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Provo bus riders left standing after bench mix-up
City replacing seats when state halted the work

PROVO -- All dressed up and no place to sit.

That's how Provo bus riders feel since crews started yanking out benches at bus stops citywide this week. Provo is switching bus bench companies and asked Ad Bench to remove its benches to make way for new benches and shelters.Meanwhile, people like Wendy Wasden are left standing.

"I noticed the bench was gone. I think it's kind of weird because people need a place to sit," the 23-year-old Brigham Young University student said as she waited on University Avenue Tuesday afternoon.

The city didn't anticipate government bureaucracy getting in the way of replacing the curbside seating in a timely manner.

"The state put a halt to the whole thing. So we're stuck in the middle," said Bob Stockwell, Provo chief administrative officer. "It should have been a very seamless transition."

The Utah Department of Transportation, which owns the parkways along state roads where bus benches are placed, is in the midst of changing its permitting process. It doesn't want the city to erect new structures along its roads until it gets things worked out.

That means major bus routes on University Avenue, 500 West, 300 South and parts of Center Street will be without places to sit for weeks, perhaps months.

"It certainly wasn't our intent to pull benches out before there was something to put in their place," Stockwell said, adding Provo has requested an immediate meeting with UDOT.

The city has arranged with its new contractor, Lamar Transit Advertising, to install some temporary benches, Stockwell said. The company also began pouring concrete slabs on city-owned right-of-ways for new benches and shelters, including at bus stops that previously had no seating. Some will have advertising and some will not.

Andrew Thompson, who unsuccessfully bid on the bus bench contract, grumbled about the mix-up.

"This is really inconvenient," he said. "For some people, it's a necessity."

Thompson doesn't consider his complaining sour grapes. As a resident and occasional bus rider, he said he has a right to voice his discontent.

Karen Banister, whose tussle with the city over a bench in front of her central city home made national news not to mention Jay Leno and David Letterman two years ago, will again insist a bench be erected in place of the one removed Monday.

"I was told (by the previous city administration) that particular bench would remain there," she said.

In August 1997, Banister and some neighbors built a bench to replace the broken down, unsafe one in the parking strip outside her front yard. But the city took it down, citing contractual obligations and liability concerns.

After Banister complained, Ad Bench and the city agreed to put up a new one as long as Banister maintained it. She also requested it be ad free.

Banister said elderly residents of a Provo Housing Authority apartment building across the street depend on the bench.

"Even the ones not waiting for a bus stop there when they get winded on the way to the grocery store," she said.

A bench will be put up in front of Banister's house, Stockwell said.