Mobility at an intersection

In March, Los Angeles traffic as we know it vanished overnight after safer-at-home orders were issued. With the coronavirus beginning to claim lives, many of us would have welcomed the traffic back, and other signs of normalcy, in a heartbeat.

Photo courtesy Steve Hymon.

Then, beginning in late May, city and county officials imposed curfew orders limiting nighttime travel as thousands took to the streets to demonstrate against racism and police brutality following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.

While these crises may appear separate, they are deeply bound; and together they have forced a reckoning with what a return to “normal” means. The virus and the push by many for racial justice have renewed focus on the failures of our public systems, the disparate outcomes they produce, and the power structures and privileges that entrench them.

At this time, there is no clear resolution in sight when it comes to the virus or whether our nation can reach the equality to which many aspire. But this much is clear: the choices we make in response to loss of life and livelihood, and in hope for what our community might become, could be generation-defining.

Our transportation system is not immune from inequities. They are many, and they manifest in overt and covert ways. Metro’s Vision 2028 plan clearly states: “Historically, transportation policies and investments in LA County and elsewhere have prioritized single-occupant travel in private passenger vehicles at the expense of providing other high-quality travel alternatives. The result is an inequitable transportation system that exacerbates the divide between those who have the access and means to drive and those who do not, while providing inadequate options for both groups.”

Image Source: KTLA

As we reopen our economy and increase our travel, we need to proceed with caution and hope. We know how important travel is to opportunity, quality of life and the economy — people need to get to their jobs, their families and so many other destinations. And for many people, driving is the only practical option at this time. Yet the last few months have also offered our region an unprecedented glimpse in modern times of what the L.A. region is like with less traffic, cleaner air and more time and opportunities — at least for some people — to walk and bike to destinations.

Ultimately, we have to get back to moving around our region much more than we are right now. Our livelihoods and quality of life depend on it. And yet returning to the same traffic, same pollution, and the same inequitable transportation system is far from ideal. We’re not alone in this sentiment.

So the question becomes how do we get to something better than what we had? Transit, carpooling, walking and biking, and even shifting commutes outside of rush hours would help. Infrastructure improvements such as bus-only lanes and slow streets would make buses faster and more attractive — as would shared streets encourage people to walk and bike more. The last few months have shown that people like walking and biking.

None of this is new — all of the above have been discussed ad nauseam for many years by people interested in mobility. If there’s a difference now it’s that we’ve paused “normal” life long enough to actually act promptly and change things.

The advances achieved by the Black Lives Matter movement, at a time when individual movement is restricted, can and should inspire parallel and intersecting change. We’re demanding real action of ourselves and our institutions, from the top down and bottom up. We can improve the mobility problem and the traffic problem and the equity problem and the environmental problem and the safety problem. Rather than “go back to normal,” we must go forward and create a new and better reality. And we should do so sooner rather than later.

8 replies

  1. I love this vision, but first Metro needs to survive Covid-19. I’ve been an avid rider of public transportation for most of my life, but Metro has felt so unsafe in recent weeks that I’m currently committed to traveling only by foot. This is after riding buses too crowded to keep six feet of distance, and then last week encountering two bus drivers with masks below their chins, one of whom let a maskless rider on the bus. Keeping windows open would help, but what about subways? Especially with what scientists are now saying about aerosolization, buses don’t feel safe to riders like me who educate themselves on virus transmission. Metro needs to solve these safety issues in order to maintain ridership.

  2. I am a resident of Los Angeles, and have lived near Santa Monica at times. I have been riding Metro; Metro’s predecessor agency, the R.T.D.; and the Santa Monica big blue bus system from the time that I was a child through today, when I am a senior citizen. I have ridden public transit when I had a car, and when I have not had a car. I never thought that I would be doubtful towards public transit until Metro mishandled the COVID-19 disease pandemic.

    Metro consistently runs overcrowded buses which do not passengers to sit 6 feet apart. Metro does not enforce having passengers wear a face mask.

    This is at the same time that the elected officials who comprise Metro’s board of directors repeatedly nag us to stay 6 feet apart from other persons, and to wear a face mask in person.

    I realize that some of Metro’s bus drivers need to take off work, but I don’t know if Metro is trying to reduce bus overcrowding, by offering voluntary overtime to any bus driver who wants it.

    Metro’s buses are UNSAFE due to your neglect. Your inaction is harmful towards individual passengers. Your inaction is also harmful towards everyone in the community, by spreading COVID-19.

  3. You should stop arresting low-income persons for riding the subway without paying their fare. I am a white Metro pass holder. However, when the sheriffs were protecting Metro, I was tired of seeing them repeatedly arresting low-income persons for riding the subway without paying their fare.

  4. Pandemics never arrive at a convenient time. I’ve been reading up on the use of UV lights to kill virus in shared spaces. We were within a few years of these becoming standard gear for buses, trains, and indoor stations.

  5. What would make mass transit in the area better if many of our modes of transportation; especially Metro Rail was grade separated like our subway system. Entirely too much time is wasted with Metro Rail with traffic signals, traffic, accidents with autos and with pedestrians. Until your planning department can plan future rail systems that are grade separated, than nothing will ever change. In addition, most Metro bus lines are geared toward east – west transportation which include Downtown Los Angeles. Not everyone works or lives in Downtown LA and most of your Metro north – south bus lines are a problem because they are ineffective. It seems like Los Angeles is far behind most major large cities in the nation and we are forever trying to get caught up.

    In addition, work on a rail system between West LA and the San Fernando Valley should have been up and running long before this. Commuters have been fighting the traffic on the 405 Freeway for decades and there still is no system up and running. Frankly, Metro should have given priority to the Sepulveda Pass first before all the extensions on the L Line (Gold Line) out to areas that are less dense.

  6. While people are worried about catching the virus I am sure there are a lot of people who will feel unsafe because of you wanting to change the way you police the transit system You need more police that do not have handcuffs put on then by local officials who are more concerned about being politically correct rather than the safety of the riders