Suburb of the Month: West Saint Paul

Streetcar Robert Annapolis 1930

An eastbound streetcar at South Robert and Annapolis Streets on the Saint Paul/West Saint Paul boundary, c. 1930. | Credit: Minnesota Historical Society.

Much as Golden Valley is the closest suburb to downtown Minneapolis, West Saint Paul is the closest suburb to downtown Saint Paul. Unlike Golden Valley, West Saint Paul has fairly good transit, especially on Robert St.

No streetcars ran in West Saint Paul, though three streetcar lines ran from downtown Saint Paul to the city boundary with West Saint Paul on Smith Ave., Stryker Ave., and Robert St. However, before the streetcar era ended, Twin City Lines started operating a bus line through West Saint Paul to South Saint Paul via Robert St. and Thompson Ave. Today this is the Thompson branch of Route 68.

Until about 1975, West Saint Paul had two separate bus companies: Twin City Lines (TCL), which became the Metropolitan Transit Commision (MTC) in 1970, and South & West Saint Paul Transit (S&W).

In 1970, TCL Route 5 (now 75) ran down Stryker Ave. to Butler Ave., Route 7 (now 62) ran down Smith Ave. to Emerson Ave., and Route 8 (now 68) was the above-mentioned route via Robert and Thompson.

Two S&W routes served West Saint Paul. One ran down Oakdale Ave. to Butler and into South Saint Paul. The other ran down Charlton St. to Butler to Delaware Ave. to Highway 110 (now Highway 62) and into Mendota Heights.

In the early 1970s, S&W had the advantage of being 5 cents cheaper: a ride on S&W was 35 cents, while TCL/MTC charged 40 cents to go from Saint Paul to West Saint Paul. (Some of my research has been contradictory on this subject. A 1969 blurb in one of the Saint Paul newspapers says TCL changed the zone boundary from the city limits to Emerson Ave., which would have made Route 5 and 7, and much of Route 8, only 30 cents. However, other documents of the early 1970s, like the book Catching Up (a Met Council document available at the Hennepin County Library), seem to indicate that all of West Saint Paul was still an extra dime.

Anyway, the MTC decided in 1975 that basing fares on the city limits wasn’t fair, due to the different distances from downtown to the city limits in different directions. The new zone boundary was to be a circle six miles from downtown, which meant all of West Saint Paul, Mendota Heights, and South Saint Paul would be in Zone 1, with a 30 cent fare. S&W became a nickel more expensive than MTC instead of a nickel cheaper. That may seem trivial, but a nickel in 1975 was worth about what a quarter is today. It was enough that people would take a different bus and walk a few blocks to save it. Then S&W lowered their fare to 25 cents but they lost too much money, and as a private, for-profit company they couldn’t make it, so they sold out to MTC. (The company still exists as a charter and school bus company called Safe-Way.)

The old S&W routes became MTC route 29, and most traces of that have disappeared. Route 417, part of Route 75 branch that goes to Mendota Heights, and a few blocks of Route 68 on Southview Blvd. in South Saint Paul are all that is left of what was the 29.

MTC extended the other West Saint Paul routes: the 5 (now 75) was extended into Inver Grove Heights, the 7 (now 62) once went to Zayre Shopper’s City, where Cub Foods is now, then it was changed to loop though residential areas instead and now end at Signal Hills after serving most of the apartment complexes west of Robert St. Route 8 (now 68) added a Marie Ave. branch that ended up being way more popular than the Thompson branch due to the big box retail stores in the area. Route 68 is by far the most popular route in West Saint Paul today and Robert St. has been considered for a Bus Rapid Transit or streetcar line, though no final plans have been made.

Except for Route 68, bus service is more limited now than in the 1970s. The old S&W routes are gone, probably because they ran mostly through residential areas. Route 62 is close to what it was when it was Route 7, except it goes to more places now. Weekend service has been abolished on the 75, which is really sad because it was a useful alternative to the 68 for getting to the stores on Robert St.

What can be done to make transit better in West Saint Paul? Probably not much beyond implementing the BRT plan for Robert St. Maybe instead of the 62 and 75 running parallel, east-west routes (maybe using smaller buses) could connect Robert with the residential parts of this suburb. However, history and tradition will probably get in the way.

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6 Responses to Suburb of the Month: West Saint Paul

  1. Melissa Anne Wenzel May 4, 2020 at 12:19 pm #

    How could you write an article about West Saint Paul and not include this video?!?!?!?!

    Seriously. This is one of the most important things to have happened to West Saint Paul recently. (2008 video)

    • John Charles Wilson May 4, 2020 at 1:10 pm #

      LOL! I’ve never even heard of that video, let alone seen it! Thanks for adding a little modern context to my transit history post!

      • Melissa Anne Wenzel May 4, 2020 at 1:16 pm #

        (-: I am glad you got the teasing nature of my message. I lived there when it was recorded and it got shared by literally DOZENS of people. In fact, I didn’t know that TPT shared the recording until today when I was looking up the video. The other ones this creator made….weren’t nearly as famous.

  2. Scott May 4, 2020 at 4:16 pm #

    Thanks for the post. It is very interesting.

    You may want to consider adding a little more context the the Suburb of the Month posts. For example, I Googled that West St. Paul has a population of about 20,000 in an area of about 5 square miles resulting in a population density of about 4,000 per square mile. By comparison, Golden Valley has a population of about 21,500 in an area of 10.5 square miles (pop. density 2,100). This type of info might inform transit potential, as well as whether the city is walkable or not. With limited knowledge, I think that GV lacks sidewalks in many areas.

    • John Charles Wilson May 4, 2020 at 4:34 pm #

      Thanks. I wasn’t aware of the density statistics of West Saint Paul vs. Golden Valley. I’ll keep that in mind in future posts.

      West Saint Paul is almost as inconsistent as Golden Valley with sidewalks on residential streets, though most streets north of Moreland Avenue have them. The main streets all have sidewalks, however.

    • Ben May 5, 2020 at 8:50 am #

      I agree with this – I’d like to see these posts expanded even more. There are so many interesting suburbs around the Twin Cities, and it would be interesting to hear more about what makes them different.

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