The Other Other Bad Light Rail Alignment: The Blue Line Extension

Regrets! We all have them. One regret that I maybe have, and that a bunch of other people like me maybe could have, is that we all sort of got distracted several years ago. You probably know about the various snafus with the Green Line extension out to Eden Prairie (maybe?) and how there was the whole thing what with routing it through an existing rail corridor to save money and time for suburban commuters, and then some other stuff happened and it turns out that that was probably a bad idea.

Right around the same time the Green Line extension was starting to go to pot, three entire years ago, Hennepin County was going through the process of choosing a Locally Preferred Alternative for the Bottineau Transitway. This is the northwesterly-aiming transit corridor heading out of Downtown Minneapolis, through North Minneapolis, and hitting a couple first-ring suburbs before ending up in either Brooklyn Park or Maple Grove. In retrospect, it is unfortunate that maybe we focused on complaining about Uptown and beating a dead horse that was buried under a light rail tunnel under a bike trail–we probably could have been paying more attention to what was going on in other parts of town.

(Interpret that sentiment however you want!)

Anyway, these two extensions of the existing Blue and Green Lines in the Bottineau and Southwest transitways are pretty similar and went through a similar process. The Blue Line extension is currently projected to begin construction in 2018 and open in 2021.

Bottineau SchematicThe options were winnowed down to two possible types of routes on either end. Bottineau’s two suburban options were to have terminated at either Arbor Lakes in Maple Grove or a literal field (more on that later) in Brooklyn Park.

On the city end, the line was to leave Downtown Minneapolis along Highway 55 (Olson) and then either turn north at Penn Avenue, heading up to West Broadway through the Northside and then over to a Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad corridor, or it could continue down Highway 55 and link up with the same railroad corridor further south, traveling through Theodore Wirth Park up north. You can make a headless stick figure as you mentally visualize the route options.

Here is a professional-looking map (see further down for a more up to date map of the route) to help you visualize it, though the MS Paint one may help you make your decision also.

Alternatives (Source: MinnPost)

On the suburban end, we went with Brooklyn Park over Maple Grove. On the city end, as is tradition, we chose the option skipping the parts of the city with lots and lots of transit riders, preferring to try to build a train through a park. Though of course, it is more complicated than that!

Penn Avenue

Penn Avenue

The Penn Avenue option (like Nicollet Avenue!) was not fantastic. Currently a two lane county road, putting light rail on it at grade while keeping two driving lanes would have required all sorts of property acquisitions, as you can see on pages 23 through 26 of this large PDF. Penn Avenue itself is also a bit far west of the remaining big commercial drag on West Broadway, and the route probably wouldn’t pick up a whole lot more ridership than the existing Route 19 bus.

It should be pointed out that the lack of imagination inherent in these two options is mind-boggling, especially when you consider that we’re talking about a decades-long planning process for a 100 year investment.

“Either tear down nine blocks of houses in a low-income part of town–and good luck owning those optics–or build the train through a park a mile away from the center of the most transit-dependent population in the state,” they said.

Is it because Hennepin County and its consultants have been intentionally picking bad urban options and fudging ridership and cost estimates to support routes that favor suburban commuters in accordance with transit philosophies from the late 1980s? Who knows! That would be crazy. This isn’t House of Cards; Frank Underwood had a grade-separated heavy rail line on which to toss Zoe Barnes.

But this is the route we went with. For what is currently estimated at a hair under $1 billion dollars, what will we get? In the spirit of adventure on a beautiful summer day, I decided to go check it out, riding from Oak Grove Street (where I live) in Minneapolis to Oak Grove Parkway in Brooklyn Park.

Blue Line route

Highway 55 (Olson)

As part of the project, Highway 55 will see a makeover, sort of like what happened with University Avenue in St. Paul when the Green Line was built. This is very much a good thing and will help knit two parts of the Northside back together. At present, it is very much a state highway.

Highway 55Look at that! Is that spitting distance from Downtown Minneapolis or a business bypass in Isanti County? These first couple stops, Van White and Penn, are a lot like much of the existing Blue Line along Hiawatha Avenue. Not intuitively transit-ready next to the stations, but with lots of room for improvement and many walk-up riders in surrounding neighborhoods even if no new development happens.

After those first two stations, though? Not great!

Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Pass Xerxes Avenue

The line swings north at the border with Golden Valley, and drops to run parallel with an existing rail corridor through Theodore Wirth Park. The route is technically in Golden Valley at this point, but it’s on the other side of the park, faraway from any substantial amount of walk-up riders from Golden Valley. There are no park and rides planned at either potential station (we don’t know if the Plymouth and/or Golden Valley Road stations will even be built) and in any case it’s pretty hard to imagine any substantial number of people in wealthy Golden Valley getting on a bus to go wait at a train station to take a train downtown when they can just drive the whole way in ten or fifteen minutes.

Also, hey, check this out.

Swamp 1Pipe

Swamp 2

That’s an old railroad tie in the water! (current tracks in background)

swampy marshy wirthLooks marshy! You’ll remember the recent $350 million dollar cost increase on the Green Line extension largely stemmed from unexpectedly crummy soils in Eden Prairie. The plan here involves existing right-of-way, and the freight rail tracks will be shifted over and the light rail tracks will be plopped next to them. The rail corridor is quite old.

A very helpful man from Metro Transit with an unenviable job explained to me after a station area planning open house that the railroads have been basically just dumping rocks here for 100 years to build up the berm the tracks sit on. Standards these days are somewhat higher. The cost estimates we have are based of off 1% engineering–what will they find in the other 99%? (Hopefully oil!!!) The very helpful man with the unenviable job said that people are out doing soil sampling right now trying to figure out just what we’re going to need to build.

A Bright Spot

No qualms with Robbinsdale. Building a train station on the edge of a first-ring suburb’s walkable downtown is a good idea. This should probably be the terminus of the line.

Also, is it crazy there’s no bike shop in Robbinsdale? I was hoping to stop and get some air but no such luck. A business opportunity exists here.

Crabgrass Frontier

Out past Robbinsdale, things are less rosy. The Bass Lake Road and 63rd Avenue stations are in the existing rail corridor, next to Bottineau Boulevard. Bottineau in this part of town is a six lane county road with no shortage of car traffic. It was not particularly pleasant to bike along, and is flanked by auto-oriented commercial uses, and residential uses that actively hide from the road. A retention pond at the southeast corner of Bottineau Boulevard and 63rd Avenue requires pedestrians and cyclists to take a cockamamie route to cross Bottineau from the south.

One potential wild card is the Crystal Airport between the Bass Lake Road and 63rd Avenue stations.

Crystal Airport

Crystal Airport is across Bottineau Boulevard from the rail corridor

Building a bunch of electrified overhead catenary across the street from and under an approach to an airport at which casual pilots are landing Cessnas? It would be shocking if no one checked that out ahead of time, so we’ll assume they did. And if the airport closes in the near or medium-term future, maybe this would be a site for large-scale transit-oriented development. Could be cool.

After 63rd Avenue station (which already has a structured ramp at a park and ride) the line crosses Bottineau Boulevard and veers over to the Brooklyn Park part of West Broadway. There’s a station at Brooklyn Boulevard, which is surrounded by strip malls and big box stores with huge parking lots.

Brooklyn Boulevard

Looking west down Brooklyn Boulevard towards West Broadway.

Maybe it’s easy to imagine one of those boilerplate sprawl retrofit watercolors and think about what this intersection would look like twenty years after a light rail station is built. Maybe. Does that often happen in a lot of places? Maybe not.

Keep biking down West Broadway, and you’ll find yourself at the next station, at 85th Avenue. Cool government decisions abound here, where a large vacant lot at the northeast corner is currently fenced off and has some kind of construction project going on.

Brooklyn Park LibraryWhat is it? A one story building. Huh okay, what will be in it? Funny you should ask–it’s a new library. Wait, they’re building a brand new one story library on a vacant lot right next to a planned light rail station? I guess! Okay, remind me: who runs libraries again? Hennepin County. The same people who sited the train station there? Shouldn’t they be thinking long-term about investments on this site? You would think that, sure!

Good joke aside, this isn’t a completely terrible spot for a station–North Hennepin Community College is across 85th Avenue from the library site, which is a good thing to put on the light rail system, and while relatively unwalkable, there is a lot of dense-ish residential within technical walking distance of the station. Though it is maybe a red flag that there is a Mills Fleet Farm 13 minutes away from the station by foot.

Continuing north on West Broadway, we arrive at 93rd Avenue station. At the time of the draft environmental impact statement, a park and ride was planned for this spot on the northeast corner. As it turns out, there is a brand new building there!

93rd Avenue station

Building on the right isn’t even on Google Maps yet!

When you snooze you lose, and so the park and ride at this location was scrapped in favor of building one huge park and ride at the final stop. A lot on the southeast corner which was vacant in the DEIS is also currently under construction–a church is going there. Not sure why you’d even include a station here without a park and ride.

At this point in the ride, we’ve entered Dreamland–a new term we could use to describe literal farmland that we are building light rail to. Light rail, a mode of transportation with high capacity and frequent service, running pretty much all day except late at night. The public sector is building that through a park and along a car-oriented suburban arterial road to farmland.

Not just farmland, though. As I biked down West Broadway, a familiar symbol appeared off in the distance–the Target logo. With a wee bit of direct subsidy, Target built a huge campus in Brooklyn Park just north of Highway 610, which was also not built for free. The final stop on the Blue Line extension is at Oak Grove Parkway, a road which you can assume replaced oak groves.

Brooklyn Park Target CampusThe scale of the surroundings make it feel like it’s barely even within walking distance–Google Maps estimates a ten minute walk from the station site to the southeast corner of the Target complex, and you can imagine that they will probably run a shuttle at least in the winter.

The Oak Grove Parkway station site is something to behold! Close to the armpit of Highway 169 and Highway 610, here are four things within hollering distance of this terminus of what may be last the large mass transit project we will build in Minnesota for some time.

Oak Grove Parkway highlights

Clockwise from top left: A farm; transit-oriented development, just kidding: “wooded homesites”; a flip flop; self-explanatory.

Folly

Crazy, right! What are we doing! From a transit standpoint, it’s unclear exactly what we’re doing. As mentioned in the intro, I did not participate in the planning process at all, though odds are good I was not old enough to watch The Simpsons when the decision was actually made. On the way back, kind of spent from the Pride Dabbler the night before, I biked from West Broadway in Brooklyn Park down Brooklyn Boulevard to the Brooklyn Center Transit Station, hopping a bus back downtown.

On a Saturday afternoon, I saw people waiting for buses and biking and walking along a route far denser with people and walk-up destinations than the Bottineau route, and couldn’t help but feel that it was kind of similar to University Avenue in St. Paul–full of strip malls and speeding cars, but full of potential, and with existing transit users who aren’t being served as well as they could be. It was not hard to string together a mental route mirroring the Route 5 bus (by far the region’s busiest) through North Minneapolis up to Brooklyn Center and then down Brooklyn Boulevard to, if you wanted, the same farmland.

That would certainly cost more than a route along freight rail tracks and down a second-ring suburban arterial, but as with other transit projects in the Twin Cities, it’s like “hey, if you’re spending literally billions of dollars, why not kick in the extra couple hundred million to make the route not terrible?” Unless, à la Southwest and Kenilworth, a bunch of consultants did their math wrong and the park route ends up costing as much as the route through the city.

It is generally assumed that, after the Nicollet-Central streetcar is built, the City of Minneapolis (perhaps with help from Hennepin County or the Metropolitan Council) will be building a streetcar from the outskirts of Downtown Minneapolis up Washington Avenue through the North Loop, and then over to West Broadway through the heart of the Northside. It is unclear whether or not that streetcar will connect with the Blue Line at some point on its western end. That streetcar will not particularly improve mobility (a measure of getting places) for people in North Minneapolis. Several existing bus routes will continue to be a quicker trip to most destinations.

It would be a mightily impressive feat to build the Green and Blue Line extensions and the Nicollet-Central and West Broadway streetcars, spending something close to $4 billion dollars of someone’s money to not really improve mobility for anyone compared to running damn buses at grade.

One thing that would be nice is if people (politicians) could be somewhat more upfront about the goals of our various transit projects. Here’s a concession: “political considerations” is actually a reason to do a thing! It doesn’t not make sense, in this big region of many counties and many municipalities that are largely suburban in nature, to spread our investments around. It is understandable! But don’t make up other reasons for your investments–just say it. “We’re building this to give the suburbs something.” Then we (including those in the suburbs!) can honestly and realistically evaluate the projects on their merits. Don’t make up numbers and arguments that then fall apart and make transit advocates look like idiots.


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105 Responses to The Other Other Bad Light Rail Alignment: The Blue Line Extension

  1. Paula Pentel July 6, 2015 at 9:29 am #

    Thanks for this thoughtful article Nick, I did participate in the Blue Line planning process when I was on the City Council in GV and was on the losing end of the 3/2 vote that granted municipal consent for this alignment.

  2. Mike Hicks July 6, 2015 at 9:30 am #

    I still keep bouncing around the idea of running all-day “commuter” rail on the existing tracks, which extend along the I-94 corridor up to Monticello. Existing train frequency ranges from something like zero to 5 trains per day depending on where you are (though it’s higher right near Target Field). The route wouldn’t even need to be double-tracked! Just add some more sidings and you could get up to ~15 minute frequencies.

    • Eric July 6, 2015 at 10:32 am #

      BNSF’s Monticello Subdivision is used twice per day, with one local freight going as far north as Rogers, and Union Pacific’s Golden Valley Industrial Lead, which uses the BNSF trackage between downtown and Theodore Wirth Park. But as you said, once you hit Lyndale Junction just west of Target Field, you meet up with BNSF’s Wayzata Subdivision and the number of trains becomes around 20.

    • Cameron Slick July 6, 2015 at 12:39 pm #

      There would still need to be major improvements, like replacing the single track jointed rail with ribbon rail, with quite a few sidings. Better yet, the restoration of the route all the way to St. Cloud, which could be done for about as much money as what Metro Transit pays BNSF for trackage rights per year.

      • Adam Froehlig
        Adam Froehlig July 7, 2015 at 8:17 am #

        It would take a lot more than that. The tracks no longer exist northwest of Monticello. Some of the land between Monticello and Clearwater has reverted to the adjacent farmowners and so would have to be renegotiated and regraded. Some bridges would need to be built. But the biggest stumbling block is there is development right on top of the old right-of-way in Clearwater, St. Augusta, and St. Cloud that would prevent re-extending the old line up to St. Cloud. As was mentioned in another post/thread, you’d have to build a new bridge across the river to connect to the existing BSNF tracks along Highway 10, which would drive the cost up considerably…likely to the point of the project not being worthwhile.

  3. Matthias Leyrer
    Matthias Leyrer July 6, 2015 at 10:12 am #

    Quality post. Read the whole thing and I literally have no idea about the places you’re referencing.

    • Nick Magrino
      Nick Magrino July 6, 2015 at 11:54 am #

      Wait are you saying that “I biked from West Broadway in Brooklyn Park down Brooklyn Boulevard to the Brooklyn Center Transit Station” is confusing?

      Sorry! I tried to be aware of that and actually went back and added geography and other information on a second look at the post. There are the two maps but it’s sort of hard to describe a long, thin line. Thought about including aerials of each station location but the images would have started to crowd everything else out.

      • UrbanDoofus July 6, 2015 at 1:40 pm #

        But therein lies the point. The line’s placement itself is rather confusing. Great article. It made me sad(seeing where the alignment goes), but you did a great job.

        • Nick Sortland
          Nick Sortland July 8, 2015 at 9:39 am #

          I had no idea either how bad this other LRT route is until now, I think I’ve lost all remaining faith in the Twin Cities planning process. Thanks! While other metros will of course continue to build real routes, here they will be stuck in limbo, and then maybe one day be built, and probably not well..

  4. Kadence July 6, 2015 at 10:57 am #

    It should be noted that the streetcar alternative for the West Broadway Transit Study currently terminates at North Memorial but the BRT alternative may connect with the Robbinsdale LRT Station. The alternatives and alignments were narrowed down in early June and an updated West Broadway Transit Study alternatives/alignment map can be viewed here: http://www.metrotransit.org/Data/Sites/1/media/about/improvements/westbroadwaytransitstudy/preferredalternatives.pdf

  5. Ben July 6, 2015 at 11:05 am #

    Thank you for your research and honest apraisal of the situation. Many months ago I started commenting on streets.mn to bring attention to the lack of community engagement and how the Met and County had told us citizens who have to live with these decisions, that the route was not up for discussion. Several of the Streets.mn were willing to engage in meaningful conversation with only one insisting on terms like NIMBY.

    I do serve on a station area planning workgroup in Brooklyn Park where I live and am still astounded that the community was not engaged until after the city was to vote. Then a year later when the city wanted to un-table the vote, they were told by the Met Council that the could not un-table the vote. Only if the county or the Met asked the city to vote could they. So now the city has no say until the final municipal concent vote which is to be next year.

    The development which Brooklyn Park is doing in such a hurry (including now courting the pro soccer team) is based on the federal application for transit funds. They are moving the library and doing deals to develop the 610 area which include a lux apartment complex, many manufacturing and other businesses, Hy-Vee, ect. in order to create a “destination”, which us needed for a federal cash grab.

    The whole thing is rather sad and feels more like a resume builder for those who are suposed to be representing the community and spending our tax dollars wisely.

  6. Matt Steele
    Matt Steele July 6, 2015 at 11:25 am #

    One thing that’s apparent is that Hennepin County wants light rail, but they do not want rail-compatible land uses. This was made clear by the rebuild of Bottineau Blvd along the future rail corridor. It is now a superstroad, hostile to people not-in-cars.

    Remember kids, walk-up transit beats drive-up transit any day, any place.

  7. David Markle
    David Markle July 6, 2015 at 12:27 pm #

    Without having studied the details or venturing an opinion on the LRT options–whether offered by officials or knowledgeable observers like Nick–I’ll reiterate that it simply doesn’t make sense to spend the kind of money needed to set up an LRT train unless it can run fast enough to justify being a train. Otherwise we should consider less expensive options including streetcars and improved bus service.

    • UrbanDoofus July 6, 2015 at 1:46 pm #

      You know, I have been thinking the same thing lately. TOD seems kind of a bunk argument. The whole “but rails in the ground bring certainty” is getting old. Because for every TOD project along the green line, we can point to the blue line and ask “o rly, how’s that working out?”

      If we’re not spurring development, and we’re getting people anywhere faster, why are we even bothering?

      • Wayne July 6, 2015 at 1:59 pm #

        And why not focus on areas where there’s already been an investment in land use patterns that support transit? They’re trying to use transit as a public giveaway for greenfield or sometimes brownfield development and ignoring areas that can and do already support transit. It’s like the people making routing decisions are trying to figure out how to spread around some gov’t cheddar and get incentivize more questionable development rather than support good development that’s already taken and is still currently taking place.

        • Nick Sortland
          Nick Sortland July 8, 2015 at 9:44 am #

          Reminds me of how the met council said they didn’t approve of the Mpls streetcar route, because you know, transit isn’t supposed to be used for encouraging development…. Yeah, good luck Met Council.

        • David Greene July 8, 2015 at 10:07 pm #

          That would tend to reinforce disparities in transit service. Uptown would get a ton of transit investment and many parts of North would get none. There’s a lot more that has to go into investment analysis than one metric. Even metrics don’t cover everything.

          Development is certainly a valid benchmark for transit investment. Not the only one of course and not the most important but it is an important factor.

      • Morgan July 6, 2015 at 9:26 pm #

        It would have made such a HUGE difference if the blue line was placed on the east side of Hiawatha south of lake street. Someone mentioned this here earlier but man, it would have allowed for much easier future development along Minnehaha, which is kind of a nice street, than the backs of the houses that the line faces on the west side.

        • UrbanDoofus July 6, 2015 at 10:06 pm #

          I don’t doubt that. But it is where it is. Sadly.

  8. Cameron Slick July 6, 2015 at 12:44 pm #

    Regarding the North Washington/West Broadway streetcar extension, wouldn’t it be great if it was built close to light rail standards? Perhaps not an independent right-of-way the entire ways, but in key locations, and with proper stations, not unlike the Green Line, and terminating at Robbinsdale.

    Running commuter rail to Osseo, Monticello, and even restore abandoned track all the way to St. Paul, rather than being creamed by BNSF from Big Lake west, in conjunction with a hybrid streetcar/lrt line from Robbinsdale to downtown, might actually improve mobility for less money, unlike the Bottineau/Blue Line extension, which pretends to try to do all of the above.

  9. Wayne July 6, 2015 at 1:37 pm #

    “Is it because Hennepin County and its consultants have been intentionally picking bad urban options and fudging ridership and cost estimates to support routes that favor suburban commuters in accordance with transit philosophies from the late 1980s?”

    Yes, it really is. If it’s not intentional, they must have the worst collection of dim-witted failures for their planning staff. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt and assuming it’s intentional malice and some kind of insidious evil rather than some of the most appallingly-bad decision making I’ve ever seen.

    We need to take the keys away from Hennepin County when it comes to planning decisions, because they’re drunk. I don’t know how it would work with the bureaucratic nightmare of overlapping layers of government here, but something really has to be done. Hennepin County is the enemy of transit and urbanism and will bungle anything they get their hands on near the city. They insist on making us retain unnecessarily huge roads in the heart of what should be walkable areas, they route expensive transit lines *around* areas of density and transit-dependence … how can I draw any conclusion other than Hennepin County hates urbanism?

    • Wayne July 6, 2015 at 1:43 pm #

      How difficult would it be for Minneapolis and maybe a few other urban-ish first-ring burbs to simply break away from Hennepin County and become their own county? Minneapolis has nearly as many people as all of Ramsey County, throw even a single decently-sized burb and you’re pretty much at half of the Hennepin Co population. It’s unacceptable for the urban areas that comprise so much of the county to be so abused by its decision-making process.

      • UrbanDoofus July 6, 2015 at 1:47 pm #

        Sounds like you’re advocating for a model similar to the Chicago Transit Agency that serves primarily Chicago and a few first ring burbs.

        • Wayne July 6, 2015 at 1:57 pm #

          Absolutely, yes. The focus on suburban-first routing and dumping buckets of extremely-limited money into serving non-transit-compatible land-uses is perverse when there are areas dying for even an improvement to current bus service or some shelters in the winter. A regional approach only works if your region is defined correctly, and including interests way out into farm county when making transit decisions is stupid.

          • Nathanael July 20, 2015 at 7:15 pm #

            Bluntly, even Chicago’s all-suburban agency (Metra) seems to do better planning than you do in the Twin Cities. And Metra’s infamous for neglecting stations within Chicago, or not even building them. But at least their recently-built suburban extensions aren’t running through empty marshes; they’re not adjacent to freeways, either. Instead, they’re in old village centers. (They have the advantage of running along railway lines dating from the 19th century which the populated areas were built around; there are also railway lines running through empty marshes, but they chose not to use them.)

      • Monte Castleman
        Monte Castleman July 6, 2015 at 2:05 pm #

        That seems like a good idea to me. What about a consolidated city-county government in Minneapolis? Or Minneapolis and St. Paul getting together? Or the suburbs joining adjacent counties rather than being their own so we wouldn’t have to recreate all the county services from scratch?

        • Wayne July 6, 2015 at 2:24 pm #

          I really see it as a win-win. The urban-focused municipalities can finally get a level of government that is aligned with their needs and the exurban/rural areas won’t feel like they’re leashed to the cities (even though in the end they’ll probably actually lose without the sugar-daddy cities paying their way, but the psychological victory should be enough).

          • Sean Hayford Oleary
            Sean Hayford Oleary July 6, 2015 at 4:52 pm #

            And if the line gets drawn at Brooklyn Center being part of the new urban government, but Brooklyn Park being part of the suburban/Hennepin government, you’re just SOL if you live in BP but are transit-dependent?

            The decisions are often bad, but breaking away is not a solution — in fact, it’s part of the problem. See: the suburban and exurban opt-outs, or the Minneapolis-driven Nicollet-Central boondoggle.

            • Wayne July 7, 2015 at 7:37 am #

              Well basically you’d be reliant on your suburban buses to feed you into a higher frequency urban system or we could actually build commuter rail lines that aren’t awful if we really care about moving people from the burbs to downtown. We don’t need to waste our light rail investment on trying to bring urban transit to suburban land use. Anytime you’re talking about a park and ride that’s not at the very end of a line you should probably be building a commuter rail line and not light rail.

      • Adam Froehlig
        Adam Froehlig July 7, 2015 at 8:48 am #

        It would be impossible under state law for Hennepin County to split. Section 370.01 of the state statues basically states that any new county shall have no less than 400 square miles, and the remaining portion of the existing county shall also have no less than 400 square miles. So you need, at a minimum, an 800 square mile county in order to split it. Hennepin County only has 606 square miles.

        The only way this MIGHT work under state law would be to create a super core county for the Metro that includes both Minneapolis and St. Paul. To do that, you’d have to take all of Ramsey County as the base, and add at least 230 square miles to it. No more than about 200 could come from Hennepin County, which would basically mean all of Hennepin inside 494/694 plus about 25 additional square miles outside 494/694. The balance would have to come from another adjacent county, whether Anoka (but no more than about 40 square miles from Anoka), Dakota (say, everything north of 494), or Washington.

        Then you’d have to get at least 1/4 of the registered voters from EACH affected county to sign a petition just to get it on the ballot. Then each affected county’s voters would have to vote for it in the next general election.

        So, not impossible. But not easy in the least. And there’s no way you could simply split Hennepin.

        • Matt Steele
          Matt Steele July 7, 2015 at 9:23 am #

          It’s realistic to assume any hypothetical split of Hennepin County would come with the blessing of the legislature.

          I think the current laws were basically designed to prevent a split of Pine County about 15 years ago.

          • Adam Froehlig
            Adam Froehlig July 7, 2015 at 9:39 am #

            The Pine County vote actually went to the election, where it was voted down. From what I can see, the changes made to the law in 2001 mostly dealt with the market value of the split and in how many voters need to sign the petition (1/4 from both the area to be split and the area remaining). A minor change to population requirements (4,000 vs 2,000, both a moot point in the Metro), but the area requirements and basic gist of the process haven’t changed in decades.

            • Matt Steele
              Matt Steele July 7, 2015 at 9:57 am #

              I’d rather see a change to a consolidated city-county for the pre-war urbanized Hennepin County. St. Paul and (much smaller) Ramsey County have long-held synergies with shared departments, and Minneapolis could benefit from the same. Non-Mpls municipalities like SLP, Hopkins, and Richfield would need some sort of new definition as part of a consolidated county, but over time they may find it desirable to contract/cede services to the consolidated entity.

        • Wayne July 7, 2015 at 1:19 pm #

          Color me unsurprised that something like that is enshrined in state law. Just like how we can’t raise our own taxes/fund our own transportation because the state and county agencies totally have us covered, except all of the time when they don’t (which is most of the time). When we aren’t allowed to go above and beyond the pittance they provide for infrastructure investment we desperately want and need (and are willing to pay for ourselves), something is terribly wrong.

    • Alex July 6, 2015 at 4:46 pm #

      Well, kind of. I was old enough to watch the Simpsons when the seeds of all this were planted. Around the turn of the century Hennepin County had a plan to rebuild Cty Rd 81 with a BRT facility. Then the Hiawatha LRT opened, and Mike Opat decided that his district needed LRT too. So they changed the Cty Rd 101 plans to a six-lane semi-freeway and started looking at putting LRT in nearby wetlands. I don’t know what kind of BRT they were looking at, but in my opinion BRT would be a much better fit for the lower-density NW metro, in part because it could go through North Minneapolis (my preference is actually for an LRT between Mpls, Robbinsdale, and Brooklyn Center, but it would need a tunnelized segment under North Mpls, and MN is far too redneck for that). But anyway, it’s possible that Hennepin County staff wanted quality transit here and it was scuttled by politicians.

    • Nick Sortland
      Nick Sortland July 8, 2015 at 9:46 am #

      You know Canada largely did away with their counties in the late 1800’s due to cost and government overlap? Its simply the Provence and the municipality.

  10. Monte Castleman
    Monte Castleman July 6, 2015 at 2:06 pm #

    Would a hypothetical Route 5 light rail take less property than the Penn option?

    • Doug Trumm
      Doug Trumm July 6, 2015 at 6:28 pm #

      My hypothetical route 5 option would be underground from Lake Street to Lowry Avenue or therebouts then transitioning to at grade in the more suburban fringe. Definitely an expensive option but at least it’d be fast and transformative rather than a big heap of nothing like the Bottineau alignment.

    • Nick Magrino
      Nick Magrino July 6, 2015 at 10:21 pm #

      I’m usually loath to elaborate on hypotheticals too much (and am annoyed at myself for even writing this out) but like Doug said above, some sort of grade separation from Lake to Lowry is probably justified, but at a bare minimum, through the downtown area. If you’re just talking about the downtown tunnel, running one way trains on Emerson and Fremont the way the 5 does now seems like a good idea? A downtown tunnel should have been done 15 years ago when Hiawatha was being built, though you could cut them some slack given that they didn’t have concrete examples of how successful urban-focused rail transit would be in our region.

      Unrealistic and crazy? Maybe! But like I said in the post, Jesus, we’re spending a LOT of money on rail transit, why not just go all the way and make the damn thing useable?

      Maybe uncovered on streets.mn and elsewhere is how much wacky engineering does on at the tail ends of these lines, out in the suburbs. We fret about grade separation downtown and in the city, and of course that’s complicated, but scroll through some of the project documents for the Green and Blue Line extensions out in the second-ring suburbs–there is no shortage of elevated track over freeways, not to mention the expense of building new track through wetlands out in Eden Prairie, and potentially in Theodore Wirth. We are spending beaucoup bucks somewhere, but it’s to replace suburban bus service with a slower train. *inhales deeply*

      • Wayne July 7, 2015 at 7:42 am #

        To your last point, that really irritates me too. It’s the end of the world to spend a little extra to make a line interface well in the city but out in the burbs it’s flyover this and wetlands bridge that.

  11. David Markle
    David Markle July 6, 2015 at 3:54 pm #

    And we need an elected Met Council.

    • Doug Trumm
      Doug Trumm July 6, 2015 at 5:54 pm #

      Why would this help? Wouldn’t an elected Met Council behave just like the Hennepin County Board and make terribly short-sighted suburban focused decisions? Many top tier GOP gubernatorial candidates made dismantling the Met Council a major part of their platforms this past election. With this kind of attitude how can we expect holding Met Council elections to serve anything other than a counterproductive circus? I wish this wasn’t the case and more Twin Cities residents took a more educated regionally-healthy position toward the Met Council rather than succumbing to demagoguery but it simply isn’t the case.

      • Morgan July 6, 2015 at 9:38 pm #

        This Jarret Walker article about regional special purpose governments is really good. He wrote it after the transit referendum in Vancouver failed last week.

        http://www.humantransit.org/2015/07/hating-your-transit-agency-may-not-make-it-better.html

      • Wayne July 7, 2015 at 7:40 am #

        We need something more closely related to actually giving equal representation to higher population areas. The current system, elected or not, gives far too much weight to the concerns of thinly populated exurbs.

      • Ben July 7, 2015 at 3:01 pm #

        Having them elected might incentivize the met members to actually engage with the people they represent unlike what happens now. Our representative for Brooklyn Park will not take phone calls or respond to emails and good luck engaging her at a community meeting if she bothers to show up and stick around.

    • Nick Magrino
      Nick Magrino July 6, 2015 at 10:26 pm #

      Hennepin County chose the route, not the Met Council!

  12. Monte Castleman
    Monte Castleman July 6, 2015 at 5:38 pm #

    Would a Maple Grove terminus have been better? I really hate Arbor Lakes, to me it seems to be a parody of urbanism with all of the inconveniences and none of the charm, basically a strip mall turned inside out. But isn’t a major job center like Target better than a major retail center like Arbor Lakes. Or are we thinking of the people that work there, probably more in need of transit than Target, or what the gravel mines could become rather than what corn fields could become?

    • Morgan July 6, 2015 at 9:32 pm #

      Maple Grove made it very clear that they didn’t want it.

      • Alex July 7, 2015 at 2:31 pm #

        Is this true? I was told by a member of the PAC that they selected Brooklyn Park because of Hennepin Tech and Target. My understanding is that Maple Grove did want the terminus and was bummed about the outcome.

        Personally I don’t think either of the potential termini were very strong. Target currently has about 5,000 jobs up there and was going to max out someday at 15,000 (this was before the troubles) — somewhat concentrated, I suppose, but not very many. Maple Grove I think has a similar amount of jobs but perhaps a stronger commuter market. Since these are both underwhelming and dependent on future growth (and a wing and a prayer), I don’t see why they didn’t terminate the line at 694 and wait to see what happened.

        (Again, I actually think they should have tried to spur TOD at the burned-over district of Brookdale, but that is assuming project managers actually wanted a sustainable future for the metro instead of just a resume booster.)

        • Matt Brillhart July 7, 2015 at 3:29 pm #

          Given the cost escalations on SW, uncertain future of growth at Target North, etc., there’s probably already less than a 50/50 chance that this actually gets built beyond 93rd Avenue in the initial phase, and maybe it winds up even shorter than that with no metro sales tax increase. 85th Avenue N looks like an OK terminus for the line, and only then because of the community college. All that surface parking at the community college would bode well for a future P&R structure with no additional property needing to be acquired.

          Also, the county building a single story suburban-style library is insane. I know, the library will precede LRT service by anywhere from 8 to infinity years, but still. They really ought to put that on hold until they come up with a plan more befitting of a light rail station. Unbelievably shortsighted actions. Literal example of silo’d government agencies/departments.

          • David Greene July 8, 2015 at 11:14 am #

            I’ve always found it strange that many of the folks here praised the design of the new Walker library. In my mind it was a huge missed opportunity.

      • Ben July 7, 2015 at 2:58 pm #

        So Brooklyn Park gets it since no one else wanted it and it has to go somewhere. Sounds like a good enough reason to spend a billion dollars.

  13. Alex Schieferdecker
    Alex Schieferdecker July 6, 2015 at 7:58 pm #

    It’s so dispiriting that we’re throwing all of this money at such poorly considered projects. When you’re making a $1bn investment, you have to make perfect the enemy of good. You have an obligation to get it right.

  14. Melody Hoffmann
    Melody Hoffmann July 7, 2015 at 2:01 pm #

    So am I going to be able to take a train to PF Chang’s or not?

    • Nathanael July 20, 2015 at 7:17 pm #

      They picked the literal field instead. ?!?!?

  15. David Greene July 7, 2015 at 2:34 pm #

    I’m sympathetic to the point of the article as I’ve favored a pure W. Broadway alignment for a long time. But it wasn’t chosen. Given the choices available, I think the current plan is workable. Certainly not perfect but it will add value.

    Sure, I would love tunnels, but where is an actual workable proposal for people to chew on? We can complain all we want but planners have to operate in the real world of real constraints. Does everyone literally want to halt LRT construction until we get a 2-cent transit sales tax? Because we’re going to have to pay for these imagined lines entirely ourselves.

    If you want to wait, fine, but realize the wait will be in the decades.

    • Alex Cecchini
      Alex Cecchini July 7, 2015 at 3:36 pm #

      I mean, is it really fair to ask a bunch of citizens to come up with a “workable proposal” for tunnels for people to chew on? What level of detail is sufficient? Project staff apparently do 1% engineering to make a decision on routing (taking into account costs vs benefits). How much work are folks expected to do, unpaid, on their free time to prove out viability of a different transit mindset? Will we get shot down no matter how much work we do if we don’t have a PE, years of experience in transit planning or construction, etc?

      I’m not saying wait, don’t build anything until we get a 2 cent sales tax to build pantasy tunneled lines. Part of the problem is scale. Seriously, look at how not-long these real rapid rail lines are in London vs our regional LRT lines http://streets.mn/2013/08/07/what-if-minneapolis-st-paul-had-the-london-underground/ You could make a case that we could be spending the same amount of money on regional rail on shorter (and more) lines with more extensive grade separation. Run them more frequently to reduce transfer penalties from bus lines, force the suburban opt-outs to feed into said rail lines all day & operate reverse runs to provide access to the places our planned lines will go (even if it’s a slightly reduced travel experience). Could a $billion build Alex Bauman’s tunneled LRT terminating at Robbinsdale?

      • Matt Steele
        Matt Steele July 7, 2015 at 4:14 pm #

        When I read the Bottineau Office’s response to Alex Bauman…
        https://gettingaroundmpls.wordpress.com/2012/02/11/bottineau-no-for-north-part-ii/
        …I’m convinced you are mischaracterizing what is actually going on.

        • Matt Steele
          Matt Steele July 7, 2015 at 4:15 pm #

          And by you, I mean David Green. Apparently it shows as a response to Alex Cecchini.

          • David Greene July 7, 2015 at 9:58 pm #

            What do you mean, exactly, that I’m mischaracterizing what’s going on?

            I know that we can’t expect people to do in-depth studies but I think we *can* expect people to challenge the answers given by planers in a way that is at least credible.

            The “easy tunneling” argument has been hashed over and over again. The answer is always “too expensive.” The response is always, “no it isn’t.” That’s not good enough. It’s sticking fingers in ears and yelling, “blah, blah, blah.”

            The hard truth is that we don’t have the money to build these lines without a federal match and we won’t get that federal match if the lines are too expensive. And we cannot raise significant new revenue fort transit. At the very best we’ll get another 1/2 cent in 2017, with all of the attendant CTIB problems attached.

            I don’t have the answers but we need to come up with them.

            • Alex Cecchini
              Alex Cecchini July 8, 2015 at 4:03 pm #

              What’s that thing you’re always saying? Outcomes matter, right?

              Aren’t you the slightest bit worried that the outcome from lines like this will be less than desirable? That in 20 years we’ll have thrown billions at not optimal rail lines and transit mode share will still be sub-5% across the region with 30-minute jobs accessible by transit for the average MSP resident still below 20,000 (17k in 2014)?

              The advocacy being done by some for tunnels or elevated lines or something completely different isn’t equivalent to sticking fingers in ears. It’s not just about cost, or the Midtown Line would have been built 5 years ago ($230m for 11,000 2030 riders vs SWLRT’s $1.6-1.7 billion for 30,000 2030 riders).

              If shorter, tunneled/elevated rail projects are “too expensive” per federal criteria for the match, but lines that skirt by those very people into parkland but then double the distance hoping to catch a few job or school sites is an adequate replacement… doesn’t that say more about the federal standards than anything else? That to actually serve the people the line maybe initially intended to serve we’d need to spend a few hundred million more on a streetcar or whatever anyway?

              The federal process, local decision-making process, and politics (state and county) have given us 2 completed LRT since we started studying and planning them in, what, the 70s? Plus Northstar and the Red Line. 40 years! How many jobs moved out to Brooklyn Parks and Apple Valleys in that time? How many low-income people lost job opportunities in the last 40 years as a result? Outcomes do matter.

              • David Greene July 8, 2015 at 10:12 pm #

                Sure, the federal standards are a problem. Work to fix them. An unhearalded group from St. Paul did just that to get what they wanted.

                It’s going to take organizing to do what you want to do. It *is* sticking fingers in ears to just sit on the intertubes and complain.

                • Nathanael July 20, 2015 at 7:24 pm #

                  The federal standards were already changed! Why are you talking about the obsolete standards?

                  Midtown should meet the new federal standards easily, no problem. Bottineau with a short tunnel (no station) from 7th/Plymouth to Broadway/Fremont should meet the new federal standards as well.

                  All the planning processes which were geared towards the old federal standards are fatally flawed. Restart them.

              • David Greene July 8, 2015 at 10:14 pm #

                And yeah, you have to deal with politics. So does everyone else. Politics isn’t bad. It’s how we make collective decisions. Again, you have to organize to influence the politics. You can’t really expect that people are just going to take your suggestions at face value.

                It’s how the world works. At some point you’ve got to wrestle in the mud.

              • David Greene July 9, 2015 at 12:28 am #

                And while I’m in favor of a Hennepin-Ramsey sales tax and/or funding some of these lines completely with local money, don’t kid yourself that either of these two options would have changed the outcomes for Southwest or Bottineau. We’d still have to deal with urban/suburban politics.

                Perhaps SWLRT would have routed through Uptown but there is by no means a guarantee that that would have been true. There are other reasons than cost (and equity too) for not routing through Uptown as proposed.

            • Doug Trumm
              Doug Trumm July 9, 2015 at 11:23 am #

              The problem isn’t the people still arguing about the alignment and a tunneling option. The problem is that, as you can can see in Alex’s 2006 blog post that Matt linked to, Met Council and whatever other regional bodies are not interested in even studying tunneling options (and happen to cite non-congruous examples such as cut and cover tunnels through downtown areas.) Hennepin County and the Met Council are trying to limit the discussion. If a deep bore tunnel line costs twice as much but gets twice as much ridership AND puts the stations precisely where they’d be most effective for not only ridership but also place-making and economic development wouldn’t it be worth it? We will never know or see a cost-benefit analysis because they weren’t willing to even do an engineering study.

              Think about the benefits of one good transit line perhaps running north to south through the metro. It’s probably cost $4 billion or more to do the line with the urban portion underground. Now look at all the projects we are actually in the process of getting and think about whether they in sum give us as many benefits as one good transit line:

              SWLRT – 1.75 billion + overruns
              Bottineau LRT – 1 billion + overruns
              Midtown Streetcar/LRT? – 250 million
              North Streetcar? – 250 million?
              Nicollet/Central Streetcar – 250 million

              It’s not unreasonable to expect we will spend, with likely cost overruns and the like, $4 billion when all the dust clears but end up with 2 suburban commuter LRT lines only marginally improving upon suburban express bus service and 3 ad hoc streetcar lines that are pretty nice in theory but very slow in practice, upgrading comfort and style but providing similar headways to existing service. (Midtown LRT is another animal since it is grade separated.) And who knows maybe the Northside streetcar idea will be dropped as soon as they get people to quiet down and accept the questionable Bottineau alignment that skips much of North Minneapolis.

              True you can just move money from these pots into one super transit line, but the point is we are planning to spend big sums. Our main hang up seems to be that we, like a bargain shopper, are seeking quantity over quality and filling up our cart with empty calories rather than nutrition that will let us grow into a big strong metro. And that’s my sappy metaphor for the day.

              • Doug Trumm
                Doug Trumm July 9, 2015 at 11:27 am #

                And by 2006, I meant 2009. for Alex’s letter to Hennepin County project managers, not the Met Council. Sorry for the confusing the two. And the blog post was from 2012.

              • David Greene July 9, 2015 at 12:17 pm #

                I’m sympathetic to your points but you’ll also note in the letter that the tunnel at the University was cited as an example of how expensive they are. It’s not like we’ve never studied tunnels in the area. We built one, we rejected one due to cost and we will build a second highly questionable one.

                It’s painting a very false picture to complain that we’re not willing to study tunnels.

                • Doug Trumm
                  Doug Trumm July 9, 2015 at 7:52 pm #

                  Begrudging doing the preliminary engineering on one tunnel and citing it for all eternity as proof tunnels too expensive doesn’t count as “willing to study tunnels.” It should be standard protocol to at least draw up an estimate of cost for a tunnel when planning LRT through a dense urban area and then do a full fledged ridership projection so you can arrive at a tentative cost benefit analysis.

                  To really seek out a quality project study a deep bore tunneled LRT line through your highest demand corridor and see how high the ridership can go and if it can cover the cost. It just might since ridership will spike significantly if you’re providing a much faster transit alternative to the status quo in a high demand area.

                  No one is defending SWLRT’s tunnel through the woods or saying it makes any sense. It doesn’t provide grade separation in the meaningful sense since it’s already in a park anyway.

            • Nathanael July 20, 2015 at 7:20 pm #

              David, the federal funding rules which grossly favored one-seat rides from the suburbs ARE GONE. THEY HAVE BEEN CHANGED. They were George W Bush era rules, and they were changed in the early days of the Obama administration, waaaay back in 2009-2010.

              We should stop misdesigning things to conform with federal rules which *don’t even exist any more*.

      • David Greene July 7, 2015 at 10:00 pm #

        The problem with short lines is ridership. Do they generate enough to meet FTA guidelines? If they do, do they have political support? There’s a reason the slam-dunk Midtown line isn’t going anywhere.

        Yes, it really sucks. It’s the real world.

        • Adam Froehlig
          Adam Froehlig July 8, 2015 at 6:09 am #

          On the flip side, the nice thing about short lines is that, if you can get the cost under $250M, they fall under a different Federal category (Small Starts) than most big transit projects (New Starts).

          • David Greene July 8, 2015 at 11:15 am #

            I’m highly skeptical we could do tunnels for under $250M.

            • Adam Froehlig
              Adam Froehlig July 8, 2015 at 1:55 pm #

              Tunnels, no, but surface rail, quite possibly.

              • David Greene July 8, 2015 at 3:27 pm #

                Well sure, but part of the point of this particular thread is to address the constant clamor for tunnels by some.

                I truly believe a surface-running W. Broadway alignment could have worked. There would have been some takings required and general traffic lanes would have been reduced in places but I still think it would have been workable. When I talked to the planners at the time, the reason for its elimination was travel time. This was right on the cusp of the big CEI change (credit due to some folks over the St. Paul) so it’s quite possible the evaluation would have been quite different under the new rules.

                And no, SWLRT is not the same because it was much further along in the process than Bottineau at the time.

                But the decision’s been made and I don’t see any possibility of starting over for a third time. It’s good enough. Let’s get it done!

                • Ben July 8, 2015 at 5:57 pm #

                  You say it is good enough, do you have to live with it? I (for now) live in Brooklyn Park and with what this “good enogh” project is going to do to my neighborhood, I will move. Too many decisions made in a vacuum by people who are not accountable to those who are impacted.

                  • David Greene July 8, 2015 at 10:15 pm #

                    What are you worried about in your neighborhood? I’m genuinely curious because I’m not terrible familiar with the area up there.

                    We all have to live with it. It isn’t just people directly next to the line that are affected, good or bad.

                • Nathanael July 20, 2015 at 7:31 pm #

                  I absolutely agree with you on the surface-running West Broadway choice (median running like the Green Line). Now that the CEI’s been changed, why the heck not try to revive that? I see three or four ways to get from West Broadway to Target Field; Lyndale and W 7th St is probably the best.

                  The current proposal sure isn’t good enough.

        • Nathanael July 20, 2015 at 7:26 pm #

          The Midtown line has *always* generated enough ridership to meet FTA guidelines, even back in the 1990s studies.

          I have no idea why the political support has been missing.

  16. Tom Kaiser July 8, 2015 at 9:11 am #

    Best Streets post I’ve ever read, Nick – great work. What’s most shocking is there’s apparently nothing we can do about it.

  17. Monte Castleman
    Monte Castleman July 8, 2015 at 6:52 pm #

    What outcome would people have preferred? Write off the park and riders in the suburbs (let them drive or take a commuter coach bus), forget about streetcars, and have shorter, more urban light rail lanes? Say route the SW line (can’t call it the Green Line Extension anymore) through uptown and down Hopkins Main Street ending at Shady Oak, and the Blue LIne through north Minneapolis ending at Robbinsdale? Spend the money saved on either grade separations or to build Riverview as Light Rail?

    • Matt Steele July 8, 2015 at 7:04 pm #

      Those are all really good ideas.

    • Joey Senkyr
      Joey Senkyr July 8, 2015 at 7:07 pm #

      Yes. I would have preferred all of those things. Several of my coworkers take commuter coaches from SW Station, and all of them, when I asked about the Green Line, said they would take whichever mode is faster. Except maybe during and right after snowstorms, that will continue to be the nonstop buses.

      While I do think the express fare should be higher, to better cover those expensive free ramps, I think the commuter buses are a very good thing, certainly better than our attempt at commuter rail has turned out to be. I’d much prefer to let them continue to do what they do so well than to try to replace them with LRT because TRAINS FOR EVERYONE EVERYWHERE.

      • Nick Magrino
        Nick Magrino July 8, 2015 at 9:31 pm #

        Apologies for quoting my own tweet, but this p much exploded my brain:

        • David Greene July 8, 2015 at 10:18 pm #

          So? There are people that do in fact want to travel places other than the two endpoints of the line.

          Did you tweet about killing yourself over Green Line end-to-end times?

          • Nick Magrino
            Nick Magrino July 8, 2015 at 10:39 pm #

            no i actually did it; i am a ghost now

            • Doug Trumm
              Doug Trumm July 9, 2015 at 11:35 am #

              As a ghost do you maintain your ability to produce hard-hitting yet whimsical streets posts? Because I need someone writing lines like: “This isn’t House of Cards; Frank Underwood had a grade-separated heavy rail line on which to toss Zoe Barnes.” I hope your ghost will maintain your humor in other words. That line was gold.

          • Joey Senkyr
            Joey Senkyr July 8, 2015 at 10:57 pm #

            The Green Line is a capacity upgrade and replacement for the massively overcrowded 16 and 50. SWLRT and BBLRT (why is it not called NWLRT, btw?) are, if you tilt your head and squint, almost kinda replacements for the not overcrowded (as far as I know)12 and 14, with super-expensive tails that have no purpose other than to try (and fail) to replace point-to-point buses, unless office towers get built on top of the park and rides. Not necessarily apples and oranges, but at least oranges and grapefruits.

            • David Greene July 9, 2015 at 12:21 am #

              No, it’s not a replacement for existing bus service. That’s the point. There is no reasonable way to currently take a bus to many points along the corridor. SWLRT fills a huge gap in our current transit system. No, it isn’t perfect but it’s not the complete waste of a project people here love to claim it is.

              Just because *you* won’t use it doesn’t mean no one else will.

              The city is not the center of the universe and Uptown is not the center of the city, no matter how much we might want them to be.

              • Anders Imboden
                Anders Imboden July 9, 2015 at 1:04 am #

                But isn’t that precisely the critique? That we’re using an almost $2 billion capital project to make up for something that could potentially be resolved at a lower cost (financially and politically)? Minneapolis is the center of the metro in terms of jobs and residential density, and the neighborhoods around Uptown are some of the more dense and transit-friendly ones in the city. If one of LRT’s biggest benefits is more cost effective operations as compared to conventional buses, why wouldn’t we first focus on the areas with high ridership (and therefore high operations)?

                On that note, I’d be interested to know why 40-foot buses were selected for the aBRT fleet, given peak loads on some of the routes coming out of downtown. Maybe there’s some documentation on that somewhere in the study but I’m not sure.

                • David Greene July 9, 2015 at 11:26 am #

                  We’re filling the gap with LRT because there is enough demand to make LRT viable. It’s really no more complicated than that.

                  I’m ALL in favor of the Midtown line.

                  I’m ALL in favor of aBRT on Hennepin/Lyndale (why are buses good enough for North but not for Uptown?).

                  I’d love to see a subway under Hennepin. Ain’t gonna happen. Not for many decades at least.

                  We have to be realistic about what’s possible. Otherwise people just dismiss what we have to say. I’ve talked to many a decision-maker who just rolls their eyes when UrbanMSP/Street.MN comes up.

                  • Nathanael July 20, 2015 at 7:34 pm #

                    I have seen no credible ridership estimate which shows that there is enough demand to make the current Bottineau proposal or the current SWLRT proposal viable.

                    They’ll be like the current half-assed Northstar. Northstar to St. Cloud made some sense; Northstar halfway to St. Cloud, skipping Coon Rapids Foley, made no sense. The construction of a bad line has hampered all the other commuter rail proposals in Minnesota, including much better ones.

              • Nick Magrino
                Nick Magrino July 9, 2015 at 7:38 am #

                David,

                When North to Eden Prairie ridership is 28 people in in year three, because the idea that people are going to go wait at a bus stop to take a bus to Royalston to take a train half an hour to Eden Prairie to walk half a mile along some stroad to make $12/hr was always absurd when there are literally already hundreds of thousands of jobs 20 or 30 minutes away from the Northside by transit without a transfer (including many thousands of existing industrial jobs right along the riverfront on the Northside, less than 10% percent of which of are held by Northsiders even though it’s within walking distance of many of these neighborhoods) can you please let this go?

                • David Greene July 9, 2015 at 11:23 am #

                  Nick, please try to listen to what people are saying rather than making snap responses.

                  Access from North is important and I won’t back down from that. Not everyone wants or has the skills for an industrial job. Access to more jobs is good, regardless of whether some access to jobs already exists. As it stands, getting from North to the SW suburbs is a big black hole. SWLRT will improve that.

                  But access to/from elsewhere on the line is also important! How does someone from EP get to a job in Hopkins? Can’t be done by transit today.

  18. Archiapolis July 9, 2015 at 1:29 pm #

    When I was arguing with David Greene about 3C and he kept shouting about equity, I said, “scrap the whole thing and build Bottineau first and run it down West Broadway.” He argued that Bottineau was going to solve all of the problems with the stupid SWLRT alignment anyway, and SWLRT was done so we should just take what we’re given with SWLRT because something is better than nothing and equity.

    Here we stand with massive cost overruns in SWLRT putting it on par with the supposedly more expensive 3C which was… chosen based on 1% engineering cost estimates. Again, the Bottineau “rail through a park” is apparently etched in stone based on…1% engineering estimates! What could go wrong?

    How could we possibly allow this to happen AGAIN?! Spend $1b to get something that is pretty bad/just okay in order to placate the exurbs…

    • Peter Bajurny July 9, 2015 at 2:07 pm #

      I’m sure we’ll get it right next time.

      Or if not, next next time.

      Well, ok, maybe next next next time.

    • David Greene July 9, 2015 at 9:26 pm #

      I don’t recall that conversation, particularly the part about SWLRT not being important and Bottineau solving everything.

  19. Andy Schuler July 9, 2015 at 5:39 pm #

    Hmm, I’m not at all happy with construction of any type going through all that marsh and park space in Golden Valley (I’m one of the GV residents living east of Theo Wirth park you mention — minus the “wealthy” part). But since it’s going there I will ride it downtown and northwest all of the time. …and in the process sell my dumb car, so at least I got that going for me. It would make more sense for it to turn west towards Maple Grove on 63rd, instead of continuing straight to Ogdenville or North Haverbrook or wherever.

    P.S. I am running for GV City Council this year with Ecology Democracy Party endorsement and if I win I will vote against any commercial development in our fleeting green spaces. I would like to see more bike lanes and specifically a bike bridge going over Hwy 55 on Theo Wirth so we don’t have to sit and wait for traffic.

    P.S.P.S. A stop at Bass Lk Rd would be nice so we could hit up that Axe Man, Half-Price Books, and Chipotle area.

    http://www.voteSchuler.org

  20. Archiapolis July 10, 2015 at 9:14 am #

    Closed circuit to David: I want to reiterate that I’m not attacking you personally. We obviously have very different opinions about how to best serve the people of the city and that is fine. I AM opposing your opinions, nothing more. Thank you as always for engaging.

    With that said, I’m sure that you don’t recall the conversation. I’m not saying that you asserted that SWLRT was unimportant. I am saying that you were VERY willing to accept poorer outcomes for what is very limited service to the north side. You are willing to spend $1.7B to get ANYTHING that slightly/sort of touches the north side. I like the sentiment but I very much dislike the idea to accept SO many dollars for outcomes that are well below ideal for almost all parties just to get an amenity that BARELY serves the constituency that you are standing up for.

    You also argued that we shouldn’t worry about the bad SWLRT alignment and we SHOULD accept the slight grazing of the north side because Bottineau was going to be great and that we just need to do better on that alignment and also Penn Ave BRT, etc. I said that the groups making the decisions on SWLRT are incompetent (demonstrably) and that relying on these same groups to deliver a good outcome on Bottineau was a terrible strategy. You just kept whistling through the graveyard. Now, here we are again with…a really bad alignment for Bottineau and you are saying that we should just accept a bad outcome because at least it is SOMETHING which is exactly the argument you made for SWLRT. Next it’ll be a bad West Broadway idea but “at least it is something” and so on ad infinitum.

    I know it doesn’t work as easily as this and different funding channels and so on and “turning the Titanic” etc, but right now, I’m in favor of putting SWLRT on the shelf and doing Bottineau in a way that truly serves the north side instead of building a $1.7B mistake in the southwest metro and ANOTHER $1B mistake in the north.

    It is disgusting to me that “the county” gets to make these massively important decisions and it is becoming clearer that the Met Council is also failing (see $7M for the “bridge to nowhere”).

    • David Greene July 10, 2015 at 11:38 am #

      I know that your are not being personal and thanks for the robust discussion!

      I certainly see the attraction of dumping SWLRT and putting some of that money into a better Bottineau. However, my position is based on a few things I think tend to get glossed over in the discussion:

      – I’m assuming good bus connectivity from North to SWLRT. Now it seems that we’re failing on that a bit but I’m continuing to push on it. Fortunately, buses are relatively easy to move around, though aBRT is more challening.

      – There is development potential at Van White and Penn, though less so at the latter. Here the city is making the terrible choice to keep the impound lot where it is. Even so, there’s quite a bit of land available for development. But we should absolutely be pushing to move the impound lot, not just because it decreases the utility of the Van White station but because it’s an equity issue unto itself.

      – 3A allows Midtown to happen. I’m not sure 3C would.

      – There are Environment Justice communities all along the line. There are job centers all along the line. These two things match up well! We tend to lose focus on communities in need in the suburbs.

      So I don’t see SWLRT as a bad alignment at all. My statement was meant more as, “this ship has sailed, so better to work on other things” than “just accept what you think as a terrible alignment, because.” It’s subtle but Nick gets at it in this very article: the cost of focusing on tilting at windmills; something else bad happens right under your nose.

    • David Greene July 10, 2015 at 11:40 am #

      Damn, I wish there was an edit button.

      I agree 100% on the counties’ role. It’s a total mess.

      CTIB is a mess too. I just don’t know how we extract ourselves from these messes. People are loathe to give up power. I don’t want to see governance issues again torpedo a transit funding increase.

  21. Archiapolis July 10, 2015 at 3:19 pm #

    Case in point: I live in southwest right now, relatively close to Cty Hwy 121 and 58th and this area is just CRYING OUT for a roundabout as far south as possible, a completion of Lyndale, the creation of real city blocks, complete streets and creating a few blocks of developable (revenue producing) blocks in a desirable part of the city. I’ve argued to the CMs of our ward and the ward adjacent that the city should buy a few of the properties and work with whoever necessary to put in a roundabout at 59th and Lyndale and the response that I got was that the county won’t do anything south of 58th. I have driven through here dozens of times and NEVER have I thought, “If only I had more time to get up to speed (or slow down to stop)” and only in the worst possible heavy freight scenario could I imagine a truck having any difficulty doing so by 59th. But, “the county” has spoken and I expect that the issue is closed. Lastly, as people have stated in other threads, the “closed door” nature of some of this work and the resultant decisions (that don’t appear to be malleable) is why so many of the urbanists are frustrated. I’m not sure HOW to change it, but it should change…

    • Monte Castleman
      Monte Castleman July 10, 2015 at 3:39 pm #

      Well, it’s actually State Highway 121 south of 58th, so that’s why the county won’t touch it. I saw a proposal to turn it back, reduce it to a city street, and remove it north of 58th. Some of the Lyndale businesses are less than amused at how much harder that would make it to get to and from their businesses via car from the south so I’m not sure if it’s being actively pursued.

  22. Karen Sandness July 10, 2015 at 4:47 pm #

    The main problem is that planners here do not understand transit on a gut level. They are not users, so they are incapable of seeing the route or the stops from the point of view of a non-driver.

    I’m appalled that they are leaving out North Memorial Hospital, certainly a major destination for the north side.

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