What will it take for commuter rail to catch on in Minnesota?

The Northstar commuter rail line between Big Lake and Minneapolis turns a year old this week having failed to meet ridership projections. Today’s Question: What will it take for commuter rail to catch on in Minnesota?

  • Al

    About $10/gallon

  • Hiram

    Higher gas prices.

  • Beth

    Gas will likely be increasingly scarce and expensive in the next 10-20 years…which is exactly why we need to invest in additional public transit infrastructure now…so it’s ready to go when the demand increases exponentially. It’d be interesting to pose the question to the people at Metra in Chicago that run suburb to city lines – see how long it took for their ridership to meet initial goals. It’d also be interesting to compare ridership on the Northstar versus the Hiawatha line, which from what I’ve heard is quite popular.

  • Gary F

    At some point higher gas prices will.

    “Build it and they will come” NOT.

    As Chevrolet said in their ads years ago “It’s not just your car it’s your freedom”.

  • Hiram

    Transportation isn’t one of my issues. But as a casual observer, it does seem to be one of those issues that needs and rewards long term planning.

    What’s Minnesota going to be like in 20 years? Where will the population be living? Where will they need to go? What will energy prices be then, and what role with that and anything else we can anticipate now, have on the transportation choices we want to have available to us?

  • Bill

    Higher gas prices or traffic jams. But we can’t wait for those things to happen before investing in infrastructure.

  • A better, more frequent schedule and more stations. The current schedule means I would have to leave 30 minutes earlier than I do now and get home 30 minutes later than I do now. Not worth an extra hour a day and I can’t handle leaving any earlier than I already do.

    Plus, in the amount of time it takes to get to the train parking lot, I am already halfway to my job in downtown Mpls.

  • bsimon

    higher gas prices

  • Steve the Cynic

    A shift in mindset from thinking only in terms of one’s own narrow self-interest to being mindful of what makes for the common good. It won’t happen, however. It would be un-American.

  • steve

    probably higher gas prices but lite rail should have been started 30 years and mn missed the boat and we are paying the price, so the car is king and we are stuck with the miserable bus system!

  • Carolyn

    The schedule for the Northstar needs to be more rider friendly. I would much prefer to ride the train to and from Minneapolis, but the current schedule is geared solely towards early morning commuters.

  • Julie

    The terminology of this question is strange. The new train missed projections by 5%. Why call that “failure?” Literally correct but unnecessarily negative. Does it have anything to do with MPR’s unfriendly relationship with Metro Transit?

  • Sandra

    Urban sprawl.

    That line only exists because of the dedication to urban sprawl of Tim Pawlenty, Carol Molnau, and Peter Bell.

    It never made any other economic or social sense.

  • Albert

    Maybe putting it in a place where it can be more used. For example, if I had the opportunity to take it from the south into the cities I would be on it in a heartbeat. I would hope that research of traffic patterns would help people in MNDot to determine where things like this should go. I also feel that commuter rail versus better and more lgiht rail was a mistake. I should be able to travel from Maple Grove to Cottage Grove without a car, but right now I can’t.

  • Alex V

    First, we need to contain sprawl. Look at what Portland (Ore.) has done with their zoning rings. We need to create a rail system that actually goes somewhere has more than a handful of trips per day. Northstar has been a flop because it doesn’t go all the way to St. Cloud and runs only 5 trips per day, and then just during rush hour. Building one line at a time doesn’t cut it. We need a full system for it to actually be useful. We should have lines that run through Minneapolis to the southwest towards Eden Prairie, south to Burnsville, southeast to Eagan and Cottage Grove, north to Arden Hills and Shoreview, and northeast to White Bear Lake. Also, we should look at some kind of streetcar or tram system for within the cities. Look at Melbourne, Australia, for a good example of this. Obviously, this would take a large investment from the state. I think a good starting point would be an amendment to the state constitution to allow gas tax revenue to be spent on transit.

  • MARION

    It has to be a different frame of mind. Trains are needed in Minnesota if people plan on commuting considerable lengths to their jobs! I don’t see more big companies moving “Up North” yet. I used to commute in Connecticut, with the Metro North train. I lived an hour away from my job in CT, and the only HWY to get me to work was always busy. If there was an accident on the HWY traffic would be snarled for hours. It was a different frame of mind though, as people expected long commutes.

  • Kendra
  • Jamie Wellik

    Commuter rail will catch on when population density, cost of driving, and price of rail support it. The question is how much do you want to subsidize rail in the absence of demand generated by the first two factors (density and gas prices primarily).

    Buses seem to work better then rail-and the subsidy per rider is still an issue.

  • Bruce

    When they pry my hands from my lifeless car, or when I can’t afford to put fuel in it!

  • Jordan

    When the price of gas hits 8 dollars a gallon, similar to the European average.

  • Dave

    If I had a job downtown I would most definitely ride. I live near the Elk River train station. Every day when I drive past it I dream about getting on the train. It’s much more appealing than the two and a half hour round trip commute I have to make in the opposite direction. There’s no to freedom to droning along the freeway thru rural Minnesota in traffic with dangerous drivers and bad weather. I’d much rather be reading, or even staring out the window.

  • Gary F

    “Contain sprawl”?

    You mean force people to live where they don’t want to ?

  • It’s interesting that Europe always seems to come up in these conversations. One thing to keep in mind is that Europe made a conscious decision to build a system for public transportation. In Europe, you can just about go door-to-door on public transportation. It’s more convenient than driving, for the most part; it’s certainly cheaper. It’s more expensive to buy, insure and license private vehicles, it’s more arduous to get a license, it’s more of a hassle to park, and gas is prohibitively expensive.

    We’re a long way from having a system that has clear advantages over driving. Some of our cities have done a fair job; anyone travelling to Boston would be foolish to try driving in Boston. It’s much easier to park outside the city and take the “T” in.

    Until there are enough routes and they coordinate the train and bus schedules to make it truly systematic (and more convenient than driving), it’s unlikely that commuter rail will supplant driving the highways.

  • Charles

    When they put it in a corridor that has enough people to warrant it. Say 35 either way.

  • Mary

    Moved here from Chicago in 2008… We liked living right off the L so much that we tried really hard to find a house on one of the new rail lines so we could “go into the city” on weekends. (Our jobs are both in Plymouth, due west from MPLS, so there was no question of commuting by train…)

    In Chicago we lived less than two miles from work, but took the train whenever we wanted to go anywhere *else*. We it was just the two of us going out, we didn’t want one of us to have to be the designated driver. We’d take the train down into the city, find a bar or a restaurant to hang out at for a while, do some shopping, visit an art fair/music fair/Christmas market (there is something like this almost every month, or every week in the summer), enjoy the views from the lake shore, and then ride the L back around midnight, happy and tipsy. We took it to Wrigley Field for Cubs games and to Soldier Field for Bears games, because who wants to have to park?

    But there was nowhere on the southern branch of the light rail where we could 1) afford to buy a house and 2) still be within a decent driving commute of work in the western ‘burbs. So we looked at places in Fridley… Until we realized the Northstar line was not going to take us into the city on weekends.

    Of course, after a few trips downtown on weekends by car, we realized that Minneapolis just does not have the kind of lively city life that Chicago does any way. We tried our aimless afternoon in the city thing a few times, and found that Minneapolis just isn’t dense or busy enough to support it. You can shop at the same stores you’ll find on the Nicolette Mall over at the Ridgedale Mall, and the crowds may be bigger…

    So here are two people who never ride the light rail even though we moved to the area thinking we were going to buy our house on that basis. We miss Chicago.

  • Mary

    Moved here from Chicago in 2008… We liked living right off the L so much that we tried really hard to find a house on one of the new rail lines so we could “go into the city” on weekends. (Our jobs are both in Plymouth, due west from MPLS, so there was no question of commuting by train…)

    In Chicago we lived less than two miles from work, but took the train whenever we wanted to go anywhere *else*. We it was just the two of us going out, we didn’t want one of us to have to be the designated driver. We’d take the train down into the city, find a bar or a restaurant to hang out at for a while, do some shopping, visit an art fair/music fair/Christmas market (there is something like this almost every month, or every week in the summer), enjoy the views from the lake shore, and then ride the L back, happy and tipsy. We took it to Wrigley Field for Cubs games and to Soldier Field for Bears games, because who wants to have to park?

    But we couldn’t find any homes on the southern light rail branch that were in our budget and still had a decent car commute to our jobs in the western ‘burbs… So we looked at houses in Fridley. Until we realized that the Northstar line would not take us downtown on Saturday afternoon or back home on Saturday night.

    And until we actually tried our aimless weekend wandering routine in Minneapolis, and realized that it doesn’t work. Ridgedale Mall is livelier than Nicolette Mall except in the best of weather, and has all the same stores anyway. Now when we get cabin fever we go to Ridgedale, or if we’re really feeling crazy, to Super Target. Woo hoo! (And we definitely don’t get tipsy.)

    So here are two people who never ride the light rail, even though we moved here planning to buy a house on the basis of its rail access. We miss Chicago.

  • Mary

    Moved here from Chicago in 2008… We liked living right off the L so much that we tried really hard to find a house on one of the new rail lines so we could “go into the city” on weekends. (Our jobs are both in Plymouth, due west from MPLS, so there was no question of commuting by train…)

    In Chicago we lived less than two miles from work, but took the train whenever we wanted to go anywhere *else*. We it was just the two of us going out, we didn’t want one of us to have to be the designated driver. We’d take the train down into the city, find a bar or a restaurant to hang out at for a while, do some shopping, visit an art fair/music fair/Christmas market (there is something like this almost every month, or every week in the summer), enjoy the views from the lake shore, and then ride the L back, happy and tipsy. We took it to Wrigley Field for Cubs games and to Soldier Field for Bears games, because who wants to have to park?

    But we couldn’t find any homes on the southern light rail branch that were in our budget and still had a decent car commute to our jobs in the western ‘burbs… So we looked at houses in Fridley. Until we realized that the Northstar line would not take us downtown on Saturday afternoon or back home on Saturday night.

    And until we actually tried our aimless weekend wandering routine in Minneapolis, and realized that it doesn’t work. Ridgedale Mall is livelier than Nicolette Mall except in the best of weather, and has all the same stores anyway. Now when we get cabin fever we go to Ridgedale, or if we’re really feeling crazy, to Super Target. Woo hoo! (And we definitely don’t get tipsy.)

    So here are two people who never ride the light rail, even though we moved here planning to buy a house on the basis of its rail access. We miss Chicago.

  • Mary

    Moved here from Chicago in 2008… We liked living right off the L so much that we tried really hard to find a house on one of the new rail lines so we could “go into the city” on weekends. (Our jobs are both in Plymouth, due west from MPLS, so there was no question of commuting by train…)

    In Chicago we lived less than two miles from work, but took the train whenever we wanted to go anywhere *else*. We it was just the two of us going out, we didn’t want one of us to have to be the designated driver. We’d take the train down into the city, find a bar or a restaurant to hang out at for a while, do some shopping, visit an art fair/music fair/Christmas market (there is something like this almost every month, or every week in the summer), enjoy the views from the lake shore, and then ride the L back, happy and tipsy. We took it to Wrigley Field for Cubs games and to Soldier Field for Bears games, because who wants to have to park?

    But we couldn’t find any homes on the southern light rail branch that were in our budget and still had a decent car commute to our jobs in the western ‘burbs… So we looked at houses in Fridley. Until we realized that the Northstar line would not take us downtown on Saturday afternoon or back home on Saturday night.

    And until we actually tried our aimless weekend wandering routine in Minneapolis, and realized that it doesn’t work. Ridgedale Mall is livelier than Nicolette Mall except in the best of weather, and has all the same stores anyway. Now when we get cabin fever we go to Ridgedale, or if we’re really feeling crazy, to Super Target. Woo hoo! (And we definitely don’t get tipsy.)

    So here are two people who never ride the light rail, even though we moved here planning to buy a house on the basis of its rail access. We miss Chicago.

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