Streetcars could come to Minneapolis

A Minneapolis study found trolleys to be a feasible means of public transportation.

McKenna Ewen

Minneapolis could start to look like “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” in coming years.

As part of the Access Minneapolis Plan, a 10-year map for the city’s transportation future, Mayor R.T. Rybak

commissioned a streetcar feasibility study currently in its third and final phase.

The study recommends four different trolley lines, including one that would connect Uptown to Dinkytown.

Charleen Zimmer, city project manager for the streetcar study, said it does not recommend one route over others for the project’s initial line.

The system would cost approximately $25 million per mile, significantly more than buses, but roughly half the cost of the light rail, Zimmer said.

“There’s very little federal or state money available, so the funding must come (primarily) from local and private owners,” she said.

In 2001, Portland, Ore. became the first city in the United States to implement a modern streetcar system similar to that proposed in Minneapolis.

According to the Portland Streetcar Development Oriented Transit report, the system generated $2.28 billion of investment within two blocks of the system, including 7,248 new housing units.

Rybak spokesman Jeremy Hanson said the mayor is excited about the possible economic benefits for areas surrounding the proposed trolley line.

The increased property values in nearby areas could be used as a way to finance the operation, he said.

Hanson also said the new system is not designed to compete with the light rail, but to work with it.

Bob Baker, director of University Parking and Transportation Services, said the prospect of a trolley line is exciting.

“Anything that helps advance transportation options is a good thing,” Baker said. “As with any of these transportation projects, the kicker is always funding.”

He said the idea creates enthusiasm toward public transportation, since most residents and visitors haven’t experienced a trolley ride in Minneapolis. The city’s last streetcar put on its brakes more than 50 years ago.

“It reinforces the whole notion of being different (and) being new,” Baker said about modernized streetcars.

Zimmer said that many people are drawn to trolleys because they are more predictable, offer smoother rides and load much faster than bus transit.

Unlike the light rail, the streetcar system would operate with traffic, meaning it would still be vulnerable to traffic delays.

The streetcars would also be restricted to rail, making them less flexible than buses when facing unexpected events like roadway obstructions, Zimmer said.