Three Complaints and Three Ideas for Minneapolis-St. Paul’s Future METRO System

It’s busy times for the Metro Transit system in the Twin Cities. Although the roadblocks seem endless, the Southwest Green Line light rail extension is agonizingly inching towards construction next year. The Bottineau Blue Line extension is seemingly on pace to start construction sometime a year or two after that. The Orange and Gold Line bus rapid transit projects are also deep in the pipeline.

All of this comes at the same time that the transit funding process for the Twin Cities has been upended by the dissolution of the Counties Transit Improvement Board and the decision by Hennepin and Ramsey Counties to double their transit taxes to raise additional funds. This is a blow against the regionalism that has (often successfully) characterized the MSP metro’s approach to a myriad of issues, but it had become a troublesome arrangement for transit, which is of considerably less importance to the five suburban counties than to the two urban ones.

The imminent construction of two light rail lines and two highway BRT routes, and a major change in funding structure gives us an opportunity to take a step back and look at what has been accomplished in expanding transit in MSP, and consider strongly what ought to come next. The finish line set by the 2030 Transit Vision (authored in 2010) for the region is not near, but it is in sight. The first of many scheduled four year updates to the 2040 metro transit vision is also due next year. The arc of a transit project in MSP is long. The Central Corridor took decades in wrangling to get built. The Southwest and Bottineau projects have been planned for nearly a decade and a half. The coming few years will determine the next set of METRO priorities after the current wave of projects.

 

What Has Worked and What Hasn’t

A pedestrian crosses the light rail tracks on the intersection of Oak Street and Washington Avenue on Monday, Oct. 7, 2013.

To date, the METRO system consists of two light rail lines, one commuter rail line, and one commuter BRT line. It’s not homerism to say that despite a tortured history, the blue and green line light rail routes have been among the most successful light rail projects ever constructed in the United States. Consider that the MSP system serves the fourth highest number of riders per route mile (3,344) in the country. The three ahead of it; one in Boston and two in San Francisco, all connect to underlying heavy rail systems, and have all been operating since 1912. The METRO Green Line continues to break its own ridership records while large areas along its track are only just beginning to develop. As American cities west of the Appalachians have increasingly turned back to rail transit in the last two decades, almost nowhere has built as successfully as the Twin Cities.

But few places have also failed as spectacularly. The Northstar Commuter Rail line and Red Line BRT have been abject disasters. Of nearly thirty commuter rail systems in the country, the Northstar Line ranks sixth from the bottom in terms of ridership, attracting just 2,400 riders a day, at a subsidy of $18.31 per ride. More people ride daily on the Railrunner Express between Santa Fe and Alburqurque, NM than on the Northstar Line. The Red Line has performed even worse, struggling to pull even 800 weekday riders, and inspiring a near morbid fascination with riding the void on this website. Combined, the Northstar and Red Line projects cost about $495 million (in 2017 dollars) to construct, and today carry less than a fifth of the weekday riders of Metro Transit’s #5 local bus, whose aBRT upgrade into the D-Line is not yet funded.

Typical scene on the Red Line in Apple Valley.

With two wildly successful routes and two sour lemons, the present day METRO high frequency, high capacity, congestion-free system shows both the promise and peril of transit investments. What should concern anyone who cares about transit in MSP is that it’s the lemon model that’s being more closely hewed to in the next wave of projects. The Green and Blue Line LRT extensions and the Orange and Gold Line BRT projects are all commuter-focused routes to the suburbs, which use the right-of-way of least resistance, not the one closest to its customers. The properties of the two successful LRT routes, which serve inner-city routes and cut through existing and developing neighborhoods, are not readily apparent in the current slate of projects.

In full fairness, it’s highly likely that these current projects will be much more successful as their predecessors. Some lessons have certainly been learned. These routes make plenty of urban stops on their way out to the prairie, serve more job and population heavy areas, and all should offer a higher quality, more reliable service than the oft-delayed Northstar or the MOA-terminating Red Line (which would get a big boost from using the Orange Line stations on I-35W once complete, finally offering a straight shot to downtown Minneapolis). But the transit vision that has promoted these projects is incomplete, and the expected revenue system outlined in the current 2040 vision does not represent a satisfactory or transit system. As the region’s transit decision makers and planners turn toward plotting the next set of long-range priorities, they ought to recognize and correct three central limitations of the current approach.

#1. The Current Projects are Overly Focused on Suburban Commuter Trips

The unifying theme of the Green and Blue LRT extensions, the Northstar Line, and the Red, Orange, and Gold BRT routes, is their target audience. All six projects are dedicated towards the commuter, whether commuting from or to the suburbs. This is no small matter—increasing numbers of low wage jobs are found in suburban areas, which present real transportation challenges. The strongest argument for the Green Line LRT and Orange Line BRT projects is the connections they make between downtown Minneapolis and major job centers in the south and southwest metro.

But designing a transportation system around job sites has two issues. The first is that it does not necessarily serve places where workers actually live. The Green and Blue Line extensions in particular, avoid the densest areas of Minneapolis. In fact, the planning process for both routes expressly eliminated alternatives that would’ve routed the trains directly through some of the densest areas of South and North Minneapolis. The density of census tracts within a quarter mile of planned Green Line extension stations is 5.26 people per acre (2015 ACS 5-Year estimates). The density of census tracts within a quarter mile of planned Blue Line extension stations is 5.27 people per acre. In contrast, the current Green Line serves areas with a density of 11.51 per acre, and the current Blue Line serves an area with a density of 11.73 people per acre (ignoring tract 9800, which is the aiport).

Block Group Population Density Per Acre (2010 Census), with Planned METRO Projects. Lighter is denser.

The second issue is that focusing on trips to and from works relies on a narrow conception of travel and results in a system that does not serve other kinds of trips well. In larger cities with more fully developed transit systems, people do not just take transit to work, but to shop, to visit friends, to attend events, and every other conceivable reason to travel.

Systems that serve all kind of trips are systems that allow people to live car-free. Systems that serve just one kind of trip are systems that allow people to cover only a portion of their trips without a car.

When I was born in New York City, my parents did not own a car. After we moved to a commuter suburb, my Dad took the train to work every day. But my parents bought a car, and eventually a second, because it was not possible to make any other trip besides commuting to Manhattan on the train.

A cautionary and contemporary example for Minneapolis-St. Paul can be found down I-35 in Dallas, Texas, which has the largest light rail system in the country, and quite possibly the most ineffective. The DART system was opened in 1996 and is supported by a coalition of Dallas and suburban municipalities. The result is a hub-and-spoke system that is exclusively useful for commuting.

The consequences for ridership have been significant. DART has spent roughly $5 billion dollars to build a 93 mile system that serves just over 100,000 weekday riders—just barely over 1,000 riders per route mile. To put in local terms, Dallas has spent over 250% what Minneapolis-Saint Paul has spent on light rail, for just 140% of the ridership.

What’s extraordinary is that despite significant expansion of its system, DART’s ridership has increased arithmetically, not exponentially. When a new line has opened, ridership on other routes have not changed. That’s a consequence of the commuter-focused system design, which precludes any kind of network effects. Despite reaching more places than ever, none of these new places are where potential riders in already-covered places want to travel to. By virtue of the system design, the Green and Blue Line extensions are unlikely to add much to the value of the METRO system for people already along it—except if they need to commute to a job site along the new route.

#2. Local Decision Makers Are Too Focused on Using Transit to Spark New Development

The Penfield project in downtown Saint Paul.

Among the major drivers of the expansion of transit in the United States has been the prospect of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD). The formulation is simple; high quality transit is a unique amenity, and it makes high density urbanism more possible. As a result, development of transit, especially rail transit, has been ascribed almost mystical properties to call into being intense new development (subsidies often play a less heralded role). The Twin Cities are no different, and there’s a certain amount of sense to this strategy. Growing cities should be encouraging development that makes use of land more efficiently, requires less car use, and strengthens neighborhood economies.

But there’s an increasing risk here of confusing the cherry for the sundae. The primary focus of transit investments should be to improve the quality of transit. Whatever else comes as a by-product of that is a bonus, not the aim. While still a candidate, Minneapolis Mayor-Elect Jacob Frey appeared on a local conservative podcast and was asked to defend the expensive policy of light rail expansion. His first justification was to trumpet light rail’s development-causing properties. But he’s wrong. The justification for better transit is better transit.

To put the emphasis on the reverse, on Development-Oriented Transit, is as useful as to put your pants on backward. When transit is planned around development, instead of development planned around transit, it creates incentives that actively harm the quality of the transit. Consider two alternatives for a light rail route: one that traverses a number of pre-war neighborhoods with a mix of single family homes, smaller multi-family buildings and commercial nodes, or the other, which runs past a stretch of greenfield plots and light industrial plots. The former option is preferable for serving existing residents today and supporting trips types other than commuting, but the latter option is much more conducive to development. Decision makers in MSP have twice now preferred the latter. These political leaders are not blind, but they are putting in significant amounts of faith in future development to fill in the gaps and build developments that will create denser neighborhoods than the older ones that were passed up. While there has been plenty of development around light rail lines in the Twin Cities, much of it has been subsidized, and what hasn’t has not been evenly spread—suggesting development drivers other than transit.

Preferring DOT to TOD also requires ignoring and under-serving the existing transit-oriented development in the Twin Cities. That not-so hypothetical pre-war neighborhood, for instance, is OG TOD. The streetcar network that once criss-crossed the Twin Cities supported neighborhoods built at a density meant for walking and transit service. That hasn’t changed, and the potential for infill development in existing neighborhoods is extremely untapped and also extremely important for the Twin Cities to realize. To do that, transit decision makers must better value existing TOD and not allow a belief in DOT to dilute the utility of proposed projects.

A map of transit-oriented development in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Source.

 

To some extent, virtually every American city which has built rail or BRT transit in the US has made entreaties at the altar of development. But the apex of this approach has come in the mass of modern streetcar projects pursued in recent years, a ‘Desire Named Streetcar’ that would’ve shocked even Don Pickrell. The goal of these projects, from Kansas City, MO, to Tucson, AZ, is development along their route by virtue of the magical properties of rail in the street. But in pursuing the lower-cost streetcar mode, cities have sacrificed the usefulness of the project as transit. The best example can be found in Atlanta, where the city’s less than three mile streetcar is slower than walking, and ridership evaporated the moment that a $1 fare was introduced. This is an amusement ride, not a transit investment. To what benefit does living alongside the streetcar provide, besides its aesthetic properties, that would lead to development along its route? Local residents would’ve been better served if the city had installed a roller coaster along the route instead.

In a useful contrast made by former University of Minnesota transit planning professor David Levinson (now at the University of Sydney), BRT, which provides useful high frequency, high capacity, congestion free travel, does actually seem to encourage some development. Simply put, development is a secondary objective for a transit project, behind the primary purpose of providing better transit. If a project fails at its primary purpose, it’s not likely to succeed at its secondary one.

#3. The Cost Savings and Political Ease of Using Legacy Freight Railroad Right-of-Way (and Interstate Highways) is Being Preferred to Better Transit

The SWLRT tunnel rendering.

The two most consequential decisions for the Green and Blue Line extensions were to eliminate the 3C alignment through Uptown and the 2L alignment on Penn Avenue. The preferred alternatives will essentially take both routes through the woods, instead of through the densely populated neighborhoods their routes could possibly have served. There’s nothing particularly complex to understand about these decisions. They were taken because the cost in dollars and political capital of building light rail under or through Nicollet and Penn Avenues dwarfed the cost of using existing right-of-way.  Despite all the bizarre headaches caused by the Southwest LRT route, that calculation was still almost certainly correct.  But that doesn’t mean the cost wouldn’t have been worth it.

The point here isn’t to re-litigate these decisions which have been made, and would only be revisited if these projects completely collapse. But it’s important that we fully account for the issues that accompany taking the easy way out. Station location matters a great deal, and transit works best when it is embedded in the heart of areas with dense populations, attractions, and activity. These places are not always co-located with the existence of legacy freight railroad rights-of-way.

Nor are they co-located with interstate highways, which often destroyed them when they were built. The Orange and Gold Line BRT projects do directly serve inner city neighborhoods, with median stations accessible from local street bridges above the highway or underpasses below it. But the Twin Cities do not have BRT that uses dedicated lanes on local streets, which would marry the mode with the development pattern best suited for it, but would also be a great deal more politically costly than even bike lanes, the usual bête noire of reactionary Twin Citizens. The resulting compromise, aBRT, is something to celebrate, support, and expand like crazy, but it’s still a compromise.

Two different approaches toward transit routes. On the left, Denver’s Alameda Station, opened in 1994, served by five lines, which is part TOD, part Park N’Ride. On the right, St. Paul’s Dale St. Station, opened in 2014, served by one line, which has some TOD, but is embedded in an existing neighborhood. Both are reasonably successful (2306 boardings at Alameda, 1385 boardings at Dale (in its second week of operation, is there more recent data?)), but demonstrate stark differences in priorities.

 

Few cities have gambled more on using existing right-of-way than Denver. The Mile High City became a darling of transit advocates nationwide after voters approved an ambitious plan for transit expansion. The result has been a system that has expanded enormously quickly, with six LRT lines and two commuter lines completed in the past fifteen years, but a single trunk legacy freight corridor carries most of the load out of downtown. That has forced Denver’s LRT planners to build the system to serve TOD and Park N’ Ride lots, which are often only feasible on one side of the station. It’s a limiting long term arrangement, and it doesn’t encourage walkable urbanism, car-free living, or any of the commonly described ancillary benefits of transit. The reliance on freight rail corridors has also left much of town unserved, and has resulted in a hub-and-spoke system, but with just a single spoke. Ridership across the whole system, both rail and bus, has struggled, and hasn’t come close to meeting the hoped-for goals of the original planners and politicians.  Despite Denver’s RTD TheRide system having seven lines, 62 stations, and more than double the rail miles of the Twin Cities’ METRO system, both carry almost the exact same number of riders.

MSP shows no risk of going down quite the same extreme route as Denver, but the issues with substandard station locations are important to consider, and have already limited the potential of several local projects. If costs for better stations and routes are prohibitive, METRO decision makers need to establish alternative ways to serve these most transit-friendly places.

 

Pivot Back To The Core City With Future Projects

The ongoing Green, Blue, Orange, and Gold projects aren’t bad projects. They’re not being shepherded by dumb people. Almost 150,000 people live in census tracts served by Green and Blue Line extension stations. Over a quarter of the region’s jobs will be reachable by light rail after their completion. The completion of the next phase of transit projects in MSP will be a benefit to the region.

But the work is incomplete. The Green and Blue LRT lines and Red, Orange, and Gold BRT lines have drawn the outlines of the Twin Cities’ transit system. But like a coloring book, the spaces need to be filled in. aBRT will carry some of the load, and local bus service already pulls its weight. But the METRO system could do much more—add over 125,000 more people to the LRT catchment area (population estimates are the sum of census tracts within a quarter mile of LRT stations), make new connections between existing routes that make car-free living possible, and serve the fastest growing and densest areas of the state. Best of all, the Twin Cities can compromise in one key aspect: much of this vision is can be accomplished while continuing to rely on legacy freight railroad right-of-way routes.

The key component is political will. Projects that serve smaller geographic areas but more people are not necessarily political winners. Political leaders, especially at the county level, may be harder to get on board to support core-city transit projects. But transit systems are networks, where no piece operates in isolation. When the network is strengthened, all users win. When transit reaches new destinations in the core city, it benefits everyone in the suburbs who has transit access. When transit reaches new neighborhoods in the core city, it benefits jobs in suburban locations. After a wave of projects focusing on coverage, which will dramatically increase the geographic footprint of transit in the MSP metro, the next set of priorities calls for a pivot back to the core and a new focus on ridership.

There are two projects which have already survived initial planning studies that merit more support in the first update of the 2040 transit plan and beyond. There’s also one route that has not been studied, but recent trends suggest it deserves consideration. Here are those three routes.

Riverview

The Riverview Corridor transit study, which is just now winding down, puts forward what may be the final alternative for one of the longest-debated transit corridors in the Twin Cities. While goodness knows I have major problems with the study’s recommendation of a modern streetcar line running from downtown St. Paul to the airport, the project still has a good deal of merit. Requiring about 6.5 miles of new track and a new bridge over the Mississippi, the Riverview Line would close the “transit triangle” between the region’s three major nodes: downtown Minneapolis, downtown St. Paul, and the Airport/MOA/downtown Bloomington.

The project is also superior to a straight-forward streetcar project. The area of mixed traffic is small, and most of the route would have its own dedicated lane. The necessary tie ins with the Green and Blue Lines at either end also mean that the technical specifications of the rolling stock couldn’t differ dramatically from the current quality of the LRT vehicles. Perhaps, in the future, when our collective fixation with cheap street parking is broken down, the route could be retrofitted to have fully exclusive right-of-way.

One difficulty with the project is that the Riverview route doesn’t serve the densest areas of the metro, at least in between the major nodes at either end. Just under 18,000 people live in the census tracts served by the Riverview route. But the density of 10.17 people per acre is conducive to transit service. The West 7th area also scratches both TOD itches. There’s area developing already near United Hospital just outside of downtown. But there’s also a lot of developable land in the middle of the route, running from the area around the expanding Victoria St. Apartments all the way to the snake-bitten Sibley Plaza.

Above all, political considerations may push Riverview to the front of the line. After two light rail expansions in Hennepin County, Ramsey County will be anxious to see a return for their patience. The proposed route will serve downtown St. Paul with the prestige of rail transit, over two decades after Minneapolis received that benefit. But with the full study complete, the politics and circumstance line up for Minnesota’s capital city.

Midtown — Ford

With its own alternatives analysis completed in 2014, the Midtown Corridor has been officially on the agenda of regional transit planners for a while. But the line has always been somewhat contingent on the completion of the Green Line extension. With that slowly coming to fruition, the Midtown Corridor should come to the fore.

On the merits, there may be no better transit project in the Twin Cities than a potential Midtown rail line. Just consult the map of population density earlier in the article to see why. The most populated neighborhoods in the entire metro region are in South Minneapolis, between the lakes and I-35. These neighborhoods also use transit at some of the highest rates of anywhere in the Twin Cities, and are car-free at higher rates than almost anywhere else. Uptown is a major shopping and entertainment center, and a minor job center with new hotel and office construction. Neighborhoods to the east of the corridor are also among the region’s greatest concentrations unemployment.

The Midtown Corridor alone, running from the Green Line extension’s West Lake Station to the Blue Line’s Lake St. Station, would travel just four miles, making five stops. In that short stretch, it would serve a massive number of people. Within a quarter mile of the Midtown trench are census tracts holding almost 50,000 people who are not currently within that distance of existing light rail, at a density of 22.60 people per acre—nearly double that of the existing Green and Blue Lines. This is an area that, purely on its own merits, demands better transit.

But the Midtown route’s tie-ins with the Green Line extension and existing Blue Line would also allow it to serve more people than the 3C alignment would’ve, and to create new advantages for existing and potential riders of both older lines. People living along the Green Line extension would have a new and more direct route to reaching the airport. People living along the Blue Line extension would have new access to Uptown’s stores, entertainment, and lakes.

A streetcar in Hopkins, 1950.

Attention so far has been primarily focused on the Midtown segment. But the unique challenges of connecting two existing lines also suggests opportunities at either end. Imagine a Midtown route that emerges from the future Shady Oak Operations and Maintenance facility, and makes its first stop at the Downtown Hopkins Station. This western route would double up service on the densest, most active, and most TOD-friendly segments of the Green Line extension, and bring fresh attention and more customers to Hopkins, one of the best suburban main streets in the metro.  At the Midtown Corridor’s eastern confluence with the Blue Line, consider Midtown trains running along the same route for two stops, hitting the developing station areas at 38th and 46th Street Stations. There, it would peel off and travel down 46th Street, across the river to St. Paul, serving Highland and the future Ford Site development along the old Canadian Pacific tracks, before merging with the Riverview Corridor at Sibley Plaza and connecting to downtown St. Paul.

This imagined alignment, which would require just around 7.25 miles of new track (and two bridges), 80% of which would be along abandoned freight railroad right-of-way, would provide rail service to nearly 63,000 new people not already near existing lines, and directly serve 167,500 people in total (living in three Hennepin County districts). That’s nearly double the amount of people currently served by the Green Line, over 20,000 more than the current LRT system serves, and none of these estimates factor in any growth along the route, whether in Uptown or the Ford Site.

The sheer numbers of people who stand to benefit from a Midtown rail route is reason enough to push the line forward. Add to that the growth of population, jobs, and attractions in Uptown, the potential network effects from trying together two major routes, the simplified right-of-way, and potential phasing and expansion to serve St. Paul and the Ford Site should push this route to the top of the agenda.

St. Anthony — Ayd Mill

In the coming five years, no area of Minneapolis-St. Paul is likely to develop as quickly as the old town of St. Anthony, just across the river from downtown Minneapolis. The 2015 ACS estimated the area’s population at just over 2,000. But it’s also seen recent proposals for apartments that would cumulatively add over 1,000 units. Assuming full occupancy and an average of two people per unit, the neighborhood formally associated with polka bars and scofflaw wine and cheese stores will soon double in population, becoming a second skyline and one of the city’s densest areas.

I’m unaware of any serious effort to serve the area with transit, beyond the Nicollet-Central streetcar, which is of dubious benefit. But the streetcar would also miss serving the fast-developing areas around the University, which, to the south, have been the most responsive to the Green Line.

Consider a different (and certainly more fanciful) alternative. This route starts at Robbinsdale, along the Blue Line extension, and (like Hopkins) one of the only suburban main streets properly served by light rail. The route follows the Blue Line extension route as it tortuously tiptoes around North Minneapolis, before breaking off just before Target Field, and slipping underneath Target Field Station, where the Northstar Commuter Rail station currently sits. The route would then add a second stop in the still-developing North Loop, around N 2nd or N 1st St. before crossing the river and Nicollet Island.

Here, there are two options. The cheap option is to negotiate with the freight railroad to run trains through the existing right-of-way that loops St. Anthony, runs past the Bunge Elevator and Van Cleve Park, and eventually merge the route with the Green Line near Prospect Park Station. The bolder and better alternative would be to route the train out of the railroad trench earlier, and through a short, shallow tunnel under 2nd St. SE or University Ave SE, with a stop serving the new district of towers. The train would surface on 2nd St. SE, just past Central Avenue, and run at grade. It would at 6th St. SE, serving Marcy Holmes and the Stone Arch Bridge, then merge with the existing freight rail lines underneath the 10th Avenue Bridge. Using these tracks, the route would stop at Dinkytown and stop again near TCF Bank Stadium and the University’s biomedical campus, before merging with the Green Line at Prospect Park Station.

The Ayd Mill corridor.

The second unique stage of this route would branch off at Raymond Avenue Station and make its way to the freight rail tracks of the Ayd Mill Corridor, where it would serve the denser-than-you-think neighborhoods of center-west St. Paul. As a final twist, the line would connect with the Midtown and Riverview routes at St. Clair, but would continue past them (because four different routes all serving downtown St. Paul with ten minute frequencies seemed like too much), to serve the baffling Upper Landing development, and cross the river to serve the hopefully-developing West Side flats, before terminating at the airport, because there’s really nowhere else.

Without factoring any of the future development in St. Anthony, near the University, or on the West Side, this route would put 42,500 new people within a short distance of the light rail system, and would serve 114,000 people in total. It would provide new access into the heart of St. Paul, to the fastest growing neighborhoods in the entire metro, and to the Stone Arch Bridge. Like the Midtown-Ford Corridor proposal, it could also be built in two clear phases. This proposal is the longest shot of the bunch, but it’s predicated on two real concerns: a lack of transit access in St. Anthony, and a vacuum of leadership and vision for the awful Ayd Mill corridor. Why not talk about it?

A True Network of High Frequency, High Capacity, Congestion-Free Routes, Serving MSP’s Major Destinations, Population and Job Centers

That’s the goal. The framework is being built now, but beyond the existing projects, the vision for transit in the Twin Cities is limited to hypothetical increased funding scenarios. That makes it seem like core-city, connecting routes are a luxury. But they’re not, they’re essential to creating the kind of transit system that is useful for riders, conducive to better development, and an efficient use of public money. In the upcoming 2040 MSP Transit Vision update, and in the years beyond as the current slate of projects move toward construction and completion, here’s to hoping the attention of local decision makers turns back towards the gaps left in the core cities, and political leaders and citizens work to build a world-class transit system that exists on more than just fantasy maps.

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50 Responses to Three Complaints and Three Ideas for Minneapolis-St. Paul’s Future METRO System

  1. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke November 20, 2017 at 10:12 am #

    This is GOLD Jerry.

    I’d have the west side flats train over along Chavez / State Street with maybe potential someday to go into Dakota county if they ever pull their heads from their tailpipes, politically speaking.

  2. Ian Reynolds November 20, 2017 at 10:59 am #

    This is beautifully written and illustrated and I’m going to show this to all of my friends who live in the Twin Cities!

    One thing I’d keep in mind with this map is how branching would dictate frequency in some unwanted ways — for instance, the entire Green Line could only run roughly half as frequently as the segment it shares with the Silver Line between Prospect Park and Raymond (where trains have to interact with drivers on University). Likewise with the merge near downtown STP which as you noted is getting congested — even three LRT lines converging on downtown might require a tunnel to handle them all! *cough cough*

    • Alex Schieferdecker
      Alex Schieferdecker November 21, 2017 at 12:51 pm #

      I took some license to assume to assume that one to two decades on, when this stuff would get built, that we’d be more willing to give transit expanded priority when it comes into conflict with cars.

      But you’re right they’d be issues. Having to cut frequency on any rail route would be a dealbreaker.

  3. Tom November 20, 2017 at 11:00 am #

    This is an excellent article, Eric, and a reason to contribute to streets.mn if I ever saw one.

  4. Justin November 20, 2017 at 11:23 am #

    The map at the end is a thing of beauty. Yes please. I’d gladly pay more dedicated takes to make that happen.

  5. Justin Doescher November 20, 2017 at 11:43 am #

    The old 1913 streetcar map is particularly interesting because it shows how lines zigged and zagged to reach existing neighborhoods. You didn’t have to live right next to an arterial street to have streetcar access back then. A light rail couldn’t do the exact same thing today, but we could do more to reach existing riders.

  6. Zack November 20, 2017 at 11:52 am #

    Great analysis and it would be amazing to see even one of the lines you describe built out.
    Also, love that you’ve renamed Terminal 1.

  7. Eric Ecklund November 20, 2017 at 12:17 pm #

    While I do agree for the most part with serving already built up areas there are some issues:

    -Two LRT lines along West 7th wouldn’t work unless you cut frequency, which will make the lines less convenient where they branch off.

    -As mentioned in a different comment there would need to be grade separation in Downtown St. Paul for three LRT lines.

    -Why does the Silver Line serve St. Paul Holman Field? There are no commercial flights and there are no plans for commercial flights.

    -How does the Silver Line get from Target Field to St. Anthony?

    -Freight railroad ROW may or may not go through built up areas. In the urban area most freight rail lines do go through residential or commercial areas. In the suburbs, exurbs, and rural areas the freight rail lines originally also had passenger trains that served town centers. While the automobile has made these towns spread out the historic downtowns remain with active or abandoned railroad ROW that could be used for transit (light rail, BRT, commuter rail, etc.).

    -I don’t think its fair to call the Northstar a failure when its only half finished and doesn’t have the frequency of the METRO system. The Northstar only runs five peak direction trips and one reverse commute trip, and it ends in empty fields in Big Lake. If it went to St. Cloud and had more trips throughout the day then it would be on par with more successful commuter rail lines. Yes the Northstar had delays in the past due to freight traffic and the polar vortex in 2013-2014, but on-time performance has recovered.

    -Routing Midtown LRT from 46th Street Station to the east would be very difficult from an engineering standpoint.

    -I think its best to save people from confusion and keep the Red Line branding with the Cedar Avenue bus. It can be debated if it deserves that color, but thats the name of it now and changing it will only confuse people.

    • Alex Schieferdecker
      Alex Schieferdecker November 20, 2017 at 12:36 pm #

      – Why wouldn’t two lines on West 7th work?
      – Why couldn’t three lines in downtown St. Paul (only between two stations) work?

      Don’t get me wrong, I understand why, if this was suddenly implemented today, it would cause serious headaches. But I’m not sure what issues couldn’t be fixed by converting the West 7th pinpoint to dedicated transit ROW, and tweaking signal timing downtown?

      – How does the Silver Line get from Target Field to St. Anthony?
      – Why does it serve the airport?

      It would run underneath Target Field Station, where the Northstar currently runs. I had it serving the airport because I’m not familiar with the west side above the bluff, and am not sure about the costs of going up the bluff. Maybe the proposal just shouldn’t stop at the airport, only have an O&M facility in that area.

      – Why call Northstar a failure?

      You’re right, it’s only half built, and the service is terrible. But I’m not aware of any likelihood that anyone is pushing to have it finished anytime soon, or to improve the service. Thus, a failure. But should that interest come about, I’d love to see it run more frequently and stop at least once in Northeast Mpls.

      – Routing LRT from the 46th Street Station to the east would be difficult.

      This is a genuine question: how come? There certainly seems to be enough space.

      – Keep the Red Line branding to avoid confusion.

      I dunno, at this point, you’d be confusing less than a thousand people. If a tree falls in the forest…?

      • Bill Lindeke
        Bill Lindeke November 20, 2017 at 1:00 pm #

        A West Side line should go up Robert Street. It’s a great TOD opportunity and from there, it could either turn down Chavez / Plato toward South Saint Paul or (far better) continue up Robert to serve the old streetcar corridor and into Dakota County. In a fantasy world, which this is, Dakota County would care about improving transit in what is, by far, their best TOD and ridership corridor.

      • Eric Ecklund November 20, 2017 at 2:17 pm #

        – Why wouldn’t two lines on West 7th work?
        – Why couldn’t three lines in downtown St. Paul (only between two stations) work?

        Having just one LRT on West 7th will be hard enough, especially with some residents and businesses opposing it, but two would be very difficult from an engineering and political point of view whether there is dedicated ROW on West 7th or not.

        In Downtown Minneapolis we can only have two LRT lines with a frequency of every 10 minutes each. A third light rail line would need a different route or grade separation for all the LRT lines. Same applies in Downtown St. Paul.

        -It would run underneath Target Field Station, where the Northstar currently runs.

        If I’m looking at this right you want the Silver Line to run alongside the BNSF tracks between Target Field and St. Anthony, which would require either removing the Cedar Lake Trail to have enough width in the ROW or tunneling under the buildings that abut the ROW.

        -But I’m not aware of any likelihood that anyone is pushing to have it finished anytime soon, or to improve the service.

        There are plenty of people who want Northstar extended to St. Cloud and there have been grassroots efforts to make it happen. Even a Republican legislator had a proposal for extending Northstar to St. Cloud. Granted it proposed cutting one of the existing trains and having only one train going to St. Cloud to save money, but since this is from a Republican I’ll look on the bright side. We’re in a Catch 22 where the feds will only give us money for the extension if we get more ridership, but we can’t get more ridership if we don’t extend it and add more trains.

        -This is a genuine question: how come? There certainly seems to be enough space.

        If you’re having the Midtown LRT serve the existing 46th Street Station then you have to cross Hiawatha Avenue/Highway 55. An at-grade crossing would be a nightmare, and above-grade or below-grade would be very expensive, require a very tight turn to align with 46th Street, a steep grade to get over or under Hiawatha, and probably demolishing the Holiday gas station on the southeast corner (not a huge loss, but the first three issues are the biggest).

        -I dunno, at this point, you’d be confusing less than a thousand people. If a tree falls in the forest…?

        There’s also the expense of removing all existing Red Line signage. For now the Red Line is more of a glorified bus than BRT, but with more stations and hopefully willingness by transit planners to look at extending it to Minneapolis then it’ll come around. There are plenty of colors or other names that can be used for a Midtown LRT.

        • Alex Schieferdecker
          Alex Schieferdecker November 20, 2017 at 2:59 pm #

          I think you’re bringing up a lot of thorny engineering questions that would be naturally worked out over the course of the development of any project, but nothing that strikes me as totally disqualifying to a project at the stage that we’re at now, which is the thinkpiece stage.

          I mean, I’ve proposed a lot of things here that are challenges. Surely an at-grade crossing at 46th and Hiawatha, with a train-only light cycle, is a lot less problematic than the cut-and-cover tunnel through St. Anthony that I suggested.

          The point here isn’t really to sweat the engineering details, but a much bigger picture look at the system, what it’s for, who it serves, and what it could do.

      • David Greene November 27, 2017 at 9:06 pm #

        There is atually a push to get Northstar completed. Anne Buckvold up in St. Cloud has done a tremendous amount of work to organize people and ring them to the legislature. I highly recommend following her on Facebook and Twitter. She’s not solely focused on Northstar but sees it as a tool for improving lives and organizing people.

  8. jeffk November 20, 2017 at 12:22 pm #

    This is a great piece of writing.

    For me, the issues with the green and blue extensions are simply so severe with their suburban-commuter mentality that I become too frustrated to engage other better future lines. These ones are likely to fail and undermine the good ones in the process.

    The great success of urban-suburban DFL cooperation is we’ve managed to create transit as speculative and sprawl-inducing as a suburban stroad.

    • David Greene November 27, 2017 at 9:10 pm #

      You’re looking at this in a much too siloed manner. Southwest will work extremely well with Midtown and the two lines together will bring network effects.

      Bottineau is harder to see but the author gets at some of it with the silver line.

      There are communities out in them thar ‘burbs and we should serve the most viable of them. Hopkins certainly qualifies and I can make a strong case for Eden Prairie as well. Robbinsdale also qualifies and so does Brooklyn Park up to a point (not as far north as Bottineau is planned to go, however).

  9. nicky November 20, 2017 at 12:37 pm #

    I want all of this. yesterday. thanks for making it happen.
    also thanks for the beautiful map!

  10. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary November 20, 2017 at 12:50 pm #

    This is an awesome article, and I really appreciate your notion of “Development-Oriented Transit”. I agree that has been the intent with much of the SW and Bottineau lines. I am not sure that I am completely sold on it being a bad thing.

    What really strikes me is that you praise the success of the Hiawatha Line, but it seems that it does many of the things you ding the new transit lines for: it doesn’t go through established older neighborhoods in a deeply meaningful way, only skirting the edge of them behind a protected berm by an access-limited highway. It follows the “right-of-way of least resistance”, going down low-intensity Hiawatha Avenue compared to, say, Hennepin Ave out to Southdale. However, I think its success is in part because it chose this route, and that route contained a lot of shovel-ready parcels.

    I recently completed an internship in Brooklyn Park (and as you might imagine, have become much more sympathetic to the Bottineau Line than I was a year ago). But one of the things I did there was an inventory of all existing development projects along the Hiawatha Line. I found 21 projects (excluding downtown), and the majority of them were built on vacant land, or excess right-of-way of Hiawatha Avenue. Only a couple involved replacing older, lower-intensity buildings, and I am not aware of any that involved replacing single-family homes (but I would definitely need to verify that). Even in the most significant Minneapolis node, Lake St, the development has occurred on existing empty land — excess corners of the Hi-Lake Shopping Mall, and the parking lot of the Minneapolis Public Schools building. The largest project was built on an empty site in Bloomington — which has a lot of similarities to the TOD district Brooklyn Park envisions at their line terminus.

    I realize the Hiawatha Line had other things in its favor than simply developable land — obviously it connected downtown to the airport and MOA. But in this case, I think having vacant land along its route meant more rapid growth of development than would have been possible if it had gone through a fully developed area.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke November 20, 2017 at 1:02 pm #

      That’s the first time I’ve heard anyone accuse the Blue Line of spurring “rapid growth”…

    • Alex Schieferdecker
      Alex Schieferdecker November 20, 2017 at 1:34 pm #

      Don’t get me wrong,I think the Hiawatha route is successful, but not a smash hit like the Central Corridor. I certainly believe the Hiawatha route suffers from all of the things that the current slate of projects suffer from. If it somehow traveled down, say, Chicago, I’d argue it would be much more successful.

      Also, like Bill, I’d take issue with your contention that the Hiawatha Corridor has seen a lot of growth. The area around the Hiawatha Corridor had seen about a 13% increase in population from 2010 to 2015, which is solid, but I’m not sure that’s revolutionary, and I’m not sure how much is thanks to the train.

      Overall, the TOD thing is a really interesting question. I think the idea of “what is TOD” is something there is more disagreement on than we think. A lot of what’s called TOD is what I’d probably call TAD, for “Transit Adjacent Development.” There’s a big difference in designing an apartment building for transit riders and designing and apartment building that just happens to be near transit.

      Scale is another point of disagreement. I agree with your take that a lot of development is going on either greenfield or blacktop (surface parking) parcels. That’s definitely because MSP simply has a lot of those. But I also think that the zoning and regulatory environment in the Twin Cities is really tough for small scale developers, who might want to tear down a house and put up smaller apartments. We have a tendency to see big apartment buildings as TOD, and encourage and subsidize that. But I don’t think policy makers see an eight unit apartment replacing a SF house three blocks away from a station as TOD, and so that isn’t encouraged or subsidized. But I think it should be.

      So I think when we talk about development near lines and how that influences their success, and whether or not this is a proven model, I think that there are different images of what counts as success.

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary November 20, 2017 at 2:07 pm #

        > But I also think that the zoning and regulatory environment in the Twin Cities is really tough for small scale developers, who might want to tear down a house and put up smaller apartments.

        I agree on this point, but I guess my conclusion is the opposite. Had the Blue Line run down Chicago or Nicollet or whatever, I think you would see less development simply because there is strong resistance (both as a regulatory and political matter) to doing much more-intense development in these fully developed areas. One of the “worst” stops on the SW line is the Kenwood stop, specifically because it is a wealthy, low-density area that is not likely to tolerate major land-use changes.

        We can try to change that, and certainly there are many projects that integrate with and improve an existing lower-density neighborhood. But it is a real barrier to new development.

        > Don’t get me wrong,I think the Hiawatha route is successful, but not a smash hit like the Central Corridor.

        And having not done the same exercise for the Central Corridor, I guess I have to ask: why is that successful (in terms of development)? It seems that there is a lot of growth, but almost entirely concentration at the U of M and downtown St. Paul. During one of the classes at the Humphrey, St. Paul Director of Public Works Kathy Lantry gave a presentation on the Green Line development. The only development in the entire stretch from Westgate to downtown St. Paul that was not either affordable housing or a social service agency was a single-story Culver’s. Which she specifically cited as an example of the development spurred by the line. (The affordable housing developments are definitely not bad bad — they are still an improvement to the City’s tax base and provide needed housing. But the fact that they stand alone without significant market-rate growth makes me wonder if the market is really on-board yet.)

        Since that time, Lyric at Carleton Place has opened, which is a nice addition, but also very close to that Westgate area. And of course, a spectacularly subsidized soccer stadium surrounded by surface parking is planned. This is all on a shorter time frame than Hiawatha — but is this really a “smash hit”?

        • Alex Schieferdecker
          Alex Schieferdecker November 20, 2017 at 2:50 pm #

          I think the Central Corridor has been a smash hit in terms of ridership, not a smash hit in terms of development. I don’t think either route has really set off a frenzy of development. You could argue for Prospect Park, and maybe eventually the Midway stadium block, as being really caused by the LRT extension.

          But I’m not thinking in terms of development. I don’t think the successes or failures of any transit line in the Twin Cities have a lot to do with development along their routes. They’re too new.

        • Bill Lindeke
          Bill Lindeke November 21, 2017 at 8:01 am #

          I disagree that the Culver’s opened BECAUSE of the Green Line. In fact, with a drive-thru, it likely opened despite the Green Line. (I think it was approved just before new land use regulations went into effect, but that’s before my time.)

          So yeah, lots of subsidized affordable housing, and nothing else except for the ends of the route.

          • Sean Hayford Oleary
            Sean Hayford Oleary November 21, 2017 at 10:20 am #

            Agreed with your assessment of the Culver’s. I did not agree with Lantry that that building was transit-oriented or went in as a result of the line. I just thought it was sort of depressing to bring that forward as an example of development the line has supposedly inspired.

            • Adam Miller
              Adam Miller November 21, 2017 at 10:28 am #

              Well, there is a soccer stadium under construction that presumably would not be going there absent the train…

              Seems like there’s other stuff that’s been renovated (rather than new construction), but yeah, mostly over by Westgate.

  11. Joseph Totten
    Joseph Totten November 20, 2017 at 5:00 pm #

    I think St. Anthony can actually be served effectively by streetcar. Nicollet Mall to 4th/University and take these 1-ways into the U of M campus and turn around at the stadiums. This alignment makes me think strongly of the Portland Streetcar, which has 16,000+ riders a day (less than 5% of all rides are tourism based). A streetcar on the suggested route would connect St. Anthony to major job centers and could realistically be a major commuting route.

    Other thoughts, in no particular order…
    -I’d be wary about splitting major areas into different lines, such as the U of M. Adding a parallel, nearby line seems less effective and less useful than simply using other methods to tie St. Anthony in and amplifying service on the green line (requires tunnel I know).
    -I’d keep the red line north and run along the 21 route. Selby or Grand are outside of a truly reasonable walkshed for the Green Line due to the freeway. This might require it to be a streetcar and just follow the 21A alignment the whole way, but I think it would be a better option than heading down along W 7th and the challenges that would come with these interrelated interlines.
    -Still waiting to see how well aBRT can handle larger crowds, like on commuter focused lines. The crosstown routing currently helps keep it busy, but never near crush loads. If it can handle the crowds that would come with replacing the 5 the whole route, I think we could use it for more and more of the proposed links you’re drawing.

    • Alex Schieferdecker
      Alex Schieferdecker November 20, 2017 at 7:36 pm #

      I don’t see St. Anthony being well served by a streetcar without better road designs that help keep cars out of its way. That’s especially the case on Nicollet south of downtown, but will soon become the case in St. Anthony as well, I think. That said, I’d support the NC streetcar if it (1) actually served Central Ave, and (2) benefitted from those road redesigns.

      I don’t see the St. Anthony-Ayd Mill proposal as splitting a major area, I see it as enhancing service. The University area is not small. If I’m in Dinkytown, I’m not sure the Green Line serves me. Certainly not if I live outside Dinkytown more towards Marcy Holmes, which is an area which really is dense and active enough to support transit, even if it *were* doubling up.

      With regard to the Midtown route, I believe the 21 route is slated to be served by the aBRT B-Line. Past Hiawatha, density is much less along Lake Street. I think sending that route down to the Ford Site is more likely to eventually hit a community with the density that deserves this level of transit, and also is a “have your cake and eat it too” situation by filling in the Riverview’s alternative route.

      • Andrew B November 21, 2017 at 1:34 pm #

        Why not both? Even with the Silver line, it seems like having the Nic/Central streetcar route would still be a benefit–they each serve different areas, with nic/central serving inter-Minneapolis north/south rather than a longer line east west. It also connects St. Anthony more directly with Downtown than a stop in Target Field, and it starts, ends, and runs through dense population areas.

        Of course ideally it would also not have to worry about cars getting in the way, but that seems like a different issue. Just based on the route, it doesn’t seem like the Silver Line would really be an alternative – more like a good idea for a route that furthers transit service in a transit-hungry area.

        • Alex Schieferdecker
          Alex Schieferdecker November 21, 2017 at 2:54 pm #

          Don’t take this post as an implicit argument against other lines. It’s an attempt to show what could come in the next phase of projects, especially while still using lower cost legacy freight ROW. There’s plenty of room for other projects. aBRT and streetcars probably shouldn’t be thought of in the same category as LRT and BRT anyway.

          • Andrew B November 21, 2017 at 3:13 pm #

            Ok yeah, makes sense.

            Overall I really agree with your main points, and thought this was a well thought out and researched post. I would love to see some of the suggestions or at least general ideas here given some serious thought. With that in mind, what can regular people do to their show support for plans like this?

  12. Andy E November 20, 2017 at 6:44 pm #

    A few thoughts on this imaginary world (Note, I say imaginary because if people thought the businesses fighting West 7th were bad, two of these will be way worse):

    Midtown Line. It starts on Excelsior BLVD at the Methodist Hospital, runs up Excelsior to Lake, and then heads east on Lake. This spur adds 3 stops, new neighborhoods, and employers in a short segment. It continues on Lake straight through Longfellow and over the river, before turning south on Cretin. Passing St Thomas, it turns east again on Grand and continues towards St Paul, stopping at major streets and places like Macalester. Meets up with Riverview Line east of I-35 and heads into downtown St Paul. Highlights: Uptown, Midtown, Longfellow, two Universities, and Grand Ave before reaching St Paul.

    Nicollet Line. Starts at Nicollet and American, and runs due north on Nicollet. Knocks the horrible Kmart down, and continues running straight through the new Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis. Crosses the river on Hennepin, then turns north on Central Ave. From there either continues north into Columbia Heights or turns east on Lowry/29th to loop around and into Rosedale Center.

    Nicollet Spurs: I see a couple potential spurs to this configuration, that would allow the heart of Nicollet to be served every 6 minutes with the spurs every 12. First would entail an east/west line along American with cars alternating which one they take (Nicollet E, Nicollet W). One would head along the business corridor to the west, the other to MOA. At the north end, a spur could head West on Washington through the Warehouse District, before turning due west on Plymouth or Broadway and then north on, say, Fremont. The other spur would be the original line straight up Central.

    Ford Site. Development should be planned to allow a light rail/street car to bisect the development on a NW-SE diagonal axis, from Ford Parkway bridge to Montreal/RR ROW. If development does happen as planned the space will be there to build a line. I would almost argue for a Minneapolis to St Paul line, largely using the Blue Line and West 7th Alignments. Assuming this is 20 years out, the increased frequency (and directly connecting the site to both downtowns) would likely be useful.

    As said at the start, these would be my proposals to add the the transit matrix here in the Cities. They are in no way a reflection of what I think can – or will ever – get built. Just lines I think would be highly effective at making getting around easier for a large number of people.

    • Dan November 24, 2017 at 1:27 pm #

      Fully agree on the Nicollet Line (Which should be LRT, not streetcar) and the ford site. However, I’m not sure why any midtown line would go down lake rather than the greenway trench-its like having a subway tunnel already dug.

      • David Greene November 27, 2017 at 9:16 pm #

        East of Hiawatha, the Greenway is much less dense and is much further away from Lake St.. Lake St. is also less dense but it at least has existing commercial uses.

      • David Greene November 27, 2017 at 9:41 pm #

        Oh, I see. Andy E. said east on Lake from Excelsior. Yeah, that would be strange. Midtown shoud use Southwest trackage from Hopkins to West Lake, as in the article. *If* it were to run east of Hiawatha, it should go on Lake, but since aBRT is already planned for E. Lake, running on Blue Line trackage southeast from Midtown makes more sense to me.

  13. Korh November 20, 2017 at 7:52 pm #

    The only question I have is with the potential Midtown corridor which from what I can assume for talking with other about it is gonna use the trench in one way shape or form (though might be wrong).

    My question is, is the trench ROW wide enough as exists today to support the midtown corridor because I could see it mainly be a single track line with some sidings for passing but that might effect speed/frequency of it. And for double-track, the only ways I see it happening is removing the embankments and adding retaining wall (which given the recent SWLRT news might face issues of affecting the “historic district”) or removing the midtown greenway (such an act would more then not end up spliting the entirety of streets.mn until the end of the site)

    • Alex Schieferdecker
      Alex Schieferdecker November 21, 2017 at 2:55 pm #

      I haven’t done the work, but my impression was that if the Midtown corridor feasibility study recommended it, then it’s doable.

    • David Greene November 27, 2017 at 9:18 pm #

      It will not remove the bikeway. The bikeway would have to shift over but arguably it should have been built that way in the first place.

      IIRC, some embankment will have to be removed but no one in the study committee meetings thought it would be a serious problem. The “historic district” issues facing Southwest LRT are also not likely to cause major problems. It’s just a stupid hoop.

  14. Monte Castleman
    Monte Castleman November 20, 2017 at 8:07 pm #

    My take on the problem with Northstar and the Red Line isn’t that they go to places where the brewpub to Applebee’s ratio isn’t high enough.

    With the severe congestion problems on US 10 and MN 252, and until recently no hope of ever fixing them, I’d be surprised if that many people in Anoka and Big Lake work in downtown. It seems more likely they work in places like Target North or Medtronic, places Northstar doesn’t go. And after a time or two being chewed out by their boss because Northstar was late again, I’m not surprised with the low ridership. I’m not against extending it to St. Cloud, and we need to build Foley station like yesterday, but real success will involve maintaining the reliability so commuters can count on it, and even start to move to the area to take advantage of it once it can be counted on.

    Meanwhile, the problem with the Red Line is that even if you give it a color and treat it as the supposed equal to a train on the maps, it’s still just a bus, one that doesn’t even go downtown. The people from the suburbs that refuse to ride buses aren’t going to ride the Red Line just because you put it on a map and call it the “Red Line” rather than not doing so and calling it “Route 123A” or whatever. For the people that do ride buses, there’s no real advantage over taking a commuter coach that goes directly downtown. There can’t be that many people that say come from Richfield and transfer at the Mall of America to go to their job at the Apple Valley Applebee’s.

    As for the Midtown Streetcar, even if you don’t care about making things longer for suburban riders and making them transfer downtown if they want to go to the U or points beyond, I still don’t see how a light rail line that would enter on the west side of the population blob, go to the center, and then to the north is superior to two streetcar lines that would go all the way from one end of the blob to the other, both north-south and east-west. Maybe we could build some kind of streetcar on Penn or something too since it wouldn’t involve the massive taking of properties like light rail would have. And what about having the Midtown Streetcar go down the Hopkins Main Street instead of to the Shady Oak Station?

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke November 21, 2017 at 8:03 am #

      You should write a post about Foley Station!

      • gopherfan November 22, 2017 at 1:05 pm #

        As a proud Coon Rapids citizen and transit supporter, I do NOT want Foley Station built. The Express busses get to downtown faster than Northstar (no joke) and the frequency would be way less than 1/2 of what the busses provide.

    • Alex Schieferdecker
      Alex Schieferdecker November 21, 2017 at 9:10 am #

      I can only guess that you just skimmed the article, I feel it addressed every single one of the comments you made above.

      – Population and population density is the only metric mentioned in the article, not “brewpubs to Applebees.”
      – I mentioned the Northstar delays issue and the Red Line terminus issue (and the obvious fix) in the article. The new lines don’t suffer from those fatal issues, so I don’t expect them to be complete failures. But I don’t expect them to be the successes of the current lines. I’m not bashing suburban transit, I’m saying we can’t focus exclusively on it.
      – Your final paragraph is arguing for a hub-and-spoke system, and I wrote an entire section about the flaws in that design.

  15. Monte Castleman
    Monte Castleman November 21, 2017 at 8:03 am #

    What about some kind of transit line to Shakopee. You have

    1) A large traditional, dense downtown area
    2) Major destinations of Valleyfair Canterbury Downs, and Mystic Lake
    3) A city that’s interested in providing economic incentives to large employers like Shutterfly, Seagate, and Amazon, and more importantly enough space and a road system that can physically accommodate them.

    • Rosa November 21, 2017 at 2:52 pm #

      That would be awesome! I wonder if there’s really enough density for it, though? Each of the things you mentioned is pretty far apart.

      We sometimes take the free Mystic Lake bus out to the casino & rec center now, I wonder how much running that costs them?

    • Maxwell Singer November 21, 2017 at 5:03 pm #

      The Dan Patch Line! May it live in our hearts forever!

      • Monte Castleman
        Monte Castleman November 21, 2017 at 6:48 pm #

        Yeah, seriously. There’s still the political and technical problems of the Bloomington / Edina segment but once over the river if it makes a right turn to Shakopee, their’s a freight railroad line that appears to be in pretty decent shape that goes right next to Valleyfair, Amazon, and downtown Shakopee and within a half mile of Canterbury Downs. Valleyfair only comes close to filling up their parking lot on nice weekend summer days and weekend evenings close to Halloween, so that’s probably 2000 parking spaces that Cedar Fair might be interested in leasing for a park and ride; even more if they build a new parking lot dedicated to the waterpark (that they now have a permit to proceed on if they so choose).

  16. UrbanLite November 21, 2017 at 10:03 am #

    Very cool piece. Our cities would be even better places to live with this in place. One thing sticks out in my mind however: Northeast Minneapolis and the first ring suburbs in that area always seem excluded from rail transit plans. At the very least, some sort of BRT down central connecting to rail would be great.

    Also, thanks for moving away from this TOD idea. Transit planners should be in the business of moving people. Frankly, I’ve never heard a single person herald the benefit of the business that might pop up around a train line. No, theyre looking for fast and reliable service to get the around.

    • Alex Schieferdecker
      Alex Schieferdecker November 21, 2017 at 12:46 pm #

      It’s not technically true that NE Minneapolis is excluded, it’s just the subject of one existing route that doesn’t serve it at all, and one proposed route that serves it poorly. The best ways to serve NE Minneapolis with transit would require a rethinking of either the Northstar Line, the Nicollet-Central streetcar project, or both.

  17. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary November 21, 2017 at 2:07 pm #

    If we were focused on existing development, it would be nice to see a major transit route (as much as LRT, as little as aBRT) that serves the Southdale area. Currently Southdale Transit Center is served by the hi-frequency 515 (connections to Richfield and the MOA) and the frequent-but-inconsistent #6 bus that slogs through Linden Hills and Uptown to get downtown. It’s about a 40-minute ride to the edge of downtown. By comparison, taking the future Orange Line from 66th & 35W will be 10-15 minutes.

    Perhaps a Southdale circulator that connects to that Orange Line station would be sufficient, but this seems like a huge area of growth and density to be missing from both the official transit planning and these suggested maps. Even the proposed aBRT map barely touches the south edge of the area.

    • David Greene November 27, 2017 at 9:20 pm #

      Como-Harriet-Southdale line!

  18. David Greene November 27, 2017 at 9:26 pm #

    This is seriously great. I started out thinking, “*groan*, yet another piece bashing Southwest and Bottineau,” but was glad to see it tied to Midtown and your proposed silver line. I might change the earlier part to contain a little more foreshadowing, because the article cites lack of network effects with Southwest and Bottineau but then later shows that they can actually contribute network effects.

    The biggest problem with our transit planning is the siloed thinking. Very few influential people are thinking with a long-term, comprehensive plan in mind. The 2030 plan is the bare minimum and will not be much more successful than a Dallas. We need something around the spokes.

    As to your silver line, I would like to see it routed down W. Broadway from North Memorial to Lyndale where it could head south to meet the Bliue Line extension. This will provide a network effect somewhat similar to Midtown’s route through South Minneapolis.

    I have not really seen anything written about how to integrate LRT and aBRT. We really have to design our aBRT lines to provide more network effects in conjunction with LRT. Right now it feels like they are all designed as isolated corridor (there’s the pesky siloing again) instead of thinking about how to best integrate them with LRT and provide more car-free living options.

    • Alex Schieferdecker
      Alex Schieferdecker December 11, 2017 at 9:22 am #

      Late reply, I had stopped reading comments for this.

      One of the goals I had in proposing these lines was to show how such a comprehensive system could be built using the absolute minimum of roadway, and still almost exclusively relying on freight ROW. I agree that if North Minneapolis is to be served by LRT, then the W Broadway-Lyndale route is more or less the only possible route. Even then, Lyndale would be a tight fit, I think there would have to be takings to be able to fit two LRT tracks, stations, one drive lane in each direction, and sidewalks. There would have to be a strong community consensus around such a project. Maybe it’s possible!

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