IL: Decatur officials propose reducing fixed bus routes, introduction of 'micro-transit'

Feb. 15, 2024
In broad strokes, city officials laid out an overhaul of the city's public transit system that would reduce the number of fixed-route bus lines from 16 to 10 while implementing what is known as "micro-transit."

Feb. 13—DECATUR — In broad strokes, city officials laid out an overhaul of the city's public transit system that would reduce the number of fixed-route bus lines from 16 to 10 while implementing what is known as "micro-transit."

The proposed changes come less than a year after the city council authorized a comprehensive analysis of the city's transit system and voted to make transportation its own department in city government.

At a short study session Monday night, city staff offered the first glimpse of what would be the first major overhaul of city bus routes in at least 30 years.

Most notably, the city's bus routes would be truncated and streamlined to focus on the city center and connections to the city's major commercial centers. Routes in areas of low ridership would be eliminated.

"By reducing the number of fixed bus routes, the city can increase the frequency of fixed route buses that remain, and focus the bus network to serve key north-south and east-west corridors with high population and more commercial activity," City Manager Scot Wrighton and Transportation Director Lacie Elzy wrote in a memo to the city council.

A key cog in making this new system work is the concept of micro-transit, which Elzy characterized as a "first mile, last mile solution" utilizing smaller branded vehicles to take riders from a designated stop near their homes to either stops near their final destinations or to fixed-route buses that could be used to complete their trips.

"There are a lot of neighborhoods that are a mile out from a route, so it's hard for some people to get to it," Elzy said. "Micro-transit would take care of that since it would pick them up a lot closer to their location, but also integrating micro-transit into the fixed route system will keep us running efficiently and more cost effectively."

Under the proposal, fixed-route bus service would almost entirely be eliminated from the city's west end, northwest side and the lightly-populated portions of the industrial northeast quadrant.

Those in need of public transportation in these parts of the city that would no longer be served by fixed routes would be able to coordinate micro-transit pick up and drop off via an app on their smartphones or by calling a designated number. Micro-transit could also be extended to Mount Zion, according to the council memo.

City transportation officials confirmed that special morning and afternoon routes for schools will still run. And intergovernmental agreements between the city and Decatur Public Schools and Richland Community College would be amended to allow students to utilize micro-transit.

The proposed changes could be implemented late this year or in early 2025.

Council members were generally supportive of the concept.

Also briefly discussed were plans for a pilot program to bring a scooters or bike-sharing system to Decatur. These programs are often deployed in larger cities like Chicago and St. Louis as an add-on to the existing transportation infrastructure.

Opinions on the council varied on this topic, with some questioning whether they would get enough use in a place like Decatur and others believing them to be a nuisance.

"I mean they're just laying all over the place," said Councilman Dennis Cooper. "I think it's crazy. For a town our size. I don't know how much use they would even get in our city if a company comes in and wants to put them in here."

Councilman Chuck Kuhle said he is "willing to try it" but wants to "have an out in case it's not working." Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe also suggested a pilot program, perhaps focusing on the area near Millikin University.

Councilwoman Lisa Gregory said she was "a little more open-minded" to the concept than some of her colleagues while Councilman David Horn said it was important for the council to make bikes available to the public.

"If the city is going to commit hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions of dollars to bike lanes, then we should offer an opportunity to use bikes," Horn said. "And it's a much greener solution."

The council was even more skeptical of the concept of "raised crosswalks," which are ramped speed tables that span the width of a roadway that are meant to act as a traffic-calming measure and allow pedestrians to cross a street at-grade with the sidewalk.

These crosswalks are often found in pedestrian-heavy areas like college campuses and pickup/drop off zones at airports and schools.

As an example, Wrighton suggested King Street between Water Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive as a stretch where the measure could be deployed.

Council members, however, expressed concerns about potential damage to vehicles and potential impacts to public safety apparatus.

Wrighton reiterated that the study session was "a conceptual meeting" and that more research would be done on the topic before it came back for final approval.

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Contact Brenden Moore at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @brendenmoore13.

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