On A Rattlesnake Light Rail ‘cross The Hiawatha Desert

SCENE:  It’s 1985.  Mitch BERG – just out of college, hair waving in the breeze  and his elbow resting on the sill of his open driver’s side window - barrels down North Dakota Highway 200 at 85 miles per hour in his 1973 Chevy Monte Carlo.  Over the deafening racket of his small-block 350 engine (whose muffler fell off some time earlier, to BERG’s penurious horror but aesthetic delight) a boom box with a cigarette-lighter adaptor blasts  a cassette of John Mellencamp’s Scarecrow.   The Monte Carlo, covered in rust to the point where the driver’s side door panel flaps in the slipstream, wobbles and loudly grinds during BERG’s rare applications of brake.  But it’s a beautiful summer day in east-central North Dakota. 

BERG, dressed in a plain white v-neck T-shirt, an army-surplus dungaree shirt  and black straight-leg jeans, has a filterless Chesterfield dangling from his lip.  The coal on the end of the cigarette glows as BERG draws in a puff – and then almost instantly blows it out into the slipstream, studiously avoiding any inhalation.   In the back of the car are three guitar cases, a Fender amplifier, and two duffel bags full of clothes.

Suddenly, he notices a blueish smoke cloud in the distance.  He squints, tosses the half-smoked cigarette out onto the roadway, and shuts off the cassette. 

Gradually, he makes out the shape of a 1979 Subaru wagon.  It is parked outside the access road to a Minuteman missile silo, which sits about 200 yards north of the two-lane highway, encircled in chain link fence and razor wire.  A lone figure climbs out of the Subaru.   As BERG slows to a stop by the Subaru, we recognize a much-younger Avery LIBRELLE.  LIBRELLE’s car is festooned with anti-nuclear bumper stickers; the cargo area and back seat are crammed with signs demanding an immediate nuclear freeze, and declaring you can’t hug children with nuclear arms.  The Subaru, idling, continues to belch blue smoke. 

BERG pulls into the access road and brakes the Chevy to a stop by LIBRELLE’s car in a squall of metallic grinding, indicating the rotors and shoes direly need repair and replacement.   He turns off the engine, and the prairie is silent, but for the wind. 

BERG:  Hey – what’s up?  Something wrong with your car?


BERG:  Well, it looks like you’ve had a bit of a fire. 

LIBRELLE:  What makes you say that? 

BERG:  Um…the smoke cloud?  It looks like a grass fire cominig across the prairie.  And it smells like burning oil… 

LIBRELLE:  Huh.  Haven’t seen anything.  And I think Subarus come from the factory like that.  Everyone in Minneapolis has ‘em. 

BERG:  Huh.  OK – well, it looked like you needed some help…

LIBRELLE: Oh, I do!  I do!  I need people to carry these signs (points to stack of hundreds of Nuclear Freeze signs in the back of car) to protest the US Military’s race to armageddon, and demand that we allow the peaceful leadership of the Soviet Union to co-exist with the peace-loving people of the earth!  Which is all they want!

BERG:  And you came up here from Minneapolis…

LIBRELLE:  …looking for people to protest with me.

BERG:  And how’s that going for you?

LIBRELLE: Not great, so far. 

BERG:  Huh.  Well, people around here have a lot on their minds.  There’s  farm crisis going on, and most of the locals are trying to hang on and survive.  And most of ‘em pretty much support the Air Force, anyway…

LIBRELLE:  So I’m finding out.  But you’ll help (LIBRELLE grabs a sign hopefully)

BERG:  No, no, sorry – I just thought you were, y’know, on fire or something.  I’m actually moving to the Twin Cities. 

LIBRELLE:  Oh, yeah?  Why?

BERG:  Well, I just graduated with a BA in English, and I want to be a writer and a musician, and there’s no much opportunity for that here.  In fact, there’s not much opportunity at all around here.  Job market’s kinda slow even for diesel mechanics and custom combiners, to say nothing of tortured starving would-be artists.  So I’m going to move to Minneapolis to try my luck at…well, writing, or technical writing, or music, or something.  Anything, really.  I have no idea what I’m gonna do.   I just know that unless they, I dunno, strike oil or something… (both BERG and LIBRELLE chuckle at the absurdity) …it’s never gonna happen here for me.  This place is never gonna be an economic powerhouse.

LIBRELLE:  But you can live the ideal life out here!  Be a hunter-gatherer!  Be in touch with the land! 

BERG: Er, no.  Looking for…

LIBRELLE:  The train!

BERG:  Huh?

LIBRELLE:  They’re going to build a light rail train down Hiawatha Avenue from downtown to the Airport!   They tore down all the buildings along Hiawatha Avenue twenty years ago to make way for it, and it’s going to get built any day now!

BERG:  Er, OK (starting to fidget)

LIBRELLE:  You’re a creative who’s moving to Minneaoplis because of the train!

BERG:  Um, what now?

LIBRELLE:  Mass transit!  It’s what draws creatives to the city!  

BERG:  Er, no.  That’s what I have a car for.  No, I’m moving there for opportunity – a chance at doing some things that really only occur in major cities.  I mean – huh?  Moving somewhere because there’s  a train?  Thats just weird

LIBRELLE:  Lalalalalalalalalalalalala!   The Met Council has spoken!  LALALALALALA!  (LIBRELLE grabs a Nuclear Freeze sign and hands it to BERG)

(BERG takes the sign, throws it into the front seat of his car, and starts the engine, which roars in unmuffled glory).

LIBRELLE (Starts to picket the missile silo)  No More Nukes!  No More Nukes!

BERG:  (Yelling over the din from his engine).  Hey, you know there aren’t actually any people in that silo, right?   That’s just where the missile is.   The people are in the command silo, which is somewhere else…

LIBRELLE: (Yelling back over the din):  Yes, I know there’s a feeble line of reasoning for fissile weapons.  A feeble line they don’t believe themselves…

BERG (Yelling):  No, er…yeah.  Yeah, that’s it. 

(BERG steps on the gas.  The Monte Carlo accelerates, as BERG turns the cassette deck back on). 


When Out And About

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

Trains start running on the University Avenue Blight Rail this week.  Watch out when crossing University.
Joe Doakes

I thought I’d noticed the signal lights along the track working that last few times I drove along the street.

By the way – I can’t imagine anything much more miserable than standing on one of those station platforms in this weather.  If there’s anything that’d be more miserable than a bus stop, that’d be it.

Train In Vain

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

The Green Line of the Blight Rail will open on June 14.

Okay, so what’s the betting on it actually starting that day, versus the usual government delays?  Should SITD have a pool?

Joe Doakes

Good question.

I say it’s like the opening of the Ventura Trolley; there’ll be a train running down the track on June 14.  It’ll be loaded with dignitaries and Met Council back-slappers.  That trip will be followed by days or weeks of “testing” and “training” time built into the schedule to allow all the slop time they need.

Like the private sector – only more.

300 Million Hostages

No news here; the Sequester, like every “school layoff” in every city that isn’t Detroit, is basically the same as everyone’s old alcoholic significant other threatening to kill themselves; an abusive, co-dependent way of browbeating and bullying people into giving in.   The “cuts” – really a whiz-in-the-wind reduction of an increase – are designed to gull the gullible and intimidate the weak and dependent.

The FAA Controller furloughs were a great example; the furloughs will save a fraction of the FAA’s consulting budget, or travel budget, or any number of other expendables that don’t directly affect the agency’s mission.

But squeezing the flying public shows the peasants who’s boss.

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

Local community celebrations suffer from Obama Administration tax-hike hostage-taking: “Give us the money or the fly-boys get it.”

Note this quote: “Maj. Darrick Lee, spokesman for the Thunderbirds, said a typical season averages about $9.75 million and the Air Force needs to focus its resources now on its mission in Afghanistan.”

Seriously? We’re cutting back airshows all the sudden because we need a lousy $10 million to fight the war in Afghanistan? Dude, we spend that every hour over there and there’s no end in sight.

An entire season of Air Force goodwill (and recruitment advertising) that also directly boosts local economies costs about the same as two Obama vacations; a grant to redesign Southwest Canyon Road in Beaverton, Oregon; or the missing first payment on bankrupt car maker Fisker’s federal Green Energy subsidy loan.

I could understand cutting airshows if the federal government suddenly got Libertarian Fever and cut airshows IN ADDITION to these other boondoggles . . . but the administration shows no sign of fiscal prudence, only political punishment. Longer lines at airport security, laying off air traffic controllers, grounding military flying teams: these are directly aimed at making life miserable for ordinary taxpayers who haven’t demanded higher taxes quickly enough, so they must be punished for it.

Hostage-taking used to be a gangster tactic, now it’s Democrat standard operating procedure. That should tell us something.

Joe Doakes

Spare the rod, spoil the taxpayers.

Citizens: You Are Roadkill

Anh Trinh has been running Anh’s Beauty Salon, way down by University and Dale, for a couple of decades now.

Her business was one of the flood of Asian businesses that reclaimed University from blight and complete free-fall starting in about the eighties…

…and who are being displaced by the misguided “Train From Nowhere To Nowhere”.

Here, Anh testifies at the Met Council

Especially note the appearance by Jack McCann of the University Avenue Business Association.  Here’s his quote:

This project from planning to design to funding to construction can be summed up as dishonest and pathetic. An honest organization (which is not the Met Council) would have openly evaluated the real effects of shoehorning a project this size onto this avenue.

You hear this, people of St. Louis Park and Eden Prairie?  This is what awaits you if when the DFL jams the Southwest Light Rail down your throats.

Railway To Financial Hell

The latest numbers – from the Met Council website – show that the Northstar Line is an even bigger cash suck than we’d predicted it’d be.

Click to see chart at a readable size.

Ridership is off sharply.  Operating subsidies are up; each ride on the Northstar line costs the taxpayer over $20.  That’s per ticket.

A source at the Capitol who’s been working the numbers on Northstar writes:

“One more point. The NorthStar lovers like to point out that one of the reasons that the numbers are down is because the Twins have sucked the last two years. Well, there does seem to be some truth (taken with a two-ton tablet of salt) to that…the numbers from April to October do give you the sense that the Twins could have an impact.

The source anticipates some of the counterarguments:

Of course, this ignores the fact that we, here in Frostbite Falls, tend to be rather sedentary during the colder months. Heck, just look at freeway traffic in the summer months, which is always higher than winter months.

But look at the numbers: Even if you give them ALL the increase in riders for Twins games, the differential averages to 1,026 per game. That’s down from 1,340 per game in 2011. If you’re gonna bank your success on Twins game riders…good luck with THAT.

The fact is, the Twins could win back to back World Series and the Northstar Line would still be hemorrhaging money.

Why Do DFLers Hate Those University-Avenue Businesses?

This came from the MPR 4th CD debate last Wednesday, courtesy of the MNCDConservative blog.

Independence Party candidate Steve Carlson is talking about “infrastructure”. Listen to Betty McCollum’s supporters at the end (eyewitnesses say it was, in fact, McCollum’s people doing the booing):

They’re booing Carlson for attacking the Central Corridor; to hell with the businesses it’s destoryed, and continues destroying.

Guess it’s good to have your priorities straight.

(Video courtesy Minnesota CD4 Conservatives blog)

Commentary From The Transport-American Communities

A reader emails:

Driving home from [outstate] today. Going east by Monticello I saw a rig with a big picture of Obama on the rear of his trailer. Below it the caption read “Does this Ass make my Truck look Big?”

I just about lost control of the car with convulsive laughter.

I don’t suspect Obama and his gas prices and his “let’s import oil from Brazil!” policy are seeing a lot of traction among truck drivers.

A Cold Fresno

Just for a fun Friday diversion, go through this article.

  1. Substitute all references to “the coast” to “Minneapolis and Saint Paul”
  2. Change all references to “The interior” to “The Iron Range”
  3. Change the high-speed rail references to “Minneapolis to Duluth or Rochester” or whatever the current pipe dream is.
  4. Change the other California references to Minnesota ones.
  5. Save it away in case the DFL winds up with a couple of years of majorities with a sitting DFL governor.

You’ll save some time.  You’ll need it for job-hunting.

The Potemkin Tour

Joe Doakes wrote to alert me to Saint Paul’s city government springing into action:

I realize [St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman is] a busy guy, too busy to personally visit every Mom and Pop operation he’s putting out of business; still, you’d think he could have found his way down there before this. It’s been two years.

I wonder if he’ll take the bus?

Joe Doakes

Como Park

Joe linked to h this piece in the PiPress:

Business owners along Central Corridor Light Rail construction on University Avenue will have a chance to voice their opinions and concerns to St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman this afternoon.

The Asian Economic Development Association is hosting the Little Mekong Walking Tour at 2 p.m., Aug. 6, starting in front of 88 Oriental at 291 University Ave.

Topics of discussion include the impact of construction on current and future businesses in the area. A number of businesses have expressed their concerns with dramatic drops in business as the light rail construction has tied up traffic and limited access to their shops.

The tour will visit businesses in Little Mekong, an Asian culture and business district on University Avenue.

How many of those same businesspeople do you suppose attended the Met Council’s rounds of perfunctory “public meetings”, held over the past decade to gather public “feedback” about the project, to be recorded and shelved while the Met Council went ahead and built the same precise misconceived project they’d always intended to?

And I wonder how many of them even thought about voting for someone other than a DFLer – the party that regards them as interchangeable reliable votes, and their businesses as chattel – at the time?

Time to think about it, guys.

I Got A 73 Monte With A Worn Out 350, Rusty Heads And A Three On The Tree…

I was at the Car-Craft Summer Nationals over the weekend, doing what has evolved into one of my favorite live broadcasts of the NARN broadcast year.

There were a lot of fun cars.  If you grew up in North Dakota in the seventies and eighties, the Nova was the semi-official state muscle car:

It was light, overpowered, and fairly inexpensive – three things that appealed to North Dakota gearheads.

(North Dakota gearheads were famous for one modification that, near as I can tell, was pretty local (although I’m sure it was more widespread and less local than I realize); they’d wash out the windshield washer tank, run the hose back to the cup holder on the driveshaft hump between the front seats, and fill it with Southern Comfort or Brass Monkey or some other, er, “durable” spirit.  Want a bump?  Hit the washer – provided you had a cup in the cup holder…)

Ditto the Chevelle;  one of my friends in high school had one of these.  I used to dream about one of ‘em…:

But for me, the sentimental fave was this one; a black ’73 Malibu. This was my first car.

Well, no – not this exact car.  Mine was a northern Minnesota farm car I bought my junior year of college for $125 and a case of beer.  It was black, sort of – it had so much salt damage that the driver’s side door panel flapped in the breeze like a bird’s wing when you got over 60 miles per hour.  A chunk of the floor on the driver’s side was corroded away.

But it had a 350, and it flew.   It was the car that brought me to the Twin Cities – and I used to drive home to visit keeping it around 70ish in MInnesota, and around 85 in ND.  I could make it from the 694 River Bridge to the Jamestown exit – 335 miles – in around four and a half hours on the road (not counting the fuel stop I had to make in Fergus Falls; it wouldn’t get to Fargo on one tank).

And when it finally conked out, I dreamed about keeping it, and learning how to fix up and hot-rod cars, and doing something like what you see above.

But I was 23 and making $6 an hour at Hubbard Broadcasting and needed money, so I sold it for $50 to a guy who wrecked it a week later and ran away when the police came.

If there’s a car heaven, my old Monte Carlo is there, and looks a lot like this.

The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

Twin Cities urban planners seem to think that if they just make driving a car inconvenient and headache-prone enough, drivers will throw in the towel, get a job downtown, and start riding the bus.

Which seems to be the main impetus behind this initiative - turning Charles Street (which runs parallel to light-rail-construction-addled University, two blocks north of the construction nightmare) into a “bike boulevard”, with traffic circles, bike lanes, speed bumps, and none of those dang cars.

Joe Doakes from Como Park writes:

University Avenue is impassable to bicycle traffic now, but when the light rail is done . . . it’ll still be impassable. Parking lane gone, trains down the middle, buses in the right lane and all the other frustrated motorists wedged between. So where are those cars and bikes now? On the adjacent parallel streets as far North as Minnehaha.

And down to Marshall and Selby.  The traffic nightmare hasn’t ebbed; just metastasized.

” Organizers said an overwhelming number of respondents think that there are already too many cars, often driving too fast, on Charles Avenue and that the street is unsafe for children. Residents also worried that traffic would increase when light-rail construction is complete.”

Well yeah, dummy: frustrated motorist traffic has had to self-divert to side streets because the largest, longest, busiest East-West throughway in the City has been completely shut down and it’s never going to reopen to normal levels. This is news to you? You’re just figuring this out now? Don’t urban planners ever visit the sites of their glorious triumphs? Don’t they read the papers (or SITD) to see the chaos and havoc they’ve created? Why didn’t they plan for it up front (or did they, but had to wait for a “crisis” to arise so they could “solve” it)?

Joe has too much faith in Wahhabi transit activists.  They’re a little like post-modern German artists, the type that glumly intones “Art IS destruction and ugliness” as they unveil their latest, “installation”, a dancing man clad only with a jar holding a gutted cat pickled in urine.

Like the post-moderns, the chaos – to drivers, anyway – is precisely the point.  The goal is to make driving, and drivers, miserable.  And to them, it’s no matter if you deal with that misery by jumping on the train, or by expressing your anger, fulfilling their prophecy that drivers are base, benighted, spoiled, arrogant and above it all.

They win either way.

So naturally, the same urban planning geniuses who caused the problem on Charles are springing into action to make things even worse. The City will install bike lanes, traffic circles and speed bumps to slow traffic through the neighborhood. Cars that were shoved off University to make room for the train will be shoved off Charles to make room for the bikes. That’s great in the summer but have you ever tried to plow snow around traffic circles and speed bumps? There’s already one traffic circle on Charles and the snow ridges around it are a nightmare.

I know that circle.  The winter before last, the intersection was like an Andean goat path.  The side streets in that neighborhood are very narrow; it’s hard to get a plow around that circle – so it never went around the circle!

The bicycles will be in storage but cars still won’t be able to use the street. Might as well go all the way and tear up the tar completely, sod the street and turn Charles Avenue into lawn.

Hey Mitch, get ready for even more motorists up your way, all of them late and angry. Should be . . . interesting.

Joe Doakes

Como Park

Way ahead of you, Joe.  Traffic on Thomas, Marshall, Minnehaha and Selby is all up.  And the city is reacting the way it always does.

Writing more traffic tickets.

The Two Least Reassuring Things I’ve Read All Week

Needles found in turkey sandwiches on Delta flights from Amsterdam.

Not-very-reassuring thing #1:

“TSA continues to closely monitor the review of the incidents as well as the security protocols being conducted by the air carrier and the airport authority,” spokesman David Castelveter said.

And not-so-reassuring thing #2:

“Delta requires all its in-flight caterers to adhere to strict criteria in order to offer our customers the very best onboard meals,” Baur told CNN in a statement. “The safety and security of our passengers and crew is Delta’s number one priority.”

So the bad news:  Delta and TSA are on the case.  And if cases can be solved by being late or groping peoples’ nether regions, we’re gold.

The good news?  To the best of my knowledge, Al Quaeda hasn’t figured out how to fit a bomb inside a needle yet.

And I’ll just shut up right now.

Lipstick On An 800 Pound Hog

After spending the last few years doing its best to kill off businesses on University Avenue, the Met Council is embarking on yet another effort to get people to go to places most of them never went in the first place, and can’t get to now because of all the light rail construction.

Joe Doakes of Como Park responds:

I’d like to shop Central Corridor but I can’t get there – it’s torn up for miles, even cross streets – and will be until 2014. What’s the point of inviting customers to a destination they can’t get to?

Wonder who these ad people are related to, or who they knew to land this contract.

Joe Doakes

To be fair, you can get to these destinations.  Although the route resembles something from the first Indiana Jones movie at times.

More Eggs For The DFL Omelet

What have we been telling you as long as this blog has existed?

The businesses along University Avenue that the Central Corridor doesn’t starve out of existence now, during the construction phase, it will either price out of existence in the few areas – around the stops in the less-blighted areas – that get gentrified, or starve out the business in between that are beyond easy dead-of-winter walking distance from the stops that can’t also afford to build off-street parking for customers.

But those last two are well in the future.  We’re still in phase one, starving out the businesses we already have along Uni:

Ne Dao is worried. Business at her normally bustling grocery store has slowed the past two weeks, and she fears it will only get worse once the massive light-rail transit construction project lands on her doorstep.

Ask the Panellis, from the late, great Caribe Bistro; it doesn’t get any better.

Many of the Asian businesses located along the five-block stretch of University Avenue recently dubbed the Little Mekong business district say they’re losing customers and sales. Business owners blame the road construction that is making way for the Central Corridor light-rail line connecting downtown Minneapolis with downtown St. Paul.

The road work on their stretch started in March and is expected to finish in late October. At University and Western avenues, the owner of Mai Village restaurant says she’s had to lay off the hostess and cut back from 10 servers to five because of the drop in business.

The problem was clearly inherited from George W. Bush.

Seriously?  I know the Mai Village.  The Mai was started probably close to twenty years ago, one of the wave of businesses started along Uni in Frogtown by Asian immigrants – first the Vietnamese, then the Hmong – who took the blighted stretch of the avenue between Lexington and the Capitol and turned it into, if not “Architectural Digest” fodder, at least a place with people, traffic, commerce, jobs…


Not the kind of life the DFL approves of – it’s not the kind of thing that fits the DFL’s vision of what Saint Paul’s Main Street should be.  Caribou. Patagonia, and lots and lots of government offices and non-profits.

Little Asian restaurants, founded by families who risked everything to leave Communist dictatorships to come to America, pooled their resources after years of working at scut-work jobs, leased ratty-looking little holes in the wall in blighted neighborhoods, built them into successes (and eventually nicer buildings, at least for those who kept their businesses on the avenue), and eventual hard-won prosperity?


This year, Mother’s Day, typically her busiest day of the year, was a dead zone.

“I don’t know how long we will survive,” said My Dung Nguyen, who along with her husband, Ngoan Dang, have owned Mai Village on University Avenue for more than 20 years.

The construction – as predicted in this space and in the spaces of everyone who really pays any attention to these things – has led to a long chain of destroyed businesses, wiped-out lifes’ savings, and misery in among all the dislocation for us Midway residents.

The sound of Bobcats and work crews, coupled with the dust they’re kicking up, have left her rose-filled haven of a patio empty because customers don’t want to sit out there in the middle of a construction zone.

“My customers, some of them tell it to me straight. They say, ‘I love your family. I love your food. But I’m sorry, I won’t come back until the light rail is done,’” Nguyen said.

What can I say?  If you’re ever down on Uni and are looking for a great Vietnamese meal, give the Mai a try.  They – and every business along Uni that isn’t part of a national chain with cash reserves to ride out the construction – will need the help.

Institutional Minnesota – the white, upper-middle-class part of it that was born here and never had to sail across a shark and pirate-infested ocean and learn a second, difficult language and start their lives over in a strange, cold land – is responding as usual; with blithe arrogance disguises as effort:

“Change is hard for many people. We’ve heard this from businesses elsewhere on the corridor and in other areas,” said Laura Baenen, a spokeswoman for the Central Corridor Light Rail Project.

“Change is hard for many people” is the “I’m sorry you were offended by what I said” of the social engineer.

Along with the arrogance, we have the out-of-context diversions:

Baenen noted that more businesses have opened on the entire corridor in the past year than have closed. From March 2011 to March 2012, 64 businesses opened on the corridor — including Washington Avenue, University Avenue, and Cedar and 4th Streets in downtown St. Paul — while 59 closed.

I’ll just bet they have.  There’s a lot of cheap space available now!

Now – how many of these “businesses” are non-profits that will bring no meaningful commerce to the Avenue?

I’ll get back to you on that.

And it looks like there’ll be more cheap space, as things are shaping up now:

The Asian restaurants are the ones that have been hardest hit, Thoj said. “Just in Little Mekong area, most of the restaurants are seeing a 25 to 50 percent loss. We have about 12 eating establishments. They all drop in customers during lunch and dinner.”

Back at Mai Village, Nguyen says the vision that the Metropolitan Council has of light-rail bringing prosperity to Little Mekong is still a long way from happening.

In the meantime, she says she and the other longtime owners are just trying to hold on to see that day.

“We put our heart, our time, our everything in here,” she said. “We would like to see it a success if the light-rail is done. But that is a big question.”

Silly eggs.  Your hearts, time and everything exist at the pleasure of the DFL’s omelet machine.

These are people who did everything right.  They rejected socialism for freedom.  They threw everything they had into succeeding – with very little to no government help – in a new, sometimes hostile land.  And they succeeded.   Indeed, the only mistake most of them made – it’s a statistical fact – was voting DFL.

And there’s noplace else to take a boat to, this time.

Killing The Competition

I read yesterday that the Met Council is going to start whacking bus lines along the Central Corridor, to make sure that the infernal train is the only option the rider has.

I was going to write about it – but Joe Doakes of Como Park beat me to it:

Since we’re already building the Damned Train, this makes half-assed sense, I guess.

Right now, there are three busses to get from downtown St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis:

  • 16 – runs every 10 minutes on University, stops at every corner
  • 50 – runs down University but only stops at major corners
  • 94 – runs on I-94 but gets off a few places on University [and long I94]

We’ll eliminate the 50 entirely because that’s exactly what the train will do – run down University and hit major intersections. Sensible.

We’ll cut back the freeway bus to weekdays only. If you want to rush from downtowns on weekends, take a taxi or ride the train. That makes sense.

We’ll cut back on local bus service to every 20 minutes. This doesn’t make sense.

First, where’s the bus going to drive? In the parking lane? But we took out the middle of the street to install the train and that meant we changed the parking lane to a driving lane. But now we’re going to leave a bus in the parking lane? Why do we need a bus blocking up traffic on University when there’s a perfectly good train right next to it?

Second, as every bus rider knows, 20 minute departures that means the bus departs downtown every 20 minutes but traffic lights and delays make them bunch up on the route. If you want to ride from Frogtown to Walmart, wear warm clothes: the next three busses will all come in a big pack and if you miss them, you’re standing for an hour. Unless you take the train. Which, if you were going to take the train anyway, then why bother with busses?

Do we really need a simultaneous and parallel public transit system to stop at every single corner on University?

Joe Doakes

Como Park

That, of course, is the big problem – well, the second-biggest problem, behind “it’s a huge waste of money that will cost $10 in public money for every $2 ticket that’s sold” – with the Central Corridor:  it’s the wrong kind of train for the street.  ”Light Rail” is supposed to zip along at 55mph between stops that are a mile or so apart – not chug along at the speed of traffic along University between stops.  And the “mass transit” traffic along University is not people zipping between downtowns; they mostly drive or take the 94 or the 50.  The traffic along Uni is people going from WalMart or Rainbow or Cub or CVS or Plasma Hut to home, where “Home” isn’t a condo along Washington in Downtown Minneapolis, but a house or apartment on Sherburne or Thomas or Iglehard, tucked away close to University.

It’s the wrong kind of train – it should have been a trolley, if you had to have a train; a “light rail” train should have gone down the median on I94, or ducked through the existing rail rights-of-way between Northeast Minneapolis and Frogtown.

This is what central planning does to peoples’ lives.

Just So We’re Clear On Things

Joe Doakes from Como Park – who has been getting used to driving down Como and Hoyt rather than University, just like the rest of us lately – writes:

A federal court judge has ordered the light rail agencies to do this study – twice – and two years later they’re finally going to START it?


At this rate, the study ought to be done about the same time as the construction.

Near the end of the article:

“Many businesses have reported losing months of revenue, and some have relocated from University Avenue or closed their doors. The 2011 assessment stated it was impossible to separate the impact of construction from “external factors” such as the economy and “world events.”

Dude, let me help you out here. This is “the economy”:

Photo courtesy the Instapundit archives: http://pjmedia.com/instapundit/category/photos/

This is a “world event”:

Photo courtesy US Navy: http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/events/wwii-eur/normandy/normandy.htm

This is the “impact of construction”:

Photo courtest Minnesota Public Radio: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2011/05/13/central-corridor-university/

Are we clear? ARE WE CLEAR???

Joe Doakes, Como Park

Oh, Joe.  If people were clear, we would not  be in this mess.

It just occurred to me – the great Saint Paul tradition of cruising the hot rods down University Avnenue – is now, forever, completely dead.  A hundred shrieking DFL-supporting biddies in Merriam Park can now rest easy; one more bit of fun in Saint Paul has been extinguished.

By world events.

More Eggs!

Joe Doakes from Como Park writes:

NAACP sued over the Central Corridor Light Rail project’s impact on businesses. The federal court twice ordered an analysis of lost business revenues as an adverse impact of the projects construction.

The government entities instead told the court there would be “no significant impact” on businesses due to light rail construction.

Photo taken this morning from the parking lot of McDonalds at University and Marion.

Just another vacant building, right?

 You see the old Saxon Ford dealership, abandoned in 2004, completely rehabbed by Dr. Vang, a Vietnamese dentist and local hero.

Wrong! It used to be the Hmong MN Professional Building!

“No Significant Impact.”

Joe Doakes

Como Park

You gotta break some eggs to make an omelet, right?

And if those eggs don’t look like the kind of eggs they have where the white liberals who plan things like Central Corridors live?

Eggs is eggs!

A Remedy

Joe Doakes from Como Park writes:

Delta Airlines (which bought Northwest) is stationing older, smaller jets in Minneapolis so they can use their bigger, fancier jets elsewhere around the country.

The article quotes a guy from the Metropolitan Airports Commission, a frequent flier from West Publishing, and an Economics Professor at the U of M who discusses in-flight entertainment. All are appalled at the change.

The implication is the government ought to FORCE Delta to base nicer airplanes here, which is the typical solution for the Strib. But it’s frustrating that the entire article misses the obvious free-market solution. How stupid are these people?

And how stupid do they think WE are?

The answer to those last two questions is just too depressing.

February’s News In April

People – including Governor Dayton – are asking questions about URS Engineering of San Francisco.  The firm is one of two under consideration as preliminary engineers of record for the proposed Southwest Light Rail line.

MPR’s Jess Mador did an excellent – and fairly balanced – story on the subject this morning.

Which covered a topic that first appeared on Shot In The Dark two months ago.

Mador’s piece notes that URS wasn’t directly responsible for the collapse of the 35W Bridge – although they paid out over $50 million in settlements – and they are well-regarded in the civil engineering business.

But Mador also quotes MN GOP Representative MIke Beard, who cuts to the actual chase regarding the project on which URS is bidding to work:

Michael Beard, R-Shakopee, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, said he’s less worried about URS than he is about the cost of building more light rail.

“I’m more concerned with the whole thing that the Met Council is even moving ahead with this multi-billion dollar project without identifying how we are going to pay for the subsidies to keep it operating once we build it,” Beard said.

We discussed this months ago (Part One and Part Two), as well; our proposed three rail lines will be a perpetual money pit.


Joe Doakes from Como Park writes:

Got a phone call last night from a young-sounding woman who said she was calling from San Jose University doing a survey of public opinion about transportation.

She started out asking about the sorry condition of streets and highways in my area (which are, indeed, sorry). After the first three questions, it was clear to me that the agenda was not to fix streets but to find support for mass transit. Once I realized that, I altered my answers accordingly.

For example, in response to “Would you favor government initiatives to reduce traffic congestion?” I normally would have said “Strongly Agree” because the freeways are parking lots during rush hour. Instead I said “Strongly Oppose – because I know that by “reduce traffic congestion” you mean to take away my car and stuff me into a bus rather than build more lane miles.”

You have to watch out for these questions; they lead to polls that groups like the Met Council flog saying “there’s overwhelming support for transit!”.

There were several “educational” questions that told me how little the federal government spent on transportation now and would I favor spending more; and told me how low the federal gas tax is now and how little extra I’d pay if Congress raised the gas tax. “Strongly oppose – because I know Congress will divert the gas tax money to pay for Light Rail, just as they did in Minnesota.”

There was no opportunity to say “There is no Constitutional authority for Congress to spend money on transportation, it’s a purely local issue to be addressed by states and cities” nor to say “In 15 years, debt service on the national debt alone will exceed federal tax receipts and will bankrupt the country so more federal spending is madness.”


I even answered the age, education and income questions, figuring why not. No doubt the poll results will show massive support for increased Congressional spending on mass transit among all except a tiny handful of privileged White skinflints.

Hey – I’m now the 1%!

Joe Doakes

Como Park

Most conservatives are – provided you’re measuring “people who think”.

Rewarding Failure

Not long before the 35W bridge collapsed, the bridge was inspected by an engineering company that gave the bridge – and its ailing gussets – a clean bill of heath.

And we know how that turned out.

Last week, a couple of cables on the Sabo pedestrian/bike bridge snapped, closing the bridge and, for several days, the Ventura Trolley.

The incidents have one thing in common; the inspectors on the old 35W bridge and the engineering consultants on the Sabo were URS Corporation of San Francisco.

What better way to hold an engineering company with this kind of track record accountable than award it a consulting contract for the state’s next big make-work money pit project?

That’s right – Mark Dayton’s Met Council is in negotiations with URS to consult on their Southwest Light Rail line   According to a source in the engineering industry with direct knowledge of the Southwest LRT bidding process, the Met has gone through a round of cuts in selecting engineers, andURS is one of the contenders, if not the finalist, to get the job; the source used the term “final negotiations”.

I sent a request for information to the Met Council over the weekend, specifically asking what stage the Council was at, what firms were in contention, and if URS was one of them.  I got the following response on Sunday afternoon:

The Metropolitan Council is in the midst of evaluating proposals for the preliminary engineering contract for Southwest LRT with a recommendation to the Met Council targeted for mid-March.

I’ll give ‘em points for speed.  But it didn’t really answer the question.

Let’s leave aside for a moment whether the SWLRT is a good idea (although it’s not); With the collapse of so much civil and government infrastructure work, local civil engineering firms are hurting; those firms employ a lot of good people.  At least one local firm was counted out of the race to work on the new LRT project, while San Francisco’s URS, with its record of failure on local projects, is apparently still in the running.

Why is the Dayton Administration denying work to local firms in favor of a San Francisco firm with two strikes against it in local civil engineering circles?

I’ll try the Met Council again later today, to see if they want the public to know what firms are in, what firms are out, and where they’re from.

The Epic Fail

I’d not run into the “GMan Case File” blog before; it’s written by a former FBI agent.

And he’s got a long, long piece on the utter uselessness of the kind of “security” the : TSA does.

Did I say it’s long?  It is.  I’ll just give you the conclusion:

With the congressional spotlight on the organization, TSA is finally feeling what it’s like to be screened. It has walked through the detector of bureaucratic failure and the red light has gone off. It’s time that we ask congress to have TSA “step over to this area” for a more thorough search. For once, “TSA screening” will be productive. I predict that dangerous amounts of inefficiency, derivative thinking, and reactive policy will be located, if not in their shoes, in their DNA.

The whole thing is worth a long, scary (but probably not-newsy, to conservatives) read.