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St. Paul Better Block - it's happening!


Transit and jobs featured at Capitol

From Transit for a Stronger Economy

Summit Academy OIC students support the statewide transportation bill due to the construction jobs likely to result from the bill's passage.Saint Paul, MN (March 20, 2013) – Flanked by students training for construction jobs, legislative leaders and advocates spoke at the State Capitol today about the link between transit investments and economic strength. A statewide transit bill, with provisions to fund bicycling and walking projects, and facilities for people with disabilities, is scheduled for hearings in Senate and House committees later today. The hearings will determine whether these elements will be included in the overall transportation bill later this session. 

Transit for a Stronger Economy, a coalition of fifty organizations, including unions, developers, people with disabilities, low-income and underserved communities, and active transportation, health, and environmental interests, supports the legislation. 

The bill (HF 1044 and SF 927) would fund the build-out of the regional transit system in fifteen years and provide funds to cities and counties for local nonmotorized and transit improvements, such as bike routes and safer, accessible sidewalks. The bill would also dedicate the motor vehicle sales tax on leased vehicles to fund transit expansion in Greater Minnesota.

Ramsey County Commissioner Mary Jo McGuireAmong those speaking in favor of the bill were Ramsey County Commissioner Mary Jo McGuire, who said, “As co-chair of Active Living Ramsey Communities (ALRC), I am excited about the inclusion of bike and pedestrian projects. Not only will this plan expand access to our transit system, but it is in line with the ALRC mission to create and promote healthy environments to encourage engagement in physical activities.” 

Gary Sjoquist, advocacy director for Minnesota-based Quality Bicycle Products (QBP), a distributor of bicycle products with 700 employees, said, “In the future, we believe those cities that respond to the needs of residents and business owners by providing choices in transportation, and in accommodating bicycling, walking, and transit, will benefit in terms of recruiting the best and brightest to live and work in their communities.” 

Other speakers made connections between expanded transit and jobs. 

Avi Viswanathan, HIRE MinnesotaAvi Viswanathan, with HIRE Minnesota, said that students from Summit Academy OIC are “training to join the construction workforce.” The legislation would fund a build-out of the regional transit system, which would in turn create more than 30,000 construction jobs. “These jobs will give people an opportunity to start a career and will have a significant impact on reducing the unacceptable racial disparities we face in this state,” he said. 

Katie Gulley, regional program director for the BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of labor and environmental groups, noted that nationwide, transit ridership in 2013 reached a record 10.5 billion trips, a number that might have been higher “if not for the devastation brought to the East Coast when Hurricane Sandy hit.” Minnesota now has an opportunity “to improve and expand our public transit system to create good jobs for Minnesotans, reduce the carbon pollution causing climate change, and ensure that people around the state can get where they need to go efficiently and cost-effectively,” she said. 

Dane Smith, president of Growth & Justice, said, “Few investments do more than high-quality, affordable mass transit to advance a trifecta of lofty Minnesota policy goals: business growth, economic justice, and environmental sustainability.” 

Other speakers included bill authors, Senator Bobby Joe Champion and Representative Melissa Hortman; Pastor James Alberts II, of Higher Ground Church of God in St. Cloud, Minn.; Minneapolis resident Val Escher; Kenya McKnight, with the Northside Transportation Network; and Macalester College student Patrick Sullivan. 

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Opportunity to show you value transit

Come on down to the Capitol tomorrow, Wed., March 20, for a 6 p.m. hearing on HF 1044, the statewide transit bill. Plan to arrive by 5:30 p.m. and join Envision Minnesota and our coalition partners from Transit for a Stronger Economy. We'd love to have you there!

For details and to let us know you plan to come, please follow this link: http://www.transit4mn.org/.



Making the case for public transit

New Poll Shows Strong Public Support for Transit, Walking and Biking Projects

Transit for a Stronger Economy Coalition Formed to  Advance Transit Funding this Session
St. Paul, Minn. (Feb. 21, 2013)—Transit for a Stronger Economy, a new broad-based, statewide coalition, today released polling results showing strong public support for transit, bicycling, and walking projects.

The poll (PDF), conducted in January by the bipartisan team of Fairbanks, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (D) and Public Opinion Strategies (R), found that public transportation is broadly supported, even by those who do not use it. Key findings include: 

  • More than 90% surveyed agree that public transportation is a good investment for the state.
  • Over two-thirds (67%) of those surveyed favor including bicycle and pedestrian funding in transportation proposals.
  • A majority support paying more in taxes to expand and improve public transportation.
  • The top reasons for supporting transit focus on creating jobs, reducing traffic congestion, and making sure transit options are available to all.

Transit for a Stronger Economy to Push for Transit Expansion Funding

Transit for a Stronger Economy includes more than 40 organizations from across the state and unites unions, developers, people with disabilities, low-income and underserved communities, and active transportation, health, and environmental interests to promote funding for transit expansion this legislative session. The coalition’s vision for the Twin Cities metro region includes expanding transit, including bus and rail, and funding bicycle and walking projects, and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance. The coalition also calls for meeting transit demand in Greater Minnesota.

“The business community has been vocal about transit being needed to attract employers to this region and keep top employers here,” says Barb Thoman, executive director of Transit for Livable Communities.

"Our coalition’s position builds on that, promoting transit as a way to create a stronger economy for working families, students, seniors, and people with disabilities. Expanding transit options has a high return on investment (ROI) for people stuck in traffic, people trying to get to jobs, and people who want healthier, more sustainable options.”

Transit for a Stronger Economy is advocating for an additional $300 million per year in the metro area and $32 million per year in Greater Minnesota to build out the transit system in 15 years, not 30 or more. The coalition seeks to build out and operate the metro-area transit system, provide funds to cities and counties for safer sidewalks, bicycle routes, local transit, and facilities for people with disabilities, and meet demand for transit in Greater Minnesota.

“Communities throughout the Metro Area recognize that making it safe and convenient for more people to bicycle more often benefits individual health, the environment, the local economy and their quality of life,” said Dorian Grilley, Executive Director of the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota. “This proposal would help them address some of their funding challenges, including the cuts in federal funding for bicycling, walking and safe routes to school.”

A bill incorporating the coalition’s vision will be introduced at the Capitol in the next week. For more about the campaign, visit www.transit4mn.org.

A Stronger Economy for Whom? 

Transportation is the second largest household expense (after housing) and takes a larger share in low-income families. The build-out of the regional transit system in 15 years not 30 or more would create 30,000 full-time jobs, greatly improve access to jobs across the region, and attract top employers and employees. Expanding transit options benefits myriad of groups. 

Working Families

John J. Errigo, Director of Housing Development at Aeon, a nonprofit developer of high-quality, sustainably designed, affordable apartments, says “For many families, access to convenient transit plays a significant role in making ends meet.” But, with our current transit system, only 25% of metro area residents live near convenient transit.

A financial columnist, Liz Weston of MSN Money, commented recently that private auto ownership is “wrecking (the) retirement” of many Americans. “The average household shelled out $8,293, or 13% of its $63,985 pretax income, on transportation costs in 2011,” including $2,669 for costs and car payments, $2,655 for gas and oil charges, and $2,454 for other expenses, Weston wrote. At the same time, most Americans are failing to save enough for retirement, she said. 

Transit for a Stronger Economy calls for expanding bus service, so that buses run more frequently, more routes operate seven days per week, and more areas are served. Expanded light rail and bus-rapid-transit (BRT) service, along the Southwest and Bottineau lines and in the east metro, also would give swing shift workers more options for getting to major employers, including hospitals.  


Students at area colleges and universities often struggle with transportation. University officials have commented on this in recent years. An official at Minneapolis Community and Technical College said, “For many of our students, things are pretty challenging economically. Providing affordable transportation options helps make them successful.” John O’Brien, President, North Hennepin Community College, has said, “It’s not an exaggeration to say that many of our students are a dead car battery away from dropping out of school,” adding that transportation is “a top challenge our students face in reaching graduation.” For students struggling with the high cost of college, transit can be a way to save money.

Improving facilities for bicycling and walking also helps students, making it safer to get around affordably. 


The Metropolitan Council reports that the region’s population of seniors will double by 2040. Developers already are seeing demand for senior housing near transit. Marvin J. Plakut, the CEO of Episcopal Homes, anticipates that new housing along the Green Line, aka Central Corridor, will fill quickly. “With more limited mobility that goes along with aging there needs to be increased convenience of transportation,” he says. 

Low-Income Residents

According to a University of Minnesota report, residents living in the poorest 20 percent of neighborhoods in the region would have access to many more jobs with the build-out of the proposed 2030 system of Twin Cities transitways. An additional 45,000 to 55,000 jobs would be accessible within a 30-minute transit trip. More frequent bus service and schedules that operate seven days a week would also benefit low-income workers, especially given the high cost of transportation. 
Hashi Shafi, executive director of the Somali Action Alliance, sees “great opportunity within multi-racial and multi-cultural groups as we work together to make sure that transportation in and around the Twin Cities becomes more equitable and reliable.” 


Congestion relief scores high among voters for reasons to build out the regional transit system. Surveys of current riders indicate that nearly half of all train riders and a third of bus riders would otherwise be driving, according to the Metropolitan Council. A statewide poll conducted in January indicated that more than two-thirds of voters see transit or better planning as the best solution for traffic. 
Suburban Communities

According to Metro Transit’s recent report of 2012 ridership, the biggest increases are on suburban routes, up 6.4% in 2012. The build out of the regional transit system, including light rail, BRT, and additional express and local service will bring more commuters in range of transit. The average commute in the metro is 13 miles, with 38% of commuters crossing at least one county line. A complete transit system will mean that those drivers will have options. Someone commuting from West Saint Paul to Minnetonka, for example, could be riding on transit rather than stuck in traffic. The Transit for a Stronger Economy coalition also calls for funding to help local communities—many of them suburban—provide bicycle routes, safer crossings, and ADA-compliant facilities. 

People with Disabilities

“After leaving my job last year, I am very sensitive as to what it feels like to be truly disabled—low income, needing to be close to home and medical services, but wanting to travel and take part in life just as much as anyone,” say Val Escher, a Minneapolis resident. “If you are unable to drive, you rely on biking, walking, and public transit to get around.” 

For people with disabilities, expanding transit options has several benefits. Light rail, BRT, and enhanced bus service (also called rapid bus) all operate with vehicles with lower boarding, making it easier for people using wheelchairs or with other disabilities to board. Longer hours for local bus service and wider coverage also serve people with disabilities, making easier connections between housing and jobs. In addition, service areas for paratransit services are tied to regular bus service hours and locations, so transit expansion means more paratransit service. The Transit for a Stronger Economy coalition also calls for more funding to go to local cities and counties to help pay for better sidewalks and crossings as well as compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Greater Minnesota

Workers and contractors for construction of the Central Corridor come from all over the state of Minnesota, according to the Metropolitan Council. Funding to begin the Southwest light rail line and to build out the rest of the regional transit system would bring more jobs. 

Transit use is growing in Greater Minnesota and makes a huge difference to seniors, people with disabilities, and to residents in cities like Duluth, Saint Cloud, and Rochester. In 2010, 100 million trips were taken on public transit in Minnesota. Our state’s residents rode to work and school on systems large and small. They caught the bus to the doctor in Roseau and to a summer community education class in Rushford. Yet, two counties have no transit service at all; in many cities evening and weekend service is extremely limited if it exists at all. 

Transit for a Stronger Economy calls for providing $32 million per year in additional funding in Greater Minnesota to expand routes to meet demand in existing transit systems, add service in counties and communities currently without transit service, and add evening and weekend service in key areas.  

Better Health for Everyone 

Expanding transportation options has the potential to have great health effects. If half of all short trips in the Twin Cities were done by bike in just the summer, each year 300 deaths and $57 million in medical costs would be averted, according to a study in Environmental Health Perspectives. People who use transit walk 19 minutes per day versus 6 for those who don’t. Transportation contributes 27% of greenhouse gas emissions and more than 60% of this comes from personal vehicles. Transit uses half the energy and emits a fraction of the pollution of driving alone.

“I walk everywhere,” says Edna Bernstein, a senior who moved to St. Louis Park after she retired. “I have some assistance: a cane and shopping cart. I use these devices and it’s very wonderful exercise to walk around.” When she lived in Golden Valley, Bernstein says, “I used to drive many, many miles to everything I had to get to.”

*From a statewide telephone poll of 500 registered Minnesota voters, conducted Jan. 6-8, 2013, for Transit for Livable Communities and the Minnesota Environmental Partnership by the bipartisan research team of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates and Public Opinion Strategies. The margin of sampling error for the full statewide samples is 4.4 percentage points, plus or minus.


Placemaking: Striving for simplicity

By Jill Mazullo

Q: Is placemaking the dog or the tail that wags it?

A: Placemaking is the dog itself, according two of the three featured speakers at today’s placemaking discussion hosted by the Sensible Land Use Coalition (SLUC).

SLUC featured three speakers to discuss Placemaking: What it is and how it affects the bottom line. Melinda Childs of Forecast Public Art and Stuart Ackerberg of the Ackerberg Group were amused that they each had separately planned that line about the dog or the tail. But there were many more quotes that resonated from their talks that give planners, developers, and those interested in community building plenty to think about.

For instance, this comment from Childs: “Good public art is placemaking, but not all placemaking is public art.”

Placemaking is fluid, process-driven, flexible and inclusive, among other attributes she named, rather than reactive, one-size-fits-all, tacked on, or the sum of a cost-benefit analysis.

Barry Petit of SBP Design Consulting, the third speaker, used the following terms to define the best attributes of successful placemaking: small, contained, simple, elegant, showing restraint, and reinforcing the edges.

An Art ShantyAll three speakers used images quite effectively in their talks, which only makes sense, since placemaking is ultimately a visual experience, preferably in person, but color photographs suffice for a presentation.  

Each of the speakers discussed the particulars of a handful of projects. Childs featured several St. Paul examples, including the city’s new Public Art Ordinance guidelines, now available online, and the city’s sidewalk poetry program. She also mentioned the Art Shanty Projects, a fun way to experience lake-top placemaking. (Unfortunately it’s an off-year for the Art Shanties, but be sure to check them out in 2014).

The green wall at Mozaic by the Ackerberg GroupAckerberg discussed the Mozaic project in Uptown, a collaboration with Forecast Public Art. He described the location as both a go-to and a go-through place, and the need to meet the needs of people who want to linger and enjoy the space as well as those passing through.

I didn’t realize I knew the site until I recognized the green wall that grows along the parking garage portion of the development, which is visible from the Midtown Greenway. Ackerberg mentioned that it was less expensive to have customized art designed and applied to the parking garage than conventional materials would have been

Mozaic includes a public art park with 18 outdoor artworks and variable lighting (a blue glow emanating from the ground; a white glow from inside the fountain) that make the space quite different from day to night, an object of the placemaking to offer different experiences at different times.

Five Points Plaza on the Northside, Minneapolis by the Ackerberg GroupAckerberg also highlighted Five Points Plaza on the Northside of Minneapolis, which brings whimsy and color to a major five-point intersection in this can’t-miss floral bouquet.

Ackerberg’s closing comment was that “The incremental cost between Good and Great is minimal” in placemaking. It’s all about prioritizing place first, not applying it as an afterthought.

Barry Petit brought the conversation around to placemaking in suburbia, and the challenge that suburban locations pose. Historically he said green places have been a relief from urban density, carved out of the pockets left between very dense places, resulting in remarkable small parks, squares, plazas, and other endearing places that attract us. But what to do in a suburban setting, where land uses are intentionally separated into tidy spaces and organized by cars?

Petit’s answer to this challenge is that suburban placemaking must be inherently different what can occur in urban settings, but that one common theme remains: containment. He showed what he meant by containment and the need to reinforce the edges of a space through photographs of what works and what doesn’t work. Ultimately he drew on the concepts of New Urbanism and the value of framing a space, giving it a defined edge, even if what’s around it is vast and open. He illustrated containment with an image of Stonehenge to make his point.

Gaudi bus stop in BarcelonaHe finished his talk with the humble bus stop, and the potential it can hold for placemaking. Take, for instance, Gaudi’s bus stop in Barcelona – a small space so dramatic and charming that one wedding couple even chose it as the setting for their portraits. Our own suburban transit centers provide an opportunity for placemaking, especially when they are built into a suburban town center, but Petit lamented that too often these are opportunities lost, not realized.