Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A case for the taking the bus...

...from the Urbanophile.

I used to love to take the bus. When I lived in Oak Park, I'd often walk from the Loop to North Avenue and take the #64 bus all the way home rather than take the L. The whole commute would take about 2.5 hours but I found the walk plus the ride with its cast of characters inspiring and exhilarating.

As a child, taking the bus was one of the joys in my life. My mother and I would regularly take the Armitage electric trolley bus to the Lincoln Park Zoo. Back then in addition to everything bus drivers do today, the driver would have to make change and punch transfers. I remember the mountain of chads at the feet of the driver by the time we got to our destination. Occasionally the trollies would jump off the overhead wires and the driver would have to get out of the bus and realign them. I'd always sit in the front seat if it was available and if I was lucky, get to talk to the driver.

On our yearly vacations to Milwaukee, my grandparents and I would hop on the first bus that came along and ride to the end of the line and back. It was a fun kind of roulette because we never knew exactly where we would end up. The drivers were almost always friendly and went out of their way to accommodate us.

But alas there's no time in my life anymore for such frivolity. Today I do almost anything to avoid taking the bus. Busses are just too few and far between, much of the time I feel as if I can get there faster by walking. Even when I do manage to catch a bus, I'm constantly fidgeting. A few weeks ago I needed to get from Hyde Park on the south side to Warren Park on the far north side for my son's baseball game. The ride involved three transfers, a bus to a train to another train to a bus. The first three rides covered 20 miles in about 50 minutes. The last bus ride, a 2 mile trip, took 30 minutes.

Busses are clearly a much quicker fix for a city's transportation needs than light rail which is extravagantly more expensive to build and maintain. Plus, light rail systems are subject to most of the same traffic problems as busses. Perhaps bus only lanes or certain streets reserved for bus traffic during rush hour would help. Bus stops spread further apart and bus friendly timed traffic lights would reduce the frequency of stops.

Contrary to what was written in the linked article, the cool factor will always heavily favor light rail (streetcars as they used to call them) over busses. And that will certainly help lure people from their automobiles.

It's time to get creative, I see the future of transportation in Chicago and other like minded cities involving an expansion of the combination of innovative rail, light rail and bus systems, perhaps to the detriment of amenities for drivers.

Which will be a good thing in the long run. Maybe then I'll gladly hop on the bus again.

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