Tag: CR Transit

Public Hearing on CR Transit Improvements

A public hearing will be held at the July 27 Cedar Rapids City Council meeting to consider bus route and schedule changes recommended in the recent Cedar Rapids Fixed-Route Transit Analysis. Any interested individuals or groups are encouraged to attend and speak for or against any of the proposed changes. The meeting starts at 5:30pm and is held in the Council Chambers at Hiawatha City Hall.

Several improvements have been made already to the transit system, since a change in leadership and departmental reorganization a few years ago, which separated transit and parking into separate divisions. A greater emphasis has been placed on safety and customer service, and some improvements have been made in marketing. The purchase of new low floor buses has started to modernize the very old, rundown fleet, which, in fact, was the oldest fleet in the country of any transit system based on average vehicle age.

Route and schedule changes being proposed to the City Council are the result of a Fixed-Route Transit Study conducted this past fall by SRF Consulting and Bourne Transit Consulting. Recommendations were intended to be implementable right away, focused on improving legibility and efficiency of the system without significantly increasing costs. These changes are an important first step to improving transit in Cedar Rapids. Learn more about the transit study and recommended changes here.

If you are interested in the future of public transportation in Cedar Rapids, please attend and show your support for these changes. For anyone unable to attend, written comments can be sent to the Office of the City Clerk, 3851 River Ridge Drive NE, Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52402 prior to the hearing.

WHAT: Public Hearing on Proposed CR Transit Improvements
WHEN: Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 5:30pm
WHERE: Council Chambers, Hiawatha City Hall, 101 Emmons Street

Final Recommendations for CR Transit Improvements

The third CR Transit Study open house was held this week on Tuesday, Nov. 24.  I attended the earlier session from 1-3pm at the African American Museum.  Both consultants Joseph Kern and Bob Bourne were there, as well as Sushil Nepal from Community Development / Corridor MPO.  It was good to finally meet Bob, who was the director of CyRide for 25 years and made it what it is today.  About 20 members of the public were in attendance, including a handful of concerned teachers and students from Prairie.  Mayor Kay Halloran also made an appearance.

I was pleased to see recommendations for system improvements as well as route changes.  Many of these recommendations echo changes I have suggested in previous posts to make the system more legible and user-friendly.  Regarding marketing, operations, and fleet, a few recommendations include: a new system map, real-time bus tracking, getting on Twitter, and displaying a route number, route name, and destination on all buses.

Read my entire review of route changes over at the Cedar Rapids Bus Party blog.

Better Transit for Cedar Rapids

The second CR Transit Study open house was held on Tuesday, October 20. The study is being conducted by SRF Consulting Group and Bourne Transit Consulting to analyze the current system and propose route changes to improve service. Various route options were presented at this week’s open house. The consultant’s final recommendations will be presented at a third and final open house on November 24.

During the summer I took a stab at my own hypothetical plan for improving the CR Transit system, developing a nearly complete system of modified and new routes. While my plan was much more idealistic and simply based on my own general knowledge and assumptions of transit operations and Cedar Rapids, I ended up not completing it. My original intent was to create a new route system with multiple transfer hubs – downtown, Lindale, Westdale, and the AEGON area at Blairs Ferry and Edgewood Road NE. My incomplete proposal is seen below. Click the image for an interactive Google map.

Laying out the routes proved more difficult than I figured, because I attempted to maintain similar route distances between hubs so buses could realistically be scheduled to meet at the same time. Using the distance and schedule of CyRide’s main fixed routes (Red, Green, Blue, Brown) as a rule of thumb, I tried to keep each route at around 7.5 – 8.5 miles (in each direction) to correlate to about 35-40 minute of travel. I was also hesitant to remove much existing physical service, even though a big issue with the current system is routes that loop throughout residential streets simply to increase the physical transit coverage without adding addition routes, but at the expense of directness and travel time.

A route hierarchy system was something I tried initially, with a system of four to five high frequency cross-town routes between major hubs, complemented by shorter, less frequent “normal” routes. This was based on Metro Transit’s High-Frequency Network in Minneapolis, with twelve major crosstown routes that operate buses every 15 minutes or less throughout the day. I quickly discovered a hierarchical system would not really work in Cedar Rapids because of its relative compactness (compared to MSP) and low ridership. However, a higher frequency could make sense along certain corridors, such as First Avenue between downtown and Lindale, which is a consistently busy route section already.

Proposed Route Modifications
It was interesting to look at the consultant’s proposed route change options and see how they compared with my own ideas. Generally I agree with most of the proposals and think they will help the system function more smoothly and provide more opportunities for alternative transfer points and route connectivity later on. Each route was provided a minimal modification scenario and a moderate modification. I won’t go through all of them since I wasn’t actually at the open house, and Samantha Dahlby has already written an extensive review on several of the route modifications on her Bus Party blog. However, I would like to comment on Route 3 and the 5’s.

Above is the minimal and “moderate” route modification proposed for Route 3 that was presented at the open house this week. The green represents unchanged sections of the route, red is removed sections, and blue is for new sections. As you can see, the minimal modification is just that, only removing a few small loop sections, but the route stays essentially the same. These minor changes would reduce overall route distance slightly, allowing the bus to run a full trip within 60 minutes without having to fight the schedule. Next, the “moderate” modification is actually quite extreme – it removes the route all together. The justification is low ridership and that a few other routes serve the area close by, including 4, 6 and 5B. Personally I have issues with this because it is the route I’ve used the past three summers to get to work, because it runs right behind my house. The Route 5’s, which run along First Avenue East, is about a five blocks away, which isn’t bad, but it certainly wouldn’t be as convenient. Luckily, I don’t foresee this option being implemented, but we probably won’t be seeing any service frequency increases on Route 3 anytime soon.

Route 5 is currently made up of three separate routes: 5B, 5N, 5S. All three run along First Avenue East from downtown to Lindale Mall, which from there they split into three different routes. 5B serves northern Cedar Rapids and Hiawatha via Blairs Ferry and Boyson roads. 5N (5 North) continues into Marion and loops around the northern half of the city. 5S (5 South) runs through the southern half of Marion. One of the 5 buses departs downtown every 30 minutes, providing half-hour service along First Avenue between downtown and Lindale during all hours of service. But each individual bus only actually runs every 90 minutes, so beyond Lindale Mall, the 5’s only ever run at that frequency.

All of the consultant’s proposed modifications to the route 5’s are past Lindale. I don’t have much to comment on the changes specifically, but ultimately I think the areas served by the 5’s, particularly Marion, would be better served by making the segments beyond Lindale separate routes with individual identification. In my proposal, I had a route running along First Avenue between downtown and Lindale, then connecting routes would run into Marion and north Cedar Rapids. Since the heaviest ridership on the 5’s is along First Avenue between downtown and Lindale, it might be feasible to have a shorter route with an even higher frequency than the current 30 minute headway. Then Marion could be served by either one or two looping routes, providing more frequent (likely 30 minute) service within Marion, with connection to routes at Lindale to go toward downtown Cedar Rapids or elsewhere in the northern area of the metro. Separating the three 5 routes individual would also help avoid the confusion of having three separate routes all numbered 5.

Information and Marketing
Additionally, better information and marketing would help make the system easier to understand and potentially more attractive to “choice riders” – those riders who are not dependent on transit as their primary means of getting around. It is important to make transit information readily available in a variety of mediums: on board, in bus shelters, and online. The only information currently provided consists of individual route maps and schedules, displayed in the temporary waiting room trailer at Lot 44, in pamphlets on board buses, and on the CR Transit website. There is now a comprehensive system map available on the Corridor MPO website, but it is not available directly from the transit website, nor is it available to those without internet access. Graphically it is not very professional or legible. A professionally designed system map needs to be made to improve legibility, as well as public image of the system.

Service stops along bus routes are currently marked with generic bus stop signs that denote which route or routes serve that particular stop. Several stops around town have bus shelters, but they do not display any addition transit information than a stop with only a sign. These shelters would be a good opportunity to improve convenience / user-friendliness by displaying a system map and schedule information for the route or routes that service the particular stop.

Another information improvement would be to standardize and rename bus routes. Instead of just being numbered, each route name should also include the major destinations or endpoint of each route. It might also be helpful to specify the direction of a bus along a particular route when applicable. Another strategy to make routes more identifiable and easy to remember is to assign a particular color to each route. For example, CyRide identifies each route by number, color, direction, and endpoint destination, such as #1 Red East / Mall via Hospital. Since Cedar Rapids has 12 – 14 routes (depending on how you count the 5’s), that may be too many to effectively distinguish each route by color, but including major destinations and endpoint in route titles would be useful. Especially now that CR Transit has four new Gillig buses with programmable LED destination signs, with more coming, they need to be utilized. Right now they only display the route number, providing no information on where it is going or what you connect to from it. (There are a few exceptions – some of the old RTS buses have roller signs with some detail such as “Route 1 – Ellis.”)

Another key part of improving transit and attracting more riders, is to promote the system through branding and better marketing. I don’t mean advertising, but some simple steps to increase visibility and making the system more attractive and user-friendly. A new website, perhaps even with its own URL ( www.CRtransit.com instead of www.cedar-rapids.org/transit maybe?), with useful, easy-to-navigate schedules, detailed maps, and information on transferring between routes would be a helpful resource. Getting on Facebook and Twitter, too, could increase visibility even more, and be used to provide instant service information to riders. These would be relatively inexpensive, yet critical, ways to make transit more accessible and attractive to choice riders – those who are not dependent on transit. Additionally it would finally provide those dependent on the bus system the most basic of transit information.

Like all across the country, more people in Cedar Rapids are looking to transit for an alternative to driving everywhere. Environmental concerns, a renewed interest in urban living, and most importantly, rising gas prices have created a renewed interest in transit and demand for more service all across the country. The Cedar Rapids Transit system has been lacking for years and is long overdue for improvements so it can be a more viable, efficient means of transportation. Now is the right time for us to be planning and implementing initial transit changes, just as we are planning for an even better Cedar Rapids as we rebuild following the flood. The increased public interest, particularly among younger, potential choice riders makes me optimistic for the future of transit in Cedar Rapids. The third and final transit open house will be held November 24, where final recommendations for route changes will be presented.

> CR Transit Study Open House 1 – System Analysis (9/22/09)
> CR Transit Study Open House 2 – Proposed Route Modifications (10/20/09)

The Value of a Friendly Bus Driver

Fellow Cedar Rapids Transit advocate, Samantha Dahlby wrote on her Bus Party blog about her appreciation for the friendly and helpful bus drivers. I would agree that an overwhelming majority of CR Transit drivers are friendly, but with both a driver’s and passenger’s perspective, I often find myself either critiquing drivers or considering ways to improve my own passenger relations.

At CyRide, providing value-added service to customers is number three of four core principles, just behind 1. safety, and 2. waving to other drivers. : ) I delight in providing friendly service to passengers and honestly consider it one the perks of my job. As a university student, interacting with so many different members of the community while driving a bus has really given me a sense of connection with the Ames community that a majority of students may not experience.

Samantha is a member of the Corridor Metro Planning Organization and organizes monthly “bus parties” to encourage those unfamiliar with the Cedar Rapids transit system to try it out. Increasing awareness is an important step among many to start improving transit in Cedar Rapids, which is currently lacking for a city of its size. Check out the Bus Party blog for more information and to read some commentary and ideas from another local transit advocate.

This is probably also a good time to once again plug the Corridor MPO’s CR Transit survey. Feedback will assist the consultants currently studying short term transit improvements and changes. The first of three open houses for the study will be held this Tuesday, Sept. 22, from 6pm – 7:30, at the Crowne Plaza Ballroom. Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend, but look forward to seeing what changes the consultants propose.

> Cedar Rapids Bus Party
> Cedar Rapids Transit Survey
> Corridor MPO

Meeting for CR Transit Improvements

This afternoon I attended an Impact CR meeting with Joseph Kern of SRF Consulting Group, one of the transit consultants hired by the Corridor MPO to study route and schedule improvements for CR Transit. SRF and Bourne Transit Consulting have teamed up to do the study that is to be completed in November.

Today’s meeting, with about 10-15 in attendance, was for the consultant and planning staff to get an impression of what the young professional demographic hopes to see improved with the system. Pretty much all my ideas and concerns were raised during the meeting. It seemed to come down to a balance between routes serving greater area (heavy focus of the current routes) versus more direct routes that result in quicker service. Also, pretty much everyone agreed on prioritizing improvements that would help dependent over features to attract new choice riders. However, I hope we do not settle too easily for a dependent-majority ridership. More choice riders means more riders overall, and therefor potentially better service for everyone. I am not transit-dependent, but I’d like to be able to take transit for a variety of trips in town without sacrificing a lot of time or convenience. It should be noted that I was one of only two people there who regularly take the bus here.

It sounds like the proposed routing changes will be relatively minor, but a good first step as CR slowly becomes more transit friendly. As Joseph Kern commented, if you can focus on improving service and amenities along a few specific, busy corridors, then that can help build more support and demand for further system changes. But of course, every system and city is a little bit different. Providing clear and ample information and marketing is certainly an important part of those changes.

For a few weeks now I’ve been working on my own CR Transit overhaul proposals – mostly for fun. My approach was more to start completely from scratch, but I soon realized that most of the current routes probably do work pretty well, it’s just a matter of adjusting them to interact better. After today’s meeting I have decided not to continue this effort as there really is no point to, and I’ve struggled to finish the remaining routes – particularly on the west side of town and in Marion. This route proposal was never intended to be scientific or taken literally, but more to represent bigger concepts to improve the system. Concepts such as adding transfer points besides downtown, implementing some crosstown routes, and increasing service frequencies on more heavily-used corridors, such as First Avenue between downtown and Lindale. Generally these ideas were all represented in today’s meeting so I’m sure some additional transfer points and better route syncing will be in the consultant’s final recommendations.

It’s clear any route and service improvements in the near future are not going to be drastic. Something that can be done more immediately, I believe, is better information and marketing. Availability and clarity of information was an expressed concern by many today. County Supervisor Ben Rogers claimed if his car broke down someday, he wouldn’t know how to get to work and back on the bus. I’m sure he could figure it out, but it’s no exaggeration that transit information is provided very minimally and poorly. Better marketing (knowledge of the system and service it provides) and a variety of information tools would benefit both dependent and choice riders.

You can view my incomplete CR Transit route proposal here. Note new transfer hubs at: downtown intermodal facility, Lindale Mall, Westdale Mall, corner of Edgewood and Blairs Ferry, and at Boyson Road and C Ave NE. I still intend to finish writing an extensive post about specific concepts and information tools I think could be implemented to provide better service for dependent riders and attract new choice riders as well. This will come sometime next week, as I’m going to DC tomorrow for a week, where I’ll be getting around predominantly by transit.

New Gilligs Now in Service

Two of CR Transit’s four new 35 ft. Gillig Lowfloor buses began their service life today on routes 1 and 2, in units 2092 and 2093, respectively. They were all supposed to be ready to go by today, but in the words of my afternoon bus driver, “you know how these things go…” These are the first brand new buses for Cedar Rapids in 15 years or so. Today is a good day for the future of CR Transit. Additional Gillig buses will be purchased over the next few years to further modernize the fleet.

Additional CR Transit bus photos on Flickr.

Why CR Transit Needs System Overhaul

I started a summer job last week, only a little late in the season, at the Facilities office at Kirkwood Community College in SW Cedar Rapids. Living on the opposite side of town, I elected to ride to bus to and from work, through a combination of choice and necessity. I never had my own car in high school and have, so far not found the need, desire, or financial surplus to purchase my own during the past four years of college. I have also become quite an advocate of public transit over the past few years, and admittedly a little bit anti-car.

Living on the northeast side of town, my commute requires transferring routes downtown at the long-term temporary transfer site, Lot 44, at 12th Ave and 2nd Street SE. Before last year’s flood that claimed eight transit buses and extensive damage to the city bus garage, route departure times were at consistent intervals, and service headways were pretty much the same for every route. Generally all routes had half hour service during the moring and late afternoons, with hourly service during the midday and Saturdays. The only anomaly was the Route5’s (5N, 5S, 5B) which all run along 1st Avenue to Lindale Mall, then diverging along three different routes – serving north Marion, south Marion, and Hiawatha respectively. A 5 bus would depart downtown ever 30 minutes, but each individual route (5N, 5S, or 5B) would actually only leave every hour and a half.

When transit service resumed after the flood, there was limited service – I believe all routes started with hourly service during the day – I imagine due to a combination of lost busses, new flood-related expense circumstances, as well as assumed temporary decreased demand. Since then some routes have increased service to 30 minute headways in the morning and afternoon, but not all routes, including Route 3, the one that I can conveniently catch right behind my house in NE Cedar Rapids and ride downtown in about fifteen minutes.

The way the bus routes are laid out in a “spoke and wheel” fashion, makes it generally easy and convenient to commute to and from downtown if you’re near a route, but mobility between different areas of town – especially if they are on the same side (east or west) of the river/downtown – is much more difficult. Every single route originates in downtown and extends outward, like spokes in a wheel. Some routes occasionally cross each other but there is no systematic coordination for transfers between any routes outside of downtown. It is probably possible in some cases (I haven’t studied the schedules close enough), but it would be up to the passenger to investigate ahead of time on their own.

In my case, I’m traveling from the NE side of town to the SW, so transferring routes in downtown is convenient and efficient. But I still have problems with differing service frequency among routes and the fact that it takes me 50 minutes to ride to work. My “home” bus stop is along Route 3 at Lindale Ave and Tiffany Drive NE. Route 3 continues to operate “hourly” (70 minutes in the afternoon) all day, since service reductions after the flood. To get to Kirkwood I take Route 7 from downtown. 7 has resumed half-hour “peak” service in the morning and afternoon. My general working hours are pretty standard, 8am – 5pm with an hour break for lunch. The times hourly Route 3 meets up with half-hourly Route 7 to transfer do not work very well with my given schedule.

Route 3
At Lindale Ave
Route 3
Arrive Lot 44
Route 7
Depart Lot 44
Route 7
Arrive Kwood
6:25am 6:40am 6:50am 7:15a
– – – – – – 7:20am 7:45a
7:25am 7:40am 7:50am 8:15a
– – – – – – 8:20am 8:45a
8:25am 8:40am 8:50am 9:15am
Route 7
Depart Kwood
Route 7
Arrive Lot 44
Route 3
Depart Lot 44
Route 3
At Lindale Ave
4:15pm 4:40pm – – – – – –
4:50pm 5:18pm 5:30pm 5:45pm
5:15pm 5:40pm – – – – – –
6:00pm 6:28pm 6:40pm 6:53pm

As you can see I am pretty limited to certain times I can go to work and what times I can leave. Fortunately my workplace is pretty flexible so I just come in early at 7:15 (taking the 6:25 number 3 bus), but I still must stay there longer than an eight hour day in order to take the 4:50 Route 7 bus in the afternoon that will connect me to Route 3 in a timely fashion. Additionally, taking 50 minutes to travel a mere 10 miles or so is also not very convenient for me. In the current route structure, many routes loop around and a number of different streets in effort to cover the most physical area in a single route. This makes getting to your actual destination very time consuming and extremely inefficient. Bus routes that serve major destinations such as Kirkwood or large employers like Aegon and Rockwell Collins need to have more direct routes.

I’ve come up with four main criteria to evaluate the CR transit system:

   1. Can I get to my destination on the bus routes?
   2. Can I do so at a time that works with my schedule?
   3. Can I travel by bus in a timely manner?
   4. Is the bus comfortable and attractive?

In my case, the answer to criteria one would be yes. I can catch the bus right behind my house and get off the bus right by the building I work in at Kirkwood. For criteria two, the answer would be “sort of” – it is possible to get to and from work reasonably within my required timeframe, but there is certainly no flexibility. Three, can I travel in a timely manner? Absolutely not. A more direct route from downtown, or wherever routes connect, to Kirkwood could decrease my travel time. And, finally criteria four – the current bus fleet of majority older buses does not make for the most pleasant ride, but even more so, gives the system a less than stellar public image.

Fortunately all these issues may start to improve. The fourth issue should be the most visible improvement to come. Four brand new buses have arrived this month and should go into service within a few weeks. Additional new buses will be purchased over the next few years to replace older vehicles.

Regarding the first three issues, the Corridor Metro Planning Organization has issued a request for proposal to consultants for a fixed-route system analysis and recommendations for system improvements including changes to routes and schedule. According to the RFP, “The proposed routing options should focus on reducing travel times, increase the service area and increase the transit ridership. The analysis should include specific routing options, service schedules, expected ridership and driver scheduling.” A consultant is to be selected by July 17, and work is expected to be completed by mid November. The study, partially prompted by criticism of the system during the Neighborhood Planning Process earlier this year, will include three public open houses.

There are obviously many improvements – large and small – that could make CR Transit a much more effective system. In a future post I plan to further explore improvements and specific changes I believe will be necessary to bring Cedar Rapids’ transit system up to par. It is critical that Cedar Rapids becomes a more transit-friendly city.

Finally, Brand New Buses in Cedar Rapids

The four brand new 35 foot, 2009 Gillig Lowfloor buses for CR Transit have arrived. They are not out in service just yet, but I was able to get a few preliminary photos of the new buses from fellow transit enthusiast James Roach. In these photos, a few details remain to be added (like the CR Transit lettering, 5 season tree logo, etc). Also the front of the bus below the windshield is green like the sides, it’s just still covered up with wrapping in the photos.

The exterior color scheme follows a new “CR Transit” branding that’s already in place on the eight used TMC RTS buses purchased earlier this year for flood replacement. The system officially dropped it’s former “EAGL” moniker and became known as CR Transit / Cedar Rapids Transit over a year ago. The existing older buses – old RTS’s and the Thomas Dennis SLF lowfloors – were not repainted but “EAGL” has been removed and replaced with the stylized “CR Transit” lettering.

This arrival is a pretty big deal, being the first brand new buses Cedar Rapids has seen in 10-15 years. Bill Hoekstra, head of the former combined transit and parking department, was an advocate of purchasing refurbished used buses instead of buying new. This saved the city some money but has done little for the bus system’s image. CR Transit will be purchasing additional Gilligs over the next few years to finally modernize the fleet. The new buses, units 2091-2094 (2 is the city dept. code, and 09 refers to year of manufacture). They should be in service within the next couple of weeks.

Check back frequently for new photo updates and other CR Transit news.

CR Transit Goes Green

CR Transit maintains its presence at Lot 44 at 12th Ave SE and 2nd Street SE, for transfers and now dispatch. Trailers have been set up to provide an indoor waiting area with vending, public restrooms, and office for dispatchers.

Eight used 1992 TMC RTS buses were acquired in December and put in to service earlier this year – replacing buses lost in the flood. These buses debut the new green livery design and CR Transit branding. Older buses have not changed except the “CR Transit” lettering has been added to some of the newer Thomas Dennis SLF’s (but not all of them…?).

A few of the new RTS’s had bike racks installed, which was a previous plan to add bike racks to most of the bus fleet.

Four brand new 35 foot Gillig Lowfloor buses are due to arrive in April, an order unrelated to the floods. Additionally, CR Transit will be getting four new large buses and one medium duty bus with funding from the economic stimulus package.

See all new photos on Flickr.


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