Today we are proud to release research conducted by Move LA and the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies on the impact of extreme heat on LA's bus riders: this interactive Storymap provides the first publicly available map of all bus shelters throughout LA County.
This is an issue Move LA began addressing back in 2016 when Neal Richman—then on our staff—began working on transportation issues through the establishment of the Aging and Disability Transportation Network. The ADTN and LA Metro held a forum at Union Station in January 2020 and found that only 5% of older adults were using Metro’s discounted transit pass program, and their major complaint was the lack of shelter and/or shade.
Over the past year, I worked with Neal, UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies Deputy Director Madeline Brozen, UCLA researcher Chase Engelhardt, and Metro's Chief Sustainability Officer Dr. Cris Liban, to take a deep dive into the lack of shelter and how we might fix this persistent issue.
The facts aren’t pretty: the majority of bus stops are located in hotter areas of Los Angeles County, where most of those stops have no shelter, a major concern given that extreme heat is already responsible for killing more Americans than other natural disasters. During last year's heat wave, LA Times reporter Rachel Uranga wrote about the challenge facing transit riders in LA.
The lack of shade is an equity and climate justice issue in disadvantaged communities. Communities of color and low-income riders are disproportionately exposed to rain, sun, and the excessive heat caused by rising temperatures.
These conditions are exacerbated by the heat-island effect of pavement and borne out by the scarcity of shade in cities and counties throughout California. A study published in Wilderness and Environmental Medicine found that the rate of emergency department visits for heat-related causes increased 67 percent for African Americans, 63 percent for Hispanics, 53 percent for Asian Americans, and 27 percent for White people from 2005 to 2015.
More than 80% of the estimated 12,000 people in the United States who die of heat-related causes annually are over the age of 60, according to Climate Central. By 2030, a quarter of the state’s population will be over the age of 60, according to the state’s own Master Plan for Aging. With many older Californians relying on public transportation to navigate their communities, or simply needing a cool place to rest, addressing the effects of extreme heat at bus stops becomes a critical matter of public health.
For low-income workers, seniors, and people with disabilities who rely on bus transit as their primary mode of transportation, not having shade is potentially fatal. Shade structures can lower the temperature of surfaces by 25 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. A study conducted by the Los Angeles Urban Cooling Collaborative found that 1 in 4 lives lost during heat waves could be saved with better shade and climate-resilient infrastructure such as street furniture, and most of the lives saved would be in low-income communities and communities of color.
Bus shelters can also provide for the safety, convenience, accessibility, and comfort of bus riders. Emergency call buttons, lighting, water refill stations, tree wells, accessibility features, and real-time bus schedules are some examples of these features. The lack of shelter deters people from using buses, which makes it harder for California to achieve its greenhouse gas reduction goals.
So why don't we have more shelters at our bus stops? Bus shelters are managed not by Metro but by local jurisdictions where the bus stops are located—they own the public right-of-way and are responsible for determining where to place the bus shelters. A few cities have made bus shelters a priority, including the City of Bell, where 89% of bus stops include a shelter. But others, including Beverly Hills, only provide shade at 10% of their bus stops.
A report conducted by the TransitCenter found that shelters in the City of LA—where 88% of all Metro bus lines are concentrated—require approval from the City Council, Public Works, and eight other city agencies along with nearby property owners. With a new Sidewalk and Transit Amenities Program (STAP) contract in the City of LA, we are hopeful to see more bus shelters with more amenities being placed soon.
Move LA also wrote and sponsored a state bill for this year's legislative session that will help create more street furniture. Assembly Bill 364, authored by Assemblymember Isaac Bryan (AD-55), will require local transit agencies to submit data on their street furniture—including bus shelters, public toilets, and benches—so that transit users can make an informed decision on their transit trip based on available infrastructure.
As Asm. Bryan explained, “Aging and extreme heat are two fast-growing trends in California that, together, pose a significant public health crisis, now and in the future.” By prioritizing shade as an essential need for low-income transit riders, seniors, and people of color who are on the frontlines of climate change, we can make our transit system more climate resilient.
Check out Move LA's website as we continue to post more resources on our mapping project and AB 364.