Don’t Take the Bus Away

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.

D Line Final Station Plan

“Final” D Line Station Plan

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.

D Line Bus

D Line Bus

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).

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19 Responses to Don’t Take the Bus Away

  1. Nathan Bakken August 30, 2018 at 9:26 am #

    I have a strong feeling that this is a meeting that Metro Transit has to do to please those that are complaining, and will end up building anyways.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller August 30, 2018 at 9:43 am #

      Maybe, but the complaining businesses have been organizing and there’s a definite constituency for “what about parking.” Metro Transit needs to hear from people, especially people who use transit to get to these businesses.

      • Nathan Bakken August 30, 2018 at 11:40 am #

        Well i will be there to support the stop 🙂

  2. Emily Carr August 30, 2018 at 9:52 am #

    I grew up two blocks away on 10th Avenue and my mother still lives there. She is excited for another transit opportunity nearby. Another item to note is that the southbound bus stop used to be right on the corner in front of Turtle Bread. My recollection (and it could be wrong) is that Harvey petitioned Metro Transit to have the bus stop relocated to the mid-block after he purchased the building.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller August 30, 2018 at 10:25 am #

      If your memory is correct, that’s interesting history I didn’t know!

  3. Matt Steele
    Matt Steele August 30, 2018 at 11:57 am #

    It seems completely plausable that the change these businesses are advocating (reduced bus service for their customers and employees) could actually *create* a parking situation at 48th and Chicago. I also live maybe a mile from 48th and Chicago and my family routinely drives and never has trouble finding parking.

    But if transit service to the intersection is significantly reduced as businesses are pushing, it will likely result in many current transit riders to/from the intersection choosing to drive and park instead. That will drive up demand for parking and make parking more of a hassle for customers of these businesses. Isn’t that the opposite of what these businesses actually want?

    That’s why their position makes no sense, and seems based on inaccurate and somewhat coded language assumptions about transit riders (as evidenced by the letter from Harvey of Turtle Bread linked in Adam’s post).

  4. Nemer August 30, 2018 at 12:44 pm #

    Easy, do one stop on 47th St. One block walk for transfer on 46th and the commercial node is fair.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller August 30, 2018 at 12:57 pm #

      That leaves transit riders in wheelchairs, for example, needing to rely on the sidewalks being cleared of snow in order to transfer, though.

  5. jeffk August 30, 2018 at 1:01 pm #

    The concerns about bus riders and parking are gross, but I kinda see why the planners want to stand firm on the number of stops. It’s stop creep that turns BRT into a regular slow as hell city bus. Two blocks just doesn’t seem like a deal breaker to me.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller August 30, 2018 at 1:23 pm #

      I don’t think the planners do want to stand firm, though, as they added the stop when they were asked to.

      We just disagree on the relative importance of speed versus access. I don’t think it makes sense to upgrade transit but skip the places people are trying to get to, but I do see your point.

    • Matt Steele
      Matt Steele August 30, 2018 at 1:36 pm #

      Regarding stop creep, this is in a segment that was originally planned for 3/4 mi stop spacing (46th to 52nd St). The ABRT standard is 1/2 mi stop spacing. So, we then need to decide on if we err on the side of lesser or greater stop spacing when we can’t do standard 1/2 mi stop spacing.

      • Matt Brillhart September 4, 2018 at 4:32 pm #

        Another reason you don’t really have to worry about “stop creep” with aBRT is that the bus only stops when requested. Unlike light rail, the A Line blows right past empty stops.

  6. Monte Castleman August 30, 2018 at 1:17 pm #

    Somehow we keep saying it’s no big deal to make people in cars walk two blocks (or more) from their cars in numerous other situations and even that they’re ridiculous or entitled to even be complaining about it, but now the sky is falling if it’s suggested people on buses could walk two blocks in order to not slow down the D line?

    • Jeb Rach
      Jeb Rach August 30, 2018 at 9:00 pm #

      Most of the opposition isn’t from passengers (or potential passengers) worried that the extra stop would slow down their trip. The opposition is from locals worried about losing a couple of parking spaces, or about what kind of people would come with increased bus service. I’d much rather have the space needed for the bus actually used for a bus stop, which will bring people every 10 minutes within a short walk, versus having those couple of prime spaces used by cars which can sit there for two hours at a time and bring, at most, a half-dozen people (and usually only one or two people.)

    • Rosa August 30, 2018 at 11:08 pm #

      and unless bus riders are starting out on that exact street, they are already walking a ways to get there. So it’s not two blocks total, it’s two MORE blocks.

      Also the author noted that right now they never have to walk even an entire block after parking their car. Nobody’s saying prevent anyone from parking less than 2 blocks away.

  7. Keith Morris August 30, 2018 at 1:21 pm #

    Ford and Cleveland on the A Line is similar to 48th and Chicago, yet there are two stops with one at Finn and the other at Kenneth. Likewise, parking and shady characters have not become a problem there since the A Line started running. It’s been around a couple of years and it’s been an improvement all around. Let’s get one built at 48th already.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller August 30, 2018 at 1:27 pm #

      Right. The stops at Finn and Kenneth are two blocks apart, presumably because of the high numbers of destinations along that stretch.

      Although I have to admit that maybe it would have made more sense to only stop once at Cleveland…

  8. Adam Miller
    Adam Miller August 31, 2018 at 9:44 am #

    Another thought I had while biking through this morning and probably should have included: between here and the creek is probably the densest “missing middle” along this route too.

  9. GlowBoy September 5, 2018 at 3:49 pm #

    Remember these “two blocks” are Minneapolis north-south blocks, only 8 blocks to a mile. If you spend any time in the area, you know it’s quite a ways from the commercial node at 48th to the line 46 transfer point up at 46th.

    Yes, 1/2 mile spacing is the “standard”, but adjustments to that are always made for real world conditions. The city isn’t being built up around aBRT lines, but rather the other way around. Eliminating the stop at 46th would leave a major gap.

    Then again, those of us in the neighborhood are used to ridiculous gaps in transit service. Look at the distance between the #515 (on 66th Avenue) and the #46 (on 46th). I know demand is low, but 2.5 miles is a loooong way between east-west bus routes. And we’re about to get screwed again on the Orange Line, which is going to blow past my neighborhood with the longest stretch between stops north of the Minnesota River. Yes I know demand is low down here, but at some point things simply become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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