If you are old enough to remember when the idea of light-rail service between Minneapolis and St. Paul was a complete fantasy, the opening of the Green Line this month really is a momentous occasion.
Twin Citians will soon be able to whiz from downtown St. Paul to a Twins game in less than 40 minutes, stopping only for 23 rail stations and some traffic lights along the way. The Green Line is a marvel that will make our lives better in every way—or at least as good as they were before the old University Avenue streetcar line was ripped out, turning that once-bustling avenue into a blighted corridor of car dealerships, auto-body shops, muffler-repair franchises, and other monuments to automotive freedom.
Ah, we jest. It’s bad form to talk about University Avenue’s troubled past when planners are trying so hard to create a better future. The Green Line rights a wrong committed back in the early ’50s, when a lawyer named Fred Ossanna, then-president of the Twin City Rapid Transit Company, thought it was smart to dismantle the most robust streetcar system in the country—one that once boasted more than 500 miles of track and a ridership of more than 238 million a year—and use diesel buses to shuttle people instead.
The ride on the new Green Line won’t be much faster than it was 60 years ago, but it will be considerably more comfortable. Modern technology has rendered the clatter of wheel on track almost silent, and the suspension makes it feel as if you’re gliding on rails made of marshmallow. Accelerating and stopping is hardly noticeable if you’ve got your head in a good book or (more likely) an iPad. And unlike buses, the driver doesn’t have the option of hitting potholes or honking at traffic.
From the newly renovated Union Station in St. Paul’s Lowertown, the Green Line will proceed to the Central Station stop at the corner of 4th Street and Cedar Avenue. From there, it zigs up Cedar past the Minnesota Public Radio building (where, if the folks at MPR are to be believed, the studios are dutifully recording the passing of each and every train for broadcast to the nation), then crosses over I-94 and snakes around the Minnesota State Capitol and onto University Avenue, where it remains until it hits the University of Minnesota. For now, the University Avenue stretch is no more inspiring than it has been for the past 25 years, which is to say: not very. But there are signs of improvement.
It doesn’t take a statistician to see that the Green Line is going to get a serious workout after it passes TCF Bank Stadium and jags into the heart of the U of M campus on Washington Avenue, most of which is now free of automobile traffic. Students are going to be hopping on and off like ticks at a summer camp as trains cross the Washington Avenue Bridge between the East and West Bank. Getting downtown and back will be easier, too, since the Green Line will run 24 hours a day, allowing for all kinds of collegiate shenanigans. But at least the kids won’t be driving.
After its West Bank stop, the Green Line hooks up with the Hiawatha (Blue) Line and follows the same tracks to Target Field.
The route isn’t exactly a straight line, but it has been slickly designed to connect with bus and bike routes and other key infrastructure, including the new Vikings stadium, the Northstar Line, and, maybe someday, the Southwest LRT line.
But none of this compares to the Green Line’s biggest benefit of all, which is that Twin Citians will no longer have to be ashamed that we don’t have the kinds of cool, eco-friendly transit options that make Portland, Denver, and Phoenix the subject of so much urban-planning envy. Now we’ve got even more colorful trains to go with our bikes and Rollerblades and canoes. And, don’t forget, there are days when Twin Citians can even ski to work.
You can’t do that in Portland or Phoenix. So be proud: the Green Line is transportation fantasy come true—once again.
STATIONS: West Bank.
WHAT'S HERE: The U of M’s West Bank campus, Seven Corners, Augsburg College, and one of Minneapolis’s most diverse and densely populated neighborhoods.
WHY STOP: To catch a show—the Cedar Cultural Center, Ted Mann Concert Hall, the Triple Rock, and Mixed Blood Theatre are all here.
STATIONS: Stadium Village, East Bank.
WHAT'S HERE: The U of M’s main campus, the Weisman Art Museum, TCF Bank Stadium, Williams Arena, Mariucci Arena, and a lot of people wearing backpacks.
WHY STOP: To take in a Gopher hockey, basketball, or football game. To see the Vikings play outside (they’ll call TCF Bank Stadium home for the next two years). To relive your glory days at Stub & Herb’s, the iconic campus hangout.
STATIONS: Prospect Park.
WHAT'S HERE: One of Minneapolis’s most distinct neighborhood enclaves, including Tower Hill Park (with its iconic ”Witch’s Hat” water tower) and East River Parkway.
WHY STOP: To dig for cool stuff at Art & Architecture salvage shop. To have a beer (soon)—Surly’s $20 million brewery, which will include a massive beer hall and garden, is being built on Malcolm Avenue north of University and should be complete by the end of the year.
STATIONS: Westgate, Raymond Avenue.
WHAT'S HERE: What might be the Twin Cities’ next hip neighborhood.
WHY STOP: To check out some of the city’s best vintage shops, including MidModMen + Friends, Succotash, and Classic Retro at Pete’s.
STATIONS: Fairview Avenue, Snelling Avenue, Hamline Avenue.
WHAT'S HERE: Midway Shopping Center, Hamline University.
WHY STOP: To find a good read—Midway Bookstore is one of the Cities’ last great independent bookstores. To catch a show at the Turf Club. To get a bowl of Ka-Praow-Pla soup at On’s Thai Kitchen. To hang at one of the metro’s best new bakery/coffee shops, Groundswell.
STATIONS: Lexington Parkway, Victoria Street, Dale Street.
WHAT'S HERE: The most ethnically diverse neighborhood in Minnesota, with Hmong, Vietnamese, African, Thai, Mexican, Chinese, and Cambodian immigrants all calling it home.
WHY STOP: To eat, shop, and explore the neighborhood’s wildly eclectic offerings. To get a bowl of pho at Ngon Bistro. To dive into the epic beef ribs at Big Daddy’s BBQ.
STATIONS: Western Avenue.
WHAT'S HERE: A five-block stretch of University that’s home to more than 100 small businesses offering goods and services tied to the cultures of Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
WHY STOP: To check out the Little Mekong Night Market, which will feature local restaurants, fresh food, crafts, and family-friendly entertainment on various Saturday nights throughout the summer.
STATIONS: Capitol/Rice Street.
WHAT'S HERE: The State Capitol, Western Sculpture Park, Minnesota History Center, and Oakland Cemetery.
WHY STOP: To get a little history. Along with the Capitol and the History Center, check out Oakland Cemetery, the oldest in the Midwest, where some of St. Paul’s most prominent early leaders are laid to rest (think Henry Sibley, Alexander Ramsey).
STATIONS: Robert Street, 10th Street, Central, Union Depot.
WHAT'S HERE: The Xcel Center, Ordway, Science Museum of Minnesota, Union Depot, St. Paul Farmer’s Market, Mears Park, and the Saints’ new Lowertown Ballpark (set to open in 2015).
WHY STOP: To take in Union Depot, which (thanks to a mere $243 million) has been rebuilt, restored, and made resplendent. To see why Lowertown has become one of the Cities’ hottest destinations for eating and drinking.