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Light Rail - Smoke, Mirrors...

And Other Avoidance Mechanisms


When you can't win an argument based on its merits, make a lot of noise and point elsewhere.

Today we have another vaguely threatening op-ed from the University administration.

What, exactly, is the point of this article? Well, the university does not want light rail at grade on Washington Avenue for a variety of reasons, none of which seem to stand up to serious scrutiny.

People who know anything about urban planning seem to think that light rail at grade along Washington Avenue with a pedestrian mall would be a very good idea for the next 100 years. Many holding this opinion are faculty and staff at the university. The administration wants light rail so much that it lobbied the state and the feds against funding:

Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he vetoed funding for the Central Corridor light rail line in part because of concerns expressed by the University of Minnesota. Top university officials have been voicing their concerns to state and federal officials.

It looked as if the route was not going to go where they wanted it. Their arguments against it have been oblique and vague and this smokescreen continues today in an op-ed in the Pioneer Press:

Enhance transportation, but be sure to protect neighborhoods, too

By Kathleen O'Brien

There is probably an image of the University of Minnesota that persists in the collective memory of those who were here 10 to 20 years ago — of long registration lines winding through Fraser Hall; long lines of cars waiting, sometimes for more than one hour, to get into a parking lot; and classrooms that were sorely in need of renovation.

And a four year graduation rate of 18%...

All that has changed at the university over the years: registration can now be done online and the university has made a big investment in modernizing its buildings and improving the educational environment.

Ah, excuse me please but where was good old Folwell Hall in the last session at the legislature? And how many years did it take the U to step up to the plate on the Science Classroom Building? And how much attention did they pay to the faculty members who actually use the building? Look at what they do, not what they say. Claims continue to be made about huge advances. But this supposed huge change comes by comparison to an abysmal baseline. Our graduation rates are still near the bottom of the BigTen and the lowest of the administration's peer comparison group.

The parking situation has improved tremendously over the past 20 years, too, largely due to the university's strong commitment to provide transportation alternatives for all coming to the U and investments that enhance service and accessibility to and around campus.

Today, two-thirds of the university's daily commuters bus, carpool, bike or walk to and from campus. Twenty thousand students use the U-Pass program, a university-subsidized program that provides unlimited transit rides at greatly reduced fares; 2,000 employees use a similar program. The university also provides free shuttle service between its East Bank, West Bank, and St. Paul campuses, including express buses.

That's why it is vitally important that the Central Corridor enhance the region's transportation system while protecting the surrounding neighborhoods and businesses.

And so when you are really desperate, start talking about damage that will be done to local business if things don't go your way. Somehow this concern about local business didn't seem to be there when the stadium was sited? And Dinkytown was basically destroyed a few years ago with many businesses going under. And that was ok? Now all of a sudden we see crocodile tears from the U administration about small businesses.

The university community is heavily dependent upon transit. We and our partners are obligated to provide safe and functional access to and from the university campus for the 80,000 people who come to campus daily as well as the half million people who visit the hospital and clinics just off Washington Avenue annually and the hundreds of thousands who come to campus for arts and cultural events and scholarly meetings.

A well-planned Central Corridor line would enhance the university and the surrounding neighborhoods and businesses. After all, it's a decision that we'll have to live with for the next 100 years.

That's right VP O'Brien.

So why don't we have an honest discussion of what would happen if light rail went down Washington Avenue at grade.

The argument always seems to start with the premise that somewhere else is better. Then we move on to the one about the Washington Avenue route being dangerous. Then the U Hospitals will starve.

And of course you can always get consultants, sufficiently well paid, to say anything you want. With current behavior at the U the public should be skeptical of assertions made by the Morrill Hall crew.

How is it that the cost differential estimate by the Met Council for the Northern Route differed from what the University administration claims? It is obvious that anyone hired by the university to do a study on this situation would know the desired outcome.

Yes the U has an image problem, as alluded to in the first paragraph of your article.

There are some pretty good reasons for this. Go over to Northrup and read the inscription on the building and think about it.

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