The Central Corridor Light Rail – named the “Green Line” because it would have been cheaper to build it out of stacks of dollar bills – is a failure, according David Markle, of transit-blog “Streets.mn”.
I’ll urge you to read the entire piece, which is excellent and fairly exhaustive.
The reasons boil down to these:
It’s The Wrong Line…: Light Rail is designed to serve routes with stops roughly every mile or two – allowing it to get going to 55 miles per hour between stops. The “Green Line” has to stop at dozens of stoplights, so it never really moves. It takes about an hour to get between the downtowns, so it’s no faster than the 16 bus, making it useless for people who commute between downtowns. And it’s much, much slower than cars, which even on the worst traffic days can get between the downtowns in half an hour.
…In The Wrong Place…: But it makes less than half as many stops as the 16, making it nearly useless for getting around the neighborhood, which is what people do on the 16. The line should have either been:
- a streetcar (and let’s all set our innate conservative opposition to rail transit aside for sake of argument) that stops every block or two and goes about the same speed as the 16, or maybe a little faster, and serves Saint Paul local traffic, for less than half the price we paid for the Green Line
- or a light rail train built straight down I94, or across the 35W bridge and through the Newell and Empire Builder rail yards to downtown Saint Paul, for a similar (possibly lower) cost, but well over double the speed.
- Or, since we’re just thinking here, a subway down University, with probably double the speed, but 4-10x (think 10x) the cost.
What we got was too big a train on too slow a route – or as Markle puts it, “we’ve got a train that can’t run as a train should (to get commuters off the freeway and provide rapid point to point transportation) and yet can’t provide the good local service of a streetcar”.
…For The Wrong Reasons…: But the Met Council’s priority wasn’t moving people; it was promoting high-density urban development. And while either kind of train will hypothetically serve the purpose (says the urban planning clique). But the Federal Government was subsidizing light rail, not streetcars. And the Met Council needed the subsidy.
So instead of a line that (hypothetically) made sense either for commuters or local residents, we got a line designed to whisk people long distances, stopping every 1-3 miles, on a route that demands stops every block or three.
Here’s The Takeaway: The official transit fanboy community in the Twin Cities is just now waking up from their opening-day train-riding hangovers and figuring it out. Bob Collins (one of my favorite MPR personalities, if that’s not a contradiction in terms) quotes heavily from the piece I link above, and adds his own observations:
During construction, I’d intended to take the line to Target Field for the July 4th game vs. the Yankees. But when push came to shove, and with four people in the car, it made more sense to just drive into town.
Part of that decision is owed to the 55 minutes it took to get from 10th Street in Saint Paul to the Nicollet stop in Minneapolis when we tried the new line out on the weekend of Rock the Garden.
More often, we hear “it takes too long” among potential riders. There’s a good reason for that. It takes too long.
So better late than never – right?
Of course, we – Erik “The Transit Geek” Hare (author of the peripatetic but excellent “Barataria” blog) and I talked about these exact issues, for precisely the same reasons, on the NARN seven years ago.
Make of that what you will – especially if “what you will” means “the NARN has a better grasp on sane policy than the Met Council and the entire DFL”.