Summer nights mean no Nicollet Mall buses

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May 16, 2005 // UPDATED 1:54 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Jeremy Stratton
Jeremy Stratton

Outdoor table for two, hold the diesel fumes.

Beginning Sunday, May 22, buses will be rerouted off Nicollet Mall between Washington Avenue South and West Grant Street from 6:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. until Sept. 24.

City Councilmember Lisa Goodman - who first brought the idea to Metro Transit - said, "Nicollet Mall has been dramatically transformed over the last five years into a pleasant outdoor dining venue, [which] made the diesel fumes and noise of the buses more obvious. Nicollet Mall without buses is better for pedestrians, bike riders and couriers."

She added that last summer's bus strike was "a great opportunity to see what it's like to ride bikes on the mall, walk up and down the mall, eat on the mall."

The move, announced May 12, will make things more pleasant for many, but will leave the mall - paid for as a major transitway - bus-free.

Approximately 200 buses - including routes 17, 18, 10, 11, 19 and 80 - will be rerouted seven days a week.

"Good luck," said Andrew Cullen, who lives at 1225 LaSalle Ave., just off Nicollet Mall. "Drive down Hennepin Avenue after 8 p.m. on Saturday night. Those buses are going to be sitting at a dead stop."

"This is a test," Goodman said. "If it becomes impossible to deal with all these buses on Hennepin, we'll know that, and the test can be stopped with approval of both parties with one week's notice."

The 200 routes translate into about 3,500 riders on weekday nights. Those used to stopping at the mall's southern end will find themselves rerouted up to five blocks away.

Metro Transit Spokesman Bob Gibbons said southbound buses will turn left off Hennepin onto South 12th Street, then take LaSalle to Grant, and Grant to Nicollet, where regular routes resume.

The northbound detour is similar, but uses South 11th Street instead of 12th.

Gibbons said that riders at South 10th Street & Nicollet, for example, would have to walk three blocks "all the way to Hennepin" to catch the bus.

On the Washington Avenue end, Nicollet and Hennepin are less than a full block apart.

Gibbons said "pocket schedules" would not be reprinted. Rather, riders will be directed to Hennepin Avenue by Metro Transit employee monitors and Nicollet Mall signs.

Detour information will be available on Metro Transit's Web site and "onboard customer newsletters," Gibbons said.

Goodman said it was Metro Transit, not the city, which determined whether the detour would go to Hennepin or Marquette Avenue just east of the mall. She notes that Hennepin is brighter and wider, with four lanes of traffic versus two on Marquette.

"Hennepin is the entertainment district. It makes sense to have more buses on Hennepin as the dynamic moves west in the evening," Goodman said.

Veteran bike courier Fred Eisenbrey was somewhat cynical about the move. Eisenbrey lobbied against the 1998 removal of bikes from the mall between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

"They seem to be able to take the buses off whenever they want, but when we asked them about running only one way or the other [on Nicollet Mall, to accommodate daytime cyclists], they weren't willing to do that," he said.

Eisenbrey thinks the city and Metro Transit should go further and "make Nicollet Mall back to what it was originally intended to be, a pedestrian-friendly, sidewalk caf-type ambience. It's supposed to be aesthetically pleasing," Eisenbrey said. "If it's good enough for nighttime, it's good enough for lunch, too."

Happy Hennepin?

Many Hennepin Avenue business owners seem pleased about the bus boost.

Shinders' Manager Dave Moore says he's thrilled to have more traffic past his store on South 8th Street & Hennepin. "It'll help us survive over all the chains that are crushing America today," he said.

Lonnie Houston, general manager Chevy's, 701 Hennepin, agreed. "As much exposure as we can get is good."

Tim Wood, manager of the Brass Rail 422 Hennepin, is less happy. He's about to add sidewalk seating on Hennepin in response to the smoking ban. "It's obviously another hit [to the business]," Wood said.

He said that all the buses would make his patio smell like diesel. "It's hard enough for small businesses to make money."

Brian Lamb, general manager for Metro Transit, said buses system-wide use "ultra low-sulphur diesel," which is significantly lower in particulate emissions (though that didn't mollify Nicollet Mall denizens).

Goodman notes that Nicollet has much more outdoor seating than Hennepin; almost 800 seats on the mall vs. less than 50 on Hennepin Avenue.

Nicollet nicer?

At the Walgreens, 413 Nicollet Mall, Assistant Manager Nate Williams said he thinks the loss of bus traffic will hurt business - even though the store closes at 7 p.m. Most employees take the bus, he said, and will have to walk a block to Hennepin, which is "junked up enough as it is," Williams said.

Many mall retail stores close at 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays.

Further south, retail gives way to more restaurants.

Don Shier, manager at McCormick and Schmick's, 800 Nicollet Mall, said that, "from a patio perspective, noise and pollution, I would like" the detour.

Shier said he doesn't think his restaurant gets a lot of bus users.

Craig Lefevre, a manager at The Local, 931 Nicollet Mall, said it would make a difference to his patio customers but "people from Minnesota want to sit outside regardless."

Rider reactions

"I think it sucks," said Lynelle Nerison as she waited for the Route 11 bus at South 7th Street & Nicollet. "With all the crime and beggars, Hennepin's the last place I want to wait for a bus," said Nerison, who rides the Nicollet bus every evening.

However, Amy Kilian, who takes the bus home from her job at Marshall Fields, 700 Nicollet Mall, every day said, "I think it's a great idea."

She said she doesn't mind walking to Hennepin. "To be able to sit outside and not smell diesel? Great."

Mohamed Egal, a cab driver, thinks the summertime detour is great. "Right now I can't cross the [yellow] line [on Nicollet to pass buses.]"

Soon, after 6:30 p.m., he won't have to.

The big picture

A city media release termed the reroute a "public-private partnership" with Metro Transit, and the Nicollet Mall Advisory Board. The advisory board, made up of representatives from the businesses and residents along Nicollet Mall, will bear the full cost of the $43,700 pilot project.

Those costs include Metro Transit's nightly expenditures for transit supervision, plus a survey, signage, and other operating costs.

The summer pilot will function as part of a larger ongoing $600,000 study by the city, Metro Transit, Hennepin County, the Greater Minneapolis Convention and Visitors Association, Downtown Council and Minnesota Department of Transportation to accommodate future growth and transit needs citywide. The findings of the Nicollet/Hennepin experiment, including customer feedback, will be included into the larger plan.

"Rather than do computer modeling, we can start getting a real-time perspective on that," Gibbons said.

Goodman said that the detour would definitely end in late September.

Lamb said buses wouldn't be limited or pulled off Nicollet during the day. Goodman wouldn't say if she sees the buses pulled completely from the mall in the future.

"I want to see how the test works," she said.