Transit isn’t just for essential travel, it should provide universal access to Anchorage recreation areas.
This week, I’ve been reading Better Buses, Better Cities by Stephen Hisgashide, and for the record, I’m not a transit person, nor do I claim to be an expert. I don’t use transit, and I don’t read transit books. This book was recommended by City Beautiful and it’s a short read (I’m almost finished) so, I thought, why not?
The Anchorage People Mover has seen its share of problems from low ridership, overly complex routes, etc, none of which I’m even going to contemplate solving. One point made early in the book that struck me: Transit isn’t all about commuters. Many transit agencies spend a great deal of time, energy, and money trying to entice commuters who likely will never use transit often to the detriment of the riders who depend on the bus to get to work every day. Still, commuters only use transit twice a day and there are a lot of hours in between commutes and of course, the weekend. An effort to expand service during the non-commute periods will result in a more robust service for those who depend on bus service while at the same time enticing a new transit rider segment: Leisure riders.
My first experience with the People Mover was when I was a preteen living in Eagle River. Some friends and I made a plan to ride the bus into Anchorage, to the Dimond Center specifically. We went across the street to Comp USA to shop for the latest computer games, I got a copy of Marathon 2: Durandal. We had a great time and felt so independent – We made this trip several more times over the next year or two.
This is an excellent example of non-commute transit use and fortunately, the bus has regular service to Dimond Center but, what about some other places? Anchorage residents enjoy access to some fantastic recreational opportunities, many of which are not accessible for residents without a personal vehicle or cab fare.
Here are some examples of how the People Mover could serve leisure riders:
Of all the magnificent hikes in the Anchorage area, Flattop is undoubtedly the most popular. The mountain draws more visitors, and parking has become problematic, particularly on weekends. Some have advocated for more parking at the trailhead, but a more responsible solution would be a weekend bus service. Hikers could park and ride from the downtown transit center or arrive via connecting routes. The flattop bus could offer morning and mid-day service to the trailhead with the final return in the late afternoon or early evening.
This service is a great way to provide equitable access to our trailheads for users without a vehicle or the ability to drive. Additionally, this could be great for tourists anyone with an unreliable vehicle, and those who want to help relieve congestion at the trailhead. Groups of friends could travel together, and nobody has to worry about leaving their vehicle at the trailhead.
If the Flattop bus proves to be successful, another bus could be added for Prospect Heights or other popular trailheads on a rotational basis.
Anchorage’s Kincaid Beach is breathtaking. It offers the only easily accessible sandy beach in the region and several miles of walking and biking trails with stunning ocean views, it’s also remote. Kincaid park is far away from most of Anchorage – Muldoon Road is 15 miles away. The park road is 1.5 miles from the gate to the chalet parking lot. A Google search for how to get to Kincaid from the airport, recommended I take two buses and a cab for a 1 hour 11-minute trip and $20 in fare. It suffices to say that Kincaid Park is not universally accessible, and it should be.
Similar to the mountain bus concept, a beach bus could offer the same advantages and universal access to all park users.
Another idea for leisure transit use is a monthly art bus.
First Friday art exhibitions give local artists a chance to showcase their art at various local galleries and other venues. Unfortunately, these events aren’t always within walking distance of one another.
In 2019, I was invited to participate in a group exhibition at a gallery in Wenatchee, Wa. During the opening reception, a large group of people arrived at the gallery via the city bus, a special art bus that brings patrons to the participating exhibits during their version of First Friday – Stopping at each exhibit for a limited time before moving on to the next and eventually returning to the pickup/dropoff point.
The Anchorage Art Bus would be a great way to get more patrons to participate in First Friday, especially during the winter months, with additional consideration for seniors and people with limited mobility.
These are just ideas, perhaps just ramblings of a transit neophyte, but these relatively inexpensive and infrequent offerings may acclimate some non-transit users and maybe even dispel some apprehension about riding the bus. Most importantly, offering these trips gives people who depend on the bus the freedom to enjoy recreational opportunities they might not otherwise experience.
Have ideas for other use cases I’d love to hear about them in the comment section or tweet @intrinsiccity
Image Credit: John Jackson, All Rights Reserved.