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This week’s city reading: the strengths and shortcomings of Los Angeles’ evolving transit system

Ridership climbs, planning efforts lag as Expo Line extension marks first birthday (Christopher Hawthorne, Los Angeles Times) “The plan as it now reads doesn’t go far enough in allowing new density near the Expo Line; it is too timid for a city and region that have systematically underbuilt housing for more than three decades. To the extent that there are some good ideas in it, including modest challenges to rigid parking requirements and urban-design guidelines that pay attention to the needs of pedestrians, the more immediate problem is that it remains a mere proposal. It has been slowed by a familiar combination of paltry planning budgets at City Hall and opposition among many neighborhood groups to zoning changes that would allow denser housing.”

I Rode the Entire Metro in One Day. This Is What I Learned. (David L. Ulin, Los Angeles magazine) “It’s a stunt, of course it is, but if my original intent was to prove how small, how contained the system is—could you imagine riding New York, London, Paris in a single day?—the result is turning out to be the opposite, a way of confronting the vastness of the city, both in miles and communities. I feel a sense of wonder, revelation at the scope of the region, but also at how much territory I have been able to cover without a car.” (The LA Weekly’s Paul T. Bradley attempted a similar stunt, in service of a much different piece, four years ago.)

L.A. bus ridership continues to fall; officials now looking to overhaul the system (Laura J. Nelson, Los Angeles Times) “A recent survey of more than 2,000 former riders underscores the challenge Metro faces. Many passengers said buses didn’t go where they were going — or, if they did, the bus didn’t come often enough, or stopped running too early, or the trip required multiple transfers. Of those surveyed, 79% now primarily drive alone. In an attempt to stem the declines, Metro is embarking on a study to ‘re-imagine’ the system’s 170 lines and 15,000 stops, officials said.”

Los Angeles Looks to “Reimagine” Metro’s Lagging Bus Service (Dennis Romero, LA Weekly) “Metro’s board of directors recently decided the agency should embark on a two- to three-year process of reevaluating the bus system so that it better meets the needs of Angelenos. One idea is to reconfigure bus services so that they are better aligned with transit stops [ … ] This reimagining could also take up the idea of ‘micro-transit systems’ that circulate in particular neighborhoods like Northeast L.A., Koreatown or other densely populated areas.”

Visualizing LA Metro’s Ridership data, 2009 until 2016 (Lisa Schweitzer) “Credible explanations: a) new rail supply is moving passengers from the bus to rail so that we are having fewer bus transfers and thus, lower counts; b) retirements and aging has prompted less commuting by transit as well as car (egads, let’s hope not as that is a demand effect); c) gasoline prices are low so that more people drive; d) the introduction of Uber and Lyft (then Zimride, thanks for the info Kendra Levine) into the LA travel market means that people handle the last mile problem (or the entire trip) with those services instead of buses; e) fare increases; f) reduced overall bus supply; g) the routes need to be reconfigured; h) bus transit is an inferior good, so that we saw the highest possible usage during the worst of the recession, falling off as price-sensitive consumers at the lowest incomes leave the systems for other means; i) all that talk about fighting obesity and active transport hit home and more people started walking and biking; j) fare increases have forced bus riders to ride less.”

What makes people choose public transit? (Alissa Walker, Curbed) “Just how irrational are humans when it comes to transit? When asked how they preferred to get around, people surveyed for the study overwhelmingly said they liked driving their own car, specifically citing benefits like comfort and reliability. But driving was also cited as the mode most likely to experience delays: 70 percent of respondents said driving made them late at least once a month—higher than any other mode of transit. In comparison, only 61 percent of regular bus riders said their mode made them late.”

The Future of Transportation in Los Angeles (Blake Z. Rong, Road and Track) “The automobile has weaved itself into the history and culture of L.A., more than possibly any other locale except, perhaps, Stuttgart, Germany. Dive into Southern California’s past, and somewhere between the dismantling of the Red Cars mass-transit system and the first traffic jam on the Hollywood Freeway, it’s fun, fun, fun, ’til daddy takes the T-Bird away. But in this 21st century, with hydrogen, electricity, and a renewed interest in public transit—no doubt spurred on by the crushing traffic congestion—the gasoline-swilling car is no longer the only way to get around. You know what? That’s not a bad thing.”

The long, tortured journey to bring rail back to Los Angeles (Shelby Grad and Scott Harrison, Los Angeles Times) “Over the last three decades, L.A. County has built a new rail network largely from scratch. But it took decades to get there. After World War II, the region’s once-mighty streetcar services began to fade and building freeways became the top transportation priority. By the 1960s, planners began proposing new rail routes. But these plans faced numerous problems. Several attempts to get taxpayers to finance these rail networks failed at the ballot box. Here’s a history of the high and lows of L.A. transportation dreaming, from the pages of The Times.”

5 Metro Stations That Changed L.A. and 5 That Will (Neal Broverman, Los Angeles magazine) “Since 1990, L.A. has seen its rail network go from 0 to 100 miles of coverage. Not only has the boom changed traveling patterns in the County, it’s also affected land use. Metro also actively works to develop parcels they own near rail stations, hoping to make some green from developers and encourage dense, mixed-use projects near their stations, which ostensibly boost ridership. Twenty-six years after rail arrived in modern L.A., transit-oriented development has been a very mixed bag.”