Map Monday: Minneapolis Low-density Neighborhoods with Good Transit Service

Alex Cecchini recently argued that we should allow multifamily buildings along leafy, quiet streets. One of the points he used to support his argument was that transit service in many Minneapolis neighborhoods is flexible. This point seemed particularly ripe for further analysis and visualization. How good is transit in low-density neighborhoods in Minneapolis? Is our zoning code preventing people from living in areas with lots of economic opportunity?


I used two data sets: zoning districts for Minneapolis, and transit access to jobs for the Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI metropolitan statistical area. I got the zoning data from the City of Minneapolis’s Open Data site, and I got the transit access numbers from the University of Minnesota’s Accessibility Observatory, run by’s own David Levinson. The zoning data should be up to date. The transit data is from 2014, so it doesn’t show the effects of the Green Line LRT, but it isn’t missing any drastic changes to transit in Minneapolis.


I used the two datasets to find the overlap between low-density zoning and high transit service. Minneapolis defines “low-density residential district” as being the following zones: R1, R1A, R2, and R2B (Chapter 546.20(1)). I defined “high transit service” as being the 10% of the metro area with the greatest access to jobs by transit. In other words, I found the areas where you could access more jobs by transit than in 90% of the rest of the metro area. To show some nuance, I further classified these areas with high transit access to jobs as being above the 90th percentile, the 95th percentile, or the 99th percentile of the region.

Then, I found the intersection of the high-transit areas and the low-density zoning areas. I was left with a layer that shows where transit access to jobs is very high (top ten percent in the region), and the primary zoning code doesn’t allow anything denser than a duplex. (If I had wanted to be more thorough, I would have looked at the overlay zoning districts, too.) The blank spaces either have different zoning (downtown, for example), or worse transit access to jobs (Longfellow and Southwest).


Here’s the map (interactive version here):

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Areas with high access to jobs by transit and low-density zoning.

This map shows that big chunks all over the city are both zoned for low-density residential and has more access to jobs by transit than 90% of the metro. Small areas in close-in neighborhoods (mostly along Franklin Avenue in South Minneapolis and University Avenue in Northeast and Southeast) are zoned for low-density residential use despite having more useful transit than 99% of the region. It’s predictable that Minneapolis has good access to jobs by transit, because we have a big downtown job center and transit lines (bus and rail) that converge on downtown like spokes on a hub. So, a person who’s closer to downtown not only benefits from having a shorter bus ride, but has more bus routes to choose from. Being farther away from where the jobs are geometrically entails having worse access to the jobs.


Alex is right: many single-family homes on quiet, leafy streets have exceptional transit service (as measured by access to jobs by transit). It’s not necessary to live directly on a busy street to benefit from transit. If we want apartment- and condo-dwellers to live in places where they can get by without needing a car every day, then we should make room for them in the interiors of our close-in neighborhoods.

Note that I am not calling for the mass demolition of grand old houses! The difference between a single-family building and a multi-family building is often one of function, not form. Zoned properly, six-thousand-square-foot homes in Lowry Hill (for example) could be adaptively reused as spacious triplexes or fourplexes.

Part of smart growth is letting people live where they can get to a lot of valuable destinations without having to use an expensive, dangerous, and polluting vehicle every day. In order to make the most of Metro Transit service, and to make the most of Minneapolis’s limited land area, we should permit multi-family buildings in areas that are within walking distance of downtown.

Scott Shaffer

About Scott Shaffer

Scott Shaffer works for a nonprofit community development corporation in Minneapolis. He has a master's degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Minnesota. He and his wife live in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood with their daughter and two Siamese cats.

16 thoughts on “Map Monday: Minneapolis Low-density Neighborhoods with Good Transit Service

  1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    Minneapolis historic Marcy-Holmes neighborhood just about jumps off the map, which makes sense. The homes there are in an historic district, and zoned for low-density, while at the same time being very close to the University of Minnesota and downtown, both of which have great transit service.

    The other low-density / high-transit spots appear to be the areas just South of I-94 in West Seward, the Phillips neighborhood, Nicollet Island (and some parts of Northeast across the river), and then the Wedge and Whittier neighborhoods. If Minneapolis wants to follow through on increasing density along transit routes –and that could be done in many different ways — then these areas would be logical places to start conversations.

    1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

      Besides the Green line, what other transit routes have become high frequency lines since 2014 or will be soon? Would be interesting to see how this evolves with changes.

      1. Nick Minderman

        I believe that the 2 from the University of MN to Hennepin & Franklin and the 11 from 46th & 35W to 27th & Grand NE are the only additions to MT’s definition of HF since 2014. However, I think there are a few routes that just barely miss the definition. For example, I recall that the 17 south of DT is just a coupe of Saturday trips short of the high frequency ‘promise’, so it could probably be counted for the purpose of this exercise.

        One note in response to Bill’s comment about Marcy-Holmes. Zoning doesn’t equal what’s there. Even within the historic district there are a few non-conforming apartment buildings and quite a few multi-unit (much greater than duplex) within the interior of the rest of the neighborhood. So the issue isn’t getting something there that doesn’t exist, it is preserving the higher density housing if something ever happened to it (i.e. zoning to match existing conditions).

        1. Rosa

          a woman at my bus stop was just talking about the upgrade in frequency for the 2 this week. It sounds great. I have to admit that after several terrible long wait experiences, I haven’t even tried to take the 2 in like 5 years.

      2. Al DavisonAl Davison

        The 62 has started to run (since August) every 15 minutes during the day between Larpenteur and downtown Saint Paul during the week, though it’s not considered part of the High Frequency network on Metro Transit’s website yet. It might be missing some of the criteria, or it just may not be officially considered one yet (though it was planned to become one in 2015-17 based of MT’s Service Improvement Plan, so I assume it technically is one now).

        Overall a few routes that connect with the Green Line have seen improved frequencies such as the 87, though many of them have 20-30 min headways, so they are still normal routes with medium-high frequencies (still a great improvement though).

  2. HazelStone

    At least in my neighborhood, there are plenty of parking lots and vacant lots that could benefit greatly from well designed multi-use bldgs

  3. David MarkleDavid Markle

    In the 1920’s and 1930’s, leafy streets like Colfax and Harriet Avenue South between Franklin and Lake Streets were relatively high density; may have been thus zoned and now not? The residents were well served by convenient access to streetcar lines. Today the obvious problem is parking for current residents, despite nearby bus routes..

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      “obvious problem is parking” is a very relative concept. going from city to city, what is and is not a “problem with parking” depends on your perspective.

    2. Janne Flisrand

      David, are you an apartment dweller on one of those streets? While I can imagine what I’d want if my life were different than it is, I know the people living in those apartments get to decide for themselves what they want and need. Including if parking is a problem for them or not.

  4. David MarkleDavid Markle

    I believe that in those “old days,” a lower percentage of residents–especially apartment dwellers–owned cars.

    As to that specific area of south Minneapolis, a drive down any of those residential streets lined by old apartment buildings more than suggests a parking problem for the current residents.

    I’m afraid it’s at least wise (if not actually required by regulation) to provide parking for residents nowadays. However one may feel about public and personal transportation, a lot of people have cars.

    1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

      Parking is a concern for people who have cars, they should consider neighborhoods where apartments offer ample supply of parking to store their car.

      1. Rosa

        our neighbors park a lot of job-related vehicles on the street – school buses, limos, work pickups, cars being fixed at the autobody shop, taxis, a couple years ago our next door neighbor was driving (and parking) a semi. Oh and food trucks.

        I don’t think we need to provide tons of offstreet parking, or even tons of on-street parking, but we do need some parking as part of keeping city neighborhoods places where working people and small businesses can use shared resources. And parking rules aimed at increasing density and safety, too.

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