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Speak Up for Southwest LRT this November

11/07/2012

Do you want to be riding the Southwest Light Rail line by 2018? Let everyone hear you say, YES!

There are three public hearings in November (see details below) about the Southwest LRT Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). The DEIS is part of the process to receive federal funds for the line—up to 50% of project costs.

These hearings are very important because they will set the tone for the Southwest LRT conversation at the state capitol this coming legislative session. The state is being asked to pay 10% of the cost of the line. TLC encourages everyone who supports this new line to attend one of the public hearings. We would like a resounding turn out in support of the line—because it is a smart investment for our region and state. 

The DEIS shows that the benefits of the Southwest LRT substantially outweigh the impacts while moving us toward a 21-st century transit SYSTEM. The Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA—alignment LRT 3A) is the most cost effective per rider and fits with the land use and economic development plans of the communities along the line. Some residents in St. Louis Park are concerned about the proposed freight rail re-route, but we are confident the County and partners can appropriately mitigate the impacts.

  SWLRTMapweb2_WEB

Map of Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) alignment for Southwest light rail


Here are answers, based on the DEIS, to four common questions about Southwest LRT:

1.            Is Light Rail the best alternative?

Yes. The Southwest corridor is growing (population and employment) but (quoting the DEIS) there is “limited additional traffic capacity on existing streets and highways resulting in increased travel time, delays, and air pollution.” The DEIS studied options including doing nothing (the No Build Alternative), Enhanced Bus Service, and several different Light Rail alignments.

Of the options, building an LRT line is the most expensive, but also has the greatest potential to address the needs of the region. In contrast, the Enhanced Bus Service option “would only marginally improve the existing conditions.” Neither enhanced bus service nor doing nothing is consistent with local and regional comprehensive plans and “would not improve mobility, provide a cost-effective, efficient travel option, or support economic development or an economically competitive freight rail system.”

2.            Will low-income and minority communities be adversely affected?

The DEIS finds that construction of the line will not disproportionately affect low-income or minority communities and that there will be positive effects in terms of increased transit service—improved frequency, capacity, and reliablity means accessing more job centers more easily. The line should also help air quality for all residents by shifting trips from automobile to transit, resulting in about 5,700 fewer auto trips per day on the highway system.

Low-income residents make up 8.1% of the population of the corridor within a half-mile of the proposed line, while 26.3% of the population is minority. In the whole Southwest LRT study area, there are more renter-occupied housing units (52,667) than owner-occupied units (40,872). Whether this will change—and whether affordable housing options will be maintained—is a question for the planning areas along the line. The DEIS d lists exactly what plans are in effect for different segments of the line (See table 3.1-2 Summary of Local and Regional Comprehensive Plans in Chapter 3 of the DEIS, available on the Southwest Transitway web site.)

3.            Will the Cedar Lake Bike Trail be affected?

Long-term impact on bike trails is not anticipated, though there will be temporary trail re-routesas part of construction. When finished, fencing or other measures would separate bicycles and pedestrians from the LRT line. Trail users may have to travel slightly longer distances than today because of fencing and the consolidation of access points.

The DEIS notes that station areas will be designed to provide access by walking and bicycling and include amenities such as bicycle lockers, bicycle racks, and covered seating areas. Most stations would have new sidewalks and trails, would employ ADA-compliant design standards, and would place special emphasis on creating neighborhood connectivity.

4.            What is happening with station-area planning?

Station area planning is underway for many stations, including Mitchell Road, Southwest Station, Eden Prairie Town Center, Golden Triangle, City West, Opus, Shady Oak, Downtown Hopkins, Blake Road, Louisiana Avenue, Wooddale Avenue, and Beltline Boulevard. Chapter 5 of the DEIS indicates which planning community is in charge of station-area planning. Most current activity is happening in Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Hopkins, and St. Louis Park. (For more, see Table 5.2-1 Planning Segments and Stations, in Chapter 5 of the DEIS, available on the Southwest Transitway web site.)

The DEIS notes that building a light rail line brings big opportunities regarding “land use intensification” and better transit access. Better access should spark both business and residential development.

Actual station-area planning is up to the local units of government.  TLC commented last year on the Metropolitan Council’s draft guidelines for transitway development. Two points bear repeating:

  • Transit Oriented Development. The Met Council should set and enforce explicit TOD goals, including greater specificity about tools and collaborative strategies to achieve these goals, explicit procedures for advancing affordable housing, and annual reporting on TOD outcomes.
  • Parking. How parking is designed at transitway stations is critical to building ridership and sparking adjacent development. An LRT station is not foremost a park-n-ride, it is an opportunity to create vibrant, connected neighborhoods where people want to live and can easily get around on foot or by bike as well as by car. Parking needs to be designed to anticipate increasing density in land use.

LandUseHopkinsStationPlan_WEB

A land use map from the Hopkins Station Plan (full plan available here)

 

Public Hearings Schedule:

Tuesday, November 13th
Hennepin County Government Center
300 South 6th Street, Minneapolis A-2400 MAP
4:00 to 5:00 PM public open house (Public Service Level)
4:30 PM Formal Public Hearing

 

Wednesday, November 14th      *Strong turnout from opposition expected at this meeting!*
St. Louis Park City Hall
5005 Minnetonka Boulevard, St. Louis Park MAP
5:00 to 6:00 PM public open house
6:00 PM Formal Public Hearing

 

Thursday, November 29th
Eden Prairie City Hall
8080 Mitchell Road, Eden Prairie MAP
5:00 to 6:00 PM public open house
6:00 PM Formal Public Hearing

 

Through December 11, 2012, comments also will be accepted via the online comment form on the Southwest Transitway website, via email (swcorridor@co.hennepin.mn.us), or by mail to: Hennepin County, Housing, Community Works & Transit, Attn: Southwest Transitway, 701 Fourth Ave S, Suite 400, Minneapolis, MN  55415.

After the comment period closes on December 11, 2012, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the Metropolitan Council will consider all comments and provide responses to substantive comments in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). The next two big “gets” for this project will be securing funding for the 10% state share of the cost of the line and then securing approval from the FTA to enter Preliminary Engineering. After Preliminary Engineering, comes the Full Funding Agreement from the FTA, which is a signal that construction can begin—hopefully in 2014 for a 2018 opening.

Rail~Volution 2012: Taking the Long View in Los Angeles

By Dave Van Hattum, Senior Policy Advocate

In the transportation and land use realm, Los Angeles has earned an infamous reputation as a car-dependent metropolitan region with major air quality problems. Today, however, a historic shift is underway and politicians, planners, and citizens are rallying around a long-term vision of greatly expanded transportation options and reinvigorated communities.

In mid-October I attended Rail~Volution 2012 in Hollywood and saw firsthand the Los Angeles area’s extensive subway, surface rail, and bus system that, thanks to Los Angeles County voters, will grow tremendously in the decades ahead, transcending L.A.’s image as a land of ubiquitous freeways. As Christopher Leinberger, a developer turned researcher/advocate, noted during the conference, “the drivable suburban fringe collapsed over the past half-decade” and it would be wise to plan for new forms of land use and development going forward. It seems we can increasingly look to the Los Angeles metropolitan area for this type of thinking put to action.

LA-transportation-2wide_WEB

Growing options for getting around the Los Angeles area.
(Photos courtesy of Barb Thoman)

 

DVH-Good-Ideas-pull-quoteThroughout my visit, I was struck both by the exciting transformation taking place in the region and by the long arc of transit advocacy. Rail~Volution began in 1995 in Portland and has since become a national, annual event where public transit advocates and implementers share their homegrown experience and evolving visions and philosophies. At a reception this year, I serendipitously chatted with a Sacramento transit planner and former Minneapolis resident who lobbied in the 1970s for creation of the Hiawatha LRT line that eventually opened in 2004.  It reinforced my sense that while good ideas often take time, they prevail through the committed efforts of visionary leaders and engaged citizens. Transportation is both access to opportunity and a major shaper of the places we call home. Consequently, we all have a stake and we should all be advocates for “building livable communities with transit,” the theme of Rail~Volution 2012. 

The latest news on long-term trends in the national transportation landscape informed many Rail-Volution sessions. As presenters emphasized, transit, biking, and walking rates continue to rise steadily and greater investment in transit is increasingly on the ballot and supported by local voters across the country. The market continues to grow for housing and offices near good transit and walkable streets. And new technology regularly opens up exciting new possibilities from tracking bike and pedestrian trips (and comfort level) to the potential for the 3D Express Coach, a radical new hybrid of transit and highways.

Pasadena-pedestrians-photo-courtesy-Kathie-Doty_WEB
Ample pedestrian lanes encourage foot traffic through a shopping area in Pasadena.
(Photo courtesy of Kathie Doty)

Appropriately, most of the Rail~Volution sessions also included a multi-dimensional approach—i.e. transit and housing, and community development, and school access—that simply wasn’t taught to or practiced by transportation planners and engineers who designed most of the roads, parking structures, and transit systems in place today. This new, integrated approach is leading to significant institutional changes. L.A. Metro, for example, has a new definition for the "highest and best use” of land it owns near transit stations. The new definition considers the long-term importance of affordable housing (which translates into more future transit customers), not just the highest short-term monetary return. And across the country, realtors, housing developers, and home buyers can easily assess the combined cost of housing and transportation at any precise location.

While an arc of successful transportation advocacy can already be seen in the inspiring Rail~Volution workshops, the L.A. tours of abundant LRT, BRT, heavy rail, and lots of new bike lanes, and the large contingent of attendees from the Twin Cities (over 80), the impetus for Rail~Volution is far from over. Success has brought new challenges including an anti-tax movement that is anti-transit, efforts to block local planning initiatives, and a lack of federal leadership evident in MAP 21 (the recent federal transportation law) that could negatively affect funding for transportation options in Minnesota. .

Since 1996, Transit for Livable Communities has strived to bring long-range and holistic perspectives (and action) to the design of the Twin Cities transportation system.  Designing a fair and effective transportation system has always been, and will continue to be, a challenging endeavor. Getting it right depends on clear values, innovative policy, and thoughtful definition of obstacles, as well as smart technology and educated community members. Most importantly, it depends on involving all stakeholders in a meaningful manner. We will continue to build a strong coalition of partners advocating for the world-class transit/bike/walk systems our region deserves. We will learn from other forward-thinking metro areas like Los Angeles along the way, and expand this dynamic conversation about livable communities when Rail~Volution comes to the Twin Cities in 2014.

Ninety from the Twin Cities region learn from Denver

By Barb Thoman, Executive Director

When the Saint Paul and Minneapolis Chambers of Commerce organized an Intercity Leadership Visit to Denver in early October, they had more interest than could be accommodated. Ninety participants from business, government, and the nonprofit sector in the Twin Cities region took advantage of the opportunity to learn from their peers in the Denver region. The goal of the trip: to learn what makes the Denver region such a desirable place to live and work.

I recently asked Will Schroeer, an employee of the Chambers, to talk briefly about his observations after the trip to Denver.  I was in Denver for a week in July of this year and I can attest to how impressed I was by many of the things Will talks about.

Denver-multimodal-collage
Photos of multi-modal transportaton options in Denver, courtesy of Barb Thoman.

 Barb Thoman: If you could describe the trip in one word, what would it be?

Will Schroeer: Infrastructure. After the Denver region’s economy tanked as a result of falling energy prices in the 1980s, Denver saw investments in infrastructure as a way to free itself from the boom and bust cycles that had plagued the region for decades.  Today the region boasts a new international airport, Coors Field, the Pepsi Center, a new light rail system, a strengthening of the region’s park systems, and a major investment in the new Fitzsimons Life Science District.  

BT: Is the strategy working?

WS: Denver believes it is, and the stats bear them out. The region now boasts the nation’s third most diversified regional economy.

BT: When I was in Denver this past summer, I saw that two new rail lines are currently under construction. I also saw how much redevelopment was taking place around Union Depot, which will become a multi-modal hub like we are building in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. What did you learn about transit in Denver?

WS: Just about everyone we talked to in Denver–private sector and public–told us that transit expansion has helped advance nearly all the region’s goals: economic prosperity (attracting the work force of the future), housing affordability, air quality improvement, and tourism. Denver is the #1 destination for 25-34 year olds—Millenials—and they come in large part for the life that transit makes possible. We also heard a lot about how proud Denver is to have landed the new US Patent Office, which will bring $40 million in economic benefits over the next five years. What did Patent Office officials say was the #1 reason Denver was selected? Transit.  Denver is paying for all this new investment—and reaping its rewards—through a penny of a regional sales tax dedicated to transit.

BT: You said that you toured the redevelopment at the old Stapleton Airport and I did the same this summer. How would you describe it?

WS: Stapleton is a new mixed-use community on the east side of Denver. It is walkable, will be served by a new rail line, and has the kind of density you rarely see in new communities here. The success of Stapleton made me think of the potential of the Ford Site in Saint Paul.  

Barb Thoman:  Is there anything else you would like to highlight about the trip?

WS: I was particularly impressed by the Fitzsimons Life Science District in Aurora and the adjoining University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. The 600 acre site will include bioscience laboratories, research facilities, medical treatment and education, and in a few years a new VA Hospital. We were told by the medical community that medical innovation happens over lunch often through social interaction made easier by proximity and density.  Again that spoke to the importance of compact development, walking and public transit. 

For more on this topic, don’t miss TLC’s new two-page summary of public transit in Denver (PDF).


An Interview with Edna Bernstein

11/06/2012

Editor’s Note: TLC staff recently enjoyed the opportunity to talk with Edna Bernstein, a TLC sustaining member and resident of the Excelsior & Grand development in Saint Louis Park, Minnesota. Before retiring, Edna worked in the MPCA’s Water Quality Division. As a retiree she moved to a walkable, mixed-use neighborhood that matched her values. It’s a decision that she now credits for both her optimistic outlook and financial well-being. Read on for highlights from our conversation.

Edna-Bernstein_WEB

TLC: Edna, I understand that you’re a longtime member of Transit for Livable Communities?

EB: Yes, Barb Thoman, [TLC’s co-founder and executive director] was a coworker of mine at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The last part of my job there was in the library where we were lending materials on hot issues like how much does it really cost to drive a car. We got into that with passion. Some of us began to carpool, others highlighted the bicycle as transit. So I’ve kind of been living that belief and when I saw that this multi-use development was available I knew I had to live here because I would feel good in it.  

TLC: And has that been the case? How do you feel now about your decision to live in a mixed-use development?

EB: It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. My kids think I’ve never been happier. It lives a belief and it validates the work I did back in my environmental days.

TLC: So for you it’s as much about values as the convenience?

EB: It validates our argument that if it was sustainable it would also be more enjoyable. There turned out to be lots more advantages. The park, the walkability of the neighborhood, the closeness to restaurants, and businesses, and services—an awful lot going on in this area.

TLC: Tell me about your average day, how you usually get around.

EB: I walk everywhere. I have some assistance: a cane and shopping cart that I imagine as blending in with other things like baby carriages and dog walkers. I can shop with the four-wheeled cart, fill it with groceries, and walk back home. A lot of businesses I can reach that way. Or I can use just a cane and walk in the neighborhood, up to Park [Nicollet] Medical Clinic. I should add that when I moved in here I had no handicaps except suggestions of future trouble. But since then, that has come around and I’ve had to test the reality of it. Now I use these devices and it’s very wonderful exercise to walk around. The outdoors is very pleasant. The sidewalks are extra wide, they are well lit, and it’s all charming. I used to drive many, many miles to everything I had to get to.

Excelsior-grand-trio-WEB

TLC: Where did you live before you moved here?

EB: I lived out in Golden Valley, a perfectly lovely place to raise a family. At the point where I had a sick husband and the children had grown, I was in charge of three cars and a deteriorating property. That’s when I decided it was a very good idea to downsize and change the scenery.

TLC: Do you own a car now?

EB: I had a car when I moved in here, just as I had my athletic ability. It was a good, older, mid-sized car. I thought what I really needed after I had a fender bender or three was to get a much smaller car. At the same time Golden Valley Courage Center was offering older drivers a private test of all of your facilities to see what you had left to drive with. And I thought, I’ll take all the training I can get and I’ll buy a car. My dream was a yellow Volkswagen. But it turned out I didn’t have the equipment working as fast as you need for today’s driving. After I took the assessment I had my family say, let’s hang it up. I said, yes, every signal says quit driving now. So I was able to sell that car immediately and then I had this extra cash. It was starting to show up in my budget. I suddenly had more money. That was the best decision I made. And the key was to have the right community around me. I could walk to most of my needs including the groceries.

Edna-Bernstein-pull-quote-WEBTLC: When was that?

EB: I gave up the keys two or three years ago— in 2009, I think.

TLC: Would you recommend a mixed-use community to other retirees?

EB: Without this I could never have pulled it off. I could never have said quite quickly, yes, I guess I’ll quit driving. I would have been overwhelmed in a minute. So it was this development. I told my children, it looks like I can walk to everything. At least 50 percent of everything I ever need I can walk to. And our community mix here is just really delightful. I really want a community where not everyone is using the same cane that I’m using. I want it to be mixed. Some have babies, some have dogs, some are old, some are young, and some have unusual stories to tell. Those are the surroundings I like.

TLC: Is there any advice you’d like to share or anything else you wanted to mention?

EB: You have to have a lighter heart about downsizing. It has to be something that gives you more companions, more friends, more money, and more fun. And then one is willing to downsize. You start to envision all of the different things that can happen. My daughter and I were saying this was the best move I’d made. Because I’m feeling more optimistic now than I was in my house. And you find people thinking that being older is destined to be lonelier, sicker, and more expensive. It’s not true at all. The loneliness is because you’re living in too big a house, far away from fun.

 

 

An Interview with Ken Rodgers

11/02/2012

KenRodgersWEB

A TLC board member, Ken works at the State of Minnesota Department of Economic Development (DEED). He is chair of the Minneapolis Disability Committee and recently was appointed by the Governor to the State Rehabilitation Council.

Please tell me how you get around, your daily commute?

I start off my day walking to my local bus stop, because I am a transit dependent individual. I live in Minneapolis and work in downtown Saint Paul. I like being on the bus. I like that time to myself.

How long have you been in the Twin Cities?  

I grew up in southern California and taught math and science in the Orange County area of LA. About 20 years ago, I moved to Minnesota to go to nursing school. I fell in love with the weather and how different it was. When I got my nursing license, I got a job right away at Abbott Northwestern as a cardiac nurse. I just loved it and I stayed. In my fourth or fifth year of nursing, I discovered I had an eye disease that left me a year later completely without sight. So I lost my ability to do nursing.

You had to adjust to blindness as an adult?

Exactly. I had to go back to school and learn how to do things again. That included learning to travel using public transportation. I had someone who taught me how to use public transportation to get where-ever I needed to go. It was a very positive thing from the very beginning.

It was part of adjusting to blindness?

Yes, they call it adjustment to blindness training. It’s a part of the vocational rehabilitation system throughout the nation. I was lucky enough to have that education provided at no cost. It’s part of our taxes.

For many people, figuring out how to use the bus can be a barrier.   

Absolutely. I hear that from a lot of people. And a lot of my friends who are car dependent, they say they’ve never even ridden the bus. I find it fascinating. But when I was car happy I never rode the bus either. I “get” that in the car-focused world, public transportation is something you see and drive around but never think about too much. To figure it out the system without any introduction or education or training, has to be a little bit frightening.

Do you have any advice about where to start, for those unfamiliar with riding the bus?

Have somebody take you by the hand, figuratively, and walk you through the system—this is how you get on, this is where you put your money. Those things are so intimidating to people. They don’t know what to do and don’t want to appear dumb or awkward, so they stay away. For me, having someone show me where to sit, how to pull the cord to get off, really did demystify using the bus.

What is your work now?

I found that as a blind person, newly experiencing sight loss in a sighted world, that there’s a whole system to learn to request services that you need. I knew I could get them, but it was up to me to ensure that I got what I needed. I found myself being more of an advocate but that I didn’t have the skills to be effective. I’ve always had a penchant for looking at a system and trying to make it better—to make it easier for someone else who needs that same thing. I learned that there’s a formalized way to do this, which is public policy. I wanted to make lasting change and the only way to do that is to attack the policy part. That’s what got me to the Humphrey Institute. And that led to my current position in the vocational rehabilitation services program at DEED.

What kind of cities or neighborhoods work well for someone who is visually impaired or using a wheelchair?

For me, living in the metropolitan area is the best because I’m close to everything. Being close to a major bus line is certainly something I look for when I look at housing. I want to be in the middle of everything, where I can get anywhere pretty quickly. I am active in the community, so it’s very important to be able to get to places as easy as possible.

Does that also affect the jobs that are open to you?

It certainly has an impact on my decision when I’m looking for a job. I try not to let that hinder my options, but sometimes it can be a deciding factor. I’ve talked to some of my friends, for whom absolutely, it’s a top priority.

The Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990. What have been the barriers to implementation?

You have hit on my complete passion and reason for living right now. The law is the civil rights act for people with disabilities. Although it’s a good solid law, it didn’t have any teeth. The ADA requires all federal agencies to implement it, but until recently it wasn’t interpreted to apply to public entities. Now it clearly is a responsibility for all. The law says that programs and services provided by an organization or an agency have to be accessible. That’s the biggest success and has led to things like curb cuts on curb corners and accessible pedestrian signals.

Is there now a tool kit so entities can figure out what they need to do?

There’s an ADA.gov web site including tool kits and best practices and how-tos and implementation guidelines. Everything you would ever want to know about how to implement ADA features into your programs and how to make them accessible. It’s taken people with disabilities working through the system to develop all this process. It’s slowly been gathering momentum. We are finally at a place where we’re seeing the implementation being commonly accepted and looked-for.

How did you become involved with TLC?

In giving testimony at public hearings, I found myself either speaking right after Barb Thoman [TLC’s executive director] or right before and our words were almost mirror images of each other. We were fighting for the same things—our missions were identical. That’s what initially got me interested in the work of TLC.

As a board member, what motivates your work with the organization?

I’m able to add the voice and perspective of the disability community to broaden some of the campaigns that TLC is involved with. This might have happened on its own, but would have taken much longer. When I came onto the board of directors I knew that I would find ways to bridge the two communities. It’s worked really well, with some work behind the scenes, some more visually, out in public.

What would people see?

At some of the public events TLC is holding, there are more people with disabilities present. When you have a crowd of people who are all able-bodied, everybody looks the same, nobody sticks out. But when you have a blind person with a white cane, or a blind person with a guide dog, or a person in a wheel chair with all those able-bodied people, doing the same thing, it makes the awareness different. People see the bigger crowd differently when there are a variety of people. Within the disability community, we’ve been looking for ways to raise awareness of public safety for a long time. But if we can work together, how much more powerful can that be.

In closing, I would hope that other individuals reading this would be piqued with interest. I hope they will participate and find through working with TLC that their voice will be bigger. 

 

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