After a nail-biting battle between two fantastic New England nominees, Portland, Maine has been crowned the winner of our America's Best Bus Stops contest for 2022.
Portland was an early favorite to win this competition, thanks in no small part to this small town's big enthusiasm for the marriage of public transit and public art — and this stop's unique message of hope, friendship, and celebration of the local immigrant community to which artist Ebenezer Akakpo belongs. Maine's media was quick to get on board, and we couldn't be happier to see bus stops get such a bright spotlight in the conversation about what makes a city great.
A lot of folks deserve credit for Portland's success, including Akakpo himself, Creative Portland and its Creative Bus Shelter Initiative, Greater Portland METRO Transit, the Greater Portland Council of Government, the City of Portland, and everyone who cast a vote (more on that later). Creating this stupendous stop and getting it truly took a village, not to mention in-kind donations from local Portland-based vendors Designtex, Portland Industrial Coating, and American Steel and Aluminum — and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts's Our Town Initiative.
That grant, by the way, has funded three other gorgeous bus stops in Portland so far, with four more to come this summer. Portland's nominating team hopes that this award will make residents proud to ride transit and underscore the value of public art.
"We’re thrilled with the results," said Dinah Minot, Creative Portland's executive director. "The community really showed up to salute Ebenezer’s art installation. He deserves this wonderful recognition. Creative Portland is excited about continuing to hire more artists for additional artistic bus shelters, and I hope we can inspire other cities to do the same."
Akakpo adds that he's also excited by the win, and he's ready to help them out any agencies looking to beautify stops of their own.
“I would love to design bus shelters in all 50 states,” he said.
Portland narrowly beat the Walnut Avenue stop along Boston's Columbus Avenue Busway, though it wasn't always clear. When voting ended at 10 a.m. on Friday, the initial vote count showed Boston in the lead. But some Portland supporters questioned a surge of online votes just as polling ended.
After probing the issue, Streetsblog rejected votes cast by third-party bots, giving Portland the win.
“After a careful review of the voting logs shortly after polls closed this morning, our web team detected some spambot activity that gave the temporary appearance that Boston had secured the majority of votes,” our National Editor Kea Wilson told the Portland Press Herald, which eagerly covered the contest. “To be clear, these bots were third party entities and we do not suspect any nefarious voter interference on Boston’s part or anyone else’s.”
Streetsblog MASS Editor Christian MilNeil said both finalists deserve national recognition.
"I've used both of these bus stops, and I struggled to decide which one to vote for," MilNeil said. "Boston's Columbus Avenue busway is an incredible, transformative project, and the amenities at its bus stops are a big part of its appeal: they've got level-boarding platforms, lots of sheltered seating, and informational screens that display rider alerts and estimates for when the next buses are due to arrive...But Akakpo's patterned screens transform [Portland's stop] into something really special."
MilNeil adds that the entire METRO network deserves applause in its own right.
"As a city with about 1/10th the population of Boston, Portland's transit services aren't as good as the MBTA's," he conceded. "But our transit agency punches above its weight. I've lived here for 15 years, and in that time I've seen METRO add three new routes, improve frequencies, and establish transit pass partnerships with several major employers and local universities. Service changes in the works right now to increase headways and interline three routes along Congress Street mean that local buses will soon be stopping at Akapo's bus stop every 10 minutes on weekdays — and that's better service than even Boston's Columbus Avenue busway offers."
Here's the thing, though: determining the "best" bus stop in America isn't about service levels or amenities or aesthetics at all. Because at the end of the day, great bus stops can take many forms — and the real point of this contest was to show off as many of them as we could, and use the power of the polls to stimulate a conversation about what the next great waiting area in your town might look like.
It could look like the Walnut Avenue stop in Boston, which marries the latest transit tech with impeccable ground-up design, along with a dedicated center-running right of way that calms car traffic while giving a 91 percent BIPOC ridership one of the quickest trips in town.
And this beauty was built in less than 26 months. Seriously: transit agencies everywhere should be taking notes.
Or it could look like this stop in Juneau, Alaska, a classic example of context-sensitive design that keeps riders out of the rain without distancing them from the wonder of nature — or the complex and sometimes painful history that created the city itself.
Your city's next great "stop" might even be as big as this bus depot in a Lewes, Del., which helped bring high-quality local and regional service to a community that previously had little of either.
It might even reclaim a parking spot from local drivers and transform it into a great place to wait, as this stop in Albany, Calif. did:
Whether your town has room for a marvelous megaproject or simple but stupendous shelter upgrade, there's always something we can do to make our bus stop networks better — including supporting systemic policies to help put great waiting areas everywhere.