Thursday, July 14, 2011

Albany's Getting a New Transit System


No, there are no rail lines.  Sorry to disappoint.

And actually, it's more of a redesign than a new system.

But the new plan for Albany is pretty awesome, nonetheless.  As I wrote in the last blog post on this topic, the transit authority has spent almost a year collecting input from the public in order to realign routes to where people live, work, shop, drink, buy drugs (prescription only of course) and do other fun things.  The plan is budget-neutral, with no additional funding to the operating budget for Albany.  As a result, not every area benefits equally. 

Yesterday afternoon, I attended the last of four public outreach/input meetings held throughout Albany before implementation of the restructured routes, held at the Pine Hills Branch of the Albany Public Library.

The approach to the Albany Public Library Pine Hills Branch on Western Avenue.  The Pedestrian Perspective. 
Not bad.  It helps that the library is at the confluence of a few bus routes that connect it to downtown, the train station, the mall, the hospitals, Central Ave, and most Albany colleges.

The small commercial strip across the street that, together with the library and the police station/playhouse (seriously), surround a small park at the area formerly (a century ago) known as The Point, where Madison and Western Avenues meet, also the name of a restaurant in this strip.  I also heard the term "The Point" used for that intersection tonight.  Nice!
It is a wonderful thing to live in a city that invests in its libraries.
Here's to the Albany Public Library Budget passing next week!
The meeting's entrance, welcome table and most importantly, people talking about transit.
More people talking, asking questions and viewing large scale maps of the current and proposed systems.
Handouts, from left: Detailed route change explanation; Comment sheet;
Table showing current and proposed frequency and hours of operation.
I arrived at the meeting just after the first presentation had ended.  I stayed for the second and chatted with Ross Farrell, CDTA's Senior Transportation Planner, in the meantime.  I'd spoken with Ross a couple of times in the past.  As is rarely the case with anyone in any company, I always come away with the feeling that I've been really listened to.  He is also an unusual mix of forward thinking and realistic, with an eye on providing a foundation for the future while accepting the increasingly constrained budgets of now.

Ross Farrell presenting an overview of the route changes.
All attendees were given comment sheets and encouraged to respond to what we liked and what we didn't like.  This is a neighborhood that is heavily affected by the new bus service.  The #4 - Pine Hills will no longer run, while in return, there is increased service the entire length of Madison Avenue, as well as a more effective cross-town route.  Pine Hills is a perfect example of the trade-offs that this project sometimes seems defined by.

The 4 coming down Lark Street to bring me to work.  I'll miss this bus, but the gains are worth it.

Now, on to the proposed routes for the first phase of the restructuring:

18 Delaware Ave - Sunday service.  I would have been happy if they had ended here.  This is just so important.  This corridor is one of the most transit-oriented neighborhoods in Albany, similar to Pine Hills.  (I plan to take a pictorial journey out here some day on my bike.)   The 18 is now a "trunk route" (main transit corridor - frequent service, runs all day, 7 days per week and part of the core of the CDTA system) rather than a neighborhood route (less frequent service, provided usually to connect with trunk routes).  Routes 6 and 7 will also make the switch from neighborhood to trunk route.  The 18 is now streamlined to cut out some parts of Delmar and will even meet up with the 13 (New Scotland Avenue) at the Price Chopper in Slingerlands.  To be frank, this is my favorite of all the improvements to the system, even though I rarely take this bus.

12 Washington Ave- More frequent service, no more Harriman State Office Campus and goes to Crossgates Commons (WalMart) on every trip.  Currently, it only goes to WalMart on weekends. The stop at WalMart/Crossgates Commons replaces service to the Harriman State Office Campus, which is filled by a commuter neighborhood route.

13 New Scotland Ave- This route will have reduced frequency.  The idea is that many of the new neighborhood routes will actually pull ridership from the 13.  Also, rather than going up Delaware and turning down Holland, it will turn down Madison and then New Scotland. It seems like we broke even with this route.

The others on the "trunk route" side are some that I'm not as familiar with.  However, based on how the old system looked vs. the new, improvements just keep coming.  The 6 has been split into two routes, one trunk, one neighborhood (the 116), with the neighborhood route serving Arbor Hill north of downtown and the trunk route serving the area on the other side of downtown. The 7 I don't really know.  Maybe that would make a good exploring trip.

Now we'll get into the Neighborhood Routes.  All of these will have three digits, and begin with a '1' (fun fact: Rensselaer County begins its routes with a '2' and Schenectady County begins with a '3'.)

100 Mid-City Belt- Circulates between Morton, Holland, Quail, Livingston and Pearl and replaces parts of the 3, 4 and 8.  Not a bad deal, operating every 30-60 minutes.  I believe the 3 only runs hourly now.  Either way, it runs the entire length of Quail Street, and meets up with every single trunk route along the way.  Additionally, it is the only new neighborhood route to have Sunday service.  I really like the name, too.

114 Madison/Washington- Another favorite.  This goes from Crossgates Mall to the Amtrak Station in Rensselaer.  And alllll the way down Madison.  Additionally, it operates every 30-60 minutes, on Saturdays and until 10-11 p.m.  These were all my most common complaints about the 4, which this mostly replaces.  There is no Sunday service on this route, but there is still the 214 to the train station.  I'll miss my old #4 route but I hope I can keep my bus-driver on some new one.

116 Albany Memorial/Menands- This is one of the routes that is split from the old 6 route.  It runs during the week, at peak and mid-day hours.  Basically, the schedule that the 4 had, only more frequent.  I'm not as familiar with much of this route, but I'm slightly familiar with much of its coverage, and this area needs decent service.  I'm not sure this cuts it.  However

125 Clinton/Sand Creek- This replaces portions of the 2 and 3.  Like the 2, there is no Sunday service.  Speaking to Ross, however, I gathered that if the Honest Weight Food Co-op moves to its new Location on Watervliet Ave, it is very likely that Sunday service will be implemented.  That's always been my concern with this route in particular, and one reason I don't support the Co-op's move.  (There are others, but ease of transit is a biggie.) Also cool about this route is the fact that it goes down Clinton Ave, rather than Central.  At the same time, it connects with Central Ave for 2 BusPlus stations: Allen and Manning.

138 Livingston/Allen- Another favorite.  So many favorites, here!  Much of this is currently the #30, which brings me to meetings each month near the CDTA Sales Office.  The improvements mean it will arrive every half hour, instead of (usually) every hour.  It also provides a full loop around Albany, connecting with every trunk route on the way.

The twelve most popular requests for transit improvements.  CDTA was able to achieve all of these except the bottom two.
When they came to the Center Square Association meeting, in Albany's most transit-rich neighborhood outside of downtown, the only thing suggested was less CDTA.  I believe the idea was to move the cars better on Lark Street. Shameful.
I'm not going to get into the commuter routes to Harriman and Patroon Creek and the airport and Corporate Woods, simply because I'm so unfamiliar with them and with their needs.  However, I will say that I'm much more likely to schedule a doctors appointment at Patroon Creek than I used to be, since I would no longer have to cross a highway.  Literally, a highway:

Harriman State Office Campus to the south; Patroon Creek to the north.  Patroon Creek is more built-up now; Harriman Campus slightly so.  Mostly notice the giant roadway around the Campus.  It's 3 lanes in each direction with weird little U-Turn things all around.  And oceans of parking.  And highway access.  Not a lot of life there, though.  We'll visit someday.

A close-up of the roadway.  There are 3-4 lanes in each direction here, with a 4 lane highway called Washington Avenue in between. See that little blue thing?  That's the bus-stop.  See that plaza, parking lot, roadway, bridge over the highway, roadway and even bigger parking lot?  That's what you have to cross to get to Patroon Creek on the bus now.
The Flex Service routes around the malls are also some that I have no experience with and simply am not qualified to comment on.  During the presentation, Ross mentioned that CDTA kept those users in mind, reducing service while still keeping it frequent, and aligning routes with the start and end of nursing home shifts in the area.

And now, the drawbacks:

There are some areas in Albany that will see a complete elimination of service.  Most notable are Ohav Shalom and Hackett Blvd.  Both areas have many elderly residents that will not be able to easily walk the new distance to the buses.  Another CDTA employee mentioned that there may demonstrated need for transit in these areas in the future, and there is always the chance it could return someday.  Additionally, CDTA plans to review these changes a year after implementation and adjust service decisions where necessary.  Ross anticipates (or at least openly hopes for) high enough ridership on the 114 - Madison/Washington route that serves Saint Rose, UAlbany, Crossgates Mall and Amtrak to warrant providing Sunday service on the route, as one example.

Restructuring timeline.
As part of the Pedestrian Perspective, I plan to devote some blog time to showing the areas in which bus service was cut and testing the claims that the proposed routes are close enough to these areas to be walkable.  However, it was mentioned that for every person hurt by the route changes, ten people would see improved service.  Looking at the maps, it is very possible that is true.

Overall, while CDTA is the first to admit the results are a mixed bag, the new routes are quite practical and, in my opinion. a net gain in quality of service.  It's especially interesting to note that everything seems like it will connect much better without any increase or decrease in funding, the number of drivers and vehicles, total hours of operation, etc. It is really just a thorough streamlining of the city system, and one that can and hopefully will be built upon as time goes on.

There is one week left, until July 21st, to comment directly to CDTA about the proposed route changes:

CDTA Albany County Restructuring
Attn: Marketing Department
110 Watervliet Avenue
Albany, NY 12206
(518) 482-8822

No comments:

Post a Comment