Above: Screenshot from Met Council flyover of Bottineau route
Updated at 1:20 p.m.
The success of Bottineau light rail in north Minneapolis will rely heavily on redesigning Olson Highway, a mayoral aide told the City Council Tuesday.
The proposed rail line from Minneapolis to Brooklyn Park would follow the seven-lane state highway west through the bottom half of the North Side – stopping twice. But members of a City Council committee expressed concern Tuesday about how the road would be revamped to ensure adequate walking and biking access to the stations.
The mayor’s policy director, Peter Wagenius, called the Olson issue “absolutely essential.” The mayor’s office is open to all possibilities to help separate traffic, he said.
“But the mayor’s fear is that having that conversation about, for example, pedestrian bridges over Olson Memorial Highway, might have the effect of declaring surrender that Olson is always going to be as hostile to pedestrians as it is today,” Wagenius said. “And that’s not just acceptable.”
Unlike other previous light rail corridors, Wagenius said, Bottineau is surrounded by land owned by the public sector that is ripe for development. The train would stop at Van White and Penn Avenues. along the highway.
“If people feel from the front door of that development, jobs, housing, retail, whatever it is, that they’ve got to cross a football field and a football field length with 7 lanes of traffic… that’s going to significantly impede development,” he said.
Wagenius added that the road is designed for “maximum throughput of vehicles” during rush hour traffic and is otherwise overbuilt 22 hours of the day.
The city has reached out to the city of Plymouth about a potential bus rapid transit down Olson in the future, he said, “to pave the way for a productive conversation so we can look at Olson in an entirely new light.” Minneapolis shares Olson Memorial Highway with Plymouth, but the Bottineau line turns north before reaching the suburb.
“There will be tradeoffs,” Wagenius said. “There isn’t going to be a scenario where we maintain seven lanes of traffic exactly as it is today and we dramatically improve the pedestrian experience.”
Similar conclusions arose in a recent study of that Olson bus rapid transit route. The study found that pedestrian environments around Olson Memorial Highway were "challenging or non-existent" and the roadway would need major changes to accomodate bus shoulders.
The route, featuring bus-only shoulders and special stations, would run from downtown Minneapolis to Medina (taking about 52 minutes in rush hour traffic). The corridor otherwise scored well among several highways analyzed for better transit.