Nicollet-Central Streetcar

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

Postby RailBaronYarr » November 3rd, 2016, 3:14 pm

talindsay wrote:I do think that for it to meaningfully help the city it can't be implemented as a "starter" segment though - the whole line as envisioned, running from approx. Lake Street into Northeast should be built.
The "starter" line is from Lake St up into downtown Northeast. The full line went down to 46th and up to 41st. The starter line is estimated at just over $200m in $2017.
mattaudio wrote:Also, may be more comfortable than arterial buses, but will it run anywhere close to as frequent?
Yes and No, operating plans for the starter streetcar were 7.5 minute peak headways, 10 minute off-peak (the enhanced bus would have the same operating frequency) - but the 18 would cut down to 20 minute headways (only going as far north as Lake) and a express with limited stop spacing would run from 66th to downtown every 20 minutes as well in the streetcar plan. But, depending on where you would wait along the route, you do see technically-higher in-corridor frequencies, but how far those routes go (and where they stop) is more variable. I'd argue the operating plan as proposed is more confusing and less legible than the bus plan, and forces fewer silly transfers just outside the tail end of the streetcar zone.

talindsay
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Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby talindsay » November 3rd, 2016, 3:31 pm

Fair enough, perhaps "starter" isn't the right word, but there's been plenty of discussion about a shorter segment as the initial operating segment. I do hope it does at least go Lake through Northeast.

EOst
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Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby EOst » November 3rd, 2016, 4:22 pm

RailBaronYarr wrote:Okay, how about this: outside a few people attending Railvolution conferences (and sorry, Minneapolis hosted in 2014), nobody travels anywhere to see a city's streetcar.
Story time: Last year (when I still lived in Stevens Square) my mother brought her lab (6? people) from Indiana to attend a major conference at the Convention Center. I met up with them impromptu for dinner one night at Nicollet and 15th, and asked what they wanted to eat; they said Thai. There's nothing obvious in walking distance (Lotus doesn't count), so I told them "there's a great Thai restaurant [Krungthep], but we'd have to take public transit to get there."

One person immediately asked, "ooh, could we take the train?"

"No, we'd have to take the bus. It's a short ride, though!"

Mentioning the word "bus" was enough to get everyone shaking their heads. I don't think "but it's an arterial rapid-transit bus, it's kind of like a train!" would have gotten us there.
mattaudio wrote:Uh wouldn't it share ROW north of Washington and through NE? Remember ye ole Toyota Matrix blocking the streetcar in the Northeast rendering we've seen. Also, may be more comfortable than arterial buses, but will it run anywhere close to as frequent?
Frequency probably depends on funding, so who knows? They were shooting for every 7.5 minutes.

The lane isn't exclusive N of Washington, but it's designed in such a way (left lane on one-ways, center on the bridge) that it could be converted pretty painlessly if the political will exists. There are some obvious chokepoints (Washington to the bridge, left turns at University and 4th), but even "transit and left turns" wouldn't be that bad, relatively speaking.
twincitizen wrote:2. Given said delays in Nic-Central streetcar and the fact that there will be zero appetite for ripping up the Mall again (even a little bit!) any time soon, the City really ought to open an honest dialogue about building the Washington-Broadway link first. It would serve the red hot North Loop (which has pretty weak transit), and West Broadway, which would obviously be a massive boost to investment in that area. This makes sense on equity considerations alone. I'm not saying Broadway should definitely be built first, but I am saying it should seriously be considered (cost-benefit analysis, racial/geographic equity, etc.)
Fair enough, but where would that go? A line that just kept going east on Washington Ave into the Mill District would be okay, but it wouldn't serve the heart of downtown well at all.

intercomnut
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Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby intercomnut » November 3rd, 2016, 4:39 pm

EOst wrote:
twincitizen wrote:2. Given said delays in Nic-Central streetcar and the fact that there will be zero appetite for ripping up the Mall again (even a little bit!) any time soon, the City really ought to open an honest dialogue about building the Washington-Broadway link first. It would serve the red hot North Loop (which has pretty weak transit), and West Broadway, which would obviously be a massive boost to investment in that area. This makes sense on equity considerations alone. I'm not saying Broadway should definitely be built first, but I am saying it should seriously be considered (cost-benefit analysis, racial/geographic equity, etc.)
Fair enough, but where would that go? A line that just kept going east on Washington Ave into the Mill District would be okay, but it wouldn't serve the heart of downtown well at all.
I think Twincitizen was referring to the West Broadway Transit Study, which has streetcars/buses going down Broadway to 2nd St to Washington and then down Nicollet (if streetcar) or Hennepin and 7th Street. Though that also has the problem of ripping up the mall again...

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Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby helsinki » November 3rd, 2016, 7:28 pm

This thread has become pleasantly more amenable to the streetcar. I'm encouraged.

Having recently experienced both the Atlanta and Cincinnati streetcars, I am even more optimistic about the Nicollet-Central concept. Even if you can look past the 30 minute headways between trains (you can't), the general execution of the Atlanta line is pathetic. The Cincinnati line is infinitely better: it connects downtown with one of the best urban neighborhoods I've visited in the Midwest (Over the Rhine; brimming with potential).

I think the Nicollet-Central starter line exceeds the Cincinnati line. It connects Lake St., Eat Street, Stevens Square, the convention center/Loring Park, the CBD, the River, Nicollet island, and St. Anthony Main. That's quite a list for a mere 3.5 miles. It would be highly visible. It connects to the LRT system. It connects places that are too far to reach on foot, impractical to drive between by car, and less pleasantly traveled by bus. It's much easier to transition from bike to tram than bike to bus, so I think it would encourage cyclists to use it also, particularly in inclement weather. Generally, I think it's a well conceived route - assuming it comes frequently enough.

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Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby mattaudio » November 3rd, 2016, 7:41 pm

Couldn't we build Nic-Central aBRT in a method that allows for conversion to streetcar? Stations, TVMs, etc can be the same, no? Buses can get shifted to other aBRT routes when streetcars come. Make sure whatever we do now doesn't get in the way of installing rail, power, and signaling when the time comes. Can't this be a both thing, not an either or?

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Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby Silophant » November 3rd, 2016, 9:04 pm

I don't see any reason why it couldn't be. As far as I can tell, the only major difference between the aBRT stations installed for the A Line and streetcar stations is platform height, and buses can certainly work with higher platforms, they just didn't bother to build them because it was a bunch of extra money for no significant benefit.

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Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby EOst » November 3rd, 2016, 9:50 pm

Obviously there's no reason we couldn't build the one and then the other, but I think a Nicollet-Central aBRT would make streetcar that much harder of a sell. That was the same logic that pushed Ramsey County to target Riverview instead of the B Line.

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Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby SkyScraperKid » November 3rd, 2016, 10:01 pm

EOst wrote:Obviously there's no reason we couldn't build the one and then the other, but I think a Nicollet-Central aBRT would make streetcar that much harder of a sell. That was the same logic that pushed Ramsey County to target Riverview instead of the B Line.

Exactly, and now we have neither. Meanwhile A line is up and running and C line has a few stations built. Missed opportunity to have had Nicollet rapid bus line stations being built with the remodel and have a line opening with the grand re-opening. Although, maybe if we hold out another 35 years we can overlook the mere streetcar concept go for the gold with a underground subway! It'll be worth "roughing it" for a few more decades right? #goals.

RailBaronYarr
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Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby RailBaronYarr » November 4th, 2016, 7:56 am

EOst wrote:Story time:
Okay, I know we're all being pedantic here. But you said the streetcar would be an attraction. As in, something that by itself draws people to visit Minneapolis. Which is different than saying a bunch of people who wouldn't have otherwise eaten on Eat Street would maybe do so. But that's still a big if. I'd be willing to bet that if you survey business travelers (the majority of folks who stay downtown, proximate to the streetcar), they will say that using another city's transit system - even a well-designed and UX-friendly one! - just isn't something they do to go grab dinner. More often than not, you have pre-scheduled dinners, or conference evening events, or anything else that would pull you away from doing it.

And I'll balance out your anecdote with mine: I used to travel to Houston a lot. Like a LOT. And while most of my trips had me staying way out along Katy Freeway, several times I also attended conferences. They were either at the downtown convention center (by Discovery Green) or out at Reliant Park. And we stayed at downtown hotels for all of them. Houston's LRT headways are every 6 minutes during most of the day (like, from 4 am til 8ish PM), at 12 minutes when you'd be coming home from a work dinner. Not once did I hear anyone even suggest using the LRT to get down to Reliant Park (just a 24 minute ride, dropping off closer than we ended up parking), and not once did anyone suggest branching out from downtown for dinner. And yeah Houston has heat, but they don't have our winters. It's 2016; travelers have access to any number of restaurant rating sites and will more than likely split an uber down to Eat Street if they've figured out there's a good Thai place.

I'm optimistic (perhaps overly-so) that transit investments can help nudge and shape people's modal choices on a daily basis and even their long-term decisions around owning cars and where/how to live more generally. And I agree that tourists are way more likely to use a train than bus even if they can't actually see where the tracks go beyond 400' and if the payment system and platforms are the same. But this framing around a streetcar because a few thousand business travelers a year would use it more than a bus is a stretch. It's the last argument we should be considering compared to how people use our transit system daily, the costs, and what we could get done. If anything, the starter streetcar line makes the life of anyone who uses the 18 south of Lake and north of 7th St NE *worse* than today or the aBRT since they'd have to do a needless transfer to get on a streetcar.

But whatever. We call come back to this thread every 6 months or so with our positions already held.

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Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby xandrex » November 4th, 2016, 10:01 am

I’m perhaps biased because I’m a Whittier resident who lives within a couple blocks of Nicollet (and previously lived mere blocks from the proposed end in CenHen/East Hennepin/whatever-we’re-calling-it-these-days), but I definitely am in support of the streetcar.

I’m a regular route 17 rider, I’d argue that many of the benefits of streetcar are what the area needs. Whittier, for instance, already has pretty good coverage (the 11 on 3rd, the 17 and 18 on Nicollet, the 4 and 113 on Lyndale). Having the 17 and 18 on Nicollet means short wait times for traversing between some of the densest parts of the city. And traffic along Nicollet just isn’t that bad. So improved frequency (if aBRT could even do that for those between downtown and 24th Street) and the ability to navigate traffic—while both great things!—just don’t rank as high on the needs to be addressed.

What routes along Nicollet need are more capacity, a smoother ride, and a better way to accommodate people with disabilities. Commutes downtown are always tight with plenty of straphangers before the 17 even gets to Nicollet. Evenings are often cattle cars. And midday is surprisingly full, too (often with people with disabilities, which often results in non-rush commutes taking longer than those during rush). I occasionally take the 18, too, and that’s often just as packed, if not more so. And the ride quality is often awful, with the bus lurching from stop to start and swerving into and out of bus stops. That’s especially uncomfortable when the bus is packed.

In other words, I think fixing capacity and ensuring a smooth ride would go a long way toward improving the downtown-to-Whittier transit experience, as well as speeding up people getting on and off. Some of that can be fixed with aBRT, which I would happily welcome to Nicollet! But I think streetcar really does do a better job of this and there’s probably no better place to put it than Nicollet.

mattaudio
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Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby mattaudio » November 4th, 2016, 10:17 am

Of course, I'm one to advocate for using wide ROW on streets adjacent to commercial streets for full-on LRT transit: Park Ave and Blaisdell Ave.

intercomnut
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Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby intercomnut » November 4th, 2016, 10:31 am

xandrex wrote:I’m perhaps biased because I’m a Whittier resident who lives within a couple blocks of Nicollet (and previously lived mere blocks from the proposed end in CenHen/East Hennepin/whatever-we’re-calling-it-these-days), but I definitely am in support of the streetcar.

I’m a regular route 17 rider, I’d argue that many of the benefits of streetcar are what the area needs. Whittier, for instance, already has pretty good coverage (the 11 on 3rd, the 17 and 18 on Nicollet, the 4 and 113 on Lyndale). Having the 17 and 18 on Nicollet means short wait times for traversing between some of the densest parts of the city. And traffic along Nicollet just isn’t that bad. So improved frequency (if aBRT could even do that for those between downtown and 24th Street) and the ability to navigate traffic—while both great things!—just don’t rank as high on the needs to be addressed.

What routes along Nicollet need are more capacity, a smoother ride, and a better way to accommodate people with disabilities. Commutes downtown are always tight with plenty of straphangers before the 17 even gets to Nicollet. Evenings are often cattle cars. And midday is surprisingly full, too (often with people with disabilities, which often results in non-rush commutes taking longer than those during rush). I occasionally take the 18, too, and that’s often just as packed, if not more so. And the ride quality is often awful, with the bus lurching from stop to start and swerving into and out of bus stops. That’s especially uncomfortable when the bus is packed.

In other words, I think fixing capacity and ensuring a smooth ride would go a long way toward improving the downtown-to-Whittier transit experience, as well as speeding up people getting on and off. Some of that can be fixed with aBRT, which I would happily welcome to Nicollet! But I think streetcar really does do a better job of this and there’s probably no better place to put it than Nicollet.
Rapid bus on Nicollet can get almost all of the benefits that you're seeking.
  • Articulated buses have almost the same capacity as most modern streetcars.
  • Rapid bus stations are bumped-out, which eliminates a lot of the lurching
  • Signal priority and limited stops reduces the amount of starts and stops for the bus, reducing even more lurching.
  • If electric buses are implemented on this route, which I think is what Metro Transit is hoping for (no source), it would also improve ride quality significantly.
I'll admit, rapid bus doesn't do as much for people with disabilities as the streetcar does. But it does improve things to a certain extent, with near-level boarding, wider aisles and (hopefully) passive restraint systems on rapid buses starting with the C-line.

Rapid bus would also provide capacity upgrades along the entire route of the 18 and would not force transfers at lake street, as others in the thread have said. Streetcar would provide marginally more benefits for comfort and people with disabilities, but only for a small sliver of the route. And again, it would hurt mobility for those going south of Lake Street.

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Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby xandrex » November 4th, 2016, 11:11 am

intercomnut wrote:Rapid bus on Nicollet can get almost all of the benefits that you're seeking.
  • Articulated buses have almost the same capacity as most modern streetcars.
  • Rapid bus stations are bumped-out, which eliminates a lot of the lurching
  • Signal priority and limited stops reduces the amount of starts and stops for the bus, reducing even more lurching.
  • If electric buses are implemented on this route, which I think is what Metro Transit is hoping for (no source), it would also improve ride quality significantly.
I'll admit, rapid bus doesn't do as much for people with disabilities as the streetcar does. But it does improve things to a certain extent, with near-level boarding, wider aisles and (hopefully) passive restraint systems on rapid buses starting with the C-line.

Rapid bus would also provide capacity upgrades along the entire route of the 18 and would not force transfers at lake street, as others in the thread have said. Streetcar would provide marginally more benefits for comfort and people with disabilities, but only for a small sliver of the route. And again, it would hurt mobility for those going south of Lake Street.
I agree that it would address most of the problems. And if Nicollet gets aBRT, great! I probably would stay on the 17 since there are fewer benefits of a slightly upgraded bus, but I’d welcome it.

My argument is that my experience living along both ends of where the streetcar would run makes me believe that frequency is less an issue along Nicollet/Hennepin/Central than capacity and comfort. It’s hard to deny that trains can do both equal to or better than a bus. And that even when a train is packed full, it’s a better experience than a packed bus because of that smooth ride. I’ve taken the Green Line from nearly end to end on a packed train and it hands down beat even one excruciating mile on a packed bus.

As for forced transfers at Lake, that seems to be an issue of our streetcar planning more so than an indictment on streetcar itself, just as pitting it against aBRT is. If I was presented with either funding several aBRT lines or the Nicollet streetcar (and nothing else), I’d absolutely pick aBRT. But those aren’t the options in front of us.

SkyScraperKid

Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby SkyScraperKid » November 4th, 2016, 11:22 am

Are we going to ignore the fact this streetcar line won't be an end to end route, and that buses will still have to be mixed in with the streetcars? I mean if we can ignore that then sure, why would anybody dare speak ill of such a wonderful streetcar line? :o

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Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby EOst » November 4th, 2016, 11:54 am

intercomnut wrote:Rapid bus on Nicollet can get almost all of the benefits that you're seeking.
If the A Line is a good demo (or e.g. any of the RapidRide lines in Seattle), I'm not impressed. aBRT is a great and wonderful and cheap way to improve regional transit, but the experience on a streetcar is still unambiguously more comfortable.

RailBaronYarr
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Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby RailBaronYarr » November 4th, 2016, 12:06 pm

xandrex wrote:As for forced transfers at Lake, that seems to be an issue of our streetcar planning more so than an indictment on streetcar itself, just as pitting it against aBRT is. If I was presented with either funding several aBRT lines or the Nicollet streetcar (and nothing else), I’d absolutely pick aBRT. But those aren’t the options in front of us.
It's hard not to see it as exactly this, though. The value capture district for the streetcar required some additional finagling with the state, and there are certainly requirements to how it can be used vs a simple budget adoption. But generally speaking the city went ahead studying a streetcar vs starter streetcar vs enhanced bus in terms of station placement, capital cost, and operating plans. The enhanced bus proposal looked very similar to (but obviously slightly different) the Nicollet aBRT route studied. The biggest difference was that the aBRT was Nicollet-only, and Central was a separate line. It's not hard to see the city reconciling its proposal with Metro Transit's, and in any case the costs for the combined aBRT routes were very close to the city's.

The city could have studied "enhanced bus" improvements and operating plans for several key transit corridors, just as they spent money on the Nicollet study. I think this would be dumb - MT already did it, let's just use their plan.

And, the city could have decided to just take on some debt to build them at the same annual amount they were willing to commit money to the value capture district to build the streetcar, but use it on aBRT lines instead (**I am assuming you could take out a series of 10-20 year bonds to pay for a project that is at least 50% concrete platforms and shelters and other durable things with a longer useful life than a 10-year bus). Yes, the partner funding for a streetcar looks different than for aBRT lines. The city would likely be sitting in the back-seat while MT led the aBRT routes, while they could be in the driver's seat for securing federal small starts money and doing capital construction (then hand off operations to MT, which never really was hammered out who'd fund that part).

tl;dr I do believe we had an option in front of us to commit to MT the money they're desperately searching for to roll these aBRT routes out faster than they are (not being eligible for CTIB money, etc), but are presumably very interested in building. We still have the choice to dissolve the streetcar VCD and could easily decide in one budget cycle to do something similar to the $20m street funding plan, but for transit. Believing it's "streetcar" or "nothing" right now isn't really an honest assessment.

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Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby xandrex » November 4th, 2016, 1:33 pm

RailBaronYarr wrote:tl;dr I do believe we had an option in front of us to commit to MT the money they're desperately searching for to roll these aBRT routes out faster than they are (not being eligible for CTIB money, etc), but are presumably very interested in building. We still have the choice to dissolve the streetcar VCD and could easily decide in one budget cycle to do something similar to the $20m street funding plan, but for transit. Believing it's "streetcar" or "nothing" right now isn't really an honest assessment.
I think perhaps this is an honest misunderstanding of what I was saying (or perhaps I phrased it poorly).

I’m quite aware of what the city could have done and what they elected to do. I’m not saying that I agree with a VCD to pay for streetcar (I’m mostly ambivalent at this point).

But I do think that at least some of the argument I was refuting weren’t really aimed at streetcars per se, but instead at how we’ve planned and implemented the process here. And, related, that it’s absolutely true that as of right now, we have a pool of money that can be used for streetcar. Nobody but transit geeks on this board are really weighing the options between the two anymore. As I said in my post, if the city wants to scrap the Nicollet streetcar and use the VCD money for a series of aBRT lines, I could absolutely get behind that. But if it’s between Nicollet streetcar or Nicollet aBRT and nothing else, I’d probably lean toward streetcar.

And I promise this question isn’t snark (I honestly don’t know the answer): Has anyone in a position to act actually called for scrapping streetcar for a full rollout of aBRT throughout the city? My gut tells me that institutional inertia means that if the streetcar is nixed, we’re more likely to see aBRT on Nicollet (or nothing at all) and the VCD money simply rolled back into the general fund.

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Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby RailBaronYarr » November 4th, 2016, 2:07 pm

xandrex wrote:And I promise this question isn’t snark (I honestly don’t know the answer): Has anyone in a position to act actually called for scrapping streetcar for a full rollout of aBRT throughout the city? My gut tells me that institutional inertia means that if the streetcar is nixed, we’re more likely to see aBRT on Nicollet (or nothing at all) and the VCD money simply rolled back into the general fund.
No, and that's a problem. You are right it's even more likely to see the city spend nothing at all on Nicollet and fold the VCD back into the general fund than any improvements on Nicollet/Central for transit. That's a big problem (in my opinion) that the city sees it fit to spend capital dollars on a single big transit project but not come forward as a funding partner for the smaller stuff. I'm waiting for the city's complete streets implementation plan to come out to see how they view transit relative to the money we spend milling and overlaying streets or plowing snow or building protected bikeways or anything else we spend money on, and how that compares to building transit shelters or paying for TVMs (and their collection) or buying new buses. I'm mostly ambivalent about the VCD as well (it's not great, but meh), but it represents that the city was willing to come to the table and find money to build transit, just on its own terms. Which is a little problematic when we have an agency that specializes in planning and building and running transit taking into account equity and efficiency and all sorts of other things a city might not be great at thinking about. And maybe I wouldn't have such a big deal with the city deciding to do it if it wasn't 1) such a large amount of money that 2) also competes with MT-run projects for the federal share.

It's also a problem (in my opinion) that the city sees the Nic/Central streetcar as a better use of $200-250m dollars than Midtown - both projects wholly inside the city. Totally separate discussion, but it kinda shows what the city values (economic development, downtown, tourism) and what it values a little less (cutting existing transit trip times in half along a corridor of existing bus riders).

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Re: Nicollet-Central Streetcar

Postby MNdible » November 4th, 2016, 2:44 pm

I'd argue that the aBRT represents a baseline level of service that Metro Transit should be rolling out on these high demand routes, and I don't think the city should set a precedent of funding baseline transit service. You can make an argument that the streetcar is an upgrade over baseline service, a nice extra thing, and therefore if the city wants it, and nobody else gets it, then it makes sense for the city to pony up for it.

The Midtown line is certainly attractive, but it's kind of a different animal, isn't it? Because it's potentially interlining with LRT; because it's going to require expensive vertical circulation at almost every single station; because (let's be honest) it doesn't hit downtown and therefore loses a lot of powerful supporters.


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