Little Canada’s “Other” Transportation Infrastructure: Conclusion

This is the final part of a series of posts about a study on Little Canada’s transportation infrastructure for people who take transit, walk, and/or bike.

Final Thoughts

As I finished up the last part last month, I have some final thoughts based off my experiences. I also discuss my biases and how they influence how I move. I will conclude with the reasons why I am moving out of Little Canada.

Transit 

I have been taking the bus to/from work for a year now (See earlier posts Transit: Parts One and Two), and it has had its ups and downs. I have taken every bus route that serves Little Canada except the 263 (express bus to/from downtown Minneapolis). It still is my primary mode for my commute until I move to Saint Paul next week.

I would be lying if I didn’t say the bad experiences have made me consider not taking transit at times. Ultimately, I think it’s important to discuss the cons of taking transit and find ways to improve it rather than giving up on taking transit. Issues do need to be addressed, especially the socio-economic impacts that transit has on people.

Based off my experiences, suburban commuters who work 9-5 jobs in downtown (such as myself) seem to ride more comfortably than the urban riders who often are transit-dependent. We may even ride cheaper, as my Metropass is only $35 per month since it is subsidized by my employer. The people who rely on transit may not be able to take part in these benefits (though there is the Transit Assistance Program). I have a flexible schedule, and I started to going work earlier so I could take the 262 to work and avoid taking the 62 (which is 5-15 minutes longer, but runs throughout the day).

Not everyone has a flexible schedule that can adhere to the bus and train schedules. When members of the Metro Council admit using our transit system doesn’t work well with their work schedules, it’s not hard to see that the general public has similar issues. If you can afford a car and/or work in an area with no convenient transit options, chances are you’re going to drive instead of taking transit. This leaves people who rely on transit stuck with limitations with their access to transportation, and are more restricted in their ability to achieve upward mobility.

It is very difficult to serve a place like Little Canada; despite being an inner-ring suburb, our low population density cannot support all-day transit with high-frequencies (<15 minutes). We are fortunate enough to have enough people that travel to Saint Paul and Minneapolis to permit bus service during the daytime. Despite this, the frequencies of when the buses run (typically between 30-90 minutes) make taking transit risky here. When these buses are late or don’t show up, you can end up in a bad situation.

The two times that I have taken the 71, it has been late (likely due to the construction on Jackson St). As a result, I ended up late to a meeting at the city hall during my second time on the 71. Some buses are so infrequent, such as the 223, which comes every 90 minutes on weekdays only. It’s not hard to fathom why people avoid taking the bus if they can because of the limited options. We get stuck in a catch-22 situation. Many don’t take transit because its infrequent, but when transit improvements are proposed they are seen as a waste of money.

Metro Transit has a great plan to improve bus service for the northeast metro, though funding is unsurprisingly limited.  When an investment does make it through the pipeline, they can be successful such as the park-and-ride at Highway 36 and Rice St. Suburbs also need to be more open towards building multifamily housing again along existing transit corridors (and not just for senior living), rather actively resist or try to avoid it. Some nearby suburbs such as Shoreview are realizing this. They have been approving market-rate multifamily housing that sometimes has some affordable housing units. Building on these busy corridors can help support make transit better in the suburbs, because we can’t just rely on park-and-rides.

Park-and-rides can help draw in riders from the suburbs, though they are expensive and not always successful. Source: Metro Council

Walking

I still have been walking to the bus, though I have not been walking to places outside of my commute lately (See past article on walking). I usually take the 262 bus scheduled at 6:55 am, and not the one at 7:20 am because it’s more difficult to cross County Road C at that time. Since I can’t take a 262 home anymore (in March, the 262 was impacted by service cuts due to funding constraints) due to working long shifts, I usually stay at work until I can take the 62C. That bus is only a 5 minute walk back home and I don’t need to cross County Road C. I often take a long lunch and work later because the 62C’s 6:13 pm bus is usually less packed than the 5:13 pm bus.

I will not miss crossing County Road C. Source: Self-taken (June 2017)

 

As a result of walking to my bus stop, I frequent a local convenience store (Gas-N-Go) more and usually pick up a snack for breakfast. They sell donuts from a local place (Donut Hut) that I like. I interact with my neighbors more when I walk in my neighborhood compared to when I drive. Throughout the summer I constantly saw people out on our trails and sidewalks. Even during the early morning, I usually spot a couple people walking or biking around.

Bicycling

As stated in my recent post about bicycling, I haven’t been biking much lately. We definitely need more trails so we can connect Little Canada better with the rest of the metro. If the infrastructure was safer, there are a few destinations are easily bikeable from my home. I found that Central Park in Roseville is only about 10-15 minutes away by bike. Other places within a 10-15 minute ride are a few restaurants, bars, and even Lake Gervais. There were valid concerns over trails in the comment section, where having both bike lanes and a trail on a busy corridor might the best option due to how people ride their bikes. Cyclists who ride fast might better off on the road, so slower-paced cyclists and people walking can have a more pleasant experience on the trail. Ramsey County’s bike and pedestrian plan is great and shows the potential for connecting our communities together.

 

Building out proposed corridors and improving the safety of existing corridors for walking and biking would be great for the entire county. Source: Ramsey County

One benefit I found out is that you can still use a drive-thru ATM on your bike (which amused the person behind me in the queue). Parking isn’t an issue, because there tends to at least a street sign nearby. The biggest issue for me is there aren’t trails or wide enough shoulders on many roads, so I end up driving instead. Since vehicular parking can cost thousands of dollars per space on a surface lot, it can add up quickly and be a large sunk cost for a business. Often places end up building too many spaces, which can be due to parking minimums and/or perceptions of high demand. For example, Culver’s parking lot gets busy at times, but even when just a few people bike or walk there, it can help stabilize parking demand. The building itself only takes up about 1/6th of the entire lot, while the space for cars covers most of the lot. By making a vehicle necessary for most people to get around (even within our own neighborhoods), we have ended up with a lot of valuable land being underdeveloped for vehicle storage.

My Biases

I don’t expect anyone in Little Canada to have done the same things I have done. I did this transportation analysis mainly out of curiosity. My biases influenced my willingness to try different modes. Given that my job is in the transportation field and my undergrad major was in Urban Studies, it’s easy to admit that I’m more willing to be multimodal than the average person. When talking to people about transportation in general, I sometimes end up feeling like an anomaly. When I have told people about how I commute, people think I am crazy that I have biked to work from Little Canada. They wonder why I take the bus to work when I can drive. Some think the buses are empty all the time, which I then comment on my experiences taking the bus during rush hour. To be fair, the buses are rather empty during off-peak times. I get asked why I still walk to places during bad weather and/or if it’s bit of a distance. I get offered rides at times by friends and co-workers, which I do sometimes accept. People often get annoyed on how often I bring up transportation in discussions, and they do disagree with my viewpoints frequently. I admit that I sound like a broken record at times, but even I was unaware of what people who don’t drive have to deal with until I did this analysis. Now since I have brought up my experiences, I hope that more people realize that it is possible to be multimodal here.

I often catch myself committing the argument to moderation fallacy because of my bias towards centrism. I like compromise, and think in many cases it is unavoidable. The issue with certain compromises is that they can be horrible solutions. These are the times where you will have to pick a side. Compromises are often seen with transit, walking, and biking improvement projects. A local example of a bad compromise is Rice Street’s “bike area” lanes, which I have criticized before. Right of way constraints, vocal opposition from residents, and other issues can lead to a “compromise” being made, if the project manages to go through. Controversy occurred over improving multimodal access on Rice Street in Saint Paul, with anger towards proposed bike lanes. Compromises can make an “improvement” ineffective and dangerous; Rice Street is not safe for anyone as an undivided four-lane road, and improving bike and walking infrastructure can improve safety on Rice. Compromises can be better than doing nothing, though it’s better to pick a solution that is safe for everyone to use.

Why I Am Moving

I decided that it was time for me to move out of my family’s home (I just turned 26). I looked for places in Little Canada, though I ultimately decided to move to Saint Paul. I will be living in a one-bedroom apartment on the edge of downtown near the Cathedral. I will become a renter, as I decided owning is not a good idea at the moment. I considered owning since I have a stable middle-income job, a large amount of savings, and a decent credit score. Despite this, the financial liabilities and risks tied to owning were too high for me as a single-person household. Our housing market is overvalued as a result of low supply but high demand for affordable homes, which hurts low to middle-income homebuyers. The market is cooling down, but buying a home is still too expensive for many.

As a result of my upcoming move, I have left Little Canada’s planning commission. In retrospect, I regret a few things. As stated earlier, my biases affected my performance in a negative way at times. This is not criticism towards the commission or city council, but of myself. I tend to avoid conflicts, and as a result I have withheld my opinions that would have been seen as contrarian during meetings. I was not happy when renters were criticized, though I said nothing to defend my views to those residents. I have approved drive-thrus that I didn’t think were a good idea, mainly due to design conflicts (similar to the current Starbucks drive-thru fiasco in Saint Paul). I did speak up occasionally, but not enough. Ultimately I should have been more confident and upfront in addressing my viewpoints and concerns. I was worried that I would be seen as naïve given my age (I was appointed when I was only 23), but I should have not kept quiet because of my anxiety.

If I stayed in Little Canada, I would have likely kept driving to most things. Within the past couple months, I have been driving often again. I stopped walking to meetings at the city hall, and even drove to work a few times. I prefer not to rely on a car to get around, so I tend to prefer urban areas as a result. Saint Paul seems like a better fit for me, at least for now. I will not be car-free, but am going to try to live car-lite. That might change in a few years, but I’d rather keep my housing and transportation costs below 50 percent of my net income for the time being. Being multimodal helps me be able to live close to my job without breaking the bank.

I was born in Little Canada and have resided here for most of my life. I may return someday, such as when I consider buying a home. Despite its small size, Little Canada is a diverse community that holds a large amount of Ramsey County’s affordable housing stock. I will have to see what happens to Rice Street, and if the Trout Creek Trail gets extended.

I hope all goes well with Little Canada’s update to the Comprehensive Plan, and wish them the best.

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