Let’s Get Creative with Bus Stops!

Image credit: Darlene Williams-Prades. (Click for larger image.)

Discussion continues in the comments section of this blog on the subject of Arlington County’s $1 million bus stops. I have not inquired into the precise reasons for this travesty, but I would suggest what part of the solution is — more competition. Designing and erecting a bus shelter is not like raising the Burj Khalifa or the Petronas towers. It’s something that a team of college architects or engineers could accomplish in a class project.

Arlington — hold a contest! Take submissions from the citizenry. You would be amazed at the creative ideas that gush forth.

The rendering above is a case in point. The design comes from Darlene Williams-Prades, a self-described inventor and entrepreneur from Capital Heights, Md., who saw my March blog post on the scandal and contacted me to share her own bus-shelter design. Her goals: protect occupants from the elements, make people feel safe, make it green — and make it inexpensive.

Note the solar-paneled roof, the security cameras, the panic button, the bus-schedule displays and the enclosure from the elements. Some of those are clever and innovative features. Williams-Prades estimates that a small version (two to four people) would cost roughly $30,000. Versions capable of sheltering more bus riders would cost proportionately more. Among the advantages compared to Arlington’s million-dollar fiasco, this shelter actually would protect riders from the elements! (See details here.)

Now, I don’t vouch for the design. I know nothing about bus stops. I have no idea whether Ms. Williams-Prades’ design will do what she says it will for the price she says it will cost. What I am suggesting is that there are lots of great ideas floating around out there, and local governments could benefit from busting out of their usual procurement processes. Indeed, I would go one step further. Bus stops need not be purely utilitarian. It might be fun to solicit ideas for ways to have them double as works of art. If street artists can transform buildings with murals, surely they can transform bus stops as well.

We can do a lot more with a lot less.


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12 responses to “Let’s Get Creative with Bus Stops!”

  1. From what I can gather – the actually hard Construction costs are about 500K and the shelter is “wired” to get real time info from the transit system and has heated floors to keep it ice and snow free.

    I think BEFORE you have a competition – you need to know what the current specs are – that’s what any would-be bidder would have to have and that’s how most projects are done these days unless this was a sole-source project in which case, you won’t find me disagreeing that such an approach is a red herring.

    These shelters are probably built to last decades which means they are essentially buildings instead of ‘shelters’.

    I’m all in favor of knowing more about the specs and the contract costs and cannot believe this info cannot be obtained from Arlington.

    is that true – does Arlington refuse to provide the info?

  2. Also – for some perspective. The ICC in Maryland cost 100 million per mile to build. A single grade-separated road interchange can cost 40, 50, 100 million dollars or more.

    the HOT lanes cost what, billions?

    but let me ask one question here.

    both the current construction and the proposed alternative here – casually mention the real-time-transit info that will be available.

    Let me ask – if you have a bare sidewalk in some location – what will it take to provide real time transit info at that location? Do we currently already have that ability as a central function that can be provided to any location of ANY bus currently in service or is that function part of the costs for the 30+ stations?

    we take that kind of info for granted at METRO but if we tried to duplicate it for transit – it sounds like it could be pricey… all buses would have to be outfitted with communication infrastructure. The central computer would have to be calculating in real time the arrival time of the buses at each station and updating that info continuously per the actual progress of the buses.

    Will this info be made available to SmartPhones?

    if this is part of the costs – it might well be worth it… especially if it
    increases ridership.. and encourages people to change travel mode from auto to transit.

    If such a system could be integrated with METRO – and expanded throughout the region – it could, if successful, improve mobility for everyone and reduce auto trips … congestion.. etc..

    if we can spend 100 million per mile for a road.. can we make equivalent investments for transit?

  3. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Arlington County knows how to build an attractive, efficient, functional, and easy to build bus stop to $12,500. One that can be built far faster, far cheaper, at far less risk, and one that works far better, and does all of the things that a bus stop needs to do and should do. It build one such bus just last August, some 60 days ago, in a spot where it intends in the future to build a one million dollar bus stop. To see it and read about these $12,500 brand new Arlington County Bus Stop go to arlnow.com/tag/bus-stop/

    That$12,500 bus stop can be built twice as large for likely around $20,000. Given that fact, why does the county want to pay up to $1,000,000,000 for a bus stop that does not work, and that will likely cost tens of thousands of dollars over its lifetime to maintain, if not far more?

    What is corrupting our procurement systems, and our governments, and our collective mental health, to cause them and us to overspend public monies by these vast amounts? Where have our common senses and our collective values, and our competencies gone to?

    Cannot these vast sums of wasted monies be spent in far more productive ways? Why are we spending these huge amounts of monies to build things that do not work?

    For example, why did we spend upwards of $1.6 billion dollars (if not far more when all of the collateral damage to the airport is added up) to build a Crystal Mover System to carry people 25000 at a public airport (Dulles)? Why did we spend the huge money of waste money that will harm us for generations when we could have done the same job for a tiny faction of the cost, and for at far less risk, and almost negligible disruption to the airport?

    What is causing us to harm ourselves and waste our wealth this way?

    1. I wholeheartedly agree. The goal should be to build more bus shelters in locations where they will be used on a regular basis. We need the most bang for the buck. Bus shelters should keep riders out of the worst of the weather while they wait for their bus, not be monuments to the waste of tax dollars.

      Government has too much money!

    2. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      See this website’s article titled “Building a Culture of Cycling” for more on this topic. It’s found at: https://www.baconsrebellion.com/2013/10/building-a-culture-of-cycling.html

    3. For anyone having trouble finding the article about the $12,500 bus stop, here is the url:

      New Pike Bus Shelter Installed at 1.25 Percent of Super Stop Cost
      ARLnow, August 29, 2013

      I’m sorry, but the cost difference between this $12,500 bus stop and the million-dollar “super-stop” is so stunning that I fail to believe that anyone could possibly argue for the million dollar waste on any grounds whatsoever… unless they are pocketing illicit profit from it. Clearly a superior stop can easily be built for less than 5% of the million dollar cost.

      No wonder these bus stops have vanished from the news – this is ridiculous enough to wake people up! Notice how the hushup was accomplished – first, expressions of surprise, and promises to investigate.. then a long pause… but a few people remembered, so another promise of an investigation and review, followed by another long pause. Yep, everybody forgot. mission accomplished. Now Arlington government can hurry up and knock that $12,500 stop down, and waste a million like they planned. Strategic waste, benefiting certain cohorts who will arrange the future revolving-door deals, etc. Am i the only one who is sick of this?

      Also, the ICC and the Hot Lanes are failing. As we see in transportation projects in place after place in the USA and around the world, the game is lowball cost estimates that inexorably rise, ballooned usership estimates that prove to have been ridiculously high when the project opens, and outrageous tolls and taxes as a result. And as I showed in the Dulles Rail / Silver Line ripoff, the multi-hundred million per mile costs are massively bloated as well.

      Arlington County’s >2000% inflation in bus stop cost is a fine example of how little respect our government has for our intelligence. Are they correct in their assumption that we are that stupid? You tell me.

  4. DJRippert Avatar

    It was once said that a fool knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

    The key question is not what a bus stop costs. The key question is how much government saves by having people take buses rather than driving. Then, what kind of bus stop will maximize those savings.

    If you assume that bus riders save money by reducing road (and perhaps pollution) costs then building the cheapest possible bus stop may be the wrong decision. Government should build the bus stops that maximize the savings of increased bus ridership after accounting for all costs – including the cost of bus stops.

    1. The McLean Revitalization Corporation worked with WMATA, Fairfax County and VDOT to put in a number of attractive, but basic, bus shelters in Downtown McLean. The shelters were put in strategic locations throughout the central business district. On a cold or bad weather day, they are regularly used. The biggest complaint was for more shelters in more locations. Fairfax County is working to put more basic shelters in more locations throughout the county. A number of years ago, the county began a major expansion program financed significantly by advertising.

    2. Regarding building bus stops that will attract ridership – I submit that the $12,500 shelter looks fine, and will protect riders better in bad weather. People will realize that’s a lot more attractive, real quick. Two of these would be a lot better and a WHOLE lot less expensive than one ‘super stop’. And a pretty-much-same design scaled up in size modified design would work too. Want to add some display and a data network? Please, that’s not a million-dollar job today.

      Jim’s idea clearly is intelligent and creative design, as opposed to needless multi-thousand percent bloat. And don’t start asking just exactly how much you can bloat the price, either. I can just hear the question: “Well, if a multi-thousand percent overcharge is too much, then can we overcharge you 200%? 500%?” Etc.

      Also, by the way, an overpriced stoplight isn’t a justification for an overpriced, badly designed bus stop. That kind of argument qualifies as something called deflection, doesn’t it.

      Really, is this difficult to understand? Don’t bloat the price at all! Make sensible and attractive designs, and build them at a reasonable price. Unless the intention is to rip everybody off, and deliver junk.

      1. well.. there’s something peculiar going on because apparently Arlington also builds 12K shelters.

        So you have the same agency building both kind of shelters, right?

        so one would presume there have to be differences unless the same agency is building both reasonable cost shelters and corrupt bloated shelters.

        it sounds like there is more to this …..that just your typical govt waste.

  5. are these “shelters” really what we think they are?

    DJ said it : what are the things that will increase ridership?

    If a “shelter” becomes a place that one can go to get a real-time status of buses/metro – perhaps even cabs… is it more than just a “shelter”?

    I still don’t see how you get real-time status info at a shelter without a whole heck of a lot “back-end” infrastructure on the buses.. a network.. software, etc…

    these shelters have to work 24/7 through all kinds of weather – and probably vandalism and other threats.

    I personally think people would ride transit more if it were easier to see a status and reliability.

    If you know WHERE the shelters are and you know WHEN the next bus arrives there – you may find that easier than hopping in your car..driving.. and trying to find parking… etc…

    In a place like NoVa – you are not going to add any significant network-wide automobile mobility.

    You might be able to deal with some bottlenecks and nibble around the edges but actually adding NET additional capacity that actually results in shorter, more reliable trip auto mode times is not going to happen except with the HOT Lanes and that still does not help you at the destination where you need parking.

    and those 20 stations – the’d not even by a single grade-separated interchange… anywhere in the region.

    and traffic signals – anyone ever worry about how much they cost?

    in places like Arlington – as much as a million or more… where is the outrage for them?

  6. The Tysons Partnership is experimenting with providing real time transit information (traffic too) as new buildings are constructed. But that will be down the road at least a few years.

    The backend networking and support would likely kill a major bus shelter network before it was built. It might be more effective for local, regional and state government to provide up-to-date travel information that can be easily accessed on smart phones. Coverage in multiple languages is also important.

    Many bus riders are more recent immigrants going to multiple jobs. I’d like to see more bus shelters in both job centers and lower income neighborhoods. Being able to stay dry or get out of the wind or hot sun will provide tangible and affordable benefits to some of most regular bus riders.

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