Editor’s Note: TLC staff recently had the great opportunity to talk with Larry North, a resident of the Excelsior & Grand development in Saint Louis Park, Minnesota. North, a computer programmer, is enthusiastic about walking, busing, and biking for transportation. He says moving to a mixed-use neighborhood has made it much easier to leave the car at home. Read on for highlights from our conversation, including North’s thoughts on the Southwest light rail line and advice for people new to public transportation.
Larry North, outside his condo in Saint Louis Park
TLC: Larry, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you get around town?
LN: Well, I live in St. Louis Park in a neighborhood where I can walk to the things I need. There’s McCoy’s Restaurant, Trader Joe’s, CVS, a cleaners, a little further away is a hardware store. Another reason I don’t use the car much is that I work from home at least 3 days a week. But when I do need to go to the office in downtown Minneapolis it’s just a block over to catch the 12 bus. So my transportation choices are mostly circumstances—I’m pro-environment, but I’m not an active environmentalist.
TLC: So you take the 12 bus in to the office 2 days a week usually. How long have you had that schedule?
LN: That particular schedule about 2 ½ years now. I’ve lived here at Excelsior & Grand 3 ½, but working from home just became feasible about 2 ½ years ago.
TLC: Do you own a car?
LN: Oh yes.
TLC: And you just don’t use it?
LN: Right, it’s parked in the garage under the building. I went to the dentist about 2 weeks ago so I had to use it then. If there were convenient Zip Car or Hour Car service I’d probably try it for a year and then maybe get rid of my car. But there isn’t—not in this neighborhood anyway; one of those organizations has cars over in Uptown I think.
TLC: How often do you have to fill up with gas?
LN: It’s been about 15 months since I filled up.
TLC: 15 months—wow! So that must be a big cost savings for you.
LN: I guess it is. You know it’s that kind of expense that once you’re not driving a whole lot you don’t quite notice it.
TLC: So do you usually walk to the locations you mentioned around the neighborhood?
LN: Right. They’re within a block or two, most of them.
Excelsior & Grand in Saint Louis Park is a mixed-use development, featuring several retail destinations within an easy walk of residences. Wide sidewalks and clearly marked crossings also enhance the neighborhood’s walkability.
TLC: And do you ride a bike also or just usually walk and bus?
LN: Well, I don’t own a bike, but in the summertime on the way to work I’ll get off the bus by the Basilica and take one of those Nice Ride bikes in from Loring Park to downtown. I get some exercise without having to store, maintain, or secure a bicycle. And coming home I’ll get a bike in downtown and come all the way out to the furthest station, at the Calhoun Executive Center near the northwest corner of Lake Calhoun. And the Calhoun Beach Club is my bus stop so I get to have a beer while I’m waiting for the bus!
TLC: What’s your favorite thing about using transit and walking to get around?
LN: On the bus I can do some reading and things like that that you couldn’t do while you’re driving. The hassle of the parking—you know it’s going to cost more than $100 a month to park the car downtown to drive it to work each day. The bus is probably slower than driving most of the time, but I compensate by reading.
TLC: So you’re kind of gaining that time back for yourself?
LN: Yes. And then in 6 or 7 years we’ll have the light rail up here and the Beltline Station and that will be quicker and actually more comfortable than the bus.
TLC: That’s interesting. I was actually going to ask you about that—if you had heard about the Southwest light rail line.
LN: Yes, I was going to some meetings about the plans to redevelop the area around the Beltline Station here just off of Beltline Blvd. And I think I’m going to be involved in some other aspect of that starting sometime after the winter. It was a citizen’s input kind of operation—we weren’t designing ourselves, but professionals came in and did presentations.
TLC: So it sounds like you’re pretty excited about the prospect of that line coming through town?
LN: Oh yes.
TLC: Is the Southwest light rail line something you think you would use to get in to work then?
LN: Yes, I probably would. The stop is a quarter mile north of here. But I would hope that the Nice Ride bicycle people would expand by then so there would be a dock up here and then something down at the station. In fact a lot the discussion in those meetings was getting people to and from the station without building some gigantic parking facility.
TLC: Right—connections like that make it easier for people to use it. Are there any other benefits that you see of the Southwest light rail line coming through Saint Louis Park—for you or for the community?
LN: It will take cars off the road. And I’ve heard that United Health is going to add 6,000 employees out here soon. A lot of businesses want it to get people to and from work, and major companies are actually working to ensure—before they relocate to an area—that their people will have reliable transportation to and from work.
TLC: Do you have any idea what other people in the Saint Louis Park community or the Excelsior & Grand development think about the Southwest light rail line?
LN: They like the idea. As homeowners, there is the idea that it’ll probably do nothing but improve the value of the neighborhood and the property. I expect to live here pretty much forever. As the housing market recovers I think this neighborhood will become even more attractive.
TLC: Tell me a little bit more about that. You said you moved in to Excelsior & Grand 3 ½ years ago. What drew you to this development?
LN: I owned a duplex up in Northeast Minneapolis. I was just looking to shed all the maintenance and those kinds of things. So I started looking for a condominium. And it was surprising: I saw a lot of nice buildings, nice units in buildings, but you stepped outside the building and there were no services in sight in terms of groceries and things like that … We have 3 condominiums, 2 apartment buildings, and then the commercial and retail on the street level. That’s where I think the future is—I think people are going to be wanting that—baby boomers and stuff. A lot of us baby boomers you’d think would be driving cars at 85, but I wouldn’t count on that.
TLC: Do you have any advice for others in the Twin Cities, or here in your neighborhood, who are trying to utilize transit or to walk more to destinations or to bike rather than using a car?
LN: I encourage some of my friends in the building—just so they know the drill, when they’re not under time pressure—take the bus just to know how to do it. I think a lot of people are a little bit intimidated. It’s not really that hard but it’s sort of a new experience. I guess my advice is just to try it out!