New station a big step for rapid bus service

Officials say two-level facility at 46th and I-35W will improve service speed

Metro Transit opened a new bus station at 46th Street and I-35W on Dec. 4, and officials say it will improve bus speed and service for commuters from the southern suburbs as well as Minneapolis residents connecting to their southern employers.

The $4.5 million facility is a two-level station that connects commuters on the 46th Street bridge down to 35W, where they can board a bus in a secure median in the middle of the freeway. It’s the model Metro Transit intends to use for several other stations along 35W, the busiest corridor in the metro with 15,000 daily transit users.

The station is one part of a Bus Rapid Transit vision for 35W by the end of 2012. The idea, Metro Transit, state and city officials say, is to give people a fast, frequent and reliable mass transit option from the southern suburbs that will keep them out of their cars, easing congestion and reducing oil consumption.

“What we see is the suburban communities really embrace transit through the park-and-rides,” said Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-60B), who has been working on the project for a decade, dating back to when he was on the Met Council. “All along we wanted to build a system where it would be very clear to people the advantage to taking transit.”

Some of those advantages can be seen at the new station. On a cold, blustery day in early December, Metro Transit’s market development specialist John Siqveland explained that the new station is heated and cooled using 24 geothermal wells below the freeway.

Riders can wait inside the station while watching on flat-screen televisions when the next bus will arrive. The mostly glass façade provides views of the downtown skyline, but it’s also surprisingly effective at reducing freeway noise.

Bikers can either lock their bicycles up on the west side of the freeway, next to the sound wall, or they can shimmy it down a slide along the stairways and latch it to the front of a bus.

Once on the bus, riders will enjoy shorter commutes, as the buses will ride mostly in the MnPASS lanes. Unlike other express bus routes in the metro where buses drive on the shoulder at a maximum speed of 35 miles per hour, the MnPASS lane allows them to go the normal speed limit and avoid traffic jams.

“Every two years we survey non-riders — we call them potential customers,” said Metro Transit spokesman Bob Gibbons. “And the two things they cite most often is ‘I don’t take the bus because there isn’t one near me. It doesn’t go where I want to go,’ and the second thing they say is ‘it’s too slow.’”

Siqveland said some riders commuting from Bloomington to downtown will reduce their total weekly travel time by one hour.  

The new station will time routes so that when riders are dropped off on top of the bridge they will be able to walk down to a bus arriving below them.

“This is just one more piece of a system of transit that makes it better and easier for people to get to different locations and make that choice of getting out of their car where they would be traveling all by themselves,” said City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward), who served on committees to restructure transit on the corridor.

While many of the roughly 15,000 riders on 35W buses are from the suburbs, Glidden noted that Minneapolis residents who work at big employers in Bloomington and Richfield now have a quick option to get to work.

Buses from 35W also connect to the University of Minnesota and Normandale Community College.

The 46 Route, which connects Edina to Highland Park through Southwest, will increase its rush hour frequency from 30 minutes to 15 minutes.

One concern neighbors of the new bus station have shown is that people might use their streets as park-and-rides.

Glidden said those residents will be able to see how things go in the first weeks and after that property owners could choose to opt into a Critical Parking Area that would require permits to park on the streets they choose. Permits, according to the city’s website, cost $25 a year.

Gibbons said that in other neighborhoods where Metro Transit has built a new station street parking has become a problem. In those cases, he said, Metro Transit has put friendly notices on vehicles reminding those drivers that the station is not supposed to be a park-and-ride and people who live in the area need to use the streets.

Looking ahead

Metro Transit is planning to build similar, two-level stations on 82nd Street and 98th Avenue in Bloomington.

Hornstein and Glidden say they will push for another at Lake Street, where buses are forced out of the MnPASS lane and over to the shoulder.

“That’s really the unfinished piece right now,” Hornstein said.

Glidden agreed.

“Lake Street is one of the most important stations for the whole I-35W corridor, just in terms of existing ridership in the area, huge employers in the area, small businesses in the area,” she said. “It’s just one of these critical points in there that we need to make the system work properly.”