At streets.mn, our writers notice bus stops, and we aren’t shy to share our own opinions. On the other hand, we don’t seem to go out and ask other people riding the bus for theirs. Luckily, Metro Transit has found some community engagement funding to hire local community members to do “Better Bus Stops” outreach through federal Ladders of Opportunity grant funding.
Most of the Ladders of Opportunity capital funding is already funding improvements being placed in priority neighborhoods. You can explore what is happening at specific stops in this interactive map. The survey feedback will inform improvements made after the outreach effort is completed as well as Metro Transit’s shelter placement guidelines and bus stop facility guideline (both under revision).
In a meeting with Denetrick Powers, the Transit Organizer of the Harrison Neighborhood Association (HNA), I discovered he’s hosting one of the Better Bus Stops teams. He agreed to my request for a team interview to learn about the project and what they’re hearing.
I met three team members: Belle, Ayan, and Tescil. Belle described their task. “We give the community the opportunity take a survey and get feedback to forward to Metro Transit about what they would like improved in neighborhood bus shelters.” Tecil told me that most days, “We do the surveys at bus stops or ride the bus. I sit in the back and ask if anyone wants to fill out the survey. Sometimes on the bus I’m loud enough for everyone to hear.” They also go out to community events like the one where I met them, the Asian Media Access Block Party that kicked off the FLOW Northside Arts Crawl.
I arrived with two big questions:
- What does it mean to the community and local partners that local residents are doing the outreach (rather than outside consultants)?
- What are they hearing from people?
What does it mean to the community?
Denetrick highlighted that, from the neighborhood organization’s perspective, doing outreach by people from the community was important, symbolically and practically. “We are the organization in the neighborhood. [Funding for outreach means] we don’t exhaust our resources or burn out our volunteers. It gives us an opportunity to give back to our residents, to pay them — they need to be paid. It helps us to do the work we want to do. It also helps us build relationships with the community.”
To access the funding, HNA responded to an RFP with partner organizations Redeemer Center for Life and Heritage Park Neighborhood Association. They are relying on existing events and relationships, and this process also strengthens those relationships. There are 10 other groups who were funded for similar proposals throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul.
After talking with Denetrick and watching his team, I wish Metro Transit would consistently rely on local organizations for outreach and input, rather than having this unusual “Community Engagement” project. Outside consultants simply cannot match these relational assets.
Beyond the local relationships, HNA has organized neighborhood residents around transit for years, so they’re an obvious fit for this work. Harrison is the northside neighborhood closest to SWLRT and Bottineau, and the Penn Avenue C-Line goes through Harrison. This project is a model for how Metro Transit can recognize the expertise and skill of local organizations. Plus, Metro Transit is investing in local communities, aligning with their adopted equity approach.
Chatting with Belle, she highlighted, “I hear a lot of positiveness, thank yous, keep up the good work.” Ayan and Tescil both also commented on how the community appreciates that they are being asked for feedback. “This is the first time Metro Transit has invited people from the community to survey the community. I appreciate that.”
What are you hearing from people?
As I listened to Belle, Ayan, and Tescil about how people were responding to the surveys, they had some common themes. Tecil shared that, “People want stops, softer seats, polite drivers, buses to be on time, heated shelters, more benches and shelters.” Belle and Ayan both added more about safety and cameras.
Tescil also said he’d learned a lot and gotten new perspectives while doing the surveys. “I was surprised by the business owners. Owners didn’t like the bus stops. It’s bringing down their value and running their customers off. In [shelters] without cameras, young guys use shelters as hangouts for doing their business. People don’t want to get off the bus there.” He did continue to note that the perception of violence is worse than the reality, and he thinks that the perception is created by the media.
Check out (and consider taking) the survey yourself here. I find the online version easier than the paper one. When I got confused by Metro Transit’s questions, Tescil walked me through it with ease.