St. Paul city officials are bristling at criticism that their policies are slowing Green Line light rail trains.
More than two months after service began, the trains are frequently stopping between stations at traffic signals, causing delays. And they're running about four minutes slower than the scheduled 48 minutes between Union Depot in St. Paul and Target Field in Minneapolis, according to Metro Transit.
A Star Tribune editorial Thursday blamed St. Paul for failing to give trains automatic right-of-way over car traffic at stoplight intersections. "The fault lies less with Metro Transit than with a city that has resisted giving trains priority at 38 intersections with stoplights, including 19 low-volume crossings, most of them along University Avenue," the editorial said. "That must change."
But Nancy Homans, policy director for Mayor Chris Coleman, says the trains do have priority. She says the challenge is finding the right balance.
"We want the train to go as quickly as possible, but we also want the vitality of the street to be enhanced," she said. "That means pedestrians need to be able to get back and forth across the street. Bicyclists need to be able to get back and forth across the street. Snelling can't be backed up for blocks and blocks."
MetroTransit and city staff this week began an experiment giving trains more priority than before at three intersections along University Avenue.
In fact, the city and the transit agency have both agreed that giving the trains full authority to turn red lights to green is not appropriate in a dense urban corridor, said City Engineer John Maczko. Technical staff are working on how to give the trains increased priority at three low-volume intersections without creating excessive wait times for pedestrians and cars.
Maczko said he was taken aback by the pointed comments from Metro Transit's general manager, Brian Lamb, in the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune. Lamb was not available for comment Thursday.
"We are getting thrown under the bus for this," Maczko said. "The goal needs to be to get the train from [station to station] without stopping — and not get focused on a particular tool or way to get it done. We thought that was the common goal we had agreed upon in our partnership. Everything we read in the press seems to say something different."
A Metro Transit spokesman played down any issues in St. Paul and said the agency remains focused on improving the efficiency of the trains throughout the entire corridor.
On Wednesday, traffic engineers began gathering data on how the increased priority for trains at Grotto, Victoria and Chatsworth are affecting pedestrians and drivers using the intersections.
"If it goes as we hope and expect, we can begin to evaluate some additional intersections," Homans said.
Despite the train delays, the Green Line has exceeded ridership projections, with about 31,000 trips a day, according to the latest figures from Metro Transit.
Disclosure: Minnesota Public Radio and the Metropolitan Council are negotiating ways to reduce noise and vibrations from the newly built light rail line outside MPR headquarters under a contract agreed to in 2009.