At a time when Minneapolis’ suburban fringe consists of cul-de-sacs connected by miles and miles of highways, it’s hard to imagine that 80 years ago our house a few dozen blocks from downtown represented the edge of suburban development.
Today’s large lots in far-flung suburbs would be unthinkable without two or more cars per family, but our neighborhood was built on a different transportation paradigm: the streetcar. Many Twin Citians don’t know that from the early 20th century until 1954, Minneapolis and St. Paul had one of the finest and most extensive streetcar networks in the country. Streetcar service covered all areas of the cities and linked to some nearby towns as well.
During a few dramatic years in the early 1950’s the streetcars were decomissioned and infamously burned, or sold to places like Newark and Mexico City. Twin Cities mass transit began an era of bus-only service and declining ridership that concluded in 2004 with the opening of the Hiawatha Light Rail line, 50 years after the last Minneapolis streetcar was pulled from the rails.
The old streetcars may be long gone, but they are not forgotten. In many places the rails were simply paved over. As the asphalt ages, cracks and chips away, glimpses of the rails are visible like fossils exposed in a streambed.
Another reminder of the streetcars are the tokens once used to pay fare. These show up on Ebay from time to time, and I recently won an auction for three Minneapolis Street Railway tokens to start a little streetcar collection.
This year the Minnesota legislature will be evaluating proposals to expand light rail and commuter rail service, but many legislators have balked at the expensive development costs of rail transit. It’s fascinating to think of how different our transit system could be and how much money could have been saved if only the old streetcar network had been maintained and expanded as the area grew.
More Streetcar Links