The Marketfest rebellion
How local activists in White Bear Lake persuaded the Met Council to prevent 89 daily buses from cutting through their charming community.
The Metropolitan Council is on a crusade to “densify” the Twin Cities, and that means reorganizing our metro area around public transit. The Council’s guiding principle is “transit-oriented development.” That’s “New Urbanist” lingo for “cramming future metro-area development—housing, jobs, retail, entertainment—into small, dense areas within ‘easy walking distance’ (one-half mile) of major public transit stations in the core cities and inner-ring suburbs,” as I wrote recently in the Star Tribune.
The coronavirus pandemic has revealed the danger that reliance on mass transit poses in a time when “social distancing” is key to limiting disease transmission. Exhibit A is New York City, whose per capita deaths from coronavirus are the highest by far in America. Indeed, they are currently double those of Spain and more than double those of Italy, as John Hinderaker explains at Power Line.
A primary reason for this appears to be the Big Apple’s heavy reliance on public transit. In this connection, John cites an April 2020 paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research entitled, “The Subways Seeded the Massive Coronavirus Epidemic in New York City.” According to the paper, New York’s subway system was “a major disseminator—if not the principal transmission vehicle—of coronavirus infection during the initial takeoff of the massive epidemic.”
Now Wes Kooistra, general manager of the Met Council’s Metro Transit, is warning Twin Cities residents of the dangers of mass transit in the current circumstances. In a recent Star Tribune op-ed, entitled “Thank you for not riding public transit,” he wrote as follows:
During the pandemic, public transit is considered an essential service, and rightfully so…. Yet, by its very design, mass transit brings people together in enclosed spaces, making social distancing especially challenging.
As general manager of Metro Transit, I never imagined I would urge people to stop riding transit. But during this time, riders’ and operators’ safety depends on people using transit only for essential travel. Even for essential trips, I implore potential riders to consider other options (emphasis added).
Kooistra points out the many steps that Metro Transit is taking to enhance rider safety, including increased cleaning, the use of larger articulated buses and more buses on routes with the greatest ridership, and requiring riders who can board buses from the rear to do so. Nevertheless, he urges citizens to avoid public transit, and emphasizes that “if you must ride, [do] everything possible to limit exposure to other riders and transit employees.”
Metro Transit’s ridership is down more than 70 percent system-wide since the start of the pandemic. But the Met Council’s Thrive 2040 plan is designed to compel increasing numbers of metro-area residents to abandon our single-family homes for stack-and-pack, multi-family apartments, and our private automobiles for jam-packed mass transit.
The coronavirus pandemic should be a wake-up call that “transit-oriented development” poses risks we previously hadn’t dreamed of.