Greater Greater Washington

Bus stop or transit station? It's not all the same thing

The more riders who use a bus stop, the larger and more amenity-filled the stop should be. That's the message behind this nifty infographic from Arlington, showing the basic types of stops, and when they're appropriate.


Image from Arlington County

Much of the outcry over Arlington's "million-dollar bus stop" seemed to stem from the widespread belief that all bus stops are the same. But while the Arlington stops did benefit from a redesign, the general idea that "a bus stop is a bus stop is a bus stop" is wrong. Actually there are several different kinds, appropriate in different times and places.

For very small stops, used by less than about 40 passengers per day, simple "flag pole" bus stops are perfectly fine.

Bigger stops serving up to a couple hundred people per day need a little extra space for waiting, and at that level it's nice to provide basic amenities like seats and trash cans, so transit agencies step it up with sheltered bus stops.

But what if there's even more passengers? What if you're getting as many riders as a light rail or BRT station, on the order of a few hundred or even a thousand per day?

At that level you naturally need a station comparable to light rail or BRT, bigger with more waiting area. And it makes sense to introduce even more amenities that can speed up service or improve the customer experience, like high curbs for level boarding, off-vehicle fare payment, real-time arrival displays, and bike racks.

Meanwhile, when hundreds or thousands of riders a day are using a single space, it's no longer just a bus stop. At that point, it's a highly-visible civic gathering spot.

And as important it is to provide transit riders with attractive facilities, it's also important even for non-transit riders that our civic spaces be attractive. Thus it's appropriate for large transit stations to look nicer (and cost more, and last longer) than a row of mass produced bus shelters.

The continuum of transit stations doesn't even stop there. For more than 1,000 riders per day you start to need entire buildings with space for multiple vehicles, bathrooms, a staffed information desk, and more. Or you need bus subway stations, which are vastly more expensive still.

What's appropriate on Columbia Pike?

With about 16,000 bus riders per day, Columbia Pike is already the busiest bus corridor in Virginia. Buses on Columbia Pike carry more riders each day than the Norfolk light rail, and about as many as either of VRE's two commuter rail lines. It's a serious transit corridor.

And it's only going to get more serious. With the streetcar, transit ridership on Columbia Pike is expected to approximately double, to over 30,000 per day by 2030.

That's a lot of riders. That's considerably more than any bus route in DC, and about 1/3 the expected 2030 ridership of the Metrorail Silver Line. That many riders need and deserve good facilities.

What's odd about the debate in Arlington is that everyone seems to agree Columbia Pike needs vastly improved transit, but people are outraged about the costs anyway. Opponents to the planned streetcar aren't saying "don't build anything." They're saying "build BRT instead."

Putting aside the fact that full BRT is impossible because Arlington isn't allowed to dedicate Columbia Pike's lanes for transit, these expensive bus stations are exactly what BRT looks like. No matter whether you favor streetcar or bus, big transit stations are necessary.

And no matter where you go, they're expensive. For example, BRT stations in Eugene, OR run $445,000, while in Grand Rapids, MI they're $662,000. Norfolk's light rail stations are $762,000.

Naturally, Arlington isn't building these larger transit stations at every bus stop. They're only going in at a handful of the busiest stops, where passenger capacities meet that threshold of a few hundred per day, or soon will.

For example, according to Arlington Transit Bureau Chief Steve Del Giudice, the eastbound Walter Reed station is currently hosting about 525 boardings per day (that's boardings only, not including alightings). Assume it doubles with the streetcar, and Walter Reed will soon have over 1,000 boardings per day.

That's half as many boardings as the Arlington Cemetery Metro station. Far too many for a simple shelter.

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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 lives in Falls Church.  

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"it's also important even for non-transit riders that our civic spaces be attractive. "

I think there is a profoud cultural divide in america over that. There are people in this country who profoundly prefer private space over public space, and who absolutely resent paying a penny for the aesthetics of public spaces. There are also people who are completely relativistic on all aesthetic questions ("I love my McMansion whatever you hipsters say".) And there is some overlap between those groups.

And then there are people who fear the changes that new development drawn by an improved public space on Col Pike will bring.

I don't think we can fully comprehend the opposition to both the stations, and to Pike Rail, if we don't grasp this fundamental disagreement on the value of aesthetic concerns in public spaces.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 19, 2014 11:48 am • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for using a false email address in violation of the comment policy.]

by Oh Brother... on May 19, 2014 12:09 pm • linkreport

No matter whether you favor streetcar or bus, big transit stations are necessary.

I think part of the disconnect is that a bus shelter for three people only costs 30K but a "big" transit stop for six people costs over $450K. Even though the transit stop is nicer with more features and better materials, it raises flags when you're only doubling capacity but increasing costs over 15x.

by Falls Church on May 19, 2014 12:32 pm • linkreport

Its for more than 6 people. The key is standing room, not seats. Lots of people don't sit down in bus stops (and yeah, a lot of times the seats are wet or dirty.)

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 19, 2014 12:37 pm • linkreport

Interesting article. One point of clarification, though: you mention: "[opponents of the street car] are saying "build BRT instead."

In point of fact, many opponents of the street car are only opponents of the fact that the street cars will be on fixed rails (and the complications to traffic therein) as well as the necessary addition of overhead lines to power them, which the County just spent considerable money to underground. Many opponents aren't wed to BRT at all, they (ok, "we") just want a solution that won't cause other issues for those of us that have to drive up and down the Pike. The street car in many peoples opinion will further exacerbate the already serious traffic problems we face.

by 1234 on May 19, 2014 12:38 pm • linkreport

AWITC -- that has been a divide since Olmsted created Central Park. In response to someone who complained that Olmsted made CP "better" than the man's own backyard, Olmsted replied that far more people will use the park and the park space should be designed accordingly.

The problem is that elected officials don't generally have a good framework/language/understanding for discussing this issue and making the case.

One exception is Mayor Joe Riley of Charleston:

http://web.archive.org/web/20040630131945/http://www.tulsaarchitecture.com/Next100Riley.htm

He's probably the most articulate of any US public official on these issues.

by Richard Layman on May 19, 2014 12:39 pm • linkreport

wrt bus stops, or what GCRTA calls "transit waiting environments," they produced a report/typology along these lines about 13 years ago.

- http://web.archive.org/web/20081013064453/http://www.cudc.kent.edu/d-Service-Learning/PDFs/TWE%20screen%20short.pdf

by Richard Layman on May 19, 2014 12:40 pm • linkreport

Even though the transit stop is nicer with more features and better materials, it raises flags when you're only doubling capacity but increasing costs over 15x.

Yes. And you haven't really increased 'capacity' in any meaningful sense. There are plenty of very busy bus stops in the region that handle many more passengers daily with just a standard bus shelter or two.

This isn't to discount the vital importance of a strong experience for passengers and for great public space, but improvements to the service are also important. The comparisons to LRT and BRT and heavy rail systems fall flat because those station features are associated with the service improvements that come from investment in the entire line.

This super-stop was an easy target precisely because it doesn't improve transit service at all.

Constrast that to New York's select bus service. They added new shelters at stops, off-board fare payment, bus bulb-outs , and dedicated lanes (all elements that improve performance, not just rider experience) for relatively low cost (~$20m for the M15 route) using existing elements of the transit system for bus shelters, fare payment, etc.

http://web.mta.info/mta/planning/sbs/docs/M15ProgressReport.pdf

by Alex B. on May 19, 2014 12:47 pm • linkreport

alex, buses on columbia pike have been getting constantly improved over the past several years. there are express routes, special branding, more frequent buses, etc. and soon streetcar. to say there's been no improvement to service is just wrong.

if arlington had packaged the past 10 years worth of bus improvements along with these stops and implemented them all simultaneously, instead of 1-by-1 as soon as each was ready, would that have satisfied you? do you think it would have satisfied everyone else? i'm skeptical.

by ballston guy on May 19, 2014 12:53 pm • linkreport

alex, buses on columbia pike have been getting constantly improved over the past several years. there are express routes, special branding, more frequent buses, etc. and soon streetcar. to say there's been no improvement to service is just wrong.

I didn't say there haven't been improvements to the service; I said that the Super Stop itself didn't improve service.

Contrast that to New York, where the project offered some very real improvements to the service - namely, off board fare payment. And it provided this improvement at a lower cost per stop.

by Alex B. on May 19, 2014 12:58 pm • linkreport

AWITC

What is the seating+standing capacity of a 30K shelter vs. a 450K+ station? I said double based based solely on eyeballing the pics in the brochure but realize they may not have been drawn to scale.

by Falls Church on May 19, 2014 1:00 pm • linkreport

Why are we using cost ranges. We know exactly what the existing aluminum and glass bus stops cost. We've been told (by WMATA, by Arlington, by the Post) numerous times of late. They cost 12K to 20K installed. The 20k version includes the LCD panel for clear channel to scroll ads.

So we have a 20K bus shelter that (per this graphic) sees upwards of 100 people per day. The newly rebranded "transit super stops" see upwards of 1000, or ~ -10 times the people, yet cost 30 times as much.

The first design simply proved how out of touch the County was with the realities of bus passenger requirements. With its fancy "shelter-less" design and heated sidewalks, it was a design 3 years in the making that was ripe for ridicule but that's not to say transit riders shouldn't have nice things. I wait at atleast two standard bus shelters a day and don't feel like I'm getting a 3 rd class experience. If you say we need to spend this kind of money to entice people to ride it, then it is clearly money poorly spent.

by Cannon on May 19, 2014 1:32 pm • linkreport

" I wait at atleast two standard bus shelters a day and don't feel like I'm getting a 3 rd class experience."

I use standard bus shelter and DO feel like Im getting a third class experience. Maybe they are better maintained in places other than Fairfax. And thats despite them not being crowded (and the experience is probably one reason they are not more crowded)

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 19, 2014 1:47 pm • linkreport

@Cannon: Can we see the cite for "12K to 20K installed" for a standard shelter? Including site prep, utilities, etc.? Not contradicting you, just want the details and don't recall seeing them.

by jimble on May 19, 2014 2:23 pm • linkreport

In Montgomery county, calling it a "transit center" means it costs over 100 million and is unsafe to use.

by asffa on May 19, 2014 2:38 pm • linkreport

Does a location with 1200 travelers a day really need a transit station? If the bus runs every 5 minutes for 10 hours, then that means that you rarely have more than 20 people there at a time (on average you'll only be building up to 10 per bus), and they're never there for very long. Sure, you need a shelter, and it probably needs to be big enough to keep 30 people dry on a rainy day, but you don't need a whole building unless you're having interchanges among multiple lines at lower frequency, or a super-high ridership individual bus.

by Kenny on May 19, 2014 3:03 pm • linkreport

For the price of one 2.5 million dollar transit station 83 sign-only bus stops could have had shelters.

Twenty-two shelters could have been made with the 650K it cost to make an Arlington transit center.

Someone answer me -
Why in 2014 with an increasingly large aging and small child population does anybody want to hold onto the model of having bus stops without even a bench in favor of setting up some few outrageously wasteful stations?
Bus stops without benches and shelters (and bike racks, too, seriously) aren't what most of you would have your elderly, disabled, pregnant,those driving children's strollers and groceries being forced to use, especially not in foul weather, so why even commonly have a "sign only" sort of stop in 2014?
And why are bike racks not standard shelter additions - it can't be usually be cost - the standard commercial racks are inexpensive and easily installed when concrete gets poured, or I've seen them put in poured concrete within the grass. I think the problem comes out of short-sighted planning that says make one stop "fancy" and skimp on the rest.

by asffa on May 19, 2014 6:00 pm • linkreport

I'm a proud, unapologetic and somewhat outspoken opponent of the streetcar and I frankly resent your categorization of the opposition.

I have never once said "BRT instead." I, in fact, think BRT is - at best - pure snake oil and usually far worse. I know there are a lot of others who may or may not agree with my categorization of "BRT" projects, but who most certainly do agree with my assertion that BRT is no more the answer here than mixed-traffic streetcars are.

I know there are those who disagree with my assessment that focusing on improvements to parallel and other bus routes throughout the region - in particular, Arlington Boulevard, which is uniquely well-equipped to absorb a lot of the demand for service by people trying to get between Leesburg Pike and Rosslyn/Pentagon/Crystal City, people who don't care about traveling up the Pike except for that it gets them to their destination.

I think the Pike itself is at capacity, and adding streetcars necessitates taking buses away, and I think that given the sheer volume of ridership on the Pike right now, "sexiness" of service shouldn't be a priority. Neither should extorting development dollars - dumping more people into that corridor is the last thing we ought to be doing.

Ideally, we should be running a new Metrorail line down that corridor. We can't do that because of our national inability to dig tunnels.

I'm not yet enough of a cynic to suggest doing nothing, allowing Columbia Pike to suffocate on its own success until we solve our national tunneling problem.

So with the Pike Metrorail off of the table, and with the "hang these guys out to dry" option unappealing on many levels - in my opinion, the 'most correct' of the remaining options should be and is to improve bus service throughout the immediate region, along parallel corridors, and do whatever we can to pull people who aren't bound for the Pike directly off of the Pike.

A change of heart by VDOT to allow for dedicated lanes is likely not coming soon, and the Metrorail solution is decades away. And, again, with all of the options for substantially increasing capacity of the Pike off of the table, the best we can do is try and stretch the capacity we have - by getting people off of the Pike. Aggressively up-zoning is counter-productive at this stage in the game; when the pipe is already close to bursting the last thing you want to do is crank up the pressure.

by Ryan on May 19, 2014 8:23 pm • linkreport

It's a minor point, but it appears all the information displays face away from passengers waiting under the canopy. If I am waiting for a bus, I would like to see the next-bus information.

by David G on May 20, 2014 6:54 am • linkreport

people who don't care about traveling up the Pike except for that it gets them to their destination.
Ok, but what about the people who do care about getting to destinations on the Pike?

I think that given the sheer volume of ridership on the Pike right now, "sexiness" of service shouldn't be a priority.

It isn't. Streetcars have more capacity than buses.

Neither should extorting development dollars - dumping more people into that corridor is the last thing we ought to be doing.
People have to live somewhere. If we have more people on Columbia Pike then it makes it easier to provide public transportation solutions to a concentrated group of people than a more spread out group of people.

and with the "hang these guys out to dry" option unappealing on many levels
Which option is this again? If you're talking about the streetcar I've got to say that's a strange way to characterize a multi-million dollar investment.

in my opinion, the 'most correct' of the remaining options should be and is to improve bus service throughout the immediate region, along parallel corridors, and do whatever we can to pull people who aren't bound for the Pike directly off of the Pike.
Ok. But that doesn't help people on Columbia Pike. Which is the goal here. And it's a goal that's bigger than just the streetcar. So we can add more bus routes but what solution do you propose for Columbia Pike?

Think about this from the county board's perspective. Why should they focus on rerouting trips from fairfax to pentagon city? How does that help Arlingtonians?

And since Fairfax is building the streetcar as well, they presumably aren't as interested in skipping Columbia Pike either.

A change of heart by VDOT to allow for dedicated lanes is likely not coming soon, and the Metrorail solution is decades away.
A big reason why we're going with a streetcar here.

And, again, with all of the options for substantially increasing capacity of the Pike off of the table,

Only because you're ignoring the streetcar.

the best we can do is try and stretch the capacity we have - by getting people off of the Pike.

Which is counter to the County's overall goal which is to help remake the Pike into another strong TOD corridor like Rosslyn-Ballston or Crystal City/Pentagon City.

You or others may not want that but the solutions you're proposing help people from outside Arlington more than inside Arlington. You can at least see how the county board would be hesitant to support such a plan.

by drumz on May 20, 2014 8:18 am • linkreport

@Ryan
I know there are those who disagree with my assessment that focusing on improvements to parallel and other bus routes throughout the region - in particular, Arlington Boulevard, which is uniquely well-equipped to absorb a lot of the demand for service by people trying to get between Leesburg Pike and Rosslyn/Pentagon/Crystal City, people who don't care about traveling up the Pike except for that it gets them to their destination.

The streetcar project is about upping the capacity on the Pike. Of the people traveling along the Pike, what proportion are people who aren't coming from or going to a destination along the Pike and who would be served just as well by expanding transit on a parallel route?

My guess is that it is a lot less than you imagine.

by MLD on May 20, 2014 8:32 am • linkreport

"For very small stops, used by less than about 40 passengers per day, simple "flag pole" bus stops are perfectly fine."

According to who? (I assume that'd be people who don't ride the bus except in the fairest of weather. Ableists. People not carrying anything, etc.)

Am I being unfair to think this viewpoint that "flag pole" bus stops "are perfectly fine" needs eradication if someone's attempting transit planning? I'm unhappy if this antiquated philosophy is still being pushed as the norm.

As for the less than 40 numbers, the fact some stops are "flag poles" discourages having more passengers. And since most passengers are likely going round trip, this discourages their use of other stops as well.

And again- add bike racks. where they're placed, they often get used.

by asffa on May 20, 2014 10:29 am • linkreport

Ok, but what about the people who do care about getting to destinations on the Pike?
They can keep using the existing Pike services. Increasing bus service elsewhere doesn't mean taking buses away from the Pike.
It isn't. Streetcars have more capacity than buses.
A two-car streetcar, depending on width, has a maximum load of between 103 and 122 passengers. The New Flyer Xcelsior model of regular bus can hold 83 passengers and the articulated model can hold 123, according to their website. So, replacing a regular bus with either an articulated bus or a streetcar carries roughly the same capacity increase, and coincidentally, the 2-car streetcar is just about exactly as long as the articulated bus that would offer the same capacity.

Obviously, you can run longer streetcars, and they'd provide more space for passengers - a little better, in fact, because of the capacity in the vestibule. So you can take a six-car streetcar, and get 340-404 passengers, and that's better than three articulated buses (capacity at 369 passengers).

If you could run a six-car streetcar, or even a four-car streetcar, in place of just one articulated bus, this would be a slam dunk. The problem is that you can't - there's no room in a mixed-traffic vehicle lane for a longer streetcar without taking away an equivalent number of buses.

I don't believe 35 more pax in a streetcar running every so often is worth removing the number of buses needed to make room for that streetcar. In fact, I think the Pike is better off with buses that have "1/3rd" of the capacity of the big streetcar but run three times as often. Frequency trumps capacity.

People have to live somewhere. If we have more people on Columbia Pike then it makes it easier to provide public transportation solutions to a concentrated group of people than a more spread out group of people.
I agree with you. I just don't think that there are any actual solutions on the table, and so developing now is putting the crush load ahead of the Metrorail.
Which option is this again? If you're talking about the streetcar I've got to say that's a strange way to characterize a multi-million dollar investment.
The "hang them out to dry" option is doing absolutely nothing - no streetcar, no bus service expansion anywhere, no Metrorail, nothing. Obviously not a good idea.
Ok. But that doesn't help people on Columbia Pike. Which is the goal here.

Think about this from the county board's perspective. Why should they focus on rerouting trips from fairfax to pentagon city? How does that help Arlingtonians?

And since Fairfax is building the streetcar as well, they presumably aren't as interested in skipping Columbia Pike either.

It does, though. If you pull people off of the Pike - people such as the many residents of Skyline Towers who want to go downtown and could be served by an all-day 395 HOV Express bus or by a Crystal City via Arl Boulevard every 10 minutes bus - than every single person who is no longer using the Pike has freed up one more passenger space for people who want to access the Pike. That's the logic. (And, to MLD, not having the actual numbers I can't answer that question - but I will guess that it's a lot more than you imagine.)
You or others may not want that but the solutions you're proposing help people from outside Arlington more than inside Arlington. You can at least see how the county board would be hesitant to support such a plan.
Sure, I can see that. I can also see, however, how spreading the load out and how putting the region first instead of putting Arlington first actually benefits Arlington more in the long run, because a rising tide lifts all boats.

As I said before, I don't buy the streetcar capacity increase as being all that meaningful because I can already see it being attached to an equivalent level of bus service reduction (e.g., 3 buses go for every 6-car streetcar). And I do believe that building a mixed-traffic streetcar here, under these conditions, is a long-term mistake for Arlington and for the region at large. The Pike needs dedicated lanes now and Metrorail later, but it's probably not going to get either of those things for a long long time.

I also believe that something needs to change - and that something is the level of parallel bus service. That needs to be dramatically improved.

by Ryan on May 20, 2014 10:42 am • linkreport

I live in Fairfax, and killing PikeRail would not be putting the region first. The FFX BoS wants to transform Baileys into a walkable urban place. The development impact of the streetcar is part of that.

And limiting development on the Pike will aggravate the housing problem, esp the shortage of affordable WUPs, in the region.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 20, 2014 10:53 am • linkreport

Ryan,

I think your issues with all this go deeper than just the streetcar but with the Columbia Pike Plan overall.

The reason we aren't doing articulated buses for Columbia Pike is because articulated buses don't provide the same development returns as the streetcar does in the same conditions.

Plus, articulated buses wouldn't be that much cheaper. There still needs to be a storage faciility for them (no existing bus garages in NOVA can fit them) and you'd still have to repave the road to handle their increased weight (which is handled by rails for a streetcar). So it's still a lot of money for less return.

And you'd still need the transit stations either way.

Granted, gov't isn't necessarily in the business of making money but neither is it advisable to just leave it on the table.

I just don't think that there are any actual solutions on the table, and so developing now is putting the crush load ahead of the Metrorail.

Well sure, there are no solutions if you just dismiss the one that's proposed outright.

It does, though. If you pull people off of the Pike - people such as the many residents of Skyline Towers who want to go downtown and could be served by an all-day 395 HOV Express bus or by a Crystal City via Arl Boulevard every 10 minutes bus

Then let Fairfax County pay for that service since it would mostly help fairfax county residents.

I can also see, however, how spreading the load out and how putting the region first instead of putting Arlington first actually benefits Arlington more in the long run, because a rising tide lifts all boats.

The "region" benefits either way. But in one scenario you're asking one county to completely ignore its own citizens to help citizens in another county. The streetcar helps residents in both counties.

by drumz on May 20, 2014 10:56 am • linkreport

One correction - articulated buses do not need the streets to be repaved since their extra axle absorbs their extra weights. But for sure garages that aren't equipped to handle articulated buses would need to be rehabbed at a high cost.

Earlier there was a good point about poor bus stops with just a sign preventing additional ridership. In some areas bus stops with those few passengers are given shelters after all the other stops get them. But since most of the stops probably fall into this category, how can you identify the ones that would have higher ridership if they were improved?

One thing I have always wondered is if streetcars are built to generate development then why don't developers help to pay for them? Extraordinarily you might get them to contribute to the capital cost but I am not familiar with any who pay for the ongoing operating cost.

by Public Transport on May 27, 2014 8:48 pm • linkreport

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