For years, GRTC Transit System has been trying to build a bus transfer station, and for years, it's been rebuffed — usually loudly by nearby business owners who want nothing to do with it.
But when GRTC held a public meeting last week about its plan to operate just such a station for up to three years across from the John Marshall Courts Building downtown, well — it was oddly quiet. Bus administrators outnumbered interested residents by at least six to one.
What gives? The GRTC's facility director, Stephen McNally, says he doesn't know but he isn't complaining.
"Whenever you try to do something that's beneficial and unique and that's a real plus for the community, it's always controversial," he says. "But I think there will be a lot more supporters for this because they will see that it will greatly increase the efficiency of our system."
GRTC already has plans drawn up and approval from city administrators and the mayor's office to open the temporary station in April. McNally says City Council will be briefed but GRTC doesn't need its approval. The mayor's press office didn't immediately respond to an email requesting comment.
McNally says buses will pick up and drop off passengers on Ninth Street between Marshall and Leigh streets. The station will consist of 13 bays painted on the street and street furniture: a collection of the familiar benches, bus shelters and informational kiosks — including one with bus-arrival information.
The station will see 90 buses an hour during peak travel times and serve between 5,000 and 8,000 riders a day, McNally says.
He says the impetus for the station is the coming bike races — next year's USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championship and the 2015 UCI Road World Championship, each of which will close Broad Street to traffic for a handful of days. The GRTC uses the length of Broad Street downtown as a kind of elongated transfer area in the absence of a proper station.
It wouldn't make sense to set up the temporary center for just the few days that Broad is closed, McNally says, because of the infrastructure and rider education effort such a change requires. GRTC estimates the cost of setting up the station at about $275,000.
The GRTC also is in talks with a downtown property owner to buy land for a permanent station, and McNally says that by showing the city how the station would work, he hopes to get in front of any future protest when the site is announced.
Will it work? If the response to the news release and public notices announcing the temporary station is any indication, it could be that no one notices.