The pros and cons of regional transit for Northfield

NfldTransCorrI got a postcard in the mail last week about a meeting on Tuesday Oct. 26  titled:

Northfield’s Transit Corridor: Restoring our Connections, Exploring our Possibilities

See the blog post on for details.

While regional transit has its obvious benefits, there are concerns about the extend to which it will encourage the development of Northfield into more of a bedroom community or commuter town than it already is.

I’m undecided.

On a related note was last week’s news that Google Cars Drive Themselves, in Traffic. I got an email from a Northfield resident who wrote:

I think that this concept of linking cars on the highway has the greatest potential to solve our traffic problems in any city and may obviate or reduce the need for massive investments in local rail or even high-speed rail between major cities. That may sit badly with some, but it would represent the combination of personal convenience, which drives our desire to own cars, and mass transit to economize on fuel consumption.


  1. David Koenig said:


    I’ll stand behind the comment that I emailed to you.

    This dates back to the late 1980s when a string of computer-driven cars were linked on Interstates outside of San Diego, driving 70+ miles per hour without driver interface, and which used technology (of the time) to find other cars with similar destinations and to “link” them in mini-trains on the highway.

    The concept, if extended to all cars, creates the possibility for drivers to input their destination and have the computer on the car communicate with other cars around it to form rapidly moving “trains” that also know the destinations of other cars around them and can re-assign an individual car to a “better” train, or add more cars to an existing one as they speed towards their exit.

    The obvious improvement is for rush-hour traffic where human intervention causes most problems. For example, one driver tapping on the breaks has been shown to have an impact on traffic congestion as much as two miles back.

    In essence, the technology can also make the best use of “open space” on the highway, which has the potential to reduce the amount of highway actually paved.

    To bring this technology to mass use would require a visionary commitment of funding, but I would argue that since the technology has obviously advanced tremendously since the 1980s, money designated for high-speed rail or light-rail would be better directed towards bringing this technology to life.

    Today we have people paying to use the commuter lane. Imagine if the commuter lane was instead reserved only for cars using this technology instead.

    Cars are mobile, personal and can be targeted to exact destinations. As much as I love trains, they have fixed points of pick-up and delivery. Linking cars into virtual trains on the highway has all of the economy of mass transit and all of the convenience of personal cars.

    Throw in the growing moving towards cars that run on battery power and you can see even better environmental impact than moving people onto trains.

    October 24, 2010
  2. I was appalled when I read the article about Google’s project. The environmental and safety issues of cars are really only half the problem.

    They still provide isolated social environments (as opposed to community provided by collective transport).
    They still require massive amount of space for handling and storage. Take a look at an aerial view of a Minnesotan city — whether it’s Northfield or Minneapolis, you’ll probably see about half the land dedicated to surface parking. Take a look at the site of Northfield Middle School, which has dedicated so much space for car drop-off that it is literally a quarter of a mile to walk from the street to the door.
    They are still too convenient, allowing people to avoid walking all but the shortest distances.
    And — David and Griff — for longer distances, cars can’t touch high-speed rail. High-speed rail has been tested at over 350 mph. We’re a long ways from cars doing that.

    Griff — your specific concerns about Northfield are good, but I guess don’t hear that skepticism when it comes to other things to increase access to MSP (e.g., the upgrades on County Road 1 between Dundas and I-35).

    October 25, 2010
  3. William Siemers said:

    Sean…I have used both, (and both have their advantages), but in most cases I prefer the isolated social environment of a car to the community environment of mass transit. In fact my car gets me to more opportunities to be involved in a community environment faster than could rapid transit.
    Americans love cars. Actually, almost every society loves cars. Any technology that allows the use of personal transportation to become safer and more fuel efficient, (and maybe even faster), should be explored.

    October 25, 2010
  4. David Ludescher said:

    It is hard to cost-justify mass transit to Northfield. Mass transit isn’t even cost-effective in the metro.

    October 25, 2010
  5. Until the population of Northfield grows a few hundred thousand, until people stop wearing scented lotions, perfumes, etc, until people stop spreading infectious airborne diseases, I think this is more like the next big answer for the go to workplace crowd, shopers, health care seekers and the visit grandma and the zoo folks…

    October 25, 2010
  6. The notion it’s more realistic to replace every car on the road with these new smartcars than to simply implement technology that is already in proven existence (commuter rail, eventually high-speed rail) is ridiculous.

    Again, cars still discourage the basic human behavior of walking. They’ve still destroyed the design of our cities and towns. And they still discriminate against those who can’t afford them.

    And I would remind those in the discussion — David and Bright — mass transit within Northfield is not being discussed here. The issue is regional transit, one station in Northfield (probably with a big ol’ parking lot) to get to Minneapolis and other cities.

    October 25, 2010
  7. William Siemers said:

    Sean… I don’t think anyone suggested that ‘smart’ cars or car coupling is going to replace every car on the road. I hesitate to call new ideas ridiculous since I’ve seen quite a few become commonplace over the years, but I am willing to call a few old ideas just that.

    October 25, 2010
  8. David Ludescher said:


    It seems to me that regional transit for Northfield is economically impractical. It will drain scarce economic resources. Rather than bringing mass transit to the people thereby promoting surbanan sprawl, the government should be encouraging people to move closer to mass transit.

    October 25, 2010
  9. Cynthia Child said:

    David, essentially you are saying if you need mass transit move out of Northfield?

    October 25, 2010
  10. Jeff Ondich said:

    David–do you think non-mass transit in the metro (or anywhere else) is cost-effective when you take into account the publicly funded cost of building and maintaining most roads? How about if you assign a cost to pollution rather than ignoring it for purposes of comparing systems?

    October 25, 2010
  11. David Ludescher said:


    The state can’t afford to build mass transit systems to sparcely populated areas like Northfield. Even the current mass transit systems in the densely populated areas can’t support themselves. Until the state can meet some more basic needs, like health coverage, Northfielders shouldn’t be begging the state to spend money that it doesn’t have.

    October 25, 2010
  12. David Ludescher said:


    I understand that we now have a mass tranit system for Northfield that can reduce pollution. It is called Northfield Lines. Public subsidies to them would be far, far cheaper than the pie in the sky plans being discussed.

    October 25, 2010
  13. Cynthia Child said:

    David, so therefore you are saying that I should move out of Northfield. Nice.

    October 25, 2010
  14. David Beimers said:

    I took Northfield Lines to the airport last week. It was cheaper and more convenient than driving my car and I could map out my travel plans while someone else worried about traffic.

    October 25, 2010
  15. Tracy Davis said:

    David, I’m amused that you would consider “health coverage” as a basic need which the state should meet, while transportation infrastructure apparently is not. ?

    October 26, 2010
  16. David Ludescher said:


    If government is going to assist people, I would prefer that the state use its limited resources to help folks meet basic health care needs before it builds mind-numbingly expensive mass transit systems.

    October 26, 2010
  17. I visualize a town where a few more businesses are opened up and running, people live and work in Northfield, have more time to spend with their kids and grand kids,
    Have more plays, music, dance and art scenes, good restaurants, we could use an Italian place pretty much badly, and place more effort on green living than mass transport.

    Many more people can work from home, start up businesses which allow for flex time
    and where people actually do accept differences with grace.

    October 26, 2010
  18. Griff Wigley said:

    Here’s a train schedule for Northfield from 1915:

    October 28, 2010
  19. Phil Poyner said:

    This is really cool. I must admit that seeing that there was once a line that ran between Minneapolis, here, and Faribault makes me wonder if we haven’t taken a step backward over the years. We may have more “privacy” now, but with the problems surrounding parking in some areas, do we really have more convenience?

    October 28, 2010
  20. David Ludescher said:


    Look at the schedule. There is only one option for a commuter – leave Nfld at 7:15 a.m. and come back home at 7:50 p.m. There is exactly 9 hours from the time of arrival until departure.

    Not very practical for most people – which may be why it was terminated.

    October 28, 2010
  21. David Ludescher said:

    That should be 9 hours in Mpls from arrival to departure – 12 1/2 hours from departure from Northfield to arrival back here.

    October 28, 2010
  22. Phil Poyner said:

    David, I guess I’m thinking along the lines of taking this as a 1915 starting point and then spending 95 years improving it! Of course that schedule wouldn’t suit todays needs (although as a rotating shift worker I’m not as tied to “traditional” travel times as most), but one that had been constantly updated rather than discarded might have. Regardless, too late for all that now. It’s just an interesting “what if” to ponder.

    October 28, 2010
  23. David Ludescher said:


    Not to be a spoil-sport – I’m guessing that it was discarded for economic reasons, and no matter what we do, trying to re-do the same concept is an economic disaster.

    October 29, 2010
  24. David–
    That response suggests you acknowledge that the financial feasibility of something may in fact have changed over time. I’m going to go on a limb here and say that Northfield has probably grown quite a bit since 1915 (and that schedule shows even smaller stops), and that considerably more people are commuting to MSP since then.

    October 29, 2010
  25. David Ludescher said:


    That’s true. However, as mass transit becomes more economically feasible, other alternatives, such as car pools and the Northfield Lines absorb the market demand for cheap transportation.

    October 29, 2010

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