In the city of Los Angeles, public transit is an increasingly common method of transportation because of its great benefits, with approximately 1.36 million people using some sort of public transportation per year. By utilizing the mass transit system, one can avoid such things as traffic congestion and a negative environmental impact caused by a large amount of gasoline consumption and large emission of carbon. Despite its benefits, utilizing public transit can prove to be a time consuming and an overall unpleasant experience. The Great Streets Initiative, imposed by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, plans to make the experience much more enjoyable. The initiative looks to install fifteen smart bus benches and bus shelters scattered around Los Angeles. The hope is that people will be encouraged to take public transport, and see waiting for the bus opportunity, not a chore.
The smart benches called SoofaBenches, are powered from solar energy and produced using sustainable materials. The benches come with two USB ports, providing its users with a place to charge their electronic devices on-the-go. The bench even has built-in sensors that allow the city of Los Angeles to monitor the usage of the bench. In addition to the newly installed SoofaBenches, traditional bus shelters are getting a facelift. Produced by Outfront Decaux Street Furniture Inc, these bus stop shelters are designed to complement the bus benches. In addition to the USB port provided with the bus benches, the bus shelters provide WiFi and arrival information for buses--updated in real time.
The city of Los Angeles plans to spend $3,800 per unit. While the cost is substantial compared to the average bus bench, public officials believe that it will provide great benefits to the community. Mayor Eric Garcetti believes that “we're integrating the existing infrastructure and the technology that we rely upon in our daily lives to re-imagine the digital urban experience.” What the city hopes to achieve under the Great Streets Initiative is to improve the quality of certain Los Angeles streets by renovating them into something that is modern and accessible for all users. With that said, Soofa, the startup that produces the Soofabenches, is the perfect fit for the objectives of the Great Streets Initiative. Soofa, a startup run by female engineers from MIT and Harvard, aims to make practical and effective use of city infrastructure through the implementation of smart technology. As cities become more technologically advanced, Soofa hopes to keep up with the growth of the digital culture by reinventing outdated urban furniture. As part of its goal, Soofa wants to be the center of a network that provides data to government agencies to help them improve. Currently, Soofa is trying to add more features onto its benches to gather sensory information that will be used to further personalize the user’s experience.
While this technology is new to Los Angeles, SoofaBenches have been implemented in various bus stops in the city of Boston since 2014. The first Soofabench was installed at the corner of South Central Ave and 43rd Street, with fourteen more set to be installed across Los Angeles by the end of June 2016, as part of the Great Streets Initiative.
Would upgrading the urban furniture in your city encourage you to use public transportation? Do you think smart technology in urban furniture will be implemented into more cities? How is your city incorporating or developing smart city technologies? Share your thoughts and your city’s stories in the comments area below.
Credits: Images by Sophia Huynh. Data linked to sources.