A blog to keep current on MPIRG'S fight for social and environmental justice.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

LRT and Complete Streets on the Chopping Block

In addition to the massive cuts coming from the House and Senate Transportation Committees an important project for transit and a critical policy for MN are under threat of being defunded and abolished. The first is the Central Corridor light rail, menaced by a proposed immediate full stop and canceled funding by HF1232. The second is the complete streets policy, adopted last year, in danger of being dismantled by HF0518.

The Central Corridor, more than three years in the making, would provide a much needed speedy and reliable light rail bridge between the Twin Cities downtown areas. Currently, anyone wanting to travel by bus must budget for a 1 (if they’re lucky) to 3 hour trip on the 16. Not that I don’t love the bus, I take it everyday, but light rail along University would be a vast improvement over buses alone. Anyone riding the bus during the day knows that routes along University Ave are already at capacity if not over. When you take into consideration rising gas prices, and reduced incomes (due to the recession) more and more people have been, and will be, using transit.

When considering all of these factors one would immediately grasp the necessity of the light rail system we are in the process of building (or rebuilding for that matter). However, Representative Larry Howes (R, District 04B) and others in the legislature want to put the brakes on the project. The current bill (HF1232) would cancel appropriations for the project and halt its progress. It nearly goes without saying that this is a ridiculous idea, in that it merits only ridicule. Hundreds of people, organizations, government agencies, and business have spent time and resources planning this project for years. The money raised by an increased county sales tax to fund the project will now be effectively stolen. Construction companies and hundreds of construction workers (who would pay some of it back in taxes) will lose their contracts. And finally, interest rates will go up for county governments and the state as we attempt to pay back money we borrowed for the project, damaging our future ability to borrow. Canceling the light rail will hurt more in the short term and the long term than it could possible help the state budget for this year alone.

While it would be ridiculous to halt the light rail it would lunacy to repeal our Complete Streets (CS) policy. For those who don't know, CS is a low to no cost high impact policy whereby we design our streets with more than simply cars in mind. The benefits are numerous including increased safety for cars, pedestrians, and cyclists, better health due to air quality, and equality of access for the elderly, children, and people with disabilities. Overall complete streets is a multimodal and holistic policy outlook. There are three reasons why CS can be low or even no cost. The first is that (being smart and thrifty Minnesotan's) we have written the current policy so that it only takes effect when streets are going to be resurfaced or expanded. It does not mean expensively redoing all streets immediately. The second is that most of the improvements of CS can be accomplished with painted lines, as in the case of bike lanes and pedestrian crosswalks, or even simple signage to reduce speed. The third reason is that CS is applied on a case by case basis so if the street requires such improvements it will get them. There is little need to but bike lanes on every street, but most do need sidewalks, and all need wheelchair ramps.

Like the Central Corridor, Complete Streets is on the chopping block. The difference though, is that where the Central Corridor does cost a significant amount of money, CS has little to no cost, only benefits. That fact however, did not dissuade Representative Leidiger (R, District 34A) and others from authoring the bill. There is no good argument against a comprehensive Complete Streets policy. It does not drain funds from another agency or region because it costs almost nothing. It does not improve urban areas at the expense of rural areas because it has advantages for both. It does not penalize automobile drivers because it seeks to incorporate all modes of transportation.

What it does do is improve the safety, health, and livability of communities across Minnesota. It makes no sense to repeal the Complete Streets policy.

Call, email, and write letters urging your senators and representatives to make the sensible decision – keep the Light Rail and Complete Streets alive.

To find our who represents you, and their contact information, visit http://www.gis.leg.mn/OpenLayers/districts/

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