Quite a bit of the dialogue about how to improve transit, density, and general urbanism tends to be binary. Either you are for high density and the corresponding transportation solutions affiliated with that, or you may think that the expansion of park & ride facilities in suburban and exurban areas is the way forward. Like the conversation about the missing middle housing, there is a middle space in transportation that doesn’t get discussed often, but illustrates the reality of where we are and what works in our current environment. For purposes of this discussion, this is the non-local, non-park & ride, express bus. For example:
Minneapolis: 133, 135, 146, 156, 552, 553, 554, 558
Edina: 578, 587
Bloomington: 579, 589
St. Paul: 134
Why do these work in some places but not in others? Density to some extent, but even more than that, basic urban planning and design. How many people in this community could walk to the bus within 10 minutes? Yes that’s Florida,but it could be many (though not all) of the fastest growing cities in the Twin Cities Metro. What’s the difference between Minneapolis, St. Paul, Bloomington, Brooklyn Park, and Edina compared to Blaine, Woodbury, Lakeville, Plymouth, and Maple Grove?
The first are either entirely or mostly on the grid. Many of them have sidewalks. Most even have (some) local bus service to supplement where or when the commuter bus doesn’t operate. A bus can run on well-spaced arterial roads that are fed by the grids on all sides. In this model, even predominantly SFH neighborhoods can function as dense enough to make service like this viable. Metro Transit to their credit does a good job of spacing their routes in south Minneapolis for example to provide the opportunity to access transit within 6-8 blocks, at least for the commuter function.
As we’ve seen recently, we’re not in a place in which Metro Transit is awash with funding, resources, and political capital to be all things to all users. We understand that one of the organization’s current goals, but certainly not the only one, is to increase transit use by choice riders. As a means of disincentivizing unsustainable development by building car-dependent growth that can only access transit via park & ride, maybe we should be looking at what can expand ridership with the tools we already have. Yes hard choices need to be made, but that doesn’t mean that trip eliminations on routes that use existing infrastructure and assets should be the first choice.
We could even experiment with trying having routes that begin at P&R facilities do some limited collection between origin and destination. Some of the above routes already do a little of this. Why couldn’t we try piloting more limited stop versions of core local routes that would potentially attract more or different riders than ride the standard local routes? Until we change how we plan, design, and build our cities or allow for greater density within our existing cities, we should try to grow what has been successful so far. Obviously there are myriad funding challenges for Metro Transit right now, but trialing, expanding, or increasing services on some routes like this when the inevitable spike in gas prices comes could be a good test balloon.The areas of the metro that were built during the streetcar era are still well-suited to transit, despite the relative lack of density. Even in this era of tight Metro Transit funding, it would be a mistake to leave them behind.