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Fargo High Rise residents decry MATBUS changes

Rick Kleinschmidt, 64, a resident of the Fargo High Rise, is worried about the changes to the Metro Area Transit bus system route due to the floodwall construction near the building. Photo by David Samson / The Forum1 / 4
Paul Wylie is concerned about the well being of the residents at the Fargo High Rise if the MATBUS route is changed due to floodwall construction. Photo by David Samson / The Forum2 / 4
Kathleen Steffan talks about the floodwall construction that will take away parking spaces at the Fargo High Rise. Photo by David Samson / The Forum3 / 4
A MATBUS pulls up to the Fargo High Rise on Friday. Photo by David Samson / The Forum4 / 4

FARGO - Fargo High Rise resident Rick Kleinschmidt, 64, says he’ll be trapped if the Metro Area Transit bus system discontinues service directly in front of the apartment complex where he lives.

Floodwall construction on Second Street South will change a MATBUS route that now drives up to the front entrance of the Fargo High Rise Senior Center. MATBUS planned to move the stop anyway, and even after construction is over, they have no plans to move it back, officials said.

Floodwall construction and concerns from MATBUS that the stop on Route 16 is causing systemwide delays mean residents likely will be forced to walk two blocks to the new bus stop on Second Street South after Sept. 26.

The planned construction also will require residents with cars to park farther away.

Construction crews working on the floodwall may use the high rise’s 100-space parking lot for a staging area. With few parking alternatives, residents might be forced to park across the street and downhill at the Farmers Market lot.

“All the construction has been planned around providing access to the high rise as best as possible,” said Mark Bittner, Fargo’s director of engineering.

Communication between the Fargo Housing and Redevelopment Authority and the city hasn’t been timely. The authority learned of the plans to use the parking lot for a staging area and the bus stop move on Aug. 6. 

Hardship for residents

Residents say parking even a few hundred feet away from where they do now will be a hardship.

“I won’t be going for grocery runs anymore,” said Kathleen Steffman, 64.

Steffman, who has a handicap placard for her car, said she won’t be able to make it across the street and up the hill with groceries if she is forced to park across the street.

Fargo Housing and Redevelopment Authority executive director Lynn Fundingsland said about 70 percent of the high rise’s almost 300 residents suffer from a physical or mental disability. All of the residents in the high rise are either elderly and/or mentally or physically disabled.

Paul Wylie, 54, a resident of the high rise and a community organizer, said if MATBUS moves the bus stop it will be an immense hardship for a large portion of residents.

“They’re punishing people who are disabled and elderly,” he said. “It’s a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.”

Julie Bommelman, MATBUS’s Fargo transit administrator, said the move is unavoidable.

“We’re not denying them access to public transportation,” she said.

Bommelman said the system’s paratransit and senior buses, which serve riders who need assistance, will continue to pull up to the driveway.

Many of the residents can’t afford those services, though. Paratransit buses cost $3 each way, while the normal bus service costs $1.50 or 75 cents for seniors 60 and older. Paratransit services also require advanced scheduling.

The high rise houses some of the poorest residents in the city, with the average annual income being $12,000, Fundingsland said.

“The bus really isn’t accessible to them unless it’s in front of the door,” he said. “Walking a block in the winter is not possible for many of them.”

Buses too big

Bommelman said no other buildings have buses pulling up to their front doors, and doing so causes delays. Bus delays are caused when emergency vehicles or delivery vehicles park in the round driveway in front of the high rise.

The buses can either get stuck or delayed. Bommelman said this causes riders to miss transfers and bus drivers find it hard to maneuver the driveway.

Some drivers have even run into the planter in the middle of the driveway, she said.

Wylie countered that buses rarely get stuck in the driveway and the delays are exaggerated. He also refuted Bommelman’s claim that buses don’t stop in front of any other doors. Some buses stop in front of other buildings, including a few on NDSU’s campus, he said.

Another issue with the bus service to the front of the high rise is the length of the buses.

Bommelman said the only buses that can get into the driveway are 30-foot buses. MATBUS has switched to longer buses, and Bommelman said the 40-foot buses don’t fit in the driveway. MATBUS has seven 30-foot buses that are nearing the end of their lives. It will buy additional 40-foot buses to replace them.

Fundingsland said the Housing and Redevelopment Authority will remove a planter in the driveway and widen the driveway if needed.

He said other than widening the driveway and removing the planter, there isn’t a contingency plan to ensure the buses come to the front of the building.

He hasn’t given up on that option and plans to bring it up in future discussions with MATBUS and city officials.

Bommelman said ridership at the high rise isn’t incredibly high. A three-day survey by MATBUS revealed that only 21 riders used the bus stop in front of the high rise. Also, 42 high rise residents qualify for paratransit services, but only 35 rides were recorded using the service in the month of July, she said.

Possible lawsuit

Wylie said the Housing and Redevelopment Authority has been fighting for its residents, but said the other parties involved including the city, MATBUS and private developers are not keeping high rise residents in mind.

“We understand this project has to go forward, but they don’t have to run us over,” Wylie said.

Floodwall construction on Second Street was supposed to start in late September, but there were delays and the start time has been pushed back to early spring.

The issue is set to go before the Fargo City Commission on Tuesday. Bommelman, Fundingsland and Wylie said they would be in attendance.

Wylie said if the city doesn’t accommodate high rise residents, they are prepared to sue MATBUS to force it to continue coming to the front of the building. He said he has contacted the American Civil Liberties Union.