As Massachusetts enters what is projected to be the hottest summer on record, many folks are retreating into the comfort of air conditioned cars. For those of us who opt for the bus, we once again are experiencing the extreme weather of our state in an all-too-familiar location: the bus stop.
Like many bus dependent folks, I’ve waited at a stop in almost every weather condition possible. From windchills below zero to heat indices above 100, bus riders in Worcester are forced to battle with some of the most extreme temperature variation in North America while waiting for our ride to crest the horizon and relieve us from the elements. It feels strangely normal in Worcester to wait for a bus this way, in extreme temperatures, huddled on a small strip of sidewalk. It often takes a reminder, like some time spent in a different city where the bus system is well funded and prioritized, to realize that things do not have to be this way.
This is, obviously, not a new or revolutionary idea. The number of advocates who have pointed to this gap is pretty large, so in an attempt to posit some amount of value here I’ll opt for something simple and topical: a collection of resources about how the hottest cities in the world have addressed protecting their riders from sun, heat and humidity.
Here is a recap of some of those, an overview of better bus shelters for hot months:
Quickly I should mention that this is not the first time we have addressed bus stops on this blog. Click here to read Adam Thielker’s “More on Bus Stops” from March of 2021.
One unfortunate downside of having extreme temperatures is that the strategies used to protect riders in the winter often backfire during the summer, such as enclosing the bus shelter or using materials that insulate and trap heat. However, research from Arizona State University suggests that using a special film on top of roof materials can help keep the temperature cooler in the summer without sacrificing the reverse in the winter. Click here to read more.
Bialystok, Poland has been installing “eco” bus stops with plant life and green roofs to stave off the brutal heat of central Europe (a region with a similar climate to Massachusetts). These bus stops are also, notably, enclosed on 3 sides for winter protection, but the greenery keeps the shelter measurably cooler. Alongside heat benefits, the plants also help with water retention and can keep areas around bus stops from flooding. The program has been a success and has been implemented as a pilot in other Polish cities. Read more here or here.
Mumbai, India has begun installing grass rooftops for heat prevention and water runoff as well, and are expanding this effort to clean the air quality in the city as well. Read more here.
Los Angeles has begun installing some public water fountains at bus stops, as well as wifi hot-spots. These kinds of amenities seem small, but in the 10 minutes a ride may be waiting in the heat, having access to a filling station for their water bottle can prevent overheating. In addition, the wifi allows riders to check on route times without using data, preventing the need for arrival time screens. In addition, the city has replaced some of the marker poles with “bus stop” signs into “sunshine blades” which are wider and angled to create a small pocket of shade behind them. Check out more about sunshine blades here and about fountains here.
With all of these examples (and so many more) we have to ask ourselves why we are left to face all types of weather in Worcester with little to no protection. The main reason is ownership and responsibility.
In some cities, like Portland, Oregon, the transit authority (TRIMET) is responsible for all elements of the bus stop except the sidewalk condition, but they are allowed to move bus stops without filing for changes with DPW or other agencies that work on sidewalks (Transit Center, 2019). In Worcester, it is not even clear who owns the space around a bus stop, or who must be consulted to install a new shelter. When compared against cities like Los Angeles, the simplicity of Portland’s executive organization is clearly easier to navigate, and change happens faster (Transit Center, 2019).
With a reorganization to match the model from Portland (shown below) and inspiration from around the world, maybe we can one day wait for the bus with a little more shade.