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...and a Major Concern.

June 12, 2007 10:26 PM

The second major portion of the Environmental Impact Statement deals with transportation and traffic issues. It's fair to say that there are reasons to be concerned about real infrastructure stresses as people arrive before games and leave afterward. Some intersections in the warehouse district are predicted to be almost gridlocked unless changes are made between now and then. But this is not a surprise.

What did surprise me, and actually made my jaw drop, was this little nugget:

It should be noted that currently, there are no plans for the Northstar commuter rail service to be available for Ballpark events. Northstar commuter rail could become a great resource for transporting people to the game and reducing parking and traffic levels. However, for purposes of this analysis, zero percent of the Ballpark patrons were assumed to utilize the Northstar commuter rail. (EIS, page 45)

At first, I thought this might just be the safest assumption to make given the purpose of the document. But in the next section, there is a grid of possible changes which could be made to mitigate some of the anticipated traffic problems. Each possible change is rated with a general cost estimate, and a general estimate of the likelihood that it might happen. In that grid is the following:

The North Star Commuter rail service should be explored as another supplementary transit option. Currently, commuter rail would only operate during a.m. and p.m. peak hours to accommodate those working in downtown Minneapolis or transfer to LRT. This option might be dependent on the availability of commuter trains and available rail time. Cost: Moderate. Feasibility: Unlikely. (EIS, page 71)

So let me get this straight: Our brand new Urban Ballpark has been highly touted as becoming a perfect mass transit hub by being strategically located at the junction of two major passenger rail lines -- only there won't be any Northstar passenger trains after games. How stupid is this?

Surely there are Twins fans in Fridley, Coon Rapids, Anoka, Elk River, Big Lake and beyond, right? That's Twins Territory too, isn't it? Is there a better, easier, faster, and potentially cheaper way to get to the ballpark than taking a train which stops right on its doorstep? You only have to look at the completely packed light rail cars before and after games these days to know the answer to that question.

Future location of the Northstar platform

At left, across the tracks by that pile of dirt is where the Northstar commuter train platform will be built, and where Twins fans will apparently NOT be able to get a train after night games. (For reference, that's the Fifth Street bridge, with the ballpark site just beyond it. The east corner of Ford Centre is just visible at the right edge of the picture.)

I checked a little further at the official Northstar Commuter Rail site. There isn't much information about train scheduling beyond this:

Five trains will run from Big Lake to Minneapolis with one reverse trip during weekday mornings. During weekday afternoons & evenings five trains will run from Minneapolis to Big Lake with one reverse trip. Each weekend day, three roundtrips will be provided; as well as, possible special event service.

Trolley outside Nicollet Park

Millers fans leaving Nicollet Park after a game in 1923, where a trolley was waiting. (Click to enlarge.)

At least that leaves the door open.

I have to believe that this is some sort of political issue, and maybe the report included these statements just to make the point that the current plans are going to have to be changed. Much can and will change in the next three years, and I'm sure this isn't set in stone. Somewhere along the line this will probably get figured out.

But one way to hobble a new passenger rail line is to limit its flexibility (as was tried with the light rail line). And I know that there are still people in the Legislature who doubt the feasibility of commuter rail and are actively trying to kill this project (and several others like it which hover just off the radar). That could be what's at work behind the scenes, implied by the inclusion of this little nugget in the ballpark documents.

There is some comfort in the certainty that opponents of commuter rail will be mighty embarrassed one day about ever doubting these sure-to-succeed-beyond-anyone's-wildest-imagination projects.

That is if they can figure out how to get people home after games.


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I think its just really difficult to project how many fans are going to use the northstar line specifically for twins games. Also, in the context of an environmental impact statement, its probably the safer bet to assume a higher number of motorist commuters than is likely since that would obviously have a greater effect on the local environment than if everyone arrived via mass transportation (cover your butt basically).

Posted on June 13, 2007 at 12:12 AM by Dan Highlight this comment 1

the EIS is just an overview and not a set in stone projection of what the train schedule may or not be in 2010. i wouldn't get too worked up over this.

Posted on June 13, 2007 at 12:50 AM by Tim Highlight this comment 2

Sorry about that, Tim and Dan. I agree with both of you, and hadn't quite finished the article before you read it...

Posted on June 13, 2007 at 01:01 AM by Rick 3

Yes, I wouldn't be too concerned with this (yet), or infer that it results from some effort to hobble the effectiveness of rail.

There still will be BNSF trains that use these routes, and we don't know (at least I don't) exactly what the co-use agreement with Northstar calls for. For all we know, BNSF is going to move some traffic into evening hours which would make scheduling around Twins games much more difficult...

Posted on June 13, 2007 at 07:50 AM by tato Highlight this comment 4

that's an interesting nugget - but one that seems about 99% likely to change. I'm trying to imagine the hue & cry if Opening Day occurs but there are no Northstar cars available to take fans to/from the ballpark. there will likely have to be at least one extra car to take fans to the game in the evening, don't you think?

Posted on June 13, 2007 at 09:54 AM by Barry Highlight this comment 5

Barry - I agree. No way they have this transportation hub and not have it be available after a game. While there may not be that many fans that utilize it, they'll still need to test it out during some games in order to have a basis for their ultimate decision.

Posted on June 13, 2007 at 12:00 PM by IowaWigman Highlight this comment 6

Let's see, 38,000 - 40,000 fans per home game. I'd guess that about 1,500 fans would use the Northstar every game. It's not New York where there is obviously a much higer percentage of fans using public transportation, but I think it's in Minneapolis and the Twins best interest to accomodate the locals who choose not to drive to the park.

Posted on June 13, 2007 at 12:25 PM by Chris G Highlight this comment 7

The Northstar won't accomodate Twins games. The numbers aren't there. Inspite of the fact that most mass transit supporters like to tout the relative success of LRT, it is still being subsidized in a big way. Meaning it doesn't finacially support itself. I don't think that's a ringing endorsement but since ridership is above projections, people view it as successful.

The Northstar rail has to pay BNSF for its track usage. 1500 people to and from a game won't cut it.

Posted on June 13, 2007 at 12:51 PM by Homer Highlight this comment 8

Like it says in the EIS; Cost: Moderate. Feasibility: Unlikely. (EIS, page 71

They'd rate in higher than "Unlikely" if there was a chance.

Posted on June 13, 2007 at 12:56 PM by Dean Highlight this comment 9

38-40k per home game would be during the honeymoon period. 3 years after this gets built, it'll be back to 20k average which, based on your math, would be about 700 people per game. I doubt there'd be that many people who'd want to tie their game experience to a schedule. They'll want to leave after 7 innings or hit a bar after.

Posted on June 13, 2007 at 12:59 PM by CeeJay Highlight this comment 10

All transportation is subsidized. The ballpark is subsidized, those parking ramps were subsidized. If anyone thinks there won't be trains, particularly on summer weekends, to games and back, they're wrong. The LRT's numbers are boosted because of Twins games, same thing will happen with Northstar. People tie their game experience to a schedule already with the LRT. A lot of people have adapted rather quickly and easily to taking mass transit to Twins games.

Posted on June 13, 2007 at 1:40 PM by Tim Highlight this comment 11

I'll be taking the bike trail. The Cedar Lake trial runs right behind my place near Lake Calhoun. It only takes about 10-15 minutes at a leisurely pace to get downtown. About the same it takes in a car.

Posted on June 13, 2007 at 3:18 PM by John Highlight this comment 12

The BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) in San Francisco works very well for AT&T Park.

Click the link for their website.

Posted on June 13, 2007 at 4:35 PM by Chris G Highlight this comment 13

I'll be using the 'walk' option since I'm moving to the North Loop this fall.

I think that if the surface streets around the stadium become gridlocked before and after games, fans will start to clamor even more for transit options.

Posted on June 13, 2007 at 4:49 PM by Barry Highlight this comment 14

The whole concept of the Northstar corridor is move people during normal rush hour. That's the "time" package they've negotiated with BNSF. The RR moves frieght on a set schedule, year around (check their website). As a guy who moves a little "car load" frieght via the BN, they can't/won't vacate their line for a baseball game. Sorry.

Posted on June 13, 2007 at 10:35 PM by Darren Highlight this comment 15

I would disagree with the can't/won't statement above. While BNSF might not, keep in mind they are a business and as long as it is profitable for them to do so, they will (even the northstar site says "special events". The challenge is to find the sweet spot where all parties profit from the endeavor.

Posted on June 14, 2007 at 11:13 AM by Barry Highlight this comment 16

BNSF makes money (more) moving freight. The day they make more money leasing lines, is the day they'll make accomodation for mass transit and get out of the freight business.

Remember, the "transit oriented development" was going to happen on the rapid park site without the ball park anyway. The terminal for Northstar and LRT has nothing to do with the ball park. I just don't see any special accomodation for Twins games (other than LRT) which won't change the schedule anyway, it'll run every hour or two on the same line whethere there's a game or not.

Posted on June 14, 2007 at 12:14 PM by Darren Highlight this comment 17

Some would argue no development would've happened save for the ballpark. But we get your point, god forbid accomodation would be made to transport thousands of sports fans who would otherwise all be driving their vehicles, clogging roads and spewing pollution.

Posted on June 14, 2007 at 1:06 PM by Tim Highlight this comment 18

Let's be honest. Based on Metro transit and LRT utilization; special accomodation would make a negligible, if any, difference. Most people would rather drive. The Northstar line is a "nice to have" not a "need to have" amenity. By the time you compared the frustration and/or cost (both money and time), I'd bet driving would still be way faster getting out to say, Elk River, vs. riding the Northstar and stopping every 3 miles 'till you get out there.

Posted on June 14, 2007 at 1:14 PM by Darren Highlight this comment 19

Why are you presuming an either/or scenario for BNSF? If that were the case, they would never had made an accomodation for commuter rail, because as you put they make more money moving freight. Isn't it more precise to say they make more money for every car they put on the line, whether it's filled with freight, or people? I'd concede that freight is probably more profitable, but not to the tune of saying commuter traffic is NOT profitable. Can they accomodate it? You and I are not privy to those details.

Posted on June 14, 2007 at 1:45 PM by Barry Highlight this comment 20

There's definitely a market for people who want to ride the train, with whatever "hassles" that involves. (By the way, the Northstar train will take 34 minutes to get to Elk River, versus about 45 to drive -- which is in a normal, non-gameday-traffic situation.) And there will always be those who would prefer to drive. As with all healthy transit systems, the goal is simply to provide as many options as possible.

I've had experiences with similar lines in Chicago and Boston. All that's really required from a rider's standpoint is that there's at least one late outbound train at, say, 11 PM.

In Chicago, we've always been safe getting on the El after a game (either Wrigley or Comiskey), and getting to our outbound commuter train by Midnight. With the ballpark right there, it's even easier for fans to make the decision on how late they stay if the game runs long.

I don't know how much of a problem this is for BNSF, or what provisions have already been negotiated. But it seems a little ridiculous to say that a single, late, outbound train could not be accommodated.

Posted on June 14, 2007 at 2:13 PM by Rick 21

Rick - In other cities like Chicago, do they hold a train if a game goes into extra innings? do they make announcements at the field a la "the last train to Elk River is leaving in 15 minutes" even if the game is still going?
Or is the schedule something like the last train leaves 30 minutes after the end of the game?

Posted on June 14, 2007 at 3:12 PM by Barry Highlight this comment 22

ultimately the issue is whether or not adding a late return trip is cost-effective for metro transit. The aim of the Northstar project is to alleviate traffic woes between Big Lake and Mpls - not to serve as an all-purpose means of transport. that being said, i would imagine that no one would oppose adding a postgame return trip if enough people rode it so that it paid for its own operating costs and what would probably be a pretty hefty easement for even further access to BNSF's track. I have absolutely no idea about the likelihood of any of that but I suppose I would guess that it could happen someday but probably not anytime soon (if that means anything at all).

Posted on June 14, 2007 at 3:16 PM by Dan Highlight this comment 23

In Chicago, the El is like our LRT in that it runs 24 hours with trains every few minutes. It has stops within about a block of either ballpark.

The commuter trains depart from Union Station in downtown Chicago. The one we take (which goes due west) leaves about every hour until (I think) 12:55 AM.

Neither train coordinates in any way with the activities at the ballpark, but because their schedules are flexible enough, it always works out fine.

There was one time that we were at an extra inning game at Wrigley and started looking at our watches because we realized that if we missed one commuter train we would have to wait an hour for the next one. Thankfully, the Cubs hit a walk-off homer a few minutes later and we made our train with time to spare.

Posted on June 14, 2007 at 3:20 PM by Rick 24

One piece I neglected to mention: It's about 20 minutes by train, and then about 10 minutes on foot to get from either ballpark to Union Station. This means that you have to leave either park about 30-40 minutes before your commuter train is scheduled to depart.

Again, Twins fans will have an advantage in that the train station is adjacent to the park. If the last train leaves at 10:55, you could watch a game until 10:45 and still make your train.

Holding trains wouldn't really be necessary (or desirable). They could just set a departure time that works for most games and stick to it regardless of what's going on in the ballpark. I think riders would accept and understand that.

Posted on June 14, 2007 at 3:28 PM by Rick 25

I love people who say that the LRT isn't successful because it is subsidized. Of course, every single street and highway is 100% subsidized, but nobody calls them unsuccessful.

The sooner public transit is treated as a viable transportation choice that requires subsidies every single year, just like streets and roads, the better off we will all be. People seriously need to stop thinking of public transit like it should be a 100% self sufficient operation.

As for this business with Northstar, public outcry for service will result in night trains, I assure you. Once the central corridor LRT is completed, a huge chunk of Twins fans are going to be arriving by rail. That will only increase with the southwest corridor. It's going to steamroll.

Posted on June 15, 2007 at 08:42 AM by James Highlight this comment 26

If there are Northstar trains, say on weekends, for Twins service, they will be swarmed. There will be whole families parking at those northern lots and taking the train in, it'll be a daylong event for them. Stand on the Metrodome light rail platform and watch the throngs getting off the trains to attend the games. Grandparents, parents, little kids, they all love the train. They'll love these traditional Northstar cars even more. It's just a matter of time. 3 years of evidence of light rail success for dome events is proof it's not a case of people just riding one time out of curiousity and something new. I hope it will happen. If the park isn't properly served by Northstar, it's a waste of the north loop site.

Posted on June 15, 2007 at 09:51 AM by Tim Highlight this comment 27

Road maintenance is subsidized. Not operating costs like LRT. And once a road is constructed, the maintenance costs are minimal; the exactly the opposite for LRT.

Posted on June 15, 2007 at 10:03 AM by Darren Highlight this comment 28

Isn't it funny the way history works - 60-70 years ago, trains, trolleys and street cars were view as the "mass transit" answer, then they went away. Now its the hot item again. I can't wait to open up my buggy whip repair shop.

Posted on June 15, 2007 at 10:07 AM by Mike Highlight this comment 29

Road maintenance is subsidized, this is true. Maintenance costs being minimul is false. Road maintenance is extremely expensive. It is not the opposite of LRT. At least some of the costs of LRT are returned in fares, whereas we have virtually no toll roads in Minnesota (with the exception of the I-394 HOV lane).

Is it just possible that we made a mistake in eliminating trains and tolleys in the first place? It sure would have been a whole lot easier to update rather than completely replace.

Even if we don't pay one more dime for light rail, it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to update and upkeep our roads in the next few years. They are not cheap and easy to maintain.

The better transit will be to the ballpark, the better off we will all be.

Posted on June 15, 2007 at 10:31 AM by James Highlight this comment 30

Mass transit will never be popular enough to offset the need for road construction. Our society is too dependent upon controlling its own schedule. Until trains/LRT become way faster (i.e. airlines) than driving yourself, the auto will rule and buses and trains will be seen as a freakish side show.

Posted on June 15, 2007 at 11:10 AM by jickyjack Highlight this comment 31

OK, I don't want to get too deep into the holy wars between roads and transit. Any healthy transportation system needs both options -- and more. Period.

But the so-called "freakish side show" of crowds getting on and off trains at the Metrodome -- which are, if you have not noticed, quite large and continuous -- speak for themselves. This leads to the certainty that there will be Twins fans who want to ride Northstar to and from games.

Given that the train station will be built right into the ballpark, this is a reasonable expectation, and people will probably be pretty angry (justifiably so) if it's not possible.

Whatever the barriers may be to making this possible, it should be on the short list of things which simply must be solved by opening day in 2010.

Posted on June 15, 2007 at 11:29 AM by Rick 32

Anybody see the article in the Strib on the cost of the Vikes land? any implications?

Posted on June 15, 2007 at 12:42 PM by Rich Highlight this comment 33

I don't foresee any implications. The Strib land is four blocks of prime real estate adjacent to the core business district. The Rapid Park land is in a trench separated from the business district by a major highway. Also, the properties are zoned differently, which presumably also creates a difference in value.

Posted on June 15, 2007 at 1:23 PM by The Tube Highlight this comment 34

I agree that implications for the Twins are nil.

But imagine if such a sale had happened 20 years ago? What would the Metrodome neighborhood be like now?

Posted on June 15, 2007 at 1:31 PM by Rick 35

I thought the Rapid Park site was zoned HD residential with a coming transit hub/station. If the Strib land was "prime" it would've developed into more than surface parking by now, don't you think?

Posted on June 15, 2007 at 8:54 PM by Mike Highlight this comment 36

I live in elk river, work in minneapolis, will be using Northstar everyday, and will be staying in the city several summer nights for Twins games. I'm not alone in elk river. Others up here will do the same as me.

Posted on June 16, 2007 at 07:21 AM by kyle Highlight this comment 37

You mean BOTH of you from Elk River? Hwy 10 will be free flowing when you guys jump on the Northstar....I can't wait!

Posted on June 16, 2007 at 09:37 AM by bunk Highlight this comment 38

If I lived up in the northern burb's i'd love to get on a nice northstar coach and ride into town. The example of Hwy 100 adding a lane and being "free flowing" lasted all of about a couple weeks by the way. I'm sure there are other parts of the metro that would love to have commuter rail coming online by 2009.

Posted on June 16, 2007 at 10:19 AM by Tim Highlight this comment 39

"Until trains/LRT become way faster (i.e. airlines) than driving yourself, the auto will rule and buses and trains will be seen as a freakish side show."

OK that statement made very little sense to me. First of all, LRT already is showing it's a success. It is doing exactly what it was designed to do, and is only going to grow with time. Also, I challenge a worker in an office in downtown Minneapolis to go from the office, to the car, to the airport any faster than going from the office to the LRT station to the airport. It just isn't going to happen on a typical weekday in Minneapolis. Once the central corridor comes online, it will be faster that way too.

i.e. airlines?? Is there an airline flying from downtown Minneapolis to the airport?

Posted on June 17, 2007 at 09:03 AM by James Highlight this comment 40

I think he meant that airlines run on a schedule like LRT does and the Northstar will.

And I thought LRT was supposed to relieve congestion? investing billions to move thousands doesn't add up to me. Road expansion and maintenance is still your "biggest bang for the buck."

Posted on June 17, 2007 at 9:30 PM by t-rex Highlight this comment 41

Worst spot possible fo a stadium!!!! Typicsl minnesota to mess it up!!!

Posted on June 17, 2007 at 10:49 PM by Adam Highlight this comment 42

Adam's Mom just called - he's off his meds again. Typicsl Adam.

Posted on June 17, 2007 at 11:56 PM by Don T Highlight this comment 43

Adam how can it be typicakl if we never get new stadiums?

Posted on June 22, 2007 at 1:26 PM by Troy Highlight this comment 44

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