Bloomington bus news: Temporary Route 10 for new hospital; possible pilot could trade Route 8 for Uber/Lyft-type service

Starting this fall, people who need to make a trip within a quarter mile of Bloomington Transit’s Route 8 bus line might be able to manage that with an app like Uber or Lyft, but pay only a regular $1 public bus fare.

The regular fixed-route service on Route 8, which runs north-south along the College Mall corridor on the east side of town, would not be available during the pilot.

A BT board decision on that pilot program will come at the board’s August meeting, after a public hearing at the downtown transit center, at 3rd and Walnut streets.

The public hearing on replacement of Route 8 with Uber/Lyft-type service is set for July 27 at 6:30 p.m.

At its Tuesday meeting, the five-member Bloomington Transit board gave the go-ahead to BT staff to solicit interest and quotes from service providers like Uber and Lyft on providing the on-demand service.

If the on-demand service is implemented—which is called “micro-transit” in the public transportation business—it would start in September or October and run for a year.

While a decision on a micro-transit pilot is still not final, the BT board did give the staff a green light to move ahead on implementing a new temporary Route 10. The new route would provide regular bus service to the new hospital location for IU Health on the SR 46 bypass.

Route 10 would run from the downtown transit center up to 10th Street and along 10th Street to the SR 46 bypass. Service on Route 10 would start in November, which coincides with the opening of IU Health’s new hospital. Continue reading “Bloomington bus news: Temporary Route 10 for new hospital; possible pilot could trade Route 8 for Uber/Lyft-type service”

Video produced opposing Bloomington’s planned “island” annexation: “We definitely don’t want to pay higher taxes.”

If Bloomington’s planned annexation is successful, the city will add to its population an estimated 14,000 people, several cows, a pig or two, and at least one chicken, whose “eyes don’t work any more.”

For the hen’s owner, Susan Brackney, the longer phrase in place of a single adjective is a nicer way of describing the bird’s current abilities.

Brackney would prefer that she and the chicken not become a part of the city’s census.

But Bloomington’s annexation plan calls for Area 4, where Brackney and about 400 other people live, to become a part of the city starting on Jan. 1, 2024.

Area 4 is one of eight separate areas that Bloomington wants to annex into the city.

With an Aug. 4 public hearing on the horizon, and a city council vote that will likely come in September, some residents who oppose annexation are using the earlier part of the summer to organize their opposition.

To help with the organization, Brackney has produced a three-and-a-half minute video, which was posted on YouTube earlier this week. The footage highlights the rural aspects of Area 4, and features on-camera speaking turns from residents like her, who oppose annexation into the city. Continue reading “Video produced opposing Bloomington’s planned “island” annexation: “We definitely don’t want to pay higher taxes.””

Wednesday night: Leaders of cross-country bicycle race roll through Bloomington, race referees know their movie quotes

Around midnight on Wednesday, a few minutes into Thursday, an SUV headed south on SR 45/46 waited at the light to turn left onto 3rd Street.

The door panel had an official placard—it was a race official’s vehicle for the Race Across America (RAAM).

RAAM is a 3036.9-mile bicycle race starting in Oceanside, California ending in Annapolis, Maryland. Since the race was founded 38 years ago, the route for the RAAM has not always been the same. But it has passed through Bloomington for several years.

Through the open window of the SUV the driver shouted to the B Square: “Cutters! The Italians are coming! The Italians are coming! Rebate? Rebate?!

He caught his own mistake: “Wait, no, that’s not it … Refund? Refund?!

The recitation of familiar lines from the movie “Breaking Away” was his response to the B Square’s question: “You know you’re in Bloomington, Indiana, right—the greatest bicycling town in America?” The highlight of the film is the victory of a team called the Cutters in the Indiana University Student Foundation’s annual Little 500 bicycle race.

The light turned green before The B Square could catch the driver’s name. Continue reading “Wednesday night: Leaders of cross-country bicycle race roll through Bloomington, race referees know their movie quotes”

Pandemic puts new bus route optimization plan on hold, with possible stopgap alternative for service to new hospital

Bloomington Transit’s new route optimization plan now seems like a long shot to be implemented before the end of the year. That’s based on discussion by BT board members with general manager Lew May at their monthly meeting on Tuesday.

The route optimization plan, with increased frequency on some routes, and some service specifically set up for the new IU Health hospital on SR-46, was originally slated to be rolled out in fall 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed that timeframe. It’s not clear when a date for the plan’s implementation might be dialed in. Based on Tuesday’s board discussion with May, about six months of lead time will be needed to put all the pieces in place after a timing decision is made. The pieces include hiring 8 to 12 new drivers and educating the public about the new routes.

It points to a longer-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Bloomington’s public bus system. In the short term, ridership has plummeted and continues to bump along at a fraction of pre-pandemic levels. Continue reading “Pandemic puts new bus route optimization plan on hold, with possible stopgap alternative for service to new hospital”

Square Meals: Cooper’s hawk snacks in downtown Bloomington

For a couple hours Saturday morning, a winged creature as big as maybe five robins smooshed together into a single bird perched on a branch outside the window of The Square Beacon’s headquarters on 6th Street in downtown Bloomington.

Cooper’s hawk on 6th Street in downtown Bloomington on Jan. 16, 2021. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

Even though its leaves have been dropped for the season, the city of Bloomington’s tree inventory makes the tree easy to identify as a littleleaf linden.

The bird was identified by reliable sources on internet social media as a Cooper’s hawk.

After a while, the hawk began feeding on what looked like a small songbird it had brought along as a snack.

If the hawk had chosen a tree just a half block west, where the streets make a regular four-sided polygon around the county courthouse, the songbird could have counted as a square meal. Continue reading “Square Meals: Cooper’s hawk snacks in downtown Bloomington”

Monroe County adds $90K to CARES pass-through distribution, brings total to $460K

Monroe County has now passed through nearly half a million dollars to local businesses and government entities from its total $4.7 million CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act allocation.

At their Wednesday meeting, county commissioners approved another $90,516 in reimbursements, bringing the grand total to $459,901.

The county’s program started with the county government acting as a clearinghouse of sorts, by passing through to the state the claims submitted by local businesses and governmental units—like the library and townships—for non-payroll expenses related to COVID-19.

The state eventually asked the county to submit the county’s own expenses for public safety, which were enough to get reimbursement to the county of the whole $4.7 million. Continue reading “Monroe County adds $90K to CARES pass-through distribution, brings total to $460K”

Monroe County auditor at swearing-in ceremony: “If you love people, please mask up.”

Monroe County officials who won election in November took their oaths of office at noon on Friday, New Year’s Day.

Screenshot of Jan. 1, 2021 swearing in ceremony of Monroe County elected officials. The green highlighted square is auditor Catherine Smith, who encouraged people to mask up. Image links to FB video of the ceremony.

The 50-minute-long ceremony was hosted by the Monroe County Democratic Party. Election winners were all Democrats.

The continuing COVID-19 pandemic, which added another death to Monroe County’s count on Friday, was reflected in the venue for the ceremony—a Zoom video conference, live streamed on Facebook.

Those who took the oath of office were: judges Kara Krothe, Valeri Haughton, Geoff Bradley; auditor Catherine Smith; treasurer Jessica McClellan; coroner Joani Shields; surveyor Trohn Enright-Randolph; county commissioners Julie Thomas and Penny Githens; and county councilors Trent Deckard, Geoff McKim and Cheryl Munson. Continue reading “Monroe County auditor at swearing-in ceremony: “If you love people, please mask up.””

Sidewalk committee to talk about equity at Dec. 15 meeting

One of the outcomes of Thursday’s meeting held by the Bloomington city council’s sidewalk committee was the addition of an agenda item to the four-member group’s next meeting, on Dec. 15.

At the mid-December meeting, the committee will take up the question of its role in making recommendations for annual allocations of $330,000 from the city’s alternative transportation fund for new sidewalk construction projects.

That question comes in the context of a sidewalk equity audit that Bloomington resident Mark Stosberg released in early November.

Stosberg’s report concluded that the last 17 years of funding allocations recommended by the committee and approved by the city council, followed a “politically-biased process [that] resulted in skewing sidewalk projects towards neighborhoods that were wealthier, less dense and had lower pedestrian demand.”

The agenda suggestion came just before Thursday’s meeting adjourned, from committee member Kate Rosenbarger. She said, “I would like to talk about the broader question of the usefulness and the value of this committee in general.” She added, “… [I]t doesn’t look like sidewalks have been funded in the most equitable way across the existence of this committee.”

This year’s committee chair, Ron Smith, replied to Rosenbarger’s suggestion by saying, “Let’s do that. Sounds like a good idea.”

The other two members of the committee are Jim Sims and Dave Rollo. Continue reading “Sidewalk committee to talk about equity at Dec. 15 meeting”

Bloomington RDC greenlights parking control equipment for two new parking garages

On Monday night, action by Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC) ensured that a contract is in place, with Evens Time, Inc., to provide parking control equipment for the two new parking garages currently under construction.

The view of the 4th Street garage, now under construction and scheduled for completion in August of 2021. The view is to the northwest, across Walnut Street, from the 3rd Street end of the block. Oct. 5, 2020 (Askins/Square Beacon)

One of the garages is a replacement facility for the 4th Street deck, which was determined to have structural issues and was demolished last year. The new garage is due to come online in August of 2021.

The other garage is being built in the Trades District to the west of city hall. It’s closer to completion and is expected to open in March of 2021.

The equipment covered in the roughly $335,000 contract includes barrier arms, magnetic coils, credit card exit terminals, barcode imaging kits and the like—the hardware necessary to admit and release parking patrons into the garages.

Before the RDC voted to approve the contract, RDC member Eric Sandweiss asked how the dollar amount for the contract stacks up against the budgeted amount for the equipment. City controller Jeff Underwood said $200,000 was budgeted for equipment for each garage, which put the contract with Evens Time, Inc. “well underneath” the budgeted figure. Continue reading “Bloomington RDC greenlights parking control equipment for two new parking garages”

COVID-19 means continued lower ridership, fare-free policy for Bloomington public buses

On Tuesday, at its regular monthly meeting, the Bloomington Transit board approved an extension of BT’s fare-free policy through Oct. 20.

The fare-free policy started in March, along with rear-door boarding, as a way to reduce passenger-driver interactions and help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The regular fare is $1 a ride.

Passengers can now board through the front door. A plexiglass partition on a hinge has been installed in buses to form a kind of compartment for the drivers, to reduce the chance of COVID-19 transmission.

Also on Tuesday, the latest numbers reported to the Bloomington Transit (BT) board showed the COVID-19 pandemic’s continued impact on ridership. The lower-ridership trend that started just after Indiana University’s spring break in March has continued through the start of classes this fall.

Ridership has shown incremental gains from month to month since April. But the typical big bump in August is absent this year. Bloomington’s public transit ridership in normal years is roughly 70 percent Indiana University affiliates.

In August this year, about 64,000 rides were taken, compared to 199,000 a year ago. Over the last four months, about one-third the number of rides have been taken on fixed-route buses compared to last year. Continue reading “COVID-19 means continued lower ridership, fare-free policy for Bloomington public buses”