We Love Our Cars

Contrary to the narratives pushed by many urbanists, we really do, and this article from New Geography touches on some of the reasons why.

An excerpt.

Southern California has long been a nurturer of dreams that, while widely anticipated, often are never quite achieved. One particularly strong fantasy involves Los Angeles abandoning what one enthusiast calls its “car habit” and converting into an ever-denser, transit-oriented region.

An analysis of transit ridership, however, shows that the region is essentially no better off than when the modern period of transit funding began in 1980, with the passage of Proposition A, which authorized a half-cent sales tax for transit. In 1980, approximately 5.9 percent of workers in the metropolitan area (Los Angeles and Orange counties) used transit for their commute. The latest data, for 2013, indicates the ridership figure has fallen to 5.8 percent.

Never ones to let facts get in the way of fantasy, some retrourbanists and media types continue to insist our mass-transit transition is well on its way. Liberal blogger Matt Yglesias, writing in Slate, declared that Los Angeles is destined to become America’s “next great transit city.”

This view is echoed throughout retrourbanist circles. “The City of Angels is noticeably transforming. Our once car-centric town is becoming less car-dependent,” suggests the local LA Streetsblog, “Public transit is having a comeback. Pedestrian and bicycle infrastructures are improving.”

Instead of rushing to rail, Angelenos continue to rely on their cars to get to work. From 1980-2013, the market share of drive-alone commuters has risen from 70 percent to 74.1 percent. There has been an increase in driving alone of approximately 1.4 million daily commuters. Driving alone accounted for d approximately 85 percent of the region’s increase in commuters.

Why do people stick to their cars? For one thing, transit takes longer. The average drive-alone, one-way commute in Los Angeles was 27.0 minutes in 2013, compared with an average commute of 48.7 minutes for transit.

The other big factor is accessibility to jobs. The University of Minnesota Accessibility Observatory produced an estimate for the percentage of jobs that the average L.A. resident could reach within 30 minutes by car. In Los Angeles, the average resident can reach 60 times as many jobs in that time by car as by transit.

Transit needs downtowns

Transit plays an important role in America, but mostly in the urban cores of a handful of “legacy” cities. These core metros (excluding their often-sprawling, low-density suburbs) – New York City, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington and San Francisco – account for 55 percent of all transit-work trip destinations, just 6 percent of the country’s employment. Overall, the legacy cities’ transit ridership is nearly 10 times their proportionate combined share of jobs.

To a large extent, this reflects history and urban form. Transit remains largely a matter of downtowns. The cities with transit legacies have an average of 15 percent of their jobs downtown, three times the average for other major metropolitan areas. In contrast, Downtown Los Angeles has 2 percent of the metropolitan area’s jobs. In Orange County, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, homes to much of the regional population, there are really no substantial downtown areas.

Retrieved December 1, 2014 from http://www.newgeography.com/content/004785-southern-california-stuck-drive

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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