The “super stop” that set off an outcry when it opened two years ago is luxurious by bus stop standards. But if you live elsewhere in Arlington County you know that waiting at a bus stop isn’t that comfortable and cozy. For starters, only a small fraction of the bus stops have shelters and benches, and unless you are near a Metro station there’s no screen telling you when the next bus is coming. Now we also know that a great majority of stops are not accessible to people with disabilities.
Two of every three bus stops in Arlington are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines and are in need of improvements, according to the county’s Transit Bureau.
Of the county’s 1,100 bus stops used by Metrobus and ART, the county’s transit system, about 737 —or 67 percent— are in need of some accessibility improvements, Arlington officials said. Some require minor repairs such as removing sidewalk obstructions while others are in need of more significant investments including the installation of a 5-by-8-foot landing pad (as required by the ADA), adding pedestrian pathways to and from the bus stops, and curb and gutter work.
Jurisdictions across the region have been required to make investments on the bus stop infrastructure, and make them accessible to all, and compliant with the ADA guidelines. But some jurisdictions have been more successful than others are making progress. Montgomery County, for example, announced Thursday that it has completed improvements to 3,025 of 3,400 bus stops that were identified as needing upgrades. The county, which has a total of 5,400 bus stops, has made an investment of $11 million on the program. Most other jurisdictions have depended on federal grants to make the improvements. (We have asked other counties for information about their bus stop accessibility plans and will post those as we get them).
Metro estimates that about 6,500 of the region’s 19,000 bus stops are inaccessible to wheelchair users and others with limited mobility. And even where improvements have been made, many stops fall short of true accessibility because they lack walkable pathways, accessibility and transit officials say. The cost of improvements range, but Metro estimates that on average fixing one stop can cost $10,000.
Arlington appears to be increasing its allocation of funds to tackle the deficiencies at transit stops. For example, $6.1 million is included in the 2015-2024 Capital improvement Program, compared to only $2.6 million in a budget approved two years earlier.
Last year the County Board also approved a one-time $181,000 allocation to accelerate the improvements. (The improvements are funded with federal, state, and regional, and local funds, as well as some developer contributions.)
County officials say they have made accessibility improvements to approximately 70 bus stops since 2013. And the county’s goal is to make 20 ADA accessibility improvements and replace 10 old bus shelters each year, with funds dedicated to those efforts in the county’s budget for capital improvements.
This year’s budget provides funds for 60 additional improvements. As part of the effort, plans are to retrofit about 70 old shelters with new benches by fall. About 41 percent of the county’s 250 bus shelters are not compliant with the ADA guidelines, according to information provided by the county.
As is true elsewhere in the region, retrofitting bus stops to make them accessible to people with disabilities can be a challenging task in Arlington. The county says it faces limitations typical of constrained urban environments and higher-density land uses such as “difficulties obtaining public right-of-way from private land owners, utility relocation, alteration of drainage structures.”