On July 2nd, it was announced that the Minnesota Vikings have offered to shoulder half of the burden of building a pedestrian bridge over Chicago Avenue and the Downtown East light rail station. While this doesn’t necessarily exonerate the bridge from the sharper criticisms of Nick Magrino’s story on the issue (particularly on how converting the Downtown East station to an island platform would render this bridge pointless), it is certainly a better deal than the Metropolitan Council being fully responsible for what is obviously a stadium amenity. The bridge leads out from the stadium, over Chicago, and to the northern platform of the light rail station, allowing the thousands of projected transit riding football fans to quickly board a train and head home. Unfortunately, there’s a problem.
The bridge is designed to accommodate for a future Metro system that is built out enough that a Vikings game would see so many commuters from all corners of the transit system that the resulting herd would need to be kept away from road and rail traffic for their own safety. Granted, we know that with the right amount of planning, a herd can be safely loaded onto the light rail even with traffic:
Watching the video, you can see as TCF Bank Stadium empties, the resulting crowd heading for the trains is sizable. A close eye will notice that Metro Transit is metering the amount of people allowed on the platform based on the capacity of the trains in order to make sure each is full and the crowd is dispersed in an orderly fashion. The people waiting for their train are queued up in the road under this arrangement, so as the Metro system grows and event usage expands, it does make some sense to build a separate guideway to allow people to exit the new stadium and wait in safety without having to be so close to (or mixed in) with traffic.
But this leads to the most baffling thing about the proposed bridge – it feeds out only to the northern platform towards the future Commons Park. And as of right now, that would lead passengers directly to Downtown Minneapolis, and only Downtown Minneapolis. On opening day in 2017, prospective passengers will exit the Vikings stadium, cross the bridge specifically designed to keep them from having to cross the light rail tracks… and then cross the light rail tracks to reach stations east and west of the stadium. The bridge is perfectly suited for passengers of the future Southwest and Bottineau lines, but they don’t exist yet. Unless they’ll be connecting to a bus from downtown, the soonest someone could use the bridge and immediately board a train home will be 2020.
So even for the eight days out of the year that the bridge is in use, including the 2018 Super Bowl, it still fails to keep people from having to cross the tracks. Yes, the bridge has gotten the football fans safely across Chicago Avenue, but that’s already something we can handle without a bridge. If the fear is rowdy fans getting hit by trains, this bridge does nothing to solve that problem.
Fortunately, the answer is simple, and has the added bonus of giving the bridge a constant, daily purpose: add a second staircase to the south platform.
Downtown East is the first station serviced by both the Blue and Green lines, making it the natural transfer point on the line for trips between St. Paul and Bloomington. By adding a second staircase to the bridge, transfer passengers can safely cross above the tracks to the other platform, regardless of whether the stadium is in use or not. And when the stadium is in use, there’s now a perfect place to set up two separate lines for North/Westbound and East/Southbound trains.
Granted, a second staircase would require a second elevator. It would undoubtedly add to the cost of the bridge. And at the end of the day, this station should really just have been built as an island platform. But if the Met Council and the Vikings are set on building this bridge, and they’re going to do so under the guise of protecting pedestrians from trains, why is it being built in a way that still requires a rider to cross the tracks in order to get home?