LRT has potential to bring opportunity to North Mpls

By Vickie Evans-Nash
Contributing Writer

Route will go through community — but do the residents welcome it?

On Wednesday, November 17, members of the community met at UROC (University of Minnesota: Urban Research and Outreach Center) located just off Plymouth and Penn Avenues in North Minneapolis to discuss a new addition to the North Minneapolis landscape: light rail transit (LRT).

The discussion, introduced by Northside Transportation Network (NTN) — a resident-led group formed in April of this year to address community concerns regarding LRT — and moderated by Representative Bobby Joe Champion, was intended to allow Northside residents the opportunity to consider options before the implementation of the Bottineau Transitway process.

Champion informed attendees that no decisions have been finalized.

“Too often, things happen to us and we’re not a part of that discussion,” he explained. In an effort to ensure that everyone had an opportunity to voice their opinions, every household “as far North as Lowry, as far South as the divide between Bryn Mawr and North Minneapolis, as far West as Xerxes and as for East as [Interstate] 94,” received a card announcing the meeting, he said.

KMOJ-FM radio, Insight News, email blasts and Facebook were also used as tools to get the word out. As a result, approximately 200 people attended.

The decision-making process will begin with the communities’ preferred transit route being presented by the Bottineau Policy Advisory Committee (PAC), made up of elected officials, businesses and organizations, to the Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority, with the final decision being made by the Metropolitan Council.

Phyllis Hill, an organizer with ISAIAH, a coalition of 90 churches, spoke on transportation equity. “Tonight is not about preparing for the future,” Hill said. “It is about creating the future.” Hill then asked residents what opportunities they felt were needed in North Minneapolis. Jobs, education, businesses, foreclosures, places to buy healthy food within walking distance, more transportation options, restaurants and public places to meet, and creational centers for youth were all voiced as areas of concerns.

“Transportation is a vehicle to deliver on those things,” Hill said.

“It is a lever to increase affordable housing, living-wage jobs, businesses, education, health and the overall livability… If [the proposed plans] don’t deliver on those things, I would submit that you probably don’t want to do it.”

Hill says that engaging the community in the LRT decision-making process gives North Minneapolis residents the opportunity to redirect funds into their community, and it should include accountability measures for the Metropolitan Council, the county, the city and the legislature to ensure that they are keeping commitments made to the community.

LRT options

Owen Duckworth of Transit for Livable Communities, a nonprofit group that works to improve public transportation, presented the audience with the different options for the LRT route. The routes will extend as far north as Maple Grove and Brooklyn Park and will also include Robbinsdale.

Initially there were four proposed options, which have been reduced to two by looking at cost, rider-ship and general feasibility. They are:

D1: a route through Theodore Wirth Park, with a stop at Golden Valley Road, continuing to Olson Memorial Highway with stops at Penn and Van White Memorial Boulevard, then continuing into downtown Minneapolis.

D2: a route through Robbinsdale with a stop at North Memorial, then on to West Broadway with a stop at Penn. It would continue down Penn with stops at Plymouth and Olson, then continuing down Olson with a stop at Van White, continuing into downtown Minneapolis.

The D2 route could be developed from one of five options:

D2a: LRT traveling both north and south along the east side of Penn, with southbound car traffic on Penn and northbound on Oliver. This option would not allow parking on Penn and only along one side of Oliver. It would also require some property acquisition for a station.

D2b: LRT both north and southbound on Oliver, without car traffic or parking, but possibly a bike/walk trail. Penn Avenue would be unaffected.

D2c: Two-way LRT as well as car traffic on Penn. It would require land acquisition, including homes, along an entire side of Penn. Duckworth said, “From the county’s perspective, this is also a very expensive property acquisition.”

D2d: Places both north and southbound LRT on Penn along with bus traffic.

Southbound car traffic would be placed on Oliver and northbound on Queen.

Parking would most likely be lost on Penn and one side of both Oliver and Queen
D2w is an option that widens Penn Avenue, offering both two-way LRT and car traffic. It would have an impact on residents along Penn with their front-yard space but not their houses.

Community response

Residents were encouraged to walk around the room to examine maps representing most of the options presented, after which a question-and-answer session took place. The most heated discussion arose when a resident asked, “Let’s say we don’t want any of them? Is that an option?”

“If the community believes that they don’t want any of these options…then someone else will make the decision, because there is a decision that is going to be made,” Champion answered.

“You need to be careful with that line of thinking,” another attendee stated. “If the citizens say, ‘No train,’ then no train.”

“Though we can [only] speak to the issues relative to our area, there are all these other communities and other groups out there,” added Raymond Dehn, a NTN member. “We can say ‘no train,’ but this has the life of all these people in those other communities [involved], and if they want to get downtown, they’re going to find a way to get downtown.”

Issues like noise, the possible long-term damage LRT could have on the foundation of old homes and whether suburban routes would go through residential neighborhoods were all brought up as potential concerns.

However, presenters said that this meeting was just one of many future discussions up to the implementation process, which would not begin for at least two-to-three years.

Meetings addressing the question “Who pays for transit?” that includes but is not limited to the Northside LRT are scheduled for Wednesday, December 8, from 7-8:30 pm at Transit for Livable Communities in St. Paul, 626 Selby Ave. and Thursday, December 9, 7-8:30 pm at the Sierra Club Northstar Chapter in Minneapolis, 2327 E. Franklin Ave.

For more information on NTN and to keep abreast of future meetings, go to http://northsidetran sit.org. To view maps of possible routes, go to http://bottransit.org.
Vickie Evans-Nash welcomes reader response to vnash@spokesman-recorder.com.