It’s easy to agree with at least part of Lori Sturdevant’s June 5 lament about the failure of the Legislature to pass a transportation bill (“Transit: Back to drawing board, without the one-county burden”). It is deeply frustrating to see the very poor condition of many of the roads and bridges from all over this state because of the Legislature’s inability to pass a good bill.
But the decision of the state Senate DFL Caucus to scuttle what was left of a thin bill by demanding to include a funding mechanism for the Southwest Corridor light-rail project is hardly a cause for celebration.
Since the mid-1980s, when John Derus (then on Hennepin County Board) came to the Legislature with the “metropolitan transit” vision for light rail that had, then, as now, all branches of the system feeding into the core area of Minneapolis (which, then as now, actually represents only a single-digit percentage of workplaces in the metro area), it has been clear that the only part of the metro area that would arguably benefit from a light-rail system was downtown Minneapolis. Even St. Paul now is little more than a transit suburb of Minneapolis with the completion of the light-rail line to Lowertown.
This, of course, is a waste of money for everyone not working in downtown Minneapolis. What the metro area needs are improved and more efficient roads, as well as a transit system that actually takes people laterally between suburbs and to places where people in the metro actually work. Light-rail visionaries have never gotten us closer to this ideal.
In fairness to everyone else in the metro area, suggesting a metrowide sales tax to pay for Minneapolis’ transit options is clearly wrong. By cornering Minneapolis light-rail supporters in this last legislative process, the truth was outed: If a rail line is to be built into Minneapolis, the people who should pay for it (and are willing to pay for it) are those who would benefit from any arguable resulting improvement to the tax base in Minneapolis. That, of course, would be the taxpayers of Minneapolis.
It is a shame that there would appear to be no genuinely rational plan for 21st-century transit in the Twin Cities. We might come closer to that reality if Minneapolis dropped its brazenly parochial positions and started thinking of everyone else.
Fritz Knaak, White Bear Lake
The writer, an attorney, is a former state senator.
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Many other transit supporters (I support good transit, too) here and around the country are watching Denver with awe and envy. Here are some key things to know about Denver’s transit buildout:
1) An overall plan was presented to voters before they were asked to approve a sales tax increase in 2004 through a referendum to fund the plan.
2) Within 2.5 years, that funding proved inadequate by more than $1 billion. That has required Denver to “get creative” and “find money” in lots of different ways, including mode changes and private-sector investment.
3) Unlike our Metropolitan Council, the Denver Regional Transit District is governed by a 15-member board of directors, elected by district, to four-year terms.
Jeanette Colby, Minneapolis
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State Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, complains in a June 5 article about “getting the snot taxed out of us for transit that we never use.” I do not live in Dellwood, but I would be quite happy if my taxes help pay for transit in that city, or for a bridge near Preston or for a highway up by Detroit Lakes. The reason is not that I would ever use these things, but just that I am a Minnesotan, and we help each other out. I suggest that Rep. Dean widen his gaze.
Mark Brandt, Minneapolis
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As a school superintendent, one of my biggest fears is that we are going to have a serious bus accident over one of our roads and bridges that has not been safely maintained. I personally drive 30,000 miles per year. My 2008 Saturn Aura has more than 175,000 miles and gets 25 miles per gallon. I buy 1,200 gallons of gas each year. A 5-cent increase in the Minnesota gas tax or user fee would cost me $60 per year, or $1.15 per week, or 16.5 cents per day. A 10-cent increase in the gas tax or user fee would cost me $120 per year, or $2.30 per week, or 33 cents per day. Minnesota needs a long-term, comprehensive transportation plan that serves the entire state, including mass transit as well as roads and bridges. I am in favor of increasing the gas user fee in order to maintain our great state. A user fee seems more fair than taking revenue from the general fund. A comprehensive transportation bill should never be a partisan political issue.
Joseph E. Brown Sr., Austin, Minn.
The writer is superintendent of the Fairmont, Minn., school district.
Speaking of liability, or its lack
I was amused by the June 10 letter about drivers in Europe being careful not to hit bicyclists or pedestrians because of the strict liability laws there. When my husband and I were in Germany a few years ago, touring smaller cities on foot, we had a different problem. Bicyclists, who were everywhere, bore down on pedestrians without slowing down or even glancing right or left. Our tour guide warned us never to step in front of oncoming cyclists. Her exact words were “They will run into you and kill you.” We witnessed some close calls and believed her. Apparently, bicyclists had no sense or fear of liability.
Charlotte Morrison, Prior Lake
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Despite the police and media attention to pedestrian safety at crosswalks, I’ve seen no comments about the fact that while walking along a road without sidewalks, the majority of people walk on the wrong side of the street: with their backs to oncoming traffic. Laws and common sense dictate that pedestrians must walk on the left, facing traffic. Mothers pushing baby carriages are just as guilty of endangering themselves and their kids by turning their backs to traffic. With so many distracted drivers, it is a wonder more aren’t killed or maimed. Apparently, parents and teachers many years ago stopped teaching kids about walking facing traffic. This is a subject all parents and schools should latch onto and start educating kids and adults about.
Peter M. Rogers, La Pointe, Wis.
THE JUDICIARY BRANCH
There may be dark days ahead
Donald Trump claims that a federal judge has issued rulings against him for political reasons, based on the judge’s ethnic heritage, rather than issuing rulings based solely upon the judge’s professional legal competence.
At the same time, Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans refuse to hold any hearing to consider the professional legal competence of Merrick Garland, who has been nominated to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court. Why? Because the Republican senators hope for the appointment of someone who will make judicial rulings that are more in keeping with their ideology. Because Garland’s professional competence has no bearing on his approval by the Senate, a hearing in which the Senate might assess his professional competence will not be held.
With such attitudes coming both from the person aspiring to be the president who appoints federal judges and from the Senate majority leader who controls the approval of such appointments, prospects for maintaining an independent and professional federal judiciary do appear to be getting a bit more dim.
Michael Fargione, Eden Prairie
The writer is an attorney.
SPEECH AND IDEAS
You just can’t stop them
I completely agree with Case Pollock’s June 10 commentary “Why all should care about the erosion of free speech.” He hit the nail right on the head. I just would like to add a couple of points to further solidify his position with those who might still disagree. First, you cannot kill an idea by suppressing it. It just doesn’t work that way. Suppression will only drive an idea underground, where it can still continue to grow quietly, and generally unnoticed, within the “ bubbles” of its supporting factions. Most likely, it will resurface with perhaps even more supporters.
There’s only one effective way to fight a bad idea. That is to publicly counter it with a better idea. However, a bad idea can’t be countered publicly until it’s been expressed publicly. For that reason alone, if for no other reason, free speech must be absolutely unfettered, and never suppressed.
Karl D. Sommer, Bloomington