Saturday, April 19, 2014

Dignity for GRTC Riders

Dignity – The state or quality of being worthy of honor and respect

Sitting down on a dirty, slanted metal GRTC green bench with no cover, no information on what busses are coming next, lacking any character, love, or sense of place, is not a fun place to be. It is no wonder that when talking with businesses and residents of the city, many times a closely located bus stop is highly undesirable.

In the short time I worked downtown and was able to commute via bus, I experienced a small taste of what regular riders encumber daily. On Main Street at 9th, where I waited to pick up the #6 bus headed west, almost no one ever sat on the GRTC bench. Most of us hovered around in the shade closest to the building or lingered around waiting for the sight of an oncoming bus.

On days where I did venture out to the bench, I was able to see why this was an island to be avoided. It’s location within 5 feet of the curb provides access to the fumes or debris from passing vehicles. Also, when the GRTC bus swerves over with breaks screeching right, you get a nice adrenaline rush that this might be your end. And what better place than here to go out? Inhaling  idling CO2, being covered in soot or water kicked up from passing cars, and let’s not forget the beer, bird poop, or other questionable substance combination you have been sitting in awaiting your arrival to the pearly gates.

It’s no wonder we see people all over the place along Broad Street, where bus ridership and transfers are concentrated. Where are these people to sit? What are we saying about how we value them with such poor facilities? If these bus stops are the face of GRTC, why are we surprised when its reputation is viewed as a negative presence?  

In general, how we treat our current GRTC riders is without dignity.

But, what if we could change all of this? How about a solution that costs GRTC nothing ($0), would be positively viewed by local residents and businesses, and would restore dignity to daily riders?

The solution: Develop an “Adopt-a-Bench” program between GRTC and local civic or neighborhood associations where commissioned artists design and construct unique bus stops that reflect the local community. Thus, restoring dignity to riders by having bus stops that are valued by the community and provide riders shelter, information on the route system, and create a desirable sense place. Additionally, by developing a relationship with local groups in the design, development, and on-going maintenance, you create a sense of local investment in the bus stop, increasing care for and awareness of the GRTC system.

How would this work?

Funding could be derived through a few sources. Ideally, the entire funding of the project would come from local neighborhood or other local civic associations. Partnering with local faith institutions or running a kick-starter campaign could raise the initial $500-$1,000 per stop required for the commissioning and construction of the individual bus stop. Further investigation of this initial startup cost and on-going maintenance is required.

Public sources of funding may be gained from the Department of Public Works for trash receptacles or street furnishings.  Another possibility is for the GRTC to establish a 1% for public art program to commission of artists to create enhancements, as seen with the City of Norfolk’s light rail system.

Since these bus stops are on public property, a maintenance agreement would run through GRTC, who should already have an agreement with the city for their benches. The agreement between private groups and the GRTC could follow the Adopt-a-Spot program guidelines (City of Richmond Clean City Commission).

Coordination of the artists and designers with neighborhood or local civic associations could operate directly through these individual groups, or could be facilitated through an organization such as the Storefront for Community Design.

Designs would include a range of different ideas. A quick google search of creative bus stops displays a wide range of unique and engaging ways that a bus stop can be reimagined to reflect the local community. Another interesting design could use vertical gardens to combat the unclean breathing situation when sitting on the current benches.  

So, if you want this to happen, get organized locally and contact GRTC. Let’s find out what operating procedures would be needed to start an “Adopt-a-Bench” program. Contact a local artist or art association to see what the start-up price for the initial development of the bus stop would be.

Let’s restore dignity to GRTC riders to further the reLOVEoution of change in Richmond. 

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