News release just received from the City regarding bus benches:

Mayor Mary Verner today announced that she is promoting a bus bench replacement plan that meets the needs of the City’s bus riders. Her goal: Benches in the public right of way that are safe and comfortable and are placed where riders need them.

“Right now, we have a system that may serve advertisers, but unfortunately, leaves the end user out of the equation,” Mayor Verner says. “We have benches that are too close to the curb, blocking sidewalks, blocking curb ramps for wheelchairs, and located yards from a bus stop. That just doesn’t make sense.”

Mayor Verner is forming a citizen committee to develop a plan to meet her goals. The committee will consider where benches are needed, how they should be placed, and what they should look like. The committee will use some of the information compiled by the Spokane Transit Authority in 2008 when the STA agreed to replace benches in 100 locations where they are needed most. The STA Board suddenly backed away from that agreement.

The Mayor first pursued the agreement with STA to replace benches because the benches currently in the right of way violate City ordinance related to off-premises advertising. Many citizens advocate clearing up visual clutter in the right of way, but she says there are greater concerns than signage.

“In recent months, I have become more and more aware of the location and condition of the benches,” Mayor Verner says. “Our citizens are not being served.”

The Spokane City Council will consider an ordinance to allow benches with advertising in the public right of way as part of its 6 p.m. City Council meeting tonight. The Mayor says she will leave that policy decision up to the Council.

Since the benches currently in the right of way are not legal or practical, the Mayor will continue with her plan to have them removed and then proceed with a replacement program. She envisions attractive and comfortable benches with greater uniformity, placed safely to serve bus riders and maintain access to public sidewalks. Her plan also would require regular maintenance and ensuring compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

“As a City, we need to decide what’s acceptable in the public right of way,” the Mayor says. “We don’t allow other citizens to place items in the right of way without any direction or approval. Bus benches shouldn’t be any different.”

The citizens’ bench committee will convene its first meeting by the middle of May and will be asked to complete it work in 45 to 60 days. The committee members will include representatives from business, education, neighborhoods, and advocates for those with disabilities.

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