When the humble bus stop is a little too humble

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This is the busiest transit stop in the state of Minnesota, seeing about 4,300 boardings daily, though you’d never know it by looking. It’s on the south side of City Center on 7th Street and Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis, and lacks most of the amenities you’d expect to find at a location with that volume: Shelters to provide cooling shade in the summer and heaters in the winter, as well as protection from rain, snow and wind. There is a little seating, but not much. Good lighting, signage, and information kiosks are practically nonexistent.

Less obvious in photographs is the simple lack of space. The sidewalk has frequently been getting filled up with bus patrons, leading Metro Transit to add some markings to the pavement to delineate the areas where bus passengers should stand to separate them from the flow of pedestrians.

The new layout of the bus stop at 7th & Nicollet.

Um… Great?

As part of a campaign dubbed “WalkSafe”, the benches (mostly obscured in this photo from Metro Transit, but still barely visible in the distance) have been moved away from the wall of City Center, and some brightly-colored stickers have been added. A NexTrip sign indicating bus arrival times has also been added, but it’s tucked away in a spot that’s hard to see. Sure, some people will go along with the new separation of space, but this arrangement is uncomfortable for others who prefer to hug the side of the building in order to grab what little shelter they can, and simply to take a load off by leaning up against the wall. Unfortunately, the sidewalk is already crowded, so attempting to add shelters, benches, or other street furniture would only make it harder to move through the area.

There should be other options, including expanding the sidewalk area. While it might be possible to carve a space out of City Center, the better option is probably to add a bulb-out to extend the sidewalk area into the street. 7th Street is a one-way with three lanes for through traffic plus curb lanes on each side. The street could handle moving the buses into the right-most through lane and extending the sidewalk into the right-hand curb lane, more than doubling the room in the waiting area.  That would open up a huge range of possibilities for good designs that will pull those stragglers away from the wall of City Center.

Extensions like that have cost up to around $60,000 in other cities, including new shelters—this stop probably generates that much in fare revenue every 2–3 weeks. With a pace like that, there’s a clear benefit to making a real investment in this stop to change it into a place where riders can feel like they’re human rather than trash to be shoved out of the way. Believing that this site can be improved by simply moving the existing pieces around is patently ridiculous.

About Mike Hicks

Mike Hicks is a computer geek at heart, but has always had interests in transportation and urban planning. A longtime contributor to Wikipedia, he started a blog about trains and other transportation after realizing it had been two decades since he'd first heard about a potential high-speed rail line from Chicago to Minneapolis. Read more at http://hizeph400.blogspot.com/

12 thoughts on “When the humble bus stop is a little too humble

  1. Matt SteeleMatt

    I wonder how much more capital investment a roadway carrying 4300 cars a day would get compared to a bus stop that sees 4300 boardings a day.

  2. Andrew

    I heard about this stop yesterday on the news when Metro Transit police tasered a guy here. Oddly I've never used this stop myself. It's just weird that this busy of stop is devoid of amenities. Nicollet and Marquette have lots of bus infrastructure, and downtown even little out-of-the-way spots have shelters.

  3. Sam NewbergSam Newberg

    Mike, while this is a thoughtful argument for well-deserved transit infrastructure improvements, this particular stop is a lightning rod of sorts that cuts across racial and class lines and deals with issues surrounding crime, social equity and defensible public space. It is one of few, if not the primary stop for buses headed to the poorer, heavily-minority and crime-riddled north side of Minneapolis. Yes I'm drawing a direct line between the two, and I must not be the only one because a few years ago the city considered moving the stop (i.e., "those people") to 4th Street in an effort to improve the quality of life downtown.

    My own observation is this corner can be an intimidating place to pass by, and I've also observed Metro Transit and Minneapolis Police (as well as the Downtown Improvement District) have a beefed up presence there in recent months. I don't know what the results have been, but I'm not remotely surprised that someone got tasered there just yesterday.

    True, it is a small few who cause problems for others who simply are waiting for a bus. But I hope the police presence is helping. Those who ride buses deserve amenities to make the journey more pleasant, and those of us who spend time downtown deserve to do so in relative safety.

    One possible solution is if the skyways didn't exist (I have a plan for this!) there would simply be more pedestrians on the street, which would go a long way to dilute the perception of crime at that and other corners.

    Needless to say, I suspect the stickers added to the sidewalk are more of a means of deterring crime and controlling unruly parties than attempting to improve transit service for customers. Not to be cynical, but the last thing you'll see there is a shelter that could provide cover for ne'er do gooders. Then again, when infrastructure is built that conveys an expectation of respect by the user, sometimes it gets respected.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      Sam: I hope i get to hear your skyway removal plan in a future post.

      Matt: i don't even think that 4300 / day is an accurate comp, is it? isn't the actual ridership # going to be higher than that, that passes by this spot?

      Mike: Great post. A nifty comparison that I often make when I walk through downtown Mpls is to look at the expensive, fancy new bus stops on Marquette and 2nd (for wealthy white people) and then walk past this stop, almost completely devoid of anything resembling human comforts. It's a great example of infrastructural racism, no?

      1. David Greene

        > It’s a great example of infrastructural racism, no?

        Yes, it is. Structural racism is not only alive and well in Minneapolis, it's thriving.

    2. David Greene

      North Minneapolis is not "crime-riddled." Have you ever been there? Stayed for an extended amount of time? I feel perfectly safe walking around North.

      The secret is to visit and get to know the people there. It turns out that like the rest of the city, people living in North pretty much just want to go about their daily lives and enjoy their communities.

      Is there more crime of certain types in North? Yes, but that doesn't mean it isn't a nice place. I'd wager there's a lot more disruptive public drunkenness in Uptown than in North and that's a real quality of life issue. The point is that each neighborhood has its challenges and we can't simply write of large swaths of the city as hopeless. We won't survive as a city if we do that.

      So I invite you to come and visit North and take advantage of the wonderful restaurants, coffee shops, theaters and public spaces that are there. You will enjoy yourself!

  4. Chris Ryan

    To be fair, Metro Transit is very much aware of the importance of this stop and the lack of amenities currently provided. Sam's characterization as a lightning rod is spot on. As I understand it, the lack of amenities at this stop is almost entirely the result of resistance from adjacent property owners and other downtown stakeholders.

    I would refer everyone to the East-West Spine plan completed in late 2010 which proposes a number of facility improvements to this stop including:

    – Curb extensions

    – Heated shelters

    – Splitting 7th & Nicollet into two stops (nearside and farside)

    – Peak parking restrictions to maintain the current number of travel lanes

    Downtown East-West Transit Spine Plan: http://www.minneapolismn.gov/www/groups/public/@p

    East-West Spine Powerpoint: http://www.minneapolismn.gov/www/groups/public/@p

    1. Alex

      Thank you for mentioning the East-West Transit Spine Plan. I think it's also important to point out that the plan was never adopted by the City Council.

  5. EG Gilbert

    I have a small rebuttal to the notion that higher boardings generate revenue that could be used for improvements ("…this stop probably generates that much in fare revenue every 2–3 weeks.")

    Metro Transit has a farebox recovery rate of about 33% –which is considered high as compared to the rest of the country. In other words, customer fares pay only one third of the total operating costs.

    More customers does not mean more available revenue for improvements.

  6. Julia

    Racism/classism, no question in my mind. I've waiting for the bus here often (live near Uptown, visit friends who live North) and you know what makes the stop unpleasant? The lack of any visual relief from the elements, the ugly buildings, the cars right there. You know what else can make it uncomfortable? That it forces me to confront, frequently, the structural inequalities that Minneapolis, supposedly liberal bastion, chooses to replicate over and over and over again like a disease.

    And the new markings? Useless. I'm not going to stand next to the street in the winter with the wind and the slush and the splashing and slipping.

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