Skip to Content
Streetsblog California home
Log In
Streetsblog USA

Introducing a New Streetsblog Series: Getting Transit Right

8:46 AM PST on February 17, 2017

Chicago’s Loop Link. Photo: Metropolitan Planning Council

Over the past 15 years, Los Angeles spent billions of dollars to nearly double the size of its fixed-guideway transit system, adding light rail routes throughout the county. Those lines opened up new access for Angelenos headed to Santa Monica beach, Pasadena, U.S.C., and East L.A. -- certainly making travel more convenient for many trips.

But after all those investments, total transit ridership in the L.A. region is down. Over the past three years alone, the number of annual transit trips declined by 100,000,000 -- an average of more than 300,000 fewer riders per weekday.

graph-los-angeles-1200

How could this happen? How could a region spend so much on improving transit, only to see ridership decline?

With cities across the country raising impressive sums to expand their transit systems, these questions are increasingly essential. So far, few American cities have hit on a policy combination that achieves the goal of making transit more useful to more people.

Thanks to a grant from TransitCenter, Streetsblog will be exploring these issues in a new series, "Getting Transit Right." We’ll be looking at a dozen American cities to better understand which transit strategies are working and which are not.

main-logo-600

The cities we’ve chosen are geographically and economically diverse. Some have metro lines that are more than a century old. Others are just exploring their first high-capacity bus routes. But they all share an interest in using transit to connect people to opportunity, help residents get around without driving, and create more walkable neighborhoods.

For each city, we'll put together an in-depth profile of the state of the transit system and what public officials are doing (or failing to do) to improve it. We’ll interview local experts and inform our analysis by crunching data. Then the story of each city will be told through the lens of these policy areas:

    • Service quality: How useful is local transit service for getting around without needing to rely on a schedule? Are residents able to use bus and train service throughout the day? Which parts of the region are effectively served, and which areas are left out?
    • Land use: Do the areas around transit stations support car-free travel, with a mix of uses and a pedestrian-oriented street environment? Is the region taking steps to prevent auto-centric, exurban development? Is parking required for new projects, or are builders being encouraged to design for walkability around transit stops?
    • Maintenance: Is the transit system in good condition and up to modern standards? What strategies are policy makers pursuing to repair and upgrade transit infrastructure?
    • Recent expansion: Have recent transit investments proven effective at growing overall transit ridership? Are they serving areas where the need and demand for transit are greatest? Have they supported the creation of walkable neighborhoods and encouraged people to switch from driving to transit?
    • Future plans: Which transit projects does the region plan to invest in? Will money for new lines be spent to attract as many riders as possible, or will it support ineffective routes and political pet projects? Will stations be built close to major clusters of development and activity, or on the edges, beyond easy walking distance?

We’ll grade each city on how it’s doing in these policy areas. Allocating resources so transit service connects major clusters of residences, jobs, and other uses will rate highly, while politically expedient but low-ridership projects will not. Land use decisions that foster the growth of walkable neighborhoods will score well; park-and-ride development will not.

Our goal is to provide insight into how the allocation of transit resources can serve more people more effectively. Over the course of the series, we aim to generate analysis that readers can use for reference -- best practices as well as paths to avoid. (To get transit right, you have to identify how transit can go wrong.)

We’ll begin our regular "Getting Transit Right" coverage next week, with a series of articles on Atlanta, which last November passed a $2.5 billion transit referendum. We hope readers find the series enlightening and that our work will help public officials and advocates make well-informed decisions for cities and transit riders.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog California

Caltrans Readies Guidance for Complete Streets, with a Big Exemption

But somewhere along the way, highway interchanges - roads crossing and going under and over freeways and highways - were exempted from the guidelines

September 29, 2023

Guest Opinion: Ten Years In, CA Active Transportation Program Lays Bare a Tale of Two Agencies

L.A. County needs to embrace physically-protected bikeways, robust traffic calming around schools, and similarly transformative, safety-focused projects

September 29, 2023

Commentary: Let’s Talk About the Real “Fatal Flaw” on Valencia

How many people have to die before professional advocates stop endorsing the Valencia Street "experiment" on people?

September 29, 2023

Friday’s Headlines

Caltrans, we need complete streets everywhere, including at freeway interchanges (or maybe especially there); Public agencies and academics join forces to develop AV standards; Republicans really want to suspend the gas tax; More

September 29, 2023
See all posts