February 18, 2020
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It’s time to move forward with an improved bus hub in Pickering Square

Natalie Williams | BDN
Natalie Williams | BDN
A Center Street bus leaves Pickering Square during a snowstorm in this Dec. 3, 2019, file photo.

Measure twice, cut once.

It’s an old saying, but a good one. And it was brought up multiple times during Monday night’s Bangor City Council workshop, which focused on a proposal from city staff that would keep the Community Connector bus system hub in Pickering Square while rearranging the layout to create a more welcoming outdoor space for the public to enjoy.

There’s really no question that this message of careful planning is an important consideration in the debate about what the future holds for Pickering Square and the bus system. Deciding whether to keep the bus hub in the square, and what that might look like, will impact bus riders and the entire city for years to come.

So when a member of the public spoke Monday night about measuring twice and cutting once, and a councilor echoed that message, both of them in an appeal for more deliberation rather than a decision on this issue, that got our attention. But not, in all likelihood, the way they intended.

By almost any standard, the city has already “measured twice” by commissioning two different transportation studies. Both of those studies ultimately reached the same conclusion: Pickering Square is the best option as a downtown hub for the regional bus system.

From where we’re sitting (right at the edge of Pickering Square, we might add) it’s past time to follow that repeated input, recognize that other proposed locations have not panned out, and realize that the staff proposal can move Bangor toward a more effective public transportation system and a more usable public space at the same time.

We’re all for careful consideration and detailed debate. But such a back and forth has already happened on this issue. This conversation — the weighing of different options, the consultation of outside groups, the public discussion — has been in the works for years.

As councilors prepare to vote on the staff proposal at their Jan. 27 meeting, they should listen to the experts who the city has already paid to answer this very question, listen to the bus riders who depend on this service and said they can’t wait any longer, and listen to the bus driver who said that other suggested downtown locations would be “terrible choices.”

Several councilors have suggested pushing off a decision a few more months to gather additional information and data. But we have a hard time imagining the council learning much in the coming months that it doesn’t already know. And as with just about any infrastructure project, the longer the council waits, the longer planning and eventual construction could continue to be delayed.

Regardless of intent, delaying this obvious choice any longer would be a disservice to the bus system and bus riders who everyone seems to support.

Even with immediate action from the council, city staff has said the project could take until 2022 to complete. There are parts of this equation — like the unacceptable temporary “warming” shelter in Pickering Square that provides little protection from the elements, and the temporary bathrooms that are currently closed — that absolutely need to be addressed now, not in two years. And there are clear ways to make the entire bus system more efficient, such as instituting fixed stops and ride-tracking technology. But the immediacy of those issues doesn’t diminish the need to finally move forward with a hub location.

The city now has $1.29 million in federal funds available to replace the previous bus terminal removed from the Pickering Square parking garage in renovations. It’s time for councilors to find the will to make a necessary decision, even if it won’t be popular with everyone.

There will always be a reason to wait, debate or gather more information. But after years of doing those things, the reasons for action, and for keeping the buses in Pickering Square, are more compelling.

The proposal to shift the bus hub to the Water Street side of Pickering Square can fulfill the repeated conclusions of multiple studies, and can provide a safer, more cohesive public space with buses at one end rather than circling through the heart of it. This is an opportunity for the city to build on the positive momentum downtown while maintaining a centrally located and improved transit hub.

It would be a mistake to view the bus system and downtown development as mutually exclusive or competing with one another, or to remain in this years-long holding pattern.

The city has measured, and measured repeatedly. Now it’s time for the council to cut — time to cut the waffling, time to cut the attempts to please absolutely everyone, and time get to work making a better Pickering Square and a better bus system. Bangor can have both, but it takes action.

 


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