Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Transit Fanning in 2020, a Review.

 2020 brought on some unexpected changes and alternate plans for many, with my own plans for the year being no exception. While social-distancing, limited travel options, and cancelled vacation plans surfaced, I decided to make the best of the free time I had and managed to go out and explore in my local region. Here is a recap of the transit systems and operations I was fortunate enough to visit or document during what was a rather crazy and unpredictable year.

  1. Metro Transit, Twin Cities, MN. This is my home system, was easy enough to visit as I use and see it on an almost daily basis. For a notable photo to represent it this year I chose one of my first ones taken, which is of a  retired 71xx series Gillig Hybrid unit. These were obtained in 2007 by the agency and marked their first major hybrid bus purchase. They were fairly unique as these buses were originally ordered and spec'd for operation by the RGRTA - Regional Transit Service of Rochester, NY. Metro Transit 7113

  2. Metropolitan Transportation Services, Twin Cities, MN. MTS is a division of the Metropolitan Council which oversees contracted route operations among other things. Their bus services are essentially the same as Metro Transit, however the actual operations are contracted to various private operators. For a representative photo in 2020, here is bus 1445 on route 16 in downtown Saint Paul. The bus is being operated by contractor Metropolitan Transportation Network, a school bus contractor based in Fridley, MN. MTN ceased operating the transit routes for MTS a short time later with the buses and operation transferred to First Transit. Metropolitan Transportation Services 1445

  3. Janesville Transit System, Janesville, WI. Now, onto what turned out to be the first road trip of the year. The first stop on this trip was in Janesville. here is JTS 451, a Gillig Low Floor 35' unit seen in a shopping plaza off of Milton Ave. JTS had previously operated an all New Flyer fleet of buses, which were getting quite old and maintenance intensive. The system was finally able to acquire some funding for new buses in 2019 with Gillig being chosen as the manufacturer. Janesville Transit System 451

  4. PACE, Schaumburg, IL and greater Chicagoland. The next system covered on this road trip was PACE Bus. The fixed-route fleet of 35' and 40' buses at PACE has steadily evolved from once being largely Orion VI and NABI LFW units, to Eldorado Axxess units. Here bus 6409 is seen on layover by the Northwest Transportation Center in Schaumburg. PACE 6409

  5. Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago, IL. Venturing on to the destination of this road trip, the Chicago Auto Show, it's impossible to not encounter the CTA! Here is the first CTA vehicle encountered, car 3109 leading a Blue Line train on an inbound run at Rosemont CTA. CTA 3109

  6. Madison Metro Transit, Madison, WI. While returning from Chicago to the Twin Cities, a quick stop in Madison was able to be made. Bus 1913 represents the shift from being a largely Gillig Low Floor fleet, to the agency's latest bus procurement of New Flyer Xcelsiors. 1913 also sports the new Metro Transit brand and livery, a change from the previous Madison Metro 'M' graphics. Madison Metro 1913

  7. Maple Grove Transit, Maple Grove, MN. Back in the Twin Cities again, this lone photo of MGT bus 60126 on layover near Target Field ended up being my only time observing their operation in 2020. This was taken on March 10th, shortly before the Pandemic of 2020 suddenly changed life as we knew it here in Minnesota. Maple Grove Transit 60126

  8. DELTA Airlines employee shuttle system, MSP Airport. April 11th, the Pandemic and statewide stay at home orders now in full effect. DELTA bus 854, operated by First Transit, is seen here at MSP Terminal 1 on the DELTA parking shuttle. The service was suspended a few weeks after this, as using small vans to move any remaining flight crew was more economical. DELTA 854

  9. Minnesota Valley Transit Authority, Burnsville, MN and south suburbs. At the end of April, I drove over to the Cedar Grove Transit Station for a bit of socially-distanced transit photography as state restrictions on travel were relaxed a bit. Motorcoach 4840 was a rather odd sighting being on local route 444. With social-distancing suddenly being a factor and the traditional offering of assorted commuter express routes suddenly suspended with very little demand, these coaches were run on the route in lieu of the usual 40' buses. MVTA 4840

  10. Mayo Clinic Campus Shuttle, Rochester, MN. With travel restrictions relaxed as more was learned about the virus and contending with it's effects, it was time to get out of the day-to-day routine and go on a quick day trip. Rochester, MN was the destination this time. Here Groome Transportation bus 684 is seen on the Mayo Clinic shuttle. Groome took over the shuttle system operations at some point in 2018 after Laidlaw Transit and the First Transit had operated it for several years. An entirely new fleet of buses was brought in, these being the ARBOC Spirit of Equess model. Groome Transportation 684

  11. Rochester Public Transit, Rochester, MN. Obviously one cannot go transit fanning in Rochester, MN without encountering the RPT system! Here is bus 276, one of the system's newest buses at the time, seen on layover in the downtown area. Rochester Public Transit 276

  12. MATBUS, Fargo, ND. On to road trip #2, a nice mid-July drive through North Dakota. First stop, Fargo. Here MATBUS 1222 is seen working route 20 at West Acres Mall. MATBUS 1222

  13. Bis-Man Transit, Bismarck, ND. Road trip #2 stop 2, downtown Bismarck. Bus 1909 is a 2019 Alexander-Dennis Enviro 200 model. ADL has been making some progress marketing their 200 model in the North American market among smaller transit operators and agencies. Bis-Man Transit 1909

  14. Minot City Transit, Minot, ND. Road trip #2 stop 3, downtown Minot. The Minot city bus system is fairly simple with a series of routes laid out in loop pattern and operated on 60 minute frequency by 3 buses. The fixed-route fleet is comprised of Eldorado EZ-Rider units in both the II Max and BRT styles. Bus 1011 is seen here on the South 1 route departing the Civic Center downtown transfer point. Minot City Transit 1011

  15. Cities Area Transit, Grand Forks, ND. Road trip #2, stop 4, downtown Grand Forks. CAT operates a fairly robust route network for a city the size of Grand Forks. Routes pulse every 30 minutes at the downtown transit center. One such pulse is seen here, with a representation of the CAT fleet shown. Cities Area Transit Buses

  16. River Falls Public Transit, River Falls, WI. In September it was time for another day trip, so with a destination of Eau Claire, WI I set out, making stops along the way in River Falls and Menomonie. First up, we see one of the River Falls Public Transit vans parked in downtown River Falls near a supermarket. This sort of general public dial-a-ride system is common throughout the US in more rural areas. River Falls Public Transit 307

  17. Dunn County Transit, Menomonie, WI. Bus 318 was the lone unit I managed to get a photo of while in downtown Menomonie. DCT operates 2-3 routes, however the Stout route bus 318 is seen on in this photo is the most frequent. Dunn County Transit 318

  18. Eau Claire Transit, Eau Claire, WI. Bus 504 was one of the newest units observed during this visit. It is a 2020 Gillig Hybrid unit and is seen here arriving at the downtown transfer point on the popular 1-Margaret and Mall route. Eau Claire Transit 504

  19. Southwest Transit, Eden Prairie, MN and southwest suburbs. Having last visited downtown Minneapolis in March, a return trip was made in October to see how things were progressing. This ended up being my lone photo of a Southwest Transit unit in service for the year. Motorcoach 238 is seen here on Marquette Avenue working the 698 route. Southwest and other operators have largely trimmed down their express services during this prolonged period of decreased ridership. Southwest Transit 238

  20. University of MN PTS, Minneapolis, MN. A stop over at the U campus was also made to see the PTS campus shuttles. A few new secondhand Gillig Low Floors had joined the fleet. Otherwise the Van Hool buses were still the backbone. Articulated bus 3826 is seen here on the 121 Connector by Coffman Union. University of MN PTS 3826

  21. MIDAS Transit, Fort Dodge, IA. The final road trip of 2020, with a destination of Omaha, Nebraska was taken during the last stretch of nice weather in mid-December. MIDAS is a service of the Mid-Iowa Development Association Council of Governments (COG) and is based in Fort Dodge, Iowa. The system provides demand-response public transit service in the counties of Calhoun, Hamilton, Humboldt, Pocahontas and Wright. Bus 19-1 was observed during a stop in a shopping plaza in Webster City. MIDAS Transit 19-1

  22. SWITA, Southwest Iowa area. SWITA or the Southwest Iowa Transit Agency is demand-response public transit service serving all residents in the Southwest Iowa counties of Cass, Fremont, Harrison, Mills, Montgomery, Page, Pottawattamie, and Shelby. This bus of unknown unit number was seen while stopping in central Missouri Valley, Iowa. SWITA Bus

  23. Omaha Metro, Omaha, NE. O-Metro has continued to refine and grow it's system since my last visit a few years previous. Of particular interest on this visit was the recently opened ORBT rapid bus line. This service replaced what was route 2 on Dodge St. It provides service on a 10-15 minute frequency with stops made only a designated ORBT stations along the line. Bus 1905 is one of several New Flyer Xcelsior XN60 units dedicated to running the service. They represent the first articulated buses to be added to the O-Metro fleet, and are also the first CNG transit buses, marking the fleet's eventual changeover from diesel to natural gas. Omaha Metro 1905

  24. Sioux City Transit, Sioux City, IA. The final system visited to add to the 2020 list was Sioux City Transit. SCT operates a network of 10 routes on 60 minute frequency with a connecting pulse hourly at the downtown MLK Jr. Multimodal Transportation Center. Bus 1369 is seen as a representative view of the operation, departing the MLK Jr. transit center on route 1. As is or was the case with several transit operators at the end of 2020, a notice is seen taped on the front door alerting riders to board at the rear. The back side is also festooned in a colorful superhero prahic promoting the use of masks in an effort to control the spread of COVID. Sioux City Transit 1369 

Overall with the opprtunity to visit and/or document 24 different transit systems or operations, 2020 was a decent year in that regard. Here's hoping that perhaps during 2021 we will see an eventual return towards some more normality. Meanwhile, be safe, take precautions for your health and to protect others, and stay positive.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and happy holidays to all from TheTransitCamera.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Walking along the Street: Marshall-Lake

This is the first of what I hope will eventually become a series of street tours around the Twin Cities area. The idea is to simply pick a stretch of a certain street, walk along the length of it, and take photos of whatever looks interesting.

This is a street tour from Cleveland Avenue and Marshall Ave in Saint Paul, MN, to Lake Street and the Minnehaha Center plaza in Minneapolis, MN. This was taken on August 17th, 2017.

Starting off at Cleveland and Marshall, we have a two story mixed-use building in the southeast corner of the intersection. The ground floor is home to Choo Choo Bob's Train Store, a Martial Arts studio, and a few other businesses, with apartments located on the upper level. This building likely dates back to streetcar era days.
Cleveland at Marshall

Heading west, some new curb cuts and bus stop pads are seen. This is part of a street improvement project along Marshall Ave to bring curb cuts up to current accessibility standards.
Marshall Ave Ped Improvements

Continuing along, a Minnoco gas station and service center is spotted. This used to be a BP station judging by the logos. Minnoco stands for Minnesota Independent Oil Company for those who may be curious. (Link)
Minnoco (Saint Paul, MN)

Now after a couple of blocks we get to the bridge, this is the connection between Marshall Avenue in Saint Paul and Lake Street in Minneapolis. It is also the northernmost bridge on the Mississippi River to connect the cities. (The Franklin Avenue bridge is next, and has Minneapolis on both ends)
Crossing the Border

The Mississippi River viewed looking north towards downtown Minneapolis and the University of MN Minneapolis campuses.
Mississippi River

Now in Minneapolis, one of the first changes seen are the custom Lake street branding banners on the bus stop shelters. These were installed as a corridor branding attempt around 10 years ago (give or take).
Metro Transit Bus Stop

Lake Street also has a noticeably commercial vibe to it compared to the short stretch of Marshall just observed. In the next couple blocks a bustling SuperAmerica convenience store...
SuperAmerica (Minneapolis, MN)

... the American Rug Laundry Building...
American Rug Laundry

... and the imported Hi-Lo diner are seen.
Hi-Lo Diner

One of the more creative bike rack designs I've seen, this was outside a dentist office.

Now an example of some recent development, this building was at one point some type of machinery dealer or factory from what I could tell. Now it is home to Longfellow Market, a local grocery store:
Longfellow Market

A very industrial looking sign for the Don's Leather Cleaning service building. I'm not certain if this has always been Don's or if it was originally something different.
Dons Leather Cleaning

Further along a strip of retail storefronts is seen at 36th and Lake. River Lake True Value Hardware is seen front and center. Neighborhood hardware stores are not an easy thing to find any more with the proliferation of the national big-box home improvement chains in the suburbs. I think the lettering over the white sign for the store states "Since 1947" but I can't quite tell as there are numbers missing.
River Lake True Value Hardware

Across the street a new Tim Hortons location has been opened this summer as part of the chain's expansion into the Twin Cities market. This replaced a former White Castle.
Tim Hortons (Minneapolis, MN)

Continuing along, a former movie and/or performance theater is now home to a church:
Victory Christian Center

Here we see a non-nondescript strip plaza with a laundomat and coffee. Not sure what this would have been before, perhaps a video rental store or some other obsolete retail use.
Strip Plaza

Walgreens Pharmacy has just completed their move into a new location, right next door to their former store! This makes for a nice comparison however in the evolution of design and sidewalk access. First we see the old store with small windows, a tight sidewalk entry, and bland exterior.
ex-Walgreens (Minneapolis, MN)

Next is the new location with a more welcoming walkway and plaza, bigger windows, and more buffer space between the sidewalk and parking lot.
Walgreens (Minneapolis, MN)

Looking across the street now, there is the old East Lake branch library building, currently home to a merchandising business. A plaque noting the building history can be seen in this photo.
Northern Sun Merchandising

Continuing on, the street has a more suburban look. This US Bank branch uses up a whole block with a building and parking lot. I have to wonder if they even use the whole building anymore.
US Bank (Minneapolis, MN)

And finally we will end with a couple parting photos at the Minnehaha Plaza shopping center. A former Rainbow Foods is now home to a charter academy of some type, a 1990's look Wendy's sitting in a sea of asphalt, and Cub Foods appears to be getting a facelift.
ex-Rainbow Foods (Minneapolis, MN)  Wendys (Minneapolis, MN)  Cub Foods (Minneapolis, MN) 

Long term I would expect that some of the plaza area here will be converted to new development with apartments.

That brings us to the end of this street tour!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

One Transit Rider's Pet Peeves

Having spent the last, oh, 11+ years using public transit to get places I have had my fair share of experiences and interactions. While the majority of these experiences have been positive, or at least neutral, I have also picked up a few pet peeves over the years. So without further ado, here is a listing of some annoyances that seem to occur regularly.

  • Food: Okay, I honestly don’t care if you want to snack on something simple during your joyride through the hinterlands on one of our awesome buses or hip looking trains while you’re headed to work, school, chainsaw shopping, etc. But seriously, remember there are other people riding with you! So please, keep it neat, quiet, and avoid the smelly stuff.  Having a granola bar? Awesome. Can’t wait for your destination to dive in that large deep dish supreme with extra anchovies and garlic? Next time eat in.  Whatever you do, please no sunflower seeds. If you need to satisfy your inner squirrel, and tend to spit those shells, please do so somewhere besides my ride home.

  • Phones: Yeah that new smartphone you got really is cool. And I’m very happy to hear that your toenail fungus treatment went well, and will keep in mind that your ex is a complete jerk. Next time though, could you maybe text that information instead, or perhaps wait until you get home or someplace private to call? On a side note folks, there’s this thing called identity theft going on, so it’s probably best to avoid shouting your social security number, credit card account info, or similar tidbits into the phone while riding on public transit.

  • Music or other prerecorded entertainment: Earbuds, headphones, the cone of silence, use one of them please!

  • Socializing: If you want to talk (quietly) with your friends while riding, that’s great. If you’re getting on the vehicle though and your friends are on the platform or sidewalk, please don’t just stand with one foot in the door while you try to catch up on the highlights of the past week.

  • Hey could you... : NO! I will not hold up an entire train of riders, including myself, for “just a minute” while you get off and buy the ticket you SHOULD have bought BEFORE you boarded. We have places to go, transfers to make, appointments, etc. The next train is in ten to fifteen minutes.

  • You don’t matter: Yeah, that’s the feeling I get while sitting on the train for a half hour at a station, with absolutely no explanation for the delay. I don’t need all the details. Just a simple heads up that there is an event down the line causing a delay of at least 15 minutes. This would be greatly appreciated.

  • Language: Yo, for real! NO ONE is thinking you’re cooler or funny cause you cuss away like some rock star, or my friend’s Granny when someone cuts her off in traffic.

While these things will not change overnight, I’m sure that there are many transit users who would enjoy a better ride if these behaviors went away... someday.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

New Sidewalks for Highland Village

Highland Village is the retail area that centers around the intersection of Ford Parkway and Cleveland Avenue in Saint Paul, MN. It is a fairly diverse area, with both new and older retail serving a variety of needs. Recently the area started to undergo a major reconstruction project involving the public sidewalks. As a frequent visitor of the area I thought it would be interesting to document the changes, so here are some photos:

First a couple of photos showing the original concrete and red brick sidewalks. This design was incorporated in the 1980s if I recall correctly:

Next are a couple of shots showing some of the completed and somewhat completed sidewalks so far:

Finally, one section that will be interesting to watch, the future site of the northbound/eastbound A-Line bus station/stop on Ford Parkway at Finn Street. I recall some mention of roughing in station elements with the sidewalk rebuilding, however there has also been mention of station construction occurring next year when Ford Parkway is being repaved/rebuilt. How much is being done now vs. later at this spot is unknown to me. However it is nice to see that the A-Line station is being taken into account. I'd rather see a temporary asphalt or concrete pad in place for now, rather than have a complete new sidewalk and curb ripped out next summer. Of course the best thing would be to pre-build part of the platform ahead of time so as to minimize pedestrian interference.

Looking west at the station site:

East view:

A mark on the Highland Bank plaza noting where the BRT section cutoff is:

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How About a People Mover at the Mall of America?

The Mall of America (MOA) is one of the largest indoor shopping malls in the United States, and it's getting larger. Currently the MOA boasts 4.87 million square feet of building area, making it one sizable chunk of property. Access to the MOA is typically by auto, mass transit, or tour bus, although a few pedestrians and cyclists have been spotted on occasion. With more expansion comes more active groundspace, longer walking distances, and of course, parking spots. Additional transit access or coverage is not really included however, with the only future transit plans at MOA calling for an update to the current transit station and garage area.

With that in mind, it seems like our big retail friend and tourist hotspot could use something beyond simple pavement and walkways to move visitors around. Walking around the MOA as it is can be tiring, with each floor clocking in at 0.57 miles in distance. While this is fine if you're super hyped about scoring those awesome shoes or actually remembering to buy your girlfriend a nice present for her birthday, it can be kind of a drag if you are coming in to start an eight hour shift at work, or just stopping by to get a new tie. Add in the extra distance to future development, and suddenly scoring that parking space 150' feet closer to the door doesn't seem like a big difference.

Incorporating an automated people mover tram system could provide a beneficial transportation solution. My proposal is to connect the IKEA store, the new expansion area, and the MOA core with a new and improved MOA transit station at the existing 28th Avenue site. The mover would operate at frequencies of about 90 seconds to 120 seconds ideally.

Mall of America APM Concept Drawing

Stations or stops on the line would be at IKEA, the North Plaza expansion area, the north entrance, the south entrance, and 28th Avenue MOA Transit Station. Benefits to mall visitors would be quick access between IKEA, the new expansion development, and the mall core.

While the existing MOA transit station would be removed under this plan, there would still be some improvement for transit riders. Currently the Metro Transit Blue Line takes about four minutes to travel from 28th Avenue to the MOA platform. Add another two to three minutes of walking up the stairs, across the inner access road, and into the mall, and it can be six to seven minutes minimum to actually get to your destination. However if riders could instead transfer to the mover and take a one to three minute ride to their destination that would make it easier. Time savings would be even better for those who want to go to the north end or IKEA. This could also improve transit operations as well, cutting about eight to ten minutes off a roundtrip on the Blue Line, and creating a better transit station with direct access for buses currently serving the MOA. (Many of which already circle the block by 28th St. currently)

Parking for the MOA could also benefit from this line. Instead of wasting valuable nearby space on the Mall grounds for more parking spaces, that area could instead be used for additional retail space. Parking could instead be added out by the 28th Avenue site, perhaps in the form of a combined MOA and park and ride ramp to get more use out of the spaces. (Park-Ride user in the daytime, mall shopper in the evening.)

While this plan is likely to never be more than a simple Google doodle, I hope that the most notorious and largest shopping mall in the United States will incorporate other modes of transportation, and consider walkability, as it continues on with an ever widening footprint.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Arbor Pointe of Inver Grove Heights, MN

Having observed the Arbor Pointe development over the years, and having read this article published in the Pioneer Press a few months ago, it seemed a photo stop was in order to document some of the closures in the area. The following photos were taken about a week ago:

Rainbow Foods, while not a part of the actual Arbor Pointe retail section, was one of the first major businesses to move into the area following housing development. Walmart was the other big business to proceed the development, however a photo was not obtained of that store.

This Rainbow was one of nine in the Twin Cities area that failed to attract any buyers following the decision by Roundy's to sell the chain.This store was originally built in the late 1990's, and seemed to do well in its early years. During the recession however they seemed to struggle to attract a steady amounts of customers. For example, when only one of the 15 checkout lines is open, and there's a bell sitting on the conveyor to summon a cashier, you can tell the store is not very busy.

The main sign for the Arbor Pointe Retail Center, seen on the corner of Concord Blvd. and Broderick Blvd.

Walgreens closed their Arbor Pointe location after ten years in business.My guess is a lack of steady drive up business and strong competition from the Walmart across the street lead to its demise.

Two other Walgreens are still going in Inver Grove, and while both are over towards the north end of town, there may have been some over-saturation of the brand.

Advance Auto Parts is another victim, this store closed last year. A Discount Tire is located across Broderick Blvd, so that may have had some impact. Otherwise the lack of easy access into the Arbor Pointe development probably took customers elsewhere.

A&W, this one had multiple strikes against its success. The restaurant was located in the interior of the development, limiting visibility from the major streets. Management was also a problem here in my opinion. Poor service and poor quality food are not going to keep customers coming back.

The one business that does seem to do well here is banking. Wells Fargo built a branch here in the mid 2000's or so, and is still active today. Another bank also opened a branch here, however they closed the location after a few years. Associated Bank finally leased or bought the building recently though, and seems to be flourishing.

It is worth noting that Ruby Tuesday, and a few specialty shops still survive in the development. A new multistory senior living apartment complex was also recently added.

What is in store for Arbor Pointe in the future is unknown. If residential development in the area continues to sit without much activity, then there probably won't be much action. If demand does pick up once again, then there will probably be a bit of a retail renaissance. While I'm no development expert, in my opinion a few improvements can be made in the design and layout of the development. The mish-mash of individual lots for each store seems confusing and counterproductive. If I want to grab a new brake light bulb, and then pick up a bottle of asprin at a drugstore, I'm much more likely to go to a location where I can park my car and then walk to each store, instead of pulling into one lot, and then moving the car 500' feet to the other lot, and then driving across the street to grab a snack.