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Ready for an Outing? Effective Route Planning Strategies

March 1, 2021 | Leave a Comment

by Brad Blair

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Kira exits a CTA bus on the first let of her journey


Brad is hosting a route planning workshop on March 17 at 4:30 PM CST via our conference line, 312-809-1004.  This is a great opportunity to ask specific questions about the strategies he shares here.


The Coronavirus seems to be receding — finally. Restaurants, sports venues, movie theaters and art galleries are once again eager for your patronage. In fact, a new restaurant has just opened near Loyola University. And I recommend you check it out. The question arises, how are you going to get there?

Route planning is an essential part of getting anywhere. If you live in a large city with extensive public transit, you may have a variety of options. Route planning becomes dicey in smaller cities, towns and rural areas with only a few or no bus routes, but it remains a vital skill.

For this blog, we’ll use Chicago as an example, being the home of Second Sense. But many strategies of information gathering discussed here can be applied no matter where you live. We’ll also assume that you are not simply calling an Uber, a Lyft or a a cab. Those are options, too, with pros and cons we will discuss later.


Taking First Steps

So, the new restaurant near Loyola sounds attractive. You’ve even seen the menu, which was accessible online — for once, and you’re hungry. What are some possible first steps towards getting there? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I know the address?
  • If not, how can I get it?
  • Do I know the area? The street?
  • If not, what can I do to inform myself?

To find the address and phone number of a place you want to know about, you could:


Deciding on Transportation Options

Address in hand, how do you go about getting there? Here are some options.


What if I Just Take an Uber?

It’s direct, fast, and no beating around the bush. The problem is that Uber and Lyft can take large bites out of your wallet. Taxis will also gladly help you part with your money. When you discover that it will cost you $35 to get there, remember that getting back is another $35. This is not attractive, because you’re about to spend more on transportation than you’re likely to spend at the restaurant, even with drinks.


How About Paratransit?

At first, Paratransit seems like a better option. It’s almost direct, and even if it’s not very direct, it costs less than an Uber or taxi. In some places, fixed routes are not very helpful in getting where you want to go. And, there are many people with needs that limit their ability to use a fixed route bus or train system. Paratransit may be the best and only option for some people and in some situations.

Here are some possible downsides to the paratransit option:

  • Not all folks who are blind or visually impaired qualify. It depends on the city’s rules, and you might qualify in one place and might not somewhere else.
  • You may not get the scheduling to and from that you want. In fact, if you have an appointment or a reservation, you may end up late.
  • Your freedom to change your plans is limited. If you decide to stay longer because the atmosphere is amazing and you want to talk to that wonderful person you met in the cocktail lounge, you’ll be stuck without a ride home. Your freedom of movement is somewhat more limited. You’ve possibly just made a decision about your social life based on your paratransit return window.


How About Public Transit?

The buses through CTA run late, and at least two train lines run 24/7 — the Blue and Red. This is getting better. You’ve decided to use public transit heading to your destination, reserving the option of an Uber for the return home if the hour grows truly uncivilized.


Finding Your Bus or Train

Now, you have a general plan in hand. The next step is to find out not only which bus and train combination will get you there, but how to get to the door of the restaurant itself from your last bus stop or train station. Here are two strategies, and you can do them in whichever order you choose.

  • Option #1: In the Chicagoland area, call the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) help line at 836-7000 preceded by any local area code (708, 773, 847, etc.)  This phone line provides Information about CTA buses and trains, Metra trains and Pace suburban buses from a live operator. You must have your starting address and final destination address ready. The operator consults the RTA maps and provides you with what they believe is the best route. They can tell you what stop to get on at, where to get off and, if necessary, where to transfer. Information about landmarks on the route or even where the bus shelter is (on the corner or down the block) may not be available. This is where asking your bus drivers and CTA station personnel comes into play.
  • Option #2: Using your Ventra app, you can plot your starting point and destination into the app. The app will return what it thinks is the most efficient transit route. Ventra can also supply other key information of interest, such as which buses or trains are nearest your location, when they depart and what direction they’re traveling. For best results, make sure Location Services is on so Ventra can access the location of where you happen to be standing. Also, using certain GPS apps, like BlindSquare or Lazarillo, can assist you here.


Setting Out

After doing your research, you have discovered your route involves two buses, or a bus and a train — it’s up to you which. How do you get from your front door to the first stop? How, then, do you get to the restaurant’s front door? These are often the two trickiest route segments: getting connected to the first transit stop and getting from the last one two the destination. Here are some helpful tips.

With your home address in hand, the RTA person at 836-7000 can give you some general information about where your bus stop is located or what side of the street it’s on. They may not be able to tell you whether that stop is a shelter or a pole. If your first stop is a train station, they can certainly give you some general walking directions and let you know what side of the street you need to be on to find it. You, though, have to actually find it. It will be up to you to apply your O&M skills to execute any street crossings or trail any grass lines to find the bus stop pole/shelter or the doors into the train station.


Finding the Final Destination

How do you actually locate this restaurant you’ve never been to before? The best advice is to call the restaurant. Nobody knows more about that restaurant than the people who have to be there every day. Some questions you might ask are:

  • What street does the restaurant face?
  • Is it on the corner?
  • Is there music playing I can listen for?
  • Are there steps, planters or an outdoor seating area I can watch out for near the restaurant?

Finally, depending on where you are, asking passersby for assistance can work well. This is especially true in urban areas with high volume foot traffic. Think the Magnificent Mile on a Friday night. A passerby with no knowledge of O&M, if asked the right questions, can:

  • provide a street name
  • confirm the direction a street is running
  • confirm the direction in which you are walking
  • describe buildings, steps, ramps, bridges, etc. near you

Two things to keep in mind here are that people may need your questions rephrased. Not everyone can readily answer questions about north and south and many people do not navigate in this situation by address systems. Rather, they navigate based on visible landmarks immediately apparent. “This restaurant is across the street, next to that store.” Be prepared to both ask for assistance and to refuse unnecessary assistance. Perhaps you don’t need someone to walk you all the way to the door. It’s suggested you refuse unwanted levels or types of assistance firmly, but as politely as possible.


Traveling in Less Urban Areas

In smaller towns and cities, buses may come less frequently. Bus routes may drop you farther from your intended destination. In some places, there are no buses at all. In these kinds of situations, travel becomes even harder. Cabs and rideshare, or paratransit if available, become your options. In these situations, I encourage clients to develop a network of friends and buddies you can call on for rides, but be careful not to overuse your network. No one wants to feel exploited. Always be sure to offer to do something in exchange for the friend or coworker who’s giving you a helping hand. Tip generously if your rideshare driver or taxi driver assists you in locating a doorway or gives you extra orientation information.

Finally, plan extensively if you need to travel in poor weather conditions. Snowstorms will slow down all public transit. Rideshare and taxi drivers may not be out on the streets in large numbers, if at all. And keep in mind that getting home from the restaurant may be a lot harder than getting to it in the first place, especially if the snow storm hits while you are there.

Plan well, and travel safely.

Brad is Second Sense’s orientation and mobility intern

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