This is an opinion column
Huntsville had buses when I was a child living downtown. My mother and I rode them from our rented house on Stevens Avenue to shop at stores like Dunnavant’s.
That’s a minute ago, as they say, but it was how a lot of growing Huntsville got around in the late 1950s and early 1960s. That’s when almost everyone was a newcomer with fathers and later mothers working on Redstone Arsenal.
Everyone rode the bus because many families still had one car. But like everyone, we eventually moved to a new, brick (!) house in a new subdivision out in an old cotton field.
Repeat that move over and over and that was basically it for buses. They hung around for some who really needed them, but it was all about cars and roads then and ever since.
Sixty years later, that’s still the Huntsville metro story. I’m back downtown now in a small house dating to that post-World War II era with three vehicles in my driveway - a car for me, a car for my wife and an old truck for when you need to move something big. I also appreciate the “go where you want, when you want” attraction of automobiles. Freedom, ‘Merica, etc.
But Huntsville keeps outgrowing its roads and driving is sometimes as much fun as standing in a grocery line. The slow line. An after-dinner drive to a show or concert is still predictable but every other trip is a crapshoot at certain times of day.
Something better is coming, city leaders say. Bus use is expanding and that means Sunday service for one thing. Parking and Public Transit Director Quisha Bryant is also overseeing a new, multimillion bus station rising like something from the future at 521 Pratt Avenue.
Buses today are nicer than you might remember. And they are still vitally important to many people needing a regular ride to and from work.
A federal grant of $12.5 million is helping fund the new bus station with its interior waiting area, longer bus platform for more buses, designated spots for Uber and Lyft and an exterior fence for security. Greyhound will stop here, too, when the station opens. That will be in May if construction stays on track.
Perhaps an even better sign, creativity in bus use is growing. At a resident’s suggestion, the city ran two trial “Orion Express” buses from four downtown Huntsville hotels – an easy way to mark stops – out to the Orion Amphitheater and back on big concert nights.
Imagine going to a sold-out show with no parking issues, no car lines and a return drop-off downtown where the night scene gets better all the time. It was no sure thing when first proposed, but Bryant and her team quickly saw the opportunity. The first Orion Express ran Oct. 13 and the second Oct. 22 for Jason Isbell. Public reaction has been, “Really, really good,” Bryant smiles.
Maybe we can expand buses to challenge the dominance of automobiles in other places than Orion and downtown. Again, we’re not naïve here. A car or truck is still a necessity for most Americans. But if we can grow more bus options to concerts and other events, we don’t have to play “Top This” at every friends’ gathering with our story about the latest person who tried to kill us driving 80 mph on a Huntsville road.
City Hall, you do know they’re not obeying the speed limit? Of course, you know.
Bring on the buses, y’all. If nothing else, it’s easier to text people when I’m not driving.
Lee Roop is a lifelong resident of Huntsville with a degree in English literature and philosophy from UAH. Roop has spent his career as a journalist reporting for The Huntsville Times and AL.com, and is the winner of the National Space Club Huntsville 2023 Communications Award. Contact him at [email protected]
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