Transit to the Soccer Stadium

The claim by the soccer stadium builders that transit will substantially reduce the need for parking hasn’t been subjected to much analysis and was just sort of thrown out there. It’s true that the stadium will be directly served by the Green Line, the Snelling Avenue A Line BRT, a reduced Route 84 Snelling Avenue local bus, and the Route 21 Selby-Lake bus. The real question, however, is “Does the transit service go where the fans live?”

If the fans live within Minneapolis, St. Paul, Falcon Heights, and Roseville, then the answer will be ‘Yes.’ It may be that unlike the suburban-oriented Twins and Vikings, a higher percentage of the soccer crowd will be city residents. There is reason to think that may be true, because soccer has special appeal for the local immigrant population, which tends to be less suburban.

I tried to contact Eric Durkee, Director of Public relations for Minnesota United, to ask if he has any data on immigrant or urban attendance at the existing games. He never called back, so this commentary is missing some important data. Because the team currently plays at the National Sports Center in Blaine, which has no public transit service, the results should be different than for the Midway site, but at least it would give some indication of immigrant or urban attendance.

The experience of the Twins and the Vikings offers some clues. Before the Hiawatha (now Blue Line) LRT opened, bus ridership to the Metrodome for either team was pretty minimal. I observed it on occasion and witnessed a couple of busloads headed back to the center of downtown Minneapolis to transfer to other routes. Also, there appeared to be a busload or two coming from St. Paul on the 94 Express and the 16 University Avenue local. And that was it.

I was on staff at Metro Transit when the Blue Line opened and we were surprised by the huge crowds that appeared for sporting events, because nothing like that had ever happened on the bus system. The ticket vending machines on the LRT platforms were overwhelmed. We quickly installed ticket booths at the big park-rides with agents to manually sell fares before the games and introduced 6-hour passes so no separate fare had to be purchased for the trip home. Since then it has worked well.

There is no question that the ridership is driven by the big park-rides at Fort Snelling and at 28th Avenue in east Bloomington. Although park-riding is officially discouraged at Mall of America, the sports fans do it anyway. I see sports ridership at the city stations, but it’s modest compared to the Blue Line park-rides.

When Target Field opened, Metro Transit saw another opportunity to tap the suburban market at very little cost. Commuter express Route 673 connects downtown Minneapolis with a big park-ride at I-394 and County Road 73 in Minnetonka. For a typical weeknight game, the park-ride empties of commuters just when the Twins fans need the spaces and the buses deadhead back to Minneapolis at just the right time for the game. All it took was a little tweaking and extra service to tap the game market and Route 679 was born. It runs every 15 minutes before and after the game. It’s a fast trip and the buses unload and load at a normally unused freeway-level station located on I-394 across the street from Target Field.

South West Metro Transit also runs special non-stop express buses to Target Field from Eden Prairie. Northstar Commuter trains serve every Twins and Vikings game, adding 700 or so riders to the transit mix.

The Green Line has no park-rides and serves no suburbs. I don’t have the exact figures, but when I’ve observed it, Green Line ridership to the Twins appears to be maybe a fourth of the Blue Line.

Put all these services together with modest game ridership on city local buses and they carry roughly 20% of the Twins’ crowd.

Back to the soccer stadium. Even though the transit access will be good, it is nowhere near as good as what the Twins get. None of the transit already committed to the Midway will serve a park-ride lot. The only suburban destinations are Falcon Heights and the HarMar/Rosedale area of Roseville. Anyone who uses the Blue Line park-rides will have to transfer and their rides will take longer than a trip to Target Field. Here are the comparative travel times from the Fort Snelling park-ride, assuming 5 minutes for a transfer.

26 min. to Target Field, no transfer
17 min. to US Bank Stadium, no transfer
32 min. to soccer stadium via transfer at 46th Street Station to Snelling BRT
40 min. to soccer stadium via transfer at Downtown East Station to Green Line

Will they put up with the transfer and the longer trip?

There’s always the possibility of special service from suburban park-rides to the games, but I doubt it will appear until the location and demographics of the soccer fans has become clear.

Future LRT is the key
Suburban soccer transit ridership is really dependent on the light rail lines yet to be built. The 2016 legislature will decide if the Green Line gets extended to Eden Prairie. If so, it will tap park-rides there and in Hopkins and St. Louis Park. That should more than double the present sports ridership, since it will serve a larger suburban population than the Blue Line. Also the extended Green Line will directly serve all four stadia. If the Blue Line Bottineau Corridor extension to Brooklyn Park happens, that will further increase ridership.

In the meantime, I can’t see soccer ridership exceeding the 20% achieved by the Twins, and it will probably be less.





Aaron Isaacs

About Aaron Isaacs

Aaron retired in 2006 after 33 years as a planner and manager for Metro Transit, where he worked in route and schedule planning, operations, maintenance, transit facilities, light rail and traffic advantages for buses. He's an historian of transit, as a 40+ year volunteer with the Minnesota Streetcar Museum. He's co-author of Twin Cities by Trolley, The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and author of Twin Ports by Trolley on Duluth-Superior.

17 thoughts on “Transit to the Soccer Stadium

  1. Stu

    I think that they will transfer, at least from one train to another at downtown east/US Bank Stadium Station. People do it regularly for Gopher’s football games and to a lesser extent hockey and basketball games. Certainly, there are fewer people taking the blue line from the park and ride lots (I board at the VA, one stop north of the Snelling lots) for U of M events than there are for Twins and Vikings games but the numbers are not insignificant.

  2. Nicole

    I think evaluating the behavior of fans at the UofMN for Vikings and Gopher games might give a better sense of what to expect at the new soccer stadium with regards to transit.

  3. Nick

    I’m going to side with Aaron’s analysis. This is based on some MN United fans who I know. They live in the SE and east metro would would likely be among those ‘happier’ with the St. Paul location.

    When the stadium was proposed for DT, one in particular talked about how fun it would be to hop on the train with his kids (either in DT St. Paul or a Blue Line P&R) and ride to the game. Paying to park didn’t make sense because of expected congestion and cost. As soon as it changed, he openly conceded that he would be more likely to drive, park nearby, and walk because of the inconvenience. He rides an express bus to work pretty regularly, so is familiar enough with non-rail transit, but bringing a family was an additional barrier.

  4. Tom

    I expect MN United to see a dramatic shift in demographics with their move to Midway. They aren’t likely to lose many of their current supporters, but I expect the new fan base will be almost entirely urban, largely immigrant or Latino, and largely able to reach the site by transit. Whether they will do so remains to be seen. But United are clearly gambling on the move to MLS and a new stadium radically expanding their fan base so predictions based on their current Blaine fan base would be meaningless.

    I would expect the better comparison would be basketball games, rather than baseball or football, given the expected demographics. The nice thing there is that we again have basketball both at the UMN campus and downtown, so there should be plenty of data to consider.

  5. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    I rode packed Green Line buses from downtown Minneapolis to TCF while the Vikings were playing over there. Some of those people, like me, live downtown, but it also sure seemed like people were parking downtown and riding over (the surface lot next to the Hennepin Ave station was popular, but I think the ABC ramps were in play too).

    Which is to say that while there may not be Metro Transit park and ride lots, there are lots of places along the Green Line (and the A Line) to park and ride already.

    1. Sad Panda

      Parking at the ABC ramps/Target Field area and taking the Green Line appeared to be very popular for the Vikings playoff game this year.

  6. Matt Brillhart

    As for P&R on the A-Line, the State Fairgrounds provide an opportunity for both P&R and tailgating. As long as the Ford Site site sits undeveloped, an area near Ford Parkway could be used for this purpose as well (as long as it was abundantly clear to everyone involved that such a thing would be temporary).

    As long as parking at/near the actual stadium site is scarce and/or expensive, people will do whatever they must to get there. I suspect there will be a pretty large increase in “hide & ride” along the Green Line, but that’s ok! The parking is there, let people use it! Much better than drawing more cars into the Snelling-Midway site itself.

    1. Scott ShafferScott Shaffer

      Won’t Rosedale be a de facto park-n-ride, too? Do they have any way of differentiating who’s hitting up Jos. A. Banks/Big Bowl/AMC and who’s soccering? I think that would be a convenient option for people who live north and east of the site.

      Also, regarding this section:

      “Future LRT is the key”

      Based on the (possibly rosy) SWLRT project page and current Google Maps directions, it will take about 60 minutes to get from an Eden Prairie park-n-ride to Snelling Station on the extended Green Line. Factor in some time to drive to the park-n-ride itself, and It’s probably closer to 75 minutes. I expect households that earn $94k/year would place a high value on their time, such that they’d rather drive and save 50 minutes (each way) than take the train.

      If you’re right, and the existing and imminent transit won’t serve soccer fans, then I don’t see any reason to expect that the LRT extensions would boost transit ridership to soccer games.

  7. Alex

    It’s maybe 5 minutes longer to get from MOA to the Midway stadium site than from Hopkins Crossroad to Target Field, and from Ft Snelling PNR to the Midway stadium site is basically the same as the 679 schedule. I don’t understand, then, your skepticism about the transit potential of the site. 20% is a substantial parking reduction.

    1. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

      I would be delighted to be wrong and underestimate the ridership. I wish we had better data on soccer attendance by immigrants. My point is that the Twins have much better transit access from everywhere than the soccer stadium will ever have and all they have managed is 20 percent.

    1. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

      Portland does much better because the stadium is downtown fed by all the local bus lines, plus light rail from multiple directions. Those rail lines originate in the suburbs and have park-ride lots. It’s a completely different situation than the Midway site, and for that reason I stand by my analysis.

  8. David MarkleDavid Markle

    Good points raised in this article based on the local comparisons and that immigrants will likely constitute a big percentage of soccer fans. The sheer slowness of Green Line transit will also be a factor.

  9. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

    First off, I like that the goal set by the team is very high, because I think that marketing, education, and the sheer weight of expectation will play a role in this.

    Second, I think that soccer’s fanbase is likely quite a bit more urban than that of the Twins or the Vikings. The Portland Timbers see up to 60% of their fans use transit to get to games. The Portland Trailblazers, whose arena may be even better served by transit, see only 30-40%. I can’t completely say that’s a sports demographics issue, especially given that I do not know Portland well, but it does seem suggestive.

    Third, the more illustrative example ought to be the recent experience with the Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium. I know Metro Transit said about a quarter of fans took the train to the game, let’s conservatively assume that was a high point and that the number moved between 15-25%. Even then, that seems to indicate that people are willing to make two or even three-part trips for a special event. That also seems to set a floor for expectations regarding the Midway soccer stadium.

    Put together, I’d argue that strong marking and incentives, an urban fanbase for the sport, and transit success at TCF Bank, I think that a 50% mode share is ambitious, but not unreasonable, and certainly worth shooting for.

  10. Scott

    So, the public is supposed to fund parking facilities on-site for the 80% who choose to drive to this stadium? I don’t think so! There are tens of thousands of stalls that exist now that can be used in combination with transit or even (heaven forbid) walking.

    1. Will

      Walking!? If I can’t have the space directly in front of the door, it’s not worth going to!

      -Lots of drivers

  11. Scott

    There seems to be a lot of nervousness in the neighborhood about the parking situation. I don’t think it will be that bad.
    1. If all the proposed office buildings come to pass, they will presumably add parking for themselves, which the stadium can use during off-business hours
    2. There is a big, very underutilized city-owned parking deck at the Spruce Tree Center that holds 353 cars (aka the big green urinal)
    3. Opportunities for park and ride in the neighborhoods all along the Green Line
    4. Park and Ride at Rosedale (probably illegal, but tough to enforce)
    5. Park and Ride at the fairgrounds – as noted above
    6. Underutilized parking at Target and the adjacent Cub Foods/Midway Marketplace/Wal-mart strip-mall.

    Plus, the stadium will only hold 20,000 people. That’s well under half of what the Gophers’ stadium holds, less than 1/3 of what the Metrodome held, half the size of Target Field, and 27 percent the size of the Vikings’ new stadium.

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