Los Angeles as a Model Transit City?

3348000771_ff2bf9c57b.jpgIs LA setting a global transit example? (Photo: hustle roses via Flickr)

Today on the Streetsblog Network, Jarrett Walker at Human Transit talks about how the push for better transit in Los Angeles provides an example for planners in other parts of the world, especially in newer cities that don’t benefit from European-style density. Walker acknowledges that LA has a long, long way to go toward building a world-class transit system (read the post in full for all his caveats), but argues that the power of its image in popular culture gives it a unique influence as it moves forward:

Los Angeles has built a strong consensus about the desperate need for transit, and this is the story that impresses foreigners. Every television viewer in the world has seen images of Los Angeles and what life is like there. And one thing they’ve all been shown, over and over, is that this is a city for cars, a place where cars mean freedom, and your car is your most important fashion statement.  When I tell them that the popular mayor of Los Angeles is spending major political capital on a campaign to accelerate transit development in his city, to the point of demanding a complete rethink of how the Federal government funds transport projects, eyebrows shoot up. It’s one of those little jolts that can change our notion of what’s possible, wherever we are.

More from around the network: Transportation for America looks at how the high cost of transportation can make living in rural areas unaffordable, even when housing costs are low. Bike Portland has an interview with Bike Snob NYC on the occasion of his debut in polite society. And Cap’n Transit makes a comparison between buses and burgers. Trust us, it’s worth reading.

0 thoughts on Los Angeles as a Model Transit City?

  1. It only took two years for Streetsblog to turn L.A. around on transit. Two more and we\’ll have bike lanes on Route 66 from Santa Monica to the Atlantic Ocean.

    (Yes, I\’m being somewhat tongue-in-cheek.)

  2. Wow – if there\’s one city I\’ve visited that desperately needs better public transport, it\’s LA. I travelled from the airport to Hollywood Boulevard and it took something like 90 minutes.

    On the other hand, I thought it was very cool how their above-ground light rail took you through the \”real\” LA; you practically travel through people\’s backyards!

    I would definitely consider visiting again (last time I relied on friends with cars to get me where I needed to go) when they up the public transit ante. Great article!

  3. As I posted over at Human Transit:


    This article was a treat to read, Jarrett!

    I think it\’s also important to note that the reality of ever-increasing gas prices will be a huge driver of people onto transit, and people into denser and more walkable neighborhoods. Which is to say, LA won\’t densify merely because it can, but because rational people will have to and want to. Hopefully, all of this will positively reinforce everything that Angelenos and Villaraigosa are doing right now.

    My one big concern is that the core of Los Angeles is so park-poor (I\’m afraid almost to say irrevocably) that denser more urban living will dramatically suffer, unless there is a concerted (and expensive) effort to reclaim already built urban land. Parking lots would be a great place to start.

    Footnote: it\’s worth clarifying that LA\’s gross open space is among the best in the country because of big swaths like the Santa Monica Mountains and Griffith Park, but it is one of the worst in the country in terms of the percentage of the population .5 miles from a park – especially so in low-income neighborhoods.\”

  4. Just one problem, Damien. Route 66 runs from Chicago to Santa Monica. So maybe those bike lanes to the Atlantic will have to go on the 10 freeway, instead.

    Seriously though, Damien\’s tongue-in-cheek comments touch on a valid point — his work on LA Streetsblog has gone a long way to raise the profile of transportation issues here on the lower left coast. And given those of us who care about such things a virtual village square in which to come together and discuss them.

    So stop patting yourself on the back, my friend. And let us do it for you.

  5. \”I would definitely consider visiting again…when they up the public transit ante.\”

    Transit opponents should heed this comment. More transit means more tourism and more $$ into LA.

  6. just wait until the crenshaw, I-405, expo line to santa monica, subway to the sea (via both wilshire & WeHo) and harbor subdivision have rail then LA will have an incredible grid of rail lines. you\’ve already got the blue line, harbor transitway, red line, green line and expo line already serving this area.

  7. And just wait until gas is $6/gallon in ten years. That\’s when s**t really starts to happen.

  8. The author ends on a positive note, and gives credit for us transit advocates pushing the envelope, some times very hard, to change the mindset from single passenger vehicles to mass transit. But there is more work to be done,,,,,,,,,,,

    \”…….But most great cities look better from a distance. The compromises and hesitations built into the Metro Rapid diminish but don\’t erase the importance of the Rapid as a precedent for creating a lot of new mobility fast. The unfortunate transfer penalities don\’t contradict the wisdom and efficiency of the grid system. The compromised alignments of some light rail lines don\’t undermine the case for rapid rail investment, nor for the balance between heavy rail, light rail, and busways in the reDSCN2630gion\’s plans. There are very few inspiring transit services, anywhere in the world, that don\’t look more problematic to the locals who deal with them every day.

    The big-picture Los Angeles talking point is still an inspiring one: The most aggressive mayoral transit advocacy in America is coming from the largest American city that was mostly designed for cars. And because film and television will always tell this city\’s story to the world, the rise of transit in Los Angeles will be a globally resonant event. Is anyone studying how film and television images of how people travel in Los Angeles are evolving over time? Those things really matter.\”

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