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Detroit — Kathleen Roland's job at a senior center on Detroit's west side is two bus runs away from her home.

Her early start time, in the 7 a.m. hour, often means she's sitting in the dark, waiting for her ride. But her experience is a bit brighter and safer these days after the installation of a solar-powered bus shelter at Livernois and McNichols, one of her stops.

Roland, 71, never learned to drive. She travels alone and carries mace for protection. But as she sat at a bus stop on a recent weekday afternoon, waiting for a No. 16 Dexter bus to take her home, Roland said she appreciated shelter from the elements and knowledge that if it were dark, the wait wouldn't have to be in the dark.

"This is different," Roland said. "It can feel dangerous being out here in the dark."

The Detroit Department of Transportation bus shelters are one of three efforts, either ongoing or forthcoming, to make waiting for a bus safer and more dignified in Detroit. 

DDOT: Shelter for riders, exposure for businesses

The city's bus system handles an average of 85,000 rides a day. Its riders wait at 5,000 bus stops scattered throughout the city.

But in a city where six months of the year have an average high or low temperature below 40 degrees, comfort is often a concern. Safety is another.

The idea of bus shelters is nothing new in Detroit, which had about 200 covered bus stops even before the latest shelter initiative.

What's new are the amenities and advertising opportunities offered at 40 new bus shelters. The solar-powered lighting systems are meant to provide peace of mind to early-morning or nighttime riders in a city with historical issues in keeping its streets lit.

More: Detroit finishing up replacing all defective streetlights

The shelters also offer USB charging ports, as a "piloted amenity." 

"The goal here with the new bus shelters is to include ads for local businesses in the area," said Angelica Jones, interim director of DDOT. "We wanted to be able to connect (bus riders) to the community, and what that particular community may provide via service or small business."

Sit On It Detroit recycles

A half-decade ago, Detroit was in a different place. Streetlights were spotty. The city was bankrupt. Its bus fleet was aging, and at bus stops, riders resorted to turning trash cans on their sides to sit on while they waited.

Kyle Bartell, 32, co-founder of Sit On It Detroit, said that what he and co-founder Charles Molnar, 29, saw then was "our own little feasibility study" for an effort that started in 2013. 

""They don't have some of these basic amenities in their community to catch public transportation," Bartell said. "We wanted to do our best to fill that gap." 

He and Molnar decided to make their contribution to the area of transportation by installing hand-built wooden bus benches.

From finding the building materials — often, the wood is reclaimed from demolished homes — to clearing it of the many nails lodged inside, to the smoothing of the wood and the construction and placement of the benches, the two have turned their side project into a community effort and expect to double the program's footprint in the year ahead.

This was not without controversy. In 2013, the Detroit Department of Transportation raised issues when made aware of the benches — no one had asked permission.

Today Sit On It Detroit's relationship with the city is cooperative.

Sit On It has taken to re-using wood left behind by illegal dumpers and home demolitions, turning Detroit's trash into a resource that allows bus riders to sit comfortably. 

Over the next year, the 100 or so benches Sit On It Detroit has placed at "bus stops, public parks, social gathering spaces and co-working spaces," will double.

"All these benches are handmade and wherever they're going to be placed, they're going to be built to that specific location, so that it's not too big and it's not blocking the pedestrian right-of-way and that it's going to be more than 17 inches away from the curb."

Those standards emerged from talks with the city. 

Among its projects for 2020, the nonprofit will work with the Warrendale-Cody Rouge alliance to place 30 benches in northwest Detroit. 

Putting benches out in a neighborhood is fine. Teaching a community how to build its own benches, to place in its own neighborhood, is better, Bartell said. 

"Getting the people involved in these communities to learn how to build these benches is crucial," Bartell said. "Rather than us just build it, we host workshops to show people how to build benches — that whole 'teaching a man to fish,' versus just giving the fish."

NW Goldberg cares hopes to clear 'hurdle' to work

In Northwest Goldberg, the neighborhood that the Motown Museum calls home, the effort is to reform the experience at two stops  at the southeast corner of Linwood and Ferry Park. 

The neighborhood is bounded roughly by West Grand Boulevard, the John C. Lodge Freeway, Interstate 94 and Interstate 96.

NW Goldberg Cares, created by Daniel A. Washington and led by Jordan Yagiela, has changed the face of seven corners of its neighborhood since its founding in 2017. And now the nonprofit is asking for the community's help to get matching funds for an eighth corner.

More: Art park transforms corner of Northwest Goldberg to 'safe space'

Its newest effort, 6326 Rest & Ride Park, will offer not only two sheltered bus stops, but benches, pathways made of rubber mulch, sculptures and art work, and plants and flowers.

The group's ultimate plan is to "activate that commercial corridor" with a shipping container-based concept, if it is unable to save a still-standing home on Linwood.

Washington's describes the location as "smack dab" in the middle of DDOT's No. 29 Linwood bus route, between the Rosa Parks Transit Center downtown and the University of Detroit-Mercy. 

"That's one of the needs in our neighborhood being that it's such a commuter driven area, where a lot of people don't have cars," Washington said.

As with the DDOT effort, the planned Northwest Goldberg sheltered bus stops aren't just about aesthetics, but neighborhood economics.  

"If I'm using public transit and the conditions outside tell me it's a five-to-30 minute wait in subzero weather, or in rain ... we know why (people) aren't going to work ...," Washington said. 

Yagiela added that the difference between a sheltered bus stop and one without can be the difference sometimes determine if a wheelchair user feels comfortable.

"A lot of people that have mobility issues or use wheelchairs feel they can't necessarily take fixed-route transit," Yagiela said. "Instead, they have to use para-transit, which of course costs the transit company more money. But when there's a covered shelter, they can go up there and they can take the actual fixed-route bus and then they don't have to necessarily rely on para-transit."

NW Goldberg Cares has raised more than $1,800 of the $12,500 in donations that it needs by Jan. 15 to get matching funds from the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

More: Detroit nonprofit founder sees vacant field as 'beacon of hope'

"What can we do to make people say, 'Hey, I want to be part of Northwest Goldberg, they’re doing something unique'?" Washington previously has told The Detroit News. "We’re not just waiting for a developer to come. It’s important to activate it now."

jdickson@detroitnews.com 

@downi75 on Twitter

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