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In defense of the Met Council

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
The Metropolitan Council building on Robert Street in St. Paul.

For months, it seems, the Metropolitan Council has been under nearly constant attack: on the alignment of the Southwest Corridor light-rail transit line; on its 2040 regional growth plan; on the adequacy of its plans for suburban highways and the list goes on.

The council may well have made a few missteps along the way. But the sad fact is that there has been a serious erosion in political support for taking a regional approach to addressing regional challenges. The agency has become a popular whipping boy for critics on both the left and the right, for both urban and suburban interests.

For the Met Council, long viewed as a national model for regional planning and governance, the challenges may only grow. Members of the new state House Republican majority have indicated they will push for legislation to “rein in” the council, and it’s uncertain how DFLers will respond.

I admit to being biased. I was around for the creation of the council by the Minnesota Legislature in 1967. I reported on the council during its early — and some might say its best — years. I commented on its work as an editorial writer. And I served as the council’s public affairs director for eight years.

Most of today’s critics do not fully appreciate the problems that gave rise to the council’s creation — by a Republican (then called “Conservative”) Legislature and a Republican governor:

  • By the early 1960s, this region was facing a major sewage treatment and disposal problem. Inadequately treated waste was being discharged into the Mississippi River, Lake Minnetonka and other regional waterways. Meanwhile, many developing suburbs were relying on backyard septic systems for sewage disposal. In 1959, the Minnesota Department of Health found that half of the private wells in 39 suburban communities were contaminated with septic waste.

  • The Twin Cities’ bus system was being driven into the ground by its private owners, who were raising fares while siphoning off the revenues for other, more lucrative, ventures. In 1970, when Twin City Lines was acquired by the public, two-thirds of its 635 buses were at least 15 years old and 86 of them were so old they were banned from the streets of Minneapolis.

  • Development was encroaching on forests, wetlands and other natural areas that were better suited for preservation as parks and open space. The site of what is now the 2,200-acre Lake Elmo Regional Park was being eyed for a shopping mall or a solid waste landfill.

  • Growing fiscal disparities were making it difficult many suburban communities to meet basic public service needs and providing unhealthy incentives for development at any cost.

With the help of a supportive Legislature, the Met Council attacked all of these problems, developing modern transit and wastewater treatment systems, working with the 10 cities and counties to create a 55,000-acre regional park system and supporting innovative legislation to reduce the tax-base disparities among Twin Cities communities.

More importantly, the 1967 law gave the Twin Cities a regional planning body to help ensure the “orderly and economic development” of the seven-county area and the efficient use of our expensive regional infrastructure. Only Portland has a body with similar powers, and these two regions are the envy of other major metro areas across the nation. Metro areas regularly send delegations of civic and business leaders to the Twin Cities to learn more about our regional model.

Easy political target

However, the Twin Cities Met Council is an easy political target because its members are appointed by the governor, not elected. When the council was created, floor amendments to provide for the election of its members failed narrowly in both houses. Since then, several efforts to provide for an elected council have been similarly unsuccessful.

The council is not the all-powerful agency some critics claim. While it has an $890-million annual operating budget and more than 4,000 employees, the council has limited taxing and borrowing powers. Its budget and programs regularly are scrutinized by multiple legislative committees. And it is on a very short political leash.

Its 17 members not only are appointed by the governor, but also serve at his pleasure. Sixteen members represent districts of equal population and ostensibly govern the agency. But all major decisions are made by the chair in consultation with the governor’s office. The council can’t take a major action, propose legislation, request state funding or even issue a news release without approval of the governor’s office.  

Governors of both parties routinely have bypassed the council on major decisions affecting the region, most notably the location and financing of major sports facilities. (Does anyone really think this region needs five different, and often competing, sports venues?)

The Legislature also has fragmented responsibility for transit planning and operations, authorizing the creation of six suburban transit operations, seven county rail authorities and the Counties Transit Improvement Board. This not only has undermined the Met Council’s authority, but also has resulted in waste and inefficiency.

Among the monuments to this waste: The $320 million Northstar commuter rail line, which has yet to meet its first-year ridership projections while requiring double-digit operating subsidies per ride, and the $243 million purchase and renovation of St. Paul’s Union Depot, which serves just two Amtrak trains a day and — predictably — has failed to attract new tenants to its vast restaurant/retail space.

‘Council of governments’: parochial and ineffective

In the coming legislative session, critics may well attempt to eliminate the council or transform it into a council of governments (COG), with elected city and county officials serving as members. That would be a huge mistake. In metro areas across the country, COGs have proven to be parochial and ineffective.

“The COG is a discredited governing form,” says Curt Johnson, a former Met Council chair and a nationally known urban affairs consultant. “There are perhaps four or five effective COGs in this country. And none of them owns or operates the things the Met Council does.”

Former state Sen. Myron Orfield, a University of Minnesota professor and author of several books on regionalism, agrees that COGs “haven’t worked very well.” Orfield, who unsuccessfully pushed for an elected council while serving in the Minnesota Senate, says he still believes its members need to be elected to gain political legitimacy.

“There is a certain respect for elected officials from other elected officials,” Orfield says.

It’s unlikely that the next Legislature will revive the idea of electing Met Council members. After all, their districts would be four times the size of a Minnesota House district and they might soon eclipse legislators in importance.

However, the Legislature could go back to having council members appointed by the governor for fixed, staggered four-year terms — to give the council greater continuity and greater freedom to advocate on the region’s behalf.

Other ideas that should be on the table:

  • Making the position of council chair a full-time job. The position now pays just $61,400 a year and is considered part-time, but it simply can’t be done on a part-time basis, as past chairs have discovered. Current chair Sue Haigh has tried to perform her duties while also serving as president and CEO of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, a juggling act that no doubt has shortchanged both agencies as well as Haigh and her family.
  • Hiring a high-level planning director to help shape the council’s vision for the region. The council increasingly has been dominated by managers and administrators, while planners have slipped farther and farther down the bureaucratic ladder.  Staff work on the council’s most recent long-range growth plan, Thrive 2040, was led by a research manager with no background in planning. The council needs another planning guru like Robert Einsweiler or Oliver Byrum, who served the agency in its early years.
  • Reexamining the geographic area served by the council. The council was assigned responsibility for seven metro counties a half-century ago. By anyone’s estimation, the economic boundaries of the Twin Cities metro area have expanded well beyond seven counties to as many as 19. In four of the adjacent counties — Chisago, Isanti, Sherburne and Wright — 50 percent or more of the employed residents commute to jobs in the seven-county area, as this chart shows: 

County of Residence

County Total Workers

Number of Workers who Work in 7 County Region

Percent of Total County Workers

Chisago, MN




Isanti, MN




Sherburne, MN




Wright, MN




Mcleod, MN




Sibley, MN




Le Sueur, MN




Rice, MN




Goodhue, MN




MN Subtotal




Pierce, WI




Polk, WI




St. Croix, WI




WI Subtotal








Source: U.S. Census Bureau,2011 data

The metro area and neighboring counties need a way to coordinate their planning for growth, transportation, sewers, water supply and other issues. 

The Metropolitan Council was created with the support of leading business and civic leaders, the Citizens League, metro area officials in the League of Minnesota Cities and enlightened legislators of both political parties. It needs and deserves that same kind of support today.

Comments (31)

  1. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 11/17/2014 - 09:34 am.

    More transparency and accountability

    I appreciate Mr. Dornfield’s insight and perspective on the Met. Council. I cannot disagree with his comment that “[t]he metro area and neighboring counties need a way to coordinate their planning for growth, transportation, sewers, water supply and other issues.”

    But if anything, his comment understates the degree to which “managers and administrators” run the Met. Council. For the communities in the suburbs, the “Met. Council” are not the Governor’s appointees; the “Met. Council” are the faceless bureaucrats who deal with the approval and development of projects and approval of comprehensive plans and comp. plan amendments. One thing lacking at the Met. Council is transparency and accountability for actions taken in its name by these faceless bureaucrats.

    Mr. Dornfield doesn’t even mention the big engineering firms which are deeply engaged in planning, designing and building infrastructure for the Met. Council. The sewer and water systems designed for the ever expanding MUSA line are not designed and constructed by Met. Council employees but by large, multistate engineering firms which are also engaged in road design and construction. These same firms often act as engineering firms for municipalities where they also design and construct projects for multistate developers. None of these project actions which result in MUSA line expansion are ever approved by the Met. Council in a formal vote as far as I can reckon. Does anyone on the Met. Council have any clue how these firms are making money for their services?

    Plans for projects like sewer interceptors are approved bureaucratically years in advance. The Met. Council itself never goes on record voting for these projects which eventually expand the MUSA line. The result is that significant actions like expanding the MUSA line are taken without any involvement or vote by the Council proper. I wonder if even any of the appointed members of the Met. Council by any of the previous four Governors have any idea what is really going on in the offices of the faceless bureaucrats who work for the Met. Council?

    One reform not mentioned by Mr. Dornfield which I’d suggest is that the legislature require the Met. Council, i.e. the Governor’s appointees, to review each project and go on record with a vote on many of the actions which are now approved at the bureaucratic level. It’s time for this agency to have greater transparency and accountability.

  2. Submitted by Jim Million on 11/17/2014 - 09:42 am.

    Central Planning

    Mr. Dornfeld puts forth a tidy propaganda piece in defense of central planning. He was, as disclosed, an insider for eight years. He should be well-versed in all issues of this quest for ever-growing regionalism [control]. It is no small irony that an organization founded, in large part, to process metropolitan waste should be held to account for its own by-products.

    As such, Mr. Dornfeld might more clearly describe the Met Council’s planning failures as well as its publicized successes. He does note the key issue of accountability:

    “However, the Twin Cities Met Council is an easy political target because its members are appointed by the governor, not elected.”

    QED, Mr. Dornfeld,

  3. Submitted by jody rooney on 11/17/2014 - 09:44 am.

    This is a very revealing article

    I think the Council has always had a quality problem in attracting and keeping good employees. Part of it is working for probably the most aligned public agency in the state which does not instill a sense of pride or accomplishment in the work place.

    Having worked for both the public and private sector, working in a public agency is a lot harder than working for the private sector. The internal games are not as cut throat but the success criteria is a moving target not as simple as pure profit and a lot of people think they are your boss and many of them are politicians a short attention span group if ever there was one.

    Many people survive by not listening – the DNR as an agency could teach a class in not listening (note: there are some really great people that work there who are very, very good at what they do but that isn’t the culture of the agency). I keep wondering if they have heard the message with all the millions for the environment that are now being funneled through Lessard Sam/Outdoor Heritage Council and LCCMR.

    It takes exceptionally good leaders to keep employees motivated, productive and goal rather than task oriented in that kind of environment.

  4. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 11/17/2014 - 10:12 am.

    Enabling low-density development

    “Development was encroaching on forests, wetlands and other natural areas that were better suited for preservation as parks and open space.”

    Phew, I’m glad they put a stop to all that.

    But seriously, expanding the definition of “metro” would only enable more sprawl. Maybe early on when it was already true that “it [was] difficult [for] many suburban communities to meet basic public service needs” it should have been taken as a clue that this wasn’t a sustainable pattern of development rather than inventing the Met Council to bail it out and perpetuate it.

    Oh well, let’s go build some park and rides in corn fields, stop the Northstar thirty miles short of St. Cloud, and then complain that it doesn’t work.

  5. Submitted by Arvonne Fraser on 11/17/2014 - 11:17 am.

    Dornfield’s excellent summary suggests the Metro Council chair become full time. That should be done. It is more than a full time job. It does need an appropriately compensated full time chair and more planners, probably one from outside this state to bring a fresh perspective.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/17/2014 - 11:32 am.

    Good piece

    I’m not bothered by Steve Dornfeld’s bias. Any “insider” is going to have biases when reporting the goings-on of a public agency, so a reader merely has to view the article through that lens. Keeping in mind that I’m a relative newbie to metro-area politics, I’m inclined to agree with Jeff Klein’s criticisms. That said, however, and having worked around the fringes of DRCOG in Denver as a suburban planning commissioner, I’m also inclined to agree with Dornfeld and a few of the critics quoted that Councils of Government don’t work very well. DRCOG in Denver doesn’t have the clout or legal authority that the Met Council has, and the Denver metro area suffers to some degree as a result.

    Municipalities behave much like preschoolers. “Mine” is the operative principle, and parochialism on a grand scale is usually the result. There’s competition between and among them for jobs, roads, tax dollars, other forms of mass transit, and almost anything else you can think of that’s related to keeping a modern municipality operating reasonably efficiently. They tend to behave as if *everything* related to running a city is a zero-sum game, when there’s plenty of evidence that that’s not the case.

    I spent more than half a century in St. Louis County (Missouri) watching 96 municipalities argue over virtually everything without actually accomplishing much of anything – for the region or for their own parochially-minded residents. Not for a minute do I want to suggest that the Met Council doesn’t need any tweaks – I’m very much in favor of more transparency in both the decision-making process as well as the more mundane business of “who voted for what” – but that doesn’t negate the value of having a broader horizon than the city one happens to live in. What’s good for Minneapolis isn’t always good for the other cities in the metro area, and similarly, what’s good for one of the ‘burbs isn’t necessarily good for Minneapolis, or St. Paul, or many of the other ‘burbs.

    I’m very much on board with Arvonne Fraser – the council chair ought to be a full-time position, appropriately compensated, and as a former planning commissioner, my own bias is that hiring more planners, and especially a planning director who’s *not* tied to the local political scene, would be an excellent idea.

    • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 11/17/2014 - 02:19 pm.

      I like these ideas from you Ray.

      They would answer some of the criticisms of the Met Council without going down the path of another purely political body. Any one who actually thinks that electing members to the Council would improve it is ignoring the political reality in this country – there is much more than distrust among parties to the point of hatred. Mpls, St. Paul, inner suburbs, and outer suburbs need more professional referees, not more ideological proponents. My brother spends a lot of time in St. Louis County, MO; he can’t believe the disfunction.

  7. Submitted by David Markle on 11/17/2014 - 11:47 am.

    More accountability, more power

    We certainly need good regional planning and oversight. I agree with Myron Orfield that the Council should be an elected body; then it might deserve the power it needs to accomplish its mission. In LRT planning, the Council shirked its mission by allowing St. Paul/Ramsey County to get their way with putting the Green Line on the surface of University Avenue and spoil the regional potential as a transit trunk line. In the case of the Southwest Corridor, who would argue that the Council has handled the matter well, as to either planning or political process? Various responsible entities, public and private, have long called for reform of the Council, and the Legislature needs to take appropriate action.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 11/17/2014 - 10:26 pm.

      Elections for the Met Council would be an unmitigated disaster. It would just take the partisan politics from the legislature and transfer them to the Met, with all the infighting and do-nothing bickering you see now.

      If you don’t like the way the Met is run now, the solution is easy: elect a different governor. Then you’ve got the whole council covered in one shot.

      The “various responsible entities, public and private” that you cite have only called for reform for the past couple of years, once Dayton came to office. Before that I never read any articles about any reform whatsoever. I’ve also noted that the people who are primarily calling for reform are the outlying suburbs, who have the most to lose if the Met doesn’t fund their roads, sewers, and water hook-ups. Want to know why they complain so much? Just follow the money, baby!

      And to be clear: no one is talking about cutting off the ‘burbs from funding. They’re just talking about dialing it back a bit and getting some more equity into the inner core, an area that’s long been neglected. It’s about time we spent a couple of bucks on mass transit options instead of pouring yet more money down the highway drain.

  8. Submitted by Bob Pleban on 11/17/2014 - 12:34 pm.

    Met Council

    They need to let the suburbs act in ways that will fit that particular community. Met Council seems to force their thoughts on communities that can do very well without the Met Council having the last word.

  9. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 11/17/2014 - 12:42 pm.

    Hurrah for a refocus on planning

    Thanks for this piece.

    Studying planning in California in the early Nineties, where COGs pretended to rule the roost in metropolitan areas as local governments continued to screw one another out of one thing or another as they always had, students usually marveled over the Metropolitan Council. The Met Council seemed like the wave of the future in regional planning and it certainly still has the potential to work as it had in it’s first few decades of guiding the infrastructure needed for developing this or that in the Metro.

    Still, after 20 years and like Jeff Klein, seeing it up close made this student realize that making bigger or changing the kind of ‘commons’ you have does not make it any less of a ‘tragedy’. We have to define limits or a Met Council serving “at the pleasure of the governor” and legislative whims will continue to increase the entropy of the agency and the region.

    Barring a prophet from God telling us how to improve things, we should at least have some insulation between our ideologically driven politicians and the Council. Perhaps there is a way to do it.

    Half or more of the Council should be locally elected and the remainder appointed as usual, by the governor. The ‘chair’ should be elected by the council only to run meetings and a position of Council director should be hired by the governor based on qualifications for the job as defined by law. Heads of large planning agencies with experience in dealing with at least a few facets of infrastructure in large metropolitan areas would be good to have instead of the partisan appointees running the thing now.

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/17/2014 - 01:44 pm.

    This is not a good time to make a big change

    We’re wrapped in a coil hyper partisan demands and switching to an elected council would just create another format for partisanship. Anti-government republicans would just try to paralyze the council the same they try to paralyze every other government entity.

    As far as I can tell the big liberal problem with the council right now stems from little more than anti-suburban prejudice. The fact that we’re finally extending transit into the suburbs just seems to freak some people out. I’ve never seen so many incoherent and ridiculous arguments from liberals as we’ve seen regarding the SWLR corridor. It would be funny if it didn’t have the potential of destroying a model that’s worked pretty good for us thus far.

    • Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 11/17/2014 - 04:12 pm.

      Actually, I’d be fine with extending transit to the suburbs if we had a workable system in place in the denser parts of the city. But that’s not the case, and so these big investments in suburban mass transit seem like yet another wave of money being sent outward from the core while the city languishes. We’ve spent 50+ years building out highway systems for the suburbs’ benefit, and now they get the mass transit investments too?

      They need to realize a strong core city is necessary for the kind of economic vitality we have and actually invest more in it. My biggest complaint is that the met council covers too big of a geographic area and needs to contract down a bit, since it will always be unfairly weighted towards suburban dominance in any elected scheme. If they want to keep building subdivisions 40 miles out, that’s fine, but they need to pay for their own roads and sewers and stop relying on people in areas with already-established infrastructure to help them turn their farmland into real estate gold. The mere suggestion that the suburbs might have to start sharing their toys with people in the cities that have been screwed for decades made them throw a tantrum.

  11. Submitted by John Ellenbecker on 11/17/2014 - 02:29 pm.


    history is all to often forgotten.

  12. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 11/17/2014 - 02:45 pm.

    Transportation problems perceived as the Council’s are pretty much a problem with federal funding requirements. If states were reimbursed based on how effectively a transportation system worked rather than how well they jumped through hoops, you would see more support for regional solutions like our abysmally slow and stupid start on light rail and the circus each line presents from start to finish.

    I don’t see partisan politics in municipalities and unincorporated areas of the Metro as too relevant on the whole, so elected Council members are certainly not going to politicize things more; in fact, they might spread reason throughout the state like an infection. If you think things as they are, appointments by the governor, are not partisan, then you are sadly mistaken.

    I simply want to see that executive office control balanced through local elected members as half the Council membership. This would serve to slow the swing of the partisan pendulum for consistently more reasonable approaches by this agency over time.

  13. Submitted by Victoria Wilson on 11/17/2014 - 03:44 pm.

    The Met Council and efficiencies

    It would be nice to see the Met Council meet its objective of fostering efficient growth, with efficient being the key word. From its vantage point across county lines the council is in an ideal spot to identify the duplication services and wear down the least efficient providers through attrition. As a coordinator of infrastructure and a watch dog of its efficient use perhaps it could suggest a way to collapse duplicate services of shared resources, let’s take for example, water.

    We hunter and fisherpersons, birders and lake folk, environmentalists and urban trail walkers all love our water quality, and we were united in funding the Land and Water Legacy Amendment. I think we are also united in the hope for the thrifty disbursal of said funding.

    Yet there are seven governement entities who either supervise, regulate, permit or authorize clean water: cities, counties, MN pollution control agency, MN Health Dept, DNR, watershed districts, soil and water conservation districts. That comes to seven: seven engineers, seven lab techs, seven site inspectors, seven support staff and on it goes. Although there are several aspects to water -above ground and below ground, potable in our homes and drainage away from our homes- seven layers seems excessive. A minimum of three permitting authorities supervise any adjustment to privately owned lakeshore.

    The EPA, perhaps sensing an ease of public support and apparent openness to water control, is also in the process of making a play to become the eighth supervisor of our water quality by submitting a proposal to Congress which would broaden their territory. So next time you want to enhance your lake place up north, in addition to submitting plans and proposals to the local authorities, the county authorities and the DNR, you may also be sending off a package to Washington DC which will sit on a standard issue desk, in a utilitarian looking low-rise building awaiting yet another stamp of approval.

    Perhaps if the Met Council strong armed cross-line efficiencies and kept other federal entities out of our public resource business, residents would be less critical of their performance in other areas.

  14. Submitted by John Clouse on 11/17/2014 - 04:26 pm.

    Met Council

    I am sure that Detroit, MI wishes it had a system in place with the planning powers of our Met Council.

    I believe that the Council should include more counties and cities and use its power attempt to contain or regulate sprawl.

  15. Submitted by Ima Heeza on 11/17/2014 - 05:38 pm.

    Please Mind Your Own Business

    This mindset about moving everyone into an urban density is odd. Forcing a lifestyle on citizens is wrong. What’s the point except control?

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 11/17/2014 - 10:16 pm.


      No one’s forcing anything on anyone. If someone wants to live in a low density suburb, there are certainly plenty of those around. It’s not like we’re going to run out of them any time soon like the Christmas present du jur at your local Toys R Us.

      What the Met Council does is encourages higher density development as that is more sustainable than low density housing. The energy use (and corresponding pollution) is less if you can walk or take mass transit to do your errands. Currently people have to drive just to get a gallon of milk or head to the dentist and that’s expensive. Outside of housing, cars are the most expensive item on people’s monthly bill.

      Now if you still want to have your house on five acres out in Bell Plain, feel free to build away. But don’t expect your water and sewer system to be paid for by the rest of us. If you want those amenities, there are plenty already built a little closer in to the Cities.

    • Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 11/18/2014 - 08:59 am.

      Nope, you’re perfectly welcome to live in sprawlville if you’re willing to start actually paying the full price. Your low-density lifestyle has been subsidized by high-density efficiencies for a long time now, but you can only stretch a dollar so far out into the wilderness.

  16. Submitted by Neal Gendler on 11/17/2014 - 10:53 pm.

    An observation

    Interesting responses to Steve’s excellent piece — some of them thoughtful and well-informed.

    I just have a quick observation about the photo of the Met Council’s building: The place looks like a fortress, its first floor hidden behind what appear to be concrete panels. It seems not only not to invite or allow passers-by to look in or come inside but actually to repel them.

    Sure, this is a small matter in the debate about the council (which I’m thankful this region has even if I think it’s utterly stupid about SW light rail) and its powers, but perhaps ending this Berlin Wall look would somewhat reduce residents’ feeling of the council’s remoteness.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 11/18/2014 - 12:26 pm.

      Building Design

      Yeah, I’ve looked at the building many times and wondered aloud at its bunker design and drab exterior. The next thought that popped up was “what would happen if they instead put up a building with a light, vibrant, and welcoming look?” It’s pretty easy to see where that would go. People would scream bloody murder about how the Met Council is WASTING YOUR TAX DOLLARS on this white elephant. All the old yellers, screamers, and nay sayers would have a field day.

      Heck, just look at the political hay the Republicans are trying to make out of the new Senate office building. This is exactly why we don’t get a lot of reinvestment in infrastructure and, when it is built, it looks like a flippin’ bunker. There are too many people out there these days that don’t have any civic pride and just want everything built with the minimal cost.

      As another example, there were a lot of people who said we should just tear down the state capital and build a basic office building instead. Luckily no one listened to them, but unfortunately they do get someone’s ear way too often.

      • Submitted by Neal Gendler on 11/18/2014 - 11:28 pm.

        Ah, yes, the “Democrats’ luxury office building”

        I presume that when it’s finished, no Republican senators will be allowed inside.

  17. Submitted by Steven Dornfeld on 11/18/2014 - 04:54 pm.

    Met Council Bldg

    The Met Council acquired its current building from the state Dept of Trade and Economic Development and renovated it for far less than what it was paying in rent for an aging building located on across from Mears Park in Lowertown. Admittedly, the building is not an architectural gem. But the idea — shockingly enough — was to save taxpayer money.

  18. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/20/2014 - 09:13 am.

    This is what I’m talking about:

    Mr. Coppock says:

    “Actually, I’d be fine with extending transit to the suburbs if we had a workable system in place in the denser parts of the city. But that’s not the case, and so these big investments in suburban mass transit seem like yet another wave of money being sent outward from the core while the city languishes. We’ve spent 50+ years building out highway systems for the suburbs’ benefit, and now they get the mass transit investments too?”

    This just looks like urban-centric/anti-suburban prejudice pretending to be critical analysis to me. And we’re seeing a lot of it these days. There are several factual mistakes behind a lot of these urbanist assumptions.

    1) For some reason urbanist’s are now equating Light Rail with Highways as if light rail or transit systems created suburban sprawl. ( See Johnathan Mack’s Minnpost article: )

    Transit like light rail does not produce the same commuter behavior or development patters that the highways and road systems produced. This is a well known fact. Transit isn’t built for people to drive on, and people driving produce sprawl patterns of development. Transit produces development along the transit line thereby concentrating development and balancing rather than promoting sprawl development. The phenomena of transit related development is so well established established they created a term for it: “Transit Related Development”.

    2) Urbanists appear to be suffering from selective amnesia when suggest talk about transit related sprawl because when we built the LR lines in their cities every marveled at the transit related development that took place along the lines. Transit related development is actually cheaper and easier in the suburbs because for the most part nothing needs to be torn down and replaced. In the cities transit related development is typically “infill” which is much more costly and disruptive process than one usually finds in the suburbs.

    City infill projects can run into a lot of neighborhood opposition, consider the Calhoun Village high rise, and the Lyndale-Franklin Ave. proposal that recently collapsed for instance. Demolishing neighborhood character and replacing it with cookie-cutter contemporary “high” density high rises isn’t as easy as urbanists like to make it sound. Which brings me to yet another flaw in the urbanist anti-suburb cannon.

    3) One of the primary articles of faith amongst urbanists is that “higher density” living and housing is more economical and environmentally friendly, therefore we need to re-populate the cities. This is simply wrong. In theory, density could offer some advantages, IF you were building cities from scratch. In reality our cities are all over 100 years old with inefficient and crumbling service infrastructure. This is one reason that the per capita city budget for Minneapolis is $3,000 per year while the per capita budget for St. Louis Park is less than $700. If “density” is so much more efficient, why does it cost so much more to live in? By the way, in St. Louis Park we’re already replacing our roads, sewer, and water mains, and THAT project is already included in the budget I’m providing here.

    4) Urbanists have also developed amnesia regarding the whole reason for building transit when they ask: “whats the point of extending transit out to the suburbs?” Look at the population of the metro area- 3.4 million people live in the metro area, 700,000 of them actually live in Minneapolis or St. Paul, that’s about 20%. 80% of the population lives in the suburbs, Suburban light rail lines are connecting the cities with the population center, NOT the other way around.

    Check it out: The population of downtown Minneapolis DOUBLES during weekdays when suburban commuters travel into the city for work, shopping, and other sundry reasons. Urbanists are telling us it’s a waste of money providing transit options for those commuters? Instead we should be putting our money into subways systems so city dwellers can get from Uptown to Downtown? (See Nick Magrino’s: “MPLS Should Skip Streetcars” here on MinnPost: )

    Look, I get it, no one “defends” sprawl, but like all prejudice anti-suburban prejudice is irrational at it’s core. Urbanist demands that transit should only built within city limits are simply goofy. By the way, the only transit lines that currently run in MN ARE in the cities, at the cost of around $3 billion, only a fraction of which was paid for by our urban dwellers. Now that we’re finally going to get some of the advantages of the transit that we pay for in the suburbs, urbanists are stepping forwards with a combination of amnesia, faulty assumptions, and simply angst towards their suburban neighbors. Enough already.

  19. Submitted by Jim Million on 11/21/2014 - 09:25 am.

    Efficiencies of Purpose

    If everyone considers the subtle differences between “effective” and “efficient,” planning and outcomes may converge in some harmonious way.

  20. Submitted by David Markle on 11/23/2014 - 04:26 pm.

    An elected Council

    Having an elected Met Council Board of Commissioners might bring some partisan bickering, as abhored by Paul Udstrand, but it would tend to promote greater public awareness of Met Council’s projects and activities, and improve transparency. I would think that some Commissioners should represent sub-regions (by population) and some (at large) the entire region. Thiis change, together with reforms along the lines discussed by Steve Dornfeld, should help avoid such debacles as the Green Line route practically getting determined by the Midway Chamber of Commerce rather than according to regional plans. Who knows, it might even help get more money for worthwhile objectives like tunneling rail in densely populated areas in order to serve those areas while preserving transit speed and avoid disrupting urban life on grade.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/24/2014 - 08:52 am.


      You mean like the Vikings Stadium deal our ELECTED representatives put together? Or the Park Board? Or the development schemes the City Council and County have created for the North Side? There’s no reason to assume that an elected council would be more transparent. As for awareness, how many people can name their state representative, Henn Co. board member, Sheriff, or district judge? The Met Council is just as transparent as other public entities, maybe even a little more so, and you can be as aware of it as you want to be.

      Elections would also bring campaigns and campaign contributors into the process thereby making special interest influence more likely. Let’s talk about the money chambers of commerce dump into elections if you want to complain about Midway.

      The Green Line isn’t a debacle, it’s quite successful, as is the Blue Line. And as far funding is concerned, elected officials would have no more luck finding money than the current council, and if you got no-new-tax pledge republicans in there they’d actually vote down new funding more often than not.

      Look, I’m just not seeing the big problem here with the Met Council. Sure we have growth and transit issues but it’s silly to blame that on the Met Council when the Council is the ONE entity that’s recognized the problems and tried to deal with them effectively. You can’t blame sprawl, or the bus service problems, etc. on the Met Council when everyone from city governments to state legislators have played a roll in creating the problems we’re facing. By and large the Met Council has made good recommendations and pushed us in the right direction. The Met Council can’t tell farmers in Maple Grove or Orono they can’t sell their land to developers, or tell city councils there not they can’t issue building permits.

      The commuter rail to nowhere sharing freight tracks was a deliberately manufactured republican fiasco engineered by anti choo-choo conservatives, NOT the Met Council. If that line ran all the way to St. Cloud, or better yet ran down to Rochester, and had adequate and enforceable track priority it was meeting or exceeding its ridership projections.

  21. Submitted by David Markle on 11/23/2014 - 04:39 pm.

    Transit-oriented development

    Thus far, no good case has been made that significant transit-oriented development has taken place along LRT routes to justify the routes. The transit must be justified as transit, not as an expensive and questionable spur to development.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/24/2014 - 09:07 am.

      No and Yes

      Actually, several good cases have been made for transit oriented development. For instance the Green Line has spurred at least $2.5 Billion worth of investment. and development along the Blue Line and Hiawatha, which is much more problematic, has exceeded projections.

      However it is true that moving people i.e. “transit” is the primary function and rational for building transit. It just so happens that certain types of development take place along lines when they’re built under a variety of circumstances. That being said, one has to observe that our two Light Rail are the most popular and heavily used people movers in the entire metro transit system, comprising something like 20%- 30% of all daily rides. The SW corridor will likewise move 20,000 to 30,000 people a day. By the time we’re done with the first four major LR lines, those FOUR lines will be moving more people than all the buss routes combined. Were we to plug those into street car lines, and commuter rails to St. Cloud, Duluth, and Rochester, ridership would be even greater.

  22. Submitted by David Markle on 11/24/2014 - 12:22 pm.

    Transit-oriented development, continued

    The level of development along the Blue Line, in its decade of operation, has been quite unimpressive. A lot of the development along the Green Line is thought to have been likely without the line, and St. Paul’s true believers and boosters–both public and private–have simply poured subsidies into promoting development along that route. (Thus far, most has been subsidized.) Neither example makes a good case that LRT per se stimulates development.

    There is, however, a very compelling economic argument for having good, modern rapid transit: without such a system we’re doomed to slow strangulation of business and commerce by traffic congestion (not to say increasing domination of the urban landscape by highway lanes).

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