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Discussion: What’s next for transit in MN?

June 17, 2014 By John Van Hecke, Publisher

After fits and starts, Minnesota finally has a second light rail transit line. The Green Line, which opened over the weekend, will bring $2.5 billion in new private capital investment along the University Avenue corridor linking Minneapolis’s and St. Paul’s downtowns.

Soon, the Southwest Corridor LRT project, moving people from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie and stopping at major employer clusters, will join this growing network. Coordinating bus service further leverages transit system capacity, creating life-changing residential and user options.

These modernized transit routes represent economic opportunity for the region. Yet, transit seems to be a partisan issues in Minnesota when it’s not in states like Texas and Utah.

What are the next steps for transit’s expansion in Minnesota? What’s standing in the way of better public transit policy and planning?

Join Transit for Livable Communities Executive Director Barb Thoman this Tuesday. From 8-9:30am, Barb will answer your questions and engage Minnesota transit’s future. 


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  • Jr says:

    June 17, 2014 at 6:52 am

    What’s next? Umm, how about they fix the traffic light timing issues which are causing the longer-than-promised green line line travel times and then we can talk about what’s next?

    • Barb Thoman says:

      June 17, 2014 at 8:03 am

      Metro Transit continues to work with its operators, Ramsey County, and the cities of Mpls and Saint Paul to reduce the travel time of the Green Line.

      • Steve says:

        June 17, 2014 at 8:14 am

        Thanks, Barb.  I was thinking a I rode the green line this weekend how complicated the jurisdictional issues must be around traffic signals and right of way issues.  It’s a pretty amazing accomplishment, even if there’s still some fine tuning to do.  Traffic light timing and real time signage will both make the system even better.  Are there other continued improvements people want to see on the existing lines?

  • Mark Ritchie says:

    June 17, 2014 at 7:49 am

    Our plans to bid on hosting the 2023 World’s Fair to Minnesota is a perfect opportunity to think about the larger tranait picture. One item that is a top priority is very high-speed transit between the MSP airport and Mayo/Rochester Airport. There are a lot folks working on different angles on this and it feels like there is momentum building to do something before 2023. Hosting this Expo will bring 10 million or more visitors over the summer - equivalent in numbers to hosting 100 Super Bowl games but with the big difference being that it can bring significant infrastructure development depending on the location and design.

    • Barb Thoman says:

      June 17, 2014 at 8:06 am

      A rail linie to Rochester - the Zip Line - is under study. Minnesota is also studying a line to Duluth and adding one or more additional trains from St. Paul to Chicago on the route of the Empire Builder. Several nearby states including Michigan and Illinois are making investments in intercity rail.

  • John Van Hecke says:

    June 17, 2014 at 8:01 am

    $2.5 billion in private capital investment along the Green Line seems like a pretty compelling argument for public transit investments’ positive impact. It’s hard to believe that that money would’ve flowed without the LRT investment. But, what are other financial impacts from transit investments?

    • Barb Thoman says:

      June 17, 2014 at 8:08 am

      In addition to new residential and commercial investment, reliance on the Green Line will save riders money on driving and parking and will save employers money on employer and customer parking. I rode the Green Line this morning with a man from my neighborhood who said until Monday he had driven to his job in Saint Paul.

      • Lee says:

        June 17, 2014 at 8:31 am

        I have serious doubts about the value of light rail. I assume that development that the green line is taking credit for would have occurred with or without the green line. The dollars would have been better spent on road improvements and improved bus systems. An improved bus system would have been more flexible and less expensive.

        • Steve Fletcher says:

          June 17, 2014 at 8:47 am

          Lee, obviously, we can’t know what development would have happened if we hadn’t built, but there’s lots of evidence that rail encourages development in a way that buses don’t.  Elliott Altbaum posted a great map last week that helps visualize the way development was organized around the Twin Cities’ old streetcar system in a way that’s still visible even six decades after the system was removed.

        • Barb Thoman says:

          June 17, 2014 at 8:48 am

          Light rail works best on high-capacity corridors where trips are made in both directions all day long. Hiawatha (Blue Line) Central Corridor (Green Line) are like that. The #16 and #50 bus on University AVenue could not keep up with demand, especially when the U of M is in session.

          Metro Transit has a plan for arterial rapid bus and the agency finally has the funding to build the A-line on Snelling which is the first of 12 planned lines. The A-line will connect the Rosedale Shopping Center with the 46th street LRT station in Mpls. Los Angles, New York City, and Seattle have a lot of rapid bus service. The A-line will be a great addition to the other rapid bus line we have which is a highway BRT on Cedar Avenue.

          Metro Transit is also working on a plan for region-wide bus service expansion.

        • Elliot Altbaum says:

          June 17, 2014 at 9:30 am

          You raise a good point that an improved bus system would go a long way towards improving transit for the region. A system of high frequency, reliable bus transit is a must for Metro Transit. As Barb mentioned, a BRT system is being built. Houston is showing that re-imagining a whole bus system can produce amazing improvements without addition money.
          High capacity rail is needed in denser areas.

        • geothermaljones says:

          June 17, 2014 at 9:42 am

          I lived in Frogtown for 15 years many of them 2 blks off University. I was recently invited to a University Ave business building that had for years been a dump. It was currently under renovation specifically because of the rail access. Driving through my old neighborhood I saw signs of improvement even before “Green Day”.  I think this is the best thing to happen to University Ave & the surrounding areas in the Frogtown ares since the Hmong migration revitalized many storefronts. (i.e.Crazy Louis’)

  • John Van Hecke says:

    June 17, 2014 at 8:10 am

    How does the Move MN proposal pull transit together with all of Minnesota’s transportation challenges?

    • Barb Thoman says:

      June 17, 2014 at 8:24 am

      MoveMN is the name of the campaign working for increased funding for all modes of transportation statewide. It’s a coalition of over 200 organizations and agencies. The goal is new funding for transit, roads and bridges, and bicycle and pedestrian connections.  The bill that passed out of the House and Senate Transportation committees last session would enable the full build-out of the Metropolitan Council transit plan –more rail lines, the full rapid bus system.  MoveMn also increases dedicated funding for roads and highway and provides a new funding source for bicycle and pedestrian connections.  See the MoveMn web site for more information.  What transportation projects do Mn2020 readers think are most important?

      • Mary Huber says:

        June 17, 2014 at 9:00 am

        This would be ideal! I’d love to ride my bike to a train, jump on the train, ride partway to work then jump off with my bike and pedal the rest of the way! I can ride 20 miles to work then back but it is tiring and it is not safe once I’m out of Mpls and into Roseville on my way to St. Paul.

        • Barb Thoman says:

          June 17, 2014 at 9:11 am

          Hi Mary, More people are using a bike to connect to the bus or train. People can use their own bike or in some places they can use Nice Ride.  Southwest Metro Transit in Eden Prairie is starting a new bike sharing program where their riders can pay to use SW Metro Transit bikes for the leg of the trip between home or work and the transit station.

          The Met. Council is completing a regional bike plan that will identify a region-wide network for bicycling. Once this plan is complete, those corridors can be built as off-road trails or on-road routes. They can be funded and built separately or built as part of ongoing road maintenance/reconstruction. 

          With the low density development patterns in much of our region, the bike to transit connection is really important.

  • Mike Downing says:

    June 17, 2014 at 8:20 am

    Perhaps we should focus the next 20 years on roads and bridges!

    We moved to the Twin Cities over 40 years ago. 40 years ago the Twin Cities had a fabulous road & bridge system for a population of 1.2 million. We could travel anywhere in the Twin Cities without traffic jams.

    Fast forward to today and the Twin Cities has a population of over 3 million but we increased road capacity only 20-30%. Shame on the Governors and Legislatures over the last 30 years for not increasing our road capacity for the increased population in the Twin Cities!!!

    • Barb Thoman says:

      June 17, 2014 at 8:38 am

      Thanks for your comment Mike. You may be surprised to know that Minnesota has the fifth largest road system in the US and the Twin Cities metro region has the 8th largest regional highway system (compared to other large metro regions). Minnesota has had the financial resources to add to its road and highway system over the last two decades. Given the size and age of our roadway system, Minnesota now has significant needs for roadway maintenance that are not being met – the problem is most pronounced at the local level.
      A contributor to traffic congestion in the Twin Cities is our very spread-out development patterns that make it nearly impossible to get many places without a car.  The new Metropolitan Council development plan – Thrive MSP - and many cities in the metro region are working to encourage development and redevelopment that will reduce the need for so much driving and enable more trips by bicycling, walking, and public transit. 

  • geothermaljoes says:

    June 17, 2014 at 8:29 am

    What are the odds of the North Star Line being extended to St. Cloud & on to Fargo?

    • Barb Thoman says:

      June 17, 2014 at 8:51 am

      Until there is additonal funding for transit, an extension of Northstar to St Cloud will not be possible. I don’t believe an extension is even in active planning at the present time.

  • Michael McDowell says:

    June 17, 2014 at 8:34 am

    What’s next for transit in Minnesota?  Our next steps in transit should be to work with the community, transit riders, organizers, Metcouncil, and the city of Minneapolis to create a comprehensive community benefits agreement that lays the ground work for for all major transit project being built in Minnesota. We need a document that promises our community equity coming out of these major transit projects. The Greenline opening is a great things, but there was a community in Midway, St. Paul (a black community) that was going to be completely skipped over, thankfully the community and community organizations organized and won those stops. The Comprehensive Community Benefits agreement would be a blueprint for equity, we have to make it so these projects don’t get built if the community interest is not first priority, and this blueprint isn’t followed. We do this by organizing the folks who ride the system, and live in these communities to take a stand and push to have a say in these projects. Transit is a gateway to access, jobs, business development, housing, and so much more. Communities need a voice in these major projects, and communities need to benefit from these projects.

    • Steve Fletcher says:

      June 17, 2014 at 8:37 am

      Thanks, Michael!  I’ve been really impressed with the organizing work you’ve been doing around this issue at Neighborhoods Organizing for Change.  Can you share some of the issues NOC members are raising that you think might be part of a community benefits agreement?

      • Michael McDowell says:

        June 17, 2014 at 9:11 am

        Thank you Steve, I have been enjoying doing the work. Neighborhoods Organizing for Change is pushing with transit riders for greater transit equity coming out of these projects.Transit riders and our members are saying they don’t want bus funding to be cut. A major concern when talking to riders is the placement of amenities. Riders see that the way our transit system is set up doesn’t reflect the one Minneapolis so many elected/appointed officials stand by. You can walk 4 blocks on the south side of Minneapolis and see 6 shelters, but walk down the whole length of the major corridor broadway ave on the North side and only see a total of 4 shelters. Heated shelter are a want as well where ridership is above 80ppl. (metro transit ridership requirements for heated shelter 80ppl) Reduced fare zones in low-income urban community like they have on Nicollet mall, and an increase in transfer time from 2 1/2 hour to 3 1/2 hours is another want. Connecting routes to major transit projects is a need an i think a no brainer. Last and most importantly speaking as a transit riders and with riders, we want a voice at the negotiating table, we want to be included in a system made for us.

    • Barb Thoman says:

      June 17, 2014 at 9:19 am

      Hi Mike,
      Thank you for your work. The same need for community benefits exists for road projects and there are a great number of these major projects every year. The needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, people using a wheelchair, and local businesses should have a strong voice in any major transportation project. Too often a desire to move more cars and trucks faster trumps the needs of people who don’t get around by driving - harming communities and making it dangerous for people who walk, bike, and use transit. Greater community engagement—community visioning from the start—makes for the best projects. 

  • Bill Graham says:

    June 17, 2014 at 8:40 am

    High on the list should be enactment of a one-cent sales tax in a 7-county transit taxing district.  Scott and Carver Counties are part of the problem, and they need to help with the solution.  The Counties Transit Improvement board should manage the revenue and spending decisions in order to assure political accountability.  The Met Council needs a more specific long range plan with mode selections, construction time lines, financial plans, etc., so that citizens can claim a stronger sense of ownership in the transit system than at present.  In the short term, Metro Transit should demand signal pre-emption for University Avenue trains at a dozen or more minor cross streets.  Making 600 rail passengers wait for 2 left-turners at Aldine Street is simply ridiculous.

    • Barb Thoman says:

      June 17, 2014 at 9:03 am

      The Metropolitan Council is currently drafting the region’s new Transportation Policy Plan. This plan should identify the goals, priorities, timelines, and estimated costs for transportation in the region over the next 20 years.  The region’s previous plans have been so general that they are of limited value. When you have limited resources and a lot of demands for investments you need to have clear priorities and athe new plan should have them. We hope that there will be a lot of public engagement when the draft plan is released.

  • Mary Huber says:

    June 17, 2014 at 8:55 am

    When will we improve our bike trails so that biking is safe in this city. I would like to bike to work buy got hit by a car last year riding down Webber Parkway on my way home.

    • Barb Thoman says:

      June 17, 2014 at 9:28 am

      Hi Mary,
      I am sorry to hear that you were hit by a car while bicycling.

      We need better enforcement of our traffic laws in Minnesota. Too many people drive over the speed limit, don’t stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, and don’t give bikes three feet when passing. I hope the state’s new traffic safety plan will result in more education and enforcement of both drivers and non-motorized road users.

      It is intesting to know that as rates of bicycling have increased, bicycle fatalities have decreased. As more drivers become bicyclists and as more drivers are aware of bicyclists on the road, bicycling becomes safer. More complete streets design of roads and an expanding bicycle network is also key.

  • Janet says:

    June 17, 2014 at 10:06 am

    I expect that #94 buses may see increased ridership when people who try Green Line discover that the fastest way to go downtown to downtown is the #94 buses that take interstate with either no stops or only one stop at Snelling.

    • Andrew says:

      June 18, 2014 at 4:30 pm

      The 94 no longer stops at Snelling and, yes, it is much faster than the Green Line downtown to downtown. The 94 was also much faster than the 16 and 50.

  • WE WANT A SUBWAY! says:

    June 17, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    yeah, stop putting trains down the middle of the street or on the surface where they will intersect with streets… pretty obvious… put them up or down or along transit ways but its just stupid to waste the wonderful opportunity train transit provides and then cram it into an already crowded trafficy area. we want to ADD capacity to a growing region, not displace. The long term costs of doing trains wrong is much higher than tunnels or flyovers will be. And gee whiz those who said tunnels are too expensive are the ones who want tunnels for the SW LRT by Cedar lake. Its clear transit is being held hostage by developers and other things rather than functionality. Glad we have the Green Line, but it would have been so much better were it not in the middle of the street. This is common sense and obvious, and the toady’s and paid hack defenders of those who are causing our trains to be deployed at street level will surely attack me or anyone pointing this all out. Go ahead, it speaks for itself. One can be for transit, and still want it to be done better.

  • Arvonne Fraser says:

    June 17, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    Having just ridden the Green Line from Mpls. to St. Paul’s Union Station and taken the bus back, I’m concerned about more light rail without deeper thought and planning.  In St. Paul the Green Line is essentially the University Avenue local—slow and cumbersome.  The planned SWRT is also problematic.  Why build a cumbersome system around “major employer clusters” unless you can guarantee speedier movement, especially during rush hour.  With an aging population, the potential ridership will and should be more than the currently employed.  Life is more than going to and from work.

    • Michael McDowell says:

      June 17, 2014 at 4:58 pm

      I agree with you Arvonne, these project need to be built with the communities best interest in mind and with also acknowledging that most people who use the bus aren’t going to work. Myself being a transit rider and it being my only source of transportation use this system as a way of life, and i canvass on buses asking folks what they want to see change and most of folks i talk too aren’t going to work or home, they’re going to see friends, go to the grocery store, heading to a park with their kids etc. The narrative around who rides the bus and where they’re going needs to change.

    • WE WANT A SUBWAY! says:

      June 17, 2014 at 5:11 pm

      You know why Arvonne: because LRT is hostage to developers and their toady’s. Its not being devised as functional. Its being devised so that “$2.5 billion in new private capital” will be handed back and forth between the 1% of the 1%, which doesn’t really affect us working class slobs in reality. Same as the stadium arguments which only make money for restauranteurs and hoteliers, meanwhile the rest of us pay and pay via taxes and inconvenience. In Europe they do transit for transits sake and its extremely efficient and well done. Even in most major US cities they do the same. But here in MPLS/STP its run by and for the developers, just like the cities themselves are run (think condos no one wants while affordable housing languishes… but some people are making money building those condos so hey). So strange how Trickle Down has been demolished and how it was never a left idea, and yet the politicians here posing as left trumpet crap like “$2.5 billion in new private capital” investments as if that means something to us normal people… you know the people who have to use transit… I whole heartedly agree with you though Arvonne. These hundred year public investments in transit infrastructure need to be done right, but just like they got rid of street cars at the behest of the richies back in the day, they are now bringing trains back but only in ways that serve those same richies. Sure, we will benefit some, but wouldn’t it be great if our “leaders” could do what’s right for once? What’s totally right, not just sort of right… and what would be a legacy celebrated for hundreds of years to come? At the speed this LRT roll out is moving at, and with the way its so flawed by being at street level and interrupting existing transportation rather than complementing it and adding capacity, I don’t see LRT being a major trumpet that will herald much long term. Who knows, maybe we will actually win on the SW LRT and they will put it under Hennepin Avenue or something like that that makes loads of sense? Here’s to hoping all the picture book liberals start living up to their supposed liberal beliefs which should support the working class… you know like the liberals of old who build our awesome public park system… as opposed the “liberals” of new who just built our first private park for the Vikings…

      • geothermaljones says:

        June 19, 2014 at 9:13 am\
        A seven county Metro Council that is controlled by one county…

        A simple Downtown Mpls, UofM Campus to Campus, Fairgrounds/Como, Energy Park, Pierce Butler, Capital to Downtown St.P would have generated far more development than the chosen route, and we could have renovated the Saints Stadium right where it sits.

  • Mike T. says:

    June 17, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    With all the businesses that needed to close their doors or reduce services and such, of course there is going to be some reinvestment since rail construction isn’t completely screwing everything up now.  I still can’t believe that we spent 1 billion to replace the only sustainable bus route in the state.  For all you European wannabes:  Population density here is not great enough to have rail make sense.  Politicians are complete geniuses and we are all complete morons (or is it the other way around).  The Pursuit of Happiness.

  • Janet K says:

    June 17, 2014 at 8:52 pm

    A preferred route would have been through Dinkytown, Energy Park, Bandana Sq, then follow Como to downtown along existing rail right-of-way.  Fewer stops, no traffic so train can go faster speed, space for Park n Ride lots (and Route 50 could still run on Univ).

    I’ve heard 1) feds would only fund where pop was already dense, and/or 2) railroad was not subject to eminent domain, though there was never the opportunity for public input, pressure, bully pulpit, etc.  Missed opportunity.  It’s so easy to see how development and population has followed rail in other cities (Wash, DC, etc).  There no need to build where pop and bus service already exist.