Suburb of the Month: Golden Valley

Hello, streets.mn readers!

My name is John Charles Wilson and I have a history of commenting on this blog. Now I am taking the plunge and writing posts of my own. This post is planned to be the first in a series about public transit in the Twin Cities suburbs, how good or bad it is, and the history behind it. I plan to alternate one Minneapolis suburb and one Saint Paul suburb each month, going outward from those closest to the respective downtowns of each city.

Golden Valley is the closest suburb to downtown Minneapolis, and has the least useful all-day transit of any first-ring suburb. This irony is at least partly due to the fragmented history of public transit in Golden Valley.

The first “public transit” in Golden Valley was the Luce Line, a primarily intercity railway between Minneapolis and Gluek, MN, a small town southwest of Willmar. Passing through Golden Valley, trains would make flag stops for people standing near the tracks. This operated from 1913 to 1947. The tracks still exist about 1/2 mile north of Highway 55 and are used for freight.

Twin City Lines (TCL) streetcars entered Golden Valley for about two blocks along Plymouth Ave. N. between the Minneapolis city limits and the Wirth Park Chalet.

By 1970, bus service covered much of Golden Valley but was fragmented between three separate, for-profit bus companies: TCL, North Hennepin Transit Co. (NHT), and Medicine Lake Lines (MLL).

TCL Route 3 was the Broadway Crosstown which mostly served North and Northeast Minneapolis. However, there were two small extensions into Golden Valley on Golden Valley Rd. One turned north on Zenith Ave. and went to Meridian Dr. in Robbinsdale, and the other went to the Glenwood Hills Hospital, where Regency Hospital is now. I actually have a 1964 Route 3 schedule, and it shows the bus went to Glenwood Hills for shift changes 7 days a week and to Meridian Dr. on weekdays during the daytime only.

TCL Route 20 went along Plymouth Ave. to the Wirth Chalet, just like the old streetcar service.

TCL Route 9 had two branches: one went out Glenwood Ave. and one used the south frontage road of Highway 12 (now I-394) to Turners Crossroad and then went south into Saint Louis Park.

TCL Route 51, which was run on behalf of the newly formed Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC) since 1967, when it had been taken over from Zephyr Lines, an intercity bus company similar to Jefferson or Greyhound, ran down Highway 12 from Minneapolis to communities on the northern edge of Lake Minnetonka. Back then, Highway 12 had cross streets and stoplights, and buses did stop on the shoulder.

NHT entered Golden Valley on Golden Valley Rd. One branch turned north on Douglas Dr. and one turned north on Douglas Dr. (Highway 100 didn’t block off Golden Valley Rd. back then) on the way to New Hope, Crystal, and Brooklyn Park. NHT was taken over by MTC in 1971.

MLL entered Golden Valley on Highway 55, and served the area north of Highway 55 and west of NHT’s territory. Winnetka Ave. N. and the Golden Valley Shopping Center were major destinations on the way to Plymouth, Crystal, and New Hope. MLL was taken over by MTC around 1987.

Before MTC took over TCL in 1970, all three of these were private, for-profit companies with no incentive to cooperate with each other. Inter-company transfers didn’t exist; if you needed to ride more than one company’s buses, you had to pay a separate fare for each one (Ka-Ching!). They didn’t really compete, as they had separate territories guaranteed by state law. Only if you were going to a shared intersection where buses from two companies met did you have a choice. The non-TCL buses were only for travel to, from, or within suburbs; they were not allowed to transport people entirely within Minneapolis or Saint Paul because that was TCL’s territory. In addition, with the possible exception of Dickinson Lines (Anoka area), none of the independent bus lines ran on Sunday. That wasn’t a law, it was because these were mostly commuter buses aimed at getting suburbanites to work downtown.

It is my personal belief that the sparse bus service in Golden Valley today has its origins in this fragmented system. Weekend service is nonexistent except on the south I-394 frontage road (Routes 9 and 645) and on Golden Valley Rd./Duluth St. (Route 14) from the Minneapolis city limits to Byerly’s. Route 705, the Winnetka Crosstown runs all day on weekdays till about 9 PM. Otherwise, buses in Golden Valley are rush-hour-only affairs. The old system was mostly worthless for anything except commuting; today’s system isn’t much different. People just never had the chance to get in the habit of riding the bus for much else.

Any real improvement in the situation may well require looking at this suburb with fresh eyes and planning a transit grid totally independent of history or tradition, if that is even possible.

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