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Bus Minneapolis Route of the Week

Route 141: From temporary fix to permanent fixture 

| Friday, November 08, 2013 1:00:00 PM

Five years ago, John Foell decided he and his wife could get by with a single vehicle. So he sold his car and started riding the bus to work instead.

Traveling south on Route 141 this week, the New Brighton resident said he hasn’t regretted the decision in the least.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time I get along just fine and the other 1 percent of the time I can usually find a ride,” said Foell, who rides the bus every weekday to his job at Target’s Minneapolis headquarters.

Others interviewed on a recent Route 141 southbound trip said they, too, have found taking the bus to be a more-than-adequate replacement for driving. While many have retained their cars, they said Route 141 provides a much simpler, inexpensive way of getting to and from downtown Minneapolis.

“I sincerely find taking the bus to be easier than driving,” said Claire McFall, who takes Route 141 to her job at the marketing firm The Lacek Group. “I just like not having to think first thing in the morning.”

McFall boarded Route 141 as the bus made its way through northeast Minneapolis on Johnson Street NE. By that time, almost every seat had been filled with commuters and students making their way downtown.

Southbound Route 141 buses run from New Brighton to Minneapolis on Old Highway 8, 37th Avenue and Johnson Street NE, passing several large residential developments and shopping centers, including the Quarry Shopping Center, Silver Lake Village and Garden View Apartments. Buses enter downtown via East Hennepin Avenue and continue on Hennepin Avenue to the Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

Route 4 travels a similar path north of downtown Minneapolis but continue south to Bloomington.

Route 141 was created following the collapse of the Intestate 35W Bridge in 2007 to help mitigate traffic impacts as drivers sought alternative entries to the downtown area. It has remained in place to supplement Route 4 during rush hour periods. Route 141 runs six times each weekday morning and seven times each weekday evening.

Several customers about Route 141 said they appreciated the additional rush hour service because it provides more scheduling options and can be slightly faster than Route 4. An end-to-end trip on Route 141 takes approximately 45 minutes.

Patrick Vesperman, who lives in New Brighton, has been riding for the last two years and believes he could drive to work faster than commuting by bus. But he said he prefers leaving the car at home because riding the bus saves him money and provides time for reading while listening to podcasts and tuning into sports talk on KFAN.    

“Plus, this is a way to get to work without getting angry at other drivers,” joked Vesperman, who also works at Target.                                

Not everyone who uses Route 141 is going to work in downtown Minneapolis.

Cleveland Savage, who lives in Uptown, was returning to Minneapolis on Route 141 following an overnight shift in New Brighton. Savage doesn’t own a car and said transit was essential to landing a job in the suburbs, where the type of engineering firms he wants to work at are typically located.

"When I go to interviews, they always ask if I have a car,” he said. “I think the bus is probably better because it won’t break down.”

While there are no immediate plans to change service to New Brighton, community officials are expecting additional growth and believe transit will play a role in the community’s future.

One area of particular interest is New Brighton Exchange, a 100-acre area in the northwest corner of Interstates 35W and 694 where city officials hope to attract corporate tenants. Next year, more than 100 single-family homes will be built on a part of the site.

“We certainly recognize that transit is an important part of development and value it,” said Grant Fernelius, New Brighton’s Community Development Director.

Route 141 At a Glance

Type: Urban Limited Stop

ServiceRoute 141 runs between New Brighton and downtown Minneapolis, primarily along Old Highway 8 and Johnson Street NE. In Minneapolis, buses cross the Mississippi River on East Hennepin Avenue and continue on Hennepin Avenue to the Minneapolis Community and Technical College. There are six southbound trips each weekday morning and seven northbound trips each weekday evening. In Minneapolis, St. Anthony and New Brighton, Route 141 follows the same path as Route 4, which continues south to Bloomington offering more frequent service that runs throughout the day and on weekends. The Route 141 corridor includes several large residential developments and shopping centers, including the Quarry Shopping Center, Silver Lake Village and Garden View Apartments.

Route length: Approximately 11 miles

Vehicles: 40-foot standard buses

Stops: 70 northbound, 67 southbound

Ridership: More than 79,000 customer boardings in 2012

History: During World II, special buses ran to New Brighton and the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant, which is now being positioned for redevelopment. Streetcars ran on Johnson Street NE to 33rd Avenue NE until 1954. Route 141 was created following the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge to mitigate traffic impacts on local streets and provide commuters a quicker trip to downtown Minneapolis. Rush hour service to New Brighton has been retained as a complement to Route 4.

Future: No significant service changes are planned at this time

Community Rider Profile Rideshare Vanpool

Vanpoolers commended for commitment, consistency 

| Wednesday, November 06, 2013 4:56:00 PM

For the last three decades, Kathryn Voeltz has commuted nearly 60 miles from her home in Spring Valley, Wis. to downtown Minneapolis. Never in that time has she had to make the trek alone.

Instead of driving solo, Voeltz has joined with other cross-state commuters to share the ride. After initially carpooling, Voeltz began driving a van 29 years ago and joined the Metro Vanpool program in 2002.

The program allows groups of five to 15 people in areas without regular transit service to share the cost of vehicles leased from Enterprise. The service extends into a small part of Wisconsin that is considered a commuter shed for the Twin Cities.

On Wednesday, Voeltz was among a group of six volunteer vanpool drivers to be recognized at the annual Commuter Choice Awards. Each driver has spent a decade participating in Metro Vanpool. Now in its 13th year, the program has 75 active vanpools with more than 600 active passengers.

Other drivers recognized this year commute from Eden Prairie, Lindstrom, St. Cloud, Hastings and North Branch. Combined, they have logged nearly 1.75 million miles in around 250,000 trips to and from work. Voeltz alone has driven an estimated 312,000 miles on 47,000 trips to and from Minneapolis on the Interstate 94 corridor.

“I’m sure over the years that I’ve saved myself from having to buy a new vehicle,” said Voeltz, who works at U.S. Bank.

As the volunteer driver of a 12-seat Ford passenger van, Voeltz picks up eight fellow commuters at Park & Rides in Hudson, Wis. and River Falls, Wis. that do not have bus service. The passengers found each other by using Metro Transit’s online commuter database.

By driving, Voeltz avoids parking, fuel and maintenance costs, which are shared by passengers. This month, each person in Voeltz’s vanpool paid $138 to cover expenses. The Metropolitan Council covers the other half of the lease expenses.

While the cost savings are the biggest perk, Voeltz said she also likes being in control of the vehicle. “I kind of like being in the driver’s seat because I get to pick the right lane and make the best time,” she said.

Leading a vanpool isn’t without its responsibilities, though. Besides handling the lease, vanpool drivers are responsible for reporting their commute data, maintaining a pool of passengers and collecting payments.

Randy Rosvold, senior project administrator for the program, commended Voeltz and other vanpool leaders recognized at Wednesday’s Commuter Choice Awards for their commitment, dedication and consistency.

“Really if you think about everything that’s involved, these people are really going above and beyond what traditional commuters do,” he said.

> Star Tribune: Commuter Choice Award winners announced

> Commuter Choice Awards

> Metro Vanpool

> 30-year vanpooler builds retirement nest egg by sharing the ride

> Enjoying the shared ride

> Create a Commuter Account

Photo: Kathryn Voeltz, third from left, with some of her fellow vanpoolers at the downtown Minneapolis parking ramp where the group parks and meets at the end of each workday.

Bus METRO Green Line Rider Information Safety University of Minnesota

When the rubber hits the tracks 

| Wednesday, November 06, 2013 3:00:00 PM

As Metro Transit bus operator Byron Phillips crossed Church Street and continued east on Washington Avenue, he did something he’d never done before. He steered the 40-foot bus to his left and drove straight onto the METRO Green Line’s light rail tracks.

Phillips’ move will be repeated by some 1,500 bus operators in the coming weeks as they are trained ahead of the opening of the Washington Avenue Transit/Pedestrian Mall, which cuts through a busy commercial area on the University of Minnesota campus. Bus drivers for the U of M’s Campus Connector, SouthWest Transit and Minnesota Valley Transit Authority are receiving similar training.

Set to open on Dec. 7, the Transit/Pedestrian Mall puts buses and light-rail trains on the METRO Green Line on the same part of the street between Walnut and Church streets. Lanes for bicyclists and emergency vehicles sit on the north and south sides of the three-block area while the Green Line’s East Bank Station and other pedestrian amenities sit in the middle of the corridor.

Facing this new environment for the first time, Phillips was unsure how to react. But after making a pass through the area he said he thought it would be easy to get used to driving on the tracks.

“At first I was thinking ‘Oh boy,’ but it’s not that bad,” he said after moving slowly through the corridor with an instructor and two other operators in training. “There’s nothing jolty or bumpy about the ride at all.”

For now, operators are training in a fenced-off environment without trains. But activity on the Transit/Pedestrian Mall will pick up when buses return later this year and trains begin running in mid-2014.

Around 225 Green Line trains are expected to pass through the area every day. Another 20 bus routes will meanwhile make around 1,200 trips down the Transit/Pedestrian Mall each weekday. The level of bus service is consistent with activity before the Transit/Pedestrian Mall was closed in mid-2011 for Green Line construction.

Signals will be used to manage bus and train movements, keeping them at least 40 feet apart at all times. There will be no bus stops between Church and Walnut streets. Customers will board at Coffman Memorial Union, just west of Church Street, and at Oak Street on the east end.  

Bus drivers are also being trained to travel at speeds of no more than 15 miles per hour and to communicate with supervisors to determine how to proceed if an emergency vehicle enters the area.

Special street markings will be used to guide bicyclists crossing at intersections while pedestrian traffic will be directed to designated sidewalks.

“For a bus driver it’s a pretty easy maneuver: you make a lane change to the left to get on and a lane change to the right to get off,” said Dan Stoffer, assistant manager of training for Metro Transit. “What makes it more challenging is just all of the other things going on around you.”

Metro Transit’s operators began training on the Transit/Pedestrian Mall Oct. 13 and are driving on the tracks for an hour each morning and afternoon, depending on the construction schedule. The plan is to have all Metro Transit operators certified by the end of the year.

Similar to certifications for operating on the Marq2 corridor and the I-35W and 46th Street Station, the training comes in addition to regular education trainers routinely go through.

Denny Johnson, an instructor leading the driver training, said he’s been encouraged by what he’s seen so far. While the opening of the Green Line is exciting, he believes the novelty of buses traveling on train tracks will diminish as more buses and trains begin using the Transit/Pedestrian Mall.

Similar operations are in effect in cities around the world, and peer regions of the Twin Cities including Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Sacramento and Seattle. Johnson also compared the Transit/Pedestrian Mall to Nicollet Mall, a transit-only corridor that fills with pedestrians on summer days with farmer's markets.  

“We're not used to the visuals but this isn't really all that different from Nicollet Mall,” he said. "If all stay aware and operate professionally, we can do this well and without incident."

> Washington Avenue Transit/Pedestrian Mall

> Buses return to Washington Avenue Dec. 7

> Using ‘Keys’ to put safety first

> Close call on the METRO Blue Line provides safety reminder

> Metro Transit safety and security efforts win industry accolades

Photo: Denny Johnson, instructor, drives east on the Washington Avenue Transit/Pedestrian Mall during recent training. Below right, a bus travels east on the Transit/Pedestrian Mall during a training exercise.  

Bus Express Bus Light Rail METRO Blue Line Northstar Rider Information Safety Winter Weather

Rider refresher for flurries in forecast  

| Monday, November 04, 2013 12:20:00 PM

Snow is back in the forecast...and Metro Transit is ready.

Record-setting winter storms in 1991 and 2010 are the only times in Metro Transit’s modern history where bus service was temporarily suspended due to weather. The all-season METRO Blue Line and Northstar Commuter Rail Line are rarely delayed due to snow and ice.

Getting around in the winter does require some adjustment, though. Here are a few important things to know as the snow begins to fall:

Head out early 

Although Metro Transit adds extra buses and drivers to help keep service on schedule and often has access to transit advantages, severe weather can slow travel for everyone on roadways. Check your schedule and consider taking an earlier trip to give yourself some extra time to reach your destination.

Stay safe

During winter, it's especially important to never run alongside moving buses and trains. Brush up on this and other safety tips here.

Cleanup is prioritized to keep buses and trains moving safely and on schedule

When snow falls, bus garages, rail yards and support facilities are cleared first so that buses and trains can begin service on schedule. Park & Ride lots and ramps, Transit Centers and high-traffic customer areas like light-rail stations are cleared next. Ultimately, plans call for clearing all 700 Metro Transit-owned customer-waiting shelters throughout the seven-county metro area as well as a path that allows customers to board and exit buses. If snow has not been cleared from a boarding area, bus drivers will stop where it is safest for customers to board. Instead of standing on snowbanks, wait in a clear area near the posted bus stop sign and board there.

Heat is on, but the right clothes are still key

Busy transit centers, Park & Rides lots and train stations on the Blue Line and Northstar are equipped with heaters to keep customers warm while they wait. Buses and trains are also heated. Still, anyone taking transit should dress warmly and in layers so they can comfortably withstand low and variable temperatures. Snow boots or other winter footwear such as ice grips/cleats are encouraged as train stations, bus boarding areas, and the bus and train floors can become slippery from snow and water. Light-colored or reflective clothing can and clip-on safety flashers can also help operators see and identify customers.

Keep informed with real-time service updates 

Although buses and trains are reliable in severe weather, traffic and road conditions do affect operations. To keep customers informed about delays and detours, Metro Transit shares real-time service updates via Facebook (facebook.com/MetroTransitMN) and Twitter (twitter.com/metrotransitmn). Information is updated approximately every 15 minutes. Route-specific detours are posted online at metrotransit.org/snow.             

> Good Question: How does Metro Transit prioritize winter storm cleanup

> Metro Transit on Twitter

> Metro Transit on Facebook

> Star Tribune: Transit tips for the cold

Bus METRO Green Line Minneapolis Retro Transit Route of the Week St. Paul

Route 3: From the Capitol to class on Como Avenue 

| Saturday, November 02, 2013 10:20:00 AM

Five years ago, Minneapolis resident Neil Urbanski sold his car and began getting around town exclusively by riding his bike and taking transit

To reach his job at the St. Paul-based International Institute of Minnesota, Urbanski rides a Route 18 bus to downtown Minneapolis and transfers to Route 3.

His experience is useful: as an employment navigator for the International Institute, Urbanski helps teach new Americans how to navigate the Twin Cities using transit. One of their first lessons is how to reach the Institute's office, located near Como and Snelling avenues.

“I try to impart on them that this is a huge quality of life thing,” Urbanski said recently as he rode eastbound to work on Route 3. “When they realize how easily they can get around it’s very empowering.”

Stretching between downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul, route branch 3A runs largely along Como Avenue. Branch 3B charts a similar course but veers south at Snelling Avenue, continuing to Rice Street on Energy Park Drive and Front Avenue, serving employers in St. Paul’s Midway area.

The University of Minnesota, Minnesota State Fairgrounds, Como Park Zoo & Conservatory and State Capitol are among the destinations on the route. Beginning June 14, Route 3 will also connect with the METRO Green Line's Capitol/Rice Street Station, West Bank Station and light rail stations in downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Last year, Route 3 generated nearly 2.8 million customer boardings, making it one of the top five bus routes operated by Metro Transit. More than a third of those who rode Route 3 last year used a U-Pass, which provides University of Minnesota students unlimited rides for less than $100 a semester.

Returning west from St. Paul, a recent Route 3 bus quickly filled with U of M students on their way to class.

Among them was Paul Leingang, who lives in downtown St. Paul and rides the bus every day to get to the U of M’s St. Paul campus, where he is studying fisheries and wildlife. “With unlimited rides, you really can’t beat it,” Leingang said.

Workers, too, have found Route 3 an unbeatable way to get to and from the office.

Maja Beckstrom, a mother of three who works in downtown St. Paul, has been riding Route 3 since 2006. A reporter for the Pioneer Press, Beckstrom says there’s “no reason for her not to take the bus to work" when the newspaper offers cars that can be used during the day for assignments.

Beckstrom uses her time on the bus to read or catch up on chores and said she sees her 30-minute commute as a nice “buffer” between the clamor of work and home.

“I do a lot of 'kids' stuff – making doctor appointments, orthodontist appointments, returning piano teacher emails,” she said. “All my kid management, I do it here.”

Route 3 was created in 2001 through a consolidation of routes, but Como Avenue has a long transit history.

A Minneapolis streetcar line that ran from Lake Harriet to downtown Minneapolis was extended east on Como Avenue to downtown St. Paul in 1898, forming the Como-Harriet line.

Service continued all day and, while many residents rode simply to enjoy the view, it was also a popular commuter route with up to 50 streetcars carrying more than 6,000 people during rush hours. Buses replaced streetcars on the St. Paul section of the line in 1953 and in Minneapolis in 1954.

An original streetcar from the Como-Harriet line still runs between Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun, in Minneapolis. At Como Park, a streetcar station is home to interpretive museum about the Twin Cities Streetcar Line. An adjacent streetcar bridge, built in 1904, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.

No significant changes to the route are expected in the future, but westbound buses will be moved from Wabasha Street to Minnesota Street when the METRO Green Line opens next year. Route 3 will also make timed transfers to the Green Line at the Capitol/Rice and West Bank Stations. 

Route 3 At a Glance

Type: Urban Local

Service: Route 3 buses run between the Ramp B/5th Street Transit Center in downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul, largely along Como Avenue. Route 3A runs on Como and Maryland avenues to Rice Street while Route 3B veers south at Snelling Avenue to Energy Park Drive and Front Avenue, serving businesses in St. Paul’s Midway area. Other destinations along the Route 3 corridor include the University of Minnesota's main and St. Paul campuses, the Minnesota State Fairgrounds and Como Park Zoo & Conservatory. Route 3 buses stop at one Park & Ride, located at Como Avenue and Eustis Street. Buses run from approximately 4:30 a.m. until approximately 2 a.m., with service every five to 15 minutes during peak periods. An end-to-end trip takes approximately one hour.

Route length: Approximately 14 miles

Vehicles40-foot standard, 60-foot articulated

Stops: 130 eastbound, 133 westbound

Ridership: Nearly 2.8 million customer boardings in 2012, with an average of more than 7,620 passengers per day.

History: Como Avenue was home to one of three interurban streetcar routes operated by Twin City Rapid Transit Co. in the 1940s and 1950s. Streetcars ran between Lake Harriet and downtown Minneapolis until the line was extended east on Como Avenue to downtown St. Paul in 1898. The Como-Harriet line operated all day. Many residents rode simply to enjoy the view but it was also a popular commuter route, with up to 50 cars carrying more than 6,000 people during rush hours. Buses replaced streetcars on the St. Paul section of the line in 1953 and in Minneapolis in 1954. An original TCRT streetcar continues to run on a section of the Como-Harriet line between Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet. The Minnesota Streetcar Museum operates the line between May and November. The streetcar right-of-way in Como Park is now a bike trail but a Como Park streetcar station at the park has been restored. A streetcar bridge next to the museum is scheduled to be restored in early 2014. Route 3 was launched in 2002. Parts of Route 3 differ from the original streetcar line, but it follows the exact same path from Dinkytown to Como Park.                         

Future: When the METRO Green Line opens June 14, Route 3 customers will be able to transfer to Green Line trains at the West Bank StationCapitol/Rice Street Station and stations in downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis. Route 3's frequency and span of service will not change significantly, but westbound buses will move from Wabasha Street to Minnesota Street, where customer waiting areas will be improved in mid-2014. More details here

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