Walking into the Future City: Or, Dispatches from a Pedestrian Lovefest

Carter Rubin is a native Angelino and recent
graduate of Pitzer College in Claremont, where he studied Global
Politics.  It was then that he came to appreciate the Metrolink and its
Red Line connection.  Nowadays, Carter can be seen riding his
hand-me-down Nishiki 10-Speed up and down Pico Boulevard on the
Westside, when he’s not ogling Metro planning documents.

Yesterday morning, the Los Angeles County Metro convened
over 300 city and regional officials, planning consultants, academics,
students, and at least one self-proclaimed futurist for a daylong symposium
entitled “Walking into the Future City.” Over the span of seven hours, the Metro organizers made a genuine, if
frenetic, effort to cover all the excellent reasons for local governments to
make a financial and philosophical commitment to pedestrians.

To give you the shotgun sample of yesterday’s presentation
themes.

“Improving
Mobility,” “Complete Streets,” “Efficient Pedestrian Systems,” “Green Streets,”
“Linking Pedestrians,” “the health of our communities,” making “Change Happen,”
“Safe Routes to School,” “Preparing for an Aging Population,” “The Built
Environment,” “Accomodat[ing] Persons with Disabilities,” “Walking,” “the
Walking Environment,” and “Walking Strategies” (presumably power-, moon-,
etc.).

But above all, in a region where historically (and
presently) the pedestrian has been at the bottom of the transportation food
chain, the conference provided a vision for a more vibrant, safe, and useful
street life in Southern California. The excitement was palpable, but the cynic in me had me holding my
breath.

We’re in Los Angeles after all, and the pedestrian proof will
be in the pedestrian pudding, as in, when there’s actually money dedicated to
making said pudding.

So during the “networking lunch” segment, I tracked down Robin
Blair, Metro Planning Director and today’s MC, to find out what exactly has
changed at MTA to justify all the excitement. For starters, Blaire noted, instead of having “maybe $1 million
for ped and bike,” as was the case
fifteen years ago, this year alone the MTA has $36M to doll out to local
governments for pedestrian improvement projects. But more broadly, Blair said he could sense a palpable increase
in the desire for an improved quality of street life and the fulfilling social
interactions it provides.

Asked if there were any big pedestrian projects we should be
looking out for, Blair pointed to the $10M allocated to improvements in East LA
to help safely connect residents to the new Gold Line stations. Although, he quickly noted that it was
rare for Metro to directly fund projects in this manner. Instead, the MTA’s primary objective is
to play a supporting role to local governments with its annual “calls for
project funding.”

In the long run, Blair envisions a Los Angeles that has
numerous public places in which “cars are not allowed,” or at the very least, a
city in which priority to cars is not surrendered by knee-jerk default.

In the Post-Measure R world, hope abounds for Los
Angeles. The institutional will is
solidifying and the money is starting to pool in meaningful amounts. Still, it’s up to us to stay engaged in
the planning process and to keep the pressure on MTA to make good on all those
intoxicating buzzwords. For
starters, let’s take to heart the words of Long Beach Mobility Coordinator
Charlie Gandy and “bring on the pilot projects!”