Proposed transit hub will be regional model

Metro Transit gathering feedback for bus station

KINGFIELD – Metro Transit is looking for neighborhood input on a new Southwest transit station where passengers will be able to hop on high-efficiency buses to Downtown or the suburbs.

The Interstate 35W Bus Rapid Transit service is on pace to start carrying commuters by 2011. Plans call for the 46th Street stop to be an important hub on what is the state’s busiest transit corridor, officials said.

“We’re treating this as the prototype. It sets the model for future stations along the corridor,” said Bob Gibbons, spokesman for Metro Transit.

The agency is assembling a 12-member committee to recommend what kind of service and amenities the station should offer. The group includes seats for nine people who live in the neighborhoods nearest the planned station: Field, Regina, Kingfield and Tangletown.

Some of those members have already been appointed from neighborhood associations and by City Council members, but two at-large representatives will be chosen at a kick-off meeting Jan. 23 at Field Community School. (See sidebar.)

The basic design for the station is already complete, said Jill Hentges, community outreach coordinator for Metro Transit. Where it wants advice is on the subtleties and scheduling.

“It’s tapping transit users for how this station should work, rather than make assumptions about how people will use it,” Hentges said.

The group will also be asked to recommend a name for the station. Metro Transit already has a 46th Street station on the Hiawatha Light Rail Transit line, so it needs to come up with something new for the 35W station, Hentges said.

The station is going to be built beneath the overpass, which will let buses stop at freeway level instead of exiting and merging. It will sit between two bus-only lanes in the middle of the interstate, and riders will get there by stairs or elevators from the overpass bridge.

What transit officials hope to learn from the committee is how they plan to use the station. How will people get there? How much demand is there for bike racks? What other bus routes need to be coordinated for transfers?

“I’m sure people will be thinking about things like how to get to the station, how to make it attractive and how to best utilize the station,” said Councilmember Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward), a member of the transit users committee.

Ryan Fisher of Tangletown hopes planners will make it as easy as possible to bike or transfer to the new station. He lives a block from the planned station and worries his street could become clogged with drivers parking their cars before catching the bus into Downtown.

“It’s something that needs to be taken into consideration: where are those cars going to go?” he said.

Fisher is the Tangletown Neighborhood Association’s representative on the Metro Transit committee. He’s also a commuter who either carpools or buses to his job in Downtown as a network administrator. Besides a discussion of parking, Fisher said he’d also like to see a consistent schedule, plenty of seating and heated shelters, and possibly some public art incorporated into the design.

Councilmember Scott Benson (11th Ward), who is also a member of the transit users group, said it’s important the station be attractive and something people will want to use.

“That’s not going to be an easy task for a station that’s in the middle of the freeway,” Benson said. “It is going to be a big job for the group to make sure it’s accessible and it isn’t a dark, scary place people won’t want to frequent.”

Benson said the designs he’s seen so far seem to be on the right track, with plenty of glass and lighting to give the station both protection from the elements and an open feeling.

Bus rapid transit is a loose term for bus service that’s given special advantages over other vehicles. It often includes nicer stations and amenities similar to light-rail transit. Instead of laying down tracks, though, workers will paint exclusive lanes on 35W where buses will be able to drive separate from other traffic.

Currently, buses already have some advantage on freeways in that they can drive on the shoulder. But their speed is limited to 35 miles per hour there, Gibbons said, and the new bus lanes will allow them travel the full speed limit.

The State Legislature approved $3.3 million in last year’s bonding bill for the design and construction of the 46th Street station. It will be the first of its kind on the bus rapid transit route in part because of a link to the Crosstown Commons reconstruction.

“We’re kind of shoehorned into the phasing of that project,” Gibbons said. State crews need to remove the 46th Street bridge as part of that project. Metro Transit will then build the transit station before the bridge is replaced.

The transit user committee will meet the fourth Tuesday of the month, February through May, after which the designs will be finalized. Metro Transit anticipates construction to start the spring of 2009, Gibbons said.

In late 2010 or early 2011, the service will start carrying commuters between Downtown Minneapolis and Lakeville, with stops in Richfield, Bloomington and Burnsville. Metro Transit already serves about 15,000 daily riders on the corridor, and that number is predicted to nearly triple to 43,000 by 2030.

 

– Kari VanDerVeen contributed to this report.

Reach Dan Haugen at dhaugen@mnpubs.com or 436-5088.