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Metro Transit ridership rises, but still below pre-pandemic level

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The Twin Cities, like many other major metro areas across the U.S., are confronting lower ridership and crime concerns.

ST PAUL, Minn. — For Kristen Ahart, public transportation is part of the routine.

Each morning, she takes the bus from St. Paul to Minneapolis for work, and then returns on the opposite route at the end of the day.

“I have noticed that it is packed every morning on my way to work, which I personally love,” Ahart said. “It definitely brings a sense of community back to the bus instead of being a solo bus rider.”

Indeed, Metro Transit ridership numbers by light rail and bus have increased significantly since the start of the pandemic, hitting a peak of nearly 150,000 average weekday rides on all modes of transportation during the busy fall season in 2022. Currently, in early 2023, those numbers sit around 120,000 per weekday, a Metro Transit spokesperson said.

However, according to Metro Transit’s year-to-year ridership graph, usage numbers remain much lower than pre-pandemic totals. For most of the summer and fall of 2019, and even parts of early 2020 before COVID hit, total weekday rides hovered near or above 250,000. 

With lower ridership, Metro Transit cut back on some bus service this winter, but at the same time continues to move forward with major expansion projects. That includes the Gold Line, which will run from St. Paul to Woodbury starting in 2025. The $500 million project received another approval from the St. Paul City Council on Wednesday and will be the first bus route in the state to primarily use bus-only lanes. Metro Transit also recently opened the new “D Line” last year, enhancing service from the Mall of America to Brooklyn Center.

“Our hope is that in 2023 the [higher ridership] trend continues,” Metro Transit spokesperson Drew Kerr said. “Bus rapid transit lines like the Gold Line, the D-Line, are a big part of that. What we’ve seen in these corridors, is a recovery that’s faster than what we see in other corridors with regular route bus service. On the D Line corridor, ridership has increased about 50 percent compared to this same month last year, December ’22 to December ’21, and we are expecting that to be the case on future BRT corridors as well.”

Meanwhile, Metro Transit is also confronting issues of crime near or at transit stations, including two recent shootings in St. Paul and Minneapolis.

“We have what we call a safety and security action plan — a 40-point plan that describes all the actions we’re taking to improve public safety on transit,” Kerr said. “Everything from recruiting and hiring more police officers. That’s probably the biggest thing we need to do right now is getting more people out on the system.”

Many other major cities across the U.S. are also dealing with issues of transit crime. In New York City, the NYPD began flooding transit areas with hundreds of officers on overtime beats, in an effort to improve public safety. 

Whether it’s the perception of crime, general pandemic trends, or other factors, the nation’s largest public transportation systems are clearly struggling. 

“Some of the transit systems are limping back to the pre-pandemic levels, but none of them are close to what they were in 2019,” said Dr. P.S. Sriraj, the director of the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois Chicago. “Many of the transit entities, at least in the large urban areas that I’ve been tracking, they are hoping they will hit 80 percent of the 2019 levels by 2025. So, that tells you a little bit about the mindset within the industry as to what is happening with ridership.”

Sriraj said that ridership trends have declined as far back as 2014, around the time that ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft became more widely available.

“But the pandemic really bottomed out the ridership,” Sriraj said. “Transportation is at a crossroads, if you will. The future of transit has yet to be written.”

Watch the latest local news from the Twin Cities in our YouTube playlist:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=videoseries



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Kare11

Grow with KARE: Three types of Lavender

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GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — When deciding which type of lavender to add to your garden, the choice will likely be between three main types commonly found at garden centers. All have flowers that are gorgeous and make beautiful garden plants, but beyond that, each variety has special and specific traits.

English Lavenders: Generally sweet and used for culinary purposes. Everyone has different tastes, of course, but generally, the varieties to used for cooking are from the Lavandula angustifolia family, known as English lavender. Any English lavender cultivar will be flavorful. Try “Royal Velvet,” “Folgate,” “Melissa,” “Munstead”, or “Lady.”

French Lavenders: Also edible but isn’t usually used for culinary. They have a higher oil content which can make the lavender taste soapy to some. That trait makes French Lavender wonderful for distilling into essential oil. The stems are also longer, which are great for cuttings.

Spanish Lavenders: Not hardy enough to thrive outside in Minnesota, but you may find them at garden centers as topiaries. These will not grow back in our northern climate if planted in the ground and should be treated as an annual.



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Rainbow Health abruptly shuts down

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According to the organization’s website, Rainbow Health served 2,366 Minnesotans last year alone.

MINNEAPOLIS — A nonprofit organization that’s long served the state’s LGBTQ+ community abruptly closed Thursday, shocking both its staff and clients.

In a statement posted to Facebook on Thursday, the organization announced the closure of Rainbow Health, saying:  “Due to insurmountable financial challenges, we can no longer sustain our operations.”

A similar message was shared with staff hours before the organization – that serves thousands of people across the state – closed its doors.

“We were told that Rainbow Health was insolvent and would be dissolving as of 5 p.m.,” said Ash Tifa, the program coordinator for Rainbow Health Legal Services.

According to the organization’s website, Rainbow Health served 2,366 Minnesotans last year alone. But workers say they work with tens of thousands of people within a marginalized community.

“Our organization serves thousands and thousands across Minnesota, with everything from case management, to therapy and telehealth, a pharmacy, housing support, rent checks, grocery money,” Tifa said, adding: “We’re the State’s largest AIDS-service organization.”

Tifa noted that the move comes just days after the organization’s CEO resigned following a unanimous vote of “No Confidence” by those workers who are represented by SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and Iowa. And while the workers remain deeply concerned for their clients, they also have questions and concerns for a board they feel didn’t keep them in the loop or fulfill their contract.

In a statement posted to SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and Iowa, the union stated: “Despite contract language in the workers’ union contract as members of SEIU Healthcare MN & IA that requires 30 days advance notice of layoff to union-represented employees, workers found out just hours before the organization said it was closing its doors forever, with no explanation of what happened or what is next for the workers, clients or community.”

Amid all the turmoil, advocates are also urging clients to consider other community resources for care. 

In a statement, Shannah Mulvihill with Mental Health Minnesota, said:

“I am saddened to hear about the closure of Rainbow Health, which helped serve important needs in our LGBTQIA+ community. Unfortunately, many nonprofits are experiencing significant funding challenges right now, especially those providing direct services and care. Many Minnesotans who had relied on Rainbow Health may not know where to turn for help, but there is support available during this time.

Mental Health Minnesota’s Warmline provides peer support every day from 9 AM to 9PM if you need to talk, and the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is open 24/7 if you’re struggling.

Minnesota Warmline (peer support)

Call: 855-WARMLINE (855-927-6546)

988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

The Trevor Project (LGBTQ support)



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Business owners oppose proposed homeless shelter in Uptown

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The shelter would offer medical respite services to homeless people. Local business owners and residents plan to oppose at the Planning Commission’s Aug. 12 meeting.

MINNEAPOLIS — For the last four years, Mattisse Johnson has operated #FACE, her day spa in Uptown, with the door locked.

“Because all day long we have people off the street who try to come in,” she said. “We have had people we’ve let in, thinking they’re here for good reasons, and they’ve stolen from us. In the middle of the day.”

Mattisse says she wants her business to stay at the corner of West Lake Street and Colfax , because she’s a believer in Uptown — and its recovery.

“I love Uptown because growing up in Minneapolis, this was the dream,” she said.

But a proposed homeless shelter right across the street has business owners banding together in opposition. 

“I think it would be great somewhere else. I just don’t think it belongs on a business corridor,” Johnson said.

“One more thing that’s going to impede the recovery of uptown,” said State Farm insurance agent Lawrence Thomas.

Thomas, whose office is right next door, feels the same as Matisse — that homeless services are needed but that the location is not appropriate.

“And I feel like these conversations, if they’re uncomfortable, I get it. But they need to be had,” Thomas said.

The proposal before the Minneapolis Panning Commission is from Lakeshore Care Inc, a company formed in March. 

Its project description says they plan to “offer temporary, supportive care for individuals recovering from illnesses or medical procedures.”

Lakeshore Care told KARE 11 News they have a medical team with decades of experience to offer respite care.

They want that particular location for proximity to healthcare providers, accessibility, and community integration..

And they plan to address safety concerns in part with security patrols and not allowing clients to “loiter or wander aimlessly”

In this week’s meeting several people spoke out.  Local business owner Andrea Corbin from the Uptown Association and Lynnlake Association says residents are weighing in as well.

“It’s everybody that lives and works in this area,” Corbin said.

The next step in this process is the Minneapolis Planning Commission will hold a hearing on August 12.



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