Midtown Corridor: A Grade Separated Central Corridor

The Midtown LRT/Streetcar has joined the growing number of high efficiency corridors planned for the Minneapolis, St. Paul metro area. The Midtown LRT/Streetcar will run on the Greenway rail trench from the planned SW Green line station at W Lake Street to the Lake St station on the Blue line. Though the transit in the greenway is being classified as a streetcar, the fewer stops and connections to both the Green and Blue line means that it will function more as a light rail.

It will be paired with Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on Lake Street that extends all the way to St. Paul. It will connect with some of the busiest north-south corridors: Green Line, Hennepin, Lyndale, Nicollet, Red Line BRT on 35W, Chicago Ave, and the Blue Line. This route would also serve some of the densest areas in the region. Outside of the two downtowns, this is the east-west route with the most job and housing density.

Map: "Midtown's density will be key to it's sucess"

Because of the dual corridors of the Greenway and Lake Street, the route could be built in stages. BRT involves much less physical infrastructure and capital to develop so it could be built first. As funding becomes available, the LRT/streetcar can be built. After the Central Corridor, this is the next best rail investment that the region can make because it connects the densest housing in the state with job centers while also connecting neighborhood amenities.

This corridor has proven its viability through the high ridership of existing bus routes. This is an important future transit planning point. If we only build a train line every 8 years (6, if we’re hopeful), then each line must be done right to maximize our investment. Current ridership on existing local and express bus lines should be an indicator for which routes would most benefit from the expanded service or rail. Besides improved service, an expanded bus system generates insightful rider information, further honing long range transit planning.

The Midtown corridor has proven itself as a successful bus route that merits additional investment. it is included on the Met Council’s 2040 transit plan, the TPP. Let’s make sure that this corridor receives more attention and moves up the list of planned routes.

Elliot Altbaum

About Elliot Altbaum

Elliot Altbaum is a graduate student in Geographic Information Science at Clark University. He grew up in Minneapolis and is excitedly watching it become a better version of itself.

18 thoughts on “Midtown Corridor: A Grade Separated Central Corridor

  1. Matt Brillhart

    For what it’s worth, at least Metro Transit has stopped calling it a “streetcar”, and is calling it something like “the rail option in the Greenway”. I think the highly incorrect streetcar label was applied for two reasons:
    1. The line was initially identified as part of the Minneapolis Streetcar Study
    2. “Streetcar” sounds smaller and less intrusive than “light rail”, and would probably generate less objection from trail users and nearby residents.

    I’m for calling whatever the hell people want to call it, as long as we get it built in a reasonable time frame. This line is the linchpin to connecting the east and west sides of south Minneapolis, tying together some of the most densely populated census tracts in the region. 13 minute travel time from West Calhoun (Green Line) to Hiawatha (Blue Line)!!! Simply incredible.

    1. Nathanael

      They were talking about building passenger rail in the Greenway 20 years ago. It needed to be built then. Funding was found… then lost. Instead, they put in a bikeway and wasted 20 years…

      Build it ASAP. It’s 20 years overdue. Don’t faff around with buses.

  2. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    The current plan to put a tail track station in the gap between the Hiawatha offramp and the new Lake Street Station Apartments is my primary concern… since this will be LRT (-lite) we should be building connections to the Green and Blue Lines to enable future service flexibility. We need to start thinking about these lines as services, rather than corridors, because that will leave us more flexibility once we have a more comprehensive network of LRT rails to host these services.

    Froggie has suggested a station at roughly the planned location, but below grade to facilitate a future eastward extension. There could be a tunnel under Lake from this planned station, then turning eastward past the SPUI and Minnehaha Ave mess before emerging east of 27th Ave. I like this idea. But it would require depressing the station below the Lake Street grade as to make a future extension into such a tunnel possible.

    Another option would be to use the existing Blue Line Lake Street station and platforms. Here’s a concept of this I drew in 2011.. http://goo.gl/maps/cL9Qg
    The thinking is that you could have an at-grade crossing at 21st Ave S, then two viaducts tying into the outer sides of the existing Lake-26th LRT viaduct, creating a flying junction on approach to the existing platform. Then, we’d need to squeeze in a pocket track between 32nd/35th (similar to what we have just south of Ft. Snelling) allowing the OP to reverse the train and then pull back into the Midtown station and resuming westward.

    An added benefit of this concept is that it could work with potential Riverview LRT if there’s a full wye where that one ties into the Blue Line near Ft. Snelling. We could then combine the two services to have a one-seat ride from Uptown and South Mpls to Downtown St. Paul via these planned lines.

    Of course, this is just a hypothetical, but the point is that we should not build duplicative station infrastructure that makes future service synergies expensive or impossible to realize.

    At the West Lake terminus, there should also be a direct connection to the planned Green Line to enable future service synergies, but I elaborated on that in my SWLRT Triage article: https://streets.mn/2014/02/11/southwest-lrt-plan/

    1. Matt Brillhart

      No chance for tie in at West Lake, it will be a separate platform. The Green Line will begin descending into the shallow tunnel immediately upon passing the Lake St bridge, making a tie-in of the tracks physically impossible.

      I agree with you that a connection and using the existing elevated Lake St Station on the Blue Line is far more important (and hopefully possible!)

      Really though, we all need to put the fantasies on the shelf and start fighting for this line to get built at all. It’s VERY far from a certainty.

      SHARED GOALS: aBRT on Lake Street by 2020 and Midtown Rail by 2030.

      Can we at least agree on that? We need to get it written into Met Council/CTIB policy and elect people (Mpls & Hennepin County) who will make sure it happens.

      Right now the biggest obstacle seems to be Mike Opat, who represents the Brooklyn Park/Center area of Hennepin County and is the current Chair of the county board. He has apparently decided that he hates Minneapolis and doesn’t think the city should ever get anything again. I understand that he is committed to making sure Bottineau LRT keeps its place in line, and that’s all well and good — expecting Midtown to get built before Bottineau is highly unrealistic (effectiveness and riders per $ be damned). The problem is that his animosity towards everything Minneapolis seems to run deeper than just wanting to make sure Bottineau gets built…it almost seems personal.

      1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

        Yeah, Mike Opat is a dangerous obstructionist for sure. Every time I get frustrated with my County Commissioner (who’s only being challenged by Captain Jack in this year’s election) I have to remember it could be much much worse, and he’s fighting fights that seem ridiculous to us but are very real in such a hostile anti-urban climate in the county boardroom.

        So a shared platform at West Lake is another casualty of this stupid shallow tunnel? Too bad we couldn’t have done the single track concept to save money, and free up some cash for Midtown transit (or any transit upgrade) sooner.

        And yes, I agree… any aBRT is a priority, especially in this corridor. It’s almost shameful that we’ll have to wait until 2020 even under an ideal timeline.

        1. Jeff Peltola

          A couple things:

          Yes, Opat has knee-jerk animosity towards Mpls. I’ve been to most CTIB meetings for almost a year. It’s on display nearly every time (even toward Midtowm – whose Alt Anal was a METRO TRANSIT project [I was on CAC]). Given this, he has no biz being reelected County Chair by his fellow Cmsrs.

          Re West Lake station platform(s). No need for lamenting that. It’s the least of our problems (see my ~Aug streets.mn post). Trust me. A good connection with a future Midtown is accounted for. No matter where the exact platform location(s) are, the vehicles will be able to interconnect (west of station). Presently, the design allows for side by side platforms. In fact, I’ve repeatedly commented to not preclude the option of a future end-to-end connection, with the Midtown single-track platform just east of the Lake St bridge and a covered walkway connecting them. The intent is to optimize the use of the abundant but far more limited lateral space and take advantage of the near limitless longitudinal space, balancing the needs of ALL users (not focusing just on transfers). In addition, it’d help activate more of the space from east to west, adding a pedestrian ‘front’ on the transit side of BOTH auto-oriented malls not just one.

          BUT… Again that’s a debate for a few years from now. What’s URGENTLY (repeat urgently needed RIGHT NOW!!!) is help making the best of a crummy situation — freight RR indefinitely immediately adjacent to the station. We’re stuck with it. And apparently stuck with expensive ‘vertical circulation’ from the top of that awful Lake St bridge (not just for certain bus transfers but for everyone coming from the north/west on foot or bike. I’ve continuously commented that the far less engineered, less expensive “making the cow paths permanent” would be best. If Metro Transit wants vertical circulation for certain bus transfers and ADA access, so be it. BUT as it stands, they intend to build a FENCE (that’s right!) all along the north/west side to prevent peds/bikes from going across the freight and LRT tracks to get to the other side (whether or not they’re LRT riders). SLP stations and Blake Rd users would be able to go directly across tracks but not people on north/west side of West Lake. Let’s connect for beer/coffee; I’d love to show it to you.

          1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

            We are so ridiculous in over-engineering everything. A fence blocking the freight track, a climb up a crummy sidewalk hill on the Lake bridge and a vertical circulation down to the platform, is ridiculous. People can handle foot crossings with freight tracks… look at the “interim” crossing of the Cedar Lake Trail at the Kenilworth freight track west of downtown – has that ever been an issue?

      2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

        I thought one of the advantages listed by Met Council engineers for the shallow tunnel was that it *could share a platform, but they wanted to have a separate platform. This doc http://www.metrocouncil.org/getdoc/3380e9e2-b47b-420c-9a3c-d334f49d33e1/Presentation.aspx (page 12) shows both platforms “at grade” – seems like there’s at least some room for discussion on sharing plaftorms if they can have the tracks cross over each other? Maybe I’m missing something…

      3. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

        Actually, there will be a rail connection between Midtown and Southwest, because the Midtown railcars will be based at the Southwest storage facility. That will also create the opportunity for through routing of some trains between the two lines. I know this because I served of the Midtown Community Advisory Committee.

        1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

          That’s good to hear. But why not reduce costs, increase safety due to bringing people closer, and avoid duplication by having the two services share platforms at West Lake?

  3. brad

    May be a dumb question, but can anyone give some details for the non-transit-geek about how the Lake St BRT would be different from the current 53 line? Or are there not enough details yet known to say?

      1. brad

        I guess I was wondering more about the specifics of how it would work on Lake St, not the general definition of BRT. For example, how many stops might there be–same as the 53? In roughly the same places? How will they fit the platforms in (Lake St doesn’t seem especially wide)? What sort of time savings are they expecting?

  4. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

    The great advantage of rail in the greenway over bus on Lake Street is travel time. The Route 21 local bus currently takes about 30 minutes from the Uptown Station to Hiawatha. The rail line will do it in 12 minutes. The BRT option on Lake Street will take more than 20 minutes, and that time can be made only by bypassing the Uptown and Chicago-Lake transit centers, which require detours off Lake Street.

    Although it was included in the plan for political reasons, I question whether the BRT service will ever be implemented. The problem is the terrible traffic congestion on Lake Street during the PM rush hour. When nothing is moving, the bus will be slow indeed. Given the success of the Green Line diverting former bus passengers with stations spaced every half mile, I foresee the same thing happening along the Midtown rail line.

  5. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

    The article makes it sound like it was officially decided to have rail in the Greenway and bus along Lake Street, but doesn’t actually say so. Was that the actual decision? What was the source?

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