Tuesday, March 17, 2015

West Hollywood: A Plea for mass transit

For many City Planners in Los Angeles, "new urbanism" trends in transportation planning have focused on the city center, Downtown LA, which currently anchors the majority of lines of the expanding metro rail system. When people talk about a "third-wave" Los Angeles characterized by density, compactness and extensive public transit and walking options, they usually point to the revival of Downtown as the sign of the future. However, transit planners such as Michael Rhodes and Samuel Krueger have pointed out that Downtown is not Los Angeles' singular focal point of urban density (in the way that, say, Manhattan is to New York) but rather comprises one of a series of "dense" core-like areas, most concentrated in a line extending from Fairfax to the ocean. Of these core areas, the congested, centrally-located and compact entertainment West Hollywood provides even greater prospects for rapid transit development than downtown.

For one thing, West Hollywood's central location (conveniently surrounded by the commercial hubs of Beverly Hills and Century City (to the West), Hollywood (to the northeast) and Mid-Wilshire (to the east)), along with its legendary nightlife and dining destinations draw cars from across Greater Los Angeles onto its streets. With no freeway in the immediate vicinity and few wide streets running through the neighborhood, congestion constantly plagues West Hollywood even late at night.

Compounding West Hollywood traffic woes is the city's high commercial and residential density. West Hollywood is not only a nightlife hub (containing both the LGBT Boys Town" and the "Sunset Strip") and commercial center (with major design and entertainment industries centered in the city) but the most densely-populated independent city in Los Angeles County. Not only are all the major thoroughfares filled with cars in transit, but swamped along the curbsides. In the "Boys Town" district (near where I live), pedestrians not only crowd the sidewalks at night but, per East Coast mores, frequently wander into the street itself (especially as the night drags on). Indeed, so many pedestrian fatalities have occured on the stretch of Santa Monica in Boys Town, that the City of West Hollywood has gone out of its way to install signs and flashing signals warning cars to yield to pedestrians by crosswalks not located by traffic lights.  This goes to show how West Hollywood has long been a leader in efforts at making things easier for non-automative forms of transport and has result, been ranked as one of the most walkable cities in California. (Yes, above San Francisco)

Unfortunately, despite the congestion and pedestrian fatalities, a proposed line to West Hollywood remains off Metro's list of short-term expansion projects. This despite the city's proposal to plunk down money and even lobbyists to get a line through the city. If Metro were serious about expanding rail rather than winning votes from the San Gabriel Valley, they would construct a line towards West Hollywood as part of the short-term, rather than the contingent plan.

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