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Community Light Rail METRO Blue Line Minneapolis

Garden partnership blooming on METRO Blue Line 

| Wednesday, July 17, 2013 9:07:00 AM

Three years ago, volunteers planted nearly 1,800 flowers, vines and trees on an small corner lot west of the METRO Blue Line’s 50th Street/Minnehaha Park Station. The effort is paying off.

At the peak of its second full growing season, the collection of Giant Hyssops, Wild Geraniums and Purple Prairie flowers that help make up what’s now known as the Nokomis East Gateway Gardens is in full bloom.

For those behind the garden, the space has also become a meeting ground for neighbors and a point of pride that delivers a fitting welcome to the Nokomis East neighborhood.

“I walk by here every day and have a great sense of pride in the neighborhood,” said Sally Einhaus, a 17-year neighborhood resident who has worked on the garden since its inception.

Einhaus was among a group of five volunteers at the garden on a recent Saturday morning pulling weeds and enjoying the company of neighbors.

Less visible than the oranges, yellows and purples that fill the space is the partnership the garden represents.

Metro Transit purchased the small corner property northwest of the Hiawatha Avenue and East 50th Street intersection as part of the METRO Blue Line construction effort. The land was needed to build an electrical substation that provides electricity for trains.

Preparing to demolish a 1920s-era dry cleaning business that sat on the site in 2009, Metro Transit approached the Nokomis East Neighborhood Association to discuss how the land could be reused.

Neighbors viewed the site as important because it serves as an entry to the Nokomis East neighborhood and quickly landed on the idea of a garden because of its proximity to the Nokomis Naturescape Gardens, known nationally for its collection of monarch butterflies.

“Nobody wanted to see a chain link fence with weeds behind it when they turned into the neighborhood,” said Trish Schilling, one of the garden’s most active leaders. “This really is a gateway to our community.”

Local design firm colberg | tews Landscape Architecture provided complimentary designs for the site. From above, the paths form an outline of a butterfly wing.

Metro Transit agreed to install a fence around the substation, grade the site, install a water line and helped acquire the plants, trees, compost and mulch needed to get the garden off the ground.

Planting occurred over two days in October 2010 and neighborhood volunteers have maintained the site ever since. The garden has attracted several butterflies and been enhanced with the addition of pavers, birdhouses and other decorations.

Schilling said the effort has been sustained “in the spirit of community service” and that the garden has taken on a “look, feel and personality” as it has evolved.

The garden has also helped build connections between the community and Metro Transit.

“Just from a relationship-building standpoint it’s been really valuable,” said Julie Quinn, a planner in Metro Transit’s engineering and facilities department who helped organize the garden project.

> Metro Transit's Adopt-a-Shelter program

A Line BRT Bus Bus Rapid Transit METRO Blue Line Minneapolis Route of the Week St. Paul

Route 84: Schools and shopping on Snelling Avenue 

| Friday, July 12, 2013 1:42:00 PM

Dellia Ihinger’s commute from Minneapolis to the Avalon School near University Avenue in St. Paul typically involves boarding a Route 16 or Route 50 bus. Next year, as she embarks on her senior year of high school, Ihinger hopes to add another leg to her trip, using Route 84 to reach Hamline University where she can take classes and earn early college credit.

Ihinger was recently aboard a Route 84 bus on her way to an interview at Hamline, among a handful of schools that line Snelling Avenue – the main thoroughfare on the north-south route.

“I’ve ridden the bus since I was little and now I’ll just take it a little further,” said Ihinger, who recently obtained a driver’s permit but doesn’t want to deal with parking or the expenses of a car.

Ihinger is part of a growing Route 84 customer base that is driving transit enhancements and planning along the corridor, which extends nearly 10 miles from the METRO Blue Line’s 46th Street Station to the Rosedale Transit Center in Roseville largely along Ford Parkway and Snelling Avenue. The 84D also runs south on St. Paul Avenue to West 7th Street.

To better connect with the METRO Green Line, opening in mid-2014, Route 84 trips will run every 10 minutes, all day long. Buses now run every 15 minutes. The schedule will also be adjusted so customers can board the Green Line at University and Snelling avenues with short wait times.

Planning is also underway to build the region’s first Arterial Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line on the Route 84 corridor.  

BRT plans call for light-rail-like features such as enhanced station areas, real-time transit information, pre-paid fare technology and vehicles with rear boarding areas. Buses would continue to run every ten minutes but end-to-end trips would take 27 percent less time as buses benefit from traffic advantages and speedier boardings. Route 84 buses would run every half hour and make more stops, providing customers local service.  

In 2012, Route 84 drew 1.3 million customers, with an average of nearly 4,000 daily weekday boardings. With BRT features, planners expect there could be an average of 8,700 daily customers in 2030.

The coming improvements would serve as just the latest evolution for transit on Snelling Avenue.

A streetcar line operated on the corridor between 1905 and 1952, providing all-day service every 10 minutes during peak periods. At its longest, the streetcar traveled from Highland Parkway to Hamline and Hoyt avenues, with extra service to the nearby Minnesota State Fairgrounds during the fair.

In the early 1970s, the route was extended to Roseville’s Rosedale Center. In 2001, it was straightened north of Como Avenue to follow Snelling Avenue directly to Rosedale, where a transit center has been built in the northeast corner of the mall, near the entrance to the AMC Rosedale 14.

Route 84 served Mall of America and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport until the METRO Blue Line opened in 2004. Customers traveling to those destinations now transfer to the Blue Line at the 46th Street Station, a bustling, multi-modal transit hub adjacent to a new mixed-use residential and commercial development: Oaks Station Place.

Route 84 has several landmarks of its own, though. The corridor passes Minnehaha Park and provides service to a number of schools, including Highland Park High School, Macalester College and Hamline University. The University of Minnesota’s St. Paul Campus and St. Catherine's University are a short distance to the west of Snelling Avenue.  

Several shopping destinations also line the route, including Har Mar Mall, Midway Shopping Center, Grand Avenue, Sibley Plaza and Highland Park.

Greg Stout, a 15-year Route 84 customer, lives in downtown St. Paul but said he frequently uses Route 84 to shop and get his hair cut in Highland Park. Stout said he enjoys Highland Park’s comparative calmness and the scenery he passes while on the bus.

John Dillery, a senior planner at Metro Transit, said the evolution of transit on Snelling Avenue reflects a strong and growing rider base that will continue to expand with the opening of the Green Line and the coming BRT improvements.

“It’s a really positive story of growth, taking the bus and sending it where people want to go, and doing it well,” he said.

Route 84 At a Glance

Type: Urban Local

Service: Route 84 is part of Metro Transit's Hi-Frequency Network, with service at least every 15 minutes during peak periods. Buses travel between Rosedale Transit Center at Rosedale Center in Roseville and the METRO Blue Line’s 46th Street Station in Minneapolis. The route travels largely along Snelling Avenue, passing the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul Campus, Minnesota State Fairgrounds, Hamline University, University Avenue, where a new METRO Green Line station will open in 2014, and Macalester College. On the south end, Route 84 travels east-west, crossing the Mississippi River on Ford Parkway. A second branch goes south via St. Paul Avenue to West 7th Street at Sibley Plaza.

Route length: 10 miles

Stops: 83 northbound, 79 southbound

Vehicles: 40-foot standard buses

Ridership: Nearly 1.3 million customers boarded Route 84 buses in 2012, with nearly 4,000 weekday boardings. By 2030, estimates project around 8,700 daily customers on the corridor.

History: A streetcar operated on Snelling Avenue between 1905 and 1952, when it was replaced with bus service. Buses began traveling to Roseville with the opening of Rosedale Center in the early 1970s. Buses ran as far south as the Mall of America until the METRO Blue Line opened in 2004; MOA-bound customers now transfer to the Blue Line at the 46th Street Station.

Future: Snelling Avenue has been identified as a top Arterial Bus Rapid Transit Corridor, where enhanced station areas, new vehicles and expanded service would combine to speed travel times and improve the customer experience.

Bus Rapid Transit Fares Light Rail Transit Planning

The proof is in the payment 

| Friday, July 12, 2013 1:17:00 PM

When customers board the METRO Blue LineNorthstar Commuter Rail or use the rear entrance of buses on the new METRO Red Line, no one is at the door collecting fares.

But that doesn’t mean customers are getting a free ride.

This common transit industry practice is called Proof of Payment. In the Twin Cities, fares are checked by Metro Transit Police officers while customers are riding a bus or train or in paid-fare zones like rail platforms. Go-To Cards with stored fares or transfers can be checked with digital handheld devices while paper receipts provide proof of single payment for individually-purchased rides.

By eliminating individual fare checks during boarding, trains and buses spend half as much time "dwelling" at stations and more time moving. The same theory is at work behind Pay Exit service, in which customers pay fares at the end of their trip. The Proof of Payment model is also significantly less expensive and intensive than installing and maintaining gate technology used in older (typically subway or elevated) transit systems. In addition, the presence of licensed, uniformed police officers onboard vehicles and patrolling stations increases safety and security in the transit system.

This approach is sometimes misunderstood as an "honor system" in which customers are easily able to board without paying and there no penalty (except perhaps a moral one). Like some drivers who take a chance by using a parking meter without paying, there are some transit customers who "play the odds." This gamble has a very poor average payoff in a Proof of Payment system because those who have not paid for their trip not only face removal from the vehicle, but a $180 fine, a misdemeanor citation and the possibility of being excluded from the transit system for a month or longerMetro Transit’s fare policy provides for inspection that is “high-visibility, with pleasant, yet firm enforcement.” Officers may cite any individual they believe is purposely evading fare payment.

Citations are rare, however, because the overwhelming majority of those using the Twin Cities transit system pay fares. Based on data collected from tens of thousands of weekly police engagements, fare compliance rates are well above 99 percent. In addition, Metro Transit is continually top-of-class among similar transit systems throughout the country in terms of "farebox recovery"  the share of operating costs covered by customer fares. In other words, in the Twin Cities, customers fund a higher proportion of the transit system's operating costs directly through fares than in similar regions throughout the U.S. 

Outside observers of the transit system who expect to see train customers buying a ticket from a machine on a rail platform should realize not every fare payment is easily visible. A growing majority of customers use Go-To Cards to pay their fare in a split second by simply tapping their card to a reader as they pass by (many customers do this with the card still in their purse or wallet). Other customers use a paper transfer from a bus which they retain and show to officers as proof of payment. Customers can ride on a single fare for 2 1/2 hours at the same fare level.

As with Northstar Commuter Rail and the Blue Line, officers are patrolling buses on the new METRO Red Line at random periods each day. Proof of Payment will also be integral for Arterial Bus Rapid Transit corridors such as Snelling Avenue, where fares will be prepaid at station areas to help speed service.

> Slate: For Mass Transit, Proof of Payment Is The Way To Go

> Metro Transit: Paying for your ride

Safety Transit Police

Metro Transit safety and security efforts earn industry accolades 

| Monday, July 08, 2013 11:48:00 AM

Metro Transit’s safety record is getting attention both nationally and locally from industry peers.

The agency has landed three safety-related awards from industry groups this year, including a “Gold Standard” rating for its transit security program announced last week by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

The TSA rating is based on a voluntary, comprehensive review focused on security planning, training and outreach. Metro Transit received high scores across all categories in the TSA’s review.

"We commend Metro Transit and the Metro Transit Police Department for the commitment and hard work that this level of accomplishment requires," TSA Administrator John S. Pistole said in announcing the recognition.

Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb (shown presenting the TSA award during a recent Metro Transit Police Awards Ceremony as Chief John Harrington looks on) said it was an honor to be recognized with the prestigious Gold Standard.

"In particular, it's a credit to the Metro Transit Police Department for their leadership in making this agency a national model of transit security," Lamb said.

Earlier this year, Metro Transit was awarded the Gold Award for Bus Safety Excellence for large transit systems by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) for a suite of safety measures involving both operations and communications. This is the second time in five years Metro Transit has received the prestigious award. 

The Minnesota Association of Government Communicators (MAGC) also gave Metro Transit’s marketing department its “Best of Show” award for visual design on a campaign reminding customers how to be safe using transit.  The campaign included bus and train wraps, interior cards and posters and included messages such as “Be safe. Don’t chase,” “Be safe. Be seen,” “Be safe. Be alert,” and “Be safe. Look both ways!”

    > Mass Transit: TSA Commends 16 Mass Transit and Rail Agencies for Highest Security Levels

    > KSTP: Metro Transit Receives 'Gold Standard' for Security

    > Star Tribune: Metro Transit wins safety award

    > Rider's Almanac: Security officer who helped Metro Transit police nab suspect honored

    > Metro Transit Honored With Industry’s Top Safety Award

    > Metro Transit: Safety & Security

Bus Bus Rapid Transit METRO Red Line Route of the Week St. Paul

Route 54: Over the river and to the airport 

| Thursday, June 27, 2013 3:30:00 PM

Minneapolis customers are likely familiar with the METRO Blue Line’s service to the Mall of America and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. But there’s an equally-convenient transit option St. Paul residents can use to reach the same destinations: Route 54.

Running nearly nine miles from the recently reopened Union Depot in Lowertown St. Paul, the limited stop, Hi-Frequency service offers quick and reliable service to Terminal 1-Lindbergh and the Mall of America Transit Station, which also acts as a hub for the METRO Red Line and METRO Blue Line.

Buses stop in downtown St. Paul and along West Seventh Street before crossing the Mississippi River and making their way to Bloomington. In total, it takes 24 minutes to get from downtown St. Paul to the airport, equal to the time it takes to go from downtown Minneapolis to the airport on the METRO Blue Line.

Nicki Beyioku is among the Metro Transit customers who have come to rely on Route 54 as a quick way to get to the airport and avoid paying for parking. Heading out-of-state this week, she left her car at her downtown St. Paul office and boarded the bus at Fifth and Minnesota streets, a practice she repeats six or seven times a year.

“I could call a friend, but this is just so convenient,” she said.

Route 54 isn’t just about getting the airport or Mall of America, though. St. Paul residents can board Route 54 for just 50 cents in St. Paul’s Downtown Zone, accessing major entertainment venues like the Xcel Energy Center and the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts.

With several stops on West Seventh Street, Route 54 also offers access to small businesses, restaurants and employment centers along the growing commercial corridor. Among the major developments now taking place on West Seventh Street is the reuse of the Schmidt Brewery, which is being converted into nearly 250 live-work spaces for artists.

Home to streetcars until 1952, transit service on West Seventh Street has gradually expanded in recent decades.

A limited-stop predecessor to Route 54 began in the mid-1970s. Then, buses made just two stops on West Seventh Street. When the Mall of America opened in 1992, Route 54 was created to run every half-hour. Weekday service moved to 15-minute intervals in 2004. In August, buses will begin running every 12 minutes to accommodate increasing ridership.

The additional service has led to a growing customer base. Customers boarded Route 54 nearly 1.4 million times in 2012. By 2030, an estimated 7,000 passengers will board each weekday – up from around 4,000 weekday boardings today.

To accommodate future growth, plans call for improved station areas, real-time signs, off-board ticket vending equipment and low-floor buses – amenities designed to speed travel time for buses and improve the overall customer experience.

After the changes, buses would begin running every ten minutes between the Mall of America and downtown St. Paul on West Seventh Street during peak periods and with greater frequency during nights and weekends.

The state has already dedicated $5 million to the planned station improvements, and another $3 million in federal funds for buses and technology. There are hopes to obtain another $15 million so that construction can begin in 2015 and completed by 2016.

Improvements at four key downtown St. Paul stops, including the station at Fifth and Minnesota streets, are also planned. Designs are still in the works but are expected to include features such as real-time signs, heated shelters and ticket vending machines. The hope is to complete the improvements before the METRO Green Line opens next year, enhancing connections between bus and light rail service.

The station improvements in downtown St. Paul are being funded by a $2.6 million federal grant, a portion of which is also being used to build a vertical connection between the Green Line's Central Station and the St. Paul Skyway system. The Metropolitan Council on Wednesday awarded a construction contract for the vertical connection to PCL Construction services; work is to begin later this year and be complete before the Green Line's mid-2014 opening.

Route 54 At a Glance

Type: Urban Local (Limited-stop)

Service: Route 54 is part of Metro Transit's Hi-Frequency Network, with service at least every 15 minutes during peak periods. Buses travel between the Union Depot, in Lowertown St. Paul, and the Mall of America Station in Bloomington. At the Mall of America Station, customers can connect to the METRO Blue Line and the METRO Red Line. Route 54 stops at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International, Terminal 1-Lindbergh, and at five locations on West Seventh Street. Route 54 is also part of St. Paul’s Downtown Zone, with 50-cent fares.

Route length: Nine miles.  

Vehicles: Standard 40-foot and 60-foot articulated ("accordion") buses.

Ridership: Nearly 1.4 million customers boarded Route 54 buses in 2012. Since 2004, ridership has grown from about 1,800 weekday and Saturday rides to more than 3,800 daily rides.

History:  Limited-stop service in this corridor was launched in the mid-1970s. When the Mall of America opened in 1992, Route 54 began offering service every half-hour seven days a week. Weekday service moved to 15-minute intervals in 2004 and buses were re-routed to West Seventh Street, replacing Route 69.

Future: West 7th Street is among the corridors under consideration for Arterial Bus Rapid Transit, which would expand service in the corridor up to every 10 minutes during peak periods. Infrastructure improvements such as enhanced station areas, real-time signs, off-board ticket vending equipment and low-floor buses are also envisioned.

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