University Avenue: The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

Businesses along University Avenue – the ones lucky enough to survive the light rail construction process – are getting tax notices for “streetscape improvements“.

[Insurance salesman and Uni avenue businessman Doug] Nguyen was surprised to discover Thursday that he’s being assessed $3,200 by the city of St. Paul for light-rail related street work — “above-standard lighting” and “streetscape improvements” — in front of 1539 W. University Ave…Nguyen said he already pays roughly $15,000 a year in property taxes for his business, and there are still two road work signs on his block, including one directly outside his window.

 And after four months, how are all those new-urbaneriffic benefits shaking out?

 ”I don’t see any benefit from the light rail as far as my business at all,” he said. “There will be exposure (to customers), but I don’t think it’s a $3,000 benefit.”

 

He’s been selling insurance out of his State Farm office for more than a decade, and he and his son Alex Nguyen plan to appeal the assessment…”Light rail has been good in some ways,” said [Alex], who works out of his father’s State Farm office. “The road looks nicer — I’ll say that — but they took away all the parking. We lost the front spaces.”

 Less parking, no real tangible business benefit…

…and a big bill.  And it’s a big bill for everyone:

Many businesses with 40 feet of street frontage will be charged $1,710, while properties with more linear frontage such as car dealerships and professional buildings can expect assessments of $10,000 or more.

 

The owners of Spruce Tree Centre at Snelling and University avenues will foot a bill for $15,600 as a result of having 364 feet of frontage. The block-length Marsden Building at 1717 W. University Ave. is being assessed $29,600 for 691 feet of street frontage.

 

Jack McCann discovered that his Midtown Commons office property on the 2300 block of West University Avenue will be assessed $17,900.

And how many of these businesses, like the Nguyen’s, will benefit not an iota from the light rail? 

Indeed, how many are more than a block or two from the train’s stations, and are tradiing less parking for…absolutely no foot traffic?  And that’s assuming “foot traffic” is part of their business, which for Marsden – a company that provides janitors and building security – it’s not?

Everyone having fun yet?

Comparing Butchers Bills

In five months of testing an operation, the “green line” has racked up five train versus auto accidents, two injured pedestrians…

… And now, a fatality - a woman wearing headphones apparently walked in front of a train near the U of M.

For comparison sake, light rail has been operating in the Twin Cities (counting the “blue line”) for about 10 years, now – almost as long as we’ve had uninterrupted handgun carry permitting.

The butchers bill for trains? It’s now up to six dead – and the “Green Line” is just getting started. In that time we’ve had one carry permittee involved in an unjustifiable homicide – and the killing itself had nothing to do with her permit.

If we can save just one life…

Pick Your Poison

The Star/Tribune last week ran a piece noting and lamenting the fact that as many as 50 trains carrying oil from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields cross Minnesota – every week.

And I remembered – when I was a kid growing up in rural North Dakota, we used to get over 20 trains a day passing through…

…mostly loaded with coal to power the Twin Cities powerplants.

An Unexpected Disappointing Tragedy

A guided missile shoots down a Malaysian jetliner carrying over 200 people including almost 2 dozen Americans, is apparently shot down over a proxy war zone.

The President observes the “tragedy” briefly, and then goes back on script to demand Republicans build more airports. 

It’s tiresome to keep repeating “if it’d been any Republican, can you imagine how different the media response would be”.  But it’s still true.

Days Of Future Pissed

The Saint Paul City Council voted 6-0 to start studying a 200+-million-dollar streetcar line connecting some Godforsaken part of East Seventh to some misbegotten part of West Seventh, via downtown.  Councilman Bostrom abstained, noting that for the price of the line – basically a bus that runs on tracks – the city could resurface every single street in Saint Paul’s pothole-pocked grid. 

While there will be much gnashing and moaning about this line (almost none of which will become part of the official record, due to the Met Council and City of Saint Paul’s habit of only “seeking public feedback” after all decisions have been made), I figure it’s time to pass on some stories about a similar line, from a “high-density” eastern city much better-suited to such mass-transit fripperies, Toronto. 

Because streetcars aren’t much use there, either.

How To Do Transit

If you read my blog or listen to my show, you know I’m a huge fan of Kevin Williamson, writer at National Review and author of The End Is Near (And It’s Going To Be Awesome).

One of his book’s (and body of work’s) central theses is that politics is the worst possible way to allocate resources.

Yesterday’s story about the Green Line light rail – which was built as a relatively heavy, relatively high-speed “Light Rail” line down a crowded commercial street entirely due to the desire to play the political subsidy game, and was conceived in the first place less to move people than to re-engineer the layout of the area between the Twin Downtowns – is evidence toward the thesis.

“But if the government doesn’t build things – not just trains, but roads and streets – then who will?”

If people need to go from one place to another, somebody will find a way to get them from point A to point B.

Today’s News, Seven Years Ago

The Central Corridor Light Rail – named the “Green Line” because it would have been cheaper to build it out of stacks of dollar bills – is a failure, according David Markle, of transit-blog “Streets.mn”. 

I’ll urge you to read the entire piece, which is excellent and fairly exhaustive. 

The reasons boil down to these:

It’s The Wrong Line…:  Light Rail is designed to serve routes with stops roughly every mile or two – allowing it to get going to 55 miles per hour between stops.   The “Green Line” has to stop at dozens of stoplights, so it never really moves.  It takes about an hour to get between the downtowns, so it’s no faster than the 16 bus, making it useless for people who commute between downtowns.  And it’s much, much slower than cars, which even on the worst traffic days can get between the downtowns in half an hour.   

…In The Wrong Place…:  But it makes less than half as many stops as the 16, making it nearly useless for getting around the neighborhood, which is what people do on the 16.  The line should have either been:

  • a streetcar (and let’s all set our innate conservative opposition to rail transit aside for sake of argument) that stops every block or two and goes about the same speed as the 16, or maybe a little faster, and serves Saint Paul local traffic, for less than half the price we paid for the Green Line
  • or a light rail train built straight down I94, or across the 35W bridge and through the Newell and Empire Builder rail yards to downtown Saint Paul, for a similar (possibly lower) cost, but well over double the speed.
  • Or, since we’re just thinking here, a subway down University, with probably double the speed, but 4-10x (think 10x) the cost. 

What we got was too big a train on too slow a route – or as Markle puts it, “we’ve got a train that can’t run as a train should (to get commuters off the freeway and provide rapid point to point transportation) and yet can’t provide the good local service of a streetcar”. 

…For The Wrong Reasons…:  But the Met Council’s priority wasn’t moving people; it was promoting high-density urban development.  And while either kind of train will hypothetically serve the purpose (says the urban planning clique).  But the Federal Government was subsidizing light rail, not streetcars.  And the Met Council needed the subsidy. 

So instead of a line that (hypothetically) made sense either for commuters or local residents, we got a line designed to whisk people long distances, stopping every 1-3 miles, on a route that demands stops every block or three. 

Here’s The Takeaway:  The official transit fanboy community in the Twin Cities is just now waking up from their opening-day train-riding hangovers and figuring it out.  Bob Collins (one of my favorite MPR personalities, if that’s not a contradiction in terms) quotes heavily from the piece I link above, and adds his own observations:

During construction, I’d intended to take the line to Target Field for the July 4th game vs. the Yankees. But when push came to shove, and with four people in the car, it made more sense to just drive into town.

Part of that decision is owed to the 55 minutes it took to get from 10th Street in Saint Paul to the Nicollet stop in Minneapolis when we tried the new line out on the weekend of Rock the Garden.

More often, we hear “it takes too long” among potential riders. There’s a good reason for that. It takes too long.

So better late than never – right?

Of course, we – Erik “The Transit Geek” Hare (author of the peripatetic but excellent “Barataria” blog) and I talked about these exact issues, for precisely the same reasons, on the NARN seven years ago

Make of that what you will – especially if “what you will” means “the NARN has a better grasp on sane policy than the Met Council and the entire DFL”.

That’s 1

The “Blue Line” – the Ventura Trolley, built down a right of way that either been cleared of obstsructions in the sixties, or built high above it - went several months before taking out its first vehicular rival.

The Green Line – drilled down the middle of one of the busiest streets in the Metro?  It didn’t even last a day (and that’s leaving out the four train-on-car accidents during testing).

My prediction in the first year:  12 train-on-car accidents.  Three fatalities (at least one of them in a car, and at least one staggering out of the Trend, Arnelia’s or Christenson’s.

 

Counting

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

Five crashes result from mixing trains with cars in the same space.  So far.

You seem surprised. This is not a bug, it’s a feature.  The system is working as designed, to drive vehicle traffic off the streets.

Soon black market cars will steal away every chance they can, through back yards to alleys and dusty roads, working on their night moves.  The rest will be up on blocks.  To save the planet for the children.  And the bicyclists.

Joe Doakes

I’m surprised they didn’t mount a chisel plow on the front of the trains.

It’s doing wonders for traffic on Marshall and Pierce Butler.

If Planning On Driving In Saint Paul On Saturday

It’s two days until the opening of the “Green Line” – and the Met Council’s toy choo choo has already been involved in four accidents.  That’s far ahead of the pace of the Ventura Trolley.

I’ve driven down University alongside the trains; it’s more than a little bit disconcerting.  And, if you’re not really really diligent about checking your vehicle’s blind spots, potentially deadly.

But what could possibly make it worse?  They’re going to turn opening night into a pub crawl.

That’s right – like Uni doesn’t have enough drunks patrolling it on a Saturday night anyway…

 

The Unthinkable

In the eternal battle between crony controlled, politically endorsed monopolies and new service is popular among hipsters, a Minneapolis City Councilman has proposed – well, suggested – the unthinkable.

The Minneapolis city Council match in a public hearing to determine how to deal with the difference in regulation between the city sponsored taxicab monopoly, and the new ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft. Some cities have opted to back the monopolies.

. But in Minneapolis, the ordinance sponsor, Council Member Jacob Frey, said after the hearing that he doesn’t yet know if that’s an option but he is open to considering relaxed taxi regulations.

What will those Democrats think of next?

Live As We Live, But Not Near Us

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

Eric Roper is a reporter for the Star Tribune.  He lives in Minneapolis but has no car.  How does he do itand is his solution right for all of us, as the Minneapolis City Council seems to believe?

Items to consider:  The reporter is single, he lives on a bus line, he works downtown where the buses go, his work hours are flexible, he has no family or friends outside the city to visit, and he grew up in New York where nobody has a car so he’s used to making do without one.  Plus, he evidently makes enough money that when he wants a car, he rents one.

Eric can afford to spend Time instead of Money to get around.  That works for single, childless, affluent, flexible, downtown residents, what we used to call “Yuppies” in the olden days.  I agree, Yuppies shouldn’t own cars.  For everybody else . . . .

Joe Doakes

I’ve noticed that about transit advocates and activists; they tend not to have kids. No after school activities, no unplanned doctor appointments, no friends just outside easy walking or safe biking (in the city) distance. And working in an industry that, largely, isn’t downtown.

Back when I had kids at home dependent on me for transportation to everything planned and unplanned, I used to dream about daring a transit advocate to try to survive a week of my life using nothing but buses.

Hail The Pony!

It’s the 50th anniversary of the Ford Mustang – one of automotive history’s great successes.

A few years ago, during a live NARN broadcast, James Lileks and I discussed how, if the “green car” movement ever, ever wanted to catch on with mainstream America, it needed to build an electric or hybrid version of one of the great sixties muscle cars – because they weren’t just cars; they were celebrations of life, and especially of the sheer joy of the American tradition of not just mobility, but mobilitywith style. 

The only car that’s come close, so far, is the Tesla Model S…:

…which is a good start, although modern safety and fuel economy regulations pretty much make sure every car on the road looks like a photoshopped Ford Taurus these days.   The Feds wouldn’t allow the immortal Pony to be built today!

Here’s a look at 10 great Mustangs through history.

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?

LIBRELLE:  Er…no?

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). 

(And SCENE)

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)