Ababiy: Increasing access to public transit can help fix the Dinkytown food desert

A new proposal from MSA would expand the Campus Zone pass and potentially make U-Passes free, which would help combat the Dinkytown food desert.

Morgan La Casse

Morgan La Casse

Jonathan Ababiy

The MSA Infrastructure Committee has been very productive during my time at the U. They moved to expand the hours of Gopher Chauffeur and pressed Parking and Transportation Services hard about bus problems during the winter season. It’s a relatively rare bright spot in an institution with a lot of infighting and drama. 

The Minnesota Daily recently reported they have another promising idea in the works. MSA is reportedly working with legislators to extend the Campus Zone pass to the Prospect Park and U.S. Bank stops, meaning students can ride free between these stops. The proposal is somewhat of a stalking horse for the larger goal of making U-Passes free for students, but this is a nice first step. 

This proposal, and the U-Pass’ overall goal, is to increase access to public transit. There is value in making commuting for students easier, and it lessens the pressure in getting to class quickly while living in Dinkytown or Como. This part is pretty obvious.   

But the other less obvious, just as important benefit that needs to be talked about is that a Campus Zone or U-Pass expansion would be an excellent way to combat the Dinkytown food desert. 

About 5,878 people live in the three Census block groups that roughly comprise Dinkytown, but there is no full service grocery store for the neighborhood. We have a Target Express, but beside being a useful place to pick up toothpaste or another box of pasta, it’s a mega-convenience store. There isn’t access to much fresh produce, which is much healthier to eat than processed food.

But, there are plenty of options for full-service grocery stores around Dinkytown. 

The neighborhood itself is surrounded by a ton of options. North of Como is Cub, Fresh Thyme is east of campus right off the green line, south of campus via the blue line is an Aldi, and west of campus downtown there is a Trader Joe’s. 

The trouble is, as many students are broke or don’t have cars, these places can be hard to reach. I would walk a mile and a half to go to a cool coffee shop, but not while carrying two paper bags of groceries whose glue begins to come undone at any weight larger than a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter. Throw in the cold and these grocery stores might as well be in St. Louis Park, if you’re walking. 

This is where an expanded Campus Zone pass or U-Pass could be of good use. It unlocks access to more stops of the Light Rail and also the real gem of the Twin Cities — its buses. The 2, 3, and 6 bus lines each stop in Dinkytown and within two blocks of a grocery store. A free ride to Trader Joe’s or Fresh Thyme is nice, but the walk back to Dinkytown from the East Bank station would still suck. That isn’t true if you’re taking the 3 or 6. 

The Dinkytown food desert doesn’t look like it is resolving itself anytime soon. So, it’s good that MSA is being proactive about expanding transportation access. It’s the next best thing. After all, it’s a crime that it’s so hard to get to Fresh Thyme’s Wednesday deals on fruit and avocados.