People moving

New bus stops in Mountain View?

Sometimes the buses on route 45 are so crowded, people get left behind.

It’s happened to Melody Richardson. It happened twice to Tex Bessey. When Che Saenz was left behind around this time last year, he had children with him and they all had to wait out in the cold for another hour.

The most popular bus route in Anchorage doesn’t have room for everyone, but expanding it means cutbacks in other parts of the system.

A current People Mover proposal includes adding buses to route 45, ramping up service through Mountain View, adding a nighttime bus to Muldoon to accommodate downtown retail workers and chopping routes through Spenard and Chugiak. Customer Services Manager Judy Tymick said it all comes down to numbers.

“No other route can touch the 45,” she told the Mountain View Community Council in mid-January.

The popular route 45, which runs between the Downtown Transit Center and the Alaska Native Medical Center, averages about 54 passenger boardings per hour, Tymick said. It carried an average of more than 2,500 passengers daily every Monday through Friday for the first half of 2014, according to numbers provided by the Public Transportation Department. The next busiest routes – 3 and 7 – averaged around 1,500 daily weekday passengers.

The heavy traffic through Mountain View has prompted the municipality to consider several changes: adding new departures to route 45 every day of the week and extending route 8 down Mountain View Drive. Route 8, which runs between downtown and Muldoon, could soon serve Glenn Square, Special Olympics Alaska’s new facility and Ridgeline Terrace, a new 70-unit housing development under construction right next door.

“It’s really good news, I think, for Mountain View,” Tymick said.

It’s also good news for most people who rely on the bus for transportation.

Bessey, who catches the bus six days a week, said nights on route 45 are especially packed.

“It’s crazy; I’ve had to stand up in the aisle,” he said, riding into Mountain View on a crowded afternoon bus Jan. 14.

The last time his usual bus was too busy to pick up new passengers, he walked to a different route, ended up “close to where I was going,” walked a few extra blocks and was about 20 minutes late to work.

If he could improve the system, he said he’d add another route in Mountain View; another driver; buses every half-hour at night.

Right now, Bessey said, route 45 at night is filled with a few too many people who’ve had a bit too much to drink, “And then they get loud and the bus driver gets cranky and then has to stop the bus. You know, just the drama of 45.”

Richardson, a 29-year-old Tununak native who hopped on a 45 bus outside Brother Francis Shelter one chilly January morning, said the route through this part of town can get a little wild at night. It’s crowded with people heading to the shelter and neighboring Bean’s Café, and route 8 fills with people “trying to avoid route 45.”

She said she’d like to see more buses running in the evening hours.

Saenz, a Mountain View resident who hopped the 45 downtown to run a quick errand Jan. 14, said he’d also like to see more service through the neighborhood. On one hand, he said, it’s hard to get lost within Anchorage’s current bus system – all routes lead downtown. On the other hand, though, traveling east out of Mountain View can take a little legwork.

“When I used to work over in Tikahtnu Commons at Kohl’s, I had to take two buses,” Saenz said. “I found out that I could take the 45 [downtown] and then take the 75, which took you all the way around down C Street then all the way around Tudor.”

Route 75 eventually ends up at the Veteran’s Affairs outpatient clinic on North Muldoon Road. It’s the closest thing there is to a Tikahtnu Commons connection. Tymick, speaking at the January MVCC meeting, said People Mover hopes to change that soon.

The department’s long-range plan has identified a need for a route connecting Mountain View and Tikahtnu Commons. But, Tymick said, “It’s also about money, and we don’t have money for expansion right now.”

People Mover is facing more than $30,000 in budget reductions this year, she said. The most significant planned cuts come to route 102, which could soon end at the North Birchwood Park and Ride, and route 36, which would lose several afternoon and evening buses and the current route past the Spenard Recreation Center. Tymick said realigning route 36 to stick to Spenard Road and avoid the neighborhood rec center was one of the department’s hardest decisions.

“But the ridership is just really dismal,” she said.

Meanwhile, there still aren’t enough seats traveling through northeast Anchorage. The Anchorage Community Land Trust, a nonprofit neighborhood development organization and Mountain View landowner, pushed the possibility of new routes altogether.

“We see Mountain View as potentially a sort of North Anchorage hub,” said Kirk Rose, ACLT’s executive director, at January’s MVCC meeting.

Spenard and Muldoon are both served by multiple routes, he said. Mountain View deserves the same.

While budget constraints might make new routes hard in the immediate future, Tymick said, the 45 is overdue for an upgrade.

“When you’re leaving people behind, that’s important to fix,” she said.

There’s still time to weigh in on the proposed changes, too.

People Mover is accepting public comment through Feb. 5. People can submit feedback to the Public Transportation Department online, over the phone, in person at the Downtown Transit Center or at the Anchorage Transportation Fair Feb. 4 from 4-8 p.m. at the Alaska Airlines Center.

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