COVID-19 means continued lower ridership, fare-free policy for Bloomington public buses

On Tuesday, at its regular monthly meeting, the Bloomington Transit board approved an extension of BT’s fare-free policy through Oct. 20.

The fare-free policy started in March, along with rear-door boarding, as a way to reduce passenger-driver interactions and help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The regular fare is $1 a ride.

Passengers can now board through the front door. A plexiglass partition on a hinge has been installed in buses to form a kind of compartment for the drivers, to reduce the chance of COVID-19 transmission.

Also on Tuesday, the latest numbers reported to the Bloomington Transit (BT) board showed the COVID-19 pandemic’s continued impact on ridership. The lower-ridership trend that started just after Indiana University’s spring break in March has continued through the start of classes this fall.

Ridership has shown incremental gains from month to month since April. But the typical big bump in August is absent this year. Bloomington’s public transit ridership in normal years is roughly 70 percent Indiana University affiliates.

In August this year, about 64,000 rides were taken, compared to 199,000 a year ago. Over the last four months, about one-third the number of rides have been taken on fixed-route buses compared to last year. Continue reading “COVID-19 means continued lower ridership, fare-free policy for Bloomington public buses”

15-minute free PUDO parking starts Aug. 1 in downtown Bloomington

During the COVID-19 pandemic, aversion to dine-in eating at restaurants or leisurely browsing inside retail stores has put a premium on finding a spot to park just for short while.

Patrons are looking to park just long enough to grab take-out food, or an item that’s been set aside by a store owner for quick pick-up.

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Green dots are locations of parking meters in downtown Bloomington. Purple dots are 15-minute temporary spaces, part of a pick-up, drop-off (PUDO) pilot starting Aug. 1 lasting at least through Sept. 30. (Image links to dynamic version of map)

One measure of the interest in alternatives to dine-in or in-store service is search interest on Google for the word “delivery.” It tripled in late March, compared to a month earlier.

The city of Bloomington announced this week that it will resume enforcement of parking meters on Aug. 1, after a few months of allowing people to park for free for two hours.

The city is also rolling out a pilot program to support those local businesses whose potential customers are more likely to become actual customers, if they have easier access to short-term parking.

Starting Aug. 1, at least through Sept. 30, some of the the downtown’s roughly 1,500 spaces with on-street parking meters will be converted to 15-minute free parking spots, meant for pick-up and drop-off purposes. The shorthand to describe the spaces is the acronym PUDO. Continue reading “15-minute free PUDO parking starts Aug. 1 in downtown Bloomington”

Assault on Bloomington resident prompts call for federal grand jury to investigate hate crimes across southern Indiana

At a press conference held Friday evening at People’s Park off Kirkwood Avenue in Bloomington, Vauhxx Booker and his legal counsel, local attorney Katharine Liell, called for a federal grand jury to investigate the assault on Booker that took place last Saturday, July 4.

It’s not just last weekend’s incident at Lake Monroe that they want a grand jury to investigate.

Liell said, “I call upon the United States attorney for the Southern District of Indiana and Indianapolis to convene a grand jury not only to look into the hate crime where Vauhxx was the victim but all the other hate crimes that are going on in southern Indiana from Indianapolis…all the way to the river Ohio.”

Among the incidents that Liell wants investigated by federal authorities are recent events in Indianapolis where she described police as brutalizing protesters with tear gas. Continue reading “Assault on Bloomington resident prompts call for federal grand jury to investigate hate crimes across southern Indiana”

Ellettsville town council would like better heads-up from county health officials on next COVID-19 quarantine decision

On May 1, Monroe County’s health department issued an order extending COVID-19 countermeasures that keep restrictions on businesses and gatherings in place for another two weeks, through May 15.

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Screen grab from the May 11, 2020 meeting of the Ellettsville town council meeting.

When a decision is made on extending or rescinding that order—which currently ends at midnight this Friday—Ellettsville town councilmembers are hoping for better communication than they got about the May 1 announcement.

The health department’s May 1 announcement came after Indiana’s governor, Eric Holcomb, had issued his own order outlining a phased-in “Back on Track” program earlier that day.

That means for about a week now Monroe County has been under tighter restrictions than most of the rest of the state. Those tighter restrictions will continue at least through Friday at the end of this week.

The county health department’s order applies to the whole county, including the city of Bloomington and the town of Ellettsville.

The wording of the document included Bloomington and Ellettsville.  According to the order, the health department’s decision was made after “consultation with the Mayor of the City of Bloomington, the Monroe County Board of Commissioners, and representatives of the Town of Ellettsville,”

But Ellettsville town councilmembers found out about the May 1 decision the same way that many of their constituents did—by reading about it in the newspaper. At Monday’s town council meeting, councilmember Scott Oldham said, “We were kind of left on the outside.” Continue reading “Ellettsville town council would like better heads-up from county health officials on next COVID-19 quarantine decision”

Basic zoning map for Bloomington gets final OK from city council, but COVID-19 means map revisions unlikely before 2021

In unanimous votes taken on Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council approved a conversion map for the unified development ordinance (UDO), as well as some technical text amendments.
zoning conversion map

The UDO is the basic zoning and land use document for the city.

The council’s vote was not controversial—it was akin to a legislative coronation. The conversion map is just a way of translating labels.

A future debate is expected citywide over changes to the way the lines are drawn for zoning districts on the map. That level of revision was not addressed in this go-round of UDO amendments, which started in February of 2018.

The drawing of new lines to accommodate newly defined zoning districts almost certainly won’t be done until 2021, assistant planning director Scott Robinson told the city council on Wednesday.

That’s because the public engagement process for the city-wide map redrawing won’t take place ahead of the public planning process that’s specific to the old hospital site, according to Robinson. Continue reading “Basic zoning map for Bloomington gets final OK from city council, but COVID-19 means map revisions unlikely before 2021”

Bloomington’s briefly pink water OK to drink, but hold off on laundry

R-OUT-Bloomington Water Intake
The pink line is the plot for 2020. Blue lines are for years 2010 through 2019.

In a press release issued late Saturday, the city of Bloomington utilities warned about a possible pink tint to the drinking water flowing out of the tap “in the coming days.”

The water does not pose a threat to human health, according to the news release, and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) has been notified of the incident.

The press release recommends that if your water appears to be tinted pink, you should postpone washing clothes until the water has cleared. Continue reading “Bloomington’s briefly pink water OK to drink, but hold off on laundry”

COVID-19: Sidewalks still getting built; Bloomington Transit buses still running, with 90 percent fewer riders

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Looking south along Adams Street where it intersects with Kirkwood on Monday, March 30, 2020. The backhoe framing the Bloomington Transit bus is working on the installation of a new sidewalk on the east side of the street running along Rose Hill Cemetery towards Cresent Donut Shops. The sign on the donut shop indicated it is open for business, which is allowed for take-out food service under the stay-at-home order. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

As Indiana approaches starts the sixth day of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s stay-at-home order—issued to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus—Bloomington’s road construction projects continue.

And public buses are continuing to run, but still on a spring break schedule. Continue reading “COVID-19: Sidewalks still getting built; Bloomington Transit buses still running, with 90 percent fewer riders”

Governor issues stay-at-home order, calls on Hoosiers to “hunker down” warns Indiana is entering COVID-19 patient-surge phase: “This disease is killing people.”

R-OUT Unemployment Initial Claims Indiana 2008-2020

Asked last Thursday at a press conference about the possibility of a “shelter in place” order as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Indiana’s governor, Eric Holcomb, answered: “We’re not there yet.”

On Monday, the Hoosier state was there.

In a 14-minute speech delivered through various media, Holcomb announced he was issuing a stay-at-home order, starting at the end of the day Tuesday, March 24 at 11:59 p.m. For now the order goes through the end of the day April 6, 2020.

The order could be rescinded or extended. Continue reading “Governor issues stay-at-home order, calls on Hoosiers to “hunker down” warns Indiana is entering COVID-19 patient-surge phase: “This disease is killing people.””

Governor: COVID-19 means postponement of Indiana primary elections to June 2

At a late morning press conference on Friday, Indiana’s governor, Eric Holcomb, announced that the state’s primary election would be postponed 28 days, from May 5 to June 2.

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Screen grab from March 20, 2020 press conference by Indiana’s governor, Eric Holcomb

Given the threat of COVID-19 exposure, the primary date would be pushed back to ensure the safety of county employees, poll workers and the public, Holcomb said.

Updated numbers from the Indiana Department of Health on Friday indicate the number of confirmed cases has doubled in two days, from 39 on March 18 to 79 on March 20 (today). The number of tests almost tripled during that period, from 193 to 554.

Mailing in an absentee ballot for the postponed election will likely be possible for any voter, assuming the state’s election commission uses its power to make that decision.

The state’s election commission has been asked to waive the conditions for mailing in a ballot, Indiana’s secretary of state, Connie Lawson, said at the press conference.

The state’s election meeting has a special meeting scheduled next week, on March 25, when it could take that action.  Continue reading “Governor: COVID-19 means postponement of Indiana primary elections to June 2”

Bloomington fines owner of property $83.5K for demolishing historic house without permit, owner to appeal

According to a press released issued Monday afternoon and subsequent clarification from the city, Bloomington’s department of planning and transportation has levied an $83,500 fine against the owners of a house on 7th Street. They demolished the house in late September without first obtaining a certificate of zoning compliance.

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523 W. 7th Street on Sept. 30, 2019 (Dave Askins/Beacon)

On Aug. 8, the city’s historic preservation commission (HPC) recommended the house to the city council for historic designation. The commission’s resolution did not explicitly say that the house was being put under interim protection.

But the requirement of a certificate of zoning compliance before demolition applies to structures whether or not they’re under consideration for historic designation. It was the owners’ request for such a certificate that led to the demolition delay process, which the HPC was following when it made its recommendation for historic designation.

The amount of the fine, according to the press release, was based on a penalty levied for each day the property was in violation of the city code, but capped at the most recent assessed value of the house and garage by Monroe County’s auditor.

Late Monday afternoon, Bloomington’s corporation counsel, Philippa Guthrie, told The Beacon that the property owners, David Holdman and Judie Baker, had filed an appeal of the city’s decision to fine them.

A notice of the violation was sent to  Holdman and Judie Baker on Oct. 16, according to the press release. The press release says that the property owners have a right to appeal to the city’s board of zoning appeals within five days of the date of the notice.

Guthrie said the appeal is currently set for the BZA’s next meeting, which is Nov. 21. Continue reading “Bloomington fines owner of property $83.5K for demolishing historic house without permit, owner to appeal”