After working 10-hour, overnight shifts at St. Joseph’s Hospital, the last thing Donna Cooley wants to do is get in her car and deal with traffic. So she takes the Route 74 bus instead.
“It’s just so much easier to let someone else do the driving and ride home after working all night,” Cooley said as she rode from downtown St. Paul to her home on the city’s east side.
Cooley, a nursing assistant, was one of the few homeward bound passengers on a recent early-morning Route 74 trip. But she was far from the only commuter on board.
Traveling east from the METRO Blue Line’s 46th Street Station, Route 74 filled with office-bound customers as it traveled through Highland Park, down Randolph Avenue and up West 7th Street towards downtown St. Paul. After emptying out some 16 miles later at Sun Ray Transit Center, the pattern occurred in reverse as the bus returned from northeast St. Paul along East 7th Street, passing Metro State University, residences and small businesses.
Chris Kimber, of Minneapolis, was among those who boarded at 46th Street shortly after 7 a.m. A south Minneapolis resident, Kimber said she rides her bike seven blocks to 46th Street Station where she catches Route 74. On nice days, she skips the bus ride home and bikes.
“It’s the perfect combination because I get some extra reading time on the way in and some fresh air on the way home,” said Kimber, who also counted the environmental benefits as a key motivation for her use of the bus.
Kimber isn’t the only Route 74 customer with a multimodal commute, either.
Wendi Ward lives above her store, Practical Goods at Snelling and Randolph avenues, and has been without a car for the last decade. In addition to using Route 74, she utilizes HOURCAR’s located at 46th Street Station and nearby Macalaster College.
“I’ve saved a lot of money but there are lots of other benefits,” Ward said as she traveled to a rummage sale. “I live along a snow emergency route and I’ve never once had to shovel my car out of the snow.”
Such advantages are proving an attractive draw along the Route 74 corridor, much of which was once served by streetcars. Nearly 1.6 million customers boarded Route 74 buses last year, up slightly from 2011.
With ridership expected to continue growing, plans are in the works to bring improved transit service to at least two areas now served by Route 74.
The planned A Line would bring Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) amenities to Ford Parkway from 46th Street Station to Snelling Avenue, where it would continue north to Rosedale Center. The proposed B Line would bring BRT to West 7th Street and an extension of the system to East 7th Street is also under consideration.
The BRT corridors would see improved frequency and time-saving technologies like pre-paid fares, traffic signal priority and dual-entrance buses.
Created through a route consolidation in 2001, Route 74 would continue to provide local service even if BRT were implemented. The limited-stop Route 54 that travels along West 7th Street to the airport would be replaced by the B Line, however.
In addition to improving service, the enhancements could support growth in Highland Park, where the Ford Plant is being demolished in anticipation of new mixed-use development, and along West 7th Street, where the old Schmidt Brewery is being revived as artist housing. On St. Paul’s east side, the St. Paul Port Authority is leading the creation of a new business campus at the 61-acre Beacon Bluff area, previously occupied by 3M.
Route 74 customer Kate Severin said she’s interested in the BRT idea but has no qualms about spending a little extra time on the bus. Retired, she has been without a car for nearly two decades simply enjoys the ride.
“I’m a single old lady – I don’t have to be anywhere at any particular time,” she said.
Route 74 At a Glance
Type: Urban Local
Service: Route 74 buses travel between the METRO Blue Line’s 46th Street Station and St. Paul’s east side, largely along Randolph Avenue, West 7th and East 7th streets. From the west, buses cross the Mississippi River on Ford Parkway and travel through Highland Village past St. Catherine’s University to West 7th Street and downtown St. Paul. Buses then traverse East 7th Street to St. Paul’s East Side, passing Metro State University, homes and businesses. The longest branches include the 74G, with service to the residential area around Beaver Lake. Routes 74S and 74C go approximately 16 miles end-to-end with service to Sun Ray Transit Center in Maplewood. Buses operate between 4 a.m. and 1 a.m. with service every 15 minutes during rush hour and every 20 minutes midday. Reduced fares are offered in St. Paul's Downtown Zone.
Route length: 15-16 miles
Stops: 128 eastbound, 130 westbound
Vehicles: 40-foot standard
Ridership: Nearly 1.6 million customer boardings in 2012, with an average of more than 4,270 passengers per day.
History: A streetcar line was built in phases along Randolph Avenue to the old Fort Plant between 1890 and 1924. Buses replaced streetcars in 1952. A cable car line, later replaced with an electric streetcar, also ran along East 7th Street until 1952. Route 74 was created in 2001 following a route consolidation.
Future: Bus Rapid Transit is planned for segments of the Route 74 corridor. The A Line, scheduled to open in late 2015, would bring BRT between the METRO Blue Line’s 46th Street Station and Snelling Avenue, where it would continue north to Rosedale Center. The planned B Line, scheduled to open in late 2016, would bring BRT to West 7th Street between the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and downtown St. Paul. The B Line could be extended along East 7th Street as far east as Maplewood Mall, though limited-stop service may come as an interim improvement. Route 74 would continue to provide local service, augmenting the more frequent but limited-stop BRT systems. Route 54, the existing limited-stop service, would be eliminated in favor of BRT.