The Riverview Corridor Modern Streetcar project is a planned modern streetcar project through the West 7th neighborhood of St. Paul to Bloomington. Ramsey County, where St. Paul is located, is leading the efforts to build the streetcar route. The proposed route will connect downtown St. Paul with the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the Mall of America in Bloomington. The project will be completed by 2032. The current plan for the Riverview Corridor is a significant step towards addressing the transit needs of current and future Bloomington, downtown and West 7th Street residents. It is a logical step in completing the rail infrastructure triangle, allowing rapid transportation between both downtowns, as well as the airport.
However, the Riverview Corridor Modern Streetcar falls short of potential racial and economic equity goals it could achieve. As I’ve read and studied the streetcar route and proposal, I’m left wondering why similar transit investments aren’t happening in other parts of St. Paul with higher concentrations of people of color, and lower-income residents. To remedy these concerns, I propose adding four East Side stops to the corridor route to address the limited equity impacts of the current project.
The new transit infrastructure will have many benefits and is an exciting step towards creating a better transit future for Minnesota. The population along the corridor route is expected to grow in the next 15 years. As the population increases, the streetcar will increase property values and spur transit oriented development. Vehicle emissions from commuting would be significantly reduced, lowering overall health care costs.
The project will increase access to jobs by making transportation throughout the corridor more efficient, and it would also improve access to community amenities by reducing transportation barriers. Adequate transportation would help people get to work faster and reduce their commute times. The project will require a significant number of workers to complete the construction. Additionally, significant capital would be injected into the local economy through funding and constructing the project.
However, the project fails to advance racial and economic equity, particularly for St. Paul residents. There are no plans to extend the route into the Eastside, which is far more diverse than the West 7th neighborhood. There are planned Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) routes for the East Side but buses don’t have the same benefits that rail infrastructure has. Ramsey County and its partners still have an opportunity to make the proposed corridor much better, especially considering how far the project is from completion.
To improve the project, I would add four streetcar stops on the East Side. Adding additional stops is more expensive initially, but over time the additional stops will serve to amplify the positive benefits of the project. East 7th is significantly more diverse than West 7th, so potential equity and wealth building benefits would expand greatly.
The first new stop could be at the intersection of Lafayette and Fort roads. Having a stop there would allow the state employees of the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Labor and Industry, and others the ability to get to work without using a car or bus. It would also set a precedent for how the state is transporting its own employees to work.
The second new stop could be at Metropolitan State University. Connecting the university to the streetcar will make it easier for students to get to the university. Metro State’s second campus located near Pierce Butler will be accessible by students connecting from the streetcar to the Green Line, instead of taking a bus. The streetcar would allow Dayton’s bluff residents, particularly the older adults in housing complexes such as the Cambric, greater range of mobility.
The third stop, at 7th and Margaret Street, could connect the commercial corridor of East 7th to the downtown. A fourth stop could be at Minnehaha and Payne avenues. There are several proposed affordable housing developments near these two stops, particularly the Hamm’s Brewery redevelopment. Connecting residents to a dedicated rail line would expand the positive impacts of the streetcar, as well as improve the access of residents of affordable housing to fast and reliable transportation.
Although the current proposed route will have significant economic and societal benefits, it could go further. If Ramsey County and its partners are serious about racial equity and the future of the transit system, they should add four East Side stops to the planned Riverview Corridor Modern Streetcar. It will have significant benefits for the region, reducing emissions, encouraging development, and building wealth. Considering the growing population, and the need to shift towards public transportation, I am excited to see the streetcar get built. Adding additional stops will only serve to amplify the already positive benefits of the streetcar.
Ben Werner is the former director of the East Side Freedom Library’s Housing Justice program, located in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is currently pursuing a master’s in urban and community planning at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York.