A Simple Change to Make the Walk to Transit Feel Within Reach

Sometimes, it's a lot quicker to walk to transit than you might think. Photo: Matt Privratsky/Streets.mn
Sometimes, it's a lot quicker to walk to transit than you might think. Photo: Matt Privratsky/Streets.mn

Sometimes, high-quality transit is within a walkable distance, but people just aren’t used to walking to the train. New signage in St. Paul, Minnesota, funded through a local challenge from a national foundation, aims to help people get over that mental block and walking to the nearest Green Line station.

The light rail line opened in June 2014, connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul with rail transit for the first time in more than 60 years. But many of the neighborhoods that the line runs through, along University Avenue, have struggled with disinvestment during that time. The new light rail line is a big improvement in access for those neighborhoods, but it’s only one part of the solution.

With that in mind, the Knight Foundation and The Saint Paul Foundation launched the Green Line Challenge, a three-year, $1.5 million grant program that challenges local residents and organizations to come up with small ideas that “tap into the potential of the Green Line” and impact the surrounding neighborhoods. Each year, about a dozen winners are selected and given small grants from an annual pot of $500,000.

Matt Privratsky, who lives a little over a mile south of the Green Line, often found himself taking the bus rather than walking to the station, which sits on the other side of Interstate 94 and near a group of big-box stores. He writes about the problem in Streets.mn:

I quickly realized that part of the challenge might be that the walk to the train feels much farther and more daunting than a mile… As I was riding the bus one day (rather than walking) I saw a tweet about the Knight Foundation’s Green Line Challenge and decided to submit a roughly 100 word application for a project that might help.

His idea was to install signs throughout the neighborhood telling people how long it takes to walk to the nearest Green Line station and giving directions there. After working with representatives from community councils and the city, about 175 signs were designed, fabricated, and are in the process of being installed at a cost of $23,250. The entire project, from the time it was awarded funds to getting signs on the street, took a little over a year.

Privratsky said the Knight Foundation deserves credit for making it easy for people to suggest ideas through the Green Line Challenge. “The super simple first application means more ideas make it through the first phase,” he said. “It’s a very unique approach.”

Ultimately, though, Privratsky has a simple goal: “I hope the signs help you #WalkTheGreenLine,” he wrote.

  • Kevin Love

    What a great idea! So great that it seems logical to take it a step further and put cycling times as well.

  • JoRo

    And maybe even a step, step further, bike-transit times to get to major destinations (e.g. downtown St. Paul – 30 mins cycle+transit).

  • com63

    I always wish google maps had multi-modal transit directions. Train+bike share directions would be great in places with bike share. Train+Uber directions would also be nice.

  • Jake Bloo

    I love this so much.

  • mckillio

    This is great. If you’ve ever visited a city and try to take transit, figuring out how to get there can be really frustrating.

  • thielges

    There has been a similar program in San Jose, CA in recent years though not limited to transit destinations. Cheap temporary signs indicate walking and biking distances to the grocery, library, theater, etc.

    The signs provoked an unusual negative reaction from some people who were upset that the city spent money placing the signs even though the signage program was privately funded. Then there were some people who seemed to be annoyed by a reminder that there are alternatives to driving, as in “Who are you to tell me how to get around?” That reaction surfaces often when active transportation is discussed. Some people are offended by the mere suggestion of alternatives and interpret them as being handed down by authorities trying to control lifestyles.

  • Wilfried84

    Google doesn’t have bike share stations on their maps, not in New York anyway.

  • davistrain

    Reminds me of the stop on the Cleveland RTA Red Line that one just about needed a pirate’s treasure map to find. This was in 1977, so they may have improved “wayfinding” since then.

  • davistrain

    I call this mindset the “I’ll give up my car/SUV/pickup/minivan” when they pry my cold, dead hands from the steering wheel” club. (my first wife was a lifelong member)

  • xplosneer


    Requires some setup, but so nice when complete.

  • war_on_hugs

    The apps CityMapper and Transit do this, if they’re available in your city.

  • Jake Wegmann

    Your story from San Jose is a good reminder that “no good deed goes unpunished.” Just about ANY intervention in public life, no matter how well-intentioned or harmless, will always draw criticism from somewhere. There must be some sort of deep psychological explanation for why at least some people are driven to go out of their way to complain about things, no matter how harmless.

  • thielges

    Part of it is general suspicion and dislike of government. Many had incorrectly assumed that the city was responsible for erecting the signs.

    I hear you about anything drawing complaints. We see that frequently with architecture. Rarely is any building universally accepted. There will always be somebody who complains.

  • Drew Levitt

    Do you have a functioning implementation of OTP that you can share? I’ve always meant to play with it but never have time…

    It does seem like it should be pretty easy (relatively) to set up an OTP-based web service.

  • Mike Jones

    What a boring sign. I’d ignore for aesthetic reasons even if I wanted to catch the train!

  • xplosneer

    I have a running version in localhost with every Bay Area provider, but I’m unsure of how to open it up on the web without exposing my computer.

    I also need to find the script that automatically pulls the gtfs feeds and rebuilds the graph.

    There’s also the reBART app, which is good if you’re not wandering too far away from BART.

  • Brian

    That is simply the problem of the loud overshadowing the good. There have always been loud voices claiming they represent the whole when really they do not. Let good ideas be the compass and to heck with the loud.


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