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Why is Southwest LRT in trouble? Blame county-led planning

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Council
Rendering of the proposed Southwest LRT shallow tunnels.

During the final planning of the Central Corridor light-rail transit (LRT) line, then-Metropolitan Council Chair Peter Bell remarked many times it was a miracle that any major infrastructure projects ever get built.

The reason, Bell said, was that there are so many opportunities under state and federal law for community interests to raise objections and demand changes. They effectively wield “veto power” over such projects, Bell observed.

That the Central Corridor project is now nearing completion is a tribute, in no small part, to Bell’s patience and perseverance. He participated in more than 70 negotiating sessions just with the University of Minnesota over the train’s alignment through campus. I am painfully aware, having attended many of them while serving as the council’s public affairs director.

The Central Corridor LRT line now is scheduled to open on June 14. But the next train project in the queue, the Southwest Corridor LRT line, may never get out of the station. The cities of Minneapolis and St. Louis Park, driven by vocal community groups in each city, are threatening to exercise the veto power that Bell described.

The major issue, unresolved for many years, is whether to reroute a freight rail line from Minneapolis to St. Louis Park to make way for LRT. Minneapolis is insisting on the change and St. Louis Park is just as strongly opposed. This issue should have been resolved before the Met Council hired staff, retained consultants and spent $30 million on engineering.

One reason it was not resolved is the flawed, county-led system used in this region to study corridors with high transit potential, and recommend the best transit mode and alignment to serve them. Too often, this leads county commissioners to promote their favored projects for parochial political reasons and to gloss over any problems.

In the case of Central, Ramsey County commissioners studied the corridor and alternatives to serve it for nearly two decades, ultimately recommending the development of an LRT line with 16 stations in an 11-mile alignment along University and Washington avenues between the two downtowns.

However, just a few months after the Met Council approved the project and agreed to pursue federal funding, Ramsey County commissioners asked the council to study a totally new alignment looping through downtown St. Paul and to add three stations being sought by inner-city groups that were not in the county’s original plan. Talk about political grandstanding!

Resolving these issues – as well as lawsuits filed by the university, community groups and Minnesota Public Radio – slowed the project while adding significantly to its cost.

Two decades of study

Hennepin County spent nearly two decades studying the 16-mile Southwest Corridor from Eden Prairie to downtown Minneapolis, where it would connect with the Hiawatha (now called the Blue) and Central (Green) LRT lines near Target Field.

After evaluating multiple alignments, the county ultimately recommended one using the so-called Kenilworth rail corridor between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles in the Kenwood neighborhood of Minneapolis.

The Met Council approved the county’s recommendation for Southwest in 2010, assumed responsibility for the project and secured federal approval to begin preliminary engineering, the first step in the process for securing federal matching funds.

But the council did so with the clear understanding that Hennepin County and the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) would retain the responsibility for resolving the dispute over whether and how to relocate the freight railroad tracks in the Kenilworth alignment.  The county and MnDOT never delivered on their promise and – four years later – it seems all but forgotten.

Instead, everyone has dug in their heels, with residents of the Kenwood community insisting that the freight railroad be relocated to St. Louis Park as a pre-condition for LRT and St. Louis Park activists saying no way. In addition, the railroad – which has considerable power under federal law – has exhibited little inclination to move.

Resolving the dispute was further complicated in January when Gail Dorfman resigned from the Hennepin County Board to accept a job with a social service agency. Dorfman, whose district included St. Louis Park and most of southwestern Minneapolis, had been the leading champion of the Southwest Corridor project.

The Met Council has unsuccessfully floated multiple proposals for resolving the impasse, including several different plans for relocating the freight railroad tracks or running LRT in tunnels beneath them. Meanwhile, the cost of the project has soared – from the original $1.25 billion projection to between $1.6 billion and $1.8 billion – depending on which of the tunnel options is included.

On Monday, project planners again recommended a design that includes two short tunnels underneath the freight tracks and a nearby recreational trail, with the LRT tracks emerging to cross the channel connecting the two lakes. That solution, which was put on hold once before, will be considered on Wednesday by an advisory committee representing the corridor and on April 9 by the Met Council. But Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges remains unenthused.

If the Met Council is to break the stalemate, it likely will require much greater leadership and support from Gov. Mark Dayton and key legislators than they have provided to date.

Other projects

The current county-led transit planning process can claim some successes, most notably the Hiawatha LRT line. But they are overshadowed by some costly and questionable uses of scarce transportation dollars:

  • The $320-million Northstar commuter rail line, pushed by Anoka and Hennepin counties, has been a major disappointment. Opened in 2009, Northstar never has achieved even the weekday ridership of 3,400 that was projected for its first year of operation. Northstar’s weekday ridership in 2013 averaged 2,782 and it required a hefty operating subsidy of $15.55 per ride.

  • St. Paul’s Union Depot was purchased and renovated by Ramsey County at a cost of $243 million, including $124 million in federal funds. Reopened 15 months ago, the historic depot still is awaiting its first train. Once track improvements are completed, it will serve a mere two Amtrak trains a day – down from the 282 trains that stopped at the depot during its peak.  Meanwhile, visions of developing a center for bicycle commuters and leasing 95,000 square feet of retail space have yet to be realized. LRT trains soon will be stopping 75 feet in front of the depot, but riders will have little reason to enter the building unless there’s something to draw them in.

  • The plans of Ramsey and Washington Counties to develop commuter rail lines from Hinckley to St. Paul (Rush Line) and Hastings to St. Paul  (Red Rock) have been shelved after years of expensive studies. The reason? It became clear even to county officials that these corridors likely will never have enough ridership to support rail lines. Their focus has since shifted to the Interstate 94 (Gateway) corridor east of downtown St. Paul.

Clearly, it would have been possible to spend much of this transportation funding more effectively.

If state lawmakers hope to improve transit and keep pace with other metro areas, they need to reexamine the municipal consent law that enables cities to hold regional transit project hostage until they get their way.

Lawmakers also need to dramatically reduce the role of counties in planning and developing transit projects, consolidate these responsibilities in a regional body like the Met Council that is charged with looking out for the best interests of the entire region and then hold that agency accountable for results.

Comments (57)

  1. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 04/01/2014 - 09:49 am.

    The simplest way to solve this problem would be to reroute

    the light rail line if the residents are that opposed to it. Why spend millions to appease the residents of a relatively short section of the line?

    As an interim measure, increase the frequency of the #12 bus. It has never made sense to me why Minnetonka Boulevard, a typical suburban stretch of strip malls and single-family homes, has frequent bus service with the #17 while Excelsior Boulevard, with at least two existing walkable neighborhoods, New Urbanist Excelsior Grand and traditional downtown Hopkins, along its route has such infrequent service. Extend it to downtown Excelsior, which has no bus service worth mentioning.

    I think light rail is great (I lived in Portland for ten years and used that city’s network all the time), but the plan for the Southwest line made sense to me only because it gave the Excelsior Grand and Hopkins area some needed transportation access.

    Starting in a tiny corner of the neglected North Side and having one stop in a sparsely populated area before proceeding to the suburbs and ending in Eden Prairie? No, this needs to be rethought.

    How about coming down Lyndale or Fremont, to provide some real first-class transit access for the residents there, picking up Hennepin or Nicollet or some other major downtown thoroughfare and following it to the Greenway, taking the Greenway out to St. Louis Park, following the currently planned route to Hopkins, and then, instead of going to Eden Prairie (a place people wouldn’t move to if they were interested in transit and walkable neighborhoods), terminating in Excelsior, another traditional downtown?

    In the meantime, just improve the #12 line. If you put frequent service on that line (and publicize it), the riders will come, especially if they are tired of fighting traffic.

    Actually, the entire transit system needs rethinking. There are far too many you-can’t-get-there-from-here situations, too much consideration for workday commuters and not enough for the transit-dependent, too many connections that just don’t work.

    • Submitted by David Greene on 04/01/2014 - 01:17 pm.

      See Below

      “the plan for the Southwest line made sense to me only because it gave the Excelsior Grand and Hopkins area some needed transportation access.

      Starting in a tiny corner of the neglected North Side and having one stop in a sparsely populated area before proceeding to the suburbs and ending in Eden Prairie?”

      See my comment below as to why this analysis is incorrect.

  2. Submitted by Steven Prince on 04/01/2014 - 09:56 am.

    SWLRT – a failure of planning

    SWLRT deserves to fail, but not because Minneapolis and St. Louis Park cannot agree on how to share the local impact of the line. It deserves to fail because the planning process was hopelessly flawed – as evidenced by the selection of a line that has zero potential to create or improve transit-oriented neighborhoods in Minneapolis.

    If we had real courage of leadership the plan would be scrapped and the line would be redesigned to travel the Greenway and Nicollet instead of Kenilworth.

  3. Submitted by Kasia McMahon on 04/01/2014 - 10:00 am.

    Local communities get in the way of big players spending $

    This article makes many great points–and then draws completely the wrong conclusion. Why haven’t the Twin Cities been able to build any game changing transit projects? I don’t think it is because Minneapolis is an ignorant local interest group that doesn’t know what’s good for it. Taking away municipal consent powers from the cities may make it easier to plan transit projects, but that’s not the way democracy works, and that’s not how good planning works.

    The way these projects are planned is already a total disaster–and the Met Council is not an elected body. They are not accountable to the public. Its not less local planning that would make a better transit project–its more local voices!

    If it weren’t vocal interest groups active during the Central Corridor planning process, some of the most heavily needed stations (for low income people–which we all know are not the real focus of these projects) would not have been included.

  4. Submitted by Nathan Johnson on 04/01/2014 - 10:11 am.

    Rush Line has course of action to accommodate corridor growth

    It should be noted contrary to what the article mentions, Rush Line has not “shelved” its plans for eventual commuter rail. Rather, it is arguably taking a very strategic, incremental approach and a lot can be said about Ramsey County’s planning leadership with regard to well-thought steps forward.

    We know that the corridor population is forecast to increase by 43-percent by 2030–an increase of 158,000 people. What Rush Line has essentially done is said a mix of transit modes will best serve the corridor in the interim. Hence, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) from Forest Lake to the Union Depot, and Light Rail Transit (LRT) from White Bear Lake to the Union Depot have emerged as realistic first steps.

    Meanwhile, as the corridor continues to grow, the task force will continue to promote transit in the northern parts of the corridor, in Chisago and Pine Counties, to encourage a proactive approach to development that allows for extensions of the corridor north–to North Branch, Pine City, and Hinckley–as demand warrants. The Pine City zip code alone has about 10,000 people living in it already and roughly 37-percent of them commute to the Twin Cities MSA for work daily.

    Look around: The exurban fringe has not stopped growing whatsoever! Ghost developments from the Great Recession are once again building out, storefront vacancies are filling up, and new businesses are cracking open their doors at pre-recession rates. This continued growth will warrant new modes of transportation to serve everyone.

  5. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 04/01/2014 - 10:36 am.

    The last three sentences

    …are the heart of the matter. I’m especially enamored of those last six words.

    My observation over the years suggests that almost no one – liberal, conservative, libertarian, socialist, polluter or tree-hugger – is enthusiastic about changes that require them to alter their lifestyle to any significant degree. The exception that leaps to mind is the poor, whose lifestyle rarely includes amenities, and basically revolves around survival. If your income is low enough in this – or any – society, anything, including change in “lifestyle,” is usually welcome if it has the effect of making survival easier and more likely.

    Beyond that situation, however, and especially in this public transit context, Steve’s last three sentences strike me as being right on the mark. “Local control,” which, not surprisingly, is quite popular among… um… local groups, translates readily to “parochialism,” and often in its more pernicious forms.

    As documented by the ‘Strib and (usually accidentally) by local TV news, plenty of people are willing to sacrifice their neighbors’ well-being on the altar of their own “local control,” up to and including block and/or subdivision control. Comments prior to this one simply reinforce that parochial bias, everyone having a sure-fire answer, ranging from different routes for the southwest line to having even more public input to starting over (!!) with a whole different process. “Having a voice” is not – or at least should not be – the same thing as having veto power, and that seems especially true to me when what we’re hearing is mostly the loudest voice. I’ve not always agreed with Peter Bell, but he seems quite correct in asserting that it’s “…a miracle that any major infrastructure projects ever get built.”

    That major infrastructure projects get built relatively rarely seems to me a more localized example of – as Eric Black has provided on MinnPost in several columns on our constitutional system nationally – a process that’s skewed toward inaction and delay. It’s done that way to allow – whether a good thing or not depends upon where you might be in the chain – voluminous public input. Some will insist that that’s “democracy,” and to a degree they’re correct, but it’s also self-defeating to a degree. I’ve not done any research on this to provide hard numbers, but off the top of my head, my impression is that there are far more instances of organized public opposition to a program or policy than there are instances of organized public advocacy.

    When there are benefits to the region from a project, those in authority should not assume that those benefits are obvious to everyone. In those situations, I’d like those people to exercise the leadership that goes with their position and make the case – repeatedly – for changes when those changes stand to benefit both parochial and regional interests in the long run. When you have a “bully pulpit,” it’s silly not to use it.

    Light rail may or may not prove to be the mass transit solution of the future, but any thoughtful person looking at 35W, 35E, 94, 494, and 694 as they crawl through downtown and the suburbs at 5 PM on a Friday afternoon could be forgiven for thinking that “There must be a better way than this.”

    • Submitted by Arthur Horowitz on 04/01/2014 - 07:18 pm.

      “There must be a better way than this.”

      I agree-not one of us wishes to or will alter their lifestyle over this. Add several lanes to existing freeways, and require electric or hydrogen powered vehicles. It could take 20+ years but in the long run be a more palatable solution than building a streetcar system that is inappropriate for this metropolitan area for few to use or will use. The metro population density, weather and socio-economic parameters do not in favor “light rail”.

      • Submitted by Jeff Klein on 04/02/2014 - 07:33 am.

        Great idea. We can build our way out of congestion with more lanes, just like L.A. did.

        You might consider that our lack of density stems from this kind of thinking and not the other way around.

        • Submitted by john schmoe on 04/03/2014 - 07:46 pm.

          myth

          L.A. is the third-most densely populated urban area in the country. Its congestion has more to do with, say, that fact that it doesn’t get snow in April than a lack of density.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/01/2014 - 10:59 am.

    For the umpteenth time….

    This isn’t simply a dispute between MPLS and SLP. A small number of affluent and influential DFLers in Kenilworth are trying to move freight rail out of their neighborhood at the expense and safety of SLP residents. In SLP we HAD more or less agreed to accept more traffic on EXISTING train tracks. That plan would have simply adding train traffic without demolishing homes, or businesses.

    The RR company moving the freight has now declared that the existing tracks are not sufficient or safe for the kind of traffic they can run through Kenilworth. This is actually a matter of physics. In order to move the freight rail traffic to SLP safely we would have to demolish 50+ homes, move the tracks, and put the new tracks atop a two story berm. We’re being asked to do this because a handful of residents don’t want freight traffic that’s been in that corridor for 100 years. These are NOT equivalent positions. SLP is NOT trying to move it’s freight traffic into anyone elses city, MPLS is.

    The plan under consideration basically leaves everything the way it is now in the Kenilworth corridor when the project is finished.

    Having said all that, as far I’m concerned if MPLS is going to let a few unelected affluent and influential DFLers make transportation policy for their city than so be it. If MPLS leaders think killing the SWC on behalf of Kenilworth is in the cities best interest than kill it, move on to the next project.

    • Submitted by Adam Miller on 04/03/2014 - 11:40 am.

      This is a strange way to frame it

      Those affluent DFLers currently have what, two or three, freight trains a day going through a rail right of way in their back yard. And they’ve agreed to accept substantially more frequent train traffic through that right of way in the form of light rail to shuttle people back and forth from the suburbs, in exchange for St. Louis Park taking those two or three trains per day.

      So, no, they aren’t equivalent positions. St. Louis park is asking to get all of the benefit but bear none of the burdens.

      • Submitted by David Greene on 04/03/2014 - 09:10 pm.

        View

        This isn’t about Minneapolis vs. St. Louis Park. This is about an important transportation investment that benefits the whole region. EVERYONE wins with this line.

  7. Submitted by Bob Quarrels on 04/01/2014 - 11:42 am.

    “Greater leadership?”

    Mr. Dornfeld apparently believes that the state should ignore what light rail will do to and for the largest city it tears up, this in the name of “leadership.” He would invest more responsibility with the Met Council, an entity that continually makes promises it won’t keep and has bungled the process at many turns.

    One reason the Central Corridor will work is that it will serve the neighborhoods it runs through. Routing the Southwest line through a wooded corridor in Kenwood wrecks a unique asset while offering no service–which would be of little use to that neighborhood anyway–and no development potential.

    The Greenway route, once scrapped because it necessitated tunnels, should be back on the table. It would benefit Minneapolis commuters, spur development, and still allow St. Louis Park to renege on its commitment for the freight line. Yes, the investment would be greater, but so is the potential. That’s where leadership comes in, a different kind of leadership than this article appears to propose.

    • Submitted by David Greene on 04/01/2014 - 01:16 pm.

      Sigh

      “One reason the Central Corridor will work is that it will serve the neighborhoods it runs through. Routing the Southwest line through a wooded corridor in Kenwood wrecks a unique asset while offering no service–which would be of little use to that neighborhood anyway–and no development potential.”

      That’s extremely insulting to the people in Minneapolis it will serve, particularly Northside residents. Not only does SWLRT provide critical access to jobs, development, particularly around Penn and Van White, will be a huge benefit to Near North. Look up the Bassett Creek Valley Master Plan to see what the community has envisioned for the area.

      The Greenway route will in fact be developed alongside SWLRT. The Midtown corridor fills that role extremely well. It will also serve another transit-dependent community in the Whittier/Central/Phillips/Powerderhorn neighborhoods.

      Minneapolis should reconsider it’s definition of “benefit.” Let’s define “benefit” as, “increasing racial and economic equity in Minneapolis!” SWLRT improves equity. There is no doubt about that. We had a whole forum on the Northside yesterday where residents made that point loud and clear. But there is so much more we can do. *That* is what Minneapolis should be fighting for. Let’s get both SWLRT *and* even more equity!

      • Submitted by Kasia McMahon on 04/01/2014 - 07:32 pm.

        Benefits to Northside residents are grossly exaggerated

        The two stations in north Minneapolis will have an estimated ridership of 794 people per day. (Royalston-432, Van White -362) These two stations combined have a lower ridership estimate than the smallest suburban station: Eden Prairie City West – 1,007.

        It would be a shame to oppose a project that would improve economic equity in Minneapolis but there is no reasonable expectation that SWLRT is going to significantly do that, and to shame people for not wanting a better project is clearly exploiting a political narrative.

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

          Ridership

          Equity is not measured in ridership. That said, keep in mind that for some (so far unexplained) reason, the Bassett Creek Valley Master Plan was not considered in ridership models even though it was in the Minneapolis comprehensive plan during the Alternatives Analysis. It is highly likely that had it been included, the ridership numbers at Van White would be much higher.

          Furthermore, we must consider implementation of the Master Plan itself as a benefit of SWLRT.

          It is not all about ridership.

        • Submitted by Steven Prince on 04/02/2014 - 04:44 pm.

          So True

          If we really want a stop at Royalston to serve 432 riders a day we should add it on to the existing Central Corridor – Hiawatha Line, we certainly do not need to build a useless line through the Kenilworth alignment to accomplish that.

          The Van White Station is a total boondoggle – not in the right location to serve any significant number of users unless the residents of Kenwood are issued parachutes to get down off the Mount Curve escarpment. It is on the wrong side of the existing freight train line to ever be a useful station for people to the north of Bryn Mawr Meadows.

  8. Submitted by Linda Miller on 04/01/2014 - 12:07 pm.

    Re-route it

    Why is the train coming into the city and not benefiting the members of Minneapolis? Where do we get on it IN the city? Why can’t it be routed through areas where people could benefit from mass transit – such as Lake and Hennepin?
    As it stands, what is in it for Minneapolis? Why do we have to make it easier for suburbanites to come into our city at the expense of the residents of the city?

    • Submitted by David Greene on 04/01/2014 - 01:22 pm.

      Equity

      Lake and Hennepin will be served by the Midtown corridor. We have to look at the whole system, not just individual lines. Midtown and SWLRT will work synergistically to bring high-quality transit to *two* areas of Minneapolis. Isn’t that better than giving access to just one area?

      Minneapolis gets huge benefits from SWLRT. Northsiders get access to desperately needed jobs and educational resources. The reverse commutes on SWLRT are both significant and important. We heard that loud and clear from Northsiders last night. People keep trying to dismiss this aspect but it’s pretty hard to do when people are saying to your face, “yes, this is important to me!” Should we once again dismiss what Northsiders have to say?

      Minneapolis is cemented as the regional center with SWLRT. I would much rather have businesses locating in Minneapolis and suburbanites commuting in on SWLRT than have those businesses locate in Eden Prairie.

      Minneapolis gets development catalyzed at Penn, Van White and Royalston. That means housing, jobs and tax base.

      I agree that Minneapolis should fight for even more racial and economic equity. Killing SWLRT would be a huge setback for equity. Fighting for more equity is something I support wholeheartedly!

      • Submitted by Jeff Klein on 04/01/2014 - 04:21 pm.

        Wrong target

        Nobody buys this absurd post-hoc justification for the completely non-sensical routing of the line. If you care about the North Side, you should be fighting for the Bottineau line to not follow the same through-the-woods, to-the-suburbs routing mentality that has made the SW line a joke.

        • Submitted by David Greene on 04/01/2014 - 04:48 pm.

          Ask Northsiders

          Care to make your statement to the residents of the Northside I talked to yesterday?

          Who says we can’t fight for both SWLRT and Bottineau? You’re making a false choice.

          • Submitted by Jeff Klein on 04/02/2014 - 07:37 am.

            I am not making a false choice. If you do Bottineau right there’s no need for this downright comical routing of SW in the name of Northside equity.

            • Submitted by David Greene on 04/02/2014 - 11:50 am.

              Southwest

              The jobs are in the Southwest suburbs. Bottineau doesn’t go there.

              • Submitted by Jeff Klein on 04/02/2014 - 01:59 pm.

                Even more of a stretch

                So the entire justification of the route, then, is that it connects up to 400 poor Northsiders to employers in Eden Prairie just dying to hire them, and doesn’t inconvenience them with a single transfer in the process, although they do need to walk at least four blocks and then down into a ditch. At that point we may as well just give them each $3M.

                This just keeps getting weirder. Why not just be honest and give the only reasonable justification, which is that if we try to choose a sensible route it will cost more and take longer? That’s at least believable.

  9. Submitted by David Greene on 04/01/2014 - 01:08 pm.

    Nuance

    While I agree somewhat with what you have written, you are simplifying things a bit too much. Steve has repeatedly demonstrated a lack of understanding of the nuance of transportation development and that’s coming out again.

    Met Council could swing and become anti-transit (not just anti-rail) again. All it takes is an anti-transit idealogue in the Governor’s office. We have plenty of that kind of candidate around. Until the mechanics around Met Council appointments changes, the counties still serve an important role as keepers of the transit vision.

    Steve incorrectly conflates the “Bennett Loop” with the three missing stations on University Ave. Everyone agreed that the missing stations needed to be put back in the project. Almost no one thought the loop was a good idea. The loop was obvious pandering. The missing stations were not.

    The FTA muddied the waters when it required the freight issue to be budgeted as part of the SWLRT project. That put resolving the issue in the hands of the Met Council. While I would agree that that counties and especially Mn/DOT have the lion’s share of the blame around the freight issue, it’s not correct to say that they completely abdicated their responsibility. Their responsibility was taken away by the feds.

    Northstar was crippled when the link to St. Cloud was severed. It probably should have been put on hold at that point but it’s not correct to say the counties botched the plan. The legislature did.

    Union Depot is still very much an open question. We don’t even have the Green Line going there yet. Let’s wait a few years before we pass judgement.

    Rush Line and Red Rock were appropriately scaled back. It’s not the counties’ fault that the “expensive studies” determined rail isn’t the right option at this time. That’s *why* we do the studies!

    The municipal consent laws aren’t really the problem as far as canceled transit projects go (we haven’t had any, by the way). It’s the lack of political will to push projects forward. The consent laws allow moving forward without consent. We’re seeing the political will to push hard for SWLRT and that’s a good thing for the future of transit in our region. Minneapolis will undoubtedly get something out of the deal and that’s a good thing too. The process is working as intended.

    • Submitted by Jeff Klein on 04/02/2014 - 07:40 am.

      It’s interesting that you correctly identify the problem with the North star is with its half-baked execution yet advocate going forward with a similarly compromised plan for SW.

      • Submitted by David Greene on 04/02/2014 - 11:53 am.

        Plan

        Surprisingly, not everyone thinks the SWLRT plan is compromised.

        People in fact argued years ago for the Kenilworth alignment as a better way to serve the city. People from the very areas being dismissed as “not really served” and “living nowhere near the line.”

        • Submitted by Jeff Klein on 04/02/2014 - 01:53 pm.

          what are the arguments?

          Well, nobody’s made a cogent argument recently as to how stops in the middle of the woods better serve the city. Must have been fascinating arguments made back then. Sad to say I wasn’t around for them.

          • Submitted by Steven Prince on 04/02/2014 - 04:58 pm.

            I remember

            David’s been making these “Equity for the North-side” arguments for years, but I’m afraid he hasn’t convinced many of us.

            If getting few hundred side residents to suburban jobs in Eden Prairie is what we want to do – why can’t we extend the existing Hiawatha line to Royalston and then let those people ride the LRT to Nicollet and 5th Street where they would change for the SWLRT?

            That would accomplish what David wants, and create a SWLRT that actually serves the City.

  10. Submitted by Linda Miller on 04/01/2014 - 02:53 pm.

    what Greenway route?

    I don’t think there is a Greenway route in the works. Also, for “northsiders” this doesn’t provide much – the Bus Rapid Transit route for the northside actually seems to provide them with real transit options. I am a huge fan of light rail and think this is a good idea but NOT as it is currently planned. And why does Minneapolis have to fall on the sword so we can get 3 stops? Please re-route it.

    • Submitted by David Greene on 04/01/2014 - 05:40 pm.

      Reference and a Question

      “I don’t think there is a Greenway route in the works.”

      http://www.metrotransit.org/midtown-corridor

      “Also, for ‘northsiders’ this doesn’t provide much”

      Why is it that when CIDNA and Kenwood residents gather together and express concerns about “ruining a park” (which is not a park), “destroying the lakes” and “exploding oil tanker cars” (which the railroad has said will never run there) we take them at their word, but when Northsiders gather together and someone says, “I have job offers in Eden Prairie and I could get there with this,” we do not believe them?

  11. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 04/01/2014 - 04:25 pm.

    The irony is that we built 94

    The irony of all of this is that sixty years ago there was little problem plowing a freeway through the city in the most disruptive way possible, leveling a five-by-one mile stretch of neighborhoods. That was a terrible disruption for a terrible reason, but we over-learned the lesson. Now we can’t so much as move a twig in someone’s yard to run a thirty-foot wide light rail line that will actually strengthen neighborhoods. All of it is just so frustrating.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/01/2014 - 10:01 pm.

      Speaking of 94…

      I think we should cover it over between Hiawatha and Loring. Reclaim that land and re-connect downtown with uptown.

  12. Submitted by Nancy Gertner on 04/01/2014 - 04:36 pm.

    Convoluted process provides many places to point fingers

    Yes, one can blame county-led planning. But in a convoluted process, blame can be pointed many places. Commissioner McLaughlin, at a recent Minneapolis City Council meeting, blamed President Lincoln for giving too much power to the railroads. Perhaps he didn’t go back far enough, as today’s history lesson on rail in MN on MinnPost tells us Franklin Pierce was president when legislation to bring rail to MN was signed.

    So does anyone have a flow chart on how this transportation process is supposed to work? Some people hold the opinion that the Met Council should be abolished. One can see the value in an entity that has the responsibility to look out for the transit needs of a 7 county area when the communities within can be parochial in their interests and seemingly suffer from “tunnel vision” regarding transit needs outside their municipal borders.

    So, as the lead agency on SWLRT, the Met Council, to be successful, “needs” assistance from the governor and the legislature. Municipal consent is the “sticking point” this article’s author focused on, with Minneapolis apparently considering a lawsuit on environmental grounds if the Met Council’s SWLRT proposal does not meet with the approval of the largest city on the Green Line extension.

    So the new Minneapolis mayor faces the issue of what kind of a partner her city will be on this transit project. Does the “weak mayor” system give all the power to the city council? Accountability is therefore spread out among the electeds of the city’s wards. The political impact could be harsher on some incumbents than others, just as in Hennepin County.

    With Met Council members being appointed by the governor, there is a total turnover of the membership when the state’s chief executive changes, so the passing of the baton from Peter Bell to Susan Haigh is not the only leadership change. While there may not be a total staff turnover, certainly there must be considerable turnovers of key staff, and obviously Dornfeld did not stick around to work with a new council and chair. Surely that lack of Met Council continuity plays some role in why entities like the County Board and the MNDoT are not “held responsible” by other agencies to resolve the rail routing issue before resources are expended on the project.

  13. Submitted by Steven Dornfeld on 04/01/2014 - 08:35 pm.

    David Greene’s comments

    David says have I “repeatedly demonstrated a lack of understanding of the nuance of transportation development and that’s coming out again.” I seem to recall that David was unaware LRT can be engineered to make a right-angle turn, which it will do multiple times along the Central Corridor. I would suggest that David could show a little more respect for people who have been involved in transportation issues for decades longer than he has been.

    • Submitted by David Greene on 04/02/2014 - 12:23 pm.

      Hmm…

      I debated for a while whether this was worth responding to. A purely personal attack is usually best left alone.

      But just so I am clearer, I was referring to the political context around these decisions. I feel that you and many others have ignored the greater context in which these decisions were made and this happens repeatedly. It is not all about engineering, nor should it be. It is misleading to write a piece about the counties as bad actors when the governance structure in place and its decisions are driven by wide-reaching regional, statewide and national concerns.

      I am not saying “these are political decisions” in the pejorative sense. I am saying that in a properly functioning democracy, a lot more goes into decision-making than technical issues. That’s the part this piece is missing. It boils down these decisions to mere numbers on paper, avoiding the human consequences altogether and trivializing the hard work of thousands of people. It reads like a typical technocratic screed.

      As for right-angle turns, it’s true that I had been told that the St. Paul central station was run at an angle through the block due to problems with right-angle turns. I believed what I had been told and when I was corrected I immediately confessed my misunderstanding. Of course LRT can make right-angle turns. Hiawatha does it today to get into MoA.

  14. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/01/2014 - 10:04 pm.

    Besides, who else can plan regional projects?

    Anyways, the cities obviously can’t plan projects like this so why not let the county do? The counties seem like a logical choice and it’s city (MPLS) that’s jamming the plan.

  15. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/02/2014 - 10:02 am.

    Actually, there is an elephant in the room…

    The fact is that if anyone is responsible for the current “impasse” its the railroad company currently running in Kenilworth. That company is responsible for deciding that it wants to run longer and heavier trains that the Kenilworth corridor can accommodate but the SLP tracks cannot. It’s THAT decision that changed the game by requiring a major redesign to accommodate new trains rather than minor mitigation along the existing tracks.

    It seems kind of weird that everyone is trying to pin this on planners instead of the private company that sprung these demands on the project last August. Right or wrong it’s freight rail company that threw the wrench here, them most you can blame the planner for is not seeing the wrench coming.

  16. Submitted by Doug Trumm on 04/02/2014 - 10:41 pm.

    Overstating Northside benefit, underestimating SWLRT flaws

    David, I think it’s only fair to take a little flak when you troll every SWLRT article saying essentially the same thing. I do appreciate your concern for the Northside, but it seems like you are presenting anecdotal evidence rather than statistical evidence of widespread demand. I’m not convinced running LRT down a corridor just south of Near North/North will revolutionize their economies. I think it will help some Northside commuters who are already comfortable taking the #19 or other buses to connect. I don’t think SWLRT will cause people from other part of the cities and especially the suburbs to connect to the #19 at Penn Station to patronize Northside businesses. That’s the benefit of LRT through dense walkable neighborhoods with lots of commercial activity right by the stations. It draws people into the neighborhood and helps the economy both through access to jobs and customers for businesses in the area. I fear Penn Station is going to be a dead end for anyone not from North. Perhaps we can route Bottineau down Penn Ave to more directly serve North Minneapolis and avoid another “through the woods” alignment.

    Also, I think you are completely wrong about the 3C alignment “doubling up” on bus service. A well-used bus route is the surest sign a corridor can support LRT. Jane Jacobs, prescient as ever, predicted the struggles of Northstar and other lines that don’t follow this logic: “In the past, designers of transit systems had usually chosen to locate rail routes by observing which bus routes were the most heavily used, a pragmatic method that worked well in Toronto and elsewhere. After it was apparently lost to transit engineers’ memories in the 1960s, Toronto and a number of other cities… tried rail routes justified by other goals and these have proved unable to pull their weights, literally or figuratively. They don’t have enough passengers.” (Dark Age Ahead, 121)

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 04/03/2014 - 10:37 am.

      Right, and David Greene has not yet answered the question of

      why improving bus service along the #12 route would not be a good interim step for a route that is not going to open for several years. Or, if the economic well-being of the North side is a concern, why not extend the line deeper into the area with a run along Lyndale or some other main thoroughfare?

      From my experience of ten years of riding Portland’s light rail system, stops that do not serve actual destinations–a shopping area, a hospital, a concentration of housing, a school, a major bus transfer point– do not attract much ridership. In this case, the stops on the North side do not seem particularly convenient for residents and are more designed as a throwaway sop to North siders on a line whose real purpose is to spare suburbanites from traffic jams.

      Increasing frequency of service on the #12 line to equal that of the #17 would be a good test of the viability of the route. Otherwise, those attractive bus stops in the Excelsior-Grand area are terribly underused.

      As far as Eden Prairie is concerned, it already participates in Southwest Transit. What’s the demand there?

      • Submitted by David Greene on 04/03/2014 - 11:25 am.

        Routes

        The #12 and #17 do not serve Northsiders.

        Bottineau does not go to where the jobs area.

        Lyndale and Hennepin routes were considered and rejected. It’s not like anyone is coming up with new ideas no one has thought of before.

        Again, Northsiders have say they want this and will use it. They want the access it provides and the development it will bring to their communities. What is so darn hard to understand about that?

        Not everyone in Eden Prairie goes downtown. There are jobs all along the corridor. Just as Central Corridor is not primarily a downtown-to-downtown service, Southwest will serve many intra-corridor trips. There is a large Somali population in Eden Prairie, for example, that has said they are excited about the job opportunities SWLRT will open up. That tells me they aren’t looking to downtown for those jobs. If they were, they would take the bus today.

  17. Submitted by Doug Trumm on 04/02/2014 - 11:30 pm.

    Reaching Saint Cloud would not have saved Northstar

    Oh and Northstar would not have miraculously been saved by traversing another 30 miles of cornfield to reach that mecca that is Saint Cloud. It’s still way too low density throughout to support itself–a fundamental flaw not solved by lengthening the line. Northstar was crippled from the onset by poor design to begin with and avoiding density aka ridership, which is the primary reason you build transit.

  18. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/03/2014 - 10:47 am.

    Where were all you people with your great ideas…

    20 years ago when this planning was begun? I hate to tell you guys this but we are NOT in the “beginning” stages of planning here and as David keep pointing out we ended up with the routes we got for a lot of reasons.

    You can complain about Northstar if you want, I think it would’ve been better to run the first commuter rail south towards Rochester myself. But at the time anti choo-choo Republicans like Tim Pawlenty were doing everything they could to kill any kind of rail transport, They wanted these lines to fail, so we got what we could get, and you can’t blame the planners for not getting the best plan they had when it wasn’t up to them.

    And this Uptown alignment everyone keeps talking about… what Uptown alignment? Exactly when and in what alternate universe did we have a billion dollar budget to either dig a subway under 94 all the way to Uptown, or tear down countless homes, apartments, and business along Lyndale Ave in order to run a line above ground? We didn’t even have the money elevate the Hiawatha line between Lake Street and the Parkway and you guys think we could’ve made a pitch for a subway system in MPLS?

    Seriously, let’s get serious here.

    • Submitted by Doug Trumm on 04/03/2014 - 05:00 pm.

      I was 5 years old

      but I was pretty good with numbers. Still I wasn’t ready for regional transit planning at 5. The thing is you don’t need a multimillion-dollar study to get a general idea of a good corridor for a light rail line. Just look at density numbers. Overall Minneapolis has a density of 7,019 residents/square mile, but Kenwood neighborhood has just 2,200. It’s the wrong neighborhood in Minneapolis to target. Cedar Isles Dean has 4,440 per sq mile which is better but still below average for Minneapolis. West Calhoun’s density is also pretty low at 2,600 per square mile. True, you definitely expect and plan for growth, but even with 100% growth these neighborhoods would still be below average. Whittier, on the other hand, already has a density of 17,000 per square mile, as does Loring Park. And they are growing too.

      I think it’s pretty good that 200,000 people work in the SW corridor. That seems pretty good for a commute to work line. That said, we have an opportunity to make SWLRT so much more by selecting meaningful Minneapolis stations rather than stops in a meadow that might maybe one day get transit oriented development. Until sufficient development happens near the line, ridership will dip significantly in the evening hurting SWLRT’s bottom line (which will sour some policymakers to building more lines.)

      Engineering a line down Nicollet is doable, especially if the Met Council spent tens of millions of dollars studying tunnels and reroutes along Kenilworth. We would have to make some sacrifices–we always do–but at least it would be for a 21st century light rail line. The subway would only go under the Nicollet Mall to speed rail through this congested area. The rest of Nicollet could be at grade. I just don’t understand how we have $200 million plus to build a tunnel under a lake channel but we can’t afford or engineer a tunnel that actually fundamentally improve our transit network by reducing congestion downtown. But even without a tunnel, I think 3C is a superior alignment.

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 04/05/2014 - 04:35 pm.

      Twenty years ago?

      I was living in Oregon, and since moving here in 2003, I have felt that transit planning here has a serious flaw: the Metro Council is appointed by the current governor rather than elected, so transit policies may change every four years.

      Furthermore, I wonder how many of the Metro Transit planners actually ride the buses and light rail with any frequency or have ever tried to live without their cars to see how the system works for the poor, the elderly, the disabled, the under-16s, and anyone else who doesn’t drive. They may talk about “the poor,” but have they ever *experienced* what it is like not to have a car in the Twin Cities?

      If they had, the system would look quite different.

  19. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/03/2014 - 11:40 am.

    Do I really to point this out?

    I won’t pretend to speak for David, but you people do realize that the area isn’t frozen in time right? That near north area now has a really nice bridge connecting it directly to Uptown, and there will obviously be transit related development over there. No one has ever ruled out changes to the bus service… in fact on the contrary it’s kind of assumed that such changes will be made, that’s the whole advantage of bus service… it’s flexibility. People keep saying we can change the bus service, well of course we can improve the bus service? I thought it was obvious that we can improve the bus service AND build light rail?

    If we’re going dabble in transit planning we might want consider the fact that the future is probably going to look not exactly like the present?

  20. Submitted by Adam Platt on 04/03/2014 - 01:29 pm.

    Commenters Missing the Point

    Most of these comments validate the thrust of Steve’s argument, that major transit initiatives must be led by elected/appointed officials who have a regional picture in mind, are not subject to local parochialism, and have the resources to deploy the level of expertise that would have sounded alarm bells about potential problems long before they came to light.

    The point isn’t which route is right or wrong. It’s that the process is not structured to deliver the best result, best value for taxpayer dollars. You don’t have to accept Steve’s interpretation of every recent transit start to agree that our planning process is balkanized and wasteful.

  21. Submitted by Linda Miller on 04/03/2014 - 01:49 pm.

    The facts remain

    The route, as planned, is not serving Minneapolis, aside from 2 stops which Mr. Greene refers to as “northside” and while that is geographically true, it is NOT the North Minneapolis area that can benefit from increased, faster transit options. I suggest to Mr. Greene a visit to Broadway and 26th and see how the Northsiders feel about the SWLRT.
    Why can’t the supporters of the route, as planned, just OWN it – it is a route designed to move people who have chosen to live in the suburbs, into Minneapolis. It is not a benefit for the people of Minneapolis. It is in fact a detriment to everyone in Minneapolis other than the very few who will use the VanWhite stop.
    So, if our friends in the suburbs insist upon shoving this down Minneapolis’ throats, and we have no say in it, so be it. But please don’t pretend we in Minneapolis are somehow benefiting from it.
    This rail line will not increase tourism, it won’t make my route to work any easier, it won’t allow me to get from uptown to downtown without a car or a painful bus ride – it won’t do anything for me. If we just need to take our medicine just say so but don’t please tell us we should be happy about it.

    • Submitted by john schmoe on 04/03/2014 - 02:35 pm.

      Stops in Mpls

      Maybe I’m looking at a different route than you, but I see six, not two, stops in Mpls. West Lake, 21st Street, Penn, Van White, Royalston, Target Field. While I understand that public transportation cannot reasonably be all things to all people, it seems reasonable to look at the bigger picture. Calhoun Square is less than three miles from downtown. I regularly do that trip in 15 minutes on a 6 bus. Are we willing to throw away the biggest public transportation project in state history because we are not lowering that time? And by how much could it actually be lowered? It now takes longer than 15 minutes to get from Target Field to the Metrodome on the train.

      Or are we coming up with fake arguments for ulterior reasons?

      • Submitted by Doug Trumm on 04/03/2014 - 05:11 pm.

        Four

        Well Target Field station already exists so it doesn’t really count and 21st station is almost assuredly on the chopping block under a tunnel scenario. So it’s 4 stops in Minneapolis.

        Also, from what I understand the #6 rarely makes that trip in 15 minutes during rush hour and it’s only going to get worse as Uptown and Downtown/North Loop grow and the infrastructure fails to improve. Another problem is that the bus is overcrowded at peak hours which definitely turns off some riders.

        • Submitted by David Greene on 04/03/2014 - 09:16 pm.

          Routes

          There are plans for improved bus service on Hennepin and Lyndale. There are plans for a streetcar on Nicollet. There are plans tor LRT in the Midtown Greenway.

          It’s not like Uptown and the denser parts of South Minneapolis aren’t going to be connected to SWLRT. Minneapolis is going to get an LRT line entirely within its borders!

          We have to look beyond one line. We’re building a system.

        • Submitted by john schmoe on 04/03/2014 - 09:34 pm.

          Target Field station exists so it doesn’t count as a stop in Mpls? Okay, don’t really get that. You’re right about the 21st station though, my bad. So that’s five. What is the mile/stop ratio on that? (admittedly a made-up metric, but the more stops the greater incentive people have to take a car. if buses didn’t stop every 1/8 of a mile in mpls obviously they’d be quicker.) Not sure why development in downtown/northloop would impact 6 bus times to uptown.

          • Submitted by Doug Trumm on 04/04/2014 - 12:12 pm.

            It’s a stop, not a new one.

            SWLRT does not add this station, the station will be operational this year and serve existing Blue line and soon to be operational Green line.

            Thousands more people living in Uptown, Downtown and the North Loop could likely lead to more congestion clogging Hennepin and slowing buses to the point they keep pace with their current times. Also more busses might be filled to capacity meaning you would have to wait for the next bus.

    • Submitted by David Greene on 04/03/2014 - 09:23 pm.

      Minneapolis

      See below for an explanation of what is coming to improve your commute.

      I have been to many meetings along Broadway. People I’ve talked to are looking forward to SWLRT. I have no doubt that it doesn’t matter to others. It doesn’t matter to a lot of people in the sense of individual benefit. It matters to all of us in terms of regional benefit.

      The route is *not* designed just to move people from the suburbs into Minneapolis. Many of the communities around the suburban stations are very diverse, with two in Eden Prairie having a higher concentration of people of color than any of the Minneapolis stations. Many of those suburban station areas have poverty levels approaching those of the Van White station area. I’ve talked to representatives from those communities. They aren’t looking to go downtown, they’re looking to get to jobs elsewhere along the corridor. Hopkins and St. Louis park have a lot of light industrial jobs and Eden Prairie has a lot of medical and technology jobs.

      It’s unfortunately that so much misinformation has been deliberately fed to Minneapolis residents. And it has indeed been deliberately fed.

  22. Submitted by Linda Miller on 04/04/2014 - 09:29 am.

    Minneapolis

    So stop the train in St. Louis Park if the main benefit is to provide jobs along the line, exclusive of Minneapolis.
    I have not read or listened to any information or disinformation about the SW line – in fact, I have really been ignoring the whole issue until I read a couple articles here on Minnpost over the past week. So, nobody has fed me any misinformation. It doesn’t take much for anyone who has ever been in the Kenilworth corridor, to realize it is an illogical place for a light rail line.
    I live nowhere near it, FYI.

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