Floating Bus Stops: An Exploration
Editor’s Note: In this post, we delve into the advantages and challenges of Floating Bus Stops, considering their impact on accessibility and drawing from my personal experience as an individual with a disability. To begin, let's clarify what a Floating Bus Stop entails: it's a design solution that incorporates a bus stop, pedestrian sidewalk, and a dedicated bike lane. Transit and city planners have been experimenting with this approach to accommodate safe bus pick-ups and drop-offs while maintaining bike lanes. Commuters using these bus stops must traverse the bike lane to access the floating stop or reach the pedestrian sidewalk.
Recently, I embarked on a journey of discovery to explore the concept of floating bus stops. My objective was to formulate a fact-based opinion on this recently implemented transportation solution. This exploration involved participating in a series of workshops organized by Urban Systems Inc., which were funded by BC Transit, TransLink, and the BC Ministry of Transportation. It also included on-site visits to floating bus stops in Metro Vancouver. Today, I am eager to share my insights and reflections on this matter.
First and foremost, I want to express my sincere appreciation to all the workshop participants. Special thanks go to individuals like Linda, Rob, Richard, Bruce, and many other volunteer stakeholders who generously shared their experiences. It's essential to recognize that these contributors often provide invaluable insights without financial compensation, raising questions about equitable remuneration. This issue seems to persist in our society, where paid consultants frequently take the lead, overshadowing the contributions of those most impacted by the policies under consideration.
During our discussions, one aspect that left me disheartened was the use of the term "inclusive bus stops" by Urban Systems Inc. facilitators to describe floating bus stops. As a longtime advocate for accessibility and inclusion, I feel compelled to clarify that this terminology is, at best, misleading and, at worst, a misnomer. Whether this term arises from ignorance or serves as a public relations strategy, it should be avoided.
From a technical standpoint, the concept of floating bus stops, which separates buses and cyclists into designated lanes, has its merits. It offers a safer and more efficient route for bus drivers, eliminating the need to navigate through traffic and reduces conflicts between buses and cyclists sharing the same lane. This aligns with the public's support for greener, healthier cities and the incorporation of bike lanes into urban design. It's worth noting that many visually impaired individuals enjoy tandem cycling with sighted friends and family, underscoring the importance of accommodating both cyclists and pedestrians.
However, the current design of floating bus stops unintentionally pits cyclists against individuals who are blind. This conflict arises from poor design rather than conflicting desires of these two groups. Public transportation by bus is universally accessible, catering to a diverse range of commuters, including individuals with disabilities, seniors, students, new immigrants and young families. BC Transit buses are designed to accommodate cyclists, wheelchair users, and provide support for blind individuals to navigate the system independently and safely. Discount passes also make bus travel more affordable for those with limited incomes.
For individuals with disabilities, who often rely on buses as their primary means of independent transportation, the need to cross a potentially hazardous area like a bike lane to access a bus creates a significant access barrier. Navigating to a floating bus stop is especially unsafe for blind and low vision pedestrians. Unlike crossing automobile traffic light-controlled intersections, where the sound of traffic flow patterns can be relied upon, crossing a bike lane lacks the sound cues that blind individuals rely on to determine when it is safe to cross. This situation leads to frustration and anger on both sides when a blind person enters the bike lane unexpectedly, causing conflicts with cyclists. Additionally, the lack of consistent adherence by a significant percentage of cyclists to the rules of the road, even with marked and signal-controlled crossings, creates uncertainty and anxiety for blind individuals when crossing a bike lane. Moreover, in my discussions outside of the workshops this is a common concern shared by many others.
Considering these points, it becomes evident that the concept of floating bus stops, in its current form, is deeply flawed. Placing high-risk interactions in the path of those who rely on the most accessible, inclusive, and universal mode of transportation is not a viable solution. While it may seem sustainable on paper, it disregards the concerns of the most vulnerable members of our community.
While our primary concerns have centered around the needs of commuters who are blind or have low vision, opposition to floating bus stops extends beyond this demographic. It encompasses various groups, including but not limited to wheelchair users, young families, and seniors, who share similar and additional reservations and concerns.
In my understanding of city and transit planning, it's apparent that our community leaders need to actively listen, comprehend the issues, and guide city and transportation planners toward a better solution that does not involve floating bus stops. Placing high-risk interactions in the path of commuters on their way to access the most accessible and inclusive mode of transportation may seem enticing theoretically, but it falls short when examined in the practical light of day. It's time to prioritize safe transportation for all, rather than perpetuating conflicts and neglecting the concerns of the most vulnerable among us.
About the Author: David resides in North Vancouver with his wife, Karyn, and their teenage children, all avid transit users. David is also a co-founder of Gateway Navigation CCC Ltd, a company dedicated to advancing digital accessibility and inclusion in both the built environment and internet. To learn more about the type of projects Gateway supports, you can visit the IMAGE Project and the Shared Reality Lab.
Contact David by email at email@example.com with any questions, suggestions or feedback.