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Bus Stop Parklets

Some cities are exploring how to use the assets of urban parklets to make public transportation more comfortable and fun.

Photo of Armando Garcia
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The Design Studio known as Rebar kicked-off what became a revolutionary idea when they started "Parking Day". Their idea was to pay the meter for street parking spaces, and occupy the parking spaces with recreational areas instead of cars. Their idea took off and what became known as "parklets" spread quickly across San Francisco and cities across the globe.

Many cities have formalized processes for the registration of parklets. Business owners often sponsor parklets occupying parking spaces in front of their business in order to provide additional seating for patrons and attract customers. Parklets are considered privately-owned, publicly occupied spaces. The private-ownership of these spaces provides a great deal of opportunity for a variety of design approaches that can represent neighborhood character, specialize to provide customized amenities, or work to promote local business.

 

AC Transit in California has begun to experiment with using this approach to enhance not just curbspace, but bus stops. Local businesses have partnered with AC transit to sponsor a "bus parklet", which offers public seating to cafe and shop patrons, while also providing a comfortable and attractive waiting place for the bus. Bus parklets differ from generic parklets in that they have an open side to the street to allow for bus boarding, and that they must conform to certain design standards.

Bus parklets can provide an opportunity to create character at a pedestrian scale by allowing a variety of design expressions throughout the city which can represent its heart and soul, help develop a civic identity through shared spaces, and promote the use of these spaces and the public transportation networks that they are a part of.

 

In addition to providing opportunities for civic expression, bus parklets can be proving grounds for a variety of amenities, from the simplest to the wildest. Some examples of potential concepts: 

  1. A bus parklet outside of a cafe that provides seating with a vine-covered roof that shades patrons from bright sunlight. The sponsoring cafe would benefit from expanding their service capacity. The construction of such a parklet might be an iron frame supporting a plywood floor, with a wooden slat roof offering less than 50% coverage. Railings might provide separation between a seating area and the street, while another area might be open to the street and include a street-facing bench backed by planters.

  2. A market in front of a bus stop might want a permit to use sidewalk space for displaying produce or other goods. A bus parket can expand the amount of usable space for that market, so that crates of fresh fruit can be placed on the sidewalk without obstructing the sidewalk or bus stop. The sponsoring market may decide on a design for the parklet which meshes well with the displays and offers the best use of space for both users of public space and its own interests. Some long bench seating can be placed in the parklet which offers space for people to wait with grocery bags. Perhaps the market owners have been looking for a way to encourage patrons to buy their ready-to-eat or quick-order foods, but have never had the space to offer seating. Such a parklet can offer surfaces for people to use as tables and sit with their coffees, burritos, sandwhiches, and the like.

  3. Perhaps a bus parklet site is on a stretch of road that includes no relief from the sun in summertime, and it incorporates water misters. In turn, perhaps a bus parklet in the winter incorporates some heating or offers enclosed space away from the cold.

Describe who will use your solution (1,000 characters)

(Photo courtesy of Oakland Magazine, Parklet design by Trachtenberg Architects) As described in the examples above, the bus parklet is a solution that aims to be an asset to: 1. Sponsoring businesses, who can gain advantages for their business with this partnership 2. Patrons of sponsoring businesses, who will be served with unique amenities 3. Patrons of public transit, who will appreciate more comfortable and attractive spaces while they wait for buses, and uniquely identifiable spaces for offboarding, as well as a variety of potential amenities that make taking the bus to that stop enjoyable 4. Transit can experience a boost in ridership and an improvement in the public experience with their services 5. Grand Rapids, certain neighborhoods, business districts, or communities: they can all invest in bus parklet partnerships to boost the profile and unique character of their neighborhoods. 6. And of course, any users of the public realm will enjoy these as well.

Describe your solution's stage of development

  • Initial Design - you are still exploring the idea and have not tested it with users

Tell us about your team or organization (500 characters)

I am submitting this proposal as an individual. I am a student who has done research in urban design and made project recommendations for work being done by the Public Space and Public Life Studies Program in San Francisco. I am interested in what is known as "tactical urbanism", and democratized city planning.

Size of your team or organization

  • I am submitting as an individual

Funding Request

  • $25,000

Describe how you would pilot your idea (1000 characters)

Parklets can be built with temporary or semi-permanent (but durable) materials, and as such are much less capital-intensive than sidewalk and road redesigns. The maintenance costs for parklets are typically born by the sponsoring businesses, and an attractive parklets program can see Grand Rapids' transit agency or other relevant public agencies provide a portion of the design and construction costs to each project. What makes sense varies by jurisdiction, and no determination on this can yet be made. While the design and construction costs of parklets are relatively low, implementing study of the parklet as part of the pilot will create additional costs. In any case, parklets are very scalable and can range from being community-designed with reclaimed materials, to being professionally-designed and including advanced amenities.

Describe how you would measure the success of your pilot (1000 characters)

1. A survey of public opinion: take a survey of transit riders waiting for lines that don't stop at the bus parklet, and compare with results of a second survey of transit riders using the bus parklet. Also include a survey of users of the bus parklet to learn about why they used the bus parklet. 2. Measure the satisfaction of sponsoring businesses and organizations. Did the parklet pilot meet their own goals? 3. Counting riders. Are more people taking the bus, or are people using the parklet without taking the bus? (maybe a success in either case, but can inform future plans)

2 comments

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Photo of Tom Bulten
Team

Hi Armando: I am one of the facilitators for this forum. Thank you for posting a proposal to improve bus stops! I appreciated the history of Parking Day and parklets. Your idea is closely related to that of annie young for "BusPrize", a proposal to improve bus stops by connecting artists, builders, and sponsoring businesses to build creative bus shelters: https://challenges.cityoftomorrow.com/challenge/grand-rapids/propose/busprize. It builds on the discussion initiated by Laura Muresan in the "Explore" phase about the need for improved bus shelters: https://challenges.cityoftomorrow.com/challenge/grand-rapids/explore/making-bus-stops-more-pleasant. Laura points out the value of trees for cooling those waiting areas. As these conversations continue I hope someone from TheRapid (the transit authority in the Grand Rapids region) can provide more guidance on the required specifications and opportunities for bus shelters.

Photo of Armando Garcia
Team

Thank you, Tom. I reviewed Annie's proposal and am seeing the overlap and potential for collaboration that you're referring to. I will discuss with Annie to explore that!

-Armando