It Just Makes You Feel Poor

Edited April 11, 2011, now with more litter


I took my family on the Hiawatha LRT for some cheap entertainment, my son really likes trains and, as far as I know, it is the cheapest train-ride in the Twin Cities except for the free airport people-mover, which is quite brief (And for under-sixes, at free, it is less expensive than any ride at Mall of America or Rosedale, or the train ride at the Transportation Museum). We drove to the nearest station (Franklin Avenue), and parked adjacent to the station (for free).


The litter-strewn, ticket-machine-jammed Franklin Avenue LRT station, as my wife said, “just makes you feel poor”. Located in a no-man’s land beside Cedar and Hiawatha, it is not a place one feels safe walking to, especially at night. I realize it is the end of winter, and the accumulated detritus of six months past is just par for the course, but is no one responsible for cleaning up the hill adjacent to the station, or the boulevard along the street? This is the same kind of big investment in capital but “not one penny for maintenance” philosophy that led the buses to decline, and the streetcars before them. At least there was a police car parked next to the station, hopefully deterring violence that is dragging some systems down.

The perception of transit as a failure is succinctly summarized in the the attributed (though not confirmed) Thatcher quote: “Any man who finds himself on a bus over the age of 26 can consider himself a failure in life.”

A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King
A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King

I had not actually ridden the train past the airport myself, since the airport (or downtown) is my usual end-destination if I am taking the LRT. Since the Number 8 Bus does not run on weekends, the LRT is normally functionally in-accessible for trips like the Mall of America. So I was treated to the LRT of Broken Dreams that is Bloomington. A station every 200 yards, and no business, just grass and asphalt and one park-and-ride ramp. The line has had nearly 7 years to attract development (more if you count construction, when it was obvious a line would be built) and no one has said “this is the place for me”. The activities along the line past the airport seem to all pre-date it. There is of course a nice plan, shown on the right, with lots of tree circles. Given all the hoopla and awards the plan had won, I had thought the developments (or at least some of them) there had actually been built. For now they are just imaginings.

The Bloomington stations, which serve fictional future suburbanites, do look much nicer than Franklin Avenue which serves real city-dwellers. Those are the priorities of our society.

5 thoughts on “It Just Makes You Feel Poor

  1. If Benjamin likes trains and you enjoy cheap thrills, you might looking into William James Sidis’ monumental “Notes on the Collection of Transfers,” wherein the author categorizes all known specimens of American public transport transfer slips and outlines a means of getting from one end of the country to the other for the cost a single transit fare. Unfortunately, the book is rather outdated.


  2. The development potential for the Franklin station area was decimated back around 1950 by the “Cedar Avenue Grade Separation Project“, and was worsened by the later conversion of Hiawatha Avenue into a highway and the construction of I-94 just to the north.
    Oddly, the region around the Franklin stop may actually be the most-populated area along the whole line, according to the Center for Transit-Oriented Development’s TOD tool. It calculated a population of 10,926 within 1/2-mile using year 2000 data, though it probably averages out numbers from nearby census tracts, which might not take into account the no-man’s land immediately adjacent to the stop.
    I’m kind of glad that the Bloomington Center development hasn’t happened — it all seemed too monolithic to start out with. A larger number of smaller buildings oriented in a more urban style would likely be better. However, a big problem here is probably the airport, which creates noise — and the risk of something falling out of the sky and killing people and/or destroying property.


  3. I’m guessing that your phrase “ticket-machine-jammed” means the ticket machine was out of service, because my problem with the Franklin station is that there is only one ticket machine, at the other end of the station from the westbound Franklin buses, necessitating a choice between a sprint and fare evasion for those who arrive at the same time as a train.
    To answer your question, Hennepin County is responsible for maintaining the detritus-scattered hill and the wide median, which remarkably was empty for decades until someone in the last decade finally realized it might look a little nicer with trees. I think they actually contract with the city for routine maintenance though, and for some reason the city doesn’t jump on garbage as quickly as they do potholes.
    In fairness to the development potential of the Hiawatha line, the Bloomington plan was only approved in 2005, leaving it only a short amount of time to complete the acquisition and replatting needed for a huge project like this before the economy tanked. The failure to plan for Hiawatha inspired TOD was a weakness that Bloomington shared with Minneapolis – see Carol Becker & Gary Schiff tussle in the comments of a recent Steve Berg column:


  4. Way to “keep it real”.
    Of course, the Ramsey Town Center project had some nice architectural renderings and won some design awards as well. Good intentions and all…
    But most of all, the lovely story of your experience at the Franklin Station should serve as yet another reminder to FIX IT FIRST! I’ve been there. It made me feel poor too.


  5. I’m from Knoxville, TN, and was returning on a flight from Portland, OR this past November when I had the opportunity to ride the Hiawatha LRT into downtown and back due to a long enough layover.
    Overall, it looked like a decent system, but then I never got off the train. I had my camera with me, and when it would stop I would hang out a door and shoot a few photos to document the system for my own purposes. I didn’t see the problems you refered to, but then it was before winter and I couldn’t see a lot beyond the staion platforms.
    My main negative observation was the lack of station area development, or even evidence of that potential at most stations. It can happen, I’m sure, but without the focused opportunity, it’s going to be a lot harder to pull off. Portland has done ok overall on their MAX lines, although some station areas have a lot more potential than others. Charlotte, NC seems to have done pretty well in that important category overall, but time will tell.


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