Tag Archives: Metro Transit in Minnesota

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.