DENVER — It’s been more than nine months since we introduced you to James Warren, and more than a year since his mission began: to build benches for Regional Transportation District (RTD) stops that don’t currently have them.
Warren was moved by the sight of a woman sitting in the dirt while waiting for her bus, so he put his woodworking skills to use and constructed a small wooden bench for the stop. On the top, in simple paint, he wrote “Be Kind.”
Denver man builds bus stop benches to increase accessibility, send a message
With that, a trademark — and a movement — was born. Since our interview with Warren, he and his “Be Kind” benches have received national attention.
“The news story, which started with y’all, kind of snowballed into his massive story. I felt like a superstar, and the interview requests came left and right,” Warren laughed. “People Magazine featured me, and it happened to be the edition where the Queen died, so probably one of the most purchased People Magazines of all time. I mean, it was crazy. I got to go on the "Drew Barrymore Show," which was just a once in a lifetime experience… All these different organizations were reaching out, and it just grew and grew.”
His mission continues. He is still building benches for bus stops, but with better tools now — he had an entire closetful donated to him, as a gesture of support. He’s up to 28 benches built now, though some of those have been replacements for ones that have been vandalized or stolen.
“That’s just a bummer, right?” Warren said. “I ride past them, anytime I’m taking the bus downtown, and I see people standing at those stops, and I see people sitting on the ground at those stops when I used to see them sitting on that bench. That’s a bummer. And I want people to feel that bummer with me, because it is a motivating force to say, ‘Oh my gosh, our city is letting people down. We need a bus network that has benches.'”
There isn’t much that Warren can do when his benches are vandalized or stolen, other than build new ones. They aren’t officially sanctioned by RTD, though the agency says it “appreciates the enthusiasm and compassion of individuals who are committed to providing amenities adjacent to bus stops for people who use public transit.” Most of the more than 9,700 bus stops are owned by advertising agencies contracted by local cities and counties.
“RTD only installs amenities at bus stops that are located on property owned by the agency,” said Stuart Summers, chief communications and engagement officer for RTD. “Customers who would like to request a specific bus stop amenity, such as a bench or shelter, should contact the local city or county. Customers are also always invited and encouraged to provide feedback using RTD’s online comment form or by calling Customer Care at (303) 299-6000.”
Warren plans to keep building benches, and recruiting others into the woodworking mission. He has already held a learning workshop for interested prospective bench builders, and has another planned this summer.
His real hope, though, is to start a conversation that will lead to more public investment in transportation and infrastructure.
“I want it to be a conversation about what we need to do as a city, and that is provide dignity for people as they try to get from place to place,” he said. “People who are riding transit, people who are biking or walking — we need to uplift those people. And that’s what I want it to be about from a larger perspective.”