When a Transit Shelter is Not a Transit Shelter

Last week Metro Transit unveiled a collaboration with the Downtown Improvement District to place a new bus shelter at 3rd Avenue S and S 7th Street downtown which is a very busy stop. This new shelter doubles as an herb greenhouse to better blah blah blah I can’t believe I’m writing this.

View of the entire bus shelter

View of the entire bus shelter

Look. I can’t believe I have to ask this question again, but does anyone at Metro Transit actually use transit? As an actual transit rider, let me tell you what I appreciate in a shelter. In the warm months I want a place in the shade and cover from rain. In the cold months I want something to block the cold wind. All times of the year I’d like a place to sit, and it’s imperative that I be able to see down the street my bus is coming from so I know when to leave the shelter to catch the bus.

So let’s go down the list:

Does this shelter provide shade from the sun and shelter from rain and wind? While it has diffusers on top, its primary role is as a greenhouse, so while they lessen the sun they do not provide true shade. It does provide shelter from rain, however, with its covered top.  Unless there’s a slight wind, that is, in which case rain will blow through the sides of the shelter. While this shelter may not exist during the winter, it’s still important to point out that it would provide no shelter from the wind.

View looking up from inside shelters, with diffusers diffusing but not blocking light

New shelter: View looking up from inside shelters, with diffusers diffusing but not blocking light

Does this shelter provide seating? The shelter does have a few benches to sit in. However they require a step up into the shelter to access them. As an able-bodied rider this is no problem for me, but for someone with mobility issues, this could serve as a barrier to access.

Seat inside seating bay requiring a step up to reach the seat

New shelter: view of seating bay requiring a step up to reach the seat

Finally, how easily can the street be viewed from the bus inside the shelter? The farther towards the end you sit in the shelter, the better view you have. However there are five walls in the shelter, each one impeding vision slightly. As a final insult, while I was examining the shelter, a food truck pulled off the street onto the sidewalk, and spent 5 minutes positioning itself near the shelter. Its final position was such that it perfectly blocked my view down 7th St.

View from inside seating bay, looking down 7th st with view blocked by herbs and a food truck

New shelter: View from inside looking down 7th St with view blocked by herbs and a food truck

As an aside, the purpose of this shelter is to be some kind of herb garden, but even there it’s a failure. The planter boxes are tiny and elevated in the air. The plants will not be able to develop good roots and the soil won’t be able to hold enough moisture without constant watering.

Ultimately, this shelter fails at nearly every aspect of being a shelter. This failure is especially galling because of the good work Metro Transit is doing with the Better Bus Stops program and the excellent slim shelters that are being installed where standard shelters don’t fit. Not only that, it fails at being an herb greenhouse. It’s a complete failure and Metro Transit should be ashamed instead of proud of this shelter.

About Peter Bajurny

Peter rents a single family home in the Corcoran neighborhood of Minneapolis, which he shares with his wife, two cats, and a transient boarder roommate. He is a board member of the Midtown Greenway Coalition, and tweets very thoughtfully as @FISHMANPET. Opinions expressed are his own.

42 thoughts on “When a Transit Shelter is Not a Transit Shelter

  1. Will

    This is a shelter? I see it every morning but had no idea. Figured it was part of the other projects or markets on that side of the government center.

    At least, you can kind of see outside the shelter, unlike many existing shelters with the wide white striping on the sides.

  2. Sam

    You realize that this isn’t a permanent shelter, right? They are just trying to make transit fun again. There was an inflatable shelter at 6th st and 3rd ave for a while. Of course it was a terrible bus shelter. It also got people to talk to one another, and have a laugh. The shelter is long gone, but the relationships that were formed during those couple weeks among the passengers continue.

    You need to lighten up.

      1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

        Ok but you have to think about this in the context of the Downtown Council and the DID and their grand history of spending time money and energy on devaluing transit and sidewalk streetscapes in favor of skyways, parking garages, and office workers from outside the city. That’s been, in a very short version, the history of the downtown DID leaders since 1956. Only recently have the downtown leaders begun actually thinking about transit as a benefit to downtown, that bus stops are something that you actually want near your building instead of something to be shunned and fortified against.

        That the downtown business leaders would be thinking about bus stops and sidewalks as places that could be improved, that could use placemaking improvements… that they’re working with creative people to try and brainstorm ways to do this… these are all very good things. Even if this one shelter didn’t turn out to be a good one, at least someone is trying and experimenting with the public realm in an attempt to improve the lives of people who take the bus and walk around Minneapolis. Whether you like this one shelter design or not, we should applaud the idea behind it.

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          A thing I don’t really get about these temporary shelters, though, is why they are temporary.

          I guess I read last year that they didn’t have funding to keep the one they put in at 6th and Nicollet. I’m not totally clear on what the costs are once the thing is installed, but I guess these temporary ones aren’t very substantial and would need to be maintained. But what if they just built some permanent ones instead? Way more expensive?

        2. Peter Bajurny Post author

          Soooo, it’s a transit shelter designed by an organization that has no understanding of transit?

          It’s fine as a placemaking whatever, and if it was just that it’d be fine. But it was billed as a shelter by Metro Transit, an organization that should know better.

          Really if the best defense is “they didn’t jab the stick in the eye quite as deep as they used to” then eeeeeeeeeeeeeh.

        3. Daniel ChomaDaniel Choma

          I’m with Bill on this. It’s really easy to complain about the function of this stop in a place like Streets.MN which is chock full of urbanists.

          I will concede these obvious points:

          This is not a perfectly functional bus shelter.

          As a transit shelter, it is lacking in signage.

          As a transit shelter, it could and likely should have better design.

          But I don’t think the point of this shelter was to be a transit shelter. The point of this shelter was to be an art piece that cost MetroTransit $150 bucks in lumber, $100 in plants, and $200 in labor to make. It’s really frustrating to be a professional artist on this site and have a bunch of urbanists ranting about how something that is so clearly an art piece lacks function.

          I don’t care that it lacks function as a bus shelter. Arguing that we need art to exactly function as something NOT art (functional transit) is *incredibly* insulting to the idea of public art.

          Is the “Angel of the North” functional? Is the “Spoon and Cherry” functional? Is “The Bean” functional? Were “The Gates” functional? Was the “Running Fence” functional? Is the “Spiral Jetty” functional? Is the “Trans Am Totem Pole” functional? Is the “Rainblossom Project Red” functional? Is the “Gumhead” functional?

          No: of course not. That’s not the point. The value in these projects lies not in their function to move X number of people Y number of meters but rather to make folks break out of their traditional thinking patterns and try a new thought.

          And I’m sure that after folks saw the Trans A Totem pole for the first time a lot of people thought “Well why the heck would you put three cars on top of a tree, that’s weird.”

          But give. it. some. time. Art takes time to settle in. ESPECIALLY public art. It took me a few days of looking at that transit shelter to realize, “Hey, that’s a take on a transit shelter. With mint!” But that’s part of the process of art.

          But please, everybody: Stop being so obsessed with the function of cities that you forget actual people live within them. Said people are capable and expected to make strange and sometimes compelling things. Said people are supposed to disagree and argue and wander and cry and laugh and smell mint and think “what the hell is that thing?” That’s part of being human. Let’s not throw out what it means to be human in order to make a more functional train.

          1. Amanda

            I agree with your main point on this, but I sure hope Metro Transit paid someone more than 200 bucks to put this thing together. Not a builder or artists here, but I would guess from designing, building, planting, etc. that someone was (hopefully) paid several thousand dollars for what was most likely a month long project.

            1. Daniel ChomaDaniel Choma

              Yea, I don’t have a cost estimate of the shelter, but my main point is that it wasn’t as expensive and didn’t require as much political will as a full shelter redesign and implementation.

          2. Peter Bajurny Post author

            This is a defense of this shelter as an art piece or placemaking or whatever, which I have said it did.

            The problem is that Metro Transit called it a shelter. It makes me wonder if whoever called it a shelter understands the function of a shelter.

            1. Daniel ChomaDaniel Choma

              I get what you are saying, Peter. And when I lived in Saint Paul and worked in Minneapolis, this was where I got on and off the bus, so I am totally behind the concept that shelters need to be well designed, warm, and well marked. They did significantly improve the Saint Paul end of the 94 bus last year and I was pretty pleased with how it turned out. It did take them forever and I spent literally years of my life freezing my keister off while waiting. But they did it, even with irrational xenophobic organizing arguably racist organizing by the Saint Paul Downtown District Council.

              All I can speak to with this new “Shelter” or whatever it is is that when I was eating my lunch and daydreaming trying to forget I was at work the other day I got to explore it and although it took me a second to figure out what it was, when I realized that it had planters and mint and herbs it brightened my day. And the “brightening of a day” is something that MetroTransit isn’t exactly known for. People have a hard time associating buses and trains with that kind of creative freedom that marketing agencies attribute to cars.

              So for me, this interpretation of a bus shelter is worth it, even if only a few people start looking at transit and associating it with creativity, growth, and nature.

          3. Rosa

            I’m not an urbanist, I’m a transit user.

            I live here! I enjoy a lot of the art installation (formal and informal) I run into around the city.

            But why pretend it’s a bus shelter, then? Why not just have an art installation. Maybe ask people to think new thoughts when they’re not trying to figure out where to catch the bus?

            Or maybe, you know, the artist could work within the boundaries of a form and see how that affects their artmaking, instead of expecting everyone ELSE to form their thoughts around a piece of art.

      2. Erik

        Both are tools in the toolbox, and can be used simultaneously to improve the ridership experience! Different riders value different things, and MT is working on both issues, but they’re not perfect!

  3. Erik

    Yeah, agreed with Sam. This is kinda a joyless rant about something that’s quite obviously more about placemaking than it is about permanent shelter improvements. I wouldn’t give more fuel to the anti-transit fire over something like this. (Save it for the Gold Line! 😉 )

    1. Will

      Just observing from the bus onto the street, I saw nothing that indicated this was a Metro Transit project. Is there anything that indicates this closer up? If they’re going to promote something, it should be obvious.

  4. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    I think this critique is a bit misplaced. I’ve been a fan of the experimental placemaking approach that the Minneapolis DID has been using for years. And anyone that advocates for DIY grass-roots urbanism should look at this set of tools — parklets, design competition street furniture, playful architectural interventions — as one easy, cheap, open-minded and open-ended way to make public spaces come alive.

    So yeah, this isn’t a great bus shelter, but it’s not meant to be either. So too with the inflatable bus shelter from a while ago, or the “living room” luxury bus shelter. If you want to critique actual bus shelters, there are plenty of them to choose from.

    1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg

      I agree with Bill’s comments here. I love DIY grass-roots urbanism, especially the work of Max Musicant, and we absolutely need more of it. Adding fun and whimsy at a minimum improves our city, and occasionally leads to permanent positive changes (although examples aren’t coming to me at the moment).

      I’ll add that these DIY efforts only shine a light on how deeply and profoundly broken our public spaces are in downtown Minneapolis, and how misplaced our priorities remain. Case in point – this temporary bus shelter cost less than $1,000, whereas we just spent more than $10 million to expand the skyway system to US Bank Stadium, bypassing the yet-to-be-fully-funded “The Commons.”

      1. Peter Bajurny Post author

        But again, Metro Transit called it a shelter. It is not a shelter. Nobody has defended this on its merits as a shelter, yet that’s what Metro Transit called it.

  5. Peter Bajurny Post author

    If it wasn’t a bus shelter Metro Transit shouldn’t have advertised it as a bus shelter, plain and simple. It’s great as a conversation piece and placemaking and blah blah blah, terrible as a transit shelter. Metro Transit billed as a shelter for a busy stop. A busy stop deserves a real shelter.

  6. Monica Millsap RasmussenMonica Rasmussen

    Well done, Peter. “Placemaking” shelters have often been a pet peeve of mine, and there are some that have been permanent. (The artistic bus stop at University and Fairview comes to mind- a stop that provides no shelter and no view of the approaching buses from the bench). And I think it is great to provide critique of poor design. If we praise things because “someone tried,” we just get more poorly designed everything.

    If people want to do something fun and attract people outside for socialization, fine, but be considerate. If you wouldn’t sit in a greenhouse on a hot summer day, don’t expect that anyone else would. Having an herb garden downtown might be fun, but place the seating under real shade and have ramps if the seats are going to be elevated. Place the garden boxes in the back and have the front be more of a lounge area so people can talk but also see approaching buses. Get out and talk to people who already take the bus and ask them for ideas related to your designs. Wouldn’t it be great to have something that helps the public space come alive that is also appreciated by people?

    1. Rosa

      does it have a bench, though? That is, a place you can actually sit or at least set down your heavy bag? It wins over most of the train station “shelters” then. (Though they at least have windbreaks and heat.)

  7. Karen Sandness

    The answer to your question, “Does anyone at Metro Transit use transit?” has to be “no.”

    Otherwise, we wouldn’t have so many “you can’t get there from here” situations, the #6 bus would cross the river to the U in all cases, every line would have weekend and evening service, and there would be frequent service on all arterial streets.

    1. Erik

      It should be noted that plenty of Metro Transit employees take transit every day, and truly are committed to improving service, from high frequency routes to suburban park and rides. The entire goal of arterial BRT, Better Bus Stops, capital improvements to the buses themselves, is to combat the negative perception that buses have had and to truly improve service. But it’s really difficult, and there are substantial political headwinds that get in the way of most improvements, however small. I get the critique of MT making vanity improvements over real ones, but it’s disingenuous to suggest that everyone at the agency doesn’t care about improving transit. It’s just not what I see on the ground!

    2. Jeb RachJeb Rach

      Every example listed here would require more money, which Metro Transit can’t just wave out of thin air. These are things that require local, regional, and state governments to get on board and provide more money for Metro Transit. I’m sure Metro Transit would love to increase frequency, add more routes, and not short-run some routes, but that requires money that Metro Transit employees simply doesn’t have (or has to use for other items.)

  8. Scott

    I think the larger issue is that many transit riders are getting tired of the mediocre quality of transit service in the central cities– infrequent service, slow/ confusing routes, poor bus stops/ signage, etc. This, while resources get spent on Park & Ride lots, the Red Line, and rail lines to corn fields. So, when money is spent on a bus stop that functions poorly, people may wonder where the priorities lie.

    Also, some of this ‘place-making’ stuff is overrated. Downtown’s blank walls, parking facilities and skyways have sucked life right off the street. It’s people that make cities lively, not “fun” bus shelters”- especially those that don’t really function.

  9. Peter Bajurny Post author

    I have no expectation that the state legislators that fund transit or the Met council that draws the lines on the map rides transit. And that’s the level where decisions about funding for late night or arterial service or deciding to build park and rides in corn fields and bus lines to nowhere.

    The normal every day rank and file Metro Transit employee has no control over those things, and I think it’s important that we don’t blame them for these decisions that are far beyond their control.

    I do however blame them for the small tactical decisions that they (presumably) do have control over, like endorsing a pop up shelter that provides no shelter, or failing to put up proper signage for light rail outages. These are the kinds of things I really expect them to know better about.

  10. Rosa

    I like this list, but has Metro Transit lowered your expectations so badly that you don’t even think to ask for a posted schedule/list of buses that stop there, anymore?

    “In the warm months I want a place in the shade and cover from rain. In the cold months I want something to block the cold wind. All times of the year I’d like a place to sit, and it’s imperative that I be able to see down the street my bus is coming from so I know when to leave the shelter to catch the bus.”

    1. Peter Bajurny Post author

      I guess I’ve been spoiled for the last 18 months almost exclusively riding Hi Frequency routes where I don’t need a schedule, instead relying on Nextrip on my phone to determine when exactly the bus I’m waiting for is coming.

      But you’re right, if there’s a shelter there should be posted routes/schedules.

    2. Will

      That’s silly. Then people would know when the bus is scheduled to arrive and where it goes (maybe). We can’t have that. Just like we can’t have signs telling us how to enter or exit the skyway.

  11. Kam

    Peter, I think you have some valid points, however, I do not feel confident that this will lead to any productive conversations. There are no recommendation in your article nor does it open the conversation to new ideas. It is easy to sit criticize and not propose any solutions.

    I guess I am even more confused as to why you chose to strike down those who you could stand next to and create something good for this city? Why you chose not to extend a hand and work with them when their passions align with yours?

    1. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

      As a retired Metro Transit employee, I assure you the staff uses transit extensively, and is strongly committed to making the service as user-friendly as it can given a very tight budget. It’s easy to be Mr. Outraged Guy on the Internet, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.

      1. Peter Bajurny Post author

        To put it simply, I’ll believe it when I see it.

        I certainly don’t doubt that there are a non-zero number of Metro Transit employees who “get it.”

        And I’ll admit this shelter is a very minor example, but when I look at things like terrible communication during light rail shutdowns (which you were silent on), or little things like running two car trains during rush hour or after events at US Bank Stadium, I start to really wonder if the people in charge get it. I’ll admit I don’t know everything. I’m sure there are factors at work I don’t understand. But at the end of the day, as an Outraged Guy on the Internet, I can only react to what I see, not what someone says someone else feels.

        You’ll notice I’m not criticizing things outside control of the agency, like overall frequencies or overall decisions on infrastructure investments, the kind of things related to very tight budgets. In this case I’m criticizing the fact that at the very least, an employee at Metro Transit looked at this herb garden and said “yep it’s a shelter!” when it is in fact not a shelter. The same way I criticized the fact that nobody at Metro Transit thought to put sandwich board signs at closed light rail stations and the variety of things I pointed out in my previous post. These are the on the ground decisions that Metro Transit employees have real control over. And if they don’t, if there’s something I’m missing, I’d love to know what it is.

        1. ae_umn

          “But at the end of the day, as an Outraged Guy on the Internet, I can only react to what I see, not what someone says someone else feels.”

          That’s the same logic Donald Trump used to attack the Khan family. Just sayin’.

          If it gets your panties in a bundle that Metro Transit bills this as a shelter, then call it a transit bench. Or a transit structure. I mean FFS, nobody here or at Metro Transit or anywhere else is likely to think this is the same as a brand new shelter with maps and heat and everything else.

          It’s a placemaking project that takes advantage of the fact that it’s summer in Minnesota and does something interesting with that. Now ask yourself if this post will actually effect change to get more of what you say you want built or is this just a cathartic exercise?

    2. Peter Bajurny Post author

      The solution, while only implied but not explicitly stated, is to design a shelter that is a shelter, rather than a shelter that is not a shelter.

  12. Shaina Brassard


  13. Amanda

    Looks like there is signage up now (reads that this was designed and built by a local public art and placemaking studio in collaboration with Mpls DID and Metro Transit. All plantings are edible and riders are encouraged to take some. Also this is a temporary shelter which is supposed to help alleviate perceived waiting times. Appears to be an extra bench in a non-step up area now too.

    Perhaps your whining actually resulted in something positive.

Comments are closed.