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The Green Line is finally getting (slightly) faster

The Green Line is finally getting (slightly) faster
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
The Green Line carries an average of 33,500 riders per weekday.

Come March 9, the time it takes to travel via the Green Line train from Minneapolis’ Target Field Station to St. Paul’s Union Depot will shrink to 45 minutes.

That may not be a big deal compared to the current schedule time — 48 minutes — but for a system that drew more than a few initial complaints about being slow, it’s a move in the right direction. 

And Metro Transit officials say the line's trains are also getting more punctual. In the first months of operation, measurements of “on-time” performance for the Green Line hovered around 50 percent. During December and January it was 85 percent, said Brian Funk, director of Light Rail Operations. 

Several things have happened to make tightening the schedule possible. First, by working with St. Paul Public Works staff, Metro Transit has massaged the system that syncs trains with traffic lights on University Avenue to move things along faster. Unlike on the Blue Line, where trains preempt traffic lights, the Green Line depends on “predictive priority” software that tells upcoming lights of the train’s arrival time, a system that is working more effectively than it did initially.   

The tighter timetables will also take out the slack that's now in the schedule. Trains are currently getting to stations sooner than the timetable predicts, causing operators to sometimes stop between stations to get back on time. That down time is being taken out of the schedule, Funk said. 

“We want to keep the system moving so we don’t have trains with people on them waiting between stations,” he said. 

The Green Line, which began taking riders in mid June, carries an average of 33,500 riders per weekday. That is for a route that runs for 11 miles and stops at 23 stations.

As regular riders know, there has been a difference between the printed schedules and actual times. Before the Green Line started carrying paying passengers in mid-June, test runs were taking longer than an hour to get from Union Depot to Target Field, longer than existing bus routes. Metro Transit officials promised that those times would be reduced as the system and signals were tweaked. But trips were taking far longer than earliest estimates of 39 minutes, which were made before three additional stations were added in St. Paul. 

Early complaints were targeted at St. Paul cross-streets: that too much time was spent at red lights that could and should be switched green for the trains. (A Star-Tribune editorial came with the headline: “The Green Line Needs More Green Lights.”) St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman responded with an op ed that said city and Metro Transit engineers would continue to work to reduce travel times. But Coleman wrote that the Green Line was never intended to have full signal preemption. Instead, it was to have signal priority using in-track detectors.

“Traffic volumes on the major cross streets in St. Paul were higher than they were along Hiawatha Avenue in Minneapolis,” Coleman wrote. “There were many more pedestrians wanting to get back and forth across the street. And, most important, the technology existed to create a system that would give the train the priority it deserved without throwing the entire signal system out of coordination.”

There have also been promises to not allow trains to always trump cars and especially walkers, the mayor said. “We reassured residents that their neighborhoods would continue to be wonderful, pedestrian-oriented place to live that they would be able to get back and forth across University Avenue as they always had,” Coleman wrote.

That signal system was adjusted first at three intersections: Victoria, Chatsworth and Grotto. Additional adjustments were made at other lower-volume intersections to make the “predictive priority” system work better, Metro Transit said at the end of 2014.

The most-noticeable delay for westbound riders of both the Green and Blue lines won’t be changed by the new timetable. Funk said trains may continue to have to wait at the point that the two lines come together for the westbound trip into downtown Minneapolis — between Cedar-Riverside and Downtown East on the Blue Line and between East Bank Station and Downtown East on the Green Line —  in order to, as the in-train announcement says, “establish the proper spacing between the trains.”  Only when a train has left Downtown East can the next train proceed toward the station, Funk said.

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Comments (48)

Speeding up Green Line

How about closing half the intersections across University? Now that it's a major transit corridor, they could remove every other crossing point and remove half the traffic lights that could potentially stop a Green Line train allowing the street to operate more like a boulevard than a local street. Pedestrian crossings can be retained while removing the vehicle crossing points.

They've already removed over

They've already removed over half the crossing points. Just how much more do you want to destroy these neighborhoods? As it is, the Green Line creates a serious barrier and divides the area in half.

Destruction? Divided in half?

What uniting function did the 100 foot urban concrete river provide prior to the trains? What exactly was destroyed? All the empty storefronts? The big box parking lots 1/4 mile wide?

Let's speak of the changes in realistic terms.

The rail line has been

The rail line has been planned for many years and much of the abandonment and construction of places like Target built away from the road was done long ago in anticipation of the rail line.

What exactly was destroyed? All of University is being transformed and ultimately it's going to be a whole lot of expensive apartments that all look alike with occasional restaurants and office buildings near the ¼ mile spaced stops. There will be little uniqueness and certainly no charm. Many will think this is progress; it's certainly change, but not much of this benefits the old neighborhoods.

With some creative effort, a billion dollars could have positively affected both the neighborhoods and transit, but unfortunately, the Green Line does neither very well.

It's all moot now anyway; just like 35W through south Minneapolis and 94 through St. Paul.

LRT is destructive like an urban interstate highway?

I've never heard someone argue that an LRT line damages neighborhoods before. That doesn't seem to be the case along the Blue Line through Longfellow, where developments are built and sold based on their proximity to the line. The Blue Line has positively effected Longfellow, and I no reason not to expect the same for neighborhoods along the Green Line.

A lot of expensive apartments is a change, but doesn't really sound like the kind of destruction urban interstates have been shown to create. Wouldn't more people living in a neighborhood allow for more walkable businesses for both new an old residents?

Which light rail line is prompting all those expensive

apartments in Uptown and around Southdale?

What's a catalyst?

Can an LRT line act as on one in certain circumstances? Are they required in all situations?

Is it just semantics?

So to you "destroying" a neighborhood means transforming it and adding expensive apartments, restaurants, and office buildings? To me the appropriate word would be "developing" the neighborhood. To the extent that it was "destroyed", that happened when massive parking lots and big box retail were placed on University Avenue. Somehow, I don't fear effects of the Big Bad Wolf of pedestrian-friendly mass transit as much as I fear the archaic automobile-centric urban planning that has already "destroyed" large swaths of University Avenue.

In a Pioneer Press piece

In a Pioneer Press piece today, the closing of the venerable Daily Diner has been assigned to the Green Line. I find that funny (not humorous), because the Daily and Green line supposedly served the same low income demographic.

Mislead much?

"the closing of the venerable Daily Diner has been assigned to the Green Line"


"Molohon also pointed to construction of the Green Line as well as the state Capitol renovation project for keeping away potential customers -- such as relocated state employees."

See the word "also"? The main reason for the closing, explained at length in the article, is that it wasn't producing enough graduates, particularly who went on to gainful employment, relative to the cost of supporting the program. The above sentence is also not a quote but a paraphrasing of Molohon's comments.

And even if the paraphrasing is accurate, it's still idle, baseless speculation, since the building it's in was constructed about the time Green Line construction started, and all potentially disruptive construction near the building was completely done by the time the Daily Diner rented the space. The building also has ample free off-street parking in back, ample unrestricted on-street parking, a NiceRide station, and fronts Dale - a major street with interstate access just blocks away. It's hard to make it any more accessible than that. Last time I checked, all the other retail spaces in the building are filled, including one with a Subway that's been there since the building opened.

Restaurants are prone to failure. Happens all the time without needing a train to blame. Welcome to capitalism and people making poor business decisions.

Working out the kinks

Every big change has an adjustment period. Most of the immediate over-reaction was mostly politically-driven.

Patience is the foundation of wisdom.

The Green Line should have full preemption

The lack of preemption is just crazy. You build a $1B train but we're all so afraid to change the car-first status quo that we bring the trains, which only run every 15 minutes or so and may carry hundreds of people, to a halt to avoid inconveniencing a handful of drivers. Who, the way, have a six lane, quarter mile wide right if way a couple thousand feet south. It's like we're determined not to truly get it right and make it work.

And beyond that, the circuitous route through Stadium Village, with its agonizing slow curves and excess of stops, makes no sense.

The trains run more

The trains run more frequently, rarely have anywhere close to a hundred people on board at one time, and the auto traffic and number of people crossing the Green Line going north and south must be 100X greater than riders on the train.

Remember that University never was much of a congested corridor and the Green Line does essentially nothing to alleviate the true congested I94 corridor, especially since the express bus going down the freeway has been eliminated.

Traffic facts: Cars v Green Line

"rarely have anywhere close to a hundred people on board at one time"

As opposed to automobiles, which rarely have more than one person on board at any time? The Green Line averages 156 riders per train on a weekday for its 232 runs.

"and the auto traffic and number of people crossing the Green Line going north and south must be 100X greater than riders on the train."

The average weekday ridership of the Green Line in November was 36,240. One hundred times that is 3.6 million, or about 200,000 more than the population of the entire Twin Cities metro area. So perhaps 100x is a bit hyperbolic, yes?

The busiest cross street intersecting the Green Line is Snelling. The 2013 traffic count map for St. Paul indicates AADT at 30,500 vehicles.

"especially since the express bus going down the freeway has been eliminated."

Uh, no, the 94 still runs.

"the Green Line does essentially nothing to alleviate the true congested I94 corridor"

You base this on what exactly? You also realize that the train wasn't designed to alleviate the congestion on I94, yes? Hardly fair to blame something for not solving something it wasn't asked to do.

So if I-94 traffic increased by 36,240 vehicles, you hold to the belief that this doesn't increase congestion? It's often gridlocked at rush hour, so it's an interesting modeling exercise to consider what several thousand additional vehicles would do to that.


I stand corrected -

I stand corrected - somewhat.

All but the rush hour I94 express routes were eliminated and half the University buses.

Your data on 156 riders/train puzzles me. I see the train in the St. Paul area all the time and I swear there are many fewer riders than that. I wonder if perhaps there are large numbers near the U of MN who ride the bus for short periods of time? Or events like the Vikings skew the averages? I suspect the average ridership/train between downtown St. Paul and Highway 280 is much less.

Multiplying the average ridership/day by a hundred is a bit misleading for some of the reasons above. These averages have to be skewed by high ridership in certain short areas. The number of people/day that take the train between say Rice and 280 relative to the numbers of people, trucks, and buses going north and south on all those major N/S roads has to be much smaller.

My objection to the Green Line isn't that they built a mass transit system. It's that they did it so poorly.

Here's a link to what I think is one of the best evaluations of the Green Line I've seen:

Given the amount of

Given the amount of shenanigans administrators have been committing with MNSure, taking ridership numbers from MetroTransit with a grain of salt is not imprudent.

I don't see how you figure.

I don't see how you figure. The train stops at secondart streets like Prior. In any case, if we've made the decision to invest in this, there is a trade off: it may make driving slightly less convenient. If we're not prepared for that then there's no point in building it. And the point of building it was never to relieve congestion on 94. The point is to develop a corridor for people to live and work, not to shave six seconds off the commute time from Maple Grove.

I realize that you're only

I realize that you're only interested in talking points, not facts, but the Route 94 express bus still exists.

Express bus service on I-94

The express bus service on I-94 was not discontinued. Here is a link to the schedule:


University was never much of a congested corridor? When was the last time you drove on it...1975?

In fact, University has

In fact, University has become MUCH better to drive on since the Green Line construction was finished. I've lived within 5 miles of University for the last 10 years, and drive on it frequently. It's WAY better now. And much prettier...


I've been driving on it for the last twenty five's much less congested now than prior to light rail.

Expected, but still slow

Forty-five minutes is still too slow to make the Green Line a viable trunk line in a modern regional system. The Twin Cities are a century behind. In 1909 Boston began installing a modern line between Park Street and Cambridge's Harvard Square so that people could travel those 3.2 miles in 8 minutes, nearly twice the speed of the Green Line. When I last rode it the line had been extended north to Arlington and south to Braintree.

The Green Line should have been tunneled in the downtown, University of Minnesota and Capitol areas, and placed along I-94 between the cities. Later a modern streetcar line could have been installed on University Avenue, offering similar ease of entrance and exit but many more points of access: could run as often as once every five minutes if needed.

If we hope to ever catch up we'll need better leadership, and an elected Met Council. Does anyone know the identity of their Commissioners, much less know about the proceedings of that unaccountable, opaque governmental body? Even the University Board of Regents is better known. As I recently noted elsewhere, trying to deal with the Met Council is like grappling with a Masonic Lodge within the Vatican hierarchy. Perhaps those who like that form of clubhouse government seemingly free of partisan contention should consider moving to North Korea or Cuba.

Boston an odd example if speed is the concern

Boston's T train system averages a bit over 9 mph. The Green Line averages about 14 mph.

That depends heavily on which

That depends heavily on which line you're talking about. If you're talking about the green line (the partially underground branching line that uses LRVs) then yeah, that sounds about right. But the other lines tend to go faster when they're not breaking down (thanks to lack of maintenance budget for way too long there).


especially if you are comparing Boston's Green line, which is the slowest one in the system.

Boston, old and older

The Boston HRT line I cited is the Red Line. Their Green Line is older and travels like our Green Line except for the downtown tunnels; it resembles an old streetcar line. I was once seriously late for dinner in Newtonville because I chose to ride the MTA rail from downtown to Newton; I'd never gone so far on that line and it took at least 40 minutes longer than I expected! I think they learned their lesson from the slow transit speeds associated with those earlier lines. We have yet to learn comparable lessons here, with some who don't know the difference between a train and a streetcar demanding that the SW Corridor LRT take a route on Uptown streets

"Speed" of the Red Line in Boston

It takes 20 minutes to go from Harvard Square to JFK/UMass, a distance of 5.5 miles on foot. That's 16.5 mph.

Westgate to Capitol/Rice on the Green line takes 19 minutes, over a walking distance of 5.2 miles. That's 16.4 mph.

Looks like the street-level Green Line holds its own just fine against a train running underground and elevated.

Of course, our system actually works when it snows. There's that, too.

It's funny because the Newton

It's funny because the Newton D branch of the green line there is probably the most comparable to the SWLRT routing, travelling far into the suburbs through low-density development and the woods. It's a far more commuter-oriented line than the rest of the green line branches, which are urban rail designed to serve the needs of everyone, not just commuters. Almost no one rides the D branch past Brookline unless they're commuting, whereas the other branches are used heavily for all kinds of trips. We need to figure out what kind of transit we want here--lines that serve all uses or lines designed only to alleviate traffic for suburban commuters.

Decision made

We're building system that provides transit options to people who live in the metro area. Just because those transit options aren't limited to those living St. Paul and MPLS doesn't mean we're wasting transit dollars. No one builds transit to relieve traffic congestion in suburbs or anywhere else so that was NEVER the objective. And those "commuters" double the population of downtown MPLS every weekday, so getting them in and out of the city more efficiently with more transit options makes a lot of sense for everyone.

Why the emphasis on downtown-to-downtown?

I feel like this is misleading. A great many people on mass transit are not going from one terminus to another, nor would one expect that on most routes. I take the Green line often, from the University to downtown Minneapolis and back; many people, I suspect, go from the University to their homes or bus connections in Midway (getting off at those many scorned stops at secondary streets like Prior), or from Midway to downtown St. Paul, etc. etc. The train is not an express route, nor should it be--it is meant to serve and enhance the neighborhoods it passes through (which were in bad need of enhancement). So why do we get all hung up on how long it takes compared to the 94 express? A better comparison would be the 16, that stopped every block.

While I'm griping--I wish we had more interesting names for our local transit. "Blue" and "Green" are so generic--why not Hiawatha and University, something specific to our locale?

I ride...

I ride the Green line from Lexington to Downtown St Paul and then back again 5 days a week. I'm glad the neighborhoods were able to get extra stations added so the line could be used for shorter trips. It seems like Downtown to Downtown riders constitute a small minority, and most people use the Green Line for shorter trips between stations.


I am also glad that the Green Line includes all those stops and serves the needs of residents near the line. I live about 6 blocks south of the line in St. Paul. I ride from Hamline to DT Minneapolis five days a week. I don't mind that it takes longer than it would to drive. I can read or listen to music/talk radio, and don't need to stress about getting in an accident.

I rarely go to St. Paul anyway, so I have ridden the Green Line

exactly twice, but here are my observations.

The first trip was just an experiment, so I rode from downtown to downtown. I was the only person in my car who did so. Everyone else got on and off at intermediate points, so this experience suggests that the downtown-to-downtown times are not particularly relevant for the average commuter.

I was disappointed to see that the Green Line does not go past three of the favorite St. Paul destinations for Minneapolis residents, namely the Ordway, the Landmark Center, and the Science Museum. As I recall, the original plan called for a loop through downtown St. Paul that did go past this cluster of buildings. My guess is that including these leisure destinations along the route would have increased ridership significantly, especially on weekends.

Just for comparison, I took the #21 from Union Station to Uptown on the return trip. Talk about slow! An hour and fifteen minutes to the Uptown Transit Center, not including the time I had to spend waiting for the #21 to start its run from a downstairs platform in the station. Yes, it goes past the Ordway, etc., but it creeps along and doesn't run often enough.

The second time I rode it was for a lunch appointment near University and Snelling. For that purpose it worked just fine.

Green Line is great but bring back non-peak 94 Express Service!

Good points here! The Green Line is wonderful but Metro Transit really needs to bring back the 94 express for downtown to downtown trips on evenings and weekends.

Walking vs. riding

If I take the Green Line more than 2/3 of the 4 mile distance between the West Bank and my workshop in the Midway, it only saves me 20 minutes compared to walking the entire distance.

If the Green Line ran along I-94 rather than on University Avenue it wouldn't be an "express train." It would be a couple of blocks south of University and, at the same time, have its stations much closer to the residential areas north of Marshall Avenue. But now we have a train that can't run as a train should, cost approximately 2/3 of a billion more than a streetcar line, but has 47 fewer places to get on and off, compared to the former No. 16 bus (or very likely a streetcar line). This is scandalously bad planning!

Sounds like a good deal to me.

It seems like people using the line every day see value in it while people who don't don't. Personally, I think saving 20 minutes for ~$2 seems like a good deal to me, not even considering extreme weather conditions.

Let's do the math

A four-mile trip from the West Bank puts your end destination at roughly Snelling.

-Per the Metro Transit schedule, the Green Line takes 16 minutes to go from West Bank to Snelling.
-Assume a 5-minute wait time at West Bank station and the total trip is 21 minutes.
-This means your self-described walk time is 41 minutes.
-This is slightly more than a 10:00 mile, or slightly less than a 6 mph pace.
-This is a healthy jog for most people, and an Olympic-level speed walking pace for elite athletes that dedicate their lives to that sort of thing.
-This pace also does not take into account icy sidewalks, bitterly cold winds, rain, snow, angry dogs, turning 18-wheelers, and the same 20-some intersection the train must traverse.

Truly, you are walking at an amazing pace.

I was thinking the same thing


Yeah, it's takes 50-60 minutes to walk 2.6 miles around Lake of the Isles, no one is "walking" around that lake in 20 minutes, and very few are running around it less than an half hour.

Time distortion is common phenomena when it comes to transportation. I remember when people started moving out into the second and third ring suburbs in big numbers back in the 80s. The Twin Cities were a miracle urban transit environment... no matter how much farther out people moved, it only took 20 minutes to get into downtown. It's a brain thing. When I ride my bike from my house in SLP to the river down by the Federal Reserve bank I'd swear it's a ten minute ride... but if I look at my watch it's taken at least 20 minutes.

Timing the four mile walk

I lie not; I've repeatedly measured it by the clock and by automobile mileage, based on many instances, not on guesses or the train schedule. The walk is steady and brisk, but hardly a speed walk, and it takes 65-70 minutes. Of course the alternative, with substitution of the Green Line ride for most of the distance, includes time waiting at the station for the train, which varies from nothing to more than ten minutes. sometimes considerably more. Wintertime, I usually drive. With the tweaking that's been done to the train schedule, maybe I'll experience improvement this spring. But speaking of icy sidewalks, cold winds, etc,, I pity those folks with disabilities who may have to go a half mile or more to a station or else wait a lot longer for a bus than was formerly the case.

Yes, perception of time often differs considerably from measured time. A number of readers responded somewhat indignantly to my statement elsewhere that the former No. 50 limited stop bus ran only a few minutes faster than the former No. 16, but my figures came from the official schedule and they were supported by on-board measurements with a clock.


David, it's kind of simple, are you telling us it takes you 55 minutes to go 4 miles on the Green Line? If so, your numbers are simply off. It makes no sense, it takes that long to go the entire 11 miles. I'm not saying you're lying, but it doesn't make sense. Also, if you're walking 4 miles in 70 minutes, that IS a fast walk for most people, that's almost 4 miles an hour, the human average is 3 MPH. It's not humanly impossible, but even if you are walking that distance in that amount of time it's taking the train about 15 minutes, 20 max, to cover that same distance, and that was before the latest round of tweeks. That would save you 50 minutes, not 20 minutes. Even if you wait ten minutes on the platform you'd be saving 30-40 minutes, on average. I suppose on a bad day, if there's some kind of longer than usual delay on the Green Line, you could lose another 20 minutes on your commute, but that wouldn't be typical.


Paul, during warm weather I usually walk that distance with ankle weights. My clock tells me I get there around 20 minutes sooner if I take the train. (I don't go as far as Snelling, by train or in total distance.) The same was true with the No. 16 bus. If going by train were really as fast as you say, the trip including the train ride would be as fast or faster than driving on the street in moderately heavy traffic conditions, and that's not the case. I ujnderstand that MTA has been running extra trains in order to try to maintain frequency of service; perhaps that indicates a disparity between published schedule and actual performance.

Let me throw out another question for this audience: Can anyone name one way in which the present Green Line is much superior to a modern streetcar line on University Avenue? I can name at least three ways in which a streetcar line would have been considerably superior to the LRT, and at 1/3 the cost.

LRT Is Better than Streetcar

LRT Trains have much higher passenger load capacity - 170 for streetcar, 600 for LRT.
LRT goes a lot faster.
LRT in Central Corridor gets to preempt many stoplights, streetcar possibly could, but to match passenger capacity there would need to be a streetcar every 3-4 minutes, making preemption problematic to say the least.

LRT sounds wicked cool when it's flying down University Ave. at 45 MPH. Streetcar will never sound wicked cool.

Reason number 4 is my favorite. I love sitting in my back yard and listening to those electric motors spin up. I don't think I'll ever get tired of it.

It is what it is

And it's not a downtown to downtown commuter line. After almost missing court hearings in StP I have gotten back into my car. The 94 bus line would have been a good alternative if they had kept it on 15-minute intervals.

This is not a first. When the Hiawatha (now "Blue") line replaced the 180 bus, the trip from downtown Mpls to the Mall of America almost doubled, from 20 to 37 minutes.

Mass transit not built to solve one person's specific trips

Griping about how one specific part of a mass transit system doesn't quite live up to the needs, wants, and/or expectations of one specific person isn't a very convincing critique.

Too slow

There is a good probability that he other poster's experience about the train being too slow has been also experienced by others. 2 billion was too much money to spend to implement a form of transportation only marginally faster than the bus it replaced. I will concede that the train is more comfortable than the route 16 bus.
One of the members of the Met Council in the Star Tribune last October said they do not use transit, because it is too slow. If the people designing the system don't use it, because they find it inefficient, how do they expect people with an option to use it?

Too slow?

If speed were the only issue you'd have a point. Jet engines would be really fast!

As for Met Council members who don't use transit, along with all others... you don't build transit for the people who don't use it, you build it for the people who use it. I don't know why this concept is so difficult for so many people. We don't build bridges for people who never use them either yet for some reason we don't see people making that argument every time we build a bridge.

LRT has a number of advantages, direct and indirect over buses on some routes, in ADDITION to being faster (albeit "marginally").

$957 million ≠ "2 billion"

see project facts here

Also, it is inaccurate to describe the train as "marginally faster" than the 50 and particularly the 16. Not only is it markedly faster than either route on a schedule basis, it runs far more frequently, reliably, and 24/7. It's also considerably more comfortable in terms of ride quality and personal space, making it much easier to do useful things while en route.

"Speed" is one of these silly red herrings people bring up and it's particularly odd in the case of a light rail line, as they are considerably faster than local buses on city streets. Regardless of that error, 30 minutes driving a motor vehicle, when one must put primary focus on driving, is not comparable to being a passenger. Nor does any of it factor in the relative cost of public transit to owning and operating a motor vehicle, the latter requiring a considerably larger amount of time to earn money to pay for than for mass transit fares.