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Archive for the ‘I’m Taking the Bus’ Category

Two years ago I sold my car.  I haven’t driven since and I haven’t given it a second thought.

The convenience of not having a car – and indeed it is a convenience to avoid paying for  gas, parking, insurance, maintenance, etc…. is in direct proportion to population density   and the frequency in service of public transit.  These two situations are related.

While Chicago’s population density is on average 11,864 per square mile, my neighborhood is at 33,000 per square mile.  Because of this density, transit routes are more profitable.  With three L stops, express bus service as well as local service, getting to and from is a snap with 24/7 train service and 18/7 bus service.

When the need arrises for a taxi, the rides are short and inexpensive.  Overall, transit connects both airports, and the Amtrak station.  Regional trains connects Chicago to Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan.  I can visit friends in Milwaukee or take a trip to the beaches of Michigan.

With this density comes a level of profit for the providers of goods and services.  Four full-sized grocery stores serve the area.  Two Walgreen’s and two CVS’, each no more than a half mile apart.  Scores of restaurants and bars are here as well as a new library.   Two Target stores are three miles apart, each in an adjoining neighborhood.  For the most part, everything is within walking distance and there are days when I don’t need public transit at all.

Within the city limits owning a car is discouraged through covert measures.  Due to the scarcity of available land, parking is a premium and priced as such.  Cars in the city require a permit.  Gasoline is highly taxed.  Residential buildings do not require a 1:1 ratio for parking – it would be too costly, regardless and pre-war buildings have no parking.  Toll roads act as a barrier, and now  city streets are being narrowed for the sake of moving the population more efficiently through the addition of bike lanes and BRT (bus rapid transit) lanes.

These circumstances combined create an environment where life without a car is quite convenient.   And that is precisely why I made the decision to live here, car-free and stress free.   It’s not complicated, but I did have to leave Ohio in order to live this way.

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If the timing is right there are seats available, but standing isn’t so bad.  It’s thirty minutes of elation whether sitting or standing.

A crowded street filled with pedestrians.  Workers.  Shoppers.  Residents.  Commuters. Tourists.  Children.  Store fronts displaying the finest wares, some of which are affordable and some which will be affordable in time.  Tailored jackets.  Polished shoes.  Sparkling cufflinks.  Supple leathers.  Bold prints.

Thousands of windows look down upon me and I look up in response seeing things that are the results of tremendous egos.  Stonework.  Brickwork.  Metalwork.  So many tall structures, each trying to outdo the other in some way or fashion.

Long before the last stop all the seats are taken and the aisle is now full of people standing.  Those seated have their bags on their laps.  Those standing try to keep a narrow profile so as to leave some room between one another.  Some are plugged into an electronic device watching or listening and some are reading books.

Half of the trip is spent passing through Michigan Avenue, bumper to bumper.  The Drake Hotel passes by and we accelerate onto Lake Shore Drive and can do so because we’re at the leading edge of rush hour.

In the blink of an eye and off to the right tall buildings are replaced, as far as the eye can see, by a body of water so vast and so blue.  A brave soul out on a sail boat.  To the right residential buildings rise again, higher and higher.  I’m passing through a narrow strip of land that separates the two – elements made by nature and elements made by man.

Lining the lake are people living atop one another, crowded together for one thing only – a view of the water.  More windows, more stonework, more brickwork stretching northward and these man-made elements stretch too, as far as the eye can see.

The boats are back in the marina.  The bridges along the river were raised last weekend  so their owners could take them out of dry dock.  The greying wood docks and the white bows of boats against the calm blue waters.

Looking out to my left I see the building where Carol lives.  It’s next to the French restaurant that’s perfectly situated in a building with a mansard roof and ornate dormers.  A moment later the Imperial Towers are in view, a pair of buildings in which I’d like to live.  No one is rowing in the shallow lagoon built inside of Lincoln Park.

Overhead large jet liners begin their descent, their tail colors barely visible but their four engines and their wide-bodies allow for an estimation of the distance they have flown.  More people arriving waiting anxiously to fill the already busy streets.

On the soccer fields are uniforms that move quickly like colored pixels on a screen.   Another marina passes by.  A tall man is standing facing backwards and I watch his eyes trace against the moving landscape.  Everyone else is facing the lake as it’s view washes away the memories of their work day.

To their backs are more high-rises still, one of which is the Aquitania with it’s ornate lobbies and menacing plumbing problems.  Shortly thereafter emerges the mass of pink stucco known as the Edgewater Beach Hotel, the long-ago summer resort to some of the city’s elite.  It’s even more imposing when viewed from an eleventh story balcony in the building across the street.

As we exit Lake Shore Drive yet another high-rise is nearing completion.  A friend refers to it as a Stalinesque monstrosity.  I like it for that very reason.  Turning on to what will be soon a residential street once again, a man on a bike waves hello to the bus driver and smiles.  Half of the riders exit at the next stop and file into the new grocery store.  Dinner awaits them.

In another mile I’ll be home.  Views of the lake are replaced with more high-rises and the view is shadowed because of them, even by the lowest ones along the west side of the street.  Here the streets are filled with commuters – pedestrians and automobiles but the pedestrians move faster than those in cars because now rush hour is in full swing.

The temperature is noticeably cooler as I exit the bus across the street from my building.  It’s always ten degrees colder here than it is just a few blocks inland.  Dogs are being walked after being indoors all day.  Neighbors carry home groceries.

Thirty minutes have passed and an entire world has passed before my eyes.  Something to see in every direction.  From the majestic waters of Lake Michigan to the majestic structures of steel and concrete.  Constant movement all around.  From rhythmic waves to jumbo jets.  I marvel at these sights from the windows of the express bus from downtown.  I never tire of this ride.  It is always magnificent.

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On Wednesday the 18th I begin a day and a half journey that I’ve been waiting years to experience.  It’s said to be one of the most beautiful American journeys, particularly during the winter months.  It is the Amtrak ride through the Rockies to Salt Lake City.

The trip is scheduled for thirty-four hours each way.  By Thursday morning at 7am the train is scheduled to arrive in Denver.  After an hour in Denver the train begins its ascent into the Rockies and arrives fourteen hours later in Salt Lake City.  Only half of this portion of the trip will be during the daylight hours, and I intend to be glued to the windows, either of my room or in the observation car.  I suspect there will be plenty of competition for seating in the observation car.

I’ve reserved a sleeper car for the trip, paid for with Amtrak points I accumulated during my commutes to and from Ohio prior to the move to Chicago.  While Amtrak’s coach-class seating is ample for a journey such as this, and very reasonably priced, being able to sleep in a bed and having access to showers and complimentary meals in the dining car seemed to be a more comfortable way to go about the journey.

I’ll attempt live updates from the train, be that on the blog or via Twitter.  Data coverage will be spotty at best as this segment of Amtrak does not offer Wi-Fi service.  I look forward to sharing this trip with you.

Photo by Ann Owens

The entire trip will be completed with the use of public transportation.  From my flat in Chicago I’ll travel by bus to Union Station, board the train and once in Salt Lake City I’ll have access to the Utah Transit Authority’s buses and trains.

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I laughed out loud when I read the Columbus Dispatch editorial stating that COTA buses  are to blame for the 45 empty store fronts along High Street in downtown Columbus.

The editorial states that, according to a downtown strategic plan endorsed last year by the Downtown Commission and Columbus City Council, bus traffic along High Street increases congestion, blocks storefronts and prevents on-street parking.

There are numerous valid reasons why 45 High Street storefronts remain vacant and public transit is not one of them.

We could look back to 1989 when City Center removed pedestrian traffic from once vibrant streets and encapsulated it inside an urban bunker.  While Columbus wasn’t the only city to duplicate sub-urban shopping facilities in a downtown environment, it none the less did what every other one of it’s kind did – it took pedestrians off of the linear path of traditional downtown shopping.

While perhaps a magnet for the fifteen-odd-years of it’s success, City Center didn’t appear to do much for the businesses around it.  It didn’t even shore up enough business at the once acclaimed downtown Lazarus to keep it afloat.

Ten years ago there were dilapidated store fronts along High Street just as there are today.  From Broad north to Gay Street there was nothing of significance, although there was an Arby’s on the west side of the street.  From Gay north to Long one side of the street continues to garner no interest outside of a surface parking lot.

On the east side of the street Cafe Brioso started attracting a lunch crowd right around the time of City Center’s steep decline.  Cafe Brioso is perhaps the one pivotal business that brought about any positive change along downtowns portion of High Street prior to the razing of City Center.

We could also look back to Columubus’ land-use policy and determine that the City spent decades annexing unincorporated land, building out the utilities and thus creating long-term sprawl.  The City of Columbus could have spent that money investing in upgrading existing infrastructure which would have bolstered the health of center-city neighborhoods, keeping and attracting new residents.  Rather, the City let the inner city decay.

We could look at ODOT’s policy of neglecting public transit projects and instead funding the expansion of roadways and interchanges.  Combined with Columbus’ land use policies and inner city neglect its no wonder that retail development followed the population, leaving downtown behind.

But let’s look at what we have today for a moment.  Busses along High Street are only lined up along High Street during non-business hours.  The 9pm, 10pm, 11pm and 12am line-ups do line an entire block on either side of street.  For about 15 minutes.

Northbound busses line up in front of the State House and southbound busses line up on the west side of the High Street in front of COTA’s headquarters and adjacent to a small surface parking lot.  Once they depart, they spread out rather evenly.

Alleged bus congestion did nothing to inhibit pedestrians that joined the protests at the State House earlier in the year.  Bus traffic doesn’t appear to be a hinderance to retail vibrancy in the Short North either.

What hinders business downtown is the perceived lack of safety.  Empty blocks, blank street-level facades of Federal buildings and the deep set back such as the Nationwide campus do nothing to invite pedestrians.  Add in the crumbling plaster, dirty windows and mismatched efforts of 1970’s style “modernization” and High Street does indeed look unappealing.

In Chicago busses line the most magnificent shopping district in the mid-west – North Michigan Avenue.  Lots of busses and the extra-long flexible busses. So many busses that the bus stop signs are printed on all four sides of the post.  The same holds true on Chicago’s State Street in the Loop.

On Minneapolis’ downtown stretch of Nicolette Mall busses are the only traffic allowed.  They connect to the light-rail line.  Minneapolis’s Uptown shopping district is also lined with busses.  To claim that bus congestion is a deterrent to filling vacant [class C and below] retail space in downtown Columbus is ludicrous.

Essentially, there is nothing inhabitable left on High Street downtown.  And COTA busses are responsible for this?

If there’s a place to lay blame it can only be with the leadership of the City and the Columbus City Council.  Poor planning, lack of leadership, lack of vision, lack of investment and a misguided land use policy has left downtown Columbus in a shambles.

And somehow the folks at the Columbus Dispatch believe they have a say in what’s next?  Perhaps it should be noted that the decline in size and content of the Columbus Dispatch coincides with the decline of downtown Columbus.  So, yeah, I guess the Columbus Dispatch is influential.

 

 

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Nothing says “Thanks for visiting Columbus” better than Smackies Original Pit BBQ on the corner of Broad and James. The airlines seldom serve food on flights and some good ole BBQ might just make your trip more pleasant.

If you happen to transfer en-route to Port Columbus at the intersection of Main and James you might have enough time to run into BP and grab a soda and a bag of sunflower seeds.

Transferring at Livingston and James will offer no amenities for your flight.

But don’t despair, because if you happen to transfer at Fifth Avenue and James you’ll be able to get in your “greens” with something close to a fresh picked salad of sorts.

I bring these images to your attention because I still find it outrageous that getting to Port Columbus via public transportation from anywhere in town requires a transfer on James Road.

COTA route 92 is the only dedicated route serving Port Columbus, and while it runs from just before six o’clock in the morning until just before ten o’clock in the evening, it is perhaps the last place a visitor would be inclined to venture if they were leaving the city.

COTA routes 1, 2, 6 and 10 connect from downtown to James Road, which gives one plenty of options to get to James Road, but once there one finds themselves in a virtual “no man’s land”. James Road has no “branding” as a gateway to Port Columbus. Additionally, the 92 runs at about 30 minute headways, so if a traveler were to misconnect, they’re stuck there for a period of time that makes waiting a bit uncomfortable.

COTA’s route 52 offers service from OSU to Port Columbus on certain dates in January, March, June, August, September, November and December – likely coinciding with the university’s noteworthy dates (move in, spring break, etc..) but this service isn’t really dependable for the general population.

Port Columbus just opened up the Green parking lot on the corner of Stelzer and 17th touting $4 per day parking. It might have been a better investment had Port Columbus partnered with COTA to create reasonable and convenient bus service in and out of the airport. Another parking lot only encourages automobile use and thus, more congestion.

Considering downtown Columbus is less than ten miles from Port Columbus (Experience Columbus calls it “10 minutes from downtown”), there should be a more convenient public transit option. The current options of transferring at James Road require at least one hour – and take the rider to an environment that will make them think twice before ever using COTA to get to and from Port Columbus.

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I’m responsible for the oil leak contaminating the Gulf of Mexico.  I came to this conclusion this week while I was driving to work, slowed by scores of moving vehicles, most of which contained just one person.
Each time I make the decision to drive to work rather than take the bus, I’ve essentially told companies like BP to search for oil in risky environments.  Each time I sit in line at a drive-thru window, I’ve told our government to do whatever it takes to search for crude oil that can be refined into gasoline.

Each time I drive my car to a friends house, or to the grocery store rather than bicycling or walking, I’m sending a signal to the oil industry that what they do, and that what the government allows them to do is A-OK.

At times I’m forced into such actions.  Escaping a culture that is based upon low-cost fuel is incredibly difficult.  My local supermarket is in fact a super-huge market filled with fruits, vegetables and scores of other products grown and manufactured outside of the region.  I’ve grown to expect fresh fruit in January and February.  I bet you have too.

Each time we build a new road, widen and existing road, rebuild an overpass or zone for a new subdivision rather than repairing our inner-city neighborhoods and investing in public transit systems, we are voting for this type of risk.  Each time we build a new runway or expand an airport rather than expanding our rail system, we invite the risk associated with this type of disaster.

So when I look at the derogatory comments being aimed at BP and the derogatory comments being aimed at the Federal Government I have to stop for a moment and ask, just who is creating the demand for this type of industry.  And when I look for who is to be blamed for this calamity, I have to answer truthfully.

It is I.

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