Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.
Part 1 of 2 light rail posts.
Last week, the Northside Transit Network hosted a community vote on various aspects of the light rail proposal for north Minneapolis. I've stayed away from these meetings in the past because they haven't impacted me, and there's only so many such things one can go to. But now that I live closer to the proposed lines and am looking at buying a house even closer still, I decided I'd better go and see what's been developing.
I started the meeting by finding Rep. Champion and saying the three words politicians almost never speak or hear: I was wrong. When the first meetings about light rail came about, I had strongly advocated for a rail system along Penn and Broadway. I went further by criticizing Champion for not taking a stronger stance. But the more I look at the proposals, the more I come to believe that the "D2" options do not really serve north Minneapolis well. I haven't seen a proposal wherein every single aspect appeals to me, but D1 is looking better and better.
Why, you ask? One word: streetcars.
To be sure, NoMi doesn't benefit if light rail goes through Theo Wirth and along Highway 55, UNLESS we have a strong feeder system of other kinds of transit. And a primary component of such a system would be streetcars along West Broadway. The city of Minneapolis realized this several years ago, when they released a report that...
...reduced the number of transit corridors that were feasible options for a streetcar system. West Broadway, from downtown/Washington up to the Robbinsdale transit center barely made the cut. My concern regarding light rail is that rail along Penn Avenue might worsen the scoring for the Broadway streetcar and render our community ineligible for such transit options.
At least in much of America, light rail simply doesn't go through residential corridors like it would along Penn, Oliver, or Queen Avenues North. Furthermore, LRT is best suited to move large numbers of people rather long distances in a short time frame. Aside from a handful of transit nodes, its economic impact on a residential stretch like Penn may be quite minimal. The choices for D2 would all impact some housing to some degree - either through partial land seizures or demolition of properties. A gash would be cut through part of north Minneapolis, and several cross streets would be turned into cul-de-sacs and closed off. All of this for one extra stop in NoMi?
That's not to say the D1 option is perfect. It would have no stop at North Memorial Hospital, and would do nothing to increase job connections. Even if we implemented a world-class "feeder system" of buses, streetcars, Nice Ride kiosks, and bike/pedestrian pathways, that might only draw people from NoMi to the suburbs. The D1 alignment does nothing to address how we might pull riders off of light rail and get them to contribute to the economic development of north Minneapolis.
However, when it comes to large-scale projects such as an entire transportation grid for a portion of the city, then in order to really get it right we have to get it right every step of the way. In order to royally screw things up, we only have to mess up once.
So at the meeting, the various D2 alignments were presented, with Champion and Dehn outlining their benefits and drawbacks before taking a vote. In order to really choose between these two, our partners needed a clear understanding of which D2 alignment garnered support. They would then decide between the D1 proposal and the winning D2 item.
I voted for the ones that would demolish the least amount of housing, and specifically asked how the proposal would impact streetcar plans. I was told that D2 would not change Minneapolis' commitment to streetcars on Broadway, but I'm not yet convinced. Regardless, I'm hoping to see the Northside Transportation Network evolve into something more than just the facilitators of light rail discussion. We need to see hard data about what potential options could add or detract from the long-term plans.