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FREE SPEECH ZONE | Challenges of Gateway Corridor for Dayton's Bluff neighborhood
2012 saw the continuation of transit plans that could impact Dayton’s Bluff in ways that recall the 1964 construction of Interstate 94, as the Gateway Corridor Commission chose its route for an arterial transitway that would link downtown St. Paul and the East Metro.
How did neighbors miss this? A bit of history…
In early 2011, the Gateway Commission began hosting a listserv, a Facebook page, and meetings meant to engage various stakeholders in route and mode planning. Dayton’s Bluff saw 12 of the 59 meetings in the district, two of which were public. The other ten included entities like community councils, business associations, and Engage East Side – an association of East Side nonprofits, hosted by the East Side Prosperity Campaign.
By the Bluff’s first public meeting in July 2011 at Metro State University, a proposed East 3rd Street route had been eliminated. By the second March 2012 meeting at Harding High School, the routes had been ranked with regard to engineering preference and federal-funding criteria.
In an effort to get more of the public informed, Engage East Side used a federal Corridors of Opportunity grant to survey almost 600 East Siders on their use of transit in Spring 2012. About half of the respondents were frequent users of transit. These groups are key to fulfilling new federal funding guidelines for transit projects, which prioritize service to low-income and transit-dependent riders. Their report - which documented an overwhelming desire for more and better transit on the East Side - was presented to various nonprofit and civic groups and filed with the Gateway Commission.
In addition, E.E.S. sent postcards to residents living along the proposed routes of White Bear Avenue, East 7th Street, and Hudson Road to attend the aforementioned Harding High School open house.
The Harding Open House
As a result of the postcard blitz and local newsprint coverage, the Harding High meeting turned out around 100 people. While transit planners explicated PowerPoint charts, postcard recipients sought to protect their homes. At the top of the planners’ rankings were Hudson Road BRT, with two stops in Dayton’s Bluff; and a MNPASS/BRT lane along Interstate 94, with no stops in Dayton’s Bluff. Ranking in the lower half were BRT and LRT routes along White Bear Avenue and East 7th Street, as well as LRT for Hudson Road.
Federal guidelines favoring low-income and transit-dependent ridership were stressed at this meeting, and it became clear that Gateway might not win funding if its route failed to serve East Side residents. Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough and a member of the Chamber of Commerce spoke in favor of the White Bear/East 7th route’s economic development potential, another criterion for federal funding.
Urban Inertia and Suburban Innovation
After that March 2012 meeting, the political winds moved further away from the White Bear/East 7th route. More and more residents spoke out against it, driven by a sense of crisis to preserve East Side thoroughfares. Voices in favor of transit-oriented development faded as district councils and politicians waited out the initial route decision. With significant analysis and debate missing from its newsrooms, institutions, and neighborhoods, the East Side’s “Locally Preferred Alternative” defaulted to Hudson Road.
On the other side of the city limits, suburbanites rallied around the most direct routes to downtown and got Gateway planners to shift the dedicated lane east of Oakdale from the I-94 median to the south frontage area from Radio Drive to Manning Avenue, positioning themselves for economic development.
In November 2012, an East Side Prosperity Campaign forum invited analysis and debate about the Hudson route’s potential loss of economic development and service to transit-dependent riders. As the December 3 public-comment deadline loomed, County Commissioner Jim McDonough made a last push to invite public debate, managing to get the deadline set back 30 days. On December 18, Dayton’s Bluff neighbors held the Gateway Neighbors’ Forum, a panel discussion to inform and rouse neighbors to speak up for their interests. 45 attended the meeting and submitted their comments to Gateway’s records.
Where are we now?
On January 3, 2013, the public comment period for route and mode selection ended. Despite many Bluff neighbors’ comments advocating for more time or inclusion of more routes, the Gateway Commission will move into the next phase of engineering with only the Hudson Road route, using a dedicated bus-rapid or light rail transitway, with East Side stations at Sun Ray, Earl Street, and Mounds Boulevard. Ground breaks as early as 2018.
A recent report of the Governor’s Transportation Finance Advisory Committee presented significant research stressing the power of transit corridors like the Gateway to lifting people out of poverty by providing access to jobs; keeping young, eco-conscious professionals from relocating to more transit-savvy cities; and spurring economic development: “Businesses considering relocation place proximity to transit at the top of their site selection criteria and want assurance that the transitways that have been outlined will become reality.”
Meanwhile, the 3M campus stands mostly vacant as East 7th Street awaits the city’s year-long streetcar study begun in Spring 2012. While the Met Council considers BRT options for East 7th Street, its plans are far-flung and unfunded. It’s hard to say when the next big transit improvement will surface for the East Side, along with its ability to attract and retain job-seekers, young professionals, and big developers. Until then, a core group of Dayton’s Bluff residents are organizing to help shape parking, re-zoning, and quality-of-life challenges the Gateway will bring.
Join the conversation and the action by joining the Gateway Neighbors online forum. Email: gatewayneighbors-owner [at] yahoogroups [dot] com
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