It’s little surprise that Los Angeles, the city where American car culture was born and flourished, has itself a whole lot of streets — more streets, in fact, than any other city in the United States at 7,500 miles. Representing a staggering 15 percent of all land within city limits, 7,500 miles is a decent chunk of real estate. And for better or worse, the L.A. streetscape is the city’s largest public asset, its defining feature, the hot pink glitter glue that holds the Southland’s sprawling collection of disparate neighborhoods, communities and cities-within-cities together.
As part of a wider effort to engage Angelenos with underutilized stretches of the urban streetscape while further promoting foot traffic and the use of public transportation, lawn-eschewing Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti recently unveiled the first of 15 high-tech bus stop benches and shelters to be installed across the city over the next nine months. Dubbed Soofa benches, these nifty “smart” seats are equipped with solar-powered USB chargers, LED lighting and real-time arrival information for Metro and City buses. They also serve as Wi-Fi hotspots. Basically, these are bus stops where you’d want to wait for the bus. Or maybe you’re not even waiting for the bus at all but just need to rest your feet recharge — your energy levels and/or your gadgets — for a spell.
Basically, they’re the antithesis of the sad, painful bus stop.
“... the goal of this project is simple but meaningful: upgrade our bus shelters and benches with charging and WiFi to make waiting for the bus an opportunity, not a chore,” explains Garcetti in a press release.
If L.A.’s new multi-tasking bus benches look familiar, that’s because we’ve seen them before as park benches — excuse me, “urban hubs” — rolled out as part of a MIT Media Lab-spearheaded pilot program launched last summer in Boston. ““Your cellphone doesn’t just make phone calls, why should our benches just be seats?” declared Boston Mayor Marty Walsh upon the arrival of the Soofa in his fair city.
While the underlying design goal — to “update the urban context for the mobile generation” — of the Soofa remains largely the same in both the leafy parks of Boston and Cambridge and on the concrete corridors of L.A., the newest incarnation of these big-brained benches would seem to be borne more from necessity than recreation.
L.A.’s inaugural Soofa Bench (the accompanying smart shelters come courtesy the al fresco advertisers/public toilet specialists at Outfront/JCDecaux) is now open for sitting — and wireless Internet surfing — on the corner of historic Central Avenue and 43rd Street in South Los Angeles. And, as mentioned, 14 more of these bottom-welcoming beauties will follow, all installed on culturally important — but oft-overlooked — stretches of pavement designated as part of Garcetti’s Great Streets initiative. Other Great Streets include Western Avenue between Melrose and 3rd Street, Crenshaw Avenue between 78th Street and Florence, Pico Boulevard between Hauser and Fairfax, Cesar Chavez Avenue between Evergreen and St. Louis and Hollywood Boulevard between La Brea and Gower.
A bit more on Great Streets’ vision for Central Avenue:
Central Ave is the backbone of Historic South Central. Rich in history, Central Ave contains landmarks like the Dunbar Hotel, the Lincoln Theater, and the City's Historic Jazz Corridor--the center of jazz in Los Angeles between the 1920s and 1950s. Great Streets seeks to nurture community development, helping Central Ave become a destination once again. In particular, Great Streets will leverage planned traffic calming and bicycle improvements to improve economic conditions on the corridor.
In addition to the presence of Soofa Benches, Central Avenue and the other 14 Great Streets will be treated to a range of upgrades both temporary and longer lasting including the construction of parklets and plazas, new tree plantings and the installation of additional lighting and street furniture.