Build it and they will come transit (just as bad)

America needs great transit in both the road and the street variety.

Road: A high speed connection between productive places.

Street: A platform for building wealth.

Unfortunately our highway building mentality -- one that focuses on suburban commuters, not productive places -- is the dominant force for how America's transit systems are designed and, most importantly, how they are financed. If you want your big transit project, if you want the federal dollars, you need to pander to the suburban commuter. Transit stroads (the lowest returning type of transit investment) are inevitable result.

Case in point: Here's a graphic showing the civic plaza planned or the Downtown Hopkins station on Minnesota's Southwest LRT project. The terms "civic" and "plaza" are obviously applied very liberally.

I love how the engineers identify "landscape areas" with the same gusto as "traction power substation". Just another feature, an appendage (like an actual "downtown") that we can just denote. This is orderly but dumb writ large.

Build it and they will come is a great movie plot but a terrible economic development strategy. The financing systems that give us the incentives to build such ridiculous stuff are broken and need to go away, not be given more money. 

So what should happen? What is an alternative?

If we're going to build a commuter transit road (instead of much higher returning transit streets within the city of Minneapolis itself), it needs to function like a road and connect productive places. That means that we can identify where a future Hopkins stop might be, but we're not going to build it -- we're not going to slow our high speed connection between productive places -- until there is enough going on there to justify the expense. In other words, build it (a place) and it will stop.

Of course, that's not going to happen. State and federal funding does not require anything like a return-on-investment to get this money. In fact, the way the people who build such things approach their charge, a productive place (you know, people and stuff) would just be in the way. It's all about the process, not the outcome.

The idea that we'll have productive growth between the stroad and the sea of parking, the hope that maybe someday the "kiss and ride" will develop into a latte shop and the trail anything more than just recreation, is delusional thinking. None of the incentives for a productive development pattern are there to make it happen. We're just throwing more money at failure. Why?

Because that's what we do.