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Posts from the "Los Angeles" Category

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Talking Headways Podcast: Bikes of Ill Repute

Jeff Wood and I are back with episode 8 of the Talking Headways podcast. We talk about Los Angeles Metro’s decision not to extend light rail all the way to LAX (and what they’re doing instead), plus some analysis of what rail can really do in a city as spread-out as LA. Then we head east to Princeton, New Jersey, where we debunk the thesis that low sales of luxury condos somehow equates to a rejection of walkability. And finally, back west to Seattle, which finds itself with a similar problem to LA: how to bring more density to settled single-family areas?

You can subscribe to our RSS feed or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes — and please give us a listener review while you’re at it.

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L.A.’s New Light Rail Line Is Luring Angelenos Out of Their Cars

What would it take to get Los Angeles residents to drive less? New research indicates that building light rail is working well.

USC researchers called the changed in travel behavior following the introduction of L.A.'s Expo light rail line "striking." Image: ##http://zev.lacounty.gov/news/transportation/bus-rail/expo-orange-line-ridership-on-a-roll## L.A. County##

USC researchers called the changes in travel behavior following the introduction of L.A.’s Expo light rail line “striking.” Image: L.A. County

A study from the University of Southern California of the new Expo light rail line — which opened in two phases last year and runs 8.7 miles west from downtown – found that people living near stations significantly reduced their driving.

USC researchers tracked the travel behavior of 103 subjects living in neighborhoods within one-half mile of a station. The results were compared against another set of people with similar demographic characteristics who live more than a half-mile from a station. Both groups had the same travel habits before the light rail line opened, and no one in either group was told they were participating in a study of the Expo Line.

Researchers called the changes in travel behavior among residents near the new transit line “striking.” After the line opened, households within half a mile of an Expo station drove 10 to 12 fewer miles each day relative to the control group — a reduction of about 40 percent. Those households also reduced their vehicle carbon emissions about 30 percent.

In addition, there was some evidence that the transit investment increased physical activity among nearby residents. The subjects who had the lowest levels of physical activity increased their daily exercise by as much as eight to 10 minutes a day, the study found.

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A Highway Teardown Appears Likely, In an Unlikely Place

The sign says it all. Photo: ##http://la.streetsblog.org/wp-content/pdf/12.0317Streetsblog.pdf##City Fabrick##/Brian Ulaszewski

The sign says it all. Photo: City Fabrick

As the nation prepares for the expansion of the Panama Canal and all port cities go crazy deepening and widening everything in sight, the second biggest biggest port in the country is doing something unexpected: planning a highway teardown.

The LA Times reported this week that Long Beach officials are studying the possibility of replacing a one-mile stretch of the Terminal Island Freeway with a park.

The paper glorified the situation only slightly — the proposed plan would build a local street too, so the Times reporters’ assertion that the conversion “would mark the first time a stretch of Southern California freeway was removed and converted to a non-transportation use” isn’t entirely accurate. But no one would argue that it’s a great deal to trade in a mile of underutilized highway — and 20 or 30 surrounding acres of weeds and dirt — for an 88-acre park and a local street that integrates into the local street grid.

Along with the proposal to move some industrial uses away from the neighborhood schools, the park could transform this truck-choked neighborhood, which is plagued by high rates of childhood asthma. “This shifts the freight trucks and associated negative health impacts a mile away from schools and homes, creates the largest park in West Long Beach and potentially improves traffic in the area,” said Brian Ulaszewski, the director of the non-profit urban design organization CityFabrick and the man behind the greenbelt proposal [PDF].

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UPDATED: Last Night’s Quiet Transit Victories

Yesterday was a relatively quiet election day for transportation-related ballot measures, but of the six transit initiatives that came before voters yesterday, five six passed, with a sixth seventh too close to call. That’s in line with last year’s 79 percent success rate — 71 percent since 2000. When asked, voters overwhelmingly choose to raise their own taxes to improve public transportation.

Spencer Township, Ohio, appears to have voted by the narrowest of margins to leave the TARTA regional transit system. Photo: Ability Center

There were no high-profile campaigns this year in major metropolitan areas, but that doesn’t mean this year’s ballot contests aren’t worthy of note. “I see a statement about the viability of both transit and these campaigns in smaller regions and rural places,” said Jason Jordan, director of the Center for Transportation Excellence.

Ohio: Let’s start with the most unsettling news: Residents of Spencer Township, Ohio, were asked whether they wanted to secede from the Toledo area’s transit agency, TARTA. It’s the exact same question they were asked last year, when they voted 59 percent to 41 percent to stay in.

Yesterday, however, was a different story. With low voter participation on an off-year, the secession referendum appears to have won by the narrowest of margins — “by 16 votes out of 520 cast, according to preliminary results” reported by the Toledo Blade last night.

Spencer Township isn’t the only Toledo-area jurisdiction to question its participation in TARTA. It’s been happening in outlying areas on the fringe of the regional system, Jordan said, where residents might feel they’re not getting much service and want to start their own transit agency, focused on their community. That’s what happened in Perrysburg.

In March 2012, Perrysburg voters opted to leave TARTA in favor of starting a new local system — but then in November of that year, they voted narrowly to defeat the property tax proposal to fund that new system. Caught in a bind, they passed a funding measure earlier this year, but at about half the level originally proposed, making possible only dial-a-ride and fixed route service for people with disabilities.

Nearby Sylvania Township considered secession as well, but without a plan to create local service. That measure failed resoundingly last November, 37 to 63, and Sylvania Township remains part of TARTA.

A recount could still be necessary for Spencer Township, given the closeness of the vote.

Either way, let’s not let this blow to regional transit darken our view of what was a very successful night for transit.

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“Bikes vs Cars” Director Fredrik Gertten Sets Out to Expose the Car Lobby

Films like Fast Food Nation and Gasland introduced critiques of the food industry and fracking to a broad audience. But as of yet, the active transportation movement has lacked a full-length documentary feature that screens widely in theaters or goes viral on Netflix.

Fredrik Gertten, a Swedish filmmaker with multiple full-length documentaries under his belt, hopes his film Bikes vs Cars — trailer above — just could be that film. Gertten was the co-producer on the 2010 Oscar nominated documentary, Burma VJ, about protests against the military regime in Burma. In addition, Gertten directed Bananas!, which told the story of a class-action lawsuit by Banana workers from Nicaragua against the Dole Food Company. The film prompted Dole, one of the world’s largest food companies, to sue Gertten for defamation. The lawsuit is the subject of his more-recent film, Big Boys Gone Bananas! (Gertten ultimately won.)

Now, Gertten is trying to raise $50,000 before November 1 via Kickstarter to make a film focusing on the global bike movement. So far, it has brought in more than $24,000 in pledges. I caught up with him by Skype recently to learn more about the project:

Angie Schmitt: So I think the trailer sort of nails it. Can you tell us more about why you’re trying to raise this money?

Fredrik Gertten: My last film opened at Sundance and we’ve been playing at all the major festivals, so we have the ability to make a big splash if we do it well. At the same time we, as anybody else in this world, have to fight for survival. It’s complicated when you talk about arts. Both my last films have played in 80 countries and every single state in the U.S.

Documentaries now, is a very strong genre and so they really reach out. We are kind of stuck we have like 50 percent finances. We need a Kickstarter to get moving again.

AS: What’s going to be the gist of the film?

FG: I read a survey about young people, what their biggest worries were, and they were all about climate change. I mean so much that they had pains in their stomach every week. And at the same time the [auto] industry is rolling like nothing ever happened. I mean in Europe and the United States car sales aren’t going up anymore, but in the rest of the world … I’m kind of interested in the mechanisms that make us not change when we know that we should change.

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Liberating the Schoolyard

For a time, a few years back, my friends and I used to play pick-up soccer every Sunday at a high school in my neighborhood. As many as 30 people, mostly adults in their twenties and thirties, would show up for a match on a particularly nice day. New moms would bring their babies to cheer on their husbands. It was good, clean fun. But then one Sunday in August we showed up at the soccer field and found the gate locked. Apparently, there had been an instance of vandalism — and that was it, we were locked out. And that was the end of our soccer matches.

Opening schoolyards to the general public is seen as a promising strategy against the obesity epidemic. Image: SIlive.com

Locked-up schoolyards are pretty common across the United States. They might be active places, but only from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and only nine months a year. Many times, concerns about liability or crime close off schoolyards off to the greater community.

A new initiative from the Safe Routes to School National Partnership aims to correct that. As part of the larger fight to curb obesity, SRTS is taking on what are known as “shared use agreements.” These agreements help maximize the benefits of public land by formally opening schoolyards, tracks, and even gymnasiums that were once off-limits to the general public — and even to school kids after school hours were over.

“We want the kids to have a place to play beyond the school day,” said Mikaela Randolph, who is leading the initiative, “but we also want the parent to have a place to be active as well. We really see that as an opportunity for modeling an active lifestyle. It increases the feeling of community, you get to know your neighbors, it’s kind of a convening space for multiple generations.”

The SRTS National Partnership will be working with states across the U.S. to help establish the legal groundwork for shared use agreements. They are being supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s anti-obesity initiative.

Some schools already have informal shared-use agreements, places where there’s a culture of community ownership — like our soccer grounds, pre-vandalism. But others need special encouragement and assistance.

As the benefits of shared use have gained wider recognition, there has been an increase in the number of communities seeking formal agreements. Randolph said no one is really sure how many shared use agreements currently exist across the United States. But part of her work may include mapping these innovators and developing a catalog of best practices.

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Parking Madness: Los Angeles vs. Dallas

Streetsblog’s own “Sweet 16″ of the worst downtown parking craters in America — Parking Madness! — continues today with two cities that grew up in the auto age.

Known for their mega-highways and congestion, Los Angeles and Dallas have the parking scars to go along with all those cars.

An anonymous commenter submitted this entry, calling it ”the vast expanse of nothing in-between the Civic Center and Bunker Hill in downtown L.A.”

The Civic Center area is home to Los Angeles’s city, state, and federal government buildings.

Streetsblog LA editor Damien Newton filled in some background on this eyesore:

Located a mere two blocks from City Hall, and basically adjacent to the busy “Civic Center” subway station, this particular lot is a true abomination on the L.A. landscape. While some sanity is coming to Los Angeles’s parking policy, the city has a long way to go. Consider this image, put together by Gehl architects, showing a shocking 545 acres of parking lots within 1 km of the Figueroa Corridor connecting Downtown Los Angeles with South Los Angeles.

The competition, submitted by Streetsblog Network member Systemic Failure, is this depression in Dallas:

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Mixed Bag for Closely-Watched Local Transit Races

Last night delivered some good results — and some disappointment — for transit-related ballot initiatives around the country.

Transit supporters in Virginia Beach celebrate the passage of a ballot measure that will bring Norfolk's The Tide light rail to town. Photo: The Virginian

The biggest disappointments came from Los Angeles, Memphis, and Houston.

A measure to continue the half-cent sales tax for transit in Los Angeles County until 2069 was narrowly defeated, falling less than two percent short of the two-thirds majority needed for passage, Damien Newton reports at Streetsblog Los Angeles.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had championed Measure J, which would have raised revenues to accelerate the pace of construction projects like the West Side Subway. But a coalition of bus riders and other interests who don’t fit the “anti-transit” label opposed the 30-year measure, saying the projects favored new construction over existing riders. Still, the referendum got a “yea” from 65 percent of voters — a clear majority, but not quite the two-thirds vote required in California.

Meanwhile, residents of the city of Memphis rejected, in a 60-40 vote, an innovative measure to impose a one-cent gas tax hike to fund transit improvements. The measure would have generated between $3 and $6 million annually to shore up the city’s bare-bones transit system, the local ABC affiliate reports. Memphis is unusual in having the authority to impose its own gas tax, separate from state and federal gas taxes, but it appears that resident declined to use that authority this time around.

Transit suffered a loss in Houston as well. The region’s voters upheld Metro’s policy of diverting one-quarter of the revenues collected for transit to road projects. The measure was opposed by transit advocates like Houston Tomorrow‘s David Crossley, who argued that this transfer has cost the Houston region $2.7 billion in transit improvements over the past 35 years.

On to the good news: There was cause for jubilation in Virginia Beach and in Orange County, North Carolina.

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This Could Be the Biggest Year Ever for Transit at the Ballot Box

Next month, 19 transit-related measures will come before voters. If the rest of this year is any guide, 16 of them will pass.

The "Transportation Penny" in Richland County, South Carolina will fund some pedestrian improvements, along with roads and transit, if voters approve it November 6. Image: Richland County

Despite a high-profile loss in Atlanta a few months ago, transit referenda have an 86 percent success rate so far this year, according to the Center For Transportation Excellence.

It strikes some as counterintuitive: During an economic downturn, in a virulently anti-tax climate, why are voters deciding time and time again to tax themselves to support transit?

CFTE Director Jason Jordan says the lousy economy is one reason so many of these measures keep popping up — more this year than any other since CTFE started counting in 2000. With states crying poverty and the federal government, for the first time ever, passing a transportation bill that was no bigger than the one that preceded it, local governments have had to take matters into their own hands.

Jordan says the most unique of all of next month’s ballot initiatives is a gas tax measure in Memphis. Almost all the initiatives we see are sales taxes or property taxes, with a handful of bond measures and vehicle fees. Most cities don’t have the authority to raise gas taxes independent of the state — but Memphis does, and it’s trying to increase the tax by one cent to raise $3 million to $6 million for the transit authority. “Here we have an example of communities being pushed to be as creative as possible,” Jordan said.

No other local gas tax measure is on the ballot. Indianapolis has a citywide income tax hike in the works, which will also be novel, but they didn’t make it happen for this year.

Another one to watch is the half-cent sales tax in Orange County, North Carolina, which includes the city of Chapel Hill. If it succeeds, the three counties of the so-called Research Triangle will likely join together to improve their regional transit system. If it fails, the whole thing falls apart.

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NRDC Gives Gas Consumption Maps a Helpful Revision

The overwhelming sentiment that greeted our story on the gas consumption maps the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club put out last week went something like this: These are almost useful. Just about everyone agreed that looking at total fuel consumption per county wasn’t very informative without weighing that number against population.

There were problems with doing per-capita fuel comparisons, but after hearing from several sources (including Streetsblog) that it was needed, NRDC’s Deron Lovaas has put out a follow-up post with new maps and charts that have, in my opinion, much more useful information.

First, the map of per-capita fuel consumption:

This per-capita map of gas consumption provides more nuance than the previous map, giving totals per country, but it still doesn't answer all the questions. Graphic: NRDC.

As Lovaas mentioned last week, there are problems with this map too. Some of these places are so rural and lightly populated that massive per-capita fuel consumption just isn’t a big enough problem to worry about, since there are few capitas there. Plus, there’s the problem of through-traffic — in many rural states, most traffic neither originates nor ends up there. So, since NRDC and the Sierra Club designed these maps, in part, to help them strategize where to focus their efforts, this per-capita map is of limited value.

This chart is where it starts getting good. It shows the counties with the highest total gasoline usage and ranks them by per-capita gas usage, showing where there are a whole lot of people using a whole lot of gas:

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