Wye Not?

Imagine arriving at the Mall of America light rail station and seeing trains for both downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul, and not waiting 20 years until the Riverview Corridor is built.

When the Hiawatha Line (today’s Blue Line) opened in 2004, it had service every 7.5 minutes (8 trains per hour). [As of this writing, Wikipedia still thinks it does]. Today it has service every 10 minutes (6 trains per hour). In exchange, service was transformed from to 3 car instead of 2 car trains. Most transit riders I know would prefer the more frequent service (most auto users of course prefer fewer trains, as that means fewer problems at traffic signals).

Engineering sketch of Cedar-Riverside Wye Junction.

Engineering sketch of Cedar-Riverside Wye Junction.

When the Central Corridor (today’s Green Line) was proposed, it was to have “16 trains per hour“, i.e. service every 7.5 minutes in each direction. Today it has service every 10 minutes. The bottleneck, we are told, is downtown Minneapolis, where the lines come together, providing train service every 5 minutes.

However most users of the Green and Blue Lines are not going downtown. Many are going to other destinations along the line. That is what keeps them in business. In fact, many riders transfer from the Green Line to the Blue Line (and vice versa) at Downtown East.

Suppose in addition to today’s service MetroTransit provided one more service, let’s call it the Cyan Line,* running from St. Paul to Bloomington, requiring very little additional construction and no additional train cars (if we are willing to reduce the number of cars per train), that did not further congest the critical points in downtown Minneapolis.

MetroTransit could add about 3 trains per hour (one more train every 20 minutes) with no additional cars if each train went from 3 car to 2 car length, for a total of nine trains per hour (92 = 63). Alternatively, they could just buy more cars (To achieve the “High-Frequency Network” designation, there would need to be 4 trains per hour in each direction, though since the lines already have service, I am not sure this is required).

To achieve this, MetroTransit would need to construct the small section illustrated in the figure (map). This Wye Junction would take very little land in Currie Park, and quite possibly no buildings. Some park land would need to be replaced. (I see some nearby surface parking that would be suitable, if not land bridges/interstate lids/freeway caps.)

What the Cyan Line service (shown in figure 2) achieves is not so much direct access from St. Paul to Bloomington, which would be a very long trip (on the order of an hour), but direct access for other Green Line origins (destinations) like the University of Minnesota to Blue Line destinations (origins) like South Minneapolis, the Airport, and the Mall of America.

Metro Transit Diagram with Cyan Line added

Metro Transit Diagram with Cyan Line added

Shorter distance trips on the same line (e.g. from Lake Street to the VA, from Snelling Avenue to downtown St. Paul) would also see increased service. Once eastbound on the Green Line at West Bank, it changes from Cyan to Green Line designation since they share a common destination. Once southbound on the Blue Line it changes from Cyan to Blue Line designation .**

As we know, transit is a positive feedback system. Cut back the service, and ridership drops. Lose more riders, cut more service. This works in both directions. Add service, ridership increases. Ridership increases justify more service. Over the long run, land use patterns change.

How much will this cost? I don’t know, but this is in practice a really short section, so I am guessing on the order of $10 million in initial construction. Additional costs for trainsets and labor as needed.  The Minneapolis-St. Paul region needs to be more creative about the services provided. I am suggesting build the Wye and run 3 Cyan Line trains per hour for a few years. If it works, expand it. If in fact long distance trips from Bloomington to St. Paul are using it, it provides justification for the Riverview Corridor. With a Riverview Corridor, the Cyan Line could be extended along that new track (with additional Wyes where the Riverview meets the Green and Blue lines, respectively), and be transformed into a Circle (or in this case, Triangular) Line.  If not, the region has lost very little.





  • Many of the more common colors are spoken for, Cyan is the mixture of Blue and Green.

** Granted stopping at both West Bank station and at Cedar-Riverside Station is not ideal, it is no worse than what happens at much less used stations in Bloomington.

37 thoughts on “Wye Not?

  1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

    I can see two reasons why not:

    A) parkland impacts (probably meaning Section 104(f) investigation/mitigation).

    B) having a track merge on a slope (along the Green Line).

  2. jeffk

    I’d rather see the effort and money go to removing the inexplicable detour around University Ave in Stadium Village, along with one of the redundant stops.

    1. Joey SenkyrJoey Senkyr

      Well, it’s an explicable detour – it lets extremely heavy use from stadium events be managed without wrecking University Ave traffic.

      I agree that it’s a waste of time the other 350ish days per year, though.

    2. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      The other explanation is that some versions of the LRT plan had called for a tunnel under Washington Avenue, which would have presumably begun at that intersection.

      1. Evan RobertsEvan

        People complain about the curve the train takes here, but I think the impact is probably pretty small. As Bill says the train takes the curve it does because of the tunnel plans. But lets think through the alternative world where no tunnel was proposed and the line just turned right from Washington onto University.

        That would be a pretty sharp turn, and the train would slow down there too. So the net effect of the two tight curves on the current layout is not that great. Moreover the train gets to go from Stadium Village to Prospect Park stations with only one traffic light, and the train seems to get signal prioritization there. Wouldn’t have happened so well with the lights at 25th and 27th Avenue where they meet University.

        Second, I’d argue that the station layouts have ended up better with the station placements we have. At Stadium Village they can close the minor streets there and people spill out to the station. If the station was on University it would be much less functional on big event days.

        The Stadium Village location also takes the station just that crucial bit closer to destinations in the science park, and expands the walkshed of the line just a little bit more.

        Similarly at Prospect Park we have a center platform because the station is not on University. No-ones transferring so it’s not an issue, but I do think the center platforms are better. Fewer TVMs required. It concentrates the ridership in one place and gives more “eyes on the platform” than dispersing the same number of waiting people across two platforms.

        1. jeffk

          It’s four curves vs. one curve, each one agonizingly slow. With the extra stop, it’s got to be 2-3 minutes.

  3. Andrew B

    Redoing Downtown East to be center-platform could help speed up the timing too. It seems like the trains still get blocked a lot during peak as people run between the platforms to transfer lines.

  4. Walker AngellWalker

    I’m kind of surprised they didn’t design it like that to begin with.

    Can these trains run both directions? Pull in to Downtown East from St Paul and then reverse to MOA. IIRC there’s already an x track in place there to handle the switchover. Not as efficient as the Wye but possibly a lot cheaper.

    1. Joey SenkyrJoey Senkyr

      They could, but since the worst of the existing track congestion seems to be caused by a combination of the split and the Chicago/4th intersection, that plan would only exacerbate the problem.

    2. Xan

      DT East station is a railroad bridge over a parking garage. It is what it is. Changing it would be very complicated.

  5. Matt Brillhart

    Presumably, you’d want this line to operate with at least 15-minute headways (4 trains per hour). I think most transit planners would agree that if you had those resources available, it would make a lot more sense to increase frequency on the existing Blue and Green Lines, from the current 6 trains per hour (each) to 8 trains per hour, or 7.5-minute headways instead of the current 10.

    The one “advantage” the Cyan Line has is that it doesn’t add any more trains to the already congested “Downtown Commons” section between the football and baseball stadiums. If it could be shown that the 5th St facility could handle the increased frequency on both Blue and Green Lines, then I’d probably opt for that over a new line that doesn’t serve downtown Minneapolis.

  6. TI

    i would expect it to cost far more than $10 million with replaced parkland, significant regrading, likely contamination, complicated track work, train car purchases, signage updates, and all the engineering

  7. Pingback: Wye Not? | streets.mn | Transportationist

  8. sheldon

    Yes. Great engineering solution– only problem is that it just ignores people. Lets lets take park land from the largest concentration of East African immigrants in Minnesota–Just like eliminating the Rondo neighbourhood to build I-94. Also, who is going to ride a LR train for an our (minimum) to get from the airport to downtown Minneapolis?

      1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

        I’m guessing sheldon meant downtown St. Paul instead. Such a wye would provide for a single-seat LRT ride from the airport to downtown St. Paul. Given existing Blue/Green Line schedules, a rough estimate is that it’d be a 51 minute ride from Terminal 1 to SPUD or vice versa.

        1. Monte Castleman

          Well, people commute in cars for an hour. Why not on a train where you can work on your laptop or text on a phone? But I think the point of the article was that it would be useful for other things, like from Snelling and University to the airport, or from Bloomington to the U of M. I’m way too old to think about going “back to school” to finish my degree at this point, but otherwise the train would be an attractive option to get there.

          Now how about a complete aqua “triangle route” when and if Riverview gets built.

          1. Joey SenkyrJoey Senkyr

            Exactly right. Additionally, if this was built, the 54 bus route would still exist and still take <25 min for the DTStP-Airport trip.

          2. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

            Off topic for the thread, but I gotta call “nonsense” on the school thing. I’m 40 and am a full-time college student. There are at least two vets I know here who are 60 and taking classes.

        1. Doug TrummDoug T

          Tiger Jack’s Law indeed. I have no idea how taking a freeway abutting corner of that park compares to ripping a wide gash through the heart of Rondo.

          If this indeeds costs but a few Vikings pedestrian bridges it seems like a nobrainer.

  9. John DeWitt

    The explicable detour.

    With a tunnel under Washington Avenue, there simply wasn’t enough width on University Ave. to bring the the rails to grade – hence the Stadium Village detour. After a bruising battle with the U of M, LRT on the surface of Washington Ave. became the accepted alignment. The U, however, had its heart set on a station at the stadium and no one was willing to start another battle with the U over the station location so the Stadium Village detour endures.

    The detour avoids about a 30 degree turn from Washington to University and adds 4 curves totaling some 230 degrees of curvature. In addition, city plans showed 29th Avenue as being much wider than it actually was. Acquiring the ROW for 2 tracks, 2 car lanes, and a center platform station cost well over $1 million.

  10. David MarkleDavid Markle

    Creative thinking and good discussion, but I think a piercing howl might be heard from Cedar Riverside over the loss of precious Curry Park turf.

    Ah, if only planners and officials had possessed the minimal good sense to insist on tunneling the downtown Minneapolis tracks!

  11. g bernard hughes

    i bike by currie park almost every day & – except for winter – it is always busy. soccer games, picnics, people just hanging out.

    i often find myself, wondering, though abt the 2 train bridges there crossing 94. perhaps following a lake street alignment rather than trying to run 2 trains downtown would have been better. the trains could meet at lake street station & more people getting on & off there to transfer might help with some of the security problems at that station.

    also of course a lake street alignment could extend out to uptown.

    wouldnt pass any stadia, though, which serms to be a critical requirement for transit planning.

  12. GlowBoy

    Another problem with tight turns is noise. When LRTs have to make tight turns their wheels make piercing screams, a major complaint on Portland’s westside where the Red and Blue lines make a tight turn just outside the Sunset station. That’s on the second light rail line built in Portland (20 years ago), and I think they’ve made efforts to increase turning radii as they’ve built subsequent lines.

    That said, as a South Minneapolis resident (though 4 miles from the Blue Line) I like the idea of being able to use the same track to access multiple locations without transferring. And I’m comfortable with the idea of multiple “lines” sharing the same trackway for some distance, a common situation in Portland.

    I’d call it “Turquoise” rather than “Cyan,” FWIW.

  13. Anders Bloomquist

    A couple other commentators referenced this, but while I like the idea of looking for small fixes to smooth out our transit, ultimately this seems like a (still) expensive solution to something for which a solution already exists.

    That solution is the 54, the 74 and the 84.

    While I want a revamp of the Riverview Corridor as much as anyone, the 54 as is stands as a better than decent example of transit placement and coverage. The 74 is solid, but could use an upgrade in frequency. And anyone reading this site is likely aware of the major upgrade in progress on the 84. Each of these routes provide good-great coverage when it comes to “completing the triangle”.

    The hurdle is people not knowing about, or not feeling confident using these lines. Lots of non-regular transit users utilize the Green & Blue lines, yet with all the bright graphic lines on the diagrams inside the trains there is not one mention of any bus route…except the Red Line. Nothing to offer a hint of what options may exist. Granted, each platform has a map showing local routes, but where does Route X go after it hits the edge of the map? So right off the bat we’re banking on casual riders being willing to do a bunch of research.

    And let’s say one is a semiregular transit rider who happens to be unfamiliar with St Paul routes and wishes to commute between Lowertown and MoA. I don’t have any hard numbers on this, but anecdotally I can say that I encounter someone every couple weeks looking to do exactly that and to the person, despite I or my gf happily explaining a faster route, they’ve all opted to stick with the clear-cut no guesswork transfer between Green & Blue…even after we explained how much time this might add to their commute.

    So I don’t think we have an infrastructure problem, I think we have a signage problem.

    1. Rosa

      a signage and a route-labeling problem.

      For instance, for most of my transit usage, there’s no reason to worry about the letters on the 5, 21, or 14 – I don’t go that far south or east usually, so there’s no difference.

      Until the day I’m trying to get to a thing in St Paul and accidentally get on the one 21 that doesn’t go all the way. And it’s a holiday, so I’m stranded for half an hour waiting. Over the years that’s happened to me with several different lines I was pretty confident of within my usual pattern – not often, but often enough that the way the trains are definitely always going to the same place is a nice security blanket.

      Yes, I could have checked ahead of time…but why not just give the drastically different routes a whole new number/name?

    2. Monte Castleman

      I’d say the confusing nature of buses is one the reasons for rail bias (but not all- you’re never going to get some people to ride a bus no matter what you do, as witnessed by the anecdote from another commentor about a lady that got on a Green Line train instead of a Blue Line train and rejected the offer of showing how to take the 54 to the Mall). But making the bus structure more straightforward takes away the major advantage of the mode, being able to go on almost any street at any time.

      My suggestion would be for the Metro Transit map would be to use colors for rail lines. BRT and arterial bus would be on the map with solid black lines with a letter, select local routes between key destinations like the 54 would be dashed black lines.

    3. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      The two of those routes that serve the Hiawatha corridor do so via exactly one stop at 46th street. The one that serves the University corridor does so via exactly one stop on University. Someone wishing to travel from, say, Hiawatha and Lake to Prospect Park does not seem effectively served by those routes.

      But I totally agree that we have a signage problem and that it’s a big barrier to using the transit we already have.

      1. Anders Bloomquist

        @Adam Miller

        Well is the idea to connect people within the range of 38th Platform & Fairview Station? Or is the idea to connect people between Downtown St Paul & Airport-MoA spots?

        If it’s between Dwntn StP & Air-MoA, then I would reiterate my earlier comments about 54 covering things, but the need for more clarity for the irregular rider.

        If it’s between the 38th & Fairview then I’m uncertain why we would need a special line running all the way between Union Depot & MoA. Perhaps a river jumping bus to connect parts of Hiawatha & University to assist riders that fit that specific need.

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          The idea is to connect people and places along the entire route.

          The tendency to view a train line as “connecting” its end points is frustratingly suburban thinking. There are trip origins and terminations all along the blue and green lines and the point of those lines is to serve all of them.

          The idea here expands the number of combinations of origin/terminations people can use. One of those pairs is downtown St. Paul and the airport.

          The buses you mention serve that one pair. They do nothing for the many others.

  14. Pingback: Sunday Summary – December 13, 2015 | streets.mn

  15. Matt M

    This is a great idea and it provides flexibility for future creative routing. For example, the Midtown Greenway line, if built as LRT, could be routed up the Blue Line and turn east to terminate in Saint Paul. It could provide a one-seat crosstown ride from Eden Prairie to Uptown/ Midtown Minneapolis to the Midway and Saint Paul.

  16. Pingback: The Maroon Line | streets.mn | Transportationist

  17. Pingback: The Maroon Line | streets.mn

Comments are closed.