Walking in L.A.: Downtown Is a Big, Expensive Urban Experiment Walking in L.A.: Downtown Is a Big, Expensive Urban Experiment

Walking in L.A.: Downtown Is a Big, Expensive Urban Experiment

by Ryan Bradley

May 27, 2010

Part four in Walking in L.A., a GOOD miniseries by Ryan Bradley on transportation in Los Angeles and what it's like to get across the entire city on foot.

If you took all of the parking spaces in Los Angeles's central business district and spread them horizontally in a surface lot, they would cover 81 percent of downtown. I know this because of a paper called "People, Parking, and Cities" by Michael Manville and Donald Shoup at UCLA's Department of Urban Planning. This “parking coverage rate,” they write, is "higher in downtown L.A. than in any other downtown on earth. In San Francisco, for instance, the coverage rate is 31 percent, and in New York it is only 18 percent." Their paper goes on to show how this glut of parking keeps downtown from having a vibrant city center, because downtowns in general "thrive on high density ... the prime advantage they offer over other parts of a metropolitan area is proximity—the immediate availability of a wide variety of activities.... So long as its zoning assumes that almost every new person will also bring a car—and requires parking for that car," they conclude "[downtown Los Angeles] will never develop the sort of vital core we associate with older urban centers."

From Figueroa I take Flower to Grand to Olive to Hill and suddenly, I'm at Angels Flight, "The World's Shortest Railway," and it's running. When the tiny funicular railway opened on New Year's Eve in 1901, running a short way up 3rd Street and Hill to the top of Bunker Hill, passengers got a free ride and a shot of fruit punch. I hop aboard and the car fills up with passengers. We pay a quarter at the top and it feels like a steal. The two brown-trimmed orange carriages were dismantled in 1969, and the rest of this historic urban neighborhood, Victorian houses and all, got bulldozed and rebuilt in the 1970s. After it was moved and opened and shut down again in 2001, the railway started running once more just weeks ago.

By 2014, these three pieces of urban L.A.—Broadway, Bunker Hill, and L.A. Live—will all be connected by streetcar. The project will cost is an estimated $95 million. I wonder if, for $95 million, the city can buy back the personality it bulldozed out of downtown. The city is a lab and the experiment continues. I walk on.

Next up: When you talk about transportation in Los Angeles you're also talking about race in Los Angeles, and that gets dicey real quick.

Photos by Ryan Bradley.


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Walking in L.A.: Downtown Is a Big, Expensive Urban Experiment