As It Happens

A Denver man saw too many people standing at bus stops. So he built them a bench

When a Denver man noticed many bus stops lacked seating for the people waiting, he went about building some benches himself. James Warren told As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner it was a matter of dignity.

Mobility and transit advocate uses scrap wood to construct the seating and delivers them himself

A man stands at a bus stop in front of a bench that says Be Kind.
James Warren has built 8 benches for the city's transit shelters so far — and has no plans to stop. (Aleks Haugom)

Story Transcript

The wait for public transit can sometimes feel a lot longer if there's nowhere to sit.

That's why when James Warren saw a woman sitting in the dirt waiting for her bus earlier this year, he decided something had to change.

"I thought, oh, that's simply undignified," Warren, who lives in Denver, told As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner.

So he started to build benches himself.

Since January, the 28-year-old mobility and transit advocate has built eight benches, all from wood he's scavenged around town. 

There are about 9,700 bus stops across Denver's Regional Transportation District (RTD), but RTD manages only about 300 of them. 

Warren gave up his car a few years ago, and started noticing that many of the stops he was using himself lacked any kind of seating.

A person bent over a wooden structure, building a bench.
Warren says he's had offers of materials and building assistance from several people. (Karli Haugom)

"There's a lot of construction in my neighbourhood. They end up throwing out, you know, materials that are perfectly good," he said. "So I just take some of those materials and put them together in whatever way will work."

Where he puts the benches depends on a few things. Sometimes it's based on proximity — where he can easily carry a bench to, since he has no car. Sometimes it's his own experience of waiting at a stop without a seat.

Other times, the impetus is a conversation Warren has with a stranger who's hot and tired, or carrying a bunch of grocery bags.

"It just makes me realize, oh, man, this person's life could be way better if I put a bench here."

A person is seen from behind sitting on a bench at a bus stop.
Warren says one of his favourite things is walking by one of his benches and seeing someone sitting on it. (Submitted by James Warren)

'Be kind'

Each Warren-crafted bench is decorated with the words "Be Kind."

"It's a good message. It's a message anyone can do," Warren said. "Spread a little bit more kindness in the world and be a little kinder to your neighbour and just try to be a little bit more thoughtful and cognizant of the needs of others."

The message seems to be resonating. Warren's has had several offers of help. 

"I've gotten probably a dozen people who say they want to work on one with me or, you know, they have a truck and they're excited to maybe help me move a bench to a further location," he said. 

A wooden bench with the words Be Kind written on it.
Each bench is emblazoned with the words 'Be Kind.' (Submitted by James Warren)

"I've even had people donate supplies like wood, and somebody even offered to donate money and I said, 'Do not do that.' You know, all the materials come to me freely." 

Brandon Figliolino, a senior specialist for community engagement at RTD, says he's spoken with Warren about how RTD manages its shelters and the process for requesting amenities for them.

"When our customers come to us with concerns about bus stops and the lack of infrastructure at some of them, we appreciate having that dialogue with our customers and then with the municipalities so we can come together to find a solution."

Figliolino says since RTD only manages a fraction of the city's stops, it works with local municipalities and private companies to fund and maintain their shelters and seating.

"What amenities are installed at locations is dependent on a variety of factors, including frequency of routes served by the bus stop, boardings and alightings, permitting, as well as space available to install such amenities. Bus stops that are on private property would also require approval by the property owner to install shelters and benches," he later added by email. 

Warren says more can be done to ensure seating at more bus stops, though he isn't critical of anyone at RTD in particular.

"They're all generally incredibly kind and thoughtful people who want the best for our community," he said. But that's not enough, he added.

"I'd really love to see them step up and put their money where their mouth is, you know."

A man smiling with his arms out at a bus stop with several people and a bench he built that says Be Kind.
There are more than 9,700 transit stops across Denver. (Justin Bai)

Positive feedback

Warren says he's heard first-hand the difference the opportunity to take a load off while waiting has had for people. One of his favourite things is passing by one of his benches and seeing people sitting on it. 

"I was talking to a couple of women who said, 'Oh, we use this bus stop every single day to go to work. And this has just been so much better every morning waiting for the bus,'" he said. 

"And I talked to an individual who, you know, he was saying, 'I only live like seven blocks from here, but I can't walk long distances. And that for the same reason, I can't stand for long periods of time either.' And so this is just such a blessing for him."

A wooden bench on a dirt road in front of a wrought iron fence.
Sometimes a bench goes missing or gets decorated with graffiti, but neither deters Warren from building another. (Submitted by James Warren)

Every so often, one of Warren's benches disappears or gets decorated with graffiti. But Warren says it doesn't bother him. In fact, he views it as the community adding its own art to what he put there.

And it won't discourage him from continuing to build.

"I sit behind a computer screen all day long, so it's definitely helpful to get out there and work with tools," he said. 

"And as long as I'm able, I'm going to keep advocating for better mobility options and better mobility amenities at our bus stops to anyone who will listen."

Written by Stephanie Hogan. Interview produced by Aloysius Wong