ROCHESTER — Noise from the daily 4:30 a.m. shuttles along West Center Street in the Kutzky Park neighborhood is expected to end next month.
Mayo Clinic has been running large shuttles about half a mile of residential street from 4:30 a.m. to nearly 8 p.m. since 2019 in an effort to move staff between Saint Marys Hospital and a 936-space parking lot on Second Avenue Southwest.
Center Street neighbors were told Monday that shuttle traffic will be diverted to Civic Center Drive until 6 a.m. and between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., beginning March 21. The change adds approximately one mile to the route.
“We are happy to provide some relief,” said Randy Schubring, director of regional government engagement at the Mayo Clinic.
Neighbors have been asking for a change for two years, after the Mayo Clinic increased the number of buses to reduce the number of passengers on each to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19.
Frustration with residents came to a head in November, when a group of them approached the Rochester City Council and demanded action.
While the city ordinance limits authority over private operation, the Mayo Clinic quickly increased bus capacity and reduced the number of shuttle rides by 25%.
He left nearly 200 daily trips in the neighborhood, which still started at 4:30 a.m.
With buses being sent to Civic Center Drive for 7.5 hours a day, 66 trips will no longer cross the neighborhood from east to west. The detour further north on 11th Avenue and the return south on 16th Avenue will add approximately one hour to each round trip.
Stephanie Podulke, who helped lead the charge for change, said she was happy to hear that fewer buses will be turning left near her home at the intersection of 11th Avenue and West Center Street, but she said more needed to be done.
“I’m not completely satisfied, but I’m thrilled,” she said after receiving advice from the Mayo Clinic.
She said the move did not address concerns later in the day.
“In the evening, people want to enjoy their porches and their yards, and that’s difficult with the buses,” she said.
Stephanie Hurt, president of the Mayo Clinic’s support services division, said commutes peak in the afternoon between 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. as Saint Marys staff return home. After that, the number of larger bus journeys decreases until shortly before 8 p.m. At that point, smaller buses, and possibly vans, take over, which lasts until nearly 1am.
She said the system will continue to be monitored.
“We know our shuttles right now and some of the changes we’ve made don’t alleviate all of the neighbors’ concerns,” she said.
A lingering concern – noise from diesel buses before 7 a.m. – could be the subject of a city noise study.
Rochester City Engineer Dillon Dombrovski said last week that public works staff plan to conduct a noise study to address complaints because the city’s ordinance prohibits excessive volumes before 7 a.m. in the morning.
Hurt said Mayo Clinic shuttle service provider Groome Transportation was instructed to reduce practices that contribute to noise by slowing turns and accelerating at a slower pace, but neighbors said the noise continued to be a problem.
“They have dash cams, as well as measurements of how fast someone is accelerating, and all of that has been reviewed,” she said.
The noise ordinance is the only existing control the city has over Mayo Clinic shuttles, as no fees are charged to employees using the service.
Fixed-route buses must be allowed if they charge for the service, and at least two council members said they would like to consider whether free services should require the same oversight.
“Fundamentally there is a flaw in the system,” said council member Mark Bransford, who represents the section of the Kutzky Park neighborhood that includes West Center Street.
Council member Kelly Rae Kirkpatrick agreed and said she would like to see an ordinance for all large buses on city streets.
“We have to approach it from a noise, air pollution and even consumption perspective,” she said.
Podulke, who also served as Olmsted County Commissioner, said such action was necessary to protect his neighbors in Kutzky Park, as well as other neighborhoods that may be affected in the future.
“If the current bus orders are not changed, the council could set a precedent that any entity can send as many buses as they want to as many neighborhoods as they want at any time of the day,” she wrote in a Feb. 8 letter. to the city council.
Hurt said she and other Mayo Clinic officials plan to continue discussing concerns with Kutzky Park neighbors and city officials.
She said those efforts include working with the city as it develops a bus rapid transit system that will connect to Mayo Clinic’s Second Street Southwest parking lot and eliminate the need for shuttles to connect the site to the Saint Marys Hospital.
The rapid transit system was originally intended to operate in 2025, but proposed changes could delay operations by a year.