The creative placemaking effort to enliven neighborhoods surrounding the Green Line was profoundly influenced by an intensive community organizing effort to add three stations to serve largely low-income and culturally diverse neighborhoods in Saint Paul.1
In mid-2006, the Metropolitan Council unveiled a proposed alignment and station locations for the Green Line, which was then referred to as the Central Corridor. Community groups quickly saw a problem with the route: To meet outdated federal formulas for cost-effectiveness that tended to favor shorter travel times and longer distances between stops — rather than the number of people moved or the numbers of residents with access to reliable transit service — the line was planned with large service gaps in areas where the largest populations of low-income people and people of color lived. 2
In those neighborhoods where residents used the existing bus lines in the greatest numbers, planned stations were positioned one mile apart, as opposed to more typical ½-mile spacing in other parts of the corridor. As more and more residents began voicing concerns, a coalition of more than 20 grassroots organizations came together as the Stops for Us Coalition, with a primary focus on securing three additional stations.
The group organized fervently, but the metropolitan planning organization leading the project, the Metropolitan Council, was reluctant to make any changes to the planned alignment for fear of threatening the financial contribution expected from the federal government. They told grassroots leaders that changes might result in a project that doesn’t meet the Federal Transit Administration’s [FTA] “cost-effectiveness criteria.”
Not content with that response, the coalition decided that they needed data to back them up. Stops for Us secured philanthropic support to analyze station spacing and transit development in similar regions around the country. The independent analysis demonstrated how federal requirements led the Metropolitan Council to assert that including the missing stations would place stops too close together.3 The Coalition took this research all the way to Washington, DC to catch the ear of then-Federal Transit Administration head Peter Rogoff, who used the group’s data to spearhead a larger effort to rethink the FTA’s cost-effectiveness formula.
These organizing efforts, the independent analysis, and extensive lobbying all paid off.
By January 2010, the FTA made it official: Travel time would no longer trump all other considerations in evaluating lines for federal transit funding. Instead, a variety of “livability factors” would be balanced with an economic analysis.4 Read The Transport Politic from 2010: http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2010/02/03/for-2011-fta-shifts-focus-away-from-project-cost-effectiveness-index-and-towards-local-financing-commitment/ “This is a consequence of a policy change…that encourages the implementation of transit programs that do more than reduce travel time — as the cost-effectiveness index emphasizes — but also encourage livability through associated development and general lifestyle choices.” The grassroots coalition had won stations for the neighborhoods and succeeded in changing federal policy that would have benefits for communities far beyond the Twin Cities.
With an eye toward the future, the coalition also established a Central Corridor Community Agreements Coordinating Committee consisting of the neighborhood organizations representing communities along the line, with a goal of ensuring that related development would benefit those communities.
While the Stops for Us Campaign’s local organizing efforts often spelled conflict and tension for local units of government, the result of their successful campaign ultimately created a better project for everyone in the Twin Cities. Ultimately, this will make the region stronger and the resulting changes to FTA’s cost-effectiveness criteria make it easier for other communities to build better projects.
Watch this excellent summary of the effort from the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability
- Be inclusive and receptive from the beginning.
- Don’t be overly concerned or fearful if people are organizing.
- Are you dealing with the right people? Those that you may think of as leaders may not be everyone who should be at the table.
- Data doesn’t tell the whole story. Here, a strong philanthropic network funded research that led to data that legitimized the organizing efforts. Other groups may not be sophisticated enough to prove the models wrong, but their concerns may still be valid.
- A strong philanthropic community can make a difference in communities. (Philanthropy enabled a lot of the organizing, and even embraced it.)
- Community leaders should make sure they can credibly represent the lion’s share of affected residents.
- Community advocates must make themselves experts – not just on their neighborhood, culture, and community’s desires, but also on relevant policies. If your expertise isn’t sufficient, hire outside experts.
- This is a summary of the efforts of the Stops for Us Coalition, an extensive local organizing effort. Read the full story at http://www.metrostability.org/efiles/stopsforus_final.pdf.
- These federal cost-effectiveness formulas tended to favor rail projects with higher average speeds (and therefore shorter trip times), ignoring potential overall ridership and development potential around stops. This led to strong cost-effectiveness scores for heavy/commuter rail projects from suburbs into cities, rather than strong intracity lines.
- DCC has research reports on its website here: http://dcc-stpaul-mpls.org/special-projects/stops-us