Portland artist Ebenezer Akakpo stands by the artwork-clad bus stop on the 500 block of Congress Street in Portland that on Friday won the title of Best Bus Stop in the USA in a contest hosted by StreetsblogUSA. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

A Portland bus shelter was confirmed the winner of a national contest for best bus stop in the country after invalid votes for its Boston competitor were thrown out Friday afternoon.

An initial vote count showed the Walnut Avenue bus stop in Boston winning with 55 percent when polls closed at 10 a.m. Friday, beating a colorful shelter on Congress Street designed by local artist Ebenezer Akakpo.

The Congress Street shelter won out against six other cities before facing off against the Boston bus stop in the final round.

But Portland supporters closely observing the count noticed a suspicious surge of online votes that gave Boston an insurmountable lead shortly before polling ended. The issue was reported to Streetsblog, the transit and transportation news service that sponsored the contest.

After probing the issue, Streetsblog rejected what it said were votes cast by third-party bots and confirmed that the Portland shelter was the winner.

“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,” senior editor Kea Wilson wrote in an email. More than 9,000 votes were cast in the contest at last count. Streetsblog removed the vote totals after polls closed.


“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,” Wilson added.

The contest winner will be formally announced Monday.

“It is so exciting,” Akakpo said in an interview just after he learned of the final result.

“The support from Portland, from Maine is just incredible. People were posting this everywhere, to get everyone’s attention,” added Akakpo, who is originally from Ghana. “To me, this is the biggest honor since I came to Maine.”

Portland’s underdog run against Baltimore; Norwalk, Connecticut; and Juneau, Alaska, was fueled by a grassroots voting campaign.

“We were feeling like we tried everything possible we could do to tell everyone we knew, and everyone told their friends,” said Dinah Minot, executive director at Creative Portland, the city’s official arts agency, which funded the bus stop art. “It was a beautiful community effort.”


That made the apparent sudden defeat Friday morning even harder to take. “You saw that (we) were in the lead, neck-and-neck,” Minot said. Then all of a sudden Boston had all these votes, she added. Minot does not believe that winning the contest comes with any prize beyond bragging rights.

Akakpo designed a series of powder-coated colored panels encasing the bus shelter, which sits across the street from Maine College of Art and Design. The panels are stamped with outlines of traditional Ghanaian Adinkra symbols for hope and friendship.

The art installation was funded with $4,500 from a creative bus shelter initiative sponsored by Creative Portland. That project and others by the organization have supported artists, especially through the last two pandemic years, Akakpo said.

Creative Portland is planning a victory party from 5-7 p.m. Friday, April 22, in Akakpo’s showroom at Indigo Arts Alliance on Washington Avenue.

Staff Writer Eric Russell contributed to this report. 

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