Hennepin’s New Transportation Vision

Written by Jeff Johnson on July 5, 2011. Posted in General

Focus Turns Heavily To Everything but Roads

Last week, the County Board passed the 2030 Transportation Systems Plan (“the Plan”) for Hennepin County which will guide our transportation investment and direction for the next twenty years.  The Plan is a long, sweeping and very consequential document, and it represents a dramatic change in policy and transportation vision for the state’s largest county – a change I believe is negative and very damaging to most of the residents of Hennepin County.

The Plan passed on a 5 – 1 vote.  I voted no.  (Randy Johnson was absent).

A little about the Plan:

It sets forth five primary transportation goals for Hennepin County:

  1. Preserve and modernize the existing transportation system
  2. Improve safety for all transportation users
  3. Provide mobility and choice to meet the diversity of transportation needs as well as to support health objectives throughout the county
  4. Increase spatial efficiency of the system
  5. Reduce the county’s environmental footprint

Among the targets the goals are intended to meet:

  • Improve 2/3 of the existing roadways serviceability ratings to “Good” or better
  • Program all structurally deficient bridges for replacement or rehabilitation
  • Double 2003 regional transit ridership by 2020
  • Double bicycle usage in the county by 2030
  • Complete the county’s “bicycle system” by 2030
  • Provide sidewalks on all urban roadways by 2030
  • Assure that 60% of new residents and new jobs within the county are within 1/2 mile of a major transit corridor and/or freestanding transit hub
  • Reduce automobile vehicle miles traveled within the county to 2000 levels

I had several reasons for my “No” vote on the Plan, but two stand out.

First, we have no clue – none whatsoever – what the Plan will cost to implement if we actually follow through and attain all of the targets.

There are huge goals in the Plan.  Doubling transit ridership; completing the county’s “bicycle system”, building sidewalks on all urban roadways.  I asked on each of these items whether we had any ballpark estimate of what the cost would be to complete these significant targets.  I was told for each that it was not possible to make an estimate.  Instead, I was informed that the Plan is a broad vision document and, therefore, we should not be concerned with costs at this point.

One of my colleagues explained it to me this way: The Plan should be viewed in the same way that most people view their own spending decisions – they decide what it is that they want and then figure out later how they’re going to pay for it.  That interesting philosophy likely describes some of the $800,000 houses in western Hennepin County standing empty due to foreclosure.

The bottom line issue of cost, however, was a minor annoyance to me in comparison to the primary reason I voted against the Plan.

This Plan truly does represent a dramatic change in transportation vision for Hennepin County – and that vision is terribly flawed.

All one has to do is look at the goals and targets in the Plan to understand where the county’s focus will be going forward.  Note that we intend to “preserve and modernize” our existing roads and bridges – attempting  to keep a majority of them in decent condition.  At the same time we intend to greatly expand everything else – transit, buses, bike paths and sidewalks.

The emphasis of this Plan is on everything except the mode of transportation that a vast majority of Hennepin County residents choose to use to get around.  We hope to double transit use, double bicycle use and add inumerable sidewalks while simply trying to maintain existing roads and, in fact, actually attempting to force many county residents out of their automobiles (by targeting a dramatic – and unrealistic – reduction in auto usage within the county).

Most people in Hennepin County don’t choose to use their automobiles for transportation because they have no other options – they choose to use their automobiles because that is what works best for their jobs, their families and their busy lives.

Do I believe we need a “multi-modal” transportation system in the county?  Of course I do.  Do I believe we should spend some of our constituents’ hard-earned money to provide more options for people who would prefer to ride a bus, bike or walk to work but don’t feel they have that option now?  You bet.

But let’s be honest and realistic about our decisions.  When a vast majority of Hennepin County residents choose their automobiles to get around (regardless of the other options) and we as a county board set our vision as a great expansion of everything butroads, that’s not transporation policy, that’s social policy.  That’s not about providing choices to travelers and commuters, it’s about changing the choices they have already made.

Through this Plan, the county board is saying that we don’t like the choice most of our constituents have made about their mobility and we’re going to spend their money in ways that will hopefully force them to make a “better” choice – one that we approve.

Put simply, we’re using transportation policy to affect social change – and I think that’s a rotten way to spend our constituents’ money.

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