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Ride the Bus to Stillwater After Work Before They Cut Service

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The 294 pulls up to board passengers in downtown St. Paul. March 1, 2018

Act on this fast! On March 9, Metro Transit plans to severely cut service on express route 294. The Metro Transit line runs weekdays between St. Paul and Stillwater, making stops near 3M, in Oakdale and in Lake Elmo.

Currently, the 294 has eight trips going to Stillwater (three in the morning, five in the afternoon) and nine trips going to St. Paul (six in the morning, three in the afternoon). You still will be able to take the bus to Stillwater after March 9. It just gets more complicated.

  • You will be able to take TransitLink, which uses a large van to fill in the gaps of standard bus service, on all Stillwater runs if you want to visit downtown.
  • If you prefer a fixed-route bus, however, only seven trips will operate in each direction after March 9.
  • Trips operating from St. Paul to Stillwater will not serve downtown Stillwater (the Water and Myrtle stop) in the morning, and only two trips will serve it in the afternoon.
  • Only three trips operating from Stillwater to St. Paul will serve downtown Stillwater: two in the morning and one in the afternoon. The morning trips serving downtown Stillwater start at the St. Croix Valley Rec Center on the western edge of town. 
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A Metro Transit bus passes by the Washington County courthouse on March 1, 2018.

The new schedule will leave little time, if any, to explore Stillwater after work. These changes will render the 294 a commuter line, its sole purpose being to get people to and from work. It would still be possible to take the 294 to see Stillwater’s scenic downtown. But you would need to get to a bus stop early in downtown St. Paul and then walk about an hour from the final stop to downtown Stillwater.

Stillwater is a magical place. It’s the birthplace of Minnesota, for one. Highlights for visitors include stairs with awesome views of the St. Croix River, as well as a historic lift bridge and Tremblay’s Sweets, located in the heart of the charming downtown. Stillwater also has an immaculate historic courthouse, with even greater views of town.

All of this reminds me of my California home. San Francisco is a city known for its hills and views, which I miss. Stillwater comes close.

The journey to Stillwater via bus is as magical as the town itself. Imagine riding an articulated bus past barns and grain silos. You’ll also see a pet hospital with carvings of different animals attached to the mailboxes.

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North Star Farm, Lake Elmo, Minnesota. March 1, 2018

 

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One of the many animal-adapted mailboxes off Stillwater Boulevard in Lake Elmo. March 1, 2018.

Cutting service on the 294 makes it impossible for those who don’t want to drive — or have no access to a car — to explore this place. Spontaneity is important in life. Why should someone need their own motorized vehicle to make spontaneous stops along the way to their destination (and find parking while they’re at it), when they could just get off a bus, wander for a bit and then wait for the next bus?

No wonder some people think they need a car to get around the Twin Cities. In a metro area with more limited transit service than other cities (and than I am accustomed to), people want to be able to get where they want, when they want. That is the sentiment expressed by my immigrant Chinese parents, colleagues from my terms of public service and many of my friends. Mind you, most of them are Millennials.  

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Stillwater Lift Bridge. March 1, 2018

A recent report to the Legislature from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency showed that transportation is the state’s largest source of greenhouse gases. We are never going to reduce carbon emissions so long as the state and Metro Transit cut transit service and treat the system as if it matters only to those actively contributing to our economy.

We also need to consider how families visiting their relatives in prison will be affected by the changes on route 294. The 294 is a 33-minute walk from the Minnesota Correctional Facility in nearby Bayport. More than 1,600 adult male felons are incarcerated there. For families without cars, the 294 is a sure way to stay in touch with their incarcerated loved ones.

The problem is, both the old and new bus schedules  as well as the prison’s own schedule — allow too little time for family visits. What if family members have only weekends off? Even TransitLink doesn’t run on weekends. It’s also more expensive than riding a fixed-route bus.

Visits reduce recidivism. If people can’t visit prisoners, the prison cycle continues and crime remains a problem. Even video visits, which require no physical travel, are accessible only to “offenders” without misconduct on their record; and at a cost of almost $10 per half hour, video visits may be out of reach for inmates, who earn far less than minimum wage at their prison jobs. 

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Downtown Stillwater. August 23, 2017.

Having grown up in the Bay Area, I like leveraging transit to explore and get around. Coincidentally, the Bay Area also has a route 294, which I rode twice to visit the Peninsula coast. I didn’t have a license or a car, and the Bay Area 294, operated by SamTrans, allowed me to take a solitary journey — and on a route more rider-friendly than the Stillwater 294.

Federal law determines which communities receive funding for fixed-route service. Neither Stillwater, Minnesota nor Half Moon Bay, California receives funds for fixed-route transit service because both towns are under 50,000 in population. So maybe the disparity in my experience with the two routes owes to California investing more money in transit than Minnesota does.

The state desperately needs to set its transit priorities straight in the current legislative session —  not only to save our planet from impending doom, but also to save . . . ourselves.

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A Metro Transit bus makes its descent into downtown Stillwater on August 23, 2017.

More changes are in store on Metro Transit routes beginning March 9. Later this week on streets.mn, former Metro Transit planner and manager Aaron Isaacs will analyze some of these changes. Stay tuned.

Ride the 294 to Stillwater

Here’s your plan for a brief but scenic trip to Stillwater after work — before the route changes March 9:

  • Get to 5th and Minnesota in downtown St. Paul by 3:35 p.m.
  • Board the 294 around 3:44 p.m.
  • Arrive in Stillwater about 4:30 p.m. Don’t get off at the St. Croix Valley (Rec Center) Park & Ride; the walk to downtown Stillwater from here is at least an hour.
    • For easy access to a stairway with great views of the bridge, get off at Greeley and Oak. Walk one block north to Olive, then continue east until 4th, then make a left
    • For the Courthouse, get off at Pine and 4th.
    • For the waterfront, get off at Water and Myrtle.
  • Be at Water and Myrtle by 6 p.m. for your return trip to the Twin Cities.
  • Get on the last 294 back to downtown St. Paul about 6:10 p.m.
  • Arrive in downtown St. Paul at around 7:10 p.m.

If you miss the last bus to downtown, one more bus arrives just after 6:30 p.m. Be forewarned, however, that the bus goes straight to East Metro Garage after returning to the Park & Ride, and the driver might not let you come along.

See schedules for Route 294 before the March 9 service changes.
See schedules for Route 294 after the March 9 service changes.

 

Join Transit Riders Union at House Field Hearing

As part of the current legislative session, the Minnesota House of Representatives’ Transportation, Finance and Policy Division will be holding a field hearing on transportation issues in north Minneapolis. Here is your chance to talk about the transportation issues that are near and dear to your heart.

Transportation Field Hearing
Tuesday, February 26, 6–8:30 p.m.
North High School, 1500 James St. N., Minneapolis
Metro Transit Lines: 5, 7
RSVP: Click here to sign up.
Click here to sign up to speak beforehand. The e-mail address is: John.Howe@house.mn

H. Jiahong Pan 潘嘉宏

About H. Jiahong Pan 潘嘉宏

H. Jiahong Pan 潘嘉宏 (pronouns: they/them/theirs) is a Minneapolis-based introverted freelance journalist who reports primarily on their lifelong passion: transportation issues. Find them on a bus of all types, the sidewalk, bike lane, hiking trail or perhaps the occasional carshare vehicle, camera and perhaps watercolor set or mushroom brush in tow, in your community or state or regional park regardless of season. If you can’t find them, they’re probably cooking, writing, curating an archive of wall art or brochures, playing board games, sewing or cuddling with their cat. Follow on Twitter: @h_pan3 or Instagram: @hpphmore or on BlueSky: hpan3 dot bsky dot social See bylines after March 2020 in Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, Racket, Minnesota Reformer, Next City, The Guardian, Daily Yonder and MinnPost.