By Kit Slack

When Metro stops close from July 22 to Sept. 4 this summer, more Hyattsville commuters will be waiting for the bus in high heat. And with Hyattsville’s tree canopy under threat, shade may not be available.

Hyattsville’s department of public works has found a green tech solution, with the help of David Tilley, an associate professor of environmental science and technology at the University of Maryland.

Axon rendering
A rendering of a green bus shelter
Courtesy of Nicholas Gray/Living Canopies

On Aug. 1, 2022, the Hyattsville City Council approved the purchase of 10 bus shelters from Living Canopies for $115,000. 

Tilley founded Living Canopies, a University Park-based company that sells shade for patios. The shade comes in the form of umbrella-shaped trellises covered with tropical flowering vines, which are watered by solar-powered automated irrigation systems. Vigilante Coffee Company has had Tilley’s living canopies shading tables outside its College Park location. 

Shading bus stops with living plants will be a new venture for both the company and the city. “This is going to be a demonstration of the technology,” said Tilley, in his initial presentation to the city council last April. “Hyattsville’s on the cutting edge, so if you want to pat yourself on the back, you should!”

When the foliage on the new bus shelters dies back in the winter, commuters will still have shelter from the rain. According to the design pictured in the proposal attached to August’s council materials, the shelters will have green roofs that capture rainwater. The captured rainwater will run down into a 100-gallon cistern in the bus shelter bench. When sensors indicate that soil on the roof is dry, a pump powered by solar panels will send water back up to the plants on the roof. 

The bus shelter solar panels will also power lights and a cell phone charging station.

In the summer, native plants growing on the trellises on each end of the bus shelter roof will extend the shade offered by the bus shelter by about 12 square feet in each direction.

Tilley first reached out to the city about the bus shelters in the spring of 2021, according to Leslie Riddle, Hyattsville’s director of public works. Hyattsville is “definitely on the low end for bus shelters,” Riddle said when she introduced Tilley to the city council.

There are currently six county bus shelters in zip code 20781, according to a manager from InSite Street Media, which maintains and sells advertising on the shelters. 

Tilley’s initial April 2022 presentation featured a number of design options and 12 potential sites on city roads — many of them along Hamilton and Jefferson streets -– from a list that Tilley said was provided by the city’s public works department. At the August 2022 council meeting, Councilmember Rommel Sandino (Ward 5) requested community input on the location of the shelters.

At a small virtual community meeting in March, resident Gregory Pitman suggested Queensbury Road, Queens Chapel Road, Hamilton Street near the Aldi, and 42nd Avenue near Hyattsville Middle School as potential sites. Hal Metzler, Hyattsville’s deputy director of public works, mentioned difficulty securing permissions to install bus shelters on state roads like Queens Chapel, and space challenges on Queensbury. 

According to Tilley’s initial presentation, the shelters will be accessible for those with disabilities, and will be 7 feet tall, 9 feet long and 4 feet deep. 

Also at the community meeting, resident Adnan Barazi advocated for a display giving real-time data on when buses would arrive, something Councilmember Joanne Waszczak (Ward 1) voiced support for during last April’s council meeting. 

Tilley said that an electronic display would be too power hungry for the bus shelter’s solar panels. “It would be a great feature to have, but it won’t make it into the first generation models,” he said in an email. “Hopefully, we can accommodate them in the near future.

As of press time, some details of the contract are still being finalized, according to Tilley, so a delivery timeline is not yet available.

Hyattsville has been an early adopter of green technology before — it was one of the first municipalities to invest in an electric garbage truck and an electric police car. Mayor Robert Croslin said in the council meeting last April that he was excited for Hyattsville to be first on solar-powered bus shelters, too.