Here is the last of my three-part Bottineau rant, which at this point may be considered a full-fledged tirade. Somewhat coincidentally, it arrives on the same day the Minneapolis City Council makes its recommendation for a Locally Preferred Alternative, which is more or less required by the FTA for the project to advance. It looks like the Council has acquiesced to the LRT D1 alternative – Wirth-Olson – but with the clever stipulation that Hennepin County and Metro Transit agree to develop at least one arterial transitway through North Minneapolis along Penn, Emerson/Fremont, or West Broadway. I’m not aware of any attempt by the city to gather their citizens’ opinions, outside of the county-led process, but of course you can always provide input to the Bottineau project office.
My last post proposed the consideration of an LRT subway through North Minneapolis, which would do a zillion times better job of serving the heart of the Northside without the impact of a surface route, and based on our history with Hiawatha is unlikely to be as expensive as other recent American below-grade transit projects. An LRT subway will not be considered in Minnesota – it’s just too “coastal.” In that case, I think the best alternative for Bottineau would be BRT on West Broadway. This was actually considered in the AA study, and scored well enough that it just barely missed the arbitrary cutoff to make it to the scoping phase. Actually it would have probably made the cutoff (unless the cutoff was again raised to exclude it) if the AA study hadn’t penalized all BRT alternatives. See for yourself- here is the Traveler Time Savings (in regional minutes per day) measure from page 76 of AA study:
The study claims that “LRT alternatives outscore BRT alternatives on this measure because they have shorter end-to-end travel times” which is interesting because a) the BRT and LRT alternatives would follow identical alignments, and b) technically buses and trains are capable of the same operating speeds. Because the chart above is pretty much the most detailed information in the AA study about travel times, I’m not sure how they determined that BRT alternatives would take longer than LRT in the exact same alignment. The study also projected fewer riders for BRT alternatives, but not nearly enough fewer to explain the missing minutes. Here is a comparison table I made using data from the AA study:
This chart teases us with a clue: It may have had something to do with the Interchange, Hennepin County’s platitudinously named train station, which is the only point where some LRT and BRT alternatives diverged. Specifically, D3 and D4, the former of which does significantly worse on traveler time savings, are assumed to run “on a busway parallel to the I-94 viaduct” then to turn south a block to stop at the Interchange, then proceed eventually a block back north to 4th St. This is a terrible idea. If they were actually thinking about how to maximize the benefits of the transportation system, D3 and D4 would have an advantage over the other alternatives because they could use the viaduct itself.
The 4th St Viaduct (should be plural, since there are actually two viaducts) is massively overbuilt. It is two lanes in each direction, but caters primarily to peak traffic, leaving at least half the roadway underutilized at all times. If one viaduct were made reversible, the other could be used for a two-way busway, providing a transit advantage into Downtown Minneapolis. In addition, if the south viaduct were used, it could provide an even better, if more expensive, connection to the Northstar station than LRT would:
The viaduct could connect directly to West Broadway with a little modification of the existing interchanges. Basically a ramp could just be added from West Broadway to the existing ramp from I-94 to the viaduct, and then another ramp from that ramp over to the other viaduct. It’s a bit trickier to connect the westbound viaduct to westbound West Broadway. The Alexandrian way, depicted below, would just build a flyover from the viaduct to the 94 ramp to Washington, at which BRT could have signal priority. Ideally the BRT viaduct would connect to I-94 so express buses could use it too, which could be done by adding a ramp going straight where the westbound ramp bends to meet Washington. In addition to a station at the Interchange, there could be one serving the densifying North Loop at 8th or 10th Ave N.
Another reason the West Broadway BRT (D4 on the chart) scored well in general is that it wasn’t really BRT, at least not east of Penn, where the alternative studied would operate in mixed traffic. This was done to “eliminat[e] the need to disrupt traffic or remove businesses.” Of course, disrupting traffic is to some degree the goal of developing transitways; you want to shift traffic from cars to transit vehicles. But is disrupting traffic or removing businesses necessary to accommodate BRT on West Broadway?
As I mentioned above, West Broadway is 80′ east of Penn, and they cram in four through lanes and parking in many places. Traffic counts hover around 20,000/day, but drops off steeply west of Emerson/Fremont, so that the counts west of Morgan are around 10k/day. Assuming west of Girard only two traffic lanes are needed, guideway will fit there without widening even on the 75′ sections – assuming a 28′ guideway and two 11′ through lanes, 25′ are left over for sidewalks or maybe parking in some places. East of Girard, 28′ will be needed for guideway and at least 40′ for four through lanes (suck it up, Hennepin County and MnDot, 10′ lanes works for much busier streets, even with trucks). That means the road will need to be widened slightly (mostly 90′, but possibly 100′ at stations.)
Widening this area of West Broadway would not be like widening Penn. Frankly, there aren’t many buildings left to destroy here. If the widening was taken from the north side of the street east of Fremont (there should be just enough room on the block west of Fremont for 90′ with tearing down buildings – the bright side of setbacks), then switch to the south side east of Bryant, there should be room for 90-100′ without tearing down anything except the small cluster west of Emerson.
Joe Gladke, Hennepin County’s Manager of Engineering and Transit Planning, mentioned in a presentation to the Minneapolis TPW Committee that LRT and full BRT was dropped from West Broadway because of business owners’ concern over loss of parking. That’s like being concerned over loss of sand in the Sahara. I did a quick measurement of parking lots in the West Broadway business district and found that 16 of the 64 acres between Girard and 94, 18th and 21st are parking lots – that’s 25% of the gross area! (And that’s not counting the 550 space lot that will be built with MPS’ new headquarters.)
So it’s possible to build reserved-guideway BRT on West Broadway that won’t disrupt traffic and will remove only a handful of businesses. This alignment would go through the heart of North Minneapolis, serving thousands more residents, and present ample opportunities for TOD (see vast parking lot fields above). Based on the cost estimates from the AA – where BRT generally came in at around half the cost of LRT – it would still cost substantially less than the proposed LRT alternatives. That would allow perks like the conversion of the 4th St Viaduct to a combined reversible roadway and two-way busway, which would serve an additional high-density neighborhood and provide a benefit to the express bus network.
The lower cost of BRT would also allow both Brooklyn Park and Maple Grove to serve as termini for the same price, although the AA study didn’t find benefits commensurate to the costs of serving both branches. I stubbornly maintain that if we’re going to spend regional money on a development-inducing transitway, it would benefit the region more to serve existing struggling activity centers like Brooklyn Center rather than provide a further incentive to fringe development. But the other advantage of BRT, apparently unexplored in the Bottineau process, is that multiple routes with vastly different termini can branch out after using the busway, known as Open BRT. So Maple Grove and Brooklyn Park could both be served, even if the guideway continues to Brooklyn Center, as could Plymouth, New Hope, Crystal or even Rogers.
I hope I’m not focusing on BRT because of the recent flak Hiawatha has taken from anti-transit ideologues, who nonetheless have a valid point about how expensive the line is both to build and to operate. Central and likely Southwest serve enough high-density areas that they’re likely to better justify their costs, and since Hiawatha serves major regional destinations like the airport and the MOA it will likely benefit significantly from the network effect of three light rail lines.
Bottineau, on the other hand, doesn’t serve a major regional destination outside of Downtown Minneapolis, so it is unlikely to benefit from a network effect outside of the meager one accounted for in the AA study. The Wirth-Olson alignment serves only one relatively high-density and high-poverty neighborhood – around Van White – and has few potential candidates for redevelopment inside the beltway. It runs through almost three miles of parkland for chrissakes! It just doesn’t make sense to spend a billion dollars on a transitway with that little potential. It’s unlikely my proposal for full BRT on West Broadway will be considered in the DEIS, much less an LRT subway in North Minneapolis, but I hope that BRT stays in the running. I want to believe in LRT for Bottineau, but it looks like BRT is a better option.