Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Frustrations with Urban Planning

A few weeks ago I was thinking about the Central Corridor, the post that everyone thought was way too long, and how the project will be measured in terms of success. The factors of success are: ridership, private market response, effects on both ethnic communities and lower income neighborhoods, issues regarding traffic along University Avenue that may or not be a priority.

The first measurement will be the amount of ridership Metro Transit records in the first couple of weeks and months after the project is finished. Ridership is a very important justification to both Metro Transit and to the Metropolitan Council- the regional authority of the Twin Cities Metro. However, ridership will not be a justification to residents or business stake holders. Here is a description of the route provided by the Metropolitan Council’s website:

Central Corridor: This is the primary east-west transportation route between downtown Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota and downtown St. Paul. The Alternatives Analysis/Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) is being finalized. Two build alternatives are being considered, BRT and LRT. Selection of the locally preferred alternative is anticipated by the end of 2004. The next step is to complete preliminary engineering and final EIS.

The amount of Private Market Response. This might be the most important measure of success by both the region and local economies and residents. The private market includes the existing businesses including some owned by Southeast Asian and African American business owners and sites along the University Avenue Corridor that could be improved for both commercial and residential development or the popular term in the urban studies field “Mixed Use” which is often associated with another development term Transit Oriented Development or T.O.D. This is where the Metropolitan Council and the city of St. Paul will have to show their authority to get the kind of “picture” that they want of University Avenue: higher densities, more pedestrian traffic, less auto oriented development, and more housing (both expensive and affordable). If the Central Corridor LRT is shown as “profitable” then it will more likely attract business owners and strengthen current businesses already located in the corridor. People need to see how they can benefit from having the LRT near a development be it commercial or residential and in the long run how the value of their properties can potentially increase. One thing to be carefull about is the length of construction time for the project, it would look very bad if a business owner is forced to close due to construction.

The effect on ethnic communities. This is another important issue. The Central Corridor goes right thru some of the poorest areas of St. Paul and areas that have a negative view of Government Planning, especially with transportation. The neighborhood that I am referring to is/was the Rhondo neighborhood which in the 1950’s was raised and I-94 was built straight thru it, displacing many African American residents. This was another travesty of the Urban Revitalization programs associated with American Cities during the 1950’s and 1960’s where many Ethnic communities where raised or displaced by Federal programs with the creation of the interstate program. Ever since the highway was built, this area has been very anti development of any kind or at least very fearful of government projects. As planners, we need to make sure that these residents, whom often feel left out of the process, are heavily included or else this project will fail utterly, especially if any person from that background is displaced by new forms of development. However, controlling development will be difficult but the city of St. Paul should be able to keep development on University Avenue alone at first with home owners and neighborhoods experiencing the gains in property values often associated with new Transportation projects, especially LRT. I say that controlling development is difficult because the bottom line is that if a developer wants a property and is willing to pay lots of money for it; 9 out of 10 times the city will give the developer the property and let them do whatever they want with it.

Issues regarding traffic. This may or may not be an issue in the long run, however, drivers will need a while to adjust to LRVs (Light Rail Vehicles) operating along the medians of University Avenue. This may include new signaling involved with left turns, and signaling priorities for LRVs over cars. At some of the busiest intersections we may see some accidents. Studies should be done where LRVs operate with traffic to see if an alternative such as an elevated guide way would be necessary or if the LRVS can operate safely on street level or at grade. University Avenue is still a major truck route yet is wide enough (120 ft. across) to support all the needs of existing traffic and added LRT gauge rail down the medians.

Finally, the success of the Central Corridor will rely on the completion/construction of other major transitways such as the Northstar Commuter Rail, the Red Rock Commuter Line, and other transit projects. However, with an estimated completion time of 2010 or 2012 for Central Corridor, hopefully Northstar can be finished and operating giving more incentive to the project to connect to the developing system.

Thank you for indulging another transportation related post. But hey, who said Urban Planning was going to be easy? It is definetly tougher than doing it yourself in Sim City.



Kristen said...

Very interesting post Drewy. You really know your stuff :D

Kristen said...

you know that I can't imagine a life without you in it. :) I love you!