Start Linking the Green Line Extension with North Minneapolis

The Green Line extension is being planned to improve transportation options throughout the Southwest Corridor. That much should be self-evident. In the name of equity, “BUT NORTH MINNEAPOLIS!!” has become a battle cry of sorts for those on both sides of the never ending/never will end debate. Let’s make the most of what the Green Line extension, particularly development along the line.

Those who favor the Green Line claim it will be a panacea for Minneapolis’ most isolated and impoverished neighborhoods. Sadly, the improvement won’t end the geographic and economic isolation of the north side. However, cutting a two hour/three transfer commute down to a one hour/one or two transfer commute will make life at least a little easier for folks who could really use a break.

Meanwhile, some of those opposed to the current alignment of the line (notably not the fine readers of streets.mn, but certainly those who spray paint bike trails and plot revolution on neighborhood social media sites) argue the line should not be built because it does not go through north Minneapolis. They of course ignore the Blue Line extension, which happens to be imperfectly planned but is in the general vicinity of North Minneapolis, and could greatly improve access to jobs and transit. Instead they are seemingly advocating for a spiraling transit route that starts downtown, ends in Eden Prairie, and passes through the North Minneapolis and the Phillips neighborhood on the way there. Let’s call it the Aquamarine Line. Aquamarine LineThe “BUT EQUITY!!!” vs. NIMBY arguments ignore the most important question: How can the Green Line improve as many lives as possible? The answer is through transit-oriented development on the north Minneapolis side of the Kenilworth corridor, if constructed carefully and intentionally. The Green Line isn’t going anywhere, so we better make the most of it.

The geographic isolation of the north side might not be its biggest problem, and it isn’t the root of all the problems, but it does make solving the myriad problems more difficult. The Mississippi River, Interstate 94, and Theodore Wirth Park all act as dams blocking the flow of development. There is great potential on the southern end of north Minneapolis, which is presently both a dumping ground for construction refuse and cars (the impound lot). The light rail line could unite two parts of a city where there is now a freight rail line and underutilized land that divides.

Since at least 2000 there have been plans for transit-oriented development in the area bounded by 394, Bryn Mawr Meadows Park and Interstate 94, all focused on what will be the Van White Green Line stop, minutes by train to both downtown Minneapolis and the southwest suburbs. The Bassett Creek Valley Master Plan, as approved by the Minneapolis City Council in 2007, calls for utilizing 230 acres of land on the edge of downtown with three thousand housing units and 2.5 million square feet of commercial space. That much development would theoretically increase the real estate value of the land from $50 million dollars to $1 billion dollars, according to city estimates at the time. However, without the train, none of this is possible. There simply isn’t enough space for the new homes and businesses along with the roads and parking that would be needed without the train. Thanks to to recent parking reforms, wasting that space with unneeded parking spaces won’t be required either. Bassett Creek Master Plan The new Bassett Creek neighborhood would become one of the few non-Downtown neighborhoods in the metro area where carfree living is not only feasible but actually practical. The plan includes a walkable commercial corridor from Bryn Mawr to north Minneapolis where driving wouldn’t be necessary. Besides the obvious destinations along the light rail network (both downtowns, the airport, the U of M, etc.), three stops west at West Lake, there’s Whole Foods and Walgreen’s, among other amenities, and another two stops west there’s a Lunds and Byerly’s, a Target, and Park Nicollet Hospital. Downtown Hopkins, and its amenity-filled and thoroughly walkable downtown, is only two more stops away.

The Cedar Lake and Luce Line trails would make this one of the most bikeable neighborhoods in the city, and families would likely be drawn to the area too, because, Bryn Mawr Elementary School, Anwatin Middle School, and the Heritage Park YMCA are all within walking distance. All of this in an area bounded by parks on all sides. Inertia is a hell of a drug.

It was inertia that led to Green Line extension staying in Kenilworth, and it is inertia (along with the inevitable battle of the “Minneapolis Impound Lot and Concrete Crushing Historic District”) that could keep the Bassett Creek Valley from reaching its full potential. Billion dollar transit lines, unlike temporary billion dollar stadiums, can be truly transformative. Instead of continuing to focus on sunk costs (like tunnels under bike trails) it is time to shift the conversation to making the most out of the light rail line where it will be, instead of wishing it was somewhere else. Prodding elected officials to implement the Bassett Creek Valley Master Plan, and linking North Minneapolis to the Green Line and the rest of Minneapolis, is a good place to start. History has shown that even flawed plans can have their benefits and bad design doesn’t have to be destiny. The Green Line extension is coming, and it would be a tragedy if we wasted this opportunity.


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31 Responses to Start Linking the Green Line Extension with North Minneapolis

  1. Matt Steele
    Matt Steele July 20, 2015 at 10:24 am #

    Daily reminder: The Green Line extension does not go through North Minneapolis, unless you count Royalston east of I-94.

  2. Matt Steele
    Matt Steele July 20, 2015 at 10:26 am #

    Another daily reminder: The primary tenant that Ryan Cos was trying to line up for a Bassett Creek redevelopment ended up at another major redevelopment site in Minneapolis already under construction, and according to the publications that track potential tenants for large leases there are no leads of equivalent size to justify a large purpose-built non-downtown office project.

  3. Adam Miller
    Adam Miller July 20, 2015 at 10:54 am #

    It’s interesting that you envision riders from Basset Creek heading west to suburban shopping destinations instead of the shorter trip east to the Whole Foods or Walgreens.

  4. Jonathan Foster July 20, 2015 at 11:04 am #

    They can go both ways, that’s the beauty of it. Some folks might not want to go downtown, some might be working in the southwest burbs and be able to pick up provisions on the way home. Some might want to avoid Whole Foods due to their general evilness. Ideally, retail along Glenwood and elsewhere within the plan(the BCVMP is so much more than a few office buildings) would be walkable.

    • Matt Steele
      Matt Steele July 20, 2015 at 11:29 am #

      Ideally there would be an affordable, non-evil grocery store that’s walkable/busable for northside neighborhoods, right?

      • Jonathan Foster July 20, 2015 at 11:31 am #

        Glenwood Avenue is the north side.

        • Matt Steele
          Matt Steele July 20, 2015 at 11:55 am #

          Glenwood Ave is the boundary between the north and south sides.

          • Jonathan Foster July 20, 2015 at 12:01 pm #

            No.

            In terms of avenues being North or South in this section of the city, Bassett Creek is the dividing line. Bassett Creek is also the dividing line in terms of educational attainment, crime, health, property values, etc, etc. Glenwood is north of Bassett Creek.

            • Matt Steele
              Matt Steele July 20, 2015 at 12:04 pm #

              And SWLRT is south of bassett creek. Enjoy your transfers!

              • Jonathan Foster July 20, 2015 at 12:11 pm #

                If you don’t want to look at a map, read what I wrote, or read the BCVMP, that’s your decision.

                • Peter Bajurny July 20, 2015 at 1:14 pm #

                  A plan is just a plan until somebody actually builds it. And Matt’s second comment at the top of the article shows that he has read the plan, and probably understands it better than you do (unless you can refute his point).

                  • Jonathan Foster July 20, 2015 at 2:05 pm #

                    I did refute the point. The BCVMP is so much more than the office buildings along 394, and includes massive redevelopment of the linden yard area all the way up to Glenwood.

            • Adam Froehlig
              Adam Froehlig July 20, 2015 at 10:14 pm #

              West of Penn Ave, it’s actually Chestnut Ave that’s the address boundary between north and south. It’s Bassett’s Creek by default east of Penn Ave because a combination of the creek and the former rail yard prevented an east-west street from being located there.

          • Graham Hallman July 20, 2015 at 1:32 pm #

            Now you two are just nitpicking. Enough.

  5. Steven Prince July 20, 2015 at 11:38 am #

    Mr. Foster concedes that only one Minneapolis stop on the SWLRT will serve(?) North Minneapolis and/or has development potential. We could build an extension to there from Target Field and call it a day. Then build the aquamarine line he proposes. Looks cool!

  6. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke July 20, 2015 at 12:30 pm #

    “it is time to shift the conversation to making the most out of the light rail line where it will be, instead of wishing it was somewhere else.”

    i agree with this!

    Also, that rendering is some sort of weird Jedi mind-trick. I can’t even tell what I’m looking at.

    • Jonathan Foster July 20, 2015 at 12:46 pm #

      That is looking towards downtown from the west. 394 heads east, parade stadium and loring park are on the right

    • Graham Hallman July 20, 2015 at 2:11 pm #

      Bill, you hit the nail on the head. At this point, Matt and Peter (somewhat less) are simply griping. SWLRT is finally on its way, regardless of the miscues over the past decade & I’m sure I had some of the same complaints about it as perhaps Matt & Peter.

      This whole area has tons of potential & if not commercial space, residential walkable space & why not an official park that connects Bryn Mawr to Cedar Lake, the bike trails, Van Memorial and through to North Loop – the current industrial maze is tough navigating, noisy and not nearly green enough. As for the argument, the notion of “enjoy your transfers”, well that frankly sounds a bit lazy. Good God, if you have ever lived in a big city where mass transit is the norm, say London, Chicago, or NYC, such transfers and long walks are common and accepted. I mention these three because like Mpls, weather can be brutal as well.

      Placemaking, TOD, or whatever you want to call it takes time, patience and this area offers something much more feasible than swaths of Hiawatha & even University due to open land. The impound lot is absurdly dated at this point and represents a symbol of an era that cities need to diminish in the 21st Century.

      Moreover, I grow so tired of a particular phenotype claiming to champion issues for the “Northside”. Bottom line, BCV offers a legitimate opportunity to connect North & South Mpls via a hub of mass transit, cultural destinations & education, as well as greenspace & residences.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller July 20, 2015 at 2:30 pm #

        I’d put the bottom line a little differently: regardless of what you think about the alignment, if we’re going to build the proposed line, getting BCV right is critical to maximizing it’s value.

    • Wayne July 20, 2015 at 2:43 pm #

      I disagree. They need to kill SWLRT once and for all just build a small extension to the green/blue lines to cover the few useful stations that might actually make sense, then start from scratch on something resembling a proper urban transit system.

  7. David Greene July 20, 2015 at 12:34 pm #

    The impound lot is a major problem. The city is close to doubling-down on it, spending millions of dollars to upgrade facilities.

    We’ve got to move it. Build a ramp somewhere or put it out by the airport where development is restricted anyway. There’s an LRT station at Humphrey terminal, I hear.

    • UrbanDoofus July 20, 2015 at 12:50 pm #

      That’s a damn fine idea. Make them take a train to retrieve their car? I like!

  8. UrbanDoofus July 20, 2015 at 12:44 pm #

    Let’s take it easy on saying the Green extension is linked to North development. Unless there is some serious frequent bus connection, does it matter? If transfers were so easy around these parts, wouldn’t transit be more popular? The reality is that transfers in our lower frequency system suck suck suck and all the wonderful pie in the sky TOD stuff is meaningless unless it changes things on the ground.

    • Peter Bajurny July 20, 2015 at 1:20 pm #

      I wouldn’t even consider a rail > bus connection unless the bus had 10 minute or better frequency during most of the day (extending well past rush hour, to 7 or 8 and even after that it should still be sub-15 minutes). Anything else and it’s just too unreliable for me. But then again I’m a choice rider and I’m willing to put up with less crap. But then again that doesn’t mean non-choice riders should be content with something worse.

      Is there money and will to completely rebuild the North side bus network with frequencies to match the trains once SWLRT opens up? Is there any reason to think it will actually happen and really make this serve the Northside?

      • Aaron Isaacs
        Aaron Isaacs July 20, 2015 at 3:11 pm #

        Route 5 on Emerson-Fremont already runs every 7.5 minutes all day. Route 19 on Penn runs every 10 minutes, so they already match LRT frequencies.

        • Peter Bajurny July 20, 2015 at 3:18 pm #

          And those already run downtown so 3C would have the same impact as 3A in that regard.

          I mean, that’s the thing that makes the least sense to me about all this. If the goal is take a bus from somewhere in North to transfer to a train that goes to SW, how are 3A and 3C materially different? If transferring to the train on a bus is the justification for 3A, why can’t that be done with 3C?

    • Wayne July 20, 2015 at 2:44 pm #

      I bet we could run high-frequency and high-ridership buses a lot more frequently if we used even half the money being blown on SWLRT, making transfers a lot less awful. They could even build heated shelters all over town to wait in!

  9. jeffk July 20, 2015 at 1:39 pm #

    Nobody I’m aware of on streets.mn is against the SWLRT because it doesn’t go through the north side. That’s very much a misunderstanding of the most common position here. What we’re against is the idea that the validity of the route has anything to do with the north side, or that historical inequality on the north side should be used to post-hoc justify a moronic alignment.

    • Jonathan Foster July 20, 2015 at 1:53 pm #

      “notably not the fine readers of streets.mn”

    • Wayne July 20, 2015 at 2:57 pm #

      Jeffk, exactly. When the SWLRT supporters pull every stop out to try to paint anyone who hates bad routing as being for inequity it’s ridiculous. Why aren’t they complaining about the Bottineau routing at least? I don’t get being an apologist for a deeply flawed process.

      But SWLRT has always been a giveaway to suburban interests to keep them happy. Putting a coat of paint and calling it equity is quite frankly a bald-faced lie and I’m glad people are finally calling them on it.

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