To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Sexual harassment suit fizzles as issue in Huizar re-election bid


Workshop looks at 710 EIR

Area residents meet to hear tips on making comments on extension plans.


 By Sara Cardine, March 4, 2015

710 freeway

 The 710 Freeway, pictured on Thursday, January 28, 2010. (

Locals put weekend plans on hold Saturday morning, crowding into La Cañada’s City Council chambers to learn how to harness people power in anticipation of the release of the California Department of Transportation’s proposed 710 Freeway extension project.

Hosted by the city of La Cañada Flintridge and spearheaded by local activist Jan Soo Hoo, the event was not intended to be a discussion of the merits of the project’s five alternatives — which include a light-rail option as well as a 4.2-mile, dual-bore tunnel — but rather a sort of primer on submitting effective questions and concerns in the massive document’s public comment window.

Civic leaders, including Mayor Pro Tem Don Voss and former Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, peppered an audience of about 50 people who turned out to hear tips provided by Delaine Shane, who’s spent decades preparing environmental documents for the public and private sectors but spoke Saturday as a private citizen.

Portantino encouraged citizens to not be deterred by the bulk of the project’s environmental impact report, expected to be thousands of pages long, and to share their viewpoints on something that will affect communities well beyond the corridor.

“They have a lot of money, but we have a lot of people power. And people power trumps money interests all day long,” he said. “This may look like a daunting task, but it’s a winnable fight.”

Shane provided a history of environmental rules, including the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which guides how the potential impacts of projects are judged. She suggested people who make comments focus on one key aspect of the EIR that interests or pertains to them.

Public comments are a vital part of the EIR process, Shane explained, since citizens likely know their neighborhoods better than the agencies examining the health and environmental risks of a plan.

“You know your communities far better than many of the planners who are writing this document,” she added. “That gives you an edge on them, because if you see something they missed… that’s a big inadequacy.”

Shane offered other tips for writing effective comments, advising participants to set a schedule, research selected issues deeply and visit locations before writing a letter or email that focuses on discrepancies in the document’s facts, lapses in logic or lack of evidence.

Afterward, La Cañada resident Leslie Miller, who teaches AP environmental science at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, said she’s been following news on the 710 and planned to comment on the project’s use of energy resources.

This isn’t Miller’s first time drafting an EIR comment — she recently penned one related to FSHA’s master plan — but she said she learned a lot from Shane’s presentation, and hoped to involve her students in the process.

“I’ve talked about this briefly in class before, but now that this is going on, I’ll definitely be using it,” Miller said.

Organizers encouraged all those who planned to write comment letters to include the No on 710 Action Committee and city leaders in their correspondence.

Another workshop might be scheduled to help people focus their comments, once the EIR is released, which Caltrans officials reported would be soon forthcoming.

For more information on the 710 Freeway extension project, and news updates on the release, visit www.no710.com, or alternatively, www.710coalition.com.

Comment period extended for 710 extension project

Caltrans is expected to offer 120 days; 'great news' for local activist.


By Sara Cardine, March 4, 2015

 The offices of two California assemblymen announced this week that the California Department of Transportation has decided to extend the public comment period on the still-unreleased Environmental Impact Report for its 710 Freeway extension project.

News releases — one Tuesday from Rep. Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) and another Wednesday from Rep. Mike Gatto (D-Glendale) — stated that Caltrans will offer the public 120 days to comment on the project, as opposed to a previously mentioned 90-day period.

“I believe Caltrans’ actions reflect a genuine desire to engage the residents of the San Gabriel Valley in a thoughtful and open discussion on the best course of action regarding the 710,” Holden stated in his release.

Local 710 activist Jan Soo Hoo, who organized a workshop Saturday with the city of La Canada Flintridge to teach residents how to effectively comment on the EIR, reacted to the news Wednesday.

“The extension of the review period is no doubt a result of the pressure exerted on Caltrans, the lead agency for the Environmental Impact Study,” Soo Hoo said in an email interview. “(But) while the extension is great news, there is more to be done. We have to have additional public hearings beyond the two Caltrans has scheduled.”

The first public hearing on the EIR is scheduled for April 11 at East Los Angeles College’s Rosco C. Ingalls Auditorium, where a map viewing from 10 to 11 a.m. precedes a public hearing that lasts until 4 p.m. The second hearing takes place April 14 at the Pasadena Convention Center, with a map viewing from 5 to 6 p.m. and a public hearing from 7 to 9 p.m.

In Her Shoes: a discussion about women and a car-free L.A.


By Anna Chen, March 4, 2015

 Stana Katic moderates In Her Shoes, a panel discussion on women for a car free L.A. Photo: Steve Hymon/Metro.

Stana Katic moderates In Her Shoes, a panel discussion on women for a car free L.A. Photo: Steve Hymon/Metro.

Earlier this week, Metro and Alternative Travel Project (ATP) hosted a panel discussion about access, safety and opportunities for women seeking alternativea to car travel. The panel was moderated by actress, activist and ATP founder Stana Katic and comprised of: Metro DCEO Lindy Lee, LASD Transit Policing Division Chief Ronene Anda, LADOT Pedestrian Coordinator Margot Ocañas, Director of Community and Innovation for the Goldhirsch Foundation Shauna Nep and USC Professor James Haw.

Discussion highlights include:
  • More getting-around options means more independence — important when you are car free by choice, but even more important when you’re car free by necessity.
  • Safety is paramount. If women are going to leave their cars, they have to feel it’s safe to do so. This is an issue that is being tackled in multiple ways, from engineering — LADOT mentions the timing of crosswalk lights to allow pedestrians to walk first, increasing their visibility to motorists — to education (how to report issues while in transit) and technology (cameras on buses and trains, Metro’s Transit Watch app).
  • Better first mile/last mile solutions. More people would be willing to try alternative modes of transportation if it were easier to start and complete trips. Shauna Nep mentioned that car sharing options, such as Lyft and Uber, are increasingly popular ways to connect to public transportation.
  • Nep also mentioned that owning a car is becoming less important than having the latest tech. Millennials — myself included — prefer spending money on gadgets that connect us to our social feeds. And then transit gives us time to use those gadgets. So basically, tech > driving!?
  • Less cars on the road means better health for everyone because today’s cars — while significantly cleaner than in the past — still pollute. So even if it’s just one day a week, won’t you try going car free? Think of the children!
  • Stana Katic mentions that while naming rail lines after primary colors is fine, she personally hopes for a “Zebra Line” someday. #IStandwithStana
Want all the fun, nitty gritty details? Make sure to check back for the video recap, coming soon.

Transportation Nation: Here's what you don't know about Calif. bike laws (quiz)


By Leo Duran, March 3, 2015

Think you know the rules of the road for bicycles?

Bike advocates confidently told me that most cyclists are aware of their legal obligations while riding. But when I did a story about California's new three-feet law last September, I took the opportunity to ask a bike expert about a couple of other rules.

Can I legally ride on the sidewalk? Is it OK for people to talk on a cell while riding? I see some do that occasionally on Spring Street ...

I surprisingly got a few wrong. As someone who's biked to work for about 15 years, I thought I would know better. (Answers: sort of. And yes, which is crazy to me.)

But I'm not alone. Quizzing friends and KPCC colleagues about other rules – bicyclists and non-bicyclists alike — no one walked away with a perfect score.

QUIZ: Test how much you know about bike safety

But bicycling will be a major part of Southern California's future.

It's a core piece of L.A.'s city infrastructure plan for the next 20 years, and CicLAVia is booming so much that it's branching out with events in the San Fernando Valley and Pasadena.

If more cyclists hit the streets, though, is everyone educated enough so the roads can be shared safely?

When bikes and cars collide

There are no official statistics on how well-informed people are.

Talk to most drivers, and they would say cyclists aren't well versed in the rules of the road. (Then again, about half of prospective drivers failed the DMV's written English test themselves.)

Diehard bike advocates – as you'd expect – disagree.

Yet more than 15,000 accidents statewide involved a bike in 2012, according to the California Highway Patrol. About a third of those collisions happened in L.A. County.

The blame for those accidents is about even on the national level, says the League of American Bicyclists.

But locally, the CHP data shows bicyclists tend to be more at fault.*

The number one reason why bicyclists cause accidents is because they're riding on the wrong side of the road.

Colin Bogart from the L.A. County Bike Coalition has a theory why that happens: It's the way people were once taught.

"A lot of people are very frightened about being hit from behind," he says. "I think that's a big reason why a lot of people ride the wrong way in traffic."

Meanwhile, the leading cause of accidents caused by drivers is when they turn into the path of a cyclist. At an intersection, for example, a driver might cut off a bicyclist while making a right without yielding – the bike was supposed to have the right of way.

Teaching cyclists and drivers on the road

Before drivers take to the streets, they have to take a class, pass a test and earn a license. For bicyclists, none of that has to happen.

Driver's education doesn't extensively cover what motorists should do around bikes, either.
That's where local groups like the L.A. County Bike Coalition step in.

Every so often they'll collaborate with the LAPD for Operation Firefly, a project where they'll hand out free lights to passing bicyclists: In California you're legally required to have a front-facing light and a rear reflector.

"It's less about, 'Hey, this is what you've got to do to avoid a ticket,'" says Colin Bogart from the LACBC. "It's more about, 'This is what you need to do to make yourself visible when you're riding at night.'"

Police officers also take charge of educating motorists when they pull them over for infractions.

"That's why we're handing pamphlets out," says Officer Mike Flynn of the LAPD's Central Division, "trying to educate motorists if we see them committing stuff that's unsafe."

These moments become on-the-fly education for drivers and cyclists to better prepare everyone to be safe on the road.

What about learning the rules after you break them?

Throughout the country there are "bike traffic schools" for adults with a citation. Go to a class and your fine will be reduced.

Certain places in California tried to do that, too. The problem: It's against the law in this state.

"Right now, they can’t, even if they want to," says Dave Snyder of the California Bike Coalition.

The way the law reads, adults can only attend a traffic school of any kind to reduce points, not a fine. But, you know, bicyclists don’t get points.

A technicality in that law allows college campuses to have them, and Bike East Bay tried to bring its program at UC Berkeley over to the the city of Alameda in 2012.

The police chief at the time was bike friendly and developed a work around: Take a class in the 30 days before a citation is processed, and we'll rip up the ticket.

But Alameda’s police chief left at the end of that year, and the program went with him.

Snyder says the coalition is working to find a sponsor in the legislature to change state law so all police departments are allowed to offer these classes.

"It’s the first time we've tried this," he says, "but [cyclists] come out of those classes feeling a lot more confident and a lot more secure."

How you can learn the rules

There are plenty of local resources to help you brush up on the laws.

The LACBC hold classes for its members, for instance, and Santa Monica Spoke has an online guide.
There will be a free class in Studio City on Saturday, March 7th hosted by the city's neighborhood council, too.

The California Bike Coalition also has a round-up of state laws that govern bikes.

Be aware that certain rules differ from city to city, though.

Remember where I said that sidewalk riding is "sort of" legal? It is in Los Angeles, for example, but illegal in Santa Monica.

LAPD Officer Mike Flynn offers one simple lesson for cyclists to remember:  "Everything that a car does, you do? Then you’re not going to have any issues."

That holds true for drivers, too: Treat bicyclists like any other vehicle.

Election Roundup: In City’s First Race Fought over Progressive Urban Planning, Streetsie Winner Huizar Prevails


By Damien Newton, March 4, 2015

In Los Angeles’ first political race fought over progressive urban design, incumbent City Councilmember Jose Huizar gathered nearly three times as many votes as his closest opponent, former Supervisor Gloria Molina in a lopsided victory. (Full results: here)

That would be a "V" for victory. Photo: Office of Jose Huizar
That would be a “V” for victory. Photo: Office of Jose Huizar

Huizar campaigned hard on his Livable Streets record in Council District 14 (CD14) while Molina argued that bike lanes were installed throughout the district without a public process and that Downtown Los Angeles was going to lose too much car parking to make space for transit oriented development. A spreadsheet put together by “Bike the Vote” showed over 200 public meetings on bicycle issues in CD14 during Huizar’s last term.

With provisional ballots left to be counted, Huizar has 11,081 votes (66.75%) to Molina’s 4,033 (23.93%). CD14 encompasses much of Downtown Los Angeles and South Park, as well as El Sereno and Boyle Heights.

This is the first hotly contested race in Los Angeles where an incumbent was attacked over being too pro-bicycle and the numbers show that, while that campaign tactic might make for good talk radio, it doesn’t translate into electoral victory. Huizar, who won a Streetsie in 2014 in large part for his leadership in reshaping Downtown Los Angeles’ transportation grid, actually won more votes in his Streetsie contest last December than Molina won yesterday.

After the Los Angeles Times noted that a small group of bicycle and pedestrian advocates could have a big impact in the race, advocates with Bike The Vote targeted the Huizar-Molina race as a must-win. But more than just advocates for safe two-wheeled transportation backed Huizar. Members of the NO 710 committee, which is battling against plans to build a giant highway tunnel to extend the I-710, organized in El Sereno. New urbanist blogger Brigham Yen (another former Streetsie winner) also loudly backed Huizar’s campaign.

Jose Huizar is not a perfect politician, personal history aside. In her coverage of Boyle Heights, Sahra Sulaiman has found many ways that Huizar has fallen short of his ideals and goals. But last night’s election wasn’t about the quality of bike racks on 1st Street or the amount of public input in the Eastside Access Project. It was about whether or not CD14 wanted to embrace progressive urban design and transportation policy or slip backwards to the failed policies of the past.

The results speak for themselves.

While Huizar’s win was the main event, there was a lot of good electoral news for Livable Streets advocates.


In CD 4, a small army of candidates were vying to replace the termed-out Tom LaBonge. With hundreds or thousands of provisional ballots left to be counted, David Ryu holds a slim 60-vote lead over progressive Tomas O’Grady for the second spot in the May 9 runoff (because no candidate received more than 50% of the vote).

O’Grady campaigned hard for the support of new urbanists and bicyclists, building on the work he did promoting an option for the redesign of the Hyperion-Glendale Bridge that includes sidewalks and bike lanes. By the end of the campaign, both Ryu and Ramsay agreed to support the multi-modal “option 3″ for the bridge.

Joe Buscaino, who received more votes in his Streetsie race against Huizar than Molina did in her City Council race, works the phone lines yesterday.
Joe Buscaino, who received more votes in his Streetsie race against Huizar than Molina did in her City Council race, works the phone lines yesterday.

Former LaBonge chief-of-staff and open space advocate Carolyn Ramsay holds the top spot after the primary. Libertarian Jay Beeber, a legend in the L.A. Weekly Offices for campaigning against the city’s red-light camera program and car parking populist, finished well off the lead. Following the CD 4 Livable Streets Candidates Forum, Beeber took to the air on the John and Ken show to trash the “bike lobby” and mock the very forum he didn’t attend.

In CD8, the South Los Angeles district currently represented by termed-out Bernard Parks, Marqueece Harris-Dawson cruised to victory with over 60% of the vote. Harris-Dawson, long-time Executive Director of one of South L.A.’s more positive forces for change, Community Coalition, campaigned on a progressive and environmentally-friendly platform, and is expected to be more progressive on transportation and urban planning than the conservative Parks.

In other Council races, incumbents Herb Wesson, Paul Krekorian, Nury Martinez, and Mitch Englander cruised to easy victories. Martinez faced a strong challenge from Cindy Montanez, whom she upset in a special election two years ago, but still captured 60% of the vote.

Cleaner air is linked to stronger lungs in Southern California children


Can the "Uber For Valet" Solve L.A.'s Parking Problems?


By Isaac Simpson, February 11, 2015

 Hans Yang, Luxe’s director of L.A. operations, and valet Lashawn

 Hans Yang, Luxe’s director of L.A. operations, and valet Lashawn

Love them or hate them, Silicon Valley types have the ability to work miracles. Sure, they may use buzzwords like “synergy” and “freemium,” and you may want to punch them right in their perfect glimmering teeth. But you can't deny that, upon occasion, they make magic happen. Uber is a great example.

Luxe Valet is a similar app that allows users to conjure personal valet parkers on demand. It was founded last year by an all-star team of experienced San Francisco developers from Zynga, Tesla and Groupon. A so-called “Big Kids” startup, it raised $5.5 million in seed money from blue-chip angel investors like Google Ventures, Sherpa Ventures, and Lightspeed, and it's not hard to see why. It coordinates a mind-numbingly complicated dance of valets, garages, keys and vehicles, relying on an algorithm that shifts them around the city like smartphone controlled chess pieces.

Can the "Uber For Valet" Solve L.A.'s Parking Problems?

After a six-month beta period in San Francisco, Luxe began service in Santa Monica early this year. It soon crawled down to Venice, then jumped over to downtown. Just last week it opened its fourth "zone" in Hollywood. At a shockingly reasonable $5 an hour, $15 maximum, it costs less than some parking meters.

Currently available only for Apple's mobile devices, the interface looks and feels remarkably similar to Uber. A map appears. If you are inside the zone of coverage, you can “REQUEST LUXE?” If you are not, a bubble reads “GO TO NEAREST ZONE.”

Once inside the zone, you drop a pin on your destination and watch as a cluster of blue stick figures scramble towards the flag. Then a pop-up window appears introducing you to your valet.

Luxe requires a few more steps than Uber, however. You have to set the destination where you want a valet to meet you — and if you want the valet to be waiting when you arrive, you should do it before you leave the house, suggests Hans Yang, Luxe’s director of L.A. operations. You meet your valet, and, as you’re handing him the keys, he asks when you want the car back. Guided by his own version of the app, he then brings your car to a Luxe partner garage and uses the app to open a Bluetooth enabled safe, secured to a wall inside the garage, where the keys are stored.

Fifteen minutes before your predicted retrieval time, you receive a text suggesting you request the car, so it will be ready when you need it. A valet gets your car from the garage, drives it to your destination, or wherever you have moved to within the zone, hands you the keys, and bids you farewell. If you're late, the valet will wait at your destination until you arrive.

Unlike Uber drivers, Luxe valets are paid hourly, but can receive “hustle bonuses” for meeting a client faster. These bonuses can purportedly push valets' income to $20 an hour.

Two of the three Luxe valets I met downtown arrived on skateboards, all within 5-15 minutes from when I requested them. Despite being out of breath, they sported big smiles and robotic enthusiasm.
Two of the three Luxe valets I met downtown arrived on skateboards, all within 5-15 minutes from when I requested them. Despite being out of breath, they sported big smiles and robotic enthusiasm. They were far from the traditional notion of a valet — no tucked in shirts and upturned noses — and acted like we’d been friends for years.

Can the "Uber For Valet" Solve L.A.'s Parking Problems?

“A lot of our drivers love being outside,” says Yang. “They get to learn a city. And there’s the flexibility. You get to be on shift when you want to be.”

Handing over my keys to a total stranger was daunting at first, but knowledge of Luxe’s $1 million per car insurance policy made it easier.

“We take a lot of steps to basically safety proof our transactions and to deliver really good experiences where you’re never really sketched out,” says Yang, “We interview for someone who is going to make our guests feel comfortable. We do extensive background checks and driving record checks and everything.”

Luxe Valet still has a few kinks to work out. One issue is that the app doesn’t have a way to pinpoint the exact location of either a car or a client. Ever had your Uber accidentally pull up on the wrong side of the building? Luxe has the same problem, multiplied.

One valet delivering my car back to me missed my location and arrived on the wrong side of a busy street, and I had to walk across in order to wave him down. Another valet retrieving my car arrived on the opposite entrance of a skyscraper downtown, and tried to coach me into driving to find him. I listened to him breathe heavily into the phone for three or four minutes before he found me, sweaty, skateboard in hand, rattling off apologies.

That night, starting a 11 p.m., I began received texts every 15 minutes text reminding me that Luxe closes at midnight on weekdays. Using the app, I tried to recall the car at 11:57 p.m. The app had already closed, however, and nobody picked up at customer service when I called. Luckily, Luxe stores cars overnight for only an extra $10, so I Ubered home. But I live outside the parameters of Luxe’s downtown zone, so I wasn’t able to recall the car in the morning to my location via the app. I called customer service and they agreed to deliver the car to me for another additional charge. The cost of the ordeal was $35 plus the $7 I’d spent on the Uber.

The app has such potential to make our (by “our” I mean those who can afford $5 to $15 a pop for parking) lives better that, if it were the only company of its kind, these kinks would be easy to ignore. But Luxe is only a slight frontrunner in a tight race of carbon copy parking apps. ValetAnywhere, Caarbon, Curbstand, and Vatler are all gunning to be the genericized term for smartphone-based valet.

Luxe’s tightest competition comes from Zirx, another Silicon Valley startup with equal money and experience, which also debuted in L.A. early this year. Luxe has the edge when it comes to territory (Zirx only covers downtown and Hollywood) and price (Zirx costs $15 for unlimited parking, without the $5 per hour option). Zirx, however, is better when it comes to the tech, with a slicker, easier app available on both Android and Apple's iOS.

Whoever wins the race, it's clear that the tech industry is hell-bent on solving the West Coast’s parking enigma. As someone frequently driven to fits of livid rage by L.A. parking, that’s an inspiring proposition. I would much rather give my money to Luxe than to Xerox, who bought the right to enforce L.A.'s parking rules for profit five years ago.

Matt, a valet for Luxe, covers the downtown zone
Matt, a valet for Luxe, covers the downtown zone
  But Luxe doesn’t want to stop with parking. It ultimately wants valets to do everything for you, from filling your gas ($7.99 + cost) and washing your car ($40) to doing your errands for you at Target or CVS. This raises a bigger question about the Uberification of everything. Soon we may all have all the little things done by personal valets. One can imagine a world where, at the touch of a button, we're picked up from home and dropped off at work, all our errands done for us, our groceries delivered, our laundry outsourced, our homes cleaned by robots while we're away, all for the sake of having more free time.

But free time for what? Creating apps, I suppose.

L.A. vs. S.F.: How Does Transportation Really Compare?


By Joe Linton, March 3, 2015

 Recent San Francisco survey results show less than half of trips are made by private car. Image via SBSF.

 Recent San Francisco survey results shows that driving has made up a minority of trips for at least three years.

Last week, the Los Angeles Times published an article titled, “San Francisco residents relying less on private automobiles.” It is summarized at today’s Metro transportation headlines. The Times highlighted recent good news, reported in early February at Streetsblog SF, that 52 percent of San Francisco trips are taken by means other than a private car: walk, bike, transit, taxi, etc. The data are from a San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) survey examining all trips, not just commuting. The time frame is from 2012 through 2014.

First, let’s celebrate! This is great news. In California’s second-largest city one of California’s largest cities, sustainable healthy transportation holds a majority.

The Times briefly mentions similarities between S.F. and L.A. in terms of transit investment, but mostly frames the good news by drawing sharp distinctions between L.A. and S.F. The Times article states:
  • “In stark contrast to car-dependent Los Angeles, studies show that most trips in the burgeoning tech metropolis [S.F.] are now made by modes of transportation other than the private automobile.”
  • “At 47 square miles, San Francisco is relatively small and densely populated. There are more than 17,000 residents per square mile — twice that of Los Angeles [City].”
  • “Los Angeles has an entrenched car culture and the city alone is spread out over nearly 10 times the area of San Francisco. Its population density of 8,100 people per square mile is less than half that of the Bay Area city.”
  • “Countywide, the [L.A. County] land area is an enormous 4,752 square miles, and the density drops to about 2,100 people per square mile.”
Just how stark is this contrast between Los Angeles and San Francisco?

The way I see it, the Times isn’t really comparing apples to apples. The Times compares these three entities: (2013 U.S. Census data)
  1. S.F. City/County (47 square miles – 837,000 residents – ~17,800 people/square mile)
  2. L.A. City (470 square miles – 3,880,000 residents – ~8,250 people/square mile)
  3. L.A. County (4,752 square miles – 10,020,000 people – ~2,110 people/square mile)
Just based on area, how meaningful is comparing one county with another that’s over one hundred times larger? Or one city with another that is ten times larger?

What is more instructive is to compare two areas that have the same population, or two populations that are the same size and see how the areas they occupy differ. Here are a few recent L.A. vs. S.F. comparisons that examine areas that are roughly the same size, then look at how populations and transportation choices are similar or different. (Is anyone out there aware of studies that compare larger areas, such as 5,000 square miles of Bay Area vs. 5,000 square miles of L.A. County? One recent study ranked the L.A. area just a little less sprawling than the S.F. area.)

First, a comparison study by former Streetsblog S.F. writer Michael Rhodes, currently a transportation planner with the firm Nelson\Nygaard .

Mapping population density over roughly 50 square miles of S.F. and L.A. Image via Michael Rhodes
Map comparing population densities over roughly 50 square miles of S.F. and L.A. Maps by Michael Rhodes 

Rhodes mapped out the 47-square-mile city/county of San Francisco and the corresponding densest 47-square-mile area of Los Angeles County. L.A.’s densest area centers in Koreatown, extending to Downtown, Hollywood, West Hollywood, and USC. The population densities are more similar than different: S.F. averages 17,867 residents per square mile, while central L.A. averages 17,583.  The dramatic difference in population density cited by the Times–“[S.F. City density] twice that of Los Angeles [City]“–shrinks to only a two percent difference.

Rhodes also mapped levels of bicycle commuting in San Francisco and in the corresponding areas of central L.A.

San Francisco Bicycle Commute Mode Share. Map by Michael Rhodes.
San Francisco Bicycle Commute Mode Share. Map by SFMTA

Central Los Angeles bicycle modal share. Map courtesy Michael Rhodes
Central Los Angeles bicycle modal share. Map by Michael Rhodes

Rhodes did not write any overall comparison characterizing these two maps. The way I read it, in around half of the area of both S.F. and Central L.A., bicycle commuting is close to nil (less than one percent of residents) S.F. appears to have a denser, more focused central area where bicycling is concentrated and exceeds L.A. overall, but significant parts of Central L.A. — especially Downtown to USC — are analogous to and even exceed the more heavily-bicycled parts of S.F. The USC area sees the highest rates of cycling in L.A. County, which helps L.A.’s numbers.

There are a bunch of caveats that apply here. The U.S. Census data only counts commute trips, which ignores many short trips. Walking to the corner or bicycling to school or the park are not counted.

Some of this rolling Census data dates to 2009, two years before L.A. approved its bike plan and stepped up implementation of bike lanes, especially Downtown. Recent data show increasing levels of bicycling statewide and locally. And, as my colleague Sahra Sulaiman pointed out, many of these of central L.A. neighborhoods are heavily populated by lower income immigrants (more so than the corresponding S.F.), hence it is more difficult to study.  These are the folks you are least likely to get data from because they don’t answer surveys. It is likely that central L.A. population density, and levels of walking, transit, and bicycling, may be under-counted.

(Rhodes is currently doing some S.F./L.A. comparisons of job centers, too, which we’ll cover in a later article.)

Los Angeles planner and cycling advocate Jeff Jacobberger examined a similar Central Los Angeles area, though with slightly different boundaries.

Jacobberger communicated to SBLA:
The Census Bureau divides the City into Public Use Microdata Areas, or PUMAs. I’ve attached a map that shows the boundaries of 5 PUMAs that make up Central and East L.A. The boundaries are roughly the base of the Hollywood Hills to the north, the L.A. River and Boyle Heights/East L.A. to the east, roughly the 10 Freeway to the south, and Robertson/La Cienega/La Brea to the west (excluding Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, and the part of L.A. north of the City of West Hollywood).
Jacobberger’s map:
Central Los Angeles PPPPPP. Image via Jeff Jacobberger
U.S. Census Public Use Microdata Areas (PUMAs) in Central Los Angeles. 

According to Jacobberger, these five PUMAs comprise a central Los Angeles area that is roughly 53 square miles (slightly larger than S.F.’s 47 square miles), with 850,000 residents, hence a density of roughly 16,000 people per square mile. This places S.F.’s population density (17,800) only ten percent greater than central Los Angeles. Much closer than the Times’ “double.”

Jacobberger compared commute mode share from the 2012 U.S. Census American Community Survey for this 53-square mile area of Los Angeles to the overall city of Los Angeles and to the combined city/county of San Francisco.

similar areas of sf and la
Jacobberger’s analysis showing similar areas of San Francisco and Los Angeles

In Jacobberger’s analysis, S.F. still beats central L.A. for levels of transit, bicycling, and walking, but the Times’ “stark contrast” is diminished. Central Los Angeles commuting resembles S.F. more than it does the rest of the city of Los Angeles.
  • Transit: S.F. 33.1 percent, central L.A. 19.5 percent, L.A. City 10.9 percent
  • Walking: S.F.  9.8 percent, central L.A. 5.2 percent, L.A. City 3.6 percent
  • Bicycling: S.F. 3.8 percent, central L.A. 1.4 percent, L.A. City 1.0 percent
  • Driving Alone:  S.F. 36.3 percent, central L.A. 57.7 percent, L.A. City 67.4 percent
Similar to the information above, the data are limited to commuting, a few years old, and likely to under-count low-income immigrant communities. Jacobberger found slightly lower levels of density and bicycling than Rhodes, because his overall boundary was slightly different, and did not include the USC area.

The Times‘ sweeping generalizations about how all of L.A. County travels are misleading. Central L.A. and all of S.F. are somewhat similar, in terms of population density and transportation.

Depending on where the lines are drawn, San Francisco appears just slightly more population-dense and has somewhat higher levels of transit ridership, walking, and bicycling.

In terms of jurisdictions, though, the differences are pretty stark. The Times sort of spotted this, but chose to contrast transportation instead of contrasting politics.

San Francisco is, in a way, fortunate that its city and county boundaries coincide, and represent a somewhat coherent whole. Los Angeles County and City have very broad political boundaries, and are hence much less cohesive areas than San Francisco. That central 50-square-mile chunk of Los Angeles is governed by a mayor who needs the votes of a majority of those who reside in the other 90 percent of L.A.’s land. In many ways, L.A.’s large area (both city and county) means that the fate of Central L.A. is politically more tied to L.A.’s less urbanized areas, at least in comparison to S.F.

This jurisdictional breadth impacts Los Angeles’ urbanity. One-size-fits-all regulations do not fit Los Angeles so well. For example, parking needs are very different for suburban Chatsworth and urban Koreatown, although both are part of the city of Los Angeles.

At the recent Live Ride Share conference, SFMTA Director of Strategic Planning and Policy Tim Papandreou’s presentation included Rhodes’ maps. Papandreou remarked that San Francisco’s transportation policies, facilities, and behavior had, until a few years ago, been more-or-less similar to that of central Los Angeles. In his presentation, Papandreou emphasized that recently S.F. has prioritized active transportation and transit, and has seen increases in those trip percentages.

As Papandreou puts it in an email to SBLA: (updated March 3, 2:15 pm) 
The city of S.F./Central L.A. City areas are roughly similar in population density.
The mode share of S.F. 6 years ago and Central L.A. today are roughly similar, but now it’s 50/50 in S.F. That’s in part due to the street network changes, parking management, and transit service upgrades leveraging the land use developments and the influx of workers. L.A. is going through all these changes now, so it will be interesting to see how this changes mode share over time.
Can the city and county of Los Angeles set aside our Times-echoed misconceptions and let central Los Angeles livability flourish? Could this spill over and foster walkability and livability at multiple centers throughout the L.A. area? We’ll see.