Northstar Commuter Rail

Roads - Rails - Sidewalks - Bikeways
RailBaronYarr
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Re: Northstar

Postby RailBaronYarr » April 26th, 2013, 10:09 am

MNdible wrote:
mister.shoes wrote:And now we're slowly discovering that particular decision may not have been the smartest thing we've ever done. Congestion, high gas prices, sprawl, pollution, hollowed out towns, unwalkable environments, big-box retail, and more can all be traced on some level to our car-dominated culture. This country is only getting denser, and relying on cars breaks down at certain densities. There's just no more room.
Yes, I get it. I really really do.

But this is commuter rail. And you're not going to "fix" the northwest suburbs by putting commuter rail stations in the middle of quaint downtowns that aren't close to where people live, or easy to get to, or (avert your eyes) easy to park one's car at. What that will do is ensure that the commuter rail is a failure.

Everybody loves rail, and it will fix all problems, but Northstar is really just a big suburban express bus shuttling residents from where they live to where they work.

EDIT: Also, what TCmetro just said above.
Yep, doing one individual thing is not going to "fix" anything. But if you never put the station in the center of town where many people shop, eat, worship, drink, and drop their kids at day care (ALL things within a 1/4 mile of where I would put the station), you'll never have that be a mode that could conceivably compete with the car on freeway as commuting option. Yes, this is but one thing of many planners and engineers need to start doing. Saying no to continued sprawl, office/industrial parks, etc is another. Changing regulations on land-use is another. Start putting together the pieces and it will happen - it may take 30 years for the market to respond, about as long as it took us to firmly plant ourselves in a nearly completely car-dependent environment. And, again, parking exists in many old downtowns and would be very easy to use or slightly modify to make those park and rider's life just as easy. For the places that don't have productive enough centers of town (Coon Rapids, Fridley), either create it through value capture or pass them by.

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Re: Northstar

Postby twincitizen » April 26th, 2013, 10:14 am

Putting the stations near the center of town, for both Big Lake and Elk River, could have had the added benefit of focusing some in-town development, strengthening the existing "main street" business nodes. The current station locations do nothing of the sort and only encourage more auto-oriented sprawl. Obviously park & rides are needed, and the Elk River one gets quite full, but I think it would have been worth the extra public investment to put it in the town, rather than in an open field, just because the land was cheap/available.

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Re: Northstar

Postby UptownSport » April 26th, 2013, 9:11 pm

mister.shoes wrote:
UptownSport wrote:United States decided the auto was primary means of transportation decades ago, moving a station to where only townies can use it isn't going to change that fact.
And now we're slowly discovering that particular decision may not have been the smartest thing we've ever done. Congestion, high gas prices, sprawl, pollution, hollowed out towns, unwalkable environments, big-box retail, and more can all be traced on some level to our car-dominated culture. This country is only getting denser, and relying on cars breaks down at certain densities. There's just no more room.
No one's arguing that cars are right, most efficient or even don't make some things really bad.
Cars are the way most people transport themselves, whether I or you like it or not.

Moving a station here or there isn't going to change the fact that the train doesn't go to St. Cloud, and the train runs so infrequently you'd essentially be trapped in some little rat-hole town with out a car

RailBaronYarr
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Re: Northstar

Postby RailBaronYarr » April 27th, 2013, 7:26 am

UptownSport wrote:Moving a station here or there isn't going to change the fact that the train doesn't go to St. Cloud, and the train runs so infrequently you'd essentially be trapped in some little rat-hole town with out a car
Again, a product of the decisions they made and the box around what we then define Northstart as a success or not. The location of the stations (including what towns were served) effectively make this a commuter line - in and out mainly at peak rush hour times, and then for Twins games. Design this as a regional rail line with stops in the city paired with land-use, zoning, parking minimum, and property tax changes in the municipalities served, run trains throughout the day, but slightly more frequently during rush hours (as they already do), it may be a success. And I'm not talking year 1, over the long-haul.

Aville_37
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Re: Northstar

Postby Aville_37 » April 27th, 2013, 7:46 am

Can someone remind me, with the S.W. Corridor in the planning stages, are there plans to extend the Northstar Line to St. Cloud? Would seem to make sense.

UptownSport
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Re: Northstar

Postby UptownSport » April 27th, 2013, 10:15 am

RailBaronYarr wrote:Again, a product of the decisions they made and the box around what we then define Northstart as a success or not. The location of the stations (including what towns were served) effectively make this a commuter line - in and out mainly at peak rush hour times, and then for Twins games. Design this as a regional rail line with stops in the city paired with land-use, zoning, parking minimum, and property tax changes in the municipalities served, run trains throughout the day, but slightly more frequently during rush hours (as they already do), it may be a success. And I'm not talking year 1, over the long-haul.
Some day, if we don't get flying cars, this might happen- it's a real wonder visiting an awesome transit system- Hop on the regional bahn from Kühdorf to town, take U-Bahn to a neighborhood station, then a trolley to the castle you're visiting-
All while drinking beer!!!

Just wonderful!

The train is a failure- as has been said. Right now people out there aren't going to get out of their cars even if it kills them!

If we look to the core where some people don't have cars, or driving sucks except from 2AM- 5AM, people will gladly hop a train to get groceries, go to work or see a movie. I really think major investment needs to occur in the core where there's no doubt it'll be used. Perhaps it'll spread when people see the success!

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Re: Northstar

Postby NickP » April 27th, 2013, 3:50 pm

Hey folks, I'd like to chime in on this argument. I wouldn't go so far as to say the line is a failure. For one, despite being below projections, the line still transports of good number of passengers per day and I view this as a positive. In addition, the term failure to me that implies that the line can NEVER be fixed, which I do not agree with. I do think that, since we had not had a commuter rail line in the Twin Cities for a long time, the planers and operators of the line did make mistakes. They do seem to be tweaking the system, however, and slowly figuring out what works. See the attached Star Tribune article that indicates ridership has gone up. Still below initial projections, but maybe that is more of an indication that those projection were incorrect to begin with.
http://www.startribune.com/local/north/ ... ml?refer=y

Also, I don't see how we can be critical of the location of the stations when, at least via google maps, it doesn't seem the rail line goes through any of the town centers. Thus, positioning the stations in the middle of the town would have required building new track and displacing a lot of people. If I'm wrong about this, please point out any track routings I missed.
In any case, I'm for Northstar, I like to see it mature and grow and hope we can expand the system.

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Re: Northstar

Postby mulad » April 27th, 2013, 4:13 pm

To answer Aville_37's question, there are still vague plans for Northstar to be extended eventually, but there is no specific timeline for it, and it would not be timed to be done at the same time as Southwest unless someone really gets a fire in their belly about it very quickly.

Now my memory is failing on whether Mn/DOT is still considering St. Cloud as a possible terminus for the 2nd daily Empire Builder. That might happen, but could still take 18-24 months (or more) once a decision is finally made, just since acquiring equipment takes time and the freight railroads are not known for negotiating quickly.

I think the Anoka station was placed about as well as could be managed given the existing rail alignment. You couldn't do any better without building a spur straight into downtown (and there used to be one, though I'm not quite sure if that was for steam/diesel trains or just for the electric interurban streetcar that used to run to Anoka). Still, it's roughly a mile away from the downtown, and there are express buses which go straight through the center of town.

I'm personally most critical of the Elk River station location. Most of the others I could take or leave -- but I'd love to hear any suggestions.

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Re: Northstar

Postby Suburban Outcast » April 28th, 2013, 1:51 am

My guess about the Elk River station location is that they probably did not want to put it downtown, where it could mess up future ROW for a freeway upgrade or lane expansion of Highway 10 in the city. I remember seeing documents showing either a 6-lane expressway or 4-lane freeway upgrade a couple years back on MnDOT's website.

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Re: Northstar

Postby mulad » May 1st, 2013, 2:38 am

The acres of grassy, empty space in Ramsey cost quite a bit to maintain: $738.09 per week for 7 acres. Interesting that the city says they could do it cheaper themselves, but they don't have the staff to handle it. Of course, this weekly charge is a fraction of the cost of running a single Northstar train trip, so I'm not really moaning and groaning about it much -- I just like pointing out that grass isn't free.

Anyway, about 1/10th of the cost is being charged to Metro Transit for the station area itself.

http://abcnewspapers.com/2013/04/30/ram ... cor-sites/

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Re: Northstar

Postby Suburban Outcast » May 1st, 2013, 6:34 am

I've heard people whine about spending on light rail is wasteful spending, but that area in Ramsey is what I call wasteful spending. I don't get why nearly every mid-sized to large exurb/suburb has some sort of pipe dream on newer developments. Is anything actually going to get built there? Why even cut the grass?

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Re: Northstar

Postby mulad » May 1st, 2013, 9:40 am

If I had been able to dictate things, I probably would have put the Ramsey station about a mile farther southeast, in an area that was already somewhat developed -- or potentially another mile along the tracks right by the Anoka/Ramsey border, but that would have been pretty close to the Anoka station (still 2 miles away, though). That way, traffic heading from the bulk of Ramsey wolud more naturally funnel toward the station, potentially well enough to justify a few bus routes feeding into it. Maybe.

I'm not a big fan of greenfield development, but I hate the existing sprawl in the vast majority of Ramsey much worse. While I'll quibble about the exact placement, I really appreciate that the city identified the fact that they lacked any sort of "center" and decided to correct that problem. They picked a spot along the tracks that can slowly turn into a good TOD zone. Will it actually happen? It'll be a slow process, but it'll can happen if they can commit to it. I'm sure there's other building still happening out in the 1- to 2-acre super-sprawl plots throughout the city's territory, but if people continue to move out there, hopefully they'll primarily choose to be close to the station and the nearby businesses and services. I'm not sure if the city is attempting to restrict the large-lot single-family-home developments at all, though.

It's also good that they started on this before the entire city got fully "built out". I find it hard to believe that their historical pattern of development is pulling in enough in property taxes to cover their financial needs in future decades as roads, water lines, and sewers need to be rebuilt. Still, it's hard to say if they're pushing hard enough -- on the fringes of this "COR" area, many of the homes and apartments had still been developed with poor use of the land (in my opinion, anyway). Except for the newest apartment building right by the station, it's has still been pretty sprawl-y (and even that one has to deal with the oversized parking ramp it partly wraps around. They've still got tons of empty room to work with, though.

Anyway, regarding the grass -- I'd definitely prefer to see the land get filled in with some plantings of native prairie grasses. Just burn it once every couple of years, maybe mow the edges once a year, and otherwise leave it alone...

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Re: Northstar

Postby Suburban Outcast » May 1st, 2013, 11:03 am

Yeah Ramsey's sprawl is pretty atrocious with rural residential areas dominating the land use in the exurb. The townhomes located near the Ramsey and Bunker Lake Blvd intersection could have been built closer to the town center, so at least there would be people within a very close walking distance to the rail station.

I don't know what they were thinking with expanding that parking ramp awhile back though (or just even having a ramp). It's one thing if there was a bunch of developments getting built right next to it, and while I hate to say it but I would have rather seen a simple surface lot there until there was demand for a ramp there. It's one thing having a large parking ramp in a suburb like Maple Grove, but it's overkill in an exurb like Ramsey.

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Re: Northstar

Postby Didier » May 1st, 2013, 8:16 pm

The Northstar isn't really set up to accommodate a couple from Anoka looking for a nice dinner in Elk River anyway, though, is it? Unless the frequency was way higher it's really only good for a park and ride option to downtown.

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Re: Northstar

Postby RailBaronYarr » May 1st, 2013, 9:07 pm

Didier wrote:The Northstar isn't really set up to accommodate a couple from Anoka looking for a nice dinner in Elk River anyway, though, is it? Unless the frequency was way higher it's really only good for a park and ride option to downtown.
True. Which is an indication of the warped way we view transit in general in this country. It's not seen as a mobility improving or facilitating infrastructure, merely a reward for people living in unproductive areas to get in to work a little quicker after they picked to live where they did.

IF the cities along the line had implemented different zoning, said no to sprawl, and seen population growth around their centers over the last 20 years this line could be regional rail and not commuter rail. Where every 30-60 minutes trains come in both directions throughout the day to allow people in Anoka to get to St Cloud for jobs or pleasure, or vice versa. As it stands, this is why I don't view it as a 'failure' - it cost a heck of a lot less to implement it than even adding another lane of 94 out to St Cloud would, and has the capability to add cars to carry more passengers in the future.

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Re: Northstar

Postby Suburban Outcast » May 2nd, 2013, 6:16 am

I never expected it to be for suburb-to-suburb travel, but at least if they build townhomes, they should be closer to the rail stations. Hopefully it gets expanded for St. Cloud. If they do actually expand, they should fix up the Amtrak station and keep East St. Cloud (existing Link bus station) as a university link.

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Re: Northstar

Postby Mdcastle » May 2nd, 2013, 8:01 am

The long term goal is for a 4-lane freeway through Elk River, which would include rebuilding the BNSF track. The city doesn't like that much surface traffic and a very active railroad separating downtown from the rest of the city, so they paid for a study for the best way to deal with it. A six-lane surface street was ruled out because it would just increase the separation and wouldn't handle long-term traffic forecasts. The idea is to consolidate the regional highway and rail tracks into one corridor, and build 5 overpasses to link the city and downtown area.

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Re: Northstar

Postby mattaudio » May 2nd, 2013, 8:33 am

Well, maybe it would be cheaper to focus on I-94 as the regional highway (even if it means six lanes to St. Cloud) and then skip the expense of forcing a highway through so many towns. Of course we're about 50 years too late, since this process started with the freeway bypass of Anoka long ago.

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Re: Northstar

Postby mulad » May 13th, 2013, 6:31 am

Metro Transit says that work on the Anoka station parking ramp is commencing. It will replace the south parking lot, now closed, with a 3-story structure. A temporary lot has been added nearby.

https://www.metrotransit.org/Mobile/Ale ... tList.aspx

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Re: Northstar

Postby mattaudio » May 13th, 2013, 8:21 am

Good, I was worried Metro Transit wasn't subsidizing enough car storage for park-and-ride commuters.


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