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 “”. 

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”.

14 thoughts on “Today’s News, Seven Years Ago

  1. I drove University this weekend, from Hamline to Rice. Even in weekend traffic, I overtook the Eastbound train and smoked it by half a mile. Man, those things are slow. Do they offer any compensatory advantages? On-board Wi-Fi? Meal service? Drinks or maybe a movie?

  2. You mean people with an agenda of “light rail at all costs” have a tendency not to think things through? Shocker, that.

  3. I can’t believe this crap is happening. Unbelievable.

    None of these morons can think.

  4. FWIW, the SF BART system is fast and has it’s stops spaced the right way. It’s still a fiscal disaster even though it’s highly used plus traffic is horrible anyway. I like using it but it’s a waste of money. Furthermore, hardly anyone in the Bay Area can use it effectively due to the distances. Too much driving to get to it for most.

  5. Way back in the 1990-1992ish era, I took a class at the U of MN called “The Geography of Maps”. The class was mainly taught by TA’s but the head professor did give 3 very persuasive speeches using only maps as his references. He showed how there is no way now, or in the future, that light rail would be fiscally repsonsible given the geography (or lack thereof), demographics, population density, and other various socio-economic and historical data maps. No encyclopedia articles, no news articles, no speech references, no media references. Only maps, all of which he displayed on the projector screen/overhead as he spoke.

    It was so well done, persuasive and complete, that he received a standing ovation from the hundreds of students in that lecture hall, including me.

    Something tells me that he wouldn’t dare give the same speech today, for fear of having to duck thrown objects.

  6. We can all rest comfortably knowing that Mpls Mayor Hodges’ office is deep in secret closed door negotiations with the Met Council over the bribes that will be necessary for them to allow the SW boondoggle to be run into downtown.

    An entirely un-public bit of public works….

  7. Well, 7 or 8 years ago, public meetings for light rail were happening. Of those that I attended, several neighbors, many of the transit users, showed up and publicly testified that the design was too slow, would be slower than the buses, would not serve the needs of the transit riders, would be dangerous to pedestrians and cars, would not promote business, and would essentially create a neighborhood that resembled Chicago’s housing projects. So far, much of what the neighbors said would happen actually happened, which the planners surely knew, too, but yes, didn’t care.

  8. Central planning doesn’t work. It is never the most effective way of doing something unless it is the only way of doing something.
    If you involve the democratic process in central planning the results are awful. If you remove the democratic process from central planning the results are awful. A century ago, perhaps, it might be possible to be an intelligent, well-informed, non-ideologue and believe that central planning, especially by government, would result in greater efficiency. During the 20th century, many, many varieties of central planning were tried. I won’t say that they all failed, but most of them did ( for example, the biggest, mot dynamic and creative city in Brazil is not the planned city Brasilia, but the chaotic, unplanned Rio de Janeiro).
    If you put a dozen certifiable genius city planners together in a room, they will design a city that no one wants to live in — people want to live where they can maximize their pleasure and opportunities, not maximize the sensibilities of central planners. The goals of the planners are not the goals of the people whose lives they want to plan.
    I live in Hawaii. They are planning on building a light rail/monorail system on Oahu. Common sense might tell you that it would work — small island, dense population, heavy traffic and it’s difficult to build new highways due to land costs.
    It is totally screwed up. The cost is estimated at about 5 billion bucks (and rising). Five billion dollars is about $5000 for every resident of Oahu. They could literally buy everyone on Oahu a motorcycle for the build costs of the light rail.
    The rail won’t go where most people want it to go because interests — the city bus service and taxis — did not want it to cut into their business.
    To cut costs they both arbitrarily increased rider estimates and eliminated restrooms in all of the stations.
    If there is an earthquake (common on Oahu) the system shuts down. God help the transit rider if the earthquake causes a tsunami. They will all have to run — up hill — to get out of the tsunami zone.

  9. Bill C;

    Thanks for reminding us of the good old days, where teachers/professors actually taught something, rather than pushing an agenda.

    Your assessment on that professor’s well being, re: giving that lecture today, is well founded. I dare say that today, he would be subjected to one of the left’s classic campaigns of smears, lies and ridicule. Gotta love the “tolerance” of the lefties!

  10. MJB, you’re right, I lived in Midway at that time and went to one of those meetings, at the Hmong Center on University at Western. The planners were taking public comments on the proposal they’d already decided on, not to get any genuine citizen input, but solely because the law says they must. It was worse than a joke, it was an insult, to be told “We want to know what you think about the plan we’re going to build whether you like it or not.”

  11. These “public hearings” for light rail sound a lot like the “public hearings” we’ve had for school levies. They listen, smile, nod and then send your comments and concerns down the swirling vortex of history.

  12. FedSux, you missed something about BART; in some areas, they do a great job hiding the stations. I remember looking for one about an hour and had to stop for directions twice.

  13. BART is effectively a very expensive toy. The Bay Area would have been better off with another bridge, supposedly. It would have been a hell of a lot easier to manage with politics, too.

  14. You can have a lot of fun with math. For example, for the cost of the Green Line, you could have given every potential rider a new car, and for the cost of operation, put gas in every one of them, for life!

    Or, if public transit is your thing, we could have run a fleet of Eco-friendly hybrid busses up and down that route, 4 minutes apart, for the next 700 years! You’re right, this decision, and the pending SW LRT, have absolutely ZERO correlation with the proper solution to any known problem.

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