When We Walk In Fields Of Gold

Officials recently announced the preferred routing for the eastern segment of Gateway Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), with proposed branding as the METRO Gold Line.

Cedar Avenue is very wide now, able to maintain a 2+1+2 configuration even with half the road surface under construction.

BRT funds at work in Apple Valley

Like the Red Line running between Mall of America and Apple Valley, this will give suburban Park & Ride users a one-seat ride to a secondary job core and a two-seat ride to our region’s primary job center. Unlike the Red Line which runs on Cedar Avenue (a freeway which turns into a stroad in Apple Valley), the Gold Line is proposed to run on secondary and frontage roads rather than Interstate 94. Just as with the Red Line, which used transit capital dollars to significantly expand automobile capacity and reduce long-term replacement liabilities for automobile infrastructure in the corridor, infrastructure opportunists have already taken advantage of the Gold Line to push for unnecessary projects.

Will the Gold Line be akin to the Blue or Green Lines but for the rubber tires? Join me on a virtual tour of the newly-announced preferred corridor, heading east from I-494.

Helmo Avenue, Oakdale

While this station area is currently half surrounded by fields at the moment, that may surely change. Other than fields, the station area is largely surrounded by warehouses and other structures scaled to the movement of semi trucks, and a few townhome developments with a hierarchical roadway network inherently problematic for transit station walkability. Walkscore: 22

Inwood Avenue, Oakdale

This station is between Oak Marsh Golf Course and the back side of the Oakdale Village Shopping Center. You can walk to the backside of Buffalo Wild Wings or Sport Clips. Walkscore: 26

Keats Avenue, Lake Elmo

Interestingly enough, this station isn’t at Keats Avenue, its dot on the map is a over a half mile west along the I-94 frontage road. Imagine leaving a Saints game expecting to catch a bus at Mears Park, but you have to walk west to Wabasha to the actual bus stop. But you have to walk on the shoulder of a high-speed frontage road between a farm field and a freeway. Walkscore: 8

Settlers Ridge Parkway, Woodbury

This country corner has a four way stop surrounded by four farm fields. Seriously. Not making this up. Walkscore: A Generous 4

Manning Avenue Park & Ride, Lake Elmo

Well, at least we’re being honest here with the station name… This is drive-up transit rather than walk-up transit. We’ll buy ridership with expensive parking spaces provided for free. Walkscore: 0

48 thoughts on “When We Walk In Fields Of Gold

  1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    Makes the Red Line look pretty good by comparison, doesn’t it? I actually considered taking the Red Line on Saturday to go visit the new outlet mall at Cedar Grove, but upon seeing it only runs every 30 minutes on weekends, it didn’t seem worth the bother. Funny how something can both be part of the “METRO” trunk system, yet run less frequently than the non-hi-frequency local route by my house.

    I look forward to the opening of the Orange Line — the first BRT line with really high-quality, useful station areas. Especially if they make the southern terminus in the Heart of the City rather than across the Sibley Highway. I also believe they’re planning 8-10 minute frequency.

    1. Max

      I’m the new Community Engagement Coordinator for the METRO Orange Line. I am a transit dependent rider and I agree that the Orange Line will be awesome.
      We estimate that the service will be 10 minute frequency during rush hour, 15 minute frequency during the mid-day, and 1/2 hour frequency late night. It will run between 5am and 12am approximately. Weekend frequency will probably be about every 15 minutes.

      The Burnsville station location is still up in the air, more on that someday.

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        So it will be a “hi frequency” route at that frequency, correct?

        Still isn’t quite “light rail on rubber wheels”, considering that the blue and green lines run 10 minutes pretty much all day long, but I’m glad to see the frequency stays up on weekends.

        The 535 is a great route from Richfield and Bloomington already, but limited frequency and lack of night/weekend service don’t make it super practical for a lot of downtown access.

        1. Max Holdhusen

          Good question, it will be a “hi-frequency” route, but with less service than the Green Line and Blue Line.

      2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        Would also be great to hear more details about the trade-offs with the Burnsville sites. I know that the transit station has the benefit of better connections to the local transit system.

        But I went out to Heart of the City a couple weeks ago, and it was a beautiful neighborhood, almost everything really well-done and feels really, functionally, walkable. But crossing the Sibley Highway was a miserable gut-punch. It’s hard to picture someone doing that to access Red Line.

  2. helsinki

    Hmm, I didn’t realize it was this bad.

    Why is this happening again? Doesn’t really have much to do with transit, does it.

  3. Lyssa

    This is the project I work on. All of the cornfield areas are within the urban service area and will develop (as projected in Met Council’s and local plans). Transit is getting the cities and land owners to think differently about how development can happen. Instead of trying to fit transit into already developed, auto-oriented places, the decision makers wanted to set up areas that will develop in the future to develop around transit. Specifically at the Manning Ave station in Woodbury, there is one land owner with hundreds of acres. Where else in the Twin Cities (or the nation) can you find one land owner with that much land and is 100% in for TOD? It could be a very unique opportunity.
    The walk scores clearly look wonky on paper but this project is intended to provide all-day transit service between St. Paul and Lake Elmo/Woodbury to areas that are already developed and areas that will be developed in the future.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele Post author

      I realize you have to toe a line because of what decision makers have decided. But that’s just ridiculous.
      1. We do need to think differently about how development can happen. At a bigger scale. Not greenfield at Manning Ave. Why would someone without a car ever live there, instead of an existing place?
      2. What’s the point of greenfield TOD when we have TOD without adequate transit today?
      3. Show me a place with one land owner where good incremental urbanism has developed. Anywhere in this country. “Good bones” for walkable urbanism, the kind that’s compatible with transit, necessitates small parcels. Hundreds of acres should be subdivided into thousands of parcels, with a form-based code and a walkable grid.

      Not to mention that Lake Elmo has taken an official stance against development. Even of the auto-oriented crap kind.

    2. Scott Merth

      I’m curious about the difference in projected ridership between running a new BRT line out to existing commercial nodes (the currently developed auto-oriented ones you mention) and the planned, currently undeveloped, sites that this article points out. Is there public access to this information? What sort of analysis goes into deciding to run a line to a potential future node vs. a productive developed node?

      There’s also the theory that this won’t break people away from their cars at all due to the fact that they will need a car to get to both the new stations (see the walkscores) AND the already developed auto-oriented places.

      I hope these don’t seem to harsh, as I still view this project as a step forward (I’m glad there will be fewer people driving all the way to downtown, etc). But for me, it’s a question of how many steps forward we want to take. Thank you for commenting.

  4. Matt SteeleMatt Steele Post author

    There’s still opportunity to provide public comment on this, per the Finance & Commerce article (first link in post).

    We’d be far better off without Washington County in the CTIB. They can keep their money, and we can take the $20+ million other counties are subsidizing projects in Washington County and use it for something like an aBRT line in neighborhoods that support transit through their land use but are transit starved.

    The failure of regionalism.

    1. jeffk

      I’ve come to have mixed feelings on regionalism. On one hand, without any cohesive strategy you can end up with a real mess. I’m imagining getting off the green line at the St. Paul border to transfer to a different system. But the downsides are becoming apparent: the region keeps gobbling up corn fields and the exurbs become the tail that wags the dog.

      1. Wayne

        In Minnesota “Regionalism” means another way to shovel money to the suburbs to prop up their failing development model, not having a cohesive strategy–unless you consider subsidizing suburban growth a strategy, and even then it’s not something you should be using transit for.

  5. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    A more interesting question is what can we do to fix the Sun Ray Mall and will it actually happen or will the planners and cities let the strip mall owners walk all over them?

    The key to whether this line ends up “good or bad” (relatively speaking) lies in the Sun Ray, Earl St, and 3M stations, at least for the near future.

    1. Wayne

      Really they just needed to beef up service to the sunray/3m area, anything past there is pretty stupid to run high frequency transit to. I’m betting when this gets built (not if … if is reserved for things we actually need) the ridership will be good to about 3M and then drop off massively for the remaining meander through the fields.

      1. John Charles Wilson

        I could actually see this working to Inwood and then branching south into Woodbury to cover the retail areas south of I-94. The Manning branch could then be express from Inwood and the Keats and Settlers Ridge stations cancelled, or at least deferred until there actually is a there there.

        However, I question whether all this BRT infrastructure is really needed. Wouldn’t an all-day, somewhat frequent limited-stop bus route be good enough? Maybe some of the bypass roads for buses only through the Etna mess and the Sun Ray areas would be needed for a coherent route but that’s about all.

  6. Keith Morris

    I like how high frequency, high quality mass transit is being reserved for those who maybe might live near these stations if developers possibly build a whole lot of new buildings nearby. Meanwhile, we could be building an extension from Westgate Station down University to Dinkytown and Central/Hennepin where lots of people live and more dense developments are being built with another stop at 13th and then Lowry: way more people there now and more than there ever will be out there.

  7. Wayne

    Seriously why are we still doing this garbage subsidizing of greenfield development? To appease counties that barely contribute anything to the pool of transit funds in the CTIB?

    Whenever I see something about this or most of the rest of the current lines being planned it makes me seethe with anger about how the transit money is being shoveled hand over fist to build nice things for places that either don’t want it or don’t need it. We’re throwing good money after bad to try to rescue and prop up the suburban development model while places that could actually use (and desperately need) good transit get the same status quo of inadequate service year after year.

    If they had better priorities and were planning on actual transit investment in places that can support it I might consider remaining here, but this place has its priorities so backwards that I’m trying to accelerate my timeline for leaving the state.

      1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele Post author

        As John Anderson said at the Small Developer Bootcamp in Texas last weekend, “We don’t need to build Paris, we just need to build a noticeably less crappier version of America.”

      1. Wayne

        No no, they don’t exist yet. But if we lavish money on those non-places there’s a very slight chance they might be less terrible when they do exist!

        ) :

  8. Keith Morris

    I think it’s really up to the cities to take the initiative and opt out however they can. The suburbs haven’t and won’t subsidize quality transit for us, so why are we going to subsidize it for them and only them?

    1. Wayne

      I love how the paternalistic state laws block so many levels of self-determination on a local scale here. It shackles the cities to systems that abuse them and ignore their needs.

  9. Pingback: What’s the Actual Cost of Amtrak’s Trans-Hudson Gateway Project? | Streetsblog.net

  10. Lyssa

    Lets take the CTIB and regionalism arguments off the table (because that is a different issue..) and talk about why the route ended up in the fields of gold..the line on the map was decided because of cost, ridership, and development opportunity. The line was originally planned to run through the existing (auto oriented) areas in Woodbury but the property owners and city made it clear that those ares would not redevelop or have infill for a long time but they could plan for better TOD in areasthat will develop by 2030. Lake Elmo came to the table and said they want transit and the property owner near Manning in Woodbury is also at the table for TOD.
    I am all for trying to stop sprawl and to increase density and transit inside the beltway. The fields of gold outside the beltway will have sewer by 2030 or 40 and will develop. This project is shedding a new light on what development could be in these communities around stations. We are already starting station planning with all the communities (St. Paul is taking on their own effort). I am more than happy to talk more in depth about all the efforts around this project to ensure that it is not a line to fields of gold (although I do love a good Sting reference).
    I absolutely understand the arguments against this project that people are putting forth here but I get frustrated by judgments that aren’t based on fact. The comments specially about Lake Elmo are very inaccurate. Some of this is on our team to make sure we put better info out there about the decision making.
    There is a comment period going on right now (more info about this will be on the website on Monday) about the routing through Woodbury/Lake Elmo. There will also be a public hearing on Sept 10. I am the person who reads/responds to the Gateway email address and calls that come from stakeholders. Feel free to reach out and I can go over more detailed info.
    Sorry for the slightly jumbled comments…I’m typing this from my phone.

    1. helsinki

      “The fields of gold outside the beltway will have sewer by 2030 or 40 and will develop.”

      Why is this the case? Or, rather, why does this need to be the case?

      Unless the development pressures here are intense (which, I don’t think they are) this does not seem like prime land for residential construction, particularly not of the transit-oriented variety (BRT notwithstanding).

      Greenfield development and investing in quality transit are largely antithetical. The development pattern and ridership base exist elsewhere and are currently underserved. Why artificially stimulate demand at great expense when demand already exists and is not being met?

      Presumably, the answer is that political imperatives (driven by regionalism – can’t be taken off the table) are driving design. This is unfortunate. There are a lot of low-hanging fruit out there to add customer base to Metro Transit operations (urban aBRT, increased frequency on high volume routes, etc). The Gold Line is not one of these, but rather a low-return investment, particularly when considering how undeveloped land near MSP is a resource worth preserving in it’s own right.

    2. Wayne

      So were the priorities in this order?: Cost, development, ridership

      Because if ridership were an actual concern this route would have been DOA. Subsidizing new development in the suburbs and doing it as cheaply as possible seems to be the M.O. for transit planning here, as evidenced by pretty much every line currently being planned. Why can’t we put ridership at the top of the priority list? Why can’t we get reliability for current transit-dependent populations as a top priority? Why is the only thing anyone seems to care about making it easier for suburban commuters when it takes them less time to travel 10-20 miles than it does for people who live a couple miles from work to get across town on the bus?

      So more specifically to this line: Why does it even go out past 3M? Nothing beyond there can actually support transit ridership to justify this investment. It’s a giveaway to land owners so they can charge more when they eventually sell their land to developers who will build the same kind of un-walkable crap that exists everywhere else around there. It’s going to happen one way or another, and I see no reason to use public funds to increase their profit margin. If they develop it in a way that can support transit then by all means extend it then, but the ‘if you build it they will maybe come and hopefully do something compatible’ thing is stupid when we have existing needs going unmet elsewhere.

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        I could kind of go either way on this argument, but Lyssa’s point of changing the picture of new greenfield development is a good one.

        By building transit, we may be subsidizing, but aren’t we subsidizing some of the best aspects of possible new development? Lots of crappy development is built without high-quality transit — or any transit at all.

        If we don’t build things like the Gold Line, the greenfield development will still happen, only it will be sprawlier and without alternatives to driving. If we do, the new development might still not be ideal, but at least there becomes a desire to do some level of TOD.

        If we could simply concentrate new growth in existing built areas, that would be a bigger win in my book — but doing so would require stronger regionalism and growth boundaries we don’t have today.

        1. Wayne

          If we actually had money going towards the kinds of things Helsinki and I pointed out to address existing concerns, I’d be all for something like the gold line to steer suburban development in the right direction.

          But we don’t. The allocation of scarce resources should have better priorities and using it on something like this should be a ‘nice to have’ after you’ve taken care of the important things, not something you rush into right away while ignoring the rest of your needs.

          1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

            That’s probably true, but I guess I have no sense of what the equity is in terms of what counties are getting back from CTIB. We can’t expect the collar counties to pay in and get nothing in return — even if transit improvements are actually more urgently needed in central areas.

            Any data about what the balance is for funding sources and expenditures in the CTIB counties?

            1. Wayne

              What they get in return are slightly more usable streets when they inevitably come into the city for something. If they think park and rides for commuters 20 miles out of downtown are the only purpose of transit they can kindly leave the CTIB.

              Also, so we can’t expect them to pay and get ‘nothing’ in return, but we can expect the city to pay and pay and pay for infrastructure in the rest of the metro and state? Pretty sure more than a few of my dollars go to highways in places I’ll never be. Actually more of my dollars go to that than to things I actually use, so yeah.

        2. helsinki

          “the greenfield development will still happen”

          Is this necessarily true? Even if demand for exurban living is strong (anecdote and data suggest it is waning), cornfields are only valuable insofar as they are within reasonable proximity of desirable amenities.

          I would argue that not building these amenities in the first place will at least disincentivize – and may even prevent – the needless gobbling of agricultural land for our wasteful ‘growth machine’.

          1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

            I guess I’d look at it this way: there are desirable (from an urbanist perspective) things that could go in a new greenfield, as well as auto-oriented, less desirable types of things (say, half-acre lots, oversized homes that residents won’t be able to maintain, dead-end streets)

            With no amenities, you’re probably not going to get either. Transit service has at least the potential to attract desirable things — dense, mixed-use, multi-family, etc. Freeways, interchanges, wide collector roads, and perhaps retail centers anchored by convenient big boxes are also amenities, yet they’re probably more likely to attract some of the auto-oriented things.

            So your argument seems like a good one — but I think it would be better aimed at the categories of amenities that attract dispersed, auto-oriented land use.

            1. Wayne

              But there’s zero guarantee that this transit investment will lead to anything more progressive than standard sprawlscape. It seems a pretty big gamble to throw your money at something that *might* maybe if we’re lucky *someday* make some ‘inevitable’ development slightly less bad.

            2. helsinki

              I agree in part; the infrastructure facilitating auto-oriented sprawl (sewer, water, roads) seems less questionable to oppose.

              At the same time, this bus project (preposterously elevated to a ‘Line’, like Würzburg becoming an electorate of the Holy Roman Empire for like a year) is a major investment. It might induce some development with a few good design principles, but any value such urbanism might intrinsically possess is immediately outweighed by the remote location (and driving that this necessitates – let’s not fool ourselves that everyone’s going to take this bus aside from work commuters, and work commuters are just a portion of all trips). At best it could aspire to be like Victoria Gardens in the California’s inland empire: walkable, but in the middle of nowhere.

    3. Joe ScottJoe Scott

      “the property owner near Manning in Woodbury is also at the table for TOD”

      Someone who owns rural land is “at the table” for a free sewer line and a rezoning so they can sell it for way more money? Nah, probably just a genuine appreciation for walkable urbanism.

      1. Wayne

        Ding Ding Ding! He’s today’s winner on the subsidy lottery! What’s Farmer Joe gonna do will that increased land value via infrastructure subsidy? Probably retire to Wisconsin or Florida.

  11. Patrick

    For such a beautiful sport, it will ALWAYS get ruined by a few (or many) people who find it better to cheat. So, to avoid further issues, we have to continue down the road of dopers being caught and reprimanded. Sponsors need to understand that it is not a representation of them, but of the rider and the staff that support that rider. So the sport must continue, and JV needs to buckle up and be prepared for his past to always haunt him. He should not make stupid comments like this when he knows there are people he will not always be able to control.

Comments are closed.