BLOGGING FROM BOSTON
Jaymes Dunsmore G, was 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.
After a little over two months in Los Angeles, my work was complete, or at least I was done with it. While I created a set of design guidelines a about ninety-pages long, my final product is really only another small step in the City’s planning process. What I did achieve was to demonstrate a method to begin to rethink over fifty-years of auto-oriented planning around the seventy-or-so transit stations in Los Angeles. The approach is based on the idea of grouping stations into eight neighborhood typologies and then laying out specific recommendations for implementing the City’s General Plan goals, policy objectives and Urban Design Principles in each neighborhood type. I completed two chapters focusing on the two of the neighborhood typologies that are most commonly found along the next planned rail lines. Together these chapters, are a template for how the TOD Design Guidelines can be expanded to cover all areas of the city.
My project brought together many existing city plans, policies and principles into a single document, providing one of the first collections of every existing plan and policy that relates to transit oriented development. Taken together these already-adopted plans and policies are a bold call for the city to focus development around transit stations, and to design streets in those areas to prioritize pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users. In this way, the TOD Design Guidelines serves as a tool for advocates for safer streets, better bike access and increased transit options.
The following chapters focused in detail on the Streetcar Suburb and Transit Village typologies. I chose to focus on those typologies because neighborhoods like that are to be found along the planned Expo Phase II and Crenshaw light-rail lines. These chapters detail design guidelines for station location and design, for streets and public spaces, and for commercial and residential development. They’re intended to be used by both professional planners in the City Planning Department and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro), as well as by neighborhood residents who might serve on Metro’s station design advisory committees. For people who are not design professionals, the TOD Design Guidelines illustrate and explain how design interventions such as raised crosswalks or narrowed streets can improve pedestrian safety and access and promote transit use. City planning staff are hoping to use the TOD Design Guidelines to demonstrate the sort of TOD that is possible while apply for up to $5 million dollars in grant money for station area planning that Metro is making available to Southern California cities.
In addition to learning about transit planning and urban design, this internship gave me the opportunity to learn how planning works in a major city and to learn about Los Angeles itself. Over the course of the summer I was able to meet with developers building high-rise residential towers in Century City. I represented the Urban Design Studio at Metro’s Technical Advisory Committee meetings for its Regional Connector project, a planned new subway through Downtown Los Angeles. I attended and participated in Planning Commission and City Council meetings. And I spend time traveling and observing the city by bus, ligh-rail and on foot, visiting neighborhoods such as Boyle Heights, Leimert Park, Little Tokyo and Koreatown, and talking with transit riders, restaurant owners, business people and community leaders.
Southern California has been called an island on the land, isolated from the rest of the country by deserts and mountains. That idea refers both to the geography of the region as well as to the mindset of its inhabitants. I learned quickly that it’s useless to mention design examples from other cities- a common practice for urban designers– because they would be dismissed out-of-hand by Angelenos convinced that their city is an anomaly. So I tried to illustrate every design principle using only examples from Southern California. However, focusing on Los Angeles made the project universally applicable in another sense. If you try to explain to an Angeleno how removing traffic lanes in midtown Manhattan reduced traffic congestion and improved travel times, the response is “well, this is Los Angeles…” But explain to anyone from any other city how Los Angeles is encouraging transit-oriented the development and the response is “well, if they can do in LA we can do it here.” When you’re working on pedestrian, bike and transit issues in the perceived car capital of the world, that means something.