A Transit State Of Mind

April 2, 2016

As Los Angeles prepares to push another sales tax initiative to raise $120 billion for a massive 40 year expansion of its transit and transportation system, it is not without contention. losangelestransitThere’s the usual stuff, like who gets what and when, the best use of money on the proper technology, i.e. bus, light rail, subway, will this really help relieve congestion. Nothing other jurisdictions haven’t had to deal with in one way and at one time or another.

But 20 years in to this massive and ongoing project, there are some L.A. specific quirks to the proceedings.

Take, for example, the fact that some of the existing transit lines here were built on abandoned freight track beds, the old streetcar tracks from a once vibrant system back in the day having been ripped up, their routes paved over by some of today’s urban freeways, as local legend has it, meaning I heard somebody say it or read it somewhere, Reyner Banham probably, and couldn’t be bothered to do any research to see if it was true. Using the old freight corridors made the new transit lines less expensive. Also, and again I’m guessing here, it kept the new transit projects from competing for actual road space, thereby reducing conflict with car drivers except when they had to wait at level street crossings for the trains to pass.

One of the consequences of building transit lines in old freight corridors was pointed out by Gene Maddaus in LA Weekly a couple weeks back. reynerbanham“Those freight lines were generally designed to serve industrial areas and to avoid commercial centers,” Maddaus writes. “This explains why they sometimes run just out of reach of vibrant and walkable shopping districts.” New, more transit friendly development doesn’t magically appear when new transit is built. Until it (or if it ever) does, ridership may not meet projections, congestion may not be relieved, leading to existential questions about the very viability of transit, blah, blah, blah.

I bring this up not to engage directly with the debate, put transit where it’ll take immediately versus build it and they will come, not that there’s necessarily an either-or to that equation, just the best use of limited resources and all that. I raise it as a long-winded introduction to my Tale of Transit Travel This Week: Part They Put A Bus Stop Here?!

Metro’s Green Line runs 20 miles inland from the city’s South Bay beaches to within figurative spitting distance of LAX, and east, greenline1through or near communities like Hawthorne, Crenshaw, Compton, Lakewood, before ending in Norwalk. It is almost entirely an elevated LRT except when it runs along the median of Interstate 105. The Green Line connects with 2 other rapid transit lines, the Blue and Silver which both connect passengers to Long Beach and San Pedro to the south, respectively, and downtown and beyond to the north.

I arrived at the Aviation/LAX station a little earlier than expected, and looking to kill some time, found myself pretty much in the middle of nowhere. That’s not exactly true. You could see a residential neighbourhood not far from the platform, a midrise apartment building going up right across the street. The airport runways were just over there. The 105-405 freeway interchange sat above me in the opposite direction. Grab a coffee and a breakfast burrito? Not so much. So I just reloaded my transit card instead and looked at the station art.

Three bus lines stop at this particular station. There are certainly surrounding neighbourhoods to provide a walk-up ridership although, I did tell you there were 2 freeways nearby plus all your airport service roads, right? So it’s not exactly a pleasant morning stroll to the train.

Not that anyone’s arguing every transit station has to be a destination. Networks and systems are going to have spots that work as nothing more than stops along the way. greenlineIt’s that end, and that end, this hub and that one, that determine the necessity for a particular line or route. Besides, there’s something significant and symbolic about riding transit right in the teeth of the very symbol of car culture, the freeway.

But this was just a prelude to the real fun and excitement. Four stops on, I hop off at the Harbor Freeway station to make my connection to the Silver Rapid Bus Line. Yep, the 110 freeway, running from San Pedro, north to downtown Los Angeles and on to Pasadena. Uh huh. The LRT connects to a bus in the middle of a highway, a busy, busy highway.

My first thought was, where the hell am I? This is where I get off? You have to walk along the platform which is above the freeway, and down a set of stairs to the bus stop. silverlinestopThe overwhelming sensation that hits you is, it’s loud. Fucking loud. I don’t know, the overhang of the station catches the noise from the train departing and all the cars racing by below you. You actually have to shout to be heard. It’s unpleasant.

The bus stop is even more disorienting. At the bottom of the stairs, you wind up right smack dab in the middle of a busy expressway, cars whipping by you in both directions. Sure, you’re pretty well protected but still. How often have you found yourself standing in the middle of a highway, waiting for a bus? Moreover, how exactly do you promote development around this rapid transit stop?

I know, I know. It’s bus rapid transit, just a bus, but do not doubt the rapid part, at least not along this highway stretch. The Silver Line runs a more local service in San Pedro and through downtown, but on the 110 and 10 past downtown out to El Monte where it ends? You fly. silverlinestop1Like a bus with Sandra Bullock in the driver’s seat.

I really should’ve kept time but we moved nearly 12 miles (including a couple stops) in what seemed like minutes, 15, 20? We certainly passed cars, stuck in traffic as they were, riding in our dedicated bus lane. It was fast. While you regular Greyhound users may not be impressed, this is a blast to someone who’s spent an inordinate time on city buses over the past 3 months or so.

Never mind the joy such a ride brings to a transit tourist like I am. How about the vital role in providing true mobility to those who really need it? It may not be pretty. It may not be particularly flashy. But there’s a real sense of empowerment, looking out of the window of a bus, traveling uncontested along the freeway, zipping past cars bogged down in congested traffic.

Public transit cannot always be just about ridership numbers and the latest, sleekest technology.  speedIt shouldn’t simply be boiled down to delivering the biggest bang for the buck. Serving up a consistent, even if only brief, boost of, I don’t know, fun and sense of unimpeded forward motion can go a long way to encouraging transit users to believe that their time matters and that the city isn’t always designed as an obstacle to them getting on with their lives.

speedily submitted by Cityslikr


Westwood

March 30, 2016

More news on the lunacy of our parking policy/philosophy front: It’s tough finding a parking spot at your local Trader Joe’s!traderjoes

Read through the Twitter timeline in this Buzzfeed post, 23 Hilariously Accurate Tweets About Trader Joe’s Parking Lots, and after about the 4th one in, try not screaming, THEN GET OUT OF YOUR CAR, YOU FUCKING DIMWIT!! WALK A BIT!

Let me add a personal anecdote. There’s a Trader Joe’s about a 10, 15 minute walk from our place here. It pretty much sits right in the heart of Westwood. Even before reading this article, we noted the hazard of walking past the store’s underground lot. Cars flew out, past the gate with little obvious thought to occupants on the sidewalk ahead. Cars turned madly into the lot, not making eye contact with the pedestrians they just stopped in their tracks as if this was perfectly acceptable behaviour. Horns, the soundtrack of Los Angeles, frequently sounded.crazedparking

It must be pure pandemonium down there, we thought. A real knock-em-down contest for precious few spots. I even wrote about it earlier, the importance of validation, some weeks back.

What’s particularly frustrating about this is that, after downtown Santa Monica, and the ocean strip between it and Venice, and maybe Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Westwood is probably the most pedestrianized area on the westside of Los Angeles. The UCLA campus anchors it on the north. Many of the students live in low and medium rise buildings within walking distance to the west and southwest of the school. The western end of the so-called Condo Canyon strip along Wilshire Boulevard stops just to the southeast.

There is lots of built-in density in the area, in other words, which should provide a natural pedestrian constituency to Westwood. Yet cars still rule. Aside from a couple scrambled pedestrian crossings up nearer to the campus, traffic lights are geared to car travel. zeegogglesYou could stand for minutes waiting at even the non-busiest of side streets, vainly pressing the walk signal. Zee button! It does nuss-ing!! At other spots, the pedestrian crossing is awkward, unnecessarily two-stage. Another is simply fucking dangerous.

Why?

This entire section of Westwood would be perfect for some tactical urbanism. Close streets to car traffic here, reduce it to a single lane there. Encourage more restaurant patio life which is surprisingly sparse, given the generally agreeable climate.

The truth is, it couldn’t hurt Westwood. While memory shouldn’t be considered reliable, at least not mine, at least not mine contemplating over 20 years, I do remember a much livelier neighbourhood back when I lived here in the early-90s. More restaurants and bars. Retail didn’t feel as, I don’t know, shopworn and trinkety. I mean, even further back in the day, Westwood was the place for big Hollywood premieres. westwoodA couple of those theatres remain in place, carrying the pedigree if not the status they once did.

It’s not that Westwood is devoid of street life. While not exactly bustling, there are people on foot, getting to the places they’re going. There’s just no sense of lingering. No just hanging out. No Gehl-ing.

Westwood seems like a perfect place to try and instill a little of that sensibility in Los Angeles.

There is a weekly farmer’s market on one of the side streets. Further down Westwood Boulevard, south of Wilshire, a block was cordoned off from cars last Sunday, for the Persian New Year celebration, Nowruz, in the area of the city known as Tehrangeles, for the Iranian population that settled there. People flocked to the event, once they could find a parking spot on a nearby sidestreet.

In fact, the whole strip of Westwood Boulevard, from Santa Monica Boulevard north, which, to these eyes, is far too wide already for the amount of traffic it accommodates, could be scaled back on its auto primacy, and reconfigured in a more equitable way. Remove a couple car lanes. westwoodblvdInstall an actual bike lane instead of the painted lines that are more notable for their disregard than actual use. Widen the sidewalks. Green it up. Actually try embracing the boulevard in Westwood Boulevard.

An uphill battle in most cities, even those less entrenched in a car culture, this would be the steepest of inclines here. Those who might benefit and enjoy it most, UCLA students, have their own public commons on campus, although it’s surprisingly small and contained, competing as it has to for space with the various parking lots. I guess Westwood as it stands serves their needs as much as it has to, with its various grocery stores, drug stores, quick eats joints and bars.

And much of the rest of the surrounding community, living in some of the most expensive real estate in the country, Brentwood, Bel Air, Beverly Hills adjacent, has shown open hostility to any sort of suggestion that would get in the way of their cars. tuscanyA dedicated rush hour bus lane along the Condo Canyon section of Wilshire. Bike lanes on Westwood.

I guess you don’t buy your expensive automobiles in order to leave them parked in your laneway while you walk over to do some shopping or grab a bite to eat. There are parking spots at Trader Joe’s to fight over and bitch about the lack of, dammit! If people want to stroll somewhere to grab a bottle of good, inexpensive wine, can’t they just go to Tuscany like everybody else?

in vainly submitted by Cityslikr