Our Brave New Rail-Based World

A few years ago, on a brutally-cold winter night, I was standing at a bus stop on University Avenue at Oxford with a bag of groceries. An older – or older-looking – guy, wobbling from a day of drinking, wobbled around on the sidewalk behind me (It was 7PM, although dark as midnight in mid-January).  The guy wasn’t feeling the cold.  He was muttering something under his breath.  He seemed agitated.  I kept my guard up.

I heard a car engine accelerate behind me – fast.  I turned, and saw a Saint Paul police cruiser, pouring on the steam and pulling across two lanes of traffic and heading straight toward the bus stop.

I noticed the drunk guy had started to amble north up Oxford Steet.

The cops slammed on the brakes and hit the whoopie lights just as they pulled around onto Oxford and squalled to a hard stop.  The two cops bailed out, fast, and pulled their clubs as they raced toward the old guy.  They took him down, hard.

Two more units pulled up in the next thirty seconds or so.  Whoopie lights blazing, the corner felt warmer all of a sudden.

This being University, the 16 and 50 buses were both late – so I watched as the cops cuffed the guy, bundled him into the first cruiser, and drove away.  Being a good blogger, I asked one of the cops what was up.

The cop motioned toward a bar further down University.  “He beat a guy with a chair.  Put him in the hospital, probably in critical condition”.

They took off.

And still I waited for the 16.

I thought about this when I got an email from Joe Doakes this morning:

These are the prospective riders of the Light Rail.

The link is to a piece in the PiPress about a shooting on Uni:

A man was injured in a shooting at a University Avenue bus stop in St. Paul on Thursday evening, and police believe there were multiple witnesses who have yet to come forward.

The victim, who was taken to Regions Hospital with a gunshot wound to his leg, was at a bus stop at the southeast corner of University Avenue and Dale Street when he was shot about 6:45 p.m…Anyone with information should call St. Paul police at 651-266-5650.

According to the story, three guys including the shooter crossed Dale Street, opened fire as cars sat at the light, and hit the victim.  They helpfully point out that the cops don’t believe it was a random shooting.

Back to Doakes:

Do you still think people will come from Woodbury to ride that train?

And if they don’t, who will shop at the newly renovated stores?

That’s always been my big question about the Central Corridor – especially about the choice to make it a “Light Rail” train rather than a trolley which, if you just have to have a freaking train, makes a lot more sense.  “Light Rail” is for people who whiz through the neighborhiood on their way from one downtown, or one of the colleges, to the other.  It’s not people going from WalMart or Rainbow with a bag of groceries who are trying to get down to Grotto for the four block walk to their house.  It is designed, scaled, and stationed to carry people through the Midway and Frogtown with as little interaction with the neighborhood as possible.

And the more I look at this boondoggle, the more fanciful – almost Jetsons-like – the “development” scenarios for the stretch between Cleveland and the Capitol seem.  What – someone en route from their legislative assistant job at the Capitol to their apaartment on Washington is going to stop at UniDale for a mocha?


The train is going to largely cut the north side of the street off from the south side.  What does that do to neighborhoods that are, as urban planners euphemize, “in transition?”  It does what it did when they drove a freeway through Phillips (the part of Minneapolis between Franklin/Lake and 35/Hiawatha), or Frogtown (St. Paul from Lexington/Western and Como/94).

Any takers?

8 thoughts on “Our Brave New Rail-Based World

  1. Day 1: Bright and shiny ribbon cutting ceremony. Lots of applause, nodding and an overwhelming blanket of self-righteousness permeates the air

    6 months: Some of the boutique merchants lay people off

    1 year: Some of the boutique merchants shut down

    3 years: lots of vacancies and United Properties for lease signs everywhere

    6 years: blight kicks in as regular maintenance has been stopped long enough for weeds to start breaking thru the sidewalks. Anguished liberal hand-wringing ensues.

    10 years: Met council pushes for tens or hundreds of millions of dollars for “urban renewal”.

  2. I had an interesting experience on the LRT the other evening that I’ve been trying to decide whether to post on FB or my own, largely moribund, blog. I might as well share the vignette here.

    It was 6:30ish, and a group of us seasoned LRT riders were waiting at a downtown stop, on the platform at the place where we knew the doors would open when a train came. When the train arrived a couple of hoodied kids who looked to be about 15 barged the queue for the door, even blocking a couple of people who were trying to disembark. As it so happens, these gentlemen were black, though I’ve seen this behavior from most of the youthful riders of any color.

    The two guys sat across the aisle from each other and I ended up kitty-corner in a seat from one of them. I pulled out my iPad to do some reading and the kid starts asking me about it – what model, what can it do, etc. He asked how much it cost. I told it him, “a lot”. He pressed, I responded with the same. He asked again and I gave him a ballpark. Then he said, “I bet you’d be upset if someone took it from you.”

    I didn’t take it as a threat. I figured he was trying to have some fun by playing with my mind a little. I wasn’t concerned, the two kids together might have weighed as much as I do and the train had too many people on it for a good snatch and grab (which apparently have been occuring on the LRT); I’d have had him by the hoodie in two steps. I told the kid that I wouldn’t get too excited, I’d simply activate the tracking app on the Pad and call the police and have them go get it for me.

    The kid said, “What if the guy sold it?” I said he’d have to move fast; the last story I read about someone using the tracker to recover an iPad had the police arriving at the address with the Pad in about an hour. He then wanted to know if the police would give it back to me. “They would,” I said, “but maybe not until after the trial.”

    Shortly after that he put his feet, wet and dripping from the snow, on the seat next to me. This selfish behavior is a pet peeve of mine though I usually keep quiet about it. Since the kid had already engaged me in conversation and I wasn’t going to be intimidated I said, in a friendly tone, “Hey, what about the next person that wants to sit in that seat?” He gave me the blank face, tilted his head to one side and shrugged his shoulders. “What if the next person to sit in the seat turned out to be you?” Same reaction.

    At the next stop a couple of black women in their 30s boarded with children and made for where we were seated. One saw the slop on the seat and made a disgusted noise and moved on. I looked at the kid, and he had his head down, staring at his feet. At Lake St. they got off. I kept a grip on my Pad and then watched their reflections in the window out of the corner of my eye as they reached the platform. I figured there’d be some parting shot so I wasn’t surprised when I saw the kid draw back his fist to hit my window as he went buy. If he thought he’d get me to jump he was, again, disappointed.

  3. I’m on FB group with lots of anarchists. They are the most clueless people I’ve ever talked to. NW’s story is why.

  4. NW’s story could have had many different outcomes. One might be that he showed his new BFF the 9mm Glock 13 he was carrying. Another might be that the transit cop might have arrived and asked the kid for a ticket. I have yet to be asked to show proof of purchase when I ride the light rail. Has anybody?

  5. I’ve got Joel’s Taurus .45 auto, but the situation didn’t seem to call for that, and it doesn’t seem like a good idea to show a gun if you’re not going to use it. I did, however, see a kid being ticketed on my morning commute the day before yesterday. Also, one the guys from our Jersey office took the train from the airport to downtown this summer not realizing the free ride is only between the terminals and he got ticketed. $184, which looked real interesting on his expense account, I’m sure.

  6. Yeah, I was angling for the Springfield with the mini-bayonet (which would be ideal for LRT use) but I missed out on that one and was able to land this instead.

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