Kim Green has seen firsthand the need for better food choices in Duluth's Lincoln Park neighborhood.
"I was grocery shopping for my daughter, who lives in Lincoln Park, because there was no affordable, healthy food for people who live in the Lincoln Park area," said Green, who lives in the city's Harbor Highlands development.
She would take a Duluth Transit Authority bus to get groceries for her daughter and her three children, Green said. But the buses aren't designed to accommodate groceries. Passengers have to carry their grocery bags on their laps.
That will change on Sept. 1, when the DTA launches a four-month trial with a bus specifically designed to bring residents from two western Duluth neighborhoods to the grocery store and back.
The bus will make 14 stops on Tuesdays at the West Duluth Super One, said Heath Hickok, marketing director for the DTA.
A few details still have to be worked out, said Patrick Miner, store director for Super One. "There are city ordinances and fire lanes we have to accommodate," he said.
Dubbed the Grocery Express, the bus will contain bins in which passengers can place their groceries. The bus will travel along Superior and West Third streets in Lincoln Park and along Grand Avenue in West Duluth. It will leave Grand Avenue on Central Avenue, swing around the Super One and take Raleigh Street back to Grand Avenue.
Then it will travel south, passing through the Morgan Park neighborhood via 88th Avenue West and Idaho Street before returning to Super One and then Lincoln Park.
The bus will stop at all DTA bus stops along the route. Rates will be the same as for regular buses, Hickok said. Drivers won't be responsible for helping passengers with their groceries or resolving disputes about groceries.
News about the grocery bus has created a buzz in western neighborhoods, said Matt Traynor, a community organizer for CHUM and a leader of the Fair Food Access Lincoln Park campaign.
"It's been insane," Traynor said. "The worst feedback we've gotten is ... 'Can't you do that in our neighborhood?' "
First things first, Hickok said.
"I think there's a demand in the community at large for this type of service," he said, but it hasn't been determined whether it will be expanded into other areas of the city.
He noted that the initial service is to two neighborhoods identified as "food deserts" - low-income areas more than a mile from a full-service grocery store.
Super One is working with the DTA on ideas about marketing the program, Miner said.
"It's a little bit of a collaboration," he said. "We want to make sure we can come up with something to market it successfully and make it robust."
Hickok said he's "optimistic personally" about the grocery route getting significant use.
So is Green, who has been involved in the effort to create a grocery bus for Lincoln Park for two years. Green said she took an informal survey, talking with DTA passengers on western routes about the Grocery Express.
"It was phenomenal how happy people were to hear about it," she said.
Cheryl Olson, who lives in Lincoln Park, said she found residents enthused about the idea of a grocery bus during an earlier canvass of the neighborhood.
Currently, residents who take the bus to shop at Super One can get no closer than Central and Grand avenues, Olson said. That entails a walk of several blocks in all kinds of weather, and then a wait at the bus stop.
Few residents of the Midtowne Manor high-rise apartment buildings next to the "Can of Worms" interchange have cars, she said. Staples are sold in a store on the ground floor, but they're "ridiculously expensive," she said. Convenience stores in the neighborhood also are pricy, Olson said.
Many residents in the rest of the neighborhood also lack vehicles, she said.
"The Grocery Express ... will greatly help these people," Olson said. "It will bring them closer from their homes to the grocery store."
Neighborhood canvassing and phone calls are planned to help get the word out about the Grocery Express, she said.
Traynor said he is hopeful it will be heavily used.
"The more people that ride it, the bigger case we have with potential sponsors," he said. "We're pretty confident."
So is Green.
Asked if she thought the bus would take off, she responded: "Oh, yes. If it doesn't, I would be totally surprised."