AP NEWS

Mobility hubs will contribute to mode shift

April 2, 2019

Do you doubt whether the Destination Medical Center initiative can actually achieve its goal of shifting commuter practices?

Lisa Clarke says she understands.

“People want to get from Point A to Point B and they want to rely on some type of transportation to get them there,” the DMC Economic Development Agency executive director said. “Right now, we are a very car-centric city, because you can rely on your car because you’re the driver.”

DMC planners estimate about 70 percent of commuters use their own vehicles to get to work, while 10 percent take public transit.

DMC goals are to increase the percentage of transit usage to 30 percent as the downtown workforce grows. With that, the share of single-occupancy vehicles heading downtown daily would decrease to 43 percent, even if the overall number of vehicles climbs.

Convenience is expected to be the key to making that change.

“If you can provide a reliable, safe, comfortable, frequent service that is better than driving, getting into congestion, parking several blocks away, walking in the cold — if you can provide a better experience, then people will make that shift,” said Patrick Seeb, the DMC EDA’s director of economic development and placemaking.

That’s the thinking behind a pair of transit villages — also referred to as mobility hubs and transit hubs — being proposed near Graham Park and at a Mayo Clinic parking lot along Second Street Southwest.

The goal is to create places where people using multiple modes of transportation — from walkers to single-vehicle users — can access a dedicated bus service making frequent trips to and through downtown. Incorporating spaces for working, living and shopping near those hubs, it is thought, will encourage their use.

Rochester Deputy City Administrator Aaron Parrish said the dedicated bus service, commonly known as a circulator or Bus Rapid Transit, would make frequent pickups, meaning users would likely be only minutes away from a bus ride at the hubs and designated downtown stops throughout the day.

“The biggest thing we hear from people is, ‘We’re happy to use it, but we can’t wait an hour between pickups,’” he said.

The convenience of frequent trips, along with added hub amenities, is likely to make the transit villages more attractive for daily commuters, which could spur a switch in practices.

“It’s really about how you create a better experience, because in the, end it will be about market demand to make this work,” Seeb said, noting the increasing cost of parking downtown will also play into market trends.

That shift, however, isn’t likely to happen overnight.

EFFORTS MOVING FORWARD

The city is currently in talks with Olmsted County and Mayo Clinic officials regarding access to the proposed sites.

Olmsted County commissioners have been largely supportive of the transit villages concept, incorporating a hub option in the master plan for Graham Park, as well as approving a planned $5.6 million purchase of the nearby Seneca Foods canning facility, which closed last year.

Mayo Clinic has been a bit more reserved as discussions begin regarding its parking lot, which currently provides 900 employee spaces. The lot is connected to downtown by shuttle-bus service.

Stephanie Hurt from Mayo Clinic’s parking and transportation operation said the clinic is excited to start the conversation but noted details need to unfold before a commitment is made.

“I don’t think enough specifications have been defined,” she said.

The city has prepared an early vision for the Second Street Southwest site, which includes affordable housing and commercial space, but has not defined how that would be accomplished.

Parrish said it’s too early in the process to tell. Setting terms for accessing the properties and seeking federal funding are the next steps for the city.

Rochester Public Works Director Chris Petree agreed work must be done to define plans for both potential sites.

“This is still in the very preliminary stages,” he said. “We need to kind of enter into the circulator study that we are doing.”

He said the further study will help hone options and ensure the vision is realistic.

“While we’ve identified these two as our primary locations, if I was to look into a crystal ball, I would say that’s the direction that we’re going, but they could also shift slightly or something could change as we have those conversations,” he said.

During a recent meeting of the DMC Corp. Board’s executive committee, Chairman R.T. Rybak acknowledged that some of the work will require a delay in order to access funding.

In addition to waiting to hear about a potential federal grant, state DMC and related transit dollars hinge on private development, which is the catalyst for releasing up to $411 million in state funds.

“We couldn’t build out the whole transit vision we have over 20 years today because those tools aren’t there,” Rybak said. “It’s tied to private investment.”

So far, $9 million in state DMC infrastructure funding has been released. If an estimated $261.8 million in 2018 private development is confirmed by the state, nearly $13.5 million in state funding could be seen this year.

Federal and DMC dollars aren’t the only potential funding sources, however.

“In the end, there will be probably a half a dozen sources of funds that will have to be assembled to do this type of transit project,” Seeb said, noting county transportation funds and tax-increment financing will also benefit the project. “There will be a whole range of sources that will have to come together.”

WORKING TOWARD A SHIFT

Until the funding is obtained, the work toward an eventual mode shift among commuters remains.

The city launched a transportation management association, Arrive Rochester, last year in an effort to raise awareness of transportation options.

Adam Arnold, the program’s manager, said interest has been growing in the past six months, with 14 employers signing onto the service and more than 115 individuals logging their decisions to use transportation options.

The logged options include 520 shared rides, 1,784 transit trips, 611 walking trips, 1,158 biking trips and 175 telecommutes, which combined for a reduction in more than 28,000 miles driven and an estimated 1,295 gallons of gas saved.

Arnold said the larger goal is showing people that options exist, which is why Arrive Rochester plans to launch Car Pool Week later this month. It will challenge community members to consider sharing rides for potential incentives.

Hurt said Mayo Clinic already offers a similar service with a parking benefit, but the city’s largest employer is working with Arrive Rochester to add opportunities.

While she said carpooling is one of the least-used programs at Mayo Clinic, she said she thinks expanding opportunities, which will include the ability to connect with employees from other businesses, could offer benefits.

The challenge, she said, is not creating conflicts with the new effort.

“We are trying to do everything to promote Arrive Rochester without confusing it with our program,” she said, noting Mayo Clinic has been a pioneer in transportation options out of necessity in recent years.

Arnold said Arrive Rochester is hoping to build on some of that knowledge and opportunity while also paving opportunities for transportation alternatives that will eventually benefit the city’s transit hubs and dedicated bus routes.

“For us, it’s building an understanding and getting people comfortable with different ideas,” he said. “Then, over perhaps two or three years, starting to see change happen.”