Archive | June 2012

My (revised) thoughts on transit

(This post was written back in April on my way back from a planning conference)

After these last 5 days in Los Angeles, it makes more sense to me why the middle class and wealthy are generally opposed to public transportation. For such a large city, their system is pretty awful.

As a visitor I quickly discovered its shortcomings in terms of routing, placement of stops, quality and clarity of signage, and its seeming inability to adapt to demand. Throughout my visit I found myself wondering where to go, which train I wanted, when the next bus was coming, and most of all, why the trains don’t go where they should. I never experienced this in Washington, DC or New York, even before the age of smartphones.

Another complaint: crowding. On nearly every bus and train I rode, riders were forced to stand uncomfortably in others’ personal space, stumbling around at every braking and acceleration.  At one point my friends and I got off a local bus because of this very issue, only to be passed by the following express bus because it was filled to capacity.

Fare card machines proved unreliable at times. Enforcement of fare payment and the no-eating rule was largely nonexistent. And, cell phone service in its underground stations and tunnels? Forget it. Even though Washington D.C.’s Metro system figured out how to serve the mobile market years ago, LA’s system is still in the dark ages.

Some fellow Metro riders only added to the less-than-stellar experience. My group nearly witnessed a fistfight, followed by exclamations about how Hispanics want to own everything and Blacks don’t have any freedoms. That may have been the booze talking, but it made the environment tense, to be sure. Couple that with crying babies, and I was ready to sit in traffic, just me and my music and my brake pedal.

I want to be clear: I am pro-transit.  I’ve read enough research to know that a well-established public transportation system is an asset to a community.  I’ve experienced well-established public transportation.  But, well-established means well-functioning.  Los Angeles’ Metro is not.

If planners and transit advocates have any chance of furthering the goal of adding and growing rail in our larger cities (particularly those in auto-dominated sunbelt cities), we have got to do a better job of designing those systems.  Deciding where transit goes is not enough.  We must consider every aspect of the rider’s experience:

·       how they get to the station,
·       what the station looks like,
·       how easy it is to buy fare,
·       ease of boarding,
·       seat comfort,
·       travel time,
·       clarity and volume of station announcements,
·       safety,
·       cleanliness,
·       signage,
·       accessibility for persons with disabilities,
·       space for strollers, bicyclists, and luggage,
·       and the list goes on…