Silver Spring is this close to earning a great (dis)honor as home to America’s sorriest bus stop.

The culprit? A lonely bus stop on the edge of the six-lane Route 29 in a hilly block with no sidewalk or  crosswalk nearby, where about a dozen people board a bus on a daily basis.

“It’s pretty awful,” said Dan Reed, a Silver Spring resident who passes the bus stop every day. “There’s just a little bus stop on the side of the hill next to a big highway and there’s literally no way to get to it or from it.”

Located at Crestmoor Drive, just north of Four Corners and south of the Shoppes of Burnt Mills, it’s one of the worst bus stops in the Washington region — and in the United States. It has made the quarter-finals in a crowd-sourced competition that highlights the most terrible bus stops across the country. The contest, put together by the blog Streetsblog, features 16 bus stops in poor condition: difficult to access because of a lack of sidewalks, crossroads and ramps; no basic amenities such as shelters or pavement pads; and, as in Silver Spring, placed on the edge of major thoroughfares.

 

So how did Silver Spring make the list? Reed nominated it.

The District also had a bus stop in the “sweet 16” competition. That stop, near Fort Circle Park, has no sidewalk, crosswalk or shelter. Unfortunately (or should we say fortunately?), the District didn’t make it to quarter-finals. Kansas City beat it with a stop near its baseball stadium, described as being in a multi-lane highway with no crosswalks nearby, and “no place other than a vast grassy area to wait for the bus.”

But Silver Spring came out strong from the first round, beating a New Castle, Del., bus stop said to be in “appalling conditions to expect people to walk to or from.” With nearly 60 percent of the vote (a total of 376 votes), Silver Spring moved on to face an Asheville, N.C., bus stop that is “in a ditch.” And as of Tuesday morning, Silver Spring was easily taking Asheville down with more than 70 percent of the vote, which means it could move to the semi-finals when the vote closes Tuesday afternoon.  (Want to vote? Click here).

bus_stop bracket

Contest organizers say they hope to draw attention to the conditions that bus users face.

“Many of the stops in the competition are not just uncomfortable or degrading but outright dangerous,” said Angie Schmitt, Streetsblog’s editor. “We hope the competition helps people see these places with fresh eyes. … Relatively inexpensive infrastructure like bus shelters and trash cans can really make a difference for riders. In other cases, sidewalks, crosswalks and the wider set of street conditions need attention.”

The Silver Spring bus stop was improved about six years ago when Montgomery County built a concrete pad for people to stand on. You wonder why no other improvements have been made?  Well, it’s a tricky question to answer. Let’s try.

There are three agencies involved, which complicates things. The Maryland State Highway Administration owns the road. Montgomery County maintains bus stops.  The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority runs buses that serve the bus stop.  But there is no consensus among the three agencies about which owns the bus stop and which is responsible for improvements.

SHA spokesman David Buck says:

This is not entirely SHA responsibility by any means (the bus stop may have been placed without our knowledge or it is possible it was put in by the county and if so, it would be their responsibility to provide access from the bus stop to the nearest intersection). There are actually two other bus stops at the intersection of U.S. 29 at Southwood right down the road.

It is a state route, but it is not always SHA’s responsibility to construct sidewalks on state roads, since SHA does not ultimately own nor maintain any sidewalks in the state.

That is why it can be complicated — every county has its own sidewalk ordinance and counties themselves can build sidewalks on state roads as well.

SHA agrees this bus stop is in a less than desirable location. There is continuous sidewalk on the other side of U.S. 29 leading all the way down to the intersection at Southwood Drive, therefore there is no compelling reason anyone should be crossing U.S. 29 in an attempt to use this mid-block bus stop.

A solution, he said, would be for the county “to remove the bus stop/sign at this mid-block crossing and direct people to use the bus stops located on both sides of U.S. 29 just to the south at Southwood Drive.”

Montgomery County spokeswoman Esther Bowring said:

It’s a WMATA bus stop (which operates at bus stops in the county with the county’s permission).  WMATA is responsible for the pole and the signage.  The bus stop is in SHA’s right of way, but the county takes responsibility for maintaining bus stops to expedite (Americans With Disabilities Act) and accessibility improvements.

SHA is responsible for constructing sidewalks along the road.  SHA sidewalk work was done on U.S. 29 on the other side of the street (east side).

She said the bus stop, while not ideal and without a crosswalk, is not as bad as it was a few years ago.  Here’s the before photo:


The Silver Spring bus stop in 2004. (Montgomery County)

“A picture does indeed tell a thousand words,” said Bowring. “Especially when you have the whole picture.”

There is no pedestrian traffic on that side of the road “as it is park land with a sizable impenetrable hillside behind the stop” she said. And the stop is used by residents on the east side of the road. About 13 people board buses at the stop on a daily basis, she said.

“In fact, the residents using this stop probably appreciate having a ‘bunkered’ bus stop dug into the hillside, out of the travel lane,” she said.

Metro, which operates the Z-line buses that serve the bus stop, says the agency doesn’t own the bus stop as SHA and Montgomery County implied. Spokesman Richard Jordan said:

Metro does not own or maintain this particular bus stop, which is on a state road. Of roughly 11,000 bus stops in the region, approximately 600 are owned/maintained by Metro. The balance are generally the responsibility of the jurisdiction.

In this case that would be Montgomery County.

Reed, who works as a transportation planner, says he understands that having three agencies involved makes it more complicated.

“But I don’t know if that’s an excuse,” he said. “It really illustrates how often the people who plan our roads and the people who plan our transit don’t always communicate with each other.”

Maybe something will be done, he said, if the Silver Spring location earns the title as “sorriest bus stop in America.”

“There are definitely bus stops that are almost as bad as that one but none quite as bad. This one really is the worst and I hope that it will be voted the sorriest bus stop in the country,” he said. “It’s an issue that sorely needs to be fixed.”

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