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Rest Stops: People who bike, walk, or otherwise get about sometimes just need to “sit a spell”

Short link to this post: https://bit.ly/PublicBench

Buzz is increasing about a challenge that has not yet been resolved in downtown Monterey and many other places: the lack of benches where people can simply sit alongside our public streets.
Just last Tuesday, I struggled to find a place to enjoy the food and beverage I had purchased at an Old Monterey Business Association Farmers Market stand. I found myself resorting to standing next to a “No loitering” sign, where I could at least put down my beverage on a stairwell landing, freeing up both hands to hold my food and eat with a modicum of grace. Hurrying to eat, a bit fretful that I might be ticketed for loitering, was not a pleasant experience.
In fact, Founding Director Dionne Ybarra of the Wahine Project reported on social media that on April 10, 2018, her little family of three was sitting on a curb at the OMBA Farmers Market, snacking on fresh berries they’d purchased at the market, and listening to a musician. (OMBA’s market includes live music.) Ms. Ybarra stated that a police officer walked up to tell the family there is an ordinance that prohibits anyone from sitting on a curb or sidewalk.

In addition to county residents like the Ybarra family and me, what about Monterey County visitors—like Elliott of Aptos, pictured above? This inhospitable environment is counter to the “visitor hospitality” efforts of the City of Monterey (e.g., https://www.monterey.org/Visitors), the Monterey Bay AquariumBicycling Monterey, and others, and the tourism-friendly marketing investments made in the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau (“Funded in cooperation with the Monterey County Board of Supervisors and the communities of Pebble Beach Company, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Del Rey Oaks, Marina, Monterey, Pacific Grove, Salinas, Sand City, Seaside, Moss Landing, Carmel Valley, Big Sur, and Salinas Valley”).

There are numerous Monterey County law enforcement officers who bike. Some may say, “Hey, we just might need a rest stop ourselves sometime.”

It’s not that way everywhere! After I took the photo below—which shows new bike parking racks in the City of Seaside’s new West Broadway Urban Village—I saw that Seaside not only has new bike racks, the Urban Village also has some nice public benches! Yes, Seaside will apparently welcome people to sit and relax along this public street.
Maybe private and public property owners in Monterey
and elsewhere will learn from Seaside’s example that
public benches haven’t gone out of style. Young and old,
all economic brackets, just need places to sit and rest sometimes.

As she grew older, what was a favorite pastime of my mother (pictured below with my trailer-riding daughter on the City of Monterey’s section of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail)? My mom found great pleasure in simply sitting and “watching the people go by.”
Similarly, I recall a council session when former Monterey City Council Member Libby Downey, who was later unseated on the council by Dan Albert, Jr., had raised this same concern. When a sit/lie prohibition was first proposed, Libby said she herself would like to have a place to sit along our streets sometimes.

Well, guess in a pinch an adult could sit in a baby stroller in downtown Monterey, just as this mom made do while exploring the Sea Otter Classic expo with her toddler and preschooler.

Another thing to consider is that by doing away with places to sit, Monterey is working against their own efforts to reduce motor vehicle traffic and the carbon emissions caused by vehicles (e.g., https://www.monterey.org/Services/Environmental-Programs/Climate-Change/Transportation-Alternatives).
The City of Monterey has a Climate Action Plan. City leaders do care about making it safer and more comfortable for people to bike and walk. As bicycling Mayor Clyde Roberson commented in a council session on June 6, 2017, “We have our own Paris Accord!”

 

On numerous occasions, I’ve looked for a bench to sit a spell while out biking in Monterey—a bench I knew was formerly there—only to find it had been removed. This has happened, for example, when I’ve been out shopping by bike (e.g., the bench in front of Rite Aid at the Del Monte Shopping Center had been removed), or when biking into town to check my Post Office box mail (e.g., the bench in front of downtown Monterey’s Post Office had been removed). When I inquired, both the DMC management and the U.S. Postal Service management told me the benches had been removed because of people complaining about “the homeless.”
It makes sense that the minority of people who remain on public benches for lengthy periods of time and have “off-putting” behavior—whether homeless or not—can make benches challenging. Nonetheless, surely there are better solutions than removing the public benches.
Since the day that I saw the Canadian visitors below struggling to find bicycle parking in downtown Monterey, the City of Monterey has been improving its bicycle parking situation, step by step. The spot these Canadians were at now has more bike parking racks.
Unfortunately, the City of Monterey and some other communities seem to have gone the other direction when it comes to rest stops—good old public benches—for people who bike, walk, or otherwise get about.
This post is dedicated in memory of my mother, the late Eugenia Lynch, shown here again with my daughter, Monterey County native Passport Voyager. A person of many talents (learn more below), Mother was a poet and journalist. When author Carl Sandburg agreed to let her interview him, he added with a smile, “But you look like a dangerous woman!”
If you saw her sitting on a bench in Monterey—or as she was below, on a bench in the Amtrak station in Salinas, would you welcome her, or think she looked dangerous?

About Eugenia Lynch

Eugenia was a news correspondent and feature writer for the Illinois State Journal-Register, Lincoln Courier, Mt. Pulaski Weekly, and other newspapers. Among those she interviewed were the subjects of her popular features on Central Illinois residents and visitors. Some of these she met while proprietress of a crafts and antiques shop in Mt. Pulaski, the Putter and Clutter Shoppe, where she taught craft classes drawing attendees from throughout the region.

After her sixtieth birthday, Eugenia began a new career as a model for television and print ads and also worked as an international travel guide, escorting tour groups to Morocco, Kenya, and the Caribbean. An accomplished singer and actress, her talents contributed to Central Illinois theatre performances, a favorite being playing the role of Vera Charles in “Mame” at Lincoln College. She created a one-woman show, “Women of the Bible,” writing the script, designing and sewing the costumes, and performing the show throughout the Midwest for more than a decade.

Her many other talents included watercolor, oil, and acrylic painting, a variety of fabric arts, and interior decorating, including furniture upholstery. Some talents, such as home canning, you’d expect of a person who farmed or gardened many years of her life; her culinary skills garnered repeated first-place awards in state and county fairs.

Eugenia’s beloved husband, the late Ray Lynch, shared her love of music and dance. Not only did the couple go out dancing a lot for sheer pleasure, they also placed first in dance competitions. An anniversary gift to her husband that he especially cherished was a recording of Eugenia singing “I’m In the Mood for Love” and “It Had to Be You,” produced by Vaughan DeMuth.

Eugenia visited the Monterey Bay area and other parts of California annually for decades. A favorite experience in rural Monterey County was participating in ceremonies and enjoying overnights in solitude in “The Tipi,” featured in her 2006 chapbook of poetry and prose, From the Heart. Other favorite places include Tassajara Zen Mountain retreat center in Carmel Valley, the subject of her poem “The Quiet Place,” first published in The Illinois State Journal-Register, and Yosemite National Park, which inspired “May Lake,” a poetic tale of Eugenia backpacking there with her younger daughter (Bicycling Monterey’s founder) and her son.

Below: With her older son. They are standing on the farmland Eugenia refers to in a poem she wrote about her beloved father, “A Man of the Earth.” The poem appeared in From the Heart, and was previously published in Mosaics: Exploring Facets of the Human Experience, a 1999 anthology by members of the Women Writers Association of Springfield, Illinois, funded by the Springfield Area Arts Council and the Illinois Arts Council.

Below: Eugenia, at far left

Above, she sewed dresses for herself, her daughters, and others for the Siltennial celebration in Mt. Pulaski, Illinois.

Above: At far left, in one of many theatre productions

Below: At left, as an interpreter for the historic Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois

Below, in one of her many Women of the Bible roles

At left, with her cousin Joyce, long before Eugenia biked in Monterey County—or enjoyed sitting on a bench here, just watching the people go by.

Feel free to offer a comment. Regardless of where you live or travel, where do you enjoy public benches, and where do you find more—or any at all— are needed?

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