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Community Shelters

Students ask how neighbors feel about nearby bus stops 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Thursday, July 26, 2018 12:05:00 PM

Sketch of a woman planting a bush at a bus stop sign

Metro Transit and community partners have spent a lot of time asking customers how they feel about their bus stop – questions that have led to investments in new shelters, light and other bus stop improvements.

Building on that work, students from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs set out to learn what nearby property owners, residents and workers felt about these locations. The student’s sought to answer three main questions:

  1. How do neighbors feel about nearby bus stops?
  2. What influences these feelings?
  3. How can neighbors become more engaged in creating better bus stops?

To answer these questions, in-person surveys were completed at nine bus stops with different demographics and physical attributes.

The survey found that, overall, bus stops are viewed as a valuable asset, improving walkability and access and potentially supporting local businesses. The survey also found that many community members had taken informal ownership of their nearby bus stop, shoveling snow and picking up litter, and were willing to partner with Metro Transit on future maintenance and improvement activities.

The findings led students to develop several recommendations and key objectives Metro Transit could focus on moving forward.

See the student’s recommendations and read their full report here.

Students who participated in the Capstone Project include: Joseph Ayers-Johnson, Kurt Howard, Casey Lauderdale, Joseph Polacek and Jake Schutt. Illustration courtesy Joseph Polacek.

Community Transit Information

Bus Buddies help refugees build confidence, join community through transit 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Wednesday, June 20, 2018 3:36:00 PM

The International Institute of Minnesota.One of the first places refugees resettling in the Twin Cities can turn to for support is the International Institute of Minnesota, which offers classes and other resources to help them become self-sufficient.

But without a driver’s license or a strong sense of geography, getting to the institute’s St. Paul offices can be a challenge.

To help refugees find their way, the institute matches new arrivals with volunteers who visit their home and then ride with them to and from the institute on transit.

Lately, some of those guides, known as “Bus Buddies,” have had an especially strong aptitude for transit.

A partnership between the institute and Metro Transit led representatives from the Transit Information Center to begin serving as Bus Buddies earlier this year. After an initial pilot phase, representatives are now regularly working as Bus Buddies.

The first TIC representative who worked with refugees was Tariq Muwahid, whose father had to find his way in Minnesota after moving from the West Bank to the United States.

Over the course of a few months, Muwahid worked with refugees from Ukraine, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Pakistan, among other countries. Only one of the individuals spoke fluent English and none had any local transit experience.

“Hand signals, pictures, drawings, translator apps – you did whatever you could to communicate the point,” Muwahid said.

There was a lot to communicate, too.

All the refugees Muwahid worked with needed to transfer at least once during their trips to the institute, which is near the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.

During their trips, Muwahid described where to transfer, how to read overhead signs, maps and schedules and how to buy fares. Refugees who provided feedback to the institute said the support allowed them to in turn help family members and figure out how to get other places on their own.

Seeing refugees experience transit not only helps the newcomer but allows staff to understand how information can effectively be conveyed to first-time riders, especially those facing language barriers.

Metro Transit recently developed an illustrated how to ride guide and Customer Advocates are building on past work with the institute by developing a
curriculum for volunteer Bus Buddies.

Natalie Moorhouse, the institute’s Refugee Corps Volunteer Coordinator, said teaching refugees how to get around on their own is a critical first step toward
independence.

“It makes quite a big difference,” she said. “It builds confidence and also helps them really feel like they’re a part of their new community.”

There’s a large need for such support, too. The institute serves nearly 4,000 people a year while Minnesota is home to 13 percent of the country’s
refugees – the largest per capita population in the U.S.

A refugee is someone who has fled their home country because of “a well-founded fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”

Muwahid didn’t ask or learn much about the circumstances that brought the refugees he worked with to Minnesota. But by the end of their trips, he said, it was evident that they were thankful and more at ease.

“These are some of the first interactions they have with anyone in the U.S., so you have a chance to make a big impression,” he said.

Learn more and get involved

Individuals who are interested in volunteering as a Bus Buddy should contact the International Institute of Minnesota. For more information visit iimn.org.

Community METRO Green Line On the METRO

Model Cities creates a new model near Victoria Street Station 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Thursday, June 07, 2018 12:22:00 PM

Desean Isaac was among the first to move in when Model Cities opened the doors to its new mixed-use building in late 2017.

One of the main appeals: The Green Line’s Victoria Street Station is just steps from the building’s door, allowing Isaac to get to church, medical appointments and the grocery store without needing to own a vehicle.

“Wherever I need to go, most likely I end up catching the train,” said Isaac, whose apartment window overlooks University Avenue.

Providing the kind of convenient access that Isaac and other building residents enjoy is among several reasons the St. Paul-based non-profit sought to reinvest in the property it’s long inhabited.

Organization leaders also saw an opportunity to create a place where it could not only carry out its mission but put it into practice. Model Cities has served St. Paul for the past 50 years and has focused in recent years on helping residents access safe and affordable housing, among other services.

“With the addition of light rail, we knew more people would be coming through and that we needed to give them a reason to get off,” said Kizzy Downie, who has worked at Model Cities for the past 12 years and will become its CEO later this summer. “This is that reason.”

Today, what’s known as the BROWNstone building includes 35 apartments, commercial space and offices for Model Cities’ 21 employees. 

Model Cities was able to tear down and rebuild on the property with support from several organizations, including the Metropolitan Council. The support has also helped the organization lower rental costs for residents and business owners.

With vintage barber chairs, couches and flat screen TVs, Privilege Barber Lounge was the first business to move into the new building.

Pausing between haircuts, owner Brandon Cole said he jumped on the opportunity to set up shop in the neighborhood he grew up in, and to enjoy the exposure that would come from being on University Avenue.

“So far, it’s been working out really well,” he said. “People are seeing the business and I’m getting new and diverse clientele.”

A new deli will soon move into the building, bringing life to a small courtyard that was also incorporated into the development. Model Cities hopes to attract a restaurateur and a few other businesses in the future.

While the building addresses the organization and the community’s future needs, it also pays homage to its past.

A space on the first floor, The Reading Room at BROWNstone, was created to showcase and celebrate the history of Pullman porters and other African American railroad workers who lived in the neighborhood. Porters fought for labor and civil rights, and the room’s effects draw a connection between that struggle and the present day.

“Their descendants are here but there really wasn’t really an obvious connection to that history,” Downie said.

In the future, Model Cities hopes to use the space for programs and to invite quiet reflection.

The organization also hopes the stake it’s planted the community will lead others to join in the revitalization effort. Nearby, plans to restore the historic Victoria Theater and turn it into a community arts center are moving forward.

“As an organization that’s been in this neighborhood for over 50 years, we really felt it was our duty to use this opportunity and make an investment that was beneficial long term,” Downie said. “I think we’ve done that.”

Visit BROWNstone's Reading Room on June 14

Model Cities is hosting artists Foster Willey and Guy Willey, who contributed artwork for the Green Line's Victoria Street Station, on Thursday, June 14, in The Reading Room. The event will feature the sculpted portraits of Rondo residents that were created for the Victoria Street Station. The event runs from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., with an artist presentation at 6 p.m. The Reading Room is in the first floor of Model Cities' BROWNstone building, 839 University Ave.

Community

Piano puts emotion, diversity of transit passengers on display 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Monday, June 04, 2018 3:03:00 PM

Alexandra Norwick with her "Voices on Transit" piano. Alexandra Norwick doesn’t spend her time on transit idly.

While riding buses and trains over the past several years, she’s created more than 100 sketches of her fellow passengers – a resting woman with her head tilted back, a man with shaggy eyebrows and a long stare, a tense and nearly tearful man typing deliberately on his phone.

“You see all these glances of emotion when people are on transit,” she said.

Fifteen of those faces, and the emotions that come with them, have now made it from Norwick’s small, cloth-covered sketchbook onto an unlikely new medium: an upright piano.   

The piano is part of “Pianos on Parade, an initiative that brings 25 decorated pianos to downtown Minneapolis sidewalks each June. The project is produced by the mpls downtown council, Mpls Downtown Improvement District and The Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association, in partnership with Keys 4/4 Kids.

The pianos are available for the public to play and will be used for scheduled performances at noon each Tuesday.

Norwick’s piano, titled “Voices on Transit,” is located at the corner of Hennepin Avenue and Third Street, across from the Minneapolis Central Library.

In addition to 15 hand-drawn faces, the piano also includes familiar transit messages. Like the back door of a bus, the keyboard cover presents this invitation to anyone who sits down: “Touch here to open.”

Speaking beside the piano, Norwick said she saw Pianos on Parade as a unique opportunity to showcase the diversity she encounters while riding transit – something that can easily be missed while looking at a phone or otherwise distracted.

“It was a way to give people an opportunity to look at each other and to see how diverse they really are,” she said.

The piano is also a reflection of the way Norwick moves through each day. A native of Ukraine, she has lived in the Twin Cities for the past four years and still has a strong sense of being a visitor in an unfamiliar place.

Taking just a few minutes to notice and draw the people around her, she said, is a “good way for me to explore and connect with the local community.”

Learn more

Pianos on Parade 

See more of Norwick's sketches on Instagram

How to propose having public art on transit property

Bus Community Light Rail

Taking time to say thanks on Transit Driver Appreciation Day 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Friday, March 16, 2018 12:45:00 PM

Metro Transit’s 1,600 bus and train operators received extra kudos this week as supporters celebrated Transit Driver Appreciation Day.

Transit Driver Appreciation Day got its start in 2009, when a group of riders in Seattle, Wash., wanted to show support for their operators. It has historically been celebrated on March 18, the date the first known bus service is believed to have been offered, in 1662 in Paris, France (in the Twin Cities, auto owners began charging for rides as early as 1915, a business that soon gave rise to the area’s first bus services).

Today, Metro Transit is among many transit agencies that pause to recognize their operators for their service.

In addition to the messages of appreciation, The Current helped recognize Transit Driver Appreciation Day this year by devoting its morning Coffee Break to transit-themed songs. The playlist included The Hollies “Bus Stop” and The Replacements “Kiss Me On The Bus” (find more "essential transit tunes" on CityLab).

General Manager Brian Lamb, Council Chair Alene Tchourumoff, and several Council members also took time to personally thank operators. 

Thanks to everyone who helped us celebrate and remember, operators can be commended for their service any time. Let us know what you love about your operator by submitting a commendation online or by calling 612-373-3333.

Don’t know their name? We can identify the operator with their driver number, found on the uniform sleeve, vehicle number, and information about where and when you rode.

Learn more about some of Metro Transit's bus and train operators through our "Know Your Operator" series. Also, we’re hiring bus operators. Just saying.

Here’s a small sampling of shout-outs from social media:

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