The sight of an empty city bus or one with only a handful of riders can be galling to Twin Ports taxpayers. At the same time, a bus-route system that’s hard to navigate and that doesn’t always go where and when they want is frustrating to bus riders.
Over about the past year — and following an earful of a 2017 survey of transit users — Twin Ports transportation officials have gone about doing something to resolve both.
With data-driven analysis, computer modeling, input from the community, and the advice and guidance of national experts, they’ve produced what they call a “Better Bus Blueprint.” Its completely redesigned route system, built from scratch, promises to be easier to use; to take more riders to the places they want and need to go more often, including, especially, work and school; and to better utilize taxpayers’ dollars.
Public comments on the plan are being gathered through Monday. With support from the community that it deserves, the Duluth Transit Authority can then move — pedal to the metal — toward implementation next summer.
“To say we’re excited about this plan is a pretty big understatement. It’s not often you can draw a group of professionals and stakeholders together for something like this,” Duluth Transit Authority General Manager Rod Fournier said in an interview last week with the News Tribune Opinion page. “This really is a historic type of change for the DTA. We’ve done a lot of really good things over the years. That's reflective in what our peers say about us.
“But as we all know, communities are changing, and I think it’s incumbent on transit to follow those changes, to make sure that everybody has that access and equity that is so important to jobs, to education, and to shopping. I’m thrilled beyond words to present this.”
“This is,” added Adam Barnum, the project’s manager from Connetics Transportation Group of Chicago, “a bold vision for the future.”
Barnum and his firm have been helping communities large and small realize bold visions for public transit and for improving people-moving for more than 15 years. They were tapped last summer to work on the challenges and opportunities here in Duluth-Superior.
In all, about $250,000 are being spent on this undertaking, with $200,000 of that from federal sources interested in improving public transit and $50,000 from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. The improved system is expected to be cost-neutral.
Its highlights include 14 consolidated and/or simplified bus routes instead of the current 33 routes, too many of which are underutilized; a 25% increase in weekend bus service, recognizing that many bus riders work evenings and weekends, especially coming out of the pandemic, which altered work and other life patterns; pickup times as frequent as every 10 to 15 minutes along the busiest corridors, including the Miller Hill Mall area, the University of Minnesota Duluth, West Duluth, downtown, and Lincoln Park; and a new continuous route running the length of the city from Gary-New Duluth to Lakeside.
The identified “busiest corridors” cover an estimated 60% of existing bus riders and 50% of Twin Ports jobsites, the analysis determined. The overall system will continue to serve 98% of existing bus riders, 37% of whom will see faster ride times; only 1.5% will have longer bus rides to their destinations, according to the modeling. The better-thought-out routes also will reach 16,000 potential new riders and access 14,000 more places of employment.
“We had to take a blank-slate approach and wipe everything clean,” DTA Director of Planning and Grants Chris Belden said to the Opinion page. “I think now we’ve got a really promising new network. … This makes for a much more attractive service to more people. … We’re also going to appeal to a broader segment (of the population) by really reconfiguring our system to get people to where they want to go the most.”
This well-thought-out, thoroughly considered plan — informed locally and guided by national experts — can be embraced by taxpayers and others in the Twin Ports.
And it stands to be easier to use for bus riders — and for those who now may become bus riders.
ABOUT THE PLAN
To learn more about the Duluth Transit Authority’s proposed new bus routes, including an interactive map that allows comparisons to existing routes, and to comment on the plan, go to: