Introduction & Motives Behind The Study
Getting around Little Canada is relatively easy, if you have access to a vehicle. The advantages of being an inner-ring suburb of Saint Paul means that it’s well connected to the metro’s freeway network (Interstates 35E and 694, and State Highway 36). But it lacks sidewalk, bicycling, and transit infrastructure. This encourages residents to use automobiles to get around despite many amenities being within a reasonable walking distance. For example, a convenience store (Gas-N-Go), CVS, and Walgreens are within a short 7-10 minute walk from my home. Roseville’s Acorn Park is only a 15 minute walk, or just 5 minutes by bike. I can get to City Hall within a 25 minute walk to attend Planning Commission meetings. Despite these short distances, it can be difficult to access these places because the current design of arterial roadways acts as a distinct physical barrier to anything that isn’t motorized. It can be difficult to use transit here if you don’t take a vehicle to a park-and-ride, as you may be walking on desire paths along Rice Street to catch the 62, or walking to the 71 via Little Canada Road on ramps and sidewalks that get covered in ice during winter. Biking is also tricky, especially along Rice when crossing Highway 36.
Despite this conundrum, I decided to try other modes of transportation to reduce my reliance on my car last August. I’ve driven since I was 17 (I am now 25), and most of my work commutes consisted of me driving alone. I felt that in order to personally review my city’s infrastructure, I would need to use other modes to make my critique more valid. I’m lucky to have these sorts of options, as this is a personal choice and not due to financial reasons. I know many people in this suburb don’t have the same privilege: in 2014, nearly 7% of households had no vehicles, while about 50% had just one vehicle. That said, I want to help improve my city’s infrastructure so we are better equipped for our residents who don’t use or have limited access to an automobile for transport.
Another reason I would like to improve transportation options, is my belief that transportation costs for automobile-based travel are going to increase past the rates of wage increases, so communities need to better prepare to combat this. Lower to middle-income households are likely to see greater financial struggles with transportation costs as a result, and we already cannot afford to rely on solely expanding our roads. Minnesotans have generally shown an aversion to increasing taxes such as mileage-based user fees or increasing the state’s gas tax, yet we strive to invest more capital into roads than what we actually receive from user fees (which leads to financial insolvency, a.k.a. more debt). I cannot align myself with the ideology of going further into debt for road expansion projects when it’s very difficult to maintain what we have already. We need to expand transportation choices in a way that doesn’t push both governments and people into bankruptcy.
I have split my infrastructure review into three main parts (Transit, Walking, and Biking); the first part will be focused on the suburb’s transit infrastructure, which is what I now mainly rely on to get to work. I will conclude my review with a post summarizing my overall findings along with more of my personal experiences and thoughts.
Transit: Part One
Transit Options Within The Suburb
Despite its proximity to the central cities as an inner-ring suburb, Little Canada is classified as a “suburban” community by the Metro Council which are usually middle (Vadnais Heights) and outer-ring (Savage) suburbs. This contrasts with the “urban” classification given to our inner-ring suburban neighbors Roseville and Maplewood, which are of a similar population density but greater employment and retail density. Little Canada is generally seen as a low-density bedroom community, similar to other “suburban” cities in Metro Council’s Transit Market Area III. Communities within Transit Market Area III usually are served by local and express buses running every 30 to 60 minutes on weekdays (with limited or no service during the late evening/nighttime), along with limited services on weekends.
Metro Transit has multiple routes that serve Little Canada, mainly express buses during rush hour periods or urban and suburban locals with 30-90 minute headways during weekdays. Major employment centers such as downtown Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota are accessible during rush hour via express bus routes 263, 270P, and 272. Getting to Saint Paul is possible throughout most of the day; two Urban Local routes, 62 and 71, are the main connections into Saint Paul and southern suburbs (West St. Paul, South St. Paul, and Inver Grove Heights). The 262 is a limited stop version of the 62 that runs to/from the 95th Ave Park & Ride in Blaine to the Union Depot and runs during the weekday rush hour period, mainly serving workers based in downtown Saint Paul. The 223 is a suburban local route that runs during weekdays and connects the suburb with Roseville and Maplewood and their major shopping centers (Rosedale Center and Maplewood Mall). Later in the evening and on Sundays, the only bus stop serving Little Canada is the Rice Street & Highway 36 Park & Ride which serves a branch of the 62 until around 1-1:45 am.
Transit Ridership Statistics
In Fall 2015, about 555 boardings occurred on a typical weekday at bus stops inside or along the border of Little Canada (The Star Tribune has an interactive map of bus stop boardings in 2014). The busiest routes were the urban locals, though the busiest bus stop in Little Canada is at the Rice Street & Highway 36 Park & Ride due to its express routes and close access to the 62 and 262 via Rice Street and County Rd B’s bus stop. Both stops had an overall average of 235 boardings during a weekday in 2015. The second busiest stop is at Little Canada Transit Center which also is a transfer point for the 62, 71, and 223, which had nearly 92 boardings on an average weekday. A large portion of riders who board in/near Little Canada do not actually live in Little Canada, as seen in the latest (2016) park-and-ride report.
Comparing Little Canada to its neighbors on transit usage (when commuting to work) show that the suburb lags to the central cities unsurprisingly, yet is similar to other inner-ring suburbs in Ramsey County (Maplewood, Roseville):
|City||% of Transit Users*||% Drove Alone*||Average Commute Time (All modes)|
|Little Canada||5%||76%||23.4 min|
|Saint Paul||8%||69%||23.2 min|
*is rounded to nearest percent. Source: American Community Survey, 2011-2015 (5-Year) via Metro Council – Community Profiles
Conclusion of Transit: Part One
It was interesting to see that the park-and-ride at Rice Street and Highway 36 accounts for over 40% of average weekday ridership in Little Canada (including the stop at Rice Street and County Rd B). The bus routes I take for work (I alternate between the 62 and 262) account for just over half of the average weekday ridership in Little Canada, which makes sense given the 62 runs the most frequently out of all routes serving the city. I was not surprised that many bus stops see little to no ridership, which brings up the possibility of stop consolidation. In Transit: Part Two, I will discuss a study done regarding transit accessibility by the University of Minnesota’s Accessibility Observatory, my personal experiences taking the 62 and 262, and my proposed solutions to improve transit in Little Canada.