Posts tagged public transportation

Photo by Steve Boland(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

While distances may vary, the average walk most people will comfortably travel to public transit falls somewhere around one-quarter mile. My own comfort zone falls a little further, somewhere between a half and a three-quarter mile, or a 10-15-minute walk. But the quarter mile rule of thumb exists for a reason, a distance promoted by TOD, or Transit-oriented development, stipulating urban development focuses upon land uses around a transit station or transit corridor “within one-quarter mile, or a five to seven minute walk”.

However, not everyone lives or works near a public transit service within a quarter mile, or even a full mile. This is probably part of the reason why nearly 80% of Angelenos commute to work by car (not including out-of-county commuters).

Assuming participation in public transit would increase if there was a method of closing the gap between the first and final mile between commute destinations, what would be the best and most feasible solution to increase public transportation use?

Here’s one idea: Bird.

Following the models of ride-sharing services and bike sharing rentals now readily available across the city, users can now tap their smartphone to call up the service of a Bird – an electric scooter that does not require a dock, keys, rental booth, or even a drop-off location. You simply find your scooter after making a reservation by app, hop on, and go! Their website provides some basic rules:

  • Do: Wear a helmet, as required by law. Keep both feet on the footboard while riding. Ride in bike lanes when available. Park adjacent to
    bike racks when available. End your ride by locking the Bird with the app.
  • Do Not: Ride on sidewalks. Block public pathways or driveways. That’s about it.

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Good morning little Italy! #lovebird #enjoytheride

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As soon as the scooter is unlocked, the vehicle becomes the responsibility of its user. But considering how prevalent GPS is today, the scooters are tracked in real time, no matter how far they wander, almost guaranteeing they can be found before, during, and after use.

Every evening the fleet of scooters are picked up and taken back to the mothership to recharge. And like clockwork, between 5 am and 6 am the next morning, the electric scooters begin to reappear throughout the city, ready for a new day of use. Initially I harbored some of the same concerns as when ride-sharing apps began proliferating. “Are there really going to be enough supply to meet a demand?” I wondered. Fortunately, anyone can log into the Bird app to check on the availability of scooters throughout the day.

As population of cities grow, density increases, and dependency upon personal automobiles decline, the availability of public transportation will increasingly become a topic of public discussion. But considering it’s much easier to bring riders to an existing station than it is to build a new rail station to riders, the proposition of adding an element of fun to public transportation by way of electric scooters seems a strategy I can support.

Photo: Jennifer Salazar

During a recent weekday lunch, representatives from local transportation organizations – including the MTA and OCTA – gathered in a small banquet room at the Biltmore Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles for the Women in Transportation Seminar-sponsored presentation entitled, “Infrastructure State of Good Repair & Asset Management”. The panel focused upon the “useful life” of moving vehicles (i.e. buses and train cars), specifically their long-term maintenance costs and the necessity to prioritize these needs. During the presentation the panel admitted repair and asset management was not one of their more exciting topics, but it was a critical for keeping the city’s transit systems operating long into the future.

By the end of the discussion I was left with a few questions, most importantly, “What about the investment in green infrastructure, both long and short term?”

AHBE and other landscape architects integrate and prioritize around green infrastructure, designing for various transit facilities like train stations, and bus and train maintenance facilities. I wondered about the span – or “useful life” – of green infrastructure in similar terms to transit. What investment would be required for a “state of good repair”?

True monetary landscape costs are not just represented by funds allocated for the purchase of materials and labor costs upfront for installing trees, paving, irrigation systems, infiltration systems, and site furniture. There are also the ongoing costs related to maintenance: annual plant pruning, weekly debris removal, the removal and replacement of infiltration plants that have absorbed contaminated roadway runoff (approximately every 5 years), and water costs required to irrigate the plants. All of these maintenance costs certainly need to be included in any green infrastructure project’s budget.

The next obvious question is, “What is the ROI – return on investment – of those green infrastructure costs?”

Colleagues have remarked about various studies citing monetary figures related to a landscape’s worth, quantifying and placing a value upon environmental benefits like the removal of air pollution by urban trees and shrubs. According to a 2015 USDA study – The State of California’s Street Trees – the monetary value placed on these trees from energy conservation, stormwater management, and property value averaged $110.63 per tree. Another online calculator factors in geographic location to identify the monetary value associated with the benefits of specific tree species.

Looking beyond monetary costs and benefits, we as a culture should be asking additional questions related to the investment in green infrastructure:  Are we willing to pay for lowered ambient air temperatures produced by trees, so our cities are more comfortable to walk, bike, or roll in?  What is the perceived value of large, mature tree in a park or plaza?

As a culture, we need to remember the intangible benefits of green infrastructure sometimes escape quantifiable value, but deserve to be appreciated nonetheless. Each tree adds immensely to the quality of life for all citizens, something with a long-lasting return on investment benefitting many generations.

 

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Plaza University trolley car of the Los Angeles Railway Company, showing two conductors posed in front, ca.1900-1910. Photo: Public Domain

Plaza University trolley car of the Los Angeles Railway Company, showing two conductors posed in front, ca.1900-1910. Photo: Public Domain

Photo by Seth Babb

Photo by Seth Babb

This week we’re taking a detour from the works of Ralph Cornell for a quick post about some unearthed light rail tracks I’ve long admired. A few years ago, while Vermont Avenue was being re-paved, I came upon the tracks of a long gone rail line that once ran across Vermont Ave until the late 1950s. It wasn’t anything grandiose or marked historical, but it’s appearance speaks to the many layers still there underneath every city.

Cities change over time, and identifying these layers is important to help us see the failures of the past. But these remnants also help to lay out future possibilities by providing an understanding of the present and the requirements of a city as it evolves. The Vermont rails and the counties wide system are now defunct pieces of Los Angeles history, but as Bruce Springsteen once wrote, “But maybe everything that dies someday comes back,” – an idea reflecting the possibility that our city’s past can be reborn as something relevant today.

Junction at Main Street, Spring Street, and 9th Street, Los Angeles, ca.1917. Photo: Public Domain

Junction at Main Street, Spring Street, and 9th Street, Los Angeles, ca.1917. Photo: Public Domain

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Photo by Jenni Zell

Like most employees of AHBE Landscape Architects, I ride public transportation to get to and from work. Riding public transportation in Los Angeles can feel like an act of defiance against the dominant automobile culture. The protective bubble of autonomy and self-determination that accompanies driving a car is dissolved when riding the train. Sharing destinations and overlapping zones of personal space are a few of the trade-offs one makes for the economy and reduced environmental footprint associated with riding public transportation. The train also offers a dramatically different experience of moving through the landscape of Los Angeles.

Photo: Creative Commons, by METRO96

Creative Commons photo by METRO96

My daily route is on the Metro Blue Line train, beginning from the Willow Station in Long Beach traveling to the 7th Street/Metro Center station in Downtown Los Angeles. Based on the direction the train is traveling (northbound or southbound), the direction of the car (north or south), and the position an individual stands within the car (facing east or west), there are eight ways to ride the Blue Line train. In the morning, I prefer to ride facing north while sitting nearest the east facing window. The sun is behind me, and the San Gabriel Mountains are in front of me. Crossing over the Los Angeles River, I enjoy watching black-necked stilts fish along the edges of the low flow channel, and I occasionally spot great blue herons and snowy egrets along the soft bottom section of Compton Creek (a tributary of the Los Angeles River).

Los Angeles Metro Light Rail Blue Line arriving at Slauson Station. Creative Commons by Justefrain

Los Angeles Metro Light Rail Blue Line arriving at Slauson Station. Creative Commons photo by Justefrain

However, the most picturesque view to be seen from all eight various riding positions on the train comes into focus near the Slauson Station, where the train car is elevated about 25’ above street level. From here the view’s fore, middle, and background vibrates with visual interest. The San Gabriel Mountains (sometimes snowcapped) form a backdrop to the industrial landscape of Vernon – neat piles of wrecked cars and towers of wood shipping crates – our city’s version of the ox carts and windmills that once littered the paintings of 17th century Dutch landscape and cityscape artists’ works. Anchoring the foreground of this particular view near the Slauson Station is a caricaturization of a television with the hand lettered message “UNN PLUG IT NOW,” an unexpectedly resonant statement most likely rendered with spray cans under the cover of dark.

If I travel southbound after dark, the ride always feels claustrophobic. The landscape is compressed into silhouettes and the dark outlines are disrupted by sharply detailed views into the private lives of people living along the Blue Line route. If I’m fortunate enough to get to the top floor of the Willow Station parking garage before dark, I’m rewarded with a striking view. The parapet walls of the garage act as a horizontal framing device, blocking out the pedestrian landscape and directing the eye toward the distant landscape of Downtown Long Beach and the hills of Palos Verdes, with the mellowed light and soft focus of the rosy atmosphere framing a pleasing return back into my private car and a return to my private life.