May 4, 2009

Verner: Replace bus benches

Mayor wants ‘fresh start’
By The Spokesman-Review

Mayor Mary Verner tried to serve notice on advertising companies that have erected sign-backed bus benches around the city that most of them are going to be replaced.

At a press conference held near the corner of Indiana Avenue and Monroe Street, Verner pointed to a pair of benches that she said typifies the city’s problem with the current system.

The benches don’t match, they’re placed in the middle of the sidewalk for a bus stop on a busy corner, and there’s not much room for passing pedestrians or wheelchairs, she said. The backs of the benches also contain ads, to which some neighborhoods object.

Some benches around the city need repair and are unsafe, Verner said, although the two benches she was using to illustrate the problem had their wooden seats replaced recently.

“We have to have a fresh start,” she said.

To accomplish that, the city will tell advertising companies that have placed the benches around town that they have to be moved. The law that allowed for benches to be placed in rights of way has been changed, and the benches were never legal on sidewalks, she said.

She wants to form a committee to set standards for new benches that will include representatives from neighborhoods, the business community, those with disabilities and city officials.

The committee will come up with a design that is safe, comfortable and accessible for those with disabilities, she said. The City Council will decide whether the benches can have advertising under the city’s sign ordinance.

Verner said she personally does not like the advertising on the bus benches, but believes neighborhoods should decide whether they will approve the ads. Some are already on record as opposing those ads.

“To other neighborhoods, it’s not that big of a deal,” she said.

The city will tell the sign companies to remove their benches and give them a deadline. If the benches are still there, the city will remove them and bill the companies, she said.

But that means some bus stops that currently have benches could be without them until new standards are established and the city finds a way to pay for them.

“We hope it would be a short period of time,” Verner said.

Councilman Al French, who was watching the press conference, said he disagreed with the mayor’s strategy of removing the benches without a firmer plan for replacements.

“There could be four to six months when bus riders are not going to have a bench to sit on,” French said.

Under the law, the city probably has the right to remove the benches, he said. But it could be a case of “having the right to do something rather than doing the right thing.”

The council is expected to discuss bus bench signs, as well as other elements of the city’s sign code, at tonight’s 6 p.m. meeting.

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