The Riverview Line is the Best Twin Cities Transit Project in the Works Right Now

I don’t want to step on your shoes too much, folks, because critiquing Twin Cities transit planning is a noble effort. There are lots of nits to pick when it comes to how investment is playing out in the Twin Cities metro area, many of which you can find on this very site.

To make a long story short, there have been a lot of compromises made on the road to modern transit in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Like for example, take this by-no-means-comprehensive list:

Which is to say that it’s not that hard to brainstorm a better transit system in a vacuum. Feel free to do this, and streets.mn seems to me like a great venue for the floating of politically interesting and horizon-expanding ideas.

But meanwhile, in actually-existing transit in the Twin Cities, the one with many different regional, neighborhood, and street design compromises, I have a point to make. Even with “fully dedicated light rail” off the table, I believe that Riverview is the best project currently in the queue. In other words, this is a better transit project than either of the expensive Minneapolis lines, the Southwest or Bottineau light rails, both of which connect mostly empty parks and mostly car-centric suburbs to downtown Minneapolis.

Four Reasons Riverview is the Best

I have four main points with which to try and convince you why this might be. For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume that the Political Advisory Committee will pick the West 7th streetcar route as the preferred option (though I am on the record supporting a decision that goes on the CP Spur) and that it will cross at a new bridge next to the existing Highway 5 freeway bridge.

First, as Chuck says often at Strong Towns, I believe that good transit should “connect places.” This is a simple way of saying that transit works best when it tries to go to already-existing attractions, rather than create new ones through a long process of “transit-oriented development” or greenfield speculation. While it doesn’t hit the huge transit attractor that is the University of Minnesota, Riverview does connect a whole bunch of actually-existing places where people already are, and also places people want to go. The big ones are downtown Saint Paul (and all its museums and other buildings), the Xcel Center and CHS Field (concerts, sports), the airport, and the Mall of America. All of these are large employment centers and/or attractors, and connecting these kinds of major Twin Cities places is exactly what transit should be doing.

Second, I think transit investments should be built around walkable station areas. My transit philosophy is one that puts walkability first. Planning for park-and-ride style transit seems to me a lost cause that will never have a meaningful impact on our transportation network. (If people have to get into their car in the first place, to drive to a bus or train, why don’t they simply stay in their cars?)

Instead, the key to transit is never having to get into your car in the first place, and thus not having to own one. This can only be done with having walkable station areas that put buildings, sidewalks, and close-knit street grids all around the transit stops instead of parking lots or uncrossable freeways.

And lo and behold, the stops along the Riverview line will almost all be very walkable! (The least best one is probably the planned stop at Montreal Avenue, which is an intersection with tons of busy streets). This is a train that people will walk to and from, more like the Green Line (in a neighborhood) than the Blue Line (next to a highway) in how it will look and feel. To me, that’s a great sign.

Walkable areas with sidewalks and everything (mostly).

The busiest bus stop in Downtown Minneapolis.

Third, I think we should plan transit investments where there is already existing ridership. Ideally, transit investment should be an incremental process. We should be improving and “upgrading” our existing high-ridership transit lines rather than creating entirely new lines out of whole cloth. This is exactly what the aBRT project is all about, and the fact that this route was going to be the 2nd aBRT project (the so-called “B-line”) is a point in its favor rather than a strike against.

The Route 54 bus is one of the most efficient and highest ridership buses in the system, and improving it with rail will only increase its appeal. (How else would you propose doubling ridership on the 54?) Investing in a higher-end transit project here is how transit planning should be done, step-by-step improvements to build ridership and mode share.

The inside of a modern streetcar.

Streetcar looks like this.

Finally, I believe that rail is a meaningful improvement over buses and is worth the investment. Some transit planning reduces decision making to a simple time-and-money equation, and by that logic, everyone should take the bus because it’s cheap and quick and flexible.

But I think a lot is lost in that way of looking at the world, and that rail transit offers measurable improvements that are often discounted by decision-making models. Rail is smoother, quieter, easier to understand, and has more space, and all of these things turn out to be really important for people who have a choice in how to get around. (I wrote all about this years ago on this site.) The reason that people like rail but don’t like buses is not a mysterious “bias”, but based in solid preferences that have everything to do with the actual experience of the two technologies.

That’s why I like rail and believe we should build it along key transit corridors if possible, and why I think it’s the best choice for this project too. It’s expensive, but you’re getting very important things for the money (not to mention the traffic calming benefits of the rails themselves).

West 7th Street back when it was walkable, had a contiguous street frontage, did not have consistent 40mph traffic weaving back and forth between lanes, and also featured streetcars at high frequencies. (around 1935)

Contrast to the Two Extensions

Tunnel in a forest.

I’ve been following the two Blue Line and Green Line extensions (a.k.a. Southwest LRT and Bottineau LRT) as much as anyone should, and I think that by any of these measures Riverview is a better investment than either of those lines. Not to piss in anyone’s light rail cornflakes, because maybe they are still good projects, but outside of downtown Minneapolis itself (and maybe Hopkins or Lake Calhoun?), neither line connects as many “places” as Riverview does. Neither project will be surrounded by nearly as many walkable station areas as Riverview will. And finally, neither project builds on actually-existing ridership. And both are more expensive.

Meanwhile, I’m cautiously optimistic about the compromises that are in the works around Riverview. The biggest one, by far, is the “shared-use” / mixed-traffic section that will go from about the Xcel Center area near downtown to somewhere around Grand Avenue (give or take a half-mile). That’s a big compromise to existing traffic and parking patterns, and I am skeptical about how well it will work through this congested area, especially during rush hour. The train will certainly take longer during those times, and Metro Transit will have to do a lot of work to make sure the streetcar runs well, adjusting enforcement and signal timing to do whatever they need to do.

The other compromise, swapping out the “light rail” vehicle and ROW design for a “streetcar”-style model, is less important to me. The differences in capacity aren’t that great, and the streetcar will be able to go just as fast as a light rail would have. Meanwhile, maybe the street design itself will be more conducive to making West 7th a walkable street again. The devil is in the details, and those are still unclear.

In every transit project, there are some trade-offs. The Riverview compromises remind me of the big Green Line trade-off, where three additional stations were added at Western, Hamline, and Victoria Streets to promote equity. The new stations increased cost, decreased efficiency, and were not “ideal transit planning.” But the extra stations were what people in the neighborhood wanted, and adding them made the project better in the end. The Green Line teaches us that people don’t mind a few more minutes of travel time if they’re comfortable.

I think the compromises on Riverview are similar. The mixed-traffic streetcar is not ideal, but if the consultants are to be believed, they are also not huge difference makers in terms of the overall speed and ridership forecasts. And even with these transit compromises, Riverview is still the best transit project in the Twin Cities right now, better than any of the rail projects going on in the West Metro. I hope decision makers in Saint Paul and Minneapolis can find a way to make it work.

“Widening West 7th” (for more cars) back in the 1930s… note the tracks.

West 7th downtown back in 1935. Note the streetcar.

Looking at the West 7th, St Clair area in 1925 or so.

West 7th in 1955, just after it was turned into a barely-walkable car sewer.

 

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58 Responses to The Riverview Line is the Best Twin Cities Transit Project in the Works Right Now

  1. Mike Sonn
    Mike Sonn July 24, 2017 at 10:02 am #

    How will another fleet vehicle impact operation costs? Mixed-traffic is obviously the most glaring disadvantage to modern streetcars, but the hidden beast is forcing another vehicle type onto Metro Transit.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke July 24, 2017 at 10:37 am #

      I think it’s minimal. Each LRT line seems to have its own O&M facility and there are already two different manufacturers of LRT cars, even with existing LRT.

      • Aaron Isaacs
        Aaron Isaacs July 24, 2017 at 3:20 pm #

        In this case, the choice of vehicle (streetcar or LRT) is a distinction without a difference. There’s no reason to use a different vehicle just because a segment of the line runs in mixed traffic. Metro Transit should stick with its standard LRT vehicle to avoid the added cost of an additional parts inventory and mechanic training. The only option is whether to run 1, 2 or 3-car trains and that is dictated by ridership.

        • Peter Bajurny July 24, 2017 at 5:12 pm #

          Doesn’t Siemens make a smaller S70 with a shorter and narrower loading gauge? If “streetcar” with it’s smaller loading gauge is really desirable, I think there are ways to achieve that while still using the existing mechanics training and parts inventories and vendor relationships.

        • GlowBoy July 25, 2017 at 4:15 pm #

          I would hope that the station and route design would allow for 2- or 3- car trains, but still with flexibility to run fewer cars depending on schedule and ridership. I don’t think I’ve seen a 1- or 2- car train on the Twin Cities Metro, though.

          That’s what Portland does with its light rail: most trains are 2 cars these days, but you will see 1-car trains at less busy times (there are no 3-car trains, because the blocks are too short.) I don’t know how much it reduces operating costs to run shorter trains, but it must help. On the other hand, the Portland Streetcar is 1-car trains only. I don’t think the streetcar platforms accommodate longer trains, and designing the Riverview stations that way would be a mistake.

    • Eric Ecklund July 24, 2017 at 10:38 am #

      They could just use the Siemens Type 3 vehicle (currently on order for the Southwest LRT), but with one- or two-car trains instead of three-car trains on the light rail lines.

      • Bill Lindeke
        Bill Lindeke July 24, 2017 at 10:39 am #

        Yeah others know more about this than myself.

        • Alex Schieferdecker
          Alex Schieferdecker July 24, 2017 at 10:50 am #

          I’d like to know more about this as well, so I hope they chime in. The LRT and proposed streetcar have the same gauge, since they would share tracks from Ft. Snelling to MOA. So why not just run smaller LRT trains on West 7th?

          I agree with you Bill that the car issue isn’t a big one, with the exception that I see it as a worrying symptom of the fetishizing of the streetcar mode.

          • Bill Lindeke
            Bill Lindeke July 24, 2017 at 1:26 pm #

            If we actually build one, it’ll be harder to fetishize it.

      • Ben Surma
        Ben Surma July 24, 2017 at 9:56 pm #

        There isn’t much of a distinction being drawn between LRT and streetcar in this study. From what is in the info online, the “streetcar” option is really LRT with a short segment of mixed traffic. The recent presentation states that the stations for options 4, 6, 8, and 10 are “Scoped as LRT stations, for three-car consists (subject to change withridership equilibration and vehicle choice)”

        http://riverviewcorridor.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/RV-PAC-Agenda-Packet-20170713_ADA.pdf

  2. Karen E Sandness July 24, 2017 at 10:35 am #

    The people who plan transit in the Twin Cities must not be transit riders themselves.

    If I were planning a westside light rail line, I would route it through Uptown and out along the greenway through the Excelsior Grand area to Methodist Hospital to downtown Hopkins and then to downtown Excelsior. These are all destinations that people want to go to, and Excelsior Grand, Hopkins, and Excelsior have huge walkable areas.

    The Green Line should have made a loop in downtown St. Paul, passing by the Ordway, the Science Museum, and other attractions in that area. This would have brought riders from Minneapolis who otherwise would not want to spend 90 minutes on the #21 bus.

    And it is just crazy for the proposed Bottineau Line to skip North Memorial Hospital.

    • Joseph Totten
      Joseph Totten July 28, 2017 at 4:18 pm #

      I asked about this question when I was 13-14, and got a very interesting response.

      How they broke it down was that while that might be more convenient for some riders, the extra time to circumnavigate downtown, as well as difficulty serving trips withing downtown, even along the route, would decrease ridership and usefulness for everyone not traveling to downtown Saint Paul from the Midway.

      (See Detroit’s People Mover, for the disadvantages of a loop)

  3. Thatcher I July 24, 2017 at 10:37 am #

    Bill, how do you resolve the comment you made about at-grade thru Downtown Minneapolis with suggesting it isn’t likely a big deal that the streetcar would be at-grade and in mixed-traffic on West 7th?

    I can’t recall the price tag for the streetcar but thought it was essentially $1 billion, which basically is a light rail line. I have a hard time resolving the idea that an investment that large would include mixed traffic operations, especially near a stadium and at an road access point to downtown. That said, it becomes more conceivable if they design it so that it can get exclusive use of the lanes, easily, during events or if congestion makes the streetcar unreliable.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke July 24, 2017 at 10:38 am #

      Point is that people are still riding the LRT even though it’s not that fast at all times. Sure we could make it better…

  4. Alex Schieferdecker
    Alex Schieferdecker July 24, 2017 at 10:48 am #

    I think you’ve done a good job in advocating for rail on this stretch, Bill, but I think you’re shying away from what I find problematic about this whole process. (I know you’re writing for a general audience, but forgive me if I assume you are in part responding to my article).

    I agree that Riverview is a good candidate for rail transit, you don’t have to convince me there. My problem is that the way the study appears to be reaching its conclusions has prioritized everyone but transit riders. You can argue (as you do) that the concessions its made have been minimal. That may, or may not (I continue to disbelieve the travel time analysis), turn out to be the case. But the fact remains that already, in the pre-planning stage, major concessions have been made to drivers and parking enthusiasts that will come at the direct expense of transit riders. How can we be sure that the concessions will stop there?

    I think the comparison to the Stops For Us campaign is also not quite fair. That campaign was all about transit riders. Those were people who wanted to get on the train, advocating for stops near to them, and their case was compelling enough to get the federal transit funding formula changed. In the Riverview case, we have changes being made to the plan because of the concerns of drivers and parking enthusiasts.

    It’s reasonable to expect that any transit project will be altered, and nothing will be perfect. Light rail is, in and of itself, a compromise from those who’d like to elevate the whole line, or build a subway, or whatever. But as the Green Line signal preemption and the Riverview mode issue both demonstrate, MSP’s political leaders count (usually more) people on trains as less than (usually less) people in cars when critical decisions about space and priority get made. I think that’s something we should always be pushing back against, and I think there is a clear need for a transit riders advocacy group (founded by someone who doesn’t live in Philadelphia!) who can make visible this constituency and be at the table negotiating on their behalf.

    • DerekThompson July 24, 2017 at 12:44 pm #

      This is my biggest worry, if we are going to spend north of 1 billion dollars we should do this the right way. I would hate it if we spend all that money on this project and we end up with a street car that underperforms because it’s in mixed traffic or too many concessions are made to drivers. I don’t know enough about streetcars to know how justified these feelings are, but sometimes I wonder if we should just take that 1 Billion and aggressively expand the ART network in St Paul and maybe look at a true LRT project again in the future.

      • Bill Lindeke
        Bill Lindeke July 24, 2017 at 1:28 pm #

        I am confident ridership will exceed predictions.

    • Scott F July 24, 2017 at 11:40 pm #

      I agree. I think this post provides great big-picture perspective, but also is incomplete without at least mentioning the key point of Alex’s post, which is that transit riders aren’t being prioritized in deciding the details. So the Riverview Line is the most important transit project. Isn’t that all the more reason to try to get it right, and get the actual transit riders heard?

  5. Eric Saathoff
    Eric Saathoff July 24, 2017 at 10:57 am #

    I sometimes wonder if the Green Line being at grade made University Ave LESS walkable. I know that before it was an auto-centric death road, but now it’s an auto-centric death road with a chain going down the middle of the street. (I do acknowledge that there are more medians to protect crossing pedestrians now)
    Would a mixed-traffic streetcar provide less of a visual and physical barrier?

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke July 24, 2017 at 11:05 am #

      I think it’s more walkable now. Certainly car speeds are lower! It’s also easier to cross the street between signals, much of the time.

    • Alex Schieferdecker
      Alex Schieferdecker July 24, 2017 at 11:09 am #

      My perception as someone who used to live along University is that the street is more walkable now, simply because it feels less like a highway. You can still cross the street at most intersections.

      Also, the alternatives are worse, in my view. As a current Philadelphia resident, I can tell you that the elevated trains here have absolutely murdered the streetscape below. There are probably better ways to finesse and design it, but I really do not like any of the elevated systems that I’ve come across.

      • Joe Scott
        Joe July 24, 2017 at 12:38 pm #

        Huh? How do elevated rail lines murder the streetscape? I’ve always really enjoyed walking on streets with elevated rail. The benefits are many: reduces the need for street width so streets are usually narrower. Provides shade and a sense of enclosure to the street, much like good boulevard trees. Reduces conflict with pedestrians and other vehicles, while keeping the route more visible from above ground, unlike a subway. The biggest drawback is noise, but most elevated trains in the US are old. I’m sure modern tech could be brought to bear on the noise problem. I’d much rather see elevated rail on lake st. (A street with basically no shade) than in the Greenway corridor, where people can’t see it and riders can’t see where they are.

        • Eric Saathoff
          Eric Saathoff July 24, 2017 at 12:42 pm #

          In downtown Chicago the EL made the street seem dark. On the southside it didn’t do as much, but maybe that’s because surrounding buildings were shorter. Still, an elevated track sort of swallows the sky.

        • Bill Lindeke
          Bill Lindeke July 24, 2017 at 1:28 pm #

          I don’t like EL’s either. It’s like a retractable roof dome at a ballpark. Yuck.

      • Joe Scott
        Joe July 24, 2017 at 1:15 pm #

        If I had to guess what murdered this streetscape I’d say poverty and disinvestment before I’d say elevated rail transit.

        https://goo.gl/maps/Kn2nrhQsgMD2

        • Alex Schieferdecker
          Alex Schieferdecker July 24, 2017 at 2:22 pm #

          The location you chose is curious. A block away is one of the best restaurants in Philadelphia, and the surrounding neighborhoods have been among the quickest growing (and quickest rising in cost) neighborhoods in Philadelphia.

          Yet the MFL tracks have persistently depressed real estate values underneath, even when surrounding neighborhoods prosper. The tracks make the street dark throughout the year, but don’t cool it in summer as well as trees, nor let it warm it in winter (when the trees have no leaves and the sun comes through). The trains drop a lot of dust and soot. They are extremely noisy.

          I don’t doubt that you could mitigate a lot of these effects with elegant design. But here again, we’re talking about increases in price that don’t seem to me to be justified. And the HART, which is the most modern El being built in the US, really doesn’t improve upon the product a great deal. It just looks like an elevated freeway.

          Perhaps the place where El should work best is in Miami, where the shade is needed all year round and where you can’t cover the streets the same way with trees that you can in the northeast. But even still, the elevated lines there have no charm. Perhaps only if they complete the “Low Line” trail, then the Miami Metro will start to see more development directly underneath.

      • Peter Bajurny July 24, 2017 at 5:20 pm #

        It’s super weird when whenever someone talks about elevated rail we bring out pictures of century old rattling steel Els in Chicago and Philadelphia, when there’s a pretty good reason to think that elevated rail in Minneapolis would look a lot more like this (https://www.google.com/maps/@44.952633,-93.2412256,3a,75y,166.4h,93.28t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1sxzMDrQymKgh0Z6yiDSZmPw!2e0!6s%2F%2Fgeo2.ggpht.com%2Fcbk%3Fpanoid%3DxzMDrQymKgh0Z6yiDSZmPw%26output%3Dthumbnail%26cb_client%3Dmaps_sv.tactile.gps%26thumb%3D2%26w%3D203%26h%3D100%26yaw%3D352.47223%26pitch%3D0%26thumbfov%3D100!7i13312!8i6656) than those examples from Chicago and Philadelphia.

        Also last time I was in Chicago I stayed near the loop pretty close to this (https://www.google.com/maps/@41.8857006,-87.6307267,3a,75y,82.18h,70.07t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1sQrda74fNIDwVIknxYZQtdw!2e0!6s%2F%2Fgeo1.ggpht.com%2Fcbk%3Fpanoid%3DQrda74fNIDwVIknxYZQtdw%26output%3Dthumbnail%26cb_client%3Dmaps_sv.tactile.gps%26thumb%3D2%26w%3D203%26h%3D100%26yaw%3D89.83185%26pitch%3D0%26thumbfov%3D100!7i13312!8i6656) section of El track, I thought the supports did a great job of narrowing the road and slowing traffic under it.

    • Eric Saathoff
      Eric Saathoff July 24, 2017 at 11:20 am #

      Points taken.

    • Karen July 24, 2017 at 1:36 pm #

      I disagree. I walk on and cross University frequently and I find it way more walkable now.

      One, the light rail medians break up the street, so just visually, doesn’t have that car hell-scape feel anymore. There are occasionally old cobblestones, plantings and grass in the middle of University Avenue, imagine saying that 20 years ago. There are LRT platforms with people on them, walking to them. There are bikers bring their bikes to LRT. It seems more vibrant and appealing.

      Two, at the stations and block on either side of them, there are far fewer lanes for a pedestrian to cross at a time. As a pedestrian crossing a big street, I have discovered, my comfort is all about how many lanes of traffic I have to cross before I get to relative safety. I also notice this as biker crossing university. At the LRT stations and near them, you can cross just two lanes of one way traffic and safet get to raised concrete and even a concrete wall to protect you, before you have to get to next crossing. Compare this to trying to cross, say, Maryland, with no medians, got to get across four or five lanes with traffic coming in both directions and getting stranded in the middle is frankly scary. But when I cross University at a LRT station, I it feels easy and safe, and frankly, downright cosy compared to normal stroad crossing – look one direction, wait for a gap, walk through two lanes of traffic, done.

      Three, the light rail and its medians just slow down traffic some, they just do, always better for walkability. To the point I’ve noticed sometimes now, once I get off the LRT and cross University, and then have to walk across a cross street, its the cross street that stresses me more – the cars are coming in hard and fast.

      Four – Have you noticed how the development around the Green Line has changed since LRT? The built environment is becoming way more dense, street-face focused and walkable. I don’t think things like well-appointed micro apartments “The Ray” going in near Raymond and University if there wasn’t any LRT around. Doubt Prospect North people could have gotten a developer to do anything like the 14 story mixed use “The Rise” in without LRT station there. The built environment is a significant component to a making a place walkable, both by providing residences and destinations for the residents and by making there area more appealing for pedestrians.

    • Rosa July 29, 2017 at 12:11 pm #

      in my experience, it varies from place to place. Some of the places I go to often (like the area just west of 280) one of the intersections I often use is a lot better, and the next one West is way worse. The Midway stretch looks better but I don’t walk there often.

      Weirdly they seem better shoveled now, which I think is an indirect effect (more apartment development leads to better shoveling?) but the weird snowplowing patterns around the light rail stations sometimes make it harder to cross University.

  6. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell July 24, 2017 at 12:15 pm #

    Excellent post.

    I think that making the central corridor (green?) LRT rather than tram or streetcar was a major mistake. LRT came with rather massive brutalist stations that create dark, unwelcoming, socially isolated bits of sidewalk, streetcars can have stations similar in size and negative impact to a bus stop. Streetcar can operate with narrower right-of-way? Those in The Netherlands operate with about 5′ less ROW for dual lines IIRC.

    LRT would have been appropriate if it had run down the middle of 94 and had one or two stops each in Mpls & St Paul and one or two along 94.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke July 24, 2017 at 1:29 pm #

      Green Line would have been a good streetcar project for sure. I think its top speed is 50 mph for only about a quarter of a mile.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller July 25, 2017 at 11:03 am #

        Until it’s extended to the suburbs.

        • Matthew Steele July 25, 2017 at 11:12 am #

          Is there a functional difference between streetcar/tram and LRT in this instance? 1. The service would benefit from dedicated right-of-way regardless of vehicle type. 2. LRT is usually considered to be longer trains of longer vehicles, a definite capacity need given ridership. 3. University Ave was/is an insanely wide corridor (we still kept four lanes and turn lanes for car traffic!)

    • Thatcher I July 24, 2017 at 1:55 pm #

      My recollection is that the Green Line ridership projections would have overwhelmed a streetcar set up. Adding additional vehicles would cost more operationally (primarily labor) and created interlining challenges where it meets the Blue Line.

      I’m unsure how much the station designs really are necessitated by whether it was LRT over a streetcar. Streetcars still need most of the infrastructure, whether communication boxes, power facilities, etc.

      The width issue is interesting and worth thinking further about. It should be thought about in Midtown as well since there are some width concerns there as well. But those benefits should be contrasted against the drawbacks, such as capacity.

    • Alex Schieferdecker
      Alex Schieferdecker July 24, 2017 at 2:29 pm #

      I think your issue is with the design and style of the project, not with the actual mode. Having transit run in mixed traffic on University and preserving the vast width of car territory on University would be a downgrade to what has been built. The Twin Cities shouldn’t be building a streetcar anywhere.

      In an ideal world, however, the style of the stations would definitely be a bit more unique and interesting. Beyond just art on the station walls, actually playing with the roofs, like at Nicollet and Target Field, would’ve been neat.

  7. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell July 24, 2017 at 12:18 pm #

    In addition to walkability, how about bikeablity? While walkability creates a capture area of about 1/4 – 1/2 mile radius from a station, safe, comfortable, and convenient bikeways and parking at the station creates a capture area of 1 to 4 miles. Perhaps someone else can do the math on the average number of people differences in these but it’s quite massive.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke July 24, 2017 at 1:30 pm #

      Tough situation for bikes on W7th. Currently it’s crap. In addition, there’s an amendment to the Saint Paul Bike Plan that states “no bike lane can replace parking or travel lanes on W7th.” Former CM Thune insisted on it.

  8. Nicholas Doyle July 24, 2017 at 11:27 pm #

    An expensive-very expensive-unnecessary solution to a non-existent problem. Been to the mall lately? How often to the airport, 2, 3 times a year? Light rail is the developers tool of choice for public subsidies.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller July 25, 2017 at 11:05 am #

      Lots of people work at the mall and airport and go there every day.

      • GlowBoy July 25, 2017 at 3:48 pm #

        Thousands, in fact. One of the reasons the #54 is such a successful line.

    • Will July 25, 2017 at 4:26 pm #

      That may be, but plenty of people work at both locations or live and work along the line. It is also a popular line for transfers elsewhere. Just because you personally don’t use it doesn’t mean it isn’t useful.

    • Ben July 27, 2017 at 1:11 pm #

      People fly into MSP everyday and take LRT to downtown and the mall. It’s called being a big league (or is that a bigly?) city.

  9. Matthew Steele July 25, 2017 at 8:52 am #

    I remember participating in the Lake Street/Greenway planning processes about 5 years ago (and come on already build it!). The conclusion of that process was not to select aBRT on Lake OR a streetcar in the greenway, but to build both! Why can’t we do that here?

    I could imagine aBRT on 7th St working great to St. Paul Ave, through the Ford Site and Highland Park, then to 46th Street Station in Minneapolis. AND ALSO a LRT-spec “streetcar” to the airport and MOA, using some of the dedicated ROW from St. Paul Ave to Randolph or even further.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke July 25, 2017 at 10:35 am #

      Maybe down the road a few years!

  10. Rafael E. Ortega July 25, 2017 at 11:34 am #

    Thank you, Bill, for your thoughtful analysis. I really appreciate your thorough exploration of the options and how they could improve transit for riders and the community. I am paying close attention to contributions like this to the conversation.

    I encourage you and all the advocates participating in this discussion to attend as many of the upcoming community meetings as possible.

    July 31, 2017 | 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
    Presentation at 5:30 p.m.
    Red Cap Room
    Union Depot, 214 East 4th Street
    Saint Paul (map)
    August 7, 2017 | 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
    Presentation at 5:30 p.m.
    Dowling Elementary, 3900 W. River Pkwy
    Minneapolis (map)

    August 9, 2017 | 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
    Presentation at 5:30 p.m.
    Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, 700 Snelling Ave S.
    St. Paul (map)

    August 10, 2017 | 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
    Presentation at 5:30 p.m.
    Nova Classical Academy, 1455 Victoria Way W.
    St. Paul (map)

  11. GlowBoy July 25, 2017 at 4:01 pm #

    OK, so what I’m hearing above is that even though this is being called “streetcar,” functionally it will work a lot more like LRT for much of its distance and maybe even use the same vehicles.

    I hope this is the case, because streetcar as I know it (as an ex-Portlander, and actually in Portland at the moment) is a terrible idea for West 7th. Just way too slow. But if it can achieve the station spacing of conventional LRT, it might be acceptable.

    Echoing the “why not both?” question above, why not run rail down the “CP Spur” corridor west of Randolph and over to the Ford site, *AND* upgrade the #54 to aBRT?

    – Putting rail on an existing rail line wouldn’t require ripping up so many miles of West 7th, saving many millions in construction costs and disruption. And with a more dedicated ROW the trains should end up faster than they would on a busy street. The stations would only be a couple blocks off of W7, and you end up serving the Ford site.
    – Upgrading the #54 to B-Line status regardless of what else we do. Already pretty much the fastest non-express in the MT system, with high ridership as a result of the direct connection between St. Paul, MOA and MSP, and already faster than rail would likely to be. Imagine if it were 20% faster!

    I suspect that doing both will not only provide faster, better service to both Ford and MSP/MOA, when compared with a single solution, but will be cheaper too.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke July 25, 2017 at 4:34 pm #

      One key difference between this plan and the ones you describe is the number of stops. The streetcar would have the same number of stops as the LRT dedicated proposal, and would speed along with signal (some kind of) pre-emption between. It’d be fast once it got going.

    • Joseph Totten
      Joseph Totten July 28, 2017 at 4:56 pm #

      Remember aBRT is about the same speed on W. 7th… 2 minutes faster and 2 minutes more frequent. For a 40 minute line, this isn’t as big of a deal. (As you note, 54 is already fast, unlike 84 which was a true local).

      Portland style streetcars would be overloaded on this route, I cannot see linking LRT consists together with any street running, but I cannot see adequate service with single vehicles… kinda a difficult sell for me either way.

  12. Mike M July 25, 2017 at 11:18 pm #

    Bill
    1. Have you visited SW Station in Eden Prairie? They have a 4 -5 story parking ramp that is too small!!! (Bus riders use parking from near by businesses). Because so many people living further west, drive to SW Station get out of their car & take the bus to Dntn , U of MN etc. During “rush hour” buses leave every 5 minutes i.e. as fast as they can load the buses, which are greyhound style buses not Met Transit style.

    Because the bus is an express bus it is faster than SW LRT which has over 10 stops. During “rush hour” 1/2 the people stand on LRT During “rush hour” everyone sits on the bus & has WiFi

    If SW LRT is ever built, no from the Hwy 5 & I 494 are will use LRT, they will continue to use the bus because it is faster & more comfortable.

    2. If Peter Mclaughin etc had been willing to change the SW route when co-location forced on them, to using the I394 route; SW would already be under construction if not built already.

    3. I agree with you that politicians ruin transportation planning. The original Hwy 62 & I 35 interchange is a good example..

    4. I think it should be a requirement for major transportation projects (roads & transit) to have an estimate of the accident rate for all options. Since there is no estimate, the accident rate is not one of the criteria in decision making. Which is one of the points you are making about the Blue extension

    If an estimate of the accident had done I’m confident it would have show that the University Av. route was the most dangerous of the 3 alternatives for the Green Line

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke July 26, 2017 at 8:45 am #

      I’m not saying SWLRT isn’t a worthwhile project, just that by my criteria (listed above), Riverview is a better one. My big gripe with the two Mpls LRT projects is that park-and-rides are very expensive (big subsidy for those drivers, even compared to “normal” LRT, because they are not paying for the parking) AND the station areas will not be very walkable. That last point is something I’ve written about before, e.g. here: https://streets.mn/2016/02/22/floyd-b-olson-is-spinning-in-his-grave/ I think Hopkins could be the big exception to that last point, but only if the planners are aggressive about reshaping the pedestrian landscape.

      And no I haven’t visited that station. Maybe you’d be willing to help lead a walking tour of the area for a streets.mn event?

    • Matthew Steele July 26, 2017 at 11:20 am #

      Regarding the “too small” park & ride garages around the metro:
      https://streets.mn/2014/03/18/the-dirty-truth-behind-park-rides/

  13. Mark July 27, 2017 at 1:24 pm #

    “Light rail slowing to a crawl through downtown Minneapolis.” This is the case in downtown Dallas as well. It impedes travel times to such an extent that the downtown business community pushed for our second downtown light rail line to be mostly underground. An additional expense for sure, but totally worth it in my opinion.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke July 27, 2017 at 3:16 pm #

      Odd to me that a downtown Minneapolis tunnel has never been suggested by anyone.

  14. Conor OPhelan July 31, 2017 at 10:12 am #

    I also think it is a very intriguing project! I also agree that rail is that way to go. However, it pains me to my very core to see any rail projects proposed to be street-level.

    Here’s my anecdote:

    I went to school at Boston College, and the very end/start of the line Green B-Line is steps from Main Campus. Yet, when students, faculty, or neighbors want to go into the city, they wait for a campus shuttle bus, take it 4 stops, pass the Green C-Line, and get off at the Green D-Line at Riverside.

    All of these lines conjoin downtown, so why do this extra work? Speed. The B & C lines are street-level lines with multiple stops, while the D is off-street with fewer stops. You save a minimum of 20 minutes, each way. This adds up every day. This problem may be unique to those of us who lived at the end of a line and who had options, but it’s an intro into speed matters.

    After school, I moved to Chicago and lived along the L, a comparable system to what the Light Rail should be. They had every benefit accessibility, the Brown and Purple lines stopped nearly everywhere, and if you were in a hurry or traveling further, you’d jump from the Brown to the Red to skip a bunch of stops. During rush-hour, they turned on commuter mode and zipped half of the trains directly out of the city. How is this possible? The one or two middle lanes allowed trains to pass each other.

    The Green Line has been a nice resource for that neighborhood, but it missed out on an ENORMOUS amount of opportunity if it could’ve been elevated. A non-stop from downtown to downtown in 10 minutes would’ve truly connected the cities, opening job and living possibilities, which would in turn churned more development of restaurants, shops, etc. The ridership would’ve increased because new value (read: SPEED) would be created for those who live farther away.

    This all brings me back to the Riverside project (or any future project). Imagine what a bullet from Union Station to MSP would do for the city’s development. Imagine a family trip from W. 7th to Mall of America in which was only 2 quick stops. I’m still suggesting ‘slow lines’ that stop every couple of blocks to make it valuable to the neighborhood, but to make the entire system more valuable, we need to add faster options.

    The number 1 detractor is expense – both time and money. I get it. But for cities that are growing as fast as the Twin Cities, the opportunity and value significantly outweigh the costs.

    /end rant

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