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Climate and Environment

It Will Soon Get Hot, But Only A Quarter Of LA County's Bus Stops Have Shade Structures

Two young women with light brown skin hold clipboards next to a metal bus stop bench on an urban street.
Wendy Ayala Bernal, left, and Catherine Baltazar, right, at the Valley/Atlantic bus stop in Alhambra, one of the hottest and most used stops in L.A. County.
(Erin Stone
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Most bus stops in L.A. have no shade. That’s a big deal as the climate crisis fuels even hotter and longer summers in L.A.

That’s especially a challenge for people who can’t avoid the heat, like those who have to wait for a bus for 30, 40 minutes or more. That can be the case for bus riders during off-peak hours.

Shade from trees is ideal: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, it can lower temperatures 9 degrees or more. Shade in general alleviates heat stress on the body, but only 26% of all L.A. Metro bus stops have structures that provide it.

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Identifying the hottest bus stops

The nonprofit Climate Resolve identified 32 bus stops across L.A. County that have the highest surface and air temperatures in summer, as well as the most riders. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena analyzed the temperature data.

Then, via a March Madness-style bracket system, the organization tallied rider votes to narrow the stops down from an “exhausted 16” to “sweaty eight” to final four. The final four bus stops will receive a shade structure design, based on rider input. Climate Resolve will then present those ideas to L.A. Metro and the patchwork of government agencies, including cities and the county, that oversee these stops.

The goal is to get commitments from these jurisdictions to implement the ideas by the end of the year, said Catherine Baltazar, climate policy analyst and lead organizer on the bus stop project.

I met her at the 76 bus stop at Valley and Atlantic in Alhambra, one of eight hottest stops identified. She and outreach and communications fellow Wendy Ayala Bernal were there on a recent afternoon to talk to riders about how they’d like to see this bus stop change.

A woman and her young daughter sat near the metal bench, on a concrete steps closer to the shade of the building.

“What is one thing that you believe that this bus stop needs?” Baltazar asked her after introducing herself.

“Air conditioning,” the woman replied with a chuckle — it was easy to laugh on this day, when temperatures were in the cool mid-60s.

Not always as simple as adding shade

But Baltazar said conversations with riders at the stops have made it clear that even adding shade shelters to bus stops isn’t as simple it may seem.

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“One thing we've actually really started to hear from folks is this fear that's associated with shelters around houseless folks using them for homes and that sort of insecurity that comes with that,” Baltazar said. “So sometimes folks are like, well, yeah, it's really hot out, but do I want to feel unsafe at my bus stop? Or would I rather be suffering in the heat? And it shouldn't even be like an either or question.”

And shade isn’t the only answer. Baltazar said riders have told them more frequent buses in off-peak hours would not only make bus riders’ lives easier, but also get them out of the heat more quickly.

Rooted in personal experience

Baltazar grew up in Westlake near K-town and has long used public transit.

“I've had this lifetime goal to never purchase a car. I refuse to cave to the car-centric society,” she said with a laugh.

But that presented its own challenges.

“I was that person waiting at these bus stops for 45 minutes after work,” Baltazar said. “It's actually what drove me to start riding my bike because I realized in 45 minutes I could make it home on my bike instead of waiting at a bus stop.”

But not everyone can do that, she said. The most frequent bus users have some of the lowest incomes, are older and may have disabilities, she said.

“For me it is kind of like a personal commitment to make sure that the experience that I had stops being the norm and that we actually can provide a better experience for all,” Baltazar said.

Bernal grew up in South Central and also has long relied on public transportation.

“I grew up on transit from as long as I can remember, taking like the DASH or Metro just to get from school and back,” she said. “I used to take the bus growing up and was always trying to find shade because it’s just so hot … Seeing the lack of trees, taking the bus and just seeing a lot of things right in my community … I noticed not everyone has these experiences.”

Improving public transportation for lowering emissions

In arguably one of the most car-centric cities in the world, we hear a lot about electric vehicles being an answer to L.A.’s air pollution as well as global warming — more than 40% of California’s greenhouse gas pollution comes from the tailpipes of millions of cars and trucks.

But the research is clear that improving public transportation to help people get out of their cars is an essential piece of the puzzle for lowering emissions.

  • According to UCLA researchers, “every vehicle on the road releases an average of one pound of CO2 per mile driven. Compared with driving alone, taking public transportation reduces CO2 emissions by 45%, decreasing pollutants in the atmosphere and improving air quality. It's estimated that public transportation in the U.S. saves 37 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, and even moderate increases in bicycle use each year could save an estimated 6 to 14 million tons.”

Baltazar said improving the experiences of bus riders will not only narrow the gap on equitable transportation, but also get more people out of their cars in the long run.

“In order to get people out of their cars and in public transit, you kind of have to fix the problem, right?” Baltazar said. “No one wants to be waiting 45 minutes for a bus in the heat. Now we can remove that excuse and try to really get people using public transit.”

But with a piecemeal approach, and multiple jurisdictions being responsible for different bus stops, progress is slow.

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