Transit Planning and Partnerships

Planning for successful transit requires the cooperation of several agencies and the community at large. Transit agencies are semi-autonomous in most cities, yet transit runs on streets or state highways under the jurisdiction of a city or county public works department, or a state Department of Transportation (DOT). Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO) assume overall responsibility for transit planning in many areas. However, in some cases transit is owned and operated by a county or municipal transportation agency. Cooperation and collaboration is essential regardless of organizational structure.

The following describes in general the respective roles of transit agencies, public works departments, and MPOs:

  • Transit agencies generally assume responsibility for the actual operation of a transit system. They usually own a bus fleet or light (sometimes heavy) rail system, hire bus drivers, plan routes, and run the buses and/or trains. They also conduct minor capital improvement projects like placing bus shelters and transit stops, and major capital improvements like building new light rail lines.
  • Public works or transportation departments usually own and manage the streets on which buses run, and in most cases that includes the sidewalks pedestrians use to access transit. They must be notified when transit exists or is planned on roads under their jurisdiction so that all road construction and reconstruction projects incorporate elements that facilitates transit.
  • MPOs often take a lead role in planning for capital-intensive transit corridors such as light rail, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), and ferries. MPOs should coordinate as much as possible with local governments to ensure land uses surrounding transit stops along these routes are planned and developed with access to transit as a priority.

Cooperation, coordination and collaboration in transit planning between these and other agencies are important because:

  • Most transit users walk to a bus or train stop, get on the bus or train, get off, and then walk to their final destination. Their needs as pedestrians extend beyond the bus or train stop to and from the surrounding neighborhood. Most transit agencies assume responsibility only for their stops, stations, and park-and-ride lots, but not for sidewalks, crossings, or other pedestrian elements on nearby streets. So it is important for them to work cooperatively with the appropriate agencies to ensure safe pedestrian access to transit stops. Detailed information on access is provided in the section Improving Transit Stop-Station Access.
  • Transit agencies usually need permission from the street authority to place shelters within the public right-of-way. The best placement for waiting passengers is not always in the best interest of passing pedestrians; shelters should not obstruct clear walking paths.
  • Pedestrians must often cross busy streets to access a transit stop. Transit agencies should collaborate with local transportation agencies to insure that pedestrians can safely cross the street to access transit. Pedestrians typically have to cross the street either coming or going when using transit since stops are on opposite sides of the street.
  • Transportation agencies sometimes view transit as an impediment to traffic flow and insist on bus turnouts at all stops. Transit operators dislike turnouts because they make it more difficult for bus drivers to reenter the traffic stream. A meeting of the minds usually results in a good compromise that satisfies both parties.

The FHWA document, Pedestrian Safety Guide for Transit Agencies contains strategies for transit planning and partnerships as well as examples and success stories. The document covers:

  • Actions to improve pedestrian safety and access
    • Internal actions
    • Organizational improvements
    • Service and facility modification
  • Strategies for developing partnerships
    • Employee training
    • Interagency partnerships
    • Community partnerships and education
    • Collaborative transit stop planning
    • Joint maintenance programs
    • Developer interaction
  • Tools for identifying pedestrian safety and access issues
  • Strategies to increase the safety of pedestrians accessing transit
    • Engineering strategies
    • Education and encouragement strategies
  • Background information on pedestrian access to transit and legal cases

Hard copies of the Guide (available for free) can be ordered at FHWA's web site.