Transportation headlines, Tuesday, July 16

Here is a look at some of the transportation headlines gathered by us and the Metro Library. The full list of headlines is posted on the Library’s Transportation Headlines online newspaper, which you can also access via email subscription (visit the newspaper site) or RSS feed.

Is downtown Los Angeles’ low-rise building spree hurting the neighborhood? (Downtown News) 

This is one of the best media articles on urban planning in L.A. that I can recall reading. If you care about planning and transit and Los Angeles, read this story!

The main question posed: what’s best for downtown — relatively short five- to seven-story residential buildings or high-rise structures that could accommodate more people? Take it away, reporter Ryan Valliancourt:

However, some view the residential surge with caution. Certain architects, urban planners and developers worry that parking lot sites that could accommodate high-rises instead are being filled by five- to seven-story, wood-framed apartment complexes encased in plaster.

Gone is a chance to create residential density in the part of the city where it isn’t largely opposed by community stakeholders, and where it makes the most urban planning sense — alongside mass transit and jobs. Instead, Downtown is getting the type of buildings that predominate in suburban areas.

“It seems odd that as the city grows, the quality of Downtown stone construction is being replaced by sticks and plaster,” said Eric Owen Moss, director of the Southern California Institute of Architecture. “A bigger scale and larger conception is being replaced by a smaller scale and no conception, other than an easy to replicate economic model.”

The concern is shared by City Planning Director Michael LoGrande. While he acknowledges that projects like the Jia Apartments and the 280-unit Ava Little Tokyo are adding much-needed supply to a market that currently has an occupancy rate near 95%, he worries that future Angelenos will look back at today’s growth surge and lament that the developers didn’t aim higher.

“In some of the areas where we have the most allowable density, which were intended from 30 years ago to be high-rise zones, we’re getting five-story buildings,” LoGrande said. “A lot of the growth that we need to accommodate the future could be on these sites, right next to transit. That opportunity could be lost.”

The article goes on to explain what the city’s planning code works (and doesn’t work) and the economics of certain types of construction. This strikes me as a vital issue for a city that is still struggling to reinvent and reinvigorate its downtown and, yet, I can’t recall this topic ever being broached in one of the endless mayoral candidates, nor has it been tackled by larger media around town.

Great work, Ryan. Congrats!

Davis lays track for ultra light rail demonstration (Sacramento Business Journal) 

The city of Davis in Northern California wants to build an interesting research project: an ultra-light rail line that features light rail cars and accompanying infrastructure that weighs far less than existing light rail. The idea is that such systems are cheaper to build and could be useful in places where full light rail is prohibitively expensive. The city still doesn’t have money or even a location for the project, but the City Council approved a resolution clearing the path for Davis to pursue both.

Los Angeles newspapers ask whether region can ever be bike metropolis and reveal their own bias (L.A. Streetsblog) 

Editor Damien Newton publishes his critique of the series of articles about cycling that have recently appeared in the Los Angeles Newspaper Group’s papers. I haven’t read any of the stories and my hunch is I’m not alone.

Elon Musk thinks he can get you from L.A. to New York in 45 minutes (Wired) 

Simply put, the idea is to put trains inside pneumatic tubes — no friction, no wind resistance, no collisions and very fast speeds. Musk says he decided to support the technology after reading about the high price and slow speeds of the proposed bullet train in California. Proponents of “evacuated tube technology” say it can be built at a fraction of the cost of high-speed rail.

Anyway, here’s a video explaining the technology that Musk likes. My simple-minded p.r. advice: find another name besides “evacuated tube.” Sounds a little too medical.

8 replies

  1. The downtownnews article was also posted on curbed la and a few posts later they posted about the LA Live Ritz Carlton Residence occupancy. Reading the comment thread on that post makes it pretty clear why downtown LA is building low rise buildings. For whatever reason angelenos are skyrise averse. Another example is the difficulty that hollywood had in developing their new zoning for skyrise development.

    It’s not just an economic factor… Angelenos don’t like to live in skyscrapers.

  2. D.C.’s height limits don’t seem to detract from rail ridership. 5-7 stories is better than parking, and besides, do you begin to lose the human-scale feel when residential gets too tall? Maybe…

  3. And London and Paris are no where near Hong Kong or Tokyo or New York in terms of skyscrapers and tall residential units, and it seems not to hurt there either. No question, however, that downtown should be are ONE exception for high density and highrise. Our mistake is that we let high density and high-rises in other parts of the city where residents never asked for nor wanted it (Century City, Westwood, etc.), along with its concomitant problems (the westside has WORSE traffic than downtown!) that now almost all Angelenos would be happy if Godzilla would flatten a great many of those buildings.
    Agreed, while some find high-rise living attractive or just like living an any apartment or condo, a good many people here in LA just are NOT enamored of the skyscraper in general, and less so with the idea of living in one. The weather is so good here that even the super rich love theri patch of yard or garden in which to sip coffee, as do the middle class and low income. Remember, there are legions in the tri-state area who find living in a highrise or in Manhattan in general not all appealing, and they crowd those MNRR and LIRR trains for something of a SoCal living in the burbs. I still remember those who live outside Manhattan or New York City who say that while they can enjoy New York City on occasion, they area always glad they can go home [to their residence outside the city] at the end of the day.
    It’s the economics and the populace of LA who just aren’t clamoring to live in a high-rise. And, while London does have the tallest skyscraper in the EU, Londoner’s are NOT willing to become a Manhattan. In fact, there are movements to prevent it from doing so. Let each city be what it is. Everyone does NOT desire to live downtown. And if economic change, they can tear down those puny new structures and put up really tall ones and still get their money back, IF THERE IS DEMAND.