Saturday, September 24, 2005
(Note) Picture on left origionally posted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and obtained from the Metropolitan Council Website, and is of the Hiawatha LRT Line. Thought it would add to the post!!.
As I was heading over the Washington Avenue Bridge today, I had a realization: There are way too many busses on Campus. Especially on Washington Avenue, which besides University Avenue/4th St. is the main thorough fair in and out of Campus. Washington connects the two main banks of the U of M campus (East and West) and is therefore pretty busy in the morning, lunch period, and evening rush hours. This can be seen by the amount of pedestrian and bus traffic in and around stadium village during the lunch period, and the sheer amount of congestion this area experiences during the three time periods listed above.
In Geography 3371: Cities Citizens, and Communities, I have been given the opportunity through CSL (Career Student Learning) to intern with Transit for Livable Communities (TLC). TLC is a major advocacy group for the development of Transitways, bike and pedestrian friendly paths, and Transit Oriented Development in the Twin Cities metro area and region. The major focus of our group’s internship is the Central Corridor Light Rail project. The Central Corridor is an 11-mile corridor consisting of Washington Avenue and University Avenue between the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul Minnesota also known as the Midway District. Historically, the Midway district was serviced by the streetcars and was a location of heavy shipping, industry, commercial, and residential development. In the 1950’s the streetcars were ripped out and replaced by the bus system, it was a very complicated issue and a number of people went to jail. Ultimately the Twin Cities lost one of the best streetcar networks in the country, and we have been struggling to get back to that glory ever since.
Currently the area is serviced by the Route #16, #50 and #50S bus lines operated and owned by Metro Transit. The Express bus 94B, C, and D operate on Highway 94 and offer express service between the two downtowns with higher speeds than the routes #16 and #50.
Our main task with Central Corridor is to help determine the actual path of the LRT and ease the process of implementation. Also, we have to consider how to keep the current residents from being displaced from new development and the higher densities that are expected (hoped for) with the running of LRT between Minneapolis and St. Paul. Which brings me to my opening paragraph. The planners want the LRT to run on the surface until Washington Avenue and then tunnel under the East Bank of Campus and then re-surface on University Avenue all the way to Downtown St. Paul. Sounds pretty cool huh?
Howver, there are some problems with this plan. If the city planner wants to tunnel, then he should tunnel starting on Washington Avenue, underneath Cedar Avenue right before the West Bank Skyway/Blegan and Whiley Hall complex. By placing the tunnel further back, we can dig below existing utility lines and have underground stations on both the West and the East bank sides of campus, with either express elevators going to the street level for campus connectors, and plaza level for students/guests etc. similar to what was done at the Lindberg Terminal. The University would be asked to contribute in a number of ways. Have architectural students create plans for University Subway Stations both at East and West Banks and any of the other stations that students interested in the project would like. At the same time, the University could buy advertising space on a couple of the trains and have them painted in Maroon and Gold motifs with Goldy the Gopher on one of the trians. At the same time, professional architects and designers will plan out station designs as well. University United should be contacted and asked to voice their opinions as well. I have contacted and worked with this group before and they are very determined to make University Avenue more like the grand Baroque Avenues and Boulevards with intense commercial, but predominantly residential development.
However, creating stations on both sides of the river could cause problems with headways and running times. There are already two-three stations relatively close to the University of Minnesota West bank. These are the Cedar Riverside Station, the Metrodome Station, and to the extreme the Franklin Station. However, adding another station beneath the west bank, could potentially decrease the amount of bus activity above ground and provide new tunnels for the Gopher way, and a true connection from both sides of the West Bank underground than across the West bank skyway.
Platforms underground would be reached by elevators or escalators (depending how far down we dig) and once on the platform the other side could be reached by pedestrian bridges that cross over to the other side, or tunnels that go under the tracks/trains and come up on the other side.
Another problem concerning the underground stations is passenger security. Underground stations would have to be well lit and potentially have barriers to entry similar to New York subway stations. Otherwise, campus security could monitor these facilities as well as officers of the Transportation Police Department. By creating barriers to entry, Minneapolis and the State of Minnesota could begin using a system like the Metro Pass; many people already buy discounted transit passes including many students who use the UPass program.
The decision to go underground was made after seeing the incredible amount of bus traffic already on Washington Avenue on campus including Campus Connectors and Shuttles, Metro Transit, Southwest Transit, and Metro Valley Transit Authority (MVTA) all operating in this space and having to contend with heavier traffic.
Now that I have covered some of the issues with the tunnels proposed by the Central Corridor, it is time we addressed some of the surface effects. I know some of you are asking me, “you started this argument with buses, get to the buses already.” I am about to do just that. By implementing the CC LRT plan; the train would replace the limited service provided by the route #50 and #50S. The route #16 would still provide service to all other stops. Most likely, the 94B would still run on Highway 94 depending upon the success of LRT.
Some classmates of mine have argued that the LRT will only make things worse along University Avenue. University Avenue is one of the busiest Truck corridors in addition to regular traffic. By running LRT down the middle, it may be difficult to maintain University Avenues uses as a truck route. In addition, two lanes of traffic may be eliminated in both directions to make room for trains and stations. To eliminate this problem, the LRT may have to be elevated similar to Chicago’s L line. Although this would increase the costs and diminish the appeal, it would allow for stations to be placed in the locations picked out and not interfere with traffic, until entering downtown St. Paul and the Union Depot which has plans to be turned into a multi-mode station for both the CC LRT and the Red Rock Commuter Rail Line running from St. Paul to Rochester.
My classmates have also argued that the CC will not solve commuting problems if there are too many stations. The CC will have to be fast, and get people from Downtown Minneapolis to Downtown St. Paul in under 30 minutes (my desired figure). The #50, can get you to downtown St. Paul in about 45-50 minutes depending upon traffic, the #16 takes about an hour or more at the most, it’s worse with traffic. If the CC can provide commuter service to both downtowns, then it might be as successful if not more than Hiawatha. We will just have to wait and see what Metro Transit and the Council decide.
The Central Corridor is a very ambitious plan. Meaning that it is going to be expensive. Hiawatha, which was a longer corridor and had more stations, ended up costing about $725 Million Dollars and that was with a trimmed budget. Because of the tunneling and infrastructure costs of elevating CC, the cost of the project could potentially be in the billions. This is why, Metro Transit, and the Metropolitan Council, need to be careful and listen to the public before going and building something as extravagant as the CC LRT. I, like most people in the Urban Studies program here at the University of Minnesota, want to see this project get the green light and pass with flying colors. To do this, the citizens of Minneapolis, St. Paul, and the region need to get involved and push for a reform in the way our Transportation system is funded. A dedicated sales tax, as has been done in many other cities in the United States, could help Minnesota reach her goal of a dedicated public transportation system by 2030, and allow for new residential and commercial development in the cores of both downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul that we are already seeing in the Loft and Condo boom. Just imagine the amount of cars on the road if we don’t invest in a new system, our entire workdays will be spent on the highways. And gas prices are only going to increase, unless our nation spearheads the move toward renewable energy sources.
Time to get down from the soapbox, but to emphasize that public involvement is needed and appreciated. We as citizens, control what is implemented. Although it may not seem like that at times under the current administration, this is still a Democracy. Citizens of this State and region have a duty to plan and anticipate the future so that we can tell our leaders what we feel is best for the state of Minnesota, our role in the Midwest, the Nation, and the Global Economy.
For any questions:
For news and how to get involved in other transportation projects around the region: (URLS’s)
Northstar Commuter Rail: http://www.northstartrain.org/
Central Corridor: http://www.centralcorridor.org/
Metro Transit: http://www.metrotransit.org/
Metropolitan Council: http://www.metrocouncil.org/
Transit for Livable Communities: http://www.tlcminnesota.org/
University of Minnesota Twin Cities