By Andrew Babb, Georgia Tech Student
Every day, I walk to the corner of Ponce de Leon Avenue and Ponce de Leon Place and wait for either the 2 or 102 to whisk me into town. Some may know this location better as the light next to Chipotle. Every day I listen to Chipotle’s smooth, relaxing, commercially tex-mex soundtrack flowing down from their raised porch immediately behind the stop. And almost every day, I either stand three feet from forty mile-an-hour traffic, or I stand on the hill that leads up to Chipotle, which is made of mud more than grass. I’ve often wondered why there’s no shelter there, not even a bench. The space (though somewhat hilly) is open and unused, and the stop is arguably one of the best for providing access between MARTA and the Beltline, which can be reached across the street, through the Kroger parking lot.
However, I know that there are probably a few reasons: there’s a shelter one stop down, just across from Ponce City Market; this stop doesn’t see very many boardings compared to some neighboring stops; and Chipotle probably owns the land, and Chipotle doesn’t see any point in having a bus shelter.
But what if they did? What if Chipotle saw this bus stop as a way to reach out to a different market? Chipotle could put up a shelter, add a real-time arrival screen and put up signs that say “The next bus isn’t coming for twenty-five minutes, come inside and grab dinner while you wait.” Just like that Chipotle has a new stream of customers, and customers who don’t need to take up one of their precious few parking spaces. Even if Chipotle isn’t the perfect sponsor for something like this, Starbucks might be. If their wait time is shorter than the bus, they could try to pull you in the door for an iced chai latte while you wait.
This might seem like a terrifying intrusion of big-business commercialism into a humble public service, or one way that riders could be penalized for riding the bus, but it could be properly controlled to avoid such a dystopian fate. MARTA could require that sponsored stops be provided with a shelter that at least meets the requirements of their shelters elsewhere. Sponsors would have to be within walking distance of the stop, and provide trash pickup. If the sponsor wanted to add screens for advertising, they could also be required to provide lighting and schedule information. By requiring that sponsors be physically nearby, this form of advertising would be more relevant and accessible. We could replace screaming traffic lawyers with smiling neighborhood vendors.
These shelters wouldn’t just be a way to escape the summer heat, they would become a way to know what’s nearby. If you’re riding home and realize you’re out of laundry detergent, just pull the chain when you see the Target shelter coming up, and grab some on the way home. These shelters could also be sponsored by local businesses or neighborhood groups. Imagine telling friends that you get off the 27 at the Hobnob stop, or that they should pull the chain when they pass the shelter made to look like an album cover from Criminal Records. In this way, these shelters could become extensions of storefronts onto the street, not just providing advertising for retailers, but adding a new way for neighborhood culture to express itself, and to better integrate transportation and daily life. And it’s a great way to get riders out of the rain.