Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow

All right, let's get that cranky post off the top of this blog, shall we? Sorry about that, folks, but I'm better today! Also, in order to rectify the balance of the universe after my extremely dismal post, Chile has volunteered to sing "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow" in a red Annie-style wig. 

'Volunteer,' 'knows nothing about it and was volunteered by me,' whatever. Same difference right? You'll do it, right Chile? Come on! It'll be fun!!

Anyway, so today, I want to talk some more about Jane Jacobs. Sorry, I can't get enough of her, I think, because it is somewhat amazing to me how relevant a book from 1961 is in the building of sustainable cities. A week ago, I read her chapter on reducing car flow in cities. Her brilliant, yet when you think about it, totally obvious answer?

Make driving a car more annoying.

As Jacobs explains, and any incisive observer of LA traffic patterns could intuit, adding lanes and roads doesn't make traffic flow much better, because more cars end up on the road. Adding lanes/roads etc only works if there is a finite number of cars at one time. Since there is not, adding lanes is unlikely to decrease traffic.

Thus, Jacobs suggests that if we want to reduce car flow, we need to widen sidewalks, instead of narrowing them. This will have the result that some people will find travel sufficiently annoying, and will use another mode of transport.

So in the vein of Jane Jacobs, I have a suggestion for LA.

Get rid of some of the parking lots.

Now I know that many Angelenos reading this blog are likely to think I'm insane. Why would we DECREASE the amount of available parking in LA?

Simply, because it's too easy to park in LA. And because it's too easy to park, people in LA don't walk. Even though LA is a city with weather conducive to walking.

Melinda and I actually had this conversation several months ago about walkability. She listed her walk score for her new neighborhood in Seattle, so I asked her what the walkability was for her neighborhood in LA, because mine was surprisingly high. And she was similarly surprised with the relatively high walkability for her old neighborhood in Los Angeles.

Ever since then, I've formed this theory that part of the reason that LA has such an ingrained car culture is because it's too easy to park. If you can easily pull into a parking spot, might as well drive even if you're only traveling a quarter of a mile.

So here's my wacky suggestion for LA this week that will both reduce parking and strengthen public transit.

On most of the large streets, cars are allowed to park in a way that blocks the right-most lane except during rush hour, when the right-most lane becomes an extra lane for traffic. But instead of letting cars park in the right-most lane most of the time, why not use that lane for dedicated rapid bus transit?  

By cutting parking options (and cutting a lane for cars during rush hour), driving will become more annoying. At the same time, public transit will become LESS annoying, which will push some people out of their cars and into buses.

Oh sure, the whole idea is political suicide, and all, but at the same time ... wouldn't it be awesome if you could take rapid transit bus from the Sunset Strip to Hollywood? Or say, if you could go to Sky Bar, not pay $20 to park, have as much to drink as you want, and then take rapid bus transit down La Cienega and across Wilshire to your apartment in Hancock Park? Not every major street would need a dedicated bus transit lane; you could get pretty far if there were dedicated bus lanes on say Sunset, Santa Monica, Wilshire, La Cienega and La Brea. And we wouldn't have to wait 20 billion years for the subway to expand. Hell, we could do this tomorrow if we wanted to.

Sure, I know, ain't gonna happen. But a girl can dream, right?


Chile said...

Haha! If you'd ever heard me sing, you would not be volunteering me for this arduous task. No, ma'am. I love music but cannot carry a tune to save my life.

However, the weather folks here promise the sun will come out tomorrow. 'Course they also promised snow in Tucson this morning and that didn't happen unless you lived in the high elevations. So, no guarantees on the sun either. ;-)

Stephanie said...

Sounds like a plan to me. :) A good bus system is fantastic, and when people walk everywhere or take the bus, they even get to know their city better as well. Plus, I really dislike cars and find them annoying, so I'm all for every city making it more annoying to drive. ;)

Green Bean said...

You are right. It would be political suicide but it is brilliant!

Theresa said...

I heard a radio special on Jane Jacobs about a year ago, on the CBC one evening. It was terrific, and like you say, so relevant for today. Just like your idea: if you change the form, you will change the function.

Anonymous said...

I just got to use Jane Jacobs in an argument about whether the bike store/coffee shop on our greenway was a waste of federal redevelopment money.

The thing is, the coffee shop is an anti-crime measure based on Jacobs theories about active streets (or in this case, bikeways) and it was *way* cheaper than the money we pour into "broken-window policing", which isn't any more real-world, it's just another theory without too much backing evidence.

I was pretty proud of myself. I love her books but I don't know that her name would have been on the tip of my tongue without your post.

ruchi said...

Yay for using Jane Jacobs in an argument!!

Anonymous said...

I am new to your blog but I just wanted to ask if you had read a book called "A Geography of Hope"? It is very inspiring and somewhat uplifting. Check it out if you get a chance.It is also by a fellow Canadian.

EcoGeoFemme said...

I could not agree more. I will take public transit even when it takes MUCH longer than driving mostly because there is no place to leave my car at my destination. Or there is, but it costs more than the dinner I'm going to have. Not worrying about drinking is nice too, but mostly my driving is deterred by parking.

Melinda said...

Great idea. To fuel your optimism, the mayor of Seattle is doing just that: he's tearing down parking lots and building parks in their place. Certainly has created some grumbling, but he's still mayor! : )

Matt and I purposely decided not to pay for a parking space here. The reason is that it is so difficult to park on the street, we thought it would become a deterrent for us drive as much. It has worked, actually!

Now, I cannot wait to hear Chile sing, outa tune and all.