Dallas Area Rapid Transit has more than 11,000 bus stops, about 1,000 of which are the standard three-sided plexiglass shelter. If you want to die prematurely, those shelters are a great place to wait for a bus. That’s because studies have shown that a traditional bus shelter traps particulate matter, or PM—tiny bits of airborne pollution from all sorts of sources (in this case, mostly cars) that cause all sorts of diseases.
Jim Schermbeck wants to change the way DART builds shelters. By rotating them 180 degrees, so that their back walls face the street, PM levels can be significantly reduced. Schermbeck heads up a local environmental activism group called Downwinders at Risk. He has met with the folks at the Better Block Foundation, a local facilitator of people-focused urban design, and talked with them about the feasibility of creating plywood pop-up bus shelter kits that people in the community could assemble themselves.
“I was in Toronto, and that is how their bus stops are designed [facing away from the street],” says Krista Nightengale, Better Block’s managing director, (and, many years ago, D Magazine’s managing editor). “It’s still a little bit counterintuitive, when you put the back in the front, which is kind of our design challenge.” Some sort of translucent plastic will be needed, so that riders can see the bus coming. Nightengale estimates that the kits can be manufactured for about $1,500, and Schermbeck is raising funds, hopefully to deploy 10 to 20 test shelters.
In addition to money, he’ll need permission. In that regard, his timing might be auspicious. DART is in the process of reassessing all of its stops. In the past, boarding numbers alone determined whether a stop got a shelter. Now the agency will use a scoring system that takes into account not only boardings but also demographics and geography. For example, a stop near a retirement community that might not be busy enough to have gotten a shelter under the old system could now get one.
Schermbeck has brought his idea to DART staff and board members, one of whom, Jon-Bertrell Killen, told him that DART had never considered the risk PM pollution poses to its riders until Downwinders brought it up. “We hope to keep raising their awareness,” Schermbeck says, “as DART goes through what they say is a wholesale reevaluation of where and how they build their own new shelters.”