While most people in Los Angeles commute on its freeways, some commute in the middle of freeways. Sixteen of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority system's train and bus stations are located on freeway medians, where passengers wait for their train or bus as rivers of cars rush (or crawl) by on either side. The scenery is not particularly pleasant. Nor is the sound, which according to a new study could pose problems for agencies trying to convince more people to ride transit.
Decibel levels at these transit stations averaged from the high 70s to the high 80s, according to the study, written by Alexander Schaffer at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. That's like a loud vacuum cleaner running circles around you or hearing a propeller plane fly a thousand feet overhead. It's not so bad in short doses, but when your train is 20 minutes away, the racket can start to get to anyone. Though some health problems can be associated with prolonged exposure to loud noises, Schaffer argues that the greater issue is the pure annoyance of the sound.
Depending on the station design, riders could be standing anywhere from 10 to 20 feet from the nearest traffic lane. And though barriers exist between the freeway traffic and the transit customers, it's usually not significant enough to reduce the incessant noise. But simple fixes can be made to cut down that noise. Schaffer recommends installing benches with high backs that can help reduce the amount of sound waiting passengers experience, installing enclosed shelters like at typical street bus stops, or building sound walls in between car traffic and the stations. Sound walls, which would be the most effective noise reduction strategy, could cut noise on station platforms by 13 to 14 decibels. That's like having a normal conversation in a restaurant.
Schaffer believes these small changes could vastly reduce the annoyance experienced by many riders on these mid-freeway stations. He argues that transit systems should make better consideration of the sound environments of the areas where they plan future transit stations, especially on these easily usable rights of way in the middle of freeways.
While locating stations along highways may initially be cheaper and easier than building them on or near surface streets, the experience for passengers waiting at these stations is unpleasant and may drive away potential transit users. The apparent cost savings in construction costs may be offset by the loss of passengers and the hidden costs of health problems suffered by those who do use the stations.
Top image: a mid-freeway train station in Los Angeles. Credit: Flickr user prayitno