The Maroon Line

Imagine you had a University with two major campuses connected by an exclusive right-of-way. Imagine the University sends buses back and forth on this transitway at 5 minute intervals during peak times. Imagine the transitway carries 3,197,701 riders per year (2012 numbers via The Transit Camera). Imagine it passes by undeveloped and underdeveloped land. Imagine it cost $6,080,021 per year (ibid) to operate (and so was the most efficient bus line in the state). Imagine it was 2.2 miles long. Would it be worth upgrading?

Consider this as a possible upgrade (area map). Where the Green Line now turns at 29th Avenue to heads into Prospect Park Station, the Maroon Line’s new routing instead continues the extension adjacent to or on top of the Transitway to the St. Paul campus and Minnesota State Fairgrounds. On the West, the service continues through Stadium Village (with an opportunity to transfer to the Green (or Cyan) Line) to East Bank and West Bank stations, and then reverses. Maroon Line trains could run at 10 minute frequency, providing a net 5 minute frequency on campus between West Bank and Stadium Village when combined with the Green Line (or 4 minutes when combined with the Cyan Line and the Green Line).

The Maroon Line - Engineering Sketch

The Maroon Line – Engineering Sketch

The distance is about 2.2. miles. The land is already graded and ready for installation. This should be less expensive on a per mile basis than new Rights-of-Way to the far-flung suburbs through swamps, so I will go with the order of $20 million, with some additional costs for stations, since this is really basically streetcar construction with LRT vehicles, assuming the bridge needs no additional work to support the vehicle. The costs of vehicles are whatever the cost of vehicles are, about $3 million per train.

Does it save time over buses?

  • Probably not. The stations cost some travel time, but serve more passengers. Further if the frequencies were less than buses currently provide, waiting time increases.

Does it reduce costs over buses?

  • Probably not. The Blue Line presently has a higher operating cost than the UMN transitway.  The Maroon Line might reduce labor costs if it can be operated in automated mode, like Light Rail Vehicles are in so many places. While not fully grade separated, it is largely an exclusive right-of-way with few at-grade crossings, so this is an opportunity to operated from a control center rather than with drivers in the vehicle.

Does it slow down buses using the Transitway?

  • Perhaps, but the Green Line Washington Avenue demonstrates buses can successfully share roadways with trains (as if that needed to be proven), and if there were fewer signals, all modes would be more efficient. Such a line would presumably replace the Campus Connector most of the time. New stations could have side platforms with a lane or two in-between so buses could pass rather than being blocked.

Does it increase capacity over buses?

  • Probably, the vehicles themselves are larger, even if operated in single car mode. One expects two-car mode most of the time.

Does it increase demand?

  • Probably, to the extent there is a rail bias among users of the line (admittedly mostly students who have little choice, and visitors to the University of Minnesota). It might take some trips from the #3 Bus as well, though it is not a replacement. It can also make remote parking for sports events more viable. Finally if it induces new development (as below) it will increase ridership.

Does it provide development opportunities?

  • One can easily imagine stations at the following
    • Prospect Park (say near Malcolm Avenue at Surly’s),
    • South St. Anthony Park (Hampden Park) (say under Mn-280),
    • North St. Anthony Park (Langford Park) (say Raymond Avenue at Energy Park Drive),
    • Como Avenue,
    • St. Paul campus, and
    • The Fairgrounds, at least seasonally. Perhaps it could be extended through or north of the Fairgrounds to meet the A-Line on Snelling.

Who pays?

Each of those stations is a strong development opportunity right now, with at least some developable land embedded in what are not-controversially transitional land uses (i.e. development would not necessarily be taking homes, monuments, parks, etc.). With improved accessibility to the University of Minnesota, the value of those in-between station sites would be enhanced, perhaps enough to cover the capital costs of the upgrade itself. While travel to downtown will still require a transfer (unless and until Minneapolis builds a subway and allows greater frequency), downtown is not where most people along this line want to go.

The University of Minnesota is the prime beneficiary of such a service, along with the State Fair organization and landowners at prospective station sites. If these parties put up the capital costs (value capture may play a role), and the operating costs are no worse than the current Campus Connector, this is relatively low cost upgrade worth considering.

In my “Looking Backwards” post about the Evolving the Green Line, I suggested a Maroon Line running along the University of Minnesota Transitway, slated to open in 2030. This was not the first mention, a Forum post on the Transitway discussed it as well.

11 thoughts on “The Maroon Line

  1. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

    I’ve been advocating converting the busway to rail for a long time, but I’d take it a couple of steps farther. Through-route it into downtown Minneapolis over the Green Line. In that way it will replace all the U of M Campus Connector buses running on Washington Avenue between the East Bank and West Bank. It will also double the frequency between downtown and the U. That should permit the Green Line trains to be reduced to two cars, because three cars aren’t needed east of the campus.

    By replacing so many Campus Connector buses, it could potentially reduce operating costs as well.

    On the St. Paul end it could be extended to the Rosedale Transit Center and maybe east of there, if a large park-ride lot can be sited.

      1. David LevinsonDavid Levinson Post author

        Trains just need to switch tracks and go the other way, I believe there is a switch just west of West Bank. (and one could construct one at the eastern end).

        Rosedale can be phase II if phase I works, but why duplicate the A-Line, and will Rosedale or Roseville pay for such a thing? Will Rosedale even allow a station on their property, and would it be in a terrible location like the current transit station?

        1. Monte Castleman

          Why duplicate the A-LIne? As you said in your article, rail bias. I could see this being a huge commuter route besides being an easy way for U students to go shopping in the Rosedale area. Rosedale is pretty easy to get to from most of the northeast suburbs.

    1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

      As a Phase II alternative to up Snelling to Rosedale, take Larpentur to 61 to Maplewood Mall and WBL.

  2. Tami Traeger

    Where do the bikes go? The Transitway is a bike route. While it is not particularly comfortable to share it with the buses, there aren’t good alternatives. While a portion has a bike path, the bridge and the section before and after it do not have a bike path.

    Perhaps this project would finally allow the opportunity to create a safe and comfortable bike route for the full distance between the U of MN Saint Paul and Minneapolis campuses, as well as improving this route for biking during or even to the State Fair.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      I wondered about this too. Completing the MUP would be a pretty minor cost compared to building a light rail line — although I do personally like the option to bike in the street, which is smooth and fast.

  3. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    This is L6 – Gold on my 2012 Streetcar/LRT master plan:

    I’d suggest routing it through Downtown, but not on the current Blue/Green 5th Street alignment which is already tapped out. Instead, I’d suggest the train continue northwesterly from the current Blue/Green interlocking (not interfering with Blue at all) on the ex-Milwaukee Road right of way to Washington Ave, then continuing along Washington Ave at least to Hennepin and possibly through-routing beyond.

  4. sheldon mains

    Based on the analysis of the article, the large capital expense would have very little benefit. There are other places that the capital could be spent on transit with greater benefit (there is always limited capital available.) And the benefits proposed (development) could happen by just adding bus rapid transit stations along the transit way.

    Continuing to downtown Mpls would makes sense but the 5th Street line is already at capacity with the Green and Blue lines. Adding another street to the system (as Matt suggests) would be a good idea but would be expensive.

  5. ae_umn

    Does the U really win here? Sure, it might seem cooler to take the train to the St. Paul campus, but it’s effectively slowing down an incredibly efficient transit system. I had plenty of friends who spent a lot of time on the STP campus but had to take generals and other stuff in Minneapolis. That meant sometimes rushing and getting there just in time. For them, it’s a loser as they can’t necessarily take a class they need.

  6. David MarkleDavid Markle

    It’s true that rail vehicles attract riders. Perhaps the initial capital expense to upgrade what’s now a highly specialized route could be reduced by employing capacitor-driven streetcars instead of a train–and I would hope vehicles compatible with existing LRT tracks can be obtained. Matt Steele’s suggested extension might work best as a streetcar line.

    I abhor using expensive LRT lines as if they were streetcars.

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