They showed up recently on a downtown sidewalk without explanation — a pair of mysterious bright red metal railings.
Some downtown workers say they first guessed they might be a new type of bike rack. Then came the aha moment. Workers waiting for their bus found themselves leaning against the railings without really thinking about it. And, some say, it felt kind of comfortable.
Mystery solved. The contraptions on P Street at 14th Street are a pair of "leaning benches." They're for people to park their derriere against while standing.
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Marc de la Vergne, an executive with the Capital Area Development Authority, says there is no grand reason. His agency put them in as part of some landscaping and bus stop upgrades at the suggestion of CADA's architect, who thought the benches would be an interesting, if whimsical, amenity.
They are the only such leaning benches or podiums in Sacramento, de la Vergne said.
Sacramento Regional Transit, the region's main bus agency, doesn't use them at its bus stops or light-rail stations. SacRT official Mark Lonergan said his agency doesn't plan to use any. But he said, now that he thinks about it, there are spots at light-rail stations where there isn't room for a regular bench, and a leaning bar there might be useful.
The leaning bars aren't new. Many cities have tried them.
Transit officials say they are modern and take up less space than a bench. Some agencies are even putting them inside light-rail vehicles.
They've stirred up a bit of debate in places.
In Honolulu, officials got dinged a few years ago for installing them at a bus stop in front of a senior citizens' home. The residents of the home said they wanted their old-fashioned sitting benches back.
And some critics in other cities say the leaning podiums are an unsubtle way of keeping loiterers and homeless people away by offering nothing to sit or lie on.
That is not the case in Sacramento, CADA officials said. There wasn't a bench there before. The agency was just getting rid of grass near the sidewalk and replacing it with some drought-tolerant landscaping, as well as some pavers for bus riders to stand on.
"We wanted to install it as a test to see if the public would like them," de la Vergne said.
Tami Cuccia, a state worker who catches the afternoon bus there, was standing a few feet away one afternoon last week.
She hasn't tried them out, she said, because they look too tall for her. She's among several who first thought the bars were another strange bike rack. Maybe from Europe.
"I don't see people use it much," she said with a shrug.
Cheryl Essex, a landscape architect for State Parks who was leaning against one, says she likes it.
"I pay attention to street furnishings and the pedestrian experience," she said. "It seems like a cool way to provide a little street sculpture."
She pointed out that there are concrete planters that serve as benches a few feet away for people who need to sit.
But some riders say there is one minor issue with the placement of these two podiums. Bus riders, they say, are always turning to look up the street to see whether their bus is coming. When you're leaning on the podiums, a big sycamore blocks the view.
"That's why I don't use them," one said.