Greater Greater Washington

Short-sighted bus stop placement puts pedestrians at risk

Too many bus stops are located far from the nearest crosswalk. Rather than walk long distances, many riders therefore cross dangerously in the middle of busy streets. The jurisdictions controlling the bus stops should either move them to safer intersections, or add new and better crosswalks.


Bus stop at Silver Hill Road and Randall Road with no crosswalk. Image from Google Street View.

This is a big problem throughout many parts of the region, but especially in suburban Prince George's County, and it is irresponsible to put transit users in such danger unnecessarily. A few examples from Suitland show the dangers of poor siting and design.

At Silver Hill Road and Randall Road, there is no crosswalk on Silver Hill. Pedestrians hoping to cross are out of luck.


Bus stops at Silver Hill Road and Randall Road. Image from Google Maps.

If pedestrians need to cross Silver Hill to access the Suitland Metro station, they have to walk back along a narrow sidewalk to Navy Day Drive and then cross. Even then, the crosswalk badly needs new paint. The faded lines can be particularly dangerous at night.


Crosswalk at Silver Hill Road and Navy Day Drive. Photo by the author.

This bus stop should be on the south side of Navy Day Drive. That way, pedestrians would be able to cross immediately over to the Suitland Metro station. Buses could also take advantage of red lights to pick up or drop off passengers, rather than stopping in the middle of the block.

On the other side of Silver Hill Road, the Randall Road stop comes right before a turn lane off of Silver Hill. The crosswalk across the turn lane is not signalized and pedestrians have to cross a second signalized crosswalk to reach the Suitland Metro.

At Silver Hill and Suitland Road, the bus stop on the west side is in the middle of the block far from the crosswalk and adjacent to nothing. The stop would be more useful farther back on the north side of the intersection with Suitland Road.


Bus stops at Silver Hill Road and Suitland Road. Image from Google Maps.

On the east side of the road, the situation is the opposite. The bus stop is past Suitland Road, which forces pedestrians to walk back to the crosswalk. The stop should be on the south side of the Suitland Road intersection instead.

Some bus stops on Suitland Road are even more dangerous. There is no crosswalk for the bus stop on the south side of Suitland Road and Huron Avenue. Additionally, the sidewalk abruptly ends at the bus stop, so if pedestrians want to reach the stop from the other side of Suitland, they must risk crossing the street without a crosswalk.


Bus stops at Suitland Road and Huron Ave. Image from Google Maps.

Since Suitland Road's blocks are so long, it might not make sense to move this stop to a different intersection. At the very least, a new, high-visibility crosswalk across Suitland Road would make it safer for pedestrians.

The bus stop on the other side of Suitland however, would be better just east of Huron Ave. If a crosswalk is installed there, pedestrians could easily cross Suitland Road if they were coming from either direction.

Unsafe bus stops are common in other suburban communities, too. This bus stop on Old Keene Mill Road in Fairfax County has no sidewalk and no way to cross the 6-lane stretch of Old Keene Mill.


Old Keene Mill Road in Fairfax County. Photo from Google Maps.

This bus stop on River Road in Montgomery County is along the shoulder. There is a small concrete pad on which to stand, but there is no protection for pedestrians walking to and from the stop, or for crossing River Road.


River Road in Montgomery County. Photo from Google Street View.

Much of the problem has to do with suburban street design, where pedestrian access has generally been an afterthought. Suburban blocks are longer than city blocks, and not all intersections have crosswalks or pedestrian walk signals.

But people in the suburbs do use buses and the stops should be convenient and safe, preferably at the intersection of 2 streets instead of the middle of a long block. Intersections should all have well marked crosswalks and sidewalks shouldn't abruptly end, particularly where there is poor access to another sidewalk.

Moving poorly placed bus stops or adding stops where needed, as well as adding crosswalks to some streets, would go a long way to help make suburban buses safer and more convenient to use.

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Jamie Scott is a resident of Ward 3 in DC and a regular Metrobus commuter. He believes in good government, livable communities and quality public transit. Jamie holds a B.A. in Government from Georgetown University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Public Policy at Georgetown. 

Comments

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There's a pretty bad one on southbound 29/Colesville south of Burnt Mills. No crosswalk and NO sidewalk. Always wonder how people cheat death to get there. Probably helps that traffic is crawling most mornings

by JessMan on Feb 29, 2012 3:28 pm • linkreport

If suburban bus stops were only located at intersections with crosswalks and had sidewalks, there would be no suburban transit service.

And, generally, the people who run suburban transit services are not the same people responsible for putting in crosswalks and sidewalks.

So. It basically comes down to a question of whether it's safer to put a bus stop in a less than ideal location or to force a transit rider to walk/bike even farther through an unsafe area to get to a different bus stop.

by Ginger on Feb 29, 2012 3:37 pm • linkreport

Jamie, good article. I completely agree that suburban bus stops do not put enough of a priority on safety.

Looking at that last picture, I flash back to all of the newspaper articles that paint the pedestrian as being at fault in a collision with an auto because the collision occurred outside of a marked crosswalk.

A policy of locating bus stops near pedestrian facilities could go a long way toward both making travel safer and more appealing.

by Paul on Feb 29, 2012 3:49 pm • linkreport

Just to echo Ginger, yes, the people who place the bus stops (your WMATAs and Ride-Ons) are not the same people putting in the ped facilities around said stops. Should there be more coordination among the agencies? Obviously, yes. But also realize that transit agencies do, in fact, put a lot of thought into bus stop placement.

In the River Road case, I would think that westbound stop primarily serves the church/school on the south side of the road. The closest intersection is a ways off, so the midblock location was probably preferred. And, it looks like there's an offset/diagonal sidewalk in the median, which forces pedestrians to face on-coming traffic before crossing. I would assume based on traffic and ped volumes at the location, a midblock crosswalk is not safe since marked crossing tend to give pedestrians a false sense of security (i.e., pedestrians might not look as carefully before crossing). That's not to say there aren't a ton of pedestrian improvements needed in that location and everywhere else...just where would that funding come from.

by Lucy on Feb 29, 2012 3:57 pm • linkreport

@Ginger
You are right on both counts, but kind of dismissive.

I love that last bus stop. It's across from a school and assisted living center, AND there's a little sidewalk in the median of the four-lane highway. So basically they are inviting old ladies and little kids to run across a busy highway!

Most of these problems stem from the fact that the bus stops are designed with the mentality "where can we put this stop so it will least affect the flow/speed of auto traffic" not "where can we put this bus stop so people can/will actually ride."

by MLD on Feb 29, 2012 3:58 pm • linkreport

I walking along that road yesterday. The bus stop placements may not be ideal. But worse are the cars. Crosswalks with properly signed, painted with a crosswalk light (like Silver Hill and Suitland Rd), crossing is still very dangerous. Cars do NOT stop for pedestrians when turning.

Also there is a sign by the Metro that I had never seen before: "Cross like your life depends on it: Use the crosswalk"

http://www.flickr.com/photos/naufragio/5459863937/

by ErikD on Feb 29, 2012 4:02 pm • linkreport

@MLD
I'm not trying to be dismissive, just trying to inject some reality into this article. Yes, it would be lovely if suburbs were walkable, but they are not.

As someone who rides transit and decides where suburban bus stops are placed, I assure you that I try to make the stops as safe as possible. But I guarantee you that only putting stops at safe locations that have sidewalks and crosswalks would make suburban transit service completely useless. There simply wouldn't be enough stops for the system to be useful to anyone.

Regarding the idea that stops are placed so that they are least likely to "affect the flow/speed of auto traffic," I can tell you that that has not been my experience. Stops are located where they are as safe as possible for both riders and for buses to access.

by Ginger on Feb 29, 2012 4:04 pm • linkreport

As a side note, crosswalks are not necessarily the safest place to cross the street. At least if there are no cross streets, you have a limited number of places cars could be coming from. Just because you have a crosswalk or even a walk signal doesn't mean a driver will actually stop before making a right turn on red.

by Ginger on Feb 29, 2012 4:08 pm • linkreport

Having a bus stop near a crosswalk does not always mean pedestrians will use it. Every night when I drive by Union Station I see people crossing the street behind the bus, essentially mid-block. However, there is a crosswalk in front of the bus. Not sure what to make of that...

by Daisy on Feb 29, 2012 4:22 pm • linkreport

in fairfax, IIUC, all new streets must have a sidewalk on at least one side, and new arterials must have a sidewalk on one side or multiuse path on both sides. Older areas often have sidewalks on both sides - esp ewhere a street reconstruction has occured. Its simply not the case that there are no places for buses to stop in the suburbs (I cannot speak to Maryland) that have sidewalks - im not saying there is a sidewalk EVERYWHERE where a stop is needed, but this

"If suburban bus stops were only located at intersections with crosswalks and had sidewalks, there would be no suburban transit service. "

Is not quite the case.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 29, 2012 4:48 pm • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity

I suppose it depends on what specific area you're talking about. From what I can tell, the farther you get from DC, the more massive growth & sprawl corresponded with building roads without pedestrian infrastructure (mostly because of when the area got built up). Yes, this is slowly being rectified, but there are still a lot of places people need/want to go that don't have adequate pedestrian infrastructure.

Also, building a sidewalk on one side of a street is all well and good, but it would still only make half of the bus stops along that street accessible.

by Ginger on Feb 29, 2012 6:16 pm • linkreport

In many of these cases, the root cause of the problem is that an area was designed to be accessed exclusively by car, but people without cars moved in later, creating the necessity for bus service. This is due to the aging of apartment complexes which were built for middle-income residents.

When multifamily buildings get older (at least the poorly built ones from the 50s and 60s), they become less attractive to middle-income residents, and they attract lower-income residents who cannot afford cars. Building codes and zoning regulations should consider the entire lifecycle of a building, because one cannot assume that an auto-centric neighborhood will stay that way.

On the other hand, there is one thing that never changes: the Maryland SHA's persistent negligence when it comes to pedestrian safety. When studying neighborhoods with pedestrian and bus users but few sidewalks and crosswalks, you'll notice a pattern: municipal and county roads have facilities for pedestrians, while state roads do not.

by jcs on Feb 29, 2012 6:53 pm • linkreport

I agree with Jamie's intent but while such bus stops may be a dime a dozen, costs are considerably greater to actually address those issues. Improving access which conforms with ADA guidelines and standards can be an expensive process, particularly for jurisdictions where sidewalk requires a closed (read: curbed) section, prompting more complex stormwater management systems. Not to say this shouldn't be a priority for governments; but the costs are such that funds are only available to address it bit-by-bit. And the cheap alternative is to remove the bus stop: voila, no more access problem... but clearly not preferable, either.

From a safety standpoint, it's far from being as simple as adding crosswalk markings. I've reiterated the multithreat risk plenty of times before & it's something that must be taken into consideration before putting an uncontrolled crosswalk across a higher-speed multilane roadway.

Many suburban roads were built for cars, but over the past 10-15 years they population has been changing such that ped/bike infrastructure is in increasing demand. Retrofitting ped/bike infrastructure into roads designed for cars is no easy task, and it's something which should not be addressed through quick and inexpensive solutions, lest you deal with long and arduous consequences. Redesigning and reconstructing roadways, along with reorienting and/or redeveloping land uses in the area, is also a long-term process.

Just things to keep in mind... there are no easy fixes, but pressure is needed to ensure that long-term treatments remain progressing.

by Bossi on Feb 29, 2012 11:12 pm • linkreport

Some poorly placed stops are the "return trip" stops for better sited bus stops, but the placement of commercial spaces, driveways, etc. may make their location suboptimal.

The issue raised by Bossi is the ultimately the most salient. How does one remediate this, esp. if different authorities are difficult to reconcie and particularly where community organization is lacking or unlikely (e.g., many commercial ares unless they rely on transit for their employees). Efforts to improve ped access and include bike lanes, etc. affect a very small slice of suburbia. Providing a sustainable basis for improving pedestrian/transit access is needed--now, will one of the whiners step up and start the process?

by Rich on Mar 1, 2012 12:09 am • linkreport

Great piece. I ride the bus all over Prince George's and see it all the time. Street designs that encourage high vehicle speeds, including at intersections and driveways, are a major hazard for walkers and bicyclists. These over-designed conflict points also force the off-setting of bus stops. The span and flare of driveways could easily be tightened to bring down turning speeds and narrow the distance that walkers are exposed to turning traffic.

by Cheryl Cort on Mar 1, 2012 10:04 am • linkreport

It basically comes down to a question of whether it's safer to put a bus stop in a less than ideal location or to force a transit rider to walk/bike even farther through an unsafe area to get to a different bus stop.

The latter is the far better choice. First off, just because you have to walk farther, doesn't mean it's less safe. Second, the best solution is to have fewer, well placed bus stops. Not only to avoid the problem outlined in this article, but more importantly to make bus service faster and more efficient.

Currently, bus stops are placed so close together that a lot of time is wasted stopping every few yards to let on/off a single passenger. Much better to space out bus stops so they are about a 10 min walk from one to the next. This will get everyone to their destination faster, even including the extra walking time.

by Falls Church on Mar 1, 2012 10:17 am • linkreport

The other problem is actually with routing, not stop placement. Too many buses wind through minor roads that don't have sidewalks or other ped infrastructure. Instead, buses should stick to major roads that typically have sidewalks and stoplights where it's easier to cross. This will also make bus rides faster and it makes it more intuitive to understand bus routes.

by Falls Church on Mar 1, 2012 10:23 am • linkreport

@ginger

Actually some of the farthest out places, like loudoun, have more sidewalks, because they were built out post 1995, when laws on sidewalk inclusion in new roads were more stringents. The worst areas in NoVa are mostly places built between 1950 and 1990 or so - lots of those in Fairfax. But even in Fairfax there are lots of large arterials with sidewalks on both sides, and that only increases, as those arterials are rebuilt under contemporary design standards. There are still plenty of issues with walkability (crosswalk availability among them) but again, its just not the case that sidewalks are rare.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 1, 2012 10:38 am • linkreport

One problem that is sort of tangential to this article is the issue of right turn on red. I moved to DC from New York two years ago and have had a hard time adjusting as a pedestrian to the fact that not only can drivers turn right on red at most intersections in DC, but they also often do not stop and look for pedestrians. Where there are signs saying "no turn on red" I've observed that they are very often ignored.

I think one of the best things DC could do to improve pedestrian safety would be to institute a universal no turn on red rule. Or at the very least implement some enforcement of the intersections where it is currently prohibited.

That drivers feel entitled to turn right on red without carefully watching for pedestrians seems to be deeply ingrained in DC driving culture. As a pedestrian, I find it downright scary.

by Sam on Mar 1, 2012 10:38 am • linkreport

Under many circumstances, especially those where there is no sidewalk, it is probably safer to put the bus stop in mid-block. It might look like on a map like it's in the middle of nowhere but really it's the lesser of all the possible evils.

e.g. putting a bus stop near an intersection with no curb is pretty evil. If traffic is stopped at the intersection cars turning right have no problem passing stopped traffic on the right, driving over gravel or if necessary dirt and grass, to make their right on red.

Having bus stops at the end of a block encourages car drivers to turn right in front of the bus, or even worse pass the stopped bus (likely discharging passengers) on the right. You might think that the bus driver would always pull over to the right as far as possible before letting passengers on/off, but if that puts them in the right turn lane many of the drivers don't like doing that.

I ride the bus everyday and it gives me the screaming heebie jeebies to see us get passed on the right by cars as passengers are getting off the bus. Sometimes the driver has to grab the passengers to stop them from walking off in those circumstances. Oh that bothers me to see that.

by B.O. on Mar 1, 2012 11:57 am • linkreport

Falls Church: I don't see the minor roads being a problem, because these roads are relatively easy to cross, having less traffic and slower speeds. I'm more worried about the MAJOR roads that don't even have sidewalks or other ped infrastructure. This mostly seems to be a problem in PG county...

by jcs on Mar 1, 2012 1:47 pm • linkreport

jcs: Disagree about this mainly being a problem in PG county. Any suburban area with high speed roads and bus service, this is a problem, doesn't matter if it's PG, Montgomery, Tysons, Loudon, or the suburbs around Chicago or LA or any other place I've lived.

There are even areas in DC proper where bus service on major roads requires careful planning of bus stops and often the solution is the lesser of all the evils rather than ideal. e.g. Wisconsin outbound through Chevy Chase, or Benning Rd and Bladensburg where they are major commuter roads.

by B.O. on Mar 1, 2012 2:13 pm • linkreport

BO: I was specifically referring to major roads that have bus stops but no sidewalks or crosswalks. In the examples you provided, I think sidewalks exist.

by jcs on Mar 1, 2012 6:52 pm • linkreport

@ jcs

Eastern Ave along with South Capitol St and Central Ave have spots where there is no sidewalks and many streets in DC outside of downtown have sidewalks only on one side.

by kk on Mar 7, 2012 12:18 am • linkreport

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