Once a month for more than a year, local residents have assembled at the Harrison Neighborhood Association office to discuss Metro Transit’s proposed Blue Line Extension (Bottineau LRT). Scheduled to open in 2021, the 13-mile light rail line (LRT) will originate in downtown Minneapolis, then run along Olson Memorial Highway – Harrison’s north boundary -- on its way to Golden Valley, Robbinsdale, Crystal, and Brooklyn Park. Experts project that, by 2030, it will carry 27,000 riders each day.
Denetrick Powers, Harrison Neighborhood Association’s Transit Development Fellow, facilitates the meetings, prompting discussion with questions like, “What does the Harrison neighborhood need?” “How do you want your kids to live?” and “What worries you about the proposed light rail line?”
Residents wonder how safe it will be to cross Olson Memorial Highway. They believe that the LRT will make it easier to access grocery stores and workplaces, but worry that other development around the light rail stations could worsen air pollution. They want assurance that the new light rail line will fit the fabric of their community.
Thoughtful discussions like this are happening all along the Bottineau Corridor as the region prepares for the Blue Line Extension and other transit improvements. The deliberation is important; according to an expanding body of research, well-designed transit systems can improve residents’ physical, emotional, and financial health.
Although cities and counties haven’t always considered the health impacts of transportation, the practice is becoming more common and has been a key part of Hennepin’s Bottineau Transitway planning. For instance, Hennepin County Public Works conducted the Bottineau Transitway Health Impact Assessment in 2013, an undertaking that evaluated public input, related literature, data sources, and previous reports and studies.
The report and accompanying summary concluded that the Bottineau Transitway “offers real potential to improve health for communities living near the transit stations,” and for all who travel on the light rail line. And it offered recommendations to make that happen.
Karen Nikolai, Manager of Healthy Community Planning, Hennepin County Public WorksThe METRO Blue Line Extension is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for neighborhoods and communities along the corridor. The engagement that Harrison Neighborhood Association and others are doing is key to ensuring that this investment benefits all people along the line.
Amount saved in
reduced health care
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Health impacts of a well-designed Bottineau LRT include:
Improved activity levels
Nationally, people who use transit get 24 minutes of exercise per weekday just by walking to and from transit. Why this matters: about half of adults and three-quarters of children living in Hennepin County do not get the recommended levels of exercise.
Improved job access
Why this matters: Jobs are spread throughout the region, making it difficult and expensive for workers without a vehicle to reach their jobsite. In some areas of the Bottineau Corridor, nearly 60 percent of workers don’t own a vehicle.
Reduced transportation costs
Why this matters: Households that have lower transportation costs have more left over in their budgets for other things that promote health like nutritious food. Lower transportation costs can also reduce stress and prevent homelessness.
Improved traffic safety
Public transit is one of the safest forms of transportation. Why this matters: In 2011, 5,089 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes in the cities along the proposed LRT route.
The Bottineau Transitway will connect riders to North Hennepin Community College and other educational and vocational training institutions. Why this matters: people with an education have a better chance of securing a well-paying job and can more easily access health information and resources.
Improved access to healthy food
According to the USDA’s Food Access Research Atlas, areas along the proposed new LRT route qualify as “Low Income Access Areas,” places where many households without vehicles are also more than a half- or one-mile from a supermarket. Why this matters: Less than one-third of residents living in cities along the new route eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables.
Benefits to low-income communities and communities of color
Numerous studies have shown that transportation-related health impacts can be particularly beneficial to low-income communities and communities of color -- which tend to have higher rates of preventable health conditions like obesity and Type II diabetes. Well-designed transit systems and station areas can help these communities achieve health equity.
The Harrison neighborhood, where one of the Bottineau Transitway’s 11 stations is planned to be constructed, fits the bill of a low-income community and a community of color. As of 2010, seventy-one percent of Harrison residents were people of color, compared to 40 percent in the Minneapolis population. At the same time, 37 percent of Harrison residents lived in poverty, compared to 17 percent of people in Minneapolis. Additionally, the neighborhood history is one of undesirable past development — like the former Warden Oil Company and Chemical Marketing Corporation. This history makes development discussions all the more important.
Since completing the Bottineau Transitway Health Impact Assessment, Hennepin County Public Works has been conducting robust community engagement, bolstered by funding from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota’s Center for Prevention. By collaborating with geographic, cultural, and faith-based communities, county staff are helping ensure that all residents will benefit from this public investment.
In June 2015, Public Works completed station area plans for the Van White Boulevard and Penn Avenue stations – two stations that will be in or near the Harrison neighborhood. The plans addressed community health and health equity; they also describe how to advance them. The Harrison Neighborhood Association was a major player in this effort.