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Going places: Transportation study to look at needs

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Columbus officials are moving ahead with plans to improve the community’s alternative transportation infrastructure — making it easier for cyclists, pedestrians and bus riders to get around.

Columbus Board of Public Works and Safety approved two contracts this week, one to study and to improve the city’s bus system and the other to study the infrastructure needs for cyclists and pedestrians.

A $45,000 contract for the transit study was awarded to Parsons Brinckerhoff Inc., a New York company with Indianapolis offices. The bike and pedestrian study contract for $72,212 was awarded to Rundell Ernstberger Associates LLC with offices in Muncie and Louisville, Ky.

The ColumBUS system operates four fixed routes in the city and Call-a-Bus, a door-to-door buses for the elderly and disabled. The fixed routes operate out of two hubs, one on Lindsey Street beside Mill Race Center and one at Target in Columbus Center on National Road. The fixed-route buses operate from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. They leave Mill Race Center at five minutes after the hour, reach Target about a half-hour later and return to the center at 55 minutes after the hour.

Riders pay 25 cents per trip for the fixed route buses and 50 cents per trip for Call-a-Bus.

Mayor Kristen Brown said the city frequently get requests for additional bus routes, including on the west side and to the Walesboro-area industrial parks. She said the study will look at the system as a whole, and every part of the system will be up for consideration.

“We have grown tremendously, and the idea is to make sure that we have routes that best meet the needs of those folks who are transit-dependent in the community,” Brown said.

“We have people who would like to commute via our transit system, so how do we best address those needs, given limited resources? We want the buses to be as efficient as possible.”

Cindy Setser, the city’s transit coordinator, said the four fixed-route bus routes have remain largely unchanged for more than 30 years. The last time the city performed a transit study was 2006, she said.

The most-requested new route is for the west side of Columbus, the mayor and Setser said.

Until 2011, the city operated an intermittent route that ran to the Westhill Shopping Center on Jonathan Moore Pike at County Road 325W, Setser said. Riders could get off anywhere along Jonathan Moore Pike, which includes stores such as Walmart, Menard’s and JayC Food Store and restaurants such as Taco Bell, Denny’s and Lincoln Square. The mayor and Setser said they frequently are asked to reinstate the route. Setser said the requests come from potential riders and businesses on the west side who want to get their employees to work, she said.

The route ran to Westhill from former Commons Mall at 7:05 a.m., 10:05 a.m., 2:05 p.m. and 5:05 p.m. on weekdays.

Transit study’s purpose

Among the reasons the city is conducting the transit study is to determine whether more routes are needed, city officials said.

Laurence Brown, director of the Columbus Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, said the city wants to look at the four fixed routes and find ways to make them as efficient as possible.

“We want to make sure that our routes are going from where people are to where people want to go, and they don’t have to do a lot of transfers,” Brown said. “Right now there are two hubs, but we could have a single hub, we could have multiple hubs, we could have a kind of a linear express route that all the other routes connect to, which is not a hub at all. Or we could have a complete grid system.

“We want to look at all those options, and at the end of all that, look at our resources, what we are capable of, and let’s decide which one we like best.”

Another goal is to increase the frequency of the routes if possible, Brown said. Each bus runs its route once an hour, but the city would like to see the buses come through every half-hour, he said.

Brown said the contract calls for the development of a five-year transit plan. The data-gathering phase of the transit study is to be finished by Aug. 1. Afterward, the contractor will stay with the city for six more months to help implement suggested changes.

Bus ridership

Riders take the buses to work, to shop and to school.

Ron Wells, a regular bus user who disembarked at the bus depot at Mill Race Center, said he is happy with the system as it is. He said the buses get him where he needs to go.

Rosalie Roberts was waiting under one of the bus shelters at Mill Race Center. She said she uses the bus every week. It takes her where she wants to go and picks her up where she wants to be picked up. Overall, she said, she is happy with the system.

Chandra Whitfield said she uses the bus just about every day. She said her only complaint is that the routes require the rider to wait an hour before the bus comes back through. She said adding a route to the west of town would be good for the people who work out there.

She also hopes the city doesn’t change the fixed route price of 25 cents.

City officials have not announced any intention of raising prices.

Bike, pedestrian study

Laurence Brown said the bike and pedestrian study, also approved Tuesday, will focus on three areas:

Bike infrastructure.

An inventory of sidewalks throughout the city.

Analyzing one-way streets.

Brown said turning one-way streets back to two-way streets helps bicyclists and pedestrians because it reduces confusion and increases driver vigilance because their attention won’t be split between navigating the street directions and paying attention to the road. It also reduces travel distances because there is no need to go blocks out of the way. Brown said making two-way streets narrows the travel lanes, slowing down traffic.

He said the city will pay 20 percent of the cost of the contracts, while the federal government picks up the remainder.

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