Cedar Rapids buses begin streamlined routes today
Changes include circulator buses, less time waiting on busy routes, fewer stops
CEDAR RAPIDS — Chris Johnson spent the usual break in his morning commute Friday studying the big map of bus routes posted in the lobby of downtown Cedar Rapids’ Ground Transportation Center.
“I’ll be taking the 20, then I will be taking the other Route 5,” Johnson said, tracing the lines from his home in Marion to his job in the kitchen at Meth-Wick Community in northwest Cedar Rapids. “I’m very excited about the new routes.”
Cedar Rapids Transit’s biggest route restructuring in 15 years takes effect this morning. Johnson, 23, expects his commute to take less than the 70 minutes it did last week, even with an added transfer at Lindale Mall between the new 20 circulator route and a new Route 5.
“We think we’ve got it all ready to roll,” said Brad DeBrower, manager of Cedar Rapids Transit, in between reprogramming destination signs on the system’s 30 buses to reflect the new routes. “It’s change. Change is uncomfortable for a lot of people. Once the dust settles, it becomes the new normal.”
The changes are designed to increased frequency on the most-used routes — good news to June Dillon.
“I hope it’s going to be shorter between buses because the wait now is just too long,” said Dillon, 53, en route from northeast to northwest Cedar Rapids.
Intervals between buses on the busiest routes — the No. 5 runs between downtown and the Lindale Mall — will drop from 30 to 15 minutes, easing what riders and drivers say is constant crowding aboard buses. That route along First Avenue East accounts for 25 percent of the system’s 4,000 to 4,500 daily rides.
The new system map includes satellite hubs at Lindale and the Wal-Mart stores on 29th Avenue SW and Blairs Ferry Road NE, each serving multiple lines.
Two new circulator routes, 20 and 30, enable riders to travel between northern Cedar Rapids, Marion and Hiawatha without the time-consuming trek to connections at the Ground Transportation Center, although Cedar Rapids-Marion riders like Johnson will make that additional transfer.
“Instead of coming down here and having to transfer, you’ve got the option of riding directly,” DeBrower said. “A person doesn’t have to come downtown just to go somewhere on the north side.”
SOME STEPS CUT
The changes won’t affect fares and operating costs, so there are some trade-offs. Unpopular segments of some current routes will be cut, and up to 125 of the current 1,110 bus stops are eliminated. Instead of being as close as one or two blocks apart, stops will be at least three blocks apart, speeding service to allow the increased frequency.
“I don’t think people are ever ready for change. But once it’s implemented, I think people will get used to it and like it. We’ve been trying to make them aware of it.”
- Russ Hradek
Cedar Rapids bus driver
“If there’s somewhere that we know two stops are very low-utilized, we’re eliminating one,” said DeBrower. “That allows us to put more frequency on First Avenue. It’s putting our resources where they’re more used. We still want to have that geographic coverage.”
“I’m not very happy about it,” said Martha Vance. “They’re taking our bus stop away.”
Vance, 62, was taking four of her grandchildren from her Marion apartment to the Noelridge Park swimming pool.
Vance, who doesn’t drive, said she’s been able to catch a bus right outside her apartment complex on Bentley Drive. Today, it will be about three blocks away, she said.
“It’s going to make it difficult for people there to catch the bus, especially during the winter,” said Vance, who has back problems that make walking difficult.
She conceded, though, the new circulator routes should make trips quicker and easier.
“We tried to make sure we didn’t move stops more than a block or so,” Marion City Manager Lon Pluckhahn said.
Pluckhahn said the new Route 20 will bring riders to the city’s new police station and industrial park along Highway 151, with buses every hour instead of every 90 minutes.
“You will have to change buses, but the bus that comes through Marion will be more frequent,” Pluckhahn said.
“You can’t do everything,” said Coe College political science professor Bruce Nesmith, who studies and blogs about urban design and who founded the Corridor Urbanists group. “You’ve got a tight ball of resources, and any decision you make closes off another.”
“We think we’ve got it all ready to roll. It’s change. Change is uncomfortable for a lot of people. Once the dust settles, it becomes the new normal.”
- Brad DeBrower
Manager of Cedar Rapids Transit
Nesmith, who has been riding the buses this summer so he can compare the new routes with the old, called the restructuring “a small step in the right direction.”
Ideally, Nesmith said, he’d cut even more of the system’s lesser-used outlying routes.
“Take it down to a much smaller coverage area and use that to bring more service,” he said. “Evenings and Sundays is what I’d be trying to do.”
But, Nesmith added, “I don’t have to face the City Council and (Vance).”
TALKING IT UP
DeBrower and the system’s drivers worked to ensure riders know about today’s changes. The changes will take some time to appear on the system’s ridecr.com smartphone app, which is managed by the state Department of Transportation. But riders will have real-time information on bus location through the system’s GPS-based app.
“The regular people, they know the change is coming,” driver Linda Rath said. “I think they’re going to look forward to relieving some of that stress along First Avenue” with the added frequencies.
“I don’t think people are ever ready for change,” driver Russ Hradek said. “But once it’s implemented, I think people will get used to it and like it. We’ve been trying to make them aware of it.”
“I haven’t heard anything but positive comments so far,” said City Council member Kris Gulick, whose District 1 includes territory covered by the new circulator buses. “When it actually rolls out, we’ll find out if we’re going to have any complaints.”
The restructuring is a result of a 2016 study by the Corridor Metropolitan Planning Organization, which manages the area’s transportation planning.
Today’s changes won’t include a new downtown-to-downtown Cedar Rapids-Marion route with buses every 20 minutes, something Cedar Rapids Transit but Marion wasn’t ready to fund its share. But that may change.
“We didn’t want to commit to that until we were sure how this piece will work,” Pluckhahn said.