My son Jules loves trains. I like trains too and my enthusiasm was probably the seed that grew into his obsession. My good friend Joe bought Jules a copy of “Trainz Railroad Simulator” for Christmas a year ago. It was in the bargain bin at Mills Fleet Farm:

trainz_fronttrainz_back
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Let’s say for a moment you’re a passenger on MetroTransit’s 10N northbound. You meant to get off at 52nd & Central because you work at one of the retailers near 53rd and Central, but you missed your stop. The next stop is just north of 694, at Central & Hackmann, by the Holiday Station. The fastest way to get back would be to walk south on Central.

10N-walking

However MnDOT (as much as they love the automobile) have forbidden pedestrians on Central Ave. between 53rd and Medtronic Pkwy. (where the 694 interchange resides). There are posted “no pedestrian” signs as well as no sidewalks anywhere in the area. So legally the shortest route for pedestrians is to cross 694 using the Matterhorn bridge, adding a full mile to the trip:
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I have the privilege of living walking distance from a bus route that has served me well for most of my time spent in the Twin Cities: The 10. When I was a kid growing up in Northeast Minneapolis, my dad would take me to Twins games downtown on the 10. Now in Fridley, I can still take it to any number of businesses along Central Ave. I can also head downtown and make any number of connections. The 10 runs late into the night, so I can even take it home after a long night of imbibing.

However, my closest bus stop (Central Ave. & Gardena Ave. by Moore Lake Beach) is a pedestrian SNAFU, no thanks in part to Fridley’s city planners.

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East Moore Lake Drive

While only a tiny stretch in length (it only spans three blocks), E. Moore Lake Drive has serious girth. This section of road feels strangely disjointed from its bookends. West Moore Lake Drive and Rice Creek Road which extend to the west and east (respectively) are both 2-lane roads, while E. Moore Lake Drive is a 5-lane stretch that badly needs to be put on a road diet to improve safety, and at the same time, capture value.

There are many fine businesses nestled on this tiny stretch of road: Ax-Man Surplus, Dave’s Sport Shop, Fantasy Gifts (for the naughtier bunch :)), an Asian food market, a couple of restaurants, a day care center, a dentist… the list goes on. Fridley, being the “Suburban Hell” that it is, had little (or no) foresight into how people without automobiles would patronize these businesses – they simply assumed that it would never be the case.

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This may also serve as an open letter to the Northstar Corridor Development Authority (NCDA) and the Metropolitan Council.

Northstar Commuter Rail service wasn’t designed to fail, but it’s been built that way.  Rather than solely focusing on the negatives, I’d like to compare and contrast a similar system and how they’re doing things right.

Recipe for Success: FrontRunner

Let’s take a look at a successful example, that is similar to Northstar: The FrontRunner in Utah. It uses the exact same equipment as Northstar.  In fact you may have seen one of the engines Metrotransit bought from the Utah Transit Authority (UTA), before it was repainted:

From steve55126 on Flickr

FrontRunner goes from Salt Lake City to Ogden, a shorter distance but with similar characteristics. At a price tag of $600M it didn’t come cheap, but I feel they did it “right” and would like to highlight the differences.

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