I’ve tried to keep an open mind to the Gold Line/Gateway Corridor between St. Paul and Woodbury ever since bus rapid transit (BRT) was the chosen mode. Transit improvements in the East Metro are just as needed as in the West Metro. However, the more the project has progressed, the more I see flaws with how it will be implemented. Recently, the estimated cost of the Gold Line increased by $70 million to a total price of $532 million. The reason for the cost increase was the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) demand for more parking and a contingency fund. Appeasing to that demand will, in theory, allow the Gold Line to receive nearly half its funding from the FTA. However, the FTA has given the Gold Line a medium-low rating. These issues have led me to believe the Gold Line in its proposed form is too flawed to justify its extremely high price tag. Instead of going through with the FTA’s demands, I believe we need to pause and reconsider how we’re going to implement the Gold Line.
Most of the proposed Gold Line alignment is decent, with most stations serving where people live and work. Not long ago there was debate over whether to have the western terminus of the Gold Line at Union Depot or go through Downtown St. Paul. While Union Depot definitely needs more buses and trains, it doesn’t make sense for the Gold Line to stop just short of the central business district. Requiring people to transfer to the Green Line or local buses to reach downtown destinations would severely hurt potential ridership. Thankfully, the planners realized this and chose to have the Gold Line go through downtown, and a station is still planned for Union Depot on Sibley/Wacouta Street & 4th Street. Now the main issue with the Gold Line is east of the Maplewood Station.
Greenway Avenue Station
The surrounding area of this location is a mobile home park and single-family homes. While there are apartments nearby, I-94 separates them from the station, and there is currently no plan for a pedestrian bridge over the highway (based on the Gold Line designs found here).
Helmo Avenue Station
The surrounding area of this station mostly consists of townhomes and low-density commercial uses. While there is a senior living complex nearby, it’s over half a mile away, so for most people it’s too far to walk. An automotive facility will be demolished for a realignment of Hudson Road and a park & ride lot. The potential positive of this location is the undeveloped land along the east side of Helmo Avenue, which could be used for transit-oriented development. A new bridge over I-94 connecting to Bielenberg Drive will also allow access to the station from the south side of the highway, but the distance to/from the station will be at least half a mile.
Tamarack Road Station
While there are several businesses surrounding the station site, the wide road with high speed traffic will likely make it unpleasant to walk or bike to/from the station. There is potential for transit-oriented development near the station, but station accessibility will be a challenge, especially in the cold months.
Woodbury Theatre Station
As the name suggests, this station will be next to a movie theatre (given it stays afloat through the pandemic). There’s also a few apartment complexes, lots of surface parking (part of which is used by Metro Transit for a park & ride with express buses), and several businesses that are just within walking distance for most people. However, most of the shops and restaurants in this area, known as Woodbury Village, are just outside walking distance of the station for most people.
Since the suburbs can never have too much parking (sarcasm very much intended), another park & ride station is proposed just west of the Woodbury Theatre Station next to I-494. An on-ramp is proposed to be built, which would allow express buses quick access to the highway. Next to this station a new service center for Washington County is planned.
Between Maplewood and Woodbury, the Gold Line serves areas without a lot of existing development that have good potential for ridership. Additionally, the station areas proposed in Woodbury contain vast amounts of surface parking. While there is potential for transit-oriented development, the last two stops in Woodbury are mainly intended for park & riders. Like most of our suburban area, the proposed alignment of the Gold Line goes through places dominated by large roads with fast traffic.
The changes I propose for the Gold Line are significant, but definitely feasible and will greatly increase the potential for ridership while still serving the East Metro. Firstly, on the eastern end in Woodbury I propose the alignment of the Gold Line goes through the Tamarack Village area instead of Woodbury Village, and with an eastern terminus at the so-called “City Walk at Woodbury.” While this area still has vast amounts of surface parking and wide roads, there’s also more destinations that have good potential for bringing ridership to the Gold Line while still having opportunities for transit-oriented development. With the amount of surface parking that is likely underutilized, there’s an opportunity to use some of it as designated park & ride spaces, which Metro Transit already does at certain places like church parking lots and the aforementioned Woodbury Theatre.
The other major change is extending the Gold Line west from Downtown St. Paul to Downtown Minneapolis via Interstate 94. MnDOT is undergoing their “Rethinking I-94” study, which is a good opportunity for both cities to demand bus rapid transit with dedicated bus lanes on I-94. Online (on the freeway median) stations should be placed at Dale Street (Rondo), Snelling Avenue, 27th Avenue near the University of Minnesota, and 25th Avenue at Seward. With this western extension, the chances of the Gold Line being successful are much more likely. Minor improvements to accessibility of stations, particularly in the eastern suburbs, is also needed to make the Gold Line more useful to more than just park & riders.
It’s uncertain if these changes would give the Gold Line a higher rating by the FTA. However, the FTA’s current demand for more parking is not what a rapid transit route needs. With buses running every 10-15 minutes all-day in both directions, the route needs to serve more than just parking lots. If the FTA doesn’t approve of these changes, then the Gold Line should be fully funded by the state, region, and cities served by the route. Going with the FTA’s demands could lead to the Gold Line being unsuccessful like the Red Line in the South Metro.
While the reroute helps some, looking at the route the stop placement still isn’t great, and the one block segment on Radio Dr. is likely to be difficult unless they try and fit a fully-dedicated ROW through the intersections (which I doubt.) I’d probably find a way to go into Tamarack Village directly if at all possible, putting a stop near the big roundabout or repurposing some parts of one of the parking lots. I also think there should be another stop closer to the shopping centers on the west side of Woodbury Drive – it’s very stroad-y and I don’t think a lot of people will cross that willingly.
Even with the reroute and adding a couple stops, I find it hard to justify keeping highway BRT levels of service that far into Woodbury. I do think Tamarack Village could justify that level of service and would make a good layover spot, but if the cost of that bridge is part of the issue I think ending the Gold Line at Helmo seems fine. Most of Woodbury needs more stops than what highway BRT would provide for, and if the route is running all the way through to Minneapolis (which I think makes sense) having too many shared road segments will cause unpredictable delays downline. It’d be better to take the bit of savings in operational expenses and use that for feeder routes in Woodbury – that’ll do more for ridership, in my opinion, than extending the one-seat service further into Woodbury.
The construction of the new bridge over 94 is the stupidest thing about this whole project. What a waste of money when it could go farther down 4th Street (passing housing and shopping) and cross on Radio Drive (passing by even more shopping, dining, and hotels) before cutting back over to Bilenberg on Tamarack.
As it is, it’s going to be a commuter line only and not really useful for riding outside rush hours. The opposite of the A Line.
Good point on going further down 4th Street to Radio Drive. That would save a decent amount of money not having to build a bridge over I-94 and it could still have a stop at Helmo Avenue for a park & ride and (hopefully) transit-oriented development.
John, what makes you say that it’s going to be a commute line only? It’s going to be operating 7 days a week and have frequent, all-day service in both directions. As someone who lives in Saint Paul, who lives a mile away from the nearest bus stop (therefore I do not have access to bus service), this line will be going in ~2.5 miles away, I’m excited to be able to go to both Woodbury and downtown St Paul via this future line. We have so few transit options on the east side of Saint Paul. This one will be greatly appreciated/used.
I like the concept of the Gold Line traveling I-94 to downtown Minneapolis, but having in-line stations in Seward and Prospect Park will be very difficult without additional right-of-way even if you convince MnDOT to not add lanes to 94. The existing right-of-way is much narrower than it is on 35W, even after accounting for 35W having more lanes than 94.
They would be online stations, not inline stations. Taking away a little bit of space from cars for buses is a fair compromise since I know MnDOT doesn’t want to even think about the idea of freeway removal.
Typical practice for HO/T lanes is to have them in the median or the far left lane. For buses to use those without having to cross over traffic would require inline stations. What you’re suggesting would be more appropriate if they used wider shoulders for bus use instead of HO/T lanes. It would still be a tight fit, and the U of M exit ramps would be a complication at 27th unless you dropped half that interchange which I doubt would fly.
The buses would be operating in HOT or dedicated bus lanes in the median through Minneapolis (same as what the Orange Line will do through South Minneapolis serving 46th Street and Lake Street). Since the distance is likely too short for buses to merge across traffic there would need to be HOT or dedicated bus ramps from I-94 to 7th and 8th Streets in Minneapolis, similar to what they’re building from 35W to 11th and 12th Streets.
As long as our funding mechanisms necessitate including Washington county. The Gold Line is about the best we can hope for. It provides transit mobility for Ramsey County and the Eastside of St Paul.
Yes it should continue to Minneapolis. But when you take suburbs money then the suburbs will control the projects cause they want something for what they put in.
Orange Line, Red Line, Northstar, Blue Line, Green Line extension, Hwy 55 BRT and Hwy 36 BRT being proposed too. This will keep happening until we change the structure.
See also: Newport transit station.
I saw in an article you wrote recently that you said “State laws have long placed strict restrictions on municipal taxes”
What state laws restrict municipal taxes, and what are those restrictions?
It’s complicated and over my head. I just know Minneapolis can’t levy sales taxes, for example, and that’s pretty common across the country. e.g NYC, which is severely limited by Albany.
Ok thanks for the response.
I’ve been trying to think of ways to target the cities that would benefit from real transit instead of the limitations of the current funding mechanisms which asks the entire county to chip in.
This makes every suburbs want the piece of the pie.
Realistically if we could focus our funding and our investments on Minneapolis, Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Robbinsdale, Crystal, St Louis Park, Richfield, Bloomington, maybe Edina, Roseville, Columbia Heights, Maplewood, South St Paul. We could probably convince most of the city councils to get on board.
But now the question becomes how can these cities generate the additional revenue that can be used to revolutionize transit in the twin cities in the next 30 years. Much more than a few aBRT routes and the Riverview streetcar.
We need a modal shift and little steps without a network mindset. And continuing to try and appease the suburbs won’t help us get there.
If you know any places to look or people to email to get those answers let me know. Or more places to be involved in the planning process itself. I want to stop talking about how this city needs to get better and start doing something about it.
I don’t think the Blue Line, Green Line Extension, and even the Orange Line should be lumped in with those other projects. The Northstar’s stations are park & rides, though there has been development at a few of the stations. The Red Line is a glorified bus in a canyon made of asphalt, and I expect the Highway 55 and Highway 36 BRT routes would be pretty much the same.
Not the blue line extension and the green line extension as a whole. But those routes just like the gold line extend farther then they would without having to manufacture regional buy in
Green line prolly could have ended in Hopkins and the blue line in Crystal, or Brooklyn Blvd.
I don’t really have a problem with the orange line except a few more infill would be nice.
But the point is are we building projects for need, or for political reasons
Regarding your last point, that’s subjective. Maybe for you it’s political reasons for the Green Line going further southwest than Hopkins and the Blue Line going further north than Crystal, but to me there is a need for those extensions. However, I do think it’s political that the Blue Line is proposed to go to Target North instead of the booming Arbor Lakes area in Maple Grove, but the Met Council isn’t rethinking the north end of the line.
While some routes may exist or proposed for political reasons, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a lost cause or there’s no need for them. While the Red Line was built for political reasons, some changes like extending it north through Richfield and Minneapolis can make it serve an actual need both on the north end as well as the south end since a certain amount of people are transferring from the Red Line to the Blue Line at Mall of America to go further north.
There is a tangible good that is created anytime that public money is invested that’s not what I’m arguing. But does anyone really think that the stops on west Broadway or golden triangle would be used more than a stop at Hennepin and the Greenway?
There is an opportunity cost and a finite amount of political money and if these routes where just given to transit planners and said build what is the best for the area I highly doubt that they would have been built.
It’s not a lost cause but that money would have been put to better use if it was focused where people actually ride transit and depend on it daily.
For example on the gold line. There isn’t much to justify this project past 3m. But it will still be built to Washington County because Washington County demanded it. The transit planners had a bunch of bad options to choose from (Remember the Manning Park and Ride). And they chose this one. Does that mean we throw it out, no. But we can and must still criticise the system that necessitates that the gold line go through Washington county. And we should look to change that system to one that will push a modal shift instead of vanity projects.
If we had a regional planning agency that actually did regional transit planning, the Gold Line would be LRT and continue west through what is called the Riverview Corridor to the Airport and farther west along the 494 corridor.
In the east-metro, stations would connect passengers to generally north-south BRT routes that would easily get people across I94 and similar barriers and out into the suburbs with routes dictated by where people came from and wanted to go. Autonomous Vehicles (or small buses in the meantime) would be highly desirable for reaching the low-density residential areas.
LRT stations would be located where adjoining retail, office, housing and other transit oriented development could be constructed. The Gold Line would extend from Stillwater to Eden Prairie and would be one of the most important transit routes in the region, powering an enormous amount of new development and redevelopment.
In the absence of regional transit planning and, especially, regional funding, we pretend that we are not part of a large metropolitan area. In our myopia, we ignore the fact that a lot of people in the east metro work in the west metro and other parts of the region. We pretend they all work downtown and they all can drive to a bus station. And we pretend if you can’t drive, you can surely walk several miles in the cold and ice of winter or the heat and rain of summer to get to the bus station.
In the meantime, the west-metro will have 50 miles of LRT, a ton of new development and the potential for a transit system that actually is built as a system which enables people to safely, comfortably and timely reach all parts of the west metro urban area.
If only we had a regional planning agency that actually did regional transit planning.
Exactly, this is why there needs to be the buy in from cities that wish to go beyond what the county will generate.
Lately I’ve been thinking more of BRT on the 494 corridor. That would make it much easier to connect to the green line as there’s really not much to stop for between normandale/American and Eden prairie where the green line ends. And building a bunch of track there doesn’t make a ton of sense versus putting dedicated lanes.
I think it could be an extension of the Red Line. Or it’s own corridor.
I think it makes more sense for the 494 Corridor between Mall of America and SouthWest Station to be a future extension of Riverview. The LRT infrastructure will be already established at both ends, and if the alignment is done right it could serve a lot of jobs and residences.
Why pay the premium cost to add rails, electrification, and mid freeway stations and bridges, a one car train to an area that already has lanes that could be converted to BRT.
Plus if the BRT exits the freeway at Nicollet it can hit a bunch of apartments north of the station and the mixed use site of lyndale and 77th. Take the BRT tunnel under 494 and transfer with the Orange Line. Then go American to Penn and Normandale Lake. American Blvd and 77th at are very overbuilt and pretty realistic to add a Bus only lane. (Or it could just stay on 77th with the new tunnel under 77)
If we are building a light rail. Then if we want to connect it to the green line we have about 5 miles of dead track between normandale and Eden prairie. What is deserving of a station in that area?
With light rail every inch of rail that is built there must be paid for. But with brt it can hop on the freeway and go non stop on 494 to 212 to southwest station.
Reminder that this is all for a one car streetcar service with capacity the same or less then a BRT bus. We’re not talking about 3 car LRT trains.
LRT doesn’t have to be in the middle of 494 all the way between Mall of America and Eden Prairie. What you’re suggesting with routing BRT would require several turns which degrades the legibility of the route, the travel time of the service, and the comfortability of the ride. People traveling along this corridor are more likely to take a one-seat LRT ride between the 494 Corridor and the east metro than BRT that requires a transfer at Mall of America.
Whether it’s BRT or LRT, it shouldn’t just operate non-stop between Normandale Lake and SouthWest Station. Eden Prairie Center should definitely have a station, and preferably one more stop before SouthWest Station.
Also as far as I’m aware there has not been a decision yet on how long the trains will be for Riverview. Hopefully it’s 2-car trains with the option of extending the platforms for 3-car trains at a later time, since the existing stops for the Blue and Green Lines that Riverview will use are already built for 3-car trains.
We can switch out southwest station for Eden prairie station. I only left it out because of the extra cost of interlining and the infrastructure to get out of the 494 trench.
But either way between eden prairie station and Normandale lake what is deserving of a station in the 5 miles in-between. If there’s nothing there like I said your just building dead track. When you could use the pavement. Plus it would be easy to extend it to Chanhassen or down 212 (for extremely cheap) which would act like an extension of the green line to connect with southwest transit stations if we really want to serve those suburbs.
As far as Legibility, that can be accomplished with signs on the freeway showing where to exit for the bus. A sign showing where it goes. Pavement on the street that says what bus comes on here. A billboard advertising it.
This route wouldn’t have many more turns then the orange line. So talking about additional turns taking away from comfort doesn’t make much sense. The bus could get up to 40 on American and 77th St with dedicated lanes and if traffic lights are prioritized then it’s not much different that a train in 494 would be. Yes it’s a little slower, but it would provide better walksheds by going to where the existing mixed use nodes are instead of 2 blocks away.
Yes we hope it will use 2 car trains but we don’t know that. The street running segment makes it likely that it won’t.
Plus if your going to build down the middle of 494 be prepared to condemn property as they will never give up more than a lane needed for stations especially near nicollet, lyndale, portland,
I wasn’t referring to Town Center Station, I was referring to a station that actually serves Eden Prairie Center since Town Center Station will be nearly half a mile from the nearest entrance to Eden Prairie Center. I see these two routes interlining somewhere just before SouthWest Station.
Between Eden Prairie Center and Normandale Lake is nearly 4 miles, but I don’t see the issue with not having a station somewhere in between. That just speeds up travel time and stations can be focused in areas that actually deserve one.
Regarding legibility, I’m talking about people looking at the route on a map. A Metro line should be as straightforward as possible, but with BRT that makes it more difficult if you’re going to make many turns to directly serve as many places as possible along the corridor. And yes it does make sense to talk about rider comfort. A bus simply doesn’t have the same rider quality as a train, especially on curves. Add in bumps and potholes on the road and rider comfort is significantly degraded. When I rode the Silver Line BRT in Los Angeles it was quite unpleasant when the bus was going more than 50 miles per hour since there was a lot of rattling. I’ll also reiterate that people are much more likely to take a one-seat ride on a train between the west suburbs and St. Paul than taking a bus and having to transfer to a train at Mall of America.
And again, you’re assuming LRT would be in the middle of 494 for the whole route, but it doesn’t have to be. You also assume they will accept giving up lanes on American, 77th, and/or 494 for buses, but that would likely have the same issue as unwillingness to give up space for LRT. However, if they can let go of space for cars on University for the Green Line, then it’s reasonable for them to give up space for cars along the 494 Corridor.
4 miles of no station is 4 miles of maintencence, energy, and right of way for no benefit in that immediate area over a bus.
My point is this if the Orange Line is comfortable and legible enough for people BRT on 494 can do that. This area is not so in demand to require light rail for the sake of capacity.
Either way though. I can tell you’ve put a lot of thought into your map. I love debating with people who are knowledgeable on the topic. It’s good to hear other perspectives.
Indeed it doesn’t need to be in the median. In fact, I would argue that, east of 35W, it could fairly easily occupy 2 of the 6 lanes on American Blvd.
Don’t count on two or three-car trains on West 7th. Keep in mind, this is supposed to be a “streetcar”; streetcars are generally not linked; that ends it right there. But, more important, there are very few places where you could put a two or three-car station on West 7th. Such a long train and stations degrade all traffic on West 7th, squeezes sidewalk capacity and obscures and interferes with businesses along the street, not to mention street parking. And keep in mind that the “streetcar” must be as wide as an LRT vehicle and the floor must be 14″, in order to accommodate the LRT stations on the Blue and Green lines on each end of Riverview.
Plain and simple, Riverview is not and cannot be a streetcar. It must be LRT, but not on West 7th. West 7th needs local bus service, up and down the street for the people who live in the Corridor, and should have 10 or 15 minute intervals, with stops available at most intersections. This bus should have connections to the LRT at three or four LRT stations. Check out:
Riverview isn’t a streetcar, it’s a LRT/streetcar hybrid where only a short length of the route is proposed to be run in mixed-traffic. It should be fully dedicated right-of-way, and I hope when it’s built that the mixed-traffic segment can be converted to dedicated right-of-way at a later time. 3-car trains may be pushing it, but 2-car trains is reasonable for this corridor.
METC needs to go to Mexico City to observe a true BRT.Their buses are bi-articulated and operates like a metro with enclosed stations.
Maybe if METC had done their homework the Greenline wouldn’t be a total failure with the routing that adds significant amount of time .The routing was design as bus route,Prospeck Park/TCF Stadium Robert St are examples Hamline Western and Vic are barely 1/4miles form other stations.
Some #16 trips are faster than the GL from Midway to St Paul downtown.
The GL with it honor system is a nightmare which encourage the homeless and the criminals on the trains . Every day you texts about delays due to police activity I avoid the GL like the Plague ,with so many homeless and mentally unstable people on the trains .Smoking is common on lost trains ,the police quit patrolling the trains
Gold lone will benefit commuters to St Paul .
Thank you for this article. Last June, I wrote the following letter to Ramsey County Commissioners, Saint Paul city officials, State Representatives and Gold Line planners regarding serious problems with the Mounds Boulevard station design in Saint Paul. Later in June, I took one state representative on a tour of the proposed station so they could see the problem first hand, and they arranged a meeting with Metro Transit project planners at which I gave a slide presentation outlining my problems with the station design and offering various solutions. Yet, despite this, none of my suggestions were taken into consideration. Reading your piece, I agree that the project should be paused and fundamentally reconsidered.
June 10, 2020,
To Whom it May Concern,
The day before the deadline for public comments, I finally got around to reading plan sets for the various Saint Paul stations on the proposed Gold Line BRT project that will run along I-94 to the eastern suburbs on its own, separated guideway. See– https://www.metrotransit.org/gold-line-project
The Mounds Boulevard station is the last separated station/guideway before the buses go on city streets into downtown. Unfortunately, Metro Transit wants to widen Mounds Boulevard at the 3rd/Kellogg Street Bridge to 7 lanes in order to accommodate this. That bridge is the ONLY direct, lighted, never-flooded bicycle and pedestrian connection to the East Side from downtown. Rebuilding the bridge is Saint Paul’s #1 item on the Regional Solicitation for funding. It’s supposed to have an enhanced bicycle and pedestrian section.
Unfortunately, it won’t matter how nice they make the bridge because, at the top end, pedestrians and cyclists will have to cross 7 lanes of traffic to reach the east side. I guarantee someone will be hit by a car, truck or bus in the first month it opens.
Based on traffic counts, this section of Mounds Boulevard gets less than 18,000 vehicles per day. There is no reason it needs to be expanded to 7 lanes. For comparison, Lexington and Fairview Avenues carry over 14,000 vehicles per day on just 3 lanes. Metro Transit could easily modify its plan and have BRT buses merge into existing lanes prior to this point …OR, they could remove a couple of the existing 5 car lanes.
The Saint Paul Transportation plan supposedly prioritizes pedestrians and cyclists first, then transit, then cars. Here Buses and cars are being put ahead of pedestrians on one of the most important intersections in the city– taking a bad intersection and making it worse.
I submitted this as a comment during the comments period but was basically ignored and told by a city staff member that it’s a done deal and they won’t be changing it. So I ask you: “Why have a public comment period if you don’t plan to change anything based on those comments? Why bother having a community process when you have no intention of listening to comments from the community?”
If you can do anything to get them to modify their station/intersection proposal, I’d be eternally grateful. As it stands, this project will further sever the East Side from downtown and the rest of the city.
Andy Singer, Co-Chair
Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition