Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Light Rail & Economic Development

Light Rail Myth #2.5 - Light Rail is good for economic development

This is a follow-up to Community Ride and yesterday's post Light Rail Myth #2 - "It's business friendly."

Question 2.5  Is the purpose of a new light rail line:
          A. to provide public transportation
          B. to engineer neighborhood change
          C. both A. and B.
          D. none

Minneapolis-St. Paul answers
The Central Corridor rail line will run on University Avenue where the MTC 16 bus has been for decades. A new rail line does not provide a transportation connection that hadn't already been there. It's a vehicle change. Hiawatha Avenue also had bus service, the 55 bus, and the 7 bus still runs nearby. St. Paul's east side also has several bus lines. The purpose of light rail can't be A or C. (It could be; it just isn't.)

Engineering neighborhood change means working with the neighborhood, not as -- "Okay, we can check off engaging neighborhood stakeholders. If they were any more engaged we'd have a ring." It would mean taking into account the entire neighborhood or neighborhoods. It would mean working with the neighborhood throughout the planning, construction, implementation, and maintenance. It would make the neighborhood the project owners.

That would be economic development -- sitting down with businesses, one at a time, and figuring out what would take their business to the next level of success. If they aren't owners, they're partners.

But that's not what has happened in Minneapolis or Denver; the neighborhoods seem more targeted than project partners or project owners. (Check out this photographic comparison of economic development in Portland. Portland tax subsidies have been credited for that economic development. Phoenix has found light rail does not create economic development; at most, it relocates development.) It's not engineering neighborhood change, and it isn't economic development. It isn't answer B.

But it might be the worst of urban renewal, the Niagara Falls of urban renewal. (Or Swede Hollow or Connemara Patch, in St. Paul in the 1950s.) Tear down the old and put up condominiums.

Why not put railroads with railroads?
If light rail were just about transportation, the Hiawatha Line would be running on the east side of Highway 55, with the other railroad tracks. The Central Corridor would run on the Burlington Northern tracks by Energy Park Drive with the other railroad tracks. The Gateway Corridor wouldn't have thrown out the one alternative that would've kept it off residential streets -- the commuter option that would've run by Phalen Boulevard along the Union Pacific railroad.

Eminent Domain
The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution assumes the right to seize private property for public use. Most often public use is for highways, railroads, or utilities. But in Minnesota, "the trend has been to use eminent domain for economic development purposes or as a tool for redeveloping blighted areas," according to the Minnesota Legislature.

The East Side of St. Paul is not a blighted neighborhood. It's a good neighborhood. (See previous posts.)

The Rondo Neighborhood was not a blighted neighborhood until the Central Corridor construction began.

What is the purpose of light rail?


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