Monday, December 18, 2006

City of Angels

It turns out that America's freeway capital is trying to build one of the nation's best public transportation systems:

Los Angeles is No. 2 in the nation in bus ridership and No. 3 in light rail, according to industry statistics. Since 1993, it and Detroit are the only major metropolitan regions in the nation that have succeeded in lowering the annual hours of delay per traveler. In October, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) named Los Angeles County's Mass Transportation Authority the best public transportation system in the country -- truly a man-bites-dog turnaround for an agency that for years was known for incompetence and shady deals. Other cities interested in expanding their public transit systems, notably Atlanta and Tampa, are even studying Los Angeles.

Critics have long regarded Los Angeles as the epitome of suburban sprawl, a city with no true center that is clogged with traffic and pollution. But Los Angeles is the nation's densest urban region, and it makes me realize that advocates of high-density development and public transit like yours truly) have probably confused cause and effect: Excellent public transit systems do not necessarily lead to high-density communities. (Because people cannot be forced to use transit. Besides, many of the earliest suburbs grew up around commuter railroad stations.) Rather, as communities grow denser, residents will demand high-quality public transit.

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