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New DTA bus route connects families to Lincoln Park Middle School

Students walk home along a new path after school at Lincoln Park Middle School in Duluth in 2012. The Duluth Transit Authority will be testing a bus route to the school this August. (File / News Tribune)1 / 2
Lincoln Park Middle School is viewed from the I-35 freeway while it was under construction in 2012. The Duluth Transit Authority will start a bus route to the school in late August to test whether it is needed, as some residents have said. (File / News Tribune)2 / 2

Jamila Johnson has walked the winding, uphill road to Lincoln Park Middle School several times, and it's not easy, she said.

"For the kids who are running late and miss the school bus, that's a big walk up the hill," said the mother of two enrolled at the school. "Think about the elderly; some of them have guardianship. They can't walk up that hill."

So Johnson is pleased with the news that the Duluth Transit Authority will begin service to the school Aug. 27 with a test route.

Mayor Emily Larson, having heard repeatedly the concerns of community members about the lack of public transportation directly to the school, asked DTA general manager Dennis Jensen if the DTA could help. Turns out, it could. The DTA was happy to help, and was able to tap into money from the state meant for unmet service needs, Jensen said. If ridership justifies it, the route will remain.

School employees and families have lamented the lack of DTA bus service up the hill since the school opened in 2012, citing it as one the reasons for absenteeism and a reason that kept some families from conferences and school events. Johnson, for example, said it has meant she has missed some events. One in four Lincoln Park school families don't have personal transportation, school officials say.

A bus route stop is at the bottom of the nearly three-quarter mile drive up to the school. A shorter, quarter-mile sidewalk route is designated from the dead end on Devonshire Street, but some have complained it starts in a remote location.

"We know the hill presents a real challenge," said Aaron O'Leary, a Lincoln Park special education teacher who is part of a group that worked on the issue. Add in the ice and snow that comes with Duluth winters, he said, and traveling uphill becomes harder.

Duluth school district facilities manager Dave Spooner said the road was never meant for foot traffic, and said the sidewalk gets used. However, he said, the route "will positively impact the students and parents that may have barriers to attending school or school functions, and is a welcome addition."

The DTA could come in handy for kids who don't live far enough away to qualify for school transportation, but still might live too far to walk when running late or in bad weather.

But it's not just a physical barrier, Larson said. Families in every community have difficulty with institutions such as schools, some based on historical trauma.

"We want to make it as easy as possible for people to go into schools," she said, and not add to the "emotional distance" some might feel. "We don't want to put artificial or real roadblocks that make it harder for people to get comfortable going to an important place and space for kids' learning."

Larson said she sees the Lincoln Park neighborhood as a litmus test for how the entire city is faring.

"It's a really important neighborhood to me," she said. "It's a big deal to have that (bus) connection."

Three other new routes begin Aug. 27. The Lincoln Park route extends through downtown to London Road, East High School and Lakeside.

To learn more

For information on the route see duluthtransit.com or call (218) 722-7283.

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