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Can We Ditch Our Cars and Embrace High-Speed Rail?

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Photo by denisetaylor via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr

Photo by denisetaylor via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr
As Angelenos, we complain about LA traffic and talk regularly about a future with fast, affordable mass transit. We encourage carpooling, bicycling, ridesharing, walking. Yet, when it comes to ditching our cars in favor of a high-speed rail system that could help alleviate many of our daily (and environmental) concerns, are we all talk or is LA ready to embrace a solution?

Roger Sherman, Principal of Roger Sherman Architecture and Urban Design and co-director of cityLAB, an urban design think tank affiliated with UCLA, has been tasked with "making high-speed rail mass transit work in car-obsessed Los Angeles," according to The American Institute of Architects.

Through cityLAB, Sherman was awarded part of a $250,000 grant from the Haynes Foundation to study the urban implications of high-speed rail. This grant, combined with $2.25 billion in federal funding to build high-speed rail linking San Francisco with San Diego and the Obama administration's $8 billion plan for nationwide high-speed rail, means LA's time has come. But how to take LA -- "a city whose history, development patterns, and urban fabric is based almost entirely on the automobile" -- and ready us for a more rail-friendly future?

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Sherman finds that many urban planners assume what works in one city will work in another. Rather than using a cookie-cutter approach to implementing high-speed rail in Los Angeles, Sherman embraces the uncertainties and complications that are unique to LA. In Anaheim, Burbank and Norwalk test locations, he's figuring out what makes residents tick first and will develop solutions second. He's studying many factors that he believes are ever-evolving such as the design implications for incorporating high-speed rail into the Los Angeles landscape, the politics involved in buying existing rails and building new ones, how realistic it is to plan around mixed-use housing in a city like LA and how high ticket prices might affect who will use high-speed rail.

All this, for a city that once had rail stretching from downtown to the San Fernando Valley and once had very big plans to make Los Angeles a mass transit mecca.