BLOGGING FROM THE FIELD
BLOGGING FROM THE FIELD
Jaymes Dunsmore G, is in Los Angeles working with their Urban Design Studio to improve access to public transportation, increase pedestrian and bicycle safety, and enhance the quality of life in neighborhoods around existing and planned Metro stations.
Los Angeles is often said to have a love affair with the automobile, and indeed car culture has deep roots in Southern California. Both the freeway and the drive-through restaurant were invented here, as were many other less-celebrated, but no less ubiquitous, elements of the auto age such as the large-font overhead street sign and the left-hand turn pocket. So prominent is the car in both the physical landscape and popular image of Los Angeles that it is difficult to imagine the city’s past or future without it. Few remember that LA once had the greatest network of streetcar lines in America, with tracks stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the Inland Empire. Today a similarly scaled system is under construction. Subways now run under Hollywood and Wilshire Boulevards, while light-rail trains run along historic rail right-of-ways to Long Beach, Pasadena and soon Santa Monica.
A quiet revolution is taking place in Los Angeles. Over the past two decades the local transit agency, Metro, has built nearly 80 miles of rail transit lines and 70 stations. The business community, labor leaders, city officials and voters have all embraced an ambitious plan for subway and light-rail extension that is now underway. Downtown, which was once devoid of activity outside of business hours–aside from film crews shooting car commercials on its empty streets–is becoming a vibrant urban community and a destination for dining and entertainment. In short, Los Angeles is becoming a post-suburban metropolis.
City planning, zoning, and street standards in Los Angeles has not kept pace with the recent changes and are still designed to prioritize the movement of automobiles rather than to create safe, interesting and inviting places for people. The Urban Design Studio, which is part of the municipal Department of City Planning was created to change that. In the past few years the studio has focused on improving walkability, creating Downtown design standards and reforming street standards to end the previous practice of ever widening Downtown streets in the name of congestion relief. This summer I am working in the studio to create Design Guidelines for the Transit-Oriented Districts. The goal of the project is to produce a cohesive set of guidelines for public improvements and private development around the city’s 70 transit stations in order to improve pedestrian safety and access.
In a way, we’re working to push back against the transportation innovations of the previous century including the freeway, the drive-though and the left turn pocket. These inventions were designed to facilitate auto use and relief congestion, but as Angelenos have learned a city designed for cars and congestion produces cars and congestion. A city redesigned for transit users, cyclists and pedestrians will produce transit users, cyclists and pedestrians.