A Regional Rail System for the Twin Cities

Following my post on potential Twin Cities rapid transit routes, which you can find here, next is the topic of regional/commuter rail in the Twin Cities region. Minnesota has one example of regional rail; the Northstar Line between Minneapolis and Big Lake in the northwest region operating on existing BNSF Railway track.

The Northstar Line is how not to implement a regional rail line. The Northstar is a half finished project and operates on an inconvenient schedule. Salt Lake City’s Frontrunner commuter rail is how you should implement regional rail. According to APTA ridership data the Frontrunner has around 17,200 weekday riders while the Northstar only has around 2,500.

Slc Frontrunner Train

The Frontrunner train in Salt Lake City.

How do two similar sized cities have such a huge difference in commuter rail ridership? The Frontrunner operates all day in both directions, and instead of terminating in the central business district trains continue through to other suburban areas. After the morning rush hour Northstar trains layover in Downtown Minneapolis until the evening rush hour, wasting a whole day when they could go back and forth between Big Lake and Minneapolis or continue west to Wayzata on BNSF Railway’s secondary mainline. The Northstar is nearly nine years old, and still hasn’t reached its intended destination of St. Cloud.

However, not only do you need more trains and routes to make regional rail successful. You also need stations in areas where people live and work, and you need good transit connections at these stations. In terms of serving existing developments the Northstar has mostly failed at this except in Minneapolis, Ramsey, and Anoka. Downtown Elk River is on the route, but Elk River Station is a few miles south, and Big Lake Station is a mile away from Downtown Big Lake. The planners seemed to prefer stations in undeveloped areas for large park & rides and the possibility for development rather than building stations where there is already development or to revitalize downtowns. Ramsey Station was built with that philosophy, and now has the COR (Center of Ramsey) developments walking distance to the station. Fridley Station is acceptable as there are people living around the station, and last year bus services were launched from Fridley Station to major employers in the area. It would be optimal to schedule some Route 10 buses to connect with Northstar trains, as University Avenue is a mile away from Fridley Station, which would allow a one transfer ride to Northtown Mall or other destinations along the University and Central Avenue corridors.

A regional rail station outside of Oslo in the northern suburban area of Kjelsås.

Above: A regional rail station outside of Oslo in the northern suburban area of Kjelsås. There are a few bus routes directly serving the station with frequency as high as every 10 minutes throughout the day. There are also diverse housing options very close to the station.

A Rail Proposal

Regional rail can be successful in Minnesota, and despite the Northstar not reaching ridership projections it has done adequately with the bad hand it was dealt. To have a successful regional rail system, I looked to Oslo, Norway where I lived and studied for four months. The regional rail system is easy to understand with local trains typically operating shorter distances and serving more stations, while regional trains typically operate longer distances and serve fewer stations. Their regional rail system is complemented by numerous intercity routes going to Norwegian and Swedish cities. The schedules for the routes are easy to understand as its typically every half hour to an hour, but this depends on if its a local or regional service. Within Oslo the routes meet each other, so there is high frequency in central Oslo. If we want a successful regional and intercity rail system, then that is how we should implement it.

Mn Regional System Twin Cities Map Updated

Above: Potential regional rail routes in the Twin Cities

Most routes use existing freight railroad right-of-way, but there are exceptions using abandoned railroad right-of-way or new right-of-way. New right-of-way includes along Interstate 494 and Highway 212 between Minnetonka and Eden Prairie to serve Southwest Station, along Highway 13 between Savage and Eagan to serve Burnsville Transit Station, along University Avenue in Fridley to serve Northtown Mall Transit Center, and along Highway 52 between Inver Grove Heights and Rochester in order to have a direct route to Rochester without acquiring properties.

The routes were chosen based on the ability to serve developed areas and the central business districts of Minneapolis and St. Paul. A few abandoned and active rail lines in the Twin Cities were not chosen due to their routing (not serving any developing areas or the central business districts), the right-of-way no longer exists in certain places, or redundancy with other transit routes whether existing or potential. One example is the former Milwaukee Road Hastings & Dakota route between Cologne and Hastings via Lakeville, which was abandoned in the late 1970s. Much of the right-of-way no longer exists, the route bypasses the central business districts of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and the route wouldn’t serve travel segments with high demand.

The main regional rail arteries into the Twin Cities in which there would be a high frequency of traffic would be BNSF’s Wayzata Subdivision in the west, BNSF’s Midway Subdivision and Canadian Pacific’s Merriam Park Subdivision in the central core, Canadian Pacific’s Withrow Subdivision in the north, and Canadian Pacific’s St. Paul Subdivision in the east.

These services are intended to be used for longer distance travel, whereas rapid transit routes that may follow close to regional rail routes are intended for shorter distance travel. For example a person who lives in Wayzata and works in Edina could travel by regional rail without having to transfer in Downtown Minneapolis, and it would be quicker and more reliable than current bus service. Another example is a person who lives in Northfield and works at Burnsville Center can take a regional train to Lakeville and transfer to the Orange Line or a local bus.

Frequency for each route could range from every 20 minutes to only 3 roundtrips per day. For example the Dakota Rail Corridor between Minneapolis and Hutchinson could have trains every 20 minutes as far west as St. Bonifacius, but only a single digit number of trains per day further west to Hutchinson.

Challenges

There are of course numerous challenges facing such a system besides current unwillingness from the political and public realm to secure better funding for transit and reunite for regional interests instead of individual community interests. As we have seen with Southwest LRT and Bottineau LRT, BNSF Railway and Twin Cities & Western have been difficult to negotiate with on using their right-of-way and impacting their operations.

Unfortunately I doubt any railroad would help contribute funding for a regional rail route on their tracks (they can feel free to prove me wrong), even if there is a guarantee of upgraded track and signal infrastructure among other improvements such as grade crossing separation, grade crossing improvements, and more track capacity. However with that guarantee its optimal the freight railroads would approve, or at least have reasonable demands.

Another issue is train schedule coordination, in which freight railroads don’t have a set schedule like passenger rail does. Although Amtrak has priority, if the route has limited capacity and a freight train is coming on a single track line, then the Amtrak train has to move onto a siding. Planning each regional rail route has to take into account the daily operations of the freight railroad including what industries they serve, how many railcars are there typically on each train, what is the speed of each train, etc. With this information we can understand what track improvements must be made and how to coordinate schedules.

When the typical American thinks of passenger rail, they think of a diesel locomotive pulling coaches. However self-propelled railcars should be the main use on a Twin Cities regional rail system as they’re lighter, more efficient, quieter, and perfect for routes that don’t have the demand for a train pulling coaches that each can seat 100 passengers. Similar to our light rail trains, but larger, self-propelled railcars are common on European and Asian regional rail systems. The two common types are diesel multiple units (DMUs) and electric multiple units (EMUs). The Federal Railroad Administration has slowly begun to let self-propelled railcars on American rail lines with the implementation of Positive Train Control and relying on crash management systems in the event of a collision instead of building trains like tanks that are heavy and inefficient. With improved battery technology and alternative energy technology such as hydrogen power, using diesel rolling stock may not be needed to save on the cost of installing overhead wires.

Above: The Alstom Coradia iLint, the first hydrogen powered train.

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A Norwegian State Railway’s Stadler Flirt EMU in the small town of Movatn. The regional rail system in Oslo isn’t just for commuters, its also an important way of making nature outside the city accessible.

A Potential Timeline

Optimally most of the rapid transit routes planned for our region will be built by 2035 (that of course requires a major shift in transit funding), meanwhile a few regional starter lines would be built. This would likely follow a decades old commuter rail plan by MnDOT in which Northstar between Minneapolis and St. Cloud would be first, followed by the Red Rock Corridor between Minneapolis and Hastings (for the record I don’t believe bus rapid transit should be built on this corridor), and the Dan Patch Corridor between Minneapolis and Northfield.

While Oslo has an excellent regional rail system despite its similar size to the Twin Cities in terms of population and density, it helps that driving in Norway is expensive and there are much greater incentives to taking transit than in the Twin Cities. As transportation projects become more difficult to fund in the Twin Cities and Minnesota, not even a gas tax hike will be enough for transportation projects let alone a regional rail system. Tollways, city ring tolls, property tax hikes, tax hikes on vehicle leases or ownership will need to be discussed sooner or later whether or not a regional rail system in the Twin Cities is seriously considered.

With autonomous cars they could either complement or compete with transit, but this depends on public policy. In conservative politics within Minnesota autonomous vehicles are seen as a way to replace most transit. In Norway autonomous vehicles are seen as a last-mile option between the transit station and destination. With a regional rail system in the Twin Cities there should be autonomous vehicles at certain transit stations to incentivize trips by transit.

The Twin Cities regional rail system may look like it would encourage sprawl, but with or without it the Twin Cities will continue to sprawl unless policies are put into place to slow down or halt our continuing sprawl into third ring suburbs and exurbs. Part of the reason for a Twin Cities regional rail system is to keep development closer to downtown districts and transit stations instead of the status quo of developing as far as the eye can see.

While the idea of an extensive regional rail system in the Twin Cities may seem to radical to some, there are plenty of similar sized cities such as Oslo that have regional rail systems and are an important part of a multi-modal transportation system. Rapid transit routes, while also important, have little direct benefit to towns and rural areas. Regional rail can revitalize old downtown districts that were born due to access by rail, can encourage people living in areas dominated by the automobile to try transit, and can encourage the conservation of land in a region that is continually sprawling.

Last but not least will be potential intercity rail corridors in the Twin Cities and Minnesota, which I will cover in my next post.

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86 Responses to A Regional Rail System for the Twin Cities

  1. David Markle
    David Markle August 16, 2018 at 10:52 am #

    I agree; but let’s see how the upcoming state administration and legislature feel about these matters, not to say the Trump administration.

    A related issue that I’ve repeatedly harped upon is our need for better metropolitan area planning and implementation, to serve transportation needs rather than real estate interests, in order to create a skeletal truly rapid transit system. At present we have only one link that comes close to that level, namely the Blue Line.

  2. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke August 16, 2018 at 11:43 am #

    This makes me think of the earlier post about “what if we hadn’t built freeways through the middle of Minneapolis” and the idea that there is no alternative to something like putting 35W through the heart of the city and bulldozing thousands of homes.

    If we hadn’t built a huge network of urban freeways, this is the kind of thing that might have been created in its place.

    • Kellan Mcdonald August 16, 2018 at 2:31 pm #

      Portland. Portland is what this city would look like and just moving from there you sit in traffic for 3-4 hours everyday.

      • Karen Sandness August 16, 2018 at 5:44 pm #

        That is, if you choose to drive in Portland. But why would you?

        I lived there for ten years without a car and rarely suffered any inconvenience. Tri-Met worked for me. I even took a Saturday morning class at the Rock Creek campus of Portland Community College (think Minnetonka in terms of distance from the central city) and did it via MAX (light rail) and a bus that met the train.

        I don’t know whether to be amused or exasperated by people who moved to Portland for the quality of life and then proceeded to ignore one of the things that made it so great.

        I moved here for family reasons, and while those reasons no longer apply, housing prices are too high for me to move back.

        • Monte Castleman August 16, 2018 at 9:36 pm #

          Why might someone drive in Portland? Maybe they’re hauling 4 X 8 sheets of plywood home and don’t want to haul them on the MAX? Is every single resident of the city reachable by the MAX? If not maybe you want to visit one of them. Maybe you want to take a road trip to Seattle?

          But yes, it’s ugly to try to drive in Portland. Or Seattle. I was on an extended visit to Seattle in the 1990s with the idea of moving there, but in only a few weeks I got tired of just about every freeway being immobile for most of the day even back then, with no one even talking about fixing the problem. That’s not what I considered a good quality of life.

          • Ross Williams August 16, 2018 at 11:47 pm #

            It’s ugly to drive anywhere. I lived in Portland for 15 years and it was no worse than Minneapolis or Saint Paul. The difference was that there were actually attractive options for most trips. Walking, biking, light rail, street car and buses were all usually better options than driving somewhere.

            What I didn’t mention there is the Westside commuter rail. I was an advocate for that project and it appears it didn’t work. The reason is that transit needs good pedestrian connections and existing freight rail lines don’t. Trying to create those connections is not easy and without them ridership suffers. It’s not enough that you can draw a line on a map. You have to create an attractive urban environment to walk through. That is not usually the current environment around freight rail tracks.

            • Eric Ecklund August 17, 2018 at 1:32 am #

              That’s basically what we’re doing with the Green and Blue Line extensions; making the area more pedestrian friendly including along freight rail lines.

              • Ross Williams August 18, 2018 at 1:59 pm #

                “That’s basically what we’re doing with the Green and Blue Line extensions; making the area more pedestrian friendly”

                There is a difference between putting light rail in community where you want to encourage development and deciding that you can develop walkable communities someplace because its convenient to a freight line. Rail, by itself, will not spur development. There need to be a lot of other amenities for it to work.

                Again, I am not commenting on a specific proposal. Its been a long, long time since I commuted to Eden Prairie and there was no there, there when I did. It was just suburban sprawl.

              • Ross Williams August 18, 2018 at 2:06 pm #

                “That’s basically what we’re doing with the Green and Blue Line extensions; making the area more pedestrian friendly”

                There is a difference between putting light rail in community where you want to encourage development and deciding that you can develop walkable communities someplace because its convenient to a freight line. Rail, by itself, will not spur development. There need to be a lot of other amenities for it to work.

                Again, I am not commenting on a specific proposal. Its been a long, long time since I commuted to Eden Prairie and there was no there, there when I did. It was just suburban sprawl.

                But if you look at that map you can see the problem. In many cases the actual concentrations of population and economic activity aren’t near the stations. So the actual initial demand near the stations is going to be for more parking. You might have noticed, parking lots are not conducive to pedestrian oriented development.

                • Eric Ecklund August 18, 2018 at 4:49 pm #

                  “Rail, by itself, will not spur development. There need to be a lot of other amenities for it work.”

                  I don’t know what you mean by amenities, but if you’re talking about pedestrian friendly facilities then you build that along with the light rail or regional rail.

                  Many of these stations are not supposed to have emphasis on park & ride. Their main purpose is to serve the surrounding area with people walking, biking, taking transit, or getting dropped off. And with the amount of stations there doesn’t need to be huge park & ride lots or ramps like the Northstar stations where there are a limited number of stops.

          • Karen E Sandness August 19, 2018 at 5:16 pm #

            One of the car-free people in Portland was in the construction industry and had a truck that he used only for work. Otherwise his whole family got around on buses, bikes, or MAX.

            Last time I visited, a friend who directs a choir told me that increasing numbers of his singers get around without cars and rent them only when they need them for special purposes.

            By the way, you must not have been very observant in Portland, because while there are (I think) six MAX lines to date, with another one planned for Barbur Boulevard, the largest burden for mass transit is borne by the extensive and well-coordinated bus system.

            When I lived in Portland, there were perhaps five times in those ten years when I couldn’t get within a few blocks of my urban or suburban destination by transit.

            I have fond memories of rolling along on the eastside MAX while the Banfield was creeping along bumper to bumper.

    • Bill Dooley August 17, 2018 at 5:52 pm #

      So we could have been like Paris with a robust subway/light rail system in Minneapolis, St. Paul and the surrounding suburbs and a regional rail system for the more outlying areas?

  3. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke August 16, 2018 at 11:44 am #

    Also, it seems like an awful lot of stops on some of these lines… I guess you mention there could be local v. express options, but would that require huge upgrades in trackage or something?

    • Eric Ecklund August 16, 2018 at 12:10 pm #

      For example the Dan Patch Corridor between Minneapolis and Albert Lea would have a service like this:
      Local-Between Minneapolis and Lakeville with 10 stops
      Regional/express-Between Minneapolis and Albert Lea with 10 stops (3 stations skipped)

      The track capacity required depends on the amount of passenger and freight traffic, and what speed these trains are traveling. It can be as simple as a short siding at a station so while a local train stops a regional can pass, but on the expensive end it could be a new mainline track such as a third main between Minneapolis and Coon Rapids on BNSF’s line used by Northstar.

  4. Monte Castleman August 16, 2018 at 12:09 pm #

    Most people I know in Shakopee commute to the southwestern suburbs or Minneapolis, so it might make more sense to have the “light green” line turn north at Savage and follow the Dan Patch corridor.

    Also worth noting that Valleyfair has a huge parking lot that badly needs rebuilding that’s only used to capacity a couple of nice Saturdays during the summer and a couple of Friday and Saturday nights in October. They might be open to sharing it as a park and ride (Valleyfair’s sister park in California is now sharing their parking with the 49ers stadium).

  5. Brian August 16, 2018 at 1:21 pm #

    Who lives in downtown Elk River or downtown Big Lake? How many riders would you get without parking at these stations? This is another question of do you build for today’s reality, or do you build with the hope people will move close to transit? Today’s reality is that most of the riders in Elk River and Big Lake live far enough away they wouldn’t use Northstar if they couldn’t drive and park at the station. I know people who drive from places like Zimmerman and Princeton to take the train.

    Trains instead of highways won’t replace every car trip. Nobody is going to carry a few sheets of plywood and a bunch of 2x4s on a train. Going car light is still expensive. A car used once a week still costs $xxx a month to keep in the garage. Most people are going to figure if they already paying potentially hundreds a month to have a car why not use it? A car is certainly a lot more convenient and faster than walking a mile or two to a bus stop, getting on a bus, transferring to a train and then repeating at the other end.

    How would this not create more sprawl? If someone can quickly and cheaply take a train out to an exurb why would someone not want to buy a cheaper house with more land?

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke August 16, 2018 at 1:25 pm #

      I think, if built, this system would create more walkable areas outside of the urban core. That’s not “sprawl” by my accounting.

      • Eric Ecklund August 16, 2018 at 2:02 pm #

        Exactly, its intended to create walkable areas and serve existing walkable suburban downtowns like Wayzata and Shakopee.

        These routes can still have park & rides, though they may be smaller than existing ones due to space constraints especially in downtowns.

        No one expects you to take transit if you’re moving plywood or a 2×4, but there are plenty of people who can take transit. Car ownership is slowly decreasing, and even auto companies see a future where car sharing is the norm especially with autonomous technology. With car sharing people don’t have to worry about the maintenance and annual payments of a car, so they can feel free to choose whatever mode of transportation they want.

      • Monte Castleman August 16, 2018 at 9:12 pm #

        For everyone that wants to live in a cramped condo a half block from a commuter rail station, I’d wager probably 10 will want to drive their cars from their McMansion to a park and ride. Not that that’s a bad thing since it’s 10 more people that get to live in single family detached houses that otherwise might not be able to.

        “Sprawl” is just someone living farther out with a bigger back yard than you. The streetcars created the first “sprawl” by enabling people to live farther out and having more space than living in the central business district.

        • Ross Williams August 18, 2018 at 2:22 pm #

          ““Sprawl” is just someone living farther out with a bigger back yard than you. ”

          No, sprawl is moving where there are no jobs and then driving through other people’s neighborhoods to get to work. Sprawl is where you and your neighbors all require expensive urban services, but expect to pay the same for them as places that already have them and are cheaper because they are densely developed. Sprawl is someplace you can’t send your kid to the store to get orange juice.

          • Monte Castleman August 18, 2018 at 7:50 pm #

            So in other words so-called “spawl” includes large areas of the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

        • Ross Williams August 18, 2018 at 2:27 pm #

          Let me add one more definition of sprawl. Sprawl is where you can’t go out to lunch or dinner without a motor vehicle.

          One survey of people in suburban office parks in Oregon found that the largest barrier to people using transit was not being able to run errands or go to lunch. Essentially they were trapped once they got to work until the afternoon commute buses started running.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller August 16, 2018 at 3:55 pm #

      I think your first question answers your last one, and that a robust rail network would encourage denser uses around the stops.

  6. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke August 16, 2018 at 2:17 pm #

    Q: why is the South Saint Paul stop there? Why not put it right in the downtown?

    • Eric Ecklund August 16, 2018 at 4:00 pm #

      Where is South St. Paul’s downtown located? The route follows Union Pacific’s Albert Lea Subdivision out of Downtown St. Paul, and through South St. Paul its mostly industrial land use. The station at Verderosa is mostly intended to be a park & ride for southern suburbanites traveling to/from Rochester. Its located at 494 for easy access, but there could be a local bus connection to the station.

      • Bill Lindeke
        Bill Lindeke August 16, 2018 at 4:13 pm #

        Move it north to as close to Grand Avenue and Concord as you can get.

  7. Drew Gmitro August 16, 2018 at 2:57 pm #

    Put more money into the highways and quit wasting money on these transit lines that few use, go way over budget, and never pay for themselves. As much as many of you are in “awe” of Europe, and believe they do everything “better”, this is not Europe. This is America and most people prefer to drive. It’s always been that way in this country. With battery powered, efficient autonomous cars coming online yearly, this will only increase. Stop wasting money on these transit lines that will benefit “few”, yet require the “many” to pay for. It’s a complete waste of taxpayer money. Furthermore, freight railroads have absolutely no obligation to these transit projects and shouldn’t be made out to be “the problem” when they feel these routes don’t benefit them. They are a business, not owned by the government.

    • Joe U August 16, 2018 at 3:46 pm #

      A freeway is nothing more than a transit line that requires the user to provide their own means of riding it. They always go over budget and never pay for themselves, despite requiring that “many” contribute taxpayer money to the cause.

      • Eric Ecklund August 16, 2018 at 3:57 pm #

        There are many roads in this state I, and others in the Twin Cities, don’t use. Why should we pay for them? Sometimes your tax dollars are going towards something you don’t want, that’s the simple truth.

        Europe has highways too, but the difference is the people there pay a fair share to build and maintain them through tolls and gas taxes.

    • Karen Sandness August 16, 2018 at 5:55 pm #

      Ah yes, the “Americans don’t like that” argument.

      Twenty years ago, the argument would have been “Nobody wants to live downtown.”

      Forty years ago, when I began studying Asian languages, several people told me that I’d never find a use for them and should study something more practical.

      Fifty years ago, the argument would have been, “America is a meat and potatoes country! Who’d ever go to a Thai or Ethiopian restaurant?”

      Seventy-five years ago, when my grandparents bought their house on Diamond Lake Road, the argument was, “Who’d want to live way out there?”

      One hundred and twenty years ago, a lot of people had their doubts about those new-fangled horseless carriages.

      America’s character was not set and frozen for all time in the 1950s and 1960s.

      More important, while you may be devoted to your car, you are not “Americans.” You are one American.

      • Monte Castleman August 16, 2018 at 9:27 pm #

        What percentage of Americans study Asian languages instead of Spanish, or none at all? What percentage of Americans go to Thai and Ethiopian restaurants instead of McDonald’s and Taco Bell? While housing preferences change Americans have enjoyed the convenience of private vehicles since forever, after all we had horses and carriages in colonial times. I don’t see Americans giving up private vehicles any more than other modern conveniences like electricity or running water.

        • Chris Moseng
          Chris Moseng August 17, 2018 at 8:56 am #

          If you get the incentives right, they will. Comparing private car ownership to electricity or running water begs the question.

        • Karen E Sandness August 19, 2018 at 5:22 pm #

          The point is choice.

          The existence of Asian language programs doesn’t prevent people from studying Spanish. (I have studied both).

          The existence of Thai and Ethiopian restaurants does not prevent people from going to McDonald’s.

          In the typical American city, there is no choice of transportation. You drive or you stay home.

          People are still free to drive in cities that have excellent transit. People even drive in Tokyo, although I think that driving in Tokyo is its own punishment. But no one except cab and bus drivers HAS TO drive.

          In Minneapolis, I HAVE TO drive, even though I hate it, because the buses don’t run often enough (I’m either too late or too early), the connections don’t work, and all my relatives live in places without transit.

  8. Kellan Mcdonald August 16, 2018 at 3:10 pm #

    We do not have the density or population to make this system work. Even in New York City the city loses money with every rider. As the rail system pushes further from the city core the lower your ridership and greater costs. If we charged each rider on the Northstar rail what it really should cost tickets would be roughly $19.00 one way. That’s 38.00 round trip every day. For most people that is a tank of gas in a car. I’m pretty sure that anyone that would use that line to communte wouldn’t be burning though a tank of gas a day to drive a car. These ideas do not work in America. We are a society built around the car and the idea that people should be able to live where they want.

    • Eric Ecklund August 16, 2018 at 3:54 pm #

      We don’t pay the full cost of building and maintaining roads, and with subsidies on gas I don’t think there should be a double standard for transit. This country was originally built around railroads. A lot of historic downtowns exist because of railroads, and they’re how this country expanded to the West Coast. Yes the suburbs were built around the automobile, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to make transit work in them. We may live in a society that believes we should have the ability to live anywhere we want, but with climate change and a serious suburban sprawl problem we eventually need to change that.

    • Chris Moseng
      Chris Moseng August 17, 2018 at 8:59 am #

      “We are a society built around the car and the idea that people should be able to live where they want.”

      We’re also a society that’s going to make humans extinct, or at least render civilization unrecognizable in a few generations, if we don’t adjust our behaviors. Or I guess we could keep on doing what we’ve been doing and in 50 years maybe we’ll be lucky if we can go outside when the sun is up.

      • Monte Castleman August 18, 2018 at 7:49 pm #

        Or else a thing called an “electric car” that I hear some companies are working on will become affordable and practical so we won’t have to void out 100 years of progress in comfort and convenience.

        • Eric Ecklund August 19, 2018 at 1:13 am #

          1) How long will it take for electric cars to be the norm? I’m sure oil companies will slow it down as much as they can.

          2) How will these electric cars be charged? If its something like solar or wind then great, but if its coal then that doesn’t solve the environmental impact issue.

          3) Having electric cars doesn’t solve the traffic problem and the wear and tear on our roads.

  9. Scott August 16, 2018 at 4:38 pm #

    I studied for a semester at the University of Oslo back in 1994 and used their transit system and Norwegian rail network extensively. At that time, Oslo was the smallest city in the world with a subway system (550,000 pop. in a region of slightly over 1 million), which is amazing considering MSP had almost 3 million residents at the time.

    Oslo and Norway did many things that made their transit system so great:
    – Taxed cars and gas significantly.
    – Put tolls on cars entering the city of Oslo and diverted the funds to support transit.
    – Buried the main highway through downtown into the 2 mile long “Oslo tunnel”.
    – Built an extensive metro rail network that served the city itself first and linked them all up in subway tunnels under downtown.

    So, rather than building out a regional rail network in MSP, I’d rather focus transit improvements on the dense core of Minneapolis and St. Paul. This is likely to be ABRT, but it would be great to consider rail within the City boundaries. – espeically if both cities continue to add significant population. Tunnels under downtown Minneapolis should be studied at some point in the future too. And, it will never happen, but wish we could look at removing some freeways/ highways in the cities.

    • Eric Ecklund August 16, 2018 at 4:57 pm #

      I know this isn’t exactly what you want, but the regional rail network would have a high frequency within the central core in addition to the Metro network of LRT, BRT, and ABRT. Not everyone can or wants to live in the urban area, so we should try to make suburban and exurban areas more friendly towards walkers, bikers, and transit.

      I do think at the very least we should cap highways in the central core to have parks and development.

  10. Alex Schieferdecker
    Alex Schieferdecker August 16, 2018 at 8:51 pm #

    The FrontRunner operates in an extremely unique geography. The Salt Lake City/Provo region is ideally suited to commuter rail. The entire metro area is extremely linear, with the lake and salt flats to the west and Wasatch Mountains to the east. The FrontRunner and two of the three SLC light rail lines run almost parallel north-south. Everything is “on the way.”

    The same constraints of geography do not apply to MSP. As your map demonstrates, a significant number of routes would be necessary to come even close to geographic coverage of the region. Each of these lines would serve areas of density far too low to plausibly support rail transit.

    • Eric Ecklund August 17, 2018 at 1:42 am #

      Then how about Denver? Similar sized city to the Twin Cities with many light rail and commuter rail lines branching out. Also Oslo, which may have a fjord but that hasn’t stopped them from branching out everywhere else they can. Their Metro and commuter rail lines go into lower density suburbs like ours, but theirs are more walkable which we need to do here.

    • Eric Ecklund August 17, 2018 at 3:34 am #

      And like I said in my main post, it helps when the train runs all day in both directions. I believe the Frontrunner runs at a half hour frequency throughout the day. How much ridership would the Northstar have if it had a schedule like that and went all the way to St. Cloud? Maybe not as much as the Frontrunner, but it would be performing much better than the inconvenient schedule it has now.

  11. Henry Pan
    Henry August 17, 2018 at 10:25 pm #

    FYI the 850/52 stops at Fridley Station and serves Northstar. From there, it basically parallels and provides local Northstar service up to Anoka.

    • Eric Ecklund August 18, 2018 at 2:49 am #

      The 850 is an express route between Minneapolis and Anoka only operating in peak hour, peak direction. It seems to get good use at the Foley Park & Ride, which is why a regional rail station should be built there; bring ridership up on the Northstar and shave a little bit of bus traffic from downtown. With a Northern Lights Express stop planned for Foley Park & Ride hopefully the Northstar will be included.

      The 852 runs every half hour at most, and I don’t know if buses are scheduled for transfers to/from the Northstar (I’m guessing no). Routing some Route 10 buses to Fridley Station would be easier since it runs at a much higher frequency and provides an easy transfer to Northtown Mall or anywhere along the University Avenue and Central Avenue corridors. Now there’s a question of would a Northstar service like the one I propose and the 852 coexist? That would have to be studied, as people may prefer a train over a bus, but how many people walk or bike between their home and the 852 bus stop and how many of those people would be okay going further to a regional rail station?

  12. Curtis Tanke August 18, 2018 at 8:49 am #

    Why it is “rail” people never consider out state mn … People in out state mn should not have to pay for Twin City train system, that does not benfit them

    Another point: roads are payed thru state and federal gasoline taxes and registration fees. So if you don’t own a car you don’t pay for roads.

    Also people never consider the size difference as in land space. North America is really big !!!!

    • Eric Ecklund August 18, 2018 at 9:32 am #

      You do know some of these rail lines would serve outstate too, right?

      Why do we have to dip into the general fund to pay for transportation projects if gas taxes and registration fees pay the full cost for building and maintaining roads?

      Yes, North America is big, but I’m only talking about Minnesota, and even then mainly focusing on the Twin Cities region.

    • Ross Williams August 18, 2018 at 11:08 am #

      I think the answer for the same reason people in the metro area pay for state highways they seldom or never use. And people living in town pay property taxes for the streets everyone in the area drives on and for the county roads that they seldom or never use. The idea that the gas tax either fairly allocates the cost of the road use or that it pays entirely for roads is wrong.

      But beyond that, the primary beneficiaries of transit are the people who are still on the road. The same is true of bike lanes and sidewalks. They speed up traffic by reducing congestion and allowing vehicles to move faster.

      • Monte Castleman August 18, 2018 at 12:03 pm #

        Even if you assume that
        A) The Green Line extension will have the same ridership as the Green LIne, and
        B) That everyone on the Green Line would drive instead of riding it

        That’s still less than a single lane of traffic each direction. Motorists would be better served by simply building another lane from Eden Prairie to downtown, which could likely be done for $2 Billion.

        I’m a strong supporter of the Green Line extension, but let’s not pretend that the primary people to benefit are the people still on the road instead of the people on the train.

        • Eric Ecklund August 18, 2018 at 12:36 pm #

          Building more lanes will only induce demand. We should be encouraging people to use transit, not cars. Transit may or may not relieve congestion, but isn’t it better to have the option of not being stuck in traffic?

        • Ross Williams August 18, 2018 at 1:47 pm #

          “Motorists would be better served by simply building another lane from Eden Prairie to downtown, which could likely be done for $2 Billion. ”

          And how many more lanes in downtown to get them to a parking ramp? And How many more lanes on Eden Prairie arterials to get them to the freeway? In any case, I was commenting on any specific proposal. The Twin Cities area is an auto-dependent nightmare and the effort to feed the suburbs with either transit or more freeway lanes is likely to make the situation worse. People need to start living near where they work or working near where they live.

          • Eric Ecklund August 18, 2018 at 4:54 pm #

            What if they can’t live closer to work? For example the housing costs near work are too much.

            Or what if one person in the household has a job close by, but the other person has a job requiring driving or taking transit?

            • Ross Williams August 18, 2018 at 5:21 pm #

              “the housing costs near work are too much. ”

              The solution to that is to provide affordable housing, not create economically segregated communities and then spend a bunch of money on transportation infrastructure to patch the problem.

              Clearly some people are going to decide to commute. But should we shouldn’t be encouraging that. Providing transit to suburban commercial center is a good idea since it allows denser development witn less auto dependence. It also broadens access to the jobs in those centers. But providing transit to auto-dependent suburban bedroom communities just encourages further sprawl, paradoxically increasing auto dependence. People drive to a remote parking lot and take transit instead of driving directly to their destination. The only real advantage to that is on the other end where there is one less car and on the highways in between.

          • Monte Castleman August 18, 2018 at 7:45 pm #

            Must be nice to be so picky in today’s tight housing market that you only consider houses near your job, Or in today’s tight job market be so picky about jobs that you only pick from jobs near your house. And then are able to afford to move every couple of years when you change jobs.

            • Ross Williams August 18, 2018 at 8:48 pm #

              “Must be nice to be so picky in today’s tight housing market ”

              When we went hunting for our current home the bedrock criteria was that it had to be within walking distance of work.

              “Or in today’s tight job market be so picky about jobs that you only pick from jobs near your house.”

              But when I looked for a job, it had to be within walking distance of our house. In both cases, that eliminated some options.

              Most people are picky about jobs and where they live. They would just have to make location a bigger priority in each case.

              “And then are able to afford to move every couple of years when you change jobs.”

              Its funny, I lived in the same house for almost 15 years in Portland and had 5 jobs in that time while my spouse had 5 or 10 depending on whether you count multiple locations as jobs.

              But you do hit on a very basic point. Providing a good transportation network that provides people with more options is a good thing. It allows employers to choose from a larger pool of potential employees and it allows employees to choose from a larger pool of employers. That’s why densely developed cities are successful.

              Subsidizing sprawl actually has the opposite effect. It provides a small number of people with more options at the expense of everyone else.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke August 18, 2018 at 11:26 am #

      Second what Eric says… this is this is the most comprehensive outstate small city small town Greater Minnesota rail proposal I’ve yet seen. Many if not most of the downtowns of outstate Minnesota were developed around rail connections. I doubt most will thrive again until we have rail connections restored.

    • Julie Kosbab August 19, 2018 at 9:15 am #

      Another point: roads are payed thru state and federal gasoline taxes and registration fees. So if you don’t own a car you don’t pay for roads.

      This is incorrect. Rather, while these provide some funding, it is nowhere close to all.

      See also: https://taxfoundation.org/state-road-funding-2017/
      https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2015/05/debunking-the-myth-that-only-drivers-pay-for-roads/393134/

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller August 20, 2018 at 9:56 am #

      People in greater Minnesota get more in state spending than they pay in taxes. They aren’t paying for anything in the Twin Cities.

      • Ross Williams August 20, 2018 at 10:35 am #

        “While the parking lots obviously got significant use, many people also walked to the nearest bus stop, or were dropped off and picked up at the lots.”

        What is the difference between parking your car and being dropped off and picked up? Either one is an auto trip. Yes, there are some densely developed suburban areas served by transit where there is significant pedestrian transit use, but those are rarely the ones that have an express bus to downtown. Instead, they have a fairly robust transit and pedestrian network that supports a wide variety of trips, not just daily commutes.

        • Tim August 20, 2018 at 11:06 am #

          I was addressing the idea that everyone who uses the suburban express buses just drives to a park and ride and leaves their car there all day, which isn’t true.

      • Ross Williams August 20, 2018 at 10:44 am #

        “People in greater Minnesota get more in state spending than they pay in taxes”

        This is really as nonsensical as the claim that greater Minnesota is subsidizing the Twin Cities. You can make the case either way depending on how you attribute the benefits. Take the Twin Cities metro area out of the state and the scale of greater Minnesota spending would be greatly reduced.

        Considerations of the distribution of burdens and benefits, the issues around equity, are important and useful. But phony delineations between the metro and greater Minnesota are not. It is really a means of claiming entitlement rather than relying on merit and value.

  13. Mike August 18, 2018 at 9:08 am #

    Good example of how the Twin Cities could help solve population growth in a non auto-centric way as an alternative to turning city neighborhoods all into Uptown density. Solve for growth at the regional level instead of in municipal silos. If only we have a governmental body or two, that spanned multiple cities and town and could help coordinate some of these activities……

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke August 18, 2018 at 11:27 am #

      Sounds a lot like Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City plan from the 19th century.

  14. Ross Williams August 18, 2018 at 2:14 pm #

    In an ideal world, this seems to be looking at the problem backward. Instead of designing a system to get people from suburbs to the city, the starting point should be where do people in the city need to get to in the suburbs. Transit is in part of issue of equity. How do we give people who live in urban areas access to a wider range for jobs. That is also part of making vibrant city centers, since people can live downtown and still work in the suburbs.

    It appears to me that the problem for the Twin Cities is that its transit system is being heavily driven by commuters from auto dependent communities.

    • Eric Ecklund August 18, 2018 at 5:15 pm #

      Here are some suburban employment areas that would be close to a regional rail station:
      West End, West End Station and Soonor Jct. Station – St. Louis Park
      Normandale Lake Office Park, Normandale Lake District Station – Bloomington
      Twin Cities Premium Outlets, Cedar Grove Transit Station – Eagan
      Blue Cross Blue Shield, Blue Cross Station – Eagan
      Amazon, Shenandoah Station – Shakopee
      Medtronic, Medtronic Station – Fridley
      Northtown Mall, Northtown Transit Center – Fridley
      Bethel University, Bethel University Station – Arden Hills
      Andersen Windows, Bayport Station – Bayport
      Thomson Reuters, Thomson Reuters Station – Eagan

      And if you include rapid transit routes there would be much more.

      You need to look at all of these rail lines and the areas along them before concluding that they would only benefit suburb-to-downtown commuters.

    • Monte Castleman August 18, 2018 at 7:47 pm #

      And if you don’t provide a lot of transit from the suburbs to the city we’d be complaining about all those people driving their cars in instead.

      • Ross Williams August 18, 2018 at 8:33 pm #

        No, those people in the suburbs would be complaining about all that congestion. I guess that is what is happening now. Its funny how the complaints about access to jobs never focus on the fact that there are a lot of jobs that are basically off limits to anyone without an automobile. Instead of providing access to those jobs, we keep investing in better access to jobs that are already accessible via transit, walking and biking. Can you imagine the outrage if eliminated express buses to downtown in order to provide shuttles to suburban office parks.

        • Eric Ecklund August 19, 2018 at 1:23 am #

          But which would have more ridership; shuttles from downtown to suburban employment centers, or express buses from the suburbs to downtown?

          To give an example, Route 588 is a reverse commute route going to the Normandale Lake Office Park in West Bloomington from Minneapolis in the morning, and the reverse in the evening. The 589 is a regular express route running in peak hour, peak direction between West Bloomington and Minneapolis. The 589 has much more ridership than the 588. Metro Transit would not sacrifice their bread and butter express routes for shuttles to the suburbs.

          This isn’t to say suburban employment areas shouldn’t be served, but we shouldn’t sacrifice suburb-to-downtown service to make it happen. The great thing about BRT, LRT, and regional rail is that it can serve both, as well as suburb-to-suburb travel, instead of having many shuttle routes that may garner only ten riders at most. They may not fully replace the suburb-to-downtown express routes, but its a good second option.

          • Ross Williams August 19, 2018 at 11:50 am #

            “we shouldn’t sacrifice suburb-to-downtown service to make it happen. ”

            Lets be clear, almost everyone of those transit “trips” from the suburbs is really an auto trip to a remote parking lot with an express shuttle to downtown.

            That does not serve any purpose at all in the local community, its sole value is the reduced traffic on the freeway and for parking at the final destination. They are very effectively enabling the growth of auto-dependent communities.

            Providing decent quality transit to suburban job centers encourages those places to develop more densely and provide far better pedestrian environments. It also encourages more mixed use development in the job center. It is comparing apples and oranges. One enables sprawl and the other enables quality urban development.

            • Eric Ecklund August 19, 2018 at 3:01 pm #

              You have to serve suburban employment centers and suburban residential areas. Most of the stations on the map of the proposed regional rail system would not be like the Northstar stations with big park & ride lots or ramps and undeveloped land (though at least development did come to the Ramsey and Elk River stations).

              Operating shuttles between downtown and suburban employment areas won’t be as successful as a full build out BRT, LRT, and regional rail system. Will the latter be more expensive? Very much so, but will also have much higher ridership and be much more user friendly than our current bus system.

              • Ross Williams August 19, 2018 at 8:25 pm #

                “Operating shuttles between downtown and suburban employment areas won’t be as successful as a full build out BRT, LRT, and regional rail system.”

                I agree on BRT and LRT that provide local connections as well as regional connections. Unlike express buses, they run in both directions. Some balance of use in both directions ought to be a criteria in their design.

                But creating “regional rail systems”, which I assume means heavy rail, that serve dense suburban employment areas is unlikely to be successful in most cases. The tracks are simply not located in appropriate places. Yes, there are some places where you can slap a station right next to a major employer. That is not the same as a station in a walkable dense urban center with mixed development. And there are almost no such locations near existing dense residential centers outside the central cities. So you are basically talking about park and ride commuter rail.

                Truly high speed rail connections to places like Rochester, Duluth, St. Cloud and even Fargo make sense. Providing limited stops along those lines to provide wider access makes sense. But trying to use heavy rail to serve auto-dependent suburbs doesn’t.

                • Eric Ecklund August 20, 2018 at 2:04 am #

                  Look at the suburban employment areas I listed that would have a regional rail station close by. If you don’t know what these rail lines look like on the ground let alone on Google Maps then why do you assume they would only serve park & rides? Of course we’re not just going to build a station and expect people. The surrounding infrastructure needs to change too so people will walk or bike to/from the station. I repeat, these would NOT be a typical Northstar park & ride station. Look at pretty much any regional rail station within the Oslo region and you’ll see what it would look like. To give an example, look up “Kjelsås stasjon” on Google Earth and street view and you’ll see a good example. Good transit connections, developed residential area surrounding it, and good pedestrian infrastructure. For a station with a suburban employment center look up “Lysaker stasjon”. Not all the office buildings are right next to the station, but there are good transit connections and pedestrian infrastructure to access buildings farther from the station, and that’s what the Twin Cities regional rail stations would have.

                  Also when I think heavy rail, I think of subway. Regional rail is interchangeable with commuter rail.

                  • Ross Williams August 20, 2018 at 7:50 am #

                    Eric –

                    Take a look at Portland’s Westside Express Service (WES). The idea that pedestrian environments will spring up around a heavy rail station in auto dependent communities was a failure. It simply didn’t happen. It still might – but it hasn’t yet. And I suspect it won’t for a very long time. And that was already a densely developed area in a region that has an urban growth boundary to prevent sprawl and high transit usage. And WES provides connections to a highly successful light rail line that does work.

                    I am not sure of what all the problems are with that idea. I suspect the largest one is that you need a critical mass of pedestrian traffic to create a pedestrian environment. You don’t get that where almost everyone arrives by auto and there is nowhere to walk while they are there. People drive across the street whether there is transit and sidewalk or not. I doubt stations around Oslo were ever that auto-dependent.

                    But the larger problem is that you have a map designed to encourage a sprawling metropolitan area. I don’t think you are going to reduce auto-dependence by encouraging denser development in auto-dependent communities like Wyoming or Lakeville instead of the central cities and dense suburbs adjacent to Minneapolis or St. Paul. And really is the problem with your plan, you are investing a huge amount of money to encourage development to spread out on a regional basis. That is going to create far more auto traffic than the rail lines will alleviate.

                    As an analogy, a shopping mall is a wonderful to walk and there are no cars. But shopping centers don’t create good pedestrian environments around them because everyone arrives by auto and they are surrounded by a sea of parking to support that. I have never been to the Mall of America, but it certainly has great transit connections and lot of people that use them. But has the area around it developed into a thriving urban environment with lots of pedestrians?

                    • Eric Ecklund August 20, 2018 at 11:27 am #

                      You build the pedestrian infrastructure as part of the building of these rail lines. Its as simple as building sidewalks, bike lanes, pedestrian overpasses or underpasses as part of the regional rail projects.

                      We’re already sprawled out. I would be more worried about autonomous cars making us sprawl out even further. The regional rail lines are supposed to incentivize living walking or biking distance from them.

                      The Downtown Lakeville Station and Wyoming Station would be located in their walkable downtowns, which were created because of the rail lines that went through them.

                      The surrounding area of MOA definitely hasn’t been pedestrian friendly despite all the transit, but the South Loop is changing that. And again, you build the pedestrian infrastructure so it’s pedestrian friendly. Bloomington could easily allocate funds to make the sidewalks better, install pedestrian signals, provide a buffer between the sidewalk and the road, and install bike lanes. They’re slowly doing all of this, but there’s a ways to go. A regional rail station could give them the push to improve pedestrian infrastructure in the surrounding area, but this all depends on funding.

                    • Ross Williams August 20, 2018 at 12:32 pm #

                      “Rosenholm stasjon” looks like a perfect example of the failure I am trying to point out. It is a park and ride stop next to a major employer and it never met its expectations in sserving either one if Wikipedia is to believed.

                      I am not exaggerating about people driving across the street. Try going to Maple Grove’s transit center. You have little choice but to drive across the street to get to REI. Is it possible to walk? Yes. Is it at all attractive? No. You would only do it if you had absolutely no other choice. You would never get off the bus there and decide to go check out REI.

                      “You build the pedestrian infrastructure as part of the building of these rail lines. ”

                      I think we are talking about different things. Putting in a sidewalk is necessary, but not sufficient, to create a pedestrian environment. To do that requires attracting private investment in pedestrian oriented development. It can be done, but its not likely to happen just because you stick a rail stop out in an auto dependent exurb.

                      Have you actually evaluated the sidewalk network in those communities? Try convincing a private developer to stick a sidewalk in front of their new development when there are no sidewalks or even buildings on either side. You can’t. You need a community leaders who are willing to require it even if that means driving away development. You are talking about using a train stations to remake a community and they simply aren’t that powerful.

                    • Ross Williams August 20, 2018 at 12:43 pm #

                      “Downtown Lakeville Station and Wyoming Station would be located in their walkable downtowns, which were created because of the rail lines that went through them.”

                      There is no downtown in either community worth talking about. There is really nothing there for people to walk to.

                    • Eric Ecklund August 20, 2018 at 11:50 am #

                      “I doubt stations around Oslo were ever that auto-dependent.”

                      I know at least one that is. Look up “Rosenholm stasjon” on Google Maps.

                      “People drive across the street whether there is transit and sidewalk or not.”

                      That’s quite an exaggeration. If you said all suburbanites drive for trips at least a mile I would somewhat agree. However we’re a society that’s becoming more conscious about our health and walking and biking more, so why not get a little bit of daily exercise as part of your commute to work? That’s what the Norwegians do and they have better health and good ridership on their transit.

            • Tim August 20, 2018 at 10:18 am #

              As somebody who spent ten years using suburb-to-downtown service for work, and occasional use of it for a few years before that for school, your assumption about almost all of the riders driving to park and rides did not match my experience. While the parking lots obviously got significant use, many people also walked to the nearest bus stop, or were dropped off and picked up at the lots.

              I spent over a year without a car at all while living in a suburb, and about eight years before that in a one-car household, so I got to know suburban transit (and who rode it) very well.

              • Eric Ecklund August 20, 2018 at 11:39 am #

                My experiences using express buses:
                -At least 50% of the people using the 589 did not drive to the bus stop.
                -Around 85% of the people using the 597 did drive to the bus stop.
                -A few people (including myself sometimes) walked or biked to/from the 465 at South Bloomington. Sometimes one or two people would connect between another bus route.

                This isn’t official data, only my best guess, but in the case of the 465 it only serves park & rides in the suburban area that aren’t easy to get to by foot or bike. In South Bloomington’s case it would be more incentivizing to bike there if the sidewalks along Old Shakopee were improved and the overpass at 35W was modified to be much safer for walkers and bikers. And more incentivizing to take a local bus and connect with the 465 if the frequency was higher (at least every 20 minutes) and it was timed for a connection, which at the present it isn’t. That’s what is needed at stations if we build a regional rail system; not just investment in the stations and track, but investment in pedestrian infrastructure and connecting transit routes.

                • Tim August 20, 2018 at 4:02 pm #

                  465 stops at the Burnsville Transit Station, which does get a fair amount of passengers from the local routes who transfer there.

                  • Ross Williams August 20, 2018 at 4:49 pm #

                    I was certainly not suggesting that express buses that consolidate trips between downtown and transit centers be eliminated. But there is a strong tendency to serve trips only going in a single direction. There are very few, if any, express buses leaving downtowns in the morning or returning in the evening.

  15. Eric Ecklund August 21, 2018 at 2:31 am #

    Ross, one issue I have with the WES example is that it doesn’t go into Downtown Portland and requires a transfer, while every regional rail route on my map goes through Downtown Minneapolis and/or St. Paul. How much ridership would WES have if it went into Downtown Portland? If they could electrify the route and if there’s enough capacity on the existing light rail route they could make it a one-seat ride on the WES into Downtown Portland. Its like our Red Line, a very underperforming route because its suburb-to-suburb and requires a transfer to the Blue Line to get to the airport and Minneapolis. What if it was extended north on 77, 62, and 35W to downtown?

    Rosenholm Station may not have been successful to connect with employers in the area, but it does serve a purpose as a park & ride. There are a few stations nearby that actually serve residences and employers. Sure people may be driving to Rosenholm, but at least they’re not clogging the streets of central Oslo and requiring more parking in a space-constricted central city.

    Why don’t you consider the downtowns of Lakeville and Wyoming worth discussing? They’re already walkable and perfect for TOD. And what about the downtown districts of Shakopee, Wayzata, Forest Lake, White Bear Lake, Stillwater, Mendota, Hastings, Chaska, Carver, New Brighton, etc.? Are all of those not important enough to discuss even though they would be directly served?

    • Ross Williams August 21, 2018 at 7:53 am #

      Eric –

      I think you are right, that if WES was a light rail line it would work much better. But with 5 minute headways for transfers to light rail in Beaverton, in addition to the local bus transfers available, I don’t think that is the biggest issue. The biggest problem is that the rail line goes close, but not to, people’s actual destinations.

      “They’re already walkable and perfect for TOD”

      Not really. There is not much reason to live there now and adding a train station isn’t going to change that very much. Transit does a good job of serving densely developed areas and encourages denser development, but it doesn’t create them. TOD works best in places that are already built up.

      “Are all of those not important enough to discuss even though they would be directly served?”

      Yes, I think some of those should be better served by transit. But that does not mean only providing a better connection for commuters to downtown Minneapolis and Saint Paul. If that is your sole objective, express buses are going to work better than any rail alternative. The value of light rail or streetcars is that they connect to multiple locations and allows people to rely on transit for more than their commute.

      “at least they’re not clogging the streets of central Oslo and requiring more parking in a space-constricted central city.”

      Yes, that is the value of commuter rail. It eliminates cars in downtown. But it also encourages sprawl, just like freeways. Putting a commuter rail station in the middle of a place like Forest Lake or Stillwater may make some sense. These are densely developed walkable communities with the potential to be less auto-dependent. A rail station that brings more people into their downtown would increase their economic viability and, for Stillwater at least, reduce traffic congestion.

      The key here for me, is that these places have the potential to be destinations, not just sources of commuters. I think the question that needs to be asked is “why would someone want to go there?” If you don’t have a good answer to that question, then investing a bunch of money in a rail connection might not make sense. I think if you asked that question about the Northstar line you would have your answer to why it is struggling to get riders.

      • Eric Ecklund August 21, 2018 at 11:19 am #

        From my original post:
        “These services are intended to be used for longer distance travel, whereas rapid transit routes that may follow close to regional rail routes are intended for shorter distance travel. For example a person who lives in Wayzata and works in Edina could travel by regional rail without having to transfer in Downtown Minneapolis, and it would be quicker and more reliable than current bus service. Another example is a person who lives in Northfield and works at Burnsville Center can take a regional train to Lakeville and transfer to the Orange Line or a local bus.”

        So yes, the regional rail lines are intended to be used by more than just the average commuter going to downtown in the morning and to the suburbs in the evening.

        The reason the Northstar struggles is because:
        1) It doesn’t go to St. Cloud.
        2) It only runs during peak time and in peak direction (the exception being one reverse commute and three roundtrips on the weekend).
        3) The stations are mainly intended as park & rides, not serving downtown districts like Elk River and Big Lake, or serving places where people live and work. The first time I rode the Northstar it was to the Elk River Station where there was nothing but a gas station to get a snack while I waited for the return train. If there was a trail to the river that might make it a little more interesting to go to, but Downtown Elk River has places to visit/shop/dine, and a path to the river.

        Am I saying every regional rail station would have something interesting to make people visit? That depends on your idea of interesting, but I will say no. However that doesn’t mean every station will be like the Elk River Station; dull, boring, and nothing but a park & ride and gas station.

  16. gbd_crvx August 30, 2018 at 2:35 am #

    It looks nice but I suspect it would be hard to get the funding for all of it, in one go. If you had to prioritise, let’s say the four most important projects of each kind (local and regional), which ones would you chose?

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