You Should Ride the Bus

In my last post I had a wee bit of a complaint about the information available about bus routes on the Metro Transit website. Now I want to change tack completely and get back to giving all of the advice you never asked for or wanted: you should ride the bus.

Yes, I’m talking to you (okay, maybe not you, Travis Bickle, although it might be better than your driving a taxi).

It snowed the other day. Everyone complained about their commutes. Down in our little part of south Minneapolis, there was much shovelling (shout out to the neighbor with the snowblower who did whole block’s sidewalk!) and some not shoveling. Cars were difficult to move. There was a snow emergency. But the bus ran more or less on time (I wrote that sentence before the commute home, for which the bus was more than a little late, alas).

You can catch many different routes here.

I recently had reason to wander around, by car naturally, in the suburb in which I grew up. Aside from being inspired to wonder why we lived there (I know some reasons), I was reminded why we drove everywhere. We kind of had to. There are some sidewalks, but they don’t go everywhere (and I was a lazy enough teen to walk a few blocks away from school to catch the bus rather than walk to school).

Granted, before we were old enough to drive, we biked (now there are more bike lanes and MUPs than their used to be). I recall it being a little scary, for example, to ride my bike across Silver Lake Road to get to a friend’s house. We biked over to what was then the Apache Plaza mall in St. Anthony to get fishing supplies at what we thought was the greatest sporting goods store on the mall periphery, the name of which I can’t remember.

Back then we biked because we had too. I recall at one point trying to figure out how to take a bus somewhere and it would have taken two hours, a trip more or less all the way into downtown, and at least one transfer. (In my memory that trip was to the Apache Mall, but it looks like the 25, today, would have sort of worked for that, so maybe it was Rosedale.) The point being, we didn’t take the bus.

Then I moved into the big city for college. We took campus buses, but not the city buses, except that I’d take the bus to the Capitol for student lobbying, and in particular meetings of the Regent Candidate Advisory Council (yes, I was odd as a college student too). It was cheaper than parking and more convenient than driving.  As a college student, that made a big difference.

Then I moved to DC, where I lived close enough to walk to school and then work. I lived in DC for 11 years and I don’t think I ever took a city bus. I’d take the Metro to a ballgame or to a different part of the city (randomly to explore at first), but personal transportation was on foot or in a car.  I recall one day being surprised that one of the big shot partners – who lived in a giant mansion in Georgetown and who used to tell young associates making late night deliveries of documents to use the service entrance – told me he either walks or takes the bus.

It shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. Because to me, and I think a lot of Minnesotans from the suburbs, taking the bus is not something that a person who can afford otherwise does.

But it should be. For lots of reasons.

Doesn’t this look like a bus you’d like to ride?

These days, I really do mostly prefer not to drive. At rush hour, it’s frustrating, slow and wasted time and in the morning ends in an expensive parking spot. When I take the bus I get to save a little money, take up a lot less street space than alone in a car, emit a lot less carbon and other pollutants, move at least a little to get to and from the bus stop, and spend my commuting time doing stuff that’s not driving. Just the other day, I was able to do a work call from the bus on the way home (yes, lots of people do that while driving too, but they really should not).

But even when I’m not commuting, I still like to take the bus if I can’t bike. It’s still better for the environment. It still relieves me of having to pay for parking, especially if I’m going to a sporting event. Heck, I took the bus to the birth of our daughter, who wound up coming a bit earlier than planned. It turns out, the 5 is a perfectly good way to get to Children’s hospital from downtown (unless you would rather bike).

The bus isn’t an option for everyone. If you live in the suburbs instead of closer to stuff or closer to work, your coverage might be spotty. It turns out you can’t run a bus to the end of every suburban cul-de-sac.

Now if I could just get everyone to shovel the sidewalks between our house and the bus stop before I need to head out for work…

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18 Responses to You Should Ride the Bus

  1. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke March 1, 2018 at 10:22 am #

    Thanks for sharing this perceptive perspective Adam. I agree with you, and enjoy taking the bus a lot when it fits into my schedule, as it does often these days. I only wish the bus was more convenient for going to more places besides downtown Saint Paul.

  2. Monte Castleman March 1, 2018 at 10:26 am #

    If I worked downtown, the 535 stops two houses down from me. But I don’t, I work in Eagan. Just for fun I plugged my route into Metro Transit’s trip planner and it was an over two hour trip involving two transfers for a trip that’s 20 minutes by car.

    • Tim March 1, 2018 at 10:38 am #

      Yep, I live in the south metro, and when I worked in downtown Minneapolis, taking the bus worked great and I did it almost every day for a decade. But I work in a neighboring suburb now, and while it’s possible to take the bus, the ratio of hassle to convenience is a lot different from when I worked downtown, so I don’t.

      • David Burrow March 1, 2018 at 4:24 pm #

        The Twin Cities would do well to copy a system they use in San Antonio. There one of the busiest bus routes basically just circles the beltway. There are fairly convenient timed connections with all the major north/south and east/west routes so you don’t have to go all the way downtown just to get from one suburban neighborhood to another.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller March 1, 2018 at 10:41 am #

      Monte, you should not take the bus to work. 😉

  3. Matt Steele
    Matt Steele March 1, 2018 at 10:30 am #

    Please fix the caption under the photo of the Route 134 bus. That bus goes to St. Paul…

  4. David Markle
    David Markle March 1, 2018 at 10:32 am #

    Adam, you make many good points, but Monte’s comment indicates our need for a high speed skeletal metro transit network, supplemented by buses.

    I’m afraid we’ll never get one, lacking an elected Met Council and better central planning.

  5. JN March 1, 2018 at 10:47 am #

    I take the bus when it makes sense, but….

    I work in Chaska and there is a bus stop out side of my office building and there is a bus stop literally right in front of my house (and several more within short walking distance).

    But the fastest bus route between home and work involves going downtown Minneapolis, several transfers and about three hours of time…..

    My 15 mile commute takes about 20 min to drive, and ~1 hr to bike.

  6. Jesse March 1, 2018 at 10:49 am #

    Yeah i wish i could live in this fantasy world where Metro Transit is efficient and flexible.

    Live in downtown and work in a suburb? 25 mintue car commute during rush hour turns into a 90 minute trip, with 45 mins of that walking. Useless.

    Spent a billion dollars on the Green Line, and it is still faster to drive from MPLS to St Paul during rush hour. The design is the most fischer price thing ever, constant turns that could have been avoided, constant at grade crossings, and too much time spent on the light rail stuck at traffic lights. Get it above or below street level and it would be a public asset.

    Work any kind of gig or in the service industry past midnight downtown? No late night frequency. Tack on another 30 mins waiting for a bus to arrive. Faster to walk than sit around.

    Unless you live a cookie cutter life, our public transit lacks. Go to chicago, ride the red line. That’s efficiency.

    • Will March 2, 2018 at 9:29 am #

      I agree that I much rather have had the Green line be elevated or turned into a subway, but the complaint about the time between downtowns is moot. There are stops in between, serving neighborhoods and other destinations. Use the 94 if you want non-stop service.

  7. Serafina Scheel
    Serafina Scheel March 1, 2018 at 3:05 pm #

    I’ve become a regular transit rider since I broke my wrist and stopped biking for the season. I know not everyone has the luxury of choosing where to work and live, but when we bought our house in 2010, transit accessibility to the U to the airport, and both downtowns was vital. We even bought a house with no garage. In Minnesota. The bus connection was more important. Speed between the downtown areas isn’t as important as having stops in areas I want to go and frequent service.

    • Rosa March 3, 2018 at 8:58 pm #

      yeah, we chose to buy on a bus line. It’s great. There are tradeoffs but it’s worth it – there is just about nothing better, on a cold winter morning, than just walking out your door and having a nice warm, bright bus stop for you. No driving on icy roads. No scraping.

      now if only we could get more dense development around here so more people could choose that.

  8. Eric March 2, 2018 at 10:52 am #

    Man. I feel like if Metro transit has low-hanging fruit for new riders it would be the folks to know about, read, and then comment on streets.mn . These comments have me kind of depressed about the functionality of our current transit. With rail being so difficult politically and a very captive audience (us) finding the bus system so inferior for our actual life needs, I wonder if our bus system wouldn’t benefit from a radical redesign/simplification.

    Being a total amateur and knowing next to nothing, would it be so hard to simply have N/S buses on every major N/S street and the same thing for E/W streets? Then instead of riding the “128” bus to transfer to the “36” bus, I could just ride how I navigate. “I took the 26th bus west and transferred to the northbound Lyndale bus to get home from the hospital”.

    • Eric Saathoff
      Eric Saathoff March 2, 2018 at 12:07 pm #

      I like the idea but it breaks down somewhat when you consider many areas in St. Paul that have barriers created by railroads, highways, and geographical features (bluffs, for instance). Transfers make less of a big deal if frequency is very high, but making a left turn in a car is much easier than making a transfer every time you need to change direction.

      • Eric March 2, 2018 at 1:04 pm #

        Right. Man, I just feel like if this sample of people (who I believe without evidence are more inclined to value transit as an option) finds transit so inefficient for so many of our trips I can’t help but think there is room for optimization.

    • Aaron Isaacs
      Aaron Isaacs March 5, 2018 at 9:44 am #

      Folks, the reason Metro Transit doesn’t run suburb-to-suburb expresses is that they are hugely expensive, yet attract virtually no riders. Witness the recent test services on Hwy. 169 and Eden Prairie to Shakopee. When Target moved a large number of bus riders from their downtown offices to Brooklyn Park, they worked with Metro Transit create a non-stop express from a Richfield park-ride to the door of the Brooklyn Park to Target offices and almost nobody rode it. So now it’s gone.

      Too many Streets commenters assume there is some kind of unused funding surplus available to Metro Transit to pay for high-risk, low return transit service. Not so. Because of the GOP legislature, it will be a challenge to preserve what’s running now, and that’s the productive service.

  9. Melissa Wenzel March 3, 2018 at 7:38 am #

    I’d love for transit leaders (including myself) to push for multi-modal. Not everyone can bike or bus to work, but if you work in either downtown, you can drive to a park-and-ride and take a bus or train. Or bike those last 5 miles from nearby park-and-rides. The system is there and is surprisingly great (for downtown work) and EVERYONE can do it. People have lots of reasons why they don’t and I don’t want/mean to judge but most people on most days could have a multi-modal commute instead of driving into downtown and paying to have their car sit in a garage or on a surface lot all day, not being used.

    • Alf March 6, 2018 at 11:45 am #

      The A Line makes it possible for me to be a bike commuter year-round. My route to work takes me along Snelling over the bridges between Hewitt and Como, and the sidewalks are usually impassible after it snows (I used to ride in the lane there, 45-mph semis and all, but I kind of lost my nerve for that after an asshole driver smacked their mirror into my butt along that stretch last fall). I throw my bike on the bus at Minnehaha and then get off at Como to continue on to campus through the fairgrounds, which are always well plowed. Of course, I’d rather MNDOT would just properly plow the sidewalks and hop to building that beautiful Snelling Ave. reconstruction plan with the stoplights and the protected bikeways that they were displaying last year. But until those pigs fly, the A Line is pretty great.

      The thing is, though, it only works because there aren’t many of us doing it. Outside the winter months, the bike racks on the buses are often filled. I can’t plan a multi-modal trip if I don’t know whether I might have to wait for 2-3 buses to go by before there’s one that I can put my bike on. To make bus/bike trips practical for any significant number of suburban commuters, there would have to be bikes waiting for them at one or (more likely) both ends–meaning either large and well-functioning bikeshare hubs, or good-sized high-security bike storage facilities.

      The other barrier that many commuters have, which wasn’t really on my radar either until I had kids in school, was that many people’s commute includes a pick-up at some point. I can bike in all kinds of conditions, but my kindergartener can’t. His school is on my way home from work, but to get him from after-school care in the winter, I have to bike home, get the car, and then drive back to his school, which requires me to leave work significantly earlier. A suburban commuter might very likely be shuttling kids around a several-mile radius at the end of their drive, and that might work if they’re leaving a car at the park-and-ride, but probably not if they’re going home to a 5-mile bike ride–or if inflexible pickup and activity schedules don’t mesh well with inflexible bus schedules, which they often don’t.

      Not that there aren’t ways to ease these various barriers, at least in theory, if we’re talking optimistic scenarios where there is money for things like high-frequency bus service and good park/bike-and-ride infrastructure. But it’s definitely not a case where EVERYONE could do it right now if only they cared.

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