How About a People Mover at the Mall of America?

The Mall of America (MOA) is one of the largest indoor shopping malls in the United States, and it’s getting larger. Currently the MOA boasts 4.87 million square feet of building area, making it one sizable chunk of property. Access to the MOA is typically by auto, mass transit, or tour bus, although a few pedestrians and cyclists have been spotted on occasion. With more expansion comes more active groundspace, longer walking distances, and of course, parking spots. Additional transit access or coverage is not really included however, with the only future transit plans at MOA calling for an update to the current transit station and garage area.

With that in mind, it seems like our big retail friend and tourist hotspot could use something beyond simple pavement and walkways to move visitors around. Walking around the MOA as it is can be tiring, with each floor clocking in at 0.57 miles in distance. While this is fine if you’re super hyped about scoring those awesome shoes or actually remembering to buy your girlfriend a nice present for her birthday, it can be kind of a drag if you are coming in to start an eight hour shift at work, or just stopping by to get a new tie. Add in the extra distance to future development, and suddenly scoring that parking space 150′ feet closer to the door doesn’t seem like a big difference.

Incorporating an automated people mover tram system could provide a beneficial transportation solution. My proposal is to connect the IKEA store, the new expansion area, and the MOA core with a new and improved MOA transit station at the existing 28th Avenue site. The mover would operate at frequencies of about 90 seconds to 120 seconds ideally.


A rough mock up of the routing for a Mall of America Automated People Mover tram line

A rough mock up of the routing for a Mall of America Automated People Mover tram line

Stations or stops on the line would be at IKEA, the North Plaza expansion area, the north entrance, the south entrance, and 28th Avenue MOA Transit Station. Benefits to mall visitors would be quick access between IKEA, the new expansion development, and the mall core.

While the existing MOA transit station would be removed under this plan, there would still be some improvement for transit riders. Currently, the Metro Transit Blue Line takes about four minutes to travel from 28th Avenue to the MOA platform. Add another two to three minutes of walking up the stairs, across the inner access road, and into the mall, and it can be six to seven minutes minimum to actually get to your destination. However, if riders could instead transfer to the mover and take a one to three minute ride to their destination, that would make it easier. Time savings would be even better for those who want to go to the north end or IKEA. This could also improve transit operations, cutting about eight to ten minutes off a round-trip on the Blue Line, and creating a better transit station with direct access for buses currently serving the MOA (many of which already circle the block by 28th Ave.).

Parking for the MOA could also benefit from this line. Instead of wasting valuable nearby space on the Mall grounds for more parking spaces, that area could instead be used for additional retail space. Parking could instead be added out by the 28th Avenue site, perhaps in the form of a combined MOA and park-and-ride ramp to get more use out of the spaces. (Park-Ride users in the daytime, mall shoppers in the evening.)

While this plan is likely to never be more than a simple Google doodle, I hope that the most notorious and largest shopping mall in the United States will incorporate other modes of transportation, and consider walkability, as it continues on with an ever widening footprint.


Reposted from my blog

About Jaron McNamara

Jaron McNamara is a longtime Twin Cities resident and transit enthusiast. His main interests are visiting and photographing various transit system elements and vehicles, and exploring different cities and towns.

20 thoughts on “How About a People Mover at the Mall of America?

  1. Nicole

    Even if you’re about to start an 8-hour shift at work and have to walk, say .35 miles to your job. There are plenty of people in this world that walk .57 miles or more to start their retail jobs as well.

    I generally try to avoid the Mall so I can’t speak with as much experience as other people, especially those who work there. I’ve tried taking the light rail: 40-minute train ride vs 15-minute car ride. That’s not much incentive. However, it was actually pleasant to avoid the parking ramps despite the added time spent on the trip.

    Too many cars park recklessly, take two spots, etc., with no repercussions. Perhaps with more security staff/mall police monitoring the ramps, and issuing tickets for this type of infraction there would be better parking access for mall employees.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      Employees and guests should pay to park at the mall.

      But instead we decided to subsidize things such as parking with hundreds of millions of dollars in state money.

      1. Jaron McNamara Post author

        If the mall charged for parking it would certainly help them get rid of the park and ride crowd that appears during the sports games.

        I wonder how much revenue could be brought in by charging $1 an hour, or perhaps a flat rate of $3 a day?

  2. Anne

    “However, if riders could instead transfer to the mover and take a one to three minute ride to their destination, that would make it easier.”

    Fervently disagree. Adding another transfer point (potentially outside?) does not make things easier. All the transit drops directly at East Parking right now, and while it can get crowded at times, at least it’s direct and removed from the elements (and equidistant to the current north and south ends!).

    Have you ever tried getting to the mall on one of the days the light rail is out of commission, and you have to take a transfer bus part way? It’s a mess, and it causes serious delays. Add in some strollers, big shopping bags, and slow-moving parties, and your suggestion sounds like a nightmare.

    I’ll be more interested in transit alternatives for the new expansion once I see what kinds of retail they have planned. Right now, all I’ve heard is that it’s supposed to be more “upscale,” which to me means that the people who will be shopping there are going to be driving anyway, so why bother catering more transit to them if they won’t use it?

    1. Jaron McNamara Post author

      If I were designing it, there would be an enclosed and heated station, with a center boarding platform. The mover would be at ground level at that point and situated close to the LRT and bus boarding areas. LRT riders would walk to the end of the LRT platform and onto a mover car, which would then take them to a stop on either the second or third floor of the mall, or further if that’s where they wanted to go. If the mover operated every two minutes to 90 seconds then the transfer time would be short. To me that seems better than walking to the end of the platform, crossing a bus loop, going into the transit center, up the escalator, then out of the transit center, across the inner ring road, and into the mall.

      Yes the bus bridges during rail delays are terrible. I’ve waited a half hour a few times during service disruptions for a replacement bus.

  3. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    What if, instead of a people mover, your pathway or similar route were made in to a high quality bicycle, disabled and pedestrian way? One that made walking or bicycling safe, comfortable, and enjoyable? Maybe add in some Nice Ride stations?

    For that matter, extend it further along the LRT. I’d think riding a bicycle from the airport to MOA would be faster than the train anyway.

    1. Jaron McNamara Post author

      That sounds like an interesting idea. Some type of bicycling and pedestrian freeway perhaps? It could probably get extended north over the 494 mess as well to connect with Longfellow by the west side of the airport campus, or another bike friendly street. I would assume a way to avoid biking along 24th Avenue would be welcome.

  4. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    I don’t understand the point of moving the primary transit station to 28th Ave. I don’t believe there is any transit at 28th Ave station that doesn’t go all the way to the Mall. I think the only purpose that 28th Ave Station serves is being a large public P&R, to avoid putting transit riders’ cars in the MOA parking ramps.

    I’d much rather see further improvements at MOA Station — including more direct access into the Mall. If it’s stops we’re looking to cut, I would nominate American Boulevard Station and the laughably named Bloomington Central Station.

    1. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

      There are currently plans to reconfigure the transit station in the same location so there are fewer traffic conflicts between the LRT and buses and access is somewhat more direct. Not sure when that’s supposed to happen.

      Don’t forget that a significant number of transit riders transfer between buses, or between buses and LRT at MOA. It’s the busiest suburban transit center in the metro area.

  5. Keith Morris

    We already spent $$$$$ for LRT that goes to a mall in the burbs: I can’t even take buses with similarly short wait intervals (10 min. between each) to many local businesses in Mpls without waiting around a half hour or so for my transfer, in which case missing both up and back is a double whammy and in winter makes Portland sound very appealing.

    Instead, how about we increase the number hi-frequency bus routes that feed the Blue Line? Some of those routes also intersect with existing hi-frequency bus routes.which might even bump up ridership even further on each, Right now many people, myself included, will choose to not rely on bus routes with 30 minute waits especially when winter weather has to be factored in. I did before and never again.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      According to documents related to the Red Line, Mall of America Station is not just the busiest suburban transit station (as Aaron noted), but also the busiest transit station period in all of Minnesota. It’s not just “some suburban shopping mall”. The Red Line, Blue Line, 54 (Hi-Frequency) 515 (Hi-Frequency), 5 (de facto Hi-Frequency), 540, 542, and 444 all have termini there.

      It’s a horrible environment, both the immediate development around there and the station itself. But it is a critical hub in our transit system. It is certainly not just some random mall in the suburbs we built rail to.

        1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

          Not sure. Just looked for that Red Line planning document again, but can’t find it now.

          Most recent citation I can find of the claim is in this a Sun article:

          While commuters can use it during peak periods, the 11-mile Red Line targets the off-peak rider who wants to connect with the busiest transit station in the state at the Mall of America, according to John Siqveland, Metro Transit public relations manager.

          Then again, another article on claims 7th St and Nicollet Mall is busiest. And some planning document for the Interchange changes it is (will be?) the busiest, which can’t possibly be true.

          I recall there was an Excel file of boardings and alightings going around, but now I can’t find that either. I imagine it could be ascertained from that.

  6. Erik B

    I think the need for moving people around MOA complex could be handled by buses. I don’t know the current routes around there but even the small metro mobility type buses to ferry employees to Ikea, etc. To be honest nobody is going to be moving flat pack boxes of furniture onto the blue line.

    1. Monte Castleman

      Pardon for being blunt, but I really don’t like this idea. It requires everyone to switch trains to get to the mall, and IKEA is the type of place where you pack the trunk (and often the top of the car) full of mattresses and flat-pack furniture, not buy a few nicknacks to take with you on the blue line, and would cost a zillion dollars that could better be used somewhere else.
      That’s not to say the mall transit station doesn’t suck, but there are probably cheaper solutions to that. Points have been made earlier about the lousy pedestrian conditions between IKEA and the mall, but that’s just temporary until the expansion happens.

      As for riding a bicycle from the mall to the airport, it sounds like a neat connection, but- who would do that? Tourists are going to ride the train where they can sit down with their packages, and why try to figure out a strange bicycle rental scheme. Similarly people going on the Red line to the airport are going to take their luggage on the train, or if they work they are going to enjoy the chance to sit down in a climate controlled train

      As a side note, I’ve been going to the mall since it opens because it happens to be the closest shopping mall to me. I’ve gone less recently as I’ve been shopping at Walmart and online more, and also I don’t like the recent changes to strip out most of the themes of the four sides, and most of the trees from the amusement park. It would have been nice if they’d build something like the Edmonton waterpark here, but it’s just going to be a tiny one attached to one of the hotels.

      1. Jaron McNamara Post author

        Pedestrian connections will certainly improve once construction is complete, and will make it easier/less reckless to walk between the expansion/IKEA area and the original mall.

        The deeper question with the people mover idea is, will the mall get to the point someday where it can justify having it’s own transportation system? Can it have something besides walking or driving to get from one end to the other? The Lindbergh/Terminal 1 airport has two people mover/tram lines today, (one of which connects the transit center with the main check in counter area) and the actual terminal size is not that much bigger than the mall campus. Granted the airport has many more visitors and people who need to get between places quickly.

        Is a people mover a good addition, or just a crazy idea for Minnesota’s largest tourist attraction and the most visited shopping mall in the US*? Probably a crazy idea currently, but it’s something.


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