Bypassing Bumper-to-Bumper Gridlock


Expanding the Twin Cities’ bus and light rail train service reduces congestion on Minnesota roads and saves families money

Videos and text by Jacob Wheeler

Retired banker Ron Williams rode Twin Cities public buses throughout his career, and he continues to ride them almost every day. Though he and his wife own a car, he finds bus travel convenient and inexpensive, and he finds time to read or write in his journal while commuting into Minneapolis. Plus, he says, effective public transit reduces gridlock on Minnesota’s highways. Williams fears that without continued investments in busses and trains, the Twin Cities would begin to resemble Chicago, where traffic is “bumper to bumper”.

Williams and other citizens advocating for public transit appeared at the Minnesota State Capitol in late March to lobby for expanding — not cutting — bus and light rail train service in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Funding for the University Avenue light rail line project, in particular, are under threat from the state’s Republican-controlled legislature. The University Avenue train would connect downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul. (Continue reading for video clips of citizens testifying about the importance of public transit in their lives. To conclude, Barb Thoman, executive director of the Twin Cities nonprofit, Transit for Livable Communities, explains why she views bus and train service, and bike paths, as sustainable alternatives to our traditional car-centric methods of travel.)

Katie Jones, a recent engineering graduate from Purdue University, moved to Minneapolis because one of her qualifying criteria was having quality public transportation in the area. She uses a combination of biking and buses to get around the Twin Cities. Many of her friends have left Indiana — a poor state in terms of transit — for places like Portland, Minneapolis and Chicago.

Tim Brausen, a small business owner in St. Louis Park, says that his employees depend on Twin Cities public transit to get to their jobs. His wife takes the express bus to downtown Minneapolis, and his stepson takes public transit to the University of Minnesota. “A well-designed and efficient transit system is the mark of a successful society,” says Brausen.

St. Paul resident and veteran Vaughn Larry rides public buses seven days a week, works three jobs, and budgets for his transportation needs. He says that no one is subsidizing him.

Metropolitan Council Chair Susan Haigh says the Twin Cities transit system ranks fifth nationwide, calling the system efficient, as riders here pay a higher portion of the cost than other riders do.

Matt Kramer, President of the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, said that University Avenue between Minneapolis and Saint Paul this summer will be “dusty, dirty and vibrant — dusty and dirty because of the (Light Rail) construction, and vibrant because the State of Minnesota, Saint Paul and Minneapolis are making a capital investment in economic success no different than the capital investment we make in highways and bridges.”

Sixty-six percent of Twin Cities public transit riders are going to work, and 14 percent are going to school, says Todd Klingel of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, who spoke in late March on behalf of transit funding.

Twin Cities transit rider Jo Taliaferro rides the bus often, and loves it. She says she can ride the bus wherever she wants to go, and get there when she wants. If public transit disappeared in Minnesota, Taliaferro says she’d leave the state … “and you don’t want that.”

Barb Thoman, executive director of the Twin Cities nonprofit, Transit for Livable Communities, says that public transportation deserves state investments as much, or more than, roads and highways. She favors expanding — not cutting — bus and light rail train service in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, calling them sustainable alternatives to our traditional methods of transport.

Jacob Wheeler

In addition to shooting videos for The UpTake, Jacob Wheeler is a contributing editor at the progressive political magazine In These Times, publishes the Glen Arbor Sun in his native Michigan, and authored "Between Light and Shadow," a recent book about the Guatemalan adoption industry. Wheeler's stories have appeared in such magazines as the Utne Reader, Earth Island Journal, Rotarian and Teaching Tolerance magazine, and newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle and Christian Science Monitor. He speaks fluent Spanish, German and Danish.

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