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Monday, October 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 46.0° F  Fair
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Liers not welcome on Capitol Square benches
The new dividers keep off the snoozers. But on the newer benches, some still find a way.
The new dividers keep off the snoozers. But on the newer benches, some still find a way.

In mid-July, wooden dividers were installed on more than a dozen benches on the Capitol Square, especially along Main Street. The dividers serve nominally as armrests; their obvious main purpose, though, is to keep people from lying down. The benches have been bum-proofed.

City Parks chief Kevin Briski confirms that city parks staff did the deed, but says it was ordered by city planning. Archie Nicolette of city planning says it was a joint planning and engineering decision based on an outside request. But he gamely defends the rationale.

"We want to have a welcoming attitude toward all people, no matter what they look like or who they are," says Nicolette. But "when public spaces become inaccessible to the public or feel unsafe, then we make some changes." The dividers were added because some people were using the benches inappropriately - to lie, to sleep, perchance to dream.

Nicolette says the request came from Mary Carbine, head of the downtown Business Improvement District. Carbine says the move, prompted by reports from businesses and residents that "the benches were not available because people were lying on them," was made in concert with city planning and engineering staff.

According to City Attorney Michael May, some rules can be brought to bear against bench crashers. There's an ordinance against using bus shelters unless waiting for a bus. And laws against camping can be invoked if bedrolls or blankets are involved.

Bus shelters on the Square already have dividers to ward off sleepyheads, but newer city benches added on Carroll and Pinckney Streets do not - in part because they're shorter, so lying down is already difficult.

But not impossible, as a recent stroll around the Square proved. Indeed, the bench with the guy crashed on it was, at this particular time, the only one being used.

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