Tag Archives: St. Paul

Give the neighbors a say–but how much?

In the Twin Cities of Minnesota, they’re looking at expanding the light rail they have by providing what would seem to an outside observer (me) a link between the two cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul.  Obviously, the two cities have grown up without the rail infrastructure, so lots of homes and businesses will be affected, and a group of the affected folks evidently sued to stop the project, saying planners didn’t pay them enough heed.

The judge seems to be saying, “You could have paid them more heed, but your sin wasn’t egregious enough to make me want to stop the project.”  To me, this raises a couple of important considerations for transit planners and advocates, AND people who do the same day job as me–public participation/community engagement.

In theory, it would be great if the people who would be using a new transit system or line had a substantial say in where it went, and maybe even how it got built.  In practice, it would be hard to please anyone.  I would love, though, to see us try.  I would love to see us create tools–both online and in-person–for people to use to plot out transit lines and understand the costs, both financial and otherwise, associated with their preferences.  If someone wanted a stop near their home or business, but was concerned about how long construction would disrupt things, theoretically, they could toggle the amount of time spent on construction, speeding things up–which would cost more overall (labor overtime, etc.) but might seem less costly to those most immediately affected.

The mantra that “transit must pay for itself” (repeated recently by a an anti-transit-sounding member of Congress) means that the people for whom it is being built have to use it and pay for it.  So, as a practical matter, those people should have a significant say in how it will run and work.  While I am not suggesting that transit planners can ever prevent disruption during the construction phase and should not, therefore, stop a project because it will cause some disruption, I think we would be wise to think of ways to involve the public so that they both approve the concept AND its execution, and they understand the choices associated with a particular route or construction schedule.

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Labs vs. trains

I found this wrinkle in the debate over future rail in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area pretty interesting.  The University of Minnesota, which would naturally want more rail, is concerned about whether trains would run so close to science labs that they could ruin research experiments.

Meanwhile, new rail routes are in the works for the Minneapolis suburbs.  One is more expensive because of a tunnel.  The cheaper line also takes advantage of existing public land, which is very helpful, at least theoretically.  Given the backlash against eminent domain generally, you’d hate for that to throw a wrinkle into plans.

Back from the dead–and back in Minnesota

It’s been a while since I’ve written, largely because I’ve been working on and thinking about a lot of non-transit things.  That said, I’ve still had transit heavily on the brain, especially today, as I return for treatment to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Minneapolis has a pretty great transit system, for my money.  As I’ve written before here, buses and trains (which can be found on Google Maps and the agency’s own website) arrive on-time and frequently, including late at night.  We rode light rail from our airport hotel to the heart of downtown Minneapolis in about 40 minutes for about $4.50–compared to a 13-mile morning rush-hour traffic ride in a taxi ($35+) or a rental car.  No contest–particularly because the light rail is in dedicated right of way nearly the entire way, which obviously shortens rides and lessens inconvenience for drivers.  The ride was smooth, clean, quiet, and pleasant.

They function on an “honor system” for fares, which is obviously nice for riders but I wonder about how much the agency may be leaving on the table.  And speaking of fares, I was perplexed that I couldn’t buy one of their “Go-To Cards” at the kiosk where I could buy just about every other kind of fare or fare card AND charge an existing Go-To Card. I am, though, glad such a Card (a more rigid plastic card that can be reused more often and preserved longer than, say, stored fare cards I’ve seen in New York and Washington.

But on an even more encouraging note, Minneapolis today started disclosing projections for a new light rail line that would run out to southwest suburbs.  Here’s more.  Obviously, they’ll have to make sure it’s going to be cost-effective.  But I’m very encouraged that Minneapolis is talking expansion after just five years with their initial light rail line.

Also, in Rochester where the Mayo Clinic is, city officials are asking for state funding to buy right of way for connecting a trail to a recreation area–potentially for light rail or bus rapid transit.

High Speed Rail picks up steam (or is it fuel?) in Midwest

Political pressure for high-speed rail is rising in the Minneapolis/St. Paul-Chicago corridor.