Friday, October 26, 2012

When the humble bus stop is a little too humble

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This is the busiest transit stop in the state of Minnesota, seeing about 4,300 boardings daily, though you'd never know it by looking. It's on the south side of City Center on 7th Street and Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis, and lacks most of the amenities you'd expect to find at a location with that volume: Shelters to provide cooling shade in the summer and heaters in the winter, as well as rain, snow and wind. There is a little seating, but not much. Good lighting, signage, and information kiosks are practically nonexistent.

Less obvious in photographs is the simple lack of space. The sidewalk has frequently been getting filled up with bus patrons, leading Metro Transit to add some markings to the pavement to delineate the areas where bus passengers should stand to separate them from the flow of pedestrians.

Um... Great?

As part of a campaign dubbed "WalkSafe", the benches (mostly obscured in this photo from Metro Transit, but still barely visible in the distance) have been moved away from the wall of City Center, and some brightly-colored stickers have been added. A NexTrip sign indicating bus arrival times has also been added, but it's tucked away in a spot that's hard to see. Sure, some people will go along with the new separation of space, but this arrangement is uncomfortable for others who prefer to hug the side of the building in order to grab what little shelter they can, and simply to take a load off by leaning up against the wall. Unfortunately, the sidewalk is already crowded, so attempting to add shelters, benches, or other street furniture would only make it harder to move through the area.

There should be other options, including expanding the sidewalk area. While it might be possible to carve a space out of City Center, the better option is probably to add a bulb-out to extend the sidewalk area into the street. 7th Street is a one-way with three lanes for through traffic plus curb lanes on each side. The street could handle moving the buses into the right-most through lane and extending the sidewalk into the right-hand curb lane, more than doubling the room in the waiting area.  That would open up a huge range of possibilities for good designs that will pull those stragglers away from the wall of City Center.

Extensions like that have cost up to around $60,000 in other cities, including new shelters—this stop probably generates that much in fare revenue every 2–3 weeks. With a pace like that, there's a clear benefit to making a real investment in this stop to change it into a place where riders can feel like they're human rather than trash to be shoved out of the way. Believing that this site can be improved by simply moving the existing pieces around is patently ridiculous.

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