Category Archives: Minnesota Department of Transportation

Deciders Need to Hear from Public Transit Advocates

“You can’t understand a city without using its public transportation system.”   ― Erol Ozan, author, professor, information technologist

Maybe that’s why the Minnesota Legislature, in spite of its generosity of spirit during the past session, de-railed much of the long-term dependable funding proposed for public transit.  Basically, those who support , plan for and depend on public transit are back to short-term planning with no permanent funding that would allow for cogent comprehensive planning.

Legislators could exit the marble halls, rush to their cars (conveniently parked and guarded at taxpayers’ expense), and speed with abandon past the 94 Express, LRT construction, even the bikers and weary bus riders.  Some probably dashed off to enjoy a respite in distant lands where public transit is funded and functioning.  With luck, they will have time to reflect and connect the dots.

They may return to wonder why the electorate does not relish the endless wait at the bus stop.  Jeff Wood, chief cartographer at Reconnecting America, a nonprofit that advocates for public transit, explains the cognitive dissonance: “Well, nobody uses transit, so why should we fund it?”

In its study of Public Transit 101, the think tank Remapping Debate makes the case that “companies understand that there is an initial period during which the hope of future consumer adoption means significant pre-adoption losses.”   In commuting terms, it is obvious that solo drivers of pricey vehicles are not easily moved to embrace public transit as a concept – and they are vehemently disinclined to adjust their modus operandi.

Bottom line, legislators are not pressured by their constituents on the public transit issue.

David Van Hattum of Transit for Livable Communities, this state’s most ardent advocate for public transit, observes that “you can’t expect transformational change without sort of setting up the conditions so that people readily see public transit as an alternative.”

The question then is:  what might entice a reluctant public, particularly the Deciders, to invest time, creative energy and taxes to build a viable – even irresistible – public transit system?  Graham Currie of Monash University cites the three key things that would make a transportation option attractive to riders, the ultimate deciders in a democracy:  “No 1: service frequency; No 2: service frequency.  And you will never guess what No. 3 is…”

True enough, but there are other issues.  One is the issue of routes, a particularly hot topic as the Twin Cities builds out the LRT network.  Bus routes are a significant factor in design and deployment of rapid transit routes.  For example, residents in inner-ring suburbs are left in the dust – or the snow bank –  as express busses speed to the outer ring where time and convenience matter more.

Then there is the issue of subsidies for public transit, as if these were  unique.   Thoughtful Deciders know full well that automobile dependence is totally formulated on an incredibly pricey infrastructure that includes not only publicly supported highway design and construction but constant maintenance and policing.   The infrastructure also involves private and public support including parking facilities and related conveniences for car-dependent customers.  Public dollars for public transit, which includes the vehicles, fuel, stops, stations, etc. are just more visible.

One factor the politicians and advocates don’t mention – the issue of Class or Cool, depending on one’s view.  Some people are just too important or too cool to join the working masses, the old folks, the little people who must or choose to depend on public transit.

Another, more remedial factor, is the issue of public transit “literacy.”  In spite of good efforts on the part of transit staffers, there’s the “end of the diving board” terror that faces every newbie rider.   The knowledge hurdles are a serious issue for people who are used to being omniscient – where does the LRT stop?  Which side do you exit?  What’s that green card that the regular riders sport?  What’s the fare and will the machine make change?   The list goes on and few neophytes want to show a busload of transit regulars that they are beyond their depth.  Little do they know that the regulars are eager to advise, inform, even provide change for the neophyte.

And there are other disincentives.  Piles of unshoveled snow, packed with sand, are an insurmountable barrier for transit regulars.  Empty cement slabs are grim reminders of a day when vus shelters and benches once offered safe respite for uevN transit customers.  Tolerance for rude and unacceptable behavior, even non-threatening aggravations such as ear-piercing phone calls and trash in the aisles, can be curbed.  Online trip planning sounds like a low cost tech solution till you try to get into the head of the system designers.

So, public transit advocates didn’t get the 1% annual increase for public transit, support for the LRT build-out or stable long-term funding.   What’s next?  First, the possibility to gain political muscle.  Concerned citizens can take heart in the Transit for Livable Communities study that concludes that 91% of Minnesotans polled support state investment in transit.

One opportunity to speak out is the public hearing on a Draft Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) set for Wednesday, June 19, 3:00 p.m. at Metropolitan Council Chambers, 309 North Robert Street in downtown St. Paul.

Another political ploy might be to invite a Decider to a guided tour on a bus or on the LRT.  Help him or her with the boarding and exit hurdles, then take a long leisurely ride, preferably at a slow time of day, so you can point out the political, economic, environmental and health virtues of public investment in a vital and viable public transit system – with particular mention of how adequate long-term funding, coupled with concern for the customers, could change the shape of public transit.

 

 

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Bussing – The Other Way of Getting to Where You Want to Be

“With a smile and a profile!” – That’s how my bus driver greeted passengers at the start of his mid-day shift. Our ebullient leader assured us that his goal on the trip was “to extinguish the problem before the problem exists.’  Shoppers loaded with Target totes, moms with toddlers, students headed for class, even the suits on board relaxed just a bit.   We were in good hands.

By chance I had just been idly pondering life as a committed bus rider – with a focus on the benefits.   The muse struck as I realized that the driver’s attitude IS the joy – the element of surprise, the shared joy of an adventure (in this case the driver’s new shift) and the delight of children who saw the ride as a grand escapade with a spirited leader who actually would be driving OUR bus.

For the moment I chose to ignore the fact that there are grumpy drivers, surly passengers, unruly toddlers, an occasional inebriate, a kid with no volume control on his CD, and oaf who sprawls over three coveted seats.  They’re the exception.

When stuff happens seasoned riders and driver take it in stride.  The committed busser focuses instead on the benefits of camaraderie and safety, dependability, protecting the environment and cost savings.  In truth, bus catastrophes are exceptions much beloved by rookie reporters and proponents of highway construction.

And so the pause that refreshed morphed into a delightful ride home as I continued to count the blessings known but to the bus rider with a positive mental attitude.  Concerned that I might be delusional I did a quick search, a due diligence reality check to learn of others’ bus riding experiences.   Under the term “bus riding” I discovered a profusion of pedantic how-to guides – boring tomes devoid of the spirit of adventure I sought.

Still, I found a few hearty and literarily inclined folks who shared my enthusiasm for the joi de bussing.  To wit:

v You get to know the regulars – the nattily dressed man who always sports a bowler hat, the weary woman who spends the trip on the cell phone discussing her late rent with the landlord, the shopping bag lady, the teens who’ve graduated from the school bus to Metro Transit, the all night cook who always needs a nudge to wake him at his stop.

v For those inclined, there’s a precious opportunity to read.  For me it’s the newspaper – others pull out serious tomes bearing library labels, some sequester more lurid paperbacks in their jacket pockets, for many their book of choice is the Bible of the Koran.

v Then there’s the voyeuristic opportunity to probe into people’s lives by checking the book jackets or the magazines they are reading.  Kindles are no fun for the intellectually curious transit rider.  An alternative visual exercise is to try to decipher the hieroglyphics that adorn the panoply of t-shirts and leather jackets. And then there are the inscrutable tattoos…

v The congenial morning bussers who saunter to their regular transit stops, chat with co-riders, relax in the certitude that the bus will arrive on time, then hop aboard and grab their regular spot.  Road rage is not an issue. At the end of the day, these same riders allow each other the space and quiet to mull over the slings and allows of the workplace.  Everyone is focused on home, dinner and a quiet evening.

v Though the consequences of boarding the LRT without a fare card are extreme embarrassment and a healthy fine, bussers are their brother’s keepers.   If you come up short on bus fare, a friendly rider will find the change to bail you out.

v The same holds true for newcomers who are clearly not bus schedule readers and have only a vague sense of their destination.  As soon as the bus driver starts his or her patient explanation of options a half dozen caretaker-types join in with helpful advice on routes, stops, alternatives, local landmarks and more.

v With notable exceptions bussers are genial folk who patiently wait for the individual in the wheelchair to ascend to the main floor, pull into the vacated seat and wait while the PCA or driver secures the locks.  Admiration, not impatience, shows on the faces of waiting travelers.

v Likewise, age is not so much a challenge but rather a ticket to comfort and safety as weary riders inevitably vie to give up their seat.

v For some, the bus ride offers a few quiet moments conducive to the fine art of make-up application.  Generous stashes of cosmetics, ranging from eye lash extenders to manicure products, remain buried in tote bags until the propitious moment at a traffic jam or during longer stretches of open road.

v When the bus windows aren’t covered by ice there’s ample opportunity to observe and critique construction and leased property along the route – the new restaurant, the vacant building, the unidentified excavation, can spark serious conjecture, even controversy, particularly when the critics have not been properly informed of the intended consequences.

v Patrolling the bus is left to the driver and, at times, to the riders.  Though some fret about the safety implications it does relieve the stress of constantly surveillance by the Authorities.  Besides, virtually ever bus carries a sort of bus monitor who thrives on the opportunity to take command.

As we switch the clocks we necessarily alter the day’s routines.  Walking and biking are less an option.  Winter driving is a menace.  This might be a good time to give public transit another chance.  Get yourself a Go-To card and see just how far it will take you!

Kudos to the MnDOT Library!

When Minnesotans think of transportation we are inclined to think about highways, bridge safety, LRT, buses, Lexus lanes and potholes.  The work of the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT)  and its network of regional outlets is behind the scenes.  And behind all that is the MnDOT library, 395 John Ireland Boulevard, a bustling hub of information housed at the MnDOT  building near the Capitol – a mighty little librry that opens the world of transportation-related data, research, digital archives, journals and more to hundreds of MnDOT employees who are working on a vast range of transportation issues – broadly defined to cover a multitude of topics.

The MnDOT Library is in the spotlight these days for an aggressive action campaign to showcase their resources and services.  One of the most prestigious awards in the library world is the John Cotton Dana award – and the MnDOT Library is a 2012 winner!  No small feat for a modest state agency library pitted again the super stars with gargantuan budgets and legions of professional PR staff.

The national award, to be conferred at the annual conference of the American Library Association, asserts that “the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) created the ‘moving knowledge’ campaign to convey updated space and resources and to improve outreach efforts.  The space redesign transformed the library from a ‘bland government’ look to a warm and inviting environment.

Much of the work on the outreach campaign was conducted by consultant organizations including Law Library Consultants, Kathleen Bedor, President, and Modern Design Group, Chris Foote President and Diane Foote Design Associates.

This is not the first award for the redesigned MnDOT library.   First, the library received an Award of Merit from the Minnesota Association. of Government Communicators.  That started the ball rolling – the next award was the 2011 Innovation in Action award from the Minnesota Chapter of the Special Libraries Association.

The MnDOT Library is sponsoring an open house and reception on Thursday, May 3, 10:00 AM-3:00 p.m.  Free and open to the public .  Contact the Library at library.dot@state.mn.us.