So my Geologic Image Interpretation class made the democratic decision to move our start time back half an hour to 9:30. All well and good (an extra half-hour sleep for me), but I was faced with a bit of logistical tickle— my usual bus route and time out of the York neighborhood was now either a half hour late or early. A quick mental transit map later, I realized a Route 114 stop fit my needs perfectly.
Route 114 is a powerhouse in Bellingham transit. Stretching all the way from the downtown station to the west end of Fairhaven, it snakes through such high ridership areas as the aforementioned edge of the York neighborhood, Indian Street, campus, south campus and the Happy Valley neighborhood. Sounds like a pretty important bus, right?
The Whatcom Transit Authority apparently disagrees. This Wednesday, they’re prepared to vote to focus route expansion not on the woefully overcrowded Route 114 but instead on Route 1, a one-trick-pony bus that basically ferries riders between the Bellingham and Fairhaven downtowns.
In 2004, working off a lot of public input and input from the university, WTA came up with their Six-Year Strategic Service Plan, an accounting of what areas were served well, which weren’t and where transit expansion was needed most. The Go Lines, the color-coded, 15-minutes-a-bus routes were a result of this long-term plan.
The line serviced by Route 114 was identified in the Six-Year Plan as a “top priority” for service enhancement. State Street, connecting the two downtowns and serviced by Route 1, is listed as a “second priority.” Yet, two years on, WTA seems to be rejecting their own prioritization, in an almost backdoor decision with no formal chance for public comment.
“If they’re going to do something against their own plan, you should give people a chance to give input on what’s going on,” said Kevin McClain, a Student Senate member who serves as its liaison to the AS Transportation Advisory Committee.
Currently, Route 1 runs every half hour with no night or Sunday service. Route 114 also runs every half hour and has night and Sunday service. The debate is over which route should have its service expanded to fifteen minute frequency.
Proponents of Route 1 suggest that projected development in the Fairhaven neighborhood need to be supported with a stronger transit presence. But McClain and Alanna Ahern, the AS Board’s vice president for campus and community affairs, rightly reject that claim, arguing that anticipated development shouldn’t be allowed to trump actual demand in the Happy Valley neighborhood.
The Happy Valley neighborhood has been one of the heaviest hit areas of Bellingham’s boom, suddenly springing up as one of the densest population centers in town. Riders streaming out of massive apartment complexes like the New Englands are one of the main reasons Route 114 busses are consistently over capacity.
McClain and the Transportation Advisory Committee also contend the WTA’s analysis that enhancing Route 1 would be “nominally cheaper” than an expansion of Route 114. In their own analysis, they found the costs virtually identical.
Even with the streamlined service routes implemented in last year’s revisions— such as the Go Lines— the raw number of busses coming through campus actually declined by five percent last year. If Happy Valley continues to grow without getting the bus service it deserves, room to sit and ride will be little more than a pipe dream for the majority of its residents.
The student government rapidly mobilized last week to present a solid face of opposition to the proposed enhancement. The Student Senate and the AS Board of Directors both passed special resolutions beseeching the WTA Board to postpone enhancing Route 1 and consider their original, 2004 proposition of enhancement to Route 114.
Luckily, there’s still a chance to make your voice heard on the changes. The proposed enhancement is due to be voted on Wednesday, January 18, in the County Council Chambers of the Whatcom County Courthouse at 8 a.m. If you can make it to the meeting, phenomenal. The more students voicing their opinion, the better. Recognizing the fact that 8 a.m. may be a little early for some, though, you’ve got another option— call or email the WTA Board of Directors pronto and let them know your opinion of the change. The WTA maintains a comment line at (360) 715-4500 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure to do it before Wednesday, though, as that’s the crucial vote.