Green Line light rail launch draws huge crowds

Forty years after planning began, Green Line light rail trains are gliding between Minneapolis and St. Paul. The launch of the Twin Cities’ second light rail line drew more than 100,000 riders during opening weekend, June 14-15 when rides were free. Metro Transit spokesperson John Siqveland said the line is expected to carry 27,500 riders per day by the end of 2015 and 40,000 by 2030. But thus far ridership is exceeding expectations.

Before the ribbon was cut and the first trains rolled out from Union Depot June 14, local, state and federal officials hailed the project. Metropolitan Council Chairperson Susan Haigh called the project a “new beginning” for the region. The first train’s start was 10 minutes behind schedule, as officials’ speeches ran long. Haigh and other speakers touted the rail line’s potential economic development benefits. Several speakers also took time to recognize the activists in the “Stops for Us” coalition who fought to have stations added at Hamline, Victoria and Western avenues.

The 11-mile, $957 million Green Line is the Twin Cities’ second light rail line, opening a decade after Minneapolis’ Blue or Hiawatha Line began service. Several elected officials said the region cannot wait another decade before adding its third light rail line.

Drenching rains and strong winds doomed many of the opening day activities planned along the line, with most groups folding up their tents by noon June 14. ADAPT was one of the groups at Central Station. Still, trains were packed, with waits of more than an hour at Union Depot and other stations.

The 11-mile Green Line light rail line has 23 stations, including five stations shared with the Blue Line in downtown Minneapolis. Passengers pay for their trip while on station platforms, which saves time during boarding. Stations have real time displays of information on trains’ arrival times. Riders on trains hear information about connecting bus service at each station stop.

Trains will run 24 hours and during most of the day will run every 10 minutes In a tour prior to the opening, Siqveland said there will be continuing education and outreach for train and bus riders. A number of connecting bus routes were changed to better link with the Green Line. A new service on Lexington Parkway had many riders at stops as its operations began. The line provides needed connections to destinations including retail areas and Como Park.

Stations are designed to be fully accessible, as are rebuilt crosswalks and sidewalks. Stations and trains are announced so that people with visual impairments are informed. Audible pedestrian signals are at crossings along the rail route. “Real Time” information is provided on signs at stations.

One challenge pointed out during a media tour of the Green Line is that the disability seating has been changed from that in the region’s first light rail cars. Because the main disability area in each car is simply lined by rows of fold-up seats, there isn’t companion seating for personal care attendants, friends or family members traveling with people with disabilities. The lack of companion seating was raised as a concern by the Minnesota State Council on Disability and other groups. Metro Transit staff said that will be changed in future light rail vehicles.

Another challenge that could take years to resolve is getting sidewalks to and from the stations rebuilt to meet accessibility standards. In some areas neighborhoods lack connecting sidewalks. That issue of neighborhood connectivity is something the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul will have to resolve.

 

 

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