How to Apply Plaza Principles to Transit Hubs

ioby's picture

By ioby

October 6, 2014

Top image: A bland transit hub in LA. It doesn't have to be this way. Credit: Frederick Dennstedt

By applying best practices in plaza programming to transit hubs, you can transform what is crowded space most people try to rush through into a place that’s a center of information and social interaction, where riders can do all your daily shopping at once, benefit from other commuters’ neighborhood expertise, and support local merchants’ thriving businesses.

STEP 1.  Identify a Stage Near Your Transit Hub.

Find a space near a bus stop, a train station, bicycle parking, carsharing, or a park and ride with lots of commuter eyes and feet. (Not too many eyes and feet or you might create a bottleneck!) Ideally, use an existing public plaza or park. Get permission. Find out what kinds of street activity permits you may need. If you plan on using space owned by a transit agency, alert agency staff to your plans, and comply with regulations.

STEP 2. Build Community & Relationships for Long-Term Impact.

Define what kind of help you need (i.e., organizers, flyer distributors, website designers, donated materials, membership lists, businesses, civic leaders). If you are an existing organization, reach out to allied local groups — tenant associations, co-op boards, social service and cultural organizations, schools, libraries, health-care providers or any other organized group active in your community. Share your idea and ask for help. If you are an individual, get some friends together to create a critical mass, and then reach out to those same organizations. Expert Tip: When you’re building community, the value of face time (meetings and phone calls) and old-fashioned shoe leather organizing cannot be over-estimated. Mass emails may feel efficient, but their impact pales in comparison to human touch.

STEP 3. Create a Shared Vision.

Who uses this transit hub? What would make it more convenient for them? Make quick improvements, but also plant the seeds for future change. Consider the following to make a plaza more...

Pedestrian Friendly: Build, draw or otherwise demonstrate physical interventions that create more room & better flow.

Convenient: Map errand options within a five-block radius, including round-trip time from the Hub; add tips, short-cuts and endorsements from residents, e.g., “I love Smithtown Bakery’s hot cross buns at Easter!”

Cost-Saving: Work with local businesses to offer discounts during the activation period.

Efficient: List transit options within a five-block radius, including transfer points and travel tips.

Informative: Work with local businesses to sponsor a short-term free wifi pilot — giving the sponsors splash-page coverage.

Healthy: Create a pop-up farmers market, cooking demo, nutrition advice, exercise class incorporating the bus stop, etc.

Neighborly: Create a tip-sheet on “How to be on a First Name Basis with Your Local Merchants.”

Interactive: Ask commuters how the Hub could work better for them; what kinds of goods and services would they like to see?

Participatory: Recruit future activists.

STEP 4. Make Some Noise.

Notify residents, businesses, commuters, and transit workers. Make sure your elected officials know of your plans, and do everything you can to get them there for the demonstration and give them a role. They are powerful allies, especially if there are more permanent aspects to your vision. Alert the media with a short press advisory two to three days before the event, and a press release with quotes from elected officials, business owners, and a commuter right after the event. Don’t forget to include neighborhood bloggers and transit or other issue-specific websites (e.g., Streetsblog) to your media list. Video everything and get releases.

STEP 5. Keep the Momentum Going.

Now that you have some momentum, don’t be afraid to be ambitious. Transit hubs work better when there is adjacent public space to improve safety and flow, attract foot traffic to local businesses, provide a meeting place, offer seating, and create a frame for creative community-building projects like yours. Think long term. If you have a public space (plaza or park) near your hub, how can it contribute to your vision on a regular basis? What kinds of physical improvements would help? If you do not have such a public space, can you create one?


A lively transit hub in Berlin. Credit: Tony Webster

Who Should Be Involved

  • Transit Agency
  • Public Works Department (or in some places the Transportation or Parks Departments manages bus stops)
  • Bus Bench or Shelter advertising franchise holder
  • Neighborhood cultural institutions

More Resources

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Shareable is featuring one how-to a week from ioby's Trick Out My Trip report. Below are all the posts in the series. It's all stuff that "any community can do to improve their transit experience in five easy steps."

This entry was written by Laura Hansen:

Laura Hansen is the Executive Director of Neighborhood Plaza Partnership, a new initiative of the Horticultural Society of New York, providing resources and assistance to neighborhood plaza managers across New York City. 

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