In a thinly veiled attempt to keep "those people" out of a local mall, this spring, the Valley West Mall in West Des Moines demanded that a bus stop that services the mall be removed from its property. WHO TV reports:
"We were notified by mall management a few weeks ago that they wanted DART's bus stop to move off of Valley West Mall property, and we serve more than 350 riders a day at that stop," said Amanda Wanke, communications officer for DART. "What we have been told is that DART has outgrown its stop at the mall and is acting too much like a hub, which would be almost like a transfer facility. And the stop has certainly grown - West Des Moines is growing."
As mentioned earlier this week, transportation can be a huge barrier for the suburban poor. Most suburbs are not built with walking or biking in mind; they're built with the idea that cars will be the main form of transportation to school, to work, to the grocery store...everywhere. Buses are often an after-thought addition to a suburban landscape that provide a modest and limited option outside of driving, mostly geared toward low-income, disabled and elderly residents.
But, as we saw in Wednesday's story about a new bus route near Ferguson, MO, as well as the above story about the suburban mall, buses are hardly a solution for suburban transportation woes. Often they require lengthy, non-direct routes and multiple transfers just to reach a destination that would have been easily reachable by car in 15 minutes. Suburban buses also tend to have limited hours and are frequently late.
Because suburban busing is such a segregated practice (anyone who could afford a car in the suburbs would do everything in their power to get one because it makes travel so much quicker), it's easy for wealthier residents to neglect busing and use it to keep out the poor. Suburban busing is underfunded and unreliable, and that's often intentional... As we can see in the story of the Valley West Mall ejecting the bus stop from its property.
What possible reason could the mall have to remove 350 potential customers (not to mention mall employees) from its land other than to keep "the riffraff" out? In a related article, the Des Moines Register reported:
Despite talks, DART officials said they were surprised to hear of Valley West's decision to shutter the bus stop, saying it would adversely affect elderly and disabled riders, as well as parents with small children.
Indeed, the Register and WHO TV both interviewed residents impacted by the removal of the bus stop who explained it will be more challenging, if not impossible, for them to do their shopping or get to work at the mall, due to these residents' mobility and visual impairments, as well as limited finances.
In a later article, the Des Moines Register reports that in response to complaints about the shift:
DART officials are working with the mall and the City of West Des Moines to complete construction on a sidewalk and bus shelter at the location of the new stop.
Fantastic! So now we can spend thousands of additional public dollars to build a new sidewalk and bus shelter that moves everyone farther away from their destination and makes is harder for people to reach the mall.
This is just one example of the many challenges that bus users face in suburban landscapes. In a suburban area, where uses are separated and lots are large and flat, public transit does not seem to a viable transportation solution.
Thanks to Strong Towns member, Christopher Borey for sharing this story with us.
(All images from Google Maps. Top photo by Arriva436)