Concerns About SWLRT

The following item by S. Brenner, a resident of Minneapolis’ Kenilworth neighborhood, was posted on June 29, 2014 on mpls@forums.e-democracy.org

CONCERNS ABOUT SWLRT

Congressman Martin Sabo, a former almost 30-year [U. S. Representative] who was a ranking U.S. House member and chaired the transportation committee came out strongly against the SWLRT. He stated numerous concerns, including environmental concerns, as well as debunking the equity claims made by the Met council and others.  In his prepared statement he says, “The current proposal does very little for the mobility of the people in Minneapolis. The Penn, Van White and Royalston stations all have hardly any people living near them. In fact, the Met Council’s own projections — for as far in the future as 2030 — show very low ridership there.”

In fact, at the news conference, he stated that the way the Met Council and other SWLRT boosters were using north Minneapolis to promote this project was “disgusting”. He represented north and southwest Minneapolis in the 5th district, a seat now held by Keith Ellison.

Sabo’s words got limited press, a phenomenon which convinced me that the powers that be – business interests, media, unions and politicians want this project even if it is not in the interests of our broader city of Minneapolis. It is not the broad populace that wants this project. It is these interests, political, commercial, media and unions that are really the drivers.

What do those interests gain from this project? They gain a temporary short term infusion of cash – around $750,000,000 from the Feds, matched with state and local funds. This outside and local money has become the driver for the project, even though these interests know that there are serious problems/concerns with this project. This money will give politicians power and they hope status. It will give commercial interests a temporary infusion of cash and unions short term job growth. For media, the benefits vary by the source. Some small independent media have done a good job of articulating the limited benefits and concerns of this project. Others, in particular, the Star Tribune has done a terrible job in articulating any concerns, and have framed this as powerful selfish nimbys driving the discourse.

What does Minneapolis and the greater region have to lose? Beyond the environmental concerns, this project has the potential to actually hurt those living in North Minneapolis. If the  southwest line, which is much more akin to a commuter line like the NorthStar line does not exceed its ridership quotas, we will be subsidizing it to similar levels of the NorthStar. The NorthStar operating costs takes metro-transit subsidies of $15.65 per ticket per rider. This doesn’t even include capital costs. It’s okay to subsidize transit, but to subsidize it to that much means that there is a scarcity of money for other transit priorities. North Minneapolis has defined its own transit need priorities as more affordable and frequent transit that connects them with jobs and better bus shelters. Since SWLRT does not take advantage of urban density, this line will mostly be about bringing people from the southwest suburbs to Minneapolis. The morning and evening commuter trains will be full of suburbanites, but what about therest of the day. If our operating subsidies go to suburban riders to bring them into downtown for jobs or entertainment, then do we really believe that improving north Minneapolis service will become a bigger priority.

Those last three stations along the line are actually in industrial areas (or parkland for Penn) and for the most part, 1/4 to 1/2 mile distant from housing. Ridership projections are minimal for these stations even after 2030. If we look at other cities, construction of expensive LRT lines has usually meant cutting others services and making fewer capital improvements to existing infrastructure. This line is likely to actually hurt North Minneapolis by diverting focus to suburban riders and because it does not take into account urban density. Unless we take advantage of urban density, this line, like the Northstar will hurt those transit dependent folks who must have transit to good jobs. It will primarily subsidize some of the wealthiest suburbs in the region. I am not saying that there are no people who are transit dependent in suburbans areas, but if we seek to help concentrated areas of poverty, we must focus on the urban core. If we seek to create equity and opportunity, then we must listen to those who are transit dependent and in need of jobs. They speak of improved service and  bus shelters. This line doesn’t do that. As Sabo said in his news conference, it is ‘disgusting’ how SWLRT has been sold to all of us as an equity and opportunity train.

S Brenner
Kenilworth, Mpls