Most of my trips to the Mall of America aren’t to the actual mall but rather to the transit station for getting on a bus or train. For over half a year, however, I’ve made an effort to avoid using Mall of America Station, going so far as to walk from 28th Avenue Station to the nearest local bus stop outside the Mall of America. Despite the minor improvements to Mall of America Station, it continues to be, in my opinion, a health hazard. The dark station area with diesel buses going in and out didn’t bother me until I realized how harmful breathing in the particulates can be for your health. While not fully enclosed, the station is in a parking ramp that lacks ventilation. In addition to the diesel buses, there is the cigarette smoke. Despite many signs and automated announcements reminding people it’s illegal to smoke in the station area, people continue to do so anyway. The day I’m writing this post I used the station to transfer from the bus to the train– a quick walk that I was hoping wouldn’t be filled with diesel fumes and secondhand smoke. Unsurprisingly, however, a selfish smoker was standing at the entrance of the train platform. Meanwhile, the Metro Transit Police seemed indifferent towards this daily law-breaking. The police are supposed to be there to enforce the rules, including the no-smoking policy. The traveling public shouldn’t have to do it for them and risk instigating a potentially aggressive confrontation. Even if smokers go outside, the wind can bring in the secondhand smoke and trap the diesel fumes inside the station.
While for most people the new(er) Mall of America Station is something to celebrate, for me it isn’t so. While improvements have been made including the waiting area, the direct and indoor access to the mall, and the improved entrance for buses, we seem to be ignoring the broader health impacts for people using this station on a daily basis. I would be interested in knowing the exact quantity particulates are in the air in the station area which would help determine if Mall of America Station is truly a health hazard.
One potential solution to this issue could be electric buses. Although there are several drawbacks to this solution (i.e. they’re expensive and it’ll be awhile before electric buses are common on regular routes) committing to replace the diesel bus fleet with electric buses at the end of their life-cycle would be the best way to reduce harmful diesel emissions. Additionally, the police could do their job of enforcing the no-smoking rule. And by this, of course, I mean officers simply politely informing people that smoking isn’t allowed in the station area. Smokers can also do their part by not being selfish and simply waiting until they’re farther away from the station area before lighting a cigarette.
However, even if these solutions are implemented, it wouldn’t change the fact that the current Mall of America Station has the feel of a temporary station. A dark parking ramp is no place for the busiest transit station outside of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and the current alignment for light rail trains makes travel time slow. Additionally, intensive maintenance is required to maintain the tight curves and track switches. My hope is that eventually the station will be relocated, hopefully to the north, where people can still have indoor waiting areas and easy access to the mall but without dealing with diesel fumes and secondhand smoke. In addition to a smoother, quicker, and more reliable route for light rail trains, it would make a western extension of light rail along the I-494 Corridor easier. Until then, if that time ever comes, I’ll be avoiding Mall of America Station as much as I can even if it means a mile long walk from 28th Avenue to the local bus stop.