Thursday, August 27, 2009

Is this a good place for a bus shelter?

A bright shiny new bus shelter was erected recently along West Glebe Road. The shelter stands near Valley Road across from Virginia Dominion Power, just to the west of the newly constructed townhomes (dubbed Ellsworth Place by the developer). The shelter was one public benefit exacted from builder NVHomes to win development approvals when the townhomes were proposed.

It's a very nice shelter. But it's not a bus stop.

The DASH bus stops along West Glebe Road are clearly designated on this
map and neither of the two closest stops is less than 200ft from the approximate location.

Of course, bus stops can be relocated. At least in theory.

Back in 2003, the City of Alexandria embarked upon planning for funding a number of capital improvements cited in the Arlandria Plan approved earlier that year. Among these were streetscape improvements, including benches and bus shelters for Mount Vernon Avenue. We'll tell the full story of the Capital Improvement Plan for Arlandria another day, but when funding did become available in late 2006, it was announced that the bus stop locations could not accommodate new street furniture because of a combination of lack of space in the right of way and the need to coordinate with nearby property owners. I floated the idea then (specifically, February 2006) of potentially relocating bus stops to areas that
could accomodate bus shelters. I even suggested a few preferred locations, but, while I later saw City staff scouting these locations, I have yet to hear what became of the idea.

I have heard, however, about the City's reluctance to interact with WMATA (the regional Metro bus authority) on bus stop placement...among other things: A citizen-initiated effort to provide bus schedule information akin to what they've done in Arlington was quashed even though there was to be no cost to the City.

We have seen Alexandria quite willing, however, to take developer contributions for placing new shelters (like the one mentioned above at Ellsworth Place) and government grants for new-fangled, solar-powered, illuminated bus shelters elsewhere in Alexandria....
we mentioned this before: even though none of these new shelters up-dated Arlandria's few remaining decrepit shelters, a few were placed in Del Ray and near Potomac Yard. Funding, by and large, has been haphazard...basically, just the "we'll take what we can get" approach...rather than based on any sort of needs assessment.

City Council recently challenged a similar approach that used to be taken with regard to trash cans and street trees. For years, Councilman Smedberg railed against an ad-hoc approach where some business approvals required trees to be planted and trash cans to be supplied (at a cost of over $1000 each) when others did not. Where new businesses used to play a game of 'trashcan roulette' (some new business had to plant a tree or buy a trashcan, others did not), a new scheme has all businesses contributing to a common fund from which these amenities are provided where most needed.

It's not the only way. Other localities in the region have entered into public-private partnerships to fund such amenities. The
Clear Channel bus shelters in DC are one example. In exchange for revenue from advertising on the bus shelter, Washington gains modern bus shelters that provide extensive area bus schedules and neighborhood information. Clear Channel not only provides the shelter and the information, but provides for the maintenance, which is costly when these expensive pieces of street furniture are vandalized.

A similar effort has recently begun in San Francisco where they have just
begun installing even newer bus shelters provided by Clear Channel with even more features (solar power lighting and electronic bus information).

New technologies to provide bus information are evolving quickly. DASH info is available on Google Transit and Metro bus times via NextBus, but getting these to riders on the ground and on the fly is still an issue.

Commentators are having vigourous discussions about how to best present bus information that is neighborhood-oriented rather than bus route specific. But there really is no better way and no better place than to present such information on the ground where it's needed, as Metro has begun to do at their rail stations. Bus route and way-finding information is not only good as a way to promote public transit use, but as a means to promote neighborhood economic development.

Alexandria, alas, has a bias (if not a policy) against advertisements at bus shelters and, there are no plans to follow Arlington's lead in creating transit centers like in Shirlington (we talked about that
here) or Crystal City or as planned along Columbia Pike.

But as we wait (and wait) for new bus shelters and amenities where we dearly need them along Mt Vernon Avenue in Arlandria, a more pressing question is: who's going to maintain that orphan shelter on West Glebe Road?

It was vandalized yesterday.

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