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‘Trickle-down transit’ doesn’t work; reboot Southwest LRT design

Courtesy of Metro Transit/Eric Wheeler
Ridership projections for Southwest Light Rail tell a story of an alignment designed to avoid urban communities, not serve them.

There has been much coverage in the media promoting the importance of the Southwest Light Rail (SWLRT) project as a crucial element needed in order to achieve equity in this region. While this seems like a convincing argument for moving the currently designed alignment forward, we would suggest that SWLRT is actually “trickle-down transit.”

Julie Sabo

Trickle-down transit borrows its catch phrase from “trickle-down economics,” where it is assumed that economic benefits provided to the upper-income areas/people will “trickle down” to those with the greatest needs. But, instead, it actually produces a transit system that provides unequal service to communities along geographic, economic and racial lines. Where these economic and service disparities between exurban/suburban and urban communities already exist, as described in the Brookings Institution’s Mind the Gap study, trickle-down transit acts to make them greater and further entrench them as governing patterns of growth.

Minor benefits resulting from trickle-down transit to underserved communities, in this SWLRT design, are being portrayed with inflated significance to justify this alignment as a whole. This tactic serves to calm groups that are in need, and prevent or reduce opposition to what might otherwise be viewed as simply unfair public policy.

Patty Schmitz

Southwest LRT was designed by Met Council appointees of Gov. Tim Pawlenty to meet standards established by the George W. Bush administration. Those standards prioritized fast commute times for “choice riders” from the suburbs into the city over relieving urban transit needs. These “choice” suburban riders often use transit for convenience rather than necessity and, in this case, are already served by high-end express commuter buses. Meanwhile, transit-dependent residents in the urban core are largely dismissed and ignored by virtue of the alignment chosen.

What happened to South Minneapolis transit needs?

As currently designed, the SWLRT limits service to South Minneapolis. The West Lake Street station is located a mere three blocks from the border of St. Louis Park, barely within the city limits, on the far west side of Minneapolis. According to projected ridership, this is the most significant SWLRT stop in Minneapolis. 

When the SWLRT alignment was chosen, it avoided urban density, transit needs and opportunities in more central areas of South Minneapolis. Had this line been routed to meet urban needs in the first place, residents and major employers located in South Minneapolis communities, such as Phillips, would have been served. This would include: Wells Fargo, Abbott Northwestern Hospital, Children’s Hospital, Allina Clinics and the Midtown Global Market. 

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Council
As currently designed, the SWLRT limits service to South Minneapolis.

To compensate for dismissing and ignoring those neighborhoods’ needs, the Met Council proposed that South Minneapolis riders take a bus across the city to reach the 21st Street station. However, the latest version of the SWLRT plan does not include a 21st Street station.

What about North Minneapolis?

Members of the Metropolitan Council refer to Southwest LRT as the “equity” train and claim that the route enhances transit for communities in north Minneapolis. But the ridership numbers tell a different story — in fact, the ridership projections tell a story of an alignment designed to avoid urban communities, not serve them. The Met Council’s projected ridership numbers for the three northernmost stations is less than 2,000 rides per day, or 1,000 round-trip riders by 2030.  That’s less than 7 percent of the overall ridership. This is not “equity,” and in fact does not serve the existing transit needs in Minneapolis.

By exaggerating the significance of this 7 percent ridership in advancing equity, the Met Council hopes to calm underserved groups and prevent or reduce opposition to what might otherwise be viewed as unfair public policy for Minneapolis. 

Interestingly, at a recent neighborhood meeting in North Minneapolis, residents who rely on public transit voiced their transportation concerns and expressed their needs.  They asked for safe and well-lit bus shelters, similar to the shelters in more affluent communities. One Met Council member in attendance stated that funding for such improvements is a “zero sum game.” In order to fund such improvements, money needs to be taken from somewhere else. But, as part of the SWLRT project budget, upgraded facilities will be provided for the express bus commuters in Eden Prairie, at a cost of approximately $20 million dollars. And the “equity” train rolls on.

It’s about a fair system, not just a system

Shouldn’t Minneapolis residents just be proud to be team players for the cause of a regional system? Especially a system that is portrayed as such an important element to delivering geographic, racial, and economic equity. After all, it’s about the overall transit system.

The transit system isn’t just trains, it is also buses, trails and pedestrian friendly streets within the city. How does the SWLRT alignment impact those existing systems?

Buses are the primary mode of public transit used within Minneapolis. However, transit planners consider light rail to be the “gold standard” of transit infrastructure. While buses are the primary mode of transit, rail is the “privileged” mode. It is “privileged” for a few reasons. First, federal and multi-county funding is dedicated for building, not operating transit, so maintaining buses is not prioritized in large funding streams. Second, it is just easier to cut bus routes than fixed rail lines. When the “privileged” mode serves the most “privileged” riders, while avoiding urban density and need, a dual and unequal system is created based on geography.

As stated before, it is a “zero sum game”; money needs to be taken from one to fund another. Regions around the country that have implemented commuter rail while avoiding urban density and need have learned this, and the result has been unequal transit systems, some communities relying heavily on strained bus systems and other communities served by cars and rail.

Here’s how it works. When already limited operating funds for transit are stretched or reduced during normal budget fluctuations, it is typically bus service that is cut to save money, not rail service. And when bus routes are dedicated to serve the rail lines, like the recent feeder line buses proposed to get North Minneapolis residents to an LRT station, other buses are diverted away from local routes.

Historically, trickle-down transit leaves cities with reduced quality, less reliable bus service, fewer routes, reduced frequency, and often fare increases. The poor and urban residents pay considerably for the privileged service of commuter rail. Especially when, by design, the rail avoids them.

The facts speak for themselves

The Met Council talks about equity, but the facts speak for themselves.

  • Southwest LRT is designed for “choice” suburban riders.
  • It avoids dense urban neighborhoods.
  • SWLRT requires additional transit use for underserved communities to access the rail.
  • Stations in urban neighborhoods have the least-projected ridership, by far.
  • Approximately $20 million has been allocated for upgrades to Eden Prairie’s South West Transit commuter bus service, due to direct competition from SWLRT.
  • Current bus routes and shelters are substandard in less affluent urban communities.
  • Bus service may be diminished to accommodate rail. (Zero-sum game)
  • By its very design, SWLRT avoids and ignores underserved communities.

Maintain municipal control

Mayor Hodges and the City Council prioritized equity during their elections.  The Met Council is now attempting to persuade Minneapolis residents and officials to support this design in the name of equity and regionalism. Minneapolis is being asked to “vote yes” to Municipal Consent, with blatant inflation of the minor benefits to underserved Minneapolis communities. Trickle-down transit is not only inadequate. It shifts the very resources from those who most need them, and actually increases regional economic and racial disparities.  

If Minneapolis’ equity priorities for transit are ignored now, they will likely be ignored later too. SWLRT, designed years ago under different priorities, needs to be redesigned. Mayor Hodges and the City Council must deny municipal consent to this SWLRT design. They must ensure Minneapolis’ equity priorities for transit are truly realized within the design of regional plans. 

Maintain municipal control over how the city will grow into the future; reboot the Southwest Light Rail design. 

Patty Schmitz and Julie Sabo are members of LRT Done Right, a grassroots community group. Sabo is also a former senator in the Minnesota Legislature, where she served on the Transportation Committee. 


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

Comments (53)

  1. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 05/22/2014 - 08:43 am.

    excellent article

    I agree with everything said here about this boondoggle. I bet that even the 1000 round trips a day from North Mpls will turn out to be exaggerated.

    In this era of new stadiums and super bowl bids whose cost is hidden I’m sure the poor will ultimately be sacrificed again. I predict the dems who are running Mpls gov will ultimately agree to this line once a few union jobs or something are thrown their way. They haven’t approved this line not because it doesn’t serve the urban poor but because it inconveniences some rich people that live near Cedar Lake. Better to spend another 100 million for a deeper tunnel to keep those people happy than serve the urban poor and middle class with a route that makes sense.

  2. Submitted by Ralf Wyman on 05/22/2014 - 08:47 am.

    Is a multi-year delay equitable?

    Unfortunately, at this point in our flawed transportation funding system, any significant realignment like the one called for by Schmitz and Sabo would delay implementation of any new LRT line by years. Other transit systems are standing in the queue just waiting for federal funds and they will move ahead of us yet again.

    There needs to be serious work by the City and the Met Council to ensure that SWLRT has top-notch connections to bus service connecting North Minneapolis at Van White and Penn stations, and those lines over North indeed need to have quality bus shelters and the same good level of service as “choice” riders elsewhere. Schmitz and Sabo are right to point out that serious inequity!

    I do think that there is a real opportunity to connect North Minneapolis to the employment options in the SW metro via this line. But the connecting nodes need to be committed to, and – even more importantly – employers, employment service organizations and trainers as well as city and suburban leaders need to commit to hiring folks from North Minneapolis (as well as Phillips and other South Minneapolis neighborhoods) so that the Met Council’s 1,000 rider projections can be proved woefully wrong.

    Equity is far more than transit – its the jobs and opportunities that a billion dollar investment can make – if we hold everyone accountable.

  3. Submitted by Matt Schroeder on 05/22/2014 - 09:00 am.

    Communities of color want SWLRT

    At that same “recent neighborhood meeting in North Minneapolis,” people of color affirmed their desire to have SWLRT built according to the current alignment AND to have better connections to it. I would defer to them on questions of equity.

    And what about South Minneapolis? They can continue using the transit service they already enjoy–many more routes, to more places, than residents of the Harrison neighborhood have–and look forward to the Midtown Corridor improvements coming.

    As so many others have noted, this is not a choice between SWLRT and some abstract notion of “better SWLRT,” or between SWLRT and more funding for other improvements. This is a choice between SWLRT and nothing. Let’s build it already.

  4. Submitted by Michele Olson on 05/22/2014 - 09:07 am.

    Not just for the commuters traveling IN

    I’m not a huge believer in trickle-down theories, myself. Greed is a constant in human nature, and the more people have, the more they seem comfortable with keeping to themselves.

    But I want to remind people that a light rail service travels both ways. It is true, the “haves” of the southwest suburbs will benefit from this line, as will the hotels and restaurants that cater to the tourist trade.

    But those hotels and restaurants and stores employ people who cannot afford to live in Eden Prairie and points west. And yes, I agree that it’s shameful a community does not provide adequate housing for all the people who help to build its economy (and tax base), but that’s a discussion for another time.

    I’ve ridden the bus line out to Eden Prairie. It’s long and it’s painful. And when there’s kids to be picked up and groceries to buy and parents to worry about, it would make any sane person question whether it’s worth it to work at all.

    Yes, the line will benefit those who have. But it will also lighten the load of those who have a lot less.

  5. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 05/22/2014 - 09:25 am.

    More proof

    that fixed-rail transit is social engineering not unlike the I-94 corridor that split the black neighborhoods in Saint Paul in the 60s.

    That destroyed the thriving black middleclass neighborhoods that I grew up in. This is worse because it actually claimed to be an aid to minority economic progress. At least the freeway architects were honest enough to avoid such claims.

  6. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 05/22/2014 - 09:53 am.

    If I were planning this route, I would

    terminate the line in Hopkins and cut out Eden Prairie completely, using the cost savings to extend the line farther into the North Side, run it at least close to downtown, and then out to the suburbs.

    After all, do people move to Eden Prairie thinking, “Oh yeah, I definitely want to ride transit everywhere”? The residents tend to be typical suburbanites with at least one, usually two or three, cars per household. This is not a desirable pattern in environmental terms, but few Eden Prairie residents will be stranded without train service.

    In contrast, the North Side has large numbers of transit-dependent people as well as dense development patterns.

    Actually, if I were designing a light rail system for the Twin Cities based on the existing lines, I would first extend the Hiawatha Line northward, perhaps into Brooklyn Center and beyond, providing rapid service to jobs downtown, at the airport, and the Mall of America for the people there. That would be a true social equity line.

    Then I would extend the Central Corridor line south and west down Nicollet (moving bus traffic to Hennepin and Marquette, which would also make Nicollet Mall more pleasant) to the Greenway and then westward through the already densely developed areas of Excelsior-Grand, downtown Hopkins, and downtown Excelsior. At a later stage, I would extend the Central Corridor east through Woodbury to Stillwater, making sure that the route passed through major destinations.

    The final stage (which I might not live to see) would be a loop line running through the first ring of suburbs and connecting the north-south and east-west spokes.

    I’m still scratching my head over the decision to make the Northstar Line the second component of the Twin Cities raill transit system, since it, too, runs through areas that are not heavy transit users and has a very limited schedule.

  7. Submitted by Judy Meath on 05/22/2014 - 10:16 am.

    Good piece gets to heart of trouble with SWLRT

    Yes it IS important to get this right. It is NOT better to “build something, anything” rather than delay. Look at the Northstar line — in December the Strib printed “Northstar’s government subsidies remain among the highest in the nation, paying for roughly 83 percent of the commuter line’s cost,” cost which in December was $19.81 per passenger.

    Since this SW LRT line bypasses all the densely populated Minneapolis neighborhoods, it will see a similar fate. 220 trains a day, mostly empty. We are going to regret building this particular alignment — if it gets funded.

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/22/2014 - 10:17 am.

    This is the second time we’ve seen this article

    This is basically an expanded version of the previous article with on additional author, in the exact same space i.e. “Community Voices”. There’s no new material here, and the argument is no more valid than it was the first time.

    It’s disingenuous to claim that the Met Council refers to the SWLR as an “equity train”, I can find no record of the council ever referring to the line or describing it as an “equity train”. Rather, critics like Sabo have assigned that appellation as-if the met council had so labeled it. Maybe someone dropped the phrase somewhere but the Met Council refers to the SWLR as: “The Green Line”, not the “Equity Train”.

    “Equity Train” is simply a rhetorical device Ms. Sabo has deployed in order to pretend that she’s more interested in “equity” than members of the Met Council.

    While equity issues have been raised and heavily discussed, what the Met Council has said, and what the SWLR actually is, is a PART of a LARGER transit plan that seeks to deliver better transit equity to the entire city. The “Blue Line” or Bottineau extension will actually run through North Minneapolis proper. New and and enhanced bus routes and possible street car lines are also in the works. Anyone who expects SWLR ALONE would deliver transit equity to North Minneapolis clearly doesn’t doesn’t understand the project.

    The history of the project design is simply fabricated here. The current route was chosen for a variety of economic factors and I remind everyone that Minneapolis didn’t have huge problem with the route at the time. Anyone who’s really interested in the route selection process can easily find that information, and if you do, you’ll find it bears little resemblance to Ms. Sabo’s version. I’m not going to repeat it here in detail but basically the Kenilworth corridor was the least expensive, least disruptive, and most easily acquired route. All of these considerations were tantamount due to competition for federal transit dollars.

    Sure, the system may not have produced the best possible results, but I don’t see critics producing better results or any results at all for that matter. So far all critics have done is add tens of millions of dollars and millions of dollars of delays to the project. Ms. Sabo if offering to extend that favor even more under the guise of “equity”.

    Anyways, how would a line through the more densely populated area of Uptown, via a subway tunnel of some kind better serve the fine people of North Minneapolis? THAT route would actually eliminate the TWO stops that are planned to serve the Near North Side. The Nicolette Street Car will provide that Downtown to Uptown connection in the future.

    Meanwhile, please explain how moving the freight line to St. Louis Park, or spending Millions of additional dollars on Kenilworth tunnels will deliver more “equity” to North Minneapolis?

    • Submitted by Bob Quarrels on 05/22/2014 - 01:29 pm.

      We keep seeing your same rebuttal

      Minneapolis went along with the route as long as the freight rail would be moved. That was the condition. The city would go along with the cheaper but much less beneficial route as long as it didn’t ruin a unique green space in the city. Now that St. Louis Park, the railroad and the Met Council have decided they can not or will not meet that condition, your point is moot.

      No, running the Green Line down the Greenway and Nicollet would not help North Minneapolis. It would, however, help someone, seeing as how people actually live near this route, a fact ignored by the since-amended Pawlenty and Bush guidelines.

      It would also run through areas with room and cause for redevelopment, as opposed to forest space between two lakes, or a bluff, or a gravel yard walking distance from downtown which would be developed anyway. That development could make the added investment worthwhile. To you apparently only suburban development matters.

      It’s your side that touts what a boon this will be to the North Side, even though the line doesn’t run there. Surely you’ve seen the projections that show the Van White and Royalston stops have the lowest ridership on the line, and you ignore the Bottineau Line, which is actually meant to serve the North Side.

      Project delays aren’t just the fault of critics but chiefly the Met Council, unrelentingly pushing a project that was not only compromised from the beginning but unbuildable. If it’s this SWLRT route or nothing, a route that provides little and wrecks a lot, then nothing is what makes sense for Minneapolis. If it’s too parochial to be concerned about the most populous end of the line rather than the wealthiest, so be it.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/22/2014 - 03:26 pm.


        These champions of equity didn’t emerge until they saw that the the freight line was going to stay in place AND the LRT wasn’t going to be completely invisible (they see it for 22 seconds) under a deep tunnel. Up until that point it was “equity shmequity”.

      • Submitted by Joe Musich on 05/22/2014 - 11:10 pm.

        go greenway and …

        why does the line need to be continuos ? Could not a portion of the northdide line be built now ? All tnis disareement and frothing only suggests that the entire system needs to be throughly thought through. Let us all avoid a highway 62 snake in the light rails future and thtoughly consider before a track is laid.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/23/2014 - 10:31 am.

        You’re forgetting

        Bob: “Minneapolis went along with the route as long as the freight rail would be moved. That was the condition.”

        You guys always conveniently forget the other part of that deal: 222 LR trains a day AT GRADE. No tunnels of any kind were a part of that deal. Do you really think Kenwood was going to trade two freight trains a day for 222 LR trains?

    • Submitted by Jeff Klein on 05/23/2014 - 08:31 am.

      It won’t run through North Minneapolis

      “Bottineau extension will actually run through North Minneapolis proper”

      Not at all. It has the same through-the-woods, to-the-suburbs as fast as possible routing of this one.

      You’re right, there is history at play here. The line was designed when we thought the most important thing about a light rail line was convincing people to ride it in from Eden Prarie. But we’ll keep building them extra freeway lanes indefinitely so nobody will ever be motivated to ride it anyway. We’ve learned since then that it’s more desirable to build a line that creates and connects walkable neighborhoods, not one that terminates in park-and-rides in concrete wastelands.

  9. Submitted by Sara Bergen on 05/22/2014 - 10:53 am.

    Full Disclosure?

    I would like the authors to disclose their relationship in terms of homeownership or other business interest as it relates to SWLRT. The article does not mention any how SWLRT will affect any private interest they may have. I suspect their actual opposition has more to do with actual or perceived effects to their personal property. Full disclosure: I live about a half mile from the beltline station and am excited for the line to be built. I do agree with what the author says about the 21st street station. The northern tunnel should be abandoned and the 21st street station added back into the mix.

    So, Patty, Julie, where do you live?

    Minnpost—reprinting essentially the same article from the same author(s) is not in keeping with your typically high-quality journalism.

  10. Submitted by David Markle on 05/22/2014 - 11:09 am.

    Dense areas and modes of transit service

    Schmitz and Sabo make some very good points. But let’s not lose sight of the basic fact that LRT–a train–through a densely populated area should be tunneled or elevated (or else go along a limited access highway,) so it can function as a train should, and not disrupt surface traffic. And that for local service, other means should be sought, including better bus service or modern streetcar lines.

  11. Submitted by Xandra Coe on 05/22/2014 - 11:35 am.

    Full disclosure?

    What I would like is full disclosure from the civic leaders who are pushing this project about whose interests are being served. Because Minneapolis is not a primary beneficiary of this alignment. Minneapolis is making all the concessions, and reaping few benefits. It’s manifestly unfair.

    That said, I live about two blocks away from the Channel, and believe that there’s a character and a quality to the Kenilworth Channel and its surrounding neighborhoods that will be destroyed by light rail going through. And that this matters, a lot, and not just to the residents who will be diredtly affected by the noise and the increase in pollution and the general unpleasantness of the construction phase.

    A city that doesn’t value its quirky and interesting and inefficient neighborhoods loses them. Minneapolis has a history of devaluing residential neighborhoods in favor of business interests, destroying beautiful and interesting old neighborhoods and buildings, to the intense regret of subsequent generations. It’s a ham-fisted approach to regional planning.

    It’s really too bad that money grubbing is the only publicly shared value that we have anymore.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/23/2014 - 10:08 am.


      You should be able to identify your elected officials, that information is not “secret”. Everyone involved with the planning of this project is a public employee, they not hidden from public scrutiny.

  12. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 05/22/2014 - 11:47 am.

    Excellent article

    If we want excellent transit, we need to ask why we’re going to spend so much money on an obviously flawed plan. Meanwhile the TAB just moved to switch CMAQ 2016 funding ($6 million worth) from Chicago Ave Arterial BRT to a parking ramp in Hopkins. Why are our planners so stuck on using transit to engineer suburban sprawl beyond Hopkins rather than serving actual urban transit riders? This isn’t the 1980s anymore.

    It also begs the question of if the suburbs, which sprawled away from transit, deserve new transit. Maybe someday. But while buses in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and inner ring suburbs are woefully inadequate and over capacity? Nope.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/22/2014 - 12:10 pm.

      Well then…

      “It also begs the question of if the suburbs, which sprawled away from transit, deserve new transit. ”

      That would beg the question why MPLS which gets 70% of it’s transit funding from the country (i.e. suburbs) deserves even more transit funding? Best not go there.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/22/2014 - 12:12 pm.

      Excuse me?

      ” Why are our planners so stuck on using transit to engineer suburban sprawl beyond Hopkins rather than serving actual urban transit riders? This isn’t the 1980s anymore.”

      The Green Line connect downtown Minneapolis to Downtown St. Paul in case you hadn’t noticed. And 90% of the Hiawatha Line moves people within MPLS.

  13. Submitted by Todd Adler on 05/22/2014 - 12:26 pm.


    I’m a little confused by the authors’ proposal. They’re grumbling that the line doesn’t go through north or south Minneapolis, but aren’t they already covered by other proposals? The Bottineau line is designed to cover north Minneapolis and south Minneapolis is slated to get streetcars. The SWLRT, on the other hand, is designed to head generally southwest and not veer north or south like a bumblebee looking for pollen. Given that there are other solutions to connect the north and south sides, why is SWLRT also being pressed into those roles?

    On the south side the authors would like the LRT to connect numerous points along the route, such as Midtown Market, Wells, and other commercial and employment nodes. But the whole purpose of light rail is to quickly get people from point A to B without a lot of stops in between. If you add numerous stops, then you slow down the entire system. If frequent stops is your goal, then that’s fine and perfectly legitimate. But that’s a role that streetcars are better designed for, not light rail.

    I get the impression that people who object to the current route are well meaning, but they haven’t really thought through the design of the entire transportation system. What people should really be fighting for is dedicated funding for mass transit rather than squabble over the alignment of a single route.

  14. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/22/2014 - 12:47 pm.

    Seriously, Minneapolitins better think about this….

    Listen, this is the first LRT line to be built that’s not almost entirely within the city limits of Minneapolis or St. Paul. And MPLS didn’t pay for ANY of these LRT lines. They’ve been funded through a combination of regional, county, state, and federal dollars.

    Now some people are asking what this line does for MPLS or worse, pretend that it’s somehow and assault on MPLS, when in fact it will move tens of thousands of workers, shoppers, and event goers in and out of the city on daily basis. But that doesn’t benefit MPLS in any way does it?

    Frankly, without the hundreds of millions of dollars MPLS gets from out state MN and surrounding suburbs it would be an economic wreck. No stadiums or Arena’s, no light rail, no new street cars or new Nicolette Mall rebuilds, and no new firefighters or police officers, even the parkways are part of a regional plan. Let’s start by pulling 70% of the funding you get for your inter-city bust system. How’s THAT for equity?

    Now thus far I don’t mind subsidizing MPLS even though I don’t live there. ( I live in St. Louis Park) I support everything but the stadiums. But Minneapolitins better think twice before they turn this into a “us vs. them” debate. The rest of us are paying for these LR lines, it’s about we time we finally get access to one.

    Senator Ron Latz already fired one shot across your bow, pay heed.

    Here’s a letter Latz sent out to his constituents:

    Dear Neighbor,

    I write to explain why I voted against the bonding bill this year even though, overall, I thought that it was a good bill and invested in a lot of valuable projects.

    While SW LRT was missing, the bonding bill included a large amount of funding for three projects in Minneapolis, including $21.5 million for Nicollet Mall. While I have no quarrel with this project on its merits, I do have a substantial quarrel with the City of Minneapolis and the way they have treated the City of St. Louis Park in the course of the SW LRT freight train routing matter. The Minneapolis City Council, and especially its new mayor, have explicitly and directly promoted the sacrifice of St. Louis Park homes, businesses and our only food shelf in order to protect a bike trail and a few homes from train noise. Rather than working as regional collaborators, they essentially tried to bully their way through this process without regard to the impact on a long list of its suburban neighbors.

    For years, I have worked to include Minneapolis projects in the state bonding bill. These include the Schubert Theater project and the Planetarium. I have loyally supported their bonding projects and other interests because I see the regional benefit to a vibrant downtown. St. Louis Park and other suburbs are often short-changed when they request bonding money.

    Now, when it is Minneapolis’s time to step up to the plate, think regionally on SW LRT, and accept a bit of what they claim is an actual burden for the good of the region, they have so far failed. So my vote was a message to Minneapolis that there are consequences to their actions. They receive funding from the state in large part because of the support of their suburban neighbor legislators and we ask for very little in return. Because of Minneapolis’s lack of regional perspective and willingness to force St. Louis Park to bear far more than their own burden, I could not in good conscience support their bonding projects this year.



    Ron Latz
    State Senator
    Golden Valley, Hopkins, Medicine Lake, Plymouth, St. Louis Park

  15. Submitted by Sara Nelson on 05/22/2014 - 01:03 pm.

    Regional transit planning

    Assuming that a poor transit plan is better than nothing is unfortunately wrong as well as dangerous. This assumption is how Minneapolis got into this bad plan that poorly serves the city and is yet another example of massive funding and outflows of money to the suburbs that will be permanently embedded if SWLRT is not rebooted.

    As the authors indicate, it has been the strategy of the Met Council (and their supporter, the Strib, in its “reporting” on the issue), to focus on “the wealthy” within the city limits, avoid major unresolved problems with the route, and maintain silence on the much larger “wealthy” group, the southwest exurbs of Eden Prairie and Minnetonka, and the large and profitable corporations located there. The median household income of Eden Prairie is $116,000 and $110,000 for Minnetonka, according to Money Magazine -these exurbs have been featured more than once, even mentioning SWLRT as another coming community amenity making them “Best Places to Live.”

    The authors have not fabricated the history of the project design. They remind us that SWLRT was planned using Republican era guidelines whose calculus prioritized shorter commute times for suburban and exurban riders over urban transit needs, yielding a commuter line created for the suburbs. Nor is the phrase ‘equity train’ a rhetorical device created by the authors, but unfortunately and inaccurately a line used repeatedly by Met Council members at community meetings. It is used by the Met Council to persuade Minneapolitans who care about equity to go along with another suburban support project. The ‘equity’ ad ons now proposed should have been in place long ago, and should not be linked and used to leverage a project that is a typical drain of local, regional, state, and federal funds to the wealthiest exurban communities.

    As detailed in Conrad deFiebre’s April 10 article in MN2020 on the actual impacts of commuter transit planning, the Met Council has supported sprawl, with negative impacts on cities and hidden subsidies for suburbs. This is not surprising. The agenda for the Met Council has been dominated by suburban appointees, and the overall direction of the Met Council has been strongly influenced by Republican leadership over the past 20 years. So ‘regional plans’ have baked into them the same suburban bias, which supports sprawl, and neglects and exploits the cities. This is another reason why a poor and inequitable transit plan is the opposite of better than nothing.

    Several well regarded books in the past few years have detailed the drain of public funds to suburban communities – The Shape of the Future by E..M. Risse and Perverse Cities: Hidden Subsidies, Wonky Policy and Urban Sprawl – P. Blais. Transit funding of commuter lines is an ongoing subsidy of exurbs and suburbs across the country, reflecting Republican era priorities.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/22/2014 - 03:45 pm.

      Transportation has to serve the population

      Sprawl is a done deal, people live in Eden Prairie. People have lived in the suburbs for decades, your not going to change that by denying them transit. If you look at the SW route you’ll see that it goes through heavily populated areas. Building transit for people where people live isn’t poor planning. And building transit that get less affluent city dwellers out to suburban jobs isn’t a project for the wealthy. You want regional planning but you apparently assume the “region” is the city of Minneapolis.

      “Region” means region, that means Eden Prairie. Defining transit plans that actually move people in the region around as “bad” planning because they operate beyond the city limit of Minneapolis is simply incoherent. The history of spawl isn’t the issue here. Time to move on.

      • Submitted by Sara Nelson on 05/22/2014 - 09:13 pm.

        Transit development

        Sprawl is an ongoing process. That is the reason why the Sierra Club is so concerned about it. SWLRT will facilitate exurban living in Eden Prairie and Minnetonka. With Park & Rides, SWLRT will facilitate development of even further distance living, which then requires additional massive funding both for transportation and infrastructure to support it. This very pattern has occurred in other parts of the country.

        The authors also point out that the numbers projected to be using the LRT from North Minneapolis are very small in terms of bringing less affluent city dwellers to suburban jobs – 1000 round trip individual riders by 2030. Urban economic needs would be much better served with a route that brought many more urban residents to urban jobs in the city, which actually has a higher proportion of high paying jobs than elsewhere, hence the commuting from the suburbs to Minneapolis.

        Absolutely no one is suggesting “denying” transit to Eden Prairie, which, of course, is already well served by an express bus service enhanced with wifi that is very popular and that commuters there understandably wish to keep. Again, the point is not to “deny” LRT to Eden Prairie, but to plan LRT in such a way in the city as to not exacerbate regional wealth disparities between exurb and city. With Bush era guidelines providing the priorities for SWLRT, this route continues the trickle down vision of America, which has resulted in great and widening disparities between cities and suburb/exurbs.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/23/2014 - 08:39 am.

          Transit development and regional planning


          “That is the reason why the Sierra Club is so concerned about it. SWLRT will facilitate exurban living in Eden Prairie and Minnetonka. ”

          The difference between light rail and roads is that LR doesn’t promote sprawl, it promotes development along the transit corridor. LR suppresses sprawl, it doesn’t encourage it. Eden Prairie already exists, and a lot of people live there.

          The Sierra club is not responsible (nor should they be) for transit planning in our metro area.

          “The authors also point out that the numbers projected to be using the LRT from North Minneapolis are very small in terms of bringing less affluent city dwellers to suburban jobs -”

          Projection are just that, projection, we have won’t see the actual ridership profile until the line is up and running. Thus far our LR lines have exceeded projections.

          I know you guys want desperately for us to focus on the particular tree of your choosing while ignoring the forest but nevertheless, this is a REGIONAL system that will move thousands of people a day. THAT’s exacly what it’s supposed to do. The line is not a ”bad” idea, or poorly planned simply because it may not move as many of the kind of people you now claim it should focus on moving. If the line moves 30,000 people a day, it’s not “bad” planning, it’s a success, whether those people are low income workers from North MPLS or not.

          “Absolutely no one is suggesting “denying” transit to Eden Prairie, which, of course, is already well served by an express bus service …”

          Sorry but clearly that’s EXACTLY what your suggesting, look at what you’ve written here. Workers in Eden Prairie don’t need LR because they should be happy with their buses. Again, you seem to the assuming that “regional” planning should stop at the borders of Minneapolis and St. Paul and all regional funding should spent within city limits. I remind you, this isn’t “urban” planning, it’s regional planning.

          You have several problems. First, we suburban sprawlers are paying for these LR lines and deserve access to them regardless of your sprawl theories. Second, whether you like it or not you live in a region, not just a city. YOUR city derives much of it’s funding and economic vitality from that surrounding region. Listen, the population of Downtown MPLS DOUBLES every week day because of commuters. Regional transit planning and projects are not a “bad” idea.

        • Submitted by Matt Haas on 05/24/2014 - 11:46 am.


          Minnetonka is literally five minutes from the border of Minneapolis. I can get from my home in Circle Pines to the downtown of either Twin City in under 15. As a former small town, rural resident I really do find the regional parochialism of this place humorous at times. You act as if there is some grand difference between city and suburb when in reality, with the exception of true exurbs like Monticello, Hastings, Stillwater and the like, its all one large, contiguous, urban mass. It would make things so much simpler if folks would treat it as such.

          • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/25/2014 - 12:17 pm.


            I’ve noted for years that folks who live out a ways and drive in always compress their perceived travel times. No matter how far out they are it takes “fifteen to twenty” minutes to get anywhere. I live in St. Louis Park which is right on the border of MPLS and at 9:00am it takes me 9 minutes at best to get into downtown MPLS, double that or more during rush hour. It takes my wife who works downtown St. Paul 45 minutes on average to get there. There’s no way Matt is getting into either downtown from Circle Pines in 15 minutes unless he’s traveling at 11:00pm. .

            • Submitted by Matt Haas on 05/25/2014 - 09:31 pm.

              I’ll make sure to time it for you

              I also drive all day, every day for my employment. What I find funny is that lifetime residents of this metropolitan area find it so difficult to traverse, and spend so much time sitting in traffic, when easy short cuts and a trifle of planning could avoid so much frustration. I suspect you think CP is half ways to Canada, like so many do, when in reality its a mere 10 or so miles out of Downtown. Were I to sit in on 35w for the hour and a half or so a day when its gridlock you’d be correct that it takes a while, but on another route, or for the the other 22 and a half hours you’d be wrong. What I can tell you, is that the most miserable driving experience in this entire area is attempting to traverse Uptown anywhere from 2pm to 7. I’d rather pull teeth than do that every day. The point I was trying to make was actually an agreement with yours. Focusing transit in Minneapolis alone is foolish, if for no other reason than there are a lot more people outside of the city limits than in, and no amount of want to, or rosy demographic outlooks, is going to change that fact any time within our lifetimes. Better to plan for the world as it is, while continuing to work towards the world as we might like it to be.

            • Submitted by Matt Haas on 05/25/2014 - 09:36 pm.


              My personal record (at least for the improbable) was 15 min, from my front door to a friends off 66th in Richfield. Was at about 7pm on a Friday night for a card game. (They were waiting on me to begin so I had a running commentary on how long I was taking the whole way). We’ll leave how fast I might have been going as a matter for another time.

  16. Submitted by Georgianna Ludcke on 05/22/2014 - 01:14 pm.

    Equity Train

    Having been to the majority of Met Council and Corridor Management Meetings over the last year and a half I can assure you that the Met Council HAS used the term “equity train” to describe SWLRT. (Just one example: 2/10/14 Met Council Town Meeting, Dunwoody Institute, Jennifer Munt of the Met Council speaking) Perhaps the reason you have not heard them use it recently is that it has been found out to be anything but an equity train. The term was used in the same way many of the Met Council’s references to this LRT line have been, which is to say to obfuscate. Why else would it have been so hard to get from them the anticipated numbers of riders at the so-called North Side stations (Van White, Penn, Royalston) than that they are in fact the lowest of the line and insignificant compared to the suburbs.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/22/2014 - 03:18 pm.


      The reason I’ve not heard it used is because despite the occasional phraseology is that “equity” is not and has never been the primary function of the SWLRT. The function of SWLRT, and any Met Council person will tell you this, is to be a light rail connection between Eden Prairie and Downtown MPLS. While transportation equity is one of many concerns, it was never the primary justification for the project. I’m not sure why I have to point this out, but the “S” and the “W” in SWLRT stands for “South West”, not “Northside”. The map of the route has been available for years, it’s impossible to “obfuscate” it’s function, you can see where it goes and who it serves. The only people obfuscating the Green Line’s function are the people who are now pretending it’s part of an equity project rather than a regional transportation plan.

  17. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 05/22/2014 - 01:41 pm.

    Not so many permanent jobs for such a massive investment

    I was astonished to see how few permanent, ongoing operations and maintenance jobs the SWLRT will require after its completion, as currently planned.

    “Delivery of Southwest LRT will create an estimated 150 design, engineering and management jobs, 3,500 construction jobs and 175 permanent operations and maintenance jobs.”

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/23/2014 - 10:03 am.

      You’d be even more astonished

      To see how few jobs the Vikings stadium will create- ten or less.

      • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 05/23/2014 - 11:06 am.

        Our leadership seems enthralled with short-term job growth…

        …based upon their inclination to fund projects like Racketeer Stadium and the SWLRT, in spite of the modesty of long-term benefit through permanent jobs.

        The champions of these projects, who can afford to buy political influence, are either companies profiting directly from development or their fellow travelers, whose interests are in short-term gain for the few.

        The public’s interest is in long-term gain, particularly of employment, with the benefit spread broadly across all sectors of the public.

        The public does not really have the ear of the decision-makers in many of these matters.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/23/2014 - 11:59 am.

          Transit infrastructure promotes long term gain

          Infrastructure isn’t just about the direct jobs it creates, (although this project is creating 150 times as many jobs as the Vikings Stadium) it’s about the service it provides to the community and it’s citizens. Good infrastructure promotes general prosperity. Unlike stadiums, transit projects provide affordable service and income (via access to jobs) for large numbers of citizens.

  18. Submitted by Richard Adair on 05/22/2014 - 06:57 pm.

    Who funds “LRT Done Right?”

    Back to the question, who do Sabo and Schmitz represent? Are they lobbyists? If so, this should be disclosed as well as who contributes to the group they represent.

    I’ve been to transit meetings on the north side and people do perceive inequity regarding transit service. Not building SWLRT and not having feeder lines along Penn and Van White will cause some pretty serious unhappiness along racial and economic lines.

    Let’s not forget that people in many parts of South Minneapolis can get to the green line by taking buses north to the downtown stations. And that putting the SWLRT on Nicollet was carefullly studied and rejected as costly and impractical during the public planning process (see for details).

  19. Submitted by Bill Dooley on 05/22/2014 - 08:50 pm.

    Good Project, Wrong Route

    I favor SWLRT but the Minneapolis portion should go down Olson Memorial Highway and not the Kenilworth Corridor. Better service for North Minneapolis and no tunneling in City of Lakes green space. I do not believe the assertion that any change in the route would mean years of delay. That’s just Met Council engineerspeak. I also object to the removal of Eden Prairie Center as the southern terminus. If one of the purposes of SWLRT is to get North Minneapolis residents to suburban jobs, they should be able to take a train all the way to Eden Prairie Center.

    • Submitted by Todd Adler on 05/23/2014 - 04:58 pm.


      I think there’s a different route that’s planned to go down hwy 55, (Olson Memorial Highway). It’s called the Bottineau Line if I recall correctly.

      • Submitted by Doug Trumm on 05/25/2014 - 01:21 pm.

        The Olsen Memorial Routing Advantage

        I think Bill’s point is that you might be able to piggyback Bottineau and Southwest through the same tracks on Olsen Memorial Highway and have a head start and save money when constructing Bottineau. I think that could make a lot of sense and maximize our investment. I’d favor switching the Bottineau alignment to one that runs done Penn Ave N to Broadway so that it actually gets at the heart of North Minneapolis. If you actually take a close look at the planned alignment of Bottineau it avoids North Minneapolis. The Penn and Van White stations are in Near North but the Plymouth and Golden Valley Rd Stations are in Golden Valley. Check out the map:

  20. Submitted by Wilbur Simes on 05/22/2014 - 10:09 pm.

    Liberal NIMBY

    This article (or repeat of an article) exploits the supposed best interests of the poor as the reason to keep a train out of a nice neighborhood. Because that’s what this fight is about: Not In My BackYard.

    Governor Dayton doesn’t share the authors’ dubious concerns. Dayton is a real liberal, not a NIMBY liberal. As noted in other comments, this particular line is part of a SYSTEM of rail transit. It’s a huge boon to the poor. But only if the system actually gets built. The right couldn’t scuttle the Hiawatha LRT, but the left might do the job for them in Kenwood.

    When Scott Walker was elected WI’s governor one of his first acts was to reject federal funding for high-speed rail. That’s in essence what is going on here, liberals siding with Scott Walker and the Koch Brothers, sabotaging rail. Except Walker is more transparent about his motives and doesn’t use the poor as props.

  21. Submitted by Jake Thunderson on 05/23/2014 - 08:04 am.

    Suburb Job Access

    I think it’s a great alignment.

    I’ve got an immigrant friend who lives in an apartment in Cedar and has to take several buses to her office-cleaning job in Eden Prairie. When this thing gets built, she’ll be able to take light rail straight there. That’ll make it a lot easier for her to bring her kids for childcare and education. Since transit usually encourages development, eventually, she might be able to move out there, closer work.

  22. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/23/2014 - 09:14 am.

    Joe Musich’s question

    “why does the line need to be continuos ? Could not a portion of the northdide line be built now ?”

    It’s important to keep in mind that by and large there is actually tremendous consensus that this is a good alignment and will serve the region well. Every city along the route except MPLS has signed off on it, and the county and council votes to build it have been nearly unanimous with the exception of a single vote from MPLS.

    It’s also important to remember that MPLS signed off on this alignment and didn’t have a problem with it until recently.

    This isn’t actually a “big” argument, it’s a small number of affluent and influential residents making a lot of noise.

    If you go back and look at the history of the Kenilworth alignment you’ll see that the resident who are now so upset about “equity” and service originally signed off on it. Just a few months ago they were complaining that the “deal” they thought they made had fallen apart. What was the “deal?” The deal was a trade, move the freight rail out of Kenilworth in order to put the LR there AT GRADE.

    Clearly the Kenwood residents never intended to see that original deal built. They don’t want to see the light for 22 seconds let alone trade 2 freight trains a day for 222 LR trains. Obviously they assumed that they’d be able to dictate the physical nature of the transit corridor, in particular they assumed they could render the entire LR invisible by putting it in a deep tunnel. Of course they had no intention of paying for that.

    Basically the Kenwood residents seem to have thought they could convert the transit corridor into a park with no visible rail of any kind on the surface.

    For a variety of very good reasons the Kenwood vision is not viable. This isn’t about sprawl, or equity, or Republican transit priorities, it’s about politically connected and affluent residents ability or inability to dictate the physical nature of the Kenilworth segment. We’ll see what happens.

    Bear in mind, this is NOT parkland, it is and has been for over a 100 years a transit/rail corridor and it used to have 3 times as many active tracks running through it. Furthermore, MPLS does NOT own this land, it’s owned by Henn. Co.

  23. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/23/2014 - 09:46 am.

    Joe Musich’s question part II

    “why does the line need to be continuos ? Could not a portion of the northdide line be built now ?”

    Joe, it’s important to remember the SWLTR is a “segment” of the Green Line. The Green Line doesn’t just connect Eden Prairie to MPLS, it also connects to downtown St. Paul. THAT’s what makes the continuous line important, it’s service BOTH cities in BOTH directions. That’s a good plan, and a good route.

    And remember, this isn’t just and urban transit system for the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, it a Metro-wide transit system, and it’s being paid for by Metro-citizens, not anti-sprawl urbanists.

    We’re not building transit on and through virgin land, these lines are all going through developed real estate. You can’t just drawn lines on the map and build this stuff wherever you think it should go. Planners, engineers, and elected officials have spent over a decade negotiating these routes. This isn’t bad planning just because not everyone likes it. Building a route where you have to isn’t necessarily bad planning, it might just be reality. And we have a fluid system here, even if the routes themselves aren’t perfect in everyone’s eyes, you make them workable.

  24. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/27/2014 - 08:34 am.

    Doug, maps, and alternate routes

    Doug may be be technically correct if he’s looking at neighborhood map of some kind regarding HWY’s 55 location in “near” North as opposed to “North” MPLS. However, historically once you got North of Glennwood Ave. you’d be in North MPLS. All the housing projects for instance that used stand between Glennwood and along 55 were always considered to be North MPLS regardless of any map. The existence and or significance of these actual mapped out neighborhoods is kind of new. I never heard of “Near North” until recently. The area between 394 and Glennwood was all commercial, it wasn’t a “neighborhood” at all. The residential area along Penn is Bryn Mawr. Glennwood and the river or 94 were the boundaries between North and the rest of MPLS.

    Regardless, the Hwy 55 tract serves the area, this is a regional light rail line, not a street car. Again, you can’t just draw lines on a map and run these lines wherever YOU think they should go.

    So you think both lines should run down Hwy 55 and then fork off out west somewhere? OK, where?

    Look, here’s how we got the Kenilworth corridor:

    1) Henn. Co. already owned the land.
    2) No properties have to be acquired or demolished.
    3) It’s already and has been a rail corridor meaning that grade issues were not a factor.
    4) Construction of the line there is less expensive than a subway or a line that would run at grade down Nicollette Ave or something. Even with the tunnels, but the tunnels were not part of the original plan. Remember, the original plan called for moving the freight traffic in order to make room for the LR AT GRADE.

    So you think you know a cheaper and better route? Here’s what you need to do:

    1) Draw your line on the map and find out how much it will cost to acquire the lind, by out, and demolish any buildings along your route or mitigate the effects of LR traffic.
    2) Figure out how much it will actually cost to build the tracks through along your line.
    3) Get everyone along your line to agree to the construction.
    4) Explain why your route is better than the ones that have already done the work you’re now beginning to do?

  25. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/27/2014 - 09:00 am.

    Matt’s amazing Circle Pines location and Sprawl

    Apparently Circle Pines is only 15 minutes from any location in the Twin Cities! Amazing.

    Matt’s actually driving time is his business, I just don’t buy what he’s selling regarding his claimed travel times, but that just me. I drive around the cities all the time as part of my work as well. Whatever.

    We are talking about sprawl and I’m old enough (50+) to have lived as an adult through our biggest sprawl era in the Twin Cites. I’m just commenting on the fact that at the time, as we sprawled out beyond the first ring suburbs, across the river to the south, beyond the 494 loop to the west, 694 to the North and East, people moving out there invariably claimed along with all the additional space they were buying they were getting great commute times… they claimed it only took 20 minutes to get into the downtown’s. Now they, with few exceptions such as Matt, are clamoring for LR because of the god awful commute. Truth is it was never really a 20 minute drive, especially in rush hour traffic, and it just got worse as the years went by. I’m just saying, when folks like me asked people at the time why they were moving so far out, invariably they claim they had shorter commutes than they actually had… they were always “Just 20 minutes away.” Although I will admit, it just may be that you can get into downtown St. Paul faster from Wisconsin than I can from St. Louis Park.

    I’m just saying this time distortion was an interesting feature of sprawl at the time, and it didn’t go unnoticed. Looking back I think it obvious that these distorted commute perceptions contributed to sprawl.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 05/27/2014 - 01:00 pm.

      Its irrelevant anyway

      I don’t commute to Mpls anyway, I go to another suburb. That however IS relevant as it seems that so much of the planning involved with these projects presupposes the model of “live in the burbs, commute to the city for work” which while still important, should be far from the only consideration when discussing transit planning for the region as a whole. I have no real reason to go into the city outside of an occasional visit for work, but would be happy to use transit of any kind that could get me around to a greater variety of destinations metro-wide. There is barely bus service in the vast majority of the northeast metro currently.

  26. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/27/2014 - 09:10 am.

    Finally, about these routes:

    If you want to know why and how the planners ended up with these routes, you can ask the planners, they will explain it. That’s what I did. I went to one of the open houses and simply asked why the the SWLRT goes where it goes. You ask, they’ll tell you. They didn’t just throw darts over their backs at a map. Before you start designing your own route you should talk these people.

    When I suggested that they just kill the line somewhere in St. Louis Park or over by Lake Calhoun, kind of like Boston’s South Station the guy I was talking said: “That’s an idea, but the cool thing about this route is you can go all the way from Eden Prairie to downtown St. Paul without getting off the train.” Well, that IS cool.

  27. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/27/2014 - 02:06 pm.

    Ah, I see

    “That however IS relevant as it seems that so much of the planning involved with these projects presupposes the model of “live in the burbs, commute to the city for work” which while still important, should be far from the only consideration when discussing transit planning for the region as a whole.”

    I see your point.

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