Friday, March 23, 2012

Northside Transit: All Aboard

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

The Northside Transportation Network held a meeting Thursday evening to discuss the next steps in planning both the Bottineau LRT line and forming a broader transit system for north Minneapolis.  Taking a larger view on transit options is a huge step forward.  Council Member Samuels previously said that choosing between the two light rail options was like having someone ask "Do you want to get passed by or run over?"  The D1 route through the park or D2 down Penn force a choice between whether our community is divided or simply ignored.  Neither choice is workable for successful transit-oriented development.

A city staffer was present to explain the Council's position, that they support D1 and expect to take another vote in May of this year.  Don Samuels added a motion that we examine the streetcar option as part of the transit development and LRT alignment.  Minneapolis really only has the capacity to make four LRT lines - the central corridor, Hiawatha, the southwest corridor, and Bottineau.  After that, we're done with LRT because there just isn't the space for it along other developable corridors.

But one advantage that streetcars have, as shown in the second photo, is that... streetcar is about sixty-seven feet long.  A light rail car is ninety feet long, and a three-car train segment extends for a full city block.  Streetcars can therefore be easily added to most streets (if ridership and budgets allow) because they can handle almost every needed turning radius.

Streetcars have several other distinct advantages for north Minneapolis.  If LRT is the sole transit development our community gets, then the D1 route would give us only two stops in the community.  D2 would allow for three, perhaps four, but at a much higher impact along a residential corridor.  A streetcar system that goes from downtown, up Washington, and then along Broadway to Robbinsdale would have about fifteen stops over north.  The line would connect with the proposed southbound streetcar route along Nicollet Avenue.

LRT along Penn Avenue would not only require the acquisition and removal of over one hundred properties, it would also make many cross streets impassable.  Streetcar infrastructure is built into the street itself, making it possible for public transit to share lanes with other vehicles.  Yet the visible nature of the streetcar lines make it more likely that casual riders will take note, and use that transit much more frequently than they would ride a bus.

The city of Portland was held up as the most similar comparison to what we could accomplish here.  Construction took about three weeks per block, and the development potential was so great that much of the push - and some funding - was led by the private sector.  The advantage we have is that the federal funding streams are currently much more favorable to urban cores.

For all you budding northside history buffs, there is one drawback.  It would be virtually impossible to get our original north Minneapolis streetcars back into use.  That's because they're still being ridden in Mexico City and San Francisco.  Streetcars last a rather long time, is what we're getting at here.

Although this was the main focus of the evening, the Northside Transportation Network did branch off onto other topics.  Doing so was a welcome change for this blogger, as I had thought previous meetings were too focused on Light Rail, and excluded other topics.

Should D2 be chosen as the LRT route, streetcars would stop at Penn and Broadway instead of going all the way to the Robbinsdale Transit Center.  It's not clear if they would still qualify for the same kind of funding at that point.  Regardless of which choice is made, the northside will likely see increased bus service along Penn Avenue and the Emerson/Fremont corridors.  Those changes could happen almost immediately.

NTN is also beefing up their outreach efforts, through a program called Corridors of Opportunity.  Through that initiative, partners will do outreach to African and Asian immigrant communities and specifically engage underserved groups in the transit dialogue.  Even the early stages of this engagement has paid dividends.  The meeting had one of the highest turnouts of Southeast Asian residents I've seen at such an event.

Whatever decisions ultimately come from these groups, it looks as if northside transit is heading in the right direction, and everyone's on board.  Our next meeting is on May 31st.


  1. Great post. I generally agree with CM Samuels' view on the LRT alignment, that it is either running over or skipped. That is unfortunate.

    Some of the benefits of a streetcar are also drawbacks, such as the frequency of stops and the ability to run in mixed traffic. If the desired outcome is to have a nicer quality and slightly faster transit mode, then the streetcar is a good fit. But if it is regional connectivity and quick travel times to areas outside of the community, then some mode that runs on its own right of way is a better choice.

    A streetcar on West Broadway could still take 15 minutes to get Dowmtowm

  2. I agree. The main question I started to ask around LRT/BRT/streetcar issues for north Minneapolis was "What do we want our transit system to accomplish?" Since LRT is best at longer, regional connectivity, I came to the conclusion that the route along Penn wouldn't give us the kinds of benefits that we really want.

    Similarly, streetcars aren't appropriate for every transit corridor either. But I do believe they're the best option for Broadway.

  3. I think we should buy back at least ONE of the street cars from San Francisco or Mexico City, just to have ONE original street car. That street car could have a plaque on it explaining its historical specialness.

    1. John, that would be a tremendous visual addition to our streetcar system, but it would hinge on 1) the old cars being for sale and 2) the new system being compatible with them. In theory, I like the idea very much though.

  4. New streetcar tracks can pose a danger to people on bikes. They are dangerous and poorly-signed. They bring major changes to designated bikeways and the roadway surface in general. While the public right-of-way has changed considerably, there is concern that not enough will be done to warn of potential safety hazards the tracks create for people riding bicycles.

    I believe streetcars and bike riding can coexist, but streetcars that make biking more dangerous are unacceptable. We already have to live with a basically ruined biking life due to poor planning, and we need to be vigilant to prevent mistakes in the future. I have concerns that plans for North as part of the First Streetcar project could easily make life more difficult for bikes. Details are still being worked out, and we need to make sure biking needs are made a top priority.

    1. Maybe this needs to be taken into account along other streetcar lines (especially downtown), anon 6:54. But West Broadway is already quite unfriendly to bikes. Since north Minneapolis already has several east/west bike corridors at Plymouth, 26th, and Lowry in this area, I don't think Broadway is appropriate for adding dedicated bike lanes.

      I certainly wouldn't oppose adding biking opportunities on Broadway, but I don't think this corridor needs to be everything to everyone. I'd be more interested in seeing what kinds of north/south bike lanes could be added or beefed up to feed into streetcars along Broadway.

  5. What about personal rapid transit? No one ever talks about this in relation to North? I could see this being a great addition along a business district like West Broadway.

  6. I heard all the Nice Ride bikes have gone away. Is this some sort of conspiracy?

    1. Have you looked around the city? Nice Ride bikes are out again. They take them in for the winter.

  7. Relief! You scared me for a second, there.


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