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Ticket to Ride: One Rider's View of a City and its Public Transit System

Grand Rapids, MI

A rider of The Rapid set out to experience every route in the system’s bus network and write about his travels for the system’s blog. Here’s a brief look at what he’s discovered about his city and public transit system so far.

In the last few years, my wife and I have done a lot of traveling around the U.S. While it’s always fun to visit the major attractions, I’ve found myself more drawn to the mundane places. The places where people live their daily lives. The streets they walk down to work, the restaurants they stop at for lunch, and the shops where they buy their groceries. I like to imagine what it would be like to really live there.

Even when we return home to Grand Rapids, I enjoy visiting neighborhoods and walking down streets I’m not familiar with, exploring the city that we live in with fresh eyes and getting a feel for the different neighborhoods. … For me, it helps build a sense of community and connection to a place but it’s important to get outside that bubble. There is so much more to our city to explore!

While I’ve lived in Grand Rapids for 15 years, I haven’t really utilized the bus system. … I realized that there was an entire system of transportation I had never explored in my own city! Routes I’d never been on. Ways to see the city I’d never experienced.

So I made it a goal for 2017 to ride every route of The Rapid, at least once. … I thought it would make me a better citizen, and enable me to see our city from a different perspective. I also thought it would be a fun way to see different neighborhoods and businesses I’m not as familiar with…. So far, it’s been a fun experience. I’d like to share a few insights from my travels.

Letting Go

One of the most pleasant things about riding the bus so far, for me, has been giving up control. When I travel around town, typically I’m riding my bike, walking or driving. Basically, I’m the one doing the traveling. I’m paying attention, I’m trying to be safe, I’m trying to avoid broken glass and over-friendly dogs. There is a constant level of focus on my surroundings that I need to sustain. When I first sat down on the bus, I experienced a feeling of panic! I didn’t know what to do. There was nothing I had to do. I just got to sit and, after I realized that the driver wasn’t going to ask me to drive the bus or to be on the lookout for potholes, I relaxed. It was glorious. I didn’t realize how much of my mind space during traveling is focused on the act of the traveling.

Riding the bus, I could fill my mind with other things. I thought about the book I had been reading, conversations I had at work, I took the time to notice the buildings, streets and people I saw out the window. I almost could have fallen asleep.

Gimme Shelter
On one of my trips, there was a light drizzle when I left a bar to return home. As I stood at the stop getting damp, a fellow passenger informed me that the bus was running late. He had used his phone to check. He suggested that we’d be better off taking a different route back to Central Station [The Rapid’s main hub] and we moved to the intersecting street to wait for a different bus. As we stood outside, the drizzle turned to rain and I realized that nowhere at this intersection was a bus shelter. We moved to the awning of a closed business and waited for the bus to arrive. When the bus arrived, our trip didn’t end as we had another connection to catch to get back to Central Station. This time there was a shelter and other passengers chatted while we waited.

In retrospect, it probably would have been better to just wait for the original bus. The late arrival of the bus, the rain, lack of shelter and waiting gave me the feeling of being a bit exposed and out of my comfort zone. However, the willingness of the fellow passengers to share information and converse to pass the time made the unanticipated journey enjoyable.

Lesson learned: Bring an umbrella and a friendly smile!

Date Night
My wife and I rode the bus to Tillman’s [a local restaurant] with plans to go to a different bar for drinks afterward. Now the bus might not be most people’s idea of a romantic mode of transportation; however, we didn’t have to worry about parking, driving our car after drinking or taking an Uber home. We could just enjoy each other’s company, which makes it a very romantic mode of date transportation.

Also, because the DASH [the city’s free downtown circulator] doesn’t run on Saturday nights, we had to walk a little farther and enjoyed a stroll over the river. Date night bonus!

Puzzuoli has lived in Grand Rapids since 2002. This “Commentary” combines two of his blog entries. Reprinted and excerpted with permission from The Rapid. Find this blog here.

Commentary” features points of view from various sources to enhance readers’ broad awareness of themes that affect public transportation.
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