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Bus Go Green

New solar array boosts commitment to renewable energy 

| Friday, April 28, 2017 9:17:00 AM

A 40-kilowatt solar array atop the Maplewood Mall Transit Center in Maplewood.A 40-kilowatt solar array was recently installed on the top level of the parking ramp at the Maplewood Mall Transit Center, near the Maplewood Mall.

The panels will help offset a portion of the energy used at the transit center, saving approximately $6,000 in utility costs annually. In addition to lowering energy costs, the system will help Metro Transit better understand how to use solar arrays at other existing and future facilities.

Proposals to install arrays atop six Metro Transit support buildings, including several bus garages, are now under review.

Open since 2013, the Maplewood Mall Transit Center also features a geothermal heating and cooling system and energy efficient LED lighting. It is served by multiple local and express bus routes.​

Solar panels are also in use at Metro Transit's 610 & Noble Parkway Park & Ride, Rail Support Facility and at several bus stops throughout the region. Metro Transit is also supporting solar energy by purchasing power produced from installations at two Council wastewater treatment plants

Metro Transit is one of a handful of agencies to obtain Gold Level certification through the American Public Transportation Association's Sustainability Commitment Program

Transit Police

Harrington recognized by chiefs association 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Friday, April 28, 2017 9:04:00 AM

Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington.Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington was celebrated as one of the state’s top law enforcement leaders by the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association this week.

Harrington received the association’s Richard W. Schaller Award, which recognizes service to the community and the profession. Harrington accepted the award at the association’s Executive Training Institute in St. Cloud.

Association leaders applauded Harrington’s efforts to encourage diversity in law enforcement, improve police-community relations and “shine an analytical light on daily practices.”

“When it comes to advancing 21st Century policing issues, few chiefs have been more dedicated or have garnered more results than Chief Harrington,” said Hugo McPhee, the association’s immediate past president and Chief of Police for the Three Rivers Park District.

Harrington became Metro Transit’s seventh Police Chief in 2012. He previously served as the Police Chief for the City of St. Paul and as a Minnesota State Senator.

Under Harrington’s leadership, the Metro Transit Police Department has expanded to more than 100 full-time officers, nearly a third of whom come from underrepresented communities and backgrounds. The department has also greatly expanded its community outreach efforts.

As an active association member, Harrington helped explore ways chiefs could improve the hiring process and help build departments that reflect the communities they service. 

Harrington has also served on the association’s legislative committee, advocating for policies that would reduce domestic and gang violence, provide better responses to human trafficking and keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.

“This award is really about the work that the women and men of our department have done,” Harrington said. “It is gratifying to know my colleagues saw the things we’re doing at Metro Transit as being of benefit to the profession, the Chief’s association and the statewide community we all serve.”

In 2015, Harrington was recognized as the Transit Professional of the Year​ by the Minnesota Public Transit Association.​

    > Meet the Chief

    > Officer of the year recognized for 'servant leadership'

    > Awards and Recognition

Bus Community Light Rail METRO Green Line

On transit, making an impression with poetry 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Friday, March 31, 2017 3:11:00 PM

Michael Kleber-Diggs and Ellen Larsen with their poem and artwork at the Green Line's Western Avenue Station.For the past 20 years, Michael Kleber-Diggs has shared his poetry with a live audience, reading the room and enjoying the conversation that follows. Capturing the reaction to one of his newest poems, The Green Line, has been a little more difficult.

That’s because the poem is part of a new public art project, IMPRESSIONS, that provided local poets and artists a chance to have their work featured inside Metro Transit’s buses and trains and at select stations and shelters over the course of several months.

“When I heard about the project, I was completely enchanted with the idea that I would be, in a way, speaking to people without really knowing that I’m doing it,” Kleber-Diggs said. “That the poem has a life of its own is really the best part.”

Kleber-Diggs’ poem is among the first six pieces to emerge from the project, which began last year with a call for entries that drew more than 350 responses. Community editors with Saint Paul Almanac, which initiated the project, ultimately selected 24 poems to be showcased over the next year.

The poems are accompanied by illustrations by local artists who were partnered with poets and asked to offer their interpretations of the work. Kleber-Diggs' poem is accompanied by artwork created by Ellen Larsen, and can be found at the Green Line's Western Avenue Station (right). 

Kimberly Nightingale, Saint Paul Almanac’s executive director, said the idea for IMPRESSIONS came from a desire to share the kind of work that has been included in the organization’s annual books over the last decade with a broader audience.

“Not everyone is going to buy a book but everyone should be able to enjoy poetry and art, especially local poetry and art, which is our focus,” she said.

The idea got off the ground when Saint Paul Almanac received a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Metro Transit and Intersection, the company that manages transit advertising, are also partners.

The City of Saint Paul is supporting the project with funding for multiple events featuring the poets and artists whose work is featured (the next event will be held in June, when a new batch of poems and artwork are released).

There’s some precedence for combining poetry and transit, too. The Poetry Society of America’s Poetry in Motion effort has brought poetry onto transit systems across the country, including Metro Transit, which participated in that effort more than a decade ago.

Unlike Poetry in Motion, IMPRESSIONS involves only local poets and artists, giving it a distinct community orientation that organizers hope will resonate among passengers. “Hopefully, for the people who are riding, this allows them to say, ‘I can create my own poetry and my own art, and it can be a part of the community, too,'” Nightingale said.

While there isn’t an obvious connection to the Green Line, other than the title, Kleber-Diggs’ poem was partly inspired by his experience riding light rail and using transit over the past 30 years.

Exploring the forest on a camping trip, he began to humanize the trees and imagine them riding the train.

However people interpret his work, though, Kleber-Diggs hopes it serves as a welcome interruption from the norm.

“As an artist, you always want to see art out in the world,” he said. “I’m really exhilarated by the idea that someone will get on the bus and see not just my piece but the other pieces as well and have a chance to connect to them in some way.”

Discover the IMPRESSIONS art!

Take a photo of each IMPRESSIONS piece and send the collection to info@saintpaulalmanac.org with your name and phone number to enter a drawing for a for a $20 Go-To Card and other prizes! The next IMPRESSIONS release party will be held on Thursday, June 1, at Black Dog Cafe. 

    > Learn more about poets and artists whose work is being featured through IMPRESSIONS

Bus Transit Information

Longtime Transit Information rep remembered for remembering 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Wednesday, March 29, 2017 2:45:00 PM

Transit Information representative James Schlafer (retired). Early in his career as a Transit Information representative, Ben Rajkowski was on the phone with a customer trying to find their way to a Route 64 bus stop so they could get from Maplewood to St. Paul.

After more than 20 minutes, the caller still hadn’t found their way and was at risk of missing what would be the last trip of the day.

That’s when fellow representative James Schlafer tapped Rajkowski on the shoulder and suggested asking the caller if they were standing next to a white picket fence. They were.

With that one simple clue, Schlafer knew he needed to walk 500 feet, cross the street and turn their back toward a blue house – directions that were so specific the caller thought he was being watched. 

“To this day, I still don’t have a clue how he figured that out,” Rajkowski said.

It wasn’t a fluke, either. Over his 31-year career as a Transit Information representative, Schlafer developed a reputation for having a rich, visual knowledge of the Twin Cities that rivaled, and often surpassed, available online tools.

That detailed memory, along with his trademark wit, were celebrated last week as Schlafer retired as the Transit Information Center’s longest consecutively-serving representative. 

Schlafer helped an estimated 1 million callers plan their trips over the course of his three-decade career. Like Rajkowski, several co-workers had stories that stood out from that impressive collection.

In one case, he guided a visually-impaired customer to a bus stop using sidewalk grass as a guide. In another, he spent two hours and 17 minutes on a marathon call with someone looking for help getting around Burnsville and Eagan, a likely-record for the TIC’s longest call.

“Usually, I try not to be on the phone long enough to have to be patient,” Schlafer said. “But in this case all I could do was humor them for a really long time.”

Schlafer’s knowledge came largely from a life of biking, walking and taking transit around the Twin Cities. Combined with an education in statistics and a knack for geography, he was rarely stumped.   

It wasn’t pure intuition, though. Schlafer constantly challenged himself to look for solutions that weren’t immediately evident, mastering the quirks of local address systems and developing personalized mental shortcuts that helped him decipher the vague outlines callers sometimes presented him.

That careful study gave him the ability to place more than 120 routes on an unmarked map by memory. He also drew intricate maps of shopping centers and other destinations so he and other representatives could better guide callers.

The skills proved useful even as the Transit Information Center transitioned from wall maps to an online trip planning system that Schlafer notoriously looked down upon.

“Even if I didn’t have a computer or all these resources I could find out pretty accurately where someone was and still help them,” said Schlafer, known to callers as “Mr. James” throughout his career.  

While abundantly patient, Schlafer was also known for having a sense of humor and taking pride in proving the breadth of his knowledge, often telling self-convinced callers they’d owe him a Dr. Pepper if he could persuade them they were mistaken. “There are lot of people out there who owe me Dr. Peppers,” he said.

While he’s taken his last call, Schlafer isn’t going to let his mind rest in retirement. In addition to biking and daily hikes, he plans to become active in Mensa, a high IQ society. He’ll also enjoy knowing that he made an indelible imprint on the organization he left behind.

“They told me I was too smart for this job and that I’d get bored,” Schlafer said. “Well, I proved them wrong.”

   > Learn more about Metro Transit retirees with more than 30 years of service

    > MinnPost: How Metro Transit uses technology to ensure a smooth ride

    > 1 million calls and counting

Bus Bus Maintenance

Technician training program gets national recognition 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Wednesday, March 29, 2017 1:11:00 PM

Equal Opportunity Consultant Gary Courtney, left, and Deputy Chief of Operations-Bus, Brian Funk, accepted the Model Program award this week at the National Transit Institute’s Transit Trainers Workshop.The Metro Transit Technician Training Program was celebrated as an industry-leading workforce development program this week.

The recognition came in the form of a Model Program award from the National Transit Institute, a Rutgers University-based organization that develops, promotes and delivers training and education programs for the transit industry. The award was presented at the institute’s Transit Trainers’ Workshop, held in Nashville, Tenn.

The Metro Transit Technician Training Program (MTT) puts job seekers on a path to full-time roles as bus or rail technicians through a combination of job and skills training, a paid internship and support toward earning an associate degree. Participants are not required to have any prior experience. 

An initial group of MTT participants pursuing careers in bus maintenance are currently enrolled at Hennepin Technical College while working as interns in several service garages. A second group of participants pursuing careers in rail vehicle and systems maintenance will begin on-the-job training next week.

The training program was developed in partnership with the Amalgamated Transit Union-Local 1005, Twin Cities R!SE and Hennepin Technical College. Mechanic-Technicians have also served as mentors. Funding has come from the state and the Federal Transit Administration.

   > Learn more about career opportunities at Metro Transit

   > Metro Transit Awards and Recognition

METRO Green Line Transit Police

Officer of the Year recognized for 'servant leadership' 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Friday, March 24, 2017 2:48:00 PM

Metro Transit police officer Katherine Spear on the METRO Green Line. After a decade working in financial aid, Katherine Spear started getting restless.

Looking for new opportunities, she ran a quick internet search and clicked on the first thing that came up – a chance to volunteer with the St. Paul Police Reserve Unit, which supplements the police force. 

“I sat in that Crown Victoria, started patrolling and I was hooked,” Spear said. 

So hooked, in fact, that the St. Paul native decided to pursue a full-time career in law enforcement, leaving her job, enrolling in college and serving as a Metro Transit Community Service Officer. 

This week, that leap of faith was rewarded as Spear was recognized as the Metro Transit Police Department’s Officer of the Year. She is the first woman to earn the recognition in the department’s history.

“It’s been a long journey — a lot of struggle to get where I am — so this is very humbling,” Spear said after the award was presented at the department’s annual ceremony on Wednesday.

Spear was recognized for her resolve as an officer, including one case in which she helped the department quickly identify and arrest a suspect involved in a violent attack at a light rail station. But it's the compassion she’s brought to her work that makes her truly unique. 

Patrolling the Green Line for the past 18 months, Spear has worked to build rapport with customers, occasionally singing or dancing to brighten moods, and gone out of her way to help those in need. She’s also put her motherly instincts to good use, earning a reputation for her “mom voice” and redirecting youthful exuberance in more positive directions. 

The empathy she shows toward those she encounters, she said, is partly born of her own experience. Spear is a single mother of three who faced financial strains as she worked her way through school. 

“Yeah, I take down the bad guys, but at the end of the day it’s about unconditional respect for everyone you meet,” she said. “You have to see people as human beings.”

Chief John Harrington said that attitude is what made her stand out among her peers.

“It’s not about one heroic act, but the day-to-day examples of servant leadership that she demonstrates,” he said. “She is a team player who leads both by putting herself out there and putting people in need first.”

Spear’s father, Dan Spear, was initially taken back by his daughter’s abrupt career change. But the generosity and doggedness she’s brought to her new career aren’t a surprise, he said.

“She never ceases to amaze me,” said Spear, who grew up in St. Paul’s Midway. “When she sets a goal she really sticks with it.”

Spear was among more than 50 officers celebrated at the department’s awards ceremony.

Officer James Galland was presented the Timothy Bowe Memorial Award, which goes to a part-time officer. Galland is a Sergeant at the Hastings Police Department and has spent 17 years working part-time with Metro Transit police.

Officers were also credited for taking life-saving actions, putting themselves in harms way to protect the public and working quickly to apprehend suspected criminals.

“Your work in the past year will be hard to surpass,” Harrington told officers assembled at the ceremony. “I can’t count the number of calls, emails or letters I get every day thanking our officers for doing all the right things at just the right time in so many places.”

 

2017 MTPD Awards

Bus METRO Orange Line Minneapolis

Key I-35W transit improvements moving forward 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Thursday, March 09, 2017 9:48:00 AM

A transit-only access ramp will allow buses to avoid congestion entering and exiting downtown Minneapolis as they travel to or from Interstate 35W.

Two key improvements included in plans for a new Bus Rapid Transit line on Interstate 35W will be built thanks to a key federal approval.

The Federal Transit Administration’s Letter of No Prejudice allows local funding to be used on a transit-only access ramp between downtown Minneapolis and I-35W (right) and a transit station​ at I-35W and Lake Street.

The improvements are part of plans for the METRO Orange Line, which will bring frequent, all-day BRT service to several new and existing stations along a 17-mile stretch of I-35W between Marq2 in Minneapolis and downtown Burnsville. Service is scheduled to begin in 2020.

“We’re excited to move forward with our partners on these critical improvements, which will benefit not just future Orange Line customers but thousands of people who travel on I-35W and Lake Street every day,” General Manager Brian Lamb said.

Like the station at I-35W and 46th Street, the Lake Street Station will be located in the middle of the interstate with two levels, an indoor waiting area and other amenities, serving Orange Line, express and local bus customers. The access ramp will allow 700 buses to avoid congestion entering and existing downtown each weekday. 

Efforts to secure full funding for the Orange Line are ongoing but the FTA’s approval is important because it allows the transit ramp and Lake Street Station to be incorporated into state-led construction efforts on I-35W beginning later this year.

Local spending on the ramp and station could later be matched by the federal government, which is being asked to cover half of the Orange Line’s total construction costs.​

Learn more about the Orange Line and subscribe to project updates here

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