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Audio: A Community Roundtable on Reimagining the Future of Transit after COVID-19 – Part One

Move Minnesota’s Theresa Thompson Nix, Theresa Nelson, and Finn McGarrity sat down with Wes Smooth at Twin Cities Radio Network for a roundtable discussion on the intersections of transit and other issues concerning the broader Twin Cities community.

During the segment of the program, I.C.A.R.E., which stands for “Increase Community Awareness Responsibility and Education,” the speakers share personal stories about their understanding of transit, and speak candidly about what needs to change to create a transit system that serves the needs of community.


Listen now to Part One of this conversation. A transcript is also provided below.

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Thank you to Wes Smooth and Twin Cities Radio Network for hosting Move Minnesota and our community partners!

Stay tuned for Part Two of this roundtable conversation where we will introduce community leaders who participated in past community conversations.

Get connected with Theresa Thompson Nix at for more information about this conversation and future community conversations.

Transcript of Part One

Wes Smooth (WS): We are back with our very special guests, and Move Minnesota is on the move! As I mentioned before the break we’re going to talk about transit but not just about riding transit, but there are so many other components of transit that you guys uncovered during the course of that work that you guys have been doing over the last eight months. I have to mention that we do have another guest with us. Please identify yourself for the listening audience. 

Finn McGarrity (FM): Hey, this is Finn McGarrity. I am a community organizer here at Move Minnesota.

WS: So then, I think we’re throwing this over to Theresa Nix first is that right, Finn? 

FM: That’s correct, yes. 

Theresa Nix (T.Nix): Thanks, and Finn, we’ll be introducing you a little bit more in this segment too. In the last segment we were talking about ways of getting around and how there’s been a reluctance for people in terms of getting out there and switching modes of transportation. Because we’re thinking about routes that may have changed, people are just not used to being indoors all the time, or people are changing their work schedules, etc. or even having a discontinuation of work or care. And so it’s really changed the way people are getting around. So, we want to talk today about cost-effective ways to get around. Transit is a cost-effective way, and there’s also different modes: there’s scooters, there’s bike-sharing, there’s walking…but transit really matters in the conversation, and I want to talk more about why it matters because a lot of people might not be aware of these specific intersections of how transit affects the economy, how transit affects many things, and so T.Nelson would you be able to speak about why transit matters? 

Theresa Nelson (T.Nelson): Transit matters because transit is a public good for all people. It is the way that moves the most people through our infrastructure on our streets. And so if we want to be efficient in moving people, transit really needs to be our first choice in how we do that, and how we use our streets. Also, I would just add, as Theresa mentioned, transit is the way that we can reduce single vehicles on our streets and on our roads – and those [single vehicles] produce the most emissions in our transportation system and in our world. So, we’re really looking for people to understand our streets in a way that [makes] transit move fast and efficient first, and help people access transit. And so having walkable streets allows people to access transit in safe ways and just in general makes our communities more walkable. 

FM: Yeah, I think you listed a bunch of reasons why transit is so important. I personally got involved in this work [because] as a lifelong transit rider I’ve seen those connections through my personal life. Currently I’m a student at Minneapolis College and the bus is what gets me to school everyday, the bus is what gets me to work. We know that access to reliable, affordable, fast transportation can determine whether or not someone is able to have access to employment, whether or not a grocery trip is going to take 35 minutes or two and a half hours. So, how well – and the health of our transit system – really has so much implication on so many other areas of folks’ lives, and that’s why we do the work that we do. 

T.Nix: I think what you said, Finn, is really important. Your perspective as a student, you know, and getting around on campus. I’m just curious, if I can ask what you’ve seen in terms of people adjusting to their new schedules…etc. on your campus? 

FM: Everything is remote right now, but from my perspective as a Minneapolis College student, we know that a lot of folks at Minneapolis College don’t have reliable computer or internet access – they are still needing to get to campus to print off documents or complete assignments, or access the food bank at our school. And many of those folks don’t have cars too. So, again, having access to reliable mobility options and transportation options makes a big difference, even in this remote environment. 

WS: When it comes to this whole transportation thing, now that we have the pandemic and we have the civil unrest, so they call it, what have been some of the major challenges? Because I’m looking at the alternatives and such but what have been some of the major challenges surrounding these transit issues? 

T.Nelson: Sure, well I think one of our challenges is that we understand that transit will be here for the long haul, right? However, during this time with people and concerns about social distancing, and [being] concerned about what is happening on our streets, we have found some people have decided not to use transit. So, one of our large concerns is that people will be driving more…and we have seen a lot more accidents on our streets with pedestrians this past summer, and that’s a challenge. We don’t want to see that as a future because we really believe people are all going to return and be using transit in the future, and we just want it to be fast and accessible and help us get to all the places that we need it to. 

T.Nix: I agree with you. Those are challenges that I’ve seen. I am curious if listeners on the Twin Cities Radio Network Facebook page have challenges themselves and are thinking about ways that they’re getting around and what they’re seeing. We’d love to hear about what people are seeing in the streets, accessing places they need to go. I’ve also been talking with different community people, residents, leaders, and people are feeling a little bit of concern about this winter weather. Now, were you all ready for the snow that hit us so early? Were you ready? I wasn’t ready. 

T.Nelson: Not ready at all. 

T.Nix: Not ready at all. So, you know people have even been celebrating their holidays a little earlier and it’s just a whole shift. 2020 has definitely been a shift but we’re seeing that shift play out in the streets. 

T.Nelson: Yeah, and I would say from one of our community conversations that we had a nice discussion about our current transit, and some of our current transit routes. Some of them are difficult to access right now, and so we had a conversation about [the possibility of] circulators and what a circulator does in communities. Not that we’re advocating for this or not – the discussion was about how do you access everything within your community so you can get the things that you need in a 15-minute trip. That was an interesting conversation, and it really brought up a need that people are having for [trying to] access what they’re looking for. 

WS: Interesting, for me, I mean I’m not on public transportation as much, but I do see a lot more value in public transportation right now – even more so than [when I was] growing up. I grew up catching the bus. But I see a lot more value and a lot more convenience in public transportation because right now a lot of cars have disappeared. Driving has been a lot easier on freeways and they have not been as congested because – I thought that is because people are just not coming out – but what I have found out is that some of these people are actually taking public transportation. Have any of you found that? 

T.Nelson: Yeah, there’s definitely a lot of people still taking public transportation. 

WS: What do you guys think? I have not complained about the traffic in the past 8 or 9 months. I’ve not had a solid complaint. Barring the construction, I have not had a complaint about the traffic. 

T.Nix: Well, you know, I was thinking about what you were saying and it is true. People have definitely changed how they’re getting around. One of the ways that really changed was during one of the nights of the uprising/unrest here in the Twin Cities area. You know, the train was shut down and I think it really helped people understand the magnitude of what was happening. I think Metro Transit wanted to make sure that there was safe operation, but also it really was shining a light on access…and what about our essential workers, what about people who just need to get from point A to point B, what about families who are depending on that day and night service? And so that really put our region on a kind of a standstill moment and really made us look at why transit matters. Why it’s so important. I think it’s clear that projects like construction and those types of things do create jobs, and they also remind us that there’s a couple seasons in Minnesota – which is construction and winter – but these projects need to keep happening to keep our system moving and serving everybody who needs service. So, that’s some of the things that I was thinking about. Finn, do you have other thoughts? 

FM: I mean, yeah, I think you’re exactly right. And Theresa Nelson, you also had some very good points. It’s interesting – we’re living through, the past 8 to 9 months, multiple points of disruption in our society and [how it’s affected] our daily behavior. We’ve seen this behavior change in all sorts of different ways. [For example] The parkways around the lakes being shut down to open more walkways for pedestrian access. I know this past summer, I tried to take my bike in for a tune-up and the bike shop was totally packed because people were just getting out and getting on bikes. So, it’s interesting to reflect about how behaviors and shifts have occurred over the past 8 to 9 months. 

WS: Hm, I know that you guys are in the work that you did, and I was reading [about your work]. There was a lot of tangible solutions that came to head and some suggestions as well. Who’d like to talk about some of those? 

T.Nelson: We’re in the workings of it right? And that’s what these discussions are about. What those solutions are and for – depending on what we’re framing, right? We’re talking about how we are reimagining our streets and how they serve transit better and how they serve people better…some solutions or some ideas that we’ve been discussing with people are what are some policies that need to shift in the future to make public spaces and our streets more accessible and create more kinds of uses? For example, they need to take away some of the barriers to accessing parking spaces for restaurants or for cafes. So that’s a way that’s relooking or reimagining our streets. We need to consider when biking season come in the full, like next spring, and people are moving around again after a long winter, do we have more protected bike spaces to other public spaces so that people really can move…and families can move on bicycle and feel safe and all together and be able to ride together. So those are some of the actionable steps that we’re looking at. But we’re also in that time where we’re looking to the community to come up with some of those answers. 

T.Nix: Absolutely. You know, even in the course of the disruption that has happened, T.Nelson, one of the things that I also saw and experienced was the fact that with back door boarding, transit was basically free for a short period of time. Where people weren’t going through the front door but accessing through the back. That was really helping people out. That was an unexpected outcome of a change in how bus operations were going with their policy. I think that’s something to think about as well. What would it look like for people to have free transportation for everyday life? You know, other countries are doing this already and so it’s kind of cool to think about what could be possible [here].   

WS: I’m going to jump in because I know that it’s time for a break but, Finn, when we come back we want to get to some of the things that you had in those conversation circles: food, security, housing, youth. Those sort of things. When we come back, I’d like to touch on those sort of things for a minute. If that’s okay with you all, Finn? 

FM: Yeah, absolutely.  

WS: Alright, well we’re going to jump to a quick break and then we’re going to come back. You are tuned in to the Twin Cities Radio Network’s community show, I.C.A.R.E., sponsored in part by Move Minnesota. We will be right back. 

[End of Part One]