Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Getting to the Fair

One of the many things I've grown to love about living in Albany during the summer is hitting the Altamont Fair. I love traipsing through the mud (somehow there's always mud), putting my kid on rickety rides and visiting the all those stinky, happy and sometimes noisy (did you ever visit the poultry barn? zoinks. they are loud!) farm animals. There were years when I drove a car there (including one I'll never forget, where I got stuck in traffic like I'd never ever seen in upstate NY and my car over-heated), and there were years where I took the bus, sat back and relaxed, and enjoyed the ride... and it was free.

Then there was last year...when I didn't make it to the Altamont Fair because there was no bus service. Period.

I've been waiting to learn whether buses would venture to our tri-county fair this year, and before going to sleep tonight I decided to have a gander at the Altamont Fair website... to my surprise there was news. Good news. I then ventured over to my friends at CDTA to confirm... and to try to clarify this part of the announcement on the Altamont Fair site:

Purchase a CDTA Day Card for only $3 that provides one day unlimited use and includes round trip service from Crossgates Mall to the Altamont Fair.

Hmmm... does that mean the only way they'll take me on the shuttle is if I purchase an additional $3 pass for myself and each kid I have with me even if I already have a 7-day monthly pass for myself and Summer Fun Pass for my daughter? I sure hope not.

The CDTA press release was issued on Monday 7/21, I don't think there was coverage in today's TU. It's after 11 p.m. now, so I won't get my answer calling the CDTA customer information line at this hour. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the professionals over at the TU will do more than reprint the details of the press release, and let us know if our passes will be usable. I hope to see some fleshed out news when I pick that paper up off my porch in the a.m. , and if not... it'll be time for a bit of research from one of us on the bus.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sunday Sampling

My sister lives in the neighborhood where we grew up. She rides her bike all over the city and she loves it. I was on the phone with her Sunday evening as I was walking down to Lincoln Park pool to go for a swim -- hoping I would beat the incoming thunderstorms -- and I did. It was a glorious swim.

My sis asked me why I didn't try bike riding around Albany, she was thinking it would clearly save time getting around - she's right of course, though I keep thinking about all those hills in this town. I also spared her the details of my fear of things like
this horror that happened to Roger, or worse... and say, "yeah, I know lots of people who do ride their bikes around here, I should invest in one!"

CDTA has a system map - available in old-school hard copy style or on the website where you can zoom, click and get schedule information. It's very colorful, and fun. When I look at that map, I have visions of a robust system carrying satisfied riders throughout our region.

Then I remember that while there are lots of routes, when you subtract those that are only commuter routes, then subtract those that only run on weekdays, then subtract those that don't run on Sundays - the colorful lines traveling throughout the region look rather drab on Sunday.

Yes, there's still some service.

I looked at the CDTA buses listed in Albany - there are 35 on the list, even though one or two of them don't actually go into the city of Albany. Of those 35 "Albany" bus lines, there are a whopping ELEVEN that actually run on Sundays.

How bizarre is it that over at the TU's Capital Region at the Crossroads blog people are arguing about the viability of light rail and the general use of public transit by suburban-minded folks, while there are plenty of people in city neighborhoods who don't have basic transportation available to them seven days per week? If you live in the up-and-coming Delaware Avenue neighborhood, you can walk to the movies or take a stroll for ice cream, but you can't catch a bus on the main drag on Sundays.

Here's the short list of "Albany" buses that actually run on Sundays:
The 1 (Central Avenue from downtown Albany to Colonie Center)
The 7 (from downtown Albany to Glenmont Wal-Mart)
The 8 (called "Arbor Hill" this route connects the South End and Arbor Hill and has a little stint on Washington Avenue between Main and Quail streets)
The 10 (Western Avenue bus from downtown to Crossgates)
The 11 (UAlbany Shuttle -- non University folks are allowed on the bus)
The 12 (Washington Avenue bus - from downtown to Crossgates and on Sundays takes you to Wal-Mart at Crossgates Commons)
The 13 (New Scotland Avenue - from downtown Albany to Slingerlands Price Chopper)
The 14 (Rensselaer/Third St./ Amtrak - goes from downtown Albany all the way to Averill Park-- hmmm, looking at the route for Sundays looks like this line overlooks Averill Park on Sundays, but at least you can get to Amtrak from Albany by bus on a Sunday)
The 22 - (Albany/ Troy via Watervliet)
The 55 (Albany- Schenectady via Route 5 - aka Central Avenue/ State Street)
The Shuttlefly (Colonie Center, Albany International Airport and Route 7)

Now, if you're going to be out past oh, 6:45 or so... your choices for bus service narrow even more leaving only these six lines running...1, 8, 11, 12, 22, 55.

Thinking back to my conversation with my sister, getting a bike on the road could lead to more productive Sundays for me, and bike lanes to make riding throughout the city more safe, might get me out on the bike sometime. I sure hope Albany's first comprehensive plan maps out some bike lanes.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

School Buses, Crossroads and Three Kids on the Bus

Yesterday, the TU published a letter from a Clifton Park fellow who's thinking creatively. He proposed suburban folk run errands on yellow school buses throughout the day to save personal gas money and also contribute to their towns' tax bases. An interesting concept, and one that has apparently been tried before...in fact, here's a study published in 1999 on that very topic.

Capital Region suburbanites choosing yellow buses over their personal vehicles doesn't strike me as something that would actually happen. Let's see what kind of dialog is explored via the TU's Capital Region at a Crossroads series and blog.

Speaking of buses, I bought my nine year old daughter a CDTA Summer Fun Pass for the 2nd year in row. $17 for two months of rides is quite a deal if your child will be getting around via public transportation. Though the kid prefers car rides, when Mom's the parent in charge, the choice is bus or foot travel.

Friday, I picked her and two friends up from camp at 1:00 p.m. I gave them multiple options for afternoon activities: going swimming at Lincoln Park pool or Mater Christi pool, walking to the transitional baby Pine Hills branch of APL and filling out their reading records for the Summer Reading Program, spending some time at the NYS Museum, visiting a park, or taking a "bus adventure" -- they all voted for the very nebulous "bus adventure." My only plan in place for this was purchasing 2 $3 day passes for the friends, and taking them on at least 3 rides to be sure I got my money's worth -- anything else about the adventure remained tbd.

Highs and Lows of the Adventure
  • A Walk to the Muddy Cup from camp to fuel up on coffee, where I run into a friend I've been meaning to contact because of her wealth of information about one of my too- many- volunteer-projects. The kids and I hang out on the comfy Muddy couches for a while.
  • Catch a bus for a quick ride home to drop off lots of camp bags. Purchase the 2 $3 passes for the rest of the adventure.
  • The girls keep themselves occupied with hand-clapping chants and games while we wait and wait for the Number 4 heading downtown. I wish I'd brought something to read! When the bus arrives, I give a quick tutorial on how to use their passes. A friend of mine is already on board-- we chat about parenting, work and summer happenings.
  • Get off at Lark and Washington for Destination Number 1: Crisan for must-have gelato. (Thank you All Over Albany for introducing this fabulous spot to us!)
  • One of the kids is hopeful that a book she ordered is finally at the Main Branch of APL. We walk over to the library, and while the ordered book is still "on order" the three kids find a spot on the floor in the corner of the children's room-- each set of eyes glued to a book they've found on the shelf. It seems nobody remembers that the plan was a bus adventure, which is just fine with me. Eventually, we head downstairs and they pick a dvd to watch for the evening's sleepover. We find ourselves still at the library for last-call-at-the-checkout-counter, leaving a few minutes before 6 p.m., just as a Number 2 is pulling up to the Washington Avenue Armory bus stop.
  • I know these kids have never taken the Number 2, making the new-ness an adventure in itself. I give a quick re-cap on how to swipe a bus pass. As a mom, I do have an ulterior motive -- my kiddo has a birthday party to attend the next day, so taking the Number 2 to the last stop serves the practical and the adventurous.
  • The walk from the bus to the re-designed Colonie Center is the safest walk I've taken from a street bus stop to a mall since I started this Capital Region bus riding thing last May.
  • Typical mall experience. My kid has to go to the bathroom -twice in 10 minutes, one of her friends is "starving", my daughter and I can't agree on where to purchase the birthday gift, we're accosted by the people who sell dead sea skin products, and the other kid really wants a piece of cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory. We settle our issues, and I decide we're buying dinner at Friendly's, and we'll grab a piece of cheesecake "to go" on our way back to the bus.
  • All is well at Friendly's, while the service is slow. 2 kids decide they'll get ice cream after dinner, the other one holding out for her cheesecake.
  • I check the time. 7:53. I check the bus schedule. Next Number 2 pulls out of Wolf Road at 8:15... and after that there isn't another Number 2 until 9:50 -- too late for me and three young girls to be taking the bus. To catch the 8:15, we cannot walk out of Friendly's after 8:03. The waitstaff hasn't yet taken the ice cream order.
  • I have both the 1 and the 55 schedules with me, yet, I have no clue about whether either of them stop at the Wolf Road side of Colonie Center, CDTA's customer information line has been closed for 53 minutes and I don't want to "wing" trying to catch a different bus line just so they can indulge in mediocre ice cream and cheesecake. (I called the helpful customer information line on Saturday and learned the Number 1 stops at the Wolf Road side, but not the 55 -- that, you still need to catch on Central Avenue.)
  • I'm surprised to find these kids, who are not used to scheduling their lives around a bus, are incredibly good sports about the change and will wait until next time for the ice cream and cheese cake. I feel like a responsible grown-up since they already had Crisan's amazing gelato.
  • Same bus driver on the Number 2 back downtown, remembers us and remarks, "You still have your crew." The kids have become pros at swiping those passes.
  • We manage to get downtown in time to run the very short block and 1/2 and catch the 8:40 Number 3 at the "Quail and Central" stop. In truth, we're running to the stop where the driver takes a break on Quail between Bradford and West Streets, and our run adds to the adventure.
  • We get home well before 9 p.m. -- perfect timing to watch that dvd borrowed from the library.
At the end of the day, I spent more money than I'd hoped to, the kids had fun, and nobody complained that we were taking the bus. All in all, a fine adventure around Albany.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Will Car Sharing come to the Capital Region?

I've got a friend who throws ideas around with me... most of the time we talk Albany City politics and quality of life issues facing the folks in our neighborhoods.

Sometimes though, our conversations head in an entrepreneurial direction, we dream that American Dream. We consider ways we might strike it rich.

When our conversations sway toward making money, my friend's husband affectionately refers to us as "Lucy and Ethel". He's got a point, we probably aren't destined to be big money makers.

Now, here's an idea for a business that Lucy and Ethel are not going to start, but somebody really should.

Open a car sharing business in Albany. (To learn about car sharing, click here or here)

Click here for a guide to help you get started.

Between all the college students, the price of gas, and those of us who don't have cars -- car sharing is a business that has got to be lucrative. I mean look at this headline from a Zipcar press release:

In Wake of High Gas Prices and Low Car Sales, Zipcar Grows 100% During Past 12 Months

New Survey Shows Americans Ditching Cars at Record Pace

Read the whole release by clicking here.

Car sharing would also be an innovative service to contract to non-profits who serve people without cars, but who need a car for errands from time to time.

Car sharing, however would not be a viable option to get folks to work every day at those places where public transportation is currently lacking, places like...
CDPHP and Gutptill's Arena.
For that, we still need better public transportation planning and the funding to support it!

And you probably wouldn't want to drive the car you're paying an hourly rate to use to drive to the Altamont Fair and leave it parked there while you play for hours. Will CDTA provide service to the Altamont Fair this year? Last year, the fair nixed bus riders with a last minute no-service announcement... so far this year, I've heard no news of whether buses will be taking folks to frolic at the fair.

But hey, our friends in our "sister city" of sorts, Austin, Texas have got it right... they have an organization called: liveable city: Quality of Life for All of Austin that unanimously passed this resolution in 2006 for a pilot car sharing program. (I recommend reading the resolution in its entirety, they make a good case for a non-profit car sharing pilot program in Austin.) It looks like Austin CarShare is doing well, and is non-profit; leading me to think if you want to make your million, don't open a for-profit car sharing business in our region because a non-profit will be more likely to stay local, provide lower prices and serve the community better!