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METRO Blue Line Public Art

Big commitment brings ‘Small Kindnesses’ back to life 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Tuesday, June 11, 2019 2:29:00 PM

Public Art Administrator Mark Granlund and Max Hoaglund, an independent technologist, finish repairs to a box holding a video player at the METRO Blue Line’s 46th Street Station.

Joe Scala firmly believes art supports individuals’ well-being. He also believes it should work properly.

Those dual beliefs have been in evidence for the past 15 years as Scala has voluntarily and dutifully looked after nearly two-dozen audio and video boxes at seven light rail stations along the METRO Blue Line.

Recording his observations in weekly spreadsheets, he’s reported frayed cords, stiff springs, faulty screens and hundreds of other repair needs for the public art installations, collectively known as “Small Kindnesses, Weather Permitting.”

“It’s been a little bit of an adventure and a learning experience for a lot of people,” Scala said before setting out on another recent scouting trip.

A nearly completed overhaul of the custom-designed and built boxes won’t stop Scala from making his near-weekly rounds. It should, however, make his laundry list a little shorter than usual.

Repairs to the boxes have been ongoing almost since the start. But over the past year, old technology has been swapped out, standardized and updated, making the system more durable and easier to maintain.

“After 15 years, things were becoming obsolete and the whole system really needed to be redone,” Metro Transit’s Public Art Administrator Mark Granlund said.

On a recent afternoon, Granlund and Max Hoaglund, an independent technologist helping with the updates, removed the glass cover of a box at the 46th Street Station, revealing a tangle of wiring connected to a small circuit board.

Behind a miniature red velvet curtain rested a video player that rotates through more than 80 short videos. At other locations, video or audio is triggered by pulling a lever, spinning a wheel or ringing a bell.

The custom nature of each box is what’s made maintaining the collection so tricky. But there are plenty of supporters who appreciate the efforts to keep them going after all these years.

Among the most excited is Brooklyn, N.Y.-based artist Janet Zweig, who was commissioned to create the interactive art project ahead of the Blue Line’s 2004 opening.

Zweig collaborated with others on the engineering, installation and maintenance, and helped solicit and curate content. She received hundreds of VHS tapes and CDs from local poets, songwriters, storytellers and others based on the themes of courtesy and weather – two Minnesota clichés.

“I’m really thrilled that there’s so much follow through on this,” she said.

Beyond the recent repairs, Zweig said she was especially grateful to Scala for his years of diligence, calling him a “superhero of public art.”

While Scala’s fully embraced the role, it came to him unexpectedly.

While overseeing an installation, Zweig worried aloud how maintenance needs would be documented. Scala overheard the conversation and volunteered to check on them.

He’s sent detailed reports to Metro Transit staff every week for the past 15 years.

Scala said his work has been motivated not just by a belief in the power of art, but by his friendship with Zweig. He’s also pretty fond of the stories the boxes bring to the community.

Because he’s seen every submission, he usually doesn’t stick around until the end. But he’ll wait for the next train if one of his two favorite music videos come up (one features a humorous song called “Commuters,” and the other is of two people fishing on a lake). Another, by the late Native storyteller Jim Northrup, also stirs memories.

“They’re serious, they’re humorous and, collectively, they’re a really great inventory,” Scala said. “I feel really good about the commitment to get them refurbished.”

Metro Transit plans to solicit new audio and video submissions to be added to the "Small Kindnesses, Weather Permitting" collection later this year. Watch for more details soon. Listen to existing audio clips here.

Attend an upcoming public art tour

Learn more about Metro Transit’s collection of public art by attending an upcoming guided tour. A tour of the Blue Line will run from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, June 15. The two-hour tour will begin at the 28th Avenue Station. RSVP to the tour and find dates and times of future tours at

Above: Public Art Administrator Mark Granlund and Max Hoaglund, an independent technologist, finish repairs to a box holding a video player at the METRO Blue Line’s 46th Street Station.

C Line

C Line heralded as ‘future’ of Twin Cities transportation 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Monday, June 10, 2019 10:43:00 PM

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held in North Minneapolis to celebrate the opening of the METRO C Line on Saturday, June 8, 2019.The METRO C Line had been open less than four hours when Brandon Martin found himself boarding at one of the Bus Rapid Transit line’s new stations for the second time that day.

“I don’t know what magic you’re using, but the bus seems to just breeze right through,” Martin said after getting on at the Penn & Plymouth Avenue Station.

Martin, who lives near Penn Avenue, was among thousands of people who turned out on Saturday, June 8, to experience the C Line on its first day of service.

Metro Transit’s second BRT line, the C Line significantly improves service in the Penn Avenue corridor, with trips running every 10- to 15-minutes most of the day, larger shelters with ticket machines and other features, and the region’s first electric buses.

Service is sped up by allowing customers to board through any of three doors, moving fare payments off the bus and technology that allows buses to request green lights. The C Line also has fewer stops than local bus service it largely replaces, Route 19.

Before the first C Line buses began running on Saturday morning, supporters gathered for a celebratory ribbon-cutting at Penn and Lowry avenues, where two of the C Line’ s 37 boarding areas is located.

Among them was Gov. Tim Walz, who described BRT and electric buses as the future of transportation in the Twin Cities region. “Look at the future – clean efficient transportation where communities are at the heart of why we do it,” Walz said, standing in front of one of the C Line’s eight electric buses.

After the ceremony, Walz and others traveled north on the C Line to the Brooklyn Center Transit Center, where charging stations will help keep electric buses running throughout the day.

Speedy service and the absence of tailpipe emissions were just a few the features customers were drawn to as they rode the C Line for the first time.

Customers also commented on the spacious buses, less crowded thanks to more frequent service, the addition of USB charging ports and the unique names given to each C Line bus, submitted by students and neighborhood groups.

“These buses are so nice that I might just have to find a reason to ride even when I don’t need to,” said Roderick Gayden, a North Minneapolis resident.

Saturday’s opening was also celebratory for Metro Transit employees who spent years planning and preparing for the start of service.

Among them was BRT Manager Katie Roth, who has been involved in C Line planning for the past seven years.  

"My favorite part of Saturday’s celebration was riding the new bus with customers and hearing how excited they were that Metro Transit had brought something 'just like the A Line' to Penn Avenue," Roth said. "That’s why we do this."

Heywood Instructor Henry Bridges, who helped bus operators learn about the new electric buses, also had a rewarding day. After taking the helm of the inaugural C Line bus, a local boy insisted on meeting and getting a photo with him.

"It's moments like that, which make me love my job even more," Bridges said.

Learn more about the METRO C Line

Know Your Operator: Henry Bridges

Coverage of the METRO C Line’s opening


METRO C Line Opening Day

Know Your Operator

Know Your Operator: Henry Bridges 

Posted by John Komarek | Monday, June 10, 2019 2:55:00 PM

Henry Bridges said he’d never move to Minnesota. Today, he’s a senior instructor at Heywood Garage.

As a native New Yorker, Bridges was used to the big city and lots of people. Occasionally, he’d visit family in Minnesota. To him, the difference was stark.

“I thought it moved too slow and there were no people,” Bridges said. “But things change. Minnesota’s my home and so is Metro Transit.”

After arriving in 1985, Bridges worked several jobs as a machinist, including one that helped finish the bricks used to build Target Center. But at the end of every year, he and his fellow employees were laid off, then rehired. The instability took its toll on the father of four and he started looking for a new line of work.

“After seeing an ad, I remembered my childhood watching the bus drivers in New York and being interested in their job, but not the people,” Bridges said. “But like my move to Minnesota, things change!”

Bridges started as a part-time weekend driver while continuing to work as a machinist. But after two years, he saw that he could focus exclusively on building his career at Metro Transit. As an instructor, Bridges helps newer operators learn the trade. 

“I love driving bus, but it’s even more rewarding to help other bus operators,” Bridges said.

This year, he's had a new assignment -- teaching operators how to drive electric buses now in service on the METRO C Line. While similar to their diesel-fueled counterparts, electric buses have enough differences to require separate training.

“It’s a great bus and it’s the future of our industry,” Bridges said. “It’s a great time to be in transit.”

Over the years, his work has not gone unnoticed. Bridges received the honor of driving the inaugural electric bus on the C Line's opening day. With lots of cameras at the ready, he was ready for his close-up. “It’s like being a movie star!” Bridges said.

But the best part of his day didn't happen until the bus stopped at the Brooklyn Center Transit Center (BCTC). Oliver, one of the inaugural bus riders, told his dad he needed to meet the driver. His dad said he didn’t stop talking about meeting Bridges until he fell asleep that night.

"It's moments like that, which make me love my job even more," Bridges said.

Bridges meets with a boy named Oliver who insisted on meeting the bus driver of the first electric bus.

Operator at a Glance

Name: Henry Bridges
Hired: July 21, 2001
Garage: Heywood
Routes: Instructor, but drove Route 19 many years
Hobbies: Fishing, bowling and basketball
Family: Three sons, a daughter and soon to be married
Lives: Fridley

We're hiring!

If you like working with people and want to make a difference in your community, come help us run our growing transit system! Learn more about what it takes to become a bus operator at

On Off The Clock

On the Clock/Off the Clock: Fleet Supervisor Tabin Hinck 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Wednesday, June 05, 2019 5:08:00 AM

On the Clock/Off the Clock features provide an introduction to the people who spend their days working at Metro Transit and their free time involved in a variety of interesting hobbies. Read more On the Clock/Off the Clock features here

Lives: Brooklyn Center

Job: Fleet Service SupervisorLift/Brakes

Years of Service: 9

How did you come to work at Metro Transit and what do you do?

I was looking for something different and a place where I could develop professionally. I started as a Mechanic Technician and worked on the second shift at Heywood Garage. After that, I worked as a mechanic on the Northstar Commuter Rail Line, then came back to Heywood to be a garage supervisor. Today, I work in the fleet services where we find solutions to common performance issues.

Where are you from originally? Tell us a little bit about your background.

I was raised in Brooklyn Park then went to the North Dakota State College of Science where I got my associates degree in diesel technology. Since then, I’ve always been around big and small rigs. My first job was at a Peterbilt dealer, where I worked on medium- and heavy-duty trucks. I also worked as a car shop supervisor for Canadian National, a freight rail company out of Proctor, Minn.

What are your favorite activities when you’re working or “On the Clock”? 

I enjoy being handed problems, rolling up my sleeves and getting to work on a solution. The problems can be small and easily taken care or balloon into something big that involves talking with parts suppliers or vendors about manufacturing defects. We also review how we maintain the vehicles and our procedures.

It’s a nice atmosphere to work in. There a lot of people with different skills, so there’s always someone with a different perspective on how to tackle a problem.

What are your favorite activities when you’re not working or “Off the Clock”?

I like to work on my house, cross-country ski, play with my dog, and, most of all, sail. I’ve been sailing with my family since I was four years old. We sail a 1975 Ericson 35, which is a standard rigged sloop that can comfortably sleep five people. It will go about 7 miles per hour (6 knots) with favorable wind and has a small internal engine we can use when the wind isn’t blowing.

One of my favorite places to sail is the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior. If you haven’t been, I recommend paddling through the sea caves on Devil’s Island and taking a break to walk through the old light houses.

Sometimes we’ll also go out with a smaller crew for more than a week. When we take longer trips, we’ll go to Isle Royale or into the Canadian waters, where a lot of the islands have saunas. There is very little light pollution and we’ll do plenty of night sails with just the moon and stars lighting the way between the islands. The fresh air and tranquility is why I truly enjoy sailing.

How We Roll

How We Roll: Clayton Watercott 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Thursday, May 23, 2019 3:05:00 PM

Associate Planner Clayton Watercott boards the Northstar Commuter Rail Line at Target Field Station in Minneapolis.

Many Metro Transit employees are committed to sustainable transportation, riding the bus or train, biking or walking to work and other destinations across the region.

These “How We Roll” profiles illustrate how much we have in common with our customers when it comes to how we get around. See you out there!

Clayton Watercott, Associate Planner, Transit Oriented Development

How do you get to work?

I walk about a half-mile from my apartment to the Anoka Station, where I board the Northstar Commuter Rail Line. It’s normally about a half-hour ride to Target Field Station, then a short walk to the Heywood Office. I’ve tried driving before and, even with dry roads, it takes about twice the time it takes on the train.

What do you enjoy most about your commute?  

Taking the train gives me time to meet new people and chat with friends that also work in the downtown area and beyond. As someone who used to drive a lot for work, I appreciate the relaxed but consistent commute time. Regardless of the weather, the train provides a smoother, safer, and faster commute than driving ever could. 

In warmer weather, I also like to bring my bike along for part or all of the commute home. Bringing a bike on Northstar is convenient, and if the weather gets rough, I can always catch the next bus or train going north. Having those options makes the commute fun and changeable, never boring.

Why is it important to you to ride transit?

Transit is much better for the environment than driving alone. When I was a student at the University of Minnesota, I calculated and quantified the difference in energy usage between Northstar and a rather efficient compact car. Even if the train only runs half-full, it still beats the efficiency of a compact car by a huge margin. This makes transit one of the critical elements in combating climate change. Even in 2019, there is no more efficient mode of travel than steel wheels on steel rails.

Secondly, but equally important, I ride transit because it’s good for my physical and mental health. Rather than sequestering myself in a single occupancy vehicle in stressful traffic, I get a measure of peace from my walk to and from the train station each day. On the train, I can create relationships and have conversations that would never happen if I drove. In a world where hypertension is a leading cause of death, I think the connection between personal health and public transit use is under-appreciated. I feel fortunate to have accessible transit where I live and work.

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