Monday, January 30, 2017

Car Free in Sudbury, Day 4: 5 Minutes Late or 55 Minutes Early

5 minutes late or 55 minutes early.  That was our conundrum on Sunday morning (Day 3) of our Car Free “Pilot Project”.  Initially, we were happy to discover that the Sunday 502 bus – an amalgam of the 501Regent-University and the 819 Copper-Four Corners – would take us to all of the destinations that we needed to get to on Sunday.  First, Church service at St. Mark’s on Walford, followed by Sarah’s work at the South End Food Basics, and then on to home for me and the kids.  However, our initial enthusiasm was somewhat dampened by the realization that we would need to take the 9:15 AM bus in order to get to church before service began – or risk walking into church 5 minutes late – an unacceptable option, even if it would have allowed us to sleep in a little longer on Sunday morning.

Anyway, it was off to church on the 502 bus, which left the downtown Transit Terminal at 9:15, and arrived at the Riverside stop near our home shortly after.  This year, the City of Greater Sudbury appears to be making a real effort to remove the snow banks at bus stops.  We were pleased to discover that the entire bank had been removed between the sidewalk and the street (in the area called “the boulevard” here in Greater Sudbury – a.k.a. “that asphalt strip between the sidewalk and the curb”).  It made waiting for the bus a pleasant experience for everyone, as the unplowed banks provided an opportunity for some playtime.

But, looking across the street to the south side of Riverside, I fear that when we are going to be waiting for the bus going the other way, into the downtown, our experience might be quite different.  There isn’t any sidewalk on the south side of Riverside, and the bus stop in this location is almost right on the street.  There is a little shovelled out area for standing, but I’m not optimistic about keeping three, shall we say “active” children corralled there for more than a few minutes.  Someone (the home owner behind the stop?) seems to have built a little bench to make one’s stay at the bus stop a little more pleasant (what a great idea – and the impromptu street furniture here really adds to the streetscape, as well as the feeling of living in a neighbourhood where people care for and look out for one another).

Alice on a snowbank.
(if you would like to share your own Greater Sudbury winter sidewalk experiences, please consider doing so at the Walk Safe SudburyFacebook Group site. They're collecting information there to help inform our municipal council about what the City's priorities should be to help achieve better winter pedestrian outcomes next year, when the budget for sidewalk clearing is expected to increase)

The bus came right on time, and I used the Family Pass, which would prove to save us a couple of bucks on transit.  The bus was pretty full, so the 5 of us were forced to sit in different parts of the bus – Sarah in one seat by herself, me in another across the aisle from the 3 kids in backwards/forwards seats at the back of the bus.  Everything went well (although there was some discussion among the kids over whose turn it was to “pull the string” when it was time to get the bus to stop).  But suddenly, the bus took a corner rather quickly, and Brian, who had been looking around behind him at the sign posted in the back of the bus showing a wide turn and a bus running into a car (this kind of “vehicular interaction” being appealing to Brian, I think, given the way that he plays with his own dinky cars), was tossed from his seat.  Luckily, the quick witted woman whom he was sitting beside managed to grab a hold of him.  After profusely thanking her, Brian sat with me for the rest of the uneventful trip to Church.

And so we arrived at the Walford Road stop at around 9:35.  55 minutes early.  From this stop, it was just a very short walk to the Church, which was good, because it was rather cold yesterday morning – especially with the wind, which we discovered to be blowing quite vigorously through D.J. Hancock Memorial Park on the northwest corner of Walford and Ramsey Lake roads.  We quickly made our way to the Church.

Only to discover that all of the doors were locked.

What were we thinking?  Apparently, we weren’t thinking.  I think that Sarah and I were just so impressed with ourselves that this would be one day – perhaps the very first day – that we weren’t feeling rushed to get to Church on time, that it just never occurred to us that arriving so early might mean a bit of a wait outside!

So we waited for about 15 minutes, out of the wind at least – although it was cold.  We were all dressed for the cold, luckily, so it wasn’t that bad.  But it was still very nice to head inside when a gentleman with the keys showed up!

After taking off hats, mitts, boots, snow pants, etc., and hanging them up, we were then faced with about 40 minutes of not really knowing what to do.  Sarah went to set up for Sunday School, and I was left with kids in the basement, making a mental note to myself that next week I need to bring a game along with me to fill in the time before service.

St. Mark’s is located pretty close to Grandma’s house, so after Church, we walked there, and had a nice visit while waiting for the next bus to take Sarah to work.  It turns out that it would be just a short bus ride for Sarah from her mom’s place.  And the kids and I could stay there until the bus returns and heads north to the downtown.  Except for one thing: we broke out the Family Pass to pay for the day, and that means we’ve got to ride the bus as a family.  When one needs to get on, we all do.  So rather than spend a little more time with grandma, we hustled the kids out to the bus heading towards the Four Corners so that Sarah could get to work on time (actually, about 25 minutes early).

After Sarah’s departure at the Food Basics stop on Regent Street, the kids and I had a lengthy trip back home from the four corners.  Usually, getting home from the Four Corners in the car would take us about 5 to 7 minutes.  The meandering route of the 502 bus – without a prolonged stop at the Transit Terminal – meant that we continued to ride the bus for an additional 50 minutes.  But we got to see quite a bit of the City – something which the kids seemed interested in, at least – this time (let’s see how long that lasts).  The 502 headed to Health Sciences North, our hospital, and from there out to the University (which seemed to be the only popular destination / origin for riders on the bus, save the Transit Terminal).  Then it was back to the hospital, south on Paris to Walford, past the church and back past Grandma’s house.  The bus meandered through the old Memorial Hopsital parking area for some reason, and then wound its way to Paris Street through Boland and a few other low density streets where no one got on or off.  From Paris we headed into the downtown and stopped for about 10 minutes at the Transit Terminal.  Upon departing the terminal, it was just 4 stops to Riverside – I probably could have beat the bus home on foot if it were just me, but it would have been a different story with the kids, so we rode.

(as an aside: is Greater Sudbury selling naming rights for these stops?  If not, perhaps they should be – every time a business name is called out over the automated system, that creates an awareness of the existence of the business – we call that “advertising”, and I suspect it’s something that the City is doing for certain businesses without any financial winfall.  I suspect that this may be occurring because transit riders are familiar with prominent businesses in the area of certain stops – so in that respect it’s a service to bus riders.  It just seems – I don’t know – a little unusual that the City picks and chooses which businesses it’s going to highlight at certain bus stops, especially if there is no financial compensation from those businesses.  Perhaps I’ll look into whether the City is getting any money from businesses like Food Basics in the near future) 

What was clear to me from Day 3 was that while the bus might take us the destinations that we want, it does so on its own schedule - and that’s not always convenient, or, I suspect, workable in some situations.  We sort of kind of made it work yesterday, but to be honest, I don’t know what might have happened to us if it had been colder outside.   We need to be better prepared for the waiting – thinking ahead about where we might be able to spend some time (how far is the Tim Horton’s on Regent from St. Marks? Can I the kids make that walk without too much complaining, and will my coffee stay warm when it’s minus 20?), and bringing along items of distraction for the kids – games, paper, crayons, craft materials – to fill in the gaps.

We made it through Day 3, and Day 4 has been uneventful.  I’ve got a call in to my insurance broker to find out what it might cost me to have the insurance on the van removed.  The van isn’t going anywhere any time soon – which is actually kind of good news, because we were a little concerned that it might be slipping down our sloped driveway and onto the street in front of our house.  A friend of Sarah’s came along on the weekend with two concrete cinder blocks which he placed behind our rear tires, which will prevent any roll back, real or imagined.  It doesn’t look all that great – and I want to assure any neighbours of ours who are reading this blog that it’s purely intended to be a temporary measure, until we can figure out a way to push the van further up the (icy) driveway.

So far, it’s been ‘so far, so good’ - which is good.  I wonder what this week will bring us?

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Canada and Ontario)


Paul Labelle said...

First time I read your post Steve. A little long but interesting! Funny, after awhile I could kind of hear your voice. Would be interesting to hear a little more from your children about how they feel about this experiment.
Best Regards,

Greg D said...

Great post Steve... not too long for me I love your narrative and like the return trip home on the 502 I got to see the city thru the eyes of parents using transit. I certainly hope that City Council and Transit read this post because it touches on many of the things that need improvement to make using transit viable.

Keep up the great blog!

I hear there is good tobogganing out in Onaping!

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