Oct 03, 2014

TransitCenter Takes the Twin Cities: Rail~Volution 2014

Photo Credit: Central Corridor Funders Collaborative
Photo Credit: Central Corridor Funders Collaborative

Last week, the TransitCenter team rolled into the Twin-Cities for Rail~Volution 2014.

We’re skeptical when it comes to transit cheerleading events. Bringing the brightest minds in transportation and development to pat each other on the back is not worth anyone’s time.

And while there were some kumbaya moments, Rail~Volution sessions were constructive, informative, engaging. After a week of reflection and finally emerging from our Pearson Salted Nut Roll sugar coma, the following takeaways stood out to us.

David Bragdon, Executive Director:

“Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx gave one of the best speeches ever heard at Railvolution. A very effective story-teller who translates policy into real world implications for people and their everyday lives. None of the usual clichés. His plenary speech Illustrates the stark difference between someone steeped in local government who has to interact with the daily needs of constituents compared to those engrossed in amendments and press events.”

Thomas Bassett, Program Analyst:

“Being at Rail~Volution was like being in a safe space where people shared your point of view. It was a great time to hear about success stories from about the country as well as connect with individuals all working towards the same goals. A side event that I attended was focused on finding the role of philanthropy in transportation planning. Looking into this new role is great for the philanthropic world to have a greater impact. I was afraid the conference was going to be inward focused, but we need to continue to work out of our comfort zone to really make progress.”

Steven Higashide, Program Analyst:

“Two of the sessions on transit-oriented development (one on “industrial TOD”/“innovation districts” and one on “market dreams vs. reality”) were a good eye-opener that TOD, especially mixed-use or equitable TOD, requires a lot of financial sophistication. I think this is a blind spot for most transportation advocates and many policymakers. At the same time, there is a lot of philanthropic energy in this space from Living Cities and others, and a lot of good research. “

Personally, I came away with an appreciation of how the Twin-Cities rallied around the investment and process of building the Green Line. The unique Central Corridor Funders Collaborative that brought together philanthropic foundations, private funders, and community organizations to support the investment embodied that energy. As a theater nerd I loved the journalistic retelling of the story of planning light rail in the Central Corridor titled, ‘The Green Line = 11 Miles of Hopes, Dreams and Fears.’ The piece brought together onstage the policy makers, residents and advocates who spent the last decade shaping this investment in their communities, who gave voice to their individual aspect of the story. It was cathartic and shined a light on the intricate personal and historical concerns around the impact of the Green Line that too easily get brushed away as NIMBYism.

While it wasn’t a back patting conference, Metro Transit and the Rail~Volution team deserve kudos for putting on four days of thought provoking sessions filled with great connections. For Rail~Volution 2015, Dallas and DART have a high bar to clear.

Rail~Volution Report Card:

Minnesota Hospitality: A+
Beer: A+
Union Depot: A
Amtrak Train Service from Union Depot: D
Cheese Curds: B
Crystal Bowersox: A+
St. Paul Traffic Signal Priority for Green Line trains: D-
Target Field: A
Minnesota Twins Performance: C
Little Mekong Food: A+

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