The Transit Tourist: Minneapolis – St. Paul, Minn.

The Transit Tourist takes a look at other transit systems across the globe from the first person perspective of a visitor. What can Metro learn from how these other systems treat the uninitiated – and often bumbling – tourist?

A Green Line train arriving at a station in downtown Saint Paul.

A train arrives at the 10th Street Station in downtown St. Paul. (Photo: Joseph Lemon/Metro)

In previous installments of the Transit Tourist, The Source visited Chicago, Portland, New York City and London. For the latest iteration of the series, I spent some time during a recent vacation checking out the transit offerings in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The visit occurred just two weeks after the opening of the the region’s second light rail line, the long-awaited METRO Green Line, which runs between the downtown centers of the two neighboring cities.

Now arriving…The Transit Tourist: Minneapolis – St. Paul, Minn. 

Minneapolis-Saint Paul Metro
Population: 3,348,859 Transit Agency: Metro Transit Miles of Rail Track: 21.8
Density: 546 people/sq. mi. Light Rail Lines: 2 Bus Routes: 126
Area Served: 907 sq. mi. Light Rail Stations: 37 Op. Budget: $325 mil.

Source: US Census Bureau, Metro Transit (metrotransit.org) and Metropolitan Council (metrocouncil.org). 

Airport Connection

The METRO Blue Line provides light rail service to both terminals at Minneapolis – St. Paul International Airport. Trains between the two terminals are free and run 24 hours a day.

I arrived at Terminal 1 – Lindbergh, where a tram (or automated people mover) connects the terminal to the underground light rail station. Using it was fairly straightforward: the ride was free and lasted about 30 seconds. In total, it took a little less than five minutes to get from the terminal to the train station. Visitors that arrive at Terminal 2 – Humphrey can access its station with a short walk via skyway.

The Lindbergh Terminal 1 station on the METRO Blue Line. (Photo: Joseph Lemon / Metro)

The Terminal 1 Lindbergh Station on the Blue Line. (Photo: Joseph Lemon/Metro)

From the airport, the METRO Blue Line takes passengers north to downtown Minneapolis in just under 25 minutes where it shares five stations with the METRO Green Line. Going south, the Blue Line connects passengers to the Mall of America and terminates at the METRO Red Line, a bus rapid transit line extending to the southern suburbs of the Twin Cities.

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Transportation headlines, Tuesday, July 22

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Reward to be offered in fatal beating at Blue Line station (L.A. Times)

TEMPLATE Board

The Board of Supervisors has approved a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of two women who assaulted artist John Whitmore at the Blue Line’s Willowbrook station early in the afternoon of Friday, June 13. Whitmore, 65, died one week later of his injuries. Anyone with information regarding the slaying is asked to call detectives at (323) 890-5500.

Funding feud means end of the line for four Metrolink trains between L.A. and San Bernardino (Mass Transit) 

After the San Bernardino Assn. of Governments refused to provide the full funding request from Metrolink, the commuter rail agency has cut four trains between Union Station and San Bernardino. They’re all off-peak hours and include the 11 p.m. train from L.A. Metrolink says they targeted low-ridership trains. Each of the five counties served by Metrolink — Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura — contribute funds to the agency each year.

Metro Committee OKs dismal walk/bike plan now, funding report later (StreetsblogLA)

I missed this post last week, when it was first published. The Metro Board’s Planning Committee moved a draft of the agency’s short-range transportation plan (which covers the next decade) to the full Board for its consideration on Thursday. Advocates for active transportation — i.e. walking and biking — partially filled the Board room and protested that the short-range plan lacks a dedicated funding stream specifically for active transportation.

Members of the committee were sympathetic and Mike Bonin introduced a motion calling for Metro to develop an active transportation funding strategy by Jan. 2015. The issue here is that Metro does supply funding for pedestrian and bike projects — but this is mostly done on a discretionary basis. For example, 15 percent of Measure R receipts are returned to local cities for use on transportation-related projects, which may include active transportation. It’s obviously an important issue, given that Metro recently released a first-mile/last-mile strategy that places emphasis on better connecting transit stations to surrounding neighborhoods.

Uber takes credit for drop in drunk driving, but police are skeptical (KPCC)

Interesting story. The ride-sharing service cherrypicks some statistics — including the number of times patrons vomited in their cars — to argue that drunk driving has been cut as Uber has grown more popular. The police say that’s a very hard thing to prove and some of the drops in DUIs in places such as Seattle may be attributed more to concerted crackdowns by law enforcement. Excerpt:

In Los Angeles, KPCC found DUI citations over the last five years issued by the California Highway Patrol peaked the year before Uber arrived and have fallen both years the company has been on the roads here. (Uber started operating in Los Angeles in April 2012. The low-cost UberX expanded here a year after that, along with competitor Lyft.)

Interesting, but anecdotal. The drop roughly coincides with Metro also offering more light night rail service on weekends — but I don’t think you can draw any firm conclusions from that. I suspect some of this also involves the fact that young people are driving less, according to numerous studies and statistics.

Perhaps what matters most is that there are viable options — taxis, ride-sharing and transit — for those who are too tipsy to drive. Metro Rail and the Orange Line operates until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights; timetables are here.

 

Transportation headlines, Monday, July 21: preparing for the ‘Century Crunch’

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Photo: Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority.

ART OF TRANSIT: The clock tower that will soon be installed at the Arcadia station for the Gold Line Foothill Extension. Foothill Extension Construction Authority officials say the project that will extend the Gold Line 11.5 miles from Pasadena to the Azusa/Glendora border is almost 75 percent complete. Photo: Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority.

Century Crunch could make journey to LAX worse (Daily Breeze)

Coverage of the closure this weekend of the intersection of Aviation and Century boulevards near LAX in order to demolish an old railroad bridge to make way for the Crenshaw/LAX Line. The closure begins at 9 p.m. Friday and is scheduled to last through 6 a.m. Monday. Excerpt:

“We anticipate there is going to be a lot of congestion in and about the airport,” said Dave Sotero, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “We just don’t want to see people missing their flights because they are affected by the extended time frames.”

For weeks, LAX and MTA officials have worked to spread the word, sending notices to the media to alert the public, to airlines and other transportation companies to warn their employees, and to hotels along Century Boulevard to alert their guests.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti even starred in a YouTube video, asking airport travelers to plan ahead.

“Because we planned ahead, Carmageddon never happened on the 405. So let’s plan ahead again,” Garcetti said. “Avoid the area if you do not need to be there and, if you must, allow for extra travel time and use public transit.”

The airport is expecting its usual heavy air traffic through the weekend and almost 93,000 vehicles pass through the Aviation/Century intersection on the average day — airport officials say it’s the busiest entrance and exit to the airport.

Please consider taking the Flyaway bus or public transit if traveling to or from the airport this weekend. If driving, the detour map is below and using Sepulveda Boulevard is one choice for avoiding Century Boulevard.

CrenshawDetourMap

Report to Metro: pay attention (L.A. Register)

Tough audit sparks reforms (ZevWeb)

The Register looks at an internal audit of the of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, which is under contract by Metro to patrol the agency’s buses, trains and stations, and contract oversight by Metro. Excerpt from the Register:

“The results of the audit are disappointing,” said County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who sits on the Metro Board of Directors. “The Sheriff’s Department should have done a better job in meeting the requirements of our contract and MTA executive staff failed to manage the contract competently or effectively.”

The report noted some recent improvements, however.

“More citations have been written, the number of fare checks has increased, officer morale has generally increased, and plans to address staffing issues and other improvements are underway,“ the audit said.

Spokespeople for both Metro and LASD said the organizations agreed with most of the recommendations and said that actions were already underway to increase performance. As a result, there was a persistent decline in violent crime over the past year.

Serious crimes incidents are below 4 incidents per 1 million boardings, and the numbers have improved since last year, according to Metro spokesperson Marc Littman.

 

As the article on Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky’s website notes, “The audit comes as the sheriff’s Metro contract—by far the department’s largest—is up for renewal. The new contract will likely be worth more than $400 million over five years, the report said. The department currently is working under a $42 million six-month contract extension that expires on Dec. 31.”

Kicking the can down the road: a habit that is hard to kick (NPR)

Good piece that attempts to answer why Congress will only offer temporary fixes for the Highway Trust Fund and other budgetary matters. The answer: it’s hard to do anything decisive when there’s another big election looming.

Museum row losing tenant to Metro (L.A. Register) 

No new news here, but a reminder that the Architecture and Design Museum on Wilshire Boulevard has to be move to make way for construction of the Purple Line Extension’s Wilshire/Fairfax station. Museum officials are looking for a new location — with downtown Los Angeles one possibility. Meanwhile, the Metro Board of Directors on Thursday is scheduled to consider approving a $1.6-billion contract with Skanska, Traylor and Shea to build the project’s 3.9-mile first phase with new stations at Wilshire/La Brea, Wilshire/Fairfax and Wilshire/La Cienega.

 

Metro voted Best of Downtown 2014 in public transportation category

metro best of dt winner

A big thank you to all those who voted for us!

 

Transportation headlines, Friday, July 18

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ART OF TRANSIT: A Metro bus rolls down a very quiet Spring Street shortly after rush hour on Thursday evening. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: A Metro bus rolls down a very quiet Spring Street shortly after rush hour on Thursday evening. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Dodger Stadium Express: Metro nightmare or game day savior? (Neon Tommy) 

One reporter boards the free shuttle bus from Union Station to the ballpark. The other reporter drives. Who gets there faster? The reporter on the bus, who along the way apologizes to a couple from Iowa about the poor state of public transit in L.A. only to have them respond that they think transit here is “fine” and they use it during their visits to L.A. Always fun when the source doesn’t take the bait, eh? :)

Click here for more info on the Dodger Stadium Express.

Good start at Metro LA: call for active transportation funding strategy (SM Spoke) 

Santa Monica Spoke is pleased with a new motion before the Metro Board that could potentially create a steady funding stream for active transportation projects — i.e. projects that would benefit pedestrians and cyclists. There was a big activist turnout at the Metro Board’s Planning Committee on Wednesday, prompted by the Board’s consideration of a short-range plan that activists say does not supply enough funding for walking and biking.

Metro considering rail link from Valley to Bob Hope to Pas (Curbed LA)

Coverage of the the motion before the Metro Board of Directors asking for study of improving the Orange Line, including a possible rail conversion and an extension of some sort — presumably rail or bus rapid transit — to Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena.

The full Board is scheduled to vote on the motion at its meeting this coming Thursday. The motion also asks for study of using more articulated buses on the line, improving traffic signal priority and grade separations. Important to know: converting the Orange Line to rail is not funded by Measure R, nor is it in Metro’s long-range plan although an undefined project linking the Orange Line to the Gold Line’s Del Mar station in Pasadena is a tier 2 unfunded project. The new motion included an amendment on creating a process to add projects to the long-range plan. Read the motion here.

San Francisco sets bond vote for aging transportation system (Bloomberg) 

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors — i.e. their City Council — voted to send the $500-million bond measure to voters in November. The money, which would be borrowed, would be used to pay for upgrades to the local transit system that will be used, in part, to speed buses and trains. The measure needs two-thirds approval to pass even though it doesn’t involve raising taxes.

Proposal to allow state tolls on interstates hits roadblock (NPR)

With lawmakers pretty much refusing to consider raising the federal gas tax to keep the Highway Trust Fund in the black, President Obama is proposing to allow states to collect tolls on federal interstates to raise funds for road maintenance and other transportation projects. But there’s pushback, including from an array of corporations who say that tolls + gas tax = double taxation.

New York can’t afford to build the Second Avenue Subway, and it can’t afford not to (CityLab)

The problem is that the subway is costing more than $2 billion per mile to build, including three new stations. The two-mile first phase is due to be completed in 2016, but the remaining three phases aren’t funded and in total the project could reach a $20-billion price tag. The current subway line serving Manhattan’s Eastside is running at capacity, traffic is at its worst on the Eastside and New York is expected to add one million residents. FWIW, the 3.9-mile first phase of the Purple Line Extension — including three new stations has a budget of $2.77 billion. The Metro Board is expected to vote on a $1.6-billion construction contract at its meeting this coming Thursday.

Uber, Lfyt and a road map for reinventing the ride (New York Times)

Interesting piece in the Sunday Review section from last week about Uber dropping the cost of a ride in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles to try to encourage more volume and get more people in the habit of using Uber. The key quote:

“The whole point of price cuts is to get UberX pricing below the cost of owning a car,” Uber’s chief executive, Travis Kalanick, told me. “Let’s say you take three or four trips a day on average. If we can get the price of UberX low enough, we can get to where it’s cheaper to take Uber than to own a car.”

The article also mentions transit with the author pointing out that Uber may cost more than taking a train or bus for a routine errand, but would be faster and more convenient. My three cents: I don’t see Uber or similar services as much of a threat to transit, although they could certainly harm the existing taxi or car service industry. As for denting the sale of cars…maybe, although the costs of using Uber all the time could certainly rack up fast.

Perhaps it’s something in which a family could forgo a second car if living in a city with a variety of Uber-like services, a good transit system and neighborhoods that are walkable and bike-friendly. All those choices could mean — emphasis on could — families with fewer second cars.

Expect intermittent closures on I-110 9th Street off-ramp through August

Here’s the press relase from Caltrans:

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) will be removing debris, sediment and trash from the storm drain at the northbound I-110 9th Street off-ramp.  Construction crews will be working from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday leaving one lane open. This project is expected to be completed by mid-August. Intermittent closures should be expected.  Major delays are expected.

There will be no work between July 26 – July 30, 2014

Detours will be posted for motorist convenience.  United Storm Water, Inc. of La Puente, California is the contractor on this $80 thousand project.

Caltrans advises motorists to “Slow For The Cone Zone.”

Transportation headlines, Thursday, July 17

Have a transportation-related article you think should be included in headlines? Drop me an email! And don’t forget, Metro is on TwitterFacebook and Instagram. Pick your social media poison! 

House passes interim fix for Highway Trust Fund (New York Times) 

The U.S. House voted on Tuesday for a short-term fix to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent and to avoid a massive cut in federal construction funding. Instead of relying on a gas tax increase (politically unpopular for the past 21 years), the House is relying on some budgetary maneuvers (“pension smoothing”) to keep the Fund going — and the Senate and President Obama are likely to go along with it. The fate of the President’s four-year, $302-billion transportation bill proposed this year remains unknown, but things aren’t looking good.

Jon Stewart and the Daily Show took on the Highway Trust Fund last night — as usual he offers a good (and funny) primer for those who don’t know much about the subject. Warning: mildly adult language. Meanwhile, the L.A. Times editorial page says that Congress should just bite the bullet and raise the gas tax.

Over at the Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog, President Obama gets two Pinnochios for his repeated claim that 700,000 jobs are at risk if Congress doesn’t take action on the Highway Trust Fund. The Post says the number of jobs truly at risk is far lower and that it would be more accurate to say the Highway Trust Fund helps support 700,000 jobs.

And here’s our explanation of why all this matters to agencies such as Metro.

Halted Figueroa bike lane project riles cyclists (L.A. Times) 

A plan by the city of Los Angeles to install three miles of bike lanes to Figueroa through Highland Park has hit a bump-in-the-road in the form of Councilman Gil Cedillo, who says the lanes will impact traffic and slow emergency response times. Activists counter that the lanes will make Figueroa safer (reducing the number of emergencies) and will have little impact on vehicle travel times. Making the debate more interesting: Cedillo said that he supported the lanes during his campaign and has used campaign-style tactics to get more people to public meetings to help counter views of bike activists who don’t live in the 1st district.

Beverly Hills battles Metro over Purple Line Extension (Neon Tommy) 

The article provides a basic review of Beverly Hills’ legal fight against Metro over tunneling under part of the Beverly Hills High School campus. A Superior Court judge earlier this year ruled that Metro adequately studied the issue in the environmental documents for the project. The Beverly Hills Unified School District and the city of Beverly Hills have appealed.

Meet Seleta Reynolds, the new head of LADOT (Downtown News) 

A brief interview with the new general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation; Reynolds was hired by Mayor Eric Garcetti earlier this summer. Reynolds talks a little about the differences between L.A. and San Francisco, where she formerly worked on a number of active transportation projects. She has never lived in L.A., but accurately notes how the politics of transportation work here (or don’t work depending on your POV) — they’re divided up between a number of agencies and elected officials.

L.A. and S.F. dogfight over transport visions (Cal WatchDog.com)

The headline doesn’t really describe the post which briefly — but interestingly — makes some comparisons and contrasts between the two cities. The focus of the piece is on the “Great Streets” initiative in L.A. versus the difficulty of getting a bus rapid transit project completed on busy, and often congested, Van Ness Street in San Francisco. I thought this description of L.A. was worth excerpting:

Los Angeles, in other words, is relatively distinct among America’s largest cities. Rather than an industrial-age city planned out block by block, constrained by geography, contemporary L.A. is a post-modern patchwork — a veritable network of villages that lacks a single core where residents routinely cluster on foot.