What are we trying to accomplish with Southwest light rail?

Courtesy of Metro Transit
From the very start we have asked not “How can we improve our transit network?” but “Where should we put our next rail line?” That makes no sense.
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The Southwest Light Rail debate puts transit advocates in a difficult spot. Do we champion any transit expansion even if its benefits are questionable and opportunity costs very high? Why support a major project that benefits a relatively small group of people while doing nothing for anyone else?

If the reason for rejecting the Nicollet Avenue alignment was the cost of tunnelling under the street, and now we learn that the current option also requires a tunnel of equal length in a corridor that must remain undeveloped, we must ask, what are we doing here? The analysis doesn’t seem to be very thorough: it considered a very narrow set of alternatives and nobody even considered elevating the bike path (way cheaper than building a tunnel).  We also have plenty of space available on every arterial street in the city — those places where people actually live, work, visit and travel through — so there’s no reason to build transit somewhere else.

This tired fixation on cost is purely arbitrary — whoever decided what the SW LRT budget should be? — and short-sighted because cheaper does not mean better.

Moreover, what are we trying to accomplish here? That’s the first question a transit planner or advocate should be asking of any proposal. I’m afraid we’re doing it all backwards. At some point in our recent history, people became obsessed with trains — not with improving the usefulness of our transportation network, but with building rail lines. From the very start we have asked not “How can we improve our transit network?” but “Where should we put our next rail line?”  That makes no sense.

Many well-intentioned transit advocates make the mistake of assuming that rail always equals better transit, as if simply having steel wheels on steel rails is somehow automatically faster and more frequent than rubber tires on asphalt.

The characteristics people value when moving from A to B are directly related to the quality of their travel options, or how it is designed and operated, not the vehicle type. Does the service run frequently and reliably, when I need it? Does it move quickly? It is safe, comfortable and easy to use? If you look around any North American city you’ll see why we associate these things with trains: only because we have arbitrarily (politically) decided to prioritize trains and not buses.

This is also not to say that rail is never a good investment. But rail is expensive and generally only necessary to upgrade the capacity of an overcrowded route previously served by buses. Trains can carry many more people with fewer vehicles, thus requiring fewer operators and lower costs (making a one-time capital investment to reduce annual operating costs). Yet building a rail line in a corridor where no busy bus route exists is a complete waste of money.

If train stations are built along the Cedar Lake & Kenilworth Trails, they will have predictably low ridership due to the low density, limited street connectivity and being out of easy walking distance from higher density uses on Hennepin and Lyndale Avenues. Nothing will change the character of the Kenwood and Isles neighborhoods enough to produce transit demand that the existing route 25 bus can’t handle.

Now is a perfect time to step back and ask ourselves why we’re building light rail in the first place. I love trains more than most people (call me a railfan if you like), but it seems to me that we got caught up in the idea of building a rail network for the sake of building a rail network.

Instead, we can make it easier to get around by thinking critically and following these basic steps:

  1. Review the current system to ensure it is running as smoothly as possible.
  2. Identify deficiencies in the transit network (general and specific routes/locations).
  3. Develop short- and long-term plans to address these deficiencies (improve service).

A good plan strikes a balance between large expensive projects and much smaller improvements spread over a large area. Los Angeles Metro is using a hybrid strategy of building new rapid transit lines at the same time as it makes incremental improvements to speed up its high-frequency Metro Rapid bus routes.

When you undertake a comprehensive service analysis you can understand the trade-offs involved in various potential projects. The opportunity cost of building Southwest Light Rail is whatever other improvements could have been made but cannot happen if all the money is spent on one megaproject. For example, the $1.5 billion dollar SW LRT budget could buy us 3,000 hybrid buses (more than we can dream of), 25,000 heated shelters (enough for three per stop), free fares for 2 years (!!), or 15 million hours of service (about 6.5 times what Metro Transit currently operates). Right now the entire annual budget for all Metro Transit service is only $310 million.

To be fair, this is not an honest question in our current situation because funding decisions are not made this way and non-rail options were never part of the studies. But if you were in charge, which plan would you choose?

Good long-range transit planning is about identifying significant mobility problems and setting priorities for improvements, so that when money becomes available you are ready to move forward.  The current plan for Southwest Light Rail does not even attempt to solve any actual mobility challenges and therefore is a solution in search of a problem.

This post was written by Jeremy Mendelson and originally published on streets.mn. Follow streets.mn on Twitter: @streetsmn.

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Comments (30)

  1. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 11/01/2013 - 11:07 am.

    Although I am a fan of rail transit, this article makes sense

    One thing that has always puzzled me about transit in the southwest corridor is that although the Excelsior-Grand, Hopkins, and Excelsior areas are in themselves walkable and full of amenities, their transit connections to the rest of the metro area are inadequate, with infrequent service on the #12 line. Ironically, the #17, which serves a more typically suburban and car-oriented area, has more frequent service.

    Upgrading the #12 to true frequent service (every 15 minutes or more often seven days a week) and extending it all the way to Excelsior would greatly improve transit access in this area and encourage residents to take the bus instead of driving.

    The same should be true of all the other “small towns that turned into suburbs” in the metro area. Connect their central business districts to Minneapolis and St. Paul with frequent bus service. This would certainly cost less than building more rail lines and would pave the way for eventual rail projects, once residents came to understand that great bus service can eliminate the need for a car or two.

    • Submitted by David Greene on 11/04/2013 - 09:34 am.

      Transit System

      We’re building a system, not individual lines. I (and Metro Transit!) agree that the bus system needs major upgrades. But what’s most efficient long-term, lots of operations-intensive bus lines spreading into the suburbs all heading to the same basic points (downtown, the U, etc.) or a few capital-intensive but highly operation-efficient rail lines that hit the major destinations fed by a system of high-frequency bus routes?

      The major expense of buses is not the capital for the vehicles but the operations to pay drivers and do maintenance.

      We cannot put high-frequency bus routes everywhere and have them go to the same places. Due to the smaller number of people carried by a single bus, operator costs are too high. It’s better to have a few very high capacity high-frequency lines with vehicles that last 50 years as opposed to 12 years and much lower operating costs. That frees up the operating budget to run more bus lines out to the last-mile endpoints where people live and work for those whose origins and destinations are not right on the rail lines.

      It’s the exact same reason we have a few very high capacity Internet backbones fed by a lot more low-cost networks like cable and telephone.

  2. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 11/01/2013 - 11:31 am.

    Transit System

    I have to ask where Jeremy Mendelson has been for the past twenty years. It’s not like people decided last week to plop down the SW LRT–this line has been in the planning stages for many years with countless meetings between planning officials, cities, and the public.

    Taking a step farther back, they have indeed been looking at the entire system and whether or not a bus or a train works better on particular routes.

    I find it odd that Mr. Mendelson is coming in at the 11th hour to say we should have a comprehensive plan when all that work has already been done. Hasn’t he paid any attention to the last ten years of numerous news reports and meetings?

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 11/02/2013 - 10:11 am.

      One thing that has frustrated me from the beginning

      is that there’s little thought to how the various parts of the system and proposed system will or should work together.

      Transit officials seem concerned mostly with getting people back and forth to work, not with making life easier for those without a car. I still drive here in the Twin Cities, because there are too many “you can’t get there from here” situations when riding the bus or light rail. The Metro Transit map looks like a pile of multi-colored spaghetti, but the strands don’t connect to one another very well.

      The questions should be: “How can we make life easier for people who can’t or don’t drive? Where do people need to go, and which important destinations are poorly served? Which neighborhoods could drastically reduce car use if they had better transit connections? Are we still acting as if Minneapolis and St. Paul are on different planets, with most major transit routes radiating out of either downtown?”

      If I were designing a transit plan for the Twin Cities from scratch, I would put frequent service (at least every 15 minutes, seven days a week) the full length of all arterial streets within the core cities and inner suburbs, with minor diversions for important destinations, such as shopping districts. Then I would put in light rail lines, one like the Central Corridor, only extended from Wayzata to Stillwater. There would be a north-south line, an extension of the Hiawatha Line, running through the North side to Robbinsdale or even Maple Grove and south through Apple Valley or even Lakeville. The third light rail line would be a ring running through the old downtowns of the inner suburbs and linking up with the other two lines at strategic points.

      But this is only one potential option. With the exception of the Central Corridor, the transit plans I’ve seen here make little sense from the point of view of someone who has lived car-free in two cities. The Northstar commuter rail? One line through an area that’s mostly hostile to transit? Southwest light rail, with stops where no one lives?

      If I could make one request of Metro Transit it would be for all the managers and planners to give up their cars for three months in the winter and learn from experience where the weak points in the system are.

      • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 11/04/2013 - 12:18 pm.


        Actually there is quite a bit of thought and planning on how to bring the whole system together. What you’re interpreting as a lack of plan is really a lack of finances. Sure, it would be great to have buses going all over the place with runs every fifteen minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But that’s simply not feasible given Metro Transit’s budget. If you have limited resources, then you have to work within those constraints and build the best system you can.

        The solution is pretty simple: elect representatives who make transit a priority. What we need is a metro-wide tax to give transit a steady funding source and build an entire system in a hurry instead of nickle and diming a line here and there every twenty years. There will be people who complain about the tax, so you have to be prepared to step up to the plate and talk louder than they do. Get your friends on board, tell your representatives it’s a priority, and it’ll happen.

        Shoot, if Dallas and Utah can make a go of it, we can too.

    • Submitted by Jeff Klein on 11/02/2013 - 01:44 pm.

      new information

      Yep, it’s all so well planned that the cost and political viability of moving the freight rail were never accounted for. Which changes the whole equation… at the “11th hour”.

      • Submitted by David Greene on 11/04/2013 - 09:28 am.

        New Rules

        Not new information, new direction from FTA. The county and Met Council did not “forget about” or “ignore” the freight rail issue. Due to past work, no one expected the cost of relocating freight to be part of the LRT budget. This is because there was in fact some kind of handshake agreement that freight would be moved to St. Louis Park. It’s even mentioned in state statute. We have a major rail project inside a major rail project that was (quite rightly) never considered to be budgeted under the LRT project.

        By all rights the cost should be charged to Mn/DOT because it created the problem in the first place when it rebuilt Hiawatha Ave.

  3. Submitted by Janne Flisrand on 11/01/2013 - 04:50 pm.

    Where have we been?

    I know I have been watching the discussion intently for the last 10 years, and I’ve been submitting comments very similar to what is in this article every chance I’ve gotten. Unfortunately, as the article also points out, the “it’s too expensive!” response trumped any rational discussion of where SWLRT should go.

    The City of Minneapolis and MANY other stakeholders were pushing for an alignment where the people are, and our consistent participation was ignored.

    • Submitted by David Greene on 11/04/2013 - 09:36 am.

      What’s “Rational?”

      Many others were pushing for the current alignment. You do not have a monopoly on rationality. There are very good reasons to run SW LRT in the Kenilworth Corridor and it’s not just cost.

  4. Submitted by John Bradford on 11/01/2013 - 05:59 pm.

    Light Rail – Plan or Impulse

    I received an enormous binder from Hennepin County concerning long term transit – about seven years ago. The ideas and work showed a lot of thought. What was not evident was a compelling story to favor light rail as merely a transport process – it was, along with other options, a tactic to handle strong present volumes and likely increased volumes because new Federal roads are unlikely. It was not a gesture to folks who like trains (like me) or people who hate cars or Big Oil (lot a supporters of light rail.) As an idea, along with all ideas, the option for train seemed to have merit with terminal end points (and interconnection points) having very large volume, consistently and likely to grow. Most common idea: address “commuters” who live in one area and work in another. It was not considered a way to increase commerce or tourism. If one studies light rails in many western cities (who did not build their cities with suburban trains as did Chicago and NY) you find the expense and lack of utility do not support the intrusion, displacement, and cost. Our light rail to the airport and Megamall is a boon-doogle, a waste of money, and only in place because Gov. Ventura was bullied by Rep. Sabo to take some $600 million in Federal money or lose it. Also, existing rail routes were fairly easy – nobody had to displace a huge population (as with I-94 going through St. Paul.) The trains and the football stadium happen because politicians and activists favor them, not because they are broad and useful public policy. They do not inspire or increase adjacent commerce and they do not prove effective in reducing auto traffic – the numbers, even hyped as they are, at a mere speck of what comes and goes from Point A to Point B in our huge metro area. Should anyone ask for restudy or broad review of the “plan”, those favoring the systems should be proud to invite readership. Planning which is 2-3 years old is likely obsolete. If a group is willing to use public funds for questionable or controversial projects, they should not pout or get testy when challenged – the value and logic that served originally should be carefully and calmly provided. I am still waiting for such discussion on the Light Rail to the airport – until proven different, I will maintain the sole reason it happened was Jesse was not really dialed in and Martin Olaf Sabo, as was his talent (and maybe only talent) was bringing home the bacon to Minnesota once again. Did we need it? No. Does it help?
    Not really. Folks like it. But they like lots of things they don’t need. Government is not on hand to make life fun or make you happy. Answer the damned question or give up.

  5. Submitted by Sean Fahey on 11/01/2013 - 06:37 pm.


    Even people who are plugged into the news would have a hard time keeping up with the process unless they are staying on top of it for decades. Maybe it is our duty as citizens to have this kind of attention span though, so I kind of agree with your point. Here is my impression of how this works, since being exposed to the green and blue line extension processes:

    1. In the beginning, there is a universe of options presented to the public. A meeting is held and citizens add their input.

    2. Some years go by with community meetings that are promoted to people who signed up on the mailing list or regularly check the project website. If you are one of these active citizens and go to these meetings you can add your input again. Engineers and politicians politely nod when the you speak about your preferences. Both boosters and detractors all get the same polite nod. It is quite congenial. Your input seems important.

    3. More years go by and the bureaucracy finally lands on a locally preferred alternative that has nothing to do with the public input from steps 1 and 2, but has everything to do with a combination of labyrinthine federal funding guidelines and guidance from the true project stakeholders (land developers, contractors, building trades). Hopefully, this LPA represents the public’s interests aligning with the true stakeholders.

    4. Now with an LPA the project re-emerges into the public consciousness after an absence of years. If the LPA has enough political capital behind it to survive it gets built! If not, return to step 1.

  6. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 11/02/2013 - 10:25 am.

    The “true project stakeholders” usually prefer…

    …to remain in the background in these matters, pulling the strings, you might say, with little or no publicity.

    Public meeting laws are supposed to make these relationships transparent, but they are widely ignored.

    A nice summary in your steps 1-4, a kind of blueprint for the “true stakeholders”, if they have a long enough attention span. In the meantime, it always helps to buy political influence with campaign contributions, a GREAT investment in terms of ROI.

  7. Submitted by Sue Kline on 11/03/2013 - 12:05 pm.

    Southwest Light Rail Line debate

    I was involved 25 years ago when the first Southwest Corridor light rail line was proposed. I lived very close to the proposed line. It was chosen by the Hennepin County Board simply because they had obtained ownership of that line from the railroad. The bill to allow an increase in the mill rate was being rammed through the legislature with no discussion of other higher density routes or consultation with the public.

    After comments by County Board members about rezoning for high density housing along excess land (where the rail switching yards used to be) near Cedar Lake in order to pay for the line, our neighborhood became alarmed.
    Literally at the 11th hour our state representative was able to amend the bill to require that other routes be studied and that public input be required for groups studying each alternative. It was only because of this that the Hiawatha and University lines got built first.

    I was a community representative to the group studying the Southwest corridor. It was a terrible experience. The engineers hired to run the meetings and do the study were still trying to prove SW should be built first and were abusive to anyone who questioned this. I literally had to fight for the most basic information, such as how many cars would be taken off the streets by the line. What I learned was that the SW corridor had low ridership and accomplished very little in traffic reduction, and that most people are not going downtown for their commute but are traveling between the suburbs from their home to their work, and even if going downtown, they would have to take a bus first to even get to the rail.

    Better than a fixed rail to downtown would be more buses and even vans that could get people without cars to potential jobs in the suburbs that are closed off to them now. That is unlikely to happen if so much money is spent on this rail line.

    • Submitted by David Greene on 11/04/2013 - 10:06 am.


      The county did not route SW LRT through the (freight rail) corridor because they purchased it from the railroad. They purchased it from the railroad to be used for rail transit. You’ve got your cause-and-effect backward.

  8. Submitted by Elanne Palcich on 11/03/2013 - 02:00 pm.

    Metro issue

    I just got back from visiting family in Portland, Oregon where they are facing the same light rail problems. The cost of building a new line is in the billions. In the meantime, the existing line can only service the number of people who can make it to the parking lot entry by 7:00 a.m. when it fills up. The most cost effective and easiest way to get more people using public transit would be to add more buses/bus routes. Family members questioned who was behind the push for light rail, as it seems to be politically motivated.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 11/04/2013 - 12:47 pm.


      I was in Portland several years ago visiting the out-laws and took the light rail line from one end (Forest Grove) to the other to get from one sister-in-law’s house to another’s. We didn’t have any trouble trouble finding parking and the ride itself was uneventful. Plus it beat the hell out of taking highway 26 through town in rush hour traffic.

      My guess is your family isn’t looking at the total cost of ownership (TCO) for a bus line vs a rail line. A couple of buses on an existing road is cheaper than putting in a new rail line with cars, but a train can haul a lot more people with one car than even one articulated bus can. The biggest cost of the operation is the driver and that cost goes down considerably with a train with one drive hauling a lot of people.

      Also one point of a train is to encourage high density growth, something that’s a priority in Portland. People pay a premium to live within a quarter mile of a train. Studies from this last recession showed that houses near a light rail line didn’t drop in price as much as other houses and rebounded faster afterwards. That’s not the case with a bus line for the simple reason that it can (and too often does) get pulled at any time. That doesn’t happen with a rail line.

      Another item to consider: rail lines may cost a billion or so to bang out, but then so do freeways. Just take a look at the cost of the new Stillwater bridge. That’s projected to cost what, $680+ million? And that’s for just ONE bridge. For the price of just a couple of bridges you’ve got an entire light rail line.

  9. Submitted by David Greene on 11/04/2013 - 07:55 am.

    Woefully Misinformed

    This article is really off-base. The SW LRT has been in planning for a decade, even longer if you consider studies of the corridor that go back at least to the ’70’s. It’s not like someone just drew a line on a map and brought it out for public comment.

    An elevated bike trail was considered. The neighborhood rejected it.

    Rerouting the bike trail was considers. Some bicyclists threw a fit.

    A tunnel was considered. R.T. Rybak said it was a good solution until the tunnel was up for approval, then changed his tune and said it was unworkable.

    Minneapolis has been the bad actor here. It is not negotiating in good faith.

    The current plan is in fact designed to work with our existing and planned transit system, particularly Central Corridor and the currently-under-study Midtown Corridor.

    Other alignments (numbering in the tens) were considered and rejected for various reasons. Despite what some people say, the current alignment serves Minneapolis very well. Downtown residents and businesses will be served. Uptown and points east will be served via the Midtown Corridor. North Minneapolis will be served with massive redevelopment in Bassett Creek Valley (cf. the Bassett Creek Valley Master Plan) and new access to the biggest jobs growth center in the metro which it has never had before.

    • Submitted by Jeff Klein on 11/04/2013 - 12:39 pm.

      Different visions

      We keep hearing that Uptown is served via a Midtown street car, as though anyone would ride that west and then trasfer to light rail to get downtown.

      Apparently a bunch of good options were crossed out when many interested citizens of my generation were literally children, and there’s an implication that it’s our fault we weren’t part of the process.

      The people that planned this ten and twenty years ago grew up in a time when suburbs ruled, and the only way to save the city was to make it more suburban and the only way to increase transit mode share was to subsidize people living dozens of miles from where they worked, whether by insanely huge roads ripped through the city, or by extra nice buses, or by routing the light rail with them in mind.

      In the time that the planning process has dragged on things have changed. The younger generation believes that cities and density are our future, and there’s no point in having a train if it doesn’t stop at dense, walkable neighborhoods. No amount of talk of regulations and processes and planning in the 1970s will make running a light rail through nowhere a good idea, and if actual urban, sensible alignments had to be thrown out when I was 7 years old maybe this whole thing just isn’t worth it.

      • Submitted by David Greene on 11/04/2013 - 01:26 pm.

        Going Downtown

        There are several high-frequency bus routes that go from Uptown to downtown. The SW LRT ridership studies showed that most people living in Uptown will continue to use those buses. I know I would since going to the LRT would require me backtracking down to the Uptown Station and then taking a train where I don’t want to go (Nicollet instead of Hennepin).

        Hennepin is in line for enhanced bus service once the bus routes are realigned for SW LRT. Lyndale is also in the queue for an upgrade. Uptown will have plenty of good options to get downtown. LRT is the wrong technology for the area as evidenced by the drawings produced showing what it would do to the Midtown Greenway. To me, it makes much more sense to serve *two* areas of Minneapolis with LRT than just one.

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/04/2013 - 09:05 am.

    You get what you pay for

    Look people,

    For 40 years you’ve been refusing to vote for anyone who doesn’t promise to lower taxes and shrink the government (You don’t think Republicans won all those elections without any liberal votes do you?). Public policy and government was a waste of time because NGOs, Consumer activism, and local people thinking globally were going solve all the problems with free markets and entrepreneurial spirit. Now people suddenly realize that you don’t get good transit options without good government planning, and you have to pay for it… duh.

    So yeah, when you push government into fiscal crises, debt and deficit spending, planners have to follow the paths of least resistance (at the time) and low budgets (at the time). This is why the well funded Federal Highways of the 50s and 60s were run through very expensive holes dug right through the middle our cities and light rail ended up in the woods where nobody lives. That Federal Highway system was the most expensive single item in the Federal budget for almost a decade (Not that I like those Highways).

    Sure it would have made more sense to run the light rail into or through Uptown somehow, and sure that could have been done. When exactly do you think that plan was feasible? During the “government is the problem” Reagan years? Or the “Thousand points of light” Bush years? Or maybe the “Reinventing Government by outsourcing it” Clinton era? Surely you don’t think the massive debt and deficit by way of tax cuts Bush era would have yielded well planned and funded transit planning? In the last election the majority of Americans liberal and conservative thought Romney’s trickle down plan to return to magic tax cuts made more economic sense than raising taxes on the top 1%.

    So don’t complain about transit “officials”. You put anti-choo choo Republican’s in control of the Federal AND State government for 8-10 years and you expect them to build your dream transit system with no money? They didn’t even maintain the bridges for crying out loud and you think they’re gonna tunnel through Uptown? Our one and only commuter rail goes all the way to Big Lake… I didn’t even know there was a place called “Big Lake” in MN… With a whopping population of 10,000.

    Whatever. Here’s my suggestion: START the SW corridor over by lake Calhoun or thereabouts in the eastern part of SLP, there’s still enough room there for a big station. Skip the Kennellworth connection all together. An Uptown station is no longer an option, all the land that could’ve been used to build a station there is now gone, built upon. Unless you build a massive underground complex which involves a lot more than just tunneling, you can’t get station in there now. At the same time, a line running through woods is a wast of space and rail. So let’s ask: “Why does the light rail coming in from the SW HAVE to go all the way Downtown? Why can’t it terminate over by Calhoun with smaller, quieter, and less expensive feeder street cars running up the Greenway to Uptown and over to Downtown somehow? Whatever you do you better do it soon because land is being chewed up and developed and at an amazing rate.

    • Submitted by David Greene on 11/04/2013 - 09:49 am.


      There *is* a planned streetcar up the Greenway – the Midtown Corridor:


      Along with the Nicollet streetcar, this gets a rail transit system exactly where the pro-Uptown SW LRT folks wanted it to go. There will be a couple of transfers but nothing a regular bus rider isn’t very used to.

      There are multiple reasons to run SW LRT downtown in the Kenilworth corridor. For one, it will solidify Minneapolis as a employment base. I’d rather have companies locate downtown than out in Chaska. The Kenilworth alignment will serve Near North. It’s a not a place “where nobody lives.” Examine the Bassett Creek Valley Master Plan to see the incredible vision those neighborhoods have:


      The Van White station is the centerpiece of that plan. Ryan Comapnies is already well along in development of phase one of the plan:


      Without the Van White station it’s doubtful that the Linden Yards plan is viable.

      Future improvements to bus service on Penn and Fremont/Emerson will provide a good chunk of North Minneapolis convenient and efficient access to the jobs growth center along the corridor. This is something that transit riders there do not have access to today. It’s a major win for equity.

      The Kenilworth alignment will interline with Central Corridor, a major operating efficiency benefit to the route.

      Many people have put tons of work into this plan. Those people are your neighbors as well as the professional engineers and staff on the project.

      Your points about lack of funding are well-stated, but even if funding wasn’t an issue it’s not a slam-dunk that some other route for SW LRT would be better.

    • Submitted by Jeff Klein on 11/04/2013 - 12:45 pm.

      here’s an idea

      This is a brilliant comment and it gives me an idea for the right solution: Remove the cars from all freeways inside 694/494 and run trains in the freeway right-of-ways.

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/04/2013 - 10:51 am.



    I know they have a plan for streetcars going up the Greenway already, hence my suggestion. I also see that they’ve already built the bridge currently to nowhere over by 394 that connects Dunwoody to North MPLS. THAT connection would seem to make the Kennellworth corridor unnecessary since it creates a by-pass through uptown.

    As you have said many many times, getting to Uptown from Downtown is not currently a problem. So why so we need a light rail connection between Uptown and Downtown? And by the way, as far as we all know there’s to be no development in that Kennelworth corridor, it’s to remain greenspace, so what’s the point of running LRT through there other than making a connection between the Uptown area and Downtown? I know they were going to put a stop in there, for whom and why? So people in living in Kennelworth could take the LRT Downtown and back?

    I’m looking at the PDFs you provided and they also appear to point to a by-pass rather than a connection to Kennellworth. That bypass could be a streetcar line, then folks from North MPLS would have to go downtown, they could go directly to the SW LRT over by Uptown.

    I understand that a lot of people have put a lot of work into this, but that doesn’t make it right, and thus far, they’ve failed to establish viable routing options. We’ve also had some transparency problems. For instance for years we were told that there would be merely be an increase of freight traffic through SLP, with some basic track upgrades to handle it. Then all the sudden they unveil a plan for a two story berm running through the football field. I understand this frustrating, but we have to live with a bad plan just because some people put a lot of work into it.

    • Submitted by David Greene on 11/04/2013 - 01:35 pm.



      The reason to build rail in Kenilworth is not to connect Uptown to Downtown. It’s to connect North Minneapolis to the southwest suburbs.

      SW LRT isn’t going to be viable unless it goes downtown. A lot of the ridership will be in fact people going to jobs downtown. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. We should encourage it!

      Whether the connecting streetcar line goes from West Lake along the Greenway to connect Uptown to SW LRT or along Kenilworth to connect the Northside to SW LRT, I don’t really care. But there has to be rail in the Kenilworth corridor to make the connection to opportunity the Northside desperately needs. To me, it seems to make little difference as to whether the rail through Kenilworth has streetcars or LRVs running on it. The same set of people are going to complain about it either way.

      The Van White bridge creates an auto-oriented connection to Dunwoody. It won’t by itself help transit-dependent Northsiders get to jobs in St. Louis Park and Eden Prairie. It’s an important connection for many reasons, not the least of white that it will directly connect the Van White SW LRT station to Near North. I’m sure buses will run on it someday to feed that station.

      Again, we’re building a system. We can’t look at individual transit lines or bridges in isolation and evaluate their goodness. We have to look at where people want to go and how to get them there through our whole transit network.

      • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 11/04/2013 - 03:16 pm.


        “A lot of the ridership will be in fact people going to jobs downtown.”

        Like me! A line that just terminates at Calhoun doesn’t do commuters a bit of good if it only takes them halfway there. We’re trying to fix this same sort of problem with the bike trails that just drop a biker on some city street and then they’re on their own to figure out the rest of the way to safely get to their destination. The point is to build an interconnected system, not a bunch of disjointed lines that don’t meet each other.

        If the SW LRT terminated at Calhoun the trains there would not be able to join up with the green and blue line trains. It would need its own repair shed along the line rather than take advantage of existing facilities already built for the other two lines. Not to mention you wouldn’t be able to take excess capacity from one line and move it to another line as needed.

        Would people going to the Twins stadium take the LRT if it dropped them off just a couple of miles short of their destination? Probably not.

        And then years from now people would be complaining about the short sighted planners who terminated the rail like at Lake Calhoun rather than run it all the way into downtown. There will be the usual outcries about “what were they thinking” and “wasn’t anybody in charge of this thing? Didn’t they have a master plan?!”

    • Submitted by Janne Flisrand on 11/11/2013 - 09:45 pm.

      Uptown to Downtown – actually, poor access via transit

      I’m an Uptown resident.

      Yes, there are LOTS of buses doing this trip, and they are full enough that maybe it justifies larger vehicles with lower operating costs…

      But really, the problem I’m focused on is that those buses are unbelievably slow. It can take 40 minutes to travel the two miles. The transit between Uptown and Downtown is often intolerable. That might be why those of us in Uptown have been asking for a tunnel and a train since the early discussion of routes.

      Unbelievably, now the tunnel that was once too expensive to make the Uptown route viable is just as expensive and going under a park.

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/04/2013 - 01:25 pm.

    Let me restate just a little

    Look, my vote would be for the shallow tunnel plan. However, let’s face it, if MPLS wants to they can tie this up for years because none of the EIS studies have been done for any tunnels in the area and there is a lot of water around there. My suggestion for terminating the SW LRT over by Calhoun somewhere is in lieu of the Kennelworth corridor. I see it working kind of like Boston’s South Station, it’s a gateway into the city rather than a direct line.

    • Submitted by David Greene on 11/04/2013 - 03:55 pm.


      I appreciate your thinking on this. The truth is that every one of these lines faces lawsuits and delay tactics. We went through the same thing with, the U, MPR and University Ave. business owners on Central Corridor.

      As far as I can tell, the proper federal and state processes have been and are being followed for SW LRT. There may be lawsuits but they will likely go nowhere.

      The municipal consent process doesn’t give cities veto power. It’s meant to provide a structure for negotiation. So far the Met Council has negotiated in good faith and Minneapolis has not. That can’t continue forever and eventually Minneapolis is going to be called to the mat.

  13. Submitted by Doug Trumm on 11/08/2013 - 02:08 am.

    SW could be more of a stumbling block than a starting block

    Long term, building a only halfway decent suburban focused LRT line with minimal density may only invite continued criticism that public transit is a waste of money that cannot deliver enough ridership to pay for itself. At least we should be able to hold up the example of the Central Corridor, which should have enough density to be heavily used and eventually pay for its own operation. However, spending upwards of 1.5 billion dollars on a LRT line that will likely struggle to support itself for decades might set us back in the overall fight to show public transit has merit and economic feasibility.

    The policy of building suburban commuter lines before dense urban lines also has the drawback of only temporally getting motorists out of their cars since the suburban LRT stations are planned as kiss and rides in neighborhoods that would still require a car to get around. A network connecting the dense neighborhoods of Minneapolis would not just offer transit alternatives to motorists and high ridership lines, but also make a carless lifestyle much more of a reality. Many in my generation (the so called millennials) actually don’t want to own a car and would prefer to get by with using some combination of public transit, biking, walking, and a car share program. I’m not sure this paradigm shift has happened at Metro Transit. We need a very dependable and extensive public transit network within the dense areas of our city to do a car-free lifestyle well, and that is happening non too quickly.

    So to sum up my meanderings, it’s not so much that I’m opposed to the concept of a light rail running out to Eden Prairie in the SW corridor. It’s that a) I’m worried there won’t be money in the coffers for better transit projects given SW’s huge price tag and b) doing mediocre but expensive light rail lines is only going to invite criticism from conservative-minded folks and give them a stronger case to block future projects.

  14. Submitted by James Smith on 03/06/2014 - 11:26 am.

    We are all in this together

    So much of the discussion about the Southwest Corridor Light Rail Transit project has been from a narrow perspective of one mode of transit … one city versus another … and one view of the corresponding perceived demographics as they relate to public transit … I think it is important to recognize that all of the core cities and suburbs share the same socio-economic metropolitan context in the same way we share the same air … It is also important to remember that Metro Transit has a large … multi-mode … strategy to reduce congestion … improve movement of people between jobs … home … entertainment … errands … and that no one mode is appropriate for every corridor … The Blue Line was fought desperately by the suburbs … which was in a corridor that was not serving … previously … the people in the core cities who have been using public transit … but … when the Blue Line started … it was the suburbanites who used it … new riders … a new perspective on public transit … and now the suburbs are elbowing each other for the new lines … The Green Line Central Corridor will be servicing the needs of the core cities residents who have always used public transit … The Green Line Central Corridor will probably attract new riders as well … The Southwest Corridor will connect the 250,000 jobs in the Southwest Corridor with people in the core cities who want hose jobs … It will also connect the people in the Southwest Corridor with the 160,000 jobs in Minneapolis, the 40,000 jobs at the University of Minnesota and all of the jobs along University Avenue and downtown St Paul … This is a benefit for the entire metropolitan region … I have never seen suburbanites this excited about mass transit in my thirty years living in the Twin Cities … Yes … The Midtown Greenway, Nicollet Ave, Lyndale Ave, Central Ave, Hennepin Ave all need a rail solution … but the logistics of those corridors make light rail difficult … You can’t take away four lanes on those streets and have anything left over for car transit … You would need to take out rows of houses … Streetcars will be a better solution … I love transit tunnels … I lived in Boston as a young adult and no city in the United States does multi-modal transit systems better than Boston … I would love to see tunnels everywhere in the core cities of Minneapolis and St Paul … especially with our winters … but … there is no way budgets for that infrastructure will be supported … The Core Cities need the Southwest corridor Green Line and the Southwest suburbs need the core cities … We all need each other and our efforts would be much more effective if we worked together for the benefit of the metropolitan region … The SouthWest Corridor Green Line will exceed ridership expectations just as the Blue Line did … The Twin Cities is the 16th largest metropolitan area in the United States and we are ranked in the top in most categories … livability … cycle friendliness … health consciousness … quality of life … but we are way behind smaller metropolitan areas … like Denver with 6 LRT lines … Salt Lake City with 6 LRT lines … San Diego with 4 LRT lines .. Portland with 4 LRT lines … Sacramento with three LRT lines … We all need the SouthWest Corridor … just as we need streetcars in Minneapolis and St Paul arterial routes … if we are going to compete with the other metropolitan areas that are investing in modern … state-of-the-art … multi-modal … transit systems … We need to stop thinking like individual neighborhoods … and individual cities … we are stronger when we work together … The Bard of Franklin Avenue …

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