North Side Light Rail Slowdown Plans

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It came as a mild surprise in 2021 when efforts to co-locate Bottineau Light Rail Transit (LRT) with Burlington Northern (BNSF) freight operations across the northwest suburbs failed despite broad community support. Seemingly routine problems became emotional and could not be overcome, forcing transit planners to settle on a much slower alternative route for the Blue Line expansion, on the streets of North Minneapolis and the freeway median. 81 by Robbinsdale and Crystal.

But it should come as no surprise if community support for the “Botineau on Broadway” alternative begins to crumble once the very real issues of performance, safety, accessibility and gentrification associated with on-street rail systems are highlighted (“North Minneapolis Neighborhood Worried About Blue Line Light Rail Extension,” May 18).

Still, that could be a good thing.

According to a federal study, on-street light rail transport is not safe. Collision events involving on-street trains occur 10 to 15 times more frequently than with off-street route configurations of the type originally planned for the BNSF Corridor.

The risks imposed costly and performance-sapping mitigation measures, including speed reductions of 10-15 mph compared to off-street systems. Today in the Twin Cities, the 18 mph Green Line along the University Avenue median is no faster than a well-run express bus, while the planned Green Line extension of the 30 mph off-street Southwest Light Rail Transit (SWLRT) will operate largely intact on an exclusive right-of-way between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie.

Limited to a bus speed of 15 mph, the Bottineau-on-Broadway alternative will do little to improve mobility for most commuters in northern Minneapolis and northwest suburbs. Few people will get where they are going faster than they do today – except for a small privileged population of cyclists close enough to walk or cycle to a nearby light rail station , then go directly to MSP airport or Mall of America without downtown. to transfer.

This will lead to the zoning and redevelopment of the Minneapolis North Station area, forcing rents to rise and longtime residents to leave.

With real estate in the station area being the only identifiable beneficiary of light rail on the streets of North Minneapolis — and with pandemic-era transit ridership depressed, perhaps for decades years – the cost, schedule and equity proposition of this disruptive and underperforming company now seems strangely irrelevant. step with the needs of the community.

An extended wait time is needed for stakeholders to step back, reflect, and compare the Bottineau rail-based alternatives at hand with other light rail configurations in the United States. They should visit Seattle and watch out for the spate of collisions and fatalities that followed the start of LRT service along the median of the MLK Parkway south of Seattle, which runs through that locality just as West Broadway runs through north Minneapolis. .

In response to an outraged Seattle community, train speeds have been reduced and expensive elevated sections will soon cover key intersections, while on-street configurations are now banned on future Seattle-area lines.

Does Bottineau need to repeat that?

Progress towards the corridor’s equity and mobility goals could continue as planners refocus on developing more frequent and fungible bus service on more user-friendly routes. If done right, North Side commuters could reach popular destinations and transfer points like Target Field as quickly or faster than today’s local buses or tomorrow’s light rail. This could be the key to the regional mobility and equity the community needs.

There is also the start of the SWLRT service to compare as it operates on an efficient off-street Southwest subway route which is the geographic mirror image of the original BNSF/Botineau corridor. Strong SWLRT performance would force a closer look at off-street Bottineau alternatives — either going under Broadway or around Broadway above the original shared-use BNSF hallway.

It seems almost cruel to ask the Bottineau community to wait even longer for “its turn” to obtain public transit service. But it seems even more sinister to saddle it with an underperforming shiny object that promises far greater regional mobility than actually delivers.

Jerome Johnson is a retired transportation economist and a founding member of Citizen Advocates for Regional Transit.

Jose P. Rogers