Smile If You're Riding Minnesota's LRT


The advertising wrap above is for the University of Minnesota’s dental clinics. Which apparently specialize in “gopher teeth”. Intriguing.

And I can’t help but notice that they refrained from putting this LRT car at the head of an LRT train, possibly because the image would be too much, “oh, God, here comes the LRT to eat us all!”

Taking a day off to visit Minneapolis was a good idea. There’s only so much time you can spend on board one train. So even though I hopped out of St. Paul’s Union “Depot” (seriously, “Depot”? It’s as big as Toronto’s Union Station!) and immediately hopped onto another transit vehicle, it did me a world of good to get up, stretch my legs, and explore.

Minneapolis/St. Paul’s LRT network is a little on the small side. I was able to ride its entire length within about an hour and a half. However, it means business. It connects the twin cities’ two downtowns and the world famous Mall of America. The trains themselves operate at ten minute intervals throughout most of the week, and offer sleek three-car trains. And even though they operate in the middle of the street, they have definite priority over competing car traffic. I cannot recall a single instance of having my LRT wait at an intersection for a light to change. The service is fast, and seems well used.

I count it as a decent accomplished that I walked into and out of the Mall of America without buying a single thing (even after stumbling on the mall’s Barnes and Noble; I got my book fix with Powell’s, thank you very much). While there, I spotted a surprising number of Blue Jays fans, come to see the mall, and ride the LRT to the game.

I didn’t stick around Minneapolis’ downtown, however. It didn’t seem inviting. A lot of the street traffic has been pulled into its connected elevated walkway network (a must for this winter city) and the place generally seemed to cater to office workers and sports fans and, given that this was a Saturday, there weren’t many office workers about.

And, surprisingly, despite these admittedly major attractions (and let’s not forget the airport), Minnesota’s LRT network did not seem to open up the city to me. I noticed this when I considered whether or not to catch a movie while visiting. I was able to do this in Denver and Sacramento, but when I tried to look for a decent theatre within walking distance of an LRT stop, none were available, which was kind of weird, and frustrating. Expansions are planned in the next five years, however.

I did, however, find a very pleasant neighbourhood called Stadium Village near the University of Minnesota’s campus near “East Bank” station on the LRT. Although the place was clearly between semesters, there were plenty of friendly places, including coffee shops, bars, and a place where I had a most wonderful wood-fired pizza. I sat in a coffee shop and added another thousand words to a new draft of The Sun Runners.

And I can’t complain about the LRT’s connection with my Amtrak train. Sunday morning, I got up bright and early and caught an early train back to Union Depot, well in time for my train run through the Wisconsin Dells, Chicago, and home (tomorrow) by way of Buffalo.

Photos of my day can be found here.


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