The train that was a bus


Saint Paul’s Green Line-the Central Corridor. It cruises down University Avenue at a remarkable 45 MPH at its fastest speed. It has got the speed of a llama and the heart of a lion! – well, maybe it has the heart. By comparison, the speed of the Blue Line that runs between Downtown Minneapolis and the Mall of America is 55 mph in many spots along Hiawatha Avenue and 60 mph through the airport tunnel. You can get from Target Field to MOA and vice versa in less than 30 minutes. You’re lucky to make the trip in 55 minutes between Target Field and Downtown Saint Paul, even though the actual distance of the Green Line is about two miles less than the total distance of the Blue Line. That’s OK, though. There’s plenty of places to park your car along the Green Line, right?

Eeh! – wrong answer! There is a grand total of ZERO park and rides along Metro Transit’s Green Line. The Blue Line has two giant park and rides at 28th Avenue Station in Bloomington and Fort Snelling Station just north of the airport. Although MOA isn’t technically a park and ride commuters could park there without much fear of being ticketed. The point I’m trying to make here is the Blue Line has ample parking spaces for commuters. How about the Green Line? Not so much. Not at all, actually.

The Green Line serves its purpose-primarily as a BUS line. It simply does exactly what the 16 Line used to do and, wait a minute-still does! I asked a veteran bus driver yesterday how often the 16 bus runs in a normal weekday. He told me about every 15-20 minutes! He also said it has become a route that’s sought after by high seniority drivers since it’s-drum roll please-not very busy anymore. Imagine that. It’s funny that Metro Transit has concluded that a three car train that runs every 10 minutes (each train has the capacity of almost 100 passengers and more can be crammed in if necessary) still can’t fully serve all of the passengers along the University corridor. Or maybe some of the passengers prefer a smelly cramped bus to a clean and comfortable new train. You never can quite figure out human nature.

Not surprsingly the Green Line hasn’t been a hit with suburban commuters (very much the opposite of the Blue Line). For the last several months I was commuting along I-94 to a few schools in the Midway area. From my own amateur observations the Green Line hasn’t solved the problem of interstate congestion in any substantial way or, more honestly, in any way at all. Traffic seems to get worse and worse all the time. I blame all those commuters from Woodbury who don’t have the good sense to drive to a bus park and ride, ride the first bus for 20 minutes to a transfer point, wait 15 minutes for the second bus, ride the second bus for 40 minutes, and then wait 5-10 minutes for a Green Line Train in Downtown Saint Paul. What could be easier?

A confusing and inconvenient system is why many suburbanites have refused to EVER set foot on a public bus, much less to ever have to TRANSFER from one bus to another-how awful! Well, given the admittedly slightly exaggerated example above I guess you can’t really blame them. I haven’t ridden the bus in years myself (and I used to work for Metro Transit) precisely because of its inaccessibility to those people who live five miles or more from the city (I literally live five miles from Downtown Saint Paul).

Evidently the Metropolitan Council didn’t learn from the success of the Blue Line-“if you build it [parking lots] they will come”, to borrow a line from Field of Dreams. More and more commuters opt to park in Bloomington or Fort Snelling or take a rapid transit bus line from the southern suburbs and ride the train into Downtown Minneapolis every year. I wish I could say the same will be true for the Green Line but if Metro Transit doesn’t accommodate those commuters and would-be passengers by building those parking lots that have proven so important to the growth of the Blue Line’s ridership then I don’t see how that will be possible. If the parking lots aren’t built then an extra lane or two on I-94 would be more beneficial to easing the painful congestion problem on that major artery. To get an idea how bad it is when I leave my house in South Saint Paul at 7:30 in the morning I wouldn’t get to work 9 miles away two blocks off of Hamline and Thomas until 8:05 or 8:10. Clearly, the Green Line hasn’t reduced the amount of traffic I was stuck in (I was recently assigned to a different school in a different part of Saint Paul, so, fortunately, I don’t have to drive that route anymore).

As for the Green Line, it has done wonders for passengers going to or near the University of Minnesota. That’s because of simple math: a train can carry more passengers than a bus. I thought the railroad should have run north of University Avenue in Saint Paul-say near Energy Park Drive-for much of it’s middle route before coming close to Highway 280 in the western portion of the line and the capitol in the eastern portion of the line. If that had been done the travel time would have been significantly reduced between the downtowns and there more than likely would have been at least one park and ride built along the line. It also would have made a lot more sense to build a loop in Downtown Saint Paul that circled the Xcel Energy Center-even if trains didn’t always run by the center. Now passengers will have to walk or hop a bus six blocks from Cedar Avenue to the Xcel Center on a balmy -25 degree January night. Unfortunately, the Metropolican Council leadership never consulted me before the Green Line was built.

Time will tell how successful the Green Line ends up being. The third line-the Southwest Line-should be more on par with the original Blue Line (that I worked at for 4 1/2 years!) in that infrastructure exists and will be built that is attractive to suburban commuters. For a Metropolitan region that took 25 years to get it’s first modern light rail line up and running I guess to have another success open 17 years after the Blue Line debuted (I think the plan is for the Southwest Line to be finished in 2021) is progress. After all, public transportation growth in the Twin Cities is measured in decades rather than years.