Moving Us Around and Looking for Advice

Mobility in 1962
Mobility in 1962

GOOD's website has a nifty infographic depicting the ways Angeleños currently get to and from work. No one will be surprised that most of the city's daily movement is by automobile, and that solo drivers make about 66 percent of those trips.

Numbers and their crunching can be slippery. For example, it would be interesting if the data included what happens before and after the solo commute. What percentage of drivers deliver children to school or daycare or an elderly parent to a senior center or a medical appointment before commuting alone? How many drivers shuttle kids to after-school activities or combine their commute with household errands or dining out or going to the gym?

Comparing Los Angeles with the usual suspects (New York, Chicago, and San Francisco) emphasizes our low public transit use - just over 11 percent of daily commutes. It would have been useful to see how Los Angeles stacks up against urban regions like Atlanta or Dallas or Washington, DC that, like Los Angeles, developed to their present extent in the post-war era.

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The percentage of Los Angeles commuters who carpool - almost 15 percent - is relatively high. That may partly be the result of the city's good-but-not-good-enough public transit network. Drivers and their carpool passengers have an edge over buses, light rail, and subways in selecting alternative destinations and in trip timing. Public transit outside of a few nodes, like downtown, is insufficiently ubiquitous or frequent.

Worse, the length of the average public transit commute is 44 minutes while the average by automobile is 27 minutes. That's a real disincentive to try transit.

Interestingly, pedestrian commuters - which the rest of the world mistakenly regards as an L.A. oxymoron - complete 3.6 percent of daily trips. Bike riders (based, I think, on data that lag behind actual experience) are 0.9 percent of commuters.

Commuting is a very specific and limited transportation need, but walking and biking activities meld with public transit and auto use outside the minutes spent getting to and from work. Again, more context in the data would be helpful, because transit policy should not be focused on one mode but on the several interconnecting modes that people use throughout the day.

GOOD's summary of Los Angeles transportation data is part of a collaborative effort aimed at envisioning tomorrow's city, including greater mobility for every kind of commuter. (You can participate by posting your ideas here.)

The city's transportation planners have given themselves a daunting goal: Develop a revised Mobility Element for the General Plan, document and categorize the city's grid of streets, update the Street Standards that guide how infrastructure improvements are handled, produce a Streetscape Manual that will define what is appropriate for each street standard, and find the funding sources that will make transit improvements and greater mobility possible.

Getting to greater mobility will be a long haul . . . an uphill climb . . . a real slog. Pick your metaphor for a goal that won't be easy to reach.


D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.


The image on this page was taken by flickr user Metro Transportation Library and Archive. It is used under a Creative Commons License.

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