Rail vs Bus along the Midtown Greenway

By 2024, the B Line will be operational and provide rapid bus service along Lake Street, Marshall Avenue, and Selby Avenue between West Lake Station in Minneapolis and Downtown St. Paul. Just north of Lake Street is a former railroad trench, now partially occupied by the popular Midtown Greenway trail, that for years has been looked at for rail transit due to the dedicated right-of-way and limited number of grade crossings. In 2014, Metro Transit identified light rail as the locally preferred alternative for the Midtown Corridor between the Green Line Extension’s West Lake Station and the Blue Line’s Lake Street/Midtown Station.

Rendering of a streetcar along the Midtown Greenway near Chicago Avenue in South Minneapolis. Source: Midtown Community Works Partnership.

This isn’t the first post concerning the implementation of transit on the Midtown Corridor (I’ve mentioned it here), and it certainly won’t be the last since the Metropolitan Council and Metro Transit have pushed this topic aside for the foreseeable future. However, it’s never too early to discuss what is best for the Midtown Corridor. This post will provide an evaluation of the pros and cons of light rail/streetcar vs bus rapid transit (BRT) on the Midtown Corridor, options for extending service beyond the Midtown Corridor, and a recommendation on transit mode for the Midtown Corridor.

Strengths of Light Rail on the Midtown Corridor

Over 100 years ago the Milwaukee Road grade-separated their busy mainline through South Minneapolis due to significant traffic congestion on north-south arterial streets caused by freight and passenger trains. A corridor built for those kinds of trains could also easily work for modern day light rail trains.

The Midtown Corridor goes through one of the densest areas of the Twin Cities in terms of population and employment, and many people who live or work in the area don’t own a car and depend on transit. The demand is certainly there for high-frequency and high-capacity light rail service.

Rendering of light rail with turf track on the Midtown Corridor. Source: Metro Transit.

Turf track could be used to maintain the aesthetics of the Midtown Greenway. The light rail trains would operate on electricity, so there would be no pollution issues to deal with. Also in light rail’s favor are rider comfortability and the general preference people have for rail over bus

Weaknesses of Light Rail on the Midtown Corridor

Metro Transit’s final report on the Midtown Corridor shows that light rail would only go as far west as West Lake Station and as far east as Lake Street/Midtown Station, which is just over four miles. This would severely limit the potential of serving more than just South Minneapolis and being a highly useful service. The recommended alignment makes it mostly usable only for trips within the Lake Street area (and even for those trips, people may prefer the B Line) or connecting to a north-south transit route.

The design of the Blue Line and Green Line Extension also implies that a Midtown Corridor light rail would have a short route. On the west end, the Green Line Extension wasn’t designed to allow for interlining of Midtown Corridor trains at West Lake Station due to the tunnel underneath the Kenilworth Corridor, so a separate station platform would be needed. Interlining west of West Lake Station may be difficult due to right-of-way constraints, though not impossible. On the east end, the Blue Line was designed with a future junction in mind that would allow Midtown Corridor trains to interline and serve Lake Street/Midtown Station. However, trains can only go south from there.

Aerial map from 2010 showing the potential design of West Lake Station with a separate platform for Midtown Corridor trains. Source: Midtown Community Works Partnership.

Another drawback arises from the aesthetic requests the Midtown Greenway Coalition have made. Turf track was one request, which can easily be fulfilled, but another was maintaining the existing slopes and bridges along the Midtown Greenway in order to preserve the historic character of the corridor. The Midtown Corridor Final Report shows that the locally preferred alternative includes a combination of single- and double-track segments in order to meet that request. The report also shows that either single unit light rail vehicles (LRVs) or modern streetcars would be used on the Midtown Corridor instead of two- or three-car trains that are typical on our existing light rail lines. The single-tracking and single unit LRVs greatly reduce potential frequency and capacity.

While trains could perhaps use batteries instead of overhead wires on the Midtown Corridor, there’s no guarantee Metro Transit would accept a sub-fleet of LRVs or streetcars specially designed for only the Midtown Corridor. It’s up for debate whether overhead wires would impact the historic character of the corridor or not.

Potential Extensions of Light Rail

From a feasibility standpoint, the possibilities for extending light rail beyond the Midtown Corridor are very limited. Going from West Lake Station, the only feasible route is utilizing Green Line Extension infrastructure to Shady Oak Station. A pocket track is planned to be built near this station, so Midtown Corridor trains would be able to layover without blocking the mainline tracks.

From Lake Street/Midtown Station there are only two feasible routes. The first would be to continue south on the existing Blue Line and end at Fort Snelling Station. The reason trains would stop here is because of the existing pocket track that could be used by Midtown Corridor trains to layover without blocking the mainline tracks. Going further south, people would need to transfer to the Blue Line (or Riverview Corridor when that becomes operational).

The second route would go south until 46th Street Station, then turn east and cross the Mississippi River on Ford Parkway. Trains would then go through the redeveloped Ford Site, utilize railroad right-of-way currently owned by Canadian Pacific Railway, and end at West 7th where people could transfer to/from the Riverview Corridor. However, there are traffic concerns due to the need to cross Hiawatha Avenue, as well as taking away space on 46th Street/Ford Parkway. There would also likely be local opposition to trains running on 46th Street/Ford Parkway, and potential design issues with routing through the redeveloped Ford Site.

Strengths of BRT on the Midtown Corridor

The main strength of BRT on the Midtown Corridor is the ability to cheaply and easily extend service beyond West Lake and Lake Street/Midtown. There are more extension opportunities for BRT than light rail both on the west end and east end. BRT can use existing road infrastructure with little modification needed besides for stations. Traffic signal priority and dedicated bus lanes are also possible.

Electric buses can be utilized to eliminate emission concerns, and the buses can be 60 feet long to provide additional capacity (80-foot buses also exist, though these may require extensive modifications to intersections). Metro Transit already operates 60-foot articulated electric buses on the C Line, and more could be used as the technology improves and the rapid bus network expands.

A C Line bus at Brooklyn Center Transit Center. This is a 60-foot articulated electric bus built by New Flyer. Image by author.

The busway on the Midtown Corridor doesn’t have to be the usual asphalt road. Turf in between concrete tracks is used on the Cambridgeshire Busway in Cambridge, England and the Leigh-Salford-Manchester BRT in Manchester, England. In addition to aesthetics, it also allows buses to operate at higher speeds, and docking at station platforms is more precise for easier boarding/alighting.

A bus on the Cambridgeshire Busway. On the right is a multi-use trail. Image by Ed Webster.

If preserving the railroad trench as much as possible is a high priority, buses can operate in a single lane for short segments like trains can do on a single track. In fact, it’s likely easier for buses to share a single lane than trains sharing a single track due to the need for tracks to have switch equipment that must be maintained. If a switch fails, this can severely impact light rail operations.

For a short segment on the Cambridgeshire Busway, a single track/lane is shared by buses in both directions due to the narrow width of the right-of-way. Next to the busway is a multi-use trail. Source: Google Street View.

Weaknesses of BRT on the Midtown Corridor

Assuming a concrete guideway is used for buses on the Midtown Corridor, this would require buses to be fitted with guide wheels on the sides of buses. However, the guide wheels can be installed on any bus and they’re easy to install or remove. Bus guideways like the two examples in England are extremely rare, so logistical concerns such as drainage, snow and ice clearing, and the freeze/thaw cycle would likely require further study before committing to it.

While BRT is in theory light rail on rubber wheels, the rider comfortability isn’t quite the same, and rail bias is still there no matter how many upgrades you put into a bus route. BRT ridership between West Lake Station and Lake Street/Midtown Station would likely be lower than light rail. However, the additional ridership from an extended route could make up for that.

BRT also has lower capacity than light rail even with longer articulated buses. New Flyer’s Xcelsior CHARGE 60-foot electric bus, used on the C Line, can seat up to 52 people plus room for 73 standees. The Siemens S70, used on our light rail lines, has space for approximately 231 people (including seating for 63 people). Although the assumption for light rail on the Midtown Corridor is using single unit LRVs rather than two- or three-car trains, this is still nearly twice the capacity of an articulated bus. There is also more space for wheelchairs, luggage and bikes on LRVs (anecdotally, however, I’ve found it easier loading/unloading my bike on the bus than the light rail).

Characteristics of each travel mode from the Midtown Corridor Final Report Alternatives Analysis. Source: Metro Transit.

Electric buses, while proven technology, require charging infrastructure at bus garages and at the termini of routes. There have been issues with charging infrastructure for the C Line, and the Metropolitan Council may be going back on its promise to order more electric buses. However, battery technology is always improving, so we shouldn’t consider electric buses unworkable in our environment just because of the hiccups the C Line has experienced.

Potential Extensions of BRT

From West Lake Station, two extensions have been identified as the most feasible for a Midtown Corridor BRT service. Both would continue west along the Midtown Greenway and Green Line Extension until France Avenue, and then turn south. At the intersection of France & Excelsior Boulevard, the first option would continue south on France and utilize existing rapid bus stations built for the E Line between 44th Street and Southdale. From Southdale, buses would continue south and serve the Centennial Lakes area of Edina. The E Line would be rerouted to Xerxes Avenue between 44th and Southdale.

The second option would turn west onto Excelsior Boulevard and end at Downtown Hopkins. While some may argue this would be redundant with the Green Line Extension, it could provide easy connections to destinations along Excelsior that are just outside of walking distance from Green Line stations including Excelsior & Grand and Methodist Hospital.

From Lake Street/Midtown Station there were also two extensions identified as being the most feasible. The first would continue east on Lake Street, turn north at Minnehaha Avenue, and then rejoin the right-of-way used by the Midtown Greenway. After crossing the Mississippi River, buses would turn north and serve the Stadium Village area. However, this route is only feasible if Canadian Pacific Railway abandons their right-of-way that includes the bridge across the Mississippi River. As of now there is no indication they intend to abandon it, as the rail line is still used by the Minnesota Commercial Railroad to serve a couple industries along Hiawatha Avenue.

The second option would continue east on Lake Street across the Mississippi River into St. Paul, turn south on Cleveland Avenue, and then turn east onto Grand Avenue, going all the way to Downtown St. Paul. In addition to residents and businesses along Grand Avenue, this route would also serve St. Thomas and Macalester College. Grand Avenue has been looked at for rapid bus service as part of Metro Transit’s Network Next initiative.


The locally preferred alternative for the Midtown Corridor from 2014 needs to be reevaluated before we commit to a light rail service that’s labeled as a streetcar and only goes four miles. A partially single-track light rail line using single-unit LRVs combines the lower capacity of a bus route with the difficulty of building an extension. Metro Transit’s recommendation for the Midtown Corridor emphasizes fashion over function to avoid altering a railroad trench as much as possible.

Light rail and BRT on the Midtown Corridor both have strong pros and cons. If we want a high-capacity shuttle service through South Minneapolis, then fully double-track light rail with the ability to operate two-car trains is the best option. If we want to extend service beyond the Midtown Corridor in order for it to be a more useful service, then BRT is the best option.

About Eric Ecklund

Eric has lived in Bloomington his whole life (besides 4 months studying in Oslo, Norway). With a Bachelors in Urban Studies from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, his future career is in transportation planning and he is heavily invested in Twin Cities transit from trying different bus routes to continuously examining how to improve the transit network in the Twin Cities.

49 thoughts on “Rail vs Bus along the Midtown Greenway

  1. JJ England

    Thanks for the insightful post. As somebody who lives in Uptown, I personally am strongly in favor of running BRT in the Greenway via a guideway. To me, transit in the Greenway is a no-brainer. There is dedicated ROW that is not being used through one of the most dense parts of Minneapolis. Most cities would be envious of having that type of ROW available. Connecting the dense Lake Street corridor to downtown St. Paul with transit is important, and no bus that runs on Lake Street will compare to using this dedicated ROW. This should have been done years ago. I just hope that running BRT on Lake Street doesn’t take the air out of the option for BRT in the Greenway in the future. If it does, then I very much believe that it will have been a mistake to have focused on BRT on Lake Street before focusing on transit in the Greenway. Thanks again.

    1. JJ England

      I should add that I bike in the Greenway regularly (at least in the warmer months). In my opinion, the bike/pedestrian path in the Greenway can happily co-exist with transit. And arguments that transit would somehow disrupt the historic integrity of the Greenway corridor strike me as technical to the point of absurdity. If we’re going to look at the history here, the Greenway was historically used for trains. Placing transit in the corridor would mark a return to the historic use of this corridor. Transit combined with a bike/pedestrian trail is by far the highest impact use of the Greenway. Without transit, the Greenway ROW is simply being under-utilized. In my opinion, under-utilizing this ROW in such a dense part of Minneapolis is really inexcusable, and electrified BRT using something like a guideway that can then continue on to St. Paul is the best use of this corridor. Running BRT on Lake Street seems kind of silly given this vastly better option.

  2. Soren Jensen

    As you mentioned in the first sentence, a BRT line is currently being installed on Lake Street, which is parallel to and one block from the Midtown Greenway. Why would we need two BRT lines a block from each other, going along the exact same route? Better to put nothing in the Greenway and keep the world-class bike/ped trail as it is, which many people would support. At the Midtown Greenway Coalition, we support a single-track (in places) turf-track streetcar line. (We assume there would already be streetcars on Nicollet-Central, so they would already be part of the fleet.) The Metro Transit study for the locally preferred alternative showed that having a streetcar in the Greenway, combined with a BRT on Lake Street, would have the highest ridership. Since the trench portion of the Greenway is under federal historic preservation, it’s not just a matter of aesthetics. The slopes are part of the historic designation, and replacing them with concrete walls is a non-starter. The Midtown Greenway can accommodate a low-impact streetcar, powered by batteries, embedded in turf-track, and running on single-track in places to preserve the slope (and the Green that makes it a Greenway). Making sure any transit improvements in the Greenway are done correctly is not a matter of fashion, but rather an acknowledgement that the Midtown Greenway is the most important bike commuter trail in the region. Bike and rail can co-exist in the Greenway, but it has to be done right. Soren Jensen, executive director, Midtown Greenway Coalition

    1. Eric Ecklund Post author

      “As you mentioned in the first sentence, a BRT line is currently being installed on Lake Street, which is parallel to and one block from the Midtown Greenway. Why would we need two BRT lines a block from each other, going along the exact same route?”

      If you read the rest of the article you will see that a Midtown Greenway BRT would more likely go beyond just West Lake and Lake Street/Midtown. Yes the B Line and a Greenway BRT would be next to each other through South Minneapolis, but beyond that they would serve different areas.

      “(We assume there would already be streetcars on Nicollet-Central, so they would already be part of the fleet.)”

      I wouldn’t get my hopes up on a Nicollet-Central streetcar line ever happening, especially now that Central Avenue was selected to be one of the next aBRT routes.

      “Since the trench portion of the Greenway is under federal historic preservation, it’s not just a matter of aesthetics. The slopes are part of the historic designation, and replacing them with concrete walls is a non-starter.”

      Again if you read my entire article you would see that buses can share a single lane/track, and it would likely be easier than a single-track light rail/streetcar line. If preserving slopes are that important then BRT can do that with a single lane/track.

      “Bike and rail can co-exist in the Greenway, but it has to be done right.”

      Your definition of “right” for the Midtown Greenway is not universal. From the perspective of the Midtown Greenway Coalition the “right” thing to do is a single-track streetcar/LRT line with severely limited capacity compared to our existing light rail lines and very little possibility for it to expand beyond South Minneapolis.

    2. Trademark

      The fact that your groups asthethic preference overrides the need for real mass transit is disgraceful. A single track one car streetcar is not mass transit. You are coming from a place of extreme privilege telling the many people who live here that rely on public transit that you care about your wall over them making it back home to their families quicker. Not too mention sacrificing our climate goals by not providing a competitive option to cars.

      No one is saying get rid of the trail. It can and will still exist. But remember that you do not own that land. It was purchased by the city for the explicit purpose of transit. Which includes bike and transit. In a true multimodal city compromises must be made for the good of everyone. And the fact that your group does not understand this is extremely disappointing.

      1. Soren Jensen

        There seems to be some confusion. Nobody has ever said it would be one streetcar. It could multiple cars if the demand is there. This route has been officially studied by the Met Council. If anyone really wants to support mass transit in the Lake Street-Greenway corridor, the clear winner is a BRT on Lake Street and Rail in the Greenway, which we support. That would generate the most ridership. There is no significant capacity difference between a streetcar and a LRT (it all depends on frequency and the number of cars). If streetcars are already operating on Nicollet-Central (or elsewhere), we believe they would be the better choice for the Greenway. https://www.metrotransit.org/Data/Sites/1/media/midtown-corridor/midtown-corridor-final-report-low-res.pdf

        1. Trademark

          Usual definitions in America for streetcar is single car so if the platforms can be longer that’s great, but it doesn’t change the fact that single tracking will make this line a fraction of what it could be.

          As for the argument of BRT on Lake street. I could say the same thing about the greenway. Just because bike lanes exist on 26th and 28th Street should we get rid of the Greenway? Obviously not. In the same way a more local BRT on Lake street and a higher speed LRT serve two different riderships. The BRT on Lake street will hit more lights and deal with more traffic and will therefore be much slower then LRT (and that’s today,o nto mention what it will be like a decade or two from now when the area adds density and traffic gets worse). Just like how bike lanes on 28th are slower then taking the Greenway.

          aBRT is not rapid transit. It should be the baseline for most urban bus lines but that can’t be the extent of what we do. And just like cars had to give up a lane on 28th and 26th for bikes. You should have to give up the necessary space to provide good transit.

        2. Trademark

          I’m not against asthethic preferences. However you want it too look should be taken into consideration up until the point where you sacrifice the utility of the taxpayers investment and in this case that means double tracked light rail.

          1. Soren Jensen

            Full scale double-tracked light rail means removing much of the green slope and trees and replacing them with hardscape (probably concrete) walls. It is of course anyone’s right to be OK with that, but many taxpayers who live along the Greenway and the thousands of people who rely on it for bicycle transit every day may not be so keen on the idea. The “green” in the Greenway is important, and we would not dismiss it as merely an aesthetic preference. We’ve helped plant more than 5,000 trees and shrubs in the Greenway, and they have value even beyond their contribution to cleaning dirty air. Balancing the needs of the various Greenway transit users is the key, which is why we support turf-embedded single-track rail in places where the Greenway is too narrow to support double-track.

            1. Trademark

              A turf track can still happen with double track. If you would like to call it a double tracked streetcar you can do it. As for the trees as many as possible would be saved. But to think that just planting trees without attacking the solutions of CO2 emissions won’t solve anything. We need to cut our emissions to 12% of 1990 levels. A few more trees does not change that equation. Getting people out of cars, encouraging denser developments and smarter cleaner energy is what will actually make a dent.

              One thing that the twin cities has is a lot of Green space. I’ve lived in many other places and that’s the thing that keeps bringing me back. I grew up on the Greenway riding on it since I was 6 and now I’m 26.

              I thought it was the coolest thing. The exit and entrance ramps was so unique and the safe area was crucial in making me love biking. But biking can’t solve every trip.

              The thing that is missing in this city is real quality mass transit. A streetcar like Portland that is solely built for development reasons isn’t enough. We need something more like Seattle utilizing right of ways, strategic tunneling as well as encouraging alternate modes of transportation like biking.

              The Greenway has been in proposals since 1969 for rapid transit. It has always been targeted for rapid transit. It’s sad that the coalition who I always looked forward to reading their new newsletter and the people that gave me some great memories like the first time riding phase 2, phase 3, olav sabo bridge is opposing a transit line that could have one of the highest riderships per mile in the country.

              1. Soren Jensen

                We support a rail transit line in the Greenway, but don’t think a full-scale double-tracked line (which would not likely be embedded in turf, BTW) is worth the harm to the corridor – or even necessary. There is no evidence that a Greenway streetcar would have lower capacity than a double-tracked LRT. The streetcars simply pass each other at the stations and/or in sections with double-track. More streetcars could be added if needed to meet capacity. The Greenway streetcar would fully meet the needs of transit users and increase mass transit ridership, without causing significant harm to the Greenway in terms of the loss of trees and greenspace. What’s not to like about that?

                1. Eric Ecklund Post author

                  Do you have evidence to support your claim that a single-track with sidings streetcar doesn’t have lower capacity than a fully double-track light rail line? Because according to a graphic from Metro Transit I put in this article streetcars do indeed have lower capacity than light rail.

                  1. Soren Jensen

                    The graphic you used showed that LRT trains carry 200 people, while streetcars carry 160. That’s not a major difference, and could easily be compensated for by running them more frequently if necessary. While not common, it may also be possible to attach two or more cars together.

                    1. Eric Ecklund Post author

                      It’s 200 people per vehicle for LRT, so a two-car train will be able to carry 400 while a single streetcar can only hold 160. All the modern streetcar lines I’ve seen in this country only operate single units, not two-car trains. While it has been done before, I’m not convinced that a Midtown Greenway streetcar would use two-car trains since all the renderings I’ve seen of it show very short platforms and a single unit streetcar. Even if they could couple streetcars together it would be 320 people vs LRT with 400 people, so yes there is a big difference. And as Adam mentioned you can’t simply increase frequency on a rail line with single-track sections.

  3. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

    While the Midtown Greenway Coalition professes to be “pro-transit”, some of their aesthetic demands for the corridor feel like “historic preservation in the name of NIMBYism”, which is an increasingly common thing in cities for development. I’ve always been of the firm belief that the corridor is a logical LRT route…full LRT with double-tracks.

  4. Sheldon Gitis

    Brilliant idea. They’ve already screwed up the very successful and cost-effective Cedar Lake Trail with a $2B boondoggle running an LRT line out to a highway hellhole in Hopkins, so why not screw up another successful and cost-effective pedestrian and bicycle corridor with another outrageously costly and destructive LRT project? Pure genius.

    1. Eric Ecklund Post author

      I don’t know where you get the idea that the Cedar Lake Trail is getting “screwed up” because of Southwest Light Rail. It’s a shame the trail had to close temporarily for construction, but once it starts opening back up it’ll be a big improvement, especially the grade-separated road crossings in St. Louis Park and Hopkins.

      1. Sheldon Gitis

        I don’t know where you get the idea that closing the trail, for years of construction, is not a major screw-up. As far as the “grade-separated road crossings in St. Louis Park and Hopkins” are concerned, I suspect most of the trail users who got screwed by the construction won’t be too ecstatic about the new bridges.

        1. Eric Ecklund Post author

          With proper detours I think it would’ve been better, and hopefully the Met Council has learned this for other infrastructure projects that require temporarily closing a trail.

          Also as an occasional user of the Cedar Lake Trail before it closed, I welcome the grade-separated crossings as the previous at-grade crossings were far too dangerous.

          1. Sheldon Gitis

            Kind of an expensive fix for a couple dangerous crossings, don’t you think? Why weren’t the dangerous crossings made safer years ago, prior to any planning or construction of a $2B project? Are we going to have to wait for another $2B project to make any of the many other very dangerous crossings safer?

            1. Eric Ecklund Post author

              Well they grade-separated Louisiana and Wooddale at Highway 7 so I don’t see why the same shouldn’t done for a trail that gets a lot of traffic not just from recreational users but also bike commuters. It would’ve been nice if they installed crossing signals as a temporary solution until the Southwest Light Rail project was approved and they could build the permanent solution which is grade-separated crossings.

  5. Max Singer

    Can a bus, even on a guideway, really operate at speeds comparable to light rail in a constrained Right of Way? Do they break 20 on the Cambridgeshire busway?

    I spent a summer in Boston, and can’t help but think of the silver line’s pokey performance and constant jostling compared to even the Green line (though silver does better on reliability). Transferring to the silver line was the worst part of my commute. Especially going from red to silver.

    1. JJ England

      I can’t speak to the transit time on the Cabridgeshire busway, but in my experience, the EmX makes good time in Eugene, Oregon. Like the bus in Camgridgeshire, the EmX bus operates on a dedicated guideway for part of its length (near downtown and the U of O), and operates on-street for the remainder of its route. Agreed on the Silver Line in Boston, though. Pokey is a good word to describe the transition from electric to diesel and the twisty routing of that line. I’m not sure if something like the Silver Line’s vehicles are outdated at this point given rapid advancements in battery technology. I realize Metro Transit is apparently delaying purchase of more battery-powered buses, but we’re close to battery technology being the best option. Very close. Solid state batteries on the horizon within the next five or so years appear poised to change everything.

    2. Eric Ecklund Post author

      According to this video the buses can operate on the guideway at up to 50 mph: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=10UY3WC4nDY

      Having experienced Boston’s Silver Line a few times there are several issues with it:
      -Switching from diesel to electric or vise versa since the buses partially operate via trolley wires. Battery electric buses would be used for a Midtown Greenway BRT so we wouldn’t have that delay.
      -The Silver Line is split into several routes. I think we’re avoiding branches for any of our LRT and BRT lines, and the same would apply to a Midtown Greenway BRT.
      -No off-board fare collection and all-door boarding, though I believe this is planned to be implemented in the near future on the Silver Line.
      -A very winding route going into Downtown Boston. A Midtown Greenway BRT, even with the possible extensions, would be a pretty straightforward route.

  6. Paul Nelson

    Hello Eric Ecklund:

    Three issues need to be addressed: 1) Precise right-of-way space needed for this busway design in this corridor. 2) Winter maintenance issues. .and 3) Longevity of rail vs bus equipment and technology, over time.

    it is concerning to me that you have not talked about how much space for this bus design system is needed for your proposal. How much width in the ROW is required? The large photo at the top of this article shows that part of the non motorized pad is covered. For this MTG, this should never be done. The Midtown Greenway non motorized pad surface separates space for walk and bicycle movement by design. This factor of the MTG is by example, very important. For many decades we have in this region (certainly in my county of Ramsey) insisted on applying a maximum of 12 feet width and calling it a “trail” or a “multi use trail”. The Midtown Greenaway is a through space for non motorized transport with few crossings that separates walk from bike by design. People that are walking and people on bicycles are going at different speeds. Even as much as the MTG is a green space corridor, I would call it a highway for non motorized transport.

    Winter maintenance of roadway surfaces for cars, buses and trucks is a continual problem and issue in our region. Cars and buses are heavy and with our winter climate, make potholes. How would we maintain the separated concrete lanes for the bus way in our winter? I am going to guess that any public works department would prefer that the roadway surface be a continual hard surface without the separate lanes. What about ice? Would we need to use road sodium? Overall we can run rail transit much more easily in our winter climate – 100% immune to inclement winter? NO, but much easier.

    How long would the road surface last before we need to replace it? How much work would we need to do to prevent the development of pot holes? The rolling stock of rail lasts 50 years, and very good rail ties last 75 years. A bus vehicle typically lasts about 15 years maximum. See the following by the FTA: https://www.transitwiki.org/TransitWiki/images/6/64/Useful_Life_of_Buses.pdf A streetcar or LRV will last 25, 35 or more years in service before need to replace. Streetcars that were in Toronto for 60 years were refurbished and put in service in san Francisco to last another 60 years. The point is that there is a different metric of costs over time between rail and bus transit, and these costs need to be considered.

    In general, any bus system is going to be more intrusive in the Midtown Greenway corridor in various ways than a streetcar. Rail transit will move more people per dollar than a bus if the people are there; there is significant density between Hiawatha and Hennepin.

    Better distinction needs to be recognized between the standards of streetcar and light rail vehicles. Streetcars can be configured to run on our light rail lines. I recall the early proposal was to build the rail bed to light rail standards in the Midtown corridor, and one of the reasons was because there are few utilities beneath the surface compared to a city street. The depth for the rail surface is greater for a light rail than a streetcar. Because of this there is less work to move utilities below a street than for an LRV. Streetcars are more neighborhood friendly than the light rail vehicles.

    Thank you
    Paul Nelson
    Saint Paul

    1. Eric Ecklund Post author

      The header image shouldn’t be taken too seriously. It’s simply a Photoshopped picture to give people an idea of what a guided busway along the Midtown Greenway could look like. There are many design considerations that would need to be examined if this were actually built.

      The Cambridgeshire Busway, where there are two lanes/tracks, is 20 feet wide (not including the parallel trail). For comparison the Blue Line light rail is at least 30 feet wide (not including the parallel trail).

      I did mention that Cambridge has equipment for clearing snow and ice on the busway. The weather here is of course more extreme, so there will definitely need to be additional study of how a busway would handle our climate. Regarding road salt, this was said in the article I linked: “Salted water will be sprayed on the track to clear the ice as rock salt would drop into the gap between the rails of the track and onto the grass. As the salted water is only being dropped on to the concrete beams less money will be spent and there is less of an ecological impact.”

      When I worked for Metro Transit’s Asset Management Department I believe the light rail rolling stock was expected to last 30 years with one major rebuild. The Type 1s (our original LRV fleet) has only been in service for almost 17 years and they’re seriously questioning if those LRVs will be able to reach 30 years due to corrosion problems. Hopefully the Type 2s and 3s will have better performance.

      If we had the ability to easily extend a Midtown Greenway LRT further than West Lake and Lake Street/Midtown, then I would fully support it. Unfortunately however, it seems Metro Transit and the Metropolitan Council never gave that serious consideration. Not only would an extension be difficult from a political standpoint, but now that the Blue Line is built and the Green Line Extension is under construction, there are now physical barriers preventing a Midtown Greenway LRT from being more than just a South Minneapolis shuttle service. This is why I believe BRT trumps LRT for this particular corridor.

      1. James Schoettler

        It’s been a long time since the Metropolitan Council gave any serious thought to our region’s need for a comprehensive regional transit system. For an agency dedicated to regional planning this is cowardly and inexcusable. Had they been doing their job, the Midtown Greenway would have been designated as one of the most important urban core routes in the region. It is extremely valuable because it is an existing right-of-way (ROW) that can be used for both rail transit and parallel bicycle/pedestrian trails.

        It is even more valuable because the ROW can be extended eastward, aligned along East 29th street with a station at Hiawatha and a skyway connection to the Lake Street LRT station. Then, it would continue across Hiawatha and follow the Midtown Greenway to and over the CP river bridge and follow the Merriam Subdivision of the CP to an endpoint station at Western & Grace in St Paul. This station would provide connection to a Riverview Corridor LRT line at the same location. As the author suggests, the west end should terminate at the SWLRT Lake Street station.

        This line, on a dedicated ROW and with its interconnections to many North-South bus and LRT lines would provide real public transit service to the core urban area and include a parallel bicycle/pedestrian trail. With a frequent (10 minute) schedule and using a single-unit LRT vehicle, this would be one of the most popular routes in the system. And, it is the only hope for bringing east-west rail transit to this core urban area, much of which is a transit desert.

        A win-win for all.

        1. Eric Ecklund Post author

          Your proposed route doesn’t take into account that not only is the Blue Line a physical barrier to extending a LRT service further east along the Midtown Greenway but also Highway 55/Hiawatha Avenue. When Hiawatha Avenue was being rebuilt in the late 90s they severed the rail corridor that is now the Midtown Greenway, partly because they didn’t want to spend the money to have the highway go over the tracks, but also the assumption that there was a permanent reroute for freight trains planned (spoiler alert: that reroute plan didn’t work out). And that’s another reason why I believe BRT trumps LRT on the Midtown Greenway. Buses can simply go on Lake Street to serve Lake Street/Midtown Station and then go further east from there.

          Your proposed route also doesn’t take into account that further east in the Merriam Park area the CP tracks host a few freight trains plus Amtrak daily, and I don’t think there’s room to colocate the existing freight rail and a Midtown Greenway LRT. Stopping just short of Downtown St. Paul and requiring riders to transfer to the Riverview Line would severely reduce potential ridership.

          Also I didn’t suggest that a Midtown Greenway LRT should end at West Lake Station. It should go further west, but as I said, there are now physical barriers due in part to lack of long-term thinking from the Met Council.

          1. James Schoettler

            Yes; it does account for the Blue Line and Hiawatha; you bridge over; not a big deal. There is room for a single commercial rail track in the Merriam Subdivision and LRT. Near I94 it narrows and may require some acquisition; this happens in such projects. Certainly a good idea to continue westward; no disagreement there.

            BRT on Lake or the Greenway are fine as an interim solution and to build ridership. Long-term, LRT is the only solution, given the significance and extent of the ROW that is available. Like the CP-Ford Spur, once rail ROW’s are lost, they are lost forever.

            Most important, the Metropolitan Council should be working on this and several other routes for a truly regional system. They are doing next to nothing. Hennepin County deserves a lot of credit for moving ahead on its own.

            1. Eric Ecklund Post author

              Bridging over the Blue Line and Hiawatha Avenue is much easier said than done. The Blue Line is already on a bridge where it intersects the former railroad right-of-way. Also a station for people to transfer to the Blue Line would be over a quarter mile away from Lake Street/Midtown Station, so definitely not optimal for transfers.

              1. James Schoettler

                Between 29th St and the Lake St station is just a tenth of a mile. Again, bridging over is not a big deal.

                1. Eric Ecklund Post author

                  You would need to cut through a cemetery to follow 29th Street between Cedar Avenue and Hiawatha Avenue, so that’s a no-go. The railroad right-of-way goes north to 28th Street. And yes, bridging is a big deal when you’re talking about building a light rail bridge over an existing light rail bridge.

        2. Sheldon Gitis

          Just curious, where was James Schoettler when an existing dedicated ROW, the existing U of M busway, was the no-brainer route for the Central Corridor LRT?

  7. Trademark

    A bus or a streetcar does not have the capacity needs for one of the most sense corridors in the city especially going forward with the 2040 plan and it’s ability to support skyscrapers here.

    We must think bigger yes Hiawatha is a barrier but it’s not insurmountable. A short cut and cover under lake street should be doable allowing the train to extend to St Paul down Marshall, cretin, and grand. All of those streets have the right of way to support light rail and serve St Thomas, Macalaster, and then interline with Riverview going towards St Paul.

    Our asks are too small. Seattle was able to do ST3. LA, and Austin and other cities passed their intiatives. Even though we don’t have ballot initiatives we need to engage in direct action to get the met council to stop settling on mixed traffic brt. If our city will reach the next level we need high quality mass transit.

    1. Eric Ecklund Post author

      Do those streets you mention in St. Paul truly have the width to support dedicated LRT plus one car lane in each direction? Considering Riverview on West 7th will have a short mixed-traffic segment I’m unsure if Marshall, Cretin, Grand, etc. are wide enough.

      Also keep in mind that any interlining with Riverview into St. Paul would require grade-separating the light rail tracks in downtown. When Riverview is complete the downtown tracks will be at capacity, same as in Downtown Minneapolis currently with the Blue and Green Lines.

      1. Trademark

        Marshall and Grand have 5 lanes including parking. Thats enough for double tracking and stations. Cretin only has 4 but if we put stations right before and after it gets on Cretin it should be fine.

        Are we sure that it would actually be at max capacity with 2 lines? Blue and expo lines in downtown LA ran at a combined frequency of 3 minutes pre-covid (6 minutes each train) and those are at grade trains.

        If we really are at capacity Kellogg Blvd is also an option as it would be in the same walkshed as the green and Riverview lines so it wouldn’t be hard to transfer.

        1. Eric Ecklund Post author

          As someone who’s been to LA and ridden both the Blue and Expo several times, we do not want to shoehorn three high frequency lines on a single at-grade route.

          In terms of routing light rail on Marshall, Grand, Cretin, etc. will there be willingness from residents and businesses? We’ve managed to get Riverview (in theory anyways), but I’m not sure light rail advocates will be lucky enough to get a light rail line through the western area of St. Paul from South Minneapolis because of the complexities I’ve already mentioned.

          1. Trademark

            Eventually we absolutely need to grade separate downtown Minneapolis and St Paul. If building more lines gives political motivation for that then it’s something we should definitely do. The alternative of not pushing for any more lines just because of the status quo isn’t a good one. Yes three lines in that section might be a little messy but it’s not impossible.

            As far as local opposition goes we will have local opposition no matter where we try and build transit. NIMBYs are everywhere. I don’t believe in negotiating against ourselves just because of potential push back. And I doubt it will be harder to get this route built then a line through Kenwood was. (Yes that whole drama was trash but regardless of all that the green line is being built)

            A route in this area would be huge for the network. And if your going to build something between 94 and Riverview I don’t see any other feasible route with right of way. That has anywhere near the amount of destinations. 2 colleges, 2 hospitals, there’s a lot of apartments on the route and decent mixed use throughout too.

            1. Eric Ecklund Post author

              There’s a difference between NIMBYism and legitimate concerns. When we’re talking light rail on a street like Marshall and Grand there’s the fact the entire road needs to be ripped up for construction plus relocating utilities. That will have severe disruption for a lot of people and businesses, and after the Green Line on University and Riverview on West 7th I’m not sure St. Paul will be willing to take another light rail line on a main thoroughfare. I will also mention that while working as an intern at Metro Transit’s Asset Management Department I learned that embedded rails like the LRT tracks in both downtowns aren’t the best for our environment when you combine road debris, sand, and salt. All that stuff adds up to the rails corroding quicker than on regular track with ties and ballast.

  8. Paul Nelson

    Hello again, Eric Ecklund:

    I think you are having difficulty distinguishing between light rail and streetcar – you seem to continually suggest that they are the same thing. They are not. Light rail, streetcar, bus all have different application for best outcomes in cost and all other related issues.

    It is not correct to say: “If we had the ability to easily extend a Midtown Greenway LRT further than West Lake and Lake Street/Midtown, then I would fully support it.” This is because an MTG streetcar application could actually be easier than a bus system (or LRT) to extend east or west. A streetcar alignment can be applied in line with mixed traffic on a city street, or it can be in a separate right-of-way space traveling at higher speed between more distant points of destination. The streetcar can go off road where a bus can not go. And more importantly an LRT is not a streetcar; they are not the same.

    It is not correct to say: “When we’re talking light rail on a street like Marshall and Grand there’s the fact the entire road needs to be ripped up for construction plus relocating utilities.” Not true. The rail pad for a streetcar is less thick than that for light rail, such that it is significantly less necessary to reroute utilities below the street. That fact means less work, less time and less cost.

    The other more important issue is that rail transit can move more people per dollar than a bus Neither is simply cheaper in operation than the other. When the Green Line opened, over 50% of the ridership were new to public transit, and both the Blue and Green Line have been (pre pandemic) moving passengers at a lower cost per passenger than all of the Met Transit bus lines, including the #21 and the #5, both busy and intermittently crowded bus lines.

    If there is a streetcar in the MTG, would people take it? Most likely yes, if it is connected well with the Hiawatha – Lake transit hub and all of the stops on to Hennepin. There is very heavy transit use on Lake in the Phillips neighborhood It there were a bus line in the MTG, would people be less likely to use it, even with good connections? Good question. Think about that.

    Moreover, if there is a streetcar line in the MTG, people in St Louis Park might be far more willing the have a streetcar connection to the Midtown Corridor than if it were a bus. Why? That issue is important for any future vision of traversing a transit line to the west.

    We are absolutely not going to move a bus or streetcar in the MTG at speeds of 50 mph, not between Hennepin to Hiawatha. I do not think it is evenly reasonable to say that that route is a “shuttle” .

    I think a streetcar system is an excellent application for the Midtown Greenway corridor with a far more potential for flexible future expansion and economic cost effectiveness than a bus system in the same alignment.

    Thank you.
    Paul Nelson

    1. Eric Ecklund Post author


      I use the term light rail and streetcar interchangeably for the Midtown Greenway because the term “streetcar” is used for the particular proposal along the Midtown Greenway even though the Metro Transit proposal would in reality be light rail, but also talk of extensions may require running in mixed-traffic which would make it a streetcar. Streetcars and light rail are very similar, but yes they are different with the main distinction being streetcars operate in mixed-traffic for a certain distance while light rail is entirely dedicated right-of-way.

      You claim a streetcar would be easier to extend than a bus, but this is simply not true. Everything you claimed that makes a streetcar easier to extend can be applied to a bus as well. The streetcar can only go where there are rails, while buses can go where there are roads, and there are plenty of roads in the South Minneapolis area they could use. A new rail route could be built either on dedicated right-of-way (which there is a lack of currently) or on a road, but as I said previously the road needs to be reconstructed. Perhaps less construction would need to be done for a streetcar than light rail, but you still need to reconstruct the road to install embedded rails. Plus as previously mentioned there is the maintenance cost and complexity with embedded rails in our environment.

      While certain people prefer a train over a bus, how likely are they to prefer a train if it only goes 4 miles? Also consider that the upgrades to Route 84 (the A Line) and Route 19 (the C Line) increased ridership by more than 20% on those corridors. While perhaps not as much as a train would have, there is a clear indication that with upgrades people are more willing to take the bus.

      I never said buses or trains would be going 50 mph in the Midtown Greenway. Max Singer asked about how fast a bus can go on the example busway in Cambridge and it’s 50 mph. That doesn’t mean they have to go 50 mph in the Midtown Greenway. When we’re talking about a train proposed to go only 4 miles and stay within one area, in this case South Minneapolis, I think it’s very reasonable to call it a shuttle service.

      The same physical and political barriers to an extension that I’ve mentioned for light rail also apply to streetcars. Try as we might to make a light rail or streetcar extension beyond the Midtown Greenway look cheap and easy, it simply wouldn’t be. Buses aren’t always the answer when we’re considering a transit project, but in this particular case I believe it is.

      1. Paul Nelson

        Hello Eric Ecklund:

        To clarify better, we absolutely, in fact, can locate and align rail transit in places we would be unable or not want to place a roadway for the automobile. This was exactly the issue with SW LRT. Republican folks were insisting that a rapid busway could substitute the LRT alignment and location. Then Commissioner McLaughlin went to Governor Dayton to explain why a busway proposal was not even doable; the roadway connections in place did not line up for that specific alignment. There are other places and alignment that are just for the streetcar like the Como Streetcar Museum in Como Park (historical function in the past), and the PSU plaza that the Portland Streetcar traverses in to and through.

        Your proposal is essentially a car-centric proposal that in reality is a test. We do not know how a ribbon roadway would work in this region. It might work in a location like between Duluth and Grand Rapids, but again how would we sustainably maintain that kind of infra in our winter climate. We have enough difficulty and expense maintaining the roadways we now have for cars throughout the year. If for any reason a ribbon road in the MTG did now work well and it was changed, the necessity to use a steering wheel to guide the vehicle emerges with all of the other trapping issues, like widening the roadway or, could we run an Uber thorough the MTG, or put some car parking in there.

        The point is that the MTG is public space for people, that is safer from the movement of motor vehicle traffic to provide safe transport facility for all people including vulnerable road users. We do not want cars in the Midtown Greenway, with the exemption of emergency and service vehicles. Some years ago, I asked a paraplegic man using a wheelchair what the value of the MTG was for the handicapped. He replied: “it can be dangerous to cross a street”. You state your Photoshop image above that covers over part of the non motorized pad is not to be taken seriously. I think that is more serious than you realize.

        In this region and throughout the country we lack safe space and through ways for people for daily transport. By design we have not built our roadways for people to walk and use the bicycle safely for over 100 years. Take a good hard look at the roads west of the MTG that you note could provide connectivity for a bus line. How many of them provide separated safe space for walk and bike?

        It is true that we can make bus systems work better for public transport, but up to a point. I use the A-Line quite often and it is very good service, but usually not very full. The A-Line is averaging less than 5000 passenger trips per day. By comparison the Green Line is moving circa 44000 per day. And the old Lake Streetcar was moving 80000 passengers per cay when it was taken out of service. Moreover, the busy Snelling corridor has absolutely nothing for bicycle transport.

        I think your description of maintenance problems for rail transit is blown way over. We currently have streetcar systems in Amsterdam, Toronto and St Petersburg. They seem to be doing fairly well. Also, your characterization of the MTG route as a “shuttle” is off too. Is the 3.9 or 4.1-mile-long Portland streetcar just a shuttle?

        No two transit routes are the same. There is an application for the bus for various routes, there are clear applications for light Rail transit like large radial corridors, and there are very good applications for the streetcar. Both Minneapolis and Saint Paul have done streetcar studies for what would be the most effective routes for that mode of transport. I think the Riverview corridor is a very good application for a modern streetcar in part because a streetcar line on W7th street would not require to extensive relocation of utilities below the street. As I recall part of the route is a corridor where there are no roads for cars(or buses)

        The best places for streetcars and light rail transit are routes and alignments that we can move more people per dollar than any kind of bus system, with very strong destination points that will not change over 100 years, and good proximity to density and transit oriented development, safe spaces for people to walk and bike. By now we should have five or six tram lines throughout the western suburbs. We do not have that.

        1. James Schoettler

          Paul: Agree with much of what you have to say; there are cases where streetcar can be appropriate. But the Riverview Corridor (RC) is not one of them. The RC will have to accommodate eight LRT stations on the Blue Line, which it will follow through the airport and all the way to the Mall of America; and it must accommodate two stations on the Green Line in downtown St Paul. Although it will be a single vehicle, it must be the full width and platform height of LRT; that means the stations on West 7th must be, essentially, LRT stations and there are very few places on West 7th where they can be accommodated. As currently planned, the RC would do a very poor job of serving local transit needs and an equally poor job of serving regional transit needs.

          The RC needs to be both bus and LRT, (bus on West 7th, LRT on its own guideway, but not West 7th). This is because the RC is a major arterial for anyone from the East Metro riding public transit to the airport (and will be a major arterial for people in parts of the West Metro to reach state offices, venues like the Xcel, Saints, Wild, SPCO, Science Museum, Children’s Museum, etc. and more farther east). Local service on West 7th is best served by a bus with frequent service and numerous bus-stops along the way so residents of the Corridor can reach friends, stores and public services along West 7th. For more distant trips, bus riders would transfer to the LRT at any one of four stations in the West 7th Corridor.

          A better opportunity for streetcar is the MTG, especially if it extends across the River and follows Ayd Mill Road all the way to the Riverview Corridor LRT and also if it extends west to the SWLRT and possibly beyond that. This streetcar route would connect with a number of north-south LRT and bus routes and would greatly aid connectivity for public transit riders.

        2. Eric Ecklund Post author


          First of all, we’re never going to agree on this. You will keep insisting light rail/streetcar is best for the Midtown Greenway, and I will keep insisting that a busway is best for the Midtown Greenway, but if you want to keep debating this then very well.

          Southwest LRT is an apples to oranges comparison with the Midtown Greenway. The former is 14 miles from Downtown Minneapolis to the southwestern suburbs utilizing railroad right-of-way and entirely new right-of-way, plus most of the road network along the route wasn’t built for BRT. The latter is 4 miles long, entirely on railroad right-of-way, and the entire area is a cookie cutter grid network of roads with many bus lines, and two north-south routes and one east-west route that are planned to be upgraded to aBRT.

          I have already addressed that further study would be needed before we commit to a guided busway. It may or may not work in our climate, and both of us don’t know for sure. I will however provide another example of a guided busway, which is in Nagoya, Japan. The Yutorito Line is actually very similar to what I propose for a Midtown Greenway BRT except the Yutorito Line is elevated while the Midtown Greenway is in a tench. The Yutorito Line is similar in distance to the Midtown Greenway and buses continue onto city streets. Your what-if arguments about repurposing the Greenway for Uber or a parking lot could also be applied to light rail. Sound ridiculous? It should, because no one is going to propose such an idea whether it’s a hypothetical failure of light rail or BRT.

          You’re talking to someone who walks and bikes in the suburbs. I am very much aware of how dangerous it is for bikers and walkers, and how much of a nice break it is being on trails such as the Midtown Greenway. Just as with LRT, a guided busway would parallel the trail, not cross it. You are taking a Photoshopped picture intended only for conceptualizing way too seriously. When the engineers release official design plans for public comment then you can raise those concerns, but my image is only intended to give people an idea of what a guided busway could look like. Just because the walking lane is covered in the image does not mean that is what it would look like in the official designs.

          Just like Southwest LRT and the Midtown Greenway, comparing the Green Line and A Line is apples to oranges. Also can you provide a source on the claim of 80,000 riders daily on the Lake Street streetcar?

          “Moreover, the busy Snelling corridor has absolutely nothing for bicycle transport.” I don’t see your point in saying this. Snelling Avenue doesn’t have an abandoned railroad corridor parallel to it where we can build a trail.

          “I think your description of maintenance problems for rail transit is blown way over. We currently have streetcar systems in Amsterdam, Toronto and St Petersburg.” You’re talking to someone who worked in Asset Management at Metro Transit. Just because those cities operate streetcar systems doesn’t mean they don’t have issues with theirs. Just because we can embed rails in concrete or asphalt doesn’t mean we should. We already learned the hard way with the old design of the track switches in Downtown Minneapolis how much of a maintenance nightmare they are with all the road salt and other debris that collected in them.

          “Is the 3.9 or 4.1-mile-long Portland streetcar just a shuttle?” I’ll answer that with another question: What if instead of a couple streetcar lines they invested in an aBRT network like we’re doing? I bet they could serve much more of the urban area with high frequency transit. I haven’t experienced their streetcar lines so I don’t know if it was an actual upgrade in transit or if it was mostly intended for development, however several modern streetcar lines in the US have been the latter.

          “By now we should have five or six tram lines throughout the western suburbs.” By now we have should five or six aBRT routes, but considering how slow it’s taking to roll those out I don’t see how we could roll out a streetcar system in less or equal time.

  9. Paul Nelson

    Hello Eric:

    One of the concepts I recall is the connection of the Green Line extension currently being built on the west side of the Midtown corridor to the Blue Line on the east, creating a triangle of reliable rail transit in south Minneapolis. hence, a streetcar in the MTG is the connector.

    The Portland Streetcar was a well planned project over a number of years, creating continual success of a real upgrade in their overall transit system.

    See the following.

    If you want to ask them if they think investing in just a rapid bus system network as a substitute for their streetcar system would have worked better, go right ahead.

    With respect to the Snelling corridor, we move truck freight through there and quite a few single occupancy vehicles. How many people as individuals are using cars compared to how many people are taking the A-Line is a good question. Comparing the A-Line to the Green Line is actually fair, because the A-line is the bus that you propose.

    I am merely saying that we will get nowhere with a bus only transit system in this region, and a big part of that reason is our winter climate. In January of 2005, the first winter after the then Hiawatha LRT opened, an article was written titled: “Rail runs, busses stuck”. Every year we have problems maintaining our roads and streets for cars, busses, and trucks, and we also have expense in preventing potholes that are created by the heavier weight of the cars and trucks. People on bicycles can not create potholes because they are not heavy enough, and potholes are not an issue with rail transit.
    Read the following:

    Posted 14 Mar 2006 09:54 by Paul Nelson
    Photo of Paul Nelson

    The snowstorm yesterday caused many traffic problems and delays.

    As I have stated publicly, “Streetcars and Light Rail have a much greater
    leeway of operation and reliability than busses or our private cars in our
    winter climate” I think we still have a winter climate.

    From Star Tribune yesterday morning:
    “Johanson (Julie Johanson) was unable to give an exact number of buses that
    have encountered difficulty, but she said the road conditions were particularly
    problematic for the articulated buses. However, the light rail trains were

    running close to on time as of 8:45 a.m.”

    From my colleague Matthews Hollinshead 12:11 AM yesterday:

    “Snowbound buses have blocked or closed Hwys 280 and 61, but Hiawatha
    Light Rail has run without problems in today’s snowstorm, according
    to radio traffic reports this morning.

    Citizens and decision makers should remember this when comparing and
    deciding on light rail transit (LRT) and commuter rail versus bus
    rapid transit (BRT) for Minnesota’s transportation corridors.”

    “Everywhere you looked, Metro Transit buses were
    stranded…especially those so-called ‘accordion’ buses, because the
    weight is not distributed to the back…Speaking of buses, right now
    six buses are stuck, much better than this morning, when 120 buses
    got stuck.” — WCCO 6 p.m. news story. WCCO reported that at one point three
    buses were stranded at the same time on the 6th St. I-94 ramp.

    Again, the WCCO evening news carried no mention of any delay on the
    Hiawatha Light Rail Line.

    Mathews Hollinshead
    Transportation Chair

    Sierra Club North Star Chapter

    Today in Star Tribune:
    “Such stories were common across the Twin Cities as well, where morning
    commuters reported stalling on freeways where they became drifted in, or
    struggling for hours to get to a workplace they found closed. Bus routes were
    ending in snow drifts or, in some cases, on the end of a tow-truck’s hook.
    Light rail cars were jampacked.”

    From yesterdays Pioneer Press’
    “The Department of Public Safety reported 113 crashes in the metro area
    during the 6 to 10 a.m. rush hour, plus at least 150 vehicles off the road.
    Nine of the accidents resulted in injuries, the department said, adding that
    the numbers were “conservative” because officers were too busy to file all of
    the reports.”

    From todays Pioneer Press:
    “Kelly Johnson began her bus commute from Rosemount at 6:45 a.m., and after her
    bus was delayed by another bus jackknifed blocks from her office, she arrived
    at work in downtown Minneapolis at 9:45 a.m. Whoops: Closed. By 10:15, she
    was on a light-rail car, headed for the Mall of America and a bus transfer or
    two home. Julie Johanson, spokeswoman for Metro Transit, said more than 120
    buses were stuck during the day.”

    Again, Light rail and Streetcars have a much greater leeway of operation and
    reliability than either busses or automobiles. The old TCRT Streetcars were
    designed to operate in an unplowed street of one to two feet of new fallen
    snow. Although the TCRT plowed and salted the streets for free, I am certain
    they had to operate the streetcars in snow covered streets at times.

    Yesterday I took the 16A bus to the Capitol. It was a bumpy ride. The ride home
    the 16 bus was overcrowded at 11 AM. I saw busses unable to get up the hill
    toward the Capitol from downtown.

    Paul Nelson
    Ward One – Hyde Park
    District 7

    The previous March 8th 2004 before the LRT opened, we also had a severe Snowburst in the afternoon. I-94 was shut down and the roads and streets were extremely slippery everywhere.

    I will have to do some digging to locate the source for the 80K passengers per day for the old TCRT Lake street line. We were talking about that in the years of planning LRT on University. John Dewitt was the person that originally gave me that figure. We do not have a lot of data on the old streetcar system, but we do have ridership numbers through the years, that clearly show transit dropping by almost 50% in less than a year after all of the streetcar system was taken out, circa 1954.There are many reasons, the streetcar system was taken out, but we would now be in much better shape if two or three of those lines were kept as streetcars. The private company would still have needed to be taken over by the public sector eventually.

    When you count the capacity of a bus, you count the seats only. It is never a good thing to have too many people standing in a bus, but it is far more comfortable to stand in a streetcar or an LRT.

    Yes we could implement lots of rapid bus lines, but what would be the outcome and what are the costs? Take a look at the following brief report. It provide a glance at the cost per passenger of some of our transit lines:


    With respect to what the MTG is, I would not refer to it as a “trail”. By definition it is a public way freely open to everyone, That is the definition of a highway. Snelling avenue in Saint Paul is designated Hwy 51, but is it really open to everyone to use safely?

    Part of this issue is what we all are paying for. In 2020 dollars we are paying circa 42 billion dollars in the 19 county region for surface transportation, according to research written bye McCullough Anderson in 2000. A big part of the cost is subsidy for the private car.

    Motorway only policy for transport has not worked anywhere in the world, and in a climate like ours, it is definitely not smart.

    See the following:

    1. Eric Ecklund Post author

      Nowhere did I say buses are the only solution for our transit. Rail transit certainly has a place in the Twin Cities, but I don’t believe the Midtown Greenway is one of them for the reasons I’ve already stated here.

      “Comparing the A-Line to the Green Line is actually fair, because the A-line is the bus that you propose.” That’s not what I’m proposing. The A Line doesn’t operate on a guideway, and it doesn’t have dedicated bus lanes for the entirety of its route.

      “If you want to ask them if they think investing in just a rapid bus system network as a substitute for their streetcar system would have worked better, go right ahead.” You should ask Atlanta, Tampa, Dallas, Detroit, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Washington about their streetcars. Portland’s streetcar may be a success story, but those other cities don’t have a similar story.

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