A Green Line report card

We’re closing in on the end of the first full week of the Green Line — the light-rail system between Minneapolis and downtown Saint Paul. Reviews have been trickling in and they’re mostly what you’d expect: The people inclined to like the Green Line like it. The ones who are disinclined, don’t like it. No surprises, there.

But, perhaps, that’s not the way to evaluate it. Maybe it’s not so much a transportation system as a development tool.

Bill Lindeke, who writes at Twin Cities Sidewalks, says the various kvetching isn’t much different than when Interstate 94 opened in the ’60s. Some of the design carried long-lasting negative effects. But it also spawned two changing cities.

Light-rail will likely do the same thing. Soon.

Unlike the other LRT projects, the great thing about the Green Line is that it’s in the middle of a major street. Some people might see this as a huge disadvantage, causing delays and congestion for cars and transit riders alike. For me, this is the Green Line’s secret weapon.

Unlike Hiawatha Avenue, or most of the proposed SWLRT or Gateway corridor routes, here the train transforms the street. University Avenue does not feel remotely like it used to. Cars drive slowly. Eventually they’ll begin stopping for pedestrians. There will be crowds and clusters of people at street corners, crossing to and from the platforms. Unlike our city’s other transit plans, this is an urban environmental gamechanger.

Riding along the train, I can envision the virtuous cycle taking place. As more and more people ride the train, more and more buildings will be built or improved along it, and more and more people will ride the train… With each turn of the screw, the great choking mass of cars will slowly evaporate until you have a walkable urban place. This is how to plan a transit system. It’s not enough to simply add a quick transit option, you must calm traffic at the same time. Doing one without the other is weak sauce.

Disclosure: Minnesota Public Radio and the Metropolitan Council are negotiating ways to reduce noise and vibrations from the newly built light rail line outside MPR headquarters under a contract agreed to in 2009.