“Access to transit is really a social justice issue, a lot of folks seem to miss that,” said St. Paul City Councilmember Melvin Carter III, speaking about the recent success in getting one more station added to the Central Corridor LRT line.
In August Carter wrote a letter to Metropolitan Council Chair Peter Bell expressing concern at the way the LRT plans were going in his ward. Carter was frustrated that residents and business people located closest to the planned route would reap the least benefit and pay the highest cost for the new transit system.
Of special concern was the fact that LRT stations were planned for the rail line’s intersections with Rice Street, Dale Street, Lexington Parkway, and Snelling Avenue. This would leave large gaps in the blocks along either side of Western Avenue, and some of the most transit-dependent residents would face long walks to the stations.
Deep roots in the neighborhood
Melvin Carter III ‘s roots run deep in the Ward 1 neighborhoods he represents on the Saint Paul City Council. His great-grandparents, Mym and Billie Carter, moved from Texas and settled in the old Rondo neighborhood of Saint Paul early in the twentieth century.
Mym Carter Sr. could play every type of musical instrument and he taught the neighborhood kids to play. He formed the group , the Mym Carter Musical Strings, and he and the kids would hop on the back of a horse drawn wagon and travel through the streets of Rondo playing as they went.
Billie Carter was active in politics in Saint Paul and when she passed away. Former mayor, George Latimer, spoke at her funeral.
Melvin Carter III’s father, Melvin Carter Junior, grew up in the family home on Rondo Avenue, on the street and in the neighborhood that was taken for construction of Interstate 94 . Melvin III recalls driving along the freeway and reaching the point where his father would tell him, “That’s where my bedroom used to be.”
Carter’s letter to Bell resulted in a small victory for the community. With Mayor Chris Coleman and Ward 4 City Councilmember Russ Stark, Carter came up with a plan that will allow the first of three additional stations to be built between Rice Street and Snelling. The additional station will be built at either Western Avenue, Hamline Avenue, or Victoria Street and will be financed by the city. The site of the additional station will be determined by a community input process. Carter said, “The challenge is in the context of the long term strategy to build three stations. “
Mayor Coleman wrote in his newsletter, “In return, the Metropolitan Council will acquire the diagonal right-of-way through the downtown block bounded by 4th and 5th, Cedar and Minnesota.”
In addition, the Met Council will commit $1.5 million to improve the façade of the LRT’s Operation and Maintenance Facility in Lowertown.
While Mayor Coleman called the move a “major step forward,” Councilmember Carter, looking to the great deal of work ahead said, “It’s a baby step. We needed something to celebrate as being a step closer to where we need to end up.”
Continuing the push for more stations
While Carter remains a strong supporter of LRT, he is also mindful of past history and vigilant that neighborhoods along the route will be well-served. Planning is in the final stages for the Central Corridor Light Rail Line that will link downtown Saint Paul to downtown Minneapolis. Most of the 11-mile route will cut through the heart of the neighborhoods along University Avenue.
Carter speaks of transit equity that will not only allow access to jobs, education and opportunities outside of their neighborhood, but will bring those resources into the neighborhood, in addition to access to goods and services within their own extended communities. He says he is committed to engaging the community to become involved in the issues and concerns that affect their lives and livelihood.
11 Critical Parking Areas
The parking Critical Areas, as defined by Mitigating the Loss of Parking the Central Corridor, a staff report written jointly by the City of Saint Paul and the Metropolitan Council, are as follows:
1. Galtier to Western, North Side
These are all along the University Avenue frontage, except where noted. Numbers 1-5 are within Councilmember Carter’s ward.
Information provided by Saint Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development(PED)
Now that financing is in place for the first additional station, work is in progress to identify financing for the other two additional stations. Carter said that the Central corridor LRT Project carries with it a $125 million contingency as required by federal financing rules. At various points during construction of the line a portion of the contingency money can be released. Carter said that this would be one possible source, in addition to “looking into all other options.”
Once the LRT is built, bus service along University Avenue will decrease. The number 50 Express bus now runs between the two downtowns with limited stops. That bus route will be eliminated once light rail is up and running. The popular 16 University Avenue bus will run less often. This is troubling to people who regularly travel these routes, because the light rail will not necessarily serve their needs.
And what about the parking for current (and future) businesses? Carter said, “We’ve been saying… the Met Council, project partners… have been saying that the line wouldn’t affect parking all that much. A month and a half ago we learned it would take the vast majority of parking.”
A staff report written jointly by the City and the Met Council, Mitigating the Loss of Parking the Central Corridor defines 11 critical parking areas.
Carter contends, “There is enough parking, but in all the wrong places. Some blocks have a surplus of parking while others have an extreme shortage.” Along with Stark, Carter sponsored the Neighborhood Commercial Parking program and guidelines, which were passed by the City Council in August. That program will assist the businesses in the neighborhoods along the Central Corridor by offering low interest, forgivable loans. Carter said the hope is that “People will start thinking about shared parking.”
Neighborhood Commercial Parking Program.
Councilmembers Russ Stark and Melvin Carter, along with Mayor Chris Coleman, each dedicated $100,000 of year-round Sales Tax Revitalization, or STAR, money to help fund this pilot and improve off-street commercial parking resources along University Avenue. An additional $200,000 has been allocated from the Scattered Site Tax Increment Financing Funding for use by the commercial program to bring the fund to a total of $500,000.
Information provided by Saint Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development
Carter told of one pastor of a church who called him and expressed the concern that “Folks will park in our lot and fill it up.” Carter suggested the church might want to issue permits, and charge for the parking to raise money for the church.
Access to transit: a social justice issue
Carter said , “The agreement reached by the city and the Met Council sets in motion to address all the transit inequity terms we’ve shared all along.
He credits Mayor Coleman, Ramsey County Commissioners Jim McDonough and Toni Carter (his mother) and Councilmember Stark and the Met Council for working together to come up with the agreement to build the station.
Mary Thoemke (email email@example.com), a lifelong resident of Saint Paul, is a free lance writer for the Twin Cities Daily Planet.
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