Uptown to Dinkytown: The Three Mode Analysis

After quasi-graduating this past spring and backpacking around Europe for two months, I have slowly adjusted back into reality. And, like a plethora of quintessential University of Minnesota millennial-aged graduates, I have moved from my humble, seven-people-in-a-four-bedroom college shack in the Dinkytown area to much greater (and less smelly) ventures in Uptown.

What isn’t typical about my current situation is that I have, in reality, several classes left to take at the U in order to finish up my second major. In addition to this, my place of employment is rather close to campus, so needless to say, I make my way over to “Minneapolis SE” every day of the work week. Although I occasionally weep quietly to myself when I think about how conveniently proximate my life would be if I still lived in the college neighborhoods, I am thankful to live in arguably the most transportation mode-diverse area of Minneapolis.

Since Septembers in Minnesota are simply the nicest, I thought it would be a great experiment to test all modes to get from Uptown to the U of MN campus, and see which is truly optimal in several categories. My very un-scientific analysis consisted of grading three main travel modes to get from Uptown to campus and back: biking, driving, and using transit (bus and LRT). I timed how long each one took, and how expensive each one was. My (still very un-scientific) testing standard used similar starting and ending points for consistency, going from Uptown Transit Station to the intersection of Church Street and Scholars Walk in the geographic center of the east bank of campus. However, my routes out and back varied and added another nice un-scientific twist to the adventure.

Biking

My first test certainly burned the most calories out of any other mode, and was also the most consistent in both directions. Uptown is a focal point in the local urban biking system, and enjoys close proximity to the Midtown Greenway, the Chain of Lakes trails, and, if willing to partake in a quick jaunt westward, the SWLRT trail network too. Recently, the Dinkytown Greenway finished the important Bluff Street connection under Interstate 35W and now connects straight to the Mill District in Downtown East. It is now possible to bike the 6.2 miles from Uptown to campus entirely on paved, segregated bike trails (except for a few short blocks in DTE, where a bike lane exists), which in itself is an amazing feat unseen in most other American cities.

My route both ways consisted of taking the Midtown Greenway from Uptown Transit Station to the Sabo Bridge over Hiawatha Avenue and up the Hiawatha LRT Trail alongside the Blue Line. My route varied a tad when approaching Cedar Avenue, as seen below. In the morning, I proceeded into Downtown East, biked north on 11th Street S, east on 2nd Avenue S, and hooked up with the Dinkytown Greenway connection. After the Dinkytown Greenway Bridge (AKA #9 Bridge), I took a hard right and pumped up the hill to East River Road and proceeded my way to Church & Scholars Walk. In the afternoon, I opted to bike to the West Bank and down Cedar Avenue (through heavy construction, I might add) to connect with the Hiawatha Trail near the Franklin Avenue Blue Line Station. I marked the areas where vehicular traffic was heavy.

Morning route, via Dinkytown Greenway (source for all maps - Google Maps)

Morning route, via DTE & Dinkytown Greenway (source for all maps – Google Maps)

Afternoon Route, via Cedar Avenue

Afternoon Route, via Cedar Avenue

Overall, the trip took me 27 minutes in the morning at a moderate pace, and 25 minutes in the afternoon at a similar pace. With the assumption that I owned my bike, and the fact that it is free to lock up to any bike rack within campus, my travel costs were essentially zero. However, if I chose to use a Nice Ride bike, I would accrue costs associated with the bike share program. (Side note: one could probably ride nonstop on a Nice Ride bike to and from campus, but might need the natural and legal ability of a Lance Armstrong to pump through. I would recommend switching bikes once on this journey.) The ride was pleasant, easy, and stress-free. Not having to deal with vehicles helped this notion. Downsides of this mode included general sweatiness, as well as dealing with any potential inclement weather that might be present.

Transit

Similar to biking, Uptown is a major hub for transit routes that embark into all areas of the city. The Uptown Transit Station is host to six regular routes and two express routes to the U of MN campus. However, most express buses do not run during the summertime or during school holidays. Therefore, I rode a 12 bus into downtown to connect to the shiny new Green Line in the morning, and opted for the 114 express bus in the afternoon.

Morning transit route.

Morning transit route – the 12 bus transfer to the Green Line LRT.

Afternoon transit route.

Afternoon transit route – the 114 to Uptown Transit Station, no transfers.

My 12 bus into downtown was speedy! From Uptown, it only took 10 1/2 minutes to get to the corner of 5th and Hennepin. I glanced down toward Nicollet Mall and noticed the eastbound Green Line just taking off, so I unfortunately had to wait a little longer for the next train. This morning, I got on 6 1/2 minutes after unloading from the 12 bus – obviously not the 3ish minute headways you see in NYC or Europe, but not a long time nonetheless. I’m not sure if it was a forgetful driver or what, but my train never switched directions on the display boards and constantly showed “TARGET FIELD” all the way to campus. I assumed it was a new conductor, because the train ride was hesitantly slow, even after downtown. I arrived at East Bank Station 30 minutes after leaving Uptown, and walked to Church and Scholars Walk. Overall, the morning trip took 33 minutes.

Wait... does this go to, like, Target Arena in St Paul where the Wild plays?

Wait… does this go to, like, Target Arena in St Paul where the Wild plays?

The afternoon trip was much faster, as expected. I took 4 minutes to walk to Coffman and just barely caught the 114A bus. Normally stressful driving corridors, the 94/35W maze and Hennepin deathtrap seemed peaceful inside a bus. The trip only took 24 minutes from Church/Scholars to Uptown, walking included.

Although not totally free, the two rush hour tickets would have normally cost me $4.50. However, I have a handy dandy little U Pass, which gives me unlimited transfers all semester long for $100. Both unloading points (Coffman and East Bank LRT Station) were located on Washington and gave me easy walking access to the heart of campus.

Driving

Due to many overly stated reasons, the driving route from Uptown to campus was the most straight-forward. Both morning and afternoon, I drove on Hennepin Avenue, Interstates 94 and 35W, and utilized the University/4th Street SE ramps to get to campus.

The morning drive was very easy and quick, but it was likely due to my early departure time of 7:00 am. It took me 9 1/2 minutes to get from Uptown to the University Ave offramp. From there, things got a little trickier. I attempted to park in the Church Street Ramp underneath Northrop Auditorium, but it was closed on this particular morning. I flipped a You-ee and headed for the 4th Street Ramp near Dinkytown. In this path, it took 10 minutes from the University offramp to my final parking destination, and a couple more to walk to Church/Scholars. Overall, it took me 19 minutes in the drive.

The afternoon drive was a completely different and much more painful experience. Since I had been parked all day, I needed to pay a hefty $12.00 to exit the ramp. As I pulled onto 4th Street, I was greeted by hundreds of other happy SOVs crawling through Dinkytown. It took me 9:30 to get to I-35W, and I continued to hit traffic all the way through the maze and onto Hennepin Avenue, where I took a picture while in completely stopped traffic. (Is it safe if everyone isn’t moving? Probably not, but oh well.)

Sheeps are my favorite animal

Sheeps are my favorite animal

Grudgingly, I inched forward block by block until I reached Uptown Transit Station. Overall, the trip took 32 minutes back to Uptown, almost double what it took to get to campus that morning. Financially, I assumed the trips cost about $1.00 in gas to go each way (city driving in a mid-2000s SUV isn’t the best way to get environmental street cred), in addition to the $12.00 in parking for the day.

Summary

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 1.00.59 AM

I graded each as seen above, and gave points in according to overall performance (3 points for green, 2 for yellow, 1 for red, 18 points possible). Although each mode was only tested once, the results were quite eye-opening for an Uptown-to-Dinkytown virgin commuter like me. I originally predicted that driving was going to be by far the fastest overall way to get to and from campus, and although it was technically the fastest, it only beat biking by one measly minute, and transit by a mere 5 minutes. Driving also cost much more than any other mode. I will likely only drive if I am in a serious rush one day or need to load heavy things for class/work.

Also surprisingly, transit had the lowest grade of any mode, but only lost to driving by 1 point. Honestly, this metric could have been easily switched if a few small things would have happened. If the Green Line driver wasn’t slow, it could have saved that extra minutes or two. If I could have caught that Green Line train at Nicollet 30 seconds before, transit would have been the fastest mode in both directions. Finally, if I took the 114 bus in the morning, it would have beaten both as well. Transit is a good way to go if you know the routes, have a good feel for the system, and aren’t afraid to wait a couple extra minutes if its bogged down at moments. This will probably be the mode I take frequently once the weather gets too cold.

In general, biking was by and far judged to be the cheapest and most consistently timed way to get to and from Uptown, which makes sense – dedicated bike routes like the Midtown and Dinkytown Greenways don’t suffer from massive amounts of congestion seen on roadways. Even though I had to pat my back with a towel at the end of each ride, it was also refreshing to get a bit of exercise while commuting. As long as the weather stays somewhat decent, I think this is the mode I’ll stick with for a while to get to Gopherland.

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10 Responses to Uptown to Dinkytown: The Three Mode Analysis

  1. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke September 15, 2014 at 11:58 am #

    This is great and important becasue the ONLY way we’re going to get a significant amount of people in the TC to bike, walk, or take transit is if it’s much cheaper and relatively time-competitive. Giving away parking and devoting tremendous resources to LOS problems is terrible public policy.

  2. Dave P September 15, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

    Very cool. This one minor tweak to your bike route will cut a bit of distance and greatly reduce your heavy traffic metric. Avoid the Cedar corridor by cutting over to Minnehaha Ave on 24th St. I discovered it after a few years of biking to the U and never looked back.

    http://goo.gl/maps/A4kzQ

  3. Dave Baur September 15, 2014 at 1:49 pm #

    I think it’s especially encouraging to see transit be so competitive when including a non-rush bus service and a transfer.

    The narrative around the driving experience is really interesting to me. It’s tough to beat 9 1/2 minutes from the morning drive, but of course it took even longer to find parking, which then cost $12. The 32 minute afternoon commute doesn’t surprise me in the least, but from a purely experiential standpoint I imagine having it take that long feels sort of jarring compared to the morning trip. I used to commute between St. Louis Park and DT MPLS, and while it often took me only around 20-25 minutes, the times where it took significantly longer were MUCH more frustrating than when I started commuting by bus.

    It has often seemed to me that we severely underestimate the total travel time of driving. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear someone say they can make that trip in 10 minutes, which while partially true is perhaps not typical and excludes times where a preferred parking destination is unavailable as well as excluding walking to/from the parking garage. It might *always* take 30ish minutes by bike or transit, but the occasions in which a car trip is significantly shorter might be overvalued when compared against the consistency and thriftiness of other modes. At least that’s the calculation that goes through my head when deciding how to get somewhere.

  4. JJ September 15, 2014 at 2:07 pm #

    it’d be interesting to see you try the bus using a 6 or 17 in the morning. The 12 is limited stop between Uptown Transit Station and Downtown, so your bus speed was surprisingly fast.

    • Matt Brillhart September 15, 2014 at 3:28 pm #

      The nice thing is that the 114 (or 113 if you’re over on Lyndale) runs frequently enough in the mornings, and is well-timed to a variety of class start times. One would rarely need to take a regular route bus, unless you’re heading in at an odd time or just missed the last express trip for a while. Of course, service on the express routes is dramatically reduced during breaks and summer, so they wouldn’t serve a U employee very well.

      The Route 115 (a strange combination of the 113 and 114) that runs outbound only from campus in the evenings is a thing of brilliance. I rode the 115 many, many times after evening classes or studying late. IIRC, the last trip leaves campus around 10pm. I heard it was created by students in a graduate-level transit planning class. Smart kids.

      • John September 16, 2014 at 2:59 pm #

        Agreed. And the 114 is much faster in the morning because it doesn’t get stuck in traffic on 94. It only takes 15 minutes to get from Uptown transit center to Coffman. That is faster than driving and parking. If you would have taken the 114 both ways, busing would have been easily the fastest.

  5. Stacy September 16, 2014 at 9:44 am #

    Cool analysis.

    One question tho: Why did you put the price of parking all into your afternoon drive? You can’t drive in the morning without parking the car. I would think the price should be spread out $6 for morning, $6 for afternoon for the analysis.

  6. Shawn September 16, 2014 at 10:28 am #

    While time and apparent, immediate cost are perhaps the most explicit and expedient measures for comparing commutes, I’m sure you would agree they aren’t the only considerations. Some measure of quality and external costs would help round out the picture. Be that stress level, activity level, social interaction/isolation, infrastructure costs, carbon emissions, exposure to the elements, or even ‘convenience’. To a greater or lesser extent we each include these considerations when making our transport decisions.

  7. flowmotion September 16, 2014 at 11:27 pm #

    Here’s a hint for the next time you drive: 26th/28th Streets.

  8. Nathanael September 21, 2014 at 11:11 pm #

    Really interesting analysis.

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