AIA|LA Design Conference, The Architecture of Transportation: Wrap-up

Last Updated: June 29, 2011

AIA|LA Design Conference, The Architecture of Transportation: Wrap-up

AIA|LA Design Conference, The Architecture of Transportation: Wrap-up

Architect Thomas M. Jones, AIA, the Chair of the AIA|LA Urban Design Committee, shares his thoughts on the panel: "The Regional Level: Connectivity, Prosperity, Vibrancy and Delight."

I thought the panel was good. Having a contrarian, Jill Stewart, speak was probably good because she is the naysayer type that has thwarted efforts in the past to provide good public transport and who is also, to my ears, basically anti-urban by nature. I think that Jill Stewart's perspective is very much based in the 'false' notions of what LA both City and LA/OC metro are.

The two links below are stats about freeway miles in the urban centers in America. I think the thing that stands out is that LA is not the 'freeway nirvana' as portrayed quite often. We (LA & Orange Cos.) do not rank high in freeway miles per capita. So I think we, for all the ills of LA, actually may have an easier 'road' to reach a more balanced transport approach. New freeways have been essentially DOA since the early 1990's with the completion of the "Century Freeway" (105) after a contentious battle with neighbors and transit advocates, who succeeded in having the 'green line' as part of the project.

1999 Highway Statistics: US Urbanized Areas over 1,000,000
U.S. Department of Transportation - Highway Statistics - URBANIZED AREAS - 2005

The other stat that stands out is that LA/OC as a region is densely populated, again in contrast to the myth. I think this should be part of the argument for the heavy investment in 'multi-modal' mass transit. Since coming here for architecture school in the '70's it has amazed me that idyllic dream of Southern California persists as a strictly 'suburban' form. It seems to me that 'real' density problem is how uniform it is. It is also the opportunity to re-invigorated the earlier 'old agrarian towns ' that could formed many of the sub-centers as the nodes of better transport for the region. They would then support transit feeding the larger regional centers and many were on the old Pacific Electric system.

We have a variety of examples of those potential "feeder" sub-centers like Claremont, Fullerton, Orange which are still viable and pleasing town centers. They are urban examples which many would not call urban because the word 'urban' causes immediate images of New York or Chicago for many people. I think the point is we need to define the variety of urban density forms and how transport works with them. Just like there is multi-modal transport there are multi-forms/expressions of density. And LA has a regional system more akin to London or Berlin with multiple centers because like those cities the centers grew more or less toward and into one another.

Lastly, the article (see below*) and all the freeway underpass/overpass examples made me think, that the trick is what to do with remaining freeway infrastructure? All the freeways are not all going away in the foreseeable future. So how do we make better environments where they remain? Can we tie neighborhoods back together? I think the bridging of remaining freeways with parks is only one solution but certainly not the only one. Maybe overpasses with added retail on the sides al a "ponte vecchio" - with a stream lights below? (revenue generation for Caltrans?) The underpasses are a real challenge - maybe water features or light shows that pulsate to the traffic above?

The whole definition of what LA's urban form 'is' and the transit challenges and opportunities really do go hand in hand. I think the Measure R passing was a pivotal moment in LA county history and an acknowledgment that LA is an Urban form, not truly suburban and not the 'traditional concentric' city. LA is an 'urban form' yet to be fully defined.

If I had one criticism of the day's format is that too much may have been on the agenda. It easily could have been two days with greater depth of discussion.

By Thomas M. Jones, Architect, AIA, MBA, LEED AP

Another Perspective:

From architect Nathaniel S. Wilson, AIA, AICP, LEED AP - the campus architect of Cal State Northridge:

1.) California has proud "car culture" for going on 60 years. To develop an new "free range low carbon transportation culture" we need to start early. Several of the younger Speakers with younger kids, were talking about walking their kids to the park. Fond memories for me but the real challenge begins in middle school. I showed my two daughters how to take the bus to get around. This provided them freedom to visit their friends, go to school, the park, shopping etc. It also reduced many trips for me and my wife in our car being chauffeurs. There is a new world of transit out there and applications like that showed by Li Wen are already in place in Chicago. LA just needs one Transit Authority with one ticket/pass approach not duplication of bus systems that we now have. Transit Education starting a middle school will assure a base of transit users for the future. My older daughter who went to school in Chicago, has graduated college, has a job and still does not own a car. She is a great example of "free range low carbon transportation culture". My younger daughter will be going to UCSC next year. The do not allow freshmen to have cars.

2.) Flex Cars - Does everyone who wants to drive in LA need to own a car? I have learned from my kids and the students at CSUN that many of them have no desire to own a car. As a planner the question that I ponder is, if a homeowner does not need to own a car, ( given is access to flex cars in walking distance) how can their property be better utilized. The average single family home on a 5,000sf to 10,000sf lot gives up 600 to 900 sf in garage space and another 2,000sf of driveway to make an automobile "happy". (Andre Duany has much more to say about the evils of making cars happy). So I will talk about the upside.

a. These garage spaces can be converted to living spaces. Especially the detached garages which can be converted to accessory units. Los Angeles needs more residential density so this create great opportunity for renovation projects.

b. Much of the up to 2,000sf of concrete driveway will become land that percolates water. Currently and future storm water requirements for onsite percolation add thousands of dollars in costs. This approach would allow for additional building area to match the amount of driveway removed.

c. When a new generation of free range low carbon commuters start looking for homes, cities have to be able to respond with rezoning to allowing the renovation of existing housing that was assumed to have 2.5 kids and a car for every adult.

3.) Bicycles - For years the LA marathon hosted the world's largest bicycle ride. At sunrise before the marathon started up to 16,000 bicycle riders or all shapes and sizes would pay to ride the course. This great tradition ended when the new linear course was adopted two years ago. The argument was logistics and parking. Bicycles are an important component of a multi-modal transportation system especially in LA with the great climate and no icy conditions. The pre-marathon bicycle ride is a great platform for this. Logistics are not really a problem since the bicycle commuters can park 3-4 miles away from the start and finish so they do not use the same parking spaces. Given the marathon course it is possible to for bicycle commuters to arrive at the convention center ride to start then loop back to convention center using the new LA bicycle share ways. This kind of an event could increase participation from 16,000 to ?. Also the entry fee generates additional income for the LA Marathon which I hear is challenged regarding cost of the event.

Best Regards,

Nathaniel S. Wilson, AIA, AICP, LEED AP
CSU Northridge Campus Architect / Environmental Planner
Facilities Planning Design and Construction
18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge CA 91330-8219

For more information on the AIA|LA Design Conference, Architecture of Transportation, please follow these links:

The Architecture of Transportation

AIA|LA Design Conference

Last updated: 11-Dec-2012 07:54 AM
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