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Posts Tagged ‘bus’

Non-Portlanders, bear with me — this is a local issue, but it’s probably the sort of thing that may come up in your area too (or perhaps it already has).

Summary of the situation:  I-5 crosses the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington.  The bridge there (actually two side-by-side spans) is in need of repair/replacement/expansion due to age and increased traffic. The current Locally Preferred proposal (so designated by six local partner agencies) would “replace the existing Interstate Bridges to carry I-5 traffic, light rail, pedestrians and bicyclists across the Columbia River. The new bridges will not have a bridge lift. They will carry three through-travel lanes and up to three auxiliary lanes for entering and exiting the highway in each direction. Like today, northbound and southbound traffic would be on separate bridges.”

Problem:  Naturally, not everyone agrees with this plan.  Some think it will just encourage more car traffic and urban sprawl.  Some think we shouldn’t bother with light rail, just cars.

Why am I thinking about this today? President Bush has just designated the I-5 bridge replacement as a high priority project, which will make it happen much faster.

What I think:  I’m strongly in favor of alternative transportation.  I think we need to get out of our cars — and yes, I need to do better with that, too.  However, we aren’t going to eliminate all car and truck traffic.  In fact, one of the main reasons for fixing the I-5 bridge problem is that I-5 is a major truck route, transporting goods up and down the west coast.

We also need to have a safe crossing for the cars, trucks and busses that are on the road.   We don’t need a bridge collapsing into the Columbia River.

So, I think we do need a new bridge, along with the promised pedestrian/bike/transit upgrades.  As far as preventing increased congestion and sprawl goes, I think that’s another matter entirely.  We do need major lifestyle changes — but we’ve got to convince people in some other way, not by bottlenecking traffic or by allowing a bridge to fall into disrepair.

However, the issue is even more complex than thatOther potential problems include contamination of Vancouver, Washington’s drinking water resulting from bridge construction, air and noise pollution affecting residents near the construction site (many of them low income), and possible effects on endangered species of fish in the Columbia River.

After reading all of that today, I’m still somewhat reluctantly in favor of the current proposal.  I think it best balances the needs of area residents.  I do think the project managers should be required to take all possible measures to protect the environment and area residents, though.

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I haven’t been commuting to work recently, as I haven’t been working.  I’ve been laid off for almost two weeks now.  My interest in biking and bussing hasn’t waned, though.  I’ve been taking some short rides to the park and the store, and I’m planning to fix up my bike a bit, although I don’t want to spend too much money on my piece of JC Penney junk.

So, for your reading pleasure today, I’ve got two pieces of alternative, car-free transportation news.

First up, the city of San Francisco plans to require businesses with 20 or more employees to provide some sort of transit benefit.  Their choices would be:

  • Provide employees with transit passes or vanpool reimbursement,
  • Provide door to door shuttle service for employees, OR
  • Provide pre-tax transit reimbursement accounts for employees (similar to health care or child care reimbursement accounts), so that employees can use pre-tax money to pay for transit passes.

Although this would be a requirement for employers, participation by employees would be optional.

According to SFGate, businesses actually agree that this is a good idea.

Moving north to Seattle, Mayor Greg Nickels has announced Car-Free Sundays for several neighborhoods in August and September.  No, not every Sunday — just one Sunday for each street.  Reactions are mixed, says the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.   “We might as well close for the day,” announced one restaurant owner.

Oh, give me a break.  If you want people to come to your street that day, make it an event!  Have a street fair, or some special entertainment, and publicize it.  People will come.  People may be more likely to come!

Mayor Nickels apparently said (not specifically in response to the above), “It’s just for one day, just chill.  Get out of the car and walk.”  OK, how old is this guy?  He sounds like me.  “Just chill” comes out of my mouth several times a day.  Oh, wait, I forgot, I’m old now, too.

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As I said in my last bus post, I lost my bus pass.  Therefore, I have to pay cash (or buy another pass or tickets) in order to ride the bus.  I was contemplating biking exclusively, but didn’t quite make it today.  I rode up to the bus stop this morning, and caught the bus to work; then I rode back the whole way on my bike.  You see, I think there’s slightly more uphill on the way there than there is on the way back.

What’s important, though, is that I did not use the car.

This morning, I had several items on my to-do list to complete before leaving for work.  In addition to shower, dress, eat, etc., I needed to get a carefully crafted email reply out to an editor, pack a lunch, and find my bike lock.  No, I didn’t prepare last night.  Shame on me.

Anyway, I got all this done, made it to the bus stop, and only then did I think “I suppose I could have taken the car.”  Yay, me!  It didn’t even occur to me to say “screw it, I’m taking the car.”  I guess I really have gotten used to a car-free commute.

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Well, yesterday I finally did it — I took the bike on the bus.  It was easy.  I made it to my bus stop with time to spare, and then it only took me a few extra seconds to figure out the bike rack.  It’s totally self-explanatory.  I challenge you to do it, too — in fact, I challenge Wendy B. in particular to give it a try!

Coming home was a little harder.  I had put my bike in the back of a co-worker’s truck for the afternoon, and then she gave me a ride up to the bus stop at 122nd, so I didn’t have to ride to the bus stop.  The bus, however, never came.  After waiting more than 20 minutes (for a 71, after 4 p.m., which really shouldn’t happen), I took off under my own power.  I rode all the way home, and the bus never caught up to me (if it was even there).

My ride was from SE 122nd and Market to just past NE 122nd and San Rafael, and then into the neighborhood to our house.  That’s not a huge distance, but for me that was a challenge.

Now I know that I can bike for some distance.  The next challenge in that area is to get my bike working properly.  It’s a junky old J.C. Penney bike that I bought cheaply from someone on Craigslist.  It works (obviously), but the brakes could use some help, and the gears sometimes shift around randomly while I’m riding.  I’d like to get a really decent commuter bike, but I need to save up some money for that.

In a related story, I lost my bus pass, so I may be biking it the rest of the month.

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This morning, I got lost in my own head and rode past my stop.  I had to cross the street and walk back a few blocks, kicking myself the whole way.  Yes, that would look interesting, wouldn’t it?

What really looked interesting was me getting stung by a bee while waiting for the bus home.  Somehow, the bee got up inside my pants and stung me on the back of my thigh.  I jumped around flailing my arms and slapping my legs until I felt confident there was no bee left alive in my pants.  I never did actually see the bee, but I’ve definitely got a sting wound, and it hurt like he**.

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So, I’m commuting by bus this summer.  Often, when I tell people, they say something like “Wow, that’s great, I know I really should, but I just can’t.”  This may or may not be followed by a reason for not riding the bus.

There are many barriers that keep people from using public transportation.  Some barriers are bigger than others.  Some are virtually insurmountable (like living in the country where there just isn’t a bus).  Other problems have solutions which can be implemented either by the rider or the transit system.  Here are some of the barriers I’ve run into (or through) during my almost two weeks of riding the bus, with solutions divided according to Me (stuff I can do) and Tri-Met (stuff the public transit system could do).

It’s not safe/I don’t want to be around crazy people and weirdos

I hear this a lot in Portland lately.  I think the safety factor has been blown way out of proportion. Yes, there have been incidents on MAX (the light rail system, for you non-PDXers).  However, Tri-Met has responded by creating new East and West transit police precincts and adding officers. 

As for the weirdos…tough.  You want to insulate yourself from all of the homeless, mentally ill, developmentally disabled, unwashed, etc.?  Give me a break.  All of these people are part of the world, too.  Deal with it.

Me:  Practice basic personal safety — be aware of my surroundings, hang on to my purse, stay in well-populated areas at night, etc.  Be polite and respectful to everyone, regardless of their weirdness.

Tri-Met:  Continue beefing up security.

There’s no bus line near my house

According to Tri-Met, three-quarters of Portland-area residents live within 1/4 mile of transit, which is what they consider walking distance.  I often walk 1/2 mile to a bus stop, which is the same distance my children walk to school.

Tri-Met:  Additional routes/stops where appropriate.  With ridership increasing, why not have 90 or 95 percent of residents living with 1/4 mile of transit?

You:  If you really aren’t near a bus line, consider whether you’d be better off moving to an area that does have public transportation.  Living in or near the country is nice, as is having a big yard.  However, people living in dense urban areas with public transit actually tend to have a smaller environmental footprint than those in the suburbs or rural areas.  I’m not saying that’s the solution for everyone, but it is worth a thought or two.  I think I’ll probably have more to say about the advantages of urban density in a future post.

I’ll be exposed to the elements!

This has been difficult for me.  It’s been hot and sunny here, and some of the bus stops I use are not sheltered at all.  Sometimes I’m also walking that half-mile to or from the bus stop in bright sunlight.  I’ve got the sunburns to prove it!  And at other times of the year, rain, snow, and cold can be problematic. 

Me:  I can wear a big hat, carry an umbrella, wear sunscreen, dress appropriately for cold weather, etc.  I can also change my route to use the bus that stops right outside my house.  This takes longer, but can be worth it.

Tri-Met:  Put up more shelters and benches, or plant trees.  Provide more frequent service to lessen wait times.

It takes too long

I hear you.  I’ve lived in places where it would have taken 1 1/2 to 2 hours to get to work by public transit — one way!  Since a car trip took only 30 minutes or less, that was a no-brainer.  I took the car.  Even now, a bus trip can seem tedious, especially if I use the bus line we actually live on. 

There is literally a bus stop right outside our front door, but the bus only goes by once an hour, each direction.  So, right now, I can catch a bus at 7 a.m., get off the bus 1/2 mile away at the main thoroughfare (122nd Ave), then wait 15 minutes for another bus, and arrive at work around 7:35.  I don’t need to be there until 8:00, though, and I am not a morning person, so I leave around 7:25-ish and walk 1/2 mile to 122nd to catch a later bus. 

My other option would be to catch a 7:23 bus outside the house going in the opposite direction, transfer to MAX, take MAX up to 122nd, and then catch a bus from there.  That actually puts me on the EXACT SAME BUS that I would catch if I walked the 1/2 mile, but without the walking.

Solutions?

Me:  I use different options, depending on how I feel.  This morning, it was cool, and I walked.  This afternoon, I was hot and tired (I’m working a physically demanding job this summer), so I transferred to MAX so that I could take a bus to my doorstep.  It took me an hour to get home (it’s a 10-15 minute drive), but that was OK.  I relaxed and enjoyed cool breezes while waiting for my final bus at Gateway Transit Center. 

I could also ride my bike to the bus stop, and then put my bike in the bike rack on the front of the bus.  I’ve never tried it before, though, so I’m a wee bit scared.

Tri-Met:  More frequent service.

What are the barriers for you?  Can you think of a way around or through them? 

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I meant to set out at 7:10, to catch a 7:23 bus half a mile away.  I grabbed my stuff (couldn’t find a water bottle) and walked out the door, immediately realizing that I needed money if I was going to ride the bus.  I went back in, begged three dollars from my husband, found 75 cents so that I would have exact change, and left again.

By this time, it was nearly 7:15.  I did my best, but I just didn’t make it, by about a block and a half.

So, here I sit at the bus stop, waiting for the next one.  The first bus would have gotten me there about 25 minutes early.  The next one will only give me three minutes to spare.  Hopefully I can cross the street and get in the door by eight!

Tonight I’ll buy a bus pass for the month, so at least next time I won’t have to worry about the cash.  I almost said “screw it, I’m driving,” because I knew I was likely to miss that first bus, but I said I was going to commute by bus this summer, and I’m sticking to it.

Maybe I’ll try adding my bike sometime, too.  I’m just afraid of the bike rack on the front of the bus.  I don’t want to look like an idiot trying to get my bike in or out.

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