Los Angeles: Making Auckland look auto centric since 1990

Venice Beach bike path
Venice Beach bike path

Following on from Barb’s post on Los Angeles’ Ciclovia event, it is interesting to see just how much further ahead the supposedly car obsessed LA is than Auckland on public transport and cycling.

It is common knowledge that Auckland has tracked many of the transport policies of Los Angeles. This really started in the 1950s when both Auckland and LA, up to that point cities with very high public transport use, had their light rail/street car networks removed. While GM and others were eventually fined for their anti-competitive activities to destroy the Red Car network (as famously portrayed in Who Framed Roger Rabbit), there is no doubt that (just as in Auckland) the lack of maintenance during WW2 and the growth of the automobile were deciding factors.

Since the early 90s, LA has actually been moving slowly in the other direction from Auckland (well until recently) to a more public transport and cycling friendly city. It has been building new Metro Rail rail lines and facilities with the first new line opened in 1990. There are increasing calls for this to accelerate as Los Angelinos start to appreciate the benefits of modern public transport.

If you have seen the recent Spike Jonze film Her, you will have seen Joaquin Phoenix travelling all over a future Los Angeles using the Metro. The film also shows a map of a future LA metro with a vastly expanded network (much of it actually in the planning).

A recent article has also pointed out how much things have changed in LA since the release in 1994 of the seminal, cinematic masterpiece Speed, where the full array of Keanu Reeves’ acting emotions (90% confusion/10% anger) were on display.

Long Beach separated bike path
Long Beach separated bike path

When it comes to cycling, Auckland’s anaemic modal share of 2-3% looks positively healthy compared to LA’s of less than 1%. However, LA is moving to institute more infrastructure and some areas are becoming quite cycle friendly. Long Beach leads the way with actual separated cycle paths and plans for more in the city (remember Aucklanders, look but don’t touch!).

Recently, Los Angeles has announced the installation of its first fully separated cycle lane. This will involve the conversion of 3 lanes of an 8 lane traffic sewer into a separated cycle lane, a quick-boarding bus platform and also actually adding parking. For me this also illustrrtates the point that parking is not necessarily a bad thing for cyclists, as long as cyclists are given separated facilities on the inside of the parked cars. After all, what better protection is there from a tonne of steel than a tonne of steel?

In addition, the LA department of transport has now announced the launch of its first bicycle friendly business district in NE Los Angeles.

A [Bicycle Friendly Business District] is a partnership between the City, neighborhood and business organizations, and local businesses that improves a business district’s Bicycle Friendliness through bicycle infrastructure and local business promotions to people travelling by bicycle.  The district encourages and promotes short, local trips, especially for shopping, dining and recreation.

Los Angeles bike lane - not perfect but wide and with a buffer zone
Los Angeles bike lane – not perfect but wide and with a buffer zone

The US really seems to be leading the way on fast, cheap trials of bicycle infrastructure and roading diets. This is another example and will give the business owners in that area a chance to assess the benefits of the pilot scheme. If successful, the scheme will be rolled out to other parts of LA.

We have heard whispers that some lucky suburb in Auckland might be in for similar treatment. We really hope that happens and please take every opportunity to tell Auckland Council and AT that this is the direction they should be headed.

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