March 31, 2015
TRANSIT TALK-"Cars don't shop" and "If you want a better city, build bike lanes. It's an economic development strategy."
were two of the takeaways from last night at the Hammer Museum in
transit-friendly Westwood. The evening at the Hammer's Billy Wilder
Theater featured former New York City Department of Transportation
(NYCDOT) Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and Los Angeles Department of
Transportation's (LADOT's) new General Manager Seleta Reynolds.
a lively conversation, the two transportation leaders spent the night
riffing on how the streets and public spaces revolution happened in New
York and elsewhere and what might be in store for Los Angeles on
For those of us who care about this stuff, last night was Hammer Time for
LA's streets. But as anyone who has been in Los Angeles for more than a
New York minute knows, Reynolds has her work cut out for her in
transforming Los Angeles into a city of complete streets, or Great Streets,
as LA is calling them. Complete streets are safe streets amenable to
pedestrians, bikers and transit riders as well as drivers.
Thankfully, a lot of the groundwork laid by Sadik-Khan and others will help Angelenos envision the possibilities.
chemistry between these two well-regarded transportation chiefs is
strong and last night both speakers deftly shared their visions for
their respective cities. They also shared a good deal about the
transportation myths that haunt us in pushing the transportation status
things rolling describing the widespread resistance she encountered in
New York. In sum, the myth is that, "All of those projects you are
talking about will just make traffic worse." Or, as Reynolds put it,
"What idiot came up with this plan?"
as Sadik-Khan explained, the reality is, "It's not the end of days."
And during the evening she repeatedly drove home the need for data
because, "In the absence of data, anecdotes rule."
Those new metrics will need to look beyond car counts and traffic
speeds to pedestrian and bike improvements, safer crosswalks and more
business for shops along the street. Residential and commercial rents
and gentrification may be other meaningful metrics as an audience
member, a former downtown resident who can't afford to live there
anymore, pointed out.
a city where affordable housing presents one of our biggest challenges,
achieving more complete streets without pricing out the working and
middle class will be a challenge. Unless, as LA's Deputy Mayor for
Budget & Innovation Rick Cole said last month in The Planning Report "...revitalization was so widespread across Los Angeles that attractive neighborhoods were not a scarce commodity?
other words, what if the supply of attractive areas was increased to
meet the demand? Second, what if rising wages and business activity
allowed existing residents and local businesses to prosper in an
improving neighborhood? Targeting both these missing factors could
significantly reduce displacement."
like the sound of that. I also like what Reynolds had to say about her
vision that different streets play different roles in the city. Talking
about San Francisco from which she hails most recently, Reynolds
described how Valencia in the Mission is now a bike boulevard with
street lights timed for bikers, while Mission is a transit-focused
street thanks to its BART stations. Given the size of LA and its
diversity, LADOT can experiment with different strategies for different
areas as it has done on Broadway in downtown LA.
the Hammer, Sadik-Khan underscored that there is now a totally
different competition between cities for which ones can be most
favorable to "people who walk and people who bike." Reynolds meanwhile
spoke of the way small businesses tend to oppose changes even though
"businesses are exceptionally poor judges of who shops at their stores."
Citing research on Polk Street in San Francisco, Reynolds noted that
some 80 percent of shoppers didn't drive to the area, walking and taking
transit instead. Or as Sadik-Khan remarked, "Cars don't shop. Cars are
is a huge body of evidence that transit riders and pedestrians spend
more than those who drive to their shopping destination. Wonk alert:
see Transport for London for data on that city.
In the Q and A, Reynolds got a hard question from an audience member who pushed her on shortcomings of the LA bus system.
Wilshire which will someday soon see the ribbon cutting on the Metro
720 Rapid bus only lane, the audience member was right to express
disappointment with our failure to create a meaningful bus rapid transit (BRT) line
because of the cutouts through Beverly HIlls, the Condo Canyon and
Santa Monica. Now that the bus lane has had its soft opening, the city
also needs to ticket and tow drivers who flaunt the no parking signs.
answer included comments about the need to tell the story of bus rapid
transit in language that ensures the city embraces the Wilshire project
as well as planned BRT lines along Vermont and elsewhere.
is cause for optimism about what lies ahead for Los Angeles. But we
should also heed the leaders' reflections on the transportation myths
that will stand in our way. As we have already seen in
the pushback over Figueroa downtown, old myths die hard.
LA will need to show with data, that LADOT's new approaches make sense.
in the conversation, Sadik-Khan quoted Gil Peñalosa, one of the heros
of the complete streets movement and the former Commissioner of Parks,
Sports and Recreation in Bogotá, Colombia: Scientists look at the health
of our rivers by counting the number of fish in a stream. We should
look at the health of our cities by counting the number of women and
children in our bike lanes.
That's sound advice coming from the guy whose team initiated Ciclovia, the
car-free Sundays in Bogotá that has become an internationally
recognized program which sees over 1.3 million people walk, run, skate
and bike along 121 kilometers of city streets. With any luck, just as
Bogotá's success inspired LA's CicLAvia, New York's achievements under Sadik-Khan's leadership will inform Reynolds' tenure at LADOT.
Yours in transit.