For the nation, the grass is greener in Minneapolis

Like Dunkin’ Donuts, it’s becoming quite the fad to worship at the feet of Minneapolis, even if there’s a fair amount of mythology in the process.

The Atlantic seemed to have started the trend a month or so ago when a reporter, without visiting the city, described it as a “miracle,” which it is so long as you ignore all data and evidence that while it’s a really great place, it’s hardly a miracle.

Last month — and this will shock those who’ve ever tried to get from a suburb to downtown Minneapolis by public transportation outside of rush hour — CNN declared that if there’s ever a place that got transit right, it’s Minneapolis St. Paul.

This week, Chicago Magazine jumps aboard with the worship.

Curiously, this new trend comes because someone in 2015 noticed a law that’s been around for 40 years — the fiscal disparities law — which shares some of the economic benefits of richer communities with poorer ones.

Earlier this month, the Brookings Institution said in the aftermath of Ferguson, look to Minneapolis.

For the vast majority of communities, the sharing program has meant lower taxes and better services. A 2012 study concluded that without the program, nearly 80 percent of the region’s 186 municipalities would have to raise taxes to maintain their current level of services. Revenue sharing has enabled the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul to invest in higher quality public services like policing and education over the decades since the law was enacted. Many older suburbs bear less of the public burden for repairing old infrastructure, renewing public facilities, cleaning up brownfields, upgrading neighborhood housing, or dealing with abandoned properties. Even many developing bedroom suburbs have benefited from revenue sharing since these places often lack a strong commercial tax base, leading to shortages in infrastructure or education funding.

These results indicate that regional revenue sharing can enable at-risk suburbs like Ferguson to pay for basic services like public safety without relying excessively on fining their small citizenries.

The jury on that is still out, with a local debate raging on whether public policy is concentrating poverty in the cities.

The newest article, however, weights the Twin Cities transportation system heavily in its evaluation, even as Minnesota officials try to rejigger transportation funding by noting the system here isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The Chicago folks see the greener grass anyway.

“They have much better commute times than the Chicago region—it’s up to an extra day a month that they gain by not sitting in traffic than Chicago,” Mancini Nichols says. “They’ve implemented many things to reduce their commute over time. They were part of a federal pilot that allowed congestion pricing on existing highways; they implemented it on I-394. And they didn’t just say, we’re going to have a toll lane and you can have the benefits of paying more and getting to where you’re going faster; they paired it with bus rapid transit. They invested a lot in their bus system.”

Bus ridership has been increasing in Minneapolis; in Chicago, it fell eight percent last year, which the Tribune’s Jon Hilkevitch attributes to “better service reliability on trains compared to buses, which are frequently stuck in heavy traffic.” Bus rapid transit is supposed to mitigate that, but it’s been a tough sell in Chicago.

That’s an easy fix, Chicago. Just stop being the very center of the country’s transportation system, where four interstate highway systems merge.

As for the bus system, you probably haven’t heard — it might be cut.
But have you seen our light rail?

Recently Minneapolis and St. Paul were connected by a rail line for the first time in six decades. Along that line will be several mixed-income housing developments. Connecting the two cities is part of a whole: the region is working together politically and physically, rather than battling each other for the pieces.

It sounds like a wonderful place, but the reality is when it comes to transportation, Minnesotans are fighting for a piece of the pie like everywhere else.

All in all, the Twin Cities are like Dunkin’ coffee. Given the price, it’s a good cup of joe. But let’s not carried away.

(h/t: Matt Sepic, Tyler Breuch)