Improving Transit Stop/Station Access

Riders need safe and convenient routes to get to and from transit. Riders will typically walk one-fourth to one-half mile (about a 5 to 10-minute walk for most people) to and from transit. Riders typically walk to a transit stop, board the bus or train, get off, and then walk to their final destination. Thus, the riders' needs as pedestrians extend beyond the bus stop to and from the surrounding neighborhood. However, transit agencies usually assume responsibility only for their stops, stations, and parking lots, and not for sidewalks, crossings, or other pedestrian elements on nearby streets. As a result, pedestrians must often cross busy streets and cut through parking lots to get to the bus stop or train station.

Transit agencies need to cooperate with local transportation agencies to improve pedestrian access to transit. Building sidewalks will make bus stops and train stations more accessible. Safe and convenient crossings are also essential, especially for midblock bus stops. New stops and stations can be placed with pedestrian (and bicycle) access in mind.

Access to transit stops located on surface streets

Choosing transit stops for buses, light rail, and bus rapid transit (BRT) is a complicated task, as each location must take into account three factors:

  1. Passengers (stops must be near places where there's an expectation of riders)
  2. Access (if a stop can't be located right where riders are, they must be able to get to the stop conveniently)
  3. Traffic characteristics (buses can't always stop where riders want to be because of complex traffic patterns, especially at intersections)

Therefore, access to transit also involves selecting the right location for stops, especially for bus stops located on surface streets. The Transportation Research Board (TRB)'s Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) Report 19: Guidelines for the Location and Design of Bus Stops provides information on locating and designing bus stops in various operating environments.

Since there is an element of risk in crossing busy streets, safety improvements must be made at transit stops. The safety of pedestrians can also be enhanced using a variety of transit operation improvements (such as consolidating, relocating or eliminating stops) usually implemented by the transit agency in cooperation with the road authority. Convenient access by passengers must remain at the forefront of all transit stop planning: simply eliminating stops because they are perceived as unsafe will not be satisfactory to riders who cannot walk very far.

When a transit stop is located midblock, a single crossing should be provided to serve both directions of bus travel. If a crosswalk is marked midblock, it should be behind the bus stop for several reasons:

  • Pedestrians cross behind the bus, where they can see oncoming traffic (crossing in front of a bus blocks visibility).
  • The bus driver can accelerate as soon as passengers have left the bus.
  • The bus driver won't accidentally hit a pedestrian crossing in front of the bus, out of the driver's cone of vision.

At intersections, farside stops are usually preferred for a variety of safety and operational reasons. One safety advantage is that pedestrians cross in back of the bus. Operationally, a far side stop often improves intersection capacity by allowing motor vehicles to make right turns even when the bus in loading and unloading. However, transit operators often must place stops nearside, for reasons such as a concentration of users at a nearside corner, or because the bus route makes a right turn at that intersection. In all cases, the safety and convenience of pedestrians must be a high priority.

Access to light rail and BRT on dedicated rights-of-way

Transit agencies often build park-and-ride lots at rail and BRT stations for riders who live far from the station. Once these riders park their cars, they become pedestrians as they walk through the parking lot to the station itself. These parking lots can present challenges for pedestrians walking to the station. Pedestrians can be at risk of being struck by motorists looking for, driving into, and backing out of parking spaces; they must also dodge cars and buses on access roads and passenger drop-off areas.

Park-and-ride lots can be designed to reduce these risks to pedestrians. For example, sidewalks can be built between rows of facing cars so that pedestrians don't have to walk in the aisles. Pedestrian routes should cross access roads where drivers will expect and see them. Bus loading areas should be positioned so that pedestrians don't have to cross between parked buses. Because hundreds of people may get off a train at once, there must be enough sidewalk space adjacent to the station entrance so that no one is forced to walk along the roadway.

Access to BRT on surface streets

Bus rapid transit often operates in a hybrid mode; it can run on dedicated rights-of-way on special tracks and also act like a bus on streets. Often the special tracks are laid in the median of a wide thoroughfare or boulevard. Stations are typically far apart to improve operational efficiency. This creates situations where stops will attract a large number of riders within a busy street environment, with multiple challenges:

  • Providing enough waiting area for passengers
  • Providing safe and convenient street crossings
  • Ensuring that waiting, crossing, boarding, and de-boarding passengers don't interfere with the flow of pedestrians just walking by

Transit stop/station design

Providing a few amenities can make waiting for the bus or train a much more pleasant experience. Shelters with seating can offer protection from rain, snow, wind, and sun. Many transit agencies provide shelters at frequently-used bus stops and at outdoor rail stations. The shelters should be positioned so riders in wheelchairs have enough room to enter and exit the shelter. The sidewalk behind the shelter should be wide enough for two wheelchair users to pass each other and to handle the expected levels of pedestrian activity, including those who are just walking by. The best location for bus shelters is in the furniture zone, away from the walking zone.

Schedules and route maps should be placed at bus stops or in train stations to orient riders. Current technology makes it easy to have video monitors with bus arrival times in real time, displaying the number of minutes until the next bus or train and its destination.

Nighttime lighting is important for passenger safety and security. Lighting makes it easier for riders to watch their step so they don't trip on station escalators or while boarding the bus. With lighting, drivers are more likely to see riders crossing the street. Riders are more secure while they're waiting because they can see their surroundings and watch for suspicious activity.

Transit must be made accessible to riders with disabilities, who often don't have other travel options. Federal regulations require design treatments such as station elevators and tactile strips along platform edges (to allow visually-impaired riders who use canes to detect the edge of a platform). Adequate room should exist to operate wheelchair lifts (minimum ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities [ADAAG] requirement is 8 ft). Many transit agencies also provide large-print maps, make audio announcements of upcoming stations and bus stops, designate wheelchair-boarding areas, and operate low-floor buses.