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.

What Woodward will tell anyone who will listen is that the real cost of the Hiawatha line will top $1 billion. No one, save for a few Republican legislators like Krinkie, has paid much attention. Meanwhile, the official budget of the light-rail project continues to climb, most recently from $625 million to $675.4 million (in large part, this is because the Federal Transit Administration told the state to include the costs of associated road construction, as Woodward has consistently argued they would and should). The current tally is already up 23 percent from the onetime official, absolute, we-really-mean-it budget of $548.6 million. (Before the most recent budget hikes, the Minnesota Department of Transportation conducted a cost-benefit analysis of the Hiawatha line, which government officials have used to argue that LRT is the most cost-effective way to move people. "I've always called it the worst piece of academic shit I ever saw," Woodward snorts, with a wave of his hand.)

Prior to this year's legislative session, Woodward lobbied Sen. Roy Terwilliger (R-Edina) and others to put together an all-encompassing, omnibus transportation bill that would have included a host of his ideas. But Woodward, who delivered a draft of the proposed legislation last summer, says the legislature is not structured for far-reaching change: "When they see a whole, comprehensive bill, it's very hard."

"He's gotten into the issues in a very big way and has a lot of ideas," observes Terwilliger. "He has so many ideas that I think it takes a lot of time for some of those ideas to work their way through the process." As for Woodward's desire for an omnibus bill: "It's probably a little hard to envision that whole thing passing this year, but certainly it gives us a lot of ideas for starting places."

Terwilliger also points out that some of Woodward's ideas are cropping up during the 2001 session. While no legislation has been submitted, there are plans afoot to propose that luxury coaches be an alternative to commuter rail lines. And a bill proposing a more efficient use of "sane lanes" for car-pooling commuters has already been introduced. "I look at him as a valuable resource, someone who's sort of an unpaid public lobbyist who's good for us to have," Terwilliger says.

Jack Uldrich, who currently serves as the deputy director for the Minnesota Planning Agency, has taken a few meetings with Woodward to talk about transportation ideas. "I think that Lynn is right in that what we should be focusing on is the length of travel time, convenience, accessibility. One of my personal pet peeves is that people in transportation tend to focus on set policies," says Uldrich, who maintains that he's speaking for himself and not the Ventura administration. "On the negative side, I would say that some of his plans tend to be sort of all over the map. I think that he would do a better job of selling his vision if it were more condensed and more focused."

"They want simple answers, and it doesn't work in transportation," Woodward counters.

A. Scheffer Lang, a retired professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a former senior research fellow at the University of Minnesota's Center for Transportation Studies, believes Woodward has a host of good ideas, but is banging his head on a brick wall. "A lot of his ideas make perfectly good sense--more of them do than don't," Lang concludes. The problem? "Almost all of our public bus systems are in the hands of public monopolies. That monopoly just can't do a lot of the things that Lynn is talking about. If the service was being provided by private entrepreneurs, we'd have a lot of the kind of experimentation and improved service ideas that a guy like Lynn Woodward talks about."

 

Lynn Woodward goes to a small wooden desk he keeps near the front door of his St. Paul apartment. From a stack of 90-some bus schedules, he grabs a fistful of 10, folds them in half, and stuffs them in his back pocket. Standing in the building's entryway, a load of dry cleaning under his arm, he briefly considers two to three inches of freshly fallen snow, then begins a two-block journey to catch the No. 63 to downtown St. Paul.

Woodward is infuriated by the Met Council's plans to build a $120 million high-speed busway between St. Paul's East Side, downtown, and the airport. Despite the objections of residents, the Met Council approved the route in December, along with some $44 million in state funds. Backers of the design have touted it as a development boon for the bus corridor. But it strikes Woodward as insane for one simple reason: The No. 54 bus already makes quick work of essentially the same trip. And today, Woodward aims to prove it.

After the No. 63 drops him downtown, Woodward takes time to run off a few copies at Kinko's and grab a quick bite. A little later, on board the 54M, Woodward surveys a bus schedule to see how long a trip to the airport is supposed to take: "It's scheduled for 17 minutes. I don't know how the busway can do any better."

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