5 Ways to Improve the Central Corridor for Everyone

Photo of a Green Line train in downtown St. Paul

The Green Line in downtown St. Paul (Bill Cobb | pixels.com)

The Metro Green Line undoubtedly has been a boon for the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, catalyzing development throughout the Central Corridor. In a few places, however, implementation of the metro’s premier light rail route didn’t create the safe, pleasant multimodal environment that all users could enjoy.

In celebration of the Green Line’s fifth anniversary of operation, here are five ways the Central Corridor could be improved for cyclists, pedestrians and others not in cars.

#1 – Make walking more convenient. Everyone who uses the Central Corridor is a pedestrian at some point in their trip. In addition to enduring the noise and potential danger of motorized vehicles, pedestrians moving to or from the Green Line also have to spend a lot of time just waiting to walk. The signal timing is hardly pedestrian-friendly. Along University Avenue, waiting for pedestrian right-of-way at three intersections can add around four minutes to a 0.4-mile walk. (If this seems oddly specific, it’s because I’m speaking from personal experience rather than broader trends.)

Throughout the corridor, traffic lights are phased to maximize the smooth flow of cars, to the detriment of everyone who’s not in a car. It’s annoying enough to wait on a light to change when it’s sunny and 70; in inclement weather, that minute or two of waiting starts to feel a lot longer.

If the Central Corridor is going to act as a neighborhood hub rather than a divide, it needs to welcome people who aren’t in vehicles. One important step is speeding up the signal phases so people aren’t waiting more than 30 to 60 seconds to keep going where they want to go.

Map of bike infrastructure in Saint Paul

St. Paul bicycle infrastructure (Google Maps)

#2 – Make biking safer. A bicyclist seeking infrastructure to travel east or west across St. Paul (see screenshot above) can use one of the following:

  • Pierce Butler Route, a painted bike lane on a road designed for speeds much higher than the posted 40 miles per hour (mph) limit;
  • Minnehaha Avenue, an intermittent painted bike lane on a quiet street in desperate need of maintenance;
  • Charles Avenue, but it’s a bike boulevard, so does it even really count?
  • Marshall Avenue, a painted bike lane that abruptly ends at Lexington and is often blocked by parked cars when snow is on the ground;
  • Summit Avenue, yet another painted bike lane on a 15-foot wide boulevard. Not even freeways have lanes with that great a span, so naturally, cars drive tend to drive faster than the 30 mph limit.

Notably absent from this list is University Avenue. Though it’s home to an incredible variety of restaurants (my favorites being On’s Kitchen, Fasika and SugaRush Donuts), coffee shops, music venues, housing developments and more, the avenue has no obvious way to bike from, say, Workhorse Coffee near Raymond Avenue to Trieu Chau, a worth-the-trip Vietnamese restaurant conveniently located between the Dale Street and Western Avenue stations.

The counterargument to adding bike lanes next to places people want to go is often “but you have that [one bike lane/greenway/sharrow] four blocks away just for you!” This premise is flimsier than a bike tube that’s encountered one too many Twin Cities potholes. Everybody just wants to get where they’re going along the simplest path possible, and the intermittent hodgepodge of bike infrastructure traversing St. Paul is a far cry from a comprehensive, easy-to-use network.

Adding a (protected) bike lane with floating bus islands on University Avenue seems like an obvious way to fill in the gap of east-west bike infrastructure. If drivers complain about losing precious travel lanes, well, I-94 is built for them, and it’s only four blocks away.

#3 – Speed up the transit. The Metro Blue Line is fun to ride because it goes fast. Part of the reason for its speed is the environment in which the train operates, passing through largely industrial areas and having few signalized intersections to contend with, while the Green Line operates in a more densely populated area. The Blue Line also has transit signal preemption working in its favor, changing red lights to green or holding green lights when a train is on the way.

The Green Line has predictive priority, meaning traffic lights are alerted to the train’s schedule so that their phasing, in theory, can be adjusted to reduce the need for trains to stop. In practice, it feels as though the Green Line is beholden to the whim of traffic signal phases. (Though I have no data to back this claim, I often watch or wait as the train stops at a red light near Snelling Avenue, Lexington Parkway and many other streets throughout St. Paul.) I dream of a world in which the Green Line is given signal preemption throughout the corridor, and the downtown-to-downtown trip speeds up from a languorous 45 minutes to something closer to 30.

That also could smooth out the difficulties with transferring between the Green Line and the A Line, particularly during peak times, that are presumably the result of unpredictable traffic delays caused by the lack of signal priority.

Photo of a bumpout made of snow at the intersection of Franklin and University avenues

A bumpout made of snow at the intersection of Franklin and University avenues (Alicia Valenti)

#4 –  Calm down the traffic. Shorter signal phases, new bike lanes and the expected slowing of traffic caused by traffic signal priority would all serve to slow motorized traffic that currently flies down University Avenue unimpeded. Even so, room for improvement would remain.

Cars zipping by at 40 miles per hour when there’s no traffic (and sometimes when there is) create noise and an unpleasant environment for anyone who’s on foot, using a wheelchair or riding a bike. Adding treatments like colorful crosswalks, street trees and other plantings, and amenities like recycling receptacles would all help calm traffic. Slower traffic enhances safety for all road users and often helps smooth out traffic flow, thereby benefiting drivers as well.

Additionally, many intersections along University have absurdly large turn radii, like at Franklin Avenue (pictured above), allowing cars to make quick turns and reducing drivers’ ability to react to impediments to turning, such as people in the crosswalk. Implementing curb bumpouts and other intersection treatments would encourage cars to slow down before turning and reduce crossing time for pedestrians (also helping with suggestion No. 1!).

Photo of people in sidewalk seating on the Nicollet Mall

Sidewalk seating on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis (Brit’s Pub)

#5 – Eliminate the traffic! This post focuses on my dreams for the Central Corridor, so why not go big? Close some blocks or segments of University to car traffic, allowing only pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users, similar to Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis (pictured above) or the Washington Avenue transit mall on the University of Minnesota’s East Bank.

Businesses along the new transit mall could open patios where once there was space only for cars. A car-free environment would reduce noise and pollution, creating a healthier and more pleasant atmosphere for everyone in the corridor. Pedestrians could have a conversation without raising their voices above the din of traffic. Bicyclists could get across town in a straight line instead of an inefficient, inconvenient zigzag. Businesses could apply for grants to invest in facade repairs, patio tables, umbrellas, plantings and other improvements.

These changes could make the street come alive, creating a new University Avenue for everyone to enjoy. Of course, streetscape improvements aren’t the only thing needed for a thriving Central Corridor. What are your dreams for the area?

About Alicia Valenti

Alicia is the chair of the 2021 streets.mn board. A transplant to the Twin Cities who works on small and large transit projects across the Midwest, she likes to write for streets.mn about bikes, winter and fun things to do on transit.

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76 thoughts on “5 Ways to Improve the Central Corridor for Everyone

  1. Eric SaathoffEric Saathoff

    Why doesn’t a bicycle boulevard count? I was thinking our future would be protected cycle tracks on busy streets and bicycle boulevards on calm streets, with not much in the middle.

    1. Alicia Valenti Post author

      I’m not totally opposed, but I think that bicycle boulevards are often used as an excuse to not build bike infrastructure on busy streets, which is part of the reason I don’t really consider them dedicated bike infrastructure. I also often see families biking on the sidewalk even on calm streets and bike boulevards, so I imagine I’m not the only one in that camp. Also, like Derek said, Charles is nice but there are still dangerous crossings (and I still think if we really wanted to, we could cede some of the space occupied by on-street parking and build a dedicated bike trail instead).

    2. karen Nelson

      dutch do bike boulevards, but they are really obvious (red “bike” pavement, narrow etc) and Dutch drivers get it, and know they must go slow.

      I think bike boulevards done this way are great option for many of our lower volume streets – because we have so much wasted asphalt that is carrying very few cars a day – the streets are mostly for access to residences and few small businesses, but then some too fast thru traffic.

      With a bike boulevard, people can still get to their houses, still street park, it just isn’t a fast through street for cars driving across large stretches of a neighborhoods

      My main problem with is with sharrows as we do them, – take a regular street that looks like any other and slap sharrow paint on it – that does no good, may even be harmful.

      But if we design it with whole different look, and ensure by design and enforcement that drivers go no more than 15-20 mph on it and drivers know they must always yield to bikes and improve intersections for bikes, then could really work well and most residents would be fine with slower car traffic.

      1. Eric SaathoffEric Saathoff

        Let’s see how a completed Margaret Street looks and feels. That and Charles seem to have the most investment for bike boulevards in St. Paul.

  2. Derek

    The signal priority is the number one issue for me. At intersections like Snelling with split stops you often end up stopping at the intersection then again when you get to the stop. You get a couple of those in a row and it absolutely kills speed. Also, this might just be me but do they not give signal priory outside of rush hour? I feel like I get caught at intersections more often on weekends.

    I want to defend Charles Ave here. I prefer a street with almost no traffic to being forced onto a busy road with just a strip of paint protecting me from cars and those bike lanes become less useful during the winter. I think Charles Ave is the best East-West route through that part of town even though I do feel like I am putting my life on the line every time I cross Dale and Lexington. A protected bike lane would be the best case scenario but is there enough room for that on university?

    1. Eric SaathoffEric Saathoff

      I agree about signal priority. I would be embarrassed showing the Green Line to someone from another city and explaining why the train has to stop twice in a row to get to the platform.

      1. Karl

        This times 100. Alicia wrote a great piece here but referring to the green line as a 45 minute run when the official schedule calls for 49 minutes is overselling the travel time by nearly 10%. Whether it be signal priority or implementing some sort of “express run” that doesn’t make every stop, there is an awful lot of room for improvement on length of time.

  3. Scott

    Nice post.

    Just recently took the Green Line to an MN United game at Allianz Field. Before and after the game, we walked between the Hamline and Snelling LRT Stations and were surprised by the dilapidated condition along University Avenue. The sidewalks, which are something like 5 years old, were often cracked, broken, and filled with weeds. Also, the sidewalks are quite narrow with fast moving car traffic right along the curb. We definitely experienced those long waits to cross the street. Based on its’ poor condition and bad pedestrian design, I was shocked the street wasn’t built 40 years ago.
    Does anyone know how things have deteriorated so quickly? Perhaps a Special Services District should be established to help with maintenance?

    1. Mykki

      Downtown Saint Paul can’t even get its shit together to start up an SSD….I don’t foresee it happening in the Midway area any time soon either. Unfortunate.

  4. Pat Thompson

    Shorter light cycles (aside from adding Green Line priority) would help, but there’s a mismatch between pedestrians crossing north-south and train priority that needs to be acknowledged. I wait to cross at Raymond frequently and when the train triggers a second green, it makes for a really long wait. I agree on turning radius size being too big for pedestrians, but in an area with a lot of semis turning, as between Franklin and Prior, the trucks would be overrunning the bumpouts constantly (since they already overrun the existing curbs).

    1. karen Nelson

      I’ve also had whole three-car train stop for me at near ped crossing where Franklin meets University near Raymond station, and me being only person/vehicle crossing, that seems wrong priority.

    2. Alicia Valenti Post author

      Oh, I have some thoughts about semis and cities–namely that semis really have no place in cities. That’s also beyond the scope of this, but it really grinds my gears (ha) that we constantly design our streets for 2% of users, making them less safe for everyone else. It is possible to facilitate freight traffic without having semis on local streets, and NACTO recently published a guide on vehicle design for safer streets, found here:
      Perhaps that’s a topic for a future post!

      Also worth noting that I’m fine waiting longer for a light when there’s a train — I just don’t like waiting a long time when it’s only for car traffic to pass me by!

      1. Elizabeth Larey

        I think semi’s are more than 2%. University is an industrial area. They pick up and deliver. Also to all of the restaurants on University. I recently read an article from MInnPost 6/11/19, 09% of commuters are on bikes. I don’t agree that bikes should have dedicated lanes on busy streets such as University. I understand this site is for people who bike, but I think it would be helpful if there could be some type of middle ground so everyone could be accommodated. Bike lanes on side streets seems to me to be a good alternative. Taking away car lanes is not the right thing to do to accommodate 0.9% of commuters. Can you understand why one might think your argument for banning semi’s rings hollow, when given the 0.9%? I think we should encourage biking because its good for people and good for the environment. However, it needs to be done under the guise that all forms of transportation need to be considered.

        1. Alicia Valenti Post author

          This is a debate that has been rehashed countless times here, on NextDoor, in the Strib comments section, on Twitter and on basically every other forum on the internet. No, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to build more bike infrastructure when relatively few people bike commute, because the reason that few people bike is that the infrastructure is currently very limited. I also would like to remind you that commutes are only a fraction of all trips, and people bike to buy groceries, access healthcare, socialize with friends, and more. Cars have been more than “considered” over the past several decades–our legal and physical environment have been refined such that cars are often the most practical solution. My argument is that it doesn’t have to be that way, and changing commercially-oriented, dense streets like University so they’re more friendly to people not in cars is an important step to transforming our transportation culture.

          1. karen Nelson

            Protected bike lanes that narrow car-level of roads, narrow car lanes, and are proven to increase biking – make roads safer for everyone.

            Even if protected bike lanes did not increase biking (which they always do in cities that do them) just the decrease in peak speeds for cars and the increased safety that comes from that would more than justify their use.

            I just don’t get why cars and trucks need University Ave as high volume, fast road when 94 is 2- 4- blocks away almost exactly parallel to it.

            1. karen Nelson

              “Researchers at the University of Colorado Denver and the University of New Mexico discovered cities with protected and separated bike lanes had 44 percent fewer deaths than the average city.”

              ” researchers found that bike infrastructure, particularly physical barriers that separate bikes from speeding cars as opposed to shared or painted lanes, significantly lowered fatalities in cities that installed them.
              After analyzing traffic crash data over a 13-year period in areas with separated bike lanes on city streets, researches estimated that having a protected bike facility in a city would result in 44 percent fewer deaths and 50 percent fewer serous injuries than an average city.”

              “In Portland, where the population of bike commuters increased from 1.2 to 7 percent between 1990 and 2015, fatality rates fell 75 percent in the same period.”

              “Bike facilities end up slowing cars down, even when a driver hits another driver, it’s less likely to be a fatality because it’s happening at a slower speed,” Marshall said.


        2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          The middle ground is that we are slowly adding biking facilities, having spent nearly a century designing our transportation solely for cars.

          We should encourage biking and discourage driving for a whole host of reasons, starting with the ongoing climate collapse, ubiquitous car violence and the fact that cars, especially fast moving cars, are inconsistent with vibrant urban spaces.

      2. Pat Thompson

        Psyched to check out this NACTO guideline on large vehicles. Agree that banning semis from city streets would be ideal, but if it ever happens in St Paul the last area to lose the trucks would be the area from 280 to Prior and north of there (from the Hub on Pierce Butler).

      3. Monte Castleman

        If city residents want to pay extra for just about everything they buy in the city to have it not delivered by semi I suppose that’s their business. I just wonder if with all these initiatives coming out that decrease sales and/or increase costs if at some point the cumulative effect is going to cause a real issue for doing business in the city vs doing business in the suburbs.

        1. Andrew Evans

          Well Monte, they are also arguing for more local businesses due to the reliance on bikes/cars/public transit. Which is fine, and would turn back the clock more to the way things were before the freeways. However, then they shoot themselves in the foot thinking they can ban trucks and remove the freeways and infrastructure needed to deliver goods.

          Maybe we will get state approved cargo bikes and a coupon book to use when buying state approved supplies?

          1. Alicia Valenti Post author

            Freeways and freight trucks have no place in cities; that doesn’t mean they can’t be used to connect them (though of course I would prefer we used rail for most freight). There are freight solutions that don’t rely on driving 40,000-pound trucks on city streets.

            1. Andrew Evans

              Please tell what freight solutions those are?

              Sure you can have smaller trucks, but then those need more distribution centers and would use more resources to drive around. This would be more traffic on city streets from more delivery vehicles.

              Sure, we can go back to the romantic glory days of rail, but there is a reason it’s limited and died off for a lot of local deliveries. Plus then you’re arguing to give more power and wealth to a industry that’s been historically oppressive to just about everyone but it’s owners.

              This isn’t even getting to those poor souls who decide to move and need a large truck…

              1. Alicia Valenti Post author

                Honestly, it’s beyond the scope of my expertise, but I’m sure there are other ways. After all, US streetscapes are pretty unique globally in their auto dominance, so surely someone has figured out a better way to get goods around cities than massive trucks weighing tens of thousands of pounds.

                1. Monte Castleman

                  There’s no “better” way, just ways that cost quite a bit more than big, efficient trucks. That’s part of why goods cost more in other countries, besides the astronomical cost for fuel and astronomical taxes on the goods themselves, they don’t have the same kind of highly efficient distribution systems and vehicles that we have here.

                  Maybe some people in the city are fine with paying a lot more for goods. But each time you raise the prices of goods in the city you make it worthwhile for more people to drive to a big box store in the suburbs to get better prices.

            2. Brian

              So, you have no issue with paying twice as much for freight costs? Two drivers instead of one, two trucks instead of one. 50% more fuel usage.

              There is a huge shortage of drivers right now. If trucking companies have to double the number of drivers going into urban areas that means higher wages to attract more drivers and more cost to the customer.

              1. Alicia Valenti Post author

                There would be an increase, but it wouldn’t be twofold, and yes, I’d take that tradeoff if it meant friendlier streets. Besides, I’m not saying freight and semis should be banned everywhere–just limited in city limits.

                1. Brian

                  I would be be shocked if freight costs didn’t double. The driver is one of the most expensive parts of freight delivery and now you need two instead of one.

                  Having to use special trucks just for Minneapolis and St. Paul would increase costs by itself. What about the semi that was loaded 1,000 miles awayand now they can’t deliver direct to the customer in the city? How much does it cost to unload that truck at a suburban warehouse and reload it onto two smaller trucks?

                  What about a delivery of steel that won’t fit onto a smaller truck?

                  1. Stuart

                    All of your arguments assume that every semi is 100% full. I don’t have the actual figures, but I feel safe assuming that you are wrong.

                    Also, smaller vehicles are easier to switch to electric (near future). And if the automated vehicle people are correct (I’m highly skeptical), the driver costs go away also.

                    1. Monte Castleman

                      Considering how expensive a full sized semi is, you don’t make money driving them around half empty.

                      If you’re delivering hamburger buns to McDonald’s and a store only needs half a truckload, you fill the truck up to capacity and stop at the McDonald’s, then stop the McDonald’s down the road.

                      If you’re an independent driver and Acme Widgets only has half a load of widgets to ship from St. Paul to St Louis, you find another half load from the company down the road that’s also going to St. Louis.

                      Tesla and other companies developing a full sized electric truck, so there’d be no reason to switch to smaller vehicles just to capture the advantage of electric power. Even if you don’t have to pay for multiple drivers, you’d still have multiple vehicles to buy and maintain

        2. Julie Kosbab

          Realistically, the way of life city residents “enjoy” right now is not sustainable, and is going to die. The question becomes: What replaces it?

          It can either be built and created and guided, or it can result from breakdown.

          the lives people live in 20-30 years will be markedly different whether we plan for that change or not. Arguably, the situation will be better if we plan the change, rather than have it happen to us.

  5. karen Nelson

    This x 1000. Why does University Ave have to be such a high volume car road when 94 is right, exactly parallel it.

    “if drivers complain about losing precious travel lanes, well, I-94 is built for them, and it’s only four blocks away.”

    I also think of this in regards to Rice – we have 35 E right there, built solely for fast, high volumes of cars and trucks, why can’t Rice just be a 25 mph, lower volume street.

    I think politically the best way to put in bike lanes is to make them protected bike lanes at side wall level and to NOT take street parking for them but rather take/reduce car driving lanes. This slows cars down, (unlike unprotected painted bike lanes that remove parking and increase peak car speeds) and this traffic calming makes street safer for everyone , and slower car traffic makes surface streets less likely to show up in GPS as faster than freeway way to go. Businesses are far less concerned about slower traffic than losing street parking.

    And once first-class biking infrastructure is provided, then parking needs will reduce, and streets can evolve accordingly.

    1. Brian

      Why do 26th St and 28th St need bicycle lanes when the Midtown Greenway is blocks away? Same argument.

      People use University because I-94 can be a virtual parking lot at certain times of the day. I haven’t driven 35E during busy times recently so I don’t know if traffic still backs up there.

    2. Monte Castleman

      Are people actually using Rice and University as long distance commuting routes rather than the freeways, or is the “high volume” of traffic on them just people going to and from their homes or local businesses? I’ve found that short of an absolute dead stop on the freeway due to a crash or road construction bailing out and taking surface streets is rarely a winning proposition

      1. Andrew Evans

        It’s just a weird road, busy, and the light rail didn’t really help anything traffic wise.

        Sure 94 is right there, and I’ll bet a lot of cross city traffic uses that rather than University. However, there still is a lot of industry along University, and it carries quite a bit of truck traffic along with local traffic and is a pretty large east/west artery other than the freeway. It’s also just about the only large east west road other than Summit (someone in St. Paul correct me if that’s too wrong).

        So here comes the light rail, with the need to have some kind of priority lights and stops, and it creates more of a traffic mess than was there before. Then here comes the development due to the light rail and now thousands more are trying to use the street than before. This will only get worse as the industry is driven out and condos or retail moves in.

        No idea how to fix it, or if it could be fixed or improved. As more people move in the area it’s only going to get worse.

        Not sure how #5 would work. Parts of Nicollet, iirc, are already dead, and it would be hard to justify shutting down such a major road for a park. Plus University isn’t really setup in that format, and now it would have a light rail line running down the middle of it. Those types of things are better left around the downtowns rather than out in the middle of nowhere.

        I’m sure 94 has taken quite a bit of traffic off University, and Rondo. Although drivers would still need to get to exits, trucks to their destinations, etc. Unless the city wanted to make another cross street larger, like Marshall or Selby?

      2. Andrew Evans

        Sorry, didn’t mean to put the long reply here, but whatever, it happens.

        University is terrible as a way to get from one city to the next, unless a person has some time to kill. Even in rush hour a driver may be better off on the freeways.

        That said, from where I’m at in North I’ll take W River Road to Franklin and go over to University to get to a friends garage/shop off of Vandalia. It’s a little longer than the freeway, but quite a bit less frustrating and more pretty of a drive. However that said I’m not going further in St. Paul and what I do takes 20 min or so vs the around 10 it would be on the freeway.

  6. H. Jiahong Pan 潘嘉宏Henry Pan

    Alicia, great article. It’s especially a pain to get from (what I like to call) Nonprofit Row (Raymond/University) to the rest of University because of that trench under the railroad tracks. Going up Transfer to Prior is not fun in the slightest. I wonder though, what do people on the ground who frequent University for its restaurants, groceries, etc, think of this?

  7. Elizabeth Larey

    One other comment I’d like to make. We live in the coldest major metropolitan area in the country. I would agree with more bike lanes if you were discussing Florida or California. But certainly not Minnesota. Thanks for not blasting me in advance, just my 02

    1. Mike SonnMike Sonn

      I took a month off from biking this winter. It wasn’t bcs of the cold, it was bcs of the horrible state of the bike infrastructure.

      If this was Florida or California, the conversation would be “it’s too hot.”

      Just my $0.02.

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        There are a few days a year where I think it’s too cold to bike, maybe, but the real issue is that there is snow in the parking lane and cars parked in the bike lane. Or the lane/path/trail is full of snow.

    2. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

      My son biked all winter long from Hopkins where we live to the Saint Louis Park High School. He stopped biking in February because the trail was regularly unplowed for days with heavy snow amounts.

      If we cleared our streets with the same level of attention as we clear trails and sidewalks most people might give up driving in winter too. Indeed I bet our cities would look vastly different.

    3. Jeffrey Klein

      I’m genuinely puzzled as to how anyone can consider a logical argument to be “something that is not equally useful every day should not exist”.

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        You know what else isn’t usable on some days? Cars. Let’s start tearing up some streets! It snows here, they just aren’t a viable mode of transportation.

        1. Monte Castleman

          I was able to drive my sister to work in the middle of the worst snowstorm of last winter in my all wheel drive RAV-4. So therefore cars (if you have one suited for our climate) are useful all days of the year and are a viable mode of transportation.

          1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

            Counterpoint: that same day hundreds of thousands of trips were not made that otherwise would have and even those trips that remained took significantly longer. Worse, the cars that were out and about got in the way of my bus and slowed us down too! 😉

    4. karen Nelson

      Minnesota is very cold place, this is true, so because of that, I guess no Minnesotans would ever want to go outside in the winter for exercise would they? Certainly they would never go outside in the winter just for fun, would they?

      And those giant industries that support the coldest part of our state, up north, could never make any money from people snowmobiling, skiing, snow shoeing, or ice fishing or winter camping outside, in our oh-so-cold winters, right? It’s just to cold too be outside, moving around in the winter, isn’t it? Who would do that for fun?

      End of sarcasm.

      Sure, not every Minnesotan wants to ice fish or ski or walk around lake on cold winter days – but a whole bunch of hardy MN folks really do go outside in the cold for FUN! and for EXERCISE!

      I know it’s crazy, but it happens, we have the proof, and the data, and resorts up north can often make more money in the winter than the summer.

      So if a bunch of Minnesotans will go outside in the winter cold for fun and exercise, is a stretch to realize that if we had first-class, well-maintained bike infrastructure, a good chunk of us hardy folks would choose to use it for a far more practical and needed thing than just fun, called transportation?

      Is it really a stretch then to think there are bunch of outdoorsy, fit Minnesotans who are also committed to reducing pollution, reducing greenhouse emissions, getting exercise, reducing their transportation costs, reducing their need for car parking spaces, who want to model an active life to their kids, who would then choose to bike on many winter days if they had safe, appealing, clear bike lanes/paths to most of their destinations?

      I mean again, think what people do for fun. I ebike around Como lake, on the Wheelock separated bike paths and on the Gateway Trail to work on weekdays because luckily my route to work involves this wonderful bike infrastructure.

      You know what a ton of people do for fun on the weekend? They bike the Gateway Trail, they bike around Como Lake, they bike on the Wheelock separated bike paths even when it doesn’t get them any place they need to go, they just like the journey!

      People choose for fun to do the exact same thing I choose to do to transport myself to work. So biking with nice infrastructure is very appealing.

      Imagine if all those people that crowd our trails, lake paths, they had nice, not-scary, not-stressful, dedicated bike infrastructure on the routes to get to work, school, shopping etc?

      Now imagine all those people who are willing to get out in the winter, walk in the winter, cross-country ski, downhill ski in winter, snow mobile in winter – what if they had wonderful and appealing bike paths, trails, separated bike lanes along beautiful streets that we cleared of snow in winter?

      Is it that much of stretch to think they might like to have some winter fun, exercise on the way to work?

      And this winter, please look around places that have clear bike infrastructure, like say the U of MN Transitway that for buses that lets bikes on it. The numbers of bikers out there on fat tire bikes is so much greater than just 10-20 years ago. Things evolve, biking in winter is becoming more and more popular, even while good bike routes in winter are still extremely limited.

      You personally don’t have to want to bike in winter to benefit from the many others who would gladly get out most winter days on a fat tire bike, if they had dedicated, bike infrastructure, like drivers do for their cars.

      1. Monte Castleman

        “Imagine if all those people that crowd our trails, lake paths, they had nice, not-scary, not-stressful, dedicated bike infrastructure on the routes to get to work, school, shopping etc?”

        There’s a big difference between bicycling for fun on the Gateway or Como trails for fun once in a while when the weather’s nice and riding a bicycle to work or to the store no matter what the weather. There’s a big difference between getting all bundled up in heavy clothing to go ice skating or snowmobiling once in a while and doing it every day to go to work no matter what the weather.

        Maybe some of those people would ride a bicycle to work. But how many? I go bicycling on the Gateway trail and ice skating in the winter and there’s no way I would ever bicycle to work no matter how good the infrasture was and I don’t imagine most off the people I see would either. When I’m going to work as opposed to having fun I want to get there as fast and easily as possible, which is what a car does.

        1. Karen Nelson

          I’m not claiming 80 percent of people will want to winter bike, what I’m saying is with decent infrastructure there will be people who do. It doesn’t have to be you.

          Also, tech will continue to be a game changer. Want a great fat tire bike that can get you through snow, we’ve got now. Is that to much work, fat tire ebikes will make it easy..

          I got an ebike last year and quit biking when paths were snowed in the fall, but happily got back at in a bunch of days in Jan when show had all melted and started to get into winter biking, without even having spring for special tires or clothes (I ebike in my street clothes mostly)

          I’m 50+, not-in-great-shape woman who would’ve told you 2 years ago, before I got ebike that I’d never be biking in winter, nope, as I haven’t been one of those outdoorsy active types at all

          I’m confident that a combo of ever improving tech that will get cheaper, better bike infrastructure, better maintenance of bike infra in winter and growing popularity of biking generally will make winter biking for more popular in next 5-10 years than we imagined.

          If we magically suddenly had Netherlands quality bike paths throughout our city, cleared of snow, winter biking would be huge thing already.

  8. Monte Castleman

    The article title should have been “How to improve the Central Corridor for Pedestrians and Bicyclists”.

    People in cars count as part of “Everyone” and I don’t see any suggestions for improving the corridor for motorists. Like maybe a tunnel at Snelling, which would also improve the corridor for those trying to cross there on foot or on a bicycle.

    1. Alicia Valenti Post author

      I did mention drivers, briefly. Traffic calming measures would increase safety in the corridor and they often incur a minimal delay; if anything, traffic calming often creates a smoother flow of traffic.

    2. Karen Nelson

      Getting more people to bike and take transit makes things far better for remaining drivers in many ways, without them ever having to leave their cars behind themselves.

      Bikers and transit users reduce car congestion and greatly reduce number of parked cars, leave many more parking spots for those who do drive

      Also, bike infra is traffic calming that make orads safer for drivers as well as everyone else.

  9. allan

    Green Line replaced the #50 which was faster than the GL ,at least #50 did not stop at Western and Victoria and didn’t have to detour to Robert st and Stadium Village.
    At Nicollet Mall Station the trains are always stopping before and after the stations even when mall was under construction.
    Both cities needs to give priorities to the trains.One should not have to spend 10mins from the Target Center to US back stadium The trains are always late leaving downtown

    On several occasions the #16 was faster than GL I rode the# 16 from/ to Snelling to 10th St station early AM and late night .Spending $1B of train that is slower than the buses is absurd.

  10. mplsmatt

    Vibrant, pedestrian friendly street life and high throughput auto traffic don’t often mix all that well and yet I can think of several spots in the Twin Cities where we seem to be trying to satisfy both priorities. I’d love to see more thoughtful action towards designating some of these areas as great places to be instead of places to pass through.

  11. Gordy Moore

    Thank you for writing this! I have been frustrated for years that the Green Line does not have signal PREEMPTION on University as the Blue Line does when it parallels Hiawatha. Is there any way people can advocate for that? How could we get decision makers to implement signal preemption for the Green Line? It would go a long way towards speeding travel and not making our train seem like a joke because it sits at stoplights for minutes on end!

  12. Brian

    I agree with someone who thinks the article should have been titled “5 Ways to Improve the Central Corridor for Bicyclists/Pedestrians.”

    30 second light cycles means about three cars would legally get through during the 20 seconds or less the light would be green for University. You would have lots of drivers gunning it on yellow and driving through the red to avoid sitting through yet another light cycle.

    1. Andrew Evans


      But bikes follow the same laws as cars, so those cycles would also impact those on bikes using the road and trails, as well as those crossing the streets.

      I have no love lost for those “engineers” who program lights, but I’m making the extraordinary assumption that the signaling system was setup with the light rail project as best as it could have been, or at least not in a hap hazard way. So yes, there could be improvement, but I’m willing to bet what’s currently setup is the best compromise they could come up with.

  13. jack

    I work on University, and car traffic is frightening. It goes way too fast. And the timing of stop lights is ridiculous. You end up standing on corners way too long, unless you’re brave/foolish enough to defy the signal.

    1. Karen Nelson

      I live near University and have really disliked walking around it but really really notice how horribly fast cars are going when I’ve come back from vacations to other countries where cars drive more like 20 mph even on big arterial roads.

  14. UrbanDelite

    Bravo that we are now talking about speed of transit. So many times I have seen “urbanists
    dismiss speed as not the point of transit. It matters, it matters to people who might consider using transit, and it matters most importantly to the people who have to endure slow travel times as daily users.

    Grade separated trains that are as slow or slower than buses are wastes of money. Speed the train, calm the traffic!

  15. Monica Millsap RasmussenMonica Rasmussen

    It makes me smile to read this and many of the comments. When the Green Line was in planning phase, I went to public meetings. Many in the community and many regular transit users raised concerns about the trains travel time, safety in regards to walking in the area and to/from a stop with stations in the middle of a busy street and bicycle access.

    One of the above commenters is correct- speed of the train was dismissed as the train was to be more comfortable than a bus and thus entice new riders. And a train in the middle of the street, with plantings along the corridor and elimination of spots for “jaywalking” was supposed to both calm traffic and improve pedestrian safety. I think everyone just waved the white flag in regards to bicycle access. Many of us who rode the University Avenue buses would often laugh at the theories of people designing and advocating for a transit system that they have never used and probably never intended to.

    I am happy that some of these issues are again being raised by people who are experiencing the train and transit with fresh eyes, people who maybe intend to actually use transit more and people who maybe have been places other than the Twin Cities. These are important issues that we can learn from and improve upon to build transit in the future.

    1. Monte Castleman

      In hindsight it’s easy to see what we would like to to differently with the Green Line. If we really had to build all those stations and to slow the train down (if you can see a light rail station from another station outside of downtown it’s too many), and couldn’t build grade separations to speed it up, we should have just built it as a streetcar and put light rail down I-94 or commuter rail on one of the freight corridors. But it started out with fewer stations and more grade separations, and then morphed into something much slower than what was planned.

      At the time Red Rock hadn’t faded into nothingness so the idea of a really fast connection between the downtowns was still floating around. At this point every indication is BNSF is out to make trouble for Hennepin County in retaliation for the county sabotaging their business operations, so it’s an open question if commuter rail between the downtowns can happen or if the railroad will just kill it with some unreasonable demand like apparently they did to the Blue Line extension.

      1. Monica Millsap RasmussenMonica Rasmussen

        Yeah, in hindsight, those neighbors who opposed the additional stops are probably satisfied that they weren’t listened to, given how Metro Transit severely cut bus service on University Avenue. (That bus service would be cut was a concern raised by those who opposed the additional stops.) Funding is just never supportive of useable transit, though, and the additional stops likely got in because Metro Transit knew it would be cutting bus service.

      2. Andrew Evans

        Well Monte, that rail line or lines between downtowns is pretty busy and goes between a few different large rail yards. Although I’m sure it could be done, regular service may not be as fast as some envision if it shares the same track. Then due to the way the Green Line was done, it couldn’t have a 3rd or 4th rail for express service, and even if it did there are street lights.

        A street car would have made much more sense, at least to me in hindsight, since that’s what those are pretty much meant for. It would also have spurred the same level of development along the line.

  16. Quinn Haberl

    Was on the train earlier today. It stopped at almost every intersection before each station. That could’ve been because of the heavy rain at the time.

    When University Avenue was reconstructed, they should have made the sidewalks wider than they currently are. I have walked along the University Ave., Corredor several times And agree that it does not feel very safe to a pedestrian.

    What would be the cost associated with adding true signal priority for light rail trains?

  17. Monica Millsap RasmussenMonica Rasmussen

    As I was exiting the train tonight, I was reminded of another improvement that could be made- the whole idea of basically having to wait for two different light cycles just to get to stations. Example, off at the University Avenue ALine Southbound stop, trying to get to the Eastbound Green Line station. Need to wait for green light to cross Snelling, then need green light to cross University. Usually, green light to cross Snelling happens just a train is coming. To get across University in time to catch that train means crossing against red light. To not cross against red light means another ten minutes of waiting for next train.

    Wouldn’t have had to been grade separated to solve that- just build it all on one side like at Capitol. Even if going other direction, would still only have to cross one light.

    What to do now? Wonder how traffic lights could change- give train light and not cars, allowing time for pedestrians to at least safely get to station.

    1. Alicia Valenti Post author

      You’re so right about this and I wish I’d addressed the two-crossing issue in this post — Snelling & University in particular is a challenging place to make a connection. I like your suggestion. Off the top of my head, it might help if we were able to legally cross mid-intersection, parallel to the train, or if lights were somehow adjusted/timed to make sure pedestrians could cross and make it to the train without trying to dart through traffic (perhaps this would involve giving the light across University as the train pulls up?). Definitely something worth exploring.

  18. Nicholas Anthony Rossini

    I agree with the transit signaling, its a shame it takes so long to get in between the two downtowns, and I’d imagine makes the line perform way under efficient capacity. I think they should add those rail crossing mechanisms at street intersections for the majority of streets intersecting University, in particular, those between downtown St. Paul and Snelling ave. Give the rail priority. #ROWallday

    1. Nicholas Rossini

      I also think that there should be some sort of “High-Volume-Hours” where the light rail skips every other stop from like 6-8AM and from 3:30-6PM every day or something, but I could see how this may be problematic

  19. Frank Phelan

    I don’t have much of a dog in this fight, and it’s water under the bridge, but why wasn’t this train elevated, at least along University?

    1. Monica Millsap RasmussenMonica Rasmussen

      The funding for the train was tied to promoting development and as is almost always the case, there wasn’t support to add additional funding for grade separation. Also, at neighborhood planning meetings, there was some discussion of how grade separation would affect ADA as it was pointed out elevators on the blue line are often non-functional. Another part of the discussion at these neighborhood meetings was the thought from some advocates that an at grade train would be “traffic calming” whereas a grade separated train would just encourage at grade space for cars.

      Regardless, grade separation would have been more seriously considered had there been support for additional funding, in my opinion.

      1. Andrew Evans

        Another thing grade separation could have done is provided enough space for limited stop service between the downtowns, or 3 to 4 tracks. Right now, and I’m just a casual observer in all this, it doesn’t look like there would be enough space if both road lanes are kept – and it doesn’t seem like the road could be taken down to a single lane each way in spots.

  20. ashton

    Last night I was waiting for the train at Snelling which was 2 mins late ,the train got the ROW which is very rare then it waited at Dale for 2 mins then again at Lex and Marion .My trip took another extra 5mins .Our elected officials in Mpls and St Paul need to ride the GL for a week to different places. IIt is very rare that the GL is on time from Mpls .
    From St Paul it would leave on time but then it will get delayed.

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