Thursday, May 8, 2014

In The Loop

I read The Norristown Project blog yesterday with interest. Shae Ashe shared some ideas about making Norristown a "commuter-friendly community." He talked about Washington D.C.'s bikeshare program, in which you can essentially rent a bicycle at any bike station in the city and return it to any other station. The first 30 minutes of your ride is free, then you pay a nominal fee per hour.

I looked up what most cyclists cal their average commuting speed and it's in the neighborhood of 15 mph, depending on traffic and weather. But figure 7 miles for free with a bikeshare.  Even if we had a bikeshare in Norristown with the first quarter hour free, you could, say, park at Logan Square and probably cycle to the courthouse in the allotted time, saving you the cost and hassle of parking downtown. If you stuck to smaller streets like Pine, Maple Alley and Church St, you probably wouldn't take your life into your hands too much.

I don't think Norristown is unfriendly to pedestrians, despite what I've heard from County Planning on the subject. When I was in junior high, I used to walk from the North End to Stewart for summer band, lugging a French horn. When the new library was built little more than a half mile away, I started walking there regularly. In college, I thought nothing of walking the mile and a quarter downtown to catch the P&W (now the high speed line) to 69th Street so I could get a bus into West Chester. Up until 10 years ago, a few times a year I'd walk to and from the Elm Street train station so I could get into 30th Street to catch Amtrak for book tours and conventions. And I did it pulling a suitcase on wheels behind me that was often weighed down with books. Bike-wise, I used to cycle the 2 miles over through Elmwood Park and the West End to Hartranft St. to visit my grandmother.

Last October during the Ghost Tours at Selma, we had students come who'd walked from the Carver Center 2 miles away. They weren't even winded.

If you're physically able, Norristown is easy to navigate on foot. In nice weather, you can be across town in either direction in less than an hour. Cycling isn't bad either, as long as you can do the hills. The major concern is traffic.

SEPTA's 90 bus route.
But once my knee problems began, I became dependent on driving to get around town. I almost never go downtown during the day anymore because, as Shae put it, "Parking is horrible in Norristown." The last time I had to go there on a weekday was to talk to the lawyer for my dad's estate. Took longer than we thought and my brother had to run out to feed the meter twice. Even if Main Street was filled with as much retail as it was in the 1960s, there's no chance of a relaxing afternoon of shopping or meeting friends for lunch if you have to constantly watch the clock to make sure your parking spot is still legal.

I'm not the only one with mobility issues in town. We have a lot of seniors, some of whom don't walk easily anymore. We have disabled residents, some veterans. We have people who, for whatever physical reason, can't walk or cycle. Some can't drive. And when it's raining or icy or too cold or too hot outside, even the most athletic residents would opt for an alternative way to get around.

True, SEPTA has 7 bus routes through Norristown. I know a lot of seniors who use them, though mostly to go OUT of town, to the malls. Most non-seniors who aren't regular commuters don't use the buses much--figuring out the routes can be confusing. I could use SEPTA to get downtown, but really, if I get 24 or more mpg in my car, why would I spend $4.50 for a round trip of less than 3 miles? I'd still have to walk a half mile to and from the bus stop.

So I propose an in-town bus shuttle, sort of like the King of Prussia Rover. It could connect all 3 of our (potential) main shopping areas--Logan Square, West Marshall, and Downtown. It could follow an easy loop that wouldn't be confusing. (I drew up a tentative loop-photo at left. The part though the West End could be extended further out, maybe to a public parking lot?). The shuttle could stop at the train stations and connect with SEPTA buses, and stop at each block in the business districts. Commuters to the courthouse might use it if they could park at Logan Square. People working in town might hop on it to go grab lunch at places in the North or West Ends.

The photo at the top is an electric shuttle that holds 15 passengers and costs about 2 cents a mile. It recharges overnight, but can also recharge with a rooftop solar panel during the day. It goes about 50 miles on a charge. The price tag on the website is about $25,000, cheaper than a lot of cars. Other website have similar eco-friendly vehicles. Charge riders $1 a ride, with all-day, all-month, and all-year packages available. Maybe seniors could ride for free.

Of course, we'd have to have great drivers, who presents the best impression of Norristown--drivers who let people know how to get to the zoo, what restaurants are where, what plays are going on in our theaters, etc. Our shuttle wouldn't simply duplicate SEPTA's function, it would advertize Norristown and all we have to offer.

So there's my notion for the day. What do you think? 

1 comment:

  1. When I was a young man they a bus route that they called the De Kalb St Loop, and I believe it was the same as you proposed. That's when we used to ride the loop for 10 cents which was a lot in those days