Is getting around L.A. without a car easier than it was a decade ago?

10 years ago there was no Gold Line.

10 years ago there was no Gold Line.

I stumbled upon an article from the travel section in the UK paper The Independent, dated April 29, 2001, entitled Los Angeles without a car.

In the article London based writer Jenifer Duncan recounts a visit to Los Angeles without a car despite warnings against doing so from nearly every travel guide she consulted.

A non-driver for her entire life, it only took one visit to L.A. without a car for Jenifer to sign up for driving lessons and leave her European transit-oriented lifestyle behind. The combination of the sprawling landscape, long bus trips (Brentwood to Huntington Gardens in 2.5 hours) and lackluster taxi service led her to this conclusion in April of 2001: “Yes it is possible to survive in LA without a car, but it is certainly not desirable.”

Fast forward ten years. Since 2001 Metro has added another 20 miles of light rail to the system with the opening of the Gold Line to Pasadena (2003) and the Gold Line Eastside Extension (2006). The Orange Line opened in 2005 and brought 14 miles of exclusive bus rapid transit to the San Fernando Valley. Metro Rapid grew from a four line pilot program to a full fledged system. Technology innovations like TAP card and real-time bus arrivals have been implemented to make the system more user friendly.

On the taxi front, it’s safe to say that L.A. still doesn’t have a vibrant taxi culture, but progress has been made. The Hail-A-Taxi pilot program has made it possible to hail a cab from the street in downtown Los Angeles and Hollywood – although there’s no guarantee it will be easy to find a cab to hail.

On thing that seems to remain the same: L.A.’s car-oriented sprawl. The article describes it perfectly:

Unlike Britain, with its clearly allocated shopping areas, LA’s shops were often spread out all over the place, sometimes miles from one another. A supermarket may be miles from a post office, a specialist food or boutique situated in a no man’s land beside a freeway. Tourist attractions, theatres, galleries ­ all were miles apart. Even the supermarket next door to our apartment was a long walk.

But there are signs that may be changing as well. Downtown L.A. has certainly blossomed in the last decade, transforming from a no-man’s land to home of some of L.A.’s best restaurants, nightlife and loft living. The city center even had its first grocery store open in 2007. Hollywood too has seen a mixed-use, transit-oriented revitalization with residences, shopping, nightlife and hotels all popping in up within walking distance.

Sure, it still takes two and half hours to get from Brentwood to Huntington Gardens, but to be fair, that’s a 26 mile trip. If you were to travel without a car from Westminster in Central London to Windsor Great Park, 26 miles away, the trip would also take over two hours and require several transfers.

So is it easier to navigate L.A. without a car than it was a decade ago? I’d say yes, but where you choose to live (or vacation) makes a big difference. A bigger question might be how will L.A. look in another decade? The passage of Measure R in 2008 means a lot more transit is on it’s way – the Westside Subway alone could knock an hour off that Brentwood to Huntington Gardens trip.

Plus, the hope of accelerating Measure R projects through the 30/10 Initiative/America Fast Forward could mean that by 2021, immigrating Europeans won’t feel the need to succumb to driving lessons.