Aboard The CBUS

Yesterday was one of those hot, muggy days that seem to immediately drain you of energy and leave you coated in sweat at the same time.  We were interested in heading down to the Short North, but walking there would have caused us to melt into the sidewalk.  And driving to the Short North on a Gallery Hop day is a colossal pain.  So, what to do?

Enter the CBUS.

IMG_6855The CBUS is a “circulator” that runs on a continuous loop on High Street and Front Street between German Village and the Brewery District, on one end, and Victorian Village and Italian Village on the other.  Along the way, it has stops at Columbus Commons, the Ohio Statehouse, the Arena District, and the Short North.  And there are no worries about reading a confusing bus schedule, or getting on the number 4 bus when you should be getting on the number 23 bus — the CBUS has different, readily identifiable markings, the CBUS stops are marked with a special circular sign, and the CBUS just goes on the same route all day long.

The CBUS was the perfect option for us — but the only real issue was whether we could overcome our anti-bus mindset.  This sounds like a minor thing, but it really isn’t.  If your vision of a bus is a dirty, beat-up contraption filled with smelly, misbehaving passengers, it’s not going to be your first transportation choice.  But we decided to give the CBUS a chance — and it turned out that our preconceptions about bus travel were all wrong.  (I recognize that the Bus-Riding Conservative will be insufferable after that admission.)

The CBUS is clean, bright, and blissfully air-conditioned.  The upcoming stops were announced verbally and shown on an electronic crawl screen at the front of the bus, so you always knew which stop was upcoming.  Our fellow passengers included couples, families with small kids, and Columbus visitors heading to an event at the Convention Center, which also is along the route.  There are multiple stops along the way, and you can signal the driver when you want to stop by pulling a little cord that runs behind every seat.  And the CBUS is free.  Free!  What could be better than that?

One other thing about the CBUS that the BRC has emphasized:  it runs almost exactly the route that some people have proposed as the route of a street car/light rail system, and it does so at a tiny fraction of the cost — and without ripping up the streets and installing rail lines and paying for the construction and the train cars.

We liked the CBUS so much that, on our ride back home, we talked about how we can use it even more.  I’m guessing that most users of the CBUS have that same reaction.  It  promotes the interaction and flow between core downtown neighborhoods, and it also makes non-bus-riders like us a bit more amenable to potentially using the Central Ohio Transit Authority options to meet our other transportation needs.  That’s the whole idea, I think.  I’m not sure how long the CBUS will be free, but I hope it continues — it’s a great idea and way to introduce the non-BRCs of the world like us to the possibilities and advantages of mass transit.

Buses On High

High Street is one of Columbus’ main drags.  It runs north-south through the heart of downtown and connects it to German Village, the Arena District, the Short North, the University District, and Clintonville.  Now city planners and the Central Ohio Transit Authority are wrestling with a thorny question:  Should High Street also be one of Columbus’ main bus routes — or even be a bus route at all?

IMG_5232Currently, High Street is a primary bus artery.  Sixty-six buses an hour — more than one a minute — rumble north to south down High Street during peak hours.  A COTA consultant recommended cutting that number to 46, and after people complained that the plan didn’t go far enough COTA proposed additional modifications that will reduce the number to 26 north-south buses an hour.  The new plan would move much of the bus traffic to Front, Third, and Fourth Streets and is contingent on the city agreeing to convert Front Street from a one-way to a two-way street.

This exercise in urban planning is a tough balancing act.  Many people (like the Bus-Riding Conservative) take the bus to workplaces in downtown Columbus, and COTA would like to encourage even more to do so.  Moving bus stops to places several blocks away wouldn’t exactly encourage more ridership.  At the same time, the buses are loud and contribute greatly to traffic congestion.  In addition, many High Street business owners feel that the transfer stations, where bus riders gather to wait for their rides, may be used as locations for drug dealing, discourage foot traffic by potential customers, and are unsightly, besides. If may just be coincidence, but while downtown generally is bustling with rehabbing and construction, there remain many vacant storefronts and parking lots on High Street.

Earlier this week I walked to a High Street restaurant on a path that took me past the busy transfer station at Broad and High, where pedestrians must follow a gauntlet between the sidewalk structure and groups of people sitting on the wall in front of the Statehouse.  It’s not exactly a pleasant walk, and it doesn’t show off the Statehouse in a great light, either.  Although I recognize that urban planning shouldn’t be all about how I personally am affected, I’ll be happy to see fewer buses, and transfer stations, on High Street.