Getting Everyone on Board: Coordinating Transit for Human Services

An updated transit plan for the Arrowhead Region has just been released for public review.  It’s a plan that’s aimed to coordinate resources and cover more ground with less.

Woman with walker being assisted by the driver of a lift-assisted bus in Duluth, MNThe 2011 Local Human Service Transit Coordination Plan for the Arrowhead Region outlines broad strategies as well as specific project ideas to help the transportation-challenged – elderly, disabled, and low-income – get to medical appointments, services and jobs.

The strategies and project ideas identified in the plan will be used to set priorities and support competitive bidding for certain Federal Transit Administration (FTA) funds that are dedicated to assisting these groups.

Leveraging shared transportation resources

The Arrowhead Region comprises seven large, mostly rural counties – 10,635 square miles!  Providing transportation services throughout this enormous area is a daunting prospect.  And a few economic trends are making this challenge evermore daunting:

1)  A large percentage of the region’s population is entering old age (and reduced income)

2)  The per/mile cost of service (particularly due to fuel prices) has been increasing at a significant rate while

3)  Federal and state transit assistance is facing significant cuts.

And that’s where the value of this transit plan comes in –  to leverage existing resources (vehicles, drivers, etc.), to provide services more efficiently throughout the region with those limited resources.

Regional coordination is the essence of this plan

Many of the strategies identified in the coordinated transit plan call for projects that create more resource-sharing opportunities, or create “one-stop-shop” call centers that can assist with organizing and lining up ride opportunities.

Perhaps the most important project idea in the plan, however, is to convene a regional coordination body, bringing together the region’s service providers every year to continue to find ways to work together to overcome challenges. And that’s a big move forward!

Draft plan is open for comment

Can you think of another way to take on the daunting challenge to get everybody on board?

This plan is open for public comment until 11/10/11.  For those of you interested, the plan can be reviewed on ARDC’s Regional Planning website.

Photo credit: Arrowhead Transit

Our Love/Hate Relationship with Central Entrance

Just last week I dropped a friend off near Arrowhead Road and Highway 53 just before 8 a.m. and headed toward my office in downtown Duluth.  I glanced at the dashboard clock and it said 7:58.  I had anticipated a congested trip but traffic was fairly light.

Love It

I made my way downtown thinking about my upcoming work day, scored a (free) parking spot, and to my surprise saw my car clock said 8:05.  Seven minutes to go five miles on Central Entrance, of all routes.  I had to admit that was an easy and direct commute.

Hate It

Fresh in my memory, however, are recent after-work trips to Miller Hill to run errands where I waited out more than one cycle of traffic light changes at Arlington Road and Central Entrance.  I–like everyone else–get frustrated by sitting in traffic.

But I think that we get frustrated much quicker than big city drivers who have horror stories about the amount of time they get stuck in traffic.  Relatively speaking, we have it pretty good.  So what is it about Central Entrance that makes many of us want to avoid it?

The Bigger Picture

From a transportation standpoint, it’s not just about reducing vehicle congestion on this road, but about balancing the needs of all users.  In transportation planning, we think about  improving Central Entrance from many perspectives, including:

  • Mobility (getting travelers through the area)
  • Access (getting customers to local businesses)
  • Multimodal (accommodating pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users)
  • Safety (for all)
  • Livability (for neighborhood residents)

Someday (The Vision)

The City of Duluth has been thinking about these things as well.  A long term vision for Central Entrance was recently identified, with input from businesses and residents, in its Central Entrance-Miller Hill Small Area Plan.  The vision for the corridor is for a more walkable area that would regain its focus as the “main street” for the Duluth Heights neighborhood.

Where We Come In

As a step toward implementing the plan, the City has asked the MIC to examine the transportation challenges on the Central Entrance corridor.  We will be collecting data, surveying residents, and making recommendations that will help in achieving the goal of eventually transforming Central Entrance into a more comfortable and attractive part of town.

There will be more information posted via this blog as our work progresses, but meanwhile, you can get more information about the Central Entrance Corridor study on our website.

Your Thoughts?

So what do you think about Duluth’s neighborhood-oriented vision for Central Entrance?  Can you picture a balanced transportation system like I describe above?

 

Roads, Trails, or Both?

Priorities for Duluth’s Transportation System

As discussed in our previous blog, approximately $45 million in federal funds are being programmed for Duluth area transportation projects for 2012-2015.

The draft Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) spells out costs and timeframes for a total of 36 high-priority projects over four years and is now open for public comment.

Balancing the needs of all users

It seems we easily divide ourselves into those who drive versus those who ride the bus versus those who bike and so forth….an “us versus them” scenario.

Well, in reality the transportation system—and the public spaces they are a part of—are used by people in a much more complex way. You might drive to your job or to shop, but there will always be some amount of walking involved, from car to final destination and back again. You might use the sidewalks for walking from place to place, but also for stopping to talk to your neighbor in a common space. You might ride your bike down the big hill but put it on a DTA bus for the trip back up.

Looking through this lens, from the perspective of the users of the transportation system, you can see how this TIP has a major focus on how to really connect people in the safest and most efficient way possible. 

Continuing to fix the highways

Preservation work on the two major bridges is needed to refurbish the Blatnik (I-535) in 2012 and the Bong (US Highway 2) in 2014. These TIP projects not only have the highest price tags and but also will receive the most attention—yes, just when the I-35 reconstruction “megaproject” is finished, there will be several more years of high-profile road construction projects, on the bridges this time!

Improvements for those who walk, bike, or take the bus

While the highway projects are devoted solely to cars and trucks, funding is also included to provide a safe alternative to driving.  A paved pedestrian and bicycle pathway, running parallel to I-35, will connect the whole city from west  to east. The Munger Trail will eventually extend all the way to the Lakewalk by constructing short segments of a new Cross-City Trail each year. The popular Duluth Lakewalk will in turn be extended from 60th Avenue East to Highway 61, and then out to Brighton Beach up the north shore.

Funding for the Duluth Transit Authority will purchase new buses and provide operating support for both its regular route and STRIDE bus service.

And thanks to recent Complete Streets efforts in Duluth, local street projects will take into account how the roads are being used by people every day and will be designed accordingly.

The projects funded in the draft 2012-2015 Duluth area TIP balance the need to move vehicles efficiently with the needs of all people who use these public spaces, including those who utilize public transportation, those who traverse the roads by bicycle and those who are on foot.

Which makes sense to us – what do you think?

Bike To Work – With a Little Help from the DTA

Tote Your Bike on the DTA

Friday, May 20th is Twin Ports Bike to Work Day.  If you’ve stopped short of riding your bike around Duluth because of the prospect of riding back up it, the DTA (Duluth Transit Authority) can help with that.

 A growing trend

You’ve probably seen the DTA driving around the Twin Ports with bikes mounted to the front of its buses for a while now, but did you know the DTA has been providing that service to its riders since 1994?  In 2009, with input from local bike riders and sustainability groups, the DTA made the decision to keep the bike racks on their buses all year round, a move which has helped to increase the number of bikes the DTA transports yearly from 0.48% of its total passenger trips in 2006 to 0.72% in 2010.

Now, 0.72% may not seem like a big deal, but it represents nearly 23,000 bikes being bused around the Twin Ports on an annual basis, and that’s an impressive number when you consider the challenging terrain, inclement weather and unfriendly temperatures we often encounter around these parts!  Yet, it’s those very conditions which make DTA bike racks worth celebrating.

Best of all, your bike rides for free. Using a DTA bus to transport your bike doesn’t cost anything more than the price of your bus fare.  More information about routes, fares and schedules is available at the DTA website.

Options, Options, Options

We at the MIC are all about improving your transportations options here in Duluth and Superior.  If you’re looking for alternatives to high gas prices and driving your car, here are five choices for you to consider right now.  And you can add the DTA’s bus-mounted bike racks to your list of alternatives for local travel this season. 

Considering that May is National Bike Month, why not participate and use the DTA’s bus-mounted bike racks as a way to support your commute?

Driving Less is Green, Sassy and Good for You

A view from an awesome local bike commuter

Not to mention, much cheaper. With gas prices approaching $4 a gallon – here’s our top five suggestions for easing the pain at the pump.

1. Bike to Work
Biking as a transportation option—to get to work or to run errands—is low-tech, fun, healthy and easy on the environment. Check out the Minnesota Bike Commuter blog for some local inspiration and the Zen Habits blog for some attitude adjustment.

We’re also updating our Duluth-Superior Area Bike Map — stay tuned for the new one, due out in time for Bike to Work Day on Friday, May 20, 2011.

2. Walk
Walking to work is even simpler than biking. It’s a fabulous, no-tech way to stay healthy and save money on commuting costs. For the price of a decent pair of shoes, you can enjoy the natural beauty of this place that we love and reap numerous health benefits. It just takes a little planning to make it work for you.

Also, check out the Duluth Sidewalk Inventory the MIC will conduct during the summer of 2011, to improve the pedestrian environment around town.

Finally, check out the cool tools on the Walkscore.com website to map out your walking distance to restaurants, bars, parks, book stores, coffee shops and more.  Figure out what really is within walking distance, hills included.

3.  Get on the bus – for free.
Did you know the DTA began running its West Mainline express service again? During the I-35 construction season, people commuting into downtown from the West now have an opportunity to ride round-trip for free from now until October.

Check out this cool Google mapping application to find DTA routes and schedules for your destination.

4.  Drive partway
If you’re driving in from a distance, try parking at one of the DTA’s Park and Ride lots and ride a bus to work from there. There are three Park and Ride locations in Duluth and one in Cloquet to ride via LCS Coaches.  Parking is free and fares are reasonable.

5.  Trip chain
Remember when you got your chores done all at once so you could go out and play?  Trip chaining is the same idea. Here are some trip chaining facts to consider:

This is because emissions are highest when a vehicle is started “cold.” Starting a 5-mile trip when the engine is cold generates about 17% more nitrogen oxides and 50% more volatile organic compounds than the same trip when the car is started warm.

So pick your best option, and try something besides driving.  Tell us how it went!

Photo credit: MnBicycleCommuter