BANGOR, Maine — Almost everyone who spoke up at a Thursday afternoon public meeting wants Bangor’s Community Connector bus hub to stay in Pickering Square.
The meeting drew more than 40 community members, including many users of the city’s bus system, who packed into City Council Chambers to talk about the future of the terminal and whether it should stay in its current location.
Tom Crikelair of the Bar Harbor-based consulting firm that will lead a review and evaluation of the city’s bus service and map out a plan for its future said before the meeting that nothing has been decided. Input from users and residents will play an important role in determining if the bus hub should move to a different part of the city or if service should change in another way, he said.
The consensus during the meeting was clear: Take a look at the options, but don’t make any rash decisions that might hurt service or discourage people from using the bus.
Many who spoke at the meeting, including seniors who live in the former Freese’s Department Store building, said having nearby access to buses allow them to travel to medical appointments and go grocery shopping. Several speakers said the hub should be somewhere downtown, if it moves at all.
One woman raised concerns about the buses causing pollution downtown. Others, including downtown workers and city officials, raised safety concerns about the Pickering Square area. Those concerns range from the convergence of pedestrians, buses and parking garage traffic in the roundabout area to complaints about groups who loiter in Pickering Square.
Several downtown business owners previously called for change because of problems with fighting, smoking of synthetic drugs and poor behavior. A downtown police walking beat has since been added and resolved many issues, local owners have said.
Josh Plourde, who works at the University of Maine and regularly takes the bus into Orono, argued that the city is facing “two very distinct challenges.” One is improving its bus service, which is an engineering problem; and another is resolving concerns about what happens in the square, which is a social problem.
He argued that people who hang out in and around Pickering Square shouldn’t be referred to as “those people or those kids,” but rather as “community members.”
Several bus riders pointed out that the people who spend time in Pickering Square often aren’t riders of the bus, so moving the bus hub would do little to resolve concerns about the square.
The city might be better served to revamp the square itself, creating a community garden or green space to get people more engaged and involved in the area, several speakers suggested.
As far as bus service goes, some attendees suggested the city should get creative, perhaps having several smaller hubs scattered across the city, allowing for transfers in locations other than the Pickering Square hub.
Some suggested traffic flow might be improved and bus services expanded by using the back side of the parking garage, near the Kenduskeag Stream, as part of bus operations. That also would alleviate some of the congestion as bigger and more buses enter the rotation.
Speakers also called for expanded service, asking for later hours and more buses, especially on routes from Bangor to Orono and Old Town.
John Frawley, the city’s longtime engineer who retired in 1992 just a couple years after the bus hub and parking garage were completed, said the city would make a mistake by moving the hub.
“We felt and still feel we chose the best location for [the garage], and the same is true of the buses,” Frawley said, adding that the location had a minimal effect on downtown traffic patterns and businesses. “I would be very opposed to moving the bus terminal from that location.”
Crikelair said his firm would be conducting a review of bus service and coming back with three or four recommendations to evaluate. That might include potential locations for a new bus hub, but also would include the Pickering Square hub with some changes to service.