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City eyes improving public transit

Assembly approves $150,000 for update of development plan

Posted: Thursday, February 15, 2007

City officials are beginning to look at improving public transportation as bus ridership continues to increase - to more than a million passenger trips a year.

At its regular meeting Monday night, the Juneau Assembly approved the appropriation of $150,000 of a $1 million Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities grant to be used to update the Transit Development Plan and Transit Improvement Program.

Officials worked on the plan in 2002 but it never moved forward because the city didn't have enough revenue, Capital Transit Manager John Kern said.

"The anticipation is, five years later, here is something to take a look at and see where transit should be going in the coming five years," he said. "The goal is to get a plan that the community supports and is accepted and adopted."

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Capital Transit increased its service in 2001 so that buses presently run every half hour in the mornings and afternoons instead of every hour. Overcrowding and community interest led to the improved service, Kern said.

"In the five years since we've added the bus services, ridership has continued to grow by 5 to 10 percent a year and once again the buses are crowded," he said.

Prior to the upgrade in service, Capital Transit counted approximately 900,000 passenger trips annually. The system saw more than 1.2 million passenger trips in 2006.

"That's more than 100,000 passenger trips each month," or roughly 4,000 each day, Kern said.

Even though the population of Juneau has been relatively stagnant in recent years, the demand for public transportation continues to grow, he said.

"It's been a very well utilized system over the years," Kern said. "And time and again, not having enough room on the buses is the problem."

With the money approved by the Assembly just this week, officials are still in the preliminary planning stages, Kern said. He anticipates it will take six months to a year before a draft is brought before the Assembly.

The department has an additional $20,000 that will be added to the process to include a "downtown shuttle feasibility project," he said.

The city is also considering shuttle service at peak hours such as lunchtime, particularly to ease downtown parking problems, Lyman said. The shuttle study will also look at ways of reducing summer foot traffic of the cruise ship passengers near the Rock Dump south of downtown, he said.

"Basically we're looking at how we can make travel in Juneau less car-dependent and more pedestrian- and transit-friendly," Lyman said.

The Mendenhall Valley bus route tends to be the busiest and most crowded so that will be one major topic to study and discuss as the planning process moves forward, Kern said. He anticipates the route, which runs parallel to Egan Drive on Glacier Highway, will continue to get busier and more crowded after Wal-Mart and Home Depot open in Lemon Creek.

Two other questions under study are a bus that would continually circle the downtown area and an expansion of service to the ferry terminal in Auke Bay, Kern said.

"The ridership is pretty phenomenal for a community of our size," Kern said.

• Eric Morrison can be reached at eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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