In 1998, the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority and the Federal Transit Administration began a major transit investment study in Saint Paul’s Riverview Corridor. This study was intended to review opportunities to improve transportation in one of the most heavily traveled portions of the East Metro Area. However, the Riverview Corridor had significant opposition in two of the key affected neighborhoods and only the chair of the Rail Authority was willing to provide political leadership on the project.
At the beginning of the process, transit modes under consideration included light rail transit, bus rapid transit, transportation systems management, and no-build.
Seizing the Opportunity
Davis Communications Management was retained by the rail authority to design and manage a public involvement program that would not only engage the designated leaders of neighborhood groups but also bring previously under-represented people into the process.
The three-year communications program included:
• Focus groups to determine the transit preference and values of under-represented individuals;
• A random sample survey to test the ideas gathered in focus groups;
• Development of a ‘community sounding group’ to determine interest in transit improvements;
• A targeted media relations campaign to educate and elicit comments from the residents and businesses in the corridor;
• A newsletter and Internet strategy to provide audiences with updated information on the progress of the study;
• A speakers bureau and traveling display designed to educate audiences and elicit feedback;
• A public affairs outreach program to assure that policy makers and their advisors understood the goals and objectives of the study, the preferences of the diverse audiences, and the transit needs of the corridor.
After two years of aggressive outreach, policy makers in Ramsey County and Saint Paul had a clear picture of the transit needs and desires of the Riverview Corridor Community. They clearly saw that there was little support for Light Rail Transit and that the business community, neighborhood leaders, and city planners had varying levels of support for bus rapid transit. Most importantly, key constituencies had a higher level of understanding of the transit options for the corridor and were able to articulate informed opinions.
Armed with this information, along with a potential grant from the state of Minnesota, the Saint Paul City Council, the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority and the Metropolitan Council all endorsed the development of Bus Rapid Transit in the Riverview Corridor.