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What bus shelters, bike racks, say about cities

Do high quality, tech features and thoughtful design in urban fixtures such as transit shelters and bike parking give enough payback to justify the costs?

In most cities, a bus shelter used to be simply that, a shelter. You might find a seat or two inside. You might find a map or timetable mounted behind a Plexiglas case, scarred by taggers and grime and weather.

But a recent article in The Columbus Dispatch describes the movement in that city to make transit shelters, well, pretty. The Central Ohio Transit Authority recently build two retro-style, copper-roofed shelters in downtown Columbus. They're made of steel and glass rather than aluminum and laminate, but they're more than just nice to look at. High end integrated sensors, designed to last 50 years, power lights and heaters when transit riders enter the shelters. They didn't come cheap, though. The agency is in nearly $300,000 for just those two shelters, and that's more than three times the median home price in that city.

And it doesn't end there. The city's Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District, a property owners group in downtown Columbus has attracted $490,000 in federal economic-stimulus money that it is putting toward bicycle shelters, lockers, racks and storage rooms. This bike parking infrastructure will extend from the city's Franklin County Courthouse to the Greater Columbus Convention Center. The bike shelters were designed by architects and have green roofs.

These upgrades are about more than providing security and comfort to commuters in Columbus. They also send a message, Cleve Ricksecker, the executive director of the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District:

The civic center of the region should have good design and quality construction. How many millions of people travel to and through Downtown every year? This is the one place where that makes a difference.

Plus, these amenities help people move through city center without relying on their cars, which can ease congestion, improve air quality, reduce the amount of motor oil in stormwater, and make downtown generally more enjoyable. And bike storage provides incentives to commuters whose employers don't allow them to bring their bikes into their offices.

Another argument is that quality and long-lasting infrastructure elements simply need to be well-designed, with quality materials and good construction. But Columbus officials have, unsurprisingly, received a fair amount of criticism for their high-dollar infrastructure projects, especially given the poor economy in recent years. In 2009, voters pushed back on a proposed income tax return, saying that the city could find extra funds if it spent more wisely on public works.

What's your take? Do high quality, tech features and thoughtful design on urban fixtures such as transit shelters and bike parking give enough payback to justify the costs?

Via: The Columbus Dispatch

Image: Flickr/Eric Fischer

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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