The Pulse: Citizens League Issues Scan

"The Pulse", the Citizens League issue scan looks at topics of interest to members of the Citizens League (

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Saturday, July 27, 2002
Health and Human Services. Prescription Drugs for Seniors. Two versions of a prescription drug benefit for seniors failed in the US Senate this past week. The ten year cost estimates for various proposals run from several hundred to a trillion dollars. This comes at a time when we have almost 39 million Americans - of whom 8.4 million are children - without health insurance. While there is surely a need to address the needs of those 9% or so of seniors that spend more than $3,000 per capita on drugs - and the subset of those persons who cannot afford this without providing a costly entitlement as the 76 million baby boomers are edging toward the employment exits. Twin Cities Public Television had a panel on prescription drug benefits for seniors on their Friday, July 26, 2002 Almanac show. The address is: (85)

Friday, July 26, 2002
Economy According to Governing Magazine, Minnesota ranks 10th in the nation for the number of welfare recipients per capita. The state has 115,122 welfare recipients, or 232 per 10,000 residents. Sounds like an issue that needs addressing during the campaign season. (84)

Transportation and Transit. Bus Rapid-Transit Lane-Assist Web Site. Metro Transit and the University of Minnesota were recently awarded a contract from the Federal Transit Administration to identify the requirements for using lane-assist systems. The ITS Institute’s Intelligent Vehicle Laboratory is currently leading a research project to enhance transit operations and efficiency through the deployment of safe-technology-assistance systems by addressing lane-assist technology for narrow bus lanes. A Web site ( and e-mail distribution list have been developed to help the BRT lane-assist technologies systems project team communicate research progress. If you would like to receive the BRT E-News, please send your request to (83)

Thursday, July 25, 2002
Metropolitan Regions. Some Streets Are Made for Walking. Dr. David Berrigan of the National Cancer Institute was lead researcher in a study that found that people in cities and suburbs who live in houses built before 1974 are almost 50 percent more likely to walk a lot for pleasure. The author concluded that the study showed the importance of planning decisions that influence the environment "in ways that increase its suitability for walking." So "smart growth" is good for us. The New York Times piece from July 23, 2002 is at: (82)

Metropolitan Regions. Austin Series on New Economy and Region. The Austin Statesman has recently published an extensive series on requirements for success in the new economy. Austin, Texas is a highly ranked "new economy" Mecca and lessons there may have more general applicability. The series is at: (81)

Metropolitan Regions. Citistates Launches Weblog. The Citistates group with Neal Peirce, Curt Johnson and colleagues has launched a weblog on regional issues around the world. The July 20, 2002 issue features work in Barcelona on regional issues. The weblog is on the Citistates main webpage at: (80)

Wednesday, July 24, 2002
Public Services. Permanently Tighter Fiscal Conditions for State Budgets. In the July 13, 2002 issue of the Economist, an article entitled: "Tangled up in red" concludes: "If states have to adjust to permanently tighter fiscal conditions, what will that do to the many public services they now supply?" The article argued that states used an unprecedented run up in incomes and tamed expenses in Medical Assistance and welfare spending to run up state spending 28% per person in real terms in the 1990s. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that Medical Assistance spending will rise by 9% each year for the rest of this decade. On the revenue side, sales taxes are based largely on the sale of goods in an economy moving more to services. Put all this in a blender and you end up with "permanently tighter fiscal conditions" which makes for a very interesting political landscape in many states starting with newly elected Governors and legislatures in January 2003 arriving to face a rising tide of red ink. (79)

Tuesday, July 23, 2002
The Economy: Technology. The Shrinking Fuel Cell. While much of the publicity around fuel cells has been around using hydrogen to power next generation vehicles, fuel cells are also emerging as a competitor to lithium ion batteries. A fuel cell 20 cubic centimeters in size using methanol recently demonstrated superior performance to that of a lithium ion battery. For the full story see: (78)

Post-Secondary Education. Learning How to Do E-Learning. In the June 24, 2002 issue of US News and World Report James M. Pethokoukis reported on the field of e-learning in post-secondary education involving education via the web. He reported that online learning is growing at 33 percent per year and is expected to hit 2.2 million learners by 2004 according to International Data Corporation’s estimates. A study by Bear Stearns found that 150 institutions offer undergraduate and nearly 200 graduate degrees online. He reports three key elements to making money in e-learning, not often done. First, keep it useful. It is important to offer classes that students actually care about. Second, keep it real meaning have both a “bricks and clicks” side of face-to-face education and an online presence built on the face-to-face brand and experience. Finally, third, keep it simple and avoid a lot of bells and whistles that slow things down but do not add value. Televised lectures were not highly rated. (77)

Monday, July 22, 2002
Transportation and Transit. Getting Somewhere With Transit on the University Corridor. (The following was printed as an opinion piece in the Pioneer Press, July 15,2002). In the television game show Jeopardy, you start with the answer and then have to come up with the right question. If we say “LRT” or “LRT linking Minneapolis and Saint Paul” what is the question being answered? Well the question we are supposed to be answering keeps shifting. At one time the nearly 700 million dollars on the Hiawatha LRT line was about congestion relief, then “getting people to jobs and then redevelopment of an urban corridor. If the answer remains the same but the questions it is supposed to be answering keep changing, we should watch out.

It is true in the US that we have one of the more auto dependent transportation systems in the developed world and spend more than twice per family what Europeans do for transportation. Interestingly, this high level of expenditure is a non-issue generally. Also true is that per capita transit ridership in Hennepin County, as well as Chicago and many other places is actually falling, not rising. This is little surprise in our area as we have invested relatively little in transit in this region and it shows as the 1998 Legislative Auditor report “Transit Services” showed,

So if we are in fact prepared to turn over a new leaf and develop more compact and efficient communities, and work on developing the things that these communities need, we will need to start with more careful thinking about what we are trying to accomplish than is evident in the recent deliberations on an LRT corridor linking Minneapolis and Saint Paul on the University Avenue corridor. “They have one so I want one too” is really not enough justification for more than 800 million dollars in spending for a second light rail (i.e. trolley) line. Nor is “the train costs 3.5 times as much but the operating costs are similar so I want a train” an acceptable justification.

Let’s look at a few of the core issues. Part of the careful thinking to start with is on “smart growth” and “transit oriented development”. As we look to corridors ripe for redevelopment, and the University Avenue strip is one, congestion is really not the issue. Unlike the ludicrously under built freeway system between and around the two core cities, University Avenue, as part of a nice old fashioned grid road system, actually moves along well (Where else in the country would you find a freeway situation such as leaving downtown Minneapolis on Washington Avenue to go on 35W northbound where the only freeway access is a single lane on a left turn arrow?). A thoughtful question to ask is: will we get more development with LRT than with a much upgraded bus system, like bus rapid transit for example? Or put more bluntly, if we were able to pocket the 600 million dollars in savings from a bus rapid transit system over LRT and spend it to enhance University Avenue between the two core cities, could we even spend it? The Metropolitan Council’s Metropolitan Livable Communities demonstrations of transit oriented, mixed use and mixed income development is showing great things by leveraging around 5% of that money each year. Have we really thought this through? If the problem is that federal funding rules require that we spend it on rail to get the money, then we need to work to change those rules.

A second issue is “what do public transit riders really want?”. This is not a big mystery here or in the EU where they take transit a good deal more seriously. In rough terms, the answer to what a public transit rider wants is perhaps quite obvious: frequent service with minimal wait times at transit stops and few or no transfers between vehicles, a safe and clean ride and good climate control. For starters, the first LRT line will actually subject far more people to transfers with many bus routes dead ending at LRT lines, the travel time to the Mall of America and the airport will increase from express buses of today. We are woefully behind Europeans that have drastically simplified bus routing. Even though we have made a start at it here. The Berlin bus routing system is vastly easier to understand than the Twin Cities’ system, and we have not even experimented with no fare box buses – though we will for LRT – and we are laggards on clean fuel and at grade boarding buses. Security and amenities for bus riders remain sub par. In short, we can do a lot to make public transit – and 80-90 percent of public transit riders will be bus riders for the foreseeable future -- a much better experience and despite some starts in this direction, we have a long way to go.

A third issue is having a coherent policy on transit. Is transit a preferred channel for mobility that we should provide incentives for or is it a begrudged necessity with a maximum return coming from the fare box? If we are going to turn the page to smart growth, it had better be the former. The spectacle of the 82nd Legislature debating the Northstar commuter rail line and a second LRT line while Metro Transit is raising fares and cutting service thus neutralizing hundreds of millions of dollars in investment is just plain embarrassing. Europeans are thinking about integrating parking, tolls, and transit policy into a coherent policy framework while we both paddle and chop a hole in the canoe at the same time. Lost in the propaganda wars over rail is the fact that Portland, Oregon has twice the car pooling of this region because they have powerful incentives in place to make it happen. We deserve better from our state and regional leaders.

So if we are really going to get somewhere with public transit, we have our work cut out for us. Rather than starting with “rail envy” on the University corridor, we need to start with the kinds of redevelopment we want to support, with what public transit riders really need, and with the lowest cost yet effective solutions that get the job done. It would make sense to be clear about the goals of redevelopment and how transit can contribute to it and to do so at the lowest cost that meets the needs of public transit riders.
(Lyle Wray, President, Citizens League) (76)

Health and Human Services. Health Policy for Low Income Families in 13 States. The Urban Institute's Occasional Paper Number 57 on Assessing the New Federalism details health care policy for low income people in 13 states. Pages 35-39 review Minnesota's policy framework beginning with having one of the lowest uninsured rates in the US. The report concludes with the statement that there are signs of stress in Minnesota's healthcare system including rising health care costs - particularly prescription drugs, a severe shortage of healthcare workers, and increased uncompensated care in urban areas. The full report is available in PDF format at: (75)

Sunday, July 21, 2002
Public Services. Australian e-Government Gets High Marks. The United Nations Division for Public Economics and Public Administration (UNDPEPA) in a recent report ranked Australia second only to the United State in the quality of its online government services. While the report estimated that there are 50,000 official government Web sites exist around the world, the Australian national portal at was one of the 15 top single-entry portals. The report praised the Australian site for excellent online transaction features and on rapid response planning for disasters. The site again is at: (74)