How Minneapolis Can Become A Transit City In One Decade

In the past month, the excellent transit blogger Alon Levy has written two posts that have particular relevance for places like the Twin Cities. This isn’t always the case, since Levy is more commonly focused on America’s older and larger transit systems (especially New York). His perspective is shaped by having lived in a number of different countries, and he has an acute and exasperated understanding of how transit in the United States falls short of global standards, particularly in terms of construction costs (too high) and off-peak operations (too little). But in December, Levy took the time to write about some broader principles. Looking ahead to a new decade, I wanted to apply them in the Minnesota context.

His first piece, What I Mean When I Say Cities Have No Transit, is an unsparing review of what passes for transit in most American metros. He doesn’t literally mean that cities have no transit, but that when a city has a transit mode share under 3%, it’s the near equivalent. From a practical perspective, planners working in these cities should feel free to treat them as a blank slate. He also calls out a number of cities, including MSP, which have earned praise for investing in transit in recent decades, but still have mode shares stuck between 3-8%. Most have seen their mode shares actually fall in this decade, in fact the Twin Cities are a rare and minor exception (mode share has increased slightly, from 4% to 4.8%). Of these cities with token transit systems, only Seattle seems poised to break out into a city where transit rises to become a meaningful part of a city’s fabric. Levy reserves Los Angeles for special opprobrium, noting that despite spending more than anyone, the country’s second largest city has seen its mode share decline. A subtitle of the piece is, “Whatever you’re doing isn’t working.”

I do think it’s important for American transit advocates to reckon with this. (This is not really a reflection on the staff of Metro Transit, who do a pretty great job. The primary problem is resources.) If you took a random sample of people in the Twin Cities, the vast majority will have never taken transit or will even know anybody who has taken transit outside of a sporting event. It’s a sad fact that transit in the Twin Cities is completely irrelevant for the overwhelming majority of people.

Levy’s second piece, On Envying Canada, compares American failures to Canadian semi-successes. While the entire picture of north is not entirely rosy, cities like Calgary and Edmonton that have similar growth patterns manage to achieve much higher mode shares than places like the Twin Cities, and Vancouver is the greatest North American transit success story of the past two to three decades.

The most useful part of the piece is framework for building transit mode share (and other non-car mode share). I think most readers of this site understand the principles that he lays out (and can be organized in many different ways, there is not one definitive rubric), but it’s helpful to see it in one place. Levy writes:

I was asked earlier today what a good political agenda for public transportation would be…

  1. Fuel taxes and other traffic suppression measures (such as Singapore and Israel’s car taxes). Petrol costs about €1.40/liter in Germany and France; diesel is cheaper but being phased out because of its outsize impact on pollution.
  2. Investment in new urban and intercity lines, such as the Madrid Metro expansion program since the 1990s or Grand Paris Express. This is measured in kilometers and not euros, so lower construction costs generally translate to more investment, hence Madrid’s huge metro network.
  3. Interagency cooperation within metropolitan regions and on intercity rail lines where appropriate. This includes fare integration, schedule integration, and timetable-infrastructure integration.
  4. Urban upzoning, including both residential densification in urban neighborhoods and commercialization in and around city center.
  5. Street space reallocation from cars toward pedestrians, bikes, and buses.

I think Levy’s two posts are best read in tandem with each other. The first should remind American transit advocates and leaders in places like the Twin Cities how far they have to go to achieve even modest success in a global context. The second provides a road map for how to get there.

How Is Minneapolis-St. Paul Doing?

Levy applies his framework to Vancouver, I want to apply it to MSP:

  1. Fuel Taxes et. al. — Unfortunately, Minnesota makes it relatively cheap to drive. The Twin Cities metro area has no tolls, and the state’s gas tax of $0.2860 ranks 29th in the country. Efforts to raise the tax by $0.20 (which would bring it to 5th in the country if fully implemented today) have been championed by Governor Tim Walz as a way to close gaps in transportation funding, but they have been blocked by the Republican-controlled state senate. Walz won election on a platform that explicitly included a raised gas tax and tried to claim a mandate, but Republicans are dubious and will likely make it a major election issue in 2020. If the state senate flips, the Governor and DFL will have an unquestioned mandate to raise the tax.
  2. Investment in new service — The Twin Cities are investing in new urban rail lines, (I want to expand Levy’s category a bit here) new BRT lines, and new rapid bus lines, but their roll-out is exceptionally slow, and cost control has becoming a growing issue. Also a concern is whether some upcoming investments are good ones. To-date, both the Blue and Green light rail lines have been notable successes. The under-construction Green Line Extension is not as good as it could’ve been, yet will still be a useful service. But the three other rail routes in various states of planning and design each have grievous flaws. (A) The Blue Line Extension was planned to take a nearly-useless route around North Minneapolis and through the Northwestern suburbs in order to minimize disruption to existing neighborhoods and road infrastructure. But the freight railroad that was expected to cooperate with the plans has instead shut them down. At 90% engineering, the project is in a deep bind. The sunk cost is substantial and any significant changes would send the project to the back of the line for federal funding. But the current alignment is simply terrible (just one station sits amidst walkable urbanism) and the freight railroad isn’t budging. (B) The Riverview Rail project has a good alignment, but has committed to spending a billion dollars in one area with no ridership whatsoever, while saving political capital by having trains share lanes with cars at the point on the route with the most ridership and the highest traffic delays. (C) The Midtown Rail project has been consigned to a holding pattern by the Met Council. Even if implemented, the current feasibility study calls for the route to be little more than a second-class shuttle between existing LRT lines, and not a full-fledged part of the transit system.
  3. Interagency Cooperation — This is a much greater issue for older cities with a hard division between different types of service, and cities that straddle state lines and have different transit agencies as a result. In MSP, these issues are relatively minor. The interface between trains and buses is strong. But in terms of planning, the Twin Cities are not always on the same page. The region lacks the kind of long-range building and funding strategy that powered transit expansions in Denver, Los Angeles, and Seattle. Having such a strategy does not always mean that the end product will be good (as the former two cities demonstrate), but it has the benefit of solving funding issues and taking some of the decision making out of the hands of clueless actors like Ramsey County.
  4. Urban Upzoning — Here, the Twin Cities are somewhat ahead of their peers. The Minneapolis 2040 plan has upzoned a number of areas, although not always by enough. It seems quite possible that both Minneapolis and St. Paul will eliminate parking minimums in the coming year. These regulatory changes come at a time when the market for dense urban development is quite strong. Minneapolis alone saw more housing units start construction in 2019 than San Francisco. A number of residential and office towers are under construction or almost there, and St. Paul has recently seen a couple of huge proposals, albeit each with enormous amounts of parking. All of this being said, land use in suburban areas remains disastrous for transit. While a few close-in suburbs like Richfield, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, and Bloomington are taking some steps forward, progress is slow. Meanwhile, connections between the core cities and pedestrian scale suburban downtowns that in an ideal world would be accepting more growth, like in Wayzata and Stillwater, are lacking.
  5. Urban Street Space Reallocation — Unfortunately the Twin Cities are not moving as fast as hoped on this front. New bus lanes were introduced in 2019 in both cities, but there is no overarching plan guiding these improvements, and the inability of the Riverview Rail project to secure an exclusive right-of-way demonstrate the degree to which local leaders remain enthralled by their cars. Improvements for walking and bicycling are also occurring, but for every ambitious design (the 3rd and 10th Avenue bridges in Minneapolis, Ayd Mill Road in St. Paul) there are other embarrassing replications of the status quo (8th Street in Minneapolis, the Dale Street Bridge in St. Paul). A related issue is an inability to give rail transit service the signal priority it deserves. Green Line trains still get stuck at lights on University, and trains are often stopped in both downtowns while waiting for a handful of cars to pass. This is an area in which the Twin Cities are being lapped by places like New York and Seattle.

In sum, the Twin Cities are not making the kind of progress in these areas that is conducive to creating a true transit city. It is too cheap to drive, transit investments are too compromised, and local leaders are still unwilling to challenge the priority given to cars in virtually every situation. The only clearly positive trend in the Twin Cities is increasing density of residences and jobs in the core city. Even the progress being made in that respect is inferior to what is occurring in peer cities like Seattle, Calgary, and Edmonton, to say nothing of Vancouver.

The Coming Opportunity

And yet! At this moment, a handful of efforts and trends are converging in a way that will make the next two years absolutely pivotal for the future of transit service in the Twin Cities. Most significantly:

  • Metro Transit is working on a plan called “Network Next” that may comprehensively evaluate and re-imagine the agency’s bus service.
  • Minneapolis is working on a new transportation action plan called “Go Minneapolis” that will translate the ambitious multi-modal goals of the 2040 comprehensive plan into concrete policy.
  • St. Paul has just approved a strong climate plan that lays out specific goals for increasing transit ridership.
  • The DFL party made significant gains in the 2018 election, which if repeated in 2020, would give them complete control of the state government and make significant increases to transit funding and a gas tax more likely as early as 2021.

In isolation, each of these factors might give transit a significant boost. Taken together, they may offer policy makers, transit professionals, and mobility advocates astonishing momentum. What could that momentum look like?

  • Metro Transit could map out a future network of twenty or more rapid bus lines, and put in place an internal assembly line that will speed up the planning, design, and construction of these routes.
  • Metro Transit could in the near term identify numerous route branches and jogs that are unnecessary, and straighten them out.
  • Metro Transit could in the near term accelerate its process of consolidating bus stops on the busiest, most stop/start routes.
  • Minneapolis could implement a network of downtown bus lanes to get service into, through, and out of downtown quickly.
  • Minneapolis could demand that MnDOT take an existing travel lane and transform it into a bus lane, with median bus stops at Broadway and Lowry, on any future reconstruction of I-94 northbound.
  • Both cities could leave bollards in the 2010’s and get serious about curb protected bike lanes.
  • Both cities could make their downtown traffic signals change in response to light rail trains.
  • St. Paul could make traffic signals along University Avenue change in response to oncoming trains, ensuring that they are never delayed by lights.
  • St. Paul could demand exclusive right-of-way for the entire length of the future Riverview Rail.
  • St. Paul could work with MnDOT and the Met Council to raise money for more pedestrian bridges connecting neighborhoods south of I-94 to future Gold Line stations north of it.
  • Governor Walz could order a redesign of the Blue Line Extension to avoid freight railroad right of way, and better serve North Minneapolis.
  • Governor Walz and DFL leaders could make transit funding one of their top priorities, and raise the metro transit sales tax cap to a full percent.
  • Governor Walz and DFL leaders could ensure that transit funding is enough for the Met Council’s “Increased Revenue Scenario” transitways (at least the ones that don’t suck)
  • Governor Walz could work to extend the Northstar to St. Cloud, build a passenger train to Duluth and La Crosse, and improve previously goofy efforts to build passenger rail to Rochester. Whether or not these lines come under the auspice of Amtrak or Metro Transit, they should be integrated with both fare systems.

This is not an exhaustive list of ideas. Some of these ideas are very big, some are very small. There are new ideas that may prove useful (mobility hubs?) but aren’t proven yet. The main takeaway is that in the next year, plans that could lay the groundwork for changes big and small will come together.

Much can change in a decade. Nobody in 2009 would’ve thought it possible that Minneapolis would eliminate single family zoning. At the same time, things can sometimes go much slower than expected. Southwest Light Rail was supposed to be running by now. The difference is political choices. Today, the Twin Cities barely have transit. By the end of the decade, MSP could have a transit system that will revolutionize mobility in the region. The foundations for that change will come in the next two years, but the work will last the full ten. That’s my hope, at least.

Happy New Year everyone.

52 thoughts on “How Minneapolis Can Become A Transit City In One Decade

  1. Lou Miranda

    Great ideas on how to improve the Twin Cities.

    We also need to rein in MnDOT & counties that still believe in cars uber alles.

    Driving has to be made not only expensive but also inconvenient by reducing lanes, narrowing lanes, and making larger & larger areas car-free, including suburban nodes.

    Not enough planning includes the suburbs, which will have to change drastically, if not by planning then forced by climate change.

  2. Pine SalicaPine Salica

    99% agreed, but leave out regressive sales tax hikes and simply pull the needed money out from mndot. They’re overfunded and anyway isn’t transportation what they’re SUPPOSED to be doing?

    1. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker Post author

      The metro counties sales tax is regressive, but it has major benefit of being relatively insulated from Republican sabotage.

      I’d like to get to a world where taking money out of MnDOT is not going to provoke howls from the GOP about the Democrats robbing from Greater MN roads and bridges to build light rail. Unfortunately I don’t think that world is attainable by 2022, so the sales tax is the best option for transit funding.

      1. Monte Castleman

        You’d also get a lot of howls from suburbanites stuck in traffic and viewing it as robbing freeway expansion to build light rail. So not attainable by 2022

    2. Monte Castleman

      I wouldn’t consider MnDOT “overfunded” until we have enough freeway lanes that people can drive anywhere any time of day without congestion and without hitting potholes.

        1. Monte Castleman

          I agree with the concept of induced demand. But induced demand has limits. Looking out my window now or even at 8:00 AM on a weekday, there’s not congestion on my street; it’s been built beyond the limits of induced demand. . So we’ve given people freedom to travel on my street any time of day without the horrific costs of congestion so we can give people freedom anywhere else.

  3. Jay A Severance

    This is certainly a comprehensive piece, with many references to study. The Riverview Corridor project is referenced as deficient in several respects, among them the lack of a dedicated guideway in congested areas. This issue and other deficiencies were addressed in a recent post in Streetsmn, which can be seen at:

    The post provides recommendations for modification of the Riverview Corridor Locally Preferred Alternative to address these issues.

    1. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker Post author

      I responded to your post when it went up. The idea of taking the alignment off West 7th is exactly the kind of impulse that has made the Bottineau LRT so bad. The solution is not to try to hem transit into whichever right-of-way is easiest, the solution is to prioritize transit whenever conflicts arise.

      On West 7th, that means forcing cars to lose some space, not moving the train out of the way to a more useless location.

      1. Jerome Johnson

        The Modern Streetcar proposed for West 7th will move slower than the current 54-Express bus. Is that your idea of transit-inspired mobility improvement? Forcing cars to “lose some space” on West 7th (after years of ruinous construction activity) will do little to improve the speed – and hence mobility prospects – of the on-street rail alternative. The route suggested by Mr Severance actually comes walkably close to the areas of West 7th that can bear extensive up zoning and hence higher density transit-oriented development: Randolph, Otto and the Sibley Plaza areas. The remainder of the avenue – those blocks outside of, say, quarter to half mile from the stations at these three locales – can develop more organically, as their residents and business owners wish. The off-7th route also enables Riverview to serve Sibley Plaza, that master-planned edifice with townhouse and apartment densities that will make planners in Stockholm, Moscow and Copenhagen blush, while still connecting downtown STP with MSP Terminal 1 faster than today’s 54 bus and notably faster than the not-so-modern streetcar.

  4. Sal

    I think we should start with running all of the scheduled trips.

    I don’t know how many times I’ve been to a bus stop early only to not have that one arrive and the next one arrive late with an overfull bus.

    In order for our bus service to be useful it needs to be reliable. No one wants to stand in the cold waiting for a bus that isn’t coming.

    1. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker Post author

      Of course, trips aren’t being cancelled deliberately. The primary issue is staffing, Metro Transit does not have enough bus drivers, and the root cause of that is a good economy and not enough funding to offer higher wages.

      1. Sal

        I understand, but from a rider perspective unreliable service is unreliable service no matter the reason.

          1. Erik

            It’s not just frustrating – it’s crippling to the system. I live in the city and normally commute via bus to DT Mpls, but if I have any reason why I need to be home before 1830, I drive. Same if I have any need for a mid-day appointment. Mass transit is unreliable, and this is killing the system. I can only imagine how much worse this would be if I was less fortunate with where I work, my income, and my job opportunities.

            The 2040 plan is dead on arrival unless the problem is fixed, end of story. Mass transit needs to be fast, reliable, and go where people need to go. Right now it’s none of those things.

  5. Jerry Ratliff

    Great and thorough article on transit. Think you hit the nail on the head with your lack of courage and funding comments.

    I would also suggest Twin Cities “transit” also includes rail funding such as the pending Second Train from St Paul to Chicago on existing track (think Amtrak). This train is low cost with high demand projections for future ridership. This critical mass of passengers will help ensure success with future trains to Duluth, Moorhead, Kansas City, etc. Denver is a great example of this. See for data and what is happening with passenger rail in and out of MN. St Paul Union Depot is a great start in having our second train connected to bus and rail transit. Unlike some of the light rail options, trains promoted by All Aboard MN already have the right of way in place by using existing rail thus reducing costs in terms of money and time.
    However, both rail options are important to our cities and help connect Minnesotans (especially rural) to each other and the rest of the country.

    Finally, one of the challenges in the Twin Cities is how few have ridden a train of any kind and think it is like flying in a plane or riding a bus. They have no idea how comfortable rail travel is.

    1. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker Post author

      Absolutely am excited about the potential of a train to Chicago that won’t be habitually late by hours because it was delayed by crude freight in the Bakken fields.

      1. Jerry Ratliff

        The Second Train should be much more reliable due to many factors including not going through North Dakota or Montana. On time performance will increase ridership, too. The Second Train has the potential to increase passenger traffic by tripling the number of riders over the just one train between the two cities. That has happened in other midwest cities such as Milwaukee and Quincy by simply adding a second train.

        1. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker Post author

          Agree on all points. I should’ve included the train to Chicago in my review of rail investments.

    2. Monte Castleman

      Trains may be comfortable, but they still combine the slowness of ground travel with the inconvenience of not having your car at the end of your journey. Maybe some people will stay at an expensive downtown hotel in Chicago instead of an inexpensive place by a Aurora freeway exit like I do. And maybe they won’t need to go someplace like Great America that’s not reachable by rail even with Chicago’s network. But I can’t imagine being dropped off in downtown Moorhead without a car.

      1. Jerry Ratliff

        Like cars and planes, trains may not work for everyone. Personally, I can’t imagine driving to downtown Chicago and I have “trained or planed” there maybe 35 times. The time in the train is all useful time, but if I drive it is all lost time. It is also hard to compare after the massive highway funding since WW2 and almost non existent funding for Amtrak. Students, rural Minnesotans, millennials, and seniors are some of the potential rail riders. Agree that end connections are important and we have a long way to go in that regard. Look at the system Americans built after WW2 in Germany for great end connections- I lived there and it was terrific. We built it!

        1. Monte Castleman

          I’ve driven in both downtown San Francisco and Chicago when I had no other choice, and yes it did suck. I guess kind of the best of both worlds is to drive my car to the suburbs and stay at a Holiday Inn Express by an interstate exit where you can get a room for $100 a night with free parking and free breakfast. For Chicago we stay in Aurora, San Francisco it’s Walnut Creek, When we go into the city we take the train in. When we go to some attraction in the suburbs we take the car.

      2. Pine SalicaPine Salica

        hmm, if I went to Moorhead maybe I’d be staying with family/friends who already have a car, or maybe I’d go rent one there, instead of driving my rented car all the way to Moorhead myself (what a hassle that would be!)

      3. Scott Walters

        It’s super cheap to rent a car on the weekends in downtown CHI. Driving there is hell. Train or plane to CHI, and then rent a car if you have to stay in the burbs is the best answer. If you get out of the airport and rent at a local station (take the blue line) or you take Amtrak, you avoid all of the airport fees and taxes, and the rental car cost plummets.

  6. Jeffrey Klein

    One thing regarding the gas tax: while they’ve talked a good game on raising it, they’ve combined that with talk of all the suburban freeway expansion it will fund. Any revenue increase that allocates anything to building more roads is probably a net negative.

    1. Tim

      Politically, it’s probably a trade-off they would have to make to have a shot of increasing the tax. They already have to deal with Republican opposition; that’s a given. They need the suburban and rural DFL support in order to accomplish the increase.

      1. Jeffrey Klein

        Yeah, I get that. I just think the “10% bike/walk/transit, 90% roads” deals that have been made in the past are a net negative for good cities and climate goals. I don’t know exactly where the tipping point is, but given how much more roads hurt us even just as maintenance liabilities, I’ve gotten to the point where almost any compromise seems to be not worth it.

    2. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker Post author

      It’s an interesting question. Without tolls, the price of gas is the primary cost for drivers. Induced demand is a fancy term, but what it really means is that we’re offering more of a good for free. So which price signal is stronger than the other?

      Statewide, I tend to think that raising the gas tax is worth it, even if it may result in additional freeway miles. But I’d also hope that smart people would push a “maintenance first” strategy. The selling point politically should be for Minnesota to have the most well-maintained roads, not necessarily the widest.

    1. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker Post author

      Not just the changing of the calendar, but the confluence of a bunch of really promising initiatives. There’s substance here!

  7. Chad N

    Speaking as a Seattle resident, a critical factor in increasing the transit mode share is what happens downtown. It is the location with the highest demand for transit, and promotion of transit for downtown commutes is what can move the needle on region-wide model share.

    What proportion of downtown workers currently use transit to commute? How many jobs are downtown, and is that number growing? If not, how can it be expanded? How many parking spots are downtown, and is that number shrinking? What is the parking cost to employees? Do companies subsidize transit use?

    Seattle’s mode share is as respectable as it is due to the significantly higher number of jobs downtown than parking spots. Downtown parking is $15-30/day, usually not paid for by the employer, so 48% of downtown workers take transit, which is usually paid for by employers through a Commute Trip Reduction state law.

    Improving the downtown journey-to-work mode share is the lowest hanging fruit to increasing overall mode share. Once it becomes common even for suburban commuters to take transit downtown, familiarity with and political support for transit increases regionwide.

      1. Chad N

        The Commute Trip Reduction Law started in 1991 and was revised in 2006. It requires the 9 largest counties to develop goals for reduction in drive-alone commuting rates, and employers with over 100 people at a worksite to develop a Commute Trip Reduction Plan. The companies also have to designate an Employee Transportation Coordinator. The law doesn’t have any firm requirements or enforcement, but it seems to work through a shared consensus. When faced with a collective goal to reduce commutes, most companies downtown came to the same conclusion that subsidizing transit passes was most effective.

  8. Bill Dooley

    Well if you want Governor Walz to order a redesign of the Bottineau LRT Project to better serve North Minneapolis, you may as well have him order a redesign of Southwest LRT out of the Kenilworth Corridor and into a densely populated area.

    1. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker Post author

      Southwest LRT has been under construction for more than a year.

      Bottineau LRT has not yet been fully funded and is at 90% engineering.

      1. Bill Dooley

        SWLRT under construction has been basically tree destruction in the Kenilworth Corridor and SWLRT has not been fully funded.

        1. J N

          There has been a lot of bulldozers and and heavy construction in Hopkins , St Louis park, and Eden prairie.

          So there has been quite a bit of work done so far. Maybe just not in Minneapolis quite yet.

          1. Bill Dooley

            So reroute away from the Kenilworth Corridor (an express run into downtown Minneapolis for suburban riders) and though more dense parts of Minneapolis, where less work has been done, for the benefit of Minneapolis riders.

            1. Ryan L

              Unfortunately it’s too late to change what is in progress. But it is fun to think about how things could have been different. The residents surrounding the Kenilworth Corridor and in Lowry Hill spent a lot of money fighting the light rail for a number of reasons, environmental included. If the money instead was used to lobby for the rail to go through the populated streets of Uptown, I think there is a good chance that lobbying effort would have succeeded because it benefits others.

              Saying no doesn’t benefit anyone but those who are angry. Offering alternative solutions gets others on board who otherwise wouldn’t care!

  9. Mark

    Why does the title only call out Minneapolis when most of the article references the Twin Cities? Seems to reinforce the unfortunate bias against St. Paul….

  10. Cole Hiniker

    There seems to be a hugely understated piece about land use planning here. If I look at Calgary and Edmonton, which have more transit riders than the Twin Cities despite being half the size or less, it comes down to development patterns. Calgary and Edmonton are both about twice as dense in population across the entire metro area. Canada has a much different framework for land use planning and controls than the US and this has allowed for more strategic planning between infrastructure and development. Your list talks about urban up-zoning but it doesn’t talk about urban growth controls.

    I’d be willing to bet our transit ridership in the twin cities rivals that of Canada in our core market areas (e.g. transit market area I and II). I think we are held back by our low-density second and third-ring fringe and our fragmented distribution of jobs and services. The transit mode split for commuters in Minneapolis and Saint Paul is around 12%, but that is held back by the location and walkability of jobs in the suburbs.

    On a related note, I think MSA are bad geographies to measure transit success. Urban areas are better representations of where transit might work. Does the transit system of Minneapolis-Saint Paul really relate to what is happening in Cokato? There are commutes happening between the two, sure, but do we reasonably expect to attract transit commutes efficiently?

    1. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker Post author

      It’s worth investigating. It would be plainly wrong to not acknowledge that there is an element of the data that is misleading because of the size of the geographies being used.

      But Calgary’s light rail alone carries more riders than MSP’s entire transit system, and collectively, Calgary’s entire transit system more than doubles MSP’s. Edmonton doesn’t achieve quite the shame performance, probably because it’s a bit behind on the infrastructure, but it still beats MSP in raw numbers. When the Valley Line opens next year, let’s see what happens. Given that both cities are much smaller than MSP, the raw ridership numbers are shocking.

      In terms of land use, I’d restate that I think there are strong similarities. Outside of the cores of both Calgary and Edmonton, you get very low density neighborhoods very quickly, and the fringes of each city are no different than exurban housing along I-94. I think there is a lot of even short term strategies that MSP can still learn from these cities. Parking policy, for instance, is a key thing that Calgary gets right, and that drives a lot of their commute mode share.

      1. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker Post author

        That answer came out jumbled and I can’t edit my comments, so let me try again much shorter this time:

        As you acknowledge, Calgary and Edmonton have more riders despite being smaller. I wanted to emphasize the scale, which is huge. It’s not just one thing.
        In terms of land use, I do think there are similarities, but I think that the concentration of jobs (especially in Calgary) is extremely significant and you are right about that. Not having UHC, General Mills, Land O’ Lakes, Medtronic, Carlson, CH Robinson, CHS, 3M, etc. etc. located in core areas is a major problem.

  11. scott

    Nice post. Lots of good ideas for improving transit here.

    Wish we were looking at constructing transit tunnels under downtown Minneapolis in order to speed up service and facilitate connections. It is far too slow and unpleasant to take a bus into or through downtown because it is stuck in car traffic. Plus, downtown streets are often bleak with little street-level activity and wide, multi-lane, one-direction traffic. In the short term bus-only lanes and signal priority should be implemented asap.

    1. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker Post author

      Once trains start through-running downtown, the need for a tunnel will gain more salience.

    1. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker Post author

      Different situation. The Stops For Us campaign was about adding infill stations, and they successfully convinced the Anthony Foxx-led DOT to tweak the New Starts formula.

      But the issues with the Blue Line Extension are not related to infill stations (well, there should be a station that serves North Memorial, but that’s a secondary issue). The line’s problems have to do with the alignment, and that means a really expensive and time-consuming refresh.

      But IMO it should be done. Better build something good eventually than build something bad right now.

  12. Matt Brillhart

    I left this comment on your more recent post as well, but I’ll repeat here:

    Are we really not planning any future LRT lines in Minneapolis after Bottineau (regardless of final alignment)? Southwest is under construction and Bottineau will probably get figured out sooner rather than later…the County has already committed their share of the dollars. But are we just done after that? No LRT lines to NE Mpls & Roseville, or West End (SLP)? The “X” of the Blue & Green Lines is all we’re ever building through downtown Minneapolis? It seems incredibly short sighted that NO ONE is discussing what we might want to build next, post-2030. It’s already 2020!! Clearly these lines get discussed for 15+ years before getting funded and built…we need to start talking about the next one now.

    Sidebar to my comment: Midtown will happen someday…I think serious discussion of rail in the greenway trench will pick up again after Southwest is up and running. It’s inevitable that people will demand it. But I wouldn’t expect Midtown to start construction before 2030 at this point.

Comments are closed.