Minneapolis Circle Line

I have recently been thinking about the backbone transit network of the Twin Cities.

The existing and soon-to-be-built LRT lines (Hiawatha, Central Corridor, Southwest Corridor) all radiate from downtown Minneapolis. The same is true of the one Commuter Rail line.
Examining the proposed Minneapolis Streetcar System one again sees the downtown orientation (aside from the Midtown Greenway Streetcar line).
Most Minneapolitans, do not work downtown. Most do not take shop, entertain themselves, or do other things downtown very often.

Many other cities have adopted Railway loop lines , which circle around downtown at some radius. These cities include Berlin, London, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Glasgow, Madrid, Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo, Osaka, Oslo, Seoul, Chicago, and Moscow. The advantage is that travelers do not need to go all the way into the center to go to a destination on another spoke.
Thinking about network topology in the Minneapolis case, I hypothesize a Minneapolis Circle Line service. There are several objectives in mind
(1) Maximize destinations served outside of downtown.
(2) Minimize construction costs, use existing (or to be built) alignments where possible
(3) Minimize interference from traffic, avoid on-street rights-of-way where possible.
(4) As a service, it can utilize existing tracks but go to different destinations. It separates the requirement that the line and services on the line be identical.
To that end, there are several major sections of the service:
(A) The south-side runs on the proposed Midtown Greenway Streetcar
(B) The west-side runs along the proposed SW LRT right-of-way from the intersection of the Midtown Greenway to Penn Avenue.
(C) The Penn Avenue section runs from the SW LRT Penn Station to Plymouth Avenue
(D) The north-side runs on Plymouth Avenue across the Mississippi River
(E) The northeast section runs through Boom Island park to Main Street/St. Anthony Main. If done as a “Heritage” Transit line, it could add to the qualitative attractions of this largely pedestrian zone.
(F) The southeast section follows from Main Street along the Granary Road right-of-way across the north side of the Gopher Stadium. Part of this is the Northern Alignment from the Central Corridor studies. However it would take advantage of its location and have stops at the new developments in the University Bio-technology corridor.
(G) The east section follows 25th Ave SE south to the railroad right-of-way paralleling and crossing I-94 to 27th Ave.
(H) The section passes through the five-way intersection at Franklin Avenue and East River Road to cross the Mississippi River on the Franklin Avenue Bridge.
(I) The route follows Franklin Avenue to 26th Avenue S, turns south, to meet the Midtown Greenway extended just past the Lake Street Station on the Hiawatha Line.
(*) Some alternative routings have been drawn as well.
The route thus connects Seward, Midtown, Phillips, Uptown, Lake Calhoun, Kenwood, Bassetts Creek, Harrison,Sumner-Glenwood, Near North, North Loop, East Hennepin, St. Anthony Main and Nicollet Island, Marcy-Holmes, Dinkytown,the University of Minnesota, Stadium Village, and Prospect Park, and Cedar- Riverside.

I have not tested this hypothesis in terms of potential travel demand. I do not have a perfect routing that inherently beats all others, it is a question of trade-offs and values. However the notion of non-radial services needs to be raised as the Twin Cities go forth on the biggest rail construction boom since the 19th century.

4 thoughts on “Minneapolis Circle Line

  1. There seems to be little involvement of Northeast in this proposed plan. Would a route be possible that could better incorporate that region of the city?


  2. Some considerations leaning against a circle line:
    – Unless downtown transit stations are so packed you can’t get a train, it’s more efficient to change lines downtown (only one change) versus taking the circle line to bypass downtown (two changes). Remember that half your time on mass transit is spent waiting at the station!
    – A similar disadvantage applies to non-transfer stations: by definition, if your station is on a loop line you’ll have to transfer to get downtown, and you’ll still have to transfer if your destination is on any radial line.
    – Even though downtown is a small proportion of employment, shopping, etc., it’s also the most concentrated area of all these, and the area where traffic and parking make transit most competitive. Not everyone wants to go downtown, but the ones who don’t, don’t have the same destinations in mind (and they’re more likely to drive there anyway).
    – Circle lines are worse sites for park-and-ride, city bus terminals, and other multimodal connectors because they’re in more-developed areas that are already partly served by transit.
    – And since they’re in more developed areas, circle lines cost somewhat more per mile.
    My sense is that a circle line would not be of any real use to Minneapolis until its transit system reached Boston- or Chicago-level usage, which is so far into the future as not even to be worth funded planning.
    – By the way: Looking at your Wikipedia index, many of those examples are not circle lines so much as downtown circulators, staying well within the central business district. (Think of the Loop in downtown Chicago.) This doesn’t invalidate your point, of course.


  3. It depends on where you are going (and frequency of service) as to where you should change lines. Imagine the city as a unit circle, and you are on the x-axis (0 degrees). So if you are traveling 180 degrees, you should change in the middle (assuming limited congestion), but if you are traveling less than 90 degrees, you would be better off not going all the way to the center, but instead taking a circle line. The exact answer of which route is more efficient depends on the radius of origin and destination, the radius of the circle, the frequency of service, and the congestion in downtown.
    I am not advocating circles in the absence of radials (that would not make much sense), but I think once a basic radial network is built, a circle may be more useful than yet another radial line.
    Two major sections of the circle line for Minneapolis are already considered potential transit lines (the Midtown Greenway and the University Avenue streetcar line which I moved to the old “Northern Alignment” of the Central Corridor and followed readily used right-of-way).
    Downtown Minneapolis claims upwards of 40% peak hour transit mode share for work trips, and the area for the Circle line were once well served by streetcars (and are now served by for our area relatively frequent bus service), and have land use densities that are supportive of transit service, so I don’t think some imagination is unreasonable.
    Should it be built? I don’t know.
    Should it be examined, and the conditions under which it should be built ascertained? Yes.


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