Inventive Routes: Class Re-Imagines Local Bus Shelters 

click to enlarge Design students at VCU try out prototypes of bus shelter features at the Storefront for Community Design on Broad Street.

Scott Elmquist

Design students at VCU try out prototypes of bus shelter features at the Storefront for Community Design on Broad Street.

In a challenge to innovate, a group of Virginia Commonwealth University students broke out some bamboo, soda bottles and a plastic periscope to develop new kinds of bus shelters for Richmond riders.

It's one of several projects the Storefront for Community Design has helped foster through VCU's Middle of Broad class held in the organization's Broad Street office.

The class, a mixture of fashion, graphic and interior-design students, takes on ideas and clients aimed at improving quality of life in Richmond.

Recent discussions about the city's lack of adequate bus shelters spurred the idea to generate low-cost options that could go up quickly.

"We wanted student to talk about a real issue," says Ryan Rinn, executive director of the Storefront. "I try to remind them that they're working for clients who don't have the resources for these kinds of services."

Students were given a week to tackle the challenge. The eight prototypes appear surprisingly sturdy, and Rinn says they're ready for production.

Some are more unusual than others. One shelter made out of chicken wire includes a rack where coats or other items could hang. Another employs a 9-foot periscope for riders to spot approaching buses. Perhaps the most imaginative is a bus shelter with an attached bicycle that displays a projection when pedaled.

Middle of Broad teacher Kristin Caskey, an associate professor of fashion design, says that as an occasional bus rider she sees how little shelter is offered. She cites the recently installed downtown GRTC transfer station, which initially lacked any shelter, as evidence that riders often are left out of the decision-making process.

"It seems thoughtless," Caskey says, "and we catch up later with what the human scale really is."

How likely is it that local bus stops might soon feature coat racks and periscopes? Rinn says the class will apply for a $4,000 grant through a New York-based program to build some of its designs, and that he's also started discussions with GRTC.

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