Here’s How Hard L.A. Has Made It to Install a Bus Shelter

A new street furniture contract would still only cast shade at 40% of LA bus stops.
Photo: Jessica Pons / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Some people are drawn to the promise of fame in California. For François Nion, it was self-cleaning automated public toilets. Thirty years ago, Nion left France to open the west coast office of JCDecaux, the Parisian “outdoor advertising” company that puts everything from billboards to free bike systems. service, through public toilets, on city sidewalks. . Its most widespread products are bus shelters, now modularized and monetized in around 80 countries. Still, Nion’s new land was the toughest sale of all. In 2000, the city of Los Angeles signed a 20-year contract with JCDecaux for the installation of 2,200 new bus shelters, covering about a quarter of its 8,000 bus stops. Two decades later, there are only 1,870 – “a bit short,” Nion admits. A new city contract, on which JCDecaux is currently bidding, aims both to close this gap and to replace the old models of shelters with improved models. But according to Nion’s estimate, the new contract would likely only bring the number of protected stops to a maximum of 3,000, leaving around 60% discovered in a city more and more dangerously hot for people who are not inside air-conditioned vehicles. Officials say they want increase bus use and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, all in the name of fairness. “But if 60% of the stops don’t have any convenience,” says Nion, “how do you get closer to fairness? “

Nion knows the state of LA’s transit infrastructure so intimately that he can recall specific shelter installation dates; when I ask him about a particular neighborhood, he can describe the quality of the shade of certain blocks where the buses run. In his investigations of the thousands of homeless LA bus stops, he began to see that homeless stops shared other common characteristics. They were located on narrow sidewalk streets and also lacked trees, forcing passengers to queue in the thin diagonals of shadow created by the utility poles. “We love the bus shelters; we made it up, ”he says. “But with such narrow sidewalks, you know they’ll never see bus shelters. You begin to realize, when you see people waiting at the post, how do you turn the problem into the solution? “

Photo: Mobilier Urbain Outfront / JCDecaux

What he came up with was a vertical shade that swivels the height and width of a surfboard. Passengers can rotate it for protection from the sun, standing in a shadow that gets shorter and longer with the time of day. Nion showed me a concept sketch last month – he nicknamed it the “parasol blade»- and a prototype is currently touring the city as part of a road show of potential bus shelters solutions. While the blade is designed to support extra features like a solar panel, a USB charging port, and a small retractable seat – it says powder coated metal doesn’t heat up, even in direct sunlight – those extras don’t. really not essential for the blade serving the riders, which Nion said gave the concept positive feedback. “I think it is a solution, ”he says. “It’s not the Solution. The solution is bigger sidewalks. Mature trees between 15 and 40 years old. But until the city decides to widen the sidewalks and focus efforts to plant mature trees along the transit corridors – policies that are currently not being discussed comprehensively – Nion is considering a small grove of Shade blades that could be installed as a temporary measure at any stop for a fraction of the cost of a shelter. “This is really how you get more benefits very quickly for public transport riders all over the city,” he says. “And then you can upgrade whenever you want. “

It would be wise to pin the LA bus shelter void on JCDecaux – a global corporate entity profiting from a lackluster deployment of utilities. But the city’s apathy by the way financing of infrastructure for bus users is associated with an arduous set of approvals that make the installation of a new shelter virtually impossible. LA it’s complicated 16 step process requires the engagement of no less than eight municipal services, plus the approval of an elected official for each of them. In 2019, Investing in Place – a public transport advocacy group that monitors the deployment of bus shelters – joined a coalition of associations which tried to install ten bus shelters in one hot corner of the San Fernando Valley, using passenger surveys to select locations. Two years later, only four have been installed. This indicates a much more systemic problem in the grip this needs to be addressed, says Aziz Fellague Ariouat, advocacy partner for Investing in Place. “Access to bus shelters in low-income black and Latin communities is much more limited than in richer white neighborhoods,” he says. “Existing and new bus users in low-income black and Latin neighborhoods need an appropriate investment in improving the streetscape about the bus stop.”

The sun visor blade prototype contains route information, orientation signage, and designs by local artists.
Photo: Mobilier Urbain Outfront / JCDecaux

The Blade of Nion is the latest manifestation to come out of LA endlessly broken promises about this topic. At a press conference in October 2019 – after a widely shared story questioned the LA mayor’s climate commitment to its bus passengers – city announced Cool streets, an initiative to install shade structures and add white reflective paint known as fresh pavement in low-income, high-traffic bus lanes. Part of the plan included installing umbrellas on 750 unsheltered green steel benches around the city by December 2020 – benches that can reach temperatures of up to 130 degrees on sunny days and might as well leave behind grill marks on the underside of your thighs. (These are installed by a different contractor and are a the whole story of themselves.) Umbrellas remain uninstalled, apparently postponed by budget cuts in the pandemic year. But reflective paint continues to roll out – another flashy high-tech solution that does little to materially improve someone’s experience. standing at a bus stop a few meters away. Forced to endure yet two of the hottest summers in history at shadowless stops, Los Angeles bus drivers, as always, are still stuck waiting.

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