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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

Bus Express Bus Suburban Transit Transit Improvements

New home for Metro Transit in the works at Southdale 

| Tuesday, June 18, 2013 10:15:00 AM

Renovations at Southdale Center have come to a close, but transit improvements surrounding the historic Edina shopping mall are just beginning to take shape.

As part of a larger redevelopment of the area around the 57-year-old retail space – the country’s first enclosed shopping center – Metro Transit is relocating, expanding and enhancing its Southdale Transit Center. Work on the new transit center began in early June.

    > NEW: Southdale Transit Center Now Open!

The new transit center will be located at the southwest corner of York Avenue South and West 66th Street, near the entrance to J.C. Penney. Features will include heated shelters, a rain garden and a Park & Ride with 130 spaces – a 27 percent increase from the previously-used Park & Ride at York Avenue South and West 69th Street. On average, the Southdale Transit Center sees 800 passenger boardings each weekday.

Real-time NexTrip departure signs, security features and two electric vehicle charging stations are due to be installed in the future.

The move enables the old Park & Ride site to redeveloped into a 10-story, 232-unit apartment building, One Southdale, which is scheduled to open in summer 2014. The apartment project follows a $19.1 million overhaul of Southdale Center that has drawn a host of new stores. 

The new transit center is just the latest iteration for Metro Transit’s Southdale presence.

Southdale was served at its opening by Route 6, with hourly service on France and Xerxes avenues. It became the first shopping center in the region to draw multiple buses when 66th Street Crosstown service was added in 1957. That crosstown service continues today as Route 515, which runs to Bloomington and the Mall of America Transit Center. For many years, customers who crossed city lines to reach the mall paid a separate fare when entering Edina.  

Southdale also hosted one of the area’s first Park & Ride lots, has been a longtime hub for service to the Minnesota State Fair and was a starting point for one of the region’s original express services, Route 578. Route 578 service to downtown Minneapolis continues today, along with another express service, Route 579, which travels between Southdale and the University of Minnesota. SouthWest Transit’s Express Route 684, which runs from Chanhassen to the University of Minnesota, also stops at Southdale.

This is Metro Transit’s fourth move at Southdale. Its transit stop was originally located on the northeast side of the mall and was later moved to the southwest and southeast corners.

Bus Light Rail METRO Green Line Minneapolis Route of the Week St. Paul University of Minnesota

Route 16: The original Minneapolis-St. Paul connection 

| Thursday, June 13, 2013 11:09:00 AM

Riding from downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul on Route 16, it’s easy to see this is a corridor in transition. Construction is unfolding in Minneapolis, on the University of Minnesota campus and on St. Paul’s University Avenue, where the METRO Green Line is nearing completion and a wave of private development has begun.

This recent wave of activity is just the latest evolution for the University Avenue corridor and Route 16, among the most history-rich and popular transitways in the Twin Cities.

Dating to the 1950s, Route 16 replaced the Twin City Rapid Transit Company’s Interurban Line, which launched in 1890 and served as the first electric streetcar line connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul. Though streetcars have disappeared, remnants of their history remain. In St. Paul’s Midway area, the building at 2324 University Ave. W. was used to store streetcars and has been renovated into office space. Before the Interurban Line, commuter trains operated by three different railroads offered service every hour between the cities on freight rail tracksa north and south of University Avenue; horse-drawn streetcars provided local service between downtown St. Paul and Dale Street.

With some minor exceptions, Route 16 follows the same path as the original streetcar line. Buses travel from Ramp B/5th Street Transit Center, northeast of Target Field in downtown Minneapolis to Minnesota and East 4th streets, in downtown St. Paul.

Route 16 has served as a key connection to the University of Minnesota, where it crosses the Washington Avenue Bridge and stops near Coffman Memorial Union, Fairview University Medical Center, TCF Bank Stadium and Williams Arena.

East of campus Route 16 follows University Avenue, where it passes a diverse mix of student housing, industry, small businesses, restaurants and single-family homes. The corridor is undergoing significant change ahead of the Green Line’s opening. More than $1.2 billion worth of development was planned or under construction at the end of 2012, and the number has since grown to more than $1.7 billion, according to the Metropolitan Council.

Notable projects include the renovation of the historic Chittenden and Eastman building, at University and Raymond avenues, which reopened as apartments in 2012 and a new Habitat for Humanity's headquarters at University and Prior avenues. Episcopal Homes broke ground in May 2013 on a $45 million senior housing project at University and Prior avenues, and several affordable housing projects and retail projects are now in planning.

Amid the redevelopment, existing businesses are reinvesting and longtime institutions continue to thrive.

In the Little Mekong Business District, in St. Paul's Frogtown neighborhood, a mix of Thai, Vietnamese and other flavors from Southeast Asia can be found. The diversity of offerings along the entire corridor drew the attention of The Star Tribune, which profiled a handful of University Avenue eateries in 2012. City Pages named Route 16 its “Route of the Year” in 2013, citing its unique character and cultural landmarks, including the Turf Club, in the Midway neighborhood. A marketing campaign, On the Green Line, is promoting small businesses along the entire corridor.

Since its inception, Route 16 has provided high-frequency service and been among Metro Transit’s most heavily used routes. In 2012, more than 4.5 million total boardings were recorded on Route 16, making it the single most popular east-west oriented route in the Twin Cities transit system. 

Route 16’s popularity led to the introduction of the speedier Route 50 limited-stop bus in 1998. During rush-hours, Route 50 runs every 12 minutes with extra trips between downtown Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota. Between them, routes 16 and 50 account for about 10 percent of all rides on Metro Transit's urban bus service.

When the Green Line opens next year, Route 16 is one of several routes that will be modified (Route 50 will be eliminated). Buses will run every 20 minutes between downtown St. Paul and TCF Bank Stadium, providing more localized service as more customers return to the point where the corridor began: rail. 

Route 16 At a Glance

Type: Urban Local

Service: Route 16 is part of Metro Transit's Hi-Frequencey Network, with service arriving at least every 15 minutes throughout the day. Buses travel between the Ramp B/5th Street Transit Center in downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul every eight to 10 minutes during the day and every hour between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. Route 50 limited-stop service complements Route 16 during rush hours.

Route length: Approximately 11 miles 

Stops: 66 eastbound, 71 westbound

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

Ridership: Customers boarded Route 16 buses more than 4.5 million times in 2012. The route has more than 13,800 boardings every weekday.  

History:  Buses largely follow the same route as the first streetcar line connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul, discontinued in 1953. All-day, frequent service has been a staple of Route 16, which has long been among the busiest routes in the Twin Cities transit system.

Future: With the opening of the Green Line in 2014, Route 16 buses will operate every 20 minutes between downtown St. Paul and TCF Bank Stadium. Light-rail trips between downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis will leave every 10 minutes and are expected to shave up to 30 minutes off the travel time of Route 16 service. 

Thanks to transit historian Aaron Isaacs for his assistance with this post.  

Community Northstar Rider Information

Let history be your guide on the Northstar Commuter Rail Line 

| Wednesday, June 12, 2013 11:40:00 AM

From Ford Motor Co.’s downtown Minneapolis factory to the Oliver H. Kelly Farm in Elk River, a trip on the Northstar Commuter Rail Line is rich in history. 

And now there’s more of it.

Minnesota Public Radio’s audio tour of the 40-mile commuter rail line, part of its Sound Point® series, was recently expanded to provide customers additional history about the sights along the corridor (which we learn began as a route for ox carts delivering furs from northern Minnesota and Canada...). 

The 25-minute tour is accessible by smart phone, allowing transit customers to listen and look as they travel the line. Passengers with WiFi-enabled devices can also access the tour using Northstar's new WiFi service later this year.

In Ramsey, where Northstar’s newest station opened in 2012, the tour tells the story of one of Minnesota’s first paved highways, Highway 10. The road was built in the 1920s to serve wealthy city residents who wanted to drive to their lake homes.

> Listen to the Northstar Commuter Rail Line audio tour

The tour also touches on the 1986 tornado that hit the Springbrook Nature Center in Fridley, which circled for 16 minutes and is considered one of the most-photographed tornadoes in history. Other anecdotes include the story behind the Rum River’s name, a mix of spiritual and spirit-driven inspiration, and the construction of the United States’ first rural nuclear power plant, in Elk River.

Jeff Jones, Engagement Editor for MPR's Public Insight Network, created the audio tour. Jones said he hopes the history will give customers who regularly ride Northstar a greater appreciation for the corridor, which he said “exemplifies the story of Minnesota’s development.”

“I want someone riding it (Northstar) to understand what connects Minnesotans together,” Jones said. “Whether you live in the city or live out in the exurbs of Big Lake, there’s so much that we depend on each other for. But more simply than that, I want people to know what they’re looking at every day, to be able to look at a factory and say, ‘I know what’s going on in there.’”

Jones hopes to continue building the series, adding additional audio and information Big Lake, at the north end of the line. Anyone who would like to share information is invited to contact Jones at jjones@mpr.org.

Bus Light Rail Links of Interest Transit Information Transit Planning

Apps put transit in the palm of your hand 

| Friday, June 07, 2013 4:04:00 PM

In addition to Metro Transit’s mobile website, the agency provides third-party developers the information they need to build apps that provide route and schedule information, frequently in real time. That trove of data comes primarily from The Minnesota Geospatial Commons, which collects GIS information from the seven-county metro region, and Metro Transit's real-time departure info system, NexTrip.

Standing at the corner of East Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue and need to find a bus to Uptown? There’s an app for that. In fact, there are several.

Several developers have already put that data to use, creating apps that offer information about Metro Transit routes and schedules. The Pioneer Press has reviewed several available options; a complete list of apps with Metro Transit information can be found here.

Here’s a quick look at some of the available apps that could be of help to Metro Transit riders:

The Transit App. The Transit App automatically locates the nearest transit stop or can be used to find the nearest stop to a manually-entered address. After the stop has been identified, the app shows the next scheduled arrival and provides real-time information about the location of the bus or train. After entering a desired destination, the app can be used to get specific route information and to provide an estimated travel time. Free,  iPhone,  thetransitapp.com

HopStop. Like The Transit App, HopStop allows users to enter their location and preferred destination to find the nearest stops, routes and estimated travel times. The app also features full schedules and allows users to post live updates, adding a unique conversational element. Free. hopstop.com

Google Maps. Like its web-based bigger brother, Google’s map app automatically locates a user or allows a start address to be manually entered. Enter the final destination and select the bus icon to see what transit options are available. Free, iPhone, web. google.com

Twin Cities Tripr. The Tripr app allows users to search by route or stop and provides information about the next available local service or express bus. Information on Northstar, the Blue Line and the Red Line is also available. Free. iPhone. appannie.com

In addition to these apps, Metro Transit’s website is available in a web-friendly format. Simply enter metrotransit.org or metrotransit.org/mobile into your browser. The site allows users to view schedules, NexTrip (real-time departures), plan trips and locate service. On GPS-enabled devices, the “Find Me” feature can also be used to determine your location with just a touch.

Twin Cities Transit and mspbus.org also serve mobile web users.

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