Imagine treating bus riders as well as light rail, car commuters

Swing made by Tucker Ornamental of Rock Hill.

Can Charlotte do a better job of making its humble bus stops a bit less humble?

A Charlotte city official posed that question Tuesday, saying Charlotteans should not ride by a bus stop and think, “I’m so sorry for that person.”

Tom Warshauer, community engagement manager for the Charlotte Department of Neighborhood and Business Services, spoke Tuesday to a Civic by Design forum at Levine Museum of the New South. He talked about what he sees as the need for a community-wide reimagining of the possibility that bus stops could be transformed into comfortable amenities, even civic gathering spots, rather than bleak necessities.

One telling statistic: Of 3,052 bus stops in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Warshauer said, only 329 (11 percent) have shelter from the sun and rain.  Many are little more than signposts stuck in the dirt, in many places without even a sidewalk. 

Warshauer has been pulling together research about Charlotte’s bus stops—and working with the Charlotte Area Transit System, which is in charge of the bus system—after being awarded a $28,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Knight Cities Challenge

He’s still working on finding the right spots (level ground, shaded, etc.) along Central Avenue for the five or six swings the grant is expected to pay for.  

“Transit is the experience that we make it, as a community,” Warshauer said. His hope is that the swings not only connect neighbor to neighbor, and connect the more affluent Plaza Midwood neighborhood with its less affluent neighbors along Central Avenue, but that the swings get people thinking about disparities in how bus riders are treated versus light rail passengers or motorists, in terms of infrastructure.

He described driving past Cotswold Shopping Center in southeast Charlotte one night about 11 and seeing a long line of people waiting to take the bus into uptown. “People are going to make sure their employees are comfortable if they’re arriving by car,” he said. Do employers push for the same level of comfort for employees who ride the bus? “What is real equity?” he asked.

He posed a series of “what if” ideas, each illustrated by photos of real bus stops in other cities: What if bus stops had phone chargers? Interactive maps? Water fountains? Hammocks? Sofas?