Category Archives: Public transportation

Pope knows public transit – Go-To Pass to environmental imperative

Though it’s not clear if Pope Francis has to stand at the bus stop and wait for the #25 bus, it is evident that the pontiff is familiar with the challenges of riding – not to mention managing – public transit. He even brought it up in his recent encyclical (http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html in which he urged cities to give priority to public transportation. He wasn’t just thinking of the overarching challenge of saving the environment but actually addressed the need to relieve the “undignified conditions” endured by public transit-dependent riders.

Only a veteran bus rider could speak to the reality of those “undignified conditions.”   It is legendary now that Jorge Mario Bergoglio was a straphanger when he lived and worked in Buenos Aires.   In fact, when Pope Francis was elected to the papacy, the Rome transportation agency, ATAC, issued him a lifetime “pope pass”, appropriately packaged in a tasteful white leather pouch. ATAC also heralded his election by issuing 200,000 transit tickets bearing the Vatican coat of arms rather than the usual corporate logo.

There is even an unofficial Facebook page called “Riding the Bus with Pope Francis” that follows the words and walks of the Pope with a focus on his acts of humility and commitment to social justice.

Most important, Pope Francis gave specific attention to public transit as a priority in his encyclical on global warming in which he observed that “many specialists agree on the need to give priority to public transportation.” More specifically, he wrote that “the quality of life in cities has much to do with systems of transport, which are often a source of much suffering for those who use them. Many cars, used by one or more people, circulate in cities, causing traffic congestion, raising the level of pollution, and consuming enormous quantities of non-renewable energy. This makes it necessary to build more roads and parking areas, which spoil the urban landscape.”

The pontiff’s words rang true for John Olivieri, the Transportation National Campaign Director for U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) who wrote that “the Pope’s decision to elevate the importance of public transportation and the need to limit the growth of driving comes not a second too soon. A 21st century transportation system that reduces carbon emissions and urban sprawl is something we all should work for.”

Welcome aboard, Pope Francis!

 

 

 

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The Zen of public transit

Note: In light of the prolonged disruption of mass transit systems and interminable discourse re. expansion of LRT it seems timely to pause and reflect on the virtues of public transit, without which life in this community would be far more stressful than it already is…. In this class-conscious society there remains one environment that is generously shared by all who choose to avail themselves of the freedom that public transit offers. Public transit is the common ground that provides a unique shared experience with legendary equanimity.  One of the many advantages of public transit is that it gives the rider time and inspiration to ponder the mega-issues embedded in the economic, political technological and social conditions that typically pigeon-hole all of us, in spite of the revered premise that we were theoretically “created equal.” Though most public transit riders focus on their digital instrument of choice, my preference is to capitalize on the opportunity to observe the individuals who share the venture. The stories, created in my head to fit the visible presence of my fellow travelers, provide a unique mental picture of people who choose or need to share a seat and a bonding experience. Given my frequent, though geographically limited, travels my observations are personal, definitely not universal. It would be far more enlightening – and fun – to capture the reflections of a mix of transit riders. One conclusion drawn from personal experience is that, on the LRT, it’s every passenger for herself re positioning one’s perch;  meanwhile, on the bus, where civility persists, seats are reserved for the elderly and people with disabilities. The elderly arrive in droves after and before rush hour – the fare difference matters more than employed riders may be aware. With rare exception, reserved seats rule. Veteran riders know to relocate when they hear the ramp shooting out to welcome a wheelchair-bound rider. White canes signal a hasty shuffle of seats.   Agile youth defer to self-identified elders, often seniors grappling with a grocery cart or a few reusable bags from Aldis or Target. The reserved seat policy is broadly interpreted to include parents with strollers.  Failure to abide by the unwritten rules elicits disapproving glances from veteran riders. In the age of the digital device du jour, the level of public transit-related human interaction is in decline. Teens and YA’s threaten their eardrums and annoy their elders with the pulsating beat that must have some redeeming purpose. Voracious readers open their Kindles with one hand as they flash their Go-To card with the other. Some unreconstructed riders actually read the daily paper with a practiced dexterity that demonstrates rare facility with the print format; many others bury their noses and minds in a thriller or romance novel checked out from the public library. Conversation tends to be route-based. On the LRT there’s little chitchat. Riders are mission-driven, focused on their next stop, no time for sociability.   On less traveled bus routes friendships are forged as workers, shoppers, “regulars” first nod at each other, eventually dare to exchange words, venture to share observations on the weather or the last night’s game. When regular riders fail to board the bus, seasoned riders worry and wonder. On longer bus routes between the burbs and the workplace passengers have been known to share birthday and other celebrations. There are “hot topics” on the bus where conversation still survives. Altered routes and schedules top the list of common concerns. Recounting of the miseries of the day in the office tends to stifle the mood.   Young children capture the attention of work-weary riders, eager to get home to their own children and grandchildren. There is one intriguing passenger type that gives me pause – It’s the Zen-like rider who seems to create an island of mindfulness that somehow transcends the moment. This person shows no emotion, closes his/her eyes or fixates on a single object, seemingly oblivious to all surroundings, including cell phone abusers and exhausted toddlers. Though there is much to admire in their detachment, my people-watching predilection runs counter to the discipline it demands. Needless to say, the time-honored stereotype of execs clutching their brief cases has long given way to smart phones and related paraphernalia. A stealthy glance over the elbow of a nearby “suit” leaves the curious voyeur to wonder at the work-relevance of action figures, crossword puzzles and sports replays.   Thumb dexterity is a must for the regular commuter. Obviously, the public transit experience reflects the season – These are summer thoughts.  During winter months the mood changes, focus is on survival, the triumph of commuter over ice, un-cleared bus stops , unpredictable schedules – the thrill of finding a seat when valued space is reduced by requisite arctic outerwear. Though amenities are sparse, public transit is increasingly the choice of those who care about the environment, road safety, staggering parking fees and personal stress management. It’s all about attitude. Bottom line: Public transit is all about the opportunity to psychoanalyze one’s fellow traveler, to relinquish traffic navigation to a competent driver who knows the rules and the road, to let one’s mind wander, to experience the power of the Go-To card, to interact with strangers on common ground. Any one of these attributes of public transit trumps the frustration of being stuck in endless construction and/or rush hour traffic.

Consider the humble — but ever nimble — bus!

On the Monday after the blast-off of the Green Line I stopped at a bus shelter for a quick transfer, rejoicing that I was making my way across town – by bus – in record time. As I waited on that sun-drenched morning an elderly gentleman stopped by the shelter to check the new bus route routes and schedules. After a quick perusal of his expanded transit options he declared, “I’m just going to ride ALL of those new routes, just to see where they really do go!”

He didn’t care so much about the train or the details of the bus routes – he wanted to explore the neighborhoods, malls, diners and parks that the new bus routes opened to him! I continue to applaud his commitment to experiential learning!

The fact is that the much-heralded Green Line is the tip of the transit iceberg that has been expanding and improving transit options these past months. The Green Line captures the limelight while some of the less glamorous – and less costly – bus options that recently came on line actually make more difference in the lives of public transit riders.

In recent months Metro Transit has published fascinating previews on their newsy blog (http://www.metrotransit.org/riders-almanac-blog) Still, like that determined gentleman at the shelter, some of us need the riding experience to make it real. My hope is that some of the highlights will lure readers to take a closer look at the new and revamped routes. A few examples give the flavor of the Twin Cities public transportation-work-in-progress.

  • Take, for example the expanded Route 67 which replaces the old Route 8.   The rehabbed 67 runs mostly on Franklin and Minnehaha between downtown St. Paul and the Blue Line Franklin Avenue Station, with a connection to Green Line stations at Fairview and Raymond. Better yet, the bus runs every 20 minutes Monday-Saturday with hourly runs on Sunday. It even takes a dip in the route to accommodate Augsburg College and the Fairview University Medical Center.
  • Or consider Route 83, constructed to fill a gap in North-South service between Snelling and Dale. The run goes between the Roseville Super Target and Montreal Circle just South of West 7th  The 83 travels for the most part on Lexington with stops at popular sites including the Ramsey County Library on Hamline and the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory.   The bus connects with the Green Line Lexington Parkway Stations. with service every 30 minutes seven days a week.
  • Or there’s my personal favorite, Route 30, which has expanded my transit horizons and saved me countless hours on the bus. The 30 connects North and Northeast Minneapolis riders with the Green Line at University and Raymond, entry point to the wonders of the Capitol City without the usual slow trek through downtown Minneapolis.   Built with federal funds the route will be evaluated after one year of service – thus my high motivation to fill the seats of Route 30 which currently operates just five days a week.

These are three of dozens of bus routes and options that have been a sadly overlooked in the hoopla afforded the Green Line.   Some day I would love to have the time to follow that gentleman’s plan to explore them all. Meantime, there’s much to be gleaned from the Metro Transit blog (http://www.metrotransit.org/riders-almanac-blog).

In fact, for months the folks at Metro Transit have anticipated the changes; the results are on the Rider’s Almanac where there are fascinating details about the routes, the riders, the schedules and the connections. Even more fun for the armchair bus buff are the brief histories of each bus route. Here, for example, is the history of Route 30:

The first horse-drawn streetcars appeared on West Broadway Avenue in 1883. Electric streetcars were introduced in 1891. The Broadway Crosstown streetcar line [ran] between Robbinsdale on the west to Stinson Avenue the east. Buses replaced streetcars in the corridor in 1950….

Though stressed-out drivers bemoan the frequent bus stops that slow their dash to premium parking spots they should instead calculate as they simmer that each of those public transit riders means one less vehicle at the next stoplight.

I choose to celebrate this welcome move towards liberation of those who choose to capitalize on the Twin Cities public transit system. There’s lots to learn about today’s transit options. In fact, hopping on could be easier than the vehicle-dependent realize. The first trip is the hardest – and bus drivers and riders alike tend to be patient with newbies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

MNopedia – An Evolving Encyclopedia of All Things Minnesota

Charles Van Doren once observed that “Because the world is radically new, the ideal encyclopedia should be radical too.”  MNopedia, the digital encyclopedia of all things Minnesota – significant people, places, and events – deserves the “radical” appellation on several scores.

A production of the Minnesota Historical Society and funded by a Legacy Amendment Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund grant, MNopedia is a work-in-progress.

The call is out for Minnesota scholars, librarians, teachers, history buffs and people with good memories to critique the Beta version of the resource that is currently available online. The whole production process is interactive.  Readers are actually encouraged to let editors know what else they would like to know about the publication’s content and format.

The technology itself is a matter of public discussion.  For example, editors write that “the Minnesota Historical Society has chosen to put MNopedia content into a flexible, standards-based database that’s query-able via APL. As a result, MNopedia content eventually can be used beyond this browser-readable Web site – in mobile apps, audience- or situation-specific products, as a component in other Web projects, in print publications, and more, whether these products are created by the Minnesota Historical Society or by other individuals or entities.”  Radical, huh.

Discussing their timeline, editors indicate that they are now in an “expanding” phase where they will “continue building on what we’ve learned from users and expand MNopedia.  We’ll add new features and consider new ways to deliver content. We’ll also explore content partnerships with other organizations, find more experts to contribute, and integrate new articles.”

The initiative to find more experts and integrate new articles involves a call for input.  Editors maintain “that’s what ‘beta’ is all about, after all…testing, improving and expanding a small working model.”  The MNopedia team invites ideas on eras and topics to cover next, features to add, contributors and more.

Presently the eras covered in the MNopedia begin before European contact, i.e. pre-1585, and continue through the new global age, 1980-present.  Topics included are African Americans, Agriculture, American Indians, Architecture, The Arts, Business and Industry, Cities and Towns, Education, Environment, Health and Medicine, Immigration, Labor, Politics, Religion and Belief, Sports and Recreation, Technology, Transportation, War and Conflict, and Women.

Predictably, several of my arbitrary searches dead ended.  Others led me to great articles by serious scholars who write for readers who thirst for good information,well written and comprehensible to mere mortals.

A check of recently added articles led me to an article on the early history of the Minneapolis Waterworks, another on the Origins of the School Safety Patrol (first in the nation) and a very helpful piece on the Mennonites of Mountain Lake.  Each was concise, readable and full of stuff about which I had wondered but never known.

Though “radical” may an overstatement – and politically problematic –  MNopedia is definitely not your grandparent’s encyclopedia.

 

 

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!