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Over the past weekend, Los Angeles unveiled its latest public works project — an attempt to improve the transit experience named “La Sombrita,” which means “little shadow” in Spanish. From the sound of it, the concept was ingenious — a bus shelter that would provide shade for those long, sunny waits at the bus stop during the day and a beacon of light for evening commuters. In a city known for its scorching heat and sizable public transportation system, “La Sombrita” seemed like an oasis for weary travelers. However, that’s not exactly what happened…

Instead of providing a refuge from the sun’s harsh glare or a guiding light in the darkness, this supposedly “avant-garde” structure ended up as nothing more than a monument to government ineptitude. This $10,000 flop doesn’t even work.

The real kicker, though, is the bizarre reaction from the all-female team of officials in charge of La Sombrita. Despite the glaring (and unshaded) failure of “La Sombrita,” these women are praising the project as a resounding success. You can picture them sipping champagne under the scorching sun, with their gigantic egos outshining the light “La Sombrita” failed to produce.

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That little spit of metal won’t even “shade” one person, as you can clearly see.

Better Cities:

Now obviously, La Sombrita fails to accomplish the goals of a bus shelter: it provides no seating, almost no shade, and no protection from the elements. While politicians and planners celebrating this silly structure are obviously deserving of criticism, the story behind this joke of a bus shelter is actually quite revealing of the broader failures of American transportation infrastructure. The rot goes far deeper than La Sombrita.

The ladies responsible for La Sombrita are celebrating failure in the tweet below.

The link between “gender equity” and things like shade and lighting is anyone’s guess, except to remind us that women-led “business teams” are destroying beer companies and cities all over the country. One thing’s for sure, though: the mockery was intense.

$10,000 bucks for a pointless piece of ugly metal to provide “shade” for women. Unreal.

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This thread is a perfect example of just how detached from reality these women are:

We saw plenty of discussion about our “La Sombrita” pilot: the new shade and lighting structure design we’ve debuted at four bus stops. Here’s how a small structure can make a big difference for riders who depend on public transit.

Thanks to our gender study #ChangingLanes, we identified mobility barriers faced by women. One of the most frequent requests from our riders is the need for more shade during the day at bus stops and enhanced lighting for safety at night.

“La Sombrita” was designed in partnership with riders and @Kounkuey to deliver a quick installation project at a fraction of a bus shelter’s cost. Our goal? Improve comfort, safety, and the travel experience for women through increased shade and lighting at bus stops.

Why this design? It’s adaptable to streets that can’t get a bus shelter and can be affixed to existing bus signs with no new permits required. This simple treatment provides shade during the day and utilizes solar energy gathered to light the stop at night.

#DidYouKnow traditional bus shelters can’t be installed at all bus stop locations due to limited sidewalk space? La Sombrita responds to community needs and moves the needle on shade and light at bus stops today while we simultaneously work on more systemic solutions.

The first four “La Sombrita” locations were installed at 15% of the cost of traditional bus shelters. Costs would further decline as installations are installed at more locations.

The four locations were chosen to include #DASH routes in low-income communities prioritizing late-night service and areas with above-average ridership.

“La Sombrita” improves the bus experience for riders: protecting them from the sun and providing a sense of security at night. Over the next few months, we’ll gather feedback from riders who use La Sombrita to measure and evaluate the pilot’s impact for riders!

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Below are the (unshaded) women at the helm of this amusingly unsuccessful project.

When the sun goes down, things get even worse for La Sombrita.

The jokes write themselves.

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La Sombrita reminds us of an early 90s so-called “modern” telephone booth.

What were these ladies thinking?

And sadly, La Sombrita provided no cover whatsoever for these women and their bad idea.

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In the face of relentless mockery over the infamous “La Sombrita,” city officials decided it was time to face the music. Well, sort of. Instead of accepting the harsh reality of their sunburned failure, they put out a long, rambling statement that danced around the actual issue, but in the end, their words provided about as much cover as La Sombrita itself.

Better Cities:

After being thoroughly mocked on the internet, Kounkuey, the design firm that came up with La Sombrita defended itself by explaining that “Typical bus shelters often cost $50k or more and require coordination among 8 departments. La Sombrita (in its most expensive, prototype form) costs approximately 15% of the price of a typical bus shelter and can be installed in 30 minutes or less”. This half-baked justification actually is a valuable insight into LA’s failure to provide transportation infrastructure. Specifically:

Unnecessary permitting requirements and lack of interagency cooperation: Kounkuey said that the “shelter” had to be small to avoid going through a permitting process requiring coordination across 8 different agencies. On it’s face, this is absurd, a standard-sized bus shelter is a well-known piece of infrastructure with obvious impacts. The permitting for a shelter should be instantaneous and there should be a dedicated point of contact who can coordinate across agencies to quickly get sign-off for this simple piece of infrastructure Further, the fact that there are eight separate agencies that need to review something as simple as a bus shelter shows how excessive permitting requirements create unnecessary chokepoints that slow down much-needed infrastructure. While installing a full bus shelter only takes two hours, the time required to get eight separate agencies to sign off on the shelter is typically much greater.

Diffusion of responsibility across municipal levels: While LA Metro serves the entirety of Los Angeles County, bus shelter installation is delegated to the specific municipality where a bus stop is located since each municipality owns the sidewalk. This reflects yet another layer of complexity, as LA County has 88 separate municipalities, each of which has its entirely unique permitting requirements. This gap prevents economies of scale, with every city devising its own bus shelter requirements, making it harder to incorporate learnings and best practices across the county.

Why didn’t these city-planning experts just put a roof over that existing bench and call it a day?

Here’s the real head-scratcher: Not once did this illustrious team of planners slam the brakes on this project and exclaim, “Hang on, this contraption won’t cast a shadow to save its life.” The question now is are they genuinely ignorant or simply indifferent to the plight of the working-class? Perhaps it’s both.

None of this is meant to absolve Kounkuey or the politicians touting this joke of a bus shelter. The fact that not a single person, at any point in the process said “hey, this feels like a bit of a joke with very little utility” shows just how pathetic the state of transportation infrastructure is in this country: tangibly improving service is too difficult, so the only thing left to celebrate is increasingly absurd ribbon cuttings. Kounkuey and these politicians should have highlighted the issues I illustrated above and proposed systemic changes to address them rather than trying to celebrate a laughably inadequate half-measure.

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In a city where a decent shade spot at a bus stop feels like “prime real estate,” this floptacular folly not only demonstrates the inability of our esteemed leaders to address practical needs of everyday citizens, but also their stunning disconnect from the people they claim to serve. A little common sense can go a lot further than over-priced useless endeavors.

Sadly, our politicians and government officials are hopelessly useless. But they sure know how to spend our money, don’t they?


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