Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Bus? Bike? Walk? It shouldn’t be this difficult (Jan. 8, 2008)

Current mood: creative

I have to make a quick trip to the other side of town in the next day or so, pick up a package, and return home. Sure, sounds easy, right? Just jump in the car, drive over there, drive back. That's what everyone else would do. Nope, not this nut case. Me, I'm planning on using anything and everything but the car.

The problem is figuring out how. No, more than that, the real problem is figuring out the best way to do it, and to have a backup plan in case something doesn't work. It is this lack of ability to have options that keeps people from trying to use transit, and the most difficult piece to solve. Allow me to illustrate, as best I can.

The place in question is in the Chartiers Village neighborhood in Pittsburgh's West End. I have a specific address, but for privacy's sake will not reveal it here. Let's just say there's a bus stop quite near the address, and one bus route that goes from Downtown right to the place. The problem is that there are very few trips for that route. Miss the one I want, and then what? And how do I get back once I get there?

Turns out there are two other routes that get maybe a half mile away, and two routes beyond that which get maybe a mile away. Put them all together, and there actually is quite a bit of service. A mile is quite a hike, even a half mile is a hike, so I'd really like to minimize walking, if possible.

Making things both easier and harder, there actually is one more bus route that goes right to the place, but it doesn't start Downtown. I'd have to take one of the fairly frequent Busway routes, then transfer. As with the one direct-from-Downtown bus, service is quite infrequent. I could probably walk from the Busway faster than wait for the direct ride, about half the time.

Back to that half-mile or one-mile hike. Now add the concept of using a bicycle to help make the trip. A half mile or so on a bike is nothing! So! Get Downtown with a bike, mount the bike on one of the buses, and I get either right to the place or with a couple-minute ride, and then bike right back. Heck, it's not that far that I could actually bike all the way there from Downtown in about a half hour.

Do you begin to see the complexity involved here? In a couple of very rare cases, I can bus practically to the door of the place. In a couple more cases, if I can time it right, I can hit the place in two quick bus rides. But starting from Downtown at any given point in time during the day, I might be better off walking a half-mile to a mile, rather than wait most of an hour for a connecting bus.

Now double all that, because after three or four minutes, I have to make the return trip back Downtown, with package in hand. All of this, both directions, changes with each passing moment. Straight bus ride? Bus-bike? Bus-bus? Bus-hike? It's enough to make one's head spin -- and I'm the one who knows what he's doing! And I would have everyone do this? Darn tootin' I would! Every day!

My mission, Jim, now that I've chosen to accept it, is to put all these pieces of bus rides using six different routes, bike rides, and maybe a long walk, together, so that at any given time of the day, I will know which choice is the best at that moment, and if something does go wrong, that I will know what to do.

What I really need is someone to pay me to figure all this out, creating a tool that we all can use. It's what I want to do, and the whole country needs this very thing, if we ever want to reduce our dependence on oil, foreign or otherwise. We have billions we can spend on tools and toys for our cars. How about throwing a tiny fraction of that my way, so that I can save us trillions?

* * *
A couple days later...

Unicycle In Transit strikes again!

I made the trip, but did not go with the plan, which was not finished to the extent I wanted (and probably won't be for a few days, but the trip couldn't wait). I did have enough info to make the trip, though, just by picking up the right timetables once I was Downtown.

What I did was tuck the unicycle under my arm as I got on the bus, and used it to zip between bus rides, and to get from that half-mile-out bus stop to my destination. The unicycle allows me to roll along at about twice a walking pace, maybe half bicycle speed, but with very little energy expenditure.

Turns out that half-mile-out stop is actually closer to a mile, 0.9 to be exact. Even so, with the wheel, that was only seven minutes there, nine minutes back, the difference being that going there is downhill. So, yeah, chugging along on the unicycle is roughly a jogging pace, only with a lot less sweat.

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