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The Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority (RCRRA) has begun work on a study of possible transit options along the Rush Line Corridor. The Rush Line Corridor runs from Union Depot in downtown Saint Paul north to Forest Lake. The study focuses on two specific options, one running on RCRRA right-of-way from Union Depot to White Bear Lake, and the other along Interstate 35E/35 from Union Depot to Forest Lake. The project is currently in the Pre-Project Development phase which will culminate in summer 2015 with the selection of a Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA). An LPA will indicate which route and mode (LRT, Bus, etc.) are preferred by the steering committee and will be the option brought forward for further consideration.
Ever wonder how the East Metro stacks up to Hennepin County in important figures such as employment and population? Well now the answers are right at your fingertips thanks to a new 4-county factsheet produced by SPACC and East Metro Strong. This easy-to-use fact sheet shows what Ramsey, Washington, and Dakota counties combined look like in comparison to Hennepin. Some numbers may surprise you including that the East Metro currently has more primary workers and is projected to have a higher population by 2040. See the rest of the numbers for yourself and you too can know exactly why transit investment in the East Metro is critical to the success of our region.
Download the fact sheet here.
On Wednesday, June 25, I set out to Los Angeles with the Gateway Corridor Commission, a “who’s who” of transit experts from around the East Metro. With elected officials from Washington and Ramsey Counties, the cities around the corridor, as well as representatives from the local business community and the Metropolitan Council, this group is responsible for deciding what kind of transit line will go along the 11 mile Corridor that stretches east along I-94 from Union Depot to Manning Avenue. One of the modes being strongly considered is Dedicated Guideway BRT. Because there is no line of this type in Minnesota we journeyed to LA to learn what we could from the now fully operational Orange Line.
Much like the rest of my travel mates, the real reason I went was to get discovered. Surely some high powered agent would see me stepping off the plane and say “Wow who is that!?” Unfortunately, it was not to be so I resigned myself to learning as much as I possibly could about Dedicated Guideway Bus Rapid Transit. The following is a recollection of the trip’s events.
After arriving at the hotel I headed downstairs for an introduction dinner with the rest of the commission. Now, being only an “Ex-Offico” member of the commission I knew I had to make a big impression to prove my worth in this most elite of groups. I found a place near the head of the table and quickly broke out some of my best knock-knock jokes. I was informed that, much to my chagrin, apparently knock-knock jokes are for “little kids” or some nonsense like that. Either way, they were not impressed so I decided to play it cool for the rest of the night and just try to blend in.
Things went smoothly after that, with members from all different areas of the East Metro community trading transit stories and bonding over a shared desire for an equitable, comprehensive multi-modal transit system. After hearing the passion around the table for seeing this dream become a reality I went to bed energized and excited for a full day of learning.
We began the day by hearing from Congresswomen Betty McCollum’s District Director, Josh Straka. Josh gave a rousing speech detailing Congresswomen McCollum’s passion for this project and dedication to seeing it through to completion. Feeling inspired and ready to learn we set out on our way for our multi-modal transit adventure.
As a Saint Paul native, I have to admit I didn’t realize what it is like for a city to have a truly comprehensive transit system. We were there to see the Orange Line BRT, but to get there we would first have to take the Red Line Subway through North Hollywood. As an optically pigment-challenged individual, (or color-blind for those less sensitive readers) all the different colored lines and modes left me feeling like a very confusing trip was to come. However, our trip couldn’t have been more direct and relaxing. We walked down to the subway station a few blocks from the hotel—no need to check the schedule because they come every 10 minutes—and waited for the next train to arrive. With all the maps and reminders I was never worried about getting lost or getting on the wrong train.
After about 20 minutes we arrived at our destination and made our way above ground to see the reason we traveled so far from home, Dedicated Guideway Bus Rapid Transit. Prior to this trip, I did not have a clear picture of what exactly this was. BRT is a term widely thrown around and it is easy to get confused. How is it different from a bus? Don’t we have this already on 35W? I heard they were extending one to TCAAP? These are pressing questions that need answering and I knew it was my job to find out.
As we approached our personal bus—LA Metro was kind enough to give us a private tour—I couldn’t help but notice what seemed to be brand new development all around us. This was confirmed by our guide, Gary Spivack- Transportation Manager for LA County, who told us the area was practically barren prior to the station opening in 2005.
Seeing the bus was my next pleasant surprise in a trip full of them. This sleek, silver marvel of modern mechanics looked like something out of… well whatever the kids are watching these days, Star Trek maybe? Anyways it was really cool, and significantly different from the average Metro Transit bus you would see navigating along Snelling Avenue. I was excited to try it out, and when I got on I was not disappointed. Comfortable chairs and a spacious design gave this bus a feel of a place where one could gather thoughts on the way to work or unwind on the way home.
As the bus began to move, I instinctively tried to anticipate a break in traffic so the bus could turn onto the street. However, the bus did not turn right to join the traffic; instead we turned left onto what seemed like a very wide, very nicely paved bike path. This is when it began to hit me exactly why they call it Dedicated Guideway.
The Dedicated Guideway is truly a thing of beauty and what separates this mode of transit from all other types of bus transportation. Similar to rail, the Dedicated Guideway BRT operates on a right-of-way exclusive to the buses. With one well-paved lane running each way, surrounded by boulevards of trees and flowers, this feels more like riding in a personal shuttle down a highway of relaxation than it does a bus. Further adding to the effect are high amenity stations along the line and a bike path that runs adjacent.
With no other traffic to impede progress, the bus moved quickly from station to station. We rode the entire 18 mile corridor in just under an hour and were even able to stop and view some of the many development projects that have sprung up along the line, due to increased access.
After finishing our tour of the line we made a quick stop for lunch at the world famous gourmet restaurant, In-N-Out Burger, before continuing on with our journey. Showing the versatility of the BRT mode we took our bus out of the Guideway and onto the Highway for a trip to Union Station in downtown LA to visit the headquarters of LA Metro. Once there we heard from Los Angeles County Supervisor, Father of the Orange Line, and a man with the most impressive moustache you will ever see, Zev Yaroslavsky.
Supervisor Yaroslavsky represents over 2 million people in northwest Los Angeles County and has been one of the strongest supporters of transit in the region for over 20 years. He told us about his work to pass transit taxes in the county and the positive effect rapid transit has had on the area. He described bringing the idea of Dedicated Guideway BRT to LA on the back of a napkin after visiting Curitiba, Brazil and seeing the success of BRT there. He stressed the importance of staying the course, despite sometimes loud critics. “Transit is crucial to the future of great cities,” he told us, “and it is up to our leaders to act boldly and see these lines into reality.”
After hearing from Supervisor Yaroslavsky we heard from some of the planners and engineers of the Orange Line regarding challenges they faced during the development stages. We learned many crucial lessons, and after completing hour 9 of transit learning we headed home for some dinner and [REDACTED] rest.
With a [REDACTED] good night’s sleep I was feeling [REDACTED] great! Our group made our way over to the LA offices of Kimley-Horn, a consulting firm that worked on the Orange Line and is now working on Gateway. There we met for breakfast and discussed lessons learned and how we could translate them into making Gateway the best project it can be. Everyone began recounting what they were surprised by and what was the most important thing they learned. When it came time for me to speak I knew the pressure was on. Trying to make up for my knock-knock joke failure of earlier in the trip I summoned up all the strength I had left and said,
“For me, the biggest take away from this trip was being able to physically see the new developments that would not have taken place without the construction of Orange Line BRT. The Dedicated Guideway, besides being aesthetically pleasing, is extremely functional and represents a major permanent investment on the part of the Los Angeles County government. This type of permanent investment shows the business community that the local government is serious about transit improvements and allows developers to be more confident when making their own investments along the corridor. The area around the Dedicated Guideway saw massive expansion in new developments after the line was opened, and after seeing this success firsthand I am confident that Dedicated Guideway BRT along the Gateway Corridor, if done right, would achieve similar positive results.”
Afterwards, we made our way back to the hotel to get ready for our flights. Feeling inspired and full of hope we set out for Minnesota to spread our newly found wisdom to our communities and build the best Rapid Transit line the world has ever seen.
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