Friday, November 18, 2011

Do We Want the Central Corridor on Penn or Oliver?

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman

Yesterday I was in St. Paul and snapped these pictures near University and Snelling.  While it can be unfair to judge a project before it's complete, these pictures do give us an idea of what LRT could look like coming down Penn or Oliver.  Is this really a good fit in NoMi?

LRT does cut off plenty of cross streets.  Even on a commercial corridor like University Avenue, I'm not so sure this is a good idea.  Along a residential corridor, the effects would be even more dramatic.  I've been reading up on walkable communities, and believe the LRT would either decrease walking along the corridor or it would increase pedestrian accidents.  Yes, people can walk an extra block or few to the handful of designated crossings, but will they really?  I can think of any number of scenarios, from a tired grandmother to an anxious kid to a scrapper with a baby carriage full of stolen copper where people will cross wherever they think is convenient.  And we certainly don't want grandma or the grandkids to get hit by a train.

So I encourage neighbors to take a hard look at the University Avenue corridor.  That's what we'll have in NoMi if any of the D2 options come to pass.  LRT can do many excellent things to revitalize a community, but I don't think those fit along the D2 route here.


  1. I don't know the right answer, but it should take into account the possibilities for and needs of our grandkids in 2061, not just what the impacts may be today. No-one ever wants change and inconvenience in their lives today.

  2. I really have to disagree. D2 will do the most for the community. This route will really help uplift the neighborhood as residents find new jobs along the line. I think that routes other than D2 will not have the same impact and isn't that really how it should be judged?

  3. I don't see this as an apples to apples comparison because the two paths were not apples to apples to begin with. Two very different circumstances.

  4. As far as Grandma is concerned, I am not sure that trains are any more dangerous than some of the thugs I currently see mindlessly flying down our streets and I would hope that our long range outlook is not so fatalistic that we should need to consider the safety of scrappers who are still illegally stripping vacant homes in the future. Of course, who wouldn't want to protect babies? ;)

    LRT lends itself best to enhancing commercial corridors by opening businesses to new markets. Primary to growing business is viability. Penn Avenue would be the most likely choice for greater commercial development. The residential communities along Oliver are currently much more stable than those on Penn. Bringing the LRT up Oliver would compromise these existing residential neighborhoods and prevent commercial properties along Penn from taking advantage of being seen by potential customers. Penn also has more vacant properties and would be cheaper to acquire needed land.

    One of the larger concerns might be congestion caused by the fact that we have limited traffic routes across 394 and around the Theodore-Worth Parkway. I think these could be mediated by removing some of the ridiculous Crime/Traffic calming obstacles put in place during the last decade and linking more existing streets.

  5. @Jay, I agree although there is another side to that. The vote taken at the last public meeting was not broken down between residents directly affected by the D1 and D2 routes vs. others in the community. I do think the impact on people who live, work, or own property along the proposed routes should be considered more importantly than the opinion of others. Even so, if we are going to have LRT or other transit upgrades at all, those changes are going to at least temporarily impact people. I can't imagine a scenario where everyone is happy.

    @Anon 12:05, ah, but this is an apples-to-apples comparison. At least in the sense that LRT requires a certain amount of space in order to operate. LRT by its nature will result in cross streets closed off and at least partial property takes along Penn or Oliver if we go with D2. And LRT will not have frequent stops like other forms of transit might. It's true that the central corridor is a very different area than NoMi, and that's precisely why we should question whether LRT is a good fit along D2.

    @Anon 10:02, Penn is a community corridor with a preference towards residential properties over commercial. Promoting D2 while stating that the long-term plans are to transform Penn away from residential and towards commercial would at least be consistent.

  6. Jeff, according to Minneapolis' Future Land Use document approved in 2010, Penn Avenue will remain primarily residential (a Community Corridor). I've heard individuals (residents) mention on at least two occasions that Penn was designated to become commercial in the future. Where is that coming from? I see nothing official to back that up. It seems kind of dumb to designate a new commercial area when you can't fix up/fill up the one you already have (West Broadway).

  7. Location, Location, Location

    If you create a transit corridor that opens this area to a population with a greater disposable income, you will naturally find entrepreneurs willing to take advantage of this visibility and exposure around major intersections.

    Penn would never "fill up" (nor will Broadway), but nodes of business activity can be created without severely impacting broad stretches of residential neighborhoods.

    West Broadway used to be a very active commercial area, but as it became more isolated by changing traffic patterns brought about by the freeways, the disposable incomes dropped and accompanying social problems took root creating a hostile business environment.

    Reopening accessibility to NoMi by including it in future traffic planning is why we need to prevent planners from taking a detour around North Minneapolis by going through the parkway.

  8. @Brian Reichow, excellent point. I'll play devil's advocate for a moment though: A parallel example could be how the Mississippi Riverfront Design Initiative calls for changes that go above and beyond the long-term objectives of the comprehensive Above the Falls master plan. And I support MRDI over ATF because I believe that when someone proposes something BETTER than what was initially planned, we ought to be receptive to that.

    So if LRT is indeed better than the comprehensive plan for Penn Ave, as Anon 7:36 seems to suggest, then we shouldn't bind ourselves to a plan that was passed before something new became a possibility.


    In 2010 discussion around LRT along Penn Avenue was well underway. If the powers that be had really wanted to clear the way for LRT, then the designation of Penn could have been changed at that point to something like a transit or commercial corridor. The fact that it was not should be telling.

    And while I agree with anon 7:36 that we need to find ways to open up NoMi to potential business from outside the community, I don't believe LRT will do that. LRT will get people from one end point to another quickly, safely, and well. I do not believe it will be a silver bullet for all that ails us, and I think this is the biggest drawback to the LRT discussion. From my perspective, many supporters are looking for light rail to do things that by its nature it does not do.

    From my initial research (which I promise to continue) do you know what does seem to draw people from outside a community to the stops along the way? Streetcars.

  9. Anon 7:36, I don't believe that the decline of West Broadway can be attributed to changing traffic patterns or freeways. It comes down to the vanishing, by and large, of the portion of the population with disposable income.

    Yes, a light rail line holds the promise of bringing people through NoMi who would otherwise never pass through it. It might even lead to some commercial development at the Penn/West Broadway commercial node. But that roll of the dice comes at a hefty price...

    One of the few things NoMi does have going for it is its housing stock -- well built, classic homes with tremendous character. Many of the homes on Penn between 55 and Golden Valley Road (in particular, between 14th and GVR) are fantastic examples of this. In fact, when I drive those stretches of Penn, I am reminded of how similar the vibe is to the 50th & Lyndale area of south Minneapolis. Ditto for Oliver between 16th and GVR.

    Let's presume the light rail is built on Penn, which under many of the options studied requires substantial taking of properties. This will create shallow lot remnants that are generally unsuitable for many commercial or residential purposes. To create properties of sufficient size, it seems likely that, eventually, the even side of Queen (and/or the odd side of Oliver, depending on which build option is selected) would be bought up and razed. This hasn't been discussed or even mentioned because it isn't an immediate part of the Bottineau buildout.To deny the likelihood, however, is foolish. It would be done over time, with the city's blessing, by developers.

    Minneapolis has a demonstrated history of upzoning areas near light rail and amenities like the Midtown Greenway. It is not unreasonable to presume that, should light rail be built in the Penn/Oliver corridor, that the primarily R1/R1A zoning would be changed to encourage higher densities near the line. This means that perhaps 2 blocks on the west and east sides of the Bottineau line -- and even more at the Hwy 55, Plymouth, GVR and West Broadway nodes -- will probably be upzoned to much higher densities.

    So -- even if some houses remain after the property takings during the buildout, it's a virtual certainty that all single-family residential on Penn and at least one side (if not both sides) of Queen and Oliver will eventually be lost to higher density new construction (apartments, condos, townhomes).

    We need to enhance the good things that we do have, not set ourselves up for the loss of hundreds of highly desirable homes.

    Light rail on Penn/Oliver does not enhance the majority of the West Broadway commercial strip (most of which is well east of the line's route), nor will it do much for the 40-years-dead Plymouth commercial corridor, much of which has been turned over to public housing and institutional, governmental and light industrial uses. Broadway and Plymouth will generally only draw customers from the immediate vicinity, so knocking down good houses will only serve to diminish the area's population and eliminate several hundred thousand (or more) dollars in property tax revenue.

    For years after LRT construction, one or both sides of Penn will be barren city-owned wastelands full of green grass at best, and noxious weeds and refuse at worst. We'll have the incredible sight of the garages for homes on Oliver and/or Queen to look at as we drive by. Mark my words.

  10. I don't forsee the Northside revitalizing because a bunch of suburbanites are riding a train through our neighborhood. I believe the Northside will revitalize from within. Because people will want to live HERE because of the assets or amenities that are HERE. Which would be the greater asset or amenity to the livability of the Northside? Which would provide the most service to actual Northside residents. Considering LRT provides only one stop on West Broadway, and that stop is far up on West Broadway, I think it is clear the answer to those questions are that Street Cars would be a better amenity to attract folks to want to live or work on the Northside. Not to mention it will connect us better with Washington Avenue which is already a very up and coming part of the city.

  11. I think the writing is pretty much on the wall that D2 alignments are not going to happen anyhow. They are not supported by our mayor or the President of our City Council Barb Johnson, the comments from the community during the scoping process were overwhelmingly negative, and it is the more expensive option.

    I would like to see the conversation shift to discussing what we CAN influence - how to get West Broadway bumped up in priority for Street Car reintroduction. The inaugural line has already been determined to be the Nicollet - Central line, running through South and NE Mineapolis. I believe the West Broadway - Washington alignment should be the second to follow. While not necessarily second in terms of the Street Car Feasibility "scoring," I think a case could be made that as South and NE Minneapolis will at that point already benefit from having at least one Street Car line, that North Minneapolis should be the next priority rather than those other areas of the city getting their second or third lines while we have none. In particular, this argument would make sense in terms of compensating for prior disinvestment and physical disconnection with the rest of the city.

    In order to get such preference, we need to start the conversation and start it early. Our city planners and representatives need to hear this message coming strongly from the community. If we don't do so, these other parts of town are going to be doing so on their own behalf and we once again are going to be left behind. Let's not wait for City Planners to tell us what is going to come to the Northside and when - let's send the message to them now about what it is that we want.

  12. M. Clinton - did you know that at the PAC meeting that came hot on the heels of the neighborhood LRT vote at UROC, Barb Johnson not only voted for the D2 alignment, but specifically made the motion herself to endorse D2C and not D2B?

    I believe the PAC vote was 9-3 in favor of Johnson's D2C motion.

    Some of my neighbors who were at the PAC meeting have suggested that this move was a political one, where elected officials appear to be supporting NoMi while really setting up a purely monetary decision down the line, where D1 will win out over the incredibly expensive D2C.

  13. When you isolate areas of lower income off from the economic activity of a city; the end result is a further decline in the personnel incomes, decline in housing stock, higher crime, and lower standards of community values. This is a text book fact that has been played out in major cities across the country.

    Look at a demographic maps of Minneapolis and the areas of highest poverty are contained by geographical boundaries and man made obstacles (Parks and Freeways).

    Each community has it's share of wonderful housing stock. The availability of great low cost housing alone will not provide the incentives for change. Prospective homesteader who could bring a contagious sense of community spirit won't buy homes because the community standards and reputation are so low. Prospective buyers don't want want to live in a community with an overwhelming sense of despair created by generations of isolation. What they want is a sense of connection with more "progressive" areas of the city that a state of the art LRT system being created in Minneapolis will provide.

    In a sense the inclusion of North Minneapolis is as much a psychological asset as it is a transportation mode. Many of our problems stem from the isolation and community perceptions of generations of young adults who see the no way out of the cycle of poverty. They have been labeled as hopeless and live up to this expectation. Their idols are Hip Hop thugs and drug dealers seen on videos. There is no vision of property ownership or community development because North Minneapolis has continually been subjected to the same "Separate but Equal" policies being proposing by the LRT vs.Street Cars proposal.

    Anyone who thinks that by skirting major population sectors of North Minneapolis in favor of a "Street Car" route which will clone the current bus lines is giving a wink and a nod to policies that will continue isolate our community and perpetuate the antisocial norms we are surrounded with.

    I more than most dread seeing tracts of vintage homes plowed under. Yet, We reach a crossroads where we must decide between two evils. Do we sacrifice a portion of our residential properties in order to break the continued isolation that is impoverishing the community?

    Back to the discussion at hand, we are faced with another unenviable choice concerning Penn (D2-C) vs. Oliver (D2-B).

    Penn is the major existing traffic corridor and would be the natural choice for a LRT route. Buffers with walls and foliage could be set up behind residential homes and alleys which would be attractive and deaden sound impact. The minimal setback from Oliver (D2-B) would prevent this and the impacts of the rail traffic would cripple residential property values creating the potential for an explosion of non-homestead rental market along the rail lines. (We all know what those eventually look like) There are also less commercial nodes along Oliver, meaning that riders wanting services will have to navigate through residential streets back to commercial establishments on Penn if stops are even created.

    Contrary to popular belief, cost and residential displacement (especially in North Minneapolis) may not be a factor. Many expensive developments have occurred in Minneapolis as the the downtown area has been reshaped to meet political goals. Look at the history of Minneapolis.

    I believe that the D2-C proposal down Penn makes the most long term sense for our community and the City. Street Cars would be nice, however the two concepts are not mutually exclusive and they could be added later. We still have bus routes, but to miss the opportunity to connect with this major transit initiative would be unfortunate.

  14. If the point of LRT is to connect people and jobs in the most efficient manner possible, then D2C the best choice. D1 basically avoids north Minneapolis, and it seems some of you are ok with that because you have a strange belief that streetcars are inevitable. D2C connects the residents of north Minneapolis to jobs, period. D2C serves North Memorial Hospital, D1 does not. D2C provides a one-seat ride (no bus transfer) to entry level jobs at Mall of America AND either Maple Grove's or Brooklyn Park's retail centers. Believe me, the deck is stacked against light rail on Penn/Broadway. Met Council holds all of the cards, and they will choose D1. The publicly given answer will be cost/time savings, but we all know there is more to it than that. The federal funding calculations will support their findings, which weigh cost/time too heavily and ridership too lightly. If you want D2C, you need to show up to every possible hearing, with everyone you can find. Organize your arguments and be HEARD.

    We already blew it once with Southwest LRT; the chosen Kenilworth alignment is a complete joke as far as ridership is concerned. There was an enormous opportunity there to travel through the greenway and then tunnel under Hennepin or Nicollet and it's not happening. The most popular reasons: cost, time savings, and belief that some other form of transit will come along in the future. I wouldn't bet on it. The Met Council doesn't support streetcars and we all know damn well the city can't afford them alone.

  15. @Matty B, I don't think that streetcars are inevitable. However, I DO believe that the D1 route in conjunction with West Broadway streetcars and an improved transportation grid is the best overall option for transit in NoMi. And I believe that any D2 alignment will inevitably eliminate any chance of making streetcars part of that mix.

    I applaud you for calling for folks to be organized, though I see in your comment a defeatist thought process that is all to common here. I've heard plenty of D1 supporters lament that D2 is the inevitable route that will get shoved down our throats by the powers that be, regardless of what the community wants or will benefit from. And I've heard the inverse refrain from D2 supporters.

    While there may indeed be a PREFERRED option by those in power, that is not the GUARANTEED route. So keep on pushing for what you think is best.


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