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Light Rail METRO Blue Line METRO Green Line METRO Red Line On the METRO Transit Improvements

METRO Blue Line marks ninth anniversary 

| Wednesday, June 26, 2013 6:50:00 AM

For the last four years, Lisa Nguyen-Gaulke has relied on the METRO Blue Line to reach her job in downtown Minneapolis, a trip she estimates takes half the time she’d spend commuting by car from her Standish-Ericsson home.

Nguyen-Gaulke also uses the Blue Line to get to Twins games or other weekend events and as an easy connection to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Combined with their bikes, Nguyen-Gaulke’s use of the Blue Line allowed she and her husband to downsize to a single vehicle two years ago.

“It makes a big difference, especially with gas as high as it’s been recently,” Nguyen-Gaulke said this week.

Nguyen-Gaulke is among a growing number of residents who – nine years after the Blue Line’s opening and more than 30 years since it was first envisioned – have come to see light rail as an integral part of their daily lives.

As the Blue Line marks another anniversary today, here's a quick snapshot of how the state's first light rail line is performing and a look at what is yet to come.

  • > Ridership is exceeding expectations. Nearly 10.5 million customers boarded Blue Line trains in 2012, a record number of passengers for the 11-mile light rail line. Ridership levels have been trending nearly 30 percent ahead of projections for the year 2020. In Metro Transit's 2012 Customer Survey, 60 percent of respondents said they were on their way to work; 15 percent were running errands and 9 percent were on their way to school. Riders said they chose transit because they had no access to a vehicle, wanted to avoid stress and avoid gas and parking expenses. More than 42 percent of passengers have ridden for more than five years and more than 90 percent rated service as “good” or “excellent.”
  • > Development is surging. At the north end of the Blue Line, housing and office projects are planned or underway in the North Loop and near Target Field. Directly adjacent to the Nicollet Mall Station, a 26-story apartment building is rising from the ground -- the first high-rise in Minneapolis in 30 years. Plans to add offices, green space and apartments near the site of the new Vikings Stadium are taking shape. East of the 38th Street Station, a 180-unit apartment building, Longfellow Station, is nearing completion. And in Bloomington, plans for a 50-acre transit-oriented development around the Bloomington Central Station are taking shape as the Mall of America continues to expand.
  • > Property values along the corridor have been strengthened. Single-family homes within a quarter-mile of the Blue Line have sold for 4.2 percent more than homes in a comparison area, with values increasing an average of $5,000 per home. A 2013 study found home values within a half-mile of hi-frequency transit like the Blue Line performed 48 percent better during the recession compared to those farther away.
  • > Connectivity is growing. With the opening of the METRO Red Line last weekend, customers in the south metro have access to a frequent, all-day service connecting to the Blue Line at the Mall of America Transit Station. In 2014, the METRO Green Line will provide light rail passengers with a convenient connection to St. Paul and the University of Minnesota. When the Interchange transit hub adjacent Target Field opens next spring, connections between transit services, including the Northstar Commuter Rail line and bus service, will further improve. Future connections include the Snelling Bus Rapid Transit Line, which would run from the 46th Street Station and along Snelling Avenue to Rosedale Center, and the Green Line Extension, which would run light rail between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie.
  • > Service will continue to improve. A dozen new light rail vehicles have been added to the Blue Line fleet in the past few months, providing service with all three-car trains during peak periods and special events. The vehicles are designed to be more energy-efficient and comfortable for passengers. Planned streetscape improvements on Hiawatha Avenue will make the corridor more inviting to pedestrians and bikers. And reconfigured traffic signal technology will help move traffic more quickly along Hiawatha Avenue. A growing police force will provide additional law enforcement presence throughout the entire Metro Transit system.
Community Safety Transit Police

Security officer who helped Metro Transit police nab suspect honored 

| Friday, June 21, 2013 3:43:00 PM

Sabrina Banks is an observer.

It’s that quality that led her to a job working security at St. Paul’s Alliance Bank Center – and to the Metro Transit Police Department on Friday, where she received a Civilian Award of Commendation.

Banks was recognized for identifying a suspect in an armed robbery of a Roseville group home and alerting Metro Transit police officers Peter Peterson and Leo Castro, who made an arrest following a foot chase through the St. Paul skyway. Metro Transit police had provided Banks with a photo of the suspect and asked her to be watchful, believing he might show up in the area.

The arrest later led police to three other robbery suspects, charges and subsequent convictions. Banks successfully identified another suspect earlier this year and has also worked with beat officers in St. Paul to address electronics thefts. (Above: Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington presents Banks with the award)

Before accepting her award, Banks said she has always had a keen eye and is constantly aware of her surroundings. “I look at everyone all day long and I never forget a face,” said Banks, a Woodbury resident who has worked security since 1996.

Recalling last year's arrest, Banks said it was an exciting moment and that she was proud to have helped officers make their arrest. “I like it when they get the bad boys,” she said.

Other citizens won recognition at the 16th annual event for chasing down a suspect who had smashed a transit shelter window with a skateboard and helping to prevent a suspect from entering a METRO Blue Line tunnel near the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Along with the citizen awards, nearly two-dozen Metro Transit police officers received accolades for extraordinary service. The group included two officers and a Metropolitan Council project manager who developed a system that provides better coordination with the Minneapolis Police Department, saving officers hundreds of hours in paperwork every year.

Adam Marvin, who joined the Metro Transit Police Department in 2009, was named Police Officer of the Year for his dedication and attention to detail. Officer Marty Williams was awarded the Timothy Bowe Memorial Award, which is given to a part-time Metro Transit Police officer.

Presenting the awards, Police Chief John Harrington described the officers as the “best of the best” and heralded them for being a “voice of reason and calm when things seemed to be completely out of control.”

“These are the people who make our world – the transit world – a better, safer place,” he said.

Star Tribune: Metro Transit honors top cops

> Metro Transit Police Honor Top Officers at 16th Annual Ceremony

> Previous award winners

Bus Express Bus METRO Orange Line Minneapolis Route of the Week Suburban Transit

Route 467: Fast growth for a fast commute 

| Wednesday, June 19, 2013 2:00:00 PM

Nathan Ondricek lives in Lakeville and works in downtown Minneapolis. But for the last two years he’s managed to avoid getting behind the wheel and enduring the stream of traffic on Interstate 35W.

Instead, Ondricek leaves his car at the Kenrick Avenue Park & Ride, located just east of I-35 in Lakeville, and boards Metro Transit’s Express Route 467. In just a half hour, he’s getting off the bus at 2nd Avenue South and 8th Street South and is on his way to work.

Sitting near the back of the comfy coach bus, he fills his 21-mile commute time napping or using his smart phone. The leisurely trip in has allayed any fears Ondricek had about being isolated in the city without his car, an SUV he knows would put a strain on his wallet were he to drive in every day.

“I was skeptical about losing the control aspect, worried I couldn’t leave whenever I wanted, but the buses run so frequently I really haven’t had to worry about it,” he said.

Ondricek isn’t the only one finding value in Route 467’s easy commute, aided by the bus's direct interstate access and ability to use dedicated lanes that allow them to bypass general traffic congestion.

Nearly 224,000 people boarded Route 467 last year, up 21 percent from 2011 and 74 percent from 2010, the first full year of express bus service at the 750-space Kenrick Avenue Park & Ride. The $8.7 million Park & Ride was built in 2009 with the help of federal funding directed at addressing congestion on I-35.

The spike in ridership puts Route 467 among Metro Transit’s fastest-growing express services. Among all 53 Metro Transit express routes, there were 9.46 million boardings in 2012, a nearly 10 percent increase from five years ago.

Service at the Kenrick Avenue has expanded from six inbound and six outbound trips to and from Minneapolis to 13 inbound and 13 outbound trips to accommodate the growing demand. Customers can now begin boarding at the Kenrick Avenue Park & Ride at 5:53 a.m.; the three earliest trips drop off customers at I-35W and Lake Street (on demand only) and the 10 following trips go directly to downtown Minneapolis, dropping customers off at different sites on 2nd Avenue South. Beginning just after 3 p.m., commuters have 13 scheduled departures to pick from.

The downtown waiting areas on 2nd Avenue South offer NexTrip real-time departure information and were added as part of the federally-funded Marq2 project. The work also led to bus-only lanes on 2nd Avenue South and Marquette Avenue, allowing for faster transit service downtown. Route 467 is part of Metro Transit’s Pay Exit network that speeds bus departures from the downtown core by requiring customers to pay their fare when they reach their destination.  

The growth on Route 467 is part of the conversation behind the planned METRO Orange Line, a Bus Rapid Transit service that could offer all-day, station-to-station trips to downtown Minneapolis on I-35W. The service would be modeled after the METRO Red Line between Bloomington and Apple Valley.

Along with stops in Minneapolis, Bloomington, Richfield and Burnsville, planners are studying whether there is enough demand to extend Bus Rapid Transit south to the Kenrick Avenue Park & Ride. Transit planners predict the METRO Orange Line could draw up to 3.4 million annual riders by 2030, complementing continued express bus service.

The Orange Line would also benefit express bus service by adding MnPASS lanes on southbound I-35W between downtown Minneapolis and East 42nd Street and providing updated stations and technology along the corridor. A new station in the middle of I-35W at Lake Street is also planned that would allow Route 467 and other express buses to better serve the Midtown area.   

Route 467 At a Glance

Type: Express

Service: 13 trips to downtown leave Kenrick Avenue Park & Ride between 5:53 a.m. and 8:12 a.m.; 13 trips leave downtown Minneapolis between 3:14 p.m. and 5:54 p.m. The earliest three inbound buses stop at I-35W and Lake Street; in the afternoon, buses stop at Lake Street on-demand.

Vehicles: Coach buses

Ridership: 223,694 total customer boardings in 2012, with an average of 840 weekday riders. Ridership has grown 74 percent since 2010, the first full year of express bus service at the Kenrick Avenue Park & Ride.

History: Service began in 2009 with the opening of Kenrick Avenue Park & Ride, which sits immediately east of I-35. Funding came largely from a federal grant. The Counties Transit Improvement Board is an ongoing funding partner.

Future: The METRO Orange Line could bring all-day, frequent bus to I-35W and I-35, potentially as far south as the Kenrick Avenue Park & Ride.

Bus Light Rail Retro Transit Transit Information

Transit help just a phone call away 

| Wednesday, June 19, 2013 9:00:00 AM

Technology has dramatically altered the way Metro Transit’s customers plan their trips, offering real-time information that allows users to see the best way to get from Point A to Point B with just a few clicks.

That doesn’t mean Metro Transit has lost its personal touch, however.

Nearly 40 transit experts at Metro Transit’s Fred T. Heywood Office Building in Minneapolis work all but two days a year to provide customers with personalized transit directions over the phone. Callers can get directions by simply telling the experts where they are and where they want to go. Experts can also help customers learn how to walk to their nearest station or final destination and help plan a future trip. Trip planning assistance is available in 170 languages.  

While Metro Transit’s website and third-party apps now play a growing role in customers’ trip planning efforts – Metro Transit’s online trip planner drew more than 6 million users last year – there is still a healthy appetite for a more personal experience.

Transit experts receive about 5,000 calls a day and have together handled more than 1 million annual calls each of the last eight years (in 2012, there were 1.2 million calls answered; the record was set in 2009 with 1.24 million calls answered).

“It’s not as if we’re hauling lumber around. We serve people, and people really appreciate that one-to-one contact,” said John Howley, who has managed the Transit Information Center for the last seven years.

While the basic function is the same, technology has changed the way the Transit Information Center works. Before Metro Transit’s online Trip Planner launched in 2000, transit experts manually plotted trips using a giant map, where each route had been taped.

Today, that labor-intensive approach has been replaced with a computerized system that can instantantly provide experts the information they need to serve customers. Calls that once took up to 20 minutes to resolve now often take less than two minutes.

Gary Bier (who goes by another name on the phone) has seen the evolution since becoming a transit expert nearly 35 years ago, when fares were just 35 cents. Besides the changes in technology, Bier has seen the level of service grow dramatically.

While there is more to remember now, Bier has developed a vast knowledge of Metro Transit’s routes and schedules and can quickly come up with solutions when customers call. Some of that knowledge comes from memorizing routes before the call center moved to a computer-based system.

“Kind of like a GPS, I can picture it all in my head,” Bier said.

Cathy Taylor has spent 13 years helping Metro Transit customers navigate the system. She said most callers are looking for directions to appointments, school or a new job.

During a recent Friday morning, Taylor helped a man in downtown Minneapolis find his way to a medical appointment in Golden Valley, confirmed weekend departure times for a man with an outdated printed map and walked a Minneapolis resident through her early-morning commute to Edina.

The calls showed how Taylor is able to come up with more creative trips based on how much time people are willing to wait, whether they will walk longer distances to their final destination or are comfortable transferring to another bus, giving people more options than they might come up with on their own.

"This is really much more of a personal schedule," she said.

Those needs are why Howley believes transit experts will continue to play a vital role for Metro Transit customers, no matter how much technology evolves. “That need will always be there,” he said. 

    > For TIC rep, job changes but motivation stays the same

    > Trip Planner sets new record

How to reach the Transit Information Center

To reach Metro Transit’ Transit Information Center, dial 612-373-3333. (This is the same number that provides access to NexTrip, Customer Relations and a number of other resources). Transit experts are available from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends and holidays. The Transit Information Center is closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. 

Photos: Transit expert Jared Fette speaks to a Metro Transit customer at the Transit Information Center, June 2013 (top). A transit expert uses a guidebook to manually plot a trip in the Transit Information Center in 1999, before the system was converted to computers.

Bicycle Community Northstar

Group organizes Northstar bike trip 

| Tuesday, June 18, 2013 3:25:00 PM

A group of more than 100 bicyclists will take a one-way trip on the Northstar Commuter Rail Line on Saturday, June 22.

They won’t be left stranded in Big Lake, however. Instead, the group will pedal back to Minneapolis as part of the Train & Trail Tour ride hosted by the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota.

The riders will travel north on the Northstar Commuter Rail Line at 11:30 a.m. and arrive in Bike Lake roughly an hour later. To return, they will pedal 41 miles (downhill) by bike on the Mississippi River Trail, Minnesota’s original state bikeway. 

The Northstar Commuter Rail Line has many bicycle connections to enjoy any day of the year. View boarding information, nearby parks and recommended bike routes here.

> Update: Everyone was on board for the Train & Trail Tour

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