Today the Los Angeles Times is running an op-ed I wrote on the need to better integrate land use patterns into the region’s rail transit system. When I first started writing Railtown, I was a rail transit enthusiast who thought that the region was crazy for not building more of it. If I could have written an op-ed back then, I would have simply extolled the virtues of rail to get the public to support building more of it.
But as I researched the history and issues involved, it became clear that rail as a solution to LA’s problems was not the silver bullet I thought. Rail is expensive and complicated to build. More importantly, LA is a decentralized city with people going in every direction at all times of day. There’s very little order or centralization of jobs and housing, and it all takes place over a huge land mass. Not necessarily a great recipe for efficient rail service (although parts of LA are more than fit for rail, given their density).
So this op-ed is an attempt to recognize that complicated reality. The solution, if Angelenos want to make the most of their rail investment, is to make a better effort to channel future growth and development along the rail lines. If that doesn’t happen, rail will have failed to reshape the city and help overcome its traffic and quality-of-life challenges that plague so much of the region. Hopefully this op-ed will spark a debate about how best to make that happen.