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Fast and Frequent: New A Line Gets You Where You're Going Between Minnehaha and St. Paul

It took nearly a decade of planning and politicking to get the Metro Green Line running along the Central Corridor between MSP’s two principal downtowns. By 2014, there wasn’t a sentient MSPer without at least passing knowledge of the Green Line state of play. The Green Line’s long-awaited opening, in June of that year, was cause for regional celebration.
MSP’s newest transit ticket, the Metro Transit A Line, hasn’t come close to generating the same level of attention (nor controversy). That’s partly because the A Line isn’t as controversial — no fixed rails down the centerline of a major commercial corridor — and partly because, as an arterial bus rapid transit (aBRT) lines, the A Line is a whole lot cheaper to plan, build and maintain.
But the A Line is nevertheless important to MSP’s expanding transit infrastructure. As Metro Transit’s first operational arterial bus rapid transit line (aBRT), it’s basically the demonstration project for a planned or proposed slew of rapid bus lines that — it’s hoped — will one day supplant much of Metro Transit’s current Hi-Frequency bus service.
“In today’s economy, people have more transportation choices than ever,” says Charles Carlson, senior manager, Small Starts/BRT Project Office. “Metro Transit has always provided great value and service, but must also compete in terms of travel time, reliability and convenience. The A Line will deliver on each of these counts, providing fast, frequent, all-day service in one of the region’s busiest transportation corridors.”
If the A Line markedly increases transit ridership and development along its route, it’ll be far easier to make the financial case for future aBRT lines.
“Like the introduction of light-rail a decade ago, the A Line’s opening is the beginning of a new and promising chapter for the region’s transportation network,” says Brian Lamb, general manager, Metro Transit. “We’re excited to introduce this new service to the communities we serve and to introduce more rapid bus lines like it as our transit system continues to grow in the years ahead.”
The A Line opens on June 11. Here’s what you need to know to get ready.
How the A Line Works
The A Line is a new kind of transit for MSP, sure. But it’s a difference in degree, not in kind. Specially marked aBRT vehicles resemble oversized city buses with wider doors and lower, curb-height steps for easy boarding. Station platforms are wider and richer with amenities: bike racks, push-button heating in enclosed shelters, visible signage, quality lighting, real-time travel information, and passive security (e.g., cameras).
The A Line is designed for speed and convenience, too. Every station has a ticket machine and GoTo card reader: no more holdups behind riders fumbling for tickets or change. Stops are farther apart — every few blocks, not every block. Curb bump-outs keep buses in mixed traffic at stops, minimizing merge delays. And transit signal priority allows buses to “ask” traffic signals for more time, reducing idling time at red lights.
In other words, an LRT-like ride in a bus-like vehicle.
The Route
The A Line’s southern terminus is 46th Street Station, where riders can pick up the Blue Line into downtown Minneapolis or out to the airport and Mall of America. Its northern terminus is Rosedale Transit Center, on the Rosedale Mall campus.
In between are 18 stops on 46th Street, Ford Parkway and Snelling Avenue, spaced (on average) one-quarter to one-half mile apart. Major highlights directly on the line include Minnehaha Park, the Highland Park business district, Macalester College, the Midway district (and Green Line, at University Avenue), Hamline University, the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, and Rosedale.
See Metro Transit’s complete route map (and handy A Line / aBRT primer) here.
“With so many destinations, connections to the Green and Blue lines and existing high bus ridership, the A Line corridor was a clear stand-out for the region’s first rapid bus line,” explains Katie Roth, project manager, Small Starts/BRT Project Office. “Record light-rail ridership, continued development and community support have only strengthened the case since construction began.” 
Want to experience the A Line for yourself outside the constraints of a weekday commute? Grab a transfer ticket and take a few hours to explore the sights, sounds and tastes at these major A Line stops:
46th Street & Minnehaha / 46th
After 46th Street Station, the A Line’s first stop is 46th Street & Minnehaha Avenue, a short walk from the gates of Minnehaha Park. (The park is also accessible from the next stop, 46th & 46th.)
What better way to spend a beautiful June morning than to explore the lush, semi-wild expanse of south Minneapolis’ signature park? Don’t miss Minnehaha Falls, a classic MSP tourist spot; come back in winter, when (frigidity permitting) the drop is often partially or totally frozen. And hit Sea Salt, a seasonal eatery with seafood small plates and a full menu, on the way out.
Ford & Finn / Kenneth
The A Line cuts through Minnehaha Park, emerges high above the Mississippi, and crosses into the commercial heart of St. Paul’s bustling Highland Park neighborhood. The multi-year (probably -decade) Ford plant redevelopment will undoubtedly change this part of town in impossible-to-predict ways.
Highland Park is a great place to shop and eat. Munch a fresh pastry (and take advantage of free WiFi) at Quixotic Coffee (769 Cleveland Ave S), enjoy an authentic Neapolitan slice at the ever-popular Punch Pizza (tucked away three blocks north of Ford Parkway at 704 Cleveland Ave S), and stock up on good reads at Half Price Books (2041 Ford Parkway).
Snelling & Grand
This is the “front entrance” to Macalester College and the adjacent Macalester-Groveland neighborhood. Thanks to relatively new (since 2010) traffic-calming measures, including median planters on Snelling Avenue, it’s now much safer (and less stressful) to explore.
Check out great reads at Common Good Books (38 Snelling Ave N; Garrison Keillor’s bookstore), casual sips and eats at Dunn Brothers Cafe (1569 Grand Ave W), and fresh seafood at Coastal Seafood (74 Snelling Ave S; bring a cooler with you on the bus). If you’re up for a short walk across Macalester’s campus, a dozen or so unpretentious restaurants and shops await on Grand Avenue, between Macalester and Wheeler Streets.
Snelling & Dayton
Talk about a hot neighborhood. Located within biking distance of at least four college campuses and not far from booming Midway, it was only a matter of time before this part of St. Paul took off.
Peruse fresh produce and prepared foods in the hulking Vintage on Selby development (Whole Foods Market, 1555 Selby Ave); browse bargain racks at thrift stores and boutiques along the west side of Snelling (Patina, Up Six Vintage); grab a casual lunch at Neighborhood Cafe (1570 Selby Ave); or hop into old-school O’Garas for a craft beer or something stronger (160 Snelling N; Friday night karaoke).
Snelling & University
At Snelling and University, the A Line meets the Green Line. Big things are afoot at this always-bustling intersection: By 2019, if all goes to plan, the hulking Minnesota United soccer stadium will be complete just a couple hundred yards to the south, along St. Anthony Avenue. Longer-term, the entirety of the 34-acre RK Midway shopping complex is slated for a multi-phase, transit-oriented redevelopment that could add hundreds of housing units and tens of thousands of commercial square feet, though the exact timing and layout will depend on market conditions and other factors.
For now, check out extant attractions like the ever-popular Turf Club (1601 University Ave W; live music most nights), grab a bite at Fasika (510 Snelling Ave N; authentic Ethiopian & East African cuisine), or sift through the miscellany at Ax-Man Surplus (1639 University Ave W; more random knicknacks than you can shake a stick at here).
Snelling & Minnehaha
Part college community, part multicultural enclave, this intersection is sorely overlooked — perhaps a victim of its proximity to the busier, more built-up Snelling & University area. If nothing else, stop here for a walking tour of Hamline University’s beautiful campus and the parklike neighborhoods on either side of Snelling, along Minnehaha.
Or make an afternoon of it: stop for coffee and a bite at Ginkgo Coffeehouse (721 Snelling Ave N), enjoy authentic Turkish cuisine at Black Sea Restaurant (737 Snelling Ave N), and hit the stacks at Hamline University Bookstore (722 Snelling Ave N; a perfect companion to Common Good Books).
Snelling & Hoyt/Nebraska
With apologies to Iowa, our State Fair is a great state fair. And the Snelling & Hoyt/Nebraska stop is where the magic happens — for two weeks in August and September, at least. (Actually, the sprawling Minnesota State Fairgrounds are also accessible from the Snelling & Como stop, because one aBRT station is not enough.)
Rosedale Transit Center
Rosedale is a big, regional mall. Not the ideal place to shop and eat local, perhaps, but we won’t judge you for a little chain-store bargain hunting every now and then. There are too many stores and restaurants to name here, so check out the mall’s directory if you’re planning a trip to the A Line’s northernmost stop. And, remember: With a slew of bus connections, Rosedale Transit Center doesn’t have to be your transit adventure’s terminus.
Brian Martucci is The Line’s Innovation and Jobs News Editor.
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