My blog will be developed at a glacial pace. As I identify with being an “urbanist” and a “socialist” I want to discuss city development, history, socialism, and importantly capitalism. I have a lot of articles in draft form that won’t seem to have anything to do with cities to most urbanism so I wanted to bring up a transit nerd column on the proposed streetcar projects for my home, the City of Minneapolis.
After the foreseen success of the Twin Cities first modern light rail line, the Hiawatha (now Blue) Line, a scurry to construct a plan to build a network in 20-150 years was construed by the faux progressives on the Minneapolis City Council. The decided upon six radial lines (Central Avenue NE, Dinkytown via University/4th Streets SE, Chicago Avenue, Nicollet Avenue, Hennepin Avenue, Broadway Ave N) and a crosstown route along Lake Street or one block north in the Midtown Greenway trench. Unsurprisingly, these seven routes match perhaps the 8 or 9 busiest bus routes. Most have been considered as part of an alignment for light rail routes in earlier studies, from the late 1960’s to the present time.
The last ten years, and more so since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the Stimulus), the Obama Administration has provided significant, new funding for streetcars under the “Small Starts” aid program. While any additional funding for transit from the federal government, many of the proposed streetcar lines throughout the United States will provide very few real benefits to working class Americans.
And much of it comes to a principle flaw in “streetcars” and streetcar planning. Running in streets with regular motor traffic results in speeds no faster than buses. The only advantage streetcars have is faster acceleration. If a streetcar breaks down, it halts all over streetcar traffic. No amelioration to this problem is planned in Minneapolis’s proposed starter route (as seen in photo), which would go from near-Northeast Minneapolis to Lake & Nicollet.
Instead of branding this proposed line and all others as “streetcars’, they should just classify them as half-assed light rail lines, whilst light rail itself is a half-assed version of rapid transit lines. The Hiawatha Line could be considered “Light RAPID Transit”, as it runs in a tunnel through the airport, in a segregated right-of-way up Hiawatha, and on a viaduct over Lake Street. The Green Line (University Avenue – Midway corridor light rail line), with its stops every half mile and lack of signal preemption, could be called “Street-Rail Transit (SRT)”, or something slightly more creative, and would in their own right-of-way on the street with their own platforms every 1/4 to 1/2 mile.
Now most would jump to say “there isn’t enough room on Nicollet” and most other streets. If they were wholly unwilling to sacrifice on-street parking they’d be right. But we are trying to build a city and perhaps even a metropolis that puts the needs of people, particularly the working class, ahead of the needs of machines. We ought to strive to build a city where one doesn’t need a car for mobility. This alone is not sufficient justification, but I will demonstrating in future articles just what it would look like. That is what I strive for in my thinking, though I do not work in planning.
For a look into how this line of thinking is working, and keeping new transit lines very affordable, I point to Besançon (http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2010/10/01/how-is-besancon-building-a-tramway-at-e16-millionkilometer/). Another article from a former classmate on how Minneapolis’s plan lacks ambition can be found at MinnPost (http://www.minnpost.com/minnesota-blog-cabin/2014/10/minneapolis-should-skip-streetcars), to read the whole feasibility study look to the city’s website (http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/www/groups/public/@publicworks/documents/webcontent/convert_270445.pdf).
I will painfully revisit in-depth the canvassing and political campaigning I did with some Big Bourgeoisie over the Southwest LRT line back in 2009. I also plan to render some drawings as to how the proposed streetcar corridors would look running on their own right-of-way, including downtown routing, as well as how to imagine the system we are building as being part of a network, like the freeway system, and not some provincial pet project of certain neighborhoods and suburbs.