Friday, August 4, 2017

Cedar Rapids rolls out bus line changes

Cedar Rapids' rollout of new bus routes and schedules this week produced some confusion but also some positive comments from riders. It will take longer to see whether the mostly minor changes will attract new riders.

The changes fall into three categories:

First, previously-circuitous routes have been straightened somewhat with edges cut off where there was extremely low ridership. For example, two routes that formerly looped around and about the southeast side...

...have been combined into one (eliminated portions represented by dashes).

I think more direct trips will be less frustrating for regular riders, and maybe more inviting for potential riders. Note, though, that the new, continuous eastbound run along high-traffic Mt. Vernon Road has no westbound equivalent, and that the loop up to Washington High School is a bit of a diversion. This is nonetheless about as good as it can be with current resources in a small, non-dense city.

These route changes flummoxed a few riders this week, despite publicity efforts by the system and extensive coverage by the Cedar Rapids Gazette. The new routes and schedules were online for several weeks (and available in print form since mid-July) but even informed riders such as your humble blogger were challenged by the removal of stops along the routes. This was done to expedite travel along the routes, and while drivers by my observation had been pointing out to riders where stops were being removed, the riders on new routes were presented with a few challenges. Drivers were most accommodating where they could be. I guess all this will take some getting used to.

Timing on the new combined Route 2 may take some tweaking. One concerned local citizen reports the bus arriving at his stop close to the end of the route more than 10 minutes late this week.

Second has been a sharp increase in service along 1st Avenue East from downtown to Lindale Mall (Route 5). Buses now run every 15 minutes throughout the day Monday through Saturday, which is bold innovation for our town. This means that there's no more sweating schedules--just show up at the bus stop and one will be there within 15 minutes tops.
Downtown-bound #5 bus discharges passengers near Coe College
Third and most intriguing has been the establishment of transfer hubs at Lindale Mall and the two Cedar Rapids Wal-Mart stores. Previously all routes went through downtown in a spokes-of-the-wheel sort of arrangement. There were some places where the routes intersected--the stop for Route 6 near Coe College is around the corner from the stop for Route 5--but there was no gain in time from doing it that way. In other words, you would get the same #6 bus whether you got off the #5 by Coe or went all the way downtown--although if you got off at Coe you would have time to stop at Wendy's Restaurant (pictured above) or Brewed Awakenings Coffeehouse (across the street).

Now there are three hubs with three slightly different arrangements.

[a] At Lindale Mall, the #5 bus from downtown meets two circulator routes that never go downtown. Route 20 goes around the adjoining Ciry of Marion, and Route 30 goes across northern Cedar Rapids and the City of Hiawatha. Both the 20 and 30 start and end hourly at Lindale Mall, and spend about 10 minutes there during which #5 appears and takes off.
This time #30 gets there first
#20 pulls up behind
and a few minutes later, #5 joins the party
I was not observant enough to determine whether passengers were moving between the 20 and the 30, as the new routes make possible direct travel between Marion and Hiawatha. Previously three distinct versions of Route 5 running half an hour apart would go from Lindale Mall to northern Marion (#5N), southern Marion (#5S), or Hiawatha (#5B). Riders I overheard were split between preferring the new options and not having to switch buses to go towards downtown Cedar Rapids.

[b] Routes 4, 6 and 30 intersect at Wal-Mart on Blairs Ferry Road NE, stopping at a service road between the main store and the lawn-and-garden center. Routes 4 and 6 both run mostly north-south, with #4 slightly to the east, so I imagine the main benefit from this hub will be the opportunity for passengers to transfer between either of those lines and the #30, rather than between #4 and #6.
The bus stop
At this hub, the buses are not present at the same time. The #30 arrives and departs at the top of the hour; the #6, which runs twice an hour, at 15 and 45 minutes past; and the #4 at 40 minutes past. So a transfer at this hub is going to involve some waiting, albeit the entry to Wal-Mart is climate-controlled with a good view of the incoming bus--and when I was there, pretty quiet.

[c] Routes 1, 10 and 12 intersect at Wal-Mart on Wiley Boulevard SW as well as a number of other points as they wend their ways through a really astonishing tangle of suburban development including the former Westdale Mall.
Bus routes around Westdale: #1 is gold, #10 is green, #12 is blue
Routes 10 and 12 run every half hour; Route 1 runs once an hour. Routes 10 and 12 take parallel routes from downtown, so the value of the hub would seem to be coordination with Route 1, which goes north-south along Edgewood Road, eventually connecting to downtown via O Avenue NW.  They arrive at this stop within five minutes of each other--#10 first, #1 second and #12 third--so the hub would be useful for someone taking #10 from the southwest side and transferring to the #1 to go north on Edgewood, or someone taking #1 south on Edgewood and transferring to the #12 for the southwest side. However, they would be completely dependent upon the buses arriving in the scheduled order.

Bus #10 arrives at the shelter at 31st and Wiley
I didn't see anyone actually switching at this stop. Unlike at Blairs Ferry Road, this stop is at a distance from the stores. Kohl's on the other side of Wiley is accessible by sidewalk, but Wal-Mart and its enormous array of planet stores only via this driveway:

This seems to be the least serviceable hub of the three, but the bus system didn't design the area.

One casualty of the changes in routes is what has to be the metro area's nicest bus stop, on 7th Avenue in downtown ("Uptown") Marion.

Formerly a stop on both Routes 5N and 5S, it is not on the new Route 20, which meets 7th Avenue from the north on 10th Street, one block west. The shops of Uptown Marion are still accessible as ever, and the routes need to go where they serve most efficiently, but give me a moment to salute what has been a sort of jewel of the system.

Cedar Rapids Bus site
Track Cedar Rapids buses in real time here
Samantha Myers, "City of Cedar Rapids Works to Improve Bus System," KCRG, 26 July 2017
Steve Gravelle, "'So Far, So Good:' New Cedar Rapids Bus Routes Running on Schedule," Cedar Rapids Gazette, 1 August 2017
Steve Gravelle, "Cedar Rapids Buses Begin Streamlined Routes Today," Cedar Rapids Gazette, 31 July 2017

"CR's New Bus Routes in Effect July 31," 30 May 2017
"CR Transit Moves Cautiously in the Right Direction," 16 March 2017

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