By Nicole Hennessy
For someone who’s always driven, navigating public transportation can be a bit daunting. There are bus and rapid schedules to comb through and transfers that must be made in order to arrive at a desired location.
At first, it seems easier to get in a car and drive to, say, Crocker Park, find a spot to park and do some shopping.
But, mostly, that’s just a matter of habit kicking in.
On a Wednesday afternoon, I headed up the street to the bus stop nearest to me on Detroit Avenue.
Sitting on a stoop already plotting this story, I admit I wished I was driving. But right when I started to think about how hot and bored I was, Bus 26 pulled up, taking me to the Westgate Transit Center, from which I would catch the 46 to Crocker Park.
I wanted to see who would be on the bus during such an abandoned time of the day, when most people are at work.
This time, it turned out to be eight people sitting alone, aside from two women taking some sort of political survey. From their conversation, I gathered it had something to do with redistricting. They used the word “gerrymandering” in a conversation with a fellow passenger.
After a quick ride to Westgate, I waited to head farther. And after about 10 minutes, my second bus arrived.
By then, I no longer missed my car. Instead, I appreciated the time not paying attention to the road could be better spent by reading, writing and people-watching, or gazing out the windows as the suburbs rolled by.
Past Clague and Detroit, then to the Westlake Park-N-Ride on Sperry Road, people got on and off the bus. Finally, we arrived at Crocker Park. Not willing to waste the $5 it costs for an all-day pass, I decided to walk around for a bit.
I’m well-versed in the Rapid, which I sometimes take to go downtown or to University Circle; but, like a lot of people, I never really think about traversing the Westshore by bus.
It’s something that just doesn’t occur to me. This isn’t an area in which public transportation is second nature.
Walking around stores I can’t afford to shop at and imagining a slightly improved me in prettier clothes, I felt more in control of what I was doing, more aware of where I was. After regular bus riding, I’m sure that dazed feeling of not quite remembering how you got to your destination, which happens sometimes while driving, would return to me – but for now I felt alert.
After about an hour, I decided to head back to the bus stop near the movie theater, hoping there would be someone to speak with. Unfortunately, I waited alone, but luckily it was only for only a few minutes.
Before leaving Crocker, a man got on the bus and sat down on the seat across the aisle from me. Still dressed in his cook’s uniform, he had just finished a shift at Aladdin’s Eatery and was headed back to his home in Lakewood.
“Bus 49 is packed all the time,” he said of one of the lines that runs at Crocker, introducing himself as Matt Asbury.
Though his wife, who drives, drops him off at work sometimes, for the most part he catches a bus each day.
He doesn’t have a lot of complaints about the transit service in the Westshore, just that he’d like to see the 55 and 25 buses run on weekends, both of which run through the Westgate Transit center, and go through Lakewood.
Other than that, he has no issues.
“I’m kinda glad I don’t drive,” he said.
Within a few minutes, after the topic of public transportation had been covered, Asbury started telling me about his family – how he’s been married for 30 years and is expecting his first grandchild, a boy – and about a woman named Sally, to whom he talks every day during his commute.
“Here’s Sally, right here,” he says, smiling and waving to an older woman walking toward us.
“Got your purse today?” he asks, still wearing a big smile.
Apparently, last week, she had forgotten a large bag on the bus. Having given it to the driver, Asbury was happy to learn it made its way back to Sally.
Like old friends, the two make small talk, spending five minutes sharing stories about spouses, kids and weekend plans: Cedar Point and casinos.
Then, near the Walgreens on Center Ridge and Wagar, Asbury gets off the bus, saying goodbye to Sally and me.
“He’s a real nice guy,” she tells me as the doors close.
In Westlake, Mayor Dennis M. Clough has served on the Greater Cleveland Transit Authority board of trustees since 1999.
“I believe in public transportation,” he explained. “And I’ve had some interest in trying to represent the Westshore community (with) respect to making sure we can address at least some of the needs in this area.”
Clough says there are probably more needs than there are ways of providing all the services, such as additional time slots for the buses to run.
He also pointed out that a lot of Westshore cities have transportation arranged through their individual senior centers.
“We have the Park-N-Ride,” he said of Westlake. “We recognize that we don’t have the volume of people that tend to use public transportation on our main streets, so we end up trying to be a little more efficient by having people park … and then ride downtown, assuming that represents a lot of their need.”
As far as increased use of public transportation as a means for residents to do things like run errands, he’s not sure if the RTA, with its limited amount of funds, will ever be able to meet those types of needs.
Most people in this area have and use cars, and probably will continue to do so. The bus serves individuals who don’t have access to a car, such as the handicapped or the elderly.
Still, he thinks that there’s a number of people who would leave their car at home if public transportation seemed more efficient, as doing so would cut down on the costs associated with maintaining and fueling a car.
But because there is less access in the suburbs, residents really don’t have any choice but to try to have a vehicle.
So, even though Clough tries to promote RTA use, he said, “Trying to maintain as much service as possible is my goal.”
Having successfully navigated my way home, I walked back up my street. Looking down the driveway to see my car sitting there, untouched, I felt good about the gas I still had, and thought about further utilizing my day pass by heading downtown for dinner.
SIDEBAR: Joseph Calabrese, RTA’s chief executive officer and general manager/secretary-treasurer, offered his take on local bus routes:
“I usually ride in to downtown on the Westlake Park-N-Ride, which is a very comfortable ride, allowing me do work on the way to, and home from, the office instead of fighting traffic. On other days, I head to the Triskett Rapid Station and ride the Red Line in. With so much construction on the Innerbelt Bridge, as well as other orange barrel projects, taking a bus or train makes sense, and is much less frustrating than driving.
“RTA provides service to Cuyahoga County, as that is what funding covers. In the future, it would be great to have more of a regional system, like the one I came from in New York, which covered multiple counties. We all know a commute doesn’t stop when you cross county lines, but funding dictates what can be provided.”