Thursday, May 11, 2006

Day Eleven PM

This afternoon Thad and Sammy went out to the Scavenger Hunt for Bike Walk and Wheel Week. We almost didn't go because today has felt a lot more like October than May and we were a little concerned about how cold it might get. Sande bundled Sammy up and he and Thad headed out for the bus stop as soon as Thad got home. Sande drove the car to work today because Thad didn't get home in time for her to take the bus and get there before the start of her shift at Green Meadows Hair Company.
Luckily for us Sammy is getting to be a pretty tough kid because as soon as we got out to the bus stop, it started POURING!!!!! And of course Thad, being the proverbial space cadet that he is, FORGOT THE UMBRELLA. Anyway, as we were standing in the pouring rain, I started back towards home and told Sammy it was too wet to go downtown. Well Sammy wouldn't have any part of that and demanded that we stay the course and get on the bus (like I said, he's pretty tough).
We got on the Blue Line and the driver took one look at us and just shook his head. I don't blame him, we must of looked pretty sad. We got on the bus and had some really good conversation with a couple of men who recognized Sammy. He recognized them too and they had a good "talk" which mainly consisted of Sammy asking them "do you have a pee pee?" Sammy is getting to learn the difference between boys and girls now and he seems to have a need to know these things. I of course was MORTIFIED but the two men took it in stride. They both were older men and I'm pretty sure they had both been down this road with their own kids and grandkids. Anyway, the bus ride was pretty eventful to say the least. I wanted to crawl right under the seat and hide and was really grateful that the two older men were so understanding.
The Beastie Boys were also on the bus today. There was a group of about 4 young men and I swear when I first heard the "music" coming from the back of the bus I thought there must have been a hip hop CD playing. They were using their voices in such a way that it really sounded like instruments. I was REALLY IMPRESSED and thought that group of kids could stand beside any of the rap artists I here on the radio.
So we got downtown and headed out to Main Squeeze for some dinner before the Scavenger Hunt. Main Squeeze has quickly become mine and Sande's favorite place to eat. It's on 9th next to the Subway at ninth and cherry. Sammy really likes it too, they have plastic dinosaurs to play with and a really cool metal bar with letters all over it.

After Main Squeeze Sammy and I walked over to Grill One 5 for the Scanvenger Hunt. Grill One 5 is on sixth just south of Broadway. It's basically right next to Cycle Extreme which is a really cool bike shop with folks who really know their stuff.
It seems the city likes to have these types of public gatherings in bars for some reason. Luckily, this one was not all smoky like Flat Branch has been in years past after the midnight bike ride and we were able to enjoy the room they placed us in.

The Scavenger Hunt was run by PedNet and I thought they did a really good job. I got to meet Ian Thomas (a right good Brit if I do say so myself), Judy Knudson (a PedNet member and Marketing Manager for Columbia Transit) and several other PedNet members whose names I can't seem to remember right now (must be the NewCastles). Anyway, the folks from PedNet did a great job with the Scavenger Hunt and Grill One 5 seemed like a really cool place to hang out. The goal was basically to go around downtown and find clues that were in various places according to some map coordinates.

Sammy and I were our own team and we managed to find about a third of the clues. I don't know Mizzou's Campus very well and so chose not to go to any of those clues. That was a good thing because what we were able to get to took us the entire 2 hours we were allotted. As I said before, today seemed a lot more like October than May and by the time we got back to the bar, Sammy and I were pretty much chilled.
I had a real good time meeting a bunch of folks from PedNet and have decided to link to their website. Look for it on my links section and check them out. They seemed like a real cool group of folks and I really enjoyd the scavenger hunt. We ended up winning a gift certificate to "LULU'S Repose". Sande tells me it's some kind of girly shop dowtown that sells bath salts and stuff. We also got some free passes to the ARC. The scavenger hunt got over pretty late so Sande just came and picked me and Sammy up on her way home from work. We got home and put Sammy to bed. Poor kid was asleep before his head hit the pillow. I was pretty wore out myself.

Overall I am giving the ride another 4 out of 5We had a great time as a family downtown. The only down side was that because the bus only runs every hour and twenty minutes in the evening, we ended up having to get a ride a home or wait until 9:25pm for another bus. We were just too pooped out to wait. The rain was a nuisance but you can't exactly control that sort of thing.


At 8:55 AM, Anonymous Lee Radtke said...

Just to set the record straight (and protect my job), Judy Knudson is not the Marketing Manager for Columbia Transit. She is the fantastically organized, incredibly innovative, unbelievably inspiring, should-be-exalted Coordinator for the Mayor's Challenge Bike, Walk & Wheel Week. The Scavenger Hunt was part of that week-long event.
There is still time to register for Bike, Walk & Wheel at The closing event is at Twin Lakes Park this Saturday, May 13, from 2-4 p.m. There'll be some snacks, a few speeches, prizes for the Wheels on the Bus Contest and a terrific raffle which is not to be missed (my husband won a bike last year)!

Following Thad, Sande and Sammy's adventures this past week made me realize something about the transit system. Please note, this is my personal observation - not official Transit perspective. Because of my job at Transit, I've had the opportunity to look back through the history of Columbia Transit (mostly through old Tribune articles). The family is trying to use Columbia Transit as a mass transit system.
As far as I can tell, it was never intended to be a mass transit system. It was intended to be a "charity" transit system.
Back in the mid-80s, several City Councilmen tried to completely abolish the transit system. Their comments in the Trib make it clear that they considered the buses to be exclusively for the handicapped, poor and elderly (their non-PC terms from a time before PC existed). One Councilman's solution was to provide cab vouchers for the handicapped and elderly, and let the poor fend for themselves (after all, if they would just get jobs, they could buy cars and who would ride the bus if they had a car?).
Now, if you actually ride the bus, you don't see "poor people". You see people going to work, going to school, job hunting, raising families, shopping, going to the doctor. It always interests me to read letters to the editor of the Tribune complaining about the "empty" buses - are our passengers truly invisible to these writers? What kind of assumptions are they making about the folks who ride the bus? Columbia Transit's ridership was over a half-million last year. But back to my point.
I think the system was designed to serve only people who don't own cars or cannot drive - and if you equate that with people who are beneath you socially or people who just don't work hard enough to get a car, then you only provide a system that is adequate. Certainly in the past, politically, the idea of expanding the system to cover more of the town during the hours when people actually work has been, well, if not controversial, at least touchy.
I think the idea of creating a mass transit system here and encouraging all citizens to use it to commute is recent - even nascent. The system still runs basically the same hours it ran in 1965 - and yet our city and economy have changed dramatically since then.
I want to credit City Manager Bill Watkins and Public Works Director John Glascock with creating a new atmosphere within Transit, where we are encouraged to look at all kinds of possibilities for making the system better. But I really think we have to stop looking for bandages for the system and start thinking of the system as mass transit - how do we get people to and from work and school effectively? Such a system would allow families like the Simmons to use the bus to get around town and run errands more effectively, as well.
Yes, some passengers on the bus face greater obstacles than many of the rest of us - but they are on the bus overcoming them. They don't need "charity" transportation, they need good mass transit - like the rest of us.
Like I said at the beginning, this is how I personally read the situation; if anyone wants to clarify, correct or disagree, I'm willing to listen.

At 3:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I too think a completly new 'mass transit' system should be introduced to Columbia and surrounding citys. We should study systems of citys like Columbia, and make the opperation hours early in the am, possibly 4 or 5 am, and late in the pm, mamby evan 1 am. And Sunday service, that is a need. Columbia is soon to be a city w/ over 100,000 people. It is time for the sytme to truly serve its city.

At 9:21 PM, Blogger The Simmons Family said...

Sorry about the mix-up Lee. Like I've said before, I'm pretty much a space cadet. I'm really glad you posted this comment. I guess I'd not thought of Columbia Transit as a "charity" system but thinking of it in that manner does make some sense out of some of the things I've observed and also makes me even more impressed by the level of service you guys provide.
I would agree that the transit System needs a revamping and I believe that is surely coming. Current population growth projections for Columbia are certainly going to force us as a community to rethink a whole lot of aspects of our city. Maybe the current "visioning" process the city is undergoing will address some of these concerns relative to mass transit.
I also think that the transit system has an image problem. Over the past couple of weeks, I've had the chance to talk to dozens of folks about Columbia Transit. Those who have actually used it think it is a pretty good way to get around but those folks are a severe minority of the overall population of Columbia. The vast majority of folks, in my opinion, have not tried taking the bus and see it as a rather inconvenient way to get around. Surely the limited route scheduling and run times have something to do with this but I think the problem is probably deeper than that. In the major cities, mass transit is seen as a viable convenient option for a lot of travelers while here it is not. I would agree that some of the reason is that some folks see the bus as "beneath" them but I also feel that there exists a persavise feeling that the bus simply doesn't go where they need to go and when they need to get there. Couple that impression with the fact that three days a week you really can't take the bus after dinner at all and that it doesn't run at all on Saturday morning or Sunday and you can see where trying to take the bus might seem a little unreasonable for some folks.
Let's face it, we live in the age of microwave meals. Most people simply don't want to wait for anything. Asking them to wait for an hour and twenty minutes between runs is simply not going to motivate them to park their cars and take the bus. That's really a sad commentary on our American experince but it's true. I obviously do not have the wisdom of your experience or the knowledge of what it takes to run an effective mass transit system. What I do know is that, for those of us who are willing to live at a little slower pace, the Columbia Transit system is a pretty good way to get around town. The process of transforming our current system into something that will work for us as a community in the future (where by all projections we can expect a 2-3 fold increase in population by 2050) is something that desperately needs to be addressed now.
Let me also say, that my experience these past few weeks has allowed me to see that we have a good foundation on which to build and I would be happy to help out if I can.

At 5:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with what Lee said, but I think the time is right to move to true mass transit--both because of the size and growth of the city, and because of world circumstances, with gas prices and global warming looking like ever more serious issues. It's a big problem to provide true mass transit in low-density communities, which the newer parts of Columbia really are. I hope that the visioning process addresses the need for true mass transit, as well as develpments that are transit-oriented, walkable, and mixed-use. Another barrier to bus use has been identified in some of the comments, and that is fear of the unknown, and the perception that it's scary to take the bus; I had it to some degree before I tried it. I think that's partly our culture, where we have very little contact with people we don't choose to--most people drive right into their houses, and then stay inside most of the time, so don't even get to know their neighbors, and partly the sensationalized, 24-hour news cycle that makes us think violent crime happens everywhere all the time, despite the statistics that show that not to be true at all. And then that fear is even worse when people think the bus is only for the down-and-out. How to resolve it? Not easy, but I think the coming improvements to the Wabash station will help, and I think that as more people choose to try the bus to save on gas, it will be seen as more main-stream; but, as Lee says, the system is really going to have to be overhauled (which means a big investment) to be truly usable for the majority of people.

At 10:13 AM, Anonymous Lee Radtke said...

I don't really think the whole transit system will need to be overhauled. We actually have a pretty good base to build from. But '65 when the City took over the system, their rationale for taking over what had been a private business was that they had an obligation to provide service for needy people. (There was enormous resistance to doing it, and they only resorted to it when no one stepped forward to buy the business.) They were responding to a crisis situation - the previous owner simply quit running the buses one day - and they didn't design a mass transit system. They were scrambling to learn how to run a bus system from scratch. In a sense, the whole system started out as a bandage and no one ever went back and tried to design an actual mass transit system here.
I think the visioning idea is terrific and mass transit needs to be one consideration, but momentum for improving Transit both within and without City Government is growing. As we consider modifications to the system, I suggest we need to keep a new model of mass transit in mind rather than just patching the old system.
Trying to figure out what kind of system would feel comfortable and convenient to most citizens is extremely challenging. Lots of large cities have terribly under-utilized mass transit systems, even on the West Coast, where air pollution concerns mandate some kind of mass transit. Also, studies show that most people aren't willing to walk more than one block to catch a bus. (I think Columbia, with its growing commitment to Active Living and non-motorized forms of transportation, could buck that trend.) Finally, there's always the cost to consider. I don't know how much it would cost to transform our present system.
In the meantime, the current system requires good time management skills and a sense of humor to navigate, but it does provide reliable service within its perameters (speaking as a long-time rider here).
Anyway, kudos to everyone who has overcome misperceptions, fears and reliance on cars to experiment with riding the bus. As you're finding out, it's a nice community of people to travel with.


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