Light-rail hassles to bring greener future

  • Article by: DAN BADEN , Como Park High School
  • Updated: July 4, 2011 - 10:23 PM

A light-rail train pulling into the station at 46th Street represents a greener way to get around the Twin Cities.

The smell of oil, the constant roar of cars and backhoes, and the dust and noise that clog the air. Waiting for a bus on construction-torn University Avenue does not sit well with Kemi Jonathan.

The St. Paul woman confronts this scene regularly while waiting for the bus and watching construction of the new light-rail line that spans 11 miles on University Avenue.

Even with the hassle, Jonathan admits a light rail will pay off over time. "It will get me where I'm going and back."

The new light rail started construction in 2010 and is expected to have a serious green effect on the Twin Cities.

"It will take more cars off the street," said John Palmquist, who regularly rides the Hiawatha light rail to his job at the Mall of America.

The light rail runs completely on electricity, and one-fifth of that is renewable, made mostly by wind turbines, said John Siqveland, public relations officer for Metro Transit. The Metropolitan Council -- in charge of constructing the light rail -- is the parent organization of Metro Tranist.

In contrast, cars run on gasoline, one of the biggest contributors of greenhouse gases on the planet, said John Abraham, an associate professor of engineering at the University of St. Thomas. Abrahams said the average car emits 19 pounds of pollution.

Most cars can hold five people, but each light-rail car can hold up to 206 people and gives off no exhaust. (Producing electricity with fuels like coal does produce exhaust, though.)

Metro Transit planners expect the new light-rail line will carry roughly 40,000 people a week by 2030.

In 2010, the Hiawatha light rail logged 10.5 million rides, the largest number since its construction. It's only halfway through 2011 and ridership has already surpassed that number by 844,000 people, Siqveland said.

Many people opt to ride light rail between downtown Minneapolis and the airport and Mall of America instead of driving their cars. An analysis by the University of Minnesota's Center for Transportation Studies found that more than 60 percent of light-rail riders surveyed in 2005 chose to ride light rail to avoid driving a car. The average rider lived more than 3 miles from the line.

By contrast, more than half of the people who took the city bus didn't have a car, the study found.

The light rail is just one part of an overall trend in the Twin Cities to provide greener ways to get places.

In 2000, Metro Transit introduced three hybrid buses into its fleet. Now, hybrid buses make up 11 percent of the fleet -- 97 buses. They get about 5.5 miles per gallon, compared to older buses which get around 3.8 miles per gallon.

The ongoing expansion of bike trails is another part of the effort to offer greener transportation options.

"I think this is amazing," said Tracy Terbell, who frequently used the Midtown Greenway, a 5.5-mile bike path in south Minneapolis. "It cuts through a whole variety of neighborhoods, so a lot of different people can use it."

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