Southwest Minneapolis’ Transit Route Selection Process May Rule Out Light Rail to Uptown

The most advantageous route isn’t the cheapest, and the federal cost-effectiveness process may therefore prevent it from being built.

The Twin Cities’ Metro Council regional planning authority is in the midst of evaluating route alternatives for a new transit line extending southwest from downtown Minneapolis. The Southwest Transitway will be the region’s third light rail line after the Hiawatha line, which linked downtown Minneapolis and the airport in 2004, and the Central Corridor, which will connect downtown Minneapolis and the capital complex in St. Paul by 2014. In a series of meetings beginning today, citizens will have the chance to discuss the exact route of the Southwest line — and their input could be essential, because planners are currently angling to make the wrong decision about where trains should run. Their endorsement of a route through low-density neighborhoods in place of a more expensive line through Minneapolis’ lively Uptown is symptomatic of the failure of government transportation policy in addressing the needs of inhabitants of dense inner city communities.

After years of study, Minneapolis is almost ready to submit its locally preferred alternative (LPA) corridor to the Federal Transit Administration, which will distribute up to 60% of total funds to the project through the New Starts major capital grant program. In order to receive money from Washington, Metro will have to show that the proposed route meets national cost-effectiveness guidelines, which are stringent enough to sieve out a large percentage of proposed new transit lines.

This requirement puts elected officials in a quandary: should they work to build the most effective transit network possible, or should they limit their ambitions for fear that the federal government will rule out any funding at all?

Effectively, this is where Minneapolis finds itself, and the region is coming dangerously close to eliminating its best route option because of cost-effectiveness concerns. Of the three routes being considered for the Southwest Transitway’s alignment, one (#1A) has been dismissed by suburban officials because it won’t serve the city of Eden Prairie as effectively as the others, even though it would be cheaper to build. Another (#3C) is too expensive because it would require a tunnel under a section of Nicollet Avenue, but it would serve the city of Minneapolis best because it would provide several stations in the dense and active Uptown district. 3C would operate on the Midtown Greenway parallel to Lake Street in that section of the city. The last (#3A) is the only route, according to local planners, that could meet federal cost guidelines — but its effect on the commutes of people who live in Minneapolis would be marginal. 3A would skim the side of the Kenilworth trail and lounge the edge of two lakes, running through neighborhoods of single-family housing.

All routes would operate from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie, through St. Louis Park, Hopkins, and Minnetonka. The cost of the corridors ranges from less than $1 billion for 1A to about $1.5 billion for 3C — and operating costs would similarly be higher on the latter route because of its slightly longer distance. Trains could be operating by 2015 or 2017 at the latest if the FTA endorses project financing. Both 3A and 3C would be expected to attract 30,000 daily riders, 8,000 of whom would be new to transit.

In the neighborhood meetings coming up over the next month, planners will endorse the construction of route 3A and then listen to the concerns of community members. Elected officials on the Metro Council will decide later this year whether to follow the recommendations of the planners. Federal rules make it difficult to imagine that any decision in favor of route 3C is possible.

That’s too bad, however, because route 3C would be far more effective in encouraging transit use in Minneapolis.

Here’s a comparison of the density of the neighborhoods within a half-mile of the two principal alternatives through Minneapolis, as well as an indication of the walk score of the areas around the proposed stations. 3A is shown in green and 3C in blue. The Southwest Transitway would continue out of the city towards Eden Prairie (the black arrow on the map’s bottom left); the existing Hiawatha Line to the airport is shown by the black arrow on the right side of the map.

Density along Southwest Minneapolis Light Rail Alternative Routes

As demonstrated in the above map, alternative 3C (blue) would serve areas of significantly higher density than alternative 3A. Whereas the western routing is almost uniformly low-density single family residential in use (as indicated by the low walk scores at station locations), the eastern route has a diversity of built forms, with apartment buildings interspersed with tightly packed houses. The Uptown route is already mixed-use, with hundreds of shops and restaurants within walking distance of proposed light rail stops.

The construction of a light rail line along alignment 3C, in other words, would provide far better access downtown for a much larger percentage of the city’s population than would a route along alignment 3A, encouraging infill construction. That kind of inner city investment would be virtually impossible along most of 3A’s route in Minneapolis proper, since surrounding land uses are not conforming with higher densities and a diversity of uses.

Uptown is an important attraction for people in the Twin Cities, and a connection to light rail would enforce that popularity; there is little chance that the neighborhoods around 3A’s proposed 21st St, Penn, and Van White stations will ever develop a similar character. Building light rail along 3A instead of 3C is almost an invitation to drive Uptown rather than take transit there.

Poverty Rates along Southwest Minneapolis Light Rail Alternative Routes

The Uptown route would serve a far higher number of people in poverty. Good transit services should aim to improve the commutes of the least well-off, and the 3A route would serve few people of lower incomes in Minneapolis. 3C, meanwhile, would not only give the poor a faster trip into downtown Minneapolis but also a quicker route to the growing Southwest suburbs, where retail and office employment opportunities are plentiful. A 3A route would require an additional transfer for the thousands of low-income people without cars who need to get to those jobs.

Mode Share along Southwest Minneapolis Light Rail Alternative Routes

Unsurprisingly considering the area’s density and population of impoverished people, the Uptown 3C route would also serve a far more transit-dependent population. While average transit mode share for commutes along the 3C route are between 25-50% for the Minneapolis sections of the line, they are for the most part lower than 10% along 3A. The wealth and car-dependence of the people living along route 3A makes it seem unlikely that we’ll see a significant increase in transit use for them. The 3C route would make car-free living for people in Uptown and neighborhoods along Nicollet Avenue a realistic possibility.

Based on this information, can we trust the ridership estimates that suggest similar numbers of daily users for routes 3A and 3C? In Minneapolis, compared to 3A, 3C serves far more people in a more walkable environment; those people, meanwhile, are far more likely to be impoverished and transit-dependent. Outside of Minneapolis, the two routes are identical. What gives? What’s wrong with Metro Council’s ridership estimates?

A few explanations reveal a lot about the way the FTA calculates the value of new transit investments. FTA, after all, provides the basic rules that organizations like Metro Council use to determine the potential benefits and expected ridership of new light rail systems.

  • One, the cost-benefit analysis is heavily biased towards the number of annual hours commuters will save by using the new transit system. This means that people who already have longer commutes are seen as more valuable for the FTA than those who choose to live in in-town locations with shorter distances between their residences and workplaces. As a result, transit networks are encouraged to extend out into the suburbs, rather than be densified and reinforced downtown. This policy encourages sprawl; though more suburbanites may find themselves taking transit to work, they won’t be using it to go shopping or out on the weekend. European policies, which generally encourage densification of transit networks in dense, inner-city locations, have produced transit systems that are far better-used per mile compared to American lines.
  • Two, similarly, the FTA likes speed. As a result, the slightly shorter 3A route is better for commuters in the far-out suburbs hoping to get to jobs downtown. The tunnel planned for route 3C, which ramps up costs exponentially, is only necessary because a surface route would be too slow and make the commutes of people from Eden Prairie slightly longer. Note that a 3C route without the tunnel would have a significantly lower construction cost, but it still wouldn’t meet FTA cost-effectiveness criteria because fewer outer-suburban people would ride it because their trip would be longer.
  • Three, the formula used by the FTA prefers new riders to old ones. In other words, a person moving from a car to a train is considered more important than a person moving from a bus to a train. This means that people already using transit are disadvantaged and are unlikely to receive upgrades to their transit service. Circuitously, the fact that fewer people use transit in the areas along route 3A (because of their wealth, car-dependence, and sprawling neighborhoods) means that they’re more likely to be considered for funding by the federal government.

These three structural problems make the 3A route the defacto choice for Metro Council decision makers, even though it is quite clearly inferior to the 3C route in terms of its benefits for the inhabitants of Minneapolis. The elimination of the 1A route, which would have been cheaper than 3A but serve fewer people living on the edge of the metropolitan area, is indicative of this fact; suburban preferences are prioritized in the FTA alternatives analysis process. Otherwise, why not save money for the tunnel downtown by choosing the less expensive route out of town? A month of community meetings is unlikely to change the political reality that the 3A corridor is the only one that will get money from Washington.

At the moment, then, there is little Twin Cities inhabitants can do to push for the Uptown 3C corridor. Members of the Midtown Greenway Coalition, convinced that it will take decades to build any light rail to the southwest at all, are arguing for a quicker-to-build streetcar route along the Uptown corridor between the Hiawatha Line and the 3A route.

Nonetheless, in the longer term, the FTA has a responsibility to revise the methods by which it determines the relative merits of a new transit corridor. Rather than focusing on the commuting needs of suburbanites, planners and politicians should be concentrating their transit funds on encouraging a car-free lifestyle for people who live in inner-city areas. People who live in already existing, dense, mixed-use neighborhoods are most likely to be those who choose to take transit, walk, and bike, and we should be working for their benefit. Yet the almost inevitable choice of the 3A alignment indicates that government today, even in its transit policy, isn’t doing so.

Note: data from Census 2000 SF-1 and SF-3.

39 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Some of the FTA’s metrics here aren’t necessarily bad. Environmentally speaking, it’s better to move a commuter from cars to light rail than from buses to light rail. And in terms of socioeconomics, it’s best for light rail to serve a mixture of populations, in order to avoid creating a stereotype that it’s for just one type of person, and in order to both improve lower-class mobility and reduce middle- and upper-class car use.

  • AlexB

    This is a very interesting and convincing blog entry. The diagrams are very illuminating. It reminds me a lot of how BART came to be the way it is – focusing on cheap, long distance routes at the expense of more expensive routes through higher density areas that would have achieved much higher ridership.

    I am wondering if 3A and 3C wouldn’t be better suited as different projects. You don’t always have to kill two birds with one stone. The only reason 3C is so much more expensive is because it requires a tunnel to maintain the high speeds to make it useful for suburban commuters. If 3C were isolated, it could be more like a surface streetcar serving a local population and wouldn’t need a tunnel. It would probably still speed up travel over a bus, but wouldn’t need to go 60 mph between stops to adequately serve the Uptown area. It could connect back to 3A at Westlake and keep open the option for inner city citizens to commute to the suburbs with a transfer.

  • Rodgers Adams

    You correctly focus on a major issue in the routing of the Southwest Corridor light rail line. But there’s an irony in your reference to Minneapolis doing and deciding things. The irony is that Minneapolis city government has no major role and marginal political clout. This is a Hennepin County project, and the suburban municipal bodies served outweigh the city in numbers and possibly political clout.

  • Alon, there’s no problem with the idea of attracting new riders in the abstract – the issue is with the FTA’s methodology of quantifying that. It sucks.

    I grew up in Minneapolis, I’m very familiar with the two areas discussed (for 3A and 3C). There’s absolutely no way any objective visitor could tour those areas and say that 3A is a better alignment for transit. Not only are those areas not very dense and rich, that track is also basically at the bottom of a big valley – stations will be very inaccessible.

    3C would be a true urban line through one of the densest parts of the city. The fact that this alone isn’t a priority is mind-boggling. It really shows the shortcomings of the FTA’s formulas.

  • richard schumacher

    Excellent post, but it’s more of an argument for fixed-rail transit in Uptown than against the 3A route (and perhaps an argument to delete some of the 3A stations). Trying to serve both commuter and high-density needs with a single mode on a gerrymandered route would serve neither very well. Commuters need the speed of 3A. Uptown needs the frequency and frequent stops of streetcars. Let’s build both, starting with the one that can get funded sooner.

  • Ky

    Dear Met Council,

    I am voicing my opinion and frustration over the idea that you are endorsing alignment 3A over 3C because you are worried about receiving federal funding. You are more worried about receiving federal money and the cost-effectiveness than you are about providing excellent transit service to those who need it most! If you support 3A more than 3C than you are cowering down because it is clearly understandable that alignment 3A will serve more affluent residents than those who are actually transit-dependent. Plus 3C serves much denser more walkable neighborhoods than 3A ever could and would therefore serve more riders, plus take people to more employment centers and entertainment centers. What are you thinking? Met Council, please grow some cajones and support the right alignment, 3C! Fight for the right route! Use your political will, might, and smarts to garner the appropriate funding for the appropriate line! Any one can see that 3C is the smarter choice, can you? Please stop supporting the easy-way-out 3A and plan right. Make transportation planning a priority and serve those who need it most.

    Make the RIGHT Choice,

    A Concerned Citizen

  • We need a combination of both projects. The line out to Eden Prairie is meant to be long distance, much like the North Star corridor is. Eventually it could connect many more cities. The 3C alternative definitely should be built, but probably as a different system. The Hennepin and Lake St. corridor each deserve their own dedicated line, not some mismash alignment. And yes, the end of 3A is in a huge valley, and there’s no need for the Van White station.

  • Dreww

    What’s not mentioned is the impact on Nicollet Avenue south of downtown Minneapolis. The proposed 3C routing proposes blocks long trenches running down a lower end, but thriving commerical corridor. The tench would completely block street traffic at both the northern and southern portals on narrow Nicollet Avenue.. To medigate the impact this extreme disruption would have on the Nicollet, planners proposed running a similar trench under parallel streets. Getting around this part of town is already extremely difficult due to the freeway and Nicollet super block on Lake Street. Adding a massive trench would in this neighborhood, in my view, harm, rather than help, the densly packed poorer residents along Nicollet.

    I agree that light rail would be a great asset to Uptown and the Lyndale area, but it can not be built on the cheap with massive obstructive trenches down the center of important corridors.

  • Dreww –
    Just to clarify: the stations at Franklin and 28th would be open cut, but the section of track between the two stations would be covered. This would be bad during construction, but just block off two blocks from traffic: between 27th and 28th and between Franklin and 19th. The rest would be normal street.

  • Why not build underground stations, and plan for future lines to the east along the greenway and south along Nicollet? 3A is a disaster from a usability perspective.

  • dreww

    Matt- Underground stations would completely sink 3Cs already poor CEI numbers. Deep bore tunnels are very expensive. 3A is cheaper and interlines with Central and Hiawatha Light Rail.

    Yonah – Yes, under 3C there would be two open trenches right in the center of the street in addition to the portals.

    I personally favor running street cars in the Midtown Greenway trench or using local dollars to build a proper 3C alignment that doesn’t (a) destroy Nicollet Avenue area for business and residents, (b) force Greenway pedestrians and cyclists to go up and over onto Nicollet Ave and back down on the other side of the rail tracks.

  • cheryl

    A group of people and I were at the Uptown Art Fair this past weekend getting petitions signed in favor of the Uptown route. We spoke with over 1000 people. Onle 20 opposed the Uptown line. 99.5% of the people we asked to sign the petition signed it and couldn’t believe another route would be considered. There is incredible support for the Uptown line…how do we get it from Met Council…if we can’t get it from PAC? Threaten to not vote for anyone who’s term is coming up this Fall? What???

    • s heitzman

      I would sign your petition–3C is clearly the better route and would also eliminate the need to run railcars carrying anhydrous ammonia within yards of a St. Louis Park school on winding and old/outdated tracks.

  • Cameron Slick

    For those supporting doing two different projects over both corridors, I just want to say that streetcars are not a for-sure thing in Minneapolis, and that while Hennepin Avenue may be a good corridor for that type of transit, we need to have a relatively fast route from downtown to Uptown, as well as suburbs to Uptown, and that also, a tunnel through the Whittier neighborhood, regardless of the street chosen, from the Greenway to Franklin Avenue, should be non-negotiable.

  • Sean

    It seems pretty clear that the Southwest Line is meant to be more of a commuter rail line to transport people from the suburbs to DT Minneapolis and vice versa. There is nothing wrong with having suburb to city center rail lines that mainly serve commuters and decrease congestion on freeways. But this should not come at the expense of neglecting the densest and most transit dependent areas of a city.

    I think a streetcar system connecting Uptown to DT Minneapolis and the Hiawatha Line would adequately serve the Uptown district and the transit needs of its citizens.

    • DDT

      Excellent points. It should be called what it is… a commuter line.

      That said, there is already good bus service along Nicollet, and Lake, not to mention Lyndale and Hennepin to the west of Nicollet. I love the idea of 3C, however light rail would not significantly improve transit time for these riders. A 20 minute bus ride from Lake and Nicollet downtown with heavy traffic might be cut to 5-7 minutes on LRT (guess), which is a significant time saving percentage-wise, but not in terms of overall minutes. Folks here are close enough to bike more quickly than the bus can take them, as I can attribute from having lived in this area for several years. Granted, one must be able-bodied and the winters are dicey, but it’s still a viable option for many people a lot of the time. I just wish they would call 3A what it is, as you pointed out and pull the funding from somewhere else.

  • Beautiful maps, good argument, credible conclusion.

    But a complete argument would also have to review how redevelopable the 3A station areas are. Is the corridor mostly built out at high-value low-density, or is it lower-value and thus more redevelopable. One way to do this would be to assess the projected density based on buildout of likely zoning — probably a lot of work for a blogger, but I sure hope that’s been done in the course of the consulting work.

    Redevelopability in St Louis Park, beyond the split discussed here, is also significant, as 3A is obviously much faster to the city for them and would thus potentially draw larger patronage from those stations if there were enough new residents/activities around them.

    Finally, as one of the lead authors of the consulting report on Access Minneapolis, which led to the current reworking of traffic patterns downtown, I have to point out that the Uptown alignment involves entering downtown from the south, which means consuming more downtown streetspace that is already intensely in demand. The 3A option has the advantage of being an extension of the existing Hiawatha line, and thus better utilising existing downtown trackage.

    None of this means that I support one option or the other. Your arguments are strong but a complete understanding of the basis of decision would need to consider these significant issues.

  • David Greene

    One thing everyone should know about route 3A: it serves a very transit-dependent population in North Minneapolis. The Royalston bus depot handles as many vehicles as the Uptown station and these are the people that currently have NO connection to the jobs in the SW suburbs.

    3A is not just a commuter route into the city. It’s also a commuter route OUT of the city for those that desperately need jobs. It’s in the city’s best interest to open transportation options to North Minneapolis. A city that continues to cut off a significant portion of its population is not only immoral, it’s unsustainable.

    The arguments are not as simple as everyone here wants them to be. There are significant environmental and social justice concerns with route 3C. Route 3C serves an area already very well served by transit. Route 3A serves an entirely new set of riders that currently have no connection to jobs in the SW metro.

    Don’t be so quick to support 3C if you love the Greenway. 3C will cut across the Greenway at Nicollet and require a very large bridge to bring bikers over the rail corridor and Nicollet Avenue. The entire character of the Greenway will be completely altered in that area.

    I support Route 3A for these and other reasons.

    • DDT

      How does it serve those in North Minneapolis? Those folks would be looking at 15 minute commute from North into downtown,at a minimum, then however long the LRT ride would be (30-45 minutes?). Granted, it could be done, but I would imagine they would have better luck finding jobs closer than an hour away.

  • Sean, commuter rail is improved by having it serve not just the suburbs but also urban neighborhoods and key secondary downtowns. (That was one of the major goals of my New York regional rail proposal).

  • jon

    those are great maps that very clearly show the difference in routes, i like especially the walkscore/density one.

  • Daperpkazoo

    Dreww and Matt:

    The cost most recent cost estimates were forumlated using a full tunnell under Nicollet, as well as fully underground (and covered) stations. Once complete, the route would not take up any surface ROW through Whittier.

    David Greene:

    The 3C sub-alt does stop at the Royalston station.

  • To those who mention streetcars as a help to the increasingly congested greater Uptown area:

    How exactly do shared-ROW vehicles improve transit service to us, when streets cannot be expanded and the political will does not exist to eliminate on-street parking on commercial corridors?

    Route 3C will help tens of thousands of more people access Downtown Minneapolis & the SW suburban job centers (and vice versa) than 1A/3A. To me, that is the top priority — connecting the most people possible while only requiring a few minutes’ more travel time than the city-bypassing 1A/3A alternatives.

    Let’s get to work, Twin Citians. Bring LRT through Uptown.

  • Dale

    I don’t understand the “uptown needs the many stops streetcars would provide”.

    The 3C alignment goes East West through Uptown, while most of the existing buses to DT go North South. 3C would not eliminate the local Hennepin buses or the local Lyndale buses, but would instead intersect with them at the greenway. (There are some overlaps in service with the Lake Street buses and the Nicollet buses.) I’m assuming any proposed streetcars (for which there is no funding source, BTW) would go North/South as well.

    Also, most of the DT

  • Cameron Slick

    For those supporting Route 3A because it accesses black and poor “North Minneapolis” at the Van White Blvd and Royalston stops, you should really take a look at where they are. Route 3A will go through what is probably the most polluted soil in the State of Minnesota. All development in this area is WHOLLY SPECULATIVE, and could very well happen – in 2050. Hardly any impoverished persons in North Minneapolis will be served by 3A, whereas a significant number of working class people of color (Mexican, Somalis, Vietnamese) who are current transit customers will be served by stations in Whittier and Lyndale.

    Bus transfers are also critical, and there is not one bus transfer on Route 3A. With eight different bus transfers on 3C, they will function much more as feeders and raise the utility of the line.

    Also, the routing through downtown will NOT be on Nicollet Mall. It will use 11th & 12th Streets, which turn into Royalston Avenue, and wrap around the trash burner to the new Target Field/Intermodal Station. The Nicollet Mall routing is dead in the water.

  • jean-luc

    Interesting case, Yonah.
    Mind if I ask what program(s) you used to make those nice-looking maps?

  • Jean-Luc –
    Adobe Illustrator.

  • ben

    Is the problem here the FTA cost-effectiveness criterion, or is it the model used to predict ridership and calculate the cost-effectiveness?

    My understanding is that in Washington DC, the approved model consistently underpredicts transit ridership (rail and, even more, bus) in denser, more walkable inner areas and overpredicts ridership in outer less dense areas. Perhaps the Minneapolis model has the same problems? Given the data displayed in the maps, it is surprising to me that both routes have the same ridership.

    For that matter, if total trips on both routes are the same, there really is a strong argument that 3A is more cost-effective, because the average trip length on 3A is going to be much longer than on 3C. If the conclusion that 3C is more cost-effective is really wrong, there has got to be something wrong with the ridership numbers.

  • Cameron Slick

    There is something wrong with the ridership numbers. The same thing is likely true for the Central Corridor (Minneapolis – St. Paul LRT), to which a a railroad trench that skirts the north end of campus and the heart of the University of Minnesota’s business district, Dinkytown, and would have had the line cross on a bridge that could actually handle rail. Ridership estimates dropped from 43,000 to 36,000, when the northern alignment was faster in time, longer in distance, and nearly as convenient.

    Either the FTA guidelines are incredibly, fundamentally flawed, or the Metropolitan Council, as staffed by the Governor of Minnesota, are liars. Must be a combinaion of the two.

  • Dreww

    “The cost most recent cost estimates were forumlated using a full tunnell under Nicollet, as well as fully underground (and covered) stations. Once complete, the route would not take up any surface ROW through Whittier.”

    Cite. Everything I’ve seen indicates open stations and portals across the entire Nicollet Avenue street ROW.

  • While there may be some pollution concerns at Van White, it is not the “most polluted soil in Minnesota” as one commenter contends. There is still quite a bit of redevelopment potential at that location….which the 3A route would certainly support.

    And that brings in one of the under-mentioned items of the 3A vs. 3C debate. Do you route the line to serve infill development (3A-Van White), or promote redevelopment (3C-Uptown).

    My biggest beef with 3C is that it provided zero connectivity between the SW line and the Central/Hiawatha lines. That is one major operational advantage of 3A is that it facilitates seamless travel between the Southwest and Central/Hiawatha lines.

    The 3C Sub-alternative (which is what Yonah calls “3C” in his maps…the main 3C alternative continues up Nicollet into downtown) was created in part because of this issue. And while I prefer 3A from an operational and future-flexibility standpoint (i.e. streetcars and/or additional LRT through south Minneapolis and the Midtown corridor), I could accept the 3C sub-alternative as a compromise.

  • Froggie –
    Thanks for pointing that out — I should have specified that my 3C route was the alternate concept (which I think, for the reasons you added, would be far more appropriate than the 3C that simply runs up Nicollet).

  • Ari

    Yes, I know this is a week late—I’ve been out of town for a few days. Check out more of my ramblings at The Amateur Planner.

    The problem, as I see it, with the “C” routing (under Nicollet) is that it tries to mix two different scales and needs, and spends a lot of money to do so when other projects could better serve a greater population for, perhaps, less money. That is, it tries to kill two birds with one stone, but the stone costs a few hundred million than two stones would otherwise.

    In other words, if the project took the “A” route and was supplemented by a streetcar on Nicollet and/or Hennepin and/or the Greenway it may work better. A routing up through Uptown will not be particularly more or less convenient for people who currently take the bus routes along these corridors (the 6, 4 and 18 on Hennepin, Lyndale and Nicollet, respectively) which are frequent and reliable. It will, however, cost significantly more, impact “Eat Street” on Nicollet and have an adverse impact on the Greenway, which has been a catalyst for new construction along the corridor.

    In addition, the Uptown-Nicollet corridor will add time to this route, and doesn’t interface as well with the existing light rail line as the “A” route. The light rail has been extended up 5th Street and part-way around the new Twins Stadium and will host, by 2014 (we can only hope) cars from the airport and Downtown Saint Paul, which could be through-routed.

    The proposal here to go along 12th Avenue and then loop around will surely add running time, as will dwell times at additional stations (six on the “C” route, three on the “A” route), a sharp curve and some number of ramps and tunnel portals. Adding five minutes will make the line significantly less desirable to suburban residents commuting downtown; the “A” route follows a flat, straight existing right-of-way and would be relatively high-speed.

    Finally, the stops at Kenwood (21st Street), Bryn Mawr (Penn) and Harrison (Van White) serve neighborhoods which are not currently well-served by transit—their only connection to Minneapolis are slow, circuitous, infrequent buses. A resident of Bryn Mawr recently told me that not only does the #9 bus take 20 minute to get downtown—a trip of barely a mile as the crow flies—and it has a one-hour gap in service in the early evening. These neighborhoods are not very dense but they’re not McMansion subdivisions either; they are 1920s-era relatively walkable and if served better would see more transit use. In addition, there is ample possibility along this route for redevelopment, as well as access to lakes and parkland.

    Route “C” on the other hand, provides transit to communities which already have good transit (yes, by bus, but frequent and relatively fast). Yes, many more people there already use transit, but routing what is a suburban line—and whether we should spend $1b on a suburban transit line or build an urban streetcar system in the Twin Cities would be a fine debate—through the neighborhood doesn’t really make sense. If we want to build the Southwest Corridor, we should build it for what it is, a suburban commuter corridor. It doesn’t make sense to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to try to serve neighborhoods which already use transit. They’d probably be happier with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of streetcars or newer and more buses.

    Finally, operations might be adversely affected by the “C” routing through Uptown. The neighborhood is busy all hours of the day and night. During rush hours, trains would be crowded already from the outer suburbs but would probably get even worse at Uptown, so much so that people might opt for the good, old bus. At other times of day, in the evening especially, however, service to the outer part of the line might not necessitate operation of any more than every 15 or 20 minutes, since most of that traffic is commuter traffic. (Most bus routes which serve the line’s outer reaches are currently strictly peak hour only.) From Uptown to Downtown, however, running trains only every 15 minutes wouldn’t make sense; why take the train when you can get a bus that takes the same amount of time but comes more frequently? You’d have to compromise and either have frequent trains which ran mostly-empty in the outer suburbs or less-frequent trains which, due to long headways, didn’t capture the whole local market. Or, you’d have to have short-turn runs to Uptown or just beyond, which is confusing to riders and necessitates even more construction for switching and storage.

    The transit situations in the Uptown area, as I see them, are that the buses along Lake Street are very slow and crowded, and the north-south buses could see more investment, perhaps as fixed-guideway systems. Alternative “C” does nothing to alleviate the Lake Street issue (a Midtown Greenway streetcar or LRT, particularly if properly built with a full dual track alignment, would) and really doesn’t help with much other than the Nicollet bus; it would make no sense to ride from 38th Street to Lake Street and then change to a Light Rail which ran not-much-faster in to the city. The only users of the system in the area would be those who lived within a couple blocks of the stations; if you live at 33rd and Nicollet or 27th and Lyndale, you’d still take the bus.

    If we are going to build this corridor—and I think there are more worthy lines in the Twin Cities in which to invest—what I’d propose is the following:

    • The Southwest Corridor should follow the current “A” routing through the lakes to connect to the current lines at the Twins Ballpark as planned.

    • The Midtown Greenway should be rebuilt with a full, two-track right-of-way for streetcars/light rail, connecting with the Southwest Corridor at a transfer station at Calhoun Commons and the Hiawatha Line on the east end, with the potential to continue east to Saint Paul or south to the Airport. (The current bike path must be maintained in the Greenway.) Stops at Lyndale, Nicollet, Portland, Chicago, Cedar-Bloomington, with a run time of ~12 minutes. In addition, the area between Lake Street and 28th should be rezoned to allow for very dense development and built out, with a requirement that buildings have entrances facing on to the Greenway, which could have transit in the center and walking or biking trails on each side.

    • Some investment in major north-south bus lines in Minneapolis, particularly on Chicago (5), Nicollet (18), Lyndale (4) and Hennepin (6). In the long run, these could be rebuilt as streetcar lines, but that is not as important as keeping them as high-frequency, reliable bus routes.

    This would allow the Southwest corridor to serve the constituency in question (suburbanites) and better serve the current transit-users in Minneapolis. Trying to twist the Southwest Corridor in to a shape where it will portend to serve everyone will make its utility less for all.

  • Nathanael

    What would really work would be light rail in the Greenway, connecting to an express version of 3A. (If there’s room for light rail in the Greenway given all those bikers! But there should be. It’s an ideal corridor for light rail, *end-to-end*.)

  • There’s room for both light rail and the trail in the Greenway corridor, at least between West Lake and Hiawatha. But it would require replacing most of the overpasses over the corridor. Not to say it shouldn’t happen…and as I recall, the Midtown Greenway coalition supports such a system (3A plus streetcar or LRT in the Greenway between West Lake and Hiawatha).

  • Cameron Slick

    Removing the brush and vegetation on the south side of the greenway, replacing overpasses, and in some spots moving the path several feet over, there would be enough space for light rail with stations. If MetCouncil was going to institute a streetcar east of 12th Avenue, the same would have to happen, only the path would have to be moved over far more.

  • Transporter

    “At the moment, then, there is little Twin Cities inhabitants can do to push for the Uptown 3C corridor.” Surprise! Nobody is pushing for it because nobody wants the destruction of Nicollet Avenue. Stop writing about places you know nothing about and get a real transportation job before you play administrator.

    • Matt Steele

      Transporter, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s this giant ugly K-mart from the 60s which destroyed Nicollet Avenue. North of 28th, Nicollet is great and will continue to be great due to the new housing and great ethnic restaurants. What we truly need is a full subway under Nicollet with underground stations instead of the proposed trench stations. You’re probably one of those Transit for Livable Communities insurgents who went against all common sense and argued for 3A.

  • Gerald Pollard

    Having lived in the Wedge, St Louis Park and Southwest Minneapolis all my life. As well as having used foot, bike, bus and automobile to and from work and home in these areas. The use of the uptown / Nicollet route without a doubt is the better for everybody. I would not be surprised if this route was actualized within five years of the opening of the current plans. Government works in strange ways.
    Exceptional infographic story telling! Thanks for showing us the future e Yonah Freemark.
    Gerald Pollard

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