B Line bus service to replace Route 21
Vernon Crowe, owner of Selby Wine and Spirits, never understood why Route 21 took a weird dog-leg bend into Midway—running on University between Snelling and Hamline Avenues—on its way to and from Minneapolis. The angled route was implemented to bypass an unsafe bridge spanning Selby Avenue between the two streets, which was closed in 1989.
“The bridge is back up,” said Crowe. “I don’t know why they don’t continue running the bus down Selby to Fairview, turn off Fairview, and [go] left on Marshall.”
Beginning late next year, the dogleg onto University will be eliminated as 21 is restructured. The B Line, a rapid transit bus line similar to the A Line on Snelling Avenue, the C Line on Penn Avenue, and the D Line on Chicago and Fremont Avenues, all of which make stops at specially-designed stations, will replace 21A’s existing routing. The new B Line will operate similar to the pre-1989 Route 21 alignment. Meanwhile, the 21A itself will be split into two segments–one will only run in Minneapolis, while the other segment will only run in St. Paul.
“It is connecting people to a thriving community. This is an opportunity for us to get to jobs, housing, transit stations, key destinations,” said Metropolitan Council chair Charlie Zelle at the groundbreaking for the new bus line. “I always say this is not a commuter line. This is the ‘live your life in the city’ line,” he added. However, not all riders are happy with the change, and some businesses are worried about the impacts the B Line will have on them during and after it is built.
The B Line project has been in the works for years, one of 11 transit corridors studied by the Met Council in 2011 and 2012. Originally envisioned to operate along stops between the Lake Street Southwest Light Rail station and Snelling and University, the proposed route was extended to serve downtown St. Paul stops in 2019, after rider feedback. The agency plans to extend the proposed route to serve the Minneapolis-St. Louis Park border, at Lake and France avenues.
The project will cost $65 million, with funding to come from state and federal sources. Hennepin County will receive $12 million from a Department of Transportation grant to reconfigure Lake Street with two lanes, a turn lane, and a westbound transit lane. The project east of Hiawatha will be built by Rogers-based Thomas and Sons Construction, who built the C and D Lines, while the agency will put the project west of Hiawatha out to bid later this year.
Ahmed Ahmed likes the idea of converting the 21 to the B Line. “That makes me feel good. It feels different and will be faster,” said Ahmed Ahmed one Saturday morning as he rode the 21 to a friend’s house in Minneapolis.
Not everyone agrees with him. Some riders the MSR spoke with on the 21 did not like the idea of the B Line, in part because the B Line makes fewer stops and they appear to be accustomed to Route 21, having relied on it for their transportation needs for decades.
Some corridor businesses left in dark
Some business owners in the Longfellow and the Rondo neighborhood said they did not know about the project until after the B Line stops were finalized, and other Rondo-area businesses did not even hear about the project until the MSR reached out to them last week.
“I just opened six days ago,” said Aretta-Rie Johnson of her candy shop, the Tooth Fairy Candy Store at Selby and Victoria, last Friday. “I’m gonna get closed out right away if [Metro Transit closes] the intersection [to build the station]. It’s going to be another mini-pandemic.” Johnson’s candy shop is a social enterprise that trains girls about entrepreneurship and the struggles that come with it.
Across the river, Tiff Singh is one of the co-owners of Laune Bread, which moved into a storefront at Lake and 36th Avenue in Longfellow in 2021. They also didn’t know much about the project and were unable to provide feedback on the stations to the agency because Metro Transit had finalized placements by then. A station for the B Line is to be built in front of the owner’s storefront.
“It was kind of poor timing for us as business owners, because we were new to this business community and to this project,” said Singh, who also cited the pandemic and the unrest that stemmed from George Floyd’s murder. “And we didn’t really know about it to begin with. And maybe if we had, we could have had more input and ideas to contribute.” Singh said she polled 20 area businesses; all except one of them had heard about it.
The agency says they might not have done outreach to those businesses because of staffing constraints — the project has only one designated outreach person — and the pandemic, which limited in-person outreach opportunities. To handle the staffing shortage, the agency said they prioritized conducting outreach at the exact locations where the stations will be built. They also relied on those working at the businesses to get the word to the owners.
Despite the lack of outreach, Golden Thyme owner Mychael Wright still thinks the project is a good idea. “When I did take the bus on University Avenue, there was an express [bus] that I could take. If they have the express [on Selby], I think that’s great,” said Wright, who adds that the only downside is people may have to walk farther to get where they are going. “But people will walk six blocks in order to take the Green Line, so in the same vein, a block or two isn’t going to hurt anybody.”
At the groundbreaking, Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis and chair of the state House transportation committee, said he anticipates funding three more lines as part of the transportation package this session. The three lines will serve Central and University avenues, between downtown Minneapolis and Blaine to the north, Rice and Robert streets between Little Canada and West St. Paul, and Como and Maryland avenues between downtown Minneapolis and Sun Ray Transit Center in St. Paul. Metro Transit is accepting comments on where stops for the F Line–the Central and University Avenue line–should be located until May 14.
Construction service changes
Metro Transit plans to start building out the B Line stations the week of May 15. Construction will occur in two phases: construction of the stations and revising travel lanes east of Hiawatha will take place this year, while construction of the stations and travel lanes west of Hiawatha will take place next year. They plan to maintain transit service on Lake and Marshall Avenues, where they can continue having a lane of traffic going in each direction during construction.
However, on Selby Avenue, intersections where B Line stations are proposed—at Hamline, Lexington, Victoria, Dale, Arundel, Western and John Ireland — will close for one month each. Dale and Arundel will close sometime between the Fourth of July and the state fair, while the remaining intersections will close sometime between May 15 and the Fourth of July weekend.
In the meantime, between Hamline and Western, buses will run on Marshall Avenue and stop at every other block, as opposed to at every block as they do now on Selby. Between Western and John Ireland, eastbound buses will run on Concordia and make no stops, while westbound buses will run on Marshall and make a stop at Farrington. The agency hopes to return the 21 to Selby Avenue before the state fair begins but emphasizes that they will not return Route 21 to Selby until stations at the six intersections are completed.
Local service changes
The project will result in local service changes that will take effect in late 2024. All Route 21 branches except the E branch will be discontinued, meaning the 21 will only operate between the Uptown Transit Station and Minnehaha Avenue. The Selby Avenue segment of Route 21 would instead be served by a new Route 60 that operates between the State Capitol and the Midway area, with drivers taking their breaks at Pascal and St. Anthony, where the 21C currently stops.
The agency does not plan to operate local service routes on Lake Street between Minnehaha and the Mississippi River, as well as on Marshall Avenue between the Mississippi River and Snelling Avenue. The agency has no plans to allow B Line riders on that segment to make “request stops,” where drivers can let riders on and off the bus in between designated stops in the evening, citing the need to keep buses moving.
They also plan to decide the fate of Route 53, a currently-suspended limited-stop bus route that operated between Uptown Transit Station and the state’s Lafayette office complex, closer to when the B Line opens in 2024.
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