The 3K Bus Route’s (Un)Urban Surroundings

The 3 bus has several different letters associated with route variations, the A, B, C, E, S, U and K. All of the routes run along Como Avenue in Minneapolis, except for the K. The K runs a few blocks south of Como, along Kasota Avenue. It connects transit riders to jobs in the corridor from high use transfer locations (downtown Minneapolis), but the design of the street leaves basic urban elements missing, while using resources to make an unnecessarily wide roadway. Reallocation of space and resources could lead to a more urban, better street for many users.

Following the bus route west from 15th Avenue SE to Highway 280, I biked and took photos of all the bus stops,and of the bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

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Starting out, the bus stop sign may be a full 4 feet off the pavement.

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The first three stops had similar land uses, with one side dominated by industrial uses, the other a median to a side street.

The first few stops have mostly leased light industrial, office park style buildings on the south side, with single family homes to the north, separated by a small boulevard and side street. The street does have bike lanes along this stretch (although they have a good inch and a half drop off from pavement to gutter in some places), and is about 36 feet wide (stepped off, with an approximate step size of 22.5 inches… I need to buy a tape measure). It feels like a somewhat normal street, just without sidewalks and with some railroad tracks occasionally instead.

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The only intersection in the first three stops, don’t get too excited, it’s just an access road.

When the road turns southeast, it widens considerably, from the 36 feet above to nearly 45 feet. The bike lanes are removed and the industrial buildings now surround the roadway, leaving the Como neighborhood’s south edge behind. Also a sidewalk/path on the south half of the street starts, at this point the path is in relatively good condition.

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Don’t worry, the bike lanes are gone, but there’s a sign saying it’s a bike route, and a bituminous (asphalt) sidewalk.

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Off street surface lots separate the industrial buildings from the street. The width of the street can be seen with the car here only taking up a small amount of the street’s width.

The road turns back east, and the path, no longer directly in front of any building, is overtaken by grasses and weeds, with the asphalt making a traversable surface, but not a pleasant one.

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Not one more cent spent on potholes until we can maintain a bike path, I mean… can we mow the grass growing through it at least?

And at the second to last bus stop, some photos of the surrounding landscape.

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Trains.

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The path resurfaces out of the curve, it ends at the next driveway unfortunately.

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One of the only empty lots in the area.

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The last stop, ends up looking ok, path is gone, and it looks like a suburban office park serene landscape, but 10 minutes from downtown Minneapolis by local bus.

 

The lack of sidewalks, and the state they are in when they’re present in the corridor should be of concern. MetroTransit does run buses down here, the buildings are setback from the street and they are spaced far apart, walking is a must if you are to transit to any of these jobs. When the street is up for reconstruction I would recommend that the city try to narrow the road considerably, not to the point of a local road, or even a collector, but there are currently 22 feet wide driving lanes, that’s wide, even for engineers, as 16 feet is a maximum in current traffic manuals (prevents two wide operation in one lane). Rebuilding a thinner road would save the funds and the space for sidewalks to be placed. The transit service of the 3K is not very high, with about seven round trips a day running through the corridor. It is an access bus, bringing transit dependent people to jobs in these office parks and light industrial areas, but we still must provide for anyone who is disabled, or just has unsure footing, access to these jobs as well. Adding the sidewalks would allow better access for the transit users and ensure they aren’t relegated to walking in the road, where large vehicles commonly go at speeds approaching 40 mph.

Places like Kasota Avenue are in every city, there will always be a need for industrial and warehousing spaces, there will always be a division of some company that wants its office to be in a more suburban setting. While we cannot eliminate these less urbanist friendly land uses (and the jobs that they provide) from our metro, or even our core cities, without economic hardships, we can ensure that they still provide basic access for people who are not driving, by choice or by need.

 

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19 Responses to The 3K Bus Route’s (Un)Urban Surroundings

  1. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke June 10, 2014 at 8:42 am #

    I used to take the #3 all the time from my house in St Paul to the U of MN. Only twice did I ever happen across the #3K. It’s so strange to ride it through the area you’ve shown here, but there are dozens of people working in the warehouses that must ride it all the time…

    Such a strange bus, almost ネコバス (catbus) magical. (i.e. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catbus)

    • Mike Hicks June 10, 2014 at 10:45 am #

      The 3K itself is pretty new — it used to just be that some 3A and 3B buses would go along the Elm-Kasota route (no separate letter, though “Elm-Kasota” is one of the messages that shows up on the destination board). Some 3A and 3B buses still go along that route (the 3A I took to work this morning had gone on the Elm-Kasota route before picking me up).

      • Walker Angell
        Walker Angell June 10, 2014 at 11:39 am #

        And we wonder why people think that using buses is confusing.

      • Joseph Totten
        Joseph Totten June 10, 2014 at 4:43 pm #

        Yes there are the 3A* and 3B*. They all get confusing.

  2. Mike Hicks June 10, 2014 at 8:59 am #

    The Elm-Kasota business park and the Energy Park area it connects to in St. Paul are good examples of suburban development within the city. This is the type of land use that can be seen along much of the Southwest LRT corridor, particularly in Minnetonka and Eden Prairie. One of the reasons why I am not very enthusiastic about that line.

    However, neither area is hopeless. The Elm-Kasota-Energy Park corridor is sandwiched between two rail lines, so there aren’t many ways in or out. Constrained corridors can actually work pretty well with transit. I had worked just on the east side of MN-280 for several years, and had wished that there was some sort of service over there (route 87 which goes north-south along Raymond Avenue was the closest route — it was too infrequent and ended its service too early for me at the time, though it is going to be improved in a few days with the opening of the Green Line). Still, the area is mostly commercial-industrial, so there are strong peaks of traffic in the morning and evening, with a fair amount of midday travel, but almost completely dead later into the night and on weekends.

    It should be possible to make areas like this more walkable — Moving the buildings up to front the street better would help a lot (though unfortunately moving parking around back tends to make companies want to put their reception area around back too). It looks like on-street parking is banned along Kasota, though that doesn’t make much sense (it’s allowed a couple miles down the road by the St. Paul Saints stadium, an area marked with 4 lanes instead of just 2). Adding proper sidewalks with street trees would also be a good idea — I’ve walked along Raymond Avenue to Energy Park Drive many times, and it’s amazing how quickly I start sweating on warmer days after leaving the tree-covered areas along Raymond.

    Re-forming these areas in a more urbanist vein will take decades, though.

    • Joseph Totten
      Joseph Totten June 10, 2014 at 4:46 pm #

      I don’t know if trees and buildings fronting the street is useful here. These areas will not have street life, but this is more a wish list for utilitarian urbanism. Simply adding sidewalks, pedestrian ramps, and maybe striping for an appropriate lane width.

      Industrial developments aren’t going to be urban perfection, but they can still be workable parts of a good urban city.

  3. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary June 10, 2014 at 10:52 am #

    I think the era of urban-friendly industrial development is long-dead. That’s why nearly all those lovely historic warehouses near downtown are now luxury condos or offices. For better or for worse, our world of products exists in a larger-scale, motorized context.

    So if we are to assume that truly urban-oriented development here would require a land use change, would sidewalks create value here? On the one hand, they would be a useful roadway feature — people take buses here, and work in these buildings, and they could use it for safety. But on the other hand, it’s pretty worthless as a feature of the urban environment, since there is no sidewalk-oriented frontage, and little opportunity to create it.

    The presence of a bus route is definitely no guarantee of viable pedestrian facilities. I’ve been complaining to the City of Edina about this bus stop, where there are not only no sidewalks adjacent, but also no legal way to leave the bus stop. (The adjacent light has “no ped” signs at all but one leg, on the other side of the street from the bus stop. One can’t cross 77th southbound legally, since it’s between two adjacent signals.) Unfortunately, the bus routing and stop placement does not always coordinate with facilities to make it practical to actually take the bus.

    As for the wide travel lanes: this is unusual, especially given lack of on-street parking, but actually might be justified in this context, to accommodate semis and other large vehicles getting in and out of driveways. That said, since bike lanes are only paint, I’m not sure why they couldn’t fill up some of the space with buffered bike lanes.

    • Joseph Totten
      Joseph Totten June 10, 2014 at 4:52 pm #

      Simply adding a proper sidewalk would do well for safety, and while urbanism as a concept might not have that as a central concept. Applying urbanism to these areas through this lens of safety, and of reasonable walkability, these ideas still make sense, and are valid concepts. (More the kind of point I was trying to get people to think of on their own).

    • Joseph Totten
      Joseph Totten June 10, 2014 at 4:55 pm #

      But ~11 people use this bus daily, seemingly to commute, with return trips lining up nicely. I’m sure that they aren’t just massing there, so people are resigned to crossing the street illegally. (~3 people use this bus on weekends, seemingly to commute again.)

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary June 10, 2014 at 5:06 pm #

        Where are the numbers from? Are you able to look up ridership by stop?

        Yes, obviously people do manage to get from the stop to whatever their destination is. It’s more a statement of the disconnect between city or county public works and regional bus agency when you have a bust stop that’s illegal to get to or from.

  4. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell June 10, 2014 at 11:42 am #

    “I’m not sure why they couldn’t fill up some of the space with buffered protected bike lanes.” Fixed it 🙂

  5. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell June 10, 2014 at 11:47 am #

    Sean made some great points. This is an area where a good Dutch style extra-wide MUP might make more sense. I’d guess that bicyclists vastly outnumber pedestrians?

  6. Joe June 10, 2014 at 12:04 pm #

    I used to bike this route all the time. That path is totally unrideable, so I rode on the street (sorry Walker). It was fine as the lanes are huge, but it can be scary at night. The worst part, however, is trying to cross under 280 at night. People going to the on-off ramps cannot see you at all.

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell June 10, 2014 at 1:51 pm #

      🙂 I’d have done the same. Actually, have done the same along there many times. When there’s a lack of good segregated facilities then vehicular cycling is the best coping mechanism.

  7. Reuben Collins
    Reuben Collins June 10, 2014 at 3:31 pm #

    Both Minneapolis and Saint Paul have planned bike facilities for these corridors (disclosure: I am employed by the City of Saint Paul).

    Minneapolis bike plan recommends development of bike lanes on Elm/Kasota. As mentioned in the OP, these are already in place along a portion of Elm, though they are narrow and the gutter pan joint is in a particularly unfortunate location. I wonder why the bike plan recommends bike lanes on the corridor when there is an existing off-street path along a portion? Was it an intentional judgment that the off-street path (even if in better condition) was not the right recommendation for the corridor? Or was it just that the street is super wide with no parking already so why not stripe bike lanes? At the same time, the fact that it is super wide makes the actual paint less critical.

    The roadway narrows a bit at the MPLS/STP border, though room still exists for in-street bike lanes. (Insert joke about knowing where the border is because that’s where the bike path stops). However, the situation changes considerably at the 280 interchange area where the roadway is striped as 4-lanes and traffic volumes jump from roughly 3,000 ADT to nearly 15,000 ADT. City staff has made a recommendation for an off-street path along the Energy Park Drive/Front corridor all the way east to Como Ave. Lane configurations are inconsistent along Energy Park Drive, and the Raymond Ave intersection demonstrates that 4 lanes may not be necessary outside of interchange areas, which would allow for short-term bike lane installation. However, the long term vision for the corridor is a preference for an off-street path facilitiy, which seems more fitting with the large-lot, industrial warehouse land use.

  8. Joseph Totten
    Joseph Totten June 10, 2014 at 5:22 pm #

    If people are at all interested in profiling streets or transit routes, we can make this into a series, whoever would like to post. Even if you aren’t a writer yet (use the contact tab up at the top), (or are like me and needed to crank something quick out so as to not miss 2 scheduled post days in a row).

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Sunday Summary – June 15, 2014 | streets.mn - July 7, 2014

    […] Other transit options this week include Reconnecting the Grid: Royalston / Downtown / Loring Park builds on Anatomy of a Proposed Urban Railway: Royalston which is the latest in the series on SWLRT stations which might exist in the future.  You can also ride Metro Transit’s 3K bus and see The 3K Bus Route’s (Un)Urban Surroundings. […]

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