Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Aging of Light Rail

Newness fades. The future of light rail is easy to predict.

It's a list of "nobody told me it would be like this."

The accidents: "How could I know deaf people can't here the bell?!?"
The lack of maintenance: "Sweeeeeak," says the train as it rounds the bend.
The crime rate near certain stations effecting the real estate appeal of all stations: "'Close to train,' that's real estate code for troubled neighborhood."

Look at Chicago or New York L trains. Look at the apartment buildings near the trains. A great many still date to the time when the trains were first built, when they were new. When the tracks were new and the trains were new, over one hundred years ago, the L trains were relatively quiet. The tracks got rusty. The trains got rusty. The axles and wheels got rusty. Parts became obsolete. This year, Chicago will be starting a seven month rehab of half of the loop. Now... 115 years later.

Over time, apartment buildings parked right next to L stations lost their charm, their newness. People found better places to live.

The first Minnesota light rail transit (LRT) line was put in between the Mall of America, the airport, and downtown Minneapolis. That's the Hiawatha Line, soon to be known as the Blue line, and the foundation of the Twin Cities Metro system of buses (and light rail). The Hiawatha Line travels from prime destinations to prime destinations, and has exceeded ridership expectations.

Light rail planners use that route as the standard for other light rail lines in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, instead of the exception.

Construction of a light rail route between downtown Minneapolis and downtown Saint Paul is currently in full swing. That route, the Central Corridor is compared to the Hiawatha Line, even though it goes to Saint Paul.

No offense to Saint Paul, but nobody goes to Saint Paul. There is hardly any crime, because the sidewalks are rolled up at dusk. The last one out shuts off the lights. It is not a destination like the airport or the Mall of America. The Central Corridor route is not like the Hiawatha Line, except by trying to repeat what was done before.

The Central Corridor is a repeat. It wants to repeat the Hiawatha Line. And it wants to repeat the slicing of the Rondo Neighborhood by Interstate 94 in the mid-1960s. Rondo had just been reemerging, forty years later.

And it will come back, in another forty years.

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