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City OKs streetcar studies
‘Starter’ line would extend to East Side
After a long public hearing, St. Paul is on track to introduce streetcar service.
The St. Paul City Council voted 6-0 at its July 9 meeting, following the hearing, to pursue a network of seven streetcar lines, and also to further study a proposed four-mile starter line that would stretch from West Seventh Street through downtown St. Paul and into the East Side via East Seventh Street.
The Seventh Street route was identified as a starter route in an earlier streetcar study.
Dan Bostrom, East Side council member for Ward 6, abstained from voting, citing concerns over the cost estimates for building streetcar lines.
As part of the council’s motion, the group decided that further study of the starter line would wait on the conclusion of two regional transit studies -- the Rush Line Corridor and Riverview Corridor studies are underway, and will look at comprehensive regional transit plans in Ramsey and Dakota counties.
The studies could take two years or more to complete.
Michelle Beaulieu, a city planner for St. Paul who’s been working on the streetcar study, explained the decision doesn’t necessarily mean the streetcar study is delayed, saying planners are “not pushing it back, (but) just getting the information we need for these studies in kind of a different format.”
The city’s study will use information obtained in the two regional studies, and city staff will work with Ramsey and Dakota counties, too.
A large contingency of residents attended the hearing to argue against introducing streetcars, and comments were limited to short bursts to accommodate the number of public commenters.
Opponents worry about costs
Comments opposing the study ranged from objections to the expense, to concerns about current road conditions and fears that putting in streetcars would harm local businesses and increase taxes.
The Seventh Street starter line has been projected at $250 million.
Joe Landsberger of the West Seventh Business Association said that none of the business owners along the street support going forward with the study.
Jay Salman, who owns Wild Onion on Summit Hill, raised concerns about how streetcars would affect parking, and how funding the projects would affect taxpayers.
One opposer, concerned with how a streetcar line would be paid for, declared, “We’re all out of money, folks; we’re borrowing money from China.”
Russ Stark, council member for Ward 4, later addressed how a streetcar project would be paid for -- through a mix of local, federal, and state funding.
After opponents of the streetcar study spoke, a modest line formed for proponents of the study.
Tim Herman, director of the East Side Area Business Association, said a streetcar line could “accelerate business and economic development.”
He predicted added transit options could open up possibilities for 35 acres of developable land on the East Side.
East Sider Eric Saathoff, who said he’s a bus rider and bike commuter, said a streetcar sounded like a more promising form of transportation than the 64 bus he sometimes takes.
While he’s not convinced that streetcars are the way to go, he said, “I think this study should go forward... to see what we can get from that.”
Council members weigh in
After the comments were closed, the council members voiced their thoughts.
City council president Kathy Lantry noted that the council was not voting on implementing a streetcar line, but rather just moving forward with additional studies of the proposed route.
Stark, addressing residents’ concerns about subsidizing transit, noted roads are subsidized by taxpayers in much the same way as other forms of transit.
“We have to keep finding reasons for more and more people to come back to St. Paul,” he said. “We don’t want to just be a bedroom community for the job center, which is right now, frankly, Minneapolis.”
Bostrom asserted that with the amount spent on the starter line, St. Paul Public Works could resurface the entire city’s road system.
He also asserted that the majority of people drive cars rather than use public transit.
“The city is running on automobiles,” he said. “That is a fact of life.”
Chris Tolbert, council member for Ward 3, said he’s not sure any one form of transit is the ticket for St. Paul.
“I’m not sold on streetcars either, I’m not sold on (light rail), I’m not sold on (bus rapid transit), I’m not sold on buses, I’m not sold on freeways or roads,” he said.
“Just as streetcars are expensive, roads are expensive... it’s prudent for us to start studying these things.”
Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.