Approving Southwest LRT is crucial for region

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July 22, 2014
By: Steve Cramer
Steve Cramer

Among the goals of the Downtown Council’s Intersections Downtown 2025 Plan, one of the most aspirational and foundational is to lead the nation in transportation options.

As the plan states, “for Minneapolis to achieve the goals set forth — especially goals of new jobs and housing — transportation’s capacity and options must continue to grow.”

The specific metric proposed by the plan is to increase the share of people coming into downtown by a means other than car from 40 percent today to 60 percent by 2025. Otherwise, the downtown we create will be less vibrant and appealing than where we have set our sights.

It’s encouraging to see the many ways this vision is becoming a reality. Minneapolis is firmly planted in the top-tier as a bike friendly community, with plans for downtown street projects like redoing Washington Avenue east of Hennepin and the new Nicollet Mall explicitly accommodating this mode of transportation. The on-going effort to make Minneapolis more walkable and pedestrian friendly helps, as does the introduction of short-term car use/rental options to this market. Even embracing Transportation Network Companies like UberX and Lyft as a supplement to traditional taxi service can make it easier for residents, workers and visitors to navigate successfully without bringing a car downtown.

As important as these actions are, the most significant contribution to at least being in the conversation about “leading the nation” will be steady progress building out the planned regional transit system. Opening the Green Line LRT connection between downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul last month was a huge step.

The last stop is Target Field Station, a gem created by Hennepin County on the western edge of downtown between Target Field and North Loop, which will become an increasingly important transit hub as the regional system develops. Target Field Station’s location and central role as a point of connection for multiple lines reinforces Minneapolis as the economic engine of the Twin Cities.

And now, Southwest LRT is on deck at City Hall. Because of our 2025 Plan goal the Downtown Council has been a consistent supporter of the Southwest line, and we have testified to that effect at every opportunity. Determining a final alignment has been controversial, to state the obvious. Differences between key stakeholders responsible for agreeing on a route appeared, at times, to threaten this key project. But the mediation process city leaders engaged in with the Metropolitan Council to resolve differences yielded a positive result. I applaud those who negotiated the agreement. They have done Minneapolis, and the Twin Cities, an important service.

When the City Council as a whole considers granting municipal consent to the plan now on the table, I would ask the members to keep two points in mind.

SWLRT is an important addition to the regional system on its own merits. It competes well for a substantial federal transit investment as a result of projected ridership and other measurements of cost-effectiveness and benefit. It is also the next sequential step toward completing a regional system. If for some reason it is derailed, in turn the negative impact on timing of each additional transit improvement will cascade down the local pipeline. So the stakes are very high.

I attended the public hearing where the revised plan was unveiled and heard passionate testimony on two key opposing points; on one hand opposition due to environmental concerns for the Cedar Lake/Lake of the Isles area, and on the other support based on hope that SWLRT can provide a needed boost to neighborhoods and residents of North Minneapolis. In the end, this project will be done right, upholding the environmental quality and beauty of the City of Lakes and providing access to thousands of additional jobs.

Leading the nation in transportation options is a lofty goal. We aren’t there yet, but momentum is building. Approving SWLRT is the critically important next step down that path. 

Steve Cramer is the CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council/Downtown Improvement District.