The Importance of Floating Bus Stops

Fellow Minneapolites, let’s stop being our northern humble selves for just a quick second and truly boast a fact that we’ve known for a while now: we live in the best biking city in America. Bicycling Magazine crowned us champs in 2010. WalkScore’s Bike Score doesn’t list us because we don’t have a large enough “population”, but we score nearly 9 points higher than Portland (and those are 9 actual, empirical, data-driven points, too!). Most recently, Forbes gave us a shout out for our biking prowess.

The best part is, Minneapolis isn’t trying to keep the status quo, but is constantly striving to improve. In their Draft Protected Bikeway Update to the city’s bike plan, 30 miles of protected bike lanes are listed to be implemented by 2020. That would be, according to my head math, a very large increase to Minneapolis’s already good biking infrastructure. (Don’t worry, St. Paul, you are getting there, too). Although the Protected Bikeway Plan doesn’t address every single trouble point in the city, it is certainly a wonderful start.

However, there is one key element that isn’t addressed in the Protected Bikeway Plan – the all too common conflict points with bicycles and transit vehicles.

Frustrating for all. Source:

Frustrating for all. Source:

The Frustrating Double Conflict Point

Our large network of on-street bike lanes usually gives bicyclists a more comfortable ride than riding in a general purpose lane. However, that comfort is shattered at transit stops. In order to load and unload passengers from the sidewalk, the bus driver is essentially required to come as close to the curb as possible. This means the bus needs to jump into the bike lane, therefore cutting off any potential bicyclists behind it. Many bike riders will veer to their left and try to bypass the stopped bus, creating a dangerous blind spot for oncoming traffic. Meanwhile, buses approaching bicyclists near bus stops need to slow down to avoid a crash. This slows down transit travel times and can potentially create a ripple effect in the network. None of this is good.

Generally, transit advocates are also bike advocates, but with regular on-street bike lanes, this conflict point becomes an unavoidable ally-versus-ally battle. It’s like a Myrmecologist trying to avoid stomping on a massive ant colony. (If you didn’t have to look up the word Myrmecologist, very nicely done, you get a terminology high-five.)

As a bicyclist, I am constantly on the lookout for oncoming buses even when I’m in a bike lane. As a transit rider, the mere seconds delay to wait for a biker can cause my bus to miss a traffic signal, which can cause me to miss my transfer, which can cause me to arrive 15 minutes late to work on the day where a coworker brought in Mel-O-Glaze Donuts, which can then cause me to be donut-less for the whole morning. Like, I said, none of this is good.

The Solution – Floating Bus Stops

This conflict point can be entirely avoided with the implementation of floating bus stops. I asked my very talented friend Stephanie Erwin to imagine what she thought a floating bus stop would look like in her mind, and the result was exactly what I had hoped:

This bus stop is literally floating. And that bus is flying. Hopefully circa 2025.

This bus stop is literally floating. And that bus is flying. Hopefully circa 2025? (Image by Stephanie Erwin)

In reality, floating bus stops are bumped-out bus bulbs which have a bike lane running behind the bus stop amenities. This simple configuration allows transit vehicles to stay in their own lane without jumping in front of cyclists, and gives cyclists added protection from vehicular traffic at the bus stop. This design is truly a win-win for both transit operators and bike riders.

Floating bus stops come in all shapes and sizes. These bike-bus conflict evasion strategies have been used in Europe for decades, and have just now started to catch on in various cities around the US, including Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, and Austin.

Floating Bus Stop in Seattle. Source: NACTO Urban Street Design Guide

Floating bus stop in Mestre, Venice, Italy

Floating bus stop in Mestre, Venice, Italy. Chris Iverson.

The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) lists best practices for all types of bike facilities. In their design guidance figure for one-way protected cycle tracks, NACTO recommends: “At transit stops, consider wrapping the cycle track behind the transit stop zone to reduce conflicts with transit vehicles and passengers.” This is, at its core, what a good transit-bicycle intersection design should entail.

The bike lane behind the bus amenities can be constructed with a sunken curb and gutter to allow a true separation from pedestrians and bikers. With Minneapolis’s harsh weather conditions, it’s likely that the more feasible design is to have the bike lane and adjacent sidewalk at the same level, but be paved with a different type of material. Building bike lanes at sidewalk level avoids potential plowing challenges in the winter.

The one flaw with the floating bus stop design is the bike-pedestrian interface. The floating stop requires pedestrians to cross the bikeway, thus causing potential conflicts with moving bikers. This problem can be mitigated using several traffic calming strategies, such as adding speed tables and highly reflective crosswalk paint at pedestrian crossing points. This forces bikers to acknowledge and hopefully yield to pedestrians in a more efficient and safe manner. Bike Walk KC has listed some good recommendations which address these conflict areas.

Apply Locally, See Results

For the best biking city in America, Minneapolis is sorely lacking in the bike-bus conflict mitigation department. Off the top of my head, I don’t believe there is a single true example of a floating bus stop within the city limits today.

Luckily, several projects in the coming year or two will be deploying modified versions of floating bus stops. The Hennepin-Lyndale Bottleneck project will feature a type of this, with the bus stop and shelter protecting the two-way cycle track behind it at the Groveland intersection. In addition, the Washington Avenue reconstruction from Hennepin to 5th Street will not only feature the city’s first true curbside cycle track, but will also feature a modified version of a floating bus stop.

Southbound Hennepin & Lyndale at Groveland.

Southbound Hennepin & Lyndale at Groveland.

Several current and proposed transit routes exist in the same corridors that list protected bikeway implementation in the city’s plan. In North Minneapolis, near term protected bikeway implementation is slated to occur along Fremont & Emerson Avenues. This corridor also contains the route 5 bus, one of the busiest transit routes in the city. In the next several years, another arterial BRT line is planned to run along Fremont & Emerson Avenues. The deployment of the arterial BRT line will be a great opportunity to build floating bus stops at conflict points.

Meanwhile, University Avenue and 15th Avenue SE in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood list protected bikeway implementation in the near term, but also contain the busy 3 route 6 buses. Adding floating bus stops in front of the proposed two-way cycle track on University and the one-way cycle track on 15th Avenue will certainly encourage bike use, especially for college-aged suburban warriors adjusting to city biking for the first time.

Oslo, Norway

Oslo, Norway. Chris Iverson.

Yes, Minneapolis might be the best biking city in America, but it still pales in comparison to cities in Europe and even some cities in the US at bike-bus conflicts. We need to start thinking about strategic places to build floating bus stops on highly traveled bike corridors, starting in downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. Minneapolis’s Protected Bikeway Plan should include language that encourages implementation of floating bus stops at transit-bike conflict points; otherwise, protected bikeways will continue to break down at these crossroads like regular on-street lanes do today. Deploying good design for bikers and transit users will only improve the livability of the city. Our “best biking city in America” rating depends on it.

Chris Iverson

About Chris Iverson

Chris Iverson is a transportation engineer & planner for the City of Bellevue, WA and currently lives in Seattle. He holds degrees in both Civil Engineering & Urban Studies from the University of Minnesota, and worked on a myriad of transit & multimodal transportation projects in the Twin Cities. He is a former Minnesota Daily columnist, RAGBRAI participant, bad musician, marathon finisher, and an unabashed generalist.

18 thoughts on “The Importance of Floating Bus Stops

  1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    Yes Yes Yes! We could drive so much value in our transit network by improving bus stops as we rebuild streets, build bicycle infrastructure, etc.

    The NACTO USDG’s bus bulb section has an excellent case study from Seattle (a different street than Chris’ photo above, and slighly older design but still good).

    One other accompanying change we need to make is ***far side bus stops***. NACTO USDG notes that these should generally be the default, yet they are rare here in MSP.

    Urban street rights-of-way are tight, and I’m generally OK seeing a sort of far-side / mid-block hybrid where the far-side stop is pushed slightly further down the block if a short left turn lane is necessary in the opposite direction. This would work great coupled with a floating bus stop design, since the bus stop then becomes a prominent part of the street’s viewshed, visible from nearly all of the adjacent intersection.

    Floating bus stops scream “here’s a bus stop, and it’s for buses going in this direction.” They are intuitive in design, and that helps bus legibility and draws usage.

    1. Chris IversonChris Iverson Post author

      Matt, I agree, far side stops are absolutely important! I am looking forward to the A Line BRT opening early next year for this reason. It will show the region what bus bulbs in far side stop configurations can do to improve street quality and transit travel time. True floating bus stops with bike lanes won’t be part of the A Line, but future arterial BRT lines should absolutely consider floating designs.

      1. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

        Let me tell you why near-side stops are better in most cases.
        1. In winter, snow removal is much more likely to happen at the crosswalk. A far side stop, especially those with fairly light boardings, may have to rely on snow removal by the adjacent property owner, as Metro Transit and the city simply can’t get to all the stops in a timely manner. When the snow gets bad, the bus driver can load a wheelchair at a corner by pulling slightly into the intersection. Can’t do that with a farside stop.
        2. Nearside stops are under the street lights. Farside stops aren’t. That’s basic security at night.
        3. When pulling back into traffic after a nearside stop, the bus can use the width of the intersection to merge into traffic. With a farside stop, you’re right behind a parked car. The bus driver has to turn sharply and slowly to reenter traffic, which slows the maneuver and thereby ads travel time.

        1. Benny

          Aaron, I agree. Here in Pittsburgh, I’d say 90% of stops are nearside. They make so much more sense. About 25% of the time, a bus will be stopping at the red light anyway, so why not drop off and pick up passengers then instead of after the light? Even if there are two or three cars in front of the bus at the light, passengers can easily walk back to the bus door to get in so time isn’t wasted.

          Also with farside, if two buses are in a row and the first one has to stop, the second one will be blocking the intersection, which creates tons of gridlock.

          Generally, the only time farside is used is after a left turn (so the bus can utilize the left turn lane from the original street), or when there are multiple routes merging to a shared street so they can all use the same stop.

        2. Chris IversonChris Iverson Post author

          For regular bus stops, I would mostly agree with your points. However, when developing transit infrastructure that is less associated with roadway design and is truly transit-oriented, far side stops operate much better.

          1) Far side stops on high frequency lines should consistently have snow removal strategies. In fact, floating bus stops would necessitate true transit bulbs, and would need to be maintained more frequently than regular stops.

          2) Good lighting can easily be implemented at far side stops. Light posts near intersections can be adjusted. Especially for arterial BRT with bus bulbs, lighting should be provided.

          3) Farside stops with bus bulbs (or along BRT routes) will allow the bus driver to stay in the travel lane. This does indeed slow down general traffic behind it, but with the quick loading strategies of aBRT, the wait shouldn’t be as long as regular buses.

          As far as signals go, there have been plenty of times when the bus pulls into a nearside stop when the light is green, and because of boarding/alighting passengers, the bus misses the signal and has to wait for a full cycle before moving again. Transit Signal Priority enhances farside stops by allowing the bus to extend green phasing, which then allows the bus to roll through the intersection.

          As floating bus stops are implemented and paired with TSP systems, they should almost always be far side or mid-block stops.

          1. Tim Klassen

            Farside stops are better, generally, for the reasons listed, AND they are safer. At nearside stops motorized traffic is often tempted and does turn right in the front of the bus. This potentially slows/endangers the bus pulling back into traffic, and it endangers people who may be crossing the street the traffic is turning onto. Intersections are dangerous, so clearing them 1st eliminates blind spots and puts deboarding riders in a safer place, while the bus also is then set to proceed more safely when servicing the stop is finished. At intersections where there is not a floating bus stop, bikes and buses don’t have the tension of waiting/starting together at traffic lights. As a bus driver and bicyclist in Portland, I have seen the benefits of farside stops, and pitfalls (countless close calls & at least one accident) of nearside stops for 22 years.

  2. Aaron Berger

    “WalkScore’s Bike Score doesn’t list us because we don’t have a large enough “population”, but we score nearly 9 points higher than Portland (and those are 9 actual, empirical, data-driven points, too!).”

    This is an example of where MSP partisans should avoid selectively considering our core city to be Minneapolis for measures that favor density and Minneapolis+Saint Paul for measures that favor population size. To compare our fair metro to Portland on bike score, you should really provide a population-weighted average bike score. (400,070*81+294,873*62)/(694,943) = 72.94. That’s a very respectable bike score, but one that is ultimately very little different from San Francisco (75), Portland (72), or Denver (71).

  3. Wayne

    But won’t someone think of the free street parking that could be lost to this! Those poor businesses will lose all their customers when this evil communist plot takes away their free publicly-funded parking that makes or breaks their business model!


    1. Wayne

      And let’s not forget those tortured souls in the cars that will inevitably be caught behind buses that don’t pull completely out of traffic! It could cost them seconds of their lives! They’ll have to roar around the bus to beat it through the intersection, careening into the inside lane and probably clipping a few other vehicles. Who’s going to pay for their paint job and insurance costs then?

  4. GlowBoy

    “The one flaw with the floating bus stop design is the bike-pedestrian interface. The floating stop requires pedestrians to cross the bikeway, thus causing potential conflicts with moving bikers.”

    And this is huge. In Portland, from where I’ve recently relocated, there are a few floating-stop designs, but the bike-ped conflict problem continues to vex. The worst one is on the westbound (north-side) approach ramp to the Hawthorne Bridge, where bus riders disembark onto a relatively narrow path — on a downhill ramp with cyclists typically going in excess of 20mph. There is (or was) thermoplastic delineating the ped vs bike zones, but each was only about 6′ wide. The county (which owns the bridge) first tried putting in rumble strips and pavement markings to slow down cyclists, but that accomplished nothing, and I think the latest solution was simply to pour more concrete and widen the sidewalk (fortunately this particular ramp is excessively wide, and had plenty of room).

    On Portland’s downtown streetcar system, some bike lanes are routed behind the streetcar stops in a similar manner to the floating stops proposed here, but you still have the problem of pedestrians having to cross a busy bike path, and most cyclists aren’t going to slow down to the sidewalk speeds (i.e., <10mph) that would be necessary to minimize conflict.

    Really, this is the same issue as when you put a "protected" bike lane to the right of parked cars, as on Portland's SW Broadway (or 1st Ave in Minneapolis), putting people exiting their cars in conflict with bike traffic.

    I'm not opposed to these floating bus stops, and sometimes they may help solve the old bike-bus leapfrog problem, but I don't think they are a panacea and it's tricky to do them right.

    1. fIEtser

      The only trick to doing them right…is to do them right. I think anyone can agree that Portland situation that you described is at best, a bad compromise. When properly designed, there is rarely need for even painting a marked crosswalk in the cycletrack of a bus stop bypass and certainly no reason at all to put in raised tables.

    2. Walker AngellWalker Angell

      I agree. It’s critical that they be done properly. When done properly the bus passengers exiting or waiting for a bus should have plenty of safe room to stand and can choose to cross the bikeway when it is safe for them to do so.

      It should not be tricky to do them properly. The CROW manuals provide quite extensive design guidance.

  5. GlowBoy

    OK I realize this is an aside, but the discussion triggered by Minneapolis being “too small” with its 400k core population to be included in the BikeScore rankings is a really important one to have. The methodology of using the core city’s boundaries may be valid for a lot of cities, but runs into problems (in all sorts of studies, not just BikeScore) with outlier cities like 400,000 Minneapolis (very tightly drawn boundaries, including very little postwar development, doesn’t include St. Paul which is arguably part of the urban core) and 600,000 Portland on the other end (which includes very large swaths of postwar car-oriented development, including a huge chunk that was annexed only in the 1980s).

    In any reasonable sense (metro area population, economic activity, cultural activity, the physical appearance of downtown, or simply the level of activity downtown) Minneapolis is a far larger city than Portland. If you scaled back Portland’s boundaries to encompass the same mix of uses as Minneapolis, it would be far too “small” to rank. Alternatively, if you expanded the ranking zone here to include St. Paul, or alternatively a few of Minneapolis’ inner-ring suburban areas to look more like what Portland has within its limits, it would be big enough, but might no longer rank as high as Portland. I don’t know for sure.

    Actually, I’m a little surprised that Portland as an entire city ranks as high as it does. Outside the core (let’s say a 3-mile radius centered on the central eastside) it really isn’t that great. Large areas are arguably much worse to ride or walk in than anywhere in Minneapolis, especially the West Hills (and I’m just talking about the lousy infrastructure, not the 500-1000′ climbs to surmount the ridge) and in flatter stroad-dominated East Portland.

    But I think that if you did a full metro-area comparison (maybe excluding far-flung hopeless exurbia, but including the first couple rings of postwar development), I suspect you would find the twin cities to be substantially better than metro Portland.

  6. Tyler

    Absolutely. The design is already in practice and works well. We just need to start adopting it here in the US. Glad to see this finally getting some press!

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