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Open Thread: Metro Considering Bus Stop Thinning In Network Plan

Metro is looking to thin many of its bus stops as part of its proposed bus service reorganization.  Photo: Fred Camino/Metro Rider
Metro is looking to thin nearby bus stops as part of its proposed bus service reorganization. Photo: Fred Camino/Metro Rider
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As part of its big bus service re-organization, now called the Strategic Bus Network Plan (SBNP), Metro is proposing "stop thinning," which basically means eliminating numerous bus stops that are too close to each other. According to a recent Metro staff report [PDF] the SBNP is "expected to be presented to the Board for approval in October or November 2015." When I analyzed Metro's proposal in July, it was still very much in draft form, with contradictory and unclear components.

My go-to transit expert Jarrett Walker calls stop spacing "the endless, thankless, and essential struggle." Walker reports that the U.S. generally has stops closer together than in Europe and Australia. He favors thinning stops to rationalize stop spacing primarily because "if you can get people to gather at fewer stops, you get a faster service." Additional benefits Walker cites are improved health from walking, and "[f]ewer stops also means more people at each stop, which improves personal security and also justifies better infrastructure."

With Metro's bus operations budget flat, and population growth and car traffic increasing, if the agency does nothing, then bus service will deteriorate over time. Thinning stops appropriately can help to keep buses moving.

On the other hand, there are trade-offs. Some legitimate, some less so.

It is critical to maintain access for people with disabilities. In a review of Metro's proposal published at KCET, D.J. Waldie raised this point, remarking that "stop thinning -- at least a 1/4 mile spacing between stops -- will require the elderly, the disabled, and riders with small children to walk further on sidewalks that require more than a billion dollars in repairs."

Most resistance is somewhat less legitimate. Again from Walker: "Politically, though, stop removal is hard. People whose ride will be faster usually don't make a lot of positive comments when such things are proposed, but you do hear from people who are going to lose their stop, and their neighbors and friends. So these proposals often get beaten down."

There are a number of examples of relatively successful bus stop consolidation efforts:

    • San Francisco MUNI found that more than 70 percent of its stops were too close together. The agency is improving service by thinning unneeded stops, though sometimes political pressure has prevented consolidation.
    • Long Beach Transit did an extensive analysis of its bus stops, and piloted stop thinning in 2014 by eliminating nearly 20 stops on its Broadway/Ximeno line [PDF].
    • Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus has been eliminating stops as part of its recent Expo Line integration overhaul. BBB Transit Planning and Community Engagement Manager Suja Lowenthal Transit Planning and Community Engagement Manager stated "we've been working on stop-respacing over the past couple of years. As it turns out, when your bus stops are spaced very closely together, our service cannot operate that effectively, and nobody is going anywhere quickly."Lowenthal stated that BBB's ​recommended stop spacing is 1,000 feet to 1,325 feet for local service, but "our methodology is not just limited to counting the linear feet between stops. We look at context: How proximate is it to key ridership generators? What is the specific ridership at the stop in question?"Further, BBB's modifications are having the desired effect. Again from Lowenthal: "Since starting stop-respacing, our overall distance between stops has increased an average of 6% on local routes and 3% on Rapid routes. Stop-respacing is among several reasons why we have been able to increase our on-time performance and to increase our operational efficiency."

On a personal note, I am one of those "riders with small children" but I still tend to think, done intelligently, stop thinning could be really good for Metro bus service.

I live near the intersection of First Street and Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles' Koreatown, a transit-rich neighborhood with frequent and 24-hour bus service, subway stations, and plenty of bus stops. I can catch the 204 bus - the Vermont local - two blocks from my home at my nearest stop at First and Vermont, but I rarely do, because the local bus is so much slower than the 754 bus - the Vermont Rapid, which I can catch at Third Street. The local bus is slow here because it stops seemingly every other block: First, Third, Fourth, Sixth, Wilshire, Seventh. I suspect that stops at First and Fourth should probably be thinned, even though that means I would walk a little further.

What do you think, readers? Would Metro stop thinning be good for a majority of people, even if a small number of people will have to sacrifice in the form of slightly longer walks to bus stops? Or is thinning likely to be a burden for already put-upon bus riders? Your comments below.

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