With construction scheduled to begin in just 18 months, the North End community is looking ahead to the impact light rail transit (LRT) on University Avenue will have on the neighborhood. I attended the November 13 Town Hall Meeting, sponsored by the District 6 Planning Council and the Ward 5 City Council office. Many North End residents use public transportation and the meeting was called to discuss the importance of planning for future potential and opportunities for growth for the community as transit changes play out.
Attendees told of the problems they encounter now, ranging from unaffordable bus fares to no service in their area to having to transfer many times to arrive at their destination.
Lynn Belgea, lifelong resident of the North End, and a board member of the district council board does not use public transit and she explained why. She looked into taking the bus to her workplace near the State Capitol – the 10 minute car ride would take 53 minutes including a transfer on the Metro Transit bus. She used Metro Transit’s Trip Planner to look at some possible entertainment destinations. She found there is no bus service that would get her to the Ordway on a Sunday, and if she wanted to attend a Minnesota Wild game at the Xcel on a Tuesday night the bus would get her there but there was no bus that would get her back home. She said,“ If you can’t hold those who are transit-dependent now, how are you going to win over people who don’t use transit? ”
Others, including me, brought up the need to get around the neighborhood from their homes to the library or to a doctor or dentist appointment. When Metro Transit changed to the present grid system several years ago, bus routes changed and people now have to transfer where they used to have a direct route to Rice Street. One woman said that people who live in public housing do not have easy access to other parts of the neighborhood.
Plans call for a light rail station to be located at Rice and University. Ramsey County Commissioner Janice Rettman said she sees that station and Central Corridor LRT as “an opportunity for Rice Street to be a destination place.”
John Levin, from Metro Transit, said that when they designed the new transit network in 2001, some new routes were created, including the very successful route 3 which runs from downtown Minneapolis to both campuses of the University of Minnesota to downtown Saint Paul, and route 61 which links Minneapolis to Larpenteur Avenue to Maplewood. Both of those routes run through parts of the North End.
Anne White is from the District Councils Collaborative, which is made up of the ten district planning councils around the Central Corridor route in Saint Paul, and five areas in Minneapolis. White asked, “How much creative thinking is being done about providing transit for lower density neighborhoods? … Somewhere we need to find the political will to subsidize our transit system to a greater degree.” She said that New York City lowered the bus fare because they saw the need to do so in order to increase ridership.
If Saint Paul expects to receive funding at a level comparable to Minneapolis and its suburbs, Levin said that Downtown Saint Paul needs to grow and increase the number of employees and decrease the availability of cheap parking.
State Representative John Lesch (Senate District 66A) indicated that it is, indeed, all about the funding, and that as it stands now, Saint Paul is a “spoke, not a hub in all of the proposed funding by the state.”
Mary Thoemke, a lifelong resident of Saint Paul, is a free lance writer for the Twin Cities Daily Planet.