The North Minneapolis-Southwest LRT Connection

The Southwest Corridor will dramatically improve the transit connection between North Minneapolis and the southwest suburbs. Today, if a Northside resident wants to travel to Hopkins, a one transfer bus ride is available during rush hour every 20 minutes, and it takes 46 minutes to get there from the corner of North 7th Street & Olson Memorial Highway. During off-peak hours, that same trip takes three buses and about an hour. Travel to Minnetonka and Eden Prairie is even less convenient. Light rail transit (LRT) will shorten the trip to Hopkins to 23 minutes, with 10 minute frequencies and much more availability during many more hours of the day. That opens up all sorts of employment opportunities for Northside residents.

The recent calls for a good transit connection between North Minneapolis and the Southwest Corridor LRT have revealed a misunderstanding of what transit service exists today and how best to make that connection.

Advocates have demanded bus service to the proposed Penn Avenue and Van White Boulevard Stations, while ignoring the real connecting point, Royalston Station. The purpose of this post is to:

  1. Explain why the Royalston connection offers the best service at the lowest cost.
  2. Explain why creating new bus service to the Penn and Van White Stations won’t save travel time and won’t be economically viable.
  3. Suggest how the Royalston connection location could be improved.

Bus Service to Royalston Station

Most of North Minneapolis is served by three major bus routes:

  • Route 5 on Emerson and Fremont Avenues
  • Route 19 on Penn Avenue
  • Route 22 on Lyndale Avenue

Routes 5, 19, and 22 funnel through the intersection of North 7th Street & Olson Memorial Highway, just north of downtown. They pass near the Southwest Corridor’s planned Royalston Station, located on Royalston Avenue a block south of Olson Memorial Highway.

All three North Minneapolis bus routes run seven days a week. Routes 5 and 19 run 24 hours a day, and Route 22 runs from 4:30 AM to 1:30 AM. Here are the service frequencies, in minutes:

M-F PeakM-F MiddayM-F NightSaturdaySunday
Route 55-107.510-151010-15
Route 198-151015-201520-30
Route 2211-152020-302030

This service package, one of the best in the metro area, has an annual value of about $20 million dollars. Using it to connect to the Southwest Corridor at Royalston will cost nothing because it’s already in place.

What buses would serve Penn Avenue or Van White?

The vague concept of running buses to the Penn and Van White stations requires some specifics to be judged as either a good or bad idea. Which neighborhoods would they serve?

Let’s start with the only bus that runs anywhere near the two stations, half a mile away. It’s Route 9 Glenwood Avenue-Bryn Mawr. Metro Transit policy is not to divert a bus route unless the diversion will serve a substantial percentage of the passengers. There’s really no chance that transfers to Southwest will amount to even 10 percent of Route 9’s passengers, so that diversion won’t happen. However, Route 9 also runs within two blocks of the Royalston Station. That’s a diversion that could be justified.

Any buses running through North Minneapolis would use Penn Avenue and/or Fremont Avenue, since they are the major north-south arterial streets. It would seem logical that a Penn Avenue route would serve the Penn station and a Fremont Avenue route would serve the Van White station. Both routes would probably extend at least as far north as 44th Avenue.

Penn Avenue

The current Route 19 runs on Penn from 44th Avenue N. to Olson Highway, then east for 1 mile to the Royalston station. There’s no question that it is somewhat indirect, compared to continuing straight ahead on Penn to the Penn station. Assuming a 5-minute transfer between bus and LRT, a new bus route to the Penn station will save about 3 minutes of travel time compared to transferring at the Royalston station. Travel time via Penn Avenue will be 9 minutes, including the transfer. Via Royalston it will be 12 minutes.

In order to save those three minutes, an entire new bus route would have to be created. At a minimum, that would require at least a 30-minute frequency around the clock, with some additional rush hour service. It would cost about $2 million per year. However, most of the connecting riders would still use Route 19, because it runs every 10 minutes and will connect with every train. A 3-minute travel time advantage is meaningless if it requires waiting an extra 20 minutes for a direct bus to Penn station.

To compete for riders, the new Penn route would have to run as often as Route 19. That would cost $5 million a year and the result would be a lot of buses carrying a handful of passengers per trip at most. Such a route would run high subsidies that would greatly exceed Metro Transit’s subsidy per passenger ceiling. Any transit planner will tell you that’s a foregone conclusion because there aren’t enough LRT transfers to support a separate high frequency route. Using the existing Route 19 will cost nothing extra and will connect with every LRT trip.

Fremont or Lyndale Avenue

A new Fremont Avenue or Lyndale Avenue bus route to the Van White station will save no travel time at all. Route 5 via Royalston station doesn’t subject riders to any indirect routing. Transfers from Route 5 at Royalston or creating a new route to Van White station will take exactly the same number of minutes. But a new route will add yet another $5 million to the cost.

Royalston’s location needs some rethinking
The Royalston station’s proposed location a long block south of Olson Highway makes the bus transfer less convenient than it should be. It’s about a 2-block walk from the existing bus stops at 7th and Olson.

Ideally the station would be located on a bridge over N. 7th Street, similar to the Hiawatha Line’s Lake Street station. That would also permit the station to serve the future Bottineau Boulevard line, before it splits from Southwest.

Other alternatives are to divert the buses via Royalston, which will slow them somewhat, or to add stops on 7th Street at 5th Avenue N., next to Caring & Sharing Hands. The latter would require pedestrian crossing signals to be safe and it would still be a one block walk to the station.

It’s important to note that the Royalston connection is also a better connection to the airport, Mall of America, U of M and the other LRT destinations within Minneapolis and St. Paul. Because the North Minneapolis buses run through downtown on 7th and 8th Streets, the current transfer to LRT on 5th Street requires a 2-3 block walk. Why not have a more convenient transfer at Royalston instead?

Aaron Isaacs

About Aaron Isaacs

Aaron retired in 2006 after 33 years as a planner and manager for Metro Transit, where he worked in route and schedule planning, operations, maintenance, transit facilities, light rail and traffic advantages for buses. He's an historian of transit, as a 40+ year volunteer with the Minnesota Streetcar Museum. He's co-author of Twin Cities by Trolley, The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and author of Twin Ports by Trolley on Duluth-Superior.