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Hannah Clark: Beaches and BussesPrint

Thriving Communities | June 25, 2009 | By Hannah Clark

Hannah Clark is looking at how well public transit, including Benzie Bus, is working in the Grand Traverse region.

After a few years away, I’m back home in northern Michigan. I spent the last few weeks rediscovering my former life: the best hikes, the names of friends who have somehow remembered mine, new restaurants, the first swim in frigid Lake Michigan.

Now I’m rediscovering our public transit.

Public transit was almost as much a part of my childhood as canoeing the Crystal River: My dad worked at the Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA), and although I usually didn’t understand a thing he was talking about (Dispatch? Para-transit?), I knew a lot about busses. Before I got a driver’s license I loved riding BATA into Traverse City to fulfill my yearning for the mall. It was an adventure that gave me a sense of mobility and independence.

Now I’m trying out riding the BATA bus to work, but it seems I may have forgotten the rules. The first time I tried commuting to work on the Empire Village Connector from Glen Arbor to Traverse City, I failed. I was looking down at my book while I was waiting for the bus and, whoosh!, my bus flew right by me.

The next day, I took the precaution of calling BATA dispatch to let them know where I would be.

But the bus missed me again! I jumped out into the street, waving my arms frantically. The driver spotted me (it would have been hard not to) and graciously came back. Turns out, I was standing on the wrong side of the street.

It was my mistake. But, talking to other residents and bus riders made my incident seem like an allegory for a big barrier to getting more people on the bus: First-time riders just don’t know the rules. They don’t know how to ride the bus, where it stops, how long it will take.

So agencies like BATA need to make it easy for people like me to get on the bus the first time. A sign at all bus stops showing the route and telling me where to stand would help (signs at all bus stops are in the works for BATA). So would more route maps and brochures at local businesses.

My first successful Village Connector ride hooked me on taking the bus. Instead of driving stress, I enjoyed conversations with neighbors I’d never met and a few old friends I hadn’t seen in years. It took about 20 minutes longer than driving, but I had some great chats and even a little nap. According to PublicTransportation.com’s transit savings calculator, if I give up my car for the bus this year I could be $937.33 richer and 4,800 lbs lighter (in carbon emissions). That’s pretty cool.

My top goal this summer is to ride the bus as much as I can. I got all the way out to Frankfurt from Honor the other day on Benzie Bus, took BATA’s Cherriot around Traverse City, and I’m staying loyal to my Empire route.

My next goal is to get you to ride the bus. I’m interning at MLUI this summer to look at public transit-I’ll be riding a lot of busses and talking to a lot of people to see how we can put The Grand Vision into action. I hope to see you on the bus!

Hannah Clark is a University of Michigan senior studying environmental policy and sustainable development. Reach her at hannah@mlui.org.