Prince Albert removing benches from bus transfer station to discourage loitering

·3 min read
The City of Prince Albert and a local police unit are teaming up to find potential urban design changes that could minimize crime opportunities at the 14th Street East bus transfer station, shown here.
The City of Prince Albert and a local police unit are teaming up to find potential urban design changes that could minimize crime opportunities at the 14th Street East bus transfer station, shown here.

(Google StreetView)

A bus transfer station in Prince Albert, Sask., is in line for a slight makeover.

The Prince Albert Police Service's community policing unit says it is working with the city to review potential environment and landscape changes at the bus transfer station on 14th Street East to cut down on the potential criminal activity.

The city is moving to immediately remove benches from the bus shelter at the station to discourage people from loitering, a city spokesperson said.

"We are open to other ideas, but this is the only action we are considering right now," they said.

The move comes as the bus transfer station on 14th Street East has required more police surveillance in recent months, according to police.

Prince Albert police were unable to gather the exact number of reports from this particular location before deadline, but said officers had patrolled the bus transfer station 56 times throughout the first 42 days of 2021.

"I can say our members have always patrolled this area as part of their regular duties, and have targeted more proactive patrols in recent months," said a police spokesperson in an email.

Prince Albert Police Service
Prince Albert Police Service

The latest incident occurred Tuesday afternoon. Three Prince Albert police cars responded the bus transfer station shortly after 1 p.m. CST, after reports of people fighting.

One woman was taken into custody at the scene for being drunk in public, but no charges have been laid, police said in a news release.

Police are reviewing surveillance video from the scene as part of the investigation, the release says.

Preventing crime through urban design

Changes to the 14th Street East bus transfer station are being done as part of the Crime Prevention through Environment Design (CPTED) program, which intends to use urban and architectural design to create safer spaces.

"Crime prevention through environmental design principles use visual and psychological cues to affect behaviours — sometimes by discouraging anti-social behaviours, or encouraging positive behaviours that will drive out anti-social behaviours, that might lead to crime," said Henry Lau, a sessional instructor and professional associate in the University of Saskatchewan's regional and urban planning program.

According to a city document on design standards, the program looks for ways to restrict access, keep things maintained, increase visibility and natural surveillance such as windows or lights, define property lines such as installing signs or fences, and encouraging the public to use spaces intended for activity.

David Richard/Radio-Canada
David Richard/Radio-Canada

Restaurants placing chairs and tables outside on a patio marks territory and signals a sense of ownership of the space, which discourages anti-social behaviour. Abandoned cars and broken windows signal an unattended area with a lack of care, which attracts anti-social behaviour, Lau said.

Ana Hildalgo, a lecturer at the University of Regina with expertise in urban planning and design, said removing the benches could work because it should attract less people.

Implementing more lights could help as well, she said, but there are pros and cons to that. With more lighting comes more visibility, but artificial light at night increases a person's mental fatigue and adds stress, Hidalgo says.

Making the bus transfer station, or that section of the street, generally more visually appealing could also help, she said.

"Sometimes we don't feel safe in the streets because the streets are not that beautiful. Sometimes they lack vegetation, or all these elements that we now know that are good," Hidalgo said. "Maybe start there, but really push for more of a healthy urban design."

Hidalgo suggests engaging the community on how best to transform the bus transfer station because it can place a sense of ownership for the entire community.

"It's this kind of IKEA effect that if you build something, you are going to take more care of this place," she said.