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Thrive MSP 2040 – why and how to create a shared vision


By Dave Van Hattum, Senior Policy Advocate

Editor’s Note: This blog is part of a series exploring Thrive MSP 2040, the long-range regional plan being crafted by the Metropolitan Council. Because Thrive MSP will provide a strategic vision for the Twin Cities for years to come, we encourage you to stay informed about Thrive MSP throughout the planning process. Even better: be involved! Tell the Met Council what investments matter most to you, and what kind of community you really want to live in. Share your ideas online. Here, Dave Van Hattum explores the connection between Thrive MSP and your transportation and housing options, decodes the planning process ahead, and shares primary principals guiding the Met Council.



So why does a regional and local land use plan like Thrive MSP matter?

Think of THRIVE as Transportation and Housing, Regional Investments for Everyone. By encouraging more compact development, a mix of uses, open space protection and strong connections between future development (housing and commercial) and transportation systems, regional and local land use plans can play a significant role in creating more affordable transportation and housing options for all Twin Cities households.

Housing and transportation are the two greatest costs for most households—and represent an even larger financial burden for low income families. When households can live with fewer cars, have more housing choices, and more practical options for getting around by transit, biking, and walking, costs can be substantially reduced. And the savings can be redirected to mortgage payments, education, health care costs, etc. Ultimately, it’s about investing in choice, affordability, sustainability, and economic opportunity.


How will the Met Council and Thrive MSP actually influence development and transportation choices in the region?

In a nutshell, Thrive MSP 2040 will forecast population and housing growth levels, allocate that growth to different parts of the region, and provide the foundation for the Met Council’s system plans for Transportation, Aviation, Parks and Open Space, and Water Resources. These regional systems plans, in turn, set expectations for local comprehensive land use plans in every city and county in the seven-county metro area. It is critical that the new regional plan allocates growth based on a sustainable vision that recognizes changing demographics, housing size, and transportation costs. 

The Met Council plays a substantial role in the extent of transportation choices across the region. The Council operates Metro Transit, collaborates with suburban transit providers, andallocates a substantial pot of federal transportation funding to local and regional projects.

While less directly involved in housing, the Council is undertaking a regional housing plan with major implications for the provision of affordable housing in the seven-county region. 

What process can you expect and how can you voice your opinion?

Thrive MSP 2040 is moving forward with two key interdependent processes: One, the creation of key principles and goals by Met Council members; and two, a series of public listening sessions in cities throughout the region. Identifying principles is a great first step as it will provide basic elements of the emerging regional plan for the public to react to. The listening sessions and a corresponding online forum are then providing the first of several opportunities for the public to shape the vision, principles, goals, and objectives of the Thrive MSP 2040 plan. Expect more opportunities to weigh in as the plan takes shape over the next two years.

Six key principles and why they need your input

At a recent working session, Met Council members recommended six provisional principles to guide all their work. Interestingly, these principles are easily grouped under the three e’s (economy, environment, and equity) of sustainability, along with a principle guiding the process of creating and successfully implementing Thrive MSP 2040.



Principle 1: Prosperity, Vitality, Livability

Principle 2: Economic Opportunity


Principle 3: Equity


Principle 4: Stewardship

Principle 5: Sense of Community, Sense of Region

Public Process

Principle 6: Partnerships/Collaboration

To get to a true regional vision, community members and local governments need to bring greater definition to these broad principles. For example, what does equity mean to your city, to you? What will greater prosperity, vitality, and livability look like in communities and families across the Twin Cities? Which transportation investments will lead us in that direction? This conversation is already underway, and with significant implications for the future. Join in now with your own sense of what our region needs to thrive!


An Interview with Larry North


Editor’s Note: TLC staff recently had the great opportunity to talk with Larry North, a resident of the Excelsior & Grand development in Saint Louis Park, Minnesota. North, a computer programmer, is enthusiastic about walking, busing, and biking for transportation. He says moving to a mixed-use neighborhood has made it much easier to leave the car at home. Read on for highlights from our conversation, including North’s thoughts on the Southwest light rail line and advice for people new to public transportation.


Larry North, outside his condo in Saint Louis Park

TLC: Larry, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you get around town?

LN: Well, I live in St. Louis Park in a neighborhood where I can walk to the things I need. There’s McCoy’s Restaurant, Trader Joe’s, CVS, a cleaners, a little further away is a hardware store.  Another reason I don’t use the car much is that I work from home at least 3 days a week.  But when I do need to go to the office in downtown Minneapolis it’s just a block over to catch the 12 bus. So my transportation choices are mostly circumstances—I’m pro-environment, but I’m not an active environmentalist.

TLC: So you take the 12 bus in to the office 2 days a week usually. How long have you had that schedule?

LN: That particular schedule about 2 ½ years now.  I’ve lived here at Excelsior & Grand 3 ½, but working from home just became feasible about 2 ½ years ago.

TLC: Do you own a car?

LN: Oh yes.

TLC: And you just don’t use it?

LN: Right, it’s parked in the garage under the building. I went to the dentist about 2 weeks ago so I had to use it then. If there were convenient Zip Car or Hour Car service I’d probably try it for a year and then maybe get rid of my car. But there isn’t—not in this neighborhood anyway; one of those organizations has cars over in Uptown I think.

TLC: How often do you have to fill up with gas?

LN: It’s been about 15 months since I filled up.

TLC: 15 months—wow! So that must be a big cost savings for you.

LN: I guess it is. You know it’s that kind of expense that once you’re not driving a whole lot you don’t quite notice it.

TLC: So do you usually walk to the locations you mentioned around the neighborhood?

LN: Right. They’re within a block or two, most of them.


Excelsior & Grand in Saint Louis Park is a mixed-use development, featuring several retail destinations within an easy walk of residences. Wide sidewalks and clearly marked crossings also enhance the neighborhood's walkability.


TLC: And do you ride a bike also or just usually walk and bus?

LN: Well, I don’t own a bike, but in the summertime on the way to work I’ll get off the bus by the Basilica and take one of those Nice Ride bikes in from Loring Park to downtown. I get some exercise without having to store, maintain, or secure a bicycle. And coming home I’ll get a bike in downtown and come all the way out to the furthest station, at the Calhoun Executive Center near the northwest corner of Lake Calhoun. And the Calhoun Beach Club is my bus stop so I get to have a beer while I’m waiting for the bus!

TLC: What’s your favorite thing about using transit and walking to get around?

LN: On the bus I can do some reading and things like that that you couldn’t do while you’re driving.  The hassle of the parking—you know it’s going to cost more than $100 a month to park the car downtown to drive it to work each day. The bus is probably slower than driving most of the time, but I compensate by reading.

TLC: So you’re kind of gaining that time back for yourself?

LN: Yes. And then in 6 or 7 years we’ll have the light rail up here and the Beltline Station and that will be quicker and actually more comfortable than the bus.

TLC: That’s interesting. I was actually going to ask you about that—if you had heard about the Southwest light rail line.

LN: Yes, I was going to some meetings about the plans to redevelop the area around the Beltline Station here just off of Beltline Blvd. And I think I’m going to be involved in some other aspect of that starting sometime after the winter. It was a citizen’s input kind of operation—we weren’t designing ourselves, but professionals came in and did presentations.

TLC: So it sounds like you’re pretty excited about the prospect of that line coming through town?

LN: Oh yes.

TLC: Is the Southwest light rail line something you think you would use to get in to work then?

LN: Yes, I probably would. The stop is a quarter mile north of here. But I would hope that the Nice Ride bicycle people would expand by then so there would be a dock up here and then something down at the station. In fact a lot the discussion in those meetings was getting people to and from the station without building some gigantic parking facility.

TLC: Right—connections like that make it easier for people to use it. Are there any other benefits that you see of the Southwest light rail line coming through Saint Louis Park—for you or for the community?

LN: It will take cars off the road. And I’ve heard that United Health is going to add 6,000 employees out here soon. A lot of businesses want it to get people to and from work, and major companies are actually working to ensurebefore they relocate to an areathat their people will have reliable transportation to and from work.

TLC: Do you have any idea what other people in the Saint Louis Park community or the Excelsior & Grand development think about the Southwest light rail line?

LN: They like the idea. As homeowners, there is the idea that it’ll probably do nothing but improve the value of the neighborhood and the property. I expect to live here pretty much forever. As the housing market recovers I think this neighborhood will become even more attractive.

TLC: Tell me a little bit more about that. You said you moved in to Excelsior & Grand 3 ½ years ago. What drew you to this development?

LN: I owned a duplex up in Northeast Minneapolis. I was just looking to shed all the maintenance and those kinds of things.  So I started looking for a condominium. And it was surprising: I saw a lot of nice buildings, nice units in buildings, but you stepped outside the building and there were no services in sight in terms of groceries and things like that … We have 3 condominiums, 2 apartment buildings, and then the commercial and retail on the street level. That’s where I think the future is—I think people are going to be wanting that—baby boomers and stuff. A lot of us baby boomers you’d think would be driving cars at 85, but I wouldn’t count on that.

TLC: Do you have any advice for others in the Twin Cities, or here in your neighborhood, who are trying to utilize transit or to walk more to destinations or to bike rather than using a car?

LN: I encourage some of my friends in the building—just so they know the drill, when they’re not under time pressure—take the bus just to know how to do it. I think a lot of people are a little bit intimidated. It’s not really that hard but it’s sort of a new experience. I guess my advice is just to try it out!


Love transit, bicycling, and walking? Be active this election season

It’s election season, which means that candidates for all kinds of offices—local to state to US—will be calling you or knocking on your door or filling your mailbox. Each one is seeking your vote and is eager to find out what matters to you, and why. Tis the season to talk up transit, bicycling, and walking. And not only with everyone running for office, but also with your friends and family.

Often the decisions about transportation seem too big to influence. But, if you’re familiar with the way the food movement has grown and evolved in the last twenty years, you know that all it takes is paying attention to how your options—for eating or for getting around—become available to you. More people today have a sense of where their food comes from and how to choose healthier options. The same can be true for transportation—and make a big difference for individual health and the vitality of our communities.

Elected officials make a lot of the decisions that determine what options you have—whether bus or rail service is maintained or expanded , whether roads have  safe accommodations for walking or bicycling, and whether businesses are required to provide bike parking.  . The decisions often come down to where to direct transportation funding—and you can play a big role by making sure your representatives know what priorities you want to see in this spending.

Did you know, for instance, that the cost of getting around (i.e., transportation) is the second largest household cost—and takes a greater percentage of household income in lower income families? Think about it—getting where you need to go takes up more of your money than education, health care, or food. The only thing you pay more for is where you live. If you can focus on those two big costs—where you live and how you get around—then funds for other big needs can be easier to manage. This is true for individual budgets and for our region and state.

This election season, Transit for Livable Communities urges you to educate candidates and your friends about why transportation matters. Here’s an easy one-page flyer (PDF) to have on hand this election season. 

Scoring Southwest LRT


Transit advocates were stunned when DEED rankings were announced for projects seeking $47.5 million in state bonding money. DEED staff had a lot of projects to score. Their criteria were project readiness, job creation, investment & leverage, regional impact, and other public benefits.


We feel the SWLRT project deserved bonding support from the full legislature last session—and deserved a higher score from DEED. The future of one of the state’s major employment areas and the residents who live and work there should be a top priority. Governor Dayton has been vocal in support of SWLRT. But, he can’t do it alone. It’s up to citizens and the business community to hold elected leaders accountable.

Here is how we would score this project.  


SWLRT is in preliminary engineering, with construction scheduled to start in 2014—if the funding package comes together. $94 million is needed for preliminary engineering, of which $47 million is committed. If this project stalls because of the lack of state support, each year of delay adds $40 million to the total project budget. DEED gave SWLRT 7 of possible 25 points for readiness.


Creating 150 engineering, outreach, and management jobs right away, 3500 construction jobs when hard construction beings in 2014, and 175 LRT operations jobs, the SWLRT will have a similar workforce to the Central Corridor Light Rail project (CCLRT). The $252 million CCLRT payroll benefits communities statewide. DEED gave SWLRT only 5 out of 25 points.


The state’s contribution to SWLRT (10% of total project costs) will leverage $1.125 billion in other funds (local and federal). This is a 9 to 1 return on investment. DEED gave this project 5 out of 25 possible points.


Currently, the southwest light rail corridor is a major job center, with more than 200,000 jobs located there. With light rail investments, that number is expected to grow to 270,000 jobs. The Chambers of Commerce and employers in the corridor support light rail investments as the best way to deal with current and future transportation needs. DEED gave SWLRT a score of 5 out of 20 possible points.


It’s not clear what “other benefits” might have been part of DEED’s scoring, which gave SWLRT 2 out of a possible 5 points. Here are other benefits of transit investments for individuals and the region:

  • Economic development. Corporate site selectors rate a region’s transit system as one of the key elements in deciding where to locate. Cities such as Dallas, Denver, Sacramento, Salt Lake, and San Francisco are way ahead of the Twin Cities in transit investments. Without state support for SWLRT, our region and state will fall farther behind. This is not good for current residents or future generations.
  • Family cost of transportation. Transportation is the second largest household expense—greater than education or health care—and it costs more in lower income families. And the ways that people get around are changing:  for the last six years, despite population growth, Minnesotans are driving less. At the same time, demand for transit is at record levels and rates of bicycling and walking also are rising dramatically. Bringing more of the metro region in convenient range of transit means families can save money. The SWLRT line will connect right to the new Central Corridor line, meaning that residents across the metro could take a train to work or school (from Saint Paul to Eden Prairie with all stops in between). But, not if it’s not built.
  • Air pollution. Automotive tail pipe emissions play a big role in creating ozone and adding to fine particulate pollution. The Twin Cities is at risk of falling out of compliance with EPA air quality standards. If this happens, the economic cost to the region will be huge. Ask someone living in Los Angeles, which has been out of attainment for decades. Did you know that the Twin Cities metro has more highway lane miles per capita than Los Angeles? And did you know that LA and the southern California community has recently responded with an incredibly forward-looking plan for transit, bicycling, and walking?
  • Gas prices. They are still high, adding to the overall cost of transportation. If more Minnesotans had transit options, such as SWLRT, they could possibly get by with one fewer car or without a car—saving up to $8,000 per year (the average annual cost of owning and operating a car, according to AAA).
  • More fun. A light rail connection from the downtowns to the southwest corridor would make it easier for everyone to access entertainment, restaurants, and sports events. SWLRT trains would run every 15 minutes (faster in rush hour) for most of every day. As we heard at a community meeting in Hopkins in July, it would be great for those who want to socialize after work without worrying about the drive home.

SWLRT is a very important strategic investment for Minnesota. Polls taken last fall show that Minnesotans agree. We need SWLRT now!


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