Minneapolis pledges to pursue streetcars and BRT as way to better serve poor and minority residents

Minneapolis will continue to plan and seek money for streetcar lines and bus rapid transit routes aimed at better connecting existing and future transit projects with areas of high poverty and high numbers of transit users.

The city will also keep pushing the Metropolitan Council and the state to fund transit improvements that will help the regional system better serve poor and minority residents.

Those were among promises delivered Tuesday in response to requests from the Equity Commitments Coalition for Metro-wide Transportation, a group of minority, religious and neighborhood organizations that was formed to assure that people of color benefit from transit projects in the Twin Cities.

The city council promised to respond to the coalition’s concerns in August, after it approved the controversial route to extend the Green line to Eden Prairie via the Kenilworth Corridor.

“Addressing the gaps through and around transit-oriented development won’t in itself close these racial and economic disparities,” said Peter Wagenius, policy director for Mayor Betsy Hodges. “But we can’t reduce these disparities without a significant transportation component. We can’t have inclusive growth without a transportation system that works for all.”

The city, however, doesn’t deliver transit services, the Met Council does. Nor does it make the decisions about those services — those are made by the state, the Met Council and a handful of other boards and commissions. The city’s primary role, therefore, is in advocating for its residents, Wagenius said.

Existing and planned rail and BRT in Minneapolis
City of Minneapolis
Existing and planned rail and BRT in Minneapolis

Wagenius told the council that serving transit-dependent neighborhoods and people of color would have been easier had the Met Council chosen an alignment south down Nicollet Avenue and then west through the LynLake and Uptown neighborhoods. Such an alignment also would have made a second goal of light rail easier — economic development around stations.

The purpose for revisiting the alignment decision wasn’t to reopen a now-closed debate. Instead, it was raised to demonstrate why the city thinks it is vital to build better connections among existing and planned light rails lines and North Minneapolis, along with areas that would have been better served by the Nicollet alignment.

“Southwest LRT should not be an end in itself,” the city’s report states. “It should be a spine of a broader network including many, more frequent regular local buses, several faster Enhanced Bus or ‘arterial BRT’ lines and modern streetcars on a few key corridors where economic development and job growth is essential. … If the region does not make these investments in transit connections, the limitations of the Kenilworth alignment will be magnified and the project will be less successful.” 

Among those investments being studied, a proposed Nicollet-Central streetcar is the furthest along, though the city has not secured the $200 million it would need for the project. That line initially would run from the K-Mart that blocks Nicollet at W. 29th Street to Northeast Minneapolis via the Hennepin Avenue Bridge. Other lines in the planning process could travel on West Broadway in North Minneapolis and along the Midtown Greenway to connect the existing Blue Line at Lake Street Station and the proposed Southwest LRT line at West Lake Station.

The city’s response to the Equity Commitments Coalition also endorsed calls for more heated bus shelters in North Minneapolis, a cause helped last week by a $3.26 million federal grant. The city also promised to invest in city programs that would boost investment along transit lines, providing economic opportunities for low-income residents and people of color. And it pledged to push for mixed-use and mixed income development around the Southwest LRT stations within the city.

Of those, however, only one station, Van White, has near-term potential for transit-oriented development, Wagenius said. And it has limitations caused by the existence of the city’s impound lot, school bus storage facility and maintenance yards for future intercity trains.

City of Minneapolis
Minneapolis to redouble ongoing efforts to advance plans for rail service to the Nicollet Avenue corridor in the form of a modern streetcar and to provide rail service to the Midtown Greenway.

Russ Adams, executive director of the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability and a member of the equity coalition, gave the city’s response good marks but with some reservations.

“There are parts in it that are very promising,” Adams said. “It appears that the city wants to lead on providing affordable housing options, on exploring new economic development strategies and connecting workers to jobs.”

Adams said the coalition agreed with the plan to use streetcars and improved bus connections to make the new line work better for neighborhoods not directly on the line. And the group has long called for better and more numerous bus shelters in inner city neighborhoods.

“The area where we feel they fall short of their rhetoric is on the Van White Station redevelopment,” he said. The city needs to explore options for moving the impound lot to clear up development space and he didn’t accept that the city must allow commuter rail storage in the area. The area has long been a “dumping ground” for undesirable land uses and residents want both the LRT line and the high-density redevelopment and housing that should come with it.

Adams said it is helpful that the city proposes shrinking the impound lot and reducing the acreage for the train storage but they will remain under the city plan. “It feels like they’re continuing to be a dumping grounds and if the city is committed to equity and not repeating the mistakes of the past they can start with the Van White Station.”

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Mike Downing on 10/08/2014 - 12:28 pm.

    Focus on education not transportation!

    The racial and economic disparity is not due to transportation; it is due to education attainment. We need to address the racial disparity in education in order to address racial economic disparity. The family structure needs to set high education expectations in order to address economic disparity in the long term.

    It is naive at best to think transportation investments will address economic disparity.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/08/2014 - 03:09 pm.


      I believe that item was covered by the mayor and in the article. Perhaps you missed the passage here:

      “Addressing the gaps through and around transit-oriented development won’t in itself close these racial and economic disparities,” said Peter Wagenius, policy director for Mayor Betsy Hodges. “But we can’t reduce these disparities without a significant transportation component. We can’t have inclusive growth without a transportation system that works for all.”

    • Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/08/2014 - 04:53 pm.

      Seeking to Focus on Education WITHOUT Aleviating Economic Issues

      would be akin to telling the sparse population of the Sahara desert that they needed to grow more trees, ground cover, and crops in order to be able to feed themselves,…

      but not doing anything to make water available to enable that population to grow any of those things.

      To claim that focusing on educational attainment can produce even a tiny amount of improvement in the lives of impoverished kids, without enriching the soil in which these student’s lives are rooted,…

      i.e. without seeking to stabilize their families, bring their parental figures to better health and functioning, AND YES make transportation to areas where they can find living wage jobs available,…

      will produce ZERO results.

      You can’t grow good crops in depleted soil unless and until you enrich the ground in which these crops are planted.

  2. Submitted by Gerald Abrahamson on 10/08/2014 - 05:27 pm.

    Delay mass transit and consider self-driving cars instead?

    Mass transit is nice if you can get to and use it. However, the key point of mass transit is most suburbanites commute to a “park and ride” and THEN take mass transit.

    The objective of mass transit should be to *eliminate the need* for a car in most cases.

    Most of the proposed mass transit projects do not meet that objective.

    A self-driving car does. A fleet of them solves many problems.

    I would rather see the metro area investing in that type of project because it meets the needs of all groups wherever they are located (as long as they are in the service area–to be determined). A much greater number of people would be able to use it, AND it would existing road infrastructure (no huge investment with long payback period). Plus, it would be easy and relatively inexpensive to expand service simply by adding more vehicles to the fleet if it was extremely popular. It is possible the need for bus and light rail might be eliminated as a result.

    Plus, self-driving cars (or a variation thereof–smaller?) could be used for commercial delivery of reasonable packages at a very low cost (i.e. items ordered online, stuff bought at a mall that was not convenient to take with you, etc).

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/09/2014 - 06:32 am.

      Self-Driving Cars

      I’m all for self-driving cars–it’s a heck of a good idea. But realistically we’re looking at twenty plus years before they have serious market penetration, assuming they start selling them tomorrow.

      In the meantime we have to deal with issues that are in front of us today. That means working on mass transit options.

      Also keep in mind that moving suburbanites around is simply one of many key points to mass transit, not the only one. It also allows people within the system, including those without cars, to get around. If it takes thousands of cars off the road, self-driving or otherwise, then that’s a good thing, no matter where the driver comes from.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/09/2014 - 09:11 am.

      Absolutely wrong

      “The objective of mass transit should be to *eliminate the need* for a car in most cases.”

      No. The objective of mas transit is to move people, period. It doesn’t matter whether or not mass transit reduces auto traffic, maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t, whatever. There isn’t a single city in the world with excellent mass transit that’s free of traffic congestion so that’s a self defeating rationale. Transit is about providing options, not eliminating cars. If you argue that transit reduced congestion you lose because it doesn’t.

  3. Submitted by Neal Gendler on 10/08/2014 - 08:00 pm.

    Thank you Peter Wagenius for stating what should have been incredibly obvious to planners of the SW line and to those advocating for the SW commuter rail for so-called equity purposes. SW scarcely serves the city’s poor and nearly destroys a lovely, quiet area of lakes and trails.

    The map of areas of poverty should make it clear even to the most obtuse how much better it would be to put commuter rail along the Midtown Greenway (which is, in fact, a rail trench) and turn it to run north along Nicollet at or near the widely detested K-Mart site. Even with limited stops, the line would far better serve the city’s lower-income residents — and more city residents, period — than will a line through the more-sparsely populated lakes area (little of which it actually will serve because of very few stops).

    And it’s not just for lower-income people. Several thousand people, mostly young, live right along that rail trench east of Hennepin. Surely lots of their jobs, too, are in the southwestern suburbs, where a good number of technical and engineering firms operate.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/09/2014 - 12:08 pm.

      Rail Options

      I would argue that the SWLRT doesn’t nearly destroy a chain of lakes. The rail has been going through there for the last 100+ years and trains roll through there even today. It was, is, and will continue to be a rail corridor.

      The line, as you correctly pointed out, scarcely touches on low income areas, but the alternative is it touches on no low income sections of the city. The whole argument that it should go into Uptown is a non-starter as light rail is not designed to make frequent stops, which is exactly what Uptown and other areas of south Minneapolis needs.

      To get frequent stops you need something that’s designed for it: streetcars. They’re ideal for operating in traffic as their trains are shorter, service more frequent, and they operate at slower street traffic speeds. You’ll notice from the first map that the purple line (Nicollet) is slated to become a streetcar line and will cut right through the heart of the low income areas.

      The decision is still in the works, but they’re also thinking about putting a streetcar in the Greenway trench. Not to mention the numerous lines that are being planned for the north and south sides.

      Your heart sounds like it’s in the right place, but it looks to me like you’re trying to use the correct tool in the wrong areas.

  4. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/09/2014 - 07:10 am.

    Leftists have found educating minorities to be beyond their capabilities. Choo-choo trains will help them forget their failure and make them smile.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/09/2014 - 09:01 am.


    It’s great that MPLS is finally getting serious about transit, better late than never. However I would recommend that they quit whining about the Kennilworth route and just focus on moving forward. Why?

    A) Not only does the city NOT run it’s transit systems, it doesn’t pay for them either. Whining about Kenilworth while begging for funding for other transit projects may not play well with the neighbors who actually pay for the transit system.

    B) I remind everyone that the city of Minneapolis approved the Kenilworth corridor years ago and that approval had NOTHING to do with the “equity” of the route, the route had no more equity when they approved it than it does now. The only condition that MPLS can claim as part of it’s original approval was the relocation of the freight line, and THAT was about catering to a handful of affluent residents along the line, not providing “equity” to low income city residents.

    C) I don’t know how many times someone needs to point this out, but trains don’t make 90 degree turns. You can’t run a line down Nicollet and make a 90 degree turn onto the Greenway. You would have to angle that line through Uptown OR make passengers change trains at the intersection of Nicollet and the Greenway. These options were explored and rejected not just by Henn Co. but also by MPLS… again… MPLS signed off on the Kenilworth route years ago. Now they want to complain about the route they authorized?

    I don’t have a problem with any of the plans MPLS is trying to advance, and I don’t have a problem with paying for the transit system they want to build. But I am sick of city leaders whining about Kenilworth. Let’s just move forward and get this stuff done.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/09/2014 - 11:54 am.


      Actually, the trains can indeed make 90° turns–they’re doing it now along University at Prospect Park and Stadium Village. It’s sub-optimal as it slows down the train to make the turn, but it can be done.

      Making the turn out of the Greenway trench would be more problematic as it has to go up a ram to reach street level, but that’s just a small technical issue (more dirt) and a small political issue (might lose some buildings for the ramp).

Leave a Reply