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MN2020 - Tuesday Talk: Southwest LRT Options
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Tuesday Talk: Southwest LRT Options

March 18, 2014 By Joe Sheeran, Communications Director

This region needs the Southwest light rail, but we also need it done correctly the first time. So far, one of the biggest hurdles for the Southwest light rail is what to do about existing freight tracks that currently run in the narrow Kenilworth Corridor of Minneapolis, a recreational area that runs between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles.

Planners suggest two main options: Reroute freight traffic and allow light rail trains to run through the corridor, which poses a number of issues for St. Louis Park, where the new freight line would run. Or, keep freight where it is and build either a deep tunnel for LRT trains, which is expensive, or dual shallow tunnels with LRT passing over a water channel connecting the lakes.

All of these options have their pros and cons and strong opposition.

A newly introduced third option is a Goldilocks-like compromise with a “deeper shallow tunnel” that would be less expensive than a deep tunnel and better accommodate esthetic and environmental concerns of the dual shallow tunnel.

Since we seem to be back to the drawing board, would it make sense to revisit other SWLRT routing options, like running the line down Nicollet Avenue?

What’s the best way forward for Southwest Light Rail?

Join the conversation between 8 and 9:30 with Bill Lindeke, Twin Cities transportation and planning thinker and blogger Twin Cities Sidewalks and Streets.MN. 

 

Post your comments or questions in the box below, scroll down to see the ongoing conversation, and use "refresh" to see new comments.

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70 Comments:

  • Rachel says:

    March 18, 2014 at 6:36 am

    Good Morning! Bill will join us around 8:00. Feel free to add your questions or comments at any time before then.

    • Judy Meath says:

      March 18, 2014 at 8:08 am

      Thanks for hosting this important discussion. I do think that this alignment has so little benefit for Minneapolis—it goes through the least populated area of the city—that we should really look for a new route. Ridership projections are based on Bush-era standards that prioritized commuter time for suburbanites into downtown. Mow the feds prioritize urban density.

      • Bill Lindeke says:

        March 18, 2014 at 8:17 am

        I completely agree with this, but would be curious if anyone has really gotten into the weeds with the ridership projection formulas. I’ve heard stories about planners at public meetings saying with a straight face that the Uptown alignment would have less ridership than the current route, which anyone who’s ever walked around Lake and Hennepin can see is patently false.

        I’ve also heard that the old ridership projections privelege “new riders” over improving ride times for already-existing transit riders.

        What do you think would be the political or economic costs of “going back to the drawing board” at this point and re-routing the line back through Uptown?

        • Jim smart says:

          March 18, 2014 at 8:23 am

          One thing is for sure, in a realignment down 29th st and Nicollet, and that is ridership in the evening!  Can you just imagine getting a ride to and from an evening of entertainment, food and,yes, alcohol?  Those trains will be full and those business owners will be. Very happy!!!

          • Bill Lindeke says:

            March 18, 2014 at 8:31 am

            Whenever I ride the #6 bus, I imagine this very thing. And because the #6 bus is always stuck in Hennepin Avenue traffic, I have a long time to enjoy this fantasy.

          • WE WANT A SUBWAY! says:

            March 18, 2014 at 4:44 pm

            Amen Jim! And that would benefit suburbanites AND city residents! Win win win win… Burbs people can avoid a DWI and get to all the places they want to go (hint they are mostly in the city) and city folks can hop trains that get downtown in mere minutes like people in the future.. er actually like people all over the world have been doing for well over a century. Welcome to the future past Minneapolis!

  • Bill Lindeke says:

    March 18, 2014 at 8:00 am

    Hello MN2020.

    My name is Bill Lindeke and I’ll be moderating today’s conversation. I’m an urban geographer and local urban design blogger. My PhD research is on bicycle planning and the social practices of urban bicycling, and I’ve taught urban geography for years at the U of MN and at Metro State University. I’m also a part-time reporter for KFAI radio and a member of the St Paul Planning Commission focusing on transportation planning. You can read my writing at my blog (tcsidewalks.blogspot.com) or at streets.mn, a local transportation policy website where I write and podcast regularly. Follow me on twitter @billLindeke or on streets.mn or any of the above places.

    Unlike many of the voices involved in the SWLRT discussion, I don’t have a particular position to defend. I have a lot of opinions, but don’t have a financial or institutional stake in the matter. (I live in the West Side of Saint Paul.) Today I’m hoping to bring some “big picture” analysis to the conversation. I’ve spent years researching the history of US urban transportation policy, and have been involved in many local government and development conversations. I hope we have a productive conversation today, and I promise to give you my unvarnished thoughts on the SWLRT impasse. 

    That said, on with the show! I have some reggae music playing and just made a fresh cup of coffee. The sun is coming up! What are your thoughts on this sticky situation?

    • Joe says:

      March 18, 2014 at 8:08 am

      Bill, thanks for joining us. Looking back at urban history, could we have prevented a situation like this by doing a little build it before they come planning? It seems like we’re always re-engineer public works projects.

      • Bill Lindeke says:

        March 18, 2014 at 8:19 am

        Well, this particular line (vaguely speaking) has been in the works for very long time (see some of these maps from the 80s: http://www.ajfroggie.com/roads/minnesota/rant/transit/scans/index.html). You’d have thought that they would have addressed the freight and bike trail concerns earlier, but things rarely happen this way. Political expediency and the bias toward short-term calculation is hard to overcome.

  • Judy Meath says:

    March 18, 2014 at 8:11 am

    I’m also concerned that if we build this SWLRT we will end up heavily subsidizing it—220 trains a day, many will be near empty—that we will sour the public on building more light rail. And we need light rail.

    • Bill Lindeke says:

      March 18, 2014 at 8:22 am

      Well, all transportation is subsidized. I think that eventually this line would have good ridership, something similar to the current Blue Line (Hiawatha).

      The question with light rail is what kind of LRT do we need? Should LRT go along already-existing relatively dense transit lines like the University Avenue corridor, or into places without much transit or density in the hopes of spurring TOD? Where do you think we should be building LRT lines in the Twin Cities?

      • Jeanette says:

        March 18, 2014 at 8:40 am

        Hi Bill and others.  Thanks for doing this forum.  I’ve been following this issue for about eight years as a neighbor and transit user who lost her bus (#25)  due to low ridership.  Near the proposed Kenilworth line, we now have only a few buses a day during rush hour, but Metro Transit wants to give us light rail every 7.5 minutes in both directions 20 hours a day.

        It seems pretty clear that if this train eventually amasses good ridership, it will be because we’ve pushed development further out of the core.  There is almost no opportunity for TOD along the proposed Minneapolis route (Kenilworth), but lots in Hopkins, Eden Prairie, and further.  BTW, anyone living in those communities will still need a car for everything but commuting.

        • Bill Lindeke says:

          March 18, 2014 at 9:02 am

          This is exactly why I favor transit routes that make high quality investments (e.g. rail) along already existing transit routes.

          But the politics of CTIB funding (and its regionally diverse board) make that very difficult in the Twin Cities!

    • Bill Lindeke says:

      March 18, 2014 at 8:29 am

      Speaking of subsidies, the Northstar Commuter rail is heavily subsidized (and is, frankly, kind of a transit disaster at this point). The proposed train to Duluth would be heavily subsidized, as would other inter-city rail (at least for the short- to medium-terms).

      Roads, too, are heavily subsidized. Overall, 50% of MN road funding is NOT paid for by the users themselves (read, drivers). Half our road money comes from the general fund. And you can imagine the kind of subsidy ratio you might get for a large exurban road project like the Stillwater bridge or the ring-road expansions near Rogers… We shouldn’t pick on transit subsidies without considering these things, and weighing the potential benefits of walkable urban development patterns.

      • Judy says:

        March 18, 2014 at 8:43 am

        I don’t think we should be sanguine about subsidization. The Northstar “disaster” that you mention is cited by fiscal conservatives as a misuse of public funds. Of course public amenities are subsidized, but to what degree, and for what benefits? If you really dig into the DEIS on the SWLRT, you find that 75% of the 14,750 round-trip riders already ride a bus or carpool. What we want transit to do is yes give people a better ride (I took metro buses for many years and oh how I froze waiting) but also get cars off the road. The SWLRT fails.

        • Bill Lindeke says:

          March 18, 2014 at 9:17 am

          I’m not sanguine about subsidies. Precisely the opposite in fact; I see them everywhere! I think those projections are very low, almost absurdly so. In general, a SWLRT will be a good investment IMO, at least once the land use changes and station area developments take place.

  • Alex Cecchini says:

    March 18, 2014 at 8:12 am

    Hey everyone,

    My name is Alex Cecchini and I’m also a streets.mn contributor and huge land-use/transportation wonk in my personal time.  Like Bill, this line doesn’t affect me personally per se as I don’t currently live along the chosen alignment, and likely won’t even if it were changed.  I’m just interested in making sure our cities and regions get the best bang for their transit bucks.

    While I won’t be able to take part in the conversation fully, I’ll toss a thought in and come back a bit later to see where the conversation went: what are the implications of delaying the project either by missing the June deadline for CTIB funding or re-entering the LPA process for federal funding by looking at other routing options again?

    • Joe says:

      March 18, 2014 at 8:20 am

      Here’s a MinnPost piece from Congressman Ellsion on money that could be lost. 
      http://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2014/03/delay-southwest-light-rail-not-cost-free-its-time-come-together

      • Bill Lindeke says:

        March 18, 2014 at 8:24 am

        Honestly, Ellison’s comments didn’t do much for me. He didn’t offer any specific solutions and seemed to suggest that this line would benefit North Minneapolis more than I think it does.

    • Bill Lindeke says:

      March 18, 2014 at 8:39 am

      This is the 1 Billion Dollar question, Alex. It would take someone with insider knowledge of congressional and regional political gamesmanship to figure this out. And if that person knows, they’re not telling.

      • Matty Lang says:

        March 18, 2014 at 9:30 am

        It might not have been a problem if we still had Jim Oberstar chairing the Transportation Committee in D.C. Since we don’t have that anymore, the project would move to the back of the funding queue which would mean major delays. I know some people will say it would be worth it (I’m on the fence, myself). I can give a sarcastic “thanks for putting us in a crappy position” to the voters of the 8th district.

  • Bill Lindeke says:

    March 18, 2014 at 8:13 am

    OK, my reggae CD was skipping so I put on Adam Ant.

    Here are some opening remarks:

    SWLRT is a great example of the shifting nature of compromise with transit investments (ridership vs. cost vs. construction / liveability mitigation).

    SWLRT is a great example of project / funding momentum, in the Robert Moses sense of the term.

    SRLRT is a great example of the difficulty of transit planning in US cities posted by multiple jurisdictions and governmental complexity (e.g. SLP vs. Mpls vs. EP, CTIB vs. Met Council).

    I’m curious about a few things…

    1) What was the biggest mistake made (so far)?
    2) What is the utopian pie-in-the-sky version of this transit project?
    3) What is the best possible outcome of the current situation?
    4) What is the worst case scenario?
    5) What do you think will actually happen?

    • Bill Lindeke says:

      March 18, 2014 at 9:01 am

      OK, I’m just gonna go ahead and answer my own questions…

      1) Clearly it was the 3C v. 3A alignment decision in 2010. It was a very close vote and if it were to be made today, would have gone the other way. In retrospect, the decision was that the 3A alignment was thought to be both cheaper and more politically expedient. Both were false assumptions, it turns out. Big mistake by Hennepin County and the Met Council! Potentially fatal mistake, at least for the short term.

      2) Lots of choices here. To me, ideally this would to in a tunnel down Hennepin Avenue and pop out at the Greenway and continue Southwest. There are plenty of other utopian fantasies to choose from: http://streets.mn/2013/10/22/a-simplecomplicated-solution-to-the-southwest-corridor-situation/ or http://streets.mn/2014/02/11/southwest-lrt-plan/

      • Judy says:

        March 18, 2014 at 9:06 am

        I agree, Bill.

    • Mike Hicks says:

      March 18, 2014 at 9:16 am

      Hi, another streets.mn contributor here.

      I think many of the biggest mistakes were made long ago. In my mind, it would have made much more sense to run LRT down Excelsior Boulevard rather than following the rail corridor—it’s a roadway that has similarities to University Avenue, most especially the fact that it’s relatively wide. I’ve heard one person mention that the narrow section through the Minikahda Club golf course was a dealbreaker for some reason. (Really? We can’t take land from a golf course of all things?)  It might only need to run to Hopkins or even just MN-100.

      If we’re using an existing freight corridor, why not just double-track that and make it into a high-quality, (comparatively) high-frequency commuter rail line?  With only around three trains per day along most of the route, it wouldn’t be hard to set up particular slots for the freight trains to run through on shared track—a vastly easier problem compared to how we built Northstar on a line that has 50+ trains/day. It does lead to some trouble on the western end of the line, since the 3A routing through the Golden Triangle area and to the vicinity of Eden Prairie Center is better than the old freight line it would have followed on the old 1A route.

      We really need to dedicate the dollars for heavier investment to the denser core cities and inner suburbs.  There’s plenty of room for redevelopment on parking lots and other empty parcels.  I tend to think that we need a tunnel under Hennepin Avenue between Uptown and Downtown, and probably others on Nicollet and Chicago. Even if each one was only two miles long, they’d have huge impacts on transit mobility because they’d move people so much faster.  And yet we’re building some pretty expensive bridges and (short) tunnels on a single 15-mile line to a single quadrant of our gigantic metro area and are basically claiming it does all things for all people.  That just doesn’t mesh with the reality that transit users are generally walking at both ends of their trips.  We need a dense core network with buses and commuter trains extending farther outward.

      I know there are some streetcar plans in Minneapolis itself, but unfortunately they aren’t going to speed things up significantly. That can be improved by giving them dedicated lanes, but working out how to do traffic signals properly and still keep the area walkable/bikeable is pretty difficult.  There’s a lot of value in just putting things underground (or perhaps elevated, but that always brings the trouble of obscuring the view, and broadcasting noise over a wider area).

      It kind of feels like we’re living the worst-case scenario, with wanting to tunnel under parkland rather than the city. But really, the worst case is that nothing gets built at all. There’s a lot of value in the line even if we went with the zany plan that we’ve ended up with now.  And there has been significant investment along the line in St. Louis Park, for instance, which is one reason why I think we should still at least do some sort of commuter rail service.

      • Bill Lindeke says:

        March 18, 2014 at 9:21 am

        Mike is a very sensible man!

  • Mathews Hollinshead says:

    March 18, 2014 at 8:30 am

    As a cyclist myself, I am perplexed that decision makers appear unwilling to discuss or consider moving or modifying the cycling trail in the Kennilworth segment of the SWLRT project. This trail carries a small fraction of the travelers/commuters SWLRT would carry, and only in three seasons rather than the year-round service SWLRT will provide.  Aside from one proposal to elevate the cycling trail above the SWLRT track and another by myself to specify SWLRT vehicles that could carry 20 or 30 bicycles instead of the current 4 per LRT vehicle (Caltrain in California’s Bay area has such rail cars), there has been only silence. Using the cycling right-of-way for SWLRT would be only appropriate, as the land itself was originally acquired not for permanent cycling trails but for SWLRT, and it would cost a fraction of what any of the tunnel options would cost. If someone has a valid engineering (that is, not political) explanation, I’d like to see it.

    • Bill Lindeke says:

      March 18, 2014 at 8:38 am

      I mostly agree with this. Cyclists who ride through the city are quite used to being shunted to the side of the road, and the bike trail certainly seems like the most flexible part of the equation. For example, the LRT trail between Cedar-Riverside and Franklin is hardly bucolic, but people still ride it because its safe and efficient. There are many places in the Twin Cities where bikers have to share a 6’-10’ ROW (e.g. some of the river road trails). This could certainly be one of them, though it would ruin a lot of the pleasure that higher-speed riders experience.

      My hunch is that the bike trail is mostly a symbol of other concerns in the area: noise levels, safety, “green space”, etc.

      • Jeanette says:

        March 18, 2014 at 8:50 am

        Yes, Bill, this is not just about the bike trail.  In addition to the concerns you mention, it’s about public trust.  Many of us spent years—countless hours—trying to figure out how to make SWLRT work in Kenilworth even though we felt that it bypassed Minneapolis population and business centers in favor of time-saving one-seat rides for suburban commuters.  We did this based on the 2007 Alternatives Analysis premise that, paraphrasing, “if Kenilworth is used for transit, freight rail must be moved.”  This was the basis of the LPA that every municipality voted on, and the City of Minneapolis stated that it was a fundamental condition of the project.  Suddenly, in January 2012, that’s all out the window and we’re supposed to further accommodate the interests of sprawl.

      • Jeanette says:

        March 18, 2014 at 8:53 am

        Further, the Kenilworth Trail carries about 3,000 cyclists per day in the summer months.  This is one-tenth the projected daily ridership of the $1.5 billion SWLRT at almost zero cost.  Certainly, winter months are much slower.  Bless the hearts of those hardy fat-tire riders!

        • Bill Lindeke says:

          March 18, 2014 at 9:04 am

          So Jeanette, would you rather see this project be scuttled for the moment and go back to the drawing board? What you think would be the political or economic (or public trust) consequences of that outcome?

          • Jeanette says:

            March 18, 2014 at 9:09 am

            Yes, good point.  I guess the first step would be to acknowledge that Mistakes Were Made—that helps with the public trust issue.  But yes, I guess at this point I would rather see the project re-look at the Uptown route.  I know it’s a big decision, but it should probably have been made in January 2013 when all the other options for dealing with TC&W’s rejection of the LPA were opened up. 

            Also, I’m sure you’re aware that an Alternatives Analysis is underway (maybe even complete) that proposes spending another $250 million to put “streetcars”—which are really the same light rail cars as those to be used on SWLRT—on the Greenway along with “enhanced bus” on Lake Street.

            • Bill Lindeke says:

              March 18, 2014 at 9:13 am

              Let’s leave the streetcar conversation on the side. It’s a whole other can of worms!

    • Michael Noble says:

      March 18, 2014 at 8:46 am

      I agree with Mathews Hollinshead. It’s too late to start over debating alignment and whether Uptown would have been better. I credit Adam Platt for first proposing an elevated biking and walking corridor a above the two trains at grade. I know Caren Dewar of Urban Lands Institute also thinks this is the best fix. For a fraction of a tunnel or shallow tunnel, a tree top biking and walking plaza like NYC’s Highline Park would create new public infrastructure, solve the problem that the corridor is too tight for two trains plus walkers a d bikers. It would eliminate the tunnel wars. I have heard east metro planners point out the the entire Gateway Corridor (if BRT is chosen) would cost less than the tunnel option.

      • Jeanette says:

        March 18, 2014 at 9:05 am

        Hi Michael.  Anything done right could be cool.  But before getting too interested in a Minneapolis Highline, take a walk along the corridor and imagine how this could work in reality—ADA compliance, emergency access, recreational biking (including kids), proximity to bedroom windows, and all.  I don’t know if Adam really considered this.  I’ll have to ask him.

      • Bill Lindeke says:

        March 18, 2014 at 9:08 am

        A great many things would cost less than the tunnel option, which is why if we go that route, it will dramatically affect the political / geographic landscape of transit funding in Minneapolis. How likely would CTIB be to vote for another West/Southwest metro area project until the rest of the region gets some investment equity?

        The problem is that the Southwest metro is where the bulk of the jobs and population (and money) have moved over the past few decades.

        So, Michael, you see no possible way that re-routing could resurface? If not, why hasn’t an elevated bike path been brought up? (Pardon both puns.) I’d love to see a rendering. It reminds me of early UK cycletrack fantasies from the 20s and 30s.

  • Steve Fletcher says:

    March 18, 2014 at 8:36 am

    I know there was a years-long campaign led by the Harrison Neighborhood Association and others (ISAIAH among them) around getting the line running through North, but I feel like lately those arguments have been totally subsumed by other debates… I know HNA saw a strong value in building rail that would increase access to Southwest suburban employment and likely prompt development in what is currently underutilized/brownfield space that functionally isolates North from other parts of the city.  What role does an analysis of the relative race/class privilege of the riders served and a history of disproportionate investments and disinvestments play in your thinking about transit development? 

    Hoping someone closer to the HNA’s “healthy corridors” work can get on and articulate their argument better than I have here…

    • Bill Lindeke says:

      March 18, 2014 at 8:49 am

      This is a really complicated question! There are lots of angles to the intersection of transit and equity. For example, there’s the issue of bus funding vs. light rail funding. From that basic perspective, the amount of money being proposed to mollify people along this route could dramatically improve transit for everyone in the North side of Minneapolis who are dependent on transit every day. (This kind of tension has been a recurring problem in other cities, for example in L.A.)

      But that’s not how these debates actually work. Capital and ongoing maintenance typically come from different pots of money.

      Personally, I don’t see this particular project doing all that much for transit equity other than providing “access to jobs” in a vague sense. The one stop in/near North Minneapolis is pretty small potatoes. I’d much rather the line went through the dense parts of South Minneapolis… (Of course if you live in the Harrison Neighborhood, you’ll feel differently.)

      • Jeanette says:

        March 18, 2014 at 8:58 am

        I don’t really understand Harrison’s advocacy for this line, beyond the hope that land around the proposed Van White station (near Dunwoody) could someday be redeveloped.  If Harrison wanted better connections with Eden Prairie, they could have them tomorrow with express buses.  Maybe they could even use the cushy SouthwestTransit buses that are a well-loved commuter option going into downtown from Eden Prairie, Chanhassen and other generally well-to-do municipalities.  These really do provide a great commuter option.

  • Michael Miller says:

    March 18, 2014 at 8:51 am

    I think we should at least revisit running the LRT across the 29th St. Corridor and up Nicollet.  Perhaps a later extension would be the full length of the Corridor to Hiawatha.
    In any case, let’s put light rail where the people are, not in wooded groves with bikers and hikers.
    But if we have to do Kenilworth, the TC&W should get relocated so the LRT can run at grade.
    Thanks.

    • Bill Lindeke says:

      March 18, 2014 at 9:10 am

      This seems to be the dominant viewpoint for many Minneapolis residents and transit wonks in general.

  • Bill Graham says:

    March 18, 2014 at 8:56 am

    The Southwest rail corridor was purchased in the early 1980’s for a future light rail line to Eden Prairie.  It was assumed at the time that freight service would continue and that LRT would share the track on a time-share basis: freight late at night and transit during the day.  That is no longer possible under federal railroad regulations.  Also, it never was contemplated that the 29th Street railroad trench would be closed.  The Southwest LRT was intended to be an inexpensive transit link to the SW suburbs. 

    The decision to close the 29th Street trench foreclosed an invaluable option for the future.  Also, the decision to allow - even encourage - bike and hiking trails in the railroad corridor has encouraged the community, especially Kenwood residents, to think that the corridor really is a park and that all rail operations should be moved elsewhere.  There really isn’t anywhere else where they feasibly can be moved without incurring huge expense.  The “tunnel option” in Kenwood is meant to assuage local objections without really improving the quality of transit and freight rail service.  It remains a railroad corridor.  It was bought for that purpose and is held for railroad, not park purposes.

    Both freight and LRT need to be accommodated through the Kenwood corridor.  Aside from the “not in my back yard” objections, the main problem is the narrow width of the right of way between Cedar Lake and Lake Street.  There are two possible fixes:  (1) the town houses on the west side of the track north of Lake Street should be acquired to widen the right of way for 2 LRT tracks and one freight track.  This would be far cheaper than the proposed fly-over for freight in St Louis Park.  (2) The LRT could be narrowed to a single “gauntlet” track between Lake and Cedar Lake, about four tenths of a mile, and the bike path would be moved to another routing.  Metro Transit has resisted the idea of even a short single track segment and has refused to systematically study the possibility.  Single track segments hav been used in other cities, most recently in Denver on the new W line. 

    If the City of Minneapolis cannot abide by such solutions and refuses to OK the SWLRT project, then it should be postponed indefinitely and efforts should turn to construction of the Botteneau line to Brooklyn Center.

    Bill Graham
    former HCRRA staffer
    Burnsville MN.

    • Bill Lindeke says:

      March 18, 2014 at 9:12 am

      Thanks for the informative perspective. A colleague of mine suggested this “gauntlet” track option, too. (Unfortunate name, that.) I’d be curious why Metro Transit won’t consider it when so many other options are so politically and logistically onerous? But I’m not a transit engineer…

    • Jeanette says:

      March 18, 2014 at 9:16 am

      Hi Bill.  Thanks for your insights.  Please see my earlier comment, though, about the 2007 Alternatives Analysis.  If the assumption was that freight and transit would co-exist in Kenilworth, why did the planners state that “freight must be moved?”  This was a huge political football that now makes Minneapolis look like the bad guy.

      • Bill Lindeke says:

        March 18, 2014 at 9:22 am

        This is above my pay grade, unfortunately. I’ve haven’t been following all the details for that amount of time.

  • John Diers says:

    March 18, 2014 at 9:01 am

    Has any consideration been given to returning the Twin Cities & Western to the 29th Street corridor? It’s eviction several years ago set the stage for today’s contretemps. It would be problematical and expensive, but how much so compared to the St. Louis Park and Kenilworth alternatives?

    • Bill Lindeke says:

      March 18, 2014 at 9:08 am

      You are talking about the midtown greenway?

      • John Diers says:

        March 18, 2014 at 9:17 am

        Yes, I was referring to the current Midtown Greenway

        • Bill Lindeke says:

          March 18, 2014 at 9:24 am

          Well, I think the benefits of the greenway bike trail (and future transit) are pretty massive, and probably outweigh even the benefits of a transit line to the Southwest suburbs.

  • John Clouse says:

    March 18, 2014 at 9:11 am

    Don’t run the route where there are conflicts in the woods. Route it down a street like all other light rail Nicollet, Hennepin, Lyndale, the Greenway, etc. In fact, straight south from downtown to the greenway would be best.

    • Bill Lindeke says:

      March 18, 2014 at 9:15 am

      The intrusive construction period along University Avenue has likely dampened the appetite for this kind of construction for the time being, at least until the Green Line dramatically exceeds all its ridership projections and changes the transit conversation for the better.

      (Which will happen very soon, IMO.)

  • Kurt Findorff says:

    March 18, 2014 at 9:13 am

    Somebody please consider those in Carver County…

    • Bill Lindeke says:

      March 18, 2014 at 9:20 am

      First things first. If they can’t figure out how to build a decent LRT to Eden Prairie, there’s no way they’ll start thinking about Carver county. (Which isn’t even in the CTIB taxing district yet, is it?)

  • Nate says:

    March 18, 2014 at 9:13 am

    Has there been any renewed discussion about routing SWLRT through Uptown and Lyndale/Nicollet into downtown? If not, why not?

  • Bruce Center says:

    March 18, 2014 at 9:14 am

    It is time to go back to the drawing board, and reroute the line entirely The line should be run where the people are - through Minneapolis, along the old rail corridor on 29th St. next to the bike lanes - not through a park.  The line must benefit everyone—not just a few people in Eden Prairie who want to get to Minneapolis as quickly as possible.  This is how you ensure ridership.  And buy-in.

  • Joe says:

    March 18, 2014 at 9:14 am

    From Tom via email:
    This discussion looks interesting.  I’m a West Sider, like Mr. Lindeke apparently, but know little about this route “over there,” I am particularly interested now that my son just bought a house in St. Louis Park.

    Bottom line for my email:  Why not offer a map, rather than assume all your participants have a clear picture in their head?

    Tom, here’s a link to your map:
    http://metrocouncil.org/Transportation/Projects/Current-Projects/Southwest-LRT/Route.aspx

    • Bill Lindeke says:

      March 18, 2014 at 9:19 am

      We’ll be waiting for rail transit to the West Side for a long long time, Tom.

  • Pam says:

    March 18, 2014 at 9:15 am

    I don’t know much aobut the technical , engineering aspect of rail construction but my biggest concern is that the proposed tunnels could possibly damage Minneaplolis’ and really the region’s finest gem: the chain of lakes.lLake basin can ” crack”  and are never the same again , becoming swampy and fetid.  Loring Park Pond suffered such damage form highway construction. This should be our biggest prioority to protect the lakes and unfortunately engineers don’t seem to understand these deleicate ground water systems as well as they should or ignore possible problems becasue of political and financial pressure.
    Also the Kenilworth commuter trail is one of the most beautifiul portions of the bike trails in Minneapolis and selfishly I love that are and especially don’t wan it to be destroyed.  Yes it was “just a commercial railway” before but now it is a gorgeous ride and unique to the greenway
    the other value that has been mentioned is whoare we serving? are we trying to move suburban communterd in and out of the city as quickly as possible with the necessaity of mixing with “urban core” riders?  this was one of the values promoted by the original Bush era transit funding. I agree with those who want to reroute train though uptown and nicollet and include access to comercial areas.

    • Bill Lindeke says:

      March 18, 2014 at 9:25 am

      Engineering hubris is a time honored tradition. (See New Orleans c. 2005)

  • Mathews Hollinshead says:

    March 18, 2014 at 9:25 am

    Since the New York designers of Manhattan’s acclaimed High Line Park are now hired to redesign Nicollet Mall (http://www.mprnews.org/story/2013/09/19/daily-circuit-nicollet-mall-redesign), let’s give them a crack at conceptualizing an elevated cycle high line above SWLRT in Kenilworth.

    • Bill Lindeke says:

      March 18, 2014 at 9:28 am

      S’OK with me!

  • Bill Lindeke says:

    March 18, 2014 at 9:34 am

    Well, that wraps up my time here. I’m out of coffee and the sun is fully shining. (...though for how long?)

    It seems like we’ve agreed that the current plan is a poor compromise, and that many folks would like to see SWLRT go back to the drawing board. Others think there’s hope, though preferably not in form of a ‘massively expensive tunnel’.  (These would be folks with a more pragmatic sense of politics and a fine sense of how money is allocated, I’m guessing.)

    To my mind, the billion dollar question: What would be the costs and benefits of scuttling the current proposal and starting from scratch? Here’s an article on just how long and drawn out these kinds of decisions can become: http://nextcity.org/daily/entry/should-cities-reject-bad-transit-a-lesson-from-zurich

    Again, stop by streets.mn or tcsidewalks.blogspot.com or @billLindeke on Twitter to keep this conversation alive. Thanks for all your valuable insight.

  • Jeff says:

    March 18, 2014 at 10:00 am

    Monorail, monorail, monorail, monorail.

  • Jami LaPray says:

    March 18, 2014 at 10:56 am

    March 18, 2014

    As we near committee and council votes on the SWLRT/freight-rail question, we believe it’s important for all parties to understand the position of Safety in the Park and many citizens in the St. Louis Park community.

    We look forward to the introduction of Southwest LRT. We believe it will enhance St. Louis Park in myriad ways — from employment opportunities to transit-oriented development, and more. Instead of denying outright any type of freight rail re-route, we have always espoused a clear position: If no other viable option exists, a St. Louis Park freight rail re-route is acceptable only if our community remains as safe as it is today.

    Fifteen years of consultants’ studies, community meetings, environmental impact statements, and countless hours of work by elected officials and their staff members have come to two definite conclusions. First, several viable options exist for keeping the freight traffic right where it is today. Second, the only safe way to re-route Bass Lake Spur freight traffic to the MN&S track would mean taking multiple homes, businesses and schools; building ramps, bridges and berms; and rebuilding streets and highways. This would expend an enormous toll on the St. Louis Park community and we cannot abide it when other viable options exist. It is clear that the St. Louis Park City Council, the St. Louis Park School Board and all of our state legislators all agree on this point.

    Other facts have come to light during the last several years via diligent research, found documents, and even a complete FOIA search. We now know that St. Louis Park never agreed to a re-route; that Minneapolis agreed the Kenilworth bike trail would be temporary; that MNDOT always considered the TC&W’s use of Kenilworth permanent; that no entity can force a railroad to take an inferior route; and that the FTA never asked for freight and light rail to be considered separately but connected the two officially.  These pdf documents can be found at http://www.safetyinthepark.com/links-to-more-info.html and scroll to the bottom.

    We understand that freight trains will continue to run on the relatively safe St. Louis Park freight Bass Lake Spur and the Wayzata Subdivision corridors. Regardless of collocation or relocation, the freight trains in question will continue to run through St. Louis Park, and we know, as freight lines go, these aforementioned corridors are economically efficient, safe, and reliable.

    For all of these reasons, we demand that the Met Council, Hennepin County, MNDOT and other government agencies formally reject in perpetuity further study of new connections of the MN&S to the Bass Lake Spur and the Wayzata Subdivision.

    We look forward to using the Southwest LRT in our community, and we take pride in the fact that we have helped move it closer to reality by advocating for safer, easier, less-expensive options for the adjacent freight rail. We hope that the Met Council will apply what it has learned from this project to the future Bottineau line, which will be collocated with freight rail for nearly its entire run.
    Thom Miller & Jami LaPray, Co-Chairs, Safety in the Park

  • F.J. Halla says:

    March 18, 2014 at 10:57 am

    The SWLRT should be run through the midtown Greenway, a former rail bed. The Greenway is below grade. This would speed the LRT trains making it more popular with riders. And, the SWLRT would be less loathed by drivers facing long delays as currntly is true on streets crossing Hiawatha and soon University Ave.

  • Mathews Hollinshead says:

    March 18, 2014 at 11:18 am

    I am very glad to see mention by Thom Miller & Jami LaPray, Co-Chairs, Safety in the Park, of the fact that the bicycle trail in Kenilworth originally was defined and agreed as temporary (“that Minneapolis agreed the
    Kenilworth bike trail would be temporary”). The cheapest solution to the SWLRT issues at hand involves a new cycle trail route or configuration or linkage for those who now have the temporary use of the Kenilworth part of the SWLRT alignment as an at-grade bicycle trail.

  • Carol Tauer says:

    March 18, 2014 at 11:44 am

    I live in St. Paul and am not familiar with all the areas in Minneapolis. However, it seems to me that the smartest routing would be using the Midtown Greenway and Nicollet Avenue. Two letters in the Star Tribune recently advocated this routing, and some online comments have also supported it. It seems to be by far the best routing!

  • Al Kruse says:

    March 18, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    It is important to those along the freight line in southwest/western MN that the freight lines access be done in a way that maintains profitability.  With that said, it would be forward thinking to also allow passenger access on this line to say Hanley Falls.

  • WE WANT A SUBWAY! says:

    March 18, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    Yes, this is the perfect time to reroute the ill conceived suburbanite-centric route that has gotten mired in so many issues! The train is going through Minneapolis so it needs to serve the residents of Minneapolis. The current route does not serve the residents of Minneapolis at all, except for a few people who might get a job out in the burbs… and even then there’s no infrastructure out there for them to actually get to the job after they get to the train: no sidewalks, bike paths etc, they just get to walk down the 50 mph street, hmmm.

    It would be so great if the route went through uptown and/or goes down Nicollet / Eat Street: both locations that have the density and therefore ridership to support LRT successfully, whereas the current route does not since it tries to go through a non-densely populated nature area… The best part is such a reroute would be popular with suburbanites who party in uptown every weekend and might want a way to avoid DWI’s, and also popular with the city folk who can hop a train a couple steps out their apartment/condo door. Win win win win win win!

    The only people who want the current route are developers who want o develop the heck out of the no mans land train track area west of downtown. Oh you didn’t hear about that? Just wait and see if suddenly they are building condos etc. there in an area nobody else knew was available to develop… just wait. Sweetheart deal for the hooked up though, eh? Awesome.

    Finally the train needs to be a subway under Nicollet or Hennipen, or even in the green way trench, but off grade. Build capacity people, hello! The area is growing and so too is traffic. And don’t tell me we can’t afford it… when tunnels are now proposed for the current route… tunnels that will destroy waterflow to our cherished lakes… RIP Powderhorn Lake and Coldwater Spring who fell to similar ill conceive construction woes). Any project like this that is not looking 50 to 100 years into the future and BUILDING capacity rather than displacing it is doomed and WILL COST MORE THAN A SUBWAY long term because either it will fail, or it will need to be fixed at hugely higher costs. How about an example of such a situation? How about the 62 Crosstown and 35W fix that we finally got a few years back? How much did that cost??? and how much misery did it cause for 5 years, oh boy!

    We have a chance to do it right in a way that serves suburbanite and city resident alike, and that looks ahead and builds capacity, and saves money over the long term by doing it right the first time (aka the only time we get a chance to do it, since naysayers of transit will not allow a fix in the future likely, and will point to it as exhibit A of why they were right and we should all just drive cars).

    • WE WANT A SUBWAY! says:

      March 19, 2014 at 12:54 pm

      not to mention that the few people who might get a job out in the burbs but continue to live in the city won’t be living near the train route either downtown or in Kenwood… so the likelihood of that theory that the train will create jobs and have a ridership based on those jobs is pretty bunk with the current Kenilworth route