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METRO Blue Line METRO Green Line Northstar

Fuhrmann leaves passenger rail legacy for generations to come 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Thursday, August 09, 2018 10:00:00 AM

Decades from now, people taking trains to college classes, a hospital shift or office job, to restaurants and sporting venues, or to the airport won’t have a clue they have Mark Fuhrmann to thank.

Even today, many have not heard of Fuhrmann—and that’s by his design. Metro Transit’s director of light rail and commuter rail projects has deliberately avoided public recognition.

He carefully stood behind office holders at public events and ribbon-cutting ceremonies for the METRO Blue Line in 2004, Northstar commuter rail in 2009 and Green Line in 2014. (This wasn’t difficult, given his modest height, or his trim figure maintained by 4 a.m. daily runs in all kinds of weather.) If politicians insisted that Fuhrmann join them in the foreground for a photo-op, he would politely oblige but later direct staff to crop him out of the frame.

But leaders at Metro Transit and Metropolitan Council recognize Fuhrmann as the person responsible for the region’s 62 miles of passenger rail (40 miles for Northstar and 22 for LRT). Upon hearing that Fuhrmann is retiring on Aug. 14 after serving the region for 25 years, their praise was universal.

“I can’t imagine how we would have built the Blue Line, Green Line and Northstar commuter rail without Mark’s dogged determination, intelligence and extraordinary professionalism,” said Susan Haigh, who was Council chair when the Green Line opened, and when preliminary engineering started on Southwest LRT (the Green Line extension). “He persevered through the most challenging political conversations imaginable and was always been a beacon of integrity for me.”

Finest of public servants’

“I have had the opportunity to work with many fine public servants in my career, and Mark Fuhrmann is simply the best of the best,” Haigh said. “Mark is able to unravel complex engineering issues and identify the pros and cons of strategic choices for decision makers. He is brilliant, prepared, thoughtful, determined and always respectful to his colleagues. Our rail lines have carried millions of passengers thanks to Mark Fuhrmann. These extraordinary investments have transformed the communities they serve and our entire region.”

Peter Bell, who was Council chair during the Green Line’s engineering and early construction phases, relied on Fuhrmann’s judgment and integrity as they moved the project forward.

“Honest, straight shooting and unflappable is how I would describe Mark,” Bell said. “He was very calm under intense pressure because he always had his facts right. I was always amazed at how people on all sides of the transit issue might disagree with one of our conclusions but never the facts that Mark presented.”

Former Council Regional Administrator Pat Born said Fuhrmann’s mark on the region will last at least a century. “The major transit investments Mark has led have already moved millions of riders to school, work and fun places. They have created thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of investment,” Born said.

Since the inception of the two LRT lines and Northstar, Metro Transit has served more than 190 million passengers on its rails. At last count earlier this year, more than $8 billion in development investment has occurred or is planned on the Blue and Green lines and their planned extensions to the southwest and northwest. The projects have so transformed the region and communities they serve that as municipalities refresh their comprehensive plans this year, many seek to focus development and density around existing and future transit stations.

Encyclopedic memory, focus on quality and ethics

The public often saw Fuhrmann’s encyclopedic memory for events, dates and financial information on display at public meetings, but he has another side that is less known, Born said.

“Mark’s quiet dignity and ferocious stands for quality and ethics are often overlooked. Building transit projects in the Twin Cities has meant facing huge obstacles and dealing with angry and often powerful people. Mark respected all of them but kept his head down and pushed forward,” Born said.

Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb, Fuhrmann’s supervisor, announced Fuhrmann’s retirement to staff “with great appreciation – and a healthy dose of sadness.”

“With his departure, he hands off projects that are ready to enter construction. Both Blue and Green Line extensions are rated by the Federal Transit Administration as “medium high” and deserve to secure Full Funding Grant Agreements soon. He has expertly guided those projects to their current point,” Lamb said.

Career path in public transit led him to nation’s capital, back home

Fuhrmann is fond of saying he was born at the former Midway Hospital on the Green Line and grew up in northern Golden Valley “in the shadow of Theodore Wirth Park,” which the Blue Line extension will bisect for part of its 13.5 miles from Target Field to Brooklyn Park. He attended Robbinsdale High School and earned his undergraduate degree in urban geography from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

In his first foray into public service, Fuhrmann interned in the summer of 1981 with the Metropolitan Parks and Open Space Commission. He supported the operations and maintenance task force.

“One of the recommendations we came up with was to seek permission from the Legislature to levy a candy tax. It didn’t get any traction,” Fuhrmann recalled, with a smile.

After finishing his graduate studies in planning at the University of Minnesota, Fuhrmann worked for a private bus company. He then moved to Washington, D.C., to work on the build-out of the Metro system from 1985 to 1993. His assignment was in northern Virginia, where he worked on the opening of three Metro extensions and the introduction of the first two commuter rail lines in northern Virginia, the Virginia Railway Express. After eight years, he returned to Minnesota to work for the Metropolitan Council’s transportation division.

It was an opportunity to come back home and be closer to family while working in his area of professional practice.

“Initially, rail discussions were not positive,” Fuhrmann noted, “but then in 1998 Governor Arne Carlson and the Legislature decided to approve the first installment of $40 million in funding for Hiawatha.” Fuhrmann eventually became project director of the METRO Blue and Green Lines and Northstar Commuter Rail Line when they were in engineering and under construction. The Minnesota Public Transit Association named him the state’s 2014 Transit Professional of the Year.

“Twenty years later, we have three rail lines in revenue service that have served over 190 million passengers, and the two LRT extensions are well positioned to secure federal funding and go into construction soon,” Fuhrmann said.

Fuhrmann recalls a career highlight of giving President Barack Obama and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx a tour of the Green Line’s operations and maintenance facility on Feb. 26, 2014. “I was deeply honored to be asked to host the president and secretary. I still pinch myself that that actually happened.”

Another highlight was giving Gov. Jesse Ventura a tour of the Hiawatha LRT Project Office in 2001, the first full year of construction. “Contrary to his public persona, he was a very thoughtful and curious leader who wanted to know more about the project and when we were going to open it.”  

Next stop: Northern Indiana rail projects with HDR Engineering

Although Fuhrmann officially is retiring, he starts a second career in August. His new title is associate vice president for HDR Engineering. He will serve as HDR’s program director for New Starts projects for the Northern Indiana Commuter Transit District (NICTD), which operates commuter rail service between South Bend, Ind., and Millennium Station in downtown Chicago.

With an average weekday ridership of about 11,500 passengers, NICTD is the only interurban electrified line that continues in operation in the United States. Service began in 1908. NICTD has two New Starts projects that Fuhrmann will shepherd from their offices in Chesterton, Ind. One is West Lake, a nine-mile southerly extension of the South Shore Line between Hammond and Dyer, Ind., in western Lake County. The second one is the Double Track Project, which will install a double track where currently only a single track lies between Gary and Michigan City. Trains traveling in opposite directions will no longer need to take turns.

“I recognized at the Council’s 50th anniversary celebration earlier this year that 2018 was my 25th year anniversary with the Council,” Fuhrmann said. “I have seen a lot of great things for the last 25 years of the Council’s existence. It made me reflect maybe there are some new challenges and opportunities out there that I should explore.”

“The thing that makes me sad is I am going to miss the dedication of all my colleagues and the friendship of working with them all these years as we all worked with one purpose in mind: to build out the METRO system here in the Twin Cities,” he said.

Fuhrmann had some words of wisdom for staff as he leaves. “Communicate, collaborate and coordinate with all the stakeholders – political, community and staff,” he said.

A Line BRT C Line D Line E Line

Three future rapid bus projects move forward 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Thursday, July 26, 2018 12:57:00 PM

Bus shelter construction

Plans to bring the kind of fast, frequent service that has been so successful on the A Line to three additional corridors advanced within the past week. Here is a summary of the latest advances: 

C Line

Crews recently began assembling the first C Line shelters in downtown Minneapolis, including the above shelter at the corner of Fourth Avenue South and South Seventh Street, near Government Center. 

Around 20 new shelters with real time signs, on-demand heat, light and ticket vending machines are being built along the C Line corridor, which runs largely along Penn Avenue. The C Line will largely replace Route 19 service beginning next spring. The new shelters will remain out of service for several months while crews continue to install wiring and equipment. 

Learn more about the C Line

D Line

Plans to make Metro Transit’s busiest bus route up to 25 percent faster moved forward as the Metropolitan Council approved plans for 40 enhanced stations along an 18-mile corridor now served by Route 5.

Engineering will begin later this year and continue through the end of 2019. Construction is scheduled to begin as early as 2020, pending full funding. The D Line corridor is expected to see more than 23,500 average weekday rides by 2030. Route 5 is the region’s busiest bus route, with more than 15,000 average weekday rides. 

Learn more about the D Line

E Line 

The Minneapolis City Council last week approved plans for a stretch of Hennepin Avenue that position the corridor for future rapid bus service. 

Plans call for the construction of eight enhanced bus stops between Washington Avenue South and 12th Street. The city also plans to add one-way, protected bikeways in both directions, and to route the bike lanes behind the new stations to avoid conflicts at boarding areas. 

The new shelters will be served by routes 4, 6, 7, 12 and 61 and are designed to eventually become a part of the E Line, which will largely replace Route 6. 

The changes are part of a larger reconstruction of Hennepin Avenue. Utility work is expected to begin in 2019 and heavier construction is expected to begin in 2020. 

Learn more about the E Line

A previous study that identified a dozen rapid bus corridors will be re-valuated in 2019 to determine next steps for other future lines. Learn more at metrotransit.org/rapidbus

Accessibility Bus From the GM

Accessibility improvements ensure system works for everyone 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Thursday, July 26, 2018 12:38:00 PM

Collage of disabilities

From General Manager Brian Lamb

As an organization, we talk a lot about how important transit is to providing access to opportunity. That’s particularly true for people with disabilities who rely on transit to live a full and independent life. 

Because we want transit to be inclusive, we continually ask ourselves whether we’re doing enough to welcome everyone who wants to ride, regardless of their abilities. 

We have good reason to think about what we’ve done and what we’ve set out do this week, as the Americans with Disabilities Act reaches its 28th anniversary. There’s a lot to be proud of, too.  ​

Over the past year, we’ve installed level concrete pads at dozens of bus stops to make boarding easier for individuals who use mobility devices. As we’ve installed new and replacement shelters, we’ve also addressed curbs and other physical barriers that make it harder to get to and around these stops.

Bus operators going from part- to full-time recently began taking classes in which they use blindfolds and ear protection to experience what it’s like to board and ride the bus without being able to see or hear.

Go-To Card readers on all our rail stations and buses have been equipped with audio cues while keyboards on A Line ticket vending machines were designed to better serve individuals with visual impairment.

Our new Text for Safety service allows suspicious behavior to be reported through text message, something that is especially useful for people who are deaf, blind or hard of hearing.

And just last month, we made it simpler to get a Limited Mobility fare card by removing the requirement to get a special endorsement on a driver’s license or state ID.

Our fleet has also steadily become more accessible over the years, with level boarding at light rail stations, buses with roomier interiors on our rapid bus lines and a nearly-completed phase out of high-floor buses.

Our system will become even more accessible in the years ahead, too.

Responding to customer feedback, future light rail trains will have a more spacious seating arrangement that provides more room for mobility devices.

A new station at I-35W and Lake Street will replace a highway-level stop once accessible only by a steep set of stairs with a modern, two-level facility equipped with elevators.

Transit Information hopes to test tactile maps, high contrast signs and larger text at select sites to invite feedback and determine if such features should be applied more broadly.

Our accessibility improvements directly benefit the roughly 1 in 10 regular route customers who reported having a disability in the Council’s latest survey of regional travelers.

But they also make our system better and easier for anyone who rides with us, including children, the elderly and caretakers traveling with strollers.

We’ve made a lot of progress in the nearly three decades since the ADA became law, and look forward to making even more improvements in the years ahead.

Learn more about Metro Transit’s accessibility features

Community Shelters

Students ask how neighbors feel about nearby bus stops 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Thursday, July 26, 2018 12:05:00 PM

Sketch of a woman planting a bush at a bus stop sign

Metro Transit and community partners have spent a lot of time asking customers how they feel about their bus stop – questions that have led to investments in new shelters, light and other bus stop improvements.

Building on that work, students from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs set out to learn what nearby property owners, residents and workers felt about these locations. The student’s sought to answer three main questions:

  1. How do neighbors feel about nearby bus stops?
  2. What influences these feelings?
  3. How can neighbors become more engaged in creating better bus stops?

To answer these questions, in-person surveys were completed at nine bus stops with different demographics and physical attributes.

The survey found that, overall, bus stops are viewed as a valuable asset, improving walkability and access and potentially supporting local businesses. The survey also found that many community members had taken informal ownership of their nearby bus stop, shoveling snow and picking up litter, and were willing to partner with Metro Transit on future maintenance and improvement activities.

The findings led students to develop several recommendations and key objectives Metro Transit could focus on moving forward.

See the student’s recommendations and read their full report here.

Students who participated in the Capstone Project include: Joseph Ayers-Johnson, Kurt Howard, Casey Lauderdale, Joseph Polacek and Jake Schutt. Illustration courtesy Joseph Polacek.

Bus Light Rail

Rail lines on pace for another year of record ridership 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Thursday, July 19, 2018 3:14:00 PM

Passengers exit a Green Line train at Stadium Village Station in Minneapolis.Metro Transit’s rail lines are on pace to have another record year. 

Ridership on the Green Line, Blue Line and Northstar Commuter Rail Line is ahead of last year’s totals through the first half of 2018. All three rail lines saw record ridership in 2017

Northstar has seen the largest increase in ridership, which is up 5 percent through the end of June. Ridership on the Green Line is up 2.6 percent and ridership on the Blue Line is up 1 percent.

“Growing rail ridership is an indication that this region appreciates reliable, high frequency transit,” General Manager Brian Lamb said. “We’re thrilled to serve so many members of our community and look forward to building on this success moving forward.”

Systemwide, more than 39.6 million rides have been taken through the end of June. Total ridership is down 2.6 percent compared to the first half of last year. 

Gains in rail ridership have been offset by declining bus ridership, which is down 4.6 percent this year. The region’s first rapid bus line, the A Line, has seen a 5 percent increase in ridership compared to last year. 

Metro Transit is focused on building bus ridership by expanding service in areas with strong demand, improving customer facilities and focusing on speed and reliability. 

In June, limited stop Route 54 service was introduced to St. Paul’s East Side, providing customers a one-seat ride from Maplewood Mall to the Mall of America. Service has also been expanded on routes serving the Interstate 35W corridor, providing travelers a stress-free way of getting around during road construction. 

In August, Route 2 will become a faster, more reliable and attractive service with the elimination of nearly 30 stops with relatively few boardings and new waiting shelters in key locations. Route 2 will be further improved next year with signal technology that prioritizes buses at intersections. 

In 2019, the region’s second rapid bus line, the C Line, will bring enhanced stations, fully-electric buses and faster, more frequent service to a key corridor now served by Route 19. 

“We are doing everything we can to deliver the fast, frequent and reliable bus service our customers deserve,” Lamb said. “As the A Line has shown, quality bus service can and will succeed in our region.”

Metro Transit’s total annual ridership has grown in 10 of the past 13 years and is at its highest level in three decades.

 
Mode Total Rides Average Weekday
Ridership
Percent Change
Compared to 2017
Green Line 6,570,037 40,820 + 2.6%
Blue Line 5,261,735 31,571 + 1%
Northstar 393,052 2,824 + 5%
Bus 27,416,637 182,404 - 4.5%
Total 39,641,461 257,620 - 1.6%

 

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