The All New Annotated Met Council "Streetcar Letter" to Minneapolis

[For original letter, see this article in the Pioneer Press. For previous parts of the "all-new annotated" series, see the annotated UMN "light rail" lawsuit, or these editions of the MPR Decoder

For a non-flippant actually-serious analysis of this situation, see my post on Streets.mn: Picking A Streetcar Fight with the Met Council is the Right Move for Minneapolis.]

July 12, 2013
Mayor R.T. Rybak
350 S. 5th St., Room 331
Minneapolis, MN 55415
Dear Mayor Rybak,
The City of Minneapolis is in the process of breaking new ground HAHA IT’S A PUN for the region’s transit system through its study of streetcar alternatives, in particular through the Nicollet-Central Transit Alternative Study. The City ... CHECK IT OUT, I’M GOING TO CALL IT “THE CITY” NOW, INSTEAD OF MINNEAPOLIS, LIKE IN A LEGAL DOCUMENT (PARTY OF THE FIRST PART, HERE TO FORE KNOWN AS “THE CITY”), AS IF MINNEAPOLIS IS THE ONLY CITY... has also taken the remarkable step of developing and seeking legislative authorization for a value capture funding source to help fund this project. Given the City’s active pursuit of a first-of-its kind modern streetcar project, I thought it would be helpful and prudent to outline the Metropolitan Council’s perspective on future development of this transit mode and regional investment. I.E. LOOK, I'M BEING HELPFUL. OOPS, JUST KIDDING... YOU’RE STEPPING ON MY TOES, MINNEAPOLIS.
The Council’s current Transportation Policy Plan (TPP) is nearly silent [CRICKETS] on streetcars as a mode of transit in the region, except for a reference to Council-local government collaboration to determine when and where a streetcar project might be appropriate.  KEY WORD HERE, MINNEAPOLIS, IS “COLLABORATION.” THAT MEANS WE SIT DOWN AND TALK AND THEN YOU PRETTY MUCH DO WHAT WE WANT. The TPP also states that projects that show a positive, significant, and cost-effective transportation benefit might be funded with local, regional and federal transportation funds, KEY WORDS: TRANSPORTATION BENEFIT, LIKE WHEN PEOPLE GO FROM PLACE TO PLACE. LIKE YOU KNOW EXAMPLES INCLUDE THREE LIGHT RAIL STATIONS IN A TINY CORNER OF BLOOMINGTON THAT NOBODY USES, OR A BRT LINE FROM THE MALL TO THE APPLE VALLEY ZOO OR LRT LINES THROUGH EMPTY PARKS, ETC but a project pursued primarily for development outcomes should be funded locally and should not compete with other priorities for federal and state transportation funds. THIS IS ABOUT THE MONEY, AND NONE OF OUR TRANSIT PROJECTS ARE FOR DEVELOPMENT, SEE? THEY’RE ALL ABOUT TRANSPORTATION, CALCULATED AND PRIORITIZED WITH THE GREATEST OF CARE TO TRANSPORT THE MOST PEOPLE MOST EFFICIENTLY WITHOUT MUCH THOUGHT OF DEVELOPING ANY LAND. With numerous transit corridors identified for future investment, the demand for transit capital and operating funding greatly exceeds current funding. I.E. WE’VE GIVEN YOU YOUR FRUIT BASKET, MINNEAPOLIS, AND WE NEED TO FOCUS ON PLACATING THE SUBURBS WITH LIGHT RAIL AND PROMISES OF AS-YET-NOT-SUCCESSFUL COMMUTER LINES.
Both transportation and economic development serve an important role in helping the region grow in an efficient, connected manner and provide justification for investment. I.E. ITS NOT LIKE WE’VE NEVER HEARD OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT BEFORE… I understand that project justification for the Nicollet-Central streetcar is still under discussion by technical staff and policymakers as part of the Nicollet-Central Transit Alternatives Study. It will be important for the project justification to be well developed and vetted prior to it coming forward to the Council for consideration. I.E. … IT’S JUST THAT WE CAN’T TALK ABOUT IT EXPLICITLY IN PUBLIC FOR POLITICAL REASONS.
Work is just now beginning on the next regional TPP. I.E. ITS GONNA BE A WHILE. LIKE THREE YEARS. DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH. We hope that the City of Minneapolis will play an active role in the development of the plan, allowing us to have a more robust regional discussion about the potential for developing streetcars as a transit option. I.E. WE’LL TAKE YOUR CALLS.
Because your project is proceeding more quickly than the next TPP, I feel it is important to proactively establish lines of communication and provide guidance on this project. SLOW DOWN THERE BUDDY, YOU’RE MOVING TOO FAST…
· Collaboration: Critical to the success of any project of this magnitude is collaboration between the Council and local units of government. ...DID I MENTION COLLABORATION YET? THAT MEANS WE MEET AND YOU AGREE TO STOP SQUEEZING OUR SHOES, OR AT THE VERY LEAST, TO GET IN LINE AND WAIT LIKE A GOOD LITTLE CITY. YOU CANNOT REPEL COLLABORATION OF THIS MAGNITUDE!...  In particular, if this project someday comes to fruition, we view it as critical that it be integrated into the existing transit system, regardless of how it is funded or which agency leads the implementation. LOOK, WE BOTH KNOW THAT WE’RE GONNA END UP RUNNING THIS THING. OUR DRIVERS, OUR LOGOS, OUR TRANSFER AND TICKET SYSTEM… It is necessary to include potential funding partners and other stakeholders (Hennepin County, MnDOT, Counties Transit Improvement Board) in this collaborative effort. COLLABORATION! It is also important for the City to understand that streetcars merit a regional discussion that results in a regional policy. As you are aware, the City of St. Paul is also actively studying a modern streetcar system and potentially looking to the region for policy guidance. LOOK AT SAINT PAUL. THEY’RE CALLING US. WHY AREN’T YOU CALLING US, MINNEAPOLIS? WHY YOU GOTTA BE LIKE THAT?

Funding: As our TPP states, funding for a project like this may be different depending on whether the project’s primary function is additional transportation benefits or development outcomes. At this point, both scenarios lack a clear funding strategy, such as those that have been used for light rail projects. I.E. GET THE FEDS TO PAY FOR HALF OF EVERYTHING AND HAVE A MONOPOLY ON STATE TRANSIT FUNDING. The Council anticipates that with any Locally Preferred Alternative forwarded for Council consideration, the City will also provide a funding plan that addresses both capital and operating costs and is consistent with the project’s primary function. KEY WORDS: OPERATING COSTS. The Council, the Counties Transit Improvement Board and the City should all be at the table when this funding plan is developed. The City should understand that if a streetcar does not provide a significant transportation benefit AND BY BENEFIT, WE MEAN MOVING PEOPLE TO AND FROM THE SUBURBS, the Council may not be able to prioritize the region’s limited transit funding for a project without a significant local contribution to both capital and operating costs. AGAIN I SAY, OPERATING COSTS. I.E. WE’RE NOT GOING TO RUN THIS STREETCAR FOR YOU UNLESS YOU PONY UP. The Council also appreciates the City’s efforts to support additional funding for transit that may OR MAY NOT expand the flexibility to include streetcar. WHEN WE SAY “APPRECIATES,” WE MEAN THIS IN THE MINNESOTA NICE SENSE OF THE TERM. LIKE, “I REALLY APPRECIATES IT WHEN YOU WASH THE DISHES RIGHT AWAY AFTER YOU MAKE A GIANT MESS IN THE KITCHEN.”

· Memorandum of Understanding (MOU): If the Council formally takes a position favorable to streetcars at some future point, the Council and the City of Minneapolis should seek to enter into a formal memorandum of understanding regarding the funding, design, construction, operation and maintenance of the proposed streetcar line. I.E. WE WANT THIS IN WRITING. While it is ideal for the Council to formally take a position on streetcar as a transit mode and on the prioritization of the many competing regional projects prior to entering into such a memorandum, we recognize that we may need to be flexible and utilize short term, limited scope memorandums between the time a Locally Preferred Alternative is adopted and the time the Council takes a formal position on street cars.  I.E. WE WANT IT IN WRITING NOW.

As you move through the Nicollet-Central Study and seek to recommend a Locally Preferred Alternative, I encourage the City to remain in regular contact with the Council. I.E. CALL ME! [MAKES TELEPHONE GESTURE.]

Cole Hiniker will function as your primary staff liaison. AND HE DOESN'T HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR, CAPICE?.

This is an exciting possibility for our region and while there are many unresolved elements, the Council welcomes Minneapolis as an HYPER-active partner in the effort to expand transit options in the metro region. I.E. TAKE SOME RITALIN, MINNEAPOLIS.
Susan Haigh

Counties Transit Improvement Board
Mayor Chris Coleman, City of Saint Paul
Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, Hennepin County
Commissioner Charlie Zelle, Minnesota Department of Transportation OOPS, I FORWARDED THIS TO ALL THE PEOPLE WITH THE MONEY.

[The Met Council's pedestrian friendly office in downtown Saint Paul.]

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