Long after the sun sets in Portland, Maine, Ebenezer Akakpo creates art.
He designs tumblers with Maine landmarks. He crafts earrings featuring symbols of his native Ghana. Those symbols now adorn a bus stop.
Akakpo doesn’t take the bus. So, he hadn’t thought about them. The same can be said for so many people in so many places. But buses serve millions every day. And bus stops, when done right, bring dignity.
Christian MilNeil works for Streetsblog USA. They just ran a bracket-style tournament for America’s best bus stop. Akakpo’s stop won.
"Transit agencies are often underfunded. So, there aren’t enough resources to do well-designed bus stops,” said MilNeil. “They deserve the kind of consideration that car drivers take for granted.”
Akakpo adds, “When I was in school, we had to look at a painting and try to think of what the artist was going through. I’m hoping that the bus shelter that I created will have the same impact. By the time you try to figure it out, the bus is already there.”
Researchers in Minnesota asked bus riders how long they “thought” they waited at stops regionwide. At stops with a bench, a shelter, and real-time info, riders often guessed right. At stops with none of that, they often guessed they’d waited twice or three times as long as they actually had.
Even just a bench made a big difference.
The Columbus Ave and Walnut Ave stop on the T in Boston was voted second-best.
It has a shelter to wait under if it gets rainy, real-time information to let riders know if their bus is running late, benches, and ADA-accessible ramps. This stop cost roughly $500,000.
Akakpo’s was a fraction of that price.
“Portland is a smaller city. There are a lot of small cities that are car-dependent that could benefit from small, incremental improvements to the transit system,” MilNeil said.
Dinah Minot runs Creative Portland. She partnered with the city to commission four pieces of art over already existing stops. She said the art was not only intended to increase ridership but also to reduce the stigma of riding a bus.
“Our bus shelters are a big improvement from five years ago where there were no bus shelters, and you were standing out in the elements, and you were cold, and you weren’t protected,” Minot said.
All of this shows that shelter, seating, and some art can offer dignity.