In the Movie Annie Hall, Woody Allen pokes some fun at LA by saying.
I don't want to move to a city where the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right turn on a red light.
While he was wrong about LA cultural contributions, he wasn't far off on his observations about LA's car culture.
Residents move around Los Angeles in a transportation mono-culture that is environmentally unsustainable and puts a friction on the economy by wasting billions on congestion every year.
Although LA has an extensive bus system and a more limited rail system that is still under construction, 86% of all trips are in automobiles and 90% of those trips are single occupancy.
Drive around during rush hour and you see entire neighborhoods filled with cars. Short distance trips that should take 15-20 minutes sometimes take up to an hour because there are so many vehicles on the road--even though you can turn right on red.
With LA having just elected a new Mayor, the timing feels right for putting out some transportation and planning ideas that can help make LA a more livable city.
1. Improve the walking environment.
One of the reasons that so few people walk in LA is that the walking environment is really unpleasant, and often non existent. LA needs to start by adding sidewalks where none exist. An observational example is on the West side of Pacific Street in Venice there is no sidewalk. Everyone knows that Venice is one of the most walkable and bike friendly neighborhoods in LA but even here, one block from the beach, there is not even a sidewalk for people to walk on because the urban focus for so long has been on automobiles. I encourage this administration to start building sidewalks where they are missing and to work on radically improving the pedestrian environment in places where they exist.
2. Encourage people to try Mass transit.
Approximately 3% of the population rides mass transit. Clearly there needs to be a cultural shift to increase ridership. Research has shown that the most valuable to thing to people is their time. I suggest a simple media idea to start imprinting the time-saving benefits of taking mass transit by running a public service campaign on radio that says "Public transit is running on or close to schedule" after every traffic report. Cultural and behavioral change has to start somewhere and reminding people in their cars stuck in traffic that there is an alternative is a good place to start.
3. Encourage People to ride bikes instead of taking cars to the beach.
Certain places really show the results of bad transportation planning LA. Parking at the Venice Pier on Washington Street is one of these places. There are 264 spaces to park cars and no spaces to park bikes. Zero, none, zilch nada. Biking instead of driving to the beach is an obvious activity that should be encouraged. If we pave parts of the beach to provide automobile parking--which is a questionable practice, then, let's also, at least install some bike racks for people who choose to bike as well.
4. Introduce variable pricing models at large events based on vehicle occupancy.
One simple way to discourage single occupancy vehicles is to charge for it at large events. If someone drives to the to the Beach on a busy weekend, a Dodgers game, a concert at The Greek or the Hollywood Bowl or any other large event, let's reverse charge by person. The way it would work is if you show up alone you pay one high price meant to discourage driving alone. The price is then reduced with each additional person you have in your car. The more people you bring in your car the cheaper parking would be. Instituting a meaningful financial incentive to reduce single occupancy trips seems like a worthy civic experiment.
5. Bring Bike Sharing to LA.
Starting with the Velib bike sharing system in Lyon France in 2007 bike sharing has been widely adopted in Europe and is now gaining traction in the US as well, with NYC being the latest city to introduce this new mode of transportation.
I think what would make more sense for LA than a system similar to the one used in 375 other cities is for a system here to be electric assist. Why electric assist? LA is spread out and some neighborhoods are hilly. An electric assist bike system would allow people to travel not only in their neighborhoods but further distances. With LA's great weather a system here, could be used year round and fits within LA's larger strategic goals of supporting clean tech industries.
When you think about it shifting people out of their cars onto lighter smaller electric vehicles makes a lot of sense and Angelenos have a history of adopting innovative vehicles.
A bike sharing program would be a good reason to improve LA's surface infrastructure to make bike riding safe as currently the streets are inhospitable and dangerous to two wheelers.
Bike sharing is a also natural connector to public transit.
6. Commit to LA being the first City in the world with an all electric Taxi Fleet.
Mayor Garcetti meet Tesla. Tesla is the only electric car company that has engineered and manufactured a car that can go 300 miles on a single charge. What makes a 300 miles range interesting as an urban thinker is this is the first electric vehicle if used as a TAXI, can complete an entire shift on one charge.
In 2014 Tesla will launch a new model called Model X. It has doors that swing up instead out making it easier to get into than most cars, making it ideal for Taxi use. I think the city of Los Angeles should work with Tesla to make a TAXI version of this new model and implement a city wide system of electric cabs.
An all electric zero emission Taxi fleet will also put LA on the map of urban innovation in a way that it has never been. With proof of concept of an all electric taxi fleet and a purpose built model other cities will want to emulate LA.
Once implemented the Taxi fleet can be a test bed to start thinking about ways to start converting residential car ownership away towards electrification on a urban scale which is something that LA should be leading the world in.
While these ideas are by no means a complete list I think they speak to the potential to transform LA through smart transportation policy that really goes in different direction from past policies while still celebrating our ability to make a right turn on a red light.