We Love [Name of Government Project] As Long As Someone Else Bears the Cost

A reader sent me this, and I found it pretty funny:

Minnesota Public Radio and two neighboring churches in downtown St. Paul are escalating their opposition to the proposed line.

MPR said noise and vibrations from the train, connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul, could harm their ability to record and broadcast. The churches say those very same effects could rattle their aging buildings and disrupt their worship services.

In the latest salvo, MPR has asked the project planners to study alternative routes through downtown St. Paul.

MPR and the churches say they support light-rail, but not the proposed route along Cedar Street. The tracks would be laid about 14 feet from the front door of the broadcast center.

"As far as we know, this is the closest a light-rail line will run to federally designated noise- and vibration-sensitive facilities anywhere in the country," said Jeff Nelson, public-affairs director for MPR.

I am not sure a comment is even necessary.   MPR has published any number of light rail stories about budget and approval battles that were thinly disguised cheerleading for light rail.  Take this article for example, which discusses how light rail might be saved from trouble, but because it only quotes light rail supporters, a reader can't even figure out why the trouble exists.

Basically, MPR is saying "please put the rail line, which we support, near someone else who may hate it being nearby as much as we but don't have the access to the media and the political process to make a big stink about it."   Already, the line has apparently made an expensive accommodation for just one organization -- the University of Minnesota, a state agency.  The arrogance of this is staggering.  It reminds me of the NY Times and Columbia University, both of whom claim to be advocates for the underdog, except when the underdog gets in the way of their real estate deal and eminent domain grab.

By the way, am I the only one who has never heard of a federal designation for "noise- and vibration-sensitive facilities?"  If such a designation really exists (and I sure can't find it with any similar search terms on Google), what percentage of the list would you guess is politically connected organizations using the designation to get privileged treatment vs. those without power?

Update: The "federally designated" thing is a bit of an exaggeration.  The PR department of MPR was kind enough to send me a link.  They are referring to the category 1 designation in this report, which merely says that amphitheaters and recording studios should be in the quietest category when assessing impacts of transit nearby (neither MPR or any other facility is mentioned by name).  This same report essentially comes to the conclusion that it is perfectly possible for light rail to be near to recording studios and amphitheaters, just that some care needs to be taken in design.

By the way, the "As far as we know, this is the closes a light-rail line will run to" such a facility is just nuts.  I guess the "as far as we know" covers them from outright fraud, but I have to look no further than my own town of Phoenix to find light rail in proximity to such venues.   I know of a few radio stations and TV stations right on the rail line, but a quick Google maps search found at least 9 radio stations and TV stations and recording studios right on just the Central Avenue portion of the route.  In addition, I know of at least 5 ampitheaters on the route, not to mention our main public library.  (In fact, the library is right near the intersection of the rail line and Interstate-10, and I find it perfectly quiet there).  In fact, I would challenge MPR to identify one urban passenger rail line where there is NOT a radio station, TV station, recording studio, or ampitheater in close proximity.


  1. The other coyote:

    Classic NIMBY. Everybody wants their homes to be warm, but nobody wants a drilling rig set up next door. Welcome to my world (shale gas drilling in urban/suburban areas), MPR.

    One more comment on NIMBY. I swear the entire population of NJ thinks "that's what [insert name of a state that NJ denizens think is ugly, like, Oklahoma] is for."

  2. Bobby L:

    As a metropolitan MN citizen, I just have to say that this whole light rail project is garbage, but I don't think I really have to rant about that on this blog. :)

    My favorite part is that they've already restricted traffic on the Cedar Ave bridge.

  3. BlacquesJacquesShellacques:

    We have two local TV stations that intentionally built their main studios next to busy downtown surface LRT lines. The studios feature huge windows designed to be soundproof and let the busy public scene and the studio goings on be seen by each other. No problema. Lots of gawking both directions and the 'man in the street' interviews are often just outside those windows, looking in.

    The private sector will increase the worth of anything.

    The public sector will reduce the worth of anything.

    Hmmmm, maybe I'm on to something here. Someone tell the Democrats.

  4. Matt:

    This is less indicitive of NIMBY and more of the complaint-centric liberal culture. It reminds me of the enviromentalists who demand wind power and then complain that (non)endangered birds get chopped up in the windmill blades.

    And to expect sanity out of government media (public radio) is asking too much.

  5. Matt:

    This is less indicative of NIMBY and more of the complaint-centric liberal culture. They're never satsified. This reminds me of the enviromentalists who demand wind power and then complain when some (non)endagered bird species gets chopped up in the windmill blades.

    But I think expecting sanity out of government media (public radio) is asking too much.

  6. Matt:

    This is less indicative of NIMBY and more of the complaint-centric liberal culture. They're never satsified. This reminds me of the enviromentalists who demand wind power and then complain when some (non)endagered bird species gets chopped up in the windmill blades.

    But I think expecting sanity out of government media (public radio) is asking too much.

  7. Missing the whole point:

    It would seem that the whole POINT of light rail would be to put popular buildings (like ampetheaters) as CLOSE as possible to a light rail station, so that the station can actually drop people off near the popular building.

    Ampetheaters are exactly the type of thing that should be a good fit for light rail -- lots of people using it, not much parking, good off-peak use of the system, etc.

  8. Teo:

    I live on the same block as MPR and the 2 churches in question. I couldn't be more excited for light rail to be coming so close to my condo. You are right, MPR has been championing light rail for years. What I find funny about the whole thing is that MPR went ahead with a 46 million dollar expansion 4 years ago knowing full well Cedar avenue was the preferred route. I feel they are just worried about the hassle factor from the construction. They are right, it is a hassle. I lived in Bloomington when we were building the first light rail in town and it is a hassle. But I love the thing. A little pain right now for a better future. No pain no gain.

  9. John Moore:

    One suspects that the sounds from the train going by might *increase* the signal to noise level of the "information" broadcast by any NPR staiton.

  10. Douglas McKinnie:

    If I'm designing a radio studio adjacent to an existing light rail line, it is one of the factors that I know about and can accommodate. But light rail really isn't all that light, and the noise isn't borne acoustically but structurally through the ground and the fabric of the building. It is not exactly something you can retrofit in without shutting down operations for a quarter or two and then spending more than you would spend to build a new building.

    I've recorded classical music in historic buildings with fantastic acoustics that were near light rail. When the train comes by you stop the recording and pause, and then you have to restart and make an edit. That's not too easy on live radio, or even on recorded stuff when you are working with a public-radio budget.

    "Soundproofing" is expensive. Choosing to locate next to light rail is one of many trade-offs made in siting a facility of this type. The above commenters are right, that access and community are important as well. If you locate your studio in the middle of nowhere it might be quiet but it will be hard to get people to travel to work in it.

    When the noise chooses to locate next to you after you have built, it can really mess you up. I loved working in CTS Wembley studio in London, where a vast proportion of the world's film scores used to be recorded. When it was obvious that the nearby Wembley stadium would be completely torn down and rebuilt in a multi-year construction project, this purpose-built facility was shut down and operations were moved to a new control-rooms attached to an existing historic hall in Watford. Big noise = end of show.

    So yeah, they are saying NIMBY, but don't underestimate how ****** they will be once construction starts --- and even after its done. MPR is not on a high budget -- the first time I saw them come through on a live shed tour with Prairie-Home-Companion they appeared to be using surplus 25-pair Telco trunk cable as their audio snake from the stage to the mixer.

  11. Anonymous:

    MPR is a radio station/network, not a recording company. Granted, they do some recording, but that's not their main purpose.

    The bottom line is that MPR knew about the Central Corridor LRT route BEFORE building their plush studios. To cry "Foul!" at this point is simply disingenuous and manipulative but, nevertheless, it's a strategy that MPR apparently embraces now, as it has in other cases.

    I wonder if the churches are complaining because a behemoth of a neighbor has been encouraging them, thinking that "church" complaints will somehow help to legitimize the "concerns" about the route. Since we don't seem to be hearing those types of complaints from other venues along the route, it sorta makes you wonder.

    There are radio stations and churches all over the world that are on public transit routes and they somehow manage to accomplish their missions and serve their communities well. It's part of the aural and visual texture of vibrant city life.

    MPR certainly has the money to take care of the problem themselves. They might have to raid their endowment or get Saint Paul to issue them more low interest bonds to prevent the "urban blight" of the resulting LRT noise and vibrations on their precious broadcasts.

    Threatening to leave Saint Paul if Kling doesn't get what he wants - after all this city has done for them - seems more like blackmail than legitimate "concerns".

    Get over it, MPR. Suck it up and deal with it. But don't make it "our" problem. It's not. It's yours.

  12. david foster:

    There have also been protests against a Burlington Northern railyard in the LA area...apparently heavy rail, like light rail, is good in theory, but not so good if it is actually located anywhere on the surface of the American earth.

    Also, there have been heavy protests against the building of a transmission line to carry solar/wind power to San Diego.

    Seems like we are not allowed to build any major, tangible projects anymore...one exception, though: useless and unprofitable stadium and "conference center" projects do seem to get done somehow.

  13. Allen:

    Anonymous is correct. MPR never had an issue with this project and the route & the alternative routes were known for years before they elected to yet again build on the route. It seems strange that they could follow this project for so long, reporting on it and endorsing it, then recently elect to build additional facilities right along the very route they've not only been covering but advocating for.

    I can see the UofM's issues when it comes to research facilities. That equipment can be very sensitive and it's not their fault that they've changed up the routing to save money (not surprising).

    But really, this problem could've been avoided if they had elected to go with BRT on the Central Corridor. Years ago they estimated that LRT with a tunnel at the UofM would cost $820 million on the route. Bus Rapid Transit with proper stations and a tunnel at the UofM was estimated to cost $240 million. LRT was estimated to carry @27% more passengers but at over 3 times the upfront cost! Too bad too many people have decided to pervert the meaning of "transit" to mean "trains" in their minds.

  14. hernadi-key:

    Volcanoes Cool The Tropics, But Global Warming May Have Helped Override Some Recent Eruptions !!!
    Climate researchers have shown that big volcanic eruptions over the past 450 years have temporarily cooled weather in the tropics—but suggest that such effects may have been masked in the 20th century by rising global temperatures. Their paper, which shows that higher latitudes can be even more sensitive to volcanism, appears in the current issue of Nature Geoscience.

    Scientists already agree that large eruptions have lowered temperatures at higher latitudes in recent centuries, because volcanic particles reflect sunlight back into space. For instance, 1816, the year following the massive Tambora eruption in Indonesia, became known as "The Year Without a Summer," after low temperatures caused crop failures in northern Europe and eastern North America. More extensive evidence comes in part from tree rings, which tend to grow thinner in years when temperatures go down.

    This is one of the first such studies to show how the tropics have responded, said lead author Rosanne D'Arrigo, a scientist at the Tree Ring Lab at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "This is significant because it gives us more information about how tropical climate responds to forces that alter the effects solar radiation," said D'Arrigo. The other authors were Rob Wilson of Lamont and the University of St. Andrews, Scotland; and Alexander Tudhope of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.

    Along with tree rings, the researchers analyzed ice cores from alpine glaciers, and corals, taken from a wide area of the tropics. When things cool, not only do trees tend to grow less, but isotopes of oxygen in corals and glacial ice may shift. All showed that low-latitude temperatures declined for several years after major tropical eruptions. The samples, spanning 1546 to 1998, were taken from Nepal down through Indonesia and across the Indian and Pacific oceans; the ice cores came from the Peruvian Andes. The researchers used materials they collected themselves, as well as samples from the archives of other scientists.

    The data show that the most sustained cooling followed two events: an 1809 eruption that probably took place in the tropics, but whose exact location remains unknown; and the 1815 Tambora eruption, one of the most powerful recorded in human history. Following Tambora, between 1815 and 1818, tropical temperatures dropped as much as 0.84 degrees C (1.5 degrees F) below the mean. A slightly bigger one-year drop came in 1731--0.90 degrees C (1.6 degrees F). The researchers say this may be connected to eruptions at the Canary Islands' Lanzarote volcano, and Ecuador's Sangay around this time.

    D'Arrigo says that the study shows also that higher latitudes may generally be even more sensitive than the tropics. Some corresponding drops in northern regions following volcanism were up to three times greater. D'Arrigo said higher latitudes' greater sensitivity appears to come from complex feedback mechanisms that make them vulnerable to temperature shifts. This goes along with growing evidence from other researchers that, as the globe warms, the most dramatic effects are being seen with rapid melting of glaciers, sea ice and tundra at high latitudes. The authors say that, overall, eruptions in the 20th century have exerted fewer obvious effects in the tropics. They said this could be because there were fewer major events in that century--but they noted it could also be "because of the damping effect of large-scale 20th-century warming."

    "Particularly warm decades may have partially overridden the cooling effect of some volcanic events," said D'Arrigo. Noting that few reliable instrumental records exist from before this time, she said, "This study provides some of the first comprehensive information about how the tropical climate system responded to volcanism prior to the instrumental period."


  15. Mark:

    The reason why the limosuine liberals have perverted the meaning of transit is that they find trains acceptable to them. For the one or two times they deign to actually ride public transportation they will get on a train, but will never get on a bus. A bus is simply not "high quality" enough for them.

    Plus, metropolitan liberals from non-action cities like Minneapolis (my home town) believe that if they get a subway system they will become "cool" just like Boston or New York. They see these things as a status symbol so the actual measures of efficient movement of people are not important to them.

    Lastly, what this "train envy" ignores is that the functional subway systems in this country were built long ago, with the older systems even using very cheap Irish labor. Modern economics and labor laws make it simply impossible to build equivalent systems. That is why they substitute "light rail" for true transit systems. Light rail means that the little trains cause more congestion than they relieve because they tie up intersections and traffic.

  16. Mark:

    Three other comment.

    FIrst, if the state of MN was truly interested in transit, rather than just pet status projects, the entire orientation of these "light rail lines" would go in different directions. The existing "Hiwatha" line and the proposed "Central Corridor" do not extend out to the suburbs with the highest congestion, and in fact (especially for the Central Corridor being discussed in the MPR story) these areas are already well served by bus lines. If they really wanted a transit line that would be effiecient in moving commuters they would have run the line WEST of Minneapolis to these western bedroom communities.

    Second, if the Democrats were really serious about "public infrastructure" projects they would see to it that Bacon-Davis rules were at a minimum suspended. Otherwise, the costs of such projects are incredibly inflated and the benefits simply go to existing union shops. I know that visions of "WPA Projects" float in the modern Democrats head, but the WPA did not comply with such inefficient labor practices.

    Third, if the liberals were really interested in transit, they would also eliminate ridiculous rules that make it impossible to tie in different transit projects that utilize local and federal money. In Minnesota they are opening a commuter rail line from the Northwest suburbs into the city. Because of the ridiculous and complicated rules, this line cannot share facility or even connect into the existing transit lines. I understand that there could be "comingling" of funding, but the "COST" of not linking the systems simply outweighs such financial concerns.

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