Kevin Spreng is concerned the Rush Line bus-rapid transit project, which is slated to end in White Bear Lake, could compromise the lakeside community's small-town ambience.
So, last week he started an internet petition calling for the city to slow down the planning process — and found that more than 3,600 others felt the same way.
Spreng, who owns property in White Bear Lake not far from the Rush Line's proposed bus stop and park-and-ride facility, had hoped to get 100 signatures by Tuesday, when the City Council is scheduled to meet.
"It's kind of amazing to me [the signatures] keep going up and up and up," he said. "Obviously, there are a lot of people not sold on the idea."
The idea, broadly speaking, is to bring modern transit to an area of the Twin Cities that is highly dependent on cars.
"People in the northeast metro don't have good, reliable transit," said White Bear Lake Mayor Jo Emerson.
Rush Line buses will operate largely in dedicated lanes, traveling from the Union Depot through St. Paul's East Side, Maplewood, White Bear Township, Vadnais Heights, Gem Lake and ending in White Bear Lake at Second St. and Clark Av., now a surface parking lot. Buses are expected to run every 10 to 15 minutes seven days a week, from early morning to late at night.
A proposed park-and-ride facility adjacent to the transit stop where a U.S. Bank building is now located has attracted the ire of some residents, including Spreng. Many fear the structure will look much like the behemoth 1,000-space park-and-ride facility in Maplewood.
But Ramsey County transit planners say tentative plans call for a smaller park-and-ride structure with 100 to 200 spaces and retail shops on the ground level. The structure "would be designed to fit the existing character of the surrounding downtown area in terms of both size and architecture," said county spokesman John Siqveland.
County officials say they were surprised that residents had the Maplewood structure as a "mental model," and they're unsure how the "misconception" began. The county is planning more public outreach, and they encourage people to comment at rushline.org.
The Rush Line won't begin service until 2026 and will cost between $420 million and $475 million, with the federal government paying about half.
But as the project's 21 stations have been identified, public involvement has grown. A station at Buerkle Road in White Bear Lake, for example, was added at the public's behest.
"I think we need to slow the process down and get a real legitimate view of what the community thinks and what the people directly affected think," Spreng said.
Spreng and others worry about increased bus traffic and congestion causing "safety and environmental hazards." And some White Bear Lake business owners are concerned about the loss of parking during construction of the station and park-and-ride.
"I don't like it," said Tammy Kurn, co-owner of Salon Rêvé, which is located on Clark Avenue across from the proposed Rush Line stop and park-and-ride. "We're already struggling with parking here. If it takes three years to build, that will put me out of business."
Emerson said the location of the Rush Line's terminus in White Bear Lake "is not cast in concrete. Other sites will be considered." She said she welcomes input from the public.
Emerson serves on the Rush Line Policy Advisory Committee that endorsed the Clark Avenue site for further study — with the caveat that more public engagement is needed, as well as consideration of other sites for the line's terminus in White Bear Lake.