L.A. Takes To Transit


Union Station, Los Angeles. Image courtesy of Allison Arieff


Angelenos love their cars, but there is a limit to that love even in Los Angeles. Clogged freeways, jammed arterials, the hassle and expense of parking, and volatile gasoline prices have all taken their toll on L.A. residents’ relationships with their cars.

Prior to the 1990 opening of Metro, L.A.’s rapid transit rail system, few attractive car alternatives were available. Metro’s opponents predicted Angelenos would never ditch their cars for a transit lifestyle, even if train lines were extended across the region. But as Metro’s rail services grew, weekday ridership growth surprised everyone, increasing at a faster pace than population (11 percent versus 3.7 percent) between 2000 and 2010.

Weekend transit use is generally lower, but with the opening of the Expo Line in June 2012 and a station right next to the L.A. Coliseum, about 8,000 (or 8.5 percent) of the spectators attending the USC football season opener in September 2012 opted for Metro. They accounted for more than 60 percent of Expo boardings that day. Developers negotiating to build a new parking-free professional football stadium downtown, located close to transit stops, were no doubt cheering that news. A single USC game is no indication that L.A. residents will be abandoning their cars altogether anytime soon, but it does signal they like having options and will use them when convenient.

A more significant sign that some desire a less car-dependent life in L.A. is the success of mixed-use transit-oriented developments (TOD). At the Metro station in North Hollywood and near the three stations in Hollywood, the marketability of TOD in job- and attraction-rich areas is clearly evident in low vacancy rates and high average weekday Metro boardings. Numerous developments have sprung up along the Gold Line in Pasadena, South Pasadena, and Little Tokyo. Transit use by workers increased from 4.7 to 6.2 percent between 2000 and 2010.

Most of the developments near transit that were constructed in the L.A. region prior to 2008 were built through public-private partnerships and with financing from redevelopment agencies. Several planned projects near transit were put on hold in the post-2008 economic slowdown and few were initiated. Then, even as markets began to recover, a change in California law disbanded redevelopment agencies. Some thought that would derail development by transit stations. It didn’t.

Despite the loss of redevelopment funds, most projects that were put on hold remain viable and many public-private development agreements are still being negotiated.  But perhaps the strongest indicator that development near transit is still on track is the numerous private sector projects currently in various stages of planning. Developers see a strong demand for transit-accessible housing, particularly among young professionals who value what’s outside their door perhaps even more than what is behind it. Accordingly, developers are pursuing multiple projects in Culver City, at the Green Line Aviation station (currently the closest stop to Los Angeles International Airport), and in Santa Monica, where Metro tracks are yet to be built.

Angelenos are unlikely to ever forsake their cars entirely, but as the opportunities to transition to transit increase, so too do the riders.

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