TOD at 38th Street Means Closing the Bus Turnaround

Would it be possible to close the bus turnaround at the 38th Street Station? The clear upside is it would free up a big chunk of asphalt for development. Assembling the Metro Transit and Cardinal Bar sites with the single-family homes along 29th Avenue would create a contiguous site of at least 1.75 acres. That is a recipe for a nice mixed-use development that would be very transit-friendly and support perhaps 100 homes and even a grocery store.

Take a look at the map above to see what I mean. At far right is Hiawatha Avenue, and to its west is the 38th Street light rail station, followed by the bus turnaround, the Cardinal Bar (Tavern), and six single-family homes. North of those is the Station 38 apartments under construction (they are now complete). Running along the bottom of the map is 38th Street, with its huge entrance to the bus turnaround.

I realize there are three problems with this plan, and they are where to put bus stops, are the single-family home owners on 29th Avenue ready to sell, and what about the Cardinal Bar?

My solution for the first issue is to simply put the bus stops on 38th Street. Currently there is generally enough space to accommodate buses on-street, immediately west of the rail tracks. What is interesting about this is it can shorten the walk from bus to train and vice-versa. Right now the closest bus stop is 150 feet away from the closest possible train door because one must walk around the end of the platform. A bus stopped on 38th Street just west of the tracks provides a 125-foot walk to the closest train door, and even crossing 38th Street is only slightly farther. (I note that the crosswalk across the bus entrance from 38th Street is 80 feet wide. Doesn’t that seem excessive? Simply removing that 80-foot gap would make the area more pedestrian-friendly.)

Moreover, putting the buses on the street and surrounding the street with good development provides a chance for a shared-space type of situation where the streetscaping gets a high level of treatment. Curbs can be replaced by bollards, decorative bus shelters and benches can complement streetlamps and public art. I propose that the section of 38th Street between the light rail tracks and the stoplight immediately to the west be a car-free zone, buses only, for certain phases of the traffic light. This would enable people transferring between bus and rail to be safer (in theory). I’ve observed people already cross 38th without a crosswalk anyway (see photo below), so in a way, this portion of the street is already used as a shared space. Let’s just make it official and much more attractive while increasing its utility as a bus stop.

Even if we can put buses on the street, and I’m not sure we can, some of the bus routes make it tricky. Route 23 is fine, since it continues east and west along 38th Street it doesn’t need to “turn around.” Routes 14 and 22 are trickier, especially the 22 which essentially detours one block east off its route to reach the rail station. We must not underestimate the strong performance of 38th Street Station from a ridership perspective. Of the 1,500 daily boardings at 38th Street, 35% to 40% of those arrive by bus. Viewed purely as a bus stop it would be among the metro’s top 0.5%. So what to do? I’d suggest buses “turning around” simply cross Hiawatha and circle an industrial block to return to 38th Street.

We cannot dismiss the quality of bus service and those who rely on it, but one must ask what is the tradeoff? Urban design clearly suffers because of all that real estate being off limits, paved and soulless. As well, there is taxable real estate value missing when it cannot be developed to a higher and better use. Lastly, if bus riders were reduced, how many rail riders could be picked up simply by adding 100 or 200 housing units adjacent to the station? Based on ridership of other TODs nearby, as many as half or more of apartment dwellers near light rail use it regularly, so you do the math.

What about the Cardinal Bar and single-family homes on the block? This is a private market decision. By no means do I want to see The Cardinal disappear (excellent burgers and one of the great old-school Minneapolis taverns), but if a developer comes along and they can agree on a relocation plan, that it called the free market at work. Same goes for the single-family homes. In fact, when Klodt developed the successful 64-unit Station 38 apartments immediately adjacent to the north, they bought one of the homes. It is entirely reasonable for a developer to negotiate with the other six homeowners and purchase them.

The bottom line is this: large bus turnarounds, while great for riders transferring to rail, are not good for placemaking. Look no further than the nearly-completed and innovative Oaks Station Place project one stop to the south at 46th Street station. The 104-unit building literally bridges over the entrance to the bus turnaround. A colleague of mine points out it is making the best of a lousy situation, the point being if would be better to not consume the best TOD site by acres of bus turnaround. And even now as Oaks Station Place is nearly done, viewed from the light rail platform even that four-story attractive building is still dwarfed by the huge bus turnaround. The 38th Street station area is the same way. If we can creatively put the bus stops out on 38th Street, beautify the public realm, and assemble an almost 2-acre site, the results could be really sweet.


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15 Responses to TOD at 38th Street Means Closing the Bus Turnaround

  1. Matt November 7, 2012 at 3:24 am #

    I agree for the most part. I like the Cardinal and would hate to see another classic South Mpls tavern hit the dust.

    WRT the 14E, I really think they could just ditch the entire branch down 42nd street. Otherwise, why not connect that branch to the 46th St. station instead of backtracking north to the 38th St station? The 14 is the bus I use the most, and it is clear most people riding the E branch use it to get to destinations near 42nd St, not to get to the LRT. If people are using it to get to LRT, it is likely for a reverse commute and ending at 46th St station would be even better.

    We've thought about ideas how to improve Hiawatha as a destination corridor and not just a road to traverse. I'd love to see a Multiway Blvd but the existing LRT alignment gets in the way of this since it effectively blocks off redevelopment facing the west side of Hiawatha since the tracks are so close. Instead, what if a slip lane was built immediately to the west of the tracks in certain spots? This could serve short-term street parking for businesses that would face the corridor, and it could serve as a bus turnaround (coupled with 28th or 29th Av and 37th St).

    • Sam Newberg
      Sam Newberg November 7, 2012 at 3:40 am #

      Hiawatha as a multiway boulevard – woot, woot!

  2. Andrew November 7, 2012 at 3:43 am #

    I think having a bus turnaround is more useful than trying to squeeze in stops out on 38th St and then making the north-south routes drive additional blocks to get going in the right direction again. Plus the size of the bus turnaround leaves open room for more route stops in the future at the station.

    I use the 38th St Station daily and some ideas I think would make the station work better would be:

    1) Add better bus shelters and move their current locations to make more sense for movement. The shelters are in the way of people entering/exiting buses. Push the shelters back towards the LRT railing. Add some decoration to them like the LRT station has.

    2) Better signage and time schedules. They're using the same lousy 8.5×11 flyers you'd find on some random bus stop. Which routes stop at which gates need to be better labelled.

    3) Change the surface & color of the pavement at the entrance/exit of the station and on 38th St to better indicate it's a shared space. They could paint a giant crosswalk like you'd have at the entrance of a store.

    4) Remove the redundant set of stop lights. People walking and biking ignore them all the time, and people driving ignore them some of the time. Only buses actually follow the lights and it delays them unnecessarily. Take out the lights and give the buses a stop sign. Or maybe make the stop lights into HAWK lights.

  3. Reuben Collins
    Reuben Collins November 7, 2012 at 4:35 am #

    I like the idea of an on-site bus stop location. For westbound buses that can drop off and pick up passengers on the north side of 38th, it's fine. But I don't like the idea of eastbound buses dropping off passengers on the south side of 38th. These buses should pull into the development. If all the land is assembled as you've suggested, the site seems plenty large to accommodate substantial redevelopment as well as some sort of bus staging area. Maybe the bus loop exits to the west onto 29th Ave? Maybe the bus entrance and exit are on separate curb cuts along 38th, each substantially less offensive than the existing massive curb cut?

    • Sam Newberg
      Sam Newberg November 7, 2012 at 6:31 am #

      What if eastbound buses could somehow trip lights and perhaps crossing gates to guarantee cars aren't driving through the bus area so as to create a safe crossing? This section of the street would be car-free for 30 or 45 seconds when a bus drops off.

      I do disagree that there is plenty of land while keeping the bus turnaround in place. That leaves essentially the six home sites, which would perhaps lead to another residential building like Station 38 apartments. Not a bad thing, but doesn't create a great "place" at the station. Using that whole site makes for a really robust development opportunity that could be mixed-use and maximize value while erasing the big sea of asphalt. Two birds with one stone.

      • Sam Newberg
        Sam Newberg November 7, 2012 at 6:38 am #

        But a one-way bus lane around the edge of the site, coming out on 29th Avenue could work without taking up too much space, just so it doesn't need to turn around.

  4. Alex November 7, 2012 at 6:04 am #

    I like the idea of moving the stops to the street, but I would worry about capacity. It looks like there's only room for one or maybe two buses to stop on 38th and still retain the distance advantage you mention. With three routes stopping here, I can see this getting problematic quickly.

    On the other hand, I'm not sure the facility needs to be quite so large. Quickly reviewing the schedules, there appear to be a max of 9 buses per hour stopping here – do they really need four bays? Even if so, in a scenario of redevelopment through to 29th Ave, could it be reconfigured to parallel 38th St, obviating the need for a return lane? How well used is the kiss and ride?

    Ultimately, though, I'd say that the bus station is a more appropriate use than the single-family homes that take up more surrounding space. I'd have a hard time saying goodbye to the bus station while those are still around.

    • Sam Newberg
      Sam Newberg November 7, 2012 at 6:23 am #

      Wouldn't 9 buses per hour be sufficiently few so as not to overly congest the street?

      • Alex November 7, 2012 at 8:01 am #

        Yes, my two paragraphs are fighting a little bit. I think that 9 buses per hour would be fine, except presumably they try to time them with LRT. Since that only stops 6-7 times per hour at peak, there is at least one LRT approach that two bus runs will be timed to. Because of this I think it's more likely that the westbound stop at 38th St would have to be placed too far from the LRT platform to be an improvement over the current configuration – imagine what would happen if there are two buses scheduled to be there at the same time, but another bus is late. Where would the third bus queue? In the turn lane on Hiawatha?

  5. Faith November 7, 2012 at 8:17 am #

    What I think would make sense:

    - Have the 23 stop on 38th since it continues eastbound; this would improve bus operating speed too.

    - Have the 14 & 22 loop though the site; EB buses would make a left on 29th, go along the northern edge of the site and then stop (or wait as needed) adjacent to the LRT platform. Buses would make a right out to go WB on 38th.

    This would eliminate the messy in and out driveway for the bus turnaround lot that currently exists now and the inefficient layout of the turnaround lot, while providing a lot of room for new development. The loop lane could be designed as shared space integrated into a plaza and also provide parking access on the northern end.

  6. Sam Newberg
    Sam Newberg November 7, 2012 at 8:36 am #

    Good question. A third bus situation would inevitably occur, so I guess as long as the curb lane stretched far enough to the west along 38th to allow for that third bus, you'd be OK. That first bus stall westbound of the tracks on 38th would be pretty close to the platform.

  7. Sam Newberg
    Sam Newberg November 7, 2012 at 8:39 am #

    I suppose we need look no further than Ackerberg Group's Mozaic in Uptown to see how a one-way, single-lane bus stop can route through a pedestrian-friendly site, even placing the actual stop below a catilievered building.

  8. Matt November 7, 2012 at 8:59 am #

    So do we know any reason why the 14E needs to backtrack north to terminate at this station?

    • Sam Newberg
      Sam Newberg November 8, 2012 at 3:42 am #

      A transit planner friend and colleague of mine indicates the 14 is a popular route to connect people to LRT who don't live within walking distance, and that the 38th Street station is much easier to reach than the 46th Street station from Bloomington.

      • Matt November 9, 2012 at 10:20 am #

        It just seems so strange considering that the 14E goes SOUTH on Bloomington, then east on 38th, south on Cedar, east on 42nd… but then NORTH on 28th Ave to the LRT station. I never ride it that far east and because of this turnaround I'd be riding the opposite way as the "reverse commute" direction towards the LRT station. I assumed most people taking the 14E to the LRT would be heading southbound to Ft. Snelling/Airport/MOA and not northbound to downtown otherwise they'd be taking the 14 downtown.