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Chelsea bus stop is transformed into a ‘Flower Walk’

Organizers behind the project hope the new installation will increase public transit usage -- and boost rider happiness.

A new art installation called Flower Walk on Broadway in Chelsea includes an MBTA bus stop, 175 plantings, and hand-stenciled flowers.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

CHELSEA — Latoya Sutton said she had to do a double take while waiting for her bus Sunday afternoon.

Where once was a typically austere MBTA bus stop now stands a work of art: an oasis of felt plants, potted trees, and stenciled flowers. It’s still a bus stop, but, as Sutton said, it doesn’t feel like one.

“I think it’s amazing,” Sutton said. “It caught my eye as soon as they were done.”

She took a photo of her 6-year-old son, standing in front of some of the plants. As she spoke, he raced up and down the elevated platform. The pair were headed for chicken wings and an afternoon at the beach via the 117 bus, she said.

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The colorful new bus stop at Broadway and 3rd Street, called the “Flower Walk,” was unveiled last week by a coalition of Chelsea city officials, activists, and artists. It was developed under the direction of Ad Hoc Industries, a creative agency that worked alongside the Boston Bus Rapid Transit initiative, which aims to improve mobility through bus repairs and innovations.

Several local artists partnered with Chelsea’s Department of Public Works; La Colaborativa, an organization that supports Latinx immigrants; Studioful Design, a Salem design company; and the Human Architecture and Planning Institute, also known as The HAPI, to design an “experience intended to showcase the importance of art and nature in urban environments,” the coalition wrote in a statement. Another partner in the project was the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, which focuses on environmental issues and efforts to make cities sustainable and equitable, including improving their transportation systems.

Chelsea city officials and community partners hope the new installation will bring joy and increased ridership to the stop.

“It’s not just about the functionality, but it’s also about creating an experience that’s joyful,” said Adrian Gill, one of the leaders of the initiative. “It is a fully immersive concept that we’ve created. It’s a very interactive environment.”

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The installation includes eight native trees — two American elms, three maples, and three red oaks — as well as 175 plantings, hand-stenciled flowers along the street and sidewalk, and a bench made by artist Claudia Paraschiv, founder of Studioful Design in Salem, according to the group. The plantings include cornflowers, irises, and Russian sage.

Renovations to the stop include a new level-boarding bus platform to help riders in wheelchairs, with strollers, or with carts.

A new art installation called 'Flower Walk' includes a MBTA bus stop on Broadway, 175 plantings, and hand-stenciled flowers along Broadway Street in Chelsea.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

There is usually a crowd of riders at the bus stop on Sunday afternoons, Sutton said, but there were relatively few that day. She was concerned some people might think the stop’s transformation meant it had moved or closed.

“I had to ask my mom,” who can see the stop from her house, Sutton said, “are you sure this bus still runs?”

People walking up and down Broadway gazed at the flowers — real ones in planters and others painted or made of felt — as they walked by. One woman ran her fingers through a bundle of felt leaves; another stopped briefly to read the laminated signs in English and Spanish explaining the project.

A pair of young girls plucked felt flowers from the bench — as one of the signs invites people to do — waving them through the air as they ran to catch up with their mother.

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The redesigned bus stop “provides some artful whimsy” to the area, said Paraschiv.

“It’s really kind of creating a bit of a destination spot at the bus shelter,” she said in a phone interview last week.

Gill, the founder and creative director of Ad Hoc Industries, called the bus stop the most ambitious project the group had done in its partnership with the Boston BRT initiative. He acknowledged that taking the T can be difficult, given its all-too-common delays and the crowds, but said he hopes the new bus stop will help alleviate rider woes.

““So many people are frustrated with public transportation, but maybe they wouldn’t be if the environment where they are waiting is better,” he said.

Ann Sussman, the president of The HAPI, said the project was “game-changing.”

“To bring the arts and sciences together like this benefits humanity,” she said.

HAPI is using biometric studies, showing people images of the newly designed bus stop and using eye-tracking software and facial expression analysis software to register the viewers’ reactions to the new bus stop. That data can show the value of attractive bus stops for riders, Sussman said, which can help designers advocate for future projects like the Chelsea bus stop across the city.

She said she also believes it will help increase the use of public transit.

“You have a bus stop that’s beautiful with flowers around it,” Sussman said, “and you’ll suddenly think about taking the bus.”

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Daniel Kool can be reached at daniel.kool@globe.com. Follow him @dekool01. Elllie Wolfe can be reached at ellie.wolfe@globe.com. Follow her @elliew0lfe.