LA Department of Mobility and Access

Gullet of the Giant Squatting Robot, home of the present LADOT

Despite genuine positive changes at the Los Angeles Department of Transportation over the last three years, it seems to remain stubbornly committed to the notion that only private car traffic has any real value to our city.

This is a notion that recent experiences nationwide prove foolish—experiences that have now been rigorously quantified. If you’ve read much of this or any dozens of other blogs and magazines, you know that, among other things:

  • Sixty percent of the populace falls into the “interested but concerned” camp of folks who would prefer to bicycle more but are intimidated by raging street traffic

  • In local shopping streets such as abound throughout LA, bicyclists spend more per month than motorists, resulting in more revenue for the private sector through profits, and to the public sector through sales and property taxes, and to the surrounding communities through more jobs, better public health, and less-congested streets.

  • Adding bicycle infrastructure (as well as walkable streetscapes) to such streets thus often results in spectacular gains in economic activity, such as the 49% rise recorded three years after a protected bike lane was installed along New York City’s Ninth Avenue. Not only that, but these streets see notably fewer crashes and injuries for all road users, including motorists, and no increase—in fact, often a reduction—in car transit times.

  • Not only commercial but residential property values rise in proportion to their proximity to bike lanes (or rail transit stops), while no one wants to live or work near a freeway interchange or a dangerous, noisy intersection.

  • Both bicycling and transit ridership are rising steadily, in some places precipitously, while motor vehicle miles traveled have been dropping since 2006, most of all among the 16-34 age group.

  • Land given over to wide lanes, curbside parking, and parking lots and parking structures chargigng below-market rates hits the economy right in the guts twice: once with the cost of building and maintaining it, and again with the opportunity cost of lost property and sales taxes.

Yet our DOT continues to support car traffic with a slavish, servile obsequiousness, while treating cycling, walking, and transit as though they were beggars at the back gate.

Except in Downtown, where a true bikeway network is finally beginning to emerge (three years after the 2010 Bicycle Master Plan), bicycle facilities remain scattershot, plunked down here and there where it’s cheap and easy to do, while no expense is spared citywide in pandering to single-occupant cars. Indeed, LADOT seems still to be committed to moving cars, not people, and (despite occasional lip service to multi-modalism), ignores not only verified trends showing a decline of motor vehicles miles traveled, but also the existence of of alternate modes that are already moving more people than cars on streets can.

Right here in NELA, the department still resists a road diet along North Figueroa, even though the street at its peak carries fewer cars than it was designed for, even though there is a high-capacity light-rail line paralleling it a block away, and even though there is a full-fledged freeway also paralleling it two blocks away.

Meanwhile, the overly-wide street promotes speeding, crashes, noise, intense pollution, and businesses as dead as the pedestrians caught in its crosswalks by hit-and-run drivers (and nearly half of all crashes on LA’s streets are hit-and-runs).

Five years ago, Josef Bray-Ali, formerly a developer, and now owner of Flying Pigeon LA, proposed dismantling the LADOT and distributing its functions among existing city departments; read his concise and compelling article here.

I favor a different take on the matter: yes, dismantle the DOT, but replace it with something considerably different, something which would nevertheless include all the practical functions of the current Department of Transportation: a Department of Mobility and Access. (For one thing, the acronym, “DOMA,” means “home” in Latin.)

This could be a subsidiary of the City Planning Department or a standalone. Its focus would not be moving motor vehicles, but ensuring that LA’s residents could easily access jobs, schools, services, shopping, friends, and fun through a variety of means—including no means at all, such as by encouraging low-traffic, mixed-use neighborhoods where a simple stroll gets you all you need. Including unmediated contact with neighbors and visitors. Places where other neighborhoods are an easy bike ride away. Where transit stations stand ready to carry you across town if need be. Where maybe you only need a car once a month or so, for a trip to the mountains or to visit a less-enlightened town, and you simply rent one, rather than dedicate $8000-per-year minimum cost for even a junker for “transportation.”

Here’s my preliminary list of the divisions such a department might house:

  • Walking

  • Bicycling

  • Rail transit

  • Road transit

  • Private motor vehicles

  • Commercial motor vehicles

  • Freight rail

  • Value capture

  • Interdivisional coordination

  • Interjurisdictional coordination

Everyone presently working for the LADOT would have to reapply for an equivalent position in the LA DOMA.

And part of the application would consist of an essay test asking each to describe their vision for the future of Los Angeles’s streets and sidewalks….

How would you answer that question?

Go ahead and think about it. It’s just a thought experiment…for now.

A few supporting links:

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