Last week the Transportationist noted and reposted the Comprehensive LRT System Plan for Hennepin County, a 1988 vintage addition to the Twin Cities’ sky-high stack of written-and-forgotten plans. This particular collection of fantastical fireplace fuel was posted on the official site for the Southwest Transitway, presumably to display their staff’s inability to use a scanner (a deficit I share as you’ll shortly see). The Transportationist concluded his post with a call for a map of the routes planned in the “1970s ‘Regional Fixed Guideway Study'”.
At last an opportunity to share the fruit of my many hours of sequestration in the Minneapolis Stewart L. Central Library! I’m not sure if I have exactly the map he’s looking for, but I do have a few items that likely will be of interest. The first comes from Rail Rapid Transit, a report produced by Vorhees & Associates for the MTC in 1969.
The other is the Fast Link System, which I got from a doc called Fast Link Rail-Rapid Transit for Minneapolis, produced in 1972 by Don Fraser’s City Coordinator IIRC in a desperate effort to influence the Met Council and the Legislature (aka the decision-makers) to choose a transit policy that would actually benefit the city.
I believe, based on the references I’ve stumbled on occasionally, that the Fast Link plan was the one that had the most support, as opposed to the Vorhees plan. It’s kind of hard to tell based on the scan that I made a few minutes before the library closed, but most of the Fast Link plan was proposed to be subway, with a few aerial segments. As the 70s slithered on, this plan seems to have evolved into an option that had PRT-like segments through the downtowns and at the University, and curiously split into two one-way segments in St Paul, one of which was proposed for University and the other for I-94. This iteration appeared in the Met Council’s 1975 Automated Small Vehicle Fixed Guideway Report along with a more traditional subway plan.
I have to admit that I didn’t have a chance to read through this one in detail, so I’m not sure if these were plans that were being seriously advocated for or if they were merely sacrificial lambs. This is the report that set high-quality transit back for decades in Minnesota, as it was forwarded by the Met Council to the Legislature, which promptly banned the study of fixed guideway rail transit (as will be seen later). These rail plans were compared with the Met Council’s adopted transit policy, which favored a network express buses with possible people mover systems in the downtowns. According to the report, the rail plans would somehow not have serviced non-downtown locations as well as express buses, and the non-PRT plan wouldn’t even have served the downtowns well. 35 years later we know what hooey that was, as anyone who’s attempted to take one of the routes in today’s highly developed express bus network anywhere besides Downtown Minneapolis or Downtown St Paul. But I concede it’s possible that at the time they really didn’t know that people would be willing to walk a bit further in exchange for reliable, fast, frequent transit, just as they didn’t know that gently suggesting that cities not allow non-sewered large-lot development wouldn’t contain sprawl. On the other hand, the apparent lack of effort to develop a true bidirectional express bus network for the next three decades is also compelling evidence that this “Report” was utter bullshit, designed to funnel state money into highways.
Anyway, my sense is that by this point transit advocates were feeling a sense of panic and despair comparable to that I imagine is currently being felt by the GOP, at least at the MN level. This can be gleaned from the timeline provided in the 1988 Hennepin County LRT plan, which I would really love to have been able to just copy and paste:
Planning for a variety of fixed guideway transit systems has proceeded almost continuously in the Twin Cities since the late 1960s. [Here I would have added “to little or no effect.” -Alex] Some of the major events of that history include:
- MTC sponsored analyses of various technologies, early 1970s
- MTC – Small Vehicle Study, 1974
- Minnesota Legislature prohibition of fixed rail planning, 1975 [! -Alex]
- University of Minnesota Transitway, 1976
- St. Paul Downtown People Mover, 1976-1980
- Minnesota Legislature lifts prohibition of fixed rail planning, 1980
- Light Rail Transit Feasibility Study, 1981
- Hiawatha Avenue Location and Design Study – EIS, 1979-1984
- I-394 High Occupancy Vehicle Roadway, 1982
- University/Southwest Alternatives Analysis, 1985 (draft)
- Metropolitan Council/RTB identify LRT as preferred mode in University, Southwest and Hiawatha Corridors; University is the priority corridor
- LRT Implementation Planning Program, April 1985
- Minnesota Legislature prohibition of fixed guideway planning, 1985 [This is not an accidental duplication – it apparently happened again. How did this get past Perpich? – Alex]
- Transit Service Needs Assessment, Regional Transit Board, 1986
- A Study of Potential Transit Capital Investments in Twin Cities Corridors – Long-Range Transit Analysis, Metropolitan Council, December 1986
- Minnesota Legislature lifts prohibition of fixed guideway planning, 1987
- Comprehensive LRT System Planning for Hennepin County, 1988
So next time you’re feeling proud of Minnesota’s history of relatively sane governance, remember that the Legislature managed to interfere in what should be a technical decision not once but twice. And lest you think that these poxes on transit are just a product of overreach by Republicans on the rare occasion that they gain complete power, the 1975 Legislature was overwhelmingly DFL, and Wendy Anderson of St Paul was in the Governor’s Mansion. Of course, in 1975 it wasn’t necessarily an anti-transit attitude that was prevalent; more likely it was a misunderstanding of the nature of urban systems masqueraded as futurism in the form of People Movers and PRT. This same Legislature, after all, further empowered the Met Council, which itself is a culmination of the suburban experiment – the failed idea of the Broadacre City, made more palatable in its rationalization of the overdelivery of infrastructure that’s inherent in such an individualistic urban form.
Anyway, in the above timeline is included the 1981 LRT Feasibility Study, which was produced by an apparently repentant (or possibly begrudging) Met Council. This is available in a form that patrons of the Stewart J. Central Library can check out, which I did last summer, resulting in these atrocious scans:
And a summary sheet indicating that the fully built LRT system (including a Northwest line, which I didn’t scan for some reason but was probably pretty similar to the Bottineau LPA) would serve 32,900 more weekday passengers than an existing or minimally improved system, and would actually turn an operating profit of $4.8m a year.
With that, I’ll close the vault for now. If you liked these and want more, don’t worry – I spend a lot of time at the library, and unlike our transit system, the archive of old transit studies is almost limitless.