what american transit systems can learn from costa rica, in pictures

I just returned from a five-day, four-night getaway in Costa Rica. The occasion was my wife’s cousin’s birthday, but being the geek that I am, I decided to photograph some of Costa Rica’s infrastructure. As I did, I noticed something about Costa Rica’s bus stops that many American bus stops lack – even in transit-rich cities like New York.

NOTE: Click any image to enlarge.

[Fig. 1] A bus shelter!

[Fig. 2] A close-up of the shelter in Fig. 1. Many shelters – but not all – have seats.

[Fig. 3] The shelters come in many shapes…

[Fig. 4] …and sizes.

[Fig. 5] Most of the shelters I saw had ads – here are a few that don’t.

[Fig. 6] This bus shelter doesn’t have seating.

[Fig. 7] Lots of variety in the shelter designs.

[Fig. 8] A bus loads/unloads at a bus stop. Most buses don’t look like the one in this photo – I saw a variety of high-floor models from Daewoo, MAN, and others.

Say what you want about Costa Rica’s infrastructure (it’s not the best – many streets have no sidewalks, so it’s common to see pedestrians, cyclists, cars, buses, and large trucks share the road), but one thing Costa Rica has over many American transit systems is bus shelters. Shelters are a simple amenity that protects bus riders from the elements. The ones with seating are even better, providing some measure of comfort for those with long waits, strollers, or other cargo.

An interesting tidbit about Costa Rica’s bus system is that it covers most of the country, but it’s not a unified network. Rather, many individual transportation companies provide bus services ranging from daily departures to service every 10 minutes or better. (See the master bus schedule for more information.)

In short: bus shelters are low-hanging fruit that many American bus systems – including NYC – should use much more often!

Bonus pix:

[Fig. 9] This sign advises drivers to give cyclists at least 1.5 meters (about 5 feet) of room when passing them. I saw many cyclists on various stretches of road while here.

[Fig. 10] The graffiti on this overpass reads “Cuida tu Planeta”, which means “Take care of your planet”.

[Fig. 11] A view from Costa Rica’s National Highway 27. Our tour guide told us this road is among Costa Rica’s newest, having opened around 2009 or so.

[Fig. 12] The Costa Rican highways we traversed had a maximum of four lanes (two in each direction)…

[Fig. 13] …and many stretches only have a single lane in each direction.

[Fig. 14] Pedestrian overpass along National Highway 27, featuring more pro-planet graffiti (“Cuidenos nuestra planeta”).

[Fig. 15] The electronic sign by this toll plaza basically says that failure to exercise caution while driving can cost you your life. This is especially true here since many roads feature sharp hairpin curves in mountainous terrain at steep grades, and two-way traffic must negotiate single-lane bridges at various points.

[Fig. 16] A jetBlue bird with the moon in the distance at LaGuardia Airport’s Marine Air Terminal.

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