Crystal insists on a pedestrian bridge near proposed LRT station

A design concept for a pedestrian bridge at the intersection of County Road 81 and Bass Lake Road, where Blue Line Extension planners intend to build a light rail station. Some Crystal City Council members objected to the design at a Jan. 14 work session and asked project planners to come up with alternatives. A design for the bridge is not currently included in the project’s official plans. The Blue Line Extension’s corridor management committee will be presented with a recommendation on whether to add a bridge to the project plans at a Feb. 11 meeting, and cities along the line are expected to vote on “municipal consent” by early March. Crystal has tentatively scheduled its vote for Feb. 16. (Submitted graphic)
A design concept for a pedestrian bridge at the intersection of County Road 81 and Bass Lake Road, where Blue Line Extension planners intend to build a light rail station. Some Crystal City Council members objected to the design at a Jan. 14 work session and asked project planners to come up with alternatives. A design for the bridge is not currently included in the project’s official plans. The Blue Line Extension’s corridor management committee will be presented with a recommendation on whether to add a bridge to the project plans at a Feb. 11 meeting, and cities along the line are expected to vote on “municipal consent” by early March. Crystal has tentatively scheduled its vote for Feb. 16. (Submitted graphic)

Municipal consent public hearing is Feb. 2, vote expected Feb. 16

As plans for the Blue Line Extension light rail line chug along and expected votes on municipal consent draw nearer, Crystal City Council members made it clear that they want a pedestrian bridge over County Road 81 to be a part of those plans.

At a Jan. 14 work session, council members present were all staunchly in favor of a bridge spanning the county road immediately south of its intersection with Bass Lake Road, where a light rail station is planned, but many objected to plans for one presented by Met Council staff, calling the design “ridiculous” or a potential eyesore.

Intended to help residents access the light rail station from residential areas to the east without crossing the busy roadway at street level, the presented design would use two winding “curly q” ramps on either side of the roadway and sit 24 feet above the county road.

“Nobody’s going to use that,” Councilmember Jeff Kolb told LRT planning staff at the work session. Kolb later added that if the “curly q” design was the final one, planners “might as well not build it at all.”

A top-down schematic of the original plan for a pedestrian bridge over County Road 81 in Crystal, which is designed to help pedestrians access the station from residential areas to the east. Several Crystal City Council members objected to a design for the bridge presented at a Jan. 14 work session, and have asked light rail planners to come up with alternatives. (Submitted graphic)
A top-down schematic of the original plan for a pedestrian bridge over County Road 81 in Crystal, which is designed to help pedestrians access the station from residential areas to the east. Several Crystal City Council members objected to a design for the bridge presented at a Jan. 14 work session, and have asked light rail planners to come up with alternatives. (Submitted graphic)

Met Council staff estimate that traversing the proposed bridge would take nearly nine minutes and the journey would cover 1,800 feet, rather than the three-minute and 480 foot journey they estimate along existing street-level crosswalks.

Council members asked about the possibility of installing elevators on one or both sides of the bridge, and asked Met Council planners to present them with alternatives to the presented design.

“I want to see options,” said Councilmember Olga Parsons.

Fellow council member Elizabeth Dahl, for instance, wondered about the feasibility of a bridge design that would cross over the county road and the proposed station before descending into the eastern side of adjacent Becker Park.

Project Manager Dan Soler cautioned that longer bridge designs would need to be even higher than 24 feet to accommodate existing freight rail lines that run parallel to the planned light rail tracks.

“There’s no topography that’s helping us, here,” he said of the area where the bridge is intended. Crystal city staff described the presented bridge design as “functional.”

The bridge is not currently included in the plans that the council will vote on as part of the project’s “municipal consent” phase. However, project staff are expected to recommend including it – or not including it – at a Feb. 11 meeting of the project’s corridor management committee, five days before the council is expected to hold its vote on municipal consent.

“When the City Council votes Feb. 16, the City Council will know what the Corridor Management Committee recommends on Feb. 11,” wrote Laura Baenen, the communications manager for the Blue Line and Southwest light rail projects. “If the committee recommends a pedestrian-bridge, project staff will work with the city to include one.”

Council members are scheduled to be presented with other pedestrian bridge designs and more detailed intersection plans at another work session scheduled 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 25, at the Crystal Community Center. The meeting will coincide with a “station area planning process” meeting at the community center.

A municipal consent public hearing is scheduled Feb. 2 at Crystal City Hall.

Intersection safety

Other concerns about the County Road 81 and Bass Lake Road intersection included making it friendlier to street-level pedestrian traffic. The intersection is one of the city’s busiest, and council members said the general perception is that crossing the county road there is decidedly unsafe.

“People don’t let their kids cross at all,” said Councilmember Casey Peak.

Hennepin County staff presented a series of changes that could be made to the intersection to improve pedestrian safety, including adding stop bars and tightening the radius of right-hand turn lanes. Other changes requiring further study include narrowing or removing left turn lanes or lowering the road’s speed limit.

Some council members worried that changes to the intersection could ultimately hamper the flow of automobile traffic.

“I believe that it can make it more pedestrian friendly,” Mayor Jim Adams said of the presented plans. “But there’s a cost to it, and the cost is going to be the free flow of traffic or slowing down traffic. That’s the piece I’m not interested in trading.”

County staff anticipate that the proposed light rail station and adjacent park and ride lot will add hundreds of new pedestrians to that area per day.

Noise impacts

A map showing homes and other locations that could see “severe” noise impacts from the planned Blue Line Extension light rail line if no efforts are made to mitigate those impacts. (Submitted graphic)
A map showing homes and other locations that could see “severe” noise impacts from the planned Blue Line Extension light rail line if no efforts are made to mitigate those impacts. (Submitted graphic)

Council members were also concerned about noise generated by light rail trains.

Plans presented at the Jan. 14 work session showed noise walls along much of the southern portion of the line as it runs through Crystal, and only one residence at the intersection of the tracks and West Broadway would have a “severe” impact if all planned noise mitigation measures were taken.

Project planners believe there will be relatively few – if any – noise impacts on the northern chunk of the line because it runs along the already-noisy County Road 81 and the Crystal airport.

“Since noise impacts are calculated based on what’s already there today, and how much worse does the train make it, if it’s relatively noisy, it’s relatively more difficult to see that there’s going to be an impact from the train,” said Kathryn O’Brien, a Met Council employee working on the environmental side of the project.

Kolb was skeptical of that determination.

“I’m trying to decide if I believe that adding a train is just not going to have an impact, because you’re adding more noise,” he said. “If I’m at home, and my TV’s on, and it’s noisy and my kid starts yelling, then it gets more noisy and its worse.”

Soler responded by saying that noise isn’t “additive.”

A map showing areas in Crystal with “severe” noise impacts if noise walls and other noise mitigation measures are taken. (Submitted graphic)
A map showing areas in Crystal with “severe” noise impacts if noise walls and other noise mitigation measures are taken. (Submitted graphic)

“If you have something that’s 15 decibels and something that’s 20 decibels, the noise level is 20 decibels, not 35,” he said.

“It’s not to say that you as an individual person living in your individual home in your individual circumstances aren’t going to be able to hear the train,” O’Brien said of the planners’ determination. “I’m not here to tell you that you’re not ever going to hear the train.”

Other noise mitigation measures include installing “wayside devices” along the line. The devices are designed to be pointed at roads and sidewalks to alert people to oncoming trains, and are used in place of bells or horns on the trains themselves in order to reduce the “blob” of sound emanating from the train’s operation, O’Brien explained.

“It’ll be more targeted,” she said.

Light rail designers from the Metropolitan Council will ultimately need to submit their plans for noise mitigation to the Federal Transit Authority, and the documents will be published as a “Final Environmental Impact Statement” this summer, O’Brien said.

Documents provided at a Jan. 14 meeting of the line’s corridor management committee indicate that two-car transit trains moving at 20 miles per house will generate about 55 decibels worth of noise, five fewer than a typical “suburban ambient” environment.

Plans to mitigate train and construction noise are not part of those voted on during the municipal consent process. When city councils vote on the matter, they will be voting on broader elements like the alignment of the track and station locations.

Crystal’s light rail timeline

Below are the scheduled hearings, open houses, and other meeting scheduled in Crystal to discuss plans for the Blue Line Extension light rail project.

City council work session: 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 25, at Crystal Community Center, 4800 Douglas Dr. N.

Station area planning event: 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 25, at Crystal Community Center

Municipal consent public hearing: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2, at Crystal City Hall, 4141 Douglas Dr. N.

City council vote: Tuesday, Feb. 16, at Crystal City Hall

Contact Joe Bowen at [email protected]