David from Denver writes, “What's driving you crazy? Bus stops at the beginning of blocks. It ties up traffic trying to get through lights. Why are they not at the end of a block instead of holding up traffic at the lights?
What you are talking about, David, is the difference between near-side stops (before an intersection) and far-side stops (after an intersection) and in the world of bus transit, the answer to your question is up for debate.
In a research article titled, “Measuring the Benefits of Bus Stop Location on Transit Performance” written by Ehab I. Diab and Ahmed M. El-Geneidy, they determine that stop times occurring on the near side of intersections are on average a few seconds slower than stop times occurring on the far side of intersections. The authors also argue near-side stops are safer than far-side stops because it is easier for bus drivers to see pedestrians, especially when crossing the street but the authors also point out that sometimes impatient drivers try to go around the bus to make a right on red and that can lead to an accident involving the bus or worse, a bus user.
What the authors really focused on in their research was which bus stop location was best for efficiency of service. Their opinion suggests the right stop can save time, fuel and reduce pollution. After looking at transit systems in Canada and Oregon, the authors determined far-side stops are between 4 and 5 seconds quicker on average than near-side stops. While 5 seconds isn’t a lot of time by itself, if you consider RTD’s number 3 bus that runs across town along Alameda Avenue, it makes a minimum of 17 stops so that 5 seconds adds up to nearly a minute and a half of saved time. Adding that savings to the nearly 50 trips the 3 bus runs east and west across town all day, it can be estimated that RTD saves over an hour of time on just that one route equating to hundreds of dollars in savings on fuel costs, maintenance costs and reliability times.
The Federal Transit Administration weighed in on the matter saying, “In general, far-side stops are preferable; however, other types of stops may be justified in certain situations.” They also list their advantages and disadvantages of near, far and mid-block bus stops derived from the “Comparative Analysis of Bus Stop Locations” located in the Guidelines for Planning, Designing, and Operating Bus-Related Street Improvements, published by the Texas Transportation Institute.
I took your question David to the Regional Transportation District engineers. They told me they prefer to locate stops on the far side of an intersection. One of the two main reasons why RTD believes in far-side stops is the safety aspect with far side being safer in their view than near-side stops.
“Safety is a priority of utmost importance for RTD, and data has shown it is safer for pedestrians when operators stop after intersections,” RTD’s Pauline Haberman told me.
“Stopping on the far side of an intersection, combined with back-door deboarding, encourages customers to cross at the crosswalk directly behind the bus, as opposed to crossing in front of the bus and when a bus stops ahead of an intersection there is a possibility that a car will try to pass on the left then turn in front of the bus while the bus is accelerating out of the stop.”
The second reason RTD prefers far-side stops is that they help with better on-time performance and flow of traffic around the bus.
“Stopping beyond the traffic signal allows the operator to accelerate more quickly into traffic once customers have boarded or alighted at a stop. A bus stopped at a green light while customers are boarding can cause vehicles behind the bus to miss the light, and that affects the bus as well as traffic on the road,” Haberman said.
While cities with older transit systems use near side stops, RTD said it prefers to use the current industry standard which advocates using far-side stops whenever possible.
Sterling Hulling, a former transit operator said on Quora, “From the driver and safety perspectives, nearside stops are bad. If everyone’s stopped at the light it’s okay, but the cars to my left can’t see the pedestrians crossing in front of me, my own pedestrians won’t see if my light goes green. Turning traffic will want to pass me on the left and then immediately turn across in front of me. Far-side stops are great. Passengers can exit and then wait at the intersection with full visibility. Traffic isn’t stopped except for those heading straight, but them and turning traffic can go around me fairly safely. I have minimal risk of running passengers over, since they’d have to jaywalk to get in front of me.”
If you would like to see more examples of the different types of stops and some pros/cons, the National Association of City Transportation Officials has a lovely page with several illustrations with pros and cons of all configurations of bus stops as well.
By the way, the place the buses stop are called a concrete pad and they are intentionally designed to maintain a solid, level surface for buses to stop on. Conventional asphalt pavement is flexible and can be moved by the force of a stopping bus, especially when it is hot. That leads to wave-shaped hills or ‘hummocks’ along the length of a bus stop. The rippling problem is pronounced at high-volume stops where idling buses further heat the surface of the road. In most cases, concrete bus pads are constructed in a special way to make them strong enough to sustain a heavy bus load and to make them less susceptible to cracking. I wrote much more about bus pads in a previous "Driving You Crazy" story.
Denver7 Traffic Expert Jayson Luber says he has been covering Denver-metro traffic since Ben-Hur was driving a chariot. (We believe the actual number is over 25 years.) He's obsessed with letting viewers know what's happening on their drive and the best way to avoid the problems that spring up. Follow him on Facebook,Twitter or Instagram or listen to his Driving You Crazy podcast on any podcast app including iTunes, iHeartRadio, Spotify and Podbean.