Not the final fantasy

When I started this blog on an insomniac night many months ago, one of my goals was to use it as a showcase for my planning ideas, which I vainly believe to be valuable.  I noticed when writing the entry on my proposal for an 8th St Transit Mall, though, that I haven’t yet written any posts about my ideas.  Maybe the biggest reasons is that I don’t have any good illustration software, but I just got visio so maybe things will improve in that realm.

Anyway, to start off the new year with one of my ideas, I thought I’d dust off an old one:  a fantasy Twin Cities rail rapid transit system.  I believe I started working on this in 2007 or so.  You can see from the overview how ambitious it is:

It is hard to imagine a justification for rail transit much outside the beltway, where residential and employment density is so low that it doesn’t even justify freeways (not that you need justification to build a freeway in the US; our local example being the Carol Molnau Highway).  But I had light rail going to Anoka, Burnsville, Apple Valley, and White Bear Lake.  In some ways, they’re mostly logical termini:  Anoka is pretty high-density, both in population and employment, Burnsville Center is a big employment center, and White Bear Lake is only a couple miles past Maplewood Mall and relatively dense.  Unfortunately they’re all surrounded by many miles of very low-density suburban areas, which really would only justify light rail where right-of-way is very cheap (which actually might be the case with the purple line through Coon Rapids to Anoka, which I routed along the rail line that carries the Northstar line).  And honestly, the one I’d most like to see is the one that is the least justifiable, the extension of Hiawatha to the Minnesota Zoo:

I just think that a facility like a zoo with such a big public benefit should be accessible via quality public transit – but that could take the form of BRT instead, maybe through a branch of Cedar BRT.  Certainly any light rail should use the herky-jerky route I created here; instead Cedar Ave is an available and more linear right-of-way.  And I routed it over the old Cedar Bridge over the Minnesota!  Well it is a fantasy system – it would be cool if the bridge could be rebuilt for LRT, but probably very expensive.

My fantasy system is even ambitious in Downtown Minneapolis – an area that certainly justifies large rail transit infrastructure investments, but maybe not as large as my system would require:

One of my pet peeves about the Hiawatha train is that the segment that deserves the best ride actually has the worst: the train is often slower than the bus downtown, and how can you really justify building Nicollet and Hennepin stations a block apart, instead of one station between the two streets?  My system would consolidate those stations, although I left it at-grade (probably unintentionally).  I’ve since learned some detriments to circle lines, but I was pretty proud of this one, particularly because it would use mostly existing right-of-ways, but also because it would link some of the highest-density neighborhoods.  The other good thing about this fantasy system is the routing of the Central Corridor extension (which I would send through to the 394 corridor) allowing for a stop at 8th and Nicollet, the core of the CBD.  In hindsight, it might make more sense to route the Hiawatha through this station rather than cut a separate tunnel for it.

St Paul has a pretty cool feature:  a circle line built into the routes that run through it.  The trains would run at the foot of the bluff, making for what I think would be a really cool ride, but might require stations (I only have one at Wabasha here but I’d think you could put one at Robert too) with very expensive elevators  and might be thought of as inconvenient.  One plus to a circle line here is it provides a station to the Capitol East complex, cutting out the zig-zag alignment planned for Central LRT.  Don’t ask me why I didn’t put a station at the capitol – it’s all the way out at Marion, I guess to provide easy access to that space-fortress McDonald’s.  Another oversight: no stations at Victoria or Western, which will probably see a lot of growth once the train goes through, despite St Paul’s failure to increase allowable density there.

The award for Most Questionable Segment probably goes to this route through New Brighton, which runs through a very low density area and follows a serpentine path that includes several fantastically sharp turns.  I think I was trying to increase the connectivity of the system and facilitate suburb-to-suburb movements, but this segment probably couldn’t even be built, much less attract riders.

I’m not sure what exactly I was thinking about here in terms of technology – certainly a fantasy system would use higher-capacity heavy rail, but it’s conceivable that the system could use light rail with some longer trains (if this is possible).  I think that some segments could be operated as BRT, specifically the purple line along 35W and the blue line along 394, but the idea of a fantasy is that lots of people would be using this and the capacity of BRT would be overwhelmed.  Also intrinsic to this particular fantasy is an increase in density throughout the city.

As I point out many of the failures of this fantasy, you may have guessed that I’ve replaced it with a new fantasy.  My ideal rail rapid transit system is constantly under revision, of course, but maybe I’ll post the latest version one of these days.



2 comments on “Not the final fantasy

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