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Let there be light rail
Profile: The new Green Line trains bring out the joy in Christina Morrison, who endured its construction and helped plan its environment
Christina Morrison was at Target Field Station in October 2012 when the first Green Line light-rail vehicle glided in. "It is vehicle number 201, and it's the first of a lighter, smarter - and dare I say - cuter fleet," she wrote in her blog.
Photograph courtesy of Christina Morrison

by Beth Podtburg

Since Christina Morrison was 16 and learning to drive in Davenport, Iowa, she's seemed destined for public transit.

Even at that age, when so many Midwestern teens yearn for the freedom granted by a plastic-coated driver's license and four wheels on the road, Morrison said she would rather have let someone else steer.

"There are lots of good reasons why I ride the bus, but mostly because I hate driving," said Morrison, 31, of St. Paul. She's been riding the 16 and 50 buses along University Avenue since 2006, first traveling to work in downtown St. Paul and more recently to her job as a Metro Transit senior planner in Minneapolis.

On June 14, when the first new light-rail trains start rolling along the Green Line tracks between Minneapolis and the restored Union Depot in St. Paul, Morrison will celebrate.

"It's going to be amazing to ride it every day!" she said. "It's hard to imagine getting to the point where it's not a novelty."

Driven to hop on board

And she should celebrate. Through happenstance and intent, Morrison has worked on, commuted through and lived amid the long construction of the Green Line.

After graduating from Macalester College in St. Paul, she worked in Eden Prairie. The commute from St. Paul drove her out of her job after less than a year. She didn't want to slog past freeway crashes or spend two hours in her car during bad weather.

She thought she'd try some different jobs, and she found a 90-day clerical job in the St. Paul city planner's office in 2005. It turned into 7½ years, during which she was promoted to senior city planner and she helped plan the reconstruction of University Avenue and land-use changes around the Green Line stations in St. Paul.

In 2011 as Green Line construction was about to start, Morrison realized she would be surrounded all day by the construction. Five years earlier, she and her husband had bought a condo just off University Avenue near the St. Paul-Minneapolis border and cut down to one car.

To cope with the anxiety she said she was feeling about the Green Line construction, she launched "Let There Be Light Rail" in February 2011.

It was her personal blog documenting life amid construction. While it captures her pleasure in details such as the brown tubular catenary poles installed to hold the light-rail wires, it is often centered on how the details affect people. As a dog walker, she celebrates the lighting on the new transit shelters. She rejoices when the party for the opening of Union Depot is more about the people than the building.

Both in the blog and when talking about public transit, Morrison exudes joy, laughing frequently and telling stories in a self-deprecating manner.

In a blog post marking the reopening of University Avenue, she wrote, "Probably my favorite moment was when a woman handing out Green Line swag asked me if I 'liked LRT' and pushed a neon bag into my hands. Play it cool ... take the bag ... jump for joy!"

Morrison's personality and expertise have combined to help her answer questions at neighborhood meetings, said Lauren Fulner, the sustainability and transportation coordinator for the St. Anthony Park Community Council and the Hamline-Midway Coalition. Morrison joined the St. Anthony Park group's Transportation Committee when she became a senior planner for Metro Transit and no longer worked for the city.

"She has this unique way of being able to tell it like it is and be so excited and bubbly," Fulner said. "Between her personality and her work and her passions for St. Paul and transit, she has been able to do both those things at the same time."


'I'll be joyriding'

As Morrison looks ahead, she said that the Green Line will take time off her commute and that she looks forward to the easier process.

Because the trains run every 10 minutes, gliding up, opening all the doors to let passengers off and on, it's quicker and offers a more reliable option for riders. And for riders with young children in tow, most often women on the buses Morrison rides, they can just roll strollers aboard or guide children across, she said.

When the Green Line opens June 14, she will be working for Metro Transit at the Raymond Avenue Station celebration, giving riders information. Rides are free that weekend, and she plans to get on board often.

"I'll be joyriding as much as I can."

FFI: The Green Line linking downtown St. Paul to Minneapolis opens on June 14 with free rides and celebrations planned at transit stations on the route. www.metrotransit.org/metro-green-line

The profile appears in every issue of the Minnesota Women's Press. It reflects our founding principle and guiding philosophy that every woman has a story. Readers are welcome to submit suggestions for profile subjects. Email your ideas to editor@womenspress.com.

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