Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Community Voices features opinion pieces from a wide variety of authors and perspectives. (Submission Guidelines)

Southwest Light Rail is an investment in equity

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Council
The Southwest Light Rail has three stops that will serve the Northside: the Royalston, Van White and Penn Avenue stations.

We are glad that Julie Sabo is raising important questions about transit equity for underserved communities. But she is mistaken in arguing that Southwest Light Rail is not an equity line.

The Southwest Light Rail line is an investment in equity, even if it does not address all of the disparities that our disadvantaged communities have faced. There is no magic train or perfect alignment that can fix the decades of disinvestment experienced by communities of color in the region. But if we let perfection be the enemy of the good, how much longer would our communities wait for investment?

The Southwest Light Rail has three stops that will serve the Northside: the Royalston, Van White and Penn Avenue stations. The Royalston station is within walking distance of the Heritage Park community. The Van White station provides easy access to the Harrison neighborhood. And the Penn Avenue station will connect with one bus transfer to the Penn Avenue corridor – the backbone of the Northside.

It’s no secret that the Twin Cities have some of the largest employment gaps in the country. African-American residents have suffered unemployment at nearly three times the rate of white residents. These stops will provide critical access to jobs for northsiders; additionally, the line will provide opportunities to underserved communities in cities like Hopkins and Eden Prairie.

Sabo dismisses the equity impact of the Van White station, even while acknowledging that the Harrison neighborhood, where she says income “hovers around the poverty line,” is close by (a five-minute walk, in fact). It might be useful for Sabo to join Harrison residents in a walk-through of the area, and then she’d realize that Lowry Hill residents are not closest to that station, even if they were provided with the rapelling gear necessary to navigate the terrain.  

The long-ignored Harrison neighborhood has spent the last decade working to make sure that the area around the Van White station has the opportunity to grow and become a centerpiece of redevelopment and new housing construction. The Harrison neighborhood successfully opposed an attempt by county and city officials to place extensive train storage on the site because they did not want it to trim back the 3,000 housing units or the 5,000- 6,000 jobs proposed in the neighborhood-endorsed Bassett Creek Valley (BCV) master plan. Those new households and jobs figures are not included in current ridership projections for the station – once Ryan Companies starts to develop this site, it will become a thriving, catalytic addition to the city of Minneapolis.

A vision of revitalization

The Harrison redevelopment plan includes the vision of revitalization through transit-oriented development, envisioning acres of housing, retail/office and public green space. For a neighborhood that felt the full blow of the housing crash and has been a historic dumping ground (including polluted superfund sites and the city’s impound lot), Southwest Light Rail will provide investment, access to jobs, and a meaningful step toward economic growth. It deserves a chance to succeed.

Harrison residents and local elected leaders understand the “multiplier effect” of transit-oriented development. Dozens of owners of light-industrial properties near the Van White and Royalston stations are ready to reinvest in new commercial and retail properties. That wave of economic activity will sweep in to revitalize portions of Glenwood Ave. N., a forgotten commercial corridor. Add in the other planned transit enhancements envisioned for north Minneapolis, and you have the infrastructure pieces in place for access to a regional system of social benefits and economic connectivity.

Thanks to state and regional commitment to equitable hiring goals, the Central Corridor LRT project exceeded its 18 percent hiring goals for construction workers of color (filling an estimated 150 jobs that produced $5 million in wages). Southwest LRT’s equitable hiring goal is much larger, at 32 percent, and will create even greater construction career opportunities for people of color. This will provide a huge benefit.

The real decision

Finally, Sabo wonders if there would be a “smarter, equity based use of 1.5 billion transit dollars.” The decision is not between building the rail and building something else. It is between investing $1.5 billion dollars in economic development, including a substantial amount in underserved communities, or investing zero. Half of the project is paid for by the federal government, but we are competing with other cities for this money, and it can be taken away.

We call for the Northside and all stakeholders who care about equity to demand progress on a line that begins to address the issues we face. We have to start the hard work of growing our communities and our region by investing in a modern transportation network. With all due respect to Sabo, our communities are not “the same team that always wins.” We fail to see any upside to losing out on investments that connect our communities to jobs and economic opportunity. It is time to build Southwest.

Vicki Moore is a Harrison resident and Fifth Ward representative to the Bassett Creek Valley Redevelopment Oversight Committee. Ishmael Israel is the executive director of the Northside Residents Redevelopment Council. Louis King is the president of Summit Academy OIC.


If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Sarai on 04/09/2014 - 05:34 am.

    Once Ryan Corp develops Bassett Creek, the area will likely see money flow in, but it will be at market rates that will push the poor farther north.

  2. Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 04/09/2014 - 08:28 am.


    I’m sure everyone who cares about issues of equity is upset about the current state of affairs on the north side but pretending a few stops on the very edge of the the area in an under developed wasteland is a big win is just sad. If you really care about the north side you’d be focusing on getting the bottineou route changed to actually serve the north side instead of skirting around it.

    And framing the issue like it’s just rich people who live near the proposed SW route who are opposed to it is dishonest. There are plenty of poor and minority populations along the nicollet-uptown route that would be better served by such a routing than anyone on the north side would be by the current route.

    Also the anecdote about someone at a public meeting being really excited about the “north” stations on the current SW route is just that: an anecdote. Anecdotes are not data and should not be relied upon to make these kinds of decisions.

  3. Submitted by Linda Miller on 04/09/2014 - 09:22 am.


    I agree with everything Wayne said. As I have mentioned before on this very site, if the people in the suburbs want to ram this down Minneapolis’s throat, that is fine, but at least admit what you are doing – just tell us to shut up and take our licks so people in the suburbs can get into Minneapolis easier.
    The few stops in the “north” side aren’t going to help the vast majority of true NORTH Minneapolis residents, and we still have tons of people on lake street in uptown lacking true mass transit options.
    Spending FEDERAL dollars to help those people seems like a better investment in equity.

  4. Submitted by Kasia McMahon on 04/09/2014 - 10:14 am.

    The only equity is home equity for Harrison property owners

    “The Southwest Light Rail line is an investment in equity, even if it does not address all of the disparities that our disadvantaged communities have faced.”

    What disparities does it address? The right to spend an hour riding a bus to take a train and then taking another bus to get to a minimum wage job? How is that an improvement over the current system? Taking a bus downtown, then another, and then probably another to reach some job in the suburbs?

    For people that actually depend on transit, it doesn’t matter if your seat is on a bus or on a train–as long as you get there in a decent time. The only people that get gooey eyed over light rail are developers the people that wouldn’t dare take a bus.

    How about adding some nice express buses that can take people from north Minneapolis directly to the suburbs? Wouldn’t that be the equitable thing to do? Fully fund our public bus system to serve the areas of highest demand? Imagine living in north Minneapolis and not having to go downtown to catch an express bus to Plymouth! That will be the day!

  5. Submitted by Richard Adair on 04/09/2014 - 11:18 am.

    Why SW LRT is an investment in equity

    This isn’t so complicated. Economics 101: metro areas where people can get from home to work or school (and back, especially if they are parents) in a reasonable time tend to thrive, adding jobs, investment, and population. Metro areas with huge traffic jams, and pockets of poverty without good transit, tend to decay.

    Rail transit is quicker and more reliable than buses for longer commutes and costs less to operate after the initial investment. It will be an essential part of getting around when this metro area grows to 4 million people.

    We can have a dust-up between haves and have-nots over this and cling to what we’ve got, or we can have the courage to invest in the future. The Twin Cities didn’t get to where it is now by passing such decisions to the next generation. I lived in Cleveland during its horrendous decline in the 1970s and don’t want to witness such a thing again.

    • Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 04/09/2014 - 11:45 am.

      In this case the haves are the wealthy suburbs and the have-not is Minneapolis. Why should the city care about someone from the far burbs having to spend an extra five to ten minutes getting downtown? Why should It want a tunnel through the woods for the convenience of these people? Why would it not demand the line actually serve more than suburban commuters who already have a wealth of better options than people in the built up urban core?

      • Submitted by David Greene on 04/09/2014 - 02:01 pm.

        Wrong Assumptions

        You are making a lot of wrong assumptions about the suburbs. Many people in the suburbs do not have the “wealth of better options” you claim they do. Have you looked at the demographics around this line? The racial makeup? The income levels?

        To claim this is serving only the “wealthy suburbs” is distortion. It will serve many lower-income households.

        Furthermore, the article authors are spot on about the opportunities opened up for Northsiders. Not only that, the referenced BCV master plan will bring jobs and housing to an area that has been a dumping ground for decades. None of this can happen without Southwest LRT.

        Is Southwest LRT by itself enough? Not hardly. But it is a necessary element and it does very much set the table for huge investments in areas of the city that need it the most. The city should extract everything it can out of a deal to promote equity in the city.

  6. Submitted by Alex Bauman on 04/09/2014 - 03:43 pm.

    Station access is the missing crux of this argument

    I agree with the points made here about equity, but unfortunately they aren’t valid because in reality the proposed SWLRT stations are not easily accessible by northside residents.

    The authors note that “The Royalston station is within walking distance of the Heritage Park community.” Yes, but the walk on a narrow sidewalk next to 6 lanes of speeding Olson Highway traffic and over the interminable I-94 overpass is nobody’s definition of a pleasant walk and only the desperate will choose it.

    They also claim that “The Van White station provides easy access to the Harrison neighborhood.” But the Van White station will be a half-mile from the closest residences in Harrison, and will be over a mile walk from the bulk of the neighborhood, which is nobody’s definition of an easy walk.

    Finally, they note that “the Penn Avenue station will connect with one bus transfer to the Penn Avenue corridor”. Clearly the authors have never taken advantage of the Northside’s existing transit network if they think this is an appealing option to anybody. In our low-frequency system, transfers mean a long wait between buses. I’m also curious where the authors think this transfer will take place. Currently the closest transfer between the 19 (which serves Penn north of Olson) and the 9 (the bus mostly likely to be rerouted to serve the Penn station) is the Ramp A Transit Center in Downtown, about two miles from the Penn station. So the Penn station connects with the Penn corridor if you go four miles out of your way and transfer buses.

    There are plenty of reasons to build SWLRT (it goes through one of the highest-density suburban areas and connects to the second-largest suburban job concentration), but unfortunately equity is not one of them for the simple fact that SWLRT isn’t very accessible to the northside.

  7. Submitted by Keith Morris on 04/09/2014 - 08:16 pm.

    It’s the blind leading the blind.

    Neighborhood leaders who have no grasp of the basic foundations of good of urbanism, let alone transportation, are unfortunately too vocal and the last people we should listen to. Their expertise should be left to the insight they provide of long-term 1st hand experiences of varying aspects of their neighborhoods. Let urban geeks who are well versed in what works in transit and urban design be the ones to lead the conversation.

    SWLRT could have stations smack dab in the middle of North like Penn and Broadway, but they aren’t going to get local residents to most jobs available in the SW burbs for the simple reason that unlike suburbanites being able to drive all over their suburbs including to the park & rides city commuters don’t have this . Unless you land one of the few jobs within short walking distance of a SWLRT, and those are few and far between, it’s not going to offer a serious pool of employment to residents of North. At least if the stations were located conveniently well inside of North instead of the fringes where ridership will be lower even than stations in low-density sprawl we’d see revitalization right in North and more jobs there where residents won’t need a $1.7 billion LRT line to get to work.

    Another problem is that MetCouncil thinks these people will walk a half-mile to their suburban jobs while ignoring transit planners who by and large agree that people will only walk up to a quarter mile to/from a station or stop. And then you have to figure that many jobs sound as though they’re close by the station by being 1/4 mile or less away, but that’s as the crow flies.The reality is that in many cases a wall of highways, fences, or other barriers require a long, long detour to access someplace that is technically right next door. It’s not uncommon in the burbs for people to live right behind a lot retail/jobs but if they choose to walk instead of drive they have to go all the way around a long block before being able to reach them: hence why none of them walk even though it may be .less than 1 miles away..

    Forcing low-income residents to a plethora of jobs where they’re going to have to walk 20 minutes in -20 degrees in winter or 95 degrees in summer while watching wealthy suburbanites park for free in spaces that the poor are subsidizing and where the same park & riders pay no more than a low-income carless individual sounds like something that a wealthy classist bigot would concoct: those park & riders aren’t not going to face the same trials that their urban counterparts will as they’ll have a quick walk, bike ride, or bus ride ensuring that they won’t. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad that this is exactly what so called “allies” of the poor and low-income are pushing forward.

  8. Submitted by Richard Adair on 04/09/2014 - 09:34 pm.

    Look at the big picture

    I’d like to get people thinking about the entire metro area. The green line extension (SW LRT) gets students to the U of M, it gets low-income people in St. Paul’s Midway district to jobs in the SW suburbs, it allows people who work in St. Paul or Eden Prairie to live (and spend money) in downtown Minneapolis.

    No routing is convenient for everyone. The point is our roads simply can’t serve the number of people projected to live here in the near future. Our generation has a responsibility to plan ahead.

  9. Submitted by John Bailey on 04/09/2014 - 09:36 pm.

    Suburban Assumptions Stuck in John Hughes Movies

    The rhetoric about the “wealthy” suburbs “raming” the alignment down the city’s throat and all the uncaring “rich people” in the suburbs is really outdated and based on old assumptions about who lives in suburbs. Suburbs are home to significant and growing pockets of poverty. The link is from 2009 and it doesn’t show any of the demographic information of the communities along the alignment outside of Mpls. It only shows the demographics from the stations within Minneapolis (21st Street and West Lake). I don’t think anyone is getting all Sally Struthers about these neighborhoods, but Hopkins, St. Louis Park, Minnetonka, and, yes, even Eden Prairie have growing diverse transit dependent/reliant residents who need the line.

    As to the “why would the city care about people coming into the city for their jobs” argument…well I’m stumped. To me, having lots of people come into your city and going to their tax base growing jobs while not clogging up your roadways and polluting your air while further cementing your city as the region’s core, is a pretty good deal and one innumerable cities would clamor for.

    To Alex’s comments about bus service, I’ll yield to Alex’s knowledge of the bus system in north Mpls of which I have none. It sounds like there is now pretty crummy service to where the Penn station will be. I would only point out that the plan will be to increase bus accessibility and pedestrian access to the new stations as has been done along the Green Line where some entirely new bus lines will start in June (such as on Lexington) and several other lines have increased their headways and lengthened their routes. For instance, we live in Hamline Midway and my wife and I often take the 67 to downtown StP but it’s headways suck at 30 mintues. By June it’ll be 10 minute headways and continue further west to Franklin Ave Blue Line. FWIW, the service will be so much better we may take the Green Line less when it opens.

    To Kasia’s point that transit dependent people don’t care if it’s a bus or a train, and it’s only rich people that care. Wow…that’s quite a declarative statement. I’ll just leave at I really disagree and think many many transit dependent and non-rich transit by choice people have a preference for the comfort and reliability of rail service. That doesn’t mean everyone gets a choo-choo nor that we can’t dramatically improve the comfort and reliability of buses but I’d be leery of overly broad statement about what other groups of people think.

    • Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 04/10/2014 - 07:57 am.

      The link is only examining the Minneapolis portion of the alignment because the part beyond that is fine. It’s about how they chose the wrong routing through the city. I’m fine with the suburban alignment (although they should charge for park and rides and not make regular bus commuters subsidize them). But it is quite obvious this is nothing more than a commuter train for suburbanites and not any attempt at real urban mass transit.

  10. Submitted by John Bailey on 04/10/2014 - 10:15 am.


    Well, we do agree on parking policy! It’s a shame that “free” parking at park and rides is seen as such a sacred cow.

Leave a Reply