Airing of Grievances 2015

I Gotta Lot Of Problems With The 32

It seems like the Festivus season comes earlier and earlier every year. Some times it seems like we’re barely past Arbor Day before you see aluminium poles everywhere.

A legit Festivus Pole, currently on display in my parents living room.

My family tries maintain all the long-standing Festivus traditions, but the most important of all is the Airing of Grievances. In that spirit I would like to propose an annual Airing of Grievances on something in my urban living that has been under my skin all year long. Thus I present:

Airing of Grievances 2015: MetroTransit’s 32 Route

But First, Some Clarifications…

For starters, I want to stress as much as I can that I have specifically avoided any critique of the MetroTransit drivers of the 32 Route. Drivers have a helluva tough enough job without the likes of me giving them hell on a blog read by nearly dozens of people. I’ve found the regular drivers of the 32 route to be nothing but pros, making the best of (what I am about to explain is) a crappy route. In fact, just recently, one of the drivers (somehow) spotted me half a block away on a dark December night and waited the necessary minutes for me to arrive at the stop. A Festivus Miracle!

Second clarification; While I try to keep my musings aimed towards promoting urban living, one shouldn’t be pollyannish about something they love. When you care about something, you must be even more willing to see the faults and love it as a complete picture, warts and all. Thus I do think there is value in a bit of Airing of Grievances.

Basics of the 32 Route

The 32 lays as a large trident across the northern inner ring suburbs. The main route connects Robbinsdale Transit Center in the west with Rosedale Mall (Roseville) in the east. Two main forks swing southwest towards Golden Valley and northwest to Brooklyn Center. It’s earliest departure is from Robbinsdale at 6:15am and it’s latest is 8pm from Rosedale. It also provides coverage on weekends. On each day, the 32’s run at approximately half hour intervals.

I Gotta Lotta Problems…

So now that we have the basics of the 32 down, I propose that like a Greek tragedy or a George RR Martin character, the traits that define the 32’s entire purpose for existence are also the seeds of the riders’ lamentations.

The main reason for the 32 to exist appears to be threefold:

1) Both Robbinsdale Transit Center & Rosedale Mall represent what I would call ‘Beta’ Transit Hubs in the Twin Cities (compared to Alpha Hubs: Union Depot, Target Field & Mall of America). Generally Beta Hubs can be defined as locations that have some appeal on their own…

2) …But largely benefit from being just far enough away from the Alpha Hubs while still being in the centro* thus able to generate their own transit centers of gravity. There are any number of routes zooming off from these Beta Hubs, some intersecting with more robust routes, others simply covering necessary gaps.

3) Thus with one Beta Hub north-northwest of Downtown Minneapolis, another due north of the ever-growing Midway corridor, and no substantial hubs directly between…it only makes sense to have a standard route connecting R to R.

But while the lack of what isn’t between R & R explains why the 32 exists, it is the reality of what lies between that explains much of the 32’s problems.

Geography

Many people with far greater amounts of student debt than I have studied in-depth the topic of bottlenecks in regards to transportation. My knowledge on bottlenecks in transportation lies with experiencing the 32 on a daily basis.

Scroll back up and look at that map again. Numero uno bottleneck on there is the Mississippi River. Now it’s tough to blame MetroTransit for this one. If we must blame anyone it should be Pig’s Eye & Snelling for establishing communities along the river, or better yet we must blame the last Ice Age for shaping the water basin of eastern North America the way it has. The river causes bottlenecks for numerous routes in the Twin Cities, why should the 32 be any different? Because it is one of several bottlenecks.

Beyond the Mississippi River, other bottlenecks include:

  • Active railroad tracks
  • A couple of major highway on/off ramps
  • Cutting across major city streets like University & St Anthony
  • Plus, all the usual bottlenecks that appear along any bus route

This means that the further along one picks up this route, the greater likelihood of the bottlenecks building up and resulting in some significant delays.

My connection point is on the far East end of the 32 route (just to the west of the bridge over 35W), thus my greatest issue is at the end of the day. A recent example involved me checking the departure time before departing work: 5 minutes, just enough time to walk the approximate city block distance to the stop. I arrive, check my phone again: 2 minutes. After the two minutes pass I check again and…amazingly it has pushed back to 16 minutes!

I only have an ‘after’ shot, no ‘before’ image. One never knows how fickle the bus gods will be today.

This sudden jump in time is not uncommon for the 32 route. Transit App gives one a general sense of where your bus is or has been in the last few minutes, and one can regularly see the bus icon sitting for vast amounts of time at one of the bottlenecks I mentioned above. This experience happens most common for me at the end of the day, however I also notice it at the beginning of the day when the eastbound 32 is delayed enough that it misses it’s ‘turn ‘n burn’ departure at Rosedale.

Let’s put these delays in a different perspective. I work in a warehouse with approximately 75 employees. Ten employees take public transit every day, to and from work. Another five take transit a couple days a week, or transit for coming to work but a ride home. So upwards of 20% of our warehouse employees are dependent on the 32 staying crisply on schedule. And whether you identify more with the employer or employee, both sides have potential to lose money if 32 delays make people’s arrival times unreliable.

The biggest anecdotal evidence I have for my rant comes from my coworkers and other 32 riders I have chatted up while huddled at the bus stop, scanning the distant road for a bus that should have arrived ten minutes ago. No one has a positive word to say about the reliability of the route.

“As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be a better way…”

So, I suppose I should be a bit more fair and offer some constructive with my criticism. What could be done to make the 32 route less of a slog? (Less of a slog for everyone, because I’m sure drivers get frustrated with delays, and while I’m always pleasant I’m sure MetroTransit phone assistants are tired of hearing me call in about it.)

There are tons of wild ideas we could toss around:

-Drastically change road infrastructure along the 32 route to aid the bus and only the bus

-Specialized shuttles for every chunk of the route divided by a significant bottleneck

-Convince all the various parties to scrap one of the upcoming light-rail or BRT projects to relocate along the 32 route

And I’m sure many people could come up with wilder proposals.

But there is one idea that I believe has merit, would greatly smooth over many of the issues riders encounter and is likely the cheapest of solutions…

Increase the 32 to every 20 minutes

That’s it. That’s my big solution.

Riders (especially those grappling with connection routes) would have far greater flexibility. Drivers would feel a little less pressure. And riders more spread out over buses would reduce on/off-boarding time.

So thank you for indulging me in this holiday tradition. I don’t want all my posts to be so ranty, but sometimes it’s nice to let off a little steam.

Happy Festivus Everyone!

*central + metro = centro