportation Planning

For many of us, transportation projects seem to come from nowhere.  Others may vaguely remember a project “promised” years ago.  Too often, people OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAdevelop negative impressions of the process by which transportation projects come into being because of the lack of information about how these decisions are made.

That’s where public involvement comes in.

Right now we are updating our Public Involvement Plan – the steps we take and the tools we use to facilitate two-way communication while our plans and studies are underway.  Public involvement gives community members an opportunity to provide input and lets our planning staff provide information, answer questions and understand their perspective.

Our work at the MIC is to study, analyze and make recommendations to make it easier for people and businesses to get where they need to go—whether by car, bike, bus, on foot, by air or on water.  We think about how well these transportation systems will function, and how they can be paid for, not just today but for the next 5, 10, even 25 years.

Public involvement ensures that these decisions are made with input from the people who know this area first-hand.

With this in mind, take a look at the draft of the MIC’s updated Public Involvement Plan.  We understand that there’s more to public participation than holding meetings.  We need to become more visible and find multiple ways to get people and organizations involved.

So let us know: will these steps help to encourage participation in the MIC’s planning activities, as well as to broaden the range of voices and views expressed?