When the recession hit, Raymond Dehn lost his job as a full-time architect. He began freelancing and doing some consulting, but also found he had more time to work on issues on the Northside, where he’s lived for 12 years. A couple years back he attended a town hall meeting about transportation and the Bottineau Line—the proposed light rail line that would connect many western suburbs to downtown Minneapolis, as well as skirt around, or go through, North Minneapolis.
Dehn was hooked. “As an architect I have an understanding of how important transportation can be to a community,” Dehn said. “It seemed clear to me that if light rail was good enough for South Minneapolis it’s good enough for North Minneapolis.”
Dehn and others started the Northside Transportation Network, a loose coalition of organizations and residents on the Northside. The group, a community-led effort to research the possible impact of the line in North Minneapolis, also tries to ensure that communities on the Northside have feedback and influence during the planning process. Here’s what Dehn had to say about the Bottineau line and transportation on the Northside.
What are the most pressing transportation concerns on the Northside?
Well there’s the light rail, but also over the past several years the Met Council has been cutting public transportation, which of course really mostly affects bus service. Many people feel that the Northside has been disproportionately affected by those cuts. The service here has been cut, the time of buses and the reconfiguration of buses.
Some say they have to cut bus lines on the Northside because there’s low ridership.
One of the most important issues to the Met Council is ridership. But here’s the thing with ridership: You start to change the frequency of stops and number of buses, and then less people start riding. And because less people are riding you can point to low ridership. And then you have a great cycle that’s pretty hard to get out of.
What’s going on with the Bottineau line right now?
The Bottineau Transitway is part of the regional light trail transit system, and it’d be the fourth in the region by 2030. The line could start in Brooklyn Park close to the Target corporate campus, or in Maple Grove, close to the Arbor Lakes Shopping district. Both would end downtown. The exact alignments are on our website.
There are many issues around the alignment [for non transit wonks, the possible route]: One of the possibilities is to have the alignment going through wetlands. So there are negative impacts there. Another possible route would go through the Northside, and another would skirt around the Northside down Highway 55. So if that’s the case, the question is how are the people along the route going to get serviced? What’s the impact on those communities? The county has hired a consultant to figure out the impact of the lines, and part of the process is engagement of community members.
What should policy makers know when planning for the Bottineau Line?
That people matter. People all along the alignment and not just end of the line…that is, in the suburbs. The light rail system is funny: the intent of the light rails is to move people regionally into the core, but it will be going through local communities and the people in those communities matter.
Have you learned any lessons from the Hiawatha Corridor, and Central Corridor?
One thing that’s good is that we got involved fairly early in the process and that the community is engaged. In some ways that’s helping to shape the alignment. We learned that the community can have some impact and can have some power just by getting engaged and especially by doing so early on. We also know that the feds changed the criteria midway through, the community can be critical to that process of evaluation. We’ve learned how to engage how to outreach to disengaged communities.
Why is having a light rail in North Minneapolis that important?
The light rail has the opportunity to benefit the Northside through economic development. I’ve lived on the Northside for almost 12 years, and the community continuously is struggling due to disinvestment, a low median income of people who live here, and the commercial corridors that have struggled for a long time.
I mean, the LRT could mean something bad too. We don’t want to displace people in the community to bring new people in. So we have to be intentional about it.
Or, the LRT could begin to increase the general wealth. There’s generally more density around stops and it would increase the amount of businesses. I see the opportunity for public investment project that will leverage a lot of private investment …if done right…and would provide an opportunity for the community to be more economically stable.
There have been many elected officials who say we’re going to do to the Northside what we did to Lake Street, and they may have tried to a certain extent, but the Northside also needs a huge amount of dollars in investment from the private sector, and that hasn’t happened yet. If we had that we could create a virtuous cycle, instead of a vicious cycle.