DENVER — James Warren has built seven benches — or maybe eight, he isn’t sure — and says he’ll keep collecting scrap wood and building more until the city takes over the task.
“It’s a massive outlet for me,” Warren said with a spray paint can in hand as he put the finishing touches on his latest bench. “Especially when I can, in my view, make my community better.”
Warren has taken on the mission of building benches for RTD bus stops in Denver, a project he says started as an accommodation for a stranger but has since become a statement on behalf of public transit riders to RTD and Denver city leaders.
“This whole thing began when I was walking to the grocery store along Sheridan, and I saw this woman sitting in the dirt waiting for the bus,” Warren said. “There was no sidewalk there. She was literally sitting in the dirt. And I thought, "Man, that’s so undignified. That’s just trash that we treat our transit users that way." And so, I thought, "I’ve got some wood. I’ve got plenty of wood, actually. I can do something about it." And so I did.”
That was the origin of his first bench in January, and ever since, he has been identifying barren spots along his routes and putting his talents to use. As just one person, he knows he alone cannot address the needs of the more than 9,700 RTD stops. However, he says he can do his part to promote public transit use and address its accessibility uses.
In case you’re wondering, Warren practices what he preaches. He has been “car-free” for five years and counting, relying on his bike and RTD transit to get to his favorite spots around Denver. Thus, when it came time to place his latest bench — followed by Denver7 crews — he slung it over his shoulder and set off for the bus stop of Sheridan and 10th Avenue on foot.
“My hope for this bench is that people in the neighborhood have a little bit better time riding transit,” he said, placing it on the concrete.
While it is intended to stay there for bus after bus of passengers, it's very likely it will not remain long. Most of the other benches Warren has built and placed at stops have been targeted by graffiti and then stolen. But, he’s at peace with this.
“You know what? If this bench is destroyed tomorrow, that’s ultimately fine,” he said. “I am not responsible for how other people act or how other people treat community resources.”
Denver7 reached out to representatives with RTD about the benches. Though they are technically unauthorized, RTD crews will leave them be. However, nearby businesses may choose to remove them (to say nothing of potential vandals of thieves). Warren is okay with these potential outcomes too, he says, since his overarching goal is to raise awareness of the barriers that keep people off public transit and to push city leaders to address them.
For as long as the bench does last, Warren will take some pride in knowing it could help erode one barrier keeping his fellow Denver residents from joining him on the RTD buses.
“The people who use mobility devices, elderly people, people who can’t afford a car, these people are left behind all the time,” he said. “And I think the last thing we should be saying to those people is, "You don’t get to sit while you wait for a bus." You know, I think we need to uplift everyone in our community.”