dissent of the week: impact of wider stop spacing

Moving bus stops further apart achieves a range of benefits in speed and potentially frequency, as I've argued here and here.  Zef Wagner at Portland Transport recently laid out a similar case in the Portland context.  The post and most comments are worth reading, but I wanted to quote this dissent from commenter Cora Potter. 

Please keep in mind that you have to weigh any time/cost savings of stop consolidation with providing adequate mitigation for people with barriers to accessing transit stops (disabilities, cognitive barriers that require clear landmarks, etc).

Shuffling these riders off to LIFT [demand responsive paratransit for disabled persons] is not a cost effective solution. The average LIFT ride costs nearly $30 (one way). Even with a conditional eligibility system, you run the risk of increasing costs to the point that you might actually end up with more operating funding deficits than gains. In addition, while LIFT is a complimentary service, meant to be comparable in timing and experience for the consumer, there are tolerances to the system built in and a LIFT trip is usually longer, less direct and less convenient in that it requires an advance reservation. The ability to access the fixed route system is usually the least restrictive and most convenient means of travel for people with disabilities who can reasonably access a transit stop.

When you raise the bar for reasonable access by spacing stops at .25 mile, or 4 blocks or greater, you start significantly limiting what a person with barriers to walking or cognitive barriers can accomplish and make it far more of a challenge for them to reach a stop in a reasonable amount of time, or with a reasonable amount of challenge. The difference between walking one block in the cold and rain vs. walking three blocks in the cold and rain can present a huge challenge to a person who can not walk at a 3 mile per hour pace, and is more sensitive to cold temperatures due to normal aging.

So – just keep in mind that wider stop placement, particularly for bus service, will exclude a segment of the population from accessing fixed route. You need to weigh the gains in convenience for people who have few or no barriers to accessing transit with the social and financial costs of excluding the people who do experience barriers to access. My personal opinion is that everyone loses when older adults and people with disabilities are excluded from fixed route by design. You might gain 3 minutes and the sense that you're getting somewhere faster – is that really worth service cuts on other bus lines to offset the increased costs for ADA paratransit? Is it really worth socially isolating people with disabilities? And, with the aging of the population, we really need to start taking the needs of older adults seriously and not constantly tune our system to serve just the needs of commuters.

A quibble: I disagree with dividing the population into "older adults" with "commuters," as Cora does in the last sentence.  The consituency for larger stop spacing is basically anyone who wants to get where they're going as soon as possible, and who is open to walking a bit further in order to achieve that.  This is not everyone, but it's a larger group than "commuters," who are people making rigidly scheduled trips to or from work or school. 

But I agree with both the practical and ethical dimensions of the comment.  The mobility issues faced by older and disabled people are real and the costs of serving them with paratransit are high.  I also believe that allowing older people to become socially isolated is both economically and ethically unacceptable.

On the other hand, it's very, very hard to organize the mobility limitations of small, scattered numbers of people into facts.  In the early 1990s, when US transit agencies were struggling to implement the Americans with Disabilities Act, no issue was more vexed and emotional than eligibility for expensive paratransit services.  For example, ADA is clear that age, by itself, is not a disability — an important insight because people are not only living longer but remaining able-bodied longer.  The process by which a local government assesses people's disabilities is obviously highly emotional for the individual in question and challenging for all concerned. 

A similar issue applies to bus stops.  When we move bus stops further apart, lots of people complain, and people with mobility limitations complain bitterly.  But given the high cost of the close stop spacing, how should those claims be assessed?  In some transit agencies, the default policy has been: "If anybody complains, cave in."  I'm not ashamed of suggesting that transit agencies be more forceful in articulating the tradeoffs, which requires educating their elected officials about what's at stake.  Cora's done an excellent job of articulating one side of that tradeoff.

P1070842I'd also note that in Europe and Australia, stop spacing is wider than in North America.  In Europe, many stops also have major infrastructure that signals their permanence.  Everyone, whatever their mobility limitation, works with that.  The result is that service runs faster and more reliably.  So from that perspective, this is partly a question about how to transition to that outcome.  It could be done most peacefully if it happened over decades, but ours is an impatient age, and transit agencies are under too much pressure to wait that long.

Part of why this is less of a problem in Europe, I'm guessing, is that the permanence and infrastructure of many stops signals clearly that you should take them into account when deciding where to live.  If an older adult can anticipate becoming dependent on public transit in the future, the location of transit stops should be part of their location decision.  This, to me, fits into a much larger agenda of insisting that everyone who makes a location choice — especially about where to live — should be required to acknowledge the transit impacts of that choice.  Today it's still common to encounter the other sequence, in which someone (a) signs a lease or deed of sale or development agreement and then (b) yells at the transit agency because the service isn't what they desire. 

So as usual, I don't have an answer, but I do think the question needs to be seen as geometrically inevitable, which means that those who disagree with us have a rational and ethical basis for doing so. 

39 Responses to dissent of the week: impact of wider stop spacing

  1. Simon September 4, 2011 at 5:32 pm #

    Bus stops in Sydney, Australia have always seemed too close together to me, so it’s amazing to read that they’re even closer together in the US.

  2. Andrew ACG September 4, 2011 at 5:34 pm #

    I don’t remember where I read this, but it reminds me of the conflict between the two rationales for transit: on the one hand, you want to provide as high-quality, comprehensive and rapid service as possible because it’s a societal amenity that when done right, contributes positively to the economics and street life of a city. On the other hand, particularly in North America, transit is also a social service of last resort for those who do not have cars out of economic necessity.
    This sort of shows up when you consider those kind of on the other end of the spectrum. For example, I live in the Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago on the near northwest side, and occasionally I’ve wanted to go fairly far north on Western, a major north-south thoroughfare. Chicago’s gridded bus lines provide a convenient north-south bus service (rapid transit would involve going downtown and out again). However, because the bus has so many frequent stops and thus has such a long travel time northward, often I end up just not making the trip or waiting for my friend, who has a car, to drive me there. If I had a car I’d probably opt for just driving myself north more than half the time. If, because of quality of transit, you’re pushing people to cars, that’s also not a good thing.
    (The previous solution, of course, was that Western was one of the streets that had both local services stopping every 1/8th of a mile as well as an express service which I believed stopped every quarter-mile. However, for both fiscal and physical reasons this is a solution that is by no means universally applicable.)
    I don’t have a right answer either, of course, to the problem. But it is a tough question, and I think that when time and resources are limited we unfortunately have to make tough choices.

  3. Alon Levy September 4, 2011 at 7:11 pm #

    Most transit trips that would lose out from longer stop spacing are not those involving disabled people, but those involving bad weather, people carrying heavy bags, or hilly streets. So people shouldn’t be talking in terms of disabled vs. non-disabled people, but in terms of trips better-served by 200-meter stop spacing vs. those better-served by 500-meter stop spacing.
    I think Andrew’s implicitly hitting on the fundamental issue that transit use is not constant, but is affected by convenience. A transit policy that helps reduce travel time on the 90%+ of trips on which the saved in-vehicle travel time is a bigger issue than the extra walking time is going to allow for more transit service, and this is going to serve the remaining 10% of trips better.
    More concretely: when I take the fake trolley from the supermarket back to my apartment – invariably carrying heavy bags, or else I’d walk – I benefit from the trolley’s 150-meter spacing. On the other hand, if the trolley were made faster, with improvements including cutting two-thirds of the stops, the better service on most trips would raise ridership, and this would raise frequency even independently of the faster trip time. Thus, whereas now I only take the trolley if I’m carrying multiple bags or if I see it pulling into the supermarket, in such an upgraded situation I might wait for the trolley regularly, even taking it on the trip to the supermarket and not just on the trip back.

  4. Eric September 4, 2011 at 8:59 pm #

    Usually, when people cite bad weather or the need to carry stuff as an excuse for being unable to walk 1/2 mile, the real problem is one of not being prepared.
    As anyone who hikes regularly will attest, with appropriate clothing, one can walk outside for hours on end in almost any weather, while staying reasonably warm and dry. The fact that many people choose not to wear proper clothing while walking to the bus or waiting for it is their choice, but they have no right to complain if they get cold or wet because of their choice.
    As to carrying stuff, with a decent backpack or stroller, you can carry almost anything one would regularly need to carry without too much extra effort. Yes, walking 1/2 mile carrying heavy shopping bags sucks. But the problem is not the 1/2 mile distance, but the fact that shopping bags are simply not designed to carried with that much weight in them for that long. With a backpack or stroller, or even a reusable shopping bag, carrying groceries home is much easier than with the cheap bags the stores give you.
    So, for non-disabled people, the question becomes is it the responsibility of the individual to plan ahead and take the appropriate equipment necessary for whatever the walk to the bus stop is – be it 1/4 mile, 1/2 mile or 1 mile, or is it the responsibility of the transit system to make the stops really close together and move the buses at a snails pace, so people have the convenience of not having to bother to be prepared?
    I say, except for those that are truly disabled, the responsibility to be prepared should rest with the individual.

  5. Wad September 4, 2011 at 9:16 pm #

    @Andrew, does Chicago really run an express bus on Western that in effect skip every other stop?
    I ask because this might lead to the effect of riders walking to the stops of the faster buses anyway. This has happened in L.A.
    On L.A.’s Western Avenue, a busy north-south street very similar to Chicago’s, Metro had proposed to cancel the Rapid bus (it is still running in reduced form).
    It wasn’t because of low ridership, either. The problem was that north of the 10 Freeway, the Rapid stops are so close together that they provided no time advantage over the locals. As a frequent Western rider myself, I noticed that the effect had been for passengers who used to get on a local stop at, say 2nd or 4th Street, would walk an extra block to the local/Rapid stop at 3rd Street and catch the first bus that shows up.

  6. Becky September 4, 2011 at 11:44 pm #

    I’d also note that in Europe and Australia, stop spacing is wider than in North America. In Europe, many stops also have major infrastructure that signals their permanence.
    In Europe, how much of that is a result of higher average density? That is, there are more shops/offices/homes within a 2-block radius of a given stop?
    I say, except for those that are truly disabled, the responsibility to be prepared should rest with the individual.
    @Eric, an extra half-mile, even with groceries, may not sound like a lot. But if you have children with you, or are accompanying someone else who is not fully independent, you have to lug your stuff and their stuff and the groceries. At some point, it is literally not possible to be prepared for every likelihood.

  7. Paul September 5, 2011 at 12:17 am #

    @Eric, are you serious, or have you just crawled out from under a bridge?
    Yes, I could wear a Drizabone full length jacket over Grampian pants and alpine boots. But when my destination is the office that might all be a bit excessive. Not to say a bit silly.
    Yes, there is a responsibility on all of us to prepare for the conditions we might face. But that is a _reasonable_ responsibility. Excessive preparations required because the transit company doesn’t offer an adequate service will just put people back in their cars.

  8. GD September 5, 2011 at 1:17 am #

    This discussion hihglights the cultural differences between the U.S and Europe, and thus, maybe, the way those differences impact things such as stop spacing.
    It seems to me that in central Europe we (once?) view(ed?)the need to walk several hundred meters as not much of a burden (not keeping us from grumbling when we walk with heavy shopping bags), and definitely never as one that is in any way unfair (especially in our suburbia, however, our physical structures are rapidly approaching American standards and thus, potentially, behavior).
    regarding the two groups identified by Cora Potter:
    cognitively challenged people, I would argue, would profit the most from clearly recognizable stations that are located in prominent spots and remain there permanently. This is, as Jared notes, not necessarily the same as close spacing.
    The question of people with impaired mobility remains, and I’m fully aware of how problematic that is. Yet I can’t shake the impression –insert disclaimer about how very much I know this may be biased and me just stereotyping — that Europeans and Americans have different notions of impaired mobility and what that implies; this includes how much extra effort you can ask from a person with mobility impairment. I know physical therapists who recommend to old people that they walk and use public transit even if subsidized taxi services would be more convenient (and are still available on rainy days).

  9. Jack Horner September 5, 2011 at 5:16 am #

    There’s an interesting essay on the maths of stop spacing at

  10. Andre L. September 5, 2011 at 5:18 am #

    Yet another tricky issue without an easy answer. I’ll chime in the Europe vs US (or North America) points raised by fellow commentators and in the article.
    Currently, I’m living in a medium-size city (Tilburg) in The Netherlands working as a researcher. It has 202.000 inhabitants and it is not part of the major conurbation in the West of the country. I live 100m from my workplace but for any other trip I mostly drive.
    Being a 99% flat country with plenty of light rain (but, importantly, few storms), winter temps that rarely go below 35 F during daytime and seldom got over 80 F in summer, it takes much of the harsh weather conditions off the table and planners assume people will just walk when they cannot bike (cycling infrastructure is pervasive everywhere).
    Buses have few users overall, and stops are routinely spaced 600m apart or more. Routinely one would be expected to walk 1km to the nearest stop, and repeat the process at his destination. This add a lot of time to bus travel, so many people bike because it is faster. Recently, they even removed/refit some tram stops in Rotterdam and Amsterdam to speed up tracks and avoid backtracking in busier tramways.
    Near train stations (the country has 438 heavy rail stations, not counting subways, of which 413 have at least 32 daily services per direction calling at them), the planners just expect you will walk up to 20 min in flat terrain to get to destinations, and maps clearly show that. Sometimes connecting local services are available, but many smaller cities don’t have any urban buses if their furthest residential areas area a “mere” 2000m from station.
    In some cities, social house schemes use allocations to house the more frail closer to transit stops, at expense of young families (never mind that means they will use their car more).
    What about those with impaired mobility? Small electric quads, that run up to 18mph and can be driven on bike paths, are one resource used. As basic pensions are reasonably higher, it is expected the odd trip by taxi can be self-funded. However, there is just a shocking expectation that certain places will be just “out of easy reach”. Fair enough, walking infrastructure is also great with sidewalks, crossings etc. that don’t leave a person having to make a risky crossing in a blind spot of a 50mph fast flowing road.
    Countries like Italy, where I lived for a long time, take a different approach: there is no pervasive walking infrastructure and public transport is not that reliable at all. But they have some form of para-transit or dial-a-ride schemes for those living in small villages in mountains where it would be extremely harsh to expect a 80 year-old on walkers to walk 600m from the local train station to his house. They require advance reservation, and passengers are given a time frame (sometimes as large as 90 minutes) in which they have to be “ready” to be picked up at home.
    Regardless of the continent, the original counter-argument of this post is part of a larger issue and is misplaced. There are two separate, if interacting, factors.
    The issue of how to adapt for an aging society is not exclusive a transit-one, and even in that aspect, more solutions are available than merely stop spacing. After all, ultimately the only “fair” system is one that stops in anyone’s doorstep.

  11. Art Busman September 5, 2011 at 9:23 am #

    I think we all have to be reminded that for most of human evolution, 200K years, we have walked vast distances, elderly, young, pregnant, and all. Only recently, have we become sedentary whiners driving around a store parking lot just to park a few yards closer to the entrance. One reason Europeans are not as fat as Americans is that they walk a lot. I am always amazed at how much I walk when on vacation in Europe. It is not unreasonable to expect able-bodied and elderly to walk a quarter mile or half a mile for that matter to a bus stop. If a disabled person is unable to walk a quarter mile to a bus stop, then that person truly deserved paratransit service and as a society, we should provide that to them without quarrel. However, there are also many disabled people who can walk a quarter mile. We all need the exercise, senior, youth, whomever, and shouldn’t expect transit service to coddle our sedentary ways like cars.

  12. zefwagner September 5, 2011 at 9:35 am #

    The article linked to above by Jack Horner is interesting, but contains some flaws. The author claims that studies show that the cost to people from walking to transit is 2 to 3 times that of actually traveling on transit. That is only true in bad weather conditions or when the walking infrastructure is poor. In normal conditions walking time has an equal or lower cost than travel time. Ask any transit user and they will tell you that waiting at the stop has the highest cost, much higher than walking. At least with walking you are making progress to your destination, you have some control over the situation, and you can potentially run if need be. That’s usually less annoying than waiting and waiting for a late bus. The article also specifically deals with a tram, which can slow down, dwell, and speed up much faster than a bus. It also sounds like the tram is oriented to short trips, which is an issue I will discuss below.
    This article, http://www.vtpi.org/tranben.pdf, has a wealth of cost-benefit information, including this quote:
    “Under pleasant conditions, walking and cycling can have positive value, but under
    unpleasant or unsafe conditions, time spent walking, cycling and waiting for transit has
    costs two or three times higher than time spent traveling.”
    Given that Portland almost never has unpleasant weather (the drizzly rain hardly counts), as long as the sidewalks and crossings are safe this suggests my recommendations would not have a major cost to riders. Places that have a lot of snow or heavy rain might need closer stop spacing, as well as unsafe areas.
    I would also add that part of this question has to do with whether a transit line is primarily meant for short-distance or long-distance travel. People don’t want to walk farther for a short trip on transit, so for a bus or streetcar designed for short trips, shorter stop spacing is appropriate.
    This is the case with the Portland Streetcar. It may have very close stop spacing, but that makes sense because people are only hopping on for short distances. The total travel time is so low that people don’t really care about speed, either. The “milk run” local bus is the same idea–the danger is when a single bus line is designed for the milk run but most of the demand is for long-distance travel.
    I would argue that for most of Portland, transit should be optimized for long-distance travel. Most of Portland is flat, has a grid network of streets, is pleasant to walk and bike in, has good sidewalk and bicycle infrastructure, and in many areas has a lot of amenities concentrated together. This means that a great deal of short-distance travel can be accomplished through walking and cycling. A personal car or a car-share is also an option, obviously, and for short-distance travel this has little environmental impact. Buses (and trains) are better suited for longer trips between neighborhoods, not for travel within a neighborhood. Certain areas of Portland are different, and certain cities that lack cycling infrastructure or have steep hills may need more short-distance-oriented bus lines.

  13. Daniel Howard September 5, 2011 at 10:41 am #

    Have any agencies looked at closing out stops, but leaving them open for people with limited mobility? You can have stops close together with the wheelchair placard, and people with limited mobility can use those stops and flash a little ID at the driver to request a special stop. Able-bodied folks keep walking to the next stop. Maybe a passenger can flash their badge at a fare card sensor at the stop, and if they have been vetted limited mobility, a light goes on for the bus driver to stop, else a computerized voice tells the passenger that they have to walk a few blocks down to the next stop.

  14. mika September 5, 2011 at 11:47 am #

    Optimal stop spacing for any type-group is influenced by stop location, and IMO stop location should be viewed in paired arrival/departure trips.
    Except for bus loop hubs, most round trips will involve crossing a street one way. On a busy or wide street, a bus stop located near a safe crossing point is more useful than a stop that is geographically closer. If a bus route that stops at every short block is trimmed to every other cross street but the stops are offset on either side of the street, only one way of a round trip is affected. These are somewhat opposite cases, where stops are paired or offset on opposite sides of the street depending on what that street is like to cross.
    Disabilities vary so much that it is only viable to plan for generalities, but awareness of specifics helps to form more appropriately representative generalizations, and frequently strategies to address any specific challenge are beneficial to a broader segment of if not all potential passengers. For some physical impairments, standing is more of a challenge than walking – frequency and seating become more useful than tight stop spacing. For more than a few physical and cognitive challenges, an ability (such as processing visual information which may be a visual or cognitive issue) is not completely shuttered but requires more time and/or clarity than for a person with no such impairment. Can a bus be seen approaching and if more than one route services the stop can the route number be readily identified on the front and sides from some distance away?
    Public transit is used in combination with other modes of movement (walking, cycling, scooter, car, skateboard, etc.) and while distance to your stop is absolutely relevant it can’t be eliminated, and safe and comfortable access is not only in my opinion more important but also more the purview of transit and city planners. If getting to and from a more distant stop is a problem, there are more potential solutions than just adding or keeping additional stops.
    The part of the transit system I would like to see brought closer together is connection points (another issue for another day).

  15. Ben Smith September 5, 2011 at 2:32 pm #

    On a personal note, before going back to school, I lived on my own and for a period with my now ex. The grocery store was about 900m away, or a little more than a half mile. Since I tended to do a lot of groceries at once, I used a personal grocery buggy to put all my groceries in and walked home. On occasion, I would take a cab. Only a couple of times did I take the bus, but didn’t find it worthwhile since the vehicles on this route tended to be high floor, I still had to walk 150m to and 200m back from the stops, and since passes are so grossly overpriced it felt silly to use a transit token to travel such a short distance (yes, it would still be cheaper than a cab, but that at least gives you direct door to door ride).
    More to the topic, I can relate personally to the dilemma of accessibility versus performance. My grandmother, whose health is rapidly deteriorating, lives only a short distance to the main road with a bus stop at the intersection. The next closest stop is about 275m east at an intermediate street – just under 300m, which I would argue is the closest bus stops should be from each other. To the west the road bridges over a large valley, so it would be unlikely they would just relocate or consolidate her stop.
    With this in mind, I thought of a couple of solutions. One would be to allow passengers to flag down and request the driver to let you off in between stops. Many transit services already offer such benefits to female passengers at night, so why not expand it to passengers with disabilities for all times. Another option could be to convert every other stop into “special stops” which are designed to be used by seniors and those with special needs, and to encourage everyone else to use the standard stops.
    It is worth noting that both options, while not be encouraged, should be able to be used by the general public. The reasoning would be that the bus driver might assume the passenger is perfectly healthy and skip them, or that novice riders may not realize that they are expected to walk to the next stop if able and would get extremely pissed if their bus drove right by them because of it.

  16. John September 5, 2011 at 4:33 pm #

    No, the former X49 on western in Chicago stopped every 1/2 mile

  17. Andre L. September 5, 2011 at 4:43 pm #

    “One would be to allow passengers to flag down and request the driver to let you off in between stops.”
    It is not viable with any improvement over crappy basic bus service. Put a leveled platform, and it become dangerous (too steep) to allow passengers on/off the stops. Get a tram (streetcar), and you get signaling problems and other challenges with frequent unscheduled stops (it hurts the trend in automation of operations also). All of it introduces all sorts of disturbances on schedule, further slowing down service.
    “Many transit services already offer such benefits to female passengers at night
    I assume this is illegal, should one sue the agency for gender bias and gender-based discrimination. It is the same debate of single-sex subway cars – they are discriminatory and also bad policy because they send the message it is ok to touch/gropple women if they are not travelling in their exclusive rear/front car. It’s a made-for-court case. If an area is dangerous, it is so for men also, who have the right to on-demand stop.
    One possible approach is to have a more extensive and dense paratransit service coupled with less accommodating regular service. This is essentially what NYC does to avoid spending billions in retrofitting all subway stations with lifts, for instance.

  18. Casey September 6, 2011 at 9:39 am #

    This is a great topic, one that always invokes interesting responses.
    Here are several additional arguments FOR increased stop spacing that stem from my experience:
    – Reduced stop spacing can, in mixed flow traffic, help make bus bulbs and in-lane transit stops more palatable. The arguments always include impact on traffic, but with 4 stops a mile instead of 8, the argument can turn in favor of the bus. This transit-priority approach can be more pragmatic than BRT, and helps both speed/reliability and pedestrian access to transit.
    – Better (fewer) bike/bus interactions at stops and more contiguous bike lanes (where applicable)
    – Either takes advantage of existing or encourages new investments in transit access. essentially, I agree that reducing the number of stops can have unfair and unintended consequences if done wrong. At the same time, transit providers SHOULD be allowed to take advantage of a good pedestrian realm where it exists, and be encouraged/cajoled into taking on more responsibility of said realm when building capital projects.
    That’s the argument I wish I heard more of…We are on the one hand encouraging older adults to walk more and be active more often for their health. On the other, some are saying “god forbid anyone over 60 is forced to walk anywhere.” The sweet spot is understanding where walking is well-accommodated, or what needs to happen to get there, when discussing many urban instances of reduced stop spacing.

  19. EngineerScotty September 6, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    A good pedestrian environment is crucial. If and when the extra 200m or so involves walking on narrow or nonexisting sidewalks along busy highways, or multiple CROSSINGS of same, increasing stopping distance is probably a bad idea. And to emphasize a point made in the original thread–stop consolidation makes the most sense in areas where few stops are skipped; suburban bus routes have lots of stops but generally are faster, as most of these are passed by on a given run, so the effective stop distance is already higher. (And given that the ped environment in the suburbs if often lousy…)

  20. EL September 6, 2011 at 10:22 am #

    “it’s very, very hard to organize the mobility limitations of small, scattered numbers of people into facts.”
    No it’s not. A transit agency can track the locations and frequency of when the bus “kneelers” or wheelchair lifts are deployed. There are devices that do this automatically, including GPS and time-of-day and day-of-week data. You can easily use this historical data to better plan bus stop spacing.

  21. Eric Doherty September 6, 2011 at 10:48 am #

    For busy routes, the B-line model (TransLink, Vancouver Canada) may have something to offer. Stop spacing is about 1km, with occasional closer spacing at major destinations such as hospitals. But the local buses on the same route have frequent stops, about 5 -7 local stops for each B-line stop.
    For my local bus, I would want better reliability (or at least real-time arrival displays) before wider stop spacing. As it is, I almost never wait for the bus; I just start walking if it is not is sight. With the short stop spacing I can usually catch the bus if it comes by before I get to the intersection where I usually transfer.
    It makes a lot of sense to look carefully at how people are using transit on the different segments of each route, and try to understand why, before applying a blanket policy. Wider stop spacing everywhere seems like too simple a rule.

  22. Wai Yip Tung September 6, 2011 at 12:22 pm #

    Instead of making this a moral debate, can the close stop space advocate come up with a actual number for reasonable walking distance we should design for the disadvantaged population? 100m, 200m, 500m? How far can you reasonable walk between your destination and transit stop? You need to account not only for the stop spacing but that the destination may be off the route so that necessitate some extra walking.
    It is much better for us to work with an actual number. Otherwise we might be optimizing for thing that does not matter of infeasible.
    Here is some factoid I have measured.
    – The (indoor) perimeter of Target store in Emeryville is about 360m.
    – To get to the Emeryville Ikea’s entrance from the center of the parking structure is about 210m. From the furthest parking spot it to the entrance is 420m.
    – The (indoor) perimeter of the Ikea is about 450m.
    It is quite a workout to visit big box store!
    – To visit the Giants ballpark, from the center of the parking lot to the nearest entrance is about 450m. Then the inside perimeter of the ballpark is about 650m. A ball game is not such a spectator sport after all.
    – Visit San Francisco’s ferry building. Start from the main entrance, walk the length of the building to visit the stores, then check out the outdoor market. Finally get back to the main entrance. That’s 580m. If I can tempt you to visit the great burning sculpture outside, that’s another 330m round trip.
    So I really want to see a reasonable number that people expect to walk. And we can use this to check against the range of urban activities we are able to enjoy within that distance.

  23. Alon Levy September 6, 2011 at 4:17 pm #

    Becky: for rapid transit, generally density is correlated with narrower stop spacing, not wider spacing. All else being equal, higher density means people need to travel shorter distances, so average speed can be lower; it also means that each stop will have more people at a fixed radius, allowing shrinking the radius while keeping the number of people in range constant.
    Ben Smith, Andre: letting people out at night anywhere is not just for women. At least in New York, the rule is that late at night, a passenger can request a stop at any location on the route as long as the driver deems it safe. The intention may be to increase women’s safety, but the rule itself is gender-neutral.

  24. Beige September 6, 2011 at 7:18 pm #

    My own bias is as a healthy person only 39 years old, and I’ve never lived in the downtown center of a really big city or outside the US, so I’ve only experienced the half-million-person-Americen-city sort of public transit, and my feeling is we’re already running a service basically primarily useful for the semi-disabled. The operators drive like maniacs but the buses spend so much time stopped they average only the same sort of speed you’d expect on a bicycle in urban riding complete with stop signs and traffic lights and such. But the bus isn’t necessarily even headed directly toward your destination. The bicycle is faster, more reliable, more consistent, and more comfortable than bouncing around inside a noisy bus. Once you get into that situation of waiting at the side of the road and riding the bus in the wrong direction at bicycle speed and then waiting at the side of the road for your “connection” and riding at bicycles speed to your destination you could leave the bicycle at home and run to your destination in comparable time.
    So I can see how it would be a very big change to try to speed this up and those people it’s serving well (or at any rate serving less uselessly) would be very worried about change.
    (Isn’t changing clothes when you get to work the most normal thing in the world? Obviously if you bike or run any significant distance (in the USA that would be known as a “short commute”) you’d be changing, and in winter even driving you’d want to dress for the winter and take off the boots and the long underwear when you get in.)

  25. Andre Lot September 7, 2011 at 1:06 am #

    @Beige: the weather of most of US is far harsher on the cyclist than the average weather on European cities. Many offices also don’t have, and couldn’t be reasonably expected to have decent (= comparable to home) shower and changing facilities. Imagine expecting an office with 40 female employees, all having to shower, fix their hair and wear make up before start working. Non-sense.

  26. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org September 7, 2011 at 3:25 am #

    EL.  Yes, we have lift deployment data, and it generally shows that people using lifts are scattered thinly everywhere.  The question remains:  Do you really retain a bus stop solely because one person in a wheelchair lives nearby?  Jarrett

  27. Ben Smith September 7, 2011 at 10:59 am #

    @Wai Yip Tung: I think you are on to something. We claim the maximum acceptable walking distance for a healthy person is 400m, maybe we should have a standard for people with mobility difficulties as well. Say if someone can’t walk more than 200m with ease, then they qualify for special shuttle services.
    This is why my suggestion for special stops I think makes so much sense. On a 1/2 mile grid, it means the bus will usually stop every 1/4 mile. However on occasion, it may make special stops at every 1/8 mile.

  28. Andre Lot September 7, 2011 at 12:46 pm #

    @Ben Smith: your proposal has one shortcoming – it completely derails scheduling by increasing the expected variance on trip times. You can paddle up schedules to accommodate worst-case scenarios, but then what is the point of consolidating stops first place? And what about streetcar spacing, for instance?

  29. david vartanoff September 7, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    Jarrett, In my experience the single whlchr rider is a straw man. That is, they board at many different stops some heavily used some not. As to general ridership, the Mission St buses in SF are exemplary as very dense usage. In the commercial area 14th to 30th dozens of riders alight/board at stops a block or so apart. Many if not most have purchases/children complicating their trips as well as a serious % of elderly/mobility challenged. IMHO theoretical stop spacing is a waste of time. The real parameters should be the density of ridership and the origins/destinations involved. Finally, while super express services try to satisfy door to door desires, close stops serve vibrant business corridors. Many streets need both close stop locals and limited stop expresses.

  30. Chris, Public Transport September 7, 2011 at 6:24 pm #

    In the long run, we would hope that increasing the distance between stops would encourage those who cannot walk to locate near the remaining stops, which are likely to be higher density apartments or convalescent homes.
    In my opinion, transit should not be designed to accommodate really short trips. As several commenters have mentioned, they will walk or use a bike rather than wait for a bus to take them one mile or less. In the United States, almost no place is going to have the ridership that would justify operating transit service at a high enough frequency to make it worthwhile to wait for a bus to go one mile.
    In fact, I believe transit is most competitive on trips of five to ten miles in length (for trips of more than ten miles, cars are more competitive). I haven’t thought about it, but I bet the cities where transit is most successful have relatively few trips of ten miles or longer. Seattle and Portland come to mind as cities where the vast majority of all residents are within 10 miles of downtown.
    Transit is not a taxi, and we cannot provide door to door service to people. Local stops every 1/4 mile (if an area is hilly the stop spacing can be closer) seems like a good compromise between trying to achieve faster trip times and still taking into account the needs of the elderly and disabled.

  31. david vartanoff September 8, 2011 at 10:28 am #

    @Chris PT, Perhaps we have different images of transit and its users. Using the bus to navigate between the various stores along a commercial strip with one’s increasing load of purchases seems a good use to me. As to bicycle use in a dense ‘hood like the Mission, this doesn’t work for all of us. Frankly, parking and locking the bike at each store is slower than waiting for the bus.
    Ultimately, IMHO, transit needs to be designed to service many different users with differing trip needs. I do not mean an LCD fail, but a well managed mix of local, limited, and express routes.

  32. Lauri Kangas September 9, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

    The calculations in the Victoria PTUA document don’t look at all correct to me. Assuming the generalized cost of walking is 2-3 times that of riding in the vehicle was already pointed out. This is far from what we use in Helsinki.
    The calculation for only losing 17 seconds at a stop is also most probably not true. It may hold if your stop spacing is 200 m as the vehicles will never gather much speed. If stop spacing if 400 m, acceleration and braking times will be more than 10 seconds. 7 seconds is also unrealistic for a stop time. 10 seconds is a bare minimum. For a slow speed system 30 seconds might be enough. For a high speed system with large passenger flows as stop can easily add 60 seconds.
    Even stops that aren’t used much can have a high cost. Public transport needs to run to a schedule. Preferably a very precise schedule. Adding random factors to this complicates matters. If you have layover points, you will have to pad each section based on the probability of usage for each stop. So each infrequently used stop stop will either add disproportionately to running times or cause irregularity.
    Finally the highly popular new French tramways have a stop spacing of about 500 m or slightly less than a third of a mile. Walking conditions are improved between the stops as part of the projects so that it is easy to walk along the line to the next stop. Walking conditions matter a lot. Frequency also matters as do other service parameters.

  33. Ben Smith September 9, 2011 at 5:36 pm #

    @david vartanoff, the ideal stop spacing is a compromise between convenient, “steps away” access to points along the line, while covering enough distance between stops that riders feel as if they are “making progress” to their destination.
    I would argue this sweet spot should be between 400m and 320m, or a quarter to a fifth of a mile apart. If the stops get much wider, local coverage begins to suffer. Likewise, if the stops get much closer, then you begin to feel as if you are stuck in a stop-and-go vehicle.
    Next time you are driving on city streets, pay attention to when you have stop. Use your odometer and/or Google Maps to measure out your distances. Keeping local access in mind, you will find that when you can go about 320-400m without stopping you will feel as if you are cruising over a relatively large amount of distance before needing to slow down. Once you get below this point however, you will feel as if you are having to stop again just as you are getting up to speed.

  34. david vartanoff September 10, 2011 at 10:31 am #

    @Ben Smith, I don’t drive.(vision issues) I DO walk quite a lot. As to your “sweet spot” while that might work for a light usage route or for collecting drones to work in either a CBD or factory area, one size cannot fit all on major transit corridors with multiple areas of retail. BTW, when commuting to Cal Berkeley for classes, I DO elect to take the “Rapid” which makes 2 stops in the mile+ to campus.
    I should say that the chorus of “stop elimination =improved bus service” here in the the SF Bay area raises my hackles as bus agencies fail to implement more effective and rider useful schemes such as signal preempts, rear door/all door loading, sidewalk TVMs, or queue jumps.

  35. Nathanael September 16, 2011 at 5:21 pm #

    OK, there’s an aspect of this which hasn’t been considered too much.
    Until the passage of the ADA, the vast majority of housing stock in the US was non-accessible, and the only reliable way to get accessible housing was to own your own single-family house and modify it to suit.
    Which usually meant, being in one of the areas which is hardest to serve by mass transportation in the FIRST place.
    This happened to me just three years ago when I had to find a wheelchair-accessible place to live, fast. The downtown of the small town I live in was impossible; the housing stock is mostly 19th century. The apartment buildings mostly date to the 70s at the latest. There were were maybe two apartment buildings in town which were post-ADA, both with no vacancies.
    So I ended up beyond the bounds of the bus routes and beyond the sidewalks, completely car dependent.
    So there’s a reason why, apart from people living in institutions, people with mobility impairments are scattered thinly across the landscape.
    As apartment building stock is slowly replaced in keeping with ADA requirements, eventually there will be more mobility-impaired people concentrated in dense urban centers where it’s relatively easy to support multiple routes, frequent stops, etc. — where overlapping local and limited service is desirable, or where even the limiteds need to stop frequently just to keep the turnover going.
    But apartment building stock turnover is *slow*, and the ADA is only a 1992 law IIRC, with other countries’ versions being even more recent than that.
    So I think that this problem will in some ways ameliorate itself as the housing stock is replaced.

  36. Nathanael September 16, 2011 at 5:24 pm #

    As a followup, David Vartanoff has an important point: stop spacing can’t be a “one size fits all” enterprise. Stop spacing in a rural area, in an outer suburban area, in an area of rowhouses, and in a dense inner commercial district are all different matters which must be addressed differently.

  37. Nathanael September 16, 2011 at 5:29 pm #

    Trying to think of a pithier way to put my first comment.
    How about:
    “If we built enough fully accessible housing next to the bus stops we kept, we wouldn’t have this problem. The ADA and similar laws are trying to fix this problem but it won’t be fixed until nearly the entire housing stock turns over.”

  38. Susan De Vos July 16, 2012 at 10:15 am #

    It is not clear to me that Hardin or others know that the U.S. is very different from Canada, Australia or a European country in that it has a Civil Rights Law known as the American With Disabilities Act or ADA.
    In most countries, public transportation does not have to take disability into account. The more enlightened countries may have a “separate but equal” paratransit service. Many riders of paratransit could be Mainstreamed without too much difference to current conditions.

  39. EngineerScotty July 16, 2012 at 1:58 pm #

    Susan brings up an interesting point.
    Under the ADA, transit agencies are mandated to provide transit for the disabled, including paratransit services; and furthermore are expected to do so out of their own budgets–it is, mostly, an unfunded mandate from Uncle Sam.
    Paratransit does not exist in places without regular transit service.
    While I think mobility for the disabled is a valuable service to provide; the way it is presently funded disadvantages transit, as many transit agencies have dedicated and limited funding streams from which to fund both paratransit and regular operations. What if paratransit funding instead came out of the road budget?