One Weird (also Free) Trick to Improve Transit in the North Loop
I’ve got pretty high hopes for the North Loop neighborhood of Minneapolis. Washington Avenue is too wide and the bike lanes are always blocked, but there are no skyways, so there’s an emerging retail scene that sure beats anything in the rest of downtown. Along with the stores and bars and restaurants, there are thousands of new office jobs in new buildings and renovated warehouses. There are a few new hotels and a few more under construction. Overall, it feels like a much stronger market than the central business district along Nicollet Mall or Hennepin Avenue.
Along with all the new jobs and activities, a lot of people have moved in, to live there. There were only a few hundred people in the area a few decades ago, now it’s probably around 7,000. It’s got over twenty times more residents than the entire town of North Loup, Nebraska.
And along with the new residents that moved in along with the new jobs and activities, we have started to hear about an alleged parking crunch. I tend to take almost all parking complaints with a tremendous grain of salt, but considering it was pretty easy and cheap/free to park on the street in the area not too long ago, the news that you may now need to pay $2 and walk a block could be a shock.
Multiple new public parking ramps have been built or are under construction. There was a whole thing with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis wanting to build themselves a new 800 space parking ramp that luckily appears to have been shelved—it was pretty ugly and bad for the environment, etc.
Though if we’re concerned about residents, workers, and visitors getting to the North Loop easily, one thing that we could do, if we wanted to, is make the transit service to and from the North Loop a bit easier and simpler to use.
Right now, it’s basically served by two local bus routes: the 7 and the 14. Both pass through the North Loop midway through their overall routes, with the 7 mostly going down 1st Street and the 14 going down Washington Avenue, two blocks over. Their frequency isn’t terrible, but it’s not great either. The 7 comes about every 20 to 30 minutes during rush hour, and the 14 is closer to every 15 minutes.
So one thing we could do—and bear with me here—is we could move the 7 to Washington Avenue?
I checked with an engineer who did not throw in the towel after Algebra II, and this would potentially increase bus frequency for people going downtown to about every ten minutes along a single stretch.
Which is actually kind of significant? If you’re trying to do a simple trip like this, I don’t know that you’re really poring over the giant paper bus schedules to try and figure out if your bus comes at 8:42 or 8:47. You maybe just want to know that if you go wait at the bus stop at 9th & Washington, a bus is going to come in less than ten minutes, and you’ll be downtown three or four minutes after that.
Likewise, for people who currently live or work closer to 1st Avenue, isn’t walking an extra block or two well worth a bus coming two or three times as often?
Right now, you may be thinking, Nick, didn’t you make fun of car drivers for not wanting to walk a block a few paragraphs up?
It’s not really the same thing. Bus schedules vary throughout the day, and they’re slightly off schedule enough that if you’re taking a bus (that started in Robbinsdale) from the North Loop to Nicollet Mall, psychologically, that approximate frequency is probably more important than walking the block to your specific bus stop where, theoretically, a bus is coming at precisely 8:42 AM CST.
The route of both buses through downtown is also sort of baffling?
There may be some kind operational reason (I would guess to switch drivers) the 14 goes through the B ramp, but both of my emails to Metro Transit to ask about it were unanswered. Technically, I’m a pain in the ass, so that’s fair, but I don’t see why you wouldn’t consolidate these onto the same east-west pair, or even keep both of them on Washington Avenue all the way through the Mill District? The Mill District has the same “thousands of new people and crummy bus options” situation.
It’s about a 20 minute walk from the top of the North Loop to Nicollet Mall, and then potentially another five or ten minutes depending on where you’re going to or coming from downtown. On a sunny day when you’re not in a hurry, it’s a nice walk. As a commute, it’s probably not something a lot of people are going to do every day. I know at least one person who drives a car to their downtown job from their condo in the North Loop.
This is one of the lowest-hanging fruits I can think of in our whole transit system—simplifying a trip at basically zero (some signs) cost and making the system more usable to thousands of people. Given the types of folks who live in the North Loop (and the Mill District) they’d probably be new customers. Can we do it?