Reed Silvers, Sustainable Transportation Fellow, discusses his role in GPCOG's Transit Stop Inventory and all the factors that are considered when creating an accessible and efficient public transit system.
Growing up in suburban Cumberland, ME, driving was a way of life. So much of daily life involved cars: driving from home, to school, to work, to appointments, etc. The other transportation option was sometimes a bicycle. Driving mostly everywhere is simply what we did. Living in Portland and seeing bicycles and buses every day has been a difference from my car-centric upbringing and made me aware of the importance of multi-modal transportation options. Since working on transportation projects for GPCOG, I now notice and appreciate the extent of our region's many transportation providers, the work that goes into running them, and how many southern Mainers rely on their efficiency.
This realization was underscored when I recently began a new project assisting the transportation team with a transit stop inventory. Our goal is to collect data on the condition and accessibility of all 925 bus stops in the GPCOG region. We are about halfway through the inventory, and I have learned there are so many factors that go into each stop that even a city planning nerd like me never thought about. Should bus stops be placed before or after intersections? What passenger frequency warrants a shelter over only a sign? Could a person with a disability use the stop? These questions are only a few of the many considerations transit planners must take. Our team is assessing each stop with an eye toward accessibility, placement, and quality.
The accessibility of the stops is the most crucial factor in ensuring all riders have proper access to the bus. To ensure Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance, there must be a “landing area” about seven feet back from the sign where the bus pulls up. This should be a flat, concrete or asphalt pad that allows for a smooth entry onto the bus for all riders and especially those using canes, walkers, wheelchairs, or other mobility aids. A well-maintained sidewalk could double as a landing area. Similarly, there must be a “clear zone.” This is the same idea as the landing area except it is 30 feet back from the sign and functions as a flat surface for riders to exit the bus from the rear doors. If there is a shelter, it must also have a fully accessible area spacious enough for wheelchairs. In addition, the benches must be secure and large enough to meet ADA standards.
This stop at the intersection of Congress St. and Casco St. has a shelter and a sidewalk doubling as a clear zone and landing area. The shelter even has some art on the sides and an extra bench.
Throughout the inventory we found mixed results for these standards. Most bus stop shelters had a big enough area to house a person in a wheelchair, but we have yet to discover a bus stop bench that was deep enough to be considered ADA accessible. We have found the landing areas and clear zones to be inconsistently present. Some stops have clear concrete pads along the sidewalk landscaping that make for excellent flat areas. Others are just signs posted on the grass next to the shoulder of the road, in some cases hidden by overgrown vegetation. Surprisingly, parking was also allowed at dozens of bus stops, allowing personal vehicles to block an area that should be left open for buses.
In addition to these considerations, posting transit maps and schedules is another important factor. In our inventory so far, we have discovered that most stops have a Southern Maine Transit Tracker sign with information posted for riders to call, text, or look online to find bus arrival time information. However, this feature should be ubiquitous and there are still dozens of stops without them. Additionally, a rider without a phone or smartphone would rely on physical transit maps posted at bus stops and these were much sparser. If they were present, oftentimes they were out of date.
A stop on Route 1 in Falmouth that is only a post with a sign on the shoulder of the road. While this location may not warrant a whole shelter, its placement is along uneven grass without a safe, level area to stand or sit beyond the shoulder of the road.
High bus ridership is a key tool for our region to reduce traffic congestion and curb climate change and public health impacts from vehicle emissions. According to a report by Smart Growth America, transportation accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other sector in the United States. In Maine, it accounts for 54% of all greenhouse gas emissions. To encourage bus ridership, the stops should be pleasant and highly visible. The whole system must be as accessible, frequent, and reliable as possible. GPCOG’s transit plan, Transit Together, is part of the ongoing work to ensure this. In addition to recommending the current inventory, the plan recommends improvements to the bus network that are already being implemented. Starting in late August 2023, several lines will be changed, and frequencies increased to better serve the needs of the region.
For your next trip out, let a bus handle the driving. It will be one less car on the road and one less parking meter you’ll have to pay.
Reed holds a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Planning with a minor in Political Science from Plymouth State University in Plymouth, New Hampshire. While his love of the outdoors drew him to the White Mountains for college, his heart lies with his home state of Maine, and he is excited to return to the Greater Portland community. Reed grew up in Cumberland, lived briefly in Raymond, and now resides in Portland. While he has had a passion for environmental sustainability since a young age, the love for his specific niche in GIS and sustainable city planning was discovered while taking urban geography courses in college. His experience as an intern at a New Hampshire regional planning commission further piqued his interest in the field. As a Resilience Corps Fellow, Reed is eager to help create pedestrian-safe streets, improve transit, and engage in the community. In his free time, Reed enjoys cross country and alpine skiing, hiking, camping, playing tennis, and frequenting Portland’s many cafes and restaurants.