Walking, bicycling & transit.
How do you get transit in the country?
Build Bus Stops! The buses will come!
This is the first phase of a three phase, one-year project supported in part with federal CFR 49 Section 5317 - New Freedom - funds. The goal is to create a replicable project that can be used anywhere, especially in rural locations, to start a transit system. Prevailing stories about transit systems are based upon city models and traditional transportation planning assumes that a transit project cannot succeed where population density is less than 7 housing units per acre. Ask people in Stevens County Minnesota about that rule, though!
My goal is to raise funds sufficient to purchase materials for three bus stops. In the second phase of the project I will negotiate with municipalities to locate sites for the first three New American Bus Stops. In the third phase of the project, starting September, 2013, demonstrate how to use these bus stops - both for passengers and for drivers - and photograph them being used. I will select photos that capture the spirit of this project for the rewards I am excited to share with contributors!
The full first phase includes two parts, this GoFndMe project and a design competition. Once this project reaches its goal I will solicit designs for the New American Bus Stop. I will reward the selected designer with not less than ten percent of the total amount raised. The chosen design will be licensed under the Creative Commons and will be made available through the LIFT program's web site. I have been building partnerships with municipal leaders, county board supervisors, Arts programs and schools in six counties in Southwestern Wisconsin. I've solicited help from architects in four states to give me get a better idea about the durability/permanence and ease of construction of the selected designs. A sculptor in Iowa, County Wisconsin has agreed to make a model of the final bus stop that I will use as the reward for folks who contribute $150 to this project.
The New American Bus Stop project is a companion project to a Transportation, Community and System Preservation (TCSP) grant that I co-wrote with a planner from the Southwestern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. The TCSP grant is adding innovative technology to existing transportation providers' vehicles and creating a uniform payment method for users that will allow any rider to use any vehicle with the technology simply by swiping a smart card or magnetic stripe card. The New American Bus Stop gives passengers points for making connections between existing systems while also building up new networks and sustaining the communities.
This is a start to a new story about how we get from any here to any there. The single user, internal-combustion engine powered personal vehicle must go. The long term deleterious effects of our current automobile-centric transportation system are abhorrent to me. And, I hope, to you as well. It is insufficient to note that we tolerate the deaths of an average of 40,000 people annually in the US with our current system or even to mention that fact alongside a note that our transportation system is responsible for somewhere in the neighborhood of 45% of our CO2 emmissions. We simply must do things differently. We need to start doing things differently today.
I am a Wisconsin certified Mobility Manager working every day to improve transportation options for individuals identified as transportation disadvantaged. New Freedom funds are intended to provide transportation beyond what is required under the Americans with Disabilities Act. A story helps understand that.
I've struggled with getting reliable transportation for a young man who happens to be living with a traumatic brain injury. He knows about buses in the city but he lives in the country. His severely limited short term memory makes holding a steady job difficult. But his inability to drive is a greater barrier. He lives too far from town to use the taxi which operates only every Wednesday and Friday. He can watch the intercity bus drive by but he has a seven mile walk to get to its closest stop. He lives 400 yards away from a US highway that carries an average of 14,700 vehicles a day. Maybe, just maybe, a New American Bus Stop and the understanding that the guy sitting inside is simply waiting for a bus will help him get from where he lives to where he can work. Or where he can shop or catch a movie.
I harbor no great hopes that a Gillig 53 foot transit bus with regenerative braking, an Allison hybrid drive and a bike rack at the front (or any other actual bus) will arrive at any of the New American Bus Stops any time soon. I expect that Lori in her Suburban will stop and Jeff in his Camry and Bill in his Suzuki and me in my Tacoma and you in whatever you happen to be driving ... I expect that drivers will stop at a bus stop, at the New American Bus Stop, when we see someone inside knowing full well that the person is simply waiting for a ride. I follow eRideshare.com and created my account with the state ride share program six years ago and I know that is not enough. I have yet to arrenge a car pool/car share through either system on my daily route. Help me build a new transit system!
Your participation in this project is much appreciated!
Risks and challenges
There is a risk that local governments will not want to participate in this project, though leaders in three communties have already expressed interest. I am unable to persuade those I've spoken with simply on the basis of wanting to make the New American Bus Stop happen. Having money to purchase materials will help. It is much easier to encourage someone to take a bite of my favorite Blue Goose pie when I come holding a piece in a dish with some heavy cream drizzled over the top than it is to describe the first one I ever made. Part of the story of the first Blue Goose pie is ... I foraged along the Des Moines river and found wild gooseberries then fought back the mosquitoes on a 90 degree day when the humidity was even higher, wearing a heavy flannel shirt and jeans to protect myself from the thorns only to discover when I got home that I only had two cups of gooseberries and needed four to make a pie. I added two cups of blueberries.
After I get funded, local governments may still be reluctant. I know and have good relationships with many private property owners. Some of them are eager to see this project succeed. I will get three bus stops erected. And I will get individuals who happen to be transportation disadvantaged taking the risk of sitting in a bus stop. I have the dispatching software in place that can respond to an SMS request texted from a cell phone and I have 48 volunteer drivers ready to head off on an adventure in travel. This project will start with the safety of known passengers getting into screened vehicles with trained drivers who have passed rigorous background checks. I have third party payers ready to fund the rides for some of the passengers.
There is also a risk that seeing the New American Bus Stop in action will be insufficient to encourage someone who has not been through a training in the use of the stop to use a New American Bus Stop. There is a risk that too few drivers will be willing to open a passenger door to someone seeking a ride. That risk is dependent upon the horror stories we've all heard about the risks of hitch-hiking, even though we know those risks to be primarily fictional. This risk is related to our increasingly risk-averse culture. The New American Bus Stop is designed to mitigate that risk by using a familiar construct, a bus stop, as a tool to bring a passenger and a vehicle together.
This is an Art project, too. In places unfamiliar to transit and unversed in buses and bus stops, the New American Bus Stop is an opportunity for creative placemaking. There is a risk that the design will be too complex or that the materials needed too expensive. There is a risk that too few will want to offer a design or that none will want their design licensed under the Creative Commons. I am an amateur wood-worker and craftsman and have designed and built several structures including a pergola that seats four and holds up a glorious wisteria in my front yard. I inderstand and use technical drawings and am ready to launch my own design. This is, however, a community project and, as creative placemaking, needs other artists to make it work. From your start with a small contribution, something new and wonderful will come.