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Will LA eliminate bars on bus benches designed to deter homeless?

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“I find [the bars] to be offensive and not accommodating to riders,” City Councilmember says

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A few city lawmakers have wish lists for bus benches, and they include removing the “offensive” bars designed to deter homeless Angelenos from sleeping on the seats.

Los Angeles City Councilmember Gil Cedillo and Mike Bonin shared their ideas for improving bus stops—and the experience they provide riders—at today’s council meeting.

At the same meeting, the council voted not to extend a contract with street furniture provider Outfront JC Decaux. Instead, the city will launch a search for another company to take the reins when the Outfront JC Decaux contract expires in 2021.

As with so many improvements to the public sphere, from parks to public restrooms to water fountains, the discussion of how to redesign bus shelters is inextricably linked to the city’s homeless crisis, with local leaders scrambling to build shelters as homeless encampments line sidewalks and freeway underpasses.

It also comes as Metro grapples with plummeting bus ridership and as city officials take steps to make streets and sidewalks more hospitable to people who get around without cars.

Outfront Decaux’s contract dictates that they put up bus shelters at no cost to the city, in exchange for selling the advertising space on the panels that make up the structure’s walls and keeping a portion of the ad revenue. But the company has struggled to deliver all of the bus shelters it projected it would in 2001, when its contract was signed.

A city audit of the program in 2012 sounded the alarm that an arduous permitting process would slow progress on implementing bus shelters, but no action was taken to speed up installation. By 2016, fewer than half the bus shelters that were supposed to be put up were actually installed.

“At the end of the day, our street furniture is about incentivizing public transit, making it comfortable for transit riders,” Blumenfield said.

Though the city will ultimately get revenue from a future contract, Blumenfield said, the main focus of the new contract should be the passengers’ experience.

Bonin and Cedillo see the new contract on the horizon as a chance to address some issues with the existing bus shelters’ location and design.

“We now have an opportunity to get it right,” Bonin said.

Cedillo suggested that all bus shelters remove the middle bars from their benches, calling it a “myth” that the bars do anything to deter homeless people from sleeping there.

“I find [the bars] to be offensive and not accommodating to riders,” Cedillo said.

Cedillo also called for more shade at bus stops, plus public restrooms and additional lighting.

The councilmembers’ suggestions echo those that transit advocates have been pushing for years: shade, lighting, and useful information about arrival times.

Those advocates have argued that instead of seeing bus shelters as possible revenue generators, they should be valued for the benefits they provide to those who get around the city without cars.