Green Line gets green light for first official Twin Cities trip

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The Green Line light rail trains are officially rolling along the tracks.

The first trains left the Target Field station in Minneapolis at around 10:30 a.m. Saturday, with throngs of people, media and officials in attendance.

A handful of Minnesota's elected officials spoke at Union Depot in St. Paul – the line's starting point in the city – before the first ride took place, including Gov. Mark Dayton, Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, U.S. Reps. Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison, mayors Chris Coleman and Betsy Hodges, and more.

Then around 10:30, the ribbon was cut and trains were given the green light.

The rainy weather caused Metro Transit to cancel all celebratory outdoor activities at Central Station shortly before 1 p.m.. But much the planned entertainment activities stayed on course through the opening hours. Live music and activities were scheduled at nine of the stations.

Twitter has been abuzz since the festivities started, with plenty of photos and updates on the experience.

Green Line trains are expected to run every 10 minutes or so, from 9 a.m. through about 6:30 p.m. every day, then every 15-30 minutes in the morning and evening hours. One train will run every hour from about 1-4 a.m.

Rides on all Metro Transit buses and trains are free this weekend. Riders piled in to the cars on Saturday, quickly totaling in the thousands. Metro Transit officials said 45,000 people had taken a ride on the Green Line train during the first eight hours of service, the Pioneer Press notes.

Both MPR and the Star Tribune were live-blogging from the tracks and stations.

Each created an interactive map for the line as well. For the Star Tribune, artist Kevin Cannon drew a stylized cartoon version of the route for Saturday's print edition. Online, the same print is visible but also interactive, with 360-degree views of each stop, plus a small list of things to do near each station.

MPR's map is less stylized, but contains everything from video uploads to historical photos to notes about the light rail line scattered throughout the route.

City officials have high hopes for the Green Line's potential impact.

The 11-mile, 18-station route connects the two downtown areas, winding from Target Field through the west and east banks of the University of Minnesota, then following a long stretch of University Avenue before pulling into downtown St. Paul.

“Light rail is game-changing for St. Paul in so many ways,” Sue Haigh, chair of the Metropolitan Council, which oversees Metro Transit, told the Pioneer Press. “It attracts residents back into the urban core, offers developers a fixed amenity to build near and ensures residents of all ages can be mobile and get to and from work, home, and school.”

The Met Council says the construction of the Green Line has already attracted over $2.5 billion in development plans, and that’s just the beginning. However, critics argue that it’s not clear how many of those projects are a direct result of the new light rail line, and they have also taken issue with the amount of public funding that’s gone into redevelopment and creating affordable housing.

And a new poll from KSTP/Survey USA, which was released Friday, shows that light rail remains unpopular. According to the survey, 51 percent of Minnesotans say light rail is not "worth the money." Another 40 percent say it is worth it and 10 percent aren't sure.

The poll also suggests the Green Line will be used by very few people in the Twin Cities, at least initially: 65 percent of Twin Cities residents surveyed said they'll "almost never" use it. Another 28 percent say they'll use it occasionally. Only six percent say they'll use it regularly, according to KSTP.

There are, of course, plenty of good places to grab a bite along the line as well.

If you're driving or walking near the line, keep your eyes open – MPR News reported that the test trains running in the last few months on the Green Line route have had 10 close calls with pedestrians, cyclists and cars, in addition to four widely publicized collisions with vehicles.

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