John Dankosky, host, September 20, 2013
(See website to listen to the broadcast.)
Commuters in Los Angeles spend about 60 hours a year stuck in
traffic. In D.C., San Francisco, New York and a lot of other American
cities, it's not much different. Now, that is a lot of time to catch up
on your SCIENCE FRIDAY podcasts, of course, but wouldn't you rather be
home already, out of the gridlock? As the congestion gets worse and
worse, cities are turning to mass transit. But how do you transform a
city built for cars into one where commuting by bus and train is just as
That's what we're going to be talking about this hour:
bringing mass transit to your city. Have you already switched from
morning drive to metro ride? Give us a call. Tell us what's happening
where you live: 1-800-989-8255, 1-800-989-TALK. Yonah Freemark is an
associate at the Metropolitan Planning Council in Chicago. He's also the
writer of the Transport Politic blog. He joins us from WBEZ. Welcome to
SCIENCE FRIDAY, Mr. Freemark.
YONAH FREEMARK: Thanks for having me.
Stefanos Polyzoides is a founding member of the Congress for the New
Urbanism. He's also an architect at Moule and Polyzoides in Pasadena,
California, and he joins us from KPCC today. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.
STEFANOS POLYZOIDES: Thank you, John.
And Ian Carlton's a doctoral candidate in city and regional planning at
UC Berkeley. He was also an expert consultant on the mayor's Transit
Oriented Development Cabinet in L.A. Welcome, Ian Carlton.
IAN CARLTON: Pleasure to join you.
We're going to start with you, Yonah Freemark. And the big buzzword
when we talk about mass transit planning today is transit-oriented
development. Can you explain what it is?
FREEMARK: Yeah, the
general idea behind transit-oriented development - which we sometimes
call TOD - is that we have these assets. We have these built assets in
the form of frequently running rail and bus lines in many of the cities
around the country, and some cities like Los Angeles are building more
lines. But in order to attract people onto those systems, we have to
create new developments, new housing and offices and retail spaces that
are located right around the stations, so that people have an incentive
to walk to the transit lines and take them every day. And that's what we
call transit-oriented development.
DANKOSKY: Now, when we come
back from a break, we're going to talk more about how TOD,
transit-oriented development, is happening in L.A. Of course, you can
join us: 1-800-989-8255 here on SCIENCE FRIDAY.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DANKOSKY: This is SCIENCE FRIDAY, from NPR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
This is SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm John Dankosky. We're talking this hour
about adding mass transit to urban areas like L.A. What's the best way
to do it, and how do you actually get people to ride it? If you want to
join us: 1-800-989-8255, 1-800-989-TALK. We're joined by Yonah Freemark,
Stefanos Polyzoides and Ian Carlton. Stefanos, you designed the Delmar
Gold Line Station in Pasadena, California, what many people consider to
be the prime example of the transit-oriented development we were talking
about just before our break. Tell us a bit more about what this station
POLYZOIDES: It is a project that is located just south of
the center of Old Pasadena. It involves a train station on the Gold
Line, and its program is 347 units of housing, and about 15,000 square
feet of retail. And underneath it, there are approximately 1,200 cars,
cars for the residents, cars for commuters who come to this point from
other places in the region, and also cars for people who want to reach
Old Pasadena and park there on a park-once basis.
it's interesting. There are spaces for all these cars. I thought the
whole idea behind transit-oriented development is we were going to try
to eliminate the cars. Why is there so much parking there?
Well, because this is one of the prime nodes for parking in Old
Pasadena. But the idea of transit-oriented development is not to
eliminate parking. It's to seriously reduce it, so that, for instance, a
family could live in a location like this, in a building like this and
have a choice of having or not having a car. And if they would use a car
to commute to a location which is not accessible by rail, somebody in
their family might be able to use it to get, say, to downtown or to some
other place it is.
And, of course, evenings and weekends, they could walk to all kinds of destinations in the immediate commercial districts.
Yonah Freemark, could you pick up on that a little bit, this idea of
how cars integrate into transit-oriented development? It's not really
about eliminating the car, but certainly it's about giving people other
options to get around, mass transit options that aren't just hopping in
your car all the time.
FREEMARK: Right. I think, at heart, the
idea behind transit-oriented development is that we're giving people
another choice. Effectively, in most of U.S. developments since the
1950s, we've built all these suburban areas and often even urban areas
with no access to strong mass transit options. In other words, people
have to drive to be able to get around. With TOD, we're talking about
creating communities where it's easy to walk around, and therefore easy
to jump on the train or bus that's available frequently into and out of
DANKOSKY: Ian Carlton, now, you worked on the
transit report for former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. What was the
take-home idea there? Do you need this sort of development that is being
built in Pasadena around transit to actually make this successful, in
CARLTON: Well, to make transit successful for the
transit agency, they need riders for the city. They need to achieve the
vision that they hope to see. And with the city of L.A., we stepped away
from the concept of transit-oriented development and began to think
more about transit orientation more broadly. We produced a list of 200
tactics that the city could begin to implement to bring about more
transit orientation in their city. And we found that only about 10
percent of them are related to new development.
Only 30 percent
of the tactics that the city of L.A. suggested that we found in their
own policies, that we found in best-practice case studies from around
the world, only 30 percent of those were related to the physical
planning and the planning department within the city of L.A., which is
sort of the world that Stefanos lives in, and building new buildings.
Are developers resistant to building in certain places? Are they
somewhat resistant, do you think Ian, to the idea of building around a
brand new train station, say?
CARLTON: Absolutely not.
Developers are resistant to losing money. And I would say if they can
make money building around transit, they certainly will. I think what we
face in the United States is that we are building transit for many
reasons. And building TOD, or building new buildings around transit, is
but one of many objectives that we have for building our transit
Therefore, we often locate our transit stations in
places that are already built up, that are low-income neighborhoods
where it's difficult to make a project pencil. A developer might lose
money if they were to build something there. We even build our transit
along freight rail lines, and for good reason. It's inexpensive long,
linear corridors that are available in built-up cities. But those aren't
the best places for a developer to come in and make money. So they may
be reluctant to do so.
Therefore, we've focused a lot of our
energy on subsidizing development and focusing our energy on putting
affordable housing - which is subsidized development - near these
transit nodes, so that those citizens can be served by this amenity of
DANKOSKY: Stefanos, of course, L.A. is well-known for
its car culture, but it has lots of small urban centers. It's actually a
place that's very, very ripe for connecting with transit, right?
I think the beginning of the urbanization of Southern California was
based on the Transcontinental Railroad, so that in Los Angeles County,
where we have five million people living in the core of a region, there
are 88 different cities, each one of them with its own center, with its
own downtown, in effect. So that in the first 30 or 40 years of the 20th
century, and as the city was evolving, transit was the key driver
behind this growth. The centers were connected with each other, and
people had remarkable choices moving from neighborhood to neighborhood,
and from neighborhoods to districts and town centers.
freeway phenomenon is really a phenomenon of the second half of the 20th
century to overlay the structure of the transit system. And it is a
well-known fact that the transit system was destroyed in the 1960s, as
the freeway system was being built, to the extent that up to about 20
years ago, the region - the Los Angeles region - was entirely dependent
of the car, which is currently another case, of course, because so much
more rail is being built.
DANKOSKY: What do you think about
cities that are truly sprawling right now in America, places like
Atlanta or Houston or Phoenix? Places that have sprawled in a much
different way than L.A. has?
POLYZOIDES: It would be much more
difficult to operate in a similar way there than it is in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles, of course, has also the outer suburbs in the outer
counties, where the same problem is very much in evidence. In places
like that, introducing TOD as a strategy of augmenting existing centers,
one would have to introduce it as a strategy of off-generating the
centers from scratch at, of course, various densities, because TODs
don't operate at one density only. They are fit to their context in
terms of program.
But nonetheless, it is much easier to
introduce a complex urban setting in a place where the ingredients of
urbanism have been in evidence for decades. It's much more difficult to
do it in a suburban setting, where one has to regenerate the setting in
DANKOSKY: We're talking about big ideas in mass
transit here on SCIENCE FRIDAY today. Maya - or Maya - is calling from
Portland. Hi, there. You're on SCIENCE FRIDAY.
DANKOSKY: You're on the air. Go ahead.
Oh, hi. I was just going to say that Portland has a really dense
transit system, and it's partly because of what you were talking about
earlier, the density in Portland. And not only that, but we've got a
really well-integrated biking system. So you can get anywhere within an
hour between the buses and the bikes. And we have separate maps for both
the transit system and the biking system. And not only that, but we
prioritize the bikes and the pedestrians over the cars.
more and more people have been moving to Portland over the last few
years, the highway system just isn't built to accommodate that. So more
and more people are turning to transit.
DANKOSKY: This is
interesting, and thanks for your phone call. Yonah Freemark, this is
something we've heard for years and years about Portland, about the
great public transit system. And our caller is essentially saying,
because so many people are riding the rails and getting around by bike,
the highway system's sort of falling apart, maybe. And that means more
people are riding transit.
FREEMARK: Well, I think Portland has
been seen nationally as a pretty good example. There
are other places
that have invested tremendously in new transit lines and seen some
commiserate new development. I mean, you can look at Arlington in
Virginia, Cambridge in Massachusetts, Charlotte, North Carolina, and
even Phoenix and Houston have seen some considerable new investment in
projects built by the market around transit areas. Now Portland has been
particularly interesting because they've worked so hard to encourage
biking and walking. But Portland interestingly, has not been as
successful in changing the regional mode share towards transit. Which is
to say that the percentage of people commuting to work by transit in
Portland has not increased nearly as much as it has in places like
Arlington or Cambridge, that I mentioned before. And one reason for that
is that more people are biking and walking, so they're not taking the
train and they're not taking a car. But another reason is that Arlington
and Cambridge have done a great job attracting jobs into areas right by
transit and ultimately jobs are really the generator for, you know,
people deciding to take the train or the bus to work.
What about the idea of actually taking out highways? Is this something
that city planners Yonah, are thinking about to encourage more transit,
you just get rid of the cars altogether?
FREEMARK: Well, the
goal in any sort of city is not to say to people, you know, we don't
want you to drive. It's more like we want to give you the option to take
the train or bus, and we want to make it easier for you to walk or
bike. Now there have been plenty of cities across the country that seen
big highways built especially a longer waterfronts. Portland is one
example, but also San Francisco, Milwaukee and other cities like that.
Those highways that were built along the waterfront destroyed the beauty
of those cities and made it more difficult in those places to walk and
bike around, and to even take transit. So those cities actually went
ahead and tore down their freeways. They decided not to reconstruct
them. They decided to create new parks in the spaces that formerly been
used by highways. And they've created a better living environment for
the people who live there. And in fact, those cities have actually seen
an increase in the people who choose to walk around and bike and take
DANKOSKY: Hm. Now, Ian Carleton, you've said in the
past that L.A., for instance, is a place that does actually have lots of
public transit. But the key is to actually get people to use it. So how
do you get people to decide, I want to take the bus or I want to take
the train today?
CARLTON: Well, certainly we're talking about
one strategy, which is to build your city around the transit system. But
L.A. has many opportunities and actually, they're doing it now. They
are the third largest transit system in the United States by ridership.
We just don't think of them as a rail city, but they're running up a bus
system that's, you know, incredible. And people in L.A. are just first
of all, unaware of the transit that exists and bringing about that
awareness is very important.
The next thing is making it
attractive. And it's all about relative attractiveness, as Yonah was
mentioning. It's more about getting people can attractive option
relative to driving their car. And making transit attractive can be
things such as making it safer to walk to and from, making the frequency
of transit faster or more frequent. Therefore, maybe you wait less at a
station and you wait less when you transfer between a bus and a train.
There are other things that can really level the playing field in Los
Angeles, and when I say level the playing field, level the playing
field between cars and transit, so that when someone is making a
decision they feel like they actually have a choice. And you can charge
people for parking. You could put in more shuttles. L.A. has a great
system of DASH shuttles that are typically around the employment centers
and bringing people to and from transit, but expanding those shuttle
systems so that you can go two miles on a shuttle from your home to a
transit system. There are a lot of ways. And, as I said, you know, of
the tactics that we found in L.A., 90 percent of them were not related
to development. They were these other tactics that one could take to
bring about more ridership and more transit orientation.
DANKOSKY: I'm John Dankosky and this is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR.
Ian, of course, one of the things though, is we've seen this all around
the country. It seems as though with business commuters, trains are
more attractive for some reason than buses. Do you find this to be true?
Is there some way to make the bus, I don't know, sexier so people would
get on it?
CARLTON: Well, there's been considerable attention
paid to a new form of bus called bus rapid transit, one where you put in
stations where you brand the bus, you create a line, so to speak, so
that it shows up on your map. L.A. has done this with the Orange line.
Other cities are pursuing this. And that idea of making a bus more like
train is one way of doing it. But I think that we may be facing just a
fundamental perception issue, where there are a lot of people who are
incentivized to make trains more attractive than buses. For instance,
those people who build these very expensive infrastructure projects.
we have a history in the United States - which is incredibly
unfortunate -where civil rights played out - our changes in civil rights
as a person from the Southeast, I've seen this play out in our culture
in the Southeast, where buses are something that have become associated
with that civil rights movement and we still hold onto these negative
opinions that are race-based, class-based about buses and we really need
to move past that for buses to be an attractive option.
DANKOSKY: Steve is on the line from Orlando, Florida. Hi there, Steve. Go ahead.
STEVE: Good afternoon. Thanks for taking my call.
Yes. I'm in Orlando, Florida, which is considered the Los Angeles of
the East. And having grown up in the Los Angeles area, I'm very familiar
with what's going on there. Orlando is a little bit behind the curve as
far as transportation planning is concerned. But we do have something
that is being implemented right now, it'll be operational next May, and
that's a system called the SunRail, in which commuters will have the
option of taking on regular train tracks, park their car at
strategically located train stations and commute by this SunRail train.
It was demonstrated a couple of weeks ago here in Orlando and everybody
was impressed. I was impressed. And even though we don't have the best
bus system in the world, it's better than nothing. And yet, all these
people take it, it's a good system, in my opinion, it could be better.
But the SunRail system I think is going to be the forerunner of
something that's going to make it even better by expanding into a city
that is traditionally noted as a car culture city. And I think that it's
just one step in a series of steps that we need to take nationally. I
liked the comment of a lady from Portland when she said that they have
their system in place and that it's, it works. People like it and
they're using it.
DANKOSKY: Well, and hopefully, people will
start using it. I've not heard Orlando refer to as the Los Angeles of
the East before, Steve.
STEVE: Well, we've
got Universal Studios, MGM is here. The Disney studios are here and
that's why and that's why they call it that.
you go. And a little bit of a change in car culture perhaps, as well.
Steve, thank you very much for your phone call.
We've got to
take a break. When we come back, lots more on urbanization, mass
transit, transit-oriented development. Please stay with us.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
This is SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm John Dankosky. We're talking this hour
about mass transit and how to build it in car centric cities, like L.A.
in other places with my guest. Yonah Freemark is an associate at the
Metropolitan Planning Council in Chicago. He's also the writer of the
Transport Politic blog. Stefanos Polyzoides is a founding member of the
Congress for the New Urbanism. He's also an architect in Pasadena,
California. And Ian Carlton is a doctoral candidate in city and regional
planning at UC Berkeley, an expert consultant on the mayor's
Transit-Oriented Development Cabinetin Los Angeles. You can join us at
one 800-989-8255 or one 800-989-TALK.
So Stefanos, how do you
think we can make a city more pedestrian and more bike friendly, like we
were hearing from our friend in Portland?
POLYZOIDES: Well, I
think that the possibility of building around stations is part of the
story. It seems to me that in a lot of places transitory-oriented
development implemented as a building or two or three. And the most
important thing to think about is how to build in a manner that is
neighborhood-based, that actually affects a larger number of places
beyond the immediate station in such ways that people can walk to the
station, can bike to the station and can, and perhaps, be brought to the
station by some form of vehicle in use among a variety of people. And
it is really through this process of focusing on particular places and
attending to the larger picture - mix of uses, the variety of uses, the
compactness of uses around walkable space, and the design of buildings
in a way that generate not only buildings themselves, but also the
spaces between them that attract people than to live in this new nodes
and regenerate the life of not only suburban settings, but also urban
settings indeed, of all possible settings, where growth can happen in
cities, avoiding the conflict with established neighborhoods, which was
very much the parted partner of development in the United States in the
'60s and '70s and '80s, to major cities in conflict and NIMBYism.
Ian Carlton, it's all those other things that Stefanos was talking
about that I think are important for us to talk about here. It's not
just about where you live and where you work and getting between those
two places. But it's where you shop, whether or not you can get to the
grocery store, do all the other things in your life. Is that part of how
this transit-oriented development needs to grow around the country,
where you actually have all the things right at your fingertips, maybe
within walking distance?
CARLTON: Certainly. And research has
showed that there are places, new urbanist places - like Stefanos
designs - that do not have transit that still allow people to walk and
bike and opt not to drive. Building our cities in that way is certainly a
positive thing. But we can also retrofit, so to speak, our existing
environments. We can provide sidewalks. We can provide safer streets,
lower speed limits. We can put some paint on the ground and build out
crosswalks. And all of these things are critical to making livable
environments. Transit is just one of those tools that can help bring
about a more livable environment. So I certainly believe that there are
many other factors that we should be looking at as we consider transit
DANKOSKY: Oh, let's go to Phillip. Phillip is calling from Oakland California. Hi, there. You're on SCIENCE FRIDAY.
Hi. Thanks so much for taking my call. One of the I think the major
difficulties I have with how this critical mass of people using transit
that will make it so that the money will be there and people will use
it, is the interstitial connection between cities and those nodes.
Because people, when they want to go from their town to visit a cousin
in an adjacent town, inevitably need to have a car or rent a car. So one
of the thoughts that I've had is that in the '50s, we put in the
interstate freeway system. Those connect all the cities, most of the
major cities and almost all the small cities in the United States. This
has an interstitial piece of real estate that is free to place mass
transit that would connect it everywhere. And as soon as people can go,
hey, I want to go from San Francisco to L.A., or I want to go to
Stockton, I can go to wherever the nearest interstate is, get on
something and go there. As soon as that frequency occurs, the
convenience, the necessity of having a car will start to go away.
I just wondered if anybody has been approaching this. I mean, some of
the things you could do is you could design - in fact, I've worked on
this myself. You could design systems where the gravitational force of
the mass transit where it's, you know, freeway systems were set to about
70 to 80 miles an hour. If you wanted to go 120 or so, you would rotate
the rail system itself in the tracks, so that force of gravity would be
perpendicular to your body's spine.
DANKOSKY: Well, I've -
that is one that I've not actually heard about. Something, Yonah
Freemark - thank you very much for the phone call. Something I have
heard about, Yonah, is using these interstate systems. And in building
all these rights of way, how much are we looking into doing this right
FREEMARK: Well, I think there are two ways of thinking
about this. One is whether or not we want to invest in improving the
transportation links between our cities, and I think certainly the
answer to that must be yes. But, unfortunately, we've seen considerable
opposition to making those kind of investments from, quite honestly, the
Republican Party over the past four years.
President Obama has
been a big advocate of increased investment in inner-city rail, some of
which might go on corridors that parallel interstate highways, but
Republicans have gone out of their way to make that impossible. Now,
when it comes to using interstate highways for transportation within
metropolitan areas, in general, I think we should steer away from that,
because when you think about it, nobody wants to get off at a station
that's located in the middle of a highway, and the reasons for that are
You don't want to be standing in the middle of a
highway waiting for a train. You don't want to be walking over a bridge
on top of a highway to get to that train. And if you want to increase
real development around stations, you probably don't want to build the
corridors in the middle of the highway.
DANKOSKY: So, Stefanos,
last thing for you: These interstate highways that we're talking about
that gave rise to the car culture, gave rise to all of this suburban
sprawl, one of the things that's happened over the course of the last 50
years or so is a lot of people like these suburbs. If, in a push for
more density, how do we change people's minds enough to get them to want
to buy in dense urban hubs if they've got their little backyard and
everything that they like already?
POLYZOIDES: I don't think
transit-oriented development is a one-shoe-fits-all recipe. In fact,
where trams and trains and heavy rails stop - because there are all
kinds of different modes that one can consider when thinking about
transit-oriented development. Where they stop, there is always a
context. Sometimes this context is a very dense urban center, like in
downtown Los Angeles. Sometimes there it is regional subsidy centers,
like in Pasadena. Sometimes they stop in neighborhoods, and some - that
are urban and relatively dense. And sometimes they stop in neighborhoods
that are not dense at all. And I think the idea of developing these
nodes, developing them at the general quality and character of what is
there in place, and changing them marginally in such a way so that they
are not - they're not perceived as being of a kind that doesn't fit
their current condition in play.
So that people living in those
other suburbs or in the center cities can make appropriate choices and
choose to use the train, because their way of life is fully accommodated
by not only the single two or three or four buildings around the
station, but their neighborhoods as a whole, wherever these
neighborhoods may be.
DANKOSKY: Stefanos Polyzoides is a
founding member of the Congress for the New Urbanism. He's also an
architect at Moule and Polyzoides in Pasadena, California. Thank you so
much for joining us.
POLYZOIDES: Thank you for having me, John, very much.
Thank you also to Yonah Freemark, an associate at the Metropolitan
Planning Council in Chicago. He's also the writer of the Transport
Politic Blog. Thank you, Yonah.
And thanks to Ian Carleton, a doctoral candidate in City and Regional
Planning at UC Berkley and an expert consultant on the mayor's Transit
Oriented Development Cabinet in L.A. Thank you, Ian.
CARLTON: Thank you, John.