Southwest LRT: It’s Not About the Trail

The following article, dated April 25, 2014, was written by Neil Trembley, M.A., for the Cedar Lake Park Association and widely circulated.

Southwest LRT: It’s Not About the Trail

Towards the end of another long, contentious meeting about the Southwest LRT, a businessman from St. Louis Park rose up to speak.  “Those who oppose keeping the freight rail line in the Kenilworth Corridor because they are worried about how it will affect the Kenilworth Trail” he said, “should know that….”  As his voice droned on, a thought sprang into my head.  As he finished speaking, I turned to him and blurted out, “It’s not about the trail.” Instantly, voices rang out, “How can you say that?!”  One cried out. “It’s the main reason!”  Another shouted. “The trail’s not important to you?” a third said accusingly. I stood my ground, “It’s not about the trail.” I said again. “It’s about green space.”

Minneapolis treasures green space. The city understands its importance.  Parks don’t make a city more natural, they make it more human.  Parks soften the rough edges of urban life.  Green space adds value.

Hennepin County embraces that philosophy.  One that values green space as a social and economic benefit.  In developing large parklands and creating greenways like the Kenilworth Corridor, the county embraces the City Beautiful writ large.

Groups like the Cedar Lake Park Association (CLPA) have long-championed preserving and protecting greenways.  Often these are old rail corridors refashioned into bicycle and pedestrian trail ways.  But they are more. In connecting neighborhoods and opening vistas, these greenways enhance the urban experience.  Through these green arteries surge the lifeblood of our metropolis.  We should cherish these green spaces.  They are worth protecting.

Our great metropolis needs to circulate people AND goods.  The freight rail lines bring in material vital to our continued prosperity.  Wood, oil, coal. Not sexy, but necessary.  For our urban area to remain dynamic, it must move people and haul freight.

Back in 2008, CLPA proposed that—if the Kenilworth were chosen for the Southwest LRT—every effort should be made to preserve the corridor’s green space.   CLPA accepted running the Southwest LRT through the Kenilworth—provided the freight rail be relocated. Adding the LRT lines would decrease green space, but removing the freight line could mitigate the loss.

For now, alas, that is not to be.  For the present, freight and LRT will co-exist in the Kenilworth.  But it need not always be so.  Railroads consolidate. They vacate redundant lines.  Also, growing fears among the public about contamination and explosions may spur legislation that would push freight service to the outer edges of the city.  Nothing is certain, but we should keep open the option of relocating the freight rail.  For that to happen, the Kenilworth Corridor must remain in public hands.  Any “excess” land should be turned into parkland.  Hennepin County should continue to pursue ways to vacate the freight rail line and revert the land back into green space.

Living in a great metropolis involves balancing competing interests.  Despite all the discord, the debate over the LRT and the freight line instructs us, because it lays bare basic values; ones that must be harmonized for an urban environment to prosper.  The need for public transport and private freight service must be weighed against the ability of the city to breathe.  It is not about the trail; it is about the spirit of the city.  It’s about green space.

For the good of the city, the freight rail must go.