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A Gateway Corridor development forum highlighted the Cleveland Health Line and discussed what a BRT or LRT would mean for the regional transit system. Staff photo by Riham Feshir

Gateway Forum highlights lessons from Cleveland

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The nation’s first bus rapid transit that brought $4.3 billion in economic development to the state of Ohio has been a prime example for what other regions are looking to achieve.

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The Cleveland Health Line was a topic of discussion at a Gateway Corridor development forum last week, attended by supporters of the project that would link Woodbury and the east metro to other transit lines through the Union Depot hub.

“If it happens in Cleveland, it’ll happen here,” Joseph Calabrese, CEO of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, said June 24  at Oak Marsh Golf Course.

The Cleveland Health Line, which connects major employers like the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals, opened in 2008 — 50 years after the vision was conceived.

The Gateway Development forum highlighted lessons learned from the project, how Washington County and the east metro can collaborate to implement similar strategies and how projects like these become a piece of the economic development puzzle.

The Health Line serves an estimated 1.5 million residents and combines what supporters called the best of bus and rail designs with exclusive right-of-way, level boarding and dedicated stations.

Calabrese said the design and plans paid attention to details, down to the type of trash cans, so it leads to an overall positive rider experience.

“We don’t call it ‘bus rapid transit’ we call it ‘better rapid transit,’” he said. “It’s not a bus, it’s not a train, it’s the future.”

Even with it opening in the middle of the recession, the Health Line showed immediate return on investment with developers quickly starting to build and attract residents, Calabrese said.

But he added, “there were a few skeptics.”

What Mark Fabel warns about is the time it takes between opening up transit lines and actually filling up with residents, commercial and corporate offices.

The project manager for McGough Companies, which is working to develop Bloomington Central Station located on the Hiawatha light rail line between Minneapolis-St. Paul airport and the Mall of America, said although corporations seek out strategic locations conveniently located on transit lines, “there is a little bit of an adoption period.”

Director of Strategic Partnerships for Greater MSP, Peter Frosch, urged attendees of the forum, which was intended to get the wheels turning on Gateway Corridor dialogue among stakeholders, to be patient.

“The process is hard,” he said. “Please don’t quit.”

He told audience members whose businesses are located along the corridor to contribute to the conversation and share input on what features would be attractive for their employees to use public transit.

It’s not only about location, he said, but simple things like safety, cleanliness and distance from station to destination.

“If they don’t feel safe, they won’t use it,” he said.

Jay Cowles, chair of the Itasca Project Transportation Initiative, said a bus rapid transit or a light rail option through the Gateway Corridor would be part of an entire Twin Cities system contributing to the overall economy.

“This is a valued force for clustering economic development for investment,” he said, adding that 25 percent of development occurs around transit stations.

Cowles said people often think commuters drive away from suburbs and rural areas to get to work, but there is potential to flip that.

“It’s also true the center of town can now commute out here,” he said. “That is a very desirable effect.”

The Gateway Corridor project is currently in the environmental study phase, which assesses social, economic and environmental impacts of a dedicated BRT or LRT line along Hudson Road from downtown St. Paul to Woodbury.

The 20-month study began in June and is the second phase in the process of identifying the best transit system for the east metro. Depending on federal and local funding, a new system could be operational by 2022.

“It may feel like so far in advance … but the time flies when you’re looking at these projects,” Cowles said, noting that current research is beginning to show impact of transit on public health and the needs of aging populations, along with younger generations, who are looking to use public transportation.

“When I was growing up, freedom was a driver’s license,” Cowles said. “Now freedom is a smartphone and a wireless hotspot.”

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Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir has been a reporter/ photographer with the Woodbury Bulletin since 2011. She covers Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news around the city. Riham holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked for two other Forum Communications newspapers in Central Minnesota. Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.
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