Northsiders divided on light rail impacts
Metro Transit may once again try to build light rail across the North Side of Minneapolis, but some businesses — and transit riders — aren’t necessarily on board.
The Blue Line Light Rail Extension Project, formerly known as the Bottineau Light Rail Project, is proposed to extend the current Blue Line, which now connects Target Field station to the Mall of America, 12 miles north to to Brooklyn Park, with stops in Crystal, Robbinsdale. and Minneapolis along the way.
The county has long considered the plan to connect some of its most diverse communities with job opportunities.
This isn’t the first time county and regional planners have attempted to run light rail through the North Side. Ten years ago, they had already considered bringing it down either on Penn Ave. and West Broadway, either on Olson and along a rail corridor from Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF).
They opted for the latter because building on Penn Ave. would mean demolishing houses. But planners decided to bring it back to North Minneapolis because not only were they unable to come to an agreement with the railroad, but the new route would also serve many more people.
It also builds on efforts led by former Met Councilman Gary Cunningham and former City Councilman Don Samuels to build a streetcar on West Broadway. Samuels is now running for Congress against Rep. Ilhan Omar.
“[Light rail] serves as the backbone of our transit system,” project spokesperson Trevor Roy said in an email. “The METRO Blue Line Extension is a one-of-a-kind investment that will connect people to education, healthcare, jobs, entertainment and opportunity.”
After the Met Council backed out of a deal with BNSF, which was not interested in negotiating, the county and the Met Council assessed several alternative routes through the North Side last year. In addition to West Broadway and Lyndale, they considered running it down Lowry Avenue to Washington Ave. or I-94.
Some business owners wonder who the project is for. Past studies by the National Association of Realtors, the American Public Transit Association, and the University of Minnesota found that rents and property values increased after the light rail was built.
That’s happened with properties along the Olson Memorial Highway, says KB Brown, owner of Wolfpack Promotionals on West Broadway. “And those who were renting there, the rents went up so much that they couldn’t pay. So they left.
Some landowners and businesses may also have some of their land taken away. According to maps produced by the county and the Met Council and obtained by the Minnesota Spokesperson-Recorder, at a minimum, light rail construction may require partial eminent domain from the Cub Foods parking lot to Lyndale and West Broadway.
Additionally, two of the three alternate routes involve construction of a new street or light rail line through the Minneapolis Public Schools Headquarters parking lot, as well as through homes on 21st Avenue between Girard and Irving.
Transit riders and longtime Northsiders like Lorraine Smith worry about gentrification. “Who is [the light rail] for? Is it for the community that already exists or are you preparing it for the community you want it for? Smith asked as she drove the 14 house from downtown.
Nicole Jackson, another Northsider, agrees. “They’re going to take people’s homes away, and I don’t want that,” Jackson said as she waited for the 724 at the Starlite Transit Center, where the Blue Line will pass.
If the project is built, during and after construction, people may have to walk up to a quarter of a mile just to cross the street, like in college after the green line was built. The county can also eliminate parking and left turns and reduce traffic lanes to one in each direction.
“I’m not at all interested in the project taking place on West Broadway,” said Lisa Spicer, owner of Dimensions in Hair on West Broadway. “You know, there is already a shortage of parking spaces. This will narrow the lanes. It’s a main thoroughfare from the suburbs to downtown, and it’s just going to be hectic.
She and other business owners worry about their fate, given the number of black-owned businesses in the University that closed because they couldn’t survive the construction of the Green. Line.
“Some people in the community refer to the light rail as the Northside 94 Rondo,” Brown said. “This is literally the last stand for the black community.”
The enemies of the extension may have an ally in the legislature. Rep. John Petersburg, (R-Waseca), introduced a failed amendment to kill the extension, citing ongoing issues with construction of the Southwest Streetcar Line, Green Line extension from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie via St. Louis Park, Hopkins and Minnetonka.
The Southwest project, which will now cost $2.75 billion, has been partly blamed for causing structural cracks in condominiums converted from grain elevators adjacent to the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes and may not open until 2027.
But Brown says he does not yet support or oppose the project. What he and some companies, such as Spicer’s Dimensions in Hair, want to see is some form of mitigation, like compensation. Brown also wants access to vacant West Broadway buildings owned by the city and county.
“Priorize small black developers who develop these [buildings] so we can have places for these business owners to go,” Brown said. “I would suggest they begin the process immediately.”
Kyle Mianulli, spokesperson for the Hennepin County Department of Economic Development, knows the importance of having anti-displacement measures in place. So they contracted with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs to facilitate an “anti-displacement task force,” which Brown is part of to develop displacement mitigation recommendations.
The Center for Urban and Regional Affairs did not respond to requests for comment.
Still, some companies, such as TMJ Nails owner Tina Duong, like the idea and think it can’t come soon enough. “We live in Brooklyn Park, so we’d like to take the train to work. Easier than driving a car,” Duong said while decorating a client’s nails, adding that she might retire when she does. opening of the extension.
Same with Gwen Johnson, who also lives in Brooklyn Park. “I won’t have to take bus after bus after bus [to get to the Mall of America]. Bring it on, be quick – don’t wait until 2028,” she said while waiting for the 724 at the Starlite Transit Center.
Bringing the Blue Line down to West Broadway instead of Olson could affect other transit plans. Metro Transit is unsure whether it will move the C line to Glenwood as planned as early as 2016. They plan to decide after the county and Met Council formally decide on the final Blue Line alignment. They’re also looking at a bus rapid transit route to Medina in western Hennepin County that could make stops on Olson.
The Met Council is accepting comments on the Blue Line route until May 18. Comments can be emailed to Kjerstin.Yager[at]metrotransit.org, submitted on an online form www.surveymonkey.com/r/RYMV3LT or by mail to: LRT Project Office, Park Place West Building, Suite 500, 6465 Wayzata Blvd., St. Louis Park, MN 55426.
Henry Pan is a Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder Contributing Writer.