City to install heat in some bus stops

By next winter, New Haven commuters will be able to enjoy heat while waiting at some of the city’s busiest bus stops.

Though the city originally estimated that construction would be completed by early spring, City Engineer Dick Miller said that the stops will not be functional until late next summer. The city recently contracted Paragon Construction Co. to build six new stops, which will be located throughout the city. Three of the structures will use live grass to insulate their roofs.

Riders board a bus on Chapel Street. New stops planned for the downtown area will be heated, and some will be insulated with grass.
Jonathan Jimenez
Riders board a bus on Chapel Street. New stops planned for the downtown area will be heated, and some will be insulated with grass.

“You won’t see a lot of construction activity until early spring,” Miller said. “There will be a lot of manufacturing off-site, and then the construction firm will hit it hard to finish the project by the end of the summer.”

David Thompson, the chief architect on the project, said the relatively inexpensive grass roofs will also eliminate the debris problems associated with glass and plastic skylight roofs.

“To a degree, they will contribute aesthetically to the quality of the urban landscape,” he said.

Professor James Axley, who teaches a course on green design at the School of Architecture, said in an e-mail that design features such as grassy roofs are gaining popularity in the architectural community.

“Green roofs provide one small example of an emergent trend in sustainable design that seeks to more generally shape both biological and physical elements of human settlements to provide environmental services [that benefit] flora, fauna and human creatures of the community and urban ecosystems in which we live,” he said.

Other benefits of the grass palettes, Axley said, are an extended life for the roofing materials underneath the vegetation, a reduction in water runoff after rain and a cooler roof surface.

The estimated cost of the bus stops is $1.5 million and will be paid for with federal funds secured through the city’s transit authority.

The project, which has been in development since the spring of 2005, has generated praise from some city officials who said it would encourage those who must commute to work to make use of the city’s transit network. Ward 7 Alderwoman Bitsie Clark said she supported the new construction, which she hopes will improve commuters’ experiences.

“I’m thrilled with it,” Clark said. “There are so many people in the city who travel by bus, and the city already pays a lot of attention to people that drive cars. It’s wonderful to have the city reward the people who use the public transportation system with warm and cozy bus stops.”

Like Clark, Ward 1 Alderman Nick Shalek ’05 said he thinks the improvements to the stops might provide incentive for commuters discouraged by cold temperatures to use public transportation throughout the winter.

While enjoying the support of city officials, several bus riders said they were concerned about whether or not the improved structures will be targeted by vandals.

“People are probably going to break them,” New Haven resident Celesta Kearney said as she waited for the bus at the Chapel Street station on the Green. “They have to replace the glass on [the existing shelters] every few weeks.”

Thompson said the possibility of vandalism was kept in mind in the selection of materials and design for the heat system for the stops, which is a modified version of vandal-proof technologies used at ski resorts.

“We’re using a heating system that’s entirely concealed, with no moveable or visible parts,” he said.

In addition to the threat of vandalism, Miller said, one of the city’s major concerns is that the structures will be too inviting to transients seeking extended shelter.

“What you don’t want is to have people sleeping there,” he said. “What we did was put arm rests that define along the bench a sitting area for each person.”

Thompson said that to deter people from sleeping in the shelters, the heat system will also be connected to a motion sensor and will only stay on for five minutes after the last detected movement.

Bus rider Sarah Hortas said despite concerns that the stops might be misused, she is optimistic about the improvements. She said she finds the present environment at many bus stops very unpleasant and hopes the new plans will improve the bus riding experience.

“The current situation is very overcrowded,” she said. “Be grateful if you have a car.”

The Chapel Street bus stop, adjacent to Old Campus, will be one of the six revamped under the new plan. The other locations include Elm Street and the Green, 55 Church St., Temple Street near the Kelly House, and Chapel Street at “Art Park,” according to a statement released by the Mayor’s Office.

These sites, Miller said, were chosen after a study of transit population patterns and represent some of the most highly used transfer points in New Haven’s bus system.

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