Once in a Lifetime: A Fantasy Transit Adventure

It’s extremely unfortunate when parties break previous agreements and derail transit projects, as is the case for the Blue Line Extension, aka the Bottineau Line. Since we’re going back to the drawing board, I am hopeful that the collective “we” can begin to right previous wrongs and finally create good transit that will serve communities that need it most.

It’s expensive to build infrastructure no matter where, and it is especially difficult in already built-up urban areas, but for my fantasy of the Bottineau Light Rail Transit (LRT), perhaps we can make a first for Minneapolis (and Minnesota): a tunnel for light rail.

Join us on a ride of the better Blue Line Extension. [You can follow the route here]


“The day has finally arrived! Let’s go! The train departs in an hour!”

It’s the morning of the grand opening of the Blue Line Extension. You and your riding partner walk to the Lake St/Midtown Station and board the train that will arrive at Target Field Station/The Interchange in time for the commencement address and ribbon cutting. From there, it’ll be smooth sailing along 8.25 miles of new, community-connecting track.

10th Ave N

Aerial view of the 10th Ave N Station area. Image: Google Maps/Author

Departing The Interchange, you love the sensation of floating across the North Loop. Gliding above the Metro Transit Heywood Orange Lot, the tracks merge into the re-purposed 3rd/4th St Viaducts and bring you to the 10th Ave N Station. From this vantage, there is an unparalleled panoramic view of the North Loop and Downtown Minneapolis.

Imagine this being the view from your neighborhood train station. Image: Google Maps

“What an odd place for a transit stop,” your riding partner says. “Is this a transit station or an observation deck?”

“How do you figure?” you respond. “Just 6 stops ago, the Blue Line arrived at Cedar-Riverside Station which is 2 blocks from the intersection that is its namesake and the station is not directly served by any connecting routes. Yet if you recall, many people got on and off there. Even during the peak of the pandemic in 2020, I’d regularly see people waiting on the platform when I biked past. This station allows anyone in the North Loop a zero-transfer ride through downtown to Minnehaha Falls Park and the Mall of America.”

“I see your point,” they say. “I really like the idea of being able to ride that far without worrying about making a connection. Just like how I prefer to walk to the Lake St/Midtown Station for the smooth ride of the train instead of taking the Route 7 bus. With this new resource for the neighborhood, I hope the pedestrian experience in the North Loop will improve as well.”

Back on the train you continue along the former viaduct, paralleling the LRT bike trail extension, crossing over Plymouth Ave, and into the I-94 trench. The track begins to curve and you both gasp as you enter a tunnel. Moments later, the train arrives at:

Lyndale

Aerial view of the Lyndale Station area. Image: Google Maps/Author

Since there are so many new stations to see, you decide to skip this stop, even though you’d like to see the completed Satori Village Project. You both love the feeling of being underground with no car horns or heavy trucks banging along to degrade your experience of an otherwise beautiful day.

Emerson/Fremont

Aerial view of the Emerson/Fremont Station area. Image: Google Maps/Author

Two minutes after leaving Lyndale Station, you arrive at Emerson/Fremont.

“This seems redundant, why have stops so close together?” your riding partner asks.

“Well, both stations serve highly-used connecting bus routes, and don’t forget that we already have other examples of closely spaced stations, like Hennepin and Nicollet downtown. You can see one station while standing on the platform of the other! Now I’m curious,” you say as you begin to ascend the escalator, “let’s check the distance between these stops and the ones downtown.”

Using the station’s free Wi-Fi, you pull out your device and measure the distance between stations.

“What do you know!” you announce. “As the crow flies, these stations are actually 12 feet further apart than Government Plaza and Downtown East! And remember: each station provides connections to other routes. All of this adds up to better mobility.”

On ground level, you both gasp again. Juxtaposition Arts is hosting a skate clinic and Sammy’s Avenue Eatery is having a shared pop-up market with Cookie Cart; people are relaxing on benches alongside murals of local artists, taking their time as they chat with friends and neighbors. Giddy with joy at this new connection, it feels like you’re in a dream: West Broadway is no longer the Hennepin County Death Road of your memories and nightmares.

“Wow,” your riding partner exclaims. “This is amazing! How did they do this!?”

“It looks like Hennepin County finally listened to the community – the whole community – and put people first,” you begin, “it also helps that in the coordination efforts, the subway was built using the cut-and-cover tunneling technique, which allowed West Broadway to be reconstructed in alignment with the Complete Streets and Vision Zero policies for a 4-3 lane conversion, boulevards with trees and pollinator plants, and even protected bike lanes.”

“This is all so great. I have no words to express the excitement I’m feeling to finally see 100-year investments for the future of North Minneapolis’ Main Street. To bring the community together instead of infrastructure being used as a barrier.”

“I can’t agree more. There are still a few stops left. Let’s keep going!”

Penn Ave

Aerial view of the Penn Ave Station area. Image: Google Maps/Author

Since you already saw the transformed West Broadway at Emerson/Fremont, you decide to stay on the train and skip getting out at Penn Ave. While stopped at the station, you take time to admire the murals and public art all around you that highlight the community engagement, history, ownership, and placemaking that came from the construction.

Lowry/North Memorial

Aerial view of the Lowry/North Memorial Station area. Image: Google Maps/Author

Moments after departing Penn Ave Station, you see a light in the distance. The train rises above ground, and you stop at the new station on Lowry Ave which connects to the Route 32 bus and is a short walk to North Memorial Medical Center.

Again, you decide to remain on the train, but you marvel at the ingenuity of the planning and coordination efforts displayed in how the train comes above ground and rises above grade. Underneath, you see that the intersection of Theodore Wirth Parkway, Lowry/Oakdale Ave, and Broadway/Bottineau Blvd has been turned into a roundabout with a bi-directional outer loop for people biking, walking, and rolling. From above, you’re amazed how much safer and cleaner the intersection looks. The only overpass is the train – two train tracks are very narrow compared to a 4-lane roadway with shoulders – and every other connection happens at ground level, at safe, human-scale speeds, and gone are the long, dank, poorly-lit underpass crossings.

“Roundabouts must be the future of urban mobility. Look how well traffic is flowing underneath,” you say. “I love how integrated this scene is! It’s very urban but still highlights the ‘greenbelt’ that is Theodore Wirth Park and Victory Memorial Park. A better world is possible after all!”

36th Ave N

Aerial view of the 36th Ave N Station area. Image: Google Maps/Author

The train slows but doesn’t stop. You see orange cones along the tracks and a banner sign erected on the side.

“‘Station Under Construction,’” your riding partner comments. “What does that mean?”

“I’m not sure If you remember, but when the southern portion of this route – the Hiawatha Line – was built, the American Boulevard Station in Bloomington wasn’t added until a few years after the line was operational. Largely due to budget constraints. I hope this station has a similar outcome.”

Downtown Robbinsdale

Aerial view of the Downtown Robbinsdale Station area. Image: Google Maps/Author

“Next stop: Downtown Robbinsdale” the automated voice says. Looking out the window you’re amazed that ten years prior, Bottineau Boulevard was a 6+ lane death road with minimal accessibility for anyone not in a car (and miserable for the people stuck driving it too). It’s now a bustling Main Street in a charming town with new trees in medians, 1-lane thru-traffic, some metered street parking bays, and planted boulevards.

“This area feels cooler already,” you mention to your riding partner. “It must be because of all the trees and plants cooling and cleaning the air instead of so much pavement holding heat in.”

“Flowers definitely smell better than exhaust and hot asphalt!” they respond.

You leave the station to explore a bit and get a pint at Wicked Wort and a snack at Pig Ate My Pizza. 

“This place has changed a lot, and certainly for the better,” you observe, commenting how the 5-minute walkshed of the station area is now extremely pedestrian friendly. New art and sculptures provide a visual scavenger hunt, and where you remember surface parking lots, you see excavation for what you suspect is new housing.

“Wasn’t that a refreshing excursion,” your riding partner says as you walk back to the station for the final two stops.

Bass Lake Road

Aerial view of the Bass Lake Road Station area. Image: Google Maps/Author

The train departs and as you glide over Highway 100, you see the remnants of Graeser Park, continuing Northwest for about 2 miles until you get to Bass Lake Road Station. You stay on the train and notice some intersection improvements and new trees that were planted, but realize since you’re so far away from the city proper, non-motorized improvements of the public realm are limited by the political will of the county commissioners and other government officials.

63rd Ave N Park & Ride

Aerial view of the 63rd Ave N Station area. Image: Google Maps/Author

“Next Stop: 63rd Ave Park & Ride” says the automated voice “This is the final stop. Please collect your belongings.”

Pulling out of Bass Lake Road station, you see some more construction in vacant lots along Bottineau Boulevard as you ride three minutes to the final station.

“So that’s it? This is the end?” your riding partner scoffs. “The terminus is just another suburban Park and Ride?  What about the branches to PF Chang’s or the Target campus?!”

“The Metropolitan Council didn’t let ‘perfect’ be the enemy of ‘good,’” you respond. “The way this was built gives the people of Crystal, Robbinsdale, and North Minneapolis much better transit access right away. It’s routed where population density and transit ridership are the highest and provides the greatest return on investment instead of building through fields and increasing sprawl in the name of Transit Oriented Development. Not to mention this is nearly 4.5 miles shorter, and unsurprisingly, that saves money too.” 

The train operator walks through your train car and heads to the opposite command center to start the return trip. 

“And lastly,” you continue, “it allows the state, Metropolitan Council, Hennepin County, and all the cities involved time to do more planning of where they want to spend money. Maybe another way to think about it is they built this route in the same way we build and reconstruct highways – providing access and connectivity even though it isn’t completely finished.”

“I wish more transit projects could be built this way,” your riding partner says. “Starting small and extending them over time seems like an extremely effective and responsible use of such limited resources.”

Heading Home

The return trip from 63rd Ave N to Lake St./Midtown takes about 40 minutes.

“I’m so excited to have a smooth and direct ride to North Minneapolis now!” your riding partner gushes as you both walk home from the station. “Transit is often framed as solely helping people get to work, but that leaves out the trips motorists take for granted like getting groceries or going out for recreation. It goes both ways, and transit is a tremendous resource when we want to have a night out or explore further than our own neighborhood and don’t want to bike the whole way, or even at all. Public transit is one tool of many in the puzzle of effective urban transportation. Thank you so much for inviting me on this adventure. I had a blast!”

The End.

Fred Kreider

About Fred Kreider

Fred is a car-free, smartphone-free Millennial who lives in a 120-year-old NOAH duplex in Downtown Longfellow. A connoisseur of the built environment, they find it unacceptable for transportation to be deadly and believe housing is a right, not an investment. A member of the Streets.MN Climate Committee.

14 thoughts on “Once in a Lifetime: A Fantasy Transit Adventure

  1. Tommy Martino

    This is eerily similar to a map I’ve got floating around on my own computer! The reuse of the 94 viaduct, the Hiawatha Trail extension, and the tunnel under Broadway are all ideas I used as well, so it’s nice to see someone else come to the same conclusion–and I’ll happily co-sign them.

    A few thoughts I can contribute from my own time thinking about similar routings:

    My map had 7th St and 10th Ave as an alternate North Loop routing in case cutting across the Metro Transit facility lot was too tight
    For the above-ground portion north of Penn, I chose an elevated guideway running in the median. Recent projects like Vancouver’s Skytrain and Montreal’s REM have demonstrated how elevated LRT can be done with prefab sections that make construction very fast and relatively low cost, and using newer single-pillar designs can minimize the old stigma of crowding and shadows at street level. This would allow the entire extension to be fully grade-separated and even potentially automated in the future.
    I also had my plan split up into two phases (get out of my head!!), in my case stopping at Bass Lake. I also penciled out my idea of Phase II, which would include 63rd (as you described), Starlite (which would serve as a major transfer station with shuttle buses available to Arbor Lakes, HCTC, Target North, and Brooklyn Center), and Downtown Osseo.
    One thing that’s really promising about the Broadway alignment is that the C Line could potentially be rerouted to serve as a feeder for the Blue Line (which would provide faster service to downtown, even accounting for transfer penalties), then continue south and serve Bryn Mawr and the new Green Line station as its terminus.

    All in all, great stuff and thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  2. Eric Ecklund

    We already have a light rail tunnel: under the airport plus an underground station for Terminal 1. Obviously it’s easier building under an airport than a dense urban area, but considering underground railways have been built since the late 1800s I know we can do the same for the Blue Line Extension through North Minneapolis.

    Also the Metropolitan Council has made it clear they want to follow as much of the original alignment as possible, which includes going all the way to Target North Campus. I prefer it going west to the Arbor Lakes area in Maple Grove, but they seem very set on having the Blue Line serve a corporate campus that is, at the moment, surrounded by pockets of forest and farm fields.

    Reply
    1. T

      If we had a green new deal with a ton of money for developing high quality housing including at least half public housing. That greenfield space could be very valuable. But relying on the private market will just create another South Loop at best 15 years down the road.

      Reply
  3. Ron H

    Any thoughts on running the line north along Washington Ave to Lowry Ave before heading west? This would create a stop near the planned Upper Habor park and amphitheater.

    Reply
  4. T

    Love everything about this except bringing it up to starlite makes a lot of sense as there’s already many buses that go thru there and a BRT from there to Brooklyn Center using a similar route to the 724 good provide a lot of benefit. Even more if some of the shopping center can be reclaimed for housing.

    Reply
  5. Monte Castleman

    As you travel the train, you look at your riding partner and say “look at all those people outside suffering in horrific congestion because of the amount of auto infrastructure that was needlessly took from those people in order to build this line”.

    Robbinsdale already has a cute street with on-street parking. It’s called, ironically, Broadway. Bottineau is admittedly overly wide, but still needs two general lane to feed people in cars into Highway 100. We can fit light rail down the Bottineau right of way while not ruining it for them.

    Reply
    1. Eric Ecklund

      There’s plenty of other roads to drive on. In this proposed scenario if Bottineau becomes similar to Hiawatha then there will be some congestion, mainly due to the quick signal cycles, but it’s not the end of the world. I say this as someone who occasionally drives on Hiawatha including during rush hour, and if I want to take my time and not worry about aggressive drivers I take Minnehaha.

      Reply
    2. Jenny WernessJenny WernessModerator  

      (sorry for the unrelated comment, but: Monte, I like your website! The abandoned bridges post is fascinating)

      Reply
      1. Monte Castleman

        Thank You. I fully intend to continue to contribute articles here, but wanted my own repository to showcase and maintain some of my longer road related research articles, and a place to post current road construction photos as well as some of the more “roadgeek” content I’ve been collecting over the past 25 years, content that probably wouldn’t be a good fit here.

        Reply
        1. Jenny WernessJenny WernessModerator  

          I am glad to hear that, it’ll be great to see some more of your work shared here. Makes total sense to have a central website for your full portfolio of articles/photos and everything too. It was fun to click around and see some familiar stories.

          Reply
        2. T

          It is a great website Monte! I got lost in it for a couple hours. One recommendation would be to maybe put a google location of some of the pictures you’ve taken so other people can visit there too!

          Reply
  6. Ben

    I just wanted to leave a comment saying this is one of my favorite pieces on streets.mn. I love content like this – very easy to understand, creative, lots of graphics, but still informative and well-researched. I’ve gone back to re-read this one a few times. Thanks for writing!

    Reply

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