On Saturday, Metro Transit buses operating on Nicollet Mall will shift over to Hennepin Avenue as downtown Minneapolis streets begin shutting down for the Super Bowl, and that will bring yet another round of disruptions for thousands of bus and light-rail passengers.
The shift is the first of several moves that will take place over the next few weeks and will affect more than 38 bus routes that pass through downtown. The massive rerouting for the Super Bowl is the biggest and most complex revision of service in the agency's history, said David Hanson, Metro Transit's director of field operations.
The six bus routes had just returned to Nicollet Mall in December after being displaced to Hennepin for nearly two years, during the mall's $50 million makeover. Now, just as riders were getting back to their old routines, they will be forced to trek one block to the west to catch their rides.
"Again!" a slightly exasperated Marianne Acon said Thursday morning, as she waited for a Route 10 bus at the intersection of 7th Street and Nicollet Mall. "As soon as we get used to it, it will switch back. I like them on Nicollet. All the commotion was the worst part of catching the bus on Hennepin."
This time, the detour will be of a much shorter duration, lasting until early February. But another seven routes will be diverted starting Monday when 8th Street closes to all traffic between LaSalle and Marquette avenues to accommodate Super Bowl Live events. The bus stop at 8th and Nicollet will be closed and all buses running on 8th — including the highly used No. 5 and 19 lines — will be diverted to 10th Street and use Marquette to circle back to 8th Street.
By Thursday, a dozen more routes will start skipping a stop on 12th Street at 3rd Avenue S. near the Convention Center. Come the last week of January, buses that normally run on 4th and 6th streets near U.S. Bank Stadium will be sent out of their way.
Got all that?
"There is a lot to digest," Hanson said. "Everybody is going to be inconvenienced, those on foot, car or on the bus. We'll do the best we can to get information out to our riders."
Links, maps, detours
With the slogan "We've Got Your Playbook for the Super Bowl," Metro Transit this week launched a whole section on its website dedicated to helping customers get around. A section geared for regular riders contains links and maps outlining bus detours and where riders can catch their bus. Another part of the site is geared for the 1 million visitors expected in town for the Feb. 4 game to find their way around.
Occasional bus rider Tiara Jones said she isn't worried about all the disruptions. She said she frequently checks signs posted at bus stops and the Metro Transit website to stay informed.
"As long as you have proper knowledge, you can make it to the next stop," she said, while boarding a Route 17 bus on Nicollet Mall. She'll adapt until the Super Bowl is over, she said, and "thank God when it is."
Communication will be the key, said Metro Transit spokesman Howie Padilla. He's encouraging riders — regulars and visitors — to download the Metro Transit app, subscribe to rider alerts that are delivered by text and e-mail, and frequently check the agency's Facebook and Twitter accounts for updates. He also suggested using the "Where's My Bus" feature on the Metro Transit app, which shows where buses are in real time.
Metro Transit will also deploy more than 400 ambassadors throughout downtown to point riders in the right direction, Hanson said.
With the warning that many bus routes in downtown Minneapolis will experience disruptions due to the game and Super Bowl-related events, the agency said it will have extra buses and drivers on standby to fill in when buses get delayed. That's inevitable as traffic funnels onto fewer streets, and starting Jan. 26 when only two travel lanes will be available for traffic crossing Nicollet Mall between 5th and 12th streets.
Things will get even more crazy Feb. 2 to 4, when a number of streets within a few blocks of the stadium close down. Light-rail trains will not stop at U.S. Bank Stadium Station starting Feb. 2. On game day, Blue Line riders will be put on replacement buses and given free rides as the train will be reserved exclusively for ferrying fans to the game. Green Line trains will not run between Target Field Station and Stadium Village Station, but will elsewhere along the line.
None of this matters to bus rider Tom Borries, who was waiting for a bus on 9th Street. He's ready to escape the madness.
"I'm going on a cruise," he said.