A streetcar next to the Midtown Greenway?

On November 6, 25 transit enthusiasts huddled in Harriet Brewing's cozy tap room to hear Mike Mechtenberg talk about buses, rails, and bikes in Midtown. Mike, a project manager at Metro Transit, presented the transportation options that Metro Transit is considering for Midtown, and their relative strengths and weaknesses. After his presentation, Mike fielded some questions from the audience.

The Midtown Corridor alternatives analysis

The study Mike presented (here's a PDF of the alternatives analysis) focused on the Midtown Corridor, an east-west strip of Minneapolis including Lake Street and the Greenway from West Lake Street just northwest of Lake Calhoun to Lake and Hiawatha.

There are a lot of options here. In the initial stage, Metro Transit evaluated the following transportation modes: enhanced bus service, dedicated busways, streetcars, and light rail transit (LRT). They considered these transit modes both on Lake Street and in the Midtown Greenway trench. After an initial screening, they ruled out everything but enhanced bus service on Lake Street, and everything but a streetcar line in the Midtown Greenway.

Enhanced bus service on Lake Street

In the Midtown Corridor, the 21 bus spends 64% of its time sitting still, either at red lights or at stops waiting for passengers to board, pay, and disembark. Enhanced bus service would cut down on this unnecessary wait time by giving the bus signal priority (holding a green light a little longer if a bus is coming), allowing offboard payment at stations, running buses that are easier to get on and off, and stopping less frequently (every half-mile). According to the report, these changes would cut the travel time from West Lake Street to Hiawatha from 42 minutes to 30 minutes. A way to boost ridership would be to extend service east of Hiawatha. An extension of the enhanced bus line could run across the river to Saint Paul, and up Snelling Avenue to the Green Line station at University Avenue. The project is expected to cost $50 million to build.

Streetcars in the Midtown Greenway

Metro Transit is considering putting a streetcar next to the bike and pedestrian path in the Midtown Greenway trench. A streetcar is like an LRT car, but usually a little shorter — 60 to 70 feet long, instead of 90 feet, and can reach speeds of 45 mph. The trains would run every ten minutes and the stations would be every quarter mile from West Lake Street to Hiawatha. This would connect the Southwest LRT to the Blue Line LRT, running by some of the densest neighborhoods and largest employers in Minneapolis. Since the Greenway is mostly below street level, streetcars could zip along unimpeded, and make the trip from West Lake Street to Hiawatha in 13 minutes (which is faster than driving a car, according to Google Maps). The project is estimated to cost $200 million, and we could pay for it with a regional sales tax or a public-private partnership, as Seattle has.

So how would this impact cyclists? Mike admitted that cyclists would be rerouted from the Greenway during the construction period, but he assured the audience that the permanent impact on the Midtown Greenway path would be minimal. Except for the tunnel under Hennepin Avenue, where the path would narrow from 20 feet wide to 15 feet, most conflicts could be resolved by moving the path slightly or merging the two streetcar tracks to a single-track for a stretch. Mike said the sensation of riding a bike next to a train on the Greenway would be similar to riding the LRT path along Hiawatha north of 28th Street.

Get involved

Do you have concerns or questions? Check out the Midtown Transitway website, or send Mike Mechtenberg an email at [email protected]. There will be public meetings on November 20 at Intermedia Arts and November 21 at the Colin Powell Center at Cristo Rey High School. Metro Transit expects to select a locally-preferred alternative in January or February of 2014.

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