WHAT IS A T.O.D? I thought the highlight of last week’s Move LA summit was the keynote speaker, former Vancouver council member Gordon Price. His main point is that cities should not think of a transit-oriented development as just a new apartment or condo building plopped down next to a transit stop.
Rather, Price said, cities should think of creating entire transit-oriented districts that cover several square miles. Within that district, there must be all the transportation amenities — wide sidewalks, bike lanes, roads for cars and taxis and transit operating so frequently that everyone knows they will catch the next bus or train within a few minutes.
The idea is that there is no dominant mode of transportation — but there’s a lot of choices because there’s a vast network of sidewalks, bike lanes, roads and transit. “You count the efficiency of a city by the number of meetings you can attend in a day,” he said, repeating an old maxim. “Once these grids are in place, once people have the freedom of frequency, the car begins to drop as the dominant mode.”
Fascinating stuff. And Price had stats to back up his views. In the past couple of decades, Vancouver has doubled the number of downtown residents, seen a 25 percent increase in the number of downtown jobs — and the number of car trips into downtown has dropped. (It helps that Vancouver never built a downtown freeway).
“It’s so counter-intuitive,” Price said.
Yes it is. Density can help create networks and allow for frequent transit. But in many quarters of the L.A. area, density is seen as the enemy — when it may be precisely the thing needed to help get people around.
PANEL DISCUSSIONS: I’ve had to attend my share of transportation panel discussions in recent years, time on Planet Earth I’ll never get back.
Here’s my quick advice to organizers of such events: The best discussions are with a panel of one or two people, max. After the third person, the discussion just devolves into a series of shallow sound bites — precisely the thing the world doesn’t need any more of.
NEW METRO APP: I had the chance recently to give a test drive to an almost-completed version of the new Metro smartphone app. I thought it was terrific, especially in terms of getting bus arrival information and trip planning. We’ll have a lot more about the app on The Source very soon.
SERVICE ALERTS: Obviously there has been some serious service disruptions this month on the Red/Purple Line subway and the Blue Line. While I think Metro does a pretty good job of quickly getting service alert information out to the public via the media, Metro home page, text message and social media (via the Metro Alerts on Twitter), it’s also clear that many of our customers expect information in true “real-time” — as it happens.
There is certainly room for some improvement in terms of Metro using all the tools at its disposal — announcements on trains, buses and in stations, social media, the video screens now in many stations, etc. That said, “real” real-time is always going to be difficult to achieve because agency staff need time to assess what happened, how to fix it and figure out alternative routes for Metro passengers.
As far as I can tell, the biggest complaint from customers is the inability to hear p.a. announcements in stations, trains and buses. Is this right?
THE 305 BUS: The impending cut to the 305 after the Expo Line opens got the attention of the New York Times last summer and the L.A. Times last week. Both stories — pretty much identical in tone and anecdotes — noted that the route stairsteps across the region between Willowbrook and Westwood and is a key tie for many low-income workers between South L.A. and the Westside.
Fair enough. As with any service change, there will obviously be some riders that are impacted and inconvenienced and that’s regrettable. That said, I think it’s fair to counter three of the criticisms:
One, While the 305 offers a direct ride to Westwood for some, it’s not very fast and can take almost two hours to get from Willowbrook to Westwood in rush hour on weekdays. There are alternatives to the 305 that take about the same time, although they do involve transfers.
Two, while some riders told the newspapers that the transfers will increase their transit costs, we don’t know how many 305 riders have Metro passes. A monthly Metro pass costs $75 and is good for unlimited rides on the system for 30 days. There are also discounted fares for seniors, the disabled, students and Medicare recipients. In addition, there are also discounts available for low-income families.
Three, the bigger issue here is this: no transit system can be set in stone. All transit agencies have limited resources to operate their systems on a daily basis, maintain them and plan and build for the future. That means making some difficult decisions, such as the loss of the 305.
I also think the 305 raises the question about bus routes that zig-zag across the region. Is it better to connect distant places through limited stop buses or create a more intuitive network using the region’s street grid? That’s a tough one. Transit planner Jarrett Walker tackles that one in this excellent post on his blog from last year; he favors a grid system with high frequency transit as the best way to move people around.
If any readers here can recommend alternative routes for 305 readers, please do so in the comments section.