Although the SWLRT route is getting most of the attention, developing stations is key.
A light-rail line is only as good as its stations.
Amid all the turmoil over the proposed Southwest light-rail transit route (SWLRT), an important aspect of the discussion is being overlooked: station viability. Where the tracks are placed is certainly a crucial decision, but passengers won’t be waiting between the rails. It’s time we start to focus more on the points along the route.
By 2030, an expected 30,000 people would ride the SWLRT line every weekday. The West Lake station, in the bustling West Calhoun neighborhood, would be one of the busiest along the line. As recent tragic events have shown, and as we have been hearing for many years, the proposed station area near W. Lake Street and Excelsior Boulevard within West Calhoun would be inhospitable to pedestrians. The infrastructure enhancements that would come about with the introduction of this station would bring many benefits to neighbors in this area, but ultimately, how safe can the station be if freight-rail tracks — and freight trains — physically stand alongside the LRT platform?
Removing freight-rail tracks from light-rail stations provides more than just safety. It means a potential for greater economic development on both sides of each station. It means better access — both for cars and pedestrians coming from either side of the station. It means faster and easier access to home, lakes and trails for riders who depart at the West Lake and 21st Street stations.
Stations are more than portals. As cities around the world have demonstrated, well-designed station areas are destinations unto themselves that drive growth. Eliminating the rail yard that straddles Belt Line Boulevard would make more land available for redevelopment.
Rerouting the Twin Cities & Western Railroad onto existing and improved tracks in north-central St. Louis Park would not divorce freight-rail tracks from light rail entirely, but it would reduce the number of station areas with freight by four (at least two in St. Louis Park and two in Minneapolis).
There has been much talk about “sharing the burden” of the SWLRT project between Minneapolis and St. Louis Park, but this is one area in which both cities would share an enormous benefit.
Linea Palmisano is a Minneapolis City Council member. Aaron Isaacs is a retired Metro Transit planner.
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