By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
Cherriots Route 18 is staying the course in the Gubser neighborhood after all.
The bus route was added in September, after being one of the routes cut due to budget woes in 2009. As plans were being made last summer to add it, however, neighbors – particularly on Stone Hedge Drive – cried foul, claiming they had not been notified of the change.
Brad Coy, president of the Greater Gubser Neighborhood Association and the Keizer representative on the Salem-Keizer Transit Board of Directors, opined in October the new route should be removed. That followed a contentious GGNA meeting, during which a number of neighbors signed a petition asking for the removal.
At the same time, Coy asked transit staff to elicit comments from neighbors. Those results were shared during a Dec. 12 transit board meeting, during which directors chose to leave the route alone.
“Tonight’s board meeting was the culmination of a two-month long outreach effort by Salem-Keizer Transit staff to solicit additional feedback concerning Cherriots Route 18 through our neighborhood,” Coy said after the meeting. “One of the primary complaints regarding the reinstatement of Route 18 back in September was the lack of neighbor awareness. The regular publicity efforts hadn’t reached enough people, and so many of our neighbors were taken by surprise with the route change and expressed the opinion that transit service was being forced on the neighborhood even though it negatively impacted our residents.”
Coy, appointed to the transit board in August, noted a new tactic was used in the follow-up attempts for feedback.
“In response to suggestions from our neighbors, transit staff tried a new outreach approach,” Coy said. “They went door-to-door to deliver nearly 800 return-postage paid postcards that provided four options.”
The four options were to leave the route on Stone Hedge; move the route to Mistwood Drive; remove the route and revert back to Lockhaven or no preference.
Out of the 179 responses, 76 (42 percent) wanted the route left alone, with 62 neighbors (35 percent) wanting the route removed. Another 32 neighbors (18 percent) wanted the route changed to Mistwood.
“This means that out of 179 neighborhood survey responses, 60 percent want the bus, and Stone Hedge is the clear preference,” Coy said.
While concerns had been expressed about both the road on Stone Hedge not being suited for the weight of the buses and also the proximity to Gubser Elementary, one drawback to Mistwood was the potential impact with the Gubser Miracle of Christmas lighting display each December.
“This does not mean it is a perfect solution, so additional monitoring will be performed over the next year,” Coy said.
Allan Pollock, general manager of Salem-Keizer Transit District, said that will include tracking ridership numbers.
“Also at some point after the holidays we will promote the route to increase ridership,” Pollock said. “We will also monitor customer comments.”
Pollock said while outreach was done last spring, a new approach was taken this fall.
“It was a much more focused and concentrated effort the second time,” Pollock said. “I wouldn’t say (the first time) was flawed. I think what elevated it was that during the initial outreach, those that opposed it didn’t respond. Then when they responded, it raised some concerns so we figured we would respond. It was an increased level of outreach, because it’s such a small area. We learned open houses are tougher to get data from. Getting the word out through surveys would be better.”
Coy gave an update at Monday’s Keizer City Council meeting, noting one option being looked at is smaller buses.
“We’ve been requesting the smaller buses in excess of 10 years now,” mayor Lore Christopher told Coy. “The neighbors hate the bigger buses. It scares the children. You’ve made more headway already than we’ve made in 10 years. I’m thrilled to hear they will go to smaller buses in the future.”