How Transit Facility Design Empowers Employees, Supports Active Lifestyles

Posted on April 20, 2016 by Rachel Bannon-Godfrey - Also by this author

Photo: Gym_Chang Kim-Maintenance Design Group for Metro
Photo: Gym_Chang Kim-Maintenance Design Group for Metro
In the previous article, we introduced the definition of "well-being," which encompasses physical health and wellness, as well as psychological mental health and happiness. Today, we explore design and planning strategies for embedding well-being initiatives into transit facilities.

Rethinking Break Rooms & Creating Amenity Spaces
In conversations with bus operators, the top three needs during break or recovery times are: access to a restroom, a place to buy or heat up food, and space to stretch their legs between routes. Most transit facilities have a breakroom for operators to use between shifts — typically an artificially lit space with a TV, vending machines, and cafeteria-style tables and chairs. The trouble is, every person has a different way of relaxing. Besides exposure to daylight and nature, key components of well-being are social cohesion and a sense of empowerment. The key here then is to empower employees to choose the best way to relieve their own stress around shifts.

Photo: Gym_Chang Kim-Maintenance Design Group for Metro
Photo: Gym_Chang Kim-Maintenance Design Group for Metro

The break area in Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro)’s Division 13 empowers employees by providing a choice between loud zones and quiet zones. They can choose between sitting around a table with a group, at a bar-style counter with a colleague, or being alone on the roof garden; between spending a moment taking in the view of L.A., or watching TV.

Transit maintenance and operating facilities are typically not located in prime commercial and retail areas, leaving fewer food options for operators and mechanics. But the era of the vending machine diet is waning (and with good reason). Division 13 employees can heat up lunch in the breakroom microwave or buy lunch outside from food trucks that LA Metro is working with to provide fresh food for employees at affordable prices. Similarly, in Oregon, TriMet contracts with a local turnkey caterer to supply freshly made, healthy food options on a daily basis, as well as the necessary cooler units for the food.

While many transit facilities cannot accommodate much "green space" on site, available space can be leveraged by designing it with a functional purpose. Activate large roof areas by creating walking/jogging tracks or install green roofs. Beyond aesthetics, green roofs provide long-term value by decreasing storm water runoff and extending the life of roof membranes. In return, green roofs offer natural settings and additional employee areas. 

Photo: Gym_Chang Kim-Maintenance Design Group for Metro
Photo: Gym_Chang Kim-Maintenance Design Group for Metro
Exterior spaces for employees not only provide opportunities to connect with nature, but also allow them to enjoy (even work) outdoors.

Using Design to Promote an Active Lifestyle and Communication
Providing the physical infrastructure for transit employees to commute to work other than by single occupancy vehicle is important, but mobility shouldn’t stop at the front door. Simple design strategies have the power to incorporate active workplace lifestyles into daily routine. Motivate people to choose the stairs by incorporating artwork, daylight, and/or great views into stairwells. Enlarge landings and provide comfortable seating to enable these areas to be used as informal day-lit meeting spaces.

Providing a fitness-related amenity is one thing, getting participation is another; so make it as easy as possible for employees to be active. Exercise facilities cannot be afterthoughts, crammed into remote converted storage rooms, or converted trailers in the yard. Place them along primary corridors near locker rooms and restrooms. Include safe, private and lockable showers that provide enough room to change back into appropriate work attire. Additionally, active work environments often create mini-competitions between employees, which can improve camaraderie and build stronger teams.

Transit ridership and mobility are two key contributors to health and well-being. A study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found transit users took 30% more steps per day and spent 8.3 more minutes walking per day than people who commuted by car. An obvious start on the path towards a healthy workplace is for transit agencies to encourage employees to be leaders in taking the bus, biking or walking to work. In addition to bike racks, consider installing bike repair stations, complete with a parts vending machine and access to tools.

Next time, we’ll look at how innovative approaches to features such as lighting impact wellbeing in 24/7 spaces. We’d love to hear how your transit agency approaches wellness in the workplace. Reach out to us or let us know in the comments.

This article was written by Rachel Bannon-Godfrey, director of sustainability at RNL and Merlin Maley, Associate Principal and Western Region Transit Director at RNL, a national architectural firm specializing in the planning and design of bus and rail operations and maintenance facilities.


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