Saturday, May 26, 2012

Campus Connector Transitway Troubles

            I love looking at the advertisements for the Jefferson @ Berry apartments up near Prospect Park behind the WCCO Radio station along Washington. The ByMe website (which became extremely popular after their BOGO Cane’s deal back in March) constantly advertises Jefferson @ Berry, offering a money check, free parking, free food, and other assorted gifts for just visiting the complex. Although many of the other luxury apartments around campus advertise such luxuries, J@B’s location to campus is what makes it so different – it really is way out there. It’s tucked between an undeveloped yard and light industrial warehouses, and it is technically in St Paul, too. For any practical student, the walk or bike ride would be something comparable to a location near Como, and with the Central Corridor construction continuing, the desirability of its proximity seems moot. It makes me wonder what the vacancy rate is for a place whose location is right along the Campus Connector…

            Oh wait, that’s right. It’s literally right along the Campus Connector. It’s in the perfect location for anybody who needs to go either the St Paul or Minneapolis campus, right?

            Not so much. The University’s Right-of-Way along the famed exclusive route doesn’t offer any midway stops along the old rail corridor, and probably for good reason. Other than the J@B complex, there isn’t much around there that would be interesting for students. But at the same time, why wouldn’t the Connector offer a stop near J@B? Is it simply due to the express feel of the line and the University’s desire to keep it as speedy as possible, due to city zoning code legal stuff, or is there another underlying reason? The fact that the surrounding area is essentially bare, it stakes claim to potential redevelopment, whether it’s for parking or for a private development high-tech medical park. The Connector Transitway would be a great artery for connecting all elements within the two campuses.

            In my mind, the University is missing a grand opportunity for a commuter expansion in the area. From my observation, any person who commuted to work by car since TCF Stadium’s inclusion has had only but complaints about the congestion and parking around the area, and I don’t blame them. The current location of the Bank Stadium was the main surface lot for many years. From a simple Google Map study, one can see that the Connector route went right through the middle of the lot, and had several stops along the paved desert. (Note: Google Maps updated the old satellite view earlier this week to an image from this year. Those jerks…)

The light rail construction has made it even worse, making it very difficult to drive to the U of M from anywhere. As a big promoter of New Urbanism, I cynically think that it’s great that automobile drivers are being driven crazy (bad pun intended). I love the pedestrian-centric feel the University has been trying to advent in recent years. However, there will always be a market for driving commuters, and not all of them necessarily want to pay for a spot in an expensive ramp.

            With the Connector route already in place, the University’s grand opportunity would be to buy that large undeveloped, create a surface parking area, and create a bus stop right at the entrance of that lot. With the lot being 6.75 acres and calculating 350 square feet per spot, the lot could sport around 660 spots (Just to give an idea, the University Avenue Ramp near the Aquatic Center holds 521 spots). 
Right along the Transitway...

     If the city removes the blockade on Territorial/4th Street near J@B, drivers could exit right off of MN-280 from both directions, drive several blocks west to the lot, and then board the Connector for a short commute to either campus. In my ideal picture of the situation, this would solve many problems, including:
1)    Reducing drivers on University/4th/Huron near campus, making it a safer and quieter environment for the mostly pedestrian-oriented student population
2)    Segregating traffic away from the Central Corridor Light Rail mess which will be at the University-Washington-Huron intersection, possibly improving the traffic light timing for the busy area
3)    Providing driving commuters with a cheaper option of parking near campus, and allowing them to have a less stressful entry from the already underused MN-280
4)    Preventing backlash when the University implements the entire East Gateway District Master Plan and removes the parking lots near the stadium (caution: large file)

     Of course, there is probably a reason why the University hasn’t jumped on that vacant lot, ranging from problems in zoning, the offering price of the land, or some stingy owner not willing to give up the gopher-holed area. There are also some great potential lots near the old industrial mill area that have been abandoned for who knows how long that the U could snatch. The U of M Office for Technological Commercialization is also nearby and holds its own parking lot, so I wonder if that lot could also be better utilized with a Transitway stop. Nonetheless, if the opportunity ever arose, I wouldn’t be surprised if the U jumped on buying that land and opening it up for car drivers (and Jefferson @ Berry tenants too – maybe ByMe could advertise free Connector rides from the apartments for terribly ignorant freshman).


  1. I definitely agree with the idea to put a connector stop midway between the two campuses. That would also open up the ability to build some more affordable housing for students as well as affordable parking for people to come to campus. There is nothing to lose by adding this extra stop, other than a greater demand for buses since more people will be able to use the connector to get to campus

  2. I'd put money on it if someone'd bring all sides to the table. It'd allow for higher rents so J@B might even want to 'subsidize' it (can't think of a better word at the moment...) It'd allow for more investment into rental housing in new areas, allowing for more competition which generally, would work out in the student's favor. Can we just make you king of the metro for a day?