Trains Are Great! But What L.A. Needs Are Bus Lanes

trains_are_great.pngSeven Transportation Experts Push for a Bolder and More Inclusive Transportation System

“Nobody walks in L.A.,” or so goes the 1984 song by Missing Persons. That refrain is an exaggeration, of course, but L.A. is ranked below other cities in walkability and pedestrian-friendliness. Last year, the city earned a Walk Score of just 64— compared to San Francisco’s 84 and New York’s 88. As far as the quality of its public transit, Walk Score ranked L.A. ninth in the nation, noting that in this city, “your best bet is to live close to work.”

Some Angelenos walk or bike to work, but most of us are getting where we need to go via bus, train, or car. Every day, 2,000 Metro buses crisscross L.A.’s streets, trains traverse 87 miles of light rail and subway tracks, and—well, then there’s the 405 at rush hour.

On the heels of new city plans to add bus and bike lanes, it’s a good time to take stock of the big picture in this big city. What should L.A. look like for pedestrians, bikers, drivers, and transit commuters? And what do we need to be thinking about as we look ahead? In advance of the Zócalo/Metro event “What is the Future of L.A.’s Transit?” we asked a variety of transit experts: What is missing from the current vision of L.A. transit future?


A focus on low-income, transit-dependent communities

The county of Los Angeles has embarked on an effort to realize a more connected and “sustainable” city. This vision is anchored by numerous rail expansion projects, and focuses on encouraging commuters to favor public transportation over driving. But where do low-income transit riders—those who depend on our transit system the most—fit into the vision of L.A.’s transit future?

In Los Angeles, 75 percent of workers who commute via public transportation earn a household income of $25,000 or less a year. Yet research shows that transit investment often increases housing costs near transit corridors. In Boyle Heights, residents had high hopes for the Gold Line rail expansion and its promise of jobs and street improvements. Fast-forward 10 years, there are four new train stations in Boyle Heights, along with reduced bus service and increased real estate speculation. Now longtime community residents are struggling to live near the public transit they depend upon.

Advocacy efforts have pushed the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Agency (Metro) to adopt policy measures that will encourage the development of affordable housing on Metro-owned land. In Boyle Heights, where residents have fought for years to secure affordable housing near transit corridors, the effort feels like an afterthought. Now, as our region moves forward with the plan to transform many other neighborhoods in a similar way, we don’t have a comprehensive strategy that secures housing near transit for Metro’s core ridership.

Supporters of transit investment, public agencies, municipalities, affordable housing developers, and residents of neighborhoods impacted by transit expansion all need to sit down at the same table and create a strategy that puts low-income communities who depend on public transit at the forefront of any vision. Plans for L.A.’s transit future should not prioritize riders who don’t depend on transit over those who use the system out of necessity. To do so would simply continue a for-profit policymaking trend that favors short-term political gains over long-term sustainability in our city.

Carla De Paz is a community organizer at the East L.A. Community Corporation, a community development organization that advocates for economic justice for low-income families in Boyle Heights.

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