The boulevard, in fact, is where the Los Angeles of the immediate future is taking shape. No longer a mere corridor to move cars, it is where L.A. is trying on a fully post-suburban identity for the first time, building denser residential neighborhoods and adding new amenities for cyclists and pedestrians.A point to consider is that public policies are responsive to market demand just like real estate development and blue jeans. Public officials are interested in supplying the types of projects and facilities that improve their chances of getting re-elected. Up until recently one way to up the electoral odds was to maximize external funding for large scale construction and subsidy because the officials could always claim employment benefits. External money gets funneled to projects that voters value, but also reflect the funding priorities of the funding agency (in transport this is often federal). What is happening in LA now reflects local finance in many cases, primarily through Measure R.
In the process, the city is beginning to shed its reputation as a place where the automobile is king — or at least where its reign goes unchallenged. Cities across the U.S. followed L.A.'s car-crazy lead in the postwar era. This time around we might provide a more enlightened example: how to retrofit a massive region for a future that is less auto-centric.
Especially among younger Angelenos, including foreign-born immigrants and transplants from other American cities, there is a hunger for better-designed roadways and new ways of getting around. And L.A.'s political leadership is finally responding.
The city (and county) is reacting to voter demands for quality of life improvements rather than strictly mobility improvements. In many cases what LA is doing with their boulevards is extremely hard to do with federal money for a few reasons including over-reliance on travel time savings and a focus on mobility over accessibility. Planning transportation as a quality of life concern has great potential for positive change and better financing models. I'll be presenting some recent work of mine along these lines ate the "Walking and the Life of the City" Symposium on June 7 at NYU Wagner's Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management. Details here.
Somewhat related, here are some thoughts from Erin Chantry from last week's CNU meetings, where walking was a major topic of conversation.
And this post by David Levinson about Bay Area density and urban economics should be required reading. A lot of the "all density all the time" urbanism misreads or overstates much from urban economics models.