How is a successful transit project designed and implemented? In the past I’ve complained bitterly about a St Paul project that went badly and praised one that seemed to be going well. The difference? Primarily, it’s about engaging the public and making sure that everything is accounted for.
Today I am a representative of the Fort Road Federation on the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) for the Riverview Corridor. In the interest of practicing what I preach, here is a full disclosure of what we will do and how I am approaching it. I value your comments, regardless of whether you live in St Paul or somewhere else – everyone has something to add to big, expensive projects like this.
The project itself is about connecting Union Depot in St Paul to the Airport and Mall of America with transit. Theoretically, we will be looking at all options, but as you can see in the logo for the effort the image of a train was chosen. Yes, Light Rail Transit (LRT) is going to be favored.
There are four logical places where a train (or anything else) can run – I-35E, West Seventh, Shepard Road, the existing train right of way for the Ford Plan Spur, or some combination. If you assume LRT, the real bogey is to run from Union Depot to the point where the tunnel runs under the Airport on the Blue Line (Hiawatha), a distance of about seven miles. You can see this on the map of the study area.
The current transit option is the 54 Bus, which takes 30 minutes to make this trip during the day.
Note that there are no good options for running a major new improvement through this built-up urban area. No matter what, this has to cross the Mississippi River. It also has to deal with existing properties, historical sites, and important natural features.
There is also the tension that is present in any transit project, which is determining whether it is about moving people through this corridor or serving the local residents. Attempting to do both, as was done on University Avenue, usually winds up serving neither particularly well while running up the tab tremendously.
I am approaching this with three principles for evaluating any proposal. I have asked for the Fort Road Federation to enhance, modify, and add to these with input from everyone who is affected by this in our community. They are:
- Anything on Seventh has to unite, rather than divide the street, through the entire length. It has to serve the businesses and residents on the street and draw people together, not serve as a barrier that we have trouble crossing.
- All the various transportation services that come together in this narrow stretch have to be both respected and connected. This includes pedestrians, bikes, cars, buses, streetcars, and any upgrades we make beyond that
- The Mississippi must be respected. This includes the natural world as well as the ability of residents to be a part of it where appropriate.
The first principle addresses the problem posed by the last system proposed through the corridor, which was a dedicated busway down West Seventh separated by walls. We can’t have that in a narrow urban street (80 to 100 feet wide) with businesses and residents on both sides.
The second principle is about making connections everywhere, and ideally that will make use of the vertical elevations that define this neighborhood whenever possible. For example, I can envision a stop for the Xcel Center (home of the Minnesota Wild) along the railroad tracks that connects directly via an extension to the existing Skyway tunnel that pops out of the bluff beyond Kellogg. This could also be how an LRT line along existing track right of way connects the three blocks to transit along Seventh Street, be it a bus or a Streetcar.
The last principle speaks for itself. Running this along the Mississippi (re: “Riverview Corridor”) has the potential to cut the neighborhood off from our most important asset.
So far, the Riverview team has done little more than gear up for public input, much of which will come at two open houses that they are hosting. I plan to be there and listen more than anything else. This is very important.
Ultimately, any proposals will be evaluated based on six criteria with equal weight laid down as part of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). These are:
- Land use improvements,
- Economic development potential,
- Congestion reduction,
- Mobility improvement,
- Environmental protection and improvement, and
- Cost effectiveness.
The land use and economic development pieces already clearly favor the old industrial sites located along existing train tracks. This includes the old shops of the Omaha and Western Railroad, long abandoned, at Randolph and Shepard – along with the operating ADM grain elevator. But there are other sites along this stretch that make it particularly attractive by the criteria given.
Note that while this study has precluded the study of a streetcar or bus improvements on West Seventh, it doesn’t end them. Creating a high speed through line along existing trackage and/or Shepard Road cries out for a local service along Seventh that connects to the high speed line. The connections become critical in such a system, which is why I’m already focusing on how connections generally can be improved by this project.
But it’s important to not get too far ahead of the project at this time. This is when we need public input more than anything else. While there are a lot of good ideas and obvious biases related to this project, they have to be evaluated based on what will serve people the best. That’s what matters most when spending a very large amount of public money.
What do you think? All comments are most welcome. We’re just getting going on this thing and every bit of input helps.