Transit center made downtown unsafe, Vancouver official says
The people who once frequented downtown Vancouver's bus mall were interfering with redevelopment nearby, a city official said Wednesday.
"Think about your wife, daughter, girlfriend, or your mother," said Gerald Baugh, the city's manager of business development. "Would any of them feel safe walking from Esther Short Park to the waterfront?"
Big projects are on the way, and more are being discussed along Seventh Street itself, he said.
"This is just a step," Baugh said of the transit center's closing.
The city's not trying to push poor people from downtown, he said, citing the new subsidized housing developments that the city arranged to open nearby.
But Baugh said a new crop of rich tenants will lure investment, unlike the seniors living in downtown's Smith Tower.
"No offense to them, but they did not bring in other business like that is there now," Baugh said. "When we brought in the high-end condos, we got a Starbucks."
As for people annoyed by having to walk between bus stops, Baugh said it'll help them get to know downtown.
Anyway, he said, it's probably good for them.
"While there might be some complaints about walking, exercise is one of the things that as Americans we are not getting a lot of, and it's something that we need to do," he said.
- Mic hael Andersen
The bus shelters, the buses, the people and two nearby businesses are gone from the downtown Vancouver transit center on Seventh Street. Some regulars say they're glad to see less loitering. Others call the place too silent. (JANET L. MATHEWS/The Columbian)
No Longer Bustling
Friday, January 04, 2008
BY MICHAEL ANDERSEN, Columbian Staff Writer
When Krystal Taylor was 13, her brother Robbie took her down to the sidewalk outside the Bus Stop Market at Seventh Street and Main and introduced her to Elaine.
Elaine was one year older than Taylor. Taylor had decided to start hanging out on the corner, and Robbie had selected Elaine to be her bodyguard.
Until Nov. 18, that was the way you played it safe at Seventh and Main.
The Bus Stop Market is still there. But 46 days ago, the buses left. At the request of the city of Vancouver, C-Tran's downtown transit center is gone.
November's service change marked the latest chapter in Vancouver's quest to scrub its city center of crime and homelessness and make it more comfortable for urbane shoppers and creative elites.
The scrubbing, at least, is working. Whether you're a cabbie looking for a fare, a cop looking for a crook or a teenager looking for a friend, you're already less likely to find it on this corner, residents and regulars say.
"All our friends always hung out here," said Taylor, 20, who said her diaper had once been changed on the counter of the Lucky Loan pawn shop across the street. "Now we don't."
Taylor and her boyfriend were stopping to buy some chicken strips and potato wedges. The Everest Business College students were on their way to Gresham, Ore., to sell their plasma. They said they hadn't seen their old friends in a month and a half.
Buses still roll through downtown, dispersed among the new stops that have been scattered nearby. But for the first time in 22 years, Seventh Street is almost silent.
Bus drivers don't linger at the site for smoke breaks anymore; "downtown Vancouver" is just another stop on their routes. Bus schedules have been altered to discourage riders from waiting for transfers downtown.
Standing beside his taxi as he waited for a dispatcher's call, Ken Larsen grimaced.
"Politics," said Larsen, 61, a driver for Radio Cab. "They want to develop down here, I think, and put in a lot of higher-end stuff."
When the transit center was downtown, he said, things were simple: Just drop everybody at Seventh and Main.
"It was better off like it was," he said. "Now you got to wander all over the place to try and find their bus."
Larsen said he'd seen old people on walkers clamber down from one bus, then walk for blocks to reach another.
'Street kids' not missed
Inside the Bus Stop Market, cler ks said they were glad to lose the crowd of "street kids" that had been slouching outside their door for the past decade.
But they were worried about business. Their hours had been cut back when sales took a dive, then upped again when the Day and Nite market, down the road, shut its doors in December, perhaps temporarily.
Shelly Thomas, a clerk at the market, said that for all the complaints they generated, the youngsters had made her feel safe.
"They'd be outside, so I'd know I was all right," she said. "We went from having 20 street kids on our corner to having nobody."
"Five-thirty in the morning, I go down and it's a ghost town," she said.
The kids used to call her "mom," Thomas said.
With her seeing-eye dog sitting beside her, Joanie Delzer of Vancouver said the crowd of youngsters had been obnoxious, but she liked the area better before all the people disappeared.
"There's nobody out down here anymore," said Delzer, 56. "I don't know where to go. Who am I going to ask?"
Madeline DaFoe, 72, was angry. She, too, was glad the crowd of "smoking and cussing" young people was gone. But she didn't understand why the transit center had to go, too.
"I don't know what they're doing downtown," DaFoe said. She and Delzer had just met on the bus and were making conversation while they waited for their transfers.
"Vancouver used to be a happy town," DaFoe went on. "We had benches on Main Street. ? Everybody knew everybody."
Smoking a cigarette outside the Gold Rush tavern, Shelley Diercks, 48, said she had never thought it was right for a crowd of children to spend their days on a street corner.
But closing the bus mall was the wrong way to deal with downtown's problems, she said.
"They're people," she said. "They're just people."
Diercks remembered talking to an 18-year-old woman who'd told her, in a half-hour conversation last summer, that she was being abused at home but was afraid to leave because the abuser would turn on her younger sister.
"I thought people should have come down here and given those people on the corner some kind of help," Diercks said. "Whatever help they needed. It was like they were lost."
Two blocks away, a gray-haired man who gave his name as Willie put things differently.
"I tell you - Vancouver, they don't know what they want to do," he said, standing alone under a black-and-white bus shelter that had been transplanted from the Seventh Street bus mall into the shadow of the four-year-old Vancouvercenter condominiums. "They're lost. They got nothing to do but throw away money."
Willie had something to do. He was on his way to get some pain pills, he said, either from his doctor or somebody else.
Was he ill?
Willie laugh ed. No, he said.
Then he got on the bus.
C-Tran route changes have boosted ridership
A major set of changes to local bus routes on Nov. 18 coincided with a spike in C-Tran ticket sales.
Ridership in the first month after the changes was up 12 percent over the same period in 2006, C-Tran spokesman Scott Patterson said last week.
That compares to a 4 to 5 percent rise in ridership over most of 2007, he said.
The changes, billed as the largest in C-Tran's history, include opening a transit center off 99th Street in Hazel Dell, closing downtown Vancouver's transit center and sending bu ses all the way to Portland's Delta Park MAX train.
The biggest traffic increases have come on two buses: Route 80 past the Firstenburg Community Center and on the bus to Portland, which now offers service along Fourth Plain Boulevard until after midnight.
C-Tran has also taken plenty of unhappy comments, Patterson said, especially at first. Some scheduling tweaks are under way.
"Any time you make a change, there's going to be some winners, and unfortunately there's going to be some people that don't see the benefits," he said.
- Michael Andersen
Michael Andersen can be reached at 360-759-8052 or email@example.com