‘It’s a big deal’: C Line to bring bus rapid transit to popular north Minneapolis route

Metro Transit
A rendering of the Penn Avenue preferred roadway concept.

It’s an ambitious plan: Convert the Twin Cities’ most popular bus routes to a newish-to-this-region form of transit. Eleven different routes have been identified as good candidates for arterial bus rapid transit — rubber-tire vehicles and enhanced stations with some of the features that make light rail so popular with riders.

St. Paul was the first to get such service with the A Line that started running in June of 2016. Its distinct buses pick up passengers along Snelling Avenue and Ford Parkway every 10 minutes between the Rosedale Mall and the 46th Avenue Blue Line station in Minneapolis.

Metro Transit says ridership is exceeding projections.

Now comes BRT No. 2 — its construction, at least. A ceremonial groundbreaking Tuesday will kick off building of the C Line, which, once completed, will begin at the Brooklyn Center Transit Center and travel down Brooklyn Boulevard, Penn Avenue and Olson Memorial Highway before terminating at Hennepin Healthcare (formerly HCMC).

Service to begin in late spring of 2019

The route is now served by one of the most used Metro Transit bus routes, the 19. Construction will begin once the ground thaws and will progress through the fall. After a winter lull, work on stations will be completed during the spring, with service beginning sometime in late spring of 2019.

While the C Line is part of Metro Transit’s broader regionwide plans for high-capacity and more-rapid transit lines, it has a unique story. After planners and the Metropolitan Council arrived at the alignment for the Bottineau light rail project — Olson Memorial Highway and the BNSF right of way through Golden Valley rather than on Penn or West Broadway — North Minneapolis advocates pushed for equity enhancements in North Minneapolis.

Analysis has shown that investment in neighborhoods of color was below that of whiter neighborhoods and suburbs. Yet riders in North Minneapolis were some of the systems’ most plentiful.

Met Council member Gary Cunningham, whose district includes much of the service area of the project, credits then-City Council members Don Samuels and Barbara Johnson, along with state Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, state Rep. Ray Dehn and Hennepin County Council Member Linda Higgins, for pushing for and winning improvements — both bus shelter amenities and enhanced service such as the C Line.

‘This was a big lift’

“If we were in business, these would be our premium customers because they take the bus the most,” Cunningham said. “They are our most dependable riders.” Among them over the years were his grandmother, his mother, his neighbors.

“That was like seven years ago,” Cunningham said of the timeline for the process. “Think about that, from when we started on this journey of even contemplating the C Line to now, when the resources are there to finally do the line itself.

“This was a big lift,” he said. “It’s a big deal. It’s a big deal for the community.”

Proposed C-Line route
Metro Transit
Proposed C-Line route

The C Line has a $37 million budget and includes the construction of stations and purchase of new buses, including eight electric buses, purchased with a federal grant. For riders familiar with the A Line, these buses will be different in other ways as well. Because ridership on the Route 19 bus is higher than what had been serving the A Line corridor, 60-foot articulated buses will be used in Minneapolis. That will not only bring more capacity but feature three doors instead of two to make loading faster.

BRT service attempts to provide a light-rail-like rider experience but with rubber tire vehicles instead of steel wheels on steel rails. Start with the stops. BRT stations are distinguishable from bus stops in both size and design. Most have heat and higher-levels of security. Display boards identify the route and the next bus arrival. The platform is nearly the same height as the bus entry, so boarding is step-free. Riders purchase tickets at the station and can use any door to speed boarding.

And the frequency is better for riders: every 10 minutes during busy times.

Ridership increase projected

Katie Roth, Metro Transit’s arterial bus rapid transit manager, said Route 19 currently averages 7,000 daily riders. That is projected to increase to 9,300 by 2030 with the C Line. The Route 84 that the A Line supplements had 4,000 riders before the new service began. The daily rider count is now 5,600 daily, and projections are that it will reach 8,700 by 2030.

Roth said the agency estimates that travel times on the C Line will be 20-25 percent faster than on the current bus line. Faster boarding helps. BRT buses permit exiting and boarding from all doors because tickets are purchased at the station, similar to light rail ticketing. Also helping speed up travel times are the station bumpouts that not only create more space for station amenities but allow buses to remain in the traffic lane for boarding. That takes away the need to move back into travel lanes after stopping.

Metro Transit
Top image: Today, buses stop in the right-turn lane, with delays caused by merging back into traffic.

And the buses are equipped with automated signal priority systems that communicate with traffic light controls and might either keep a green light shining longer or get a red to change sooner than it might otherwise.

“On the A Line that’s a really important part to keeping us on schedule,” Roth said. “We’ve had upwards of 94 percent on-time performance in recent months on that corridor.”

And unlike regular bus service with stops every few blocks, stations are more widely spaced for BRT lines — up to a half-mile apart.

Construction challenges

The C Line project will bring with it some construction challenges as it tries to dovetail with three other projects. The Met Council is partnering with Hennepin County and Minneapolis to rebuild Penn Avenue from Lowry to West Broadway [PDF] as well as make other lighting and pedestrian improvements along much of Penn. (A community meeting is set for Thursday to brief neighbors on that project beginning at 6:30 p.m. at 2001 Plymouth Avenue).

In addition, construction on the southern end of the line will have to make accomodations for a reconstruction of S. 8th Street downtown in 2019 and 2020 and the eventual construction of the Bottineau Line/Blue Line extension along Olson Highway. The C Line will use 6th Street downtown temporarily while 8th is being rebuilt (7th Street will be the return route with both alignments) and will shift from Olson to Glenwood Avenue permanently once construction begins on Bottineau.

***

Metro Transit has identified 11 potential BRT corridors, mostly along the system’s most traveled bus corridors, but in alignments that are too narrow or too developed to accommodate light rail. Next up could be the D Line — a lengthy corridor now served by Route 5 that would run from Brooklyn Center through North Minneapolis into downtown Minneapolis and then continue to the Mall of America mostly along Chicago and Portland. 

Current ridership on that bus route is between 15,000 and 16,000 per weekday and BRT could carry 23,000 by the year 2030, Roth said.

A rendering of the proposed large shelters on the C-Line.
Metro Transit
A rendering of the proposed large shelters on the C-Line.

That project attracted some controversy at the end of 2017 when backers led by the city of Minneapolis protested what appeared to be a downgrading of the project. The Met Council pointed out that as it updates the Transportation Policy Plan, the line was not included in a list of projects with secured funding because it doesn’t yet have a funding plan. That could change soon if Gov. Mark Dayton’s construction bonding request of $50 million to expand transitways is approved.

After that, depending on funding, could come the B Line,  which would run on Lake Street in Minneapolis and Marshall Avenue in St. Paul, linking the Green Line at Snelling and University with a proposed Lake Street light rail station. The E Line would run on Hennepin Avenue along the Route 6 bus route.  

There are also transitway projects in planning, including the Gold Line in the East Metro and the Orange Line between Minneapolis and Burnsville as well the Rush Line linking St. Paul and White Bear Lake and the Red Rock Corridor between Hastings and St. Paul.

Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 03/19/2018 - 10:29 am.

    The big problem with Arterial BRT…

    …is that we’re not building these fast enough. They’re great. A huge increase in transit speed and quality benefiting all riders on a corridor for relatively modest cost. Let’s accelerate the pace of ABRT.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/19/2018 - 10:58 am.

    Details, details

    Since I live within a 15-minute walking distance of the proposed station at 51st and Brooklyn Boulevard, this is the first mass transit plan I’ve seen that might actually be useful for me. At present, taking a bus to Target Field requires, literally, hours, and two transfers. No, thanks. A retiree, I rarely go downtown except for entertainment, including Twins games, and the proposed Ramp A stop would be nearly as convenient as the NorthStar train, which essentially ends under the left field corner of the stadium. right now, I take the NorthStar train to Target Field for Twins games, which means I’m driving to the Fridley NorthStar station, several miles from my house.

    Drawbacks include, obviously, that BRT uses a roadway, so it’s subject to all the same delays that typically affect roadways. As a result, it’ll be quite a bit slower than the NorthStar, but if the frequency holds up for both inbound and outbound trips (e.g., before and after Twins games), this could become my preferred means of getting to Target Field. A key factor, not mentioned in Peter’s article, and perhaps not yet known, will be the cost of riding. That number will make a difference…

  3. Submitted by Nick Magrino on 03/19/2018 - 01:31 pm.

    A fun comparison

    The C Line is projected to have about 9,800 daily riders in 2030, and will cost about $32 million.

    The Green Line extension is projected to have about 28,100 daily riders in 2030 and is currently budgeted at about $1.9 billion.

    Three times the ridership, 60 times the cost, baby!

    The C Line will be faster than the existing Route 19 bus, while the Green Line will take longer to wind its way into downtown Minneapolis than the existing express buses from the southwest metro. Plus the Green Line extension has the added benefit of having ruined transit planning in this region for an entire generation.

    Rolling the ABRT lines out every two or three years with some funding table scraps is embarrassing. Why aren’t these simple, cheap, actual *transit improvements* being prioritized?

    It cannot be stated enough that this is extremely cool and that everything is going very well, around here.

  4. Submitted by Jesse Langanki on 03/19/2018 - 01:35 pm.

    Fare enforcement

    With the quantity of people that currently try to board buses with expired cards, etc. how do they plan to enforce fare payment on these buses?

    • Submitted by Patrick Steele on 03/19/2018 - 02:45 pm.

      Who Cares

      If someone is in a position where they are willing to break the law to save $2 they probably need the money more than Metro Transit does. As a frequent transit user, I’m more than happy to subsidize those in need. It’s annoying enough as it is that we put up with the logistical overhead of fares on our “public” transportation system.

      • Submitted by Bill Kahn on 03/19/2018 - 02:51 pm.

        Subsidized fares are available.

        • Submitted by Patrick Steele on 03/19/2018 - 03:07 pm.

          Layer after Layer

          Sure. But at what point do we just decide all these layers aren’t worth the relatively meager revenue the farebox brings in?

          • Submitted by Bill Kahn on 03/19/2018 - 03:39 pm.

            Sure, if it were up to us, there would be no fares, or perhaps just a token one to recognize a valuable service; but it is not.

            Any metropolitan area needs these sorts of lines, but paying for them is what can both limit utility and draw attacks from those who never want to pay anything for well functioning local economies (of course their own deserves subsidy); that is why fares are a necessary evil.

    • Submitted by Bill Kahn on 03/19/2018 - 02:49 pm.

      Enforcement exists, but it mostly depends on the honor system for all the new BRT and rail lines. I’m a frequent rider of many MetroTransit lines and see their police check fares enough to keep any potential free rider thinking about getting caught, and many do resulting in tickets or a warning on removal to pay the fare. Cards are good for many years before they expire, but they need to have the pass or enough added value on them to validate for the ride.

  5. Submitted by Keith Reitman on 03/19/2018 - 09:08 pm.

    Serially Ignoring West Broadeay

    West Broadway should have been The County Works Project when Little Lowry was chosen in the previous decade. Now Penn Ave is chosen instead of West Broadway. NWLRT was also manipulated OFF West Bro.
    I wrote this, below, in 2013: [[[]]]
    (ME)
    My D-2 1/2 Alignment- Government Planners Dare not Speak it’s Name

    My proposed D-2 1/2 Route, down the length of West Broadway in North Minneapolis, is the properly located LRT Route. The local North Minneapolis Stations of such a route would be at Penn, Emerson, Lyndale and Washington Avenues; but subject to fine tuning of those destinations East of Penn.

    In being the proper route, my D-2 1/2 Alignment would preclude any need for a reverse transit urban Park and Ride (B. Finstad) when the proper infrastructure of transit feeders (local buses, etc.) is in operation and feeding those future, above named, LRT Stations and our Northside communities from all directions. My D-2 1/2 Alignment will reduce the need for all Northsiders to own a money guzzling and polluting automobile. My D-2 1/2 Alignment will provide Northsiders with greater access to the resources of the NorthWest Quadrant of the Metro area. D-2 1/2 will have micro/macro measurable benefits for our Northside commuters and their family budgets and health.

    In the future, my D-2 1/2 Alignment would bring suburban/exurban commuters to our shining, entertaining and use filled Mainstreet, West Broadway; which would then be the Northside’s Uptown. It would further serve the needs of a bottled up Northside workforce, and Northside families, by granting affordable and timely access to jobs and other educational, cultural, and healthful amenities and resources beyond North Minneapolis’ border.

    Last but not least, LRT carries more than just goofs like you and me for a train ride somewhere. LRT carries Huge Barrels of Redevelopment $$$$ to where ever it is routed. I am positive: That money and that equity should go to Northsiders along our Mainstreet.

    Further and just as vital, LRT carries “connectivity”, the guarantor of a competitive advantage that other areas WILL have and we Northsiders MUST have, too. And amazingly, the brightest future for the whole NorthWest Quadrant of the Metro area, from Minneapolis’ Downtown to Maple Grove and beyond, will stand or fall on the proper choice for our LRT route; my D-2 1/2 Alignment.

  6. Submitted by John Evans on 03/19/2018 - 10:50 pm.

    Great article!

    Just what I wanted to know.

    I’m glad the plans for these lines are in place. I haven’t been all that impressed with the reduction in ride times, but if the 94% on-time performance claimed for the A line extends to the other BRT lines, this could really alter people’s lifestyles and make the urban core much stronger for the next generation.

    And if you don’t think the urban core is important, try comparing our suburbs to the suburbs of Cleveland and Milwaukee. Some of their suburbs hold up pretty well, but the future doesn’t look so good for those metropolitan areas.

    A middling suburb of a decaying metropolitan area is not where you would prefer your grandchildren to grow up.

  7. Submitted by Michael Wilson on 03/20/2018 - 08:34 pm.

    This is nuts!

    The math is simple enough for a fourth-grader (at least one who’s not zero-averse): $1.9 billion for SWLRT divided by $32 million for the C Line equals 60 comparable aBRT lines. The Met Council could blanket the region with aBRT lines. Think 66th Street in Richfield/Edina. Larpenteur/East Hennepin. 57th Ave. N./Bass Lake Road from the Mississippi all the way to Maple Grove.

    “Metro Transit has identified 11 potential BRT corridors….” They could identify five times that number and still have millions left over for upgrading the shabby bus shelters in north Minneapolis, and they still wouldn’t have spent the $1.9 billion that SWLRT’s costing.

    And don’t forget the terrific new Orange Line BRT, all the way from Burnsville to Target Field, along I35-W, through some of the densest parts of the metro where multiple thousands of Gary Cunningham’s “premium [bus] customers” live. The cost: $150 million. Thirteen Orange Lines for the cost of one 14.5-mile SWLRT.

    Mass transit works best when it goes where masses of people live and work. Once it enters Minneapolis, SWLRT does not. It services forest critters and a few “choice” riders through the Kenilworth Corridor until it’s almost downtown.

    The sad truth: Hennepin County is cannibalizing its available transit dollars in order to pay its $900 million share of SWLRT. There’s gotta be a better way to move people. And guess what? There is!

  8. Submitted by Mike martin on 03/22/2018 - 02:46 pm.

    Buses will block traffic which increases air pollution

    The article’s author believes having buses stop in the traffic lane to pick -up & drop off passengers instead of having them pull to the curb & out of traffic is a benefit for speeding up bus service.

    I see this as big negative for over all traffic flow. All other traffic is stopped and blocked while the bus is loading & unloading passengers. if several people are in wheel chairs or handicapped, or confused about the route, fare, etc., it could take several minutes for the bus to load & unload. Traffic could back up for one or more blocks while the bus loads & unloads.

    Or traffic/vehicles stop because the traffic light is red while for the bus loads & unloads.

    This will prevent traffic from flowing smoothly and traffic being able to go several miles without stopping because the lights are properly timed. Properly timed traffic light reduce air pollution because cars, & trucks are not sitting stopped & idling at traffic lights

    Emergency vehicles would have to cross over into the on coming traffic lane to get around the bus, risking potential head-on collisions

    • Submitted by Xan Cassiel on 03/23/2018 - 04:19 pm.

      The whole point of aBRT is to mitigate these issues.
      1) buses that pull into bus stops often block other traffic anyway because they cannot pull in all the way.
      2) because fares are prepaid on the platform, there is no waiting for payment on the bus, speeding up boarding.
      3) because of platform payment, all doors on the bus can be utilized.
      4) these buses have low floors and a platform at the same height, making boarding more accessible.
      5) the route has been simplified so it is easier to navigate. There are no branches. Passengers should have a clear idea where the bus is going.
      6) there are less stops than a normal bus route, so less delays.

      You will find that boarding is typically a fraction of a minute, even with handicapped passengers. I would suppose there could be a delay if there is a wheelchair because that would have to be tied down. This is one of the downsides of buses. But outside of that, boarding on the A line is faster than a regular bus, even when many people are getting on and off, the vast majority probably less than 20 seconds.

      Emergengy vehicles would operate as normal. The bus is going to stop when an emergency vehicle approaches whether it is at a stop or not. That is the law.

  9. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 03/23/2018 - 06:12 pm.

    The key is different modes of transit for different purposes.

    Short trips are better by bus, but as one who once commuted to a short-term exurban teaching job in Forest Grove, Oregon from downtown Portland on an articulated bus, I was really happy when the westside light rail line opened and let me take the train 90% of the way.

    I always arrived at my job slightly car sick when I had to make the journey by bus, perhaps because of fumes from the surrounding traffic, and arriving late was always a worry. The train ride, on the other hand, was smooth, comfortable, and always on time.

    When I lived in Portland, I found that if people actually condescended to ride the light rail system, they liked it, often to their own surprise.

    As far as the Green Line is concerned, it would have generated more ridership if it had terminated in the area of the Ordway, the Xcel Center, the Science Museum, and the Landmark Center, destinations that would draw more Minneapolis residents, instead of being used in an attempt to revitalize an old and under-utilized building, Union Station.

  10. Submitted by george jaquith on 03/25/2018 - 08:13 am.

    PROMOTING A CULTURE OF CHEATING

    As a retired couple who ride both the light rail and A line, we are dismayed to see the number of people entering without paying. At least on the regular bus, they are stopped by the driver. Many hang out near the end of the train platform and only come on when the train has stopped at the station, thereby having a better chance of avoiding the infrequently present metro police. Or they hop off the train before reaching their destination on seeing a metro police enter the car. On the A line many enter especially for short trips without showing a valid card.

    It is not only the needy who cheat. We have seen groups of men from Roseville who hop on without paying at the Snelling and University station en route to a baseball game. I overheard one of them say to another that we should get off at the Govt. Center or Nicollet stations since there might be police at the Hennepin or Target Field stations.

    It is most often the cheaters who put their feet on the seats, which must last for many years, leave their garbage, and deface the aluminum backs of the seats.

    New York City had a great problem until they stationed police at the turnstile entrances, which should also so be installed at all stations. Would not this investment have a quick payback?

    When the police are present, they need to be far more vigilant instead of just standing together on the platform. They must give warning and actual tickets to cheaters, with enforcement by the courts. They are not there to visit with each other or the public, as I have experienced, while others walk right past us!!

    Legislators look at revenue generated in mass transit as a means of determining socially cost effective investments with limited tax dollars. METRO TRANSIT can improve this record, the morale of MT employees and public opinion by reducing the culture of cheating.

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