Designing Bus Routes and Schedules
This article is the second in a series of articles about how bus routes and schedules get designed, from the initial determination of the route to ongoing maintenance of the schedule. Practices mentioned in the articles are ones that I engage in on a daily basis that I have found to be useful in my twenty-eight years of studying and following transit systems. TCRP Report 100 , put out by the federal government, is essential reading on this subject.
Part II: Placement of Bus Stops
In Part I, I described some criteria to use when developing your initial route. In Part II, I will talk about how to locate the bus stops along your new route.
The first factor that should be considered when placing bus stops is the appropriate distance between each one. Current trends suggest the placement of bus stops approximately one-quarter mile apart from each other. In areas of higher density bus stops can be placed more frequently, but never nearer than one-eighth of a mile apart. Actual stop placement will be determined by a number of factors, including the presence of trip generators, transfer opportunities with other routes, and pedestrian access. Bus stops for express routes should be placed every 1/2 - 1 mile depending on intersecting bus routes and traffic generators.
Adopting guidelines which allow for wider stop spacing offers several advantages to the transit system. First, fewer stops will definitely increase your operating reliability and possibly your operating speed as well. Customers are likely to view the route as much faster than one with more stops even if the travel time is the same. Second, fewer bus stops will result in lower maintenance costs for the company, as there will be fewer stops to clean. Third, fewer stops makes it more likely the company will have the budget to construct stop amenities such as benches, shelters, and real-time arrival information at each stop. Fourth - and this is a practical benefit - the fewer the stops the easier you will be able to have your stops approved by your city's Public Works department. Although we would like to believe that everyone is in favor of additional transit service, the reality is that many people do not like the addition of bus stops. Home owners, for example, do not generally want to have a bus stop right outside their door. Businesses will worry about the loss of on-street parking spots. The fewer the stops you wish to place the less likely that you will have to place a stop right in front of a home, and the fewer on-street parking spots you will have to remove.
Once you have tentatively placed your stops on a map, you should make a site visit to determine the actual placement at the intersection. Proper bus stop placement takes into account several factors.
The first order of business is to decide whether your bus stop should be located at the near side or at the far side of the intersection. The preference of most North American transit systems is to locate stops at the far side of the intersection unless operational problems mandate near side stops, but certain large transit systems, most notably Toronto, prefer near side stops.
In effect, although rarely discussed, an easy rule of thumb to use when considering whether to place stops at the near side or the far side of an intersection is whether the bus stop is in a traffic lane. If a bus stop is not in a traffic lane, then far side stops are preferred because doing so does not hamper vehicles from making right turns. However, if a bus stop is in a traffic lane, near side stops are preferred to avoid the danger of vehicle queuing behind a bus in the intersection. Many transit providers have bus stop design guidelines that specify when near and far side stops are to be used. Some transit systems like clustering stops at transfer points at two of the four corners to make transferring easier.
Where possible, bus stops should be located at traffic signals, or at least marked crosswalks, in order to ensure that pedestrians can cross safely. Doing this is especially important along major arterial streets with speed limit of forty mph or higher.
It is federal law that any new bus stops created must be accessible to people in wheelchairs. If a concrete landing is not present at the proposed stop location, then the cost of constructing a landing needs to be included in the capital cost of your new bus stop. While a landing would satisfy federal law, without access to the landing the stop will not really be useful. The lack of sidewalks in suburban areas is a problem for many reasons, including the difficulty it causes in transit access. For safety reasons I suggest not placing any bus stops in areas that do not have sidewalks - doing so will likely result in patrons accessing the stop by walking in the street, especially in the winter when snow will cover any dirt paths that may exist.
In addition to a landing for wheelchair boarding and a sidewalk, the bus will need a certain amount of space to pull in and align itself flush with the curb. The amount of red curb required depends on the size of the bus and whether the stop is nearside, farside, or mid block. Where possible, avoid bus zones that contain driveways, especially driveway entrances in front of the bus stop, in order to avoid the potential for cars to turn right into the driveway in front of the bus.
Overall, bus stop location and placement is a sometimes difficult process that takes into account many different factors. Time spent on this step is worthwhile because the number and location of bus stops is a primary factor in determining the success of the route. In Part III of this series we will look at how we determine how long it will take the buses to drive our new route, including the points at which the bus will wait for time.