Transit blog, day seven

Not all stops are created equal

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Until I met Marion resident Ann Roberts (day three) I didn’t spend much time thinking about bus stops.

I’m guessing most people who don’t ride the bus don’t really see the stops, since many are little more than a small sign on a poll. Route 5S, for instance, has a total of 114 stops along its route, which runs from the transit hub, along First Avenue and out to the Marion Wal-Mart near Hwy 13 — roughly one stop every two blocks.

Placing a shelter or even seating at each stop on each route wouldn’t be practical or possible. Some are located in the parking area (between street and sidewalk) of residential roads, others adjacent to private property. And, when you are riding the bus, it’s clear that use varies widely.

There are what I call “hard stops” along the routes. For Route 5S these include the transit hub, First Avenue & 19th Street, Lindale Mall, Meadowview & 15th Street, the Marion Wal-Mart and Marion Square. These are places the bus generally stops whether or not someone is waiting or a rider has requested a stop. All the other stops on the route are optional, used only if someone is waiting or if a rider asks the driver to stop by pulling a cord located inside the bus.

As a general rule, the more residential the bus stop, the fewer amenities. And that can be a problem for people, like Roberts, who have limited mobility and are unable to stand for long periods of time. It’s also an issue for parents with young children because so many of the stops are located a curb away from busy streets.

Some of the best bus stops within the Cedar Rapids Transit system are on the Kirkwood Community College campus. They offer shelter, seating, nearby garbage receptacles and at least minimal lighting. It is more difficult to pick the worst.

As Todd Dorman and I discovered Friday when we road to the west side of town for lunch and shopping, the Westdale Mall bus stop is an unappealing muddy patch with signage courtesy of a five-gallon bucket. (There’s a photo above.) But it is also true that the situation is temporary and likely to improve once construction is complete in that area.

Given that, I’ll give Westdale a pass for now and hand my worst-of-the-worst award to the bus stop by the Marion Hy-Vee (35th Street & Seventh Avenue). Located near an awkward exchange for drivers (because the “T” intersection of 10th and 35th streets is nearly on top of the lighted exchange), bus riders are regulated to a drainage ditch. Seriously. There are sidewalks near the location, but they are too far back from the road for passengers to be easily seen by bus drivers.

The banks are manageable for those without disabilities, but I can’t imagine trying to traverse the area with a wheelchair, stroller or portable shopping cart.

My last visit to the site was marked by soggy ground, and a lovely eighteen-wheeler that spewed rain from its wheels. And because this is the closest public transit gets to the Marion Municipal Pool, its likely this is where area teenagers exit during the summer months.

Some of the nicer shelters located in downtown Cedar Rapids were donated to the city about two years ago by an advertising company. The company not only provided the shelters, but agreed to ongoing maintenance in exchange for selling advertising on the shelters. It seems like a win-win situation, one that should be explored in other parts of the metro.

There is room along the Route 10 and 12 stops along Edgewood Road for some type of seating or shelter. The stop in front of Texas Roadhouse, for instance, is a transit sign attached to an electricity poll. As Todd and I waited on the bus there last Friday, we noticed the grass was strewn with trash — pop cans, cups and so forth. Obviously people are eating and drinking at the location while waiting on the bus and then have no way to dispose of their waste before boarding the bus. (Food and drink are not permitted on city buses.) My guess is the businesses would much rather have a bench and garbage can instead of trash on the ground and, to that end, there may be a partnership opportunity.

Finally, when construction is underway or utility work is being completed, it’s likely transit bus stops will close. This is because temporary traffic patterns often prevent the bus from safely loading and unloading passengers. One current example of this is the bus stop in front of the First Avenue Walgreens, which was laying on its side when my bus drove by this morning.

Transit users can sign up to receive notices from the city in either text or email messages. Those who use the app can also view ongoing alerts. But if the disruption hasn’t caused a route diversion — a topic I’ll discuss more in-depth tomorrow — bus stop closures aren’t announced beyond having a piece of paper clipped to the location’s bus stop sign.

Most of the time and for most riders, this isn’t an undue burden. Another bus stop is typically only a few more blocks away.

But during inclement weather, or when a rider struggles with a disability, the unannounced closures can result in added stress and exposure to the elements. This is especially true of the Walgreens stop, which is well used and is one of the few sheltered stops in the immediate area and on that side of the street.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 339-3144, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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