LA's Amazing Transit Promise

A blog about business and economics.
Sept. 17 2012 2:26 PM

Los Angeles' Amazing Transit Promise

I often write about cities doing it wrong in terms of transportation and urban development, but I have a piece out for a series we're doing on institutions that changed directions in smart ways about how Los Angeles is remaking itself as the next great mass-transit city. They're investing in infrastructure, they're getting smarter about how they use their roads, and they're upzoning for density to add people.

A sideline that I think is interesting about this is simply the extent to which America's urban geography tends to be backward thanks to some quirks of fate. The city that is No. 1 in walking mode share is the Boston metropolitan area. That's because there are a lot of students there, and most of all because Boston has a very old urban form with the key towns having been founded before the invention of the railroad. And on a nice day, walking around Cambridge and Somerville or heading over a bridge into Boston proper is lovely. But a lot of the time it's really cold. And when the sidewalks get icy, it's not just unpleasant to walk around; it's mildly hazardous, and you need to go slowly. Meanwhile, in southern California we have lovely weather but cities that were overwhelmingly built when cars were right at the inflection point of maturity and novelty to be built all-in on automotivity. But if the Boston area had LA's weather, imagine how many more trips would happen on foot. Or how much more pleasant it might be to wait eight minutes for a bus. It'd be amazing.

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And now if LA's policy trajectory stays on its current course, I think it could emerge as the all-around American champion for alternative transportation. Weather-wise, it's hard to think of a better place to bike or walk, and since all transit trips start and end with a bit of self-powered transportation, that makes all the difference.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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