An open letter to the leaders working on SW LRT

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September 26, 2013 // UPDATED 4:21 pm - September 26, 2013
By: Julie Sabo
Julie Sabo

An Open Letter to County Commissioners, Met Council Members and the Corridor Management Committee,

Just wanted to respond to comments of yours I have read in the paper regarding SWLRT, Minneapolis, and more specifically, myself and my neighbors who have voiced concern about the direction the SWLRT project has taken.

Peter, my husband, and I moved into a small two bedroom home in Kenwood to live on the Kenilworth trail. Peter commutes to work via bike year round. Our family relies on the trail not just for recreation, but like a growing number of residents, (http://www.startribune.com/local/224599811.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter) for transportation. Our boys, now 10 and 12, play and bike on the Kenilworth Greenway. Our yard is very small and we, like most city residents,rely on public green space.  It is a safe area with small wooded patches that have brought great joy and adventure to our boys.

So, yes, the Kenilworth trail is quite literally, my backyard.  But it is not a private backyard, it is very public.  As a result, I feel an obligation to defend it for the hundreds of thousands of people who enjoy it, rely on it, but do not have the perspective of close, sustained proximity. That perspective gives me and my neighbors a responsibility to be stewards of thisimportant space and the city parkland surrounding it.  So, although we are but several hundred, we are acting on behalf of hundreds of thousands who use the Kenilworth trail each year.

Moving bike trails from the Greenway might seem an easy and convenient solution to the freight problem from a distance, but the Kenilworth trail carries thousands of bikers daily.  Rerouting them as well as pedestrians onto busy streets would create dangerous conditions.  Conditions that will fundamentally diminish the quality, safety, and attraction of these trails.

Transit was meant to displace cars, not the healthy, active transportation option of bikes the Greenways foster.

This project has always included removing the freight from the Greenway to make space in this narrow right of way for SWLRT. The county chose the alignment knowing the regulations of freight, and the significant costs associated with this choice.  Yet no money was set aside to meet this projectrequirement.  While Eden Prairie was allowed to have new right of waypurchased for the project, so as not to use their HCRRA trail area, at a costof approximately $300 million, Minneapolis is criticized for simply asking to not have our green space obliterated.

St. Louis Park is concerned about the safety of the freight in their community, we have no interest in putting any community in peril.  However, if the freight is dangerous in St. Louis Park, it is equally dangerous in the narrow corridor of the Kenilworth trail.  In fact these trains run a mere 12 feet from homes at the narrowest point.  My children sleep every night within a distance that St. Louis Park has identified as hazardous.  If that is accurate, should these trains be in either community?

There have been a number of tunnels, bridges, and other costly mitigation measures made for this alignment, but when it comes to Minneapolis, there is simply no money left to even pay for the basic requirement of moving the freight.  And in response to our concerns, we, citizens, are publicly cast as the wealthy, obstructionist scapegoats. Minneapolis, myself, nor my neighbors deserve that.  I have always been committed to good public policy, and as a State Senator, to transit.

Although it is enticing and convenient for Hennepin County Commissioners to classify this as a poor vs. rich narrative, it just isn't that simple.  But if that is the narrative the county would like to pursue, here are some statistics that you might be interested in, and we can get more.  It looks like Minneapolis might actually be the narrative "poor".

— Eden Prairie median household income 2012: $116,000 (Money Magazine 9/12)
— EP persons below the poverty level, 2007-2011: 5.3% vs. the entire state: 11.0%
— Minnetonka median family income: $109, 600 (Money Magazine Aug 2010)
— Eden Prairie: 26 persons per acre of parkland.
— Minneapolis: 71 persons per acre of parkland.
— Minnetonka: 51 persons per acre of open space
— Edina: 32 persons per acre of parkland/open space

From Eden Prairie Parks and Recreation website:

"The city of Eden Prairie is a distinctive community with preserved natural beauty within the metro area. ...Eden Prairie is one of the only cities within the metro area where residents enjoy more that 4500 acres of open space wetlands, including the beautify views of 17 lakes and more than 100 ponds."

Please reconsider your perspective on this project and the words you choose to use publicly in relation to the city of Minneapolis and concerned citizens. We are simply expecting the government to act with integrity and honor the LPA by relocating the freight rail out of the Kenilworth trail. If that is not possible, then the alignment should be revisited to better serve the city of Minneapolis and region.  If the project does not represent the kind of quality public works we expect in our state, in relation to cost and benefits, then please speak to that directly.

Thank you for your service.

Julie Sabo