Shutterstock

Though there's a delicate balance to strike between access and speed.

You might think that more bus stops mean better bus service, and to some extent that's true. A transit system certainly becomes more useful when you can get on near your home and off near your destination. That said, every stop made by a city bus increases trip time from Point A to Point B. Strong systems find a way to strike a balance between stop access and route speed.

Sometimes striking that balance means getting rid of stops that are clogging up the line. Last week, reporters at News1130 in Vancouver pointed to research showing that eliminating some bus stops "reduces travel times significantly without drastically affecting the number of people served along a route." They suggest that city agency TransLink cut stops as a "simple" way to reduce costs while still improving service.

TransLink's particular situation aside — the agency later responded that it does an annual review of its routes and stop placement — the research mentioned by News1130 is worth a closer look. Published last year [PDF], it focused on the bus system in Fairfax, Virginia. The researchers analyzed stop spacing under a variety of walking thresholds (how far someone will walk to reach a stop) and found that many of the system's 121 stops seem redundant:

The researchers believe that at a walking threshold of 800 meters (roughly half a mile), the Fairfax bus system could eliminate 53 of its 121 bus stops and still provide coverage to 82 percent of the area. Removing the stops would reduce both travel time and operating expenses by about 23 percent; plus, faster service would attract more riders and generate more revenue. And since only 10 percent of the population would lose coverage from the cuts, the researchers see stop removal as a win on balance.

Whether or not you agree depends on a number of factors. For one thing, not all riders are willing to walk half a mile to a transit stop, and aging populations in particular need closer transit access. A quarter mile is a more common standard, and in many U.S. cities the walking threshold is even lower. And not all distance is created equal: going half a mile on a dense pedestrian-friendly street grid isn't as tough as, say, going half a below an interstate or across congested arterials.

At the end of the day, proper bus stop spacing depends largely on whether the system's goal is ridership or coverage. Basic geometry dictates that a transit system will have some overlapping coverage areas (where people can walk to more than one stop) and some gaps in coverage (where they live near the line but not near a stop). If you want faster service and more riders, you want the limited overlap that come with stops spaced far apart; if you want better coverage, you want the small gaps that come with stops spaced close together.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. photo: Police line up outside the White House in Washington, D.C. as protests against the killing of George Floyd continue.
    Perspective

    America’s Cities Were Designed to Oppress

    Architects and planners have an obligation to protect health, safety and welfare through the spaces we design. As the George Floyd protests reveal, we’ve failed.

  2. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

  3. A participant holding a Defund Police sign at the protest in Brooklyn.
    Equity

    To Defund the Police, Activists Rewrote City Budgets

    As national protesters call for defunding police, a movement for anti-racist “people’s budgets” is spreading from LA to Nashville to Grand Rapids.

  4. Equity

    What Happened to Crime in Camden?

    Often ranked as one of the deadliest cities in America, Camden, New Jersey, ended 2017 with its lowest homicide rate since the 1980s.

  5. Four New York City police officers arresting a man.
    Equity

    The Price of Defunding the Police

    A new report fleshes out the controversial demand to cut police department budgets and reallocate those funds into healthcare, housing, jobs, and schools. Will that make communities of color safer?

×