As we plan a better transit system for the region, we need to understand a few simple facts. 1) Not everyone wants to live in the city. 2) Not everyone wants to live in the suburbs. 3) Not all of the jobs are in downtown. 4) Not all of the jobs are in the suburbs. What I’m trying to say is that we should have a transit system built for urban and suburban residents, and balancing priority as we invest in rapid transit routes.
In a better world we would have more reliable funding sources for transit so we wouldn’t have to worry about prioritizing urban and suburban transit improvements. Hopefully someday it can be that way, but for now the Metropolitan Council’s priorities are transitways (Blue Line and Green Line extensions, Orange Line, etc.) out to the suburbs and upgraded bus routes (A Line, C Line, etc.) on key arterial routes in the urban core and inner ring suburban area.
In 2014 the Metropolitan Council studied numerous Highway BRT routes to see the feasibility and benefits of implementing them.
The following routes showed the most potential:
Highway 36 between Minneapolis and Oakdale
Highway 169 between Minneapolis and Shakopee
Interstate 394 between Minneapolis and Wayzata
Interstate 94 between Minneapolis and Maple Grove
Highway 55 between Minneapolis and Plymouth
However, most of these corridors don’t have development abutting the highway, so getting to/from the station would be long and difficult. Almost all of the stations are assumed to be easily accessible for buses on/off the freeway using existing on/off ramps to reduce cost. There would potentially be no funding for modifying or building new access roads for buses so they can be closer to actual destinations and reduce walking time.
For example the Red Line at Cedar Grove Station, which originally got off Highway 77 and backtracked to the station adding a few minutes to the travel time, but was closer to the outlet mall and other land uses. Now the online station reduces travel time, but its a farther walk to the outlet mall and other land uses. Done correctly, but more expensively would be an access ramp only for buses to get easily on/off the highway but still being close to transfer with local buses and land uses.
Another example is the Green Line extension. One of the considered routes would have utilized abandoned railroad right-of-way now used as a rail-trail between Hopkins and Eden Prairie. It would be cheap, but the surrounding land uses are mostly low density single family homes and office parks. The current planned route between Hopkins and Eden Prairie, while somewhat windy and more expensive, goes through higher density residential and commercial areas.
For suburban transitways, we need to put more priority on routes serving actual destinations instead of the cheap option of building transit stops where its easiest and cheapest and requiring long walks.
Arterial bus rapid transit (ABRT), although operating in mixed traffic, allows upgraded transit in the urban areas to be rolled out quickly (assuming we have the funding), cheaply, and with little disruption.
Streetcars on the other hand are being used mostly as a development tool, not for upgrading transit. If it can be shown that a proposed streetcar will improve transit and not just be for development then I may support it. However, ABRT is the best option in the urban and inner ring suburban area to upgrade transit quickly and with little disruption.
Of course, the LRT and BRT routes have to get into the urban areas somehow. While the freeways have made divides in urban neighborhoods, we can take advantage of the space for transitways too. The Orange Line will have stations at Lake Street and 46th Street along I-35W, and with dense land use abutting the freeway and good local transit connections it should be easy to get between the station and final destination. In the central business district, its optimal that BRT has its own lanes (for example Marquette and 2nd in Downtown Minneapolis). For LRT in the downtowns we already have tracks in place, but there is very limited room for expanded service. Its optimal that we grade-separate most or all of our LRT routes in the downtowns to improve reliability and allow high capacity.
With all this in mind I developed a Metro BRT/LRT and Metro Arterial map that would best suit urban and suburban needs within our monetary limits.
The only routes that would not be part of Metro Transit’s High Frequency Network are the Lime Line, the Bronze Line west of West Lake Station, and the Lapis Line south of Wilson Station.
Description of each BRT/LRT route:
Purple Line (AKA Rush Line Corridor)-According to the Rush Line Corridor Locally Preferred Alternative report, the current plan is for mixed-traffic operation in Downtown St. Paul and a one mile segment through Marina Triangle and White Bear Lake. Since this isn’t in operation yet we don’t know how much this will affect the reliability, but it would be optimal to eventually have the entire route have dedicated lanes. 85-90% of the Rush Line Corridor route would be dedicated right-of-way consisting of Ramsey County Railroad Authority right-of-way currently occupied by the Bruce Vento Trail and shoulder lanes along existing streets. The extension to Bald Eagle assumes a new regional rail station in that area (more on that later)
Blue Line-Within Bloomington (or the so-called South Loop) there is no need for four stations, so the 28th Avenue and Bloomington Central stations would merge into one. This would involve a new platform halfway between the current stations so the park & ride and commercial and residential uses can still be served. Another preferred change is a new alignment to the Mall of America to decrease travel time (currently 4 minutes just to get between the Mall of America and 28th Avenue) and allow the Riverview Corridor (labeled the Red Line on the map) to go further west. The most likely location of the station would be in the overflow surface lot east of the Mall of America and improving pedestrian access between there and the mall.
Green Line-No changes from the existing route and official proposal for the extension.
Red Line/Cedar Avenue BRT (labeled Pink Line on map)-From Apple Valley the current service operates on the shoulder of Cedar Avenue/Highway 77 until some point in Eagan where buses are in the median of the freeway to access the online Cedar Grove Station. Buses then get off the freeway and use local streets to access Mall of America Transit Station. The northern extension would have buses getting back on Highway 77 and serving online and inline stations on Highway 77, Highway 62, and I-35W. In Downtown Minneapolis buses would operate on Marquette or 2nd Avenue (depending on direction) and then Washington Avenue. Then buses would get back on I-35W, and then Highway 36 where buses would most likely operate on the shoulder of the freeway (though its preferred that this route and the Orange Line would have a station as close as possible to the Quarry Center while still being able to quickly get on/off the freeway). In Maplewood buses would exit the freeway and utilize the dedicated ROW and local streets used by the Purple Line to get to Maplewood Mall. There has been an idea tossed around of BRT on Highway 36 all the way to Stillwater, but there is severe lacking of population density between Maplewood and Stillwater to make that worthwhile.
Orange Line-Besides in Downtown Minneapolis and a short segment in Lakeville buses use I-35W for the whole length. Between Kenrick Park & Ride and Queen Anne buses would use local streets. Between the Quarry Center and County Road D buses would use New Brighton Boulevard. North of there buses would use the shoulder of I-35W and terminate at 95th Avenue Park & Ride.
Riverview Corridor (labeled Red Line on map)-Besides a short segment on West 7th where trains would operate in mixed traffic, the route is dedicated right-of-way. Just as with the Purple Line we won’t know the reliability of the mixed-traffic segment until its in operation, but again its preferred that the short mixed-traffic segment is modified for dedicated guideway. An extension from the Mall of America to Eden Prairie would operate along I-494 and American Boulevard. Various alignments could be considered including the I-494 median, American Boulevard median, and 77th Street median. The preferred alignment is the I-494 median for most of the route, but with some deviations to better serve areas such as the office towers at Normandale Lake. The main reason for choosing the I-494 median is to serve both land uses along American Boulevard (commercial and retail, but also a lot of car dealerships) and 77th Street (more residential and affordable housing).
Gold Line-No changes to the official proposal between St. Paul and Woodbury. Just as with the Purple Line its optimal buses would have a dedicated lane in Downtown St. Paul shared by other bus routes. East of St. Paul buses would operate on the shoulder of I-35E to Lakeville except getting off Cliff Road and sharing a station with the Cedar Avenue BRT, and Burnsville Center as there needs to be a way to get buses on/off the freeway quickly while still serving Burnsville Center as close as possible. Local streets would then be used to get to Queen Anne Station.
Silver Line-From the St. Paul Student Center buses would use the same route as the Campus Shuttle to Stadium Village, and from there operate along the Dinkytown Greenway and connect with Washington Avenue to Marquette and 2nd Avenues. Operating along the I-394 Corridor its preferred that buses have dedicated right-of-way for the majority of the route and directly serve residences and businesses rather than being in the median of the freeway and requiring a long walk to/from the station. That will require quite a few flyover bridges so buses have direct access to destinations while keeping travel time at a reasonable level. Going into Wayzata buses would operate in mixed traffic on Wayzata Boulevard.
Lime Line-This route would be far off in the future after the Blue Line extension is built and hopefully the Northstar Line is an all-day regional rail line instead of a peak travel only commuter rail. The main purpose of the Lime Line is a feeder service for the Blue Line, Lapis Line, and Northstar Line. It would be very easy to implement, but will require transit and pedestrian friendly areas to make it work. When the Blue Line extension is built it would be worth looking at a local bus bridge between Target North and Anoka, similar to the proposed bus bridge between Forest Lake and White Bear Lake connecting with the Purple Line/Rush Line Corridor.
Bronze Line-This route would utilize abandoned railroad right-of-way between Waconia and Hopkins (currently the Lake Minnetonka LRT Regional Trail) and then the Green Line Extension tracks (assuming they’re built) to West Lake Station. Then trains would parallel the Midtown Greenway and the Minnesota Commercial Railway across the Mississippi River. Trains would then turn north and utilize a short segment of abandoned railroad right-of-way, then turn onto 27th Avenue, and finally turn on SE 4th Street and operate in mixed traffic to Stadium Village Station.
Lapis Line-This is a combination light rail/streetcar/subway all put into one. It would be the high capacity north-south transit spine through Minneapolis serving high density areas. Between Old Shakopee Road Station and Crosstown Commons Station trains would utilize existing railroad right-of-way except for a short segment between Civic Plaza and Oxboro stations where trains would operate in the middle of the street (possibly in mixed traffic) in order to serve South Bloomington Transit Center. North of the Crosstown Commons Station trains would go underground until Plymouth Avenue Station in Minneapolis. Trains would then operate along the I-94 Corridor until 69th Avenue Station. From there trains would operate along Brooklyn Boulevard/Elm Creek Boulevard to Maple Grove. Plans for the Blue Line Extension had a potential route to the Arbor Lakes Shopping District in Maple Grove, but apparently the city council didn’t want it and we have the existing proposal. Considering how much traffic there is in Maple Grove and the continuing development of that area, it would be wise to take another look at light rail or some kind of upgraded transit there.
A few notes:
Selecting between LRT and BRT was based on this criteria:
-potential existing roadways that could be reconfigured with dedicated bus lanes
-possible or existing dedicated right-of-way
-current transit ridership and potential transit ridership
-existing light rail tracks or light rail tracks that will exist when the Blue Line and Green Line extensions are built
-surrounding land uses
-ability for the chosen mode to fit into the local landscape
-ability for the chosen mode to serve destinations as closely as possible
-ability to through-route (i.e. going from an eastern area, through the central business district, to a western area)
While the Silver Line/I-394 Corridor may also be a good light rail route, because destinations are on different sides of the freeway it would require a lot of flyover bridges to reach these destinations. BRT will also need flyover bridges, but can take advantage of existing roads as well. It would also be very difficult to build light rail on Wayzata Blvd., and buses would have the ability to serve Wayzata Park & Ride and Downtown Wayzata.
Instead of the Blue Line being extended further north to Anoka, the Lime Line BRT was chosen due to low population density and ease of routing buses into Downtown Anoka.
While this proposed system has BRT, those routes could be upgraded to LRT if demand warrants and there is the political and public will to do so.
The arterial system consists of only one streetcar route, operating between Uptown and Southdale, due to the increased job and population density in those areas. The rest of the routes are ABRT due to ease of building and implementation, less cost, and lower population density (in certain areas, not all areas). However an ABRT route could be upgraded to streetcar if demand warrants.
Description of each arterial route:
A Line-Besides the existing route there is consideration of extending it to Arden Hills when there is development at the former ammunition plant site.
B Line-The current proposal is for the route to serve between West Lake Station and Snelling Avenue Station. A western extension would route it on Minnetonka Boulevard and Louisiana Avenue to Louisiana Avenue Transit Center. An eastern extension would route it on Selby Avenue, through Downtown St. Paul, East 7th Street, Minnehaha Avenue, and terminate at the Greenway Avenue Station on the Gold Line.
C Line-No changes from the official proposal.
D Line-No changes from the official proposal except extending further north from Brooklyn Center Transit Center to Earle Brown Station to connect with the Lapis Line.
E Line-No changes from the official proposal except continuing north through Downtown Minneapolis, onto University Avenue, and terminating at Stadium Village Station.
F Line-The official proposal has the Nicollet Avenue BRT having a southern terminus at Nicollet Avenue & American Boulevard. Assuming the Lapis Line is built, the terminus would be cut back to Nicollet Avenue & 66th Street. Going north from Downtown Minneapolis the route follows the official proposal for ABRT on Central Avenue and University Avenue to Northtown Mall.
G Line-This route mostly follows the existing bus routes 87 and 63 on Raymond Avenue, Cleveland Avenue, and Grand Avenue. Through Downtown St. Paul the route continues east on East 7th Street, White Bear Avenue, and 7th Avenue terminating in North St. Paul.
H Line-Beginning at Highway 77 & 66th Street connecting with the Red Line/Cedar Avenue BRT, this route would operate on Bloomington Avenue and Cedar Avenue through South Minneapolis. Through Downtown Minneapolis the route would be on West Broadway to Robbinsdale Transit Center.
J Line-This route follows the existing Route 515 between Southdale and Highway 77 & 66th Street.
K Line-No changes from the official proposal for ABRT on Robert Street. Through Downtown St. Paul the route would be on Rice Street and terminate at Little Canada Transit Center.
L Line-Starting at 21st Street Station (Kenwood) this route travels on Franklin Avenue (existing Route 2) to West Bank, and then follows the existing Route 3 across the river to East Bank, Como Avenue and Energy Park Drive, and through Downtown St. Paul. Then buses mostly follow the existing Route 68 across the river on Robert Street, Cesar Chavez Drive, Oakdale Avenue, Thompson Avenue, 12th Avenue, Southview Boulevard, and terminates at Cahill Plaza in Inver Grove Heights.
M Line-This route mainly follows the existing Route 10 Spring Lake Park branch.
O Line-This route follows the existing Route 46 for its entire length between Opus in Minnetonka and West 7th Street in St. Paul. The only potential difference is routing through the Ford Site and on the Ford Spur for a short length.
P Line-This route would be on Como Avenue and Maryland Avenue in the northern part of St. Paul.
Q Line-From the southwest the route would mostly be on Smith Avenue. Going through Downtown St. Paul the route would be on 3rd Street, just to the north of the Gold Line, and then turning south and terminating at Lower Afton Park & Ride (one of the proposed stations on the Red Rock Corridor).
R Line-This route follows most of the existing Route 61 on Larpenteur Avenue, and then would be on Frost Avenue and terminate at White Bear Avenue & Larpenteur Avenue.
S1-The only streetcar line (not counting Riverview’s short mixed-traffic segment) on the arterial network. The route would mostly be on France Avenue except to serve Southdale Transit Center either by a few sharp turns or the more expensive but fluid option of cut-and-cover under Southdale’s surface lots. Streetcars would then merge with the Green Line and Bronze Line at West Lake Station. Siding tracks would be built in Uptown so streetcars are out of the way for the Bronze Line.
If the maps and/or descriptions of the routes look confusing feel free to ask any questions. I’m definitely not an expert on map making and if such a transit system ever comes into existence I’m sure the professionals can make a detailed but clean looking transit system map.
You may be looking at the maps and noticing numerous regional rail stations where there currently are none. That is another topic, another map, and another laundry list of routes for a different day.