By Emma Pachuta, Director of Programs
Over this summer, TLC-Smart Trips staff hosted community conversations, tabled at large-scale events, and collected 251 surveys to learn about what residents want and need along the Riverview Corridor in Saint Paul. We had a goal of engaging diverse populations along the corridor and hearing about specific barriers and concerns from different communities. Knowing that a study is underway to determine the best option for possible transit improvements between downtown St. Paul and the MSP airport and Mall of America, we’ve worked for more than a year to:
1. Learn from community about what they want to see along the corridor.
2. Educate folks about this project and make sure they are aware of real vs. perceived information that has been circulating along the corridor related to mode/route.
3. Connect with supporters along the corridor and make sure they know how to get their voice heard.
Key Findings from Our Riverview Corridor Community Survey
Our community survey was designed to capture people’s needs and priorities related to improved transit and infrastructure without asking residents specifics in route or mode. We hoped that hearing people’s priorities could help our organization understand what we should help residents advocate for during the process to select a Locally Preferred Alternative for the Riverview Corridor through to final construction.
We aimed to engage with residents who frequently travel around the West 7th area and elsewhere along the corridor. Over 70 percent of the people we spoke with had strong ties with the area, which included: being a resident of the West 7th, Highland Park, and downtown Saint Paul neighborhoods; working along the corridor; owning a business along the corridor; frequently shopping/running errands; or having family in the area.
The demographics of the people we spoke with matched the demographics of these neighborhoods: about 75 percent of respondents identified as white or European American and 25 percent identified as a person of color. This 25 percent included African America, Asian, American Indian, African, Hispanic/Latinx and Other Ethnicity, with the majority identifying as African American or Latinx.
Seventy-three percent of survey respondents (or 3 in 4 people) said Yes, they would like to see better transit service that connects downtown Saint Paul to the Mall of America.
Additionally, when asked about top priorities of features for this project, over 90 percent of respondents checked “Transit that is reliable and on time” and “More/better sidewalks and safe ways to cross the street” as either Important or Very Important, and 84 percent of respondents identified “More green space to use” as Important or Very Important.
Through surveys, one-to-ones and community conversations, we heard several common themes:
- Forty percent of the people we surveyed had not heard of the Riverview Corridor project before our speaking with them. Those that knew about the project had misconceptions that it was only a light rail project and that many people were against it. Once people heard that bus rapid transit (BRT) and streetcar options were on the table, they were interested in learning more about it.
- Overall, transit riders supported increased transit along the corridor and/or felt the current route 54 bus served their needs well. Most people did not have strong opinions between whether they preferred BRT or streetcar. Less than 10 percent of community members who responded to our survey were opposed to increased transit along the corridor.
- People cared most about pedestrian connections, even more than the transit project itself. It was communicated that crossing the street and accessing the bus stops was a significant barrier. This was especially highlighted in conversations with seniors, but was also a theme throughout conversations.
- Residents were confused about why a “better transit connection” did not necessarily mean a faster transit connection. People are interested in seeing a faster connection to get them from point A to Point B.
- Residents were unsure what this project would mean for the 54 bus. Most thought it was an either-or decision, where streetcar or BRT would replace the bus connection and were not aware that the 54 would continue and support enhanced service.
The results of our community survey and other community engagement work has strongly informed TLC-Smart Trips’ own stance on the Riverview Corridor project. We look forward to continuing to work with community members to shape this exciting project as it moves forward!