"The transit center opens a new chapter in the annals of Bangor-area transportation."
Credit: George Danby / BDN

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Hank Garfield teaches in the English Department at the University of Maine and writes Slower Traffic (slowertraffic.net), a blog about alternatives to the car. He lives in Bangor.

I’m super excited about the imminent opening of the new bus depot in downtown Bangor. The Bangor Are Transit Center in Pickering Square will have its official opening at 1 p.m. Friday.

Nearly three years after the Bangor City Council gave the go-ahead for construction, the transit center opens a new chapter in the annals of Bangor-area transportation. It’s a shining example of what a small but determined group of people can accomplish in the face of occasionally lukewarm official support. We did this, fellow bus passengers and advocates. I’m proud of all of us, and proud that my blog, Slower Traffic, may have played a tiny part in getting it done.

It was never a sure thing. Various visions for Pickering Square were floated, including the so-called Joni Mitchell option of building a parking lot right next to a parking garage. Some people wanted the bus depot out by the airport, atop a vacated gas station near Shaw’s supermarket on Main Street, or other outlying locations. But Pickering Square, at the hub of Bangor’s wheel of radiating traffic routes, was always the logical choice. On Jan. 27, 2020, the City Council, by the narrowest of margins, agreed. I like to think that the several dozen supporters in the room that evening had something to do with the outcome.

The central location is important for several reasons. First, it’s convenient for passengers. Second, it brings people — potential customers — directly into the downtown business district. And third and most important, the central location sends a powerful message, to everyone who visits or spends time in downtown Bangor, that public transportation is central to the future of the Bangor area.

Those still married to their cars should be happy about it, too. Every bus passenger represents one more available parking space, one less car to wait behind at a traffic light, one less opportunity for a crash. The proximity of the parking garage makes it convenient to use the bus system in combination with your car, further reducing traffic congestion.

Of course, it’s only the beginning. I envision an extension of evening hours, restoration of Saturday service and expansion of routes to nearby areas, including Hermon, Orrington and Winterport. I hope the new terminal will become a centerpiece of a wide, interconnected network of bus services that can take passengers just about anywhere they want to go.

Bangor can be a model for small cities in rural states looking for a way forward from the Late Automobile Age.

But this Christmas season, let’s stop and celebrate this one momentous step. Let’s use the new transit center, and pledge to treat it with the respect it deserves. Put trash in containers, interact courteously with drivers, staff and passengers, and honor the hard work of the many people who made it possible. See you on the bus.