Hiawatha Death Star kills again


Sunday night, Jan. 12, at about 6 p.m., the Hiawatha Deathstar struck again. A pedestrian who lives in the area was killed walking across the light rail tracks at 42nd and Hiawatha. He became the 10th victim since June 2004.
Metro Transit spokes-man John Siqveland said the gate arms were down, an alarm was sounding and lights were flashing at the intersection when the accident happened. The sidewalk is next to the gate arms but is not covered by the gate arms.
The train was travelling at 45 mph through the residential neighborhood.
Southside Pride has repeatedly criticized the placement of the LRT line on the residential side of Hiawatha Avenue rather than on the railroad right of way on the other, eastern, side. When asked about this, Commissioner McLaughlin (who was the principal architect of the line) said it was too much trouble negotiating with the railroad for use of the tracks. When railroads originally wanted right of way, cities, states and the federal government granted them whatever they wanted and used eminent domain to evict anybody in their way. If Hennepin County and the State of Minnesota felt it was in the public interest to take back that land for a greater public purpose, then they could have used that same power of eminent domain to run the tracks on the east side of Hiawatha Avenue on the railroad right of way.
Having learned nothing from this experience, under McLaughlin’s leadership, the new LRT line will run down the middle of University Avenue from the university campus to the St. Paul Capitol. Planners have assured me in public meetings that the train will not exceed 30 mph. In other words, it will be a boutique streetcar, but it will certainly not serve the function of light rail. It’s a tragic waste of a billion dollars, but it does promise to be a boon to developers on the corners of stops on University Avenue. Once again, there are railroad tracks from downtown Minneapolis to the U of M and to downtown St. Paul, just a couple of blocks from University Avenue. Why in the interests of safety and efficient transportation couldn’t the LRT train tracks have been placed there?
The Metropolitan Council and the Minneapolis City Council must now deal with what has become a menace in South Minneapolis. At the very least, they must insist that trains traveling through residential neighborhoods respect the prevailing speed limits and not travel faster than 30 mph.


  1. Any death on a road, street, highway, or sidewalk is awful. But to call the Light Rail the “Death Star” is outrageous. I guess flashing lights and sounding alarm was still not enough for a grown adult to be warned not to cross rail tracks, just because the gate did not cover a certain portion of the sidewalk? As a 5 year old (maybe younger), I was taught to “look left, look right, and look left again” before crossing any street, road, highway, or rails. Perhaps MNDot should change “highway” to “deathway,” since the 40 or so deaths per year were caused by the roadway. Accidents are horrible, but to blame the light rail on something that was clearly human error is outrageous. Remember when people were responsible for their own lives, and “it was someone or something else’s fault” was not the norm?

    • Some of the earliest deovlepment I noticed was along the former Milwaukee Road rail corridor leading to the old depot (now a hotel). The Hiawatha LRT effectively blocked the rail corridor, meaning that it would be impossible to rebuild the intercity rails without tearing stuff down.I’ve wondered if there had been deovlepment restrictions on the old right-of-way before the LRT went in, but I don’t have any information on it.

  2. First of all, the website upgrade is great.

    I think most transit advocates would agree that we’ve cut many corners when it comes to transit planning in our region. But I’m not too sure the alignments you suggest, especially for the Central Corridor, would work. The railroad tracks are too far away from the destinations where people live, work, and shop.

    LRT stations need to be within walkable nodes to function. The struggle with Hiawatha is that the station nodes are lacking in walkable amenities. University Ave will be much better in this regard.

    That said, I do hope we see a day when multiple regional and high speed rail services use the ROW you speak of to provide a point to point backbone between the downtowns, effectively replacing the 94. But the Central Corridor’s primary function will be connecting origins and destinations between the downtowns, while the 94 will still provide express service.

    If the Midway railroad corridor was to have mobility value beyond its current BNSF freight use, it should have been where Interstate 94 was placed back in the 60s. Unfortunately, planners of that era found it to be much easier to condemn thousands of properties owned by small-time property owners (Rondo, etc) rather than fight a powerful railroad.

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