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John Hennessy III,

Multimodal Transportation Alternatives for Minnesota

Posted by Content Coordinator on Wednesday, December 24th, 2014


Executive Summary

This paper looks at alternatives for promoting and strengthening multimodal transportation in rural and small urban areas. It outlines 65 different innovative activities around the United States that have been undertaken to promote multimodalism in rural areas and smaller towns. These activities are grouped into six categories: improving transit options; accommodating alternative vehicles; supporting pedestrian and bicycle travel; multimodal land use planning; the use of financial incentives to promote multimodal land use development; and other alternatives that do not fit in these five categories. From this, six case studies have been developed. These case studies include retrofitting sidewalks in Olympia, Washington; the network of interurban transit options in North Dakota; providing mileage reimbursement for seniors arranging their own rides in Mesa, Arizona; Oregon’s “Main Street as a Highway” guidance for integrating highways into the fabric of smaller towns; the use of transportation impact fees to fund transportation infrastructure, including concurrency fees, development fees and special district fees; and a “Complete Streets” project in Clinton, Iowa.

Chapter 1: Introduction

The dominant mode of travel in the United States today is by automobile. Multimodalism is when travelers are able to choose more than one mode to make a trip, typically an alternative beyond driving an automobile. Modes can be broken down in a number of ways. Modes can be defined by whether the trip is taken by mechanical or human powered means, i.e. walking and cycling versus motorized travel. Motorized travel can further be categorized by the type of vehicle used, i.e. automobile, bus, train, airplane, golf cart or other vehicle. It can also be categorized by whether the vehicle is public or private and whether the trip is shared or not.

There are substantial benefits when citizens can travel in ways other than single occupant automobile travel. Some benefits include reduced energy demands, improved air quality, better public health, increased economic activity, more intensive utilization of right-of-way and better quality of life.

The need for alternatives to driving is more significant in groups that are not able to easily drive an automobile. Over the next 20 years, the number of persons over the age of 65 is going to double. The number of persons with disabilities is forecast to grow faster than the overall population rate. (Gustafson, Bieleck, & Gillaspy, 2008) Also, 11% of the population in Minnesota lives in acute poverty. (United States Census Bureau, 2012) All of these groups have a limited ability to drive and need alternatives to live independently.

Despite the benefits of multimodalism, most travel is done by automobile. Although the Census does not frequently survey all trips, census data does show that the vast majority of journey-towork travel is done by automobile. The 2009 National Household Travel Survey found that 83.4% of trips were by private vehicle, 1.9% by transit, 10.4% by walking and 4.2% by other modes. (U.S. Federal Highway Administration, 2009a) In Minnesota, the American Community Survey found that 87% of travel to work was done by automobile or truck, with 5% of people working at home, 3% walking to work, 3% biking to work and 2% taking a taxi. 78% of people going to work drove alone. (United States Census Bureau, 2011) Because most travel is done by private vehicles, multimodalism can be a challenge. This challenge is even greater in rural and small urban areas. These areas have lower population densities, few high density destinations, land use patterns that are dependent on automobiles and a high rate of automobile ownership. There are also fewer social institutions to organize shared travel. The Rural Transit Fact Book documents these challenges. It found that only 3.8% of rural households had no vehicle available, as compared to 10.6 % of households in urban areas.

Likewise, 6.3% of urban commuters used public transit and 3.2% walked to work. This compares to .6% of rural commuters using public transit and 1.8% walking to work. The number of urban travelers ages 50-64 using transit for any purpose on an average travel day was 5.6% while rural travelers used transit only .8%. (Small Urban & Rural Transit Center, 2012) In addition, the National Household Travel Survey found that people in rural areas drive more. 93.2% of men and 89.6% of women in urban areas drive while 95.6% of men and 95% of women in rural areas drive. This difference is even more dramatic for persons older than age 65. For persons older than age 65, 87.3% of urban men and 70.5% of urban women drive while 96.2% of rural men and 91.1% of rural women drive. (U.S. Federal Highway Administration, 2009b)

All rural and small urban areas face a core set of multimodal transportation issues. There can be demand for local circulation and bike/pedestrian alternatives for the general public. In addition, there is a desire to provide access to local services for low income, elderly and disabled populations. But not all rural areas are the same. Twaddell and Emerine (Twaddell & Emerine, 2007) categorized rural communities into three useful classifications with distinct transportation issues:

  • Exurban communities exist on the fringe of most urban areas across the United States. The economic base of these areas has shifted from agricultural or mining production to being bedroom communities for urban areas. A local service economy is supported by higher wages from the urban area. This results in low density residential development and low density employment locations except at local shopping centers or malls. Transit needs include local circulation to retail/service centers plus long-haul commute to urban areas. Long-haul commute alternatives are often complicated because many persons who live in exurban areas work in lower density suburban areas, limiting high-density transit destinations. In Minnesota, exurban counties include counties like Wright, Sherburne, and Goodhue Counties. Most have been growing in population, although growth has stalled due to the recent recession and it is not clear that it will resume at previous levels.
  • Destination communities are situated in locations featuring natural amenities such as mountains, lakes, or beaches which attract seasonal residents, retirees, and tourists. Despite retaining some traditional agricultural or mining activities, the core economy is a service-based economy built around a recreational activity. This can include ski areas, places with large national parks, recreational areas, casinos, cabin areas and many other destinations. These locations have the same needs for local access as other rural areas but also have tourist attractions which are destinations for both visitors and local workers. This can allow for specialized transportation both in terms of transit and bike/pedestrian travel in certain locations for both visitors and local residents. Most of these counties have also been growing in population, although growth has stalled due to the recent recession. In Minnesota, this includes both counties containing or near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area as well as counties in the Lakes Region in the middle of the state. These would include counties like Cass, Hubbard, and Lake of the Woods.
  • Production communities usually depend on a production industry such as farming, ranching or mining. Usually these areas have experienced decades of population decline as farming and mining have needed fewer people. The density of destinations is typically not only low but has been declining. Small towns have disappeared but some regional centers have persisted. These areas have not been substantially affected by the recent recession, however. They have few concentrations of population or jobs and few walkable environments but they do have sizable low income and elderly populations who can benefit from multimodal options. Populations are rarely clustered. Transit needs often include intercity bus service as individual towns may not have all the services that residents need. Also social service transit for the elderly and disabled is a major issue as these populations become older. Bike and pedestrian options may depend on whether a small town retains or abandons traditional pedestrian/bike-friendly small town development patterns for automobile-oriented development. Examples in Minnesota would include Kittson, Yellow Medicine, and Clearwater counties.

Download full version (PDF): Rural and Small Urban Multimodal Alternatives for Minnesota

About the Minnesota Department of Transportation
MnDOT, or the Minnesota Department of Transportation, was created in 1976 by the Legislature to assume the activities of the former Departments of Aeronautics and of Highways and the transportation- related sections of the State Planning Agency and of the Public Service Department. Today MnDOT develops and implements policies, plans and programs for aeronautics, highways, motor carriers, ports, public transit and railroads.


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