How We Roll, Oct. 12: transit vs gentrification, fare increase study, DTLA rising

Art of Transit:


Newsflash!: If you haven’t seen, here’s a Metro staff update on work to update the agency’s long-range plan and a potential ballot measure in Nov. 2016 to raise money for projects. In plain English: if you’re concerned about future projects that Metro may build, pay attention to this process.

Opinion: Metro CEO says transit agencies need to care about gentrification (LAT) 

Development in Little Tokyo / Arts District neighborhoods in downtown L.A. (Photo: Steve Hymon/Metro)

Development in Little Tokyo / Arts District neighborhoods in downtown L.A. (Photo: Steve Hymon/Metro)

In this editorial, Metro CEO Phil Washington is quoted frequently saying that the agency does not want to see some of its core customers displaced from neighborhoods around transit stations. Excerpt:

Washington said Friday that the agency would go even further with its Transit-Oriented Community Demonstration Program, in which Metro will work with cities to study development patterns and opportunities within two miles of stations. Staff will present 10 to 12 sites that could become pilot projects at the Metro board’s Oct. 22 meeting.

But many community advocates want Metro to do even more. During a Planning and Conservation League symposium on sustainable cities at UCLA on Saturday, attendees pressed Calvin Hollis, who oversees Metro’s real estate and development operation, on what more the agency could do to prevent displacement along transit lines. Could, for example, Metro require that cities build or zone for affordable housing if they receive transit funding? Hollis said Metro is focused on giving local officials tools and incentives — not mandates — to help deal with gentrification.

Metro does work with developers to build residential projects on land left over from construction of transit projects through the agency’s joint development program. The challenge is that such parcels are limited. Cities in Los Angeles County through their zoning codes say what type of buildings are allowed near stations. As the editorial notes, however, cities are often slow to update their codes and do what it takes to attract private developers or nonprofits that specialize in building affordable housing.

We’ll have a post later this week looking at transit-oriented development around the county. As you’ll see, many of the TODs do skew toward the luxury side. Speaking of….

Downtown L.A. becomes a popular place to build a condo (NPR)

DTLA is the focus of this piece about an interesting trend: new residents are moving to downtowns across the U.S. at seemingly a higher rate than new office-type jobs. Some interesting stats from this report: the resident population of 27,000 in DTLA in 2000 is expected to soon triple; about 20 percent of the office space in DTLA is vacant; one local academic says we have fewer people working in DTLA than in downtown Seattle, and; about 2.5 percent of the area’s workforce is in DTLA.

And one more stat, not in the above report but from a 2010 Census Bureau release: “Between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, metro areas with 5 million or more people experienced double-digit population growth rates within their downtown areas (within a two-mile radius of their largest city’s city hall), more than double the rate of these areas overall.” The large cities with the most growth were Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington.

It’s hardly news that jobs and job centers are spread out in Los Angeles County. We’ve known that for a long time. But I think some perspective may also be handy: DTLA still has the densest job density in the county although there are some other areas that also boast a lot of jobs — with many of those on the Westside, which is not currently served by Metro Rail. That will change next year when the second phase of the Expo Line opens and in coming years as the Purple Line Extension is constructed in three phases to Westwood with stops in the Miracle Mile, Beverly Hills and Century City.

I think that’s huge. As a new DTLA resident notes in the NPR report, he lives in downtown but it takes him an hour to drive nine miles west each day to his tech job. Hopefully he will have a better transit alternative sooner rather than later 🙂

From this nifty online tool by the Census Bureau:

Employment Map

Click above to see larger. The denser the dots and the deeper the purple the more jobs there are.

Why Earth’s future will depend on how we build our cities (Washington Post) 

The Dubai skyline as of March 2014. Photo by Guillaume P. Boppe, via Flickr creative commons.

The Dubai skyline as of March 2014. Photo by Guillaume P. Boppe, via Flickr creative commons.

Misleading headline. The Earth likely has a future; humanity and our current idea of civilization, however, may change greatly if the planet continues to warm due to climate change.

That said, the post is pretty interesting. The gist of it: there’s only so much greenhouse gases we can emit and keep the planet from warming less than two degrees Celsius — the threshold for a lot of bad things happening. If we build cities as we have in the past — inefficient buildings and lots of driving — then we’re likely going over the emissions limit. If we build smarter, then maybe not.

As we’ve said before: generally speaking, switching from driving alone to taking transit is a way to lower the greenhouse gas emissions that you are responsible for.

Rail fare elasticities are not uniform, at least not in LA (Lisa Schweitzer) 

The USC prof asked her students to consider the impact of the Sept. 2014 Metro fare increase on rail ridership. The findings: Blue Lineriders were the most sensitive to the fare increases — i.e. some stopped riding — whereas the new fares had no real impact on Gold Line ridership. Check out the chart with the post.

Lisa finishes the post with this:

I suspect that if we broke that bus figure out by a sample of bus lines, we’d have a similar situation, but it’s pretty clear: riders along the Blue Line, in south Los Angeles, are pretty price sensitive, and higher fares meant less travel.

This is not good news.

Also in the not-good-news department: the confounding thing is that metro ridership was declining even before the fare increase. (WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?? ARE WE NOT SPENDING BILLIONS ON TRAINS FOR YOU PEOPLE???).

She promises more soon on that last question. As we’ve written before ridership began to dip in April 2014, perhaps for a variety of reasons: maintenance and service delays, the economy picking up, fluctuations in gas prices, a crackdown on fare evasion and the fare increases.  The latest ridership estimates for August show about 36.79 million boardings compared to 41.2 million boardings in 2013.

Here’s a staff report from March about ridership issues:

Recent How We Rolls:

Oct. 9: shade versus bus shelters in our region, pics of the community replaced by L.A. Union Station, a greenie looks at the issue of whether should we love or hate self-driving cars.

Oct. 8: more buzz on a potential ballot measure and potential transit projects, why guys lie about carburetors, a transit Armgeddon below the Hudson and Lex Luthor’s plans for the West Coast.

Oct. 7: ideas for Metro’s new Chief Innovation Officer, Paris sucker punches smog, Uber vs Lyft vs transit, an airplane seat arrangement scheme spawned by the Devil herself/himself.

Oct. 6: Gov. Brown signs bill allowing double-articulated buses, the ivory tower gives letter grades to Metro stations, thoughts on the non-war on driving, the cost of L.A.’s Olympic ambitions.

Oct. 1: all about cities — gentrification, TODs vs parking, the changing DTLA skyline, Show Me a Hero, cities and transit and diversity.

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8 replies

  1. If you ask me, zoning codes are a great example of anti-freedom anti-libertarian, government overreach by a posse of control freaks because it gives government too much power to tell landowners what they can or cannot build in each parcel of land.

    LA’s zoning laws have gone berserk with ridiculous restrictions stating how many parking spaces it needs to have to even dictating what the maximum square feet of residential space it can have on a lot, with confusing rules that the basement counts as residential space, or how the home needs to “match” with the neighborhood (pffft). Too much NIMBYism, too many control freaks out there.

    Zoning laws should be this simple: you own the land, you do whatever you want to do with it. It’s no one else’s business to tell you otherwise. Simple said, repeal the entire thing and just go back to the way it was before 1926 before the entire concept of zoning came into mind.

    • Geez, look at the comments in that anti-mansion article. The “neighborhood council” special interests are saying things like “the person next door is building a bigger house than me, my property values is going to go down, boo-hoo feel sorry for me.” I bet the vast majority of them are Baby Boomers who are in a post-retirement crisis who have too much time on their hands other than just complaining and making life more difficult for everyone else younger than them.

      Gimme a break. From the perspective of a Millennial renter who can only barely afford to pay rent and can never afford a home in outrageous LA prices, these people are just a bunch of cry-baby whiners who can’t get their candy. If they are so worried about the person next door having a bigger home then them, then why not rebuild their own home into a multifamily building or something? Convert the parcel into a mini condo, live on the top floor penthouse, and just live the rest of their life on rent income or housing fees.Would be much wiser investment than bursting veins and getting all upset about this whole thing.

      Talk about the generation who’s so obsessed with keeping up with the Joneses! They’re practically sitting on valuable land and using it for manufactured homes and wasting water with big front and back yards that need constant watering anyway.

      Then they go on and say these homes are too boxy and ugly so they should be put a stop to it, WTF? Stop trying to force their views onto other people. No one friggin’ cares how the homes look. Why do politicians even give into these people’s demands? These “neighborhood councils” and “homeowners associations” need to be abolished; they have too much power and they’re not helping the real estate prices in LA, they’re causing the problems!!!

      • If you can’t afford a home or rent in L.A., maybe you should try looking for a job in a more affordable city ?

    • I think the view that zoning should be completely eliminated is too extreme. In that world I could build a nuclear waste dump with an attached strip club right next to your house.

      However I agree that zoning often goes too far. By requiring parking, enforcing strict separation of residential and commercial uses and restricting residential density, zoning definitely makes it harder and more expensive to build housing and causes people to drive more than they otherwise would.

      • “In that world I could build a nuclear waste dump with an attached strip club right next to your house.”

        You have a point about a nuclear waste dump, but on the other hand, storage of bio and nuclear waste hazard materials are tightly controlled and regulated by the federal government and it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to be allowed to store nuclear waste in a residential or commercial area anyway. Federal government regulations triumphs over state and local laws so even if LA gets rid of zoning laws, it’s highly unlikely that Joe Neighbor of yours is start using his backyard to store at the risk of violating federal laws.

        Zoning laws are a municipal thing and there is one city in the US that has managed to get by without zoning laws: Houston, TX. That being said however, you’re not going to find a petrochemical plant being built right next to a neighborhood of homes either, even in Houston.

        Fancy read:

        As for strip clubs, massage parlors, brothels, motels, etc., those can be managed and regulated by importing a concept used in many parts of the world: red light district. Let’s be realistic, it’s one thing to remain Puritan about this but the reality is that you can’t get rid of these things as they are the world’s oldest profession and such vices are needed one way or the other. Rather than try to get rid of these things, it’s better to regulate them and use them as additional tax revenues.

        But zoning laws that prevent stuff like owning a bakery downstairs and using the top floor as your home? Using your own home for short term rentals via airbnb? Zoning laws regulating how far the building has to be to the one next door? Regulating every aspect of our lives such as you need a permit to chop down your own tree or add a balcony to your own place of residence? Those things go way too far.

      • “Zoning laws are a municipal thing and there is one city in the US that has managed to get by without zoning laws: Houston, TX.”

        You can “get by” but downtown Houston is a swiss cheese of parking lots… Most of Europe doesn’t have Euclidean zoning either, though most European urban areas were laid out when everybody walked. Having no zoning worked BC, Before Car.

      • sigaba,

        The City of Los Angeles was incorporated in 1850 and LA didn’t have zoning laws until 1946 (, well after the first Model T came off the production lines in 1908. City of LA did pretty much fine without zoning laws for 96 years.

        Much of Europe and Asia was bombed during WWII and subsequent Cold War hot spots like the Chinese Civil War and the Korean War. They could’ve gone and rebuilt their cities with zoning laws if they chose to do so, but they didn’t. They all came out just fine without them.

        We can just as easily repeal the entire concept of zoning laws in LA and do just fine; we manage to do it for 96 years before 1946, when LA still had an excellent transit system. Don’t worry, we’re not going to have nuclear waste products or other undesirable stuff nearby as most of them are already regulated by state and federal laws and regulations.