“People could live here and never use their cars”

So says Roger Snoble, head honcho of LA transit. He’s referring to the jazzy mixed use development that’s broken ground on Hollywood & Vine. Sure the city strapped on the eminent domain boot and kicked out dozens of business owners, but at least the new residents will be liberated from auto-oppression, right?

It’s a vision expressed frequently by local government officials, who see building large mixed-use developments next to mass transit lines as a key solution for not just the region’s traffic congestion but also its spread-out geography and reputation for being unfriendly to pedestrians. In Los Angeles alone, billions of public and private dollars have been lavished on transit-oriented projects such as Hollywood & Vine, with more than 20,000 residential units approved within a quarter mile of transit stations between 2001 and 2005. But there is little research to back up the rosy predictions. Among the few academic studies of the subject, one that looked at buildings in the Los Angeles area showed that transit-based development successfully weaned relatively few residents from their cars. It also found that, over time, no more people in the buildings studied were taking transit 10 years after a project opened than when it was first built.

How nice that the LA Times reporters didn’t get light headed from all the bubbly and rosy rhetoric that was a-flowing at the highly publicized pep rally for the W Hotel complex.

The Times decided to examine driving habits at four apartment and condominium complexes that have already been built at or near transit stations in South Pasadena, North Hollywood, Pasadena and Hollywood. Reporters spent two months interviewing residents, counting cars going out of and into the buildings and counting pedestrians walking from the projects to the nearby train stations. The reporting showed that only a small fraction of residents shunned their cars during morning rush hour. Most people said that even though they lived close to transit stations, the trains weren’t convenient enough, taking too long to arrive at destinations and lacking stops near their workplaces. Many complained that they didn’t feel comfortable riding the MTA’s crowded, often slow-moving buses from transit terminals to their jobs. Moreover, the attraction of shops and cafes that are often built into developments at transit stations can actually draw more cars to neighborhoods, putting an additional traffic burden on areas that had been promised relief.

LAT article here. The reporters might have also cited Travel by Design, by Marlon Boarnet and Randall Crane:

Surprisingly, there is little credible knowledge about how urban form influences travel patterns . . . Given the enormous support for using land use and urban design to address traffic problems, it was somewhat surprising…to find the empirical support for these transportation benefits to be inconclusive and their behavioral foundations obscure. Prior evidence on the link between design and travel is difficult to interpret and tells us relatively little about the behavioral nature of the problem and thus provides a weak foundation for policy advice.