A lot of amazing things can happen in just a few months.
In May 2016, I spent two weeks riding Cedar Rapids Transit buses and blogging about my experiences. At the request of transit riders, I tried to replicate some of their frustrations regarding the system by completing specific quests — for instance, one rider suggested I pretend to need to drop a child off at school or child care in one part of the city and then travel to work in a different part of the city.
Another such quest had fellow columnist Todd Dorman and me traveling to Westdale Mall for lunch and shopping in an effort to see if we could return to our downtown office in a timely manner. (Spoiler alert: We didn’t return on time.) When we arrived at Westdale, which was under heavy construction at that time, the bus stop consisted of a bus route sign mounted on a short pole and placed in a five-gallon bucket. Between recent rain and heavy foot traffic, the bus stop was essentially a curbside mud pit.
Because the situation was obviously temporary, the bus stop was not my “worst-of-the-worst” pick. (That “honor” went to — and, sadly, remains firmly in the hands of — Marion’s bus stop in the drainage ditch along Business Highway 151 in front of the Hy-Vee.)
Things are dramatically improved at Westdale. Just this week, management unveiled an updated bus stop.
“We took your words to heart and now that our site construction is pretty much complete, I wanted to share a photo of our newly installed bus shelter, which is handicap accessible and complete with sidewalk access, a concrete pad, a windbreak and bench,” wrote Lisa Rowe, Westdale general manager.
Rowe says the shelter was purchased and installed by the company “with all bus patrons, including our customers and employees, in mind.”
It is a truly wonderful improvement that transit riders will especially appreciate in cold and inclement weather. Very few stops on the west side have seating, much less a shelter or windbreak.
Cost for the shelter was roughly $5,000, Rowe tells me. Lower-cost options were available, but management wanted to offer riders more amenities.
As someone who used CR Transit to travel to Westdale before the reconstruction began, I can tell you that it is an improvement beyond what had been in place previously — a few public benches outside one of the entrances with no shelter options.
What Westdale got right, that city governments and other private businesses too often don’t, is the inclusion of public transit needs within overall redesign and improvement plans. It wasn’t an afterthought, but a conscience effort to consider how people without vehicles, or those with a disability, would access and navigate the mall. It’s the bus shelter, sidewalks and more.
It’s the sort of holistic approach to transportation and people moving that can benefit communities throughout the Corridor. And because officials in most of those cities aren’t consumers of transit, we the people need to become better advocates, speaking out and showing up for streetscape and zoning meetings.
Could transit improvements at Westdale spark similar elsewhere? Here’s hoping.
This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on Oct. 28, 2017.