« October 2012 |
| December 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
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.
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
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
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
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
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:
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.
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
A land use map from the Hopkins
Station Plan (full plan available here)
Public Hearings Schedule:
County Government Center
6th Street, Minneapolis A-2400 MAP
4:00 to 5:00
PM public open house (Public Service Level)
Formal Public Hearing
November 14th *Strong turnout from
opposition expected at this meeting!*
Park City Hall
Minnetonka Boulevard, St. Louis Park MAP
5:00 to 6:00
PM public open house
Formal Public Hearing
Mitchell Road, Eden Prairie MAP
5:00 to 6:00
PM public open house
Formal Public Hearing
Through December 11, 2012, comments also will be accepted
via the online comment form on the Southwest Transitway website, via
email (firstname.lastname@example.org), 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.
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.
Growing options for
getting around the Los Angeles area.
(Photos courtesy of Barb Thoman)
Throughout 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
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.
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
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.
By Barb Thoman,
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
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
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
BT: Is the strategy
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).
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.
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
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.
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
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
TLC: When was that?
EB: I gave up the keys two or three years ago— in 2009, I
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.