Introducing the B & E Lines in Minneapolis

Hello, all!

I write today to bring your attention to a very interesting and good PDF (portable document format) on the Metropolitan Council’s website that talks a lot about arterial bus rapid transit (aBRT), also known as the only clearly good thing that we’re doing right now, transit-wise. These “aBRT” lines are buses that have been improved with off board payment, real time arrival information, traffic signal priority, and other things.

We’ve got that A Line, over in St. Paul, described as “the best new investment Metro Transit has done since I have moved here,” by a local Civil Engineering professor who is now on his way to Australia; there’s also the C Line on Penn Avenue North in Minneapolis that is forthcoming and also good.

In this here PDF, we have an early review of the A Line over on Snelling Avenue in St. Paul, and it looks good so far:


Wow, up 35%? That sounds good. Also, 20% faster than existing service? Also sounds good. As a reminder, the A Line was super cheap, and only cost about $27 million American dollars, which is some fraction of the consulting fees on the Green Line extension, which will be slower than the buses that run from Eden Prairie to Minneapolis now, and definitely not 20% faster.

As part of the aforementioned PDF, we got a bit more information about future aBRT lines. This has been a little hazy since sassy Ramsey County decided to switch out the B Line on West 7th for some train that will probably not happen until I’m in my 40s (and I’m 26–sorry). Anyway, the East Metro is now looking a little weak, due to that, so please don’t whine in ten years when someone asks why there are not more aBRT lines in St. Paul.

Check out this neat map:


Wow, looks like we have planned aBRT lines in many of the places where it makes sense to make investments in transit. And they’re super cheap!

Again, for emphasis–they’re super cheap. One local nerd recently pointed out there is, theoretically, a bunch of money available in Minneapolis’ property tax capacity to build good transportation improvements like this, though that seems complicated. Maybe less complicatedly, the Counties Transit Improvement Board might disband soon. Then the counties will have more money to spend on, maybe, less bad things. Like, check this out:


Still a lot of relatively small funding gaps, here.

You ever taken the Route 6 bus on Hennepin Avenue at rush hour? It’s hilarious, what with the Benny Hill theme song playing on the speakers and all. We probably won’t get the grade separated rail we deserve anytime soon, but shucks, the $27 million dollar E Line is maybe a plan to greatly increase mobility along Hennepin Avenue, where there are already a ton of transit users? That would probably be a good investment.

The D Line, which will replace the Route 5 bus, is coming up after the C Line on Penn Avenue North, and it’s a bit more expensive. The Route 5 bus through North and South Minneapolis is also by far the busiest in the system and in a more just system, would have been slated for more intensive improvement than a better bus.

Also, we are subbing out the West 7th Street B Line for a Lake-Marshall B Line, replacing the Route 21. I would say maybe don’t even bother and of course build a train in the existing Midtown Greenway trench already, but until we get some new leadership at Hennepin County, that is probably out.

In any case, I don’t know what’s happening! Do you know what’s happening? Everything is hazy and bizarre. You always hear that there is no money, but that is clearly not correct–money exists, and we spend it on wacky $10.6 million dollar pedestrian bridges for the Vikings. That one example is silly, of course, but we build lots of things like that in a year, like the $15 million dollar dumb Cedar Grove Station for the dumb Red Line, or planning in the Red Rock corridor for tens of riders an hour.

There are many tens of thousands of existing transit riders, on routes where we could for sure get many new transit riders, if the current routes were not bad and sad. The aBRT network is a good thing we should be rolling out as quickly as possible. Are we doing that? Nope, we’re mostly still reaching for that extremely high hanging fruit–the guy who owns two cars and lives in Chanhassen and works in downtown Minneapolis and is mildly annoyed about having to pay for parking. Everything is fine.

Nick Magrino

About Nick Magrino

Nick Magrino grew up all over the place but has lived in the Loring Park neighborhood of Minneapolis longer than anywhere else. He has a new cat, Sweater, and does not use hashtags at @nickmagrino. He is probably on a bus right now.

28 thoughts on “Introducing the B & E Lines in Minneapolis

  1. Peter Bajurny

    Metro Transit did a Midtown transit study a few years ago and the conclusion they came to was that we should do both, build a train in the Greenway *and* build the Lake St ABRT. Having our cake and eating it too!

    1. Aaron

      Cake is delicious, but as somebody who lives in Longfellow I am glad aBRT is being pursued! Lake Street congestion is a bit of a problem for speed, but unlike the trench it can carry riders from Uptown to downtown Saint Paul and is much needed to speed the miserably slow route 21.

  2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    The argument I heard from a transit planner working on the Gateway/Gold line is that we should focus major transit investments on developing/redeveloping areas not well-served by transit, because that has the most potential to steer development to something sustainable and transit-oriented. If we focus all resources on just improving existing lines with heavy ridership, we’ll be encouraging most of our region to develop in a way that’s incompatible with transit — and we’ll never focus on creating new riders. Putting it to an extreme that that planner did not phrase it: people already take the bus on Lake Street, so what’s the problem?

    I buy that, to an extent, but maybe not to the extent of a $2 billion SWLRT instead of 20 or 30 aBRT lines.

    In any case, can’t wait for the D line! Richfield was originally hoping to coordinate installation of those stations with the Portland Ave reconstruction, but in the end they decided it wasn’t far enough along to commit to building those out now.

    1. Joey SenkyrJoey Senkyr

      That’s really frustrating. As shown at 7th and Hennepin/Nicollet (also used by the 5!), the curb and shelter improvements work just fine with standard busses. If, worst case, they had made the improvements and the D Line somehow fell through entirely, then the 5 would have surprisingly nice stations for an outer portion of it’s route. Probably not the end of the world!

    2. Peter Bajurny

      Frustrating indeed, because we could get many more riders in our core and drive even denser and greener development if the transit was better than it is now. I’m sure someone somewhere has done some calculation of dollars spent per ton of GHG eliminated, and I’d put money down that intensifying existing places reduces more GHG for less money than trying to shoehorn transit into car dependent places.

  3. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    In general, if things like car sharing, transit ridership, bike sharing, and overall mobility patterns have shown us anything, it’s that spreading out non-motorized and transit investments over a wide geographic area does not work very well. instead, we need to concentrate and focus these investments very specific places, where walkable infrastructure (e.g. sidewalks) and density already exists. But this flies in the face of traditional Minnesota geographic balance-type regional-planning-style liberal ideals, so it’s a political pickle.

    What is Red Line ridership again?

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      I looked it up. Charitably, and this is stretching, after 2 years or service, there are 1K people a day riding the Red Line buses. Meanwhile, already about 2K NEW riders are on the a-line buses, at much less of a total project cost. It’s because Apple Valley and Cedar Avenue is designed horribly for walking and transit use. Basically, you can draw a line around the places where transit makes sense. A great shorthand is if it’s a street grid that includes sidewalks. Unfortunately, this eliminates about 2/3 of the metro area and a huge portion of the taxable property and wealth.

      I wish it weren’t so…


      1. John Charles Wilson

        I have an idea to “save” the Red Line: extend it to Minneapolis. Imagine the Red Line starting in Apple Valley as it does now. I would actually add a few more stops within AV to get people closer to shops and restaurants on Cedar. The new Cedar Grove stop in the median is a good idea. If the Red Line were a “new” line I would skip the Mall of America as a destination, but since it’s already there, taking it away would be unfair. But I would continue the line north on Cedar with stops at the 5-8 Club, Minnehaha Pkwy., 42nd St., 38th St., 35th St., Lake St., and 24th St., and via Hwy. 55 into downtown Minneapolis.

          1. John Charles Wilson

            I have no stats, but my informal observation is most current Red passengers terminate at MOA and don’t transfer. People are *really* attached to those one-seat rides, LOL! An extended Red could serve the same purpose as SW LRT, a non-express, all day service to a suburb where the only current one-seat ride is an express bus.

            I believe limited-stop, semi-express, all-day routes are the next step in enabling suburban mobility. A few months ago, I posted an idea for a similar route using Lyndale in Minneapolis and I-35W in the southern suburbs.

  4. Paul Nelson

    There is a different application for Rapid Bus systems and Light Rail.There is some overlap of issues, but there are distinctions of benefit. It is not simply a cost issue of build out and whats “cheap”. Rail transit works and runs better in our winter climate than cars or buses. Is rail 100% immune to inclement winter? No, but more often than not, running on time when we are having difficulty with our roads for cars and buses. This is well documented for years, in our media and elsewhere. Examples: “Rail runs, buses stuck” (2004). “66% of buses off schedule, rail lines on time – Met transit website a few years ago. There are many more examples, including the recent light and simple snowstorm.

    Rail transit moves more people per dollar. In alignments and corridors where there is higher potential for ridership, we can move people at lower cost than by bus. If the ridership is not there, rail is not cheaper to run. Rail transit provides a much smoother and comfortable ride than bus systems, which makes standing more practical in rail than a bus. When you count the capacity of a bus, you count the seats only. We would not implement a LRT line in Brainerd and direct it toward a cornfield.

    By now we should have five or six tram lines in the western suburbs, and the SW LRT should have been built 40 years ago. We all need a better education and understanding of these issues.

  5. Eric Ecklund

    “The D Line, which will replace the Route 5 bus…”

    No, its in addition to. Route 5 will only be reduced in frequency.

    “…which will be slower than the buses that run from Eden Prairie to Minneapolis now, and definitely not 20% faster.”

    What if I told you its not meant to replace those EXPRESS buses, rather complement the existing system, provide suburb-to-suburb service, and provide service on the weekends when express buses wouldn’t be economical.

    I think the A Line is great, and I’m excited for our ABRT system to expand, but lets not treat it as the cure-all to our transportation woes.

    1. Nick MagrinoNick Magrino Post author

      “What if I told you its not meant to replace those EXPRESS buses, rather complement the existing system, provide suburb-to-suburb service, and provide service on the weekends when express buses wouldn’t be economical.”

      I’d laugh!

      1. Eric Ecklund

        Then I’d suggest studying up on transportation planning and learning why light rail was chosen for this route instead of buses, which it appears you think is always the best solution because its cheap. Just because its cheaper doesn’t mean its the best option.

        Would you say ABRT would’ve been a better investment than the Green Line on University Avenue?

        1. wc

          University Ave is not at all the same as the SWLRT routing. Night and day difference. One of the (weak) reasons they had for steering the SWLRT routing around uptown/whittier was that it might add a few minutes to the trips of those precious suburban commuters who are the only ones the planners cared about attracting (screw you existing customers!).

          So yeah, saying SWLRT is probably meant to replace some express buses isn’t really a stretch. And if it’s not meant to, wow, what a duplication of efforts for a small group of affluent suburbanites. So many options for them while I have exactly one inner-city bus route option that’s usually late and has crappy frequency. Neat.

  6. Keith Morris

    As much as I like the Green Line (riding it now) I would take the dozen or so aBRT lines that would be up and running today for the same price tag: Hennepin, Lyndale, Nicollet-Central, Lake-Marshall, Chicago, Penn, University NE or 2nd, Grand, Payne, etc. That said there is plenty of funding to roll out more aBRT lines faster but transit users should be much more vocal.

  7. John Dillery

    Everyone is discussing building transit infrastructure, ABRT (A Line), Highway BRT (Red Line), LRT — and that is good as far as it goes, but I hope you all consider that it is only half the story about transit in Minnesota. The big story is funding the operating subsidies of transit adequately (which has NOT been done in this state).

    We need strong adequately representative (at least some members elected) regional governments with independent taxing authority in all of the urban areas of our state to support the ongoing operating subsidies of the improved transit infrastructure you want to see. This is quite practical. It takes wisdom and political will, and you will find that this is the adult manner that they approach transit service in other states and countries. To have a clear vision, we must see everything.

    1. Peter Bajurny

      On that I’d love to see some farebox recovery data for the A line. Making the bus run faster doesn’t just provide faster service for riders, it also means you can run the line with fewer buses and drivers, saving operational costs. Likewise the marginal cost of an additional rider on a bus is basically zero (a few cents for gas?) so if a one time capital outlay can improve ridership then you’ve increased the revenue on the line without increasing expenses.

    2. wc

      I want every highway tolled so we can stop using all the general fund money to subsidize automobile commuting and free up some for other modes. I want to see highways expected to have the same farebox recovery ratios expected of transit. Why is that so unreasonable?

  8. GlowBoy

    Although I wish it weren’t so expensive, I’m not sure the Cedar Grove transit station is dumb. I’ve only ridden the Red a couple times, but overall I liked the service … except for the “WTF” moment during that circuitous route through the outlet mall area. Seriously agonizing, and IMO a pretty strong deterrent from riding the line. The Red Line probably wasn’t the best use of limited transit dollars, but we have it so we might as well fix it and make it run well.

    That said, I’m thrilled with the success of the A-Line and prospects for more lots more aBRT. (Of course the D-Line will benefit me most, since I live in Diamond Lake. 553 gets me downtown fast if I’m traveling at Express-bus times, but otherwise the #5 is agonizing once it gets north of Lake Street). But I can also understand the bang-for-the-buck arguments for the Hennepin and Lake-Marshall routes, both of which scream out for faster service. In a better world, of course we’d be building out 4 aBRT lines at once.

    I will point out that although the holdup of the B-Line on West 7th is disappointing, the existing #54 is amazingly fast for a non-aBRT route. In fact, one of my concerns about light rail on West 7th is that it might be slower than the 54. If I’m not able to catch the 553 downtown and transfer to the 94 (also an awesome service), #5 south to MOA and then the 54 is often my best option to St. Paul.

    1. wc

      Rather than learning from the red line they’re throwing good money after bad and trying to make lightning strike twice with the gold line. We’ve got the best transit planners, I tell you. Just the best. Tremendous planners.

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        Our transit planners — all professionals — have to work in the political reality of regional cooperation and shared funding across a very low-density, suburban region. You can’t just exclude transit improvements from the collar counties and continue to expect them to pay indefinitely.

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