The selling of a modern streetcar line along the Riverview Corridor continues, with citizen working groups deployed to justify the concept of sleek, futuristic streetcars plying West Seventh Street between downtown Saint Paul, Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport and the Mall of America. In doing so, we are told, the streetcars will fulfill their purpose to enhance transit mobility and accessibility and promote economic development.

However, it stretches credulity to conclude that a 17 mph streetcar that runs slower and with fewer stops than the current Riverview Corridor bus line will enhance mobility. Or how a slower streetcar, with no effective connections to the broader regional light-rail network, will create more destination opportunities for riders. Throw in the obvious impairment to existing vehicle and pedestrian traffic with streetcar tracks running down the middle of West Seventh, and the modern streetcar simply fails to deliver.

To effectively leverage the West End neighborhood’s location, the Riverview Corridor needs to reach deeper into the regional transit network by using the adjacent Canadian Pacific Railway spur and employing a two-way wye junction where Riverview meets the Blue Line in South Minneapolis.

What is needed instead is a two-tiered approach to River Corridor transit that preserves West Seventh for conventional, locally oriented bus service and deploys more efficient light-rail transit safely off of West Seventh. To effectively leverage the West End neighborhood’s location, the Riverview Corridor needs to reach deeper into the regional transit network by using the adjacent Canadian Pacific Railway spur and employing a two-way wye junction where Riverview meets the Blue Line in South Minneapolis.

   

The CP Rail spur is an abandoned freight railroad that runs parallel to West Seventh between Saint Clair Avenue and Sibley Plaza, then turns west for another mile to the Highland Bridge site. The spur can support safe, unimpeded, 30-plus mph speeds, which are common to most light-rail lines in the U.S. and 10 mph faster than a modern streetcar on West Seventh. The spur runs close enough to West Seventh to be convenient for that street’s higher-density developments near Randolph, I-35E and Sibley Plaza. In fact, roughly 70 percent of those living or working within a quarter mile of West Seventh would be able to walk to a light-rail station on the CP Rail spur even if those stations were over a mile apart.

With higher light-rail speeds and convenient station access along the CP Rail spur, the trip between the West End and MSP International Airport would be at least three minutes faster than anything running strictly on West Seventh. That is nice, especially if the light-rail route extends to Highland Bridge, but not nice enough to justify a $2 billion price tag.

A two-way junction with the light-rail Blue Line

Enter the Blue Line wye. While the proposed modern streetcar track configuration would force all service from Saint Paul to go southwest to the airport and beyond, a two-way wye connection with the Blue Line near Fort Snelling would enable every other Riverview train to go northwest toward downtown Minneapolis at 30 mph light-rail speeds. That would save West End riders heading to downtown Minneapolis nearly 15 minutes versus a Riverview streetcar to Blue Line transfer—or nearly a half hour roundtrip. That is serious mobility.

 

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An effective light-rail-transit option that reaches past Minneapolis into the western suburbs to attract workers, customers and visitors can only accelerate the residential and commercial development around those West Seventh locales that are anchored by light-rail stations.

Something similar is happening now along the Green Line’s SWLRT extension, a 30 mph light-rail line that will serve the western suburbs over tracks much like the CP Rail spur. From a highly touted multi-purpose development near a planned station in Hopkins, light-rail riders will be 20 minutes from downtown Minneapolis and 48 minutes from MSP Airport.

That is nice for Hopkins, but Riverview Transit riders would have it even nicer with a Blue Line wye. West End stations would be just as close to downtown Minneapolis, but much closer to MSP and as close or closer to at least 70 percent of the stations on the eventual regional light-rail network.

— Jerome Johson

Jerome Johnson is a retired transportation economist and resident of the Summit Hill neighborhood. He is affiliated with Citizen Advocates for Regional Transit.

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