This is 30: On living multimodally

Barnea takes the wheels. Photo by Aurelia Ventura

Avital Barnea is Metro’s  Senior Executive Officer of Multimodal Integrated Planning, a new division responsible for bringing together experts in everything from highways to parking to biking and walking in order to improve our choices and possibilities for travel. Keep reading to learn how choosing to live multimodally (and without a car) has shaped her career outlook.  

By Avital Barnea  

I grew up in Billings, Montana – a beautiful place with wide open spaces, but difficult to get around if you don’t or can’t drive. There is a small municipal bus service in Billings with a few routes, and although there was a bus stop on the block I grew up on, the service was so infrequent that taking the bus anywhere was impractical if not impossible.  

This both contributes to and is a factor of the big driving culture in Montana. Some might remember that the state was (in)famous in the 1970s and 1990s for not having a speed limit.  

When driving becomes the default, transit gets undermined. And it creates an environment that is ultimately less accessible.   

I wanted to work at Metro because I have always been impressed by the projects Metro was leading and the reliable sources of funding (Props A & C and Measures R & M) we have to make those projects a reality – unprecedented in other cities. More than any other city in the US right now, I believe that Los Angeles has the most ambitious and game-changing transportation infrastructure program, and Metro is the driving force behind that. Getting around LA in ten or even five years will look very different than it does today. I’ve been at Metro for less than three months –– and since I started the transit system has already expanded with the Regional Connector and its three new rail stations. Don’t expect the momentum to let up. Metro is slated to open a major transit project every year through 2028. 

At Metro, I am the first person to lead the agency’s brand-new division of Multimodal Integrated Planning, which brings an array of groups that used to be in different departments under one umbrella: highways and complete streets, regional rail, goods movement, long-range planning, parking, and transportation demand management. Why did we do this? Well, no mode of transportation exists in a silo. It’s a system with many moving parts. So if experts on biking, parking, freight, highways, and others can put their heads together, we can come up with better transportation solutions that benefit everybody. For example, with our highway projects we are looking at how we can advance parallel rail and transit corridors while also helping communities by investing in sidewalks and bike lanes and moving freight traffic out of neighborhoods. We also have some exciting programs, such as offering monetary awards to encourage people to try out new modes of travel they might not know about.  

Of course, I believe that walking the walk, to some degree –– actively using the full transportation system –– is essential to doing my job. I’ve been car free since 2011. I can and do drive if I need to –– and I want to emphasize that going car free was my choice, something that many people don’t have –– but I am finding that I’m able to get around LA without a car in almost every scenario. My main modes of transportation in LA are walking and the bus, but I also use the rail system (Metro, Metrolink, and Amtrak), bikeshare, scooter share, Metro Micro, and rideshare. Understanding and being able to use the various transportation options is not always straightforward –– and we’re working to change that –– but there are so many ways to get around LA and other regions without a car. In my new role I am working to make these options faster, easier, and more comfortable for everybody.  

The car was often seen as a symbol of freedom – I think that mentality is changing somewhat now – but the way I see it, having multimodal transportation options is true freedom. For the past 60 years, the majority of the transportation investments in Los Angeles have centered around the automobile. This has equity implications, as not everyone is able to, wants to, or can afford to drive. Given the transportation and land use patterns we have in LA, the car is not going away as a means of transportation, but in the Office of Multimodal Integrated Planning, we are working toward bringing more multimodal options to Los Angeles County to make it easier to get around by walking, biking, rolling, or on transit. 

Got a cool story about taking transit in LA? Give us a shout!  




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