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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Activists put in ‘guerilla benches’ at bus stops… and impressed Berkeley officers to put in official seating for transit passengers

By day, Mingwei Samuel works as a software program developer. Additionally by day — along with urbanist and author Darrell Owens — he builds and installs benches at bus stops across the California cities of Berkeley and Oakland that haven’t any seating.

It is a story as outdated as social media: In November, Owens tweeted a photograph of his 64-year-old neighbor sitting on the curb at a bus cease to attract consideration to the shortage of seating for bus riders.

“Which cease?” replied Samuel. “I can put a bench there.”

A month later, he had positioned a picket bench, constructed based mostly on a template from the Public Bench Challenge, on the bus cease in downtown Berkeley. The response — from the town and from bench fanatics all over the world — was speedy. On Dec. 17, he put in the bench; by Dec. 28, Berkeley had eliminated the bench and changed it with an official steel one.

“I used to be anticipating a constructive response, however I wasn’t anticipating how huge the tweet would get and the way a lot consideration that may get on native information as nicely,” Samuel tells Subsequent Metropolis.

Extra importantly, Owens’ neighbor – who has persistent ache and has bother standing for lengthy durations of time – does not have to take a seat on the curb on the bus cease anymore. “What can I say, it blew me away,” he advised Berkeleyside. “Now that I can have a spot to take a seat, that is superior.”

After that first bench, Samuel and Owens teamed as much as construct and place much more benches at bus stops. As of mid-January, greater than six have been positioned, with extra within the works. “Nobody’s actually requested Darrell and I to cease,” says Samuel.

The truth is, the Metropolis of Berkeley is mobilizing to deliver extra benches to extra bus stops, in line with former councilmember Kate Harrison. “I believe it is pretty,” says Harrison, who resigned in late January whereas calling out the town’s “damaged” processes and failure to adequately tackle residents’ issues. “I like this as an announcement of public want. Persons are expressing what they really want to make using transit efficient.”

A bench tied to the roof of a car
Photograph courtesy of Mingwei Samuel

Why do not extra bus stops have shelters or benches?

As thrilling as guerilla bus benches may be, everybody Subsequent Metropolis spoke to agreed that this can be a job for the general public sector. Town or transit company ought to step up and supply seating at bus stops for all riders, they are saying.

“I believe if we handled bus using with the identical type of important angle as we deal with automobile driving, then we might positively see higher benches, higher shelters in any respect the bus stops,” says Samuel.

Of the 512 bus stops in Berkeley, 50 of these have a bus shelter, that means that 90% of stops haven’t any shelter and no connected bench. It is unclear if there’s a separate checklist for stops with solely a bench.

Traditionally, bus riders aren’t prioritized within the transportation system. “Prepare riders are typically greater revenue,” explains Mary Buchanan, analysis and coverage supervisor on the TransitCenter basis. “There are typically extra white prepare riders than white bus riders.”

Bus stops are sometimes a snarl of bureaucratic dysfunction with a number of companies and departments working throughout the public right-of-way. Whereas the transit company may determine the place bus stops are positioned, they normally haven’t any jurisdictional authority to position a shelter or bench on the sidewalk, which is managed by the town. Predictably, this results in plenty of blame-shifting.

“[C]ities in our service areas keep authority over their streets and sidewalks, together with the location of out of doors furnishings,” AC Transit spokesperson Robert Lyles advised Subsequent Metropolis in response to a query concerning the company’s position in including bus benches. Town of Berkeley didn’t reply to a request for an interview.

“Transit riders — they do not know or care, nor ought to they, which entity is accountable for offering this useful resource,” says Buchanan.

It’s attainable for a transit company to offer higher facilities for bus riders. One instance is TriMet in Portland, Oregon. To streamline the method of including bus shelters, the company took over shelter siting and set up inside its service space, leveraging its information of the complete system and slicing via pink tape. “Depart the bus riders out of it. Depart advocates out of it. Cease pointing fingers,” Buchanan says.

Whereas there are not any indicators that AC Transit intends to take over the bus stops in Berkeley or every other metropolis, emails supplied to Subsequent Metropolis by Harrison present that the company is collaborating with the town to find out the place new bus benches ought to go.

The California metropolis that is doing bus benches proper

In 2022, then-mayor of Emeryville John Bauters made bus bench historical past when he spearheaded an effort to quickly set up seating in any respect bus stops within the metropolis. Seven months and 50 quick-build “Simme-Seats” later, each bus cease with out seating bought a bench.

Since then, Bauters says that transit advocates throughout California have sought to emulate the Emeryville mannequin.

“I simply all the time lead with security and accessibility,” says Bauters of his messaging technique. Now a metropolis councilmember, he has taken an assertive and outspoken strategy to bettering streets and sidewalks. “If it is not protected or accessible to everyone, it is not equitable.”

One distinction: Town put in benches with out participating in a prolonged neighborhood engagement course of. In different cities, NIMBYism has usually blocked primary facilities for transit riders like bus shelters and benches. The important thing, Bauters says, is to prioritize the town’s values — on this case, security and fairness — and to ask the best questions.

“Relating to infrastructure, [cities] exit and so they go, ‘Do you want this?’ And there is lots of people who unsurprisingly, say, ‘No, I do not need the bike lane. No, I do not need the bus bench in entrance of my home, a homeless particular person will sleep on it.'”

It is also necessary for cities to restrict the variety of departments and entities concerned within the course of, provides Buchanan. She named the town of Los Angeles, infamous for requiring eight completely different companies and a 16-step approval course of to set up a single bus shelter.

In keeping with Harrison, there shall be no attraction course of for bus benches. “We are going to take a look at want and the place there’s plenty of riders, and that is the place the benches are gonna go.”

She advised Subsequent Metropolis she deliberate to suggest a bus bench pilot program much like what the town of Hayward, California, is doing, as there is no such thing as a course of presently. (It is unclear if any such proposal will transfer ahead since her resignation.)

Impressed by Emeryville, Hayward is piloting quick-build bus benches at ten stops to review the results on rider conduct. A employees report places the price of one Simme-Seat at $2,000, estimating that it might value an estimated $600,000 to place seats in any respect 300 bus stops with no bench.

“It appears type of foolish to me to waste all of the money and time accumulating information on one thing we all know simply must be carried out,” says Bauters.

Harrison hopes to make use of funds from a 50-cent ride-hailing gross sales tax that’s set to generate an estimated $1 million in 2024. AC Transit already has a listing of bus stops ranked by fairness standards and 7 excellent requests for benches.

Within the meantime, guerilla bus benches will proceed to pop up within the East Bay. And Samuel needs individuals to know that the benches have improved for the reason that first one he positioned in downtown Berkeley.

“We added cross bracing. We changed the legs with handled wooden so it ought to last more … plenty of thought has gone into making these benches protected and sturdy for the true world, though they are not official.”

This story was produced via the Equitable Cities Fellowship for Social Influence Design, which is made attainable with funding from the Nationwide Endowment for the Arts.

This text was initially revealed by Stacker and republished with permission below a CC BY-NC 4.0 license.

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