So, recently the District of Columbia has undertaken a project to replace all of the crappy old bus shelters in the city with a shiny, modern version.
Now, in general this is a good thing. The old bus shelters? Well, not every stop had a shelter, for one thing. And they were generally old and rusty and most of them didn't have any information posted on them, and some of them didn't have benches. So a new, informative, clean (for now) shelter seems like a good idea. See?
But I do have a complaint about these new shelters. My complaint is that the benches suck. And this is a bigger issue than it seems at first.
So what's wrong with the benches? Well, they are very narrow, and they're also rounded at the sides, and they also have raised notches demarcating the seats (three in total). In short, they aren't comfortable, even to sit on for a minute. And if ever a bench should be designed with comfort in mind, it's in a DC bus shelter, given that often one has to sit there for a very long time because DC buses are not exactly known for their punctuality.
But this is not some accidental design error. No, the Washington Post quotes someone from the District Department of Transportation as saying that they wanted benches that were comfortable (whoops) but "discouraged long-term occupancy." In other words, DC doesn't want homeless people sleeping in their bus shelters.
I understand that having homeless people sleeping in bus shelters is less than ideal. But I think that comes from a larger problem. Having homeless people sleep in parks is less than ideal. Having homeless people sleep on the sidewalk is less than ideal. Having homeless people sleep ANYWHERE is less than ideal because people being homeless AT ALL is the problem to begin with. I really do not think that homeless people consider a bus shelter bench to be the ideal bed, either.
Originally, I thought this was a huge waste of money on the part of the District, money that could be better spent improving or expanding homeless shelters, for example. But the article in the Post says that the bus shelters are maintained by Clear Channel in exchange for control of the ad space, and that this contract to replace them is actually worth $150 million to the city.
In which case, one would think, some of that money could be used to address the homelessness problem in the city, right? Since we are apparently trying to kick homeless people out of our bus shelters? But no, the money is going toward DC's street improvement initiative. Another worthy project, of course. But I tend to think that providing for the basic needs of the worst-off people in the city is more important than a road improvement project. At the very least, the money could be split among multiple projects.
But instead this whole thing seems to me to be just another instance of marginalized citizens being pushed even further aside in DC's quest to make the city seem shiny, happy, and scrubbed clean.
What do you think?
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