Sandra Pearson, a grandmother who lives in St. Louis Park, has had it with the people who do drugs at Uptown Transit Station.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Pearson while she was waiting with one of her grandchildren for the bus to go to the Walgreens on Hennepin, just north of the transit station. “My grandkids shouldn’t have to be subjected to that.”
Shortly after, Mariah Barnes walks up to her. “Excuse me ma’am, there’s people smoking in there,” Barnes told Pearson. Pearson notices her grandchild looking at a telescope inside the waiting area, which the grandchild appears to have accessed through a pane devoid of a window. Pearson runs in to snatch her grandchild, and her grandchild runs towards her once she yells at them.
Metro Transit has closed most of the indoor waiting areas at Uptown Transit Station since March over safety and comfort concerns, in part because of people using drugs, overdosing, or who have otherwise been harmed. Although they plan to renovate the station, it won’t happen anytime soon, and they still don’t have a timeline on when they may deploy the security officers they say they need to reopen the waiting areas in the meantime.
The agency’s security contractor, Allied Universal, has run into staffing issues. In May, the Metropolitan Council, the agency that runs Metro Transit, entered into a contract with Allied to patrol six of their transit stations. Met Council staff have since increased the amount of transit stations Allied needs to patrol to seven. They patrol two stations today: the Franklin and Lake Street Blue Line stations.
Metro Transit Police Chief Ernest Morales III said at the Met Council Committee of the Whole meeting last week that security officers present at the Lake Street Blue Line station have transformed it into one of their “model stations.” When asked to elaborate on what a “model station” is, Morales said, “Imagine the improvement you saw the last time you were out there [during a ride-along while on assignment with the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder]. I would say it's even much better than that.”
The staffing shortage means they don’t plan to deploy security officers to Uptown Transit Station anytime soon. However, they are working to deploy security officers to I-35W and Lake Street station and the Brooklyn Center Transit Center in the coming weeks. The I-35W and Lake Street station had around 200 daily boardings between March and June of this year, compared to the 1,600 or so daily boardings at Uptown Transit Station in the same period.
“We want to resolve the Lake Street corridor before moving on to other areas,” said Morales on prioritizing I-35W and Lake Street station over Uptown Transit Station.
Barnes would like to see some authority figure address drug use at Uptown Transit Station.
“If they had security, more Metro Transit Police, if they could do that, stop people smoking drugs,” said Barnes as two people in the nearby Uptown Transit Station waiting area smoked something other than cigarettes. “I think the people who do drugs are less likely to do them with people around.”
Not everyone thinks having security officers is the key to making Uptown Transit Station safe.
“I don’t really know what security officers could offer,” said Natasha Hultmann while waiting for a bus to head to the Southdale DMV. Hultmann doesn’t come to Uptown Transit Station as much anymore.
“I notice a lot of people are using it as shelter and I don’t want to disrupt them and don’t want to wake them up and have a PTSD flashback or something,” Hultmann said.
Hultmann believes every agency, regardless of their function, has a responsibility to ensure everyone has safe and secure shelter. “I think [everyone] should have access to more safe places to rest.”
Meanwhile, Metro Transit plans to make some changes to Uptown Transit Station.
“We are planning a complete remodel of this facility, including updates to the HVAC system and improvements to lighting and security features,” said agency spokesperson Drew Kerr. “As part of these efforts, there may be changes to the configuration of the indoor waiting areas.”
The design process won’t start until 2024, with construction beginning in 2025. Hennepin Avenue reconstruction may require Metro Transit to detour service away from the transit station anyway, rendering the station completely inaccessible by transit.
“Due to construction, there will likely be lane shifts on Hennepin Avenue that result in temporary, northbound boarding/drop-off areas being established,” said Kerr. “At some point in 2024, these stops will close and a detour will be established. Routes 21, 23, and 612 will also be detoured away from the transit station during road construction.”
At least one change to Uptown Transit Station is certain: as part of the Hennepin Avenue reconstruction and Metro Transit’s E Line construction starting next year, the agency plans to build a shelter for northbound buses. Part of the Hennepin Avenue redesign includes a two-way bikeway that will go where northbound buses stop today. So the northbound bus stop is being redesigned to be a “floating bus stop,” similar to the one serving southbound Route 18 at Blaisdell Avenue and Lake Street.
Metro Transit is also considering activating its transit stations in more creative ways, similar to how New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and the Bay Area have permitted retail shops, performers, arcade games and even book clubs to utilize the public space. Although Metro Transit currently has an incidental use policy that allows transit center uses that “complement” transit, Kerr, the Metro Transit spokesperson, said some uses on agency property may require approval from the Federal Transit Administration.