Archive for February, 2010

Standin’ On the Corner, Waitin’ For the Bus

So, I think I have complained before about the lack of transportation alternatives in Bloomington and how hard it is to get to other communities.  Part of my focus has been complaining about the lack of trains in the area but there also have not been good bus or car-share options.  Happily, there are a few new developments happening – plus a couple that seem to have escaped my notice when they arrived.  I haven’t tried them all out yet but here’s the breakdown of motorized transportation options in Bloomington that don’t involve owning your own car.  (Walking and biking are also important, of course – and don’t forget dog pulling!)

Getting Out of Town

1. Bloomington Shuttle Service – originally just provided service to and from the airport ($15) but now they also have weekend service to Chicagoland where you go Friday night and come back Sunday night ($82).  However, the stops are all in the Chicago suburbs so I’m not sure what transportation options there are to actually get into the city.  (A quick Google Transit search says there’s no super easy option since malls tend to be located on interstates rather than subway lines).

2. Star of America – also started here with a focus on transportation to and from the airport ($15) but now also offering service to Chicagoland that is similar to the Bloomington Shuttle Service but a little cheaper.  I think they also offered a few special summer trips last year, including one down to the “Splashing Safari” water park as a day trip.

3. Miller Trailways – a little closer to a Greyhound type service with a number of set routes around the state, mostly connecting Indianapolis with other big cities but stopping at smaller towns along the way.  We are on the “Indianapolis-Evansville” route which means we could catch a ride either headed north to Indy or headed south and west to places like Bedford, Paoli, Vincennes, and Evansville.  I would definitely consider paying $16 to ride the bus down to Paoli instead of driving and am glad that the Amish communities in that area do have a bus option when they need it.

4. ZipCar – Yay, we have a zipcar now!!  This is very new to Bloomington and Indiana University.  Anyone can become a member and then rent a car by the hour or day although there is a discount for IU students, faculty, and staff.  It’s not the cheapest option in the world but neither is owning a car and I’m very happy this option is available to us now.  (There are also other car rental places in town that tend to be a little cheaper for longer term rentals.)

5. ZimRide – This is another cool new program that is designed to encourage ridesharing.  It’s basically an internet-based rideshare board but you can also rate people as good or not-so-good ride options so it will hopefully help people find ways to build a network of safe ride options.  Alas, it does not appear to be up and running for IU just yet but I know the university signed a two-year contract only a couple weeks ago so hopefully it will be available within the next month.

Getting Around Town

1. Bloomington Transit – basic bus service within city limits, nice reliable service, fairly cheap ($1.00/ride), can be time consuming depending on where you’re trying to go, especially since almost all routes go to the bus station downtown.  I still want to launch my “bus fairy” concept where route information would be posted at every bus stop so when you’re wandering around town you can understand your city bus options.  I think this might help people start to consider the bus as an option (as in “Gee, it turns out I could hop on the bus right outside of my apartment and be downtown in ten minutes!”)

2. IU Campus Bus Service – basic bus service around campus, free for students and employees (and I don’t think they check IDs), I myself have never quite figured out the routes (see the “bus fairy” idea above).

3. Rural Transit – this is a great service that does not get enough press, possibly because it’s focused on areas outside of Bloomington and possibly because if too many people found out about it, they would be overwhelmed with requests.  Basically, the rural transit buses are designed to help folks in the county get into Bloomington, Elletsville, Spencer, and other nearby towns.  There are a few set routes (including one I used to ride to Ivy Tech when I worked there) and what they call “county sweeps” where they will pick people up at home out in the county in the early morning and deliver them to the Bloomington bus station in time to take a city bus to work.  There is also a special service where you can call 24 hours in advance and ask to be added to one of their routes.  They have specific routes each day of the week so if you live in Smithville,  Wednesday is your “route” day and you can call to be picked up and taken anywhere along that route – picnic at Fairfax Beach, be dropped off in downtown Bloomington, visit a friend in nearby Clear Creek, etc.  The price for a ride is $0.75.  Pretty amazing, right?

4. Fresh Air Taxis – Okay, this is not a motorized transportation option but I thought it was cool enough to include – we now have a bicycle rickshaw service in town.  As an interesting side note, the city ended up modifying city code to create some guidance for bicycle rickshaws when they were approached for a business license and the business did not fit into any of their regular slots.

So, I’m feeling a little better about the state of alternative transportation in Bloomington.  There are still many, many improvements that can be made and I hope to push them forward with my new position on the Bloomington Commission on Sustainability.  Let me know if you have specific suggestions.

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Canines for Alternative Transportation

saffron_pullingWe’ve been working with a trainer named Deb to help Saffron become a better behaved pooch and to find ways to channel her intelligence and energy.  Saffron truly seems to love learning new things and earning our attention (and treats).  She has made great strides in learning to sit, stay, heel, and drop it on command.  So we were very interested when Deb suggested that we train Saffron as a pulling dog to take advantage of her stubbornness, her athleticism, and, well, her inclination to pull hard whenever the opportunity arises.

We got her a harness from The Working Canine and tried it out during a training session with Deb last week when there were a few inches of snow on the ground.  She took to it quite well and seemed utterly unconcerned about dragging a crate of golf balls behind her as she trotted around the training ground.  Of course, she did manage to topple it and send the balls flying so we experimented with a sled and found that she was able to pull me around but had to be coaxed getting started.  (Perhaps it was our months of training her to stop pulling when we stopped moving on our walks.  Maybe.)

Itsaffron_maggie snowed another eight inches on Monday so we took her out yesterday at our house.  The snow was too deep for good sledding so she gave up when I sat in the sled.  However, she had no problem towing a sled with a 50-lb bag of sand.  Well, no problem except for getting the sled tangled up as she followed her nose in pursuit of squirrels, rabbits, and the groundhog that lives under our back shed.  (Need to motivate your dog to pull a heavy sled?  Simply arrange for a groundhog to be located at your final destination.)  We all had a good time playing in the snow until the shivering got intense.

As much fun as it is just watching her pull stuff around, there are competition dog pulls out there where dogs compete to see how much weight they can pull a short distance.  Saffron is a lightweight (under 60 lbs) but some of the big dogs have been known to pull carts with wheels that weigh over 3000 lbs!!  Deb’s going to organize a pulling demonstration this spring and make Saffron the star, which will be a lot of fun and hopefully help her become even more socialized.

Saffron and her HarnessHowever, Will’s ultimate dream is to hook her up to a small cart or perhaps a scooter and have her pull us all around town.  I love the idea except I’m not what we’ll do with her when we reach our destination.  There was a time and place when every grocery store had a hitching post but even if that were still the case, I’m not sure Saffron would sit quietly with her feed bag like a horse might.  Still, we’re excited about the alternative transportation potential and are looking forward to being the talk of the neighborhood with our pully dog and her happy harness.

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