Planned Light Rail Extensions Dodge Car-Free Workers

southwest light rail rendering

A Southwest Light Rail rendering.

We’re planning extensions to our light rail transit system in the Twin Cities! The Southwest Extension will bring the Green Line down to Eden Prairie, and the Bottineau Extension will send Blue Line service up to a Target corporate headquarters and a greenfield in Brooklyn Park. The price of the two projects was projected to be $2.5 billion last year, but now they’re expected to cost $3.5 billion. Maybe this is a problem that arises from demanding cost estimates when engineering is 1 percent complete. Maybe this doesn’t matter because we have the federal government paying half the cost. Maybe, as Nick Magrino has suggested from time to time, it’s a good opportunity to evaluate the way we plan transit projects in the Twin Cities.

One thing I think transit projects should do is serve workers who don’t have cars. It’s good business, because Metro Transit can collect a lot of fares. It’s fair, because carlessness is correlated with low socioeconomic status. If we knew where the car-free workers lived, we could see efficient and equitable locations for stations.

So, where are the highest concentrations of car-free workers?


I took American Community Survey data (2013 5-year estimates) that showed the number of vehicles available by number of workers in the household. I used this data to find households with more workers than vehicles. I used simple calculations to determine the number of car-free workers in each household. For example, a household with three workers and one car has two car-free workers, and a household with one worker and no car has one car-free worker. These calculations gave me estimates of the number of car-free workers by census tract. I plotted this information on a map, and divided the number of car-free workers by the land area of the census tract. I expressed this concentration with a choropleth map. Then I placed the proposed routes of the Blue Line and Green Line extensions on top.


Here’s the map (and here’s the PDF):

light rail car-free workers map

Plan ’em where they ain’t: planned light rail extensions skirt concentrations of car-free workers.

The highest concentration of car-free workers is in Minneapolis immediately south of downtown, between Hennepin Avenue and I-35 W. This includes the Loring Park, Stevens Square, Lowry Hill East, and Whittier neighborhoods. Besides a tract near the Crystal airport and two tracts in Robbinsdale, which have a moderate concentration of carless workers, there are no significant concentrations of car-free workers outside the borders of Minneapolis. Within Minneapolis, the light rail extension routes follow the lowest concentration of car-free workers.


Is it worth it? I don’t know. There are reasons that building light rail in areas where car-free workers live is difficult and expensive. Highly populated areas have lots of traffic and construction disrupts the lives of the many people who live and work there. Land values are higher in densely populated areas. Do these obstacles justify routes that fail to serve people who don’t drive?

Scott Shaffer

About Scott Shaffer

Scott Shaffer works for a nonprofit community development corporation in Minneapolis. He has a master's degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Minnesota. He and his wife live in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood with their daughter and two Siamese cats.