Moving Forward: Midtown Corridor Transit Recommendation Unanimous

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By Barb Thoman, Executive Director

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The Midtown Greenway.

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It’s no secret that riders on the #21 bus on Lake Street in Minneapolis have ample time to read, window shop, or converse with fellow passengers. A multitude of riders boarding and exiting, combined with numerous traffic lights and car congestion, makes for a slow trip. In fact, a bicyclist on the nearby Midtown Greenway that parallels Lake Street can travel at nearly twice the speed of the #21 bus and faster than most cars.

For the past 18 months, Metro Transit, in partnership with Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis, has been engaging the community and studying options for improving transit service in the 4.4-mile Lake Street/Midtown Corridor. The study boundaries were the Blue Line (Hiawatha)’s Lake Street/Midtown Station on the east end and, on the west end, the future Green Line Extension (Southwest LRT)’s West Lake Station. Currently, almost 15,000 bus trips are taken daily in the corridor.

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Midtown Corridor Study Area. Credit: Metro Transit

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This month, a stakeholder group, the Midtown Corridor Policy Advisory Committee (PAC), held its final meeting and released its recommendations. The Committee unanimously supported moving ahead with both options under study: enhanced bus service on Lake Street AND a streetcar or single-car light rail service along the Midtown Greenway.

The Midtown Greenway was originally owned by the Milwaukee Road railroad company. The corridor was purchased in 1993 by Hennepin County for future passenger rail transit. Community residents and local neighborhoods worked with Hennepin County to plan the Greenway’s bicycle and pedestrian trail, which was constructed in three phases from 2000 to 2006. Hennepin County has always intended to retain the popular trail when adding passenger rail to the Greenway.

The density of jobs and housing along the Lake Street/Midtown Corridor coupled with a major light rail station on the east and the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes on the west provide conditions that justify two transit capital projects:

• Enhanced bus service on Lake Street would be similar to the A Line enhanced bus service planned for Snelling Avenue in Saint Paul. Buses would stop every half mile. Passengers would pay before they board and buses would have traffic signal priority. Bus riders traveling the full length of the study corridor would save 12 minutes over current bus service.

• A single-track or double-track streetcar or one light-rail vehicle with ten stations would be added to the Midtown Greenway. Passengers would pay before boarding. Travel time on the proposed rail line would be only 13 minutes. This is 29 minutes faster than current bus service!

[/cmsms_text][/cmsms_column][/cmsms_row][cmsms_row data_width=”boxed” data_color=”default” data_padding_top=”0″ data_padding_bottom=”20″][cmsms_column data_width=”1/1″][cmsms_table animation_delay=”0″][cmsms_tr type=”header”][cmsms_td type=”header”]Projected Travel Times[/cmsms_td][cmsms_td type=”header”][/cmsms_td][/cmsms_tr][cmsms_tr][cmsms_td]Mode[/cmsms_td][cmsms_td]West Lake to Hiawatha[/cmsms_td][/cmsms_tr][cmsms_tr][cmsms_td]Current Bus[/cmsms_td][cmsms_td]42 minutes[/cmsms_td][/cmsms_tr][cmsms_tr][cmsms_td]Enhanced Bus[/cmsms_td][cmsms_td]30 minutes[/cmsms_td][/cmsms_tr][cmsms_tr][cmsms_td]Streetcar or Light Rail Vehicle[/cmsms_td][cmsms_td]13 minutes[/cmsms_td][/cmsms_tr][/cmsms_table][/cmsms_column][/cmsms_row][cmsms_row data_width=”boxed” data_color=”default” data_padding_top=”0″ data_padding_bottom=”20″][cmsms_column data_width=”1/1″][cmsms_text animation_delay=”0″]

Over the last decade, the Lake Street and Midtown Greenway Corridors have changed tremendously. The Midtown Corridor, once a scary, trash-filled ravine is now busy with bicyclists, walkers, runners, roller skiers, skateboarders, dog walkers, and people in wheelchairs. The former Sears Roebuck store was successfully repurposed, several medical campuses have expanded there, and a dozen major condo and apartment complexes have been built. Add this to the hundreds of interesting small businesses on Lake Street providing food, services, and goods one can’t get anywhere else.

The Midtown Corridor Alternatives Analysis found that enhanced bus and a new rail line together would add an estimated 17,400 daily transit riders. That’s nearly 6 million new transit rides per year! With a projected capital cost of $235 to $270 million, it’s an impressive ridership number at an affordable price in a corridor that has a high concentration of people living in poverty. For comparison, the Red Line Bus Rapid Transit Corridor along Cedar Avenue between Minneapolis and Lakeville cost $112 million and has a future ridership estimate of nearly 2,000 riders per day.

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The recommended enhanced bus service on Lake Street would be 12 minutes faster than current bus service. Photo credit: Evershed Mattingly, Flickr

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For several years there has been talk of a streetcar along the Greenway. This recent study, however, also presents the benefits of running a single light-rail vehicle. That option would save on costs because Greenway trains could share a maintenance base with Southwest light rail. Operating either the streetcar or single light-rail vehicle on single- and double-track segments along the Greenway would reduce the need for retaining walls—a concern of neighborhoods and trail users.

PAC members Joyce Wisdom (executive director of the Lake Street Council) and Ron Lezama (former chair of the Latino Economic Development Center) praised Metro Transit’s public outreach process.

Metro Transit staff Jill Hentges and Michael Mechtenberg report visiting every business in the corridor before the study began. They spoke at events in at least ten different neighborhoods, including a mini-open house at the Chicago-Lake Transit Center (organized by Community Advisory Committee member Amanda Dlouhy from Phillips West and the Midtown Greenway Coalition’s Rebecca Harnik) and a presentation for the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition given on stage at Harriet Brewery.

These exciting recommendations for transit improvements in the Lake Street/Midtown Corridor will be forwarded to the Metropolitan Council for inclusion in the region’s 2014 Transportation Policy Plan (slated for adoption later this year). No funding has been identified for implementing any new transit option in the corridor. TLC is currently working with allies in the Move MN coalition to secure comprehensive transportation funding that includes money for transit, bicycling, and walking projects here in the metro and across the state.

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