The Antiplanner confesses to not be a bible expert, but I don’t think Jesus ever said, “Thou shalt steal from thy neighbors so thee can afford to take expensive train rides.” But that seems to be the goal of Isaiah, a faith-based group in Minnesota that demands that taxpayers subsidize commuter trains from St. Cloud to Minneapolis.
Taxpayers spent $317 million to start the Northstar commuter train, shown here near Big Lake. Flickr photo by Jerry Huddleston.
The Northstar commuter-rail line currently operates over the 40 miles from Minneapolis to Big Lake, about 28 miles short of St. Cloud. The line is a huge loser: it carried an average of around 1,250 round-trips a day in 2014, earning fare revenues of less than $2.4 million but spending $15.2 million on operations and $7.4 million on maintenance.
An insanely expensive light-rail project in Minnesota just got more insane. The cost of the Southwest light-rail line, which had previously been estimated at $1.65 billion for 15.7 miles, or just over $100 million a mile, is now estimated to cost $341 million more, or just shy of $2 billion. That’s $126 million a mile, or more than seven times the inflation-adjusted cost of the initial San Diego Trolley, the nation’s first modern light-rail line.
Considering that freeways with many times the capacity of a light-rail line can be built for about $10 million a mile, spending more than $100 million a mile on light rail makes no sense at all. The only way people could support it is if they have no understanding of numbers, which explains why many politicians do support it. The good news is that some in Minnesota are having second thoughts about the Southwest line, including Governor Mark Dayton (who professed to be “shocked and appalled,” though he doesn’t say why he wasn’t appalled at the previous price) and Metropolitan Council chair Adam Duininck.
As the Antiplanner has previously noted, Eden Prairie, the destination of this line, is one of the wealthiest suburbs in the Twin Cities area. In order to provide “transit equity,” regional transit planners have promised to build a few bus shelters in poor neighborhoods. That’s so equitable.
Advancing its “regional transit equity” plan, the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council issued a press release last week announcing it has received a $3.26 million federal grant to build or “enhance” 140 bus shelters. This money is matched, on a one-to-four basis, with $815,000 of local funds, meaning each bus shelter will cost a whopping $29,000.
Meanwhile, the Met Council is twisting the arms of city officials to gain support for a $1.7-billion light-rail line extending from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie, which is probably the Twin Cities’ wealthiest suburb. Three (out of 13) members of the Minneapolis city council voted against the project, partly due to concerns over transit equity.
“If we think equity means maybe we might build some heated bus stops in north Minneapolis sometime in the future that we can’t promise or guarantee and we won’t tell you where they’ll be, then good for us for standing up for equity,” one of the councilors who voted “no” sarcastically stated.
Kansas City voters rejected a plan to build an extensive streetcar system. The city already has plans to build a short “starter” line, and the mayor wanted to build more. But voters agreed that buses were cheaper and more sensible. This is the ninth time Kansas City voters have rejected rail transit.
Meanwhile, the Antiplanner has given several presentations in the Twin Cities about rail transit and associated land-use planning. These presentations can be downloaded, with a summary of my narration in the “notes” section, as either Zip files that include several short videos or smaller PowerPoint files that leave out the videos.
- Presentation to the SW Metro Tea Party: Zip file (111 MB) or PPT file (32 MB)
- Presentation to Daytons Bluff neighborhood: Zip file (82 MB) or PPT file (39 MB)
- Presentation to Metro North Chamber of Commerce: Zip file (98 MB) or PPT file (15 MB)
The Antiplanner is in the Twin Cities this week giving presentations on land-use and transportation issues in that region. Here are the sessions, most of which are open to the public:
- “Thrive Planning vs. the American Dream,” sponsored by the SW Metro Tea Party, Chanhassen Recreation Center, 2310 Coulter Blvd., Chanhassen, 7:00-8:30 pm, Monday, August 4
- “Rebalancing Transportation Planning,” sponsored by Expose the Truth, Dayton’s Bluff Recreation Center, 800 Conway St., St. Paul, 5:00-8:00 pm, Tuesday, August 5
- “Transportation and Your Business,” sponsored by the MetroNorth Chamber of Commerce (must pre-register), Harvest Grill, 12800 Bunker Prairie Road, Coon Rapids, 11:15 am to 1:15 pm, Wednesday, August 6
- “The Folly of High-Speed Rail,” Goodhue County Fairgrounds, 8:00 pm, Friday, August 8
By coincidence, the Antiplanner’s faithful ally, Wendell Cox, will also be speaking in Minneapolis about the Thrive plan at 7:30 am, Wednesday, August 6 at the Doubletree Hotel Park Place, 1500 Park Place Blvd., pre-registration will save money if done by noon, August 5.
If you are in the Twin Cities area this week, I hope to see you at one of these events.
Debates over smart growth–sometimes known as new urbanism, compact cities, or sustainable urban planning, but always meaning higher urban densities and a higher share of people in multifamily housing–boil down to factual questions. But smart-growth supporters keep trying to twist the arguments into ideological issues.
The choice should be yours: suburbs, or . . .
For example, in response to my Minneapolis Star Tribune article about future housing demand, Thomas Fisher, the dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota, writes, “O’Toole, like many conservatives, equates low-density development with personal freedom.” In fact, I equate personal freedom with personal freedom.
. . . New Urbanism. Flickr photo by David Crummey.
University of Minnesota planning professor Richard Bolan has responded to the Antiplanner’s critique of the Twin Cities’ Metropolitan Council’s plan to emphasize high-density housing and discourage large-lot single-family homes. My op ed pointed out that planner Arthur Nelson’s predictions that the demand for single-family homes was declining were based on oversimplified surveys that asked people questions like would they want to live in a “walkable community.”
A lot more factors are at work in people’s housing choices. “Given a choice between a 1,400-square-foot home on a tiny lot in a congested part of town for $375,000 and a 2,400-square-foot home on a large lot in a quiet suburb for $295,000,” my op ed said, “most people would prefer the larger home.” My point was the issues were too complicated for planners to be able to see what people would want 26 years in the future, and since homebuilders can adequately respond to changes in demand, there was no need for central planners to try to predict the unpredictable.
Bolan admits that he’s “not a supporter of Arthur C. Nelson’s report” on future housing demand. But Professor Bolan has his own reasons why central planners should try to determine people’s housing choices in the future: externalities.
Low-income residents of the Twin Cities can rest easy, as planners at the Metropolitan Council, the area’s regional planning agency, are proposing a regional transit equity plan. According to the Metropolitan Council’s press release, this equity plan consists of:
- Building 75 bus shelters and rebuilding 75 existing shelters “in areas of racially concentrated poverty”; and
- “Strengthen[ing] the transit service framework serving racially concentrated areas of poverty” by building bus-rapid transit and light-rail lines to the region’s wealthy suburbs.
The blue line, the yellow line to St. Cloud, and the green line between the Minneapolis interchange and St. Paul Union Depot are open; the next priority is the green line from the interchange and Eden Prairie.
Bus shelters for the poor, light rail for the rich: that sounds equitable! Of course, the poor will be allowed to ride those light-rail trains (for example, if they travel to the suburbs to work as servants), just as the well-to-do will be allowed to use the bus shelters. But for the most part, the light rail is for the middle class.
The Twin Cities Metropolitan Council is currently writing the Thrive Plan, which–like so many other urban plans today–aims to cram most new development into high-density transit centers. To justify this policy, the council naturally hired Arthur Nelson, the University of Utah urban planning professor who has predicted that the U.S. will soon have 22 million surplus single-family homes on large lots.
Click image to download a copy of the report.
“Demand for attached and multifamily housing in the Twin Cities will continue to grow,” trumpets the Met Council’s press release about Nelson’s report on Twin Cities housing. That, of course, is what the Met Council wanted Nelson to “prove,” which is why they hired him. However, his report can’t really justify the Met Council’s plans.
Thirteen and three-quarter miles per hour. That’s the scheduled speed between Minneapolis and St. Paul on the Twin Cities new Green Line light rail (previously discussed here).
A test train on the Green Line passes through the University of Minnesota east bank campus. Wikimedia Commons photo by Runner1928.
“People are still learning the nature of light rail,” said Metro Transit’s John Siqveland. “We think a 48-minute schedule is a realistic schedule.” One of the reasons why people are “still learning” is because Metro deceived them before by claiming that the line would take just 40 minutes to go from Minneapolis to St. Paul, when it is now scheduled for 48 minutes.