Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Roads - Rails - Sidewalks - Bikeways
Multimodal
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Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby Multimodal » April 21st, 2020, 9:58 am

BoredAgain wrote:
April 20th, 2020, 3:05 pm
Multimodal wrote:
April 20th, 2020, 2:01 pm
... but dense areas like this that literally used to be streetcars deserve to have rail here.
Multimodal wrote:
April 20th, 2020, 2:01 pm
Rail is forever...
I know what you were trying to get at, but I just loved the juxtaposition of these two statements within the same paragraph.
Ha, yes, it is funny. As you know, that was a mode shift to very low efficiency that I hope we will never do again.

tmart
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Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby tmart » April 21st, 2020, 11:52 am

alexschief wrote:
April 21st, 2020, 7:21 am
Let's try to be clear about terms. If it runs entirely in an exclusive right-of-way, it's light rail, not a streetcar.
Tbh the terms themselves aren't that clear. There's a spectrum from the most "streetcar-like" (runs in mixed-traffic; small, single-car vehicles; street- or curb-level step-up boarding; on-board fare payment; bus stop-style signage/stops; frequent stops; may run in a loop or parallel streets configuration; etc.) to "light rail-like" (runs at street level in curb-separated corridors; longer, larger trains; level boarding platforms; station-like shelters and amenities; stops every 1/2-to-1 mile; fare payment at kiosks; etc.) to "metro-like" (grade-separated; very long trains; underground or building-like stations; turnstiles; high speeds; etc.).

Very few transit systems fit neatly into one of those categories. The Blue Line has quite a bit of grade separation including elevated and underground stations. The Green Line has key stretches that run at low speeds with no physical separation from private traffic, about half-mile stop spacing for much of its run, and lots of grade crossings. And yet we call both of these "light rail."

An even better example of how foggy this all is is San Francisco: there are MUNI lines that run as streetcars on one end (shared lanes, step-up boarding, on-board fare payment, some of the "stops" are even just signs painted on light poles!) and metro on the other (fully underground tracks, subway-style platforms, turnstiles at entry).

The reason this matters in this context is that we've never actually built a "streetcar" by that name in MN and IMO it has never been clearly communicated what the various "streetcar" projects proposed in MN intend to be, and how they would differ from the "light rail" projects we have.

Based on the 2014 Environmental Assessment, the Nicollet-Central streetcar looks like a bad project. It's throwing LRT amounts of money at marginally-better-than-bus service. But we haven't heard anything much about the project or the current administration's feelings about it in 5 years. If the city decided to take all the funds (accrued and future) that state law says they're allowed to use for a "streetcar in the Nicollet-Central corridor" and pour them into a "streetcar" that smells a lot like LRT (mostly/entirely dedicated lanes, same vehicles as the Blue/Green lines in 2-3 car configurations, limited stops, level boarding, etc.) then it becomes a much better project.

DanPatchToget
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Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby DanPatchToget » April 21st, 2020, 12:07 pm

alexschief wrote:
April 21st, 2020, 7:21 am
Multimodal wrote:
April 20th, 2020, 2:01 pm
Tcmetro wrote:
February 28th, 2020, 3:17 pm
Most other US streetcars suck because they implement little or no priority measures, operate in cities that have weak transit systems, and circulate low-population downtown areas. The Nicollet-Central streetcar as currently envisionsed is too short to be successful, but a longer one would take the bulk of current bus rides.

Arterial BRT is nice, but it's not revolutionary. It adds fancy bus stops and prepayment and a simpler service pattern.

If we go with streetcar, it should be a proper one. The true analysis should be between a proper streetcar and a real BRT. These would be much more transformative than either arterial BRT or a mixed-traffic streetcar.
I agree with Tcmetro and Tmart that we need a proper streetcar, one that is protected from cars.
Let's try to be clear about terms. If it runs entirely in an exclusive right-of-way, it's light rail, not a streetcar.
Multimodal wrote:
April 20th, 2020, 2:01 pm
Why have we given up so easily on rail? We need to push harder, not kowtow (or worse, actually believe) the whims of people in the pocket of big oil who are trying to destroy transit.
Nobody has given up on rail. But that's not the same as pushing for rail when it doesn't make sense to do so. In an ideal world, the Nicollet-Central corridor would be served by subway. But nobody is pushing for this, because it is obvious that the monetary and political costs are prohibitive.

Does it then follow that a streetcar is the best option? Not necessarily. Because again, we need to talk about costs and benefits. What are the benefits to a streetcar and how do they compare to the benefits of aBRT? What are the costs of a streetcar and how do they compare to aBRT?

I've ridden streetcars in six US cities. I'd rank the experience as basically identical to the A or the C Lines. But if for some reason, you really enjoy a streetcar, what kind of premium would you put on the experience? Is it twice as nice as aBRT? Is it three times as nice? Because even if you come to that conclusion, you need to reconcile it with the fact that aBRT's costs are, (just taking a quick look at figures from Google) about ten to twenty times lower per route mile than a streetcar.

Streetcars are bad not because they are awful products on their own, they are bad because the are terrible value. You could build ten to twenty times as much high frequency transit (with the added bonus of being more resilient to changes like road closures, accidents and blockages), if you spent your money on aBRT.
Just to add more murkiness to rail modes, where’s the line between light rail and subway? To me a subway is fully grade-separated, typically long trains (5-10 cars), and heavy frequency throughout the day (every 2-5 minutes though a few American subways have less frequency than that).

If we really want light rail on the Nicollet-Central Corridor there will need to be grade-separation for a large portion of the route. We’ll see what happens with West 7th and Riverview LRT but I think after that there won’t be enough political and public willingness for another light rail line on a major urban arterial, and for a Nicollet-Central LRT that would mean a lot of tunneling and perhaps operating in the 35W trench through South Minneapolis.

tmart
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Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby tmart » April 21st, 2020, 12:18 pm

DanPatchToget wrote:
April 21st, 2020, 12:07 pm
If we really want light rail on the Nicollet-Central Corridor there will need to be grade-separation for a large portion of the route. We’ll see what happens with West 7th and Riverview LRT but I think after that there won’t be enough political and public willingness for another light rail line on a major urban arterial, and for a Nicollet-Central LRT that would mean a lot of tunneling and perhaps operating in the 35W trench through South Minneapolis.
I would strongly support LRT that ran along 35W from 494 to Lake with a few more stops than the Orange Line BRT, and then in a tunnel under Nicollet from Lake to the river (and possibly across). If the State Leg hadn't rammed through the Orange Line as a mediocre bus project, I think that's roughly what a competent planning process probably would've recommended for the corridor. The city's now in a really awkward position where in theory the right corridor for this is not at-grade on Nicollet, but in practice it's clear that the state/Metro Transit has no interest in serving South Central Minneapolis in any significant way, the city has money for a Nicollet Streetcar, and they have to decide how to reorient things along Nicollet as an arterial with the Lake St. reopening looming.

alexschief
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Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby alexschief » April 22nd, 2020, 2:22 pm

Multimodal wrote:
April 21st, 2020, 9:57 am
I see your point, Alex, but it’s not always just about logic and money.

I was just watching the movie “Why We Cycle”, and a really funny thing stuck out. A city put in all these nice, logical, wide, comfortable bikeways, but they found people still rode their bikes through the city on more dangerous congested streets. Why? Because we’re human. We want connection, to see activity, to do errands or meet friends by chance on the way to something else.

Yes, BRT is efficient & cheap. But people ride rail and businesses pop up along rail, more than along busways.
Sorry, but "that's just the way it is" isn't an argument, it's just handwaving. I can't speak to the anecdote from the movie, but I'm not sure that I understand how it relates to aBRT versus streetcar. If anything, it would seem to support the opposite conclusion; that people prefer to take routes that are efficient and functional, versus elaborate and non-functional. Your suggestion that rail is inherently conducive to more ridership and development may be self-evident to you, but it is not proven by literature on this subject.
tmart wrote:
April 21st, 2020, 11:52 am
alexschief wrote:
April 21st, 2020, 7:21 am
Let's try to be clear about terms. If it runs entirely in an exclusive right-of-way, it's light rail, not a streetcar.
Tbh the terms themselves aren't that clear. There's a spectrum from the most "streetcar-like" (runs in mixed-traffic; small, single-car vehicles; street- or curb-level step-up boarding; on-board fare payment; bus stop-style signage/stops; frequent stops; may run in a loop or parallel streets configuration; etc.) to "light rail-like" (runs at street level in curb-separated corridors; longer, larger trains; level boarding platforms; station-like shelters and amenities; stops every 1/2-to-1 mile; fare payment at kiosks; etc.) to "metro-like" (grade-separated; very long trains; underground or building-like stations; turnstiles; high speeds; etc.).
I do not disagree with this, and that is why I would prefer to be as precise as possible with terms. Because the distinction between dedicated ROW and non-dedicated ROW is one of the most important that exists for any transit service, it's a natural place to draw a line. It is true that San Francisco, Boston, and Philadelphia have subway-surface systems that are hybrids, but that's not what's being discussed for Nicollet, and so I don't think we need to discuss them much. In the MSP context, streetcar means mixed traffic ROW and light rail means exclusive ROW with some grade crossings.
tmart wrote:
April 21st, 2020, 11:52 am
Based on the 2014 Environmental Assessment, the Nicollet-Central streetcar looks like a bad project. It's throwing LRT amounts of money at marginally-better-than-bus service. But we haven't heard anything much about the project or the current administration's feelings about it in 5 years. If the city decided to take all the funds (accrued and future) that state law says they're allowed to use for a "streetcar in the Nicollet-Central corridor" and pour them into a "streetcar" that smells a lot like LRT (mostly/entirely dedicated lanes, same vehicles as the Blue/Green lines in 2-3 car configurations, limited stops, level boarding, etc.) then it becomes a much better project.
If there is some kind of groundswell for changing the type of project being proposed, then I hope that it becomes public quickly. It is not so easy to make significant changes to a major infrastructure project, especially if it requires going back to the beginning and adjusting the Purpose and Need. Even if this rosy scenario were to come about, it would likely mean several more years worth of delay for this project, during which an entire aBRT line could be up and running (and building ridership for a bigger investment in the future.

But also, while it's nice to think about ways to improve the project, we need to respond to what is currently on the table and not what might someday happen. Proponents of the Riverview Rail project have used the argument before that the project should be allowed to proceed and there will be opportunities to make it less problematic in the future. Possibly, but it's much easier to keep a project on the right track from the start than to get it back on track after it has been derailed. Mistakes made early on in a project gain interia over time and become difficult to undo. The Nicollet-Central streetcar proposal, as currently envisioned, is bad. We should have no problem saying this openly. It should be killed as soon as possible to allow for aBRT planning to begin in earnest.

Mdcastle
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Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby Mdcastle » April 22nd, 2020, 9:14 pm

Actually a competent planning process did recommend LRT down I-35W, the 1992 DEIS for I-35W from Washington Ave to I-35E. That ship has sailed now that between I-494 and downtown isn't going to need rebuilding for another 50 years.

tmart
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Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby tmart » April 23rd, 2020, 10:01 am

alexschief wrote:
April 22nd, 2020, 2:22 pm
I do not disagree with this, and that is why I would prefer to be as precise as possible with terms. Because the distinction between dedicated ROW and non-dedicated ROW is one of the most important that exists for any transit service, it's a natural place to draw a line. It is true that San Francisco, Boston, and Philadelphia have subway-surface systems that are hybrids, but that's not what's being discussed for Nicollet, and so I don't think we need to discuss them much. In the MSP context, streetcar means mixed traffic ROW and light rail means exclusive ROW with some grade crossings.
Right now the Twin Cities have nothing on the ground called a streetcar, but there are three proposed "streetcar" projects. One of them is entirely grade-separated, one of them is mostly dedicated lanes and interlines with LRT, and one of them is mixed-traffic. I don't think the distinction you're drawing is accurate.
If there is some kind of groundswell for changing the type of project being proposed, then I hope that it becomes public quickly. It is not so easy to make significant changes to a major infrastructure project, especially if it requires going back to the beginning and adjusting the Purpose and Need. Even if this rosy scenario were to come about, it would likely mean several more years worth of delay for this project, during which an entire aBRT line could be up and running (and building ridership for a bigger investment in the future.

But also, while it's nice to think about ways to improve the project, we need to respond to what is currently on the table and not what might someday happen. Proponents of the Riverview Rail project have used the argument before that the project should be allowed to proceed and there will be opportunities to make it less problematic in the future. Possibly, but it's much easier to keep a project on the right track from the start than to get it back on track after it has been derailed. Mistakes made early on in a project gain interia over time and become difficult to undo. The Nicollet-Central streetcar proposal, as currently envisioned, is bad. We should have no problem saying this openly. It should be killed as soon as possible to allow for aBRT planning to begin in earnest.
I guess I don't see why improving the streetcar plans (to have, e.g., dedicated lanes) is unrealistic but starting over with a bus mode is realistic. I mean, okay, I get it on some level; in an ideal world these aBRT lines would be much easier: not separate multi-year teeth-pulling exercises, but something we can roll out in a matter of months, that we could do system-wide instead of one street at a time, and that we could see as a stepping stone (or at least a way to buy time) for more structural transit improvements rather than a terminal state.

But that's not the world we live in either! AFAICT the aBRT study included Nicollet, but the LPA for the corridor chose a streetcar and aBRT wasn't pursued any further. Nicollet aBRT doesn't have an alternatives study or years of public outreach or a station plan or engineering or any of the other things we've apparently decided are necessary to do stop reduction, frequency improvement, and some fare kiosks and shelters.

The future where 10 years from now we open the H line, and after all of this we have one mixed-traffic bus on the highway, and one mixed-traffic bus on Nicollet, and this is the end result of decades of planning and construction, and nobody wants to touch South Minneapolis or South-Metro commuters for another generation...that's bad too!

alexschief
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Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby alexschief » April 23rd, 2020, 10:54 am

tmart wrote:
April 23rd, 2020, 10:01 am
alexschief wrote:
April 22nd, 2020, 2:22 pm
I do not disagree with this, and that is why I would prefer to be as precise as possible with terms. Because the distinction between dedicated ROW and non-dedicated ROW is one of the most important that exists for any transit service, it's a natural place to draw a line. It is true that San Francisco, Boston, and Philadelphia have subway-surface systems that are hybrids, but that's not what's being discussed for Nicollet, and so I don't think we need to discuss them much. In the MSP context, streetcar means mixed traffic ROW and light rail means exclusive ROW with some grade crossings.
Right now the Twin Cities have nothing on the ground called a streetcar, but there are three proposed "streetcar" projects. One of them is entirely grade-separated, one of them is mostly dedicated lanes and interlines with LRT, and one of them is mixed-traffic. I don't think the distinction you're drawing is accurate.
I will grant you that I have no idea why the Midtown study decided to call their proposed LRT line a streetcar, except possibly to signal that it was not intended to be a useful transit project. But what distinguishes the other two is mixed traffic. Moreover, in the United States today, modern streetcar projects in Portland, Kansas City, DC, Detroit, Milwaukee, OKC, Tucson, Tempe, Tacoma, Cincinnati, and a whole host of other places, have all looked basically the same, and the Nicollet-Central study is of this group. What primarily differentiates them is that they run in mixed traffic.
tmart wrote:
April 23rd, 2020, 10:01 am
I guess I don't see why improving the streetcar plans (to have, e.g., dedicated lanes) is unrealistic but starting over with a bus mode is realistic. I mean, okay, I get it on some level; in an ideal world these aBRT lines would be much easier: not separate multi-year teeth-pulling exercises, but something we can roll out in a matter of months, that we could do system-wide instead of one street at a time, and that we could see as a stepping stone (or at least a way to buy time) for more structural transit improvements rather than a terminal state.

But that's not the world we live in either! AFAICT the aBRT study included Nicollet, but the LPA for the corridor chose a streetcar and aBRT wasn't pursued any further. Nicollet aBRT doesn't have an alternatives study or years of public outreach or a station plan or engineering or any of the other things we've apparently decided are necessary to do stop reduction, frequency improvement, and some fare kiosks and shelters.
The most recent status updates from the aBRT group in Metro Transit basically show Nicollet is held up in the pipeline because of the existence of the Nicollet-Central zombie project. Officially kill it off, and the aBRT planning work will start within the year. Much easier to just ignore a bad study than to attempt to use it as a support to go in a contrary direction.

talindsay
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Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby talindsay » April 23rd, 2020, 2:24 pm

alexschief wrote:
April 23rd, 2020, 10:54 am
I will grant you that I have no idea why the Midtown study decided to call their proposed LRT line a streetcar, except possibly to signal that it was not intended to be a useful transit project.
This has a lot to do with the specific history of Hennepin County Railroad Authority, Midtown Greenway Coalition, and the City of Minneapolis all fighting over this corridor historically. Years ago Hennepin Co wanted to explore running buses in the Greenway, and MGC put their foot down to completely block it at the grassroots level. The intervening negotiations and struggles saw the MGC state that they would accept a "streetcar" if it blended into the green of the Greenway, but no buses and no light rail. They released a high-level "plan" for single-track heritage streetcar operations in the Greenway. That was long ago - probably before the Hiawatha Line actually opened, but maybe just after.

The language of it as a "streetcar" is all about appeasing MGC and letting them keep face. They're absolutely suggesting a light rail line in the Greenway, but if they call it a streetcar it means the Greenway coalition's deal is being honored.

talindsay
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Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby talindsay » April 23rd, 2020, 4:20 pm

Looks like the link to their old streetcar "study" is still there, it was done in 2001. It's a PDF so watch out:
2001 MGC Streetcar study
EDIT: Boo, looks like the link is bad. Wayback Machine to the rescue!
Archive.org copy of 2001 MGC Streetcar study
And if you really want to nerd out, the page from 2003 that had all the links and information:
Archive.org copy of 2003 MGC Website Transit Section


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