Monday, April 21, 2008


I admit I have been remiss in my bus riding mission. Sometime around open enrollment at work, finals at school, and the first blustering winds of the winter season, I decided I was too tired to plan for alternative commuting, and gave up riding the bus while holding onto my interest. However, gas prices are about twenty-five cents higher than they were when they originally motivated me to ditch my car for a while; and it's significantly warmer and sunnier. Last week, I decided I couldn't justify using my car for small, local trips, and I started walking again. Ecofriendly and healthy, too. Granted, even walking isn't the most practical way to get around, but I've found that walking in your city allows you to appreciate it entirely different ways.

Pondering practicality issues, though, I wanted to come up with an alternative in which I could get around faster, but still remain true to my belief that we're a society obsessed with excess and over-consuming. A couple people asked me last fall if I ever used my bike to commute and I told them, a little regretfully, that I did not because I was afraid between the narrow, pot-holed, and debris laden road shoulders, on top of inattentive drivers, that I'd get myself killed. In other words, I'm too wimpy to trust my road bike to get me to and from work in one unmutilated piece.

This weekend, though, I bought myself a new bike; a hybrid bike with a more upright frame and sturdier tires; a red bike. It was the red that sealed the deal. Even in my most principled thinking, I am swayed by the color red. I was so inspired, I named him Brewster. Brewster my new get-around-town bike.

Ironically, while I was renewing my commitment to commuting by any means non-car, I got a comment from someone who's been commuting by bus since May 2007. Support comes at the most serendipitous of times. Excuse my passive voice and go read the blog:

Happy trails! And if you see a tall awkard girl on a red bike, put down your cell phone, and don't scream out the window at her. It scares her.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


I found this particularly impressive given the mostly rural surroundings in Oneonta, NY. As a general rule, urban areas tend to place more emphasis on transit services than rural ones, though urban areas may have more than just ecofriendliness driving their efforts (i.e., reducing traffic congestion, providing social mobility for individuals without access to cars, and keeping roads and parking manageable may be a cost-effective incentive to continually improve public transit services).

(Posted in:) The Daily Star
February 11, 2008
(No author listed.)

"Good step for environment"

"Oneonta has taken many steps in the past several years to become more eco-friendly.

"The city has investigated buying electric cars for use by various departments. The public transit buses run on B20 biodiesel, a biodiesel mix. And last month, the Common Council set a goal of reducing city government's nonrenewable energy usage by 5 percent by next year.

"Now, Oneonta plans to have a hybrid-engine trolley in use this year, Mayor John Nader said.
The trolley will be purchased using a federal transportation grant. The state Department of Transportation, which administers the grant, notified the city last week about funding totaling $555,000, of which $444,000 is federal, $55,500 is state and $55,500 is local. Of that funding, $375,000 will be for the trolley.

"Otsego County also received a nearly $600,000 federal grant, which will be used to replace eight vehicles in the 12-bus fleet. The 16-passenger vehicles will have modified engines that burn fuel more cleanly, Otsego County Planning Director Terry Bliss said.

"As part of the grant program, which, in part, encourages transportation agencies and municipalities to reduce pollution by using clean-fuel vehicles, Chenango County will receive $1,288,000, and Schoharie County, $328,800.

"Public transportation can be an effective tool in reducing pollution. If the public transportation vehicles are more environmentally friendly, the impact is that much better."

Saturday, January 26, 2008


On January 22, 2008, Scenic Hudson announced it would contribute half of the $700,000 price Albany County plans to pay Canadian Pacific Railway to convert a nine mile stretch of Delaware & Hudson Railway Co. railway route into a thouroghfare for "biking, hiking, and other alternatives to automobile travel."

Converting the old rail route to a trail was first suggested in 1995, but little progress was made; and it was revisited again in 2003 by Albany County Executive Michael Breslin and county legislators.

Montreal-based CP Rail spokesman Michael Spenard explained there was only about one issue left to resolve involving "indemnification of the railway against future (legal liability) issues," and was optimistic that it would be resolved soon.

Katie Test, spokeswoman for the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in Washington D.C., said "There are nearly 14,000 miles of rail trails in the United States, with another 11,000 miles in development."

Woodruff adds that the rail trail miles Test referred to include: "a 2-mile Hudson Valley Trail in Ulster County, a 15-mile Harlem Valley Rail Trail in Columbia County and the 3-mile Town of Shawangunk Rail Trail in Ulster County."

Advocates of the project hope the rail trail will link to others in the region.

Source of above:
Cathy Woodruff, "Wheels turning on rail trail deal." Times Union. January 22, 2008.> Accessed January 26, 2008.

I'd heard of Rails-to-Trails before, though in my mind I linked it with efforts in Halfmoon, NY to further develop the Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway, which was more recreational in nature. On its website, it states its mission is "to increase awareness, enjoyment and linkage of the wide variety of scenic, recreational and historic resources along the Mohawk River and Erie Barge Canal corridor from Waterford to Schenectady." (Mohawk Scenic Byway Towpath)

It's an informative site, supplying loads of information about where to experience history in Saratoga County.

The effort described in Cathy Woodruff's article above is perhaps no less historic or recreational, but it adds to its purpose a commuting alternative for those individuals close enough to the trail to use it for practical purposes, as well; and linking the proposed trail with the well-traveled 41 miles of existing trail between Rotterdam Junction and Albany would ensure its future success.

Sources, officially:
Mohawk Scenic Byway Towpath,

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy,

Cathy Woodruff, "Wheels turning on rail trail deal." Times Union. January 22, 2008.> Accessed January 26, 2008.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


On Tuesday, January 15, 2008, CDTA unveiled its plan for new rapid transit service along Route 5 corridor over the next two years, called the Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, line. About 25% of CDTA ridership comes from east- and westbound travel along the Route 5 (#55) corridor. The BRT line will feature 20 "stations" that may replace up to 96 stops along the route depending on where riders get on or off the bus, shaving up to 17 minutes off the 72-minute route. The stations will also provide riders with heated shelters, rest rooms, security, and vending machines, allowing riders to purchase bus passes, thus further speeding boarding times.

Kristina Younger, CDTA's strategic planning director, said, "We think we are designing a service that will keep our existing riders happy and will also attract new riders."

Depending upon BRT's success, it will be interesting to see if CDTA extends the improvements to other routes in the Capital District, or if they will be able to use similar improvements to extend service to outlying areas where bus service is either sparse or nonexistent.

Cathy Woodruff. "CDTA Rapid Service Advances." Times Union. January 15, 2008.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Christmas shopping almost made me late for work, but I still managed to catch the bus and get to work on time. I admit I considered driving, but between my commitment to keep my car parked and the thought of driving home in the snow convinced me not to drive.

I went into a meeting at ten o'clock and there was nothing on the ground. When I came out at eleven, the snow was coming down hard and the parking lot was covered. It snowed steadily the rest of the day, and when I signed-out at five o'clock, I was glad I left my boots under the desk last Monday.

Again, the worst part of the whole trip home was walking up the campus ramp in the dark, this time, slippery and snow-covered.

I waited a half hour for the 12 to come down Washington. According to the alerts on, all the routes were running about a half hour behind, so I really didn't have to wait that long.

Whereas the buses usually have ample seating, the 12 was standing room only. I held onto the bar just behind the driver for the first half of the ride downtown, and moved, for the first time ever, into the Rosa Parks memorial seat when one woman got off around Albany High.

I usually take the 12, get off halfway downtown, and walk the few remaining blocks south to my apartment. It was hard to walk in the snow, though, and I wanted to stop at the corner store near my place, so I rode all the way down to Washington and Lark and waited for the 13 to come around, figuring I'd ride the rest of the way and get off right in front of the store.

Two 13s were stopped on Lark street going the other way when I first got there. I thought about running over to see if they were going toward New Scotland or in the other direction, but the driver was occupied pushing a man in a wheelchair. He pushed the chair through the bank left by the plows and I heard him say, "Here ya go. Ya got it?"

The man in the wheelchair waved back up at him, pushed the wheels, and went nowhere. The bus driver pushed him further into the road, but the man still couldn't wheel himself across the intersection. Another man took the chair from the bus driver, who turned to get back on his bus. They had to wait through the next light, but then he pushed the man through the intersection, past the bus stop, and down the hill on Lark. It didn't seem like the men knew each other, but from where I was standing, it looked like he was going to wheel him all the way home. He would have had to if he didn't to send the man in the chair to an early death. As it was, they were sliding down the hill at a swift runner's pace.

When the 55 stopped, three-quarters of the people waiting for the bus lined up at the curve. There was standing room only on the 55, too. The bus driver shouted for people on the bus to move in and make room for the other to get on. She still only allowed about half the crowd on the bus and announced to the rest of the people waiting that another bus was coming in ten minutes.

Their prayers were answered five minutes later; two 55s came up the hill, and five minutes after that, another 55, like CDTA was producing 55s out of thin air.

Not long after that, I ran into my friend, Ronnie. He told me his Asian housemate was stuck in their driveway at home. She called him at work to tell him. He said he had to keep from laughing because she was so flustered, she sounded like Margaret Cho's mother.

I was surprised to see him since he lives in a rural town too far outside Albany to take the bus. He explained that there's so little affordable parking downtown, so he parks uptown and rides to work.

While we were talking, a woman in a coat caught our attention and shouted, "The buses are coming up the hill!" We looked around the corner. Two buses were coming up the hill on Lark. I looked to make sure the man in the wheelchair wasn't stuck under one of the buses, but he and his traffic aide were long gone. I didn't exactly know why it was a big deal the buses were coming up the hill, but the people around me, who actually knew what was going on (this is a common theme in my life) chattered to each other about the buses not being able to make it up "that hill" (Washington), and wondered if they needed to get on the other side of the road.

Ronnie pointed out that the second bus was sliding, and when I looked, the bus was horizontal across both lanes in the road. He righted himself only to slide the other way until finally he got up the hill by driving on the wrong side of the road. That seemed to work until the other light turned green and a woman in a sedan turned down Lark and got in his way. She lifted up her hands in the universal "What are you doing?" gesture and sat there in a fierce face-off with the bus.

The people at the bus stop yelled at her to back up. She could not be deterred.

A man ran to her window. She put her car in reverse and got stuck, and the man pushed her back as far as he could until the driver got back into the right lane and turned the corner. When the bus passed, she held up her hands to the driver again.

I turned to Ronnie. "I should have been a better Samaritan."

Someone overheard me and said, "I don't get paid to direct traffic." I laughed. On one hand, he had a point. I probably would have just gotten in the way. As it was, drivers waiting to go through the light honked and yelled at the man who pushed the car back up the hill, and when it was over, he yelled back, even at a cop, unrewarded, out of breath, red-faced.

On the other hand, with everyone all stuck in the snow trying to get out of the intersection, I witnessed more cooperation among strangers than I generally witness on easier travel days; and the people that received the help looked, overall, happy to get it.

The 13 finally came, but I was on the wrong side of the street. Luckily the bus stopped for a few minutes on Lark and I was able to get across the street and onto the bus that would finally take me home. Overall, I think I spent almost an hour waiting at Washington and Lark, entertaining myself watching the cars fight to get through intersection.

Monday, December 10, 2007


I had to take a week's hiatus from public transit last week. Between doctors' appointments, assignments due, group meetings, and my full-time job, there was no way I could rely on the wait and walking times required for bus riding.

In some ways, it was nice to be in my car again. Mostly because I could sing Christmas songs at on I-85 with my window down. They don't let you do that on the bus.

Driving was also a time-saver, as mentioned above. So far, the shortest time it's taken me to get to work on the bus was 45 minutes. Living only three minutes away means driving instead of riding saves me at least a half hour I could use to drop off my laundry or pick up some groceries on my way to work or an appointment.

On the other hand, I felt guilty about it. It felt frivolous, especially the day when I drove my car around the State Campus for twelve minutes just because I needed to get away from desk.

I was back at it today, however. It was a crazy day to start riding again. The storm last night covered every walkable inch of pavement with a sheet of ice by this morning. I almost fell three times just walking out the back door.

In this way, I was thankful for cars. Albany salts the roads for cars. It doesn't for pedestrians. Dark and slippery or not, I decided it was safer to walk in the road than it was to walk on the sidewalk.

Because of the weather, I took three perfectly timed buses to work, instead of walking further uptown and riding just one. Waiting was minimal, and so was walking, and as an added benefit, I didn't have to scrape my car. As a result, I was in a much better mood when I got to work.

For the record, I wore hiking boots. I have to tell you that because my grandmother scolded me when I talked to her later in the day. She asked if I drove. I told her I took the bus. She said, "You could have gotten killed!"

I calmly explained that I was safer in my sneakers than I was in a car.

"You didn't wear boots!"

Grandmothers are always concerned about wet hair and shoe attire. I, in fact, was wearing boots this morning, but sneakers came out of my mouth when I was talking to her. Sometimes I pick the wrong word.

However, don't tell Gram that I walked home after work. I was undecided about whether or not I'd ride home or walk, but when I got to Washington Avenue, I couldn't find my wallet in my bag, which meant I had no swiper and no cash. Also don't tell her that I was wearing sneakers. I forgot I changed my shoes when I got to work.

Regardless, I made it home OK. The same time as my roommate, as a matter of fact, who'd driven from Rensselaer.

Saturday, December 1, 2007


Please note that the results of this survey may not be representative of the population at large. I posted the link on MySpace and Facebook, and sent an email to a number of contacts in my address book asking people to take the survey. Twenty-two people responded and eighteen people completed the survey; so view the results within the parameters of the pool of responses, as they likely were from people I knew personally, and thus more likely to share experiences and have other demographic similarities. Rather, view the results as a snapshot of what some folks in Albany have to say about public transportation, and compare it with your own feelings. I'm all about feelings at "Riding the Bus."

Additionally, my mother issued a formal complaint on Thanksgiving, advising me that the survey was set-up wrong because if you hadn't used public transportation in the past year, there was no point in continuing.

I apologize for that, as I would have liked whatever feedback respondents had to provide. My purpose in limiting usage questions to the past year was that I wanted to know how people felt about public transportation as it is now, as opposed to how it may have been five or ten or twenty years ago. Even though the survey is officially closed, if you have more to add, by all means, shoot me an email (, or leave a comment. I always like to hear what people have to say, and I'm pretty good about remembering to post it.

That being said, onto the results:

1. What is your age?
All respondents were between the ages of 18-64, with the greatest number of those (n=15, or 68%) in the 18-34 age group. 6 people were between the ages of 35-54, and 1 person was in the 55-64 age group.

2. What is your gender?
5 males (22.7%) and 17 females (77.3%) took the survey.

3. In what type of setting do you live?
10 respondents reported living in a suburban area (45.5%), while 6 each reported living in an urban environment or a rural environment. While the bulk of respondents lived in the suburbs, the majority of respondents lived at one end of the population spectrum or the other.

4. Do you have access to a car?
21 respondents (95.5%) reported always having access to a car, while one person reported almost never having access to a car. Everyone, however, had some level of access.

5. What type of public transportation have you used in the past year?
Just over half of the respondents (54.5%) said they had not used public transportation in the past year. Of the remaining half, 36.4% used the subway, 22.7% used a commuter train, and 27.3% rode a bus. Rail commuting, then, was most the most prevalent method of transportation respondents used in the past year at 59.1%. One person (4.5%) said they used airplanes and taxis.

6. If you have used public transportation in the past year, has it been to go to/from:
Most people said they used transportation for leisure activities (7 respondents, or 58.3%), followed by work (4 respondents, or 33.3%). Shopping was third on the list, with two respondents (16.7%), followed by school and non-work related appointments at 8.3% each. Other responses included vacation and frequent flying for non-specified purposes (the respondent said s/he hit the button by accident and was just trying to move to the next question).

7. Would you say it was convenient to use public transportation?
5 people (38.5%) said it was mostly convenient to use public transportation, while 3 said it was "not really" convenient. 1 person said it was definitely convenient to use public transportation, and 1 person said it was not convenient at all. Two respondents selected "Other": one commented "No idea where the bus is going;" and the other wrote, "Would have to get up an hour earlier each day to use it, so instead I have to drive to the city I work in then take public transportation from my car to my job. I work two jobs and if I was only able to rely on public
transportation I would have no way home at night after the second job and would be stranded having to pay a taxi more than I make at the second job to get me back home."

Based on the answers listed above, most people fall in the middle with regard to their feelings about the convenience of using public transportation. While one person had very positive feelings, the others' comments would suggest that they felt using public transportation was either confusing or not reliable for someone with a hectic schedule.

8. Would you use public transportation again?
85.7% (n=12) responded yes; 7.1% (n=1) responded no. One respondent wrote, "Only if I had to." Overall, many more respondents said they would use public transportation again.

9. Would you ever stop using your car to use public transportation?
Over half of the respondents, or 55.6%, said they would not stop using their car to take public transportation. 27.8% said they would, and the remaining 16.7% were undecided.

10. What, if anything, would cause you to use public transportation more than you already do?
10 people answered the question. 2 said nothing would cause them to use it more, while 1 was unsure. 1 person wrote, "If I worked more than twice a week," perhaps indicating lack of incentive. 3 people said they would use it more if they had better access to it. 2 people said they would be more motivated to use public transportation if they became "totally sick of putting money into my car," or if they couldn't afford to drive anymore. 1 person would use it more with "better information, park and ride, safety issues."

Conclusion: All in all, most of the people who took the survey would use public transportation again or thought it was relatively convenient, but they wouldn't give up driving unless they absolutely had to because driving was easier, more convenient, less confusing, or they had more access to a car than they did to public transportation. If transit usage were to increase dramatically, transit systems would probably have to make it easier and less confusing to ride. No one argued that it was cheaper to drive a car; they were just willing to pay more for greater convenience. Ironically, people usually pay for things they don't have to do themselves. In this case, the service was less helpful than [good old-fashioned] self-reliance.