The route for enhanced mass transit in Minneapolis has pretty much been settled, but the mode is still in question.

It covers 9.2 miles from Central Avenue at 41st Street on the north end to Nicollet Avenue and 46th Street. The Minneapolis City Council in 2010 designated that route as its top priority for further study of mass transit.

The mode of transportation is down to three choices:

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• Modern streetcars.
• Enhanced buses, which are larger than traditional ones.
• And conventional bus service, under the “no-build” alternative.

In all three options, they would share traffic lanes with other vehicles.

Two other possibilities—light rail transit and bus rapid transit in a dedicated bus corridor—have been eliminated.

“The physical space we have on Central and Nicollet is not enough for light rail,” Public Works Transportation Planner Anna Flintoft told members of the City Council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee.

To make light rail work, traffic lanes and parking would have to be eliminated along the route, she said Tuesday.

Most of the route is 80 feet wide, compared with the Central Corridor’s University Avenue, which is 100 feet wide.NicolletCentralSidebar.jpg

Modern streetcars are about 70 feet long and travel on tracks level with the pavement.

Light rail trains are usually made up of two or three 90-feet-long cars and travel on raised tracks that prevent other vehicles from sharing the lanes.

“The modern streetcar has more frequent stops,” said Flinthoft.

The streetcar stops would be every quarter- to half-mile, compared with light rail, which usually stops every half-mile or mile. Construction costs for modern streetcars is about half the cost of building light-rail lines.

Both the streetcars and enhanced buses would operate with pre-boarding payment and access through any door to speed up exit and entry at stops.

The Central-Nicollet route, which has 90,000 residents within half a mile, would provide access to 125,000 jobs. Many of the residents currently rely on mass transit.

“Only about half the trips are work trips,” said Flintoft, adding that a lot of people would travel only short distances.

The route from Lowry Avenue to downtown along Central now carries about 10,000 riders a day, with another 10,000 riders a day on the Nicollet Avenue buses between downtown and Lake Street.

Two parts of the route are still undecided. The line would cross the Mississippi River, but the bridge—either Hennepin/First or Central/Third—has not been selected.

Also undecided is the route at Lake Street, where Kmart blocks Nicollet. One route under consideration goes around the Kmart, and another goes through that property.

A series of open houses this week will gather public input, with a decision on the preferred alternative expected this summer. It then goes to the Metropolitan Council where it would be ranked with projects submitted by other communities.

The first open house was Tuesday, with two other sessions scheduled:

Wednesday: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Hennepin County Medical Center’s Whittier Clinic, 2810 Nicollet Ave. S. Presentation at 6 p.m.

Thursday: 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., Minneapolis Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall. Presentation at 4 p.m.

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