By Josh Stephens.
Of all the misconceptions that get assigned to Los Angeles, one of the most untrue is that the city has no public transportation. In fact, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) runs the second-most extensive public transit system in the country, behind only that of New York City. Metro records 1.5 million average boardings per day on buses that traverse every major boulevard in the city and trains that parallel some of the region’s busiest streets and freeways.
Even so, only 11 percent of Angelenos commute via transit. For the rest, it’s still easy to miss Metro’s services for all the cars.
“L.A. has always been considered a city of the automobile, a city of the freeway, a city of sprawl,” says Diego Cardoso, a Metro executive.“[Transit ridership] depends on the cultural shift that needs to occur in the city of Los Angeles.”
This is the shift that Metro’s “First Last Mile Strategic Plan & Planning Guidelines” aims to effect. Adopted in early April, it won a 2015 National Planning Excellence Award for a Best Practice from the American Planning Association a few weeks later. Anything that gets Angelenos, famously fossilized by traffic, out of their cars surely is worthy of celebration. That goes double in a state that is aggressively trying to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
The so-called first mile/last mile problem plagues transit systems across the U.S. Naturally, lines have to follow major corridors and serve population centers. They can’t be everywhere. In a dense but geographically sprawling city like Los Angeles, that means that many workplaces, and even more residences, are not in easy walking distance to a station. According to some planners, this problem, more so than issues of routing or headway, prevents Angelenos from taking full advantage of public transportation. (The Los Angeles area is served by a dozen or so smaller transit systems sponsored by individual municipalities. Many of them coordinate with Metro.)
“First mile/last mile solutions are very good value for their dollar because they have an opportunity to encourage more users on your current system,” says Hilary Norton, executive director of Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic, a business-backed advocacy group for transportation.