Ridership still down on Bloomington public buses, fare-free rides continue, new agreement reached with IU, second driver tests positive for COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is still causing ridership on Bloomington Transit buses to slump compared to normal levels, even if the month-to-month numbers have shown increases starting in May.

The return to campus of Indiana University students in August has increased numbers a bit, but the historical September spike is not evident on this year’s chart. That’s because the local travel needs of students have diminished due to the prevalence of classes offered online.

The reduced ridership means BT has reduced its service hours on routes that primarily serve campus locations—Routes 6, 7, and 9. That has led BT and IU to renegotiate the agreement under which university affiliates can board buses without paying a fare. The renegotiation reduced the payment to around 70 percent of the historical number.

At their Tuesday meeting, BT board members voted to continue BT’s COVID-19 protocols another month, which includes allowing all riders to board buses without paying a fare.

On Wednesday the city issued a press release announcing that a second BT bus driver has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. The first driver tested positive on Aug. 3. According to Wednesday’s press release, an internal contact tracing process determined that there were no other employees or customers placed at risk of exposure by the driver. They drove on Routes 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 9 from Oct. 3 to Oct. 17, according to the release. Continue reading “Ridership still down on Bloomington public buses, fare-free rides continue, new agreement reached with IU, second driver tests positive for COVID-19”

Photos: 2020 Little 500 Individual Time Trials

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The Little 500 bicycle race is a spring tradition at Indiana University. Complementing the spring race is a fall racing series, which includes individual time trials.

Temperatures were in the low 60s with winds of 10-15 mph out of the southwest, with gusts up to 25 mph, according to the National Weather Service. That make for tough going around the third turn into the home stretch.

Results are posted on the IU Foundation website: 2020 Little 500 ITT results.

COVID-19 pandemic protocols on campus are strict. For the ITT this year, no one except riders and volunteers were admitted into the Bill Armstrong stadium. The church parking lot just to the south offered a decent vantage point if you had a ladder.

Continue reading “Photos: 2020 Little 500 Individual Time Trials”

Rezone for replacement of Brownstone Terrace gets plan commission recommendation, now goes to Bloomington city council

Aerial view from Monroe County GIS system of the Brownstone Terrace in spring 2020.
Aerial view from Monroe County GIS system of the Brownstone Terrace in spring 2020.

On Monday night, a project that would replace the predominantly student-rented Brownstone Terrace with a larger student-oriented development called The Standard got a unanimous recommendation of approval from Bloomington’s plan commission.

The specific request was for a rezoning. That’s why it now requires approval by Bloomington’s city council.

The rezoning request is from planned unit development (PUD) to a new zoning classification in the recently adopted unified development ordinance (UDO), which is multi-use student housing (MS).

The Standard would demolish several two-story buildings with a total of 120 apartments. The PUD zoning for the current project was approved by the plan commission in 1984.

In place of the current development, The Standard would build a new student-oriented, residential development with 433 apartments and 1,072 bedrooms in five- and six-story buildings. A parking garage with 681 parking spaces would be built as a part of the development. The project would fit within the zoning specifications of the requested MS zoning. Continue reading “Rezone for replacement of Brownstone Terrace gets plan commission recommendation, now goes to Bloomington city council”

Taliaferro Avenue floated as new name for city street that cuts through IU campus, part of effort to remove Jordan namings

In remarks made at the start of Bloomington’s Wednesday city council meeting, president Steve Volan suggested that the city street known as Jordan Avenue be renamed as Taliaferro Avenue, or possibly Taliaferro Way.

The Jordan Avenue street sign at the intersection of 3rd Street and Jordan Avenue in Bloomington, Indiana. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

The Taliaferros, George and Viola, were a Bloomington couple who each blazed trails of their own. Viola was Monroe County’s first Black judge, serving from 1995 to 2004.  After playing his college football at Indiana University in the late 1940s, George was the first Black player to be drafted by an NFL team.

The elimination of Jordan namings from the campus landscape has recently been recommended by the university’s president, Michael McRobbie.  McRobbie is recommending that the name of the university’s seventh president, David Starr Jordan, be removed from several Bloomington campus landmarks. Jordan served as IU’s president from 1885 to 1891.

The removal of Jordan’s name is prompted by his conspicuous role the eugenics movement, the idea that society and the genetics of the population could be improved through selective breeding.

The university, of course, does not have the authority to rename a city street. Continue reading “Taliaferro Avenue floated as new name for city street that cuts through IU campus, part of effort to remove Jordan namings”

Indiana’s highest court name checks Animal House’s Dean Wormer as it hears arguments in Bloomington zoning case

The day after Monroe County’s health department announced that Alpha Epsilon Pi and Indiana University had reached an agreement to shut down the fraternity through next summer, Indiana’s five supreme court justices heard oral arguments that could impact how Greek organizations are defined in the state.

Screenshot of Indiana Supreme Court oral arguments in City of Bloomington Board of Zoning Appeals v. UJ-Eighty Corporation on Sept. 24, 2020 Speaking (yellow box) is assistant city attorney Larry Allen.

The case heard by the Indiana Supreme Court on Thursday morning involves a decision by Bloomington’s board of zoning appeals dates back to summer 2018. A key question of law: Can a city rely on a university to decide what counts as a fraternity when it comes to the definition in the city’s zoning code?

Thursday’s oral arguments were unrelated to the recent AEP shutdown, or the COVID-19 county health regulations the fraternity apparently violated.

But COVID-19 did get a specific mention Thursday morning, from chief justice Loretta Rush, who opened proceedings by thanking people who’d sent well wishes for her recovery from the pandemic virus.

On Thursday morning, the court heard arguments on two questions. The first was whether the court would accept transfer from the court of appeals. That is, the court is still weighing whether to issue a ruling in the case at all. One option is to neither affirm nor reverse the court of appeals ruling, which went 2–1 against Bloomington. Not accepting transfer would let the court of appeals ruling stand.

The other question on which the court heard arguments on Thursday was the usual one: Was the court of appeals right? Specifically, was the court of appeals right in saying Bloomington’s zoning code violated the US Constitution because it delegated to Indiana University the city’s authority to determine zoning compliance?

The authority in question is the ability to determine if an organization is or is not a fraternity or sorority.

Continue reading “Indiana’s highest court name checks Animal House’s Dean Wormer as it hears arguments in Bloomington zoning case”

Bloomington plan commission gives rezoning for student housing a standard second hearing

A commonly known connection between Bloomington, Indiana, and Athens, Georgia is based on the 1979 movie “Breaking Away.” The film was shot in Bloomington, where both the movie and short-lived TV series were set. The TV series was shot in Athens.

A second connection between the two small cities was highlighted at Monday night’s meeting of Bloomington’s plan commission. The new property developer for the predominantly student-rented  Brownstone Terrace, who wants to demolish the complex and build a new, bigger student-oriented housing in its place, is Landmark Properties, based in Athens.

Landmark Properties develops student housing under its brand, “The Standard.” The owner’s name on the property records is The Standard at Bloomington.

On Monday night, plan commissioners got a formal introduction to the request from The Standard to rezone the property from planned unit development (PUD) to a new zoning classification in the recently adopted unified development ordinance (UDO), which is multi-use student housing (MS).

The plan commission’s reaction to the proposal seemed neutral to somewhat favorable. After giving the request less than an hour of deliberations, no action was taken except to move the rezoning request along to a second hearing. That was planning staff’s recommendation.

The second hearing will take place at the plan commission’s regular second-Monday monthly meeting on Oct. 12. The question in front of the plan commission is whether to grant the rezoning request, not to approve the site plan—even if some the presentation includes the kind of detailed renderings often associated with site plan presentations.

The Standard would demolish several two-story buildings with a total of 120 apartments. The PUD zoning for the current project was approved by the plan commission in 1984, five years after “Breaking Away” first appeared in theaters.

In place of the current development, The Standard would build a new student-oriented, residential development with 433 apartments and 1,072 bedrooms in five- and six-story buildings. A parking garage with 681 parking spaces would be built as a part of the development. The project would fit within the zoning specifications of the requested MS zoning. Continue reading “Bloomington plan commission gives rezoning for student housing a standard second hearing”

Monroe County adds 235 confirmed COVID-19 cases

The Indiana State Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard for Friday (Sept. 11) shows 235 new confirmed positive cases for Monroe County. That’s three times the previous daily high of 83 on Sept. 4.

According to notes on the dashboard, the confirmed positive numbers reflect when the ISDH receives and confirms the report of a test as positive, not when the specimen for the test was drawn. Positivity rates are computed based on when the specimen was drawn.

Based on Friday’s dashboard, which shows large numbers of new tests that are dated several days earlier, it looks like some of the 235 new positive cases might have had their specimens drawn several days in the past.

Indiana University officials have said they are reporting all their data to the state.

[This article has been updated, with added information appended below]. Continue reading “Monroe County adds 235 confirmed COVID-19 cases”

Monroe County confirmed COVID-19 numbers jump, driven by younger cases

The last two days of confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in Monroe County have soared past previous highs, since the county’s first confirmed positive case on March 21.

The number reported for Saturday (Aug. 30) was 38, eclipsing the previous one-day total by 3. The number for Sunday was 56, which is about double the current rolling 7-day rolling average of confirmed positives.

Speculation that the increased numbers are driven by positive tests among Indiana University students is supported by the age range of recent cases. Monroe County health administrator Penny Caudill told The Square Beacon that the health department was getting reports of increased numbers of positive test among people age 18 to 25.

Caudill told The Square Beacon that she’d been advised that the Indiana State Department of Health will eventually provide a breakdown of Indiana University’s numbers. “I am anxiously awaiting these details from the state,” she said.

Based on Indiana State Department of Health numbers, it’s the younger age brackets that are driving the increases. People under age 30 account for 70 percent of confirmed cases for the three-and-a-half-week period from Aug. 7 through yesterday. Continue reading “Monroe County confirmed COVID-19 numbers jump, driven by younger cases”

County board of health turns recs into regs after university imposes quarantine on Greek houses due to “alarming” number of COVID-19 cases

After peaking at around 20 in the third week of July, the 7-day rolling average of positive cases in Monroe County dropped to about half that by the first week of August. Now, in the third week of August, it’s reached around 20 cases per day again.

Two and a half weeks ago, on Aug. 5, Monroe County’s board of health issued a set of recommendations for residential and communal living facilities, to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic virus. The recommendations also applied to Indiana University Greek houses.

On Friday, the county board of health voted unanimously to give the county attorney and the health officer the authority to convert the recommendations into something stronger—regulations, which can be enforced under county ordinance.

For example, the previously recommended occupancy for a communal living facility was a range from 50 to 75 percent. Friday’s action will cap the occupancy at 75 percent, and that will have the force of a regulation. Based on the discussion at Friday’s board of health meeting, the regulatory cap means some sorority and fraternity members will need to move out of their Greek houses.

The recommendation allowing “essential” guests but prohibiting “non-essential” guests, among other previous recommendations, will also become a regulation.

Violations of a regulation issued by the county board of health is a Class C ordinance violation, which carries with it a possible $500 fine.

The board’s action came after Indiana University announced the previous day that it had directed all Greek houses to suspend “in-person organizational activities” other than dining and housing for live-in members until at least Sept. 14, 2020.

The university’s action came after an “alarming” number of cases was identified in some Greek houses, and a letter was sent to some of them by the county health department. Continue reading “County board of health turns recs into regs after university imposes quarantine on Greek houses due to “alarming” number of COVID-19 cases”

COVID-19: Bloomington mayor cuts crowd size limit to 15 after university students flout 50-person max

In a joint press release from Bloomington mayor John Hamilton and Indiana University provost Lauren Robel, it was announced mid-day Friday that the mayor is imposing a 15-person limit on the size of gatherings.

That’s smaller than the previous 50-person limit specified in the current health order for Monroe County, which is meant to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic virus.

The message in the press release warns: “Sanctions for students who do not adhere to IU’s COVID-19 health and safety precautions will be swift.”

The university has implemented a policy on violations of COVID-19 prevention protocols that includes punishments like suspension or expulsion from the university.

The current Monroe County health order, issued by health officer Thomas Sharp on July 22, limits non-commercial gathering to 50 people.  The county’s order is in effect until rescinded.

The mayor’s order, limiting gathering sizes for non-commercial events to 15 people, is effective immediately, starting at noon, Aug. 21. It’s effective until it’s rescinded. Continue reading “COVID-19: Bloomington mayor cuts crowd size limit to 15 after university students flout 50-person max”