Will new transitway spur development in north Minneapolis?

This Friday is the deadline for public comment on the scope of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Bottineau Transitway. The 13-mile bus rapid transit or light rail line would run from downtown Minneapolis to the northwest suburbs. The line would run through parts of north Minneapolis, a section of town that contains some of the poorest and economically underdeveloped neighborhoods.

I checked the ‘Get to NoMi’ (North Minneapolis) Facebook group to see what north siders are saying about the plan. Responses ranged from cautious hope to skepticism. As a former north side resident myself, I recognize this as a common response to news of future city development plans.

Some Minneapolis City Council members are also not convinced that the transit plan, as it’s currently being proposed, will bring significant economic development to the north side. The council did vote today to be an official partner in the planning process and it also approved a written document outlining what city officials want to be included in the DEIS.

The initial plan includes two different ways for the line to pass through north Minneapolis. One, called D1, largely circumvents much of the north side. The other, D2, would travel along a few main arterial roads in the north side. However, city officials say neither route would do a lot to bring needed economic development to north Minneapolis. And they are recommending the DEIS look at making other transit improvements in the area in addition to the Bottineau line:

Recommendation: The City of Minneapolis recommends that the DEIS include an analysis of the distribution of the project’s benefits relative to the transit-dependent, minority and low-income communities in the corridor for the D1 alignment alternative. The City also recommends that, separate from the Bottineau Transitway project, the Twin Cities region pursue arterial transitway improvements (streetcar or rapid bus) and transit-oriented development initiatives on one or more arterial streets in North Minneapolis, potentially including West Broadway Avenue, Penn Avenue North, and Emerson/Fremont Avenue N.

The Minneapolis Park Board is also offering its recommendations on the scope of the DEIS. The board of commissioners supports the Bottineau Transitway, but commissioners have particular concerns about the D1 route:

In review of the proposed routes, the MPRB believes that the D2 Alignment presents the greatest opportunities for urban revival, economic development, strong ridership, and transportation equity in North Minneapolis and therefore is the only legitimate option. In addition, the MPRB believes that the D1 Alignment presents great potential for significant impacts to current and potential natural resources, parkland, and recreation opportunities it is entrusted to protect.

The park board has also expressed concern about how construction of the line along Highway 55 will impact the many large trees that line the median.

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