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New York CityBench program

CityBench New York

CityBench, image from Streetsblog

The New York City Department of Transportation has introduced a program which will install 1,000 public benches on the sidewalk’s of all five of the city’s boroughs. The sleek CityBenches, are meant to make the city’s sidewalks more accomodating to the elderly and mobility impared, providing a place to rest as people go about their business in the city.

NYC DOT has a website where citizens can request a CityBench with certain areas recieving priority.

In order to support walking and transit, priority bench locations include:

  • Bus stops without shelters
  • Sidewalks near transit facilities (e.g. subway stations)
  • Senior centers
  • Hospitals and community health centers
  • Commercial zones and shopping districts
  • Municipal facilities (e.g., public libraries)

For safety and engineering reasons, there are some base requirements for where benches can go:

  • Sidewalk width must be a minimum of 12 feet wide from building to curb
  • Proposed location cannot be directly opposite a building entrance or cellar door

Residents can also utilize the city’s 311 phone system to request a bench.

According to Streetsblog, the program is paid for largely with federal funding:

The lion’s share of funding – 80 percent – for the $3 million CityBench program comes from the Federal Transit Administration, with New York State DOT covering another 10 percent.

Streetsblog also spoke to the bench’s designer:

After the crowd from the presser had for the most part dispersed, I spoke with bench designer Ignacio Ciocchini, who is director of design for Chelsea Improvement Company. Ciocchini said every facet of the bench was developed with the city in mind, from the powder-coated steel, designed to dissipate heat and shed snow, to the 26-inch seats, allowing for what Ciocchini described as “proper social space” and intended to leave room for whatever a pedestrian might be carrying, from a shopping bag to a small child.

I have a few thoughts on this vis-a-vis Providence. First, OMG! how refreshing is it to see a Department of Transportation with a focus beyond cars. RIDOT is certainly not trying to get federal funding for benches and Providence has a “Department of Traffic and Engineering,” guess what kind of “traffic.”

Second, we need more benches in Providence. I walk everywhere and often, instead of stopping and enjoying the city, I just keep walking, because there are precious few places to sit down, and those places are often taken seeing as they are so few (or they are in less atractive areas, like the benches off in the corner outside the ATM at the Convention Center). We have the benches at Grant’s Lot, the planters under construction near PPAC Square, seasonal seating at Kennedy Plaza and Burnside (when not Occupied) and Biltmore Parks, and a smattering of other places, mostly along the riverwalk. Outside of Downcity, public places to sit are even fewer.

More places to sit makes a place more comfortable for pedestrians. I like to take a seat outside when I grab something to eat or make a phone call. Sometimes I need to stop and look through my bag, a seat is handy. Sometimes someone just wants to take a rest, especially if one is older or mobility impared. Seating creates meeting places for people and fosters social interaction. Allowing people to stop and sit makes a place feel more active (even as people are sitting still).

The arguement against seating is always vagrancy (I’ve heard the seating at the bus stop at Washington and Mathewson was removed because someone thought the people sitting their were undesirable somehow). I think the experience in Kennedy Plaza has shown that there is room for everyone, and when more people are around, nefarious activity drops. We shouldn’t continually develop our public spaces with our worst fears, phobias, and bias being the limiting factor for what we can and cannot do. If someone is abusing our nice things, getting rid of the nice things is not the answer (unless you’re 5 years-old).

The Providence/RIPTA commercial corridors enhancement is a start, let’s make sure we keep stiving for more pedestrian enhancements.

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