Riding the bus is slow. It is sometimes vein-bulgingly, pencil-snappingly slow.
Since I prefer riding transit, I choose where to live based on the quality of the transit service, and so a few years ago I moved to Kingfield because of the 18 line, one of the most frequent in town. It didn’t take long for me to move away because despite the 18′s frequency, it takes forever to get anywhere – specifically it takes 27 minutes at rush hour to travel the 3.2 miles between 7th St and 38th St. At about 7 mph, that’s not much faster than walking (well, it’s twice as fast as walking, but counting wait times and assuming typical delays, it’s usually only 10-15 minutes faster and it’s not uncommon that it’s slower).
In an effort to speed things up, St Louis is eliminating bus stops. They predict their effort “will help keep buses on time, while saving fuel and maintenance expenses.” Based on the blog entry, it appears their spacing standards didn’t change, they’re just enforcing them for the first time. Here are the standards:
Stops located at major intersections, major traffic generators, and where bus routes or rail lines cross
Stops located in high populated areas every 1/8 to 1/4 mile apart
Stops located in lower populated areas every 1/4 to 1/2 miles apart
Express Service – Limited Stop
Express routes over local service in high density areas should be located approximately 1/3 to 1/2 mile apart
It’s interesting that their policy recommends closer spacing in denser areas. While it’s logical to include more stops to serve more people, when actual stops are on demand you risk less by allowing people to stop more often in low density areas. In addition, there is a limit to how far people will actually walk, and as Jarrett Walker mentions in that link suburban areas tend to have less connected street networks that require even more walking.
That reminds me – this blog isn’t called Getting Around St Louis. How does St Louis’ policy compare to Metro Transit in Minneapolis? Well, for one, it’s hard to find any of Metro Transit’s policy documents. You can find some information on their website, but only through the magic of google – you can’t seem to navigate to any policy information on their website and it isn’t on their site map. I’m not sure that using a blog is the best way to publish policy, and St Louis doesn’t seem to have any more policy information on their site, but a blog is a good way to solicit comments (and they’ve flooded in on this issue) and update on the progress of a project as it happens.
A little googling reveals that Metro Transit’s stop spacing policy recommends a stop every eighth of a mile. (Edit: Commenter Charles linked to the 2030 Transportation Policy Plan, which has this to say about stop spacing:
Recommended Bus Stop Spacing
Bus stops that are close together reduce walking distance and access to transit, but tend to increase bus travel time. This recommended spacing seeks to achieve a balance.
• 6-8 stops per mile for local service
• 1-2 stops per mile for limited stop service
An allowable exception to standards may be central business districts and major traffic generators. These guidelines are goals, not a minimum nor a maximum.
While I admire a policy that defers to real-world conditions, I have a hard time believing there is a situation that would justify a stop less than an eighth of a mile from another stop. The only possible exception is the disaster that is Lake & Nicollet, but that situation could and should be mitigated by reconfiguring the bus routing and street designs.)
As the map linked at the top shows, many of the east-west streets are spaced every sixteenth of a mile. Considering most routes in Minneapolis lie no further than a half-mile from the nearest parallel route, I think it’s reasonable to recommend spacing every quarter mile on most routes. For example, if stop spacing on the 4 and the 18 were reduced to every quarter mile, the maximum someone would have to walk to a stop north of Lake St would be .37 miles.
St Louis actually seems to have larger blocks than Minneapolis, which I’m assuming is mostly a result of more urban renewal. Larger blocks actually require closer stop spacing as the street network requires more walking. Minneapolis, on the other hand, has a relatively intact grid network. This will allow wider stop spacing since the grid network and small blocks shortens walks. (Note: I basically added this paragraph because I wanted the maps in this post. I just screen captured them from the H+T Affordability index, which has the most user-friendly and in-depth demographic mapping I’ve seen.)
Stop spacing is something I’ve griped about before, and wider stop spacing shouldn’t exactly be considered state of the art. The Citizens’ League already called for quarter-mile stop spacing on north-south streets and eighth-mile stop spacing on east-west streets… in 1956. They exempted Downtown (then called the Loop) from their proposal, but that’s actually where Metro Transit has done the most work with stop spacing. Metro Transit has also looked at stop spacing in their sector restructuring studies, which began around 1998 and I think has been completed in 4 of the 8 sectors. However, their recommendation of a stop every eighth of a mile is half that of the rest of the world. It’s time for Metro Transit to join St Louis, the 50s, and the rest of the world and start spacing bus stops every quarter mile.