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Gimme shelter?

Marc Lefkowitz  |  08/05/10 @ 10:00am  |  Posted in Transit

How is the comfort of transit riders in Northeast Ohio faring in the Transit Waiting Environments (TWE) program? Greater Cleveland RTA established the TWE program to improve the experience of waiting for the bus or train, and to attract new riders with better amenities. Riders were surveyed a few years back, and they wanted amenities like better information posted as well as comforts like lights and maybe someday a luxury like a push-button overhead heater in the shelters.

So far, TWE has been a public art-driven process that has resulted in pretty if not truly functional bus stops. A recent call for entries to redesign a bus stop in Lakewood received only five entries. Worse yet, none appear to consider waiting at a stop in the extreme weather conditions in Northeast Ohio. This Transit Waiting Environments project is funded by a $25,000 federal grant to Lakewood via RTA-and awards the winning artist $5,000.

One issue that the program seems to be bumping up against is the myth that only high design will attract a new rider. That belief leads to "showy" designs that tend to supplant common sense.

Looking at the Lakewood call, the artist is asked to consider "TWE's function as a transit stop." But, does it go far enough to emphasize that this is still a shelter? Encouraging artists to ride transit could help.

It's possible to chalk up the stingy shelter space afforded by the Lakewood entrants as outliers, if it weren't for other recent examples of transit waiting environment awardees not exactly following the tenet: form follows function. The high-design number in the Gordon Square Arts District (near Detroit and W. 65th seen at the top of this post) looks cool, unless you happen to arrive on a 94-degree day when the un-shaded metal bench is surface-of-the-sun hot, or if you happen to be waiting under its perforated canopy for a bus in the rain.

"I would be happy to see a 'Cleveland solution' even if it means taking the basic RTA brown aluminum frame shelter and adding the amenities that riders want-a real time digital schedule, sensor activated lights, a push-button heating unit," said RTA Citizen Advisory Board chair Brad Chase. "Instead they're now talking about re-installing a basic bus shelter next to the new one on W. 65th which will then be treated as a piece of public art".

On the bright side, TWE did carve out $25,000 to pay for solar panels on four bus shelters, including the soon-to-be-replaced shelter at Coventry and Mayfield roads. TWE is also investing $25,000 in four covered bike shelters at transit stops, including this one at the W. 117th Red Line station.

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