A First Ride on the Green Line – Random Thoughts

Like some 45,000 passengers, my family took the Green Line yesterday. Since there were 5 of us, and we went both ways, and assume everyone else did too, we were in fact 1/4500 of all passengers (sounds a lot less impressive).

The Twin Cities Transit Network (incomplete)

The Twin Cities Transit Network (incomplete)

1. We went to Westgate station and boarded the second eastbound trip of the morning, headed for Union Station. The train was pretty much in crush mode, standing room only. All of the passengers seemed to go all the way to Union Depot. I assume this is just because it is opening day. The Capitol stop was empty.

2. The Westgate station platform wasn’t particularly crowded, there were probably more staff and volunteers and Metro Transit Police than Passengers.

Eagerly awaiting the train, if only it wouldn't get stopped at a red light just before the station.

Eagerly awaiting the train, if only it wouldn’t get stopped at a red light just before the station. When will it come? Please check Schedules!

3. Please Check Schedules. The Variable Message Sign which is supposed to say when the next train is coming STILL doesn’t work, even on the new system. I don’t know what the problem is, but this is embarrassing.

4. Based on this and other rides, my youngest son is moderately allergic (skin hives) to the material in the seats. I don’t know what chemical is used. I don’t know if he is the only one. He will be wearing long pants for any future rides.

5. Ran into streets.mn writer Tony Desnick on the train. So I suspect it is not 45,000 passengers, rather it is 22,500 transportation and planning geeks and their friends and family who made round trips on the train.

6. It was raining and windy, so many of the festivities were cancelled. Union Depot was mobbed, so it is good to have a backup indoor facility not otherwise being used.

Planned festivities sadly derailed due to weather.

Planned festivities sadly derailed due to weather.

7. Our plan was to go to the Science Museum, which we did. The St. Paul Skyway is terribly inefficient for this trip (and to their shame, the Pioneer Press closed their building’s section when it should have been open), but at least it was dry. There was a miniature golf campaign along the enclosed path, but business seemed low. A cookie vendor packed up and just left packages of (nice) cookies for the taking.

8. Going back to Minneapolis, we boarded at St. Paul Central Station (which seemed like it would be less crowded, and was slightly closer than Union Depot) and just before Robert Street Station got to see an automobile on the tracks. This did not seem to result in any cancelled trips, but instead I am guessing single-track operation for a bit. The adaptability is good. This however is a warning to streetcar designers about curb-running tracks, where switching will be much more difficult if not impossible to avoid blockages. (The fault is not in ourselves, but in our cars).

9. Buses seemed to be more frequent and faster than the train on University. I assume the more frequent will go away (with fewer (I assume no) “Green Line” buses), but faster surprised me.

Standing Room Only on the Green Line Opening Day.

Standing Room Only on the Green Line Opening Day.

10. The traffic signals are not optimized for LRT. It is especially annoying when there is a red light just before the station. I believe it is within the capacity of engineers to design traffic signals that will give higher priority to LRT than to cars, so that the train only stops at stations. The lack of coordination between the agencies (or lack of direction to the engineers) is a policy failure. I assume it will be tuned. On the other hand, what were the last 6 months of test runs and 4 years of construction for?

11. Snelling at University in particular really should have been grade separated. Think Dupont Circle in DC for a model.

12. Connections are important, and connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul is of course valuable. But for politicians to say this now connects the cities of course ignores the previously existing transit between the cities carrying the majority of passengers who will be using the Green Line. Yet more dissin’ the bus. But I am sure it will carry more people than the bus, mostly because of the higher frequency, but in part because some people are too good to ride the bus, and are now being catered to.

Car on tracks near Robert Street Station. Don't drive on tracks ... This is not a Streetcar.

Car on tracks near Robert Street Station. Don’t drive on tracks … This is not a Streetcar.

13. The ride was very smooth, and not too herky-jerky despite all the stops (stations plus red lights). Still standees need to hold onto something.

14. There seemed to be some LRT bunching, in that two trains arrived at Union Depot well within the 10 minute headway.

For those seeking more photographs, my Flickr set is here.

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29 Responses to A First Ride on the Green Line – Random Thoughts

  1. jeffk June 16, 2014 at 12:17 am #

    I’m excited it’s up and running but I was a little disappointed by the unnecessary stations and slow corners in the east bank / prospect park section.

    • Morgan Zehner June 16, 2014 at 10:42 am #

      I agree. Westgate and Raymond should be one station, not two.

    • Morgan Zehner June 16, 2014 at 10:58 am #

      They really should have built fewer stations to start and then filled them later if needed.

      – Stadium Village might not be necessary if East Bank could’ve been built further east.
      – Prospect Park, Westgate, Raymond should be two stations and not three.
      – Fairview is only four blocks from Snelling and could probably go.
      – Are Victoria and Western needed?

      That’s four stations that aren’t needed. The Blue Line has 14 non-downtown stations over its 12 mile route. The Green Line has 18 non-downtown Minneapolis stations over its 11 mile route.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller June 16, 2014 at 11:18 am #

        I think I’d rather have too many stops than too few, though.

        • Morgan Zehner June 16, 2014 at 11:20 am #

          Why? I have seen infill stations executed very well.

          • Adam Miller
            Adam Miller June 16, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

            I don’t have a lot of faith in the political will to add stations, in particularly in St. Paul where the “extra” stations will serve areas that are relatively dense, poor, and high in people of color and people who are transit dependent (see http://www.minnpost.com/data/2014/06/who-lives-green-line)

            I can see why planners would think Raymond and Westgate are both needed because 280 acts as a reasonable substantial barrier between them, although I take your point that Westgate and Prospect Park are perhaps a bit redundant.

  2. Sarah Hagstrom June 16, 2014 at 1:46 am #

    I was in the train directly behind the car when the car fell in the hole. The rest of that train’s run was cancelled. Everybody got out and walked the rest of the way to Union Depot. The train went back to Minneapolis from there. That may have been the only cancelled run. We were just a few blocks behind that car.

    • David Levinson
      David Levinson June 16, 2014 at 7:10 am #

      I didn’t get a great view (being on the other train), it looked as if a train was going in the opposite direction past the car, so I assume they figured out the upstream and downstream switches at some point). In general they should be able to do this.

      • Erik June 18, 2014 at 12:00 am #

        I don’t know about cancelled, but my train was stopped at Central for quite a long time before we continued on to 10th and then slowly rolled past that car (by that point moved off the track).

  3. Mike Hicks June 16, 2014 at 5:39 am #

    I suspect it is not 160,000, but rather 40,000 vehicles which drive on I-94 each day at University and Snelling. It is not 16,000, but rather 4,000, vehicles which drive on University Avenue at Snelling each day.

  4. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke June 16, 2014 at 6:59 am #

    Nice observations. I have a few of my own that I’m saving for the rest of the week’s content.

    re: #5 – I can only dream that there might be 22,000 transportation nerds out there. If so, they’ll all become streets.mn members!

    & #9 – That’s because they’re empty.

    & #11 – It’s really difficult for me to imagine this. Would the through car traffic go below-grade, leaving a park and train tracks at the surface? Or would we have to knock down Midway books…

    • David Levinson
      David Levinson June 16, 2014 at 7:09 am #

      I meant the Streetcar tunnel part of Dupont Circle, not the Circle. I think there would be enough room for a tunnel under University/Snelling without takings, in that I don’t think Connecticut Avenue is wider than University. (Facts may disprove this, and you may need to lose some turn lanes from University).

      • Matty Lang
        Matty Lang June 16, 2014 at 1:34 pm #

        The idea that I like best (which, of course, was never seriously considered) was to tunnel Snelling Ave through traffic with a single lane roundabout at grade for local traffic.

      • Froggie June 17, 2014 at 12:42 am #

        The Connecticut Ave approaches to Dupont Circle are 120ft wide, which makes them the same width as University Ave at Snelling.

        There’s a couple different ways that grade separation could’ve been done. From a traffic volume perspective, putting Snelling Ave below grade would be more effective, leaving University Ave, the LRT tracks, and local access ramps at-grade (similar to what Connecticut Ave does at Dupont Circle). I don’t think a roundabout (as Matty suggests) would work, though. Not when you have LRT tracks running right through the middle of it.

        Another option would be as David suggests, putting the LRT tracks underneath. Two things that this would accomplish are A) leaving enough street width at-grade for adequate turn lanes and sidewalks, and (depending on tunnel length) perhaps retain some on-street parking on University Ave; and B) station access at all four corners of the University/Snelling intersection…the benefit here being that LRT riders would not have to cross any street to access the station. The current setup requires, at a minimum, crossing half of University Ave.

        Here’s a theoretical of what University might look like at Snelling if the LRT were underground:

        http://streetmix.net/ajfroggie/1/university-ave-at-snelling-wlrt-underground

        Given the limitations of Streetmix, a few caveats:

        – Imagine the “Transit Shelter” space as the access point down to the station.
        – The “Parking Lane” becomes a bulb-out at the intersection proper.
        – The extra width for the outer edge and median lanes is to account for curb-and-gutter.
        – Imagine the “Bike Rack” as either bike rack space, or as a Nice Ride station.

        Here’s how University could look mid block near Snelling while the LRT is still underground:

        http://streetmix.net/ajfroggie/2/university-ave-midblock-wlrt-underground

  5. jacobus June 16, 2014 at 8:49 am #

    re: #10: It’s one thing to get stopped at a major street like Snelling, but when a train full of people comes to a crashing halt at Griggs for one car, that’s extremely annoying.

  6. David Levinson
    David Levinson June 16, 2014 at 8:55 am #

    For my third ride:

    Leave Home 8:05 Arrive Westgate 8:14. LRT Arrives Westgate 8:28. Alight UMN East Bank 8:37. At Office 8:41. Walk only 30 min. #GreenLine— David M. Levinson (@trnsprttnst) June 16, 2014

  7. Andrew B June 16, 2014 at 10:08 am #

    #3 just makes me fume. We’ve got the LED signs, we know where all the trains are all the time, we have “computers” that can estimate when a train is going to arrive at a location, so why can’t they display NexTrip info at the stations already? Ugh.

  8. Brian Moen June 16, 2014 at 10:31 am #

    #10 drove me nuts. Basically stopping twice at each stop for the length of the trip. Once at the light and then again at the station. I don’t think my train ever made it through a stop light.

    I can only assume the lights on University will be tweaked and fixed, since they work so well on Hiawatha. *sigh*

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke June 18, 2014 at 7:39 am #

      The symbolic importance of those signs is the kind of thing that Metro Transit seems not to understand. They provide assurance to anyone waiting, e.g. these stories that David is telling or others that I have heard. If the train is running really late, at least you know about it. If it’s about to arrive, you know about that too.

      If an independent transit app can get real-time GPS data, why can’t Metro Transit?

      Maybe it’s purely symbolic (given the theoretical 10 minute frequency), but it’s the kind of symbol that people latch on to and fetishize, kinda like playing Candy Crush on a smart phone.

      (Plus they have the signs already there and you’d think it’d be fairly easy, like you get an intern to implement it in a weekend.)

  9. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell June 16, 2014 at 1:31 pm #

    I keep thinking that LRT is the poor ineffectual bastard child of Trams and Commuter Trains. Everything about the Central Line to me screams Tram. Trams require less space and don’t require ‘stations’. If Westgate and Raymond are too close then ditch ’em and stick one in between. Then again, Trams won’t overcome screwed up signal timing.

    • Matt Steele June 16, 2014 at 1:53 pm #

      I’ve heard others say they are the stroad of transit.

      • Xan June 20, 2014 at 12:45 pm #

        This.

  10. David Levinson
    David Levinson June 16, 2014 at 5:39 pm #

    My fourth trip:

    Return Commute: 4:48 leave office. 4:52 at East Bank Station. 4:57 Board Train, 5:04 Alight Westgate, 5:13 arrive home. 25 min=on schedule

    On this evening’s return, seats available on #GreenLine, and it made all the lights (#GreenWave).

    • David Levinson
      David Levinson June 17, 2014 at 8:40 am #

      Today’s Commute: 8:06 Leave Home, 8:20 Arrive Prospect Park Station (running to catch the train), 8:20 Board LRT, 8:25 Alight East Bank, 8:30 Office — #GreenLine OnTime.

      Conclusion 1: Use Westgate for Green Line trips in both directions.

      Conclusion 2: Green Line saved 6 minutes over walking to work today, if I had gone to Westgate, I could have left home 3 minutes later, and if it were on-time, would have saved up to 9 minutes, as per today, but if I just missed the train, it would be 1 minute longer (on-time). If it is not on-time, it could be much longer.

      Conclusion 3: I will usually walk to work.

      • David Levinson
        David Levinson June 18, 2014 at 7:14 am #

        Final #GreenLine commute of the season.

        Arrive East Bank 4:44,

        Board train at 5:04.

        Alight Westgate at 5:13,

        Home at 5:22. Not on time.

        To be fair, they said train was delayed 15 to 20 minutes over the station intercom at East Bank. Don’t know why. SRO onboard (not surprising given at least 20 minutes between trains and a two car train.

        I will just walk to work. I will still ride when going elsewhere. Will reconsider in winter.

      • Boss June 18, 2014 at 12:02 pm #

        Based on your comments you seem to be walking about 15-20 minutes even when youl take the train, and if you walked the whole way it would be 30 minutes. You’re definitely not the ideal passenger for this train or any type of mass transit. I have similar amount of walk in my commute but if tried to walk the whole way it would take me over an hour, so transit actually saves me significant amount of time and energy.

  11. David Levinson
    David Levinson June 18, 2014 at 7:15 am #

    Minor comment. The station Variable Message Signs should say whether it is a 2-car or 3-car train approaching, and advise people where on the platform to stand to Board train.

    Also floor markers indicating where the doors will open would be nice (e.g. BART does this), indicating where to queue, but perhaps the trains are not precise enough.

  12. Sam Newberg
    Sam Newberg June 18, 2014 at 4:00 pm #

    I wouldn’t “assume” the signalization issues will be fixed. If I were a betting man I’d wager signal preemption is a long way off. Let’s hope not, but I’d call your city councilmember/county commissioner/Met Council representative in the meantime.

  13. Xan June 20, 2014 at 1:01 pm #

    And no one has yet mentioned all the traffic signals on Wash Ave? I’m all for midblock ped crossings but they don’t have to all have full-on traffic lights. (And most people do not need a signal to cross one way traffic, so stop pushing the beg button!)

    Saturday’s trip took me 1 hour and 9 minutes from Target Field to the Depot. The next day, without the crowds and rained out festivities, it still took a full hour for the trip. Not to mention how slow the bus can be going through Wash Ave now – sometimes it’s fast when you catch the lights, and sometimes it is painfully slow.

    On Monday I thought I would compare the 94 to the Green Line, since the 94 does not run on the weekends (I am sure I remember it running on weekends before). I got on at West Bank to go to DT East to catch the 94. The trip from the WB to DTE took, not 2 but more than 6 minutes, causing me to miss the 94, which runs at 20 minute intervals. I actually waited about 25 minutes for the bus and still made the trip to Union Depot in just over 57 minutes total.

    I am sure it will get the ridership that is expected, but, LRT is not really an urban transit system without its own ROW. As mentioned elsewhere, a tram (not a streetcar) is more appropriate for Uni Ave (see Barcelona or Paris), and LRT is truly the stroad of urban transit.

    All that plus, this is just a poorly designed system. Some things can be fixed, but not all.

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