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“Commercial nodes grew up around the trolley stops, where the lines intersected each other,” he said. “So along University the natural spurts of development were spaced about a mile apart. That is essentially where the new stations are today.”
Spurred by suburban growth and the postwar boom in automobiles (and what some consider an unholy alliance with General Motors), buses began replacing streetcars in the 1950s.
In the 1980s, St. Paul Mayor George Latimer tried in vain to get federal funding for an elevated “people mover” in downtown. “It was a disaster we avoided through sheer luck,” he says now. “It would never have been able to accomplish what we now have emerging with the Green Line.”
When officials talked in the 1990s about building a transit line between the two downtowns, the reasons cited were to cut fuel consumption and lure investment. University Avenue was chosen over Interstate 94 because of the potential development, and trains chosen over buses because they would draw more riders, cost little more to operate and were expandable.
Unusual in several ways
The resulting line became the biggest public works project in state history.
It’s unusual in several respects. It never once ventures off streets, bringing trains closer to vehicle traffic far more than the Blue Line — which may account for four collisions and other close calls that test trains have had since last winter.
No park-and-ride lots were built, after a St. Paul study showed there was more than enough parking on University, nearby lots and cross streets. And Metro Transit had to provide vibration-absorbent tracks near the U and Minnesota Public Radio to protect labs and studios.
The process used to build the line was pure St. Paul, shaped around grass-roots activity that sometimes failed (legal efforts by a coalition of black leaders to halt the project due to feared negative impact) and sometimes succeeded (residents’ demands for three more stations).
City leaders, remembering how I-94 ripped out the predominantly black Rondo neighborhood in the 1960s, offered forgivable loans to shops that lost business during construction. More than 100 businesses either closed or moved from 2011 through 2013, while 128 businesses opened at the same time.
Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, one of the metro area’s leading transit advocates, said the Green Line is emblematic of the Twin Cities’ new emphasis on itself as a single regional economy, rather than the traditional model of two cities duking it out for limited spoils.
“People have asked me, ‘You’re from Minneapolis, so your big competition is St. Paul, right?’ And I say right — Sao Paulo, Brazil,” he said. “[The Green Line] really does say we’re starting to build the transportation system we need to be competitive in the world.”
Peter Bell, who was chair of the Met Council when the line was planned and approved, said he thinks “it will enhance people’s feelings that the Twin Cities is a region.”
He added: “There is no major metropolitan area on the planet that doesn’t have a vibrant transit system. That is part and parcel of being a major urban center.”
Kevin Duchschere • 651-925-5035