Chasin’ the Train

For best results, read this post while listening to this:


Especially scary if you’re in Loring Park!

I had a good time this Halloween. It’s my favorite holiday and, donning my bird-killing Vikings’ stadium costume, I ventured out into the city atop my bicycle to take pictures of spooky houses, enjoy the kid-full sidewalks, and visit friends. I made it to a few different trick or treat houses in Saint Paul and Minneapolis and two different Halloween parties before ending up finally at (fellow writer) Nick Magrino’s lofty pad for an urbanist-themed shindig. Being a nerd party, Matt was dressed as a bike lane while Phil [pictured] was wearing a boxy cardboard get-up labeled “Luxury Apartments”, complete with a Noodles & Co and a Starbucks providing mixed-use on the first floor.

Eventually, though, the night ended and I had to make my way home. The plan had always been to ride the Green Line back to downtown Saint Paul, rather than bike in the middle of the night. I like taking the train, and even if you’re traveling end-to-end (as I often do), the comfort and people watching more than make up for the slower travel speed.

So as I biked toward the Nicollet Mall station around midnight, I was dismayed to see an East-bound Green Line train just pulling away. “Dammit!,” I thought. “This close [mentally holds fingers together] to getting on the train. If only I hadn’t stopped to participate in the costume contest at the 19 Bar.”

Being a fool, I stepped on it. As we all know, the Green Line train goes very slowly through both downtowns, and racing on a bike to catch a bus is something I’ve done many times before. (For example, If a 94 is pulling away just ahead of you on Minnesota Street, if you really hurry you can race up and meet it at 10th and Cedar. Same goes for the train, at least in theory.)

So I biked as hard as I could the wrong way down 5th Street (a deserted and semi-useless one-lane road), snuck through a red light (there wasn’t any traffic), but only made it to Government Plaza in time to see the doors close.

I was gaining ground, so I continued my madcap chase, biking over the plaza sidewalks and across 4th Avenue, and I finally caught up to the back of the train as it neared Park and Portland, following alongside it through the intersections. I would just make it, rolling my bike onto the back car and making it home to Saint Paul in no time.

Except for the curb, that’s what would have happened. I had my eyes on the bright Green prize, so when something went all wobbly when I hit the curb by the Metrodome’s grave I ended up flying ever so slowly through the air as my bike went sideways. Landing on the cement, I felt just like a bird does when it hits Vikings’ stadium glass, and my bird-hitting-the-glass costume flew off my back and shattered into pieces as the train doors closed in front of me.

A week later, my knee is still swollen. (Though it’s getting better… Hi mom.)


It got a lot more purple, then less purple. NSFW!

Just Because You’re Paranoid, Doesn’t Mean the Bus Isn’t Coming


Riding the Green Line on Halloween is great fun.

To most people, my story probably seems foolish. And it is, I admit. As the dozens of safety signs keep saying, you shouldn’t run to catch a train or a bus. It’s one of the most dangerous things transit riders can do.

But a lot of people forget that running to catch the bus often makes a great deal of sense. I’ve spent years taking the bus back and forth from Minneapolis to Saint Paul at all hours of the day and night. And many is the time when I have just missed a bus, and had to wait by the side of the road for up to an hour for the next one. When transit is extremely crappy, believe me when I tell you that people are going to run to catch a bus that comes just a bit too early. The alternative is standing under an overpass in a dimly lit shelter staring at endlessly passing cars contemplating your misery.

Fear of just missing the bus is what I call “transit paranoia,” and in most places at most times it’s entirely justified. Of course that’s not what happened on Halloween. The next Green Line train came in just 12 minutes, which is pretty decent service for 12:30 on a Saturday morning.  As I sat there in shock hoping my knee wasn’t broken (it’s not), I thought to myself, “why did I chase the train? If only I’d known another would be along really soon.”  I began to think about taking off my transit paranoia tinfoil hat.

Making Safety Make Sense

The point of this story is that I’m an idiot who rides a bike. But the other point of the story is that calls for safety only make sense if they come along with quality service. The same is true for pedestrians and bicyclists: jaywalking is a rational response to long waits at traffic lights, and bicyclists are far more likely to obey the law if the law actually makes sense and the streets are designed to provide some security. In other words, if we want pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders to be “safe” and follow the rules, we need to also improve the system so that following the rules is common sense.

So, kids, to make a long story short: don’t chase after the train on your bicycle. It doesn’t make sense any more.


Don’t be like me, you’ll hurt your knee!

11 thoughts on “Chasin’ the Train

  1. Nathan Roisennate

    As the green line has gotten more reliable, I’ve seen less craziness from people running/biking to catch it — you’re right that frequency and reliability are the only real deterrence to risky behavior.

    But it’s still a common occurrence to see someone running through the middle of the Snelling/Lexington/Dale and University intersections *on the train tracks* as they sprint to catch a train that just passed them. Or to see someone walking down the eastbound tracks to hop over the chain barrier onto the westbound platform. Or any number of other crazy things.

  2. BB

    This is a lot like “must pass cyclist”

    They want it so bad they forget they were going to turn right ahead of the cyclist.

  3. Dana DeMasterDanaD

    Yeah, do not chase the train. Seriously.

    This has been hard lesson for me. Approaching Snelling and University I would see a bus at the opposite side of the intersection and run across to catch it, dodging cars, in time to thump the bus and alert the driver I was coming. Despite a hairy eyeball from the driver, I would usually claim my prize. Unused to trains, I did the same one morning (minus the thump because even in my naivete I realized train drivers can’t respond to such things). Rushing across the tracks, I jumped out of my skin when that train driver honked. Yowsa! Those trains move fast. Add to the danger of a train that won’t (can’t?) stop in time all the car drivers that can no longer see little me rushing across the intersection and all the general business going on in the intersection, I promise I will wistfully watch the train pull away rather than try that again!

  4. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    Chasing after a train is a time honored tradition in New York. Bonus points are given for hitting tourists on the way (without knocking them down). TCUI on the other hand is dangerous and can leave you bloody.

  5. David MarkleDavid Markle

    For me the worst was repeatedly chasing the I-94 express bus from the opposite direction on a cold winter day, more a psychological than physical torture. Well, Bill, I hope the injury isn’t as bad as it looks on the picture. I injured one leg rapidly climing down a steep talus slope in the mountains several years ago, fortunately not seriously, but it looked like significant permanent scarring until about four months had passed.

  6. David W

    Has anyone else seen the UMN Health ad along the green line that says : “Running to catch the train–another ordinary moment brought to you by extraordinary healthcare”? I thought it was kinda strange for Metro Transit to allow an ad that seems to implicitly condone chasing trains.

  7. David MarkleDavid Markle

    Of course the Green Line runs on a higher frequency schedule than the No. 16 bus ever did–a reason people ride it (along with ease of boarding and exit).

    1. Joe

      Actually the 16 ran just as, to more, frequently, 8-10 minute headways vs. 10 minutes for the green line.

      If you would like to make a point on the improvements over the bus, it’s like the 50 ran all day.

      1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

        Late night frequency is what I was writing about. Not sure if that’s the same, but it certainly seems that the Green Line is running more frequently after 9 pm.

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