Riding from downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul on Route 16, it’s easy to see this is a corridor in transition. Construction is unfolding in Minneapolis, on the University of Minnesota campus and on St. Paul’s University Avenue, where the METRO Green Line is nearing completion and a wave of private development has begun.
This recent wave of activity is just the latest evolution for the University Avenue corridor and Route 16, among the most history-rich and popular transitways in the Twin Cities.
Dating to the 1950s, Route 16 replaced the Twin City Rapid Transit Company’s Interurban Line, which launched in 1890 and served as the first electric streetcar line connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul. Though streetcars have disappeared, remnants of their history remain. In St. Paul’s Midway area, the building at 2324 University Ave. W. was used to store streetcars and has been renovated into office space. Before the Interurban Line, commuter trains operated by three different railroads offered service every hour between the cities on freight rail tracksa north and south of University Avenue; horse-drawn streetcars provided local service between downtown St. Paul and Dale Street.
With some minor exceptions, Route 16 follows the same path as the original streetcar line. Buses travel from Ramp B/5th Street Transit Center, northeast of Target Field in downtown Minneapolis to Minnesota and East 4th streets, in downtown St. Paul.
Route 16 has served as a key connection to the University of Minnesota, where it crosses the Washington Avenue Bridge and stops near Coffman Memorial Union, Fairview University Medical Center, TCF Bank Stadium and Williams Arena.
East of campus Route 16 follows University Avenue, where it passes a diverse mix of student housing, industry, small businesses, restaurants and single-family homes. The corridor is undergoing significant change ahead of the Green Line’s opening. More than $1.2 billion worth of development was planned or under construction at the end of 2012, and the number has since grown to more than $1.7 billion, according to the Metropolitan Council.
Notable projects include the renovation of the historic Chittenden and Eastman building, at University and Raymond avenues, which reopened as apartments in 2012 and a new Habitat for Humanity's headquarters at University and Prior avenues. Episcopal Homes broke ground in May 2013 on a $45 million senior housing project at University and Prior avenues, and several affordable housing projects and retail projects are now in planning.
Amid the redevelopment, existing businesses are reinvesting and longtime institutions continue to thrive.
In the Little Mekong Business District, in St. Paul's Frogtown neighborhood, a mix of Thai, Vietnamese and other flavors from Southeast Asia can be found. The diversity of offerings along the entire corridor drew the attention of The Star Tribune, which profiled a handful of University Avenue eateries in 2012. City Pages named Route 16 its “Route of the Year” in 2013, citing its unique character and cultural landmarks, including the Turf Club, in the Midway neighborhood. A marketing campaign, On the Green Line, is promoting small businesses along the entire corridor.
Since its inception, Route 16 has provided high-frequency service and been among Metro Transit’s most heavily used routes. In 2012, more than 4.5 million total boardings were recorded on Route 16, making it the single most popular east-west oriented route in the Twin Cities transit system.
Route 16’s popularity led to the introduction of the speedier Route 50 limited-stop bus in 1998. During rush-hours, Route 50 runs every 12 minutes with extra trips between downtown Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota. Between them, routes 16 and 50 account for about 10 percent of all rides on Metro Transit's urban bus service.
When the Green Line opens next year, Route 16 is one of several routes that will be modified (Route 50 will be eliminated). Buses will run every 20 minutes between downtown St. Paul and TCF Bank Stadium, providing more localized service as more customers return to the point where the corridor began: rail.
Route 16 At a Glance
Type: Urban Local
Service: Route 16 is part of Metro Transit's Hi-Frequencey Network, with service arriving at least every 15 minutes throughout the day. Buses travel between the Ramp B/5th Street Transit Center in downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul every eight to 10 minutes during the day and every hour between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. Route 50 limited-stop service complements Route 16 during rush hours.
Route length: Approximately 11 miles
Stops: 66 eastbound, 71 westbound
Vehicles: Standard 40-foot and 60-foot articulated ("accordion") buses
Ridership: Customers boarded Route 16 buses more than 4.5 million times in 2012. The route has more than 13,800 boardings every weekday.
History: Buses largely follow the same route as the first streetcar line connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul, discontinued in 1953. All-day, frequent service has been a staple of Route 16, which has long been among the busiest routes in the Twin Cities transit system.
Future: With the opening of the Green Line in 2014, Route 16 buses will operate every 20 minutes between downtown St. Paul and TCF Bank Stadium. Light-rail trips between downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis will leave every 10 minutes and are expected to shave up to 30 minutes off the travel time of Route 16 service.
Thanks to transit historian Aaron Isaacs for his assistance with this post.