The Pleistocene Savannas of Minneapolis

In a wonderful TED talk (see link below), Dennis Dutton (professor, and co-founder of Arts & Letters Dailyexamines the theory of beauty from an evolutionary perspective:

Dennis Dutton, A Darwinian Theory of Beauty

According to Dutton, “beauty is one of the ways that evolution encourages us to make the most adaptive decisions for survival or reproduction.” It does so by sustaining our interest in objects that might not otherwise seem to have a direct benefit to us, a baby’s face for example.

In his talk, Dutton shares an example to demonstrate his theory that beauty is a universal human experience:

“People in very different cultures all of over the world tend to like a particular kind of landscape. A landscape that just happens to be similar to the Pleistocene savannas where we evolved. This landscape shows up today on calendars, on postcards, in the design of golf courses and public parks, and in gold framed pictures that hang in living rooms from New York to New Zealand. Its a kind of Hudson River School Landscape featuring open spaces of low grasses interspersed with copses of trees, the trees are preferred if they fork near the ground, that is to say if they’re trees that you could scramble up in a tight fix. The landscape shows the presence of water directly in view or evidence of water in a bluish distance, indications of animal or bird life, as well as diverse greenery, and finally, a path or a road, perhaps a river bank or a shoreline,that extends into the distance, almost inviting you to follow it. This landscape type is regarded as beautiful even by people in countries that don’t have it. The ideal savannah landscape is one of the clearest examples that human beings everywhere find beauty in similar individual experience.”

Hudson River School, Asher Durand White, Mountain Scenery

Hudson River School, Asher Durand White, Mountain Scenery

The cave-man psyche seems to be alive  and well in the minds of Minneapolitans,  if the following two images are any indication. These maps were created using Zillow (an online real estate marketplace). The first map shows all of the homes currently for sale starting at a price of $350,000. The second map shows homes for sale less than $240,000.  A clear picture emerges:


Homes for sale, price starting at $350,000


Homes for sale, less than $240,000

Most people don’t need to be informed about Minnesotans’ preference for watery outdoor landscapes. But I think it is useful to keep in mind that the desire for this type of landscape is extremely powerful–in this case, at least $100,000 powerful. And if this were a Zillow map of Central Park, that figure would be a lot more extreme.

When designing the city of Minneapolis, its important to consider how powerfully important it is for some people have this “ideal” landscape as part of their habitat.

If Minneapolis hopes to compete for density–then there needs to be an awareness that aesthetic preference is one of the strongest motivations people have when deciding where to live. Its basically why suburbs like Eden Prairie exist (Eden Prairie has more green space per capita than most of the Metro area). Investments in jobs, transit, and education are extremely important, but if Minneapolis wants to compete as a city, we must also preserve and expand our “Pleistocene Savannas.”


Learning From I-94

This article from Streets.MN reminded me of a wonderful essay written by Brian McMahon, the Executive Director of University UNITED (who also happens to be my dad!): “Learning From I-94.” It’s an essay that I believe bears a lot of relevance to the current debate in Minneapolis regarding the Southwest Light Rail project. Just as some background, this essay was written prior to the construction of the Central Corridor light rail project (a project that University UNITED wholeheartedly supported). But not all transit projects are created equal. My sincere hope is that we can apply the lessons from the history of the I-94 project–rather than repeat them.

Learning From I-94

Almost fifty years ago the construction of I-94 caused massive physical and social disruption in St. Paul, and its repercussions are still being felt as the community is today bracing for light rail. What is little known today is that there was an alternative highway route proposed by the Planning Engineer of St. Paul that if selected would have had a far less disruptive and divisive impact on the community. This entire story was the subject of a fascinating book written during the period as an urban planning case study.

Alan A. Altshuler was a graduate student in Chicago in the late 1950’s completing a Ph.D. on the topic of city planning. He selected the Twin Cities for his study area “because their reputations were favorable, both in terms of the political environment that they provided for planning and the quality of practice which they received from their professional planning staffs”. His timing couldn’t have been better because both St. Paul and Minneapolis were working on comprehensive plans, and this was the moment when the “Intercity Freeway” was being planned. His dissertation was later published as a book entitled, The City Planning Process: A Political Analysis, by Cornell University Press in 1965. It is not only an excellent “behind the scenes” documentation of events unfolding on the ground, but is also an extremely insightful and profound look at city planning generally. To combat the worsening problems of automobile congestion throughout the country, the Federal Highway Act was enacted in 1956. It called for a 40,000 mile national freeway system to be funded 90 percent by the Federal government and 10 percent by the states.

In Minnesota, and throughout the country, routes were selected primarily by engineers for the purpose of relieving traffic congestion, without much regard to other urban concerns. Transportation engineering was becoming more sophisticated during this period, with the introduction of surveys to study trip origins and destinations, the use of “desire-line” maps, “critical control points”, and the like. The proposed (and ultimately selected) route for I-94 met most of the “desire lines” identified in the technical analysis. Another important criterion for route selection was the ability “to build with the least resistance.”

Over one million people were displaced around the country during the building of the federal highway system. In the Twin Cities, there was considerable resistance to the proposed route by the merchants of downtown St. Paul, the historic African-American community of Rondo, and the Prospect Park neighborhood in Minneapolis, among others. The various groups never managed to join forces to create an effective opposition and were largely unsuccessful in impacting the project. The downtown merchants filed a law suit and lost. The residents of Prospect Park were largely ignored. Residents of Rondo mounted the strongest challenge, because of the devastating impact the proposed route would have on their community. Altschuler’s book takes us behind-the scenes to strategy sessions where the black leaders agonize as to whether they should maintain outright opposition, or a more conciliatory approach in the hope of extracting a better deal. In the end, approximately 400 African-American families were displaced, of 2,900 families city-wide. The loss in Rondo was well-over one-fifth of the black population of St. Paul, at a time when there was no open-housing ordinance available to enable families to move freely throughout the city. However, Altschuler credits the strong Rondo opposition with producing the most significant concessions made along the entire route. Plans for an elevated highway were rejected and the highway was depressed. Also, according to Altschuler, the condemnation awards for the homes were generally above market value, and the displaced families received a year of rent-free occupancy.

Throughout this multi-year process, George Herrold, the St. Paul Planning Engineer consistently voiced strong opposition to the proposed route on a number of grounds. He “did not believe the automobile should dominate cities”, and he had particular concerns about disrupting stable neighborhoods. He wrote, “the freeway idea… requires the moving of thousands of people, who must give up their homes, churches, schools, neighbors and valued social contacts, who lose the institutions they have built for their pleasure and profit.” He was particularly disturbed by the impact it would create for the Rondo neighborhood. Herrold proposed an alternative route, which would parallel the train tracks to the north, where Pierce Butler Route is currently located. This option would not only spare the neighborhoods, it also would avoid severing the state capitol from the downtown. One of his additional arguments, that has surely proven prescient, is that the current freeway route located parallel to the train tracks to the north would create a disconnected “island” that would be difficult to integrate into the larger community. Herrold’s alternative option was never given serious consideration because the engineers had made up their mind and were able to control the discussion by exploiting their perceived technical expertise. Their “irrefutable” data overwhelmed opponents, who were kept isolated and divided. In addition, the highway engineers used “creeping fait accompliism” to create an air of inevitability that ground down the opposition.

Throughout the entire process, George Herrold understood that without his own equally “irrefutable” data he could not prevail. Under such circumstances, “expertise” will generally win out over wisdom, and technocrats will triumph over policy makers.

In addition to technical superiority, there were two additional reasons the highway opponents were not successful. It was never clear who had ultimate jurisdiction over the project. Typically, decisions were made by MN DOT engineers who were not “local” and not responsive to local political concerns. Additionally, if opposition efforts ever started to gain traction, the engineers threatened to stop the project and spend the money for highway construction in other cities, in this case Minneapolis. That usually ended the discussion.

Alan A. Altschuler is currently Dean of the Harvard University School of Design, and the Ruth and Frank Stanton Professor in Urban Policy and Planning University UNITED has several copies of the book available on loan. If interested call (651) 647-6711.

Excerpts from “The City Planning Process: A Political Analysis by Alan A.

p. 18 Of the three sets of actors whose approaches to St. Paul’s freeway program will be described – highway engineers, organized private interests, and professional city planners – only the first had technical procedures for predicting the precise benefits to be derived by building on the basis of any particular design.

p. 43 The engineers of the state Highway Department … believed that their task was to build highways, not ruminate about the general needs of cities. Their method was research that yielded quantitative conclusions; art, they reasoned was only needed to fill in the gaps. Their commodity was expertness, not wisdom”.

p. 53 “The Highway Department had its own reasons for appearing inflexible. Traffic and cost data were recognized as authoritative and impartial by all parties… Secrecy could be maintained until the proper time for public announcements… At the stage of public discussion, inflexibility tended to hold down the level of controversy. Highway personnel determined that when the department acceded to the demands of one group of interested citizens, other groups were encouraged to make demands.”

p. 59 “In practice… no dramatic showdowns ever seemed necessary. The Highway Department seemed to make reasonable decisions, and it never presented firm plans at meetings with city officials. All plans were presented as tentative, and all meetings with city personnel were primarily to elicit ideas for further study… the decision process appeared from his vantage point as “creeping fait accompliism”.

p. 79 “Highway engineers emphasized that traffic and cost data were quantitative and impartial. They believed they were able, therefore, to prove they had selected the highway routes without favoritism toward any group or interest. … Such data were conclusive, while public consultation was seldom so…. The only thing one could be sure of was that the general public had been inadequately represented.”

p. 83 “This is not to say that … [the planners] … lacked ideas about how cities should be laid out. Their profession did provide them with such ideas, but not with standards for determining when and how to strive for their effectuation. Planners recognized that many important aspects of life had no price because they could not be bought or sold. They seemed to have made little progress, however, in defining these aspects, discovering how they were affected in specific situations, or evaluating their importance. Consequently, planners in St. Paul were more or less forced to accept on faith the
Highway Department’s assumption that other effects of the freeway besides those involving traffic would somehow “balance off” or prove beneficial on balance. Lacking conviction that another plausible viewpoint was available, they accepted the engineering point of view … as their own.”

Brian J. McMahon
Executive Director, University UNITED
Author of A Short History of the Ford Plant available as an e-book.

Buses do not attract “choice riders” says the Midtown Greenway Coalition

London Omnibus, 1847

London Omnibus, 1847

Being a daily bus rider is not for everyone. I consider myself pretty street savvy, but it is still a bit of a challenge. For whatever reason, its almost impossible to get on a city bus without running into a few questionable (smelly) characters. I have even personally been attacked and robbed on a bus. Perhaps this is what the Midtown Greenway Coalition is referring to when they say on their website that streetcar and light rail would attract more “choice riders” than buses. They cite the Hiawatha light rail line as evidence of this fact.

They don’t specifically describe who is a “choice rider” but I assume they are referring to middle class people. I don’t know if their claim is based upon any statistical data. My assumption is that it’s mostly anecdotal. From my personal experience riding Hiawatha light rail, I have not really noticed any observable difference between light rail and bus riders.

Its not entirely fair to single out the Midtown Greenway Coalition. I have encountered this attitude at all levelsBut, I personally find this attitude very offensive. First of all, it promulgates the belief that buses are for poor people–which only further discourages people that might give public transit a try. Second of all, I worry that Hennepin County and the Met Council are rushing to build streetcar and light rail solely because they believe it will be more appealing to middle class folks. Thirdly, I have heard people SAY they would never ride a bus but would ride a train or streetcar (no connections then?). Light rail projects are mind-bogglingly expensive to construct and maintain. Is this really the only way we can think to attract more riders? Wouldn’t it be cheaper and more sensible to address what is really making buses unattractive (see  Yelp reviews).

What if Metro Transit invested more money into making buses cleaner, safer, and more efficient? Here are just a few ideas I have that might make things more pleasant:

-Free on-board wifi

-More heated shelters (not just a heat lamp)

-More bike racks (currently each bus only has space for two bikes)

-Spaces for baby strollers (there is currently a rule that parents are supposed to hold their babies and fold the strollers, not always an option for a parent juggling several children or with a sleeping baby)

-Better transfer connection times (this is really what makes public transit so inefficient). Advances in technology should make this feasible.

-Little things, like hand sanitizer

-I think there are some policy revisions that might make riding the bus more appealing. Many drivers are really great, but there are also quite a few that could use some customer service training.

More diverse transit ridership would make the system safer and more pleasant for everyone. But you can’t attract new “choice riders” by putting a bus on train tracks.

If Minneapolis had been ranked, we would have been at the top.

Minneapolis was not included in the recently published ParkScore rankings because: “The Trust for Public Land analyzed the park systems of the 40 largest cities by population within the city boundary. Some large metropolitan areas were not included because the core city is too small to rank within the largest 40 cities. These cities include Cincinnati, Cleveland, Miami, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis.”

San Francisco was ranked highest according to this study. If Minneapolis had been included, we certainly would have been ranked in the top 5, if not higher. There were five areas measured, and for comparison, I found statistics for Minneapolis for two of the areas:

San Francisco Minneapolis
Park Land as
% of City Area
17.90% 16.60%
Spending per resident $291.66 <$200

Learn more about their methodology hereMinneapolis statistics come from previous Trust for Public Land studies.

Minneapolis is an attractive place to live–for a lot of reasons. We are a city with an abundance of green spaces–and with not one, but five swimmable lakes! Envisioning the wildness of Theodore Wirth Park or the beauty of the Cedar Lakes Trails disrupted by light rail threatens the core appeal of this city. You can improve a city’s “beer rankings” a lot easier than you can replace parkland. Once its gone–its usually gone for good.

If you love the bike highway known as the Midtown Greenway, I hope you are not busy next week.


From an article published today in Finance & Commerce: “Metro Transit is looking to advance study of a streetcar in the Midtown Greenway, better bus service on Lake Street or some combination of those options.” The Midtown Greenway is by all measures an out-of-the-park success, so why would you mess with what is working? Rails to Trails Magazine featured the Midtown Greenway this Winter 2013. According to their article “Between 4,000 and 5,000 people use the trail every day on average, amounting to a whopping 1.5 million trips a year.” That is a hugely successful investment. By comparison, according to the the Wikipedia article, the billion dollar Bottineau light rail line is expected to “serve an estimated 19,500 daily riders by 2030.”

The Minneapolis Streetcar Feasibility Study recommends streetcar on the Greenway for some of these reasons:

• Consistent with broad community sentiment
and specific comments made at stakeholder
engagement sessions

• Is felt to have high potential to spur
economic development

They also claim that there will be “minimal impacts on bicycle and pedestrian facilities in the Greenway.” Which is pretty debatable. According to the same Rails to Trails Magazine article, there is already “Actually a rush hour on the trail, especially in summer,” says Soren Jensen, executive director of the Midtown Greenway Coalition.

Metro Transit is hosting two meetings next week:

6 p.m. Tuesday, May 21
Colin Powell Center
2924 S. Fourth Ave
6 p.m. Thursday, May 23
Whittier Clinic
2810 S. Nicollet Ave.

“The Project staff will review initial results of possible mode/alignment combinations with the goal of advancing the top alternatives for more detailed study this summer. Staff will be on hand to discuss those options and any other questions related to the project.”

If you have any opinions about the Midtown Greenway, and how it is used, this might be a chance to say something. This Rails-to-Trails and back to Rails trend in Minneapolis was the topic of my last post.

Streets.MN also had a great podcast (#35) about Twin Cities Greenways this week. Deisha Durham, a leader of the Twin Cities Greenways group, had a great definition of a greenway, it is a:

“lovely stretch of street, closed to cars, for pedestrians, for bicylists, no motorized traffic if that’s the way to put it, but you can turn it into park space, the hope is that it will bring neighborhoods together, that people will really make an effort to get to know their neighbors better, that people will come from other parts of the city to enjoy the greenway.”

What makes the Greenway special is that it is not your standard, highway, grid-lock commute. Its a pleasure–not a burden. I think that is something you cannot quantify. Actually you can: 4-5,000 riders. Daily.

Obstinate Metro Transit planners: They can only see the Forest for the Train Tracks

Many cities across America are choosing to convert former train railways into trails for walking, running, and biking. Groups like the Rail-to-Trails Conservancy have made it their mission to “create a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connect corridors to build healthier places for healthier people.”

Minneapolis, on the other hand, is operating on the obstinate position that all railways have been and always will be transportation corridors. The fact that the citizens of Minneapolis have been using the areas around railways as parks and natural trails for decades seems irrelevant to Metro Transit planners, who continue to only see train tracks when everyone else has been seeing so much more.

The Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority (HCRRA) currently manages the 55 miles of corridors.

The corridors include:

What’s amazing is that almost all of these “railroad corridors” have been transformed into sustainable urban spaces, used for recreation and bike transportation.

HCRRA says these spaces are intended to be used for light rail, and that their current use as trails is only “for the interim.”

The fact that light rail will come at the expense of beloved natural areas in Minneapolis is unfortunate and misguided.

Light Rail Station Planning for Minneapolis–Tomorrow Night! Express your concerns! Connect with neighbors!

Proposed stops on the SW line

If you would like to participate in the discussion about light rail stations in Minneapolis along the SW Transitway, including parking issues, locations of park and rides, security measures, etc., there will be an open house session in Bryn Mawr:

Thursday – May 2, 2013
(6:00p.m. – 8:00p.m.)

Bryn Mawr Elementary School (Auditorium)
252 Upton Avenue S, Minneapolis

It would be a great place to express your concerns, as well as connect with neighbors!

The following article has some details about where parking lots are planned:

An organization in Ottawa, Canada successfully changed the route of a light rail line away from their area’s parkland

Protestors from the group Neighbours for Smart Western Rail attend a June 26 city council meeting  From the EMC Ottawa South

Protestors from the group Neighbours for Smart Western Rail attend a June 26 city council meeting

An Ottawa neighborhood group, the Neighbours for Smart Western Rail, successfully appealed to their city to change the route of a proposed light rail line off of the area’s parkland.

An article from the Ottawa Citizen can be found here. “The group was formed after it became clear the city was focusing its planning for a western extension of the downtown LRT line on the “Richmond-Byron corridor,” the former tramway that’s been turned into a long, skinny park along Richmond Road.”

The union that lobbies for light rail in Minnesota, is the same union that now backs the Keystone Pipeline project


The Golden Valley City Council voted to support the Bottineau Transitway project based on a phone survey conducted by the Minnesota Building & Construction Trades Council (which is AFL-CIO). Mayor Shep Harris and Councilmember Joanie Clausen explicitly stated that the phone survey influenced their support of this project. This “phone survey” was not conducted in a scientific way, even the union representative that presented the survey to the council admitted it was not a rigorously designed survey. The union called registered voters in Golden Valley and forwarded the supporters of the light rail project to the voice-mail of council members.  The names of people with concerns about the project were not collected.

Unions have a big say in the way transit dollars are spent in Minnesota. And its clear that their interests are not for usable, sustainable transit solutions, but rather, their interests are in bigger wallets for their members.

The Minnesota Building & Trades Council does not want to wait for the community to design a light rail project that will work. They want to push through the proposed route at all costs–and it seems that they are succeeding in this at the cost of billions of taxpayer dollars, at the cost of sustainable future growth in Minneapolis, and at the cost of the parks that Minneapolis is so renowned for. We need to tell our representatives that union interests are not the same as our interests! 

Contact your MN Senators and Representatives. Don’t let union backed organizations like, Transit for a Stronger Economy, lobby for more money in the name of sustainable growth. Tell your elected officials that we want real, valuable, sustainable projects!

Park Board To Host Community Meetings for Proposed Bottineau Transitway at Theodore Wirth Park

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) and Hennepin County (HC) invite the community to attend a public meetings to explore possible connections between Theodore Wirth Regional Park and the proposed D1 Alignment of the Bottineau Transitway concept located on existing Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) Railroad property adjacent to Theodore Wirth Regional Park. These opportunities are part of a multi-day collaborative visioning process that will help the MPRB, HC and community best understand the issues and opportunities surrounding the introduction of the proposed Bottineau Transitway to the landscape adjacent to the park.

The community is invited to the following meetings at Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Headquarters Building, 2117 West River Road:

Wednesday, February 27, 6 to 8 p.m., Community Meeting (Board Room, 2nd Floor): This will be an opportunity for the design team and community to share and discuss key information about the park and proposed transitway.

Saturday, March 2, Noon to 2 p.m., Community Open House (Board Room, 2nd Floor): Community members are invited to attend an open house to review and provide input on concepts and ideas developed by designers based on input from the community and agencies involved in the proposed transitway.

Reservations are recommended, contact:

The multi-day collaborative visioning process is being developed and funded by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and Hennepin County. The information gathered will help the MPRB comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), currently in development, for the Bottineau Transitway and will provide HC and the MPRB with ideas for future design of the transitway. The public meetings will focus on Theodore Wirth Regional Park and the portion of the proposed D1 Alignment of the transitway that runs within the existing rail line adjacent to the park.

Let’s make our thoughts known!

Peavey Plaza has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places

Peavey PlazaWhile not a wilderness area in the traditional sense, Peavey Plaza is one of the most interesting open spaces in Minneapolis. If you have had the chance to visit Peavey Plaza as a child, or with children, you are aware of the delight and excitement that anyone gets when jumping from stone to stone next to the roar of falling water. There is a feeling of danger, of real fun.

But, like any fountain that is over 30 years old, it needs attention. But rather than preserve any of the original design, the entire thing may likely be demolished and replaced with a “minimalist” design, basically a flat space jazzed up with some fancy lights.

The Preservation Alliance of Minnesota may have succeeded in adding Peavey Plaza to the National Register of Historic Places, which will make it harder for the City of Minneapolis to proceed, but not impossible.

Minneapolis need to be vigilant or we will lose many of our heritage parks within the space of one decade.

“It’s not as beautiful and pristine as some might make it out to be,” says Opat.

Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat doesn’t think much of the Mary Hills Wilderness Area. Sara Payne disagrees. She shared some of the photos she has taken in her backyard over the years with MPR.


A Bus-Rapid-Transit corridor in St. Paul has been designed to only serve the suburbs

An article from the Twin Cities Daily Planet describes the controversy building over the Locally Preferred Alternative of the “Gateway Corridor.” It seems that Golden Valley and Minneapolis are not alone in seeing their resident’s needs overlooked in order to serve the need of residents in the suburbs. Now St. Paul can be added to this list of cities. From Twin Cities Daily Planet:

“Haven’t even heard of this project? … The Gateway Commission held poorly-publicized, highly-technical meetings, which drew two kinds of folks: on one side of the city limits were excited suburbanites looking to cash in on transit-oriented development and enjoy lower commute times; and on the other, nervous homeowners along the formerly proposed routes of White Bear Avenue and 7th Street.”

The result: A Locally Preferred Alternative that bypasses east St. Paul completely. 

The Metropolitan Council has significant powers in planning the future of the Twin Cities. They are not an elected body–and they seem to engage in deliberate tactics to keep the public uninformed in order to get projects developed.

Light Rail will ruin a quiet area

Below is an excerpt from an editorial in today’s Star Tribune. Though this editorial is about the Southwest Transitway, every resident in Golden Valley that has made their home along the Mary Hills Nature Area could express the same sentiment.

The segment of the Southwest Corridor between the lakes must be reconsidered.

The area between Lake Street and Penn Avenue begins as a quiet residential neighborhood on either side of the Kenilworth Channel between Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake. This gives way to parkland along the east side of Cedar Lake. In the middle of this urban oasis runs a critical segment of the Minneapolis system of bicycle trials, used by hundreds of commuters and recreational bikers every day for much of the year.

This area has coexisted for decades in relative harmony with the remnants of a once-busier freight-rail corridor. The current daily handful of slow diesel trains poses little real disturbance. If built as proposed, however, the segment of the light-rail route in this corridor would fundamentally and irrevocably alter the character of this beautiful urban green space.

The infrastructure for electrically powered light-rail transit would permanently deface the entire area. Running more than 250 trains through this corridor each day from dawn to midnight would significantly diminish its desirability as a place to live. Property values would fall; tax revenue would drop accordingly. Some studies do show increased property values in proximity to light-rail lines, but they are not relevant to this project. For good reasons, light rail is not typically put in the midst of highly developed residential and recreational areas.

The visual impact of the needed infrastructure, combined with the noise and even the danger of more than 250 fast trains per day, would also greatly erode the attractiveness of this part of the recreational and commuter bicycle trail system. Many who now commute by bicycle might well choose to drive instead (which would be an ironic consequence of a project designed in part to reduce traffic).

Read the rest of the article here.

* * *

Steven R. Goldsmith is a cardiologist at Hennepin County Medical Center and has lived in the Kenwood neighborhood of Minneapolis for more than 25 years.

“Light rail benefits are in the eye of the beholder,” says Hennepin County Managing Engineer Joe Gladke

The case for routing the Bottineau Transitway through Golden Valley and Theodore Wirth Park is even shakier than I thought. This became evident during the Community Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting last night in Crystal.

Reasons for making the D-1 alignment part of the Locally Preferred Route:

1. Its not D-2.
There was a passionate resistance against D-2 in Minneapolis. Residents of North Minneapolis were justifiably nervous about approving a $1 billion dollar transit project in their neighborhood. Would this project make housing more expensive or separate communities?

2. Its cheap.
Parks are easy to  build on.

When I asked why there were only two options available–the response was basically, “We are too far along in the process to make considerations for other alignment alternatives.”

How is this acceptable? Both of the stops in Golden Valley are classified as “optional” because there is not enough ridership or development potential for either stop, but in order to appease Golden Valley they will, out of courtesy, construct ONE of the options.

Below is a map with a hypothetical  “D-3” alignment, which goes down Highway 100 and then turns onto Olson Memorial Highway. This alignment can include all of the stops of D-1 except the two optional  stops through Golden Valley. Olson Memorial Highway is a four-lane highway with a wide grass boulevard. I am not an engineer, so I don’t know why this option was excluded. I asked Brent Rusco of Hennepin County at the CAC meeting, and his answer was to read a report on the Bottineau Transitway website. I was unable to find the report.

New Alignment on Highway 100Below is a street view photo of Olson Memorial Highway (Highway 55) from Google Maps:

Olson Memorial Highway

It is already a busy street.

There is plenty of room for retail development.

There can even be a light rail stop for Theodore Wirth Park, right at Wirth lake!

Why is this not an option?

What will happen to Golden Valley property values if light rail is built?

There has been a lot of speculation about the impact of light rail on property values. While it is true that many studies show that homes near light rail stations increase in value, there are many exceptions. Property values in certain neighborhoods, specifically middle class and affluent neighborhoods, did not always see the their property values increase with light rail. In fact, some neighborhoods saw their property values decrease. Below is an excerpt that describes the experience of an Atlanta neighborhood that resembles the situation in Golden Valley, from “Impacts Of Rail Transit On Property Values:”

In Atlanta, the impacts of rail transit were tested in an area of DeKalb County along the East Line of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. This study area was chosen because the neighborhood types served by the line to the north and south of the line are dramatically different enough to demonstrate if there are relative differences due to neighborhood types. The east line follows the right of way of freight railroad tracks stretching to the east from downtown Atlanta. As such, industrial uses lie on both sides of the rail transit line, generally adjacent to the right-of-way. These industrial uses, the railroads, and the MARTA East Line form a buffer between the neighborhoods to the north and south of the right-of-way. The areas to the north of the line comprised predominantly middle class neighborhoods with some prominent affluent sections. The areas to the south of the line are predominantly lower income, lower middle class neighborhoods. In 1980, the average value of housing on the north side of the tracks were more than twice the value on the south side of the tracks. At the same time, the mean family income on the north was close to twice that on the south side. The fact that these two dramatically different neighborhood types were served by the same transit line presented the opportunity to examine if the impacts of rail transit on property values depend upon the characteristics of the neighborhood.

Examination of the effects of proximity to rail transit for these two neighborhoods showed that proximity to rail showed a positive effect on property values on the south side, but a negative effect in the neighborhood on the northside. In the neighborhood on the south side, property values increased close to $1045 for every 100 feet a property was closer to the East Line. The opposite occurred on the north side. For every 100 feet a property was closer to the East Line, property values dropped by $965. This negative effect may be due to such factors as noise, perceptions of crime, and visual intrusion. The pattern of rising property values as one travels to the north of rail tracks may also have to do with the general pattern of rising incomes as one travels to the north. In addition, proximity to the industrial uses and the freight railroad right-of-way were may also be deterrents to high property values. In the case of the south side, the value of accessibility provided by the rail line more than compensated for these nuisance effects. On the north side, the value accessibility was not enough to compensate for the nuisance effects. (6)

The nuisance effects on the neighborhoods of Golden Valley effected by the Bottineau line clearly are greater than the benefits residents might gain by accessibility to transit. The property values of homes in Golden Valley near the Bottineau line will almost certainly decrease. Not only is Golden Valley considering adding light rail to a neighborhood that does not depend on public transit, they are negating the value of three parks (Sochacki Park, Mary Hills Wilderness Area, and Theodore Wirth Park).

What do parks do for property values?
Below is a study that demonstrates the many benefits of adding parkland to urban areas presented by the American Planning Association (visit their website for study resources):

Real property values are positively affected by parks.

More than 100 years ago, Frederick Law Olmsted conducted a study of how parks help property values. From 1856 to 1873 he tracked the value of property immediately adjacent to Central Park, in order to justify the $13 million spent on its creation. He found that over the 17-year period there was a $209 million increase in the value of the property impacted by the park.

As early as the 19th century the positive connection between parks and property values was being made. Olmsted’s analysis shows the real dollar amount impact of parks. His study was not a unique situation, however. Several studies conducted over the last 20 years reaffirm his findings, in cities across the country. Below are more examples of how proximity to a park setting is connected to property values.


Municipal revenues are increased.

Another component of the Central Park study was an assessment of increased tax revenue as a result of the park. The annual excess of increase in tax from the $209 million in property value was $4 million more than the increase in annual debt payments for the land and improvement. As a result of building Central Park, New York City made a profit.

Increased property values and increased municipal revenues go hand in hand. Property tax is one of the most important revenue streams for cities. By creating a positive climate for increased property values,the tax rolls will benefit in turn.As shown with Central Park, parks can both pay for themselves and generate extra revenue. In addition, tax revenues from increased retail activity and tourism-related expenditures further increase municipal monies.

Affluent retirees are attracted and retained.

Knowledge workers and talent are attracted to live and work.

“…cities are characterized by a sense of place, beauty in the natural environment, a mixed-use transportation system and a 24-hour lifestyle. These are the characteristics that will attract the creativity and brainpower that undergird the new economy.” Steven Roulac, futurist, The Roulac Group.

A significant change has occurred in the American economy. Industry today is composed of smokeless industries, high technology, and service-sector businesses, collectively referred to as the “New Economy.” The workers in the New Economy are selling their knowledge, as opposed to physical labor, as the main source of wealth creation and economic growth. These employees, referred to in studies as “knowledge workers” or “talent,” work in a “footloose” sector — companies are not tied to a certain location in order to achieve a competitive advantage.

What the companies are attached to is retaining their talent and attracting more talent. As a result, several studies have been conducted to determine what factors are important to talent when they are making employment decisions.

A survey of 1,200 high technology workers in 1998 by KPMG found that quality of life in a community increases the attractiveness of a job by 33 percent.

Knowledge workers prefer places with a diverse range of outdoor recreational activities, from walking trails to rock climbing. Portland, Seattle, Austin, Denver, and San Francisco are among the top cycling cities; they also are among the leaders in knowledge workers.

Workers attracted to an area are then positioned to put money back into the local economy through jobs, housing, and taxes, which then contribute to parks.

Homebuyers are attracted to purchase homes.

A 2001 survey by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) revealed that 57 percent of voters would choose a home close to parks and open space over one that was not.

In addition, the NAR survey found that 50 percent of voters would be willing to pay 10 percent more for a house located near a park or protected open space.

The National Association of Home Builders found that 65 percent of home shoppers surveyed felt that parks would seriously influence them to move to a community.

According to Economics Research Associates (ERA), a 1991 survey in Denver found that 48 percent of residents would pay more to live in a neighborhood near a park or greenway.

One of the most popular planned community models today is golf-course residential development. However, surveys have shown that the majority of people who live in golf course communities don’t play golf regularly — as many as two-thirds, according to ERA. They are attracted to the dedicated open space, the expansive views, and the guarantee that both elements will stay the same. By promoting, supporting, and revitalizing urban parks, cities can help attract a significant portion of the homebuying community.

Paula Pentel is a true advocate for Golden Valley

In a conversation with Paula Pentel, discusses the heated Bottineau Transitway

Podcast #15 – Talking Golden Valley Light Rail with Paula Pentel

What Kenwood residents are doing to oppose light rail

MinnPost and Star Tribune are either unwilling or unable to write an article that provides information about where in the approval process the Southwest Transitway is. Here is an excellent article from the Journal that has more information than I have currently been able to find from any other source:

A bumpy ride for Southwest light rail?


A Tangled Web

The process of approving and constructing light rail is very complicated and involves agencies at the local, county, state and federal level. Input from citizens is fairly limited.  Knowing at which level to be involved in is difficult, but having more information will be the first step towards affecting change and protecting Minneapolis parks.

From the Bottineau Transitway website FAQs page:

Is the process for the development of the Bottineau Transitway as complex as it has been presented by Hennepin County?

Transitway project development is complicated because several processes overlap: environmental review, alternatives analysis, and New Starts evaluation. These processes are largely independent of one another, but inter-related in important ways. Given the cost and significance of a potential Bottineau Transitway, it is important that the region analyzes the project through the environmental review, alternatives analysis, and New Starts processes.
Environmental review is being conducted by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority (HCRRA), and the Metropolitan Council in accordance with federal and state regulations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act (MEPA). A Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS) is being prepared for the Bottineau Transitway. The Draft EIS process requires a detailed assessment of a broad range of significant social, economic, and environmental impacts anticipated as a result of alterations to the natural and built environment, such as those proposed for the Bottineau Transitway. The Draft EIS process starts with Scoping and concludes with identification of a preferred alternative, which are discussed more below.

Alternatives analysis is being led by the HCRRA in accordance with regional transportation policies as well as Federal Transit Administration (FTA) guidance. The goal of this process is to assemble the information and public input needed to support the recommendation of a locally preferred alternative (LPA) for the Bottineau Transitway for adoption by the Metropolitan Council into the region’s long-range transportation plan, the Transportation Policy Plan (TPP).  Consensus among land use authorities and local decision-makers, as expressed through city council and regional railroad authority resolutions, is a crucial factor considered by Metropolitan Council in the adoption of an LPA into the TPP. Public input is an important factor considered by local decision-makers and the Metropolitan Council.

The New Starts Program is the federal capital funding program for major transit projects like the Bottineau Transitway.  The region is considering applying for funding through the FTA’s New Starts Program to build the Bottineau Transitway.  The New Starts Program has several evaluation criteria and the Bottineau Transitway needs to score well in all of them to be considered for New Starts Program funding. The Bottineau Transitway is competing with similar projects around the country for this limited federal funding.

Here is a list of organizations that are involved in approving the new light rail lines through Minneapolis.

Hennepin County Board (one commissioner is elected from each district)

Counties Transit Improvement Board (The Counties Transit Improvement Board formed in 2008 as a result of legislation passed by the Minnesota Legislature. There are five member counties – Anoka, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey and Washington –that have access to a budget from a quarter-cent sales tax and $20 a motor vehicle sales tax, permitted by the Legislature, to invest in and advance transit projects by awarding annual capital and operating grants. The Board works in collaboration with the Metropolitan Council and Carver and Scott counties.)

Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority (HCRRA) (The Hennepin County Board is the HCRRA, and meet as the authority.)

Metropolitan Council (There are 17 members representing a seven county area of Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott, and Washington counties, all appointed by the governor. The Met Council has an annual budget of $800 million dollars. They manage Metro Transit, wastewater treatment, and parks and trails, affordable housing, and other projects. They are funded by state and federal funds, property taxes and regional taxes, and also generate revenue from transit and wastewater treatment charges.)

The authority of the Metropolitan Council seems the most disturbing fact to have emerged in my investigations of the light rail transit projects. They are an un-elected board with absolutely no accountability to the public.

Transportation Advisory Board (TAB)

Minneapolis Parks & Recreation Board The role that Minneapolis Parks & Rec Board has is still unclear to me. I believe they have no authority over this decision at all. The Grand Rounds was designated a National Scenic Byway by the Federal Highway Administration, but they also have no authority regarding its use.

Federal Transit Administration (FTA) The Federal Transit Administration will ultimately approve funding for the project through the New Starts program.

Not all change is progress

Many people believe being on the side of  light rail is being on the side of progress. How can growing infrastructure be a bad thing? We need to keep Minneapolis competitive and business friendly. This thinking is what must have fueled what could be seen as the worst decision in Minneapolis history. A painful lesson that Minneapolis, of all cities, should know: Not all change is good. Very few people know the history of downtown Minneapolis, but those that do, know that those in power can make mistakes, big ones. From Wikipedia:

“During the 1950s and 1960s, as part of urban renewal, Minneapolis razed about two hundred buildings across twenty-five city blocks—roughly 40% of downtown, destroying the Gateway District and many buildings with notable architecture including the Metropolitan Building. Efforts to save the building failed but are credited with sparking interest in historic preservation in the state.”[28]

 (You have to get a better look at this one, click to enlarge)Panorama-Minneapolis-1915

Imagine if downtown Minneapolis had a historic district as well as a financial district, like New Orleans, Chicago, or other historic cities? 25 blocks with buildings like this one:


If Minneapolis had not razed 40% of downtown would we be ranked in the top 10 or 15 most populous cities rather than our current ranking of 48th?

Don’t mistake change for progress. It is important to recall the lessons of history. Things don’t always “work out” for the best; we need leadership to make wise decisions and educated citizens to stand up for common sense.

The destruction of Minneapolis parks in the name of transportation would be disastrous. How many more good people will choose to live elsewhere once everything great about our city is only a faded photograph?

Upcoming Meetings

Be represented!

Community Advisory Committee (CAC)
Thursday, December 6, 2012
7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Crystal City Hall Community Room

Metropolitan Council-Tentative Meeting
Southwest LRT Community Advisory Committee
Thursday, December 13, 2012
6:00 p.m., Room TBD
The Metropolitan Council
390 Robert Street N., St. Paul, MN 55101

Bottineau Boulevard Partnership/ Policy Advisory Committee (PAC)
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Brooklyn Park City Hall

Learn more about the Bottineau project and how it will affect Theodore Wirth Park and the Grand Rounds.

Maps of the Bottineau Transitway Line

Below is a map from the Bottineau Transitway project website. There were several routes considering during an early phase of planning, but the “Locally Preferred Alternative” was the route preferred by the agencies involved. It makes a path from downtown Minneapolis through Theodore With Park on its way to Brooklyn Park. The reason this route was chosen is because going through the parks costs less in construction, making the project more likely to receive funding from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) as a part of their “New Start’s” program.

I believe that Hennepin County and the Metropolitan Council may mean well by trying to secure federal funding for important infrastructure projects like light rail, but the calculation used by the FTA does not properly account for the loss of park land in its equation. This is an oversight that may cost us our parks!

(Click to enlarge photos)

Bottineau Line-Locally Preferred Alternative

Below is a detailed map from the Bottineau Rail line project website that highlights the route through Theodore Wirth Park. This “alignment” is part of D1. See the expanded view on the Bottineau Transitway website.

Theodore Wirth Park segment of the Bottineau Transitway line

Below is a satellite photo of Theodore Wirth Park. It is almost the size of New York City’s Central Park. It is full of pristine trails for biking, running, hiking, and cross-country skiing. It is hard to believe you are in the middle of Minneapolis, until you catch a glimpse of the skyline from some high vantage point. Light rail would require trees to be cleared, fences, flood lights throughout the night, not to mention a possible park-and-ride within the park.

Theodore Wirth ParkThank you to Brian Zinnel for the following lovely photos of Theodore With Park. It’s hard to imagine this beautiful landscape maintaining its tranquil beauty with trains running every 7-15 minutes.

Theodore With Park photo

Theodore With Park walking trail

Theodore With Park pond

Maps of the Southwest Transitway Line

Below is a map of the Southwest Line. It has been approved for construction, and is currently in the Preliminary Engineering phase. The route will currently go along the trails on the parkland between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles. The first image is taken from the Southwest Line project website, and the other images have been taken from Google maps.

(Click to enlarge images)


Below are satellite photos from Google Maps, with the path of the light rail line highlighted in blue.

Cedar Lake Trail


Several stops are proposed along the Cedar Lake Trails.

Proposed stops on the SW lineFrom the Frequently Asked Questions on the Bottineau Transitway website:

If LRT is built what will happen to the trails?

Hennepin County and its partners are committed to ensuring that a connected system of trails is retained throughout the southwest metro area.  Currently, there are four trails that may be affected by a Southwest LRT line. They are the Southwest LRT trail, the Kenilworth trail, the Cedar Lake Park trail, and the Midtown Greenway. These trails are all located on property owned by the HCRRA. The existing walking and biking trails will be maintained; there is plenty of space for light rail and the existing trails. Currently, rails and trails safely coexist in more than 60 areas of the United States.

Let’s protect what we love about Minneapolis.

cedarlake1Two light rail lines are dangerously close to being fully approved and constructed in Minneapolis. The “preferred route” of the Southwest Corridor will go from Eden Prairie to downtown Minneapolis along the Cedar Lake Trails, while the Northwest Bottineau Boulevard Transitway,  connecting Brooklyn Park to downtown Minneapolis, has a “preferred route” that takes it through Theodore Wirth Park. The reason these lines are being constructed through parks is to save money (by not having to build around existing structures) and to limit opposition (by limiting the people disrupted by construction). This is not a solution!

Please use this site to learn and more about these projects, and to connect with the community to oppose these plans.

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