Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Light Rail D1 or D2 is Discussed. What About Streetcars?

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.


  1. This blog post is written as though all the readers know the difference between D1 and D2. To make the article clearer, you need to recap the D1 and D2 option near the top.

    FURTHERMORE, don't you think North Minneapolis will simply be strung along with a promise of street cars, then the rail will go through Theo Wirth and we won't get our street cars at all?

    Penn and Broadway still looks pretty good to me.

  2. John,

    First off, don't say things like "you need to..." It's overly condescending. Second, I wrote and published this post at the end of a rather long day. I knew it wasn't as clean and as thorough as I'd like it to be. But I decided to press publish to get the post out there while the issue was still fresh enough.

    I added the "part 1 of 2" precisely because I knew I'd be coming back to write more about the topic.

    In regards to the issue itself, streetcars are part of a twenty- to fifty-year plan. It's quite possible they won't happen in our lifetimes. To me, that's immaterial. I'm looking at the long-term plans and at this time I believe streetcars get it right. I'd prefer the city get the transportation grid right vs. the instant gratification of seeing something shiny and new now that may not truly serve the community.

  3. Seems to me the same people who are griping about light rail going through NoMi will also gripe about the street cars going through NoMi.

  4. What we need is BOTH! The resident of NOMI have been shortchanged for far to long. Why should we suffer with buses full of thugs when we can have gleaming northstar trains safely picking up residents and taking them to their destination. Light Rail and Streetcars will take NOMI residents to new jobs lifting up incomes all over the neighborhood.

  5. The elephant in the room is the fact that many, many, Minneapolis communities and politicians don't want to contaminate this upscale urban transit with the distractions of the poor (mostly minority) area of the city that they have been so successful at creating and containing for many years.

    A LRT route which bypasses this Northern core by opening a thoroughfare through a scenic designated parkway will further isolate NoMi from the transit options needed to provide opportunities to local residents and break the current isolation that enhances and embraces the urban sprawl which has devastated NoMi.

    With the knowledge that eliminating LRT stops in this area will improve the perceived comfort and safety level of suburban riders (Take the bus trip from Broadway and Emerson to the Nicolette Mall for an example) thus increasing the overall support from outlying communities who are eager to maintain their isolation; planers have introduced the Street car system which continues to isolate the Northside community from the overall growth.

    By exploiting the differences in fractured community groups (who are desperate for the meager local funding the City provides) the City can easily document a lack of support for excluding the most needy area of the city from their mass transit plans.

    NoMi not only needs transit options that lets it's residents commute easily to jobs and opportunities, but needs greater exposure to outside goods and services coming into the community. The isolation from freeways, parkways, river and other geographical features is a textbook example of ghetto building.

    The problems associated with low income density are not a NoMi problem, they are a "Minneapolis" problem and local communities need to stand together and start asserting this point to City Administrators and the Met Council.

    While the low cost option to implement street cars seems like a positive compromise that will give minor enhancements to all NoMi neighborhoods (An option that can easily be cut later), it is important that each neighborhood in NoMi realize we are all isolated together and work towards broader long-term solutions.


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