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Monday, June 21, 2010

Mass Transit in Los Angeles

The public transport system in Los Angeles had me puzzled right from the beginning. There is something here that I had never seen before. Usually Buses work from a central hub, there's a downtown, or city centre, area where the buses radiate out from and return to, like the spokes of a wheel. there isn't any of that here in L.A. Here evrything goes north/south or east/west. I thought this was, not only strange but inefficient. Its a great soundbite to say that buses can take you everywhere but people don't want to go everywhere, we all have a specific destination in mind, be it shopping, Work, Church or whatever. So why didn't the buses radiate out from a central location connecting these places? Why does Los Angeles have everything going in such a way that more than one bus is necessary for almost any destination? Surely radiating out from a central hub would be a better use of resources, a more efficient way of getting the travelling public to their destination with less buses on the streets.
The answers I have been given sound fair on the face of it;
First It has been pointed out that Los Angeles is a planned city. It didn't just "happen" the way most european cities grew as villages met and combined over centuries of growth. Los Angeles was construcfed with all the streets going north/south and east/west.
Secondly; Los Angeles does not have a central hub. The downtown area is disfunctional.Great strides have been made in recent years to improve and revitalize the city centre but it is still a long way from being a city centre in the way any other city has a central focal point.
The city centre is split into districts; A garment district, a jewellery district, a toy district and so on. There is a cultural centre with some world class music and art theatres. All what you might expect in a thriving metropolis but where it falls down is that no one wants to hang out here. Any where else you might visit these places and then go to a restaraunt or a coffe bar, you would stay a little while. In Los Angeles, you come here for your business and then get out as soon as you can. The perception for most is that if you try to walk around Los Angeles, some homeless guy is going to cut your heart out.
Add to that the fact that there is no pedestrianized area in Los Angeles, nowhere that transportation options can be centralized, and you have a disfunctional hub.
The unfortunate by product of this is that the surrounding cities in Los Angeles county have mirrored the basic outline of L.A. they too are built on a grid, they even name their streets the same and in the same order.
As an aside here, the way I remember the order of the streets in L.A. and therefore the order of the streets in most of the outlying cities is;
"From MAIN we SPRING to BROADWAY then over the HILL to OLIVE, wouldn't it be GRAND if we could HOPE to to pick a FLOWER on FIGUEROA"
The result of this is that the outlying cities are unable to form functional transport hubs even though their city centres are more welcoming than Los Angeles.
The situation here could be changed, at little public expense and a far better use of transit resources with considerable savings in the long term. What is needed is political will. It would require some imagination, creativity, a willingness to advertise to the population of L.A. the plans to improve the quality of transportation and of city life. Then just do it.
The layout of L.A. is what it is. To work with what we have it would be necessary to consider the Central Business District a Hub. Here the grid system can work with certain well advertised modifications. Including the aggressive advertising of the attractions that downtown has and relieving the public of safety concerns. It should be a desired destination rather than a necessary evil.
All routes need to be revisited, this time not with assessing the level of ridership but how do they radiate from the centre, how do they best connect with the places that people really want to get to. With that principle as the first consideration ridership will folow, unlike the present method of looking at routes that have poor ridership and then cutting back on them. That is the easy way, Any child can do that. The part where real thought would come in would be in how to make the overall system efficient and responsive to the travelling public. nothing short of a complete overhaul of the transport structure in Los Angeles City and the outlying cities of the county will ever give an optimisation of resources and a truly responsive and effective public transportation system.

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