Metro Transit prepares big changes to Route 5

Photo by Henry Pan

Another fast bus similar to the A and C Lines will start running on the Route 5 corridor later this year. 

As part of the agency’s efforts to move more people around—not just downtown commuters — in a faster, more reliable way, Metro Transit will start service on the D Line, which will run the exact same route as the Routes 5E and 5M branches, in December. 

The D Line will be different from the 5 in many ways. Like the A and C Lines, it will travel faster by making fewer stops, and riders will be able to pay before they board, and board through any door. The D Line will also use 60-foot accordion buses all day, which will be equipped with wifi and USB charging outlets, 

It also won’t operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which the 5 did pre-pandemic; its operating hours would be 4 am to 1:30 am. The agency isn’t sure if 24-hour service will ever resume. 

But longtime Northside resident, poet, and transit rider Lorraine Smith is worried about what the D Line means for those with limited mobility like herself. “Now with the 19 being cut [because of the C Line], I either have to get off on…Golden Valley Road and Penn, or Plymouth and Penn. Either way that’s, like, seven blocks to my house,” said Smith. “So they said that it was convenient, [but] a convenience for who?” 

Other riders remain skeptical. “[The D Line] might be for the better,” said Percy McKee, who did not hear about it until he was interviewed while riding the 5 after coming from a restaurant job in Coon Rapids. “I’m not too sure until it comes into effect.”

The agency says merging those stops makes sense because 75% of riders board within a block of where the stations will be. “As was true on the A Line and C Line corridors, we expect nearly all riders to shift from the local Route 5 to the D Line because it will be faster and more reliable with improved passenger amenities,” said Metro Transit spokesperson Laura Baenen. 

They plan to keep the 5 for a couple more years so the agency can better understand how ridership will change and to ensure that people with limited mobility still have a way to get around.

Roger Johnson rides the Route 5 bus to work at Chicago and Lake.
Photo by Henry Pan

But the 5 will be reduced to run every 30 to 60 minutes, just like the 16, 19 and 84 when their respective Green, C and A Lines opened. It will no longer go to the Mall of America, instead stopping short of the Minneapolis-Richfield border at 56th Street, where some trips go now. 

Next year, the 5 may be cut back to run entirely within the city of Minneapolis, stopping at Osseo and 47th Street in North Minneapolis once a Hennepin County road reconstruction project and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s rebuilding of Victory Prairie Dog Park wraps up. 

Metro Transit planned to stop the 5 at 66th Street in Richfield, but abandoned the plan after the city of Richfield and Metro Transit could not find a place for drivers to park their buses to take their breaks. 

Additionally, the 5F branch on 26th Avenue North will also be eliminated, as will the now-school-day-only 5K branch to 44th and Penn and 5L to Emerson and 33rd. The 5A branch to 38th Street—which turned around at the Worldwide Outreach for Christ parking lot at 38th and Chicago before George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent community occupation of the intersection relegated buses to park next to Phelps Field Park—was eliminated last December.

The changes go beyond the 5. The 721 and 724, which ran without stops on I-94 between Dowling and downtown Minneapolis, will turn around at Brooklyn Center at all times. The 39 and 133, which provided rush-hour commuter service to South Minneapolis pre-pandemic, will be eliminated. 

The D Line is expected to be just as fast, if not faster, than the nonstop routes it will replace. It is expected to be one minute slower to three minutes faster than the 721 and 724 between Brooklyn Center Transit Center and downtown, and two to four minutes faster than the 39 end-to-end. 

Travel time on the D Line between Chicago and 54th and downtown Minneapolis is expected to be the same as the 133, at about 30 minutes. 

Roger Johnson, who commutes from Brooklyn Park to a job at Chicago and Lake he has had for a decade, is so excited about the D Line and thought it would open next month. “It would be a quicker ride for me. It would be easier for me to get to work,” said Johnson after transferring to the 5 from the C Line at 8th and Nicollet.