Anatomy of a Proposed Urban Railway: Penn Station

A vista over the proposed Penn Ave station

A vista over the proposed Penn Ave station

Continuing with my series of poor photographs of the landscape around the proposed Minneapolis SWLRT stations, let’s take a closer look at the Penn Avenue station. To briefly review where we’ve already been, the Van White station is 100% pure redevelopment potential. There’s nothing there now, but there is definite room to build new things, potentially taking the area from close to zero to a lot more than zero.

Penn Ave is a bit of a different critter. As near as I can tell, the proposed new station is in the midst of a combination park and rail right of way. Two different freight rail systems run through here, in a space that’s practically right underneath 394. I may be missing something, but that implies to me that there is basically no redevelopment that can be expected in the immediate vicinity of this station. There simply seems to be nowhere to put new buildings of any type, here in the trench between Lowry Hill and the north side.

The first time I approached this spot from the north, I came on foot after surveying plans for West Broadway in the early spring. Getting from Penn Ave across the train tracks to the Cedar Lake Trail, much less out again into Kenwood, was nearly impossible. There was no sanctioned way to pass across the two sets of railroad tracks and the slushy early-spring earth did not offer up an easy crossing. The new station will have to offer something better.

If redevelopment is not going to be a major factor, maybe the station has other positives, like serving existing centers of population, business or employment? Unfortunately, not so much. Look closely at the photo below and you can maybe see what might be the closest residence to the proposed station to the north:

Penn Ave Station from the pedestrian ramkp

Penn Ave from the pedestrian ramp

Can you see that bluish house right above the green interstate sign? No? Well, take my word for it, there is a bluish house up there. While it’s technically not the closest to the proposed station, it’s the closest one you can see to the north from the vicinity. As you can see here, the rail right of way is substantially down hill and across two segments of raised interstate from the nearest north side residential areas. Worse, the roadway crossing this photo from left to right is Penn Ave., the nearest street connecting to those neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a means for careful measurement of that distance, but you can see that it’s rather a ways from this spot to where people actually live to the north. That gap – whether a quarter mile or whatever – seems to be the challenge for this station. Will people cross it? Will people ride buses to the top of the ramp that leads to this spiral walkway to catch a train?

Penn Station spiral walkway

Penn Station spiral walkway

It seems that the plans call for new connections to the north, apparently involving a new bridge for a multi-use path. That might help, but there is still the problem of sheer elevation. How steep with the climb be and how many people are going to be comfortable walking or biking it?

Location and access, including future plans (via

And what about that park? Bryn Mawr Meadows sits just on the other side of 394, connected by an existing pathway, and the plans for Van White seem to imply expanding it toward that new stop as well. Will the Penn Avenue station’s main effect be to join the Bottineau proposal in over-serving park space? I suppose it’s possible some people will ride the train to their adult kick ball league competitions in the park, but how many trips can recreational use possibly drive?

Take another look at the yellow-shaded “walkshed” in the access plan map above. Look at how much of it is park and how little of it is populated neighborhood. Worse, perhaps more than half of the populated neighborhood is in Kenwood, to the south.

Maybe there will be a parade of would-be train riders from the south making this a heavily trafficked stop?

Mansions above the Penn Ave station

Mansions above the Penn Ave station

Well, what do you think? Do people living in mansions on a hill want to ride the train? Does the answer depend on the extent that the train is populated by people from the north who want to get to suburban jobs?

Adam Miller

About Adam Miller

Adam Miller works downtown and lives in South Minneapolis. He's an avid user of the city's bike paths, sidewalks and skyways. He's not entirely certain he knows what the word "urbanist" means.

8 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Proposed Urban Railway: Penn Station

  1. Steven Prince

    A good post pointing out what some of us have been saying for years – this stop will not get used. As for the “mansions on the hill” – an escarpment would be a better description. The roads simply do not connect from the planned station to the Kenwood neighborhood to the south. If you want those to the south to use this LRT stop you will need to build storage lockers for hang-gliders.

    1. Matt Brillhart

      How about an elevator built into the historic (and unused) Kenwood Water Tower?

      I agree though– this station is a disaster in the making. Any bus connections to North Minneapolis could simply be routed one station over to Van White. The bus could come down Penn, get on 394 and exit at Dunwoody/Van White to serve that station directly. That produces the exact same effect and ridership, minus the pathetic walk-shed of Bryn Mawr that would be (poorly) served by this station.

      Oh, and it’s one of the most expensive stations on the entire line, to boot. This station should be scrapped. Scrap the unneeded northern tunnel in Kenilworth as well, and reinstate the 21st Street Station (coincidentally the cheapest on the entire line, since it was just a simple at-grade platform connected to an existing neighborhood with sidewalks.

      1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

        That would be the only redeeming thing about this station. L1: LRT+Trail, L2: Kenwood Pkwy, L3: Observation deck.

        A more rational plan is to indeed scrap the Penn station in favor of the 21st St station.

    2. Adam MillerAdam Miller Post author

      You’re certainly not going to be driving or riding the bus to the station from the south, but at least the pedestrian access on that side does not involve crossing a freeway, walking down a long ramp parallel to the freeway, and then a spiral ramp down to the platform level.

  2. Jon Jackola

    I know there was an alternate route through Uptown (make’s the most logical sense), but was there ever an alternate route discussed to elevate and run the line down Penn to Olson Memorial through Bryn Mawr connecting it eventually to the Botteneau line? To me that makes the most sense, unless the Bryn Mawr people don’t want the LRT running through their quaint little neighborhood?

    I see there is development potential along the current alignment with Van White and the impound lot and the stinky dirt piles, but that still seems like an unsavory place to develop anyway being that close to the freeway.

    In my opinion once this current alignment passes the Calhoun station it becomes ridiculous. Unless you elevate it and actually run the train down Penn there should not be a station there.

    1. Froggie

      Running Southwest along Penn Ave south of Olson Hwy would run into the same issues as running Bottineau along Penn Ave to the north: just not enough right-of-way width along Penn Ave.

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