James Warren rides the public bus a lot in his hometown of Denver. Ever since he went car-free in 2017, he uses buses to get around if he can’t get to his destination on foot or bike.
Then in January, Warren spotted a woman waiting for a bus along a busy road. There was no seating at the stop — and no sidewalk — so she sat in the dirt.
“For people to have to sit in the dirt while they’re waiting for a bus is just undignified,” said Warren, 28, who works as a consultant for the Colorado Workforce Development Council.
He wanted to do something about it. He decided to build a bench.
“I just took some scrap wood and went to town,” Warren said, adding that he hoped this woman — and others seeking a seat — would not need to rest in the dirt again.
He then realized that one bench was far from enough. There are more than 9,000 Regional Transportation District (RTD) bus stops in the Denver metro area, many of them without seating or shelter.
Warren decided to contribute what he could. Perhaps, he thought, his homemade bench initiative might get the attention of transit or city officials who would see the need for better bus stops.
“I can change the small amount that I have control over,” Warren said.
Since building his first bench in January, he has crafted seven more and placed them at bus stops around Denver — each made from scrap wood he finds in construction dumpsters. As far as design goes, “I mostly just wing it,” Warren said.
The benches take about three hours to build, and Warren inscribes “Be Kind” on each one — either using a stencil or a wood-burning tool. He keeps an eye out for bus stops around the city that seem barren. He chats with riders at stops to gauge demand.
Recently at one bus stop, “I was talking to someone who said it’s difficult to stand for long periods of time,” Warren said. “I knew where the next bench was going.”
For Warren, what is most rewarding about his project is knowing his benches are being put to use.
“I get a little giddy when I see someone using a bench,” he said. “They are so thankful. They tell me how annoying it is to wait, or how painful it is to wait.”
“I met some ladies the other day who were talking about how they used the benches every single day,” Warren added. “It fills me up. It’s air in my tires.”
Although some of the benches have been vandalized or stolen, Warren said it doesn’t dampen his desire to make them.
“If people destroy or take away things that I’m putting out there, it’s not going to stop me,” he said. “I’ll keep doing it. For every bench they steal, I’ll put out two more.”
Warren said many people have hopped on his bench-making bandwagon, which has motivated him to build more.
“I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me on Twitter and Reddit,” he said. “Some people have wanted to come help me.”
Aleks Haugom, 32, heard what Warren was doing and was eager to join the effort. They spent an afternoon together building a bench.
“He showed me how he does it. It’s a pretty simple design, but it seems to work well,” Haugom said. “It’s been great to just get different people involved and to have something to offer the community.”
“This guy has motivation,” Haugom said of Warren. “Not just a normal amount, huge amounts of motivation. I have never seen anyone quite as motivated as James is to do these things. Hopefully it rubs off on me.”
“That puts me over the moon,” Warren said. “That’s the idea. Let’s just all help our neighbors.”
As word of the bench initiative spread further, advocates cheered Warren on — and vouched for the importance of more bus stop seating.
“Benches provide a place to rest. Everybody needs to rest,” said Nica Cave, 26, a Denver mobility advocate.
“It’s a public asset that I think is a lot more important than people realize,” she said. “The lack of infrastructure, shelter and seating at transit stops is part of a broader set of policies that marginalize those who rely on public transit. These are people that rely on public spaces being habitable, not hostile.”
She emphasized that grass-roots efforts, such as Warren’s, can spark significant changes.
“People like James are really encouraging me to see how people in our community are willing to use their own time and own resources to provide these much-needed services,” Cave said, adding that she hopes the local government will see his benches and get involved.
That is precisely Warren’s goal. Since he started making benches in January, Warren said he has had several conversations with city officials and transit staff about adding benches more broadly.
Brandon Figliolino, a senior specialist for community engagement at RTD, spoke with Warren about his aspirations for the project — which Figliolino has shared with his team.
“We definitely appreciate when customers raise their concerns, so we can work to address them collaboratively,” said Figliolino, adding that RTD typically coordinates with local municipalities and counties to maintain and build bus stops. “We’re looking into what partners we can work with to ensure that the needs are being met.”
Warren — who is planning to organize a bench-building workshop — said his hope is that his benches make a difference in his community and even beyond.
“My goal is to make people’s lives just a little bit better, in any way I can,” Warren said.