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.
The 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.
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.
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
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.
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.