Saturday, I was pretty lazy. I took Beckett for a long walk that morning through Riverfront Park over to the Clinton Library. The weather was perfect and people were everywhere I looked, walking biking or jogging on the trails, playing on the playgrounds, picnicking, visiting and admiring the views from both pedestrian bridges. I like to take Beckett to the park behind the Clinton Library because there usually aren’t many people back there and so I can let her off her leash to run around. We saw a couple of joggers and bikers but it was still pretty quiet so we played fetch for a while before heading back home. Unfortunately, I wasted the rest of the afternoon away watching football, but it was all worth it after the Hogs beat Auburn that evening!
But Sunday, I made up for Saturday’s laziness.
Sunday morning, Nicole and I got up and walked to the bus station. I decided I wanted to travel out to my church, Oak Forest UMC, out in Midtown on Fair Park Boulevard. It’s a beautiful Neo-Gothic stone church build by John Parks Alman, that I have attended my whole life and it’s also where Nicole and I were married this past July. Most of the busses run similar schedules on the weekends as they do on the weekdays, although they stop running even earlier in the afternoon than usual and not all the busses run. But we checked the bus map and timetables earlier that morning online and saw that the UALR line would drop us off four blocks away from Oak Forest with 10 minutes to spare. So we waited at the slot where the UALR bus would arrived and it pulled in at 10:14. The bus was supposed to depart at 10:12 but it didn’t seem too far behind schedule so we took our seats and waited to depart. Except the bus driver got up, left the bus and headed into the bus station. I can imagine after driving endless laps through Little Rock, drivers really do need to get up and stretch their legs or refill their giant mugs that they carry with them, but the bus was already behind schedule! We finally departed at 10:21, only 9 minutes behind schedule, but late none the less.
This was the second time I had ridden a bus and the second time I was worried about making it to my destination in time. I believe the three biggest concerns people have about riding the bus system are, people are unfamiliar about how to ride, they don’t feel safe on the bus and the busses schedules are not reliable. With a little effort, the bus system and time tables are not too difficult to figure out, and I haven’t felt threatened or uncomfortable on a bus yet (though some of the bus stops may be a different story). But busses do have trouble keeping to a designated schedule simply because they have to share the road with everyone else and so are at the mercy of whatever traffic conditions they are in and they have to obey all the stop and go traffic laws of the road as well. This is the biggest argument for dedicated transit lines of some sort. If the bus is supposed to arrive at 7:00 every day, but everyday it shows up at a different time, I’m just going to drive my car to my destination because I know my car departs whenever I want it to. But if a bus or some mode of transit, arrives at 7:00, on the dot every day, and I know it drops me off with enough time to get to my destination, on time, each day, I’m going to give a lot more consideration to riding rather than fighting traffic in my car all morning.
The bus departed and we began heading south through downtown and over I-630. The bus turned west on 17th street and began snaking its way through the Central High, Capitol View and Oak Forest neighborhoods. There were three riders traveling to church as well, an elderly woman and an elderly couple, along with 7 other riders. Four mor passengers got on and 6 got off during the duration of our trip. Riding west through the neighborhoods was like seeing a time line of Little Rock housing construction. From the mansions of the 1800’s through the turn of the century homes and past the numerous post war era houses, we saw the beautiful homes of the past as well as the burned out and boarded up shells that stood like ghosts in Little Rocks poorer neighborhoods.
I pulled the cord to signal the bus driver to drop us off at Fair Park and we got off and began walking the last four blocks to church. We walked along the sidewalk in front of the Lions World Services for the Blind, but once we crossed the street, the sidewalk disappeared. I have known in the back of my head that there were no sidewalks on either side of the street along Fair Park, but it took actually walking alongside the busy street in people’s front yards to really notice it for the first time. You could see a faint cow trail where other travelers had walked and it wasn’t until we arrived at the church that the sidewalk picked back up again. But even here, the sidewalk ended again at the end of the block.
And the more I thought about it, the more I realized, in the post war neighborhoods, like Oak Forest, where a lot of people do walk, there are actually no sidewalks along the majority of the streets. My grandparents lived a few blocks away from the church and I used to go stay with them sometimes and there were always people travelling up and down the streets. A lot of them kids going to the park nearby or walking to school. But Sunday was the day if finally hit me how peculiar it was that in a neighborhood with so much foot traffic, the pedestrian is completely ignored by design. Was it because Oak Forest, like other post war neighborhoods, were built with the car in mind more than the pedestrian? Was it because of the baby boom and the extremely high demand for housing that many of these neighborhoods were built so quickly that sidewalks and other streetscape amenities were pushed aside to develop land quicker? Or was it because the neighborhoods grid pattern would idealistically decrease vehicular frequency on any one particular road and it was just assumed people could walk in the streets and not worry about much traffic? I don’t know I may need some help from some baby boomers on this one!
The service was nice, It was about how Oak Forest, a prominently White and older congregation, needs to keep opening up to the surrounding neighborhood, a mostly Black and Hispanic community now. I’m pretty proud of my small church and all the ministry we do. We have our own health clinic, dental clinic, eye clinic, and food pantry and we even have English classes on Wednesday nights.
After the service Nicole and I decided to walk down to U.S. Pizza for lunch. My parents had a huge wedding out at their house the night before so they didn’t make to church that morning but I called my mom after church and she said she would come meet us for lunch. As we walked, I noticed how hostile Fair Park seemed to Pedestrians. There were almost no sidewalks and the few sidewalks there were, ran next to the section of Fair Park that had been widened for faster traffic. It was a disappointing to be in such an environment while walking past the second largest university in the state. But in fairness to UALR, they are really beginning to extend out into the community more and help improve the Oak Forest neighborhood, especially as its number of on-campus students continue to grow. As we got close to U.S. Pizza, we saw it was closed. My mom got there about the same time we did so we hoped in the car with her and decided to travel down Fair Park to the Mexican restaurant, Riviera Maya, at the other end of Fair Park. While we were there, I pulled up the bus schedule on my phone to see where the nearest bus stop was. Across I-630 on Markham, the next bus stopped around 2:12 and we could walk over I-630 on the Fair Park bridge, cut in front of the zoo and we could make it there in time to catch it.
But who can just pass by the Zoo?
So we decided to make a little detour through the Zoo. I haven’t been the zoo in forever and I had forgotten how awesome it was! We walked through the apes’ exhibit first and a huge crowd was gathered to watch the 5 year old gorilla, Mosi, celebrate his birthday. The zoo staff delivered some wrapped packages to their area and Mosi ripped them apart and carried them all over the exhibit. I have no idea what was in the packages but he seemed to really like them. It was also one of the lion’s birthdays, so we walked through a few more exhibits on our way to the big cats’ area. We got some cake and watched as the zoo staff and some volunteer kids hurled some packages over the wall. The Lion carried them around and ripped them apart but we noticed he soon became bored with the packages and was way more interested in a sippie cup that someone had accidentally dropped over the fence. We left the big cats’ exhibit and wandered around looking at the rest of the exhibits.
When I started this blog, I decided to try as many forms of public transportation as Little Rock had to offer and I completely forgot that Little Rock’s oldest continually operating transit line ran right through the middle of the zoo. So I decided to take the opportunity to give it a try.
With a dedicated line, frequent stops and such clean facilities, this may be the best mode of public transportation in the city!
We left the zoo and walked down S Monroe St. to Markham and found a bus stop near the intersection. The last bus of the day was supposed to pass through around 4:27, and we had a little time to spare. So Nicole took out her book and I took out my phone to check the bus route. I looked up just in time to see the bus about 50 yards away and as I waited for it to stop, I noticed it wasn’t slowing down at all and I jumped up just as it whizzed by. Luckily the bus driver saw us and stopped about a half a block away to let us get on. The most valuable bus lesson of the day was, if you plan on boarding an approaching bus, let the driver know! Because if you just sit there and wait for it to stop, you may end up taking a long walk home! We boarded the bus, I scanned my pass and Nicole paid her fare and we rode all the way to Chester and 4th where we got off and walked the rest of the way home.
When we got home, Beckett let us know that we needed to take her out to run around for a bit. So I tagged along with Nicole and Beckett to the dog park out at Murray Park where we spent the rest of the afternoon. The only reason I mention this is because of something I saw on the way there. Rebsamen Park road runs along the River Trail for about half of the length of the trail on the Little Rock side. And besides the trail, there is also a bike lane that runs alongside of the road. So it kind of annoyed me to see a cyclist riding on the road in front of us. We kept our distance behind him but cars began backing up behind us and eventually began passing us and the cyclist. We were not travelling to far below the speed limit and the cars that passes us were traveling way to fast, but its instances like these that cause friction between cyclists and drivers. When a biker has no other alternative that to share the road, most drivers our somewhat understanding and courteous but when a biker has a dedicated lane specifically for bicycles, yet he or she still chooses to ride in traffic, it send an arrogant message to a driver and further widens the schism between bikers and drivers, at least from my perspective. Thoughts???