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RMTD public hearings spark interest in route changes
Posted By Brandon Reid On June 20, 2012 @ 6:59 am In Local News, News | No Comments
By Susan Johnson
Rockford Mass Transit District (RMTD) held three public hearings on proposed route changes last Thursday, June 14. This report concerns the first one, held at the East Side Transfer Center, 725 Lyford Road.
Allison Townsend, a transit planner with The Corradino Group, welcomed everyone to the hearing and gave a brief introduction. She explained: “It has been eight years since the last route changes to the system. We now have the East Side Transfer Center. Rockford has grown and changed, and RMTD must respond. There have been dwindling funds from the federal government.”
RMTD started with data collection, recording all the routes where people are getting on and off. They also surveyed bus riders. Comment sheets were available at the hearings for people who wished to add their thoughts.
Matthew Orenchuk, P.E., AICP, a transit planner with Parsons Brinckerhoff, gave a PowerPoint demonstration with charts showing proposed route changes. According to their website, “Parsons Brinckerhoff is a global consulting firm assisting public and private clients to plan, develop, design, construct, operate and maintain critical infrastructure.” With headquarters in Chicago, they have a history that spans 125 years.
“One of our initial changes was the funds for a route to Belvidere,” said Orenchuk. “We now have Belvidere Route 24, which you can board at the East Side Transfer Center. The guiding theme is to remove service where there are few riders and add to where riders are now, providing the most benefit for the largest number of riders.
“Phase 3 — Proposed Changes: All routes except Route 24 Belvidere will meet every 60 minutes at the Downtown Transfer Center. Why? This will make it easer to transfer from one route to another.”
Orenchuk also noted: “One of the things we saw are that there are cross-town routes, and you have people waiting on corners, in cornfields … we would like to have a nice place for people to transfer and give them a place to sit. Rush hour trips will be eliminated on Route 4 North Main and No. 5 Clifton and No. 12 Charles Street. Why? Because the survey found few riders benefiting from these routes. There will be restructured service in northeast Rockford, to better serve destinations along Riverside, Perryville and Spring Creek Road.”
It was decided to break up the Big Loop North. There were parts of Mulford that did not have many riders. Also proposed is a Route 16-B to offer additional service along Rockton and Riverside, where there are riders. Minor route modifications will be made to No. 1 West State. It will change to 60-minute frequency to meet other routes.
Also planned: Minor route changes to No. 2 School Street, allowing this route to run on time. The area around Auburn High School will be served by Route No. 1. Route No. 3 Huffman will be extended and provide service to Wesley Willows. Frequency will be improved from 90 minutes to 60 minutes.
Route No. 6 Kilburn will be extended to Wal-Mart and Riverside Boulevard. Route No. 5 Clifton and Route No. 13 Rural Street will be combined. Route No. 7 South Main will be shortened, and service to Falcon Drive will be eliminated.
No. 11 East State route is extended to the East Side Transfer Center, where it meets the Belvidere bus. No. 20 Alpine route will be eliminated at Morsay Drive. The East State will still run every 30 minutes.
Route No. 12 Charles Street will only serve Colonial Village once, on the inbound trip. Route No. 3 Rural Street will be eliminated because of low ridership. Service will be replaced in part by Route No. 5.
Routes No. 16 and 17 (North and South Loops) will no longer form a loop. Route 16 will provide east-west service along Riverside and go to the East Side Transfer Center. There will be a Route 16-B Rockton-Riverside route. Route 16-B will provide two trips in the morning and two in the evening to connect to Riverside.
Route No. 20 Alpine will be eliminated because of low ridership. The south part will be covered by the new Route 17. The north part will be covered by a new Loves Park/Machesney Park Circulator. Route 23 Illinois Growth Enterprises (IGE) will be eliminated. IGE will still be served by Route 22/LMC.
As for Loves Park/Machesney Park restructuring, Route 22 North Second Street will be extended to downtown Rockford.
Night and Sunday Service — Route 31/41 Auburn & Rockton will extend to Central Avenue by the Riverside Wal-Mart. Route 32 East State extends to Rock Valley College (night only). Route 34/44 Harrison & Alpine goes inbound to Charles instead of Harrison & Kishwaukee. Route 36 Perryville is eliminated because of low ridership. RMTD also has some future plans for extending service should additional funding become available.
Questions and answers
During the hearing, people in the audience would occasionally ask questions. Some of these concerned busy traffic intersections where it was dangerous to cross the street, lack of bus shelters, or areas that were not being served at all.
Some serious questions were raised by Raymond Hughes, superintendent of the Veterans Assistance Commission of Winnebago County. He wondered why the bus did not go to the National Guard Armory, as many veterans need to go there for service. Hughes mentioned that his organization has a van to pick up veterans and take them to Madison, Wis. Some of these are very critically ill men who need to go to Madison for treatment. These services need to be coordinated with transportation to get them to the pick-up point. Orenchuk responded that this is why they are collecting input, to find out what changes need to be made.
Since time was running out, and the hearing was shortly to be concluded, The Rock River Times arranged a phone interview with Hughes asking for more details.
“We refer quite a few veterans to veterans service officers at the National Guard Armory,” Hughes explained. “These are state employees that work with the veterans on their files and applications for benefits. … If they are applying for pensions or other benefits, they have to work through them. We’re dropping some of these people off on a road that goes behind the Armory, and they have to walk through the gully in the field to the back lot. All the bus has to do is go between Kohl’s and the vacant Menards, take a right, and then go down one-eighth of a block and enter into the National Guard Armory and do a circle, and then pick up anybody that’s looking to leave, too.
“My concern is one of the remarks made [at the public hearing] was, ‘Call your legislators.’ My concern is, shouldn’t the Rockford Mass Transit District be advocating for veterans, to do something and collaborate rather than just say, contact your legislators? I was very disappointed in that remark. What are they doing if there is a need and they need assistance? Then, how do they address that? Are there grants they can go after? A need has been shared with them locally, expressed numerous times, and yet it seems like there is a level of indifference to veterans. I am offended by that.
“They can go out of their way to replan a route and go over to the new clinic by OSF, but they can’t loop around and take people to the door at the National Guard Armory. I don’t understand that. They don’t have to go there every time. If there is no one who needs to go there, just take the regular route … most of the people that we serve have been without income for at least 30 days and for some, almost two years. Their unemployment benefits have run out, and they’re asking for help. Then, for others, there are medical illness-related, service-related connections, particularly with Agent Orange.”
Hughes also noted that the clinic in Rockford is an arm of the veterans hospital in Madison, which has specialists who do procedures that cannot be done here. “We are turning people away every week because they don’t have enough passengers. The other concern that’s happening is, they have new requirements for volunteer drivers, and I think we are down to about 10 volunteer drivers.”
The Rock River Times asked RMTD Marketing & Public Relations Specialist Lisa Brown to address these issues. She told us by e-mail: “First of all, I want to stress that RMTD does understand the situation many of our veterans are in. It is very hard to see those who have given so much struggle so hard. To that end, for the past three years, RMTD has offered free rides to veterans attending Rep. Chuck Jefferson’s Veteran Stand Down event in November. We truly do wish to do all that we can.
“However, RMTD is not in a position to advocate on behalf of any one group. The free ride programs we do offer were mandated by the state, hence I am sure the comment ‘talk to your legislator.’ I do feel that perhaps you might be taking that comment out of context. The organizations that support these citizens getting free rides, i.e., seniors and persons with disabilities were the ones that advocated for the free rides, not the transit districts throughout the state. For RMTD to advocate for any one specific group would certainly raise issues with other groups and create an unfair situation to many at the hand of a few, and that is not our intent, ever.
“Secondly, I hope you realize that the free ride initiatives actually mean less revenue for RMTD. The more free rides we offer, the less dollars available to us to match state and local revenues, in turn, the less dollars available for the limited service we do offer, so it is very difficult for us to knowingly champion free ride initiatives.
“RMTD also fully understands that the armory and the Faust service van departure for the VA Hospital in Madison are major concerns for our local vets. Coming to our public hearing and getting these concerns into the record was an important step in the process. Now that we know of these issues, of course, we will be certain to include and address them as we move forward. Like all concerns raised at the public hearing, our intent is to improve the system for everyone. These comments help us do exactly that.
“Finally, RMTD would strongly encourage anyone who is eligible for a free ride pass to take advantage of the transit free ride programs. Senior citizens 65 years of age or older need only provide proof of age and $2 to obtain a free ride senior photo ID. Persons with disabilities with low income should definitely look into the circuit breaker program, which offers many benefits including a free transit benefit. Once enrolled in the program, a person simply brings the state postcard and $2 to us to obtain the free ride pass. These programs do offer assistance, and as long as they are available, everyone, if they qualify, should take advantage of them.”
From the June 20-26, 2012, issue
Article printed from The Rock River Times: http://rockrivertimes.com
URL to article: http://rockrivertimes.com/2012/06/20/rmtd-public-hearings-spark-interest-in-route-changes/
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