Advocating for more access to bus transportation in Baton Rouge with some personal experiences to highlight this.
As I was driving the other day down Florida Blvd, our mini-interstate in Baton Rouge, I have to admit to getting a little frustrated when I was stuck in the right lane behind a stopped CATS bus. Sure, I was in a hurry to get back to work on my short lunch break and didn't want to get on the bad side of my boss. But isn't a little patience in order when I consider how much time regular bus patrons have to give up in order just to get from point A to point B every day for necessary transport needs?
Okay – the reality check is that you really need a car in this town to get around but does that always have to be the case? What about biking – however impractical and unsafe that can really be? Do I really like paying those high car insurance rates? Let me reminisce a little to some past experiences that point to other ways of thinking about these “moving matters.”
A few months ago, when I had to get my car repaired from a fender bender that occurred at Airline and Telesmar Avenues – the other driver on the service road didn't stop when I had the right of way to turn off Airline – I decided to take my bike to work, since I was too cheap to get a rental and didn't want to inconvenience my wife with carpooling with her per our other home vehicle. There was no easy bus line for me to use to get to work.
I guess I should have had my head examined, as my wife noted, since I had to navigate the dangerous and heavily traveled roads of Perkins, Siegen, Jefferson and Airline – even though work is only about 4 miles away from home! Sure, I wore a helmet and am hard-headed, as my wife gladly reminds me all of the time, but I don't really know how much that would protect me in an encounter with a car, truck or bus! Thankfully, I made it back and forth in one piece but sure got some funny stares and a few “pointed hand signals” from drivers when I may have taken too long with occupying a lane that they had wanted to overcome! This true occurrence of mine actually occurred the week after a bike rider had lost his life on Perkins Avenue nearer to LSU.
Talk about being green behind the ears, I actually had the wild notion when we moved to the Red Stick from the Big Easy – back in the early 90s – that however decent the RTA system was in Y'atsville, that it had to be even better in BR, since it is the Capitol of the State. How wrong I was in that assumption!
As I reflect back on my days in New Orleans, you could catch a bus almost anywhere or within close proximity to a line to make many connections. When we lived Uptown on Broadway and I worked at Jo Ellen Smith Medical Center in Algiers (on the “Westbank”), it usually only took me 45 minutes to get to and from work – even at rush hour times. On my excursions, I would read the Times-Picayune and had gotten to know some other neat commuters for small talk.
A great equalizer of riding the bus is that it brings people of all walks of life together – young and old, poor and rich, black and white, etc. When I think back to my high schools when I took the Streetcar to De La Salle High School, this was so true ! In grammar school back in the 60s, I remember once chancing upon part of an old sign in a bus that my mother had to explain to me about – I didn't understand why the “Colored” folks used to have to sit only in the back of the bus or streetcar!
A few years ago when I did Telephonic Case Management services for folks displaced by Katrina who were still going back and forth to New Orleans, it was neat to give resource info to needy folks about the LA Swift bus line that still only costs $ 5 each way. On the light side, I used to think about using that with the RTA connections for even a trip to Pat O'Brien's in the French Quarter or to other favorite spots to indulge in a little adult libation and not have to worry about DWI!
Back in the early 1980s when I was in Graduate Social Work studies at SDSU, it was so neat to be able to use their wonderful MTS bus and Trolley lines that had attachments and allowed for bikers to use their system – not too mention the handicapped accessible connections. It was neat to go cross the Coronado Bay to the Hotel Del and other neat spots, as well as to make connections to Tijuana Mexico!
I learned an important lesson about safe keeping for my wallet from a Greyhound Bus experience. Back in the Spring of 1978, I had the opportunity to take an Easter Break Retreat at the Trappist Monastery (Thomas Merton) in Conyers Georgia. I was able to truly be better able to apply what the monks had conveyed to me about humility and poverty at the retreat when I discovered that I had lost my wallet on my way back to New Orleans per the bus. Even though the wallet with my driver's license was eventually returned by mail per some unknown honest soul without the few dollars I'd had, I now only keep my wallet in one of my front pockets – no longer in the back!
So in the here and now of 2012, especially as I hate to pay skyrocketing gas bills for my cars, “I Have A Dream,” if I may carefully amend the famous and poignant speech by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, so that “we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands (on a fully dignified and accessible bus line) and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
Keith John Paul Horcasitas, LCSW, MHA, 1133 Knollhaven Drive, BRLA 70810, khorcasitas.yahoo.com, April 15, 2012.