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Community METRO Green Line

Artist's vision comes to life on light rail train 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Tuesday, March 07, 2017 1:56:00 PM

Artist Andrea Carlson with the "Water is Life"  train artwork she designed for Northern Spark 2017. Andrea Carlson isn't used to chasing her artwork around. But when her canvas becomes a 100,000-pound light-rail vehicle, it's about the only way to get a glimpse of the finished product. 

Carlson managed to catch up with the train twice last week, traveling down University Avenue and at an informal gathering at the Green Line’s Operations & Maintenance Facility in Lowertown.

Seeing the design come to life, she said, was overwhelming. 

"Of course I'd seen it on the computer screen but this is totally different," the St. Paul- and Chicago-based artist said. "When I got on the train I actually cried a little."

The "Water is Life" artwork was commissioned by Northern Spark organizers to promote the annual arts festival and to bring attention to the event's theme, climate change. The all-night celebration will focus heavily on the Green Line, with more than 70 events happening in neighborhoods along the light rail corridor between sunset on Saturday, June 10, and sunrise on Sunday, June 11. 

Carlson's design has images of a Thunderbird and a Water Spirit, along with two messages about water – Mni Wiconi, Dakota for "water is life," and Nibi gaa-bimaaji’iwemagak, Ojibwe for "water gives life."

The design both reflects the parallels between urban streets and pays tribute to the Native lands the Green Line traverses. It also recognizes efforts by the University of Minnesota's American Indian Studies Department to revive Native languages that are endangered.

“It’s really a love letter to people working on language revitalization,” said Carlson, who studied the Ojibwe language Anishinaabemowin at the U of M.

The train wrap will remain up through the conclusion of Northern Spark. Northern Spark organizers are encouraging people to take photos of the train and to share them on social media with the hashtag #catchatrainNS. A Northern Spark juror will review photos shared before March 31 and the winning photographer will receive two tickets to the Northern Spark launch party

To learn more about Carlson’s inspiration visit the project page at 2017.northernspark.org and read an interview with Northern Spark Curator Elle Thoni

Northern Spark Art Reveal

Bus Light Rail

Taking stock of Metro Transit’s material needs 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Tuesday, March 07, 2017 1:31:00 PM

A mechanical lift at Metro Transit's Overhaul Base helps stockkeepers to reach items stored on vertical shelves. Head Stockkeeper Michelle Bellfield likes to think of her work the same way she thinks about filling her refrigerator at home.

“There are the things you use every day, like milk or eggs, that you always want to have on hand,” she said. “And then there all the other things you use once in a while, so you only get them when you need them.”

Bellfield’s metaphor is a good way to sum up the philosophy that drives the Materials Management Department, which includes more than 40 employees working at Metro Transit facilities across the Twin Cities.

The scale of the operation, though, is quite a bit grander than what you’d encounter in the kitchen.

More than 18,000 unique items are included on Metro Transit’s constantly-evolving shopping list, including everything from exhaust filters and alternators to bolts, toilet paper and disposable gloves. Among the largest and most valuable items in the inventory is a transformer that comes within an inch of the ceiling at the Rail Support Facility.

At the end of 2016, the collective inventory had a combined value of nearly $40 million, the majority of which represented rail equipment like the trucks that sit beneath the passenger car and move light-rail trains down the track.

Amid this dizzying array of items and a constant stream of new deliveries, Materials Management keeps a close eye on what’s coming in and going out.

The goal is simple: have parts and supplies available in a timely fashion, without investing too heavily in items that wind up sitting idle on a shelf.

“That’s our real challenge — figu​ring out which mechanic at which garage is going to need that one part and when they’re going to need it,” said Chris Haefner, Materials Management Manager.

Despite the challenges, Materials Management has built a record of success. Requested items are almost always available immediately, keeping the time buses or trains are out of service while waiting on parts at a minimum.

That record partly reflects the fact that the majority of the organization’s needs are fairly predictable, with around 1,000 items accounting for about 70 percent of the inventory. But there are also 15,000 items that make up a much smaller share of the inventory.

One way Materials Management controls the supply is by only stocking items that are requested two or more times within a six-month period.

Software that has been in use since 2015 has also helped Materials Management become more precise, using historical data to predict future needs and guide purchases. Just 15 percent of Metro Transit’s inventory has been forecasted to date, a share that will grow over time, but around $750,000 in savings has already been realized.

Another challenge for Materials Management is simply keeping track of everything that comes through Metro Transit’s doors. Deliveries arrive daily at five different locations, including the 50,000-square-foot warehouse at the Overhaul Base.

There, a computer system linked to a massive machine with rotating shelves helps stockkeeepers store new deliveries and pull supplies ordered by service garages and other work locations, which go out daily.

“It’s really an amazing machine,” said Lead Stockkeeper Ong Vang, standing on a platform that rises to reach the top shelves. 

Between these activities, stockkeepers here and at other sites are prompted to manually count dozens of items each day, contributing to a “cycle count” that replaces what would be an otherwise overwhelming, annual task. In 2016, these counts almost exactly matched recorded inventory.

Haefner said those results reflect how seriously stockeepers, analysts and planners in Materials Management take their work. 

“Our mission is to be responsible stewards of the taxpayers’ money while also supporting our internal customers,” he said. “Everyone in our group takes that very seriously.”​

Members of the Materials Management Department, from left to right: Head Stockkeeper Stephanie Armstead, Lead Stockkeeper Ong Vang, Manager Chris Haefner, Head Stockkeepr Michelle Bellfied, Head Stockkeeper Dan Alcaraz, Inventory Analyst Jason Adams, Garage Stockroom Coordinator Bill Neuenfeldt and Supervisor/Material Planner Mike Rood.​

A Line BRT

A Line tops 1 million ride mark 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Thursday, February 16, 2017 5:00:00 PM

A Line buses pass near the station at Snelling and Randolph.Robert Connoy has the kind of job that allows him to work from home.

But since the A Line opened just a few blocks from his Mac-Groveland residence, he’s started venturing out to a co-working space in downtown Minneapolis, a commute that involves a quick trip on the rapid bus line and light rail.                     

“I didn’t used to go out as much, but now it’s become really effortless to get downtown from where I live,” Connoy said as he headed toward home on a recent afternoon commute.

Connoy is among thousands of customers who have come to appreciate the region’s first rapid bus line, which runs between the Rosedale Transit Center and the METRO Blue Line’s 46th Street Station on Snelling Avenue, Ford Parkway and 46th Street.

Almost eight months to the day after opening, the A Line surpassed 1 million total rides on Tuesday, Feb. 14. Average weekday ridership on the A Line corridor, including local Route 84, has increased by about one-third since the new service began.

Customers riding the A Line this week said its biggest perk is faster, more frequent service, which allows them to travel without needing to use a schedule. A Line buses run every 10 minutes most of the day and every 15 minutes in the evenings.

“It just seems like the best thing ever to me to have a bus line going through more often and more predictably,” said Annette Rondano, who uses the A Line to commute between her Minneapolis home and her business, the Great Metropolitan Backrub. “It really takes the stress away from being stuck at work thinking I have to wait an hour to get home.”

Customers also said they liked the A Line’s light-rail like stations, which have off-board ticket vending machines, real-time displays and security features. Even small things, like the stop request buttons that have replaced pull cords on A Line buses, were counted as positives.

The A Line’s most popular boarding location, by far, has been at the corner of Snelling and University avenues, where customers can transfer to and from the Green Line. Around 22 percent of all A Line boardings have occurred at the northbound and southbound stops adjacent to University Avenue.

Ray Doss, a first-year student at Hamline University student, is among those who utilize the connection. Since moving from Washington in September, Doss has regularly used the A Line and light rail to run errands and explore the Twin Cities.

“Immediately when I got here I found it super easy to use,” he said. “As someone who had no experience with Metro Transit, I was really able to just get right into it and experience this new place I’m in. It’s been really phenomenal.”

While Connoy, Rondano and Doss are all within blocks of the A Line, others are going out of their way to use the service.

Jakenthia Simms is one of them. The Roseville High School senior used to travel to and from school on Route 65; now she uses the A Line to enjoy the free WiFi and make quick trips to Rosedale Mall.

“It’s more of a walk, but it’s worth it – and I get a good workout,” she said.

Transit Information

Looking for your bus or train? Map It! 

| Monday, February 06, 2017 8:43:00 AM

Customers can track the physical location of their bus using Metro Transit's Map It!  tool.Customers can track the physical location of their anticipated bus or train in real time with a new feature called Map It! 

The new feature can be accessed through Metro Transit’s website, as well as the agency's new app. A link to Map It! is included in the NexTrip section. 

Like NexTrip, Map It! information is linked to unique stop number IDs, found through the Interactive Map or automatically with the GPS-based Find Me feature. A map with markers showing the location of at least one bus, as well as the route number and direction of travel, is then displayed for that particular boarding location. Locations automatically refresh. 

Map It! was tested by around 50 customers who volunteered to provide input and was made available to all customers this week.

“We want to provide transit information in the way that customers want to see it, and this is one of those ways,” said Ben Rajkowski, Assistant Manager-Transit Information.

Map It! is part of a broader effort to improve Metro Transit’s NexTrip system, which provides predicted departure times.

In addition to the website and app, NexTrip is available through text message. NexTrip information is also displayed on digital signs at all rail and A Line stations and at select bus stops. There are ongoing efforts to improve NexTrip accuracy.​

How to use Map It!

If using Metro Transit's app, go to the menu and select Trip Tools, than NexTrip. Use the Find Me feature or enter the route, direction of travel and stop. If you already know your stop number, simply enter it here. When NexTrip details appear, a link to Map It! will appear at the bottom of the screen.

A link to NexTrip is found on the homepage of Metro Transit's mobile and desktop websites. Follow the same  steps to access Map It! using these websites.

Accessibility METRO Orange Line

Expanding access and accessibility on the Orange Line 

| Monday, January 30, 2017 10:39:00 AM

Associate Planner Natalie Westberg directs Transportation Accessibility Advisory Committee Sam Jasmine to station features on a layout printed in braille during a recent station design workshop.On Marq2, hundreds of buses pull quickly in and out of stops during the afternoon rush hour. At Interstate 35W and Lake Street, customers ascend a steep set of stairs to wait in what is essentially the freeway shoulder. And at the I-35W & 46th Street Station, buses pull in and out of what seems to be the wrong side of the street as passing trucks and cars overwhelm the senses.

These are just some of the challenges faced by express and local bus customers traveling on the Interstate 35W corridor south of downtown Minneapolis. And they are all the more daunting for members of the disability community.

Planners and engineers working on the METRO Orange Line are attempting to address these and other potential barriers to using transit, though, as designs for the new Bus Rapid Transit line continue to take shape.

A key step in that process came last week, when members of the Council’s Transportation Accessibility Advisory Committee (TAAC) met with Metro Transit staff to review station designs and share their initial reactions. Representatives from the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority and cities of Minneapolis, Burnsville and Bloomington were also involved in the meeting.

TAAC members routinely advise the Council on ways to improve accessibility and get regular updates on transitway expansion plans. But the design workshop was a unique opportunity to dive deeper into the plans while there are still chances to make changes.

“These may seem like small things, but if that small thing causes you to miss the bus and you can’t get home that’s not a little thing,” said Kjensmo Walker, who chairs the TAAC. “All of these little components have to work just right.”                                                                                                                      

As Walker and others went through each station, several questions arose:

  • > How can audio announcements – both inside and outside of enclosed waiting areas – be better used to let customers know their bus is approaching?
  • > How can uniformity in gate letters, colors and signage make boarding locations more intuitive?
  • > Is there enough room on platforms for customers in mobility devices to pass safely?
  • > How will sidewalks and street crossings bring people to and from stations?

TAAC member Sam Jasmine, using layouts imprinted with braille, was especially interested in any audio features that would provide cues. Bus annunciators are helpful, she said, but they can be difficult to hear, especially in noisier areas like Marq2 and the freeway.

“It was a little bit humbling making sure I was getting on the right bus,” she said of the last time she boarded at Lake Street.

Feedback from previous workshops has proved useful. After TAAC members reviewed plans for facility improvements at the Mall of America Transit Station, restroom entry doors that could have been a barrier for people in mobility devices were replaced with a wrap-around entrance.

TAAC members have also reviewed stations plans for the Green Line Extension and will look at station designs for the Blue Line Extension and future light-rail vehicles later this year.

Comments provided during last week’s Orange Line workshop will be considered as design work continues. Final designs for the Lake Street Station are due this spring, and other station designs are expected to be completed by this fall. The Orange Line is scheduled to open in 2020.

“We’re starting the conversation today, but we want to continue to hear from this group and all our future users,” Project Manager Christina Morrison said. “This is the type of feedback that not only benefits the Orange Line, but the entire system.”

Jasmine also sees feedback from the disability community as a way to improve the system for all riders. “The rule is if something is good for someone who can’t see, it’s good for everyone,” she said.

Safety Transit Police

Transit police welcome new K-9s 

| Wednesday, December 07, 2016 11:01:00 AM

Metro Transit police officers with their K-9 partners in Minneapolis.Officer Matt Wilkinson has always been a dog person.

So when the opportunity arose to become one of the Metro Transit Police Department’s new K-9 handlers, he took it. And since late-October he’s been side-by-side with Carlo, one of three Belgian Malinois the department recently acquired to expand its K-9 Unit.

“I’ve got a couple of dogs at home already but having him is a lot different because he’s super high-energy and has such a super high drive to work,” Wilkinson said during a recent break from training at the Hiawatha Operations & Maintenance Facility. “It’s almost a 24-hour kind of deal working with him.”

But Wilkinson and the other new K-9 officers – Jason Michaud and Erica Fossand – all agree working with their new companions has quickly proven to be one of the most rewarding moves of their careers.

And if anything, they say, it’s the dogs who are training them.

“Handling is completely more work than I ever imagined because I don’t want to get in his way, and there are a lot of things I can do to disrupt him from doing his job,” said Fossand, her K-9 Nico sitting calmly beside her.

Imported from Holland with help from the St. Paul Police Department, the K-9’s were trained to detect and point out explosive materials before being brought to Minnesota. The officers are going through an eight-week training course and will begin their patrols in early 2017.

As part of their training, the officers and K-9s spent a recent morning at the OMF looking for odors that had been planted around a train. The dogs are taught to alert the handler when they discover one of around 21 differently potentially explosive odors.

In practice, Metro Transit’s K-9s spend most of their time at rail stations and large events proactively patrolling. The K9 unit can also be called out for suspicious packages or to assist other agencies.

As the officers are quickly learning, the K-9s are eager to work, too.

“It’s not 6-4, it’s all the time,” said Michaud, whose K-9 companion, Jack, is the smallest and most energetic of the new group. “You can just see how much energy he has.”

With the latest additions, Metro Transit’s K-9 Unit has expanded to seven officers. Other members include Scott Tinucci and his K-9 Merle; Larry Wright and his K-9 Rocky; and Josh Scharber and his K-9 Rusty. The department’s older K-9s are all labs.  

The department is supervised by Sgt. Jeremy Rausch.

Carlo, Nico and Jack are expected to work for at least a decade, so the new officers have all made a long-term commitment to their new companion. But as close as they’ll likely become, there will be some obvious differences from previous partners.

“My human partners don’t sit in the back and bark at every car that goes by,” Michaud said. “So that’s different.”

    > Transit Police welcome 13 new officers

    > Police put youth on a new path through diversion program

Community Transit Police

Police put youth on a new path through Youth Diversion Program 

| Friday, December 02, 2016 11:59:00 AM

Metro Transit officer Brooke Blakey with participants in the department's Youth Diversion Program.A juvenile diversion program piloted this year has helped Metro Transit police build relationships with youth offenders.

Officers involved in the Youth Diversion Program work directly with juveniles (ages 12 to 18) facing their first charges from Metro Transit police for minor, non-violent violations such as fare evasion, fighting or disorderly conduct. 

“Our goal was meeting these kids where they are and peeling back the layers to find out why they are getting in trouble, often more than one time,” said officer Brooke Blakey, who has a background in social work and child psychology. 

“What we found was that with a little help and guidance, these kids can turn for the better and make better choices that may impact their whole lives.”

Youth are screened and given the choice to participate in the program. Follow-up actions are customized to the individual’s needs, and participants can also access services like counseling, education and family support. 

Youth who successfully complete the program have their charges dismissed. In most cases, it takes four to six months to satisfy program requirements.

Services are provided in partnership with Minneapolis-based Headway Emotional Health Services and Saint Paul Community Ambassadors, a city-funded outreach unit dedicated to improving safety on city streets.

Blakey said many of the kids’ she’s worked with struggle with truancy, jobs, learning disabilities and sometimes mental health issues.

“A lot of these kids are looking for structure and support and stability but haven’t had that in the past, or not much of it,” she said. 

In one example, Blakey said a youth could “barely exist” in the same space with their mother. The relationship issues were addressed through anger management, family therapy, money management and a parenting class for the mother. “It was like night and day, and only a few months later,” Blakey said.

Another rewarding moment was when two juveniles came downtown to visit Blakey on the night of their high school graduation ceremonies last June wearing their caps and gowns (photo).

“That was really something,” she said. “I was so impressed that they reached out to me in that way and on that night instead of being with other friends. It shows a lot of promise to me.”

Thirty-eight cases have been managed through the program since it launched in January. Several cases remain ongoing.

Gwen DeGroff-Gunter, a retired Minneapolis police officer, was hired to develop the diversion program. She said a lot of lessons have been learned since work began, including the importance of face-to-face interactions, consistency and follow-up. 

“It has been an interesting and valuable program,” DeGroff-Gunter said. “The overall highlight, I think, was discovering the potential this program has to truly make a difference in a young person’s life.”

Looking ahead, DeGroff-Gunter hopes officers can continue to engage more directly with area schools and be more directly involved with juvenile participants.

“This is a critical demographic for us in several ways, and we all want to increase safety for the riding public,” she said. “There is a huge opportunity here.”

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