Metro Transit conducts survey to analyze transportation options in Mpls.

Streetcars, light rail and bus rapid transit are options for the Midtown Corridor.

by Meritte Dahl


For Minneapolis transportation, history could repeat itself.

Metro Transit is conducting its first study to examine alternative transportation options along Lake Street and the Midtown Greenway, which could mean bringing streetcars back to the city.

Streetcars were a common sight in Minneapolis up until the 1950s, when they were phased out and the idea of their return is growing in popularity, with Mayor R.T. Rybak a prominent backer.

Those working on the study say streetcars are one of the more likely options.

Other alternative transportation possibilities include light rail and two bus options.

Metro Transit’s study will analyze the benefits, costs and impact of the four options on more than four miles of Lake Street and the Midtown Greenway, a bike and walking trail that runs between the Hiawatha light rail and future site of the Southwest light-rail line.

Bus rapid transit or streetcars are likely options for Lake Street, while streetcars or light rail are more realistic options for the greenway, according to project manager Michael Mechtenberg.

“The current bus service on Lake Street can be really slow during peak times and this is a corridor that’s got a high demand,” he said.

Streetcars and bus rapid transit share traffic lanes with other vehicles, he said, while light rail and a dedicated busway — like the University of Minnesota Campus Connector — require their own lanes.

Both bus options are distinct from ordinary city buses, Mechtenberg said. They are faster and have a station and payment structure more similar to light rail.

Two rapid bus lines are currently under construction in Minneapolis.

“A busway on the greenway would work from a technical perspective, but we know that there is not community support for that,” Mechtenberg said.

Soren Jensen, executive director of the Midtown Greenway Coalition, said he is excited about the possibility of streetcars on the Greenway but only if the streetcar track can be embedded in the grass.

“We want to keep the green in the greenway,” Jensen said.

Better public transportation along Lake Street would cut down on congestion, said Madie Fredericks, a University retail merchandising senior.

Fredericks, a sales associate, commutes through heavy traffic to get to My Sisters’ Closet off of Hennepin Avenue.

“There’s a lot of traffic up there but not a lot of parking,” she said.

New public transportation would be beneficial for the greenway but not Lake Street, said Lyn-Lake Business Association member Peggy Schatzlein.

“They have a greenway. They should use it,” she said.

Schatzlein, co-owner of Schatzlein Saddle Shop, said, “The new ideas would be great for the greenway, but it would hurt small businesses — we wouldn’t have Lake Street.”

Mechtenberg said streetcars are one of the more likely options for new, alternative transit.

Streetcars have a rich, long history in Minneapolis, said Metro Transit spokesman John Siqveland.

“The streetcar system that used to run in the Twin Cities was one of the most extensive and well-run in the country,” he said.

Twin City Lines, which started operating streetcars in 1870, later added buses in the mid-19th century before selling to the public sector in 1970 and becoming the forebear to Metro Transit today, Siqveland said.

Today’s streetcars are very different from 100 years ago, Siqveland said.

Contemporary streetcars are a little bit smaller and lighter than light-rail vehicles, Mechtenberg said.

Metro Transit and the Metropolitan Council will decide on a public transit option for the area in early 2014. They will rely on community feedback to make a decision.

The planning and construction that will take place after the study ends will be determined by which mode is chosen, Mechtenberg said.

This study is the first of its kind, Siqveland said, because usually city or county planning agencies conduct them.

The city of Minneapolis is conducting a similar study for a nine-mile stretch along Central and Nicollet avenues.

The city is considering express bus or streetcar service for the area, according to Project Manager Anna Flintoft. The city may also decide not to make any changes, keeping the area’s existing city bus service.

The city is working with the Metropolitan Council and Metro Transit on the project and will come to a decision by this summer.