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Next Stop for Columbia Pike: Super Stops for Buses
High-Tech Shelters Seek More Riders

By Mark Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 24, 2008

"Bus stop," "luxurious." Those two don't go together. But the two are synonymous at the "Super Stops" planned in Arlington County along Columbia Pike.

The bus shelters will feature heated seats, heated floors, new lighting, glass walls and WiFi capability, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced recently.

"If you go look at any bus shelter, they don't have the lighting, they don't have the heating, and they're not as big," said Candace Smith, a Metro spokeswoman. "A lot of times, you can be standing around in the rain. These are much bigger. They have more creature comforts, and that alone makes them more attractive."

A Metro board committee on July 10 approved building three Super Stops, the first of 22 planned along Columbia Pike. The first three stops, a pilot program, will be on the pike at the northwest and southwest corners of South Dinwiddie Street and the southeast corner of South Walter Reed Drive.

Arlington County will pay Metro the $2 million cost of the improvements, and the county will own, operate and maintain the shelters. The County Board approved the agreement with Metro for the construction of the stops last month.

The stops will accommodate 15 to 20 people, Smith said; the typical bus shelter fits six.

"They're basically a very souped-up version of the old stop, hence the name Super Stop," Smith said. She called the Super Stops part of a plan to improve bus service in the region.

"It's much more attractive for people to take the bus. It's more convenient," she said. "Adding these new and improved Super Stops is part of this overall effort to make the bus a more attractive option for people to take. Because the rail system doesn't have infinite capacity, we also want to make the bus more attractive to people, and this is part of that overall larger effort."

Smith said the most important part of the stops will be the real-time displays telling riders when the next bus is coming. The top bus-related customer complaint Metro receives is about buses not being on schedule, Smith said.

Lynn Rivers, Arlington's Metrobus and Metrorail service coordinator, said the stops are part of service upgrades to Columbia Pike that began in 2003, including improvements in bus service, passenger amenities and traffic signals.

"With the amount of activity that we have along the pike, places that generate that kind of activity are mostly the rail stations," said Rivers, who is overseeing the Super Stops project. "There is such a tremendous amount of activity, the thought was that these particular locations needed something more than your standard bus shelter. You needed a place where you could have more people in the shelters, more seating, more passenger info."

The three stops serve 700 to 800 riders a day, Rivers said. The other 19 stops have not been identified, and the idea is to use the three prototype stops to see what changes could be made to the others, she said.

Work on the project will include demolition of the old bus stops and construction of concrete curbs and gutters, heated concrete slabs and benches, and lighted shelters with metal space frame canopies and glass screen walls. Rivers said construction on the first Super Stop will begin sometime in the fall and last until spring.

Rivers said the hope is that the real-time system to identify the next bus arrival will be running when the Super Stops open in the spring. And she hopes the Super Stops are the beginning of a trend.

"These will be the first in the region, and we hope it'll be the prototype for the other bus corridors," she said. "With fuel prices as they are, we know for sure that more people are riding buses. For buses, bus stops are the entryway to the system, so the nicer you make those, that would help make people interested in taking public transit."

Chris Zimmerman (D), Metro board chairman and Arlington County Board member, said the goal is to transform bus service to something like in Europe, where he said it is assumed people will use the bus and where quality and expectations are high.

Zimmerman said he thinks the No. 16 line, which runs along Columbia Pike, is the most heavily traveled bus route in Virginia. "This is our biggest commercial corridor that doesn't have Metro," he said. And in the five years since improvements to the bus routes along the pike began, ridership has gone up, he said.

As for concerns about whether ridership justifies the service and the investment, that attitude is backward, Zimmerman said. He said it should be, "Does the service justify the ridership?"

"But we also wanted to say, 'What about making these good places to be?' " he said. "There's a certain level of service, a certain quality of amenities, that's expected, and we're trying to see if we can provide that at a transit stop and have people start to think about the service differently."

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