The Bus Stops Here: Parking a City Bus at a City Park

Madison has a wonderful array of city parks, over 200 of them. Forty nine of them are "major" parks, 19 are "conservation" parks, and 6 are "dog" parks (where dogs can run off leash with a permit). And the Parks Department hosts a variety of events, aimed to appeal to a wide range of wants and tastes. So what started a century or more ago as a pleasure for the well-to-do is now something designed for everyone. Indeed, the Parks Department proudly states its vision to be "To provide the ideal system of parks, natural resources and recreational opportunities which will enhance the quality of life for everyone."

"Everyone" includes bus riders of course. And compared to a few years ago, the Parks Department's attention to bus riders has increased enormously. For instance, bus information is now available on the website of every park, something that a viewer might take for granted, but did not usually exist very long ago. However, how do you think it feels for a bus user to read the following guideline (#1) in the City's news release about the Fireworks at Elver Park July 2: "Due to limited parking, we encourage guest to bike or walk to the park."? Since when did bus riders need to park the bus?

One fallout of Metro having to try doing more with less has been that buses do not run as late as they once did, especially on weekends. Then again, Elver Park did not even used to be in the city of Madison. Regardless, the fact is that while there would be no problem getting to the park by bus – on a weekday the #50 would get you near there either way, the problem might be in getting home after the show. It would be necessary to catch the last #50 a little after 11:00 p.m. Even with that caveat however, would not using the bus warrant being listed as a transportation option for seeing the show without needing to park a car?

Metro used to be able to provide special runs for occasions such as the fireworks at Elver Park, for instance add a later run. But it was severely limited from doing so by regulations imposed during the Bush administration. Supposedly, providing special runs would compete unfairly with private carriers. Since there was no interest on the part of a private carrier to provide special service, we had to depend on regular Metro service whose last #50 left nearby at 11:09 p.m.

When writing a couple years ago about the need for better ties between bus use and Parks, we recommended (item #4): "All events that use Madison parks should be required to include pertinent bus information in any announcement. This should be a condition for a permit." Unfortunately, that recommendation is as timely today as it was two years ago.

Bus Advocates comments in the summer of 2011 were designed to provide input into the 2012-2017 Parks and Open Space plan that would help guide decisions on city policies, park acquisitions, facility development, and park funding for the next five years. In particular, we felt that policies were insufficiently concerned with leveling a playing field tilted toward the use of private automobiles. That did not mean we wanted more attention to walking and biking to the exclusion of riding the bus. We wanted all three modes encouraged.

Consider for example the orientation of entrances. Are the entrances to park buildings oriented toward the sidewalk from where a bus user or pedestrian would come, or toward a parking lot from where a car user would come? If one of them has to circle the building to enter through an unlocked door, why is it always the pedestrian or bus user?

Or how about unbundling parking costs from other Parks fees? Currently, when people are charged a rec or user fee, they are being forced to subsidize car use whether or not they use cars themselves. Instead, frugal people should be able to choose not to use their cars and not to subsidize someone else's car use whether it be for carrying a canoe, holding golf clubs or something else.

Then there is the whole issue of parking in a Parks parking lot. Much of that parking has come to be used by people who do not use the Park at all, but park in the lot all day for "free," preventing actual Park patrons from being able to park there. Parks could correct this situation by limiting parking to several hours, adding meters, or having similar policies that discouraged long-term commuter parking.