[IMAGE]MET11shelter-daytech2-2.jpg[/IMAGE]Transit shelter designers are quickly learning that to better accommodate their cost-conscious customers, they must move toward more adaptable designs. Modular shelters with eco-friendly options can lower both manufacturing and maintenance expenses. By giving transit authorities several basic options that can be customized to suit the needs of any community, designers save time and cut expenditures, while still giving clients what they want.

As the cost of solar panels decreases and the availability of environmentally friendly building materials broadens, designers can effectively market sustainable and energy-efficient shelters to buyers. These eco-friendly shelters are both appealing and beneficial.

Lower costs, easy installation

Today's transit shelter options are more customizable, adaptable and modern than their predecessors. Shelter designers are moving away from inflexible traditional structures in favor of modular designs that couple straight lines or unusual visual elements. These elements can reflect the community they serve, but the designs themselves are centered on a few basic structural forms.

"If we do come up with a new design, the next question is how we can make it marketable price wise," says Arthur Cohen, president of Columbia Equipment Company Inc., who points out that creating a completely new design for each project is simply not economical for most of his customers. "The nature of the business was not what I had envisioned when we started almost 50 years ago. We have certain basic structural systems that can be configured different ways and we can make up many different designs using those basic systems."

Columbia Equipment is one of many companies that offer consumers a choice of several fundamental designs, which can then be adapted to their needs. Companies such as DayTech Ltd., based in Toronto, offer shelter "families" that are grouped by roof design.

DayTech customers have the option of nine different roof types, such as an asymmetrical arch roof or overhanging dome roof. Despite the dramatic differences between roof styles, the families are tied together by their distinctly modular designs that can be produced using a number of different materials depending on the client's preferences.

According to Dion McGuire, president and chief operating officer of DayTech, "modularity makes [shelters] less expensive to manufacture and easier to install," which may account for the growing popularity of modular structures.

DayTech's shelter structures are also punctuated by walls of clear polycarbonate or tempered safety glass, giving them a sleek appearance no matter what the roof style.

"I think that there is a more modern flair to design now," McGuire continues. "We've tried to incorporate a more open, modern look."

Patrick Merrick, executive vice president of Tolar, says his company's designs have "more of a streamlined European look" that incorporates curves and shapes.

"[Transit shelter] designs continue to evolve as the transit districts and outdoor advertising companies set their bars a little bit higher as it relates to street furniture and as they get away from the traditional box-type shelter," he explains.

The company developed 120 custom extrusions over the years to provide better functionality to its products. Merrick says these specialized metal cross sections and gaskets "make sure that [the shelter] withstands the elements" and can give shelters a unique look.

"[The shelter has] to be modular, it's got to make financial sense and it has to fit within the budget," Merrick says.

According to Cohen, aluminum is perfect for use in transit shelter construction, since it can be easily extruded and made into complicated shapes. With certain other materials, achieving these more complicated designs may have required several parts to be riveted, welded or bolted together.

"With an extrusion, you're making a simpler design that's more efficient from a manufacturing point of view: Lighter so that it would be easier to handle, install and maintain, because there are fewer parts," Cohen says. "[Shelters made from extrusions are] more weatherproofed because there are fewer seams that could leak and better looking because there are fewer seams."

Tolar offers four styles of transit shelters: Euro, Sierra, Niagara and Signature. Each features a specific customizable list of options for the buyer. Euro shelters can be equipped with an integrated channel for water drainage or specially designed to tolerate cold climate conditions.

Sierra style transit shelters have either Victorian or herring bone perforated metal options and can be built with tempered glass or tough, transparent Lexan.

The Niagara series is comprised of a small number of parts, making it easy to assemble and inexpensive to ship by freight in kit form. The Signature model can be adapted to almost any community's design needs.  

"We feel that we stand apart from our competitors in that we are properly dealing with the functionality of our product," Merrick says. "The term we like to use is 'purpose-driven ­design'."

[PAGEBREAK]Community, transit identity

"I think that you find cities are now demanding more of a relationship with the identity of the community itself and, also, using the shelter as a tool to extend the identity and the image of the transit system itself," says Jeffrey Sherman, president of Lacor/Streetscape. Lacor/Streetscape focuses on the communities it serves to create transit shelter designs that fit snugly into their surroundings.  

Lacor/Streetscape has served the transit needs of cities like Santa Fe, N.M., the oldest capital city in the U.S. Due to its rich history, Santa Fe has a well-defined identity that needed to be reflected in its local transit structures.

"Santa Fe has very reasonable but very strict ordinances, and in the downtown area you just really don't put a bus shelter that projects the image of the transit system," Sherman says. "You really have to compromise and do something like what they call a banca, like a bench. And, that works fine in that environment."

Tolar has also produced shelters that incorporate elements from the immediate environment to better blend the shelter into the community.

"In Ontario, we did these shelters that utilize our modular furniture, but the designers ran some brick up the columns to reflect the building that they were adjacent to," Merrick says. This strategy allows shelters to be easily incorporated into a community without spending unnecessary energy on a completely new design.

"We look to functionality, but from a standpoint of balancing functionality against the aesthetics of the community," he continues. "So, our forté is working with cities and transit districts to design a shelter that reflects something about the community, such as some architectural element in that community."

Similarly, Columbia Equipment works to adapt its basic designs to the local ambiance, whether traditional or ultramodern.

"Our original designs are plain and specifically generic so that they will fit into as many different architectural environments as possible," Cohen says. "We try to custom tailor the shelters when we're asked to meet the customer's individual and unique requirements."

Sherman and his associates at Lacor/Streetscape have striven to not only incorporate the architectural elements of the community they are serving, but to address the needs of passengers based on climate. Sherman often travels around the country and rides the transit systems his company is serving to interview passengers and get an idea of their needs.

"In Flagstaff, I found out by talking to the passengers — even though you look at the climatic conditions and such when you are going to design a shelter — almost all the storms come in from one direction because there's this giant mountain called San Francisco Peak right next to Flagstaff," Sherman explains. "It's really a huge thing and it kind of dominates the whole climate right there. It causes everything to swirl around it. So, that made a big difference on how I designed the shelter as it related to the wind directions."

Lacor/Streetscape, like many other companies, also promotes community and transit authority identity by providing families of transit products that consist of corresponding shelters, benches, trash receptacles and kiosks. The company offers eight families of transit products, including Arcadia, Heritage, Horizon, Oasis, Paragon, Park, Primavera and Summit. Each family of products can be used to convey a cohesive community image and adapted to fit the design needs of any transit authority.

Solar technology advances

Due to rapidly decreasing equipment costs, transit shelters are being more frequently powered by solar panels. Wiring individual shelters to the electric power grid can be extremely expensive, so solar-powered lighting offers buyers a viable alternative.  

"The use of solar-powered lighting is becoming much more predominant," McGuire says. "Solar panels and solar LED lighting have become much less expensive in the last few years, so it's become an attractive option for transit authorities to start using solar as opposed to grid power."

LED lighting lasts significantly longer — two to three times longer, according to McGuire — than fluorescent lighting. By pairing solar energy with LED bulbs, transit authorities can save money and promote sustainability.

And, while photovoltaic panels may seem like a potential eye-sore, companies like Tolar manage to incorporate them into the design of the shelter structure. Tolar offers rigid or flex-form solar panels with powder-coated metal components that match the color of the shelter.

"A flex-form panel will bend more to the architecture, the shape of the roof," Merrick explains. "A rigid panel is less expensive but more effective. The tradeoff is that a flex panel follows more the curvature and protects the architectural design, but is less effective; while a rigid panel more visibly shows the agency is making a pro-energy statement but the panel will be more rigid in nature, and will not conform to the shape of the roof."

The reason for this, Merrick explains, is that solar panels need to have a clear view - in the case of shelters in the northern hemisphere, either to the south or west. A rigid panel is much more easily directed. Even so, Merrick says that flex-form photovoltaic panels are increasing in popularity. Tolar's solar systems can also be sized specifically according to geographic area and come equipped with a five-day back up, maintenance-free battery.

Lacor/Streetscape's transit shelters are also available with a solar option. The company offers three different lines of solar lighting, including one LED and two fluorescent options that may be applied to any of the company's shelter designs.

"LED technology is advancing so fast that the others are becoming obsolete - and not only in the quality, but in the cost," Sherman says. "There are a lot more photovoltaic panels available than there used to be. [More companies] are producing them so it makes them more accessible."

[PAGEBREAK]Eco-friendly materials

The carbon footprint of most transit shelters is rapidly shrinking. Companies are not only employing solar power, but recycled materials as well.

"Most of our product is over 90 percent recycled material, or recyclable," Sherman says. "Most of it comes from recycled material, believe it or not — even the steel that we use."

All four companies interviewed primarily use aluminum, which comes from recycled material, but can also be recycled in the future.

"The main reason to use aluminum is that, first of all, it doesn't rust — as opposed to steel — and, therefore, the longevity of the product is better. It's a sustainable, recyclable item so, if in the future the transit authority wanted to change products and go to a different style, the aluminum product that they're using can be recycled," McGuire explains. "In the North American climate, particularly in the northern states and in Canada, there's a lot of corrosion due to salt and usage during the wintertime so aluminum makes much more sense."

"We chose aluminum specifically because it has a higher strength-to-weight ratio when you compare it to steel," says Cohen, whose company was using aluminum long before it was a common practice. "It's stronger than a fiberglass design and you have a larger choice of finishes."

Transit shelter designers also use plastics and glass that are recyclable. Even the paint used on transit structures is environmentally friendly.           

"We use powder coat finishes that put minimal VOCs (volatile organic compounds) into the environment," Merrick says. The production process used to make powder coatings also results in less hazardous waste than conventional liquid coatings.

Lacor/Streetscape uses powder coatings and Kynar finishes, which are durable and resistant to halogens such as chlorine; bromine; fluorine and iodine. These finishes are well equipped to handle high temperatures — up to approximately 350 degrees Fahrenheit — and can reduce heat gain in an interior space if applied to the roof.

"What is new is that the customers are suddenly becoming more aware of doing the environmentally correct thing," Cohen says. "In the old days, nobody would ask if something was recyclable. We were the ones who promoted recyclable materials. Now, because of awareness and concern about the environment everybody is on the same wavelength."