People mover anchorage

Anchorage’s People Mover bus system considers major changes to the way routes are designed
March 17, 2017 – 04:48 pm
New map for Anchorage buses has few neighborhood stops but

On a frigid morning at a bus stop in Muldoon, Anchorage transit planner Bart Rudolph traced a blue line on a map.

The blue line was Route 13. It snakes to the city's major hospitals and the University of Alaska Anchorage campus and swings past the Anchorage Senior Center before shooting north to downtown.

Rudolph described it as a "catch-all route." With stops almost everywhere and a route that takes nearly an hour to traverse 13 miles — that's an understatement.

"If you were designing a route that wanted to hit everyone without having them walk very far, this is the route, " Rudolph said.

That sums up Anchorage's bus network: Try to reach a little bit of everybody, and take time to do it. But a bold change appears to be coming.

Faced with declining ridership and cuts driven by constricting budgets, and inspired by transit officials in other cities, like Houston, Texas, Anchorage transit officials started surveying the public in April about ways to shake up the system. Now two redesign concepts are circulating created by Portland-based consultant Jarrett Walker & Associates.

In general, some passengers would have to travel further from home to get to a bus stop. Fewer people will have easy access to any bus service, particularly in South Anchorage. The city's lightly used rush-hour route to Chugiak-Eagle River will be scrapped entirely, leaving only Eagle River Connect, an AnchorRides van-type service.

But, in the densest parts of the city, buses will arrive much more quickly — every 15 or 30 minutes, instead of by the hour. And, the consultant predicts, there will be more people on the bus.

Both redesign proposals mark dramatic departures from the status quo. And it's all happening somewhat quickly. Officials expect to pick a preferred concept by the end of January, and hope the change will take effect Aug. 1.

On a recent Monday, at 10:15 a.m., the 13 bus pulled away from the intersection of Muldoon and DeBarr roads.

The ride was quiet. In 45 minutes between Muldoon and Fairview, three people boarded. All of them got off at hospitals, the Alaska Native Medical Center and Providence Alaska Medical Center. Over a few stops between the hospitals and downtown, the bus picked up no one.

Near the intersection of Northern Lights Boulevard and Boniface Drive, about 15 minutes into the ride, a man in a baseball cap and purple winter coat with a fur ruff boarded. Then the bus turned down a residential street off Boniface. It bounced over speed bumps.

Under either of the two redesign proposals, the use of neighborhood streets, cul-de-sacs and parking lots would become much rarer. Buses would mostly stick to major roads.

Route 13 hits critical areas, like the hospitals and the universities, Rudolph said. But it's one of the most circuitous and least-used routes in the city, he said. The route averages about 19 riders for every hour the bus is in service.

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