Rhode Island’s new bus stop guide could spread good ideas

July 19, 2016

Michael Andersen, local innovation staff writer


A rendering from the draft typology in Rhode Island's proposed bus stop Design Guide. Images: RIPTA.

Biking and busing belong together. But too many streets put them at cross purposes.

"Everyone thinks about the conflicts between cars and bikes and pedestrians and bikes, but buses and bikes have their own set of issues," says Greg Nordin, a senior planner with the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority. "While they have a common interest in getting people out of cars, they don't always play nicely."

The basic issue: the humble bus stop. In many cases, it's too humble.

RIPTA's forthcoming Bus Stop Design Guide is one state's effort to standardize the idea that bus stops deserve more than 50 feet of curb space and a metal post. In order to help street designers think carefully about the issues at play in bus stop design, it's expected to include a list of standard bus stop designs. Here's the draft typology (PDF).

Transit planner: Bikes should be 'part of the fabric' but 'as separated as possible'

Nordin said such guides are "pretty common in the transit industry." Rhode Island's will be unusual because it's the main public transit agency for all of the nation's smallest state.

"If you're standing at a bus stop in Burrillville, it's going to have some of the same elements as a bus stop in Westerly," he said.

When it comes to bikes, Nordin said, the goal is to "keep them as part of the fabric" of a street that has a bus line but to "keep those two elements as separated as possible at all times."

Hence the stop category that'll probably be most useful to improving biking in Rhode Island: floating transit islands. Common abroad but rare in the United States, they're in use in nearby Cambridge, Massachusetts, as well as Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland.

Today, Rhode Island is one of the 16 states without a single protected bike lane. But one is being planned for Fountain Street in Providence, and Nordin said the floating bus islands should be possible there.

"While we haven't seen them here and really cycling infrasturcture in the state is a little bit behind, we want to get ahead of this and do it right the first time," he said in a joint interview with agency spokeswoman Barbara Polichetti. "We don't want to be ripping these up in five years."

Further tweaks to some designs are likely

An initial public comment period for the bus stop guide closed last week, and the agency plans some tweaks. For example, it's likely to remove or minimize one design that proposed letting buses unload directly into sidewalk-level bike lanes on narrow streets.

Other designs, like the one above that features a bike/bus mixing zone in a queue-jump lane, will require buses to cross bike lanes, just as they currently do at many bus stops. For those, the guide is likely to recommend special striping that calls attention to the mixing zones.

Nordin added that in addition to planning some bus stops around bike lanes, "pretty much every one of the typologies accounts for bike racks." That reflects the fact that RIPTA sees bike-to-transit connections as a way to build long-term ridership.

"We've spent more time thinking about bikes as part of this project than we've ever done before," Nordin said. 

Thanks to EcoRI for alerting us to this story last week.

The Green Lane Project is a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes. Our next phase is the Big Jump Project, which will select 10 very different neighborhoods and districts and help them quickly connect biking networks. Find out how your city can apply here.

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