Growing Minneapolis: The value of transit

  • Article by: EDITORIAL BOARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 28, 2013 - 5:21 PM

Editorial: All kind of wheels, from buses to light rail to streetcars, are needed to meet the population’s needs.

The growth is great news. But it brings up essential questions for a city that by 2040 will be the hub of a region that will add 31 percent more residents, 41 percent more households and 37 percent more jobs.

From projections a decade ago, the shifts are striking. Then, 30 percent of growth was predicted to occur in the metro’s “developed area” (central cities and suburbs). Now it’s 55 percent. Conversely, the amount of growth in “developing suburbs” declined from 60 percent to 36 percent. (“Rural areas” went from 10 percent to 9 percent.)

To be sure, the less-developed areas are still growing: Despite the surge toward Minneapolis, St. Paul and inner-ring suburbs, the counties with the highest projected household growth rates remain Carver (up 76 percent by 2040) and Scott (up 65 percent).

So with nearly the entire metro area expecting robust growth, it’s well past time to discard the distractions of city vs. suburb vs. exurb. Instead the focus should be on how to grow smartly, in order to retain the very qualities that will lead so many to choose to live here in the first place.

First, there should be agreement that the already clogged roads cannot accommodate such a surge in growth without significant investments in transit.

So the next mayor of Minneapolis needs to build. But build what?

Political consensus, first and foremost, because it’s essential to build transit infrastructure.

Specifically, the mayor and other metro leaders need to build legislative consensus to pass a plan similar to the one championed by Gov. Mark Dayton last legislative session. His bold proposal to fund multimodal transit recognized that taking action on transit is an economic necessity — not a “new urbanism” luxury — in order to efficiently connect the metro’s growing population to jobs.

Dayton’s plan would have mostly taken state funding out of the equation and replaced it with a sales tax imposed on the seven counties that would most directly benefit. This should have been highly attractive to nonmetro legislators. Instead, they derailed the transit plan out of fears that their legitimate needs on road and bridges would have been ignored.

This unfortunate stalemate must be fixed in the 2014 session. The new Minneapolis mayor, and leaders statewide, must work to convince key lawmakers that transit is a probusiness, progrowth proposition.

Assuming a revised version of Dayton’s plan passes, the next mayor needs to prioritize projects. More consensus building will be required here, too, because for the most part the Met Council, not the city, builds and runs transit systems. But that doesn’t mean that the next mayor won’t be highly influential in these decisions.

Coalition-building will be more effective if the new mayor focuses on moving people, especially to jobs. Most of this focus will be on the commute in and out of a burgeoning downtown. But just as important, inner-city residents need better access to job-rich suburbs.

The mayor should also champion transit that spurs development, as it has done in competing cities like Denver and Portland. That development should reflect rapidly shifting demographic trends that suggest where, and how, people will want to live in the next 30 years will be directly related to transit.

Household size, in terms of residents and square footage, is likely to be smaller. No doubt teardowns and undeveloped land will be replaced by big houses in some suburbs and exurbs. But the demographic destiny of Minneapolis, and of many inner-ring suburbs, will be significantly determined by the so-called “silver tsunami.”

Residents over the age of 65 will increase by 150 percent by 2040. Most will be empty nesters, many will be single and fewer will drive. They will need transit.

Their grandchildren, meanwhile, who came of age in the Great Recession, are expected to choose housing for living, not investing. More than their parents’ generation, they will choose walkable, transit-friendly neighborhoods. There will also be more immigrants, who historically have settled in and around cities.

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  • Under a proposal portrayed in this illustration, streetcars would stop about every two blocks along Nicollet Avenue and into northeast Minneapolis.

  • Under a proposal portrayed in this illustration, streetcars would stop about every two blocks along Nicollet Avenue and into northeast Minneapolis.

  • Under a proposal portrayed in this illustration, streetcars would stop about every two blocks along Nicollet Avenue and into northeast Minneapolis.

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