One of the challenges every transit system faces is the placement and frequency of bus stops. Space the stops further apart, and the route runs faster with fewer and more predictable stops, and a concentration of boarding passengers. However, if you reduce frequency, you risk making the resource less accessible to riders of limited mobility. Planning consultant Jarrett Walker has written on this subject, and wrestled with the comparative advantages of efficiency versus accessibility.
According to Evan Schweitz, a planner at Metro, the current standard used by the agency is a stop every two blocks. This is an improvement over the prior practice of posting a bus stop every block along the routes. The new interval went into effect when Metro changed out all the old signage to reflect the updated branding. The decreased frequency made it easier to get Metro on to Google Transit, and made maintenance costs more manageable. The change was not without critics. According to Schweitz, he received about fifty complaints requiring follow up. Some issues were from riders of limited mobility who, “don’t like walking so far” and property owners who “don’t want this stop in my yard.” With these competing public needs in mind, let look at the issue from street level.
These two bus stops seem to highlight a number of challenges to effectively integrating transit entry and exit points into the full transportation system. To discuss the issue, Schweitz met me at the corner of Saddle Creek and Dodge.
The north-side location shows several significant challenges to riders. Most troubling is the lack of serving infrastructure. To use a transit option, you have to be able to both access the entry-point and connect with your final destination. You can see in this detail of the north-side stop that the bus stop sign is stuck in the dirt on the side of the road. There is no sidewalk, and even if there were, you can see it would lead directly into the abutment of the underpass. The stop is adjacent to a shopping center with a hardware store and several restaurants, but the bus stop is located south of where the sidewalk adjoining the shopping center ends.
Schweitz consulted a map of stops in the area he’d brought along. The stop placement seemed closer than necessary.
While a well maintained, flat area of dirt or grass with good drainage is acceptable as a bus stop, you can see this stop has a significant slope. In slippery conditions, this slope is more likely to propel a transit rider into the fast-moving traffic than provide adequate space to safely wait for a bus. Riders with limited mobility or who use mobility assistance devices could neither board nor exit a bus safely at this location under ideal circumstances. Add a bit of weather, such as a pinch of snow, and the stop becomes unusable to the whole population.
One of the key considerations of stop placement is how the routes interact with the rest of the system. Route #2 is the spine of the Metro bus system and it runs up and down Dodge Street. These two stops seem placed to give access to riders wanting to transfer to the eastbound or westbound bus on Route #2. This would be an understandable solution if either of the stops were well connected to the surrounding infrastructure. The southern stop is at the foot of the embankment raising Dodge street above the grade at Saddle Creek and circumscribed by an entry ramp guiding southbound Saddle Creek vehicle traffic to eastbound Dodge street. Again, there are no sidewalks or pedestrian crossings. To access a walkable infrastructure, the passenger would need to climb the slope of the embankment to the sidewalk on Dodge street, cross the underpass and descend a stairway on the southeast side of the Saddle Creek underpass.
Schweitz and I toured the area. He agreed that the stop on the north side of the intersection was poorly placed, but told me that the southwest would probably stay as it is. He has feedback from drivers that the stop serves riders who need to transfer to the eastbound #2. “By the time the bus gets to the [midtown] transit center, they miss the connection.” On our return, northbound, we saw a stop on the east side of Saddle Creek that was placed in a less than ideal location. Schweitz made a note to see if he could move the stop a block forward to a safer location.
The stop on the south side isn’t connected to or near anything, but serves a specific need for transferring riders. I assumed that either stop could be made safe and useful by moving the stop slightly along the route. The north-side stop can be removed, there is a stop connected with the sidewalk and crosswalk and serve the surrounding development. On the south-side, I asked Schweitz if the stop could push further along toward Douglas or even Farnam where the transit stop would connect with the pedestrian infrastructure and pick-up or deliver riders nearer likely destinations. On our tour, I observed a stop already in place at Farnam, and Schweitz pointed out that moving the stop to Douglas would obstruct traffic flow using the entry and exit ramp from eastbound Dodge Street.
Stops like these highlight the disconnection between the many entities that touch our transit infrastructure, but seem to not work together. While Metro is responsible for assigning and maintaining the placement of their bus stops, they have no real control over the design of the streets and placement of sidewalks and buildings that are served by their system. As a community we need to demand a well connected, rational transit system where all the parts work in concert with the rest of our transportation network. We need to demand sidewalks and accessibility and connectivity from the city. Metro is willing to discuss and fix problems with underused and dangerous bus stops, but they can’t be expected to do it alone. If you see something, say something. Remember, it’s your transit system, too.