Downtown Apartment Areas Deserve Better Bus Service

Thousands of new apartments have been built on the fringes of downtown Minneapolis in the North Loop, the Guthrie Theatre area (Downtown East) and across the river in Old St. Anthony. These new residents ought to be prime candidates for bus service, but Metro Transit has made no service changes or improvements to try and attract them.

The obvious destination is downtown, but such a short trip requires high frequency service since the alternative is walking, biking, hopping an e-scooter or grabbing an Uber. Let’s look at each of these neighborhoods separately.

North Loop

North LoopThe North Loop has good service at its edges, but not in the middle. The best is the light rail at Target Field Station, a train every 5 minutes through downtown on 5th Street. However, there’s a lot more of downtown south of 5th Street and reaching it from the light rail requires a transfer or a multi-block walk.

The south edge of the North Loop is Hennepin Avenue, with buses that normally run the length of Hennepin through downtown. For the next two years, however, all those buses are detoured down the Nicollet Mall while Hennepin is rebuilt. From the corner of Hennepin and 1st Street, Route 4 (every 15 minutes), Route 6 (every 10 minutes), and Route 61 (every 30 minutes) combine for 10 trips an hour, an average of every six minutes, although the buses are not evenly spaced.

Walk a little farther to Nicollet Mall at 3rd Street and service down the Mall is very good. Route 10 (every 10 minutes), Route 11 (every 15 minutes), Route 17 (every 15 minutes), Route 18 (every 7-10 minutes), and Route 25 (every 60 minutes) combine for 21 trips an hour, or one every 3 minutes. Add in the detoured Hennepin trips and there’s a bus down the Mall every two minutes. Hard to improve on that, especially when the south Route 10 and northbound Route 18 are free to ride.

Now let’s talk about the heart of the North Loop. 1st Street N. is served by Route 7, which only runs every 30 minutes, attracts about 50 daily boardings and passes through downtown on 3rd and 4th Streets. Not a very attractive option.

The real center of the North Loop is Washington Avenue from Hennepin to Plymouth Avenue. It is served by Route 14, which only runs every 20 minutes and uses 6th and 7th Streets through downtown. About 175 passengers board Route 14 daily on Washington Avenue.

I believe there’s more ridership potential on N. Washington. There are several routes that terminate nearby and could be extended or diverted that one mile up Washington for a modest cost. Here are two options.

Half of the Route 4 and Route 6 buses cross the river to Northeast. The other half (5 trips an hour) terminate at 1st Avenue N. and 1st Street. They could be sent up Washington.

The second option is Route 18 Nicollet, which terminates all 6-8 of its hourly trips in the vacant lot at Nicollet & Washington. They will soon be evicted by new development and could be sent either north or south on Washington. I think north would be preferable and would give the North Loop access to all of downtown and vice versa.

Downtown east

Downtown East
We’re talking about the apartment neighborhood bounded by 3rd Avenue S., Washington Avenue, 13th Avenue S. and the river. As with the North Loop, there’s only good service at the edges. Light rail runs every 5 minutes from U. S. Bank Stadium Station, but it’s a three block walk from 2nd street, the center of the apartment concentration, and farther for anyone north or south of Chicago Avenue. On the other end of the neighborhood, Route 10 (every 10 minutes) stops by the Old Federal Building at Washington & 3rd Avenue S., also a long walk for most residents.

To really serve the area, transit needs to be on either Washington Avenue or 2nd Street S. Washington already has two bus routes.

Washington Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minnesota (23624496859)The better of the two is Route 22 (every 20 minutes). It turns off Washington at 4th Avenue S. to pass through the heart of downtown on 7th and 8th Streets. Route 7 (every 30 minutes) also uses Washington, but for reasons that elude me, passes through downtown on 3rd and 4th Streets, missing much of downtown. These routes, plus several rush hour expresses that share Washington Avenue, generate about 200 daily passenger boardings, pretty light considering the population.

I would make two recommendations.

Have Route 7 duplicate Route 22 via 7th and 8th Streets to better serve the center of downtown.

Then divert Route 3 (every 15 minutes), which currently uses 3rd and 4th Streets, to the Route 22 alignment via Washington. That will provide 9 buses an hour, or one every 7 minutes and it can be done for almost no additional cost.

Old St. Anthony

333 Hennepin June 2017 4About 500 daily passenger boardings originate in Old St. Anthony, split evenly between Central Avenue and the Hennepin/1st Avenue NE one-way pair.

Buses pass through Old St. Anthony on Central Avenue (crossing the river on the 3rd Avenue bridge) and on the Hennepin/1st Avenue NE pair, using the Hennepin bridge. Central Avenue has good service on Route 10 (every 10 minutes), supplemented by Routes 17, 25 and several rush hour expresses.

Hennepin/1st Avenue NE isn’t as well served. The service is limited to Route 4 (every 30 minutes), Route 6 (every 20 minutes) and Route 61 (every 30 minutes). That’s 7 buses per hour, an average of one every 9 minutes, but the trips aren’t evenly spaced. Also, because Route 6 turns off Hennepin onto University, that frequency is only achieved at 2nd Street NE.

There’s no way to improve service frequency without spending some money. One option would be to extend would be the Route 4 and 6 trips that currently terminate downtown at Hennepin and 1st Street.

The proposed E Line BRT is supposed to replace Route 6 totally or partially in a couple of years. It would run every 10 minutes, twice the current frequency. The question is where it will stop in Old St. Anthony. In the northbound direction Route 6 currently makes three stops;

-On Hennepin at 2nd Street NE
-On University far side of Hennepin
-On University at Central

Southbound it stops are;
-On 4th Street SE at Central
-On 4th Street SE at Hennepin
-On 1st Avenue NE at 2nd Street

If the BRT skips any of the stops, neighborhood access is degraded rather than improved.

Fares considered

Dt Map

The downtown fare zone

All three neighborhoods benefit from being at least partially within the 50 cent Downtown Fare Zone. The zone was created back in the 1970s to stimulate circulation within downtown, while not eating into full fare ridership.

In the North Loop, Target Field Station is within the downtown zone. For buses it ends at 3rd Avenue N.

In Downtown East, the zone extends all the way to 12th Avenue S., the full length of the neighborhood.

In Old St. Anthony, it reaches 2nd Street NE, the first stop across the river.

The rise of all-you-can-ride Go To Cards and subsidized employee and student passes has reduced the attractiveness of the lower downtown fare. However, it still matters to anyone paying cash or using a stored ride pass.

Some might argue for extending the downtown zone boundaries in light of all the new development. There are currently about 900 boardings to downtown from these three neighborhoods. Half of them board outside the downtown zone. Extending the zone would increase ridership, but at a fairly large revenue loss, probably about $800,000 per year. Given Metro Transit’s fragile budget, I doubt they’d agree to it.


Aaron Isaacs

About Aaron Isaacs

Aaron retired in 2006 after 33 years as a planner and manager for Metro Transit, where he worked in route and schedule planning, operations, maintenance, transit facilities, light rail and traffic advantages for buses. He's an historian of transit, as a 40+ year volunteer with the Minnesota Streetcar Museum. He's co-author of Twin Cities by Trolley, The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and author of Twin Ports by Trolley on Duluth-Superior.

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25 thoughts on “Downtown Apartment Areas Deserve Better Bus Service

  1. Joey SenkyrJoey Senkyr

    Great article, Aaron. The Rt 18 actually got evicted from the its old lot a few months ago, and now goes south on Washington to layover in the Gateway ramp (returning via 3rd St). It stops at all the bus stops on 3rd, but the reconstruction of Washington a few years ago shortsightedly only included islanded bus stops where there were existing bus stops at the time, so there are no stops between 3rd and Nicollet and the Gateway ramp NB. Sending it north through the North Loop would be a much better use of the same buses.

    Unfortunately, the lack of bus stops on Washington also makes difficult my favored downtown bus improvement, which is straightening out the 7 (or the 22) to be a straight shot from Seven Corners to the North Loop. Washington is too major of a corridor to not have bus service down its length.

    1. Brian

      Moving the 7 would lose any bus service from downtown to the far end of the North Loop without a transfer. It seems silly to need a transfer to go less than two miles.

      1. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs Post author

        I agree. Through ridership between Downtown East and the North Loop is tiny compared to the ridership to the center of downtown.

  2. Erik

    Both the North Loop and east downtown are transit deserts. And it’s not just apartment/condo dwellers as there are a lot of employers moving to the areas.

    I like the idea of sending the 4 and 6 variants that end downtown into the north loop, perhaps along Washington all the way to Plymouth Ave as an interim fix. In the long-run, I do think we need to have a high frequency line running the length of Washington.

    I also think a high frequency circulator that runs in a loop, touching key areas would be beneficial to residents, workers, and visitors alike. Other cities have circulator lines that touch popular areas that’s high frequency and often no cost. I’ve heard something similar was tried here once before, but I don’t think it was executed right, nor were the North Loop and East Town as populated as they are now.

  3. Gordy Moore

    Thanks for the article, Aaron! I agree completely that the North Loop and Mill District/Downtown East apartment areas desperately need better transit service. The E Line, as you mentioned, has the potential to help the Old St. Anthony area to some extent. As someone who started riding the 6U somewhat regularly last month (connecting from the westbound 17), I can attest that the frequency and reliability leaves much to be desired.

    What do you think about the West Broadway/Washington Ave. aBRT or streetcar proposal from the study that was completed a few years ago? It seems like it would be great to give all of Washington and W. Broadway a new high-frequency, high-quality transit line–but I haven’t heard much about that study and it seems to be shelved.

    1. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs Post author

      A Broadway aBRT would partially duplicate the existing C Line and the hopefully-soon-to-be-funded D Line. The D Line will serve more people and has a higher priority, as do other aBRTs. I doubt it will resurface until others are implemented. That’s another reason to concentrate better service on Washington Avenue N.

      1. Gordy Moore

        Good to know, that makes total sense! When reading the Washington-Broadway study, they definitely made points about potential duplication of other planned transit investments. Certainly many other aBRT lines are much higher priority, and I really, really hope the D Line can get full funding ASAP. I don’t know what it would take to get the better service on Washingotn Ave. N., but I’m all for that!

        As a NE resident, I also hope the 10 can get in the aBRT planning pipeline soon. NE really deserves better transit, and the 10 seems like a pretty logical choice to me for aBRT, regardless of the old streetcar plan that wouldn’t serve almost any of NE.

        1. Andrew

          I really wish they would do some stop consolidation on the 10. It has so many stops that are less than 600 feet apart. That “10 minute” frequency really falls apart when there isn’t even room to accelerate to 20 mph between the stops. On weekday afternoons heading north I often see 20-minute headways, with a sardine packed bus immediately followed by an empty one.

  4. John Charles Wilson

    I support eliminating the present Downtown Zone and replacing it with what I call “Free Tail” service. (Yes I know the slightly risque pun involved. If Metro Transit deems it “inappropriate” they can come up with another name for it.)

    The idea of “Free Tail” is already implemented on Routes 10, 18, and 59 on Nicollet Mall: no fare is collected on those routes on the Mall in the direction of their termination. While the traditional Downtown Zone is often misused by people paying 50 cents and lying about where they are going, “Free Tail” is fraud-proof as the bus is terminating without going beyond the intended area.

    “Free Tail” has the advantage of totally eliminating fare-based boarding delays, whereas the Downtown Zone fare still can take time to pay. Also there are no possible disputes about whether or not the passenger is trying to cheat, since it’s not possible,

    “Free Head” could apply on suburban express buses starting downtown where you pay as you leave: if you get off before leaving the downtown area, no fare would be required. (Yes, I know, another risque pun.)

    Free rides within downtown in all directions could easily be implemented on light rail or bus rapid transit simply by suspending fare enforcement within the downtown area. Of course this would encourage the fare enforcers to use the first stop outside the boundary as a “gotcha” point. This was done on Portland light rail for years.

    Why free and not a reduced fare like the present Downtown Zone? Simplified bookkeeping and total elimination of fare-based delays.

    Note that my proposed “Free Tail” would be based on whether or not the individual bus trip terminates downtown rather than applying to all buses of a route number. For example, northbound Routes 6 and 17 would be “Free Tail” within downtown but 6U and 17W would not. “Free Head” would require the bus trip to originate within the downtown area, not before, so it would exclude some buses like those that start at the U of M and pass through downtown on their way to the suburbs. Of course, downtown Minneapolis and Saint Paul would be considered separately for those routes which serve both.

    One other reform I’d propose is a more rational definition of “downtown”. The irregular shape of the Zone could be seen as unfair. A specific radial distance from what is deemed the “central” stop, or a definition based on formal neighborhood boundaries would make more sense.

  5. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

    It seems to me like two birds could be killed with one stone by hiking the frequency of Routes #7 and #14, and straightening out their routes through downtown, so they both run entirely down Washington from Plymouth to 11th Ave S (going their separate ways at each end).

    In addition to more directly serving the North Loop and Mill District, these changes would improve the speed and reliability of these buses by removing the repeated turns in their routes.

    1. smf

      A high-frequency #7 would be amazing for Seward and Longfellow too. Transit access is surprisingly bad at a location like 34th St and Minnehaha where you’re in between Blue Line stations, which are spaced a mile apart.

      Make the bus frequent and reliable with nice stops, and you’ve got a great complement to light rail to generate more TOD and help a walkable character emerge on the corridor.

    2. Rosa

      more 14s would be so great. When I was working downtown I’d stand at the bus stop watching like 3 94s come and go before there was a 14.

  6. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    Routes 3, 7, 14, and 12 run east-west from Downtown East to North Loop via the CBD, on Washington or a parallel street north of 4th St S. I combined their timetables earlier this year and did some Excel magic…

    I made the following assumptions:
    – These four routes could be combined onto a single corridor from East Town to North Loop (Washington Ave? 3rd Sreet?)
    – These four routes would have some common secondary route brand while traveling through this corridor, so potential transit customers could reliably get on any bus and understand a simple service pattern on this core segment. We already employ this concept with the “Free Ride” buses that run north/south.

    As you can see in the table below, the headways are extremely frequent! The max headways are a little rough, which corresponds to “bus bunching” in the timetable. Of course, these four routes have never been coordinated for consistent headways, but slight tweaks of a minute or two here or there for a particular bus could flatten out this max headway significantly.

    It’s the circulator bus we want with the bus schedule we already have! This could significantly enhance the viability of transit for employees and residents in East Town and the North Loop.

    Headways Average Median Max
    24 hours 0:05:26 0:04:00 2:49:00
    6 AM – 8 PM Core Day 0:04:03 0:03:00 0:15:00
    6 AM – 9 AM Morning Rush 0:03:46 0:03:00 0:11:00
    3 PM – 6 PM Evening Rush 0:03:12 0:03:00 0:09:00

  7. Lou Miranda

    I’m surprised Washington Ave. isn’t a major transit corridor. Sure, it didn’t make sense 10 or 20 years ago when it was parking lots, but it sure needs transit today. Is Metro Transit waiting for the day when they finally get a big influx of funding to “rebalance the system” so to speak?

    With all the new density in the areas you describe, and even in Uptown and first-ring suburbs, and with SWLRT and several aBRT lines coming up (if funded), it seems like a major re-think of the entire system will be necessary within a decade.

    Maybe after all the Comprehensive Plans are approved by the Met Council?

    The E Line aBRT is scheduled to have its stops figured out by late this fall, I believe. Generally they want stops about every half mile. Are exceptions made for the densest areas, or places where sharp turns in the route occur?

    There may be compromises needed between serving a neighborhood best, and keeping the service fast & frequent.

    1. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

      The good news, as I’ve been told every time I write about buses, is that they are doing such a rethink, called Network Next. Time will tell how comprehensive it’ll be, but I’m hopeful.

      I’ll be looking for a long term, ambitious direction for aBRT expansion, but also some near-term action items to improve bus service, especially plans to quickly straighten out kinks in routes, eliminate as many branches as feasible, and consolidate stops.

      1. Lou Miranda

        That all sounds good. I hope they hire someone like Jarrett Walker (Human Transit), to make sure there’s an outside perspective in addition to the vast internal knowledge Metro Transit has.

      2. dennis

        It is time they restructure Lake #21 this is one of the slowest route ,a trip should not have take 90minutes from Uptown to downtown.With services less than 10mins this route can operate like aBRT Use all 21A trips as Limited stop remove the deviation to the transit Center off Lake St. .Operate another route on Selby to Snelling only with the Loop to Midway .
        Keep the 21E for local with lower frequencies
        Use articulated buses on Lake/Marshall combine the 53 trips for 10mins peak/10-15mins midday.

        On Henn Ave #6 can run limited stops along Henn Ave since the #s 4/17 already have coverage along HENN AVE every15mins .
        Replace #6U with rt3 in SE so all 6 can run along Wash N .

  8. Scott

    The route #22 bus through downtown is ridiculous and slow, so it would be great to have it just use Washington Avenue the entire way. It moves northward from south Minneapolis along Cedar Ave to Washington at 7 Corners. After going down Washington for awhile, it then turns back south on 4th Ave S. all the way to 7th Street where it encounters big traffic delays through the middle of downtown. I’ve had so many bad experiences, I won’t take it anymore at rush hour.

    Ultimately, the City of Minneapolis and Metro
    transit need to completely rethink bus service through downtown because it generally doesn’t work that great. Buses need to be given priority with dedicated lanes,bus-only streets during rush hour, upgraded shelters, etc. Eventually, buses and trains need a tunnel to get them out of traffic to make these modes compete for riders.

    Minneapolis is currently drafting their 10-year Transportation Action Plan, so now is the time for readers to advocate for these changes.

  9. Dennis

    One option run # 4 on Washington S to 10th Ave SE every 15mins ,20mins nights & Sunday.double frequency for SE NE The deleted 8th St Se is close #4 25 61 10 17 plus rt2 on 8th St SE
    Discontinue #6U replace with #3 and rt2.inSE and part of #4
    Washington S will also have 7 and 22 plus 18

    Greenline adequately serve the UM to duplicate with rt3

    #30 move to Ply Ave or move rt 19 to Ply Ave/Penn via 19H
    All #6 to 8thAve N via Washington N every 10mins.

    Routes 3 and 4 wiill become high freq routes

  10. angela

    Run the /22 to Henn Ave to 7th Street but replace #23 East @38th St LRT station to Vets or Highland improving services to 20mins
    #7 run also the entire Washington S every15mins Southend and split at 46th St station to 28th Ave and 34 Ave .Currently 7/22 are 1/4 mile apart .

    #23 run Uptown to LRT station only with 20mins headways on 38th Street with the savings .

    The lightly used North Mpls 7 replace with #30 on Ply Ave N since 14 is available to Broadway .C 5 19 22 14 are all nearby.

    N Washington rts 6 can layover by 6th Ave .

  11. Andrew Evans

    Thinking out loud…

    I really wonder where those people are going. Someone could easily live in the North Loop and never have to wonder outside of the neighborhood for entertainment, groceries, and some shopping. Most bus routes go through downtown, and it would be a short walk or short transit trip to catch a bus or train. Add in affordable grocery or shopping delivery service and it makes it that much easier.

    The same goes for across the river. It’s a pretty compact neighborhood that someone could live around there and not really have the need to venture out for daily shopping.

    Also the city in a way has put their blessing on this neighborhood centric idea once they extended meters to 24 hours a day. It’s harder and more expensive for residents to have a vehicle when they work outside the area and outside bus service. Due to that, and the fiasco that was the fed reserve parking ramp, I’d think most new residents are looking and expecting to live, work, and play around the immediate neighborhood and downtown.

    Washington Ave where it trims down to one lane is a nightmare during rush hours, and the length of it isn’t all that much better. Although I haven’t taken them, 3rd and 4th seem busy as well since they terminate or feed into freeway ramps. 1st and 2nd don’t go all the way through, and have stop signs that get congested – although for me (since river road is closed there) it isn’t a terrible detour. Across the river, University is pretty busy although better now that it’s repainted, and 3rd/Central although with Hennepin are busy and either get backed up at University or I would assume (I don’t usually take them into downtown for rush hour) get backed up around Washington.

    I’m not a transit export other than what I experience going through that end of downtown most days after work on my way home, or in the morning now that River Road has a detour. However, it seems like more work would need to be done than just adding a few buses here and there.

    Then finally, going a few blocks for transit isn’t a huge deal and is done in other cities. Sometimes in NYC a station takes a few underground blocks, and a transfer is walking the length of it. This would be similar to someone walking from 1st to Washington in the North Loop. Also in NYC it seemed to take 20 to 30 min to get anywhere with transit, which may be similar to the way things are now. I know they aren’t exactly the same, only that the expectation or goal may not always be a bus outside everyone’s building or a useful stop on everyones block.

    1. Monte Castleman

      No matter how nice your area is, eventually you feel trapped and want to get out. I know several people that lived in Hawaii. Lucky them you think but they couldn’t take it and left because everything costs a bazillion dollars relative to the mainland, and they felt psychologically trapped. No matter how nice it is ultimately you’re surrounded by ocean and can’t easily leave.

      Living without a car in the North Loop, especially if you’re new to it, I’d imagine would present the same sort of issues. You don’t have the option of driving out to Hy-Vee to save money by getting a weeks worth of groceries inexpensively. You can’t easily take a day trip to Taylor’s Falls. Or even to Valleyfair or to visit your friend that lives in Chaska. The one person I know that lives there he likes the vibe, but he owns a car.

      Even getting groceries delivered from an inexpensive place it adds to the cost because of tipping and delivery fees. And there’s something about being able to pick out your own steaks and bulk oranges and from what I can tell the Walmart app at least you can’t even order stuff like that, only pre-packaged stuff that has identical unit prices.

      1. Andrew Evans

        I visited a friend in Hawaii for a long week a little more than 10 years ago. They had a small condo just off Waikiki Beach. We got a ride around the south half of the island with another one of his friends that had a car, then went to their place on some random housing development in the south for dinner. That whole tour took maybe half the day.

        So yes, if a person didn’t golf, surf, or have a involved job there, it would get extremely boring quickly. I can’t comment on housing, but costs then weren’t that much more, although it’s a few dollars here and there, so I’m sure they would add up.

        That said, the direction the city is going with banning cars will be more neighborhood centric shopping, entertainment, and less venturing out. It is what it is, and would really bring us more in line with what I’ve seen in larger city France (and I’d imagine Europe) than anything. Which may or may not be fine, and may be similar to other larger cities here in the US, but it’s going to be a change.

        Likewise if it’s harder to drive to places for entertainment, less folks from outside those neighborhoods are going to make the trek. Yes, I know there are cabs, ubers, etc, however if on a whim we want to go to dinner, and have a car, why spend more and wait for transit than driving somewhere? If parking in the downtown zone is $2 an hour, which is fine, but another place is free, and it’s not a special event, then guess where we’re going? If parking at one place takes a few min to drive to a ramp, or drive around the block a few times, then a walk in, versus parking close or in a lot directly by the destination, guess where we’re going to go?

        The same goes for those living in that neighborhood. It may take too much time or be too cumbersome to venture out all that often, so they may spend more of their time in.

        It’s really not right or wrong, only a shift that’s taking place from being more mobile to staying in more of a defined area.

    2. Rosa

      people might have jobs in other places, even if it’s just the other end of downtown. And most people have friends in other neighborhoods who do sometimes insist you come to them instead of them always coming to you (especially if they drive cars and the parking is metered where you live. Just from Powderhorn I’m always biking or taking the bus far south to places that are easy for the car people.)

  12. tim paray

    #18 now layover near 4th Ave so there are plenty of services, so is the LRT most people have 1/4 mile walk or less .
    They could restructure routes downtown and stagger their schedules for high frequencies on Washington N & S.

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