New London - In an effort to combat loitering, sleeping and public drunkenness at the Eugene O'Neill Drive bus stop, the city public works department removed the shelter's bench.
Two weeks in, business owners, police and patrons say the change has had positive results.
Not for Eleanor Magalis-Hempstead, who just weeks removed from knee replacement surgery was forced Friday morning to stand almost an hour, with a walker for support, as she waited for her Southeast Area Transit bus.
"This is ridiculous," she said as a threatening gray sky began to sprinkle rain. "Why should I have to pay for somebody else who does that stuff? We still should have a right to be handicapped and comfortable."
Tim Hanser, public works department director, said complaints from downtown residents and nearby business owners prompted the removal.
"We had a discussion about how to address the problem and didn't want to remove the shelter because it does have legitimate uses," Hanser said. "There have been concerns about loitering and the crime prevention officer's suggestion was to remove (the bench)."
Fire Department Battalion Chief Keith Nichols said the department frequently dispatches ambulances to the general area of the bus stop for intoxicated or passed out people, most of whom are not patrons of the bus system.
"It's unfortunate," he said.
Bill Cornish, a downtown business owner who runs Copperwood Grill directly next to the bus stop, said he frequently has heard complaints about people loitering in the area. He said people would sleep, drink and litter in the stop.
"It was filthy," he said.
Since the bench's removal, at a stop that sits in front of the city's large whale mural, the area is "not as dirty," Cornish said. "It's improved the condition of the town."
Hanser said his department hasn't had any direct complaints but has had people call and thank him for removing the bench. Told of Magalis-Hempstead's plight, Hanser said it's "a decision we may have to revisit."
"It's a difficult balance to strike," he said.
Though happy about the early results, Cornish said he, too, doesn't "know where the balance is" between preventing loitering and patron comfort.
Police Deputy Chief Peter Reichard said Officer Carl Brisson-Lopez researched the issue and found that big cities often resort to removing bus stop benches in similar instances.
"There is no 100 percent solution," he said.
Hanser said no other bus benches in the city have been removed.
For Magalis-Hempstead, who was near tears as she spoke, just the one missing is enough. She said she called the police and public works department to no avail.
"I've been waiting 45 minutes to an hour and nobody wants to help me," she said. "It's like a blind eye. If people are loitering, that's not my fault. I should have a right to sit my butt on a seat."