Connecting North Minneapolis to LRT

There has been much discussion about how to connect north Minneapolis to the Southwest LRT, and that’s important, but even more important are the connections to the existing Blue Line and Green Line. The connections aren’t very convenient today and they could be much better. Even after Southwest is built, there will be more north siders headed south and east to the U of M, St. Paul, south Minneapolis, the airport and MOA than to points in St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie.

Basic coverage of north Minneapolis comes from Route 22 on Lyndale Avenue, Route 5 on Emerson/Fremont and Route 19 on Penn Avenue and Olson Memorial Highway. All three pass through downtown on 7th Street (northbound) and 8th Street (southbound). In a couple of years those are planned to be joined by the C Line BRT which will follow the same route as the 19 bus, with fewer stops but enhanced service. The LRT travels on 5th Street through downtown, which means it’s a two to three block walk to transfer to/from LRT. That’s not very convenient.

For the current plan of the Southwest LRT, which is an extension of the Green Line, the transfer will take place at the Royalston Station (see the map from the SW project office). The 5, 19 and 22 buses would use new stops on 7th Street at 5th Avenue N. Transfer passengers would walk west one block on 5th Avenue, then south one block on Royalston to reach the station. The distance? About 600 feet, still not very convenient, and that’s only the connection to the Green Line. There’s no improvement in the Blue Line connection.

The thing is, if done right, a single station can make convenient connections to all of them– Blue, Green, Southwest and Bottineau, too. The answer is an elevated station that straddles N. 7th Street at Olson Highway, located where I added “Bus transfer point” to the map below. It would resemble the existing Blue Line station at Lake Street. Bus stops would be located directly underneath the station. Presto—convenient access to all LRT lines in all directions.

Move the Royalston station onto the bridge over 7th Street (yes, I know you have to straighten it out for a station) and all the North Side/LRT transfers become super convenient.

Move the Royalston station onto the bridge over 7th Street (yes, I know you have to straighten it out for a station) and all the North Side/LRT transfers become super convenient.

Please note that the Bottineau Line would share the elevated station. Besides the bus connection, it would offer a cross-platform connection between Bottineau and Southwest, with no backtracking via Target Field Station. That’s a far better idea than the current scheme which has Bottineau dropping down to street level and passing diagonally through the busy 7th-Olson intersection to reach the median of Olson Highway. That’s a bad idea for both traffic delays and safety, and it offers no transfer opportunity.

The bottom line is that despite a chorus calling for better connections between North Minneapolis and LRT, the current plans don’t get the job done. There’s no excuse for that when the solution is so obvious.

Aaron Isaacs

About Aaron Isaacs

Aaron retired in 2006 after 33 years as a planner and manager for Metro Transit, where he worked in route and schedule planning, operations, maintenance, transit facilities, light rail and traffic advantages for buses. He's an historian of transit, as a 40+ year volunteer with the Minnesota Streetcar Museum. He's co-author of Twin Cities by Trolley, The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and author of Twin Ports by Trolley on Duluth-Superior.

39 thoughts on “Connecting North Minneapolis to LRT

  1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    Granted, 5th St isn’t exactly built to handle bus service… But this just makes me think how botched the New Downtown Parking Ramp With Transit Dollars (the new Interchange/Target Field station) was for not providing adequate bus connectivity for what was obviously planned as a future transfer point between Blue/Green/Heavy Rail.

    But, given that reality on the ground, it seems like it would be easier to move bus service than to add/move transit stops. Downtown Minneapolis really needs one or more solid east-west transit spines comparable to what we have north/south. So, maybe we should examine moving these buses off 7th/8th in the long term.

    In the meantime, these buses could route south along Royalson before heading back north/east into the downtown grid via Glenwood, Hawthorne, or Hennepin. We also need to have a discussion about the major cluster of grid skew that is Royalston / Olson / 7th (and ideally some grid-building in the North Loop) though hopefully that will happen with SWLRT and soccer stadium implementation.

    Thanks for bringing up this important issue!

  2. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    Part of the reason behind the complex aerial tail tracks west of Target Field Station is to provide a future “flying junction” between SWLRT and Bottineau. Basically, the eastbound Blue Line train will not have to cross the path of any westbound Green Line train. This will eliminate quite a bit of the junction delays associated with the new Blue/Green interlocking east of Downtown.

  3. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

    I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately, but I’m not sure Aaron’s suggestion is the right answer. As Matt indicated, a complicating factor in all this (and one not mentioned in Aaron’s proposal) is the Bottineau connection.

    1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

      To clarify (since I worded my own comment badly), I don’t see a viable way to connect Bottineau between Olson Hwy and Aaron’s proposed station that doesn’t involve closing some intersections. The numbers and angles just don’t line up. The alternative would be to have Bottineau elevated to west of Bryant Ave, but I don’t see that one going over very well.

      1. Matt Brillhart

        At first glance, I agree that Bottineau should remain elevated to a point west of Lyndale/94. Taking it through all of those stoplights and traffic at-grade is insane. For some reason, the City of Minneapolis opposes an elevated guideway here…but why? Calming traffic on Olson is a great goal. Calming it by way of putting a slow train through already congested intersections is a less good goal. The train should be elevated as far west as possible…the problem of course is elevating it over 94 and somehow getting back down to grade for the Van White Station. As expensive that much elevated track will be in the first place, an elevated station at Van White probably kills the whole thing, hence why they are planning it at grade.

        1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

          I know a lot of people here poo-pooh the Level-of-Service calculation…but in this case, it’s not that bad. Per the Draft EIS, all of the Minneapolis intersections except for Penn Ave are expected to operate at LOS D or better in the 2030 build condition with minimal operational changes compared to today (the main change being additional turn lanes at 7th St N). The main issues outside of Penn Ave are the left turn movements from Olson Hwy at the 94 ramps/Lyndale Ave…but that could be remedied by widening the bridge over 94 for dual left turn lanes. However, that isn’t proposed and both 94 ramp intersections are expected to operate at LOS D overall.

  4. Julia

    I don’t want to sound too cynical here, but using transit with some regularity to get between NoMi and SW Mpls, it’s hard to believe that either transit planners or city officials are interested in strengthening NoMi’s connections to other parts of the city.

    In the past few years, the transfer between, say, the 6 and the 19, has gotten steadily more inconvenient and less welcoming. The 6 hasn’t moved, but the 19 has been separated from the 5 (meaning that riders going somewhere between the two parallel routes cannot simply take whichever comes first–less convenient) and its stops shifted gradually further and further from Hennepin (this appears to be a function of the 19/5 split as well as Block E construction). Additionally, while the bus stops along Hennepin aren’t great (and certainly much worse than those on Nicollet), those to NoMi are terrible–often unsheltered and benchless, in front of building facades with absolutely no pedestrian-scale interest or engagement.

    Additionally, bus service to NoMi doesn’t meet demand (busses are often standing room only) nor is it kept to the same standards as other parts of Minneapolis (let alone the suburbs). My most generous interpretation is that planners don’t actually ride NoMi lines and are basing their routes not on reality but on some sort of theoretical model that is based on a single-head-phoned-adult-commuter-rider and doesn’t account for parents with children, teenagers heading home from school, or neighbors picking up groceries. That’s not even getting into (lack of) routes between NoMi/Nordeast and NoMi/SW.

    Ultimately I agree that the connections need to be better between NoMi and the LRT lines, but I see no evidence that city/transit leaders actually WANT to connect NoMi to other parts of the city or improve the transit experience for those going to/from NoMi.

  5. UrbanDoofus

    Good ideas proposed here but I think Julia’s perspective is important to consider. If we can’t even get buses right, what makes us think they’re going to alter the routes and design of proposed LRT? Let’s be real now.

  6. John

    This is a very pragmatic approach to serving the most amount of transit users as efficiently and quickly as possible. The trouble is that the city and the Metropolitan Council are not interested in providing better transit service to North Minneapolis. Fair or not Eden Prairie, Downtown, South Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Northeast Minneapolis, Bloomington etc. etc. do not want easier connections to North. People from other parts of town won’t take transit to North. There is no reason for anyone outside the neighborhood to go there.

    While it isn’t fair that the neighborhood with the highest dependency on transit would get skipped over for transit improvements the rest of the city would prefer to contain the trouble in North Minneapolis. Some of the bad reputation is warranted and some of it isn’t, but the truth is that most of the people making the decisions would be happy if the Northside had no transit connections to the rest of the area. Remember the free bus rides on Saint Patrick’s Day? Downtown had “riots” brought on from Northside youths taking free bus rides. It’s incidents like this that cement the idea in our regional leadership’s minds that North does not deserve good transit. They believe that it will shuttle crime out of rough neighborhood to other parts of the city.

    Look at the proposed blue line extension. The route, which roughly follows County Road 81 take a detour through Theodore Worth Park and almost entirely skips North Minneapolis. If the goal was to move as may people as possible it would go through a populated area and not through the park.

    The Northside has problems so it gets no services. The Northside has no services so it has problems. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy. If we as a city don’t do anything to change it things will stay the same. Violent crime in the neighborhood doesn’t even get reported unless it spills into other parts of the city. It appears to me that as long as problems don’t move outside of the Northside boundaries city leadership won’t do anything about them.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      I fear you’re correct and hope that people inside and outside the north side will realize that this is unacceptable and work to change it.

    2. Monte Castleman

      So the Blue Line going along through an existing rail corridor through a park was part of a vast conspiracy to keep poor people off the trains, as opposed to being faster, less disruptive to the north side neighborhoods, or cheaper?

      1. Doug TrummDoug Trumm

        Straw-manning pretty hard here. I don’t think anyone here suggested a grand Blue Line conspiracy, but rather a poorly made decision that lines up with long history of neglect and indifference. Also since the real life honest to God conspiracy of red-lining really did happen in the North Side, one could understand North Siders who are a little leery and suspicious. Personally I object the present Blue Line alignment because it avoids population centers. Lines that don’t serve many people do tend to be faster. That doesn’t mean they’re be better. Faster service is great for the Brooklyn Park park and riders but many North Siders will still have a fairly inconvenient connection and that’s a real problem not conspiracy mongering.

        1. Monte Castleman

          A vast conspiracy to keep poor people off trains seems to be exactly what John suggested. Consider these quotes.

          “the city and the Metropolitan Council are not interested in providing better transit service to North Minneapolis…”

          “the city would prefer to contain the trouble in North Minneapolis.”

          “most of the people making the decisions would be happy if the Northside had no transit connections to the rest of the area”

          The first might merely be apathy, but the second and third suggest conspiracy.

          “The route, which roughly follows County Road 81 take a detour through Theodore Worth Park and almost entirely skips North Minneapolis”

          Given the above three statements, it would seem that routing the Blue Line away from city streets was actually part of this conspiracy. Maybe John can explain if that was his intent or not, but if it wasn’t considering some of the phrases and the overall tone of the post it can be excused if I got the wrong idea from it.

          1. Wayne

            I think we should all take a moment to remember how just after the fancy new bus stops on Marquette and 2nd opened for suburban express commuters they taped a line at 7th street and nicollet and started tasering people waiting for a bus back to the north side for standing on the wrong side of the line. At the busiest bus stop in the system that had completely inadequate waiting room and no shelter.

            Yes, there is a very real stratification of service and facilities based on where you live in the city and the north side gets the short end of every stick.

        2. Stuart

          Monte is at least partly correct based on everything I have read. There is plenty of room to blame the “Decision Makers” who pushed for faster trains and cheaper land going around the North Side, but every report I read about community engagement said that local residents pushed back against the alignments that went directly through North Minneapolis because of the required property acquisitions. I didn’t go to meetings because I don’t live on the Northside and I try not to be the kind of person to tell other people what they should want, but that is what the reports (even those from Northside advodates) indicated.

          Does NoMi deserve better transit? Yes. Does NoMi deserve LRT? Yes, just as much as any other Minneapolis community. Should transit activists push to send that LRT directly through the densest areas? That’s more complicated and there were people arguing for and against it on both sides.

          1. Wayne

            There’s always vocal opponents to any land taking. Whether or not the public good outweighs that is kind of key, and in this case it would, but no one really wanted to push that option anyway. The extensions to both green and blue lines have had suburban commuters at the top of the hierarchy for who they want to serve since the beginnings of the planning phases. Speed to downtown for Joe Suburb was far more important to them than serving transit-dependent areas that the line could pass through. See Also: 3C routing for SWLRT and how a tunnel through the woods that costs almost as much and serves no one nearby is a better option somehow because opt-out Eden Prairie riders can’t be bothered to suffer an extra five minutes getting downtown.

            1. Monte Castleman

              … And then step off the train and transfer to another one if they’re going anywhere but Nicollet Mall. Say Target Field, The Vikings Stadium, the U of M, or downtown St. Paul. For people that are willing to ride buses, an express bus direct from Southwest Station to the U of M is sounding attractive (although it appears Eden Prairie doesn’t want competition from Light Rail anyway). I’m still not clear why two streetcar lines are inferior to a single light rail line that would only cover half the distance of the two, but whatever.

              Also, if the priority is getting suburbanites to Minneapolis as fast as possible, why the long rambling detour through the Golden Triangle instead of directly to a Mitchell Road park and ride?

              1. Wayne

                How many people do you really think are going to ride almost two hours from EP to St Paul? And we should be planning routes based on people going to sporting events only? The majority of riders are going to be people commuting from EP and points southwest into downtown, with a few reverse commuting to the golden triangle area. This is about nothing more than serving rush hour commuters because the poor souls bought houses too far out and don’t like the traffic that came with that decision.

            2. Stuart

              I happen to agree with you. Completely. That doesn’t mean that we get to ignore the fact that community meetings resulted in Theodore Wirth being the “locally preferred alternative”. Maybe no one bothered trying to convince the rest of the Community because of the other reasons pushing to route the transit around NoMi, but as we all know racial disparities in large government projects have a long history in our region (see Rondo).

              The history of this region has made it a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. I almost can’t blame the Met Council for taking the path of least resistance here, EXCEPT that it is their specific job to advocate for the best results instead. They themselves have been calling for more “equity”, but their transit planning process has been failing completely to support this policy.

              Just as an aside, your example of Suburban needs driving 3A versus 3C is a strong indicator that routing around NoMi probably would have happened even if the area weren’t an RCAP. Not directly serving North Minneapolis with LRT is terrible, but not all of the reasons for doing it are based in racism.

              1. Wayne

                I think the whole LPA process was pretty obviously broken when it resulted in selecting that alignment. The city was sold some story about moving freight out of there and connections to the north side and didn’t really pay attention to the input of actual citizens. People in the north who supported it probably wanted some kind of transit investment/connection sooner rather than later and knew if they waited it could be another decade or two before even minimal investment was made to serve them, so they took bad over nothing.

                It also doesn’t help that their methodology and due diligence for the chosen route was complete garbage. The same number of riders in the woods vs. through uptown and down nicollet? REALLY? and no one looked into the reality of moving the freight to SLP until after the route was chosen and apparently ‘set in stone?’ The whole process was a farce designed to give legitimacy to a pre-ordained decision and no one has looked back since.

                The MET council advocates for equity out one side of their mouth while planning primarily to keep monied suburban constituents happy. It’s disgraceful and no wonder some might see it as bordering on conspiracy.

                1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

                  Moving freight out of Kenilworth was part of the original deal dating to when the Midtown Corridor was abandoned. Elected officials reneged on that original deal when they caved to St. Louis Park.

                  1. Wayne

                    But they only went back on it after actually looking into what it would mean to move the freight to SLP. When they made that deal no one ever considered actually doing a tiny bit of research on if it was even possible and everyone just assumed it would be fine without the slightest bit of due diligence. Even when the corridor alignment was being decided someone should have reexamined that and said ‘wait a minute …’

                2. David Greene

                  You’re not giving Northsiders due credit. “Probably wanted?” They supported 3C for much deeper reasons than, “we want a connection now and can’t afford to wait another 30 years.”

                  Why do you assume Northsiders don’t understand larger systemic implications?

                  1. Peter Bajurny

                    I don’t think anyone, Northside, Southside, Eastside, Westside, Upside, Downside, Inside, Outside, understands systemic implications, or any implications at all, outside immediate negative impacts to them directly.

                    It’s human nature.

                    1. David Greene

                      Not in my experience. People often can look outside themselves and see the broader picture.

                  2. Wayne

                    But wouldn’t 3C combined with a Bottineau alignment that actually served north Minneapolis instead of dodging around it have been a much better solution? If we build things out as planned we’re going to be spending hundreds of millions on transit service to parkland adjacent to almost no population density. Why is that preferable to real urban routings that better serve all neighborhoods instead of just the suburbs? I really don’t understand the insistence that the 3A alignment is somehow awesome for the north side and better than a real line that serves the area and connects at the target field station for transfers.

                    1. David Greene

                      Van White is not parkland. It is developable land. Some thing have to happen to make it the best possible (I’m looking at you, City and impound lot) but 3C takes a lot of potential investment away from the Northside.

                      Also, routing downtown to go back out west is a time-waster. This is why I have consistently said the Penn aBRT ought to connect to SWLRT Penn station.

                    2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

                      Maybe the disconnect is what we mean when we say “northside.”

                      Personally, I think of the people who live in North Minneapolis. Perhaps you mean the physical land mass that falls in that quadrant?

                      Because developing open land that’s physically adjacent to the northside does not sound like much of an investment in it to me. It sounds like an opportunity to make some nice new neighborhoods, which some of those who currently live in North Minneapolis may get to enjoy, but is not as much of an investment as, say, building a rail line they can actually use.

                    3. Doug TrummDoug Trumm

                      Ditto. North Minneapolis seems to growing with each response. As far as the equity argument goes, I think the point would be having the LRT connect the poorer areas of North. Not some new Van White development that will probably skew toward luxury rather than affordability anyway.

                      It also seems like most of the transit demand isn’t to go southwest from North Minneapolis so it seems silly to so emphasize that movement. Many more Northsiders would be headed downtown or to south Minneapolis rather than to the SW suburbs. So I’d agree with Wayne that a 3A SWLRT alignment along with a more urban Bottineau alignment would make much more sense and improve transit access in North Minneapolis to a greater extent.

              2. Doug TrummDoug Trumm

                “I almost can’t blame the Met Council for taking the path of least resistance here, EXCEPT that it is their specific job to advocate for the best results instead. They themselves have been calling for more “equity”, but their transit planning process has been failing completely to support this policy.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. This is what is so frustrating. We have a regional planning authority ostensibly to so they can you know PLAN ahead and not just go into a meeting in the North Side and go ah shucks I guess they aren’t excited about our half-hearted LRT plans in their neighborhoods.

                1. Matt Brillhart

                  This is probably a good time to remind everyone that Hennepin County (elected Commissioners, staff, consultants) are the people responsible for choosing 3A/Kenilworth for Southwest and D1/Theo Wirth alignment for Bottineau. The Met Council was not in charge of either project at the time of route selection. That blame rests clearly on the shoulders of Hennepin County commissioners and their top staff people.

                  1. Doug TrummDoug Trumm

                    Good point and thanks for clarifying Matt. Makes a bit more sense now considering that 4 of the 7 Hennepin County commissioners represent very suburban and exurban districts. It’s a cockamamie system we have.

                    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

                      And since the word “conspiracy” was thrown around upthread… A conspiracy involves multiple people. Most of the transit planning problems in that area of town are the result of one Commissioner (Opat). So, by definition, not a conspiracy.

            3. David Greene

              It wasn’t just a few vocal opponents. It was 50% of the people polled.

              The Northside is not homogeneous.

              And the SWLRT alignment makes the Penn, Van White and Royalston station possible, which are important Northside connections.

              1. Wayne

                Two of those stations are arguably of very little worth. Seriously the Penn station barely serves a tiny bit of Bryn Mawr (and the supposed bus connection is going to be pretty awful). Van White is surrounded by land that *maybe* could be redeveloped except most of it probably isn’t going to be. Both of these have really crappy connections to the actual north side. If they were going to bridge Penn Ave across the chasm and connect it to the Kenwood area you might have a case for a good connection, but the snobs on that side would never allow it.

                Royalston is the only station that you could even really say would improve connections to the north side, but it could be done as a tiny extension of the current blue/green lines.

                Basically the problem is you’re skirting around the very edge of the area along what already exists as a boundary/barrier without doing anything else to actually knit the two sides together. A dead end Penn Ave with a big grade change to get down to a station with no commercial/residential land nearby is not a recipe for a well-used station.

                Now if they put it down 55 or up N 7th or something you could actually serve areas where people live and want to go and help knit the areas on either side back together with transit. But the constant argument that these stations are somehow a huge boon for the north side is laughable no matter how many times it’s repeated. It’s like saying the blue line was really great for Richfield because it sort of came near the edge of it.

  7. 72 Chrysler

    It’s easy to get the line to go where you want, and get the people of North to say they don’t want it: tell them their homes will have to be torn down to build it, then ask them it if they want it.
    Which, is exactly what they did.

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