Not all LRT projects are created equal – or promote equity
By far the largest proposed public works expenditure in Minnesota history, SWLRT prioritizes and would overwhelmingly serve a select exurban and suburban area of the metro area and Minnesota as shown by route selection, ridership projections, and distribution of project expenditures.
- Approximately 45% of SWLRT riders are expected to use stations in the two most distant and affluent municipalities on the route, Eden Prairie and Minnetonka.
- The median household income in Eden Prairie is $96,000, per U.S. Census Data, with Eden Prairie average household net worth estimated at $842,000 per Realtor.com.
- Minnetonka median household income is $80,000, with average household net worth estimated at $792,000.
- The Minnesota state median household income is $61,000.
- Eden Prairie and Minnetonka commuters have a shorter mean travel time to work than the state average per census data and already have better transit than most areas in the state and metro with the Southwest Transit Express bus, a wi-fi-equipped bus service that would be retained and actually compete with SWLRT.
- Southwest metro freeways are not used efficiently or up to capacity due to extremely high one-driver-per-car/SUV usage. Carpooling on Hwy 100 is likely at least 3-5% below the national average of 10%.
SWLRT avoids both urban density and the areas of most concentrated poverty.
- Overall, 83% of projected SWLRT riders would use suburban stations and 17% would use stations in Minneapolis.
- By 2030, projected roundtrip ridership is 266 individuals at the 2 stations skirting urban areas of concentrated poverty.
- The urban station with highest projected usage, Calhoun Station at the very edge of Minneapolis, is situated in an affluent area and designed to serve Edina and affluent parts of St. Louis Park.
SWLRT sharply increases the inequity of jobs access that already overwhelmingly favors suburban residents.
- The Minneapolis Foundation found that less than 25% of the total jobs in the city are held by Minneapolis residents (One Minneapolis, 2011).
- The Brookings Mind the Gap study found that a higher percentage of well – paying jobs are located in the core cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, rather than in the suburbs. As stated above, southwest suburban residents already have excellent transit and freeway access to these well-paying urban jobs.
- According to the Minneapolis Foundation, while 58% of the 275,000 jobs in the city paid an annual wage of $40,000 or more in 2011, Minneapolis residents held only 19% of these prime jobs.
- In fact, the jobs filled by Minneapolis residents are more likely to be the city’s lower wage jobs.
- While SWLRT promoters tout improved transit access to 60,000 jobs in the LRT corridor, suburban commuters already have excellent transit and freeway access to these jobs, and both lower skilled and professional positions in the urban core are filled disproportionately by suburbanites commuting into the city.
Prescribing LRT to the suburbs as the way to improve jobs access and equity for inner city residents is grossly misleading and a misdirection of resources for the purpose of state and metro equity goals.
- Improving jobs access for urban residents in terms of transit would focus on improving inner city transit rather than transit to jobs in the suburbs.
- To actually reduce structural rather than cyclical unemployment, Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program research recommends a very different solution from suburban rail for choice riders, and that is, narrowing the educational gap to level the playing field and enable competition for well-paying jobs (Brookings, “Education, Jobs Openings, and Unemployment in Metropolitan America,” 2012).
- Brookings research also shows that improving education simultaneously stimulates entrepreneurship, economic growth, and job creation (Ibid).
- For those urban core residents without employment, the primary barrier is not transit access, but education.
LRT Done Right 1/5/2016