I suppose I should write about baseball, since the season’s started, amid rainouts and snow-outs and two good games between last year’s World Series contestants. But the wind is yowling outside my office window as I write; rain mixes with a dab of snow, all hurtling sideways. A can bangs around in the wind on the roof of the next building over. The sky is the color of chipped silver radiator paint. It doesn’t feel like baseball weather.
From my window I can see the Kenduskeag Stream, confined between two concrete banks, and the back of the parking garage that fronts onto Pickering Square. The city has closed this area to parking tonight. One or two inches of rain are expected in the storm, on top of an already high tide close to the new moon. The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning for much of the area.
The Kenduskeag is hemmed in here, at its confluence with the river. The water has no place to go but up. The parking lot behind the parking garage is the first place to flood in a storm. And while Bangor is not South Florida, it happens often enough.
This parking lot is where the Community Connector buses will pick up passengers at the downtown hub in the future, under a plan being considered by the city council that will re-make Pickering Square. The first meeting on the plan took place earlier this week, as reported by Nick McCrea of the Bangor Daily News.
I have to wonder at the symbolism, intentional or not, of siting the bus terminal at the lowest point in town.
Tanya Emery, Bangor’s economic development director, said the plan’s architects wanted to separate the uses of the space at the front of the parking garage, where currently drivers and pedestrians and bus passengers interact with occasional confusion. Fair enough. But I worry about the perception. Why put the central bus stop where bus passengers will be the first people displaced when the water rises? It’s bad imagery, if nothing else.
I worry, too, about the bus stop becoming neglected out behind the parking garage, while the city focuses its efforts on the square. Will there be any amenities back there? Any places to sit, any outdoor benches? Will the waiting area appear even less welcoming than the current one, a place, in the public mind, to be avoided?
A city’s attention to its public transportation system reflects its values. I ride the Community Connector more than 300 times a year, and will sing its praises to the rafters. It’s convenient, safe, pleasant and reliable. Bangor has a good bus service.
But it could be better. And it would be better, if public decisions like the location of the bus terminal encouraged more people to ride. Public transportation works when it becomes popular. It becomes popular when it becomes attractive. And it becomes attractive when public officials dedicate public resources to make it so.
On June 8, Bangor will play host to Ringo Starr and his All-Stars at the Cross Center and the Dave Matthews Band at the Waterfront. It’s going to be madness. It’s going to be a cluster crunch of cars. I wouldn’t want to be driving in or near Bangor that day. Where is everybody going to park?
When you take the Concord Trailways bus to Portland, you arrive at a convenient station connected to other buses, trains, and the local bus system. The Community Connector isn’t hooked with any of the three long-distance bus services that serve Bangor. You can take the bus to Portland, hop on the number 5 bus to a Sea Dogs baseball game, go out for a bite downtown, and grab the local bus back to the station in time for the return trip to Bangor, all without using a car. But you can’t do anything like that when you come up to Bangor for a concert.
With a little foresight, Bangor can develop a public transportation hub downtown linked to all available bus services. Ideally it should be near the Cross Center, the Waterfront, and downtown businesses. The city could employ a local shuttle bus, similar to the Black Bear Shuttle in Orono, with a small route and frequent service. The Greyhound Lines could be encouraged to return from its exile in Hermon, out of the Community Connector’s reach.
Public transportation is one of the best investments a city can make. One bus can remove dozens of cars from the traffic and parking mix. Buses make cities more pleasant places to live and work. They ought to be kept visible, and out of the way of the flood.