Where Should the Orange Line Terminate?

METRO Orange Line Route Map

Source: Metro Transit

The METRO Orange Line will be the Twin Cities Metro’s second highway bus rapid transit line, running from downtown Minneapolis to Burnsville. As seen in the project plan update, many of the line’s basic decisions have already been made. However, there are some left, including improvements to the Marq2 corridor, and the alignment of the transitway between 76th St and American Boulevard Stations. A very prominent decision, however, is where the line will end: the existing Burnsville Transit Station or the Travelers Trail parking lot. At first glance, the answer seems obvious: co-locate it with the already-successful transit hub. However, as I looked into the issue more, I eventually decided, against all common sense, that the opposite is the right answer.

Background

Burnsville Transit Station (BTS) is a park-and-ride owned by the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority (MVTA), transit provider for much of the southern metro. BTS is the largest park-and-ride in the region and is a hub for express and local service provided by the MVTA. It’s located northeast of Highway 13 and Nicollet Avenue. It’s pretty nice with an indoor waiting area, many bus bays, and, of course, a massive parking structure.

The indoor waiting area and bus bays at BTS. Quite nice!

The indoor waiting area and bus bays at BTS. Quite nice!

View of the bicycle parking and parking structure at BTS.

In addition to the 1,300 space concrete parking structure, it’s got space for about  20 bikes!

Burnsville Transit Station's indoor waiting area.

A spacious indoor and heated waiting area.

The Travelers Trail site, located at the southwest corner of the same intersection, is a vacant parking lot on MnDOT property that is legally only able to be developed for transit purposes. Before debating the sites, what makes this area of Burnsville suited to be the southern terminus of the Orange Line at all?

A panorama of the Travelers Trail site.

The  Travelers Trail site right now.

Land Use

Directly south of both sites is one of the more dense and walkable areas in Burnsville: Heart of the City, a “smart-growth based, mixed-use, pedestrian friendly downtown area for Burnsville.” As Burnsville said, it’s got multistory apartment buildings, ground floor retail, and is even a marked pedestrian zone (with sidewalks on both sides of Nicollet Avenue)! Residents could walk up to the Orange Line from their homes and ride into Minneapolis, Richfield, or Bloomington. People from farther north could ride into Burnsville to attend a performance at the Ames Center.

A panorama of Heart of the City.

The northern edge of Heart of the City, less than a block from Travelers Trail.

Nicollet Ave Heart of the City

Nicollet becomes less of a stroad at Heart of the City.
Source: Google Street View

The Ames Center

The Ames Center
Source: Google Street View

Heart of the City Apartments

Some mixed use residential development in Heart of the City
Source: Google Street View

A sign saying, "Caution pedestrian area".

Although marked “Pedestrian Area” with sidewalk on both sides, this segment of Nicollet Avenue is not inviting for pedestrians

North of the sites, on the other hand, is a collection of one-story office buildings on a stretch of Nicollet Ave that has a sidewalk on only one side. Aside from one apartment complex next to BTS, there’s nothing of interest to an Orange Line rider.  But this doesn’t answer the question of why Metro Transit shouldn’t use BTS, does it? Well, the answer is…

A picture of an office building and apartment building behind Burnsville Transit Station.

North of and behind BTS, there is no transit-oriented land use or pedestrian connections

Highway 13

I recently rode the bus out to Burnsville Transit Station to take some pictures for this article. In order to get to the dense, walkable area south of BTS, I had to cross over Minnesota State Highway 13.

A view facing southwest across Highway 13 from Burnsville Transit Station

Nicollet Avenue & Highway 13 intersection

This involved traversing an unrestricted right turn lane onto a small pedestrian island and then crossing six lanes of traffic. In fact, I made the mistake of crossing west first, only to discover there’s no pedestrian crossing on that side of the intersection. Of course, I had to press a button in order to activate a pedestrian cycle. If you miss your cycle, you’ll be waiting quite awhile to get another opportunity to cross. If I had to do this every time I wanted to ride into Minneapolis or walk back home, I’d probably jump in my car instead. Travelers Trail, being on the south side of Highway 13, doesn’t have this barrier between it and Heart of the City. It’s a place that is very safe to walk to. So what could be some potential problems with using the Traveler’s Trail site?

A bird's eye view of the intimidating Highway 13-Nicollet Ave intersection

Aerial view of the intersection showing only two crosswalks

Expenses

Obviously, building a completely new stop is going to be more expensive than simply using an existing station. While the plan states that there are going to be capacity problems at Burnsville Transit Station needing to be mitigated through expansion, enhancing BTS would likely still be cheaper. Without more information, I can’t delve much more deeply into this problem.

Connecting Routes

Burnsville Transit Station is the hub for almost all of the MVTA’s Burnsville-Downtown express routes and Burnsville local routes. I’d hazard a guess that they would be unwilling to reroute those routes to serve a new Metro Transit-operated station instead of their transit station. However, the good thing is that, aside from route 421, all local routes operating out of Burnsville Transit Station run down Nicollet next to the Travelers Trail site. It would be relatively easy to build an enhanced bus stop on Nicollet so that those buses don’t have to pull all the way into the lot to pick up or drop off Orange Line passengers.

MVTA Local Route Map Edited

MVTA local route maps, with the Travelers Trail site highlighted in orange on both maps.

Routing

Using Google Mapping, I figured out that buses running inbound to either site would take about the same amount of time to enter the station during the morning rush hour. However, when trying to exit to 35W, a bus traveling from the Travelers Trail site would take between one and four minutes longer to get onto the interstate. While an increase in travel time for either stop is expected during rush hour, adding four minutes just to use Travelers Trail is far from ideal. But, if BTS’s location negatively affects ridership, the time savings would benefit few people.

Google Maps routing from BTS to 35W

Google Maps estimate for BTS to 35W during the morning rush.

Google Maps routing from BTS to 35W

Google Maps estimate for Travelers Trail to 35W during the morning rush.

Confusion

Having the Orange Line split from Burnsville Transit Station would be confusing. It would make it harder for new riders, especially those who drive to the station, to find. If someone took the express bus into work and decided to take the Orange Line back to add more flexibility to their schedule, they probably wouldn’t appreciate being surprised with the fact that their car is across a major highway from where they were dropped off. This could probably be rectified with good signage and a strong public awareness campaign before the Orange Line opening.

We Should Still Start Anew

Even with all these potential problems, Metro Transit should still go with the Travelers Trail site. It is the ideal site to promote walk-up ridership and potentially help spur more smart-growth in the Heart of the City area. In the future, I could see the vacant lots filling up and low-density development being replaced by smart-growth, expanding all the way up to Highway 13 and maybe even spreading across the street. That would be the time to co-locate Orange Line and MVTA services in one building. For now, however, the Orange Line would be best served by having its own building in an ideal location. That location is Travelers Trail.

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19 Responses to Where Should the Orange Line Terminate?

  1. Aaron Isaacs
    Aaron Isaacs March 25, 2015 at 8:58 am #

    Tyler is right to point out the dilemma between the established transit center and the more walkable area south of Hwy. 13. However, I still believe the transit center is the right Orange Line terminus. The line will be fed primarily by three modes: park-riding and auto dropoffs, transfers from other buses, and walkup (which includes arrival by bike). In a suburban location like Burnsville, the first two greatly outnumber the walkups and always will. This is not Uptown.

    Instead of creating an expensive and confusing split terminal, extend trips down Nicollet Avenue. I predict they will be poorly patronized, but try it anyway.

  2. Joe D March 25, 2015 at 8:59 am #

    What would be cheaper; An entirely new transit center or a pedestrian bridge connecting heart of the city to the BTS. This could make a more direct connection between the travelers trail neighborhoods and the transit station with a much smaller price tag.

    • Matt Brillhart March 25, 2015 at 10:31 am #

      I’d have to agree. In the short term though, they need to stripe a pedestrian crosswalk on the western leg of that MN-13/Nicollet intersection. That’s absurd.

      There is ample ROW land here for a short pedestrian bridge or tunnel over/under MN-13. It’ll cost a couple million bucks, but you’d still think that is preferable to a second transit center which will only serve to make transit use even more confusing.

      • Matt Brillhart March 25, 2015 at 10:44 am #

        To be honest though, I would not be super disappointed if the Orange Line just ended at 98th Street in Bloomington instead. It’s quite a long ways and millions of annual operating dollars between 98th Street and Burnsville Transit Center. Of course, that would mean no funding contribution or political participation from Dakota County, which would open up another can of worms at CTIB.

        If Dakota County’s involvement were not an issue, I’d rather see this as a Hennepin County only route which made stops roughly every mile instead of every two miles, definitely adding a station at 38th St and maybe 90th St (with land use changes), terminating it at 98th (existing South Bloomington Transit Center).

        • Sean Hayford Oleary
          Sean Hayford Oleary March 25, 2015 at 11:37 am #

          Heart of the City has a lot of destinations, and after you get into the area proper, I’d say it’s more walkable than the Oxboro area near South Bloomington Transit Center. Given the proximity to high-density housing, I actually disagree with Aaron’s assertion that park and ride traffic “always will” overtake walk-up traffic. Lake St & 1st Ave has a walk score only 12 points higher than the main building of Heart of the City.

          That said, I’d rather see money go toward improvements to the intersection of Sibley Hwy & Nicollet (removing the free rights, adding refuge islands in the median, improving lighting and plantings) than to building a new site.

          And to Matt’s point — I think Burnsville is a pretty well-justified terminus. First, because of my points above about the walkability of this particular node. Second, because the river is an important barrier, and I think spanning it is an important feature of the Orange Line.

      • Matt Steele March 25, 2015 at 1:14 pm #

        You mean *third* transit center? There are (were?) bus routes out of the HoC parking ramp.

  3. Matt Steele March 25, 2015 at 11:32 am #

    Wasn’t the original plan to terminate it at the northeast corner of Burnsville Mall?

  4. Keith Morris March 25, 2015 at 2:16 pm #

    Just as important is the north end. Once you board the Orange Line you have four stations each within two blocks of each other? That’s just stupid. Swap out the stations at 7th and 11th where people there would instead be served by 5th and 9th. Instead, place two stations at Franklin and 38th which are not served by the current layout and would boost overall ridership simpluy fue to tge fact that walking from 46th to 38th or Lake to Franklin is much less likely for people to do than walking from 7th to 5th or 11th to 9th.

    • Matt Brillhart March 25, 2015 at 4:15 pm #

      I get what you’re saying in terms of ideal station spacing, but those stops listed for downtown aren’t really “stations” at all – they’re just the existing stops on Marquette & 2nd Avenue, or “Marq2”. Aside from adding some new signage, I don’t believe Metro Transit is actually planning any changes whatsoever to those stops. In theory, I agree that’s too many stops per mile, even for downtown, but in actuality, I really doubt that stopping 4x vs. stopping 2x on Marq2 would make much of a time difference, given the density of stoplights, skip-stop operation, etc.

      Franklin would be a worthy addition, but I just don’t think it is physically possible to squeeze a center station (like 46th) in there. The already massive Franklin Ave bridge over 35W might have to be even wider. While Franklin would look great on the map, it would be impractical for people heading towards downtown, as one could just avoid the long unpleasant walk to the center of 35W (plus elevator/escalator time) and just stick with nearby local routes 9, 11, or 18 instead. That said, a station at Franklin would be very useful for reverse commuters heading out to suburban jobs. Absent that station, people living in the Franklin area will have to make a connection by taking a local route down to Lake Street. Not ideal due to the transfer penalty, but it still gets them where they need to go.

      • Joey Senkyr
        Joey Senkyr March 25, 2015 at 9:51 pm #

        They better at least be planning TVMs. Even the justly-maligned Red Line has TVMs at every station. FWIW, the Orange Line brochure on Metro Transit’s website says: “All Orange Line stations will have upgrades in platform ticketing, information technology and customer amenities, benefitting both BRT and express bus customers on I-35W.” I’m thinking/hoping the Marq2 stations will be the (by-then) standard aBRT station.

        • Joe T March 27, 2015 at 12:02 pm #

          They do? I’ve been checking on them, as of 3 weeks ago the stations did not have TVMs, although they did have the signs they’ve had since opening day saying “Tickets” with a down arrow, pointing at nothing.

          Apple Valley Transit Center has a TVM but the others still lack them.

          • Joey Senkyr
            Joey Senkyr March 27, 2015 at 12:11 pm #

            Oh, maybe not then. I’ve only used the line once, and that was from MoA to AVTS, so I didn’t realize the rest didn’t have them. What a terrible excuse for BRT.

            • Sean Hayford Oleary
              Sean Hayford Oleary March 27, 2015 at 12:15 pm #

              I believe the thinking was that the vast majority of Red Line users would be using Go-To cards. Since you can board at either door, the slowdown for Go-To is negligible. This is true to my experience, but I agree, still not acceptable for BRT.

              The Orange Line, at least according to all planning documents, should have off-board fare collection from day one. The buses will also be larger, articulated buses.

  5. Monte Castleman
    Monte Castleman March 25, 2015 at 9:06 pm #

    How about a cap over MN 13?

    • Sean Hayford Oleary
      Sean Hayford Oleary March 25, 2015 at 9:14 pm #

      +1. I believe the long term plan is to have an interchange at Nicollet (as is currently being built at CSAH 5, and to be built in the near future at Washburn Ave).

      That said, most Mn/DOT interchanges are not much more pedestrian-friendly than a grade crossing. The recent Wooddale / TH 7 interchange, in a more bike-oriented, urban environment is a resounding disappointment.

      A true cap would be great for pedestrians, but I suspect motorists would want to retain access to Nicollet from Sibley Hwy.

      • Monte Castleman
        Monte Castleman March 26, 2015 at 7:49 am #

        There’s been a couple of concepts sketched out for the area. One would include an interchange at Nicollet, and one would downscale the entire area converting the cloverleaf at I-35W into a split diamond with Burnsville Parkway, with a flyover from 13 north to I-35W north.

        Further discussions haven’t taken place because local agencies have lost interest in a popup project now that the County 5 interchange is done, there’s no regular funding anytime soon, and possibly due to the lack of immediate funding I don’t believe Burnsville has sent a clear signal exactly what they want to happen.

  6. John B March 26, 2015 at 10:12 am #

    Why not end it in Lakeville at the Kenndrick P&R, skip Burnsville.

    • Sean Hayford Oleary
      Sean Hayford Oleary March 26, 2015 at 10:18 am #

      Kendrick P&R doesn’t have any dense destinations near it like Heart of the City. It also has only one line (the downtown peak hour express), while Burnsville is the largest hub south of the river, with 5 lines converging there.

      The long-term vision for the Orange Line is eventual extension into Lakeville, but I was told by the transit planner there that it isn’t considered viable until there is more local bus service in Lakeville. That’s the same reason the Red Line was cut short at Apple Valley, despite the roadway improvements going out past Dodd Road.

  7. Nathanael April 12, 2015 at 1:56 pm #

    Ah, burning money on buses.

    The Twin Cities bus system is dreadful. Don’t get me wrong, the ‘Red Line’ and ‘Orange Line’ are improvements, but they get the buses up to the standard of… well, ordinary buses in other, better-run cities.

    It’s completely ridiculous to treat them as the equivalent of the much better light rail lines, which are actually pretty nice (though they need to stop being delayed at stop lights).

    I guess I should expect this sort of asphalt-centric thinking from the southern suburbs, which have been at the forefront of banning rail service.

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