This L.A. Bus Shelter Managed to Offend Literally Everyone
This thing is catching more shade than it's giving
Los Angeles has a horrendous transit problem. Our rail system is almost nonexistent. Buses run infrequently, sometimes failing to show up at all. Many times I’ve been stranded at a stop for an hour or more, when a bus that was full or behind schedule simply barreled past me instead of picking me up. Getting anywhere by mass transit feels like a game of roulette: sometimes you get lucky, but far too often, you’re left without any options.
What’s worse is that at many stops, there’s no shelter. There isn’t even a bench. That means riders have to stand in the hot sun, scrambling to squeeze into the shade of the nearest street sign, or huddle in the dark if they’re riding at night. Taking the bus in L.A. is a comprehensively miserable experience.
The Los Angeles Department of Transportation thinks they’ve come up with a novel solution to the problem of standing around waiting for a bus: La Sombrita, a shade structure with a light attached. The moment the structure was unveiled, though, it was met with universal ridicule.
La Sombrita (Spanish for “the Little Shade”) is a length of sheet metal attached to a pole, with a small light affixed to the underside. That’s it. That’s literally all it is. When the sun hits La Sombrita at juuuuust the right angle, the shadow cast by the sheet metal will land on one or two people who stand in the exact right spot. Here, for example, is a guy standing in the fabled little patch of shadow. If you’re waiting with a buddy in the middle of the day, you have to duke it out to decide who gets the shade.
And here’s another shot, taken later in the day, with enough shade for a couple of people being cast behind the bench. You can either rest your feet or keep the sun out of your eyes, but not both!
If you pick up supplies from Home Depot, you can recreate La Sombrita for about $100 by zip-tying an aluminum sheet and an LED light to a street sign. However, Los Angeles didn’t pay $100! Instead, they paid around $200,000 for the initial project, with each Sombrita reportedly costing an additional $10,000 to produce and install. Multiple sources report that the design firm initially wanted to do something more sensible and effective, like a canopy, but butted up against L.A.’s draconian city planning regulations.
The good people of Twitter wasted no time in roasting La Sombrita to a crisp, with many of them pointing out L.A.’s long-running hostility towards trees and unhoused residents.
Oh, and the kicker? The light doesn’t even do anything.
The worst part about La Sombrita is that LADOT touted it as a momentous achievement. They advertised it as part of their gender equity analysis, claiming that it was “designed by and for female bus riders” to make riding the bus safer and more accessible for working class women. They held a press conference at the bus stop at 3rd and Union, where one of the first Sombritas was installed. They held a whole press conference for this thing.
La Sombrita is a massively expensive PR blunder. What’s more, though, it highlights all the things the city of Los Angeles isn’t doing to make living here marginally more bearable. The city could have put that $200,000 towards more frequent and reliable bus service, so that people aren’t left waiting in the sun or the dark in the first place. They could have planted shade trees, like the native oaks and sycamores that were cut down in favor of useless exotic palms.
And as for the gender equity issue … wow, where to start? Maybe anywhere besides insulting women with a length of sheet metal and a nightlight?
As climate change continues to boil California, and city infrastructures continue to crumble, problems like waiting for a phantom bus in 100+ degree heat are only going to get worse. If this is the best L.A. can do, then we’re doomed.
UPDATE: The design firm that created La Sombrita, Kounkuey Design Initiative, asked me to include a statement saying that they are “glad people have such strong feelings about the project,” and clarifying that the funding for the pilot project didn’t come out of taxpayer money. They also assured me that they “worked with real people all across Los Angeles” to develop “the first iteration of La Sombrita.”
In case I didn’t make it clear in this article, I am a real person in Los Angeles. I’m not just covering this issue as a journalist. I’m a woman who relies on L.A.’s mass transit system, including one of the lines on which a Sombrita was installed. After seeing the caliber of Kounkuey’s work so far, I wait with bated breath to see what they’ll unveil next.
(featured image: Getty Images)
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