April 12, 2005
The Light Rail Anti-Somnambulism Project
Even as far back as junior high school, I have been watching the landscape change along Hiawatha in preparation for the light rail. Throughout the years of walking home from school each afternoon, my path would change in relation to how preparatory construction for the light rail would simultaneously block and create new routes. For a time, during freshman year of high school, my friends and I would stroll along the tops of the long barrier hills created to eventually divide the light rail tracks from the Corcoran neighborhood. Not much later, though, this was no longer possible for walls were built atop the hills to further strengthen this division. Crossing Hiawatha at Lake Street, too, became an impossibility as workers built the bridge allowing Highway 55 traffic to bypass Lake Street. Instead we were forced to cross Hiawatha at the next intersection south of Lake Street, walking past the grimy Acme building and heading north on Snelling Avenue. By the end of high school, the bridge still was not finished.
Even though I had strong physical reminders of what was to come, I rarely thought of the future light rail. The transformations of my environment were so frequent, that it had become routine in a way, allowing me to ignore or forget about what all these changes were building towards. I suppose it is possible to say, to use a term from class, somnambulism prevented me from considering the implications of the topography surrounding me.
It was not really until several years after high school, that I began thinking about what the light rail might really be like. By this time, I had had the privilege of riding on the Metro in Paris and the New York City subway system, experience which both shaped my perceptions of what riding the Minneapolis light rail would be like. When I envisioned a trip on the light rail, I imagined an experience not that different than the Metro or the N.Y.C. subway, but reflecting the size and culture of the Twin Cities. I imagined that the new light rail would have the speed, automation, and ease of the lines in other cities, but that it would be smaller, cleaner, and more remarkable to its Minnesota riders.
The first time I rode the new light rail in the summer of 2004, I found my hypotheses about the train to be true. It was fast and easy to ride like the Metro and the N.Y.C. subway. It was much cleaner, due partially I am sure to its newness. It had, of course, a very limited route. And on the train, as I had suspected, there were a lot of novelty riders, myself included, taking the trip for the shear experience rather than for the locomotion to a set destination.
Upon riding, I found other unexpected manifestations of Minnesota, many which continually serve to remind me that Minneapolis is not such a large city and our ties to our agricultural heritage are very short. I find it marvelous that at one end of the line, you find yourself in the heart of downtown, where one can find, close at hand, strip clubs and night clubs, Block E with its beckoning of modern pop culture, the Central Public Library, first-rate hotels, as well as the business center of the state while near the other end of the line it is possible to espy large cultivated fields, a few obligatory farm animals, and a small old farm house nestled among the trees. Riding the light rail, one is also reminded of our city and state’s history and why our city is tied to this particular area of land. The train, as it moves further and further south, travels closer and closer, eventually along a near parallel track to the Mississippi River, the power behind our ancestral flour mills, and then notably passes historic Fort Snelling, one of the earliest landmarks in our state’s history.
The closest light rail stop to my house is the Franklin Avenue stop which lies between my neighborhood, Seward, and the Phillips neighborhood. The architects who designed the stops along the lines intended that each would reflect its surrounding neighborhood. At the Franklin Avenue stop, a large movie theater-esque vertical marquee adorns the side of one of the elevator shafts which carries riders from the street below to the stop above. On this sign are symbols of the diversity of the area and the state illustrated in neon lights. For example, on one side, an eagle reminds us of the Native American population of the area. Below the eagle, Babe the Blue Ox represents the historic tall tales of the state, reflecting its folk and industrial histories.
Besides the art work found at the station, the rest of the stop seems to have been designed in a utilitarian and practical frame mind. The stop itself is built on a bridge over Franklin Avenue so as not to impede traffic. Glass walls allow passengers to see if a train is approaching while also protecting them from wind, snow, or rain. A roof over the glass enclosures furthers this functionality. Heating lamps hang from the ceiling, available to the rider at the touch of a button to help keep away winter chills. And with the station also comes the necessary cautionary elements – warning lights and bells, guard rails, and yellow lines not to cross until the train has stopped. A synecdochical illustration that this stop is indeed a light rail station are the tracks which border each side of the shelter.
Here is a link to an article about how the Franklin station was designed:
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