Friday, June 6, 2008

Stranded at the Mall

If you take a bus in DuPage County, Illinois, you'd better have a plan. Do your research, count your coins, and time your walk to the bus stop to the minute. These cautions are only helpful if the bus goes anywhere you need to go, or comes anywhere near your house.

"Wow! It holds two whole bikes!"
If they got rid of the TVs on board, maybe they could afford a second bike rack?

Living in Tucson, Arizona for eleven years off and on, I learned the bus system. I knew the route numbers, where they went, how often they stopped, and whether I should get a transfer. I had a long time to learn all this, but I am grateful that there was a bus system worth learning and worth using every day. As screwed up as the city of Tucson is (it's a terrible place to live if you're poor), at least the Sun Tran worked. When my car died I had it fixed, but left it in the yard for over a year. I did not register or insure it again until my son was born, nor did I need to. I hated Sun Tran when I lived there, but now I know better.

The intrepid Sun Tran. You can see the sign for the trolley here too. They are extending the trolley service and have plans for a light rail, despite resistance from foothills yuppies.

In suburban Chicagoland we have a bus system called Pace. Near my house in Kane County it is fairly useful. It goes in a straight line to the train stations, stops at schools and shopping centers, and goes through neighborhoods of every social status. In DuPage County however, my home for a brief period, the bus does not go in a straight line. It only approaches the train station from one direction. It does not have routes assigned to many of the major streets or state highways. Even when I lived in a subdivision that had a feeder bus, I couldn't take the bus.

The Pace service map, with its overlapped routes that go into shopping malls and ignored commuter thoroughfares that could get everyone to work if they had a bus to ride, are probably similar to many bus systems throughout the United States. In predominantly wealthy areas that exhibit drastic urban sprawl, there is no cohesion in a system from town to town, and there is no one who cares enough or has the power to do anything about it. The majority rides around in Lincoln Navigators and BMWs, nearly side-swiping the few busses that block the right lane for a few seconds. An increase in routes would probably cause an uproar from the upper class. The exurban lower classes, who had to move to the suburbs for a job, are finding themselves stranded at shopping malls and community colleges, and the few other places that the transit authorities deem worthy of bus service.

In Tucson every bus went all the way down one road, with a few exceptions that filled in the gaps. If you got on a bus on Broadway, you didn't even have to know the system. You would just ride all the way down Broadway. If you see the street you need to turn on to get to work, tranfer to the bus on that street and it takes you all the way down, with maybe a stop or two at a school or subdivision, but in nearly a straight line. If for some reason the bus didn't go all the way to your job or house, the gridded streets with plentiful crosswalks and sidewalks helped you get home safely.

Tucson usually ignores its own problems, but they had to step up on the bus issue, or the economy would collapse. In a town full of DUI convicts, illegal aliens, low-income housing residents, and a strapped school district (no school busses for many) they had to get people moving. In DuPage they ignore many issues including this one. Most of the money spent here comes from the outside, and there are always pampered college kids to take the low paying jobs when their parents finally tell them to go out and get a "work ethic."

Here, if you can't ride all the way, you can't just get off and walk. Wide streets like Randall road and high-speed arteries like Butterfield do not have crosswalks, and even at street intersections there is often not a light for pedestrians. Cross at your own risk. If you can walk on the street at all. "Where the sidewalk ends" is not a dreamy aphorism here. It is what happens when the road comes to an overpass or a field, and the pedestrian's accoutrements abrubtly cease to exist.

I live in Kane County and work in DuPage. I cannot take a bus here. Granted it is a different county, but Pace covers all of Chicagoland. I can take the train to the town where I work, but I can't get from the train station to my job. It's 4.38 miles. Rideable, but not walkable. But I can't bring my bike on the train at rush hour.

"The alternative'bus route'" From Sandy's Blog about bikes.

My bank account continues to empty as the summer wears on, and I continue to research ways of getting around that don't involve oil. I ride my bike everywhere around my town now - for groceries, to playgrounds, to the library. But the lifestyle that is nearly inescapable in the subrurbs requires work which requires driving. I could quit working I suppose, or blow $1000 on a laptop to work from home. But for most of the stranded back in DuPage that's not an option.

In 1973 Kurt Vonnegut predicted automobiles would kill the planet. In 1984 the Pretenders predicted the world would turn into parking lots and shopping malls. These predictions are plentiful and they go back much further than the beginning of Environmentalism. Why we have refused to do anything about it, and now ony pretend to do things about it, is heartbreaking and mind-boggling.

8/8/08 UPDATE: I only had to blow $615 on a scratch-n-dent laptop, and here I am working at the coffee shop just down the street from my house. My commute is now prefixed by "tele-."

Take that G-Dub.

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