Claremont Insider: Transit Problems

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Transit Problems

The LA Times ran an editorial yesterday pointing out the ineffectiveness of so-called "smart growth" measures. The piece is a follow-up to a June 30th Times article about "transit oriented developments" (TOD's) that are springing up in the Southland around transportation hubs.

As the Times pointed out, the percentage of Southern Californians riding light rail lines only increased from 4.5% in 1990 to 4.6% in 2000. That increase has been overwhelmed by the total number of new residents, most of whom are driving, not riding rail or bus lines.

It isn't really too hard to figure out why people would rather drive than ride. Have you tried to get to Huntington Beach by light rail lately? Nevermind the beach, try going to Victorville by light rail or bus. Can you get there from here? Can Sandy Baldonado?

For most people, driving is simply more convenient. Until the price of gasoline rises sufficiently or until traffic finally becomes permanently gridlocked, the majority of people are going to opt for driving themselves.

In the meantime, towns like Claremont have invested in transit oriented developments like the Village Walk in the new Village West and close to the Claremont Metrolink Station. But once they're built, the developments not only attract residents who are likely to continue using their cars, but they also encourage more local traffic because they're accompanied by retail developments that attract shoppers.


The writers of the 6/30 Times article looked at a South Pasadena condo development where a 67-unit TOD replaced two bungalows. The Times observed the area for four days and found:

From 6 to 9 a.m. on four weekdays earlier this year, 50 to 60 cars left the residents' parking lot. An additional 75 pulled into the streets around the development on each of the mornings so their drivers could patronize the coffee shop that is built into the project. Still more vehicles — about 50 by 9 a.m. — pulled into a parking lot at the development for people who drive there to use the nearby Gold Line station.
At the same time, the article reported, jobs are migrating to outlying areas not conveniently served by mass transit. So, employees hop in their cars to get to work.

All of which points up the problem of urban planners whose theories fail to take into account real human behavior. Unless we radically redo the layout of our cities and condense everything into urban centers tied to a transit grid, the attraction of the car will remain. Things are just too spread out to be adequately serviced by our present bus and rail systems. They'll work for a relative few who have simple commutes from home to a fixed office in, say, downtown Los Angeles, but aren't practical for people who have multiple stops during the day or who work in areas not well-served by existing transit lines.


Road traffic has translated into a lot of recent web traffic. The Foothill Cities blog noted some of the discussion, as did the LA Times' own Bottleneck Blog.


Claremont is particularly afflicted by a surplus of Claremont 400 credentialed and non-credentialed urban planners, all of whom want to map out the future the way they always have: by making it up as they go, by projecting their own behavior onto the population at large, by ignoring how people behave in the real world, and by digging in their heels and not wanting to veer from their rigid, predetermined paths once reality shows them up. (Stay the course, stay the course.)

In any event, despite the wishful thinking of these theory-based New Urbanists, it looks as if traffic is here to stay for the foreseeable future. As usual America's Finest News Source, The Onion, has the story covered:

Tired Of Traffic? A New DOT Report Urges Drivers: 'Honk'