People Get Ready: Winter Is Upon Us And Bus Stops Will Not Shelter You

The bus stop at Gage and Vermont seems like an afterthought. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
The bus stop at Gage and Vermont leaves riders marooned on a dirt (or mud, depending on the weather) island. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

I’ll admit I don’t take the bus very much.

I have debilitating motion sickness. I can’t even snap my head from side to side quickly without getting nauseous. The constant stopping, starting, and general rocking back and forth of a bus can make a basket case out of me, even when I am drugged up on dramamine.

But, I do pass a lot of bus stops on my bicycle jaunts around the city and I often think that if anyone wanted to know how the city really felt about its lower-income residents, the bus stops in areas like South L.A. are awfully telling.

As I noted here, they certainly don’t provide much in the way of shelter from the sun in the heat of the summer.

And, they generally have some combination of foibles, meaning they often aren’t comfortable, clean, safe, or easily accessible places.

As winter comes and the days are both shorter and sometimes wet, these problems come into sharper relief.

If you’re female, for example, and you spend too much time waiting at (or even walking to) stops along S. Figueroa (in the 10 – 15 blocks north of Century) or certain stretches of Western (just north of Slauson or around 39th), you might be mistaken for a prostitute and followed, harassed, and/or propositioned.

Or, as once happened to me on Western (near the Bronco Motel), you could be stalked by a pimp.

While not a pleasant experience in broad daylight, these sorts of things can make trying to get where you need to go after dark a much unhappier and more perilous endeavor. Poor lighting around some stops do not help the situation.

A bus stop near the Notel Motel on Main St. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
A bus stop near the Notel Motel on Main St. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Stops can also be dangerous if you are a young male of color — you’re a sitting duck for anyone who feels like messing with you, should you happen to live in or need to move through gang turf. A number of youth I’ve worked with have reported being harassed or jumped by gang members at stops while waiting for a bus to go to school.

As you can imagine, things don’t get better for them after dark, either. Some say their parents don’t want them waiting for the bus or walking back and forth to a stop at night — even to go to programs at rec centers — meaning that their mobility is seriously curtailed in the winter.

Liquor stores near bus stops can also create a more hazardous environment. A mother of a teen living in the Gonzaque/Haciendas housing development told me she would rather drive her son to his destination than allow him to wait for the bus at 105th and Compton after a walk-up shooting in front of the liquor there this summer. This, despite the fact that the stop is just two blocks from their home and adjacent to a middle school.

Where Metro has managed to alleviate some of the issues like these from rail stops with the placement of cameras, safety ambassadors, better lighting, or law enforcement officers, the bus stops are largely on their own, interwoven with and at the mercy of the fabric of the surrounding sidewalk. Devoid of public art, civic pride, security, or even, it often appears, regular maintenance or trash pick-ups, stops can turn into magnets for unhealthy and unsanitary activities.

You can play the ever-popular "Name the origin of that fluid!" game at stops like this one at Gage and Western. (Google map Screenshot)
You can play the ever-popular “Name the origin of that fluid trail!” game at stops like this one at Gage and Western. And, despite the fact that this is a Google maps shot from last year, this stop looked pretty much exactly like this when I went by there last night. (Google map screen shot)

That’s if riders even get an actual formal stop.

Along Gage (see photos at top of story and below), riders must wait on dirt islands.

This stop at Gage and Hoover also sits on a dirt-packed island and has no disable access. (Google Screenshot)
Nothing says, “I love you, bus rider!” like this dirt island stop at Gage and Hoover that is not even ADA compliant. (Google Screenshot)

Odder still, while the adjacent sidewalk is ADA compliant, if you want to get yourself, your stroller, or whatever wheeled thing you are trying to move up onto the island — even just to safely cross the street — you are quite out of luck.

The adjacent sidewalk is ADA compliant. (Google map Screenshot)
The adjacent sidewalk is ADA compliant. (Google map screen shot)

And, while I’m not necessarily in favor of paving over every last square inch of L.A., it would seem that the least the city could do was ensure that riders didn’t have to stand ankle-deep in mud during the rainy season. Right?

Expecting the level of investment seen at rail stations at each of the nearly 9,000 bus stops around the city is not realistic, of course. But something has to change to make the system feel more safe, attractive, and like it is something the city hasn’t forgotten about.

As discussed here and here, perceptions about the safety, value, and efficacy of the system may be just as important as actual safety, value, and efficacy metrics in wooing discretionary riders or preventing current riders from choosing private vehicles when they have the chance. Meaning, that all the effectiveness in the world may not be enough when you have unlit dirt-mound bus stops like those along Gage telling riders, “We don’t actually care if you get to your destination.”

The current strategy for managing stops – turning over placement and maintenance of street furniture at stops to outdoor advertiser CBS/Decaux – has clearly not done enough to mitigate the problem.

As I noted here, the excessively bureaucratic permitting process gave CBS/Decaux an excuse to stop requesting permits for furniture installations, meaning that, 12 years into the contract, a large percentage of shelter furniture still hasn’t been installed, most notably in lower-income areas. (For the full audit of the program, click here). And, that furniture which has been placed is not particularly well-taken care of.

Although the 20-year contract with CBS/Decaux doesn’t end until 2021, it shouldn’t mean that we can’t do better by the bus system in the meanwhile.

Planners currently working on updating the Mobility Element are doing their part to create a Transit-Enhanced Network to increase service and create all-day or peak-period bus-only lanes along prioritized routes.

But getting people to believe that “buses do it better” will likely require tangible investments in the infrastructure around the system — bright and clean shelters devoid of advertising, public art, plants, sheltering trees, waste receptacles, lighting, and/or regular maintenance of the stops. Any one of those things would be a baby step in the right direction. Hell, when I saw these shelters (below) begin popping up along Slauson several months ago, I actually wanted to sit at a shelter and ride the bus.

IMGP6224
Rather impressive-looking (if not particularly functional) shelters began popping up along Slauson several months ago. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Of course, that thought occurred to me on a brilliant sunny day. Not during a downpour.

There is no doubt that the bus system has its share of problems, the environment and condition of the stops being only two of many.

But investing in fixing some of those aspects will be helpful in making bus-riding feel less like a punishment for those that have no alternative options and more attractive to those that do.

Which is your least favorite bus stop and why? Let us know below…

  • DMalcolmCarson

    Great article Sahra. Bus stops to me are critical because they form the link between the transit system and the pedestrian environment in a way that even rail stations do not. If we could start with improving our bus stops, and then from there look at improving the pedestrian linkages to and from those stops, we’d be a long ways towards creating a walkable, transit-friendly city. I’d only add, why not at least start with Rapid bus stops and stops that intersect with rail stations? Sure, 9,000 is a bit daunting, but the original Rapid plan was to have very nice bus stops with shelters, next bus arrival indicators, off-board fare payment, etc., and where’s the logic in building a billion-plus dollar rail line, but then when someone walks off looking to transfer, they get nothing except a single pole with a sign on it?

  • mark vallianatos

    If there is a street repair bond it should ideally include $ for new shelters in areas of high ridership + anticipated temperature increases from climate change. There is a question whether the street furniture contract bars the city from putting in bus shelters- it doesn’t explicitly forbid the city from doing so like it forbids the city from putting up additional commercial advertising. At the very least the city could negotiate for more shelters- presumably cbs decaux would be willing to allow shelters they didn’t pay for if or if they spit costs with the city. In the long run we should commit to raising sufficient tax revenues to pay for a high quality public realm. The city goes for street furniture contracts to pay for maintenance but that locks us into having a majority of stops with shamefully poor infrastructure.

  • Ryan J

    The city of LA’s most pleasant (sarcasm) bus stops are those along Sunset Blvd between Beverly Hills and the UCLA campus. I think people are brought to and retrieved from those stops by helicopter, because I can’t imagine how anyone walks along Sunset in those areas with no sidewalk, grass, or even dirt due to the steep hills. This is my favorite stop, at Sunset & N. Beverly Glen: http://goo.gl/maps/w0UvS. I’m sure the dozens of housekeepers working in Bel-Air have lots of fun waiting on 2 feet of dirt between a chain link fence and speeding commuters. And try to guess how people access that stop when pedestrian crossings are barred on all 3 legs of the intersection? This is unacceptable, especially a few blocks away from one of the biggest institutions in the City (UCLA).

  • ubrayj02

    The city gets a nice chunk of change for bus shelter advertising but that money goes straight to local council office coffers and is used to buy votes in the next election – and bus riders don’t vote.

    The money is there but it is being used to fund parades, pothole repairs, and one-time projects to buy good will from people who matter in city council elections.

  • MaxUtil

    I kind of get the “open & airy” design aesthetic that seems to reign in recent bus and rail stop installations. But I don’t understand their seeming insistence on ignoring shade as one of the primary functions of an outdoor shelter in LA. Even the shelter you show above has a big piece of glass for about 90% of its roof. I know you don’t want to create a dark enclosed space for a variety of safety of “unwelcoming environment” reasons. But have the people who design these things never waited for a bus in the afternoon in August? Having to stand for an undetermined time ‘exposed to the elements’ is one of the aspects of riding the bus that I like the least. And intense sun is one of the chief “elements” here.

  • AJ

    This is spot on. The condition of our bus stops is a tragic disregard for equity and accessibility. It also costs Metro thousands of riders everyday. We need a solution for the CBS/Decaux deal–it’s ruining our buses, BRT, and bike share. I hope our next Measure J includes funds for a comprehensive upgrade of our bus stops in addition to bigger ticket rail and BRT projects; there are few investments we can make that would provide a more cost effective mobility improvement for people across LA County.

  • John Lloyd

    Thank you for this much-needed expose of the shameful condition of many of our bus stops in SoCal. The not-so-benign neglect of bus stops not only discourages transit use and poses a safety hazard, it represents a giant middle finger salute to bus riders. If we as a society are to make a meaningful shift in transit mode share, comfortable, safe, and aesthetically pleasing shelters at bus stops will be a basic requirement. To be honest, right now I’d settle for a simple bench at some of the bus stops I use.

  • sahra

    Yes, the shelters along Slauson are not CBS/Decaux (unless I am sorely mistaken). And some of the funky Rapid poles that have gone up along Venice Blvd aren’t either. So, there is an ability to do things outside of that contract. The will to do it is another matter. When they introduced People St., I remember gushing to Valerie Watson that it would be wonderful if bus stops were able to get fixed up through that program. It since dawned on me that that isn’t possible — People St. projects have to happen in the street, not on the sidewalk. But it would be fun to have a similar program dedicated to reclaiming and renovating bus stop areas… especially because in places like Boyle Heights, Central City, or South LA., those kinds of improvements would be far more welcome than a parklet.

  • Wanderer

    I’m glad you wrote about this–bus stops are hugely important. Though presumably more people will move onto rail in coming years, right now 76% of Metro’s boardings are on buses. Some people use both a bus and a train on their trip, but at this point the strong majority of passengers are on the bus.

    Metro reports 15,967 bus stops systemwide. That’s a huge number to improve. But ridership doesn’t spread evenly across the system, some stops have enormous ridership while others have much less. Maybe Metro could do its own effort for the 1%–the top 1% (or 160) in terms of ridership. If some of them are good they can just move down the list. Some of those stops are also shared with municipal bus lines that could maybe work with Metro on this.

    The other side of this is that a safe, attractive bus stop is an addition to a street and a neighborhood, an improvement of public space, not just an avoidance of harm.

  • sahra

    Yikes — almost 16,000? I had come across 9,000 when digging around for another piece on the bus system a while back. I wonder if my figures are city and the larger ones for the county? I don’t dispute the number, but If you’ve got the source for it, could you point me in that direction so I can update accordingly? Thanks!

  • Wanderer

    I think the 16,000 is the number for the County, at least for Metro’s large piece of it. I got it from their “Facts at a Glance” on the website. If there are 16,000 stops systemwide, then 9,000 would make sense for the city of Los Angeles, since it has the most widespread service from Metro. Either way, it’s an enormous task, and an enormous resource of public space to be improved.

  • sahra

    Thanks!

  • sahra

    Glad to hear it — I think the more complaining out there, the better. @disqus_PpSYWztaGf:disqus also makes the important point that it isn’t just low-income areas where riders are shafted. The west side can seem outright hostile towards bus-riders (and sometimes also pedestrians and cyclists, come to think of it) in some areas. If the hideous condition of bus stops didn’t seem to portend that horrors might be awaiting you on board, more people might actually be inclined to contemplate testing the system out.

  • sahra

    oops… that @ disqus thing was meant to refer to Ryan J’s comment.

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