Five Light Rail Lessons for the Riverview Corridor


From here.

Planning transit takes a long time, and there are so many ways it can go wrong. For my money, the best remaining urban transit project in Saint Paul is the so-called “Riverview corridor” running from downtown along West 7th street down to the airport.

As the latest ridership numbers show, rail has been the key to boosting transit in the Twin Cities. The two light rail lines already account for a quarter of the riders in the whole system, and will only grow as the land use develops to emphasize transit.

At this point, though, there are a lot of options on the table, at least if you take the planning documents at face value. So here are some Riverview observations, from someone who spends a lot of his time on West 7th Street, and on the existing Twin Cities light rail.


Right now, West 7th Street does no favors to people on foot.

#1. Put it where the people are 

green line 2

More people is good for transit.

I’ve written this before, but I believe the Green Line should be the model for transit investments in the Twin Cities. Unlike many of the other transit projects, which are designed around transit-oriented development (TOD) potential tied to sometimes-unrealistic projections, the Green Line follows a very simple recipe: take the bus line with the most ridership and turn into a light rail.

The University Avenue corridor is an ideal example, and anyone can see the change happening on the street by simply sitting down at one of the key intersections and watching people. I’d bet that foot traffic is double what it was five years ago. Sidewalks are coming back to life, and you can feel it at corners like Dale or Snelling. And while so far, much of the development has been subsidized (once you leave the University of Minnesota watershed, anyway) that might start to change pretty quickly.

Rather than “transit cannibalization”, the Green Line, going right through the heart of the city, is transit amplification. Turn up the volume, turn down the cars, and check out some sweet rail music.

2. Comfort trumps speed: direct v. indirect routes


As long as you’re comfy, it’s OK.

One of the lessons of the Green Line is that ridership is high despite the fact that it’s neither the quickest option (between the two downtowns), nor particularly speedy. One of the (many) compromises planners made was to add three stations (Hamline, Western, and Victoria) in the Frogtown area, and to not have “true” signal priority at stoplights and intersections in downtown Minneapolis, and along most of University Avenue.

But people ride it anyway, and they like it. That’s because many people don’t make transportation decisions according to reductive transportation logic (e.g. “cost + time = transportation mode choice”). Rather, people make choices because of a complex mixture of things, including security, comfort, simplicity, predictability, and convenience. Rather than being peripheral, these factors are highly weighted in decision making, as any car salesman or restaurant designer well knows.

That’s why (so-called) “rail bias” is so powerful. Rail-based transit dramatically improves all these factors when compared to buses, and for many people, the improved “transit experience” is more important than the 10 minutes of extra time they might be giving up in exchange.

3. Comfort trumps speed: mixed traffic


LRT is slow through downtown but it doesn’t matter too much.

Another odd thing about both existing Twin Cities’ light rail systems is how inconsistent they are when it comes to speed. The Green Line is at least consistently sluggish. It hits its top speed between the Fairview and Raymond stops; according to my unscientific gut, it might hit 40 miles per hour here.

But most of the time the train is pretty slow, about the speed that a car might go through the city following urban (<30 mph) speed limits and stopping at lights.

The Blue Line, with its dedicated right of way, hits faster speeds South of Franklin, especially through the airport tunnel. But the key point is that both of these trains slow to a crawl when they enter the dense parts of each city. The Green Line from Westgate to Target Field probably averages <10 mph, and both trains through downtown move at half that speed. You can easily bike faster than these trains, and I’d bet that many buses exceed their performance.

The point is that these two transit successful projects mix higher and lower speeds, and still manage to appeal to a large number of people. It’s OK to mix it up.

4. “Back door” stations are OK


The Blue Line approaches the back of Cedar-Riverside.

Another debate about transit planning is whether you need to have a transit station “out in front” in the street or whether it can work if it’s a bit off the beaten track. (No pun intended.)

This is important because Riverview planning involves a choice between “the CP Ford spur” and West 7th (or other streets). How much ridership do you lose if the station isn’t immediately obvious, and is placed more towards the “back door” of a neighborhood rather than out in front?

One good example, though a bit extreme, might be the Cedar-Riverside stop on the Blue Line. For a newcomer to the train, the station is not obvious. It’s tucked way back behind the tower complexes of the Riverside Plaza, and to get there you have to walk quite a bit off of Cedar Avenue.

But it still works. It’s a very well-used station, not just by the inhabitants of the apartments nearby, but by people walking to and from the universities and hospitals in the neighborhood.

The Ford Spur, at least the stretch that’s at street-grade, could work in the same way, providing a back-door access to a large part of Saint Paul without impacting the street.

5. You can combine light rail with walkable streets

Green Line at Washington Avenue.

Green Line at Washington Avenue.

Today, the Washington Avenue through the University of Minnesota transit mall is sort of amazing to watch. Go down there and see it sometime, the way that people on foot mix and interact with cars, trains, bikes and buses.

Personally, I think the University of Minnesota campus area is a model for what our urban neighborhoods should look like: density without skyscrapers, calmed traffic, great sidewalks, and convenient transit. When done well, these are the ingredients for a dynamic walkable city. West 7th Street, particularly the stretch from the Xcel Energy Center to Grand Avenue, could look and feel a lot like this if planners do a good job with the design details.

This isn’t to say that everyone should be young and eating pizza all the time, but rather that density doesn’t have to look like a downtown skyline, that you can design streets that safely prioritize pedestrians while including transit and cars, and that a neighborhood can thrive without revolving around free parking and easy access to the freeway.


A hybrid proposal: a rough sketch

The point of all this is to say that there people should think about the Riverside transit debate in the light of what we’ve already done here in the Twin Cities. There are a lot of variables still in play, and options on the table.

My preferred idea (which I should also credit to my friend Cameron Slick) is to have a hybrid approach. The rail would operate in the street, without much of a dedicated right-of-way, until it reached somewhere near Grand or St. Clair. It would be going slowly, but surely, through one of the most thriving parts of the corridor, providing convenient transit access for a great many people.

NOTE: This could be an existing LRT vehicle or a smaller more nimble (and lighter) modern streetcar vehicle. I don’t see huge differences here, and think the lesser construction impacts of the latter might be a good benefit.


The Ford site, a huge development opportunity.

Soon afterward, it would turn onto the Ford spur, a dedicated right-of-way that runs parallel to West 7th, and serves all the areas in the corridor without impacting traffic, parking, or sidewalks. This would be a back-door approach, and the dedicated ROW would allow it to have safe higher speeds. (You’d build a bike path here too.) It’s very rare to have an abandoned rail right of way in the middle of a city, but when you get one, magical things can happen.

gold line station pasadena

Pasadena’s Del Mar station; the best TOD I’ve seen.

As Erik Hare suggests, the line should serve the Ford site, dropping a station as close as it can to the corner of Cleveland and Ford. In my opinion, this is hugely important. Unless the Riverview line goes to the Ford site, it will not develop in a transit-oriented way. The ideal situation here is a station that integrates seamlessly with its environment, like the Del Mar station on the Gold Line in Pasadena. 

Getting across the river is a challenge*, and I don’t know enough at this point to figure it out. But somehow the train should connect up with the Blue Line service near the 50th/Minnehaha stop, and continue on to the airport, offering a one-seat ride.

This is one of the top 3 transit corridors in the Twin Cities, and certainly the best one in the East Metro. We need to build it, and it can be done without undermining the great things that are already happening in the Ford Road neighborhood. It’s worth taking a long look at how light rail is working (or not working) already in the Twin Cities before jumping to conclusions about what to do. Personally, I think this proposal would be amazing. 


Poverty and transit dependency maps.



Population and employment maps.

* The river crossing is a big deal, and nobody really knows all the details here. If there are going to be massive cost over-runs, this is where they’ll be found.

I’m skeptical about the Highway 5 bridge, whether MnDOT will allow it to go at-grade (no, they won’t) or a new bridge and/or tunnel will have to be constructed (yes, it will). And if it is constructed, how it will negotiate with the Fort Snelling historical site (though I’ve also heard that conversations have gone well between that group and the County).

That said, provided you could figure out a way to connect the Riverview line with the existing Blue Line approach to the airport, I think the “gain” of including Highland and the Ford site would outweigh the extra time it would take. And it would be the only way to ensure that development at the Ford site is done in a way that maximizes its transit-oriented potential.

54 thoughts on “Five Light Rail Lessons for the Riverview Corridor

  1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    Does it really need to connect to the airport? It’s always nice to have an easy answer to “where does it go?” but maybe “to Highland Park” works?

    People are still griping about the Green Line, which can only be described as an incredible success, based on the largely irrelevant notion of connecting the downtowns. Is trying to cross the river just setting things up for similar future gripes?

    Or will St. Paulites just complain about second class treatment by not getting to connect to the airport?

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

      Yes. The airport connection is a huge part of the reason why East Metro leaders are behind this project. And it has to be a one-seat connection for any of those folks to be satisfied, which I understand. The business community wants a direct connection to downtown Saint Paul and they want it quite intensely. But I’m just arguing that the connection can still work if it detours a bit through the Ford Site, which is an amazing spot for TOD. The timing of both of these things coming together like this is quite unusual, and it would be a big disappointment to miss the chance to wed together transportation and land use in a key part of the city.

      1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

        Sibley Plaza to Airport and MOA is a HUGE ridership driver. The peak load on the buses is across the bridge (in my one person ride check, not enough time now to do maths on Excel sheet).

        I don’t think this will work because of point 1. This is the peak of the line, connects low wage workers with jobs very quickly, I don’t think adding two or three stations on a new Riverview PLUS 50th/Minnehaha and VA Medical would benefit them much. Let’s see what we can do to just run the 54 as a train. It’s VERY well used as a bus, so as you say, lets amplify it, not add a new bridge to the song that’s selling like wildfire. (No puns intended with bridge).

    2. mplsjaromir

      No need to go to the airport. Unfortunately the reality is that many rich people only see themselves on transit if they are going to the airport.

      I do not have access to the Blue Line data, but in Chicago and New York airport trips are a very small portion of the overall ridership for any given line. Yet, Cuomo, Daly, Emmanuel, Bloomberg and other elites push airport access projects all the time. If the money can be found to cross the river, great, otherwise serve the everyday users.

      1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

        Over 500 people get on EB 54 buses daily at the airport. 818 MORE at the MOA. How are these not “everyday users”? Going to the airport isn’t FOR Downtown St Paul businesses (although they would really like it). It is FOR low income workers along the route who are able to get paid a living wage by going through TSA security daily and managing a small retail outlet, by being baggage handlers, or working in one of the many restaurants needed for a major airport.

        The only stops with similar numbers are 6th and Jackson/Robert and 6th and Wabasha (and the corresponding stops on 5th) and the stops at Sibley Plaza.

        You want to build a system of transit that provides dignity to low income people? Decreases inequality? Then it has to go to the airport, and has to get there rather directly. Otherwise we are telling these people that they are not worth transit, they are captive riders and taken for granted. Let’s not send that signal, and let’s continue to try and make the Riverview happen in a way that does serve “everyday riders”.

    3. Monte Castleman

      Yes. Imagine if they decided to tear our the MN 5 bridge rather than bother fixing it because most people living in Highland Park want to go to downtown St. Paul rather than the airport. In fact my own opinion is Riverview should have been built before the green and blue line extensions, once we have the “iron triangle” built we would talk about spur lines to the suburbs.

  2. John Bailey

    I’m also ambivalent about the airport connection especially if it’s already connecting to the Blue Line and, of course, we could retain the truly kick-ass 54 bus which zips you to the airport right now. Perhaps at that point the 54 could skip West 7th and take Shepherd toward the airport and go even faster.

  3. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

    Excellent summary.

    Regarding crossing to the airport, any new bridge will be problematic because of the river’s status as a national park. Won’t stop it necessarily.

  4. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

    Another thought: using the Ford spur with a dedicated right-of-way, no cars, and fewer intersections would allow for higher travel speeds, no? I’m curious what the travel time of this proposal would be if you tweaked a few variables, vs. the West 7th “direct” route. Of course a West 7th rail vehicle would move much faster Southwest of 35E, one would assume.

  5. ACS

    Regarding this “hybrid approach” I keep hearing pop up in east metro projects, it’s a terrible idea. I can’t think of a quicker way to kill a project than to make light rail run in mixed traffic. Think of what we’d be getting if we go with an approach like you describe: A streetcar which gets stuck in traffic for over a mile before even entering downtown (and then it would get its own lanes), an inability to use multiple cars to increase capacity/decrease cost compared to a bus, a route that takes it out of the way and adds travel time between the main commuter destinations compared to the bus, a route completely within one municipality with nothing regional about it, and a 9 digit capital cost to boot. Translation, nobody is going to fund this for you, St. Paul. Once these projects stop being viable regional connectors while keeping their large capital costs support from the CTIB and Met council dries up, read up on the Robert Street Corridor for a similar outcome.

    You make the point about how the green line through the U of M is a great pedestrian experience and how LRT crawls through downtown Minneapolis. Well, in both those situations the trains still have their own lanes and all the advantages that carries. Yes, ridership on the Green line is high, but that doesn’t take away the by far #1 complaint with it that it is simply too slow to serve as a downtown connector? That’s why the largest segment of ridership comes between the U of M and downtown Minneapolis, a short distance where the train has it’s own transit mall and a 30mph+ bridge crossing and fewer signalized intersections to cross. If the green line had to fight traffic on washington ave and could only use one car ridership wouldn’t be nearly enough to justify the billion dollar price tag. Speed matters.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

      Actually, the train is slower in the area from the University to Target Field than anywhere else. The reason ridership is so high right there is because of the huge driver of the U of MN, where there’s lots of density and parking is expensive. That’s the very idea I’m pitching here.

      I’m not sure how to figure out the problem of tracks through the dense West 7th-to-Downtown area, but I think there are a few ways you could do it, and would urge people to keep open minds about the different trade-offs.

    2. helsinki

      I’ve never understood the fuss about running a train in mixed traffic. If done properly, the train doesn’t “get stuck”. Recently I rode the N Judah Muni line in San Francisco, and it worked just fine. Many things – like woonerfs, for instance – seem like god-awful ideas until you see them in practice and realize that they actually work far better than the pre-existing situation did.

      N Judah Muni Metro:

  6. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

    Good post Bill, you’re bringing me around to a few things, especially the backdoor CP alignment through part of the stretch.

    But I don’t particularly like your alignment through the Ford site. At least not as the best possible alternative. My preference is for two-stage project, and a two-part (A/B) line. The first stage of the project would go straight to the airport from West 7th, without diverting north. The second stage would build the Fort site spur and head to Minneapolis.

    The primary issue I have with the Ford spur as you’ve outlined it is that the primary trip destination for residents of the future Ford site will not be the airport or the mall, it will be downtown Minneapolis. Having the Ford alignment make this torturous connection through Minnehaha Park, bypassing the nearby 46th Street station, and joining with the Blue line is problematic in the engineering, of course, but it also doesn’t strike me as being appealing for residents of the Ford site and Highland Park. I also do think you may be a bit too dismissive of the extra time that the route would take. It could realistically add ten plus minutes to the travel time.

    I prefer the two-part line because it is simply the best of both alignments. It runs direct to and from the airport (perhaps at 15 minute headways), and also provides a link from the West 7th neighborhood and Highland Park/Ford to downtown Minneapolis (perhaps at 15 headways or greater), and with much greater simplicity on the west side of the river, where Minnehaha Park remains intact and the Riverview line simply connects to the 46th Street Station. The Ford spur, in this case, acts as similarly to the Wye connection that David Levinson proposed for the Blue/Green lines.

    Obviously the primary problem with this plan is the cost of building two river crossings. Instead of one. One hope I have is that that cost could be justified by building the southern bridge to also handle passenger rail from Saint Paul -> Airport -> Rochester. (Have I made this idea politically unfeasible enough?) But while we’re still in this visioning phase, I’d like an option that serves both West 7th and downtown Saint Paul, while also better serving the Ford site and the places where residents of that new development will want to go.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

      All good ideas. The devil is in the details, of course, and we don’t know the details. A two-stage or split line would be ideal, but not sure what the cost/benefit ratio might be for that.

      What would travel times be from DT StP to MSP, Ford Site to both downtowns or the airport?

      1. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

        To pull numbers completely out of thin air, my best guess is something like 35 minutes from Union Depot to MSP, 30 minutes from the Ford site to both downtowns, and an average of 15-20 minutes from the Ford site to downtown with one transfer at the 46th Street Station.

        The A/B line would come out to around 11 miles, I think it would be a roughly similar build to the green line in terms of how much is already built and how much is needed. But cost savings could come from using the existing CP ROW, that could help subsidize the costlier elements at both river crossings/airport tunnel. That’s how it all works in my mind, at least.

        Agree with you of course that much remains to be determined. But I take that as license to advocate for the best possible solution! (Imo)

        1. Cameron Slick

          The A/B idea is roughly what I suggested, though serving Highland Park and 46th streets first would bexpect much simpler.

    2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      If it’s two parts, does it need two river crossings? Or can the prong that goes to the Ford site terminate there? Isn’t there already going to be BRT connecting Highland Park to the 46th street station for those who want to get to downtown Minneapolis with one transfer?

      1. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

        Not sure the line actually terminating at the Ford site really helps anybody, especially when the connection to the blue line is so close. We’re talking the difference between direct service to Minneapolis (from my Ford spur alignment) vs getting off at the Ford plant, getting on a bus, getting off the bus and getting on a train…

        Nah, if the train goes to the Ford plant, then there’s absolutely no reason I can think of to not continue it across the river.

    3. Mike Hicks

      I agree that trying to serve both the Ford Site and points south like the airport is a very difficult sell. If the Riverview Corridor goes through the Ford Site, it should probably cross the river and terminate at the Blue Line’s 46th Street station — though some further extension west is a possibility.

      46th isn’t a great corridor itself for transit, but it might work — there’s also the 46th Street station on the I-35W bus transitway (eventually for use by the Orange Line BRT service, though there will probably always be some other buses using it too). I think there are better options further north, such as 38th Street (potentially replacing the route 23 bus) or the Lake Street/Midtown Greenway corridor.

      I suspect having two branches of service the best. Here’s a map I scratched out that shows a couple alternatives for crossing the river over to the Fort Snelling area, plus another route which could be more streetcar-like, going from Sibley Plaza, through Highland Park, and then meeting up with the Blue Line for a while to reach the Midtown Greenway.

      Of course, that all costs money. Doubling up on traffic on the Blue Line would probably require elevating the route, but that might not be bad — it would grade-separate some crossings where people have been hurt/killed in crashes with light rail trains.

      1. Kyle

        Mike I like this idea. Connect downtown St. Paul directly to the ariport and then come in later with a streetcar filler line that connects the riverview to Ford to 46th street station. It could then share Blue Line ROW to get up to the Midtown Greenway line.

        I really love the idea of connecting the Ford site with rail for exactly the reasons Bill outlines above. I just worry that it takes it too far out of the way. If the line could hit just the middle to southern end of the Ford site and get a different river crossing, it might not be so bad, but the problem is Minnehaha park gets in the way of any river crossing south of Ford Parkway.

      2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

        Copying text from the forums since your map includes the Midtown-Riverview via Ford Site line…

        “An all-day high frequency, single seat, high-amenity transit ride from Uptown/Midtown/etc to downtown St Paul via Riverview would be very fast and relatively cheap assuming Riverview and Midtown have actually been built (that’s the big advantage, it’s a few stations and ~3 miles of new track). In total, it would be ~14 miles by rail from West Lake to downtown St Paul. Given Midtown’s grade separation, Blue Line speeds along Hiawatha, & a hopeful hybrid Riverview the trip would probably take ~40-45 minutes from W Lake to Central Station in DT StP (using Midtown proposed travel time, Blue Line schedule, and estimated Riverview travel time). That’s a bit faster than the 53 (starting at Uptown Transit Station not West Lake, mind you), probably about the same as an extended Lake St aBRT (which should also happen!). Anyway. Fantasies, but it’d be nice to see the city maintain the Ford Spur ROW at the very least.”

        This would also effectively double the frequency along the core of the Riverview line. The “Yellow Line” could still be a single tram/LRV, as proposed for the Midtown rail project, which would require very little (if any) retrofitting of the Ford/46th Bridge. We need to think about how to use pieces of infrastructure to run different services. This wouldn’t have to happen right away, we’d just need to do two things: 1) rail bank the Ford Spur right of way, and 2) ensure the junction of Midtown & Blue Lines allows for interlining south of Lake St.

      3. Matty LangMatty Lang

        Nice map. It makes it painfully obvious that the Midtown Greenway line needs to be extended through Prospect Park to connect to the Green Line (probably at Menards).

  7. David LevinsonDavid Levinson

    There are several unresolved questions. This list is far from complete.

    First, how densely developed will the Ford site actually be? This site is going on the market soon, and there will be a response. If it is truly high density (say a University bought it for a new campus), and that gets approved in St. Paul, rail may be justifiable to move the hordes and masses. However if it winds up similar in density to the remainder of Highland Park (and remember, this is St. Paul), why spend so much money on upper middle class homeowners just to move the mode share needle a slight bit for hundreds of people due to a small rail bias over Arterial BRT. I realize the density depends to some extent on the expectations for LRT, but the density is going to be decided sooner I think.

    Second, how much will a river crossing cost? The design of the line cannot be independent of the costs it incurs. That money could go to something more useful. If you can take over one of the existing bridges, or two lanes on that bridge, that greatly reduces cost. Clearly that won’t happen on Hwy 5. Ford Parkway may have hope, but I am doubtful.

    Third, what services are you imagining on the line? From a network perspective, Mike’s Middle Line (The Minnehaha DogPark landing) is almost as good as Hwy 5, and you can then do a Wye so you have services to Minneapolis as well as St. Paul. That is, there are two lines on the service, rather than one. You can divert the Minneapolis service to the Yellow Line (Midtown) if you like, especially since Downtown Minneapolis is so crowded with already.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

      Great question. I’m surprisingly optimistic about #1, from a few conversations I’ve had with people working on the situation. A lot still depends, though on the enviornmental situation, and testing isn’t done yet.

      Q: what is the size of “rail bias”? I don’t know, but I think it’s quite significant, and for good reasons having to do with ride quality, environment, and vehicle quality.

      Your second point is a great question, and I have no idea. So much depends on what the bridge engineering situations are, and nobody want’s to make a mistake there, or hazard many guesses.

      1. Mike

        Hopefully the opening of the A Line on Snelling this year will help us separate rail bias from transit-that-runs-often-all-day-without-stopping-every-single-block bias. I agree that there is a significant rail bias, but I suspect it’s smaller than the current ridership numbers suggest.

          1. Jeb

            I don’t think the every-30-minutes-on-weekends is frequent enough to parse out the difference, especially since the corridor doesn’t have nearly the already-strong transit markets that the Green and Blue lines have.

          2. Mike

            Yeah, I probably should have added “in-a-corridor-with-walkable-destinations” to my hyphened list. Though admittedly, Snelling in Roseville isn’t a whole lot better than Cedar in Apple Valley on that measure.

            But that’s the great thing about the A Line, we’ll find out if I’m totally wrong about this and it turns into another Red Line!

            1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

              Honestly, this is going to be like the Red Line on the north end. Then slowly as less and less vehicle traffic and lower speeds make the area more walkable until it turns onto Ford, when it starts becoming less and less walkable because of vehicle traffic until the LRT.

              I for one will be fascinated to see how this affects ridership, and how those influences change over the length of the line.

    2. Mike Hicks

      The situation will be somewhat different for Riverview, but this Met Council press release says that it cost $21 million to upgrade the Washington Avenue Bridge for the weight of Green Line trains. The process also extended the life of the bridge by 75 years and made it non-fracture-critical. It says that upgrading the existing bridge saved $80 to $100 million vs. completely replacing it. Those values probably bookend the potential price window pretty well.

      Another data point is the I-35W bridge which replaced the one that collapsed in 2007. It had a bid of $234 million, and that’s much wider than what we need here (I also recall people saying at the time it was a pretty high cost for such a crossing, but it had an accelerated schedule).

  8. Evan RobertsEvan Roberts

    Taking the line through Ford and then across the Ford Parkway bridge to meet Blue Line at 46th St station gives more people access to more destinations than the Highway 5 route. A Highway 5 routing would not connect with the VA Hospital very well, though it presumably would serve the GSA/federal building and sports complex at Fort Snelling.

    A wye at Hiawatha and 46th that allows trains coming from St Paul to head north or south on the existing Blue Line tracks enables a range of different services meeting the need for access to different places. One service could run south to the airport and MOA, the other north to DT Minneapolis.

    As Bill says in his post it’s an incredible opportunity here to integrate transportation and land-use planning. If Saint Paul wanted to get the most value from the Ford site redevelopment they’d find a way to commit to a Ford route alignment now.

    1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

      I’ve seen a lot of proposals from folks to extend from the Ford spur and tie into the Blue Line via a wye. What I HAVEN’T seen is proposals on where/how to engineer/accomplish that wye. Given how close the Blue Line is to Hiawatha Ave, it won’t be easy, it won’t be cheap, and it’ll likely require some right-of-way.

        1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

          Nope. This would be a different “wye”. A wye to tie Riverview into the existing Blue Line in both directions somewhere between 46th St and Fort Snelling, depending on the river crossing location selected.

      1. Evan RobertsEvan

        No expert on the angles required to do this, but I imagine one would have to acquire the Holiday gas station and Walgreens on either side of 46th St.

      2. Matt Brillhart

        There’s also the possibilities that Minneapolis, Hennepin County, or Mpls Park Board just straight up say no to some of these ideas.

        1. Matt Brillhart

          To expand that thought beyond just the disruptions to existing streets or parks and the inherent political issues, there is also the whole funding side of things.

          Messing around too much to bring this line through Minneapolis brings on another municipality that has to give consent. Also the more track there is in Hennepin County, the more it will cost them. Remember, the individual county railroad authorities pay for 10% of these lines (on top of the CTIB 30% share). Hennepin County, with Southwest and Bottineau on tap, is not likely game for much of a contribution here.

          Obviously it depends on securing a (very expensive) new river crossing bridge, but bringing this across a new Hwy. 5 Fort Road Bridge and tying into the Blue Line tracks as quickly and cheaply as possible really seems like the way this is gonna go.

          1. Evan RobertsEvan Roberts

            I take that point. Really a toss-up though. Who’s going to be more co-operative: Minneapolis/Hennepin County/Minneapolis Parks Board with a Ford/46th St routing or MNDoT with an LRT on a highway bridge?

            I have no idea. All those organizations could kill this project slowly by raising “concerns”.

      3. Monte Castleman

        Considering the fury about the mess that light rail made for motorized traffic on Hiawatha until they tweaked the signal timing I don’t see any option involving an at-grade crossing of Hiawatha happending

  9. Thatcher

    Best line:
    “Rather than “transit cannibalization”, the Green Line, going right through the heart of the city, is transit amplification. Turn up the volume, turn down the cars, and check out some sweet rail music.”

  10. David MarkleDavid Markle

    I most strongly disagree with Bill’s belief that “the Green Line should be the model for transit investments in the Twin Cities. Unlike many of the other transit projects, which are designed around transit-oriented development (TOD) potential tied to sometimes-unrealistic projections, the Green Line follows a very simple recipe: take the bus line with the most ridership and turn into a light rail.”

    Green Line LRT should not be held up as a planning model, as an example of souped-up replacement for a local bus line (which the former #16 essentially was); the logical candidate for that application should be a modern streetcar line that offers the LRT advantages of ease of boarding and exit, and potentially high frequency of runs, plus the degree of local service and the much lower cost of development that LRT does not offer. It makes no sense to use an expensive LRT train for diminished local service.

    Further, the supposedly laudable ridership figures for the Green Line derive largely from rides between the University of Minnesota Minneapolis campus neighborhoods and downtown Minneapolis, not very much from the rest of the line and very little from downtown to downtown service.

    This kind of atrocious planning and decision-making has given us something comparable to Boston’s antiquated Green Line, not a modern LRT link, and at great expense–and certainly not a viable urban trunk line.

  11. Tracy

    Have any of the folks in charge looked at making West 7th and Smith a one-way pair between downtown and the High Bridge? The roads are kinda set up to accommodate that already – similar to the change made at Lake/Lagoon years ago.

    You could then split the LRT so eastbound travels on Seventh, and westbound travels on Smith. The same split could extend through downtown for that matter on 5th & 6th.

    That may be enough to accomodate a separate LRT ROW, yet still reasonably accommodate traffic needs too. Not perfect, but maybe better. It’s a built-up city. Go figure.

    1. Matt Brillhart

      Very astute observation that the existing street geometries are set up perfectly for this between 7th/Smith and 7th/6th (Xcel).

      While this type of configuration would allow exclusive lanes for transit, many people would take a critical eye to how the resulting pair of two-lane one-ways would likely allow car/truck traffic to move even more quickly than today, resulting in less calm streets. The idea certainly has enough merit to be studied, but I suspect that both the hospital and West 7th businesses would strongly oppose the idea of one-way streets.

      That said, this is probably the only way you could possibly squeeze in exclusive lanes for LRT through this stretch, while also maintaining some parking and two traffic lanes in each direction.

  12. GlowBoy

    A few thoughts:

    The #54 bus rules! just tried this route for the first time a couple weeks ago. Completely brilliant, because it’s fast: 30 minutes to the edge of downtown St Paul from the Mall of America. From my home in Diamond Lake I can get to downtown St Paul faster by hopping the #5 southbound to MOA and picking up the #54 than by taking the #5 northbound to downtown Minneapolis and taking the #94.

    I don’t see the point in spending a bunch of money on this corridor if it isn’t comparable in speed to the 54.

    Which brings me to streetcars, which seem to be discussed a lot as an option for this corridor. Having just moved from Portland, which has a couple of operating streetcar lines, I can say this: for the love of all that is good and right, do not build a streetcar on West 7th! Streetcar is great for places like downtowns and entertainment districts that have a high density of destinations. It makes sense in downtown Portland and probably Portland’s central Eastside. A streetcar between downtown and uptown Minneapolis might make sense. Maybe connecting to the U or *inner* Nordeast, but that it is it. Streetcar is brilliant – IF you’re only going a few blocks.

    Why? Because streetcar is really freaking slow. Way slower than a local bus, which is only barely (if at all) faster than a bike in urban areas. A bicycle will blow the pants off a streetcar, and even a fast run can just about keep up. If you think the Green Line ended up being a big-buck streetcar, you have no idea how slow streetcars really are.

    I think as far as river crossings go, it’s going to have to cross at 46th, or at Highway 5, or not at all. No way, no how will you ever get to build a new river crossing in between those two places. 50 years ago you could have done it. But we now live in a world where that undeveloped stretch of the river’s west bank (or, for that matter, much of the east bank) is regarded as a natural treasure, and is no longer going to be politically possible to industrialize it. I know the Blue Line around 53rd looks tantalizingly close to the south end of the Ford site, but you’re going to have to cross the mouth of Minnehaha Creek and rip up Minnehaha Park and possibly Hidden Falls Park to do it. People will freak out. Realistically, the only options will be to either rebuild or reuse the existing 46th/Ford and Highway 5 crossings. That could mean building a new parallel bridge adjacent to either of these, but an entirely new crossing location is really impossible.

    I think a 46th Street rail crossing and connection to the Blue Line might be difficult too, with a lot of disruption to the Longfellow neighborhood, including a residential section if you route it down 46th. One thought springs to mind: since Hiawatha and the Blue Line are capped at Minnehaha Parkway, would it be possible to run trains underground to this point, possibly even burying the wye itself?

    I can’t help noticing that the option that avoids a lot of the rail’s challenges is BRT. I know the Red Line hasn’t been successful, but it’s in a corridor that’s not very amenable to transit anyway. The A-Line could work out a lot better. BRT would fit on West 7th’s narrow corridor, it can be run over existing bridges, and it could even be run on a new dedicated ROW (like the U of M transitway) from West 7th up across the Ford Site to near Ford/Cleveland. It also lends itself to having the line split (as many of MT’s lines already do), with some buses crossing the Ford site to 46th and the Blue Line, and other buses going down to the airport and MoA.

  13. GlowBoy

    Okay, mulling over the BRT option a bit more … here’s a crazy brainstorm: for a fraction of the cost of rail, what if you built *both* an aBRT line down West 7th, then back up to Ford-46th, *and* highway BRT along most of Shepard Road and then down to MSP and MoA?

    The hBRT could even veer off Shepard near the west end, following the old rail corridor up to meet the aBRT around Sibley Plaza, providing an extra connection between the lines.

  14. Luke Van Santen

    What if Riverview (as LRT or BRT, preferably LRT?) ran all the way (along the river and over the Hwy 5 bridge) to the airport, AND the new A Line (which already runs through the Ford site) added a branch along Randolph from Snelling to DT StP?

    Ford site gets relatively nice connectivity to both DTs and MSP. StP gets one seat ride to MSP. A Line becomes the circulator between the two (three?) and Roseville. Just gotta have 10-15 minute headways on A Line?

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