Pandemic puts new bus route optimization plan on hold, with possible stopgap alternative for service to new hospital

Bloomington Transit’s new route optimization plan now seems like a long shot to be implemented before the end of the year. That’s based on discussion by BT board members with general manager Lew May at their monthly meeting on Tuesday.

The route optimization plan, with increased frequency on some routes, and some service specifically set up for the new IU Health hospital on SR-46, was originally slated to be rolled out in fall 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed that timeframe. It’s not clear when a date for the plan’s implementation might be dialed in. Based on Tuesday’s board discussion with May, about six months of lead time will be needed to put all the pieces in place after a timing decision is made. The pieces include hiring 8 to 12 new drivers and educating the public about the new routes.

It points to a longer-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Bloomington’s public bus system. In the short term, ridership has plummeted and continues to bump along at a fraction of pre-pandemic levels. Continue reading “Pandemic puts new bus route optimization plan on hold, with possible stopgap alternative for service to new hospital”

Square Meals: Cooper’s hawk snacks in downtown Bloomington

For a couple hours Saturday morning, a winged creature as big as maybe five robins smooshed together into a single bird perched on a branch outside the window of The Square Beacon’s headquarters on 6th Street in downtown Bloomington.

Cooper’s hawk on 6th Street in downtown Bloomington on Jan. 16, 2021. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

Even though its leaves have been dropped for the season, the city of Bloomington’s tree inventory makes the tree easy to identify as a littleleaf linden.

The bird was identified by reliable sources on internet social media as a Cooper’s hawk.

After a while, the hawk began feeding on what looked like a small songbird it had brought along as a snack.

If the hawk had chosen a tree just a half block west, where the streets make a regular four-sided polygon around the county courthouse, the songbird could have counted as a square meal. Continue reading “Square Meals: Cooper’s hawk snacks in downtown Bloomington”

Monroe County adds $90K to CARES pass-through distribution, brings total to $460K

Monroe County has now passed through nearly half a million dollars to local businesses and government entities from its total $4.7 million CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act allocation.

At their Wednesday meeting, county commissioners approved another $90,516 in reimbursements, bringing the grand total to $459,901.

The county’s program started with the county government acting as a clearinghouse of sorts, by passing through to the state the claims submitted by local businesses and governmental units—like the library and townships—for non-payroll expenses related to COVID-19.

The state eventually asked the county to submit the county’s own expenses for public safety, which were enough to get reimbursement to the county of the whole $4.7 million. Continue reading “Monroe County adds $90K to CARES pass-through distribution, brings total to $460K”

Monroe County auditor at swearing-in ceremony: “If you love people, please mask up.”

Monroe County officials who won election in November took their oaths of office at noon on Friday, New Year’s Day.

Screenshot of Jan. 1, 2021 swearing in ceremony of Monroe County elected officials. The green highlighted square is auditor Catherine Smith, who encouraged people to mask up. Image links to FB video of the ceremony.

The 50-minute-long ceremony was hosted by the Monroe County Democratic Party. Election winners were all Democrats.

The continuing COVID-19 pandemic, which added another death to Monroe County’s count on Friday, was reflected in the venue for the ceremony—a Zoom video conference, live streamed on Facebook.

Those who took the oath of office were: judges Kara Krothe, Valeri Haughton, Geoff Bradley; auditor Catherine Smith; treasurer Jessica McClellan; coroner Joani Shields; surveyor Trohn Enright-Randolph; county commissioners Julie Thomas and Penny Githens; and county councilors Trent Deckard, Geoff McKim and Cheryl Munson. Continue reading “Monroe County auditor at swearing-in ceremony: “If you love people, please mask up.””

Sidewalk committee to talk about equity at Dec. 15 meeting

One of the outcomes of Thursday’s meeting held by the Bloomington city council’s sidewalk committee was the addition of an agenda item to the four-member group’s next meeting, on Dec. 15.

At the mid-December meeting, the committee will take up the question of its role in making recommendations for annual allocations of $330,000 from the city’s alternative transportation fund for new sidewalk construction projects.

That question comes in the context of a sidewalk equity audit that Bloomington resident Mark Stosberg released in early November.

Stosberg’s report concluded that the last 17 years of funding allocations recommended by the committee and approved by the city council, followed a “politically-biased process [that] resulted in skewing sidewalk projects towards neighborhoods that were wealthier, less dense and had lower pedestrian demand.”

The agenda suggestion came just before Thursday’s meeting adjourned, from committee member Kate Rosenbarger. She said, “I would like to talk about the broader question of the usefulness and the value of this committee in general.” She added, “… [I]t doesn’t look like sidewalks have been funded in the most equitable way across the existence of this committee.”

This year’s committee chair, Ron Smith, replied to Rosenbarger’s suggestion by saying, “Let’s do that. Sounds like a good idea.”

The other two members of the committee are Jim Sims and Dave Rollo. Continue reading “Sidewalk committee to talk about equity at Dec. 15 meeting”

Bloomington RDC greenlights parking control equipment for two new parking garages

On Monday night, action by Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC) ensured that a contract is in place, with Evens Time, Inc., to provide parking control equipment for the two new parking garages currently under construction.

The view of the 4th Street garage, now under construction and scheduled for completion in August of 2021. The view is to the northwest, across Walnut Street, from the 3rd Street end of the block. Oct. 5, 2020 (Askins/Square Beacon)

One of the garages is a replacement facility for the 4th Street deck, which was determined to have structural issues and was demolished last year. The new garage is due to come online in August of 2021.

The other garage is being built in the Trades District to the west of city hall. It’s closer to completion and is expected to open in March of 2021.

The equipment covered in the roughly $335,000 contract includes barrier arms, magnetic coils, credit card exit terminals, barcode imaging kits and the like—the hardware necessary to admit and release parking patrons into the garages.

Before the RDC voted to approve the contract, RDC member Eric Sandweiss asked how the dollar amount for the contract stacks up against the budgeted amount for the equipment. City controller Jeff Underwood said $200,000 was budgeted for equipment for each garage, which put the contract with Evens Time, Inc. “well underneath” the budgeted figure. Continue reading “Bloomington RDC greenlights parking control equipment for two new parking garages”

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.

PUDO pilot Screen Shot 2020-07-30 at 9.01.40 AM
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.

cropped Ellettsvile town council Screen Shot 2020-05-11 at 6.40.59 PM
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”