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Traffic & Transit: To be happy, we must walk.

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The former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, Enrique Peñalosa, visited Los Angeles planners and MTA employees last week to spread some words of wisdom on transforming Los Angeles into a transit paradise.  Downtown News reported that his introduction to the group was pithy: "We [LA] were talking about [the solutions] and then Peñalosa just went and did it."  He did it with 1,200 urban parks, restricted car use in downtown Bogotá, and pedestrian-only streets (one stretches 20 miles) that are part of the 300-mile system of bus lanes and bicycle paths.  

"A good city is one where people like to be out of their homes," Peñalosa explained. "They want to be in the public space: walking, being with people in parks, plazas, in cafes.  There are some needs that we have for happiness... We need to be with people and we need to walk; not in order to survive, as birds need to fly or fish needs to swim.  We need to walk."

The speech comes at a time when members of the Los Angeles Planning Commission are beginning to make more decisions based on transit solutions for the long term.  On Saturday, two commissioners wrote an op-ed in the LA Times calling for improvements on the bus rapid transit system, especially on Wilshire Blvd., the most congested street in the United States.  While the subway to the sea would cost $5 billion and 10 years, a dedicated lane for the Metro Rapid 720 would be $232 million and would take a shorter period of time to complete.  Also, the Planning Commission recently went against a developer who was voluntarily adding a second level of subterranean parking to a new condo development in Sherman Oaks -- on an impacted parking street -- claiming that it would not need that much parking (in hopes of getting people to get out and use other modes of transit). 

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Neighborhoods like Sherman Oaks do have the potential to be more transit-savvy, with the Orange Line to the North and the Metro Rapid 720 on Ventura Blvd.  But the key may lie in how the Los Angeles River Trail plays out. In 6 years, Bogotá went from an extremely small population of bike commuters to 375,000.

"We have to choose between a city that is very friendly to car or a city that is very friendly to people... We have had cars for a very very short time in human history.  We have come to think that this is the way life is, but it is very recent, extremely recent...  Cars are a matter of the last 80 years. We have been building cities that are much more for cars' mobility and children's happiness.  A good city is one that is good for our most vulnerable members of society: good for the elderly, good for children, good for people with wheelchairs. If it's good for them, it will tend to be good for everyone else."

Peñalosa goes on to ask why eminent domain cannot be used for pedestrians instead of roads and highways.  Currently, in Sherman Oaks, one of the options to alleviate problems at 101/405 junction is to evict a small neighborhood of homes. 

"Transport problems cannot be solved with money, but solved with changes in life.  But the fact is that if everybody, every 16 year old and older wants to go into a car at peak hours, it would destroy a city quality, at least mathematically would probably not be able to solve the transport problem ever... Whatever the level of car use there is is because government has decided; society has decided. I mean if New York, if there was more space for cars, there would be more cars; if there was less space for cars, there would be less cars... This is a political decision on how we will solve transportation problems."

If the Planning Commission wants us to rid ourselves of our cars, public transportation needs to be expanded into the late night, DASH needs to go beyond rush hour, and more Class I trails need to be built.   Current car owners will never give up the right of late-night dining at Fred 62, nor will they ever go through the stress of a Class II bike lane on a busy and chaotic street.  It's easy to say "build it and they will come."  Unfortunately, we must not pussyfoot our way through the process.  In three years as mayor, Peñalosa just went ahead did it.  Will we?

"I cannot give luxury housing to everyone, but I can give quality pedestrian space to everyone.  This is not something that is out of reach for any society... What is a great public space?  One that is so good that even the rich cannot avoid going there.  Because in the public space, everyone meets as equals." ~ Enrique Peñalosa

Photo on Fairfax by culturesponge via Flickr.