Posted: January 2016

January 4, 2016

Engineering for Transit Route Decisions: Part 3

Image of transit riders waiting for a bus at a transit shleter

Transit route decisions are a complex web of decisions, made in a progression based on ridership research and plausible route alignment. Part 1 in our series explored initial considerations of riders and the qualifications of efficient routes, Part 2 detailed route alignment, which includes elements like design, timing and jurisdiction.

All these logistical factors make up the fundamentals for a successful route. The final piece of the transit route is what we call “last-mile connectivity” – the idea that difficulty with a transit route is often unrelated to the literal route, but the surrounding factors like sidewalks, bike lanes, shelters, park and rides and more. But again, these items that are essential for enhanced ridership come with additional burdens that need to be accounted for.

Using transit shelters as an example, we’ll show how last-mile connectivity can be affected by federal, state and local guidelines; site limitations; and budget and time for design.

Federal, state and local guidelines
A typical transit shelter must meet many federal, state and local requirements to be installed. Most importantly, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires transit shelters to be accessible, and the site and shelter design must meet specific federal ADA requirements.

DOTs and local municipalities may have additional restrictions on the size, type, and style of shelter that can be installed, like meeting structural requirements for wind and impact resistance or fitting local architectural standards – these two can often be at odds with each other. Moreover, since shelters are considered a structure, permits are needed, which can vary based on the jurisdictions.

Site Limitations
Even when the regulatory environment is favorable to a shelter, a survey of the site may reveal other limitations that can affect the preferred location of a shelter.

Often, the road right-of-way is insufficient to accommodate a shelter, so agreements with private land owners are needed. Sometimes business owners are amiable to having a transit stop, since it will provide an amenity for their customers, but others do not share that philosophy. In those cases, a municipality could use eminent domain, but the easier path is often to identify a new, less-desirable, but easier-to-approve site.

Another consideration for the shelter location is whether the stop will need access to power for lighting and other amenities like a fare vending machine or real-time bus arrival information, which can add to the construction and ongoing operating costs. With GPS information common on buses, real-time arrival information is becoming the standard for transit agencies. That information can be provided via a phone app, or via an electric sign at the stop. But again, those amenities require electricity as well as internet access to connect to the GPS information. Solar power has become a popular alternative for shelters. If a site is able to accommodate power requirements, innovative partnerships between utility providers and transit agencies can help to offset some of the costs.

Budget and time
Finally, the shelter design itself may take into account all of the above, but run into other roadblocks. Often, budget dictates selecting a shelter that is “off the shelf” and ordered from a manufacturer. Alternatively, a custom designed shelter may be developed by the transit agency for uniformity throughout the system, or by a municipality to match streetscaping and other urban design elements. Then other amenities, such as benches, bike racks, and signage for transit, wayfinding, and advertising must be considered as well. Once a location is selected and surveyed, permits and agreements are in place, and site, shelter, structural, and electrical designs are complete, a construction firm is selected. Although typical construction can often be completed in a week, the manufacture and delivery of the shelter can take several months.

Altogether, these decision points affect the crucial last-mile connectivity that’s so essential in a successful transit route. Every challenge that Davis & Floyd faces in planning a transit route pays off with a rewarding experience for riders, encourages communities to embrace transit opportunities, and builds upon existing infrastructure to ease transportation elsewhere while connecting our state.

About the Author — Sharon Hollis, AICP, is a Senior Transportation Planner with Davis & Floyd who is responsible for project management and planning support for a range of local and regional transit planning studies in rural, suburban and urban settings throughout the country.