Down in the southern part of the city of Minneapolis, a debate is raging about whether to significantly curtail transit service at an important commercial node at 48th and Chicago.
That probably doesn’t sound familiar, because that’s not the way the discussion has been framed. It is, nonetheless, what is really going on. But first, some quick history.
South of downtown, Chicago Avenue hosts the metro’s highest ridership bus line, the 5, which carries about 16,000 passengers per day. As part of its ongoing arterial bus rapid transit program, Metro Transit is planning to upgrade this route to become the D Line. Like the existing A Line over in St. Paul, the D Line would provide faster and more convenient service, with wider stop spacing, off board fare payment, rear door boarding, more frequent service, specialized buses and some measure of signal priority. Basically, the D Line is a proposal to beef up service where there is already a lot of people using transit.
Metro Transit released its draft station plan for the line in February, which included stops at 46th Street and 52nd Street, but not 48th Street. The plan stated that 48th was not included because (1) a stop is needed at 46th Street to facilitate transfers to other routes that run on that street, (2) stops that are only two blocks apart are closer than called for, and (3) concerns that some stakeholders had expressed about parking.
According to Metro Transit, about 1/3 of all comments on the draft plan supported a station at 48th and Chicago. The City of Minneapolis officially expressed support for a station there on Feb. 14, 2018 and repeated its support in May. The “final” station plan includes a stop.
Nonetheless, according to Metro Transit, several business owners have expressed concerns about parking and “quality of life considerations” including “perceptions of security issues and nuisances from bus riders.” The Met Council has directed staff to continue outreach and there is a public meeting scheduled for September 13. You can comment online here.
With the basic history out of the way, allow me to begin to editorialize: there is absolutely no reason this stop should be controversial and to the extent that it is, it’s for the wrong reasons.
There are two competing legitimate concerns here, reflected in the initial Metro Transit draft plan. On the one hand, this stop is closer than ideal to the 46th Street, which will slow service a bit. On the other hand, this corner has two banks, a clinic, several stores, a spa, a coffee shop, a liquor store, a bike shop and several places to eat, among other businesses. Basically, there are lots of reasons why people want and need to get to this corner, which means lots of reason for the bus to actually stop there. I, the city, and apparently most of those who have submitted comments think the latter is adequate reason to compromise on the former.
As mentioned, this corner is already served by the 5, which is part of the existing “high frequency” network. That means the 5 stops at this corner every 10-15 minutes right now. With a D Line Stop, buses would continue to stop at similar frequencies – every 10 minutes. Without a D Line Stop, bus service would be limited to whatever reduced frequency the future 5 will have. I don’t know what the plan is there, but other local bus routes are as infrequent as every 30 minutes, and this one would be largely redundant of the D Line, so I can imagine it’s possible it will be even more infrequent. Which means that not having a D Line stop means a significant reduction in transit access to these businesses. That doesn’t sound good for anyone.
Which brings me to my least favorite topic: parking. I’m tempted to just curtly dismiss it as a non-issue, because it is, but I suppose that doesn’t convince anyone. So let’s commence with analysis by anecdote.
We live about a mile from this corner and visit it to go out to eat fairly regularly. We really should walk or bike, but as there’s often several of us (including a toddler) or it’s cold, so we typically drive. Not once have we been unable to find an place to park that wasn’t on the 4800 block of Chicago, Elliot or Columbus, or 48th Street between them. In other words, every single time we’ve found parking on the block of our destination or immediately around the corner. In a city, that’s darn convenient parking and certainly not an obstacle. I’ve never had to walk the two blocks that D Line users would be asked to walk if there’s no stop. So, yeah, parking isn’t a problem now.
How will parking change if we don’t drastically reduce transit service here? Metro Transit says there may be a loss of 1-2 spaces on each side of the street. But it is also moving the existing southbound stop from mid-block on the 4700 block of Chicago to the far-side corner at 48th, which means that the existing stop can be converted to parking. I don’t see an estimate of how many spots that would be from Metro Transit, but if you use Google Maps to measure, it looks like it’s about 50 feet of curb, which sounds like at least three spots to me. So that’s a loss of 2-4 spots and a gain of 3, which nets out to a range of +1 to -1. This does not sound like a grave change to the parking situation. And that’s without getting into how business owners tend to overestimate the importance of parking.
So having come to a different conclusion on the merits of speed versus destinations and noted that there’s no parking issue to worry about, what’s left?
Well, there are those “nuisances from bus riders.” Apparently, at least one business owner doesn’t think people who ride the bus are his customers but rather are “bad characters.” I find that insulting and offensive both as a resident of Minneapolis and as someone who rides the bus. I’ve ridden the 5 to access these businesses on the way home from work. I will ride the D Line to do so. Am I a nuisance?
(Okay, don’t answer that).