Transit bust: Green Line too slow between downtowns

Passengers get off the light rail in downtown Minneapolis on Friday, May 16, 2014. Caroline Yang for MPR News

A writer on Streets.mn today pretty much declares the Green Line a failure.

“The new train will result in poorer service,” David Markle writes in today’s post on the transportation-centric blog.

Since the end-to-end speed of the light-rail line from St. Paul to Minneapolis was announced a few weeks ago, supporters and opponents have lobbed grenades over the time it takes, roughly the same as the Route 16 bus. If you’re lucky.

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 St. 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.

In his post, Markle pulls no punches when it comes to evaluating the decision makers.

Light rail vehicles (LRVs) appropriately function as commuter lines and connectors for long urban distances. To fulfill that purpose efficiently they should either operate along limited access highways, or along existing rail right of ways, or in tunnels, or on elevated structures.

In contrast, if the purpose were to provide surface rail service on University Avenue, a modern streetcar line would seem the obvious choice, not a train. Streetcars run with the automotive traffic and often stop at corners to pick up and discharge passengers. A modern streetcar closely resembles a single LRV.

A University Avenue streetcar should travel at nearly the same speed as the 16 bus. At the time of Central Corridor planning, few cities pursued aid for streetcar development, but at a cost per mile of about 1/3 that of LRT, installing a streetcar line would have cost state and local government significantly less than the roughly 50% match needed to get the federal LRT dollars.

But the decision makers didn’t understand the difference between streetcars and trains; consequently 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.

At this point, we should recognize the unequivocal advantages of the Green Line over local bus service: 1) easier, more frequent service between the University of Minnesota main campus and Downtown Minneapolis; 2) easier physical entrance to and exit from LRVs, compared to buses; 3) brighter and shinier than buses. But these would be advantages of a modern streetcar line as well!

Markle acknowledges the line will attract riders, but he says the line will be at capacity in only 15 years and we still won’t have a speedy alternative to a clogged Interstate 94 for getting from St. Paul to Minneapolis. He calls it “transportation strangulation.”

So far, the magnitude of the Green Line transit fiasco—a nearly $1 billion expenditure for what’s probably the most expensive public works project yet completed in Minnesota—hasn’t dawned on the public.

In the current blizzard of adulation, optimism and self-congratulatory publicity, it’s not yet clear for the public to see the Green Line’s failure to provide a vital regional transit trunk line between our two major cities.

If anything, the Green Line presents a distorted model that encourages some to clamor for Southwest Corridor LRT service in Uptown without demanding tunneling or elevation of the line so as to preserve rapid transit train function in a dense area.

Markle says the area is “without strong leaders who perceive and understand issues, forthrightly admit errors, and wisely advocate better ways.”

Disclosure: Minnesota Public Radio and the Metropolitan Council are negotiating ways to reduce noise and vibrations from the newly built light rail line outside MPR headquarters under a contract agreed to in 2009. riders.

  • DavidG

    Any chance these are the same people that declared the ACA and MNSure irredeemable failures less than a month after THOSE opened?

    • I don’t recall mnstreets having any posts about ACA or MNSure.

      • DavidG

        It’s utterly ridiculous to declare something a failure less than a month after its launch. But there’s always going to be somebody invested in said failure that will be doing just that.

        • I believe he’s looking for at the process and planning than the ridership numbers.

          The key question — asked above — is what is the fastest way to get between the downtowns. Forget whether the passenger is a suburbanite or a city slicker.

          I’d also love to see data comparing the 16 passenger load to the Green Line. Are these new riders coming to mass transit. Or have people simply left one form of transit to get on another.

          Is the Green Line leading to a cultural shift in transportation?

          • Minneso-Kate

            As a reluctant Green Line commuter, my guess (not supported by any actual data) is that many of the riders that take the Green Line as part of their commute are doing so because they have been displaced by changes to their bus route. Particularly, the 94, which had all stops north of 5th or 6th in downtown Saint Paul eliminated.

            Unfortunately, most of us have seen an increase in commute time.

          • Fire Wally

            Luckily, streets.mn already has you covered there. This is from last week:

            http://streets.mn/2014/07/03/second-chart-of-the-day-central-corridor-ridership-pre-and-post-green-line/

            Short version: ridership is already up substantially compared to the pre-Green-Line 16 and 50.

          • Scott

            Both the linked article and the questions you highlight in the above article point out compelling reasons why the Green Line was more of a shift-over rather than a step forward. That is to say an expensive switch from buses to LTR. It leads to the question, what was the point of it all? For me, I’d like to see shorter transit times between the downtowns along with ridership shifting from cars to mass transit.
            It seems to me that the Green line wouldn’t directly serve the suburbanites anyway, as they would still need a car to get to the area, and why go through the extra step of getting on the train? Thus, it’s my take that the Green Line link was really meant to be a quicker car-alternative way to get to the other downtown. If it ends up working the way it was intended (doubtful, based on the streets.mn article), suburbanites would find reduced traffic on 94 because the locals would be taking the train rather than the freeway.
            Specific to DavidG: I find articles like this important because the Cities are still considering installing new light rail lines. Clearly the debate isn’t over on the success of the Green Line (time will tell), but the steetsmn article points out some interesting things to consider for new projects, say the Southwest LTR. Final question to you: does the Green Line, as built, serve all your needs?

          • Elliott Adams

            Before the Green Line I only used the 16 bus when I absolutely had to, and consequently avoided traveling to Minneapolis over the fear of having to drive there, find parking, and worry about theft. Since the Green Line opened, I have traveled to Minneapolis every week-end, and just recently took in my second ever Twins game.

  • MrE85

    Well, I guess the debate is over.
    No offense to streets.mn (I’ll be making my streets.mn debut soon in a podcast on electric vehicles) or to Bob, I think its a little early to be labeling the shiny new train a failure. The fact that ridership already is exceeding expectations suggests not all of us have written off the project as a mistake.
    That said, I think steets.mn have raised many valid and true points about the design of the light rail system. I hope our next light rail is designed better having learned from what we did wrong on the Green Line.

    • DavidG

      unfortunately, they only hurt their credibility on whatever valid points they make with declarations like this.

      • Shawn

        not really.

    • blindeke

      too bad it won’t be #SWLRT

    • ForrestalMN

      At $1 billion of taxpayer money, I expect a project to be done RIGHT from beginning to end! There should be no one debating “what we did wrong.” Amazing!

      • moffitt

        To paraphrase the Dread Pirate Roberts, get used to disappointment. As the Bible reminds us, “Put not thy faith in Princes.”

        • ForrestalMN

          Well, we’re going to, as if we never learn.

  • Jeff C.

    If the line has been a street car line instead of an LRT line it would be called a failure because it would get stuck in car traffic and the trams wouldn’t hold enough people. If the line has been built along I-94 it would be called a failure because it served the needs of suburban commuters and not the needs of the local businesses and residents. What we have isn’t the perfect solution to all our transit problems…but what is? What single solution will work best? What would the cost have been to put in a streetcar line AND a fast train that gets drivers off of I-94?

    How fast would a train have to go to get suburban drivers to ride it? If it takes 30 minutes to drive from Woodbury to Target Field, how fast does a train need to go to get someone to drive from Woodbury to downtown St. Paul (10 minutes), park (5 minutes), walk to the Union Depot (5 minutes), wait for the train (5 minutes) and then ride it to the end of the line? That trip would probably be 25 minutes plus the time it takes to ride to ride the train.

    Personally, it is OK with me that the train is slower than driving. It is also less stressful and more enjoyable. I imagine that they will have wifi on it some day. If so, a morning commuter could board with their laptop and get caught up on email on their way in to work, thus using the time more effectively than if they were driving. Plus, riding the light rail is another way we can do our part to do something better for the Earth. We sacrifice some personal time and also reduce our carbon footprint.

    Finally, last week, according to MPR, 32,368 people boarded Green Line trains each weekday. That’s 4,500 more people than rode each weekday during the previous week, and well ahead of Metro Transit’s projections. Not all those riders would have been in a car, but even if half of them would have been, that’s 15,000 fewer cars on the roads each day. Lets say that each of those cars would have been driven 5 miles each way (10 miles round trip), that’s 150,000 miles not driven by cars each day. Nothing to sneeze at.

    • shorelines

      Will my employer compensate for the time I work while I’m commuting? Will I be allowed to leave work early to make up for the extra time I spend doing my part on the train? Will my daycare provider write it off to doing her part for the Earth when I arrive late to pick up my child because the train couldn’t get me there on time?

      I don’t disagree with you about the advantages of even putsy train service, and I agree – we do all need to do our part. I just don’t feel that the burden – especially in terms of precious time – should all have to fall on the individual commuter. To make public transportation in general a truly appealing option for everyone – not just those who have no other alternative – we need to implement structural changes in our work places, schools and the services that support those functions so that people don’t have to keep giving away their time. I know I’m not alone in feeling I have nothing left to give.

    • Elliott Adams

      Well said.

      • This is the part where, speaking on h half of Woodbury commuters, I ask for one stinking bus after 7:50 in the morning. One.

        • John O.

          A large Park & Ride sits along I35 south of the Burnsville split in Lakeville and is generally full on weekdays. Every single bus to and from that P&R goes to Minneapolis. If I want to catch a bus to St. Paul, I have to go to Apple Valley, five miles away.

          Then we have the lovely “Red Line.” Those buses go up and down Cedar from Mall of America to Apple Valley virtually empty seven days a week. When will this insanity stop?

  • KTN

    What, the LRT is not a panacea fixing all the transportation ills of our fair city – I’m shocked.

    Why did they build it if it were not going to be the fastest way to go between the two downtowns, I mean really what were they thinking not taking into consideration that someone at mnstreets would deem it a failure just a month in.

    • XanthusLane

      They wanted the Feds to help pay for it, rather than actually care about how well it actually would do or build anything that actually makes sense. Come on, this is a government project we’re talking about. When do they do anything recently that actually makes sense??

  • DavidG

    It takes 45-50 minutes to get from the loop to Ohare on Chicago’s Blue line. And that’s with the El having completely segregated tracks.

    Seems to me, this end-to-end time for a street level LRT that currently can’t even preempt signals isn’t so bad,

  • Flora27

    I think its still too early to past judgement… but so far it is not looking good.

  • Russky

    Light rail concept is an anachronism that doesn’t make any sense

    • Jeff C.

      How so?

      • Russky

        Tramway was ditched for a reason. Rebuilding it a century later and calling it light rail does not change a thing. What’s next? Horse-driven coaches?

        • Streetcars were “ditched” due to greed and shortsightedness.

          • Jeff C.

            Not really. Trolleys were replaced with busses because busses are cheaper to run and it is easier to expand their service area. It is cheaper to run an empty bus than an empty train. And it is cheaper to run a full train than a full bus. As people bought cars and moved to the suburbs the transit companies around the US decided it was better for them to have empty busses instead of empty trains.

            “The main point of “General Motors and the Demise of Streetcars”and other critics of the conspiracy theory is that trolley systems were replaced by bus systems for economic reasons, not because of a plot. Bus lines were less expensive to operate than trolleys, and far less costly to build because there were no rails. Extending service to rapidly growing suburbs could be accomplished quickly, by simply
            building a few bus stops, rather than taking years to construct rail lines. So, buses replaced streetcars.” (Source: CBS News)

            http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-gm-trolley-conspiracy-what-really-happened/

          • The article to which you linked gave a general, incomplete overview of the demise of the streetcar. While unstated, I was alluding to the demise of the Twin Cities’ streetcar lines, arguably the best streetcar line in the nation.

            “A management change in 1949 brought New York financier Charles Green to the presidency of the Twin City Rapid Transit Company. Green and his associates decided to abandon the streetcar lines and convert to buses as quickly as possible, apparently in order to maximize their short-term profit. The company’s entire streetcar fleet was scrapped and replaced by buses in an aggressive conversion plan completed in 1954 under TCRT president Fred A. Ossanna, a former associate of Green’s who managed to oust him in 1951. Ossanna and four of his associates were convicted in 1960 of defrauding the TCRT of company assets, including scrap metal and real estate, during the conversion.”

            http://www2.mnhs.org/library/findaids/00207.xml

            Greed and shortsightedness killed the TCRT.

  • Kassie

    I guess I question then if the Blue Line is also a failure? Without a doubt it is quicker to drive from Downtown Minneapolis to Mall of America. Since parking is free at Mall of America, it is also cheaper to drive. Before the Blue Line there was the 180 bus line, which was an express bus from downtown to Mall of America/Airport. The 180 was also quicker than the Blue Line, just like the 94. I don’t see people declaring the Blue Line a failure, why so quick on the Green Line?

    • “Since parking is free at Mall of America, it is also cheaper to drive.”

      Not necessarily. Factor in the price of gas for an 11.7 mile one way trip, auto insurance, maintenance, perhaps a car payment…

  • Joe Mitstein

    Why can’t some trains run express routes, not stopping at all stations? During rush hour, Metro Transit could run some Green Line trains with intermediate stops (for example) only at the U and Snelling. I hope they evolve into this idea; it works well for the subways in New York and other cities.

    • The express lines in NY use different tracks, so I think the only way it would work on the Green Line is if there was a lot of time between trains, which there isn’t. Otherwise, you just end up behind the train that left 10 minutes earlier.

      • kevinfromminneapolis

        Another bit of great foresight on our part there.

        • jon

          a separate track at each station could easily provide away for express trains to operate…
          Though that will cost more money…

          I think that it’s more likely some stations will be closed during rush hour (or completely) at some point if the speed of the train is a real issue… if it’s all just hype people will ride it and eventually the rest of the world will stop complaining.

          • kevinfromminneapolis

            I don’t see that happening. They had to add stops to gain community support and meet ridership requirements to get the funding.

      • Adiv Paradise

        To expand on this idea, though, personally, I think a better use of the train would have been to reduce the number of stops period along University. Eliminate the Westgate, Fairview, Hamline, Victoria, and maybe even the Lexington stops, and introduce a more limited shuttle-like bus service to provide intermediate stops between those stops. The remaining stops are still close enough together that those who are able can comfortably walk 5 minutes to their destination, and those who aren’t can take a quick bus ride. Meanwhile, you’ve cut the number of stops in half, allowing the trains to a) spend less time waiting for riders to get on/off, and b) attain higher speeds between stops. If the goal of the LRT is to let you get from anywhere on the commercial stretch of University to anywhere else on the commercial strip with minimal walking, it succeeds. But that necessarily precludes convenient transportation across the metro, which is arguably one of the light rail’s greatest strengths.

        • Jackie Lannin

          I am off the Fairview stop. I take the train on the way home to the “Raymond” stop. I work across the street from the Viking Stadium pit. I get on the train at around 5:45, and waiting for the 67 at the “Raymond’ stop, I am never home before 6:30. I am able to get a ride home sometimes- and am usually home in a car ride in 15- 20 minutes. Taking the train is not that much more expedient than taking the 16 or the 50. In your statement, how much off and on time do people really want to deal with to get to where they want to go? I know I am spoiled from living in NYC and SF. You want commuters to use their cars less- how about more transportation from the suburbs in the form of hub and spoke bus centers that are used in other states- I attended some of the planning meetings years back for this- it was extremely obvious to me and many others that people that planned this were not public transportation users- it seems that this is for university students and people that did not like taking the 16/50.

    • Elliott Adams

      The only way they could do this with the current track lay-out would be to install two switch tracks for every intersection (micro S curves),.. and even then, darting an express train around the normal route trains will just increase the risk of collisions with cars (or trains). Not to mention the added problem of frozen S curve tracks in winter.

  • Derek

    Light rail is more of a Shelbyville kind of idea.

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    I don’t have the interest in going back to look at how complaints about travel times were addressed during planning. I remember writing for one legislator that for nearly a billion dollars we were getting something with a travel time only 11 minutes better than a horse and buggy ride in the 1900s.

    Unless 94 traffic is hellacious I’ll probably take the 94 bus to the homerun derby and all star game rather than the train.

    As I’ve said many times, light rail is not about transportation, it’s about urban development. Judging it as such.

    • Dang, Kevin, you sound like a Democrat! (Where’s MNSpeak?) 🙂

  • JC Shepard

    Many new light rail lines are a compromise–they’re too slow to offer a real alternative to commenting, yet don’t make enough stops to offer curb-to-curb retail service. All of the pundit who say “Just Compromise!”, well, this what you get when you don’t do it right. It’s the STROAD of transit. Yet they do offer one un-compromising benefit: investors know the power-that-be are unlikely to move the route, so you can at least have reasonable investment-backed expectations for Transit Oriented Development.

  • notronswanson

    So…running the train faster isn’t an option? Seems simple enough to me.

    • Joe Mitstein

      Not with all the stops it has. I don’t think you can run it much faster between stops, because it stops so often.

  • lugia222

    Is the point of transit really to get between locations in the fastest way possible? If so, transit will always lose to a single-occupancy automobile. I relocated to San Francisco a few years ago – and while MUNI isn’t always the most reliable or fastest way to get across the city, it’s easier than driving, finidng a parking spot, and paying for parking. There are aspects of public transit that are being lost in this rather narrow analysis.

    A good question is whether all traffic control methods (syncing stoplights to train times, for example), have been implemented. The Green Line will be a work in progress and experience growing pains for the next few months.

    • X.A. Smith

      It took many months—if not over a year—to get the stoplights synced on the Hiawatha corridor. I think criticism of the new line is important, but the tone of the complaints could be a little more understanding and reasonable. It’s extremely complicated and takes time and experience to get a system running as well as it can.

  • SteveG

    I’ve had friends bring this up before, and here it is again: it’s too slow for downtown to downtown. Maybe it is – but is that what it was built for? Sure, you can go “all the way” but it seems to me that most people won’t go that distance – they may get on at Snelling and go to the U, the Capitol to Raymond Avenue, you get the picture. It’s the same argument opponents of Amtrak use on long distance trains, like the Empire Builder through the Twin Cities: “It takes too long to get from Chicago to the West Coast, we should just buy all those Amtrak passengers an airline ticket.” Except hardly anyone goes the whole way at all – they might go from an intermediate stop, say St. Paul, to Fargo as an example.

    So if it was built as a streetcar, would we be complaining about how long it takes to get downtown to downtown? I don’t think so.

    And this quote “Light rail vehicles (LRVs) appropriately function as commuter lines and
    connectors for long urban distances. To fulfill that purpose efficiently
    they should either operate along limited access highways, or along
    existing rail right of ways, or in tunnels, or on elevated structures.”

    Well, I’ve been involved in railroading and studying transit for 30 years, and that’s news to me. Look at LRT in Portland, Phoenix, Dallas and many other cities. They run in streets, and when they use rail ROW, it’s because it was cheaper to acquire and run a corridor down along it (most railroads don’t like it because of the possibility of derailment). The type of system the author is talking about is more akin to Bay Area Rapid Transit in the Bay Area, or other subway/transit combinations.

    Let’s see how the Green Line plays out. I just don’t think writing it off after less than 30 days of operation makes a lot of sense.

  • blindeke

    Hello. I’m one of the board members of the streets.mn, and we’re a website that allows for a variety of people with a variety of opinions to write about urban design. I don’t speak for the site either, but many people involved (particularly myself) are very sanguine about the future of the Green Line.

    For example, here are a whole bunch of posts about it, which offer more positive takes on the project:

    http://streets.mn/2014/06/19/traffic-calming-will-be-the-secret-to-green-line-success/
    http://streets.mn/2014/07/07/green-line-signal-priority-qa/
    http://streets.mn/2014/06/25/the-green-line-is-wonderful-but-a-challenge-to-access-on-foot/
    http://streets.mn/2014/06/26/park-and-riding-the-rails-to-the-twins/
    http://streets.mn/2014/07/03/second-chart-of-the-day-central-corridor-ridership-pre-and-post-green-line/
    http://streets.mn/2014/07/04/charts-of-the-day-green-line-ridership-by-station/
    http://streets.mn/2014/07/07/green-line-signal-priority-qa/

    Streets.mn is your once-stop-shop for analysis of the Green Line, and the fact that all our writers don’t agree with each other is a testament to our open access and critical thought process.

  • Andrew Salveson

    Having ridden it a few times, it seems strange to me that the train stops at a significant number of traffic lights, especially in the Frogtown/Midway area.

    Either 1) we don’t have the technology to coordinate between trains and traffic lights or 2) car traffic is being given priority over trains, in which case of course the train is going to be slow. Is there something wrong with my logic here?

  • Shannon

    I am a former I-94 driver and now greenline rider, between the Capitol and Government Plaza stations. Riding the train is not faster, but it is better and cheaper. I gain productive time that I’m not behind the wheel.

    • Kassie

      That’s something that hasn’t been brought up. The 94 bus is more expensive than the Green Line. Rush hour price is $3 on the 94, but $2.25 on the Green Line.

      • kevinfromminneapolis

        Why aren’t there rush hour fares on the train???

        • guest

          $2.25 is the rush fare. Non-rush fare is $1.75.

        • Kassie

          94 is an express and the Green Line is local. Express is more expensive than local, both have rush hour prices.

  • Ray

    I live kitty corner from the Central Street Station in St. Paul, and work near the Government Center Stop. I’ve been taking it nearly every day, and it takes 10 minutes longer than my drive would- time I can spend reading a book or checking my emails. ANYONE who is complaining about the time it takes isn’t riding it during rush hour and clearly has no regular ridership. This kind of ‘review’ less than a month after launch is ludicrous.

  • Sandy Jenkins

    I think we could learn a lot by what they do overseas. I have been to Thailand twice now and they use overhead trains to get everywhere. They have an express train that has minimal stops which would be like a St Paul to Minneapolis stop. The express actually runs from the airport to downtown Bangkok a lot further and faster than anything we have. Then they have another train on the same track which stops quite frequently. Either one of these does not flow with traffic but above the street. That way it doesn’t disrupt traffic and runs very fast. Its a very impressive system which goes almost everywhere you would need it to go. The entire train system is far larger than anything we probably have here in the states. I am sure the cost is quite a bit more as it runs overhead but it seems well worth it. I never ride a train here and used nothing but trains and minimal taxi rides there. I just looked up the system it has quite a bit more traffic than I ever thought. The entire system transports 715k of people a day and is around 2 times the length just for the main track: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bangkok_Skytrain. Why don’t we think of things like this here?

    • brad_dfl

      Bangkok is one of the most densely populated areas on earth, the metro area density is about 10 times greater than the Twin Cities, its not hard to understand why they can justify grade separated transit and we cannot.

  • Jess

    I save so much money and time because of the new Green Line. It’s $1.75 each time I get on at Raymond and go to either downtown. That’s a savings of $6 (gas/mileage/maintenance according to AAA) before I pay for parking (often $5-10). Plus, I don’t have to spend the ten minutes frantically driving around searching for parking. That’s ten minutes (or in St Paul where there’s hardly any parking within a mile of the capiol 20), minus even more for traffic, and around $11-$16 in savings.

    Also, every ride is twenty minutes reading to my kiddo, or cecking email on my phone, OR enjoying the fact that I could actually have a glass of wine at dinner and get home by 9pm. It is a great alternative to finding a cab that goes home to st Paul, or crawling along 94 or gritting my teeth every time I have to try to merge with the jerks going 80mph in the left lane from 280 to 94, only to slam on the the breaks a mile later.

    What’s a failure for some, is the measure by which they set their standard. Was this an expansion of transportation options, desperately needed in a city that has so few, or just a race for one politician/suburbanite to get from St Paul to MPLS the fastest? Why isn’t ridership and the full experience of ridership the measure? Oh wait cause that’s up! I’m a new public transit user, with that 4499 group that wasn’t expected. Hello!

    I think what this really is about is to start mounting pressure to cut stops in low income areas, so the train will go faster from end to end. Shame for MPR to take the bait like that. Wisen up my friends.

  • Gary F

    Bob, you live in a suburban sprawl and decided not to take public transportation to the Twins game.

    ????? Really?

  • tboom

    Want to attract responses? Use “Green line” and “Slow” in the same post heading.

    Should have built Skyweb Express on University – just to open up a new can of worms :-).

  • gclum

    Collins should go back to Journalism school and then try again. I expect more from MPR than this crap.

    • It seems to be that while you disagree with the writer of the article — psst: it wasn’t me — he at least provides some facts which he’s interpreted to substantiate his opinion.

      Presumably, as most commenters here have shown, an opposing view can also be substantiated with the intelligent and deliberate presentation of a fact-based view.

      I don’t believe you’ve equaled their efforts in your analysis.

      Give it a try.

      • gclum

        My analysis Bob,which you misread completely, is that I expect more depth from MPR than to simply copy and paste another article from another source and publish it on MPR. What are you trying to be? Huffington post? My dig to your Journalism expertise should have clued you in to that.

  • J-dawg

    I really wanted to like the Green Line. I have family in Europe and I am generally envious of their awesome public transit networks; I love having the ability of getting around large cities without needing a personal vehicle. I was in high school when the LRT came to Littleton, Colorado, and I felt like it was super convenient for getting into downtown. I’ve spent the last two years in NYC, and while I wouldn’t call the subway system there pleasant it was at least highly functional.

    The Green Line is without a doubt the most useless transit project I personally have ever seen – and at $1 billion! What a waste. There are WAY too many stops; if you want a walkable city you have to expect your citizens to be able to WALK more than three blocks to a station. Putting it in line with traffic made absolutely no sense – if they were going to do that it would have been MUCH cheaper to make it a dedicated bus lane. So we spent how many hundreds of millions of dollars because Minnesotans pooh-pooh the idea of taking a lowly bus? But fine, it’s a bizarre cross breed of a streetcar and a train: the planners could at least COORDINATE THE LIGHTS so the thing doesn’t stop three times for every station.

    Basically, there are vanishingly few situations where the Green Line is a practical choice. Walking will often be faster for local (<30 min walking) trips, the local bus line for intermediate distances and the express bus (by a lot!) for downtown-downtown. It's great for getting from campus (though why four stations are needed to serve the U is beyond me) to downtown Mpls. But that's about it.

  • ForrestalMN

    Am I thinking this was a much a political project as it was a transit project? It also seems designed to breath some life into a stagnant economic area. They call University Avenue The Boulevard of Broken Dreams for a reason: No one wants to go there. That, and attempt to pump some life into a moribund downtown St. Paul seems to be one of the main reasons for the Green Line, not to move people to places where they want to go. It’s $1billion for a project that doesn’t seem to be too practical.

    • John O.

      If memory serves, the phrase “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” was coined by the late, great local radio broadcaster Steve Cannon in reference to the ownership of a certain broadcasting company that resides on University Avenue.

      The University Avenue of today is a one heck of a lot better than it was back in the late 1980’s. The Central District of downtown St. Paul, however, is a whole different story.

  • ForrestalMN

    And why are there two stops at some stations? What was that about?

    • Jeff C.

      St. Paul-bound is on one side, Minneapolis-bound on the other.

  • jessat

    It is slower than I’d hope, but it is much more consistent (and faster) than the 50 (the express local that used to run the line. I do Dale to Nicollet daily, and the 50 during non rush hour with a fast, almost terrifying driver, would take 40 minutes. Rush hour took an hour to an hour and ten. The 16 took an hour non rush hour and an hour thirty (to hour forty when the U was in session) during rust hour. The green line consistently takes 40 minutes, regardless of time of day or occupancy. Yes, they could have skipped the Western, Victoria, and Hamline stops, but all in all, it is an improvement over the old University bus service.

  • Erik Hare

    Yup. The same thing could have been built with a streetcar at about 1/4 the cost (to be fair – 1/2 the cost the way we run locally, which I don’t understand) and with far superior urban design elements (such as a sidewalk that is not substandard in width). But no, they had to do it this way.

  • raymarshall

    The biggest problem is that there is nothing during the days to go to downtown St. Paul unless you work there. I doubt that the original plan mentioned that trips between 280 and Rice Street for shopping/eating excursions is what they are hoping for NOW I suppose they could speed up the trips tremendously if they wouldn’t have to stop at all the red lights along University. But that would create problems for the drivers of cars who are driving from the north or south to pick up the train..

    • Kassie

      There is lots of things to do in downtown St. Paul during the day. If you can’t think of any, you have no imagination, or a basic idea of what is downtown St. Paul. The Science Museum, the Children’s Museum, Minnesota Museum of American Art, the waterfront, Harriet Island, tours of the Capitol, and numerous restaurants and bars are all downtown and open during weekdays.

  • raymarshall

    The real test will be the numbers of passengers on the train starting say about August 1/

    • John O.

      I’d say the real test comes shortly after Labor Day when the U of M and Hamline are back in session.

  • Tim Brackett

    I moved here 19 months ago and was not here for the planning of the Green Line. When I got on the Green Line for the first time the day it opened, I was impressed until the train hit University. Whoever was involved in the decision to have the Green Line go down the middle of University should never, ever be allowed to make any decision again…ever!

  • Lucienne Schroepfer

    Everyone almost excited to proclaim failure after failure might take a second look INTO the cars. There are LOTS of people riding. Moreover– many many folks we know are now making the decision to ride instead of drive– with kids– for entertainment and and.. Minnesotans don’t ride public transportation the way folks in other major cities do– folks need to find it easy– fun– providing easy access to new places. So far I think the light rail has shown itself to be all of these things.

  • Robin Garwood

    I’m sorry, but this post by Bob Collins is really unhelpful and borders on misinformation. There is no “Streets.mn” position on the Green Line. David Markle has written exactly one piece for Streets.mn – this one. Calling his position the “Streets.mn” position is tantamount to calling my position on something the “Streets.mn” position (I’ve also written exactly one article for Streets.mn). This is esspecially true when Streets.mn has run several supportive articles about the Green Line, such as this one: http://streets.mn/2014/06/03/the-green-line-is-not-a-commuter-rail/. This post is just really poor – not the level of analysis I’d expect from MPR.
    And yes – the light timing needs to be fixed so that a train full of people isn’t waiting at a red light for three single-occupancy automobiles to go. But for what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure David Markle wouldn’t agree with that position.

    • You know, when someone posts a message like this more than 24 hours after the first line was recast to clarify, I know the person didn’t even read the post but was being told somewhere else what the post said, and raced to the comments area here to register his outrage and missed expectation.

      So let’s look at the piece, shall we?

      The first line reads: “A writer on Streets.mn today pretty much declares the Green Line a failure.”

      MPR isn’t providing analysis here; it’s providing a reference to an interesting — and debatable — article. Period. The following discussion is EXACTLY the point of posting it. It’s good. It’s invigorating. It’s got people discussing without being insulting and disrespectful. In short, it’s what NewsCut is known for in the 8 years it’s been around, though I suspect this might be your first time here.

      If your problem is that David Markle got any recognition at all for what is a fairly long and robust piece, I don’t really have much to say to that anymore. You should take that up with streets.mn (please note: I’ve been posting posts about things that were on streets.mn before all but a small group of transportation fans knew what streets.mn even is. Here, for example ).

      If your problem is David Markles position and perspective, I would expect to be informed by someone who disagrees with him by a robust, fact-based rebuttal. If you believe there’s misinformation in his position, I expect you to identify what the misinformation is and counter it with information.

      Markle isn’t being all Joe Soucheray here. His treatise, certainly the longest one that I ever recall on the subject of the Green Line, contains data, citations, and plenty of charts which he believes supports his view.

      If you’ve got a different perspective, let’s hear it. Otherwise, what exactly is the problem, other than the fact someone has a different opinion from yours?

      Look, I get it, “I expect more from MPR” is quite the zinger — well, it was before it became a bit of a cliche and a poor substitute for a substantive response. But, at the end of the day, it doesn’t provide as much light as it does a distracting heat. That’s the nature of political communication these days, much to our regret and frustration.

      We all have our expectations, Robin. One of mine is anyone who works for one of the politicians or political bodies that Markle accuses of bad planning and lack of proper leadership on the subject of transportation, identify himself when posting in this space.

      Sometimes our expectations aren’t met.

      • Robin Garwood

        Sorry, Bob, but this is a pretty defensive response. Yes, I read your whole piece. It does include some analysis and anecdote of your own, four paragraphs or so (“it takes too long”).

        MPR has a responsibility for the way it shares what it shares. When I respond to Mr. Markle’s arguments, I’ll do it via the original piece on Streets.mn. In this space I was responding to MPR’s treatment of Mr. Markle’s piece. As I first saw it – not 24 hours ago, but just prior to my comment – the headline read “How local officials keep creating mass transit failure,” with the sub-headline “Streets.mn today pretty much declares the Green Line a failure.” And yes, MPR bears some responsibility for its headlines and the text of its articles, and how those will have a life of their own via social media even after they have been modified. This is one reason why it tends to be a good idea to note when updates are made to an article after it has been posted, something I don’t see on this piece.

        The contradictions in your response are interesting. I explicitly agreed with one of your and David’s main premises: the train is currently taking longer than it should. I also reposted an effective rebuttal, from Streets.mn, no less, of the idea that “it’s not fast enough” is a reason to declare the Green Line a “failure.” Your response to that is to say “what exactly is the problem, other than the fact someone has a different opinion from yours?” And imply, as some sort of strange dig, that I haven’t been to the NewsCut blog before [full disclosure: I read NewsCut often but this is my first time commenting here].

        And sorry, Bob – I didn’t realize that I had to identify that I work for Ward 2 Minneapolis Council Member Cam Gordon to participate in this space. I thought it might be enough to post with my full name, from an active social media account that makes who I am and who I work for perfectly clear. It seems I was wrong. I’ll be sure to include that in every comment I make on NewsCut in future – though the way you’ve handled this comment will definitely make me think twice before attempting to participate in this space again.

        • Assuming you”re reading this via a web site, you can see what the headline says and what the first line says. There’s no need for me to repeat myself.

          You don’t need to identify yourself in every comment, but when you”re the policy advisorof a politician in a body that is a party to to the policy being criticized, it’s helpful to readers to be transparent, if only to indicate in what capacity you”re speaking.

          My response might be defensive because I’m defending the blog against your characterization;.I don’*t find that inappropriate at all.

          I’m sorry you”re not interested in supporting your accusation that Markle is misinformed, but the opportunity remains should you decide to avail yourself of it.

          I haven’t had a chance to read the comments on streets.mm but I will as soon as I have time. I’m sure it’s an even livelier discussion than the one taking place here and I look forward to it.

          • Robin Garwood

            To be clear about a couple of things: I wasn’t accusing David of misinformation; I was more concerned about the communication from MPR about David’s piece.

            That said, the comments on David’s piece are very enlightening – in many cases, his predictions are simply not tracking with reality. One helpful chart someone shared:
            http://streets.mn/2014/07/03/second-chart-of-the-day-central-corridor-ridership-pre-and-post-green-line/. Others have also pointed out, both at Streets.mn and here, that many of David’s arguments have a certain circularity to them. The line won’t actually help drive economic development, yet it will price out the small bookstore owner. The Blue Line is a much better model (LRT on a major highway), yet the failure of the Blue Line to drive economic development “proves” that LRT doesn’t drive economic development. Et cetera. Some of his claims ignore other work underway (St. Paul is currently engaged in a process to potentially return many of the lost on-street parking spaces, for example). Some are simply cherrypicking which “transit experts” to quote. In total, the piece reads like spaghetti strategy: throwing out every conceivable argument and anecdote to see which sticks.
            On the merits, given the information we have at this time, I think David’s thesis is absolutely wrong. Though we can’t test the counterfactual, I believe that the Green Line is and will be more successful on University Avenue than it would be on I-94. This takes into account ridership, economic development, transit level of service (which includes, but is more than, speed), and the opportunity to make University Avenue a better place to be a pedestrian.
            Lastly, the capacity in which I was speaking was as myself, a transit advocate and someone who is glad the public sector invested in the Green Line. The essential routing decisions to which David objects were made long before my boss took office in 2006, so I don’t feel like I have to defend him (or myself) for those decisions. As David makes clear, the decisions we had some part in (the closure of Washington Avenue on the East Bank, for example) stem, in his view, from the initial routing decision of University over I-94.
            Robin Garwood
            Policy Aide to Council Member Cam Gordon

  • Matthew St-Germain

    Is speed of transit the only worthwhile metric of measurement?

    As an aside, and I’d love to hear from someone with some experience on major city systems programming, but has anyone noticed how, in about the last year or so, the driving on Hiawatha has gotten much faster? it used to be agonizingly slow due to the LR, and now it seems they’ve hit some kind of system homeostasis where things are running much better?

    When I heard of the delays, my initial thought immediately went back to when Hiawatha opened, and the waits on the road sometimes lasted over 5 minutes at a light. It was unreal. I’ve never rode the thing, so I’m not sure how ride times were, but I just remember that we were all experiencing this brand new system, so I expected that in time it would get better.

    Even if I felt that this article proved that this single metric was the most important aspect of the overall value and justification for the project, I’m not sure I’d in any way agree we’ve had enough time to judge the system on efficiency. Seems rather disingenuous to do so, really. Like, helping your daughter ride a bike for the first time, and at her first fall, turning towards the house, pointing at your hopeful wife in the window and yelling “I told you she was a failure!”

    Something like that.

    • I took from the article that it was less about the time it took between downtowns — although that clearly was a significant component — and more about the planning PROCESS. Since that planning process is ongoing in the buildout of the system, I assume the goal of the writer is to have a better — as he sees it — process. Given that, I think clearly it’s too early to declare the Green Line a failure or a success, but it’s probably not premature to question and analyze the process.

      Clearly, very clearly, he favors a higher-speed train and he asks how that got thwarted in the process.

      He also pointed out — as I highlighted — that the Green Line will reach capacity within 15 years, providing no indication of an ability to expand it because of the decision to place it on an urban street.

      What is the net impact of that? I don’t know, but we’re building out for the future so I don’t think it’s foolhardy to ask.

      At the end of the day, is there any plan for a way to get from one city to the other in which the automobile isn’t the preferred choice when efficiency and time of an individual is to be considered?

      Again, I don’t know.

      I get that people feel defensive about the Green Line. I can take it or leave it (I want a bus from Woodbury!) and I feel relatively emotionally detached from the issue so maybe I’m just more interested in exploring the future. My suspicion is most of the people upset by the post didn’t even bother to read Markle’s reasoning. He thinks it’s a failure so what’s left to know?

      But, yes, I get it. It’s impossible in the current climate to question the Green Line and the process involved in its birth and still be pro-transit. It’s just a remnant from the “You’re either for us or agin’ us” days of the early part of the century. Unfortunately, that leads to really bad policy. Ask me how I know. The transit community can be positively cult-like and there’s a penalty to be paid for crossing the leaders. The opponents can be cult-like, too, only they’re not calling the shots.

      Is the Green Line a failure? I don’t think so. Is it a success? I don’t think so.

      Is it fair to question the planning process? Yes, I think it is. That sort of thing makes for better planning in the future and I don’t see a downside of that.

      I might feel differently if I had political skin in the game, in which case, I’d probably just let the insults fly and hope the smokescreen works.

      It usually does.

  • TUGG

    Put it underground or go home. Millions spent on what will always be an underused system. Look at the Hiawatha line, destroyed the only efficient midtown North/South motorway so empty trains can run between DT and MOA.

    • Do you know how we know you never use the Blue line?

      • TUGG

        I’m in full support of public transit projects. What drives me crazy is the half measures that have to be taken because half the population of this state seem to think that public transportation is a pinko conspiracy.