Twin Cities transportation a cinch for the able-bodied

Cars, buses, bikes, cabs, limos, skateboards, walking.

Not a problem for those of us with strong legs or a fat wallet.

Quite a different story for people pinching pennies and not so stable on their pins.


That’s the situation for south Minneapolis resident Delores Alvous, 82, getting help from Nokomis Health Seniors volunteer driver Zan Ceeley. They’re on their way to a health clinic check-up for Delores, a weekly event.

The Twin Cities response is a transit network with Metro Mobility for people with disabilities (at a cost of about $41 million a year) and Transit Link, the seven county-wide dial-a-ride service (about $6.6 million a year), where a majority of the customers are older folks.

The problem is these mostly affordable services are stretched, and still cost a bit of money – up to $8 for a round trip.

Then, there’s often a wait.

And some of the service is curb to curb, not door to door, so there can still be a walk. Not always a workable equation for people who need assistance.


Nonprofits have stepped in, offering van services and supplementing with volunteer drivers. But, as one transportation coordinator says, vans are expensive to own and operate, and volunteers are short lived, typically donating their time for about three months before moving on.

Not the case, by the way, for Zan Ceeley, who’s hung in there for two years and is still going strong.

Our Twin Cities living habits hinder easy answers to transit.

As one East Coast transplant notes, Minnesotans are culturally opposed to density. We like our elbow room.

The result is a very large metropolitan area, and not much density anywhere except the core cities. Not very cost efficient for transit.

Instead, we have a robust car culture with a highly developed and extremely expensive to maintain road system.

One solution is to have more older residents live closer together, and that’s happening. But survey upon survey shows folks prefer to stay in their home as they get older.

Let The Cities know your ideas for ways to help our older population get around.

  • Ray Marshall

    All we need is another $500 million a year. That should solve it for a few years. Of course I don’t have any money. Do you?

  • Honestly, there are a lot of young people who look with envy on some of the senior housing developments out there. Survey after survey has also shown that the Millennial generation prefers city living to the suburban environments they were born into. For people like me who just can’t get into any sort of exercise regime, it’s nice to have a landscape where exercise can happen just by walking to work, to school, to the store, to the restaurant, and so on.

    My hometown was only about one mile wide when I was growing up. When I was in high school in the 1990s, I basically walked from one edge of town to the other, and it only took 20 minutes. The grocery was conveniently located in the center of town, and I could walk past it on my way home to pick up a bottle of pop. In the Twin Cities, there is a bit of a problem that many “cities” in the area are simply townships that decided to incorporate a few decades ago. Since townships are typically squarish, running 5 or 6 miles on a side, there are many cities of 25 to 36 square miles that barely have any more population than my hometown. It would take hours to walk from one edge of town to the other. Minneapolis, with its population of 380,000, has an area of 58 square miles, yet the city has plenty of problems finding money to pave streets and pay for schools. How will suburbs with far less density fare in the future?

    It’s not just about being transit-friendly — we also need cities to be financially sustainable in the long run. Building densely helps with that a lot. It doesn’t cost much more to build a street for five houses than it does for a street with 50 apartment units. Done correctly, density reduces the need for cars, which means residents can save thousands of dollars per year. That means they can spend more money on other goods and pay more taxes (whether sales tax on those goods or other taxes), benefiting the economy.

    There are some suburbs that are figuring this out. Burnsville has been retrofitting a new town center, Heart of the City, built around the principles of New Urbanism, but yet making use of pre-existing commercial and residential areas. I visited there a few weeks ago, and was surprised to discover that they actually run some buses on weekends (both Saturday and Sunday), which is a rarity outside of Minneapolis and St. Paul proper.

    If you live in a suburb that doesn’t have a downtown of its own, it’s time to ask why that is — particularly for places that are entirely “built out”. Suburbs often go into crisis mode when they find out that there isn’t much more land to build on. Decades worth of poor land-use decisions mean that they try to cram dense housing into leftover bits of low-value land, which is entirely the wrong way to go. Density should happen on high-value land, where higher costs get spread out among more people.

    Density also doesn’t need to mean a city full of skyscrapers. The densest census tract in Minneapolis is just southwest of the I-94/I-35W interchange around Stevens Square Park, and only one building there is more than 4 stories tall. Even if you look at the densest whole city in America — Union City, New Jersey (just across the Hudson River from Manhattan) — you’ll discover that the place is mostly filled with structures 5 stories tall or less, even in the densest parts of that city. It’s definitely not the prettiest place in the world, though they’d probably do better if the place was a consistent 4 or 5 stories, which could open up more land for parks and open space.

    That’s another thing about density — you can actually end up with far more and far better open space if development gets clustered together. People who really do want low-density housing can also get better options if others are living in higher-density areas.