Transit blog, day two

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All routes lead downtown

If you want to ride in Cedar Rapids, you can’t escape the hub.

My not-so-stellar Monday kept true to form as I made my way back home to Marion last night. Initially, I thought I’d walk to street level at The Gazette office and catch the Route 3 bus, ride it to First Avenue and 19th Street and then transfer to either Route 5S or 5N for the return trip to Marion.

The plan was possible, but ultimately not practical because of the timing. Route 3 stops near that intersection 30 minutes before either of the other buses arrive. Making the transfer requires crossing busy First Avenue on foot and waiting at the Route 5 bus stop. There’s a bench at that location, but not much else.

So, I walked back to the downtown transit hub, and waited a few minutes for the next bus headed toward Marion.

A Route 7 bus waits at the downtown Cedar Rapids Transit hub for its next load of riders. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)
A Route 7 bus waits at the downtown Cedar Rapids Transit hub for its next load of riders. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)

Parents, especially single parents, have not been shy about providing their thoughts on the transit system to me. One reader told me about riding with a child and having to exit the bus because the child had to use the restroom.

“I don’t know how long we waited for the next bus,” that reader said. “We were new to the community, and I didn’t have someone I could call for help. We were so hot and miserable. If I would have had the money, I would have called a cab.”

That prompted yesterday evening’s experiment: Hop off the bus and see how long it takes for the next ride to come along.

Since my evening commute is from downtown Cedar Rapids to uptown Marion, I actually have an easier time than most transit riders. There are two city bus routes — 5S and 5N — that can get me close to where I need to go. If I was in dire straits I could also use Route 5B, the Hiawatha route, to travel to Lindale Mall and walk the rest of the way to Marion. So, if I hop off the city bus along First Avenue, I need only wait about 30 minutes for a different bus.

But if I wasn’t as familiar with the area and thought I needed to wait on the same route — for instance, exit the 5S route and wait for it to come around again — the wait would be roughly 90 minutes.

The time spent varies according the route being traveled, the time of day and whether it is a weekday or a Saturday. (Sorry church goers and retail workers, but there is no regular Sunday city bus service.) For nearly all of the routes, wait time varies between 30 and 60 minutes. Peak times, generally between 6 and 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. until the buses stop running, offer more frequent stops. But if you hop off the bus on your lunch hour and need to get back on, better make sure you have a soft place to sit.

Transit riders on the Route 5S travel along First Avenue NE in Cedar Rapids on May 2, 2016. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)
Transit riders on the Route 5S travel along First Avenue NE in Cedar Rapids on May 2, 2016. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)

Perhaps it is because of their frequency that the Route 5 buses that travel along First Avenue are so heavily used, especially during commuting hours.

Yesterday evening I pulled my laptop bag and purse onto my lap to free up the seat beside me. Other riders did the same and several younger male passengers stood and offered their seats to older people and women as they entered the city bus. In some cases this was quite obviously done in friendship. That is, they had rode together often enough to know each other on some level. Conversations about family, work and hobbies were multiple and frequent.

It was a different atmosphere than my late morning ride to the transit hub. Only a few people hid behind books or earbuds. Robust greetings and jokes flowed easily, and I felt a little bereft in my interloper status. It was easy to see this is part of a daily routine, an aspect of camaraderie and community that doesn’t exist in my life.

I’ll learn more about the midday bus atmosphere tomorrow. I’ll be riding into work, but will need to take the bus for a 1 p.m. service at Cedar Memorial Cemetery. (The service is open to the public and in honor of Cedar Rapids man, Leonard Kelly, who died in World War II and only recently received a proper headstone.) I’ll admit that I’m a little anxious about the logistics — I don’t really want to carry my work luggage to a memorial service but, if I don’t, I’ll need to ride the bus back downtown to retrieve it, before catching another bus to travel home.

Don’t be surprised if tomorrow’s blog post arrives a little later in the day.

This blog post by Lynda Waddington originally published on The Gazette website on May 3, 2016. Photo credit: Lynda Waddington/The Gazette