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Robert Klose is a four-time winner of a Maine Press Association award for opinion writing.

A recent Bangor Daily News article addressed the improvements being made to the Pickering Square bus hub. This is a good thing, but I note that this addresses only local bus service within Bangor and the surrounding area. Bangor’s gaping hole is its lack of a long-distance land connection to downtown.

Let me illustrate the need by way of example. I recently had a visit from a friend who had taken the Greyhound bus to Bangor from Boston. It was his first trip to the Queen City. He arrived toward midnight. When he called, I asked him where he was. His response: “Some parking lot.”

It turned out that his first glimpse of the Bangor area was a park-and-ride near the Odlin Road and the Interstate. He felt nothing if not forlorn. And yet, in a sense, he was fortunate: Greyhound’s main “Bangor” stop is actually in Hermon. Behind the Dysart’s truck stop. Once deposited there, the traveler is on his own, miles from downtown. The Concord Coach bus doesn’t offer much of an improvement — it discharges passengers almost three miles from the city center.

It wasn’t always like this. Until 2012, Greyhound was located in the heart of downtown. Then it began a nationwide program of shifting terminal operations to lower-rent settings such as gas stations and truck stops. The result is both sad and inconvenient, and presents a poor welcome to the city.

There was once a time when Maine’s city centers were connected to one another. Portland, Augusta, Waterville and Bangor had architecturally appealing train stations that delivered travelers to the very hearts of these cities. But now the visitor is dumped at godforsaken outskirts that are so generic and alienating that they could be anywhere in Nowheresville, USA. A city does not work as a city unless it has some point of entry that distinguishes the place, that announces the uniqueness of the destination, and that provides the traveler with resources for orientation’s sake.

Bangor has none of this. Once the traveler is unceremoniously discharged at Dysart’s or out on Union Street (near a strip mall), he is left to spin on his heels. Wouldn’t it be preferable to deliver travelers directly to downtown? Wouldn’t this add some juice to the life of the city?

Bangor used to have a formal, distinctive entry point. It was called Union Station, and it stood near the Penobscot River. In a well-intentioned effort at what was then called “urban renewal,” the romanesque revival train station was demolished in 1961 to make room for the current Penobscot Plaza — an unimaginative, architectural horror that looks like something assembled out of a box.

Bangor’s state senator, Joe Baldacci, seems to grasp the city’s transportation deficiency and has put forth a proposal to look at the return of rail to Bangor, which he said is “long overdue.” Imagine getting on the Downeaster in Boston and heading north. City-by-city you would know where you were, because each place would have its individual character, celebrated, one would hope, by an attractive, downtown-centered train station.

Bangor is a beautifully situated city. It sits snug by a river; its main traffic arteries ascend ever so gently from its downtown; and low, understated hills frame the distance. The downtown itself — perhaps as a result of the pandemic, which gave it pause for thought — has become more charming in recent years (consider the waterfront promenade and the sidewalk dining options).

Why would the city not want to celebrate these assets with a gateway that places an exclamation point on the place?

True, transportation companies are private concerns that are under no obligation to do more than transport warm bodies. They are also no doubt seeking to save a buck when it comes to their “stations.” But I would still like to think that esthetics, convenience, and community considerations figure into a city’s design, and that beauty begets beauty, and that cities prefer to put their best foot forward, rather than their dingy backsides.