Adventures on Transit in the Suburbs

I had a meeting at MnDOT’s Metro Division at “Water’s Edge” in Roseville. This is a short distance (though by no means non-circuitous distance) from the Rosedale Transit Center.

To maximize irony (showing up at a suburban MnDOT office building by transit) and since it was a nice day, and because I have a 1 car household to begin with, and since I was not time strapped as this is summer, I took transit to get there.

The new 67 bus (not a new bus, a new bus route) picked me up a short distance from my home on-time, and took me to a transfer point at Minnehaha Avenue and Snelling Avenue in St. Paul where I transferred to the 84 heading northbound. I exited at the exit ramp from Snelling to County Road B2 and walked to the building.

I attended my meeting, and walked over to Rosedale to catch the return bus (and eat lunch).

This is a spiral shaped bus route. The 87 exiting Rosedale Center.

This is a spiral shaped bus route. The 87 exiting Rosedale Center.

This sidewalk at Water's Edge assumes you lose a lot of weight while walking, and get really skinny.

This sidewalk at Water’s Edge assumes you lose a lot of weight while walking, and get really skinny.

This sidewalk assumes you don't actually want to enter the building.

This sidewalk assumes you don’t actually want to enter the building.

This sidewalk along County Road B-2 is forlorn, but adequate.

This sidewalk along County Road B-2 is forlorn, but adequate.

On the return I took the 87 from Rosedale Transit Center to University Avenue and transferred there.

  1. Load Factor: Some of the buses were practically a personally limo. Though the first bus was at 8:30 in the morning, there was only 1 other passenger on-board. Because there were so few passengers, there were no delays. (Well there was a bit of a minor delay due to emergency vehicles attending to an emergency at the Days Inn on University (the eerily pre-named Tracks), but (a) it was less than 30 seconds, and (b) this seems unusual. We were so far ahead of schedule when I alighted the bus put on its flashers and waited at least one traffic light cycle to not get ahead of itself. The 84 had a modest number of folks northbound. On the 87 southbound there was also one other person for most of the trip. The 16 was not crowded. I realize this is off-peak direction in the off-peak time of day in the off-season, but maybe think about smaller buses?
  2. Ride Quality: The bus was designed with the bus-maker’s racing heritage in mind, I really got the feel of the road. This was of course compounded by the terrible local streets in Minneapolis and especially St. Paul, as well as the worn out suspension on the vehicle itself. You can measure this yourself with your smart phone.
  3. Transfers and Signage: How are people supposed to do transfers if they have never done transfers before if bus route information is not on the bus stops? The 84 was a hi-frequency route, so I could figure it out, as there was some additional signage, but the Metro Transit trip planner is not obvious about this, and other transit apps are equally bad. The reverse trip would not have been obvious. Getting real-time information on my smartphone is hit or miss, and not everyone has a smartphone. There need to be better bus stop signs. The Metro Transit trip planner website which was consulted before I left in the morning said I should take the 67 on my return trip, and the bus stop indicated it stopped there (this was the bus stop nearest Raymond Avenue station, so it has recently been upgraded with a slightly more informative sign) but I didn’t know when it would arrive (sorry OMG transit did not tell me either, it must have been below the end of the screen, and getting OMG transit to update GPS seems problematic. Frankly, it’s still beta.) and a 16 bus showed up, which I was familiar with and took it to the nearest stop and had a 8 minute walk instead of 2 minutes. Figuring out transit information can take as long as the ride itself.
  4. Sidewalks: There were sidewalks on County Road B-2, but within the office complex itself, I was apparently expected to walk in the driveway. There should either be a formalized shared space (unlikely as this is a suburban office parking lot) or actual sidewalks along the driveways. Better, there would be diagonal sidewalks so that people can walk directly from Water’s Edge to Rosedale, both from the Water’s Edge building to County Road B2 just under Snelling, and from the other side of the underpass from County Road B2 to Rosedale. One imagines MnDOT employees drive out to lunch the less than 1/2 mile to Rosedale. Roseville has a program called “Living Smarter“, there is some work to do. While it might be impossible to make this city-like in its pedestrian orientation, it certainly can be better than it is.
  5. Circuity: The 87 bus exiting Rosedale seemed to take a very circuitous route within the shopping mall. It is literally a spiral (see figure). I am sure there is an internal traffic flow reason the shopping mall wants buses tearing up its pavement, but I couldn’t figure it out. There was a curb preventing the bus from crossing at other points, but surely there should be some way of allowing buses to get out quicker. This would save about a minute by my timing. The bus then went along B-2 and Fairview, and there were at least 3 stops before we left sight of the shopping mall.
  6. Contracting: The bus was operated by a contractor First Transit. Other than it was an older bus, a bit smaller, and hard to tell which bus it was unless you were in front or the right side of the bus (i.e. I almost missed it since I didn’t realize it was the bus I wanted since there was no sign on the left side of the bus where I was standing), it seemed similar in quality to the older Metro Transit fleet

Still 30 minutes end-to-end (excluding schedule delay, but including transfer time and walk time) from Rosedale Transit Station to home is tolerable, longer than driving of course, but not onerous or painful, on a nice summer day.

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18 Responses to Adventures on Transit in the Suburbs

  1. Matt Steele July 28, 2014 at 8:15 am #

    Looking at the location, it’s easy to understand how the lifers over there assume everyone gets around in a car. Yikes. Move them to some of that empty space in Downtown St. Paul. http://goo.gl/maps/WQZfq

  2. Aaron Isaacs
    Aaron Isaacs July 28, 2014 at 10:05 am #

    Since I worked on the bus stop signage program and the Rosedale Transit Center, I’d like to respond to a couple of David’s criticisms.

    Bus stop signage: For decades, many bus stops had no signs at all because Metro Transit relied on the cities to erect them voluntarily at their own expense. That changed in the 90s. We got an ISTEA grant to sign the system. Looking for another good city to emulate, we chose Seattle, which has terrific bus stop signage. Every stop has route designations and most busy stops have posted schedules. However, Seattle had 14 full time staffers to maintain the signs and displays.

    Metro Transit could only afford one person. That’s because this metro area provides the lowest transit operating funding per capita of any of its 20 peer cities. It’s been that way since 1977. So Metro Transit put a sign at every stop, and posted schedules in every bus shelter, since the shelters are located at the busiest stops. We employed every electronic and online method of providing schedule info, because that’s what was affordable and that’s how you reach more people for the money. Given the choice between spending $1 million a year to post bus schedules at stops or to spend that same million on bus service, we chose bus service. The schedule doesn’t actually get you there–the bus does. You can get real-time schedule info from Nextrip on any phone, and almost everyone has a cel phone now. That’s how you deal with this kind of problem when money is tight.

    Of course if money is tight, why run almost empty buses? Good question. Metro Transit and the Met Council enforce subsidy per passenger ceilings on their services (which by the way, the opt-outs don’t). The temporary exception is for new demonstration services, and the recent extension of Route 67 to include former Route 8 East Franklin Avenue falls in that category. Route 8 had unacceptably high subsidies, but it was an opportunity to feed the Green Line, so it was merged end-to-end with Route 67, because longer routes attract more riders. The hope is that it will attract enough to survive. We’ll see after a year or so. Routes 84 and 87 are doing pretty well and hopefully even better because they also feed the Green Line.

    Regarding Rosedale routing–The transit center is located quite a ways from a mall entrance. The buses all loop up to the mall entrance so they can pickup at the door, saving customers, especially the elderly and handicapped, a long walk outdoors. After leaving Rosedale, the Route 87 follows County Road B2 and Fairview, thus maximizing access to the commercial development near Rosedale.

    • Rosa July 28, 2014 at 2:21 pm #

      Thank you for the signage explanation. I have always wondered why our bus signage is so terrible. Metro Transit makes up for it by having the nicest bus drivers I’ve ever encountered anywhere, but the drivers shouldn’t be always having to tell people where they can catch the right bus or how they’re supposed to get home.

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary July 28, 2014 at 2:47 pm #

        The signage neglect seems penny-wise and pound-foolish, by confusing and discouraging lurkers who might otherwise try the system out. My sister lived in Richfield for seven years, within a five-minute walk of two 15-minute-frequency bus lines (plus express service) and never once took the bus.

        When I asked her why, the main reasons she gave were the unknowns — she didn’t know which lines ran there, where they went, how long it took to go there, or even how to pay her fare. She could have found this all out on the Metro Transit site, but it’s not remotely the same as having it at the stop.

        Even if you do know the information from online, there’s an innate desire to confirm it at the actual location. Imagine if Mn/DOT announced that they would no longer be signing highway interchanges or street names — instead they’d just launch a great app, that’s really not an app, and spend that money on better highway maintenance.

        • Rosa July 28, 2014 at 3:52 pm #

          it is exactly penny wise and pound foolish. Bikeway signs used to be the same way, but they have gotten way better suddenly in the last year or two. But for most of the bus stops you can’t even find out which bus stops there, much less when or what it connects to.

          • Nathanael July 29, 2014 at 11:14 am #

            The Twin Cities have some of the worst bus signage in the United States. It’s embarassing.

  3. Catherine July 28, 2014 at 10:18 am #

    I feel your pain. I work at the Department of Education just across highway 36 from Water’s Edge. Whenever I take transit there (which isn’t often because it takes about an hour and two transfers compared to a 12 minute drive) I have to walk across half a mile of parking lots from the bus stop to the building.

    The new 83 bus line actually stops right outside my office building, which is nice in theory but it runs so infrequently (every 30 mins) and doesn’t line up time-wise with the 61, so I almost never take it.

    How I long for the olden days when the Dept of Ed was located in downtown St. Paul, you know, along with all the other government buildings. Unfortunately, the building was plagued by toxic mold and was razed 15+ years ago.

  4. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary July 28, 2014 at 11:36 am #

    I am aware of two routes that use small buses: Metro Transit’s 540 that runs along the 77th St corridor from Mall of America to Normandale Lake. It’s relatively frequent service (15-20 minutes during the day), but the buses are about the size of Metro Mobility vehicles. The 539 (which runs mostly through Bloomington) looks more like a traditional bus, but is at least 30% smaller, with no rear door. The outside of this bus is different, too, saying Metro Council instead of Metro Transit. The small buses seem sensible for routes that are consistently low in ridership numbers. But remember, a lot of the routes have much more passengers in one area. The 18, for example, is usually pretty empty through southern Richfield and almost always empty on the 18E through Bloomington. But the bus also goes all the way downtown, and north of Lake Street especially, the buses get very full. Short of making the southern passengers switch vehicles at 38th or something, I’m not sure there’s much to be done.

    Circuitous routing is frustrating, but so too is the actual turning of the bus. I’ve taken the 9 bus from a gym in St. Louis Park to downtown, and despite being a relatively short trip, the turn after turn through SLP and Bryn-Mawr makes it a miserable ride. Even on straight routes, there is a difference in ride quality between streets with and without on-street parking. Although I generally like on-street parking and generally dislike undivided four-lanes, the four-lane streets make for the most streetcar-like bus service — where the bus smoothly stops right in its path, and does not have to pull left or merge into traffic.

  5. Al Davison
    Al Davison July 28, 2014 at 4:09 pm #

    I took the 87 from Rosedale to the U’s Saint Paul Campus (and then to the West Bank) one semester a couple years ago. It was nice that it was never packed (I think there was only one time it was full and it was due to a campus event), but getting out of the Rosedale area caused a lot of delays. Depending on the lights, it would take up to 10 minutes to get past 36.

    I liked when I could take the 272 and I took express buses to downtown to transfer occasionally, but I wish Rosedale was set up a bit better to cater to buses more. I wish did the same as Maplewood Mall and build a park-and-ride ramp rather than them putting one on Cleveland and 35W.

    • Matt Steele
      Matt Steele July 28, 2014 at 4:17 pm #

      You’d think the immediate vicinity of a transit center would be a prime spot to upgrade traffic signals to help buses along with early/late greens or some other form of priority. Rosedale Transit Center sees five routes, three of which go south on Snelling and three of which go west on County B2 (the 264 routes through the Transit Center).

      • Al Davison
        Al Davison July 28, 2014 at 5:51 pm #

        It would definitely help. I just wish the transit center was in a different part of the mall because it seems so awkwardly placed. When there was a park-and-ride (aka when they “allowed” commuters to park in the lots of the mall outside their beltway), there used to be a shelter near the approach on B2 that I used because it allowed me to not get there until another couple minutes later since the 87 has a stop near Big Bowl.

        Sometimes I would even just park at Kohl’s to save myself about 4-5 minutes it can take for the bus to get on B2 (though crossing B2 on the way back was a pain). The 87 was a nice bus otherwise though.

        • Al Davison
          Al Davison July 28, 2014 at 5:52 pm #

          Though they really need to have better pedestrian access in the Rosedale area, crossing that beltway felt like a gamble at times.

  6. Aaron Isaacs
    Aaron Isaacs July 28, 2014 at 6:27 pm #

    Al,
    There’s more to the Rosedale story than you know. Rosedale fought like crazy to keep the transit hub off their property. It’s only there because the City of Roseville intervened on behalf of it. However, the city’s help was limited. We were only able to keep the Rosedale park-ride lot in place for 5 years, then they kicked us out. That was enough time to build the park-ride over at Cleveland & 35W. It’s hard to locate a park-ride in a fully developed community, and most shopping centers strongly resist transit facilities. We got the recent one at Southdale only because Edina made it a condition of city financial assistance. At Maplewood Mall we were able to buy a theatre next to the mall that they didn’t own.

    Advice to all those who comment online–do a little research before you draw conclusions.

    • David July 29, 2014 at 8:01 am #

      I think he’s allowed to say he liked the Rosedale park & ride spot without reciting a comprehensive history of the reasons the Met Council couldn’t stay there.

      Thanks for the info, though.

    • Evan Roberts
      Evan Roberts July 29, 2014 at 11:42 am #

      It’s good to hear these stories, Aaron, puzzling as it is to understand why shopping malls wouldn’t want to fill some empty spaces with people who might come into the mall after their bus ride.

    • Al Davison
      Al Davison July 31, 2014 at 8:19 pm #

      I actually knew why they moved it (since that was the reason why I only used it for a semester), but like David said – I was just saying that I liked the Rosedale P&R more. I understand why the Cleveland and 35W ramp exists, but I was just stating that I wished the Rosedale P&R remained open to commuters (despite Rosedale not wanting it).

  7. David July 29, 2014 at 7:08 am #

    I believe First Transit operates 29 ft Gillig Low Floor buses on the 87 route.

  8. Aaron Isaacs
    Aaron Isaacs July 31, 2014 at 9:05 pm #

    Shopping centers have two objections to transit onsite:
    1. They view it as a taking of their private property.
    2. They have a stereotyped idea that transit riders don’t shop in their stores and may include criminals. Very unfair, but that’s what they think.

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