Chart of the Day – Southwest LRT Routing

The Kenilworth Corridor (3A) was selected as the Locally Preferred Alternative for Southwest Light Rail in 2009. During those discussions, national transportation blog The Transport Politic published three maps comparing the chosen 3A alignment with the 3C Alt 2 alignment which would have served Uptown and Whittier.

The decision is far in the rearview mirror, but it informs the current Kenilworth colocation or reroute challenges which have pushed the project back to 2019 opening (at the earliest) and which is at peril due to dithering.

Here are the three maps, republished with permission.





Transit Mode Share

Transit Mode Share

48 thoughts on “Chart of the Day – Southwest LRT Routing

  1. Steven Prince

    Good repost of these maps.

    And a great example of how politics, not planning almost always drives land-use decisions in Minneapolis.

    If you look at Uptown on these maps the area between Lake and 28th is shown as low density because the area had only recently been rezoned from industrial to high density residential and mixed use. The Urban Village was under construction between Aldrich and Dupont, it was obvious that densities along the Greenway route would only go up. If I knew how to link images I would link to the Minneapolis planning document that confirmed none of the Minneapolis sites along the Kenilworth alignment (except Calhoun VIllage) had any real potential for future residential density.

    Can someone explain why we don’t simply abandon this boondoggle and go back to the drawing board? There have been many good posts here on how to use the Nicollet alignment to so much better result.

    1. Alex BaumanAlex Bauman

      Because it is more cost-effective to build it badly now and get TOD in the suburbs than to not build it and get sprawling development in the cornfields.

    2. Morgan

      If cost was the issue then between when the zoning turned over between light industrial to high density residential would have been a great time to assess those property owners for the additional cost of 3C. Man, this project is so short sided and screwed up.

  2. Matt SteeleMatt Steele Post author

    Sprawling development in cornfields is a result of state and county infrastructure subsidies (speculative road building) not transit investment/disinvestment.

    1. Alex BaumanAlex Bauman

      Partially, not solely. Do you ever read any cultural histories? Americans really believe in the suburbs as a culmination of the American Dream. I agree that they are also bribed to live there, but millions of Americans think that’s a good thing, and will cling to their car and their quarter-acre even as the cost of doing so rises. The best thing we can do is try to emulate Germany — a suburban nation of car fanciers who have a killer transit system too.

      1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele Post author

        German suburbs, at least the ones I’ve seen, are not very suburban by American standards. They’re walkable and dense, almost towns unto themselves. They deserve transit, because their land use is compatible. We just need to set goals for land use before transit can be justified. But this is still irrelevant because 3A vs 3C vs whatever else would serve Opus and the Golden Triangle just the same.

        1. Alex BaumanAlex Bauman

          Matt, read the comp plans in Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Hopkins, SLP, etc. The goals have been set. They are more likely to be accomplished with LRT, just like the sales goals of the tract home developers of the 1960s would have been less likely to be accomplished without the interstates. It matters because 3A can accomplish these goals much sooner than 3C, thus reducing the opportunity cost of not having LRT in place.

          1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele Post author

            Why should we worry about a comprehensive plan in Eden Prairie? The only way they will grow, either car dependent or walkable, is if we give them infrastructure subsidies. And infrastructure subsidies to growing suburbs come at the expense of infrastructure investments where people already use and depend on transit. Which is why I think SWLRT should terminate at Shady Oak and Bottineau should terminate at Robbinsdale. But that’s not on the table either.

            1. Joe

              You are absolutely right. We should stop building transit that will be used only twice a day during rush hour. This only incentivizes sprawl, because getting to work in the city is the only transportation “inconvenience” facing people in the outer suburbs. Minneapolis has a lot of ugly, low density areas that could be transformed into livable, beautiful areas with the right investments. Please, let’s stop subsidizing the suburbs, and build transit in areas where it would be used throughout the day, because it makes car ownership redundant.

            2. Adam MillerAdam

              Speaking of which, I road the Hiawatha line to MOA this weekend (my periodic reminder never to go there), and was surprised by both the naming of the Bloomington Town Center station and its proximity to the 28th Ave. station ans the American Blvd station.

              It sure felt like we spent a bunch of money on a station in the middle of nowhere a mere two blocks from two other stations to fulfill some wishful suburban plan.

            3. Alex BaumanAlex Bauman

              The comp plan is the ‘goal for land use’ you’re talking about. They are already building urban-ish buildings like this one:


              They will continue to do so, but will build fewer without the train.

              More important, there are already hundreds of thousands of people and jobs out there. They are already using transit and will use it more often if we make it more convenient.

              1. Joe

                I can see your point, but we can not worry about the transformation of our suburbs, when Minneapolis is largely still a car centric suburb with only a few exceptions. We unfortunately do not have unlimited funds and must choose projects based on our priorities. Those should be to optimize transport where there is greatest potential effect on the lives of its users. There is no doubt that this is in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

                1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

                  Yeah but geopolitics demand we spread out investments. (Even though we’re already spending a ton in the ‘burbs, as Matt’s park&ride column illustrated.)

    2. Morgan

      While you are correct, it is important to remember that we use the government to provide us with goods that we want but the market will not provide. And as a society we can pretty much afford it. It’s a very complicated issue but yes, Americans in part want(ed) sprawling development in suburbs.

  3. Matt Brillhart

    Thanks for posting this Matt.

    It’s also worth mentioning that the cost estimates at the time were $1.1 Billion for 3A and around $1.5-$1.6 Billion for 3C.

    The Kenilworth shallow-deep tunnel (or a freight reroute) is now estimated to cost somewhere in the ballpark of $250-300 Million, not including lawsuits. That’s more than the entire Midtown Corridor rail line.

    Considering that the 3C option would fully build half of the Midtown line in its budget, 3C could very well be cheaper at this point.

    The City of Minneapolis has not budged in its insistence on freight relocation. The Met Council just announced that Southwest LRT would not open until 2021 (at the earliest) if the freight relocation is ultimately chosen. Would the timeline for 3C really be that much worse? The only changes would be inside the City of Minneapolis, the rest of the line as planned would remain the same.

  4. Michael RodenMichael Roden

    I’m thoroughly convinced that sprawling development’s days are numbered. It was an experiment whose failure is becoming more and more evident. I think it is a much better use of resources to make cities as attractive and functional as possible than to drag along the suburbs kicking and screaming. Rather than try to incorporate far-flung towns and suburbs, we should just let them collapse under their own weight. Only at that point will they reform their land-use policies and attitudes. I’m curious how much it would have cost for Minneapolis and St. Paul to form their own partnership and pay for transit between the two cities entirely on their own. Once the adjacent suburbs saw the self-evident benefits the lines could be extended. Oh the dreams!

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele Post author


      Right now, we’re asking transit to compete on the automobile’s terms. So, are we winning by default, or losing by a landslide?

      Not all suburbs will fail. Some have a natural asset or strategic reason to exist as a standalone place (Excelsior, Stillwater, White Bear Lake, etc). And some will thrive because of their proximity to jobs/amenities or they’re a walkable node to connect to jobs/amenities (first ring suburbs, primarily). But transit to corn fields in Brooklyn Park or park & rides in Eden Prairie are just another subsidy (following massive road/growth subsidies) to prop up a land use that is not economically viable on its own.

      But, for SWLRT and other short term projects, that’s irrelevant. Whether we spend $300 million on the Kenilworth Chunnel, or we go back to the LPA and switch alignments, or we do the cost-saving single track proposal written here on StreetsMN… all of those will still serve the suburban stops on this line.

      1. Michael RodenMichael Roden

        Excelsior represent! I grew up there. If it stays true to its roots it will be around for a long long time on its own merits. Maybe someday it will even be the last stop on a regional transit system.. (Serious dreaming)

    2. Alex BaumanAlex Bauman

      We should all fear the massive societal upheaval that would surely result from your vision of millions of people simultaneously uprooting themselves and stampeding towards an already thoroughly settled central city.

      1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele Post author

        Massive societal upheaval isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Of course, sometimes it is. We had massive societal upheaval 60 years ago with the all-in leap into subsidized and untested car dependent land use. But the status quo, reinforced by fear of change, can be a bad thing too. There are plenty of things in society which actually improve because of disorder, Antifragile as Nassim Taleb calls them. I see this inevitable shift as a huge opportunity. And I see the risk of postponing the inevitable discussion about our land use and mobility as a major liability for our society going forward.

    3. Morgan

      The recent research says that once a one way commute hits 30 mins it becomes less and less bearable. That’s where the cap is and most think that we hit it a few years ago.

  5. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    Have you been to Blaine lately? Vast tracts of land w/ huge brand new stroads gong by, just waiting for a master builder to come along. They’re not collapsing anytime soon, & that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

  6. Michael RodenMichael Roden

    Not saying they would all move in to the city, but that they would need to figure out how to retrofit the existing development to be more economically sustainable, i.e. city-like. That would of course be impossible in some places and those would become some iteration of a ghost town.

      1. Michael RodenMichael Roden

        I think once they get their own house in order and understand the value that transit will bring to their communities they could work with Minneapolis and St. Paul to get the “existing” (future – hypothetical) lines extended.

        1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele Post author

          Agreed. Heck, we have the engineering work done. Just set some benchmarks for these nodes, and once the benchmarks are hit invest in the transit.

          1. Alex BaumanAlex Bauman

            I think that the majority of the suburban stations on SWLRT would meet just about any benchmark you could develop. What you are saying is more applicable to Bottineau.

        2. Alex BaumanAlex Bauman

          Take a look at the situation. The suburban communities along SWLRT are begging for it, and Minneapolis is the one rejecting it unless a ludicrous tunnel through parkland is included. What you’re saying makes sense unless you look at the actual politics that are happening.

  7. Andy S

    Wow, what do you know, another 3C article. How long until we stop beating a dead horse? Seriously you uptowners are worse than the NIMBYs in SLP at this point. Do you not realize that if this doesn’t go through in its current iteration, 3C sure as heck won’t happen. Not to mention Bottineau, gateway, riverview, or any fancy streetcar system. The anti-transit crowd opposed to spending any money at all will win by a landslide if pro-transit people can’t even settle for what we are getting (the most expensive transit project in the state’s history). FYI, I’m in support of all of the above. Building SWLRT does NOT exclude LRT through uptown at a later date, so don’t be so smug as to think you should be at the front of the line for every new transit improvement.

    The recession is over. Federal support for stimulus like transit is waning. Heck, the new trend in the younger generations is to be socially liberal and fiscally conservative. This infighting will kill the future of mass transit in this state through needless delays while the millennial prime transit-using years run out (yes, In all likelihood you will eventually get married, own a home, have kids and get them to school).

    Within every one of these 3C or offshoot proposals are the same assumptions that got us into the mess we are in right now. That ridership will be higher, that the initial costs before overruns will be lower, (ok, nobody seriously can make that argument when proposing a DT tunnel vs running at-grade on 3A), that the locals along the corridor will overwhelmingly support LRT, or that engineering challenges/route changes won’t occur. Rushing ahead with 3C under those assumptions will only get us back to where we are now 8 years later and 1BN more over budget.

    I would have supported 3C from the beginning to now if we as citizens and policy makers had done our due diligence and worked hard years ago to meet these challenges while coming to the conclusion that an Uptown route was the truly the best. I’m not willing to throw away the future of transit in Minnesota just to make the same mistakes again.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele Post author

      I don’t live in Uptown. And I’m not committed to 3C (you might have noticed my 3A triage plan on here a month ago). Like most people who are skeptical of SWLRT, and who don’t live in Uptown/Whittier, we don’t like to see $300 million tunnels through a sparsely populated area.

      No, I “can’t even settle for what we are getting (the most expensive transit project in the state’s history)” because I want quality transit outcomes rather than expensive transit projects. Many times they intersect, but many times they do not. Look at how much of an albatross Northstar is for commuter rail, or the “Red Line” for Freeway BRT. If we keep building crappy, expensive transit (Central Corridor excluded, because it’s not crappy) then we’re just handing the anti-transit folks their justification on a silver platter.

      The apologists continue to astound me.

      1. Adam MillerAdam

        I still like your triage plan and wonder whether single-tracking through Kenilworth can be the compromise that finally gets this thing moving.

      2. Al DavisonAl Davison

        Also in defense of Matt, my article from earlier this week discussing LRT planning where I commented about 3C – I live in Little Canada. Plus, I never said that it would be cheaper than 3A. Since it would be more expensive, I had it in place of the Nicollet-Central streetcar’s route for that reason (so then we wouldn’t need at-grade rail on Nicollet).

        Besides, I’m not gonna protest the 3A alignment (I was merely just suggesting a possible alternative). Regardless, thoughtful debate over the matter isn’t necessarily a lost cause when the Southwest line is in a political limbo.

        1. Andy S

          I’m really sorry to be so inflammatory in my first few posts here. It’s just so infuriating to see another SWLRT story pop up on the Strib and the immediate reaction be either “death to all transit” or “study this longer i want uptown!” instead of talking about how to move forward. Transit cannot advance if its advocates bicker to a point where it does no good.

          1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

            Should transit categorically move forward? Even if it’s bad transit? Was it good we built the Red Line? Because it’s transit?

            I’m borderline on this one… it’s redeemable if we figure out how not to waste $300 million on a tunnel. But Bottineau should just be scrapped, unless we can extend it just to the North Side and maybe Robbinsdale at the furthest.

          2. Al DavisonAl Davison

            I understand your concerns (especially with the comments on the Strib), but I feel that this website does a fairly good job in trying to express ideas in improving our transit system. 3A was not really liked, but the reason why it’s been getting flak from the urbanist community here is because the added costs for the tunnels is making the project less desirable to actually build.

            The amount of the increased costs could go a countless number of bus improvements (such as the enhanced bus system i.e. A-Line/Snelling, B-Line/W 7th, etc.), plus it’s making LRT expansion look more like a boondoggle to the general public given that even the Central/Green Line cost $940M and would serve more people than this $1.5B (and possibly increasing) project will.

            I wouldn’t stay this is a matter of transit advancing, rather than making it look like a waste of money. My ideas may be as well, I will admit (mine would probably cost $2B overall with tunnels with difficult engineering), but I feel that’s why discussion between others to find a better solution is vital.

    2. Jeff Klein

      “Heck, the new trend in the younger generations is to be socially liberal and fiscally conservative.”

      It’s time to start asking when building roads became “fiscally conservative”. There’s a lot more money to be had by adjusting our priorities than there is by raising taxes. Although I’m fine with that too.

    3. Adam MillerAdam

      I’m not sure the stakes are as high as you suggest, but yes, the ultimate reason to settle for what we can get is that we might be able to get it and something is better than nothing.

      But it’s still a crying shame that we are building stations in the middle of nowhere and bypassing neighborhood whose residents can be reasonably expected to use it. And in doing so we are taking the risk that ridership will miss targets and the line will be declared a failure and thus undermine political support for future projects anyway.

      1. Andy S

        I agree its a potential missed opportunity (we won’t know until uptown streetcar is built). However in LRT’s case we have a hedge in place against that possibility thanks to the two previous and highly successful lines we already have. If it does fail (I’m certainly not rooting against it) we can always point to central and haiwatha and say “look, LRT isn’t the problem, we just implemented it wrong this one time”.

        Commuter rail was not so lucky.

    1. Andy S

      I’m not dissagreeing with anything you’re saying. Pro-transit people know the true cost of driving vs mass transit to be a lot different than public perception would seem. Yet, for a new younger generation of voters who support progressive social issues yet don’t want to foot the debt burden of their parents generation, public transit often gets lumped into the same category as welfare spending. Its going to be an uphill battle folks.

      1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele Post author

        To that group, we just need to show that freeway and highway expansion is the real irresponsible spending. That message is spreading. Fast.

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