The Quarterly Transit Report–March 2018

There’s little to report about the March service change, mostly fine tuning. That’s not surprising, considering it follows a major effort to beef up service for the Super Bowl. The only change of note is the rerouting of eastbound express routes 294, 350, 351, 361 and 364 from downtown St. Paul via the 6th Street ramp onto I-94. It saves a couple of minutes compared to the old route via the East 3rd Street bridge.

Elsewhere in the news the reconstruction of the Mall of America Transit Center has been delayed because the bids came in over budget. The project will relocate the bus station east of the LRT station. This will eliminate bus delays waiting in line with trucks and cars to enter at the security checkpoint, and delays crossing the LRT tracks.

Annual Park and Ride survey

The annual park-ride survey is out. Every fall the staff counts all the spaces at the 106 regional park-rides and the number of cars occupying them. The facilities total 34,008 spaces. Occupancy in 2017 set a record of 19,610, up from 18,715 in 2016. Here’s the link to the full report.

2017 Ridership Recap

Metro Council staff is reporting on 2017 transit ridership. Both reports (park and ride and transit ridership) are listed in the agenda to the Feb. 26 Met Council Transportation Committee meeting.

When you read the report, look at the page headings carefully, because they look repetitive, but slice the data different ways.

Slide 4 breaks down the ridership for services directly operated by the Met Council.

Slide 7 shows the entire metro ridership by mode, including the non-Met Council services.

Slide 8 shows the totals for the suburban opt out providers and the U of M.

Slide 9 shows the Met Council-operated services by mode.

What are the highlights? Light rail is up by 4% and Northstar commuter rail by 12%. Local buses are down 4% and express buses by 2%.

Pedestrian Access to Transit

Transit service is discouraged when walkways to and from the bus stop or rail station are missing. Having to walk in the street with traffic is intimidating and dangerous on arterial streets, less of a problem on quiet residential streets. To have anything resembling a comfortable pedestrian experience, there should be sidewalks on both sides of every street with a transit route, and, at a minimum, sidewalks on arterial streets leading to transit.

How much of the metro area meets those minimum requirements? The cliche is that the central cities are fully sidewalked and the suburbs are not. The truth is more complex. Minneapolis and St. Paul are indeed mostly sidewalked, except for some mid-20th century industrial parks. The surprise is the suburbs, which are much farther along than one would guess, considering they started from nothing less than 20 years ago.

How do I know this? That’s a harder question to answer than it should be. The Met Council maintains the regional Geographic Information System (GIS). It contains layers (the GIS term) for almost every physical feature or socioeconomic characteristic you can think of. But there is no layer for sidewalks. That’s a major shortcoming. How can you have a regional plan for improving ped/transit access without base data?

In fact there is data available, but it’s fragmented. I learned this through an internet search. Ramsey County has a map for the whole county. Beyond that, you have to search the websites of individual cities. This is where you find a wide range of commitment. Minneapolis has a map that shows all sidewalks and highlights all the streets without them. Saint Louis Park maps all its sidewalks and trails and shows the next several years of sidewalk construction programs. On the other end of the spectrum, I couldn’t find sidewalk maps for Saint Paul, Bloomington, South Saint Paul and New Hope, to name a few.

It appears that most of the suburbs got into ped facilities when they started building off-road recreational trails. Some of these had to use street rights-of-way, and eventually eventually they found themselves in the sidewalk business, maybe also thanks to citizen pressure. When searching for sidewalk maps online, you frequently have to search “trails” to find them.

The good news is that most of the suburban bus route streets now have sidewalks, as do most of the arterial streets leading to bus routes. Most but not all. At least that’s true for the cities with sidewalk maps. Most neighborhood streets have no sidewalks, but they’re a secondary priority until the arterials are equipped.

The Suburban Public to Private Pedestrian Barrier

Go to any suburb beyond the inner ring and you’ll find an infrastructure designed to impede pedestrian access from the street into adjacent development. The Red Line BRT is a prime example of this. To get from the street to the adjacent shopping center, business, school or whatever, a pedestrian has to climb over berms, navigate ditches, push through landscaping, climb retaining walls or skirt fences. Or there’s the alternative–walk with traffic in the automobile driveway.

Because private property is involved, this is a problem that can only be solved by the cities through zoning ordinances. It would probably be a good idea for complete street advocates to craft a model ordinance about access from public rights of way to private property and lobby cities to adopt it.



Aaron Isaacs

About Aaron Isaacs

Aaron retired in 2006 after 33 years as a planner and manager for Metro Transit, where he worked in route and schedule planning, operations, maintenance, transit facilities, light rail and traffic advantages for buses. He's an historian of transit, as a 40+ year volunteer with the Minnesota Streetcar Museum. He's co-author of Twin Cities by Trolley, The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and author of Twin Ports by Trolley on Duluth-Superior.

11 thoughts on “The Quarterly Transit Report–March 2018

  1. Jeb RachJeb Rach

    Minor quibble: Saint Paul’s data is integrated into the Ramsey County pedestrian map. There’s no separate one, but the Ramsey County map appears to have accurate data for Saint Paul.

  2. Melissa WenzelMelissa Wenzel

    I live in SE Saint Paul and I can’t believe I don’t have regular (non-express) bus service. The 350 is 4/10 a mile away but it’s SO limiting and only runs in the AM to downtown (and PM from downtown). The nearest “regular” bus stop is over a mile away. We have a high population of immigrants and people without cars near us too. I probably wouldn’t have bought our home in SE Saint Paul if I had known how limiting the bus options are. I bike most days but what if something happens where I can’t bike anymore?

    Note: I also work in an area, a mile from downtown, that is a bit of a transit desert. Nearly 90% of my co-workers drive a car solo to work. Very few buses go to our work site and most are not willing to take the bus into downtown to take a transfer to the buses that go to us. And I work at the state environmental agency, too.

    1. daniel k

      Unfortunately you didn’t do your homework when looking for a house .
      This area always had limited services due to low ridership the only area with high density is near McKnight and Londin that has good services
      .The #63 was improved significantly with 20-30mins services midday and earlier and later services.
      The SE St Paul area is similar to most suburbs with very low densities with mostly single family homes on large lot not which tend to attract very few bus riders.
      Burns Ave services was trimmed again due to low ridership I have seen many #70 buses almost empty this route had very low density and ridership .

      When I first moved here living with sister in NEW Brighton,I hate it because of the limited transit, Now I make sure I am a good busline and work really hard to find jobs within the central cities on buslines.I know this not always possible for some jobs.

      1. Melissa WenzelMelissa Wenzel

        Thanks, daniel k, I’m well aware of my rushed research in transit led to a false realization that I thought routine transit existed when none did not. I honestly didn’t think any part of Saint Paul literally had no bus service. I see 8-10 different school buses go down our road but the nearest public bus stop is over a mile away. If only every resident had the right to bus service. Imagine THAT world!

        We were faced with a housing scarcity not seen in 40 years last year, and we put offers on 2 houses in 2 different parts of the city on the same day (don’t do it, we don’t recommend it). In hindsight, I’m really glad we got the house we did. We have nature and safety, quiet and solitude. We lack connectivity which has been super tough, but it turns out we’re tougher. I figured out how to bike nearly every day all winter, something I didn’t even do when I was downtown. I’ve also used my voice with city, county, and state officials to raise the important topic of transit equity. We have a large immigrant community, with a lot of people not being able to afford a car, and I’ve been watching people wheel their wheelchair on a street in Saint Paul (McKnight south of Lower Afton) because there are no sidewalks.

        I’ve ALWAYS learned how to take a bad situation and make it into a good one. But it doesn’t mean I won’t complain a bit along the way. I’ve earned that right.

        1. Nick Minderman

          The tough reality is that we can’t supply our way to higher transit use in areas like SE St. Paul. The way our infrastructure is designed gives drivers such a time advantage that, barring a huge increase in cost of driving people will naturally choose the cheap and fast option–even if there are huge negative externalities associated with their preferred method (driving). I agree that having a large low income population should help that, but if their destinations are diverse there may not be as much ridership potential as we suspect.

  3. Daniel Hartigkingledion

    Is there by-station ridership reports, especially for the two light rail lines?

    I saw that published for the Green Line for just one week only right after the service opened, but I haven’t see a by-station breakdown since.

    Also, is there a by-line breakdown for the buses as there had been in the past?

    1. Mike Hicks

      I’ve contacted Metro Transit’s public relations contacts for the station-by-station LRT counts in the past. They don’t regularly publish this information, as far as I’m aware, though I wish they would.

      With all of the mucking around that the legislature always wants to do to the Met Council, regular reporting of ridership information would be a fairly positive change they could mandate to improve transparency.

  4. Mike Hicks

    I was surprised to see a Rider Alert for schedule changes at my route 54 bus stop this morning. I’m curious if this is a new policy. I understand that the 54 is pretty heavily loaded for these morning trips, though, so there may have been a bigger than normal incentive to post the message:

    Thanks for pointing out the ridership info. I always think it’s pretty wild that the UMN buses carry more passengers than any of the opt-out providers (3.9 million last year), though of course they’re free to ride and run frequently in an area where people need to move from place to place several times a day.

    I had tried adding sidewalk data to OpenStreetMap a few years ago, though my contributions to that site have stalled as I’ve been working on my state rail maps instead. If people have the spare time available to enter them in, it would be nice to see more sidewalks included there.

    Pretty frustrating that the MoA transit center project had been delayed, and that there was the aborted attempt to relocate it to temporary stops before the bids had even been decided on.

  5. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    I love your mention of the lack of connection between public sidewalks and private property. This has been a major frustration for me in outer-suburban areas. Older inner ring areas often have the problem, too, but tend not to have massive planted areas that pose an extra impediment to getting to the front door.

    It’s bizarre to me to build great, wide new facilities (like the 10′ trail + ~8′ boulevard on Cedar Ave in Apple Valley) that doesn’t actually connect to anything. Where do these people think pedestrians are coming from or going to?

    The first choice should always be an immediately sidewalk-facing building, with a primary pedestrian entrance off of the sidewalk. If that isn’t viable for whatever reason (warehouse, secure facility like nursing home, etc), there must be an obvious, well-maintained path from the sidewalk to the door.

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