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City Smart | Street Smart

'Crenshaw Connection' Gets Residents Back on the Bus

November 15, 1996|MATEA GOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The white van pulled over to the corner of Crenshaw Boulevard where Latrice Clark and her 9-year-old son Kevin stood waving. The door slid open with a bang.

"You going to 48th and Normandie?" asked Clark, peering into the van.

Gerald Luke nodded from behind the wheel. "Sure," he said, gesturing her inside.

For a quarter and a wave of the hand, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Line 608 shuttles Clark and other Crenshaw residents from any corner to the mall, the post office, even right to their doorsteps. Besides pulling up to regular bus stops, the flexible bus service launched three weeks ago meanders off its 23-minute course to pick up an elderly rider or pull over for a resident flagging it down from the curb.

Residents in this neighborhood, many of whom rely on public transportation, said they enjoy the ability to hail a bus like they would wave over a taxi. Most of all, passengers said they appreciate the return of local bus service many remember using in their childhood.

Clark said she was dumbfounded when she saw the bus pull down her block near 48th and Normandie. "I was like, what is that?" said the 29-year-old postal worker. "There hasn't been a bus down our street since I was in junior high school. I used to hate that it was gone."

Line 608, also known as the Crenshaw Connection, is a project the MTA launched after studies of transportation needs following the 1992 riots. For $458,000, the MTA has contracted out the two-year demonstration project in the Crenshaw area, where officials said the flexible route meshes well with the densely populated neighborhood ringed by a busy retail district.

"Nobody wants to walk three blocks with their shopping bags," said Karen Heit, director of the MTA's South Bay area team. "If you don't drive, this is something really special coming to town."

Heit said she is already getting requests to expand the service to weekends and plans to ask residents for other suggestions. If the Crenshaw Connection is a success, the MTA will consider trying it in other communities, she said.

On a recent day, the van traveled down the residential streets past a man washing his car and a woman standing on her front porch, who looked at the little bus in disbelief. Two men leaning against a car in a driveway stared at the van, slack-jawed.

"They haven't had a bus down this street in years," 52-year-old Luke said as he wheeled around the corner. "All the people are looking when I come down here because they've never seen a bus come down 4th Avenue."

Two vans cruise through Crenshaw every weekday from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., on a route tailor-made for residents.

Bernice Nelson boarded the Crenshaw Connection for the first time in the Lucky market parking lot at the busy Crenshaw Baldwin Hills Plaza, and settled into a back seat with her groceries.

"This bus drives down my street all the time," said the 28-year-old resident.

Luke, who said many residents are still discovering the service, often pulls over to ask pedestrians if they want to hop on.

"Once the community catches on that this is available, they'll use it," assured the 27-year bus driver. "It allows seniors to go pay their gas and water bills, go to Lucky. I'm just gonna have to knock on some doors and ring some bells to get people out here!"

He pulled up to the sidewalk and Nelson hopped off. "That was a nice little ride," she said with a wave.

"All right," Luke nodded, "come back again."

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