The last decade has been 10 years of fat for transit riders in Minneapolis, with the opening of two new fixed-guideway lines and significant improvements in the operation of buses on Nicollet, Marquette and 2nd Aves downtown. Now a new Draft Plan for an East-West Transit Spine in Downtown Minneapolis signals a return to the old familiar lean years of little investment or prioritization of transit.
The idea of an East-West Transit Spine had a grotesque name but a promise of a huge improvement when it was first included in the Downtown Action Plan of 2007. While only roughly sketched out at that time, consolidating service onto one main route had the goal of “organizing service delivery and making the transit network easier to
understand and use,” although the plan also acknowledges that it “frees other streets for different modes of transportation that also need accommodation.”
Though rough, the Downtown Action Plan does describe the alternates for an East-West spine, quoted here from the new report:
6th and 7th Street one-way pair
7th and 8th Street one-way pair
8th and 9th Street one-way pair
9th and 10th Street one-way pair
4th Street contraflow lane
6th Street contraflow lane
7th Street contraflow lane
8th Street contraflow lane
9th Street contraflow lane
Two-way operation on 8th Street
Study on the E-W Transit Spine got underway soon after the Downtown Action Plan was approved, and apparently the first step was to ask business leaders what they thought of the plan. Specifically, the Downtown Council, which not long ago suggested destroying the most successful pedestrian street in the state, appears to have been consulted. Is anyone surprised that they immediately vetoed the option that would be most useful for transit riders, the two-way operation on 8th St?
[Update: Anna Flintoft clarified that the comments that nixed the 8th Street option were received as feedback to the Downtown Action Plan, not as a special consultation during the development of the E-W Transit Spine Plan. I regret the error, but still think it's a bit fishy.]
A traffic analysis had been completed showing that “acceptable levels of service could be achieved at most intersections on all streets” even with two lanes in each direction on 8th. Apparently business leaders also think they are transportation engineers and planners (maybe I do have something in common with them) as the E-W Transit Spine Draft Plan describes them as “skeptical about the ability to divert enough traffic for 8th Street to operate acceptably as a two-way street.”
So what survived the line-item veto of this small, unrepresentative group of business owners? The plan calls for two main changes:
- service the 14 and the 9 will be moved to 7th and 8th street, joining the 5, 19, 22 and 39
- infrastructure bump-outs will extend the undersized sidewalks at the stops at Nicollet and Hennepin, and shelters will be added and modernized
Both the draft plan and Anna Flintoft’s presentation to the 11/30/10 Transportation & Public Works committee describe in detail the lack of current facilities (which pale in comparison to other downtown transit spines, the draft plan notes) and the significant ridership along the spine. This picture from Flintoft’s presentation shows a typical scene at 7th & Nicollet, where 14,500 cars per day spread out over 35 feet and three lanes while 3,800 people a day wait for a bus and bump elbows with thousands of pedestrians on a measly 15 feet of sidewalk:
The plan includes some killer charts, a rare glimpse into closely-guarded Metro Transit statistics, including this one showing that 7th & Nicollet is the most heavily used bus stop in the region:
The plan proposes a 6′ curb extension at the stop, increasing the width to 21′. However, to cope with the volume of buses, the plan proposes a split stop, with half the buses boarding on one side of Nicollet and the other half boarding on the other side. This will cut the effective frequency of buses here, most of which travel in the same general direction for around a mile (including, crucially, past Target Field and through the job-rich North Loop).
Curb extensions are proposed at 5 corners total, all at Hennepin or Nicollet. Other infrastructure improvements in the plan include some 14 new or improved shelters (all with heat and light), and 9 real-time display (RTD) signs – all of the type you will find at any reasonably busy bus stop in even the smallest Western European towns. As usual, streetscape improvements such as bike racks and trees are called for, “if funding can be found.” Unfortunately no part of this project is funded, although Flintoft mentions that curb extensions could be constructed as part of the 35w Detour Route Rehab projects.
To recap: After 3 years of study, Public Works and Metro Transit have written 40 pages recommending common-sense route changes and basic modernization of shelters. The plan might be implemented someday when a giant bag of money falls from the sky and all the road projects are done. People catching the bus on the Streets downtown may soon wait in a different spot, but they’ll still be waiting in the wind and snow.