Transit for a Stronger Economy
By Barb Thoman, Executive Director
A campaign is brewing in the community, with bold plans to move legislators to action at the Capitol this session. Over the last year, Transit for Livable Communities and our partners have been sitting at the table with leaders from many different backgrounds, asking how transportation works for them. We’re hearing a consistent message—that our current transportation system limits opportunity. People are stuck in traffic or stuck at home. They have few options for getting to work and school—or for saving money on gas, parking, and vehicle costs. And, our economy, while improving, still needs to generate more jobs and bring new businesses to the region.
As we’ve met with business leaders, social service organizations, developers, people with disabilities, unions, and environmental groups, we have heard many voices speak about the challenges they face and the opportunities to make things better.
“Access to convenient transit plays a significant role in making ends meet.” John J. Errigo, Director of Housing Development, Aeon
At the Courage Center in Golden Valley, for instance, more than 20% of appointments are cancelled, many because of transportation issues. The president of North Hennepin Community College says his students “are a dead car battery away from dropping out of school.” The CEO of Episcopal Homes of Minnesota says “access to transportation is one of the most significant deciding factors” for seniors “considering places to live.” Corporate site-selectors say that transit and the easy movement of goods through the region are a bigger factor than taxes in deciding where to locate. Companies that are here don’t want to pay for more parking. Many are concerned about transportation’s role in personal health, air pollution, and climate change.
The people we’re meeting also see opportunities to make it easier to get around. The possibility of a new light rail line has kindled the entrepreneurial spirit at the New American Academy in Eden Prairie. Commuters from Hopkins and Lakeville are excited that new LRT or BRT service will mean they can stay downtown and still get home safely after dinner or a ball game, theater or time out with friends. Developers are finding traction in promoting walkable neighborhoods and new projects that are bicycle friendly or close to transit lines.
“This proposed transit project is backed by multiple chambers of commerce. . . . They all see the potentially transformative power of this investment and are very mindful about what it takes to attract new talent.” Louis Smith, Southwest Corridor Investment Partnership
In short, there are many voices saying our region needs more transit, bicycling, and walking to build a stronger economy—as a region and for individuals of every background and income level. Statistics and reports back these voices up: transit use is rising in the metro and statewide, as are the number of people taking their bicycle or walking to get to some of the places they need to go.
“There is a great opportunity within multi-racial and multi-cultural groups as we work together to make sure that transportation in and around the Twin Cities becomes more equitable and reliable.” Hashi Shafi, Somali Action Alliance
More than 25 organizations have signed on to Transit for a Stronger Economy (see list below). What does the campaign call for? Basically, we want to move faster on transit so the region can compete—so everyone has a stronger economy. We want a 21-st century transit system in 15 years, not 30 or more, with additional LRT and BRT, but also expanded bus service and the ability for local cities and counties to put in bike routes, trails, and sidewalks, comply with ADA requirements, and make other transit-related improvements. We want transit systems in Greater Minnesota to be able to meet demand.
Other regions are moving much faster than we are. Business leaders say the return on investment in building out the transit system is high—and gets better if we move faster. Currently only 25% of metro area residents live near convenient transit service and many residents of Greater Minnesota have only the most minimal service. Other cities, such as Denver, Seattle, Dallas, and Salt Lake City, invest more and provide more transit than we do. Los Angeles, once known for highways and smog, is now a leader in planning for a region where people get around by transit, bicycle, walking and driving. It’s time for the Twin Cities to step it up.
What happens if we DON’T act?
If we don’t act, our funding for transit improvements will dry up. Instead of building a system that is working in 15 years, when today’s three-year-olds are going to college, we’ll be looking at a system in 30 or 40 years. Specifically,
- Progress on building a regional system will stop. Full funding for the Southwest LRT is not certain and there are not funds to carry out plans for Bottineau, Gateway, or any additional transitways. Minnesota would fall farther behind competing regions in attracting and keeping jobs.
- No funds to upgrade bus service, neither “rapid bus” service on high-volume routes nor expanded bus coverage and service hours. The bus system we have is highly efficient, it is just too small. Many routes do not run on weekends and have limited service after peak hours.
- Very limited funds to meet local needs for safer sidewalks, bicycle routes, ADA compliance, and local transit investments.
- Statewide, without additional funding there will be no growth in transit service for the next 20 years. There are still a few counties with no service and many counties with very limited service.
Transit for Livable Communities and the growing Transit Partners Coalition it facilitates is ramping up for the biggest effort ever to secure additional funding for transit and those key connections for people on foot, bicycle, and using a wheelchair.
We will be asking the legislature to provide for the build-out and operation of a regional system of bus and rail and to allow cities and counties to ensure safe connections for people walking, bicycling, or using a wheelchair.
Transit is a key to a legislative agenda that will be focused on job creation, economic competitiveness, and tax reform. Join us—contact Whitney Lawrence (whitneyl[a]tlcminnesota.org) to find out how you can be involved.
The following have signed-on to
Transit for a Stronger Economy
African Career, Education & Resource, Inc.
Alliance for Metropolitan Stability
Alliance for Sustainability
American Heart Association
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005
Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota
The Cornerstone Group
Episcopal Homes of Minnesota
Local Initiatives Support Corporation Twin Cities
Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
Minnesota Environmental Partnership
Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG)
Minnesota Public Transit Association
Minnesota Young Professionals Environmental Group
National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Upper Midwest
Project for Pride in Living
Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition
Sierra Club, North Star Chapter
Transit for Livable Communities
United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) 1189