Bus makes getting to campus easy

Bus makes getting to campus easy

I started taking the bus in August from downtown Champaign, where my full-time job is, to the University of Illinois campus, where I get to teach a group of very bright students two days a week.

I’d always driven in previous semesters, and the thought of giving up the control of being in my own car, on my own schedule, bothered me. But this semester I figured I’d give the bus a shot.

Now, classes are ending  for the semester and I wanted to take a look back at the whole bus thing.

Do I like it? Yep.

The ride takes perhaps three more minutes than it would take me to drive.

But on the bus, I don’t have to worry about anyone darting out in front of me on any of those busy campus streets. No bicyclists coming at me the wrong way on Wright Street.  I don’t have to get frustrated at the stop lights in campustown.  I don’t have to remember to bring change for the parking meter. Or worry about finding one.

I got a hybrid bus one day: oooh, quiet.

I have no idea whether the buses were on time or not, because it didn’t matter. The ability to send a text and get the real-time arrivals of the next several buses at my stop was all that I needed. I was never late for my class.

Money spent on parking meters on campus this fall: Zero.

Having said that, I do have some  thoughts.

I’ve been lucky that there’s been little inclement weather on my class days. I teach at Gregory Hall and there is a bus shelter at Armory Avenue and Wright Street nearby.  I mention this shelter in a phone call with Tom Costello, assistant managing director of the MTD, and he says it with me: “It leaks.”

“We go out there every summer and re-caulk those,” he said.The shelter also is tiny. And to board the bus there, you have to walk across the bike path. I’ve seen several near-collisions. There may be no solution, but especially when the weather’s nice and lots of students are riding their bikes, it’s hazardous.

“That is a confluence of several bad things,” Costello said. “We’ve wrestled with that for years. … The long, long, long-term plan is to reconfigure that intersection” to move the bikes away from the bus stop. Bus doors open on the right, so the only way you do that is move the bike path. That will be fun.

There are people smarter than I figuring out the routes and stops and so forth, but I was surprised that you can’t get off the bus at Green and Wright.

The traffic signal cycle at the intersection dictates no stopping there, Costello said. Green Street traffic gets a light, Wright Street traffic gets a light and then pedestrians in all directions get a light.

“Once you get the green, you need to be able to go,” Costello said, pointing out that passengers can get off the bus at Healey to the north of Green Street or at the transit plaza a little more than a block south.

For me, that particular inconvenience was pretty much offset by those autumn days that make the campus -- my alma mater -- a really special place. I walk down Wright Street or on the Quad and memories that have dimmed over the years can pop back up, if briefly. And in gorgeous weather, the heart of campus is beautiful, and alive. (Although I'm ready for the construction equipment to be gone from Lincoln Hall.)

After I first wrote about my experiment, someone – the MTD’s Twitter account, I think – suggested that you also could work while you ride the bus.

I certainly can’t.

Part of that is the duration of the commute. Get the laptop fired up and you’ve got perhaps seven minutes of usable time.

But go ahead and type something on any route from downtown to campustown. I know what it will say: FhtoiAGYrtlfwghtRHR. Or something like that.  This is not a smooth trip. I have seen perhaps two people actually doing something that looked like studying during my trips. I have seen one person using a laptop.

But I wasn’t going to get anything written while driving to or from campus , so while I don’t think most people would be able to work on the bus, I also don’t think it matters very much.

Also: Every driver on every route I took was courteous, and several were downright friendly – and they all knew every route by heart, as evidenced by the people who ask if they can get to point A from here.  Maybe that shouldn’t surprise me, but when customer service is so often mediocre, it’s worth noting.


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dw wrote on December 09, 2011 at 9:12 am

The bicycle path on Wright street has long been #1 in bicycle police Officer Chris Hawk's worst bicycle infrastructure in C-U.

As solution used in other cities (Madison, WI) is to run the bicycle paths to the left of the buses (towards the middle), and run the buses down the left and right hand sides.  The intelligent bicyclist does this, or bicycles in the path hyper-aware of pedestrians, or just avoids Wright street entirely.  Wright street is a foobar of (re)design for many reasons, but primarily for the epic fail in integrating the bicycle paths with pedestrian/bus traffic (they also a one-way to an 11-way street (depending on vehcle class)!  This atroucious design makes drivers confused, frustrated and anxious -- making them impatient in a high pedestrian/bicyclist environment.  Not a good thing to do to a 3,000 pound missle operator! To be sure it is not just the drivers -- many bicyclists AND pedestrians are annoying scofflaws and walk while reading their phones -- but that is no excuse for poor design that killed a young woman IN THE CROSSWALK at 6th and Chalmers before they put the 3-way stop in, and hitting/hurting/killing someone -- regardless of whether you're in the right or not -- weighs on you for life.  In this case I am definately an advocate of inteligent design (see the how the all-cross pedestrian-only timing of the lights on green/sixth/wright has led to a decrease in jaywalking).

You should try a folding bicycle -- it'll get you there greener and faster (so you'll have extra time to get the work done) than either a bus or a car, and you'll get some exercise and you can take it into class with you so you don't have to worry about locking it up/stripping off your lights, cyclo-computer, etc.  In incliment weather, your folder goes right onto the bus with you, so you don't have to fight the other cyclists for the two spots on the front of the bus.  Good thing to teach your students too.

That bumpy ride?  That's the fault of the bus system itself:  a city bus does over 800 times more damage per mile to a road than a car*.  Take a look at Chalmers between Wright and 6th: it was repaved this summer and we've yet to have a freeze-thaw cycle (the common-knowledge causer of chuck holes).  HUGE potholes in an otherwise smooth-as-glass assphalt.  The asphalt on Chalmers which was repaved at the same time is nice and smooth still between 6th and 4th -- the majority of bus traffic turns south on Wright and doesn't travel that section of the road.  Oh yes, as a municipal entity, the MTD doesn't pay motor fuel taxes (aka road repair taxes)... including the local ones instituted by Urbana and Champaign.  800 times more damage per mile per bus.  Zero road repair taxes.

This is not about bashing the MTD:  the bus drivers are absolutely awesome and the MTD does a bang-up job.  This is about the vehicles used for mass transit: buses get 4-6 MPG and have an average ridership of 10ish due to deadheading/positioning miles and low-to-zero passenger count during non-rush hour time periods.  This results in a passenger-mile per gallon of 40-60.  You can beat that with two people in a Prius, and be par with it with one person on the Beach Boys little honda (motorcycle parking is plentiful and everywhere, and though F&S doubled the rate for a pass for students and non-unionized folks to one of the highest in the Big Ten, is still relatively cheap compared to a car spot -- and you can park in any motorcycle lot on campus).  Or ride right up to the door on your folding bike.  Or your electric folding bike (and plug it in to recharge in the classroom while you teach, if you need it).

That light electric rail proposal from the early 2000's before the gas prices spiked that got derailed by nay sayers?  That's how a real progressive town thinks, and kudos to the MTD when they tried to take us in that direction.  Had that happened your commute would've been smooth like buttah and you could've gotten your work done/texted/etc and it wouldn't have ruined the roads or contributed to the nations billion-dollar-a-day foreign oil habit -- heavy vehicles move best on rails -- ask the U of I's railway engineering program**... Expensive? Yes.  But not in comparison to the true cost of running buses on our high frequency routes.


* http://facweb.knowlton.ohio-state.edu/pviton/courses2/crp776/776-roads-beam-handout.pdf