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Retro Transit Transit Police

Lieutenant recalls progress of Metro Transit Police Department 

| Wednesday, November 20, 2013 4:16:00 PM

When Charles Donaldson began policing buses in 1985, he’d simply leave his downtown Minneapolis apartment, walk to the corner and hop aboard.

He carried no radio to keep him in touch with other officers and worked a loosely-coordinated schedule that sometimes left him working solo. Because the Metro Transit Police Department had not yet been written into state law, Donaldson carried his badge and ticket book from the Minneapolis Police Department, where he was a patrolman.

For the most part he worked overnight shifts on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, patrolling the busiest local routes – including a trip to the Roller Garden skating rink in St. Louis Park popular with young people. On many occasions, he was partnered with current Police Chief John Harrington.

“Basically, we were riding around in buses, sitting in the back seat and only taking on the stuff you felt comfortable with,” Donaldson said recently. “It could be a little fearful because you could take someone off the bus and not know if help was coming or not.”

Things have improved quite a bit since then.

The Metro Transit Police Department was written into law in 1994, transforming it from a group of around 50 part-time Minneapolis and St. Paul police officers to a full-fledged force with the rights and responsibilities of other Minnesota police departments. A pair of used State Patrol vehicles and uniforms were purchased to get the new force off the ground.

“For us, it was kind of a shock to change from a security division to a police department,” Donaldson remembered. “But it was also a relief because now you had a statute to work with and more jurisdictional authority.”

Donaldson was among the first to transition from city police to a role with the newly-established police department, becoming a full-time night supervisor in 1999. At the time, the department was gearing up for the opening of the METRO Blue Line.

For Donaldson, the career move presented him with a unique opportunity to help build the fledgling department as well as a chance to work more with the public.

“This is a much more people-oriented business,” he said. “You’re not just going from call to call to call.”

Today, Donaldson is among the most tenured officers at the Metro Transit Police Department. He leads the department’s investigation division, collecting statements, searching video and assembling other evidence as he looks into operator assaults, thefts, fights and other issues. Donaldson also plays a lead in accident reconstruction.

Many of the tools now at Donaldson’s disposal were unimaginable when he began his career. Data is used to share information and establish crime trends while the introduction of security cameras provides video that can help pinpoint suspects.

The locations of all buses and trains are tracked in remote control centers that are staffed by supervisors who can be contacted by a rail or bus operator in an instant. Law enforcement can also be dispatched at a moment's notice from control centers.

“Video didn’t come around until the 90s,” Donaldson said. “The ability to pull tape has really improved things.”

Also new: a larger, more diverse force and a broad, eight-county coverage area that includes not just buses and light-rail trains but more than 100 Park & Rides and the Northstar Commuter Rail Line. After hiring its first full-time officers in 2008, the department has now expanded to 83 full-time sworn and licensed Metro Transit police officers and 60 part-time officers who speak a variety of languages.

Next year will bring another new chapter for Donaldson and his fellow officers: the opening of the METRO Green Line between downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul. As part of the preparation for its opening, the department has opened a new east command center off University Avenue.

However his role changes in the future, Donaldson said his motivation will remain the same.

“The most gratifying part of this for me is talking to our customers and making sure get the resolution they need,” he said.

> New officers, new diversity for Metro Transit Police

> Metro Transit Police Department

> Help solve a crime – use TipLine

Bus Route of the Week

Route 21: A crosstown with culture, community 

| Friday, November 15, 2013 3:40:00 PM

When Hannah Ankeny’s car died three years ago, she decided to forego buying a new one and rely on transit instead.

Today, getting to her job at Parkway Middle School Montessori on St. Paul’s east side means taking Route 21 from her home in the Summit-University neighborhood downtown where she transfers to Route 74. Besides work, Ankeny uses Route 21 to travel west on Lake Street, where she enjoys the small shops and restaurants that line the busy commercial corridor.

“I tell everyone that you can’t get a better cultural experience in the Twin Cities than on Route 21,” Ankeny said recently as she returned from work. “If you ride all of Lake Street, you can get a glimpse of everyone who lives in the Twin Cities.”

The cross-cultural experience is perhaps the hallmark of Route 21, which became the subject of a Kevin Kling play, “21A,” profiling a unique collection of customers. But it’s not the only calling card for the historic crosstown route, described by Minnesota Monthly as the "bus route that binds the Twin Cities together." 

Customers interviewed on Route 21 said they rely on the bus to get to work, class, connecting bus routes and reach the METRO Blue Line's Lake Street/Midtown Station

Running east from the Uptown Transit Center, destinations on Route 21 include the Chicago Lake Transit Center, Midtown Global Market and Powderhorn Park. After crossing the Lake Street Bridge to St. Paul, the route travels on Marshall Avenue before veering north to University Avenue, where it meets the METRO Green Line's Snelling and Hamline avenue stations. Buses enter downtown via Selby Avenue, connecting with the Green Line's Central Station and the newly-renovated Union Depot (Route 21 was the first route to run to the newly-renovated transit hub when it re-opened in 2012).

Rowan Doyle, a ninth grader at South High School, was among a group of students traveling eastbound on a recent early-morning Route 21 bus. In 2013, South and Southwest high schools were added to the Student Pass program, which provide students passes that allow unlimited rides on regional buses and trains.

Doyle said he not only uses the bus to get to school but to visit the Midtown Global Market and to connect with the Blue Line and get to the Mall of America. “I use it to get pretty much anywhere, especially when it’s cold outside,” he said.

While Doyle is relatively new to transit, Ernest Farley has been riding Route 21 and other routes for the better part of 40 years. Farley was recently aboard Route 21 traveling to the Walker West Music Academy on Selby Avenue where he studies piano. A retired veteran, Farley also takes the bus to church, volunteer and connect with the Blue Line so he can get to the VA Medical Center.

“You couldn’t give me a car at this point in my life,” Farley said.

Farley’s memory dates to the old red buses that operated without modern amenities like temperature control or power steering. But he hasn’t been around the Twin Cities long enough to have ridden the predecessor to the Route 21: streetcars on the Selby-Lake line.

Opened in 1906, the Selby-Lake line was one of the most important crosstown connections in the Twin Cities’ burgeoning streetcar system. At its peak, it carried more passengers per mile than any other streetcar route in the system.

Buses replaced streetcars in 1953 but the corridor has continued to see heavy transit use.

Route 21 was the third most-used Metro Transit route last year, with nearly 4.3 million customer boardings. While ridership is at its highest during peak periods, Route 21 sees steadier all-day demand than most other routes.

Acknowledging the demand, planners have looked at ways to overcome streetlights, traffic and other factors that slow buses through the Lake Street corridor. In early 2014, the Midtown Corridor Alternatives Analysis concluded with a recommendation for enhanced bus service on Lake Street and rail in the Midtown Corridor. 

Whatever the speed, Dan Mortensen says he wouldn’t commute to work any other way than by using Route 21.  Mortensen grew up riding Route 21 to Uptown and now takes the bus to the Blue Line, which he uses to get to work downtown. The entire trip takes roughly a half hour. “I don’t ever want to drive to work,” he said. “It’s just not fun.”

Mortensen’s maturation on the line is common. When longtime Route 21 bus operator Karen Krech passed away in 2012, customers who grew up riding with the longtime driver recalled growing up with her and later inviting her to graduations and other life milestones.

Joyce Wisdom, the executive director of the Lake Street Council, said the lore around Route 21 has given it unique stature in the neighborhoods it knits together. 

“It seems to me that the 21, for so many generations and so many decades, has been such a vital piece of transportation,” she said. “I don’t know that you have any other route quite like it.”

Route 21 At a Glance

Type: Urban Local

ServiceRoute 21 runs between the Uptown Transit Station on Hennepin Avenue and the Union Depot in downtown St. Paul. In Minneapolis, buses run on Lake Street, stopping at I-35W and Lake Street, the Chicago Lake Transit Center and the METRO Blue Line’s Lake Street/Midtown Station. After crossing the Mississippi River on the Lake Street bridge, Route 21 buses continue on Marshall Avenue, north to University Avenue via Snelling and Hamline Avenues, then east on Selby Avenue to downtown St. Paul. The section of Route 21 between Hennepin Avenue and the Mississippi River is part of Metro Transit’s Hi Frequency Network in which buses operate at least every 15 minutes weekdays from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturday’s from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Route 21 operates between approximately 4 a.m. and 2 a.m. An end-to-end trip is scheduled to take just under an hour. Destinations on the Route 21 corridor in Minneapolis include Uptown, the Midtown Exchange Building, Powderhorn Park and South High. The route parallels the Midtown Greenway, which sits just north of Lake Street. In St. Paul, destinations include the University of St. Thomas (served by Route 21’s D branch), the Midway Shopping Center, Concordia University and St. Paul College. Route 53 runs a similar course as Route 21 between the Uptown Transit Station and downtown St. Paul, providing limited stop service during peak hours.

Route length: Approximately 12 miles

Vehicles: 40-foot standard buses

Stops: 100 eastbound, 92 westbound

Ridership: Nearly 4.3 million customer boardings in 2012, with an average of around 11,697 boardings per day

History: The Selby-Lake Streetcar line opened in 1906, following the construction of the Lake Street/Marshall Avenue bridge over the Mississippi River. It soon became one of the most important crosstown connections in the burgeoning streetcar system, with more passengers per mile than any other route and 60 streetcars in service during rush hour. As ridership grew, Lake Street went from an unpaved road to a busy commercial corridor. In St. Paul, a cable car up Selby Hill opened in 1887, serving residents who lived on or near Summit and Marshall avenues. The line was later electrified and extended west, The Selby-Lake line was taken out of service in 1953, amid the conversion from streetcars to buses. On West Lake Street, Museum in the Streets chronicles some of the transportation and related history that exists in the corridor.

FutureRoute 21 will be a key feeder to the METRO Green Line, connecting with the Union Depot and Central stations in downtown St. Paul and the Hamline Avenue and Snelling Avenue stations on University Avenue. When the Green Line opens on June 14, weekday evening service will be improved to every 20 minutesConcluded in early 2014 the Midtown Corridor Alternatives Analysis recommended a combination of enhanced bus on Lake Street and rail on the Midtown Greenway that would connect the METRO Blue Line's Lake Street/Midtown Station and a planned future stop on the METRO Green Line Extension just west of Lake Calhoun (see a map here). Planning is also underway for an improved transit station at I-35W & Lake Street. The new I-35W & Lake Street station would serve as a stop on the METRO Orange Line, a planned Bus Rapid Transit system that would run between downtown Minneapolis and Burnsville. 

From the GM Northstar

Plenty to celebrate as Northstar marks fourth anniversary 

| Friday, November 15, 2013 12:17:00 PM

From Brian Lamb, Metro Transit General Manager

The Northstar Commuter Rail Line marks its fourth anniversary tomorrow, and the milestone comes with plenty of reasons to celebrate.

Ridership has been higher than 2012 each month this year, including a record 24 percent increase in August. Average weekday rides topped 3,000 for the first time in June. At Coon Rapids/Riverdale Station, ridership is up 20 percent. Big Lake, Elk River and the new Ramsey Station are also seeing strong demand.

Combined, customers have boarded Northstar trains some 2.9 million times since its opening.

In addition to the positive trends on Northstar, St. Cloud Metro Bus reports ridership on its Northstar Link coach bus service connecting St. Cloud and Becker with Big Lake Station is up more than 8 percent this year.

Customers are benefiting from several recent changes. A $1 fare reduction was made permanent in April and free Wi-Fi was added to a car on every train in September, allowing customers to be more productive while they travel to and from work (passengers can also relax by enjoying the newly-updated Sound Point® Northstar corridor audio tour).

As part $95 million in investment to improve its railways throughout Minnesota, BNSF recently completed upgrades to track and signals in the Northstar corridor that will improve long-term reliability for Northstar customers. In Anoka, work continues on a new 344-space parking ramp and pedestrian overpass that will serve as a regional transportation hub. When it opens in December, this new facility will provide better access for customers and act as a catalyst for adjacent development.

In addition to this activity, development along the Northstar corridor is underway. A new 230-unit apartment complex connected to the Ramsey Station, The Residence at the COR, opened earlier this year and more nearby residences are now under construction. In Fridley, there are plans to build hundreds of new apartments, single-family homes and office space within walking distance of the train station.

Coinciding with this activity, we’ve been expanding our promotion of Northstar service to potential customers. For the first time this summer, a direct connection to State Fair express bus service was introduced at Fridley Station. Extra trains were also added for more large downtown events such as the Kenny Chesney concert at Target Field in July, which set a record for pre-sale Northstar tickets.

How to Ride presentations have meanwhile been offered to new audiences through newly-offered community education courses along the line led by Metro Transit Customer Advocates. St. Cloud State University students have also developed materials for class projects and have promoted Northstar and Link service to fellow students.

As we head into winter, we expect Northstar to again become an even more attractive option for commuters who prefer not battling delays on Highway 10 and I-94. The line’s sterling safety record and near-perfect on-time performance record is particularly attractive during snowy and icy commutes. Beyond rush hour, customers can also take Northstar to the Target Holidazzle Parade every Saturday this holiday season.

Looking further into the future, we believe the line named after a star known for faithfully guiding travelers to their destinations is very bright. In mid-2014, Northstar customers will join the rest of the region in celebrating the opening of the METRO Green Line and the new Target Field Station – additions that will make it more convenient for commuters to use Northstar as a part of their daily commute.

For this reason and others, there will be even more to celebrate when Northstar reaches its fifth anniversary.

> From the GM

> Northstar Commuter Rail Line

> Northstar Link

> Northstar line yields dividends

> Let history be your guide on the Northstar Commuter Rail Line

> METRO Blue Line marks ninth anniversary

> Isanti County News: Ridership, development rolling ahead for Northstar rail line

Photo: Construction continues on a new parking ramp and overpass at Northstar's Anoka Station. The facility is scheduled to be finished in December.

Bus Bus Rapid Transit Community Minneapolis

Talking transit through theater 

| Friday, November 15, 2013 10:00:00 AM

Route 19 will turn into something of a roving stage on Saturday, Nov. 16, as actors travel the corridor, stopping along the way to perform skits and invite dialogue in an innovative and interactive performance called Bus Stop Theater.

The goal: engage the public, planners and others working in North Minneapolis in a unique conversation about the issues facing the community, including transportation.

“It’s a different and fresh way to open up a dialogue about what needs to happen in North Minneapolis and to hear from people who actually live there,” said Greta Ogelsby, Bus Stop Theater’s playwright and director.

Four high school students who live in North Minneapolis or take classes at Capri Theater serve as the cast. Through skits, they will tell the fictional story of four siblings who live in the neighborhood and want to make positive changes in the community.

The first scene begins at 1 p.m. at 44th Street North and Penn Avenue North. The audience will then travel south on Route 19, stopping at Broadway Avenue, Plymouth Avenue and Olson Memorial Highway for additional performances. At each location, community members will be invited to react to the issues that are being addressed in the skits. After the performances are done, a follow-up dialogue will be held at Victory 44, 2203 N. 44th Ave.

Ashley Hanson came up with the idea for the mobile performance through her work with the Creative CityMaking initiative. A partnership between the city and Intermedia Arts, Creative CityMaking brings artists into the planning process to increase community interaction.

Hanson said she has orchestrated walking and paddling theater performances before but that this is the first time she’s seen theater and public transportation combined. Bringing the discussion into the environment makes the issues much more tangible and real, she said.

“Instead of sitting in a room and looking at a map, people are breathing the air and interacting with the landscape, which to me is just a much more human experience than the sort of Sim City approach of looking at a map and saying, ‘This is what we want here,’” Hanson said.

Metro Transit is currently working with Hennepin County and Minneapolis on the Penn Avenue Community Works Project, focused on a range of issues in the Penn Avenue corridor between Interstate 394 and the intersection of Osseo Road and 49th Avenue North. Penn Avenue has also been identified as a future Arterial Bus Rapid Transit corridor where bus enhancements could improve service.

Metro Transit's Community Outreach Coordinator Jill Hentges and Katie Roth, a project manager in the BRT/Small Starts Project Office, will attend Bus Stop Theater and listen for ways transit can help realize the community’s vision. Though there will be plenty of outreach surrounding future transit and BRT planning in North Minneapolis, Roth said it’s important to find untraditional ways of connecting with residents and customers in the corridor.

“Not all of our bus riders come to meetings so we need to go where people are,” she said.

> Route 19: Buses and blossoms on Penn Avenue

> Bus Stop Theater performance debuts Saturday, Nov. 16, along Penn Avenue

Photo: The Bus Stop Theater cast, from left: Roy Richardson, Jr., Amir Trotter, Greta Oglesby, Tyrone Gill and Zaria Graham

Bus Light Rail Northstar Transit Information

Teaching Transit 101 

| Thursday, November 14, 2013 1:50:00 PM

A freshman at St. Catherine University, Samantha Alvarez has commuted to class every day this semester by driving her car alone. Though she doesn’t like paying for gas, she said the idea of taking the bus is daunting.

“I’ve always thought buses were scary,” the Plymouth resident said. “I’m really bad with directions and I didn’t know where the buses would go or where I’d end up.”

A recent “How to Ride” presentation by one of Metro Transit’s customer advocates helped address some of Alvarez’s reservations. Hosted on campus with support from students in the school’s Commuter Advisor group, the event provided she and several other students at the St. Paul school a tutorial about how to read a schedule, buy and use a Go-To Cardload a bike on the front of a bus and other basic transit tips.

Such in-person presentations are repeated for hundreds of audiences each year to new riders and those unfamiliar with transit - like Alvarez. Besides students, presentations are given to seniors, English language learners who are new to the country and other groups.

Beginning this year, community education classes have also been offered in communities along the Northstar Commuter Rail Line to educate people on how to ride the train. The classes include a trip on the train and the connecting METRO Blue Line.

Doug Cook, one of the customer advocates who leads How to Ride presentations, said uncertainty and fear are hurdles for those who want to use transit but have little or no experience doing so. He hopes his presentation serves as a starting point and gives customers the confidence they need to begin riding the bus and train.

“A lot of people come to these events with fear – I’m trying to alleviate that fear and get them to take that next step,” said Cook, a former Metro Transit bus driver.

Before making a recent presentation at St. Catherine, Cook visited the Minnesota Council of Churches in Minneapolis where he spoke to a Somali family that had arrived in the country just five days earlier.

After running through the basics – including fares, transfers and Metro Transit’s Language Line – the group boarded a Route 18 bus and traveled to the Hennepin County Library in downtown Minneapolis to see how the system worked in practice. The family was participating in the Council’s New Arrival Resource Empowerment Workshop (NAREW), a three-week course that is designed to help refugees take a first step towards self-sufficiency.

Katia Iverson, a Refugee Program Specialist with the Council, said transit is essential to new immigrants who don’t have cars and need to connect with services. After the How to Ride presentation, NAREW participants are expected to get to remaining classes on their own.

“That (taking transit) is kind of the first measurement of self-sufficiency in Minnesota,” Iverson said.

Liz May, a Commuter Advisor who helped organize the recent event at St. Catherine’s, learned how to ride the bus while she was a teenager and working at Mall of America.

A senior at St. Catherine, May admitted some anxiety when she first began riding the bus. But she said she’s become more confident as she has gained experience and wants other students to be equally secure riding the bus. (St. Catherine’s is served by Routes 74, 84, 87 and 134.)

The school's Commuter Advisors hope to have more How to Ride classes and recorded Cook’s presentation in the hopes that it will be incorporated into future student orientations. “Students should be able to relax and take the bus with ease,” May said.         


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