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Minneapolis still weighing three options for Central-Nicollet transit route

Minneapolis still weighing three options for Central-Nicollet transit route
City of Minneapolis
Enhanced buses, shown above, would operate with pre-boarding payment and access through any door to speed up exit and entry at stops.

The route for enhanced mass transit in Minneapolis has pretty much been settled, but the mode is still in question.

It covers 9.2 miles from Central Avenue at 41st Street on the north end to Nicollet Avenue and 46th Street. The Minneapolis City Council in 2010 designated that route as its top priority for further study of mass transit.

The mode of transportation is down to three choices:

• Modern streetcars.

• Enhanced buses, which are larger than traditional ones.

• And conventional bus service, under the “no-build” alternative.

In all three options, they would share traffic lanes with other vehicles.

Two other possibilities — light rail transit and bus rapid transit in a dedicated bus corridor — have been eliminated.

“The physical space we have on Central and Nicollet is not enough for light rail,” Public Works Transportation Planner Anna Flintoft told members of the City Council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee.

To make light rail work, traffic lanes and parking would have to be eliminated along the route, she said Tuesday.

Most of the route is 80 feet wide, compared with the Central Corridor’s University Avenue, which is 100 feet wide.

Modern streetcars are about 70 feet long and travel on tracks level with the pavement.

Light rail trains are usually made up of two or three 90-feet-long cars and travel on raised tracks that prevent other vehicles from sharing the lanes.

Proposed Nicollet-Central route“The modern streetcar has more frequent stops,” said Flinthoft.

The streetcar stops would be every quarter- to half-mile, compared with light rail, which usually stops every half-mile or mile. Construction costs for modern streetcars is about half the cost of building light-rail lines.

Both the streetcars and enhanced buses would operate with pre-boarding payment and access through any door to speed up exit and entry at stops.

The Central-Nicollet route, which has 90,000 residents within half a mile, would provide access to 125,000 jobs. Many of the residents currently rely on mass transit.

“Only about half the trips are work trips,” said Flintoft, adding that a lot of people would travel only short distances.

The route from Lowry Avenue to downtown along Central now carries about 10,000 riders a day, with another 10,000 riders a day on the Nicollet Avenue buses between downtown and Lake Street.

Two parts of the route are still undecided.  The line would cross the Mississippi River, but the bridge — either Hennepin/First or Central/Third — has not been selected.

Also undecided is the route at Lake Street, where Kmart blocks Nicollet. One route under consideration goes around the Kmart, and another goes through that property.

A series of open houses this week will gather public input, with a decision on the preferred alternative expected this summer. It then goes to the Metropolitan Council where it would be ranked with projects submitted by other communities.

The first open house was Tuesday, with two other sessions scheduled:

Wednesday: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Hennepin County Medical Center’s Whittier Clinic, 2810 Nicollet Ave. S. Presentation at 6 p.m.

Thursday: 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., Minneapolis Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall. Presentation at 4 p.m.

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Comments (9)

I suppose it's too late

To reconsider the decision to route down Nicollet Mall? Why haven't we figured out that Nicollet should be pedestrian-only, with buses or other transit using the available capacity on Marquette (or Hennepin)? Or, if we really want Nicollet to be a street, how about we stop investing in it as if we want it to be more?

This state of limbo, in which it's neither a quite place for strolling, sitting at a cafe, or even shopping, nor a thoroughfare helps no one.

Nicollet Mall

There are thousands of streets across the country and world with not only bus/transit running down them but also cars where people sit at cafes, stroll, and shop. And they have a lovely time doing so. I don't think Nicollet being a transit/pedestrian mall has held back anyone from doing any of those activities - and certainly not if it were a streetcar with no emissions and less noise. I'm not saying 1 block is too far to walk, but why concentrate transit (and even potential SLOW car traffic and on-street parking) to a street where commercial, retail, and restaurants are focused? Would make little sense to me.

For a street in a city, the problem isn't that cars (or buses) exist there in the first place, it's that they were designed ONLY for cars and buses to operate (wide, no access to pedestrians, fast moving cars, etc). Shared space for streets is the best approach to mix productivity (getting people there) and and street-life (having things to do and get around safely once you're there).

I don't understand

The last sentence of your first paragraph. Why concentrate traffic on Marquette? Because it is a big, wide, and underused street that can handle the load, thus allowing Nicollet to perhaps become closer to fully utilized.

Visit Nicollet Mall during any non-rush hour period and you'll see it is woefully underutilized. One reason for that is the noisy and smelly buses, along with the taxi and other traffic. Moving those things over a block will make it substantially more appealing for foot traffic.

Outside the U.S., nearly ever city in the world has pedestrian-only (or pedestrian and non-motorized vehicle) retails/commercial street at it's heart. We can too.

It being woefully underutilized

... on "non-rush hour" times is a direct function of no one living downtown, not that there is too much street traffic. That is the difference maker for Minneapolis (and other US cities) compared to the other cities in the world you cite.

As for those non-US cities you cite, the reason a pedestrian-only area thrives is because there is 1) a high enough concentration of people living, working, and playing in that area (or within walking distance), and 2) transit serves the areas directly adjacent to it, which ALSO has a ton of retail and pedestrian use. The number of pedestrian-only streets in European cities is vastly outnumbered by mixed-use spaces that allow cars, buses, rail, and people to co-mingle and enjoy life.

I would again ask why moving a device specifically designed to bring people places away from the places they wish to enjoy is a good idea. Especially if you're talking about a pollution-less streetcar.

Lots of people live downtown

And we are working on getting more. Appealing places to spend time that don't involve the possibility of getting run over by huge vehicle, or even just having to talk over them, will help that process.

You're absolutely right that we have a shortage of mixed-use spaces in the Twin Cities. We should have more. We should encourage people to live and work and shop in closer proximity. One thing that would help that is a pedestrian-only Mall.

34,000 People

Live "downtown." Yes, the Downtown Council wants to double that. But let's be serious, 160,000 people work downtown - over 4x the number of residents (and that assumes every one of the residents of downtown work downtown, which they don't). The vast majority of people walking and milling about on any street, including Nicollet, during Rush Hour (or any other time of day or weekend, I would argue) do not live there. I can point to 5 people I know who work at Tgt (one of them is my wife) who partake in happy hours on Nicollet restaurants and then head home via car or bus (and every story my wife tells me about 4/5 of the people she is with are the same).

We will just have to agree to disagree. Transit rolling by (particularly a streetcar), and even slow-moving cars along with bikes and pedestrians is not a deterrent to great street life for cafes, shopping, or anything else. There are too many wonderful examples all over the world (some of which I've visited) to prove that it is possible and easy to do. In fact, this site has a great listing of great streets from around the world, and nearly ALL of them have transit if not also cars sharing the space

And by the way

All the pedestrians that use the mall during rush hour, where do you think they live?

Weighing the options

If you objectively weigh the options, the real choice is between the economical but uninspiring "enhanced bus" option versus the pricier (construction-wise at least) but far more appealing, and possibly more profitable in the long-run, streetcar option. In terms of moving people around, the bus is probably about the same as the streetcar. But I think it's a mistake to think of the line as just a transit line. It's important to remember that this goes from Lake Street, through Eat Street and downtown, past St. Anthony Main and on to Central Ave. NE. Linking these areas together by a rail line would bring these isolated commercial districts together in a dramatic way. I would think that shoppers and diners would find the idea of parking along the line and taking the streetcar to their desired destination much more appealing than doing the same with an "enhanced bus." And a physical rail line threading the different districts together would bring a far greater sense of connectivity between them than a bus line.

Trolley Buses

I do not see why trolley buses are ignored. Electric buses provide energy-efficient service with minimal intrusion, and all the flexibility in steering of a bus. Why tear up the streets to put in a streetcar that can be immobilized by weather or traffic, that cannot pull into the curb for passengers, thus causing them to have to stand in the street? Streetcars also tend to run slower than buses.
Trolley buses are far quieter than regular buses, and the only construction needed is to install the overhead wires.
If you're going to talk about streetcars, then you might as well talk about cable cars, too.