Transit Proposal:

Minneapolis-St Paul



Minneapolis-St Paul - more commonly known as the Twin Cities - is the largest urban area in Minnesota, home to 3.7 million people.

This midwest urban area sits on the confluence of the Mississippi, Minnesota and St Croix rivers. A large number of lakes (particularly to the west of the city) and rivers disrupt the street network and development patterns.

The urban area is laid out on a grid of streets. In the central areas, there is a tighter grid of small streets and arterials, while in the suburbs there is a sparser grid of arterials and cul-de-sacs in between. Interestingly, the tighter grid network of streets extends significantly to the south of downtown Minneapolis, as well as large areas between Minneapolis and St Paul's downtown. 

These expansive streetcar suburbs are a legacy of development spurred by the large streetcar system operated by the now defunct Twin City Rapid Transit Company. At its height in 1922, the system had 850 kilometres of streetcar lines radiating from the centres of Minneapolis and St Paul.

1894 map of the Twin City Rapid Transit Company's streetcar network (Source: Street Railway Journal - McGraw Hill American street railway investments)

Unfortunately, the Twin Cities has seen a significant amount of highway construction in the automobile age which coincided with the dismantling of the streetcar network and disinvestment in transit service. The urban area is heavily saturated with highways, and most of the suburbs outside of the tight-grid urban area are very low density. Nonetheless, there are some notable (but car-centric) town centres in the suburbs - new nodes such as Southdale Center, Mall of America, West End, West Maka Ska, and more. There are some older, more walkable town centres such as Downtown Hopkins.

The primary downtowns of Minneapolis and St Paul are impressive at a glance, however they are heavily commercial (and institutional, in the case of St Paul) and tend to serve as places of white-collar work rather than lively multi-use downtowns. In contrast, the areas immediately around the downtowns are lively and vibrant, with retail and more residential development. The areas south of downtown Minneapolis, especially Lake Street, and the University area north of downtown are popular destinations. Unsurprisingly, the most heavily used transit lines pass through these areas and the main downtowns.

There is a case for rapid transit expansion and improvement in the Twin Cities:

Transit in the Twin Cities today

Minneapolis-St Paul has a well-performing transit system for an urban area of its size in the United States. METRO Transit serves the urban area, with 126,000 daily boardings in 2022. In 2019, the system averaged 249,000 daily rides. 68% of METRO's ridership is on buses. 

Light Rail

The light rail system is relatively new, with the first line opening in 2004. The 19-kilometre Blue Line connects downtown Minneapolis to the Mall of America, via Hiawatha Avenue and the airport. In 2010, the 18-kilometre Green Line opened, connecting downtown Minneapolis to downtown St Paul via University Avenue. It has since surpassed the Blue Line to become the busiest line in the region, carrying 16% of METRO's total ridership.

The LRT is entirely low-floor. Both the Green and Blue Lines share a transit mall in downtown Minneapolis along 5th Street. Outside of the transit mall, the Blue Line generally follows a full-priority corridor southeast to the Mall of America - with many intersections grade-separated or otherwise allowing full priority through gates. The Green Line's design juxtaposes that of the Blue Line - opting for surface LRT in the street median with closer stop spacing and TSP at signalized intersections.

Pre-pandemic, the LRT system had 10-minute service. This has since been reduced to every 15 minutes.

In 2019, the 35-kilometre LRT system carried 75,300 daily riders, which means there are 2,145 average daily boardings per kilometre of line - the 4th highest in the US. This is a result of the alignments replacing already heavily-used transit lines and connecting key destinations, rather than inexpensive right-of-ways with little ridership potential.

Stadium Village station with TCF Bank Stadium in the background, 2301 University Ave, Minneapolis. Viewed from the south. (Source: McGhiever, CC BY-SA 4.0) 

Bus Network and BRT

The bus is the backbone of METRO's transit system. The network topology isn't well defined - there is a general grid pattern, but the system is still rather interlined and windy, especially in the suburbs. There are a number of frequent routes, although not enough to form a proper grid across the city. Most frequent routes are generally radial from Downtown Minneapolis, and, to a lesser extent, Downtown St Paul. Frequent routes operate every 15 minutes during the weekdays, and up to 30 minutes at other times. Frequency is poor in suburban Minneapolis and St Paul, where transit is not well-utilized. The network still appears highly optimized for suburb to downtown commutes, rather than a transfer-based network serving a diversity of trips.

In recognizing the high use of bus ridership, METRO implemented bus rapid transit in two forms:

Arterial BRT, or "aBRT"

This form of BRT-lite adds infrastructure and service improvements to the busiest bus routes in the urban area. aBRT lines still generally operate in mixed-traffic, with some bus lanes and queue jumps in key locations, transit signal priority, enhanced shelters and 15-minute or better service. Currently, there are 3 lines - the A, C, and D lines. While the infrastructure is rather light, inexpensive and does not qualify as BRT-level, aBRT has been highly successful in growing bus ridership through enhanced service.

HIghway BRT

This BRT system serves long distance trips and typically operates in dedicated busways in the middle of highways, or in HOV lanes. Currently, there are 2 lines - the Red and Orange lines. The Orange Line is particularly overbuilt. Ridership has generally been poor on these lines, and frequency is low.

Future of the Network

The Twin Cities area is aggressively expanding their BRT and LRT systems:

See these extensions and projects in the official diagram of the future rapid transit network below: 

(Source: METRO Transit)


Rapid Transit Proposal


I have proposed a Twin Cities rapid transit concept for 2050, assuming an urban area population of at least 4 million. The network consists of:


The metro system consists of highly grade separated rapid transit lines that have full priority at any intersections. In order to satisfy this requirement and support higher throughput, the infrastructure of the existing Blue Line (Line 1) and Green Line (Line 2) LRTs are upgraded/modified as follows:

Blue Line / Line 1

Green Line / Line 2

Line 3 and Line 4 will use automated light metro technology, built for small 60-metre 3-car trains with provisions to expand to 4 cars (knockout panels at underground stations). These two lines are compatible with the technology of the converted Line 2. 

Line 5, owing to the lower demand, will be built as an inexpensive light rail line that is compatible with Line 1.

While Line 1, 2, 3 and 4 all serve heavily used radial and crosstown bus corridors, some segments of the system are designed to induce trips that are not convenient with the current system. Line 5 and the Snelling Avenue section of Line 3 replace medium-ridership bus lines in lower-density areas and do not appear lucrative at a glance. However, these alignments serve important circumferential trips in the urban area that are poorly provided by the current system. This is critical in a time when more demand is occurring for circumferential trips rather than radial trips to the downtowns in most cities across North America.

This 4-car overhead-powered light metro train used on REM would be similar to the metro trains used in this proposal for Lines 2, 3, and 4 (Source: Jean-Claude Taliana/CBC)

A high-floor LRV such as this one in Guadalajara would provide higher capacity and lower dwell times. This would be used on Lines 1 and 5 (Source: Cesar Rodriguez Chavez, CC BY-SA 4.0)

A note on the official Green Line and Blue Line Extensions

The Green Line and Blue Line are well-planned corridors that serve important destinations (universities, downtowns, the airport, shopping centres) and replaced some of the highest ridership bus routes at the time of implementation. This model produced projects with high value and utility. However, current LRT extensions pursued by METRO do not adhere to this model.

A map of the Southwest LRT (Source: Metropolitan Council)

Southwest LRT/Green Line Extension

The SWLRT is being constructed through lower density areas of the region and does not parallel any bus route with significant ridership. The utility (and hence ridership) of this extension is questionable.

However, to completely remove already-constructed infrastructure would be unwise.

Nearly all of the alignment is repurposed into Line S2 of the S-Train system, a mode which is more suited to lengthy suburban rail lines in lower density areas. Regional mainline trains also allow compatibility with the rest of the mainline S-Train network in the city.

A map of the Bottineau LRT (Source: Metropolitan Council)

Bottineau LRT/Blue Line Extension

The northern extension of the Blue Line is still in proposal stage.

I have proposed to shorten this extension by 12 kilometres and terminate at Brooklyn Transit Center by veering east from Broadway at Robbinsdale. This allows better connectivity to the bus network and replaces more trips on busy north-south routes in this area than the official extension plan, which would have extended the line all the way to Oak Grove. This realignment also better serves denser neighbourhoods north of downtown.

The S1 regional rail line better serves the far extents of the northwest suburbs with less new infrastructure, including the new TOD proposed at Oak Grove Parkway and allows for through-running of longer distance regional trains to Monticello.

Bus Rapid Transit

The BRT system will follow higher standards than currently used by METRO Transit. Most arterial BRT segments will have dedicated lanes (either curbside or median). Some narrow streets will rely on strategic queue jump lanes instead of dedicated lanes. Active transit signal priority will also be employed to keep buses moving. Service will also be increased to every 5-10 minutes during the entire service span to provide a turn-up-and-go network. My proposed BRT system resembles METRO's official plans for aBRT, with some crosstown routes added to provide more connections in the suburbs and other routes shortened where the metro provides redundant service.

The freeway express BRT system will undergo changes to reduce costs. Station footprints will be significantly reduced compared to those seen on the overbuilt Orange Line. Dedicated median busways will not be constructed to save on cost. Instead, buses will simply use dedicated lanes directly on the freeway, or HOV lanes where bus lanes are not provided. Simpler median stations will be constructed that allow quick access to street level from the freeway while still providing shelter from the noise and pollution externalities of the freeway. Frequency will also be improved to at least every 15 minutes.


The S-Train system will utilize existing rail infrastructure to provide service. In some places, tracks will be added to provide more frequent service. The Twin Cities will have two major regional rail hubs, one in Downtown Minneapolis (Central, formerly Target Field) and in Downtown St Paul (Union, formerly Union Depot). 

S3's trunk route between Central and Union will be critical in serving demand between the two downtowns while construction of Line 2 occurs (which will require the LRT to close). Logically, the rail corridor between the two downtowns will be upgraded for frequent service before parts of the LRT is shut down for construction of the metro line, serving as an interim alternative.

Part of the S1 will replace METRO's current plans to extend the Blue Line LRT to Brooklyn with mainline regional rail on the existing corridor. In my view, this is more appropriate than extending the LRT deep into suburban Minneapolis.

Choosing where lines go

Existing Ridership

Hover over the bars in the column chart on the left to see figures.

Ridership data is an important factor to determine which corridors should be prioritized for rapid transit.

I proposed metro lines on bus corridors with over 20,000 daily boardings in their core areas, and extended beyond to replace portions of other routes. The exception is Line 5. Arterial BRT replaces many other routes. 

With nearly 50,000 daily riders in 2019, the Green Line is one of the single busiest LRT lines in the US. As it will very likely remain the busiest transit corridor in the region, it makes sense to upgrade the corridor. 

The busiest bus route is Route 5 (currently replaced by the D Line) on Chicago and Fremont, which carried 28,700 daily riders in 2019. This is followed by Route 21 on Lake Street which carried 23,000 daily riders in 2019.

Line 1's northern extension has been tailored from the official Blue Line extension proposal to better serve some of the ridership on Route 5/D-Line and C-Line. Diverting to Brooklyn Center allows a connection to the busy bus terminal.

Many of the busiest routes - Route 5, 18, and 4 - provide north-south transit to dense areas south of Minneapolis' downtown where no rapid transit of meaningful quality exists today. This wider north-south group had 61,000 daily boardings. This level of demand provides justification for Line 4's extensive southern route along Nicollet and I-35, which should absorb ridership from all of these routes.

The northern section of this proposed Line 4 would replace Route 10 on Central Avenue. This is the busiest north-south route northeast of Downtown Minneapolis.

Line 3 replaces both Route 21 and the A-Line BRT on Lake Street and Snelling Avenue respectively. Together, these routes served 35,400 daily riders in 2019.

Together, Line 3 and Line 4 would relieve the busiest bus routes in the Twin Cities today, following the same successful model of the existing LRT.

Line 5 replaces Route 54 and a portion of Route 74. This is a lower-ridership line, hence the use of smaller light-rail vehicles. The value of this line is its ease of construction and potential for connectivity - allowing riders from St Paul to bypass central Minneapolis for a more direct trip to the airport, Mall of America or other destinations in south Minneapolis and Bloomington.

Below is a map of METRO Transit's busiest routes based on the above ridership data from 2019. Swipe to see the same map with my proposed metro lines and arterial BRT overlaid.

Population Density

Rapid transit should connect the densest areas of the city - more people will use rapid transit if they live near it. Noticeably, the areas south of Downtown Minneapolis are quite dense yet underserved by rapid transit. The areas north of downtown are also underserved. Lines 3 and 4 are designed to serve these dense areas.

Although some lines appear to go through low-density areas, these specific sections of line serve high-employment zones and circumferential trips. The low-density terminal of Line 1 in the south is actually the Mall of America, a major shopping destination, and the airport zone. The western terminal of Line 2 is West End, a major business centre.

Population density map of census tracts in the Twin Cities, with the proposed rapid transit system overlaid (Source: Designed by August, data sourced to US Census 2020)


A map of income and race (white vs. non-white) in the Twin Cities (Source: US Census Bureau, 2014-2018 American Community Survey)

Race and Income

Central and northwest Minneapolis as well as eastern and central St Paul is predominantly low-income and non-white. These are areas that should be prioritized for improved transit in order to build a more equitable region.

Line 1's northern extension and B3 serves racialized middle to lower income communities northwest of Downtown Minneapolis.

Line 4 and Line 3 provide north-south and east-west higher-order transit respectively through the heart of the lowest-income areas south of downtown Minneapolis. Line 1 and B1 also provide improved transit to these areas. This area is home to many diverse neighbourhoods that are predominantly Black and Hispanic, torn apart by freeway construction and redlining. Lower-income communities around the University of Minnesota and mid to low-income racialized communities in central St Paul are served by Line 2 and a number of BRT routes.

East St Paul is rather low-density and has lower transit ridership, so frequency and coverage improvements to bus service will be implemented in this area.

Elevated, at-grade or underground?

It is best practise to avoid underground construction or otherwise impactful construction. Underground stations are a significant cost for new systems. Hence, this proposal attempts to use as much elevated, at-grade or trenched alignments as possible in right-of-ways, existing railways and the median of wide roads. Lines 2, 3 and 4 are completely grade separated, while Lines 1 and 5 have some at-grade crossings.

The following maps show each metro line alignment in detail. Zoom in or open the maps in a new window to view them in detail:

line 1 alignment.png
line 2 allgnment.png
line 3 allgnment.png
line 4 allgnment.png
line 5 allgnment.png

The network by the numbers

I have estimated some of the travel times for the metro system, roughly accounting for speed limits. There are measurable travel time improvements over the existing system; a trip on Line 2 from Downtown Minneapolis to Downtown St Paul takes up to 28 minutes, as opposed to 46 minutes on the Green Line today. A 41-minute trip on the Blue Line from Mall of America to Target Field (Central) would take 28 minutes on Line 1.

The graphics below show travel times between major stations on each metro line:


Minneapolis-St Paul is a growing city with pressing transit needs, particularly in the inner city and in lower-income neighbourhoods with subpar transit. The approach I have taken with this concept is similar to that of Metropolitan Council when the Blue and Green Lines were initially built - focusing on dense areas and corridors where transit ridership and demand has been already established. 

This contrasts with the current politically-motivated transit expansion occurring today that attempts to connect critical voting districts and provide wide coverage through inexpensive alignments where fewer people live. My proposal attempts to trade in these lengthy rail extensions to the suburbs for newer, shorter rail lines in the core of the city where the busiest bus routes and most transit-dependent communities are.

Ironically, this replaces a lot of the aBRT routes in planning. Metropolitan Council ostensibly plans rail in areas with low demand, while bus enhancements are proposed on the most heavily used transit corridors. I attempt to correct this approach in this concept - buses enhancements instead focus on providing a transfer-based network that covers a diversity of trips throughout the city while the most heavily-used corridors are replaced by the highest-order modes of rail transit. So there it is, a layered transit system for the Twin Cities that is ambitious, but not too excessive.