17. That old red magic

Jane Usher wrote, "Our shared goal of growth through elegant density demands that we build vertically, but only in my view at major commercial or employment centers or within walking distance of locations where we have or will provide a substantial mass transit stop."

Before you ride the bus, you have to learn to walk. And before you'd be willing to learn, there has to be a place to walk to "? a relatively safe place, public without being exposed, at least minimally sheltered, lighted at night and in the early morning, clean. And a bus has to stop there with convincing regularity "? every ten minutes, say.

Given the interlocking tiers of transit in Los Angeles "? from local bus to Rapid limited service to light rail and subway "? there should be a clean, well-lighted place at every transfer point. And the bus or train to has to arrive there with convincing regularity.

Of course, none of that is true of the Metro system.

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Jane Usher wrote, "We still need to update our Transportation Element to define these sites with precision, a controversial process because it requires us to identify land use winners and losers "? an essential task that our government has shied from."

That's the moral dilemma of city planning. Locate density "? with its heavy freight of social value "? precisely where it aligns with the existing transit network, and some landowners win and some lose. Expand the pool of winners by approving any project past which a bus might pass "? one day, some day "? and in making that choice, fail a moral obligation. An obligation to the existing neighborhood on which developed was imposed and to the buyers or renters, who were fed the familiar "bait and switch" that defines how this city sold itself into existence.

Jane Usher wrote, "Please reject any proposed update that relies on the careless, sprawl-inducing approach of adding density at every Rapid bus stop . . . For a more nuanced approach that will help us create a truly connected transit system, I commend you to the state CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act] guidelines which define a major bus transit stop as the intersection of two or more heavily serviced bus lines."

A strict construction of CEQA guidelines produces too few winners and too many losers on the patchwork grid of the Metro transit system. And besides, CEQA is one environmental review that developers no longer have to push a project through, if they attach to it the magic of Transit Oriented Development.

A hundred years ago, Henry Huntington combined his railroad expertise with a knack for subdividing a presumed paradise to found a dozen new suburbs. The Red Cars of Huntington's Pacific Electric network were a "loss leader," a way to get prospective homebuyers to the subdivision's sales office. Today's network of limited Rapid buses "? not so ironically, also painted red "? delivers the TOD magic.

The image on this page was taken by Flickr user Metro. It was used under Creative Commons license.

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