Evaluation of The Riverview Corridor Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) and Options for Improved Service, Performance, and Lower Costs

Editor’s note: This was originally published under an incorrect byline. We regret the error.

The Riverview Corridor LPA for a “Modern Streetcar”, from Downtown St. Paul to MSP and the Mall of America, progressed through numerous approval steps in 2018 and 2019.  Despite efforts by myself and others to point out deficiencies in the LPA concept and suggest alternative solutions, the project continues, unburdened by the requirement to consider more viable options.  It is now time to enter the Project Development phase. Requests for Proposal will soon be initiated and approved for millions of dollars of consulting work, which will cast the flawed LPA concept in concrete.   Before this happens, I and other advocates for a comprehensive regional transit system believe it is important to discuss the deficiencies and again advocate that alternatives be considered in the Project Development phase.  The Riverview Corridor is vitally important to the transit future of the region. It must be done right. There won’t be money or time for a do over!

Importance of the Riverview Corridor

Convenient, reliable, and timely access to an international airport is critical to every modern metropolitan area. And anyone in the eastern third of the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area, riding transit to the Airport, must pass through the Riverview Corridor (the “Corridor”) to get there. This makes the Corridor one of the three most important regional transit routes in the Twin Cities (i.e. the “Transit Triangle” with the Blue line and Green line, connecting Downtown Minneapolis, Downtown St. Paul and the Airport). This leg of the triangle is especially important to Downtown St. Paul because, as the eastern crossroads for transit riders, it gives Downtown St. Paul access to a much wider range of prospective employees and visitors, and as more inter-city Amtrak and buses are added,  it reinforces the St. Paul Union Depot as a major Gateway to the Twin Cities.

Recognizing these facts can serve St. Paul well. It is the essential rationale for building Light Rail Transit (LRT) in the Corridor because rail transit is needed to serve both a local ridership and a regional ridership.  And it should be the clarion call to St. Paul and the East Metro to take action. But time is running out. Ramsey County is advancing its streetcar proposal to environmental review and, though construction may be many years off, will soon harden its Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) – and St. Paul’s and the East Metro’s fate – into a transit-poor future.  The following are the major concerns, as we see them:

St. Paul is Most Directly Affected – But No Plan for Rail in the Corridor

The majority of the Corridor is located in St. Paul, which is responsible for planning, zoning and public service delivery all along the Corridor between downtown and the river. Yet, all the planning and design of the LPA was done by Ramsey County. Over the lengthy design period, St. Paul did have representatives on the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) and the Policy Advisory Committee (PAC) , but there was no St. Paul plan to guide these people for what the City wanted to achieve with transit in the Corridor. No planning had been done before or during this process for rail-transit-based-changes in Zoning, Redevelopment, public services, or the City’s comprehensive plan.

In fact, neither Ramsey County nor the Metropolitan Council had any specific plans for what needed to be achieved within the Corridor, even though the Corridor is the key artery for the eastern third of the Metropolitan Area.  Had there been coordinated rail transit planning at the Metropolitan, County and City levels, the regional importance of the Corridor and the implications for the County and City would have been apparent.

Ford Site

The Ford Site is one of the most extraordinary development opportunities in the country because, among other things, it is 132 contiguous acres in the center of a major metropolitan area, close to two downtowns, an international airport, a seventy mile river park overseen by the National Park Service and many other scenic, historic, recreational, sports, and shopping attractions, not to mention 3,800 housing units and diverse employment opportunities adding approximately 8,000 new people to the area.

A major practical and political problem with the Ford Site is the lack of arterial highway access. Virtually all access will need to be on local streets that are already congested.  Highland residents affected by the congestion are deeply concerned, knowing that 3,800 additional residential units plus commercial development will not make this situation better. A solution is needed that will diminish the number of auto trips generated by the site.

When considering the alternative for including the Ford site in the LPA, the decision was made to exclude it, but offer a parallel study of the transit needs of the site.  This was to be completed by now, but based on inquiries by the writer, has not been started. Nor, has any notice been taken of transit needs of the area in the Ford Site development plans.

There is a solution and it emanates from the primary appeal of the location – in the middle of the region, close to three of its largest destination and employment centers.  Many people moving to the Ford Site will work in or regularly visit these centers and other destinations on the LRT system. So, the Ford Site is a development crying out for rail transit, to be part of the region’s LRT system; it could make the Ford Development a transit-based community, significantly reducing the use of automobiles.

As explained below, the Ford Site is on the best and lowest cost route for rail transit in the Corridor, including the crossing of the Mississippi River.  But the LPA ignores all of this.

LPA River Crossing

The LPA crosses the Mississippi River along Highway 5 at Fort Snelling, completely ignoring the Ford Site. Only two potential crossings were considered by the LPA: Highway 5 at Fort Snelling and the Ford Bridge. The possibility of a new crossing between these two alternatives was only briefly mentioned and then discarded without evaluation.

The Ford Bridge crossing was eliminated due to strong opposition from the SE Minneapolis neighborhood. Residents pointed out that the Minneapolis side is already well served by the Blue Line with related buses and does not need additional transit service, the proposed street rights-of-way are too narrow, and crossing both Highway 55 and the parallel rail line would be very difficult and costly. It would also add fifteen minutes to Airport travel time. It is understandable that this alternative was eliminated.

The LPA’s selected crossing at Historic Fort Snelling State Park is highly problematic.  It will require a new bridge across the river gorge, parallel to Highway 5 and then a long tunnel (cut and cover) that requires blasting through Historic Fort Snelling in a narrow alignment parallel and adjoining the Highway 5 tunnel while remaining south and west of the historic Cavalry Barracks, which are designated to become the new visitor center.  The tunnel must make a sharp turn northward for several hundred feet before emerging. The route then bridges over Highway 55 and eventually joins the Blue Line east of the airport. The Riverview development staff estimates the cost of this segment will total $520 million.

The route traverses an area with some of the most important Native American and Minnesota significance.  It has deep historic and spiritual significance to Native Americans and particularly important historic significance to the early development of Minnesota, stretching through WWII.  And, the site has important archaeological importance for both.

Moreover, as the site of the confluence of both the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers in a wide river valley with steep sandstone and limestone bluffs and hills formed by the glaciers, the area has enormous environmental importance, including designation as both a Critical Area under state law and as part of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, administered by the National Park Service.

Given all these issues, it might be expected that the PAC would explore alternatives to the two existing crossings, but the PAC deliberately excluded a new crossing from consideration.

Alternative Ford Site River Crossing

Had the PAC considered a new crossing, it would have soon become apparent that there is only one alternative, but it is a very good alternative.  A new crossing from the Ford Site would have minimal problems and much lower cost than either Highway 5 or the Ford Bridge and it would eliminate all the problems of the Highway 5 – Fort Snelling crossing. This one ideal location would cross the river from the SW corner of the Ford Site, over the 54th & Hiawatha intersection and up 54th to the Blue Line, just above the Veterans Hospital station.  A Ford Station would be located on the CP Spur property, just west of Cleveland Avenue.

Riverview Corridor

The bridge would be for transit and pedestrian/bike trails only, thus avoiding the land use and infrastructure requirements of automobile traffic.

It is also important to note that the policies of the National Park Service management plan specifically do not prohibit a new river crossing.

The geology, geography and length of this crossing are very similar to that of the Highway 5 crossing, so it is assumed that this bridge would be about the same price, or $170 million.  We estimate that a bridge over the Highway 55 crossing and then up a quarter mile to the Blue Line would cost an additional $50 million and then we add another $50 million for other costs.  This totals $270 million, $250 million less than the LPA.

This alternative crossing would eliminate all the problems with the Fort Snelling crossing, would serve the Ford Site and reduce congestion, and it would save a quarter billion dollars!

Alternative Route

It is very difficult to establish a new route for rail transit in an already built-up urban area.  Most transit planners can only dream of an existing graded linear route through the corridor they want to serve.  But in the case of Riverview, no dreaming is required. The Canadian Pacific’s unused Ford Spur provides a route west, straight to the single best location to cross the river at the Ford Site and running east all the way to Western Street & Grace Ave.  From this eastern point, the transit route can bridge over the Union Pacific tracks and follow Shepard Road to Downtown St. Paul. The Spur is available for purchase and is wide enough for both bicycle and pedestrian trails alongside (the St. Paul Department of Planning & Economic Development has prepared an excellent study of the Spur, which confirms this).  The Spur would eliminate any rail transit on West 7th Street, especially in the eastern entertainment district.  Sidewalks could be widened, pedestrians will be safer and business will be able to grow.

But this Crown Jewel of the Riverview Corridor was virtually ignored by the Riverview Corridor study committee.  The spur alignment goes through the middle of the Corridor rather than the edge, like W 7th St. and could save as much as $100 million in road reconstruction costs.

Reliability of Streetcar (on 7th) versus LRT (on dedicated ROW)

Reliability is one of the most important attributes sought by transit riders to the Airport, both air passengers and Airport employees. A single unit streetcar, traveling on a public road with autos, trucks, school buses, emergency vehicles, construction equipment, utility repairs, pedestrians, bicycles, scooters, turning vehicles, stalled vehicles, snowplows, etc., will not be reliable, not to mention rush hour, snow, ice, storms, accidents and other causes of congestion. An LRT System on a dedicated alignment would eliminate virtually all of these issues.

Scalability of the LPA

Any increase in the number of units of the streetcar from the LPA’s proposed single unit, or any increase in the frequency of the streetcars, will cause a corresponding increase in congestion along West 7th Street. Likewise, any increase in traffic along West 7th Street will have a corresponding diminishment of the ability of the streetcar to meet its schedule and capacity. Moreover, it is unlikely that the number of streetcar units linked together could ever exceed two, because of the short blocks along West 7th Street and in Downtown St. Paul; otherwise portions of the train would block traffic on cross streets.

All of these problems are necessarily incumbent and inescapable with a streetcar and virtually all of these problems are eliminated with LRT that follows its own dedicated guideway. It is fully possible to have LRT with its own dedicated guideway in this Corridor; LRT should not be, and does not need to be on West 7th Street; LRT is likely to be more efficient with much greater scalability than streetcar; and LRT trip times from end to end are likely to be shorter and more reliable than streetcar. The key is that rail transit be on its own dedicated guideway.

Trip Time Favors LRT

A recent study was done to compare velocities and trip times of the LPA modern streetcar with current bus and the alternative route configuration recommended above.  The comparisons were based on current Metro bus schedules, Modern Streetcar projections and observed streetcar performances in other locales. Importantly, the Riverview Modern Streetcar offers no improvement in transit times between downtown and the airport compared to the current 54 Express bus. Conversely, projected light rail configurations operating completely off West 7th through dedicated corridors, and using performance metrics taken from existing Denver and Los Angeles LRT systems with similar configurations, would make the trip between downtown and MSP at least four minutes faster than the proposed Modern Streetcar, even while serving the Ford Site. This is a significant, 30+% mobility improvement for Riverview riders that is simply unavailable with the proposed West 7th streetcar alignment…even if not encumbered by street traffic.

Downtown Concerns

Entertainment District – Demands and Conflicts 

The first mile of West Seventh west of Kellogg Pkwy is fast becoming a major entertainment district related to the Xcel and other venues. This is also the narrowest portion of West Seventh with a lot of traffic, pedestrians and congestion. Running a streetcar, even just one way, through this area will increase congestion, add to delays and travel time and decrease overall transit reliability. Moreover, the growing pedestrian volumes in this area require wider and safer sidewalks, not narrower and more dangerous sidewalks. Rail transit should not be on West Seventh.

Similar constraints exist on 5th Street, from its intersection with 7th to Cedar St. where the LPA envisions joining the existing Green line tracks. This street is a principal entrance to Downtown from I-94 and I-35W, and is relatively narrow. It is presently congested at times of high volume traffic. Blocks are short, and buses frequently fill one entire traffic lane per traffic light cycle. Delivery trucks frequently fill another lane. 6th street has similar issues including the potential crossover turn from Green line tracks on Cedar to 6th street – going uphill. Addition of a streetcar will only make these problems worse.

Mid and Lowertown Congestion 

Currently, Green Line trains operate every 10 minutes, resulting in trains crossing streets from Cedar to the St. Paul Union Depot (SPUD) on the average of every 5 minutes. With a similar Riverview streetcar schedule, this would decrease to every 2.5 minutes…if all goes well. And, if actual schedules vary, there could be similar delays and congestion as the trains merge. A third track could be installed east of Minnesota St. but that would completely cut off 4th St. for auto, delivery and emergency vehicles. Some additional space consideration would have to be given for the streetcar turn-around at SPUD.

Disruption Due to Construction 

The estimated two year LPA construction period for demolishing and rebuilding downtown streets and sidewalks and storm sewer, sanitary sewer, water supply, gas utilities, electric utilities, communications utilities, district heating, street lighting, stop lights, signage, etc. to build one eastbound line on one street and one westbound line on another street will be enormously costly and disruptive to Downtown St. Paul. There are alternatives that will not cause this disruption.

Competition for All Modes of Surface Transportation on Existing Rights-of-Way Downtown St. Paul 

There is currently much activity regarding establishment of separated bicycle- only lanes, similar to the Capital Bikeway development on Jackson Street. These will further constrict lanes for auto traffic in the downtown area. Major developments such as the River Front project, as well as projected population growth, will place additional stress on downtown streets.

All of these factors should be considered in a comprehensive downtown traffic strategic plan and underline the importance of avoiding rail transit on Downtown streets.

A Better Way to Serve Downtown St. Paul

It is important that rail transit in Downtown St. Paul pass through the Downtown area, and then terminate at the St. Paul Union Depot.  But, downtown St. Paul streets are not conducive to rail transit. The solution is to construct a short tunnel under a portion of Downtown as shown here:

Downtown Riverview Corridor

The geology under Downtown, in particular the St Peter Sandstone, is particularly conducive to tunneling. It is suggested that a tunnel through this formation begin with an open air station adjacent to the Xcel and then pass below the Xcel to an underground station at Landmark Center and a second underground station below the existing Central Station.  The tunnel would end at the river bluff below Kellogg Blvd and Minnesota Street, where it would follow the existing CP rail alignment to the St. Paul Union Depot.

Conclusion: Streetcar in the Riverview Corridor Seals the Transit-Poor Fate of the East Metro

There will be no do-overs.  Once $2+ billion is spent on the streetcar, the East Metro will have to live with this for generations.  The CP-Spur will be gone – the sale of only one parcel along the spur can destroy the opportunity for a dedicated guideway and it will be far less likely that even a trail for bikes or pedestrians can be built.  The streetcar will never have the capacity, scalability or the reliability that is required in this Corridor. It will be far less likely that LRT is built beyond St. Paul if passengers always have to get off, find the streetcar and wonder when they would reach the airport.

Transit riders in the East Metro will be condemned to a transit-poor future with limited access to the West Metro’s LRT system.  Communities in the East Metro will be condemned to sub-standard growth as businesses and investors shift the preponderance of investment to the west metro.  Without this stimulant, East Metro communities will have a lower tax base and fewer resources to invest in schools, roads, services and public utilities.

At the present time there are no efforts underway at the municipal, county or metropolitan levels to plan, fund and build an LRT system in the East Metro.  Even if planning started today, it would be more than thirty years before the East Metro had a system comparable to the West Metro.

Inaction and misguided action (such as the streetcar) have condemned the East Metro to this transit-poor fate, but it is not too late for the East Metro to reject the streetcar and demand that the Metropolitan Council step forward and lead a determined program that creates a transit-rich future for the East Metro, with LRT as the backbone of the regional transit system.

About James Schoettler

Jim Schoettler is a resident of the Highland area of Saint Paul. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota school of Architecture with a Bachelor degree in Environmental Design and an MBA from the Carlson School at UofM. He started his career as a planner at the Met Council. Recently retired from Wells Fargo, he is active in civic affairs and is a founding member of Citizen Advocates for Regional Transit (C-A-R-T) www.citizensforregionaltransit.org

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29 thoughts on “Evaluation of The Riverview Corridor Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) and Options for Improved Service, Performance, and Lower Costs

  1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    There’s clearly a lot to chew on here, so I’ll just make a few quick points. I was a Saint Paul representative (for Ward 2) on the Technical Advisory Committee. IIRC, we chatted a few times during the meetings.

    -Your idea for a bridge location is interesting and, you are correct, was not one of the options.
    -We did look at the spur alignment pretty closely. I was one of the people pushing to advocate for it, especially in a few key points near and west of 35E.
    -I have asked about “single-unit streetcar” and whether or not having multiple cars at muptiple car platforms, which was part of the conversation, is still on the table. You can link streetcars together, or alternately some streetcars like these in Toronto can be very long indeed! (https://s3.amazonaws.com/btoimage/prism-thumbnails/articles/8b27-2013723-streetcar8.jpg-resize_then_crop-frame_bg_color_FFF-h_1365-gravity_center-q_70-preserve_ratio_true-w_2048.webp) Platform size is the key limitation right now, I think.
    -The subway idea is interesting. I don’t know why we don’t talk about downtown tunnels in MSP, but we don’t for some reason.

    Thanks for the post! I’m slightly skeptical about Federal funding right now, and very curious about seeing what happens next with planning.

  2. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

    I enjoyed reading this piece. I agree with the premise that the Riverview LPA is badly flawed, and disagree completely with nearly every suggestion made here.

    What are the elements of successful transit operation? Frequency, reliability, capacity, and speed. What are the elements of a successful transit route? Legibility and proximity to a high density of uses.

    Sometimes these goals can conflict. For instance, bringing Riverview Rail closer to the Ford Site would bring it closer to a future high density of uses, but it will also badly harm the legibility of the route. In another instance, running Riverview Rail on West 7th improves legibility and proximity to a high density of uses, but exposes it to potential operational difficulties.

    Navigating these trade-offs and finding compromise solutions is often difficult. In the first example, I do not see a way to serve the Ford Site properly and also provide the legible, fast, and direct service to the airport and MOA that is needed. The added time, up to ten minutes, is simply unacceptable, and a station on the far SE corner of the site, as proposed here, is not adequate in my view. I’ve written about an alternative approach to serving the Ford Site by connecting it to a Midtown Rail route.

    But in contrast, I believe concerns about operations on West 7th and in downtown can be overcome. The simple solution is to give Riverview Rail dedicated transit right-of-way, and tell the local opposition to get with the program. The convenience of a handful of curbside parking spaces and multiple lanes of car traffic should not be allowed to conflict with the operation of transit down this important corridor. Useful transit carries people far more efficiently than single-occupancy-vehicles, and it should be given priority that is commensurate with that. Business owners who insist they cannot operate without parking directly out front can sell their businesses to the many new owners who can.

    (I’m also a bit confused by the assertion that three car trains cannot operate on St. Paul’s small blocks, when they already do so at 10th St Station and Union Depot Station. This is a significant issue for Portland, which has 200′ blocks, but not St. Paul.)

    The blind spot in this piece is shared by the original study: an unwillingness to prioritize transit explicitly over car travel. But in order for Riverview Rail to be successful, that is the main hurdle that must be overcome. Avoiding car congestion in downtown St. Paul (a non-existent problem today by any comparative metric) cannot be given more priority than moving light rail trains. If Ramsey County and St. Paul accept that, then the rest falls into place.

    1. Elizabeth Larey

      I am concerned when people make statements like “business owners who insist they cannot operate without parking directly in front of their business can sell to the many new owners who can”, This seems like a rather callous remark to many whose businesses have been there for decades. Would there be a possibility to locate parking ramps in this corridor in order to facilitate transit? I don’t think its fair to say “ tell the local opposition to get with the program”. They should have a say in what happens with transit, they live and work there.

      1. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

        Is it more callous than “tens of thousands of transit riders should sit in car traffic every day so that I can have a handful of parking spaces directly in front of my business”?

        When street space is limited, someone isn’t going to get what they want.

    2. Jerome Johnson

      The way the proposed off-7th Riverview LRT can serve the Ford site and still get riders from downtown to MSPTerminal 1 is to run 10 mph faster at 33 mph (including stops) than either the 54 Express bus (23 mph) or the surprisingly slow Modern Streetcar (21 mph). It does so by running at typical light rail speeds over a dedicated, unimpaired right of way parallel to West 7th that only actually crosses West 7th once, at the east end of Sibley Plaza. This dedicated ROW is mainly the CP Spur west of Randolph and most likely near Shepard Road east of Randolph. Stations are also at least one mile apart to meet normal LRT specs but nonetheless located in highly developable locales. These locales include, but not limited to, Sibley Plaza, Otto Street and West 7th/Randolph thanks to the geography of the CPR Spur ROW itself. The track location as proposed minimizes street interference and construction disruption, provides for optimum station location and yet addresses a community objective by allowing much of West 7th (St. Clair and Lexington areas come to mind) to develop at a more deliberate pace.

      The faster speed of the off-7th ROW allows for Xcel to MSP service in 17 minutes compared to current 20 minutes via 54 Express and a slow 23 minutes proposed for Modern Streetcar. At $2 billion for a system to actually move riders slower than what is in place should make one stop, take notice and ask if the disruption to West 7th traffic and the businesses depending on that thoroughfare is truly worth it? It also compels one to wonder just what they were thinking as the Modern Streetcar scheme got legs and then rode the groupthink bandwagon to LPA fruitition. Any ideas out there as to how this happened?

      Another longer run collateral benefit of routing Riverview through Ford and then over the river as proposed would be the provision for a wye to be built connecting to the Blue Line somewhere around 54th that would enable single seat service from, say, Sibley Plaza and the Ford Site to/from Downtown Minneapolis. One can only imagine what single seat rides from those locales to/from downtown Minneapolis, downtown STP and MSP can do to spur development of those areas.

      1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

        The Ford site route was studied at length during the process and ultimately rejected because ridership numbers would be about the same, despite serving more people through Ford. That’s because a lot of the market for going to and from the MSP airport is actually on the Southwest end of the route, near the Shepard/Davern area. For those people, instead of a 10 minute trip to the airport, it would be a 20+ minute trip, miles out of the way. A lot of ridership drops off with that choice, and probably is better served by the existing 54 bus.

        Ideally, we would do both, build a spur going up to Ford ALSO, kind of like the WYE you suggest here.

        1. Jerome Johnson

          The Ford Site ridership estimated by the LPA study was bad because that study routed the line over the river via the 46th Street bridge and then swung north of 46th before joining the Blue Line north of the 46th Street Station. They also threw in two low patronage, completely unnecessary stations between Sibley Plaza and the main Ford Site station. Trip times were indeed bad and ridership suffered as a result. You cannot help but wonder why the consultants doing that study so blatantly skewed the Ford Site outcome. The CART proposal presented by Mr. Schoetller uses a new bridge and dedicated right of way to route its classic LRT alternative through the site and to the Blue Line in a manner that adds only a few minutes to the five-minute Sibley Plaza – MSP Terminal 1 trip via the LPA and/or 54 Express. The CART plan actually shortens the Sibley Plaza -Terminal 2 and Sibley – MOA trips compared to current 54 Express. Then, should you add a wye connection to the Blue Line so as to provide fast, single seat LRT trips from the site to MSP and downtown, it is hard not to envision dramatic ridership gains.

      2. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

        Doesn’t make sense to me to run Riverview Rail in an alignment that is useless to most of the people and businesses on West 7th Street, all in order to serve the Ford Site. That’s robbing Peter to pay Paul.

        Instead of twisting the alignment into a pretzel avoid all these impacts (inevitably creating new, different impacts, as SWLRT and Bottineau LRT have discovered), it’s far more direct and sensible to have the simplest alignment—straight down West 7th—and address the impacts from that directly.

        1. Jerome Johnson

          The pure LRT alignment contemplated, mostly over the CP Spur, would serve most – possibly up to 80% – of the business on West 7th without actually compromising the thoroughfare, as Modern Streetcar would do. That’s because the most promising development zones are at Randolph and West 7th, where the spur comes within half block of the intersection and a long city block from the Schmidt Brewery complex, at Sibley Plaza, where the spur basically bisects the developable real estate, and at Otto, where the Spur comes within a walkable two blocks of West 7th. As stated, only the St. Clair and Lexington areas would be the only commercial zones of any consequence left to develop as they would without Modern Streetcar, a concession to the neighborhoods and to all the business on West 7th fearing the sort of construction disruption that affected University when the slow moving Green Line was built down the median.

    3. Jay Severance

      As a St Paul downtown resident, I have to take issue with your dismissal of the issue of running streetcars or LRT on St Paul downtown streets. I think that the “blind spot” in the many Riverview Corridor alternatives is that all of them assumed the same downtown configuration, without any consideration of the impacts on downtown traffic flow.

      I agree that the current three car LRT configurations could operate on 5th, 6th, and 7th streets as projected, but with a dedicated ROW, those streets would be relegated to the same one lane configuration as Cedar south of 10th and 4th street East of Cedar to Union Depot, which is a “dead zone” for on-street business or activity.

      I agree that “today” we seldom see the gridlock one might experience elsewhere. Meanwhile, city planners are busily planning more dedicated bike lanes and loops…and more one way streets to accommodate them. Unless they stand back and consider what the future city demographics and mobility require, we will have gridlock in the future.

      It is easy to say that we should prioritize transit over autos, but we can’t ignore that there will be autos and bikes and scooters and pedestrians to deal with alongside the LRT. A tunnel may be the best alternative to do that.

      Lastly, could you explain what you mean by “legibility” in a transit sense? Thanks.

      1. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

        By “legibility” I mean routes that are easily understood and intuitive. The straightest route between two points is a line. Any departure from that makes the route less legible. One of the initiatives of the aBRT projects that Metro Transit is doing is to take routes that are unnecessarily complicated, with jogs and branches, and make them straight and easy to understand.

        In the Riverview context, the most legible solution is “there is a train that runs straight from downtown to the airport on West 7th,” and when you start to add the CP spur, or a jog up to Ford, etc. etc. it can get very complicated and circuitous.

        For downtown St. Paul, we need to start by remembering that transit can hold a lot more people than cars. So even through road space might be moved from cars to transit (or bikes) the amount of people who can use that space is actually increasing. In a future where downtown St. Paul becomes much more populous and economically active, it will need a lot more dedicated space for transit (and bikes and pedestrians), not less, since there simply will not be enough space for everyone to use a car.

  3. Brendan O'Shea

    We could do aBRT on West 7th and have a faster, equally frequent ride for $1 billion less. What happened during the planning process to lead us to spend more for a slower, far more expensive transit option? Our two aBRT lines have been hugely successful. Unless we’re going to upzone all of West 7th to 6+ stories, rail doesn’t make sense for this corridor.

    1. Eric Ecklund

      You know what else has been hugely successful? Our two light rail lines.

      Route 54 is already close to being ABRT, so upgrading it to ABRT would be a minuscule upgrade. However it would be nice to have articulated buses on this route all day.

    2. Monte Castleman

      Looking at the huge number of people that refuse to ride buses in any form but will ride rail is probably one of the things that happened in the planning process. No, you can’t build rail lines everywhere but if there’s one more place in the metro that rail makes sense, this is it since you can serve both local commuters and tourists that want to go to downtown St. Paul.

      1. Eric Ecklund

        And there’s already light rail infrastructure at both ends so why not take advantage of that?

  4. Bill Siegel

    This is a really interesting idea. I also agree with a lot of Alex’s comment. Except for Alex says the addition of 10 minutes to the commute to serve the Ford site is too much. That’s the same argument they tried to use on the Green Line to skip half the stops. The lightrail needs to serve the community it runs through, not just the end point users. An extra 10 minutes for the end to end users isn’t that bad if it can significantly expand the range and ridership of the whole system.

  5. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

    Too many people get confused by the terms “streetcar” and “LRT”. It’s the same vehicle deployed two different ways. It’s a streetcar if it runs in mixed traffic AND stops every block or two. It’s LRT if it has its own traffic-free right of way and longer distances between stops.

    The proposed Riverview Line is something of a hybrid. It’s an LRT that happens to have some street running in mixed traffic, but also has significant amounts of traffic-free right of way and longer distances between stops. There is nothing preventing the use of multi-car trains if ridership requires it.

    1. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

      If they build small stations, but eventually want to use larger trains, it’ll require either a costly retrofit, or a terrible skip-stop system with each LRV serving only certain stops, and passengers having to remember which one to board.

      The lack of dedicated ROW is the biggest problem with the project, but it’s also more easily fixed in the future. Much more permanent damage will be done if they choose “streetcar”-size stations.

      1. Andrew Evans

        How is the skip stop system worse than express trans in other cities? Commuters will just have to pay more attention, or go to a main stop and backtrack.

        Also, to do an express system would involve an additional express rail around some stops and take more room. Not sure that’s currently planned for with existing rail, or in the plans for anything in the future.

        Any smaller sized solution that runs on city streets would more than likely be sized limited by traffic and streets than any platform or station. Yes it would be a choice, but on the flip side our current light rail system wouldn’t be able to stop every few blocks and serve the community the way a street car style system would. So there is that trade off.

        1. Stuart

          Except that we’re not talking about having local trains that stop everywhere and Commuter trains that usually travel from a far flung suburb quickly and directly to a center city.

          We’re talking about having some trains just skip a few stops in the middle. There would be no option for longer trains to pass the shorter trains that stop and improve long distance travel times. It would just mess up train spacing and be confusing.

          There is an argument for putting an express train for end-to-end service on blue, green, and riverview lines, but that is not what we are talking about here and would be impossible to do with our current rail design.

          1. Monte Castleman

            Since we’ve built the Green Line to be functionally no better than a streetcar with few grade separations and all those extra stops so close together you can actually see one stop from another I wonder if it”s time to start looking at fast rail between the downtowns along I-94 or one of the railroad corridors.

            1. Jerome Johnson

              Might I suggest the CP’s Merriam Park subdivision for that particular rail transit application? This would be the route running alongside Ayd Mill Road now used by Amtrak and a mere three to four other freights per day. That traffic can be more efficiently routed to one of the other three freight rail pathways currently in use between the St Paul Union Depot area and northeast Minneapolis. I-94 is a credible idea and one can argue that the Green Line should have been put there in the first place, but you wonder how the politics of locating another rail transit option so close to the Green Line Streetcar would go down.

              Lots of details for the time and space at hand, but such a rail transit route via the Merriam Sub would have just a few stops – Chestnut Street & Shepard, West 7th at Schmidt Brewery, Snelling & Marshall come to mind – before leaving the MP sub itself to find its way to Downtown Minneapolis. There are several options for this, none really ideal but all probably workable:

              One such option would include staying on the CP right of way over the Mississippi that becomes colocated west of the river with the Midtown Greenway and then merging with the Blue Line between Lake and Franklin (There is room for this);

              Another would be to join the Green Line near Prior and University where at least some of the slow University Avenue street running would be avoided and the high volume U of M East Bank served;

              Another would be to cross the Green Line at the former Amtrak Station and continue along the edge of the freight RR right of way to a point near U of M’s TCF stadium before rejoining the Green Line. There are more.

              Something like this may not occur in my lifetime, but could very well occur in yours or your offspring’s. But it, combined with efficient and seamless bus/walk-to-rail transfer stations, would make a vast improvement in East Metro rider mobility and transit equity. The Green Line as it operates in the City of St. Paul does not.

            2. Dan

              The biggest problem with the speed of the green line is that it doesn’t have signal priority along most of its route – not that it has station spacing appropriate for LRT instead of heavy or commuter rail. Most of its ridership is not downtown-downtown, but on the stations in-between. However it could certainly be faster between downtowns if it had the same signal prioritization as the blue line, which should have been implemented from the start.

              1. Jerome johnson

                Of the two sources of delay imposed on current Green Line streetcar-like operations versus clean LRT movements, street interference, as you point out, causes two thirds and frequent station stops one third. Means that a clean LRT running down University Avenue not stopping for cars at Snelling (especially) and even at Dale, Lex, Prior and Prospect Park AND not having to deal with lightly used stations at Western, Victoria, Hamline and Prospect would run 8 minutes faster between the state capitol and U of M east bank. You could up that to 10 minutes if the LRT right of way existed off University and, say, along an unimpaired pathway on the north side of I-94. Now you are talking serious transit time savings when all sources are factored. Means serious, private sector, up-zoned, higher density development would go down at station locales EAST of Snelling. Not seeing that today. That, one suspects would add riders at the higher density remaining stations to more than offset what is lost from eliminating the lower density stations like Victoria and Western.

        2. Dan

          I don’t think that other cities having poorly performing transit is any reason for us to plan poorly performing transit for ourselves. Express trains are usually run on heavy rail (like subways or the Chicago L) where there are multiple tracks in at least enough places for express trains to pass by others stopped at a station. I don’t know that there are any examples of this for street-running rail transit.

          Trains are indeed limited by platform size, as people have to be able enter/exit from each car. If the platform is only long enough for one car, only one car can be boarded, even if there are 3 running together. A platform that serves 1 car or 3 could take up the same width of roadway-its the length that makes the difference. So what gets built (and the resulting arrangement of the tracks) matters a lot for a full LRT upgrade.

          In all transit planning I think there is a balance between serving the local and the regional (or there at least should be). However, the two are not mutually exclusive – the same neighbor could need to take the train 5 blocks away one day, and all the way to the end on another. The tradeoff for not having many local stops is increased speed and reduced accessibility for local users. The tradeoff for having too many stops is that the line is much slower and drives those who need to go a medium or long distance to other modes. Commuter rail like northstar is something like the first extreme, and streetcar or bus is something like the second extreme. LRT hits the sweet spot in the middle.

          A route that connects the two existing LRT lines, and downtown St Paul with the airport is a regionally important route that deserves to be fast enough for people to want to use it to connect between those things. The density of local businesses and number of neighborhoods that center on West 7th make it a locally important corridor, and residents and business patrons shouldn’t have to walk far to reach a station for transit that takes them quickly along the corridor. Full LRT is an ideal way of balancing those local and regional needs to provide high quality, high ridership transit.

  6. GlowBoy

    I like the idea for siting a new rail crossing from the Ford plant to 54th. Although I wouldn’t want to build a new bridge anywhere further downstream – the Hidden Falls/dog park area is one of the most natural stretches of the Mississippi in the metro area, and should be preserved as such – the location proposed is close enough to the not-so-natural Ford Dam and Veterans’ Home that I think it wouldn’t detract too much from natural values.

    That would help bridge the gap between the Riverview corridor’s conflicting goals of serving the Ford site vs. being fast and avoiding the congested 46th Street routing. It also avoids the need to tunnel under Fort Snelling, which I would bet real money will turn out to be a deal-killer for the project, given the historic and environmental sensitivity of the confluence.

  7. GlowBoy

    Rather than running all “streetcar” (recognizing Mr. Isaacs’ point that the distinction is operational) along W. 7th between downtown and Sibley Plaza, how about this? Run the trains along Seventh between downtown and Randolph – a section with a lot of potentially pedestrian-oriented businesses – then scoot over to the CP tracks a couple blocks away?

    West of Randolph, and especially west of Otto, West 7th is mostly industrial and unsuited to pedestrian oriented development until you get to Sibley Plaza. Even on the CP alignment, stations would be pretty close the Lexington area and to Mississippi Market, the couple of spots along that stretch that you’d still want to target. Thanks to Jerome Johnson for pointing out how close the CP track comes to 7th in places.

    It would seem to me that a route that aligned with W 7th leaving downtown, eased over to the existing CP track at Schmidt/Randolph, following those tracks across 7th at Sibley Plaza to the Ford site, and then traversing the river on a new bridge to 54th, could provide reasonable downtown-to-MSP/MOA travel times while still hitting all the important destinations: the inner W7th entertainment district, the Schmidt Lofts area, Lexington crossing, Sibley Plaza AND Ford.

    Trains will still need dedicated lanes at least between downtown and St. Clair, but drivers can learn to live with a single lane. That will divert some traffic down to Shepard (possibly necessitating some lane and signal timing changes on Eagle Parkway) and through the Irvine Park area (possibly necessitating diverters to reduce cut-throughs) but can be managed.

    For the record, I still think aBRT on the existing (and excellent) #54 route is the most sensible cost-effective plan for this corridor. But if we’re going to do rail so we can have our “iron triangle”, let’s do it right. That means only use slow, so-called “streetcar” operations where they are actually needed. I would point out, as a longtime Portland resident, that even their MAX “light rail” trains still run on normal streets through downtown, where they operate much like streetcars.

    1. Jerome Johnson

      The route outlined has some potential, especially as a compromise between the LRT purists and those who continue to see a streetcar come back from the future to serve West 7th revelers. Staying on 7th from The X to Randolph before entering the CP Spur will add four minutes from the X to all “pure” LRT destinations beyond Randolph to include Otto, Sibley Plaza,the Ford Site if served, MSP Terminal 1 and MOA compared to any of the routes staying completely off West 7th. If the Ford site is served, the trip time from The X to MSP Terminal 1 would then be about the same as either Modern Streetcar or the venerable 54 Express bus. That four minutes would drive an interesting policy position pitting those favoring the Inner West 7th entertainment service versus those looking for every minute of mobility enhancement from downtown STP to virtually all points on the greater LRT network.

      If the hybrid route is deployed as outlined WITH Ford Site served, I can see a wye constructed with the Blue Line somewhere around 54th and then a truncated service alternative linking the Randolph Station with Ford Site and Downtown Minneapolis via the Blue Line or Randolph-Ford-Uptown-West Lake – Eden Prairie via a Midtown Greenway crosstown LRT link. Figure, oh, 2040 before that happens.

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