Let’s talk about fairness, access to opportunity, and justice: Why creating a transit system that works for its people is vitally important

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View facing north on 35W at the Lake St. bus stop.

by Sen. Scott Dibble

The reason I care so deeply about the subject is because I care about the people it serves. Transportation is how we get to our lives. Compared to other major metropolitan areas, the Minneapolis/St. Paul transit system is fairly small. I’m glad that so many committed organizations and people, including Metro Transit, are dedicated to creating a better future where more people of all kinds are served equitably, and our transit systems will be safer and easier to use. That is good for everyone, even those who don’t use transit as their major form of mobility.

Today, I had the pleasure of joining the Senate Bonding Committee Tour which made more than a dozen stops in Minneapolis. One of our mid-morning stops highlighted a gravely unsafe area alongside Interstate 35W and Lake Street. To get to this bus stop, commuters must climb a steep set of decaying stairs to get to a woefully ugly and barely sheltered bus stop that sits right next to the freeway, with cars and buses racing past at high speeds. It is noisy, polluted, receives water and salt spray, is hard to access, and is a generally unpleasant, hostile experience. This area is the heart of three of this region’s most heavily traveled transit and transportation corridors: Lake Street, I-35W (and the Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit), and the 29th Street Midtown Greenway “bicycle highway.”

Sen. Scott Dibble visits the existing transit stop on 35W at Lake St. The current bus stop is only accessible by climbing stairs, and then walking along the busy 35W.
Sen. Scott Dibble visits the existing transit stop on 35W at Lake St. The current stop is only accessible by climbing stairs and then walking along the busy 35W.

Hennepin County is requesting $25 million in bonding to help build a new high quality, attractive, safe, usable transit hub at this critical Lake Street/I-35W corridor. This new station will completely change the ridership experience and make access to this high-traffic transit point much better for Minnesotans travelling through the region. Two other adjacent projects on the freeway are moving ahead starting in 2017 and this needs to happen at the same time as those.

We also heard about two exciting new transit lines; the Bottineau LRT (light rail train) and the Orange Line BRT (bus rapid transit). The Bottineau line is an extension of the Blue Line (Hiawatha LRT) and begins in downtown Minneapolis and runs north adjacent to North Minneapolis and through Golden Valley, Robbinsdale and up to Brooklyn Park and the future Target Corporation campus. It will vastly improve access to jobs in the region for many residents of north Minneapolis who are isolated by a lack of adequate transportation and simply cannot get to major employment destinations. Conversely, residents in the northern suburbs will have better access to downtown and other regional opportunities.

The Orange Line is a proposed bus rapid transit route that runs south from downtown Minneapolis and will run in a designated center corridor along I-35W all the way to Burnsville. The Orange line is the most heavily-traveled express bus corridor, in the busiest corridor in the state, and the ridership by 2040 is expected to hit more than 26,000 rides per day. The corridor provides access to over 200,000 jobs. The ridership levels would be the equivalent to almost two full freeway lanes of single occupant vehicles during the peak hours.

If we can continue to build on our existing transit system, thousands more people will be served, we will create more access and a cleaner environment, and we will help grow our economy, attract and retain the workforce of the future, and improve the safety and traffic congestion we experience in our daily commutes.