Transit System Update: Rail, Bus, Bike, Walk
By Dave Van Hattum, Senior Policy Advocate
With planning underway in a number of areas around the metro, our region is gradually moving toward a true system of transit, bicycling, and walking. Given recent increases in ridership, growing demand from people of all ages in our core cities and first ring suburbs, and the high cost of transportation for working families, it is essential that we continue to accelerate the build out of these options in the Twin Cities. Here are the latest developments and upcoming opportunities to get involved:
Green Line LRT.The Metropolitan Council has just announced that Green Line light rail transit service will launch on Saturday, June 14, 2014! A formal ceremony is planned for 9 AM, followed by festivities from 10 AM to 6 PM and free rides all weekend. TLC is involved in planning celebration activities at the Raymond Ave. Station. Stay tuned for more details and ways to be involved.
Southwest LRT. Three studies are currently underway to inform next steps in Southwest LRT project planning. These studies will assess: 1) freight re-route alternatives, 2) impacts to water, and 3) impacts on landscaping. Outside consultants are conducting the first two studies, while the Met Council is completing the landscaping study. Two recent public meetings about these studies attracted hundreds of community members. Unfortunately, attendees voiced a strident standoff between Minneapolis and St. Louis Park. TLC remains supportive of the project overall on the Kenilworth alignment with light rail in a shallow tunnel or at ground level if a safe, cost effective, freight re-route can be deigned. We believe it is imperative that Minneapolis and St. Louis Park reach an agreeable solution and keep this project moving forward. Draft study results are expected in late January, with another opportunity for public comment. Met Council staff is still hopeful that the Met Council could reach a decision on the alignment and seek municipal consent from cities along the line in the first quarter of 2014. Noticeably, this project was not included in Governor Dayton’s 2014 bonding proposal. Rather, the Governor directed the Met Council to assess other financing options, including an increased metro-area sales tax.
Early this month, TLC joined hundreds of community members at the Southwest LRT meetings in Minneapolis and St. Louis Park.
Bottineau LRT. Last week, the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) approved funding for Bottineau LRT project development. Combined with money from the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority, this $27.6 million commitment from CTIB allows project leaders to move Bottineau LRT forward. Pending approval from the federal government, preliminary design and engineering work could begin later this year.
Future Transit Corridors
Gateway Corridor. The Gateway Corridor Commission is considering two route alignments for bus rapid transit (BRT) or light rail transit (LRT) through Oakdale, Lake Elmo, and Woodbury. Local planners want the BRT buses to travel in dedicated lanes, which would both improve travel time and preserve the future option of LRT. MnDOT and the Met Council have proposed BRT on highway shoulders as a far less costly option. As with other transitways being planned around the region, increased funding (beyond the current ¼-cent sales tax) is needed to build the best project for the long-term. In a related development, the McKnight Foundation recently awarded a grant to East Metro Strong, a public-private partnership that will focus on transit-oriented economic development in the Gateway Corridor and elsewhere in Ramsey, Washington, and Dakota counties.
Get involved: Open House, Thursday, Feb. 6, 5-7 PM, Globe University, Woodbury.
The two alignments, called D1 and D2, being considered for the Gateway Corridor will be the focus of an open house on Feb. 6. The public is invited to learn more and provide input on these alternatives.
Red Rock Corridor. The Red Rock Corridor Commission has selected BRT as the preferred transit mode for this 30-mile corridor from Hastings to Saint Paul and Minneapolis (with a possible future extension to Red Wing). The new transit station in Newport, which broke ground last November, will provide a key foundation for expanded transit service in this corridor.
Get involved: Public Hearing, Thursday, Jan. 23, 4 PM, Cottage Grove City Hall.
Midtown Corridor (Minneapolis). On February 12, the Midtown Corridor Policy Advisory Committee is expected to recommend a locally preferred alternative for transit improvements in the Midtown Corridor. The three alternatives under consideration are 1) Lake Street rapid bus, 2) a Midtown Greenway streetcar, or 3) a combination of both, with an extension of the rapid bus route to the Green Line at University and Snelling Aves.
Get involved: Public Meeting, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 8:30-10:30 AM, Colin Powell Center, Minneapolis.
Bus Rapid Transit
Red Line BRT. Open since last June, the Red Line runs between Apple Valley and the Mall of America (where it connects with the Blue Line LRT). A planned improvement near Eagan’s Cedar Grove Station has the potential to speed up the BRT line’s travel time by about 9 minutes round-trip. The plan, which features an enclosed 300-foot pedestrian walkway from the existing park-and-ride to a new stop in the center median on Cedar Ave./Hwy. 77, was approved this month by the Dakota County Regional Railroad Authority. MnDOT, the Met Council, and the Federal Highway Administration also will need to sign off before the project moves forward.
Snelling BRT (Saint Paul). Governor Dayton’s 2014 bonding proposal includes the final $10 million needed for the capital cost of rapid bus service between the 46th St. Blue Line (Hiawatha) LRT Station and the Rosedale Shopping Center. New buses would travel on Ford Parkway and Snelling Ave. with a key connection to the Green Line at University Ave. In addition, the project includes improved stations, shelters, and traffic signal systems. If capital funding is secured this session, Snelling rapid bus could open in 2015.
Get involved: Open House, Thursday, Jan. 23, 6-8 PM, Roseville Library.
Orange Line (35W South) BRT. Governor Dayton also has proposed $7 million in G.O. bonding for the Orange Line, in particular for design and right-of-way for a Lake Street Station in the highway median. This station is needed to replace the current setup, which prevents buses from taking full advantage of the MnPass (free-flow) lanes and has passengers climbing steep steps and waiting along the busy freeway to board.
Highway Transitway Corridors Study. A longer-term study, to be completed by the Met Council this spring, is assessing the potential for bus rapid transit on eight highway corridors: 212, 169, 65, 36, I-94, I-394, 35E N and 35E S.
Saint Paul Streetcar. Saint Paul’s Citywide Streetcar Feasibility Study recommends a four-mile starter line from East 7th St. at Arcade to West 7th St. at Randolph. The recently completed study estimated this modern streetcar would attract over $134 million in development and ideally would eventually be connected by BRT or LRT to the MSP International Airport.
Get involved: Public Hearing, Friday, Jan. 24, 8:30 AM, Saint Paul City Hall (basement level).
Minneapolis Streetcar. The City of Minneapolis is currently working with the Met Council and the Federal Transit Administration to complete an Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Nicollet-Central streetcar project—identified in 2013 as the city’s first modern streetcar line. Watch for the release of, and opportunity to comment on, the EA later this fall.
Local and Express Bus
Metro Transit Bus Service Improvement Program (SIP). Metro Transit has begun a study to determine priorities for improvements to local and express bus service over the next ten to fifteen years. The SIP process is the time to think big, to put forward bold ideas not constrained by today’s limited funding. TLC encourages you to let Metro Transit know what would make riding the bus better or more convenient for you.According to Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb, the primary themes identified thus far include faster travel speeds, improved core urban bus routes, expanded urban crosstown routes, more suburb-to-suburb bus connections, and more express service. Improved amenities on buses and at stops (better signage, lighting, shelters, etc.) are also under consideration. Public input will inform a draft plan this spring 2014, with additional public engagement to follow. A final plan is expected by the end of summer. See our recent interview with Metro Transit for more details.
Get involved: Fill out the SIP survey online or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment deadline: Friday, Feb. 28.
Saint Paul Bikeways Plan. On Tuesday, the City of Saint Paul announced a draft bikeways plan that would more than double Saint Paul’s bicycling network of on-street, off-street and designated bike boulevard routes (from 144 miles to 358 miles). The 20-30 year plan includes the creation of a 1.7-mile off-street bicycle loop downtown and completing an approximately 30-mile “Grand Round” route around the city. After public input, a final plan is expected in June.
Get involved: Open Houses, 6-8 PM, Feb. 11, 13, 18 and 20. See details here.