Few participate, but many affected by bus route planning

Ken Meter has a keen interest in transit issues -- I-494's planned expansion threatens to eliminate his home and 22 others, he said.

"The idea of giving up my house is hard," said Meter, who lives on the 7400 block of Humboldt Avenue South. "It's my childhood home. My family has been there for 52 years."

Meter -- who believes expanding mass transit, not building freeway lanes, is the only way to reduce traffic -- is one of the few people trying to proactively shape Metro Transit's future routes and service.

Once a decade, Metro Transit does a major overhaul of bus service in each of its service sectors. This year, Sector 5 -- Minneapolis and St. Paul south of I-94, Edina, Richfield and Bloomington -- is up for a remap.

The new route map will affect 53 routes and more than 36 million riders - half of all Metro Transit users, based on 2001 data.

Yet huge numbers of people are not turning out to most of the eight public meetings before Metro Transit releases a draft plan this fall. Meter was one of only five citizens to attend the May 28 meeting at the Windom Community Center. A dozen people attended a similar meeting at Walker Library May 20.

The biggest turnout so far came at a recent meeting at Minnehaha United Methodist Church, Metro Transit staff said, where 76 people debated the relative merits of East 50th Street bus routes.

Politicians and transit planning staff outnumbered citizens at the Windom meeting. Councilmember Scott Benson (11th Ward), State Rep. Scott Dibble and Metro Council member Frank Hornstein attended.

Hornstein said transit had replaced crime and taxes as a top regional priority, but communities are just starting to organize on the issue.

"I believe in 5 years when someone calls a meeting on transportation issues, you will see a big turnout," he said.

Meter told transit planners that he wanted better connections from his Richfield home to his favorite shops in Uptown, Linden Hills and the Mississippi Market in St. Paul.

Kim Woelken also attended the Windom meeting. She lives near East 46th Street and I-35W and is a self-described "die-hard bus rider." She wanted routes to St. Paul that didn't take her through downtown Minneapolis as well as more regular service on I-35W, with stops at 46th Street, she said.

Metro Transit staff also is using a web survey to solicit service-improvement ideas.

John Dillery, Metro Transit Sector 5 project manager, said more than 100 people had already filed comments electronically. The site opened May 6.

The sample is small, but the suggestions so far include:

  • More limited-stop runs. People want Metro Transit to replicate the No. 50 bus -- the express version of the No. 16 bus on University Avenue, Dillery said.

  • More frequent summer runs of the No. 52 bus to the University of Minnesota.

  • More late-night buses to Southdale.

The survey also asks people to rank seven different bus improvements. So far, top priorities include improving connections between routes and more frequent service on high-demand lines. Transit facility upgrades ranked near the bottom.

The public will have another chance to comment on the draft plan after it is released later this year.

The next community meeting on improving bus service for Southwest area residents is Wednesday June 19, 7 p.m., Lynnhurst Community Center, 1345 W. Minnehaha Pkwy. Residents may also comment through an Internet survey at http://www.metrocouncil.org/ transit/sec5/index.htm.

Metro Transit will collect comments through June.