Metro Transit released three prototypes of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) stations (see two of them at left) at their open house on August 13. As we discussed in our August 7 blog post, these stations are extraordinarily critical to the success of the system and they’ll hold an important place in our civic realm for 30 years or more. It’s important we get them right.
Before we offer our thoughts about the preliminary designs, it’s important to summarize where Metro is in the design process. In short, it’s very, very early, and the three design concepts should be considered very conceptual in nature. We expect that the final design will be dramatically different. Now, on to the feedback.
Aspects we Liked.
There was quite a bit to pick through with each concept, and we’re not planning to dig into each concept independently. But we do have some overarching aspects that we liked. They include:
- Bike racks
- System maps
- Real time information
- Raised platforms that allow level boarding
- Incorporation of native landscaping and rain gardens
- Good lighting
Meet the Needs of the Rider First.
The proposed station design concepts should strive to meet the needs of the transit rider in the harshest of weather conditions. This is probably the greatest challenge in this region and the most important consideration from the viewpoint of the transit rider. Each concept could do a better job of providing more enclosure that would shield waiting transit riders from rain, snow, sun, and wind while providing an unobstructed view of incoming vehicles. This should apply to both seated and standing customers. Absent from the concepts in this early stage is the integration of the advanced ticketing technology, which also needs to be located in a sheltered location.
Simplify the Visual Design.
The visual design of each concept, which shouldn’t necessarily be separated from the design of the functional requirements, could be simplified greatly. The Modular and Garden concepts seem to unnecessarily complicate the planning of each site with elements that are more visual and aesthetic instead of supporting the actual design problem of providing the right environment for transit riders. Furthermore, the design vocabulary of each concept creates visual and physical clutter on what will surely be contested and physically constrained streetscapes.
The Sculptural concept begins to convey a restrained language that could potentially translate into a consistent visual identity for the BRT system, achieve more with less, and recede into the background when needed; which only works if the design language were to be used to solve the shelter and safety issue. However, there wasn’t consensus within our team that this concept felt as welcoming to riders, possibly a function of the perforated corten steel material.
Which raises the question: why not greatly simplify the design vocabulary and material palette and begin with the traditional glass and steel bus enclosure, and then scale and modify it to meet the requirements of a modern BRT station? The most effective bus shelters in the current Metro system are those located around Midtown Crossing (although they don’t provide any shade), which mimic the simplicity of New York City’s bus shelter, which is part of a larger project to provide a coordinated approach to street furniture citywide, utilizing high quality and durable materials in a timeless design. Cleveland’s BRT stations, which we’ve referenced before and are pictured below, provide a good example.
Ultimately, the City of Omaha should be using this opportunity to lead a larger effort, using this initial BRT station design, to set the standard and visual language for citywide street furniture that becomes a consistent and branded identity for the physical elements in our public and civic spaces.
Flexibility for the Future.
The stations should be designed in a way that allows for upgrades in functionality in the future. For example, if new technology arises that isn’t available today, it should be easy and cost-effective to incorporate these new features. Similarly, when (not if) the BRT sees a massive growth in ridership, station expansion should be easy to do. The possibility of light rail in the future should also be considered in both the design of each site and station; great BRT lines are often initially designed with conversion to light rail in mind.
Don’t Forget the Basics.
We mentioned the challenge of providing appropriate shelter above, but there are a few other basic (required, in our minds) elements that should be considered in future designs as well. They include:
- Advanced fare collection/ticketing. We understand this will be a part of the design; it just didn’t appear in these concepts.
- Recycling containers.
- Consideration of the longevity and maintenance of materials. Wood, while pretty, won’t last as long as a steel structure will.
- Consideration of how a 4” snowfall and subsequent plowing will impact users.
And About The Cost Concerns.
Some in our community have expressed surprise and concern at the cost per station. Our community spends dramatically more to widen roads than we’ve ever come close to spending on active transportation and transit. While the sticker shock of $260,000 per station may put a few people off, it’s peanuts compared to the piles and piles of money we’ll spend widening and maintaining roads in the next few years. Ramping up our transit system will ultimately reduce the wear and tear on our already crumbling roads, which will reduce the long-term costs associated with maintenance, among other benefits.
When it’s all said and done, Omaha will have 25 – 27 stations dotting the landscape along Dodge Street for the next 30+ years. They need to hold their own in the civic realm while not feeling outdated in ten years. And, above all, they need to cater to the needs of current users while attracting new riders.