It’s been another depressing day as I think about the Twin Cities’ overall attitude towards the role of public transportation in life. Specifically, I’ve been reading Gail Dorfman’s letter to those who support the 3C LRT alignment. While I support 3C, I can understand that there are valid reasons to support 3A, mostly that it may come down to a choice between 3A or nothing due to the current flawed federal funding formula. While that’s frustrating, it’s not nearly as frustrating or depressing as the arguments of people like Dorfman. A quote from the letter:
“Many people are curious as to why ridership in Uptown isn’t significantly higher than on the Kenilworth alignment. The answer lies in the excellent transit service that Uptown already enjoys. Adding LRT to Uptown does not draw a large number of new riders to the transit system, and while it may move some riders off of buses, that reduces the overall efficiency of the transit system.”
How does this make any sense? Let me take it point by point:
Uptown already enjoys excellent transit services. True, to a point. Uptown does have good bus connections, and it is relatively easy to live in Uptown without a car. At the same time, these bus routes are often slow. ConnectUptown has crunched the numbers: 22 minutes from the Uptown Transit Center to downtown (4th Street), 24 minutes from Lyn-Lake. The Uptown alignment would reduce that to nine minutes and eight minutes respectively. That sounds like a pretty major improvement in service to me. Besides, if we were going to go purely by this argument we could say that riders in Eden Prairie already have express bus service to downtown Minneapolis; why bother putting in light rail since it duplicates service?
“Adding LRT to Uptown does not draw a large number of new riders to the transit system.” Where does this idea come from? Is it based on bogus federal reports? Common sense suggests that this simply isn’t true. Despite the fact that Uptown does have plentiful bus options, the vast majority of Uptown residents do not, in fact, take public transportation on a regular basis, or at least not to work. Many do, of course, but census data has shown that as an overall percentage of the population there’s still a lot of room for growth. Not all residents work downtown, in Eden Prairie, or at points along the route, of course, but there’s still likely a sizable portion of untapped new riders that aren’t being factored into the equation. These are the same types of people that are expected to be attracted to light rail out in the suburbs: people who currently drive, don’t like buses, but could be convinced to take a train. If they count out in the ‘burbs then they should count here in the city.
Moving riders off buses reduces the overall efficiency of the transit system. I don’t really know where to start with this one. What? What does that mean? Isn’t the point of an efficient transportation system to get people quickly and easily from point A to point B? If a lot of people along the 3C route want to quickly and easily get downtown (or to Eden Prairie, or to Hopkins, or to St. Louis Park, or anywhere else along the way) then isn’t this route helping them to do just that? Or does this imply that there will be so much demand from existing transit users (who apparently don’t matter) that they’ll crowd the trains and make the LRT ridership numbers a little too high?
I’ve seen others (including Dorfman) argue that Uptown residents won’t walk a few extra blocks to get to the LRT station if they can just hop on a bus instead. Again, I’d like to know where they get this information. Bogus federal guidelines shouldn't count. Are there local market studies out there that suggest this? This in no way matches up to my experiences living in other cities, cities with active light rail and subway lines. In DC we lived on Connecticut Avenue a couple of miles from downtown. A bus stopped right in front of our door; while I did take the bus sometimes, I almost always preferred to walk the extra four blocks or so to the metro station. The bus was convenient, but, like in Minneapolis, it sat in traffic. Snow, traffic, motorcades; the same issues that plague Uptown (well, not the motorcades) led to frustratingly slow bus rides. Far better to just walk to the station, hop on a train, and zip along underground until I got to my stop. It worked the same way in Los Angeles. I rode the bus a lot, but the train (light rail in this case) was faster, didn’t get stuck in traffic, and was often worth the extra walk (and I wasn't the only one who felt that way). I certainly plan to ride LRT in Uptown if 3C does somehow get built, even if it means a few more blocks of walking. From the perspective of a parent, too, it’s far, far easier to bring a stroller onto a light rail car then onto a bus. Uptown parents (or parents elsewhere who want to easily visit Uptown with your kids): take it from me, 3C will make your lives easier.
Light rail does not have to be for commuters only. This focus on city versus suburbs overlooks the fact that there is a great deal of movement between city and suburbs, and that Uptown is a part of a regional network. This is not just about getting Uptown residents to and from downtown quickly, although that’s worth consideration, too, given the density of the neighborhoods in the 3C corridor.
I can understand why some people support 3A, although I don’t agree with that choice. That’s not what angers me here. What is so depressing is to have politicians like Dorfman throwing out all sorts of arguments that make little or no sense, and perpetuate the myth a viewpoint that light rail lines are only for commuting. When I read some of the rationale thrown out by Dorfman I’ve got to wonder: does she ride the bus? How often does she ride the bus in Uptown? Does she take public transit in other cities? Because quite honestly, the impression I’m getting from a lot of these people is that they could use a little more time in the real public transit world. If they’re going to continue to advocate for 3A then please, please stick to the rational arguments, and stop arguing that the low Uptown ridership numbers reflect any kind of reality.