Fighting for Better Transit

Letter to the Editor
By James Schoettler and Kent Pettersen

For any transit project to succeed, community members—the very people who hope to someday use the service—need to be in support of it through a process in which their voices have been heard. And if the County will not provide its residents a venue to address our concerns, we must bring our worries to them directly. 

Our concerns are abundant and fundamental to the plan itself, whose construction may devastate local merchants the way the Green Line extension did to many on University Avenue without providing nearly as useful a transit option as already exists on West 7th. After Riverview construction is finished, public transit on West 7th will consist of a “streetcar” that is easily stuck in traffic and can only make 8 or 9 stops on Fort Road.  

Still want a ride on the “streetcar”? Don’t forget your best walking shoes: with fewer stops than the 54 bus line currently servicing West 7th, the average walk will be up to a half mile—at both ends of your trip.

The streetcar will also do major damage to Historic Fort Snelling, one of our state’s most important cultural sites, which it will blast through for an added cost of a quarter billion dollars over that of a better crossing.  It will not serve the Ford site, the largest new development in our section of the city, whose closest stop will be nearly a mile away.  The project will disrupt Downtown St. Paul streets, first from construction and then the ongoing operation of two light-rail shaped “streetcars” down two parallel streets. All of this disruption will result in the addition of just a single stop at the Xcel.  

Why can’t we rely on the assurances from our local leaders, vague as they may be, that the “modern streetcar” will improve mass transit in the neighborhood? Unfortunately, Ramsey County’s record on this project speaks for itself. Leaders promised a “Modern Streetcar,” but what they delivered in their proposal is no such thing and cannot be since it must accommodate light-rail (LRT) stations at each end. (Instead of a “modern” streetcar, which is narrower and lower to the ground to allow for quick entry and exit, what the County proposes will be an LRT vehicle, only shorter in length.) County leaders also promised a 2018 study of transit service to the Ford Site, which never happened.  In order to force the project ahead, they stipulated that residents would have the opportunity to reconsider acceptance of the LPA in 2020, which hasn’t occurred and isn’t scheduled. After two decades of study, they have left us with an LPA that shows they understand neither the transit needs of the “Riverview Corridor” nor what an effective transit solution for our community would look like.

Given that West 7th street isn’t wide enough for a true LRT line, effective transit around the neighborhood and region will require both frequent bus service on West 7th Street and a regional LRT link, one that transports people not in the middle of traffic on a thoroughfare but safely through the Corridor and across St. Paul.  

If we demand changes as a united community and show our leaders what kind of transit we need, we can improve our bus service on West 7th and build new streetscape amenities to promote its use.  Then, we can build a regional LRT link on another route where the mass transit vehicles will have an exclusive right-of-way. We can completely eliminate all impacts on Historic Fort Snelling, serve the Ford Site and save a quarter billion dollars in the process.  We can even eliminate the disruption to downtown St. Paul with a short tunnel under the neighborhood.  And, using the CP-Spur, we can build a bike and pedestrian trail from Minneapolis to Downtown St Paul.

But this won’t happen without you. If you want a transit solution that preserves West 7th and moves residents efficiently throughout the neighborhood and the region, call your St. Paul City Councilmember as well as the Ramsey County Commissioner who represents you, and demand a reconsideration of the LPA. Together, we can make it happen.

James Schoettler, is a member of Citizen Advocates for Regional Transit (C-A-R-T.org) and Kent Pettersen is a member of the West Seventh Joint Riverview Transit Task Force. 

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