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Floating Bus Stop on Fountain

RIPTA Planning's Greg Nordin and Providence Planning's Martina Haggerty have challenged my claim about the Fountain Street floating bus stop. 

I issued a retraction of my claims on Twitter after Nordin and Haggerty approached me at the Jarrett Walker Transit Conference and stated their case. The summary of their point is that the reserved bus stop in front of the bus island is not for ordinary buses, but for paratransit. Paratransit vehicles (the vans that serve the elderly and disabled specifically) spend a much longer time loading and unloading, said both Nordin and Haggerty, and having a reserved spot in front of the bus island makes sense for that purpose. Day-to-day buses in the RIPTA fleet are supposed to use the bus island itself.
It's taken me a while to address this in the body of the article as I said I would, and part of this is that I have been extraordinarily busy with personal issues in my own life that have popped up, but part of it has also been that I think the issue looks more complicated than a binary up or down. I went to investigate this island more closely after the transit conference. There are just certain things you can do on foot or by bike that you can't do from the window of a Mercedes (Hey, Joe! I'm talking to you! Join us on a bike or by bus!).

Okay, first! Can we all have a round of applause for Nordin and Haggerty? I know Nordin only passingly from public meetings, but he is a dedicated guy, and smart. And Martina Haggerty practically holds the city's fabric together with her bare hands despite many, many interests trying to push Providence Planning to be a spineless version of itself (Here's me praising Haggerty and her colleagues just the other day). I just feel like that needs to be said. And me parsing this out in the next paragraphs is going to feel like sonuvabitch I can't believe he's still arguing about this, get a fucking life, James.  But I think it's important, and not meant to detract from these individuals. An admittedly lazy thing I do sometimes is say "the city" when I'm sure from experience of a certain process (like public processes leading to bad bus stop choices) but not sure of the individuals involved in a particular decision. Yes, lazy! I admit it. When I want to blame a specific person I do, but not here. Haggerty and Nordin do not deserve personal blame.

The Claims

I went to look at the bus island, which on March 16th was covered in ice. My original claims were laid out in a few parts of the article on Joe Paolino's ride with me around Downtown. Here:

An article by People for Bikes highlights the great design that Rhode Island has for floating bus stops, but the Fountain Street floating bus stop doesn't actually follow that design. Instead of letting buses stop in traffic, allowing bus riders to use the island as a place to wait and board, the bus pulls ahead of the bus island, forcing disabled people to use the bike lane to go backward towards the island. The whole arrangement makes no sense and should be fixed. (new emphasis).
Here:
Probably as a concession to dumb traffic concerns by engineers, buses don't stop in traffic where it would be convenient for them to do, but instead have to pull in front of the bus island. Why?  Note that the ramp is kind of pointless if the bus doesn't pull up to this island, as it should. 
And here:
The city has reserved a space in front of the bus stop for the bus to pull in front of it. The bus riders then have to get off the bus, walk in the protected bike lane, and back to the floating island, where the wheelchair ramp is oriented the wrong way. 
Mostly True, but Be Careful on Fine Details
Before I parse this out why I think I'm partly right about what I said, let's focus in on some ways in which I was definitely wrong.

1. Saying "Probably as a concession to dumb traffic concerns by engineers..." did technically put my claim in the context of a conjecture I was admitting was not fully proven, but I probably shouldn't do that, as a rule. I think it might have been nice of me to call the city and ask them to comment on this, and that was wrong. The city does cave to dumb traffic engineers a lot, though. Can we admit that? And I have been privy to public meetings where discussion of buses stopping in traffic has been a discussed item, so I wasn't drawing my claim from the blue.

2. Also, I did think that all buses stopped in front of the island, and that's probably not right. Breaking Rule 1-- Jesus, James, you just made that rule!-- I'm going to refer back to personal experience on the bus where I could swear the buses have stopped in front, not at the bus island. But this is a choice made by individual drivers to some extent and might not reflect what RIPTA or Providence Planning intended, and it's also based on my slightly foggy memory of taking the bus. If I get time, I might follow up and sit to observe the bus stop to see what buses typically do, and report back. 

Here's why I'm largely right. This claim is true except maybe the word "letting" (because I guess the design "lets" buses stop wherever they want, but in practice buses for the disabled stop in front, as Nordin and Haggerty agree):
Instead of letting buses stop in traffic, allowing bus riders to use the island as a place to wait and board, the bus pulls ahead of the bus island, forcing disabled people to use the bike lane to go backward towards the island. <--- Ding! Ding! Ding! True!





And:
Note that the ramp is kind of pointless if the bus doesn't pull up to this island, as it should. <--- True! True! True! 







And:
The Well, maybe not this part--> city has reserved<--- Maybe this is better phrased as, "In practice, the city has reserved. . . " a space in front of the bus stop for the bus to pull in front of it. This part! So fucking true! True! -->The bus riders then have to get off the bus, walk in the protected bike lane, and back to the floating island, where the wheelchair ramp is oriented the wrong way. <---
If you look at the photos I took from March 16th, there is a ramp directly across from the island, so that people who are taking the normal RIPTA buses that Nordin and Haggerty say should be stopping at the island have a way off the island and onto the sidewalk in a wheelchair.






If the paratransit vehicles are supposed to stop in front of the bus island, then why is there no ramp that coordinates with that? The wheelchair ramp at the end of the sidewalk is a diagonal one that forces wheelchairs into traffic on Eddy. Or, the wheelchair could do just what I speculated they had to do-- go backward in the bike lane against traffic to use the ramp.


And since the bus island is full of snow and ice, and since the bike lane is frequently full of cars (!), where the hell are the paratransit folks supposed to go?

A Solution: Protected Bike Lanes that Work
Now, by the way, I've been hitting this drum for a while, but if we had protected bike lanes everywhere, then we wouldn't have to add ramps. We could just make it safer for wheelchairs to access the existing ones, meaning we could use money for ADA improvements for protected bike lanes and satisfy everyone:



So judge for yourself how important the parsing of these details is. I never technically said "all buses stop in front of the bus island" although I'll admit that's exactly what I thought and what I think a normal reader would be expected to interpret. Most of the claims I made about the functioning of the bus island itself were completely true, and need to be addressed.
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