Desperately Seeking Shade: How South L.A. Bus Riders Weather the Elements

A man takes shelter in the shade of a telephone pole on Figueroa Ave., just north of 85th St.

It’s been hot lately.

Maybe not as hot as out East and, thankfully, not as humid. But temperatures in the 80s are nothing to sneeze at. Especially if you have to stand around on a street corner with no shelter while waiting anywhere between ten minutes and half an hour for a bus. Now imagine that you are elderly, or that you have a couple bags full of groceries and a small child or two, and the heat can become oppressive.

A number of new benches have been put in place but, because there is no accompanying shelter, people tend not to use them during the heat of the day. In the few cases I have seen people using them mid-day, it has been to (unsuccessfully) hide behind them.

A woman waiting for the 745 prefers the shelter of a streetlamp to the comfort of the new bus bench. Slauson Ave. and Broadway.

While the above-ground light rail stations have been explicitly designed to (appear to) shelter patrons in unique and community-pride enhancing ways, the more frequently used approximately 9,000 bus stops around the city have suffered from significant neglect.

The reasons for this are somewhat complex.

The City has a 20-year contract with outdoor advertising company CBS/Decaux to provide Angelenos with “street furniture.” The Coordinated Street Furniture program grants CBS/Decaux the exclusive right to install and maintain kiosks, bus benches and shelters, trash cans, and outdoor restrooms in exchange for the right to sell and display advertising in the shelter and kiosk windows. The arrangement, initiated at the end of 2001, is intended to provide the city with a share of the revenues generated by the advertising.

Because CBS/Decaux’s profits are tied to advertising, they have a greater interest in placing shelters nearer more affluent commercial districts. On their website, they market themselves to potential customers as being strategically placed in “top locations,” namely “Main Upscale Neighborhoods,” “Key Entertainment Venues,” “Major Sports Venues,” and the “Largest Universities.”

Needless to say, South L.A. does not appear on that list.

Understanding that revenue potential would likely drive shelter placement, the contract the City negotiated at the time limits CBS/Decaux’s ability to determine shelter locations. Of the 2500 shelters they were contracted to install, renovate, or replace, CBS/Decaux would only be able to determine the allocation of 35%. The remaining shelter locations would be determined by the local City Council office (25%) and by the Bureau of Street Services (40%).

Sounds promising, right?

S. Flower St., just south of Adams.

Eh, not so much.

In January of this year, City Controller Wendy Greuel’s highly critical audit of the contract found that the City’s cumbersome permitting process (averaging 129 days to process a single permit) meant that the City had only approved permits for about 69% of the advertising panels. Because of this, between 2002 and 2011, Los Angeles could have taken in $53 million in revenues, instead of the $29.9 million it received.

The delays in the permitting process have also made CBS/Decaux more reluctant to push forward on installing the remaining furniture. So, even though 1223 of the 1285 new shelters they were contracted to install have been permitted, as of March 2011, they had only installed 614. (For the full audit, click here.)

Avalon and 61st. Sts.

In the heat of the day, the average rider interviewed on the street cared very little about the bureaucratic shenanigans of the City.

“You think they don’t already know this is a problem?” a man standing in the shade of a pole with his young daughter asked when I approached with my camera. “They don’t have to ride the bus so they just don’t care.”

Others concurred, saying they hoped that my photos of them would help people see how neglected the stops they have to use every day are. Although most were thankful that they usually didn’t have to wait too long for a bus, they felt that the general uncleanliness and lack of shelter at the stops probably served to deter riders of choice from trying out the bus.

Summer is just getting started, said one. “It’s going to be hot out here.”

A man waits for the bus under a tree near the bus stop. He was soon joined by the second man (on the right). Avalon Blvd. and Gage Ave.
Two benches but no shade. Central and Manchester Aves.
No benches, no shade. Northbound, Vermont Ave. and 82nd St.
Sometimes a building can provide shelter, depending on the time of day. Florence Ave. and Broadway.
Some people bring their own shade. Slauson Ave. at Broadway.
The Russian nesting dolls approach: Mom uses the sign for shade, boy uses mom for shade. Florence Ave. and Avalon St.
  • Anonymous

    One tactic here would be to shame the hell out of the French partner in the street furniture contract.  American companies have proven they don’t care about the poor except where they can make more money, but those socializmus Frenchies are always moaning over their cafe-au-laits about how everything “en Amerique” is rigged against the poor and unjust to all.  

    So point out that to them and the shareholders of JCDecaux that they are perpetuating the grief.http://www.jcdecaux.com/en/Sustainable-Development/Corporate-citizenship/Community-commitment http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JCDecaux Or buy a share of their stock and attend the next stockholders meeting, even if you have to do it online:http://www.jcdecaux.com/en/Newsroom/Archives/2012/Annual-General-Meeting-of-JCDecaux-SA-on-May-15-2012 

  • Excellent article on an extremely over-looked issue facing bus riders. The problem seems particularly bad in LA since many buildings along bus corridors aren’t built out to the sidewalk, and our general lack of street trees doesn’t help either.

  • Great article!

  • Jason

    I had never thought that such a simple, taken-for-granted thing as a bus shelter was so tied to socio-economics. Great article.

  • Jake Bloo

    I had an idea recently for some public art of doing giant lamp shades around street lamps or electric poles. I am not an artist, though, so that’s as far as I got. But, it’d be a nice way to make the waits more bearable and add something interesting to the look of the streets.

  • Large universities supposedly get the better stops?? I work at USC at our bus stops are crap, too.  One quibble: the Expo Line stations have decorations, not shade.  Those stupid wavey things look nice (I guess) when you drive by them, but they are generally useless for shade except at noon. Most of the rest of the day the sun bakes on one platform or the other while the shade falls brilliantly onto the tracks…so useful. Well done, architect. 

  • Anonymous

    This seems to be a general problem with many of Metro’s station designs. They love these open, breezy designs that look great in an architectural rendering, but leave everyone in the real world huddling for the tiny patches of shade.

  • sahra

     agreed. they are selectively shade-providing. they are better than nothing, though. so many of the bus stops are so exposed and refuse (and bodily fluid)-strewn that even non-shade providing decorational objects would be an improvement. at least savvy riders would have something to hide behind while waiting for the bus…

  • Wesley Brown

    Good post. I take it you are familiar with Anthony Hernandez?

    http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artObjectDetails?artobj=258597 

    Same as it ever was, sadly.

  • sahra

    @google-e279db3e70c4ba15674d88d97104ae1c:disqus i did see his work a long time ago and loved it at the time, but i had completely forgotten about it. so, thanks for jogging my memory. i do a lot of street work (and almost always in black and white) so i guess it isn’t surprising that we struck upon the same subject. and it is sad that the reason we struck upon the same subject is because so little has changed. thanks again.

  • Ginger F

    A UCLA study about the location of bus shelters in Los Angeles:

    Shelter from the storm: Optimizing distribution of bus stop shelters in Los Angeles

    PDF available here:

    http://uctc.net/research/papers/699.pdf

  • sahra

     thanks–i hadn’t seen it!

  • Anna Lopez

    It’s not just South L.A. – most of the bus benches and shelters in the East SF Valley are gone too, so let’s not make this argument just about one part of the city. 

  • Arline Mathews

    All of you who saw or wrote comments  can change this sorry situation by doing just two things !.) Call or write the assignment editor at the news desk of the L.A. Times or your T.V.Stations.  and
    2.) call your City Councilman or woman in whose district you live and complain to the Chief of Staff if possible.

  • This is a citywide problem, though it’s certainly more pronounced in some areas. I’m in a West LA transportation group … we hear it all the time. Let me read the Controller’s audit on this. I want to know if the contractor is not seeking the desired permits, or if the City is not processing them. -Cary Brazeman, Candidate for LA City Controller 2013

  • sahra

     According to Wendy Greuel, the City was taking 129 days to process each permit, and that the process was needlessly complex. Her verdict was that the City was significantly to blame for that. The delay in putting up already permitted furniture, however, lies with the company, I would think. The claim that they are reluctant to install furniture because of the delays seems more of an excuse to keep from having to put furniture in areas that will not be particularly lucrative to them. I’ll be trying to talk to someone from the company over the next week to get some explanation for that.

  • Anna Lopez

    Why couldn’t research be done on the best places to put bus shelters, depending on the number of riders at a particular bus stop?  There are plenty of locations on the West Side where bus drivers pick up only one or two passengers at a stop, even during rush hour, but in South LA and where I live in the East SF Valley, the buses are almost always standing-room only, no matter the time of day or night.

    There’s one bus shelter in front of the North Hollywood Red Line station, which is ridiculous for the amount of people this location serves. There’s another bus shelter next to the taxicab stand, where you never see anyone actually sitting because the location doesn’t serve any useful purpose, and it’s too far to walk if you were thinking about waiting there until your bus showed up.

  • I have slowly been researching a piece on shelters and stops. And most recently have learned at least one L.A. Councilmember has made comments feeling stops are too far apart. I may see if anything about shelter location is also an issue for the council member.

    The audit is scathing and lays most of the blame with the city, council offices and NIMBYs. 

  • PC

    I hope (but without much hope, if you know what I mean) that this Councilmember has at least a rudimentary understanding of the tradeoff between speed and local walkability where bus stop spacing is concerned.

    What the transit-dependent residents of South LA need even more than shade is frequent and *reliable* enough service to prevent having to stand in the sun for 30 or more minutes at a time in the first place.

  • PC

    In an ideal world (the same one, I guess, in which Metro bus service is frequent and reliable), architects would design structures for their end users rather than for other architects…

  •  Doesn’t need to find out anything just make bus shelter 1.5 km away from each it could be great..

  • Rachel

    i once waited almost an hour for a bus that was supposed to come every 15 minutes on Vermont near Adams blvd. I had 2 grocery bags with me and the driver drove off before i could pick up 2 bags and get to the door of the bus.. Ended up walking home.

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