The Twin Cities will get hundreds of new or improved bus shelters next year, thanks in part to a major federal grant awarded to Metro Transit this week.
The $3.26 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration is helping fuel a massive increase in shelter spending next year. Metro Transit expects to install 150 new shelters, replace between 75 and 100 shelters and enhance 75 existing shelters with amenities such as light, heat and more transit information.
This spring, a Star Tribune analysis revealed that hundreds of high-ridership stops across the Twin Cities had no shelters. That's despite agency guidelines that urban stops with more than 40 riders qualify for a shelter.
The agency currently owns about 800 shelters spread across the Twin Cities. More than 200 of them are located at stops with ridership below qualifications, however.
Altogether, $5.8 million will available for shelters in 2014-2015 — compared with normal budgets of less than $500,000. The remainder of the funding is attributable to a state legislative appropriation, Green Line light rail funds, another federal grant and Metro Transit matching funds.
Many of the new shelters will be placed in areas the Metropolitan Council has identified as having high numbers of minorities and high rates of poverty. These are areas where more than 50 percent of residents are people of color, and more than 40 percent are low-income.
Before receiving the grant, Metro Transit was planning to install a number of new shelters along Fremont and Penn avenues in north Minneapolis — two of the highest ridership corridors with very few shelters. Other Minneapolis targets included Franklin Avenue and Lake Street.
Agency spokesman Drew Kerr said transit officials are still determining where the new federal funds will be allocated.
"We're going to now turn around and come up with a plan that allows us to engage with the community and determine what they would like to see us do with that," Kerr said. "And also do a more thorough evaluation of the sites that we have identified as possible locations for new shelters."
Metropolitan Council Member Adam Duininck, who represents part of Minneapolis, said he'd like to see the money targeted toward areas that have seen a lack of investment or where shelters have not kept up with ridership. That includes some of the highest ridership corridors in north and south Minneapolis, he said.
He added that more thought should be given to signage as well.
"At [a recent transit conference], it … came up that Minneapolis and St. Paul have a system that isn't as well-signed and well-advertised as a lot of other systems around the country," Duininck said. "Since we've always been in a resource-scarce environment, now that we have some extra revenue to think about what we do with it, I think it's just a good strategic use of the money."
A number of factors can limit the placement of new shelters, including sidewalk space and the topography of the street. Building overhangs serve as improvised shelters for some stops downtown.
Many of the replacements are likely going to be aimed at the 153 CBS Outdoor shelters recently inherited by Metro Transit. Some have complained that those shelters in particular are poorly maintained, and data show that their placement often does not align with ridership.