New Mayor, Council show Mixed Support for Streetcar Plan

mpls-streetcar-renderingOK. I admit it. It’s premature to project the results of yesterday’s election. There are still a bunch of races that are “too close to call”, and could be swung by the 2nd and 3rd choice votes. (This is particularly true for Wards 9, 13, and 5… in that order.)

But a question came up on Twitter (from the estimable David Levinson) about how our newly elected politicians feel about the city’s streetcar plan. It’s a great question, because streetcars are one of the most divisive urban transportation issues you’re likely to find.

At the mayoral level, the answer is pretty clear. Betsy Hodges was the strongest supporter of the current Minneapolis Nicollet/Central streetcar plan. Even Mark Andrew, who was a hefty streetcar booster, expressed some doubts about the current proposal. But Hodges, probably because her pro-streetcar vote is on the record, was one of the only candidates who flat out supported the current proposal. (She was the only streetcar supporter at our Mayoral forum, for example)

But everyone knows that mayor is a mere figurehead, and that the real power lies in the city council. So the real question we need to ask: How do the leading city council candidates feel about the streetcar project?

City Council Streetcar Tea Leaves

it’s worth pointing out that, In my interviews with city council candidates,  many of the candidates expressed reluctance to take strong positions on issues before they were fully informed. I’d bet strong money that the streetcar proposal is one of those issues, and that there might be some flexibility about these positions.

That said, I’ve gone through some of the literature and interviews for the incoming candidates. Here’s what I found (in order of strongest streetcar support):

Andrew Johnson : Strong Support. Johnson seems gung ho.

Yes. I also believe we need to reintroduce streetcars into our transit portfolio. They are electric, quieter, can carry more people, are more accessible, and will result in drivers exercising more caution. Most importantly, streetcars are permanent infrastructure that sends a positive signal to homeowners and developers which will result in greater economic prosperity and property values.


Jacob Frey:  Strong Support. Frey also seemed very excited about the streetcar proposal, which is particularly important because his ward includes Central Avenue and much of Downtown.

Frey countered that streetcars “are a great idea” and that they trigger investment. He said the city needs density, and took a veiled dig at Hofstede, who recently voted against an apartment and retail project in Dinkytown that the City Council described as a referendum on density throughout the city. “We need someone who will stand up and say, ‘Well look, additional people will be a good thing.’ They can’t say it would be a good thing but vote against it every single time the question comes up,” he said.


Linea Palmisano: Qualified Support. Palmisano doesn’t seem to endorse the current proposal, but seems to support streetcars in general, particularly for areas in need of economic revitalization.

The second area of improvement is to focus on parts of the city with far less transit alternatives. I will work to make sure there is increased LRT, bus and bike access for residents there. Folks need transit to access jobs and that should be a priority – particularly in North Minneapolis. A streetcar system, paired with efficient buses, could benefit North Minneapolis neighborhoods.


Blong Yang:  Undecided? The most I could find about Blong Yang and streetcars was a question on Facebook, asking his supporters what they thought. Suffice it to say that the streetcar was not a big issue on the North Side.

Update: Just got this word from a Northside blogger @northxnorthside:

@BillLindeke he’s not a huge supporter, but is open to good dialogue about what a comprehensive northside transit system looks like.

Abdi Warsame: Unknown? I can’t find anything from Warsame about the streetcar proposal either.

Lisa Bender: Seems cautious. Bender is a strong supporter of transit, but in my discussion with her, I got the impression that she prioritized more cost-effective transit improvements (e.g. bus improvements or bike infrastructure.

“We should wait and see the data and look at the transit benefits and then do a real thorough cost-benefit analysis and see which one is a better investment for our community.”


Alondra Cano: Seems cautious. Cano probably has the most skeptical quote about streetcars that I could find (outside of the barnburning mayoral flameouts).

“I will engage with regional and state entities, such as the Metropolitan Council, Hennepin County, and State Legislature, to ensure that the street car plan is viable and makes traffic more efficient, not cumbersome.”



12 thoughts on “New Mayor, Council show Mixed Support for Streetcar Plan

  1. Morgan

    The streetcar plan is great. It will really help Mpls become a real city with walkable amenities and less reliance on the car.

    Getting from own side of downtown to the other (U of MN to the Walker) is such a hassle. It’s like two different countries. A streetcar would help greatly to tie the CIty together. It’s a no brainer.


    1. Kasia McMahonKasia

      Morgan, streetcars will not significantly decrease transit time. So, how would streetcars “tie the city together”? Is it just an image thing? Do roads and buses not sufficiently tie the city together? Perceived improvements in transit are not the same thing as actual improvements in transit.

      Also, Minneapolis is already a real city, though one with a huge transit shaped chip on its shoulder. Yes we need transit improvements, but the need for streetcars is almost pathological.

      1. Scott ShafferScott

        Last night, a Metro Transit project manager said that a streetcar in the Greenway with stations 1/4 apart would go from West Lake Street to Hiawatha in 13 minutes. An enhanced bus with stations every 1/2 mile would take 30 minutes, and a local bus would take 42 minutes.

        In this situation, it’s more about getting a dedicated right-of-way than the material your wheels are made of, but they won’t consider putting buses down there, so a streetcar is the fastest transit option on the table. Faster than the automobile, even.

        1. Kasia McMahonKasia

          Scott, if the project office estimates for the travel time of the Midtown Greenway streetcar are accurate (13 minutes to cover the 3.2 or so mile stretch), that would be pretty amazing. But I am pretty skeptical of that estimate. If you have stops every 1/4 mile, that’s about 12 stops. Will there really be that many stops? By my calculations, that would mean the train would be averaging 27 mph (estimating about 30 seconds per station). Not saying its not possible, but that is pretty fast. That’s faster than the average speed of most LRT lines in the nation. But even if it only takes 15 or so minutes, its definitely faster than the current bus routes (21 and 53).

          But of course streetcar on the Greenway is a unique case. Its not being built on a street so there will be far fewer at grade crossings. And all we have to give up is the biker’s paradise that is the greenway. Yes there will still be a bike path, but probably narrower, and with potentially 12 new crossings. That sucks for bikers, but I guess you could argue that it doesn’t suck that bad. I am concerned about the effects on bike commuters, but I am ore concerned about the loss of green space. Speaking of “real cities,” New York City could get some amazing travel times by building a train to cross Central Park, but that would never happen of course. I think the suggestion would literally cause a riot. Because that city puts a premium on its green space. If you look at a subway map, you will notice that crossing central park is not easy. There is no subway that even goes UNDER it! You have to go around it:

          I think using the Midtown Greenway to build a streetcar line is shortsighted and self defeating. Its like Minneapolis is building this huge transit project in the hopes of bringing density, but then sacrificing this amazing feature of the city that would be a treasure to a city that actually has a high density. Its just sad.

          Transit is vital, but so is green space. Can’t we be more innovative? Or do all of our transit projects require that we sacrifice green space in order to be effective (see also SWLRT, Bottineau, Midtown Greenway)? I think we can do better.

        2. Matt Brillhart

          Actually it’s 1/2 mile stop spacing for the Greenway rail and 1/4-1/2 mile for Lake Street enhanced bus. Preliminary, of course:

          Additionally, there are tons of documents available on the project website:

          I’m eager to hear trip times between each of the stations. I live closest to Lyndale, and would love to hear the estimates to West Lake (for SWLRT connection) and to Hiawatha (Blue Line connection). This is really going to connect our regional transit network to the densely populated areas along the Greenway. It really opens up access from the Midtown Corridor to (and from) places like the airport, MOA, Minnehaha Falls park, etc.

      2. Matt Brillhart

        “Yes we need transit improvements, but the need for streetcars is almost pathological.”

        I just wanted to acknowledge the brilliance of this statement. Thank you.

        However, I know that you are also dead set against rail in Midtown or Kenilworth, because you overvalue cycling infrastructure in the transportation heirarchy and fail to consider the needs of all users. (I am extrapolating from previous posts/comments of yours, sorry if I misinterpreted.)

        So I agree that the obsession with on-street *mixed-traffic* streetcars is really frustrating. But to not use the Greenway’s already built grade separation for rapid transit because it might slightly impact/modify the bike trail in a few spots is also pathological.

  2. Morgan

    The central parts of Minneapolis will become more dense and urban with the street car system: from the U to Hennepin and from Broadway to Lake. More development, more people, better public spaces. I care less about transit time. Bill has made this point many times. But many people will take a street car that will never take a bus.

    And no, Mpls is not a real city because I can barely do anything on foot. And I live right at the corner of Lake and Chicago. Go to the East Coast, Portland or, by God, any other continent on the planet to experience real cities.

    1. Kasia McMahonKasia

      How will the central parts of Minneapolis become more dense and urban?

      I often hear that “people” are more willing to ride trains than buses. I don’t know who these people are, or what they have against buses, but its all in their heads. They also are probably not transit dependent riders, because you won’t get very far if you are only willing to ride trains.

      Also, its been my observation that people that think transit time is not that important–own cars.

      1. Marcus

        I support a streetcar PARTIALLY (they are other reasons too) because I work with people with out of town visitors. I love Minneapolis and consider it my home and am proud of it and want to show off it’s attributes. With a streetcar I can tell a visitor “you should check out St. Anthony Main it’s really historic with great views” or “There is some great ethnic restaurants on Eat Street” and point them to the streetcar and they are much more likely to hope on a streetcar to visit these places than if I point them to the #10 or #18 bus. Or even we have a shiny aBRT bus with all the anemeties they are still less likely . Rail bias is real as pathological and crazy as you think it is. And I think travel time isn’t important in every case and no I don’t own a car.

      2. Morgan

        Cities are for being in, not for traveling through. Sorry, travel time is definitely not more important than place making and enhancing the overall urban environment. The streetcar system will do that and it will increase the urban quality of Mpls by connecting the U of MN, Uptown, Lake Street, the Warehouse district, Eat Street, and Central Ave on one mental map. This is what the streetcar system has done for Portland, OR.

        And so you know, I lived without a car until I was 31 years old. I got a car in the summer of 2012 and moved to Mpls in the summer of 2008. I got a car because of my employer’s location in Edina. Otherwise I would not have a car. I ride my bike the 10 miles to work 60% of the time, in both the summer and winter.

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