The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


Million dollars no more: What's in and what's out of Arlington's redesigned Columbia Pike bus stations

Arlington has redesigned and value-engineered a series of transit stations proposed along Columbia Pike, after the original prototype drew criticism for costing a lot and not adequately keeping out the weather. The new design is both less expensive and more effective.

The new design. All images from Arlington County.

Controversy and review

Last year Arlington unveiled the first of a planned series of "super-stop" bus stations along Columbia Pike, near the intersection with Walter Reed Drive. The prototype cost nearly one million dollars, outraging many in the community who felt it extravagantly expensive for "just a bus stop."

But that wasn't the only criticism. The prototype's angled roof and undersized rear and side panels don't offer much protection against the elements.

Arlington heard the outrage and suspended further construction to review the design. The review came out last week, and proposes a new design that's significantly cheaper, but also better in a number of ways.

The new design

Elevation (top) and plan view (bottom) of the new design.

Like the prototype, the new design includes a large glass canopy and glass walls, seating, displays with real-time arrival information, and platform-like curbs.

Unlike the prototype, the canopy is a simple boxy shape that's cheaper and easier to manufacture, more flexible to multiple configurations, and better at keeping out rain and snow. The roof is lower and slopes more gently, meaning rain will have to be falling nearly sideways to get in from the front.

From the back, the rear panels extend higher, closer to the roof. They leave a much smaller gap between the wall and roof, adequate for air circulation but much less prone to let in rain or snow.

Likewise, the side panels are more carefully placed, boxing in the waiting area more effectively.

The new design, showing more effective side panels

The new design eliminates one of the most controversial elements from the prototype, an underground heating system that melts snow and ice. But with this improved canopy and wall layout, fewer elements will get into the station in the first place.

Another major improvement is that real time information will come in multiple ways: On a large main display to one side, and also on displays hung from the roof. The hanging displays will be easier for waiting passengers to see from afar.

And all of this comes via a relatively inexpensive standardized tool kit.

Tool kit of standardized parts.

Since the pieces can fit together any way Arlington wants, they'll use different configurations at different locations. There will be longer stations with more seating at bigger corners, and smaller ones at more constrained sites.

If the new tool kit proves effective, Arlington may even use some of the same pieces elsewhere, such as in Crystal City.

Arlington is planning to move ahead with construction of the new design at 8 locations up and down Columbia Pike, with more coming after that. The county expects the next 8 stations to be open by 2017.

Canaan Merchant was born and raised in Powhatan, Virginia and attended George Mason University where he studied English. He became interested in urban design and transportation issues when listening to a presentation by Jeff Speck while attending GMU. He has lived all over Northern Virginia and now lives in Burke.  


Add a comment »

Once again, not enough shade.

by charlie on May 13, 2014 12:37 pm • linkreport

These still cost $500k each.

The question is, why can you build a McMansion for cheaper than a bench with a glass roof?

by JJJJ on May 13, 2014 12:38 pm • linkreport

ArlNow reported this news in more detail a week ago, with actual dollar amounts. The new and cheaper stops will still cost a half million dollars apiece.

by Observer on May 13, 2014 12:51 pm • linkreport

Looks fine, but I'd second charlie's point. What's with the glass roof? And at half a million...something's not right.

by Thayer-D on May 13, 2014 1:10 pm • linkreport

Because the McMansion will fall apart after 20 years, and you still won't have gone in the living room.

by Neil Flanagan on May 13, 2014 1:22 pm • linkreport

Good they removed the underground heating element - as the one in the prototype never worked - and I say that as someone who uses that stop.

Of course, my ideal would be that they tear down the absolutely inadequate prototype and replace it with the new design.

We spent two years standing packed in front of PJ Brennan's and we got (fill in your own expletive here)...

by Bill Hobbs on May 13, 2014 1:28 pm • linkreport

Why can't the county release a cost breakdown on these things? Why on earth are these things half a million dollars? Are all the parts custom made? Are they using space age materials that cost and arm and a leg? Is the county amortizing out the initial architecture design fee to every unit? Will the workers make $80 per hour? Is the contractor just flat out embezzling money?

by Jeremy on May 13, 2014 1:56 pm • linkreport

This is a little disingenuous.

They didn’t “cut the price” in half. The 450K that was in the budget per stop was to pay WMATA “management” fees. They simply took WMATA out of the equation, but the individual stops didn’t get any cheaper.

And while I would hope it won’t cost Arlington the same amount of money it cost WMATA to manage their construction, it is still going to cost something.

Again, I really just don’t understand the half million dollar price tag for a glass roof and a metal bench. The visual display you say? The 20K dollar glass and metal bus stops now have the LCDs scrolling advertisements for clear channel so it isn't that.

by Frank on May 13, 2014 1:56 pm • linkreport

I'll second some of the criticism already voiced - no shade (our summer heat is far more brutal than our winters are). Plus, although they fixed the angle of the roof and made the back wall a little more substantial, they still didn't provide anywhere near enough side wall protection against the wind. And for all this money and all the space used, you could only manage seating space for 6 people? Plus, cutting the cost to somewhere between $350k and $675k is not much of an achievement.

by Nick on May 13, 2014 1:57 pm • linkreport


This link has some breakdown of what's included in a standard size transit station at 361k. Certainly even more details could be released.

by TS on May 13, 2014 2:08 pm • linkreport

I've lived in Arlington for only 4 years, but I know something that the County apparently doesn't: sometimes there is wind and rain at the same time. This new design still doesn't do anything for that scenario. Conventional bus canopies do.

The way I see it, these bus stops as a threat to anyone who wants more government investment in public transit in Arlington county. It's low-hanging fruit for opponents of transit to complain about, and rhetorically they can bring it up when talking about the Columbia Pike streetcars or any other transit investment. Is that fair to the other proposed investments? No, but that's life.

by Hadur on May 13, 2014 2:11 pm • linkreport

Why can't the county release a cost breakdown on these things?

And similar comments. The solution:

1. Click on the link IN THIS ARTICLE where it says "The Review" which goes to this page:
2. Click on the subsequent link to the "design review".
3. See section 2.4 - Conceptual Cost Comparison
4. Go through that section to page 15, there is a cost breakdown.

by MLD on May 13, 2014 2:14 pm • linkreport

Is there really no off-the-shelf, proven design used elsewhere that they could have used? Is Arlington re-inventing the wheel? It's not like Arlington is the first place in the world with streetcars and streetcar stops.

by Falls Church on May 13, 2014 2:16 pm • linkreport

+1 to Falls Church.

by Fitz on May 13, 2014 2:47 pm • linkreport

The design still seems overwrought, too complicated and a maintenance headache. I wonder what the cleaning and maintenance budget is? Metro's equally exquisitely-designed station entrance canopies are dingy and filthy and a lot of the embedded lighting no longer functions.

by Paul on May 13, 2014 3:12 pm • linkreport

I really want to re-iterate the point that these shelters do nothing about the weather that Arlington suffers through for 5 months out of the year: heat. Heat Index right now is 93 F; the last place I want to be standing is in a glass box with the trapped sunlight beating down on me! Seems that a solid roof (painted white on top to reflect light) would be both cheaper and more practical. New design requirement: make sure the designers have actual experience with public transportation (such as waiting for the bus when it's 95 out w/ 40% humidity).

by MBS on May 13, 2014 4:41 pm • linkreport

The heat issue is worse in the "regular" shelters that are 3/4s enclosed.

Being outside in hot weather is unpleasant no matter what the activity. But waits for the bus here aren't that long either. This is the most frequent bus corridor in the region.

by drumz on May 13, 2014 4:49 pm • linkreport

Agree that there needs to be more concern shown for shade from the sun in this design. The DC bus shelters are too hot in the summer due to the level of transparency in the roof glass.

by Mr. Transit on May 13, 2014 6:18 pm • linkreport

A glass roof provides no shade from the sun. What's the point in having a glass roof?

by wxguy on May 13, 2014 6:50 pm • linkreport

"What's the point in having a glass roof? "

It's of our time!

by Thayer-D on May 13, 2014 8:04 pm • linkreport

A glass roof provides no shade from the sun. What's the point in having a glass roof?

Keeping the rain off.

by Richard on May 14, 2014 11:24 am • linkreport

It's only half a million now! *golf claps*
Still wasteful.

by asffa on May 14, 2014 11:52 am • linkreport

How about placing solar modules on top of it to 1) act as a shading device, and 2) providing electricity for the bus stop.

by Eunice on May 16, 2014 11:22 am • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

You can use some HTML, like <blockquote>quoting another comment</blockquote>, <i>italics</i>, and <a href="http://url_here">hyperlinks</a>. More here.

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.


Support Us