Access Member Finalist in Knight Foundation Competition

An innovative idea of transforming bus stops into more useful and engaging places suggested by Tallahassee resident Megan Doherty has earned her a place as a finalist in the Knight Cities Challenge competition.

The initiative to identify new ideas that will lead to retaining young talent, boosting economic ideas and encouraging civic engagement drew 7,000 applicants from across the country. Of those, 126 ideas were listed as finalists, with 14 finalists coming from Florida.

Doherty’s proposal was the only one selected out of 111 from Tallahassee. Doherty, 30, is principal planner for the Tallahassee/Leon County Planning Department, but she submitted the proposal on her own.

The competition is significant in that the Knight Foundation is offering $5 million a year over the next three years to those with the best ideas to come out of the 26 cities where the Knight Foundation invests money to enhance creative thinking. Over the past several years, the foundation has invested millions of dollars in Tallahassee. The foundation will determine how the money is doled out based on the applications received and recommended for funding.

Doherty’s idea is to encourage better use of public transportation, especially among young professionals, by making them more appealing and more inviting as community meeting centers. Too often, she says, bus stops and shelters are functional, but isolated and don’t add to community interaction.

Doherty said thought of the idea, which Knight Foundation required to initially be submitted in 150 words, based on her experience using public transportation. She said that she wanted to develop ways “where we can make these spaces more engaging and create an experience that is more than just standing and waiting for the bus.”

Possibilities include adding screens that would show real-time transit information, adding more comfortable benches and perhaps foot rests and making shelters blend in more with the nearby business community. Of the 886 bus stops, there are 143 shelters, 61 benches and 62 two-seater bus poles.

In her application, titled, “Throw the Bus Stop Out with the Bathwater,” Doherty wrote:

“People of all ages and millennials in particular are more interested in riding transit than ever before. However, bus stops are often located away from the public realm and activity centers within cities. When you segregate transit riders from people, activity, and street life, it can make riding the bus a very isolating experience. Women and children are disproportionately affected by the unease and discomfort of standing alone next to a pole along a road.

Let’s stop creating bus stops by sticking poles in the ground and consciously create spaces where bus stops can be co-located with other activities.

If we create welcoming public spaces that improve the surrounding area, benefit businesses, and also serve as transit stops, we can positively engage potential riders rather than creating an urban experience that discourages transit ridership. Riding the bus can be an inclusive, comfortable experience rather than an isolating one.

If riding the bus isn’t such an isolating experience, will more people ride the bus? Young professionals and college graduates have said time and again they want transit options as cities can start by creating places people want to be and then adding a bus stop. If we start bringing the buses to where people are instead of disengaging riders from the public realm, will it become easier to ride the bus? Creating an inclusive urban experience where transit is easily accessible is a key first step in improving transit options for city residents.”

Doherty now must fine-tune her proposal in the next three weeks and submit details on what she envisions, what costs would be involved, what outcome she is expecting and what shareholders will be involved, said Bahia Ramos, director of community foundations for Knight. The winners will be announced this spring. Ramos said $5 million is available for the first year to the winners and the projects must include an 18-month proposal.

“What this best reflects is bringing public life back to public spaces,” Ramos said. “How do we build bridges and diverse communities? The bus stop is a part of the public space. How do we rethink these traditional spaces so they respond to the community’s need and spark new ideas.”

Ramos said the applications from Tallahassee represented ideas from start-up tech businesses to academia to neighborhood activists. She encourages those who were not selected to also present their ideas to the Community Foundation of North Florida where the Knight Foundation has been a major funder of community projects.

“I thought it was a good representation from the city of Tallahassee,” she said.

Article Credit: Byron Dobson, Tallahassee Democrat 6:32 p.m. EST January 12, 2015

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