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THE BUS BLOG – THE BUS

This is the final blog post for the Bus Blog experiment
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Central Arkansas Transit Bus

Finally, we come back to the bus, the system that Little Rock operates to move its citizens around and through the city. Really, it was the whole reason I started the blog so I feel it is appropriate to end with it as well. Little Rock’s bus system was just as foreign to me as any other city’s system, as I can imagine it is for most people. It was easy enough to figure out overall but often difficult to find out the specific info needed for a typical trip. Central Arkansas Transit Authority (CATA) is primarily for people who have to use it instead of for the whole population and visitors. But once you ride it a few times its pretty easy to use.

Pro’s
– Saved gas and miles on the car
– Bike racks allowed me to travel a much larger area from a bus stop than if I was just walking
– Though usually off by a few minutes, the bus is very reliable- The busses were very clean and had good security
– I was able to read and relax rather than focus on driving in traffic

Con’s
– Information can only be obtained online or at the main bus station or at a few bus shelters that have maps
– Most busses have a minimum 30 minutes between busses- Trips must be planned so you don’t miss a bus and have to wait an extra half hour for the next one
– Most busses stop running between 8 and 9, some even earlier- Weekend bus schedules are very limited and some busses don’t even run.
– Busses are at the mercy of traffic and can take longer during rush hour.

CATA seems to be in an in-between condition right now. On one hand, they do have an extensive system that covers a majority of Little Rock inside the belt way, and even further out in some cases, that allow residents who do not have their own transportation to move through the city. However, because of the long intervals between busses and limited hours of operation, it isn’t encouraging or even practical in many cases for most people to give up their cars entirely and rely solely on the bus and gain the benefit of saving hundreds of dollars every month by not owning a car. But CATA has a limited budget. It’s a wonder they do as much as they do know with it. But how could they make CATA be an integral part of Little Rock and not just some foreign entity that most people see but rarely acknowledge?

How can CATA become more user friendly?

Provide more Bus Shelters with Route Information.

There are a few bus shelters around Little Rock and North Little Rock. However bus shelters are expensive, costly to maintain and difficult to keep from being vandalized. Because of this, they are often only used in areas that have the highest concentration of riders. A possible solution to this is an Adopt-a-stop program. Many cities have citizens, local businesses or organizations that help maintain bus stops. A well maintained, bus stop can be a benefit to local business and neighborhoods as opposed to one that is poorly maintained.

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Provide More Locations to Buy Bus Passes.

Right now the only place to buy bus passes are at the CATA station and three other places downtown during regular business hours and with cash or check only. But what if UAMS or UALR students could buy a pass on campus? What if they were for sale at Walgreens? What if you could buy a pass for a weekend trip to Little Rock at the airport? What if there were bus pass machines around town where you could swipe your debit card on a weekend and buy a pass? Like the bus itself, If CATA could provide more access to passes, more people would buy them.

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Bar Codes at Bus Stops

qrcodeAs smart phones become more and more popular, many of us are able to access the internet anywhere at any time. Right now most bus stops are no more than a small yellow sigh on a post with a picture of a bus and a phone number to call. What if CATA added QR codes to all their bus signs? That way, if you are at a bus stop and want to find out where it goes and when it runs, you can scan the code with your phone and the appropriate route and timetable would pop up.

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Bus Route Sign Posts.

For a less high tech solution, this was a great idea I saw in Vancouver. Their bus system was excellent. We took a bus out of the city center to the North edge of town to Lynn Canyon. This was a beautiful state park just 20 minutes outside of town. Near the entrance to the park was the bus stop. It was a simple sign, just like ours, but lower down on the pole was a small plastic tube, kind of like those containers you use at the drive through at banks. And inside was a simple 8 ½” x 11” piece of paper with the route number, name, and timetables. And if the bus times or bus number ever changed, all they had to do was print off a new schedule and stick it in the tube. Genius!

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How can CATA encourage people to ride?

Painted Bus Routes

I have come to realize that the biggest benefit of using the bus as a public transportation option is also its biggest drawback. Starting in the 20’s busses began to become a more common site in cities and were preferred to the “noisy and bumpy” streetcars because busses were so much more flexible. Where as a Streetcar could only travel on the provided track, a bus could go anywhere in a city and could constantly update its route to be the most beneficial to riders. So over the decades, cities slow tore up there street car rails leaving the bus as the primary way to get around town. However today, far fewer people rely on or choose to use public transit. And though the bus has been around all this time, its ridership in most areas has continued to decrease in proportion to population increase. However public Transportation has seen a revival in rail transit. And though it is costly, most areas that implement a rail system see larger than projected numbers in ridership year after year, (except of course for Little Rock’s trolley which is more of a tourist ride than actual public transportation). So why is rail on the rise while the bus continues to fall behind? Because of the rail itself. When you arrive at a rail stop you can see the actual rail so you know at some point, and regularly, there will be a train that will pass by. And you can see where is comes from and see where it goes. The bus on the other hand offers no such security. And there you are, standing on the side of a busy street at a little sign post waiting for the bus, wondering where it goes and hoping that it comes soon. But rather that adding miles of costly track, is there a quick fix that could be done to help provide that visual reassurance and increase bus ridership? What about painted bus routes? It sounds kind of silly. Like a strip of paint on the road would actually encourage people to ride the bus. But if the bus route is in your neighborhood is marked and you see it driving to work and driving to the grocery store and driving to school and driving to the bank and driving to….etc, you start to realize, “Hey, there’s a bus that goes everywhere or near everywhere I need to go.” Or you may learn where that bus they see pass by everyday in front of their neighborhood comes from and goes to. I think this would be a great experiment to do either on the West Markham or McCain Mall Lines, just to see what would happen.

Bus Pass give-aways to selected neighborhoods that would benefit the most.

What if CATA target selected neighborhoods that were situated close to an existing route but had low ridership and distributed 10 ride passes to all the residents? It wouldn’t cost anything and the worst that could happen is no one would ride. No harm done. But maybe a few residents would become curious and decide to give it a try.

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My experience was difficult because I lived downtown and didn’t need the bus much. But I did learn a few things that were beneficial. First, I should have purchased a 10 ride pass instead of a 31 day pass. The 31 day pass is great if you use the bus for commuting to work or school almost every day. I however only rode the bus 13 times the entire month. And while it was reassuring to know I had unlimited bus usage for the entire month and didn’t have to have exact change each time, it wasn’t necessary. I should have got a 10 ride pass which allows a 10 rides and does not expire. After my 31 day pass expired I purchased a 10 ride pass and carry it with me.Oak Forest United Methodist Church.

Oak Forest United Methodist Church

But perhaps the most important think I learned about using the bus for my situation is what kind of trips are better for the bus and what kind are better for a car. I have given up on the idea of using the bus system for typical and unplanned events and have decided to only use it for regularly scheduled activities that occur at the same time and same place every week. I have found this to be the most beneficial use for the bus. The difficulties of working out a route for each separate occurrence outweighs the easily benefits. However because I don’t need it to commute to and from work every day, there are a limited number of regular events I participate in. A few weeks back I joined my Church’s Hand Bell Choir. We’re pretty awesome …. all three of us. So I have decided this will be my weekly bus ride. I have ridden twice and have already figured out the schedule. I originally would leave my church after practice and biked over to UALR to catch the bus back downtown. However I know now I can stay and practice an extra 10 minutes or so and wait for the bus to come down the side street next to my church. After my second time riding I started questioning if even this would be worth it. I calculated up the gas and found that It would actually cost me more to ride the bus than the gas to drive there. But on the other hand I was saving the wear of those miles on my car and I wasn’t adding any pollution. It takes a good ten minutes extra each way but were those extra 10 minutes really that important? I probably would have just spent them watching TV or something rather than reading the paper on the bus. It was a tossup but what really caused me to decide to continue riding was some reading I found about the health benefits of people who rode mass transit and it got me to thinking how because I ride the bus, I do bike more and walk more. It may not be a lot more but every little bit more that I rely on my car less makes the health benefits more and more advantageous. I ride the bus not for the convenience but rather the experience.

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Posted by on February 4, 2012 in Bus Blog

 

THE BUS BLOG – WALKING AROUND TOWN

Public transportation and biking infrastructure can vastly improve a city’s success. But the key element of a strong and established urban environment is walkability. With the advent of the car, cities began to be designed around the it instead of around people. Some of the resulting suburbs have become lavish neighborhoods where the wealthy live in mansions, gated from the rest of society. But for a majority of suburbanites, their environments are isolated, unattractive and uninspiring. At first that big house in a subdivision of other big houses looks like a good deal. And the further west you go the cheaper the price. But when you factor in commuting 8, 10, 15 miles every day is it really worth it, either financially or mentally??? I moved to a condo building downtown four blocks away from my office. I’m on the river, close to Downtown and Riverdale and have all my everyday needs met within safe biking or walking distance, no further than 2 miles. I like living in a walking environment. And I think most people do too. Just look at one of the latest high end shopping developments in Little Rock. The developers of the Chenal Promenade wanted to create a walking shopping district because people like this kind of environment. Ironically there is no way to get there unless you have a car. People have been sold on the developers promises of cheap housing in the countryside away from the stressful and hectic city life.  But once you sit down and crunch the numbers and really think about how stressful and hectic the suburban life is, you may start to see through the suburban nonsense.

One of the biggest things I learned from walking around the city more is you really don’t realize how bad the situation is until you actually walk it yourself. I learned this the day Nicole and I rode the bus out to our church in Oak Forest and we had to walk along Fairpark Boulevard for a few blocks. I had grown up going to Oak Forest UMC all my life and in the back of my head I guess I had always know there were no sidewalks along this street but it didn’t register with me until we got off the bus and started tromping across peoples yards as cars whizzed by.

This became even more true to me this past Monday. UALR sponsored a lecture and walking audit of the University District with Dan Burden, the Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Walkable and Livable communities Institute. Dan has studied around the world and has traveled across the U.S. to help build better, more pedestrian friendly communities and to transform car oriented development into people oriented development. He was a great speaker and the lecture was informative. There was a lot of the typical, “plant more trees, build smaller streets” talk that are common at these events but with some amazing before and after transformation picture of communities around the country. If you would like to listen to Dan’s presentation here is a link to one he put on in California.

Dan Burden Lecture

And here is a link to the Channel 11 coverage of the walk. (See if you can spot me. I’m in the orange vest!)

UALR Walking Audit

Dan Buren explaining good street design

But the most beneficial part of the day was the walking audit of campus. We walked from the Student Center south to Asher, west to University Ave and then up to the Campus entrance at 32nd st. It was truly an eye opener. Did you now the posted speed for University Ave is 25 mph??? Do you know anyone who drives 25 mph on University Ave??? Below are some pictures of our trip. Around 100 people attended the walk and even more were at the lecture. This was a wakeup call  about how bad the area around our premiere university is and I see some changes for University Ave in the near future. You would think if there was a well designed and safe walking environment anywhere in a city, It would be around a university campus!

Dan Burden leads the crowd

Obstacles on University

Where the sidewalk ends on University

25??? REALLY???!!!

Walking obstacles on the west side of University

Power poles in the middle of the sidewalk

Measuring lane widths on University. Dan's a brave man.

The Rivermarket

Other than Midtown, most of my walking occurred in downtown or the surrounding neighborhoods. I was probably in the Rivermarket area the most. It’s a beautifully vibrant and alive area that give a glimpse to what all of downtown could be like. I claim it to be the best examples of where the pedestrian takes precedence over the car. And the Riverfront parks on both sides of the river offer some of the best trails and stimulating walking environments in the city. Further in, the Central Business District is like going to a busy amusement park and then accidentally getting locked in after it closes. During the weekday downtown comes alive but after 5 it becomes a ghost town.

Downtown Little Rock

There are a few survivors that keep their businesses open after the work hours which makes walking downtown at night kind of like a treasure hunt, looking for the pearls amongst the emptiest. Ej’s on 6th and Center is my favorite hangout after hours. But there’s also Doe’s, Vinos, Lulav, and Ciao’s and some other restaurants and bars that are worth seeking out.

 
 
 

Resturant Row in Riverdale

Riverdale is like a Dr. Jekyll Mr. Hyde neighborhood. A majority of the business area is extremely hostile to walkers. It’s pretty embarrassing to be seen walking alongside Cantrell Rd. But the Riverfront parks further west offer some of the best views of the River in the city and are prime places for all sorts of activity. My favorite place in Riverdale is where these two environments collide and a small pocket of a dense walkable neighborhood forms at the restaurant row on Rebsamen Park Rd. These buildings (Buffalo Grill, Faded Rose ,etc…)are built close to the street and despite being a busy street, is still comfortable to walk to by pedestrians and a great spot to eat outdoors. Also west of downtown are the Stiff Station and Capitol View neighborhoods. These are some of the older neighborhoods that were build when walking was still a common thing. The residential streets all have sidewalks and surround a small commercial core at the intersection of Markham and Kavanaugh. I frequent this area a lot mostly for Spokes bike shop and the Oyster Bar.  

Hillcrest

Further west are two of the best walkable neighborhoods in the city, Hillcrest and the Heights. These two neighborhoods used to be one separate city and are often still referred to as Pulaski Heights. They were the first suburbs of Little Rock but were built completely different from today’s model. They were tight, dense communities where the residential and commercial fabrics merged together at transitions and were connected to Little Rock by a street car line. I would like to say It was public transportation but in fact, Street car systems were often privately built by developers to encourage people to move to their new neighborhoods. How cool would it be if that still was the case today! These are the neighborhoods that most people think about when describing a walkable neighborhood.

The Heights

The sidewalks are nice and the storefronts are close to the street. There is on-street parking to buffer pedestrians from moving traffic and encourages drivers to slow down and parking lots are moved to the back of the buildings. Parking lots are usually put out front because when a person is driving by, they are more likely to stop and shop if they can see where they are going to park their car from the street. Fortunately, this has the opposite effect in a walkable neighborhood like this. People are more likely to enter a shop off the street than if they have to cross a sea of black asphalt and cars.A great blog to read through about Pulaski Heights history is the Forbidden Hillcrest blog. Lately it’s been more of a police beat blog but if you click on the link below and read the older entries. It has some great history and photos of the area.

Forbidden Hillcrest

SoMa, (South Main)

South of Little Rock are the MacArthur Park and SoMa (South Main) neighborhoods, the original residential areas of Little Rock. South Main is becoming an exciting district all its own. There are still some holes along South Main where buildings have been removed to make way for parking the car but through efforts of streetscaping and reuse of the remaining buildings, the pedestrian is slowly becoming the main focus once again. The community Bakery is always a popular spot. One of the biggest draws to SoMa was Juanita’s which unfortunately for South Main (and possibly for Juanita’s themselves) decided to move to the Rivermarket last year. But the good news is The Oxford American  had decided to move to their old location to create a sort of southern culture center for writers, musicians and southern food. It should be a great addition!

Downtown Argenta

But perhaps one of my favorite walkable communities is actually across the river in Argenta. North Little Rock has put in a lot of effort in the past decade or so in to revamping its Main Street and it stands as one the best examples of how to transform a street into a community. The streetscaping is some of the best I have seen and the surrounding neighborhood is filled with great craftsman style homes. It has a grocery store, pharmacy, a few bars and restaurants a library, post office and bank and some retail shops. Everything a person could need in walking distance.

There are some great neighborhoods for walking in Little Rock, but overall, being on foot can be a little intimidating. It was kind of strange to me that if you saw two people on a sidewalk alongside a busy street, the one in gym clothes listening to an I-pod while jogging may not look strange at all, but the person in normal work clothes or even nice clothes walking down the same street caused people to pause and wonder why this unfortunate soul was stuck without a car. Sometimes I was that guy on the street, not because of some unfortunate occurrence, but rather to try and start a new trend.

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2012 in Bus Blog

 

THE BUS BLOG – BIKING IN LITTLE ROCK

I’ve decided to break down my experiences into biking bussing and walking. And even though this is called the Bus Blog, a majority of my travel was on a bike and I think it was my favorite way to get around the city. There may have been some areas where it was intimidating to ride, but I never felt out of place. Sometimes while walking or waiting on the bus I felt a little embarrassed in places. It wasn’t a lot, but there were times I felt like people were looking at me and wondering why I wasn’t just in a car. Not with biking. It could be because biking is so much more prominent now around town but whatever it was, I biked more miles than I walked and bussed combined. And because of this I became a lot more involved with the local Little Rock biking community. Shortly after October I attended a meeting of the Little Rock Bicycle Friendly community Committee (http://www.bikelr.com/) or the BFCC. There is a website now that is a work in progress and once the BFCC finds someone to dedicate to keeping it up to date it will be a great resource for biking info, news and upcoming projects and events for cyclists in Little Rock. If anyone enjoys biking, community involvement and website design, and would like to get involved let me know!

One of the biggest biking issues I came upon during my month was, even though Little Rock and North Little Rock have a great bike loop along the riverfront that connect both downtowns to the western extents of the city, it is an island. The trail is a self contained loop that most of the hundreds of people that use it every day, have to drive to. I had never given this much consideration before I started riding a bike for more than recreational purposes. For a cycling commuter a 14 mile dedicated and paved bike route would seem like a dream. However it is virtually useless for getting around town. But this doesn’t mean that It is impossible to get around town on a bike. There are bike lanes and bike routes throughout the city and are heavily used by cyclists. But these can be intimidating to the average biker trying to get around town. However the exciting news now is that the city is working on fixing this problem by exploring possible routes up the hillside into the Heights, Hillcrest and Foxcroft neighborhoods that would provide an ADA (1:20 slope) accessible path from these neighborhoods to the River trail. I am actually helping out the committee that is exploring this!

Another issue I a came across was the lack of facilities for bikers. Bike racks are hard to find in the city. The bus stop does have them even though it took me a while to find them hiding in the corner of the complex. But the more I thought about this the less of a big deal it really was to me because I can chain my bike up to almost anything and there is typically a tree or sign or light pole that can serve the purpose just as well. Besides a safe place to store my bike there weren’t really many other things that I needed for the month. But there are a few other amenities that a lot Little Rock is beginning to implement to promote biking. One of these things are bike stations. Places where people can safely store their bikes and shower and change clothes at work. The city is currently looking at building one of the stations Downtown as well as putting together a campaign to encourage business to provide their amenities for their employees. The following link is the meeting minutes form one of BFCC’s meetings to define and impalement Bike Stations.

http://bikelr.com/meetings/2011-06-29/LRBFCC_Meeting_Report_2011-06-29.pdf

Another great amenity came fairly recent. A bike repair station. This is a piece of equipment that has all the necessary bike tools to repairs a bike on the trail. It is located out at Cooks Landing. The following link is from a great bike blog I’ve followed for a few months now, JBar Cycling. He has a great link about this new device.

http://jbarcycling.blogspot.com/2011/12/team-carve-at-work-river-trail-work.html

JBar has also put together a recwnt great list of bicycle amenities in Little Rock

http://jbarcycling.blogspot.com/2011/12/gift-bag.html

Biking is becoming a common activity for all sorts of people in Little Rock. Whether it’s the racer on a top of-the-line bicycle, cursing cruising down a rural highway outside of town, a casual commuter looking to save some gas or a down and out homeless person who has been given a donated bike to make his way around the city, biking is becoming an import part of our lives for a growing number of people and we should strive to adapt our infrastructure to meet this exciting new demand.

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2012 in Bus Blog

 

THE BUS BLOG – THE RESULTS PART 1

This has been by far the most difficult entry. Condensing a month long experiment into a couple of blog posts is very challenging. And there are so many things to discuss that it was hard to keep my train of thought! But it was a lot of fun. I hope you all enjoy my following observations and conclusions and I would greatly appreciate it if you posted a quick comment or discussion. This is not at all scientific so any other insights would be great to see! There are two aspects I would like to cover. Cost and experience and I will begin with cost.

My one transportation cost for the month was my 31 Day Bus Pass. I thought this would be pretty smart and it turned out to be great because I didn’t have to worry about having enough or exact change every time I rode the bus. A 31 Day Pass cost $36. I have learned now this is waaaay more beneficial for commuters who would need to ride the bus every weekday, back and forth to work. Over the month I only rode the bus 13 times. This actually was to my disadvantage as you will see below.

I have posted the Excel file below where I documented all my miles traveled so you can follow along or make your own calculations. I actually rounded up my gas mileage some and rounded down for the average gas price but they are pretty close.

The Bus Blog Speadsheet

Total Miles in Little Rock (excluding carpooling, and train and light rail travel in St. Louis) = 211.45 mi

Total Month Cost (a 1 Month Bus Pass)= $36.00

My car is a 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid. Average Gas Mileage = 30 mpg

Average Gas Prices in Little Rock for the Month of October = $3.20

Total Cost to Drive = 211.45 mi / 30 mpg = 7.0483 gal
7.0483 gal  x $3.20 = $22.55. Which means I saved a whopping negative $13.45

That’s right, I actually lost money by using public transportation.

If you include the miles I carpooled as well, the numbers look a little better. Total miles carpooling, biking, bussing and walking was 456.75 mi which meant it cost $48.72 and I actually saved $12.72

Valuable lesson #1. If you don’t ride the bus daily, purchase a 10 Ride Pass($11.50) instead of a Month long pass. If I had purchased a 10 Ride Pass and paid for the 3 additional times I rode the bus, my cost would have only been $15.55  (10 Ride Pass 11.50 + 3 tickets @ 1.35 ea.) This would have meant a savings of  (drum roll please…)

$33.17

33 bucks may not appear to be worth the hassle of giving up the car but remember, I didn’t really give up the car. I just gave up driving it. The whole month while I was not driving my car, I still owned it and it was still costing me money. I may not have had to spend $22.55 on gas but I still had to spend $322.00 on my car payment as well as $114.00 on Insurance for that month because I still had a car. So let’s compare these numbers.

Car – $48.72 (Gas) + $322.00 (Payment) + $114.00 (Insurance)
vs.
No Car ($36.00 Bus Pass)

$484.72 vs. $36.00 a savings of $448.72 a month

Now we’re getting somewhere. Furthermore, what’s the total cost of owning a car for a month? If you check out www.Edmunds.com, you can calculate the true value to own a car. Some of these numbers seemed a little excessive to me but they are base on national averages.

For this, we will look at a year instead of a month. I’m not going to include the depreciation amount and I’m going to group maintenance and repairs together and just estimate $600.00 a year total.

Car – $48.72 (Gas) + $322.00 (Payment) + $114.00 (Insurance) = $458.55 x (12 Months) = $5816.64 + Fees ($22.00) + Maintenance and Repairs ($600.00) = $6438.64
vs.
No Car ($36.00 Bus Pass) x 12 = $432.00

$6438.64 vs. $432.00, a savings of $6,006.64 a year

I could save $6,006.64 a year if I sold my car and only rode the bus, biked, walked or carpooled, theoretically. So is owning a car really worth half my yearly mortgage payments? Even as I type this I’m starting to realize that’s a big chunk of change! But I don’t want to get rid of my car. I like being able to quickly and easily drive anywhere I need to in Little Rock or in Arkansas. Now that I’m married I could see myself getting rid of my car and sharing Nicole’s but it would still be pretty difficult for me to pry myself away from that luxury. But the main reason I will probably not be giving up my car anytime soon is because I can afford not to. I could think of a lot of things I would like to spend an extra $6,000.00 a year on, but if I didn’t own a car, a car would be on the top of that list. This is the problem. Better public transportation in cities could end the need for individuals to own and maintain cars and could save thousands of dollars a year for people and millions on road infrastructure. But we have become so accustomed to cars that now it’s impossible for us to live without them even though we did so for centuries before. There are a lot of books out there that preach giving up the car completely and how much better life would be and how much money you could save and so on and a lot of people in America do live perfectly well without a car and I even know quite a few in Little Rock. But a majority of people want to keep their cars even if they do want to promote better bike paths, walkable neighborhoods and public transportation. So is there a middle ground between owning a car but still being able to get around town without it?

It’s became obvious to me a big problem in my experiment to travel around Little Rock without a car is that I didn’t travel a lot around Little Rock. The majority of miles traveled by the average person is usually during commuting, but my commute was only 4 blocks. So I will attempt one more calculation to take a look at what an average Little Rocker might expect by compromising to own a car but commute to work on the bus.

John Doe lives near Breckenridge Village and works downtown at the Metropolitan Tower, 7.5 miles away. He owns a car and drives it a lot, but everyday he commutes to and from work on the no. 8 bus. His small SUV gets about 20 mpg and the average gas price is $3.00 (Remember word problems from 7th grade?)

So over a Month John travels 300 miles commuting (7.5 miles x 2 trips x 5 days in a week x 4 weeks) and it would cost him $45 in gas which would mean he could save $9 dollars a month if he bought a $36 bus pass. Not a lot. But John also doesn’t have to pay for parking, he doesn’t have to fight traffic every day and he saves 300 miles that he doesn’t put on his car every month. And because commuting is an everyday routine for John, he is pretty familiar with the bus route and times and it doesn’t seem like such a big deal.

It’s a fact, there are many cheaper ways to get around town without driving or owning a car. Depending on certain variables, it can be a big difference or a insignificant amount. But price is not the only reason to leave the car home.

My next entry will be about my experience for the month and my assessment and observations. Money may be the biggest incentive to get people to leave their cars at home but it isn’t the biggest benefit. The biggest improvements from fewer cars is a better city environment and I will talk more about what I found in Little Rock and the problems and solutions that I came across.

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2011 in Bus Blog

 

THE BUS BLOG – RESEARCH AND RACING

So obviously I haven’t been on my toes about keeping my blog up to date, or even finishing the Bus Blog experiment. I am extremely sorry. I know it’s frustrating when I find a blog I like but the writer doesn’t keep it updated. In my defense blogging is a lot more time consuming than I thought!  Shortly after the month was up I became preoccupied with some other thing and kept putting off the last entries until I decided I would just have to wait until I had some more down time to finish them. I actually had written most of my last days entry shortly afterwards, but I just never finished it. So I wanted to go ahead and post it along with my follow up results entry. But also I would like to mention that because of many of the people I met through the biking and busing communities in Little Rock, I have become more heavily involved in some other things around the city, primarily promoting more bike trail connections from the river trail into Little Rocks neighborhoods. So I will once again be blogging this time to help promote bike use in the city along with my wanderings. But that’s for another day. This last entry is a bit of a long one but entertaining. I am ashamed to say I do not have nearly the number of pictures I would like to have! Hope you enjoy and Merry Christmas!

Friday after work, I biked down to EJ’s to meet Troeger, Lindsey, Lucas and Jeanne Marie for lunch. My friend James who sits across from me at the office also went. He drove there but even though we walked out of the office at the same time, I actually beat him there by a good 5 minutes. You can get around downtown a lot quicker when you don’t have to worry about finding a parking spot!

 

 

 

 

 

After lunch I took the rest of the afternoon to do some research for the upcoming Learning Fair. I was searching for some photo’s of Downtown Little Rock during the height of the bus era. As I mentioned in a previous post about the Learning Fair, I had been asked to run a booth about the stigma people have about commuting via bus or bike. Car’s have become such an integral part of America’s culture and are such a dominant status symbol that if you’re not driving a car, you’re often looked down on. So I decided the best way to help people get over the aversion to going Car-free would be to show how common it decades ago, and not just nationally but here in our own city. I biked over to the Arkansas Studies Institute to look through their archives. They have a large collection of photos but it’s kind of difficult to sort through. I found some images and newspaper articles about Little Rocks early busses. The most interesting thing I found was a story from the 1930’s about how Little Rock was moving into the future by decommissioning old streetcar lines and slowly moving to busses. The streetcars were seen as slow and noisy and could only travel a defines route. It’s funny to see how we have come full circle and light rail is the new future and busses are a dirty, noisy inefficient thing of the past.

After the Butler Center, I biked back over to the Capitol to the Arkansas History Commission and searched through their archives. There search system was  just as difficult with the added bonus of being all in a card catalogue. I didn’t think anybody still used those! I came up empty handed as far as pictures go but I found a great pocket fold out map of Little Rock from the 30’s(?) that showed all the streetcar lines that crossed the city! The only problem was it was 12 bucks a linear foot to scan and I had no money and I couldn’t even take a picture of it. Ugh! So I left frustrated and empty handed. (But I’m going to go back soon and buy a copy of that map!) But I headed back to work and did a quick search for a picture I had seen before of Little Rock in the 50’s that was a busy street scene in downtown. I posted it in an earlier post but here it is again. I love this photo!

 

It  was getting late in the afternoon and I had to quit researching so I could focus on my other priority for the night. Making a costume for the Mud Run Saturday! I’ve ran in the Mud Run for the past 4 years with friends. It’s the only race my fat butt runs in but it’s a lot of fun. It’s a 5K at Two Rivers Park and everyone dresses up in some costume and the end of the race is a 300 ft mud pit you have to get through. This year we were going as Braveheart FREEDOM!!!!! So I had to get some stuff for our costumes. Troeger was also running it with me and he was able to get some plaid fabric for kilts. I had to run to the Halloween store and get blue face paint and a wig. The nearest costume store was in the Mid Town shopping center, where the old Lewis and Clark store used to be. So I checked the schedule and biked to the bus station. I was going to be cutting it pretty close but the busses usually left at least 5 minutes late so I figured I would make it in time. But I was wrong. I got to the station 3 minutes late and most all the busses had left including the West Markham bus. I tried to prepare myself for the 30 minute or so wait for the next bus to return but started to get anxious. So I decided I would try and bike the route and see if I could catch up with the bus. I took out through downtown and rode west on 7th street all the way to UAMS but I never saw it. However I was already on the edge of Midtown so I decided to just bike the rest of the way. I rode across Markham and wound my way through the neighborhood heading west. I had never really been in this neighborhood, north of Markham near UAMS and War Memorial before but it was a great looking neighborhood filled with small craftsman style homes. By the time I reached the back side of the Mid town Mall it was dark and I was coming to the realization that biking five miles uphill the day before running a 5K might not have been the best of ideas. But I made it. I went inside and got a wig and some blue face paint for the next day and walked back out to go find the nearest bus stop.

I pulled the time tables up on my phone and was surprised to see a blank row where the next bus was supposed to be shown. I wasn’t sure why this one particular interval was left out completely. It may have been so that if the busses were running exceptionally late that day because of heavy traffic, this could give them a window to get back on schedule. I debated just biking back but it was pretty dark by now and I figure I probably didn’t need to work out my legs anymore that night so I decided to just wait the extra half hour for the next bus. The closest stop was across Markham at St Vincent’s. Crossing Markham at night is horrible, even at the crosswalk! I made it up to the stop at the main entrance of St. Vincent’s and waited. ….and waited…. and waited. The bus showed up at 7:45, 10 minutes late, and I rode back to downtown. I got off on 4thand Chester and biked back home. Troeger was already there waiting for me to get back so we could finish up our costumes. They were pretty awesome. We worked on them that night while watching the Cards win the World Series. T’was a good night!

Waiting for the Bus at St Vincent's

My brother had asked me earlier that week if he and some friends could run the Mud Run with us, so we had made a few extra costumes for them as well. Samuel and his friends Candice and Brent showed up about the same time as Troeger did Saturday morning and we all got our costumes together. I had decided earlier on it would be fine for me to just jump in the car and to ride with everyone out to Two Rivers Park, but that doesn’t make for a very interesting story. So Troeger and I decided we would ride from my place to two river on our bikes dressed as Braveheart. Much more entertaining! Unfortunately we didn’t take any pictures. I know. I guess we just got caught up in the moment and totally forgot. But Troeger and I headed out in to the cold morning on our bikes wearing kilts. I’m sure this is how the Scotts really felt as they marched to the battlefield that day. But we had only made it to Cajun’s Wharf when Troeger realized he had got a flat. it seemed that we had rode through some glass and he had a pretty sizeable hole now leaking air out of his tire. So he called Samuel to ask him to pick him up when they left the house. Meanwhile I pressed onward, alone. I have to say that was the coldest I had been in a while as I peddled hard trying to get the blood flowing. I got quite a few looks on my 9 mile journey. There aren’t many people wearing blue face paint and kilts on the trail I finally made it out to the park and checked in about 15 minutes before the race started. Samuel and his friends had been a little late leaving the house and picking up Troeger so they got there about the same time I did.

And the Race was on…

If you get the chance, I would highly recommend running in this race or at least just coming out and watching it. The costumes are hilarious and creative and the mud pit at the end is the highlight and is great to watch. Like I said, I don’t run many races and for most of the race I gasped for air and tried to keep at least a somewhat respectable pace (I failed by the way.) But we finally reached the end and all 5 of us charged the mud pit together. It was awesome.300 feet of bone chilling mud later we emerged victorious and in desperate need of a shower. So everyone headed back to the car to drive home, while I sheathed my cardboard and aluminum foil sword and dismounted my trusty paper bag and dowel rod steed for the wet and frigid bike ride back home to the highlands. Once I got through the park and back on to the River trail in the sun, it really wasn’t so bad. I got even more looks on my ride home. The only thing more strange that a Scotsman in blue face paint on a bike is a Scotsman in blue face paint on a bike covered in mud. I arrived home a short while later and walked up the stairs. I figured everyone else had already made it back, grabbed their stuff and headed back home. But when I turned the door knob to enter, it was locked.

(Insert expletive here).

I had left my keys and phone in the house and Nicole had locked the door when she had left for work that morning. But where was everyone else? I assumed they had found the door locked as well and had decided to just head home anyway. But their cars were still in the parking lot? So I went to my neighbors and knocked on his door to borrow his phone and just as I pressed send to call Nicole to come rescue me, Samuel, Troeger Brent and Candice all pulled up. Apparently they had been stuck in traffic, trying to get out of the park this whole time and even though I waited around at the park a good 20 minutes after they had left, I had still beat them home. Luckily my rock-climbing, monkey of a brother was able to climb my balcony on the 2nd floor and get into my house to let us all in. Everyone grabbed their clothes and headed home and I took a shower and a nap.

But the day was not done.

Every year my family throws their Fall Fling for our church, and our family and friends. We have hay rides, live music bonfires, chili. All that fun stuff. And I had promised my dad I would go help. So after my rest I biked off to the bus station to ride the Rosedale line out to my parents again. I helped my parents set up some and parked cars. Nicole had to work that day but she came out later that evening so I was able to load my bike up in her car afterwards and ride back home with her. I slept like the dead that night!
Thus ended my month of not driving in Little Rock.

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2011 in Bus Blog

 

THE BUS BLOG – AMY SANDERS LIBRARY

I finally decided to go visit Nicole at work last Thursday. She works at the Amy Sanders Library in Sherwood. It’s just a block off of Khiel about halfway between JFK and 67/167. Nicole knew she had seen a CAT bus pass by before so I looked it up on the route map and saw the Jacksonville Express line did travel down Khiel, past the library on its way to Jacksonville. There are a couple of different express lines that carry people into the suburbs from town.  The trouble is they only make stops going one direction in the morning and the other direction in the evenings. So I biked to the bus station after work and loaded my bike on the bike rack. There was also another rider who loaded his bike on too. I learned recently that if you take a bike with you and the bike rack is full on the bus, you’re not allowed to bring the bike with you inside the bus. You just have to wait for the next one. But I have rarely seen a full bike rack on any of the busses that I have passed by. Hopefully, one day this will be a problem, but it’s a rare chance that it will happen now. We left the station 5 minutes late, but made the lost time back up by the time we got to the first scheduled stop.  It was pretty full for the bus. There were about 9 people. We traveled across the Main Street Bridge and down Main Street in North Little Rock, down JFK and turned on Khiel Avenue. Right before we turned down Khiel and while we were stopped at a stoplight, a man came running down the sidewalk to board the bus. But the driver did not see him and drove on. It was kind of frustrating to watch because some people in the back were trying to tell her that he was there, but the driver wasn’t paying attention and drove on. The bad thing was this was the last bus on that route for the night. So what does someone do if they miss the last bus? Do they call a friend or a cab?

But we continued on and I pulled the cord to stop on Khiel at the intersection that led to the library. I don’t know what Sherwood has against sidewalks, but there aren’t many anywhere. I got off the bus on a steep hillside and unloaded my bike from the front. It was at a stoplight that actually had a pedestrian signal, just no sidewalk. So I hit the button and waited for the light to change to cross the street.

It took me a little while to find the library, it was a little further down the street than I thought and it was a very dark building from the outside. But I made it to the front door, chained my bike up and walked in. The Library was having a Halloween party that night for all the little kids. They had games set up and everyone was dressed in a costume. Including my wife, who was dressed as Max from Where The Wild Things Are. My brother had also come down for the evening to play his fiddle during the party. There was a rough head count of about 150 kids and the evening finally began to wind down around 8. I helped Nicole and the rest of the Library staff lock up and loaded my bike into Nicole’s car and rode back home with her that night.

Another interesting thing I discovered at the Learning Fair this weekend was if Nicole decides she wants to take the bus to work one day, She would have to get on the Jacksonville Express in the morning and ride all the way to Jacksonville and then ride the bus back to Sherwood because the Jacksonville express does not stop in the mornings travelling North. Since not many people ride out of downtown into the suburbs in the morning, CAT doesn’t offer stops going north because it assumes the bus would be empty on its way to Jacksonville. I’m not even really sure if they would allow passengers to ride that direction in the morning. But if they did, it would seem that they would stop to let someone off the bus, Even if they don’t stop to pick anyone up.

The next night, while I was out walking Beckett, I took a handful of flyers for the upcoming Learning Fair and taped them around town on street corners and parking garages. We ended up having a pretty good turnout for the Fair, but next year, we really need to focus on getting more regular commuters that have never ridden the bus or a bike to work. I was thinking we should total up the parking costs at different parking garages and lots and compare it to a 10 ride pass for cat and post at those places what the price difference would be. Maybe next year.

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2011 in Bus Blog

 

THE BUS BLOG – ST. LOUIS PART 2

Our first view of the St. Louis Arch earlier that morning

Part two of the St. Louis trip is mostly about travelling west into town to Forest Park and Washington University. But I have to mention an interesting thing that happened to us right after lunch and before we decided to go. We had lunch at a restaurant near the stadium and the bartender was telling us we should go check out the Anheuser Busch brewery and take a tour of it. It was only a mile away and we were able to find it on the map. However it looked like it went through some industrial areas so we decided we probably shouldn’t walk. We saw a cab drive by and Troeger signaled it to pick us up. But apparently in St. Louis you don’t hail a cab on the street because the driver just waved back at us and kept driving. It was very weird. Now the Metrolink did not go near the brewery however we found a bus map that showed a couple of bus lines that did. But after wandering around for half an hour, trying to figure out which bus we needed and where we could catch it at, we finally decided to give up and just take the Metrolink out to Forest Park. This really illustrated the difference between the ease of use in a fixed transit line and a city bus. We couldn’t figure out where the bus would run or when it would come by or where it would go, but finding a light rail stop was easy, just look for the tracks. And the maps are simple and you don’t have the same dread waiting at a fixed line stop like you do at a bus stop about whether or it is actually going to come by or not.

Riding Metrolink

Metrolink System

But Metrolink was surprisingly nice. I was afraid this was going to be a dirty and ineffective metro system but I was surprised to find a clean, frequent and expansive system that was heavily used that day. The stations were pretty cool too. Most of the line ran underground in the downtown area but the stops were open to the sky above rather than closed in like a subway. All the stations had ticketing machines where you could buy a multiple types of tickets depending on how you were planning on using it. We got the all day pass for 7 dollars. The Metrolink is actually two separate lines but they run together for a majority of the time and spit apart at the ends. We saw a security guard every time we boarded the train, whether he was on the patrolling on the platform or checking tickets on the train. The stations that were outside also had heaters that a rider could turn on when the temperature got below 45 degrees. I have ridden some pretty nice light rails in America and this one was definitely at par with the best.

Ticket Options

A typical Metrolink Stop

Heaters at the stations

The trains were running every 30 minutes and a west bound train was departing the station just as we were walking down the stairs. So we waited for the next one to come and got on to ride out to Forest Park.

Walking and Biking Paths

Forest Park is like St. Louis’s Central Park. It’s a large city park that is in the middle of the city but was originally built on the outskirts of town in the late 1800’s. It hosted the 1904 World’s Fair, The Louisiana Purchase Exposition and a lot of remnants of the fair can still be seen today. We got of the Metrolink at the Forrest Park stop, at the midpoint of the park’s north boundary. We walked across the street and I imminently knew this was going to be great for my blog. There were two paths that crossed the main walkway into the park. One was for bikes and one was for pedestrians. The bike path was a long straight path that ran through the open grassy areas where as the pedestrian trail was a meandering path that weaved through the vegetation. These trails had been built perfectly for the scale of use they were intended for. A biker wants few curves and better views because he or she is travelling at a faster speed that a pedestrian who prefers to travel a path that has continuously changing views and scenery. Brilliant!

Inside the Missouri History Museum

We continued towards the Missouri Museum of History, a beautiful old building built originally as the Jefferson Memorial Building for the World’s Fair, and that stood near the entrance of the park. We made a quick walk through, (mostly to use the bathroom facilities) and walked out the other end back into the park. (While in the museum, I picked up a great map of the whole park that I brought back with me and wanted to scan and post but Beckett got a hold of it and thoroughly destroyed it. Good dog.) We wandered down the paths, over bridges and streams until we arrived at the Grand Basin. This large formal pool was once surrounded by neo classical buildings during the World’s Fair. Today the buildings are gone and only a few remain in the whole park. But the large open green areas have made it a popular park as evident by all the people we saw there that day and the two separate weddings going on nearby. We neared the western edge of the park and right before we crossed the street onto the Washington University Campus, we crossed another separated biking and pedestrian path. Here, the bicycle path was the typical asphalt paved path but the meandering walking path was all crushed stone which made for a great walking surface.

The suspension bridge to Picnic Island

The Grand Basin

The Art Museum

Biking and walking paths around the park

Walking at Washington University

We crossed the street and walked down the wide boulevard alongside the campus and I saw another surprise looking down. These wide sidewalks were meant for both pedestrian and bike traffic and it was marked on the sidewalk and on the light poles, to keep them separated. I don’t know how well the rest of the city fares, but between the light rail system and the extensive biking and walking trail development. I was very impressed with St. Louis! Soon we were walking along side the School of Architecture. The Beaux Arts style building, the frantically working freshman visible through the basement windows and the side entrance into the studio, covered in spray paint from student’s projects was all too familiar from my days at Fayetteville in Vol Walker Hall. The campus was unbelievable. I couldn’t believe the amount of Gothic Architecture and the detail! We wandered west through campus, passing a few art exhibits and a juggling club. We eventually made our way to the northwest corner of campus where we began heading north into the surrounding neighborhood.

Lots of bikes outside the School of Architecture

Jugglers practicing

This guy was really good!

The Lion's Gate into the City of University City

The neighborhood was almost completely all brick homes. We kept walking north to Delmar St, which I had heard was a cool hangout street and after walking six blocks or so we found it. But what an unusual place! We were standing at the foot of two huge stone monuments called the Lion’s Gate. This was the entrance into the City of University City. No joke. That was really the name of the town. It was a small independent city inside of St. Louis, kind of like Cammak Village in Little Rock. And across the street was the cylindrical shaped city hall and a Church of Scientology. But we headed back down Delmar St. and found a place to grab a quick dinner and beer on a patio outside and watched people walk up and down the street. Some people were already in Halloween costumes. We actually sat next to a zombie couple having dinner. I could.t see but I’m guessing it was brains. The weather was great but they do not know anything about what good cheese dip in St. Louis!

A strange looking City Hall

A cool fountain on Delmar St.

The Metroline

As 8:00 got closer, we decided to head back to find the nearest light rail to return to the train station. We walked down to the Skinker Line just as the train was pulling away, heading downtown. As we waited for the next train to come by, John noticed on the schedule that the next one wasn’t coming through until 7:35. Our Amtrak train left at 8:00. But there was nothing we could do but wait. The next train came by right on time and we all got on and quietly road, watching the time and wondering just how close we were going to cut it. Luckily, the Metrolink stop was adjacent to the Amtrak station so we were able to get off and quickly get in line to get our seats and board the train. We pulled out of St. Louis at 7:59.

It was a lot easier to sleep on the ride home. We were in a fairly empty car so we all spread out and took two seats a piece. As we got closer to Little Rock, the conductor came through and woke us up. As I sat there trying to come too, Troeger asked me if I wanted a ride back to my house from the train station. I had walked there earlier from my house and it wasn’t that far but just as I was about to tell him no thanks, he told me was also raining outside. So I decided to take the offer. We pulled into Little Rock and got off the train right at 3:18. Troeger gave me a ride back to my place and I was soon back in bed sacked out. It was a great day trip to St. Louis and I can’t wait to go back!

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2011 in Bus Blog