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 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.
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.