Extend the Red Line North before South

The Orange Line bus rapid transit (BRT) between Downtown Minneapolis and Burnsville is now under construction and expected to open in 2021. This will bring high frequency bus service to the I-35W Corridor and serve stops in Burnsville, Bloomington, Richfield, South Minneapolis, and Downtown Minneapolis. Transit upgrades include new bus-only ramps from the freeway into and out of downtown, and new bus stations with the most notable being at Lake Street & I-35W.

Meanwhile the existing Red Line BRT (if it can be called that) continues to have low ridership and be a glorified bus shuttle between Mall of America, Eagan, and Apple Valley. According to the Metropolitan Council the Red Line carried 270,400 riders in 2017, which if split evenly would be approximately 740 riders per day. However, that hasn’t stopped planners from studying a southern extension to Lakeville, which would likely produce very little additional riders and serve an area currently not built with transit in mind. Before we spend more resources on a southern extension we should be looking at a northern extension of the Red Line that can take advantage of some of the infrastructure upgrades being built for the Orange Line.

North Extension Routing

From Mall of America a northern extension would be routed on Highway 77, Highway 62, and I-35W to Downtown Minneapolis. Red Line buses may also use 66th Street and Portland Avenue in order to better serve Richfield and provide easier transfers to local bus routes including a high frequency east-west service that goes to Southdale Center. The Red Line would share bus stations with the Orange Line on the median of I-35W at 46th Street and Lake Street. In downtown both routes would share stations and use the bus-only lanes on Marquette and 2nd Avenues. Most of the cost for a northern extension would be buying additional buses and building stations in Richfield. Thanks to the Orange Line the cost of a northern extension would be cheap as it would mostly utilize existing infrastructure.

The online bus station at I-35W & 46th Street in South Minneapolis. This will be used by the Orange Line and would be used by a northern extension of the Red Line. Source: Metro Transit

Competing with the Blue Line?

While a northern extension of the Red Line has been discussed, as far as I know it has never been seriously considered due to concerns that it would take away riders from the Blue Line who are traveling between the Mall of America and Downtown Minneapolis. To an extent these routes would compete for riders, but for several reasons it’s highly unlikely the Red Line would take away a significant amount of riders. First there’s the fact the Red Line is a bus while the Blue Line is a train; some people will choose the train over the bus no matter what. Secondly the travel time between Mall of America and downtown would be very similar, so there would be little if any travel time advantage taking the Red Line. Third is the frequency of each service; the Blue Line has 10 minute frequency while the Red Line has 20 minute frequency, which makes the Blue Line more attractive. Lastly the Blue Line has dedicated right-of-way while the Red Line is operating in traffic for most of the route, which again makes the Blue Line more attractive to people who can choose to take either route between Mall of America and downtown. The northern extension would also have the side benefit of providing a backup service between Mall of America and downtown if there is a service disruption or maintenance project on the Blue Line, which could reduce the crowding on the bus replacement service for the Blue Line.

Benefits of a Northern Extension

The main purpose of a northern extension is to bring better transit to Richfield and South Minneapolis where the development and population are more likely to use it than auto-centric and lower density developments in Lakeville. While there would only be a few stops through Richfield and South Minneapolis, the northern extension opens up new opportunities for people trying to get places; not just between downtown and the suburbs, but also for example between a person’s job at Mall of America and their apartment near the Lake Street & I-35W Station, or between eastern Richfield and Uptown without having to go all the way to Southdale Center and then go north.

Traveling between downtown and south of the river would also be more convenient as it would be a one-seat ride instead of requiring a transfer at Mall of America. Minnesota Valley Transit Authority’s Route 477, an express route between Minneapolis and Apple Valley, is one of their busiest routes and the Red Line would complement this by providing all-day service in both directions on the same segment. A person is more likely to take transit if they have backup options; for example if they have to stay late at the office and the last Route 477 bus has already left they can take the Red Line instead. 

Southern Extension Potential

A southern extension could easily be implemented today assuming the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority has the buses and drivers to do it. However buses would be operating non-stop between Apple Valley Transit Station and Lakeville Cedar Park & Ride. The very low ridership of this extension may not justify the cost of operating this service further south. Even if stations are added in between they would produce very little extra riders.

Screen Shot 2019 08 17 At 12.48.21 Pm

Above: The area within a half mile of Lakeville Cedar Park & Ride as of last year. Much of the area is undeveloped, and where it is being developed is mostly low-density residential.

While the Red Line is underperforming, a northern extension would be a cost effective way to serve more people and destinations and boost ridership. Right now the area along the southern extension is developing, but mostly as low-density single-family homes. To make a southern extension more likely to succeed and be useful there needs to be mixed-use and higher density development. From what I’ve seen Lakeville has showed reluctance to develop more transit- and pedestrian-friendly areas, but this may change as younger generations want more options to get around than just the car. Until then we should put a Red Line southern extension on hold and focus our resources on a northern extension to Downtown Minneapolis.

About Eric Ecklund

Eric has lived in Bloomington his whole life (besides 4 months studying in Oslo, Norway). With a Bachelors in Urban Studies from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, his future career is in transportation planning and he is heavily invested in Twin Cities transit from trying different bus routes to continuously examining how to improve the transit network in the Twin Cities.

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33 thoughts on “Extend the Red Line North before South

  1. Brendan Anderson

    I feel the main reason that it’s not extended north is because it was only intended for those “opt-out” cities south of the river and is operated by MVTA. There was talk a couple years ago of Metro Transit taking over the operation of the Red Line, until that happens I feel that it’s going to be stuck where it’s at and can even see that it be eliminated in the not too distant future.

  2. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

    The idea that transit lines shouldn’t compete with each other is super stupid. There’s a point at which it makes sense, when MSP is contemplating a subway every half mile, and that point is so far in the future as to be nonexistent.

    Instead, as you note, running the Red Line to downtown Minneapolis would compliment existing services, making the whole system more reliable. It would add an additional bus every twenty minutes to the I-35W spine, making travel along that stretch even more frequent. It would provide redundancy from the MOA in case the Blue Line is not working, but it would also serve new markets and make travel from its existing area more appealing.

    All for a capital cost of new buses, zero to two new stops max, and a labor cost. That’s a cost-efficient transit investment that would go quite a ways to redeeming what is currently a huge white elephant.

    It’s depressing that this is not being discussed more often, I’ve wondered for years why that is.

    1. Brian

      Competing lines just increase the total cost of operations if all they do is steal ridership from other lines. The only real advantage of extending the Redline north is no transfer from bus to train.

      Trains have some advantages, but on some routes they will be much slower than competing bus routes. I would like (and might use) a train to the north, but I suspect it will be much slower than the current express buses due to stopping every 1/2 mile. It would be nice if express trains were an option.

      1. Eric Ecklund Post author

        But in this case the only riders the Red Line North Extension would be taking from the Blue Line are those who currently have to transfer between the two routes, and that’s only if those riders can reach their destination easier via the Red Line than the Blue Line. If someone from Apple Valley works at the airport they’re going to transfer to the Blue Line no matter what, but if they work in Uptown then they’ll likely take the Red Line the whole way.

      2. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

        The point is, they won’t steal riders from each other (they’d run miles apart). Instead, for certain trips, they’d compliment each other, and overall provide a higher quality of transit service by increasing frequency on the I-35W mainline and MOA to downtown redundancy.

        It’s a mistake to view transit as a zero sum game, where there are a fixed number of riders up for grabs. Instead, what we see time and time again is that when you increase the quality of transit, you also increase the ridership.

  3. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    I really like this idea, and despite beating the drum of Richfield, hadn’t occurred to me to have it be routed via a spur of 66th to Portland to 35W. This would add little time, but would add a ton of potential use to the line:

    1. A stop at Richfield Parkway and 66th would cost much less than an online station at Cedar and 66th, and be way more walk-up friendly. There are a ton of businesses right here, 300 new apartments opening in a month, and another 300 within a block starting construction next fall. It would provide direct transit connections to 14 and 515.
    2. A second stop at Portland Ave would allow for a nice connection to the 5 (future southern terminus) and the D Line (connected in both directions), plus another potential transfer point from 515.

    Getting LRT to Richfield is unlikely in the foreseeable future — nothing planned, no obvious rights-of-way available. So having two highway BRT connections from 66th (this plus planned Orange Line) could really enhance transit access to downtown and more direct access to MOA.

  4. Scott

    Wow! it’s discouraging that tens of millions of dollars were spent on the Red Line only resulting in fewer than 800 riders per day. Curious to know how many riders are expected on the Orange Line. Yet, no progress on funding relatively affordable ABRT on routes like Lake St., Chicago Ave, and Nicollet with 10,000+ riders per day? Something is very wrong with how routes are planned, prioritized, and funded in this region.

    1. Eric Ecklund Post author

      I believe the ridership projections for the Orange Line are 10,100 daily by the year 2040. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.

      1. Monte Castleman

        If nothing else having the Orange Line go to downtown and the Green Line extension going to a very suburban area should settle the issue of whether so few people ride the Red Line because it doesn’t go downtown, because it goes to a very suburban area, or because it’s a bus instead of a train.

        1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

          Local interest/reaction has to also factor in.

          What exactly has Apple Valley developed or planned differently in response to the Red Line? The only thing I’m aware of is adding more car parking to their transit center. Not a single instance of TOD at any of the three stations.

          Eagan kinda sorta has TOD at Cedar Grove, but most of the transit-oriented vision was replaced with a single-story outlet mall surrounded by surface parking.

          Orange Line isn’t much better. Bloomington had some preliminary ideas of what they might do at Oxboro, and that’s the best on the whole line. No meaningful planned changes at either of the Richfield stations or at 46th St station.

          By comparison, even before they broke ground on the Green Line Extension, there was extensive anticipated-TOD in St. Louis Park and Hopkins. Southwest Station in Eden Prairie is so-so, but densifying as we speak. Minnetonka and Hopkins had an excellent shared vision for development along their border. Creating a reason for people to take the line surely has a big impact on its success.

          1. Tim

            It’s probably not specifically because of the Red Line, but the area east of AVTS is rapidly densifying, with three large apartment complexes having been completed in the last three years, and a fourth currently under construction. Plus, there’s been talk of eventually redeveloping some of the older retail buildings too, and there are vacant parcels nearby that will very likely be developed at some point.

            Lakeville is starting to get in on it too — there has been some multifamily housing proposed in the area around the Lakeville station, though I agree that going north first rather than south makes more sense.

            Ditching the TOD where Twin Cities Premium Outlets was built was the right move at the time, plus they did still build some market-rate and senior apartments, just not to the scale that they had originally planned. That happened due to the housing market crash and them not wanting a repeat of what happened in Burnsville with the Heart of the City project, which only recently has taken off again.

            1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

              “Ditching the TOD where Twin Cities Premium Outlets was built was the right move at the time”

              That’s a hard sell. If the choice was developing right at that moment or salting the earth and never being able to touch it again — yeah, it was the viable choice. As it turns out, they could have waited like 5 years and seen far more viable residential or mixed use. I doubt the site would be entirely developed, but it’s fine to have room to grow incrementally.

              Instead, they’ve cemented in a low-quality land use for at least 30 years. These places have a predictable outcome: they’re exciting for the first year or two, nothing special years 5-15, and then in a progressive state of decline thereafter until they’re finally bad enough to repel customers and tenants and get redeveloped. Unlike modern mixed-use or (especially) traditional cities, they’re not easily adaptable to other uses without complete destruction. Meanwhile, tax value was never great compared to the land they occupy, and gets worse. Physical conditions worsen.

              It’s a disposable land use that is destined to expire relatively quickly. There are places where it makes the most sense, but a huge redevelopment site in a theoretical TOD zone isn’t one of them.

              1. Tim

                As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20.

                Sure, they would have been able to build something else eventually. But they sure didn’t know that in 2012 when Paragon pitched the mall to them. By then the redevelopment had stagnated for years and there wasn’t a clear path forward, especially just coming out of the housing crash and the worst recession in many years. The fact that Burnsville’s similar earlier project had tanked badly, with multiple foreclosures, probably didn’t help either.

                So, given the situation at the time, and what they knew at the time, yes, it was absolutely the right decision — plus, putting that mall there spurred a lot of development to follow: apartments, townhomes, hotels, etc.

                Would the calculus be different today? Sure. For one thing, the mall might well have ended up being built by the Vikings complex. But 2012 was a different time.

                1. Monte Castleman

                  The other thing is that some of the property involved was the subject to a bitter condemnation battle. Minnesota has rightfully toughened their eminent domain laws to prevent outrages like the subject of Kelo vs New London or the Best Buy project.

                  Nowadays you’d better have a very good reason for throwing people out of their homes, taking away their jobs, and costing small business owner’s their livelihood. It wouldn’t look good for the city to say we just had to have this property bad enough to justify this and then not do anything with the property.

        2. Lenny

          Link with D line from MOA to downtown.It will serve 4 hospitals all the arenas connect with all the crosstown routes.

          Cedar Ave will be faster which can replace part of #22 serve west bank station UM

  5. Elizabeth Larey

    This made me chuckle. I saw the headline to extend the light rail line north so I read it. People, Richfield and South Minneapolis are south. North is everything north of Minneapolis and St Paul. I have yet to read anything on this site that discusses transit for the north metro. We would sure like to have a light rail line also.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      The headline says “Red Line”. This specific line ends at MOA, south of 494. He is discussing extending this line north — to Richfield and toward downtown Minneapolis.

      We are lighter on stuff in the north metro, although we have covered the Blue Line Extension / Bottineau LRT in the past. The same author wrote an article about Bottineau a month ago.

      If you have a perspective from the north metro about transit, share it! Write an article.

    2. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

      I thought I read something about extending the A Line north beyond Rosedale, maybe up to the Medtronic campus area. That might have only been speculative brainstorming in the Streets.mn forums.

        1. Hero

          Extending the A line west would be great! just think of all those heavily used routes it would intersect with.

  6. Hero

    Why not continue on Cedar to the West Bank LRT station? The U has a lot of potential riders who may want to visit MOA or live in Apple Valley.

    1. Eric Ecklund Post author

      I think we should keep Highway BRT and Arterial BRT separate. Going down Cedar to Richfield or further south from downtown could be done by an extension of the C Line.

      1. Hero

        Would a hybrid BRT be a bad thing? Shouldn’t we be connecting places people want to go? If the fastest way to the U from MOA is Cedar then why not take it? Maybe take the Washing Ave bridge and add a stop at Coffman Union? Maybe this could add passengers to the 21, 22, 23 or 46 who want to reach the U?

  7. Alex CecchiniAlex

    A southern extension for the Red Line should be on the table, but it should terminate downtowns Lakeville and skip the cornfield station with planned apartments and huge surface lot strip development. Downtown Lakeville has a walkable core, a mix of senior housing, townhomes, and other relatively dense housing within a few blocks of Main Street. It would be near nothing to construct 1-2 sidewalk stations in downtown (one on the northern end, one further south), the biggest challenge would be the added runtime. But this would add a connection within a walkable area while also giving people in Lakeville without cars (or those who want to live in a Lakeville without a car) access to the shopping/jobs in AV and beyond, as well as the commute option to downtown.

    It’s not hard to envision this linking up with 1 bus “local” line running from downtown Lkvl along the Kenwood Trail/50 corridor that hits up several schools, shopping nodes, and other senior housing. Time the headways to match the Red Line.

    If what people want/need is a park and ride to get downtown, we’ve got P&Rs for that. A Red Line extension to downtown still makes total sense separate from express routes.

    1. Eric Ecklund Post author

      I’m kind of surprised the official southern extension proposal doesn’t serve Downtown Lakeville, rather southeast of it on the east side of the sprawling industrial park. I’m sure the Lakeville City Council would love to label a Red Line service to their downtown as a Dan Patch Corridor replacement even though it’s not because those would be two completely different operations serving completely different markets.

    2. Matt SteeleMatt

      It could hit Downtown Lakeville and then terminate at Downtown Farmington 10 minutes to the east.

      I don’t understand why suburbs with old walkable urban cores are not interested in transit. They have the mindset of transit being something you drive to.

      My family, with kids, has one car and it’s a great way to save money. I’ve occasionally looked for old urban cores with amenities like grocery stores, coffee shops, and transit to Minneapolis. Downtown Chaska has nothing. Downtown Shakopee has an hourly circulator (497) to another Shakopee transit station with limited service. Etc. These old urbanized downtowns would be far more appealing with high quality transit service.

      Related: Here’s a simple idea to extend some SWLRT trains to Chaska and Shakopee, connecting two more metropolitan county seats largely using existing HCRRA right of way. https://drive.google.com/open?id=1dzgqOVmG288WIf0WrTMJEVVUmGU&usp=sharing

      1. Monte Castleman

        Are there really enough people that live near a station and want to take a train to have coffee in Shakopee or Chaska. Or that live close enough to those downtowns and work in downtown Minneapolis or somewhere near a station?

        My father and stepfather live next to a subdivision miles from downtown. There’s no way you could justify providing decent connections to all of those places to downtown Shakopee. They do go downtown a lot but it probably makes sense for people living in those places to take a car to downtown Shakopee, or if they want to take a bus to downtown Minneapolis, to go take their car to a surface parking lot off the expressway rather than take their car to downtown and leave it there.

        If we’re going to improve transit in Shakopee it makes sense to do it to where a lot of people go to work and play- Valleyfair, Canterbury Park, Seagate, Shutterfly, and Amazon.

        1. Matt SteeleMatt

          There are probably thousands of people within a 15 minute walkshed of Downtown Shakopee, and thousands more within a short bikeshed. There’s a courthouse, dozens of businesses, and space for thousands more residents in mixed-use developments.

          Someone who chooses to live next to a subdivision miles out of town probably doesn’t care about walkability or regional transit connections. That’s fine. We don’t need to connect them with transit. But there are people who DO want to live car-lite in walkable communities with strong connections to regional job centers, and at some point we have to realize it’s not acceptable for everyone to pay a 50%+ price premium solely because those options are only available in Minneapolis or St. Paul.

          Additionally, who wants to transfer buses at some freeway-adjacent parking lot transit station with zero amenities? I bet most transit users would rather transfer in a walkable downtown with countless amenities.

          Finally, I don’t know why the public should be responsible for serving transit-hostile land uses like Amazon and Shutterfly. Those companies specifically chose those locations because land was cheap, and they knew they were choosing a place that was away from transit. If they want, they should provide shuttle service to frequent regional transit at their own expense.

  8. lenny

    Amazon employees are complaining about lack of parking ,who will want to take the bus there even express buses are too long and not viable.

    ALL #535 weekend services were cut due to low ridership this route will be replaced with the Orange line .
    The Orange line /#535 should have end at Burnsville mall .
    One of the problem MVTA /Metro Transit are competing with each other on 35W . The money wasted on NS rail,Red line money could have been used for LRT on the 35W median which could have replace most of the express buses with fast and frequent services
    METC keep approving projects which serve low density areas with very low ridership and high operating cost .
    NS subsidy is $18+ /riders with 5 trips daily ,3 on weekends .
    GOLD Line ,Red Rock are all projects are just not viable
    The RED line can continue Cedar Ave to Mpls for one-seat ride to downtown Mpls

    Even if density is increase the burbs this will not attract enough riders to justify adding a suburban BRT.Running thru Mpls will get more riders and serve some large employment centers .Many people along Randolph,Grand,MInnehaha ,Highland are some areas with good bus services and high density yet they cannot support high frequencies services many people own cars .

    1. Monte Castleman

      The train left the station on LRT down I-35W when we found we didn’t have $1 Billion in late 1980s dollars to rebuild the entire I-35W corridor all at once and use the opportunity to include light rail on it. Since the late 1990s we’ve been rebuilding I-35W with 60 year concrete with no provisions for light rail

      1. Joe Loveless

        I think a South extension makes sense in Lakeville. Warehouses are being built up, have a stop downtown, stop at Ames Arena (or Hasse, whichever is off 50) and then either loop back up Kenwood to the Park and Ride, or go to Farmington before hooking back into Apple Valley.

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