What would it take to rapidly and fundamentally transform LA into a walk/bike/transit haven?

That’s the question I’ve been asking myself for a few years now. I’m a native Angelino. I love this city, it’s diversity, it’s art scene, its weather, it’s multitude of activities.

But LA has a huge livability and sustainability problem: the car

Here are some of the reasons why cars are terrible, especially in Los Angeles:

  • Traffic: “The typical driver” in LA sits in 104 hours of traffic each year (Source)
  • Emotional toll: “…if you can cut an hourlong commute each way out of your life, it’s the [happiness] equivalent of making up an extra $40,000 a year…” (Source)
  • Health toll: “Shortening your commute by 20 minutes might lower your risk of neck and back pain by 14%, obesity by 20%, and heart attack by 300%” (Source)
  • Deadly: In the US, there are over 2,500 car crash deaths per month. That’s almost the equivalent of a 9/11 type tragedy happening EVERY MONTH (Source)
  • Pollution: Air Pollution Kills More Than 5 Million People Around the World Every Year (Source)
  • Unhealthy Cities: Cars are terrible for cities and neighborhoods (Source)
  • Terrible Space Efficiency: Least space efficient mode of transport
  • Terrible Energy Efficiency: Lease energy efficient mode of transport

 

WHY LOS ANGELES?

Because we live here!

A walk/bike/transit oriented LA would make our city even more amazing for ourselves and our kids!

  • Safer and more accessible: We would be able to move around freely without a car, without endangering our lives, or feeling like a second class citizen. We would dramatically open up the city to the elderly, children, and folks with disabilities who are often reliant on others to ferry them around in cars.
  • Stronger, healthier: We would create stronger, healthier citizens who walk and bike on a daily basis. We would transform communities and neighborhoods which are currently at the mercy of of dangerously fast, loud, polluting, and space consuming metal boxes. People would see each other’s faces for once, neighbors would become more neighborly, and so on.
  • Greener, more sustainable: We would dramatically improve our air quality and decrease our city’s carbon footprint.
  • Wealthier: We would keep much more of our wealth from leaving LA. When we spend money on cars, for the most part that money leaves the city because buying and using a car funds corporations, oil companies, and corrupt governments. In addition to that, walkable/bikable streets have been shown to generate much more revenue for local businesses than car-centric streets. So creating a walkable/bikable city would allow us to keep much more of our money circulating in Los Angeles by having more money to spend because of less car spending and by spending more at local businesses because of more time spent walking instead of zooming by shops. This virtuous cycle would significantly boost LA’s economy.
  • Calmer, less stressful: We would eliminate traffic. That alone would be worth it! And we would also dramatically reduced road noise.

To live up to our legacy as a city of dreamers and inventors

Dreaming, creating, and even exploring new worlds is kind of our thing: From JPL whose day job it is to literally explore new planets, to George Lucas who took us to a galaxy far, far away, to Walt Disney who not only created one of the most influential companies in history through his stories, but who imagined and designed the city of tomorrow, EPCOT.

To boost our sorely woeful biking efforts

LA’s meager steps towards becoming a better, healthier, greener walkable/bikable city is painful to watch. Any attempts in a positive direction are always overshadowed by our automobile addiction. With all the talk of decreasing car deaths, decreasing pollution, increasing public transportation ridership, our transportation budgets tell a completely different, sad story. The car still dominates city planning priorities and demands most of our dollars.

To inspire the world

Los Angeles is ground zero in the global effort to cure humanity’s devastating car addiction. Here’s why:

  • If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere: Our city is literally designed around cars. Our roads are large and our city is sprawling. If we can make a radical change here, no politician, city planner, or curmudgeon in any other city could ever use the tired old line “it can never happen here.”
  • We would be the ultimate case study for figuring out how to crack the car culture: LA Car culture is huge. Cracking it here would give the world invaluable guidance about how to crack it elsewhere.
  • Our cultural influence is international and momentous: From Hollywood, actors, movies, TV shows, tastemakers, Snapchat, YouTube stars, the world watches LA. They live our culture. This influence is only set to increase in the next decade as we decide how to react to new transportation technologies as well as prepare for the Olympics.

WHY RAPID AND FUNDAMENTAL?

Walk/bike/transit is at a watershed moment

Biking/walking/transit is in the spotlight with a big worldwide push for cleaner, greener, and healthier cities and communities. It has momentum even in the notoriously car-centric LA:

  • Measure M: We voted for a huge new expansion of our public transportation lines with the passage of Measure M.
  • Measure M acceleration: With the Olympics being hosted here, these plans are looking to be accelerated.
  • Bike sharing: Metro launched an awesome bike sharing network and they continue to expand.
  • Growth of private bike/scooter/e-wheel companies: Southern California has seen the birth of a host of new bike/scooter/e-wheel companies over the past few years such as URB-E, Bird, Sondors, OneWheel, OjO, Lithium Cycles, Pure Cycles, and so on!

But these developments are still new and fragile

For the most part, efforts at creating walkable and bikable cities are new and susceptible to shifting politcal winds. Especially here in LA, politicians can easily get away with killing any bike infrastructure efforts with almost any excuse.

Here’s a sad example: the excuse that bike lanes are too much of a liability! Politicians in LA are now using their own incompetently designed bike infrastructure as an excuse for potential bike accidents. This is Trump level irrationality!

And we have the looming threat of a real carmaggeddon approaching

Although the walk/bike/transit is having a bit of a moment under the spotlight, there doesn’t seem to be the massive worldwide groundswell of support required to truly de-car our cities and planet and achieve this walkable/bikable future.

In fact, it feels like most people are simply sitting back and waiting for technology, self-driving cars, and Elon Musk to solve all our problems. Most worryingly, too many cities themselves seem to be simply assuming that personal mobility will inevitably be self-driving car-centric. Hardly a day goes by without reading such headlines: How 53 Cities Are Preparing For Autonoumous Vehicles

We should be deeply worried about what self driving cars will do to city health, personal wellbeing of citizens, burgeoning biking infrastructure, transportation efficiency, cost of transportation and infrastructure, global warming, etc, etc.

This alarming possibility is particularly salient in Los Angeles.

  • While Metro lines are increasing, ridership has been declining for several years now.
  • While we have ambitious LA2035 plans, there seems to be no serious, wide-scale adoption of walk/bike/trasit due to severe lack of serious efforts to cut down on car usage, other than in small pockets.
  • Elon Musk seems to be doubling down on cars in LA with Tesla and the Boring Company.
  • Because our entire city is built around cars, self-driving cars will utterly dominate the landscape in a few short years if the status quo continues. Think your local street feels like a freeway now? Wait till cars become as convenient to use as elevator buttons (one of Elon Musk’s favorite examples) resulting in a dramatically increase in vehicle mobility. In such a future, we will bid farewell to the lofty LA2035 goals, which are now simply words on paper.

So we need to act rapidly and swiftly to reclaim the mindshare of politicians and the public for better, healthier, more enjoyable, sustainable cities, and reclaim as much street as we can back from cars for human beings, not machines, before it’s too late.

Read Part Two of this series for ways to get this transformation started!