NEWS & VIEWS OF PHILLIPS SINCE 1976
Wednesday October 20th 2021

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Comparing Metro Transit to Des Moines DART

METRO TRANSIT By JOHN CHARLES WILSON Unfortunately, this is a slow month for local transit news. However, since a friend of mine just moved to Des Moines. Iowa, I thought this would be a good time to compare our Metro Transit with Des Moines DART. Des Moines is a fairly small city; their metro area is comparable to Saint Paul without Minneapolis and with a lot less suburbs. Like Saint Paul, it is the state capital and home to their state fair. Their downtown is slightly more lively than Saint Paul’s. However, it is a conservative city in a conservative state, and that affects both funding for and public attitudes about transit. Their local transit system is called DART, short for Des Moines Area Regional Transit. They have only regular buses, no light rail or bus rapid transit. There just isn’t enough traffic at this time to justify either. There are 19 local routes, all except four converging on the downtown Central Station. (Having an enclosed transfer station is common for smaller transit systems.) There are seven express routes which use the freeways to take people between the suburbs and downtown at rush hour, but these stop on the downtown streets and don’t go to the Station. There are also two free downtown shuttles, one serves a parking garage on the edge of downtown, and the other serves the State Capitol. DART buses don’t run very frequently or very late at night. Most routes are once every hour or half hour; the best one runs every 20 minutes. Service ends about 10 PM Monday through Saturday and about 6 PM on Sunday. DART does not run on major holidays. The fare is $1.75 local and $2.00 express. There is no rush hour tax like Twin Cities Metro Transit has. As much as we may like complaining about Metro Transit, at least we have service till 1 AM every day and more frequently than every 20 minutes on major bus routes. We also have light rail and bus rapid transit, and those modes are being expanded over the [...]

Transit News: Going Too Slow

by John Charles Wilson (Note: Some concepts in this month’s column are borrowed from a streets.mn article titled “Metro Transit Service: Chicken or Egg”, posted 6 August 2021 by Andy Lewis, even though the opinions I will state are my own.) Metro Transit is going too slow. By that, I don’t mean the buses and trains are literally going too slow, or running too infrequently. (In some parts of the country, “fast” and “slow” are used colloquially to refer to frequency of transit service.) What I mean is, Metro Transit is going too slow at responding to changing conditions regarding changing transit needs as pandemic conditions keep changing. We had light at the end of the tunnel, then it got extinguished by the Delta variant. With the even more threatening Lambda variant on the international scene, we may be in for another round of Stay-At-Home Orders. Or we may not, we just don’t know. Metro Transit typically adjusts schedules during something called a “pick”, when operators sign up for their piece of work for the next three months. During normal times, this quarterly schedule adjustment is plenty. However, in the rapidly changing world of COVID-19, perhaps a monthly adjustment would be wise. Many people have quit using buses and trains, as either they’re working from home or they are afraid of catching this horrid virus. However, some are just now sticking their noses out (figuratively), and trying Metro Transit again. Right now is the time they should run as many buses and trains as possible given their budget and available drivers. That may mean providing excess service for the time being, but I think that’s a good thing because it helps with social distancing, and reminds people that Metro Transit will be there for them when they are ready to come back. Some routes aren’t even running right now, putting their customers at risk of giving up on transit [...]

You Can Gamble, Your Kids Can Have Fun

METRO TRANSIT By John Charles Wilson Are you any of the following: A transit dependent parent who wishes to be able to take his/her kids to Valleyfair? A teenager who’d like to go to Valleyfair by his/herself without being driven there by a parent? An adult who’d like to check out the races at Canterbury Park without a car? Or an adult who’d like to go to Mystic Lake without a car and without being beholden to the casino bus schedule? If so, the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority (MVTA) has a solution for you! Route 410, also known as the “4FUN” bus, is a new weekend express bus from the Mall of America to Valleyfair, Canterbury Park, and Mystic Lake. Buses leave the Mall of America every hour from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and again from 6:23 to 10:23 PM (though skipping the Valleyfair stop in the evenings). Return buses from Mystic Lake run 9:44 AM to 5:44 PM and again from 7:01 to 11:01 PM (though the last one to pick up at Valleyfair is the 8:01 PM bus which leaves Valleyfair at 8:20). Of course, from the Phillips neighborhood, you will need to take either the Metro Transit 5 or the Blue Line to reach Mall of America to transfer to the 4FUN bus. In other news, Metro Transit is adding back service that has been cut during the pandemic. The following improvements involving the Phillips area as of 21 August 2021 are: The Blue Line will run every 10 minutes during the morning rush hour. Route 2 will add trips to the University of Minnesota. Route 5 will adjust northbound afternoon trips for dismissal times at Heritage STEM Academy. Route 21 will adjust westbound morning trips for start times at Southwest High School. Also, construction on the Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit, which will stop at the new Lake Street bus stop in the middle of I-35W (in place of the shelters that used to be at the sides of the freeway on top of huge and crumbling flights of stairs), is almost completed. We should expect to hear of [...]

Transit Waves of the Future

METRO TRANSIT by JOHN CHARLES WILSON With the COVID emergency drawing to a close, and all the new transit coming to the Twin Cities in the near future, I decided it’s time to write about exciting new concepts in transit that may benefit you someday. Bus Rapid Transit is making headway (pun intended for you transit insiders*) in South Minneapolis and the southern suburbs. The Orange Line is almost ready to start rolling down I-35W,  the D Line is coming to Chicago Avenue next year, and the B Line is supposed to come to Lake Street in 2024, and may even have a dedicated bus lane. Another exciting new development for outer suburbs and small towns is called “microtransit”. Microtransit is a modernized version of dial-a-ride service; however, instead of having to call a day in advance, you now only need to use a smartphone app to order your custom ride, often only minutes before you need it. This will make the concept appealing to more people. In the Twin Cities, the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority has a service called MVTA Connect; Southwest Transit operates SW Prime; Plymouth Metrolink has the Dial-a-Ride service that was recently converted to a smartphone app; and Maple Grove Transit operates a microtransit system called My Ride. Only the Met Council’s Transit Link, which serves parts of the seven counties that are not near fixed-route transit, still requires a phone call at least two hours in advance. However, the march of technology will probably soon put this into an app as well.  ___ *In the transit industry, a “headway” is the time between vehicles on a route. For example, a 10 minute headway means the bus or train comes every 10 minutes.

Re-Doing Lake Street

LETTER TO THE EDITOR By Shirley Heyer Metropolitan Transit continues its projects for improving bus service with a Lake Street Line B (Lake/Marshall/Selby/downtown St. Paul) fast bus. Work start is planned for this fall.  Because longer wait times, increased walking distances, redesign of all traffic lanes are major changes, Midtown Phillips Neighborhood Association, Inc. (MPNAI) questions if the changes are equitable, necessary, beneficial, accessible, and include the Chicago Transit Station. Line B will make stops every 10 minutesLocal buses every 30 minutes, + 10 minutes leeway if late or earlyTraffic lane design varies from block to block; cross streets and less on-street parking can cause confusion, congestion MPNAI welcomes nearby neighborhoods, residents, workers, businesses, and organizations to 3 virtual engagements. Dates to come. Contacts: MPNAI shirleyconsults@gmail.comd_nestea@yahoo.comCody.Olson@metrotransit.org (He can send you a 15+ page PDF detailed plan description)

Keep Taking the Virus Seriously, Seriously!

METRO TRANSIT By John Charles Wilson I caught COVID-19 last month and was out of commission for about two weeks. Even though vaccines are being rolled out and an end is in sight, please keep being careful! If you think masks and social distancing are government plots to take away your freedom, you are right! They are taking away your freedom to get so sick you wish you were dead. Trust me, you don’t want this. That said, Metro Transit has liberalized the capacity limits on buses and trains. Regular buses now allow 20 people to ride; articulated “double” buses allow 30, light rail cars allow 33, and Northstar cars allow 70 (though I doubt overcrowding is a problem on Northstar; 90 percent of its ridership has abandoned ship, at least for now). Masks are still required on buses and trains, and while you are waiting for them. In other, more positive, news, construction on the D Line has begun. As I’ve mentioned in this column before, the D Line is a Bus Rapid Transit line which will follow the same route as Route 5, except that it will only stop at specially-built stations. The stops in the Phillips Community will be along Chicago Avenue at Franklin Avenue, 24th Street, 26th Street, and Lake Street. Even though it is south of the Phillips Community, I would like to mention that a planned station at 38th Street has been deferred until the City of Minneapolis make a final decision on the future of George Floyd Square. Service is expected to begin in late 2022. We need Metro Transit more than ever in these trying times. Please give it your mental support as well as patronage. The people of Phillips are counting on you!

Better Days Are Coming

METRO TRANSIT By JOHN CHARLES WILSON  There are two big pieces of news this month. One isn’t transit-specific but will have a major impact in the next few months on transit, and that is we seem to be turning the corner on the coronavirus pandemic. Masks may soon become historical relics, as forgotten as they were after the 1918 flu. In addition, our transit service will probably return to normal soon, though “normal” may not be the same as what it was before. Ironically, for many of us it may be even better. The suburban commuter market tanked during the pandemic due to many office jobs being done from home instead. Quite a few companies may find the work-at-home model to be cheaper as they won’t have to rent, buy, or maintain as much office space. In addition, some companies are pulling out of downtown Minneapolis due to uncertainty about the safety of doing business there. Personally, I find that sad, but the implications for transit are actually good. That is because there will be less need for rush-hour-only bus routes that run empty to and from the garage and only carry passengers one way, usually from the suburbs to downtown in the morning and back to the suburbs in the evening. The resources no longer needed for such routes will be able to be used to provide better all-day service in inner-city areas like Phillips.  The other big piece of news is more directly relevant to Phillips residents who have reason to visit the North Side, including the northern suburbs. The Blue Line extension to Brooklyn Park ran into a snag last year because BNSF was unwilling to allow it on their right-of-way. The Metropolitan Council released a report recently proposing new routing that doesn’t need to use railroad property. Instead, it will go down Bottineau Blvd. through Robbinsdale and Crystal. This really isn’t good news for those suburbs, as the new line will be a couple of blocks east of their primary business [...]

Build Transit For Our Climate

METRO TRANSIT  By JOHN CHARLES WILSON At the time I am writing this, Minnesota is having its coldest weather of the season. Please keep that in mind if it is warmer by the time this column is actually in print. Everybody in Minnesota who goes outside knows we havea challenging climate, to say the least. Extreme cold and snow in the winter, and heavy rainstorms in the summer. However, Metro Transit installs the flimsy “shelters” that often provide little to no protection from wind, rain, and snow, and the heaters are often broken or placed so high they don’t give enough heat to help anyone.Even worse than the bus shelters are the ones at Light Rail stations. Those are like wind tunnels when the wind blows parallel to the tracks. The best shelters Metro Transit has to offer are at Northstar stations. It’s not like more heat and better shelters are impossible: Winnipeg has fully enclosed shelters with doors, and Chicago provides decent heat at L stations. Some people worry that more comfortable shelters would end up getting taken over by the homeless. Personally, I think that finding homes, or at least decent shelter, for them would reduce the problem considerably. Cruelty to everyone just to punish the homeless is short-sighted. People who get around by bus and train deserve nice things too. I have recently joined a Facebook group called NUMTOT Twin Cities that discusses this and other transit issues. NUMTOT is an acronym for “New Urbanist Memes for Transit Oriented Teens”, which is a misnomer as most of the members aren’t teenagers. There are members who work for Metro Transit and/or are transit advocates. I highly recommend it to others who care about making Metro Transit a better system.

Metro Transit

By JOHN CHARLES WILSON Even though I normally write about schedule and routing issues, there is little going on on that front this month. However, I’ve gotten a call and an email about bus stop and infrastructure issues, which gives me material for this month’s column. Last year, Route 2 got the “Better Bus Route” treatment. This consists of making the stops farther apart and putting shelters and benches at more of them. The idea is to make the bus go faster and give riders a better experience. This works to a point, but transit agencies need to be cognizant of people who have a hard time walking when they decide where to place stops. Traditionally, bus stops were placed at every inter-section, regardless of the length of the blocks. In the Twin Cities, blocks are traditionally 1/16 of a mile by 1/8 of a mile. On the few routes left with the traditional stop pattern on the 1/16 mile blocks, the close stop spacing appears ridiculous to some. Modern “best practices” are to have bus stops 1/4 mile apart: four short blocks or two long ones. For people with normal mobility, this is a good balance between bus speed and stop closeness to destination. Too many stops, and the bus goes too slow to satisfy most people. Not enough stops, and extra time spent walking takes away any advantage in higher speeds. However, for people who have difficulty walking, 1/4 of a mile is too far, and may even be a deal breaker. Placement of stops is also important: there should always be a stop where two or more routes intersect. I have heard several people are dismayed at the removal of stops by the new Chase Bank and by Maria’s Cafe, at the intersection of Routes 2, 9, and 14. The other issue I hear about is inadequate snow clearance at bus stops. Having to climb a snowbank to board a bus is simply not safe. Slipping off or sinking into the snowbank at an inopportune time is a realistic worry. Some bus drivers recommend standing [...]

METRO TRANSIT: Answer the Survey, We’re Counting on You

By JOHN CHARLES WILSON  Public transit is one of the few government functions where the people in charge actually listen to suggestions from common citizens. I have been going to public forums about transit changes for many years, though recently I’ve had trouble getting to them. However, because of the pandemic a lot of this stuff is being done online now.  Metro Transit is currently doing a survey which can be accessed at https://www. surveymonkey.com/r/futurebus or from the Metro Transit website regarding future Bus Rapid Transit routes.  As you probably already know, two BRT routes already exist, the A on Snelling (Saint Paul) and the C on Penn Ave. N., and three more are “in the pipeline”: the B (Lake St.), the D (Chicago Ave. - Fremont Ave. N.) and the E (Hennepin - France Ave. S.)  This survey is about what three routes will next get the BRT treatment after the ones already planned. You are being asked to pick three of four choices and rank them in order of importance to you: Central (Minneapolis), Como/ Maryland (Saint Paul), Lyndale S./Johnson, and Rice/ Robert (Saint Paul). While none of these routes would directly pass through the Phillips neighborhood, the value of a transit system is where it enables you to go. So please think about what areas outside Phillips you have reason to visit, whether daily or just occasionally, and “vote” for BRT to those places in this survey. 

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