Chart of the Day: Projected SWLRT Boardings circa 2007

At this point is seems like endangered water under the expensively reconstructed bridge, but (via Brendon Slotterback’s Twitter), here’s a chart from a 2007 document from back in the Southwest Light Rail (SWLRT) planning daze.

Here are the projected boardings for the different modes and alignments that were on the table at the time:

SWLRT boarding estimates

As Slotterback says, “Route 3A (the selected route) was projected to have lower average boardings than 3C.”

Slotterback also points out that current costs for the project,  now called the “Green Line Extension”, have reached the original “higher” cost of the 3C route.

For much more on SWLRT alignment decision, check out the archives.

38 thoughts on “Chart of the Day: Projected SWLRT Boardings circa 2007

  1. Doug TrummDoug Trumm

    That an uptown alignment would only have 27,000 daily boardings by 2040 seems a gross underestimate.

  2. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

    The third thing to mention is that the 3C alignment was criticized as being cost-inefficient. Yet now the same organizations are gung ho about building a line that is equally expensive but will serve less drivers.

  3. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

    As I noted to Brandon on Twitter, it’s a safe bet that 3C’s cost would’ve jumped considerably by now as well, had we gone with that alternative…

    1. Peter Bajurny

      I’d be curious to see (but am too lazy to do it myself, and not even sure it’s possible) an updated estimate for 3C with the newer costs. in the shared sections. My gut tells me that the 1% estimate in a dense already built area is going to be more accurate than in pristine wetlands as well. Though my gut also tells me the 3C ridership numbers were drastically underestimated as well.

      But all that said, for the record, I probably prefer 3A to 3C anyway. But that doesn’t mean that this whole process hasn’t been one entire cockup.

      1. David Greene

        3C would have seen the exact same cost increases as 3A. They share alignments past West Lake.

        1. Peter Bajurny

          But it wouldn’t have seen the cost increases from the shallow tunneling either.

          1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

            We likely would’ve seen higher cost estimates for the wetland area between Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles, as well as for the tunnel under Nicollet.

          2. David Greene

            Which we now know is actually a *decrease* from taking the townhomes.

            Even if the bike trail were moved, I’m not sure we would have avoided takings or a tunnel.

            Obviously 3A would have avoided the need for colocation or relocation of the freight, which is ultimately the real cost issue for 3C. I still say Mn/DOT ought to be paying some of the tunnel cost as it caused the whole mess in the first place. But woulda, coulda, shoulda…

            I understand that 3A has costs that 3C doesn’t. But in the end I don’t think we can say that the two plans are now equivalent in cost. We had 1% engineering for 3C. Who knows what we would have found? Your point about accuracy of estimates in an urban area is a good one but I do wonder what would have happened with the Greenway, Peavy Plaza and Nicollet Mall.

            Bottom line, statements about the alternatives being “equally expensive” are hyperbole without any backing data.

        2. Wayne

          At least with 3C they already had costs of tunneling in the plan, instead of throwing in a $300MM+ tunnel through the woods as an ‘oopsie’ afterthought.

  4. Doug TrummDoug Trumm

    I readily admit that the 3C would see some of the cost increases that afflicted 3A. But do you really think the 3C corridor would have only been sitting at 27,000 daily ridership by 2040? The Green Line has already blown past its 2030 goal of 27,000 and has reached 41,000:

    The Met Council et al severely underestimate and undersell urban lines. My guess is the cost per rider would have been better under 3C, possibly by a wide margin. Did they factor the significant growth that Uptown has already seen since they did the study? They really have to revise their models given the way the Green Line has crushed forecasts.

    1. Doug TrummDoug Trumm

      Sorry blown past its first-year projection and flirted with its 2030 projection of 41,000 by hitting 37,000. But still..

    2. Anders ImbodenAnders Imboden

      I’m also trying to remember if the ridership projections for SWLRT included park-and-rides in Minneapolis at that point — something the City has no appetite for in practice and had to shoot down as part of the EIS process (right?). This would’ve also skewed things (remember 1,000+ boardings at 21st Street every day?). This all gets at what Brendon talked about in his post about the need for us to open up the “black box” of transportation planning a bit.

      1. Jeanette Colby

        Yes, at that time there were Minneapolis park-and-rides in the plan, including at 21st Street. The estimate for boardings and alightings at 21st Street is now nearly 1,600 daily. The Met Council says the great majority of these will be walk-up and bike-up: “[R]idership at 21st Street Station in 2030 will come primarily from the Kenilworth and Kenwood neighborhoods east of Cedar Lake, and also the neighborhood on the northeastern edge of Lake of the Isles, including blocks leading toward Franklin Avenue.” (Source: E-mail from Sophia Ginis, SPO Community Outreach Coordinator)

        1. Anders ImbodenAnders Imboden

          That’s weird. Wasn’t the number the same with the park-and-ride? Seems hard to believe that the same number of people would ride with a P&R as without, especially in an extremely low density residential area.

          …and if I’m not mistaken, that was the same number of estimated boardings/alightings as the Uptown/Hennepin station, or darn close. (Yes, I know, the concept was that everyone would take the 6 because it’s more “direct” downtown — ignoring the time savings, reliability, and reverse-commute benefits of the LRT only in this station’s case.)

    3. Wayne

      As someone else here said on another post, they overestimate suburban ridership and underestimate urban ridership. So it’s a good bet the numbers for EP will be lower than forecasted for a while, but if they’d built it through uptown those would have blown the estimates out of the water and more than made up for it. As it is now I doubt the extension will ever come close to doing even as well as the original blue line.

  5. Nick

    I don’t think the 3C numbers would have gone up as much as everyone here believes. While there is a lot of development around Uptown station, the time savings relative to the 6 (6 would have remained to serve Hennepin Ave, not much time gain due to indirect SWLRT route) would not have moved enough people to walk the extra distance to a station at Hennepin & the Greenway. The biggest ridership gain in the urban area would have more likely been from the Nicollet and Lake area where a time gain would have been significant. Urban don’t seem to benefit from rail bias (real or perceived) to motivate people on mode choice – time rules. As a result, 3C was just as imperfect as 3A. Now, if the tunnel had been proposed under Hennepin instead of Nicollet, with additional stations at 25th-ish and Franklin-ish, that would’ve probably been a very different story.

    1. David Greene

      That’s basically exactly what the AA study determined. 3C wasn’t much of an improvement over buses.

      With 3A we now have the possibility for a truly useful urban rail route in Midtown.

      I think it is absolutely critical to push for upgrades on Hennepin/Lyndale, Nicollet, Chicago, etc. Much of that is in various stages of planning. But I don’t think rail in any of those corridors makes sense without an exclusive ROW and that pretty much means tunneling. The Big T puts us in New Starts land and without a major (and I mean MAJOR) upgrade in transit funding, the Big T isn’t going to happen any time soon, I’m afraid.

    2. Alex BaumanAlex Bauman

      I’ve always been agnostic about 3A vs 3C myself (going back to 2007 when I first started working on SWLRT), but what you say is not true. SWLRT would have been saved 10 minutes vs the 6 and 15 minutes vs the 17 from Uptown Station, and 10 minutes versus the 4 from 28th & Lyndale. That 10 minutes means 2-4 blocks of walking, and when you factor in increased reliability on top of it, you can’t realistically argue that it wouldn’t have drawn significantly from existing bus riders. As Doug Trumm notes above, the AA ridership numbers were deeply flawed. I agree with those who say that 3C would have also seen significant cost escalations, but a more reasonable ridership projection would also have been enormously higher.

      Where do you get this notion that rail bias isn’t a factor in urban areas? That’s not what we’ve seen on Hiawatha?

      1. Nick

        What would Hiawatha’s ridership be without P&R’s, planned vs. actal? I don’t know the numbers, but I’m guessing someone here does.

        I’ll admist that rail bias comments are based on my observations from living or spending condsiderable time in in a few different cities with subway/commuter rail access (NYC metro, Chicago area), so nothing from a ‘peer’ metro area. NY, specifically NJ Transit and various private bus lines, carry substantial traffic on buses parallel to rail lines because the time cost of being on a bus in traffic doesn’t seem to balance the additional effort to get to and park at a commuter rail station.

        1. Wayne

          I can throw some anecdata about reverse commuters heading south during rush hour and pretty full trains where everyone got on close to downtown where there are no park and rides, but I’m not sure it would be meaningful. I suspect that while the P&Rs add to the ridership numbers, their impact is pretty much limited by the number of parking spots. How many spots are there altogether and how full are they generally? I’m betting that maybe gets you a few thousand riders, tops. Everyone else has to be arriving some other way. What’s the blue line’s ridership like these days? 20k or more?

          1. David Greene

            I suspect you’re grossly underestimating ridership from park & rides. We did a major upgrade to 28th Ave.

            I know, models, blah blah blah but tweaking park & ride capacity has a large effect on SWLRT ridership.

            I too would like to know Hiawatha’s numbers vs. projections, particularly at the park & rides. Overall ridership was grossly underestimated but it would be useful to break it down by station.

            Even so, the results wouldn’t really apply to modeling of SWLRT or Central since the models were updated to take rail bias into account after Hiawatha opened.

            1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

              But, is the rider you have to pay day in and day out to park at your expensive structured park & ride really a rider you want? I’m not convinced (see Dirthy Truth Behind Park & Rides math).

              1. David Greene

                I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with you, I’m just pointing out that park & rides affect ridership more than Wayne seems to think.

      2. Doug TrummDoug Trumm

        The other big piece missing from the analysis is what the Green Line extension does for the existing Green Line, i.e. does it create a dynamic line with destinations spread throughout. Eat Street, Midtown, Uptown, and another CARAG stop is much better at that goal that getting at that oh so coveted destination of Lake of the Isles,/Cedar Lake parkland and mansionland. I suspect a 3C alignment could see the whole Green Line push 100,000 daily ridership by 2040 due to how big of draw uptown and midtown would be for people at all points on the line.

        Instead we get a line that is slightly faster but still rather 2-hours-y downtown Saint Paul to Eden Prairie, a thing almost no one would routinely do. 3A might actually struggle to reach its modest 26,000 in 2040 target. Also importantly, it will be a drag on the existing line. The lopsided line will be inefficient and drive up operating costs due to dead spots in the middle causing a lot of mostly empty trains.

        Maybe if Van White turns into an urbanist oasis they’ll get there. But there are real users we could be serving rather than being content with our suburban slanted dreamland paradigm.

        1. Peter Bajurny

          Well yeah, but 3C wouldn’t be a green line extension then, 3C was going to intersect perpendicularly with the current spine, not interline with it.

          1. Doug TrummDoug Trumm

            Oh yeah I forgot they weren’t going to interline 3C with the Green Line. Seems silly. What was too sharp of a turn or something? I don’t get it.

        2. Monte Castleman

          Would transferring from the Green Line to whatever we call a 3C SWLRT (The Yellow Line? Purple Line?)to get from St. Paul to Eat Streat be much better than transferring to the Nicollet Streetcar? Does that outweigh the benefits of making people from Hopkins and points southwest transfer from the “Yellow Line” to get to destinations on the Green Line, like Target center or the U of M?

          1. Doug TrummDoug Trumm

            I guess they’d be similar situations in a non-interlining 3C scenario, but it does necessitate two more 250 million dollar projects that 3C would at least delay the need for. Granted getting the Midtown LRT, if it happens, could be the start of a full route No. 21 LRT/Street car thing which would be nice to get off the ground.

            I’m starting to wish I was more agnostic about the line like Alex Bauman so I stop trying to piece together the breadcrumbs Hennepin County leave us to their opaque thought processes and assumptions.

    3. Wayne

      While I agree that rail bais in urban areas is much less important than time savings, I disagree that time savings from uptown and lynlake would not have been significant. Grade-separation and dedicated ROW would make a huge difference in time between uptown station and downtown during rush hour. I’m assuming you probably have sat in at least a few buses crawling along Hennepin or Lyndale during rush hour and cursed your existence, just like I have. If you live at Franklin and Hennepin, sure you won’t see much of a difference. But the further south and closer to lake you get the more the advantage is magnified, and with all the construction of new housing down there the population density is really increasing. All of that is discounting the importance of the uptown/lynlake area being a commercial destination that draws plenty of traffic on its own and would surely account for a decent chunk of ridership.

      1. David Greene

        I suspect it matters very much where in downtown you’re going. If your destination is Nicollet Mall, I could believe the time savings would be significant. But what about something like 9th & Hennepin. I’m not sure 3C would be all that much faster than the 6, factoring in walk time.

        Granted, during really bad rush hours the 6 gets bogged down but I’ll still contend 3A + an upgrade to the 6 + Midtown is a better investment than 3C. You get far better quality transit coverage.

        1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

          Okay, except outcomes matter. The system is still giving us an outcome where Hennepin Ave aBRT (not even the 6 mind you, which runs all the way to Southdale and extends past downtown to the U) nor Midtown are funded or prioritized. So..

          Besides, if we’re talking transit coverage, you could make the case that every single bus line in our system should get aBRT treatment (but with 1/4 mile stop spacing rather than the 0.3-0.5 mile spacing proposed for most of aBRT lines)?What would that cost (ignoring restructuring routes)? No more than $1.5-2 billion would be my guess. The cost of one SWLRT, for sure less than SWLRT + NWLRT. My guess is it would be better for net job accessibility as well. But we’re not looking at that option because politics+federal funding.

          1. David Greene

            That’s a false choice. We can in fact do all of these things. We simply choose not to. And yes, politics is at the center of it. I’m not sure the politics would favor 3C or anything else either.

            We really need to stop pitting one transit project against another. It just hurts our overall cause. Why in the world would we NOT go to decision makers and demand everything we want?

            1. Anders ImbodenAnders Imboden

              “Why in the world would we NOT go to decision makers and demand everything we want?”

              Because political capital, just like financial capital, is a finite resource. Prioritization will happen whether we like it or not, and if we don’t make ‘our’ priorities clear (e.g., supporting transit improvements for the most dependent and transit-supportive areas first)… well, you get projects like SWLRT while others languish or are rolled out piecemeal.

              1. David Greene

                I look at the transit-reliant thing like this. SWLRT will serve some population of North Minneapolis. There is strong disagreement about how big that population is but I think everyone agrees at least SOME residents there will use it.

                Midtown can reach a similar trasit-reliant population in South Minneapolis. 3C would leave both North and a large part of South out of the picture. To me, from a transit-reliant service level, two lines are better than one.

                And of course Midtown will hit a lot of those transit-supportive areas.

                No, Midtown’s not a guarantee but I’d be surprised if Metro Transit didn’t pursue it once they’re done with SWLRT.

                1. Anders ImbodenAnders Imboden

                  You could have 50 lines, but that’s irrelevant — it’s about service for riders, not concrete and railroad tracks.

                  3C serving Whittier and NW Lyndale would’ve provided a reliable and fast downtown and suburban connection to many more lower-income and transit-dependent communities than the very tenuous Royalston plan. Midtown would be nice but it’s not the same level of benefit (especially lacking reliable and fast N/S connections to downtown). And in any case, transit east of Nicollet on the Midtown Greenway (or on Lake St) would’ve still been an option.

  6. Nick

    That rush hour issue is only for limited hours of the day. There are enough hours of the day where boarding a bus and 26th and Hennepin would still be faster than walking to Uptown Stn and taking a train all the way to Nicollet, then around to Royalston, and finally to 5th & Hennepin.

    Routing 3C along Nicollet would have given more time advantage, but then you add a lot more cost.

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