How We Roll, Tuesday, August 11

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Before we get started with the transportation stuff…

Watts: 50 years later (LA Magazine) 

Buildings aflame in 1965. Photo: New York Telegram via Wikimedia.

Buildings aflame in 1965. Photo: New York Telegram via Wikimedia.

Erin Aubry Kaplan and photographer Joaquin Trujillo look at Watts on the 50th anniversary of the riots that put the community on the map for many Americans. In some ways, things have changed — the community is now 60 percent Latino. In other ways, Kaplan writes, they haven’t.

On Central Avenue Tim Watkins runs the sprawling campus of the Watts Labor Community Action Committee, the multiservice and development center that his father founded. Watkins’s concerns still clearly lie with the macro racial issues of the ’60s that sparked the unrest and are still around today: In addition to police brutality, there’s mass incarceration and anemic black employment rates, to name but two. “I get criticized for being a pessimist,” he says with a shrug. Yet he isn’t without hope. “Over the last 50 years, for various reasons, things have gotten to the point where Watts stands to be significantly redeveloped. If policy is organized around entrenched poverty, around people, then we’ve got a chance.”

The Blue Line arrived in Watts in 1990 — the platform is next to the old railroad station and near the Watts towers. What you don’t see much of in the area: transit-oriented development.

That’s a complicated subject as there certainly are other parts of the Metro system that has yet to attract the kind of housing, retail and jobs that are sensible to put near transit. Hopefully that will change in time as the Watts/103rd Street Station is just a 22-minute ride from 7th/Metro in the heart of DTLA. As the old saying goes, mobility = freedom. And hope.

And now the transportationy stuff…

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ART OF TRANSIT: Another one from CicLAvia on Sunday. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro. Click above to see our gallery.

Editorial: an L.A. transit plan with a vision (L.A. Times)

Praise for the city of Los Angeles’ mobility plan that comes before the City Council on Tuesday (updated: as expected, it was approved). Excerpt:

It’s time for L.A. to shed its traditional automobile-centric approach and evolve into a modern, multimodal city.

The new plan would replace the one the city adopted in 1999, which was focused on relieving congestion and moving cars as fast as possible through city streets. But a lot has changed in the last 16 years. Los Angeles is in the middle of a public transit building boom, bicycle ridership is growing and more people are choosing to live without a car.

As the editorial notes, the plan calls for lane reductions to accommodate bus lanes and/or bike lanes on 10 percent of the city streets — certainly not an insignificant number. Such lanes would seemingly make long-distance bus travel more practical and perhaps appealing.

The new peak hour bus lane on Wilshire Boulevard. Photo: Metro.

The new peak hour bus lane on Wilshire Boulevard. Photo: Metro.

As someone who covered City Hall as a reporter, the key question with these type of long-range plans is whether they can outlive those who wrote them and voted for them? In other words, will the folks at City Hall follow-through with the funding and political backing to actually make these things happen?

Passing the plan is a big step but doesn’t guarantee that anything will happen. The document is a policy framework — the parts of the plan will require further study and outreach in order to actually implement them. My three cents: the lane reductions, especially, will be tricky and have over the years typically been resisted by a variety of groups that includes merchants, homeowners and other neighborhood groups. So we’ll see.

BTW, a few graphics from the mobility plan that have some key stats. One thing I spotted that is worth clarifying: the number of people riding Metro is not the same as number of boardings, which simply measures how many people are on a bus and/or train. The latest ridership estimates from June show Metro had 1.36 million average weekday boardings. The number of overall people is less than that — as many people ride more than one bus or train to get where they are going.

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L.A. pushes to be host of 2024 Summer Games, projects $4-billion cost (L.A. Times) 

Los Angeles is a frugal, if not flashy, option for the 2024 Games (New York Times) 

The LAT got the scoop on the mayor’s cost projections while the NYT follows with some context and details. Another $400 million would be needed as a contingency fund if there are cost overruns or revenue shortfalls. The United States Olympic Committee hasn’t decided yet which city would replace Boston as the American bid city to compete against other international cities.

One thing that I find intriguing — although not in these articles — is the proposed athlete’s village that would be built along the L.A. River. If such a village is converted to regular housing after the Games, that could certainly jumpstart development along a hopefully revitalized river, assuming that project goes forward. That can be good housing, near transit, bike lanes, parks and downtown L.A. Intriguing, eh?

Quasi-related to everything above: it’s interesting to see that architect Frank Gehry is working on a new master plan for the L.A. River, even though the Council approved a master plan back in 2007. The office of Mayor Eric Garcetti said that Gehry is working on fleshing out parts of the plan that were vague in the ’07 plan. That’s the thing with big plans: they do tend to sit around for some time.

50,000 Portlanders turn out to preview the people’s car-free bridge (Streetsblog Network) 

The new bridge — the first over the Willamette River in 40 years — is for trains, buses, cyclists and pedestrians and has no regular traffic lanes. It opens next month. I saw it on a recent visit — and it’s a pretty impressive structure.

The real reason that American public transit is such a disaster (Vox) 

The reason is not suburban sprawl, says writer Joseph Stromberg. It’s funding. Many American cities let their rail transit systems go bankrupt in the mid-20th century and then had to rebuild them from scratch — and rebuilt them at a bare minimum compared to money spent on roads.

Excerpt:

When cities took over these companies (and converted their streetcar lines into buses), it was with the notion that they’d maintain these systems as a sort of welfare service — mostly for people who couldn’t afford to drive. Outside of a handful of cities like New York and DC, that mentality has remained in place. Nowadays, many local politicians don’t see transit as a vital transportation function — instead, they think of it as a government aid program to help poor people who lack cars.

On the one hand, this mentality has led cities to heavily subsidize public transit: In most cities, no more than 30 to 40 percent of operating costs are covered by fares, more than the vast majority of cities around the world. But there’s a huge downside to viewing public transportation as welfare — it prevents local agencies from charging high enough fares to provide efficient service, effectively limiting transit to those who are too poor to drive.

“Transit in the US is caught in a vicious cycle,” says King. “We push for low fares for social reasons, but that starves the transit agency, which leads to reduced service.” In a sense, it’s the same dilemma faced by the streetcar companies 70 years ago.

Some of this is certainly familiar. Metro has been trying for years to get fares to cover more than 30 percent of operating cares. And our recent customer survey showed that the average household income for bus riders and rail riders was $14,876 and $19,374, respectively. The average household income in Los Angeles County, by comparison, is $55,909.

I like this post a lot. I think I would quibble with the sentence that politicians don’t see transit as a key function, as I think more and more in our region do — and that’s reflected in many of the political battles for capital funds to build new transit lines. That said, I think it is fair to level that criticism at the federal level, where funding for new transit projects has changed little in recent times despite the fact that most large transit agencies — Metro included — need federal help in order to build big, new projects.

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Things to read on transit: I’ll give this freebie in the New Yorker a mild PG rating. The article is about Chinese lingerie merchants who despite the odds have set up shop in Egyptian cities and villages along the Nile that tend to be socially conservative (at least on the surface!). This is feature journalism at its best — highlighting a trend in a part of the world that you probably don’t think about much. Fun read, too.

•Things to listen to on transit: The excellent new Wilco album Star Wars can be downloaded for free for a few more days. Here’s another Wilco tune from their show at the Greek last week:

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 replies

  1. My opinion is why transit sucks in America is because there’s too much bureaucracy involved to get stuff done, so much wasteful spending that sucks away tax dollars to things that aren’t important, and they are mainly run by dumb government bureaucrats who have absolutely no idea what they are doing.

    The TAP website is a great example of how a simple thing like fixing a website takes forever to do when the private sector would’ve gotten it up and running in less than a month.

    Renaming stations after politicians is a perfect example of wasteful spending in both terms of money and everyone’s time. People hate politicians anyway, the last thing we want is have them memorialized as station names.

    Anyone could’ve seen from a mile away that building a rail system under an honor system was going to cause massive fare evasion problems. Now we have to spend millions of dollars to fix that mess.

    Running transit isn’t rocket science. Stop re-inventing the wheel, copy what other cities from around the world who have great mass transit systems do and do the exact same thing here. Yet, they fail and screw up such a simple concept as that.

    “We push for low fares for social reasons, but that starves the transit agency, which leads to reduced service.”

    I don’t buy this argument the least bit. Tell me then why despite low and stable distance based fares, Hong Kong is able to get a 186% farebox recovery ratio while NYC can barely recover 50% under an ever increasing flat rate fare system?

    NYC is just as densely populated as Hong Kong, NYC has similar population and area size as Hong Kong, they both have high mass transit usage and both cities make it cost intrusive to own an automobile. Yet one is able to run their system at a profit with hardly any fare increases, the other still needs government assistance and keeps raising their fares.

  2. Metro should jump on LA’s wagon for the Olympic games. Metro should pursue $$$$ from the Feds to get the Union Station rail lines built so Metrolink and Amtrak can provide faster service to San Diego and from Santa Barbara.

  3. “it was with the notion that they’d maintain these systems as a sort of welfare service — mostly for people who couldn’t afford to drive. Outside of a handful of cities like New York and DC, that mentality has remained in place. Nowadays, many local politicians don’t see transit as a vital transportation function — instead, they think of it as a government aid program to help poor people who lack cars.”

    Not necessarily. Many cities around the world with great transit systems have built cities in a way where it is too cost prohibitive to drive. Owning a Toyota Camry here in LA is considered to be middle class, owning a Toyota Camry in Singapore is considered to be a luxury. And it’s not that Singaporeans make less than the average Angeleno, it’s just that the cost to own a car there is very high in Singapore. But in a way, just because Singaporeans can’t afford to drive, doesn’t mean SMRT runs their transit system as a welfare for the Singaporean people.

    By far, the biggest reason why transit is a failure in the US is that city planning and transit planning are done separately whereas in other cities around the world, they go together like whip cream and a frappucino.

    Los Angeles is an excellent example of ugly suburban sprawl with autobahn inspired freeway systems, arcane zoning laws, anti-high density NIMBY activism and outdated parking lot requirements only exacerbating such sprawls, and Metro playing catch up after the metropolitan area was built to fit the transit model to an existing sprawled out county. Transit planning and development is reactionary to the existing suburbia that exists today in LA.

    Compare that to the likes of cities in Europe and Asia, more so after their cities were leveled from WWII and had to be rebuilt efficiently, where city planning went along concurrently with transit planning, land space was used sparingly, high density development was the focus, and more stations were built concurrently as the city grew in tandem. Transit planning and development were done in parallel to city development.

    In my opinion, the only way the US gets to build an excellent mass transit infrastructure is that cities need to have transit development and city planning work together, not separately.

    By this, however, means cities and the general American public will need to make tough choices that they can’t keep catering to anti-density NIMBY activists, they need to acknowledge the benefits of higher density lifestyles, and need to accept a massive redevelopment of homes and businesses as necessary throughout the region, and work closely together with the private sector to fix the “I live in a suburban home and go everywhere with a car” lifestyle to a “I live in a high rise condo, everything I need is within walking and bicycle distance, and if I want to go somewhere, I can just hop on a bus or a train to get there.”

    That being said, easier said than done. We’re just too used to the automobile centric lifestyle and it is not something the vast majority of Americans are willing to give up easily. If anything, the vast majority of Angelenos are completely clueless of how there exists a different way of life other than getting around with cars and that in many cities around the world, getting around by walking, biking, and taking transit is the norm, and we’re the exception.

    • You must understand much of the suburb development was due to companies like the Pacific Electric building lines to these areas in hope of developing the areas they were running to. What is being advocated now is redeveloping areas close to the central city. I do live in a very populated portion county yet bus and rail does not go where I wish to go in a quick and efficient manor. In fact although I live near two of the most traveled east / west arteries there is no light rail even planned to alleviate the problem, a problem partially caused by Governor Jerry Brown when he was in office previously. Much of the development on the Westside was planned and constructed with the gurantee a new freeway was to be built to transport those working in these developments to and from work. Property had been bought and construction was ready to begin when he shelved the project. The 101 Hollywood Freeway was planed after WW2 to have an interchange with this planned freeway near Vermont. That is the reason for the large gap between the northbound and southbound lanes. Now we have no freeway and no planned relief. What we do have is total grid lock for hours during both the AM and PM commutes. There is amble room to build a light rail using the old P.E. right of way along Santa Monica Bl. but no plan is in the works. Instead the MTA is now closing their eyes and trying to decide where to extend the Gold Line next. Any plan would only apis the politicians and not alleviate any traffic problems no matter which route is chosen.