10óSept.17,2004 VARIETY The Aquin
Light rail links students to the Cities
By Kaade J. Wallace
Even if you spent last semester abroad or it is your first time in Minnesota you still have read stories, seen and or ridden the new light rail in Minnesota.
With ridership in the thousands during the week itís evident that Minnesotans love their light rail as much as they do their malls. The opening of light rail this summer ranked up there with opening of IKEA, a 330,000 sq. feet furniture store, and the State Fair; one could even argue that it was more important, but only time will tell.
Last weekend I - with hundreds of Minnesota Gophers fans on their way to and from the Gopher vs. Illinois State game - rode the light rail for the first time to see what all the rave about.
Proposed in 1999 by then Governor Jesse Ventura, the more than $400 million light rail project has critics as well as supporters. Everyone from lawmakers, action groups and local media outlets jumped on the light rail bandwagon. WCCO, a CBS affiliate television station, even did its famous Reality check on the cost of light rail. Some argue the Twin Cities isnít large enough to attract the number of people needed to make a profit from light rail. While others argue that if the Twin Cities want to compete with other major cities it needed a good transit system and the light rail will provide that.
After all the debate the project began with the federal government and the state of Minnesota picking up a majority of the tab and the airport and Hennepin county chipping in. The financial success hasnít guaranteed perfect implementation of the project. Take, for example, the ďGo-To card.Ē Designed to be the pre-pay bus pass for those on the train the card is designed as a convenience tool for daily riders of light rail. Computer software glitches postponed the ďGo-To Card.Ē
However, regardless of how the road to light rail started I was excited to check it out after my friend Nu made it sound interesting.
I wanted my trip on light rail to be unique. Everyone knows about how light rail passes by the Target Center, Nicollet mall, the Metrodome and the Warehouse district. I wanted to make it more then just riding trains, but experiencing the Twin Cities.
Along with my friend Nu last Saturday we started at Marshall and Cleveland and took a bus. At Lake Street and Midtown we got off and walked into the light rail station. The ground level there was a ticket machine, but we didnít need any because light rail accepts city bus transfers. The train station is very chic with colorful glasses. I donít know much about architecture but the coolest thing was the all-glass elevator. After the elevator ride within a minute the light rail cars arrived. We along with others we assume were also headed for the mall got in. As we entered no one asked us to show our tickets. However, three stops later at the 46th Street stop a transit police office went around and asked for tickets.
The ride to Fort Snelling was very educational. I got to see new places that the city buses donít go. I saw the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the Minnesota National Guard camp. While passing by the National Guard and Army Reserve camps I got to see two massive army tanks-that alone is worth a trip on the light rail.
At the final stop we got off and transferred onto a packed city bus to the Mall of America. Our final stop at the parking lot across from the mall was a reminder that light rail is a project still in progress. After window-shopping at the mall we went to IKEA to shop. Another nice aspect of light rail; one will be able to take it to the mall, walk across the street to IKEA, shop for your dorm and get back on light rail all within a reasonable time.
Our trip northbound (towards downtown) was as interesting as the one southbound. I saw the Cedar/Riverside housing project and discover some new places downtown Minneapolis. For those of you who prefer bar - hopping on a Friday or Saturday night we found a few places. There is the biker hangout the Joint and bar/grill Baja. If you have expensive tastes and like chic places the Spin nightclub is opening in the Warehouse district tonight.
Overall, the light rail experience was very good. Each of the various stops has its own flair. Some just have colorful glasses while others have colorful glasses with designs on them. I was impressed how clean the stations were and how respectful the passengers were of the light rail. The people working at the stations were also nice and helpful. I will definitely be riding it again.