Transit, More than a Ride: Enriching Community Voices in the Central Transit Plan

by: Karyssa Jackson, District Councils Collaborative of Saint Paul and Minneapolis
June 28, 2012

Dependable and efficient access is essential for the success of the Central Corridor LRT and for the collective benefit of all those who live, work and play in the area. One of the primary methods of accessing the future Green Line will be by bus. The 2012 Central Transit Study conducted by Metro Transit will result in a plan to integrate the new LRT service with bus service to create a more efficient transit system.

With support from the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative, District Councils Collaborative of Saint Paul and Minneapolis (DCC) partnered with Metro Transit to support and enhance existing community engagement around the study. The DCC’s Trusted Advocate Pilot Project, which is adapted from Seattle’s trusted advocate land use planning process, is a creative community outreach model that contracts with existing community leaders to conduct intensive outreach to specific communities and geographic areas in the Central Corridor.

Nine individuals with strong ties to the Central Corridor area have been brought together as trusted advocates to engage their communities in discussions about how they use public transit, where they go, and how often they go there. They have also been gathering valuable information about perceptions regarding public transit and ways to improve the existing services. The project depends heavily on the advocate’s strong commitment to community. Trusted advocates have focused on gathering feedback from underrepresented groups who may not typically participate in traditional planning processes, including communities of color, new Americans, the Disability community, and low-income families and individuals. The nine trusted advocates are: Suado Abdi, Hadi Abdibudul, Mee Cheng, Sulekha Diriye, Anne Gomez, Henry Keshi, Sheronda Orridge, Tim Page and Kjensmo Walker.

Nearly 50 engagement sessions were held in the community between February and May of 2012. This outreach involved over 900 community members that likely would not have been participated in the transit study otherwise. By removing cultural and language barriers that may have kept Metro Transit planners from learning the transit needs and desires of these individuals, the trusted advocate project has been a valuable and effective way to collect feedback and engage communities. John Levin, Director of Service Development for Metro Transit said of the project, “We are pleased with the progress of the Central Corridor Transit Service Study so far and very grateful to the DCC for their creative approach to supporting Metro Transit’s planning work. The Trusted Advocates have significantly extended the reach of public engagement and their input has informed the study in a deep and meaningful way. Most important, the Trusted Advocate Project has changed the way that Metro Transit conducts public engagement and we hope it is has increased the capacity and interest of underrepresented communities to take part in future planning projects.” An interim report of the project will soon be available on the DCC website.

The data collection phase of the Central Transit Study is now over and Metro Transit has released the concept plan. There is one public hearing remaining on June 28, 2012 and public comments will be accepted until July 9. Additionally, the trusted advocates will continue their work by bringing the concept plan to their communities and equipping community members with information on how to provide comments. The advocates will also gather feedback themselves, and submit their own comments toward the concept plan.

For more information about the Central Transit Study visit http://metrotransit.org/central-transit-study.aspx. For information about the Trusted Advocate Project visit http://dcc-stpaul-mpls.org/special-projects/transit-more-ride-trusted-advocate-project or call DCC staff at 651-528-8165.