Dr. Gridlock

Lynn Woodward sold men's clothing, made millions in real estate, and raced Corvettes at 120 mph. Now he dreams of a car-free society.

For instance, when Art Leahy, general manager of Metro Transit, resigned last November, Woodward gleefully applied for the $150,000 job, which calls for overseeing the bus system, the development of light rail, and managing a $170 million budget. Woodward believes substantial improvements to the bus system could move a lot more people for a lot less money than LRT. In his application for the Metro Transit job, Woodward offered to wager $60,000 of his salary for three years against achieving 15 goals, which include doubling ridership within five years.

Woodward called for increasing the frequency and reliability of buses on targeted routes; adding more buses to congested freeway arteries; revamping Metro Transit's marketing; improving signage at bus stops; and giving away free passes to encourage new ridership. And that's just the beginning. "Their prices are so low right now it's ridiculous," Woodward says, claiming that riders would happily pay more for better service. "Speed and convenience are more important than price."

Woodward also believes Metro Transit's current pricing system is too complex, an opinion rooted in lessons he learned years ago while selling men's clothing. "Never show a guy more than three shirts," he quips, before explaining that one-, two-, and three-dollar fares would be easier to understand, and prevent riders from having to fumble for change.

Woodward's resume did not include the "five to eight years of progressive transit management experience" called for in the want ad, however. Asked just a few weeks ago whether he really expected to get an interview, Woodward just laughed: "Fat chance. I don't think they'd even risk interviewing me for fear that I'd show up pretty good." So it came as little surprise when, on February 9, he received a rejection letter.

 

An incorrigible margin-scribbler, number-cruncher, and theory-spouter, Woodward always seems to be carrying around an unruly stack of papers. One version of his résumé offers this certain self-assessment: "Likes to beat the system. Not a 'yes' man. Independent, principled, will challenge authority, needs freedom to take risks, skeptic, questions everything, most productive when on his own and not under close supervision, no conservative decisions can be forced on him, abhors redundancy or incoherence."

And while Woodward works in solitary--attending public meetings alone, departing by himself on the bus, papers tucked beneath his arm--he has managed to forge alliances, even at the State Capitol. These sometime supporters acknowledge that Woodward expects the system to change faster than it can, but acknowledge that his way of thinking is a refreshing tonic.

"He's very bright--he obviously brings a lot of different experiences to the table," says Rep. Phil Krinkie, a Republican from Shoreview. "Dr. Woodward has truly been a citizen lobbyist. There are very few people like that. When the legislators or the bureaucrats see a citizen lobbyist, they're not quite sure how to react to the individual. He doesn't have any organization behind him, he's not representing a broader group of citizens, he's just coming forward with what he believes are good ideas as far as public policy."

When Woodward first heard Gov. Arne Carlson's multimillion-dollar pitch for a light-rail line along the Hiawatha corridor, he was flabbergasted. He started digging into the issue and, in March, 1999, found himself testifying before the State Government Finance committee, lobbying for a limited-stop bus along the same route. "I thought they would listen to me," recalls Woodward. "I was pretty naive. The bus is so much cheaper. I thought they'd accept my idea." They didn't.

Determined to make a difference, Woodward began cultivating a group of political allies. At one point, he co-authored an article on light rail with Rep. Tom Workman (R-Chanhassen). But Woodward's greatest friend on the hill is Krinkie, a regular critic of government spending. "Part of his demeanor is that he overwhelms you with so much information. I find it difficult to assimilate all that he's talking about," Krinkie raves. "I have a difficult time keeping up with him."

To others in the halls of state government, Woodward is just another crank. Ted Mondale, the Ventura-appointed chair of the Metropolitan Council, is plenty familiar with Woodward. "He comes down about once a month and yells at us," says Mondale somewhat wearily. "We welcome his suggestions; he's obviously very vocal. We know who he is and it keeps us on our toes."

"That's true. I did yell at them," Woodward allows proudly. "If I don't think they're listening, I will raise my voice."

In defense of the Met Council's policies, Mondale points to the agency's plans to reroute the bus system. He also talks up the bike trails available throughout the metro, and the arrival of hybrid electric buses. "We advocate a balanced transportation system," he says. "We are an advocate for changing the modes of travel. If you look at the changes over the last couple of years, they've been significant."

Woodward isn't impressed, and sees Mondale as just another political appointee trying to sell the public something it doesn't need. "I'm positive that Mondale and these people know the truth," he concludes.

 

In 1998, Woodward worked enthusiastically as a volunteer for Jesse Ventura's gubernatorial campaign. "I met him and I was impressed by him. I thought he was a good small businessman," explains Woodward, who even worked for a few weeks on the transition team. Since the governor was sworn in, however, LRT's budget has climbed steadily. And Woodward believes that Ventura's campaign promise to be a fiscally prudent public servant went right out the window. During Ventura's first year in office, Woodward periodically asked to meet with the governor. He got nowhere and has since stopped asking for an audience. "It's very hard to get near him," he complains.

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