Friday’s tweet from Metro Transit was the understatement of the week for many downtown Minneapolis commuters.
“Due to increased traffic in downtown Minneapolis for Super Bowl-related events, riders may experience delays this afternoon,” the agency warned.
The advisory came after two days of gridlock, both deliberate and accidental, that brought buses to a crawl down Marquette Avenue and had some commuters grumbling about 45-minute delays.
On Friday, things were enough improved that many commuters had no complaints about buses that were only five to 10 minutes late.
“They’re moving much better today,” said Teri Reitan of St. Louis Park as she waited for her evening bus. On Thursday, her bus was 20 minutes late and then crawled to the freeway, doubling her usual 30-minute commute. On Friday, her 5:07 p.m. bus arrived at 5:11.
Lauren Nash of Golden Valley wasn’t so lucky. Her 5:06 p.m. bus arrived nearly 50 minutes later. “It’s never been this late before,” she said.
Super Bowl setup and fallout from Monday’s snowstorm got much of the blame for some of the week’s more frustrating commutes.
On Wednesday, a giant snow pile blocked a lane on 12th Street at Nicollet Mall. On Thursday, somebody setting up for the Super Bowl left a barricade in a traffic lane on 12th Street near the Convention Center.
Those obstructions paralyzed Wednesday and Thursday evening rush hours as buses sat motionless more time than they were rolling. It took some 40 minutes or more to go eight blocks along Marquette Avenue to Interstate 35W.
The bumper-to-bumper bus backup was intensified by detours. Marquette, already a busy transit corridor, has absorbed many of the 38 Metro Transit routes detoured by the closure of Nicollet Mall for Super Bowl Live events.
With all three lanes open on 12th Street as of Friday, Minneapolis Public Works Director Robin Hutcheson expected commutes to be smoother Friday and next week, when thousands of visitors begin arriving in the city as Super Bowl events ramp up.
“There have been some difficult afternoons for commuting, and we recognize that,” she said. “We are fairly confident 12th Street was the root of our problem. We do plan on leaving as many lanes and streets open as possible.”
On Friday, the city deployed its full complement of 44 traffic control agents at key intersections, including along Marquette.
Their presence, Hutcheson said, prevented motorists from a maneuver called “Blocking the Box,” which occurs when drivers enter an intersection and can’t clear it before the signal turns red. With the intersection plugged up, cross traffic also can’t move and jams quickly spread to nearby blocks.
City officials say they’re aware of the gridlock and working to limit it, but they also said drivers and bus passengers downtown should expect delays and plan accordingly.
“The Super Bowl is a massive opportunity to highlight Minneapolis, and we recognize that traffic will at times be burdensome,” Mayor Jacob Frey said. “I’ve spoken with Public Works leadership and they’ll be monitoring traffic conditions and addressing problems as quickly as possible.”
Council Member Lisa Goodman, whose 7th Ward includes part of downtown, said her constituents haven’t been complaining.
“As a result of this major international event, there is heightened security and streets have been closed,” she said. “We shouldn’t be surprised that there would be delays for people commuting in and out and around the city.”
Riders: Brace yourselves
With even more street closings coming Monday, transit riders fear that next week could be just as bad or worse.
Without absolute assurance that congestion mitigation efforts will work, Minnesota Valley Transit Authority is telling its riders to consider taking light-rail trains instead of MVTA express buses. Officials with Maple Grove Transit are encouraging riders to leave work early if they can. The agency has added an early trip at 1:16 p.m. on routes 781 and 785 for commuters who can.
Plymouth Metrolink, which said its outbound buses were running 30 minutes late on Thursday, said it looked at moving routes off Marquette to Hennepin Avenue, but found that would not have saved much time.
“We don’t have any brilliant ideas,” said transit spokeswoman Laurie Hokkanen. “We are telling riders to brace themselves and plead with their boss to let them work a flexible schedule or from home.”
Hutcheson said the city will continue to monitor commutes and adapt as problems arise.
Staff writer Adam Belz contributed to this report.