The Green Line Is Not Commuter Rail

Children and bikes welcome on the train in Copenhagen

In a recent blog post, MPR’s Hart Van Denburg shared a video showing a Green Line route in it’s entirety. He also felt the need to mention the time it has been taking in test runs to ride the route from end to end. There is no need to speculate as to whether he personally was being antagonistic in mentioning this, the duration of the route has drawn the ire of demurrers on various comment threads.

Even were we to grant these trial times as the norm (even though they will surely improve have already improved) the way the issue of run-times itself is framed evinces a crude and naive understanding of what the Green Line is and how it will be used. The Green Line is not a commuter line connecting the downtowns of our Twin Cities; a kind of slow, pathetic substitution for I-94. It is rather a metropolitan rail that runs through not a few dense parts of both cities which enables travel to many and various destinations all along the length of the line.

The University of Minnesota student who catches the LRT downtown to hit up a show at First Avenue will not ask herself how long it takes to get from Union Station to Target Field before hopping on. She will be glad of the convenience of not having to park; she will be pleased not to pester her inner judge as to whether she can drive home safely with one more beer; she will not have to rouse herself from conversation to feed a meter. Likewise the Northeast native will not bemoan the pace of the Green Line as he hops aboard for outrageously good soup at Ngon; for these are the common, everyday, pedestrian reasons that people will take the Green Line.

Because it is in a city. It is not running from a small town – misnomered for its small lake – to a baseball diamond, achingly slow and with too few trips to be of any use to anyone.

The suburbanite will continue to rail against anything that doesn’t look like a parking lot stretched thin. They wish to spend their whole life in them. Meanwhile I will grab the Green Line for punk rock shows at the Turf Club without a care or a thought to speeding travel between its extreme ends. If I do start to thinking about transit as I pull up to the Snelling station, I will probably only hope we build more and more of this kind of urbanized transportation.

Tony Hunt

About Tony Hunt

Tony Hunt rides his bike places and is just narcissistic enough to want to tell people about it. He majored in Greek and Latin at the University of Minnesota. This, he believes, qualifies him to write about anything. You can follow his rantings at

61 thoughts on “The Green Line Is Not Commuter Rail

  1. Andrew B

    Right on! I’d argue that light rail in general shouldn’t be used to move commuters from far-flung suburbs. That’s what heavy rail/commuter rail is for. Big capacities and high speeds with very few stops.

  2. TG

    “The suburbanite will continue to rail against anything that doesn’t look like a parking lot stretched thin.”

    Not true.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      Might not be true, but it’s achingly poetic! The image of “a parking lot stretched thin” will haunt my dreams. It is a Willy Wonka strip mall.

    2. Tony HuntTony Hunt Post author

      Are we really going to strain at gnats for hyperbole? Perhaps we could start a new hashtag #notallsuburbanites

    3. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      Literary effect or not, it does seem like a pointlessly prejudicial statement — and not particularly true. For the Green Line in particular, the biggest roadblocks came from University Ave businesses losing parking, and wealthy homeowners in western Minneapolis. (Arguably suburban, but not in the way it’s usually used.)

      1. Tony HuntTony Hunt Post author

        At the risk of arguing what seems to me to be a silly point, I take it as well established and widely accepted that suburban life depends on and perpetrates car culture. It is from this that my slight stemmed and inasmuch as it is true, I don’t think there’s much room for serious disagreement on the matter.

        I would, fwiw, differentiate between “subjective” desire to live in parking lots (that is, the movement of the will of individual suburbanites) and “objective” desire to live in parking lots, which would be simply restating what I just said above.

        Even so, it almost seems to prove my point (?) that if the “suburban-like” west minneapolites and defensiveness about parking hindered the Green Line then suburban life stands against good urban development

        1. Jeremy

          Indeed, as someone who grew up in and was tortured by suburban life, I can agree wholeheartedly that it depends on and perpetuates car culture – or perpetrates, as it were. Arguing anything to the contrary is an exercise in self-hypnosis.

          Now, were it the case that Minneapolis had beautiful garden suburbs like Riverside, IL, then the attendant car culture would be mildly excusable, but given the levels of carbon dioxide emissions related to car use, defending suburban life is pretty, well, indefensible.

        2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

          I think there’s an important distinction between suburban design (the places, the streets, the business site plans, the neighborhood designs) and the people who live there (the “suburbanites”).

          There are many reasons why someone might live in the suburbs:
          -desire for a larger lot
          -desire for a newer-built home
          -family needs
          -attraction to a certain school district
          -social circle located in a certain place

          Not all those reasons are necessarily “right”, but they’re not (except for larger lots) very directly tied to driving. Convenience of owning and driving a car likely plays a factor as well — but a lot less than you might think.

          1. Jeremy

            Living in a suburb doesn’t make someone a bad person. “Suburbanites” is a generalization; one, you’ll note, that I didn’t make in my comment. The reasons for suburban living are obviously compelling for many: our metro area population is overwhelmingly suburban.

            The problem has everything to do with the layout of suburbs. Some are better than others (Richfield or Robbinsdale are lightyears ahead of Maple Grove or Eden Prairie), but at the end of the day, the dimensions of suburbs encourage car use. Car use accounts for a shockingly high amount of carbon dioxide being pumped into the air. CO2 emissions are a huge contributor to climate change. Ergo, living in a suburb and driving a lot contributes to a dangerous situation.

            On that note, I don’t get the point of your final paragraph. Are you responding to a perceived assertion saying that people live in suburbs because they want to drive? I, for one, never thought that. It’s the structure of suburbs that encourages car use, not some evil impulse within people.

            1. Sean Hayford Oleary

              I was responding mainly to Tony’s comment, not yours, Jeremy.

              My argument is not that people in the suburbs do not drive. They do. So do most people in Minneapolis, or St. Paul, especially in the single-family home areas. It would be interesting to compare vehicle miles traveled between Minneapolis and its first ring, but my hunch would be that it would be similar for most people.

              This is not a statement that what the suburbs are doing is good; rather that much of the metro is pretty equally culpable. Change needs to happen together, and I don’t think it’s helpful to assume that the more auto-dependent an area you live, the more apt you are to oppose mass transit. (In fact, living in a more auto-dependent area may make you all the more hungry for mass-transit options, as you seem to suggest, Jeremy.)

              1. Jeremy

                Well, given the number of people who drive in the city, you could very well be right. There is indeed far too much driving that happens in Minneapolis, and, from my experience, even more driving going on in Saint Paul. I would say, though, that my own hunch is that once you get out to places like Lakeville, Eden Prairie, or Woodbury, you’ll see profligate car usage that makes Minneapolitan rates pale in comparison. This puts first-tier suburbs in a far different light.

                I sincerely hope you’re right that living in auto-dependent areas will create a hunger for mass transit use. It will be interesting to see if the (in my opinion, woefully watered-down and hardly deserving of being part of a METRO system that includes LRT) Red Line enjoys heavy use. Or, for that matter, if the coming Orange Line will be a success.

  3. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    Well said.

    And I, as someone who lives in downtown Minneapolis, will likely take the train all the way to downtown St. Paul from time to time, because regardless of whether I could do it a little faster on a bus (assuming I could find it) or in my car, I plan to enjoy the convenience of not having to drive the unpleasantness of 94 and the cost savings of not having to park (especially annoying in weekend-emptied downtown St. Paul). I like having that choice.

    1. Anne

      As your St. Paul opposite twin, I will be riding the Green Line basically end-to-end, not because I prefer public transit over a car, but because I don’t have that choice.

      While I certainly find light rail more comfortable than the bus and would choose it solely for this reason, when I think of riding it, it will be for the longer duration of the trip, not the 5 or 6 stops that are suggested. For this reason, any time they can cut off from the overall trip would be greatly appreciated.

      If giving the Green Line signal priority consistently is the way to do that, I am 100% for it!

      1. Tony HuntTony Hunt Post author

        Ladies and gentlemen I believe we just solved the speed problem. #ftw

  4. Chava

    I’m very happy this line is opening. The convenience will likely be awesome.

    You raise some good points, but why not try to aim for a shorter end to end time? Everyone wins. Even if I am taking it 5-6 stops away, I would not mind a faster trip between my destinations, nor would the few actually taking it end to end. Everyone keeps talking about how the line is “supposed” to be used, but what does that have to do with accepting slower speeds?

    If the problem with speeding up service is an issue of operating budget, I get that. Faster trains arriving every 10 minutes potentially requires more LRT vehicles on the tracks, which raises labor costs. If we’re concerned with safety, that makes sense too.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      It’s not operating budget so much as our social priorities at traffic signals and intersections. It doesn’t cost anything more to prioritize the train.

    2. Tony HuntTony Hunt Post author

      In addition to what Bill said I’d like to suggest that although overall time is not unimportant, I’d still rather see increased frequency of service prioritized over time as such.

    3. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      Nothing wrong with advocating for greater speed, especially via signal priority. But there seems to be a strong (suburban?) sentiment that the line will be a failure that no one uses if you can’t go from Target Field to union station faster than a car. For example, MPR blogger Bob Collins asked how we are going to get people out if cars if it isn’t faster.

      The answer is that’s the wrong question, even though there are also other factors at play that will also get people out of cars.

      Of course, ridership is going to blow projections out of the water and we’ll stop talking about it.

  5. I Am A Person

    I deem you not fully punk for not just riding the bus to the Turf Club, you yuppie scum.

  6. Froggie

    The premise behind the topic of this article, that the Central LRT (sorry, I cannot bring myself to use the color names) is not a commuter rail, is a good argument for A) some sort of non-stop rail service between SPUD and “The Interchange”, and/or B) keeping express buses along I-94.

    1. John Bailey

      The express bus along I-94 (route 94) is sticking around post-Green Line: It will no longer serve the state capital and won’t stop at Snelling any longer. I’m glad they are keeping it and losing these stops will make it a faster trip between the downtowns (though it will be less frequent and be more of a rush hour type bus, I believe.

      In my transit fantasy, the 94 has greatly expanded headways and uses a dedicated lane on I-94. While I couldn’t be a bigger fan of the Green Line, and in no way think it should act like a commuter line, I still think there is a need for a need for a No BS-Fast-Like-A-MoFO BRT between the downtowns. There are sometimes when, contrary to things I say, transportation really does need to be about getting from A to B fast. As I said, I’m just dreaming and I fully recognize the politics of paying for “yet another” round between the two cities.

      1. Rosa

        Thank you for the link! I had also read that the express buses were being canceled, and when I do go to downtown St Paul, that’s the bus I take. Nobody wants to sit with little kids on the 16 if they can help it.

    2. Matty LangMatty Lang

      Yes, the high speed rail to Chicago was supposed to include the non-stop rail service between SUPD and The Interchange. Then Scott Walker and Wisconsin happened.

      1. Froggie

        Doesn’t have to be tied to the high speed rail service to Chicago. In fact, it would probably be better for all involved if a non-stop rail connection between the downtowns WASN’T tied to HSR…

  7. Keith Morris

    I only agree now because it’s back down to 48 min (closer to the original 41) instead of ~70 min. And yes, what the hell with no bike parking at Turf Club? Although, I’d say the establishment shares half the blame since they have to know their customers are having trouble finding parking.

  8. John Bailey

    The deed is done, but one thing that will add some unnecessary minutes (IMO) is the loop around the state capital to Robert Street and then coming back west on 12th to Robert. This decision was made before I moved here, and so maybe this was discussed a bunch a ways back. And there may be a perfectly legit reason, but it always seemed to me to make more sense to head down MLK to Cedar or perhaps even down Rice to 12th and head down Cedar or perhaps even St. Peter or Wabasha. I just know it’s going to be slow as molasses going all the way to Robert and then heading “back west” to Cedar and I will be a bitter commuter sometimes.

    Anyone know if this was ever discussed?

    1. Al DavisonAl Davison

      I think it’s fine being considered LRT, but they really need to give this signal priority since automobile traffic could handle having to stop for a train every 5-10 mins. If cars don’t like it, they can always go on 94 a couple blocks south (as we should gear University towards being a more local road instead of an urban expressway).

      Speaking of trams, it does remind me of the St. Clair streetcar line in Toronto that was updated to having it’s own segregated tracks in the median like the Green Line is (although their stations are more basic: ( It’s still considered a streetcar, but it’s more of a middle ground between streetcars and LRT.

      1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

        Trams (streetcars) usually have slightly smaller vehicles that are much lower to the ground (and much lower than buses also) so they don’t require anything special for a station. Many stations are nothing more than a bus shelter and a small electronic arrivals sign. Vehicles are a bit less expensive than LRT, stations are massively less expensive. I assume the track/catenary cost is similar?

        It seems that loading/unloading is faster on trams than LRT so less time is wasted with stops.

        Trams are narrower and need less ROW width than LRT so more room for bike/ped infrastructure.

        I don’t think the central corridor line has any fast non-stop LRT type segments so it seems like a tram would have been a better alternative from many standpoints. A tram line would also have helped the optics a bit since a 50 minute trip for a tram would seem ‘normal’ while people expect LRT to be much faster and HRT faster yet.

        In any case, I agree that signals should favor rail over individual vehicles.

        1. Matty LangMatty Lang


          One of the reasons the Green Line was built to LRT standards rather than streetcar is that it’s meant to be extended into the suburbs where there will be greater distances and speeds between stations. I believe, another consideration is capacity. Even though streetcar/tram vehicles can be tethered into multi car trains just like LRVs, the resulting train would still have a lower passenger capacity.

          In short, the Green Line was designed to be a spoke on the spine of the high capacity (if not high speed) LRT/BRT system with the gaps between this system to be served by aBRT/traditional streetcar and traditional local bus routes.

            1. Matty LangMatty Lang

              Interesting article John. The plan that the Midtown Greenway Coalition is pushing for the Greenway connection between the Blue and Green lines is a hybrid LRT/Streetcar approach that uses the smaller streetcar infrastructure, but having limited stops like LRT.

              If the smaller, tighter turning streetcars were used for the Green Line it might have been able to provide for fewer of the “detours” involved with the Green Line, I don’t know for sure. I do find it interesting that there does not appear to be much of a cost savings comparing the two lines although this may have to do with the bridges and tunnels for the Austin line mentioned in the article.

      2. Froggie

        If you want to move traffic to 94 and gear University back towards a local street, you’ll need to do something to address the congestion on 94 first. Congestion on 94 is, no doubt (and based in part on personal experience), driving some cars onto University (pun intended). For starters, eliminate the lane drop at Snelling. Next, to borrow an idea that Matt Steele has suggested elsewhere, do a “lane swap”: add a lane to 94 in return for dropping a lane from University.

        1. Al DavisonAl Davison

          Yeah I support fixing the Snelling Ave lane drop so there would be a constant 4 lanes minimum between the downtowns (which means eastbound 94 would need one more lane at the 280 exit), and I would be for even 5 lanes (4 + 1 HOV like 35W in South Minneapolis – though HOV ramps would be costly to connect directly to both of the downtown areas) if it meant University had more traffic calming.

          I wonder what could be done to help minimize congestion in the downtown Saint Paul portion (maybe 3 lanes for 35E, like there is for 94?). I drove on 94 to Minneapolis on Monday during both morning and afternoon rush hours, and seems that the downtown areas are the main areas where slowdowns happen especially when I merged to 35E north from going east on 94.

          1. Froggie

            Believe it or not, what I suggested is more realistic than Congress changing Federal law enough to allow what you suggest.

    2. Tony HuntTony Hunt Post author

      The answer to this question is above my ken. All I know is I’m looking forward to the Central/Nicollet line.

  9. Kasia McMahonKasia

    Thank god I don’t work in the Midway anymore. My 1 1/2 hour commute from North Minneapolis/Golden Valley to St. Paul would have been even longer without the 94 express bus. (I’m technically one of those first ring “suburbanites,” but really only live a stone’s throw from Minneapolis proper). Sitting in transit for 3 hours a day (which I did for almost 2 years) was very frustrating. People would always ask me, “aren’t you excited for the Green Line to open?” No! I would have stood in an ox-cart all the way to work if it was faster–a fancy seat on a smooth train is not a conciliation to losing 94 bus service for transit dependent commuters. But I am glad people in their early twenties and college students can feel like they are really cool urban dwellers and take the train to the Turf Club.

    1. John Bailey

      Kasia: The 94 express bus service is not being cancelled: It’s a great route, and I will probably still use it at times in addition to the Green Line.

      It sounds like the Green Line would not have worked as a commute route for a job you once had. Fair enough, I’m sure all of us had had jobs where LRT, bus, car, bike, walk would not have practically worked. I would argue that what we want is a region with a wide array of transportation options that can get people and goods where they need to go safely, efficiently, and affordably. The Green Line may never work for you personally, but for many it will. I live off University Avenue, and it’ll work wonderfully for me, but I’ve rarely taken the Blue Line because it doesn’t go where it needs to go. That’s not a knock on it though.

      Full disclosure: I’m close enough to walk to the Turf Club but I may take the Green Line to The Cedar or First Avenue. Will that shave 10 years off my life and make me a hipster?

      1. Kasia McMahonKasia

        John, the stop at the midway is being eliminated, not the 94 bus entirely. My point was not that buses are better than trains, my point was that I get very annoyed when people make light of travel time. Travel time is the number one factor people use to decide mode of transit (obviously not cost or even safety). So if that’s the number one priority for the vast majority of people, why isn’t it a priority when designing transit systems? The writer of this article seems to think that travel time is an overblown issue.

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          Is that right? I would think parking costs would be a pretty big factor for those making a drive/transit choice, and other factors (weather, emissions, health, exercise, etc) for those making a drive/walk/bike choice. Although I can certainly see how once you’re planning your trip on transit, you’d place a very big value on time in planning your route.

          All of that, of course, is supposition on my part and I have no knowledge of actual data that’s out there. Assuming you do, then please just interpret this comment as an expression of surprise.

          Personally, I could probably cut my commute in half by driving instead of walking, but doing so would (1) cost a lot for parking, (2) only save about 10 minutes, (3) deprive me of some exercise built in to my day, and (4) not really be worth the environmental costs or the wear and tear on my car.

          But overall I’m with you, and I think people who make long driving commutes from the suburbs and exurbs often are not placing enough value on their time when they decide to accept that.

        2. MplsJaromir

          The Green Line is going to be a huge boon immediately to many people from the first day. The fact that some suburbanite’s former idiosyncratic commute may have be slightly prolonged should hardly be anyone concern. When this line will be a huge net benefit. Also it is not as if the Midway stop could be added at a future date. Sounds like you just want a car.

    2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      Just looking at schedules (obviously, data with limitations), the 94B Express currently is scheduled to take 19 minutes from downtown Minneapolis (B Ramp) to 94/Snelling with service every 10-30 minutes during morning commute times. The green line train looks like it’s scheduled for 27 minutes between Target Field and Snelling, but scheduled every 10 minutes.

      That kind of sounds like a wash to me, although I’m not sure why they can’t still have a bus that stops in the midway.

      1. Kasia McMahonKasia

        Adam, 8 minutes * 2 trips per day = 16 minutes per day. If you make minimum wage, 16 minutes per day * 251 working days per year = 67 hours per year. 67 hours * $8.00 (MN minimum wage) = $536 worth of time. Now, if you make more than $8/per hour, that figure goes up. Now I am not saying that every minute extra you have you can spend making more money, but time is money, and if your time is the limiting factor in your wages, then that 16 minutes less per day is not “a wash.” I might not be so annoyed by this change in transit time, except that the change in transit time is not due to road construction, or a new stop–the added travel time is due to so called “investments” in transit infrastructure?? This project made it so clear to me that the people that design transit, don’t use it. Do you mind if I ask if you are transit dependent?

        1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

          Agreed, trip time is critical if you’re going to attract choice riders. It reminds me of the article from last week, “Adventures in Transit.” I guess I’m more of a wonk so I skipped past the dialog, but I noticed the last line: “Total travel time: 1 hour 40 minutes” — Clearly the root of the problem is companies shoving their employees towards suburban geographies of nowhere. But transit just cannot compete with that kind of commute for most folks that own cars.

          1. Kasia McMahonKasia

            You can’t blame businesses for acting in their own best interest. You can regulate them, force them to stay in the cities, but without a functional transit system–you are basically dooming people to longer commutes. The bottom line is that getting to St. Paul isn’t going to be any faster or easier on June 14th than it was on June 13th. So why should a business choose to move its headquarters to a place that makes travel difficult for choice riders?

            1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

              Businesses that locate in the suburbs, just like humans who live in the suburbs, are making rational responses within an irrational system. But it’s becoming less rational for businesses despite our heavy-handed subsidies of suburban land uses: Attrition rates are much higher than predicted for firms moving employees from the city into the suburbs. And many people are now seeking jobs because of their location in urban cores or along well-served transit spines.

        2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          Sure, but it’s not 8 minutes per trip. It’s only 8 minutes per trip if you assume the same wait time. But if you’re planning to take the 94B, you may actually have to wait for up to a half hour, whereas as on the train you’re never supposed to wait more than 10 minutes.

          In other words, the person wanting to take that trip has traded a longer ride for more frequent and consistent service.

          I’m not transit dependent, and perhaps if you are you get so used to the schedule that you never miss the bus you’re aiming for out of B Ramp, but unless that’s your first leg in the transit system, that seems a little hard to believe.

          But as I said, I don’t know why there isn’t a version of the 94 that still stops there. It would make sense to me if there was.

            1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

              It’s scheduled to be close to every ten minutes between 7-8:37, but if you miss the 7:51 bus you have a 21 minute wait until the next bus that stops at 94 and Snelling, and only one of the intervals is exactly 10 minutes (they’re 11, 10, 13, 15, 21, 13 and 12) during that time frame.

  10. John Bailey

    Kasia — I did think you were referring to the 94 bus being eliminated so sorry about the misunderstanding. I’m getting a little lost in the rhetoric here, but obviously travel time is very important to people. When I said “efficiently” that’s what I was referring to. I think that reasonable people, and many other people smarter than myself, would suggest that safety and cost of transportation are factors as well. And yes, I think that there are many transit dependent people that care deeply about, for instance, the safety of their walk home from the bus and the transportation costs of getting to work and other activities. That’s what I meant when I said that a region should have a transportation system that is efficient ( I mean travel times for people and goods), safe, and affordable.

    As to the specific issue about the Snelling stop being eliminated on the 94 express bus route, I think there are travel time benefits to people taking the bus because the bus route will now go faster because it won’t be stopping their nor at the Capital anymore. It’s like a sea of 94Ds everywhere you look.

    So yes, if you do use the 94 bus route to get to Midway you will now need to get on the Green Line that is either 8 minute slower going east and 5 minutes faster going west. But that’s not really accurate at all. The Green Line may be “slower” if you work at the Anchor Bank on Snelling and Concordia, but for just about anywhere else in the Midway your stop is going to be much, much closer with the Green Line than with the stop at 94 and Snelling.

    I don’t it’s wash at all. I think for the overwhelming amount of Midway residents and jobs the Green Line has much better travel times compared to being dropped off on the highway interchange of 94 and Snelling. You may know more than me about 20 year old hipsters at the Turf Club so I will yield to your knowledge about them. I trust they will figure it out.

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