SWLRT Belt Line Station and the Cost of Auto-Orientation

Earlier, Nate Hood outlined the blunder being committed by Southwest LRT planners at the Belt Line station in St. Louis Park.

It’s not a blunder limited just to this station – plans are to build over 3,500 park and ride spaces along the corridor. Large parking lots will displace transit oriented development at human scale at the majority of SWLRT stations.

Finance & Commerce noted that Eden Prairie’s economic development manager, David Lindahl, wants to see “larger structures with excess capacity” open from day one. Further up the line in Hopkins, the Met Council is redirecting $7 million away from Arterial BRT along Chicago Avenue in 2016 to instead fund a larger parking ramp at Hopkins Station. And I’ve noted before how park & rides investment equals walk & ride disinvestment.

Planned Belt Line Station

Planned Belt Line Station

But let’s focus on Belt Line station, since it’s one of the station areas with the most potential. It’s full of low-density industrial uses, but it’s circled by Uptown, Excelsior and Grand, and West End. What a great place to forgo parking and watch great transit-supporting mixed use emerge, right?

Nope, hundreds of parking spaces instead. Nate mentions this station plan with one of the largest planned park & rides, which directly contradicts St. Louis Park’s vision.

How much land is that, really?

This park and ride clocks in at just under 7 acres. That’s only 1.5 acres less than Target Field. And it’s roughly the same size as 1.5 blocks of the Lyn-Lake district in South Minneapolis.

Belt Line Park & Ride


6.9 acres

Note the kiss and ride at left, featuring the sensuous combination of concrete curb and asphalt pavement sure to ignite a romantic peck.

  • Dwelling units: None
  • Storefronts: None
  • Businesses: None
  • Inviting public spaces: None
  • Yearly property tax generated: $0
    (This is actually taking the place of four parcels which pay $114,940 per year on $2.8 million of value).

A Slice of Lyn-Lake

6.9 Acres

6.5 acres

Note the classical street grid, combination of new and old structures, and human habitat such as rooftop patios.

  • Dwelling units: At least 500
  • Storefronts: Over two dozen
  • Businesses: ~30
  • Restaurants: ~12
  • Yearly property tax generated: $844,615 per year on $24.6 million dollars of value (and this was prior to Lime being constructed on the block).

We have trouble truly appreciating and comparing scale between a land use that’s human-oriented and a land use that’s auto-oriented. We need to get our bearings to appreciate truly how wrong-headed it is to apply a financially-unproductive automobile-oriented land use next to stations. Let’s get the most out of our $1.8 billion investment. We can do better than park & rides, especially here.


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26 thoughts on “SWLRT Belt Line Station and the Cost of Auto-Orientation

  1. Steven Prince

    Excellent analysis and comparisons.

    The train will bring more people into the CBD with less autos stored downtown, but not do much for creating or sustaining walkable nodes or car-free living. I was not paying attention to the land-use decisions for the suburban stops, this suggests SWLRT will increase sprawl not reduce it.

    Its all about increasing ridership – not reducing auto use or making urban environments possible. Why are we building this?

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      I hadn’t focused on the suburban stops at all either. With the caveat that I hadn’t looked at it at all before the two posts today, this really does look bad.

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  3. Nathaniel M Hood

    Did a little searching and some math. Beyond the cost of tearing down the buildings and constructing it, it’ll eliminate $112,000 in annual property taxes immediately. Not to mention the lost opportunity of creating a decent development on the parcel.

    1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

      I believe the SWLRT Project Office would say it isn’t a lost opportunity, simply a delay.

      In Hopkins for instance, regarding the Shady Oak Station (West Hopkins) the project will remove a large well-leased building in order to build a station and a parking lot. The SWLRT people said it was too expansive to build a ramp here (and unnecessary now that a ramp will be built for the Downtown Hopkins station) but they were going to build the park and ride lot at Shady Oak knowing that future development will arrive as the line increases ridership. The lot built on opening day will be converted into a future TOD.

      In the way that many transit agencies that build lines become massive land owners near their stations, its a way to bank the land for future TOD but get some sort of subpar related use today.

      1. Joey SenkyrJoey Senkyr

        Which would be fine, if we could guarantee that TOD will be built there. However, once we build a ‘temporary’ lot, people get used to it, and fight its removal. We’re already having a ton of grief getting this line built at all due to this phenomenon in the Kenilworth corridor, we shouldn’t build the line to set up the same issue again ten years down the road.

  4. Dave

    Yes, unfortunately all of the suburban stations are like this. And, Met Council is spending about $100 million on cost changes to accommodate the suburbs. Multiple bridges and other mitigation factors.

  5. Obvious Oscar

    I dunno, there are also a lot more bro-y douchebags in that Lyn-Lake block than in an empty parking lot.

  6. Caddy K

    Great post(s) this and Nate’s.

    How true, this is exactly the place where we need to focus on TOD, why is it only being considered in the already relatively dense inner city? This parcel should be ultra high density mixed use (With rain capture and gray water flushing). I hope we can demand better from the Met.

    This illustrates yet again why we need Met Council reform. At the very least they should be elected if not eliminated. They have been promoting sprawl and bad development since day 1.

    1. Matty LangMatty Lang

      Oooff. I get the frustration with the current suburban sprawl development patterns in the MSP metro region, but an elected or eliminated Met Council would only result in worse development patterns.

      With no regional government creating regional policy each local jurisdiction would be left to its own devices. This would produce nightmarish results in the grand majority of places in the region. And an elected regional planning board? What kind of folks do you imagine being elected by the people of places like Eden Prairie, Shakoppee, and Lake Elmo? I promise you the odds of a statewide election giving us a competent Governor to appoint the right people to the Council are much better than expecting most of the Council districts to elect competent representation.

      1. Nathaniel

        Matty – I disagree that disbanding the Met Council would be so apocalyptic. By the way, it’s not something I want to see or would advocate for. However, here are my thoughts: In its current form, yes (or maybe) that an elected Council may make worse land use and transit decisions than the current Council. However, with the ‘appointment by Governor’ situation, we may have an issue where ALL Council appointees (if Republican) would be working for an organization that they themselves want to dismantle. That, in my mind, is a worse result. Anyway – I’m not sold on the idea. It’d be an interesting debate to have here. -Nate

        1. Matty LangMatty Lang

          Nate — It was frustrating when Annette Meeks was the Minneapolis appointee by Pawlenty on the Council. I should not have stated so definitively that the odds are better for good results with a governor election vis-à-vis district elections. That’s just the way I’ve been feeling about it lately. When Pawlenty was in charge I supported the elected route out of frustration with his appointees.

          1. Nathaniel

            So, I’ve been thinking about this a bit. So, the Met Council has four primary tasks:

            1) Waste water
            2) Regional Parks

            They do both of these things reasonably well and no one on either side of the political spectrum dislikes them for waste water treatment. So, these are the invisible things the Met Council does that people generally don’t mind.

            3) Regional Planning

            People (the right, typically) dislike Met Council’s regionally planning efforts, but these plans can be over-ruled at the local level. Meaning, if Anoka or Medina doesn’t want to develop a mixed use community, they don’t have to. And, let the record state that they’ve decided to build single family houses instead. Meaning, the Met Council here is a bit like the UN. It has power, but it doesn’t really have power.

            4) Transit

            I think this is what people dislike. And, it’s easy to dislike transit locally. I mean, I like transit, but there’s lots to gripe about (frequency, routes, bus shelters, etc.). And, we’re so spread out and car dependent, transit is always competing against that (especially in the suburbs). Anyway …

            My point being, when people bash the Met Council, are they really just bashing transit?

            1. Caddy K

              # 1 is # 1
              Wastewater policy is why many respected people on both sides of the spectrum dislike the Met. The met was formed because of noxious septic systems needing an alternative their solution was to build an ever expanding sewage capture network.

              This policy also is closely tied to #3

              A 1,000.00 fee per table of 4 “sewage fee” added at a restaurant plus they pay the city a usage fee.
              This makes adding seating prohibitive for businesses.

              As a policy it makes no sense. How many people eating out are coming from outside of the metro area? Probably not many.
              A person cannot be 2 places at once. Homes are charged a flat rate with no consideration of location or cost to the system.
              This fee means many places cannot expand or if they can are forced to pass prices on to the consumer, raising prices.

              It is related to planing because providing sewers for all those SF homes in Medina and Anoka etc is expensive.

              Many large developers also have exemptions for apartment buildings from the fee. These are also unfair charging the full fee here would encourage better water management on new building sites. A city council member told me that though density is good that dealing with all the “poop” from big apartment buildings is problematic.

              This should be paid for more based on where the expense is coming from. Building and adding sewage lines in outlying areas clearly is more costly to the system than a business in the urban core adding seats to an existing building.
              There are places in the city now where half the restaurant is bare because to add tables to the EXISTING space is cost prohibitive because of the met council. The fee structure was reformed somewhat for patios in 2009 but is still onerous and preventing good urbanism.
              An earlier post on this site discussed vacancies on east lake street and speculated as to why this was. The sewage fee is a major obstacle.
              The present system also stifles implementing better water policy, when we should be limiting what goes into sewage be dealing with more storm and gray water on site.
              This is one of the major ways the urban core and first ring dwellers are forced to subsidize the outer burbs.

              Some kind of reform is needed for the met council.

  7. Anne Mavity

    Thank you for your comments. I’ve been fighting this battle for quite a while now, as the St. Louis Park Ward Councilmember representing this station. While the Met Council SPO states that the parking lot is just a holding place for future joint development, my key concern right now is that we layout the roads and access for the FUTURE uses, not the intermediate uses (i.e., the 600+ surface parking lot). I’ve asked that the Met Council SPO considers how a pedestrian coming to the station from the north would navigate this area and am trying to ensure that such pedestrian uses are prioritized over cars. We’re building for the next 100 years, not just to create initial ridership numbers that the Feds would seem to want. Please continue to share your concerns with Hennepin County and with Met Council, both of whom are very involved in the planning for these areas.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele Post author

      Thanks for your work on this, Anne. St. Louis Park is truly a great “urban” suburb, and I want to see our investments echo that rather than detract from that. I have the same question as Bill – what can we do to influence some of these station-level land use decisions?

    2. Alex

      As I look at the plans, the pedestrian approach from the north looks fine aside from the huge adjacent parking lot. Removing the frontage road is a huge improvement, although there should be a sidewalk along CR 25. Also there is no need for dual left turn lanes at the intersection. I’d say it would be better for the bus stop to be along Belt Line at the LRT station instead of on a separate roadway across the trail and tracks, then none of those roadways would need to be rebuilt and the LRT money can be spent on LRT only and not roads.

  8. helsinki

    Remember how an underground parking ramp was built specifically for the Downtown East station on the Hiawatha line. Why- I still don’t understand. Never underestimate the inability of some to fathom that the train should displace trips by automobile, not generate them.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele Post author

      Oh yes, that parking ramp. Which was designed (ugly) with piers on top for future development on that half block which never happened. Which was sold by the city to Alatus (at a loss, IIRC) yet was still not developed. Which was then a sticking point in development discussions for the Stadium and the Yard, nearly scuttling the park. Which is insufficient for the Vikings anyways, since a major above-ground ramp is being built across 3rd Street (also with a perilous air-rights deal). Which will still require a massive new vertical circulation tower and skyway over 3rd Street (think Bloomington at Killebrew Drive) to count as part of the stadium parking requirement, creating a visual distraction on the Yard.

      “Minneapolis Venture LLC paid $65.1 million in 2007 for a portfolio of five city parking ramps, including the Downtown East Ramp, which is adjacent to the Metrodome under a light rail transit station. The Downtown East Ramp has an assessed value of $4 million, according to Hennepin County property tax records.” – Finance & Commerce

      Sam Black then included it in his MSPBJ article “When government real estate deals go bad” where former Mayor Rybak is quoted:
      “In 20-20 hindsight, it would have been nice to have controlled that property” http://www.bizjournals.com/twincities/print-edition/2013/06/07/money-pits.html?page=all

      The things we do for parking….

  9. Keith Morris

    This isn’t so much surprising as it is expected: the same thing can be seen at LRT stations around the country where sprawl occurred unchecked and once LRT arrived it was by no means a magic wand converting parking lots and strip malls into similar versions of Hennepin Ave and Grand Ave. Either the zoning is in place first or it’s wash and only serves to ironically serve as a focal point for lots more sprawl to occur around it.

  10. Sara Bergen

    From a few emails I received today it sounds like SLP is negotiating with the met council to have a parking ramp built here that will serve as a park and ride and as parking for an un-named development. If memory serves, I do think the SLP EDA (or HRA?) bought the parcel of land that the park-n-ride is slated to be built on. I need to double check that…Anyway, my understanding is that the park and ride ramp will still be designed to accommodate 500+ cars, although I have no direct knowledge of this as I am not a part of the discussions. I would be interested in hearing more details from those who are a part of the discussions. Regarding folks to contact. I would start with the people on the Southwest Community Works steering committee. A complete roster is here: http://www.swlrtcommunityworks.org/sites/default/files/SC_UpdatedRoster5_0.pdf
    I would also recommend contacting Kathryn Hansen at kathryn.hansen@metrocouncil.org. She is with the southwest project office and also a part of the new(ish) met council TOD office. I can’t find who is the head of the TOD office, so in lieu of that, you can always contact Brian Lamb at brian.lamb@metrotransit.org and ask him to forward your email to the TOD office.

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