connect / 2014
Fix our Traffic: Getting people to rapid transit stations one neighborhood at a time
Please describe yourself.
Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)
In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.
In order to get people out of their cars, we need to create effective ways to get them to rapid transit stations.
Does your project impact Los Angeles County?Yes (benefits all of LA County)
Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?
- Central LA
- East LA
- South LA
- San Gabriel Valley
- San Fernando Valley
- South Bay
What is your idea/project in more detail?
A lot of L.A. residents would use mass transportation if there were a way to get between home and the station. Our project is to develop a plan for moving people from where they live to the closest rapid transit. It is a critical element in developing L.A. connectedness.
There are lots of ways to do this, ranging from fleets of small dedicated taxis, to electrically assisted bicycles, to electrically powered shuttle buses. A workable system needs all of these and more. What’s been missing is a plan to ask for ideas from the public, and then put everything together in a comprehensive system.
We intend to work with the public and with transit providers to find a mix of ways to get people to the stations and home again.
What will you do to implement this idea/project?
This project will devise a practical solution for getting people from their homes to the nearest rapid transit station and back again. To do this, we need to work with L.A. residents who will use the new systems, as well as with manufacturers and transit agencies.
Many L.A. people live far from train stations, including the stations that already exist and those that are yet to be built. Getting to the station will continue to be a problem if we don’t come up with a practical solution.
We believe that the light rail systems now being built will address some of the transportation deficit we now face. Another rapid transit technology known as personal rapid transit (PRT) is currently being developed by several companies. PRT basically consists of passenger carriers (pods) that are elevated above the street, and can take people without intermediate stops to their destinations.
We have been collecting ideas for getting people to and from the rapid transit stations. This project will develop a comprehensive concept for a system with multiple types of connections, and then do a specific design for two neighborhoods.
For example, a fleet of electric taxicabs, accessible by cellphones, and serving the public on a fixed price basis, could be one part of the solution. We are also very intrigued by the newly developed hydrogen fueled electric bicycles, which can be adapted for commuting. We think that it’s also important that if personal rapid transit comes to L.A., that the passenger pods be designed and built so that bike riders can take their bikes along.
Too often, governmental decision making has been from the top down. We feel strongly that the design and planning of a neighborhood friendly solution to getting people to rapid transit has to be put together with and by the people who will be directly afffected, and who stand to gain or lose. We therefore are planning this as a public participation project from the very start.
How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to CONNECT today? In 2050?
The long range goal is to make Los Angeles easier to get around. This includes commuting to work as well as traveling to all the destinations that make living in the city a rewarding experience. We all know how overstressed the freeway system has become. We know how frustrating it is to be driving down the freeway, only to see a wall of tail lights go on just ahead of us.
Imagine how useful it would be if we were able to travel quickly and easily to a train station or to a personal rapid transit station, board the train or the PRT pod, and get to the destination quickly.
Residents of Los Angeles have an amazing choice of destinations, everything from the Music Center to sports centers to our major shopping centers. There are museums, universities, community colleges, and restaurants.
Frustratingly, our Los Angeles of 2014 suffers from heavy traffic and the slow but inexorable increase in gasoline costs.
The goal of building rapid transit is to connect the people of Los Angeles with all of these different destinations. The intent of our project is to consider and then design the critical link that gets people to the mass transit services themselves. In short, our project is the final element in aiding Los Angeles residents connect to work, play, and study.
Without the new rapid transit systems, we are stuck in a descending spiral of traffic and fouled air. We have to figure out how to make it easy for people to use mass transportation, and that is the goal of our project.
Transportation experts refer to the problem of getting people to and from mass transit systems as the “first mile, last mile” question. We believe that an intelligent choice of solutions (and it must be solutions, not just one solution) can not only solve that problem, it can increase the range to several miles. For example, we will explore the idea of how to make carry-on bikes a regular part of the commuter experience. Other methods such as the dedicated taxi fleet would be required by other people. Personal, human connectivity with the full geography of Los Angeles is our goal.
It is critically important to have the next generation of rapid transit riders be a part of this planning process. In the short term, L.A. residents will begin to appreciate the idea of using rapid transit, and in the year 2050, much of Los Angeles commuting and recreation will use rapid transit.
Whom will your project benefit?
It is obvious that developing a citywide and countywide system of mass transportation will benefit practically everyone who lives in the Los Angeles area. We all need to move around in the city, but we are currently caught in an overstressed system that does not provide enough freeway lanes or city streets to serve our needs. Even freeway commuters will be helped as many of us leave the freeways and use alternative transportation.
But commuters and travelers are not the only people who will benefit. One outcome of a newly invigorated rapid transit network in L.A. will be to stimulate manufacturing, particularly as the city and county engage in local sourcing of some components. One possibility is that by making Los Angeles a leader in rapid transit technology, L.A. can become the leader in a newly created export industry.
None of this is inevitable, but a concerted effort by planners and designers has a good chance of getting to this highly desirable goal.
We also need to mention some other benefits that go beyond the ability to get from one place to another quickly.
A citywide system of electrically operated personal rapid transit and light rail will replace a large part of the carbon dioxide that is currently emitted by cars. What we will achieve is a city that is cleaner, that suffers from less vehicular noise, and which will carry its own weight in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Development of support systems for rapid transit, such as dedicated fleets of minicabs, will create new jobs in whole new sectors of the local economy. Providing citywide mobility for handicapped people is an essential element of any system we develop.
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
Interestingly, our collaborators include not only our nonprofit organization members including the Transit Coalition, they also include neighborhood councils created by the City of Los Angeles, mass transit providers, companies that are currently developing personal rapid transit, and academic experts in the field of transportation.
We currently have an ongoing relationship with the one personal rapid transit company that is based in California, Skytran Inc. Skytran is currently designing and building a PRT demonstration overseas. We have been discussing the acquisition of a PRT system for Los Angeles not only with Skytran, but with our elected officials.
City Councilman Paul Koretz and his staff are important collaborators whom we have been working with for several years on the subject of improved transportation. We will ask his staff to collaborate with us on the project.
Several members of our group have been active members of the city’s neighborhood council system going back to its inception. Neighborhood councils have active transportation committees that we shall work with. We are currently negotiating with the Neighborhood Council Congress, a yearly gathering of more than 500 people, for a breakout session on “Getting to the station: the final link.”
We feel that we have an important collaborator in the public as a whole. In fact, our interest in studying and solving the “first mile, last mile” problem came out of a transportation discussion at a public venue. One of the audience, a professor at Harbor UCLA Medical Center, explained that she lives in Mar Vista and needs to get to Harbor UCLA in Torrance for her work. She explained that unless she has a mass transit station nearby, or some convenient way of getting to the station, she will be stuck with taking her car to work.
Since the proposed project involves interviewing residents of Los Angeles about their needs and wants, we consider all of our future contacts to be collaborators.
We hope to develop working relationships with several other companies that are currently developing innovative new systems in Europe, Asia, and other parts of the United States. We feel that designing the vehicles in a way that works seamlessly with our “first mile, last mile” solutions is critical.
How will your project impact the LA2050 “Connect” metrics?
- Median travel time to work
- Attendance at cultural events
- Number of public transit riders
- Participation in neighborhood councils
- Percentage of Angelenos that volunteer informally (Dream Metric)
- Transit-accessible housing and employment (the share of housing units and percentage of jobs that are located within a half-mile of transit) (Dream Metric)
- Attendance at public/open street gatherings (Dream Metric)
Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.
Since the basic purpose of the project is to make it possible for people to want to use mass transportation rather than their own cars, the metric “number of public transit riders” is clear and obvious. Since one of the purposes of creating mass transit is to reduce freeway congestion and to provide transportation that is faster and less interrupted than driving the freeway during rush hours, the metric “median travel time to work” should also be included. Los Angeles residents have become used to long commute times. A light rail or personal rapid transit journey into downtown Los Angeles or to another business center should proceed at a high rate of speed and with few of the interruptions characteristic of freeway driving. Thus we expect that the median travel time to work will be improved by the completion of the various rapid transit systems, and the system as a whole, including getting to and from home, will be improved by our project.
We have included “transit accessible housing” although our project has nothing to do with the construction of new housing close to the planned rail lines or potential PRT lines. Rather, the aim of our project is to make housing more accessible to mass transit by designing and promoting the links between housing and the transit systems.
We have also included several other items which will be indirectly affected by our project, since they involve people getting to events, people getting to public meetings, and people being empowered to engage in volunteer activities which require travel. Since our project involves our own participation and involvement in neighborhood councils, we expect to recruit volunteers to work within the neighborhood council structure.
Please explain how you will evaluate your project.
At some time in the future, we expect to see an increased number of L.A. residents using rapid transit to get to work and play, and we expect to see that their trips are made easier by comprehensive networks of local transportation that will move them between their homes and the rapid transit stations. This is of course a long range goal, and not something that we will be able to demonstrate within the one year scope of the proposed project.
However, we do have specific goals and we will be able to evaluate them one by one and as a totality. For example, we will keep count of the number of public meetings we visit and/or host, and the approximate number of people we speak to and hear from. We expect to hear lots of ideas about how to solve the first mile, last mile question, and we will keep lists of those ideas and create written summaries that will be shared online.
A second level of evaluation will follow the next phase, in which we design an entire neighborhood system and invite the people to evaluate it themselves. Using available demographic and geographic data, we will be able to estimate the fraction of the neighborhood that could, if it so desired, make use of the first mile, last mile solution we will devise. Such estimates are of course imperfect, but we believe that putting a tangible proposal in front of people will give them a chance to think seriously about the future of rapid transit in their own lives.
Another level of evaluation will come from the people themselves, as they provide feedback in terms of how they like such proposals, whether they think they would use such a system, and whether they wish to offer their own alternative solutions.
We also expect to get feedback from transportation agencies, elected officials, and from the various volunteer and nonprofit organizations that are involved in the wide ranging movement to bring mass transit to Los Angeles.
What two lessons have informed your solution or project?
The two important lessons we have learned involve the public mood regarding the current transportation mess, and how the public decison making process works in the real world.
We have attended meetings all over the city, some hosted by the mayor, and others put on by neighborhood councils. We have also hosted discussions about mass transit.
In every single meeting, there is a strong sentiment that Los Angeles is broken in terms of our traffic problems. The freeways are congested much of the time, and city streets are often gridlocked. People are fed up and are asking for answers. We find that the idea of new ways of getting around using rapid transit get a lot of support.
However, the question people raise is whether or not it will be practical for them to get to the mass transit systems. If there is no local connectivity, then they will continue to rely on their cars in order to commute to work. Thus the project we are proposing comes directly from those discussions and the lessons we have learned from them.
The second lesson we have learned, and which we intend to apply, is that the process of public decision making is complicated, and involves a lot of time and effort on the part of people who hope to affect that process. We have found that what might seem obvious to the professional planner is not so obvious to the public, that the process of buy-in by the public is uncertain, that the process takes time, and that it is necessary not just to talk, but to listen. We find that sometimes the public’s response to proposals can be surprising.
That lesson leads to a significant part of this proposal, namely the plan to take the question directly to the public. We intend to find out what sorts of mass transit connectivity will appeal to people, what sorts of connections they might be willing to use, and how much they will be willing to pay. We expect that people who commute long distances to work everyday will potentially be the most supportive of getting out of their cars.
We expect to be surprised by some new ideas that we have never heard before, coming from participants in public forums. We should confess that the proposals we are already considering, ranging from the dedicated cab systems to small electrically powered trolleys, have come from a wide variety of sources. We expect to hear lots of ideas in the coming months, and some of them may become parts of the transportation systems of the future.
Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.
Since our plan is to devise the basic concepts for a citywide network that will get people to and from mass transit, but not actually to build that network, the project can be completed in a year. This does not mean that we will stop working after a year, but that we intend to complete the critical first stage in the prescribed time.
The project includes 3 phases to be taken both in parallel and, to a certain extent, one after the other. The first phase is to collect ideas about getting people between their homes and the closest rapid transit station. We already have a few ideas, but through holding public meetings, creating an online discussion using social media and a website, and by interviewing transportation professionals, we expect to collect an even wider variety of ideas. The neighborhood council system will provide additional opportunities to complete this phase.
The second phase will involve selecting two neighborhoods that will be within 5 miles of a planned rapid transit station. We may also select additional neighborhoods that will eventually be served either by light rail or by an elevated personal rapid transit system. We will analyze these neighborhoods and come up with a plan for each. The specific neighborhood plans will describe the local connectivity services that would allow the residents of a neighborhood to get to a rapid transit station in the most effective way. We envision this process as happening with the knowledge and participation of area residents. We have experience with working with neighborhood councils, and we expect to tailor our selection of neighborhoods based on the interest and availability of neighborhood council participants and stakeholders.
The last phase of the one year project is to communicate our findings and our draft proposals as widely as possible.
All of these elements can be started within the one year time frame, and every one of these elements can be carried out to some level of completion.The aim is that at the end of the year, we will have shifted the level of discussion from the freeway mess to the possibility of using rapid transit, and from there to a more comprehensive plan which starts at each person’s front door.
Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?
The core project of getting people interested in the process and getting them to participate is not a huge challenge. We have a lot of experience in making use of already existing public organizations for the purpose of holding public discussion and debate. There is always a challenge in getting time on any organization’s agenda, but transportation issues are a very high priority everywhere in the region, so we don’t anticipate too much of a problem in this regard.
We do have a challenge in terms of designing the “first mile, last mile” solution for any given neighborhood, but that’s what this project is all about, and we predict that we will get a lot of public participation in this element of the project. Getting support and input from transportation experts, particularly at the academic level, will be a challenge, but we have been reasonably successful at this so far on other topics.
Another challenge involves the fact that there are vested interests in the transportation industry. For example, the taxicab companies and cab drivers have been somewhat hostile to the new, self-creating competition such as Uver, a company which links owners of private cars with people who are willing to pay for a ride. Uver is, in some sense, direct competition with the more traditional taxicab companies.
We actually see this as an opportunity, since the creation of localized, pay-one-price, dedicated cab systems will provide a vastly increased ridership, and with that increased ridership, there will be significant opportunities for the current generation of cab drivers. It will also provide an opportunity for the legacy taxicab companies to expand into a new market. Thus, the current views of the cab industry are both a challenge and an opportunity. We intend to talk with the taxicab companies and with their associated unions. Out of this interaction, we may all find some common ground.
Overall, the challenge is to get all the different groups, ranging from transit agencies, to manufacturers, to our L.A. residents, and bring them together so that a workable system can be imagined. It is a marriage of technological planning with social and neighborhood interests.
A final challenge is the vast distance and space encompassed by the City and County of Los Angeles. Just getting to meetings over our stressed road system will be a significant challenge, but this will be solved by making a determined effort.
What resources does your project need?
- Network/relationship support
- Money (financial capital)
- Volunteers/staff (human capital)
- Publicity/awareness (social capital)
- Technical infrastructure (computers, etc.)
- Community outreach