Though Los Angeles is the land of big industry, splashy projects, and outsized personalities, the images that lingered the most from a visit last month are the smaller details, more easily overlooked. The city of LA would rank 18th in the world compared against national GDPs (nominal 2013), and to see it from the air from the window of an approaching jetliner is to grasp its scale. But now when you look up close, small-scale mechanisms are becoming more apparent. They help punctuate the city’s disparate parts, suggesting that change will be ushered in through more nuanced and complementary ways.
Reclaimed pedestrian spaces attached to the redesign of major corridors, complete with dedicated bus lanes, make transit choices more legible. LA’s fabled car-oriented arterials are now also the domain of the frequent LA Rapid bus lines, and the increasingly bustling downtown is the province of LA DOT’s DASH service, with a bus rarely more than a few minutes away. And beyond the city limits, operators like the Big Blue Bus in Santa Monica and Long Beach Transit and Foothills Transit are expansionary operators. (TransitCenter staff partook in all of these options during a recent visit, of course.)
In downtown LA, new street design distinguished Broadway Boulevard from Spring Street, its paralleling neighbor. Walking down one street is now indisputably different from walking on the other, erasing memories of blurry expeditions on look-alike streets. Other neighborhoods will also experience this game-changer since Mayor Eric Garcetti will be continuing this work through the Great Streets program.
Parklets have sprouted, offering additional seating and exercycles, planting a sense of place and will contribute to the creation of a formal public space program. But here’s no surprise: these street redesigns and safety improvements have lured people back to a once-desolate downtown, and the sidewalks of one of LA’s core districts are now abundant with pedestrians.
The fact that these small-scale changes have popped up in the public realm and are being woven into the practices of the city indicates a new direction for the region after Measure R, the county-wide ballot measure that raised funding dedicated to transit investments. (The LA region then accelerated that investment so that 30 years worth of transit would be implemented within 10.) That new direction will provide and strengthen connections to transit, known as the first and last mile challenge.
First and last mile issues in a transit trip may be literally and figuratively on the margins of big infrastructure projects. But if the stations on LA’s rapidly expanding transit network are difficult to find and reach, LA’s huge transit investments won’t fulfill their potential. Resolutions to those challenges will augur success or failure.
LA’s transit planning leadership already recognizes this challenge. A good first sign is that LA Metro complemented the forthcoming transit investments with its recently published First and Last Mile Strategic Plan. California is also leading the United States with its climate change-motivated integrated land use and transportation policies. With the passage of AB32, California’s climate change act, and SB375, California’s regional land use and transportation planning mandate, the state has enacted policies that give regional authorities the instruments and muscle to compel a change in development and planning practices and advance the shift to more sustainable urbanism.
The smaller public space projects and the statewide policy frameworks speak to the region’s potential. By addressing the gap, the region would demonstrate that the City of the Automobile can be re-invented as the City of All Mobility. Member organizations in the Measure R coalition have newfound energy to make good on these leading-edge policies. As they noted themselves, policies are only as good as implementation. That’s why the smaller threads that weave these big projects into a coherent whole will become ever more critical. This is an exciting new phase for LA’s evolution and we’re thrilled to be a part of it, working with a coalition that will make LA’s transit more accessible to more people throughout the city and region.
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