Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Survey Says!

Regional Government conducts a poll

The Metropolitan Council (of the Twin Cities - Minneapolis/St. Paul) may regret ever sending me a survey form. According to the welcome letter I was randomly selected to participate in their state of the metro questionaire. I gleefully filled it out...

I have never been a big fan of the Met Council primarily over their growth restriction policies. By drawing an imaginary line beyond which they would not extend regional services they have managed to drive up property values on the inside making the nice houses in the outer ring suburbs out of reach for most of us. In turn it has forced people who desire a little more space and little more house for their money move further and further out encouraging the very sprawl they sought to supress. Eventually the road capacity out in the hinterlands becomes an issue and even more development follows the bigger, wider new roads.

Yes, the effects of unintended circumstances often plague central planning. This is not to say the Met Council doesn't play an important role in the areas where metro services cross city lines such as waste management, roads and mass transit.

The survey asked what was the single best thing and what was the single worst thing about our metro area. After traveling to nearly all the major cities in our region of the country I think it's fair to say that our prosperity is easily the best thing about the Minneapolis and St. Paul area. The worst thing is something we share with every city, county and state in the union: illegal immigration! I can almost guarantee this will not see the light of day when the results of this survey is published in a few months - but they have to hear it.

The other thing they will not like to hear is the inadequate state of our freeway capacity. The Twin Cities is around the 14th or 15th largest metro area in the country and yet we still have for the most part a 2 lane beltway circling the central cities. I am all for mass transist (I ride the bus everyday) when and where it makes sense. Still, the need for lane miles and sensible freeway design is elemental to the quality of life these central planners are so transfixed on.

Recently the Met Council opened up a one billion dollar light rail line to much fanfare. It runs 12 miles between the Mall of America, the airport and downtown Minneapolis... That's right - one billion dollars for 12 miles. Despite the fact that the ridership and usage surpasses what was expected the line accomplishes absolutely nothing in the way of traffic congestion relief. Seems like a whole lot of money for such a little return especially since the state and regional government will be subsidizing the damn thing in perpetuity.

Commuter rail defenders will say "well you have to start somewhere!" Indeed. Then WHY is the next line being pushed a rail link between the St. Cloud area and downtown Minneapolis? St Cloud is a city 70 miles away and the only thing a commuter rail will accomplish out there is more urban sprawl which is exactly what the Met Council is trying to supress.

I would be the first in line to ride the rail from my neighborhood in St. Paul that took me to my office in downtown Minneapolis - and there would be thousands of people standing behind me. A line from the east metro intersecting downtown St. Paul and ending in downtown Minneapolis would take thousands of cars off the freeway. A second line from the south metro to downtown Minneapolis would also relieve major daily freeway congestion. I may cost several billion dollars - but so does concrete for roads and overpasses and the gas to run all those cars riding on them.

I understand that the urbanization of more and more land will at some point be disasterous. What I don't understand is the central cities and the Met Council's excruciatingly slow pace on urban renewal. City life can be quite enjoyable and very practical especially as our population ages. Yet all the redevelopment seems to be on high end condos in the downtown areas when the need is for decent, modestly priced single family homes in nice neighborhoods. Perhaps my lack of knowledge about the economics of urban redevelopment hampers me on this - but why can't there be profitability in buldozing urban blight and building homes? It would seem to address the problem of sprawl and the infrastructure (roads, sewers, utilities etc) would already be there.

By and large my response to their survey is probably a lone voice barking in the wind. I do appreciate, however, that they do seemingly care what the Average Joe thinks.



Timothy Birdnow said...

City life can be quite enjoyable and very practical especially as our population ages. Yet all the redevelopment seems to be on high end condos in the downtown areas when the need is for decent, modestly priced single family homes in nice neighborhoods

That is the same approach being taken here in St. Louis, and probably everywhere else. Everyone looks at what worked in New York and thinks they can simply copy their model. I don`t know about other cities, but St. Louis real estate does not have anywhere near the value of property in New York, and trying to suck wealthy people into the downtown area is hopeless; you get more bang for your buck in the `burbs. New York is a city where people generally HAVE to live, and these condos do well as a result. (Nobody wants to fight NYC traffic, or spend an hour on the train to get home.) In the smaller midwestern cities the well-to-do can afford to buy acreage with beautiful mansions within minutes of the city. Why would anyone want a loft condo on a busy street in downtown?

Still, everyone keeps trying to fit a round peg into a square hole, and they can`t understand why they don`t get the same results as NYC. Here in St. Louis the mayor (a half-wit democrat) began putting the screws to landlords ala Guilliani. This worked fine in New York, where a property owner could sell a dilapidated building for a kings ransom, but it is catastrophic here in the `Lou where the property owner comes out ahead if he deeds his building to the city rather than spend a fortune making repairs. St. Louis actually had to pass a law making it illegal to do that!

Craig, you are 100% correct in your assessment of what needs to be done; unfortunately, the people who tend to wind up running these beaurocratic hellholes haven`t got a clue.

Timothy Birdnow said...
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TJ Willms said...

Who exactly are these folks on the MET council accountable to? The Council is made up entirely of political appointees and in Minnesota that means Democrats. They have no understanding whatever in the concept of unintended consequences. They repeatedly institute policies that have proven detrimental to the citizens living in the metro area and the hell with the consequences; they don’t have to face the voters at the ballot box.

They also provide the Politicians somewhere to point the finger of blame when their nifty schemes turn out less than perfect. Thanks for giving them an earful, They need it badly and I didn’t get that opportunity.