The amazing bus race!

Man triumphs over Machine once again…

WVNN Talk Radio Superstar Dale Jackson and I beat the bus!   We walked about 3 miles in 45 minutes, edging out Jason Marks (on the Huntsville Shuttle bus) by seven minutes.  Even though walking was faster, I was a hot mess when we arrived at the VBCC while Jason was air-conditioned and fresh.

Jason had to transfer buses once, but note that he saw a total of 11 people riding both buses (during evening rush hour).  The first bus was about 10 minutes late and Jason had to wait about 10 minutes for the transfer bus (route 9 to route 5).  Overall, Jason seemed to have an okay experience riding the bus, however, no one who has a car would trade the 10 minute drive for an hour on the bus.  Jason loves his Jeep even more now…

The Amazing Dale Jackson Beats the Bus

The Amazing Dale Jackson Beats the Bus

My interest in The Amazing Bus Race was to investigate Huntsville sidewalks.  Sidewalks are the fundamental basis of public transportation and it is silly to spend money on buses (or rail) without first having a good sidewalk system.  The rule of thumb is that people will walk about 1/4 mile to ride a bus or 1/3 mile to ride a train.  I took some pictures of the sidewalks (/light sarcasm) encountered during the race.  This is on Pulaski Pike south of Oakwood:

"Sidewalk" on Pulaski Pike

"Sidewalk" on Pulaski Pike

This is downtown on Holmes:

"Sidewalk" on Holmes Avenue

"Sidewalk" on Holmes Avenue

The City budgets about $300,000 per year for sidewalks (which doesn’t include the Federal stimulus money spent on new bus shelters).   Huntsville is paying $71,000 for a transportation consultant to “to recommend new routes and other improvements”.   If the consultant doesn’t recommend sidewalk improvements I’ll just consider it more money wasted on useless consultants.  The City would’ve been better off hiring someone to walk around the City listing sidewalk improvements.

The highly touted and totally stupid (for Huntsville)  Google Transit  was an epic FAIL.  Dale Jackson has more on that – I’ll just add that the people who ride the bus don’t have iPhones, and that people who have iPhones don’t (and will not) ride the bus.

22 thoughts on “The amazing bus race!

  1. Yeah, that Google Transit ap is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard of. When I saw that article in the paper, I just shook my head and wondered why public officials don’t realize how absolutely clueless they look when they tout ridiculous stuff like this.

    Yes, Tommy Battle, I’m looking at you.

  2. “There is no service to Hampton Cove, Monte Sano or the fast-growing Zierdt Road area.” I foresee a civil rights lawsuit coming from the NCAAP on this. The city is denying the five “colored” folks in Hampton Cove access to public transportation.

    • please!! Have you people never lived in a city before?? Try living in NY or DC — you don’t need a car and many young people don’t have them. Many, many people take a bus or subway to work everyday–black, white, yellow, red, etc.! There is nothing wrong with connecting the city. It makes it a lot easier for people to visit. If you want tourists, you should accommodate them. Not sure we need the google app thing, maybe maps and benches for bus stops would be good. But, there are a lot of people who depend on their phones.
      Do you want a sprawling, unconnected, suburbia with crowded roads? I would love it if my teens could take a bus to the Art Museum on Sat. It would be great if they could shop downtown and go out to eat after seeing the Art Museum, w/o driving themselves or depending on me. But just don’t put a bus route on that road on the side of the mountain, I think it is Cecil Ashburn. That road would be scary on a bus (for me :-) So maybe our roads aren’t the best for huge buses right now, I don’t know. Do you need certain types of road systems for everyday public transit use? Does it matter?
      And sidewalks are a great idea. When I lived in NY I was very thin — I walked everywhere, on sidewalks!

      • Um, the whole point is that Huntsville isn’t NY or DC. A bus system here makes little sense, is barely used, and wastes people’s time. You say you would love for your kids to use the bus, but why should the taxpayers fund this service so that your kids can go to the museum every now and then? NY and DC also have subway systems — Should we build one of those, too?

  3. no, no subway, it’s just that if you want the city to grow, you will have more traffic. More traffic demands some kind of public transport system to ease the crowded roads, no?

    We can make a long range plan and just do it one step at a time as the need arises. Nothing wrong with planning ahead, esp. if we expect/want the city to grow. Starting with sidewalks downtown sounds great to me. I’m no expert. Seems like we need to study road structure too, but I have no idea.

    Right now we have a sprawling suburbia we call a city. Nothing wrong with connecting it.

    And if there really is no need, then of course, don’t even have buses. But, if there is a need, quit with the prejudice (i.e., “denying the 5 colored people in Hampton Cove”??? please, I’ll pretend he didn’t say that) make a plan specific for this city’s needs and do it. Public transit is not just for the “poor”. Get over that mentality.

    • Hey Mom, what makes sense for NYC doesn’t necessarily make sense for Huntsville. In this case, mass transit (including and especially high speed rail) doesn’t make sense for Huntsville because of population density (among other things). I have had this conversation with Dr Anderson at UAH (PHD transportation engineer). He tends to agree. The Huntsville Bus system losses 7 bucks for every rider. Throwing more money at it will only make it less profitable, IOW make the problem worse. Find a way to make it profitable or scrap it.

      BTW I’m not a transportation engineer, but as a civil engineer there is quite a bit of overlap. Saying things like “We need to study road structure” is just silly. Like we don’t already have a veritable army of professional engineers employed by state and local municipalities who do this every day. No disrespect, but you have no idea of the costs involved in making Huntsville, as you put it, “Connected”.

    • Breathe, Mom. HSVAccountant’s comment was a barbed joke about how the NAACP turns everything into a “civil rights” issue, not some sort of any-black comment. If you will recall, one of the things the city put into it’s activist-authored affordable housing plan was a promise to extend public transportation to the edges of the city (e.g., Hampton Cove). Why? Because this, the city said, would allow minorities to live in those areas. So HSVAccountant’s joke is not at all without merit.

  4. I’ve lived in Boston and DC, and was car-free (and thinner) in DC for three years.

    Mom = “More traffic demands some kind of public transport system to ease the crowded roads, no?”

    No. More traffic demands more roads. The DC area is known for its traffic as well as its public transportation. The problem is that they have a ‘roads are not the answer’ mentality, which is just as stupid as the ‘war is not the answer’ mentality.

    Public transit is just for the poor in HSV, but not just for blacks. Jason Marks said that 7 of the 11 bus riders were black, which might be expected on a route through NW HSV.

    IMO the City should use a systems approach to public transportation and recognize that sidewalks are the first step. The bus routes should only serve areas with likely riders – not places like Hampton Cove or Zierdt Road. I’m in favor of optimizing and stabilizing the existing bus system, but not growing it until after the entire system including sidewalks are built. The City should concentrate on building sidewalks along the route with no gaps, improving crosswalks (crossing University Drive during rush hour on foot was challenging enough for two guys in good shape), and building sidewalks 1/4 mile out from bus stops.

    • Systems approach sounds good! Long range planning is needed for many things in Huntsville. Good point on roads. Just need a little planning ahead and flexibility to change the plans if/when the situation changes.

      Public transit is (so you say) only for the poor now, but it doesn’t have to be in the future. You can always do those “Park and ride” lots where people park outside an area (like downtown where parking is limited) and ride in — and then walk around on the sidewalks.

      And Whitey, no need to insult. Didn’t you see that I said, “I have no idea” and “I’m not an expert”. My point is that it seems we need to study things and determine need and whatever it will take to make it successful before we do it. We need something specific for our town and IMO we need to take it one step at a time. We need a long range plan that includes many aspects, with public transit one part of it all.

      • No insult meant or implied, but I’m just pointing out that the studying you say we need is happening right now and it has been that way for decades. The problem is that the findings of these studies point to anything other than the mass transit system we actually have implemented. Huntsville is just not layed out for mass transit. This isn’t something that can easily be fixed. You can’t just tear everything down and build it back so things are possible.

      • How are NYC’s finances & taxes these days? Transit doesn’t run unless heavily subsidised by the working taxpayers.

  5. HSV has a public transportation system to qualify for federal grant money. The city makes money by losing a few million a year.

      • The feds require that a city have a public transportation system to qualify for many federal downtown redevelopment grants. The HSV system exists for that purpose, not for the benefit of those that might choose to use to the system.
        The reason the system is inefficient is that there is no need for efficiency when only serving 150 people a day.

  6. People. Can’t we just start with a few mil or two and turn 53 into a 2 lane, no stoplight highway??? Wouldn’t that be money well spent? I would even pay money into a specific fund if I knew it was going directly into that!!

  7. Well let me interject some sanity into this. I have actually ridden the bus all over Huntsville many times, I have 3 cars in my driveway BUT after heart surgery (twice) I could not drive for months. This system is not going to make money directly EVER, but it does give people who have low paying jobs a way to get to and from work without using a huge portion of their income. I also use it to take my auto to Firestone on Airport road to leave it (since waiting for hours in an auto repair shop borders on cruel and unusual) and then use the bus to go pick it up. This city wastes money on many things that only a fraction of the populace can use, this is one that even if not used is available to everyone for times when you cannot drive. Additionally, when the price of gas started getting around $5 a gallon, ridership went up and unless you folks know something I don’t that is a real possibility for the future. This system is not perfect but I think it does a pretty good job of covering most of Huntsville with as few buses as possible. So I give the city 4.5/5 stars for having it, I will subtract some points for the iPhone thing, that was stupid :) Dale as usual gives us a tunnel vision view of his opinion but this is one where a much wider viewpoint should be used. Ask the many disabled folks that have to depend on this system if they need more sidewalks since that seems to be the point of his comments and since I have rode the SE bus many times (probably the least used) and had more than 11 people on most rides , I wonder what he calls “rush hour”. Try riding it when the shifts at WalMart are changing or in the middle of the day when many elderly and disabled people use it to get to doctors offices or to buy groceries.

    Bottom Line: Just another example of no good deed goes unpunished it seems, this system is not designed for people with plenty of money, it is designed for those who can’t afford to drive or are unable to drive. I believe as years go by it will become more useful but for now it is a good thing and those of us who have had to depend on it are damn glad it is here. Try riding it for a month and to several locations/times and THEN come back and tell me all about it. As much as I HATE taxes, I do not see this as a waste of my tax dollars. It is something ANYONE can use whenever they feel like it and I like that idea of a backup transportation system I can use.
    Just don’t turn it over to the idiots who are running this year’s Big Spring Jam (WTF)

    • Thank you, Douglas! Good comments. Makes total sense. And for the record, I too used buses and subways when I did not have a car.
      And you are right, so what if it is for people who can’t afford a car, or can’t use one? I also think it can be used by people visiting from out of town. And sidewalks are still a great idea. (Hope some of you writing this blog have something to do with implementing some of these ideas.)

    • Douglas – the bus race started at about 4:30PM Monday (evening rush hour). Dale Jackson focused on the Google Transit part of the story (and Winning!); Jason Marks reported on his bus ride along with the 11 other riders; I focused on the sidewalks. You say: “Ask the many disabled folks that have to depend on this system if they need more sidewalks” – I ask you what would the disabled folks say in your opinion?

      I’m supportive of the bus system – I think that even though Dale and I beat the bus, Jason ‘won’ because he was fresher at the finish. I want well-designed (and paved) sidewalks as part of the entire public transportation system.

      I want the City to build a nice greenway along the creek from Downtown to Brahan Spring Park. IMO that would add more public transportation ‘value’ than any other project.

      • ” I ask you what would the disabled folks say in your opinion?” – most of the disabled folks I spoke to fell into 2 categories:
        1. Had a job that they could not have held without the bus system
        2. Used it to keep themselves as independent as possible for things like groceries, doctor visits, etc. You have no idea how most of them HATE having to ask friends/relatives/anyone to take them to places they need to go , much less that the bus system allows them to just get outside for the hell of it.

        Obviously, there has to be some minimum level of sidewalks to allow for realistic access to the bus routes and a few of the pictures were unbelievable for the places shown. If it would be an obvious route to a bus or city service, you would have hoped that common sense would have prevailed (when am I ever going to learn that is a fantasy).

        It would be greatly appreciated by everyone if there were bike paths/greenways connected and allowing access to popular venues. My innate distaste for such things (even though I might actually use them) stems from my hatred of the HHA and Mayor Battle to attract the yuppie lifestyle for downtown Huntsville at the expense of S Huntsville (and I won’t start a tirade on the overwhelming smell of corruption for that valuable piece of real estate in the medical district)

  8. Douglas – “Ask the many disabled folks… if they need more sidewalks”; I’m asking for your opinion in terms of sidewalks.

    The pictures may have been “unbelievable”, but they are real and I didn’t choose the route – Dale Jackson used Google for both the bus and the walk. I brought my camera because I knew that I would find inadequate sidewalks. The good news is that more than 2/3 of the route had sidewalks – and some of the sidewalks were nice. The Pulaski Pike sidewalk picture is from the east side (behind Staples and Home Depot) – the west side has no sidewalk coming from Oakwood (HSV Country Club). We could have crossed Pulaski Pike (during rush hour) to continue on a sidewalk south of the Country Club but chose the normal pedestrian path.

    Common sense doesn’t prevail because (IMO) City employees don’t actually walk / ride the routes. The City looks different in real life vs GIS on a computer.

    • “The pictures may have been “unbelievable”, but they are real” – that the thing about written word, you can’t put emphasis on it :) The comment was meant to be unbelievable that they allowed it to be that bad for this long.

      As far as disabled folks needing sidewalks, again it comes down to what and where. Since most of them that I met live in apartments or assisted living type facilities, it would come down to access from those locations to the bus routes or as in SE Huntsville, they like to be able to have access to Publix or Star market without problems. Over my months or riding Walmart, Parkway Place (due to the central location for catching many buses there) and medical facilities were the destinations for most trips via the bus system. Interestingly enough most did not like to have to use the HandiRide (think that was the name) for reasons that were not clear