Before we get started with the transportation stuff…
Watts: 50 years later (LA Magazine)
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…
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
•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:
Categories: Transportation Headlines