America’s Best Bus Stops Round 1: Public Art Meets Public Transit
This is the fourth and final first-round match-up in our contest to find America’s Best Bus Stop. In our first bout, a stop along Boston’s famous Columbus Avenue busway dominated the competition, while a regional bus station in Lewes, Del. pulled off a last-minute upset in contest two. Voting is still open for our third match-up between Juneau, Minneapolis, and Escondido, Calif.; click here to vote now, and don’t forget to scroll to the bottom to cast your vote for today’s competition.
An artful bus stop can transform a wearisome wait into an inspiring visit to a micro-museum — and these stops are true masterpieces.
Today, we’re looking at three stops that straddle the line between sculpture and public utility, without sacrificing the basics of good benches, shelters, sidewalks and more.
All right, aesthetes; let’s take a look.
During the last few years of the Sorriest Bus Stop contest, we’ve seen more than our fair share of nearly invisible waiting areas.
But good luck missing this one:
Designed in 2014 by a Madrid-based artist collective known as “mmmm….” — yep, the same people who made the famous wooden “meeting bowls” that popped up in Times Square in 2011 — this Baltimore bus stop offers riders the option to wait under the “B”-shaped shelter, sit in the nook of the “U,” or even lie down in the crook of the “S” (which is basically the opposite of the hostile architecture that proliferates across other public spaces to dissuade unhoused people from getting a little rest).
Artist Emilio Alarcón told Slate that the goal of the project was “to create a very friendly bus stop to contrast with the industrial city,” while still employing conventional industrial materials like wood and steel.
This playful bus stop might lose some points among accessibility advocates, given that it dominates a lot of the sidewalk, and it may not be the most wheelchair-friendly waiting area on this list. (The artists say that people who use assistive devices can take shelter inside the “B,” but we can’t see a ramp leading up to it, at least from the press photos on the collective’s website.)
It’s worth noting, though, that this installation is located in an inarguably human-scaled neighborhood just a couple blocks from a major park. If context-sensitive street art is your jam, this might deserve your vote.
Even when it’s a little more subtle that Baltimore’s 14-foot tall megastop, great public art can still send a powerful political message — and this Portland, Maine wonder is no exception.
Installed in the fall of 2020 as part of a larger effort to beautify bus shelters throughout Portland, this stunning stop is the work of Ghana-born artist and Maine resident Ebenezer Akapo, who incorporated a pattern composed of his native country’s Adinkra symbols into his design. The two specific symbols he chose to highlight represent hope and friendship, respectively, and it’s prompting an important dialogue in the community in the wake of protests following the murder of George Floyd, according to the nonprofit that worked with city and regional leaders to bring the shelter to life.
“[This bus stop] evokes joy and hope and cultivates friendship in a city within the whitest state in the nation, [which has seen] an influx of immigrants from African countries [in recent years],” said Dinah Minot, executive director of Creative Portland. “At different hours of the day the shelter design casts shadows of ‘hope’ on the bus shelter patrons and on the passersby.”
Akapo’s masterpiece isn’t Portland’s only beautiful new bus stop. Creative Portland also commissioned three others, any of which would easily qualify for this contest, and is on track to commission four more this summer alone, drawing on grants from the National Endowment of the Arts OUR TOWN program, which more transit agencies should definitely take advantage of.
Now, Akapo’s design still draws on a fairly traditional shelter structure, which might not make it a favorite among voters who think art-focused bus stops should really shake things up. But there’s no doubt that this waiting area is an exciting celebration of America’s immigrant communities — who, by the way, make up about a third of U.S transit commuters despite constituting just 14 percent of all residents. And you might be compelled to honor them by giving this stop your vote.
One of the overlooked pleasures of riding the bus is how it allows us to truly witness the passing landscape while someone else holds the wheel. This stop pays homage to that experience in a simple but powerful way — and gives talented youth artists a fantastic canvas for their gifts.
Located in the small city of Norwalk, Conn. this stop was the result of an Art on the Bus Shelter Project co-sponsored by the local transit district and the Norwalk Art Space organization, whose headquarters are located just behind this stop. The contest organizers challenged high school artists to create work to beautify their city’s most overlooked public spaces, and awarded the winners gift certificates for art supplies and — you guessed it — free transit passes as part of their prize.
Bust stop artist Joshua Arouni shared the title with fellow student Estella Trygg, whose whimsical interpretation of the contest theme, “daydreams through the window,” deserves a shout out too.
This bus stop definitely got one of the more modest makeovers in this contest, but it’s still a fantastic reminder of how little touches like these can make the everyday transit experience a little more special — and how we can empower the members of our communities, young and old, to make their mark on public space. And custom posters like these are definitely something your town can copy on the side of any shelter you’ve got.
Let’s vote: which work of art would you most like to spend time with while you wait?
Polls will remain open until Monday, March 28 at 11:59 p.m. ET.
Here’s the full bracket if you’re playing along at home.