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.